Who Put My Light Under This Bushel?

(And what the hell is a bushel?*)

Dear me.  Look at the dust in this place .  I can’t remember how long ago I first encountered the term ‘cobwebsite’ but I rather think it fits this one.  Time to take down the old yellowing posters and nail up some fresh ones…  Crusher was up for an 2013 Edgar award in New York, need to bang the drum about that.  (It didn’t actually win, but that minor detail can go in the small print.) And what about a link to Kebabbed, that jolly short story I did at Christmas for Random House’s Dead Good series?  Let’s stick that up somewhere.  In the spirit of ecological soundness I could recycle some of the newspaper articles I wrote last year about living with a famous author (who isn’t me.) As for that movie I scripted… maybe we should wait till it looks like coming out before we boast about it.

My last blog post, Social Notworking, was a rant about how writers today are expected to market themselves by tweeting about their work and endlessly updating their Facebook status.  I do tweet (as @Noghar) but more about my dog than my work; I believe a novel should speak for itself.  Novels, like movies, rely on the conceit that they are real.  The reader lets himself or herself believe the story the author is telling you actually happened; movie watchers let themselves believe the handsome couple robbing a bank onscreen aren’t really being filmed by a massive team of technicians just out of sight.  Talking too much about a work before the audience has seen it is the equivalent of screening a behind-the-scenes featurette before the movie’s even been released; it dissipates the thrill and spoils the illusion.

That said, it is a busy and competitive market out there, and it’s all very well being pure in motive and above the demeaning bustle of mere commerce; but a novelist without an audience isn’t a novelist, merely a person with a self-indulgent hobby.  If you don’t love your story and want it to be widely read you shouldn’t have let it get published, and if you do, you mustn’t be shy about saying so, to as many people as possible. Especially if it helps those lovely people at your publishers get back some of the money they spent buying you dinner, getting you drunk and telling you how talented you are.

So, to bring everyone up to date, the paperback of Crusher is coming out in July 2013.  It has a new cover, soon to be proudly displayed on the home page (Hoot! Where’s that new cover?)  The Mystery Writers of America nominated it for an Edgar Award, which was a great honour (the prize went to Code Name Verity, a book I am extremely keen to read) and the International Thriller Writers organisation have also lined it up for an award, which sounds like a great excuse for a beano in New York.

The manuscript of Crusher Part Two – Incinerator – is with those aforementioned lovely publishing people at Random House, who as I write this are doubtless weeping over its countless typos and continuity errors. It should be appearing in bookshops towards the end of this year (unless the typos really are countless.)

Part Three is… in development.  Watch this space. Just don’t stand over there, we’re going to be shifting furniture.

*A bushel is a bowl or a basket, depending on what translation you read.  In the same way  ‘thou shalt not kill’ has also been translated as ‘thou shalt not murder’, which  some people consider a loophole.  But that’s enough about Northern Ireland.



Social Notworking

Recently I was invited to a presentation for authors (Authors he says! Get him!) by a lovely woman from Facebook who explained how we could use their site to promote ourselves and our work. Relentlessly cheerful and upbeat – even when challenged by a surly and cynical Ulsterman (cough) – she concluded by announcing that Facebook had recently expanded the maximum size of an update to something like fifteen thousand words. Making it possible, she explained brightly, to publish an entire novel on their website with only a few postings!

Total silence. I’m pretty sure I speak for everyone in that audience when I say that my first thought was ‘I’ve put my blood, sweat, time and tears into this novel– and you think I’m going to publish it for nothing so you can flog more ads for singles-dating websites?’ To give her credit, the speaker knew as soon as she’d spoken that this was not exactly the target audience for that particular feature. But for me it sums up why writers should beware the lure of Facebook (and Twitter, my own drug of choice.)

If you write for a living, and try to ensure that your words have meaning and value (monetary or otherwise) the last thing you want to do is devalue your work by giving those words away for nothing. (Unless you’re talking about ‘free samples’. I’m all for encouraging readers to find out more. And if they buy the book but don’t like it they can’t say they weren’t warned. )

Apart from debasing your product, and leaking away piecemeal all the insights you could put into a screenplay or novel, every minute you spend tweeting, posting status updates or blogging is a minute you are not being productive. Publicity is lovely, but the priority is to have something worth publicising. I recently received a circular from another social-networking website aimed at writers which talked approvingly of a would-be author who hadn’t written a word of her planned self-improvement manual but had spent two years ‘building her brand’. Any writer of experience will recognise the whiff of bullshit coming off that statement. To be generous, perhaps the woman in question was merely putting off work and deluding herself that her displacement activity was a valid use of her time. Or maybe, to be utterly ungenerous, she was one step up from a snake-oil marketeer, busily selling a message when she had no message to sell.

Hence that disclaimer on my home page about updating when I am supposed to be working. I even feel guilty about writing this–but if you can’t update your website ten days before your first novel comes out, there’s no point in having a website at all. And of course publishers themselves encourage authors to join in the hyping party, because they want to sell books. Just ensure you never mistake PR for actual work.

For the sake of transparency I’ll admit I’m as guilty as every other author of leaving my desk unattended to hawk my ass on the high street. In a recent piece for The Guardian newspaper I attempted in vain to puff Crusher while trying not to talk too much about a certain erotic-romance author of my close acquaintance. For readers who are feeling flush there is also a more objective version behind the paywall of the London Times. If I was the vain, preening type I would say the Times photographs are much sexier, but thankfully I’m not.

So, in this spirit of dedication to the Muse I am keeping this blog update short in order to focus on work. Just as soon as I’ve found the right outfit for my five minute slot on breakfast TV later this week.

Feck-All Comes To Those Who Wait

So there I was, back in my home town, vacuuming my dad’s living room carpet and thinking how I really should ask my agent to send my  manuscript for Crusher to a publisher, when the phone rang.  It was my agent, and she already had, and the publisher she’d shown it to – Random House Children’s Books – wanted the book, plus sequels.  I had to sit down for a bit.

It’s official now – in The Bookseller, even – but I still can’t quite believe it.  When I went to meet Random House for the first time I was kind of hoping they wouldn’t find out I had written Crusher in thirty days as part of the NaNoWriMo event (see my blogs from last November.)  However they very sweetly pointed out that if I hadn’t wanted people to know how quickly I’d written the book, I shouldn’t have blogged about it (see my blogs from last November  – they certainly had.)

Of course, they knew it was not quite as simple as that.  The nuts-and-bolts writing may have taken a month but coming up with the characters and the storyline had taken me a lot longer – far too long, in fact, on and off over years.  And I only confessed it to a few of my fellow Nanites, but I had bent the rules, just a bit.  When I took part in NaNoWriMo I had started writing at Chapter Two because I’d written most of Chapter One ages beforehand, then left it aside because I didn’t know what happened next.

It was thanks to NaNoWriMo’s deadline that I had to focus, think hard and figure out what the hell did happen next, and how all the supporting characters came into the story, and what became of them.  I’m not the first NaNoWriMo graduate to get their work published (Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants is perhaps the best-known example) and I’m sure I won’t be the last.   But when I think of how long I pissed about and stared out the window instead of writing the bloody thing…. The moral, dear reader, is the same as it always is – for Christ’s sake stop making excuses and get on with it – because, like the title says, feck-all comes to those who wait.

I am now in that privileged and terrifying position of preparing the Difficult Second Novel, and I’m not staring out the window – I’m doing this.  Which frankly is no improvement… so I’ll just say, thanks to all my family and friends for their good wishes regarding Crusher, and I hope come September you find it was worth the wait.