Elspeth Cooper

Purveyor of fine fantasy adventures

Tag: MS (Page 1 of 6)

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Frequently Asked Questions, DRAGON HOUSE edition

I’ve been getting a few emails from readers asking what’s happening with THE DRAGON HOUSE, the final volume of the Wild Hunt Quartet. I’m happy to answer these emails individually, as and when they come in, but it occurred to me that it would save a lot of wear and tear on everyone’s typing fingers if I just did a post about it.

So, without further ado, here we go.

I can’t find THE DRAGON HOUSE in the shops

It hasn’t been published yet. I’m still writing it. I am pleased to report that it’s more done than not done, though (see So where are we at? below).

Why is it taking so long?

My health hasn’t been great for a while now. For those that don’t know (*waves to new people*) I have multiple sclerosis, which I’ve been dealing with for over 20 years now. I’ve blogged about this before, but that was a year ago and I realise not everyone will have read that post.

I haven’t always dealt with my illness in an ideal fashion. When it was still in its relapsing-remitting stages, I coped by largely ignoring it, and trying to bull my way through the limitations it imposed on me. That’s why I stayed in full-time employment longer than I should have. Why I resisted moving to a house without stairs for so long. When we finally did move, in 2015, the process brought a load of new stressors all its own, which did not help my mental health.

Having MS has so thoroughly altered the way I navigate the world. Physically, I can’t do a lot of things I used to enjoy, like travel, or needlecrafts, or tending my garden, but it’s also affected stuff I used to take for granted, simple things like fastening my clothes. Mentally, it affects my concentration and clarity of thought, though not so badly that I can’t see what’s happening to me. Even after 20 years, I get immensely frustrated with it. Frustration becomes rage, which becomes tears, becomes exhaustion, becomes depression and round and round we go.

Lately I’ve been getting better at dealing with that cycle. Though far from perfect,  I’m still here, still trying. I’m still making words, because I can’t not. It’s just not happening as quickly or as easily as any of us would like.

Post it note says "Don't panic"

Will the book ever be finished?

Yes. Absolutely. I owe the story and the characters a fitting ending, something that feels right for them. I also owe it to all the readers who have come along for the ride.

That said, I won’t turn out a piece of crap just to call it done. I won’t put my name to something I’m not proud of.

When?

That I can’t tell you. Yet. Rigid schedules don’t work with a fluctuating condition; that’s why I had to give up my 9-5 office job. Please trust that I’m working as hard as I can, but unfortunately, I can’t predict when I’ll be done. There’s no point in promising a date when I can’t guarantee to meet it, and to get a firm date means plumbing it into the schedules of literally dozens – if not hundreds – of other people in the publishing supply chain, and it’s not fair on them to over-promise and then under-deliver.

But when I hit SEND on that script, y’all will be the first to know.

So where are we at?

The book is about two-thirds done (I think), but there’s the whole final arc to nail down. A series-ender is tricky – many individual arcs to close, lots of moving parts!

As I said in my newsletter:

Last time I made any kind of announcement about THE DRAGON HOUSE, I was at 120,000 words, or about two-thirds of the way through. I’d actually written 169k, but was revisiting the whole manuscript (again) after some tough love from my agent, because, well, it wasn’t in great shape.

Since then, I’ve stopped keeping an eye on the word-count. Instead, I’m measuring my progress by the far more nebulous and instinctive metric of “Does this feel like it’s getting more in focus than it was before?”

You see, I’ve never had a good relationship with daily word-count targets. It’s co-morbid with my dislike of chapter plans, beat-sheets and whatnot. Those things make me feel hemmed in, and if I fail to hit a target e.g. because I’m ill, it sets up a stress spiral of pushing more and falling further short. The quality of my writing always suffers.

Learning that I do this was such a “Well, duh!” for me. I’m still working on recognising it in the moment, though, because it’s hard to see when you’re mired in it. I was raised to be a self-reliant sort, so I tend to just soldier on in the belief that I can wear any problem down with sheer persistence, when what I need to do is not work harder, but work smarter.

So I’ve had to go backwards to go forwards. I’m at about 125k, but there’s a lot more changed than just adding another 5000 words. I think the script is leaner now, more together. There’s new scenes. I’ve made peace with the fact that the POV count (as well as the word count) is going to be higher than the other three books. THE DRAGON HOUSE will be a bit of a monster, but I can see the shape of the beast in the rough cut stone now, and it pleases me. I just have to set it free.

So there you go.

Is Gair going to be OK? Will he end up with Tanith? Do we see Ailric/Ytha/Drwyn get their comeuppance? TELL ME.

You want spoilers, now? No, I’m not telling. Yes, I am a big meaniepants.

So what are we supposed to do while we wait, huh?

If you haven’t already read them, there’s two sample chapters here under ‘Books’ in the top menu. If you have already read them . . . um. Sorry? Please read someone else’s books – there’s lots of great ones to choose from. I’ll still be here when you get back.

And on that note, I want to apologise to everyone for taking so long with this book. It’s not what I wanted to happen. I hope I can repay everyone’s patience with a worthy finale to the series. I want THE DRAGON HOUSE to be the best that I can make it.

And you will get to read it.

 

A vintage typewriter with the text "it starts with one WORD" written on a shee

A needful thing

So this post has been a long time coming. It needed to be written, but I kept putting it off because frankly, I didn’t know how to write it. I still don’t, but I’m going to have a go anyway. I hope you understand.

I’m not a fast writer. I have perfectionist tendencies, which mean I don’t let go of anything until I’m absolutely sure it’s the best I can possibly make it. That goes double for creative work. What it goes for for the Wild Hunt Quartet, the story I have wanted to tell for over 25 years, well. I’m not sure there are enough zeroes in the world. That’s how much it means to me.

I’m also ill, and have been so for a long time. Most of you will already know this, because although I don’t shout it from the rooftops, it’s not exactly a secret. I have multiple sclerosis. Officially, I was diagnosed in 2004, but the symptoms go back almost as far as the origins of The Wild Hunt Quartet. There’s an irony, eh?

MS has approximately the same effect on my nervous system as mice do on your house’s wiring

Anyway, for those that don’t know, MS is an auto-immune condition in which my body attacks its own nerve cells, slowly stripping them of their protective layer of myelin. Myelin works like electric cable insulation, so MS has approximately the same effect on my nervous system as mice do on your house’s wiring, only you can’t call Pest-B-Gone and hire an electrician to put it right. It’s chronic, progressive and disabling.

I’ve mostly come to terms with it, though on bad days I still get angry and bitter when I can’t do something trivial like get the top off a jar, carry a cup of tea without spilling it, or get to the bathroom in time. There’s more, and worse, but that’ll do for today.

When I was first diagnosed, the disease was relapsing-remitting. I’d have flare-ups of symptoms, like visual disturbances or numbness, then periods of no noticeable disease activity. Rinse and repeat. Over time, as the scarring built up on the nerve fibres, symptoms started to stick around. My balance and mobility have deteriorated markedly over the last few years. My fatigue has increased (and fatigue in MS is not ‘feeling a bit tired’, it’s ‘can no longer stand because after a few minutes the axial muscles just don’t work any more’). And the cognitive dysfunction has got worse.

Cognitive problems in MS patients are very common. These can range from poor concentration, difficulty making decisions and general ‘cog fog’ to mood swings, depression and memory issues. Pick one from the list and I’ve probably had it. Certainly depression. Feeling fat and useless, frustrated and foggy and exhausted is pretty much guaranteed to do a number on your mood.

An open book with ribbon marker

© Ingvald Kaldhussater | ID 514554 | Dreamstime Stock Photos

All of which brings me to THE DRAGON HOUSE. Just as a book, it has its challenges. It’s the last one, the conclusion to the series. The one I have the highest hopes and deepest fears for. It’s the culmination of every decision I’ve made heretofore in the telling, the drop-box for all the “I’ll figure that out in the next book”, the firing of Chekhov’s guns, the resolution of every scrap of foreshadowing. As a discovery writer, it’s also the book I knew least about going in.

A big ask, then. And I’m trying to write it whilst dealing with MS that is now secondary progressive. I admit, it has sometimes been overwhelming. I have suffered from creative paralysis. Decision fatigue. Rampant perfectionism and an inability to believe that anything I do will ever, ever be good enough.

If the book’s not done yet, it’s not been because of a lack of effort, believe me. Or any shortage of tears. There simply comes a point where I cannot work any harder, because I simply cannot work. But I keep trying anyway, and that exacts a price.

I will finish this book. This story is my heart-song, my dream; I cannot let these characters down by leaving their tale unfinished. They deserve an ending, and so do all the readers who have come along for the ride. I must just beg your indulgence a little longer.

This story is my heart-song, my dream; I cannot let these characters down

A final few words. I am surrounded with loving support from friends and family. My publisher and agent have been nothing but wonderful. I know I am not alone. This post is not meant to be a play for sympathy, just an explanation. I feel I owe you that. I haven’t kept the blog up to date, despite my best intentions. That’s the thing about missing a deadline; the further past it I go, the less I want to draw attention to myself by mentioning it. The more I’m struggling, the less I feel able to share. My instinct is to hide, to soldier on in isolation. To keep setting myself more deadlines, and keep failing to meet them, so I hide some more.

There are circumstances I cannot change, limitations I will always have to work within, but I will try to do less hiding, going forward.

And I WILL finish this book. You have my word on that.

Sincerely,

Ellie

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