Firstly, during part of November and December I was away on a research trip. I spent the time in Italy, where some of the story is set, and over three weeks I visited libraries, museums and archives to access the books and documents which I needed to consult but which aren't available in the UK. I also spent hours walking around the streets and buildings where the story takes place, taking photographs and mapping out the settings. I'll share some of my photos and experiences in another post soon.
Secondly, I've been continuing some of my research for the book. This story is a historical and realist one set in various places across Europe, meaning that I'm reading all kinds of books: history, memoir, novels, geographical writing, historical documents, sociological reports - everything that might give me a window into the other times and places I'm writing about.
And most importantly, informed by all this, I've been working on a synopsis of the book and the first three chapters, a package which is sometimes called a 'partial' or a book proposal, and which is very important when you begin work on a new book. If you're a first-time writer, you nearly always write the whole of your book before approaching agents (though you might still send them a 'partial' first). But when you've been published already, it works slightly differently, because your agent will usually want to see what you're working on long before it's finished, and to have some influence on the direction the story takes. So preparing a partial, after some informal discussions, is a good way of doing this. It's also sometimes possible for your agent to negotiate a contract with your existing publisher for the whole book on the basis of 3 chapters and synopsis, or - if, for example, your work represents a departure of genre or style - with a new publisher. So in all, the partial is an important piece of work to get right. It's also a difficult thing to get right when you haven't yet finished the whole book. I've ended up writing far more than 25,000 words, and about 20 pages of outline, in order to extract from that a single page synopsis and the first 10,000 words. All this, however, makes the book stronger and your mission as a writer clearer, forcing you to consider what you're really writing about. I think my proposal will be ready in the next week or two, so this is an exciting moment, and I'm looking forward to seeing what my agent thinks.
So that's what I've been working on over the past couple of months. Apart from writing, I've also taken a few days off to spend some time with family and friends over Christmas and New Year, a time I've really enjoyed. To all the readers of this blog who I've encountered over the year, I hope that you've had a good Christmas if you celebrate it, and a very happy and peaceful New Year, and I look forward to continuing to hear from you in 2014.
All the very best,