Category Archives: Writing

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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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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Downtime

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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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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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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Final Draft

In a bit of crazy convergence, it looks like I’m going to finish the final draft of Certainty at pretty much the same time as this blog reaches the end of its first year. This round of editing is hardcore stuff, with the little changes and the big changes and the more judicious use of the word ‘fuck’, all adding up to something that is shaping up to be pretty bloody great. I’m now only one chapter from the end, and may well get there before I go to work tomorrow (all part of my new “wake up stupidly early” regime). I have to go back and think about a couple of things before it’s totally ready, but it feels great to be very nearly there.

Work on my new novel has had to take a bit of a back seat while I’ve been hammering out the new draft of this one, but it’s been great to get back into the world again and make it leaner, meaner, and as tight as a badger’s arse. I’m learning much more about what I do well (action stuff, most of the dialogue), what I do badly (transitions, clunky explanations for things that could easily be written in one sentence), that I’m not as terrible at description as I thought I was, and that I have an unfortunate penchant for overwritten Bond-villain-style speeches.

Best bits of the edit so far:

– Discovering hitherto unknown homo-erotic undertones between my main character and the billionaire who takes him under his wing (sample comment from Sarah: “Gaaaaaaaaay”). This has all been ripped out, and one of the recurring themes of the book (my main character seeing the group of people he joins as a potential new surrogate family) has been completely excised as it didn’t quite work. Close, but no cigar.

– Kelly for Annie. One of my characters was a bit of a wet lettuce, and was only really there because I thought that the ensemble my main character finds himself in could do with another member. As it happened, though, I already had a character earlier in the book who was good but was then kind of abandoned for plot purposes. It was surprisingly easy to replace the weak character with her, and it solved a whole bunch of issues.

– Finding that I can argue my corner pretty well in the face of pressure when I dig my heels in. A back and forth with a published author is always pretty awesome, and I was surprised to win some of the arguments about structure, plot and character.

– Finding easy solutions for long-standing problems. Sometimes a writer is so close to their own material that they can’t see the wood for the trees, and some of the clunky sentences that had driven me insane for ages were instantly put right by Sarah. Very gratifying.

– Seeing vast swathes of text with no comments in them whatsoever. Also known as: you did this bit right, son. Interestingly, the chapters that I thought about most and put the most work into – the big set piece chapters – tended to be the ones with the least to change, despite being the most difficult bits to write. Note to self: don’t be so fucking lazy in future.

Only a massively cool car chase to go now, plus the short epilogue. Win. Then I can think about selling the bastard thing.

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More Editing

I’ve done loads more editing tonight (old novel). I’m still to reach the bits which need more substantial rewrites – for now it’s simply choosing what to do with each individual sentence change or deletion, and often putting them in slightly amended again, as well as responding to suggestions in the margins with new or changed lines of dialogue. It’s all a bit fiddly, partly because I have two windows open – one with the original document and one with the amended one with ‘track changes’ on it. This is the way I like to work, so that I physically have to write any changes myself into my original, master file. It makes me read everything over more, rather than blindly hitting accept or decline for each amendment. I’m sure it takes much longer this way, but that doesn’t matter – the end result is the important thing.

One of the changes to a forthcoming section involves writing one character out completely and replacing her with another. This is one of those ‘Mike, you absolute fucking idiot’ amendments that already seems so right and obvious that I can’t believe I never thought of it. One character didn’t work as well as I’d hoped, the other character was underused, and reintroducing the latter gives me plenty of opportunities for conflict and intrigue and general coolness. One of the main advantages of having new eyes looking over things is that nothing’s sacred or left off the table. If something doesn’t work, I have to justify its inclusion.

So I’m pretty pleased with how it’s all going so far. I’m sure I’ll run into a brick wall at some point, as I probably haven’t figured out all the consequences of a couple of the changes, but for now this draft’s coming along great.

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