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NaNoWriMo Days 27-28 – and done!

Day 28, and I’m officially declaring myself done. OK, so I haven’t “won” NaNoWriMo, as in I haven’t passed 50k. But it’s an arbitrary total, a nice round number that just about qualifies as “novel length”. What matters, as always, is Finishing the Damned Story.

So yes, I’ve written the closing scenes for the book, and I have a much more solid idea about where I’m going with the story now. Sure, I could go back and fill in some more scenes – but things have changed a little from my original plan, and I feel like it would be a waste of time writing these scenes only to have to rewrite them in a few weeks’ time. I have as complete a story as I need to take into the next stage, which is all I really wanted.

So, I’m out of here! I’m taking a couple of days completely off this project, to read and just catch up on life generally, then at the weekend I’ll start prepping for revisions. Back to the start of the Forth Bridge…

Quote of the day: None. All the best ones are major spoilers, so I’m going to have to leave this blank – sorry!

Daily word count: 2075 + 1276

Final total: 43,813

The Next Big Thing

I tried to slither out of this at first, but then I woke one morning at 5am and couldn’t get back to sleep, but couldn’t get into the writing groove either, so I thought I might as well give it a go! The Next Big Thing is a blog post chain for writers. You talk about your work-in-progress (or in my case, about-to-be-published novel) and then tag five other writers to carry the torch forward. It’s been going a while, so practically every writer on the planet has already done it – soon we’ll have to start linking back to existing posts and it’ll go all Ouroboros on us…

1) What is the working title of your next book?

The Merchant of Dreams. That’s the official title, btw 🙂

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

It’s a sequel to my debut The Alchemist of Souls, so it picks up where that book left off. Also, I’d always wanted to set a novel in Venice, so I just needed to work out how to get my characters there!

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Historical/alternate history fantasy.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Hmm, I’ve debated this one a lot, but eventually I came down in favour of Aidan Turner (Being Human, The Hobbit) to play Mal, especially after seeing photos of him as Kili (below). He has the right mix of charm, intensity and darkness to play my swashbuckling hero and his mentally unstable identical twin brother.

I’ve also cast a number of other actors in my head: Dominic Cooper (The History Boys, Captain America) as Ned Faulkner; Jack Davenport (Pirates of the Caribbean) as Robert, Prince of Wales; and Bradley James (Merlin) as his younger brother Prince Arthur. And whilst it would require a significant makeup job, I totally envisage Seth Green (Buffy, Austin Powers) as Ambassador Kiiren 🙂

Aidan Turner (as Kili in “The Hobbit”)
Aidan Turner (as Kili in “The Hobbit”)

The character I have most trouble with is Coby Hendricks, my girl-disguised-as-a-boy; someone suggested Olivia Thirby (Juno, Dredd) but it would depend if she could do the accent!

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

When Elizabethan spy Mal Catlyn’s dream about a skrayling shipwreck proves a reality, it sets him on a path to the beautiful, treacherous city of Venice – and a conflict of loyalties that will place him and his friends in greater danger than ever.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It’s represented by John Berlyne of Zeno Literary Agency, and published by Angry Robot Books. It will be out in ebook, audiobook and US paperback on 18 December 2012, and UK paperback on 3 January 2013.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I did the very first draft for NaNoWriMo, back in 2007, so technically, only a month. However I had to completely rewrite it from scratch; not only was it far too short at only 50k, but the previous book had changed substantially in revisions so the plot no longer fitted. The new draft took about eleven months, although I had to take time out to edit and promote the first book so it wasn’t a non-stop process. Actual hands-on writing time was probably nearer seven months.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

The closest ones I can think of are Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunner series and Mark Chadbourn’s Swords of Albion. Like the former, several of the main characters are gay or bisexual, and like the latter it revolves around the Elizabethan secret service.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The city of Venice – I absolutely love it! It’s hardly changed in the last four hundred years, which makes it perfect for any writer of historical fiction, realistic or fantastical.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s probably one of the few Elizabethan fantasies that doesn’t feature either fairies or William Shakespeare (though the Bard does have a couple of cameos in the third book of the trilogy). My “magical beings” are a race of non-humans called skraylings who evolved in the New World at around the same time that humans appeared in Africa. They now live alongside the Native Americans, acting as go-betweens and traders, and since Columbus showed up and the Spanish started hassling them, have allied themselves with the English in an attempt to keep the Europeans out of the Americas.

Right, that’s my bit done – time to pass the torch to my victims, ahem, writer buddies:

Adrian Faulkner

I first met Adrian at EasterCon 2011, I think – he’s a great guy, and like so many people I met that year he now has a book deal! His first fantasy novel, The Four Realms, is due out from Anarchy Press in late December.

Jennifer Williams

Jennifer is another convention buddy, this time introduced to me by fellow Angry Robot author Adam Christopher. Her fantasy novella The Copper Promise has been self-published on Amazon, and I know she has plans for more stories in that world!

Jacey Bedford

Jacey was a fellow panellist at EasterCon 2012, where she impressed me with her witty rejoinders! Like me she writes swashbuckling alternate history fantasy, but Regency instead of Elizabethan – really looking forward to that one!

You’re supposed to link to five others, but this meme’s almost played out and I didn’t have time to hunt down any more. Bite me!

NaNoWriMo Day 26

Today was surprisingly rubbish on the word-count front – I knew I needed to plan the big action set-piece before I could write some more, but hadn’t bargained on being so brain-dead that I couldn’t string two sentences togther once I was done with the planning 🙁

On the plus side, I made a first pass at blocking the set-piece using Playmobil figures, just as I did last time. I still had the figures set up from last time, so it was just a case of setting out some boxes on my desk to represent the main locations and moving the figures around, taking photos at each stage to record the progression of the scene. It showed up some potential flaws in my ideas but gave me new ones as well, so all was not lost!

Of course now I want to go and buy more figures, so that I can represent the characters more accurately – perhaps that shall be my reward for finishing this draft!

Daily word count: 0

Running total: same as Day 25

NaNoWriMo Day 25

Not quite so spectacular a writing day today – I was mentally exhausted from yesterday’s marathon and facing the most complicated part of the book, so progress was slow. Still, I made nearly 2/3 of my target, so now I’m down to less than 2k a day to complete the 50k by Friday. I’m calling that a win!

Quote of the day: He stood in the doorway, feet apart, hands braced on the halberd before him. Even more ominously, he wore an executioner’s hood, so like the masks worn by the Huntsmen on their rides. The man’s eyes glinted through the slits in the black leather.

Daily word count: 3,165

Running total: 40,463

NaNoWriMo Day 24

Well, I’m delighted to say that the maths paid off – I managed to squeak over my humungous word count target in time for dinner, so I was able to take the rest of the evening off. As mentioned in my earlier post, I did it in short sprints with breaks in between, and actually managed a better pace than I’d expected – close to my top speed of 900 words per hour. I did start to seriously flag after 4k, though; I had to take another extended break and a soak in the bath whilst I planned the next scene.

Anyway I’ve written about a chapter and a half today, and whilst there are a few shaky parts, there’s also some good stuff in there, so I’m very pleased with my progress. Now all I have to do is repeat the same process tomorrow *gulp*

Quote of the day: “I don’t know why I let you talk me into this,” Mal said as they snapped the manacles around his wrist.

Daily word count: 4,856

Running total: 37,298

NaNoWriMo – doing the maths

Today I decided to do my best to try and catch up, after a rather unproductive week, so I turned to maths to help me work out how much I need to write each day. I’m currently on a little over 32k – let’s call it 32 dead, to keep the numbers simple (always better to be pessimistic in these situations!).

50000 – 32000 = 18000 left to write

18000 / 7 = 2571 per day

That’s just about doable (I wrote 2280 last Monday) but a tough challenge. Let’s assume I can hit the standard 1,667 on a weekday and do more at weekends:

18000 – (5 x 1667) = 9665

9665 / 2 = 4833 per weekend day

That’s also just about doable – I may not have broken 2.5k at all this NaNoWriMo, but I did 10k in a weekend on my first attempt, just because I was desperate to finish – and that was back in 2006 when I was much less experienced.

Now, going back to the spreadsheet I did as part of Rachel Aaron’s 2k-to-10k process, I work most efficiently in 35-45 minute sprints with a short break for the rest of the hour – at this pace, I write 500-900 words per hour. Let’s call that an average of 700.

4833 / 700 = 6.9 hours

So that’s my weekend target – 7 hours a day of intense writing. I’ve downloaded some new soundtracks to inspire me whilst I type, so I’m good to go…

(Of course I may run out of story before I hit 50k, because I only have 6 more chapters left to draft. But if I can keep to the above goals, I might even finish before Friday!)

NaNoWriMo Day 22-23

I have to confess that I haven’t written a word these past two days. On the first day it wasn’t deliberate; I had a busy day at work, with lots of meetings as well as some code to finish off, and a Tai Chi session at lunchtime, so I didn’t have a lot of time during the day to think about writing. By evening I was tired and frustrated, yes, but my real problem was that I knew deep down I still had no idea how to finish this book. I had a few vague ideas, a story arc or two, but nothing visualised – and you can’t write what you haven’t already imagined. At least, I can’t.

On the second day, therefore, I made the conscious decision to plan instead of write. In the morning, I wrote the back cover copy for the book, which gave me an insight into the direction the book is really going. At lunchtime I started writing a summary of the plot of The Alchemist of Souls for my website (for readers who want to refresh their memory before reading The Merchant of Dreams). And in the evening I got out my notebook and pen and started brainstorming the ending, asking myself the big questions: who lives? who dies? who wins? and how? Not just “the good guys win” or some such simplistic answer, but working out what “winning” means.

You’d think I’d have worked all this out already, and I thought I had – but I’d only done so in vague terms. I hadn’t asked myself the hard questions, about what the possible outcomes meant in light of the chapters I’d written so far and the characters I had created. For a final victory to feel real, it has to cost the lives of innocents as well as the guilty – so which innocents was I going to kill?

I still don’t know all the answers, but I have enough of them to allow me to put together an outline and write the last few chapters. I’ve a feeling it’s going to be painful, which is another reason I’ve been stalling. But this is what it means to be a writer, so I have to do it.

Daily word count: 0.

Running total: 32,440

NaNoWriMo Day 19-21

This week has flashed by – seems I’ve been either writing like a mad thing or nose down in the day-job! In consequence my word count has varied from excellent to poor, depending on which end of that spectrum I’ve been immersed in.

I’ve been dotting back and forth as the scenes come to me, rather than writing linearly as I normally do; I guess I’m bored with the dry investigative tone of one side of the storyline and want to plunge into the hands-on conflict between my two factions! Anyway, I now have at least fragments of Chapters 28-30, which is helping me to work out how the climax of the book is going to develop. Some of these scenes are going to need a lot of revising, but that’s the nature of discovery writing.

Quote of the day:

“Shall we kill him?” the other one asked.

“No, he is more valuable to us alive. But we need him subdued—“

Daily word count: 2280 + 1806 + 728

Running total: 32,440

Alchemist of Souls signed audiobook giveaway

Christmas is coming early for one of Mal Catlyn’s fans…

One of the (many) cool things about Angry Robot Books is that they now publish an audiobook version of all their titles, simultaneously with the paperback and ebook. This is a great thing for both authors and readers, since there are a lot of fantasy fans who don’t have much time to sit down and read a book but will happily listen to one on their daily commute or whilst doing chores (I listen to audiobooks whilst washing up).

Anyway, I have a spare boxed set of The Alchemist of Souls on CD to give away. This is the unabridged edition, on 13 discs, narrated by award-winner Michael Page (see my June blog post announcing the audiobook release).

All you have to do to be in with a chance is to leave a comment on this post. If you win, you will receive a brand new CD audiobook set of The Alchemist of Souls, with disc 1 signed by yours truly! Unlike previous giveaways, since I only have the one spare copy, entry is open to anyone, anywhere in the world. This is a one-off chance to own the only signed copy currently available 🙂

Please note that comments are moderated to reduce spam, so don’t panic if yours doesn’t appear right away.


  1. One comment per entrant, please – multiple commenters will be disqualified.
  2. For security reasons, please don’t leave contact details in your comment – there’s a space in the comment form for your email address, I’ll use that to get hold of you.
  3. Closing date for entries is noon PST time on Tuesday 27th November. Any comments posted after that deadline will be deleted.
  4. I will be picking one winner (using a random number generator), to receive the aforementioned boxed set.
  5. If I do not hear from the winner before Christmas, I reserve the right to select a replacement.

Good luck!

NaNoWriMo Day 18

My least productive day so far, dropping down into three figures for the first time this NaNoWriMo. I’m really not sure if yesterday’s scenes are taking the story in a helpful direction, and I’m starting to panic that the whole second act is a mess. I know, I know – I should be ignoring my inner editor – but it’s hard to shake off the feeling that I’m wasting my time writing scenes I’ll just throw away in revisions.

On the plus side, I did a research trip to a sekrit location that I want to use in this book. Took lots of photos and bought a guidebook, which will help me envisage how it would have looked four hundred years ago. I also decided to focus on this part of the draft for a while and let the problematic bits simmer in the back of my mind. Hopefully something will shake loose before too long…

Quote of the day: “I will teach you things that small-minded pedant never dreamed of.”

Daily word count: 745

Running total: 27,626