Happy Ever After – the Week 5 Update

Ever wanted to know what it’s like to write a novel?  I’m in the process of writing a new novel and will be blogging my progress week by week here.  

I’m back into the manuscript. I still haven’t decided what it will be called, but given that I’m just shy of 60,000 words and on track to finish the first draft by Christmas, I’d probably better think about that. At the moment the working title is Happy Ever After.

When I’d first got the idea for this story, I described it to friends as being sort of like what happens after the happy ever after. The stuff they don’t tell us about. The curve balls that life throws us when we’re in our late forties, early fifties and the kids are almost off our hands. The things that happen when we should be coasting happily into, if not retirement, then at least something not as exhausting as what we’d spent the last twenty or so years doing.

I was going to write about the ageism in corporate life – and the bullying that goes on behind that. It was to be my revenge of sorts against the company my husband used to work for. I wrote all of that into the story and then deleted most of it – while I still have zero respect for them, we wouldn’t be living where we are now if they hadn’t done what they’d done. Once I’d let that go I was able to see what was going on around me and my characters began to take shape.

It started me thinking about everything else – how lives can change in a heartbeat right at that time when we’re thinking about coming down a gear. Divorce, health issues, death, ageing parents, adult children, loss of employment – all of that seems to hit at this age. Right at that point where we’re about to reap the rewards of the hard work and stress, whoever it is who rules the roost up there seems to decide that she has other plans for us – and life all of a sudden looks very different to the version that we’d envisaged.

That’s the premise of this story. Neil and Kate Spence fell in love when Kate was just eighteen after a chance meeting at a Midnight Oil gig that never happened. Then they fell out of love. In between were a few decades, two kids and a lifetime of memories.

Rather than the career that she’d envisaged – fighting the good fight for those who couldn’t fight it – Kate’s reality is one where playing happy families now includes Neil’s new (and very young) girlfriend, Vanessa. It’s not at all what Kate expected when she encouraged him in his quest to find himself by hiking to Everest Base Camp four years ago.

But when Neil finally asks for a divorce, secrets and longings that Kate thought she’d buried begin to surface. Can there be another chance for Kate and Neil, or has the universe got other plans for them?

Yes, the above reads a tad like a blurb – something I tend not to even contemplate until I’ve finished a book, but here I am writing it now. To put that into perspective, I haven’t even written the blurb yet for I Want You Back…and I need to.

The words stopped for a while – I wrote nothing for the week after I hit the 50,000 mark. That coincided with the wall that I’d seen approaching in the distance – a wall that was a pivotal scene that I knew that I had to write, but that I truly didn’t want to.

I’d got to know Neil and Kate and care about them. This scene would change everything – and it was the hardest thing I’d ever written…so far. In writing it, not only was I challenging myself, it almost felt as though I was tempting my own fate – ridiculous, I know, but since when does logic come into it? I cried buckets as I wrote it. I guess that’s a good thing.

Anyways, once I got that scene out of the way I was able to push through the wall and the story is again moving. I still have no idea how it’s going to end, but that’s all part of the fun.

My target is to hit 65,000 words by the end of this weekend. I’m on track for that. Watch this space.

What I’m working on…

After trashing my book (remember, I told you about it here), I’ve put it back together enough that it’s now gone off to my editor for a structural look-see. Rather than do a full structural edit, at this point it’s about working out whether I’m on the right track.

You see, what I’m doing with this one is splitting it into three short novels – almost novellas in length. They’ll each be around the 50,000 word mark – about the length of a Sydney commute. Because they’re three different stories occurring in the same timeframe, there are crossovers that I have to keep an eye on through the editing process of each.

Each character is not only telling her own story, but also giving her perspective into the story of the others. Confused already? You wouldn’t be alone. In drafting no.2 of this series (at the moment untitled, so I’m referring to it as Tiffany), I’ve already worked out at least three places where I Want You Back (Callie’s story) needs re-work and layering. Callie herself is still feeling a tad passive – so I suspect more will need to be made of her motivations.

Anyways, the plan is to release them all a month after each other – which essentially means that I’ll need at least two ready to go before the first is published.

Yes, that does put a certain amount of pressure on me. While I Want You Back is off getting the assessment treatment, Tiffany is being drafted. I’m giving myself just a month to do this.

What I’m discovering as part of this process is that in writing quickly, not only is my voice coming through more clearly, but I have less time to faff about and deliberate over whether I’m doing the right thing, or not being clever enough. I have less time to second guess myself.

Sure, it makes the reviewing process a nightmare, but as they say, you can’t edit words that haven’t been written.

As well as madly drafting Tiffany, I’m also building the story for Alice in my head and gathering ideas for the covers and titles.

These three books (or book-ettes) are sequels to Baby, It’s You, so not only do I want to keep the cover design the same, I also want to add that same feeling of light and fun to the cover.

In the month prior to release date of I Want You Back, I’ll run a special promotion on Baby, It’s You, as for the publication date itself? I’m aiming for September, but that will depend on how much work I need to do to get I Want You Back to publishable standard.

I’ll keep you posted on that one…

That time I trashed my whole book…

Ok, so last week this happened: I trashed my book. Yep, ripped it apart. I could say ‘Just. Like.That.’ for dramatic embellishment, but far more thought than that went into it.

It’s something that had been playing on my mind for a few weeks, but doggedly I kept writing. I had a schedule I wanted to keep and surely what I was contemplating was not something that I should be contemplating?

When I talked about it we were in a mini bus heading out to Trang An – it’s an eco tourism complex of limestone karst peaks and grottoes. You sit in a boat and get rowed through the caves and valleys. It’s on the UNESCO World Heritage list and, located not too far out of Hanoi, absolutely worth a visit.

Where was I? Yes, on the mini bus to Trang An and chatting to my girlfriend about the problems I was having with finishing I Want You Back. This particular friend is an avid reader – and has also been an early reader for me – so was the perfect sounding board for this particular conversation. Hers was an opinion I valued.

‘I’m just not feeling it,’ I complained. ‘I’m bored, and if I’m bored then so will my readers be.’

As she listened, I explained the problem. This story has been in my head since I finished Baby, It’s You. My heroine, Calliope Jones (Callie), used to go out with Jamie, the bad boy in Baby. (I can’t tell you more than that without issuing a spoiler alert – on the off-chance that you haven’t already read Baby.)He was the love of her life and she’ll do pretty much anything to get him back. I actually even had the tagline before I had the story:

Be careful what you wish for – you might just get it…

If I’d stuck with that premise I might not be in the trouble I am today. The thing is, like us, characters don’t live in isolation. Yet when I brought Callie’s friends in to join the party – Alice Delaney and Tiffany Samuels – things got out of control. They had their own story and wanted to be heard too.

Now, here’s where the confusion and awkwardness comes in. Alice, you see, was the subject of my first never ever to ever ever be published novel. It was always my intention to rewrite her story as the final episode in this little series of books, but somehow she forced herself in here. Alice also appeared briefly in Baby, It’s You

Ok, I thought. I’ll make this an ensemble cast and seamlessly weave all three stories together. It will be like something that Cathy Kelly would do. How hard could it be?

As it turns out, very hard indeed. More than that, it simply wasn’t working. I was writing third person – something that I feel removes me a bit from the head of my character – and the voice just felt wrong.

‘Maybe I should just write it as three books,’ I mused to my friend. There are quite a few people in the romance field doing that now: Anna Campbell is doing it very well with her regency widows series, Carole Mortimer does it very sexily with her Knight Security series, and I’ve just started reading some Kylie Scott as well.

Being the wise friend that she is, we talked it through, but she didn’t agree or disagree with me. This had to be my decision.

But, I had virtually finished and the book was due to my editor by the end of the month… WTF was I doing even thinking of making a change of this magnitude at this stage of the process?

It wasn’t until I was on the overnight flight home from Bangkok that I did it. I started again to tell just Callie’s story…and I’m telling Tiff’s story…and I’m telling Alice’s. Three shorter books, tied together, to be written almost together, and released at 2 monthly intervals.

I have no idea whether I’ve made the right decision. I’ve definitely made life tougher for myself, but part of doing this whole indie thing was making two promises to myself:

  • That every single book that I published would be the very best that it could be – and not finished for the sake of finishing
  • That I’d learn more about both the craft of writing and the business of it with each project – and that doesn’t mean taking the easy path.

In doing this, as crazy as it is, I’m honouring those promises to myself.

But then, after it had all been ripped apart – and before it’s all back together – I had to confess what I’d done to my editor…thankfully she understood and it hasn’t impacted her schedule too much.

All the words I’ve written are re-usable, just across three books instead of one. My mission is to now to get the bones back together for at least the first and part of the second so my editor can get an idea about what I’m trying to do…I’ll keep you posted…