Monday, March 2, 2009

Guest Post: Helen Hollick, author of The Kingmaking (Pendragon's Banner, Book One)

I am absolutely thrilled to have Helen Hollick here today for a guest post. She has been one of my favorite authors since I first read the Pendragon's Banner trilogy back in the mid 1990s. I am having a hard time believing that it has been about fifteen years! The best thing about the re-release of this great series by Sourcebooks is that it gives me a happy reason to read them again. I remembered that I loved them, but I had forgotten WHY. Now I can put it into words and my review will be up a bit later today.

Now, I would like to welcome Helen!! My question to her was:

Has your writing process changed since the first edition of The Kingmaking was published in 1994?

Gosh, yes!

I suppose (I hope!) my writing has matured, and I now have the confidence to think of myself as a professional author (albeit one on a level of prosperity similar to the proverbial Church Mouse).

One of the most difficult things for new writers (and established writers?) to do is sing praises of their work. It is so hard to not appear to boast, and then there is always that nagging little voice saying, "But what if people are just being nice? What if my book is really a load of rubbish?"

Believe me, it takes a lot of confidence to shove that voice aside, and it never fully vanishes.

Every so often something happens to rock my confidence (yes even after having 8 books published) and I start thinking that maybe I am not a good writer after all.

Having said that, on the whole I know that my books are good. I am proud of what I have written. Therefore, I will blow my own trumpet as and where I can. After all, no one else is going to tootle it for me.

My writing style has improved, I think; there are things I know now that I wish I’d known back in 1993 when I was first accepted by William Heinemann here in the UK. Little things, maybe, but they can make such a difference to a good read.

Not starting sentences/paragraphs with a character’s name for instance - looking down a page in the first edition of The Kingmaking you would find lines starting like this:

Arthur walked into the room…
Arthur took a sip of wine…
Arthur mounted his horse and cantered away…
How much better to write:
Walking into the room, Arthur….
The wine tasted rich and fruity. Taking another sip, Arthur…
Mounting, and kicking his horse into a canter, Arthur…

Going self publish with my latest adventure/fantasy pirate-based series has taught me to take more notice of the editing process. With William Heinemann the editing was undertaken by the Publishing House, though of course it was still up to me to proof read, make corrections etc.

I very much relied on Heinemann to edit the original Kingmaking, however. By the third book, Shadow of the King, I had found the confidence to protest at any changes I did not approve of. A copy editor had totally altered my style of writing. Where I had written a sentence of dialogue to make it sound as if the character is in the past - "Shall I not?" for instance, she had altered it to "I shall not." I was very indignant about that.

I was also extremely angry that when The Kingmaking was originally published in the US the wrong file had been sent. The uncorrected proof. It was this file they printed from., but by the time I found out it was already too late, the books were printed. I gave up counting the errors at 360. One I will never forget is Arthur’s "bread stubbled chin." It should have been beard stubbled, of course. To this day I picture Arthur with croutons on his face.

(Just have to break in for one second here to say that I READ that edition and, the story was so engrossing, I never noticed any mistakes!)

If you want to write, editing is so important. Not just for the checking of spelling, punctuation, continuity, but for the plot, the idea. You, as the writer, know perfectly well what is happening and why because all the information is in your head. Your reader can only go on what you have written, however. And if what you have written does not make sense… you are scuppered. A good editor will spot the problem.

I cannot remember who said this, but it is a terrific quote: "When I wrote that only God and I knew what I meant. Now only God knows."

I also have the confidence to delete whole passages. For that first Kingmaking I would agonise over taking out one word. Now if my instinct tells me something is not right, out it comes – even if it is a whole page or a whole chapter. In fact my first draft of Sea Witch started about 50 pages before where it starts now. I realised that for this type of book I had to get straight into the action, not ponder on my hero’s early childhood as I had with The Kingmaking. So I hit the delete button for what had been about a month’s worth of work.

Without sounding big-headed, I thoroughly enjoyed reading through the proof of this Sourcebooks edition of The Kingmaking. I am not saying it is perfect – there are bound to be one or two missed typing errors, and maybe on reading it you decide the story is not your cup of tea, which is fair enough. It would be a dull old world if we all liked to read the same things, but I enjoyed the read. I fell in love with Arthur all over again – and cried at the sad bits. And there were one or two passages that I had to go and check in the original version, for truly I did not remember writing such thrilling stuff.

Did I really write that? Gosh!

Thank you, Helen! I'm always fascinated to hear about the writing process. I'm so glad to have had you here today!! What an honor, and a thrill, for me.

Be sure to visit Helen's website and come back later today for my review....


Anonymous said...

I know it's different, but editing your own work is really hard! In academic writing, I used to struggle over words just like Helen says, because I spent so much time writing those words, but now I'll cut out entire paragraphs if I don't think they go along with what I'm saying. Great guest post!

Michele said... not only do I love her books, but I think I love Helen herself, LOL. Seriously, how many writers take the time on a busy blog tour to write individualized posts that are so engaging??? I have been so impressed by her...she is an inspiration to anyone who wants to see their words in print!

Excellent question, Carey and this post is fabulous!!!

Thoughts from an Evil Overlord

Thank you!!

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About Me

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New Hampshire, United States
Bibliophile, Anglophile, Traveller... I have been an avid reader all of my life, since I took the Dr. Seuss Dictionary away from my Mom when I was less than a year old because I wanted to read it myself. In college, where I earned my degree in English Literature, I was often asked "What are you going to do with it?" Now I finally have the answer to that question!!! Being employed as a Flight Attendant for twenty years has given me a lot of life experience and, better still, a lot of time to read. I love to travel for fun, too.