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4) What advice would you give to the unpublished author?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

An Interview With… Natasha Bardon

Hi everyone, and this morning I’m delighted to welcome Natasha Bardon to the blog.

Natasha is a Publishing Director for the Fantasy imprint at HarperCollins. Although I’m a crime writer, I started out reading fantasy novels so I was delighted when Natasha agreed to an interview. Read on for how she started out in the industry, how HarperVoyage stands out as an imprint and what she has been up to during lockdown.

Over to you, Natasha…

1) How did you first become involved in the industry? Was it something you always wanted to do?

It wasn’t really something I’d considered before leaving university. I had a few ideas about what I wanted to do, but nothing concrete and I’d always loved reading much more than anything else. So when an opportunity came up to do some work experience at Fourth Estate (another HarperCollins imprint), I took it. From there I held various positions in sales and marketing, but I jumped at an editorial assistant job that came up at HarperVoyager as Fantasy was by far my favourite genre at the time. Luckily I got it and the rest is history!

2) What does your job role entail on a day to day basis? Has it been any different in lockdown?

I manage a brilliant editorial team at HarperVoyager and I commission onto the General Fiction and Borough Press lists, so it really is quite busy! Apart from attending various meetings – acquisitions and cover art meetings are easily my favourite – I’ll have the usual mix of admin as well as reading and editing. I block out days for editing, keep my admin and inbox organising to Monday and try to make myself available for anything else that might come up the rest of the time.

3) Are there any limitations of your job role in lockdown?

I think there’s a certain type of creative energy that’s fed by interaction and so, inevitably, lack of interaction changes that energy. I wouldn’t say there are limitations, but it’s definitely been about overcoming the challenges lockdown has thrown at us. Luckily for me a lot of my work can be done at home, so I feel very fortunate and privileged in that regard. I definitely miss my team and the office environment though. It’s amazing what you learn and get inspired by just being around your colleagues in the office. I also miss books! I miss seeing the books coming in from the printer, discussing books with colleagues and cooing over books other imprints are working on.

4) What makes the HarperVoyager Imprint stand out in the fiction market?

That’s such an interesting question! The obvious answer is its authors! They are all amazingly talented, incredible individuals. Lockdown for me (and I know I’m incredibly lucky!) has been a treat, because I have been working on some absolutely wonderful books that are coming out next year, books such as The Desert Prince by Peter V. Brett, Threadneedle by Cari Thomas, Meet Me in Another Life by Catriona Silvey and Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff. To have been able to work on these wonderful books at such a weird, draining, upsetting and emotional time for everyone has made me appreciate my job so much.

It’s not just next year though, HarperVoyager has been publishing books such as The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang, The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty, The Black Hawks by David Wragg, The Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron and The Court of Miracles by Kester Grant that have shaken up the fantasy market over the last few years.

There are also many more hugely talented authors on the list, but I don’t want to just list our books! So if we do stand out in the market it’s due to a combination of our authors, our commissioning team (who are utterly brilliant), the wider marketing, sales, publicity, design and production teams who are so fantastic at what they do, our readers who don’t necessarily buy our books because it’s a Voyager title, but I hope they will always inadvertently find a book of high quality, creativity and imagination in a beautiful package because it is one, and of course none of that hard work would go anywhere without the booksellers who love and champion our books. Fantasy and Science Fiction inspires such dedication and love from its fans. It’s always so wonderful to see.


5) Do you have a favourite genre of novel? Do you have a guilty pleasure?

I don’t regard any genre as a guilty pleasure! I think if you’re reading a book then there’s nothing to feel guilty about. I love all genres and often flit between them. I love my role as Publishing Director of HarperVoyager, but I equally love commissioning onto the General Fiction and Borough Press lists. I have two books I’m hugely excited about next year coming out on the crime thriller list for example. The Murder of Graham Catton by Katie Lowe (author of The Furies) and Dog Rose Dirt by Jen Williams.

6) In lockdown, what books are the first you reach for? Do you have any that you have reread?

I think it’s the second time in my life where I’ve just not been able to read. I’ve read for work and I bought a remarkable fantasy called The Final Strife by Saara El-Arifi that managed to break me out of my inability to focus, but before that I was really struggling. I often turn to books for comfort and escape – something I feel everyone has needed this year – so to find I just wasn’t able to settle into a book was hugely difficult.

7) In lockdown, what are you currently watching on television? Do you have a favourite drama that you watch religiously?

I re-watched The Girlmore Girls because, despite its faults, it’s still a comfort blanket for me and one I reach to often when I just need some low-stakes TV. We also made our way through the Marvel movies again – a lot of fun. I also started replaying Dragon Age 3 and inhaled The Last of Us 2 when it came out.

8) On a Friday evening when you leave your desk, what’s the first thing you do? On the weekend, what do you do to relax?

Well at the moment I’m attempting to launch a calligraphy shop as I find it so relaxing and just love to do it. Other than that I’ll draw or cook which I’ve been doing a lot during lockdown! On weekends it’s normally submission reading, any editing or mentoring prep I need to do and of course seeing friends and long walks with my incredibly cute miniature schnauzer Edie. I’ve been going to the lido a lot since it reopened and have been enjoying it immensely.

Thank you for visiting the blog today Natasha. Finding out more about your job role was fascinating so thank you so much for your time to take part.

Bio: Natasha Bardon is publishing director of HarperVoyager, the science fiction and fantasy imprint of HarperCollins. She works on brand authors such as George RR Martin, Robin Hobb, Peter V. Brett, Sabaa Tahir and Jay Kristoff as well as emerging stars of the genre RF Kuang, S.A. Chakraborty, Kester Grant and Saara El-Arifi. She also commissions onto the General Fiction, Borough Press and Historical Fiction lists.

Second Drafts With… Ramsey Campbell

Taken by Tony Knox

Hi everyone, and today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome Liverpool based horror writer Ramsey Campbell – I have to admit that horror isn’t a genre I’m familiar with, maybe because it scares the s*t out of me – I take my hat off to Ramsey for being able to write horror and I was delighted to have the opportunity to interview him.

Over to you, Ramsey…

1) What do you do once you have finished your first draft?

I’ll experience a sense of real achievement, usuallyshort-lived. Minutes later I’ll pretty certainly be pondering what I’m going to write next and developing it in my head – quite possibly making notes in a notebook. Decades ago I would take the next day off and go out for a celebratory countryside walk, but these days the pressure of untold tales is too great. I’m still trying to set aside a day to watch Bêla Tarr’s Sátántangó as a reward after completing a first draft – the film is over seven hours long.

2) How long do you tend to leave your draft before beginning your reading of it?

Months. I’ll write short stories or perhaps even a novella in between. These days I try to arrange my schedule so that I read through it when we’re away on holiday abroad (not an option just now, alas). For the record, The Wise Friend – since that’s the book most recently out – was typical in taking about a year from the opening of the first draft (which took from 3 April 2018 to 4 August 2018 to write) to submitting the final version to my agent.

3) What is your revision process like for your first draft?

Very different from how it once was. I don’t quite know when it changed, but certainly in my early decades I tried to retain as much as I could justify of the first draft, whereas now my approach is to change and improve and condense or indeed delete everything I can. I’ll attach a couple of photographs of the first draft of the opening chapter of The Wise Friend to show you what I mean. The second page of dialogue was almost entirely dropped from the rewrite, since I felt it wasn’t doping enough or indeed very much.

4) When you have decided you need to do a second draft, what do you do?

Well, let me talk us through the process as a whole – this will cover question 5 too. The first drafts of my fiction are always written longhand with a fountain pen in exercise books (seven days a week, Christmas and birthdays included, I’m here at my desk by six in the morning). The rewrite is doneonto the computer. It’s by no means uncommon to lose maybe 20% of the length of the first draft, I print the rewrite out and read through it, at which point I’ll always make further revisions, generally minor ones. Once I’ve made those changes on the computer, off the novel goes to my agent, and I suffer my usual doubts of whether it’s any good.

5) What is your writing process like for your second draft?

See above!

6) Do you write in a different place when you are writing your second draft?

No indeed – always here at my desk on the third floor, where the view across the Mersey and the sky above is a gentle inspiration.

Thank you for your time visiting the blog today Ramsey – it was a pleasure to interview you!

Bio: The Oxford Companion to English Literature describes Ramsey Campbell as “Britain’s most respected living horror writer”. He has been given more awards than any other writer in the field, including the Grand Master Award of the World Horror Convention, the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Horror Writers Association, the Living Legend Award of the International Horror Guild and the World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2015 he was made an Honorary Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University for outstanding services to literature. Among his novels are The Face That Must Die, Incarnate, Midnight Sun, The Count of Eleven, Silent Children, The Darkest Part of the Woods, The Overnight, Secret Story, The Grin of the Dark, Thieving Fear, Creatures of the Pool, The Seven Days of Cain, Ghosts Know, The Kind Folk, Think Yourself Lucky, Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach and The Wise Friend. He recently brought out his Brichester Mythos trilogy, consisting of The Searching Dead, Born to the Dark and The Way of the Worm. Needing Ghosts, The Last Revelation of Gla’aki, The Pretence, The Booking and The Enigma of the Flat Policeman are novellas. His collections include Waking Nightmares, Alone with the Horrors, Ghosts and Grisly Things, Told by the Dead, Just Behind You, Holes for Faces, By the Light of My Skull and a two-volume retrospective roundup (Phantasmagorical Stories). His non-fiction is collected as Ramsey Campbell, Probably and Ramsey’s Rambles (video reviews). Limericks of the Alarming and Phantasmal is a history of horror fiction in the form of fifty limericks. His novels The Nameless, Pact of the Fathers and The Influence have been filmed in Spain, where a television series based on The Nameless is in development. He is the President of the Society of Fantastic Films.

Ramsey Campbell lives in Merseyside with his wife Jenny. His pleasures include classical music, good food and wine, and whatever’s in that pipe. His web site is at http://www.ramseycampbell.com.

Manuscript samples: Photos by Ramsey Campbell

An Interview With… Hannah Sheppard

Hi everyone, and on the blog today I’m delighted to welcome literary agent Hannah Sheppard. Hannah works at D H H Literary Agency and she was kind enough to answer my questions on what she is looking out for in submissions, along with what she has been up to in lockdown.

Over to you, Hannah…

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

I think it was pretty obvious from very early on that I was going to do something related to the written word. Initially I thought I wanted to be a journalist but mostly because that was a more obvious career option. I didn’t know anyone in publishing and so had no idea what the potential jobs might be so it just didn’t occur to me. But, once I got to know a bit more about what journalism might involve (particularly early on in a career when you weren’t getting to write about what you wanted to write about) I realised it probably wasn’t for me. I think it was while I was at university that it clicked for me that publishing could be an option and I emailed all the publishing companies I could find email addresses for (this was the early days of the internet!) and managed to get work experience at Macmillan Children’s Books. Initially I was applying for marketing experience because I thought editorial would be too competitive and I was interested in how you motivate someone to buy a particular book over all the other options, but while I was doing my work experience, I did a day in editorial and realised that was really where I should be.

It was during a second work experience placement that I found out literary agents existed, but I didn’t really have a grasp on what they might do until I started working as an editorial assistant and it was only after I’d spent ten years in house working my way up to senior commissioning editor that I thought it might be the career for me. I’d realised that the bits of my job I enjoyed most were when I was working directly with authors to bounce ideas and develop projects and that if I went much higher than I was in house then I’d move further away from that…becoming an agent has allowed me to focus on that much more and I love it.

2) You studied at university in Liverpool. What was your degree and your experience of the city like? Are you on the lookout for writers from the North?

I did a degree in English Language and Literature at Liverpool University and I completely fell in love with the arty vibe of the city. We used to go to a monthly open mic night at the Egg Café (best spicy veggie burgers in town) which I loved and I volunteered at News From Nowhere bookshop on Bold Street. I also set up a small press while I was there and our first book was an anthology of work from both students and local creatives…we called it THE LIVER BARDS.

I am definitely on the lookout for writers from the North. I’m really proud of the DHH Literary Agency and our proactive approach to diversifying publishing. In 2018 we travelled to York for a pitching session where each of the five agents at DHH met with hopeful authors to talk about their work and demystify publishing. We saw 110 people between us! And in Dec 2019 the DHH team went up to Liverpool to chat to authors there and I got to show my colleagues a little of the city I love so much.

We’re absolutely planning to do more northern pitching sessions and have a few locations in mind…unfortunately plans are a little on hold at the moment because of Covid19, but do follow the @dhhlitagency twitter account to be first to hear when that is announced.

3) What attracts you to a submission? Is it the cover letter, the synopsis or the sample writing?

I think it’s a combination of a clear pitch and the sample writing. I have to fall in love with the sample but it helps a lot if the author can pitch their novel succinctly, in a way that intrigues me, and with an awareness of the market. The rest of the cover letter is less important than the pitch – but I’m amazed how many cover letters don’t pitch the book at all.

4) Are there any differences between representing authors of both adult and children’s fiction?

Not really. There’s maybe a slightly different career trajectory and sales pattern that it’s worth being aware of, but every author/agent relationship is unique (based on what that author needs) so it’s that which makes the difference rather than that being based on the type of book.

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

It’s definitely a nervous excitement. It’s rare that all the elements align – a book I love, that I can see a clear route to market for and know exactly how I’d pitch it and to which editors along with an author I think I’d work well with…often it’s as much about the book and author as it is about believing I’m the right agent for the project (rejections from agents aren’t always a sign that your book isn’t good…there are so many factors in the decision…there’s a lot of luck when it comes to right book at the right time).

Alongside the thrill of the potential you can see, there’s also a fear that the author might choose to go with someone else (rejection is part of life as an agent too!).

6) What are your views on the fiction market currently across the genres you represent? What would like to see more of, or what do you think hasn’t been done before?

The current Covid situation has definitely made everyone quite cautious. I don’t necessarily know what impact that will have long term…but maybe it wouldn’t be so awful if fewer books were published overall with more attention on making sure each one reached its potential readership.

I’d like to see more daring publishing…less dictated by what has sold before which makes diversifying really difficult and we really need to diversify.

7) 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?

Hmmmm…I don’t really have a desk in the traditional sense…and my hours aren’t that regular either. There is always reading to do, wherever I am. But making time for family and friends is always important – particularly on a Friday night…drinks and dinner with my partner is probably the ultimate switch off from work to mark the beginning of the weekend.

I also love being near the water so wandering down to the beach is a great way to relax (although, often it’s when I step away and stare at the sea for a while that I’ll get a breakthrough idea for an edit).

8) In lockdown, what are you currently reading? Are you going back to old favourites or reading new books?

I’ve really embraced audio books during lockdown in a way I hadn’t before. I struggled to focus on reading early on in lockdown (which is a bit of a disaster work wise) but an audio book on my headphones while out for a walk or a run was a great way to keep on top of books from my TBR that I hadn’t got to yet. I’ve really enjoyed Gillian McAllister’s THE EVIDENCE AGAINST YOU, Oyinkan Braithwaite’s MY SISTER, THE SERIAL KILLER and Talia Hibbert’s TAKE A HINT DANI BROWN this way.

9) In lockdown, what are you currently watching on television? Do you have a favourite drama that you watch religiously?

I love a wide range of television…some real guilty pleasures through to more highbrow stuff. The new series of QUEER EYE dropping during lockdown was a joy – I love the human stories alongside the fabulous styling. I also worked my way through the whole of LINE OF DUTY and HOMELAND which are both shows I’d failed to watch previously. I’m anxiously awaiting the new season of UNFORGOTTEN which I think finished filming just before lockdown…The first season of that was especially good and I’d love to find a crime novel that explored the same cold case psychology of a criminal who thinks they’ve got away with something for decades only for a chance discovery to unravel their entire lives.

GREY’S ANATOMY is probably the drama I watch religiously…although I’m newly obsessed with THIS IS US but I’m struggling to get hold of the new seasons in the UK.

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

This is almost impossible to answer because I have Rod Stewart associations with my mum and Freddie Mercury associations with my dad so although I like both, choosing one would feel disloyal.

So, although I’m unfamiliar with Brian Johnson and AC/DC I might have to go with that…discovering something new (to me) is always good, right?

Thank you so much for your time today Hannah. It was a real pleasure to interview you.

Bio:

Hannah Sheppard studied English Literature at the University of Liverpool where she set up a small poetry press in her spare time. She has since spent over a decade working in trade publishing: first at Macmillan Children’s Books and more recently running Headline Publishing Group’s YA and crossover list where she published Tanya Byrne’s critically acclaimed Heart-Shaped Bruise.

She joined the D H H Literary Agency in 2013 because she realised that being an agent gave her more time to do what she loves most – using her editorial experience to help writers develop their ideas for commercial success.

What I’m Looking For:

Hannah represents authors across children’s fiction (from 9+ including teen and YA) and a small number of adult fiction authors (her main interests are thrillers and romance). Hannah does not represent picture books.

She likes stories that push the boundaries, have a strong voice and, often, a dark edge – although she’d love to find a great contemporary romance too.

Follow Hannah on Twitter: @YA_Books

How to submit: Please send your cover letter, first three chapters (or about 10,000 words) and a synopsis all pasted into the body of your email in that order (rather than sent as attachments) to hs.submission@dhhliteraryagency.com and put ‘Query’ and your title in the subject field.

First Drafts With… Holly Seddon

Hi everyone, today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome Holly Seddon. Holly is one half of my favourite podcasts for authors (link below), and I was delighted when she agreed to come and chat about how she writes that all important first draft.

Over to you, Holly…

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

It always starts with a fairly simple idea. ‘What if… x’. In the case of my latest novel, The Hit List, the initial spark was ‘what if you found your name listed as a target on a murder for hire website?’

When I think an idea has potential, I immediately share it with one of my best friends – and Honest Authors co-host – Gillian McAllister. We always talk through our ideas and help each other check our workings out! If we were at school, it’s fair to say we’d have been separated by now because we chat constantly. But all that chatting about our ideas genuinely improves them. 

Then I start to flesh the idea out, thinking about characters and setting. In the case of The Hit List, I went through a wide range of possible protagonists but realised that the real drama would come from it happening to a very normal person. So rather than a hacker (one of my first ideas), it was eventually Marianne, a secondary school teacher.  

I always go through quite a few outlines, often there’ll be *something* missing, but it’ll take a while and a lot of iterations to find what it is. Then I start to draft… always hoping that I’ll get it right first time. 

I never get it right first time.

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

No, it’s an evolving thing. Partly because I learn the tricks of the trade, partly as I am governed by deadlines and partly because every book is different, with different challenges and possibilities.

Writing during a pandemic with home schooling and a house constantly full has been a whole new thing… I’m hardly alone in this, but it’s definitely impacted everything including how and when I write, and how much headspace I can get. 

Currently, for the first time since writing my debut before I had an agent, I’m getting to the end of draft two and I’ve still not shown a soul. Not one chapter, nothing. Ordinarily I’d have shown my agent chunks along the way but for this version, I’ve just really wanted to get my head down and get it done. So I feel quite vulnerable and scared but if I pull it off, I think I’ll feel all the more proud. And if I don’t, I’ll ask you to take this blog post down and never mention it again. 

(I’m joking.)

(I’m mostly joking.)

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

Well. I am a frustrated historian and a former journalist, so I can very easily lose myself in research. To prevent this, I basically don’t research during the first draft except the absolutely necessary bare bones. There’s also little point learning intricate information about e.g. a particular character’s job when it could so easily change between drafts. Research is a treat saved up for editing! (God, I sound like such a dork.)

In terms of research techniques, it really varies, but as I live in the Netherlands and write about the UK, it’s mainly done online. I have subscriptions to various library services, The British Newspaper Archives, things like that but if I’m stuck, I appeal for expert help on Twitter as sometimes there’s no substitute for asking a human some specific questions.

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

I’m always bloody writing. It’s how I understand the world and how I develop my ideas (for books and just in general!). I try not to go off half-cocked and start on a draft before nailing the outline (even though the outline will always change) but I’m always writing something. My outlines often take the form of prose too, and sometimes so do my notes to self.

5) How does the draft form on the screen?

Slowly, slowly, with lots of false starts and then fast. I generally get some way into a first draft and then realise something is not working and start again. I have to just accept this because it happens every time. Sometimes it happens more than once, and it’s unfortunately a crucial part of the process for me. I can’t fully understand an idea until I’m inside it, but only then can I see its faults. 

Once those false starts are out of the way – and the realisation they’re wrong is always accompanied by some light crying and heavy drinking – the draft tends to come together quickly. I write every day, generally around 1,000 words but sometimes more. I write chronologically, I can’t skip around. And it’s fairly polished but everything will always need editing.

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

In bed! We have a lovely office that my husband is mostly using at the moment as he has a lot of calls and online meetings, but even when it’s free I still prefer to write in my bed. Like Barbara Cartland.

Thank you for your time visiting the blog today Holly. I can really relate to your writing process of false starts – I’m exactly the same!

Bio: Holly Seddon is the international bestselling author of TRY NOT TO BREATHE, DON’T CLOSE YOUR EYES and LOVE WILL TEAR US APART. THE HIT LIST will be published in August 2020 in ebook, and April 2021 in paperback.

After growing up in the English countryside obsessed with music and books, Holly worked in London as a journalist and editor. She now lives in Amsterdam with her family and writes full time. 

Alongside fellow author Gillian McAllister, Holly co-hosts the popular Honest Authors Podcast. You can find her on Twitter @hollyseddon, Instagram and Facebook @hollyseddonauthor.

10 Questions With… Drew Davies

Hi everyone, and today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome Drew Davies. Drew writes women’s fiction and book club reads. His new novel With or Without You is out on 31st July. I was really pleased when he kindly said yes to answering a few questions on his writing journey.

Over to you, Drew…

1) As a child, did you have a favourite author? Was there a turning point with any particular book that made you go ‘Wow!’

I loved animals growing up, so Gerald Durrell was a big favourite. New Zealand has incredible forests and countryside, but – it has to be said – the animals are pretty boring. The more exotic birds, like the kiwi, are so rare you never see them, and so mostly it’s a lot of sheep and cows. I dreamed of Corfu and a Mediterranean menagerie.

Speaking of menagerie’s, the books that still stick with my from my childhood are actually detailed picture books  – one’s like Anamalia and The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base. The one that stands out most is The Ultimate Alphabet by Mike Wilks – I spent days pouring over those pages. Each image depicts as many words as possible corresponding to each letter. I actually just bought the book again now, it’s so incredible…

2) Did you enjoy English at school?

I did – I had an English accent in a small New Zealand town, so being good at English was expected! I loved writing stories. When I was 13, we had to create a fictitious short story and illustrate it. I wrote mine about a pear tree that grew in my grandfather’s garden. After I handed it in, I was called in by the teacher who said he had to mark me down because the story was obviously based on fact. I replied it was all made up, but he didn’t believe me, and my mother had to get involved. After this incident I thought, ‘hey I might actually be good at this writing malarkey…’

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

I spend more time writing each day, than anything else. I also run a consultancy – search engine optimisation – which I’ve been doing for over ten years, and still love. Whereas before, writing was my side hustle, now I need to make sure I have the support to makemy business run smoothly. Fortunately, I have a great team, and everything (mostly) runs like clockwork.

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

Finish. That’s the toughest thing. Just get a complete first draft down. Everything can be edited and workshopped and worked on, but only if you have the raw materials. We can hold ourselves back wanting to attain perfection, but writing is re-writing, as they say – it’s always going to need more work. So get it down, look at it with fresh eyes, get someone good to help you mould it, and don’t give up!

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

Yes, I was definitely one of those kids. I loved books, I wanted to eat them.

6) Through lockdown, have you found that your reading habits have changed?

Not hugely. I still read as soon as I wake up (after making a coffee and getting back into bed). Reading first thing grounds me. I like a combination of memoir, spiritual books and diaries. Diaries are great at the start of the day, because you realise everyone gets up, just like you, with varying levels of trepidation, and then stuff happens. Whether its Anne Frank or Michael Palin, everyone is wondering what they’ll have for lunch. 

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

I’m watching I May Destroy You, which is incredible and challenging, and feels like a very particular anxiety device for me, because Bella is a writer and has deadlines looming, as well as everything else. I tried to get into Normal People, but I think I was the only person in the planet who couldn’t. I enjoyed the novel though.

We’ve been watching more films – especially re-watching Studio Ghibli movies on Netflix. They have the right level of logic to magic ratio for lockdown. 

My favourite drama, recently, has been the HBO series Watchmen. If you haven’t seen it, you must. It’s on par with The Sopranos. 

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

I love Elizabeth Strout (author of Olive Kitteridge and My Name Is Lucy Barton amongst many others). There’s an ease to her writing, a flow, the way character and story merge – it’s sublime. I also love how “unlikeable” a lot of her protagonists are. It’s a very fine line to tread – you don’t want to put off and alienate your audience, but you also want to create complex, interesting characters. Reading Elizabeth Strout is always a masterclass. 

9) 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?

I usually go for a run around Leyton Flats. Having worked from home for a decade, I understand I have to change my energy from work mode to relax mode. I gave up drinking 8 years ago, so there’s not a beer to help me unwind – so I exercise, or have a bath, or sing while I do the dishes.  

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

Freddie Mercury hands down. The songs, that voice, and those performances! (Fun fact: I used to have a pretty decent moustache for a time, and I would often get called Freddie Mercury by drunk people on the Central Line on a Friday night).

Thank you for visiting the blog today, Drew. It was a real pleasure to interview you. I can’t wait to read your new novel!

Bio: Drew Davies was born in London and grew up in New Zealand. He attended the Unitec School of Performing Arts in Auckland and won a Playmarket New Zealand Young Playwright of the Year award in 2000. After a brief stint on a kiwi soap, he has worked in Search for the past 15 years. Drew’s other claim to fame is that Stephen Fry once called him droll. Either that, or he got his name wrong. He now lives in Wanstead, London – and is the author of three novels: THE SHAPE OF US, DEAR LILY & WITH OR WITHOUT YOU.

Drew can be found at https://www.drewdaviesauthor.com

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