Monday, March 22, 2010


Publication of The Whisperers, the new Parker book, is now imminent, and it strikes me that, when the novel appears, it will mean that I will have published three books in less than one year, which smacks of trying a bit too hard. I mean, that’s almost like having a proper job, which can’t be right.

Unfortunately, my unusual spate of productivity means that I seem to have spent large parts of the past twelve to fourteen months doing edits, which really is no fun at all. In the case of The Whisperers, the fact that it was only delivered to my publishers in January means that the whole editing process has been accelerated. Thus, last Tuesday, as I was about to head to London with the final corrected proof pages for the British edition in my bag, the American copy edited manuscript arrived on my doorstep. Worryingly, it came with a letter informing me that the manuscript should be returned to my editor by March 17th which, given that it had only been delivered on the 16th, was likely to prove difficult.

So I’ve just spent this weekend with three versions of the book spread across my desk: the American copy edit, which is essentially my original manuscript with the copy editor’s notes, queries, and instructions to the typesetter; a copy of the British copy-edit, so that I could transpose the changes I had made to that version to the American one; and, finally, the British proofs, or typeset pages, so that I could also add the final tweaks to the American edition. As is the way of these things, the American copy editor had caught some errors that the British copy editor had missed, and vice versa, so I’ve been sending pleading e-mails to my British editor’s lovely assistant asking her to try to have those corrections inserted into the British edition before it goes to the presses.

There is a difference between this kind of editing and the kind that occurs earlier in the writing, in my case after the first draft is complete. There’s a pleasure in honing material that hasn’t been read yet by anyone, aided by the relief of knowing that you’ve managed to bring almost to fruition what was originally just an assemblage of ideas in your head. But once the book has been delivered, editing becomes less of a creative act and more of a technical requirement. Of course, it’s a big part of the process of publishing a book, but it’s also the only part that really is a chore. There are only so many times that you will want to through a copy of your own book, and by the time the proof pages arrive that figure has been exceeded with a vengeance. It becomes impossible to tell if the book is actually any good; in fact, you start to become convinced that it’s terrible. Oh, there will be sections that don’t seem so bad, but overall it’s difficult to shake off the sense that your weariness with the book won’t be shared by the first-time reader. Thus it is that the point when the writer should probably be going through the manuscript with maximum concentration, as this is really the last chance to correct errors and inconsistencies, is also the point at which that capacity for concentration is at its weakest.

Allied to this is the knowledge that, despite your efforts, and the efforts of your editors, and their assistants, and the copy editors, and the experts who have been kind enough to fact check the original manuscript, mistakes are still going to creep through. I don’t think I’ve ever published a book without receiving a missive from a reader containing the question “Doesn’t anyone copy edit your books?”, or words to that effect. The answer is, yes, someone does. Lots of people edit them. They ensure that errors are kept to a minimum, but that’s all. It’s simply not possible to eradicate them entirely. The Whisperers is about 125,000 words long. If there were two mistakes in the finished manuscript, it would still represent only a tiny fraction of one per cent of the words used. That kind of margin of error would be acceptable to most scientists, let alone the average writer.

Still, at least the editing process is almost complete, and I can get back to writing, even if it’s only for a month or so before publicity for the actual book itself begins. We’re now well into March, but I don’t seem to have managed to get a whole lot of writing done, and May, June and most of July will be lost to touring. Perhaps I’ll have to train myself to write while on the road, but the idea doesn’t appeal to me. I like to keep writing and publicity separate, if I can. Anyway, I find that I have so little time to myself when I’m touring that, even if find the will and the energy to write, the hours are not there. No choice, then, but to make maximum use of the weeks ahead, and hope that progress is swift…

This week John read

Race of a Lifetime by Mark Halperin and John Heileman

and listened to

Broken Bells by Broken Bells
Fever Ray (Special Edition) by Fever Ray


Emily Cross said...


I've just watched the documentary you did with RTE. It was excellent, very insightful!

I loved the line "Evil is a lack of Empathy" and it was really interesting to see how important setting really is, like another character.

I have to admit though I was really surprised when you and the other interviewees were discussing the reception of your Parker books by the more traditionalists in mystery/crime writer society.

The first book I read of yours, was Black Angel because I had read through my own supply of books when I was on holiday with my family, so I started on my mother's supply. My mother loves crime/thrillers while I would read anything except crime/thrillers/horrors. I spent the entire night reading your book (though I couldn't sleep for another two after reading it) and have read all of the others (with 'The Book of lost Things' being my favourite).

The point of this rambling post is that I think it's sad (if that's the right word) that a genre society would limit itself or critise a member's work purely because they don't want/think the genre is capable of pushing past the boundaries and mixing elements found in other genres.

I guess, I was just so surprised that the books recieved this criticism for the actual element that I have always loved about the books.

P.S. Best of luck with the editing :)

Billy said...


Just a note to say i loved the Arts Lives programme and i'd say its a nice 2 fingers up to the "leather elbow patch brigade" as you referred to them, that you ARE an Irish writer and a much loved one at that! I was surprised that you found it strange that people tell you they liked "The White Road" as i thought it was one of the best in the series. Really looking forward to "The Whisperers" and I am going to move heaven and earth if i have to, to make it to one of the signings!! Keep up the good work!


Chris Mc Kenna.

John said...

Just watched the Arts Lives

First - Roger Gregg was a great choice for the reading voice, he really has so much intonation - 'I looked down and i was in Hell' gave a sense of falling.

Also I loved your courage to get out of the safe choice of Dublin corpo and go to Trinity

John, just my opinion but the grittiness of EDT and White Road is what I found part of the attraction.

Nice touch to credit Kathleen, early encouragement or even interest leaves such an indellible impression

What did George mean when he said he see's John when he reads about Parker?

Lot of snow there in Maine John

Love your humour, I'd actually pay to see you sit on a critic and read aloud to him :-)

Oh and thanks for making this John, the access to you makes the books a more complete experience

Look forward to many more broken things

TomH said...

Writing, rewriting, editing, re-editing; editing yet again.

Reminds of Prometheus.

Liver anyone?

Photographe à Dublin said...

Have just found your blog.

Many thanks for sharing the writing process here.

...And best of luck with the outcome.

Marxuquera said...

I for one am extremely pleased that you are so industrious writing three books in just over a year, please do keep it up and I can honestly say that I have never spotted an error in your writing, I am far too interested in plot and story, so ignore the pedants and please keep slogging away.