Around The World In 80 Drafts

Thailand might not seem like the most obvious place to start a historical novel set in early 1800s Argentina, but it made a lot of sense at the time.

It was a cheap place to hole up for a few months and get some serious work done. The glorious weather, perfect beaches, and competitively priced drinks were just a bonus.

One side effect was that I got used to writing in bars and restaurants. And on the move. Two essential skills for the modern-day wandering minstrel.

That was five-and-a-half years ago. I finished A Storm Hits Valparaíso last night. As in, completely finished. Editorial suggestions incorporated, back-matter written, the whole enchilada. It just needs proofing, a cover, a blurb, formatting, some testing, then uploading – which should take only a few days.

Five-and-a-half years is a long time. I was in my twenties when I started this book. I’m now well into my thirties. Older, but certainly not wiser.

Mumbai Train StationSince I started in Summer 2006, this book has taken me on an interesting journey. In fact, I wasn’t supposed to be in Thailand at all. I had finished up an overtime-heavy contract and headed off to India with the idea of traveling around for a month or so, before settling down in a (relatively) quiet spot and getting some work done.

The idea for this book came some months previously, at the tail end of a nine month trip around South America (thankfully rescuing me from an awful “comic” novel about a failed hand model). On my return to Dublin, I spent a few months researching, but work commitments prevented me from really sinking my teeth into it.

By the time I finished a four week trek around Southern India, I was champing at the bit. I had planned to work for an NGO in Tamil Nadu. They seemed flexible with the hours, and it looked like I would have a lot of time for writing. Somewhat fortuitously, en route to the office, I overheard some of the workers bitching about their jobs and the management. I listened in for a good hour, before it became clear that I was going to have to come up with another plan.

A plane, train, and an automobile later I was on the west coast of mainland Thailand, in a town called Khao Lak – which had recently been devastated by the tsunami, and people were just getting back on their feet. The first time I went for a swim on the beach, I found the watery depths held clues to the town’s tragic past: the twisted and torn remains of the beachfront hotels, dragged underwater by receding waves.

I wrote a lot on that beach; it was a quiet, melancholy spot – perfect for writing.

More often, though, I wrote in one of the bars and restaurants that lined the town’s only real thoroughfare – the road to Burma. During the day, I usually had these places to myself. Tourism had not yet returned, and the only foreigners around were those working for a local NGO working with tsunami victims.

The only notebooks I could pick up were these copybooks for Thai schoolkids, who are clearly into cryptic idioms and psychedelia. I have piles of these back in Ireland. I used to dream of becoming a famous writer, and, after I shuffled off this mortal coil, some intrepid scholar digging through my “papers” and discovering these. That still makes me chuckle.

2006 was also the summer of the World Cup, and I remember breaking my foot during the final (which, in Thailand, was on in the middle of the night). Because of my state of, em, refreshment, I thought I had just bruised it, and stayed for the second-half (and extra time and penalties), then walked the two miles home to where I was staying.

Naturally, the next day it was swollen to a disturbing size, and since my “anesthetics” had worn off, I was in extreme pain. And let me tell you, hobbling around on crutches in 36C (95F) and 90% humidity is no fun. Neither is a border-crossing to renew your visa which involves clambering in and out of several fishermen’s boats. My cast stunk of fish guts for days after.

Anyway, by the time I left Thailand in September 2006, I had made a good start on the book – several chapters written, most of the book outlined, major plot points figured out, and I had a handle on most of my (many) characters.

I thought I would be done in 12 months or so. Oh, the naïveté!

The next two years saw me dipping in and out of temporary contracts while moving from Thailand to Dublin, to Bradford, to Portugal, to Kosovo (long story), before returning back to Dublin again to work and plan and save for a research trip to South America.

Somewhere in the middle there I gave up on this book, and didn’t write a word for almost a year. I thought I was done. It was just too hard, and I wasn’t cut out to be a writer. In fact, that was part of the logic in going to South America. I thought if walking down those streets again couldn’t rekindle the fire I first felt, nothing would. It was a gamble, but when you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.

I started in Mexico, and the urge to start back on the book came pretty quickly. I snatched moments here and there between hikes and trips and tours and bacchanalian soirées, but was anxious to get to South America itself and get really working.

After an unforgettable 5-day boat trip from Panama to Colombia, and a quick detour to Santa Marta – where Simón Bolívar had spent his final days while the ungrateful government attempt to push him into exile – I flew down to Buenos Aires and got stuck into the book.

Three months of hard work later, I moved up to Brazil. The southern hemispheric summer had made Buenos Aires an unbearable, windless 40C (105F), and the beach was looking pretty attractive. Three months of that, and I was motoring.

I moved home just long enough to meet my friends and family before decamping to a small fishing village in Portugal. It was spring 2009, and the end of the book was in sight. By the time summer hit, I was turfed out of the place I was living to make room for tourists, and I moved to Prague, and then the Czech countryside.

I finished the book that summer, writing most of it in this quiet bar with cheap beer and big tables, and the same collection of guys staring over at me every day, wondering what the hell I was doing with the mountain of books, reams of paper, and the increasingly frantic look on my face.

I got introduced to them towards the end of the summer, and with the help of a kind translator, I asked them what they thought I had been up to. The answer cracked me up. Taxes. They thought I had been trying to figure out my taxes all summer!

I finished the first draft a few days before I had to return home to Ireland. There was this awful anti-climax. I don’t know if I had expected the heavens to part, or Mexican trumpets, or what, but I remember feeling empty, deflated (and generally unbearable to be around).

That was good preparation for the agent search, but before that commenced, I let the MS sit for 5 weeks or so, then revised the whole thing. It was ready (or so I thought), and in October 2009, I sent out my very first query – the agent at the top of my list who represented one of my favorite writers, Louis de Bernières. I was aiming high, and full of all the delusions of a new writer, and yet to become cynical, jaded, and doubting.

I wrote her what I thought was a charming letter (and which, I was to discover, bore no relation to a standard query), and she responded straight away, demanding a partial. I sent it off with high hopes and retired to the pub to toast my good fortune and imminent Booker Prize.

Needless to say, I got a quick rejection. The book wasn’t even close to being ready, but I didn’t know that yet. Undeterred, I mailed off the first few chapters to 10 or 15 UK agents, with SAEs and all that. I think I got two replies – both form letters. The rest didn’t even bother using my pre-paid, pre-written envelope and binned my pages.

I took that as a sign, and rewrote the book again, hoping to do justice to the wonderful story I had in my head, and to the amazing things I had seen while researching the book. I also started learning more about the business – a stage every new writer must go through, as the scales cruelly fall from their eyes.

By Christmas 2010, after moving to Sweden, I had attended workshops, writing groups, and conferences, devoured books on writing and editing, cycled through several more drafts (each time convincing myself it was the last), and amassed an impressive pile of rejections.

At this point, I had pretty much given up on the novel. I couldn’t see how to make it better, or how to interest an agent, either in Ireland, the UK, or the US. I hadn’t given up on writing, I had achieved limited success with short stories, just enough to convince myself I could write to some extent, but thought this MS was a dead duck. Then an agent emailed, hoping I hadn’t signed with anyone yet. We spoke on the phone, and he was very, very keen on my book and said all sorts of lovely things about my writing.

He must have changed his mind, because that was the last time we had any contact. But that didn’t stop me hoping for another few months that he was just backlogged, and I kept the fires burning by getting more full requests, and talking with another agent on the phone who was interested. None of it worked out, and by March 2011, I had trunked the novel and started something new.

This new book was based on a good idea – a great one even – but I was so down on myself and my writing that it just wasn’t working for me. I contemplated walking away from writing altogether, more than once.

Diving into self-publishing in April changed all of that, and in a few days I will finally publish this novel. I had planned to publish in the summer, but a dalliance with the wrong editor set me back some. I then sent the MS to my current (superb) editor, almost as a cry for help. She quickly stopped me running in the wrong direction, and gave clear, detailed advice about what was strong, and what needed work.

I got distracted by other projects in the meantime, and worked on it now and then, but really started knuckling down in October, and was working on it exclusively, full-time. A couple more drafts, and one more edit later, and now I am finally done.

A journey that has encompassed innumerable drafts, five-and-a-half years of my life, and an accidental trip around the world is finally over.

But this time I don’t feel empty or deflated. I feel pumped. Because nobody is standing between me and my readers.

Trade publishers defend their model by pointing out that publishing is a collaboration. I don’t deny that, and I have assembled a formidable team.

My editor and cover designer have years and years of experience in publishing. My map illustrator is supremely talented. And I do the formatting myself because I’m a masochist.

The finished product will be exactly how I want it to be. But most importantly, it won’t be lost in a slush-pile, queuing for the inevitable quick rejection by an unpaid intern. It will be published. It will be read. And that makes me so happy, I could do a little man-cry.

A Storm Hits Valparaíso will be uploaded in a few days, and should go live pretty quickly after that. If you want a copy, you will be able to pick it up for $4.99. It’s 400 pages (100,000 words), so you will be getting a lot of story for the price-tag.

I don’t usually “launch” the book (i.e. tell the world) for a day or two after it’s available – to give me time to correct any errors or typos. Those on my New Release Mailing List always hear first, so if you want to sign-up, just click here. I only send out a message when I release a book or have major news (averaging an email every 1.5 months or so), and will never share your details with anyone.

As for the rest of you, I’ll post here when the book is live, assuming I don’t get distracted by beer and turkey legs. I won’t be revealing the cover until release day, but to whet the appetite, you can see the beautiful map I commissioned on the right. It was drawn by the supremely talented Jared Blando, who does all sorts of illustrative work, and I highly recommend him.

In many ways, this book has been a weight on me for a few years now. I often fantasize about what it will be like to finally get it out there – to start working on new projects without this novel nagging in the background. I picture myself churning out stories at the speed of light.

I probably won’t be that fast, but I promise the next won’t take five-and-a-half years!

About davidgaughran

David Gaughran is an Irish writer, living in London, the author of "Mercenary" and "A Storm Hits Valparaiso" as well as "Let's Get Digital" and "Let's Get Visible."
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64 Responses to Around The World In 80 Drafts

  1. David, congratulations. It’s been a remarkable journey for you and this story. Wishing you much success with it. I’ll look for it on Kindle.

  2. I’m usually offline on Mondays, but I got the email and I just had to hop on and say, congratulations! Your book has quite a story behind it, and I can’t wait to read. Your excitement is just palpable.

    Good luck, David!

    E

  3. Dan H. Kind says:

    Awesome, David. I can’t wait to read it. I will most def be downloading a copy. I already know you’re a great writer just from reading your blog! Congrats!

  4. David
    Your story is a metaphor for all the change publishing has been through the past few years. Glad you stuck with it, and I look forward to reading it in full! (I’ve been following along as you’ve posted chapters on your site).

    PS Let me know if you’re interested in a coupon trade for Game of Sails: an Olympic Love Story.

    • Sure Carol. I’ve a huge pile of books to get through (I haven’t done much reading over the last three months, aside from research stuff), but I plan to devour them all once I get this book out.

  5. Wonderful! Your post made me want to join you in your man-cry, even though I’m not a dude. :) Congratulations and I can’t wait to download your book to my kindle. You deserve a lotta lotta beers after the journey you’ve been on!

  6. Great story about the story. We must grab a pint one day. Good luck with the book.

  7. What a great narrative, David — and congratulations! I’ll be very interested to read this. I’ve not been to South America, but spent a year in a Mayan village in Guatemala in ’04. I enjoyed one of your early-release chapters on the Incan experience in Potosi. Incidentally, a good friend of mine was recently there to film a short documentary on the charango.

    So you know what’s next, don’t you? “The Making of A Storm Hits Valparaíso.”

  8. John Twipnook says:

    Nice story. Is it in the intro? Congrats on the done-done.

  9. David, did you write early drafts with pen and paper?

  10. josephine wade says:

    What a great journey (at least in hindsight). I’m glad for you. I loved the notebook (and all the best stories are written in silly looking notebooks).
    Enjoy the moment — I am glad you didn’t give up.

  11. Congratulations, David! And thanks for the blue suit picture.
    When will you show us the cover?

  12. Pat Mullan says:

    David,

    I just moved it to the top of my reading list – and, one of these days, you should write your memoirs. If you ever get to Connemara (one of the world’s special places) see me for a pint. They are extra special here.

    Slan, Pat.

  13. I started following your blog around May and I remember hoping to see the book finalized soon – and that was only a few months. I can’t imagine what it’d be like to have that work in progress for five or six years! I can’t wait to see it published at last, good luck crossing the finish line David!

  14. jnfr says:

    All the best to you and your new book, David!

  15. Jaye says:

    Congratulations, David! This is so exciting. I can’t wait to download the book.

    Pat yourself twice on the back for me!

  16. Congratulations. I’m just starting out myself (down the self-publishing route) and your stories have been very inspiring. Wishing you much success with your new book. Can’t wait to read it.

  17. Bill King says:

    Congratulations! I am looking forward to the book.

  18. Sean McGuire says:

    Broken foot in Thailand? Frantic trips to Mexico and Brazil? I had a blast hearing this story. There are writers out there who would break both their feet to have an experience like that. Hold your head high, sir. You inspire me.

  19. Hollister Ann Grant says:

    A super congratulations for reaching the end of this long, long trail. I’m raising a drink to your book across the miles!

    P.S. Love the photos.

  20. Thailand is most certainly not the quiet writer’s retreat. Most people end up married with kids if you spend any length of time here. David, you are definitely the exception to the rule.

  21. Paul Tipple says:

    Enjoy the elation David both now and again when your book is out there and being read. My writing started in Thailand two years ago, but I have thirty years living – not writing – on you. I follow nearly all your blogs/tweets because I find your digital crusade inspirational. My novel has had three professional crits – whole or in part – and they’ve prepared me for the rejection process, which I might have a half-hearted go at next year. But the fact that the traditional publisher is no longer required is very satisfying.
    Two questions;
    Will I be able to read your novel on my Kobo?
    Where did you get that blue suit, so I can avoid the place?
    Hoping Valparaiso goes down a storm.

    • You will certainly be able to read it on your Kobo. You can purchase an e-pub from Smashwords when the book launches which will work on your Kobo. If you prefer to shop from the Kobo Store, it takes a little while for books to work there way in there, but it should appear in a week or two.

      The suit was a “gift” so I can’t help you!

      Thanks for your well wishes, and good luck with your own work. Don’t give up. Remember: the only person that can stop your writing career is you.

  22. goodwillcoe says:

    David
    Very Hemingway. What your blog suggests is that while publishing (as opposed to marketing) is now a doddle, the writing isn’t and never should be. Pain, blood and sweat should underscore every page but the reader has to think it was all effortless. I will look for the blood and sweat stains in Valparaiso. I’m sure I won’t see them, you write too well.
    Will

  23. Philipparees says:

    Brilliant post for those of us almost dead on feet! What I want to know is why the compulsion to write (whatever) never takes a rest, goes on holiday, teams up with a more fluent tongue. Instead it drives a coach and horses through everything else, and usually whip in hand. This ‘under-story will make the book even more interesting!. All the best with it. Philippa

  24. I’m on the move today, but I just wanted to thank everyone quickly and share some amusing news.

    I received a rejection today from a UK agent. From something I submitted in October 2009!!!

    That’s impressively slow. 26 months from submission to rejection. Someone must have me beat. Anyone?

  25. stunoss says:

    Well done David, its an inspirational tale and as a fellow lover of Louis De’B, i’ve been looking forward to reading your book. Is it going to be avaliable in paperbook or just as an e-book???

    stu noss

    http://www.solqushorts.com

  26. Dear David,

    A great post to roll out what will surely be a great (and well-received) book. I must say I thought my own dozen drafts, four years, and move to Singapore and back was challenging, but you’ve beaten me handily on all counts. Best of luck with the launch and I look forward to reading the book.

    Bob

    P.S. I agree with Paul. When you’re being feted about Dublin on your imminent success, lose the blue suit. :)

  27. Congratulations, David!:) It sounds like you’ve been living through a very tumultous, winding road to publication, and at last, here it comes! Well done. I’m sure the hardships and uncertainties along the way will be worth it in the end … In fact, I think it’s already worth it. ‘A Storm Hits Valparaiso’ will be in the hands of readers very soon! Exciting times:) Thank you for yet another inspiring post:)

  28. David, that’s a great story. I’m glad you persevered and finished and published. Congratulations! I’m sure A Storm Hits Valparaíso will be all the better for the re-writes and painful struggle. Will definitely check it out.

  29. So Inspiring. Gives me hope that one day, my current WIP will see the light of readers. (Technically it was begun in 2005… but it really didn’t become anything until 2007/8 when I stated editing and world building.)

    Anyway, lets see, one e-copy formy new e-reader and then I’ll have to get a paper copy for my Dad (the Paruguain) and Step Mom (the Columbian). To bad mi Abuelo isn’t still around. I bet he’d love it.

    So excited for you!
    :} cathryn

  30. cr0m says:

    If Storm is even half as good as the story of writing it, I’m sold! What a journey.

  31. Patrice says:

    But I LOVE the blue suit! I’m sure it looks particularly good on you with that new haircut.

    Okay, my first novel, finally published 4th of July, 2011, was sparked by l’Affaire Lewinsky, when the question popped into my mind… what would happen if a woman politician had a sexual past? And that was in the beginning of 1998. After a synopsis worked out with a critique group, many drafts and revisions later, I sent the manuscript to an agent who said she had stayed up half the night reading it and would love to represent me! Alas… didn’t happen. I put it away, I wrote other stuff, I pulled it out, I updated it… you know the drill. So that novel took me a good 13 years… beat ya!

    (I’m really pleased that it came out at this precise moment in time, though, because now the idea of a woman running for President in the U.S. is not just a futuristic dream, but a clear reality. And I was able to add a GOP opponent who is also female, allowing me to create the first race between two women for that office. “Running” got a great rating on Underground Book Reviews.)

    I just signed up for your New Release Mailing List — so looking forward to “A Storm Hits Valparaiso.” Your blog writing is natural, clear, and funny, and I really enjoyed both “Let’s Get Digital” and your short stories — plus the blog post I read on your South Americana site. When your novel is finally released, a storm is going to hit Amazon… a tsunami of buying!

  32. Dave says:

    Hell of a journey brother! The Thai kids notebooks cracked me up! Wrap those in plastic bags, guaranteed they’ll be worth something someday.

    Wishing you and “Storm” all the best.

    Dave

  33. JA Clement says:

    I bet that feels good – and what a journey! Though I’m awfully jealous of all that writing time (well, and the travel of course!)

    Have a wonderful Christmas, and will look fwd to hearing more about the release date etc!
    JAC

  34. trickaduu says:

    Mighty tale. Fair play on finishing the beast. Sounds like quite the wrestling match. Looking forward to reading it now!

  35. You are an amazing writer! Congratulations on finishing the novel! I completely understand the empty, deflated feeling. I would also add incredible, horrific panic and loss in not being with the characters every waking minute of every day. I just finalized my third novel past week so maybe I’m more in tune to that.

    Thanks for the fabulous post! Can’t wait to download to my Kindle.

    Best,
    Katherine Owen

  36. What a great post! I read this on my Iphone as I was stuck in HORRIBLE christmas shopping traffic at the galleria. I kept laughing out loud. Very funny! I think one of my favorite parts in this post were the men at the pub and their “guess” at what you were up to all summer- TAXES?? LOL. Oh my gosh! Super congrats to you and I will be off to purchase!

  37. Lene says:

    Congratulations! What a journey – thanks for sharing the road to the finish line. It was interesting to hear how you got there, the places you’ve been and it all made me feel much better about being stuck in neverending edits and my own book taking much longer than I’d thought. Turns out that’s normal.

    Looking forward to the release date!

  38. Simon Royle says:

    Next time you’re in Thailand, we’ll have to indulge in some of those “refreshments”. Great story.

  39. Congratulations, David. If the novel is as good as ‘making of’ story, then I’m sure it will be a huge success. Really enjoyable post. And I’ve added the novel to my list of potential summer reads. Well done.

  40. LKWatts says:

    Brilliant post Dave, as always. Reminded me a bit of my travelling days! Congratulations on the book, what a remarkable acheivement.

  41. Red Tash says:

    Dave, you are SO cool. Congrats.

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  44. Novel Girl says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I found your blog through someone else’s and I’m so glad I clicked your link. Good luck with publishing. As a writer, I’ve fallen in and out of love with my novel, but I stay determined to finish it (whether I’m up to 2 am completing a scene or procrastinating for weeks on getting back to editing).

    You’re story was inspiring! :)

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  46. Laney says:

    Have I been under some rock for the last year? Soo glad to have found your blog. Beautifully written and honest. It’s always nice to realize that you aren’t the only one banging your head against the writing wall. Congrats on finally finishing and going live. The best of luck to you;)

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  48. JSD says:

    Best of luck for STORM… Saw the blurb on Unusual Historicals.

    Do you ever miss the auld sod? (Speaking as someone who wandered TO Ireland to write, not away from it )

    J S Dunn, author of Bending The Boyne

    • Hey JS, I was home at Christmas for plenty of tea and rasher sandwiches, so I should be set for a while. I miss the banter most of all. Irish people would talk the hind legs of a donkey…

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