Thursday, 26 March 2009

The Next Book Syndrome

This is really in response to Matt's latest blog entry at "Muskets and Monsters". I wanted to share my comments with everyone. I have been keenly following news on the second and subsequent book contracts with MNW and Pan Macmillan. The highs and lows have been shared on this blog. I have a lot of admiration for the discipline that Matt brings to his writing. He is already working on the Secret War series, and I am certain they will go a long way.
I find the writing of sequels really difficult. I can understand crime fiction with a central investigating character, but why should the same parameter work for other genres? Do readers look for continuity? I am ill at ease with the idea of a brand name. Is this a marketing strategy? But what if the author is inspired to write differently? I guess Matt wrote the Dark Hours because his imaginative trajectory was taking him in certain directions, and surely readers who will pick up his book because they liked what they had read earlier, will connect with the "similarities" and "differences" in his new work. I dare say they will like the "differences" more.
My creative phase takes me in different directions. I wrote a bunch of eclectic short stories while writing my academic book for Palgrave. I did this partly because I had less time for fiction. But it was also because my research on oral narratives made my ideas explosive, seeking short, concentrated forms of expression. What connected my work was something far more insidious than writing for a series. My editor at Picador could see the connect, and she told me that she was fascinated by this particular "phase" of writing. She even said she wants to read my academic book now! A big thank you!
I need to know: How do we plan out our next book? Do we write with the Imprint in mind? How do authors deal with a contrary creative impulse? Which is the common meeting ground for marketing and creative strategies? Do readers look for brand names? Are these creative consraints faced by all published authors?

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Waterstones Recommends...

While in Waterstones Glasgow last week, browsing the store's Recommended books section, I came across this:

I'm afraid my phone camera wasn't the best quality, but the recommendation for Len was glowing!

Friday, 20 March 2009

Recommended blogs

Do you know of any blogs that may be of interest to everyone else here? Informative, amusing, creative - whatever you see fit to share, really. My contributions:

* Apostrophe Abuse
* Literally, A Web Log
* The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks

Over to you!

More on Ann & MNW

Will sent me a link to a piece in The Independent which concludes:
While this year's Orange Prize long-list hosts a scatter of well-known names – from Toni Morrison to Kamila Shamsie – it also spotlights intriguing newcomers. Ann Weisgarber's novel of a black family in the 1910s who leave Chicago for a harsh farming life in the "Badlands", The Personal History of Rachel DuPree, comes from Macmillan's controversial New Writing imprint. Founded by Michael Bernard in 2006, MNW deals directly with authors rather than agents, offers debut novelists no advances, demands first refusal of a second book – but does deliver high royalties on sales of its handsome hardback editions. In spite of much initial scepticism, most writers who have signed up to the MNW terms sound happy with their treatment, and the stable – as Weisgarber shows – competes with ever-more success against traditional imprints. With so few literary-fiction lists now open to new blood, it can only thrive.
It's good to see a bit of publicity for the imprint--thanks for raising our profile, Ann!--but is MNW really still "controversial"? "Demands refusal" is a bit strong, too: is anyone really going to be disappointed if MNW wants to publish one of their books?

But isn't it good to see a positive piece on MNW after all the "Ryanair of publishing" crap?

Interview with Brian

I don't--really I don't--spend all my time poring obsessively over the internet to find references to other Macmillan New Writers so that I can brood over their success. No indeed--I've got Google Alerts, the paranoiac's best friend, to do it for me...

Today it's led me to a great interview with Brian about his Devlin novels, with plenty of good things to say about MNW too. I can even forgive Will for using the term "major brand author" because I think it means people will be buying a lot of Brian's books. (And Gallows Lane is out in paperback next month)

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Congrats to Ann...

...who has been longlisted for the Orange Prize for women's fiction--although you have to read to the very end to find her!

Well done, Ann - and fingers crossed for further progression.

In praise of Eliza

Eliza's RESTITUTION has just garnered a smashing review. 

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Secret Loathings

This is way too good a topic to leave in the comments.

What great work of literature do you hate? Everyone else loves it, admires it, quotes it whenever they get the chance, but it makes you want to stab a fork into the back of your hand when the dinner party plaudits start flying?

Frances and I have admitted to wishing The Time Traveller's Wife would disappear, and Tim tells us he can't stand Waiting for Godot...

Of Second Novels

For anyone who's missed it, there's a really interesting article in Times 2 today about the difficulty of writing second novels, the novelists who failed to equal the success of their first (very successful) book (Donna Tartt's Little Friend, for one), and those who only ever wrote one novel (Harper Lee's Catcher in the Rye).

Monday, 16 March 2009

In Praise of Len and Doug

If any of you were in two minds about reading the two latest MNW titles - don't be. Now that I have some more time for reading, I've been devouring these over the weekend. These are books you will want to read - a sentiment I've expressed a little less breathlessly on my own blog.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Enough to make you cry ...

Tim bravely admitted in an earlier post that the ending of the Time Traveler’s Wife made him cry. “Endings that make you cry” is too interesting a topic to hide away in “comments”, so I thought I’d ask you for your favourite weepy ending. I’m happy to offer up Margery William’s The Velveteen Rabbit for mine. Not that I actually cried, of course – I was just sniffing because I had a cold or something …

Friday, 13 March 2009

A Very Persistent Satisfaction

Another cracking review for Len here!
Would you like a $4.8m advance?

The short answer to this is "yes", but that's not worth a blog entry of itself. There are a couple of fascinating posts on agent Kristin Nelson's blog on the whopping advance Audrey Niffenegger has received for her second novel. I'm always happy to see writers make money, and since The Time Traveler's Wife is one of my favourite novels, I'm doubly pleased to see Audrey getting the rewards her work deserves.

Both Kristin and Niffenegger's agent Joe Regal stress the point that she wrote the novel first and then sold it--despite the fact that she could have negotiated a sizeable advance on the back of The Time Traveler's Wife's extraordinary success. Regal, in particular, is trenchant in his attempts to distance this deal from Charles Frazier's astronomical advance for Thirteen Moons - a book which sold well but could never have earned out its advance: the episode killed Frazier's career. (David has a great post on this topic from a couple of years ago). Regal is also alarmed that word of the deal has got out (as if it could ever have been kept secret) as it might create a backlash against his writer.

A fascinating pair of posts on several levels:Regal concludes with the advice "write the best book you can and then sell it." It's an interesting perspective for those who think the agents' sole frame of reference is to chisel out early, vast advances for their writers. As MNW writers, of course, we don't have a choice--but it's interesting to see the approach advocated at the more cutthroat end of the industry.

And with my second novel, The Last Free City, submitted to MNW yesterday, the last thing I'm worried about is advances. "Yes please" will do just fine...

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Maggie Dana, hobnobbing with the stars...

Over on my blog, I recently posted something about Kirk Douglas and his new, very-limited-run one-man show.

MNW's own Maggie Dana dropped a comment mentioning she'd once had her picture taken with Douglas at the post-premiere party for Spartacus. And she wasn't kidding, either--there she is with Kirk's arm around her, on the bio page of her website. Check it out. She makes a stunning serving wench.

Oh, and by the way, if you're one of the MNW folk and your own blog/website/whatever isn't already posted on our side bar, mention it so we can add you. (Note that Mags is now over there for the next time someone needs to find her).

Monday, 9 March 2009

Persistently Great

Not only is this a great review of Len's A Very Persistent Illusion, it's also complimentary about MNW in general.

Go Len! Go all of us!

Friday, 6 March 2009

Mr MNW interviewed!

There's a two-page interview with the estimable Mr Atkins in the new issue (April 2009) of Writing Magazine, so I'm sure some or all of you will want to check it out if you can.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

The (Recent) Personal History of Ann Weisgarber

She too shy to toot her own horn, but our fellow MNW author, Ann Weisgarber, has enjoyed some nice successes of late.

France Loisirs, a book club in France, will feature The Personal History of Rachel DuPree as a "Avant-premiere" selection for its June, July, and August 2009 catalogue.

The Jentel Artist Residency Program awarded Ann a writing residency in Wyoming. She was there January 15 through February 13.

And Oakhill Publishing in the UK will release Ann's MNW novel, The Personal History of Rachel DuPree, as an audio book in March 2009.

Go girl!

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Coming out of lurk mode

I've been reading and enjoying this blog for so long I'm almost too embarrassed to step forward and introduce myself properly ... but it really is time, given MNW is publishing my first novel, Beachcombing, this June.

I know a couple of people here, Eliza Graham who kindly introduced me to Will a year ago and Ann Weisberger, another MNW who lives on this side of the pond. I grew up in Uxbridge, attended school in Hillingdon, and moved to the States (Connecticut) in my early 20s, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth. I still miss England, a lot, and don't get to visit nearly often enough, but I'll be over for a few weeks in June to meet Will and his crew, do the odd signing, and whatever else will help launch the book.

So, if any of you MNW veterans have any tips, hints, suggestions, etc., I'm all ears and eager to learn.


March's Publication

This month sees the publication of the second Macmillan New Writing novel by L.C. Tyler.

Chris Sorensen is having problems with reality

Inventor of the Sorensen-Birtwistle Revised Scale of Girl-Rage, Chris has a beautiful girlfriend (Virginia), two likeable potential parents-in-law (Hugh and Daphne) and a classic sports car with a leather-covered gear stick. Impending matrimony and the car’s leaking roof seem to be the only clouds on the horizon.

But his apparently comfortable world is turned upside down when Hugh dies suddenly and Daphne (after one Irish Cream too many) reveals some shocking information.

Meanwhile . . .

In an inn, in the Danube Valley, in the seventeenth century, a certain cantankerous philosopher seems to have some words of guidance for our modern-day hero. We join Virginia and Chris (and René) as they seek to uncover the truth about Hugh, themselves and the meaning of life. A Very Persistent Illusion is a hilarious, hugely inventive and thought-provoking novel about love, madness and reality.

Hi, Len. Tell us a little about your novel, A Very Persistent Illusion.

Perhaps the first thing I should say is that it is not crime. Like my first novel, The Herring Seller's Apprentice, it is humorous, and like The Herring Seller's Apprentice there is a mystery for the reader to solve. But there are no dead bodies littering the plot. The starting point for the novel was this: what if you ceased to believe in reality? What if you became (to use the technical term) a solipsist, believing in nothing except your own existence? How do you relate to other people? What sort of car do you drive? Which football club do you support? We're in Nick-Hornby-meets-Rene-Descartes territory here. It's darker than Herring Seller - no doubt about that - but hopefully those who liked the earlier book will like this one.

This is your second novel with Macmillan New Writing. How has the experience been different this time around?

I suppose the first time round it was all new - the editing, the reviews, the signings, the interviews. It was a learning experience, a lot of fun but slightly scary. This time it's all been more matter-of-fact. You compare the number of changes you are being asked to make or your Amazon rating at a particular stage, note that it looks a bit better or a bit worse, then move on. The fact that I have now finished the third novel and am well advanced with the fourth enhances the feeling that I am on a conveyor belt - a very nice conveyor belt, of course, but you start to see novel writing as a continuous process rather than a single dash for glory.

As a sideline to your writing you also moonlight as a Chief Executive. How do you balance the two and what is your typical writing day?

As you say, the day job takes up a lot of time - it's certainly more than 9 to 5 - and I can't count on having evenings or weekends in which to write. I tend to write in bursts - for example during family holidays or when I have two or three weekends in a row to devote to Eng Lit. One holiday, the maids came to our room later and later every day, imagining that if they came late enough I would have gone to the beach like everybody else - they discovered that, sadly, my holiday consisted mainly of sitting in the room typing away. Even when I do have some spare time, I often find that I have to do editing for the previous book, or that I am writing pieces to publicise the novels generally or that I am doing interviews - which I love, obviously. I genuinely have no idea how I wrote - or any clear recollection of writing - the last two novels.

Do you compose by pen or by keyboard, or what...and why?

I feel really sorry for Dickens and Austen. How did they manage? The word processor has transformed the whole business of writing novels. In the old days a new draft meant just that: writing the whole damned thing out again. Now it means changing the words you don't like and calling it v4.9 or whatever. I used to feel that using a pen somehow connected you physically to the paper and metaphorically to generations of writers who had slaved away with inky fingers. But stuff that, frankly. Somebody recently observed that having electronic archives from famous authors would be far less interesting than having piles of paper with their handwriting on it, but that seems to me to be the only downside of the triumph of the keyboard. For those of us whose papers were never destined for Harvard University library, it's all completely positive. Keyboard every time.

Your first novel, The Herring Seller's Apprentice, was both a subversion and an homage to the traditional crime novel. Who are you favourite crime writers?

I've always admired the writers of the Golden Age - Christie, Sayers et al. None of it is great literature, and you can justly criticise the characterisation, but it is enormously inventive and has stood the test of time. I also like Donald Westlake, Colin Dexter, PD James, Ellis Peters, Ruth Rendell, Kate Atkinson, Andrea Camilleri, Roger Morris, Malcolm Pryce, Chris Ewan - and of course MNW's own Brian McGilloway and Aliya Whitely.

And do you feel influenced by anyone outside the crime field?

I'm probably more influenced in the way that I write by writers outside crime. Jerome K Jerome was one of the earliest writers I admired. Later I read PG Wodehouse, Evelyn Waugh and Anthony Powell. I'd be flattered if people picked up any trace of these authors in my own writing. I still read (marginally) more non-crime than crime.

Come on, you know you need to pony up Four Random Facts.

One of the things that I have been quoted elsewhere as claiming to be able to do is reciting all of the Kings and Queens of England with dates - but surprisingly it's been a while since I was last called on to do this, so I may be a bit rusty now. I was once chased up a tree by a rhino. I have a masters degree in Systems Analysis, but these days rely on my wife or my children to tell me how any new piece of software works. Our daughter Catrin is running in the London Marathon this year in aid of the premature baby charity, Bliss. See I've written an article for the Guardian about when Catrin was a premature baby herself. It appears on Saturday 7 March.

Fans of The Herring Seller's Apprentice will be delighted to know that another Ethelred and Elsie novel, Ten Little Herrings, is out in August.

What's next now that you've done your two novels for Macmillan New Writing?

Yes, I have reverted to a life of crime - the paperback of Herring Seller was published in February, by the way. I am currently working on another E&E detective story, provisionally entitled The Herring in the Library.