Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Merry Christmas!

May merriment, Christmas cheer, family, gifts, twinkling lights, log fires, mince pies and a glass of something heart-warming be yours!

Merry Christmas everyone! And thank-you to everyone who has been following my blog, published my books, and most of all... a huge thank-you to my much-valued readers.

Right, I'm off to stuff the turkey. See you next year.

Sam xxx

Friday, 5 December 2008

F is for Foreign Rights

I suppose this topic is self-explanatory, really. But post UK sale of a novel (or wherever your home territory may be) and whatever rights have been snapped up in that initial high six-figure deal, there's always room for a bit more wheeling and dealing with the foreign rights. And then there are audio and large print rights, book clubs, e-books (I love my Sony e-reader) and of course, the film option can be sold. Lots of times, actually, if it doesn't go into production.

I haven't done too badly on the forein rights deals so far. There have been a few sales - not least to Germany, a huge market, who are right behind promoting my work. I haven't got a clue what's written between the pages of BLUTSKINDER (Blood Ties) but it sold well, and I've now signed another two book deal with my German publishers, who want to 'build me'.

Also, my book's being translated into Russian and the Slovak edition is out sometime soon. I am Sam Hayesova on the cover. Most odd. Blood Ties is also an unabridged audio book and there's a large print version too. My agent has had interest from other countries and they all work hard, agents and sub-agents, constantly letting editors know what books they have to sell.

A foreign rights sale means more food can be bought by the author, as well as having a far wider audience. I'm both thrilled and curious about someone in a town I've never heard of in remote Russia reading my words in their language.

It never ceases to amaze me when I read that an author has 'sold in over thirty-six languages' or whatever. I wasn't even sure there were that many! It would be a full time job just keeping up with the different covers. I hope to be in that position someday myself. But if I'm honest, and I'm sure most authors will agree, the territory to bag is the USA. It's big and they sell a lot of books. And they have lots of film companies. I was quite surprised to find out not so long ago that Martina Cole only fairly recently cracked the States. Why? She's huge here. And I'm also occasionally surprised to read about authors that I wouldn't have thought would do well out there but have.

And once you have a foreign deal? Well, then come the contracts. Thankfully, that's what agents are for (partly) and mine does a fine job of putting yellow sticky notes in all the right places after she's suffered all the eye-strain of reading them. And finally, after what seems like, years...(it usually is months and years) you might actually see a foreign edition of your book.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Brief Intermission

It's been a little longer than I'd hoped before my next post in my A-Z. This is due to that thing called writing a novel - see E and D. But I'll put aside some time in the next few days to add my next post, which will be about foreign rights.

S. xx

Saturday, 8 November 2008

It turns out...

...that I'm allergic to red wine. Not white. Red.

My favourite colour.

And chocolate too. Really.

What, I am asking myself, is left in life?

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

E is for Editing

There's a Regina Spektor song called 'Edit'. She sings: You can write but you can't edit. Now I dearly love all Regina's music, but she's not going to get very far with an attitude like that, is she? Editing is up there with writing the book in the first place and, of course, actually having a story to tell. It is, in other words, Very Important.

I can only speak for myself when describing how to do it. Editing, like writing, is a personal business. Every writer has their own way, I guess. But ultimately the end result is the same. Or at least should be. Editing makes a book the very best it can be. It hones and polishes, cuts out the crap, does away with all those crazy notions that the writer once thought were clever. It loses all those wordy, overwrought sentences. It banishes whole scenes - even entire characters/sub-plots/threads - to the recycle bin. Editing is a breath of freh air after all those sweaty months of hammering out the first draft. And not editing your work is akin to buying a new gown and turning up at the ball without make-up or brushing your hair. Eeek!

I've very, very nearly finished the first draft of my new novel. When I write, the first thing I do each day is read what I wrote the day before. I spend some time making alterations, usually nothing major. I don't get too hung up on minute details. But anything glaring and I'll whip it into shape there and then. Then I get on with my day's writing, knowing that before long I'll be revisiting the text many times anyway. The thing is, as I approach the end, I'm desperate to go back to the beginning. Writing a novel (especially a 120k word novel) is a very fluid process. Of course I start out with strong ideas and a solid plot, but things have a habit of changing along the way. Therefore, earlier writing needs altering to fit in with new ideas/strands/characters so it all hangs together. Or I might feel that the overall balance of the novel is wrong - not enough action early on... Or perhaps the tone changes or a character has had to acquire a new trait to make some plot aspect convincing.

When I'm writing, I have several other files open for notes. I have timelines and character charts and a chapter by chapter summary that I fill in as I go along. But I also have a 'points to change' file, which is an enormous help when it comes to editing. My memory isn't so good and I'd find it impossible to recall everything that I've decided needs altering. When I turn back to the first page ready to edit, the first thing I do is go through these notes and make my suggested changes. By this time, I might not agree with some of the earlier ones, but they act as good memory-joggers to make sure an idea is watertight.

After I've worked through the list, which can take some time, I'll go back to the beginning once again and start reading through. This, for me, is quite a slow process. No dashing through the novel in eight hours. It could take as many weeks. I edit (I do all my work straight onto the computer. My handwriting is both slow and illegible) as I read, making tiny changes (spelling etc) to striking out whole pages or, sometimes, entire chapters. For me, the first draft is very much just 'getting it down'. I'd be pretty mortified if anyone read it at this stage. I also make notes to myself within the text as I go along, in another colour, if I get stuck on something. Coming back a few days later with a fresh eye is often the key to fixing a problem.

Editing isn't just making the words hang together right and sound pretty or slick or enticing when being read. Editing is about sticking to your guns, making certain that if a character is meant to be angry throughout, they don't suddenly go around hugging trees for no apparent reason. Editing tightens themes, carries sub-plots, and most importantly, makes the writing convincing. It does away with sloppy writing, wild thoughts and notions that have no place or add no value to the story. It makes the story true to itself.

When I get to the end of the book, with a bunch of fresh notes, I go right back to the beginning and do it all again. Then again. And again. And probably again and again.

At some point during the 'again and agains' above, my agent will get to see the typescript. I will hold my breath until she gets back to me and, guess what? She will have lots of good ideas for editing. We will discuss these, probably think of some new ideas together, and then I'll incorporate these too. As I'm writing in the new ideas, they are first draft writing and, in turn, will need to be edited. It is a never ending process, but a line does have to be drawn at some point. That's when we'll send the novel to my editor a Headline.

Every day I think of how fortunate I am to have such a brilliant agent and editor. And I'm not just saying that for the hell of it. New authors are hardly in a position to pick and choose these two key characters when starting their careers, so ending up working with people who are on the same level, who listen to my ideas, add their own thoughts in a way that's neither bombastic or flimsy, who have the very same intentions at heart as me - to put the very best books out there - is surely a good thing.

Anyway, this is when my editor gets her red pen out and adds her mark. It's physical. It's on paper. It's in her handwriting and sometimes entire pages get struck out. Sometimes I think: How can she not like that? Sometimes, to coin a phrase, she completely slaughters my darlings, even though I've already spent weeks trying to do the same myself. And sometimes she adds comments about the bits she loves, about how things hang together in the way we've discussed. Sometimes she adds just a word or two that is so insightful it makes me wonder what I've been doing these last few weeks - why didn't I see that myself? Having an editor is like seeing the novel with a new pair of eyes; a fresh brain. She edits from the eyes of the reader, the booksellers, the reviewers, the sales team, marketing and publicity, but most of all she edits for me. Because she understands totally what I'm trying to achieve and, if she doesn't think it's quite there, she'll show me how and why and where. Just how she does this is is a complete mystery to me. And also, how she does this so quickly, so accuarately and without getting in a muddle. It's easy to forget that I'm not her only author. She has lots of other books all at various stages of production. I've seen them, stacked up in her office and it's daunting to say the least. Let's all toast good editors.

I thought it might be interesting to show a page of UNSPOKEN after it's been beneath my editor's pen. I just randomly plucked out a page (making sure it didn't have any spoilers!)

When she sends the typescript back to me, she also sends a letter detailing all the ideas we've discussed. Then, with a big pot of tea, I sit down at my computer and I...edit. This will probably take me a couple of weeks. It's a very big pot of tea.

Then back it goes to my editor - of course keeping my agent up to speed and asking for her very valued advice. Sometimes I don't agree with suggested changes. Sometimes my editor agrees with my point of view and sometimes she doesn't. I've never 'argued' about changes - thankfully because we all seem to be on the same wavelength in our editorial triangle - but sometimes I've not been keen to budge. Somehow we all shift into each others' gears. Somehow my agent smooths the waters.

Once these changes are agreed, the edits get honed down to miniscule alterations. But sometimes these can be the most important. A single sentence added or removed could make or break a chapter, or indeed the whole novel if something is revealed too soon etc. Once all this is ironed out, the typescript goes off to the copy editor. To become a copy editor, you have to have been an eagle in a former life. They spot things normal mortals can't. Think typos, grammar, continuity, style - house and writing - and other bits and pieces that we have missed so far. It's like polishing the lipstick off your teeth before you step out in that new gown. It's one last OCD glance in the mirror.

Then the typescript comes back to me and...I sit down with a very big pot of tea... You get the picture. Once I've gone through stack of pages again, I send it back. My editor goes through everything again, raisies queries about my queries, perhaps adds a few more changes based on my changes as a result of the copy editor's changes...then, finally, the novel will go off to the typesetter.

Then I get it back. More tea...more mark-ups, more back and forth...etc etc... then, if we're lucky, silence. Just the clackety-clack of the printing press. Not the time to be thinking about edits.

So, as you can see, editing is a huge part of writing. I wouldn't say it's the most part, but very nearly. There has to be something there in the first place to edit, but once you have that first draft, once you've spent months and months writing, don't do yourself a disservice by not editing. Now go and listen to Regina Spektor's song and sharpen your pencil.

And let me know how YOU do it.

Sam xx

Monday, 20 October 2008

Coalville Library Crime Fiction Festival

I'm talking at Coalville Library Crime Fiction Festival on Saturday November 15th from 2pm. You can hear wise words from me (eek - better write some) about my life as an author and also find out lots about my books. You can buy them, too (hint hint) and I will deface them for you with my signature.

Writing festivals are good things. It means us authors have something to look forward to. During that particular week, you can attend a murder mystery evening, vote for a selection of authors, or listen to an Agatha Christie talk by John Martin, a chap who certainly knows his stuff.

Would love to see you there. Coalville is in Leicestershire, btw, so no excuses now you know where it is.


Monday, 13 October 2008

D is for Deadlines

The clue's in the word, right. Deadlines.

As an author, there's no escaping them. Before I was published, in those carefree days before contracts, all I wanted was a deadline. Please someone make me finish this book by Easter. Couldn't you pressure me just a little bit? Proper writers had deadlines, and I wanted one too.

'Ooh, no. Sorry. Won't be able to make that lunch date. I have an urgent deadline.' It was up there with 'Speak to my agent' in terms of feeling 'proper'. It was a badge of honour. I was certain it would gain me entry to some kind of exclusive authorial club; make me exude special literary pheromones; have everyone believe I was a real writer. All it did was make me rush out and buy more dye to hide the extra grey hairs.

So everything's set out in black and white. The contract states that in, let's say, twelve months your publisher not unreasonably would like delivery of a clean, readable manuscript. That it has to be a well-edited, polished, exciting, flawless guaranteed bestseller doesn't add that much extra pressure does it?

How then, does twelve months - a whole year - suddenly seem like a couple of days? How does spring become August, and summer transform in the blink of an eye into Autumn? Damn those Christmas cards and tinsel! How dare they be put out in the shops before I've finished my book.

The wise thing to do would be to plan ahead. Set a certain number of words to write each month, week, day - whatever gets you towards your deadline in a steady, unflappy way. Trouble is, life happens. Kids need taking to the dentist or have days off school with tummy ache. People 'pop' in thinking, ah, she only works from home. She'll be glad of the company. Then there's the business side of things, accounts, phone calls, emails, and checking proofs of the previous book, maybe attending the odd event or two, speaking at libraries etc. All this eats away at time allocated to write. Not to mention actually having a day or so off at the weekend or spending time with the family. Working from home is fantastic for 'fitting things in' (however much I may grumble about distractions) but also it can lead to novel-exhaustion because work is always there. There's nothing like a couple of days off (or a bar of chocolate) to get the creative juices flowing again. But that's hard to achieve when there's a screaming deadline looming.

Anyway, the upshot is... my latest deadline for my new novel is January 09. At the time of writing this post, I have written exactly 92530 words out of around 120000 words. So I'm not doing too bad. There's no panic yet. By the end of October, I will have finished the first draft, leaving me three months for revisions and editing, although the school holidays sit like the Grand Canyon in my work schedule.

I'm pretty disciplined about my writing most days. I don't feel good if progress is slow. And I also don't feel good about writing if the house is a mess or there's no food in the fridge. However, seeing as this is usually the case and my family are pretty resourceful, this deadline-induced state of mayhem is tolerated. And when the book's done, it's always time for a spring-clean, whatever the time of year. I like to thoroughly muck out my office. Get sorted. Scrunch up all those chocolate wrappers and gather up all the dirty coffee cups. It's a cleansing ritual. Make way for the new idea.

There's nothing quite like the feeling of meeting a deadline (except I had to get an extension last time!) apart from meeting a deadline with a novel that your editor loves and believes readers will love too. That, I guess, is what keeps me chugging forward. What keeps me wanting to write - and I would, deadline or not.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Desperately Seeking

Most unusual search string that brought someone to my blog this month?

Suzi Quatro's local gym.

It raises a number of questions...

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

No Right Turn

At one end of my street, you can't turn right. You also can't turn right when coming into my road either. This is for two reasons. 1) To stop my street being used as a rat-run. It's pleasant and has trees and children and cats. We don't want lots of cars down here. 2) The other reason is that, if you turn right out of my street onto the busy road, you hold up everyone behind you because, during rush hour, it's impossible to turn right. Going left, circling the roundabout, coming back again, keeps everything flowing.

So WHY does the woman in the four wheel drive - think huge, black, shiny and with a silly private plate that probably spells her name if you squint, stand on your head, and pronounce it with a French accent - WHY does she always insist on holding me up in the morning by bloody turning right out of MY street?

Today I managed to squeeze up on her left. I wound down my window. I shook my fist at her. I yelled 'Can't you read? It's no right turn.'

She could see right over the top of my little red diesel Fiesta that costs me £35 a year to tax, peanuts to insure, and does 65 miles to the gallon. So there she sat, staring over my roof, watching all the traffic go by, as I struggled to see over her rhinoceros-sized bonnet. Then she laughed at me. Then she wound down her window. She told me I should get a bigger car then I'd be able to see.

She is so going in a book. So going to drive a Del Boy-style three-wheeler. (Maybe I should re-read my previous post.)

Thursday, 2 October 2008

C is for Character

Everyone has one, don't they? A character, that is. It's what makes us human. It's what makes us react to situations. It's what makes others either like or dislike us. It is, ultimately, responsible for our decision making and therefore rather vital to have in a novel. If anything's going to actually happen, that is.

Years ago, when I wasn't very experienced... (and I know, compared to some authors, I still have a long way to go - although I'm nearly done writing my sixth published novel) ... I weighted my characters with layer upon layer of traits, attributes, reactions, ways of thinking, emotion, how they looked, navel-gazing, so that there simply wasn't any room for a story. Or if there was, no one noticed it because it was buried beneath all these over-zealous characters. It was a drag to read. No one in real life has that much 'character' - not all at once, anyway, and not so contrived.

It was an interesting and slow process, how I learnt about characterisation. People would politely ask 'What is your book about?'. (I'd written several complete novels before anything actually got published). My answer was usually something along the lines of 'A feisty woman who is angry, opinionated, and has a passion for XYZ. Then there's a man who's bereft, sad, lonely... A daughter who's rebellious, crazy, annoying...' I couldn't tell them what the book was actually about - er, because it wasn't really about anything. Apart from a bunch of overwrought characters.

After a while, because of all the comments/feedback I'd been getting from various sources, I began to tone down the larger-than-life players who broke into my work. They became more subtle, more realistic, and of course ultimately more believable. If something doesn't ring true with a reader, if you give them reason to shout out Yeah right enough times, then bit by bit you'll lose their attention. So this left me with a cast of characters who, OK, might have been a bit too bland in many ways, but at least they weren't all stereotypes and overreacting to, er, nothing.

The thing was, I was left with these characters, but there was no story as such. No plot. No momentum. Nothing to bring out their true worth. That's where story comes in (see future post). Without a story to tell, there's no way for your readers to get to know your characters. Without characters, there's no way to tell your story. They are chained together. It was at that time, surprisingly late on in my many failed attempts at publication, that I finally realised this simple fact. Had I not flunked out on my MA in Creative Writing, I would have learnt this a lot sooner.

It was a dawn breaking over my keyboard. An epiphany. And it was incredibly hard work at first, having to think of this whole 'story' thing. But it didn't half give the characters I'd been struggling with a sense of purpose, a real sense of place and belonging in my work. This may sound rather simplistic - and indeed it is. The crafting of an entire novel is far more intricate, dependent on so many other factors (not least a good editor). I doubt I'm qualified yet to even hazard a guess at what it is that makes a novel 'work'. But what I do know - from my own experiences only of course - is that character and story are intrinsically linked. It's even hard to write this post about characters without going on about story.

So now, when my feisty, angry, opinionated woman with a passion for German accents, sports cars, and train spotting strides onto the pages, or a bloke with an eating disorder, a divorce and a body odour problem, just won't go away, I'll throw a good dose of story at them. Watch them curl up and die.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

B is for Book-Buyers

It is, of course, also for 'books', but I wasn't about to write about that. That would have been silly. We all know what books are.

Book-buyers are Very Important People. When I say book-buyers, I don't mean the book-buying public. Of course, retail customers are extremely important, and I am grateful to every single one of them. Without them, there would be no book industry. There would be no me sitting here bashing away at the computer every day. No, I'm referring to the book-buyers who stock the bookshops and supermarkets. The ones that pick out lists of titles from the dozens of catalogues they receive, and the many sales presentations they sit through. They are pretty much gods and goddesses.

Before I was published, this part of the 'book' process wasn't something that had occured to me. The way I saw it, writers wrote books, publishers edited and printed books, bookshops sold books. Essentially, that's all true, of course. But there are many chains of people in between these milestones, and one key set is the book-buyers.

I've met a few of them. Yes, I was let loose on book-buyers. Quite brave of my publishers, I thought ;-) Headline are extremely good - renowned, even - for throwing impressive parties and dinners - things that make their authors feel like, well, authors. So I was very excited to be invited along to a number of dinners hosted by my publishers last year before the paperback of BLOOD TIES was released. There were perhaps half a dozen authors attending, and the other guests were...? Yep, book-buyers. They came from all types of establishments. Some were from the big high street chains, some bought for the indie bookshops, and some were buying for the supermarket giants. And they all had one thing in common. They knew everything there was to know about books. Their passion for the business shone through the delicious food, the freely-flowing wine, and the clouds of cigarette smoke. And there was a lot of all that.

I was surprised at how young some of them were. Yes, it could be that I'm just getting old, and of course people in their late twenties/early thirties are perfectly capable of deciding what sits on the shelves of Tesco. Several owners of independent bookshops attended the dinners. They were responsible for their own buying, their own marketing, shelf-stocking, and quite possibly cleaning the shop too. They are dedicated to their businesses. They run book groups, kids' mornings on a Saturday, invite authors to sign and talk, and serve coffee and cakes. They exhausted me just telling me about it!

Other book-buyers in the big chains or supermarkets have a very specific job description. Buy books that are going to sell. Buy lots of them, and buy them cheaply. Publishers will present their season's list well in advance - like any retail industry, really - and I assume that stock orders will mainly be based around this and other hype/publicity/future marketing campaigns planned. Meeting with the authors at the dinner is a bonus for all. They get to meet the names behind the titles they're buying, and we can flutter our eyelashes...I mean, talk sensibly about our work and future titles. It's fun. It gets us away from the office/study/kitchen table/understairs cupboard. Oh, and I can wear a posh dress and stay in a trendy boutique hotel.

So, to sum up: Book-buyers are VIPs in the publishing world. They get our books on the shelves. They like nice food and wine. My daughters like them because it means, the next day, they get given little shampoos and sewing kits.

Sam xx

NEXT UP: There are a lot of things beginning with C. Copyeditors, covers, character...

Monday, 15 September 2008

A is for Agent

Look, it's going to buy me twenty-six posts, okay? That is, as long as I can find things in publishing that begin with V, X and Z. Actually, the X isn't hard at all. But you'll have to wait a while for that one.

So I thought I'd do my own publishing A-Z. Knock up a true-to-life, author's-eye view of the industry. Completely from my point of view, of course, which is going to be unlike anyone else's. And no apologies for omissions, errors, or differences. This is what's been happening to me in the business for...well, the last twelve years at least. Starting with agents. Even though A for Anxiety was a close second.

Love them or hate them...think of all those form rejections and nine month waits...having an agent, in my opinion, is essential for an author. Thankfully I love mine. I'm very lucky. (Actually, very persistent, as you will see.) Literary agents are worker-outers, and not just in the financial sense. They work out deals, problems, and make all those phone calls you've been putting off. And they take you out for nice lunches. And stop you drinking too much at parties.

But getting one? It's not as if you can go order one off the internet. Or ring one up and say please represent me. Other agents are willing to take their percentage - estate agents, financial agents, even secret agents are easier to come by than literary ones. So why weren't they biting my hands off?

I've probably written an entire novel's worth of submission letters to 'suitable' agents over the years. Not all replied. Some replied within minutes to email submissions. The average wait for a reply to a submission package of letter, short synopsis and about fifty pages of writing was, I'd say, about two to three months. I hit small, one man agencies as well as the multi-agent giants. And it was always no. No, no, no. If that email pinged back immediately, I knew it was no. How could they have read anything so quickly? A big fat self-addressed envelope through the door? Nope. Nada. Zilch. Always no. Before opening it, I'd kid myself that they'd taken a photocopy of the typescript and were politely returning this one with an immediate acceptance letter and agency contract. It's quite nice to place the envelope, unopened, on the kitchen table, have a cup of tea, and sit and stare at it. Not-quite-broken bad news. Still that hope.

Here are some of my rejections. Just little snippets from letters over the years. I have a thick folder of them.

'I'm afraid that after careful consideration, our editors have decided it's not right for our lists.'
'I am sorry for the negative response but do feel that an agent must be wholeheartedly and unreservedly behind a work if he hopes to sell it to publishers.'
'Don't be too disheartened by this letter. Due to the huge pressure of work, we have to be very selective. We receive 200 submissions per week.'
'We are taking on extremely few new clients at the moment.'
'I'm afraid I don't love the material, so I will have to pass.'
'I wish you better luck elsewhere.'
'I would not be able to place this on my list.'
'I found your material promising but not quite right for my list.'
'I am not confident I could attract the interest of a publisher.'
'It's a dark story, in my view perhaps a little overwrought.'
'I don't feel this is something I could take further.'
'Thank you for your query letter and synopsis, which we have read with interest. We would like to request the first three chapters.'
Thank you for sending us the first three chapters. Unfortunately, it is not up to publication standard.'
'Thank you for sending me the pages. I will be in touch when I have read them.'
'I have now read your pages. I think I am missing something. I was initially stumped by the opening...but then I began to connect...anyway, I will wait to read some more.'
'Thank you for sending me the rest of your typescript. Sadly, I do not feel this is something I would be able to represent.'
'I started to read this with the same enthusiasm I had for your writing first time round...But I found this novel somehow out of date...'
'Clever writing but not my kind of thing, sorry.'
'As explained, I am taking on so few new clients I have to be very enthusiastic before committing.'
'I do very much like your writing but, alas, I don't like this book quite enough to feel I can offer to represent you. But someone else will, I feel sure of it.'

Sound familiar? These are a tiny part of my collection. I'm very proud of them. Many authors say they can wallpaper their living room with rejections. I could wallpaper my entire house. And next door.

Assuming you have a spark of interest from an agent, what happens next? They've read the first fifty pages and liked it, so it's highly likely they might call you up and request the rest of the manuscript. Speaking to an agent on the telephone is a bit like having god pop in for a chat. You're convinced it won't ever happen, even if you do believe.

The first agent I ever spoke to wasn't actually on the phone. It was in Real Life. Face to face. Breathing the same air as him. I'd approached this agent - actually recommended by someone I'd previously met 'in the business' - and he kindly read my work. He invited me to come to his office. This was a very big deal. And I knew, just knew, that I was going to blow it. And I did. I'd been given this opportunity, literally an angel-sent invitation into the inner sanctum of the literary world, and I completely and utterly crumbled. And he sensed it, too.

What did I do wrong? Loads, and it's all too cringeworthy to write about. Probably, if I'm honest, the biggest mistake was that I never followed up successfully with the kind of ideas he was after. At the time, my writing was too experimental for his liking. He represented commercial fiction as well as some very well known TV names. My little offerings weren't for him. He said he saw me, ultimately, as a psychological thriller writer. That was back in 2002. Astute chap, eh? Towards the end of our meet, he asked me: Will you write a novel about a paedophile? I said No, I won't. Go figure.

The next time I met an agent was at a writers' convention. I was writing horror and fantasy, convinced it was where my heart lay. After all, I'd been writing in this genre since I was ten years old. It was a genre-based get together of fans, publishing folk and writers. There were workshops and panels and interesting people. I made some nice friends and good contacts. Plus, highlight of all highlights, I'd booked myself a 'Pitch to the Agent' session. I had ten minutes or so to tell her why she should take me on as a client. She'd already read my material prior to the meet. Nothing scary then.

In fact, it wasn't scary at all. She was very nice. And I don't think I made a tit of myself this time. She even said, if the novel continued in this way (it was an unfinished novel!), then she'd be very interested in representing me. It was as good as a 'yes' for me. I left with a handshake, a smile, and the extra oomph I needed to write the remaining eighty thousand words. A year later, I delivered my manuscript. She remembered me. She read it. Then she rejected me.

That was in 2003. Much writing 'stuff' happened subsequently, including more of the letter-based submissions . But agent-wise, nothing positive kicked-off again until early 2006. I been writing for Virgin Books - two novels - (see future posts for this - probably V and X!). I'd also been in touch with an editor at a big publisher via an 'industry contact' and she was teetering about my book. In the end she said no, but recommended me to a well-respected literary agency. I worked closely with them for a month or two, changing and re-shaping my novel as per their suggestions. They were very good suggestions and the novel was much better for it. I re-submitted and they re-read. Then they rejected me.

Because of the novels I was writing for Virgin books, I'd joined the Society of Authors. Membership includes vetting of contracts. I was at a regional Society meeting and bumped into a writer that I'd met a couple of years before. We got chatting and he said that he'd mention me to his agency, see if they'd perhaps take a look at my current novel. Writers are nice like that.

Three months later, I was sitting in a restaurant in London with my new agent. She'd read my novel (taking only a weekend!), decided she liked it, decided I was right for her list, decided I probably had more novels in me, decided I wasn't an idiot (because now, agent-experienced me didn't act like one) and decided to offer me an agency agreement. Then I got sick and ended up with a heart monitor, which actually recorded on its trace the skip of my many palpitations as my agent rang me to say she'd got me a two book deal. The news is officially recorded in my medical records. The doctors said I wasn't going to die, which was also good.

I should add that my lovely first agent decided after a while that a change of career was in order for her. (I don't think it was anything to do with me.) I was sad to see her go but also delighted to be represented by another wonderful lady at the same agency. In actual fact, it was an agency that I'd approached years before with some of my more 'experimental' work. They sent me a very swift and personal response, encouraging me to approach them in the future.

So, you can see, 'A is for Agent' is very closely related to 'A is for Anxiety'. The moral of this very long tale: Try and get a good deal on discount postage and never give up. They get worn down in the end.

Friday, 12 September 2008

No Spitting

I'm going to start this post with something that will probably single me out as the most obsessive person in the entire world, but writers notice these things. Hopefully at least one other person will comment and say yeah, that really bugs me too. Then I won't feel quite so odd.'s carrier bags. Yes, I know we shouldn't be using them and I'm very responsible and have a large assortment of reusable flowery shopping bags. (Tasteful ones.) And the reason I began using my own? Not entirely to save the planet single-handedly, no - although that is very important. Someone needs to keep the reusable bag factories belching out CO2, don't they? No, the main reason for taking my own bright pink bags to the shops is so that I don't get someone else's spit on me. What's with all the cashiers at the checkout slobbering on their hand before they pluck a plastic bag off the rack? Didn't come off first time? Hey, let's spit on our fingers again and smear some more of my bodily fluids on this obsessive writer's shopping.

I'm sorry. I don't like it. And I told a rather spotty youth who was full of cold (he had the nerve to add snot to the carrier-bag-opening mix) that I didn't want him leaving traces of himself on something I was going to put my food in. Anyway, I held up my own bag proudly while he stared at me, unable to comprehend that I'd even commented on such a thing. And if anyone works on a supermarket checkout, I know it's hard to open the darn things if people insist on using them. But perhaps a little dish of water, one of those spongey things like they used to have in the Post Office, might be more hygienic?

So, let's rise up against spitting on bags. I would start a Facebook group if I knew how (I've been trying to get to grips with it). SASOB - Shoppers Against Spitting on Bags. I mean, it's wet when you pick it up. Please tell me it's not just me that thinks this.

On a far less OCD note, (really, I'm not OCD. Not that there's anything wrong with being OCD of course. I'm just not. I was discussing similar things with a friend recently - you'll know who you are if you're reading this - and I just want to let you know that the towel thing is fine. Quite refreshing for a man to think that way. You keep right on arranging them) I was going to say...I'm still answering lots of brilliant questions over at the Book Club Forum. Every month, they invite an author to come and chat with their members, talk about their writing, how they got started, what they like reading, what inspires them etc etc... and so it's me this time hopefully sounding all authorly and like I know what I'm talking about. And they're a jolly nice bunch of people too. I will certainly be visiting the forum once September is over. And they're going to be running a competition with my books as prizes - so go and join in :-)

School's finally back and the house is oddly quiet during the day. Things stay where I left them; food sits in the fridge uneaten; there's no thud-thud of the kids' music shaking the floors. No one asking me for a lift to the cinema. No one asking for money. So it's full steam ahead and then some on the novel. I so desperately want to let on what it's about, but I won't for now. I had a lightbulb moment about the title recently and my agent liked it too. Fingers crossed that my ed will go for it. She has a knack of knowing what's just right, and she's always honest. Always spot on with these things. I would imagine there'll be a teaser in the back of the Unspoken paperback when it's out...maybe the first chapter or so...more will be revealed in the next few months.

Finally, a bit of clever fun from the blog of Caroline Smailes, author of recently published Black Boxes. Click the thingy below - it takes you to other places. Guaranteed no spit.

STOP PRESS NEWS: I've just seen that the new cover for UNSPOKEN is up on Amazon. Take a look and let me know what you think.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Author of the Month

That's me - over at the wonderful Book Club Forum. I'll be answering questions on the forum's 'featured author' thread throughout September so do stop by and ask me something. About writing. And nothing hard.


Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Happy Christmas

So, who enjoyed the summer?

Today I took the She-Devils shopping for new school uniform - winter uniform - but I also had to buy a couple of birthday cards. First thing I saw in the card shop? Christmas cards. Something is seriously amiss. Maybe there's nothing wrong with the weather at all...perhaps there's no such thing as global warming. All that's happened is retailers have surreptitiously changed the calendar, one day at a time over the years, so that summer is now aut...well, you get my drift.

Thankfully, during the holidays, we spent lots of time in a place of no rain. Andalucia - just outside a beautiful mountain village, away from the hustle of the coast although near enough to indulge in a few water sports, and with a welcome breeze each afternoon. Think al fresco dining, swimming, sailing, barbecues without umbreallas, tons of reading, happy She-Devils and a nearly-seventeen-year-old son who slept most of the time (to correct the deficit of the last year, he said), whether it be in bed, in the pool or on a sunbed. He did, however, stir rather early on exam results day. Bleary-eyed, he asked me to drive him to the nearest internet cafe. So we trundled off down the mountain along hair-raising dirt tracks clinging to precarious slopes only to find that the whole town's internet was down. We stood and stared at each other, wondering what the Spanish for 'well bloody get it working again' was. Not to be outdone by some hapless Spanish road-digger with a wayward shovel hacking through a cable, we blew about fifty quid and half an hour as Ben managed to log onto the net with his mobile phone. As the results filtered in, his eyebrows raised, a smile formed (quite hard to do after only eighteen hours sleep) and he began nodding, as if he might even be proud of himself. Quite casually he told me that he'd hit straight A* and A grades in all his GCSEs. Go Ben. And his English result was in the top ten in the country. Go Ben again. Proud? Me?

Anyway, what this means is that he must have been studying in the Easter holidays and not messing about on Facebook all that time. Maybe he actually believes me when I say it's...erm...a waste of time. But I suppose I only say that because I'm still not sure what it does. I try, honestly, to use it...but can't. I am officially FaceSpatially-Challenged. I just don't get it. I don't want everyone to see all my photos or know what I was doing today or if I'm interested in men or women or what my religious/political views are. Anyway, what's wrong with the phone? Or popping in? Or sending a card? Remember those flowery notelets you'd get at Christmas from a distant aunt and use them all up writing thank-you notes on Boxing Day? I liked them. Which brings me back to cards and the wretched Christmas display in the shop. This year I'm going to call it Deadlinemas. I will decorate the tree with Post-It notes saying 'Will you make it?' or 'Really? Another coffee?' or 'How many words a day do you call that?' or 'Haven't you even thought of a title yet?'. A black crow could sit in place of the star.

As you may have guessed, I have an end of year deadline for my next novel. Well, it's a little after actually, but I like to give myself a fail-safe. I'm halfway through writing this one and as wonderful as our holiday was, I was kind of looking forward to getting back behind the keyboard. It's another emotional thriller, as yet without a title, but it's all hanging together very nicely in my head - all plotted but with enough room left for the characters to throw in a few surprises of their own. I often wonder what the covers might be like for my books and, of course, having a title helps this visual process. Talking of covers, I received a nice surprise while in Spain when my agent phoned to ask if I could approve the new paperback cover for Unspoken. (Out in Feb 09.) So I went to the little internet place in the mountains when the cable wasn't broken, and I was blown away by what Headline have come up with. I knew it was most likely going have a different cover to the hardback and, while I love that cover too, the new one certainly packs a punch. It's very 'thrillerish', quite dark - visually and emotionally - and a big step away from the paler, perhaps more feminine covers before this. But a change of image is good. People do judge books by their covers and, initially, why not? A lot of thought, money, meetings and expertise go into producing them. It's the initial lure for a potential reader. It hints - no, actually, shouts (or should) - at what lies between the pages, and, like everything else in retail, there are trends and fashions that come and go. I love my new cover and it's actually making me look forward to Deadlinema...I mean, Christmas this year. Just two months after that and I'll see it on the shelves. Publishing schedules move pretty slowly - or rather everyone just plans very far ahead - and so I find myself wishing my time away just to see the next one 'out there'.

So, meantime, it's on with nameless novel and hopefully real soon now I'll have a shiny new website upon which to display my new cover. That is if I can still afford the designer's rates hint hint BJ :-) And get off Facebook, boy!

Thursday, 10 July 2008


Today sees the publication of Unspoken in hardback. I can't believe July has come round so quickly. It doesn't seem a minute ago that I was tweaking the manuscript, fretting over various scenes, making last minute changes.

Writing a novel is a constant drill-down. Broad, comprehensive first drafts, followed by uncountable revisions, discussions, more revisions, agreements, disagreements, light-bulb moments, and constant thought whether in front of the computer or not. Until it's done, it fills your life. Everything relates to the novel. Sometimes - perhaps an overheard conversation, perhaps a snippet on TV or in another book, perhaps just a random flash of inspiration at 2AM (haha!) - can answer a burning question, solve a dilemma, close the gap. Then, just when you're not looking, it's publication day. The book is out there for people to buy. And it doesn't just happen. I don't think I know half of what goes on behind the scenes, although I have a pretty good idea, having worked with Headline for several years now. These folk know their stuff.

So I went to London yesterday and had a very tasty lunch with my agent and editor here. Hodder have published an Acorn House cook book, which I might just have to get. Their ethos is to use locally grown, fresh ingredients and encourage less waste. It has tips on shopping wisely as well as running an eco-kitchen. Apparently 15% of Britain's food ends up in the bin. I don't think that takes into account my kitchen in the summer holidays with three kids at home. Not even the packaging makes it into the bin here. I swear my son eats it. Before it's even put away. Then he moans there's no food.

Anyway, we had a delicious lunch, toasted the launch of Unspoken as it sails off into the world, plus we discussed my new novel in great depth. Yes, Headline have very kindly decided they would love to publish it, and the one after that, so we toasted the new deal too. And talking of new deals, I have also just signed up two more books with my German publishers Ullstein. Suddenly I feel very busy.

After lunch, which was actually nearly dinner time, I met with hubby and the kids, who had been lost in Harrods for the entire afternoon. A very dangerous thing when older She-Devil and her father are near expensive things. Mainly expensive clothes. One bat of the eyelashes and she has him. But, amazingly, they only came out with one green bag. Guitar Hero. I'm still not sure what it is but apparently I have to have a go on it. We rounded the day off with pot-luck last minute tickets to We Will Rock You. It was pretty damned good. And pretty late by the time we got the last train home, but it gave me a chance to write up my notes and thoughts and all the brainstorming we'd done at lunch.
Finally, I got back to some interesting mail. I received the Slovak copies of Blood Ties. It's a hardback edition, quite a dinky format (paperback size), and with the same UK cover. There's only one problem. They seem to have got my name wrong.

If you read the hardback of Unspoken, do let me know what you think. I love this book and hope you will too. The paperback's out in the UK in February 09 and for readers in Australia and New Zealand, you'll be able to buy it from September.
Sam xx

Friday, 6 June 2008

The Sound of One Hand Typing

June is usually my favourite month in the garden. Shame, then, that I haven't spent much time outside so far this year. It's a bit of a mystery to me anyway, having recently moved house and inherited a beautiful well-stocked garden from the previous owners. New things appear overnight. I have amazing white poppies, the deepest red velvet roses, crazy red-hot pokers, slug-eaten lettuces, clematis to die for (the previous owners of our house were clemataholics), slug-eaten hostas, amazing purple-leafed things by one of the ponds, tall silvery things that look prehistoric... oh, and slug-eaten celery. I could go on with my knowledgeable plant descriptions, but just think time-starved author panicking every time she glances out of the window and sees all the jobs that need doing. Still, the tomatoes, aubergines and peppers are doing well. They have taken over the greenhouse.

And to top it all, I only have one hand. Yes, I know it was one leg last time (the cast's off now and I even wore heels again yesterday) and, in truth, I don't actually have one hand. Just the use of one hand, for now, although the 'I can't possibly do that because I only have one hand' thing is wearing a bit thin around here. There's only so much washing up to be got out of; only so many school runs I can avoid. Fact is, it's amazing how creative you can be with one hand. Especially when the one that's out of action has its middle finger permanently stuck in the air from a bandage. I had an operation to remove a lump. Nothing serious, it turns out, but I feel I was a big wimp about it. Bit squeamish, me. Anyway, little while longer of creative typing and avoiding all domestic chores. Didn't stop me picking a huge bowl of raspberries this morning though.

Work continues on my new novel, which has already sold in another big territory along with UNSPOKEN in a two book deal - contracts nearly sorted - so details to follow. And things are moving along nicely with my UK publisher and future books - again, details to follow once everything's finalised. It's certainly an exciting and busy time, writing-wise. And of course, it's UK publication day for the hardback edition of UNSPOKEN in a couple of weeks. I've had emails from readers 'downunder' asking about publication there. As far as I know, it's still scheduled for September so not too long to wait now. And I've learnt that Russia will publish BLOOD TIES this August or September. Not sure about the Slovak date yet. Time somehow warps in the publishing world, and suddenly a publication date that once seemed a lifetime away is close. That's how the paperback release date of UNSPOKEN currently feels - February 09 - but I just know that I'll blink and it will be here.

Talking of publishing, I was thrilled to see a friend, Adam L G Nevill, announce the publication of his horror novel BANQUET FOR THE DAMNED in paperback. This will be an amazing read. Adam is a hugely talented writer in several genres but this, I believe, is where his passions lie. He has a new website (which is very cool!) and is in Waterstones as the Bookseller's Choice for June. He is also a very nice chap. Go Adam!

I'm going to be redesigning my own website soon. Details of UNSPOKEN will be up there and possibly an extract or two. An overhaul is always nice. Like shifting furniture around. I'll shout it out when it's done.

Sam xx

Friday, 2 May 2008

Sticks and Stones

I've slipped into my old ways. I don't mean for days and weeks to go by before I update this blog. But things get in the way, not to mention I actually forget I even have a blog! Anyway, just a quick update today...

Writing-wise, I'm forging ahead with book number three. Dare I say: Touch wood, it's going really well and I love it? No, probably not, although that's the truth at the moment. Something will no doubt happen to make me wonder where on earth it's going, why did I get into such a pickle... but for now, things are ticking along just as I'd like them to be. And I had very nice news earlier in the week regards a foreign deal. I won't go into the details until it's signed and sealed etc. but it made me very happy when my agent called. Oh, and I went to another enjoyable Headline 'do' at the end of the London Book Fair. It was a crime party. No, we didn't all have to commit one, but mug-shot and details of Unspoken (like the cover?) were up on a huge screen with other crime authors. It was in a rather smart club, and we (agent and I) mingled and met and talked and then, when I couldn't stand up any more*, I caught the train home. (*No, not because of the booze. See below)

I've had a rather bad leg, you see, and being on it in London - after three weeks of pain - forced me to the doctor the next day and then to the hospital for an X Ray. 'How long's it been like this?' the consultant asked. 'Three weeks,' I explained. 'Well it's broken,' he said. I refused plaster and so he gave me an Aircast. Amazing thing. Hardly Jimmy Choo but it does the trick. You pump it up. Instant relief. That was a couple of weeks ago and leg is feeling much more leg-like now, although my muscles have wasted away somewhat, while on the other leg, they have toned to body-builder proportions because I'm putting all weight on that side and using a crutch. I'm a bit of a 'before and after' person, really, all on the one body. And in case anyone's wondering, I broke it running. Not running for a bus, or chasing my youngest She-Devil around the garden, or even running away from a mugger. It was just plain old running. Jogging, if you like, in preparation for a ten kilometre race I was going to do with some friends in September. I think I'll stick to my swimming. And sitting. Running is clearly stupid.

Sam xx

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

National Year of Reading

Anyone in Leicester on Friday? Don't have anything to do? (Does anyone not have anything to do?) Anyway, why not pop in to County Hall between 12 noon and 2pm and come and take part in a launch party event for the National Year of Reading. I'll be talking about stuff - about reading and what it means to me, about how I became a writer, and about authors I like to read. You can be sure of some truly amazing statistics. It's true. I have things to tell you. Plus, I will be revealing my top 10 list of 'things' to read (no, not the back of a cereal packet).

And finally, finally, I have added some much-requested book club discussion points to my website. Be warned though, there are spoilers in the points I've raised, so don't go peeking before you've read Blood Ties. Shame on you!

That's it for now - just a quickie blog so it doesn't look as if I'm neglecting it. I'm not really, it's just that writing about me writing, well, it's hard. Woman sits at keyboard and presses many keys... New book progresses. I promise, as soon as there's breaking news, it'll be here.

Sam xx

Monday, 24 March 2008


My talk at the Essex Book Festival last week seemed to go really well. The library ladies were lovely and very welcoming, and a friendly, interested crowd gathered to hear me talk about Blood Ties and how I became a writer. I read and chatted away and read some more and then there were questions and after that I signed some books. Apparently, all the feedback was positive, and even the M25 home was flowing along. So all in all, a good day.

Talking of talks, I've been invited to speak at Leicestershire's National Year of Reading launch event at County Hall on 4th April. The event runs from 12 noon until 2pm with lots of other writing/reading things going on. I'll be talking about how I came to write, what reading means to me, and generally encouraging folk to get reading. Do come along if you can.

For me, the Easter weekend is a time of gardening but this year not one seed has been sown, not one twig pruned, and not one blade of grass cut. This is due to a number of things: 1) Snow. 2) Work. 3) I can't get into my garage to find my stash of seeds/gardening tools/mower because of all the boxes still stacked up from when we moved. I feel a sorting out day coming on. Spring does that to you. Makes you want to sort out. Sort of.

And congratulations to Neil and Aliya for getting their co-authored story into the new Elastic Press anthology. I don't quite understand how they do it, write together, but I'm looking forward to reading the result.

Sam xx

Friday, 14 March 2008

Don't Mention the War

I'm well and truly stuck in to Next Novel. I have a synopsis - or rather pages of confusing notes - and the drive to get on. But it's very hard leaving behind characters that I'll never see again. Rather like having to move in with a new family. I hope I like them. I hope they like me.

I had an email today saying that an extract of BLOOD TIES will soon appear in a New Zealand Sunday paper - The Sunday Star Times - as part of an Easter promotion. Another Headline author will be featured too so I won't be alone. I get quite a few emails from New Zealand readers. In fact, I get emails from lots of far-flung places - all of them so far have been nice messages; all of them encouraging, supportive; all of them saying they got something out of my book and wondering when the next one's out. Warm and fuzzy kind of emails - the sort that every author dreams of. And I really do appreciate that anyone who hasn't enjoyed it, didn't bother to write. Thanks to you, too.

But this fragile-egoed author needs a little extra support. My message to you dear readers is... if any of you speak German (fluent German!), please pretty please could you visit and counter the recent review with a few lines of praise and a few more stars than the last person saw fit to leave. It makes me worry that I can't understand it (although babel fish gave me a pretty good idea!) and it also makes me worry that I can't read the German edition of Blutskinder. No - it just makes me worry. My words and I can't read them. So I have made a pact with myself not to obsessively check the amazons around the world. I have made another pact not to let one-off reviews get to me. Tell me I'm not the only author who feels like this.

Oh, and a reminder about the Essex Book Festival. I'm at it next week - Hullbridge Library 18th March 3pm. I believe all tickets sold but then they issued some more. Not sure of the status now but if you're interested, it would be worth making a call to 01206 573948. I'll be reading, talking, answering questions, trying to sound interesting and like a real writer should sound. Emerging, blinking, into the world from my study (which is now fully unpacked and tidy post-move) is a hard thing to do. I have an hour and a half to fill. Perhaps I'll get She-Devil to teach me a tap dance in case I need a filler.

Right, I'm off to hunt for my Fawlty Towers DVDs.

Sam xx

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

DIY and Doing Lunch

What does an author who doesn't seem to have been out of the house for weeks and is sick of boxes and decorating do? Have lunch in London with her agent, of course.

Yes, on Monday I picked the plaster out of my hair, untangled myself from the sheets of stripped wallpaper, brushed off the dust, and took the train to London. (Of course, I had a shower too.) After a weekend of grot, it was nice to escape the dust and dirt and put on a bit of lippy and 'do' lunch. Having sworn never to get involved with a scrap of DIY again (after our last seven year renovation project), here we are, gasping and tut-tutting at quotes from professionals and rolling up our sleeves saying, We can do this much cheaper.

So I met with Anna here and we spent a few hours eating the tastiest food ever (way nicer than dust) and brainstorming my new novel. Having an agent is a Very Good Thing. Apart from being taken out for yummy lunches from time to time, it's like having a sensible me to talk to (acutally, it's way better than that!). Anna has a knack of being able to steer me away from ridiculous notions and set me straight on the ideas that have real substance. I pitched my idea to her. She loved it. She gave me ideas, we solved a problem, we got excited, and she was totally on my wavelength and had the same vision for this novel as me. She even loved the title.

Oh, and not that I'm one for name dropping or anything but cough *Jacqueline Wilson* cough was sitting a couple of tables away. As you can imagine, she kept pointing at me and saying really loudly, Oh my God! That's Sam Hayes over there! Of course, I just smiled sweetly at all the attention and got on with my scallops. It was funny. She'd been in the news that morning. Kids grow up too fast, apparently. Some people are saying that kids who read her books are helped along to premature adulthood by the themes in them. Suicidal mums, child abuse, death, divorce, teenage drinking and promiscuity.

But real life is real life. If Jacqueline Wilson's next book is about pink rabbits and happy families, apart from being boring, it's not going to change the world we live in. It's the 'Hundredth Monkey' effect. Now, if every author writes about bunnies and clean, happy people, then maybe we stand a chance. If you ask me, which no one is, then I reckon it's down to the parents. Yes, blame the parents. We don't have enough guilt. But when I buy a book for my daughters, I do wish they'd have an age rating printed on them. Something more specific than just being shelved in the 9 to 13 section. I don't have time to read the entire novel while browsing to check for disturbing bits. And what is a 'Young Adult'? Is that the same as an 'Old Child'? It's confusing. It's individual. It's down to the parents, up to the kids. But hey, good publicity if you can get it, eh?

Right, I'm off to get on with my killer idea. Fluffy bunny massacred by smiling child.

Sam xx

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

The End of the World is Nigh...

Clearly everyone will be asking Did the earth move for you so? I thought I'd avoid any reference to such a predicatble quip.

I woke to rattling. Pipes under the I was fully awake and terrified in seconds. The wardrobe doors juddered and the pictures wobbled. Not knowing when it was going to stop, or if it was going to stop, was the worst. Youngest She-Devil screamed out. Who's moving the house? She slept with us the rest of the night and I lay awake, waiting for it to happen again, waiting for the end of the world; watching through the window as mixed-up birds flapped through the night, twittering, thinking it was some kind of odd dawn. My first short story ever to be read out at school was about something similar - post-earthquake...empty dustbins rolling about deserted sky during the day.

It was the sort of night when you felt like getting to know the neighbours, asking them in for a cup of tea at one in the morning. The sort of night when you consider - amongst all the mess that is our lives in 2008 - just how powerful nature really is. How temporary and fragile we are. How silly everything is.

Going through editorial notes on a five hundred page manuscript whilst propping open the eyelids is a challenge. Oh no, not because my latest novel isn't fantastically riveting - of course it is :-) Rather, I only dropped off to sleep again at four o'clock this morning and I'm rather buggered. Still, even through tired eyes, I can see that I'm so lucky to have the best editor in the entire world.

Right, back to it.
Sam xx

Friday, 22 February 2008

Life in the Medium Fast Lane

I've started swimming again. Before we moved house, I'd got into the habit of taking an hour each day to carve the chlorine. It helped me to think and it also prevented me becoming a blimp because, let's face it, a writer's life isn't exactly an active one. Those chocolate biscuits shout real loud from the kitchen below.

Anyway, I joined a nice pool/gym within walking distance from home (haha to the gym bit) and off I went. When poolside, I was faced with a choice I hadn't anticipated. Three lanes. Three speeds. Three standards of swimming: hopeless, a bit less hopeless, and serious Speedos. In a flash, I studied the swimmers. I was looking for the Duncan Goodhews. I wanted to keep well out of their way. Then the lifeguard asked if I was okay (we're not talking Baywatch here) and suggested I try the medium lane. Medium? Grudgingly, I slithered in and joined the procession of swimmers. Actually, there were only two in the Lane of Mediocrity. One was an old bald chap (Duncan Goodhew?) and the other swimmer was what I can only describe as a skeleton with skin. And if she's reading (which is unlikely as I imagine she's recovering), then lady, you are amazing. She looked about ninety years old. I thought I might have to use my long-ago-learnt life-saving skills but she swam like a mermaid. Clearly, she should have snapped on her lycra Speedo suit and jumped in with the broad-shouldered boys in the fast lane.

Anyway, having sussed out the competition - because being lapped time and time again by people twice my age isn't funny - and sort of settled into the medium fast lane, I set about thinking. And after about ten lengths, I got into the groove. It's about then that I get drunk on chlorine. Eyes tight shut, ideas for Next Novel began to flow. It felt good. And I actually caught up with Granny a few times. So I stepped out of the pool forty-five minutes later (yes, I swam non-stop) heavy-legged and breathless, drowning in inspiration. In the changing room (it's all kind of open-plan and embarrassing) , I stopped and stared at the pegs draped in abandoned clothing. For a moment, I tried to match the garments to the women I'd spotted swimming. It was hard. But I knew for sure that the bright pink yellow polka-dotted shirt belonged to Granny.

In slightly more writerly news, I'll be speaking at the Essex Book Festival next month. I'll probably be saying quite a lot about this over the coming weeks. Like COME!! Like reminding everyone that it's March 18th at 3pm at Hullbridge Road, Ferry Road, Hullbridge and you can get tickets from the box office on 01206 573948. Take a look at the festival's website. There are some huge names attending. Minette Walters, Louis de Bernieres and even Suzi Quatro will be there. (Suzi Quatro!) So I'm in amazing company. Of course, they won't exactly be with me. They'll fill their own huge auditorium with thousands of fans. Anwyay, I'm going to be reading from BLOOD TIES as well as talking about the themes in the novel, chatting about the writing process, how I came to be a writer (how long have I got?) and taking lots of questions from the audience. It will be fun. Please come.

Finally, I wanted to mention a writer who is doing great things at the moment. Caroline Smailes, although I've never met her, seems to be a thoroughly decent sort. I read her blog. She is published by The Friday Project and her first novel IN SEARCH OF ADAM has received some amazing reviews. Caroline has now written an e-book DISRAELI AVENUE, which is totally free to download. All she asks is that you make a donation to One in Four, a charity set up to support those affected by sexual abuse and sexual violence. One in four children will experience sexual abuse before they reach eighteen. That's twenty five percent. That's nearly eight kids out of a class of thirty. That means it's likely that we all know someone who's suffered. It's easy to donate via Just Giving and Caroline has raised £1162 already. Not only do you get to help by donating, you get a stonking good read from Caroline. It's a subject close to my heart. BLOOD TIES covers such issues.

Right. I'm off to find my goggles.

Sam xx
PS: Two posts in a week??

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

The blog is back...

I've recovered my password, blown the dust off my blogger account and... hey, I'm going to try very hard to make regular(ish) posts about my life as a writer - and anything else that I feel the need to make public. I think that's my problem with blogging - it's just so public. As a kid, I wrote a diary. It had a lock. I hid it under my bed. Oh, the shame if my brother found it and read it. I'm naturally a private person and also not silly enough to believe that anybody actually wants to know what I had for breakfast or what colour I'm painting my hallway. Or maybe I'm just not trendy enough to keep up with such erm... trends.

Big breath and here goes... (hell, I have since last July's post to catch up with news)

I moved house just before Christmas. Very stupid thing to do with hindsight. Not moving house - that wasn't stupid at all. We love living in the 'city' and have great plans for our beautiful Edwardian townhouse. And we have shops and cafes and restaurants and a market nearby. Even leaving behind our old farmhouse in the country wasn't as hard as I'd expected. I miss it but the time was right to move. No, the stupid thing was moving exactly seven days before Christmas and not having done a single scrap of festive shopping. I have three kids, including two excitable girls (She-Devils) who had been excited since September about presents. But pulling together with military precision and dividing the war zone that was the shops soon netted a fine haul. We even bagged a Wii. Result. We ate Christmas lunch among the forest of boxes. We drank champagne from mugs. Friends and family picked their way through piles of furniture to visit us. We knew it was home.

January saw the delivery of my next novel. UNSPOKEN is out in hardback and trade paperback this July with the paperback a few months after that. I received the cover flats this week and even though I'd seen the artwork before, holding the finished article was very exciting. It is a truly stunning and beautiful cover. I love it to bits and will be very proud to see it sitting on the shelves. As soon as I'm allowed, I'll put it on my website.

BLOOD TIES did me proud and flew off the shelves after its September release last year. I can honestly say I was stunned by the sales figures. It's an unusual and somewhat humbling thought to know that so many pairs of eyes are reading words that I wrote! But my book really struck a chord with readers and I get very nice emails from all over the world to prove it. Apparently there are a few of the huge posters still up at various stations. The London Underground was thick with the BLOOD TIES campaign and my publicist, Becky, took me on a very energetic and hot tour last year to get photos. (See myspace for the evidence.)

BLUTSKINDER is the German title for BLOOD TIES. Blood children, I guess. The cover is entirely different to the UK look - black and creepy, almost a horror cover - but I like it very much. It obviously suits the market out there and sits nicely under 'krimis und thriller'. And I even had a TV advert for the launch of the German edition. Vox channel picked BLUTSKINDER as their 'Krimmi Tipp' (crime pick, I think) and ran a load of ads for a week or so during CSI, Criminal Intent and various other evening shows. If I was really clever, I'd somehow embed the commercial here to show it off. But seeing as I'm not really clever, you'll have to imagine the German chap's deep, gravelly voice saying something sinister about my book. The only bit I could understand was when he said my name. I played it over and over, as you can imagine.

A week or two ago I attended a Writing Industries Conference at Loughborough University, hosted by the East Midlands Literature Network. It was a busy successful day with a huge turnout of both industry professionals and writers dedicated to learning the craft and the business. The speakers were inspiring and the attendees were clearly keen to take advantage of all the knowledge on tap. Much thought had gone into providing a broad spectrum of expertise - as well as ordering beautiful sunshine for the day for outside coffee breaks. As expected, I bumped into lots of people I know - and for me, that's the attraction of writing conventions. It gets me out of my attic (yes, I have another attic study) and out there, with real people, other writers, talking about writing. Talking about stuff. Making me realise how time passes. Making me glad that it has. But still, making me think; making me smile. I should do it more often.

So now I'm turning my thoughts to a new book. I'm spending many hours researching, making notes, allowing characters to develop, mulling things over, and all the while, I'm desperate to write. But not yet. The pot needs to simmer a little more. Thing is, I hate not writing. A writer once said to me - many years ago now - that he felt 'odd, weird' if he wasn't working. That was in response to my unpublished-days-as-a-writer statement that writing actually made me odd, weird. But that has changed now. Switched completely. True, I once found it an immense drain and emotional strain to put words down. I'd do anything to prevent my fanciful and over-ambitious ideas being written - even though I was desperate to see my work in print. But slowly I developed, slowly I honed those 'writing muscles' (which are a fact!) and slowly, gradually I reliased that not writing, not having a project, a book on the go, made me feel odd and weird. And I don't like it. Not one bit.

So perhaps I'll just tinker with some opening lines. Play with some thoughts. See if they turn into a chapter.

Sam xx