I’ve just been on the mammoth journey from dreamily coming up with an idea about a girl who remembers everything to seeing it evolve into a novel in a bookshop. The Truth About Lies has just been published by Stripes and has been a lot of hard graft. I haven’t worked as a solicitor for many years, but old habits die hard and turns out those old legal and admin skills come in rather handy:
For each new writing project I have a bible. I pick a snazzy sketchbook and fill it with info as I go along such as a glossary, timeline, style guide and key characteristics of the main players. This saves me heaps of time in the long run and gives me consistency. If this is sounding formal, bear in mind that I’m deciding such big issues as the spelling when a character says “Aaaarghhhh!” or “Shhh”.
It’s certainly been helpful to have an understanding of the contracts popping up with my agent, publisher, magazine publications etc., even if there’s very little that can be renegotiated in favour of the author when you’re a newbie. By the way, the Society of Authors provides a free contract checking service.
In The Truth About Lies I used quotations about memory at the start of chapters. But I made sure I only cited authors who’ve been dead for over 70 years, or ones I made up myself. I also invented my own fantasy band – the Silent Fjords – and their ‘lyrics’ to get a point across rather than use real ones. Under publishing contracts, it usually falls on the author to sort out and pay for permissions, not the publisher. Do you really want the hassle and expense? Look at Blake Morrison’s cautionary tale at https://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/may/01/blake-morrison-lyrics-copyright. The fact he had to pay £1000 for using 11 words of I Shot the Sheriff tells you all you need to know. So make up your own songs instead and indulge your inner rock god.
Proofreading and attention to detail
A manuscript goes through three main editing phases: structural, line and copy edit. Then when it’s typeset it’s time for proofreading. Yay! In a legal document, misplaced punctuation can prove catastrophic. In a novel, it throws me out of the story if there’s a misspelt or missing word. Luckily I still get a weird satisfaction from checking through hundreds of pages looking for anomalies and missing hyphens. Pedantic or thorough? You decide.
So, I rest my case on the usefulness of my background in the nitty-gritty of getting a book to publication. QED. But I should also mention the things I miss most about being part of a big law firm as I sit here alone in my study:
The IT department - I’m now dependent on my kids to resolve any IT issues.
Compliance - How lovely it would be to have someone tell me exactly what I have to do with the new General Data Protection Regulations!
Regular income - Enough said. And if only I had a £1 for every well-intentioned mention of a certain J.K.Rowling.
And there are no more Office Parties - although I did treat myself to an almond croissant this morning…
Tracy Darnton’s The Truth About Lies is published by Stripes July 2018.
Follow Tracy on Twitter @TracyDarnton