Special Day, Special Bottle

April 19th, 2010

Down our way, every day is whisky day.  What would be the point of being a writer otherwise?  But today is a special day, and so I have cracked open one of the special bottles:

It was a 20 year old when my grandfather bought it, and since he died in 1979, it’s safe to say it was distilled over 50 years ago.  Admittedly, they say whisky doesn’t really get better in the bottle, and since these old school bottles have screw-caps not corks it’s probably got worse.  But the fact is that, unlike computers, when it comes to whisky oldest is supposedly bestest, so I don’t care if it tastes like woody vomit I shall drink it with the smugness of the man that knows he is destroying something rare.  And anyway regardless of how it tastes I just really admire the way it looks like something some toe-rag might have tried to cosh John Thaw over the head with in some dodgy soho club in an episode of The Sweeney

But wherefore the celebration, you ask?  Ah, rejoice, my children.  Well, not in fact my actual children, for they are too young to care a toss about my writing.  But you, my metaphorical children, can rejoice, for I have finished the first draft of The Heroes.  Of course, when I say first draft, it’s not quite at that stage.  And when I say finished, you know, a book is never really finished.  But the fact is there is a book now which runs all the way from a first sentence to a last one, and with some 210,000 words of violence, swearing, warfare, and investigations of the nature of heroism in between.  There are some issues between those two sentences, I will admit.  And those two sentences themselves could also do with a little work, thinking about it, but nothing that several more months of graft won’t fix.  In fact now, in many ways, the real work begins…

Of the six characters, and therefore the six central ingeniously interweaving stories (ahem), two work pretty well already, two need a good beating with a claw hammer, and two may need some heavier equipment brought to bear.  The writing certainly needs a good bit of sharpening up, plus an injection of personality (I tend to start with a relatively neutral voice then work in more of the relevant character later).  The weather and the countryside need some more zing, there needs to be more colour to the supporting cast which is large and in need of differentiation, and overall there needs to be some heavy cutting, mostly in the detail, but also in the arena of thoughts and feelings and a few characters being removed for the sake of focus and simplicity.  I want this book to come in well under 200,000 words, so more Blade Itself length than Last Argument of Kings length.

So this week I’ll mostly be doing a basic revision of the final part, making sure it works on a chapter by chapter basis and that there’s nothing in it that’s really shit (depending on who you ask), plus thinking about how some of the earlier sections might have to change (especially in the first part, which is a bit of a speculative mess if I’m honest) to suit the way things have ended up.  That’ll go off to my editor and we’ll have a meeting to discuss how the whole thing looks, any areas of it that seem particularly ineffective or unconvincing to her expert eye now that the endings are before us.  Then I suspect I’ve got a heavy month in may doing the serious plot stuff, followed by a heavy month in june attending more to the detail of the writing, probably on a character by character basis.  And the work won’t end there either.  There’ll still be a detailed edit, a copy edit, and a proof-read to attend to, as well of course as giving my input on the artwork as it begins to appear.  Ah, the work of the writer is truly never done.  In the words of one of my personal filmic heroes, Captain Redlegs Tirrell from The Outlaw Josey Wales:  “Doing right ain’t got no end.”

Posted in announcements, process, progress by Joe Abercrombie on April 19th, 2010.

43 comments so far

  • Snorri Kristjansson says:

    Congratulations, sir. And of course there’s *nothing* tantalizing about this. At all. No siree.

    Enjoy the bottle of paint thinner! 😀

  • SwindonNick says:

    I would remind you of the trouble Captain Haddock got into in Red Rackham’s Treasure when drinking old booze…

    But much deserved and from a selfish future reader perspective, about time too – get on with it!

  • Pink Ink says:

    All Hail (The heroes not the whiskey can’t stand that stuff).
    Anyway I just wanted to put in one’s two cent ahem
    refering to the countryside, I already had some trouble figuring out the landscape in the beginning of best served cold when the 2 guys are ridin up the hill, maybe I accidently skiped the sentence (my bad) but if not I must say I had a lot of trouble imagining this country (sandy, grassy or both).
    Just want you to let know.

  • Rachel says:

    Awesome sauce. Both the whiskey and the news.

    And thanks for the details on the writing/editing process – always makes for interesting reading.

  • Mark C says:

    Great stuff Joe! Hope that bottle is well out of yer system before you tackle the next stage! Otherwise the Editor might have a few things to say and a few eyebrows to raise… Or possibly just two. Unless she’s wierd.

  • Alex says:

    Really interesting to see the methodology you employ to your writing. Good work fella 🙂

  • JenMo says:

    Grats on the milestone. Thanks for the update, keep ’em coming

  • Dan says:

    Awesome! Great job Joe! Thanks for keeping us in the loop. I know for me it keeps me enthusiastic about your work. I can’t wait to return to the frigid north and our group of friends you’ve created.

  • Elena Nola says:

    “A piece of art is never finished, only abandoned.”

    Forget who said that (norman mailer, maybe?) but it’s always felt very apt to me. And your way of celebrating said abandonment also feels very apt to me. 🙂

  • Congratulations Joe! I was thinking about the North on my drive into work this morning (I was supposed to be flying into Madrid to a conference but heigh-ho)…

    I’m a professional anthropologist in rl and loved the initial feeling of depth at the start of the first book created in part by the survival skills of the supposed Northern barbarian. I especially like the fire spirit under the tongue. I’d love for this type of element to get some more love in heroes. It rather petered out as the action progressed in the first series but has so much potential.

    Just my 2 cents 🙂

  • Chris Upton says:

    As for the whiskey….Ewww!
    Try something nice like a bacardi breezer! Classy!

  • Mike says:

    Congratulations on finishing the draft! Like the others, I found it interesting to hear how the process of writing works rather than just waiting the finished product. It does of course mean that we are going to hold you to your now published timetable so no pressure…

  • Dave Wagner says:

    Ah, must be a nice feeling. Hope to experience it myself some day. Enjoy that scotch! Hope it makes you feel like a hero.

  • Swainson says:

    you gonna pull those pistols or whistle dixie

    well done on the first fix

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Not a difficult man to track. Leaves dead men wherever he goes.

  • Swainson says:

    in impeccable style

  • Killeraoc says:

    Can’t wait to read it Mr. Abercrombie. Hope we get some more insight into the struggle between the Gurks and V&B.

    Take your time!

    Caution first, always.

  • ColinJ says:

    As a whiskey man myself I applaud your taste and discernment.

    Better you crack open a bottle of Man’s Finest Work than that ghastly champagne swill, which tastes like cat’s p**s strained through an elderly Frenchman’s sock.

    Oh… and I can’t wait to read THE HEROES.

  • Erik says:

    What, no one commented on the drawing behind the bottle?
    Is it by your hand Joe? I remember you saying you had the drawing talent of chimp. With no arms. Or eyes…
    It looks like a Dane Axe, nice 🙂 Its a bit blurry though – next time dont take the pic with your phone 😛

    Anywho, grats on getting the first draft done. Hard to believe you got this much done in a year with the move/build and baby etc. Applause!

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Check out the sharp eyes on Erik. I was wondering if anyone would notice that. First sketch for the cover and, no, not done by my chimp-hands.

  • Phil says:

    Good to hear this are progressing Joe, I’ve just finished Best Served Cold so now face a long barren 10 months ahead of me till Heroes! All four of your books in 4 months, thats a record for me I never read anything that fast before.

  • JDP says:

    Well done Joe. Cheers!

  • Brett says:

    Cheers for the update!
    Realy looking forward to The Heroes, I’ve been checking back day after day for updates and this has certainly made my day!

  • Alex says:

    Joe, how bout you dont cut it? Refine and polish of course, but why the desire to cut out 10k words of detail? I like detail, and I dont like it when your books run out of words. 🙂

  • Jim says:

    Nice to hear! I am very excited to see what kind of characters are brewing that brain of yours.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    When I say detail, I mean more at the sentence and paragraph level than that of whole scenes, rather than that I would excise fascinating tidbits. The process of cutting tends to leave anything that deserves to be there, while cutting that which is repetitive, useless, or badly worded.

  • Bombie says:

    Can’t wait! Wait, actually I can! And I will! But I don’t want to! Still, you leave me no choice! And if you did, I’d wait till it’s finished and you want us to read it. So I DO want to wait. But only cause it’s you, man! You deserve no less! Because we deserve the best! And you’re working on that. Good. Gooood.

  • Jon says:

    Way to go.

    Do all your books come in around 200,000?

  • Sedulo says:

    Congratulations on your first draft of The Heroes. Speedy!

    Any tasting notes on that whiskey?

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Blade Itself 190,000, Before They are Hanged, 195,000, Last Argument 230,000, Best Served Cold 225,000.

    It mostly tastes like whisky to me. Without an ‘e’. But perhaps there are notes of marmalade and a faint tang of leather?

  • Brett says:

    After Reading this yesterday, I decided to start The Blade Itself again. I would imagine I would have finished the trilogy and Best Served Cold by this time next month.
    I wonder how many re-reads I will have to commit myself to in the wait for The Heroes???
    On a side note, Joe when will The New Sword and Sorcery anthology be published in the UK? Any idea, as i would love to read your contribution.

  • Amber says:

    This is excellent news. Now if only another author could finish his series, at least his delay led me to you and to another author. Which I will now read faithfully.

    I will drink a beer (or three) in celebration with you. I rarely drink scotch…

    PS. I am hoping to hear something about Glokta, he is a fav of mine. 😀

  • Shadow says:

    Call me old fashioned, but I just finished your first trilogy, Joe!

    You. Are. Awesome.

    The end.

  • Jon says:

    Hey Joe,

    Was it difficult getting published with such a high word count?

  • Sedulo says:

    Sorry for the spelling error. Clearly I need more education on this topic!

  • Sedulo says:

    Your books never seem lengthy, no matter the word count.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    It’s never easy getting published, in the sense that your manuscript needs to fall on the desk of the right person, and the more desks it falls on the quicker that’s going to happen. As far as word count goes, though, I sometimes see people talking about how you should never consider writing over a certain length, and that seems bizarre to me, at least in epic fantasy. The big sellers – Martin, Jordan, Goodkind et al. all write enormous books. Many of the big debuts of the last few years – Name of the Wind, Lies of Locke Lamora, even The Blade Itself, are all huge as well. I would have thought publishers and agents are generally looking for more of what works. So don’t ignore an agent’s specific requests in submitting if they make them, but write what you want to write, not what you think an agent might fancy. It’s always wise to reduce a book as much as you can, to distill it, cut out the waste and the repetition, tighten up the language, try to really look at it with a ruthless eye. Perhaps think about how a whopper could be split into meaningful bite sized chunks. But in the end, all that really matters is that it’s good. That you love it. Everything else is a distraction.

  • The Picaroony says:

    Good stuff Joe.

    Thanks for the update ….so we only need to wait about ten months then? ….Don’t piss down my back and tell me its rainin’. Ah Josey Wales …..I got to watch that in primary school when I was about eleven ….still one of the highlights of my entire education. I’m keeping me hopes up for Red Dead Redemption …. looks great so far ….. need something with balls and grit to keep us going after Dragon Age.

    Marmalade and leather ye say ….could have been worse eh ….I was in Lisbon a few weeks back and got to try a Madeira wine from 1856 …twas only 12 euroclams for a wee glass…couldnt say no….tasted like a stronger and sweeter version of the sherry me granny used to have lying around when she was makin fruitcakes….but i couldnt get this old tale out of me head about Napoleonic soldiers being murdered and hidden in barrels of cognac.


  • Jon says:


    That’s my thoughts, as well, but it’s such a common thing to hear, I wondered if you hit that wall often. The fact that all of yours are all so far above the oft-cited word count ceiling makes me happy to see.

    I like “the Final draft is your final draft minus 10%” idea, so I’m trying to stick to that.

  • Ant says:

    Are you partial to Highland whisky in particular, Joe? (My favourites are Islays… Caol Isla, Laphroaigh, &c.)

    Shame on Chris Upton for suggesting a Barcardi Breezer. The only way to drink rum, if not neat, is in a mojito. And the rum has to be 10 Cane, in any case.

    And speaking of Glokta (Amber was), the French edition of The Blade Itself, L’éloquence de l’épée, has a rather different interpretation of Glokta from the new UK edition’s, which I hadn’t seen here. It’s more of a caricature, but v v creepy: http://www.Jailu.com/docs/Albums/12260/9782290004142.jpg

    I trust you enjoyed your special day!

  • Ant says:

    PS. Is the axe another sketch by Didier Graffet?

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Can’t say I’ve got a particular favourite region, I like to mix and match depending on mood…

    And yes, it’s a Graffet. I’ll probably show all the sketches when the cover’s done.

  • […] is an interesting blog post on Joe Abercrombie’s website that does a bit more than tell the reader he’s finished his first draft, it actually details […]

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