Thursday, November 15, 2007

Clinging Onto A Sizeable Chunk

I’ve come to a point in the writing process where I’m starting to have concerns about word length. The old adage goes: quality, not quantity, but there are other matters concerning me besides whether or not my novel is a big thick brick of complete dribble.

After many hours toiling away, I am approaching the completion of the first part of the book. This part constitutes, by my estimation, about forty percent of the storyline. So far, I have written just under 270 pages and approximately 70,000 words – that’s a lot of pages and I’m quite proud of the output.

But here’s the thing: doing the quick calculations based on work performed thus far, my trusty calculator suggests that, by the time I’ve completed my first draft of the novel, it will be 675 pages and 175,000 words long.


The average length of a novel is between 80,000 and 120,000 words and even after inevitable cuts on subsequent drafts (using Stuart MacBride’s stated estimate of 25% cut as a guide – it’s in his blog somewhere but god damned if I can find it), I end up with 131,000 words – i.e. over 500 pages.

Even if I wield my pen like a Kurosawa samurai, taking down words with little prejudice, I will still end up with a novel on the high end of the average length scale.

What’s the problem, I pretend to hear you ask?

Well, the decision on length (cough), unfortunately, comes down to marketing. Will agents and publishers look favourably upon an unknown writer who has delivered a tomb of a book, weighing in at 500 plus pages? Will readers, picking up my novel for the first time, think, “I haven’t heard of this guy before, it looks interesting, but it also looks like a bitch to get through, and my arthritis has been acting up lately, I don’t think I will be able to hold this book for the required amount of time without sustaining some serious damage to my wrists” or something like that?

My story isn’t a broad sweeping epic, although it does contain women doing housework. However, it probably needs to be in the upper echelons of the word count scale for the story to be properly told.

So I have a dilemma. What to do about an escalating word count, if anything?

One of the options I have toyed with is to cut out a sizeable chunk from the book. It’s a hard decision to make, not one that rests easily with me. Without this chunk, the story could probably hold its head above water and be a reasonably entertaining read. With it, my novel will have deeper layers and intricate plot lines and will do more than hold its head above water - it will be setting records at the Olympic pool. More importantly, with this section of the book intact, the novel will remain as I originally intended it to be.

The dilemma remains: do I drop out a good portion of my novel to reduce the word count? At this stage, I’m finding it difficult to make this decision, to lose so much of my original vision for the sake of meeting some market determined word length. They say sometimes you have to kill your babies (i.e. cut out some of the best bits or characters that you have written), but I don’t think I have it in me to murder so many innocent children. Not at this stage anyway.

My decision for now is to soldier on with the intention of writing the complete novel in all its original glory, i.e. including Mr Sizeable Chunk. To hell with marketing. After the second and third drafts are complete, after the 25% has been taken out and the book reads like a well oiled machine with pages flying by faster than you can read them, where quantity has been replaced with quality, where Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing have all been adopted, only at that point will I look at the word count and make a decision.

Then, I may well have to start sharpening me knives.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

James Twining's The Gilded Seal Book Launch

There are certain moments that can have a great impact on you as a writer, especially if you are a writer just starting out, who is testing the waters and is susceptible to every positive and negative influence.

I went to a book launch last week for James Twining, author of The Double Eagle, The Black Sun and his most recently published novel, The Gilded Seal. James had very kindly offered readers of his blog to attend his “invitation-only” book launch. Being one of these readers and having met him at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival earlier this year and finding him to be a “top bloke” in Aussie parlance, I took him up on the offer.

I also wanted to see what a book launch was all about. I’m sure it differs quite significantly for each author, from location to the guest list, but I assume the structure and purpose is reasonably consistent and that the experience would be quite indicative of this important event in a writer’s life.

James Twining’s Gilded Seal book launch was a warm, social affair held in the pleasant interior of a members-only club off The Strand. When I arrived, pretty much on time, there were not too many people there: small groups talking to each other, a waiter manning a table loaded with free wine and beer and a representative from The Pan Bookshop selling copies of the book in all its hardcover splendour on the other side of the room.

Not being the greatest in the skill of mingling (especially when sober), I took a glass of red wine and wandered around, looking at the lovely paintings on the wall as if I recognised the style or artist, waiting for a moment when I could join a conversation without getting the “who farted” look. Eventually, the ice broke and I got to talking to one of James’s former work buddies. He talked about James’s achievements, seemingly quite proud of his colleague. He also found it interesting to be seeing the guy he used to work with in a different light, as a writer of books. He found it slightly surreal to be taking photos of him and asking for his autograph, a guy whom he had probably worked with in a normal corporate environment. I agreed that it would seem a bit odd.

As the evening continued, more people swarmed into the middle sized room until it was filled with family and friends and hangers on (yep, me), talking and laughing and enjoying themselves. James made his way diligently around the room, making sure he spoke with everyone who attended, almost as if he was at his wedding, thanking everyone for coming. I could see that he was enjoying himself too: here were around fifty people, family, friends, colleagues, all here to show their appreciation and support, to show how happy they were for him for accomplishing the feat of finishing and publishing a new book. And almost everyone was at his elbow at some stage in the evening, watching him sign their copy of The Gilded Seal, purchased on the night. This night was all about him.

After his publisher introduced the new book to the gathering, James gave a speech, talking about what the book meant to him, what he liked about it. He thanked people who had supported him throughout, including a special mention to his wife. The round of applause was heartfelt and as genuine as you can get.

The book launch, to my eyes, is a very personal affair, an intimate presentation of something personal that has taken much time and effort for you to produce. It is a gesture of thanks to all those close to you and all those who have been by your side throughout the process, always encouraging, always interested, always with the belief that you can do it. The book is your little baby and what better start for it then to take its first steps among family and friends, before it heads out into the cruel world. And it’s your moment and no one takes it from you, because the people you have invited are happy for your achievement, no, they are damn excited about it. I hope to experience it first hand, as a writer.

James Twining made it over to my side of the room halfway through the night, signed my book and said he was glad I could come. We chatted for a bit then and again, later, when I was leaving the room with Kathy. He is a great, approachable guy and quite inspiring to me. He is an author who hasn’t given up his day job, still working a full-time career and still managing to find time to write. I began to feel quite positive about my writing after speaking with him, caught up in the possibilities and opportunities ahead of me, but I did not get carried away: the night was solely for James Twining and he deserved the successful book launch that he received.

Check out The Gilded Seal and his other novels at