Welcome to the one hundred and second of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with crime novelist, short story & ‘how to’ author Adrian Magson. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. Adrian and I met (in person ) back in July 2011 when I interviewed him for my audio podcast.
Morgen: Hello again, Adrian. Welcome back. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Morgen: And I like the stuff you make up (I’ve read your first novel ‘No peace for the wicked’). What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Adrian: I usually write crime novels and thrillers, with a sprinkling of short stories. I have considered other genres, although not sci-fi or fantasy. Over the years I’ve written and sold romantic and relationship fiction for women’s magazines (lots), comedy for BBC radio (Roy Hudd), short stories for the BBC, one play (10-minutes long, performed at the Oxford Literary Festival), magazine features, slogans on t-shirts, doormats and greetings cards, and poetry. Most of this was to see what I was good at or felt most comfortable doing. I look on it all as part of the apprenticeship.
Morgen: Wow, what a list. I agree with the sci-fi / fantasy by the way – it’s about the only genre I’d not write (not because I dislike it but I don’t read it so couldn’t do it justice). Apart from your ‘apprenticeship’, what have you had published to-date? Can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Adrian: I’ve had 11 novels published, of which 5 were crime novels set in London, 2 set in France in the 60s, 2 contemporary spy thrillers, a YS ghost novel and a writer’s help book called ‘Write On!’ There have been hundreds of short stories and articles, the aforesaid radio fiction… and I saw my first book on the shelf of my local Ottaker’s shop in 2004.
Morgen: I’ve Googled it and it’s still there 7 years later (phew). How much of the marketing do you do Adrian, for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Adrian: Quite a lot. I visit bookshops, give library and other talks (radio, for example), appear on panels at festivals (when invited)…
Morgen: No gate crashing then.
Adrian: …and keep as much contact as I can with library stock managers and directors. It’s all part of the job, but you need to juggle it carefully with the writing and researching.
Morgen: You do. I’m a bit out of balance on the ‘writing’ part at the moment. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Adrian: I was shortlisted in the CWA Debut Dagger in 2001, and recently shortlisted in the East Midlands Book Award (with ‘Death on the Marais’) and in the Salt Lake County Library System Reader’s Choice Award (with ‘Red Station’). I think they do help because they spread the word about books among readers, and the personal boost you get when shortlisted is immeasurable.
Morgen: So far a bridesmaid… three big “yay”s though. Do you write under a pseudonym? If so why and do you think it makes a difference?
Adrian: No. I used to write some women’s fiction under a female pseudonym, but only when writing in the first person (as a woman). It was at the suggestion of a magazine, and during what my wife calls ‘the frock years’. I think it helped then because the stories were all about women and a man’s name at the top would have been a touch off-putting. Now, though, I use my own name because it takes effort to get known for that and I don’t want to water it down.
Morgen: Absolutely. I know that from this blog, a full-time job, and then some. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Adrian: Yes. My agent is the buffed and very energetic David Headley. A good agent is worth his or her weight in gold. I haven’t asked David what he weighs, but when I do…
Agents are useful, in that they know whom to approach, which editors are looking and which aren’t. They can also act as a filter, and their expertise can provide a valuable first opinion on a submission. However, it has to be said that there are many smaller publishers now who do not insist on receiving submissions via an agent, so it’s a question of choice. I’d say try to get an agent first.
Morgen: I think most people do but it’s getting tougher… like everything you either have to persevere (pot kettle black – going the eBook route). Speaking of which, are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Adrian: Yes, they are. I wasn’t involved in a material sense, as my publishers arranged this. It can be tricky and time-consuming (I have put a collection of writing notes on Kindle, to see if I could, and I hope to follow with a collection of short stories later this year).
Morgen: Ooh, great I love shorts (note to self: ask Adrian to email me the link “later this year”… when hopefully my collection of short stories, and other bits, comes out ).
Adrian: And yes, I do read e-books. They’re here to stay, so we might as well get used to it. I love the idea of having several books available at the press of a button.
Morgen: I agree and I’m glad they’re here to stay because it gives an author options they didn’t have a few years ago. I’m excited anyway. What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Adrian: My very first acceptance was a short story in the London Evening News many years ago. It was a crime story (surprise, surprise). And yes, it’s still a thrill getting published, whether a short story, feature or a book. It’s something that never goes away. The moment it does, I think I’ll give up.
Morgen: Let’s hope it never does. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Adrian: Too many to count, I’m afraid! Hundreds. I deal with them as a fact of life. In the main, each rejection is one person’s opinion, so I usually send them out to someone else (after editing and a bit of a re-write). You have to develop (1) a hard skin against it and (2) a realistic acceptance that you are not going to sell everything you write.
Morgen: To that person, maybe to someone else. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Adrian: The third Inspector Lucas Rocco (French detective) book. After that, the fourth Harry Tate spy thriller. I’m lucky enough to be writing two-and-a-bit books a year, so it keeps me busy!
Morgen: Because you have nothing else to do. Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Adrian: Most days, yes. The output varies anywhere between 200 words up to 2,000 on a good day. But I don’t look for numbers – I find it a distraction. And it’s nice when you finally do a word count and find you’ve written so many thousands of words.
Morgen: That’s what I love about http://nanowrimo.org and that’ll be here before we know it (note to self: don’t wish your time away). What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Adrian: I don’t suffer from it (looks for some wood), but I do occasionally find a scene or a project a bit sticky to write. What I do is write something else instead. The act of writing usually unglues the brain. If that doesn’t work, I eat cake. Then I go back and try again.
Morgen: Cake… mmm. A question some authors dread (I guess because it’s sometimes impossible to answer?), where do you get your inspiration from?
Adrian: If only I knew! Most of it is gained subconsciously. I get snippets of ideas from all over – news, books, magazines… and simply day-dreaming. Usually the ideas far outstrip the ability and time to write them all.
Morgen: Me too, which is a great position to be in. Well, I do wonder whether I will get to write everything I want to (she says aged just 44) but I’d rather it were that way round. I’d be so frustrated if I stared at a blank screen and my brain was equally white. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Adrian: No, pick up and run is my approach. I’ve tried planning, but I always go off at a tangent. I figure if it’s a surprise for me, then it will be for the reader, too.
Morgen: And it clearly works. I’m the same, have a vague idea and just write. As you say, it rarely goes the way I planned. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Adrian: None that I can explain. I get an idea for characters fairly quickly, and if I try to change them, it never works. Their names have to feel ‘right’ for the period and person, but other than that, after shuffling around a few alternatives, I stick with what I’ve got.
Morgen: You also write non-fiction, how do you decide what to write about?
Adrian: I used to write a lot, but the only non-fiction I write now is the ‘Beginners’ articles in Writing Magazine.
Morgen: Which I’ve been enjoying a lot of recently. I subscribe to most (all?) of the UK ones (Writing, Writers’ News, Mslexia, Writers’ Forum, New Writer) and they’ve been piling up (mostly still in their cellophane) so I’ve been reading them at every opportunity (walking the dog, to / from work, in a Norfolk hotel bar just this week…).
Adrian: My approach used to be, where is there a gap in the market and can I fill it without too much effort or expense? It also had to interest me; I only once wrote about something I didn’t find interesting, and it sounded very flat, although it could have been me.
Morgen: See earlier reference to “surprises me”. If you write poetry, do you write to form or free verse? What would you say is the difference between a piece of prose and a prose poem? Why do you think poetry is so popular and yet so poorly paid?
Adrian: I’m no poet. I did sell three poems to a women’s magazine once, and along with a small cheque, they wrote, ‘Please don’t feel pressured to send us any more.’ I took that as a really friendly hint!
Morgen: Oh dear… yes, I think I’d be the same. I leave it to the experts (including Pat in my writing group). Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Adrian: My wife, Ann. She has a great eye for detail and a memory like a computer. And she likes my writing. You have to have someone whose opinion you value to take the first look. Otherwise, send it to a professional – ie: submitting to an editor.
Morgen: I have both my reading group and Rachel. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Adrian: Probably the latter, although I always edit, anyway. But I do find passages which I’m not happy with, and will beat the daylights out of them until they sound right.
Morgen: That sounds like fun.
Adrian: I try to do the major edit at the end, rather than as I go. It’s always easier to get a sense of perspective when the job is complete, and heavy editing as I go usually makes it hard work.
Morgen: How much research do you have to do for your writing? Have you ever received feedback from your readers?
Adrian: I research as much as I need to – but mostly checking detail. I do like to be accurate, although I’m sure I’ve made bloopers in the past. I do get feedback from readers – mostly complimentary, although there is an occasional one who might take issue with something I’ve written, and is usually a matter of opinion, not fact.
Morgen: I met Simon Scarrow back in March and he said that a reader took great delight in pointing out a flaw to which Simon took (probably even greater) delight in proving the reader wrong. That said Alexander McCall Smith said he had a flaw successfully unearthed so it happens to the best of them, literally. What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Adrian: I think a lot, gather a few facts, scribble notes – sometimes just words which eventually leave me totally beeswaxed – and then I start writing. But I don’t always start at the beginning; I often write scenes as they occur to me, and not in any particular order. (Nobody ever told me the creative process had to be orderly).
Morgen: And it doesn’t… we can be as slapdash as we like as long as it’s a neat and tidy bundle at the end. Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Adrian: On the PC. I write some notes and even draft scenes late at night, but my real writing is via the keyboard. I type slower than I can think, so it means I can do a sort of edit as an ongoing process.
Morgen: Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc. Do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Adrian: Absolute quiet. I’ve tried music, but it’s a distraction. If a rock guitarist ever moves in next door, he’s likely to end up under the patio.
Morgen: Now there’s a plot. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Adrian: Third. It allows more different points of view. I’ve written in the first, but it only seems to work for me in certain situations, and usually short fiction. No, I’ve never tried second person. What is it?
Morgen: Ooh, I love second person (regularly readers will be rolling their eyes here as I’m forever saying this, and they’ll also know that I mention my sentence starts page http://wp.me/P18Ztn-ub). Second person is my favourite – for anyone reading this who’s not tried second person http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narrative_mode#Second-person_view is a great article. Yes, Adrian, do try second (“As you start digging up the patio…” ) because it does tend to be quite dark so I think it would suit you, even just for fun. Ooh, just discovered http://lisaabellera.wordpress.com/2011/03/22/its-all-about-you which makes interesting reading. Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
Adrian: I use prologues when I can get away with them (publishers and agents aren’t always keen). Sometimes the only way to start a book is with a prologue. It might then get relegated to a Chapter One. I wouldn’t use epilogues.
Morgen: I’ve not done so yet and my one and only prologue was Chapter one so may end up reverting… or relegating, as you put it. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Adrian: Yes, lots. Just because I wrote them doesn’t make them saleable. But I do cannibalise some unpublished stuff if I find I can use bits of it elsewhere.
Morgen: I think something has to be really dire (I do have some of those) for it to be totally unusable but then I have so much other stuff that I’ve not double-checked the old stuff yet – it may prove me wrong. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Adrian: My favourite aspect is creating a new storyline and introducing new, minor characters (as long as it’s going well). My least favourite is doing the *&#~ing line edit.
Morgen: If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Adrian: How incredibly nice and welcoming the writing community is. They’re genuinely nice people, and other than a couple of prima donnas, they are simply lovely. I’m also constantly delighted with how generous readers can be – even to someone they’ve never heard of.
Morgen: And of course you’re not going to name names. Yes, that’s surprised me. As we mentioned in our podcast, it’s really not like any other industry (and isn’t it great?). What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Adrian: First, decide what you want to write (fiction, non-fiction, plays, whatever). Then get writing. You can’t call yourself a writer until you’ve finished something. And read lots in the genre you want to write in, to see what’s selling.
Morgen: Ah, I’ve not to got to the “decide what you want to write” bit yet… although I think I’m veering towards crime and humour; what I like to read. What do you like to read Adrian?
Adrian: Thrillers, mostly. Robert Crais, Lee Child, Harlan Coben, John Sandford, Martin Cruz Smith, Steve Hamilton… stuff like that. Watch out for Thomas Egler, a new Norwegian crime writer. Very good if you like Scandinavian crime.
Morgen: In the footsteps of Swede Stieg Larsson. What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks?
Adrian: I read a lot, do bits of woodwork (nothing fancy), watch films… and no, no party tricks. None that I’d care to share, anyway.
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Adrian: The must-use reference books are Writers& Artists’ Yearbook (www.writersandartists.co.uk) and Writer’s Market UK (www.writersmarket.co.uk) In these you’ll find lots of books and websites offering help and information for writers.
Then: Writers’ News/Writing Magazine (www.writers-online.co.uk) Society of Authors (www.societyofauthors.org) are useful, too. Each genre has their own websites, either official or unofficial, so crime, romantics, historical, fantasy, children’s – just Google and ye shall find.
Morgen: Thanks for that (I get the Writers’ Handbook as well but prefer the W&AYB) and of course there’s a new book out called ‘Write On’ by a chap called Adrian Magson. You’re UK-based, do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Adrian: With the Internet now, it really makes little difference where you’re based.
Morgen: I agree and it’s great. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Adrian: I’m on Facebook and Twitter, but I tend not to join forums. I try to limit my social networking only because it takes up valuable time, not because I’m anti-social. They’re very useful for not feeling isolated, and for getting information from other helpful writers.
Morgen: It does that but I’m trying (and constantly failing) to limit my time spent there. Ho hum. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Adrian: First call would be my website http://www.adrianmagson.com, then Amazon (see my author pages on either co.uk or .com).
Morgen: I was going to be really helpful and list them here but assumed it would be something simple like http://amazon.com and http://amazon.co.uk with /adrianmagson at the end but sadly not, they’re silly long links. Still, I’ve been half-helpful.
Adrian: And here, of course, which probably now tells people more than those sites will!
Morgen: You’re dotted around – the latest being in the ‘Other authors’ bit of my links page (http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/links).
Morgen: Ah yes, Mystery Women, I’m getting a few pointers in their direction. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Adrian: Well, people will always want to read, so hopefully there will always be an audience, but whether that includes a viable paying audience remains to be seen. The delivery and publishing platforms are changing faster now than they have in years, just like the music industry, but making a living at it could get a little tighter. The thing is to just pitch in there and keep going.
Morgen: Absolute… if you keep writing you have more for people to choose from. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Adrian: Yes. Readers, promote reading among your friends and family.
Morgen: And everyone you don’t know. Thank you again Adrian – hopefully catch up with you again soon.
Adrian Magson is the author of 11 crime/thriller novels and hundreds of short stories and magazine articles, published here and overseas. His latest novels are ‘Deception’ (Severn House – Nov 2011), in his Harry Tate spy series, and ‘Death on the Rive Nord’ (Allison & Busby), in his Inspector Lucas Rocco French police series, A regular reviewer for Shots Magazine, he writes the ‘Beginners’ and ‘New Author’ pages for Writing Magazine, and is the author of a book for writers: ‘Write On! – The Writer’s Help Book’ (Accent Press – Aug 2011).
Morgen: Yes, please buy ‘Write On!’ because Adrian’s listed me as a ‘Useful website’.
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