How much research is enough?

I’ve struggled with this question right from the start, although I think I’m closer now to finding the right balance between necessary authenticity and unnecessary tedium that slows down the action and gets in the readers’ way. I’m trying in this trilogy – based where I live, within living memory – to inject fictional characters into real places and events. It’s not easy, especially when the places and events are as technically complicated as a fire in a nuclear reactor. I need to know how the core was constructed, where the weak spots were and why it went wrong, but all the reader is really interested in will be is what happened to the people they (hopefully) care about before, during and after the fire, rather than the fire itself. I suspect that there may be some that want more technical detail, but more who would be bored or irritated by it. Not for the first time, I’ve thought of writing a companion volume with the background detail, but quite separate from the novel itself.

For the time being, I struggle on. When the crisis happens, we have to know enough about both the characters and the circumstances to appreciate the tension, understand some at least of the dlilemmas and share the worries about how things might develop. It would make a great movie, but I may be getting ahead of myself. One step at a time.

Rationing my time

I knew that dividing my time this week between writing and blogging would be an issue. On top of which I’m still unsure about getting into my blog, using a terribly complicated password that I’ll never remember. Even now I can feel my adrenalin level higher than it should be at this time of night! But I’m in and I can say a few inconsequential things, just for the practice.

I have been thinking a lot about how to use my new blog, and how to use the old website, which I set up more as a shop than as a blog space. I really want to keep this blog ‘pure’ which I may change my mind about, but that’s what I want to do right now. No shop. I thought about Amazon links for my books and others, but in doing that am I endorsing Amazon at the expense of the bookshops where I make the majority of my sales? It’s hard to decide what’s the right thing to do, and lots of conflicting advice out there to make matters worse.

If I keep the focus on the writing for the moment, maybe my mind will clear about the commercial issues. Can’t sell what I haven’t written, and when this book is done I’ll have the full trilogy. There seem to be quite a few people waiting to read Part 3, and I just hope I don’t disappoint them. Be warned, I don’t like happy endings.

The dilemma of slow broadband

I’m acutely aware of just how slow my broadband is here at home in West Cumbria. Everything I could in a twinkling in Salford is taking me so much longer here. I fear it may drive me nuts, or be manageable only when I’m visiting my ‘other house’ in Ulverston, which is only a couple of days a week. At least the broadband is tolerable there and there are rumours of super-fast broadband being started there, which would be super-cool. Fingers crossed. Maybe I should bow to the circumstances for now and concentrate on my ‘real writing’ for the rest of the week. That’s no sacrifice. It’s been going well the last couple of days, so I shall press on. If you read any of this, do leave a comment if you can, just to reassure me that I’m not talking to myself. Thanks.

Is my blog just like an expanded Tweet?

Of course I should have thought about this before, but I’m wondering whether this blog could be seen as just as an expanded Twitter stream. It displays the same way, and now that I’ve installed(?) a widget to add a link to the blog automatically on Twitter the two are weaving even more closely together. It’s also beginning to feel like a continuous loop of self-expression, potentially narcissistic and terribly distracting from actually doing and being in the world rather than commenting on it. That’s how I used to feel about Twitter before I ever started it, and that view is pulling me back again. More importantly right now, I’m feeling more drawn back to ‘real writing’.

Chapter 6 of ‘Fallout’ is desperate to be written, and I must get back to it. It’s the first opportunity for my new character Lawrence Finer to be born, a fully formed adult with a history and feelings and knowledge and substance. I have a picture of him that I found somewhere and I knew straight away that this was him. If he walked into the room right now I would know him, and talk to him about his life. But all this blogging could stand like a curtain between him and me. I need to be manage my time and focus really carefully over the next few days, so that Chapter 6 gets written and yet I practice my blogging skills enough to consolidate them.

To sell or not to sell

When I published my first non-fiction books about education, many years ago, we sold through old-fashioned mail order, and directly to clients when I was working with them. Then I started writing fiction, and set up a website where customers could buy my novels as well as the non-fiction books, using Paypal. I thought we would sell more that way than any other, but that has proved to be quite mistaken. The majority of my paperback novel sales have been through retailers around Cumbria, to local people and to some of the millions of visitors to the Lake District every year who enjoy – as I do – reading about where they are. Ebook sales have been quite good, but again seasonal, with the winter time being slower than the summer, reflecting the number of people who are visiting and seeing my books on sale. We sell through Amazon, and through other bookshops that use distributors such as Neilsen, but not many compared to the actual bookshop sales.

Looking ahead, my hope is to reach more readers, within and beyond the Cumbria region, and that the larger bookshop chains will then be encouraged to stock the books. I need to publicise more, and that’s a goal for when the full trilogy is finished and out there, by early summer 2014. The publication of Part 2, Forgiven, boosted the sales of Part 1, A Good Liar, and the third one ‘Fallout’ could have the same effect. I hope so. But setting up this new WordPress blog has prompted me to consider whether I want to sell books through this website. I think not. To do so would mean an upgrade to allow me to use the site commercially, and is it worth it for the proportion of sales that have come via that route? Instead, I think I’ll use this site to blog about the writing process, use the written word to clarify my own thinking, and engage with other writers and readers too.

If people want to buy my books, they have various opportunities to do so, in both paperback and ebook form. Sales will not be spectacular, but there’s no sell-by date on historical fiction and sales should be steady year by year. Already we’re re-printing ‘A Good Liar’ as stocks of the first 1500 print run are almost finished. Word of mouth and a little local publicity seem to be working. Now if I could just persuade people to buy the books rather than lend their own copy to every friend and relation who wants to read it, that would be good!

Feeling a little more confident

So, with a little help and deliberately going through the uncertain process again, I seem to be making progress. From previous experience though I know it’ll take several more successful attempts before I feel that I can do what I need to do without hesitation, and know what to do when I get stuck. When we’re working with children we say they are learning when ‘they know what to do when they don’t what to do’ and that’s what I’m aiming for now in myself. Interesting how that fairly trite phrase suddenly has more meaning.

A bold image of the learner symbol

A bold image of the learner symbol