That title is possibly the worst pun on this blog. I kind of feel the need to apologise.
As some of you may be aware from following me on Twitter where I’ve been hanging out an excessive amount recently or from other sources e.g. secret spy cameras embedded in the speakers next to my laptop, I’m working on a first draft of the second book in what I call “assassin!trilogy“. Having finished book one on Wednesday with a wordcount of 95k after 29 days of writing, I gave myself a day off and then started the sequel.
I had a few reasons for this, even though it’s pretty draining to write two first drafts one after the other.
My main reason is the most obvious. Having been writing about this protagonist, Isabel, for an entire month already, I finally felt I was in the mindset to carry on. I was enjoying the writing style, an unfamiliar third person present tense that I’m not sure I’ve really used before, and I didn’t want to take a break from it just yet. It seemed natural to segue straight into the sequel.
Moreover, there’s something reassuring about having first drafts done and dusted. The last time I wrote two complete novels in a row like this was 2011, when I wrote what later became the last two Death and Fairies books. One of them I edited the following year, the other not until early 2013, but at least I knew I had those drafts and that they were there. Something to work on when I’m really not feeling the creative side so much and just want more mechanical writing.
Okay, so I have, like, a thousand first drafts lying around that I can work on, but the reason I haven’t worked on most of them is because they’re simply not worth it, y’know?
Then there was a practical consideration. Given that the other writing project at stake is a fourth draft that will probably take me more than a month to complete (other drafts of the same novel have been around six or seven weeks), if I don’t write this one now I’ll find myself heading off to uni before it’s done. And I don’t know about you, but starting uni with an incomplete first draft sounds like a dumb idea. I’ll be way too busy in those early weeks to do much in the way of writing, and while a fourth draft can look after itself for a few days because I can refresh my memory with the earlier version, no way can I hold plot threads in my head for a first draft for that length of time.
So that seemed like an important thing to think about.
Finally, there’s the most crucial element of this: I need to wait for the Scottish referendum / vote on independence in mid September. There is absolutely no point rewriting this book now when, if they go independent, I’m going to have to write it all over again. Seriously, they timed that thing badly.
I guess it was a mistake to set my book in 2014/2015 Scotland but, to be fair, when I wrote it nobody expected this to happen, and the last thing from my mind was the possibility of Scotland becoming an independent country and leaving the UK. But if they do (and I don’t know what to think any more — it seemed so unlikely before, but now I’m rather worried), I’m going to have to rethink.
You see, this novel revolves around a society that is basically run by MI5 and has various other links to the British government — and to the queen, too. My characters are members of a branch based in Aberdeen. I’ve got a horrible feeling that if Scotland goes independent, none of the people who are supposedly in charge would actually be able to be in charge because of jurisdiction and all of those horrible problems. It looked to me like I was going to have to rethink the entire structure of the organisation.
Thankfully, a simpler solution occurred to me: set the book a year earlier, covering the 2013/2014 academic year. Then if I ever wrote a sequel set the following year, I could take into account the whole independence thing, and maybe even make it relevant. Not a problem, right?
The only hindrance to that is my character David. He studies a course called Celtic & Anglo-Saxon Studies, which was only introduced this year, and he’s supposed to be a second year. Okay, so maybe nobody would notice, but I’d know. I couldn’t let that kind of inaccuracy slide. If the book is to be set earlier, I’ll have to have him studying something else, probably the earlier version of the course that was simply Celtic Studies. That ought to require only minor changes…
… but changes that won’t be easy to make realistically because given that that course no longer exists, there’s no information about it in the prospectus or on the website, unlike the current course for which I have the specific modules and everything, since I myself was considering studying it.
Now, the university aspect of the novel isn’t the primary plot — it’s first and foremost about knights. But they are knights who are students, and I take that seriously enough that I’m reading the textbooks which Ani, the protagonist, would have used in her first year. Even though I’m probably not cut out for archaeology. And they’re really hard. And there’s no one to explain the long words because they’re textbooks, not ‘teach yourself’ books.
So I wanted to write David’s course realistically which, of course, I could do. I even have the exact edition of The Tain which he would have read, since it was recommended to me as primary reading by the person in charge of writing the new course structure.
But it’s probably easier to guesstimate his Celtic studies course than to restructure an entire secret organisation of knights so that it still has jurisdiction over Scotland… especially since it no longer exists, so there are very few people qualified to call me out on inaccuracies, right?
I mean, I hope the people of Scotland will make the decision to stay in the UK (because we will be condemned to a Tory government forever probably without them*, and because I will have to rewrite my book in a way I wasn’t expecting to which is clearly more important), but despite the decision affecting the rest of the UK, I’ve got no say over that. I just have to wait and see.
It’s not like I’m not the only author who isn’t keen on seeing them go independent. JK Rowling’s backing the No campaign, too, with the single largest donation anyone’s given. I wonder if she’s recently written a book set there that would be screwed up by a Yes vote, too…
So that’s why I’m working on another first draft instead of polishing and querying that novel like I said I was going to. Scotland just happened to choose a really inconvenient time to make huge decisions about the future of their country. So thoughtless of them, right?
*There are more pandas in Scotland than Tory MPs.