This Wild, Wild Country is now with the typesetter, which means I will soon be holding the first printed proof in my hand. This will be a really special moment. What’s been words on a computer screen for 18 months and counting will finally be a physical thing to hold and flick through and put on a book shelf.
But the edits will not be done. First of all, the printed proof is just that – a proof copy. I will need to read it and re-read it to really make sure there are no mistakes remaining. There is other stuff to look out for: do the chapter titles look right? Is the spacing ok? Does the title fit the cover image, or is anything important being obscured?
Then there is what I call the book framework. I still have to write acknowledgements, an Author’s Note, some questions for reading groups and, most importantly, a dedication.
Meanwhile, the book will go through many hands at Bonnier, and through a sensitivity read. So there may be further edits coming at me down the line.
Like a painting, a book is never truly finished. But at some point, the editing has to stop. Still, I know I will howl with pain if This Wild, Wild Country goes to print and I open it in a book shop and find a typo.
Ah, well., we can always fix things for the paperback.
I just wanted to share a bit of interesting research for This Wild, Wild Country. Whenever I do historical research for a book, I save some images that struck a certain note within me. They can be about characters or historic detail, but sometimes it’s more vague things, like tone or mood, that draw me to them.
Here are two women from the 1960s:
Isn’t it incredible that both of these women lived in the same country, the same state, the same year? They couldn’t be any different.
And yet, they have things in common, too. Both wear their best. They use jewellery and hairstyles to express their personality. There’s a sense of pride and confidence in both images. Sure, you could say that our neatly made-up cat-eye glass lady is performing to social expectations. But I think her smile is genuine, her pride sincere.
Now, get both of them around the kitchen table for a chat about the state of the world. What will they agree on? What will they fight over? What are their immovable convictions, and what compromises are they willing to make?
I just got a bunch of final edits back for This Wild, Wild Country.
This is maybe the most exciting phase of book publishing. The book is so close to being finished. You can almost see it on the shelves already. It’s also starting to become the novel I’ve always wanted it to be. Does that sound weird? Maybe?
While I hate edits – after all, how can my perfect book baby have any flaws? – I also love them. There’s a saying that good books aren’t being written, they are being edited, and I 100% subscribe to that philosophy.
The thing is, writing a novel is a journey without a map. You know you’re going to get “somewhere”, but the “where exactly” is always a question. Sometimes, you have grand ideas that don’t work out. Sometimes, a sub-plot that sounded great in your mind is silly on paper. At other times, a fresh mystery emerges from the pages. But does it have a solution?
Editors are absolutely essential in teasing out the brilliant bits from the word jungle and helping you, the author, look square in the face of the bad ones. They also give you something else that’s crucial to writing success = a deadline!
This Wild, Wild Country is coming out in August and is already available for pre-order at Waterstones and Amazon. And I am procrastinating. Back to the edits!
Terrific news from my publisher last week. The cover design for This Wild, Wild Country is in the works.
I’m not going to give too much away just yet. But I can talk a little bit about the cover design for The Long, Long Afternoon. I get asked a lot about the cover. Who created it? Did you get a say in it? How is a book cover decided?
Getting the cover right is crucial, both for the author and the publisher. The author wants a representation of their vision for the book. Once the cover is revealed, the book finally becomes real.
The publisher, of course, has another motive: sales. A cover needs to pop, it needs to stand out from the crowd of books on a book shelf. It needs to appeal – but not necessarily to everyone. A good book cover entices the kinds of readers who will love the book, not all readers everywhere.
Author and publisher will work together on a design that both are happy with. While the publisher has the final say (after all, they’ve got the publishing rights), they won’t want an author to be upset about the cover. It is normal for covers to go through several versions – even the text placement needs to be carefully thought out.
Above is the first concept proposal for The Long, Long Afternoon’s hardback cover that I got to see. Alot of the elements are already there. The broken plate, the curtains, the flowers. But I was still able to make changes and comments. I ran the cover past my family, and my sister suggested adding the stain on the cupboard that could be food… or blood!
The final cover really stands out from other crime novels. It is bright, sunny and charming… but the broken items, the burnt turkey and the knife prominently sticking from the chopping board give it an air of unease. The kitchen looks lived in, but abandoned. The food has been lovingly prepared, then left to rot. The geraniums are peering in, ready drop their blood-red petals all over the scrubbed sink.
I’ll tell you a secret. Can you see the shadow of a man in the light streaming onto the floor? He’s hard to spot, but he’s there…
Do you ever write flash fiction? I highly recommend it. It’s a great tool to hone your writing and pare it down to the essentials. There are lots of fun forums and competitions for flash fiction, including on the amazing writing forum that is Legendfire.com.
But how does it work?
The rules vary, but usually you have to write a full story in less than 100 words. Sometimes, there are prompts or words that must be included.
The trick? Every story needs to have a beginning, a middle and an end. And this is where many flash fiction writers fall flat. I’ve read so much flash fiction that is basically just a scene, not a complete story in itself.
I came first in a fiction writing contest with the following flash fiction story. Let’s take a look:
Prompts: Diamond/Fountain/Red Word Count: 99 Title:Heera Mandi
Madame Bhatti peers from the balcony. She tugs at her red sari. The phone still hasn’t rung, no visitor has knocked on her door. A man hurries past the crumbled fountain. “Sir,” she calls. “Would you come up?” The man smiles, shrugs, walks on. Madame Bhatti sighs. Diamond Market is quiet these days; the only sound the distant roar of cars. She closes her eyes and remembers. The smell of spices, the silk pillows. Women laughing, and the twangs of the sita. Her singing, glorious, enticing. Fit to attract a prince. The prince came. But he did not stay.
Let’s dive in
The story has a clear opening: the first paragraph. It introduces our main character, gives us a glimpse of their personality (she fixes her sari), then immediately presents the story conflict (she is worried because no one has called today).
We then get the main meat of the story. She calls to a man, who ignores her. Then she remembers her glory days. There are few descriptions here, but the ones that I used evoke a sense of place. Crumbling, quiet, distant. All these attributes help the reader feel engrossed in the story.
The prince came. But he did not stay.
The final sentence is the cracker that makes this story work. It sums up Madame Bhatti’s whole life story. It also provides a resolution: the good times were fleeting, and they will never come back.
When writing flash fiction, you really want to focus on the ending. You need to deliver an emotional kick, as well as wrap the action up. A story is only a story if it is concluded properly.
Open the story with a proper opening
Keep the action brief, the descriptions to a minimum
When you do use descriptions, make sure they evoke a sense of time and place
Make sure youre story has a distinct beginning, middle and end
Deliver a kicker ending line
Make every word count. If a word does not contribute to your story, kill it
In September, I was lucky to be featured in the incredible Writing Magazine, a resource I subscribed to for years. See the article here.
We can look at things a little differently, we can open the shutters, let daylight in and ask the secretive dame what she really thinks. Her answers, dear reader, may surprise you.
Writing Magazine, 3 September 2021
Writing Magazine is a great read for everyone who is into creative writing – be it novels, poetry or short fiction. They even have interesting sections on memoirs and non-fiction. I highly recommend it.
My article looked at women in the Noir genre, and how some of Noir’s tropes are changing in the 21st century. I’m not sure I’ve actually “reinvented” Noir, but I do like to think that I’ve given it a bit of a kick up the a**e in The Long, Long Afternoon.
The Long, Long Afternoon is a very noir book, even though it is set in sunny California and features starched curtains and prim aprons instead of neon-lit blinds and chain-smoking low-lives (although there is some smoking, and a couple of shady characters, too. Noir is not necessarily about a time and place, it is about atmosphere. Noir creates a sense of unease, a feeling of being rejected by one’s peers. It is for mavericks, for people who cross social and cultural boundaries.
I wish there was more Noir in fiction, especially in historical fiction. Noir allows us authors to introduce a modern perspective to historical events or settings. It’s a modern genre, but it applies to all ages – after all, there have always been people who felt uneasy about the way things were going, and became mavericks of their time.
Today, few people have heard of the Altamont Free Concert, which took place on 6 December 1969. It was supposed to be the “Woodstock of the West” – a gathering of Hippies, drop-outs and music lovers from California and beyond.
Instead, it turned into a bleak, violent and deadly event, which was later dubbed the end of the Hippie era. Meredith Hunter, a young festival attendee, was killed by several Hell’s Angels, who had been hired to provide security during the event. There were reports of rapes and other violent episodes.
The Altamont Free Concert plays a minor role in my new novel, This Wild, Wild Country. It is the reason my band of Hippies abandons California and heads towards New Mexico, where they hope to rebound from the experience and renew their ideals.
The US Library of Congress has just released some new footage from the festival, showing 60s rock legends such as the Rolling Stones, Carlos Santana and Grace Slick. The footage does not throw any new lights on the events of that night, but it shows the stark contrasts that defined the – and perhaps contributed to – the slow decline of the Hippie movement.
The era created some incredible talent and revolutionised so many aspects of society, but it was also marred by chaos, conflict and fragmentation. The Hippies threw the rulebook out of the window. But then, where do you go from there?
Quite a while after Sue wrote this wonderfully succinct and loving review of The Long, Long Afternoon, we met at the Bloody Scotland literary festival in Stirling. Sue is such an amazing book blogger and a great friend of debut authors across the UK. We really need that early buzz to get our pre-orders up and get noticed – so bloggers like Sue are our lifeblood.
Please support your favourite book bloggers with a like or share today.
I’ve just submitted the third draft of This Wild, Wild Country to the fabulous folks at Manilla Press. I can’t say much about it yet, but my second novel will be set in New Mexico in 1970 and feature a murder in a Hippie Commune.
It’s been tough writing the Hippies. They are so easy to ridicule, yet they really tried to do something different. I wanted to take them seriously for what they were aiming to achieve, rather than mocking their style and slang. Hope I’ve succeeded.
Hippie slang sounds cliched to us now, but it was totally real, man. Just check out this rad advert for bongo drums. Far out!