Behind the Scenes

Writing a book is hard not because of the imagination. But simply what happens behind the scenes. As a writer, I can be in any place be it a mountain range, a coastal path, a quaint village, a walk in a city park and I can populate it with characters and a story. Sit me at a dinner table with a group of people and I've already begun to characterise and write a story in my head. And I do that all the time. It's like engaging with your childhood and the imagination that was part of your world then.

That for me is the easy part.

The hardest part of writing is everything else because it can lead you away from what you love most and that's writing. My next step is to find a copy editor. And finding a copy editor who will support you, work with your style, and not change the essence of who you are and how you write. That takes time. It took me no less than thirty-five emails to certified copy editors. Sending a draft of my work and allowing them to read it and edit it. That's nerve-wracking, however many books you've written. Not because you question yourself as a writer - which you do anyway, that goes hand in hand with writing but you're letting someone you've never met into your life and read your story for the very first time. A story that is so precious to you. It's such an important process though to find the right copy editor for you. Through lockdown #1 I sat and emailed copy editors galore, eight different chapters of 'The Butterfly Trap' were emailed to thirty-five editors. I hadn't finished my novel but I knew I wanted an editor in place by October, which was when I would have written 'The End'. My novel needed to be written and polished to perfection by then. Some editors you discard immediately, others sit in the maybe pile and then one will really jump out at you. They've heard what you've said in your opening email, they've stayed with the same language you've used, their work hasn't been obtrusive. They've listened to you. It's an art and skill to listen. I remember reading the printed out edits in my orchard, the sun beating down and reading the slight changes. I knew in that instant I had found the right editor. Once you've decided and forged that professional attachment, you're halfway there to the publishing line.

The research side, well, that can be hard because you're not sure who's going to put the phone down on you. Although you're the writer and it's your story, your facts need to be right, with a little poetic licence, of course.

I remember phoning Scotland Yard when I was writing 'Girl on the Beach' and speaking with an officer there and asking some fairly pertinent questions about criminals. I also asked if I could sit in and follow a detective from Scotland Yard as I was writing a novel and wanted to hear the door of a cell shut, the kind of questions asked, the way in which a criminal reacts. I did think at this point the receiver would go down on me but instead I received an email stating that I could follow a senior detective and when he was called out on a blue light I wouldn't be able to take part. If I would like to continue with this it would cost in excess of £1500 an hour to shadow a senior detective. Hmm, as much as I would have loved to have said I'm game, this is where I spoke with a few more officers from different stations and my poetic licence came into play. Maybe one day I'll be able to pay that hourly rate.

Whilst writing 'The Butterfly Trap' and very much in Lockdown #1, I spoke with some amazing people. A shipping company in Liverpool, the MoD, the Royal Navy, the Royal Airforce and so many others. It actually added a little difference to their lockdown boredom. I can remember my Liverpudlian guy in the shipping world making sure my timings would work. I gave him the story background to 'The Butterfly Trap' and simply from his timings with shippings I was able to pull in a character who hadn't had much influence in 'Girl on the Beach'. He gave me as much information as he could and then finished with "good luck with the novel, I've never spoken to an author before!' Just heartwarming. My RAF guy was lovely too, and again I had "well this phone call beats Corona Virus, I wasn't expecting this today - amazing!' That's when the research is hard but uplifting and just your difference in work has made their day a little better and interesting.

Then the hardest part is trying to get yourself onto the real-life bookshelves. That part is emotionally challenging. You're selling yourself, which is hard as a writer because you're not a salesperson, you're a writer. And yet when you get knocked back it's really hard to get back into the mind of a writer again. You question your ability from the simple words of an independent shop owner. That's why for me as a writer I have somebody marketing me, because I can't take the knocks, but a third person can because they are not emotionally attached to the work. I think as well it's safe to say to those independent bookshops, that an author looked you up, liked your style, likes the books you displayed, liked your ethos, loves books themselves, that author took the time to want to be in your shop. That speaks volumes. That said when you have a third party, they become your pitbull. Your feelings are left intact.

The book cover, that's what's going to sell your book. Not the blurb at first but the book cover. That reader when they walk into the shop will see that before anything else and they need to stretch out their hand pick up the book and read the blurb. I love reading and I'm always drawn to a cover first and a title. 'Girl on the Beach' was easy I took that photo when I first moved to Essex and wrote on the beach, eight years ago. 'The Butterfly Trap' was harder and that took several attempts, until one day I said to my cover designer, this is the place and this is what I want and he sent me it, within a couple of hours, then the butterfly was added.

Beta readers read your finished novel as readers, not to critique but to read and let you know their thoughts, the flow, anything they didn't understand. They are sworn to secrecy. They are such a valuable tool in the whole book writing process, they give you the green light for the world to read it.

Then you wait patiently for publication day and your first copy of your book sent to you. To hold your own book, see your name on the front cover and realise that it's no longer a story on your laptop. That's a special moment, that's a really special moment and you never forget it. I remember that moment and saying "I did it".

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