Spelling mistakes are the obvious ones, and dodgy punctuation comes a close second. I’ve run into so many books that made me wonder if the author had ever heard of a spell checker.
Some problems are a little more subtle because they’re caused by familiarity, not laziness. You’ve been working the same scene for several weeks and you’re telling yourself that it’s better for it.
But is it really, or do you want it to be because you’ve put so much work into it? Worse, are you focussing on the fine detail because, deep down, you know that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the piece as a whole?
The key to fixing this is dispassion, and that only comes with distance. Once you suspect that you’re falling into this trap then it’s time to take a break from the piece. And I do mean a complete break: don’t even look at it, perhaps for a few weeks, perhaps a month or two. In the meantime – and I know I keep saying this – but for the love of God get someone else to read it: not family, not friends.
And while you’re on a break from one piece, you can work on another. This is very important: don’t stop writing. The aim here is to gain fresh perspective, not to give yourself a writing holiday (because there’s no such thing).
When you return to your novel, it’ll be like reading a book written by someone else. You’ll be less emotionally attached to it and so will be in a better frame of mind to save it.
A few weeks back I finished writing my third book. I say ‘finished’ but what I really mean is that I’ve completed the second draft and now it’s with the editor.
The first run from the printer was a bit of a shock: it weighed in at about 700 A4 pages, which is a bit of an epic, as well as being a bit of a worry. I’m not sure if today’s reader has the appetite for long works.
Anyway, for the time being it is what it is.
The book is called The Quisling Orchid and at its heart it’s a story of two very different women: one who lived during the Nazi occupation, and the other dealing with the aftermath some twenty years later.
Like most of my work, it’s going to be a very hard sell as it doesn’t sit comfortably in any particular genre: it’s a historical novel; it’s a work of erotic fiction; it’s a dark comedy. It was so far out of my comfort zone that I sometimes thought about stopping. But then someone reminded me that whole reason for writing is to constantly challenge oneself.
Take a risk, and if it doesn’t work out, take another.
This is book six in the Jack Caffrey series, which I was glad to see following Miss Hayder’s diversion to Hanging Hill. There’s not much here to separate it from the other five novels; the characters are well-drawn, consistent and, thankfully, behave like human beings. The author manages to skilfully weave several threads around the main plot, tying the whole thing up very nicely with a last minute twist that honestly threw me.
What I wasn’t too sure about was the focus of the story: Jack Caffrey wasn’t really in it that much, which was odd since he was supposed to be solving the case. Instead we flitted around the relationship between a mental nurse and his boss, and spent a lot of time inside the head of one of Caffrey’s colleagues. I think I preferred it when the books were about it him.
I think the only real problem I had with the book was that the prose was a little haphazard in places; there were a few spots which brought the flow to a crashing halt and left me wondering how the editor could have missed it. My personal favourite?
The examination has been a hot potato that bounced around the Flax Bourton Mortuary like a ping-pong ball.
Bouncing potatoes? Mmmm. Not sure.