The short, short, short version of this entire post: today sees the launch of THE TOUCH OF GHOSTS: WRITER’S CUT in the UK and the US for pocket change. This is a massively rewritten version of the old Penguin edition and serves as the first book in the revamped Alex Rourke series, with THE DARKNESS INSIDE and BURIAL GROUND to follow very shortly indeed.
There it is, and isn’t it pretty?
I’ll touch on the actual experience and why/how of doing a complete rebuild of an old novel in a later post (because it’s a vaguely interesting process, to me at least, and because, while I’m sure it has happened, I don’t know of any other backlist books that have had a similar treatment), though I will say once again that no one should ever, ever have to scan in an entire novel using a goddamn phone. But for now, here’s some spoiler-free potted information, fact-fans:
The writer’s cut has been very heavily reworked to be more like it was originally conceived. I did three drafts in total with Penguin, and the first change required was to turn it into a whodunnit-type mystery, an investigation with suspects and red herrings and all the rest. Since the main character was (a) rather heavily affected by events and (b) not a bloody cop, this never really worked very well. He had to hang out with the police an awful lot in ways that would get everyone fired/imprisoned in real life. And it was never the point, originally. The story was about the effects of loss and guilt on people, not a puzzle.
That’s not to say my first original draft was actually capable of delivering this; I’m a much, much better writer now than I was ten years ago. Now I can do it, then, not so much.
The writer’s cut is roughly 30% shorter than the original, taking out all the extraneous waffle and giving the story a much tighter focus and snappier pace.
It’s also in a different tense. Which means just about every single line has been changed and polished. Originally they were in first person present, which at the time I liked (blame Chuck Palahniuk), but which turned a surprising number of people off. You also end up tying yourself in knots when you get into flashbacks, which isn’t such an issue in this one (they exist but… well, you’ll see), but which come into TDI in a big way as chunks of the story are set in the past.
“First book in the series”, John? Yes. If I were to do a similar job on Winter’s End (I can’t; don’t have the rights), I’d delete pretty much the whole thing. Character introduction and development was always handled in TTOG since I wrote all the books to function as standalones, and there is nothing in WE needed for the later books. On top of which, it’s first-book cheesy, has a very hackneyed ending, and it’s a bit rubbish all round. TTOG was thus reworked from the start to be a Book One.
It’s dirt cheap either temporarily, as launch-purchase-bait, or permanently as a low-risk lead in to the other books. It depends somewhat on how popular it is. At the moment it’s Amazon-exclusive, but in the long run I might even take a leaf from James’s book and price-match it into permanent free-ness. The later books will be more reasonably priced.
I’m aware that a “cut” is a film-only term. However, “writer’s draft” and “writer’s edit” sounded like an incomplete version and nonsense respectively, so I’m sticking with the technically incorrect but popularly-understood terminology.
I’m also aware that there’s a minor typo on the “also by this author” page at the very end, because there’s always a typo you spot after you’ve hit ‘save and publish’. I’m uploading a new version at this very moment, but if you get in early enough you might see a teensy (really, very unimportant) error in this most nothing-y of sections.
Credit where it’s due (it’s in the book, but I’ll mention it here as well) - the superb base cover image is by Sylvia McFadden, cc-by licensed. Finding it spared my wife having to strike a very similar pose so I could shoot it myself, and it’s rather nippy to be faffing around in the grass.
So there you have it. And I know, I know, is it worth all this effort for these books? They came out long ago, the series is dead and it’s not like I’m building up to anything ne—