The Non-fiction Rollercoaster: On moving from Fiction to non-Fiction
Andrew Kirby here. For those regular visitors to the site, I was Morgen’s Author Spotlight no. 54, and you might also remember I Guest Blogged here in early 2012. It’s great to be back.
Last time I was here, I guest-blogged on my fiction writing. I’m the author of six published novels of the crime/ noir / horror flavour, and I talked about the “inner workings” of my fiction writing, and how I came to be published. Today, I’m here to talk about something entirely different. Back in 2012, I couldn’t have imagined that my next book wouldn’t be haunted by ghosts and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night, and I could hardly have contemplated the fact that the book would be factual and not concerned with the terrors of my imagination.
So let me tell you about how I made the shift from fiction to non-fiction (not forever, I stress) and what some of the sometimes unintended consequences and considerations of this seismic change have been for me as a writer.
It all started innocently enough. I submitted a crime / noir novel to a publisher I’d heard good things about on the writing grapevine. That publisher was Endeavour Press, a company that “aims to create the world’s most stimulating electronic books by publishing novellas & essays by new & established authors.”
I was kind of hopeful my novel, When Elephants Walk Through The Gorbals would be to their taste. But when I heard back from them, their email was full of the usual platitudes you’ll see in any common or garden rejection letter. It talked about the story being “too long”. It claimed the book needed a major rewrite. And so, disappointed, I filed the mail away for later.
Like an idiot, I didn’t read what the mail then went on to say.
So it was a week or so later. I was clearing out my inbox, and I happened upon the same email. Opened it. Read it in full. And it was only then I realised it hadn’t been a common or garden rejection letter at all. In fact, within this mail, the seeds were sown for the project I have just released as a non-fiction ebook (with a paperback to follow). You see, Endeavour Press read my biography and covering letter – with particular reference to my reviewing and sports-writing – and they suggested an alternative project which would be a better fit with them. They wanted me to write a book on football.
As I am a Manchester United season-ticket holder – and have been for over a quarter of a century – they proposed a commission which required me to write about the greatest United players during this period – which just so happened to coincide with the reign of the United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson.
I’d never even considered writing about my favourite football team before, despite all the knowledge, the memories, the contacts, I’d accrued. I don’t know why. I suppose there is a lesson here for all writers: be open to possibility, no matter how left-field they initially seem.
I loved the process of writing the book. It was a far more ‘community-based’ way of writing. It was far removed from my usual lonely tapping away at a keyboard. During March, April, and May, I conducted interviews, polls of fellow fans across the world, and compiled my team of Manchester United greats. Then, on a crest of a wave, and with some brilliant quotes to hand, I wrote the book. And, when Manchester United secured their record twentieth league championship, I thought the book would be released at an ideal time. The book was to be called ‘Fergie’s Finest: Sir Alex Ferguson’s Greatest Manchester United x11’.
But then came another object lesson in the pitfalls of non-fiction, especially when you choose to write about a ‘newsy’ subject. Because unlike archeologically ‘uncovering’ the imaginative stories from inside your head, in the case of non-fiction, and in this case sport, the narrative continues. It pays no heed to what you’ve already written, and the nice conclusions you’ve drawn.
Overnight, everything changed. From out of the blue, Sir Alex Ferguson, the man in question, retired. And suddenly, my manuscript had to be revised. It needed to be changed quickly, too, in order to strike while the iron was hot; while Sir Alex Ferguson was still the name on the nation’s lips.
Hastily, I revised the text, and submitted to Endeavour. And Endeavour played their part wonderfully. With the speed and finesse of a great footballer, they edited, formatted, and made suggestions for changes to my text. They produced a cover design. Between us, we plotted a marketing campaign which would get word of the book ‘out there’. And we managed to get the book out there, with the title ‘Fergie’s Finest’ remaining, while the news was still hot. I’m a writer who likes to take my own sweet time but now I was to learn the true meaning of the word ‘deadline’.
It was hard work. A stiff lesson for me. But we managed it, and I can’t thank Endeavour Press enough. It was the most fun I ever had in writing a book, and though it was a white-knuckle ride, we got there in the end.
I’ll definitely be riding the non-fiction rollercoaster again, sometime. Once I’ve got my breath back.
Synopsis: ‘Fergie’s Finest: Sir Alex Ferguson’s Greatest Manchester United x11’
Sir Alex Ferguson retired as manager of Manchester United on Wednesday 8th May 2013.
We will never see his like again.
He is the most successful manager in the history of English football. During over 26 years at the club, United won – including Charity / Community Shields – an eye-watering 38 trophies, including 13 league championships. And over this period, fans have been lucky enough to have witnessed some of the greatest moments, the greatest players, and the greatest teams in Manchester United’s long, proud history.
In between Fergie’s taking over from Ron Atkinson in 1986 and his retirement in 2013, he handed over 185 players their United debuts. Fans have witnessed global superstars, and players who’ve risen up through the United ranks. They’ve seen big-hearted players who’ll give everything for the team, and skilled wizards who are individually streets ahead of the rest.
But which players deserve to be ranked as the greatest ever in the Ferguson era?
Who makes the final cut, and who misses out?
How do Cristiano Ronaldo, Eric Cantona, Robin Van Persie, Wayne Rooney, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Roy Keane, Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Dwight Yorke, Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, Michael Carrick, Jaap Stam, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Gary Neville, and Andy Cole fare when it comes to the selection of the ultimate ‘Team Fergie’?
Containing interviews with the ex-United hero Norman Whiteside, Ken Loach (director of Looking for Eric), poet John Hegley, United fanzine editor Scott the Red, and The Sun’s Manchester United correspondent Neil Custis, this book considers the leading contenders for each position in Sir Alex Ferguson’s greatest ever x11.
Thank you, AJ. It’s great to have you back.
Andrew J Kirby’s sports writing has featured in BBC Sport magazine, on the Radio Five Live website, and in Home Defence UK magazine, where he writes about ‘non-league football hooligans’. He spent a season writing for the Professional Footballers’ Association on their website Give Me Football. He has held a Manchester United season ticket for the entirety of the Sir Alex Ferguson reign at Old Trafford, and regularly follows the Reds across Europe and beyond.
He also writes award-winning crime / noir fiction as AJ Kirby, and has five published novels under his belt (Sharkways, 2012; Paint this Town Red, which was shortlisted for the Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize 2012; Perfect World, 2011; Bully, which charted as an Amazon genre number 1 in 2009; The Magpie Trap, 2008), as well as two collections of short stories (The Art of Ventriloquism, a collection of crime shorts, which was released August 2012, and Mix Tape 2010), three novellas (The Haunting of Annie Nicol, 2012; The Black Book, 2011; Call of the Sea, 2010), and over fifty published short stories, which can be found widely in print anthologies, magazines and journals and across the web in zines, writing sites and more. His short fiction has won numerous awards at UK literary festivals.
He also reviews fiction for The New York Journal of Books.
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