On Being A Professional Writer: Delivery Pains

Christopher Fowler
IMG_3921 I don't keep my own books on display at home. I worry that it looks egotistical, so they're hidden away at the top of a cupboard (two cupboards now; there are rather a lot of them). And there are things about some I don't enjoy looking back at. Any job, if you do it for long enough, eventually exposes your weaknesses. I know I write terrible synopses and outlines, mainly because my books change so much in development. Some authors map out great diagrams of everything that will appear in their novels long before they start - this is a skill I've never been able to master. Worse, though, is my attention to detail during edits. The editing process can be quite arduous, especially when you're doing more than one edition at the same time. Last year I found myself editing three books in different editions simultaneously, and the text blurred together until I started making mistakes. Chief among these is my inability to keep my timelines straight. I like to deliver a book so tightly written that there's little room for an editor to get a red pencil in, but sometimes what happened on which day of the week at which hour of the day simply gets away from me. What makes it more complicated is that UK and US editions are subtly different. They come from different edits because both sides like to raise separate points. In the case of 'Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart' the versions diverge quite a lot. The UK and German editions of 'Hell Train' are radically different because Stefan, my German editor, was far more concerned with period accuracy than Jon, my UK editor - so in the story an engine piston that went into production two years after the book is set had to be altered. Oddly, I found the pickier German 'Hell Train' proofing to be an exhilarating process. Usually, every error is picked up during the edit, if not by me then by the proof-reader or the editor or someone who has dispassionately looked over the manuscript. There's nothing worse than being so close to the book that you can't see it clearly anymore. As I'm currently working on books for 2016, I can see a point coming when I may be editing up to four books at once. On March 26th 2015, 'Bryant & May and the Burning Man' arrives. This is the twelfth book in the series and one of the longest entries (sorry!) because there's an awful lot to get through. Later in the year, probably in mid-summer, Solaris, who published 'Hell Train', 'Plastic' and 'Nyctophobia', will be publishing a new thriller from me entitled 'The Sand Men'. This is a bit of a departure for me; think Ira Levin with a smidgen of JG Ballard. It will another of my novels to feature a strong female protagonist facing a desperate situation, but this time, as in 'Nyctophobia', it's played straight, while the subject matter is contemporary and more than a little controversial. After that comes a twisted thriller (finished), then a comedy (started), so if all of these books are accepted I will find myself in the exhausting position of carrying out multiple edits simultaneously. Having said this, for much of my writing life I also had a demanding career to deal with - most authors I know do more than one thing simply because writing doesn't pay enough. The secret, to me, is not getting bogged down in the things you can't control; rights, production, marketing, selling, publication, adaptations - and concentrate on one thing - delivering.
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Helen Martin (not verified) Sat, 06/12/2014 - 19:25

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Makes sense to me but having difficulty with the time line, couldn't a chart help, with events inserted as they're created? Or a computer spread sheet? or a chronological card file? All of them require taking focus away from the actual writing even if only for a few moments, though, so I suppose it would break whatever flow was happening.

Jo W (not verified) Sun, 07/12/2014 - 13:13

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

What a busy little bee you are,Admin! But please, just keep 'em coming.😃

Stefan M. (not verified) Sun, 07/12/2014 - 15:27

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Oh yes, great idea to start the myth that the English and German versions of Hell Train are radically different. And I even forgot to inform you that I had to change the ending a bit to make it more suitable to German readers' tastes...

On a more serious note, as a translator I suspect I'm reading the text at least as closely as an editor. Hell Train was especially challenging because of the different levels of narration: you writing about a writer producing a story taking place in an imaginary Eastern European country, but not without historical context. If something didn't seem right, was it because you wanted it that way (to characterise the writer or one of the people in the story) or not?

So I'm grateful that you took the time for discussing those points with me. Not only because I'm pedantic by nature - I'm also sure at least one or two of them would have been picked up by some reader who wouldn't have hesitated to point out his cleverness in a review. (As of now, there is only a handful of reviews for the e-book on amz.de - print will only be out in January. They are quite positive, some even enthusiastic.)

Thomas (not verified) Sat, 13/12/2014 - 18:10

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Wonderful blog post! I too am bogged down with writing and editing three novellas and short stories at the moment. I love my work so I am not going to complain. I love your work, too, so keep writing! "Nyctophobia" is marvelous. A creepy little story and a nice departure form the May & Bryant series. Thanks for writing it.