Tuesday, 26 April 2011


Today was my first day at work. It's a proper job - full time and everything. Before this, I stayed at home to look after my kids, and spent some time writing. Once they were all at school full time, I spent a lot of time writing - but only in the day - almost like a proper job in fact, but with no pay and more biscuits and cake.

So two interesting things happened today. I have a day job to bring in actual money, while I pursue my mad hobby. And now my hobby feels like a hobby rather than a job. And I have a lot less time to do it in.

I do think I realised this would happen. I made sure to finish all the novels I'm writing before I started work, as detailed in the blog. Now, I'm sitting on a lot of finished projects (mostly in submission) and nothing to do but wait to hear back. It ought to be relaxing. Certainly it gives me the space to enjoy my new job. It was great today to remember how much fun teaching can be.

But then last night, I just couldn't help myself. I pulled out an old, terrible, tangled novel and now I'm thinking... it could be really great, if only I edited it.

Friday, 15 April 2011


I can't believe I'm still editing. I could feel my mind going numb half way through so I took a break and created a contents page. After all that editing, putting my chapters into a list felt like the peak of fun. I got even more excited (relatively speaking) when the new material I'd written meant I had to create a new chapter. The new chapter three is now called 'Heaven'. The last chapter, in case you're curious, is called 'The End'.

I'm not that great at names. In all but the most recent versions of the novel, Frank's dad was called, simply, 'dad'. I think I used up most of my creative energy coming up with the bizarre locations and plot.

Thursday, 14 April 2011


Today, with the last bit of energy and willpower I could summon up, I tried to write my plot outline. It's only supposed to be a page long - which is where the problems begin.

The book I just wrote is full of alternative future and past civilizations, and shifts between different kinds of reality. Getting all that boiled down into 700 words that make sense is unbelievably difficult. Each new version seems to reach whole new levels of of incomprehensible gibberish.

I didn't finish the outline in the end. But I did manage to squeeze out a blurb. But that's probably because blurbs don't generally make much sense anyway.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011


I can't work out whether I'm finished or not. I think I am. Or at least, I've decided to stop writing. I've been hard at work editing for three days solid. This probably doesn't sound like much but editing at this level of detail is one of the hardest parts of writing.

It started when I got comments back from the editor. In essence, this is a list of problems. So far so clear. It's working out what the solutions are that causes the trouble. Then I have to work out where and how to introduce these solutions.

One solution I came up with was:
'demonstrate that the main character is in a state of quantum flux'

This is kind of tricky to do. The novel is (now) 57,000 words long. I have to weave this idea through the entire novel - slotting it into the appropriate places. This wouldn't be too difficult except quantum flux is a tricky idea to convey and I have to do it seamlessly in a text which is already surface polished.

I worked out that I had about seventeen editing problems in total (including quantum flux). Some of them were interlinked. Most of them were concentrated in the ending: but I couldn't only make changes at the end. They all had to be prefigured earlier in the text.

It was impossible to tackle the seventeen problems simultaneously, working from the beginning to the end of the text. I had to do each one separately: starting at the beginning of the novel and working through to the end seventeen times. To make sense of the scale of the task, seventeen times fifty seven thousand words is almost a million (969,000).

So right now, I don't care if I've finished. I don't care if it makes sense. At this stage of editing, it's impossible to 'read' the text. The words are so familiar they don't 'go in'. I'm dropping changes into the text without even reading it. It's kind of terrifying. I have no idea if the changes work. Though I'm really, really hoping they do.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011


I've talked a lot in this blog about how I'm 'editing' a novel. Looking back I think it's probably fairer to say I did a re-write. I reckon I must have written 20,000 words of new material and deleted 10,000 of a book that was only 42,000 words long when I started.

I massively expanded ideas that were hinted at in the old version and created a totally new ending. Even the major villain and his evil plan are new. The whole process took about ten weeks of intense re-thinking and re-writing. I think I was fooling myself to imagine that when it was re-edited, I'd only get typos back.

I got comments back yesterday. Guess what?

I've got to edit the damn thing again! The 'problems' are nowhere near as big as last time, but it's got to be done. Except this time, I have less than two weeks to do it. Luckily I'm not working at the moment and don't start my new job until two weeks hence. But I've got to prepare for that too.

The best analogy I can think is if a person had just run a marathon, heaved up half-dead at the finish line and some bugger had moved it ten miles down the road. Then when they crawl there, knees bleeding, three-quarters dead, they've moved it again, just a few miles down the road.

Don't worry though. I've got a plan. I've decided to re-write the clock and create totally new, extra hours in which to do this work, while deleting my need for sleep.

Friday, 8 April 2011


I LOVE meeting other people who write. It's rare to find anyone else who understands what it means to grapple with dialogue, endlessly re-write a first chapter in the first person, third person, present and past tense in every possible combination.

Then I discovered Authonomy. There are ten thousand (unpublished) authors on the site, all with a novel, true-life story or poetry/story collection. You can read people's profiles, but will often learn more about them from what they wrote. People will write the most intimate (and sometimes deranged) personal memoirs, about how they were a low-class hooker, drug addict, or journey to Jesus.

Some of these books are excellent and have gone on to be published. Others aren't. But they're still riveting. The writers hang everything out: their dirty secrets, their personality disorders, their heartfelt, not necessarily well-constructed writing. It's touching, hilarious, and disturbing by turns.

Reading it feels almost too intimate at times, but often, like a car crash, it's hard to look away. It isn't just a morbid curiosity - it's the force of the human drama. In a way these people seem more interesting than well known authors, perhaps because they are less immaculately packaged.

Thursday, 7 April 2011


I've been writing for too long now. Unpublished, alas. For the first few years, I didn't tell too many people I was writing: close friends, but it wouldn't be something I'd shoot out there at random. Or not much.
Partly, I think it was because the thing that I was writing was so embarrassing. (Of which more later...)

As hobbies go, I like to think writing is probably more interesting to most people than, say, stamp-collecting. On the fun-o-meter, I imagine, it's one of the better ones. Like bungee jumping. Or rummaging through other people's underpant drawers. When I first tell people, their eyes often light up (or they run away fast). Really? they ask. So what do you write? They almost always assume it's been published.

Then I get all pink about the face, and wonder whether it might be more socially acceptable to claim that was a mistake and what I meant to say was that my hobby is not writing really. It's celebrity-stalking.

The answer for why people react with such shock/or surprise only came to me recently. They're thinking: if you aren't published, how could you have the audacity to indicate the existence of your novel (aka no-doubt-dreadful heap of dog's droppings) let alone trumpet it to all and sundry.

I find the best approach is to smile, as if to say, yes, I have no shame. And not offer to reveal mind-numbing details of plot that make sense only to me. That's what this blog is for.

Monday, 4 April 2011


I have run round the house yelling 'I'm finished! Hurrah! I'm finished!' about six times in the last fortnight. It would be embarrassing, except I have an unusually high shame threshold. But this time, I think I really am finished.

I've filled in all the plot holes, sorted out the bits that made my husband angry/confused when he read it. I explained things that made no sense. Though I didn't do a great deal to improve the description, I did massively expand the scope of the Clockwork Empire. I already knew I'd skimped on this, but had decided it would be fine. Apparently, it was not fine.

There's nothing quite so stimulating to the imagination as hearing your reader say 'not the same bloody laboratory with the same bloody 'parquet' floor and gas lights hissing' about six hundred times as they read your carefully crafted tome. So I added a massive series of warehouses, a family home, an Admiral, several ministers and a scarlet and gold throne room (see picture above).

When I'd done, I didn't much feel like dealing with the dialogue - varying it for Victorians, super-powerful atemporal beings etc. What I really felt like was a nice nap. So I lay on the carpet (so as not to enjoy it) and had one. When I woke up, I got on with the dialogue and guess what?

I am actually, really, truly, genuinely finished.

Until the next time I read it...

More on Life as a Writer...

Friday, 1 April 2011


Yes, I'm really finished (mostly).

I worked all day yesterday and the day before. One day I worked from nine am to midnight (not including biscuit breaks). It's done. Pages 58 to 82 no longer read like a three year old wrote them. Now they're more the level of a five year old (joke). The ending makes sense, and that's a big relief. When I started this book didn't even have an ending.

So I am actually, really, truly finished this time. Except all the characters talk the same. I'm going to deal with that one later. Either by going over every piece of dialogue with a fine-toothed comb and flinging in a few 'what ho, jonnys' and 'odd bodkins!' and 'lawks!' to add a bit of colour.

Or I might leave it alone and hope no one notices...

More about Life as a Writer...