The Making of a Book
This week we come to the copy edit. The structure is in place. The beta readers have had their say. It’s getting interesting.
I first approached John Hudspith when I was working on My Counterfeit Self because I felt that I needed to be challenged a little more. He steered my writing in subtle ways to give it a more contemporary feel, and Smash all the Windows is a testament to that.
Here’s how I pitched the novel to him:
“It is a combination to my reaction to the verdict of the second Hillsborough verdict (How the hell do these people get on with their lives?) and a fall down an escalator that I had at Bank tube station last year – on the way to a book reading for My Counterfeit Self at Waterstones Covent Garden, as it happens – proof that my phobia about escalators was founded! It’s in that hugely popular genre: the disaster novel. It has quite a large ensemble cast (by my standards, at least), it is a bit about the healing power of art and I suppose it’s a bit political, but mainly it’s about the families of the victims. There have been a huge number of London disasters during the writing of the book. I am fully aware this makes it quite a difficult novel, particularly at a time when people are baying for blood, while the law says that any investigation that finds an individual responsible will usually have been wrong. I have tried very much to steer along the lines of unblame rather than blame. I am still searching for the most commercial element to use as a title and cover concept. Clearly, I need your help!”
He wasn’t put off.
Copy Editor, John Hudspith
Jane asked if I could write a bit about how my editing process works. I had to think about that. The editing process – much like the writing process – differs for everyone. We word artists who are writers, editors, proof-readers and so on are not perfectly programmed machines, but diligent executors, finding the way towards our unique ideals.
Storytelling – we do love a good story. We do like to be tantalised, titillated, shocked, scared or just plain old turned on as we sink into our imagined world and follow the tale from beginning to end.
But a good story can only be good if the storyteller knows his craft. Knows the value of foreshadowing at the best place and time. Knows how to inject tension and stretch it. Knows the art of invoking visuals succinctly and clearly. Knows the importance of word rhythm, balance, clash, and understands how his reader’s intake valve works. And that all adds up to grabbing you by the balls and not letting go until The End.
Just as the good storyteller will know the craft well, so will the good editor – two creators coming together to focus on the same goal.
I begin at the beginning as any reader would by reading the blurb, and I’ll listen to the author’s inspirations and aspirations for the work.
Now that I have a feel for the story and genre, I stand armed and ready before the gates of chapter 1. I’m a catcher, a reaper, a trimmer of fluff, a scaler of all the writerly elements. I’m a fellow in the craft, one who the writer trusts to lend a helping hand. And that’s exactly what you do when you engage with an editor – you hand him your hammer and chisel and step aside while he engages with the elements and chips away at your masterpiece.
I’m at the starting gate, focusing firstly and oh so importantly on the author’s unique voice as the read begins. I read as any reader of the genre I’m stepping into would, and I read through that first chapter, trimming as I go, improving word choice wherever possible, moulding the rhythm and tone, ensuring that the unique voice of the author is always to the fore and that the conventions of the genre are adhered to. I’m ensuring also that the invoked visuals come quick and easy and that there are no holes in the imagery. I’m also checking that directions and speech tags are the best they can be. And, of course, while all this is feeding through my own intake valve, I’m also building the story as it reveals itself, always looking for possible improvements via foreshadowing or tension stretches, as well as continuity errors and bloopers.
When I reach the end of that first chapter, I can sit back and look at the ‘story cloud’ left behind in my head: the tone, the colours, the story so far – can it be improved? The first chapter is, after all, the very foundation on which the work stands, and that foundation must be solid, clear, focused and sturdy. Once satisfied that the story elements are in good shape and the foundation is solid as bedrock, I go back to the beginning and read through chapter 1 again. This time around I’m looking at punctuation, spelling, style sheet harmony – if applicable, and, at the same time, I’m double-checking any changes I made first time around. Do they work? Can they be bettered?
And so it goes on, from chapter to chapter, building the story, checking for balance, clearing away the fluff and making the story shine all the way to The End.
How can I contact John?
Book Launch Update
My book launch will take place at London Book Fair, an annual coming together of over 25,000 professionals in the publishing industry, and the global marketplace for rights negotiation and the sale and distribution of content. This will be joint event with authors Rohan Quine and Dan Holloway, who was also structural editor for Smash all the Windows and for Rohan Quine’s novel, The Beasts of Electra Drive. You can read about my experience of working with Dan here.
But before the big day, on 6th April I’ll be acting as compere for Novel London, a literary event where writers read their opening chapters to an intimate audience, followed by a Q & A. April’s offering will be held at Waterstone’s, Covent Garden, and will feature The Beasts of Electra Drive by Rohan Quine and Kill Land by Dan Holloway. Both are books which focus on outsiders and which explore dark themes, while celebrating the beauty of life. Tickets are free but spaces are limited, so grab yours now!
On 14 April, from 10.00am until 3.30pm, I will signing first editions at Barton’s Bookshop in Leatherhead, Surrey. Do come along and say hello!
If you live in the UK, would like a signed copy, but can’t get along to Barton’s, just drop me a line. I will include 2nd class postage and packing to UK addresses in cover price of £8.99.
Meanwhile, you can pre-order the ebook at the special price of £1.99/$1.99 (it will be £3.99/$3.99 on release.)
Next week, working with a proofreader.