Happy New Year, one and all! 2015 proved to be a somewhat eventful year for me, not least because it led to a new job in July — one that at least in part draws on the knowledge I accumulated while I was undertaking my fancy degree. 2016 looks set to continue in much the same vein as the second half of the previous year, which is to say busy… though I’m hoping to still find time to indulge in some of my other pursuits, including my various writing projects.

This will be our year

In the early hours of the morning, I finished reading the first draft of my novel, Kelvingrove Park, which I’d completed at the beginning of November. This novel has a long and rather tortuous history, having begun life as film script back in 2006 and gone through various iterations as characters were renamed or replaced altogether, major plot developments were altered and it went through a number of title changes.

It’s a whodunit thriller focusing on a university lecturer, Anna Scavolini,* whose return to her home town of Glasgow after a decade-long absence coincides with the brutal murder, in Kelvingrove Park, of a former schoolmate — the first in a chain of similar killings which she sets out to investigate herself. Given the location, it inevitably comes under the umbrella of the so-called ‘Tartan Noir’ movement, and I suspect the influence of authors like Denise Mina and the late William McIlvanney is quite noticeable in my writing. I tend to think that my main influence, however, is the Italian giallo movies of the early 1970s. (In fact, an early working title for the script version was ‘Giallo in Winter’.)

So, how did it read? Well, better in some respects than I was expecting, and worse in others. The middle chunk, which covers the bulk of Anna’s investigation, is the strongest. This has undergone a vast number of changes since I wrote the original script nearly a decade ago, with the order of events changed again and again and entire sequences dropped unceremoniously. By and large, though, I think it’s in a good place at the moment, and I’m wary of tweaking it too much lest the precarious house of cards I’ve built come crashing down.

On the other hand, I’m conscious of a number of issues in the early chapters, particularly with regard to pacing: I’m just not convinced that, in its present form, it hits the ground running or gives readers a strong enough incentive to keep turning pages. I’ve struggled with this since the early days of the project — any story that begins with the protagonist returning home after a lengthy absence requires a degree of scene-setting — but as it is, things don’t really get underway properly until Chapter 4. The climactic confrontation, where the killer’s identity and the reason for their murder spree are revealed, is also problematic. I’m not as opposed to ‘and here’s why I did what I did’ scenes as some people are, but at the moment I’m conscious that the characters seem to be doing this for the reader’s benefit rather than because it’s something they would naturally choose to do. I’d like to try to move some of the information conveyed in this exposition dump to earlier in the novel, though I’m aware that, in doing so, I run the risk of revealing too much too soon.

There’s also the slight issue of a pair of secondary characters whose history is particularly tortuous. In the original script, they started life as two characters — let’s call them persons A and B. Over time, in an effort to simplify the storyline and reduce the page count, I amalgamated them into a single character, AB. With the novel, however, they’ve once again gone their separate ways, though the plot has changed so much that their original roles no longer exist, so to speak, meaning that I’ve ended up creating new material and a new personality for one of them, resulting in more or less a new character, C, who rubs shoulders with AB. Trouble is, there are times where I’m acutely aware that I’m reading two characters who originated as one. I’m currently contemplating whether to once again revert to a single character or to do the legwork necessary to differentiate them more fully. Both approaches have their upsides and downsides, and would result in the loss of material that I think helps explore the novel’s themes.

So, 2016 is to be the year of Kelvingrove Park for me. The plan is to self-publish it via Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, and I’d like to get it out before the year’s end if at all possible. (It’s set at Christmas, so a December release seems seasonally appropriate.) If it’s not fit for public consumption, however, I’ll delay it for as long as necessary. I tend to go through the same cycle with anything I write: when I first finish it, I see only the strengths, whereas when I return to it after a couple of months, I see only the flaws. I don’t suppose any author is every completely satisfied with what they’ve written, but I want this to be as good as it can possibly be before I call it a day. After all, once it’s out there, it’s out of my hands, and any flaws will remain there for all eternity. And I want there to be as few of those as possible.

* Her surname was originally Scabbia, until I realised that, while a perfectly legitimate Italian name, it also happens to be the Italian for ‘scabies’.