Tuesday, 26 July 2011

What I Did at the Weekend

On Sunday I returned home after spending three days at the Theakstons Crime Festival in Harrogate. I had never been to the festival before, but I knew that there would be a number of big authors there and that some fascinating panels and discussions were planned. That's literally all I knew. I hoped to be amused, educated and entertained, and to come home feeling that it was money well spent.

Well, I can tell you that it was much, much better than that.

What made it special were the people. There were no cliques, no elitism, no friction. Everyone got on with everyone else. Big names rubbed shoulders and downed alcohol with the littler fish. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the luminaries were doing everything they could to encourage newly published and aspiring authors. Special mention must go to Mark Billingham, who could almost invariably be found at the 'front of house', welcoming people and having coffee with them. I chatted to him several times during the festival, and although I am a fan of his work anyway, I came away feeling that he is such a nice guy.

The talks and panels were excellent. Val McDermid was hilarious and Lee Child gave a highly entertaining performance in the Room 101 session. I particularly enjoyed listening to Dennis Lehane at the end of festival. He was refreshingly honest and frank, but also such a cool customer. Since he's a hero of mine, I joined a long queue to get him to sign some books, and he congratulated me on my debut novel and wished me good luck. I got a similar reception from Tess Gerritsen and David Baldacci in their book signings too.

On the Friday evening the Pan Macmillan team took a number of us out to dinner at the very posh venue of Rudding Park. I sat between Jeremy Trevathan, Fiction Publisher for Pan Mac, and Philippa McEwan, my publicist. They made for fantastic company, as did everyone else at the table (how often do you get to have dinner with David Baldacci?). Following champagne and a wonderful meal, we were transported back to the bar of the Old Swan, and the party continued. The whole weekend was as fast paced as that: I hardly slept, because even when I managed to get back to my hotel room in the wee small hours, my mind was racing too much for me to relax.

Philippa, my publicist, was brilliant. She introduced me to lots of important people in the business and the media. At one point she whisked me in to meet the manager of the Waterstones store that had been set up in the hotel. I had noticed on the previous day that copies of my book were on the shelves, even though I wasn't on any of the panels. It was pleasing enough when Kirsty, the manager, told me that they were selling well, but then it got better. I was invited to sign the remaining copies, they were stickered appropriately, and within an hour they were all sold!

I have to say that the organization of the whole event was fantastic. The logistics of such a huge festival must have been horrendous, but to me as a punter it seemed to run like clockwork. Sessions ran perfectly to time, stragglers were only allowed in at appropriate junctures, and the audio-visuals were spot on. There were also nice gaps between sessions in which we could grab a much-needed cuppa and some fresh air, and the lunches were superb. All of this in the remarkable setting of the Old Swan Hotel, and the fact that Agatha Christie was once found staying there after her mysterious disappearance only added to the atmosphere.

I must give a mention to Twitter here. As a social media tool, Twitter did its job excellently. I arrived at the festival feeling that I already knew some people, and when we finally met up I was not disappointed. The rapport was immediate, and I left having established friendships that I know will last a long time.

So that was my weekend. Exhausting, but also electrifying and inspiring. I can't wait to go back next year.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Edits, geddit?

One of the things I did recently was to send off the edits for my second book (currently titled 'The Helper') to my editor at Pan Macmillan. This got me thinking about how, before I was published, I had no idea of all the stages a book goes through before it finally hits the shelves. I imagine there must be many aspiring authors in a similar position, so I thought I would take this opportunity to demystify the process if I can.

Once you are taken on as an author, an editor will be assigned to work with you. In my case, it's the editor who accepted my book in the first place, and I imagine it's the same for most publishing houses. One of the first jobs of your editor is to re-read your novel and then try to identify how it might be improved. He or she will then write back to you with a whole load of suggestions. Some of these are trivial; others can require a lot more thought.

The editorial suggestions that were sent to me for The Helper came in two parts. The first part consisted of general story points - points about the plot and characters that I may not have considered. One of these in particular helped me to add a nice twist to the story.

The other part consisted of more detailed comments, with references to specific points in the manuscript. The form this took for The Helper was a large table, divided into four columns. The first column of each row gave the page number of the manuscript; the second specified the line number(s); the third held the editor's comments; and the fourth was left blank for me to indicate my response.

Here's an example of one of the easier edits to deal with:
page 12, line 8: Do skateboards clang? 'Clatter' ?

I had referred in my book to the clanging of skateboards. My editor suggested that 'clattering' might be a better word, and of course he's right. I changed it and simply wrote 'done' in the column reserved for me.

Here's a slightly more substantial revision:
page 26, line 6: Is this paragraph vital? Began to feel that Doyle's triumphalism was a bit overextended!

The editor is calling here for the removal of a complete paragraph. On re-reading it, I realised he was right, deleted the text, and wrote 'Cut' in my column.

Deleting text is often painful, but excisions don't end at paragraphs. I have deleted whole pages at the suggestion of my editor, and even a complete section. In his blog, Ryan David Jahn has explained how he once cut a whole chapter from a novel after the editor queried its usefulness.

Sometimes edits require text to be added. This may occur when the editor feels a passage needs further clarification, or feels that something extra is needed to add to the impact of an event.

When I had worked my way through all the suggestions, I sent the table and my general comments back to my editor. We then went through one more iteration - a few more suggestions, a few more edits, and then we were done.

What you may have gathered from all this is that an editor's comments are not dismissed lightly. In the vast majority of cases, I made changes in line with what the editor suggested. In one or two cases I let things stand, but only after serious thought, and I always explained why I had taken that decision.

The end result of all this work is, I believe, a much tighter and faster-paced novel, with a nice extra twist thrown in for good measure.

But that's not the end of the work on The Helper, as we shall see in future posts...