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My summer’s work

Now that I’ve reached the end of the first draft of ‘Pitkirtly X’ I think it’s time to reveal the actual title, which I must confess I have had in mind since before I started writing it. I’ve thrown together a cover to go with it, and now all that remains is for me to knock the book into its final shape. [Just imagine the sound of heralds’ trumpets here before reading on – or maybe even a whole trumpet voluntary if you want. Stanley’s voluntary is my favourite – we once wrote a song to go with it for one of our shows… ‘Hail to the King / And long live Princess Starlight of Askedal’.]

Closer to Death in a Garden

Closer to Death in a Garden

You’ll notice this is the 10th novel in the series. I will be using that as the excuse for a celebration of some kind – definitely online, maybe even in real life too – when the book is finally ready for publication.

If anyone wants to quibble about the title, yes, it is a misquote, and the fact that it’s a misquote is mentioned in the book. Anything else? Well, I can also exclusively reveal that the last line has something to do with fairy cakes – the newfangled term cup-cakes hasn’t yet reached Pitkirtly, naturally.

Keep the clarinets and ice-cream in mind too – I will be returning to them soon.

Thanks to everyone who has so far downloaded a copy of ‘Death in a Cold Spring’ – I am pleased to say it has two very nice five star reviews already. Unfortunately our real spring here is still a bit on the cold side, and the cats and I were sitting in the conservatory on Friday with hailstones battering on the roof and thunder not far away. Saturday was much nicer so I ventured out to Gardening Scotland. Although I like gardens anyway, and could do with spending a bit more time in mine, there was also a hidden purpose in this trip which will be revealed in due course!

Cat and dogs at Gardening Scotland

Cat and dogs at Gardening Scotland

The dogs pictured here were part of a ‘war dogs’ garden which caught my eye – it was a tribute to dogs which have been involved in war over the years.

In June I plan to write the 4th in my Edwardian Adventure series of shorter things. I’ve now realised that the 3rd and 4th of these are not technically set in Edwardian times, but people do seem to regard the time from 1900 to 1914 as more or less Edwardian so maybe I will get away with this, although as a history graduate I keep wanting to correct myself. Originally the title for the 4th one was ‘Adventure at the Zoological Gardens’ but I’ve had to change ‘Gardens’ to ‘Park’ because I’ve been reading a book about the history of Edinburgh Zoo, which opened in 1913, and the man who was instrumental in founding it insisted on it being called a Zoological Park. I already have the 3rd in the series ready but it isn’t yet published as I wanted to put the two stories together for better value.

Assuming I can get the Zoo story finished in June, I plan to make a start on ‘Pitkirtly X’ in July. I already have a title for it but that’s a secret for the moment. I’m pleased to have something else to write in between the two Pitkirtlies, a bit like having a sorbet to cleanse your palate in between courses in a posh meal – although what I know about posh meals could be written on the back of a stamp and is completely gleaned from fictitious meals and not from real ones!

While I’ve been frittering my time away, I am very proud to say that my son Alex Perry and his film-making group of friends (which actually includes my other son and his fiancée as well) have just won a ‘best film’ award from the Edinburgh 48 hour film project along with other awards including ‘best writing’ and ‘audience award’. I think some people reading this blog would probably enjoy their short film with an unseasonal Christmas theme, available here: https://youtu.be/9QCn3GaeIuo

Final frontier

Today I made a start on what I hope are the final edits for ‘Death in a Cold Spring’. This is the stage at which I will be really cross if I find a huge plot hole! But of course there is still time to fix it as I have no actual schedule for publication (as ever) and I’m only being driven on by the clamour from readers (!) and my self-imposed tasks of writing another almost-Edwardian novella in June and then starting on ‘Pitkirtly X’ in July so that I can free up some time later on to write something more difficult in November. Don’t ask me why I should use one of the more difficult months of the year to write something difficult. It’s a mystery to me too.

Final edits

A tantalising glimpse of ‘Death in a Cold Spring’ with my trademark elephant and post-its.

It’s a lovely day here and I think I might manage to get right through the edits in one go if only I could sit here in the conservatory or even in the garden if it doesn’t rain, and get on with them, but unfortunately I’ve taken the day off work not to do this but to go to some local meetings. This is probably a good thing on balance, as there is nothing that makes me want to spend the time writing more than the need to do something completely different. Equally, if I plan to spend all day writing I will occasionally – not always – get a sudden urge to go round with the vacuum cleaner, or go shopping, or do the washing-up. Or (more likely) binge-read on my Kindle.

Alex Perry (‘son of Cecilia’) has just published his first novel, ‘The War of Undoing’*. Although this is a massive fantasy novel and completely different from anything of mine and so in some ways it doesn’t fit into my blog very well, I thought I would write something about what it’s like to have two writers living in the same house, and that led me to the idea of interviewing him properly.

King Neptune

King Neptune

Personally I feel very lucky to have someone else in my family who also writes novels. This is not entirely because I’m hoping at some point Alex will publish an international bestseller and keep me in luxury in my old age, or because we can talk about grammar and character development without boring each other’s socks off. It’s mainly because he doesn’t give me the look that sometimes passes over people’s faces when I tell them I write novels. The look is a sort of mingled incomprehension and panic. I think the panic is in case I try and get them to read something I’ve written and they have to confess they didn’t like it. Not everyone has that look, I hasten to add – one of my friends ‘secretly’ reads all my novels and suddenly said to me only the other day ‘If you keep writing them, I’ll keep reading them’.

Anyway, on with the questions and answers. There is a little treat – or at least, I hope it’s a treat – at the end, so keep reading if you’ve got this far.

Cecilia Peartree: What made you want to be a writer?

Alex Perry:  I can’t remember, but I know what makes me want to keep being a writer: it’s an escape from all the worry and uncertainty of real life. When my brain is boiling, writing cools it down. I also like the idea of connecting with strangers who share some unspoken sensibility with me. Plus I don’t have many practical or social skills, so at this point writing may be my best hope at a career!

 CP: When did you start writing?

AP: I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I don’t know what the first thing I wrote was, but I think my first full book was The Thinking Tunnel, a shameless rip-off of Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree series, which I loved. Then I wrote The Red Water World Mystery, a meandering fantasy starring a boy called Alex, then Super Bubble Mix, an even more meandering Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy rip-off. After that — when I was about eleven or twelve, I think — I started writing a bunch of beginnings for epic fantasy novels, one of which eventually mutated and grew into The War of Undoing.

CPHave you always wanted to write fantasy?

AP: Yes. For one thing, many of my favourite books are fantasy: The Hobbit, Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, Discworld. Almost everything I’ve ever written has some element of fantasy in it. I like it because it allows us both to escape from the real world and to confront it. Somehow these two are not mutually exclusive in fantasy. That’s part of its magic.

CP: Did you ever consider separating ‘The War of Undoing’, which is a very long novel, into more than one book?

AP: I did when I started seriously thinking about publishing it. All the advice I read told me that debut novels should be less than half the length that The War of Undoing was. But by then I’d already written a draft, and there was no good place to split it — the story only seemed to work when told in one piece. So my rebellious streak kicked in, and I decided to ignore the ubiquitous advice. I’m wary of writing advice anyway — I don’t like strangers assuming they know all the problems with what I’ve written without having read it. I suppose I’ll find out for myself if publishing such a long book was a mistake.

 CP: Do you write from an outline or make it up as you go along?

AP: A bit of both. The basic plot for The War of Undoing was born one day when I had the idea for the big thing that happens at the end of part three (I won’t spoil it here). Suddenly a bunch of other elements I’d been playing with for ages fell into place around that, and before I knew it I had a four-page outline. The first draft more or less followed this outline, though I got to know the characters a lot better along the way. Then, at every stage of rewriting, the story changed a little more. Mostly I just wove more story threads in between the ones I already had, until the book felt nicely dense with character and theme.

CP: How much time do you spend every day writing?

AP: That varies wildly. I used to only write when the mood took me, which is why the first draft of The War of Undoing took years. But after university, when I decided to treat writing as a career, I came up with a routine which involved writing for six hours a day (I now split this into three blocks of two hours each). That’s how I got TWOU from an early, messy draft to a finished, slightly less messy novel. But I still have trouble staying productive — I tend to have two or three week bursts where I follow my six hour routine, punctuated by weeks of trying to find the motivation to get back into it.

 CP: What do you do to relax?

AP: I’d say reading, but nowadays there’s always that jealous voice in the back of my head telling me I’ll never write anything as good as this, or, less frequently, that bitter voice telling me I could write something better. So reading isn’t exactly relaxing, although I still love it. I enjoy working on smaller projects like podcasts, songs, silly short videos and so on, but these inevitably become stressful in their own way. The only way I can really relax is to completely tune out of reality for a while — for the past few years I’ve mostly been doing this by watching Let’s Play videos and other nonsense on YouTube, and listening to podcasts about subjects I’m not too personally involved in. I know this is a waste of time, but there’s something incredibly soothing about it, especially once you get to know the voices.

 CP: Is there somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit? Or to live?

AP: In theory I’d like to visit pretty much every country in the world and experience all their cultures — Italy, New Zealand, India and the US spring to mind — but in practice I’m not a great traveller. I tend to get anxious, stressed, travel-sick, sleep-deprived, or, more often than not, all of the above. It is an ambition of mine to get over all this some day and go on a round-the-world trip. But for now I’d probably be happiest living somewhere peaceful and secluded — maybe a cottage in the Scottish highlands.

CP: Do you prefer cats or dogs? Or don’t you like either?

AP: I like both. Dogs want to be everyone’s best friend, which is a nice quality, but a little exhausting after a while. As an introvert I can relate to cats more.

CP: What’s it like when two writers live in the same house?

AP: It’s great! I would feel quite isolated if I didn’t have someone to talk to about the writing process, rogue characters and fiddly grammatical matters. It’s even better that the other writer in this house has already been through the self-publishing process many times and can encourage and advise me about it. And in this case she also pays the bills, so I can’t really complain…

 Now for the treat….

Way before all this Kindle nonsense came along, Alex and I used to write scripts together for a children’s drama group – writing collaboratively was a good but different experience, and writing to a deadline could be a nightmare at times,because we didn’t put a line in the script unless we had both approved it. We re-wrote some of the traditional pantomimes such as ‘Aladdin’ and ‘Snow White’, and Alex also acted in them. At some point we recorded a few of the songs with my older son, and I have set up a short video based on these, with photographs that may or may not be relevant. For instance, as far as I know this is the only place on the internet where you can see me dressed up as a pirate and hear me singing! Or at least I sincerely hope it is. Fortunately Alex is the lead singer in this selection. If you want to have a look / listen you will find it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1hLYjJorG_s

(Please note that the third song seems to have been recorded with the volume a bit lower than the other two)

*The War of Undoing by Alex Perry is available here:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/War-Undoing-Alex-Perry-ebook/dp/B00VTGOKUK

or here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/534042

Find out more about Alex here: http://www.alexperrywriter.co.uk

I’m now happy to report to those who are waiting for ‘Pitkirtly IX’ (no definite title yet) that I’ve now got about 25,000 words of it written, and the story is well under way. As usual it isn’t going exactly as I thought it would, but I like to think that’s how I deliver the twists and surprises every mystery should have. It isn’t long ago that someone said to me at a live event ‘I suppose you have to have everything well planned when you write a murder mystery’ and then reeled back in horror when I confessed that actually in some cases I didn’t know who the villain was until the second last chapter. In ‘Pitkirtly IX’ it took me a few chapters to work out who the victim would be, never mind the killer!

new covers (1024x909)

Because part of my brain likes to make things difficult for the other part, I always have an irresistible urge to work on something else at the same time as writing, and on this occasion I’ve chosen to re-do all the Pitkirtly covers. So far I’ve finished 3 of them, of which I’ve managed to get round to making the first one, for ‘Crime in the Community’, live. There is something odd about re-doing a cover you once vowed never to change, after it was featured on a ‘lousy book covers’ website. Maybe it’s a sign I’ve grown up at last. Or something. I plan to change them all to this style. People who already have the ebooks will perhaps recognise the photographs, which I have kept the same. Many of them are from my late brother’s collection of photographs, mostly of places in Scotland, and in fact the cover for ‘Reunited in Death’ features the churchyard at Lintrathen where one set of our great-great-grandparents are buried.
Another little project I have just embarked on, in case I didn’t have enough to do, is to try and make paperback versions of the series available on Amazon. This is one of those things I was hoping to have time for once I cut down the hours I work in my day job, and I’m very pleased to say I am now finding I can fit more writing-related tasks into the week, and I’m also happy that they are a lot more fun than managing a database.

This is my contribution to the Work in Progress Blog Tour. You can follow the links to and from my post to find out about what various writers are doing at the moment.

Thanks to David Wailing, author of the ‘Auto’series – an often very scary glimpse of what we might be in for if social media and other technology carries on developing the way it’s going – for nominating me to carry on the tour. Here’s a link to his own post about ‘Auto 2’: http://www.davidwailing.com/2015/02/work-in-progress-blog-tour/

 

These are the rules for participants:

  1. Link back to the post of the person who nominated you.
    2. Write a little about and give the first sentence of the first three chapters of your current work in progress.
    3. Nominate some other writers to do the same.

 

I see David has joked in his post about how much I write, so I don’t think it will come as a surprise when I reveal that I have multiple works in progress just now. In fact this isn’t always the case, because it can be much harder to write more than one thing at the same time. But it has happened this year that for some weeks I couldn’t face even looking at the novel I wrote in November for National Novel Writing Month, so I planned the third novella in my Edwardian series in the mean-time, and then I managed to write the first draft of the novella while the NaNoWriMo novel was away for printing (a proof-reading copy) after some essential edits and the addition of around 12,000 words. It has also happened that I’ve decided, for reasons that are fairly mysterious even to me, that I should probably make a start on the ninth novel in my mystery series in March, so I’ve been mulling over scenarios, titles and plot ideas for that as well as almost making myself late for a meeting by taking a few preliminary notes.

 

Anyway, because the novella is the freshest in my mind as well as being a guilty pleasure because it was such fun to write, I will use that as my ‘work in progress’ for now.

This story is set in Edinburgh in 1911 when dramatic events occurred at the Empire Palace of Varieties – and not just as part of the scheduled stage acts, either. I have chosen to view some of the scenes from the viewpoint of an Italian clarinettist, Antonio.

 

Chapter 1

 

Antonio stared at the woman. She had been watching the rehearsal from a box on the first tier, her sketchbook balanced on the ledge in front of her. From time to time she leaned over the book, apparently drawing in it with a pencil or perhaps a stick of charcoal.

 

Chapter 2

 

‘Could we not get the train instead?’ whined Betsy as they crossed the road at Canonmills and made their way along by the Water of Leith.

‘We’d just have as far to walk to get to the station,’ said Mrs Martin. ‘I don’t know why you’re so tired all the time. When I was your age we used to have to walk everywhere. We didn’t have the money to get the train or the tram. It didn’t do us any harm.’

 

Chapter 3

 

The Great Lafayette was in an even worse mood today. One of the violinists said his dog, Beauty, famously the most pampered canine in Europe, was ill. But at least the rehearsals were over and done with, the show had gone ahead and the audiences had poured into the theatre as usual.

 

 

But that’s more than enough about me for now. I have asked fellow-writers Matthew Drzymala and Anne Stenhouse to continue the tour. Their posts about works in progress will be available any day now if you follow the links below.

Matthew is the writer of the Bumpkinton series of stories set in a quintessentially English village. I think if you like the Pitkirtly Mysteries you will be interested in his work too. Here’s a link to Matthew’s blog: http://matthewdrzymala.com/

Anne is a writer of historical novels including ‘Bella’s Betrothal’, set in Edinburgh in the 18th century. I’ve very much enjoyed reading these, and I look forward to finding out what she’s working on next. Here’s a link to Anne’s blog: http://wp.me/31Isq

This morning I reached almost 7,000 words in ‘Adventure at the Palace of Varieties’. I think I may be nearing the halfway point with the plot as it will probably be about 15,000 words altogether. It has been quite difficult to re-capture the lighter style of the first two ‘Edwardian adventures’ as I know there is a really grim real-life event just about to happen in the story! It will be even worse later on if I take the characters forward into World War One as I am sort of planning to. But (a bit annoyingly as there are at least 2 more things to be written before that) I’ve had an idea for an interesting approach I can take to it.

Backstage tour ticket

Backstage tour ticket

There is quite a lot of information online about the Empire Palace of Varieties because of the grim event I’ve mentioned above, and some people reading this may already have heard of it. I won’t go into detail just now, but apart from doing internet research I often like to visit relevant places as I write. In this case I discovered I could get a ticket for a backstage tour of the Festival Theatre,  which is built on the site occupied by various theatres over the years, dating back I think at least to early or mid Victorian times. One of these theatres was the Empire Palace of Varieties, the setting for my story. Another more recent one was also called the Empire, but it ended its working life as a bingo hall, before the Festival Theatre was built in 1994.

As you will see from the picture, the earliest I can get a ticket for the tour is April, so I am hoping all the people who have bought tickets for February and March are not also researching for similar stories! I will have most of the thing written before then and indeed I hope to be well into ‘Pitkirtly IX’ at that point, but there will undoubtedly be some gaps I can fill in after the tour.

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