Thursday, 31 March 2011

A Writer's Joy

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about the unease of being a writer. About now knowing whether the current book is doing well enough or the next book will be good enough to be published. It’s all true, and I’m sure every author goes through it.


There’s another side to the coin.

Ann Weisgarber, a fellow Macmillan author, got me thinking about this when she pointed out, calmly and concisely, that I have a book on the shelves, an additional German deal, a growing collection of rave reviews, and I’m with an excellent publisher.

That’s all it took. That brief external viewpoint was what I needed to give me a good kick up the pants and to let me know just how damned fortunate I am.

I’m an author. An honest-to-goodness official author. It’s something I’ve wanted for years, and I should celebrate it much more than I do. I’m usually very reticent about blowing my own trumpet, but perhaps it’s time I got over that and started playing it loud enough to bring down the walls of Jericho.

It’s a huge achievement. Others recognize that even when I don’t. I tell them I’ve got a PhD and they’re mildly interested. I tell them I have a novel published, and that’s it – that’s the new topic of the conversation for the day. They are thrilled for me, and excited that they personally know an author.

A few days ago my youngest daughter took a copy of Pariah into her school, on the request of her teacher. It’s certainly not suitable reading material for her age group, so I wondered what was going on. When she came home, she told me it was so the teacher could hold it up in front of the class and talk about it as an example of achievement. It brought tears to my eyes.

And then there’s this story concerning a YouGov poll about the occupations that people would most like to have. What do you think came top? Sports personality, perhaps? Jet pilot? Astronaut? No, none of the above, glamorous though they might seem.

An author. That’s what topped the list. That’s what people dream of becoming.

I have fulfilled that dream. If I another have success with another book, I am and always will be a published author.

And I’m enormously grateful for that.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Writing tip of the day: Get started!

If you want to write something, you need to make a start. It sounds so obvious, but in practice it’s not always so easy. We all lead busy lives. There are a million things calling for our attention, and when they’re not calling, sometimes all we want to do is collapse on the sofa and veg out. Writing requires us to do something, to make an effort, and sometimes that hill we need to climb can seem insurmountable.

And then there’s that big ugly word: procrastination. You want to write. You have a made a conscious decision that you will write. But maybe not just yet. You need to check Twitter first. And your email. And Facebook. And you haven’t played a game of computer solitaire in a while. And... hell, where did that time go? Your favourite TV programme is about to start, so now there’s no point in writing anything. Okay, we’ll do it tomorrow.

I’ve been to a couple of talks given by the great Colin Dexter, author of the Inspector Morse books. (I had lunch with him at a writers’ conference too, but I’m sure he won’t remember). If you haven’t read his books, you should: he has a wonderful mastery of the English language. He introduced me to a fabulous word – boustrophedon (I’ll leave you to look it up). He also introduced me to a famous Latin proverb – initium est dimidium facti, meaning ‘the beginning is one half of the deed.’ It’s a phrase I used to have running across my computer monitor as a screensaver, reminding me that if I can just make a start on whatever project I’m working on, I’m really almost there.

So, do you want to write? Then here’s what you should do. As soon as you get to the end of this blog post, open up Word or Notepad or your favourite word processor and start typing. Don’t be tempted to start up a web browser or an email client first. Don’t go and make a cup of tea to prepare yourself. You don’t need preparation. Open up that word processor and write. Doesn’t matter what you write, as long as you write something. Doesn’t matter how long you write for either. A minute, ten minutes, half an hour – it’s all good. Quality isn’t important here. Resist the temptation to go back over your prose and polish it. Just keep writing, for as long as you feel able. Because then you’ll have something. Something you can fix later. Or maybe just something that gives you ideas for a better piece next time. Whatever you write, it’s never wasted.

And you’ll have written. Which will make you the writer you often said you would like to be.

Go ahead, give it a try. And post a reply here to let me know how you did.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

A Writer's Unease

Perhaps it’s just me, but it seems to me that the life of a writer is filled with unease. My novel, Pariah, has just been published and I’m ecstatic about it. So far, the reception it’s got has been pretty good too. However, try as I might, I can’t stop myself pondering all sorts of vexing questions. Is it selling well? Do people like it? Am I getting enough reviews? Should I be doing more to publicise it?

And then there is the next novel in the series, the manuscript of which I completed this week and sent to my editor at Pan Macmillan. I’m happy with it. In some ways I think it’s a stronger book than Pariah. But again the questions. Will my editor like it? More importantly, will he like it enough to offer me another contract? Is it really as good as I would like to believe it is? Are there major holes in the plot that I have overlooked? Is it not as original as I thought? What if it gets rejected?

I’m generally not a pessimist. And if my writing career stalls, it’s not disastrous: I have a good day job that pays the mortgage and puts food on the table. For many authors the answers to these questions are probably much more critical than they are to me. Writing is their livelihood.

And yet still these questions continue to bug me. I know they shouldn’t. What will be will be. But my suspicion is that I’m not the only author who goes through this. I also suspect that it’s a feeling that never ends, no matter how many books one has under one’s belt. I guess it’s one of the many things I am continuing to discover that go with the territory of being a writer.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Day the first...

So... Welcome.
Come in, please. Sit yourself down. Have some tea. Have some carrot cake. I made it myself. You’re watching your weight? I understand. Not that I think you need to do that. You look terrific. Really.
You managed to find me, then. It’s difficult, I know. Cyberspace is such a big place. They should put up more street signs. But I’m glad you made it.
Who the f*** am I, you ask (insert ‘flip’ or other suitable word here; although not ‘frog’ or ‘flap’ – that would just be silly).
How rude of me. I should have said. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Published Author #392,475,378.
Really, you say. They keep count of such things?
Well, actually, no they don’t. I made it up. I’m a novelist, and that’s what novelists do. We make sh** up. (Only two asterisks to play with here. Feel free to add more if you think you need them. I wouldn’t want to limit your creativity).
The novel I’ve written is called Pariah. It’s published by Macmillan in the UK and comes out on March 4th, 2011. Which is TODAY! (I know, I can hardly believe it myself. I get all misty-eyed just thinking about it).
Cool, you say. What’s it about?
Glad you asked. Dowse the lights. Cue the rousing music. Cue the impossibly deep voice-over.
Think of all the people close to you. Your friends. Your family. Your work colleagues.
Now imagine if they started to die. And the reason they are dying is because of you. Because of what they mean to you.
If you want to save them, there’s only one thing you can do. Sever all your relationships. Become a loner. An outcast. A pariah.
How long could you carry on like that? And what would you give to get your life back?
End of serious stuff. If that’s tickled your fancy, you can find out more at my website:
I’m going to continue posting here on my blog. I’m going to let you know what’s going on with the book, and with the books to follow. I’m also going to try passing on some of the tips I’ve picked up about writing and getting published. In the meantime, I’d like to get to know you a little better (apologies if that comes across as a little creepy; try to avoid imagining it being uttered in a Hannibal Lecter voice). I invite you to post a message below. Go on, say something, even if it’s only Hi. And come back again soon. Next time I’ll bake some muffins.