Should Writers Avoid Getting Political?

Back to Reality, the novel I co-wrote with Mark Desvaux for the Bestseller Experiment podcast, has been having a good run with reviews since its publication in 2017. Folks have liked it a lot and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. To meet our rather ambitious self-imposed target of ten thousand copies sold by the end of the Glastonbury Festival (our book climaxes at Glastonbury) we’ve been dialling up the advertising and asking anyone who’s read the book to leave a review. That means I’ve been checking the Amazon customer reviews fairly regularly, and that’s when I noticed that we received our first ever one-star review for the book. At first, my heart sank a little, but then I clicked on the review and had a read and this is what I found…

For context, here’s the part of the book that the reviewer objected to. Our hero, Jo, has travelled back in time from contemporary England to ‘90s Hollywood. She finds herself on a late night chat show where she reveals that she’s a time traveller…

There are two things going on with this review. First is an inability to make a distinction between the protagonist and the authors.

This still manages to surprise some readers. To write crime thrillers, you don’t need to be a cop or a murderer, to write science fiction you don’t need to explore deep space, and you, dear writer, can write repulsive characters and not agree with their world view.

Although, for the sake of clarity, here’s where I stand on Donald Trump. The man is a misogynist, homophobic, racist, narcissistic fool and a failed businessman whose time would be better spent indulging in his sexual peccadilloes behind closed doors while the rest of try and save the planet from climate change.

In short, I’m not a fan.

But this is what writers do: we put ourselves in the shoes of these characters and try to imagine would those people might be like — and very often it can be based on personal experience — and we try to convey that in words.

As an aside, I think this is why there is such a liberal bias in the entertainment industry. Creators will try and see both sides of the argument in a story, character or situation and present them in a compelling way. That sense of fairness is very much a characteristic of liberals, especially in contrast to the meritocratic views of the right. 

The second aspect of the review is the disappointment in the reader that we’ve dragged the messy world of politics into their reading. This prompts the much bigger question: should writers get political? Sure, if you’re writing a political thriller it’s expected, but when you’re writing in an escapist genre like comedy, romance, science fiction or fantasy should the poor reader be inflicted with soap box politics? And is it worth it for the writer? Think back to The Dixie Chicks when they made disparaging comments about George W Bush and the effect that had on their sales. Isn’t it just safer to avoid any political content altogether?

Here’s the thing: all writing is political… if it’s any good.

Fiction isn’t like a family gathering where you avoid religion and politics. It should be a truthful reflection of what the creator believes, otherwise what is the point?

I’m not saying that our joke where Jo compares Trump to Hitler is some kind of profound insight into the human condition. Far from it. It’s simply the thing that stuck out for the reviewer. What that reviewer missed was the masses of other political content in the book. The themes of family, compassion, sexism, work, money and greed are threaded throughout the story, and if you don’t think those are political then you’ve not been paying attention to the world around you.

So, will we lose sales because we’ve upset some fans of Trump? Possibly. We’re hardly the Dixie Chicks, but to be honest if you’re a Trump supporter I don’t want your money. You’re going to need it when you realise you’re on the wrong side of history and need to pay for therapy.

In the meantime, I shall continue to write about the world through the eyes of characters that both attract and repulse me. It’s pretty much the only way I can make any sense of the chaos around me, especially that Trump fella… 

PS. To be clear, there are my opinions and not those of The Bestseller Experiment or my co-presenter -author Mark Desvaux…

Son of a Beach

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 finished the John Yorke Story for Screenwriting course. 16 weeks of pretty intense work. Was it worth it? Check out my thinkings over 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…

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Getting a lift in the new Hachette warehouse…

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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.

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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!

Mark

Isabel Ashdown’s secrets and lies

We had the fantastic thriller writer Isabel Ashdownon the Bestseller Experiment podcast this week. Isabel is the author of bestselling thrillers Little Sister and Beautiful Liars, and she walked away from a successful career to focus on her writing and it all stepped up a gear when she entered a competition in a newspaper. I was also joined by stand-in co-host Sam Eades who is always good fun and does a mean jigsaw… You can listen to the podcast here.

Like many science fiction and fantasy authors out there, I found myself sighing in despair at this comment from Liz Thomson in the Bookseller. I am beyond proud to have been published by Gollancz, and I realise that this kind snobbery exists, but you expect better from Liz (who’s always been very chatty and friendly whenever I’ve met her) and the Bookseller, a publication that should celebrate all publishing regarding of genre. Sigh…

And a quick update on my fantasy novel The End of Magicit’s now 80% funded over at Unbound, so it’s not too late to pledge to join the adventure and get your name in the book along with some other cool extras. Click here for more info.

Till next time, happy writing!

Mark

Surviving your first year as a debut author with Ed McDonald

I had the pleasure of speaking to the superb Ed McDonald on the podcast this week. Ed talks very honestly about his first year as a professional author, achieving his dream of getting published, and then he asks the question, “What next?” It’s a very revealing chat and you can listen here.

I was over the moon to see my friend Deborah Haywood’s movie Pin Cushion premiere at the East End Film Festival last weekend. It’s funny, dark, and cat lady mad with a brilliant cast. Have a look at the trailer here.

And if you’re looking for a major time suck, the BBC have opened up their sound effects archives for non-commercial use. There’s some really freaky stuff available for your delight. Listen to this doll singing Oranges and Lemons and tell me you won’t be sleeping with the lights on tonight…Oh, and I’m 77% funded on The End of Magic with less than a month to go! If you’ve not pledged already, now would be a wonderful time to do it. Just click here and hit that lovely blue pledge button.

Till next time, happy writing!

Mark

I got a rejection this week… and I’m in good company…

I loved this Tweet from VE Schwab asking authors if they had received rejections of their work recently…

She was deluged with replies, some from some very big names, and one from me. Only last week, I had a book pitch rejected by a publisher. The response I got was, “We pissed ourselves laughing, we loved it, we just don’t know how to sell it.” And that’s fine. I appreciate the honesty and know that there would be nothing worse than slogging away on a novel for however many months only for the publisher to give a shrug on publication.

I more positive news I was inspired by blog posts from a couple of writers friends. Julian Barr talks about what he strives for here, and Laurence Doherty talks about working up from rejections to the NI New Writers Focus Scheme here.

And the big treat for the week is the Bestseller Experiment live show with Orion editor Emad Akhtar (pictured above). He answered all sorts of listener questions on writing, editing, storytelling and WWE wrestling… Yes really. You can listen here.

Till next time, happy writing!

Cavan Scott – Licence to Write

I really enjoyed speaking to Cavan Scott on this week’s episode of the Bestseller Experiment. He writes on licence – that is, he writes for some of the biggest franchises and series in the world, including Star Wars, Doctor Who and Star Trek. Listening to how he worked his way up from sending pitches to Big Finish Audio to becoming an influential writer of these beloved universes, and now writing his own fiction, was inspirational stuff. And moreso, now I’ve just learned that Cavan is bringing back Jaxxon the Rabbit, a cocky gunslinger who featured in one of the first ever Star Wars spinoff stories in the weekly comic.

It’s a fun episode, and you can listen to it here.

My co-presenter this week was the wonderful Jenn McMenemy, whose own podcast The Ancient History Fangirl, has just launched its second episode and it’s a blast. Check it out here.

In other news, I hit 60% funded on The End of Magic this week! A huge thanks to everyone who has supported the book so far. As a reward (punishment) here’s me reading from the book with another terrible “comedy” accent…

If you haven’t pledged yet, then please visit here and hit the big blue ‘pledge’ button: https://unbound.com/books/end-of-magic/

A ghostwriter, an archaeologist and a wizard walk into a bar…

On this week’s Bestseller Experiment podcast I spoke to Ghostwriter Roz Morris, who gives a very thorough breakdown of how a ghostwriter works, and also describes a fun way of developing story ideas that involves scraps of paper and a box.

Mark Desvaux has had to bow out of the podcast for a few episodes due to a family illness, so I was ably assisted by Jenn McMenemy who, as well being on the podcast as a guest previously, has also launched her own podcast Ancient History Fangirl, which is huge fun and proves once again that history is a great resource for writers.

This week’s Deep Dive podcast is a cracker, looking into audiobooks, the fastest growing sector of publishing. We talk to Orion Audio’s Paul Stark about mainstream audiobook publishing, and we also get contributions from indie authors Jo Ho and Michael R Miller. It’s choc full of ready detailed info, so if you’re not a Patreon supporter pop over to our Patreon page and get on board!

And finally, at the time of writing I’m 59% funded on my book The End of Magic. A thousand thanks to everyone who’s pledged so far, and if you haven’t joined the adventure yet, why not be the hero who nudges me over to 60%? Click here and hit the blue pledge button.

Till next time, happy writing!

 

Mark

I spill the beans on the Honest Authors podcast…

I had great fun speaking to Holly Seddon and Gillian McAllister on the Honest Authors Podcast. I’ve been a fan of their podcast from the start, and it was fun to answer their questions about the Bestseller Experiment, not least, “Did you and the other Mark ever fall out?” LISTEN HERE or download from your podcatcher of choice to find out the terrible truth!

 

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If you’re looking for something new to read in 2018, then grab a copy of our novel Back to Reality on Kindle now!

KATE HARRISON

Five tips for writing around a day job…

Writing while holding down a full-time job can be a bit of a ‘mare at the best of times. Some authors write late into the evening, some get up at the crack of dawn. I’m lucky enough to be able to weave into my working week, and I thought you might want to see what my typical writing week looks like, followed by five tips that you might find useful. Firstly, here’s what this past week looked like…

MONDAY
AM
I live out in the sticks now, so on a weekday the whole family is up at 6, out the door by 7, and on our various busses and trains by 7:30. My commute into London takes about an hour and forty minutes. Plenty of time for writing! I’m fed and caffiened by this point, and raring to go. I generally get my best stuff done on the morning commute.

This particular morning, I was working on my first Woodville book. I’m currently about halfway through and it’s like wading through treacle, but progress is progress.

LUNCH
Mondays are podcast launch days, so I spend my lunch break on the social media for the new episode.
My wife Claire is a gardening blogger and author, and I worked on uploading her new gardening eBook to KDP.

PM
I’m working on a couple of projects with Jon Wright at the moment and he had been tweaking a pilot script we’re working on, which I reviewed on the train home and made a few light edits.

TUESDAY
AM
More Woodvile work. Averaging about 500-800 words each morning.

LUNCH
More Bestseller Experiment social media and I also send a newsletter out on my mailing list with details of the show.

PM
Worked on formatting Claire’s new eBook on Parsnips… very different to my usual stuff, but it’s nearly sowing season and she needs to get these online pronto!

WEDNESDAY
AM
Woodville – good progress. About 1000 words.

LUNCH
I added hyperlinks to Claire’s eBook. She links to seed companies and her videos on Youtube, so there are loads of them! Far more than any novel. I also worked on tweaking the keywords and metadata for Back to Reality and that afternoon I got a telling off from Amazon for adding a subtitle that has text that isn’t on the cover art. We were threatened with having the book removed if we didn’t amend it. Grr.

PM
Script rewrites on the train home for the thing Jon and I are working on. Really good fun as these are light changes, as opposed to the first draft slog of the Woodville stuff. It’s tempting to stick with this tomorrow morning, but I must be disciplined!

Mr. D and I had planned to record the podcast tonight (we usually record on a Monday), but due to all sorts of extenuating circumstances (and Canadian weather!) we’ve have to postpone it. Will we get an episode out in time for next week…?

THURSDAY
AM
Woodville. Hitting my stride with this noise. Daily word count is improving.

LUNCH
I listen to the interview I recorded with next week’s guest, making notes in anticipation of recording the pre- and post interview stuff with Mr. D. Also make further tweaks to Back to Reality’s metadata. Claire and I also got our PLR statements. In the UK, every time a book is taken out of the library the author (and illustrator if applicable) gets 8 pence! My statement could pay for a takeaway pizza. Claire’s could pay for a nice weekend away!

FRIDAY

A day off from the day job at Orion. I spent the morning at home and Jon popped round to make the final changes to our pilot script before sending it off to our agent. We read it aloud, acting out the parts and pising ourselves laughing. Very good times.

In the afternoon, the Canadian weather eases and Mr. D’s power is back on, so we record Monday’s episode, plus the Deep Dive episode for Patreon listeners. Poor Dave our editor only has a few days to cobble our witterings together!

SATURDAY

Dave sends us the rough edit of the podcast and I listen back, making notes and suggestions for edits, as well as writing the description you read on the website/iTunes etc and the keywords we use for the blog.

No other writing done today (apart from the first rough draft of this blog!)

In the afternoon, I read an excerpt from a friend’s book and send him some notes.

SUNDAY

Today is our wedding anniversary, so me and the family went to see a movie and had a cheeky Nando’s for lunch, and now I’m writing this blog, but I’m already thinking about what I’ll be writing tomorrow…

 

Five tips for writing around a day job:

  1. Spot and schedule: Spot those spare moments in your week and schedule those as writing times. They don’t have to be long. We’ve had guests on the podcast who can work in fifteen minute bursts. Little and often works best. Set reminders in your calendar and stick to them. There’s a temptation to be flexible with these times as it’s not a “proper job”. I’m very protective of these slots and treat them with the same weight as meetings scheduled for my day job.
  2. Shut out distractions: You might be working on the train, or the office, or a busy home. There will always be noise and distractions and, if you’ve only got half an hour in which to write today, then those distraction will eat that up in no time. Find a quiet spot and shut the door. Make it clear to your colleagues and loved ones that you’re not to be disturbed. If you do work in an office, get away from your desk if possible. Otherwise, you’ll have colleagues interrupting you with work queries in your break. At work I’ve been known to stick a Post It note on my headphones with “Sorry, can’t talk: Writing” written on them… It works! Your colleagues might think you’re mental, but it works. I love a pair of comfy noise-cancelling headphones for my train journey, and I currently use an app called Scape which plays woodland noises etc, which I find really conducive to productivity (I still have music playlists, but are finding them a little too distracting at my age!).
  3. Finish mid-sentence: If you’ve only got a short time in which to write, there’s nothing more likely to eat into that time than you sitting there, staring into space, wondering what to write next. I try to finish any session mid-sentence, so when I return to writing I simply finish that sentence/thought/scene/paragraph and I’m already up and running.
  4. A.B.T: Always Be Thinking. You might not be able to write all the time, but you should engage your brain for some good, solid thinking as often as possible. Five minutes on your hands? Skip back to what you were last writing: what were the problems? How can they be solved? What happens next? And whatever you think of, for the love of criminy take notes! If you’re anything like me, you’ll have forgotten everything by the time you get back to writing.
  5. Write early, edit late: This is a personal one, and perhaps more to do with being middle-aged and sluggish, but I work on new stuff in the morning when I’m bright and breezy, and edit that same work in the evening when I’m lacking buzz and energy. I also have a method that I call Be Kind Rewind: whenever I get stuck, I’ll go back and edit/rewrite the previous 500 or so words. By the time I’m done working on them, I usually have enough momentum going that I crash through any block that I might’ve had when I started.

If you found those helpful, please share with your fellow writers. How do you work around the day job? Please leave your comments below…

I was on the Cover to Cover podcast this week…

I had good fun being interviewed by Lee Middleton on the Cover to Cover podcast this week. We talk Star Wars, the Bestseller Experiment, Back to Reality and my thwarted dream to become a firefighter. It’s a fab show for readers and writers alike. Click to listen… https://m.mixcloud.com/Studio5OnAir/cover-to-cover-episode-12/