Notes from the Midst of a Novel.


Busy, busy, busy. I sort of crashed into the Christmas holidays on a wave of adrenaline and exhaustion. To all intents and purposes working three jobs, the end of the year hit me like a temporal cricket bat to the chronological face. A short trip and a lot of partying left me more relaxed and ready to start all over again. Since January 5th I’ve stuck to a rigorous writing schedule and I’m now approaching a complete full draft. It’s a total mess, in three voices and two tenses, but having a full draft to edit is such a huge hurdle to clear. Seven chapters and I can celebrate. Before Christmas I lost my way a bit and got overwhelmed by what I was doing, so getting to a clearing in the forest is such a relief. The hard work – editing – is still to come, but just now it’s all positive.

I also got the first set of proofs for Silma Hill which means it’s all getting real. It even got a mention on the Birlinn Books blog ‘What We’re Looking Forward To In 2015’ post, which is lovely.

Apart from the usual paranoia and confidence failures, writing my third novel has been a lot of fun. Silma Hill was written before I’d worked with my editor, Rodge Glass, (in the gap between submitting FTS and getting his edits back) so this is the first chance I’ve had to put everything I learned from him over two books into practice. Having two novels under my belt has also given me confidence in two key areas. Firstly, mistakes, and the worrying about them. There will be thousands of errors, big and small, in this book that will have to be corrected before it resembles a real book, but that’s okay. I understand the process much better now, I know there’s a time for correcting and a time for flowing, and they never occur at the same time. Second guessing myself only builds obstacles, and if I’m going for a book a year, I have no time for delays. I do love a good deadline. Secondly, Rodge’s Obi Wan-like voice in my head has given me the confidence to experiment more, to branch out. First Time Solo and Silma Hill both covered an internal time of 6 – 9 months and were set in either fictional places or places I’ve been. With #3 I’m covering 34 years and spanning continents, with big chunks set in New Zealand, Hawaii, Japan, South Korea and, inevitably, Scotland. It’s been a delight to explore new worlds both online and in my imagination. Google Street View has been amazing with this, replacing the need for a research grant to find out what the walk from the University of Otago campus to the Robert Burns pub looks like or the view over Kilauea. It has, however, meant the adverts in my browser are getting bizarre.

I’m also preparing to interview David Pilling about his book Bending Adversity for the Japan Times. It’s a brilliant analysis of Japan in the second half of the 20th century, the triple disaster and its aftermath. I’m really looking forward to chatting with him – he worked for the Financial Times in Japan for 7 years and is now in Hong Kong, and his insight into the geopolitics and realpolitik of the region are fascinating. Lots of preparation still to do though. Back to work.

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