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“As part of the shortlisting for the Wilbur and Niso Smith Foundation Award for the Best Unpublished Manuscript, I am delighted to offer you representation for The Differences.”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

Well in todays exciting instalment of how to write a novel in several hundred easy steps we meet Ben. Ben is my new mentor and editor, courtesy of those nice people at Cornerstones I mentioned last time. Ben and I have exchanged emails about life the universe and everything and I have come to the conclusion that he is an excellent judge of literary merit. To prove my point here is a quote from one of his emails.

“So here we go … first thoughts.  I loved so much about this novel: the sharpness, invention and sheer liveliness of so many scenes convinced me you will be able to knock this into potentially publishable shape further down the line.

Ok, that’s it folks , game over. Slam dunk to me, just send  royalties to my house in the south of France. What, you don’t believe me gentle reader. You think I might be guilty of selective editing and embellishing the truth of the situation. Hmmm, OK there is a lot more and it’s all valid, well thought though and pertinent. But hey, let me have my small moment of victory and bask in a bit of “oooh, it might actually come true”. There is a clue lurking in the “further down the line” bit. A long way down in fact. It appears I’ve just got on the train at Exeter having bought a ticket for Aberdeen, or possibly Hong Kong.

So what are we going to do first? Well we are going to discuss what is the primary genre I am writing in, as that will then inform how my hero develops/is motivated and bought properly to life. For the purposes of the discussion we are going to debate the merits of the adventure story vs. the thriller; something which I never even considered as being relevant when I started. I just had a story to tell. But the demands on the hero are very different. Why is this important? Well because the reader expects different things, and the readers are different too. For an example of what I mean, this article is a good introduction to the issues a writer needs to consider. Which I didn’t.

In other news, thanks to those good folk at WHQ I have developed a brand new wholly unrelated idea for another novel, set in a near future where mankind has lost all its accumulated knowledge and been cast back into a feudal society complete with a vicious religious order who are a cross between the Spanish inquisition and the mafia. More on that at a (much) later date. Oh I also have another slot on the radio for one of my short stories. That reminds me I really should update that part of the site with some of my recent efforts….

See You out there.


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Ohhh FFS!

Sometimes you just have to put your hands in the air and say “mea culpa”  or “you have me sir like a treen in a disabled spaceship”. Ten bonus points to anybody who can tell me where I lifted that quote from. Why the exasperation I hear you cry gentle reader? Well basically I started my novel with an absolute humdinger of an idea, really good, and I’m not just saying that ‘cos it’s good. It really is! But, and it’s a really big but(t) I now realise I made a rookie mistake. Putting plot before character. This is not to say I don’t have characters, some good ones too (as others have kindly said), however due to rank stupidity/ignorance I neglected to establish the clear emotional and physical drivers for my main character Perrin.

Initially this was a conscious decision. I wanted him to be a blank canvas and emerge fully formed at the end of the book as the result of everything that happened to him. In other words the story shapes him and he becomes a real person, ready to deal with life the universe and everything in the next instalment. The problem with this approach in the real world of getting a novel published is that this flies against the accepted formula of creating a character, where you need to establish the physical and emotional drivers that motivate him and the conflict/issue that prevents him/her achieving those goals at the outset. To be honest Perrin has no other goal than surviving his first meeting with Babbage and Herschel. He has no idea what he wants and no idea of the problems facing him. He is naïve, innocent and clueless. OOPS! This is not what the literary  world and agents in particular are looking for. They want the emotional hook that drives the hero understood and upfront. Something that will resonate with the reader and make them emotionally engage with the story.

So…..what am I going to do about it? Okay firstly I have signed up for some online training/tutorials on character development with this bunch of miscreants at WritersHQ. Well worth a look. No bullshit no arty farty stuff, just good advice dispensed with a sense of humour and the odd swearword. I am currently doing a course on character development and it has immediately identified where I need to strengthen Perrin’s character and create more of a relationship between him and the reader.

Secondly I have taken the plunge and signed up/paid for some one on one mentoring via the Cornerstones Literary Agency who specialise in helping authors develop their MS and identify potential agents and publishers. This will give me face time with an established author/editor/agent who will work with me to make the MS more appealing/saleable. It’s going to cost me significant money, but WTF if I don’t believe in myself and the book, why should anybody else. At the very least it will help ensure I don’t make the same mistake with the next novel. As always I will let you all know what happens, good bad and indifferent.

See you out there.

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