★ Making a Proper Job of It

When I wrote Déjà Vu, I wasn’t sure if it was any good. Certainly, it was 120,000 of sus­tained nar­rat­ive and kept me enter­tained, but I couldn’t be sure about the effect on oth­er people. Turns out they liked it.

The nov­el I wrote after Déjà Vu was a very dif­fer­ent one: a com­ing-of-age com­edy based on my exper­i­ences of being an ice-cream man, which I did to help pay for my uni­ver­sity stud­ies. I laughed a great deal when I wrote it. I thought it was good. I sent it to agents and pub­lish­ers, and instead of the form rejec­tions I’d received for Déjà Vu, I got hand-writ­ten replies. More than half those agents and pub­lish­ers enjoyed read­ing it. However, because of the demands of mod­ern pub­lish­ing, full lists, and so on, they could not pro­ceed with it.

I wasn’t quite ready to give up. Since 2005, I’ve returned to the manu­script, tweaked the gags, added col­our, and gen­er­ally improved it. I wrote a film script of the story in 2009.

When I first got togeth­er with my agent, I sent him the manu­script for Proper Job (along with Déjà Vu and Flashback). I knew that most of the people in the industry who had read the book enjoyed it, so I was more con­fid­ent in Proper Job find­ing a pub­lish­er than my two sci­ence fic­tion nov­els.

A year passed, dur­ing which Déjà Vu almost, but not quite, got picked up. I asked my agent how he was get­ting on with Proper Job. He told me he had nev­er received it. This puzzled me because I’d been care­ful in nam­ing it in the body of the email. Anyway, my heart sank. If I’m hon­est with myself, this is one of the reas­ons I thought my agent and I should part ways.

Over the years, whenev­er I came back to the nov­el, it sucked me in. It made me laugh. No mean feat when I’ve read some of the gags more than twenty times. Plus, the mar­ket­ing part of my brain — you know, the bit that nev­er kicks in until I’m months into a pro­ject and real­ise its poten­tial read­er­ship is, like, five — that mar­ket­ing part told me this is the kind of book that any­body might pick up. It won’t eli­cit pre­ju­dice in quite the same way as a sci­ence fic­tion work. It’s a boy-meets-girl com­edy set in Cornwall dur­ing the eclipse of 1999, that’s all.

Now, of course, I’m in a pos­i­tion to say the hell with it and pub­lish the thing myself on the Kindle.

On Monday of this week, I went to The Grand, a well-pre­served Victorian hotel over­look­ing the Leas in Folkestone. I spent every morn­ing, after­noon and even­ing work­ing on a final draft. Next week, I’ll send the thing off to my favour­ite freel­ance edit­or, Clare Christian, and get her take.

I’ve just real­ised that one of the major changes I’ve made in this latest drive is to intro­duce an ele­ment of faith — not reli­gion, exactly, but faith — in the main char­ac­ter. I won­der if this is my uncon­scious mind telling me to have faith in the story. If so, it needn’t have bothered. I’ve always had faith in it.

★ Eastercon 2010 (And A Master Plan)

What is a sci­ence fic­tion con­ven­tion? It is a place for fans, writers, would-be writers and any­body else with an interest in sci­ence fic­tion to con­greg­ate and dis­cuss the geeky details of their ima­gin­a­tion. Yes, there are cos­tumes. Yes, many of the fans are sci­ent­ists. Nobody wore Spock ears, though I did look more like Captain Picard than I’d like.

Less con­cerned with the geekery, I atten­ded Eastercon 2010 — the annu­al British sci­ence fic­tion con­ven­tion — primar­ily to meet-up with friends Paul Graham Raven, Gareth L Powell, Gareth D Jones, Neil Benyon, Jetse de Vries, Martin McGrath, and Stephen J Sweeney, in which regard I was per­fectly suc­cess­ful, and had delight­ful con­ver­sa­tions with all of them. The oth­er goal was a meet­ing with my agent, John Jarrold.

John is a per­son­able chap, full of stor­ies about con­ven­tions in the mid-1970s where luminar­ies could be found in the bar at 2 a.m. dis­cuss­ing anti­grav­ity drives and the use of col­our in Powell and Pressburger films.

On the face of it, I haven’t been a very suc­cess­ful cli­ent for John, and he was kind enough to reas­sure me that pub­lish­ing is best seen in terms of the long haul. John is cur­rently try­ing to place two of my three Saskia Brandt books, which, des­pite good reviews for the first, small press run, have not been picked up. When a writer’s books con­sti­tute a loose series, it is, obvi­ously, essen­tially to have the first one pub­lished and at large before the sequels become viable.

Goal Number One for the rest of this year is to stop writ­ing Saskia Brandt books.

Goal Number Two is to man­age my time more effect­ively so that I have the men­tal space to write. (At the moment, my aca­dem­ic work crowds out almost everything, which is no mean feat; I had the time to write Déjà Vu when I was com­plet­ing my PhD and hold­ing down a half-time teach­ing job.)

Goal Number Three is to write only parts of books. That is, I need to avoid writ­ing them com­pletely and work­ing on them for about five years, at the end of which pub­lish­ers say, ‘Meh’. I should switch to a mod­el where I write a couple of chapters, then a syn­op­sis, and send the lot off to John and see what he thinks.

Some pro­jects, how­ever, are not nov­el-related fic­tion. I wrote a spec­u­lat­ive Eleventh Doctor script just after Christmas, and now that I’ve seen and enjoyed the first epis­ode of the new series, I’ll return to it and try to incor­por­ate what I’ve learned about Amy Pond and Matt Smith’s Doctor. This could well be point­less, giv­en that (as far as I know), the pro­duc­tion team is not accept­ing spec­u­lat­ive scripts, but what the hell. Pointlessness nev­er stopped me before and it won’t stop me now. Pointlessness is, and con­tin­ues to remain, Goal Number Four.

Super-Agent John Jarrold Speaks

John JarroldI prefer the term Über-Agent, myself., my agent, has been inter­viewed over at the My Favourite Books Blog.

Here’s the killer ques­tion, and it’s answer:

How can new­bie writers / exist­ing authors catch your eye with their work?

Brilliant prose, great, involving open­ing, then won­der­ful storytelling, ter­rif­ic plots, intriguing, three-dimen­sion­al char­ac­ters and out­stand­ing dia­logue. And be aware of the mar­ket.

My Favourite Books