Friday, 10 February 2017

A writer's life

It's been a busy time on the blog lately. The Christmas/New Year period always generates a lot of posts about books for Christmas presents, and reviews of the year past and thoughts of the year to come. Then there have been several overdue book reviews that I had promised to write and finally got around to.  One way and another, this is the first Friday morning for a long time when I have sat down with no idea at all what I'm going to write about.

I thought I would ramble on a bit about the realities of this writing business. Not that it's really a business. I used to be in business and, although there are other things that matter, in business the bottom line is quite important. In writing, not so much. It's brilliant that people can now get e-book's so cheaply, but it has produced a situation where there is much less value put on the written word and it is very rare indeed for anybody to make any money out of writing. I'm not complaining about this – nobody made me take up writing – but it is worth remembering  the economic realities when you think about how writers spend their time nowadays.

The sheer number of books means that it is very difficult for anybody's work to get noticed. The best advertisement for a book is another book by the same author. Every time I produce a new book about James Burke, for example, sales of other James Burke books lift. There is therefore pressure on all writers to produce more books as quickly as possible. This leads to the situation where it is easy to find yourself writing two books at the same time.

That's where I am now. I recently finished a new book about James Burke fighting in the Peninsular War. This was sent off to a couple of trusted people for comment. Meanwhile  I started to read up the background to the next James Burke book which is going to be set in Ireland. (Fortunately  many authors write Napoleonic War stories out of sequence. Otherwise it would be difficult to  imagine another Burke book  after  Burke at Waterloo.) Researching the English in Ireland has been  quite fascinating and rather depressing. It does not show them at their best. Still, after reading some 18th-century pamphlets and a couple of frankly rather dull biographies, I began to sketch out a plot and started writing to see if it was going to work. Ten thousand words in, I think  it may well make an interesting addition to the Burke canon, but at this point I got the Peninsular War story back from one of my readers. He'd been a while, but he had been very thorough indeed. He knows a lot about the Peninsular War: rather more than me. The upshot was that, though he was very positive about the book and said he liked it, he has pointed out some errors that will mean a significant bit of rewriting.

I'm therefore in the situation of simultaneously writing a book set in Ireland at the very beginning of Burke's career as a spy and another one featuring a much more worldly-wise and cynical Burke in Spain some years later. Keeping these two periods, places and plot-lines in my head at the same time is rather disconcerting,  but not at all unusual at this stage of the game. At least it's not as bad as when I was writing a book about John Williamson, set in the mid-19th century, at the same time as I was revising a book about Burke set in 1815. Just remembering the language they would be using, the clothes they would be wearing, and the social attitudes of the time and not muddling the two did create problems.

English torture in 18th century Ireland: pitchcapping

Besides trying to write two books the same time, I spend a while on Twitter. Whatever your views about Twitter (and I must admit to having doubts myself) it is very effective. I know that many people reading this blog will be here simply because they have followed a link from Twitter and I really like people reading this, so Twitter is a necessary evil.  Not always an evil either: last week, for the first time, I tried asking for help with a historical question on Twitter and, rather to my surprise, got some very useful answers. So there is more to Twitter than ranting about Donald Trump (or even ranting from Donald Trump).

I'm on Facebook too, although Facebook doesn't  demand constant updating in the way that Twitter does. Or at least, it doesn't the way that I use it. Some people suggest that you should be posting  to Facebook once or twice a day, but if you do follow my page you'll see that once or twice a week would be more accurate.

Then, of course, there's writing this blog. Some weeks are shorter and easier to write than others, but I generally produce around a thousand words and some of these words are even (I hope) intelligent and considered. It's fun, but it takes time (and –  that point about business again –  contributes  not at all to my diminishing bank account).

This week I've also been talking to the organisers of a historical festival about maybe being one of their speakers. I've done this before and it's huge fun, as well as being  quite gratifying to the ego. You can be sure that I will be blogging a lot about it if and when it's confirmed.

So that's how I've been spending my time. I keep being told that people want to hear about authors' writing lives, so now you know the sad truth. All right: I'm not dwelling on the Spider Solitaire or the time spent looking out of the window or the hours that vanished down Internet wormholes when I just wanted to check how people ate oysters in 1794. Still, this does give you a taste, however expurgated, of the writer's life. If it hasn't put you off writing, it probably should have.

Have a lovely weekend.

The inevitable plug

Another thing about being a writer is that you are increasingly expected to sell your own books. Yes, I know you thought that's what publishers were for, but life has changed. Everybody tells me that I should make sure to urge you to buy a book every time you visit this blog. This week's recommendation, given that I mentioned it in the post, is Burke at Waterloo.

In 1814, the war with France seemed to be over. Paris was an occupied city. Bonapartist loyalists, though, were planning the assassination of Wellington. Burke was sent to thwart them. He hunts the assassin from Paris to Brussels but then Napoleon escapes from Elba and everything changes.

Caught up in the preparations for a new war, Burke's hunt seems suddenly unimportant but then the assassin  strikes again. Burke's mission and the war against Napoleon come together in a dramatic climax at the battle of Waterloo.

Burke at Waterloo is available from Amazon as an e-book or paperback. Click on the cover to be taken to the Amazon site for your country.


  1. Hee. I had to tear myself away from playing Free Cell to read this, but no you have not turned me off the writing life. Of course, profit is the farthest thing from my process these days; the WIP won't be finished for years, probably, and AX is a can of worms I can't open just now. There's freedom in obscurity!

  2. No, I'm sure it didn't put you off. You were a lost cause long ago. I hope that your writing progresses, however slowly.