The Dream Weavers. The birth of a new novel

It has been hard to find items of news over the last months which are not Covid and lockdown related.  So many people I speak to say, ‘oh well, it’s all right for you.  You work at home anyway. You must have spent your time writing; have you written another book?’ Well, yes, I do work from home normally, and I have written another book - but it was surprisingly hard under these strange circumstances and no one was more surprised to realise that than me. I guess there has been something in the air, a kind of restless nervousness. At the beginning no one knew what was going to happen next.  One spent a lot of time anxiously ringing friends to make sure they were still there. To disappear into the past, as is my wont, seemed almost indecent. To be excited and happy to be working on a new project seemed selfish. However, I did manage to keep more or less to my routine and now I am hugely excited, not to say relieved, to find that the date for publication of The Dream Weavers is drawing near at last. 

We all write in various ways, of course, and for people who self publish things are very different in the latter stages.   From my point of view, there are various distinct phases in giving birth to a novel. First there is conception: the recognition that an idea is solidifying and swirling out of the ether and into my notebook, and will be, maybe, probably, definitely, the subject of ‘the next one’.

 After that comes gestation. The germ of the idea has caught fire and the creative sequence begins:  I take time constructing the various interwoven plotlines, writing them into a reasonably coordinated outline, researching the story, visiting the sites of the historical events and then visiting the scenes of the present day action. Each of these stages I confidently regard in turn as my favourite bit of the process. I love research – it is hands-on history, and then I love the fact that because I am writing a novel I can add to and, to a certain extent, manipulate that history – although my own rule is I can’t change events that actually happened. I merely creatively fill in the gaps. I was so lucky. I had completed most of these stages just before actual lockdown struck. 

Next came the actual writing of what I would now be daring to think of as ‘the book’ – something that takes many months, of course. This, like the research, is hard and concentrated work and it too is wonderfully exciting and rewarding. It is also in so many ways life consuming; one lives with and through and for all these characters, bringing them alive, and for those intense months one is literally living a double life. 

Finishing that first very rough draft is only the start. Then come the revisions.  Some sections go in so smoothly they never need rewriting, that is the best feeling of all. Other bits are more awkward.  Sections of plot need to be re-organised, re-arranged, or cut out completely. Sometimes that is done with a heavy heart as a favourite bit gets the chop because, however much I love it, it just doesn’t fit; sometimes characters have to go. Not often, but occasionally it happens. I comfort myself – and them -  with the thought that one day they might turn up in another book. 

Then, going back to the analogy of the birth process, comes the first ‘scan’. The manuscript is completed in that first draft and is in enough order to be read by someone else for the first time. In my case I ping it to my editors and to my agent and I wait, at first with relief that I can at last take a few days off until I hear what they think, then with increasing panic and foreboding until I do hear. 

 It doesn’t matter how experienced one is or how often one has gone through this process it never gets any easier.  I have spoken to other authors and they all say the same. ‘They’, those first readers, might hate it, and it is crucial that they love it! Their opinion matters so much it hurts. They are the experts. One reaction is almost inevitable, in my case at least: however much they like it, and thank goodness so far they always have, they still say ‘too long’. Ah well.  Cutting means tightening up and that is always a good thing and a crucial part of what are known as the ‘rewrites’.  Only when the rewrites are rewritten - by me, of course - can the book at last go back to the publisher for ‘editing’ by other people, a process which is repeated, once, twice, perhaps even three times by various different stage editors, all of whom return corrections and suggestions I can approve (or not) as the pages begin to look more and more like a proper book. Even at this stage other people catch inconsistencies that I have ceased to see -  I know the characters too well; I don’t realise I haven’t explained something clearly enough, or am too close to the story.  As an example, just this morning I noticed something in a novel I was reading with great enjoyment.  The character had sprained her ankle, then a page later the leg is described as broken and, after being unable to stand for the agony she then a couple of paragraphs later, walks out chatting to the ambulance men. It is so easy to do. 

 With the final mark up the text is almost ready for publication and eventually, it returns in proper printed form, for the final proof reading. 

After that comes the sequence of events where other people step up with their own special expertise. Perhaps to pursue the original analogy, the obstetricians. Over to the publisher.  My editor calls up ‘the team’. Designs are played with, suggestions for the jacket arrive, the colour scheme is discussed, decorative chapter headings are mooted.  Do we need a map and in the case of The Dream Weavers a glossary of some of the few obscure Anglo-Saxon and ancient Welsh terms? 

Then, at last, online, various announcements and ‘teasers’ start to appear, revealing the final jacket and maybe some blurb outlining the story. Sales and advertising people are now in charge. Seeing the final version of the physical book take shape before my eyes is incredibly exciting and I am as impatient as anybody for the moment of publication. 

I’m not sure what will happen this year. With lockdowns all round and terrifying numbers of people still so dreadfully ill, will any book signings and festivals take place? Who knows at this stage. I fear I will have to overcome my dread of the internet interview where I stare, petrified, at the screen and freeze (as does the screen in this less than fast broadband area)– the proverbial rabbit in the headlights moment. I obviously need to start contacting my inner thespian! 

 And in the meantime I am beginning to look back through my research photos. I love having those uploaded onto my website so people can see pictures of the various places in the story – not, sadly, very expertly framed and at times seen through lenses smeared with rain, but nevertheless a glimpse of the actual places I’ve written about. And I will probably include some of my research notes, and assemble a bibliography for people to look up the real history if they are so inclined. This all confirms the real events that were the base and inspiration for the novel and I know how much people enjoy seeing those extra details.

Then comes the hardest part of all. To let go. The birth itself.  Publication Day. The book will be out there; there is nothing more I can do except hope that my readers enjoy it. It is time to say goodbye to another novel.

It’s very hard to part with those characters, to know there is nothing more I can say, no more tweaks I can make to their stories. I have to forget them. I miss them terribly. For me they have been so very real it is like parting with genuine friends. They were a part of myself. Where will they go now? What is going to happen to them next?  I will never know. Sometimes I wish I could write a sequel; I understand the fascination of writing a series of novels about the same characters and often I am tempted. But no. Maybe in a next life. In this one I have to separate, to give my brain the chance to rest. I have to create space for a whole new cast list and a new group of friends. 

 And so, almost imperceptibly, ideas begin to flutter round my head like the first gentle snowflakes of the winter. It is time to start to think about the next book.