No, it’s not the last book I’ll ever write. And, in my line of work, it certainly isn’t the first. That’s what I do—write books for other authors, or coach people to write their own.
Recently I’ve been ghost writing a lot of fiction, which I especially enjoy when I have free rein within the basic story lines, allowing my creative mind to run amok and have a ball.
All fired up and ready for more fun, I decided it was time to write another novel of my own. There is a sub-plot to this, where my wife, Jane Teresa, and a good friend, Viv, conspired (my take on it) to make this happen. I like to tell people that the reason I chose to write the book was to get those two off my back, but of course that’s just the cream on a good story—hmm, or is it?
I decided that if I was to thoroughly enjoy writing this novel, it had to be about manipulation, foul deeds, love (and sex, naturally), conspiracies, and teams of goodies and baddies all finding extraordinary ways to help or harm each other. In other words, a pacy, easy read thriller, laced with red herrings and surprises—just like real life.
It started off well. I had a quick 8,000 word entrée, and then it all went slightly pear-shaped. The problem? I’m a seat of my pants writer when I’m in it for thrills. That means I allow the story to unfold as I write, with the characters dictating where it goes. Like many writers, given free rein I have absolutely no idea how the plot will evolve because I don’t have one in my head to start with. So I found myself suddenly confronted by phalanx after phalanx of complex, multi-faceted scenarios and the storyline possibilities were becoming enormous. What to do?
This is when you need to talk it over. Not with anyone. You should choose your friend or co-conspirator carefully. It should be a person who is empathetic to your endeavours, yet prepared to be completely honest. They should know they’re in for the long haul, and be ready to read and reread your manuscript until they never want to see it again. I’m not talking about your beta readers here. They come along later—nice and fresh—ready to pick the holes (and there will be whoppers) in your continuity and point out all the silly words and typos.
I was fortunate to have Euan, my stepson, offer his time. After he read the first 8,000 words we had a thirty minute brainstorming session, looking at many potential storylines and coming up with something very vague but which allowed the work to move on. It was going somewhere. I wasn’t sure where—but definitely somewhere.
I was pretty pleased with myself when I handed him 40,000 words a few weeks later. I was almost half-way through. But, meeting for coffee a few days after he’d had time to read it, I wasn’t thrilled with his verdict. Not initially. ‘There’s no suspense. You’re giving away all the secrets far too early,’ he told me. That morning Jane Teresa had also thrown my thoughts into a quandary when she told me that the story really needed a more emotive sub-plot. Hmm, what now?
It meant a complete rewrite. Terrible? Not at all. Within hours the unconscious mind was bubbling through, supplying the necessary inspiration to forge on. The solutions would have been there all along, quietly cooking in the darker recesses of my mind. And the unconscious mind never fails to astonish me. I wonder why the hell I’ve introduced a particular character at a certain point in the story and then, bingo! Twenty thousand words later I need a person exactly like that.
Many writers, past and present, have been inspired by the people around them. It may be a friend, or family, an editor, ghostwriter, or book coach. Who is supporting you, and giving you the opportunity to explore your ideas? Are they empathetic or critical? Do they know where you’re coming from and can they help you find where you’re going? Will they help you succeed?
Would you like to read a short extract from The Last Book?