An Interview With… Megan Jones

Hi everyone, and this afternoon on the blog I’m delighted to welcome Megan Jones. Megan is an editorial assistant for a new northern based division of HarperCollins and is, like myself, from Liverpool.

HarperNorth is based in Manchester, and I was really excited when Megan agreed to answer some questions for me on her current job role, how she started out in the industry and her advice for anyone looking for jobs in publishing.

Over to you, Megan…

1) How did you first become involved in the publishing industry? Did you always plan to become an editor when you left school? Did you have any other career plans?

I graduated from the University of Aberdeen with my MA in English with Creative Writing in 2019, and it was actually in one of my creative writing seminars that editorial really clicked for me. I realised that I enjoyed picking apart and offering suggestions on pieces my classmates had written more so than writing itself. I regularly checked the careers service page and anywhere else for anything that could lead me to the publishing industry. Luckily one day the opportunity was right there: the HarperCollins Graduate Scheme. I applied for the scheme on a whim and after being told that there had been over 1700 applicants wondered how on earth I’d made it to the final 30. I was absolutely over the moon and couldn’t believe it when they told me I’d been selected. I started on the scheme in October of 2019 as one of only two grads, and after completing my first rotation in the role of Communications Assistant interviewed for the permanent position of Editorial Assistant for HarperNorth and here I am!

I never really had any firm plans to be honest, throughout my education I just followed what I was good at and what I enjoyed most. Reading and studying English at A-Level lead me to my degree, and my passion for books landed me where I am today.

2) You completed an MA at the University of Aberdeen. What was your experience of the course like and how has it helped you in your current job role?

I did indeed! I had an amazing time studying at the University of Aberdeen and was offered a really interesting range of modules to study. I think the combination of English with Creative Writing was perfect preparation for my role too. On the English side of my degree I chose modules such as Controversial Classics, Mind and Monstrosity in the Gothic genre, Children’s Literature and The Short Story as a literary form. Meanwhile in Creative Writing I looked at modules like Creativity & Craft and The Writer’s Voice. I read such a wide range of literature and worked hard at crafting my own writing with the help of my lecturers. So much so, that I felt I understood the dynamic between writer and an editor before starting in my role (which was super helpful).

3) What advice would you give to someone wanting to get into publishing?

Keep trudging on. I know it feels like an uphill battle but I promise that there will be light at the end of the tunnel! I also have 6 handy tips:
• Be yourself – because that’s who is coming to work everyday
• Do your research – really look into the company you want to be a part of
• Ask them questions – show them that you’re interested and clued up
• Acknowledge the fact that you don’t know it all yet – but emphasise how
eager you are to learn
• Use what you know – be savvy with the experience you do have
• Always apply yourself – to anything and everything industry related

4) What job would you be doing if you weren’t working in publishing?

Oh this is a difficult one! Potentially journalism, or maybe teaching? Now that I am in the role I’m in I can’t imagine doing anything else!

5) At HarperCollins, what is a typical day for you? Are you attached to a particular genre of novel that you work with?

This one is a little harder to answer; each day is generally quite different (I tend to have similar weeks rather than days). However, daily duties include general admin, taking minutes and also monitoring the general enquiries. I try and put set time aside for any manuscript reading and quite like the expression our Publishing Director Gen uses for my role: essentially I make sure that all the trains are running on time and are going to the correct places. I wouldn’t say that I am attached to a particular genre (I try to be as unbiased as possible when reading), but would say that I am attracted to an authentic voice and a sense of believability in characters.

6) Do you have a favourite genre you enjoy reading? Do you have a guilty pleasure book that you pick up and you can relax with?

I tend to read more fiction than non-fiction (I’m working on that though). I’ll read a wide range from poetry to murder mystery and women’s commercial fiction to gothic. I am a major fan of H.G Wells and also have a soft spot for Arthur Conan Doyle. I would say my guilty pleasure read is Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, because it’s a childhood favourite that never gets old.

7) When you leave your desk on a Friday afternoon, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening/ the weekend, what do you do to relax?

Pop open the prosecco – I’m joking, only sometimes – and go for a wander. During these strange times I’ve been working from home, so I usually get up and debrief with my family after sitting at my desk for so long. Friday evenings I like to enjoy a girls night catching up with different groups of friends (via zoom). My school friends and I are currently running a book club so we like to chat about whatever we’re reading together. I like a good family movie night at the weekend too and then I’ll read in bed to wind down.

8) During lockdown, what have you been reading? Have you found yourself re- reading your favourites or starting new books?

I have read so many manuscripts! But, in terms of reading in my own time, my lockdown list consists of around 20 books so far. I won’t list them all but I’ll give you my highlights:
• Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
• Common People: An Anthology of Working-Class Writers by Various
Authors
• Natives by Akala
• Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi

At the beginning of lockdown I set myself a goal to read those books that I had gathering dust in my bedroom in Liverpool, but as always the ‘to read’ pile gets bigger with each impromptu purchase!

Of course, I always enjoy rereading old loves too for example Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.

9) During lockdown, what have you been watching on television? Do you have a favourite drama that you watch religiously?

Okay well, for years I’ve been told to watch Gossip Girl so I finally binged that. I also devoured I May Destroy You – if you haven’t watched it yet do it – all the good things you’ve heard are true. I don’t have any dramas that I am religiously watching, but I am a sucker for Only Fools and Horses reruns and never get tired of watching the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

10) If you could only listen to Rod Stewart, Freddie Mercury or Brian Johnson (AC/DC), who would you choose and why?

Easy. Freddie Mercury, because he is an absolute legend and one of the greatest frontmen of all time (also if I chose anyone else, I think my dad would disown me). I grew up in a household that played Queen, Pink Floyd, Prince, Whitney Houston, Abba and I could go on! The Jonesy residence is definitely appreciative of the greats.

Thank you for visiting the blog today Megan, and thank you for the opportunity to interview you! I can’t wait to see HarperNorth publish some brilliant books!

Bio: Born and raised in Liverpool, Megan is at the start of her career in publishing. After completing her English with Creative Writing MA at the University of Aberdeen, Megan applied for the HarperCollins Graduate Scheme in 2019 and was selected to be one of two graduates from 1,700 applicants.

During her time on the scheme she took on the role of Communications Assistant, but has since secured a permanent position in the company and is now Editorial Assistant for HarperNorth. Megan looks forward to being a part of the mission to increase regional diversity within the Publishing Industry.

First Drafts With… Kate Simants

Hi everyone, and this morning on the blog I’m delighted to welcome crime and psychological thriller author Kate Simants to the blog.

Although I’m fairly new to Kate’s novels, I was delighted when she agreed to answer a quick question or three about her writing process and how that all important first draft is written.

Over to you, Kate…

1) When you begin the next book, how do you go about it?

I tend to have a vague seed of an idea, though I couldn’t really isolate where they come from. Generally absorbed from the world, is probably the closest I could come to explaining that part!

Then there’s a series of ‘what ifs’. So, taking an example off the top of my head – the blood-chilling story that was in the news a little while ago about the policeman who was working undercover with the climate activists and ended up having a long relationship with one of the activist women who had no idea he was a cop. I’d fire a load of what ifs at that and see what sounded most interesting. What if another officer knew that woman personally, or they were a family member? What if a major climate event changed someone’s mind? What if the policeman killed someone during the undercover work; what if the activist did? What if one of the activists knew? What if they all knew?

I do this with as many questions as I can think of, even if they seem inane – no-one else is going to see this so it doesn’t have to be in any way well-written. Then it starts to coagulate around certain themes.

At the same time, I’m thinking about character. Personally I can forget a plot of a book I’ve loved in about a week, but memorable characters stay there forever. So I get thinking about what got my characters to where they are, what they want, what’s important to them, and most importantly, how they have to change.

2) Do you follow the same process as you did for the book before?

I certainly don’t have a rigid structure for how I go about writing but I suppose as creature of habit we’re likely to replicate previous patterns.

I do like to stress-test the initial idea and see what I can do to it to make it come alive, but it’s also very organic always. I do have to rein in the research a lot of the time though – I used to be a TV researcher so I have a tendency to get very deep into things. There’s a fine line between meticulousness and procrastination.

3) What is your research process, if you have one?

Both of my published books, Lock Me In and A Ruined Girl, contain a lot of research that I had done in my day jobs. Specifics of the police work in Lock Me In needed fact checking, but I had worked on Crimewatch UK and other police-based shows and so I’d already absorbed a lot of the feel and culture of the police.

A Ruined Girl involved children’s homes, which is something I’d done an undercover documentary on, so again, I’d been there, worked inside children’s homes, and that ticked a lot of the research boxes. The lead character in A Ruined Girl is a probation officer though, so I had to track down a source or two – but as it turns out I knew quite a few ex-probation officers who were willing to help.

You do have to be willing to put yourself out there a bit with research, making phone calls and asking for people’s time, but readers (especially, dare I say it, crime readers) expect you to know your stuff, so it all pays off!

4) How quickly after thinking or planning do you sit down to write?

Depends on the deadline! At the moment I’ve gone through a few outlines before settling on one, and I’m straight down to it. Like a lot of working parents I’ve lost a huge amount of time this year because of coronavirus so now the children are back at school, I’m glued to my laptop.

5) How does the draft form on the screen?

Once I have an outline, I make a chapter plan. I know loads of people who swear by software like Scrivener but I haven’t quite found the time to properly try it out, so I create this plan on a spreadsheet.

I do this partly so I can see the trajectory of it clearly and to make sure I don’t dawdle on the page – if a character has to meet another character and discover a piece of evidence within one chapter, I can allocate say 1,500 words to the scene and aim for that. It helps me with pacing.

I don’t necessarily plan out the chapters of the entire thing before I get started but I like to at least have a clear idea of what happens and when in the next handful of scenes.

Usually I go back and edit as I go, but I think that maybe takes too long, so the plan this time is to just write to the end and then go and make it sound nice! I think it’s part of the joy of it to experiment a bit with process too – how do I know I’m doing it right unless I try out other methods?

6) Where do you write the majority of the draft?

At my kitchen table. My house is tiny so there’s no real room for a desk just for writing, but my table has a view to my little garden and that’s fine.

In the last year or so I have forced myself to become a morning person – I’d tried for such a long time to write in the evenings after the kids were in bed but it never really worked, so now I use the other end of the day. I’m up at 5.45, which makes a huge amount of difference.

I make a cafetiere of coffee, start a session on my internet blocker (I use Freedom), put some music on, and get going.

Thank you so much for stopping by the blog this morning Kate. Finding out all about your writing and your draft process was really interesting!

Good luck with your writing! 🙂

Bio: Kate Simants is a writer of psychological thrillers and crime fiction. After a decade working in the UK television industry, specialising in investigative documentaries, police shows and undercover work, Kate relocated from London to Bristol to concentrate on writing.

She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Brunel University (2007) and another in Crime Fiction from the University of East Anglia (2018), where she was the recipient of the UEA Literary Festival Scholarship. Her first novel LOCK ME IN was shortlisted for the 2015 Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger, and is published by HarperCollins.

Kate won the 2019 Bath Novel Award with her second novel THE KNOCKS, which is published by Viper under the title A RUINED GIRL (released August 27th 2020). Kate’s agent is Veronique Baxter at David Higham Associates.

An Interview With… Nick Barron

Hi everyone, and on the blog today is a new interview for me.

Following watching The Deceived, a gripping thrillery twist filled Channel 5 drama, written by Derry Girls’ Lisa McGee (who I am a huge fan of), I was intrigued by the process of how screenwriters go through a similar process to authors.

I’m delighted to have the pleasure to introduce Nick Barron, Lisa’s agent. He very kindly took some time out to answer questions on how he became involved in the industry and what he looks for in a cracking good piece of television.

Over to you, Nick…

1) How did you first become involved in the industry? Did you always want to be an agent when you left school? Did you have any other career plans?

No – I didn’t know what an agent was until I was already working in the industry. When I was 11 and saw the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie I wanted to be a cheerleader or a buyer (‘it just sounds like a cool job – buyer, buying, to buy’). Then when I was 13 and saw Batman Forever I wanted to be a criminal psychologist like Nicole Kidman’s character and when I was 15 and saw Scream I wanted to be a screenwriter like Kevin Williamson. The psychology thing stuck and I did a degree in it until I realised that what I obviously wanted was to work in TV and film. So I got a job as a runner on factual shows like Wife Swap and Faking It, then went into drama as a runner at Kudos Film & TV where they were making Spooks, Hustle and Life on Mars at the time. That’s where I learned what agents are and what they do, so I got an assistant job at a brilliant literary agency and never looked back.

2) What are you looking for in a script? Do you look for a good character or is it the pace or plot that keeps you reading?

All of it really – compelling characters, a great story, natural and well crafted dialogue, subtext… It’s a bit hard to sum up in a hit list which I know is probably frustrating to hear, but really it’s more of a gut feeling.

3) You represent writers across a wide range of genres of television, film and theatre. What do you enjoy most about your job? Do you have a particular favourite out of the three?

I enjoy all of it. They’re very different in lots of ways, though the bulk of what I do is in television and I watch a lot of television and always have.

4) Can you describe the feeling of ‘I really want to represent this writer’? How do you feel when you offer representation?

‘Exciting’ is how I would describe that feeling. When you find a writer whose work resonates with you and who you feel really passionate about, it’s very exciting. And mostly when offering representation you feel hopeful that the writer shares your enthusiasm and that it’s the beginning of a long and productive relationship.

5) What is the editorial process like, working with your client on their material, once you have offered representation?

It varies from writer to writer as everyone is different.

I love the editorial side of what I do, it’s exciting talking to my clients about their ideas and their scripts and hopefully being a sounding board for them, someone who can offer them guidance and helpful feedback either before a third party is involved or alongside that process.

6) When you leave your desk on a Friday, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening/the weekend, what do you do to relax?

Ha – well at the moment given what life has been like this year the first thing I usually do is walk into the living room to see my husband and kids. But once the kids are in bed there is usually a gin and tonic not far behind.

7) Through lockdown, what have you been watching on television? Do you have a favourite drama that you watch religiously or do you have any guilty pleasures?

I loved I May Destroy You and Normal People – and obviously my clients Lisa McGee and Tobias Beer’s brilliant thriller The Deceived. We’ve also watched a lot of RuPaul’s Drag Race in lockdown.

I had never really got involved until the UK version and now my husband and I are crawling back through the past seasons of the show – it’s good escapist fun after a long day.

I don’t have shows I re-watch endlessly but I have seen every episode of Buffy many times over and I can feel a re-watching of My So Called Life brewing – I’m a 90s kid.

8) If you could only listen to Rod Stewart, Freddie Mercury or Brian Johnson (AC/DC), who would it be and why?

None of them are my ‘go to’ but I would have to pick Freddie.

Thank you for your time today, Nick. It was a pleasure to interview you.

Bio: Nick began his career at RDF and then made the move into scripted, joining Kudos for 18 months. From there, he moved to The Agency, where he became a junior agent. In 2008 he left to join The Writers’ Company as an agent and eight years later took over the running of the business.

He joined United Agents in 2017 where he continues to represent writers, directors, producers and script editors working in TV, film and theatre.

10 Questions With… Ian Ayris

Hi everyone, and this evening I’m delighted to welcome crime writer Ian Ayris to the blog. Alongside crime writing, Ian is a creative writing mentor to unpublished authors. I was delighted when he agreed to answer a quick question or three on his journey to publication.

Over to you, Ian…

1) Did you always want to be a writer? Was there a turning point with any particular book that made you go ‘Wow!’

Growing up, I never had any intention of being a writer. I’d probably say – even after I’d had forty or so short stories published, a trilogy of novels, and a novella, it wasn’t until the brilliant Fahrenheit Press published a the trilogy in a single six hundred page volume did I sit back and realise it was me that hadn’t written it. In that moment of realisation, I came close to considering myself a writer.

2) Did you enjoy English at school?

Although I loved writing at school, unfortunately the English teacher I had when I was thirteen didn’t take kindly to my off the wall take on her story titles, putting me down to the bottom English class as a consequence. It took to my late thirties before I wrote anything again. Getting a first class honours degree in English Literature a couple of years became an oddly bitter-sweet achievement.

3) Are you a full time writer? If so, what was your ‘life’ before turning to writing full time?

Although I’d love to be a full-time writer, it remains but a dream. I work full-time as a Teaching Assistant in a junior school, am a supervisor in a counselling agency, and work as part of an Arts Council project teaching Creative Writing and mentor writers throughout the completion of their first novel.

4) What advice would you give to the unpublished author?

Never write with the sole aim of getting published. Write what makes you laugh, what makes you cry, what makes you scared, and angry, and sad. Write something that makes you feel, write it well enough, and someone somewhere who reads your writing will feel it too. Then send it out into the ether. It will land where it will. Now write something else.

5) Did you dream about being an author as a child? Did you often wander round bookshops thinking ‘That will be me one day’?

As I mentioned earlier, I had no notion whatsoever of being a writer. I don’t remember there being many bookshops around in Romford, where I grew up. Other than WH Smiths, I’m not sure there were any. For me, the library was the place I fell in love with books. I never dreamt I’d ever write something that might end up in a library, so to see my books there now is always a surreal feeling.

6) Outside crime fiction, what other genre do you enjoy reading?

Charles Dickens is my favourite. I also love the Russian writers, the likes of Dostoyevsky, Turgenev, Solzhenitsyn, Chekhov. Love Virginia Woolf, Stephen King, Tolkien, John Fante, Spike Milligan, Alan Sillitoe, Herman Melville, Victor Hugo, Jane Austen, and too many more to mention.

7) Through lockdown, what have you been watching on television? Do you have a favourite drama that you watch religiously?

Never been one much for telly. But during Lockdown was blown away by Mindhunter. I’ll watch something if it catches my eye, but television has never much interested me, to be honest.

8) Through lockdown, have you found that your reading habits have changed at all?

Through Lockdown, I have begun reading loads of non-fiction – particularly Roman history – for reasons I really have no idea about.

9) Can you name one fiction author that you admire, and why you like their particular style of writing? Why do their stories intriguing?

Although I love Charles Dickens, it is the books and writing of Solzhenitsyn that I read with absolute awe – particularly One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and The First Circle. Simply incredible books, so profound, so full of pain, the lives of characters examined and pulled apart with the simplest of words. Writing with no pretension, words behind which the reader cannot hide. Brilliant stuff.

10) If you could only listen to Rod Stewart, Freddie Mercury or Brian Johnson (AC/DC), who would you choose and why?

If I lived in a world in which I could only listen to Rod Stewart, Freddie Mercury or Brian Johnson (AC/DC), I would probably throw myself out of the nearest window.

Okay, at a push, Rod Stewart – but only for his cover of Tom Waits Downtown Train.

Thank you for your time this evening Ian, it was a pleasure to interview you. I wish you all the best with your writing and your next novel.

Bio: Ian Ayris was born in Dagenham, Essex, in August 1969. Having spent most of his childhood more interested in kicking a tennis ball about the school playground with his mates than actually learning anything, he managed to leave the public education system in 1985 with but two O’ Levels and a handful of C.S.E.’s. And a love of writing.

His academic achievements set him up nicely for the succession of low paid jobs he has maintained to this day. These jobs have included a three year stint as a delivery boy for an electrical company, five years putting nuts and bolts in boxes in a door factory, one day in a gin factory, and three months in a record shop, He then spent more than twenty years working with adults with mental health issues and learning difficulties. 

In the meantime, Ian qualified as a counsellor, and now supervises trainee counsellors at a counselling agency in Dagenham. He finally completed his English Literature degree in 2018, and has spent the last three years working as a teaching assistant in a local junior school

Ian’s love of writing resurfaced late in his thirties, in the guise of short stories, having his first story published in the legendary Radgepacket. He has since had almost forty short stories published both in print and online, as well as three novels and a novella.

Ian lives with his wife, Karen and dog, Kobi, in Romford, Essex, and is a lifelong Dagenham and Redbridge supporter.

Contact Ian –

Twitter: @ianayris

Website: http://www.ianayris.org

Publishers: Fahrenheit Press (Twitter @fahrenheitpress)

An Interview With… James Keane

Hi everyone, and this evening to the blog I’m delighted to welcome crime fiction editor and publisher James Keane.

James is one of the main team of Northodox Press, an independent crime fiction specialist publishing house in Manchester. Practically a stone throw away from my base in Liverpool, Northodox Press takes its namesake for one reason.

It caters specifically for northern writers, northern voices, characters and settings. They are on the lookout for any writer who fits their criteria. Details on how to submit or get in touch are below.

I was delighted when James agreed to answer a few questions on how he got involved in the industry and Northodox Press.

Over to you, James…

1) How did you first become involved in the publishing industry? Was it something you always wanted to do? Did you have any other career plans?

I approached publishing like most people do. I was an avid reader, worked a weekend job in a bookshop, and dabbled with writing on the side. I applied for a creative writing courseat the University of Derby and while studying, a group of students and myself published a magazine, the now defunct Writer’s Quibble.

After graduating, I searched for publishing jobs in the Midlands and back home in Yorkshire, to little or no avail, as I couldn’t afford to intern or work unpaid for any length of time. For the next year I worked and saved enough money to pursue a masters in publishing. At the time there were fewmaster’s courses in the North of England which compared to their counterparts in London; so I made the decision to move to London and break into the industry.

2) You did a Masters in Publishing. What was your experience of the course like and how has it helped you in your current role?

I studied at City University London which is consistently ranked in the top three publishing courses in the UK. A masters will teach you the A to Z of the industry, help you to understand how every step in the process effects the next, and how the supply chain functions from making the paper to putting the book in the hands of the customer.

My experience was a lot different from most folk. To fund the course and pay rent in London, I had to work obscene hours and split the course over two years to make the most of it. Unfortunately, it meant I couldn’t apply for internships or attend industry events, which would increase my chances of finding a job after the course. I’d recommend that no-one take on a masters lightly, while most publishers state a degree isn’t necessary to success in an application it will set you apart.

However, I managed to find internships which fit around the jigsaw of work and study. Making contacts everywhere I could, freelancing for industry awards and book events, interning for indie presses and digital publishers in various roles, before finally landing a role with one of the big five.

3) You have worked for independent publishers and traditional publishing houses. How did you find your experience? Did you find your previous roles were good experience for Northodox?

The first independent publisher I worked for was a marketing and publicity role. They worked out of a single 20 x 20 metreroom in North London, everyone beavering away, with haphazard towers of books ranging from floor to ceiling. The atmosphere was great and the team we’re instantly welcoming. Even for an indie they were extremely agile and published some phenomenal non-fiction. Small publishers can be as rewarding to work for as the Penguins and Hachette’s of the world, the pay is often comparable and the culture is more social by and large. 

I’ve also worked for one of big five in the production department for around five years. Production is an often undervalued side of the publishing business, typically outsourced to reproduction houses and typesetters, but which rack up the costs if left without due care and a firm hand. If you enjoy fancy finishes, book proofs (galleys/ARCs), and being the first in the team to get your hands on the finished copies, production is the role for you.

The greatest difference between traditional and indie is how grandiose everything feels. The offices are plucked from science fiction or period dramas. There’s always an author event, a birthday, or a champagne moment. It must be said that this was all pre-COVID and at the moment, it’s very much a level playing field for all. Remember publishing is an incredibly small industry, there’s two degrees of separation from anyone in the field, so networking is the be all and end all.

4) Why did you choose to specialise in crime fiction? What do you feel Northodox can offer a new writer?

I was approached by Ted O’Connor and Tom Ashton to set up a northern focused publisher, championing northern voicesand specialising in crime fiction. Quite often, new publishers struggle to develop a brand identity, because their output and audience are too broad and generalised. The decision to concentrate on crime fiction came after a great deal of market research – crime fiction sales represent around 30% of the trade publishing market in the UK, second only to romance.

Northodox Press is digital-first, meaning that the brand centres on eBook and audiobook ahead of print. This means our marketing and publicity efforts will largely focus on social media and traditional media outlets. Our distribution channels offer a global reach within the Commonwealth and the English speaking world.

The team have had successful careers in the publishing industry, for independent and traditional publishers, literaryand marketing agencies, to name a few. We’ve positioned ourselves competitively in the market and carved out a niche we hope will springboard us into sales success. Publishing is a gamble at the end of the day, but with enough marketing impetus, and the support of regional media outlets we’re primed to give authors a comparable offering to the likes of Canelo and Bookouture.

We have plans to expand into other genres in the future. That being said our crime fiction tastes take in the full spectrum the genre has to offer, whether that’s historical, fantast, sci-fi, or romance.

5) Where do you start with the submission package? The cover letter, the synopsis or the sample writing?

A well-conceived cover letter can’t be understated when sending submissions. It’s your template for all future conversations with a publisher and should be viewed as your writing resume. A poorly formatted email will put you in bad stead, a confrontational email might earn you the ubiquitous wall of silence, and a YA novel to a crime fiction publisher might just earn you chirping crickets or a sarcastic cough from the back row. 

It’s imperative you do your research before sending a submission to a publisher or agent. If you’ve spent six months to a year writing and editing a manuscript, you owe yourself a couple of weeks or months to select the right publisher and review their guidelines.

We request the first three chapters or 10,000 words. Make sure the manuscript has been proofread, preferably by someone you don’t know, not a friend or a family member. You can organise a writer’s swap with another author to sense-read or proofread one another’s manuscripts. All of the above assure that when an editor opens a submission they do so confidently and the writing speaks for itself.

6) What are your views on the fiction market currently? Across the crime genre, what would you like to see more of that hasn’t been submitted before to you?

The fiction market is encouraging at the moment. We haven’t seen a significant lull in sales over the period of lockdown oras the restrictions have been lifted. The bulk of these sales have come through e-retailers and the high street bookstores online. Notable titles over the lockdown include Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race resurfacing following the death of George Floyd. The current crop of Booker/Not the Booker Prize Longlist also peeking reader’s interests. Can Hilary Mantel seal her third Booker Prize for The Mirror & the Light or as I suspect Douglas Stuart’s class-conscious Shuggie Bain will sweep the prize.

The North East is currently dominating with two cracking non-fiction reads from the Ramsey’s Sh**ged. Married. Annoyed and Ant & Deck’s Once Upon a Tyne. We’ve been blindsided the by the response from Liverpudlian and Mancunian authors who have delivered some excellent submissions. But very few submissions from the North East, Yorkshire, and Humberside – don’t let the side down lads and lasses! 

We’d love to see strong female characters dominate the bookshelves, writers of diverse backgrounds, underrepresented voices in the LGBTQ+ scene, and of course genre defying crime fiction – where are my dystopian detectives, Saxon serial killers, or enchanted private eyes?

7) When you leave your desk, on a Friday afternoon, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening/the weekend, what do you do to relax?

Friday nights are movie nights with the family, we cook dinner and catch up on Zoom.

Of a weekend, it’s always good to get out for some exercise, I like to listen to a podcast or an audiobook before burning through the submissions pile.

Northodox is my current all-consuming hobby, even if my subconscious or significant other reminds me to stick to normal working hours.

8) During lockdown, what have you been watching on television? Do you have a favourite drama that you watch religiously?

Tiger King and Love is Blind were binge worthy, car crash television at the start of lockdown, I’m not ashamed to say. I’ve enjoyed watching Disney or Studio Ghibli films with my partner and catching up on the films I missed in 2019.

Great movie night choices I can recommend are, Peanut Butter Falcon and Captain Fantastic for your indie fix. And to top it off, a career-defining film for Adam Sandler, Uncut Gems, one of the most tense and nerve-wracking films you’re ever likely to experience this year.

9) During lockdown, what have you been reading? Have you found that your habits have changed?

My challenge over the past couple of years was to read more non-fiction and more novels written by women, to combat my own biases.

I started lockdown reading Beth O’Leary witty and deliciously re-readable Flatshare and N K Jemini’s Lovecraftian, genre-bending The City We Became.

Then like most people during lockdown and especially after the BLM protests with the broader discussions around privilege and diversity I’ve tried to engage more with writers of colour and various backgrounds dissimilar to my own. I picked up Man Booker Prize winning Girl, Women, Other and Candace Carty-William’s Queenie before devouring both in a matter of days.

An ongoing read which I keep near my bed is David Olusoga’s Black and British, both eye-opening and shame-inducing in equal measures. I highly recommend people read Akala’s Natives and Afua Hirsch’s Brit-ish, to understand the wider context of Britain’s role in the slave trade and the perspective of young black Britons.

10) If you could only listen to Rod Stewart, Freddie Mercury or Brian Johnson (AC/DC), who would you choose and why?

Freddie Mercury, without hesitation. There’s a line in Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett that every CD left in a car eventually becomes the Greatest Hits of Queen, which sums up the universality of their music quite nicely I think.

As a queer young man, I definitely connect with Freddie on a personal level, and though he died before I was born, I can’t help but feel a close connection.

Thank you for your time this evening James. It has been a pleasure to interview you.

I wish Northodox Press all the best in their hunt for publishing the best new northern crime novels around.

How to contact Northodox…

Website: http://www.northodox.co.uk

General enquires: admin@northodoxpress.co.uk

Submissions: submissions@northodoxpress.co.uk

Twitter: @northodoxpress

10 Questions With… Adam Hamdy

Hi everyone, and today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome crime writer Adam Hamdy.

I met Adam at Waterstones in Liverpool at a debut signing for a local author, Caz Finlay, who has now gone on to write one of my new favourite series in crime fiction.

I was delighted when Adam allowed me to interview him about his writing journey.

Over to you Adam…

1) Did you always want to be a writer? Was there a turning point with any particular book that made you go ‘Wow!’

I’ve always written, but I never thought I could be a professional writer. I’m from a working class family and earning a living from writing wasn’t something I considered possible. I’ve always been an avid reader, so there wasn’t any particular book I can recall that made me go ‘Wow!’ but there were authors like John Wyndham, Stephen King and Alexander Dumas whose work really struck a chord.

2) Did you enjoy English at school?

I loved English and have always written stories. One of my English teachers told my parents he was worried about me because I’d written a thriller about someone trying to stop a bomb going off on a plane as my class short story project.

3) Are you a full time writer? If so, what was your ‘life’ before turning to writing full time?

I am a full time writer. Prior to becoming a writer, I was a strategy consultant and travelled the world advising big companies how to make more money.

4) What advice would you give to the unpublished author?

Spend time figuring out who you really are. It will help you find your voice as a writer, and understand what it is that you want to say. Live an interesting life, meet unusual people, learn how to find stories in unexpected places.

5) Did you dream about being an author as a child? Did you often wander round bookshops thinking ‘That will be me one day’?

I didn’t think become an author was even a possibility. My family didn’t know any authors and it certainly wasn’t one of the options discussed on careers day.

6) Outside crime fiction, what other genre do you enjoy reading?

I love science fiction and fantasy. I also read literary fiction and non-fiction, particularly scientific books.

7) Through lockdown, what have you been watching on television? Do you have a favourite drama that you watch religiously?

Who has time for television? I’ve been working on a new book and a TV show. I’ve learned to sail and have joined the advisory board of a genetic medicine company. It’s been a busy time. I will, however, always make time for Bosch.

8) Through lockdown, have you found that your reading habits have changed at all?

I’ve had less time for reading, because of everything that’s been going on. I’m hoping that will change as my TBR pile is growing.

9) Can you name one fiction author that you admire, and why you like their particular style of writing? Why do their stories intrigue you?

Anthony Horowitz. Clever, beautiful style, marvellously constructed stories and characters who live and breathe. I’m also a big fan of David Mitchell for the same reasons.

10) If you could only listen to Rod Stewart, Freddie Mercury or Brian Johnson (AC/DC), who would you choose and why?

Come on. No Led Zeppelin?! Freddie Mercury. He had a wonderful voice and was a complete outsider at a time when breaking from the norm took real bravery.

Thank you for your time visiting the blog today Adam. Wishing you lots of luck with your next novel and screenwriting.

Bio: Adam Hamdy is an author, screenwriter and filmmaker who has worked with studios and producers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Adam is currently writing Oracle, an original drama series, for the BBC, and is developing To Kill A Shadow, a crime thriller, with See-Saw Films. In addition to his own original work, Adam has adapted a number of comic books and novels for the screen, including the forthcoming film version of David Mitchell’s novel, Number9Dream.

Prior to becoming a writer, Adam was a strategy consultant and advised global businesses operating in a wide range of industries.

Adam’s first novel, Out Of Reach, was published by Dare in 2015. His second, Pendulum, was published by Headline in November 2016. The follow-up, Freefall, was published in November 2017.

Days after Pendulum’s release, the screen rights were snapped up by Tom Hardy’s production company, Hardy Son & Baker.

An Interview With… Max Edwards

Hi everyone, and this afternoon I’m delighted to welcome literary agent Max Edwards to the blog. Max is an agent at Aevitas Creative, based in London and he was kind enough to answer a few questions on what he has been up to in lockdown, how he first got involved in the industry and what he looks for in submissions.

Details on what Max is looking for, and how to submit are below.

Over to you, Max…

1) How did you first become involved in the publishing industry? Did you always plan to be a literary agent when you left school? Did you have any other career plans?

I went to university to do English because I loved reading, and stories, before anything else – as such I realised quite early on in my uni career I wanted be in publishing of some kind. University in London helped that enormously – I made an effort to go to events, particularly in the Science Fiction/fantasy world (my first love!), which would happen at the old Blackwells on Charing Cross, or the old Foyles building, or elsewhere. And it was a lovely, tight knit community (I have loads of friends and colleagues I first met there), with authors, fans, and, importantly, editors and agents who would all attend each others’ launches or talks. I ended up chatting with Anne Perry, then a new editor at Hodder, who kindly arranged some work experience. I also had a friend at FSG in New York who helped me get a week at Tor/Macmillan here. So with those two under my belt, and the advantage of being in London, I looked for more work experience/internships, one of which was at Sheil Land Literary Agency and another at Blake Friedmann Literary Agency – I fell in love with that side, having fingers in every part of the publishing pie, from the editorial to the contractual to the financial and the closeness of relationship with authors.

2) You studied English at university. What was your experience like of the course and how has it helped you in your current role?

Honestly, I’d recommend not doing an English degree to get into publishing. I didn’t really enjoy being told what to read, within a certain scope. Yes, of course it gives a theoretical grounding in literature, but really I wanted to read what I loved. It killed that sense of wonder and exploration from a good book for me for a bit. I actually got in to a history course originally, before rejecting it in favour of English – and regretted it. Publishing takes all sorts – its not a career that needs a certain course to study, and thinking outside the box (and having a different experience) can be a massive boon. I have a friend who runs an imprint at a major independent who did a degree in evolutionary biology, and I think it helps make her taste and experiences broader and more interesting.

3) What would you say defines a high concept thriller? What, currently, are you looking for in submissions?

I work across both fiction and non-fiction, with non-fiction being the predominant element of my list. As a result, I take on quite a small number of novels and novelists, and there has to be a real ‘wow’ moment for whatever reason. Key to that is plot, and hook – a great high concept has the clue in the name: high concept. I have recently sold an incredible book that I pitched as THE SEVEN DEATHS OF EVELYN HARDCASTLE meets WESTWORLD with a dash of BLACK MIRROR – which tells you neatly that it’s a complex murder mystery with AI and neat examinations of technology. This, to me, was nectar. A great high concept is a twist on one element of the world – be it reliving your life, with all you memories intact (THE FIRST FIFTEEN LIVES OF HARRY AUGUST), the world’s rotation stopping and that fallout (THE LAST DAY by Andrew Hunter Murray) or four mysterious plane crashes with three child survivors, all somehow linked (Sarah Lotz’s THE THREE), it take an event, a twist on our world, and plays with the consequences. Give me that sweet sweet hook, and I’m all over it.

4) Where do you start with the submission package? The cover letter, the synopsis or sample writing? What would make you want to request the full manuscript?

When I look at a submission, I work in a rule of three: Three paragraphs of the cover letter (can they write, have they spelt my name right, do they comp well); three paragraphs of the MS (is the sentence-by-sentence good enough, do I care, does it start waking up in bed [booo!]), three pages, then three chapters. You have to grip me at every stage, make me care enough to get to the end of your 7,500 or so words, and if you’re doing that, I want to see the rest. I hate synopses. I never read them.

5) Can you describe the first initial phone call with a client? How do you feel when you offer representation?

If, after reading an author’s words, I think three things – is it good enough, can I sell it (not always the same – one has to consider the commerciality of a project) and am I adding value –  its time to try and woo them. I’ll chat to an author to sound them out, what they want from the book, what they’re thoights are with regard an editorial process, what they know or otherwise about the publishing process, how I would work with them (I’m quite ‘hands-on’, I like to edit quite hard), what their timeline is like, are they, and this is vital, a dick (I haven’t met any yet – but I want to at the very least like and respect my clients!! And you can’t do that if they’re a bit of a dick.) With luck, you end that call offering representation – you have a plan, you know how you’ll work together, where you’re both going with the project, what they want and you fell you have a realistic chance of meeting those expectations.

It is the absolute best thing when you offer representation, and a client says yes! You go into it feeling nervous, selling yourself, what you can do with the book, asking an author to trust you with something precious, and then they do – its amazing, and a real honour. Of course, I’d always recommend authors go with their gut – this book is one of the most important things in your life, from a time, emotion and reputation basis, and you should only ever sign with someone you believe in as much as we believe in you.

6) What are your views on the fiction and nonfiction market currently? Across both genres, what would you like to see more of that hasn’t been submitted before to you?

I think lockdown/covid has hurt the midlist – books I’d have expected to have sold nine months ago have struggled, particularly in fiction. Publishers are snapping up ‘surefire’ hits – celebrity, memoir with an edge, big commercial novels – but are taking less risks, obviously to secure their bottom line against what will be, without a doubt, the worst year economically on record for the vast majority of publishers. I’d love, however, to keep working on the books I love – in fiction, I want fresh, hooky novels that straddle the speculative and the commercial (or are just straight hooky commercial), or are on the literary end of straight reading group in fiction, a mega epic fantasy with a new approach; in non-fiction, a new history of something with a great angle (I really want a big history of Persia!), an investigative book about a big cultural subject (I’m on the hunt for a book on gambling, for eg), memoir with punch, from the ‘professional confessional’ like my clients Nick Pettigrew, whose Anti-Social explored his life as an Anti-Social Behaviour Officer, or Dr Dominic Pimenta, who is writing as a doctor on the frontlines of Covid in Duty of Care, to the more interior, like Charlie Gilmour’s wonderful Featherhood, recently released, or Kerry Hudson’s magnificentLowborn; and above all, more books by female non-fiction writers, who are underrepresented across all non fiction genres.

7) When you leave your desk, on a Friday afternoon, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening/the weekend, what do you do to relax?

I’m a massive football fan, and my masochistic hobby is that I referee at a decent standard. SO normally I’ll have a game on Saturday afternoonand Sunday morning, and will watch the Premier League around that. I also, obviously, read a lot, both fiction and non-fiction, am into my computer games and love to go and visit the cinema, or theatre, or whatnot with my girlfriend (I went out for an actual cultural event last week, for the first time since February. Long may it continue!). It can be quite hectic, but it takes my mind to different places and weirdly focuses me better on my work.

8) During lockdown, what have you been watching on television? Do you have a favourite drama that you watch religiously?

A lot of easy watches! I’ve just fiished bingeing Selling Sunset, which is ridiculous but fun, and before that watched all of No Offence, which is a darkly funny female-fronted police procedural on Channel 4 by the guy who did Shameless. I love cops, wise guys/gals, big ticket drama and silly, meta comedies.

9) During lockdown, what have you been reading? Have you found that your habits have changed?

It took me until the end of April to actually get through a non-work book after lockdown. I needed to ease myself back in through simpler reads – Pratchett was the first, and I’ve got massively into a YA author, MA Bennett, with whom I’m can just immerse myself. But recently I’m getting back to relative normality – I just finished The Biggest Bluff by Maria Konnikova, about her journey through poker and an exploration of luck, and listened to my favourite crime writer, Joy Ellis’, new book They Disappeared on Audible.

10) If you could only listen to Rod Stewart, Freddie Mercury or Brian Johnson (AC/DC), who would you choose and why?

That’s bloody difficult. I love all three – I’ve seen both Rod and AC/DC in concert, so I guess I’d go for Freddie and Queen – if only because I can belt out Don’t Stop Me Now one minute, and Killer Queen the next, but take a ballad-y break with Somebody to Love or The Show Must Go On…

Thank you for your time today, Max. It has been a pleasure to interview you.

Bio: Max graduated from Kings College, London with a degree in English language. He worked as a bookseller at Blackwell’s in Oxford and for Sports Interactive, developers of the computer game Football Manager, before moving into publishing. He worked at a number of literary agencies including United Agents and Rogers, Coleridge and White, and set-up Apple Tree Literary in 2019 before joining ACM UK.

What I’m Looking For: Max Edwards represents both non-fiction, working with a number of journalists, thinkers and academics writing for a trade audience, and adult fiction, predominantly commercial, SFF and crime novelists. Non-fiction he represents include Sunday Times Middle East Correspondent Louise Callaghan for Father of Lions; Suzanne Wrack, The Guardian’s Women’s Football Correspondent for A Woman’s Game: The History of Women’s Football; palaeontologist Dr David Hone for The Modern Age of Dinosaurs; and Jay Owen’s Planet of Dust: How We Live in a Changing World. Fiction includes Aliya Whiteley’s Clarke Award shortlisted The Loosening Skin, crime novels from Guy Morpuss and fantasy from Juliet E. McKenna.

In fiction, Max is looking for commercial and genre novels, and is a massive fan of novels that mix genres in a unique way. He’s a sucker for high concepts, smart plots and unique characters – twists and turns, good (and bad) guys with depth and life. Max is also looking for great stories that can be told through non-fiction; either unique or surprising takes on a subject, or something wildly original. He’d love to hear from academics mixing the arts and science in a new way, journalists wanting to take their writing beyond the article, sports writers with a new way of exploring what we play (particularly football/soccer), or writers with an untold history to tell.

How to submit: Please send a cover letter, a synopsis and the first twenty pages of your manuscript.

10 Questions With… Mari Hannah

Hi everyone, and today I’m honoured to have the opportunity to interview crime writer Mari Hannah. I attended my first ever Harrogate festival for crime writers in July 2019, and when I got in touch with Mari to ask whether she would like to be featured, I thought I would get a polite rejection.

I was astounded when she said yes. Read on for my questions on her WOW moment with a book, her great advice to authors looking for publication and our shared love of the Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody.

Over to you, Mari…

1) Did you always want to be a writer? Was there a turning point with any particular book that made you go ‘Wow!’

I had no aspirations to be a writer as a child. I came to it by accident rather than design. More of this in question 3.

In terms of reading crime fiction, Michael Connelly’s debut was my WOW moment. (I may have mentioned this a few thousand times before!)The Black Echo blew me away. I loved everything about it: the authenticity, the dialogue and, of course, meeting LAPD detective Harry Bosch.

2) Did you enjoy English at school?

Not really. I was a maths girl.

3) Are you a full time writer? If so, what was your ‘life’ before turning to writing full time?

I am. I used to be a probation officer. I loved my job until an assault by an offender put me out of action and eventually led to early retirement. My background in criminal justice provided me with insight into law, psychology and the motivation of criminals, all useful tools when I turned to writing as a hobby. Then I got the bug and decided to pursue a second career as a professional writer.

4) What advice would you give to the unpublished author?

Write what makes you happy.

Edit, edit and repeat. When your manuscript is as good as you can possibly make it, crack on withyour search for a literary agent. They have all the contacts and knowledge to help you progress to the next stage. The minimum time it takes for busy agents to read submissions and get back to writers is six weeks – some take many months. If an agent turns you down, chin up and move on to the next. Every rejection represents just one person’s opinion. Patience, belief and perseverance are key.

5) Did you dream about being an author as a child? Did you often wander round bookshops thinking ‘That will be me one day’?

No, I honestly didn’t. I dreamed of being an Olympic swimmer. A motorcycle accident put paid to that. I was thirteen and had been picked for an ‘All England’ trial. My fault I missed out. It was drummed into me never to accept a lift and still I climbed on as pillion and woke up in the middle of the road! Swimming dreams over.

6) Outside crime fiction, what other genre do you enjoy reading?

Non-fiction biographies mostly. I’m usually researching real cases or areas of science that are linked to the book I’m writing. I love research.

7) Through lockdown, what have you been watching on television? Do you have a favourite drama that you watch religiously?

My mother died during lockdown. I couldn’t read for weeks afterwards. Ozark and Schitt’s Creek got me through the darkest of times.

It’s a dream of mine to see my characters realised on screen. Screenplays were my first love. As it happens, my crime debut The Murder Wall was adapted from a crime pilot I created for the BBC. There are now seven books in the Kate Daniels series which are now in development with Sprout Pictures. 

I also write two other series: Stone and Oliver; Ryan and O’Neil. All my books are based in and around Northumberland where I live with the odd trip to foreign shores if the plots take me there.

8) Through lockdown, have you found that your reading habits have changed at all?

I’ve partly answered this above. Bereavement hit me hard. Life as I knew it stopped and I was unable to concentrate for long enough to get stuck in. Instead, I listened to a lot of audiobooks, new and backlist titles. There’s a lot to be said for being read to.

9) Can you name one fiction author that you admire, and why you like their particular style of writing? Why are their stories intriguing?

I’m currently working my way through Mick Herron’s brilliant Slough House series on Audible. Mick is a very skilled writer. He has a wonderful way with words and a dry sense of humour that hits the spot for me, enough to keep me reading about spooks rather than coppers. Seán Barrett is a fabulous narrator who makes the stories come live.

10) If you could only listen to Rod Stewart, Freddie Mercury or Brian Johnson (AC/DC), who would you choose and why?

Freddie every time. He was such an entertainer. I adored the biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. Rami Malek did a great job. Highly recommend it if you’ve not seen it.

Thanks for inviting me to your blog, Ellie. Thank you for your time today Mari and for allowing me to interview you. I can’t wait to read Without a Trace!

Bio: Multi-award winning Mari Hannah is the author of the Kate Daniels series of police procedurals, the Ryan and O’Neil crime series and the Stone and Oliver series. She lives in a small Northumberland village with her partner, a former murder detective.

Her career as a Probation Officer was cut short following an assault on duty. It was then that the idea that she might one day become a writer began to form in her head. 

She first pitched her idea for a crime series to the BBC, winning a place on their North East Voices Drama Development Scheme. When it ended, she adapted the screenplay of The Murder Wall into a book she had started years before but somehow never finished.

In 2010, she won the Northern Writers’ Award for Settled Blood before she had found an agent, let alone a publisher. Three years later, she won the Polari First Book Prize for her debut, The Murder Wall. Fast forward a few years and her body of work won her the CWA Dagger in the Library 2017.

In 2019 she was honoured to follow Lee Child as Programming Chair for Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, the biggest of its type in the world. Also in 2019, she was awarded DIVA Wordsmith of the Year.

Her Kate Daniels series is in development for TV with Sprout Pictures, a production company owned by Gina Carter and Stephen Fry.

First Drafts With… Nick Quantrill

Hi everyone, and today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome crime writer Nick Quantrill. Nick is based in Hull and with his new Joe Geraghty novel coming out tomorrow, I was delighted when he kindly set aside some time to answer some questions on his first draft process!

Over to you, Nick…

1) When you begin the next book, how do you go about it?

Essentially, I start thinking about a new book once I hit the half-way point in the one I’m actually working on. I think it’s a mental thing – if I’m going downhill and working towards the final scenes, I can start to let my mind about what might come next. Usually at this stage I’ll have several ideas on the boil, but it’s likely one will start to come to the fore.

I’ll start things off by doing the initial research I think is absolutely necessary, usually via a pile of books and online sources, but the key thing is a fresh note pad and giving myself permission to doodle and think. I’ll sketch out a few ideas for scenes and try to develop the skeleton I’m going to hang the novel on. My latest is ‘Sound of the Sinners’, the fourth in the Joe Geraghty Private Investigator series.

Having last seen Joe walking away from our sharedhome city of Hull a few years ago, I immediately had questions which required answers – where has she been for the last six years? Why has he come back to Hull after leaving it behind? I also knew that it had to be a suitable jumping in point for new readers without a load of back-story and act as a fresh start.

2) Do you follow the same process you did for the book before?

Pretty much. I know of writers who mix it up when it comes to writing their novels, but I see my process as refining what’s gone before. My aim (and hope) is that I nail the planning element more efficiently each time, mainly so I don’t waste so much time and so many words when I eventually figure out how it should go. I’m probably a planner as a writerand need to have a fair idea of how the novel will play out before properly attacking it. What has been a massive help with the current work in progress is Alexandra Sokoloff’s ‘Stealing Hollywood’.

It takes the basic structure of films we all know (or can quickly watch), like ‘Silence of the Lambs’, and explains how that knowledge can be applied to a novel. It’s proved a revelation in terms of helping me refine my planning and nailing down a structure.

3) What is your research process, if you have one?

I tend to write fairly low-level research books. After writing an unpublished police procedural novel, I knew I wanted to step away from something that relied heavily on being ‘correct’. Creating a Private Investigator gave me many of the same things, but without the same deference to the law. Similarly, I’m not really interested in forensics beyond the basics, my interests lie elsewhere. The novel I’m currently working on looks at the illegal rave scene in the late 1980s and the world of podcasts.

I’m mainly researching via books, online resources and listening. Research is often a pleasure, but you don’t want it to be too much of one. To stop myself going off on a tangent, I try to only research when a specific need or question arises.

4) How quickly after thinking or planning do you sit down to write?

It’s essentially immediately afterwards. The planning element will have been an ongoing process running alongside writing my current novel, so once it’s off my desk, it’s out of my mind. I can then immerse myself in the world of the new story and hit the ground running.

Often, I’ll play around with the opening scenes for a while, the first 10k-15k. A lot of writers say that bit is the easiest, as you can often see those attention-grabbing scenes in your head. I can’t. It takes me a while to work myself into a novel and get something I’m happy with.

5) How does the draft form on the screen?

From talking to other writers, I have a slightly weird system… I’ve essentially invented my own homemade, dirt cheap version of Scrivener or similar software. I break each scene down and always sketch them out on a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, often right down to the dialogue.

I certainly think about them in terms of beginning, middle and end, as well as what it’s purpose is within the wider story.

I then write the scene on a separate Microsoft Word document along with a number and title eg ’01 – Joe visits the crime scene and is attacked’. Once I’ve completed the scene, I paste it into a master document containing the full novel. The reason I do this is that when I look in the folder with the individually numbered scenes in it, I’ve got an instant overview of the novel and its structure.

It makes it so much easier to move scenes around and edit, both on the go and at the end of the first draft.

6) Where do you write the majority of the draft?

Sadly, I don’t have news of an amazing office space to share with you. I write the bulk of my words on my laptop, which is balanced on my knee in my front room. Routine and discipline is important, as it’s like running a marathon, so it works fine for me. Usually, the house is empty when I write, so I control the environment.

Like many, lockdown changed circumstances, so I’ve had to learn how to share the space with my wife (teaching from home) and my daughter (trying to learn from home). It’s fine, and people have had to grapple with far more serious situations, but maybe one day I’ll get that amazing office space to myself…

Thank you for visiting the blog today Nick – finding out all snout your first draft process was really interesting!

Nick’s new novel ‘Sound of the Sinners’ is published by Fahrenheit Press, 28th August.

Link: https://fahrenheit-press.myshopify.com/collections/latest-releases/products/sound-of-the-sinners-nick-quantrill-1

Website: www.nickquantrill.co.uk

10 Questions With… Paul Burston

Hi everyone, today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome Paul Burston. Although I have only recently discovered Paul’s writing through his psychological thriller, The Closer I Get, I was delighted when he agreed to an interview about his writing journey.

Over to you, Paul…

1) Did you always want to be a writer? Was there a turning point with any particular book that made you go ‘Wow!’

I’ve always written stories. At junior school, I used to write adventure stories and my friend Caroline would provide the illustrations. If there’s one book that made me go ‘wow’ it’s Carrie by Stephen King. I first read it aged 11 and it blew my mind. It still does. I had no idea that I might one day end up writing for a living. It just wasn’t something that people from my background did.

2) Did you enjoy English at school?

It was always my best subject. I was lucky enough to have English teachers who really encouraged me – Mrs Price at junior school and Mr Archard at comprehensive. He also ran reading and writing groups after school, which I really enjoyed.

3) Are you a full time writer? If so, what was your ‘life’ before turning to writing full time?

I balance writing books with running literary events and bits of journalism, so it’s very much a writer’s life. Before becoming an author I worked full time as a journalist, and before that I was an activist. I studied until my mid 20s – a BA in English and Drama and then an MA in Drama and Film. Then I became an AIDS activist. A lot of friends were personally affected by HIV/AIDS. Seeing men struck down in their 20s and 30s terrified me, but it also galvanised me and spurred me on. I started pitching ideas to magazines and newspapers. I had my first piece published in a magazine when I was 25 and my first non-fiction book published when I was 29.

4) What advice would you give to the unpublished author?

Try to write as often as you can, even if it’s just for an hour. The more often you write, the better you’ll become. And try to find a support network of like-minded people. Join a writing group – or form one with a friend. It helps to give you discipline and also provides encouragement. Writing can be a very lonely, self-isolating occupation. It’s important to have a support network.

5) Did you dream about being an author as a child? Did you often wander round bookshops thinking ‘That will be me one day’?

I did, but only in a very romantic way. Writers were my heroes even as a small kid – Enid Blyton, Gerald Durrell, then later Stephen King and Oscar Wilde. But I never thought that one day I might publish a book of my own, let alone have a dozen books to my name. I still get a buzz whenever I see one of my books in a library or a bookshop. That feeling never gets old.

6) Outside crime fiction, what other genre do you enjoy reading?

I read a lot of music and film star biographies – I’ve probably read every book about David Bowie ever published. I also read a fair amount of literary fiction. I loved Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other, Susie Boyt’s Love & Fame and Philip Hensher’s A Small Revolution in Germany. I think the distinctions between literary and commercial or genre fiction are often arbitrary. I’m pretty omnivorous in my reading.

7) Through lockdown, what have you been watching on television? Do you have a favourite drama that you watch religiously?

I’ve watched all six season of Schitts Creek – twice over. It’s so witty and heartwarming, which is what I needed to help wind down in the evenings. And I’ve returned to Frasier, which is my favourite sitcom of all time. I’ve also caught up on a few TV dramas I missed the first time round. I’m currently watching This Is Us.

8) Through lockdown, have you found that your reading habits have changed at all?

Very much so. I’ve tended to read less crime and more cosy favourites like Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City.

9) Can you name one fiction author that you admire, and why you like their particular style of writing? Why do their stories intriguing?

I love Lisa Jewell’s books. I’ve followed her since her debut novel, Ralph’s Party. She’s a very insightful writer, who creates characters you instantly connect with. And she knows how to keep the reader guessing, which is especially important in crime fiction but can also apply to other genres. Tension and surprise are important elements of story telling. For me, plot alone isn’t enough – a book has to have compelling characters. She’s brilliant at both.

10) If you could only listen to Rod Stewart, Freddie Mercury or Brian Johnson (AC/DC), who would you choose and why?

Rod Stewart. I was never a massive fan, but he’s been around for as long as I can remember and so many of his songs take me back to key moments in my life. We also share a fondness for leopard print.

Thank you for visiting the blog today, Paul. It was a pleasure to interview you!

Bio: Paul Burston is the author of five novels and the editor of two short story collections.

His latest novel The Black Path, was longlisted for The Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize 2016 and was a bestseller at WHSmith.

His first novel, Shameless (2001), was shortlisted for the State of Britain Award.

His third, Lovers & Losers (2007), was shortlisted for a Stonewall Award.

His fourth, The Gay Divorcee (2009), was opted for television.

He was a founding editor of Attitude magazine and has written for many publications including The Guardian, The Independent, Time Out, The Times and The Sunday Times.

In 2007 he founded London’s award-winning LGBT literary salon Polari and in 2011 he created The Polari First Book Prize.

In March 2016, he was featured in the British Council’s Five Films 4 Freedom Global List 2016, celebrating “33 visionary people who are promoting freedom, equality and LGBT rights around the world” – www.britishcouncil.org

His early life as an AIDS activist with ACT-UP forms part of a verbatim play, Riot Act, by Alexis Gregory at The King’s Head, August 2018.

Paul’s next novel, The Closer I Get, will be published by Orenda Books in 2019. His website is http://www.paulburston.com

Follow Paul on twitter: @PaulBurston

Follow Paul on Instagram: @paulburston1

Follow Paul on Facebook: @paulburstonauthor

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