...only one thing: publication!
My googlebots have been hard at work, and last week they came scurrying back with the exciting news that The Dog of the North is available for you to pre-order on Amazon (those of you familiar with NLP will recognise the embedded command in that sentence...). There is even an image of the cover which is slightly later than the one I've seen (and very smart it is too). We have an ISBN too, and even a page count. This latter item looks rather suspicious: all Macmillan New Writing books yet to be published seem to have 304 pages, and I think The Dog of the North will end up having rather more than that. But here, in any event, is the cover:
I hope you all like it as much as I do.
Now that I think about it, 2008 isn't about just one thing: as well as publication, we have work on the next book to worry about too. I'm always envious of Matt Curran, who seems to generate an endless fund of ideas for new plots. I'm far less fecund, but I have been working hard on a new idea since mid-December, given a kick-start by my recent creative writing course at West Dean. My Christmas presents included a wonderful Italian leather-bound notebook into which I've been decanting my ideas using a fountain pen and sepia ink (a wonderfully aesthetically satisfying process). I've never approached any aspect of novel writing in such a low-tech way, but it's been an experience at once soothing (the scratch of the nib, the absorbency of the paper, the filling of the small pages) and liberating. Once I get round to the real writing, it'll be back to the laptop (so much quicker, and so much easier to revise), but at this stage, when I'm working slowly, just letting my ideas evolve, pen and paper are doing just fine.
I won't give too much about the new story away (see some great posts by David Isaak and Faye Booth on writers' superstitions), other than a couple of little tasters. It isn't a sequel to The Dog of the North, but it takes place at broadly the same time on the same continent--and indeed at least one character features in both stories. The setting is a great maritime city-state and the plot involves a wastrel of an aristocrat, his unsuitable paramour, and the political manoeuvrings into which he is being sucked. My traditional motifs of betrayal and revenge are of course to the fore. It's not quite ready to write yet: a couple of the key characters aren't clear enough in my head, and the magical element the reader expects to find in fantasy is so attenuated that it might as well be a historical novel. I'm still deciding how serious a flaw this is before working out how to fix it.
This stage of writing a novel is great fun. I can have all kinds of ideas, run with them in my head (without the inconvenience of needing to write polished prose) and feel the deep structure coming together. It's the stage that most novels stall at: anyone can have ideas; it's turning them into a coherent and satisfying prose narrative that's the problem. But it's not today's problem.
Happy New Year!