Frazzled by Quentin Bates

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Pardon me, ladies and gentlemen, but the grey matter is a little frazzled for the moment. My third novel has just been spellchecked, has had its hair combed, smut dabbed from its grubby cheeks and its shoes polished before it was pdf’d and dispatched to my editor to be mulled over. Well, that’s not quite true. The book is done. Well, not quite. My editor and the eagle-eyed copy editor have yet to set about it with their merciless red pens. It’s also not entirely true in that this isn’t my third novel. There have been others that didn’t get through to being accepted, and every author should have at least one rite-of-passage unpublishable first novel hidden away in a box somewhere. I have one squirrelled away that’s not likely ever to see the light of day, plus several hefty chunks of novels that didn’t become the full article and fizzled out; one of which I’d love to get to grips with and start tinkering with its innards again. One day, maybe.

So bear with me for a moment as it takes a while to clear the mind after finishing one of these, especially with the last-minute tweaks and adjustments to resolve the plot conflicts that always crop up. It has been something of a long haul against a tight deadline. My rotund heroine, the fictional sergeant Gunnhildur, has been given plenty to keep her busy in this one, but I find the focus drifting away from the central character and have to consciously steer it back that way. I can’t help it. Much as I’m deeply fond of Gunnhildur, it’s the bad guys who are the genuinely fun and interesting characters to create.

Screwing with fictional people’s lives is a fascinating way to keep yourself amused. Throwing spanners into the works and seeing how the bad guys and their hapless victims deal with it is what keeps me writing, so hopefully it’s what will keep people reading as well. Maybe it’s a form of displaced sadism, or just simple curiosity? I’m sure a good psychiatrist could have a field day with a roomful of crimewriters.

Some of us agonise over the creative process and produce a masterwork once a decade. Others seem to knock out a hundred thousand top-quality words over a couple of wet weekends and don’t even seem to break a sweat. (That’s you I’m looking at, Christopher G. Moore…) I guess I’m somewhere in between the two. It is hard work, but it’s enjoyable hard work; unlike my former profession which was hard work but stopped being all that enjoyable quite some time before I was able to swallow the anchor and step ashore after several failed attempts to leave the sea. But writing isn’t hard work like the real hard labour that the majority of the human race toils over every single day, like planting rice paddies or clearing endless fleets of trammel nets or sewing buttons on knock-off designer suits for thirteen hours a day in a sweatshop somewhere East of Suez – ‘where the best like the worst, where there aren’t no ten commandments and a man can raise a thirst,’ as Kipling put it.

No, this writing lark is a privilege and we’d do well to remember that being able to make stuff up for a living, or even for part of a living, is about as good as it gets. At least, unless an unlikely set of circumstances should crop up including the offer of a prestigious job as a roving beer taster or a tropical beach tester comes up. I’m not holding my breath.

Incidentally, to my amazement, the book that I delivered the manuscript of yesterday is already there on Amazon. Not only that, but the Kindle version already has a ranking there, so that means that someone has pre-ordered the book a full eight months before publication. It’s actually heart warming that someone out there should have that much confidence in a book that my editor hasn’t even read yet that they’ll pay good money for it right away.

Cheers, whoever you are, I’d happily buy you a drink one day.

Chilled to the Bone is published by Constable & Robinson in April 2013.

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