It occurs to me that I have been pretty goddamn remiss on the blogging front over recent times. Nothing lays that bare more than the realisation that my last of what were supposed to be regular bi-monthly progress reports was nearly a year ago. I have become that author I never wanted to be – you know, the one with the dusty old website last updated in 2012 with a post saying ‘I’m back!’, and a front page that proudly trumpets an early review for their last-book-but-three.
Still, I’ve just returned from a long holiday in Scandinavia with the kids (well, when I say holiday, I mean a constant refereeing of various family squabbles) and maybe I can get some regularity back into the posting and writing. Stranger things have happened…
A progress report, then. The last year’s been an odd one (maybe they all are in this business), with some non-book bits and pieces bubbling away in the background and taking up a fair bit of time and energy, of which more later, perhaps. Sharp Ends, my collection of stories in the First Law world, came out at the end of April, and book-wise I’ve been developing a new trilogy set in the First Law world since then. As I’ve probably said before, this is a set of books taking place maybe 25-30 years after the end of Last Argument of Kings, in a world moving rapidly forward into the turmoil of early industrialisation, set mainly in the Union (and the North), featuring some old friends in the background while focussing mostly on a new cast, and perhaps picking up some threads left over from the First Law trilogy a little more directly than the standalone books have.
The First Law was really stewing in my brain throughout my youth, gradually developing, and I spent years as a hobbyist writer, before being published, experimenting with the characters and style and thinking about the plot. The Shattered Sea, meanwhile, was a much more focussed set of three individual, linked stories, really, rather than a grand ambitious trilogy. So you could say I’ve never really taken on such a big project as a professional writer, and I want to make sure I take the time to get it as good as it can be. That means to some extent trying to replicate the situation with the first trilogy – to remove the pressure of imminent deadlines, to just live with the characters until I get comfortable with them and their voices distill down and become vivid and interesting (hopefully), in that effortless way that in fact takes an awful lot of effort to develop. For me, characters are always at the heart of a book (or books) – if the people aren’t interesting, no plot, however packed with shock and explosions, will ever make a mark, whereas if the characters are fascinating and the voices arresting you can watch them do nothing and still be captivated.
Still, you need a plot and a setting and all that other stuff too, and my experience has been that you don’t always know what you need a character to be until you get to the end of a book. Character and plot grow up together and inform each other, in other words. You’ve got to plan carefully, but at the same time you’ve got to experience how the writing comes out – what the characters feel like on the page before you really know where you’re going. So my hugely ambitious and probably in the end completely unworkable plan with these books is to plunge through a rough draft of all three as fast as I can, then see where I stand, and revise the first one thoroughly for publication. That, of course, will mean a pretty considerable wait for the first book but, hopefully, a regular publication schedule thereafter and, again hopefully, the best and most coherent end product.
Anyway, long story short, this is planned to be a trilogy of nine parts – three books each of three parts – and I’ve drafted the first and am tackling the second – so getting towards half way through a really rough first draft of the first book. Feeling pretty pleased with it so far, though experience has taught me that I’ll generally hate books at this stage and suffer many and frequent crises of confidence, so I try not to have high hopes for my feelings while a project is underway. Making progress is enough, actually liking what you’re doing is way too much to ask at this stage. Hoping to put in some concerted chair time in the run up to Christmas and make some epic progress. But then I’m always hoping for that…
And there is your progress report for August.