How long does it take to write a book…?

As far as frequently asked questions go, this is the one that won at MCM London this year, along with the slight variations of “How long have you been writing these books?” or “How long have you been writing?” I love talking to writers at events and my answer seemed to inspire everyone I spoke to… it’s been a long time.

I’ve been writing since I was in junior school and I’ve been writing about these characters for almost twenty five years. I have a curled-edged old notebook from around 1992 with LC, Sean, Hal Duncan and Gallagher all sketched out in outline with the basic plot of the whole thing and some random scenes that have actually appeared in the books in some form or another. NG turned up around then too (without a name, hence the FNG tag) and I have a load of short stories and more random scenes written from his POV in first person, which was always lots of fun. I think that’s why I like writing NG so much.

I started writing the first actual book, RB, in 2007 when something pretty bad happened. Hil turned up, took me by the scruff of the neck when I was in dark hole and said, “I’m going to tell this story.” He became my first real main character and writing that book was my way of dealing with a lot of anger and pain, that, to be honest, I think I needed to go through before I could really get any of it right.

RB came out in 2011 but it only took me about a year to write. The rest of those five years was faffing about, plucking up the courage to do something with it, half-heartedly sending it out to a couple of agents (who said it was good but that they didn’t ‘get’ it) and then a year of getting it ready to be actually published (the whole proofreading, typesetting, cover design and whatnot) which coincided with us setting up Sixth Element Publishing, and starting to work on other people’s books.

BD took me a year and a half to write and I pretty much had that done and finished before we brought out the first one. Book two came out at the end of 2012 so that also took about a year to get ready once it was written.

HR is another story completely. I had other stuff going on at the time that wasn’t great and I didn’t want to let NG go. This is why it’s so much longer than the first two. By Christmas of 2013, I’d already spent almost four years writing it and I was nowhere near the end. I hadn’t done any promotion for the first two books and still found it hard to admit to anyone that I was writing them. That was when Hatt connived with Andy and Steve at Sci-fi Scarborough and booked me in for my first convention, telling me that I was going to finish it and I was going to launch it properly. I had four months to finish writing it, edit it, get it typeset and proofread it. I was still checking it with ten minutes to go before the print deadline. (I ran out of time – and if anyone has a first print run copy of that first edition, I apologise for the typos in the last few chapters.)

I didn’t sleep for three weeks before that first event at Scarborough but in the end it was great. The reception we got for the books was awesome and right from the minute the doors opened, we had such great feedback it made me feel I could actually do it. At the end of that first weekend, the guys said to me, “See you here next year with Book Four?” I didn’t have a single word of it even scribbled in pencil but how could I resist?

So I wrote, revised, edited, proofread and published WD in less than a year. But that was relying heavily on the momentum of carrying on the story from the end of HR. Last year at Scarbs when we launched WD, again I had the whole, “Yay, see you next year with a new book!” So I couldn’t not. I actually started writing DF last summer, but it was all so intense after the end of WD, it was a bit much. I made the decision to have a slight breather from the main big story and write LC’s story as a kid, which was a lot of fun. Again, I managed it in a year but that was on the back of almost ten years of writing books about these characters, and ten years before that writing bits and pieces, so twenty years all together of living with and getting to know them and where they’d come from. So yes, I can write a book in a year, but that’s been on the back of an awfully long time of big thinking.