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.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Shameless Plugs

Hi all

At risk of seeming to monopolise this blog, this is just a short post to do some plugging. But it's going to get shameless, I'm afraid.

As well as seeing the publication of the latest MNW title, Cover the Mirrors, by Faye L. Booth (Plug1), Friday 2nd November also sees, or hears, the airing of a new Inspector Devlin story, The Lost Child, as part of the Big Chill Week on BBC Radio 4 at 3.30pm (Plug 2).

The Sunday Times recently ran a feature on Devlin's first appearance in print, Borderlands. (Plug 3) Anyone feeling so inclined can read the piece at their leisure here:

The piece was written by Irish crime novelist, Declan Burke, whose recent novel, The Big O, independently published in Ireland, is garnering sickeningly outstanding reviews. So much so, in fact, that US publisher, Harcourt, have signed Declan up on a two book deal. (Plug 4)

Many congrats Declan and well deserved. The Big O Band Wagon will be pulling into its first US stop in Autumn 2008, which is incidentally, around the same time as the first US port of call for the US edition of Borderlands. (Plug 5)

I did warn you it would get shameless...


Monday, 29 October 2007

Matt Curran says a word or two...

This is David Isaak, and I'll drop in a few words myself on this topic some day soon. But meanwhile I think I should note that Matt Curran, who is the retiring type and doesn't want to hog the limelight here, has just posted on the "How I Write" topic over on his personal blog. Check it out.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

How I Write

Hi chaps,

A fascinating post from Brian, and of course I can't resist throwing in my own two-pennyworth...

Unlike some of us, I am not very fecund with ideas: it takes me a long time to arrive at a situation I'm willing to spend the next six months living and breathing, and before I start I need to know that it has the legs to get to reach a conclusion. As a minimum, before I start writing a story I know the beginning and the end, sometimes with not a great deal more. I'll also have a protagonist and some, but not all, of the supporting cast.

For my first novel-length story, The Zael Inheritance, I had established my all the main characters and the plot structure in some detail. It changed very little although I added two chapters before the original starting point. Dragonchaser, my next effort, was less planned, with only the beginning, the end and the three main characters in my head. I knew this was to be a novel of political intrigue and I wanted to let those intrigues play out without being constrained by too much advance thinking.

The Dog of the North was somewhere in the middle. The book is structured around two interlocking plot strands and I needed to understand how they fitted together (and chart the somewhat complex chronology) before I began. I also prepared a lot of background material:
  1. a spreadsheet with timelines for all the main characters
  2. a thousand word essay on "The Way of Harmony", the religion which underpins the entire book
  3. a piece of similar length on the Knights of Emmen, who feature nowhere in the book
  4. a summary of events taking place between The Dog of the North and Dragonchaser, in which King Enguerran, an off-stage figure in the former, is a central character.
These background materials had only a peripheral direct impact on the novel: a significant number of characters were not on the spreadsheet No.1 at all. Instead, they were introduced as plot functions but became much more interesting. No.2 was very important, but the only time the precepts of the religion are set out in any detail is a short scene in which youthful characters are drilled in a catechism. No.3 gave me the idea for one of the twin protagonists, although in The Dog of the North his story stops long before his involvement in the essay begins. No.4 is important in providing a broader story arc (and a potential outline for the sequel) and allowed me to sow some seeds, so that if I do write the sequel it will partly reinterpret The Dog of the North.

Fantasy writers have to do all this world-building stuff to create a convincing fictional reality. Unlike, say, crime novels, there is very little shared background between writer and reader (and what is shared is usually a store of cliches the author may want to deconstruct), so a big part of my job as a writer is to convey my world in a way that's efficient but unobtrusive. When I was plotting The Dog of the North I had long walks to and from work each day, and this was where I did the best of my thinking. By the time I started writing I had most of the main characters fleshed out and a detailed understanding of life in Croad and Mettingloom, the two locales of the book, as well as a sense of the bigger "story behind the story".

Once I am in the drafting stage, I reckon to write 1,000 to 1,300 a day, usually in the evening. For The Dog of the North I took a week off work when I managed to write 20,000 words which was invaluable in generating a powerful momentum. Writing two plots was a challenge: originally I wrote them in the order they would be read, but I found switching between them every two or three days disruptive, so for the last third of the book I wrote one storyline to its conclusion before finishing the other. As a result of this, when I came to edit the book I put the strands together in bigger chunks, so that the reader has to switch between stories less frequently.

What about the rest of you? How do you write? And for those of you working in genre, are there are any special considerations which affect the way you work?


Friday, 26 October 2007

Phases in Creating a Text

Hi all

Some weeks ago, crime writer John Baker invited a number of writers, including myself and fellow Irish crime novelist, Declan Burke, to jot down what each considered to be the phases involved in the actual creation of a novel. My contribution was as follows:

Each story begins for me with an initial premise; a body found on the border, a born again ex-con, a gold mine in the Donegal hills. The premise will float about in my head for a while, during which time I build the layers around it; the main crime, a connected crime and so on. Then I consider the characters involved, try to see links between them or interesting places for them to go. Sometimes, I tease out plot points, or lines of dialogue whilst cutting the grass or driving to work, which I’ll jot down on the back of envelopes, bills, receipts in my pocket. Before I start writing properly, I gather all these scraps together in a notebook and draw up a general plan, a few lines per chapter, for the first third to half of the book, with a summary of the second half and ending. As I write the first section of the book, I revise as necessary and re-plan a little. I tend to write about 1000 words per day, when I can. I seem to hit a natural pause around a third of the way through a book, where I stop for a week or two, take stock of what has happened so far, and get fired up for the next section. Often the story will have gone in an unexpected direction, which makes it all the more interesting for me to write, but which requires some reworking of plot points. I tend to revise slightly as I’m going along (especially the first few chapters), then read and revise several times after the first draft is finished.

I'm now about two thirds of the way through the third Devlin novel, Bleed a River Deep, and have noticed that, once again, the book had appeared in thirds. I got about 23,000 words in, then paused for a week or two, then got to around 47,000 words and paused again. I'm now heading on the home straight of the first draft, for completion by the end of November (hopefully).

I guess I'm wondering how other writers fit into this phase thing. Do you write from start to finish? Do you find yourself writing chunks at a time? How much planning do you do initially? James Lee Burke doesn't plan his novels at all, apparently - he just starts writing. Jeffrey Deaver plans right down to paragraph breaks. Whereabouts in between do the rest of us sit?
And what starts the novel in the first place? And how about the ending? Borderlands' ending developed during writing. Gallows Lane, the ending was there from the start. Bleed a River Deep, the ending's evolving as I write.

Now we're all gathering in one place, so to speak, it seems like the right time to talk about writing, it being the one thing we all have in common, after all.

Passing the Baton

I’ve been quite aware over the last 12 months or so, that by hogging the blog-title “Macmillan New Writer” my blog has attracted quite a lot of attention and Googling traffic from those web-travellers hunting down slivers of information and insights on the whole Macmillan New Writing thang.

Now that this blog is finally up and running – or rather sprinting, by the looks of it, (well done to everyone who has blogged so far and so quickly) – I’m in a position to hand over the title. Some might say this is “blogger-suicide” by giving up such a lucky blog-name, but I think I’m ready to move on…

…Even though I am still a Macmillan New Writer, by virtue of having one book published by MNW and another coming out from them soon, my blog “next-door” will concentrate on other parts of my writing, rather than just the Macmillan New Writing bit, and in that respect a change is warranted. Too see how much of change, just click here.

I must be a bit mental doing all this while undertaking Will's revisions on The Horde of Mhorrer, but it’s all about momentum and enthusiasm. The recent result on the second book has given me an insatiable work-rate when it comes to anything writing-related at the moment, and you never know when this appetite will suddenly dry up – so I’m milking it while I can.

Now I have two playgrounds to muck about in…
(…And yes, as a child I was quite greedy.)

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Window or Aisle

Hi everyone,

I thought I'd repost an article I wrote on the subject of MNW when I first signed the dreaded contract with them. It first appeared on Sarah Weinman's blog, 'Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind' and my feelings haven't really changed since then. Other friends of mine have gone on in the past year to be published by other houses, and yes, they have received advances and publicity, but the end result in terms of sales has not been much different from my own. So we're all still going to the same place, even if they were ostensibly up in the champagne section.

Here's the article:

The last time I flew with Ryanair, it wasn’t a pleasant experience. I queued for two hours to check in. My jumper got ripped in the scrum whilst trying to board the plane. And I forgot to buy a bottle of water beforehand, and so ended up shelling out ten pounds for three glugs of Evian. All in all, not something I was willing to repeat.

So when the first thing I heard about the Macmillan New Writing initiative was that they were the Ryanair of Publishing, I decided they weren’t for me. But, as usual, my mind and my body didn’t communicate very well, and I ended up emailing my latest manuscript off anyway. I blame the publisher. It was all too easy to click the mouse button and send 100,000 words off into cyberspace without considering that anything might ever come of it.

A month later, I received an email. My novel, Three Things About Me, had passed the initial reading stage and was now going to be evaluated by an independent reader. It cheered me up a bit on a rainy day, as I remember. Another month passed, and I received another email. This one was from Mike Barnard, the Head of Macmillan New Writing. He said he loved my novel. He said he wanted to publish it.

As shown in my novel, email is a dangerous, seductive thing. It’s impossible to take seriously. How can one equate such news in a format which is followed by three messages telling me how to enlarge my private parts? And so, until the proofs arrived by courier, I found it extremely difficult to believe that anything was actually happening.

A team of designers are working on the cover.

That’s nice.We have eight possible designs – we prefer number six.

Ummm…. lovely.

It was just all so easy. And that’s the point of Macmillan New Writing. It is what Ryanair was supposed to be, conceptually speaking. It’s a short queue and an easy check-in. No wrangling over price or seating arrangements. The contract is the same for everyone, and therefore energy that might have gone into discussing the fine print can go into looking at the big picture – that is, the industry needs new writers to survive, and it can’t, or won’t, afford to give all its long shots big advances and star treatment.

That’s not to say that we writers are sat out on the wing. Every manuscript accepted so far (a total of twelve out of over 3000 manuscripts received, last time I checked) has been edited by Macmillan’s in-house team, and each cover individually designed. A glance at the excerpts from the eclectic range of novels on the website suggests that some real quality has been found, and I’m sure Macmillan will put their best efforts, if not their coffers, into marketing. After all, it’s in their best interests. And sometimes the hole left by a lackof money can be filled, very effectively, by invention.

So, would I have liked the usual benefits of signing a contract with a major publishing house? Would an advance have made my life easier and made me feel more loved, creatively speaking? Of course. But if it’s a choice between having an advance or having my book published, then it’s no choice at all. And I’m sure every writer would agree with that.

After all, the important point with any airline is to reach your destination, not have a pina colada and a massage on the journey.

Monday, 22 October 2007


Tomorrow Len Tyler (The Herring Seller's Apprentice) and I are off to Cambridge to talk to a book group at Heffers bookshop.

I'm really looking forward to it as Cambridge is one of my favourite places. And it's kind of them to invite a pair of dark-blues.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Greetings from Suroopa!

One and all,

I am happy to have a forum where I can slip in when I want! I was one of the first 6, whose novel "Across the Mystic Shore" was launched along with the imprint; and now that the imprint is over a year old and going gung-ho I can say I am proud to be part of the "laying of the foundations"! Launching new writers and sustaining it, is both daring and idealistic. How many authors can claim that their debut novel is part of a literary experiment?

And just this month I got another piece of news that makes me feel part of the Macmillan family.
A book proposal for the academic research I am doing has been accepted by Palgrave Macmillan. The book titled "Women Survivors of the Bhopal Disaster: Dancing Bodies, Written Texts, Oral Testimonials" will be published in December 2009 as part of the Palgrave Studies in Oral History. So next year I am busy with non-fiction. Meanwhile my next novel is ready for submission to Will; should go in any day now.

I guess I am one of the very few authors without a website or blog. Any reasons? Possibly because websites for authors is still not in vogue in India. And to tell the truth I am not tech savvy. I need some advise in this regard. Those who do have a website - how helpful is it to promote your novel? Do agents or publishers surf websites? I have noticed that not all websites are updated regularly. I find people switching off blogs as well. Are they time bound? I am often told by friends and well wishers to start a website. How sound is the advise? Is one strictly necessary?

MNW books do not reach Indian shores. Its expensive if I want to buy in pounds. Frustrating! I just ask Macmillan India to get it for me. Its a slow process.
Thanks Matt and David for launching this blog!

Friday, 19 October 2007

Even More Things About Me

Hello there fellow Earthlings,

I'm Aliya Whiteley. I was the MNW pin-up in July 2006 with a comedy about the world of work, Three Things About Me, and I will be stapled through the middle again in February 2008 with my comic crime journey, Light Reading.

I already keep a blog with a fellow writer, Neil Ayres, but I thought this would be a better place to talk occasionally about my current writing projects and the world of publishing. Right now I'm starting the marketing preparations for Light Reading. I've got a small trailer up on my website at present ( and am working on a longer one, plus a video of a reading, to make up a promotional DVD.

Just to keep the memory of Three Things About Me alive for a little longer, I'll finish with the game that gave me the title of that book. So, here's three things about me. One is a lie. See if you can guess which.

1. The last famous person I saw was Anneka Rice. She was buying Doritos in Tescos in Battersea. Yes, she was wearing a tracksuit.

2. I once forgot about some sunflower seeds I was toasting under the grill and consequently set fire to my flat.

3. I was going to be called Rachel, but the day before she had me my mother had a strange dream in which my Aunt appeared and told her that Lo! I should be called Aliya instead.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Hello from Brian McGilloway

Hi all
Just thought I should introduce myself: I'm Brian McGilloway and my first novel, Borderlands, was published by MNW in April this year. The follow-up, Gallows Lane, will be published on April 4th 2008 alongside the Pan paperback of Borderlands. I'm currently writing the third Inspector Devlin novel, Bleed a River Deep, which I suspect will feature prominently in future posts on writing and the drafting process.

The Devlin books are being given a series look for the launch in April and now seems as good a time as any to unveil the first of the new covers - this one for the pb edition of Borderlands. Hope you like it...And, in between times, Inspector Devlin makes an appearance in a new short story called The Lost Child, which will be broadcast on Friday 2nd November at 3.30pm on BBC Radio 4.

It's nice to have the chance to blog alongside other writers and, as the Irish cousin of the MNW family, I'm looking forward to finally meeting the rest of the clan...

Hello and all that

I detest trying to write about myself (strange for someone with a blog, I know), so please bear with me!

So yes, I'm Faye. I don't know that I have any particularly interesting qualities that make me stand out as a person among the other MNWers, but this is about my book, so instead I'll tell you that my novel,Cover the Mirrors, is a Victorian era historical set in Preston, and features a fraudulent 'spirit medium' as its protagonist. (I prefer the word 'protagonist' to 'hero(ine) - it's less saccharine.) I may be biased, but I think my book has the best cover ever (see below). Publication will be next month (see the funky little ticker, also below), but I've already received my first royalty cheque from the large print and audio editions, which will be published by the lovely folks at Magna in Long Preston (Long Preston, not Preston), and Cover the Mirrors has been featured on Serendipity ezine's Halloween reading list, so I'm quite giddy about all that.

I can be found prattling on more extensively on my main website, my personal blog, my MySpace (I know many people hate that site, and it has got on my nerves on more than one occasion, but the fact remains that it's the busiest networking site on the internet, so I can't complain) and my Bebo Books profile, the latter being very new and something I'm still getting to grips with. Being the shameless sort, I also maintain a list of online retailers for my book, which is updated reasonably regularly in my blog (the latest version being here).

So that's me! Feel free to comment and ask me questions if you're curious about something I haven't covered.


Introducing Tim Stretton

As the newest member of the MNW crew, I must also be the most a brief introduction is in order.

My fantasy novel The Dog of the North is scheduled for publication in July next year. Things are still at an early stage: I only signed the contract in August, and Will is re-reading the novel so that we can discuss the changes we want to make before going to print. Since his view on first reading was that the text was
" gripping, intelligent, nuanced, and subtly allegorical – as well as highly entertaining... a world that’s believable and coherent, [with] characters who have an epic quality while possessing very human flaws", there's nowhere to go but down on second reading...

My claim to fame in the MNW stable is that I am first self-published writer they have picked up. This is something of a backhanded compliment: sales of The Dog of the North have been so pitiful that Macmillan's marketing department don't feel their revenues are likely to be materially dented by the sales I've made on my own behalf.

I've been writing novel-length fiction since 1997, and have self-published my two previous novels, The Zael Inheritance, a old-fashioned cop story set in the far future, and Dragonchaser, a fantasy of political intrigue and galley-racing. My favourite writer is Jack Vance, but for more--much, much more--on my literary influences, why not visit my blog?

Will is hoping to get his suggested revisions back to me by the end of the month, so I'll keep you all posted on the editing process as it unfolds.

For now, though, sadly I have return to the work that pays the mortgage...


Wednesday, 17 October 2007

An introduction

Hello all, and welcome to the Macmillan New Writers community:
a blog for all authors published by Macmillan New Writing to shout their news, vent their spleens, to gossip and mix-up the small/big talk on the whole publishing experience.

It’s not often a blog has a mission statement, but I always envisaged a purpose behind this little project. And thus the mission is this:

To give all Macmillan New Writers a voice and blog/web presence if they so require it. A presence to enable them to spread their news good or bad, a platform to discuss their writing and the whole experience of being published under Macmillan New Writing.”

Please note: this won’t be a place for prospective Macmillan New Writers to ask about the specific details of the MNW deal nor the submission process – for that, look to the link to the left under “Behind the community…” But I’m sure my fellow authors will let slip some of the finer points of publication during their musings on the whole thing.

On a personal note, I believe the greatest additional benefit in becoming a Macmillan New Writer is the sense of family. MNW is a growing writing-community of “apprentices” breaking into the world of publishing for the first time. They are supportive of each other, verbally, on the web and at book launches, spreading the word of fellow writers as well as the imprint. And this extends to their writing lives after Macmillan New Writing…
The status of the Macmillan New Writer is a short one, lasting for one or two books only. For that reason, this blog is open to all MNW authors – past, present and forthcoming. In the end, we will all be past MNW authors with many of us hopefully going on to great things – but it’s good to have writing-roots, and I think most of us who have come through the whole publishing experience will agree there is no greater new-author community than the one found here.

Finally to the reader: I hope this blog is informative, entertaining, and at times, enlightening.

And to the writer hoping to join the ranks of MNW: good luck with your endeavours. (Believe me, all the blood, sweat and tears are worth it…)

Take care

Matt Curran

Note to MNWers: when writing a blog entry, please insert an avatar of some sort in the top right corner so everyone knows who you are… and have fun. Remember, this is your playground too. I only promise not to hog the swings.