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Awarded December 2013 for MAKE DO AND MEND by Adam Fitzroy

Friday, 16 August 2013

BETWEEN NOW AND THEN - the question answered

I was thrilled to see Elisa Rolle's review of BETWEEN NOW AND THEN when I woke up this morning, and in particular I loved her speculation about precisely why it was set in the winter of 1991/1992.

In actual fact - although Elisa's theories are absolutely fascinating and I actually wish they were true - the real reason is a lot more down-to-earth than she imagines. The factors controlling the date of the book's setting were that it needed to have taken place before the opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1994 but after the sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise in 1987, a very precise window during which Cross-Channel ferries were (barring expensive air travel) the only means of travelling to the Continent from the UK - especially if you wanted to take a vehicle - but were regarded with a certain amount of trepidation by nervous travellers.

Now, add in the fact that the characters would have to be on certain specific roads in order to end up crossing WWI battlefields, and that limited the number of places they could have been visiting; as they weren't likely to be either military history buffs or culture-vultures - they had to be very ordinary, working-class people - football seemed the most obvious reason for the journey. The match between Poland and England, which took place on 13 November 1991, was absolutely ideal - one of those gratuitous pieces of luck which so often elude an author! (It was part of the qualifying campaign for the 1992 European Championship.) November+Flanders added up to "fog" in my mind, giving the time-travel plot both atmosphere and a mechanism, and the fact that it was all a neat 75 years after certain events in the First World War (although the Battle of Torville Wood is completely fictitious) made everything click into place beautifully.

Oh and one more thing; I wanted the guys to be relying on old-fashioned methods of communication like the telephone and the BBC World Service. In an era when everyone has smartphones, problems like a ferry company going bust are so much easier to solve - and so is the business of finding accommodation; when you can just hop online and fine timetables for alternate sailings and book yourself into a nice little guest-house somewhere, everything's just a little bit too safe and predictable to make for a good story!

There are times as a writer when plots/storylines can be extremely awkward to put together - because you want the characters to be somewhere they couldn't possibly have been, or because the situation you want to put them in would be far too easy to get out of. With BETWEEN NOW AND THEN, however, I was very lucky; everything I needed fell into place with very little difficulty - and when a book comes together as smoothly and as readily as that all an author can really do is just hang on tight and let it happen all by itself. I wish more of them would do that, it would make my life a lot easier, but I'm just grateful that it happens that way from time to time; I'll have to remind myself of it, next time I'm stuck with a particularly intractable plot!

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Catching up

I'm embarrassingly aware of the length of time it's been since I updated this blog.  It isn't because I've forgotten about it, or even - alas - because I'm so busy on a new book that I just haven't managed to find the time.  No, unfortunately, it's the outside world that's been getting in the way, and it's caused a radical revision of my plans.

I work several part-time and casual jobs - because my health and my lifelong intolerance for stupid bosses have made me pretty much unemployable in any other form - and one of them has a nasty tendency to get out of hand from time to time and demand energy and intelligence that I don't usually have to spare.  I'm sorry to say that this is a job I'm not really in a position to give up or change, either, so when the worst happens I just have to grit my teeth and hang on.  If it happens when I'm in the early stages of a new book, though, it's a perfect storm, and that's what it was this time.  I emerged from the latest crisis a couple of weeks ago to take a good, long look at BOUNDARIES and admit to myself what I'd been trying for months to pretend wasn't the case - that it would be a much bigger book than I was going to have time to write without losing my present deadline.

That was why I carefully piled all my research notes back into the folder, wrote a synopsis of the next set of plot developments, and reluctantly returned the file to the shelf in favour of something which I know will be a less substantial book but which can easily be ready to be published in February 2014.  I should say that I almost always have several books in the preparation stages at any given time, and I'm usually gathering material for more than one, and sometimes writing one and preparing the next simultaneously - but not, I'm afraid, when one of my other part-time jobs gets in the way, as it has this summer.

So, anyway, now we're going to talk about OFF THE GRID, in which Rupert - a chef - returns to the UK after three years in Australia during which his hoped-for new life on the other side of the world has crumbled to dust around him.  Fortunately he's still got plenty of friends, though, and a good chef will never lack for employment - but he gets obsessed with finding out what's happened to Jake, who used to sell him vegetables on the local market.  Jake, it seems, has gone off the grid and is now running his family's organic smallholding in the Wye Valley - and when Rupert goes looking for him he finds himself getting caught up in a very nasty little local war in which both property and lives are very much at stake.

Barring any more crises, or unpleasant developments in any of my other part-time occupations, it should be possible to have the first draft of OFF THE GRID finished in three months, leaving plenty of time over Christmas and the New Year for revisions.  It's supposed to be in its final form by 1 January, but luckily Manifold Press are usually able to be reasonably flexible about that sort of thing and can 'temper the wind to the shorn lamb' if necessary.  One thing's for sure, though - BOUNDARIES could only have been ready on that timetable if I'd written three times as fast as I've ever written before, and for a sustained period; since this didn't look likely to happen, I've decided to take the pragmatic view and change direction while I still can.  I hate doing it, it feels like failure, but it really is the most sensible course.

I really, really don't like having to be sensible, though.