In another life, André Deutsch took an interest in a manuscript of mine, an overwritten historical epic called On The Breakwater. Ultimately, nothing came of it - I had no agent to fight my corner, nor to pull me up on some of that youthful excess. Publishing moved on without me.
In 2020 I took my first, tentative steps into the world of querying for nearly a quarter of a century. I considered easing the tension by blogging about it; but others have done that with far better insights and much more interesting stories to share. Added to which, of course, these are very early days in the process, I don't want to say too much, and when did writing about anything really ease any tension for more than the time it takes to re-read it to yourself?
Instead I thought I'd talk about a personal quirk that is tangentially related to the querying process. It's an example of a self-imposed, possibly self-damaging restriction that might just mean something to someone else - especially an unpublished someone who has set themselves the task of writing a series of books. Maybe there's even someone out there who can stage an intervention and save me from myself...
So here it is. I too have moved on from On The Breakwater and the other sub-Wilbur Smith effort based on the exploits and unexplained disappearance of my German Military Settler great-great-grandfather, the unfinished Waiting For The Dawn. In recent years I've been developing the potential series of post-WWII spy/action thrillers that I've banged on about elsewhere on this site. As an aside, I've also worked on a collection of short stories loosely based around a common theme, which I told FlashBack Fiction about here. And I had the brilliant idea of putting an extra story in the back of the (as yet unfinished as well as unpublished) collection that would both stand alone and function as a 'missing' chapter of the (at the time unwritten as well as unpublished) Book 2 in the Chasing Mercury series. That way, anyone reading the stories would be pointed towards the novels - and anyone reading the novels and then the stories would discover this Easter egg that filled in a bit of the narrative (is honestly what I thought).
With me so far? Now, 2020 comes around, lockdown comes around, and I find the time and nerve to start sending out those first few queries for the newly-finished Book 1, The Borodino Sacrifice. And suddenly, for the time being at least, it really is finished, there's no sense fiddling with it any more while the sample chapters are (in theory at least) being read, and given that I told the agents it was the first in a potential series, wouldn't my time be better spent pulling together those ideas for Book 2...?
The Herrenhaus Forfeit is born (you heard it here first). Which is all fine and dandy - except now I find myself having to work around set-in-stone plot points from Book 1 as though it had been published, even though it hasn't. OK, OK, that's a fun challenge and surely all part and parcel of this series-writing malarkey. But what about the short story (which was also a genre-crossing detective story, by the way)? That introduced some important plot points for Book 2 before Book 2 was even written. But it's only a throwaway Easter egg in an UNPUBLISHED collection, so surely I can retcon what it says...? Nope. That would be cheating.
What I can't work out is whether this is useful self-discipline, honed over decades of commercial trade-offs, that will help me press on and get Book 2 functioning in a fraction of the time that Book 1 took...
...or completely effing bonkers.
I've been writing for as long as I can remember (I think my first letter was a P). I got a degree writing about other people's writing and ever since then I've earned a living writing commercially, one way or another. But I never stopped writing and refining my own stuff. I just didn't do anything with it, until now.