Being a writer is an experience that goes in cycles, for me at least. As soon as the final draft of a book is complete, and all the other checks are done, the book is published and the cycle ends. But then, it’s not very long before the cycle begins all over again, with the first few tiny wisps of ideas and before you know it, I’m into the first draft creative part of the process again.
Once upon a time, this used to begin around September for me. I don’t know if that’s because when my children were young, that was when they went back to school after the long summer holidays and I had two minutes to sit in peace with a notebook and a cup of coffee.
But these days, it’s the beginning of the year that is this creative time for me now, and the second part of the year is always spent in revisions, rewriting, chipping away at the block that is my rough draft.
When I’m creating, dashing out those mad, unfocussed, often-discarded new chapters of a new book, I love to do this is a cafe. There’s something about being surrounded by anonymous, happy bustle that helps me immediately find my ‘zone’, roll my sleeves up and get on with my next scene.
I know I often talk about sitting in cafes, notebook and pen in front of me (my first drafts are always longhand), with a cappuccino and – ooh, naughty – maybe a bit of cake. It’s my favourite thing.
Yes, I know we have coffee at home. And even – occasionally, cake, or I could buy a supermarket cake and eat a slice at home for a fraction of the cost of a cafe. Or, I could bake a cake of my very own – it could be any size, shape or colour. I could have any flavour I like, and it could be a tray-bake, a torte, a good solid fruit cake with cherries on top, a long sugary loaf oozing with bananas or dates. It could be a sponge with ganache or cream or even just jam in the middle. It could have nuts on the top, or frosting, or strawberries in a creamy heap.
There are just two problems with that: 1. I’m a terrible cook. And 2, that wouldn’t inspire me to write. Which is, after all, the whole point of this exercise.
I love to go to cafes with my family. But those are occasions for talking and laughing, not times for me to be alone with my thoughts. And as Winifred Watson said, ‘You can’t write if you’re never alone.’ (She was a very successful author in the 1930s who gave up writing once she married and had children. Her book Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day was made into a film starring Ciaran Hinds and Frances McDormand and I highly recommend it.)
So there I sit. Usually ideas have been bubbling for a while at this point, or I may have made a few cryptic notes – not always helpful as I don’t always remember what I was on about. Soon I’m scribbling away, and if I don’t fill 10 or 12 pages in my notebook, I feel rather cheated. If I write more than that, you can bet I will float out of that cafe on cloud nine, feeling pretty smug and pleased with myself. That would be a good day’s work.
So that’s the current situation at Chez Allan. I’m currently working on a new Dottie book – the first draft of Midnight, the Stars and You: Dottie Manderson mysteries book 8 is already a whopping 1500 words long. To put that in perspective, the finished draft should be at least 80,000 – so it’s not even a chapter. But it’s started, that’s the main thing. And another book is at around the 20,000 word mark, which I’m really happy about.
Later on, I will be getting on with Miss Gascoigne book 2. Not sure yet what the title will be, I had an idea but now I have another, conflicting idea, and my poor writer brain can’t decide which one is best, so that’s on the back-burner for a few weeks. But I’ve got so many notes and ideas!!!
It’s a time of great excitement, and giddy childlike anticipation. It’s a bit like being a toddler sitting on the floor surrounded by all my toys and trying to decide what to play with first.