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Blog tour: My writing process

April 1, 2014

Thanks to Judi Moore, multi-talented author of “Is death really necessary?” for inviting me to join the blog tour that hunts out the answers to four questions. Mercifully, “Is death really necessary?” isn’t one of them.

Judi’s answers can be found here.  Mine are below. I’m charged with handing on the baton, and have contacted a couple of writer friends, but the rules say you can offer up to three links – so if anyone fancies joining in, let me know.

1.      What am I working on?Cover of TABULA RASA

The seventh Ruso novel, provisionally called HABEAS CORPUS, and set in Rome. Thus my head will be in entirely the wrong place when the sixth, TABULA RASA, comes out later this year – that one’s set on the northern border of Britannia and will look very much like the cover on the right. (I believe that’s Hercules clutching the golden apples of the Hesperides. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong!)

2.      How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Its genre is “Roman Crime” and there’s a surprising amount of it about. I’d normally reply that I’m more interested than most in the Romano/British tensions, having a leading character from each side and setting the books out in the far reaches of the Western Empire. Although of course Jane Finnis and Rosemary Rowe both set their crime novels in Roman Britain.

Setting HABEAS CORPUS in Rome is going to be a bit of a step in the dark, both for me and for Ruso and Tilla, who will have to be careful not to trip over the descendants of other fictional characters.

3.      Why do I write what I do?

Out of fascination with the era – so much ‘like us’ and yet so different. Also, the problem of how to get along with people who don’t share our culture is universal, and it’s especially acute during a military occupation. In a sense it’s easy for the people at the extremes. Their thinking isn’t challenged. It’s the people who rub shoulders every day with individuals from the ‘other side’ who have to make crucial decisions on how to behave, what risks to take and how much trust to offer. Peacemakers may be ‘blessed’ but they don’t have easy lives.

4.      How does your writing process work?

I know several writers who sit down at the desk and produce between 1000 and 5000 words a day. Clearly their brains work much faster than mine, and they have much better self-discipline.

Often the only way to make progress is to spend a lot of time getting it frustratingly wrong, then to go for a lone walk only to realise (on a good day) what I should have written. Thus many hours are spent producing words that end up in the ‘dump’ file the next morning. I keep a running total of the word count on a virtual sticky note on the desktop, just to reassure myself that I am making progress, if rather inefficiently.

What about planning, you may be asking? Oh, I can show you plans. Official synopses. Splendid creations in multi-coloured felt-tip. Photographs on whiteboards. Photographs of whiteboards. Maps with pins and stickers. Spreadsheets. Character lists. Charts drawn up using special software. Then you can wonder, as I do when these things resurface during a clear-up, what on earth most of them have to do with what’s in the book.

 

 

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10 comments

  1. I love it. I would like to have written fiction, but I have no natural aptitude for it, and I’ve now reached 60 so I’ll probably never manage it. All credit to you.


  2. Truly, Jonathan, much of it is simply applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair. You learn as you go along and age doesn’t matter. But I do concede that it takes up a lot of time and mental energy that could be more productively used. As I am aware every time I look at the state of the house…


  3. Blimey, you should see the state of my house! I probably spend at least as much time in front of the computer as you do. The difference is that almost anything I write, including my paid work, will be dead and forgotten within a few years; while Ruso and Tilla may outlive either of us, in a sense.

    An advantage of writing historical novels is that they don’t date much; unlike science fiction, which I also read.

    “Setting HABEAS CORPUS in Rome is going to be a bit of a step in the dark, both for me and for Ruso and Tilla, who will have to be careful not to trip over the descendants of other fictional characters.”

    In principle, it would be rather fun if they did! However, the problem is that probably neither they nor the reader would notice anything remarkable about the descendants of a fictional character.

    As a reader, I find it rather charming to encounter a character devised by author A turning up in a book by author B, and I have known it to happen. However, some authors (Lindsey Davis comes to mind) would be seriously irate to find such things going on without permission. It’s relatively safe to import characters devised by long-dead authors, as Jasper Fforde has done repeatedly.


    • Yes, that’s why I’m going to have to restrain the urge to have Ruso and Tilla bump into friends and relations of characters I have known and loved. It’s both understandable and a shame, because I would like to imagine that somewhere, all our fantasy worlds merge into one, alternative reality.

      In fact Jane Finnis and I did discuss the possibility of Ruso dropping in to visit Aurelia Marcella’s Oak Tree Mansio in SEMPER FIDELIS, but it’s on the wrong side of York, and since Aurelia would be quite elderly by the time Ruso came calling, I might have ended up contradicting some later development in Jane’s books. You’re right, though. It would have been fun.


  4. The most extreme example of character-borrowing I can think of was by Simon Hawke, who took a series of classic novels by different writers and rewrote them, keeping the same situation, characters, and story, but adding disguised time-travellers from the future: one faction trying to disrupt the original story, and the other faction trying to preserve it. The first and best of these rewrites was “The Ivanhoe Gambit” (1984), but some of the others were quite good, e.g. “The Zenda Vendetta” (1985). Best suited to readers who are accustomed to sf, though.


    • “Simon Hawke, who took a series of classic novels by different writers and rewrote them, keeping the same situation, characters, and story, but adding disguised time-travellers from the future: one faction trying to disrupt the original story, and the other faction trying to preserve it.”
      That is a truly wonderful idea…


  5. Finally! Since Ruso and Tilla visited Galia I hoped to see them in other provinces, especially in the Caput Mundi! (I hope this information isn’t a Apris Fools’ joke). I love all the series and impatiently looking forward for the next ones.

    About writting proces progess: I’m author of series of popular books about coinage of Rome’s Golden Age and there’s no possibility for me to write more than 1200 words a day for me, but there aren’t many of such days. Average day brings me about half of that, so I think there’s a few authors who can write more.

    Greetings from Poland!
    Pawel Zawora


    • Hi Pawel,
      No, I promise you it’s not an April Fool – Ruso and Tilla really are going to Rome! Although so far (7000 words in) it’s not turning out quite how Ruso had hoped.
      It’s interesting to hear that you write about Roman coinage. I hadn’t realised what a fascinating subject it is until I went to a couple of talks – one by Dr Mark Curteis, who analysed the finds from the community dig I worked on, and the other by Sam Moorhead from the British Museum. So much information from a few small pieces of metal! A real-life detective story.
      Best wishes,
      Ruth


  6. I LOVED your comments on planning. Apparently writing is a lot like life!


    • Yes, now I come to think of it…



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