The joys of being unpublished

On Wednesday this week, after more than four years’ work on my novel ‘The Heartland of the Winter’, I finally clicked ‘send’ on an email submission to a literary agent. I’ve just taken my first step on the road signposted ‘publication’. It’s certainly a long and winding road, and it’s probably also poorly-lit and potholed. And the destination at the end of it might not be quite what I had in mind. But hey, you’ve got to set off sometime if you’re ever going to get there.

So what comes next? Well, I’ve taken the decision not to worry about that too much right now. Instead I’m going to take a well-deserved break, and enjoy being unpublished.

What’s that? Enjoy being unpublished? Surely being published is so much better? You get recognition for all your hard work, and of course payment. If you get enough payment then you can quit your day job and do nothing but sit around the house all day in your dressing gown drinking tea (or gin) and dreaming up imaginary people and their imaginary problems. Brilliant.

Well, maybe. But that’s all very much in the future, and instead of wasting time in daydreams, it’s better to enjoy the here and now. And in the here and now are the manifold but sadly oft-neglected pleasures of being an unpublished writer. To whit: you can write whatever you like, whenever you like, without worrying about whether there’s a market for it or not. You can write the most lurid fan fiction about Spike and Jack Harkness doing unspeakable things with that guy from accounts* without fear of being sued for copyright violation, libel, or indecency. You can come home from work, pour out your feelings and vent your frustrations without concern that you are exposing too much of your inner life to the public gaze. You can write in whatever genre and style takes your fancy – romance one day, gothic horror the next, medieval murder mystery the day after that. Short stories, flash fiction, doorstopper epics – all are within your remit.

Best of all, writing is always a pleasure, never work. Admittedly it’s a pleasure you sometimes have to force yourself to indulge in – rather like that run you know will make you feel great once you actually get off your bum and do it – but a pleasure nonetheless. With no agent, publisher and rabid fans clamouring for the next instalment, you can indulge yourself in flights of fancy which provide a delicious escape from everyday life. Once you get published, writing becomes your everyday life, and you’ll have to think of some other form of escape.

Does all this mean I don’t actually want to get published? Of course not. I’d love to see my work in a bookshop window. But with the future uncertain, I’m going to make the most of things the way they are, for as long as they stay that way.


*disclaimer: I have never written anything remotely matching this description. But if you have, I’m not judging.

The essence of Bond

Note – this post contains minor spoilers for Skyfall. No major plot points are revealed, but if you prefer to go into the cinema entirely fresh, don’t read it until after you’ve seen the film.


A couple of weeks ago, I saw the new James Bond movie, Skyfall. It’s had a rapturous reception in many quarters, although I also know one person who hated it. I found it very mixed. To me it gave the impression of having been written by two warring screenwriters: one who loved Roger Moore-era cheese, and one who really wanted to be writing a John le Carre adaptation. Half of it was dark and gritty, exploring themes of loyalty and betrayal. And half of it featured jokes about exploding pens. It was an interesting if slightly weird experience, and it prompted me to think far too hard about the continuity of the franchise and the soul of James Bond.

The clashing elements of Skyfall reflect the disagreement between me and my husband on what constitutes the essence of Bond. I read Ian Fleming’s original books first, at an impressionable age. The novels feature, alongside the sex, violence and Martinis, a more serious undercurrent. Particularly in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, we see how a man, orphaned a young age, physically and emotionally scarred, has been recruited into an organisation which has taken over his life and is now both nurturing and destroying him. My husband, on the other hand, grew up on the films, which have always been significantly lighter on emotional depth and heavier on the explosions. He thinks Bond is all about the gadgets, cars, and one-liners.

The film franchise has been cyclical; starting off vaguely realistic, getting gradually sillier, resetting back to gritty. Then, after the dreadful later Brosnan movies (invisible car? Pur-lease), the whole thing was rebooted with Casino Royale, the Batman Begins of Bond. An adaptation of the first novel, it even faithfully reproduced the extended torture scene. Overall the film was close to Fleming’s vision, but fully up-to-date. It was very, very refreshing, and it catapulted itself straight to the top of my list of favourite Bond movies. And not just because of those blue trunks.

Best of all, so far as the geekier viewer was concerned, the reboot meant a clean slate, and a promise that at least the next couple of Bond movies would follow on from each other in a sensible fashion. Fans have long been speculating on how all those disparate films could possibly fit into a single continuity: basically, either MI6 has secretly discovered some kind of Dr Who-style regeneration process, or, the more plausible theory, ‘James Bond’ is actually a code name, given to a succession of different agents. It’s a neat theory, explaining away many inconsistencies. But then, with Casino Royale, we had a fresh start, an origin of Bond, a franchise which could be enjoyed at a deeper level than before, without any silly theories.

Then – passing over the disappointing Quantum of Solace – came Skyfall. On the one hand – a brilliant job of giving the film genuine depth and emotional resonance, an exploration of Bond’s relationship with M, a villain with believable motives who inspires some sympathy. On the other hand – a return of all those cheesy bits I hate. Miss Moneypenny and her tacky banter? Q and his gadgets? God no. And all those references to previous films, previous Bonds, who should have been forgotten. Then they rolled out that car from Goldfinger, and I found myself mentally shouting ‘Did you reboot this franchise or not!?’ They spent all that effort giving the James Bond movies actual thematic integrity, and then they threw it all out on on the ejector seat.

I guess the fan theory will now stretch to encompass the idea that each new agent is given not only the James Bond identity, but also a garage full of stuff from the 60s. To me, it seems a shame that it has to. For a brief time we had a Bond movie franchise which was true to the spirit of the novels, and more than just eye-candy. But then, as my husband pointed out, it was never going to last – there are just too many people out there who want the exploding pens.

Another quick update

Another fortnight gone, another quick update blog post. It’s been a familiar tale; bursting with ideas, no time to get them down. Such is life. It’s not easy juggling writing and editing a book with a full-time job – well, not if I want to also see my husband occasionally, have some semblance of a social life, and sleep. But it’s worth remembering what it is possible to achieve if you really want to. This time last year I was  immersed in NaNoWriMo (that’s national novel writing month to those not versed in this odd annual ritual, in which aspiring authors attempt to write a 50,000-word book in November). 50,000 words in a single month is a challenge to say the least: I’m proud to say that I achieved it on the first attempt, with a couple of days to spare, and with a reasonable degree of quality control. The experience was exhilarating, and a real education in writing, but also utterly, utterly exhausting – I didn’t feel like I could face it again this year. Also, I still haven’t done anything with my draft novel from last year, so I figured I should finish that off before I create a new one. Don’t want to end up with a hard drive cluttered with half-first drafts. So, best of luck to everyone doing NaNo, maybe I’ll join you again in 2013 if I’ve managed to tick off my writerly to-do list.

What have I been doing with my precious spare time then? Well, I’ve received the feedback on The Heartland of the Winter from my beta readers – thanks guys! Fortunately, they liked it, and had only minor suggestions for improvement, which was a relief. I’m now about half-way through the final edit in Scrivener: the plan after that is to export it into Word, format it properly, do a last trawl for typos (there are always more typos), and then submit it – I hope by the end of this month.

The main thing I seem to be editing is the dialogue – I’ve cut quite a lot of words out to try to make it snappier and more naturalistic, and also added in more speech tags where it wasn’t quite clear who was talking. I’ve also cut a lot of adverbs which on second reading were unnecessary – at one point I had written ‘he said, bathetically’. It’s a learning experience for when I come to write book number two – dialogue clearly isn’t my strong point so I need to do some work on it. I missed the session on dialogue at my writing club but some of my friends have passed on the tips, which I have found very useful.

In other news, just after finishing ‘Amanita’, my fairy tale of folklore and mycology, previewed on this very blog, I found some proper toadstools while out walking. I’ve never been so excited about fungus before, and have chosen to take this as a good sign for the success of my story. That’s just about it from me for the moment – more scribblings in a week or so!