My life is in the balance…….

Ok, that sounds a bit (melo)dramatic. But in truth, it is no word of a lie. This week my first novel will be formally submitted to a select group of publishers by my agent. It’s out of my hands now, nothing to with me. I have to be honest, it’s not a feeling I feel comfortable with. I want to be there as the carefully crafted letter, synopsis of the second and third book arrives. I want to follow every flick of their eyes as they read it. I want to argue every imaginary point they might have, explain every nuance of plot and character so they really understand just how wonderful the whole thing is. I want to be there as they discuss the advance they are going to offer. I want to raise my eyebrows in disdain at such a paltry sum, tell them that the others have offered far more….and have already secured overseas rights and a film deal. Losers!

I think you can see my problem. I have spent the last two years living this, agonising over it, dreaming about it, fretting over it. A child could not have had more love or effort lavished on it. But the sad fact is that it all comes down to this. My MS being sent to a bunch of people who have no idea I exist and only care if my book happens to be better than all they currently have offered to them if it fits with their publishing schedule and is  – most importantly – in a genre they think is going to be popular in the next eighteen months or so. I am helpless, unable to argue my case, defend my child. And what if they just say “meh, thanks but no thanks”. What then? I am well into the sequel and at 40k words it is shaping up well. The writing is better, the plot and scope have grown. It’s getting really interesting and I have come up with, what I believe to be, a wholly original solution to one of Sci Fi’s most popular ideas. Be a shame to see it all go to waste……

But, dear reader, that is the fate all authors face. The sad fact is that even having got to this point and fail now is both galling and frustrating, but it is the likely reality, the odds are still against you, especially as a first-time novelist with no track history. So it helps to be a pessimist, the glass must be half-empty, it is the only way to survive. Think the worst, destroy your own before they do by professional indifference. It’s nothing personal, it really isn’t. But try telling your psyche that when you wake up at 4am thinking you should have tweaked that chapter a bit and now all is lost. They will see you as the fraud you are.

So what next? Truth be told I have no idea. The submission process will take up to a couple of months and then your guess is as good as mine. I have another novel in the works, a completely unrelated idea that I have been working on whilst developing the pitch for “The Differences” with my agent. There are around 12k words completed and detailed plot and character arcs, as well as a complimentary solo play that I have submitted for a festival that can also form part of the novel. So the cupboard is not bare. Yet my heart wants to carry on with the trilogy. I want to write it. I want to find out what happens to the characters I have brought into this world. I want other people to read it and enjoy it. But it’s no longer up to me, and that is the singular truth I have to deal with.

See you out there.

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Alas Dear Reader……..

I was a runner up.

So a bit of who, what,why, where, when and how is probably in order. However I am a great believer in not re-inventing the wheel, so I shall let one of my fellow runners up describe the events of the 22nd of September, a date that will go down in the literary annals of history as….. Oh who am I kidding!  Dan Cross, one of my fellow finalists has written a great blog about the evening and you can read all about it here. Suffice to say it was a great evening, with lovely people, and a fantastic experience, that I wouldn’t have missed for the world. Dan’s feelings afterwards pretty much mirror my own. Oh and congratulations to Bill, damn him! Here are a few pictures just to give you a taste.

So, how does it feel to come close but no cigar? Well let’s put it into perspective shall we. The competition is probably the most prestigious global opportunity for an unpublished author, so to get onto the short list with your first novel is no mean feat. Secondly as a result of the competition I now have an agent and a profile that potentially sets me apart from other first time authors, and given the nature of the publishing industry one needs every advantage one can get. The acid test is that if you had told me six months ago that all this was going to happen then, quite frankly, I would have thought you mad. So it’s all good. Now to develop a strategy to pitch the novel/trilogy to the market.

In other news, the sequel “Manifest Destiny” is coming along nicely. To my mind the narrative is more complex and stronger with three parallel stories illustrating different aspects of the wider trilogy arc. The scope is bigger the ideas better/more original and my writing style is more focused. I am comfortable in my pocket universe and have put together an interesting assortment of existing and new characters, many of whom are taken from real life and ……..well that would be telling.

Finally a recommendation for all new and aspiring writers like myself. My good friend Sue gave it to me on the night of the competition and I read it whilst on holiday. I think it is no exaggeration to say that Stephen King’s “On Writing” is the clearest, most concise, useful and readable book on what constitutes good writing. It is unpretentious and extremely useful. Read it.

See You Out There.

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The next 48 hours will be interesting…..


This Thursday one of five writers will find out whether their career as a potential author will get a turbo-charged kick into the world of literature. I oscillate between hopeful optimism and dread pessimism – which is the usual lot of an author I am beginning to understand. Still all fingers are crossed and all sphincters are tightened. Whatever happens it will be a great night. Good luck to everybody, but especially me…….what I’m not allowed to be a bit biased?

See you out there.

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Agents of Fortune pt. 2

I shall let selected extracts from an email I received the other day speak for itself…..

“As part of the shortlisting for the Wilbur and Niso Smith Foundation Award for the Best Unpublished Manuscript, I am delighted to offer you representation for The Differences.”

“Your novel is a wild ride that really made me laugh and also made me think, and I am sure that there is a readership out there that will thoroughly enjoy it. I do love a big twist at the end of a book, and yours certainly has that!”

The agent in question is Charlotte Colwill and you can find out more about her here. The Bravo Blue Agency

Well, wooo and indeed hoo! So here we are and there we go. Once against my enormous and heartfelt thanks to the Wilbur and Niso Smith Foundation for the opportunity. This is the major hurdle in getting your book on the shelves of book retailers. Of course one could self-publish, however the statistics and odds of success are fairly grim as this  article shows.

So what does an agent do for you and why do most authors need one? The following article gives an excellent summary of the role of an agent and is certainly the basis of what I expect my relationship with Charlotte to be. And why do most authors need an agent? Well put very simply, unless you are an expert editor, business manager, marketing and sales professional then the chances are you will never do your book justice in the self-publishing market. Scary but true.

However all is not yet plain sailing. What are the odds of actually getting a publishing deal when you have an agent? Once again it’s not pretty as this article explains. So what are the next steps with Charlotte?

  1. Meet. INHO you cannot have a successful relationship with someone you have never met. Do you get on. Do you both understand and trust each other?
  2. What does Charlotte think of the book. Does she like it? This may seem rather obvious, but the agent role is to sell the MS to a publisher, if he or she is not passionate about its potential, then they and you will be unsuccessful.
  3. What is the state of the market? Current trends both within the market as a whole and the individual publishers is vital knowledge that the agent needs to have in order to succeed in placing the book.
  4. What is the sales pitch/strategy to relevant publishers.
  5. What is the overseas/film/tv potential, if any?

But hey, all the above is a little po-faced if all true. Let us take a moment to luxuriate in the moment, be mindful that all is still to play for. “The Differences” is still in the game and now has someone else on its side batting for it. That, I have to tell you boys and girls, is a pretty damned wonderful feeling.

See you out there.

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Welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends.

The story so far….Aspiring wannabe author Newton Fisher – that’s me, has had his first novel “The Differences” shortlisted for a prestigious literary award – that’s this. As part of the reward for getting on the shortlist; all us newbies get free mentoring on our book from a leading literary editor – that’s him. Now read on.

Phew! Well, that was not what I expected. Six weeks of grammar boot-camp and not until the end some feedback on the book itself. My previous editor – that’s him, had concentrated wholly on the structural aspects of the book. We had extensive chats on genre, reader expectations and plot planning etc. I suppose I was expecting similar with the editor appointed by the trust running the prize. But no dear reader…..this was something very different. This was a focus on the technical side of the book, the grammar, the punctuation, all the stuff they taught you in school, but you were too busy carving obscenities into the desk to pay attention. Oh yes, that stuff! And guess what? I am absolute pants at that bit.  Realising my shortcomings, I took the decision to have the whole manuscript professionally copy edited – that’s her. Even after that, there were further requests for more attention to the technical stuff. So I installed Grammarly – that’s this, and manually went through the whole MS. Eventually, confused, I queried the purpose of all this as I was sure it would require further work should I get to the agent/publisher stage. Well, a valuable lesson has been learned. I was told that this process was to ensure the MS was suitable for submission to an agent, no more than that! Apparently, these days given the huge number of desperate novelists throwing themselves at the market; agents increasing reject on technical criteria as well as the expected issues round story, characters etc. So be warned, ignore the technical stuff at your peril. I now use Grammarly for all my writing, editing, checking and learning as I go. It’s not perfect, but it is infinitely preferable to peering at a text book.

Was it worth it? Ultimately yes. An important part of the learning process of becoming an author. And David did have a few kind words to say about the novel as a whole.

“For the first time I was able to read it through without any distractions and was able to get a feel for it as a novel at last, and I really did enjoy it, and I feel the potential I saw when shortlisting, has now been fully justified.

It reads well, having the sort of flow and pace that I feel are of the utmost importance to this genre. I liked the characters, and especially the dynamic between them as the narrative progresses. The juxtaposition of the scientific/political/ historical detail alongside the ribald passages involving Salt will not be to everyone’s taste, but that will come down to personal preferences. As a piece of fiction it displays the two very necessary basic elements; a great display of creative imagination, allied to really well crafted writing.”

The MS is now with an agent for comment/consideration. We await with baited breath.

In other news. I have started the second part of the “Steam” trilogy in earnest, About 12k words in and all the main plot lines established. It’s a more complex structure, three plots all running simultaneously that all end in a huge conflagration of…….well, now that would be telling.

See You Out There.

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Whoooo Hoooo!

Sometimes, sometimes it all seems worth it. It all falls into place and you realise yes you are doing the right thing. For the first time in your entire life you sit back, relax and say (sotto voice) “that’ll do donkey, that’ll do”. So why am I talking to myself. Well just click on the linky thing above and you’ll see. I’m saying nothing till you’ve done that……..

Ok, done it. Thank you, it means a lot. Wow! First off a big thank you to the Wilbur and Niso Smith Foundation for the support and vote of thanks. Secondly congrats to all the other short-listed authors. May the best story win, and we all get to go to a proper award ceremony (hi-five everybody). I think I am right in saying that this is probably one of the major global prizes for un-published authors so it’s a pretty big deal and a real boost to all our writing careers just to be nominated. It already shows we have what it takes in terms of story telling to grab the judges and by definition the readers attention. If you want a brief run down on the novels and shortlisted writers you can find it here.  Yeah sorry about the photo, unfortunately it’s what I look like.

I am also really pleased that the prize is for an adventure novel one of the oldest forms of story telling, although you would be forgiven if you thought that it had been somewhat eclipsed by the thriller and crime genres in the last few years. Every genre needs to re-invent itself and keep itself relevant and this award does just that.

So what happens next. Well it gets better. We all get the expert editorial advice of a gentleman by the name of David G Llewelyn, who if you believe some of the testimonials on his website is known in the trade as “the book whisperer”. No dunno what it means either, but it sounds impressive. The aim of David’s work is to get the novels in to a form where he believes (and we will obviously believe him) they are suitable for submission to agents/publishers. So the next three months are going to be about doing whatever he says 🙂

Ok I’m off for a lie down before the real work starts.

See you out there.

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I can’t tell you! I just can’t tell you….well not yet anyway.

I know, I know, radio silence and then all mysterious. There is a reason but all that will become clear next week. So what have I been up to in the last six weeks or so?

Well Ben and I have been doing this slow dance of attrition whereby he tells me to do something, I whinge about it, then eventually do as he suggested and see that he was right all along. The net result of all of this is that the following things have happened to the novel.

  1. It is definitely an adventure story. We have nailed the genre and the plot issues  that flow from that.
  2. The novel is now structured into seven sections. Each one having it’s own mini arc, a bit like an episode from a particularly good Netflix series (hint hint Netflix it would make a very good mini series)
  3. For each section I have a key question/challenge for my hero Francis Perrin which must be resolved/answered by the end.
  4. All other narrative/plot arcs are secondary to the main narrative thrust of the section.
  5. Perrin has to be more defined as a potential hero. The reader must root for him and be on his side. Up until now he was too passive and  a bit of w wet blanket. This must stop!
  6. I have now re-written Parts I & II with the above in mind and am awaiting detailed feedback from Ben on Part I.

Has all of this been worth it? Yes, although I admit I couldn’t see the point of it at times, the place where the novel is now is far superior to where it was prior to all of this shenanigans. So I am now keen to finish revising the whole book based on the agreed criteria. The plot has sharpened and I have changed a couple of key elements and going to add a few more, including a “darkest hour” scene to really pile on the pressure for my hero in waiting.

So all well and good, and that’s without the amazing news which I can only tell you about next week when the embargo comes off. Oh you tease. Yup but It’ll be worth it I promise.

See You out there.

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