Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Assisting in the birth (of a book...)

Since it seems the entire world is agog over what is, let's face it, an entirely natural process, I thought I'd approach it from a different angle.

This week's blog is about the birth of a *book*. Yes, you read that correctly. And the labour involved in bringing a book into the world can be extremely UNnatural, especially coming as it does after a pregnancy that for many of us is much much longer than nine months!

Just for a change, I'm not going to tell you about the trials and tribulations of exposing my own book, 'Moses in Chains', to the world (though this link should take you to the Amazon page to get it for your kindle if you haven't already!) but instead about a different book of historical fiction, 'The Handfasted Wife', by Carol McGrath.

Carol first got the idea for her book several years ago while visiting Bayeux, and you can read her account of it in her blog. Inspiration comes in many different forms and a small extract of a large picture is not a particularly surprising route, I think. The idea fermented for a while until she started a postgraduate Creative Writing degree at Royal Holloway, for which a completed novel would be part of the final submission. Over several years, she honed the characters and their adventures until it reached the state in which you now find it. We spent many happy afternoons drinking tea in the garden and hot-seating some of the characters, exploring different possibilities and laughing lots. (I think it was tea, though in retrospect it may have been Pimms.)  Other readers gave opinions that were filtered through Carol's perspective and more than one of us went through checking the spelling, punctuation and grammar (it is much easier to find those stray commas and spaces in someone else's work, believe me - though I can assure you, both Carol and I know the difference between villain and villein).

As for the labour, it is all too well documented how difficult it is to find an agent these days, or a publisher. Through the Romantic Novelists Association, Carol had met a number of people who had read her book in its earlier drafts and provided helpful comments - this is typical of the RNA and probably the wider writing community, because they've all been there and they all know how hard it is - and through one of her contacts, Carol was lucky enough to be offered a contract by Accent Press. I say 'lucky' not because she didn't deserve it but because so often great writing is overlooked because it's in the wrong place at the wrong time; you only have to read about J.K.Rowling's recent experience to discover how much is down to who happens to read your draft and when they read it.

Getting the contract was not the end of the process, however. The labour continued as Carol made changes to the text as requested by her publisher, decided on the cover, prepared her blog tour and made plans for the launch. (Here are a few links to the blog tour that Carol managed to organise. Kudos to her!)  Eventually the day came when the book was available as an ebook or paper copy, through print on demand. Carol's busy schedule meant that the launch was more virtual than actual until last Thursday, when Coles Books in Bicester kindly hosted a launch with wine, canapes and copies of the book available to be purchased and signed.

Is that the end of the birthing process? You might have thought so. Carol at least had already decided on the name but the media is still in pursuit - she has had a mention in an article in USA Today and of course has to follow up on the reviews that people kindly write, on Amazon and elsewhere. And of course, since Carol is not a one-book-wonder, there are the other offspring to consider; fortunately the first draft of the second book in the planned trilogy is already complete. I'm pretty certain that the parents of another recent birth can't claim that!

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