I am fast approaching the end of the final edit of my current manuscript which, obviously, is turning me into a gibbering wreck.
Is it too mad? Have I moved too much towards humour and too far from the original dark idea? Can I really keep chopping all these words out and still have a book?
And there it is.
The WORD COUNT issue.
It was 60,000 words. Then it was 56,000 words. Now I’m at 55,000 and dropping. Panic is setting in. So it’s time for one of these – a Word Count Blog, where I can justify poring over the word counts of other books and comparing them to mine. Want to play?
There is No Dog – Meg Rossoff – 56118
The Knife That Killed Me- Anthony Mcgowan – 45422
Almost True – Keren David – 94254
1984 – George Orwell – 88942
The Amber Spy Glass – Phillip Pillman – 156664
Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging – Louise Rennison – 41958
Before I Die – Jenny Downham – 69548
Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens – 155960
The Selfish Giant – Oscar Wilde – 1642
Withering Tights – Louise Rennison 55170
My extensive research reveals that as long as I hit the narrow window between 1642 and 156664 words, I should be fine.
I’m a big fan of Meg Rosoff. Her latest book, There is No Dog, is a quirky and irreverent look at our potential deity – though you may end up despairing of him, it all makes quite a lot of sense. And the wonderful How I Live Now is, as I type, being made into a film. She’s a damned fine writer, Meg Rosoff, so when I read her latest blog: Everything You Need To Know To Be A Writer I was laughing with joy.
I’ve always thought of myself as the woman who was so nearly good at so many things and now, instead of feeling like a failure, I can smile and say, oh yes, in that goes to the experience bank – it’s research don’t you know. So here, after a special request by the lovely and talented Karen Ball is my list of:
Things I’ve Done That Will Help Me Be a Better Writer.
I belly dance. I fence. I can make a poor fourth hand at bridge.
I know what it’s like to work on a film, in the theatre and on a farm.
I’ve worked on the deck of the Mary Rose and I’ve worked in The Gambia. I’ve sucked green oranges with a group of village women in Njawara and got sick drinking tap water in Banjul.
I’ve had an African prince to tea.
I’ve been on an anti fox hunting rally. I’ve lobbied my MP and had a warning from a policeman for demonstrating outside the Houses of Parliament. I’ve been a guest at the House of Lords.
At 17 my heart was broken. My first love left me for a beautiful boy called Mark, one of my best friends. I behaved quite badly after that until, at 19, I fell in love again and stayed that way.
I’ve had two stalkers, one more scary than the other.
I am sometimes too nice for my own good.
I spent a decade living in a caravan. I have been cold and hungry. I know what it’s like to risk losing everything you own to make a better life.
I’ve built a business. I’ve built a house. I’ve held down three jobs at once, one of which involved dressing up as an octopus.
I lost my mother in Singapore and my camera by a hot spring in Borneo. I got another mother and, less painfully, another camera.
I had one childbirth that, 50 years ago, would have killed me and my daughter. When it was over, I had a bitch of a midwife who was cruel and stupid. I had extensive repair surgery. The surgeon had hepatitis C. I had another child by c-section thus curing my terror of the whole process – then I had a haemorrhage in the school playground because I thought I was invincible when, in fact, I was an idiot.
I’ve paddled beside a manatee in Mexico; ridden a horse in Cuba; found a stash of petrol bombs in my flat in North Wales; belly danced at one of The Earl of March’s infamous parties and toured a play to the south of France.
I’ve let down a friend who never forgave me.
I’ve been to a muddy Glastonbury Festival, a sunny Glastonbury Festival and I’ve seen Leonard Cohen through a haze of dope smoke. I’ve had an argument with a woman snorting cocaine over her child’s pram.
I had a bare knuckle fight with the bane of my life at St. Luke’s Comprehensive School. I was molested on my paper round and never told a soul.
I’ve been in two tornadoes in the South of England and a violent storm in Sarawak. I’ve rescued my daughter’s bag from a warthog and my son’s fingers from a monitor lizard.
I’ve nursed a sick hamster back to life, had my fingers sucked by a calf and said goodbye to countless beloved pets. I’ve twice removed a wild owl from my sitting room.
I’ve written a lot of words and I’m writing some more but these one’s are by kind permission of Meg :
All my life I despaired at being a jack of all trades and master of none, but it all proved fantastically useful when I started writing.
This is by way of saying that when I suggest people not be in a hurry to write a book, I mean it. Because the more you live, the more you’ll know — in your head and in your heart. And the more you know, the more your book will come from a deep place of real resonance — in other words, not wikipedia.
Reading Meg’s blog made me realise everything we do in life is important. It all adds up to who we are.
It all goes in to the stories we tell. Even the stuff we failed at. Especially the stuff we failed at.
Getting a feel for the right length of your novel is a puzzling thing. I know it shouldn’t matter – a story takes as long to be told as a story takes to be told BUT I do tend to obsess about it. I think I like guidelines – like to know I’m on the right track. So here are some for comparison – they’re my choice, books I love – some of them quite surprised me:
Louis Sachar’s ‘Holes’ – 47079
Candy Gourlay’s ‘Tall Story’ – 47405
Meg Rosoff’s ‘How I live now’ – 46920
Maurice Sendak’s ‘Where the wild things are’ – 336 ( the film had more words)
Philip Ardagh’s Eddie Dickens ‘Dreadful Acts’ – 25104 ( Suprisingly long, they’re always over so quickly)
Ok, maybe I’m getting a bit carried away…..and if I’ve listed your book – do feel free to dispute my word counts – I didn’t actually count them all myself – I’m not that desperate for procrastination tools…although….
Kathryn Evans is the author of More of Me. She’ll be appearing at YAShot on 22nd October 2016. If you enjoyed More of Me, please vote for it in the EdBookFest first book award You have until the middle of October. Thanks!