King of the North (Fire Born 4): the Bjarki and Tor saga continues . . .

I have just sent the first draft of King of the North (Fire Born 4) off to the publisher. And I am now experiencing a lovely feeling of contentment, the knowledge of a job well done. There is loads more to do, of course, before publication in August and I thought I would write a brief blog today to tell those of your who are curious about the traditional publishing process, and the various steps you go through from vague concept of a story to being a box-fresh paperback with your name on the front lying on your desk.

The idea

All creative endeavours begin with an idea. I wanted to become a historical fiction writer after reading many of Bernard Cornwell’s brilliant Sharpe books. I sat down in a pub alone and over several hours (and pints) I scratched out some ideas for my first novel Outlaw (below). I wanted it to be like Cornwell’s stuff, action-driven, historically accurate, not-too-highbrow, a page-turner, which would sell a lot of copies. I didn’t do too badly. Outlaw was a bestseller, and I still get bi-annual royalty payments for it 15 years after it was published.

Outlaw - Angus Donald

King of the North was already part 4 in a series – the Fire Born Viking adventures (start with The Last Berserker, below, if you haven’t read any of them) – and so I knew the cast of characters well: Bjarki Bloodhand, a big, kind, decent, friendly, not-too-bright berserker – who in battle goes completely ballistic and has the capability to kill every living thing in the vicinity; his sister Tor, a spiky, rude, clever, shield maiden, who is devoted Bjarki and to her pet bear Garm; Valtyr, a wise old drunk, and so on. And I thought it might be fun to do a take on a legendary 8th-century Norse event: the epic battle of Bravellir.

I spoke to my publisher about the idea (I already had a contract with Canelo to write three more books in the Fire Born series) and he was enthusiastic. And I set to work writing in September 2022. By Christmas I had it 80% done, and in the new year I finished, typed The End and immediately set about editing it. This always takes longer than you think, particularly if you write fast. And so it wasn’t until today, Friday March 3rd, 2023, that I finished and sent it off to Canelo. But, as I said, there is still a lot more to do.

The cover

I had already discussed the cover of King of the North with my editor at Canelo. We were going to do the same sort of thing as with the previous three – a Viking-y face and a weapon (a different one each time) set against a Viking-y background. See, The Saxon Wolf (below) as an example. I had already written the back-of-book blurb for KOTN early in the process – I find this helps me think about what the book is going to be about – but that needs to be tweaked, and possibly rewritten. My editor and I will do that task together.

The edits

Now, I sit and wait for the first edit, the structural edit, to come back from Canelo. This usually takes about a month, but sometimes longer if the editor has a lot of other books on at the same time. Or if I’ve made a mess of the novel. The structural edit is exactly what it says. It deals with the structure of the novel. It the ending sufficiently powerful? Are there enough bangs, shocks and twists in the plot, and at the right places? Are the characters properly developed? Do we need another big scene with X and Y in which we can demonstrate plot point Z? One editor, some time ago, make me remove a whole plot strand, including several characters. I’m not longer with that publisher, by the way. The structural edit can be a lot of work for both me, and my Canelo editor, with whom I have a great working relationship. And the changes are sometime painful to implement but they nearly always make the book a lot better.

After I have done the necessary structural edit changes, and read the whole novel though once more time to see that I haven’t introduced any glaring mistakes, it is time for the line edit. This is spelling and punctuation, mainly, and if often subcontracted out to a freelance. I used to do this type of editing when I was a journalist. It is pretty much what a good sub-editor might to to a piece of copy. But a bit gentler.

By this point, when I have looked at and agreed the line edits, I read the whole thing again. I am usually getting a bit bored with the novel by this point in the cycle. This is a good sign, actually. It means it’s done. It means it’s ready for others to read. A proofreader will have a final once-over of the text, and I generally don’t see the book again until the bound proofs come out, if then. And, by that point, I’m usually deep into writing the next one, whatever that may be. By publication day, quite often, I’ve almost forgotten what the last novel was all about.

King of the North (Fire Born 4) will be published in August 2023. The Last Berserker (FB1); The Saxon Wolf (FB2) and The Loki Sword (FB3) are all available from Amazon and and good bookshops.

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