Last night I typed “the end” on the first draft of It’s In The Stars.
Now, before you say, ‘wow Jo, that’s great! Didn’t you send off the first draft of your Philly Barker novel only a few weeks ago? You’re a writing machine..’ let me put this one into perspective. But first, I need to take you back in time.
Once upon a time, in a land far far away – okay, it was Sydney and about ten years ago – I had an idea for a series of chick lit novels set in Melbourne that would be like Love Actually, if Love Actually was a series of chick lit novels set in Melbourne.
The idea was to write five novels, each stand-alone but tied to the others by supporting characters. In the final novel everyone would be brought together – just like in the final airport scene of Love Actually.
From the start I knew who my lead characters would be:
- Emily Cooper – an IT business analyst with a habit of dating men on the rebound from women they tend to rebound back to.
- Abby Brentnall – an accountant, brittle and damaged as the result of a childhood trauma she needs to resolve before she can find lasting happiness.
- Calliope Jones – an HR professional hung up on her undeserving ex-boyfriend and convinced all will be well if she can just get him back.
- Tiffany Samuels – a straight-talking uber ambitious corporate highflyer who doesn’t believe in love.
- Alice Delaney – an astrologer with a closer relationship to Temptation than she should have, and a book of rules designed to keep her out of the trouble that Temptation leads her into.
While Calliope, Tiffany and Alice are best friends, the others are loosely connected – as are the timelines of their stories – so I needed a way of keeping track of everything. To do this I used spreadsheets – one with character names and descriptions, and another with approximate dates the action was taking place over.
Even with these, for someone who doesn’t plan ahead, it’s been a nightmare to make the pieces match – and I’m sure there are some slightly out. It’s been made even more of a nightmare because I never know the plot of a novel until I’m actually writing it.
Alice’s story, It’s In The Stars, was always intended to be the last in the series – the one where everyone was brought together. I also knew that the vintage blue suede coat that Emily bought in Baby, It’s You with a bucket list in the pocket would make a reappearance. How this was going to happen though, I had no idea.
It would be an understatement to say I struggled. I wrote the first 50,000 words of this in Nanowrimo back in 2018, then I trashed them and wrote them again in Nanowrimo 2019. I picked the story up again during 2020 and 2021 and each time Alice had a different path she wanted to me to go down. Last year alone I changed the first three chapters at least three times before sticking with the way I originally wrote it. (Lesson to new authors, always keep the words you delete in a “trash” file in case you come back to them.)
I promised my editor I’d have it to her early last year – she got Escape To Curlew Cottage instead. I promised her she’d have it late last year – she got the first in the Philly Barker series. I truly began to wonder whether I could finish it. It had taken me three years to get Baby, It’s You to a publishable standard, and it was beginning to look very much as it would take even longer to get It’s In The Stars out there.
So, during the Christmas break, I sat down at my laptop determined to write the last 20,000 odd words – even though I still didn’t know how I was going to get there.
It took almost 30,000 extra words, but last night I got there.
I still need to run through it again to make sure I haven’t contradicted myself, and I’m still not entirely happy with the opening chapters (and suspect my editor won’t be either) but as someone who has written and sold a lot more books than I have once said – you can’t edit a blank page. It might have even been the same person who said something like all first drafts are crap. (Sorry Mum, I know you don’t like that word but it’s better than the other one I was going to use…)
Anyways, that first draft is done. We’ve still got a long way to go until it’s published, but it’s done.
As for what’s next?
I know this one was going to be the last in the series, but I have a hankering to write Ainsley St James’ story as a Christmas novel. Ainsley has appeared in Callie, Tiff and Alice’s books and is a bitch of the highest order (sorry Mum, I know you don’t like that word either), but maybe, just maybe, there’s a reason for that and maybe, just maybe, she has some redeeming features that are waiting under the surface to sneak out through the cracks.