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Yes, Every Book is a Special, Snowflake.

Every book is a hugely different experience. I’ve heard it said that writing a book doesn’t teach you to Write Books, it just teaches you how you wrote that book. And then you get to start again. It’s probably the truest piece of writing advice I’ve ever heard, or given.

I learned this lesson early on – my first (published) novel took eighteen months to write. The second took seven. The second is by far a better book. So there’s any idea of time = quality, right out the window.

I’ve written books that were agony every step of the way, and books that were incredible fun with every scene and both kind have failed to get to a significant end point (ie publication). Sometimes that’s because the book wasn’t good enough, and sometimes because the author wasn’t. (yes, sometimes there’s a difference)

Sometimes books break, and they can be fixed. Sometimes they break and are lost forever. I’ve only had one instance when an outside force has broken one of my books, and I still don’t know if that one’s irreparable. I’m certainly guarding against the possibility of that happening again, but sometimes there’s nothing you can do.

It helps if you love the book in progress. (ha, one of many ways in which authoring is like parenting) It makes it easier to sit at the computer on a regular basis, if the manuscript is calling to you with a seductive siren song. Sadly, no matter how much you love it, the hate will set in at some point. If you’re very lucky, you can get to the end of the first draft (or the second, or the third) without that happening, but it always hits you in the end, usually at the worst possible moment. Experienced authors know that this always happens, that you have to ride it through, and hopefully you will love it again someday soon (at least, when you see it on a shelf).

Books have different personalities while you’re writing them, too. Some require playlists and mood music. Others require a reading list, and even that you avoid certain books or albums during the writing process, so as not to mess up your own voice. Some can be written in tiny increments, while other demand huge tracts of writing time.

The Shattered City, Book Two of my Creature Court trilogy, was perhaps the least interrupted of all the volumes in the series, which is ironic because it came with one big interruption — the birth of my second daughter. But I planned and allowed for a set amount of time off and then, slowly slowly, returned to the book. Book Three, on the other hand, was constantly interrupted thanks to the needs of the previous books in the series – my writing time was so limited thanks to my mothering commitments that I couldn’t write AND edit at the same time. So every time edits or proofs came in for earlier books, Book Three had to grind to a halt – and grind it did. I discovered to my dismay that these books – and Book Three in particular – required writerly momentum, and that I had to work consistently for 3-4 weeks before getting up enough momentum to feel I was actually making progress. But for a while there, I had other commitments crashing in every 4-6 weeks, so it really felt like every time I got up momentum, I had to stop again.

It didn’t help that Book Two, which had been much “easier” to get written, turned out to need more structural editing than anyone had planned for, and that meant stopping Book Three again and again. At one point I was so desperate that I begged my editors to let me ignore proofs for a month, just so I could get to the END of Book Three – it felt like stopping one more time would make the whole thing crash and burn. Besides, I didn’t actually know yet how it all ended…

Then, after all those agonies, Book Three didn’t need structural editing (unheard of in my experience!) so we actually ended up ahead of schedule.

In and amongst all this was Love and Romanpunk, an entirely different experience. I took a month to write the stories for this four story collection, knowing it was all the time I could spare – and from that, only two of the stories I produced were really, really good. Alisa proved her worth as an editor and publisher (not that she NEEDED to prove herself to me) by only accepting those two, and making me lift my game. Those two stories, “The Patrician” and “Julia Agrippina’s Secret Bestiary”, belonged to the same universe, and it only made sense that instead of putting them with two other vaguely Ancient-Rome-themed stories, they should be part of a suite of four.

The books had to wait, and wait, but then I finished Book Three of the trilogy and had the summer to work on short stories in between the child-juggling that comes with school holidays. First came “Lamia Victoriana”, a story I had been wanting to write back in my original month, but which simply wasn’t cooked back then. I had been inspired by the story of Fanny Wollstonecraft/Godwin, half sister to the more famous Mary Shelley, after reading Death and the Maidens by Janet Todd, and I wanted to give Fanny a different fate. Not sure if being surrounded by lamia was an improvement, but it was certainly more fitting to the universe I had created!

The final story almost wrote itself – I knew all the elements from quite early, borrowing the title from one of my failed original stories (“Last of the Romanpunks”), and nothing else. As has now become fairly standard for me, however, the easier it is to write a piece, the more editing it will require later on! I took a leaf out of the book of Steven Moffat with his Doctor Who finale and made the story a sequel to all the others (though in some cases only tangentially) – something that could only be possible in this format, though I like to think the story can stand alone. It will certainly have more narrative resonance exactly where it is – the fourth in a collection of four.

Now my books are all done, but that means simply that it’s time to start again. I have received two grants this year to write Fury, a Nancy Napoleon novel, sequel to “Siren Beat” – and I’m definitely at the ‘why isn’t this easier, I’ve been looking forward to it for months’ stage. “Siren Beat” was one of the easiest pieces I’ve ever written – once Nancy’s voice came to me, the story just poured on to the page, and it required very little (for once!) in the way of shaping and editing afterwards. But I’ve written several books since then, and had another child, and finding Nancy’s voice is Actual Work, even with her playlist of music blaring in the background.

It will come, though. I will find the momentum and hit the sweet spot and the novel will unfold around me. I’m having to take actual thinking time with this one, turning it over in my head rather than letting it unfold as I write, and that is a shock to the system. Also, the story being set in my home town rather than an imaginary universe, I’m actually needing to GO PLACES and LOOK AT STUFF which is, again, hard to get used to. Once again, I have to come to terms with the fact that every book is different, and can’t be written the same way as any previous book.

You’d think I’d have learned that by now.


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