Archive | May 2009

Redundant Words from the Cuckoo’s Nest

Last week, I finally confessed to J that I had completed another book and the response was that she wanted me to send it to her straight away. I suspect it might need quite a bit more work on it before she gives me a verdict on whether or not it is good enough to send out to publishers. But hang on – ‘The White Cuckoo’ was a just masochistic tool to oil my typing fingers and knock the rust out of my synapses, so anything more than a sympathetic, slightly worried smile in my direction from her will be a bonus.

Now the nail-biting starts all over again.

After contacting J about ‘Cuckoo’ she gave me some quite exciting news on ‘Sunlight’ but I’m not counting my chickens and all that (ha ha) until they start to hatch.

Anyway I now find myself looking at the aftermath of the Cuckoo’s parasitic behaviour, because I have almost 40k redundant words. I started a novel ‘Doubled Lives’ over a year ago, but abandoned it because it was so dull, but one of the characters was really strong and I knew I just had to use her now I had created her. I really liked the character, but hated the novel, so I abandoned the novel, but kept the character.

I then had an idea – a bad one as it turned out because it didn’t really work – of telling two stories in alternate chapters, set in different times. I started ‘Going Back’ using two of the characters from ‘Doubled Lives’ in one of the story strands. Something still wasn’t right, though. I just knew it in my bones – even though I was spending some very enjoyable time in the local library researching the archaeology of the area – interesting but completely off piste!

Then came the conversation with my uncle about the premature baby, and the visit to the Natural History museum late last year when I eavesdropped a conversation in the queue in the restaurant. The idea for ‘Cuckoo’ was sown. It wasn’t long before my strong-willed character was tapping on my brain, wanting to be let in. She’d brought an odd assortment of friends and a couple of relatives with her. They are a right motley lot, I can tell you! (I really do hope you’ll all get to meet them one day.)

I reworked the original idea of two stories in one and the whole thing just came together in one fantastic explosion of light and colour (or a damp squib, depending on what my agent thinks).

I’ve now got nearly 40k words worth of broken sentences, paragraphs, sights, sounds, smells and other bits and bobs that are left from ‘Doubled Lives’ and ‘Going Back’.

I suspect they are just flotsam. What a flaming waste!

Any ideas as to what I can do with them?

The Very Scary Bit

Yesterday, after thoughtful help from hubby with the copying etc., I sent out my manuscript to my three remaining readers, Emily and Katie having had a sneak preview.

I have broken some rules.

Rule No. 1: A reader should not be a close member of the family

The wisdom behind this is that they won’t want to upset the writer, so will pin a happy smile on their face and pretend it was wonderful. Well, let me introduce my daughter to you all. Emily – the Queen of the Straight Talkers and very much her undiplomatic father’s daughter. She is also spending lots of time pretending to be a cow at the moment (no, not a ‘cow’ a cow as in a milk), so needs something to do while my baby granddaughter thinks she actually is one.

Rule No. 2: A reader should actually like reading

Emily’s never been much of a reader. When she was six/seven she was such a little perfectionist (again like her father) she wouldn’t try anything unless she knew she could do it. Reading out loud was her worst nightmare. Enter scary teacher who forced her to do it in front of whole class even though she cried real tears. Result: one little girl who started out quite liking to read to herself quietly, but ended up at the age of seven being so scared of not being able to read out loud it put her right off.

Rule No. 3: A reader should not be a teacher (broke that one twice)

Enter very nice teacher who understood perfectly what poor little seven/eight-year old Emily was going through and made her laugh with Roald Dahl and Michael Rosen. (I don’t think I ever thanked you for that, N, did I?) N is also one of my readers and I’m really grateful to her. She’s a colleague of Emily’s, although they teach in different schools, and that’s how I’ve ended up with two teachers.

Rule No. 4: A reader of women’s fiction should be a woman

But he’s my best buddy and makes me nice cups of tea on a Thursday lunchtime and really doesn’t notice if my hair is a mess or I’ve just taken my shoes off and put my feet up on his sofa without realising.

Rule No. 5: A reader should not be, just possibly, the cleverest person in the whole world with an IQ of about 200

But he knows what long words mean and can read (some) Hebrew and other clever languages like Latin and Greek. He does the cryptic crossword in the Guardian every day. Okay – I know ‘The White Cuckoo’ will be like Janet and John compared to the literary stuff he’s usually got his nose in, but A’s a bloke and there are blokes in my novel.

Rule No. 6: Readers should not be your daughter-in-law to be

Okay. Okay! I know. I know. She might hold it against me and tell my future grandchildren what a nutcase their granny is to even think she just might get published. But then again, I could earn lots of Brownie points and be a fab mother-in-law for trusting her with my precious manuscript. Not so daft after all, am I?

Rule No. 7: Readers should not be a work colleague

Well, H did a good job with Novel No. 1 didn’t she? And M did offer! She’s such a scatterbrain, though, I hope she doesn’t leave it on the bus or anything.


So now it’s being read by five people. This has got to be the worst bit of all. It is far, far worse than knowing that total strangers are reading your work.

Once I’ve got all the comments back I’ll do another complete edit, or rewrite if necessary, and then send it to my agent.

The written novel

Good morning.

It is done. I actually put the final full stop on the page at 5.45 pm on Saturday, but that wasn’t the end of the first draft, because I always edit the previous session.

I finished editing yesterday’s work just twenty minutes ago at 5.55 am. I then made a cup of tea, sat in the dawn sunshine in my garden and listened to the dawn chorus. (We live about a hundred yards away from a spinney – so the noise was actually quite deafening.) I was joined in my garden by a pair of collared doves, a finch of some sort, a blackbird and some starlings. Did I imagine it, but did they line up on my fence in a sort of avian fanfare in tribute to The White Cuckoo?

It’s like pure, white fragrant-smelling linen – just the thing to place in your bottom drawer. It’s a story to lift your heart. There is not a single ounce of grittiness; there are no (bad) swear words; no bawdy sex scenes. It will make you laugh and it will make you cry, sometimes at the same time. There is too much of me in it. I have exposed my soul.

Will a publisher want it? I don’t honestly know – I doubt it. It’s probably too simple and honest. But I know I needed to write it like a drowning man needs a lifeline.

There is a lesson for all of you here. I almost lost something so fundamentally a part of me because of this dream we all chase that is ‘publication’. Okay – I know I have an agent, and I’m grateful for that but never, ever again am I going to let anything get in the way of writing just for the pure enjoyment of it. The pressure suffocated the words in my head before they could reach my fingers. It made me sterile and made me think too much about what I was writing.

Full stop. The end.
RIP The White Cuckoo – 4th April 2009 to 3rd May 2009.

(PS – final word count 96,361 if anyone’s interested)

The finishing of a novel

Righty ho!

This is yesterday’s word count.

End of Thursday’s session: 77,855
End of Friday’s session: 86,068 (blimey – a palindrome no less!)
Total words: 8,193
Time spent writing/editing previous session’s work : 7 hrs (give or take a few minutes)
Average words written and edited per hour: 1,197

Now. I must make a conscious effort not to rush the remaining story in an effort to finish the book. It’s a bit like when I’m knitting and running out of wool. I knit faster to make the wool last to the end of the row and usually end up ruining the pattern because I’m knitting too fast and not paying attention to the instructions.

Note to self. It is not possible to run out of words. Don’t rush Annie, don’t rush!