Tuesday, 15 January 2013

How long does it take to write a book?

I'm often asked how long it takes to complete a book. I was talking about this with some of my writing friends last weekend - at a gathering of Cambridge Writers. One friend, Joss Alexander, who writes Tudor mysteries http://on.fb.me/OgqxSr, expressed the opinion that taking as much as a year to complete a novel was slow, saying that successful novelists might aim to write three books a year and expect one of them to be published. I laughed, and I wasn't the only author who felt a year was amazingly speedy.

I believe I started scribbling notes in Nepal that I hoped might become a travel memoir in 1994. I thought it might be fun to write something along the lines of A Year in Provence, but with a title more like The memsahib messes up. I wanted it to be funny. I wanted to celebrate the wisdom of my neighbours. I wanted people to laugh at me and my ridiculous situation, and at all the stupid mistakes I made.

Four years later, I left Nepal with a shambles of a book.

I joined Cambridge Writers hoping that they would help me turn it into a story that others wanted to hear. I read out fascinating discourses on the anthropology and zoology of the Himalayan foothills. My audiences’ heads would start to nod. I thought them parochial for not being interested in my words. Some writers say they have works in progress in a drawer. I wasn't that organised: when I stopped work on my memoir, my scribbled-on typescript languished, gathering dust, in a heap of papers, bills and medical bumph.

It took me quite a while to recognise that my memoir wasn't a story at all, but it was part

learnéd essay, part rant, part history, part family saga. It needed a heart and it needed a hero. A literary agent recognised that and it was only years into my struggle to write this book that David came to its centre and the book started to take shape. It became harder to write as I recounted some of the worst events of my life but it felt more worth the effort and energy.
Then my friends at Cambridge Writers started to laugh at the scenes that were supposed to be funny and they were angry with me when I recounted injustices and cruelty. I saw how the typescript had slowly become a book and was almost ready to share with the world. Even so it took a while to find a publisher. My new agent did some excellent editorial work on the book and secured a deal in Australia. Then there was more work to do, with the publisher’s editor, and finally the book was launched in Australia and New Zealand in 2007.


The Australian edition
I hoped the rest of the world meet David though. In looking for another publisher who would distribute the book worldwide I made some changes and a generous friend and poet Shaista Tayabali (http://www.lupusinflight.com) highlighted where I could make further improvements. There was interest from a couple of publishers, one false start but after some negotiations another publishing deal. This meant work with yet another editor, and further smoothings and refinements so that here we are now at the beginning of 2013, with A Glimpse of Eternal Snows launching in North America 19 years after I began scribbling notes for this love story of a travel narrative.

It begins at the start of wee David's life in a stark clinical Cambridge hospital, skims through his first stormy month until the family escape to their beloved Nepal. Here they return to the real world of vibrant colours, sunshine, spice, incense, gongs, spirituality, straightforward baby-loving people, exotic wildlife and the spectacular Himalayas. Here the family learn how to live for the moment, relish each small victory and savour life.

The new edition co-launched by Bradt and Globe Pequot
That's what took so long to write and emerge in book form. That’s why I don’t think taking a year to finish a book is very much time at all.

My first took two years to publication

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