Brian Ruckley is the author of the “Godless World” trilogy, one that I really enjoyed reading. Earlier this month the last novel in the series “Fall of Thanes” was released by Orbit Books and in the footsteps of the recently conclusion of the trilogy I have the pleasure to have Brian Ruckley here with a guest post. Thank you very much Brian!
So, my third book – Fall of Thanes – came out at the start of May. My Godless World trilogy is all finished. I’ve had an agent for almost six years, a publisher for four, books in bookstores for two and a half or thereabouts. This, let me tell you, is stuff that still seems a little unreal sometimes, like some implausible dream from which I’m doomed to wake at any moment. But all available evidence points to the fact that it has actually happened, so it’s probably a good time to reflect a little on what the experience of producing three published fantasy novels has been like.
It’s been great, of course. For that segment of the population that falls into the category of ‘aspiring writers’ this is what it’s all about: seeing your name on a book that complete strangers are buying and reading. And that is indeed a pretty special experience. As are the e-mails sent by happy readers (those are precious, believe me, to an extent I never quite expected), the royalty payments (precious for their existence and what they symbolize rather than their size, on the whole!), and all the other stuff that goes with sending books out into the world.
It’s been frustrating. Writing is – for me, and I suspect most other writers – mostly a matter of partial success. The ideas, the visions, the images, the stories that swirl about inside our heads are glorious, perfect things. The books we write in our imaginations are masterful. But humans are fallible creatures, so when we try to translate those wonders into text, and capture their perfection on the page, as often as not we fail. But in a way, it’s that gap between the vision and its expression in text that keeps you motivated, I guess: there’s always the desire to improve, to take one step closer to getting it right. And every so often, in a chapter, or a scene, or even just a sentence or two, you can find the encouragement you need, reading it back and thinking: ‘Yes, that’s exactly what was in my head. That’s precisely what I was trying for.’ And then, of course, you think: ‘Now why isn’t it always that easy?’
It’s been an education. The learning’s hardly stopped, in fact: about the publishing business (it’s fascinating to get a glimpse of the inner workings of a business that’s haltingly trying to reinvent its traditional habits in order to adapt to a digital world), but maybe most importantly about my own writing. Like a great many things in this world, writing is something you learn by doing, and you have to do a whole lot of it before some of the lessons really start sinking in. A whole lot, as in hundreds and hundreds of thousands of words. I have a much clearer (but still incomplete, of course, for this is a never ending process!) understanding of what I’m good at as a writer and what counts as ‘room for improvement’, and some of that development has been aided by both happy and unhappy readers. One thing I’ve always been aware of, but now know for sure, is that you learn more by listening to those who find fault in your work than to those who adore it unreservedly. But I’ve also learned that you need to be cautious and selective when it comes to the critics: you can’t please everyone, and if you expend too much mental energy on those who don’t like what you’re doing, you’ll soon disappear under a pile of self-doubt – just as paying too much attention to those who think you are the new best thing since sliced bread will cause you to rise too high on the hot air of praise and turn you into someone nobody really wants to talk to at parties.
It’s been life-changing, but only in really quite small ways. Some aspiring writers seem to expect publication to work a kind of magic on them and their lives; for some people, no doubt that does happen, but in my case I can’t report any wondrous transformation. I am still the same person I was before I signed a publishing contract, and I still can’t afford that Aston Martin Vantage I’ve had my eye on for so long. But I’ve been able to spend a lot of time doing something I enjoy; I’ve created something that, for better or worse, I am happy to take responsibility for and have my name printed on; I’ve come into contact with new and interesting people; I have been given the opportunity to drink vastly more tea and coffee than ever before (because you’ve got to have something to do when that blank page is staring back at you and remaining resolutely blank).
And it’s been addictive. I could stop any time I wanted to (he says with trembling hands, as his eyes flick uncontrollably back towards the keyboard). Really I could. No problem. But … I don’t really want to. I look forward to doing more of it, putting more stuff out there for people to like or to loathe, to buy or not to buy. I look forward to trying – and still failing, in new but with any luck progressively smaller, ways – to achieve an unachievable perfection of voice and craft. And now I can at least say with confidence to all the aspiring writers I meet: Yes, it is worth it. All the patience and persistence and practice, all the dreaded rejections along the way, they can lead to something that’s a whole lot of fun. And even if it won’t completely change you life or make you rich beyond the dreams of avarice, it will be rewarding, and educational, and very probably addictive.