Friday, August 25, 2006


Apologies for my recent absence; have been working like a mad thing. Attempting to complete the first draft on Number 6 before I receive editorial notes for Number 5. This I think I will do! Have had great fun with Number 6, but as I reach the end I am ready to do something else. Number 5 - the fact that it is something I am truly proud of - excites me; I am looking forward greatly to the work. And then again I have already started research for Number 7. Due to regular work commitments it is rare for me to find more than fifteen or twenty hours a week to write. Nevertheless I use those hours wisely, and am still reaching something in the region of 40,000 words a month.
So, why the title of this post?
Well, I received an e-mail this morning from Maluma Derrick. He asks the perennial do I get published?
This - above and beyond any question - is the one asked most of writers. A close second is 'Where do you get your ideas from?' (That question we'll take up in another post!)
Okay, so where to begin. Is it chance? Is it simply down to luck? No, it's not. Taking into account the fact that you have a script you feel is as good as it can be in its current form (and don't forget that anyone - editor or otherwise - is going to have some suggestions as to how it could be improved; this is completely standard, no question about it, because you are reading it from a very specific and individual viewpoint (as the author) whereas someone else is going to be reading it with a fresh eye)...then what do you do with your script?
My recommendation is that you find an agent.
There are a great deal of opinions about agents, but all of them come down to whether you should have one or whether you shouldn't.
I think you should, for what it's worth.
The standard industry percentage for an agent is 10% of your earnings, but this is paid on earnings, not on money you haven't made yet! The agent takes a percentage of what he has helped you make. He doesn't charge you for services before the fact.
You are paying an agent for his experience, guidance, judgement, contacts, ability to get you a better deal...
For an example, I was paid an amount of money as an advance for my first novel. I did not have an agent. For my second contract (by which time I did have an agent) I received nine times as much!
So how do you get an agent?
You go out and buy a copy of the 'Writers & Artists Yearbook'. It's published each year, and there's a section in there that gives details of all literary agents in the UK, a little about them, some of the authors they represent, the genre of work they like etc. You make a list of all the agents that you think are appropriate for your material. You write a personal letter to each of them. It should be brief, give a very succinct and clear idea of the manuscript you are proposing to have them read, and the suggestion that you send them some sample chapters and a synopsis.
Keep a record of the agents you write to and the date on which you wrote. Make sure your letter is word-perfect, correct spelling, exemplary punctuation etc. This is a first impression.
When you receive replies asking for material, then send it. Print your script on A4, double space, at least one-inch margins on each side, top and bottom. Number the pages clearly. Send a polite cover letter thanking the agent for his time, and address it back to that person by name.
Keep a record of what you've sent out and who it went to.
Wait three weeks from your first batch of letters out. Make a list of all the agents that didn't reply, and write them again - succinctly, politely, reminding them that you wrote three weeks before and you would very much like them to look at some material. Wait for replies, and then send out any additional material requested.
Wait another three weeks.
Make a list of all the agents who still haven't replied, and write them again - succinctly, politely, and tell them you are still interested in forwarding some material.
Send out material promptly and professionally to everyone who asks for some. Don't send them more or less than they ask for. Address it to the person who wrote to you, not the company or a department. Make sure it arrives on the desk of the person who asked for it.
Wait for replies. Don't hassle them. These guys are busy, believe me.
Treat an agent as you would wish to be treated yourself.
You might get letters asking to send the complete manuscript. Do so. Be prompt. Be courteous.
You should get word back from someone who is interested in representing you. You may be asked to go and see them in person. They may recommend some changes and alterations to your script. Make the changes, if you agree that this could improve the work. I don't know any author (and I've met a good few) who hasn't had to stop and look at his own work and then realized that they could make improvements. Remember that if an agent is asking you to make some editorial changes he or she is doing it from the viewpoint that they believe with these changes they could approach a publisher with your work.
So what then? Well, once your agent has a script that he feels he can 'sell' he will forward it to the editor at the company that he feels will understand what you are trying to do. An agent - over years - has built a network of contacts and acquaintances in the publishing industry. He will know that a sci-fi should go to so-and-so, whereas a romance should go to someone else. This takes the 'luck' option out of it. An agent works for you. He uses what he knows, more importantly who he knows, to get your script on the desk of someone that will look at it because it came from your agent, and for no other reason.
That's what an agent does. That's why I think they are necessary.
I spent seven years writing and sending out material directly to publishers. It was a great experience, and probably necessary, but if given the time again I would get myself an agent. I don't know necessarily that I would have wound up in print any faster, but I kinda think I would have done. Hell, I know I would have done!
Now my agent does all the things I don't know how to do, or don't have time to! He chases money, he finds foreign publishers, he gets me interviews, radio appearances, signings, library tours, Literary Festival invites. He reads my work and tells me how to make it better before it goes to my editor. He rings people up and makes them do the things they promised to do. He's also become a very good friend over the last three years, and when he moved company I went with him...because I know that he's working for my interests, that he really gets what I want to do career-wise, and because he's just a damned fine bloke!
So that's my advice on this perennial question: How do I get published?
I hope it helps!
Speak soon, eh? Maybe, next post, we'll take up the second best question a writer can be asked:
Where do you get your ideas from?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

MESSAGE TO dronbyfoto AND oldtownboys...

Thanks for your messages, and for the feedback on the website and blog. Just a mention that there's some good info for beginners etc., so therefore I can only assume that you are a writer. So here's the thing...any questions you might have let me know and I'll answer them. It might be something specific or general, it really doesn't matter, and as far as I'm concerned the only stupid question is the one that didn't get asked...

So fire away...

Monday, August 14, 2006

MESSAGES FROM ddumping AND onfoyou...

Received messages from both ddumping and onfoyou, both of them saying that they enjoyed the website and found it informative and useful. Thanks guys!
Figured it would serve some purpose to establish a forum of some kind...a question and answer scenario where aspiring authors could write in questions and I could answer them, perhaps pass on those same questions to other published authors I know in different and varied genres. That way you wouldn't get an opinion slanted only towards crime fiction...
So how about it? Send some questions, perhaps some of your own experiences dealing with the literary industry yourselves...sending out manuscripts and never hearing back, what to think about the 'form rejection letter', your frustrations, successes, such things as these...
Oh, by the way...I received the final advance copy hardback of City of Lies at the weekend and it looks great. Far and away the best hardback cover design so far!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

When an author's work is finally rewarded with a publishing contract there is a very significant wait between the completion of a manuscript and the point at which he or she finally sees the finished book in print.
The first time you walk into Waterstone's, WH Smiths or any other high street bookstore and see your own name on the front cover of something is a strange experience. Everything you have been doing to date has been very individual, almost introspective. Being an author is one of those few creative activities that comes solely from one individual. The manuscript is created by you, and though there is a tremendous input at later stages from your agent, your editor, the marketing guys etc. etc., it is still nevertheless very different from being in a band, perhaps acting in a play or a film.
So when this thing finally arrives it is as if you have taken something from yourself, something very personal, and finally given it to the world. After that, whatever happens, it is out of your control. The reviews might be good or bad, even indifferent; you might not get any reviews at all; someone might post a comment on Amazon to say they were blown away or singularly unimpressed with your efforts...whatever the response might be, the fact of the matter is you created something and it found its way out into the world.
I completed the fourth novel - City of Lies - the better part of a year ago. Since that time I have written another complete novel (twice!) and have almost finished another novel beyond that. As I work on a novel I get a little lost in the lives of the characters I have created. I believe that any author, no matter the genre he or she works in, puts a little of themselves into the people they create...either that, or a little of the characters is left with the author when the work is finally finished. So I have occupied numerous different places and lived many different lives since City of Lies was finished.
This morning I received a call from my assistant editor Genevieve (and it's her birthday today so Happy Birthday Genevieve!!) to say that advance hardbacks and trade paperback of City of Lies had arrived at Orion and a copy of each were winging their way to me first class. Tomorrow morning I will wait until the postman arrives and wrestle the package from him! I have not yet seen the final cover. I don't know what they wrote about me inside. I don't know if they put any reviews from previous books inside the front cover. But, you know what, it doesn't matter one bit! Everything that existed inside my head for the many weeks that I was writing it is now real, tangible, and actually possesses a physical presence. In a way it's even more exciting than the first time I saw Candlemoth in Waterstones. Every book you do you hope is better, you hope that people read it and like hope that the things that lived inside your head are going to be interesting and entertaining for anyone who might wish to make that little adventure with you.
So, as a postscript, I'd like to say thank you to Jon - my editor, to Euan - my agent, and to the birthday girl herself for everything they've done to make this thing happen...again!
Thanks guys, and let's hope the world likes this thing we have done as much as we do!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


Received an e-mail from Alex who asked why, as an Englishman, do I write about America, and how important is it to get the right 'feel' when you are writing about a particular location.

So here's my MESSAGE FOR ALEX...

Many thanks for your e-mail, and questions. Interestingly enough, this is one of the commonest questions I am asked. Why, as an English person, do you write about America? Simple answer is that the themes and subject matters I want to write about are not compatible with a U.K. setting.
The first book, Candlemoth, dealt with a whole section of mid-20th Century American history from the perspective of someone on Death Row. This just wouldn't have worked had it been set in Chichester!
A bit of advice I picked up from an author many, many years ago (I can't remember whether I read it now, even who it was) was - in essence - the view that one should write about things you yourself are interested in. The whole nature of American 20th Century history has always fascinated me - the Kennedys, Martin Luther King and the Peace Marches and Freedom Rides, the nature of American culture at the time and how it influenced the rest of world. Born in 1965, I was subjected to the influx of American music and TV, in effect raised on it, and I think I always felt a sense of identification with such material.
Nowadays I have come away from this a little, and books number six and seven deal with other areas of the world as well as the U.S. Number six features situations and characters in not only America, but also Paris, Marseilles, Prague and London. I don't know whether I will ever write a book located solely in the U.K. As a 'canvas' it has always felt a little small for me to work with, and though it is a country I am very fond of, a country I have no great purpose to leave, it is nevertheless not an area that I have chosen to write about. Yes, I have travelled in the U.S. - not extensively, but sufficient to gain a 'feel' of the place. I have written about places I have not been to (New Orleans in 'A Quiet Vendetta' etc.), but I have read about the areas, seen many movies filmed in those locations, and when I research a book I do get into it quite seriously.
You'll find my workspace buried beneath maps, train timetables, history books, guidebooks, all manner of reference tools that I sort of 'absorb'. Another piece of advice (which actually came from my agent) was that a book should 'wear its learning lightly'. Even if you write a book about a place that you know very well, would it read right if you buried the storyline and plot beneath a ton of streetnames and location details? No, not at all. I feel its far more important to get the atmosphere of a place conveyed, and in truth the way that you perceive a place, even the ambience of a place, is the way that you see and feel it, not anyone else. Hence it becomes personal.
Your comment at the end of your question, that if the feel of the place isn't 'real' then much of the plot can fall down is exactly right, but how much of the 'feel' of the place do you want to create? As much as you feel is needed to give the reader a sense of time and location, and beyond that I think it could become too much of a 'character'...unless of course you want to make the location a character in itself (example: the film 'Collateral' by Michael Mann, where Los Angeles is really the 'star' of the film as much as the actors). So you have to use your own judgement and ensure that the 'feel' of the location isn't at odds with your own style. Make the place your own. Describe it the way you want to describe it, not the way you think other people would want to have it described. Pick a particular aspect of the location and centre your descriptions around that...take Paris - would you talk about architecture, the smell of the matketplaces, the way people looked, the historical significance of certain buildings? Depends whether you are working on a book that is plot-based, character-based, whether you are trying to keep it as pacy as possible and not slow down the reader with endless details that don't relate to the story directly, or whether you want the reader to 'slow down' and really feel as though he is visiting someplace with you.
In essence, the most important aspect of any novel is the story itself. Pull a reader away from the story for a reason, because you want to show them something memorable and important. Don't pull them away from the story because you feel you have to give the setting validity. Write it the way you feel it needs to be written. If you get some aspect of the location wrong - a building, a time, a date, then your copy editor will pick it up for you ultimately. I am a firm believer in just writing, writing, writing, and I try to think as little as I can about the mechanics and logistics of writing. Write away, and when you're done go back and read through it. Ensure that its 'flows' smoothly, and if you suddenly hit a great clunky section filled with confusing place names and streets etc then you'll see it. Pare it down. Work on how some areas feels, not the map co-ordinates.
Anyway, I hope that answers your question.
Write me back and let me know if there's anything else I can help you with.
Best wishes, and good luck!
11:21 AM

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


Evidently dissatisfied with the prospect of working on two different books simultaneously, I have started my research for another book, tentively entitled 'The Night Skater'. I am currently working on an American-European art theft thriller (Book Number Six), a storyline that crosses the U.S. and then encompasses events in Paris, Marseilles, London and Prague. This is not a high-tech robbery story, but more a novel about the people behind such events. I am awaiting the editorial notes for the fifth novel which will be published in 2007. The deadline for final draft on Number Five is somewhere in November, and thus the notes will arrive sometime this month. It'll take two or three weeks to get this done, and then it will be off my desk completely until it requires proofreading next year. So Number Five is in hand, and Number Six is close to completion.
So my attention turned towards what I will do next.
Twentieth century American history has always fascinated me. Candlemoth centered around such events as the Kennedy assassinations, Vietnam, Martin Luther King, Marilyn Monroe et al. The time period from 1950 to 1980 was covered extensively. Ghostheart dealt with not only Auschwitz and the Allied liberation of the concentration camps, but also New York's underworld through the 50s and 60s. A Quiet Vendetta was a story about the Mafia, and I feel I have exhausted that. I don't necessarily plan to write about the Mafia again, certainly not from the viewpoint of 'the Mafia' as the fulcrum of a plot. City of Lies (due out September 6th 2006) has been a significant change for me as far as structure is concerned. The style is the same, of course, but it doesn't jump back and forth between past and present. It's a straight storyline spanning the twelve days prior to Christmas. It's set in the current day, and it was a refreshing and challenging thing to do. Book Number Five (which still doesn't have a title!) starts in the 40s and winds up in the present day, but the concentration is the twenty years or so between 1940 and 1960. Number Six is, once again, far more of a linear storyline. It is set in September 2005, and though it harks back to an event in 2001 it does not jump into history as the first three have.
So Number Seven...
I have worked in the field of drug rehabilitation for many years. Drugs, a little from a subjective perspective and a great deal from an obejctive view, are something with which I am very familiar. I thought about the current state of the world, the way that medical, pharmaceutical and street drugs have established deep roots within our culture, almost having become an integral and irremovable part of it. I looked at recent wars - Afghanistan and such places - and I started to make the connections and draw the lines between the supposed anti-drug battle that our society has undertaken to fight, and against this the many rumors that exist regarding the 'establishment's' desire to keep the drug culture thriving for purely monetary purposes. Hence I turned my attention to the C.I.A., and the 'war' they have been fighting against drug lords in Colombia, Afghanistan and other such places...and whether these 'wars' have really been in the direction of routing out and removing the suppliers of opium and heroin. If the U.S. consumes only 0.4% of the world's supply of opium, then why are they spending billions and billions of dollars (a great deal more than they spend dealing with the 'heroin problem' as it exists in the US today) trying to identify and destroy the drug smuggling lines out of the primary opium-producing countries?
Mysterious, eh?
So 'The Night Skater' takes shape. It will be a big book, similar in size and scope to A Quiet Vendetta, but different of course...
Something happens when I get an idea. It's like a little spark inside my head. I want to start it now. I don't want to wait until I've finished the one or two or three books I might be working on at the time. That's the way I feel about this, so alongside finishing Number Six and preparing myself for the editorial changes and amendments that will have to be made to Number Five, I have started work on Number Seven.
These things are always journeys...always fascinating...always a challenge...
Well hell, at least it's a reason to show up every day, huh?