Friday, 26 December 2008

Merry Christmas, and

a question:

We Yanks don't have a real clear understanding of Boxing Day. Anyone over there care to provide a cultural snapshot for us?


Thursday, 25 December 2008

With compliments of the season

1843 Xmas card
One of the first mass-produced Christmas cards

The lithographed card caused a controversy in some quarters of Victorian English society when it was published in 1843 because it prominently features a child taking a sip from a glass of wine...

Widespread commercial printing of Christmas cards began in the 1860s, when a new process of color printing lowered the manufacturing cost and the price. Consequently, the custom of sending printed Christmas greetings spread throughout England.


Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Just to wish everybody a very....

and a happy, peaceful 2009.
And thanks to all the MNW crew for your support, comments and cyber-friendship this year.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Hey, Matt? (Or anyone else, for that matter...)

How far in advance of the official release date do you typically get actual copies of the book in hand?


January's Publication

That's right, it's our blog founder, MNW Curran himself!

The Secret War continues . . .

Prepare to confront the incarnation of evil. It is 1820 and the world is on the brink.

A fearless cohort of soldier-monks, led by Lieutenant William Saxon, has been dispatched to Egypt on the most important mission in history. For thousands of years a great secret has been kept: a stockpile of appalling malevolence, which, if let loose, will plunge the world into eternal damnation. This is the Hoard of Mhorrer. The soldiers must find and destroy the Hoard before the daemonic agents of the evil Count Ordrane of Draak locate it.

In a heart-stopping race against time, ranging from Papal Rome to the desolate heart of Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, the soldiers must battle murderous militiamen and pitiless daemons, and finally, terrifyingly, the bloodthirsty Guardians of the Horde.

If William and his men succeed, the clandestine war between Heaven and Hell will at last begin to favour the forces of light. But if they fail, and the agents of Hell claim the Hoard, then they will unleash an army of invincible daemons, and humankind – what is left of it – will come to know the true meaning of evil.

1)Tell us a little about your novel, The Hoard of Mhorrer.
The Hoard of Mhorrer kicks off several years after the events of The Secret War. It starts in familiar territory with a daemon-hunt through the streets of 19th century Prague, and the adventures progress to the Sinai after the main character, Captain William Saxon, is despatched there on a perilous mission to find the greatest threat to mankind: a hoard of artefacts capable of unleashing an army of daemons upon an unsuspecting world. It's a bloody, exciting adventure story of treachery, revelation and heroism.

(The plan was to write something that surpassed The Secret War in many ways, and judging by the feedback I've had from readers and the publisher, I've achieved that - I just hope everyone else agrees!)

2) The Hoard of Mhorrer is your second book published by Macmillan New Writing. How has your life changed since they published The Secret War in 2007?

My life hasn't changed that much - not in a world breaking-way. I still have a day job, I'm not stopped in the streets or mobbed by fans. And you know, I'm happy about that. I just want to get on with the writing, and that hasn't changed either - my writing-energy feels boundless. I suppose the 'little things' have changed, for example the money I've got from rights and royalties have cleared a few household debts so we're quite comfortable at the moment. It also means I can go part time (which I will be doing in January) to concentrate on the writing. So I suppose if anything has changed, my writing has become more serious because there is a bit of cash rolling in from it.

Oh, and I've fallen in with an amazing group of authors who have been a guidance and an inspiration. You might know them...

3)What is your typical writing day?
I used to be a fiend for writing during my lunch breaks at work, but now I spend most of my writing-time in the evenings or weekends. On a typical weekend of writing (if Sarah's working) I'll get up about 8am and be at the PC by 9am. I'll then write my way through to lunch, go for a walk, and come back to do "bonus writing" - the writing that's over and above anything I aimed to do in the morning. Weekdays it's a bit different. I'll be on the PC for about 7pm and write through to 9pm. On average, I tend to write about 2-3000 words in two hours, so I'm quite prolific during the first couple of drafts.

4) Four random facts:

  • Do you have a writing mantra?:

I have two. The first is "write for yourself". The second is the spark itself: "what if..?"

  • By pen or by keyboard, and why?:

Keyboard. I can't read my own handwriting. It's appalling. And I can type quick than I can write illegibly.

  • Greatest influences on your writing:

Clive Barker, Lovercraft, Steven Pressfield, my dad, a childhood love for the Napoleonic era and too many films to mention.

  • Most ludicrous moment in your life:

Being struck by lightning. Twice. So don't stand near me during a storm. Perhaps someone up there is a critic.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Not Just For Christmas 3 - Contrasting Influences

Brian and Aliya have put up great posts on the influences which have turned them into Macmillan New Writers. (As an aside, Aliya's influences are not dissimilar to mine, although we have gone to some rather different places since!).

It won't surprise anyone familiar with either my writing or my blog that Jack Vance had the biggest impact on me, and The Dog of the North probably owes more to Lyonesse than any other single book. I've already written about Lyonesse at length so I'm going address a different kind of influence here: not emulation but reaction. By this measure, the book I'm most indebted to is The Lord of the Rings, a wonderful book which now sets my teeth on edge. The Dog of the North is made up of half wanting to be Vance and half wanting not to be Tolkien.

This is a statement which needs qualification. All fantasy writers are indebted to The Lord of the Rings as the book which made a clear--and commercial--genre out of fantasy. Sadly many fantasy writers have repaid that debt by rewriting, sometimes repeatedly, the book which so inspired them. (In this they do Tolkien no favours, but that's a different story). There is no doubt that what The Lord of the Rings does, it does very well. If you want truly epic narrative, a richly detailed world, "Good" versus "Evil", you're probably not going to do much better. For the first ten or so times I read the book, that was enough for me.

Even Tolkien's staunchest defender would concede that The Lord of the Rings is nonetheless deficient in certain areas. The monstrous trilogy is a humour-free zone, female characterisation is perfunctory and the males scarcely more nuanced. The epic tone, too, can be wearing after 1,000 pages. Some feel Tolkien's work to be philosophically problematic--Christian apologetics generally don't wear well and he is perhaps tarnished by association with CS Lewis--but my real problems with the book are entirely artistic.

A lot of modern fantasy has been written in reaction to Tolkien: G.R.R. Martin, Joe Abercrombie and China Mieville have all in their way reinvented a grittier kind of fantasy. In The Dog of the North, Beauceron is a direct response to the anodyne fantasy hero in line of succession from Aragorn, while all the main female characters are there to fill a gap I found in Tolkien.

Negative influences, it seems, are as strong as positive ones.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Not Just For Christmas 2: Puppy's Revenge

Following on from Brian's post, here's a little bit about the two books that were the direct inspiration behind my first attempt to write something longer than a short story. I ended up with a strange novella called Mean Mode Median that is now not in print, so don't go and look for it in the usual places. Go and read the two things that inspired it instead.

From an early age I was a lover of science fiction and fantasy. Lord of the Rings, obviously, but also writers like Michael Moorcock and Guy Gavriel Kay. David Eddings. Gael Baudino. Orson Scott Card. I loved the long long series, ten books' worth, that only that genre offered at the time. And a little escapism was good too.

The books that had the most effect on me at that tender age were Frank Herbert's Dune saga. Dune (the first book in the series) was about precocious children, and about looking at the bigger patterns of human behaviour, learning how to predict and affect emotions. To a weird child with no friends and a desire to control the universe, it was heady stuff. Plus it even had a character with a name like mine in it. I wanted to dress in black and predict the future and sort out why men were so different. I practically was a Bene Gesserit.

A lot of the themes of Dune ended up in my first novella. But the structure was just too huge and wide-ranging for me to attempt. I still panic when faced with the thought of writing over 100,000 words. So I wanted a handy template for my story. That's when I noticed that King Lear, my favourite play, contained roughly the same amount of similar characters. So I wrote down who appeared in every scene, and then wrote a chapter breakdown for my novella that fitted it exactly. I ended up with one very strange book, but nobody could argue it didn't have a great framework.

After Mean Mode Median I got a bit more confidence and dumped Shakespeare so I could start applying my own character arcs and pacing. I wonder in retrospect if firing the best writer who ever lived was a mistake. But it goes to show I'm still living with the legacy of reading Dune too much - I'm still a bit on the precocious side.

A very short news post

I am delighted to report that I now have an agent, namely the canny, insightful and generally agreeable Edwin Hawkes at The McKernan Agency. I look forward to working with him immensely.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

A book's not just for Christmas...

In the run-up to Christmas, and always eager to find new books, I thought it might be an idea if any of us who are interested recommended a book. More than that, I thought it might be nice, as we’re all New Writers, to recommend the book that most influenced your first novel. Not necessarily the book that made you want to write, but the book that made you want to write your MNW title, if there is one in particular.

The Outsiders by SE Hinton made me want to be a writer when I was a teenager. The Great Gatsby made me want to write in the first person. But, James Lee Burke’s Last Car to Elysian Fields was the book that made me want to write Borderlands. Here’s Amazon’s description of the book:
It is a rainy late-summer's night in New Orleans. Detective Dave Robicheaux is about to confront the man who may have savagely assaulted his friend, Father Jimmie Dolan, a Catholic priest who's always at the centre of controversy. But things are never as they seem and soon Robicheaux is back in New Iberia, probing a car crash that killed three teenage girls. A grief-crazed father and a maniacal, complex assassin are just a few of the characters Robicheaux meets as he is drawn deeper into a web of sordid secrets and escalating violence. A masterful exploration of the troubled side of human nature and the dark corners of the heart, peopled by familiar characters such as P.I. Clete Purcel and Robicheaux's old flame Theodosia LeJeune, LAST CAR TO ELYSIAN FIELDS is vintage Burke - moody, hard-hitting, with his trademark blend of human drama and relentless noir suspense.

Why it appealed to me? Beyond the stunning writing and the deep rooted sense of place and time? Beyond the sense of decency and anger at the way in which humans treat each other, and especially treat those unable to speak for themselves? There was one scene in particular. Late in the book, Robicheaux jogging in the park at dawn, believes he is having a heart attack and is going to die:
‘Is this the way it comes? I thought – not with a clicking sound ands a brilliant flash of light on a night trail in Vietnam, or with a high powered round fired by a sniper in a compact automobile, but instead with a racing of the heart and a shortening of the breath in a black-green deserted park smudged by mist and threaded by a tidal stream.’

I remember reading that scene and feeling sad at the thought that Robicheaux might not live to fight another day, almost as if I was losing a friend with whom, in my reading, I had spent a lot of time. Rebus was retiring, Morse had died, now Robicheaux. So I decided to write a new series that I would ant to read, with a detective I could understand, just in case all the other detectives died. And that was the catalyst that finally pushed me to write Borderlands.
As for Robicheaux – he lived to fight another day, thankfully.

So, anyone else want to suggest what book most influenced you to write your first novel?

Saturday, 29 November 2008

The MNW Conclave

In one of my favourite books, The Book of Dreams by Jack Vance, the cornerstone of the plot is a picture of the guests at a banquet. Who are they, and what happened to them? You'll need to read the book to find out, but a poisoned delicacy known as charnay is on the menu...

I was put in mind of that iconic--to me, at least--image by this picture Len Tyler sent me. It's of the gathering of MNW writers and friends Len and his wife Ann hosted in London on Friday to mark David Isaak's visit to London. The parallels with the Vance book are inexact: charnay was not served, but I can never see a group photo like this without thinking of The Book of Dreams. The guests in Vance's picture are unidentified, so I will leave it to the reader to work out who is who here... As well as MNW writers we have an editor (THE editor, in fact), a bookseller and, all being well, a future Macmillan New Writer.

It was marvellous to meet so many of the other members of this blog. What was strangest was that it didn't feel like meeting new people at all. With those whose blogs I keep up with the most, like David, Matt and Aliya, it was like resuming a conversation broken off the same day.

One of the most impressive things about the group was the complete absence of ego. Anyone published by MNW has, by definition, achieved a level of success most aspiring writers can only dream of; but this is a group of people whose focus is on the craft of writing, not on the trappings of being published. And everyone genuinely seemed to enjoy the success of everyone else on the list--and indeed to have read each others' books. I suspect, though, that no-one has read quite as many as David Isaak, who has not only read every MNW title ever published but, it seems, every title ever published, full stop!

One of Len's guests last night was David Headley, the proprietor of the exceptional Goldsboro Books in London. David is a great supporter of MNW titles and it was good to see him again. If you want to buy any MNW book--or other signed first editions--why not get it from here rather than Amazon or your local High Street chain?

It was a great to meet so many people I had previously only known virtually, and it was a splendid evening. Thanks again to Len and and Ann for making it possible!

Friday, 14 November 2008

October and November publications and a look ahead

Due to a severe lack of time on my part, the two most recent additions to the Macmillan New Writing library have not been posted on this blog until now (I don’t have interviews to accompany Dogfellow’s Ghost or The Opposite Bastard, but the two novels below are a fine example of the wide range of publications that Macmillan New Writing delivers), so my apologies to you all.

Next month it’s the turn of Michael Edwards' comedy, Wild Oats, and then the new year will bring books by Doug Worgul (February) Len Tyler (March) Faye Booth’s Trades of the Flesh (August) and my little opus in January, not to mention paperback editions of Light Reading, The Herring Seller’s Apprentice, The Dog of the North, Testament, Sleepwalkers Guide to Flight, The Secret War, Gallows Lane, Restitution and a host of others (again, my apologies if I've missed anyone out!).

2009 is going to be a good year. I can feel it in my bones, folks.

But on a more administrative subject, my tenure as blog administrator will soon be over. I guess what I’m saying is that after my second book is published by MNW in 2009 I will no longer be a Macmillan New Writer – just a Macmillan Writer.
This isn’t “goodbye, and thanks for all the fish”; I’ll still be part of this community (in my opinion one of the best writing communities for published authors out there) and I’ll still contribute to this blog, but come summer next year – what with everything else going on in my life - I’ll be looking to hand over the admin duties of “Macmillan New Writers Blog” to one of the other members.
So, how about it? Any volunteers? David is the other co-admin bod for the blog, and there needs to be two. Does anyone here have the blog know-how and the inclination to take this on?

November's Publication

"A very modern tale of reality TV, unexpected love, and the Prince of Denmark
Forced to take employment as live-in carer for a genius quadriplegic undergraduate, failed actor Timothy Salt is not optimistic. His charge, Michael Owen, is only at Oxford to please his devoted mum. When ersatz aristo Phillip Sydney offers the leading role in his student production of Hamlet to Michael, Timothy’s humiliation seems complete. Meanwhile, fellow student thespian Anna Jenkins, deciding that Phillip is the ‘perfect gentleman’ who Mummy so wants her to find, accepts the part of Ophelia.
Then TV producer Nikki Hardbody (Kids with Cancer and Pepé: The Boy with No Nose) arrives to immortalise Michael in her latest documentary, and Timothy realizes that the only way he can salvage any self-respect is by sabotaging the production of Hamlet. Michael, meanwhile, is horrified to find himself falling for Anna. As rehearsals progress, Anna discovers that her perfect partner isn’t Phillip Sydney after all. No one is more delighted than cynical Nikki Hardbody.
The Opposite Bastard is a dark comedy of manners. An uproarious and moving commentary on love, disability, dignity, political correctness and media opportunism, it is a strikingly original and provocative debut. "
About the author:
Simon Packham read drama at Manchester University. After a short spell as one half of the comedy duo The Amazing Spendinis, he trained as an actor, and has since appeared in a variety of West End shows. Those of a less than vigilant disposition may have failed to spot him as Mr Quaddy in episode 1164 of The Bill.
For more information please visit the Macmillan New Writing site.

October's Publication (better late that never!)

"A shocking and beautiful reminder of humanity's animal nature

A new century has begun and new fields of science are shaking man’s longest-held beliefs. And on a tropical island, somewhere in the Pacific, new kinds of creature have been conceived.
Yet the Master who made them has disappeared, and for one of his creations the loss is unbearable: neither entirely man nor wholly animal, DogFellow is both more and less than the sum of his parts. Pitifully conflicted, his loyalty to a lost creator is at war with other, more human desires. And DogFellow alone can unlock the secrets of a strange and terrible past . . .
Gripping and poignant, philosophical and fantastic, DogFellow’s Ghost is a timely allegory on freedom, slavery and the wildness of the human spirit. "

About the author:
Gavin Smith has worked in further education and taught for the Open University. He lives in Exeter.

For more information please visit the Macmillan New Writing website.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Can I Buy You a Drink?

I'm passing through London once again, for a meeting on November 27th.

I'll be around on the 26th (though probably worse for wear, having just arrived that morning). At the moment, I have Friday the 28th free. If you're around and available, I'd be happy to knock back a glass of something with y'all.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

True Confessions

Okay, I admit it. I've developed the really, really bad habit of checking out the sales rank for Rachel DuPree on Amazon. When the number is enormous, I tell myself it means nothing. When the number drops a bit, I'm ready to celebrate.

This is a quick route to insanity. Does anyone else find themselves doing this?

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Separated at Birth

I've been blogging over on the Veggie Box about the similarities that crop up between MNW books - for instance, North and Taking Comfort right at the beginning of MNW's life.

Have you noticed any other similarities? What do you put this down to? The Zeitgeist? Something in the water? Do certain ideas come into their time?

Right, I'm off for a bath. Ooh, don't tell me you all do that on a Sunday afternoon too...

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Gone off it

When I was a Relate counsellor, one of the sex problems clients would present with was known in the trade as 'gone off it'. Well, I have gone off my WIP. Three quarters of the way through, on course for my (private) deadline, I've fallen out of love with my novel. What do I do? Finish the damn thing anyway? Bin it? Start a new one? Go for a long walk? Has this happened to anyone else? And if so, what did you do? Help, please!

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Agents and All That Jazz

Okay, just to keep off of Eliza's Bad-Boy List, I'll ask something I've been wondering about. Where do all of you stand these days on the matter of agents?

I had shed mine just before I submitted to MNW (after her sage advice that my novel was "too American" to be of interest to anyone in Europe). Roger Morris, if I recall, already had an agent at the time he signed with MNW. I believe that the prolific Ms. Whiteley acquired an agent somewhere after Three Things but before Light Reading. And I know that many of you have been through the whole agent grind on the way to where you are today.

For me, it's been loverly (my subconscious must have just now connected Elizas) not worrying about the whole agent issue, but it's also become clear to me that my trajectory, be it high or be it low, at Pan Macmillan is going to be within the thriller genre--which makes sense from their point of view, and also makes sense from a career point of view.

Unfortunately, I'm not a sensible writer, and so I have this pile of stuff in other genres, and I've realized the only way I'm going to get the rest of it out there is through an agent. Sigh.

Being me, of course, I can't even decide whether I need an agent in the US or in the UK. (And finding someone who wants both thrillers and dain-bramaged fantasy/sci-fi with literary pretensions isn't easy in either place.)

But what about the rest of you? Are you repped? Do you feel the need to be repped? Do you feel that the word 'repped' is an annoying neologism, and just the sort of thing you'd expect from someone who lives so close to Hollywood?

Monday, 20 October 2008



Is there anyone there? Is everybody working very, very hard?

Monday, 6 October 2008

A passing thought

You know how musicians often have deals with the manufacturers of their instruments/microphones/sound equipment of choice, whereby they declare their love for said brand in exchange for money and free kit? ("So-and-so uses Whataracket drums!") Well, I wonder whether it would work for writers and our tools? To a certain extent it has been done - the late Douglas Adams was a big advocate of Apple Mac computers, while Moleskine claim that their notebooks were used by Hemingway (although there are some quibbles over the accuracy of this statement) - but never on the same scale as with musicians and instruments.

Saying that writers would never go for something as vulgar as a commercial endorsement simply doesn't stand up to scrutiny: for one thing, we don't all have the same personality and sense of what is and isn't appropriate, and secondly music is also a field in which artistic integrity often plays a large part in determining one's credibility (witness the contempt for major labels frequently displayed by indie bands), and that hasn't done the guitar endorsements any harm. Ultimately, as long as you don't turn into Krusty the Klown and start endorsing a load of random tat that you've never actually seen in person, never mind used, aren't these endorsements just word of mouth with benefits?

So what I propose (with tongue only partly in cheek), is that stationers and computer and software companies could run similar ads in the pages of, say, Writing Magazine or Writers' Forum, parading a particular author's fondness for their products; assuming they can find a willing author who does use their gear of course, and in exchange for money and free samples. I imagine there are plenty of authors who will be willing to skewer me if they lay eyes on this post, but I also believe that there will be a considerable number of others who think that there is a smidgen of method in my madness. And hey, there might be a computer company out there who likes my idea (a girl can dream), so just in case, I'll flutter my cyber-eyelashes at Advent and Microsoft in case they want to give me stuff. You never know.

Friday, 3 October 2008

The Gathering (part 4)

We seem to have a date, and, so far, a respectable seven (if we include Len. Come on, Len. Of course you can make it) - Aliya, Tim, Alis, Eliza, Matt, Len, Frances - for lunch on Friday 16th January. Of course, it will be lovely if more can make it. but I think seven makes it worth doing. Does everyone agree? And I suggest Len gets to choose the venue as his reward for joining us. You can't say fairer than that.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Buy one get one half price!

These were taken by my friend Gillian on her camera phone and messaged to me - thank you Gillian!

Location: WH Smith, Queen Street Station, Glasgow.

Face out and on special offer in a station - I think that's what they call the Holy Grail.

Monday, 29 September 2008

An eventful weekend

I was awoken by Ann in the early hours of Saturday morning, who informed me that our usually quiet square was full of fire engines & police. I asked if our own house was actually currently on fire and being told “no”, went back to sleep, thus missing the most exciting event in our neighbourhood’s recent history.

A neighbour of ours is a publisher who had recently taken on a novel entitled “the Jewel of Medina” by Sherry Jones – a novel that has been seen (wrongly in the view of most) as anti-Islamic. A group of terrorists had decided to fire-bomb his residence. The armed police had been staking out the house, which was empty at the time, and arrested the men concerned, but not before they had started a small fire. Fire engines were called and I was briefly woken up to be informed of the fact.

When I decided to post something on the subject, I thought that the interesting point was that a crime writer had slept through the only crime to be committed on his doorstep for some time. Which of course is true.

But actually the real point is this. We have spent hundreds of years winning the right to freedom of speech. All censorship is bad. Censorship by terror has to be resisted at all costs. It’s fine to sleep through a police raid; we can’t sleep through the loss of free speech.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

When it all ends

This morning I completed the first draft of my WIP. It needs major surgery and it's definitely the proverbial sow's ear rather than the silk purse, but at least the skeleton of the story's there now, and anyway, how many first drafts aren't a bit grotty?

What I wanted to post about today, though, is the crisis of confidence I always have whenever I'm finishing up a book. From what I understand, a large proportion of writers really enjoy getting to the end of a piece, while others dislike endings because the prospect of parting with their characters saddens them. The ones I don't hear much about are the writers like me: the ones who hate endings because that's when their personal demons come out to play and tell them that the creation they just devoted X amount of time to reeks to high heaven.

Logically, I know it's an overreaction (as I said, what first draft doesn't need improvement?), and one that mars what should be a positive feeling of achievement, but am I the only one who experiences this end-of-draft malaise? Is anyone else troubled by the gremlin at such times?

Friday, 19 September 2008

Yet More Borderlands Pics

Underneath the disguises, from left to right, are my sister Amber, nephew Avi, and my niece Stephanie. As the picture she sent informs you, they are at the Barnes & Noble in Redlands, California (my home town, actually). She says:

"I am afraid the cover is a little blurry. Hope it still works. It is a great book. I am only 40 or 50 pages in, but am really grouchy when my job or my kids make me put it down."

My sister is an arbiter of local taste, so I'm happy to report that Brian is now big in Redlands.

If you're wondering what the heck Redlands is, read this wikipedia article. Or at least scroll all the way to the bottom looking at the pictures. There's some amazing gingerbread mansions there, built by the citrus barons in the early years of the 20th century.

Bet you didn't know there were such things as citrus barons, did you?

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Hot off the phone… (The Gathering: Part 3)

Okay folks. I’ve just come off the phone to David Headly, and we have a firm date for The Hoard of Mhorrer book launch at Goldsboro Books: January 16th 2009. Everyone, is of course, welcome to attend (these things usually start about 7/8ish), but of more importance to this blog is the confirmation of the “MNW Gathering”.

As per Frances’ suggestion, we could make it lunchtime, Jan Friday 16th if everyone is happy with that. At least that way any hangers on could keep going to the evening (chatting that is, not sure I should be drinking from lunch-time onwards – the book launch might get a bit messy). If we say about noon, all we need now is a venue, so I’ll hand that over to the resident Londoners in the gang. Got any ideas?

Monday, 15 September 2008

3 Lunatics for the price of 2

You have to be a little mad to be a writer, so says someone I chatted to over the weekend. I couldn’t disagree. I mean, apart from having the sort of imagination you only find in one other place, i.e. an asylum for the insane, writers have to be stubborn and single-minded as well as absently so, to believe that someday the fruits of their ill-judged labour will be plucked off the branch and showcased on the 3 for 2 table at the local Waterstones.

And bugger me if it doesn’t actually happen.

This lunchtime I strolled down to the Waterstones in Orchard Square and was very pleased to find in the 3 for 2 sale not only the paperbacks of Faye’s Cover the Mirrors, but David Isaak’s Shock and Awe, and Annabel Dore’s Great North Road, pretty much sat next to each other. Unfortunately my wee phone has the photographic resolution of a ZX81 so I didn’t take a photo of it, but my goodness… it looked bloody impressive. Maybe I should re-name this blog “3 for 2”?

Thursday, 11 September 2008

There must be some mistake

I thought for sure there'd be at least one, perhaps more, MNW writer on the Booker Prize short list. Perhaps someone should put in a call to Short List Headquarters to ask if there has been an oversight.


MNW - The Gathering (part 2)

Matt and I agreed some weeks ago that we would have another try at organising a get-together once the summer holidays were over. What we really need to know is (1) how many people would be interested (2) which month would be best for most people (probably out of Nov, Dec or Jan) (3) week-day or week-ends? and (4) day time or evening. So please could anyone who is interested state their preferences (including any dates or times which they couldn't manage)and we can see how far we get! It might be impossible to organise because of time commitments, distance etc. but we thought it was at least worth a try. I think it would probably have to be in London, unless anyone has any better ideas?

Friday, 5 September 2008

Borderlands in Houston

Here are my pictures of Brian Gilloway's Borderlands in a Houston Barnes & Noble. Brian's in good company: Ed McBain, John Mortimer, and Walter Mosley. Pretty exciting, isn't it?

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Borderlands Arrives in the US of A

Actually, the release date for the US edition of Brian McGilloway's Borderlands was the day before yesterday, September 2nd, but some of us (and by "some of us," I mean "me") are a little slow. But there it is, on the shelves of the Huntington Beach Barnes and Noble, sitting proudly in the New Mystery section. Somewhat surprisingly, St. Martin's Press (Thomas Dunne) decided to stick with the original cover, which shows an unusual attack of good sense and good taste; usually covers are changed just on the principle of the thing.

I have discovered that unless you are JK Rowling, John Grisham, or someone else who has a large audience quivering with anticipation at the imminent arrival of your new novel, "publication date" is a pretty elastic concept. The stores may get the books out on the shelves even before they are "published," or they may find their way out of the back room a few days later when the stock clerk stops using that particular box of books as a lunch table. So far, of the five Barnes and Noble superstores within 10 miles of my house, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, and Orange all have Borderlands on display; Costa Mesa and Irvine's copies are still apparently in use by the stockboy. Borderlands is also on display at Borders in its Long Beach, Brea, and Yorba Linda stores, and I suspect it will soon be cropping up at others. So, St. Martin's seems to be doing a good job of pushing the books out the door and onto the shelves, and I'm glad.

This is more than a selfless interest in seeing Brian's book reach a wider audience; this is also an historic, but little-noted occasion. This is the first time a Macmillan New Writing book has jumped the Atlantic and been printed in an American edition. Many--probably all--of us would like to see our books do the same, but I suspect those of us residing in the US harbor special hopes in this area. (Though something tells me if my book hasn't made the jump by now...)

Irrespective of my vested interest in seeing Brian's book do well, I'd urge American readers to toddle on down to their local bookstore (or, okay, go online if you must) and pick up a copy of Borderlands. McGilloway's prose is flawless, his characters pop off the page, the plot is engrossing, and the setting unique. The book received deservedly great reviews in Ireland and the UK, and sold enough copies to turn most writers Elphaba-colored with envy.

In case you didn't get the message, My Fellow Americans, I'm suggesting you buy it. (And congrats, Brian!)

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Publishing milestones

Matt just informed me that the paperback edition of Cover the Mirrors is now available on the 3-for-2 table in the Sheffield branch of Waterstone's (thank you!), and with all the recent talk on this blog about publishing experiences and milestones, I thought I'd ask you all what your own watersheds are or have been. Big or small, achieved yet or not - just writing-related things you consider worthy of note. A few of mine, off the top of my head and in no order:

* Getting a publishing deal (obviously).
* Visiting my publishers (Macmillan and Magna).
* Selling some subsidiary rights, namely large print, audio and Romanian translation. (Well, I personally didn't sell them, but you get my meaning.)
* On a related note: being translated into a foreign language.
* Working on one of my books with a professional editor.
* Doing a 'proper' interview.
* Appearing on live radio.
* Getting a book-themed tattoo.
* Holding a bound copy of one of my books in my sticky mitts.
* Braving my family reading my work - smut and all.
* Seeing my book in a bookshop.
* Being in a window display.
* Being face-out in section.
* Being on one of those cardboard standy things.
* Being on a special offer table (thanks again to Matt and Sheffield Waterstone's!).
* Having a launch party.
* Being shocked to discover that my scrawly signature is now an asset when selling books.
* Having my book sell out at several retailers.
* Meeting some fellow MNWers (Aliya and Alis).
* Speaking to a book group.
* Having my second novel accepted.

...I'm bound to have missed some, but anyway - can you add any more?

Monday, 1 September 2008

The Curse of Not Being A Bother

Further to Emma Darwin's comment further down the page about how lucky we MNWers are to have each other to share the publishing experience with, I thought I'd finally get up the courage to ask the question that's really been in my mind since day one of signing the contract.

How much of a bother are you prepared to be?

I'm desperate not to be thought of as hard work. Therefore I hardly ever speak to anybody at Macmillan. It's not that I don't have questions that I'd like answered about how many books I've sold and what exactly goes into marketing plans and so on. I'm just so paranoid that somebody will go, 'That Aliya Whiteley, blimey, worst of the bleeding lot. Never stops bleating on about something. And she obviously knows nothing about the biz, does she? Put a note on her secret file not to publish her again.'

Or, it occurs to me now, I could be at the other extreme of the bothersome author scale. Maybe they think I don't really care because I never say anything, and have decided not to tell me anything even if something important came up because, hey, it obviously means nothing to me.

So where are you on the scale? I speak to somebody at Macmillan maybe six times a year and am pretty apologetic then. I've always wanted to know - are you doing it more than me?

Friday, 29 August 2008

September's Publication

"How do you rebuild your life when the world lies in ruins?

February 1945. Europe is in ruins and the Red Army is searing its way across Germany’s eastern marches, revenging itself upon a petrified population. The war is over, but for some the fight for survival is only just beginning.

Alix, the aristocratic daughter of a German resistance fighter, is alone and desperate to flee before the Reds come. But when a ferocious snowstorm descends she must return to the shelter of her abandoned ancestral home. There, she is shocked to find her childhood sweetheart Gregor. As old passions are rekindled, a couple break into the house to hide – the man, dressed in Gestapo uniform, is a stranger, but his companion is altogether more familiar.
By morning, the blizzard has died down but the Reds are back. The woman and her Nazi escort are dead, and Gregor has vanished. Alone and terrified, Alix runs for her life, and embarks upon an extraordinary and heartbreaking journey.
It will take sixty years and the fall of another empire – Communism – before the riddles of that fateful night can be deciphered.

Restitution is a memorable novel about love and betrayal, hatred and heroism – a reminder that, even in the worst of times, the most courageous acts of kindness are possible

About the Author:

Eliza Graham lives in the Vale of the White Horse in Oxfordshire, with her husband, children and dogs.

Hi, Eliza, tell us a little about your novel, Restitution:
"Essentially Restitution is a wrong-person-at-the-wrong-time love story crossed with some Gone with the Wind/Cold Mountain elements, perhaps! But set at a very dark time in European history: the closing months of World War Two in Europe. I'd been mulling over the subject matter for some years. As a teenager I stayed with a German family who'd come from the east as the Red Army moved in at the end of the war. They told me about packing a handcart with possessions and running away through the snow and to my teenage imagination, I'm afraid to say, it actually sounded quite exciting. As I grew up and read more I became completely chilled by the horror of that time. I kept wondering what would happen if you had competing loyalties, if you had friends or lovers on the wrong side. It seemed like a miracle to me that from so much suffering Europe could possibly have been rebuilt. And so the seeds of Restitution were planting."

Restitution is your second book published by Macmillan New Writing. How has your life changed since they published Playing with the Moon in 2007?
"It can be crazy! I still have my freelance proof-reading job, which I juggle with looking after the children. Writing is a lot of fun but it means I have to be much more disciplined about putting aside time. When I first started, I just wrote when I felt like it and in some ways, for me, that worked well as I could just relax into my imagination and let the book unfold at its own pace. Now I have to be more ruthless about getting on and doing it. But I'm certainly not complaining as it's a problem I longed to have for years while I was in Writing Wilderness.."

What is your typical writing day?
"The beginning of the week is less busy with my freelance work and other commitments so I tend to try and seize time then. Sadly my subconscious doesn't always respond well to the need to Have a Good Idea on Mondays and Tuesdays, so I just grit my teeth and try to get something down, even if I know it's not very good, before about half-past two, which is when the dogs start marching up and down and demanding their walk. After about half-past three it's unlikely much will happen writing-wise as I become a taxi service."

Four not-so random facts:-

Do you have a writing mantra?
"Prepare for the worst and keep Plan B up your sleeve. My Plan B includes changing my name and leaving the country and starting all over again somewhere like Tasmania."

By pen or by keyboard, and why?
"Both! On holiday I use pen and I often scribble on bits of paper as I dash around. When I'm at home I tend to use the laptop for convenience."

Greatest influences on your writing:
"I don't think I have any in particular. I'm very fond of spy novels like Len Deighton and John le Carre but I don't write books in that genre. I also love nineteenth century novels and frequently reread them."

Most ludicrous moment in your life?
"When we were struck by lightening, disabling our broadband and telephone; I broke my mobile; the front door key snapped in the lock; and my car battery went flat. All within 48 hours. If someone was doing voodoo on me, I've got the message now, OK?"

Thanks, Eliza, and best of luck with Restitution which is published 19th September 2008 and is available at all good booksellers.
You can read an extract of Restitution by clicking here, or for more information please visit the Macmillan New Writing site here.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

To agent or not to agent...?

I know that some of you/us have already crossed this bridge, and Len has already blogged about it (it sounded very hard work!), but two thirds of the way through book no. 3, I need to start thinking about it myself. While Macmillan have been wonderful in every way, I am not good at matters financial, and all things being equal, like the idea of handing All That over to someone else. Does anyone have any views/experience/advice, please?

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Miss Booth's Book Emporium

I have just set up a webstore for my books using Amazon's aStore system. I'm still finding my feet with it, but so far I'd definitely recommend it to other authors: you can build your own webstore and choose the products that go in it, but it's powered entirely by Amazon and all orders are handled and despatched by them, so you don't have to worry about messing up on that score, and of course it's a lot more reassuring for buyers as well - if you trust Amazon, you can trust an Amazon aStore!

So far I only have the editions of Cover the Mirrors that are available on Amazon's catalogue listed in my shop, but I'll add the audiobook and the hardback of Trades of the Flesh as soon as possible.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

School Books

I've been blogging over at this week ahead of the publication of Borderlands in the US. Tomorrow's post is one I thought I'd throw open to the MNW family as well, if you don't mind...

'I return to work next week after eight rain drenched weeks of a summer vacation. Today, I will be calling into school for a few hours to sort through the new books we have ordered for the coming academic year. It is a task I’m looking forward to doing. Although we have a fairly clear curriculum, there is room for English teachers to introduce texts that they like or think their pupils might like. Over the past few years, I’ve managed to include The Moonstone, Oranges From Spain, Ian Rankin’s A Good Hanging, The Outsiders and The Godfather into my classes, alongside The Great Gatsby and Hamlet which are two of my favourite texts from my own days at school. This year I’ll be teaching Dracula amongst other things to one of my classes.

I’m not going to argue that these texts are ‘worthy books’ as such, though some of them are great works. Some I’ve included because I think the pupils will enjoy them. (I teach 11 – 18 year old boys, by the way.) In fact, Oranges from Spain was written by Northern Irish author David Park who is also a teacher. He was teaching Treasure Island to a group of students and realised they were completely bored. Therefore he wrote this collection of short stories which deal with teenagers growing up in the North.

The books we engage with when teenagers stick with us all our lives. Each stage of my education is marked by one book in particular that spoke to me in a way others didn’t: as a child Leon Garfield’s John Diamond; as a teenager, SE Hinton’s The Outsiders and Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby; at university, The Name of the Rose. As an adult, I revisit the books of James Lee Burke frequently.

I suppose what I’m wondering is, if you could choose one book that isn’t ordinarily taught in school to be added to the curriculum, what would it be and why? And furthermore, are there any books you’d like to see removed from school reading lists? Personally, I could happily survive a few terms without Thomas Hardy…'

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Macmillan New Writing - The Gathering

Yep, it sounds like a dodgy film (like Highlander, or some-such) but urged on by an e-mail from Frances, it’s about time for a meet-up/gathering/get-together/shindig/hoohah etc. for the MNW crew.
We’ve had a couple of big ones in the past, namely the first launch for the imprint way back in April 2006 and for Mike Barnard’s retirement, not to mention the occasional meet-ups for book launches over the last two years, but recently there’s been nothing with more than several of the writers in attendance at any one time. Frances thinks this should be rectified, and so do I.

So I’m throwing this out to you all to see what you think. Frances suggested a meet-up sometime in December, which I could do, and I’ll throw in January as possible month because I can do that too. Ideally it would involve a big lunch in London and/or an evening out drinking and chatting. We could combine it with a book launch or we could just pick a date the majority agree on. I’d love it if our non-UK authors could hop over the Atlantic, from India, Australia etc to join up but I’ll understand if it’s a trip too far.

So. What do you reckon then? Anyone up for this? And if so, when do you reckon?

(And by the way, this invitation isn’t just limited to the Macmillan New Writers – anyone else who frequents this blog is invited too. When it comes to chatting and drinking with friends, I’m not exclusive.)

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Attack on London

I know Alis has blogged about The Big Green Bookshop in the past. I'm going to be there on Saturday 6th September reading from Light Reading for Gold Dust magazine's party. If you wanna come along and heckle you are very welcome.

Here's the details:

You are all invited to come along for another evening of readings, drinks & music to celebrate 4 years of Gold Dust magazine.

Time: from 7pm

Date: 6 September 2008

The Big Green Bookshop
Unit 1, Brampton Park Road,
Wood Green
N22 6BG

Monday, 11 August 2008

Okay, here's a question...

I'm coming up on the anniversary of my debut publication. Tim Stretton just launched his boat upon the waters. Frances Garrood, Aliya Whitely, Brian McGilloway, Michael Stephen Fuchs, and Edward Charles have all sent their seconds out in to the world under the MNW imprint, and the rest of the MNW alumni are all in various other stages of...of, well, whatever stages they find themselves in.

So, I thought I'd toss this question out there, ala Bob Dylan, no matter what your stage of publication: How does it feel?

Pretty much as expected? Pretty much as unexpected? Gratifying? Disappointing? Surprising? Complicated? Better? Worse?

Those of you who aren't Macmillanites (aren't 'Macmillanites' demons out of a Clive Barker novel?) should feel free to chip in, too. What's up with all this publication hoo-rah? How does it rank relative to, say, loss of virginity, matriculation, bailing out of an airplane, or crossing the equator ("cutting the line," for the nautically inclined)?

Friday, 1 August 2008

August's Publication is...

"Introducing England's most eccentric family . . .

It is the early Sixties, and thirteen-year old Cassandra Fitzpatrick is growing up in a household full of waifs and strays and general misfits. Despite her unorthodox home life, however, she is generally content – until something happens to her that turns her life upside-down.
Cass’s unhappiness deepens when she wins a scholarship to boarding school and is torn away from all she knows and loves – especially her adored, if wildly unconventional, mother. In time, Cass begins to settle down, but accustomed though she is to her mother's eccentricities, even she is not prepared for the announcement Mrs Fitzpatrick is about to make.
Years later, as her beloved mother lies dying from cancer, the adult Cass is reassessing the experiences, good and bad, that have made her who she is. The Bird, the Bees and Other Secrets is the story of how one woman comes to terms with her extraordinary past and eventually finds happiness. It is a novel about the brevity of childhood and the responsibilities of adults, and a reminder that love can be found in the most unexpected places

About the Author

Frances Garrood's main career was in nursing, and she published many short stories in the odd moments between working and bringing up her four children. She was also a Relate counsellor for many years, and now counsels clients privately at home. She lives with her husband in Wiltshire. Dead Ernest is her first novel.

Hi, Frances, tell us a little about your novel, The Birds, the Bees and Other Secrets:
"The novel initially grew out of a short story I wrote some years ago about a woman sitting with her dying mother and thinking back over her childhood. Of course, there is much more to it than that, but it did give me something to work from and some kind of structure (and I need structure, especially as I don't plan ahead).While the novel is not autobiograpical, the idea was inspired by my own mother, who was very eccentric but also funny, creative and brave. Her life – like the life of the mother in the book – was fraught with difficulties and suffering, and yet she managed to maintain an amazing spirit. It is this spirit which I hope to put across. The novel means a lot to me, not because it is good (I'm not in a position to judge) but because I have put so much of myself into it. The experiences of love, joy, sadness and bereavement have all been mine, in one way or another, and they make the book very personal to me."

The Birds, the Bees and Other Secrets is your second book published by Macmillan New Writing. How has your life changed since they published Dead Ernest in 2007?
"Apart from the yacht and the Porsche, you mean? I think the key word is confidence. The imprimatur of MNW was a tremendous boost, for as we all know, writing can be a lonely business, and to know that someone believed in my book enough to publish it was fantastic. I think I've been on a sort of high ever since that first letter from Mike Barnard, and while many MNW writers' novels have done better than Dead Ernest (so far, although it is now in the early stages of development into a TV film, so you never know...) I still feel excited to be a published author. I haven't yet gone so far as to call myself a 'novelist', but I'm getting there. Also, at my age (I think I'm probably the second oldest MNW writer, after Brian Martin, and my youngest son is the same age as Faye!) it's good to know that it's possible to succeed at something new."

What is your typical writing day?
"I don't have one. I so envy the rigid routine of the 'Get up at 6am, 2 cups of strong coffee, write for 2 hours. 8.15am more coffee and a muesli bar, walk the dog, two more hours' writing etc'brigade, but I simply don't have the self-discipline. I write when I feel like it, which could be any time. Sometimes I write quite a lot; at others, just a few words. But I have set myself a deadline for the WIP (although I'm not telling anyone when it is)."
Four not-so random facts:-

Do you have a writing mantra?
"I think mine is probably 'Keep going, because eventually it'll start writing itself, as it always does (but I get impatient, as I always do...).' Or is that too long? Not very snappy!"

By pen or by keyboard, and why?
"Keyboard every time. I'm far too lazy to write things out more than once (although I have a kind of typing dyslexia, and tend to write letters in the wrong order, so the spell ckeck is in constant use). "

Greatest influences on your writing
"I don't think I'm influenced by other writers, but I read widely. I love many of the 19th century novelists, especially Trollope, Jane Austen (of course) and Mrs. Gaskell. I especially admire writers like Barbara Pym and Anne Tyler, who can write with great delicacy about simple every-day subjects."

Most ludicrous moment in your life
"There have been so many, but none stands out especially. Being pulled fully-clothed into a swimming pool by my grandson at a wedding - will that do?"
Thanks, Frances, and best of luck with The Bird, the Bees and Other Secrets which is published 1st August 2008 and is available at all good booksellers.
You can read an extract of The Bird, the Bees and Other Secrets by clicking here, or for more information please visit the Macmillan New Writing site here.

Friday, 25 July 2008


If anyone is free and in London on August 7th I would love to see you at the launch for The Birds, The Bees and Other Secrets (6.30 - 8.30pm at Goldsboro Books). I hesitate to ask as I have so far been unable to get to anyone else's launch, living as I do in deepest Wiltshire, but it would be great to see anyone who might be able to make it.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Shameless blog stealing

I've decided that from now on I'm going to lift the blog post about each month's new MNW release and copy it onto my own blog. I used to belong to an American cyber circuit for authors and each month every member would blog about that month's author and her book. It seems like a good thing to do.

Matt's interviews and the authors' responses are interesting and illuminating.

So I've pinched Tim Stretton's interview for this month's release. (What are your syndication fees like, Matt, and do you accept payment in alcohol--assuming we ever get to meet?)

Nik Perring created a meme in which you have to take photos of some of your bookshelves and post them, so I thought I'd join in. Needless to say, I couldn't fit all my books into a handful of pics, so just consider this a taster!

Bookshelf - the aren't-I-clever-and-highbrow section. Oscar and Edgar are guarding their respective Complete Works, which you can't see because the blog layout cut them out of the picture.

Some more fiction (including my own copy of Cover the Mirrors, which is hiding in there somewhere!). On the second shelf nearest the camera, there's a pewter Gollum sitting in the boat with Bilbo Bagginses; an interpretation of the Riddles in the Dark chapter in The Hobbit. Gollum makes Tolkein's work for me - he's awesome.

I call this Heretic's Corner, but there's a variety of non-fiction stuff here, as you can see from the copies of Eats, Shoots and Leaves and Watching the English. You might also recognise the Flying Spaghetti Monster - I made Him out of wool. His pasta is French knitted and His meatballs are pompoms.

A small selection of my history non-fiction collection. The little guy in the hat is Victor the Victorian (from Deepings Dolls), the orange things in the top left are the feet of an Animal Muppet cuddly toy, and the dangly white thing is a sock monkey's tail.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Further to the Previous Post

As long as we're on the topic of the back flap, has anyone noticed that MNW has stopped putting author photos with the bio? The Personal History of Rachel DuPree, The Sleepwalker's Introduction to Flight, and The Dog of the North are all sans pictures.

Brian's Gallows Lane seems to be the last published with an author photo, but I don't think we can attribute this policy change to Brian's mug shot--it's the same one they used for Borderlands.

Now, writers aren't generally a photogenic lot, and I can well imagine that keeping our images off the product might improve sales. But if this is the case, why wasn't it thought of earlier, so we could all have benefitted from those expanded sales?

In any case, this opens up the possibilities in the bionotes. We can now claim different racial backgrounds, or can add lines such as, "He lives above the fire station in Tooting Bec, and makes his living as a male fashion model," or "She came to writing after a successful career in women's boxing, with 15 TKOs on her record."

Things you should or shouldn’t put on your author bio

Over on Tomorrowville I confessed to being struck by lightening twice, something David suggested I should put on my next author bio. And it got me thinking (the bio that is, not being struck by lightening which is something you can’t really avoid if you like being outdoors). My current author bio for Macmillan is this:

“M.F.W. Curran was born in Essex, in 1974. From an early age he was brought up on a diet of fantasy and science-fiction and has been writing stories since he was ten years old. In a past life he worked in the banking industry, for the Government, as a music journalist, and a lyric-writer. The Secret War is his first novel. He lives in Sheffield with his wife, Sarah.”

Now, after The Secret War was published someone “mean” remarked on Grumpy Old Bookman’s blog that my bio was unbelievable and that if I’d done all those things then it made their life look positively dull. Well, I have done all these things, but it’s not as grand as it sounds (well, not to me anyway) and in retrospect putting a faux resume on an author bio might have been fun at the beginning, but now it’s quite tired and I’m looking to change it, maybe not in time for the hardback release of The Horde of Mhorrer in January 2009, but maybe – and let me add, hopefully – when my third book is published. I certainly will post a new author bio on my website this year.

So what is in an author bio? Should it be humorous for a serious book? Should it be serious for a humorous book? Do you buy a book by the author bio? Should it be long, short, or not at all? And should it include ludicrous moments, like being struck by lightening - twice?

enough already

If I'd known that my lame comment, posted below, was going to stay at the top of the heap for so long, I wouldn't have posted it. Anybody got anything less boring to say?


Monday, 7 July 2008

July 4

As nice as you Brits have been, what with publishing my first novel and all, I kind of feel like I should apologize for all that independence stuff we stirred up 232 years ago. Nothing personal. Really.


Thursday, 26 June 2008

July's Publication...


"Introducing an outstanding new voice in fantasy fiction
Winter on the lawless plains of the Emmenrule. En route to her wedding in the fortified city of Croad, the beautiful Lady Isola is kidnapped. What is worse, her captor is the infamous Beauceron. But, ruthless as he may be, Beauceron is no ordinary brigand: it is his life's ambition to capture Croad itself – and he will stop at nothing to achieve it.
Mondia, though, is a continent of many stories, and in Croad, a young man named Arren has been taken under the wing of the city's ruler, Lord Thaume. Although of low birth, Arren is destined to become a knight of valour and renown. But as his fortunes rise, so those of his childhood friend Eilla fall.
Beauceron has returned with his human plunder to his home – the exquisite frozen city of Mettingloom. There, the imperious Isola finds herself reassessing her former loyalties as she struggles to adapt to her new life. Beauceron, meanwhile, is manoeuvring to raise an army. He is determined to defeat his enemies, both inside and outside Mettingloom – and to capture the city he loathes.
But what is the source of Beauceron’s obsession with Croad? Can Arren reconcile his youthful ambitions with his growing feelings for Eilla? And just who is the Dog of the North?
Tim Stretton’s debut novel is a spellbinding tale of loyalty and betrayal, homeland and exile, set in a brilliantly imagined world of political intrigue, sorcery, and warfare on an epic scale."

About the author:

Tim Stretton was born on the Isle of Wight in 1967. A graduate of English and American Literature, he now lives in West Sussex.

Hi, Tim, tell us a little about your novel, The Dog of the North
The Dog of the North is, quite unusually for MNW, a mainstream fantasy novel. (In fact, I think Matt and I are the only ones to have done it). It's made up of two interlinked stories. One is that of Beauceron, the "Dog of the North". He's a mercenary captain who is obsessed with capturing the frontier city of Croad, for reasons the reader doesn't understand at the outset. There are many vested interests who don't want him to succeed, and throughout the novel we follow his struggles to come out ahead. Duels, treason, intrigues, kidnaps: all play their part. This part of the story is set in Mettingloom, a city I've envisaged as a kind of frozen Venice—a location I had a lot of fun with, and which I hope readers will enjoy too.
The second strand of the story is set in Croad, the city Beauceron wants to capture. It tells the story of Arren, a young man of talent but few prospects. He's taken up by the ruler of the city, Lord Thaume, and begins to advance his ambitions. But he can never forget his childhood friend Eilla, whose own world is contracting as Arren's expands. Arren has also caught the eye of Lord Thaume's daughter, and he has to choose where his loyalties lie.
I'm a great lover of fantasy literature but much of it is clichéd, the prose is often plodding and humourless, and women are either stereotypical victims or improbably kick-ass. I've tried to avoid all of those pitfalls: only the reader can judge if I've succeeded. And I can guarantee there's not a dwarf or a bloody elf in sight: my fantasies are about humans with the kind of concerns you and I might recognise. Will Atkins, my editor at MNW, said it reads like a historical novel of some obscure country, and that's exactly the effect I was trying for.

How did you and Macmillan New Writing "meet"?
The Dog of the North is the first self-published novel MNW have picked up. In fact it's the third self-published novel I've written, and I'd long given up on commercial publication. I was on a creative writing course in 2006 and Kate Mosse, author of Labyrinth and Sepulchre, told us about MNW. She said that it was controversial within the industry (although I think that's less true now) but she thought it was a great route to publication for new writers. And of course she was right!
I still didn't believe anyone would want to publish it, so I went ahead with my self-publication plan. In early 2007 I submitted it to MNW—about three months later I had an email asking if they could have a bit longer to look at it. I thought this sounded encouraging, and another month or so later I had a first email from Will saying they'd like to publish it—subject to certain caveats, which alarmed me a touch. As it turns out, they were very minor, and once we got into editing, I agreed with 95% of Will's suggestions—and Will was happy to go with my judgement on the remaining 5%. I'd say that working with a professional editor has been one of the highlights of the process.

What is your typical writing day?
I have several different writing regimes. When I'm drafting, I like to write every day to keep the momentum going. I normally write for an hour after work in the garage (which can be bloody cold in the winter!) and I aim to produce 1,000 words a day. Sometimes I'll take a week off work just to write—my aim then is to have two or three sessions a day, and my words target is 2,500—3,000.
In some ways, though, the writing is the easy bit. Getting the characters and the milieu clear in my head will take much longer. I can write a first draft in three to four months, but I spend at least that long beforehand with the ideas percolating in my head.

Four random facts:

Do you have a writing mantra?:
JFDI. This is a family blog, so it stands for "Just Flipping Do It"… If you have a problem with any aspect of your writing, from initial inspiration to plot glitches, the solution is usually to sit down and write something. I've been on several creative writing courses where the unpublished writers are no less talented than I am: the only difference is that I sat down and wrote. It's as simple as this: no-one can publish an unwritten novel.

By pen or by keyboard, and why?:
I'm a lazy sod. If I think I'll ever need to recycle anything, then it's keyboard. For the story I'm working on at the moment, I did the initial scenario and character sketches with a fountain pen in a leather-bound notebook my daughter bought me for Christmas—I knew I'd never need to re-type that, and I profited from the enforced slowness of handwriting. But the day I started the first draft, I went to the keyboard, because some—hopefully a lot!—of that prose will survive.
I also use spreadsheets a lot for timelines, character arcs and the like—so that again drives me down the keyboard route.
The Dog of the North has a major battle in the middle of the book. I had trouble getting that straight in my head, so I drew the troop dispositions and movements on a piece of paper. For some things there's no alternative.

Greatest Influences on your writing:
Jack Vance, who's written the best science-fiction and fantasy on the planet since the 1940s. It's a crime that he's not a household name. I think it's important for genre writers to read outside their field, and I've loved Jane Austen's work throughout my adult life. Other writers I've taken a lot from are Patrick O'Brian and Raymond Chandler. I'm always surprised, as well, how much my work has been influenced by Shakespeare: his influence on the English language has been inescapably pervasive, and even his plots have resonance for a fantasy writer (prompted to avenge your father's murder by his ghost? Driven to usurp the throne by the prophecy of three witches? Today this guy would be categorised as a genre writer!)

Thanks Tim, and congratulations on being published. The Dog of the North is published 4th July and is available at all good booksellers.
For further information please visit Tim's blog Acquired Taste
Or the Macmillan New Writing website

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Interview in the Bookfiend's Kingdom

Hope all my fellow MNWers will forgive me for repeating a post I've put up on my own blog. Thought the site mentioned deserved more publicity than it would get from my blog alone!

Back at the end of May I did an interview with the delightful Vicky Warren from the Bookfiend’s Kingdom, a literary website set up to raise money and awareness for the Disabilities Trust which cares for adults with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. It’s a fascinating site with interviews (some written, some spoken) with people as varied as Danny Scheinmann (Random Acts of Heroic Love), Charley Boorman (Long Way Round and Long Way Down with Ewan McGregor) and MNW’s own Len Tyler. And now me.
When Vicky initially got in touch, I assumed that she knew that I worked with teenagers with autism and had decided to interview me because of that. But no. She just liked the look of Testament and had decided to interview me. So she came, chauffeured by her friend Debbie and, having propped up her little recording device on our kitchen table, we did an interview. Amazingly, I sound quite coherent. If you’re remotely interested in hearing me rabbit about Testament for many minutes, or even in just hearing what I sound like, (not what I think I sound like, incidentally, but that’s universal) click here. If not, have a look at the BFK site anyway, Vicky has interviewed numerous authors so you’re bound to find somebody you’re interested in!

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Home From London

What a time I had in London. It is a magnificent city, and it was a thrill to have my novel released there. Will and Sophie exceeded my expectations and had two events planned for me. One was at Goldsboro Books where on June 3, I signed “stock”, as they say in the business. Owners David and Daniel served wine, and boy oh boy was I ready for that. To my surprise, Len Tyler came just in time for a quick drink, and it was a pleasure to meet him. From there we walked to Orso on Wellington Street where I’m sure the food was delicious, but I was too keyed up to eat more than a few bites.

The week only got better. On Thursday I went to the MNW office to meet a few of the folks there including Mary Chamberlain, first reader and copy editor extraordinaire. That evening I went to Pimlico Library where Sophie and Ellen Wood had arranged for Will and me to do an informal presentation to several groups of writers and readers. I’d been quite nervous about this but the writers in the group were anxious to meet Will (as you can imagine), and they were a chatty bunch. Everyone made me feel welcomed, and it was an evening that I’ll never forget.

I’m lucky that I was able to make the trip. The book and its release wouldn’t have seemed real had I stayed in Texas. To the authors who are on the fence about coming to London for their book’s release, I encourage you to find a way to do it. You won’t be sorry. Meeting Will, Sophie, Ellen, Mary, and valued friends of NMW is worth every pence.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008


Just back from the Bristol Crimefest, where, no (sadly), I did not win the Last Laugh Award. I did however finally meet face to face a number of people that I had previously known only by their books or their blogs or by email. Peter Guttridge set the toughest pub quiz that I have ever come across (and, no again, I didn’t win that either).

I also, and this is where the fear comes into it, sat on my first panel discussing humour in crime fiction before an audience that included Ian Rankin. In this respect it was a very democratic event – one day I listened to Ian Rankin’s account of how he got to be a best selling author – the next day he listened to me telling anecdotes about my dog.

I also listened to Jeff Lindsay being very funny about pretty well everything, Al Guthrie’s brilliant erotic crime pastiche, and Chris Ewan’s Indiana Jones’ Diary (12st 4, cigarettes 6, Nazis killed 2½ v.g.). I learned that there were no rabbits in C12th England and I was informed that early medieval buckets went “clunk” not “clank”. It certainly wasn’t dull.

Moreover (and this is where I justify the loving bit of the title) the entire murderous crowd of writer and critics and bloggers and readers were all so nice. Those of us short-listed for the Last Laugh weren’t even properly bitchy about Ruth Dudley Edwards when she won it (well, not very, and certainly not to her face).

So, if you are reading this blog then it was good to meet you, Myles, Adrian, Peter, Al, Declan, Ruth, Rhian, Karen, Maxine, Jane, Roz, Louise, Dave, Chris, Bill, Toby, Barry, Jessica, Steve, Pat … and of course Ian. See you all at the next one, when Brian (sadly and unavoidably absent this time) will hopefully be there too.

In the meantime, my next appearance is at the Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green at 6.30 on Thursday 12 June, when Alison Joseph and I are reading and answering questions.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Just an idea

I am visiting London (26 June- 4 July) once again since the first time I was here for the launch of the MNW imprint. Naturally, revisiting the city carries its own brand of nostalgia. I was wondering aloud if there was a book launch that coincided with my visit, so that I could be part of another MNW event. Frances came up with a suggestion that is really tempting. She felt we could meet anyway, a date, place, time that is convenient. Naturally we need sufficient number of people to make this possible. I was thinking 29 June is a Sunday, would that make it convenient for everyone? I am on vacation so I can make time on anyday. The rest of the details like venue and time will have to worked out by someone more familar with London then I am. But what say others to the idea of meeting for lunch, on 29 June, a sort of literary gathering in real space to corroborate with the virtual space we step in oh so often? Needless to say, all past present and wannabe MNW writers and kindren souls are welcome. I am sure we will have much to share. Please let me know. It is already sounding feasible.


May's Publication

It's a little late, but here's last month's this month's publication. (Confused? You betcha!)

A curiously brilliant nocturnal fable about a boy who cannot sleep . . .

'Funny and filled with heart . . . a sparky debut' – Alexandra Heminsley, The London Paper

"Dreaming of joining the brotherhood of Acapulcan cliff-divers, young Mikey Hough rigs a diving platform in the garden of his suburban Berkshire home. Two years later, when he awakes from his coma, Mikey befriends Roger, an elderly ex-pilot hospitalised when his precious Distinguished Flying Cross was violently stolen from him. Mikey soon learns that his own disastrous attempt at flight has damaged his Suprachiasmatic Nucleus, destroying his ability to sleep. The medical profession can do nothing for him. He is sent home from hospital to die. One night, a despondent Mikey stumbles across Livia, the cynical teenage ward of a neighbouring councilman. Together they decide to track down Roger’s stolen medal.
So begins a remarkable, picaresque journey into the dark heart of suburban England, during which the fearless Mikey and Livia confront a sprawling cast of pensioners, policemen and criminals – including the profoundly sinister man-child ‘The Fat Controller’. As they hurtle towards daybreak, they persuade Roger to undertake one last, gut-wrenching sortie into the night skies.
The Sleepwalker's Introduction to Flight is a heart-rending and riotous mini-epic, a brilliantly subversive coming-of-age tale about what happens when dark and light collide, and society’s marginalised find their voice
'A humorous, moving and eloquent debut' Bookseller

About the author:

Siôn Scott-Wilson works in advertising and has won many industry awards for his television work, including a BAFTA nomination. He is married with two children.

Hi, Sion, tell us a little about your novel, Sleepwalker's Introduction to Flight:
"I’d written quite a few short stories and articles before embarking on my first novel about seven years ago. The Sleepwalker’s Introduction to Flight is my second and was born on a coach in Stuttgart during a tour of the Mercedes factory. I’d been short-listed for the Fish Publishing prize with my first work and David Mitchell said some nice things about it, which gave me the impetus to keep going. Also, I came across this somewhere - Authors are just writers who never gave up.
My first novel was written organically from a central premise and took about four years. I was much more disciplined with Sleepwalker’s and made extensive chapter and character notes. I feel this method suits me better and allows me to keep control of my characters.
I try to explore serious issues and themes, but hopefully with a little humour - I’m not a preacher. I’d describe Sleepwalker’s as darkly comic novel about risk and reward and the way society treats the marginalised. If Sleepwalker’s entertains while provoking a bit of thought then I’ve achieved what I set out to do."

How did you and Macmillan New Writing "meet"?
I’d heard about MNW on a writers’ website that I’d been a member of for a while. One night I fired off the first three chapters of what was then called ‘Somnambulant’ by e mail with a very short note. Not long after they requested the full manuscript, at which point I panicked and asked for more time to edit.
Eventually I sent off the full ms. One night I was working away at my laptop when an e mail came through from Will informing me that they’d like to publish the novel. I remember flying backwards in my seat, literally, I practically fell off my chair.

What is your typical writing day?
I’m a night owl rather than an early bird. I don’t write every day, usually three nights a week. From about 7.30 or 8 p.m when my kids are in bed. If I’m on a roll I’ll keep going until 2 or 3 in the morning. I usually have a few projects on the go: I’m currently working on the next novel and a six-part radio series. I recently finished a play, which is to be performed in Leeds next month (June).

Four random facts:-
Worst thing about writing:
The viruses. God, it infuriates me that these witless, pasty-faced, no-girlfriend, dickless wonders spend their entire lives closeted in rancid bedrooms writing pointless code just to screw up my computer. I’ve already smashed up two laptops. Now I use a Mac.
That and the isolation.
Best thing about writing:
Making people laugh, out loud. On a tube. With their mouths full.
Writers you most admire:
John Kennedy Toole & J.P Donleavey – sublime.
Most ludicrous moment in your life:
My Citroen 2CV was tipped upside down one night. I discovered this when the police came round the next morning to inform me that it was illegally parked. It’s one of the reasons I endeavour to create such compassionate, sensitive, flattering portraits of the British Constabulary in my novels.

Thanks, Sion, and best of luck with the book. Sleepwalker's Introduction to Flight is available now from all good booksellers. For more information visit:

Sion's promotion site

Macmillan New Writing

Or click here for an extract