US Of Yay

It’s a new month, the tax returns are finished and optimism reigns once more in the house of Grant. I’ve been doing quite a bit of research into sending Certainty to some US agents, and it appears this is a very good idea. More than one writer person I’ve talked to has told me that British stuff is “hot” in America at the moment (no doubt buoyed by Simon Cowell, the continuing success of House, the buzz that’s followed The King’ Speech everywhere, and so on), and so over the past couple of days I’ve attacked the possibility of success in the US with the kind of feverish determination that’s particular to crazy, obsessed madmen.

Having bashed my US query letter into super-slick shape and added enough personality for it to walk the tightrope between voice and professionalism, I sent it off to some promising-looking agents and waited for responses. I woke up this morning to a nice result with the first reply – a request for the first 50 pages of the novel, which in US parlance is known as a ‘partial’. This is a good sign that my query, at least, is solid. I have no doubt that for some agents my novel will be too British, and for others there won’t be enough exciting happening in the first few pages, but I’m hoping to hit the sweet spot before long.

What’s great about the US agent market is that there are so many more possibilities than the UK when it comes to agencies that will accept thriller/high concept submissions, and the increasing ubiquity of the internet has broken down geographical barriers to the extent that it really doesn’t matter where an author lives, as long as their material is compatible with the market they’re approaching. I don’t care which country my eventual agent resides in, either – all that will be required is for them to represent me well, so either side of the Atlantic will be fine. After all, the dream ticket is for Certainty to be sold in more than one market.

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Little Victories

I could really do with a little victory at the moment, so the end of the tax returns tomorrow – and subsequent visit to the pub – should accomplish that. But last night I went to see my brother’s new band, who are called Little Victories, play at The Louisiana in Bristol and it was a really good gig. I thought it was likely to be great and so took my camera along to do a bit of filming, and ended up recording the whole thing. There was definitely a charged atmosphere in the room and the sense that everything just clicked with the new lineup – certainly it was the most polished “first gig” I’ve ever seen, and people downstairs were raving about the band afterwards.

Since former incarnation Farthing Wood’s only flaw was their rubbishness at marketing themselves, I think I’m going to try to lend a hand this time around, and bearing that in mind I’ve quickly edited a video together of one of their tracks (was quite cool to piss around with iMovie actually, I’ve been meaning to do that ever since I got my Macbook Pro) and stuck it on Youtube. Rendering an HD video takes a surprisingly crazy-long amount of time, but I think it’s turned out pretty well.

Anyway, remember where you saw this first and all that:

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I’m halfway through the week of tax returns hell and I’m starting to feel a little tired, but I’m making steady progress and hope to reach the end intact. It’s always a bit of a stressy time, but there’s a very nice carrot at the end – the traditional trip to the pub. This year seems a little bit more down to the wire than last (which was a breeze), but in previous years we’ve sometimes still been doing tax returns on the 31st, thanks to clients not supplying the information in time.

The online revolution has made things a bit easier, though. Gone are the days of traipsing down the tax office with loads of physical copies of tax returns, and handing them in without even getting a receipt – now you get submission receipts after you send the returns electronically. Gone too are most of the fears of incorrect calculations, as the online software now gives you its own calc based on the figures you enter, which you can check against your notes.

So it’s a little bit less pressurised and a little more efficient. Vive la revolution.

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Irons In The Fire

It would be great to think that one of the two literary agents who currently have my full manuscript will want to represent it and me, but given the usual time lag between submission and response, it won’t hurt to have a few other irons in the fire – and there are bound to be many more agents who look really good. So, I need to search around and target who else I want to submit Certainty to. There will be a kind of advantage in not having had any previous contact with these other agents, since from their point of view they’ll be receiving an ultra-polished draft, whereas the two currently reading it originally read (and turned down, let’s not forget) the last one.

But as I learnt from my little exercise with my friends last week, whether someone will like a piece of writing or not is incredibly subjective, so even though I’ll be researching as much I can, and carefully targeting as much as I can (there’s obviously no point in sending Certainty to agents who only represent writers of historical fiction, for example), there isn’t an exact science to this. I’ll do my bit as well as possible, and then will just have to hope that it lands in front of the right person at the right time.

I’m pretty happy with my cover letter and synopsis. What always needs work, though, is the middle paragraph of the former that’s individually targeted to each agent, where I need to say exactly why I’m approaching them in particular. This time around, I’ll be mixing and matching UK and US agents, and the querying systems are completely different (UK typical: cover letter, synopsis, first 3 chapters. US typical: query email including mini-synopsis at the start, first 5-10 pages). Hours of fun ahead for me, then!

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So, after over a year of daily posts on here, I had a couple of days off. It felt good. And also a bit weird. This blog has become nailed on as part of my routine, and so going to sleep knowing that I hadn’t written anything was both liberating and disappointing. Indeed, I think that I’ll still write a blog most days, but try not to beat myself up when I don’t.

Today was a good day, despite it being the start of the week of hell when it comes to my paid work and the consequential tax returns. My (allegedly) near-miss literary agent from back in August asked for the full manuscript of my redraft, and another was happy to be emailed the newest version. But there was also a massive coincidence, which was certainly enough to make me think that the world was having a bit of a nudge and a wink at me today. Way back when, another agent asked for my full manuscript and I heard nothing. Months and months and months passed. Amazingly, he chose today of all days to get back to me. He rejected me, of course, and that wasn’t surprising as the draft he had simply wasn’t good enough, but it was very strange to have that happening on the same day as everything else.

I’m not finished yet, much as I’d love either of the agents who currently have the novel to represent me – both are great. I’ll be making other, limited approaches just as soon as I can find the time – I should maybe wait until after the tax returns mayhem is over. This draft feels like it could be going places, but only time will tell.

In other news, I saw Black Swan and met some cool new people last night. I’m still formulating my thoughts on the former and may stick a review up in due course. Suffice to say, it’s another Aranofsky head-fuck. And Natalie Portman’s performance is simply astonishing.

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Ten Oh Clock

The prequel to Iain Lee and Daisy Donovan’s 11 O’Clock Show launched last night on Channel 4. It was the… er… 10 O’Clock Show, and it came upon us in a fiery blaze of publicity. Part of this was because Channel/More 4 had just reduced its order of the US’s The Daily Show to one episode per week, and people were angry, dammit – probably 80,000 of them, as those were the ratings – but Channelmorefour execs had cushioned the blow by saying that The 10 O’Clock Show would offer a similar mix of comedy, news, and searing political analysis.

Channel 4 was basically on a hiding to nothing here. After all, The Daily Show had years to build up a format, yet rather than soft-launching a British alternative and allowing its audience to grow organically, 4 went all-out on the social media front to make The 10 O’Clock Show a real TV event. Part of this strategy doubtless had to do with the high-profile pedigree of those involved: namely Charlie Brooker, Jimmy Carr, Lauren Laverne and David Mitchell. Such a line-up immediately raised expectations.

If you’ve read other reviews of the show, you’ve doubtless encountered the tedious grumblings of people who have no fucking idea how difficult it is to write the first episode of anything – particularly something that has to be topical and live.

Naturally, though, there were teething troubles. Yes, Lauren Laverne was wasted, and the comedy sketch she was involved in with ‘Doug Stanhope’ (Brooker-nepotism in action) plain didn’t work. Jimmy Carr’s Tunisia sketch wasn’t quite funny enough to justify inclusion either (and judging by his expression while delivering the material, he knew that, too). But such things are to be expected this early in a show’s run. David Mitchell was the undisputed star of proceedings – he was very funny in his political diatribes, and even allowed interviewee David Willetts (the Higher Education Minister) enough time to speak. True, the political tone of the show was maybe a little bit unbalanced, but it was funny and I’m sure that a tiny course correction wouldn’t kill the flow of things.

Charlie Brooker carried on with his Screen/Newswipe persona (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it), as well as having a pre-recorded report about Sarah Palin that wouldn’t have looked out of place in either of those shows, but aside from his continually baffling haircut, he seemed totally suited to this kind of programme. He’s a perfect fit.

The ingredients are all there for this show to be amazing. What needs to be finessed slightly is the tone, which isn’t quite consistent enough… yet. The role that Lauren Laverne occupies also needs to be more defined, and there’s an ever-present danger that the show will start to resemble a Sixth Form Debating Society with a bigger budget.

Despite the shakedown issues, though, I’m confident that over the next few weeks it’ll establish its own identity and become one of those water cooler shows that everyone will be talking about. I thoroughly enjoyed the first episode. Overall, I thought it was a very promising start.

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The Opening Decision

Fuck it, I’m sticking to my guns. The experiment of sending my opening chapters to a few friends turned out to be a very interesting exercise indeed. It led to many opinions, agreements, disagreements and fascinating feedback. What it proved beyond doubt, though – as if such a thing needed to be proven – is that there’s nothing even remotely like universality when it comes to talking about something as subjective as a piece of writing.

Despite this, the feedback did give me a lot to think about. Typos were flagged up, and suggestions were made about how to fix things that turned out to be in need of minor work (and usually just required one or two lines to be changed), but orbiting those minor matters was the big question of whether the opening is actually the right one for this novel. There were other options – I’ve sketched out a couple of them, including one idea that seemed very promising beforehand but just didn’t work at all – but what I’ve now concluded is that yes, I know my story, yes, I know my characters, and yes, what’s now there is what’s going to be sent out. It’s strong, at times it’s polarising, and it’s now polished to within an inch of its life. Let the hunt begin.

So, mission accomplished. And if rejections start coming in from literary agents, as they almost inevitably will, I’ll be able to think back and remember how the opinions of friends showed me just how subjective this writing game is. Maybe that’ll help to make any no’s feel less personal.

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My South African houseguests are leaving tomorrow, and it’s been very cool to have them around. Quinton, who’s my friend Sarah’s brother-in-law, researches leopards and set up The Cape Leopard Trust. As of yesterday, he has the word Doctor before his name and PhD after it, following his storming performance at the viva for his thesis. Awesomes. He’s also quite a personality – a passionate and eloquent speaker about his subject of choice, promoting conservation and raging against the tabloid instincts of various TV shows about animals. His wife Liz is lovely, too – clearly someone who really inspires the kids that she teaches. So it’s been a pleasure to host the couple, doubly so because beforehand neither my wife Jo nor I quite knew how it would go, having never met them before. It’s been kinda like a school exchange that could have gone either way but really worked.

Maybe sometime soon we’ll be able to go to South Africa and see the leopards for ourselves – apparently their behaviour is very much like upscaled versions of our housecats, which sounds bloody cool. But even if that’s a way off, I’ve definitely gained new insights into animal behaviour and how both the urban and rural parts of South Africa work. I’m very glad that Quinton and Liz came to stay. It’s been a lot of fun to have them stay with us, and I’ll be sorry to see them go.

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Force Feedback

Now here’s something I don’t do every day (not this blog, obviously – I definitely do this every day, as has been previously established. I don’t even have to anymore, but I’m posting this evening anyway. Old habits, eh? Sheesh. Oh, where was I? This set of brackets has kind of run away with itself, hasn’t it? Shit, this isn’t a very good start).

What’s in between the brackets above is actually what the purpose of the “something I don’t do every day” is, which makes it less of a terribly self-indulgent first paragraph and more of an awesome metaphor. To take my last sentence in order, that’s (a) Overwriting, (b) Sending the draft of my novel’s new opening to several different friends to see what they make of it, and (c) Ha ha, nice try. You see, it’s reached that point where Certainty is about to be sent into the wild blue yonder, and as such I want to see what my main demographic makes of the first three chapters – those opening pages being the ones that agents mainly ask for in the first instance, you see. So there’s a lot riding on them.

In the red corner, then: my revised opening. In the blue corner: two people who’ve read full drafts of the novel before, one who read some of it before and liked it, one who read some of it before and hated it, and two who’ve read none of it before at all. What will they think?

The purpose of the exercise isn’t to try to get some kind of universal opinion – writing is way too subjective for that. Instead, it’s to try to catch any glaring errors that I’ve missed, or massively obvious recurring negative – or, indeed, positive – themes. And, of course, because it’s all feedback from people I respect, I’m rather worried about what they’re going to think, despite the fact that I reckon this new opening is pretty damn good. That final 1% of polish I mentioned a few days ago? This is more of that.

I’ll regroup after all the feedback’s in and see if there’s anything I still need to work on. Besides taking out some of the ‘f’ words, of course – I’m such a potty-mouth. Sigh.

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The Final ‘One A Day’

The moment is here at last.

On 18 January 2010, I read on my Twitter feed about a ragtag band of brothers (and sisters, though HBO hasn’t got around to them yet) who, in a ludicrously optimistic show of bravado, planned to write a blog entry every single day for a year. The project was called One A Day. My good friend Chris Schilling had decided to give it a go, and I thought it would be a bit of a laugh to join in. So I started, gradually figuring out over the first few weeks how to write a blog, then dreaming of some people actually reading it, then deciding not to advertise my posts on Twitter anymore (except on special occasions) as too many of them were horribly self-indulgent.

Now, 377 posts later (see: more than One A Day!), I’m on post 378. The end. The final one. The victory lap.

When this blog started, I worked for an accountancy practice and dreamt of selling a novel. As I sit here tonight, I work for the same accountancy practice and dream of selling a novel. Progress? What progress?

Quite a bit, actually. I’m now an honorary member of the South African author mafia (despite never having been to South Africa, and besides, I went to school with Shrien Dewani so I probably wouldn’t even be allowed into the country), and I’ve had some very awesome people say that I’m all talented and stuff, which is nice. My friend Rick has told me not to be so self-deprecating, and so I’m trying very hard to find the right balance with that. After some near-misses with literary agents back in August/September-time, I went back to the drawing board and emerged with renewed focus and a new draft which, basking in the glow of the novelty of fresh material, I currently proclaim to be pretty bloody great. We’ll see how it fares in the cut-throat world of agents very soon. I also started a new novel that’s going to knock everyone’s socks off when it’s done (they’ll just have to go without).

With the smooth came the rough. My aunt was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I lost two grandparents. Westlife are still going. And I’m still not making a living for the only thing in this world that I’m actually pretty good at (aside from drinking red wine, of course). But as I sit here on 17 January 2011 and think about the afternoon in which I sat down to write my hilariously short and shit first blog entry a year ago, I reckon that I’m a better person for the One A Day experience. I know more about myself and what I’m capable of. I also know what I need to work on, and have taken steps to do so. The one big thing I haven’t really tackled yet is my stammer, and maybe that’s another focus for this year – though fuck knows what I’m going to do about it.

So what of this blog? It will definitely continue. I’m not necessarily going to update it every day – it’s more likely that there will be bite-sized entries interspersed with longer pieces – but the blogging habit has become so much part of my routine that I can’t see myself stopping. Also, this place will likely have a spring clean when I work out who I can wangle into making it look nice – it’s something that I didn’t look into at all in the past year to my shame, and The Mirrorball looks pretty bland compared to some of the gorgeous blogs that other people have.

But One A Day-wise, that’s me done and dusted. The project is carrying on in a different format this year, and I wish all the new participants luck. They’ll need it.

See you on the flipside, ladies and gents. And thank you so much for reading – whether it was just a single post or all 378 of the damn things. There will be more. But for now, good night.


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