Friday, 22 March 2013

BOOK 2: Update

Three years ago today, at 9:12am, I sat down with a fresh notebook and started the follow-up to The Afrika Reich. I already had the overarching plot of both Books 2 and 3 but this was the beginning of the detailed work: the official start date.

Publishers like ‘product’, something they can release on a regular basis. My initial contract stipulated I submit the second book in 9 months. That was too fast for me so I asked for it to be extended to 15. My schedule was to be this: 3 months to plan the sequel, 9 to write it, a final 3 to edit. Clearly I have missed this deadline! Even 15 months meant I would have to work more briskly than I’m used to. As readers of this blog will know my preference is to spend 9-12 months preparing a book, then a year to write it. Nevertheless, with an advance to earn out I felt obliged to deliver the book faster than I would have liked. That need for speed ultimately slowed me down.

I never had enough time to plan the book – which meant I started the writing not knowing where I was going. Some writers thrive on this type of spontaneity; I am not one of them. I prefer to have as much as possible pre-planned before I begin. A good analogy would be making a trip from London to Land’s End. My preference would be to work out a detailed route before starting, then having an easy journey. Instead I’ve set out with a notion I needed to travel along the A30, then continue south-west... and not much more. I got lost. Of course, once you’re lost you can get even more lost trying to find your way back to the correct route.

Another difference from the first book is that I did a lot of research up front. This overburdened me with detail. I have a lot of fabulous material but for a while I was bending the narrative to include it, rather than focusing on the plot and using research/details merely to gild the action.

The above is not the only reason for my delay. The last three years have been cruel: punctuated with death and chronic illness. This has not only played havoc with my writing schedule (my literal ability to sit at a desk and concentrate) it has also changed me as a person, made me more aware of the fragility of life. Given the abundance of death in my imagined Nazi Africa, this has impacted on the writing.

The upshot of all this is that I wrote 250 000 words of an initial version of Book 2 before concluding it was a mess. That was my staring-into-the-abyss moment. I recently saw From the Sky Down and there was a line in it that perfectly expresses how I felt at this juncture: ‘You have to reject one expression of yourself first before you get to the next expression. In between you have nothing’.

So I made the decision to put aside what I had written, plan more assiduously and start afresh. Since then things have been easier.

Although the plot of this new version is similar to its earlier incarnation, it has been pieced together differently. Imagine a constellation: the stars are in the same place but the lines linking them have altered drastically. Those expecting a re-hash of the first book may be disappointed. Book 2 is less frenetic than the original, darker, more political and character driven with some truly unexpected scenes... though still with a generous dollop of action and intrigue! I hope it will prove to be the better novel.

I intend to submit the first half to my editor in the coming weeks. Assuming he approves, and I suffer no more calamities, I hope to have the book finished by the end of the year, with a publication date in 2014.