Just been through the page proofs of Best Served Cold and made a few teensy little adjustments, which means the book is now officially out of the door as far as I’m concerned.
Done, finished, and complete.
I’m actually very happy with it, now, which is good, because for a long time – probably up to about two-thirds of the way through the first draft – I wasn’t particularly happy with it. The central character, in particular, took quite a while to come together. The characters of the First Law had been developing and maturing in my head for a long time – some of them since childhood – and so they leaped much more fully formed onto the page. A couple of the point-of-view characters in Best Served Cold came out easily but the more central, more complicated ones took a fair bit of trial and error to find the right voice, the right style of writing. It took a while for me to know who they were, if you like, and that was somewhat worrying and damaging to the confidence. That’s right. My confidence is not the impenetrable tower of adamant it seems. Within this harshly beautiful, heroically manly shell lies a heart-achingly vulnerable little boy who just wants to be loved. And that little boy worried. I wondered if I’d ever write a book as good as my previous one again. I would say things like, “well, not every book you write can be great.” Had I lost it, if, indeed, I ever had it? Would I ever have it again? What is it anyway?
To put it more succinctly, I was worried the book would be shit.
Probably this is the kind of tosh that every writer ceaselessly bores their family and editor with. And when I say ceaselessly… As a result it took a fair bit longer to write than Last Argument of Kings – maybe 18 months compared to 14? It was also intended to be a bit shorter – around 175,000 words, and ended up about the same length – around 225,000. Still, things have to be the length that’s right, and I think it justifies the girth (unlike my abdomen) and reads pretty quickly, covers a lot of ground for a single book. Perhaps it doesn’t have quite the depth of characterisation the First Law had, but it’s certainly a lot tighter, leaner, more economical and more focused (again, unlike my abdomen). Smoother in the pacing, too, and rather richer and more precise in the worldbuilding (that’s right, the worldbuilding, would you believe). I’d say it’s my best book yet, for what that’s worth, though no doubt my own feelings will change over time, particularly as it goes out into the world, like a bright-eyed child off for their first day of school, knowing nothing of the bullying, homework, teen pregnancy and hard drug abuse that is to come. How will the readers respond? Will they think it’s my best book yet? Hmm. Opinions always vary, and I’m sure they’ll vary this time…
But even before it hits the shelves I’m back in the trenches of my next book, about 11,000 exploratory words into my first draft, fumbling with plot and wrestling with structural issues, worrying that I don’t really know who the characters are, that they won’t be sympathetic, won’t be realistic, won’t be compelling, and saying things like, “well, not every book you write can be great.” If only I’d been through this before, and could look back and say, “you were worried last time, and it all came out fine.” Ah well…
In other news, I note that voting on the David Gemmell Legend Award has now opened. So pop over to the site and get involved. You could even vote for me, if you fancied it, but hey, if not, you could vote for Joe Abercrombie, or maybe Last Argument of Kings. The choice is yours.
As I’ve probably said before, I reckon it’s a good thing, overall, to have an award that’s aimed squarely at the more commercial end of fantasy, which tends to be a little bit overlooked by existing genre awards. I preferred the original idea of a public vote to establish a shortlist of 5 from which a winner would be picked by a panel, as that seemed to ensure a popular shortlist while preventing winners from being chosen purely on the basis of internet popularity or (dare one say) actual fraud. A full-on public vote seems to me to reward the most popular author, the biggest series, the best-known book, which I’ve always thought of as a little pointless since it basically rewards sales, which are kind of their own reward, and gives publicity to those who need it least.
But, you know, every award is a poll of one group or another with its own makeup and natural biases, and every award is endlessly criticised for the particular group it chooses to poll. Those that use membership of a certain convention as an academy (like the Hugos) tend to get accused of being unrepresentative and out of touch. Those that use a professional body (like the Nebulas) tend to get accused of being a club which gives an award to the most popular member of the club. Those that are based on public vote are accused of being populist, pointless, and subject to fanboy tampering. Panel-based ones are accused of being elitist, random, and over-literary. There’s really no pleasing everyone. Especially on the internet. Good article from Adam Roberts on the issue, for anyone who hasn’t read it.
Still, This year’s shortlist actually seems to me quite a varied one, within the confines of the epic/heroic/secondary world-ish end of the spectrum. Two americans, a new zealander, a brit, and a pole. I’d find it hard to pick a winner. Sanderson was doing nicely and his profile has no doubt been much boosted by his involvement with Wheel of Time. Weeks, though only published recently, has already hit the NYT bestseller list, so he must have a fair few readers out there. Sapkowski, though only recently translated into English, has been a massive-selling author in Poland for some time, and has probably sold more books than the entirety of the rest of the list combined. Marillier is more of an unknown quantity to me – though strangely enough she interviewed me a while ago for a writers website, and on my visit to Holland recently Wim Stolk was fulsome in his praise for her books. She’s a writer who doesn’t get duscussed much on the forums and blogs I occasionally frequent, but her being on the shortlist only demonstrates what a surprisingly unrepresentative world those forums and blogs can sometimes be, even of the wider internet, let alone the reading public as a whole.
If the aim of the award is to a) commemorate Gemmell and his contribution to the genre, and b) celebrate continuing contributions, they seem to be making a pretty good stab of it, especially since, as I understand it, publishers and booksellers seem to be interested in getting involved and doing some promotion based around the shortlist. And you know, it’s hard work to launch something new, and if it works out it will take a few years. There are bound to be teething issues to begin with. As long as they help me win, who cares?
A ha ha.