The End

Regular read­ers of this blog — hey Dad; hey Google robot — will won­der where my fin­gers have been for the past few weeks. Not updat­ing this blog much, that’s for sure. No; I’ve been com­plet­ing the first draft of the third Saskia Brandt nov­el.

About a year and a half ago, I fin­ished the second Saskia Brandt nov­el, Flashback. My thoughts for the third one centred around Imperial Russia. I was par­tic­u­larly inter­ested in pla­cing Saskia — who derives her advant­ages from an almost dir­ect con­nec­tion between her nervous sys­tem and the Internet — in a situ­ation where she could have no real advant­age bey­ond her know­ledge of the future.

Of course, it isn’t clear to me (and still isn’t, even at the close of this third nov­el), wheth­er a know­ledge of the future is an advant­age or dis­ad­vant­age. The theme of the first two Saskia books is determ­in­ism and how one can escape it. Let’s say you’re in a Georgian milk bar in 1906 and a hand­some young man walks in. He wears a Caucasian hood and a chokha (a long, skir­ted coat whose chest is lined with bul­let pouches). The friendly folk in the milk bar call him The Milkman, The Priest, Soso, or Koba. But you recog­nise him as Joseph Stalin. Do you want to find out more about him, or do you run?

So that was my start­ing point. I took the winter of 2007-08 to research Russia to a degree where writ­ing about the peri­od wouldn’t be too embar­rass­ing. I began the manu­script prop­er in May and fin­ished in September. Saskia Brandt, the heroine, was Twittering as I wrote (I explain more in this post).

Here’s her first tweet, which was sent from June, 1907, and arrived one-hun­dred-and-one years later, May 7th 2008:

Entering St Petersburg via train. There are men from the Third SectionThis is a shortened form of the Third Section of His Imperial Majesty’s Own Chancellery. It is ana­chron­ist­ic, as the Third Section was dis­ban­ded in the 1880s — as I found out some weeks after writ­ing this part of the story. in the next car­riage and I think I might need to jump off.

St Petersburg’s Peterhof Station, ca. 1900.

Her last tweet, sent from the Hotel Europe on St Petersburg’s Nevsky Prospect in Spring 1909, and received on the last day of writ­ing the nov­el, 4th September 2008:

Having break­fast with Robespierre.

St Petersburg’s Hotel Europe on Nevsky Prospect, ca. 1900.

The nov­el was a pleas­ure to write. I wanted to pro­duce some­thing that reminded me of Alistair MacLean, where the story’s struc­ture reflects a heist and the read­er not entirely informed about how much the prot­ag­on­ist knows. To help get this right, I plot­ted much of the nov­el in advance.

I usu­ally hate to do this. If the story is plot­ted, it is told, and there’s noth­ing to dis­cov­er dur­ing the writ­ing pro­cess. However, with a nov­el that involved so many his­tor­ic­al char­ac­ters, I needed to set lim­its on char­ac­ter move­ments and plot tim­ings. The final plan was a happy medi­um: a bul­leted list of inter­est­ing pivotal scenes that would not under­mine his­tor­ic­al accur­acy too much, but with plenty of inter­sti­tial space that rep­res­en­ted prob­lems to solve along the way.

So that’s the end of the third Saskia Brandt nov­el. It will require re-writes, but I think the essen­tial ele­ments of the story are in place.

What does it feel like to fin­ish this book? A little sad in two respects. That far-away look in my eyes, so often noted by my friends, would rep­res­ent a sud­den solu­tion to a plot or char­ac­ter prob­lem inspired by a remark, or just an image that I was bust­ing to put into the book. Now, I’m back to nor­mal. I’ve got my brain back (just in time for the aca­dem­ic year). So it is good-bye to Russia for a while.

The point of writ­ing a book, I sup­pose, is to get it pub­lished. I’m not con­fid­ent that it will be picked up by a pub­lish­er — not because I lack con­fid­ence in the book, but because the second book hasn’t found a pub­lish­er yet. The third book isn’t likely to shift if the second one hasn’t.

I have a Lulu per­son­al edi­tion of the second book on my shelf, and occa­sion­ally I pick it up with the aim of identi­fy­ing the ele­ments that com­mis­sion­ing edit­ors might have dif­fi­culty with. Apart from the odd clunky phrase, I can’t find much that I’d wish to change. I think the second book is far bet­ter than the first (see the top of this page for reviews of that one), and I think the book I’ve just com­pleted is bet­ter than the second.

That said, it’s dif­fi­cult to voice these opin­ions without seem­ing egot­ist­ic­al. Do I think I deserve to be pub­lished? No. That’s too strong. I mean this: I don’t write books so I can put them in a draw­er.

Here’s a snip­pet from my blog dated 1st November, 2007:

Odd feel­ing; start­ing a nov­el, that is. You don’t know if it will actu­ally turn out to be a nov­el. There is an equal like­li­hood the story will splut­ter and die like a sud­denly beached fish. At the moment, I have some ideas that refuse to tes­sel­late. I hope my gentle read­ers won’t be offen­ded if I don’t go into them in too much detail. Suffice it to say that I’m read­ing some excel­lent oral his­tor­ies of women anarch­ists in 1870s Russia. An intriguing archi­tec­tur­al folly known as the Amber Room will fea­ture. Much of my research, at present, involves listen­ing to the Enemy at the Gates soundtrack (crikey, doesn’t it sound like the music from Schindler’s List?) and sketch­ing young Georgian revolu­tion­ary poets.

And one more from 17th March, 2008:

So what is it? What’s the story, Saskia? Why are you stand­ing on the threshold of the Amber Room, and what does it have to do with going home?

So. ‘The Amber Rooms’ — the third Saskia Brandt nov­el. First draft 91,180 words; May, 2008 to September, 2008.

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

8 thoughts on “The End”

  1. Any chance you might order a few (lots) more cop­ies of the second and sell them your­self? If so please con­sider this my pre-order.

  2. Well done, Ian. I fin­ished the rewrite of my sequel to LR this week, just for myself. Obv. it’s the week for fin­ish­ing books.

  3. Hey John — thanks for the pre-order! I’ll make sure you’re first in line, since nobody else has asked to buy it yet 🙂

    Thanks, jmnl­man

    Aliya — Thanks, and well done on fin­ish­ing your own effort. Does this mean you’re not going to pur­sue pub­lic­a­tion for the book? That’s a shame, if so. I’d be inter­ested to see how the pair get on…

  4. Hi, Ian.

    Congrats on fin­ish­ing the new nov­el. I’m sure neither of them are not. pub­lish-worthy. The new one sounds par­tic­u­larly inter­est­ing. If you want someone to read it, I’d be happy to? (Is it depend­ant on famili­ar­ity with the pre­vi­ous nov­els though?)

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