I had a great time chatting with Neil McRobert of the Talking Scared Podcast about how my writing has been influenced by a warped childhood of Bagpuss, Camberwick Green, Chorlton and the Wheelies, Dennis Potter and more. You can listen on all the usual podcast providers here.
I had a great time chatting to the delightful Mr Olly Smith for the Media Lunch Club podcast. We discuss the differences between writing novels and screenwriting, how Star Wars ruined me, and the thing that Olly and I have in common. Listen here…
I was asked ten questions by the author JS Clerk on writing, agents, perspective, voice, the Bestseller Experiment podcast, and all that good stuff. And here are my answers…
You can see more of JS Clerk’s interviews here.
- Did you always want to be an author? What were your favourite books from your childhood?
I always wanted to make things up. Play-acting. I think that’s what a lot of creativity is. Make believe. We didn’t have many books in the home, but we went every week to the library. The Star Wars novelisation was a gateway drug to science fiction. And then it was Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat, and then Douglas Adams, and then Terry Pratchett and Robert Rankin.
I was probably also the only kid who regularly checked out books on what to do in a nuclear war. It was the early 80s and it was disturbing.
2) Do you have an agent? What was your route into the publishing industry?
I have had many agents. I currently have two: Ed Wilson for books, Matt Dench for scripts. My road into the industry was a temporary Christmas job at Waterstones in Dorking. That was when Tim Waterstone ran the company and insisted that everyone who worked there had a degree. I didn’t. Shh. Don’t tell anyone.
3) Do you write full time? If so, what was your ‘life’ before turning to writing?
I do write full time, very lucky to be able to do that.
I worked in bookselling publishing for over twenty five years, as a bookseller at Waterstones, then a sales rep for a couple of publishers, and then looking after Amazon for Orion.
4) Which perspective/character voice is your favourite to read?
Not sure I have one, so long as the voice feels honest and true and suits the story. I’m not someone who gets their knickers in a twist if I see something in first person, present tense, or second person. “You open the door, you see a dragon.” Just tell me your story in your voice. That’s the most important thing.
5) Which perspective/character voice is your favourite to write?
I like writing in a fairly close third person. I love the present tense dynamism of screenplays, too, which is two very different ways of telling a story. I did write a children’s book, still unpublished, in third person, and then completely rewrote it all in first person, which was fun. Still hasn’t been published, though.
6) How do you judge a book? Is it by the cover, or the authors writing style?
That’s two things there, really. I mean, the cover is what draws you in and makes you want to pick the thing up, and I am a sucker for a great cover, which is why I’m blessed with the covers I’ve got from the wonderful Harry Goldhawk.
The author’s writing style will ultimately be what you judge a story by, I guess. I mean, I don’t like to get too judgey, as long as it’s written truthfully and you don’t bore the reader. I think it’s healthy for an author to live in fear of boring the reader.
7) For the unpublished author, do you have any advice on querying agents for publication? How does an author know when their manuscript is ready?
Agents ask two questions: Do I love it? Can I sell it? And if you can answer both those, you’re fine. Finding the right agent is like dating. Only the odds are more stacked against you.
Just persist and remind yourself of how many times people have been rejected before finding success. Persistence is so important in this business and I really, really, really mean that. In my case we’re talking decades of persistence. You really have to want this. As for querying, keep it short, sweet and honest and be patient. Especially now. Agents are still playing catch up after lockdown and there’s no magic combination of words that will get you repped in a covering letter.
It’s all about your writing. And when is it ready? It’s ready when you feel you could give it to anyone to read. Your worst enemy. Truthfully, that day may never come. So don’t go chasing perfection because it doesn’t exist. Get it as good as you can possibly make it. I know my stuff is ready when I go word blind. I can’t tell good from bad anymore. Then I send it to beta readers and get some feedback and perspective.
8) How did the concept for the Bestseller Experiment come about? How did you develop the concept?
The Bestseller Experiment came about… I’d written a movie called Robot Overlords and did the tie-in novelisation as well, and a guy I knew… We didn’t go to the same school, but we went to schools in the same area, had lots of mutual friends… a guy called Mark Desvaux got in touch. And he said, this is amazing, you’ve written a book, you’ve written a film. He said he’d always tried to write a novel, but he never got beyond 20,000 words. And we got talking.
One thing led to another. We both both have very similar interests, both like podcasts. So we challenged ourselves to co-write write a novel and get it self-published and top some Amazon charts within 12 months. But the important thing was that we asked our listeners to beat us to it. We said to people, if you’ve got a half-written book in a drawer or you’ve got something that’s been sitting in your trunk for years… Get it out, dust it off, polish it. Listen to the guests that we have on the podcast.
And we’ve had people like Sarah Pinborough, Joe Hill, Joanne Harris, major best selling authors, Michael Connelly, Ian Rankin giving fantastic, fantastic writing advice… And beat us to it. And the great thing is loads of them did. I can show you. I’ll show you now. Hang on. See the shelf here. These are all the people that have listened to the podcast and, because of some advice they heard on the podcast, they got published. And that’s the best thing we… that ever could have come … Just the fact that all these people have managed to get their books out there because of something they heard on the podcast is… It’s just amazing to me.
And it’s why we keep going. We’re nearly five years old now. Five years old in October of 2021.
8) On the podcast, how do you plan your interview approaches?
For interviews, I usually have five or so bullet points, which is good for 20 minutes, we have a really good idea of what our listeners want. So they like writing habits, writing tips, that sort of thing. I try not to get too hung up on sticking to the list. It’s important to listen. Your guest will take you to places you never imagined if you let them.
10) I find that specific pieces of music help me to engage with my characters. Do you listen to music when you write? Do you have a favourite band or artist that you enjoy?
I used to listen to music a lot, I used to have specific playlists. I’m too old now. I need silence. I wrote Back to Reality with Disney Pixar scores and the score to La La Land. The End of Magic I wrote mostly with Jeremy Soule’s score for Skyrim, which was handy. Robot Overlords, I wrote largely to Daft Punk’s Tron soundtrack. And when I hear those now, they make me think of those books, which is a lovely thing. But yeah, at my age I need the sound of silence.
I had a great time chatting to W.J. Kite who is running a fantastic writing tournament for young writers aged 8-16. Find out more here… https://wjkite.com
The highlights of my audio diaries from my recent writing retreat were aired on the Dominic King show on BBC Radio Kent these last couple of nights.
The full-length diaries will be on the Bestseller Experiment podcast soon, so for more hot tub action (and insight into the writing process, of course) don’t forget to subscribe to that here!
For regular writing tips, news and other stuff to help a writer get through the day, sign-up to my monthly newsletter, and grab a FREE eBook while you’re at it!
We’ve had two cracking – a very different – episodes of the Bestseller Experiment recently. First up is a report from The Romantic Novelists’ Association conference in Leeds where I spoke to Rhoda Baxter, Nicola Cornick and Sheila Crighton (aka Annie O’Neil) about all sorts of love including instalust, passionate blur and the scale of hotness. And it was great to finally meet Rhoda Baxter (aka Jeevani Charika), who also proved the Lego image above! Listen to the podcast here.
This week’s podcast features John McGhie, an investigative journalist who has worked for the BBC, Channel 4 News and the Observer. John and I met on Whitstable beach at the peak of the football world cup at what felt like a brief moment of optimism in an otherwise politically depressing 2018. We cheer ourselves up by talking about the historical atrocities chronicled in John’s excellent new book White Highlands! No, really, it’s a fascinating episode and we cover writing historical fiction in some detail. Listen here.
And if you want to know more, the documentary that inspired John’s book can be seen here…
And last but by no means least I was once again on the Dominic King show on BBC Radio Kent in the conversation slot. We chatted about YALC, YA fiction, The End of Magic, podcasts, soundtracks and I even wheel out my Sean Connery impression. You can listen here and for my bit skip forwards to 2 hours and 11 minutes…
Here are links to stuff I talk about on the shows below…
- The Romantic Novelists Association:
- The Julie Cohen episode: http://bestsellerexperiment.com/ep31-julie-cohen/
- Find Jeevani Charika online:
- Please Release Me: https://rhodabaxter.com/my-books/please-release-me-choc-lit/
- The Martin House Children’s Hospice: https://www.martinhouse.org.uk
- The How To Get An Agent episode with Federica Leonardis: http://bestsellerexperiment.com/ep16-how-do-i-get-an-agent-federica-leonardis-sonya-lalli/
- Our episode with entertainment lawyers where we discuss literary law, privacy, libel and defamation: http://bestsellerexperiment.com/ep32-legal-eagles/
Ahead of the publication of The End of Magic (and while I wait for the dreaded edit notes to come back) I’ve been writing a short story set in the same world.
How Drust Krax Lost Two Fingers introduces the novel’s main villain Haldor Frang, and it’s told from the point of view of the hapless Drust Krax. A defeated warlord, awaiting certain death, who really, really needs to use the privvy…
I’m offering it first and exclusively to anyone who subscribes to my newsletter! To download a copy for your Kindle or any other eReader device, just sign-up here.
Please note: I’ve had all my GDPR jabs and I will never sell your information on to any third parties. It’s all safely tucked away by Mailchimp!
Big thanks to Jack Logan and Julian Barr for reading my early drafts the story, taking them down a dark alley and giving them a good kicking. Thanks also to Kit Cox for the map image used on the cover art.
I really enjoyed writing it and can’t wait to hear what you think of it!
There’s also a fab Deep Dive on adaptation this week with Julian Barr (second mention in the blog today). One of us has a PhD. It won’t take you long to figure out which one of us doesn’t… You can listen to a teaser here.
And I’m on BBC Radio Kent tonight (or in the past, depending on when you read this). I’ll be talking to Dominic King on his new arts show about the podcast, Robot Overlords, The End of Magic and more. Listen or catch-up here.
It’s been a fun week with a trip to the beach at Whitstable to interview Julie Wassmer. I had hoped to get some lovely audio atmosphere with waves lapping on shingle and gulls screeching overhead, but the tide was out so I had to settle for a gentle breeze buffeting the microphone. Fortunately, Julie is great fun to chat to and she told me all about working on EastEnders, bumping off the locals in her novels, and why all writers should live in fear of a cup of tea and bacon sandwich. Listen here.
I also got to visit Hachette’s new warehouse in Didcot. While this may not sound like everyone’s idea of a fun day out, I did get to ride on one of their pickers, which went some 25 metres in the air and the queues were shorter than Disney…
Also, if anyone’s concerned that print books are on the decline, this vast palace of storage and hi-tech distribution should allay those fears. This place was built to pump books out into the world and they’ve left plenty of room for expansion.
I finished a short story this week. It’s a prequel to The End of Magic in which we meet our antagonist. My agent Ed read it and enjoyed it, though he did have one note: “Maybe the humour could be a little less lavatorial…? But that’s probably my shit to deal with.”
I do seem to have a thing about bodily functions… What do you say? Should I take this crap?
Also, I’m going to be on the new Dominic King arts show on BBC Radio Kent next Tuesday 12th at around 8pm. He asked me to put together a montage of voices from the podcast, which I did, but I’ve also made a “Guess the voice” quiz, which you can play here…
Till next time!
We had the excellent Alex T Smith on the podcast this week. He’s one of those children’s authors who gives so much back to the community, not least when it comes to talks and interviews that are choc full of great writing tips. I was lucky enough to talk to him at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators‘ conference last year (a big thanks to the organisers for letting me crash the party!). I particularly enjoyed hearing about Alex’s influences, which included the likes of Frankie Howerd, Frank Spencer and ‘Allo, ‘Allo. Not the most obvious starting points when writing for young children, but he makes it work. It’s a fun interview and you can hear the whole thing when you click here.
In other news, my aunty Marion has a new book out! Actually, she has TWO! If you listen to the podcast regularly, you’ll know that we’ve mentioned her a few times. Her memoir was an Irish Times bestseller a few years ago, and she’s spent the time since then working on what is essentially a fictionalised version of her life, with an added dollop of romance. I’m indebted to the tireless Andy Bowden who designed the cover art, which really looks the business…
And speaking of new books… did you know that you can get 10% off when you pledge for my new book The End of Magic? Go here, click pledge and type bestsellerxp when prompted.
Till next time, happy writing!
This week’s podcast is a bit different in that we were visited by Catriona Innes, Senior Editor at Cosmopolitan UK. When I was a teen, Cosmo was the mag that you read to learn about sex when you were sure no girls were looking! But it’s evolved into something very different now and it was terrific to hear from Catriona how she’s gone undercover to expose all sorts of shady shenanigans. Cosmo is now doing what 21st century magazines do best with long form articles, thoroughly researched with a sense of perspective and objectivity.
There were also some top tips from Catriona on interview techniques that any writer could use in their work. Check it out here.
We also released another deep dive episode for our Patreon subscribers. It’s all about how to tackle second drafts, and you can listen to a wee snippet here. If you want more, do please pledge your support over on our Patreon page.
And speaking of pledging… have you signed-up to join me on the epic adventure that is The End of Magic yet?