And breathe…

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Just a quick update to let you know that I have heard from Roy the plot man, and the news is good.  He does have some (as always perceptive and excellent) comments, but his overall view is favourable: “I found this story most enjoyable… Also, I find that you have developed your factual storytelling to include more human emotion and this adds greatly to the overall readability.  In conclusion, a lovely book.  Possibly your best.”

I cannot tell you what a relief this is; when you’ve been writing a book in isolation for eighteen months, you definitely stop seeing it objectively.  For all I knew, it was complete self-indulgent drivel, and handing it over for the first time to someone else is terrifying.

The plan now is to spend the next few days incorporating Roy’s suggestions into “Faith, Hope and Trickery”.  I will then read it all again myself, then print it out for proofreading by my husband, who is a very slow and therefore observant reader.  Then it’s final checks before cutting and pasting the text into the interior template.  At this point I allow myself the fun task of choosing chapter names – at the moment, they’re just numbers and dates.  Then I will know the page count, which CreateSpace needs in order to generate the cover template for me to send to the cover designer.  Heavens, when I write it all down, there’s still plenty to do in just over a month – I’d better get on with it!

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And the winner is…

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As you have probably guessed from the countdown clock on the left, “Plank 5” is now officially to be known as “Faith, Hope and Trickery”.  There were thirty-three votes cast in total in the title poll, and “FHT” garnered fifteen of those.  “Faith Undone” came second, with eight votes, then “Dearly Departed” with six, and “The Confidence Trick” and “Riches Beyond Belief” trailing with only two votes each.  I did not vote, although my husband did and won’t tell me which one he selected.

I am delighted with the choice – of course, I make sure that I like all five options so that I am always happy with your selection!  But I am very grateful to everyone who took part, as I am hopeless at making decisions and am pleased to be able to palm one off on other people.

I am particularly grateful to be able to focus on something other than editing, as I am waiting to hear from my plot reader – tense times in the Grossey household!  This weekend’s task is to finalise the back cover blurb.

Name that book!

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Just a quick reminder that today is your last chance to have a say on the title of “Plank 5”.  I will be closing the poll at the end of the day, and then sending the chosen title to the marvellous people who design the cover for the book.  They already have my ideas for the figure and the document that will go on the front, and I’m homing in on the back cover blurb, so the title is the last remaining element.

I’ve had a look at the title poll results so far, and with twenty-nine votes cast there is a clear front-runner, but – as they say in the world’s leading opera houses – it ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings.  And she’ll be tuning up in about fourteen hours’ time.

Let the nail-biting begin…

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Well, that’s it: the completed draft of “Plank 5” has just been sent to my lovely beta reader Roy.  So there’s nothing more I can do until I hear from him, and that’s both scary and a great relief.

By the way, I’m now feeling the terrible lack of a title, so please do head on over to my earlier post and cast your vote.

I am currently reading Susan Hill’s book “Jacob’s Room is Full of Books” – it’s described as a memoir of a year of reading – and in it she says that she is constantly being asked to give tips to aspiring writers.  In particular, they ask her how many drafts she does of her novels.  And here’s what she says: “I make some notes… and they are very random and disconnected….  I think a lot….  And then I start.  I carry on.  I finish.  One draft and one draft only, at least for fiction….  Of course I tidy up and tighten up, I correct grammar and punctuation.  But in all essentials, the first draft is the last draft is the published book.”  Of course Susan Hill is a much-respected professional author, not an amateur like me, but it’s interesting to hear that not all authors go through several drafts, as almost all writing courses demand.  It gives great hope to the lazier of us…

[Side note: as I typed the word “constantly” just then, my fingers automatically typed “constable”.  I’ve been spending, as usual, too much time with Sam.]

Caution: plot holes ahead!

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I can see the finish line – “Plank 5” is almost there.  And as I wrestle with the final chapters, I have lined up my usual fabulous team to help me to publication: the cover designers at Design for Writers; my husband (for eagle-eyed proofreading – how he does love to catch me out in a spelling mistake); and Roy in Jersey.  Roy’s job, right from “Fatal Forgery”, has been to read the first proper draft for sense, looking for inconsistencies and what he has taken to calling “plot holes”.

Isn’t that a great phrase?  You can just imagine them, nasty great gaps in the story that sit there unseen.  Your reader is cruising along, enjoying the journey, when all of a sudden, crash!  They go into a plot hole and – metaphorically speaking – the wheel comes off and the journey is over.  I’ve spotted a couple of them myself (along the lines of “but how did he know that she would be there?”, or “what made her ask him that?”) but no doubt Roy will see a few more.  Sometimes the writer has her nose so close to the tarmac that she can’t see the plot holes herself…

Sorting out Sam’s diary

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In past years I have been lucky enough to enjoy a writing retreat over the summer, where I immerse myself in writing as I reach the final stages of a book.  This year we had a long holiday in Canada instead – oh, what a hardship – and so I have engineered a mini-retreat for myself this week.  My husband is off cycling and visiting family for three days, and I have cleared my desk of “normal” work, and so it’s just me and Sam (and Martha, and Wilson, and Conant, and Wontner, and Freame – heavens, it’s crowded in here).

Yesterday – the first of the three days – I tackled a job that has been much on my mind: timetabling.  When I write, I do not anchor the chapters to particular dates.  But, as anyone who has read a Sam Plank book will know, each chapter in the final version has a specific date attached to it.  This is because I envisage the stories as a sort of constable’s notebook, and in such notebooks dates are very important.  And so, at some point in the process, I have to allocate a date to each chapter.  But of course by this stage there are all sorts of cross-references in the text, such as “only two days later”, or “three weeks earlier”, or “after she had attended four Sunday meetings” – and they all have to be made to work together.  It’s a rather frustrating exercise, involving big blank calendars, a soft pencil and a very big rubber (for my American readers, that’s an eraser…).

Actually, I say “big blank calendars” but that’s not true: on the calendar I first mark any significant dates – such as Sam’s birthday, and important festivals like Easter – and any particularly relevant events.  “Plank 5” is set in 1828, and in that year London Zoo was opened on 27th April (which is not at all relevant to my story) and there was an unseasonably harsh frost on 12th November (which is).  So it’s like assembling a rather formless jigsaw puzzle without a picture on the box to guide you, and I am very relieved to have done it.

(You will notice that I am still referring to “Plank 5”: don’t forget that my title poll is now open, and you can cast your vote here for the title that you like best.)

Time to name “Plank 5”

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It’s a different time of year to usual (winter rather than summer), but don’t think for one moment that this excuses you from your duty: choosing the title of the latest Sam Plank novel, heretofore known as “Plank 5”.  Just to remind you, the four predecessors in the series are called “Fatal Forgery”, “The Man in the Canary Waistcoat”, “Worm in the Blossom” and “Portraits of Pretence”.  Of course, no-one can be expected to choose a title without knowing a little about the book, so here we go:

“Plank 5” is set in the autumn/winter of 1828.  Constable Sam Plank becomes curious about religious meetings led by a charismatic preacher at which ‘heralds’ claim that they can communicate with the deceased and pass on messages from them to their mourning relatives.  [This practice gained enormous currency in the Victorian period, with spiritualism and mediums gathering huge followings, but the idea has been there since the beginning of time.]  Some of the messages suggest that the subjects should donate quite a bit of money to the preacher’s cause – and when a man’s wife refuses to allow him to do this, the herald suggests a rather extreme solution, and this is how Sam becomes involved.  Others who attend the meetings because they have lost beloved children are told that, for a fee, replacement babies could be found.  And yet everything suggests that the preacher himself is an honest and godly man, who truly believes that you can communicate from beyond the grave.  Sam’s baffled scepticism is matched only by Martha’s heartbreaking desire to believe and Wilson’s stolid determination to make sense of it all.

As ever, I have thought of five possible titles and will leave the final choice to you.  The poll will run from today for three weeks – i.e. until Friday 9 February 2018 – and then I have to give the title to the cover magicians.  So here we go, the five contenders…

Let us talk of many things!

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It’s all happening today!  First of all, the divine Helen Hollick has featured a little piece by me on her terrific historical fiction blog, Let Us Talk of Many Things.  She gave me free rein – rather brave – and I decided to write about how I explore Sam’s London.  And quite by chance I realised that it is an interesting blend of old and new, as my two most-consulted resources are a map from 1827, and the Transport for London online journey planner!

Secondly, I have taken delivery of my “Book of the Year 2017” promotional stickers.  For those of you interested in the financial side of things, I ordered them from Vistaprint, using – with her permission – the logo designed by Helen.  I chose circular, matte, easy-peel stickers to mimic those seen most often in bookshops, and 120 small stickers (3.6 cm in diameter) cost me £26.03 including delivery and VAT.  That’s nearly 22p per sticker and a wild extravagance, but I treated myself.  I have now put them on the copies of “Portraits of Pretence” that I have in stock, added them to the books in my local bookshops, and posted them to the more distant stockists in Ely and London.  I have also been keeping a beady eye on sales for a spike, given all this publicity, but it is so far proving elusive.

 

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And thirdly, I will be launching the “Plank 5” title poll at the end of this week.  My creative team and I (that’s me and the husband) are looking at a long list of possibilities in order to narrow it down to the final five.  The big thesaurus is out – the one with its own special magnifying glass – so it’s serious stuff.  Voting will open on Friday.

Using adverbs wisely, judiciously, carefully and rarely

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My heroic narrator Guy Hanson is in the throes of recording “Worm in the Blossom”.  When he started this one – the third in the series – I extracted from him a promise that he was in it for the long haul, and would continue to be Sam for all seven books.  And now that I know that the books are going to be audio-fied (you know what I mean) and especially now that I can hear Guy as I write, I find that it is affecting my dialogue.

For instance, I used to employ more adverbs: “he said quietly”, “she replied quickly”.  (And at one point I tried to find a gazillion ways to say “said” – he growled, she whispered, they spat – until thankfully I came to my senses and realised that it irritates me when I am reading someone else’s book, so why would I replicate it in my own?)  But I did stick with the adverbs for a while, until I heard Guy.  And it sounds rather silly for someone to say, angrily, “‘Why should I?’ he asked angrily.”  The context and words should be sufficient to convey the mood and tone, and if they are not, simply slapping an adverb on the end is not the answer.  As a result, my dialogue is – I think – much simpler and crisper in layout: it’s pretty much all “he said”, “she said”, “he replied”.  Guy is more than capable of supplying the right spirit when he reads aloud, and so are readers when they read to themselves.

You don’t have to take my word for it: Stephen King, who perhaps rather outsells me (so it must be working), is of the same mind.

Plodcast

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As I mentioned a few days ago, I am now an Award-Winning Author.  In a bid to make as much noise as I could about this – being a self-published author means being your own [under-funded and under-staffed] marketing department – I contacted everyone I could think of who might be willing to publicise my success.  And one of the first to reply was Leigh Chambers, who “appears” on our local radio station, Cambridge 105, and who interviewed me back in October 2015 (as a local author) on her “Bookmark” show.  She explained that all of her current “Bookmark” interview slots are taken, but invited me to come in to her daytime show instead and have a chat.  Which I did on Thursday last week, and it has now been issued as a ten-minute podcast.  So you can hear me talking about Sam, “Portraits of Pretence”, the Discovering Diamonds “Book of the Year 2017” award, and other writerly things.

A couple of things to note: the Cambridge 105 website refers to me as a lawyer, which is flattering but wrong; and I had no idea that they were going to photograph me, so I am wearing my casual squirrel dress and no make-up.  Writers on the radio do not expect to be seen…