Wednesday, 28 May 2008

June's Publication

"A stunning debut novel about black American pioneers in the South Dakota Badlands
It is 1917 in the South Dakota Badlands, and summer has been hard. Fourteen years have passed since Rachel and Isaac DuPree left Chicago to stake a claim in this unforgiving land. Isaac, a former Buffalo Soldier, is fiercely proud: black families are rare in the West, and black ranchers even rarer.
But it hasn’t rained in months, the cattle bellow with thirst, and supplies are dwindling. Pregnant, and struggling to feed her family, Rachel is isolated by more than just geography. She is determined to give her surviving children the life they deserve, but she knows that her husband will never leave his ranch: land means a measure of equality with the white man, and Isaac DuPree is not about to give it up just because times are hard. Somehow Rachel must find the strength to do what is right – for her children, for her husband, and for herself.
Moving and majestic, The Personal History of Rachel DuPree is an unforgettable novel about love and loyalty, homeland and belonging. Above all, it is the story of one woman’s courage in the face of the most punishing adversity. "

About the author

Ann Weisgarber was born and raised in Kettering, Ohio. After graduating from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, she was a social worker in a psychiatric hospital before moving to Houston, Texas, with her husband. She earned a Master of Arts in Sociology at the University of Houston and taught high school and later, sociology at a junior college. She has lived in Boston, Massachusetts, and Des Moines, Iowa, but now splits her time between Sugar Land, Texas, and Galveston, Texas.

Hi, Ann, tell us a little about your novel, The Personal History of Rachel DuPree:
"It’s a story about the meaning of land and what people will do to get it and then what they’ll do to keep it. It’s about loyalty and pride, and the refusal to give up in spite of overwhelming odds. The novel takes place in the South Dakota Badlands in 1917. The main characters are Rachel and Isaac DuPree who are the successful owners of a cattle ranch.

"Everything changes when the rain stops and the cattle begin to die. When Rachel and Isaac have to lower one of their children into a well to ladle up water, Rachel begins to question just how far she is willing to go to keep the ranch. Isaac, though, is determined to do whatever it takes. Eventually, Rachel and Isaac become locked in a struggle against one another as they both try to do what they believe is best for themselves and for their children. "

How did you and Macmillan New Writing meet?
"In January 2007, I read an article in Poets & Writers about a UK-based publishing house that was willing to consider unsolicited manuscripts. The only catch was the house didn’t pay advances. That didn’t matter to me. If Macmillan New Writing was willing to read my manuscript, I was willing to give it a shot. In March, I e-mailed my manuscript, and in June, I heard from Will Atkins."

What is your typical writing day like?
"I try to write two to three hours a day. Sometimes that happens in the mornings and other times it might be late at night. It all depends on the day. "

Four random facts:
Worst thing about writing
"Once in awhile my characters get into such a fix that I feel sorry for them. What are they going to do now? Then it hits me. I’m the writer. I got them into the mess, and now I have to get them out of it. That’s when the computer screen goes blank and so does my mind. "

Best thing about writing
"I love stepping away from my own life and sinking into the world of my characters. It’s a chance to be someone else. That’s fun. "

Writers you most admire
"Larry McMurtry and Cormac McCarthy readily come to mind. I admire their skills with dialogue – both men know how to pack a punch with just a few words. "

Most ludicrous moment in your life
"Without a doubt, it was the moment when I decided to write a novel. I didn’t have a clue what all was involved or how to go about it. Ignorance might be bliss, but it was also time consuming. It took me seven years to write this novel. That’s the one thing I’m glad I didn’t know when I started. "

Thanks, Ann, and congratulations. The Personal History of Rachel DuPree is out on 6th June 2008, from all good bookshops. For more information please check out:
The Macmillan New Writing website

"Call for Backup!"

Long ago, I did a lot of computer programming. I mean, I was never one of those guys busily coding my little piece of the next release of WordPerfect or Super Mario Brothers. I generally wrote programs to solve research problems, so I was my own user. My clients just wanted the results, not the program.

When I say long ago, I mean I first learned to program in FORTRAN. Back when they used punched cards. And cuneiform tablets. The machine I learned on was an IBM 1130. It lived in a heavily air-conditioned room, took up more space than a pair of SUVs, and boasted an astounding 8K of memory, which is a little less than the memory on today's average microwave oven.

I do less programming nowadays, but my thinking is colored by decades of interaction with computers and the consequent belief that eventually they—and their associated magnetic media—will screw up. When writing in Word, my fingers click ALT-F-S (file save) as a nervous habit, even though they now have AutoSave.

It’s all too easy to lose the information on a given computer. So I backup my writing on my laptop by transferring it to my desktop computer in case something happens to the laptop. But what if the house burns down? (That happens around here.) So I also back up things by dumping them onto a memory stick that I keep in the glove compartment of my car.

But what about the evil bastard who sets my house on fire and steals my car? Or the case where the CIA decides to obliterate my novel? Or the problem of a meteor strike centered on our street?

I’ve occasionally e-mailed backups for friends to store on their computers for me, but that gets tiresome for the recipient if done very often. So, I signed up for an online service called MediaMax, that lets you store things on an external server somewhere. Problem is, it’s a hassle to use, and stores things in a format that makes it hard to retrieve or update particular files or groups of files. The concept still sounds like a good one, but…

Does anybody out there have an online storage service they can recommend? How do you handle the problem of backing up your work? Or do you just trust in the universe and follow your bliss and that sort of thing??

Monday, 26 May 2008

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Back Online

Hi folks

Following hot on the heels of the aural assault of the Pan Macmillan Podcast, Borders TV is now hosting an interview in which I answer questions on Gallows Lane, the Devlin series, its setting and future direction, with a surfeit of 'kind of's and 'umms'. You can view a face made for radio at

Or, if you want, you can watch interviews with Karen Rose, Louise Penny and Peter Lovesey instead. You decide!

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Another New Blog Member

Hello to you all.

I’m Ann Weisgarber, and I’m pleased to be joining you as a Macmillan New Writer. I came across your blog a month ago and am just now working up the courage to jump in. A few days ago, Matt got me all set up with the system and made me feel welcomed. Many thanks, Matt.

Just to introduce myself, I live on the outskirts of Houston, Texas, and my book, The Personal History of Rachel DuPree, is scheduled to be released on June 6. I’ve never been to the UK but in celebration, my husband and I are making the trip to London the first week of June. The dollar couldn’t be in worse shape, but I figure this is one of those once-in-a-lifetime-opportunities. It is also my chance to meet Will and Sophie, and some of the other people who have worked so hard to whip my book into shape.

In the meantime, it’s great fun reading about all your fine achievements. You’re an impressive group of writers. I look forward to getting to know you.


I decided to wait until the ink was dry(ish) on the paper before announcing anything but, as one or two of you know, Macmillan have agreed to publish the next three books in what will be my "Herring Seller" series. This announcement has been held up mainly by my touching belief that I could negotiate a contract as well as any agent - something that has probably ensured that the ink remained good and wet for several weeks longer than planned. (A tip for those of you also without agents, by the way - the Society of Authors will give you good, prompt advice on your contract, draft by draft - it's well worth joining, just for that.)

The books are scheduled to appear in August 2009, 2010, 2011. The first is provisionally entitled Ten Little Herrings.

So that makes two of us MNWers, as far as I know, with contracts with Pan Macmillan for the third book and beyond. Hopefully this sort of announcement will now become a regular occurance over the next twelve months or so.

Now all I have to do is write the books ....

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Coincidence or something more?

Apologies for my recent absence, but I've been nursing my right hand (cat-mangling incident), so I've been budgeting with my use of typing muscles.

Anyway, I return with a suitably silly topic of conversation for you all: it occurs to me (and please take a tip from the worldview of the man himself and read this remark in the good-natured and jocular tone in which it was written) that the estimable Mr Terry Pratchett actually looks rather like a character from a fantasy novel: an elf perhaps, or possibly a wizard. I wonder whether this is a coincidence, or one of those self-fulfilling prophecy phenomena/urban legends along the lines of the good-humoured not showing their age as quickly or people growing to look like their dogs? (To digress briefly, the latter is a little disturbing for me: for those of you who weren't aware, I have a Chinese Crested and a Pug.)

If it is the latter (and feel free to spam the comments with pictures of pale and interesting horror writers, or crime novelists with the phrenologists' favourite 'criminal skull' if you can think of any), I wonder where this leaves me? Mind you, from some angles I already think I have a look of a young Queen Victoria, which is rather ominous, but I'm hoping my refusal to have nine children will do me some favours in the ageing stakes.

New on the blog

Hello all. I'm Geoff Bird,, my novel One Man's Empire was published in March and I'm glad to be a Macmillan New writer. I've been following additions to the blog and it's nice to add my own.

Monday, 12 May 2008

The Cost of Letters

This year sees the 10th anniversary of a “lost” book that caused a small stir on its publication. The Cost of Letters – a Waterstone’s publication, and their most important publication for some years – was about setting the record straight both for consumer and potential writer, around the finances of writing. For this they plundered the opinions of writers such as Will Self, Sebastian Faulks, Jane Rogers, Fay Weldon and Melvyn Bragg, and compared them to 1948 authors such as George Orwell, Dylan Thomas and Cyril Connolly – authors that were approached in 1946 to answer a post-war questionnaire on the big issue: “How much do you think a writer needs to live on?”

The questionnaire Cyril Connolly devised in 1946 asked the following:

How much do you think a writer needs to live on?
Do you think a serious writer can earn this sum by his writing and if so, how?
If not, what do you think is a suitable second occupation for him?
Do you think literature suffers from the diversion of a writer’s energy into other employments or is enriched by it?
Do you think the state or any other institution should do more for writers?
Are you satisfied with your own solution of the problem and have you any specific advice to give young people who wish to earn their living by writing?

Connolly intended to stir debate with these questions in 1946. In 1998 Waterstone’s had a similar intention by asking:

“So why is Waterstone’s publishing this collective report? Quite simply to spark debate. The Cost of letters is published at a time of genuine concern about the funding of writing. A few high-profile advances cannot mask the changed nature of the relationship between author and publisher – quite a few authors in the modern survey, for instance, look back wistfully to a time when publishers weren’t so governed by the balance sheet and were prepared to spend a good deal of time ‘nurturing’ talent. Are we offering sufficient support for new writing?”

The paragraph above is particularly relevant to this blog, as I would say the writers assembled here are the product of one publisher’s move to make this support a reality. Even now, Macmillan New Writing remains the sole imprint in the UK from a major publisher that accept manuscripts without a gatekeeper (i.e. an agent) from new writers. But I think the Cost of Letters is also talking about financial support, and this is where everything gets a bit fuzzy, mainly because you’re looking at the dizzying world of advances (which MNW does not provide) including the ludicrous amounts some not-so bestselling writers get these days – a problem that is as much an issue now as it was ten years ago.

So that’s why I’m raising The Cost of Letters again. To spark debate. Ten years have passed, and Macmillan New Writing not withstanding, very little has changed. I’d say in some cases it has gotten worse. You have more middle-men than ever between the writer and the publisher (i.e. literary consultants as well as agents) and JK Rowling’s domination has inspired many to write for profit rather than any love for their craft believing that writing will earn you millions. And if not millions then thousands. Neither of which is realistic, yet it has flooded the unpublished marketplace with thousands and thousands of manuscripts, as though writing a book is like trying to win the lottery – but with better odds.
In reality, those odds are even smaller than getting those six numbers on a Saturday night.

I think Connolly’s questions from 1946 are as important now as they were then, especially in a world of blogs where aspiring authors gather at the doors of agents and publishers frantically waving their manuscripts in the air in the vain hope that someone will lift them from obscurity into riches. Because even if you are lucky, and those golden gates swing open for you, a writer needs to manage expectation about what lies ahead, which is usually a modicum of disappointment and lots of hard work to counterbalance the joy of being in print and yes, a little bit of spending money.

Even though some us Macmillan New Writers have only been in this game for a year or two at best, I reckon as new writers it wouldn’t be a bad thing to answer Connolly’s questions on this blog.
So how about it?

(For the record, I’ve posted my answers to the questionnaire on my own blog here... You might not agree with all the answers; it’s just one view from the page.)

Update: Thanks to those who have taken the challenge either on here, or on their respective blogs:- (Len Tyler , David Isaak, Tim Stretton and Alis Hawkins)

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

The Birds, The Bees and Other Secrets

I know I said I'd shut up for a bit, but I've just heard that my new book (out in August) is to be published in paperback next year. I know this has happened to quite a few of you/us, but not yet to me (Dead Ernest never made it) so I'm quite excited. Please be excited with me!

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Pan Macmillan Podcast

Hi folks

At risk of seeming to monopolise this blog, one final piece of news. The Pan Mac site is hosting a podcast where I discuss the writing of the Devlin books and the experience of being published by MNW. What is, perhaps, of most interest in this is the fact that the man asking the questions is Will Atkins, Commissioning Editor of Macmillan New Writing. You can listen to the interview by clicking here and following the links.


The Sleepwalker's Introduction to Flight

I don't know if Sion Scott-Wilson, the author of May's MNW offering, is Among Us on this blog. The excerpt posted on the MNW website is extraordinary and--as is the purpose of these pieces--makes me want to read the whole thing. If you haven't had a look yet, hop over to the MNW site. Intriguing and much too funny to read in the office!

The last book I bought on the basis of an online extract was The Herring Seller's Apprentice, so the omens are good.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Some News

Hi all

Just a quick note, as publication month draws to a close, to say many thanks for your kind words and good wishes for the Devlin books these past few weeks. And, on a nice note to end the month, in the Belfast Telegraph Bestseller lists for Northern Ireland yesterday, Borderlands was no. 5 in the Paperback Bestsellers and Gallows Lane debuted at no. 9 in the Hardback Bestseller Charts!


Friday, 2 May 2008

Congrats to Len!

Declan Burke's blog sets out the recently-announced shortlist for The Last Laugh Award, which is given to the ‘Best Humorous Crime Novel published in the British Isles in 2007’. Here's the shortlist:

Declan Burke, THE BIG O (Hag’s Head Press)
Ruth Dudley Edwards, MURDERING AMERICANS (Poisoned Pen Press UK)
Allan Guthrie, HARD MAN (Polygon)
Deanna Raybourn, SILENT IN THE GRAVE (MIRA Books)
Mike Ripley, ANGEL’S SHARE (Allison & Busby)
L. C. Tyler, THE HERRING SELLER’S APPRENTICE (Macmillan New Writing)
Donald Westlake, WHAT’S SO FUNNY? (Quercus)

Well done to Len for making the shortlist. For a humorous crime writer, being nominated alongside Westlake must be just about as good as it gets (beating him to the prize being the ultimate accolade...)

Fingers crossed for champagne at the Crimefest!