Writing, writing, writing

Posted on August 23, 2008 (Subscribe to Blog)

I recently dusted off my old novel, Island of Fog, which I started way back in 2002. I wrote the first eight chapters fairly quickly, but then went into development hell and ended up revising everything I'd written. Then I wrote a few more chapters, and promptly went into development hell again. I completely re-arranged everything. Finally my ducks were in a row and I was able to advance to the next few chapters. By this time I had reached chapter twelve, and ideas/excerpts for several more chapters were taking shape.

Then, towards the end of 2006, I had to put my novel away and concentrate on working and being a father to my new little baby while my wife went back to school. I vowed to return to Island of Fog as soon as Lily started school.

She's now four and at Pre-K, and my novel has been calling me. "Keeiiiitthhh," it's been whispering in my dreams. "Open me up. Dust me off. Finish meeeeeeeee." So, in this last month I've written quite a bit – something like 21,000 new words in addition to numerous read-throughs and further edits to older chapters. I'm now on Chapter 18, about 68,000 words in total so far. I plan to finish somewhere around Chapter 23+- depending on how things go, so I guess it'll be around 90,000 words when it's done.

On a few occasions I've been able to start and end a chapter in one session, which makes me very happy! It makes me feel very good about myself, and I can go and have another beer in celebration. When I don't make it through a whole chapter, I have another beer as a boost to my confidence. Oddly, when I don't get ANY writing done, I have another beer to drown my sorrows. So beer is a big factor in all this, no matter what. Still, beer tastes better with a little smile on my face than a grumpy frown.

I'm finding my characters easy to re-acquaint with. I know them very well by now, but I don't know everything about them yet. There are eight kids, all the exact same age, and each an only child. They were born and raised on this foggy island, and have never seen a blue sky, nor been Out There to the world that their parents abandoned. One of the kids, Abigail, is convinced they're all part of some experiment, and before long Hal and Robbie get the idea to build a raft and escape the island (see this website's masthead). It's risky though. The mainland is not too far away... but it's supposed to be a dead place now, and besides, there's talk of a hideous sea monster hanging about in the water surrounding the island. Is there really, or is this just a story? Meanwhile, Hal develops a strange itchy rash on his arm that comes and goes at random times, and it becomes apparent that this rash is the beginning of Much Bigger Issues...

I know about 95% of the story, but there are some details I haven't worked out yet. This is almost a case of watching it all unfold, as good old Enid Blyton did... but not quite. Like Blyton I tend to write and write with a vague sense of direction, but unlike Blyton I tend to stop and think, "Er, now what?" Don't get me wrong – the path ahead is still clear. It's just that's there's a chasm I have to cross first. That's when I walk away, go and pick Lily up from school, clean up the kitchen, hack a few weeds, tidy out the van... Finally, inspiration hits and I get back to my writing. (I hasten to add that picking up Lily from school is something I would do anyway, regardless of how my book is going!)

Even when I finally write the last word of the last chapter, I have a lot of editing ahead of me. There are endless ways to refine sentences, change passive to active, and so on. I write fairly easily, kind of editing as I go, thinking things through and trying to tighten up my wording... but no matter how careful I am, I still find more to edit when I go over it again. Some writers are methodical about their edits; I heard about one who said he runs through the entire book exactly eight times, looking for a set list of different things with each pass. That sounds too regulated to me. And eight times? I think I've read my stuff a billion times by now, and it's still not write.

(Sorry, I meant right. Believe it or not, that's the kind of error I find from time to time, even after several read-throughs. *Sigh*)

Comment by LIZ FILLEUL on Sunday, August 24, 2008...

It sounds excellent, and I really think you should approach an agent or publisher rather than going down the self-publishing route. I know self-publishing guarantees that the book will be published and published now rather than at some dim and distant point in the future and just possibly maybe, but ... I still think the traditional way is best, partly because they have people who can help you get it into shape and partly because — hey, they'll put the money in to publish it, distribute it, etc.

Have you thought of trying somewhere like Fidra Books? They republish old adventure books by Elinor Lyon and others, but I know Vanessa is happy to read new books with a view to publishing, and it sounds like yours might not be out of place on her list.

Good on you for getting on with the writing, though. I have been very slack of late, largely thanks to my preference for watching people running, jumping, somersaulting and throwing things. But I've just started a rewrite of the second book in my school-story series that's being published by Bettany Press, and I've also been working on ideas for a book aimed at the Australian kids' market.


Comment by HARRY on Sunday, August 24, 2008...

Hi Keith, your novel sounds extremely good. Good luck on publishing. Of my opinion on the self v/s traditional publishing matter, I agree with Liz Filleul. Traditional publishing is way better.

Good luck on finishing.

Comment by NIGEL on Monday, August 25, 2008...

Good for you, Keith. You're doing what I have only talked about. I look forward to reading it!

Comment by JULIE @ OWLSDENE on Wednesday, August 27, 2008...

Well done Keith. It seems to be going along well. Once you've finished your book, will be the greatest feeling I'm sure. Good luck with which ever road to publishing you choose.

Comment by MIMSY KIRANA on Thursday, August 28, 2008...


I knew exactly what you meant when you wrote that you have to cross a chasm first before you continued your writing. I like reading so much and I continued to go to the local bookshop and library regularly until my playmate and classmate and all-the-time mate asked me, "You keep reading books from other people. When are you going to read a book by your hands?"

The question left me thinking for days and days. Then, I got up with a pure intention of yielding a storybook. I drew the plots and created the characters. I was at the quarter of the start when suddenly, all the ideas in my head just before I got hold of my laptop disappeared in the thin air. All of a sudden, I got a new idea, a whole new fresh idea of a teen book. I was in the middle of it when the same thing happened again. I lost all my ideas and I just stopped there.

I made a lot of ideas and yet, I created so little of it. When I was older, I tried to complete all my trials and I am attempting to finish my first idea of a teenager book about Sylvie Emerson Enright. I do hope that I can complete this book and what pleased me so much is I am already going further in the book.

So, I can completely understand your cross-the-chasm-first thing. Well, in my point of view, you already have your story in your hand. You just made up your mind on yielding your book and perhaps you can follow the advice of Miss Filleul. She has her point and I do think that self-publishing route is harder. Experience is the best teacher, as the saying goes.

I have not written in a long time because of my endless homework and examinations what with my sports training. So, I hope that this piece of comment might worth all the neglect. Plus, I see a lot of difference which I am just too happy to see. After all, it's a long duration of time. Plus, I got to see many new names with new-and-fresh comments. Well, that's for now. See you later.

Love and cheers,
Mimsy Kirana

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Thursday, August 28, 2008...

Thanks, all, for your comments!

Liz, I hadn't realized you were published already! Please tell all. You can either email me, or post it here — plug away, don't be shy! I looked at Fidra Books (I've heard of them before) and I have considered that kind of thing, and it's always an option. I'd rather work with a local agent if possible; there's nothing like sitting down and talking face to face. I know a local author/publisher who is my first stop if I can ever pin him down — he's always busy! — but even if he can't help directly, he might be able to point me in the right direction.

As my new post points out, I'm like a pendulum when it comes to choosing between traditional and self-publishing (via POD). Obviously there's no real comparison — to be published with a big name is clearly the best thing. IF the manuscript is accepted! But there are many other considerations too, including promotion. How much promotion did Bettany Press do for you?

Thanks also, Harry, Nigel, Julie and Mimsy, for your kinds words and encouragement. :-)

Comment by LIZ FILLEUL on Friday, August 29, 2008...

I've had a few things published. Last year Bettany Press (a small-press publisher in the UK) published To All Appearance, Dead, a whodunit set in the world of girls' school-story collecting. This year, they're publishing First Term at Cotterford, a contemporary girls' boarding school novel. I've had true-crime stories published in a couple of anthologies put out by Five Mile Press here in Australia. And last year Mira (a branch of Harlequin) published an anthology of award-winning stories from Australia's annual Scarlet Stiletto Awards for short crime fiction by women — I had a story in there, because I won the main award in 2004. I currently have an Australian small-press publisher looking at doing an Australian edition of To All Appearance, Dead, so fingers crossed for that to work out. I'm also working on ideas for a couple of things that hopefully Five Mile Press will publish down the track — fingers crossed for that, too.

I try very hard to match what I write to a publisher I think will be interested in it. With To All Appearance, Dead, the main market was obviously going to be collectors of girls' school stories, so I approached Bettany Press, who republish old books in that genre. Girls Gone By and Fidra Books do the same thing, but I approached BP because their list included other books that were a bit 'different', and I thought they might be more likely to go out on a limb with my book. The book was launched at a conference for book collectors in the UK (I attended it, because the timing coincided with my visit to the UK to visit my mom) and I read out passages from it and signed copies. A media release was sent out, but didn't attract any attention, which was a shame, but there it is. Bettany Press is a tiny publisher and can't compete with the big publishers in that way.

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