The story of the story

As noted elsewhere, I began writing Gatecrasher back in 2001. But the fact is, it didn’t take 11 years from start to publish. It’s been more than twenty.

Back when I was a teenager, I was hammering out a ghost story on my Dad’s ancient typewriter, called The Seance (the story was called The Seance, not the typewriter). I still have the crinkled old pages somewhere. (Perhaps I’ll blog about that later, with some exhilarating sample passages beamed to you direct from 1990.)

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But down the years I lost the thread, lost interest, stopped writing. Then, in 2001, having written only intermittently over the previous decade, I sat down and decided to start The Seance again. The opening scenes took shape, with the plan that the climactic breaking-glass moment would be a mystery, that it could have come from one of any of the several different preceding scenes. After that, The Seance would play out.

But then I found myself more interested in what had happened at the party scene (the various others included some pretty ordinary situations – man changing lightbulb, lady cooking dinner).

The first draft went a bit wonky. I had no idea of the story I was writing for the most part, and made it up as I went along. Then I found myself having to write my way out of the place I’d got to. And that first draft was a little cliched (Islamic terrorists?) and there was far too much of a romantic sub-plot that makes me cringe to think of it.

Come 2002 I had the great good fortune to meet someone for whom reading and writing were her living and who had experience and expertise in critiquing manuscripts. She kindly turned her attention to mine, and gave it a comprehensive going over – clear, honest and direct. It was completely invaluable. From there I embarked on a comprehensive re-write that overhauled huge tranches of the original story, removed extraneous characters, discarded the awful, awkward romantic guff, and ditched the cliched terrorism storyline. Edited it basically.

I sent synopsis, blurb and sample chapters to any number of literary agents and collected rejection slips from each of them. I didn’t take it personally, but I did let it discourage me. And all the while, as the saying goes, life was happening whilst I was making plans.

And then they invented the kindle, and then, eventually, my wife read it (it was in a neglected-collecting-dust phase when we met, she hadn’t just been ignoring it!), and then I saw a tweet by the comedian Richard Herring, about how to self publish.

So I figured that my attempts to get it published in the traditional way had got nowhere and were going nowhere and here was a chance to actually have it see the light of day. I also had the thought that once I had done it, I could forget it. I was a little fed up of it what with all the time and effort and no palpable results.

But now there are more than 2,000 kindles in the world with my book on it. After two months. This frustrates and amazes me in equal measure. It is a massive number considering my original expectations – I thought a couple of hundred would be great. But I cannot shrug the nagging question: why not more? Or more specifically: how many more?

I also don’t think that this is the end of the story of the story. There is at least one section of the book that I think needs work, probably two. Both feel a little contrived and confusing. So I may yet edit and re-publish with some tweaks. And then of course, as and when a publisher picks it up….

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