Tangible Evidence

The word “tangible” is very important. You can have as many ideas and theories as you like, but there is nothing quite like having physical evidence that you can touch, feel, and sniff.

Today I received the first tangible evidence of being a writer: the postman delivered the proof copy of the paperback edition of my first novel, One Equal Temper. I’ve set it up as a Print On Demand offering using CreateSpace, chosen mainly because it’s easy and cheap. I plan to push the “publish” button at the end of March.

But, for now, I am revelling in having, in my hand, the fruits of my labour over the last eighteen months. And there really isn’t anything quite like it. I’ve read the words more times than I can count, and I’ve had printouts for revision and proofing – but this is different.

Sure, if you look closely, you’ll see that the production quality is a notch below a commercially printed book. The alignment of the left and right pages is a fraction out, and the binding isn’t as good, which means that you have to leave a large gutter and which makes me fear for the strength of the book if I were to open it too far.

Additionally, now I have it in my hand I can see I’ll have to make one or two tweaks to the cover design, but of course that’s why I have a proof copy.

Despite those imperfections, it’s a book. A real book, one you can put on the shelf or take on a plane or read on the beach. I suspect I will be picking it up quite a few times, just to reassure myself that I didn’t dream it all.

I’ll be taking a close look at it over the next few days to make sure it’s as good as I can possibly make it. Then everyone else can see, too!

Why ‘One Equal Temper’ ?

A question I’m often asked – well, OK, a question that someone asked me once – is “Where did that title come from, anyway? Why One Equal Temper?

If you’re not familiar with the source, it comes from Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (Note for my American friends: never ‘Lord Alfred Tennyson’). Here’s the full text, hosted by the wonderful folks at the Poetry Society: http://www.poetrysociety.org.uk/content/skyfall/

The Skyfall reference is because  Judi Dench, playing M in that movie, quotes from the poem in a very powerful scene which you can revisit here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCjnCHvpLiM

Now, in my novel, you won’t find any spies sprinting down Whitehall or gunmen bursting into meeting rooms, but the same quotation did appear on a wall in the Olympic Village, which gets a brief mention in the book.

For a fuller commentary on the meaning of the poem, strive to seek on the internet and Google will yield all sorts of explanations. But, at its simplest, Ulysses is saying that he’s not ready to hang up his boots yet, and that he and his mates are going to keep going as long as they can.

I imagine that was intended to be an inspirational quote for the athletes of the Village, as they crawled between the medical centre and the gym.

In my book, there was the bonus of the connection between “temper” in its modern sense and the character of Karen. If you don’t know who Karen is, you obviously haven’t read the book yet – perhaps you should?

If you don’t, I might have to send Ulysses and the boys round to sort you out.

What I Have Learned

I recently completed the writing, editing and self-publishing of my first novel, One Equal Temper – available soon in all good online ebook stores! There were several reasons for wanting to do it in the first place, but high on the list was that I wanted to learn something.

And, boy, have I done that.

In the last seventeen months I have learned so much stuff that I’ve forgotten what it is that I didn’t know. So I thought it would be instructive to try and capture some thoughts on the topic, before it all disappears into the mists of unreliable memory.

There have been a zillion little things, but listing all of them would take forever and a small sample would sound like I’d just learned a few bits of trivia, which isn’t how I feel about it at all. So I’ve tried to come up a level of abstraction to some summary headlines of what know now that I didn’t know then. I have learned:

1. How to write a novel. That sounds obvious, or possibly even content-free. Of course I have, but what does that mean? I think it means that I now understand the process in a way that I didn’t before. Not that there is just one standard process to be followed; but I know what the parts are and roughly how long they might take (a LONG time).

2. How to write English. To be frank, this came as a big surprise to me. I thought I already knew this, but it turns out that I didn’t. Not just the specific rules that apply to fiction, such as how to punctuate dialogue, but more general rules of grammar and punctuation. Not to mention writing prose that is easier on the eye.

3. About Social Media. I was a casual user of Facebook for the standard social purposes, but had never got into Twitter. Now I have over 1300 Twitter followers, and I’m using some of the tools like a pro to see what is and isn’t working. That means buffer, justunfollow and the amazing followerwonk. I’ve also met and interacted with a lot of people!

4. About websites and blogging – more than I thought I would. I have published websites before, but not for a very long time and I was completely off the technical pace. I’m still a bit of a beginner, but I do now have my own self-hosted wordpress site.

5. About the self-publishing process. I was always expecting this, and I wasn’t disappointed. No matter how easy Kindle Direct Publishing, Smashwords and CreateSpace say it’s going to be, you just know it’s not, at least if you want a decent looking product. It took me a few goes but I think I now have at least the basics in place.

And, finally, I’ve learned how much more there is to learn. This isn’t a surprise at all: in a field as big as this, you’d have to be mad to think you can master it all in a year or two. My learning curve is still steep – I feel I’m learning something significant every single day – and is showing no sign at all of levelling off. That’s how you know there’s a lot more to go.

Learning stuff is what I enjoy, which means I have years more fun to look forward to. How great is that?

Letting Go

I’m very sorry, Chapter Two, but you are going to have to go. Yes, I know we’ve been together for several months now, but it really isn’t working out for me. It was all very exciting back then: I’d just finished Chapter One – of my very first novel – and it felt like I was on a bit of a roll. The words just fell onto the page, it felt fresh, new, exciting. I was doing things I’d never done before – and all thanks to you. I’ll always be grateful, you know that.

But things have moved on since then. I finished the rest of the first draft a couple of months ago now, and I’ve been struggling to whip the whole thing into some sort of shape that someone else might possibly want to read. Chapter One has been completely rewritten twice: and Chapters Three to Eight have been tweaked, twisted and revised so that I can hardly recognise them.

But you, Chapter Two, have remained unaffected as I’ve chopped and created characters, added and removed whole story lines. It makes me think that you’re not really connected to the rest of the story. Dare I say it, possibly even redundant?  If you’d come later on, I might have got away with it: perhaps, halfway through, you could have been an amusing diversion or interlude between two more intense scenes. But right at the beginning, when The Reader will just be struggling to get to grips with what the story is about? Sorry, I just don’t see it any more.

And then there’s the question of the style. Way back then, when I first wrote you, I didn’t really know what sort of story I was writing. Now, as everything else around you has been rewritten and revised, you look as out of place as a 1950s shop front, alone in a parade of twenty-first century glass and chrome. Or like an actor who’s wandered onto the wrong set – a Roman Centurion walking down Sunset Boulevard, or a spaceman in an Elizabethan court.

So, Chapter Two, this is it. Next time I open up the manuscript, you’re for the chop. Maybe we’ll meet up for coffee one day – in a short story, perhaps. I’m sorry it had to end this way: but we’ll always have The Elephant.