Thursday, 23 August 2012

What to do about the next book

It's been over a month since the last post.  The reason for this is simple: I've been writing.  The bad news is that I haven't been writing the book I should have been writing.
I'm sorry!  I know most of my readers enjoy my historical fiction.  I enjoy researching it and I've loved writing it, but for the past few years I seem to have been running into the sand, and I finally got irretrievably stuck.
Perhaps it was a mistake to change period?  My training is as a classicist, and that is still the period I love most.  I did feel, though, that I was getting stale, recycling some of the same material from book to book, and that I needed to challenge my brain with a completely different period--hence the English Civil War.  I did like my two Civil War novels, but I don't think they're as good as the best of my classical books.  On the other hand, I don't feel my last few classical books were as good as my best, either, which is why I made the change in the first place.
I should spell this out: I have always done my very best with every book I've written.  When a book is not as good, this isn't because I've cut corners or failed to invest the time and energy it needed: it's because I was unable to make it any better.  Sometimes there were structural elements pulling in different directions, sometimes I couldn't get the plot quite right, sometimes the lightning just failed to strike where it was needed--but the failures have never been down to will and commitment.  If any readers have been disappointed, I can only apologize and say that I did the best I could.
My last published book, A Corruptible Crown was particularly demotivating: the publishers cut it by ten percent to save printing costs.  Now, I don't think my words are holy writ; in fact, I believe that most books, including mine, benefit from cutting.  In the past I've been happy to cut: Dark North is only about three fifths of its original length.  A Corruptible Crown , however, was not a fat book--it was quite pared down to begin with--and my publishers weren't pretending that the cuts they made were to improve the novel: they were made explicitly to save money.  I suppose even so about 30% of what they did improved the book and another 20 or 30% was neutral.  That did leave, however, 40 or 50% of the cuts being into red meat--things which were in the book for a good reason, and which caused damage when they were taken out.  I know that they, like all publishers, are struggling with the harsh economics of printing in an increasingly digital world--but for me this was, as I said, extraordinarily demotivating.  Why should I sweat and struggle to make a book as good as I possibly can, if the publishers are willing to cut it to a Not-what-it-should-have-been?
My first response to this was to e-publish a couple of fantasies that I'd written to unwind, liked a lot, but failed to sell.  (No printing costs!  I can put in as much or as little as I like!)  They earned very little, but the books got more stars and more reviews than the printed ones.  I still didn't feel like tackling the next historical, so I wrote a couple more.  Then I started another historical, intended to finish off the 17th C. themes I'd dealt with in the two civil war novels.  I did a lot of research, embarked on it--and got stuck on chapter two.  I then wrote nothing for about a year--which was unprecedented for me, and depressing.
Now, as I said, I'm deep in another novel and happy as a cow in clover--except, as I said, it's not a book I should be writing, it's another bloody fantasy, and probably destined to go straight to Kindle.  It's different from the last ones, it lets me play around with different viewpoints and some fun ideas--but it's not what I wanted to write or what my small band of followers wanted to read.
So, if you're a member of that small but elite band--I'm sorry!  Maybe after this I'll be able to do a proper book again.


  1. As a dinosaur I'm addicted to printed books, ebooks just don't give me the right feeling. But that's my personal problem, many of my comrades in genre are reading ebooks, some of them don't read a dead tree book any more.
    Ever thought of publishing the complete books translated here in Germany ?

  2. As a long term fan of your historical fiction, I'd like to thank you for your many books that have given me a great deal of pleasure over time.
    I think you should write what you want to write and what gives you satisfaction. It's never going to be your best otherwise.
    And of course if you ever get tired of fantasy and want to return to a historical novel with full-on enthusiasm and inspiration, that will be wonderful also.

  3. I have been a huge fan of your writing ever since I was eleven years old and my middle school librarian (at Hannah Middle School in East Lansing, Michigan) handed me THE BEARKEEPER'S DAUGHTER. Since then, 24 years have passed, I've moved to the UK, and I've read books of yours written in different genres, time periods, etc...and I just love your writing. What matters isn't where your books are set, it's the way you write characters and see the world. (And btw, LONDON IN CHAINS is one of my very favorites!)

    I can't wait to read the new fantasy novel!

  4. Hello Gillian
    I'm glad I've found your blog -- I've been a fan of your historical fiction for years. I first discovered you via Hawk of May in a second-hand bookshop, and that trilogy led me to The Beacon At Alexandria (still my absolute favourite of all your books) and your other historical novels.

    Although I love your classical novels, no true admirer of your work can demand that you carry on turning out more of the same. You needed a break, and to explore something different. I'm sorry you've lost your writing mojo, but if writing fantasy brings it back for you, I'm not going to complain!

  5. Thanks very much to Veronic, Stephanie, Catie and the dinosaur for your supportive comments. I do hope to write a historical when I've got the present book out of my system. I like classical history and I want to do more of it, but the Muse is fickle!

  6. Gack! I wrote a long, well-thought out comment. And Google decided to delete it. I will try to recreate it as best I can.

    I have all your books on a bookshelf. Occasionally, I go there and stand in front of it, tousled hair, glasses agog and finger in my navel, and think: "What am I in the mood for today? A medieval feel? Medieval with a twist? Or perhaps some ancient Greece? Perhaps a love story at the center, or rather as an afterthought? Should it be induce post-reading philosophizing? Or simply entertain me?". And I am never disappointed.

    Yes, there are some I like more than others, some I like because of a detail and some I like less because of a repeat of a detail, and some that I like a little bit more sometimes and then sometimes a little bit less... however what does not fail, is the pleasure I derive when reading them, regardless of period or subject matter. I would rather read a book about trains from your hand than not read anything new. I know that I'll be entertained when reading it (and likely blurt out random train-related facts at dinner time).

    Reading books bring joy.- so should writing them.

  7. I am curious - was the Kindle text of A Corruptible Crown cut as well? Because that would just be sad...

  8. After picking up Beacon at Alexandria (which is also my all time favorite of your books) I have slowly built my personal library to include all of your historical novels. Though I haven't read your science fiction books I bought all 4 of your fantasy kindle e-books. I loved the fact that you branched out into fantasy and I'm eager to read your latest one so please don't be discouraged from trying something new!