Pausing for breath by Quentin Bates

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It has been a busy few months. The next book is written, the proof pages are sitting here in two squat foolscap stacks glaring me to stop tapping at the keyboard and get back to work with the red pen marking the last, mercifully few, minor errors that need correcting.

Those two stacks will be one by the time this appears on the web and that fat envelope will be on its way to London, to my publisher’s slick, well-oiled production machine to deal with. In fact, it’s not just the next novel (Chilled to the Bone, out in April), but there’s also a novella on the way.

In a burst of possibly ill-timed enthusiasm, I suggested to my editor that a bargain e-novella between now and then might be a good idea; something for my loyal readership to get to grips with as a taster before C2tB is published. My editor liked the idea, the downside being that they wanted it now. Well, not exactly this very minute, but soon enough that more than a little midnight oil was burned.

It has been, apart from the need to get it written uncomfortably fast, an interesting experience. Not having written at this length before, it’s an odd feeling to be wrapping things up at around 30,000 words, a third of the length of a full-sized novel. A lot of writers are doing this now, producing a novella to ‘enhance’ (my publisher’s word for it) their sales and as a teaser for a book to follow. As these novellas are sold at knockdown prices, typically ¢99. You can wonder if it’s good business or not, as you have to sell a ton of these to make any real money. I have to admit I like the idea of these electronic novellas, not so much as an earner but possibly as a route to trying out material and ideas that my esteemed and sharp-as-a-knife editor might be more reluctant to take a punt on in a full-sized paperback.

Anyhow, that’s written and delivered as well. It’s called Winterlude, out early next year sometime on Kindle only.

You’d imagine there’d be an element of relief, of looking forward to kicking back and admiring the handiwork, but not a bit of it. I’d like my attention to go elsewhere for a while. I’d like to do some reading again instead of cramming other people’s books into odd minutes and half hours here and there. There are jobs I’ve promised to do, things I’ve promised to translate or write for people that have been neglected. There are few of those little jobs that my wife would like me to get done that she has tactfully not mentioned these last few weeks. Hell, a holiday, maybe!

You’d also imagine that fiction would be the last thing on a writer’s mind once a book has been signed off, but far from it.

There are little scenes that play out in the mind; situations that pop up unbidden, characters who appear, grin sardonically and disappear. The mechanic servicing my old rattletrap car thinks he has my full attention as he tells me just why the brakes are shot, but in reality I’m wondering just how it would be possible to murder him in his own workshop and what dark secrets he might have that could bring some shadowy figure from his past to do just that.

This stuff doesn’t go away and everything can become material. Even the most mundane incidents and situations can have the darkest overtones. Be careful if you chat to a writer, as they’re shameless and will make use of anything. Actually, that’s maybe not quite true. The theory is that the fearless writer should be ready to strip him/herself bare and use anything, but a few of the things stored away at the back of the mind are still a little too close to home to be used; for the moment, anyway. It’s good to know there are a few little nuggets of nastiness there waiting to be detonated when the time is ripe.

Snippets of news and items in the papers catch the eye and get mulled over at extraordinary length as my wife recognises the thousand-yard stare into space yet again. That jolly woman in the butcher’s shop with the faint accent; where’s she from and why did she escape? How hard or easy is it to roll a Land Cruiser on an icy downhill bend? How silent is a silenced pistol? What does that sad-eyed old guy’s odd, faded tattoo mean?

I find myself with an unaccountable urge to murder a TV chef. Why isn’t too hard to figure out, but what’s the best way to go about it? With his own steels, or could a pizza oven be put to innovative use here? I wonder who I could ask without incurring a visit from the Special Branch? And if I do get a visit from Special Branch, what can I ask them and would they mind if I took notes?

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Quentin Bates

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