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...