It’s now 20 books with the addition on the 12th of September of ‘Two Adventures at the End of an Era’ and ‘Closer to Death in a Garden’ by Cecilia Peartree.
(warning: it isn’t necessarily a good idea to try this at home)
I didn’t set out to write and publish 20 books in the first place. It just happened, one book at a time – or in a few rare cases, two at once.
I blame NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).
Of course I had been writing for years before I got sucked into the November madness. I can’t really remember a time when I didn’t write stories, although I did go through spells when this urge almost completely went away, and different spells when because of life’s demands I thought I would never have the time or energy to write with enough concentration to produce anything worthwhile. I managed to complete an epic novel of the English Civil War while we were living in Buckinghamshire during one of the difficult spells, but perhaps fortunately the typescript has vanished. A few years later I started to write pantomime scripts for a children’s drama group. It turned out that the relentless pressure to produce viable scripts within a short timescale was excellent preparation for NaNoWriMo.
Although I had carved out a bit of time to draft a humorous novel about a museum curator, it was a series of unfortunate family events in 2006 that made me realise that if I really still wanted to be a writer, the time was now and not at some vague date in the future when all my responsibilities – earning a living, keeping a roof over the family’s heads, supporting my sons as they very gradually eased into adulthood – would magically disappear, leaving me with infinite time and energy and creativity.
After a sort of practice run in February 2006 when Radio Scotland ran a project to encourage listeners to write something at a rate (I think) of 1,000 words a day for 28 days, and I wrote a humorous murder story using real people as the characters, based only a little on a situation I had got into at a local community centre and with someone who had greatly annoyed me there as the victim, in November 2006 I embarked on the crazy one-month novel project for the first time. ‘The Mountain and the Flood’ was the result, although it wasn’t called that then, and at the end of the month it only had very slightly over 50,000 words, whereas the finished version has about 85,000. I was amazed at my own perseverance. Because I wrote it at the end of a 12 month period during which my mother, my brother and our two family cats had all died, it was a bit on the bleak, pessimistic side, which is in fact rather foreign to my nature. I think the ‘disaster movie’ aspect of the plot was a metaphor for the feeling I had of being completely overwhelmed by events at that time.
The following year I did it again, producing ‘Crime in the Community.’ I used to give my novels one-word titles in those days, so the first was ‘Independence’ and the second ‘Community’. Another one, written once I had thought about where it was all going and decided to try for a mystery series, was a follow-up to ‘Community’, originally called ‘Reunited’.
By this time I had attended a couple of writing conferences – at one of them my humorous murder story with its cast of weird real-life characters was runner-up in a competition – and I had signed up to the Authonomy website, both of which activities made me feel more like a writer and also gave me various kinds of encouragement. I kept writing a new novel each November and by the time KDP came along, I had some material more or less ready to publish there.
Once I saw that some of my stuff was selling a bit on Smashwords and Kindle, there was an incentive to write more, and I gradually built up my writing stamina until I could write something in the spring and something else in the summer as well as working on what I still see as my major project in November. The NaNoWriMo people helpfully invented their spring and summer camps at about the same time, although I am not quite so obsessive about word counts for these, and I’ve decided taking 2 months instead of one for the first draft is often a good idea.
So I’ve reached the point this year where I’ve already published three full-length novels and a book containing two novellas, and I still have another novel draft to do in November. One of the novels, ‘A Tasteful Crime’ (from the mystery series that started with ‘Crime in the Community’) was last November’s NaNoWriMo novel, and one of the two novellas was also written last year. ‘The Coronation Quest’ was written in April and May, and ‘The Christmas Puzzle’ in August and September. The second of the two novellas, ‘Adventure at the National Exhibition’ was written, as far as I can recall, in the gap just after I published ‘A Tasteful Crime’ in February 2014. At the time of writing this, I think I can probably fit in a couple more novellas before next spring.
Yes, I do have another life to lead as well as writing. I work full-time, although I am about to reduce my working hours to conserve energy. During this past year I have written and presented a paper for an international conference and designed part of a training course, both as part of my day job. I have helped with props for three theatre group productions, and chaired various committee meetings for a local community group. I suppose I don’t have a social life in the accepted sense of the term, and my family setup is probably quite strange by most people’s standards. This last factor may be why I can spend every weekend and quite a lot of evenings doing whatever I want, including writing, and why my approach to housework can only be described as minimalist.
That’s all well and good, I hear some people ask, but even so, how on earth do you fit so much writing into the time?
During a first draft my daily schedule works like this:
6.30 a.m. Get up, feed cats, have breakfast. Write 250-350 words and email file to self
8 a.m. Go to work
12.30 pm Lunch-time – download file, write around 450 words and email file back to self
5.30 pm Get home, feed cats, evening meal. Download file, write another 1,000 words
The secret, if I have one, is always to know where I’m going next when I stop writing for the session. I never stop at the end of a chapter and I use some of the ‘wasted’ time during the day, such as when I’m driving to work, or when I get unbelievably bored at my desk, to mull things over in my head. Occasionally while driving I make up the sentence I’m going to re-start with, so there is no thinking time needed the next time I get the chance to write. My editing routine is somewhat different, because I find I generally need longer sessions to do restructuring, although not so much for proof-reading, and these usually happen at weekends.