Saturnalia for obsessives ...
And we go into the season of peace and goodwill with my wife offering to kill or at least disembowel me if I do not step away from the computer for the festive season.
On reflection, it has been a kind of busy year. I usually start work at 8 am and finish at 7pm, with an hour off for lunch and a nap to re-charge my batteries. I research three days and write three days, and take Saturday off. (Sundays are peaceful, and with luck I can get in 2500 words before dinner.)
What with one thing or another, I've not managed a holiday either - not because I felt I was under too much pressure to finish what I was doing, but rather because I couldn't think of anything I'd rather be doing. Hence the sudden militancy on the part of my beloved, who most of the year uncomplainingly feeds, waters and occasionally dusts me. I've a horrible feeling that left to myself, I'd spend Christmas with Macrobius and Aulus Gellius.
On the bright side, I've had three books out in 2008 and am planning to manage another two in 2009. And I can honestly say that I've had enormous fun writing each and every one of them. So I'm happy to kick back for ten days, well nine maybe, and give the 21st century a try. Just as soon as I've finished this particular chapter ...
Athens and the Legionary
Well, the covers are on to my latest production, and one which kept me working until the wee hours last summer. There were two reasons for this - firstly because there is a tight production schedule for the book, and secondly because I just could not leave it alone. I'd shut down my word-processor for the night and then sit quietly ruminating over the text when some new ideas would occur to me. Inevitably there was nothing else for it but to fire the computer up again, and put the idea into writing whilst it was fresh in my mind. As a result, despite a tight deadline, the book actually went to the editors early.
Otherwise, the last month has been about welcoming 'Athens on 5 Drachmas a Day' into the world. We're delighted at the reception it has received, so my slavish thanks to the reviewers, who have looked upon it kindly. And even greater thanks to the reviewers who matter most of all - those who put their hands into their pockets and part with their own money to get the book. Not only is Athens selling well, but those who have purchased Athens are coming back to get Rome, and vice versa.
It's now winter, with snow so deep that the cat practically vanishes into it when she goes outside. I'm intending to spend the winter snug next to the fire with a mug of gluhwyn and a laptop, and only moving when the postman brings fresh supplies of reference books.
Passing out the cigars
It's been one of those months - which is why this entry is somewhat delayed. One of the things about writing is that you can spend months with just your keyboard for company (though my wife dusts me occasionally) and then everything happens at once.
This month saw the launch of not one but two books - so please say hello to 'Lives of the Romans', as well as to 'Athens on five drachmas a day'. Looking at those two on my bookcase certainly gives me a glow of parental pride and a feeling that the last eighteen months have been well spent. The reviewers have been favourable too - so thanks also to the nice people at the NY Times, the Telegraph and the Guardian.
Now it's been on to one of the bits of this job I particularly enjoy. Meeting publishers and fellow writers and discussing forthcoming projects with them. I'm just back from London (where I took in the Hadrian exhibition) stocked up on tea bags and curry powder, and with a much clearer idea of what 2009 holds in store. It's going to be busy, busy!
Next month, Mithridates charges out across the bookstores of the United Kingdom. His release to the general public was slightly delayed, but in typical Mithridates style, he's released on fireworks night. I really enjoyed doing the story of the old reprobate, and he's probably my favourite of all the characters I've covered. That will make three releases in three months - so back to the keyboard I go. Hopefully someone will remind me when it's Christmas...
The Devil's in the details
My latest effort is soon to be handed over to the production editor. I'll be able to give more details after the Frankfurt book fair - my publishers wouldn't want me tipping my hand too early. However, as it's due out in the spring, details will be appearing soon enough in the 'forthcoming books' section.
At present, the really fun part - writing the thing - is done. Now comes the painful bit of going through and painfully filling in details that I merrily skipped over in my fine literary frenzy. Here's a quote that I labelled 'Cicero'. I see that my bone-idle earlier self did not bother to note the book or chapter number. I've literally a bookshelf of Cicero's works, and now have to go through the lot tracking down that one quote. Afterwards I'll find that, due to a mental lapse, I meant Livy anyway.
Then there's the fact that readers appreciate it if I don't have sentences filled with dangling participles, relative clauses that have lost their dependent parts, and pronouns used so enthusiastically that one has to turn back two pages to find who the original subject was. I know my editor will point out any omissions in her kindly way, but it's always better to try to get it right first for myself.
On a different note, say hello to Athens! Ancient Athens on Five Drachmas a Day should have hit the shelves of a store near you today or thereabouts. It's written as a companion volume for Rome on Five Denarii a day, and let's hope it gets the same favourable reception.
'Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?
It took me years to write, will you take a look?'
('Paperback writer', the Beatles)
I'm humming this to myself as I look at the pre-production paperbacks of the Greece and Rome travel guides. I see that the suitcase theme on the covers (originally established when an extract was published by the Independent newspaper) has now firmly taken hold. These are my first paperbacks ever, so I'm looking at them with a proudly paternal expression.
However, Greece on 5 Drachmas a Day did not take 'years to write' - in fact it holds another record for the fastest production to date. I started writing it in September 2007 and it took less than a year after that for the first finished copy to arrive. Admittedly it helped that I'd known I'd be writing it since 2005, and so had just to commit the previous 18 months of research to paper, but it still shows impressive skill by T&H on the production side.
A big thank you to those people who have shown enough faith in my abilities to pre-buy the book in very healthy quantities even before it has been released. Even more scarily, some buyers had acquired the foreign rights months before I set finger to keyboard to write the opening words.