Welcome to June, or as I call it, The Month (and a half) in Which I Write Another Bloody Novella.
Yes, the omens are clear, the nights are still warm enough to write without losing a finger and I won’t have my Raven’s Blood notes back until the end of July, so it’s time to knuckle down on The Obituarist II: Dead Men’s Data!
This book has been on the agenda since, well, pretty much since people finished reading The Obituarist – still available from all fine ebook retailers, and also Amazon – and started demanding a sequel. I wrote the short story ‘Inbox Zero’ as a quick thank-you to tide them over, but that was ages ago. Now, two years since I published that first story about Kendall Barber, social media undertaker, it’s time to visit Port Virtue again and see what’s hiding under its grease-stained rocks.
This time around, Kendall is hired to disentangle the online affairs of the late, unloved Earl Northanger, a scrap metal tycoon who killed himself in his private zoo. At the same time, he reluctantly takes on a job for a Port Virtue police captain whose online identity was hacked – and he’s being pursued by a local journalist who wants to find out all his secrets. And Kendall has more secrets than anyone else might think.
The world of the digital afterlife industry is again the focus for this second book – a world that’s had some interesting developments in two years, a world that’s no longer so unfamiliar to people. But Dead Men’s Data also explores some other ideas – secrets, lies, death, identity, Nazis, poor tattooing decisions, unexamined privilege, urban decay, the speed at which limbs decay in cement and more.
It also has a fight between a badger and a baboon, because I don’t know why just roll with it.
Anyway, this is the start of the writing process, and I’m hoping to get through this book faster than the last couple. The target is around 24 000 words, writing a full 1000-word-odd chapter (two pages of manuscript, because I find it’s easier to calibrate by page than paragraph) a night, four nights a week for six weeks. I could write it faster than that if I knuckled down – my friend Peter Ball is cranking out 2000 words of novella a day, because he’s hugely talented and works hard. I, on the other hand, have both a terrible work ethic and I’m (as usual) pantsing the hell out of this book. I know the start, I have a pretty good vision of the end, there are some snapshots in the middle… and then the writing process is a day of typing, a day of checking my Port Virtue map, looking through all my digital-afterlife-links and working out what the hell to do next.
(That approach also tends to mean I miss that 1000-word target at the start of the book, but nail chapters thick and fast by the end. It’s all much easier when you have some idea what you’re doing. I should probably learn from that. But I won’t.)
Anyway, enough talk of process – let’s wrap this up with the WORLDWIDE EXCLUSIVE first glimpse of the novella-in-progress! (Please note, this is unedited, untweaked and not yet funny-clever enough. But it’s a start.)
ECCENTRIC MILLIONAIRE COMMITS SUICIDE-BY-BEAR read the headline. The subtitle underneath directly contradicted it – Scrap metal tycoon Earl Northanger shoots himself; body mauled by bear in his private zoo – but who reads subtitles? The headline was pure print-clickbait and it did the job of grabbing eyeballs and sales. God knows the Port Virtue Voice and Advertiser needed them.
‘I’m very sorry for your loss,’ I said to my new client. That sounds like a lame platitude, but it’s usually the right thing to say to someone in mourning. You’re not saying you know how they feel, you’re not claiming to also be in mourning. You’re just expressing a personal sympathy for them and the difficulties they’re having in their time of grief.
Imogene Northanger shrugged; she didn’t seem especially grief-stricken. ‘My grandfather and I weren’t what you would call close, Mister Barber,’ she said. ‘I just want to focus on sorting out his affairs, execute his will and then go back home.’
‘Understood,’ I said, and mentally trashed the remainder of my sympathetic-yet-professional-in-this-difficult-time routine. Fortunately I could use the let’s-get-this-over-with routine instead. I had a bunch of these filed away in my head; I’d practiced them in front of the mirror.
I tried to give her back her newspaper; when she waved it away, I put the Voice and Advertiser to one side. In truth I’d read the paper a few days ago when it was new, although I’d only skimmed the story on Old Man Northanger. I was more interested in the story about the human remains being recovered from the bridge construction site, which had already faded back to page four. There was also a story about me on page twelve, but that was a problem for another time.
Ms Northanger was a well-dressed, well-accessorised woman in her I-would-guess-forties, with short hair and square-rimmed glasses, and when she took those glasses off it was an obvious signal that she was ready to Tell it Like it Was.
‘Let’s just cut the bullshit, Mister Barber. My grandfather was racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic – if it wasn’t like him, he hated it and he let everyone know it. Family gatherings were dire at best, at worst… it was a relief when I came out and the family just shitcanned the whole idea of ever getting together in case it gave him apoplexy. I’m sure he was furious that I was the only family he had left, and if he’d realised that I’d be the one made executor of his will he would have broken his neck sprinting to change it. But too bad for him. Now I just want to wrap up his affairs, sell off his assets, put him in the ground and get the hell out of this town once and for all. Can you help me with that?’
Oh, I liked this lady. She was not at home to Mister Fucking About.
More to come. Watch this space. And so on.