If you don’t know how this book came about, you obviously don’t follow me on Twitter because I’ve been quite open about the fact Jenny Trout is to blame for all this.
For…a while…we’d been exchanging DMs about a particular celebrity who was famous before he went to the States but really made it big once he settled there in the early 2000s. Lost weight, dried out, sobered up, picked up more acting jobs, appeared in a friend’s show then got his own, blah-de-blah.
What did these DMs entail? The polite answer would be appreciating his good looks and humour. The slightly less ladylike response would be along the lines of “I’d bang him like a storm door in a hurricane.”
As a joke, I made a throwaway remark like, “I should write a book about him getting his end away,” and Jen’s response was…enthusiastic, to say the least. Especially as, being Scottish, I’d have first-hand knowledge of this totally fictional romance hero’s origins and places with which he’d be familiar.
I’ve often spoken on social media about how there are far too many American authors who fetishise Scotland and Scotsmen, treating this country like a bloody theme park/tourist attraction. Nine times out of ten what they think is a swoonworthy romantic hero is just a two-dimensional caricature that bears no resemblance to any kind of Scot I’ve ever met, but hey, who cares about realism when you’re appropriating an entire fucking country so your readers can Jill themselves silly over cardboard characters called Angus or Jock, who have red hair and wear tartan every day?
I’m just the Scot who was dinged in a review once for “trying too hard to sound Scottish”, whatever the fuck that meant. Would you tell an American they were trying too hard to sound American? An Englishwoman they were trying too hard to sound English?
(Do I sound angry? Well, that’s because I fucking am.)
Upshot is, lesson learned. Never make a joke to Jenny Trout or she’ll hold you to it and make you write the book. From time to time she would send ‘encouraging’ messages asking how things were going on the manuscript, and by that I mean, “Hurry the fuck up with this damn book, Scarlett, I need to masturbate.”
I started Take Me Home on the first of November last year, of course for NaNoWriMo, but a couple of weeks in, realised I wouldn’t finish the book in time for the last day of the month. Pretty soon after that, it became abundantly clear there was no way this book would stick to my original word count estimate of 40k. (I’d planned to write TMH then start another manuscript to make up the remaining 10k words of NaNoWriMo.)
In the new year, just before the world went mad, I told Jen, “You know, I don’t think this book is going to come in much under 50k, you know. Possibly 60k.” And it just kept…growing.
My original outline was 16 index cards pinned to a corkboard, and I thought, maybe 2-3,000 words each would give me a fairly respectable word count. But conversations between the two main characters went long and I had to split a couple of chapters into two parts. Maybe three. More backstory was required to avoid the story looking rushed. So I added more index cards to my outline. And as I’d visited all of the locations (aside from L. A.) used in the book, I was able to go into detail about Edinburgh, Glasgow, the Trossachs, Glencoe, Ballachulish. Drop a little history into the narrative here and there, sprinkle the dialogue with Gaelic.
Then, as mentioned, the world went mad. In March, Scotland went into lockdown which meant I only left the house once a week to do grocery shopping, and perhaps briefly in the evenings to run to the local corner shop for a jug of milk or some munchies for after dinner. I mean, seriously, the amount of crap I’ve eaten since then, it’s a wonder my lockdown chub/pot belly isn’t a lot bigger. Anyway, who cares? It’s a sign I have enough to eat, and that’s a blessing.
On with the show.
Like pretty much everyone else on the planet, my everyday life just…stopped. I make a big deal of hating people (and to be honest, the past few months of selfishness from politicians and civilians alike regarding social distancing and mask-wearing have only served to confirm I am right in my belief that people are bastard-coated bastards with bastard filling) but I did have outside-the-house obligations, commitments, errands, and so on, which just…ceased. Occasionally, I socialised. Not often, but sometimes. And being told I couldn’t do something I rarely wanted to do anyway, just made me want to do it all the more.
But I didn’t, because I’m not a selfish cunt. Anyhoo.
I suddenly had a lot more spare at-home time on my hands. You might have thought, with all the stress people have been under with this pandemic to deal with, increasing one’s productivity must be impossible, but not so. I like to be contrary, so in March, I made an effort to rebuild my writing momentum still further.
In February I’d had a couple of 6k-word days which was my best showing in not just months, but years. I remembered finishing Stay the Night with a 5k day but that was around a decade previous, and I hadn’t written so many words in one day since, I believe. So these 6k days were a real boost to my confidence.
I decided to really aim high, and go for a 10k day in March. That would be my best daily word count in over a decade; I think the last time I’d had a 10k day was during the writing of Plus One, but I could be wrong.
There was a lot going on in my ‘real’ life in March, a lot of stress (not connected to the pandemic and quite frankly no-one else’s business) but somehow…somehow…I did it.
On two separate occasions in March, I wrote 10k words in one day, and after that…writing got easier and easier, even while the world fell apart outside my front door.
In April, I thought, if I could have multiple 10k days in one month, the next step would be…beating my all-time personal best, right? Years back I remember blogging about writing just a smidge under 12k words in one day, and being proud of the achievement but still annoyed that, on totting up my day’s total, discovering I’d just missed the next landmark by a hair’s breadth. If only I’d kept writing for a few pages more, I’d have crossed the next thousand-word mark.
So I was determined to exorcise the ghost of that ‘so near, yet so far’ 12k day, and beat my personal best.
Which I did, on Monday the 20th of April (yes, I keep a record) when I wrote 12,036 words in one day.
I’d done it. Ended up bloody exhausted, but I’d done it.
Between the start of lockdown and June when I finished the book, there were numerous occasions when I would send Jen extracts from the book to butter her up before confessing, “Uh…this might take a bit longer than expected. I’ve just had to add another scene to the outline.”
It wasn’t that I was being long-winded as an author. Just that the story required more detail to fill in Afton and Glenn’s backstory. You can’t spend nineteen years apart then hit the reader with “And we lived happily ever after, the end.” They would have got up to shit in the intervening years before their reunion, and a lot of resentment would build up on both sides, which would then need to be worked through.
I’m not a fan of what I refer to as ‘Hollywood endings’ where a solution drops out of the sky and wraps everything up with a neat little bow. Such books have me wondering if the authors are contractually obligated to limit themselves to a set word count, which they cannot exceed on pain of torture by their publishers, editors or fans.
But how did I come up with the storyline? For a while I’d had a couple of ideas scribbled down in my writing notebook. Just vague hints of characters or situations I could use. One of them was the reunion of a young woman who had previously had a one-night-stand with someone who didn’t remember who she was. For the sake of Take Me Home, this became a woman in her late thirties (to allow for the passage of much more time) who had had a brief, but intense relationship with an actor/comedian with whom she shared an agent. He’d have to remember her, but if the relationship was that intense, why would they split in the first place? Perhaps…they were into partying a little too hard and she wanted to cool it with the substance abuse and he did not? Okay, good. That allows for a lot of heartbreak. An emotional split, but not down to either of them no longer having feelings for the other. It was because of the heroine’s love for the hero, her desire to see him safe and healthy. An attempt at staging an intervention to which he, in his drugs haze, strongly objected.
Living in different countries and building their own careers would keep them apart, but what would bring them together? Well, I can answer that by referring to yet another “Hey ha ha how’s this for an idea,” I threw at Jen, and her “YES WRITE THIS NOW,” reply. I suggested setting the book in Edinburgh and using the Fringe Festival as a set-up for Afton and Glenn’s reunion. As an actor/comedian, he could bring a one-man show to the city of his birth, and contact Afton to say “Hey, I’m going to be in town again, let’s catch up.”
Sure, the Fringe was cancelled, but by the time the announcement was made, I was already halfway into the book and wasn’t going to rewrite it at that stage. Not when it was already careering towards the 80k mark, double what I’d already intended.
I carried on with the outline I had and decided to add an author’s note to the front matter, explaining the circumstances under which I’d written Take Me Home. Everyone knew what the circumstances were; a pandemic is global, after all, but I added a wee paragraph just to explain why I’d decided to set the greater part of the novel during the festival that never was.
Basically, I couldn’t be fucking bothered changing the outline at this late stage. It’s my book; if you don’t like it, blow me. I wrote a first draft of over 130k, half of which was produced during lockdown.
Because I desperately wanted Jen to like the book, I hung on her every DM and message while she read it and in revenge for my many “Um, I think I might need a bit more time to finish this,” messages, she told me “I loved it, but you’ll have to wait for my blog post to read the details.”
And here’s the blog post I refer to: I Love This Book. The title says it all, right?
I hope you do too; after all, I’ve often referred to it as my ‘love letter to Scotland’. And it’s the book which showed me what other authors mean when they claim to miss their characters once they’ve written ‘The End’.
* * * * *
When successful actress and newly-single Afton Collier returns to Edinburgh after her divorce from an American comedian, she doesn’t expect her distant past to reappear.
Fellow Scot Glenn Peterson is nearly fifty and looking back over twenty years of getting clean and sober, building his television career in the States and interviewing the great and the good…and a few scoundrels. When he decides it’s time to move on, that includes taking his one-man show to the city of his birth, which also gives him an excuse to seek out the one who got away.
Afton wants to believe Glenn’s attempts to atone for the mistakes of their shared partying days are genuine, but she has a broken marriage to recover from, and as the saying goes, you can’t go home again.
* * * * *
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