Well it’s almost time to hand up the finished manuscript to the publishers.  I’ve just got one last push to do, should be an easy chapter but I’m totally stalled.  It’s probably got a lot to do with the fact that I’m so close to the end, that it’s finally in sight and I’ll get my life back.  I’ve always found endings the hardest to do!

Writing this book has been so different from writing fiction.  When I’m drafting fiction it flows, I can sit down for hours at a time and just hammer out the action as it unfolds in my mind.  That’s something  you can’t really do with this kind of book.  The action has to unfold the way it did in reality, I have to make sure I’m not putting thoughts into peoples heads, motives they never admitted to.  It makes free flowing writing somewhat difficult.

I’ve been saying since quite early on in the project that I only intend to do this once.   No one believes me but I’m dead serious.  The more time I spend with this the more sure I am that this is not the way I want to work in future.  There’s no space for editing, the only thing I have time to do is a hasty spell check before sending so the gradual revealing of something better than you started with is simply not going to happen with this one and I’m stuck with the text as it flowed out of my somewhat muddled mind.

OK so as a journalist that’s pretty much how I write normally but it’s depressing when you realise this is the one that will end up on the shelves, on Amazon, in Libraries.  It’ll be no different from all the other books that were written under the same conditions but I had hoped it would be something more.

As I get it ready to send in I’m just all the more sure that this is not the best I could have written.  It hangs together, it tells the story but its not exactly a masterpiece.  As I say, these books never are, the true crime genre is not exactly where you find great works of literature, but I hadn’t realised how much I wanted it to be something special.

Still, I’ve got to make that final push.  Finish the draft and let go of it far sooner than I’d like.  In the end it’ll sink or swim on things other than it’s own merits.  Marketing plays such a huge part these days and my publishers are pretty good at that end of things.  The problem is whenever I get near the end of a project I start looking forward to what’s coming next and that doesn’t make it the easiest thing to focus on finishing the task in hand.  I should stop navel gazing and finish the bloody thing!

Once it’s gone I’ll have to button down and start building on it.  It’s only the first step on the ladder after all.  Going to have to start a blog under my own name and see about establishing a presence out there in the blogosphere.  But at the moment that just all feels like more work.

I’ve been working flat out since April and I’m tired.  There’s a holiday looming at the end of next week although I’ll have to bring the laptop with me.  Ah well, this isn’t getting it written…back into the breach it is so!

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Finally after a week in the sticks I’m back home and struggling to get the book finished by the deadline.  For the first time it actually feels doable – OK there’s still a serous mountain to climb (the deadline is next Friday unless I can get a bit of an extension).

Why I ever said I would write a book in six weeks I don’t know but at least in future I’ll have a better idea of what is lunacy and what’s not.  It’s going to be an insane few days but I can’t complain.  After all, this is what I’ve always worked towards.

It’s been a bit mad since I got back.  I’ve been writing between three and five thousand words a day after a very effective fire was lit under me by the publisher.  Apparently one of the tabloids is interested in serialising the book which will mean massive publicity and quite a few guaranteed sales.  I’ve also had another publisher approach me with some ideas they’d like me to consider for other books.  After so many years trying to get published all this attention is immensely gratifying but scary as hell.

I know I earn my living by writing but for something like this I want to be at the top of my game.  I want to build on this and not waste a second.  Some of the ideas the second publisher had are really interesting and more what I’d like to write (something more in depth and less rushed with a lot more clear cut legal situation). I need to check out whether I can write for a different publisher so quickly.  My contract is only a single book deal but there is an option on the follow up…this is why I need an agent!

The week’s research was in turns blindingly frustrating and highly rewarding.  Problem is with the kind of subject matter I’m writing it’s difficult to get people to talk and as for getting the candid photos the publishers were looking for – not a chance!  It did give me a feel for the location though – even though I’m not writing anything like In Cold Blood here you can’t beat a bit of description to set the scene.

I’m missing my fiction though.  Can’t wait to get back to it whenever I have the chance.  With any luck the route I’m taking now will open some doors in that direction as well and in the next few years I’ll be able to move in that direction.  That’s the plan anyway.

I’d better get another few hundred words written before I knock off though.  Can’t rest for long!

Well I’m on the research trip, finally.  Three days in and I have found out enough to make maybe two or three hundred words of book.  I’m beginning to wonder why I came down.  There are limits to the charms of hotel rooms when you know you should be out trying to get clannish locals to refuse to tell you anything in yet another colourfully country way.

This is way outside my comfort zone.  In the day job I’m used to going places where the press are expected and there’s a gang of us.  Where the only proviso is that you get the facts presented to you in the right order as quickly as possible.  Actually planting myself in a small market town in Ireland and expecting people to open up as if I was their long lost relative…let’s just say I don’t think I thought this through sufficiently.

Of course, the fact that it’s been raining since I got here to almost biblical proportions isn’t helping the mood.  I’m used to sitting in a corner and observing.  There’s a reason why I don’t do the tabloid investigative stuff.  Strange though it may seem I don’t get a kick out of getting doors slammed in my face.

I’m very conscious of the fact that I’m not the only one writing a book on this subject and I’m painfully aware that my nemesis is holed up somewhere near here having done all her research all ready and tap, tap, tapping away at the keyboards while I trudge the streets, get doors slammed in my face and somehow don’t have time to work.  I’m going to have to extend my stay and that’s even more time away from my desk and days when I can happily spend 15 hours staring at the screen. 

I prefer researching records or weaselling things out of the Net, at least then when you’re waiting for a reply you can just type on regardless.  At the moment I am spending hours upon hours trudging around in circles on the same rain soaked streets. 

Why did I say I would write this bloody thing?  Give me fiction any day where an excursion like this would be an oasis of tranquility that would actually help the creative process while I spent my days scribbling away in coffee shops before holing myself up in my room to type for hours only venturing down for a bit to eat or a late night drink in the bar.  You see I’ve been wanting to do this for so long I have a romanticised notion of what the single (for practical purposes anyway) female writer gets up to on a research trip.

Getting drenched several times a day while I walk round in circles trying to find the next bogus lead was not the way it was supposed to go!  Anyone I’ve spoken to has travelled to places like this to get material for a couple of thousand words at most.  I’m looking for inspiration for around twenty thousand.

Trouble is at the moment, I can’t the hard bitten hack because I’m not really here as a journalist; I can’t to the windswept and interesting bohemian writer because to all practical purposes I’m one step short of being a writer (not with this much digging anyway).  I can’t sit back and wait because I know I’ve not got long but I can’t go in guns blazing because I don’t want to alienate people who I need to pour out their hearts to me.

At this stage I would be content to turn it all into an ass kicking feature, but that’s not really an option.  I’ve over thirty thousand words to write in a fortnight and I need to get people to talk to me somehow.  The sun’s come out for a couple of minutes and it’s faking a summer’s day out there. I’d better go back to the trudging and rejection…

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Well next week I’m finally getting the opportunity to travel to where the events I’m writing about took place.  On Tuesday I get to go and get the “feel” of my characters and hopefully the creative fires will be stoked and I’ll go into over drive.  Which absolutely needs to happen if I’m going to hit my deadline of the end of the month.

Things are finally beginning to fall into place as far as the research goes thank god but I’m spending way too much time on the phone and scouring the Internet.  I only agreed to the deadline because I thought I had all the information I needed but the more I check the facts the more problems I find with the prosecution case we were presented with.

So far they’re not major, nothing that would indicate a major travesty of justice but there are two things in particular that are serious enough to be worrying and which need some serious checking out.  This means the research is taking off in directions that the gardai and DPP obviously never went in so it’s taking me away from the stuff I already have and making some of it unusable. 

OK, if I get everything sorted it’s going to make a great book and will do a lot for it’s sales outside Ireland but it sure makes for a pressurised month.  I’m hoping that the trip down the country will bolster up the Irish side of the story.  I know I shouldn’t refer to my protagonists as characters but at this stage I’ve been plodding around their heads so long I feel as if I’ve written them…will have to keep a grip on that when I’m talking to friends and relatives!

Working on something this intensively is a new experience.  When I’ve written fiction in the past it’s been at a far more leisurely pace and I wouldn’t have pressured myself to such a high word count each day knowing that quality was the most important thing.  Now I have to keep an eye on quality and quantity and get the thing knocked out in superhuman speed.  Then there are the times when every day life tugs insistently at your elbow. 

This week I’ve been constantly distracted by practicalities in between the curve balls thrown up by the research.  I have to do a tv interview on Tuesday (on another trial I covered – the price of working in a tiny specialty in a small industry) and have discovered that my trip to the country needs to be moved up to Tuesday if I’m going to get the access to the guards I need.

So I’ve been making hotel reservations on the Internet.  Luckily the husband, who isn’t inflicted with the out of sight mentality that creeps in when I’m working so hard, reminded me to ring the hotel to check the booking had actually gone through and it hasn’t to that’s a snotty phone call that needs to be made on Monday.

I’ve just spent the past hour (hence the fact I’m blogging at all, it was either this or start throwing things) trying to find out the position for using song lyrics in my book.  There’s only one song I need but it’s crucial.  I need three, maybe four verses and a chorus.  This is the problem with going with a cut throat publishers.  It’s up to me to do all the boring bits – one of the reasons for my trip to the country is to try and get photographs for the book.  Consequently copy right is also down to me.  I checked the contract recently.  At least the don’t want me to handle the printing as well!

I’m getting to the stage that I need to hole up in a room and write 24 hours a day to hit the deadline so all these things are becoming major irritations.  It’ll be worth all the panic when the book is on the shelves and I guess it’s all part of the experience but there has to be a slightly less stressful way to do this. 

Well at least when I’ve got the hotel sorted out and I’ve caught the train I will have three whole days with nothing else to focus on.  I can understand why writers book into a hotel for the last six weeks before a book is due in.  Maybe next time!

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I’m probably just tired.  In fact I’m sure that’s the problem.  Having a horrendously tight deadlines isn’t helping either.  And the fact that the further into this I get the more I realise how many holes there are for the book I want to write and how little time there is to do the research I need to do.

Undertaking to turn around a book in six weeks (in reality a very short month) then needing to talk to people to fill in gaps during the month when the entire country has buggered off on holiday probably wasn’t the best idea anyway.

But I’ve committed to it now so I don’t have much choice.  It’s a horrible feeling though, having worked so hard to get a publisher and wanting to be a writer for most of my life, when you realise that the first book with my name on it is going to be a rushed piece of trash churned out to satisfy the ghoulish curiosity of the general population.  I know I shouldn’t be bothering to do any kind of analysis, there just isn’t time but I don’t know how to do it any other way.

I’m also trying to write this as best I can, I don’t want to produce something better pulped but in order to reach the word count the publisher’s have set I’m going to have to slip in so much filler that purple prose is going to be a distinct possibility.  I always knew I wasn’t writing In Cold Blood but I never realised how tough it would be to stretch my rather succinct style of prose into something that’ll suit the market.

I keep telling myself that when this is done I’ll start work on something I can really value but this is the thing I’m working on now and I want to produce something I can at least not be ashamed of. 

The problem is that in order to reach my quota I need to write at least two and a half thousand words a day, that’s about a thousand more than I’d usually write for fiction.  I know there are writer’s who can do that but I find it excruciatingly difficult when every fact has to be checked against hundreds of pages of notes.  Knowing that every one of my colleagues is going to at least flick through anything I publish doesn’t help – I’ve heard how they talk about the ones already in print.

I know I should be writing now but it’s just not working today.  I knew it was never going to be easy but I never expected it to be this hard.  Today every word feels like it’s been torn out of me and I just feel heart sick that it’s such a rush.  This wasn’t how I expected working on my first published book to be.  I know, I know, I’ve got a publisher, this book will be in print. I shouldn’t be moaning but it’s hard not to when you care about what you do this desperately. 

I probably should have refused to agree on a deadline that didn’t include at least a couple of days off after the term we’ve had.  I’ve been working without a day off for roughly the past two months and I’m shattered.  I’m neck deep in the book at this stage as well so I’m dreaming about it as I do with any intense project.  Doesn’t make for a good night’s sleep though.

Did I make a mistake agreeing to do this book?  Is it going to do me more harm than good if I can’t write the book I want to?  Am I so far up my own arse that there’s no hope left for me?

This is being a very bad day.

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The countdown has started.  It’s official – I have a deadline and 70 to 80 thousand words to produce before it hits.  I am going to be spending the next month chained to my laptop, when I’m not rooting round small towns trying to get people to pour out their secrets about the subjects of the book.

Now I’m faced with the actual reality of having this mountain of words to write I’m suddenly starting to wonder what the hell I blithely signed my name to.  How in the name of everything that’s anything have I agreed to write 70 thousand words on a news story…a news story that I was used to writing copy on in the hundreds of words, not the thousands. 

I keep telling myself I’ve already written nearly 20 thousand words but the problem is that is over four chapters.  If I keep writing this amount I’ll end up with a book that’s only 35 thousand words long – that’s barely a novelette!

How the hell to you expand on facts.  I’m so used to writing this subject matter succinctly – it’s not like writing fiction where if something is flowing too quickly you can add in a scene or two.  I can’t put words into my characters’ mouths and I’m not a Victorian novelist, whole chapters of description just don’t do it for me.

Oh what did I say yes to? 

OK.  Focus!  I’ve made a commitment and if I don’t write enough in the time I’ve been given I’ll have to hand back the advance and I’m damned if I’m going to do that (it’s only little!)  I’m probably just kicking my heels because it’s a bank holiday and all my neighbours are having noisy and fun sounding barbeques while I’m sat here listening to mp3s and trying to keep a grip on my sanity. 

It probably doesn’t help that I’ve been sitting here all morning trying to get into the “Zone” and chugging back mug after mug of coffee.  Note to self, coffee does not help with the writing of many sentences and nice flowing descriptions.

This isn’t getting anything done either.  Ok, rant over.  Back to work….

I sent of my signed contract today…and now I’m sitting at the laptop trying desperately to focus on the task ahead. Of course, as soon as I’ve decided to sign the (pretty shitty from an author’s point of view) contract I get an approach from another publisher. 

That email is sitting accusingly in my inbox while I try and work out how to say thanks but no thanks.  It’s an extraordinary situation to find myself in.  I’ve spent the past two years flogging the novel about and now suddenly they’re fighting over me to write some easy (theoretically if I can get over this blank page bug bear) pulp.

Never thought I’d end up writing true crime but it’s a means to an end.  The publisher I’ve gone with are legends within the industry here for being aggressive and trampling over the rights of authors.  I’m well aware that the contract I’ve just signed is a pretty bum deal and the Irish Writers’ Union would be ashamed on me but I think I know what I’m doing.

You see I know there is at least one other writer doing a book on this subject.  That means there’s competition before I’ve even written a word.  The publishers I’ve gone with have been in this situation before and have won far more often than they’ve lost.

I’m not writing this book as a money making exercise, I’m writing it to get my foot in the door.  The way I figure it I’d rather get screwed financially and get publicity that can maybe get me an agent or a deal for the kind of books I want to write.  I’m in this for the long haul.

I’m actually amazed in all of this just how ruthless I’m prepared to be.  Maybe it’s knowing who the competition is (bit difficult not to in this tiny industry populated almost entirely with gossips) but I know what I need to do.

If that requires me to metaphorically make a deal with the devil then so be it.  I know I’m too straight and too damned nice to be as pushy as I need to be…so signing up with a publisher who doesn’t have the same scruples is worth the money I’m not going to earn.

I’ve worked towards this for a long time and I’m damned if I’m going to mess things up now.  It’s scary knowing I’ve got a deadline looming but I’m just going to have to knuckle down. Here I go…