Monday, 31 December 2007

January's publication...

What would you sacrifice to carve your name in history?

When Damia Miller is employed to promote revered Kinnerton and Dacre college, it doesn’t take her long to recognise that a grotesque antique painting recently uncovered on one of the college’s walls might hold the key to the college’s future.
Six hundred years earlier, master mason Simon of Kinnerton is preparing plans for his magnum opus, a college to rival anything in England. His work only interrupted when he becomes father to the son he has longed for for twenty years.
In the present day, Damia grows increasingly obsessed with the mysterious wall-painting and the college’s dark history. What is the painting trying to tell her? Why was the college named after its mason as well as its founder? And who does the statue of the carefree boy in the Toby Yard represent?
In mediaeval Salster, Simon of Kinnerton is struggling to come to terms with the fact that his son is disabled – cursed, in the eyes of many of Salster’s townspeople. But just as Simon himself is coming to accept young Toby a tragedy occurs whose repercussions will echo until the present day.

Testament is a startling feat of imaginative skill, distinguished by the breadth of its vision, and by the heartbreaking story at its centre: that of the sacrifice a child made for his father, six hundred years ago.

About the author:

After an idyllic farming childhood in West Wales, Alis underwent several culture shocks in rapid succession. She swapped a 60s comprehensive in the sticks for a sixteenth century Oxford college where she ate the lotus and read a bit of Eng Lit for three years; she then ‘graduated’ to a fast food restaurant where she worked for a year and was re-educated before becoming a London commuter whilst she trained as a speech and language therapist at City University.
Now, nearly two decades on, she still practices as a therapist some of the time. The rest of the time she writes at the home in Kent which she shares with her teenage sons - who resolutely fail to be dazzled by her industry at the keyboard - and her partner who is, gratifyingly, much more easily impressed.

She has, mostly, got over the culture shock.

Hi, Alis, tell us a little about your novel, Testament:
"Testament is a novel which reflects my own fascination with how the past can affect the present, even the long-ago past. The thought that the lives of people six hundred years ago can have a direct impact – practical, financial and emotional – on twenty-first century people is one that I find immensely attractive; it makes history alive in a way which just studying it as ‘stuff from the past’, self contained events which are now over, doesn’t. I’ve always had a penchant for split-time novels for that reason and I don’t suppose it’s any surprise that I ended up writing one.
I’ve often wondered whether human nature is universal – whether it really is human nature - or whether it is shaped by cultural circumstances, whether it has changed over centuries and millennia. That sounds deeply philosophical but what it amounts to in Testament is seeing whether, when presented with similar circumstances, people in the fourteenth century react in a significantly different way to contemporary people.
I’ve also discovered, not just in writing Testament, but in all my fiction, that I’m fascinated by communities. Testament is fundamentally about how we live as part of a community or how we survive without one. Why are some people drawn to defend communities and others to attack them? How do closed communities (like a mason’s lodge or an Oxbridge-type community) work and why are they so easily poisoned from within?"

How did you and Macmillan New Writing "meet"?
"The good, old-fashioned way - in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook! I’d spent about a year re-writing Testament after getting very encouraging feedback from another publisher. When - with the usual regret, good wishes etc - they eventually didn’t take it on, knowing I had a book which at least one industry insider thought was good, I started combing through TW&AY. When I came across the words ‘Only open to unpublished authors’, I almost couldn’t believe my eyes – I had to get my other half to read it to see that it really did say ‘Send the complete novel by email as an attachment’ – nothing about ‘Submissions only by previous agreement’ or ‘No unsolicited MS’. I sent the typescript off in September and, after a truly agonising wait for the rejection letter, got the accepance email from Will in January."

What is your typical writing day?
"If it’s a week my boys are with us (they divide their time between our house and their Dad’s on a week-on, week-off basis) I wave them off to school at about 8, load the dishwasher, put a load of washing on, make sure the kitchen table has enough space for my computer and notebook amongst the paper debris which seems to accumulate no matter what I do and start. Actually, ‘start’ usually means ‘read several blogs’ once I’ve turned the computer on. Since I started my own blog I’ve become a compulsive reader of other people’s and there are a few that I read every day. I try to be working on the book by 8.30 but it sometimes creeps towards 9. Then I work til somewhere between twelve and one thirty, depending on how it’s flowing, when I go for a walk. I used to run but stopped last year because I developed a bad back – probably all the sitting down rather than the running, in truth. Actually, I’ll often break off and do the walk earlier if the writing’s not going so well, I find the rhythm of walking and the mental space that being outside gives me are sometimes able to free up my subconscious and get things moving again. And walking is so much more productive in this respect than running – mostly because, when walking, you can focus on things other than pain and getting sufficient oxygen to your muscles…
After lunch, if it’s a week the boys aren’t here, I’ll usually try and work til five o’clock, then post my own blog. If they are here, I need to get the blog done before five because, once they come home, there’s a run on computers for homework and – since our desktop crashed fatally a couple of months ago - I usually relent and let one of them have my laptop.
That all sounds deceptively organised. What you have to understand is that the day is punctuated with me constantly leaping up from the kitchen table where I write to make endless cups of tea (which often go cold, they just have to be there for some reason) or to hang the washing out, or make a phone call or (like this week) sort out car insurance, or… the endless variety of things by which I justify spending four days a week at home writing when I haven’t made a single penny out of writing yet and am, therefore, a horrible drain on family resources. The strange thing is, I find that, even if the writing’s going well, I can’t simply sit there for hours on end and type away. I have to kind of ‘sidle up’ to my story and peek at it, write a bit, then get up from the keyboard and go and do something else for a few minutes,as if I’m trying to convince my characters that I wasn’t really watching them, writing down their every word and action. It’s a weird process.
Then there are the things I do whilst sitting at the keyboard which aren’t strictly speaking, writing (no, I’m not talking about staring into space and thinking – that’s definitely writing) like cleaning fluff and cat hair out of my keyboard. Our cat should be bald, the amount of hair which lurks in my Toshiba. And checking to see whether anybody’s commented on yesterday’s blog, that’s a big timewaster too. I justify it by telling myself it’s all communication with the bookbuying public. Hmmm. How much self-delusion can one person seriously be under?
Then, depending on season, there are the endless arguments with self about whether one can work seriously outside in the sun. (I was so desperate this summer that I designed a little cardboard ‘hat’ for my laptop screen to cut out some sun-glare. It sort of worked but I looked totally mental peering with screwed up eyes at words I could barely see.) In the winter, the arguments morph into whether to turn the heating on. ‘Put another jumper on’, my green-tinted self says. After two jumpers, fingerless gloves and a hotwater bottle for my feet, when my fingers still refuse to find the right keys, I usually relent, and with all the thermostatic valves turned down except the ones in the kitchen, where I work, I turn it on.
As you will probably have worked out, I write straight on to my laptop, though, interestingly (interesting to me, anyway) I never word-process notes. All my notes are done in A4 notebooks, in pencil, and are done as manically-legged spider-diagrams. I’m an instinctively lateral thinker and find sequential thinking really hard, so sometimes, the sheer linear, onward march of a novel is difficult. I look at a page of notes for a chapter and think – it all seemed so perfect, why is it turning out to be so hard!"

Four random facts:

Worst thing about writing:
"No, it’s not the days when you look at what you’ve written and think you’re completely crap, they just have to be got through. It’s other people’s expectations. Family and close friends get it – they’re basically excluded from the creative process, sorry and all that, can’t be discussing the work-in-progress, just wait patiently a year or two and all will be revealed – but other people seem to imagine that you’ll want to tell them in detail about your book, and, moreover, that you will enjoy listening to them telling you about all the amazing things which have happened to them/their Aunt Mabel/this bloke at work about which they could – if they could find the time in their oh so busy life – write a really funny book about. It would sell a lot of copies, you know, make them a lot of money; if they could find the time. ‘I’ve often thought I could write a book if I had the time’ – are they the most irritating, annoying and slap-worthy words in the world? Well, no, probably not, but they are immensely aggravating, aren’t they, when you’ve just heard them for the hundredth time?"

Best thing about writing:
"Being left alone to do your own thing and – a nice spin-off - being a pleasant person to come home to in the evening. And, during the writing process itself, that moment when you suddenly realise, with perfect clarity, how a scene is supposed to work, or where a new and inevitable twist becomes clear, or when you finally realise what that huge climactic scene in your book has just got to be. The ‘click’ moment. For me, there’s no excitement like it. (Yes, I do lead a quiet life!)"

Writers you most admire:
"In no particular order: Tracey Chevalier, Sue Gee, Joanne Harris, Philippa Gregory, Minette Walters, Anita Shreve, Sarah Dunant, Jodi Picoult... Oh and, lest I forget, JK Rowling. I am a genuine and devoted HP fan. Aaargh, they’re all women! Never realised that before. Oh - Ian McEwan is up there too, but horribly variable – I can’t think of another writer of whom it’s true that I love some of their books and really dislike others. In general, I like writers who tell a story, draw realistic, engaging people and, preferably, teach me something I didn’t know before. And the sheer sensory overload of Joanne Harris’s books always reminds me how much richer my own books could be in that department!"

Most ludicrous moment in your life:
"Clearly, I have led a very dull life because I can’t think of much that’s ever happened to me which could be described as ludicrous. One of the most embarassing moments of my life was as assistant stage manager for the school play. (Either I don’t put myself in embarassing situations much or I’ve blocked them out – this was twenty-seven years ago, for goodness sake!) On the second night of the run, for no discernible reason apart from the fact that I must have had some kind of minor neurological event, I opened the curtains thirty seconds too early, before the actors were in place. This necessitated lightning crisis-management by the director and instantaneous generation of a few lines which Terence Rattigan never wrote to explain why the maid comes in to the room at the beginning of The Winslow Boy to find the windows open but the room entirely devoid of Boy! And the worst thing was, apart from an agonised look from my friend the Stage Manager as she saw the curtain opening, nobody said a word about what a total cretin I’d been, they just rallied round and sorted it! Why would I have preferred to be shouted at? You tell me…"

Thanks, Alis, and good luck with the publication of your book...

Testament is published on 18th January. For further information check out Alis' blog here, or to order a copy of Testament access the following links:

Saturday, 29 December 2007

Happy Holidays

Here’s hoping you all had a merry old time of it recently, and wishing you a great 2008.

Lots of writers have posted here about why they write, and I always say this is something I don’t want to think about. I always feel a little anxious that I would sit down, mull it over, realise there’s some easy-to-solve problem with my psyche, and cure myself of the need to keep writing it all down by simply buying a Paul Mckenna CD.

So this isn’t about why I write. It’s about what happens when I don’t write.

This Christmas was a special occasion for a slightly different reason. My Hubby had been working abroad, and he returned with a long holiday to take, so I decided to avoid all pens and paper, and concentrate solely on him for a while. I don’t write every day as a rule, but I do seven dedicated hours a week, so this was a real departure from my usual routine. I was quite interested to see what would come of this experiment of attempting to be a bit more normal.

The first week was a lot of fun. We played the Wii a lot. We dug out Scrabble and I let him win a few times. We entertained our baby Munchie and all had fun painting butterflies on scrap paper.

It was in week two that the problems started.

I got grumpy. I will admit I’m not always a ball of glowing happy sweetness, but this was beyond my normal tetchiness. I started to snap at Hubby and Munchie. I collected pens into bundles around the house and idly doodled on cheque books and toilet paper. Munchie’s chalkboard got covered in a morose off-the-cuff poem (you should avoid my poetry in all circumstances unless you happen to be a bit of a Vogon too) and the shopping list ended up in a diatribe about sprouts.

Then things got really bad. I may have stopped writing, but I couldn’t stop myself thinking about the book I’m working on at the moment. So I began to tune real life out. I didn’t hear anything that was said to me. I blanked people in the street. I let the answer phone take all my calls. After the fifteenth time of commenting on this, Hubby gave up and began a meaningful relationship with the Wii instead – at least that responded to his movements. I realised I was writing again, only this time I was writing in my head. There was no delineation between my characters and myself any more, because there was no allotted time to be them, and no allotted time to be separate from them.

I gave up and picked up the pen again, and thankfully became all too solid flesh once more. So that’s why I write – I’m only getting out the stuff I’d be thinking about all the bleeding time anyway. As long as I write, I’m insane for seven hours a week rather than all the time. And that has to be a plus, doesn’t it?

Thursday, 20 December 2007

A Fingerpost --------->

Michael Stephen Fuchs (author of the MNW books The Manuscript and Pandora's Sisters) has been rather quiet for the last few months, with only the rare mutter on his blog.

He has made up for this prolonged stillness by publishing a long post reflecting on the topic of life post-publication. It's marvellously written, and, though not the most uplifting thing you might read this holiday season, well worth a look.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Nice Review of Peter's book

Hi guys! Has everybody seen this really nice review of Peter Anthony's A Town Called Immaculate on dovegreyreader scribbles?
Just thought I'd mention it in case this really nice blog isn't part of everybody's daily e-diet!

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Macmillan New Writing: the Motion Picture

Last night a few friends and I went to see The Golden Compass at the cinema, and as usual, after watching a movie adaptation (typically a bad movie adaptation) it got me thinking about adaptations of my own novels and whether or not they would be any good.

The problem with being a self-confessed cinema-bore, is that I know what makes a good film, and what makes a bad one. This means if someone were to make a movie adaptation of say, The Secret War, and it was a bad one, I would be able to see the car-crash coming from a mile away like someone with no breaks heading towards a brick-wall at a hundred miles an hour.

But would I care? Afterall, a movie adaptation produces “pound-signs” (or in David’s case, “dollar-signs”) whenever a book is optioned. And that doesn’t include when or if the film is made; if it goes into production there might be more money, not to mention increased sales of the book in question (though usually that’s a big “if” – the number of film-adaptations languishing in development-hell would dash many an author’s dreams). And it’s not like Macmillan New Writing is a virgin to the movie business either; Michael Stephen Fuch’s Manuscript was optioned last year by a British film company, as I understand.

Yep, there’s money to be made in movies, folks. Get it right, and there’s lots of money to be made.
But get it wrong though…

Well, there’s the catch. It might be a small one, depending on your point of view but it is best described by a horror movie called Rawhead Rex. This is a diabolical movie based on diabolical character – a demon no less. It is also based on a short story by Clive Barker, one of many contained in the rather viscerally titled “Books of Blood”. This eclectic and often groundbreaking series of anthologies blew my mind back in the early 1990’s when I first got into Barker’s stories, but the movie adaptation of RR must rank as one of the worst horror movies in creation and probably one of the worst adaptations of a written work (and if you count the numerous bad Stephen King adaptations, that’s pretty bad). In fact, for some years Rawhead Rex was the only short story in the Books of Blood I hadn’t read because the adaptation was so awful I couldn’t bring myself to read the source material, fearing it would be a different shade of awfulness.
(In the end, the short story was pretty good, one of the best in the collection as it happens.)

Now, if I had never read a Clive Barker novel/story before, after watching Rawhead Rex it is doubtful I would have ever tried to. And there lies the risk… A mundane adaptation, one that is forgettable, will not harm the author’s reputation - but an appalling car-crash of a movie will damage it, sometimes irreparably. And unlike your own written work, authors rarely have any control over movie adaptations (unless you’re JK Rowling).

The other issue is one of patience as well as control. It is very rare for an author to see more than one adaptation of the same novel during their lifetime, unless the first one was so terrible, and/or you live to be a hundred. That means only one chance to see your creation on the big screen. With that in mind, would you be pleased to let someone like Uwe Boll or the like, adapt your novel for the screen, knowing the result will certainly be utter cinematic-tosh, yet with the knowledge you’ll be getting quite a bit of money up front; or would you stick it out until the right director/producer came along running the risk that it won’t be filmed at all?

Personally, I like to think I have principles. I like to think that my writing career outside of Macmillan New Writing (where the world rights to the first two works rest in the hands of Macmillan Publishers as per the contract) will be one where I’ll personally vet each movie proposal that comes my way, to the point I would sacrifice some of those “pound signs” for a modicum of creative veto. That’s what I like to think, yet in this business, money can be quite blinding; the more money, the bigger those creative cataracts become.

I guess the argument is moot if no-one does adapt your book, but as I’ve discovered, surprises can happen, and there’s nothing to say that a big screen adaptation of say Shock and Awe, or Light Reading, or any of the other MNW titles won’t happen. Michael’s book certainly shows it is possible…

As for The Golden Compass… For the record, I thought the film was underwhelming. Something that could have been epic, with much emotional gravitas, was rushed and lacked any resonance. Creatively, if I were Pullman, I would be disappointed. Conversely, having seen the movie, I want to read Northern Lights (it was on my to-do list, but it’s now been bumped up a few places) as I gleaned from the film the potential for a bloody good story.
I for one won’t be going back to the cinema to watch the next two sequels, nor buy the DVD (unless it’s in the local HMV for a couple of quid – and even then I’ll probably regret wasting the money). But I think in this case it is another triumph for the humble paperback over a rather clueless movie studio, and I’m sure it won’t harm Philip Pullman’s reputation as a good writer either.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Selling out, maaaaan.

With retailers seemingly selling out of Cover the Mirrors left, right and centre, I thought I'd have a rummage through the list of stockists I knew about and see how many of them still appear to have the book available for dispatch. The list is here in my blog - if any of you know of any more that I've missed, do please feel free to tell me.

Also, courtesy of Books

Friday, 14 December 2007

I’m Frank Saxon

Well it’s Christmas time, and if any of you “lucky” writers work in an office it’s the time of year where much tomfoolery and games occur. Admittedly we’ve had our fair share of quizzes and japery here already, including the obligatory “porn-star” name-game and “Star Wars” name-game.

So in this spirit, and before we disappear into Christmas bedlam, I propose we share our “Pseudonyms”. Now, I might be treading on a few toes if some of you MNWers already use a pseudonym, but my author’s name is a 100% me. And I’ve always wondered what my pseudonym would be…

So I’ve devised a great way of calculating one:
Take your first middle name (if you have more than one) and then add the surname of the main character from your first book.

There. Easy, isn’t it?

For the record, my pseudonym is Francis Saxon (and my porn-star name is Casey Feely*)

Merry Christmas to you all and see you in the New Year!!

(*The porn-star name, for those not in the know, is derived from the name of your first pet followed by your mum’s maiden name).

Monday, 10 December 2007

Why do we do it?

Hi – Yet another MNW writer joins the blog-party – my name’s Alis Hawkins and my book Testament will be the January MNW offering.
Many thanks to David not only for inviting me to contribute but also for all the amusing blog entries which I’ve been catching up with. Thanks also to all the rest of you for your posts which i've been enjoying – you are an amusing and talented bunch of people. Faye and Aliyah – looking forward to meeting you in Cambridge in January!

Anyway, as it’s my first post here (though you can catch all my deranged daily thoughts on my own blog) I thought I’d go for the novel-writing jugular…

Why do we write books? We all get asked it and, despite our protestations, I’m sure a most people who ask think it’s for the money. Let’s face it, whenever novelists are in the news it’s for some massive advance or huge sales - novelists plying their trade after a full day at work or barely making enough to keep up the payments on the garret don’t tend to feature much.

But we don’t do it for the money, do we? (Just as well, we’d be poverty-stricken fools if we did.) So, do we do it in the hope of money? I think not; unless you are a champion deferrer of gratification the pay-off is way too long term. And, if you factor in all those years of struggling and try to work out some sort of annual pay-rate…well, it would be well beyond depressing…

Then why do we do it? I can’t answer for other novelists, not even others here at MNW, so lets narrow the field a bit - why do I do it?

Like everybody who write books, I’m often asked ‘Did you always want to write?’ But the answer is that I didn’t. I wasn’t a child scribbler or a precocious juvenile novelist.
Early on, my passion was not writing at all but reading. I read my way through anything anybody gave me and the entire children’s section of the little library in my home-town. Don’t be too impressed, the children’s section was a bookcase roughly the size of an Ikea Billy-and-a-half.

I loved the other worlds that books created. I wasn’t picky. I read historical fiction, Jennings, sci-fi, Enid Blyton, me-and-my-pony stories… I lived in a farming community in rural west Wales, even books about ‘ordinary’ families living ‘ordinary’ lives seemed exotic to me.
I read in bed, at the table, at school, on the bus to school… if there wasn’t a book to hand I would take refuge in any print – the back of the cereal packet at breakfast, the ketchup-bottle label at supper, information on posters in school, rules of behaviour on the school bus, anything.
Was real life so boring or so awful? Not at all, it just didn’t seem as real to me as the life I read about in books. It was as if I couldn’t engage with reality all the time; I had moments of intense self-awareness when I saw myself and my immediate circumstances very clearly but the rest of the time the world I met in books was far more comprehensible.

I think a lot of reality, for me, is unregistered, that a lot of my life goes on beneath the radar of consciousness. I don’t ruminate much, I’m not one of those people who is always thinking, always teasing away at some problem or another. I often don’t know what I think until I’ve said it – either out loud or in print. And a lot of what I find I think is a surprise to me, or at least, the fact that I have such well-developed thoughts and opinions about stuff just sitting there waiting to be articulated is a surprise.

I’m notorious amongst my friends and family for being monumentally unobservant. Unless things are pointed out I’m likely to miss them – I have driven past accidents on the road without registering their horror, walked past people dressed as giant rabbits in the High Street without noticing that they were there. And yet, when I sit down to write, details which I must have been filing away come flooding out. I can describe somewhere in minute detail: architectural flourishes, reflections in windows, the smell of a little-used church hall, the precise discordance of a poorly-tuned paino... It’s weird. I’m clearly storing all this stuff away without any conscious awareness that I’m doing it.

So, do I write to find out what’s in my head? Not consciously. Sorry, that wasn’t meant to be funny, but perhaps it illustrates how little I understand why I do what I do. Consciously, I write because I am happiest when writing fiction, when I am feeling my way into another world, waiting for people to reveal themselves to me, to tell me their story. Nothing else I have ever done matches up in terms of consistent excitement; my other half can always tell when it’s been a good writing day because I’m so totally wired when she gets home.

But, exciting or not, revelatory or not, writing for me is much more like hide-and-seek than show-and-tell. Often, I feel that I am sneaking up on my story and reading it over its own shoulder, sidling up and catching snatches of conversation, seeing fleeting glimpses of people and their actions before they move away from me. Obviously, it’s my own subconscious I’m actually sneaking up on so the question is, why don’t I have access to it all the time? Why do I have to play grandmother’s footsteps with it and rush back shrieking when I turn around and catch myself looking?

Maybe it’s that mystery which keeps writing so exciting and interesting for me – maybe in writing my books I’m also finding out who I really am.

Playing with the Moon a 'Hidden Gem'

I've discovered that Playing with the Moon is one of the one hundred on the long (so actually very long) list for World Book Day's Hidden Gems initiative in the UK.

The basic idea is that readers vote on the 100 titles to create a shortlist of ten books, which will be discussed in reading groups and libraries and generally widely promoted. Then a final title will be selected.

This is all very exciting and unexpected.

Elsewhere on the site there's a short story competition and other activities aimed at children and schools.

Friday, 30 November 2007

December's publication...

It's Christmas Eve in rural America, and a storm is brewing...

When bankrupt farmer Ray Marak saves the life of his friend and banker, Josh Werther, neither they nor their neighbours can imagine what the night will bring.

Still traumatised by his time in Vietnam, Ray’s world has shrunk – to the boundaries of his small hometown of Immaculate, and the warmth of his adored family: his young sons Jacob and Ethan, and his wife Renee; Renee, the woman who waited for him during his wartime hell.

But as the snow accumulates, so do the townspeople’s stories, and the suspicions Ray has harboured for years start to resurface, along with his demons. As midnight approaches, and young Jacob vanishes into the deadly storm, Ray realises that Josh’s generosity has been motivated by something more than neighbourly kindness. Snow, it seems, can bury everything but the past; hour by hour, as Christmas Day approaches, Ray Marak begins to lose control.

A Town Called Immaculate is a haunting novel about family and fidelity, and the fragility of the things we take for granted.

About the author:

Peter Anthony has worked as a software engineer and as a business consultant. His background involves a wide array of experiences, including military training, homeless advocacy, farming, sportswriting, and more. He divides his time between the US and Switzerland.

Hi, Peter. Tell us a little about your novel, A Town Called Immaculate.

A Town Called Immaculate is set in a tiny Catholic community full of the ghosts of religion. It is Christmas Eve morning, 1981, and the entire story takes place over the next 24 hours. A religious farmer floats on the verge of foreclosure. A small town banker struggles with his past during yet another lonely Christmas. A blizzard approaches the town, and over the course of the day, the family faces issues of religion, birth control, divorce, and the long-term effects of war. As the storm bears down, the snowplow drivers get ready for a long night in blinding snow, and the family will not get any sleep until daybreak.

How did you and Macmillan New Writing "meet"?

Last year I was living in Zurich with my wife, and a friend told me about the world's largest book fair in Frankfurt. I wanted to see what it was all about so I hopped on a train and booked a bed in a ten-person per room hostel. The Frankfurt book fair is enormous - I was overwhelmed by the size of it, and every publisher in the world had a booth, or two booths. I visited the Macmillan staff and asked what was new - and then someone offered me the contact information for MNW.

What is your typical writing day?

Usually it's an 8-10 hour workday followed by dinner, then locating a quiet place, preferably with no internet connection to tempt me, where I can write for several hours. I don't make any special preparations, I just boot up, get into the mode, and start. Sadly, sometimes the mode never shows up and I don't get much done. When I sit down to write, my goal is a minimum of 1,000 words a day. It doesn't always happen, but that's the goal. I don't write every day unless I'm working on a story. If I'm not writing at night, I'm reading, or trying to learn something new, and I'm always thinking about the next story or character.

Four random facts about you:

1) The worst thing about writing


2) Best thing about writing

A finished story. It seems that I know when a story is done because there seems to be nothing more to add. It's a complete feeling. Of course, six months later, I usually think of something that I'd like to change.

3) Writers you most admire

Dostoyevsky, Voltaire, Bukowski, Orwell, Ovid, Melville...and John Keats. I had to have one romantic in there.

4) Most ludicrous moment in your life

Age 15: Streaking the Embassy Suites hotel.

Thanks, Peter, and best of luck on the launch. (And need I point out for you Christmas shoopers that the book takes place on Christmas Eve, and has a lovely snowy cover?)

You can find out more about A Town Called Immaculate by following the links below, or by visiting Peter's website.

Macmillan New Writing

Amazon UK

Friday, 23 November 2007

Books and Their Covers

A while after Matt's post on the latest ebook technology yesterday, Will sent through the first draft of the cover for The Dog of the North. I can't share it yet, but it's enough for now to say that I'm thrilled with it. For Macmillan, covers clearly are important--and by extension, they're important to readers too. But that's only the case for physical books. An ebook may have a cover of sorts, but not in the way a casual browser would recognise.

The purist in me says that covers are in any event irrelevant to the content of the book, and that our work should stand or fall on the basis of the prose. In the longer run, that's true: but for that to be the case, someone has to read it first. And more people are likely to read--and with any luck enjoy--the book if the cover is eye-catching and engaging.

The non-purist in me (the reader rather than the writer, if you like) simply goggled in awe and amazement when I saw what Macmillan's cover people had come up with. As the proud parent, my responses will naturally be exaggerated, but I hope that when the cover is on the bookshelves next year, it induces browsers to pick up the book, read the blurb, then maybe open it and read the first few pages... and then I'm on my own.

It's part of the reason why, for me, ebooks will never be more than a minority interest: useful and practical for people on the move, but no substitute for a collection of books. Even a ratty old paperback, as long as the spine's intact, can be a thing of beauty. I'm all for ebooks--anything which makes reading easier and more convenient can only help writers. But I don't think I'll ever own one.

Thursday, 22 November 2007


So the great wave of publicity, not to mention scepticism, rises from for their flag-ship tech: the Kindle.

For those not in the know, the Kindle is an e-reader the like of which has been seen before, but with the backing of a major retailer (which hasn’t been seen before). I’m raising this here on the Macmillan New Writers blog because as authors on one of the few imprints in the UK to actually publish their novels as e-books, we have a vested interest in how well, or badly the Kindle does.

My personal view is that you can’t beat a good paperback. You can take them anywhere, you can read them on the beach, in the bath, on the loo – and if they fall apart, so what? They only cost the price of a cheap bottle of wine (less if you buy them second hand). I wouldn’t be reading the Kindle on the beach, and certainly wouldn’t read it in the bath.

But having said that, books are instantaneously downloaded when you want them, as are newspapers, and even blogs. It doesn’t look bad either, and if like me, you have a real problem with book-space, it’s a saver there too…

…Even if the price of the unit is – at the moment - extortionate.

Monday, 19 November 2007

On superstition

I just posted a rather rambling entry on writers and superstition in my blog, so I thought I'd open the floor to discussion in here as well. Are any of you prone to superstitions regarding your work?

What’s Your New Book About?

About 75 pages. About half-done. About finished. About to drive me crazy. Ask at different points and you might get any of these evasive replies from me. What you won’t get is a straight answer.

We’ve already discussed, at various times, how we plan (or don’t plan) our novels. But here’s a follow-on question: How much of your story do you reveal to folks who ask about the story and where it’s headed?

Much of the time I couldn’t answer the “what’s it about?” question even if I wanted to. But when I finally know where the story is headed with some degree of certainty (usually around the middle of the book, by which time I usually know what the ultimate conflict scene will be but don’t necessarily know how it will turn out), I still don’t tell anyone the story. For me, telling the story relieves the pressure to write it down. And quite a few writers—from Hemingway to King—have an iron-clad rule (or some would say superstition) against talking about their work until at least a first draft is finished.

This attitude has not stood me in good stead with some members of writing groups, who wish to critique chapters in light of where the story is headed. I think this is silly. My reasoning is that the reader of a novel can’t make me answer questions as they read. I care about reader reactions. Sure, I’m interested in what questions the readers might have in their minds, of course, but I refuse to discuss the story. That’s a chat, not a book.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, I’ve met a few writers who talk endlessly about their story and where it’s headed, and the new ideas they’ve had, and how they’ve changed bits they told you about last week, and whether they’re using a proportionately spaced font. (It’s reminiscent of listening to a new mother rattle on about her baby, and I suppose there’s a good reason for the similarity.) I can see the attraction. Keeping it all to yourself is lonely, sort of like being a secret agent.

On the other hand, I note that a disproportionate number of people who talk their stories to you over coffee or wine never seem to finish writing them.

Or perhaps I just notice them more than the ones who don’t finish, but also don’t talk.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Biting Ankles

I found a link to a PDF version of the catalogue released by Macmillan to outline its Spring 2008 releases:

It's really interesting to see what a range of fiction they're publishing, and also to make us all realise what we're up against as first and second-time novelists! Gulp.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Writers Strike Drags On...

...and no one really cares apart from the City of Los Angeles, which is losing bazillions in tax revenues.

But to those of us outside the film and television industry, it's really a pretty funny idea. I mean, suppose all us relatively newbie novelists announced we were going on strike. Would we get any press coverage? (Freshman Novelists On Strike: Shortage of Second Novels Looms Within a Year or Two or Three.) Or would the primary reaction be from our long-suffering housemates and spouses, who would point out that it was good timing as the hedge needed trimming anyhow?

But the main reason for this post was to point you to the picture of a Writers Strike over on Jamie Ford's blog.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Argh - her again!

Just a quick note to say that I have recently transferred my website to a new host. Generally speaking, it probably won't look very different, but if any of you have linked to specific pages on the old site, rather than just the domain address (, your links won't work now until you switch them.

However, there are a couple of new features that might be of interest, namely a slightly more interesting bio page (I hate writing about myself, despite having blogs), a page waffling about 19th Century Spiritualism, and a book group guide for Cover the Mirrors (linked at the bottom of the Spiritualism page). Enjoy!

PS: My web guru informs me that if you have recently viewed my site on its old host, you might not be able to see all of the new site until your cache clears either automatically or manually. The site's not broken; your computer's just cutting corners!

Even Lighter Reading

Following on from Faye's good news, I'm pleased to say that Light Reading will also be released as a mass market paperback by Pan Macmillan, with a provisional publication date of April 2009.

I was a bit overwhelmed by this news, so I asked Will Atkins (Editor of MNW) to explain how such a decision gets made. He told me the following:

'Decisions on paperbacks (and increasingly on MNW titles) are made collectively – I invariably consult our sales and marketing departments (clearly it’s important that they are confident of being able to sell enough to make it worthwhile), as well as discussing with my editorial colleagues. In other words the decision seldom comes down to one individual, though I’m invariably the chief advocate! It’s not always the right move strategically, but increasingly we’re seeking to acquire MNW debuts with the expectation that they will have a mass-market paperback life.'

Thanks Will.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Cover the Mirrors - hardbacks and paperbacks

I just updated my blog with news on the progress of the hardback first edition of Cover the Mirrors, and the forthcoming mass-market paperback version. It's proving to be quite a busy little book...

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

A Fingerpost ----------->

For those who haven't seen it, I'd recommend taking a glance at Peter Anthony's essay that details how writing a novel is like felling a tree.

This analogy goes a long way in explaining why I so often feel as if I've been smashed flat by the process....

Sunday, 11 November 2007


I was walking my kids to school the other day and for some reason they started asking me about Taking Comfort. They wanted me to tell them the story, which I had told them before (obviously leaving out the very dark bits and certainly the sex scene), but for some reason they wanted it again. It was almost like they wanted to check they had it right, and that, yes, their dad was as mad as they feared.

But I had the sense that somehow the story made sense to them. A guy feels threatened and overwhelmed by the dangers of the world, so he finds himself taking totems from scenes of disaster or tragedy, in order to prevent similar things happening to him. Somehow a child could accept the logic of that.

A few days later, Luke, who has just turned 8, said to me, "Dad, I'm like Rob." Which I have to say sent a shiver through me.

"What do you mean, Luke?"

"I'm like Rob in Taking Comfort."

I tried to remain calm. "In what way?"

"Well, I was playing football in the playground and the ball kept hitting me in the face, so I went around and picked up a load of leaves from the playground so that it wouldn't do it anymore."

"Ah. Yes. Right. Okay." I tried to explain that it was only a story and that it doesn't actually work. And that Rob does go a little bit crazy in the book.

He seemed to understand this, and though I thought he might be disillusioned, he told me that he is still going to read the book when he's old enough, which he reckons will be when he's 18.

My wife, who had overheard the exchange, was of course horrified. By the leaves in pockets, that is. "Luke," she said, "Will you not put wet leaves in your trouser pockets. It's a hell of a job to get them out."

Thursday, 8 November 2007

On being blogworthy

Which I think I'm probably not, since in order to connect myself up once more I had to contact David twice (what a patient man). But thanks to people for their kind comments. I'm fascinated to read how everyone works - with or without music, how many hours/ words a day etc as I am completey disorganised. I write in odd moments when I feel like it, don't plan anything and have very little idea what's going to happen next (this can give rise to problems, but is also quite interesting). Is anyone else like me, or do people tend to be more like Trollope - woken by a servant at crack of dawn, thousands of words before breakfast, a day working at the post office (or on the hunting field), not forgetting time to make all those babies...? My new novel is in the embryo stage - a tiny heart beating, but not much else - but the new grandson is wonderful. I spent the week-end tearing round Reigate in hot pursuit of his two brothers (aged 5 and 3), equipped respectively with scooter and tricycle, wondering whether their parents woudl ever forgive me if they reached the main road before I did... By the way, am I allowed to write about this sort of thing, or should I be writing about writing? As a virgin blogger, I'd like to know.

Music and Multi-Tasking

To follow on from David's post:

I'm one of those authors who has to write to music. What I can't work out is whether the genre I'm writing in determines what music I listen to, or if the music determines the genre.

I usually have a rough idea of what genre a piece will fit into before I start writing it (although occasionally stories can surprise me), and since I'm usually working on four or five things at once, each one has a different type of paper, different pen, different mind-set, and different type of music. One has to keep track of these things somehow.

For instance, right now I'm writing a new crime novel, a science fiction novel (a joint project with my rat-buddy Neil Ayres), a comic short story and a serious fantasy short story. Here's how that divides up for me:

Crime novel

Green A4 ring-bound exercise pad

Orange fountain pen

Radio One

Serious stuff. I'll have my committed face on.

Science Fiction Novel

Narrow-lined A4 pad with front page ripped off

Silver ball point pen

Classical music, usually Russian composers

Not to be taken seriously: it's about aliens, after all.

Comic short story

Straight on to the computer

No pen necessary

A bit of Jazz, probably Miles Davis

Interestingly, I usually write my comic stuff when I'm feeling a bit low.

Fantasy short story

The small marble-effect book on my bedside table

Bic ballpoint

Radio 4

I have to be tired, but not too tired - it is next to the bed, after all.

So, for me, music is an important part of the separation of projects.

Occasionally, with past projects and in certain sections, one song has stuck and demanded to be played over and over. For instance, for Three Things About Me, Janis Joplin's 'Me and Bobby McGee' was firmly wedged in there, and actually made it into the book. But Light Reading was all about Rimsky Korsakov's Scherezade. Don't ask me why. No idea.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Celestial Harmonies?

Emma Darwin posted a nice piece on listening to music while she writes.

How I wish I could do likewise. I can write computer code or do spreadsheet analysis to music, and view that as one of the few upsides of computer programming. But, write? Impossible. The rhythms of the music fight with the rhythms of the words, and ususally win, and I end up sitting blankly, listening to the music.

I should add that I'm probably a little oversensitive in this regard. (Brain-damaged, some would argue.) My mind is ridiculously retentive of music both good and bad, and my music memory is triggered by the tiniest excuses.

For example, we used to live next to someone who raised roosters. One rooster had a distinctive crow, which I'll render as "Erk-de-Errrrrrrrk!" To my poor mind, all this took was one more "Erk!" at the end to become the opening notes of the theme music to the TV show Get Smart. I'm not fond of the theme, really, but I spent about two years absentmindedly whistling or humming it several times a day.

The turn signal on our car triggers Bonzo Dog Band (either Music for the Head Ballet, or, more annoyingly, Piggy Bank Love). A while back there was some piledriving construction in our down, and the far-off clink...clink...clink invariably set off the Fourth Movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony--you know, the bit with the triangle where it starts to build momentum again. And I live in fear of meeting up with the name "Rhonda", as even seeing the name sets off the Beach Boys' Help Me, Rhonda, a song I deeply loathe (and which I'm now whistling quietly under my breath in between curses).

So, writing to music is out of the question for me. It's noisy enough in my head already.

But some authors write to music. Stephen King writes to loud heavy metal as a way of shutting out the world; lit-fiction author Carolyn See mentions writing entire books to the same musci playing over and over. And, if memory doesn't fail me, Susan Sontag even structured one of her books (maybe Volcano Lover?) around Paul Hindemith's Four Temperaments. For all I know, writing to music might be the norm.

Do you folks write to music? (I'll check back later. Right now I need to go wash "Rhonda" out of my head, maybe with some Dead Can Dance. At least Lisa Gerrard has the courstesy to sing in glossolalia.)

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

A Town Called Immaculate

Many thanks to Matt C. for putting together this MNW blog. I’m another Macmillan new writer. My book is called, A Town Called Immaculate, and due for release this December, a date that fits the setting of the novel well, since the story takes place on Christmas Eve day and ends on Christmas morning. I like to think of the book as literary fiction, but perhaps it could fall under the family saga or the thriller category as well.

My experience with MNW has been excellent, ever since I first heard of them at a book fair in Frankfurt last year. I visited a large Pan Macmillan display and spoke to a few people and I was told about this “new imprint” within the company, one that accepted unsolicited manuscripts. Although it was music to my ears, I thought the person must by lying, but clearly she was not. And here, a year later, I am publishing my first novel with MNW.

A bit about the book: The setting is Minnesota. It seems that few people can think of Minnesota without arriving at images of the movie Fargo. Those who do think of Fargo will not be disappointed, since the dead of winter is glowering over a small town – or more precisely, glowering over a small farm tucked away quietly in a fold of land near the town of Immaculate. The year in the novel is 1981. I was only four years old in 1981. Reagan and Thatcher held office, the Soviets occupied Afghanistan, the first AIDS cases became documented, MTV started broadcasting. For my purposes however, the year is equidistant from the Vietnam War and the First Gulf War, in a period of relative American peace (despite the fact that the U.S. engaged in plenty of silent “small” wars during the same time) where a family, remote from the power structures, still feel the impacts of fighting ideologies in a variety of ways, direct and indirect.

Since finishing Immaculate, I’ve finished my next novel, started another, and stayed busy working as a sportswriter and software consultant. I’ve left the sportswriting gig recently because of a graduated workload in my full-time job as a software consultant – a job which allows me to listen to audio books while I work.

My blogs and updates can be found here and also on

Monday, 5 November 2007


My take on writer’s anxiety

I have to make a confession. I don’t actually write my own stuff. I sit down and plan—in the loosest sense of the word—my stories. I type them up. At the end I print them off or upload them to Lulu, or email them off to Macmillan. But the bit where the ‘story idea’ turns into the string of connected prose we call ‘the novel’, I don’t do that.

Oops, I hope Will and the Macmillan legal people aren’t reading this.

What I actually do is this: I listen to a voice in my head. On a good day it hums along, and it’s lucky that I can type quickly. Does the voice know I’m there, writing it all down? If it does, it gives no indication. It just purrs along, a voice cool and composed, measured in its cadence, and I sit at my keyboard and take dictation. Nice work if you can get it…

Not every day is a good day. Some days the voice is halting, lame. Economy of expression becomes taciturnity. I don’t enjoy listening to it, and invariably I don’t bother. There are plenty of other things I can be doing; some of them I even get paid for.

Luckily, there are more good days than bad days. When I’ve done the dull stuff, the planning and fleshing out, the voice talks about what I want it to talk about it: if I’ve skimped on the planning stage, the voice goes its own way (and sometimes that’s even more interesting, so I let it).

What’s this got to do with writer’s anxiety? (Aside from the fact that grown man who admits to listening to voices has got every reason to be anxious?).

Just this: one day I’ll sit down, and there’ll be no voice, just me and the screen.

That’s anxiety.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

In Praise of Anxiety

Ah, anxiety. A great post, Roger--especially coming from someone who has had so much success in the publishing world over the last couple of years...

I used to worry about how anxious I was, until I did the obvious math and realized that amounted to compounding the problem. Most writers I know suffer from various forms of anxiety. In the later stages of a manuscript, the anxiety awakens me at three in the morning, usually after some horrible dream involving a) cancer, or b) prison, or c) some small pet you’ve apparently bought and forgotten about that is quietly starving to death in a cage somewhere. At this point, the only way I can manage to get through the night is to stumble downstairs and write. When I’m writing, it seems to go away.

Or so I thought. But then I read Rollo May’s classic book The Courage to Create, and Ralph Keyes’ amplification, The Courage to Write, and I realized that anxiety is actually part of the process. Not only does it keep us alert and concerned about quality, but when we are writing, anxiety is our ally, working with us on the page.

Now, that sounds nutty at first. I usually don’t experience what feels like anxiety when I write. In fact, I usually sort of “trance out” into a place where I am so absorbed with mumbling under my breath that time vanishes and you’d think I didn’t have a care in the world. You folks all know that zone I’m talking about, right?

Yet when I finish writing, I’m exhausted, and my shoulders are as tight as if I'd been pumping weights. My whole body aches. I may have felt relaxed the entire time, but clearly that’s an illusion.

This all came together for me when I learned about the concept of “flow,” first defined by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (and I have no clue how that’s pronounced). Flow states are an odd combination of mastery and challenge—a state where you are totally engaged in what you are doing, and have sufficient skill to be engaged in the first place.

But if it’s easy for you, it won’t be flow. If you’re a pianist playing a song you’ve played a thousand times before, using nothing but muscle memory, you may not be in flow. You may even be bored. But if you are a pianist improvising with a jazz band, or performing a concerto that is right at the limits of your skill, you will probably be in flow. In this state, anxiety is converted to hyperawareness. If you aren’t anxious, you aren’t going to perform at your best. That annoying, nasty little critic all writers have is our friend…as long as we aren’t really aware he’s there. And about the only time we’re not aware he’s there is when we’re really engaged with our writing.

The downside of all this is that it’s hard to get him to shut up when he isn’t needed. Which would be, in my opinion, just about any time when you aren’t writing. Anne Lamott calls this guy KFKD, K-Fucked Radio, broadcasting on all frequencies around the clock. Nothing is good enough for this guy. I imagine he’s busy in JK Rowling’s head, whispering, sure, you’re richer than the Royal Family and possibly the most popular writer since God, but is your stuff really significant? Aren't you wasting your time? Wouldn’t you rather be Melville, or Camus, or even just a well-regarded, middling-successful literary writer? (I love the fact that Stephen King admits he’s a little disappointed and jealous that the literary community doesn’t take him as seriously as he would like. That's candor.)

The only way to shut this guy up is to write. (I suppose the danger comes when he gets so loud and pushy that writing becomes impossible. Is that what writer’s block is?) So, I’ve grown more comfortable with him, and with my overall level of anxiety, as I think that nervous, quarrelsome critical energy is the fuel that keeps us running. How else is it possible to sit and gnaw on your knuckles over whether someone is “wandering” or “meandering”? The deejay at KFKD is on our side when we do our work, and maybe having him hang around the rest of the time is part of the price we pay.

At least, I hope so. If there’s a writer out there who’s having fun round the clock and is never plagued with self-doubt, I’m not sure I want to hear about it.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Writerly anxiety.

First off, thanks to David and Matt for setting this up and for inviting me to the party. My own blog is so shamelessly self-promoting that it feels at times like the literary equivalent of an Amsterdam brothel window. I get tired of sitting out front in that red basque all on my own. Nice to come inside the bordello and... actually it's not a good idea to push the writer-as-whore analogy too far, so I'll stop there.

Secondly, congratulations to Faye on her P-day!

I've been thinking a lot about writerly anxiety recently. I think this is due to the fact that I've had a longish break from writing fiction, certainly a longer break than I have allowed myself ever before. And now I find that I must get back to it, but I also find that there are new pressures to deal with that I never used to have to face. Rather than get churned up and miserable by confronting the new pressures head-on, I procrastinate. But all that does is make it worse. I don't count this as official writer's block, by the way. Maybe just writer's funk.

It struck me that I for one, because of my temperament, will never be free of a sense of anxiety about this activity that seems to be so necessary to me. (Weird, I don't get anxious about breathing.) When I was unpublished, or minimally published, which has been pretty much for the greater part of my writing life, the big source of anxiety was the fear that I would never achieve that goal. I'm just not good enough, my inner critic was fond of telling me. Didn't have it. Never would have.

Now that I have been published, my inner critic has not changed his opinion of my literary merit and still likes to whisper the truth about my utter shiteness so only I can hear. On paper, perhaps, you might think, I had managed to pull off something that I could use to silence the twat. But, he won't have it. It was all a mistake. A lapse on the part of publishers who should know better. Don't worry mate, he says, you'll get found out soon enough. He trawls the internet looking for bad reviews and disparaging chatroom asides that prove I already have.

And those are the things I take to my breast - like discomfort blankets - and cherish. The good reviews, the kind words of other readers and writers, those things count for nothing. People who say nice things about my work are kind but misguided, possibly deluded. That's my inner critic's point of view anyhow.

So will I ever be good enough for that evil bastard? Definitely not. And when the day comes that the world, in particular the publishing world, comes round to his way of thinking, I'm sure I'll feel some warped sense of relief.

The shift from unpublished to published writer has not done away with the sense of anxiety. It has simply replaced one set of anxieties with another. Will the book that did get published do well enough for me to get another chance at this? Will the next book match up to the first? Will I run out of ideas, or more fundamentally, words?

Or the big one, when will I get found out?

It got me wondering whether there is any writer in the world who doesn't suffer from this. Who is so confident of their own ability - their own genius even - so full of self-belief that they couldn't begin to understand what I'm talking about. I can think of a few names who I imagine might be like that, but I wonder if the bluster and arrogance is not put on to hide a chasm of self-doubt as deep as the ego is monstrous.

The Lost Child

Hi all,

Just a quick note to say that a new Inspector Devlin short story, The Lost Child, was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Friday 2nd Nov. Read by Lloyd Hutchinson, the story is available on-line for seven days following broadcast. Anyone wishing to listen again to the Lost Child can do so here.


How Productive Are You?

David raised an interesting question in my mind in his comment on Aliya’s latest post when he said that if he had an hour a day to write, he’d produce seven pages a week. I find it fascinating that writers in general (and the MNW subset) work at such different paces. Aliya, Brian, Matt and I all seem to work relatively quickly, but in short bursts: David chisels his prose from solid granite.

One of the few professional writers I’ve met is Robert Silverberg, an amazingly prolific author in his youth. Working in a variety of genres (mainly sf and soft porn…) he was a perpetual motion machine (maybe not the best metaphor for a soft porn writer). At one point he was writing a novel a week, and lamented to me that if had PCs had been around in the 1950s he could have written a novel a day. Balzac was similarly fecund.

At the other end of the scale, Kingsley Amis reckoned he’d had a good day if he produced 400 publishable words (maybe the key’s in the “publishable”: I can—and do at work—produce 400 words of crap in 10 minutes…).

The really interesting thing for me is that there’s no correlation between speed of composition and literary merit. Sure, I like Kingsley Amis, but Balzac’s pretty good too. Do the faster writers need to do more in revision? Or are our brains just all wired differently? And is that hard-wiring or can we reprogramme them?

I wonder whether those of us who only get an hour a day to write would be any more productive if we had all day. I write at 1,000 words an hour, but I couldn’t write 7,000 words in a seven-hour day. And I need the marinating time: when I sit down at seven pm for my hour, I’ll have been generating the ideas all day. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to write, but I’ll know what I want to get out of the scene.

What about the rest of you? How much do you write a day? Could you write more if you had more time to devote to it?

This month's publication:

"Molly was fifteen when she began working with the dead . . .

It is 1856 and Spiritualism is at the height of its popularity. Molly Pinner has left behind her childhood in the Preston slums and inherited her late aunt Florrie’s mantle as Preston’s most successful medium. It soon becomes clear that her aunt was something far more cunning than a magnet for the spirits of the dead, but Molly puts aside her qualms and takes well to her new trade.
Molly’s relationship with her oldest friend, Jenny, is jeopardized when she begins a passionate affair with local businessman William Hamilton. Before she knows it, Molly finds herself married to a man she cannot love, and pregnant with a child she does not want. In desperation, she makes a decision that will cast her relationship with William in a completely new light.
Trapped and traumatized, and longing to regain her friendship with Jenny, Molly is about to receive a blow that will turn her life upside down. It seems Aunt Florrie lied about more than just her ability to commune with the dead: a truth hidden for years is about to emerge, and it will threaten not only Molly’s livelihood, but her very life.

Cover The Mirrors is a dark and zesty historical novel of distorted truths and suppressed Victorian desires. "

About the author:

Faye L. Booth was born in Lancashire in 1980 and continues to live in the county. She shares her home with a menagerie of animals.

Hi Faye... Tell us a little about your novel, Cover the Mirrors.

It’s a Victorian era historical novel, set in the 1850s in Preston, the closest city to me (I live in a village), with a fraudulent spirit medium as its protagonist. I first got the idea for the book after reading about Spiritualism in that time (most of my inspiration comes from historical facts I uncover while reading non-fiction or watching documentaries), and Cover the Mirrors was originally going to be a short story, but I soon realised I had far more material than I could fit into a short story, and so it snowballed from there. There’s also a theme running through the story based on the language of flowers (another interest of mine), and of course there are major rifts in friendships and passionate affairs and unplanned pregnancies and all those other juicy things!

How did you and Macmillan New Writing "meet"?

I first became aware of the imprint via a tiny snippet in Writers' News. Actually, I should probably give credit where credit's due and admit that technically, it wasn't me who found it; it was my Mum. She was flipping through the magazine (no idea why, she's not normally interested in these things), and pointed it out to me. I emailed the MS off, and the rest is...well, you know how the saying goes. My friend Jen (she test-read Cover the Mirrors before I started sending it out) thinks that the next time I tell that story I should embellish it a little and claim that Mum spoke in a voice that wasn't her own, and/or that she had no memory of it afterwards, which sounds rather fun if nothing else.

What is your typical writing day?

Probably very dull, from an onlooker’s point of view. I live with a menagerie of animals, so I have to get up reasonably early to feed them (besides, I hate waking up late; puts me in a foul mood). While they’re eating, I wake my brain up by checking emails and blog comments and the like while eating breakfast (at the moment, I’m addicted to unsweetened muesli with orange juice). Once I feel remotely human, I open the file for the work in progress, make sure my notebook and diary are handy (my diary acts as a back-up notebook when inspiration strikes and I’m nowhere near my official notebook, which happens quite a lot), and start writing. As a general rule, I stop when I stop, but that being said, I won’t allow myself to go under 500 words, even on the worst days. If I remember, I’ll break for lunch and then get back to writing. I told you it wouldn’t sound exciting!

Four random facts about you:

1) Favourite colour and why:
Depends what it's going to be used for. I like pastels for decorating (a relatively neutral canvas on which to create a 'look'), brown in general (not really sure; I just find it soothing) and black for clothing (because I'm a stereotype).

2) A book you wish you had written:
I always find it hard to answer questions like this, because every book is the way it is largely because of the individual who worked on it. Therefore, it wouldn't be the same book if it had a different author, and I wouldn’t want to change a book I loved to that degree.

3) Pen or Keyboard:
Keyboard. I appreciate the romantic image of the writer with a pretty pen and notebook, but I work faster and more neatly in Word, I can keep an accurate word count, it's easier to change things and I don't have to transcribe it all when it's time to start redrafting. On the minus side, I can't grow my nails because they catch the wrong keys when I'm typing.

4) Most ludicrous moment in your life:
I’m not sure that there are any major ones, to be honest, and half the strange things that happen in my life are probably down to me. That’s a terribly dull answer, so I’ll pick a strange fact at random – the one time I was supposed to be put under general anaesthesia, it didn’t work. I had the IV injection, remained wide awake for the rest of the day and went to bed at the normal time, which rather baffled the anaesthetist and consultant.

Thanks Faye, and good luck with the novel...

You can find out more about Faye's book, Cover the Mirrors by clicking on the links below:

Macmillan New Writing site

Faye L. Booth official website

Amazon UK

Introducing Frances Garrood

Hi, all. Me, sticking my nose in once again. As Frances is too shy to properly introduce herself, I should note that the post just below is from Frances Garrood, the author of Dead Ernest. For those who haven't read it...well, you should. A very funny, touching book that at a few points had me thrusting my fists into the air and shouting, "Yes!" Much to the puzzlement of my fellow passengers, I might add (I read it on a plane).

Even Grumpy Old Bookman, who is usually a little, erm, grumpy, and generally disinclined to favor--how do I put this? Oh, to hell with it--estrogen-flavored literature, thought it was a great read. I'm jazzed that she has another book in the pipeline.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

New blogger

I have never blogged in my life before, and didn't anticipate doing so. But David has invited me to take part in the MNW blog, and writing is a lonely business... I don't particularly like talking about myself, so I shall certainly keep my contributions brief. My best news is that a healthy grandson (sixth grandchild) arrived last week, and my next best news it that my second MNW novel is coming out in August 2008. Will and I have haggled over the title, but have settled for The Birds, the Bees and Other Secrets. The bad news is that my much-loved horse is lame and off work for 3 months. He and I write books together as we meander over the Wiltshire downs. I would love to hear from anyone who wants to get in touch, especially if they have tips on publicising one's novels!

How indeed does one write!

Fascinating topic, and had always wanted to write my little bit! Just finished packing off my second novel, and this time the process of writing was far more selfconscious simply because I could imagine the people who were going to read it and say yes or no. Also I was aware of my foreign readership.
But one thing I simply cannot seem to do is write with concessions for people who have little to do with my culture. I cannot write a diasporic novel simply because I am totally home bred, and my only connection, and I agree it is deep rooted, is my reading and teaching of foreign literature. I stepped out of my country for the first time when I came to London for the book launch! But I am writing in a language that I have consciously learnt. And my novels require a lot of research. In Mystic Shore for instance, I am dealing with ashram life in Varanasi both far removed from my own life.
I begin with an opening sentence lodging itself in my head. The minute that happens I have to go on writing. My characters simply people my brain and clamour for expression. They do and say things that are unexpected and so I go on shaping my plot as I write. It is my research that involves copious note takings and I write asides that connects with my characters and what they are meant to do. The direction comes from my larger readings, and in the case of my second novel, since the background is political, with what is happening in the public domain.
My academic writing of non-fiction happens along with fiction writing, and strangely enough the two spaces are constantly inter-mingling. The angst I feel in one sphere simply spills over onto the other. The creative joy of completing chapters is shared between two different styles of writing. I have not yet tried my hand at genre writing, such as thrillers, mysteries or sci-fi. I write what is vaguely called literary fiction so I can hardly think in terms of sequels. Once I have finished with one novel I leave that world behind. I cannot even recall the magic of that world!
I will put aside fiction writing for 2008 because I have a commitment to fulfil. But who knows when a stray sentense will float in and lodge in my head...

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Doing It With Toast

How we write - it's a fascinating subject. And one about which nobody is entirely honest, I think, for fear of making ourselves look luckier than we actually are. Because it all boils down to luck, doesn't it, that final pattern on the page that makes some meaningful? For all the planning, foresight, timelines and character sheets, we still have to start writing at some point and then stop again. The more I write, the more I realise how much I'm at the whim of my subconscious. Why does this scene work better than that one? Dunno. Just got lucky, I guess.

But, apart from blind faith and the occasional cold sweat at night, I do have some things that I do to try to make the words turn into a book. Yes, I do keep character sheets, filled with facts such as hair and eye colour, favourite item, past boyfriends or girlfriends, all the kind of stuff that shapes a person. I sum up where each scene is going to go before I start writing it, in the form of little notes in the margin of my A4 pad. I have key events in mind, the backbone of the story if you like, and I aim for those landmarks while keeping myself as open as possible to new ideas that spring from the writing.

Of more interest, perhaps, is where the inspiration from a novel comes from.

Three Things About Me came from a writing exercise. I spent a month writing opening paragraphs, one a day, just to see if I could get the hooks right. And at the end of the month I read them back and realised a few of them were okay, and there were characters I could work with. Then I wondered how those characters would work with each other, and that was how the first paragraphs of Three Things About Me came about.

Light Reading springs from my own life: well, actually, it started with the resolve to find out exactly what was happening in the strange retirement home in Allcombe (featured in Three Things About Me) and then became a journey for two women who represented parts of my own character, pretty much. Not that it's autobiographical, so much as that I felt comfortable in the world I was putting down on paper. It may look weird to everyone else, but to me, it's home.

So that's it. My daughter goes to creche three times a week, and I go to the local coffee shop, and I sit and write. Seven hours a week, without fail, barring school holidays (damn those schools for closing!). It's amazing how productive you can be when you know that's all the time you have.