Did I really write that?
Well, no one else did. It’s your name and title on the front cover.
I could blame Harvey, my adorable West Highland white terrier, who sometimes wanders up, seeking attention or a treat. He may wonder what I do, sitting at my desk in Crouch Corner for most of the day, typing away.
I doubt if he realises I’m creating imaginary worlds, populated by exciting characters. Not that you’d believe it if you read some of the writing.
Ernest Hemingway said, ‘the first draft of anything is shit.’
I can’t help feeling he was being a bit hard on himself. I’m sure he wrote some brilliant prose first time around. Occasionally, I disturb Harvey with a whoop of delight when I write a terrific cliff hanger at the end of a chapter. I’ve also been reduced to tears when something I write touches a deeper chord.
So, in deference to Hemingway, while I agree that first drafts need work, not all of the writing is bad.
And I’ve just realised that Hemingway would be a brilliant name for a dog. A determined terrier, methinks.
Michael Crichton said, books are not written they’re rewritten.
That’s not so self-critical and clearly accurate. The chances of turning out a perfect novel first time must be greater than winning the lottery. The National Lottery wasn’t around when I submitted my unedited first novel to a publisher, so I had no idea of the odds facing me.
I was 17. What did I know? I was high on Tippex fumes.
Yep, it was the era of manual typewriters, carbon copies and Tippex to mask typos and mistakes. I used liberal quantities of the stuff, hating how I had to interrupt the creative flow to correct a misspelling or add a better word.
Suffice to say, I was no fan of editing or revising. You had to check grammar and spelling because people got really uptight about that. I suspect many editors were in fact English teachers, who seemed to like nothing more than to spot the mistakes and highlight them with a red pen.
Looking back, I wonder if I might have improved my chances of publication had I spent time improving my first drafts. When my work was rejected, it didn’t occur to me to take a long hard look at what I’d written. I’d already moved on, excited by the next project.
Eventually, I ran out of steam and ideas. I began to question my cavalier approach to what I wrote. Maybe I’d missed a few opportunities along the way because I couldn’t be bothered to make the extra effort.
Could try harder.
Was that written in my school report?
Could do better. That was.
Was it the story of my life – almost but not quite?
The possibility knocked me off course for many years. It made me doubt myself, ripped chunks out of my self-confidence and left me wondering whether my dream was beyond my reach.
But the desire to write and be published ran deep. I did moderately well with articles, publishing a few in national magazines. But it wasn’t novel writing. Where were the characters, the conflict, the suspense and resolution in Making your own cold frame?
Okay, there was a journey of discovery – I discovered I could make cold frames – but it didn’t lift the soul.
Things improved when I created Kent Fisher. I’d found a niche in the crowded crime fiction market and the juices were flowing. This time, I would try harder, do better.
I wrote the first novel, which went on to become No Bodies, the second in the series, and revised and edited it, using a word processor. No Tippex to cloud my thinking or dent my enthusiasm.
I left that to the publishers and agents who weren’t interested – with the exception of one. She read the whole story, but felt the characters didn’t leap of the page.
I considered a novel about an elite team of high jumpers, the Fosbury Fixers, but as you’ve already guessed, it flopped.
Humour was always my main defence against disappointment and pain. When we played football as children and a kid kicked me, I always smiled to annoy them. See, you can’t hurt me. If only that were true.
But, I thought about what the agent said and worked on improving the characters by writing a second Kent Fisher novel, No Accident. It became the first in the series, having to dovetail into No Bodies.
That’s right, I’d moved on to the next project again.
Let’s wind forward a few years to submitting the first three chapters of No Accident to a publisher. Within a day, I had an offer of publication. Okay, it was dependent on the rest of the story being up to standard, but it was an offer.
Overnight, things had become serious.
Someone wanted to read the rest of my novel – the one gathering dust on a hard drive. Maybe I should read it, see whether it’s any good, whether it needs a crack team of high jumpers to give it a lift.
I was appalled by the long, lumbering story I’d written. It was as if my eyes had been opened to my shortcomings – the writing kind, not my lack of patience.
It took six months of revising, rewriting and replotting to turn No Accident into a sharper, fresher novel. The publisher liked it, thankfully, and I signed up, oblivious to the real editing and revising that lay ahead.
Enter the professional editor.
Her first run through of my novel produced plenty for me to think about. At one point, I wondered why the publisher wanted my work if it needed so many changes. But that’s what you get when you look at something with an objective, dispassionate eye.
It never occurred to me that other people wouldn’t see my story the way I did.
So, I edited and revised, threw in a few improvements of my own and emailed it back. It wasn’t too painful, and begrudgingly I had to admit the story was better.
I wasn’t expecting more comments and changes. Hadn’t I done what I was asked to do?
Oh, I’d made a few changes, which affected the plot lines later and a few more typos came to light.
In truth, it didn’t involve a massive amount of revision and the editor had a great sense of humour. She enjoyed the humour in my story, which I was striving to retain at all costs.
There were two more revisions before the finished novel was published. When I saw it on Amazon that first morning, I knew all the revisions, edits and rewrites had been worth it.
Even better, I could now see the faults and weaknesses in my own writing. It allowed me to revise No Bodies and improve it.
My first drafts are now better written, though far from perfect. I know when something isn’t working – better still, why it’s not working. My self-confidence has grown too, refusing to let me accept something that isn’t working or up to standard.
That’s been the story of No More Lies, the fourth and latest Kent Fisher murder mystery. It’s been a difficult birth, with lots of early complications that took a lot of time and effort to correct. But having now completed two edits on the novel, I’m glad I made the effort.
I tried harder. I did better.
And the Fosbury Fixers, who were waiting anxiously in the wings, ready to step in, were sent home.
No More Lies is now with my editor. I await her guidance before the final round of revisions and proofing. If all goes well, the novel should be available for pre-order from Amazon in April with a release date of 9th May 2019.
If you’d like to find out more about Kent Fisher and the murder mystery novels, click here to visit my website. I’m offering a free copy of No Mystery, which is an introduction to the series and characters. All you need to do is sign up to my monthly email newsletter, which will give you more insights and updates. Click here to find out more.