Brain-ache – revising a whole book

Anyone out there written a book?

If  you have then you will probably have found out that:

  1. It’s very difficult to write a book which other people will want to read
  2. It’s very hard to get good advice on how to improve your book
  3. The process of revising is very difficult
  4. When you’ve done all this work, it’s still impossible to get published
  5. Despite all this you still want to keep writing!

Well I’ve been through all these stages over the last 5 or 6 years, and have written 2 whole books and 2 unfinished books. Of those one was “published” by what is usually called a “vanity publisher”, although I didn’t realise this at the time. Sales were in the region of 10 copies. I’m useless at promoting my own books.

Two of these books projects I still think have potential. I fear I don’t have the emotional resources to complete the one with the most potential, but my novel “Lucas and the Girl from the Sea” should, in a less insanely competitive market, have something going for it. I’ve thought this for the last two years without doing anything about it.

Now I have. A small windfall paid for a professional editorial report. It came back with some detailed recommendations which I have been systematically acting on.  I thought I would share the process with you.

The main recommendation was to remove anything which did not either drive the story forward or deepen our understanding of the characters. It’s a process called “killing your darlings”. The floor is metaphorically littered with their corpses.

Here’s an example. Tarquin – an under-cover name – is acting the playboy to try to find out what goes on in Castle Drago. Jurg is his new bar-friend. Jurg is speaking.

“Yes yes but we have many castles like this in Austria too. Is very grand no?”

“I’ll tell you what though . . .” Tarquin was supposed to know about such things. “I’ll bet you the next round of drinks it’s no more than 100 years old – 120 tops.”

“Is possible. Hey Tim, let’s go.” They climbed out of the bus and stood around waiting for some guidance.

We already know it’s not old so that can go. This is better:

“Yes yes but we have many castles like this in Austria too. Is very grand no?”

The bus turned into a gateway to a well-shaded car park concealed from the castle by more trees. They all  climbed out of the bus and stood around waiting for some guidance.

Wait a minute. Didn’t I say earlier that the only public access to the castle was by pre-booked tours? Go back and look. I do a search for ‘Castle Drago’ and get side-tracked. There are  two mentions of a text message:

-Its Castle Drago meet me grid ref xxx xxx 10am tomorrow 24th

In the first it arrives on the phone of Lucas, the hero of the book. In the second (which comes after the first in the book but not in the story – are you still with me?) is being sent by Tomas, alias Tarquin,  his colleague. The chronology is wrong. To switch them round would mess up the flow of the story.  How bad is this?

Now I have to explain that a feature of this story is that everything which involves the hero, unless it is one of the flash-backs I have been trying to purge from the manuscript, happens in the present and is written in the present tense. All other action is in the normal past tense. This is how the first entry appears:

‘Something has changed – it could be the opioids, the nicotine or the scent of her hair – whatever it is he feels better. The fear has subsided and he feels a surge of energy. As if in response to a cue his cheap phone buzzes. It’s a message from Tomas:

-Its Castle Drago meet me grid ref xxx xxx 10am tomorrow 24th

He shows it to Marta.’

The second entry  is in the past tense:

‘There was a strong phone signal so he sent a text to Marta:

-It’s Castle Drago. Meet me grid ref xxx xxx. Tomorrow 10am 

To avoid being traced they used cheap PAYG phones and changed them regularly, making sure that each side knew the new numbers.

It buzzed:

Should be OK tomorrow.

A morsel of relief. They were on track.’

I too, the writer and reviser, feel a morsel of relief. This should be OK. Back to the manuscript and the issue of whether people would arrive by car or only by bus. I scroll through page after familiar page, each of which has been read at least 10 times already. It seems OK.

Next problem is this:

“You will have some time to wander around, but please ensure that you are back here before 12:15”

Tomas turned to his companion:

“Listen Jurg – I want to go round at my own pace. What say we meet at the bar around 12?”

“Ja, we have  ‘dogs hair’ no?”

Just fifteen minutes for two confirmed boozers to have a convivial drink? I change it to 11:30. Is that cutting the tour too short? When does the tour start? I only need to go back a few paragraphs to find that it is not specified. Good.

And so it goes on. It’s exhausting but fascinating. I’ll do occasional updates on its progress.

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