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It's not all Champagne and Caviare

Guest post by Michael Jecks...


On Sunday, I finally finished the last proofs of the three books to be published in July. That was a relief. Two weeks to work on three novels is not a lot of time, but luckily, because the books were all published already, the number of changes was not huge. Still, it does take a lot of effort (and concentration) to read each word in a four hundred page book. And every word does have to be read in case a typo slipped in. Focusing like that is tiring. It’s a relief that the books are back with the publishers now. Phew.

And so to Monday.

For the last few months, I have been privileged to work with the Royal Literary Fund under their Fellowship scheme.

As you will see from the link above, the RLF was created many years ago to help authors who were struggling with their incomes. In 1790, as a result of the death of Floyer Sydenham, an “elderly translator of Plato” (Royal Literary Fund, A Short History by Janet Adam Smith), subscriptions were invited, and the Prince Regent was one of the first to contribute. Over the years, the RLF has helped many authors struck with temporary financial embarrassment, from Coleridge and Chateaubriand to James Joyce and DH Lawrence. Even dependents of authors, such as Robert Burns’s widow and James Boswell’s daughter, have been helped.

However, the RLF also helps other people. One approach, through their Fellowship Scheme, is to pay authors to go to universities and give assistance to students who find writing essays and dissertations difficult.

I work with the RLF two days each week. I’m based at Exeter University, where I meet with students for an hour at a time, giving them help with planning the structure of their work, arranging their research into a rational order, or going through their writing with them, showing them how to tighten their text and bring more clarity to their sentences.

Exeter University

It is not easy. Take this week: I had two days at Exeter, Monday and Tuesday. On Monday, I met my first student at nine in the morning, and finally left the last at half past three. In that time I had no break for lunch or coffee - I had to snatch occasional cups of tea while working with the students. On the second day, I had the same. Now, while it may not sound too much, working with seven students each day, but think again. Imagine listening to third year, Master’s or PhD students talking about their dissertations or theses and helping them write with clarity on their subjects. These are clever people, researching some of the most abstruse subjects imaginable. I can happily state that working with some of the country’s brightest minds, absorbing the fruits of their deliberations, and helping them to cogently and concisely explain their thoughts on paper is not easy - at least, not for me, it isn’t.

I can, in one day, work with students of foreign languages, English language, mathematics, medicine, history, geography, business studies, the law - just about any subject under the sun. It is challenging in the extreme to try to cope with such a range of disciplines, and by the end of seven appointments, my brain is completely fried!

But it is also hugely rewarding. Some students have come into my room with every sign of rapidly approaching despair. I’ve had two turn up in tears. But by the end of almost every meeting, desperation and distress were converted to relief, and in some cases delight. One lovely young lady even brought me biscuits and some flavoured teas in gratitude this week. The fruit teas are delicious … in fact, I think I may go and put the kettle on now.

That was Monday and Tuesday. From then on, I’ve had an easier time of it. I’ve been writing letters confirming the authors attending the new literary festival I’m helping organise for next year, a certain amount of marketing, but mostly I’ve planning different pieces of writing.

I have spent a lot of time analysing and writing out some new characters, and thinking through the way that they will behave and react to certain stimuli. The good thing is, I am in the middle of planning a short story, a novella and a novel, all of which will include the same main characters, so if I can depict the characters well and in some detail, plotting the stories will be a great deal easier. It remains to be seen as to whether that will work, though! Very often, as soon as I start writing a new story, new aspects of people occur to me, and the characters begin to take over. There is an old cliché about the characters doing that, and it is none the less true for being a cliché. I think in fact it’s just that as soon as you put your inventions into stressful and troubling situations, you realise that they wouldn’t react in a way you had originally thought. Their motivations will become more clear as you have them talk to other people, and that is good. It means that they are growing to be more rounded, that they are more believable.

However there is one problem: as a writer I love getting inside the brains of people and seeing the world from their eyes. But by the time I reach the end of a novel, I am writing from the point of view of six or seven people, holding their motivations, aspirations, hatreds, loves, all in my head simultaneously. Is it any surprise that authors can be schizophrenic?

The week has not been all plain sailing. There were two less happy items of news for me.

Regular readers will know that last week my poor, ancient Gaggia coffee machine died. The first news was the dreadful communication to tell me that the replacement I ordered last week was despatched from the shop on Tuesday. I didn’t know that the shop I bought from (in London) was to be supplied from a warehouse in Italy! That being so, I won’t get my first shot of caffeine from it until next week. That, to me, is a pure disaster!

The second piece of bad news was - go back to the top of this blog - that my publishers have already sent me the next three books to be proofread! I have another two weeks to go through them before sending them back urgently.

More Finished Proofs

A writer’s life is not all champagne and caviare.

Michael Jecks

As well as collaborating with fellow members of The Medieval Murderers, Dartmoor-based Michael Jecks is the author of thirty three novels in his best-selling Templar series. His latest, Fields of Glory will be published in June 2014 in hardback and Kindle from Simon & Schuster. Expplore more of Michaels' work at: www.michaeljecks.co.uk

3 May 2013

Michael Randall

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