Wednesday, 11 April 2012

W.I.P. Wednesday - 11th April

Today I welcome back to the blog, Deborah Swift

Photos courtesy of author

Deborah Swift – The Polishing of a Historical Novel 

People who bought The Lady’s Slipper when it first came out in hardback way back in 2010 often ask me what I have been doing since then, and whether another is on the way. The answer is that yes, more books are coming, but they are still in the production process. Actually, by the time the paperback of The Lady’s Slipper came out a year later, its companion book The Gilded Lily was already written, and I was beginning research for the third. This my ‘office’ (ie the spare bedroom) where I work most days, note the stack of books ‘to be read’ teetering by the printer, and the ever-present cup of tea. Biscuits of course are invisible as they never sit there long enough to be photographed!

Being published by Macmillan is a privilege. Things take time, but they are done properly so that the reader ends up with a quality product. After I’m happy with my book and the publisher has accepted it, then the “polishing process” begins. This is how I view it, that the rough diamond of my book is about to get its final sparkle and glow.

With The Gilded Lily that meant that my editor sent me his thoughts on structural alterations or difficulties first. This is the first editorial process. As a writer it is hard to cleanse your mind of all the different versions of the story that have been changed or altered during your long drafting process.

If you remember the film Sliding Doors where several versions of a scene play out, this is what a novel can be like to an author. During the eighteen months of writing I will have cut scenes, changed the plot, even altered the ending, and so I tend to look at the finished novel through a fog of all the different versions I have rejected. Although I think the final draft is nearly perfect, a person with no prior knowledge of its earlier incarnations can immediately hone in on any small weaknesses in the overall plot.

After this is done then there is a ‘copy edit’ in which every page is scrutinized for character consistency, repetition, use of language, and a multitude of other things. This is fine-tuning and I love this part because the editor will alert me to things I hadn’t even thought to notice because my mind was taken up by bigger concerns of character and plot when I was writing. For example – there might be a note to say: “the window was open in scene one, but in another separate scene on the same day you tell us the room was stuffy. Is the window open or closed? Do we need something to tell us he closed it, or shall we cut the reference in scene one?”

Then the third stage – proofreading. This is not only a spell-check, but also a check for consistency in timescale and for continuity errors. The Gilded Lily has multiple characters all doing different things on different days taking different amounts of time, yet they need to arrive convincingly at the same time and place without confusing the reader. It needs to be seamless. So if someone says, “see you next week” the proofreader will tell you if they’ve arrived after ten days instead. Of course as a writer you plan for this – I have a great chart that I use to map my characters comings and goings, but often something might have gone awry when you cut things during the editing, or if you have moved a scene from later to earlier for example. I am reliably informed that there are some anal readers who will check the days of the week on the Gregorian calendar for the year you are recreating, and write and tell you if you are wrong!

Then the book has its cover made, and I love the cover for The Gilded Lily, with its beautiful heavy gilded lettering, and the picture of the two sisters – Ella the rebellious one and Sadie, the timid one. I enjoy books as objects, so how a book is presented  - its texture and visual impact, is very important to me. So I notice things like the internal typefaces, the curly design around the chapter headings and the old-fashioned font.

The US cover is very different as it shows only Ella, making her way through the darkened streets of London on her way to her employment at The Gilded Lily, a beauty parlour for wives of the gentry. Of course, what Ella does not know is that the shop masks a much more sinister purpose, and its proprietor Josiah Whitgift, although handsome, is not all he appears to be.

In this picture of my desk you can see the proof of The Gilded Lily cover that was sent to me for approval, alongside the draft of the next book. Because during all this editing I was also writing another book, and there it is, a fat stack of paper, complete with my green stick-its of places where it still needs revision. That one is set in the Golden Age of 17th century Seville as well as in England, and I loved the eighteen months I spent researching and writing it. It meant I had a great excuse for a visit to Seville with its fabulous Moorish architecture and fascinating history. But do not look for it on your shelves yet – just like The Gilded Lily it will have to have its polishing process first.

The Gilded Lily will be published in Sept 2012 in the UK
And in November 2012 in the US

But it’s available for pre-order now!

find me on twitter @swiftstory


  1. Hello Deborah and Carol,
    I found this post interesting. As an unpublished writer I enjoy reading about what happens to a novel once it reaches a publisher. I often think of the film, Sliding Doors when I'm writing as one minor change can impact the whole of the rest of the plot. I spent a week in Seville once with my husband-a beautiful city with stunning architecture. We were there around this time of year and it was very hot! Best of luck with The Gilded Lily Deborah!

  2. Excellent post, thanks, Deborah and Carol.

  3. Nice to have met Deborah. We bought a copy of The Lady’s Slipper for my mam. I'll have to hurry her along reading it so that I can borrow it.

    With regard to the covers, two very different images, I have to admit that I actually prefer the one designed for the US Market.

  4. Anita
    I am looking forward to Deborah's next novel :)

    thank u for visiting and commenting.

    Oh, make sure you get to this one. It is a lovely read. My review is in the archives.
    The US cover is more dramatic. The UK cover is similiar to The Lady's Slipper cover theme wise.


  5. Thank you for this insight into how your books are polished for publication. I'm editing my historical at the moment, but I'm unpublished and it's interesting to learn how successful writers work.

  6. Thank you Carol for such an interesting & insightful look into an authors life, as an aspiring writer i was intregued. Thank you for this really great intervire and something that i learnt a lot from. Xx

    From: Miss. Lucinda Fountain

  7. Hello to all you lovely commenters.
    It is interesting isn't it how people can see the same book differently, as shown by the two covers. I like both the covers for The Gilded Lily, and can see how they each reflect different aspects of the book. Apparently the US likes more "active" covers, and the UK favours more "static" covers for historicals. The markets are quite different apparently, so the covers show that. Though I have to say readers seem to enjoy the same things from a historical - accuracy of research and a good plot and characters!
    Anita, Seville was fantastic, and Debs, good luck with your historical novel.Petty, hope your Mam's finished the book!
    Many thanks to Carol for her kind words and for hosting me.


Please leave me a comment. I do love to read your thoughts.