Humbug

After the giddyness of last week’s blog, a more sober entry this time. On Sunday night – which shows how hard editors work – I received my rejection from the publishing house who’d asked for the full manuscript of Night Shift.

This is no surprise. Some publishers only put out half a dozen books a year, and every author knows that they’re up against pretty stiff competition to be one of those releases. And the rejection itself was nicely phrased:  ‘I found the basic concept of a “base under siege” in the Antarctic in the near future to be very attractive. Unfortunately, I found myself always looking for the “monster” or something that gave a sense of the “other”. The thriller elements of the novel meant that the real antagonists were “off-stage” and, while I liked your main character, I kept on wanting more of a Science-Fiction slant – and I’m aware that is my own personal view.’

So, no hard feelings. And, intellectually, I know I’ve lost nothing. But every time you get your hopes up (no matter how much you tell yourself you won’t) and you get rejected, it’s a blow. And you start to ask yourself – where now? I’ve approached most of the agents who take SFF (as science-fiction & fantasy is referred to in the Twitterverse) in the Writers’ and Artists Yearbook and got nowhere. I’m running out of publishers too.

Just keep swimming…

As an aside, I know I’ve made mistakes with the marketing of my work. I sent it out too soon. My covering letter is constantly evolving. I fear I blew my chances with the publishers and agents I initially submitted to by being too hasty. Live and learn.

And now I fear that once again I’m going to be caught in a cross-genre trap. Melding sci-fi, murder mystery and psychological thriller seemed like a great idea when I was doing the actual writing, but how do I sell it? Can’t be crime – it’s set in the future. But is it sciency enough to get in with the SF crowd?

Grumble.

But let’s be positive. I’ve written a book that I’m sure is of publication standard. My cover letter/pitch is getting me attention (and I’ll blog about submissions at some point in the future). And all the while I’m learning, learning, learning – and also cracking on with new writing. New Gods should be finished this week, possibly even today. And when I say ‘finished’ I mean the first draft, which does not mean ‘finished’ at all. Not that I can do anything with it anyway: as the third in the trilogy, there’s no way of selling it on its own…

I realise that you may be saying ‘but if you’ve got all these problems with publication, why not go out and do it yourself?’ Well… not sure if I’ve got a good answer to that.  Go back through the archive to see my previous posts on self-publishing. The simple answer is that I still want to be published properly. But I’m not sure why – maybe just because I’m a people person. I like the idea of co-operating with editors and art designers and of having deep, involving conversations about books and business with professionals. And it all being about me.

My ego may be uglier than yours, but at least I know when it needs feeding.

You can see why writers get reputations for being a little strange, can’t you? Can you blame then for going a little crazy when, after years and years of being told you’re not good enough, they finally get their moment in the sun?

Anyway, back to the matter in hand. I’ve decided I’m going to keep on going ‘trad’ at least until I’m happy with Australis. If nothing’s happened by then I’ll sit down and have a good long think about bunging it out myself. In the meantime I’ll keep shoving out submissions, haranguing agents and publishers until one of them gives in and, in a desperate plea for mercy, agrees to take me on. My dad had a good attitude to this sort of thing: he says that whenever he got a rejection (he wrote for children, more history than fiction but with the occasional toe-dipping) he sent another three submissions on the same day. Kept him going, and certainly that sort of resolve is what I need right now.

Incidentally, does anyone know if it’s a good idea to resubmit work? How long should you leave it?

Prepare to be harassed once more, all you industry professionals!

Work what I done

It occurs to me that I’ve never actually gone through and explained what I’ve written over the years. This is something I shall now attempt. Please bear in mind that some names may be changed to protect the innocent… should anyone ever be interested in publishing any of them.

The Ballad of Lady Grace

My first ‘modern era’ work (which means not including my childish attempts at writing pre-degree, my film script or dissertations etc), this is really two novellas stuck together. The story revolves around the idea of what to do when everyone abandons you; when you have nobody to turn to but the person who already hates you. Paul becomes a social pariah after being accused of viewing child pornography, and in his desperation goes to Valerie for help. The story revolves around their relationship, twinned with the police investigation into them and their young associate Twinkle. The investigation, led by DI Vaas with DS Cook, has led to the novel being labelled as crime. I don’t agree with that. In my mind it’s a hymn to music. Paul and Valerie are musicians in the story, and it draws heavily from my life as a drummer/vocalist in various pub bands. Lady Grace was the first work I submitted for publication and it was, for some time, under consideration by Legend Press. Eventually the commissioning editor I’d been in contact with left, and the new incumbent was quick to jettison the piece.

Tell No Lies

This is a bit of an oddity. Not only was the story based on a dream (featuring comedian Jeremy Hardy, I seem to remember) but it was a piece of fan fiction. It was about Baldi, a crime-solving Fransciscan priest and lecturer in semiotics in a Dublin university. Originally a BBC Radio 4 show, I listened to it repeatedly on BBC Radio 7, as was. I loved (and still do) the gentleness of the main character, the way he’s torn between his religious calling and the wider world, especially in his feelings towards his link to the Garda, Inspector Mahon. Anyway, I wrote a first draft based around these characters, then gave up on it. This was partly in despair about it ever being used in any way (it would have to be either officially licensed, rewritten completely or converting into a radio script) and partly because of more general despair. It’s unlikely I’ll ever go back to it as is, but in my mind there are various nice bits of writing therein, so it may yet return – albeit in a cannibalised, bastardised form.

Chivalry

We’re getting more serious here. Chivalry is the work I always though of as my masterpiece – not in an arrogant sense but it the original, mediaeval sense: the piece a craftsman would present to his guild to demonstrate that he deserved the honour of being called a professional. Chivalry is a big, heavy thing, currently weighing in at 144,000 words. I worked on it solidly for about four years before moving on to something new. And I think, for the most part, it still stands up. It needs another good run-through – I reckon I can cut it down by around 5,000 words without losing anything. And the dialogue needs a thorough clean and polish. Or perhaps a grubby and a sandpaper. The story is about a game that starts a war. Set partly in a computer simulation of the 12th century Crusader kingdoms and partly in modern-day Bradford, it follows a group of gamers who inadvertently cause global chaos by hacking a power grid to force their rivals offline. Told through the eyes of mentally fragile Michael, diffident lost girl Madelaine and Yassir, a potential Islamic insurgent, Chivalry is not science-fiction. Promise.

Night Shift

The first in my ‘Company’ series (I remind you that names might change), this is, even if I do say so myself, a damn good book. It’s set in Antarctica in the near future and this one I can’t deny is science-fiction. It’s also murder mystery and psychological thriller. Anders Nordvelt is the new security chief at Australis, a mining base deep in the wilderness of Antarctica. He’s already struggling to find his place in a closed community when a saboteur strikes, isolating the crew. As the new man, Anders immediately becomes suspect – and when the saboteur turns to murder it becomes imperative that Anders finds the killer… This is the work I took to Winchester Writers’ Conference for professional evaluation, and is the story I’m currently pushing.

Australis

Sequel to Night Shift, this novel follows the development of the Australis mining base as it becomes a city. I don’t want to say too much about this – in part for fear of giving Night Shift secrets away and in part because it’s still a work in progress. The story’s complete and the editing is well and truly underway, but there are still issues that need fixing. There’s a spark missing: something that the previous novel has that this is, at the moment, not there. I am actively mulling. The title of this will almost certainly change. One of the comments I got at Winchester suggested that Australis isn’t a particularly good/original name for a base, so obviously if I change that then the title of this won’t make any sense.

New Gods

The third in the ‘Company’ series, I’m only a few pages through this and the plot isn’t shining fully-formed ahead of me. I’ll talk more about it, I’m sure, as we develop.

And that’s my writing CV. At the moment I’m working on New Gods, plus trying to fix Australis. In the meantime I’m sending out submissions to publishers and agents, trying to get a deal for Night Shift. Fingers crossed, and more writerly ramblings next week.

TTFN, boys and girls.