I’ve come a long way from the Malverns to conduct a bloodbath. My home for this week is the The Court in the tiny village of Sheepwash, Devon. Lovely hosts Debbie and Wendy run Retreats for You in this beautiful sixteenth century townhouse, mainly for writers, but anyone in need of utter peace can enjoy their splendid hospitality and the deep rural peace here.

You may be wondering why I have murder on my mind amidst such bucolic delights? If you’ve been paying attention over the past year or so, you’ll remember me mentioning (over and over) my first novel, a science fiction story currently entitled Entanglement (although that could change – again.) The first draft was finished last summer, and since then I’ve been collecting feedback from my long-suffering friends and family,  and garnering detailed commentary on a chapter by chapter basis from colleagues in my Orbit Writers’ Group of the British Science Fiction Association. 

As usual, people had mixed opinions. Some of the features of the story most enjoyed by some were loathed by others. I’ve been given a wide range of comments to brood on. But some of the feedback was pretty universal: too many  confusing concepts; a slow start bookended with an over-eager denouement; and what’s with that guy Sam, the Main Character? Is he for real (translates as “you really can’t write men, Jacquie”).

So I’ve run out of excuses now. Plus I’ve been driven away from my hillside home in Malvern by an unholy trinity of tradespeople: a dust-making and hideously noisy collision of roofers, heating engineers, and our faithful carpenter, who is coming back after injury time sustained on our premises when he made quite a fist of nearly cutting off his hand with a circular saw. (A good word here for the NHS – he was attended to very promptly by our local Minor Injuries Unit at Malvern Hospital, while my husband, The Rider, basked in the glow of approbation awarded by the professionals there for his bulky but effective tourniquet.)

Where was I? Oh yes, about to “murder my darlings”.  This is a phrase variously attributed to Faulkner and other earlier writers. I came across it in the writer’s Bible, the wonderful “On Writing”, quoted there by the glorious Stephen King, long may he reign. And King is quite brutal: “If it works, fine. If it doesn’t, toss it, even if you love it.” So here I am, sharpened quill poised over my fictional victims’ sleeping bodies (metaphorically – I’m actually writing in Scrivener on my Mac). I’ve identified some half a dozen aspects of the book that will not rise to greet another day.

Yes, Sam, this means your romance with Hattie is over.

The good news is that my carefully-nurtured second group of beta readers – you know who you are – can look forward to a sharper, more focussed book with a more engaging Main Character to critique, in due course. And hopefully they’ll spend less time than their gallant forerunners wondering what quantum mechanics has to do with Aboriginal folklore.

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