The oldest bridge in the world

Here's your trivia for the day. As far as I'm aware, the world's oldest still-in-use bridge was built in Mycenaean times! Here's a picture from wikimedia:

The bridge lies on a bronze age highway between the cities of Tiryns and Epidauros. The ruins of both cities still exist, by the way, and are well worth a look.

This is a drystone construction with a tiny arch in the middle. The downward pressure of gravity combined with the solid placement of the rocks holds everything in place. Those rocks have sat there for about 3,300 years. Yes, this thing was built in about 1300BC.

When people first walked across this bridge, Minoan civilization was on its last legs. It was the post-palatial period, when Knossos declined and Mycenae rose. Local villagers use it to this day.

Awesome news from Jane Lebak

I'm seriously thrilled to pass on the news that Jane Lebak, who might be better known to you on this blog as philangelus, has signed with agent Roseanne Wells of the Marianne Strong Literary Agency!

Jane is now editing her book Honest And For True in preparation to send it out to lucky acquiring editors. It's about an auto mechanic who can see her guardian angel and has a tiny, tiny problem with the truth.

Yay for Jane!

Another Word Tip, from Jane Finnis

You might recall that I previously mentioned Jane Finnis, who writes ancient mysteries set in Roman Britain.

Jane left me this very useful tip on writing with Microsoft Word:
Not everyone knows that when doing a straight "Find" in Word, once you've typed in your keyword, you can press Escape and move between occurrences of the word by hitting Control with PageDown or PageUp. Often quicker than the button.
Jane is remarkable for writing mysteries starring innkeeper Aurelia Marcella, thus making her one of the very few mystery writers with a female detective in the ancient world. I only discovered yesterday that she also writes this very interesting blog.

Pericles on how allies work together

In these days of NATO and the United Nations, I thought it might be interesting to look at Pericles' view on how well equal alliances work.

This is from Thucydides, book 1, section 141. The Athenians have met to decide whether they should, in effect, initiate a war against the Spartans. If they do, they'll have to fight not only the Spartans but the entire alliance of the Peloponnesian League. Pericles says this about the allies of Sparta:

"...they cannot fight a war against a power unlike themselves, so long as they have no central deliberative authority to produce quick, decisive action, when they all have equal votes, though they all come from different nationalities and every one of these is mostly concerned with its own interests -- the usual result of which is that nothing gets done at all, some being particularly anxious to avenge themselves on an enemy, and others no less anxious to avoid coming to any harm themselves. Only after long intervals do they meet together at all, and then they only devote a fraction of their time to their general interests, spending most of it on arranging their own separate affairs. It never occurs to any of them that the apathy of one will damage the interests of all. Instead, each state thinks that the responsibility for its future belongs to someone else, and so, while everyone has the same idea privately, no one notices that from a general point of view things are going downhill."

There seems to be a general view amongst professional historians that the speeches in Thucydides are not to be trusted, particularly the speeches known as the Melian Dialogue, which could have taught Machiavelli a thing or two about realpolitik. (In fact, they probably did.)

Unlearned me goes against the learned opinion on this. I find it difficult to read something like the above without nodding my head and thinking, yep, that came from an experienced and cynical politician who knew what he was talking about.

The trousers of doom

Trousers, as in, long pants that cover the legs, appear to have been invented more or less simultaneously and more or less independently in Persia and Scythia. We can see in figurative decorations that the styles were quite different, but men commonly wore trousers in both places.

This might be because the men of both nations spent a lot of time on horseback. Since stirrups hadn't been invented yet, horseriding in a Greek chiton must have been eye-opening, even with a rag to wrap up the goodies.

Nevertheless the Greeks never had any time for trousers, who thought them weird and laughable, and associated them with the hated enemy. A Greek who copied Persian dress could expect heckling at best. Not even Alexander the Great was spared when he copied the Persians.

And therein lies a problem for poor Gary.

My second book includes a man who wears trousers. But I am reliably informed that trousers is not the most common word in the US, where pants is preferred. For the rest of the civilized world, pants means something quite different.

Incidentally, this means that when an American describes a writer as a pantster, it conjures an image in British readers that certainly wasn't intended.

I confess my mind rebels at the thought of calling them anything but trousers, but I can repress revulsion long enough to do a global replace if necessary.

What do you think? Will the Americans cope with trousers? Or shall my character wear pants?

Pelops vs Oinomaos: the first Olympic chariot race

In the middle of the Sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia was a ruined building. The Greeks believed that this was the megaron of King Oinomaos, who was a very ancient king of the dark ages. A megaron was a Greek king's court in prehistoric times. Literally: mega (great) ron (hall).

Beside the megaron was a large burial mound, enclosed within a wall of five sides. This was believed by everyone to be the burial mound of the hero Pelops. The hero-king for whom the Peloponnesian Peninsula is named.

According to legend, King Oinomaos had a daughter, a girl of great beauty, by the name of Hippodamia. Oinomaos had no sons, so whoever married Hippodamia would inherit the rule of the land. (The usual set up).

Needless to say, a great many unsuitable men asked for the hand of the beautiful Hippodamia, so many that it became an irritant. Oinomaos developed a way of discouraging suitors. He challenged them to a chariot race. If Oinomaos won, then he killed the foolish suitor with his bright spear. But if the suitor won, then the suitor would marry the girl and become heir to the kingdom. Many men died in the pursuit of beauty and wealth.

Note that the name of the princess Hippodamia means Horse Tamer.

Then the hero Pelops asked for the hand of Hippodamia.

Luckily for Pelops, Hippodamia fell in love with him. (The usual setup again.) The only problem was, daddy was the best chariot driver around, so Hippodamia bribed her father's charioteer, a man by the name of Myrtilus, to remove the linchpins from the wheels of her father's racing chariot. His reward if he did so would be half the kingdom, and the first night in the bed of Hippodamia.

And so the race was arranged. Pelops surged to the lead. But the chariot of Oinomaos made ground.

Oinomaos raised his spear to slay Pelops as they raced, when at that moment the wheels of his chariot flew off. Oinomaos was dragged to his death.

Pelops married Hippodamia, became King at once, and they all lived happily ever after. Except for Hippodamia's father, who was somewhat dead.

Myrtilus reaped the usual harvest for treachery: Pelops murdered the fellow when he was brazen enough to claim his reward.

This was considered the first Olympic chariot race, though it certainly wasn't at the Olympics, and it was won by cheating and sabotage. The race between the hero and the king was displayed on the outer pediment of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia.

Myrtilus was buried under the taraxippus at the east end of the chariot race arena. It's the reason the Greeks believed there were so many accidents at that turn. The psyche of Myrtilus, who was both murderer and murdered, remained to terrify the horses.

Four horse chariot race: the Formula 1 of the ancient world

The four horse chariot race at the ancient Olympics, and later at the circus maximus in Rome, was the Formula 1 of the ancient world: fast and dangerous.

The chariot races were the first major event on the schedule of the ancient Olympics. The Greeks liked to start things with a bang. Unlike modern races, the chariots did not race in an oval. They went about two turning posts, more like a modern yacht race since everyone had to squeeze around the same post at about the same time. Given the width of four horses, this added to the chaos and the danger.

The turning post at the east end had a special name. It was called taraxippus, the Horse-Terror, because this was where most crashes occurred. The reason for the particular danger was said to be the nearby altar, under which was buried either King Oenomaus or his groom Myrtilus, depending which version of the legend you believed. The fact that at the taraxippus the drivers had to stare into the sun probably helped too.

Crashes were frequently fatal. When the drivers lined up for the race, they would have looked left and right at their fellows, and known that at least a few of them would be dining in Hades that night.

Roman chariot drivers wrapped the reins about their arm or body, so if the chariot disintegrated beneath them then they were dragged. Roman drivers carried a sharp knife to cut the reins, but that of course required being conscious. Greek drivers on the other hand held the reins only by hand and therefore could let go.

I am most indebted to Meghan for saving me from error here. In the original version of this post I had both Roman and Greek drivers wrapping reins, which is totally wrong. I'm very lucky to have such knowledgeable readers. Thanks Meghan!

The Romans put a solid spine down the middle of the track, whereas the Greeks had open area between the turn poles and were exposed to head on collisions. Which didn't necessarily make the Roman track all that much safer. In Ben Hur during the famous chariot race, one chariot bounces off the central spine with disastrous results.

The first official semi-pseudo-mythical chariot race in the Olympic area was between King Oenomaus and his future son-in-law, King Pelops (for whom the Peloponnese is named). This race ended in a negative experience for Oenomaus. Weirdly, and this is how I managed to get it wrong in the original, not that it's an excuse, most accounts of King Oenomaus have him being dragged to death by his horses. Maybe in the early bronze age they wrapped the reins and then the fashion changed? Or maybe, like me, later writers transposed the Roman practice into early Greece?

The location of the Olympic hippodrome is unknown today. The athletics stadion remains but the hippodrome was washed away in a major flood in mediaeval times. My guess is it was to the south, and perhaps slightly to the east, of the stadion. There's a a nice large unoccupied space there that would have been about right.

The chariot was light, barely strong enough to carry a man. There really were four horses hitched in a row.

The chariot race from Ben Hur is relatively accurate, especially the way they race from end to end. Whipping one's opponents was totally within the spirit of things. The modified wheels designed to wreck opponents in the movie would have been cause for instant disqualification, at the Olympics at any rate. And of course, the Olympic race was far more utilitarian than the ornate affairs at the circus maximus.

The starting line as in Ben Hur is totally wrong for the Olympics. The Olympics had the first mechanical starting gate in history, which was designed to make sure everyone had an even start. It was called the Hippaphesis. But I'll save that remarkable device for another post.

And if you think it can't be that wild and dangerous these days, I can't resist adding this clip from the Formula 1 race at Valencia this year.

I watched this race as it happened, and when the car went airborne I was sure I was about to see someone die. But Mark Webber walked away with only a few bruises! The engineers who make these cars could teach the commercial manufacturers a thing or two about how to design for safety by default.

The winner of the chariot race was not the driver, but the owner of the team. Rather like today there is a constructor's championship for the organisation which makes the F1 car which wins the most points. Also like today, owning and running a four horse chariot team was every bit as expensive as modern cars. You had to be the equivalent of a multi-millionaire to even think about entering. Alcibiades, the second cousin of Pericles, in 416BC entered an incredible 7 teams, which would have bankrupted some entire cities. He scored first, second and fourth.

Because the winner was the owner and not the driver, the first woman in history to win at the Olympics in any event was Cynisca, the daughter of King Archidamus of Sparta, who won the chariot race not once, but twice.

Time Manner Place

I've begun the second draft of writing Sacred Games, which is book 3 of the Hellene Mysteries. This book's set at the ancient Olympics, and will by coincidence appear in the same year as the London Olympics, always assuming the Publishing Gods are kind to me.

By no means can it be said that I have a book (yet). There are gaping holes where I wrote put some description here, or Maybe this should go somewhere else? or I broke off mid-sentence and began a different scene when I realized during the first draft that I didn't know what I wanted to say next, or I wrote in three different and entirely contradictory plot summaries without at any time actually writing something useful. Despite which, this first draft feels more complete than the ones I did for the first two books.

The act of rebalancing sentences as I revise caused me to think of something I've never seen blogged about, this interesting rule of writing: Time Manner Place.

Time Manner Place is a rule in linguistics which says that in a sentence, you should write when the action happened, followed by how it happened, followed by where it happened.

"Thirty years ago, on the Ides of Octember it was, on a dark and stormy night, with the wind howling and the shutters banging, in a small cottage in the hamlet of Pevensey, a child was slain."

The interesting thing about Time Manner Place is that this is German syntax. TMP is most common in German, which is why I know about it, and any other language which puts its verbs to the end of the clause.

The more common structure in English is Place Manner Time.

"A child was slain in a small cottage in the hamlet of Pevensey, on a dark and stormy night, with the wind howling and the shutters banging, thirty years ago on the Ides of Octember."

When I have trouble making a sentence sound right, more often than not I head for Time Manner Place. TMP is noticeable in two distinct genres of English fiction: fantasy (epic or otherwise), and mediaeval and ancient historicals. Because English belongs to the Germanic family, Old English and Middle English books are more likely to use TMP, so anything which apes Germanic syntax is likely to sound old even if the words are modern.

The colors of Ancient Greece

Ancient Greek statues weren't merely the white marble we see today. They were painted. This amazing video from Amarildo Topalis shows you what the ancient world really looked like. It's incredible what a difference the eyes make.

Thanks Robert for pointing this out.

Classical Cops

There were no police in Classical Athens, nor in Rome.

Lexi asked the other day who investigated crime in Athens. The answer is it was totally up to private citizens to investigate any crime and prosecute the criminal. A wronged person had to investigate his own crime, or if it was a murder then the relatives of the dead man. Rome had the same system.

This works for me beautifully. Nicolaos is as free to pursue crime as the next man, and there are no cops for him to tread on the toes of.

The system was open to abuse, and it was a particular problem in Rome. Rules were introduced such that successful prosecutors won part of the penalty fine, but losers could be sued for wrongful prosecution. This discouraged vexatious cases.

Athens did have a city guard for crowd control.

The Scythian Guard of Athens was created after the Persian Wars, when 300 slaves, supposedly Scythians (a barbarian people far to the north), were bought for the purposes of crowd control within the city. We know this from the works of two orators called Andocides and Aeschines.

One of the jobs of the Scythian Guard was to ensure enough people turned up to vote at the Ecclesia. With a quorum of 6,000 men(!), they sometimes had trouble getting enough citizens to hold a parliament. The Scythians solved that problem by dipping a long rope in paint, holding both ends so it was taut, and then sweeping through the agora to herd reluctant citizens towards the Pnyx, where parliament met. Anyone later caught with paint on his chiton was fined. I'm not making this up! It's described in the comic play The Acharnians by Aristophanes.

The dress code of the Scythians is surprisingly well known, for the simple reason that Scythians appear frequently on Athenian pottery.

The bow was the favored weapon of the Scythians, and they carried it unstrung when on patrol, as a baton with which to beat, which they would happily do if faced with a disorderly drunk. There are actual accounts of Scythians -- who were slaves, mind you -- beating badly behaved citizens in the street. It may seem odd the Athenians allowed slaves to push them around, but the reason is that it was illegal for one citizen to lay hands on another, but it was legal for a slave under approved circumstances.

The Scythians had no power of arrest, and they certainly had no ability to investigate a crime, but they would have made wonderful enforcers.

By the time of Nicolaos it’s unlikely the Scythian Guard were in fact all Scythian. Their numbers would have been replenished with whatever suitable slaves came to hand.

In the books, Nico has an uneasy relationship with Pythax, the brutally tough Chief of the Scythian Guard. Pythax has noticed that wherever Nico goes, a body tends to turn up. Not that he cares about the deaths, but littering is a serious misdemeanor.

"You want to watch yourself, little boy. You don’t want to go getting a reputation for violence.” Pythax cracked his knuckles.

This beautiful image comes from the Smithsonian Magazine, which some time ago did an excellent display on what the true colors of the ancient world were like:

CSI: Athenai

When you write in the ancient world, all the standard forensic devices of the last 100 years disappear. No DNA, no fingerprints, no microscopes, no clever chemical analysis.

This is incredibly liberating. Mysteries are puzzle books at their core. It’s wonderful for me to be able to concentrate on the puzzle without having to worry if my byzantine plot might have been solved in the first ten pages with some obvious piece of forensics. Far from enhancing modern mysteries, forensics has put a tight envelope around what the author can do without looking silly. It’s a particular problem for cozies. Cozy authors must sometimes go to ridiculous lengths, or fudge outrageously, to find a reason why the Chocolate Cake Killer couldn’t have been found before the end of chapter one with a quick sweep for DNA (saliva on the cake crumbs...).

A particular trap is to translate back into ancient times, techniques which are not outright impossible, but which assume a diagnostic practice far in advance of known science. It's not impossible for someone in Classical Athens to take a plaster cast of the killer's footprint, to match it with the suspects' sandals in search of the one with the diamond shaped pebble lodged in the right heel, but seriously, this is a stretch, and it tries to turn ancient investigations into a poor man's copy of modern ones.

A real-life Nicolaos would tread in the footprint beside the body, ignoring the killer's blood drops and those smudgy marks on the handle of the knife and the hairs caught between the victim's fingers during the struggle, as he walks to the nearest well to see if someone had dropped in a curse tablet. Because a curse tablet might be important evidence. In his defence, the real-life Nico would note from the footprints that there was a single killer, that he used a knife, and that there was a struggle.

Conversely the ancient detective has opportunities that a modern detective could never imagine. In an age when everything is hand-crafted, you can pick up any item and trace it back to the artisan who made it, if you're persistent enough. Indeed to this day an expert on ancient pottery can tell you in which city a particular piece was made. Believe it or not, if it's from Athens, they can sometimes narrow it down to which workshop made the pot!

A bowyer can examine a bow and tell you everything there is to know about its flight characteristics. An armorer can tell from the binding if a spear was made by a left or right handed man. Try doing that with mass production.

To cut the dead is deeply sacrilegious, so no autopsies, but any man could glance at a fatal wound to tell you what sort of blade made it. Every Athenian man has served in an army that used nothing but edged weapons. Everyone has seen plenty of corpses and know what happens to them over time. For the same reason, blood spatter patterns are all too familiar.

Few poisons are known, but those few are known well, and a trip to the local pharmakis will tell you everything you need. Every city mints its own coins, and the designs changed over time. You can tell more from a dropped ancient coin than a modern.

There's an extremely high reliance placed on eyewitness testimony, which is valued above all else in court, while physical evidence is looked upon as a bit dodgy -- the exact opposite of a modern court.

Clothing runs to a standard form but the decoration is totally individual. There's no such thing as identical T-shirts or anonymous suits. Sandal and clothing decoration had styles which can be spotted.

A sculptor can glance at a piece of marble and tell you which quarry it came from. Painters make their own paints. A silver armband can be identified as Phoenician from the imagery alone. The body with the blue tattoos across half his face is probably not from Athens.

I try to play to the strengths of the period. Don't try to turn ancient forensics into faux-modern. Instead, try very hard to see it the same way someone of the times would, and deliberately go for the evidence which is most different from modern expectation. It's a great way to give readers a tour of the ancient world while sticking tight to the plot line.

Awesome news from Trisha Leigh

Trisha Leigh, one of the regular visitors to this humble blog, a few hours ago made this announcement on twitter:

Hey Twitter GUESS WHAT? I am happy to report that I now HAVE AN AGENT - the charming Elizabeth Jote!

All I can say is, Elizabeth Jote is a very lucky agent.

Congratulations Trisha!

Blogger is broken...again

Blogger is broken...again. Comments are not appearing. A lot of blogs seem to be affected. So if you made a comment and it hasn't appeared, please know it's not because I'm censoring, even my own comments disappear.

I've changed the comment setting to use the popup window, in the hope that helps.

Blogger has been very dodgy in the last few months and it's very frustrating. I had a look at alternatives a couple of months ago, and nothing seemed an improvement. Wordpress is Pepsi to Blogger's Coke, but I can't say I'm keen on the Wordpress usability. In fact, it sucks. Also for every complaint about Blogger I can find one about Wordpress.

I'd be interested to know, does anyone recommend an alternative? Leave your response in comments...oh, wait...

So you want to write an ancient mystery: integrating with real history

You’ve got a choice!

You can choose to use only the setting: the customs, habits, clothing, food, mores, religion, ethics, technology and social structures of your chosen period.  This is the bare minimum, otherwise you’re not writing an historical mystery.

Or you can use the setting, plus use real people from history as major characters.

Or you can use the setting, plus use real people from history, plus use real events that happened.

PC Doherty is a good example of using only the setting.  With that approach he’s written ancient mystery series in Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Mediaeval England, and Victorian England.  Basically, he’s done one of everything going.

If using only the historical setting seems like the easy option, keep in mind that the Sherlock Holmes stories, the greatest detective stories ever told, are a setting-only series.  Sherlock Holmes wasn’t, strictly speaking, an historical series when they were written, but they certainly are now, and even when Conan Doyle was scribbling away he was harking back to a recent but cleaner age (at least in his own mind).

Lindsey Davis is a good example of using historical people but avoiding real events.  In that case you’re overwhelmingly likely to use the real historical person as the patron in the standard model.  Vespasian gets the gig for Davis and Simon Scarrow.  Titus often gets a go too, and Julius Caesar and, not unsurprisingly, Cicero.

You might also use real people as lesser characters.  It’s quite common to give real people cameos, and the attraction is obvious: it’s always a bit of a thrill to see someone famous strut their hour upon your pages and then be heard no more, especially if the cameo is Shakespeare (who appears one way or another in an astonishing number of Elizabethan mysteries).  People like to see historical characters they recognise, and that alone is a good reason for including them.

I use Pericles as the patron for Nicolaos, and roughly 70% of all my characters were real people.  I suspect that’s an unusually high percentage, but I have the advantage that people like Aristophanes and Plato used people they actually knew in their work, so I steal from them mercilessly.

Steven Saylor has a reputation for being not only a tremendous writer of historical mysteries—maybe the best ever–but also for being the most historically accurate.  The reason is he not only uses the setting, and peoples his books with many historically real people, but in addition every single novel is based on a real historical event, usually a very famous one.  His subject is the Late Roman Republic, and how a small group of incredibly talented, incredibly powerful, and incredibly vicious people fought it out for domination of the world.  It’s powerful stuff.  The one thing you can be sure of in a Saylor novel is this: that if Saylor says it happened, then either it happened, or else you can’t prove it didn’t happen.  (That last clause is very important.)

I did the same thing with my own series.  The first book deals with the for-real assassination of the man who started democracy in Athens.  It’s mentioned in Aristotle’s Athenian Constitution.  They never caught the men behind the plot.  The moment I saw it, I knew it was the perfect basis for an historical mystery.  The following two books are also based on real events, and I’ll stick with the format as long as I can.

There’s a fascination with integrating fiction into real events which is hard to describe.  It’s a technical tour-de-force (says Gary modestly) also fraught with danger because you could either (a) make an outright historical error, so much easier the more tightly you interweave, or (b) get so caught up in the technical history that you forget to write a fun story.  So it’s more dangerous, but also immensely rewarding.   What helps you is that if you’ve chosen wisely, then the period and the real events are inherently fascinating to the readers.  At least, that’s my experience as a reader.

The basic rules:
  • Don't break history.

  • If it doesn't break history, then anything goes.  Pick whatever is most dramatic for your story.  This is the essential difference between history and historical fiction.  Historians have to go with whatever's most probable.  Novelists go with whatever's most exciting, no matter how unlikely.

  • Mores, customs and societies might change, but people never do.

  • Let the times, the society and the people speak for themselves.  Never, never, never coerce your own modern views on the past.  (Easier said than done!)

I don’t know that any of the three integrating choices is better than the others when it comes to writing a good story that people want to read, but I’ll tell you that going the whole hog for setting + real people + real events calls for a lot of reading.  Huge amounts of reading.  Vast amounts of reading.

This isn’t necessarily a negative if you like reading!

Status report: Gary’s a busy boy

When I gave up real work to spend all my time writing, lots of people asked me if this was a good idea, because the temptation to slack off at home while no one’s watching would be overpowering.  (The implication is people only work when in an office because the boss is watching…)

There’s no way I’d give up what I’m doing for anything, but as a community service warning to anyone who thinks writing is the easy lifestyle option, here’s the reality: In terms of hours spent at it, I am “working” (if you can call something as much fun as writing work) at least 30% harder than I ever have before.  And that’s from someone who used to work at Microsoft.  Far from slacking off at home, the waiting laptop and the knowledge that there’s always a book due and huge amounts of ancillary stuff sucks me into the office every spare moment.

There’s work going on with three books simultaneously.

Everything’s on track for the first book’s release in October.  We’ve designed bookmarks for promotion, and they actually look rather cool.  I still need to design postcards to send out to places likely to place lots of orders, such as libraries (I know a few libraries have already ordered it!).  I’m feeling guilty about the postcards because I could have done them weeks ago and I still haven’t done it.  Naughty Gary.  Now that I’ve posted about it here, I have no choice but to get it done.  Once they’re designed I need to arrange for printing.  I’ll be at Bouchercon (a mystery fan conference) this year, and straight after I’ll do a book tour.  The tour events still need to be booked.  Once booked, flights and accommodation have to be booked.  The schedule needs to be physically possible.  Luckily for me the Goddess of Punctuation is also a talented amateur travel agent.  The flap copy remains to be written (that’s the book description you read on the back cover).  I told Editor Kathleen I’d write a first pass for her to turn into something proper.  It’s drafted but I’m not happy with it (yet) so I need to rework it.  A big difference between working in an office for someone else and running your own small business (which is what writing is, really), is that it’s not enough to do the job; you have to do the job really well.

I’ll receive the editorial letter for the second book some time in the next two weeks.  The editorial letter is an actual letter written by Editor Kathleen to me, in which she strives to tell me what a great book I’ve written while at the same time telling me how it could be better.  Actually, Kathleen’s extremely good at this.  As soon as that letter arrives, I drop everything else (see above and below) and I work on book 2.  I have about 4 weeks to fix everything.  I only get one shot at fixing, there’s no such thing as two editorial passes.  (The book will still come back to me later for copyedits and final review, but by that time the text is supposed to be locked in and we’re only correcting errors.)

I’m really looking forward to flying down to Melbourne for the day to say hello to Editor Belinda and meet the gang at Penguin HQ.  I still haven’t done it despite my best intentions.  Naughty Gary.  I’ll get there real soon now. 

Editor Kathleen is sure to ask for an author note for the second book.  So I started writing it.  The first draft peaked at 30 pages, which is a trifle over the top.  I currently have it edited back to 21 and it needs to shrink even more.  For comparison, the author note in the first book was 8 pages.  The problem is, there’s so much real history entwined into the plot and I want to call it out in the note.  Clearly I need a lot more discipline. 

I’m onto the second draft of book 3.  I called time on the first draft at 78K, which is too short, but 70% of the draft is pure dialogue, and books normally come with other bits, such as for example description and action.  By the time I’ve filled in the missing bits we’ll be at my normal length.  So far every book I’ve done has been a different process.  The first I wrote too much and then did lots of cutting.  The second I wrote to exact length and then did a lot of rewrites.  With the third I’ve written under and will approach my target from below.  Maybe eventually I’ll end up with a consistent process.