How to talk about this without overstating or making this into a bigger thing than it is? First of all, the bald facts: I have been dropped by my publisher. They have decided that sales of Night Shift and Human Resources aren’t good enough to justify picking up the third novel in my Antarctic trilogy and have decided to move on from me.
This is perfectly fair and, really, it’s hard to argue against. I too have been disappointed with sales (of NS; I’ve not seen any for HR yet) and I suppose the writing has been on the wall. I bear no ill-will to the publishers and wish them well. They gave me my chance and – hey – there’s nothing to say I’ll never work with them in the future. I still want people to rush out and buy my books from them!
My publisher’s decision has nothing to do with the quality of writing; they were keen to emphasise that. It’s purely a business decision, and I respect that.
But it is heartbreaking. I feel like my career is done. I don’t know what to do with myself.
Most immediately, I have the third book in a trilogy that I desperately want to get out there. I feel it’s the best in the series and provides a neat, satisfying climax to the story of Anders Nordvelt. Without it I’ll always feel like my work is incomplete – because it is. I want readers to know that there is an ending; there is happiness, of a sort, for my protagonist.
I have also lost my safety net. I have another complete, ready-to-go novel that I’ve been unsuccessfully hawking to agents. This now becomes my primary weapon. I now should be putting it out to publishers as well – but now I feel a much greater vulnerability. Without the option of Flame Tree Press, I feel rejection to a much greater degree, especially if my primary choice, the company for whom I do most editorial work, should take a look and turn me down.
I don’t dare send it out. I can’t bear the pain.
So it feels like my career is over. And I just don’t know what to do with myself.
Greetings! It’s now only a few weeks until the official release (10th November) of Human Resources on ebook, in paperback and in hardback! Please favour me and pre-order a copy. I happen to think it’s not half bad and would do a very nice job as a wonky-table prop or as a coaster.
To celebrate the release I’m going to do a series of blog-posts about different aspects of the novel; first off, here’s a little ramble about Character. In the weeks that follow I’ll write about things like plot, setting and POV – and maybe even more, depending on whether I can think of anything else. If you want me to look at anything in particular, please comment or hunt me down on Twitter (@robintriggs – not so hard, really) and I’ll see what I can do.
Big thanks to Fiona Glass – a lovely person and top class author – for the inspiration for these posts.
Let’s get one thing straight straight off. Human Resources is the sequel to Night Shift and, as such, features some of the same characters. Primary amongst these is our point-of-view character, Anders Nordvelt.
I don’t want to go into great detail about him as you’ll all know him from the first novel. Suffice to say that there’s a lot of me in him; socially awkward, with unresolved mental health issues, an observer as much as a participant, he’s an unusual protagonist and it’s all my fault.
I never realised this at the time of writing, of course. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I never knew what I was doing.
The supporting cast of Night Shift – those that survived – make their reappearances in Human Resources. They are, however, joined by a new cast of characters that all bring their own neuroses, obsessions and paranoias.
The story revolves around the growth of the isolated mining base from the first novel into a city and the problems that brings. Thus we have an Executive Committee that have their own motives; a new security service – headed by Anders – that are trying to work out how to enforce laws never tested in the field; and a population of immigrant labourers, not all of whom want to be in Antarctica in the first place.
How do I come up with my characters? In a variety of different ways. Some, like the executive committee, came in the initial worldbuilding prep – I knew I needed a ‘ruling class’ and thus there had to be people to occupy these roles. Others, like my own personal favourite, Sergeant Bartelli, came more spur-of-the-moment: I needed a policeman and he arrived more-or-less fully-formed in my head just in time to fill the role I’d created.
Then there’s the in-between characters like Shakil Mithu, unwilling immigrant and rebel leader. He’s a big personality and prime suspect in the murder of… but I don’t want to give too much away. For now let me just say that he’s an example of a character that I had to come up with before setting pen to paper; he’s a plot-character, integral to the story. But he didn’t really come alive until I reached him in the story and had circumstances and other characters for him to play off.
Most characters arrived before or during the first draft, and stayed fairly constant. Others were created – or at least significantly retooled – in the editing. Sergeant Nascimento was a late arrival, whilst Engineer Prashad and Professor Holloway both underwent significant revision in later drafts.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I have no set way of creating characters for a novel. I don’t sit down and draft in-depth character sheets for everyone; I don’t have everyone set before I put pen to paper for the first time. Some key figures I have pre-prepped but it’s often the ones who take me by surprise, who come from somewhere deep in the subconscious, that I end up falling furthest for. Yet others take work and require multiple drafts before they ‘fit’ properly.
Human Resources is a combination of all of these and it took time for me to get it right. For me the genius is in the editing, not in the first-drafting.
I’m always more interested in the Everyman rather than superheroes, the sidekick more than the main event. I like the underdog and favour the dogged rather than the inspired and the influence of film noir over me has far exceeded the amount I’ve actually seen.
That gives me free rein to create a cast of flawed and – hopefully – realistic characters.
I fear what comes next. I’ve been so far in an editing morass that I’ve not had much chance to work on anything new for a little while, and whilst it’s true that I have a few works in the bank – in various degrees of draftage, three stories are ready to be polished/rewritten – I don’t know where I’m going from here.
At some point I’m going to have to write something original and, for the first time in my life, I feel like I’m drawing from an empty well. I see other writers, some close to me, some a little further away, churning out novel after novel, and I look in the mirror and see only emptiness there.
I am a writer. But I can’t see what I’m going to write next. Worse than that, I feel like I’ve forgotten how to do it at all; all the disciple I built up, all the muscles I developed, they seem to have atrophied.
That’s the fear. That I’ve nothing left in me. That I’m a fraud, I guess, in calling myself something I no longer feel myself to be.
This is, I know, mostly bollocks. So I’m feeling a bit fallow – show me an author that doesn’t have the occasional period where the words don’t quite flow. It’s barely been two months since I finished my last first draft – that’s no time at all. Just because I don’t immediately have something to go on to doesn’t invalidate my whole existence.
Still, this is the way I feel right now. Like there is nothing left in me. It’s not a nice place to be.
There is hope. I had a dream the other day that I thought (within the dream, which is a trick) would make a good novel with a little tinkering. And I managed to write a dream synopsis before I forgot it all. Even if this is just a false blind it shows that my subconscious is still churning over the goods.
It’s a stupid thing, to put faith in dreams. This idea may well come to nothing. The positive I’m taking is that it shows there is still creativity in me somewhere.
But in the immediate future it is editing that is occupying my time. I’ve an Old Testament intergenerational epic to renovate. So if you’ll excuse me, it’s back to the Bronze Age with me.
* * *
A quick reminder that, for the next few days only, Night Shift can be yours for only 99p/99c. Head over to Amazon (I believe it’s an Amazon-only offer – sorry, folks) and grab your e-copy now! It’s, like, good. At least 99p good. The offer ends on Sunday (2nd August), so hurry hurry hurry!
Greetings, travellers! Just a quick note to let you know that Night Shift is on sale for this week only! At just 99p (or cents) for the ebook it is more of a bargain than ever, and should you be lacking a copy I obviously heartily recommend you take advantage.
The proofs are in. This is the last chance I’ll have to rework Human Resources – well, ever. The last chance I’ll have to make sure I’m not sending out a pile of dreck into the great wide world, and that my reputation won’t be forever tarnished.
Early thoughts? Well it’s surprisingly not too terrible. All those drafts and heartburn heartache has just about paid off. My beta-readers came through for me.
I won’t ever be able to read my own work without wincing, so, aside from forced occasions such as readings, I may never pick up the book again. It can never be good enough for me, can never not cause me to flush with embarrassment.
So far in the proofs I’ve picked up on one or two very minor points – a typesetting error, the repetition of a phrase – and one bigger what does that actually mean? So it’s so far so un-terrible.
Is it actually any good? I don’t think I can answer that. Maybe there are artists who can stand back from their work and say objectively ‘yes, I’ve nailed this,’ or ‘I don’t think I’ve quite hit that as I wanted,’ but I’m not one of them. It’s been too long since I wrote it for me to have boundless enthusiasm but I don’t want to be too negative because it’s probably actually much better than I think.
I don’t hate it.
And you should buy it.
Erm. It’s actually really really good and I believe in it whole heartachedly wholeheartedly. That’s what I came here to say. Obviously.
No, let’s say this: I have more faith (less cheek-burning embarrassment) about this than I did in Night Shift. I’ve written some good stuff in my life and this can hold its head up.
The briefest of all possible blog-posts today, in which I settle for giving news:
I have officially signed a contract for the publication of Human Resources in 2020. For those who don’t know, HR is the sequel to Night Shift and will be published by the wonderful Flame Tree Press, who also did book one and I’m hoping to blag into accepting book three in a year or two’s time.
This is obviously wonderful news for me and I’d like to thank anyone who’s bought, reviewed or merely read NS for without you no company would touch me with a barge-pole. It’s been hard work – and there’ll doubtless be more to come – but right now it feels like it’s all been worth it.
Extra special thanks to all my beta-readers, who I forced to read various drafts of substandardness in order to make it to publishable levels.
I’ve no cover to reveal yet; rest assured that I’ll keep you posted with whatever ramblings come out of the book-production process. Right now I’m just happy that I’m not going to be a one-hit(!) wonder.
Morning all. Today I am all of a tremble because tonight I’m appearing at Earlham library in Norfolk for a tiny talklet, Q&A and, if anyone’s actually bought a copy, a signing.
What with that and finishing a big copy-edit I haven’t much to say this week. I’m currently doing a beta-read for a friend and I’ll shortly be returning my attention to the pass of the third novel in the Australis series (the sequel to the sequel to Night Shift) that I perpetually seem to be starting and having to put on hold.
And then… what then? No doubt I’ll have more editing to do, with which I can pay (some of) the bills. I also need to get back to Oneiromancer and do a big rewrite; I’m still turning this over and readying myself for the task ahead. I suspect that’s a months-long job, not just the odd half-hour here and there.
And then… then maybe, just maybe I’ll… write something new?
It’s been a long, long time since I first-drafted anything. I have ideas – so many ideas – but they’ve been percolating for so long that I’m not sure they haven’t dissolved into some formless, tasteless soup in the depths of my soup; a viscous brain-goop with fragments of character and plot floating lifeless on the surface like so much pond-scum.
But that’s the fun of writing. I’ll have to take what I can remember, and what notes I made, and reconstitute them into something better, faster, stronger.
That or I… won’t. I’ll be found out as the empty vacuous has-been that secretly I’ve been all along.
But that’s worry’s for the future. For now I have more immediate worrying to do.
Imposter syndrome is vicious and cruel and unfair. It’s also not forever. Fresh off last week’s soul-torment I now find myself in the crisp, clear waters of a restorative weekend away where I did nothing, achieved nothing, but found good news awaiting on my return.
Sadly, good news (especially that which you can’t share) makes for less than interesting copy. So let me fill this column with a couple of forthcoming events that I’d love to see you at.
First of all, I’m doing a ‘meet the author’ session at the library in which I used to work. This’ll take the form of a brief chat, a similarly brief reading, and then (probably) the briefest of all Q&As; all on 31st May at 17:30.
Earlham library was the best of places for me; I loved that job – not only working with books but helping people of all stripes for the sheer love of helping; I – and all other library assistants the world over – work without any self-interest; nothing is being sold, there is no ulterior motive but to make other people happy. How wonderful is that?
It’s also the place where I started both reading and writing seriously. Before I started there, in 2005, my reading-for-pleasure had been subsumed by studies and my writing had been a series of starts-and-fails. By the time I left (2011) I’d written three novels and was contemplating the story that would eventually turn into Night Shift.
So this signing is deeply personal to me. Expect me to tear up at least once throughout the evening, even if, as I kinda expect, it’ll only be a few friends and me.
Secondly, I’m going to be at Edge-Lit in Derby on July 13th. This is my first convention, if one doesn’t count its younger sibling Sledge-Lit, and the first I’m attending as an author. I’m going to be doing a workshop (‘The Art of Description’), a panel (The Future of Grimdark, with some of the best authors ever) and a reading.
I’m pretty terrified (imposter!) about all this. So please do come along and tell me it’s all going to be okay, hmm?
They say nothing succeeds like success. That’s bollocks. Really what they mean is nothing makes success like friends. And I really hope to both meet some old and make some new over the course of these events.
Editing is a cruel beast, especially over the course of a trilogy. I’m currently on book three, dealing with a relationship that no longer exists in book two. This means a certain character no longer has access to a certain other character’s quarters. It’s ludicrous; a wave of Consequence has overswept the novel and tossed all my best laid plans into the ocean, so much flotsam and jetsam, and with it many words I can’t afford to lose.
See, the problem is this: my protagonist has staggered back to his apartment to find Character B waiting for him. This meeting cannot be delayed for totally essential plot-type reasons; but Character B is no longer on the guest list, and has no knowledge of when Protagonist will get home, so…
At this point you’ll be saying ‘but can’t B just send a message – a phone call or some fancy science-fictiony videoconference-hologram-type thingy?’ Well, it’s funny you should say that because that’s what I did.
I did this completely forgetting that, for totally essential plot-type reasons, the messaging system across the entire base has just been taken down.
This is what happens when you have a week off. You (by which I mean me. I’m sure you’re much more organised) forget crucial little details and have to totally rewrite the rewrite you just rewrote.
How to write a novel
Writing is, in other words, a bugger.
It’s not too bad for me – this time. It’s only a few hundred words and a bit of head-scratching (a problem solved by the strategic deposition of a differently-systemed radio). But there’s always the fear that you’ve done something stupid and not caught it. Which is why, of course, so much of writing is rewriting. And rewriting again. And then getting beta-readers to check the manuscript, all the way up to the paid professionals – the structural editors, copy-editors, all the way up to the proofreaders.
The aim is always to produce the best possible work you can. And you’re not always the best person to help you do that.
But the initial work is all yours. The better you can do it the greater the likelihood that someone else will pay for the fine-detail-sifting. it’s why I’m going to do another full read-through-and-edit when I’ve completed this one.
I write these words from deep within my editing cave. Taking advantage of a temporary lacuna in paid work, I am busy ripping apart and putting back together New Gods, the finale of my Antarctic trilogy – the series that began with Night Shift.
As I said last week, there is (more than) one small problem with the work I’ve encountered so far and it’s this: the body doesn’t come soon enough. This means the novel feels unbalanced, like it doesn’t really start until we’re nearly half-way through.
It is, in other words, a problem.
And the problem with a problem is that rectifying it comes with its own legion of problems. Move the murder? That means you also need to move the essential preliminaries to murder (and isn’t that everything?) and the aftermath, and…
And before long you don’t know where you are; your carefully crafted story is in tatters; you sit surrounded by piles of disarticulated sentences and lost paragraphs and you’re sure you saw chapter seven in there three times. And does chapter fourteen really come straight after four?
This is where planning becomes exceedingly helpful. For me this takes the form of a simple spreadsheet with the old scene-order – a few words about what happens in each one – on one side and the new on the other. Then it becomes mostly a question of copying and pasting…
…Except it doesn’t, because none of your delicious words make sense anymore. None of your references hang together as your gentle allusion is now the first mention there’s been. Before long you’re lost in a maze of misplaced openings and dead ends all around. Evidence is scattered willy-nilly and all sense of cause-and-effect is discarded.
But the ideas are there, as is, to a large extent, the writing. What matters now is that I get the scenes in the right place and make sure the feel and flow of the novel is improved.
Because, to paraphrase that famous Morecambe and Wise sketch, I have written mostly the right words, but not necessarily in the right order.