What did I do in lockdown? Lost a stone and wrote a novel: and here’s a hint of what it’s about.

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You type "The End" and open the bubbly: but the hard grind's only just beginning. Bernard Trafford's working flat out to get his new novel published this month.

Why are we still talking about what people did “during lockdown”, that memorable spell from March to July when the people of the UK were subject to unprecedented (that overused word) restrictions on their freedom and movement in response to the Covid-19 pandemic?  Especially as we’re currently locked down almost as thoroughly as before.

“What did you do in the war, daddy?”  was a slogan penned in 1915 to encourage men to enlist to fight in the Great War. Perhaps future generations will ask, “What did you do in lockdown 2020?” I’m not claiming any unique virtue on the part of those who did something new or achieved a personal goal: though many people did find setting themselves challenges an effective way of helping them get through a difficult time.

As for me, I’m not sure I challenged myself particularly. I did fulfil two specific ambitions: but I’d have done them anyway. Still, whatever the motivation, I succeeded in losing almost a stone (something long-needed, and easier to achieve without draft beer readily available) and wrote almost a whole novel: that is, I had already planned and started writing it before lockdown, but was less than ten percent into it when life’s normal rhythm was suspended in March.

So now Ballad of Betrayal is complete. In the sequel to Song for a Spy, the historical adventure recently serialised on Voice of the North and again set amid the power-struggles surrounding 13th-Century Bologna, a priceless relic is stolen and a captive king goes missing. Choirboy-turned-lawyer’s clerk-turned-troubadour-turned-spy Lorenzo returns to uncover a plot that spells deadly peril for him and threatens chaos across the entire Holy Roman Empire.

Compelled to forsake his comfortable way of life, he must undergo imprisonment, ordeal, seduction, torture and siege and put his life on the line to thwart powerful conspirators and save his friends held hostage and facing certain death.

A proper adventure story, then, described as “rollicking” by a friend who has just helped me with a proof-read: she couldn’t have picked a more encouraging word, given the the requirements of the genre in which I choose to write.

I reached the conclusion a few weeks ago and typed THE END: but, when it comes to writing a book, that’s only the start. The process of reading, rereading and editing ruthlessly is tough.It’s not just about finding typos, though plenty of those pop up in a full-length book. Nor even making cutting a redundant sentence, paragraph or whole section.

For me the nightmare is waking up in the night with a suspicion that I’ve overused a particular word. The next day’s spent using Microsoft Word’s search facility to scour the entire 125,000 words for every excessive use of it.

The English language has an extraordinary fund of synonyms or alternative ways of expressing an idea: but it demands that authors mine and exploit its richness.

Once satisfied with the text, since I am going down the self-publishing route, I “merely” have to upload it to the miracle that is Amazon’s self-publishing package. Then I tell my potential readers and leave it to you either to get hold of it by instant download on Kindle or to order the paperback which will be with you, printed to order, in a couple of days. That makes it sound easy: but I confess that, for me, one of the most terrifying parts of the whole writing process is wrestling with the technology at that final stage.

Ballad of Betrayal: out in a week or two.

So, next week (Monday 16th November) Voice of the North readers will be offered a sneak preview of the opening of Ballad of Betrayal. And with it, I hope, a publication date, which will be this month. There: I’m committed now.

PS: if you missed the end of Song for a Spy, you catch the last few chapters here.

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