Wednesday 6 July 2016

Writing a Book part 3:The journey...

The following is an account of the past ten months or so in the journey of writing a book with Russell Payne...initially I was going to break up the following into three distinct blogs but decided against it! So there may be different tenses used in the following account...

The last months of 2015 were bleak where the book was concerned. Russ had jumped the shark. Not literally obviously, he can't swim, but his meagre offerings in both September and December made me question the entire project. Both of us were frustrated for different reasons. Russ couldn't understand why I didn't see his genius. I couldn't understand why he didn't care about narrative, character development or writing anything that wasn't comedy. And by comedy I mean an irksome, consistently unrealistic inner monologue that every character seems to share.

Payne was fully aware we weren't writing a comedy.

September: Flying over Canada on my way to the Baltimore Comic Con I read Payne's offering. He'd assured me it was great so I settled in to enjoy it. The park worker in Russ' fourth chapter, a middle aged woman obsessed with lines, order and who possessed a deep hatred of children was gone, replaced by a 14 or 15 year old girl called Emily. That in itself was an enormous positive step.

Emily, it turns out, was obsessed with lines, order get the picture. He just recycled the same chapter and put a different character in there. Butcher, another teen now made an appearence in this passage and he was a welcome addition. He did have some hair problems though. He had short hair in chapter one and four and yet later in the book, he flicked his long hair over his shoulder. The 25 pages didn't take long to read. One long conversation was repeated twice more in different chapters. I watched a couple of movies for the rest of the plane journey.

Let's move still bothers me.

December 2015, a new deadline; the day I left for France to visit my parents. No need for him to print the chapters out this time, I had access to a PC whilst over there. Here is not the time to write about my feelings upon finishing reading the still unfinished draft at that time. We've both moved on. However I will admit that I did write a 3000 word synopsis for a book project of my own that week. Russ is fine with that. He fully understands why.

With hindsight the fact that we both enjoy different books, Russ writes only comedy and is, let us say, disorganised and an advocate of the path of least resistance should have prevented us from ever moving past the idea stage of the project. Reckless optimism on my part is probably a major contributor. The fact we're still working on the book together shows that the book we're writing is pretty good, something worth persevering with. Or it shows that we're both as imbecilic as one other. One day soon I hope to discover which.

February brought a good ten hour chat driving to and from the London Super Con. We ironed out many plot and character issues and also a few continuity problems. Well not really continuity problems but things that would've created difficulties for us in the future if not addressed now. Upon returning home I wrote up the notes so Russ could remember our conversations.

A note on Russ' mind. He actually went to a memory assessment centre recently to see if he was suffering from early onset dementia. They told him that they don't usually test people as young as him but allowed him to take the test anyway. He nailed it and was told he possesses a perfect memory...No-one can understand how. Not even Russ. Although he's probably forgotten he ever went. Maybe he imagined the whole thing.

At that time I'd decided to rewrite the last third of my chapters. There are various reasons for this, the main one being that it wasn't good enough.

We were both in disagreement about the length of the book at this stage too. In this case Payne was right, I'd written way too much. I read long books and I was going off that as a comparison. we're not writing in that genre though! I'd also pushed ahead with the second book in the series, just to bide my time waiting for Russ to catch up really and was up to about 30,000 words on that already.
We both realised that we could cut the first book in half as it made much more sense plot wise, it was a natural place to end and now the book ends on a cliffhanger which I like. It also means we both have a head start on the second installment in the series.

The book, when completed, will have alternating chapters, Russ' first, followed by one of mine. I say mine but the idea is that when we get past the second rewrite stage that we'll edit one another's chapters to create more of a singular writing style. Also, we'll hopefully eliminate or at least cover over one another's weaknesses that way.

The entire series is written in the first person and there are, I believe six different point of view characters in the first book's a lot of work. The book is also set in two distinct time periods. That's a lot of work too. It isn't unambitious.


It had to happen at some point, we're actually working together. Previously we were really writing solo projects that we then hoped to piece together. I was working up a historical fiction adventure, Russ was writing a strange and confused comedy.

This collaboration may be a passing phase but I hold out hope that it isn't. I'm rewriting a couple of chapters again after a recent thirteen hour car journey to Colchester and back where we discussed much. In fact 90% of the journey the conversation was based around the book. We both admitted our shortcomings and worked out key changes and sub plots (it's surprising how one small comment by a character can affect so much!). Last week we even worked together on one of his chapters, a true collaboration.

So, the upshot is that it's going well right now. Russ is still a massive conundrum to work with but I've found a new coping method. I put him in the book. If you know him at all then you'll recognise him instantly.

I initially wrote him into book two but since I penned those 30,000 words book two is now book three and is set in a different time altogether. So that tale will probably be a standalone book published sometime after book two (see, reckless optimism!). It's an important part of the story but doesn't quite fit into the sequence of alternating chapters that the first four books at least will consist of.

Here are a few of the illustrations I've done for the chapter headings for book one along with the names of a few of the characters.

Emily Sellers

Matthew Talbot

William Talbot

So, there you have the names of three of the characters who have chapters from their point of view. No, they're not all from the same time period...but they are all connected somehow. 

A future blog will contain a front cover image (already done the artwork, needs colouring and lettering) and a synopsis. The most I can say about the book at the moment is that it's a cross-genre affair.
There's a video in the works also, for advertising purposes. Russ will be filming that and I'll be acting in it alongside several other people. Then we'll both be editing and adding in the cool stuff. But I know that'll take time and I need to get a few costumes made for it before we can begin. And hats. My mum can't make hats apparently which is irritating and probably a massive lie. What she means is that she can't be bothered. She'd probably get along well with Russ.


No, that isn't when the book will be out. Or when it'll be finished. It's the standard reply I get when I ask Payne whether he's finished the draft of his half of the book. If it's not the cat (dead now thankfully and no longer a sap on the Payne resources or time) it's another problem with a part of the house falling down (for the past few months it's been the kitchen. Tedious.) or some other ridiculous turn of events that befall the balding fool on a weekly basis.

Russ has no time to write. So instead, what little time he does have is wasted in recycling discarded passages and terrible, unfunny puns and comedy inner monologue. It's not going to make the process any quicker in the long run...despite myself I sometimes have to admire his stubborn obtuseness. Most of the time I'd like to finish the project myself.

He did apologise yesterday though. For everything.

The rewriting process is interesting. Russ wants me to add in more flowery, descriptive prose which I'm attempting to do. He also takes issue with the way characters interrupt one another's sentences. Both fair points although I do like characters interrupting one another in frantic situations.

I'll tell you a tale now of a long car journey to a comic convention (Swindon) and the week preceding it. We almost quit on the book project.

Russ finished his second draft and handed it over for me to make notes and comments on. I did the same with his. The results were explosive. In hindsight it was quite funny, but not at the time, not at all. There was an outburst of vitriol and hate from both sides. I wasn't ready to pronounce Russ a genius and he took offense at my dissection of his words and well...everything else I did or said.
 I'm not going to go into details here, you'll be able to read a full account of what occurred in a second book we're collaborating on...a book that shows the collaberative process itself and examines the entire debacle of writing the book together in detail. It'll be quite amusing and I think, pretty original in concept and execution. I'm looking forward to that!

The days leading up to the Swindon con weren't pleasant at all though. I seriously considered not going at one point but thankfully things settled down. Russ stopped defending everything with the phrase 'but I like it' and we set off for the con at the ridiculous hour of 0430.

Russ had a few problems with my work, mainly a scene where, to be fair, one of the characters had turned into a Bond villain and spent the best part of ten pages explaining the plot to another character for no particular reason other than to explain the plot...He also took issue with a nasty incident where one of the 'heroes' is questioning a murderer and uses harsh and vicious methods to extract information. It involved an eyeball. I defended it as it's fitting for Tudor times and the way people behaved then...however it's gone. In the end, he was right.

However, he'd also gone overboard with pedantry...for example, questioning the levels of light as a result of the moon cycle on a particular date in 1551. I wouldn't have minded so much but he put more effort in trying to prove me wrong than in researching anything for his part of the book. It was irksome. He did explain, at length, my misuse of a particular word, 'clapped'...and then found that, if he'd bothered to read on in the dictionary, that I was right. I enjoyed that a lot. The fool.

Russ has got some new ideas for his part of the book...I really, really hope they include the concept of continuity, well rounded and distinct personalities and a linear plot. He's a re-cycler. He struggles to delete anything he's written for some reason. He just moves it about and tries to pass it off as new. the end of the day, it's still rubbish. Throw it away and move on!

We're both very excited about the new book that I've touched upon, the dissection one. Most of the journey to and from Swindon was taken up with conversation about that. The other book, the original one (the first in a series!)'s getting there, we just need to get on with it really and push through.

Russ did state, at the beginning, that it was a terrible idea working together and it'd fail. It was the most coherent thought he's had in at least five years and he was right to protest. But we're still working together which proves the idea is worth persevering with, otherwise we'd have quit a long time ago in reality, and things are starting to shape up pretty well! It'll be interesting to see what other people think of it, whether they like it as much as we do!

Here's where we are as of the beginning of July. I'm still rewriting and I'm about halfway through. I'm addressing the 'Bond villain chapter' (Russ was right, it was a terrible scene!) once more as it's an important sequence which affects at least three other chapters so it's taking a while! Russ has replotted much of his part and also eliminated a couple of character's POV chapters as there were too many. It added to the confusion so that's a big step in moving forward. By the end of the month we should both have completely finished our rewrites! I'm excited to see what he's come up with!

The book may be out before the end of the year (our provisional deadline was September) but more likely early next! 

Next time I blog about the book I hope to be ready to ask for a few proofreaders to help out!