How long does it take you to write a book?

I used to have an answer for this, some books ago. I used to say that it takes about a year to think about it enough to be able to start writing it down, and then another year to do the writing. That felt like the pattern that was emerging, but it wasn't, and really it never has been. I wrote my first novel, Beauty, in about five months—although I sat down to write a short story, and discovered I had more to say than I thought. Beauty and the Beast had been my favourite fairy-tale for twenty years, and there was a lot of it there, even though when I began I thought I was performing a sort of writing exercise. My next two novels, The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown, each took about a year to think out and a second year to write down, but this is almost as misleading as the time I took for Beauty: Sword has its roots in my very early love of Kipling's stories, Hero in my many, many readings and rereadings of The Lord of the Rings, discovered later, at the age of eleven. (When I was first writing FAQ answers, in 1999 or so, Peter had just given me the complete LOTR on tape for Christmas—as I wrote this in January—and I'd been listening to it, one side per day, when I ran in the mornings. I ran early, before the world woke up, and Tolkien's world rose around me in the winter fogs of rural Hampshire—it was as magical all over again as it was when I was eleven. I had to stop running when the ME closed me down, but I still remember those early-morning runs with LOTR. The gloomy grey winter morning that the Black Rider chased Frodo, Pippin and Sam to the ford was terrifying . . . in the best possible way.)

The Outlaws of Sherwood took about five years to write, for a variety of reasons: that I started out trying to write some other book entirely and wasted a lot of time trying to make it into that other book; that I was halfway through the book again, having acknowledged that the first draft wasn't the book I'd been trying to write but it was now, before I decided to do a little historical research on my supposed time-period in the real world and discovered that one of my major plot lines wouldn't work; and basic insidious corrosive self-doubt. The last-named is always a problem; some years it's worse than other years. It hasn't been quite so bad lately. It was very bad with Outlaws: my previous book had won the Newbery, and I half thought I should have a brain transplant and become a physicist or something, anything but have to write a new book after a big award; and the two circumstantial checks of writing the wrong book and botching my attempt to meddle with history made my rapidly dwindling self-confidence dwindle faster. Mind you, I'm pleased with how Outlaws turned out, and it's as good as I can make it; but the making was pretty gruelling.

And so on. So the short answer is: I don't know that either. Every book is different.