The Printers

typesetLast week, my novel arrived at The Printers. I conjure up a very clear mental picture when someone mentions The Printers. It takes me back to when I was at University and on my holidays I worked at The Printers. Not a place that printed books, but nevertheless a printing factory.

It was in a shed in the middle of summer, and like being in a sauna. You didn’t open the windows to try to get a breeze because loose papers and wind do not mix well. I worked on the end of a machine that was so long it went around a corner. Anything that arrived at my end of the machine, I packed into a box. Highlights of my day included sealing one box and starting a new one, and lunch time. I spent most of the time reminding myself that I was doing this for a few short weeks only, and it was precisely why I was going to Uni. I did acquire the skill of quickly and effectively knocking papers together, which still comes in handy today. And I still know my way around a tape gun.

My Dad got me the job. He worked in the air conditioned office adjoining The Printers. By the time he retired, he had spent over fifty years in the printing industry. He started out in the early 1950s and learnt the trade of compositing – manually putting each letter for each word in each sentence on each page into place, to be inked up in order to print a single page. The process seems incredible in this day and age where my book was ‘sent’ to The Printers with the click of a mouse button. And many of its readers will never actually hold a printed copy of my book, instead reading it on some sort of electronic device and chopping The Printers out of the equation completely.

Despite torturous hours spent working at The Printers, I am still a fan of the printed book. Maybe I’m being old-fashioned and set in my ways. Electronic books are so much more sensible, more environmentally friendly. You can read them with the lights off, enlarge the print if your eyes get tired, carry hundreds of books on one device. Everything about them appeals to my sense of practicality. So why have I never downloaded one?

I think for me it has something to do with all the books that have passed through my hands during my life. Picture books on my mother’s lap, the joy of finding a particular title whilst trolling through library shelves, swapping random books whilst backpacking, reading with my own children. There is something deeply pleasurable about sitting down with an actual book. Even if the type is too small, the pages won’t sit flat or it’s too big to fit in my handbag.

I like the physical book. I’d even do another couple of weeks at The Printers to preserve it.

The trouble with the sequel

IMG_5165My second novel is called ‘A Mother’s Work’ as in the saying ‘a mother’s work is never done.” And that’s the way it made me feel. As of yesterday, the manuscript rests in the lap of my publisher. I gave it a metaphorical pat on the head then booted it out on its own.

Part of me is proud. I actually wrote a second book. It is close to the 80,000 words I was shooting for. It has a sound plot with several twists. It is plausible from a police procedural point of view. I can do this. I can write books.

But part of me absolutely shitting myself. My first story took about three years from when I started writing it to when it went to print (any day now!). The story itself was bouncing around inside my head for a lot longer than that. By the time I actually sat down at a keyboard, it had already been thought through and nutted out. I consistently typed over 1,000 words an hour. Would have been even faster if I could touch type.

During that time, I also took courses, I read widely – things like writing blogs and crime novels – and I sought advice. The manuscript was handed round, edited, and improved on as the result of comments from an agent, a publisher and an editor. It was read and re-read and re-jigged and polished and nurtured and loved. By the time it was picked up by Pan Macmillan, they decided it didn’t even need a structural edit.

On the other hand, the sequel has spent its existence scuttling around behind more important things. I started writing it to distract myself from all the waiting as agents and publishers read and contemplated my first manuscript. And then all of a sudden my debut novel was bought and the sequel along with it. It had an April 30 deadline and they had already paid me some money for it. I had to finish it.

So it was completed on the fly, whilst I juggled the extensive editing of my first novel, plus all the extras requested off me – social media and photos and biographical info. Oh, and then I still had to go to my day job, and my family wants feeding every single day.

I’ve sent off with a bunch of disclaimers. As a manuscript, it is vastly inferior to the first. I know it has errors – big ones like plot holes as well as little ones like people’s names changing halfway through the story. I’ve had a red-hot go, but a snappy six months of broken writing with a looming deadline is just not the same.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not whinging. I wanted this. But can I do this? Was the first one a fluke? Will this one need three years work too? Or am I a writer?

I’m going to find out in due course. But right now you’ll have to excuse me – I have to go start book three…

A publishing contract

Success! Unbelievable astounding success. I have just signed a contract with Pan Macmillan Publishers. They have bought my book. This is really going to happen. Soon my little crime story will be going out to a national audience. I will be a published writer. I will get paid. ‘Author’ will go on my tax return. The publisher wants the sequel. This is the start of a new career.

Exciting times, but underscored with some trepidation. Signing the contract is not an end – it is a beginning. Some hurdles are behind me, but there’s still more to come. Can I juggle my ‘day job’ as a police officer, with being a crime writer?

“Sure, why not?” is the obvious answer. I have already written the book – that’s the hard part isn’t it? And that was whilst juggling work, with raising two young children, ticking as many of the ‘good mother’ boxes as I can manage plus keeping the household running.

But for me, there’s an added level of difficulty. Being a serving police officer has laid out a minefield in front of me. And I am now carefully trying to tip toe through it. What I am doing is actually bound by legislation. If you are a police officer, you are always a police officer. What you do in your spare time is (to a certain extent) the Boss’s business. You have knowledge and information which is not for public dissemination, you are an agent of the Government. There are issues with secrecy, public comment, accountability, improper use of information, professional conduct and numerous other pieces of law, directives and policies.

It wouldn’t be so bad if it was anything but a crime story. I have to ensure I don’t use any information that a normal person couldn’t find on Google, verify that all my characters and incidents are fictitious, and make sure my actions as a writer are ‘fair’.

I even had to go through the process of making an official request to ask permission to attempt to have my story published. That was a story all of its own.

I’m still trying hard to keep my real name secret, as a fall-back in case someone gets upset about something. But that may or may not be a bit pointless since the publisher wants me to use my own undisguised face in publicity. I will see just how far heavy makeup and a fancy hairdo will get me.

So here we go – I have sifted through all the legislation, and tried my very best to comply. This blog has now been renamed, content has been removed and it includes the officially-sanctioned disclaimer. But no-one of consequence has really noticed the blog yet. so this is untested.

There’s anxiety with the excitement. I’m holding on tight. The rollercoaster will be running for a while yet.

Yes. It's real.

Yes. It’s real.