I've just finished checking the galleys for my Avalon Western The Treasure of Saint Woody. In doing so I learnt the good news that it'll be published in August. As it was also the first time I'd read the book in over a year I suddenly realized it features pigs, a lot of pigs. Now this could be bad news, or then again it might be good news… it's all a question of timing.
Perfect timing in book writing is a difficult thing to achieve. Start writing a book now about corrupt bankers fiddling the books while Rome burns and by the time it's published it'll feel old-fashioned. If you wanted to write that kind of book you needed to have started writing it several years ago, except who would have known then what we know now? But if someone did, then they'll have achieved a perfect piece of timing and deserve their bit of luck.
On the other hand, it can go badly wrong. An attempt to write about, say, a natural disaster or an act of terrorism runs the risk of coming out several years later just when there's an earthquake or an atrocity. People might then have mixed views as to whether the book is topical, or whether it's a cheap attempt to cash in. Either way there's a strong chance many readers won’t have the stomach for a piece of fiction when there's a similar real-life tragedy in the news.
My piece of good timing, or bad, in St Woody isn’t as important as those examples as my book is a light-hearted western, but when I wrote it in 2007 I didn’t know what 2009's big story might be.
I had the idea that eventually started me writing while watching an episode of King of the Hill, the only US cartoon sitcom series I like. One episode featured the Texan characters getting overprotective about their pigs. "We take our pigs seriously around these parts," Hank Hill opined, and that got me thinking that the role of the pig in the founding of the American West was greatly underrated compared to the role of the mobile beefsteaks. I decided to make a case for improving the lot of the snuffling pork chops wrapped in crispy crackling with an epic tale of pig-rustling. Frankly, I thought pig-rustling sounded a cute idea for a story and luckily the publisher did too.
Two years on from that cute idea the book is due to come out right in the middle of the time when swine flu may, or may not, be affecting 99.9% of the world's population. That is if we're to believe the politicians and their: "there's a crisis and this time it's one of those good ones that can’t be blamed on us, so we'll make a big thing of it and nobody will notice that Gordon Brown got defeated in the Commons today, and they'll stop paying attention to the mess we made of everything else" attitude.
Either way I'm left to wonder if readers will be sick of hearing about pigs come August. Will they find the idea of a frontier town having a wanted poster of a pig in bad taste, or will they not equate reality and fiction? I don't know to be honest.
Now of course I'm not overstating the worry of my book mildly irritating a few people when compared to the possible deaths of millions in a global pandemic, but I had to have a wry smile to myself about the timing!