I have some exciting news! Okay, it's not news really, but it's very exciting for me. The text for the first Squishy McFluff book is finished, or as my publisher Leah said: "Baked and ready for icing"!
You can probably tell I've been a bit behind on this blog, but here's how I got to this point.
Since winning the Greenhouse Funny Prize, I had been quietly beavering away at another story and in fact, by the time the offer from Faber came, for four books, I had completed that one too, I was all fired up and on a roll.
I already had an idea by that point that the stories might need to be much longer rather than much shorter, so this time, rather than holding back and self editing to save words, I really let myself go with it.
I didn't have a plan for word count, I just wrote and wrote until all the ideas were out. The end result was that the fourth Squishy McFluff book was almost twice as long as the first one.
Well, towards the end of November, my contract with Faber drawn up and signed, I had my first editorial meeting with Leah Thaxton. and I knew that this disparity was going to be the major thing to fix with book one.
Squishy McFluff, The Invisible Cat would need to be extended a great deal – and this felt very daunting. Obviously, not as daunting as writing a novel, and then someone telling you to add 50% of the word count, but nevertheless, I had spent a long time thinking this story was finished.
It was far from finished. The first draft of the text was 21 stanzas long. Leah estimated that I'd need to get it to 36 stanzas – and the story was to be split into thee sections of 12 stanzas each.
Talking through it with Leah was immensely helpful and inspiring. She had some ideas for me, where I might add material – could McFluff be a bit naughtier here? Could we have a bit more dialogue from Ava there?
It was refreshing too. I write as a day job, for magazines and websites. I like to think I write to brief pretty well, I don't tend to have great swathes of copy cut or changed. But as for the little things, if an editor thinks something isn't quite right, they'll just tell you to change it, or change it themselves.
It wasn't quite like that with the book. Where Leah had ideas that I didn't really agree with, or I wasn't sure I could make work, I said so and Leah was fine with it. She gave me a huge amount of input, but then it was left to me to figure out the solutions, in the manner I felt would work.
We went through the first three texts that afternoon, but book one, the biggest job, was priority. I had agreed to get that text delivered before the New Year, and it felt like there was a lot to do.
Naturally, I couldn't wait to get started. The next day, with a large coffee, I sat down and began. At first, I started working methodically through Leah's suggestions for adding stanzas here and there. And as I went, I realised that the story needed not only more words, but more substance.
The first draft was a re-write of a column I had written, with some McFluff style mischief inserted, of course. It starred Ava and McFluff, and co-starred Mummy with a brief appearance from Daddy. But now it needed someone else, and I knew exactly who it would be.
Enter Great Grandad Bill.
Great Grandad Bill is real person, so I knew just how to write him. Among all the hullaballoo surrounding me receiving my offer from Faber, my stepmum had reminded me that the publication of the first book – in February 2014 – would coincide with the month my Grandad (Ava's Great Grandad) celebrates his 100th birthday.
My Grandad is sweet and funny and of course, at the age of almost 99 now, he knows a thing or two. He's as wise and as lovely as anyone gets. He's also a writer (it wasn't his trade, but it's in his blood) and so he's rather interested in all this.
Bringing Great Grandad Bill into the equation gave me lots of new material. But I also needed to up the high jinks, and this is where I really had some fun.
How naughty can an invisible cat be? And what exactly would an invisible cat want to do to pass the time? The ideas suddenly came flooding.
I finished the second draft after two solid days of writing. And I do mean solid – I mean I was writing around he clock. Are you a writer? Can you let it go when you're in the zone? I didn't really sleep for two nights. I felt like I was dozing, and as I dozed I wrote and re-wrote lines in my head, over and over again.
I'm probably a bit difficult to live with during these processes. I'll be in the middle of doing something, and then a line with perfect scansion will pop into my head, and I'll drop whatever I am doing and bolt to my laptop to get it down before it's gone again.
I even left Ruby hanging on for dear life on the loo once.
When it was done, I was pleased with it. I'd taken the story from 21 stanzas to 41 (I'd checked that it'd be okay if I wrote more than the additional 15). But I wanted to live with it for a few days before letting Leah see it. I read and re-read. I tinkered and switched things. And then, finally, I hit 'send'.
Leah loved it. The relief was so immense, I'm not sure what I'd have done if, after all those additions, I'd had to start over.
Since then, I've been through two more rounds of editing – we talked through the text over the phone. I had to up some tension and reconsider a few words which weren't quite right for my age group. After the major re-write, none of it felt at all difficult. I just had to give myself time to work the problems out, like making pieces of a jigsaw fit.
The final amend was cleared last week – it was one line that was tripping Leah up. I spent Christmas with that line rolling around in my head and came up with four different ideas for how to change it.
And now it's done. As I said: Whoopee!
Next? Probably the best bit of all – Faber will be looking for illustrators to pitch their interpretations of Ava and Squishy McFluff and so some time, in the not too distant future, I'm going to see what they actually look like.
I can't wait…
ps. By the way, sorry this blog lacks meaningful pictures. It's one of the downsides of talking about invisible cats. That's an illustrator sort of a problem!