Expanded extract

2013 August Wells 050

There is indeed such a thing as a church with an octagonal tower

I have the feeling that I ought to be doing something. This is nonsense. I am ill, so I should not be doing anything. This is the week I gave myself to not do anything, and besides, there’s nothing I can do until I get my proof copy. The only thing I could possibly do would be to make the book available, and I’m not doing that until I’ve had the physical copy in my hands and seen for myself that it hasn’t come out upside down, or stripped out all of the formatting, or something.

I’ve compromised by expanding the extract I put up a few weeks ago. It now includes the whole of the first chapter, to give potential readers a fighting chance of discovering whether or not they like my style. And that was just a matter of copy-and-pasting, so hardly counts as doing anything.

A difficult matter

Tuppence, who shares her name with none of my characters (though was named after one of Agatha Christie's)

Tuppence, who shares her name with none of my characters (though was named after someone else’s)

Firstly, I’m pressing the ‘make available’ button on Speak Its Name a week today. Hurrah!

Secondly, there’s an interesting post over at Women and Words about naming characters. The naming of cats is, famously, a difficult matter. The naming of characters tends to be easier, though that doesn’t mean it’s not something that I think about a lot. It’s something I do a lot, naming characters. Sometimes I name a character again and again.

Some names stick. Lydia has always been Lydia and her mother has always been Judy. Peter and Colette could never have been anything else. I don’t know why. They just couldn’t.

Sometimes I have good plot-related reasons for naming characters certain things. When you know that Lydia’s sister is called Rachel you can infer a lot about their parents and their upbringing. Sometimes I have good plot-related reasons which never actually make it into the plot. Colette’s middle initial is R. It stands for Rosalind, after Franklin. I think that may be the first time I’ve ever typed the full name in this context – it certainly doesn’t make it into the final text – but having it in the back of my mind all the time that I was writing made a difference to the way I wrote Colette.

Minor characters are trickier. Sometimes I get overly attached to a particular letter. L, for example. Whether it’s because I’d started out with Lydia as non-negotiable and my mind got stuck on L, or it’s some troubled corner of my psyche that insists on giving my characters the major consonant sounds of my own name, I don’t know. But I’ve written out a Lily, a Hollie and a Lucy, and have had to remind myself severely that no, I can’t have a Lizzie, and I can’t really have an Elizabeth, either, because I’ve already got an Ellie. I could have had Beth, I suppose. Maybe there’ll be a Beth in the next book.

Another problem is a side-effect of a long writing time. Sometimes I’ve been working with a character name for years and then somebody with the same name comes into my life and it’s just too confusing. I’ve had to change three names in Speak Its Name for that reason. In one case I managed to give a character the exact same name as a senior member of staff in a future employer, which could have been awkward. It was a name I liked, too. Thank goodness for Find and Replace, that’s all I can say.

Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with a name except for the fact that it’s completely implausible for a character of a certain age at a certain date. Georgia, for example, started out as Gina. I like the name very much, or I wouldn’t have used it in the first place, but I’m not sure that anyone’s been christened Gina since about 1955.

The one thing that does strike me as I run through my dramatis personae is the number of names that match pets I’ve known over the years. William was a black labrador. Lydia was a tortoiseshell cat. Ollie is a black and white cat, and you could even make a case for Gin’ginia, though his real name was Marco Polo. The personalities don’t really correspond – except possibly in the case of William, who was stunningly immature and given to dragging people to places they weren’t very interested in going to. It must be something about a name that’s familiar enough to work with but which doesn’t have any particular human associations.

Having said that, I really can’t see myself naming a character Ebenezer, Elegy or Tuppence any time soon, despite the fact that all those names were borrowed from books in the first place. Or perhaps even because of it.

Cover (a multitude of sins)


The cover

You see that there? That’s what I spent most of yesterday morning doing. This is for the print version; if you hold a piece of paper up over the left hand side of the image you’ll see what the ebook version looks like.

I was not starting from scratch. I got the basic concept down and sorted the flower out months ago. Yesterday was mostly about getting a clearer picture of the handwriting and then getting all the elements into the appropriate position so that they’ll print properly.

The handwriting, if you’re wondering, is excerpts from my own English undergraduate notes: the front cover is talking about The Faerie Queene and the back about Donne’s Holy Sonnets. I adapted the passionflower image from this photograph, which has been made available for such use under a Creative Commons license.

I then ordered a proof copy and went and had some lunch. Coming back, I immediately discovered two errors (a first line that should have been indented and a chapter heading that said One where all the rest said Chapter 1), so I had to pull the .pdf off and replace it with a corrected one.

Then I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to make the cover sit properly on the front of the ebook.

Then I gave up and cooked dinner.

Then this morning I remembered that I hadn’t changed the ISBN on the copyright page of the ebook and so I pulled it off and uploaded a corrected version.

And I have no idea what new errors I’ll find when I look at the proof copy when it arrives next week. I would like to think that, after going through the electronic version, several print-outs, and the ebook, I’d have got them all, but there always seems to be something else to find, even if it’s just a niggly little thing like a missing indent. We’ll see. We’ll see.

This morning I have mostly been…

... drinking coffee

… drinking coffee

… muttering at Lulu that there is no text smaller than 10pt, let alone 6pt, on pages 87, 119, or 265, damn it

… putting the cover together, which entails:

… setting the image size to the nearest pixel

… finding the .pdf of the barcode which I know I saved somewhere obvious

… getting a week’s worth of photographs off my camera to find the picture of my own second year notes on The Faerie Queene which are going to be the background image

… wondering where the hell the colour selector thing in Paint.Net has disappeared to

… remembering that actually I used the eyedropper and got the purple from the middle of the passionflower. Right.

… resizing everything. And then resizing it again.

… working out how to make a .pdf into a .jpg

… wondering why I can’t see the text I’ve just typed

… trying not to cry

… realising it’s because I’ve still got the passionflower selected

… finding that the onscreen rulers are helping me not one whit

… resorting to holding a real ruler up to the screen

… being really irritated about the blank space at the bottom right

… copying the blurb word by word from my own website

… working out how to rotate text through ninety degrees

… wondering what I’ve spelt wrong in the blurb

… wondering what I’ve forgotten to add

… forgetting where I’ve saved the resulting .jpg

… uploading the cover to Lulu

… deciding that it looks WRONG and going back to Paint.net

… uploading the cover again

… wondering whether occasional useĀ  of the F word counts as ‘explicit content’

… ordering a proof copy

Which is quite enough for one morning. After lunch I’ll worry about the ebook. Don’t worry: I did take annual leave to do all this.


Get the party started (or at least go down the offie for some booze)


My computer has just started playing Get The Party Started. It’s as if it knows.

It isn’t quite party time yet, but a spreadsheet containing ten ISBNs showed up in my inbox today. That’s one for the print version of Speak Its Name, one for the ebook, and two each for the next four books I publish. I’ll worry about the last eight at a later date. The point is, I now exist as a publisher, and the print version of Speak Its Name exists as a number, even if it doesn’t yet exist in physical form. This merits at least a small celebration.

Meanwhile, I’ve released my editors and put the ‘finished’ text onto my Kobo so that I can proofread on the train. I put ‘finished’ in scare quotes because, as I expected, I have found about thirty errors that got in during the editing process. Some of them are little things, like en dashes that should be em dashes; some are missing words; some are phrases that worked beautifully until I fixed something else near to them and now sound clunky and inharmonious. I’m about a quarter of the way through that, and am resisting the temptation to make any changes to the file before I get to the end of the text.

I’m also resisting the temptation to plug my shiny new ISBNs into Lulu and start making books. It’s been a long day at work and I’ll probably forget the title, or spell my own name wrong.

The next book

Picture not entirely unrelated to the next book...

Picture not entirely unrelated to the next book…

There will be one. I was wondering whether I was just going to publish Speak Its Name and call it a day, but my brain decided to dredge up an idea from a few months back. I spent the three mile walk to the station working out how it should finish, and the three mile walk back getting a handle on the narrator’s voice. Also, reminding myself that I’m allowed to have a fictional bike fictionally nicked, and that I do have the power to get it back again, which is more than can be said for real bikes. (Mine’s fine. It’s in the shed. I just fancied a walk today.)

I’ve jotted a few notes down this evening; looking back on what I had before, there isn’t a huge amount of new material, but what I’ve managed to do is to rearrange it into a plausible and exciting structure. Since I was about sixty thousand words into Speak Its Name before that happened last time, this feels encouraging.

Having said that, my focus does need to be on Speak Its Name for at least the next three weeks. I need to incorporate the last batch of suggestions from my army of editors. I need to finalise the cover design. I need to format the inside twice (once for the ebook, once for the print version). I need to hand the book over to my partner for proofreading. And then I need to press the button that says ‘Make available’. (At least, I believe that such a button exists. I have not yet got to the point where one sees it.)

After that I’ll spend at least a week doing not very much at all, at which point my day job will get very busy, so I probably won’t do much outside that until March. All the same, it’s very good to know that there’s something bubbling away in the background, waiting for me to be ready for it.

University of Barchester: a question of genre

3-2013 August Wells 028Somebody asked me today, ‘What sort of stuff do you write?’ And I, as ever, went, ‘Erm…’

I’ve never been good with genre. At one point I deleted the entire genre column from my iTunes. It seemed silly to have Carmen, Hildegard of Bingen and Haydn all filed under ‘Classical’, but separating them out into ‘Opera’, ‘Sacred Vocal (medieval)’ and, well, ‘Classical’, I suppose, was far too much like hard work for something I didn’t much care about.

I feel rather the same way about books. There are certain tropes that I like, but they aren’t exclusively found in any particular genre. For example, I like stories about large, messy households with complicated but functional relationships. One starts with Ballet Shoes – at least, I did – but one might equally read one of Streatfeild’s books for adults. Grass in Piccadilly, for example. Back to children’s books, and there’s the Casson family series. From there it’s not a long leap to school stories (but not all school stories, by any means) – but it’s also not far to science fiction. A spaceship is, after all, just another sort of household.

This is possibly the reason that nobody is prepared to publish Speak Its Name: if I don’t know which shelf it should go on, how on earth will anyone else? Usually I evade the question by admitting that the working title was, for several years, University of Barchester.

Speak Its Name does owe something to Anthony Trollope and the horrible high-minded mess depicted in The Warden. Trollope’s successors, too. It’s just that the chief players in my ecclesiastical scandal are about thirty-five years younger than theirs. Speak Its Name isn’t, admittedly, the first in the University of Barchester subgenre: it’s partly an irritated riposte to the bit in Dear Bob – which might have been the first Univ. Barset book – where concern over the protagonist’s sexual orientation all turns out to just be a hilarious misunderstanding.

And then there’s the other thread: the succession of American teen coming-out books, starting, I suppose, with Annie On My Mind, and continuing in the present day with the works of David Levithan and Alex Sanchez. We didn’t, and don’t have anything like the same tradition over here. Even Jacqueline Wilson, prolific and prepared to deal with ‘difficult’ issues as she is, has only included one gay main character that I’ve noticed. I suspect that’s due to the lingering effects of Section 28. When I was a teenager, the only teen book I came across that dealt with anything resembling LGBT themes was Dare, Truth or Promise, which was published in New Zealand. I don’t know how it got into the school library, but I’m very glad it did.

Having said that, Speak Its Name was never intended to be a teen book, and it isn’t one now. Too much swearing, for a start, and the characters are just that tiny bit too old. Oh well, whatever. I say ‘University of Barchester’, and the sort of people who would be interested in that kind of a book know exactly what I mean. I say ‘University of Barchester with a strong f/f element’ and that pretty much covers it. One of the great advantages of self-publishing is that I no longer have to care.

While I’m on that note: yesterday evening I sent off the application form to get an ISBN. Shit got real.