An Interview With… Amanda Preston

Hi everyone, and this morning I’m delighted to welcome literary agent Amanda Preston to the blog. Amanda co founded LBA Books with Luigi Bonomi in 2005. She was kind enough to answer some questions, particularly about that all important query letter.

Below the interview, you can find what she looks for in submissions.

Over to you Ananda…

1) Did you see yourself becoming a literary agent after you left school? Did you actually have any other career plans?

I always wanted to travel the world so when I left university, my first thought was to try and be a travel writer and work for the Lonely Planet. That way I could visit as many countries as possible and be paid for it too! I did work experience for the Lonely Planet and I quickly discovered that all their writers only wrote about countries or cities that they had lived in (at the time a writer had to have lived in the place for 10 years), so I had to rethink my career plans! By chance and by great luck, I did a temping job at a literary agency which resulted in getting a full time job there and I’ve never looked back. I’ve always been an avid reader and I feel incredibly grateful to be able to do a job which involves doing one of things I love most.

2) If you had to choose between literary and commercial, which would it be and why?

That’s a tough question. I’ll happily read literary or commercial (and a lot of books fall into that crossover bracket), as long as the storytelling is well-written and I’m hooked from the start.

3) What do you consider a standout query letter?

For me, it is when it is obvious the author clearly reads in the area they are writing in and is able to pitch their work in one or two lines – instantly telling me what the book is about while simultaneously grabbing my attention.

4) On the other hand, what wouldn’t attract you to a submission?

When an author is clearly dismissive of the area they are writing in and it is obvious that the author doesn’t actually enjoy reading in the area they are writing in

5) What are your views on the crime and thriller market currently? Do you feel that there is a sub genre in need of more representation?

The crime and thriller market is still a buoyant market in terms of sales (you only have to look at the Sunday Times bestseller fiction charts and the Amazon kindle top 100 charts to see this) and it is great to see more and more high-concept, clever debuts being bought (with a more diverse cast of characters and in less typically associated roles in this genre) but I would love to see more.

6) Do you have a genre that you read for pleasure?

I would happily immerse myself in any genre, as long as the book captivates me.

7) Is there any genre of book that you wouldn’t read?

No, I don’t think there is.  

8) What was the last book you read, that wasn’t one of your clients, and if so, did you enjoy it?

I’ve just read The Last by Hanna Jameson and really enjoyed it. Great concept, great writing and incredibly gripping.

9) Once you leave your desk for the day, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening, what do you do to relax?

To get home I have a 15 minute tube journey and a 15 minute walk from the station so I usually listen to a podcast. On Fridays, the general agreement in my household is that it is pizza and movie night and no work!

10) If you had a choice of Freddie Mercury or Rod Stewart, who would you choose and why?

Freddie Mercury. Whenever I hear one of his or Queen’s songs, I’m reminded of my mum.

Bio: I read English Literature and Latin at Manchester University. I have been an agent for over 20 years, first working at Sheil Land Associates, and then in 2005 I set up LBA with Luigi and I’m a director of the company. I run the Good Housekeeping Competition with GHK and Orion. In 2018, I won the RNA Literary Agent of the Year award.

What I Look For: I represent a wide range of authors, from award-winning debut novelists to popular fiction bestsellers and quality non-fiction. Whether commercial or literary, I like innovative and well-written storytelling, fantastic concepts and I want to be hooked from the start. Ultimately I’m looking for unforgettable books that demand to be talked about and shared, regardless of genre, and that I’m still thinking about days after finishing. I’m not looking for fantasy, science fiction, children’s fiction or poetry.

Thanks so much for visiting the blog Amanda. It has been a pleasure interviewing you.

An Interview With… Oli Munson

Hi everyone. Today I’m delighted to welcome literary agent Oli Munson to the blog. Oli is a literary agent at AM Heath and he loves nothing more than discovering new talent. He also represents David Jackson and Mari Hannah – writers I am privileged to say I have both met.

Below, read on for Oli’s answers to my questions on what he looks for in submissions, his views on the crime and thriller market and what he does for some relaxation time! Over to you, Oli…

1) Did you see yourself becoming a literary agent after you left school? Did you have any other career plans?

I left university with an English literature degree which is a passport to everywhere and nowhere. So I supersized that with a Publishing Studies MA and through that course I soon realised that being an agent was the part of the industry that would suit me best.

2) What are the differences between representing both literary and commercial fiction? Are there any similarities?

In a nutshell, I’d say that literary fiction is more about the quality of the prose and commercial fiction is more about the plot. So in that sense it’s easier to get editors interested in commercial fiction because the pitch tends to be more straightforward. Defining something as literary or commercial is inherently unhelpful because it presupposes that something well written can’t sell and something that sells can’t be well written. Which is thankfully, nonsense.

3) What do you consider a standout query letter?

A clear, concise pitch, realistic comparisons with other writers and a sense of where a book sits in the market.

4) On the other hand, what wouldn’t attract you to a submission?

“This would make an amazing movie”, “ My wife/husband thinks it’s fantastic”,

5) What are your views on the crime and thriller market currently? In your view, is there a sub genre you think is in need of more representation?

I think we’re at a crossroads. Psychological suspense has dominated sales and chart placings for the past eight years. I suspect it’s taken us as far as it can and those in the business are all waiting to see what’s coming next. One things for certain, people in the trade are always sick of a trend long before the reading public so there may be life in it for a year or two yet.

6) Do you have a genre that you read for pleasure?

Crime, thrillers, biography, literary fiction. I recently joined a library for the first time in about 25 years so I’m reserving all sorts of books and getting a thrill when an email comes through saying they’re ready for collection. It’s the simple things in life…

7) Is there any genre of book that you wouldn’t read?

I don’t read sci-fi or fantasy. I’m pretty clear about this and yet every day people send me sci-fi and fantasy submissions which is ultimately mutually disappointment for both sender and receiver.

8) What was the last book you read, that wasn’t one of your clients, and if so, did you enjoy it?

I finished THE TESTAMENTS last week. It was very good, I enjoyed it, but in my humble opinion there’s no way it should have won the Booker. GIRL, WOMAN, OTHER does something truly different and scratches an itch I didn’t know I had. Which is the way I felt when I read THE HANDMAID’S TALE…

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

I go home and hang out with the family. The weekends are largely spent trying to entertain an indefatigable toddler.

10) If you had to choose between Rod Stewart and Freddie Mercury, who would you choose and why?

I think Faces are a great band and Rod’s early solo stuff stands up. But I’m not a fan of late stage crooner Rod. You can’t argue with the Queen back catalogue and Freddie was a once in a lifetime vocalist. Would you rather live in a world without Maggie May or Bohemian Rhapsody? I’ve literally spent 15 minutes thinking about this and I still don’t know: too close to call.

Thank you for visiting the blog, Oli. It’s been a pleasure to interview you.

What Oli is looking for:

I have a wonderfully varied list (one of the perks of being an agent) but I’ve always been a sucker for commercial fiction that has the Holy Trinity of pace, plot and character. Those are the three elements I’m looking for in any novel. I also love books that have a clear pitch; a hook that has me immediately wanting to know more.

A significant part of my list is comprised of award-winning, bestselling authors of crime, suspense, and thrillers. Between Mari Hannah, David Mark,Julia Chapman and David Jackson, I think my authors have killed most of northern England. I’m eager to find authors who are plotting the demise of other victims, wherever they may be.

I do love speculative fiction with high concept plots in the vein of Lauren Beukes, Sarah Lotz and Kate Mascarenhas but I’m not looking for the type of science fiction or fantasy that would solely be found on the SFF table of a bookshop.

I’m on the hunt for commercial fiction with an emotional heart, compelling underdog stories with unlikely heroes and heroines. Something uplifting to balance out the murder and mayhem in the rest of my fiction list.

On the non-fiction front, I particularly enjoy sports writing and narrative non-fiction exploring contemporary social issues. I’m looking for great storytellers who bring an original, often personal, take to a subject. And I love it when the sheer power of an author’s words completely draws me into an area I had previously known nothing about. Adharanand Finn taught me what it was like to run with Kenyans, Kate Mayfield showed me what life was like growing up in a 1960’s Kentucky funeral parlour, and Gary Dexter spent a year as a street poet, learning the rhymes and taking abuse from midnight drunkards so I didn’t have to.

Discovering new talent is one of the highlights of the job. Nothing beats the feeling when you pick up the phone to a debut author to tell them a publisher wants to buy their book. But I’m also interested in existing authors who fancy a bit of reinvention and scriptwriters who would like to take their talents in a new direction.

I’ve given talks to various writers’ groups, university courses and international book fairs as well as being a Frankfurt Book Fair Fellow in 2010 and a former committee member of the Association of Authors Agents. You can almost certainly find me in the bar at the Harrogate International Crime Festival.

First Drafts With… Helen FitzGerald

Hi everyone, today I’m delighted to welcome crime writer Helen FitzGerald to the blog, to discuss her approach to the all important first draft process. You can find her biography below as well.

Over to you Helen

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

“Beginning” the next book sounds like a fairly straightforward thing – it’s anything but! First I need to know what the book is about, and that’s a long, agonising process with myriad twists and turns. I mine a mixture of personal experience, news stories and (far too much) reality TV, and somehow, out of that, one particular idea will emerge.

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

I always do lots of research for my books, but never as much as for ASH MOUNTAIN. There are lots of reasons. The size of the tragedy, for one thing; I owed it to those who have suffered in fires to get my facts right. Also, the fact that it was set in a fictional small Victorian town, similar to the one I grew up in. I have friends and family who still live there. I wanted to get it right for them too.

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

If I’m writing a crime book set in the world of prisons or probation officers, I’m never off the phone to former colleagues, asking questions about anything from breach procedures to the texture of custard served in prison canteens. If the world of the book is one I’m less familiar with, I’ll do a lot of Googling and YouTubing. For every new novel, I buy a lined, soft-covered A4 notebook, and it’s always with me in case I have an idea I want to scribble down.

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

Planning and writing aren’t really two separate processes for me. From the seed of the first idea, I’ll be writing lines and pages, even though I don’t yet know where or how I’ll use them, or if I’ll use them at all. I always have a rough idea of where I’m heading with any particular story, but I don’t force myself to come up with all the answers until I absolutely have to. I like my books to surprise me, and they always do.

5. How does the draft form on the screen?

For the first 20-30,000 words I’ll write chapter by chapter, re-reading yesterday’s pages before starting today’s. When the book gets longer and more complex, I’ll sometimes open separate files where I can play around or experiment with ideas before adding them to the main body. It’s a psychological thing; by using a separate file as a sandpit, you don’t feel the intimidating presence of the rest of the text. It encourages you to be bolder.

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

I have three principal places where I physically write. In descending order of importance they are:

1.      The desk in my office, which was the front bedroom of the house and which overlooks our lovely little street.

2.      One of several cafés with comfy seats and good cappuccinos.

3.      My bed.

4.      The couch in the sitting room, probably with Housewives of Orange County on TV in the background.

5.      The kitchen table, but only if there’s nobody else in the house, because they’re noisy bastards.

Thank you for visiting my blog Helen. Finding out all about your perspective on your first draft process has been fascinating!

Bio:

Helen FitzGerald is the bestselling author of Dead Lovely (2007) and nine other adult and young adult thrillers, including My Last Confession (2009), The Donor (2011) and most recently The Cry (2013), which was longlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. Helen has worked as a criminal justice social worker for over ten years. She is one of thirteen children and grew up in Victoria, Australia. She now lives in Glasgow with her husband and two children.

First Drafts With… David Mark

Good evening everyone.

I’m delighted to welcome crime writer (and fellow Northerner) David Mark to the blog. David lives in the North East and is the author of the DS Aector McAvoy series.

He was kind enough to join me for a quick chat about how he tackles that all important first draft process.
Over to you, David…
1) When you begin the next book, how do you go about it? 

 

I’ve usually been thinking about it for an age before I get down to the writing, but nothing feels real until I’ve put 25 to 30 chapter headings on a page, and written a line or two under each them outlining what needs to happen within that chapter to move the story to the next key point. It can be something as simple as ‘McAvoy finds the body’ or ‘tension between two antagonists suggests shared history’, or somesuch. It’s all about pacing more than anything else. You wouldn’t write a concerto that was just wonderful openings. You have to get the rhythm right. 



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

 

I try to. I used to be much more rigid how I worked, being at my desk for 9am and carrying on until 2pm, then researching for the rest of the working day until I began afresh the next. Now I have a two-year-old who wants to play horsies, so things are a bit more erratic. 

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

 

I’m a big fan of passive research, in that knowledge comes to me by accident and suggests the merest hint of a story, and then I’ll start to look into that subject in more depth until I feel able to write. When I wrote my historical novel, The Zealot’s Bones, which is set in 1851, I had to go slightly mad trying to get my mind into the right shape to make the narrative voice sound authentic, and to be able to write about what a character might smell like, feel like, what tastes might be on their tongue, whether they’d notice the fur on their teeth or remark upon a rat in the gutter, etc. It was a bit of a killer really. 

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

 

I have stories lined up like bullets, waiting to be slotted into the chamber. An author who is much wittier than me once said that writing the next book is the reward for finishing this one, and that is very true. 

5) How does the draft form on the screen? 

 

In pretty much the same order that you read it a year down the line. I’m not one for pinging about and writing the middle before the beginning. I might make structural changes when I’m done, but usually it’s pretty close to how I plan it. I want writers at their start of their journeys to try and remember that just because you’ve had a new idea, it doesn’t make it a better idea. Have the courage of your convictions. And if you’re faffing about with coloured post-it notes and bits of string and character cards, there’s a very good chance you’re playing a game rather than writing a book. Write the sodding book. 

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

 

Very simply, on my trusty old PC, in my office at home in rural Northumberland, occasionally stopping to look out of the window and shout at ramblers who think they can put their rubbish in my recycling bin. Countryside living is so good for one’s tranquillity ….

 

Thank you for joining me on the blog David. Your first draft process sounds great! I can’t wait to read your latest book!!

Bio:

David Mark is the author of the internationally-acclaimed McAvoy series, which began with Sunday Times bestseller DARK WINTER. His new thriller, BLOOD MONEY, is available exclusively through Kindle. Gangster-noir epic BORROWED TIME will be released in March, published by Severn House. For more information, visit his website at http://www.davidmarkwriter.co.uk

First Drafts With… Ella Allbright

Hi everyone! This evening I am delighted to welcome author Ella Allbright to the blog.

Ella writes commercial women’s fiction and is signed to The Blair Partnership. Her first novel as a women’s fiction writer is out in August. Her bio is below, followed by her answers to my questions on how she tackles the first draft process. Enjoy!

Bio:

A self-confessed reading addict, Ella Allbright writes commercial women’s fiction set in her beautiful home county of Dorset. Her first novel in this genre, The Charm Bracelet will be published in August 2020 by One More Chapter, an imprint of HarperCollins, and she’s currently hard at work on her next book. Ella is represented by agent Hattie Grünewald at The Blair Partnership, who represent J.K. Rowling.

Ella also writes as Nikki Moore, the author of the popular#LoveLondon romance series. When not writing or reading, she can usually be found working in her HR day job, walking the family’s cute beagle puppy or watching a Netflix series!

You can connect with Ella/Nikki on:

         @NikkiMoore_Auth

         

         facebook.com/EllaAllbrightWrites

    

         nikkimooreauthor.wordpress.com

 

She also vlogs about how to get published as ‘Author By The Sea’ on her YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQNV3lWENgnIRG4NWejSjmQ

Over to you, Ella…

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

When I first started writing seriously in about 2010, I was a complete ‘pantser.’ I’d have a hazy idea of perhaps the beginning and end of a story, with no real idea how I was going to get from one to the other, but I’d sit down and start writing into the wind. I used to write myself into a lot of corners! Or else, run out of story about 40,000 – 50,000 words in, which is nowhere near a full length novel. It used to take a lot of effort and energy to untangle what I’d done and put it right.

Nowadays, I spend a lot of time thinking about the themes, setting and main characters of a book before I get anything down on the page. I’m a complete plannerand usually have a storyboard set up on a long strip of poster paper hung on the office wall. On that, I use post-it notes to set out the plot in chapters or scenes, as well as to make notes about main characters, songs for the playlist, ideas etc. I do a lot of thinking about my story when I’m out walking the dog, doing housework, or driving the car. Pieces of dialogue or an insight about a character will pop into my head, and (I’ll pull over where necessary) to use the voice memo app on my iPhone andmake a quick note before I forget it!

 

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

I’ve followed the same process for the current work in progress (my second novel as Ella Allbright) as I did for the first Ella Allbright book, The Charm Bracelet, which is coming out in August. I’ve found it really effective. AsI’ve already done my thinking, I really get the most out of my writing time because it’s a free flow of typing and I don’t have to pause very often to think anything through. Right now, I can’t imagine changing that process, but never say never!

 

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

Around three-quarters of my research is done before I start the book. That can be a mixture of research around themes, places, occupations, music, films, history etc. The rest of the research will be done as I go along. It’s important not to get so sucked into research that it takes you ages to actually start writing the book. It’s also really important not to use all of the research you gather (unless you’re writing non-fiction). Research should be sprinkled in like gold dust in order to make the book authentic, and believable. Readers don’t want great big chunks of facts or description, they want the story.

 

I’m in the very fortunate position of having an unpaid research assistant in the form of my dad, who’s retired. I email him lists of research questions, usually a few days apart. Usually, within a week, he’s emailed me back a Word document with the questions listed and answered. It’s amazing how much one piece of research can spark an idea for a bit of dialogue or some tension between characters. For example, in my current work in progress, the two main characters Will and Izzy are biking up the length of Italy, and there are some great conversations between them that have grown out of research about motorbikes, and riding. 

 

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

Almost straight away! The storys had so much time percolating in my brain by the time I create my storyboard, that as soon as it’s up I’m raring to get going. I’m very lucky that I write very quickly and the scenes tend to come out more or less fully formed. I need to get the story down while it’s fresh in my head. One of my biggest frustrations is getting interrupted when I’m in full flow; I tend to shut the office door and tell my family I’m being anti-social and only to disturb me if dinner is on the table or the house is on fire…

 

5) How does the draft form on the screen? 

I am a ‘dirty drafter’ in that I write a whole first draft from start to finish without stopping along the way to go over anything or edit. It doesn’t matter if there are typos or spelling mistakes, or bits that are highlighted yellow to go back and fill in later, so long as I get the whole story down. If anyone looked at one of my first drafts, they’d probably be horrified at the state of it. But that first draft is for me, no-one else. I need to be able to write freely and worry about perfecting it later. 

 

I’m lucky enough to love editing as much as I love the initial creativity of writing, so once the first draft is finished, I’ll put it away for a few weeks before going back to it and starting a whole rewrite, which I find really exciting. In that round, I sort out any structure, plotting or characters issues, and fill any gaps, correct spellings etc. Then I will probably re-draft – doing finer edits – about two or three times before sending it to my agent and editor.

 

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

I used to write long hand, but nowadays I type my first draft straight into my iPad (it has a Bluetooth keyboard attached) using writing software called Scrivener. I really like the way you can set up a project file and store all your research in there, but mostly I like being able tomove scenes or characters around on the board, rather than copying and pasting as you’d have to in Word. It has backup to Dropbox, but I also email files to myself as an extra precaution. For the second draft onwards, I send the file to Word and work on it as one document, and when I’m doing the copy or line edits from my publisher  I’ll often work on a laptop rather than the iPad, as formatting is better on a laptop.

Thanks for visiting my blog Ella! Finding out all about your first draft process has been fascinating!

First Drafts With… Peter James

Hi everyone, joining me on the blog today I’m delighted to welcome Peter James. Peter is the author of the Roy Grace novels, set in Brighton. He was kind enough to answer a few general questions, as well as about his writing process from start to finish.

1.       When did you start writing?

I have been writing since I was seven years old – my original ambition was to be a scriptwriter. I find the world we live in very interesting and I enjoy observing human behaviour, and that’s really my approach. I’m constantly taking note of what’s happening around me as you never know where you might find inspiration for a character or piece of plot.

2.       How did you get your big break?

 

My first ‘break’ was at age seventeen, when I won a national short story competition run by the BBC and got to read my story out on air. It was hugely exciting! However, my first professional writing job came along a few years later whilst I was living in Toronto and working on a children’s television series called Polka Dot Door. I was a gopher – it was my job to basically run errands. One day we were due to film an episode, but the writer hadn’t turned in the script. The producer asked if I could write one there and then, and I said ‘okay!’

 

3.       How much research do you do for each novel?

My novels tend to be very research-driven. I first had the seed of an idea for Absolute Proof when I received a mysterious call from someone claiming to have proof of the existence of god – just like Ross does – thirty years ago. In the decades that followed I did a great deal of research, ranging from speaking to religious leaders about the consequences absolute proof would have for believers, to living as a monk for five days in the extraordinary monastic commune of Mount Athos. It’s been an extraordinary journey!

 

4.       Who inspires you?

 

When I was 14, I read Graeme Greene’s Brighton Rock, and it totally changed my life. It’s the book that made me realise I wanted to be a writer, and also the reason that my Roy Grace series is based in Brighton. Greene has a way of describing characters, in just a few sentences, which makes you feel you know them inside out, and his sense of “place” is almost palpable. Brighton Rock is for me an almost perfect novel. It has one of the most gripping opening lines ever written too – ‘Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to kill him.’

 

5.       What advice would you give to new and aspiring writers?

Reading extensively and intelligently is the most important thing – read books that have done well in the genre you want to write in and analyse what you like about the author’s style. Once you’ve started writing, make time to write every single day. Find a comfortable number of words to do each day and stick to that number. I am comfortable with 1,000 words. For some it might be 500, 200 or even 2,000 – as long as you are consistent, the number doesn’t matter. 

And you must love your characters – or no one else will!

6.       What is your writing routine?

I find that the time I write best is from 6pm to 10pm at night, so at 6pm I sit down with a vodka martini I’ve mixed myself, put on some music, turn off the phones, ignore emails and get myself into the “zone”. I love this period of “me time” when I get to block out the rest of the world and quietly focus on my current project – and the martini is a treat I look forward to throughout the day! I follow this routine six days a week while I am working on a novel.

 

First Drafts With… Fanny Blake

Good afternoon everyone, and today I’m delighted to welcome Fanny Blake to the blog.

Fanny worked as a publisher for a number of years, her time spent editing both fiction and non fiction. She then began to work as both a journalist and a writer, and has written several bestsellers. Her latest novel, A Summer Reunion, published by Orion, is out now.

She was kind enough to quickly answer my questions on that all important first draft process.

Over to you, Fanny…

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

I start with a theme that can come from anywhere: a conversation; an event; something I’ve read or seen on TV. Then I begin to think about the central characters in the novel, how they relate to the theme and the various arcs their journeys will take. Gradually I begin to build up a more detailed picture of some of the things that will happen to them and how they’ll react. I work out how the book will open and how it will end. When I’ve got all that in my head, I begin. I don’t plot in detail or work out detailed character studies – I wish I did because I suspect it would make the whole process faster- but I like to retain some flexibility and spontaneity that keeps me intrigued as I write.

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

Pretty much. I always vow I’ll be more organised next time, that I’ll plan the chapters in detail, write full character biographies, complete all the research. But every time I find I just can’t work like that. I think you have to find the way that works for you, whatever that is. There’s no right or wrong method.         

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

If a novel is set somewhere I’m not familiar with, I always go there. I believe that’s the only way to inject the real flavour of a place into your work. Those tiny details make all the difference. So for An Italian Summer, I stayed in Rome and Naples for a while, visiting various places I wanted to include and discovering new ones that found their way into the novel. The same went for Mallorca when I wrote A Summer Reunion. I talk to people who have the careers that I’d like my characters to have to find out what they involve on a day-to-day basis. Google is every writer’s friend, of course, and a lot of initial research can be done there before following up elsewhere.

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

A publisher’s deadline makes me focus! I write a novel a year, so don’t have the luxury of time on my side.  I start writing as soon as I’m ready.      

5) How does the draft form on the screen?    

I write from the beginning to the end, however tempted I am to write a particular scene that may happen later in the book.  I create a separate file for each chapter and don’t put them together in one document until the very end when I’m ready to send them to my editor. I try not to edit too much as I go along then, when I have a first draft I go through the whole thing in as much detail as I possibly can until I have the best version I can write. At about this point, I change the typeface which helps me read it in a different way. To get even more distance from it, I print it off and work on a manuscript before putting the changes back on screen. I also read the whole novel out loud. I find I pick up a lot of mistakes that way too. Then my editor reads it and comes back with track changes and editorial notes which I go through meticulously on screen to create another draft.

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

I write at home, sometimes on the computer in my office, but I prefer to keep that for admin. So I write mostly on my laptop, sitting on a sofa in the living room. I don’t have any particular rituals any more, but just sit down and get on with it in silence. I aim to write about 1000 words a day, sometimes I achieve more, sometimes less. I start at about 9am when the house is empty, and then just crack on until I run out of steam.

Fanny Blake’s latest novel A Summer Reunion (Orion) is out now.

Thank you for visiting the blog today, Fanny. Finding out about your first draft process has been fascinating.

First Drafts With… Robert Scragg

Good afternoon everyone, and I’m delighted to welcome crime writer Robert Scragg to the blog, for another addition to the first draft process.

You can connect with him on twitter @robert_scragg or via his website http://www.robertscragg.com.

Robert has had two novels published, What Falls Between The Cracks and Nothing Else Remains. His third novel, All That Is Buried, will be released next year. He is signed to The Blair Partnership. He was kind enough to chat about how he writes the all important first draft.

Over to you, Robert…

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

First thing I do is write an overview, that forms the basis of my synopsis. This usually ends up being three or four pages, quite factual – characters, key events, etc. – a walk through from start to finish. Next step is to write a mini-bio for each character (or any new ones if it’s part of my series), plus referring back to ones for returning characters – keeps my honest with the  detail so I don’t get pulled up for daft things like eye colour changing! 

The last step before starting chapter one is to make a chapter list. This is usually on a spreadsheet, with columns for time/date, location, whose POV it is, and one or two lines that tell me what needs to happen. This is quite high level though, e.g. Lead detective goes to arrest suspect. Gets provoked & things get physical. Caught on camera by young kid” That’s an actual chapter in Nothing Else Remains around eleven pages long in the final version, so as you can see it’s just very much a prompt to remind me what direction the story needs to head in. I don’t plan it more than that as this stage.

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

In a word, yes! It felt like it worked the first time round, so I’ve stuck with it. 


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

Once I start a draft, I like to plough on as quickly as I can, so do the research as I go as much as I can. If anything meatier needs doing, I’ll leave myself a note in the form of a comment on Word, and come back to it. An example would be in All That Is Buried I needed to know what bodies look like after different stages of decomposition in certain conditions. I wrote the scene up to the point of discovery, then reached out to a contact I have who’s a forensic anthropologist, asked a few questions via email, then jumped ahead to write the next part of the scene while I waited for a response. 

There’s no right or wrong way to do your research, but I’m in favour of just getting your story down as quickly as possible. I went to an event with Harlan Coben, where he said words to that effect. Planning isn’t writing, research isn’t writing – just write! Not to say that planning and research aren’t part of the process, but it’s easy to get bogged down in those stages.


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

Pretty much straight away. Once I’ve worked through the stages I talked about earlier, I’ll make a start the same day.


5) How does the draft form on the screen? 

The best way I can describe the actual writing of a scene is that it’s as if I’m stood in the corner of the room making notes as my characters get on with it. All feels quite immersive for me, like I’m there with them. Some people like to bounce around and write chapters out of sequence, but I tend to just write in the order they’ll appear in the final version.


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

The majority these days is in the house, either in my office or at the dining table. Previously though, big chunks have been written in a few of my favourite coffee shops, as well as hotel rooms, beach loungers, and train journeys to name a few. I’ve even written a scene while sat in a dentist’s waiting room in the notes app on my phone!

Thank you Robert for visiting the blog, finding out about your writing process has been fascinating.

First Drafts With… William Shaw

Hi everyone, good evening and welcome to another interview with an author on the all important first draft process. Tonight, Brighton based crime writer William Shaw answers my questions.

Over to you, William…

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

It’s quite a weird process. With Deadland, all I knew was I wanted to write a chase so I thought, right. Who is chasing who? Out of that came the image of these two boys hiding in marshland and the plot started to take shape from there. With The Birdwatcher I decided I wanted to set a novel in Dungeness. I spent a long time thinking, who would live there? Someone who doesn’t like talking to other people much? A birder who watches things carefully? Out of that came the character of the birdwatcher and the plot slowly emerged from there. 

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

No… each time it’s a little different. Once I know the theme it’s then a question of what do I need to do to write it. There was so much tension in Deadland I didn’t really need to think much about plot. I just let the story fall onto the page. With Grave’s End, my next one, I had decided this would be about natural history and landscape and there was much less inherent tension in the plot, so I needed to plot it carefully in order to give it a good sense of movement. In that one I planned every chapter before I wrote it – something I don’t normally do. 

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

I’m a former journalist so love researching. It tends to be an iterative process, though. In principle, I believe in “write first, research later”. I know from my journalism that the world is even stranger than our imaginations, so that it’s good to dream stuff up and then see if you can make it real. In Grave’s End wrote a plot about a badger digging up human bones and then had to check with a naturalist whether that was possible. Luckily it happens! But research can also stimulate great plot ideas too. When I wrote Salt Lane I spent time talking to people who are responsible for maintaining the drainage on Romney Marsh – (more fascinating than it sounds, I promise) – and out of that, much of the plot emerged. So I tend to do research as and when I need it. The real trick is to wear your research lightly though.

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

Again, it’s all bound up in a single process, a bit like the research. When I need to stop and plan, I do. I like to keep the writing going all the time though because that’s what keeps the world of a book alive in your head.

5) How does the draft form on the screen? 

I have to write a book in order – from beginning to end. I’ve never been interested in writing bits separate from the arc of the novel. I don’t really know why. I write a fairly uneven draft, some of it polished, other bits messy. My objective is to get to the end with things in a fairly good shape because I always think that a book only really reveals itself when you get to the end. At that point you can really see what it’s about: what themes you need to bring out, what characters you need to develop, what is missing and what needs to be chopped.
 
6) Where do you write the majority of the draft?

I do like to run off to an off-grid writing shack in Devon that I have where I often shift things along in a major way, but probably most of it is done at my desk at home in Brighton. For my next book, I’m trying writing standing up rather than sitting down. I’m told it’s much better for you!

Thank you for joining me on the blog William, finding out about your first draft process has been fascinating!

Bio

William Shaw’s The Birdwatcher and the follow up Salt Lane were both longlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. His books have also been nominated for a Barry Award, the Golden Bullet, and the CWA Historical Dagger. The Sun calls him “A modern crime master” and The Sunday Times named his book A Book of Scars as one of the 100 Best Crime books published since 1945. 

His DI Alexandra Cupidi series, set in Kent, featuring DI Alex Cupidi has been optioned for TV by Expectation Entertainment.

Before becoming a crime writer, William Shaw was an award-winning music journalist and the author of several non-fiction books including Westsiders: Stories of the Boys in the Hood, about a year spent with the young men of South Central Los Angeles, and A Superhero For Hire, a compilation of columns in the Observer Magazine.

Starting out as assistant editor of the post-punk magazine ZigZag, he has been a journalist for The Observer, The New York Times, Wired, Arena and The Face and was Amazon UK Music Journalist of the Year in 2003.

Twitter: @william1shaw

An Interview With… Laetitia Rutherford

Hi everyone, today I’m delighted to welcome literary agent Laetitia Rutherford to the blog. Here, she discusses what she looks for in submissions, what her ideal query letter is and most importantly, what she does away from the office.

Thanks Laetitia for giving up your time, and over to you with your answers…

1) Did you see yourself becoming a literary agent after you left school? Did you actually have any other career plans?
In another life, I’d be a chef, a dancer or a yoga teacher, or maybe a therapist. But I kept on finding a pile of books in the way…

I didn’t have much awareness of the role before I joined a publisher and learned of the lines between author, agent and publisher. Agents are relatively hidden compared to other roles in the book business. Back when the Writers & Artists’ Handbook was the bible, agents may have seemed invisible or faceless and unreachable. Now with the internet and social media, even though a lot of the work is behind the scenes, it’s good that what we do is more transparent and accessible.


2) I read on your website that you represent authors across both fiction and non fiction. Do you have anything specific that you are looking for at the moment? 

We’re living in such turbulent times at the moment, the upside is this is an opportunity to bring challenging, timely ideas to the fore. Previously, climate change was seen as a negative subject, and people were afraid to address the state of our mental health. Now these are big on the agenda – but I would say that a solutions-oriented message helps. So I am looking for timely books in Non-Fiction, from expert or well-placed authors and often in the how-to-live arena, and I love a good memoir. In Fiction, be timeliness is part of it, but less so. I am also looking for timeless beauty, in addition to the crime genre, great emotional storytelling, and stories that reassure and charm. 

3) First and foremost, what do you look for in query letters? 

A headline encapsulating what the book is draws the eye. Then, a brief and cogent description of the book, and where it might fit in the world (though as agent, I would contribute to that side of it). Finally, a little about the author, touching on why they in particular match the work they have chosen to write. Also, it can be good to know why the writer has come to me: a well-thought out connection suggesting why we would work well together is a great starting point, though with fiction (especially outside genre) that may not always be possible to define.

4) On the other hand, what is your pet peeve about query letters? 

I suppose the scattergun approach is the least inspiring, where the writer seems to be sending out masses of queries without much targeting. Also, word count matters. A novel above 100,000 words presents challenges. Sticking to the rough word count of the form may sound workmanlike, but I think this is part of the discipline, the art and achievement of it, and the work’s commercial viability. 

5) What are your views on the crime and thriller market currently? Do you feel that there is a sub genre in need of more representation?
The market is exciting at the moment as it is searching and shifting away from the recent huge trend in psychological suspense, and towards more stand-out hooks in this space, and other blends of crime genres. There’s a latitude in the genre giving a good writer a lot of freedom, and editors are welcoming unusual concepts. 
I would like to see more diverse casts of characters in the genre, and unusual settings. I recently sold 2 books launching a sleuthing Welsh social worker (the first, Allegation by RG Adams comes out next summer). It was great to find how warmly people responded to this character. Also next summer, I’m looking forward to The Waiter coming out by my author Ajay Chowdhury, about a formerly Kolkata-based detective now working as a waiter on Brick Lane who becomes embroiled in a London murder. 
I’d like to see more richly drawn, compromised, women characters in positions of power, for example as barristers, or CEOs, as this would show real everyday problems projected on to the big workings of the world. Or unusual careers like the social worker or probation officer; or voices less heard from like the PA or bouncer. New takes on classic locked room and whodunnit would also be great to see a new writer run with.

6) What is your guilty pleasure genre, if you have one? 

Pleasure is central to reading so I don’t attach guilt to reading any genre of book! 

7) Is there a genre of book that you would never read? 

Never say never, but Sci Fi generally doesn’t appeal to me, nor full-on romance.  

8) What was the last book you read, that wasn’t one of your clients, and did you enjoy it?

I’m reading Eight Detectives by Alex Pavesi, an elegant high-concept murder mystery represented by my colleague James Wills, coming out from Penguin next year, and a delight. I adored Lanny by Max Porter; it’s like a crime novel wrapped in a state-of-the-nation piece wrapped in a poem. Amazing, and very efficiently done in about 200 pages.


9) Once you leave your desk for the day, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening, what do you do to relax?  

Go and give my children a cuddle, and our cat. Catch up with my husband on our day, and decide what’s for dinner. That if I haven’t already decided what’s for dinner.

10) Apologies for the sidetrack – Do you like Rod Stewart, and if so, do you have a favourite song of his?

If you had an 80s childhood like me, you can’t not like Rod Stewart! The voice, the hair, the activism, and he was a working class Londoner who made it big. It’s not my favourite music, but what a guy. 

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