Sunday, 30 October 2011

My Shiny New Covers

I haven't blogged in a while, but this one's a goodie, so I hope it'll make up for my lack of postings recently.

Why is this one a goodie? Because it's where I show you my new covers. I mentioned them in a previous blog, and now I can unveil them. I have to say that I'm incredibly excited about them.

The mass market paperback of Pariah appears next February, and this is what it looks like:

Totally different from the original cover, but I think it's stunning.

The sequel to Pariah, called The Helper, should appear on shelves a couple of weeks later, at the beginning of March, and here is the jacket it will be wearing:

Again, I think it's really eye-catching. You can see now how the Pan Macmillan design team have taken a branding approach to the covers, with the blood, the broken glass and the New York skyline appearing in both.

To further whet your appetite, I'll leave you with the back cover blurb for The Helper:

‘I can help you, Cal. I can help you solve the murder of Cindy Mellish.’

A grisly murder in a shabby New York bookstore seems to hold a special significance for Detective Callum Doyle: the victim’s been marked with a message that could have been left especially for him. But why?

Then the sinister phone calls start. Doyle is told more deaths are planned but the caller will give him clues – on condition he keeps them to himself. So begins his dilemma. If he turns the offer down he will have nothing to go on. But if he accepts and gets it wrong, he will have concealed knowledge that could have stopped a killer.

As more deaths follow, increasingly vicious and apparently random, the pressure on Doyle to find a link becomes unbearable. Does he continue to gamble with people’s lives? Or must he sacrifice everything to defeat a ruthless and manipulative enemy?

Furiously fast-paced, totally unpredictable and unforgettable, this is a masterpiece from the acclaimed author of PARIAH.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Judging a book by its cover

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about how my second novel, The Helper, went through the editing stage. Other things have happened since then. In particular, I've been considering the book's cover.

To me, and I guess to many authors, seeing the proposed book cover for the first time is one of the most exciting stages in the whole process of preparing a book for print. For the first time you get some idea of how the book will look on the shelves. It somehow becomes more real as a product that people will pick up and (hopefully) buy. It follows, therefore, that the cover is of vital importance in attracting customers, and so it has to be fresh and different and have huge visual impact. As the author, I also want to be sure that the cover accurately reflects the pages it contains in terms of theme and concept.

Having said that, the author does not get much say in the cover design. The publisher's arts department will generate a variety of visual ideas which are considered at meetings comprising a whole load of people, including editors and those from sales and marketing. The publisher will also talk to retailers about their views on what will look good on their shelves. The author is, I'm afraid, at the back of the queue when it comes to being consulted about the cover, and I would guess (although I have not had to do this) that it would be difficult for an author - especially a newcomer - to insist on major changes after all the deliberation that has already taken place.

In the case of Pariah, my first novel, the first version of the cover design that I was shown looked like this:

And this eventually became the following:

As you can see, the major elements are still there - the New York skyline, the man with the case - but there are some important differences. The steaming manhole cover has gone, to be replaced by the expanding shadow from the man, and the slant now goes through the top of the book title rather than the bottom. The original idea to have the figure of the man as the letter 'I' in PARIAH has also now been abandoned. It was felt that 'Pariah' was an obscure enough word in itself without adding further visual confusion (I'll blog about the saga over the title another time!). And of course, there is the addition of colour - that bright yellow that really makes the book stand out.

Other aspects of cover design also have to be considered. There is the 'shoutline' - the line of text that sometimes appears below the title to add further enticement to read the book. For Pariah, my editor came up with 'What if the biggest threat to those you love was yourself?' which I really like. Extracts from newspaper reviews and author quotes might also appear on a cover. Then there is the possibility of an author photo on the inside cover, perhaps accompanied by a short bio. Last but not least, there is the 'cover copy' - the blurb on the back of the book that tells the reader what it's about in a couple of paragraphs that, hopefully, grab that reader by the throat and don't let go. In the case of The Helper, my editor drafted the initial cover copy and then I made some alterations which (I think) have now been accepted.

At the time that Pariah was accepted for publication, there was only one book to think about, and so the cover could be designed in isolation. Now that I have a contract for two further novels, however, the situation has changed. The cover design has to be considered more as a branding exercise, with a theme that can run over a sequence of books. This means that when the mass market paperback edition of Pariah comes out next February, it will have a new cover that looks nothing like the existing one shown above. The cover for The Helper, which should come out about a month later, will fit in with this new design, but still look original and exciting. I have seen both of these new covers and I think they're brilliant. I'll blog about them here as soon as they are finalised.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

I am in Germany

Or rather my debut novel, Pariah, is in Germany. Or rather, Ausgestossen, as it has been titled over there, is now officially available, and has been since the start of the month.

It's a curious thing, being published in a foreign land. I still haven't held a copy of the German edition in my hands, and I wouldn't be able to read it if I did. (I was actually pretty good at German at school, but that was more years ago than I care to remember).

It's probably a good thing that I can't read it. It must be incredibly difficult to translate any novel, but one which contains a lot of slang and local dialect must be doubly difficult. For example, I often have characters say 'I wanna' rather than 'I want to', because it gives more of the flavour of New York speech. But is there an equivalent for that in German? Or in other languages for that matter? What about 'diddly-squat'? Or 'shit-for-brains' ? Can one translate those things and still retain authenticity? I worry, therefore, that if I were able to translate the novel back into English, I would discover that it bore little resemblance to the original.

But perhaps that doesn't matter. English-language novels and films get translated into other languages all the time, and generally you don't hear complaints about it. Clearly, though, there must be good translators and not-so-good translators. Fortunately, the German translator for Pariah is one of the excellent ones. Her name is Tanja Handels. I have never met her, never even corresponded with her, but I have heard great things about her work. She has translated works by Zadie Smith, Ann Cleeves, PJ Tracy and John Grisham, to name just a few. I also have a top-notch German publishing company. Rowohlt have published authors such as Kingsley Amis, Michael Crichton, PD James, Albert Camus, and Roald Dahl, so I feel honoured to be on their lists.

There is really only one way to discover how effectively Pariah translates, and that this is to see what the readers think. My first German review appeared recently, and you can see a roughly translated version here. As you'll see, the reviewer gives it a thumbs-up, awarding it 10 out of 10 'bookworms'. One thing I particularly liked about it is that the reviewer has me pegged as an American author! Even if the novel loses something in the translation, it's nice to know that it has some authenticity about it beforehand.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

What I Did at the Weekend

On Sunday I returned home after spending three days at the Theakstons Crime Festival in Harrogate. I had never been to the festival before, but I knew that there would be a number of big authors there and that some fascinating panels and discussions were planned. That's literally all I knew. I hoped to be amused, educated and entertained, and to come home feeling that it was money well spent.

Well, I can tell you that it was much, much better than that.

What made it special were the people. There were no cliques, no elitism, no friction. Everyone got on with everyone else. Big names rubbed shoulders and downed alcohol with the littler fish. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the luminaries were doing everything they could to encourage newly published and aspiring authors. Special mention must go to Mark Billingham, who could almost invariably be found at the 'front of house', welcoming people and having coffee with them. I chatted to him several times during the festival, and although I am a fan of his work anyway, I came away feeling that he is such a nice guy.

The talks and panels were excellent. Val McDermid was hilarious and Lee Child gave a highly entertaining performance in the Room 101 session. I particularly enjoyed listening to Dennis Lehane at the end of festival. He was refreshingly honest and frank, but also such a cool customer. Since he's a hero of mine, I joined a long queue to get him to sign some books, and he congratulated me on my debut novel and wished me good luck. I got a similar reception from Tess Gerritsen and David Baldacci in their book signings too.

On the Friday evening the Pan Macmillan team took a number of us out to dinner at the very posh venue of Rudding Park. I sat between Jeremy Trevathan, Fiction Publisher for Pan Mac, and Philippa McEwan, my publicist. They made for fantastic company, as did everyone else at the table (how often do you get to have dinner with David Baldacci?). Following champagne and a wonderful meal, we were transported back to the bar of the Old Swan, and the party continued. The whole weekend was as fast paced as that: I hardly slept, because even when I managed to get back to my hotel room in the wee small hours, my mind was racing too much for me to relax.

Philippa, my publicist, was brilliant. She introduced me to lots of important people in the business and the media. At one point she whisked me in to meet the manager of the Waterstones store that had been set up in the hotel. I had noticed on the previous day that copies of my book were on the shelves, even though I wasn't on any of the panels. It was pleasing enough when Kirsty, the manager, told me that they were selling well, but then it got better. I was invited to sign the remaining copies, they were stickered appropriately, and within an hour they were all sold!

I have to say that the organization of the whole event was fantastic. The logistics of such a huge festival must have been horrendous, but to me as a punter it seemed to run like clockwork. Sessions ran perfectly to time, stragglers were only allowed in at appropriate junctures, and the audio-visuals were spot on. There were also nice gaps between sessions in which we could grab a much-needed cuppa and some fresh air, and the lunches were superb. All of this in the remarkable setting of the Old Swan Hotel, and the fact that Agatha Christie was once found staying there after her mysterious disappearance only added to the atmosphere.

I must give a mention to Twitter here. As a social media tool, Twitter did its job excellently. I arrived at the festival feeling that I already knew some people, and when we finally met up I was not disappointed. The rapport was immediate, and I left having established friendships that I know will last a long time.

So that was my weekend. Exhausting, but also electrifying and inspiring. I can't wait to go back next year.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Edits, geddit?

One of the things I did recently was to send off the edits for my second book (currently titled 'The Helper') to my editor at Pan Macmillan. This got me thinking about how, before I was published, I had no idea of all the stages a book goes through before it finally hits the shelves. I imagine there must be many aspiring authors in a similar position, so I thought I would take this opportunity to demystify the process if I can.

Once you are taken on as an author, an editor will be assigned to work with you. In my case, it's the editor who accepted my book in the first place, and I imagine it's the same for most publishing houses. One of the first jobs of your editor is to re-read your novel and then try to identify how it might be improved. He or she will then write back to you with a whole load of suggestions. Some of these are trivial; others can require a lot more thought.

The editorial suggestions that were sent to me for The Helper came in two parts. The first part consisted of general story points - points about the plot and characters that I may not have considered. One of these in particular helped me to add a nice twist to the story.

The other part consisted of more detailed comments, with references to specific points in the manuscript. The form this took for The Helper was a large table, divided into four columns. The first column of each row gave the page number of the manuscript; the second specified the line number(s); the third held the editor's comments; and the fourth was left blank for me to indicate my response.

Here's an example of one of the easier edits to deal with:
page 12, line 8: Do skateboards clang? 'Clatter' ?

I had referred in my book to the clanging of skateboards. My editor suggested that 'clattering' might be a better word, and of course he's right. I changed it and simply wrote 'done' in the column reserved for me.

Here's a slightly more substantial revision:
page 26, line 6: Is this paragraph vital? Began to feel that Doyle's triumphalism was a bit overextended!

The editor is calling here for the removal of a complete paragraph. On re-reading it, I realised he was right, deleted the text, and wrote 'Cut' in my column.

Deleting text is often painful, but excisions don't end at paragraphs. I have deleted whole pages at the suggestion of my editor, and even a complete section. In his blog, Ryan David Jahn has explained how he once cut a whole chapter from a novel after the editor queried its usefulness.

Sometimes edits require text to be added. This may occur when the editor feels a passage needs further clarification, or feels that something extra is needed to add to the impact of an event.

When I had worked my way through all the suggestions, I sent the table and my general comments back to my editor. We then went through one more iteration - a few more suggestions, a few more edits, and then we were done.

What you may have gathered from all this is that an editor's comments are not dismissed lightly. In the vast majority of cases, I made changes in line with what the editor suggested. In one or two cases I let things stand, but only after serious thought, and I always explained why I had taken that decision.

The end result of all this work is, I believe, a much tighter and faster-paced novel, with a nice extra twist thrown in for good measure.

But that's not the end of the work on The Helper, as we shall see in future posts...

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Landing a Two-Book Deal

So here's my big news of the week. I have signed a contract with Pan Macmillan for a further two books!

I can't tell you how excited that makes me feel. Getting Pariah published was wonderful, but you never know whether your first book is a fluke. Seems like it wasn't. Pan Mac want me for a while longer yet.

I have to confess that I've known about this for more than a week. Here's the story.

Immediately after finishing Pariah, I made a start on my second book (good advice - see my previous post). It took me just over a year to write, and I sent it to my editor, Will Atkins, on March 9, just a few days after the publication of Pariah. I thought it might take him a while to come back to me. I also worried that he wouldn't like it, even though I felt it was, in many ways, better than Pariah.

In fact, Will came back to me just two weeks later, on March 23. What's more, he said that he thought the sequel was 'superb.' And, better yet, he made me the offer of a two-book contract.

It's at this point that life got a little awkward. I'm not agented, so I had to handle the contract negotiations myself. It was interesting, to say the least, but I wouldn't recommend it to everyone. What I would recommend to other authors in a similar unagented position, however, is to get your contract looked at by the Society of Authors. Becoming a full member costs only ninety pounds, and one of the benefits of that is a full contract vetting service. I can't rate this service highly enough. Although the Society informed me that the vetting process should take approximately 5-10 working days, I received feedback from them within 24 hours! It was detailed feedback too, with a clause-by-clause breakdown indicating where improvements might be possible.

So we negotiated. Some things were agreed to; others were not. Perhaps I could have obtained better terms via an agent, perhaps not. In the end, though, we struck a deal, I signed, and I sent the contract off.

And then Royal Mail lost it!

So I sent it again - Special Delivery this time, which is a terrible rip-off for a simple set of documents, but I wanted to make sure it got there. It did, and Pan Mac countersigned and sent a copy back.

I'm now under contract again, with all that entails. Specifically, I have a deadline I have to meet for book three. But I've also now received the first part of my advance, which helps to make the pressure that little bit more bearable.

As I said above, the deal was done a while ago, so why the delay in telling you? Simply because we were waiting for the trade press announcement, which appeared on June 1. In case you haven't seen it yet, you can find it in this article in the Bookseller.

Now I'd better get back to writing!

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Writing Tip - Be Prepared

Okay, so you've written your first book. You've sent it out to agents or publishers. Now it's just a waiting game. You can put your feet up, relax and wait for the phone calls. Right?


What you do now is make a start on book two. Without delay. You do that for two reasons.
Reason number one is that your first book will probably bomb. Sorry if that's not what you wanted to hear, but that's the harsh reality. Most first attempts at novel writing do not get picked up, no matter what stories you've read in the press. The chances are that you're not an exception, and so you need to move on. Writing gets better with practice, so treat that first book as part of the learning curve and write an even better second novel. That's the kind of persistence and determination you'll need in this business.

Reason number two: I could be wrong. Maybe you are the one in a million whose first book does get picked up. Or (more likely) you've written several books already, without success, but this is finally your time. This is when you finally get that magic phone call that I talked about in an earlier blog post - the one in which an editor says, 'We'd like to publish your book.'

But then you come down from the ceiling. You compose yourself. You try to listen to what else the editor has to say. Do you know what's coming next? I'll tell you. It's a question. Along the lines of: 'How far have you got with your next book?'

Next book?

See, publishers aren't interested in one-night stands. They prefer long-term relationships. They're quite traditional in that way. They expect to be wooed with the promise of further fruits of your labour.

The one thing you absolutely must not do at this point is say something like, 'Actually, I thought I would just write the one book.' Or, 'I don't have any plans for future books at this stage.' That's the kiss of death - the lack of commitment that will ensure the engagement ring gets thrown back in your face.

If you're planning to be published, then you have to plan to be published again and again and again. Which is what I imagine most authors want anyway, so it shouldn't be too much of a hardship.

So be ready for that question. When it comes, be positive. Reassure your potential partner that you are not trifling with affections.

And then go ahead and enjoy a long and happy life together.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

What Writers Need

Okay, so you’ve cleared your desk. You’ve set up a regular time slot in which to write. You’ve got lots of ideas buzzing around in your head. You’ve got a computer, or pen and paper. You’re good to go, right?

Maybe not. There’s something else that many of us need.

It’s the support of our loved ones.

No problem, you say. Our partners love us. They will understand. We have this burning desire to write, and loving us as they do, our partners will understand. It’s a given.

That may be a natural assumption. Why wouldn’t our partners offer their support?

Well, think about what the writing life entails. And I’m not just talking about the odd hundred words here and there. I’m talking about serious, day-after-day writing. The kind that’s needed to churn out a novel.

What you will be saying to your partner is that you want some time away from him or her. Away from the kids too. Regular, substantial time. Every night, probably. Time that you used to spend together. What you might have once called quality time.

And it’s also possible that your partner may have to start doing some of the jobs that you used to do. Like washing the dishes, or putting the kids to bed, or doing the ironing, or getting the school lunches ready. All those fun things.

Oh, and something else you will need to explain is that this is purely a labour of love. There is no financial reward here – at least not yet. It’s not going to help pay the mortgage or the bills.

Writing requires commitment and it requires sacrifices. And not all the sacrifices are yours.

Put like that, you can see (I hope) that it can be a pretty big ask.

Not all partners understand, or want to understand. Here’s Pari Noskin Taichert, over at Murderati this week:
‘From my husband’s perspective, my taking the time and space to write has been selfish, self-focused and a waste of time and resources.’

Wow. But she’s not unique. The compulsion to write is often not readily appreciated by those who have not experienced it. They just don’t get it.

I’m fortunate. Immensely fortunate. My wife has always understood. In fact, she has always encouraged me to follow this calling, even when there was no hint of future success. If she had complained – in fact, if I had detected even the slightest unhappiness in her – I don’t think I could have continued. I don’t think I would have become a published writer. My marriage, my family, is too important to me.

As writers, I think we need to remember that, although it’s generally regarded as a solitary business, we don’t do it alone.

Here’s to our loved ones. They make us what we are.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Interview at MNW

There's an interview with me at the Macmillan New Writer's blog today. Hop on over there and take a look.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

The Phone Call

There are many great moments in the life of a published author: seeing the book jacket for the first time; holding the first printed edition in your hands; seeing it on the shelves of bookshops. But one of the first and most memorable moments has to be the phone call. You know the one I mean. The one in which you hear those immortal words, ‘We would like to publish your book.’

In the case of Pariah, I had almost written Macmillan off as a potential publisher. I did not send it via an agent, but directly to them under their Macmillan New Writing scheme. The guidelines on their website say something along the lines of ‘If you do not hear from us within 12 weeks, then you should assume that your submission has been rejected.’ Six months later, I had still not heard anything. It seemed time to move on.

Then I got an email from Will Atkins, Editorial Director at Pan Macmillan. He made some very positive noises about Pariah and said he wanted to arrange a time to call me on the telephone. So we picked a mutually agreeable time on the following day. I’m glad we didn’t make it any longer than that because sleep suddenly became an unattainable luxury.

When the call came, pretty much dead on time, Will made lots more positive noises, but was still hedging his bets. He liked the book, but the decision wasn’t his to make alone. Others would need to be consulted, and that process would probably take about a week or so. I started to wonder what was the longest anyone has survived without sleep.

In fact, the next call came only a couple of days later. Everyone at Pan Mac had moved much faster than expected, and they all loved Pariah. Which meant – yes, you guessed it – I finally got to hear those words: ‘We would love to publish your book.’

I think my cries of joy could be heard in the next county as I raced up and down the stairs of our house, much to the surprise of the engineer who was fixing our boiler at the time. He remarked later that he had never met such a grateful recipient of his services.

Sometimes the cost of a phone bill can seem well worth it.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

A Good Place to Start...

... is at the beginning. If you’re stuck for something to write about, why not just try throwing down a random sentence as the first line of your story? It’s a technique that’s often used in writing competitions as a way of kick-starting ideas. Don’t think about it too much. Just write something down. Anything.

Here’s an example, off the top of my head:
            She heard something move in her closet.
Just seven words, but already all sorts of questions arise. Who is this unnamed woman or girl? What’s in her closet? Has she heard this noise before? Does the noise make her scared, excited, relieved? You could take this initial sentence in countless different directions, and every one of them is as valid as any other.

Do you like to write crime fiction? If so, could the noise in the closet be a murderer? A victim? A policeman? Or something even more unexpected...?

Crime not your thing? Okay, perhaps this is a horror story or a ghost story, and that thing in the closet is, well, I don’t want to imagine what could be lurking there.

How about something a little less stressful? This is a story for children, perhaps, and they are playing hide and seek. Or it’s a romantic comedy, and the boyfriend has somehow managed to get locked in the closet.

Can’t even dream up that first sentence? Then you’re thinking too hard about it. Look around you for ideas. The first thing I see as I look away from my computer monitor is my radio tuner. So how about:
            David had never heard this station on his radio before.
What’s going on here? Perhaps aliens trying to communicate? Or what if David is the only person who is capable of hearing this station. Why would that be?

What else can I see? Lots of books (of course). So then:
            Where the hell is that book?
What book? Why is it so important? Who is looking for it? Again, a million questions and also a certain amount of dramatic tension that draws you in as a reader and makes you want to continue with the story.

You get the idea? Give it a go. If your first sentence doesn’t work, try another one. Sometimes the crazier the sentence is, the better.
            The lepidopterist had only ever been to one meeting of the Peanut Butter Society.
I don’t know where that came from; I just allowed my brain to be a little more free than usual. I know I could make a story out of it, though. Could you?

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Nobody Knows Anything

I’m a great admirer of the screenwriter William Goldman. He wrote both the novel and the screenplay for one of my favourite thrillers – Marathon Man. He also penned the scripts for a whole host of really big movies, including All the President’s Men, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and A Bridge Too Far. I love his writing style, and from the non-fiction books he wrote (Adventures in the Screen Trade and What Lie Did I Tell) I learned a lot not just about the movie business, but also about the crafting of story.

Goldman will be remembered for many achievements, but one of the things he became known for was for his use of the phrase ‘Nobody knows anything.’ What he meant by this was that movie executives never have a clue in advance as to how well a movie will do at the box office. One of the examples offered by Goldman is Raiders of the Lost Ark. A big, big hit. Yet it was turned down by every single studio in town, until Paramount said yes. Two further examples: Universal passed on Star Wars; Columbia passed on ET. They passed, argues Goldman, because Nobody Knows Anything.

At the risk of being a little bit contentious here, I think that Goldman’s saying also extends to the publishing world. Consider the example of J K Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books. Turned down by all the major publishing houses until a small outfit called Bloomsbury took her on with an advance of £1500.

Here’s another example. This author’s first novel was again turned down by every major publisher, until a minor player called Wynwood Press agreed to publish. Wynwood printed only 5,000 hardback copies, and even they didn’t sell. Wynwood later went out of business.

That book was called A Time to Kill. Its author was John Grisham.

In case any publishers out there are feeling singled out, I should redress the balance by saying that Nobody Knows Anything applies to literary agents too. I should also make it clear at this point that I am not trying to be insulting when I say this. I am merely highlighting the fact that agents, like publishers, are not clairvoyant. What needs to be borne in mind about agents is that they take on what they believe they can sell, and that ought to be what they are passionate about.  There is therefore a huge element of subjectivity involved. What one agent believes to be brilliant may be dismissed as unremarkable by another.

In the days when I was submitting to agents, I received lots of rejection slips (don’t we all?). I hasten to add that these were for my earlier, unpublished novels, and not for Pariah. Here is one of the comments I received from a well-known agent:
            ‘You need to remember to show, not tell.’
and here is another, from a different well-known agent:
            ‘You certainly know how to show rather than tell.’
These comments were referring to exactly the same extract from exactly the same book. You see what I mean about subjectivity?

The point I am making here is that just because your book is being turned down, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s no good. Agents and publishers reject submissions for all sorts of reasons, often not related to the quality of your work. It may because an agency is so overloaded that it cannot at present take on any more authors. It could be because a publisher already has an author with novels that are similar in some ways to yours, and doesn’t want the two to compete with each other. That said, if enough people consistently give you exactly the same criticism about your work, then you should listen and do something about it.

But the essential thing to take from this is not to get too downhearted by rejection. One day you may have the satisfaction of proving them all wrong. Keep reminding yourself of those three words: Nobody knows anything.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

A Writer's Joy

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about the unease of being a writer. About now knowing whether the current book is doing well enough or the next book will be good enough to be published. It’s all true, and I’m sure every author goes through it.


There’s another side to the coin.

Ann Weisgarber, a fellow Macmillan author, got me thinking about this when she pointed out, calmly and concisely, that I have a book on the shelves, an additional German deal, a growing collection of rave reviews, and I’m with an excellent publisher.

That’s all it took. That brief external viewpoint was what I needed to give me a good kick up the pants and to let me know just how damned fortunate I am.

I’m an author. An honest-to-goodness official author. It’s something I’ve wanted for years, and I should celebrate it much more than I do. I’m usually very reticent about blowing my own trumpet, but perhaps it’s time I got over that and started playing it loud enough to bring down the walls of Jericho.

It’s a huge achievement. Others recognize that even when I don’t. I tell them I’ve got a PhD and they’re mildly interested. I tell them I have a novel published, and that’s it – that’s the new topic of the conversation for the day. They are thrilled for me, and excited that they personally know an author.

A few days ago my youngest daughter took a copy of Pariah into her school, on the request of her teacher. It’s certainly not suitable reading material for her age group, so I wondered what was going on. When she came home, she told me it was so the teacher could hold it up in front of the class and talk about it as an example of achievement. It brought tears to my eyes.

And then there’s this story concerning a YouGov poll about the occupations that people would most like to have. What do you think came top? Sports personality, perhaps? Jet pilot? Astronaut? No, none of the above, glamorous though they might seem.

An author. That’s what topped the list. That’s what people dream of becoming.

I have fulfilled that dream. If I another have success with another book, I am and always will be a published author.

And I’m enormously grateful for that.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Writing tip of the day: Get started!

If you want to write something, you need to make a start. It sounds so obvious, but in practice it’s not always so easy. We all lead busy lives. There are a million things calling for our attention, and when they’re not calling, sometimes all we want to do is collapse on the sofa and veg out. Writing requires us to do something, to make an effort, and sometimes that hill we need to climb can seem insurmountable.

And then there’s that big ugly word: procrastination. You want to write. You have a made a conscious decision that you will write. But maybe not just yet. You need to check Twitter first. And your email. And Facebook. And you haven’t played a game of computer solitaire in a while. And... hell, where did that time go? Your favourite TV programme is about to start, so now there’s no point in writing anything. Okay, we’ll do it tomorrow.

I’ve been to a couple of talks given by the great Colin Dexter, author of the Inspector Morse books. (I had lunch with him at a writers’ conference too, but I’m sure he won’t remember). If you haven’t read his books, you should: he has a wonderful mastery of the English language. He introduced me to a fabulous word – boustrophedon (I’ll leave you to look it up). He also introduced me to a famous Latin proverb – initium est dimidium facti, meaning ‘the beginning is one half of the deed.’ It’s a phrase I used to have running across my computer monitor as a screensaver, reminding me that if I can just make a start on whatever project I’m working on, I’m really almost there.

So, do you want to write? Then here’s what you should do. As soon as you get to the end of this blog post, open up Word or Notepad or your favourite word processor and start typing. Don’t be tempted to start up a web browser or an email client first. Don’t go and make a cup of tea to prepare yourself. You don’t need preparation. Open up that word processor and write. Doesn’t matter what you write, as long as you write something. Doesn’t matter how long you write for either. A minute, ten minutes, half an hour – it’s all good. Quality isn’t important here. Resist the temptation to go back over your prose and polish it. Just keep writing, for as long as you feel able. Because then you’ll have something. Something you can fix later. Or maybe just something that gives you ideas for a better piece next time. Whatever you write, it’s never wasted.

And you’ll have written. Which will make you the writer you often said you would like to be.

Go ahead, give it a try. And post a reply here to let me know how you did.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

A Writer's Unease

Perhaps it’s just me, but it seems to me that the life of a writer is filled with unease. My novel, Pariah, has just been published and I’m ecstatic about it. So far, the reception it’s got has been pretty good too. However, try as I might, I can’t stop myself pondering all sorts of vexing questions. Is it selling well? Do people like it? Am I getting enough reviews? Should I be doing more to publicise it?

And then there is the next novel in the series, the manuscript of which I completed this week and sent to my editor at Pan Macmillan. I’m happy with it. In some ways I think it’s a stronger book than Pariah. But again the questions. Will my editor like it? More importantly, will he like it enough to offer me another contract? Is it really as good as I would like to believe it is? Are there major holes in the plot that I have overlooked? Is it not as original as I thought? What if it gets rejected?

I’m generally not a pessimist. And if my writing career stalls, it’s not disastrous: I have a good day job that pays the mortgage and puts food on the table. For many authors the answers to these questions are probably much more critical than they are to me. Writing is their livelihood.

And yet still these questions continue to bug me. I know they shouldn’t. What will be will be. But my suspicion is that I’m not the only author who goes through this. I also suspect that it’s a feeling that never ends, no matter how many books one has under one’s belt. I guess it’s one of the many things I am continuing to discover that go with the territory of being a writer.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Day the first...

So... Welcome.
Come in, please. Sit yourself down. Have some tea. Have some carrot cake. I made it myself. You’re watching your weight? I understand. Not that I think you need to do that. You look terrific. Really.
You managed to find me, then. It’s difficult, I know. Cyberspace is such a big place. They should put up more street signs. But I’m glad you made it.
Who the f*** am I, you ask (insert ‘flip’ or other suitable word here; although not ‘frog’ or ‘flap’ – that would just be silly).
How rude of me. I should have said. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Published Author #392,475,378.
Really, you say. They keep count of such things?
Well, actually, no they don’t. I made it up. I’m a novelist, and that’s what novelists do. We make sh** up. (Only two asterisks to play with here. Feel free to add more if you think you need them. I wouldn’t want to limit your creativity).
The novel I’ve written is called Pariah. It’s published by Macmillan in the UK and comes out on March 4th, 2011. Which is TODAY! (I know, I can hardly believe it myself. I get all misty-eyed just thinking about it).
Cool, you say. What’s it about?
Glad you asked. Dowse the lights. Cue the rousing music. Cue the impossibly deep voice-over.
Think of all the people close to you. Your friends. Your family. Your work colleagues.
Now imagine if they started to die. And the reason they are dying is because of you. Because of what they mean to you.
If you want to save them, there’s only one thing you can do. Sever all your relationships. Become a loner. An outcast. A pariah.
How long could you carry on like that? And what would you give to get your life back?
End of serious stuff. If that’s tickled your fancy, you can find out more at my website:
I’m going to continue posting here on my blog. I’m going to let you know what’s going on with the book, and with the books to follow. I’m also going to try passing on some of the tips I’ve picked up about writing and getting published. In the meantime, I’d like to get to know you a little better (apologies if that comes across as a little creepy; try to avoid imagining it being uttered in a Hannibal Lecter voice). I invite you to post a message below. Go on, say something, even if it’s only Hi. And come back again soon. Next time I’ll bake some muffins.