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Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The events of 2008

December 16, 2008 (Beethoven's Birthday!!)
The best part is always getting that first advance copy in your hands. Last night, as we were dressing before setting out to see Manon with the Australian Ballet, the doorbell rang at 4.30 in the afternoon. It was a courier with the first copy of 100 Discoveries. So that's another damned thick square book out of the way—and a handsome piece of work it is, too! 

Yesterday, I wrote the first two scenes for the Cornish Boy series. The purpose of these early scenes is to develop the characters more fully. Already, it has proved necessary that one villainous character should be just an apparent villain who turns out to be decent. Logic demands it, and in reality, most people, even the malignant ones, do have their saving graces. My mistake was to base him on a real 19th century British aristocrat combined with a pompous 19th century social climber and political schemer. (If you care, David Carnegie and George Grey.) 

In fiction, people as one-dimensional and stupid would be dismissed as unbelievable. I am planning about nine books in the series right now (this may go up or down), and I have the plots for all of them set down in timelines. Before I finish the first, all of the others will have a solid framework of chapters, part-chapters, scenes and vignettes. That's just the way the series is growing. This is my baby, and I don't plan to sell it until I know the whole series will work.

December 9, 2008
Once again, a longer break than planned, because I have been busy. The Australian Backyard Explorer project has eaten more editing time than I expected, but this is happens with some books, and they end up being better for it. The lawn book has been edited and gone off to design, the The 100 Great Discoveries of Science is now out (I think — I haven't seen a copy yet) as 100 Discoveries: The Greatest Breakthroughs In History which is what I must call it hereafter, and Mr Darwin's Incredible Shrinking World and The Speed of Nearly Everything are both out in Europe. Not much reaction so far. 

The monsters project is ahead of schedule, and I am back working on the Cornish Boy project, which is now largely sorted. This will be a number of books, and I have found it necessary to have the plots for all of them worked out, so that is what I am doing. Real writing work will start after Christmas, and I will be on 2UE at 2:30 on December 28 for Sydney listeners and anywhere else that Kearns and Robbo are heard.

September 30, 2008
Today, the lawn book goes in, and I am well into the monsters project — and planning the one after the monsters.

September 26, 2008
Even Estonians love their lawns!
Clear air at last! I have finished the lawn book, taking it through five drafts, listening to it twice, courtesy of the TextAloud, which converts text to mp3 files. One last read over the weekend, then off it goes. Next, I need to wade through about 320 pictures taken over the past six years, choose the A and B teams and caption them. 
Meanwhile, I have made a start on the monsters, I am plotting the historical fiction and planning the research that will be needed for it, and beginning to gather data for two adult "histories of things" which may or mat not come after that. 
Releases will be fast and furious: as I mentioned in the entry below, I have two books out in Australia this year, the same two in Britain, and The 100 Great Discoveries of Science in the US in December, with releases in Australia and the UK early in 2009..

August 17, 2008
Just after the last entry, I headed off to Europe, from where I have just returned, just in time to pick up an Honour Book award in the Eve Pownall awards of the CBCA. That was on August 15, and I got home on August 14 to find my advance copy of Mr Darwin's Incredible Shrinking World awaiting me, and a handsome bundle it is. That book and The Speed of Nearly Everything will both be released in the UK on November 17, "Mr Darwin" (family shorthand) will be out in Australia in October, and "Speed" in November. 
Cathedral, Tallinn, Estonia
I finished the page proofs of The 100 Great Discoveries of Science in Stockholm, while waiting to fly to Tallinn, Estonia, so that is now off my hands. I am working on edits of Australian Backyard Explorer, about 1/3 of the way through a social history of lawn, and planning a big children's book for the year's end, which will be published next year.

After that, I may at last get down to the YA (that's writer/librarian shorthand for "Young Adult") historical fiction series that I have been playing with for the past two years, maybe three. It will draw (in part) on unused research from Mr Darwin's Incredible Shrinking World and Australia's Pioneers, Heroes and Fools, but using a number of locales I have been through in the past decade.

June 10, 2008
As a rule, a gap in the entries indicates either that I have been travelling, or I have been busy with a book. I have, in fact, been very busy indeed, with four books, plus researching a fifth and planning a sixth.

Writing a book goes in stages. There is the initial planning, writing a proposal and sometimes a sample chapter and getting a contract (which I have just done with book 6). Then there is the research phase (which I am in with book 5), followed by repeated drafts, and I think I finished that process with Australian Backyard Explorer yesterday, so after some checking today, I will send that off to the editor.
Right now, I am in the middle of responding to the edits in the fourth of five batches of The 100 Great Discoveries of Science.

The editing process is in some ways the hardest. My publisher uses freelance editors with tungsten carbide minds, and they spot the inconsistencies, the sloppy prose and the muddy thinking, and draw up changes or lay demands. My policy is that the editor is there to make my book better, so it is rare for me to knock back a change. I could do so, because the edits come back to me as a Word file with all the changes "tracked", so I have to accept or reject each one. 

You need a thick skin at this point, because each change you accept is an admission that you, the writer, made a mess of something. I am the ultimate pachyderm, but I have to check each change in case my prose was so bad that the correction has inserted an error. One portion this morning was so bad that I turned off tracking, threw everything out, wrote it from scratch and flagged the text as new. Being a writer is no job for a prima donna! — usually, if you knock back an editor's change, you are being an idiot. 

I am in a hurry to get these edits tested, checked and out of the way because in three days, the page proofs of what used to be The Fast Book will arrive for me to check through. It is now called The Speed of Nearly Everything. I did that checking a week or so back on Mr Darwin's Incredible Shrinking World, which I think I can safely say has now left the building. 

From here, I need to finish those edits, then I will do some more research on the next book, due September 16, and get ready to fly to Europe for a bit of research and a bit of relaxing, with the trusty laptop along so I can work on the December title, which is mostly written, but needs some tweaking. More on those later.
Some of the process things that never get set down: because I write history, I am continually frustrated by the lack of detail on how things were done. So I suppose I should do the right thing by later generations! 

I start in a spreadsheet, entering quotes with a number of other fields. I have to be very careful to label the quotes, because I also add my own draft paragraphs, and I don't want to start accidentally adding other people's paragraphs in. I am sure that most cases of "plagiarism" are no more than sloppy research, but I don't plan to ever be shot at. There are three standard fields, chapter, part and number that I sort on to get material into order. and by the time I am ready to write, there will often be 50,000 words or more, ready to be dumped into a Word file to be drawn on. While I am colour-blind, certain colours stand out well (blue and orange, for example), so some of the text is also colour-coded. 

Then I write in Word on two computers, my Wintel desktop with a 24" monitor, so I can have two files side-by-side, or I can rotate it to have a portrait screen with one file above the other, or a whole page in Word. I always back everything up to my lightweight MacBook and I use that when I am away from home base, transferring all recent files back across when I get home. I have now started using TextAloud to convert text to mp3 format, because listening is by far the best way of proofing. I used to read it aloud myself, but with a long-term sore throat I needed a better way to do things. 

I transfer large files by uploading them to a file transfer site and notifying the recipient that it is there. Smaller files go attached to an email. The National Library ms is profusely illustrated with thumbnails, which makes it about 5 meg (too large to attach) -- the full-size illustrations will just about fill a CD, so I will send those by mail, along with a spreadsheet that identifies each pic, its source and copyright/permissions details and any comments I may wish to make. For the most part, I communicate with my editors by inserted comments, which are a bit like "Post-it" notes. 

Hey ho, time to get back to the editor's thoughts!

April 1, 2008
I have been short-listed! Kokoda Track: 101 Days has been shortlisted for the Eve Pownall award, sponsored by the Children's Book Council of Australia. We will see, but even getting that far is a feather in the cap.

March 14, 2008
It is almost six years since I started this. I suppose it is a blog, but back when I started it, who had heard of blogs? So it remains as my journal. 

Much has happened in the past few weeks. The edits of The Fast Book are done, I have submitted The 100 Great Discoveries of Science and await the edits on that, and I have a contract for Mr Darwin's Incredible Shrinking World, previously referred to as 1859. Those are all with Murdoch Books under the Pier 9 imprint.
On the side, I am working on a book with the title Australian Backyard Explorer, to be published by the National Library of Australia, and I have a go-ahead for a juvenile series, but more of that anon.

January 22, 2008
Turmoil erupts!! I have just finished working through the edits of The Fast Book and I am waiting on the last batch. By furious effort, I have finished the next Murdoch/Pier 9 book, The 100 Great Discoveries of Science (working title, and the ms is variously in 4th draft (10%), 3rd draft (25%) and second draft (remainder) as I work through it on a sort of zone refining process. 
It is a very episodic book, so I can deal with discoveries on their own. The catch is that many lead on to other later discoveries, so I am weaving a narrative structure into it. 
The reason for stopping to add an entry is that my BIG book of 2007, variously referred to as 1859 or Mr Darwin's Incredible Shrinking World (both working titles, but it is a history of science and technology, as it was in 1859) was knocked back by Allen and Unwin, because they could not see it selling. I have had news today that Murdoch/Pier 9 like it and will offer me a contract, so the bubbly will flow tonight. That will give me four books with them, with another one to come out later this year.

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