Welcome to the two hundred and forty-eighth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with novelist and ‘how to’ author Harry Bingham. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello Harry. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Harry: Oh, nice easy starter questions. I’m Harry Bingham. Based just outside Oxford. Came to writing after exiting investment banking (boo, hiss).
Morgen: No boo hiss from me. Anything exciting makes good fiction fodder. 🙂
Harry: I’ve been a writer for over ten years now, and I wouldn’t swap if for the world.
Morgen: Oh, nor would I. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Harry: Hum, I knew the questions were going to get harder. I’ve written financial thrillers, historical fiction, a history book, a couple of how-to books – but my new passion is crime fiction and I’ve got the first in a series of crime novels coming out with Orion this year.
Morgen: Ooh, great. I love crime fiction and have been told by three agents at July’s Winchester Writers Conference that they can’t get enough of it, especially from female authors (change your name to Harriet, wear a skirt and you’ve got it made :)). What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Harry: I sold my first novel back in 1998 but, as a writer, you know that there is absolutely no job security. So I wouldn’t quite say that selling a book is a thrill exactly, more of a relief. It’s a crazy way to earn a living.
Morgen: Oh dear. I’ve just quit my job. Oops. 🙂 Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Harry: I’ve sold everything I’ve written except for one proposal to do with the human story-telling impulse. But I love that idea and will, when I get the chance, blow the dust off it and make diddly-damn sure I sell it. But rejection in this industry is only ever one misstep away. I’m horribly aware how close I am to seeing my career go down in flames.
Morgen: Or rise ever higher. You’re clearly doing something write by only having one unsold. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Harry: Gosh – yes and you betcha. A good literary agent isn’t only about selling a manuscript, he or she should also be about shaping it. Making sure the manuscript is judged right for the market. There’s no way an author can be as in touch with the market as agents are. And why would you try to create a product without using the insights of the sales department?
Morgen: It would certainly free up time… to do important things like… write. 🙂 Are your books available as eBooks? Were you involved in that process at all? Do you have any plan to write any eBook-only stories? And do you read eBooks?
Harry: Yes, no, no, and yes. I think the biggest e-book question, however, has to do with the future. Are ebooks going to alter the author’s relationship with their reader and with their publishers? The answer there has surely got to be yes. At the moment, my average royalty on a book can be around 5% of the RRP, once all deep-discount sales are taken into account. Amazon offers authors 70% of the RRP (subject to various conditions). There’s a crushing commercial logic there which can only get stronger as the years pass. That will also affect writers’ relationships with their literary agents.
Morgen: For the good, hopefully. Do you write under a pseudonym? Do you think they make a difference to an author’s profile?
Harry: No, though a German publisher once asked me to change my name – to Emma Makepeace. I said yes. I never saw the author photo, though.
Morgen: And I’d love to see Harriet’s. 🙂 Did you have any say in the title / covers of your book(s)? How important do you think they are?
Harry: I’ve almost never had a book published under the title I first gave it. My crime novel is going to be called TALKING TO THE DEAD, a title invented by my agent – initially simply as part of the sales exercise. He never especially expected the title to stick.
Morgen: It’s a great one, very of the genre. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Harry: Um, somewhere in between. I know the rough architecture of the whole book and I probably have a good idea of some key incidents along the way. The rest of it I figure out as I go. With crime fiction, of course, an intricate and logically coherent structure is essential, so I do more pre-plotting than I have done at times in the past.
Morgen: Characters are so important in stories, do you have a method for creating yours, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Harry: It took me about two years to shape the central character in TALKING TO THE DEAD and only about 2-3 months to write the first draft. I can’t tell you much about the central character except that she’s very strange and has some unusual secrets – but her believability arises entirely from her voice. (I’m writing first person.) If I get the voice right, she’s right. And if I don’t, everything in the book would fall apart.
Morgen: Oh, I love strange, I look forward to meeting her. 🙂 Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Harry: Ah, yes indeedy. I run an outfit called The Writers’ Workshop, an outfit which helps writers bring their work up to a saleable standard and then goes on to help with the whole business of securing a literary agent. Obviously, that’s a tough brief and success is far from guaranteed, to put it mildly, but we have had reassuringly good success rates. We also run such things as writing courses and host a worthwhile blog.
Morgen: I’ve been on LOADS of writing courses (one-day, ongoing evening and residential) and it’s so important to have input from others, especially peers. Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful?
Harry: Oh gosh, well my own book on Getting Published is probably worth a mention. I’ve got one forthcoming on How To Write as well. I wrote them so I’m completely biased, but I do genuinely think they’re quite good!
Morgen: You do have the experience to share. 🙂 Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Harry: We run our own writers’ networking site. I don’t use it all that much myself – the result simply of time pressure – but I know for a fact that a significant number of good writers get real benefit from it. I think a supportive and intelligent community can do as much as a writing course to benefit someone’s writing skills.
Morgen: And it makes a quiet backroom come alive. 🙂 What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Harry: Well, we unquestionably live in a time of upheaval. I think the next 5-10 years will profoundly alter the size and role of bookshops, publishers, and agents. Authors might emerge from all of this as winners, though there are still giant questions about how a digitally-led book trade will work. For example: the best place to find new books is still by browsing in a bookshop. If bookshops become smaller and scarcer – which they certainly will – it’s not yet clear how new authors will be found and marketed.
Morgen: Sadly only yesterday I walked past one of our three bookshops (all chains – the main one being Waterstone’s… which is soon to lose it’s apostrophe, how weird is that?) and one has a ‘closing down sale’. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Harry: The best place is on Amazon, of course. My author page is here. (I can’t claim the credit for the Annexation of Hawaii, though. Pity.)
Morgen: How odd, and it leads back to your author page. I hope you get the royalties for it too. 🙂 What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? 🙂
Harry: Party-tricks – only the classic authorial one of drinking two bottles of whisky, writing three pages of depressive genius, then having a fight with my wife. Um, and when I’m not doing that then wild-swimming and rock-climbing is more my style.
All of which inspires your books. 🙂 Thank you so much Harry. All the best with your crime novel and your “strange” protagonist. 🙂
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
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