I went to the above festival recently and made 100+ pages (fortunately only A5) of notes so I thought I’d share them with you. Today is the second instalment and because of the quantity, it’ll be pretty much as I wrote it (not word for word but paraphrasing) so my apologies if it feels fragmented. You can read part 1 here.
The Good Old Days –10.30am Friday 18th July 2014
MW: How did you get published?
JO: I self-published, some short stories that had been shortlisted in competitions but not published and sold c.350,000 copies in eight months. I wanted to be ‘properly published’ but kept getting knocked back but then when I did well Penguin approached me.
MS: I was rejected for nine years, including some great personal rejections, so I self-published in December 2011 and it took off. My goal, like JO, was to be traditionally published. My agent took one of my books to the London Book Fair in 2013 and it was picked up (went to auction).
ME: I was on TV in the late 1990s about aspiring writer. I met my collaborator Louise (Voss). It was picked up by the BBC for TV but not published. We put it on Kindle and it got to no.1. It was then picked up by Harper Collins but didn’t get into the shops so we thought that was that so we self-published ‘The Magpies’ which sold around 250,000 copies. I was in debt at the time as I’d given up my day job when taken on by HC but ‘The Magpies’ paid off my debt.
MH: I tried the traditionally published route and came very close to getting an agent and publishing deal. I went with a small press but got the feeling it wasn’t going to plan and was then advised that they couldn’t publish it within the contracted time by which time I’d spent the advance. Every writer needs an agent. Even when I got mine it wasn’t easy as my main character is gay. Her book was published in Germany first and got more polite rejections through her agent.
MW: Was published in 1998 “not that anyone noticed”. How important is it having an editor?
MS: I was too close to my work and learned by my mistakes. I have six beta readers (my mum’s my biggest critic). I do four drafts before anyone else sees them.
MW: I roll around the floor agonising over my drafts!
ME: There’s a lot of dross out there. When writing with Louise, we edit each other’s writing.
MS: Early copies of one of my books had a prologue but I took it out because I had it pointed out to me that it gave away the plot.
JO: I offered a free second book if anyone spotted any mistakes in the first one.
MH: I also write scripts so I’ve been told my writing is very visual.
MW: The pricing structure is very different with Kindle versus paperbacks and with the former there seems to be a “race to the bottom”.
ME: My eBooks are £3.99 and I’ve begged my publisher to lower the price so I’d sell more and proportionally make more profit.
MW: There’s a war going on between traditional and self-publishing with the latter reducing the former’s profits. What will we do when Amazon kills traditional publishing?
MH: I don’t think they will. There’s too much pleasure from browsing at a bookshop.
JO: I sell twice as many paperbacks than eBooks. I’ve been in publishing for 20 years and it’s always been in crisis.
Questions were then invited from the audience.
Q: How long do you put into writing a book?
ME: When I had a full time job I wrote for three hours a day.
MS: It’s the book that gets word of mouth.
Q: <to MS> You mentioned different types of editing.
MH: Structure, line. When the writing’s finished the hard work starts. Copy editing is for consistency.
MW: Don’t have your characters change sex (unless it’s intended). I’ve done that (as Tanya Carver).
JO: I went traditional as soon as I could to get a great editor.
ME: I was told to add more sex scenes.
MH: Mel’s been told to take some out.
Q: When did you consider yourselves a writer?
ME: When traditionally published – half when self-published took off, but taken more seriously as a traditionally-published author.
JO: When I started writing.
MS: I walked around with a big grin the first time my book was structurally edited. Zoe Sharp said the best book is the one writing now.
Q: How far would you go to promote your books (sock puppeting?)?
MH: I’d never do that.
MS: The book speaks for itself. I gave myself 12 months to be a writer and struggled to pay my mortgage.
ME: Out of 2,200 sold, received 200 reviews so 0.1 read of sales.
MS: Recently received a 1* review. Some writers don’t like her style (short sharp, kills quickly).
Q: The cream rises to the top – why not via traditional publishing?
ME: It does and is down to marketing. Assumed publisher would do the marketing.
MW: Some great books are overlooked.
Q: Seen a picture of JO in a field with a laptop. Where do you write?
JO: I farm in the day and then write in the evening so yes, I do write in a field. I’ve been asked who I’d like to play my detective in a screen version and I said I didn’t have a clue because I don’t watch TV.
Turning to Crime – 12pm Friday 18th July 2014
JK: Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ian Ranking all had different jobs before they became writers, why did you turn to crime writing?
NH: I was a comedienne but don’t miss it. It was hard work.
JK: Is there a synergy between comedy and tragedy?
NH: There has to be some comedy, albeit dark comedy, in what we write. The police have to have some humour to get through their jobs. (admitted to a think for Dick Van Dyke in Diagnosis: Murder).
JK: Introduced Mark Lawson as the only person have has never to have been interviewed by Mark Lawson.
ML: Done 3,000+ interviews and have actually interviewed myself five times: three times in print, once on TV and once on the radio. You tell yourself more than someone else would.
JK: Do you have any favourites out of the 3,000?
ML: Dizzy Rascal was funny and bright. And John Updike.
JK: Which crime writer did you enjoy interviewing?
ML: PD James. I’ve interviewed over three different decades: for her 70th, 80th, and 90th birthday. She’s a remarkable figure. A perfect person to chair a public enquiry.
JK: Hopefully you’ll be able to interview her for her 100th birthday. Sarah, you originally wrote horror / fantasy (including updating fairy tales). You also write scripts.
SP: My marriage broke up and I trained to be a teacher which I did for six years. I was asked by a friend to write a Torchwood but knew nothing about it. Enjoyed writing for New Tricks.
JK: Would you write for Doctor Who? Have any women written for it recently?
SP: I’m not a geek. 🙂 It’s children’s TV and I like it but writing for it doesn’t appeal.
JK: Is there a difference between sci-fi and crime event attendees?
NH: I went to a convention where there was a man dressed as Mickey Mouse, dressed as Indiana Jones.
JK: Introduced Tony Parsons – former journalist (including at music magazine MNE) and author of ‘man lit’. Was MNE the gig of a lifetime?
TP: Yes, although he hadn’t realised then and didn’t realise it wouldn’t last forever.
JK: You created ‘man lit’ – poster for man and boy… and single father. Was the Daily Mirror your spiritual home?
TP: Piers Morgan brought me to the Daily Mirror but it was then taken over and I was let go as they had to cut costs.
JK: Would you miss newspapers?
TP: Thinks newspapers will outlast us all. Sells c. 50% paperback, 50% eBooks. Has a 12-year-old daughter who loves technology and reads JK Rowling and George RR Martin. eBooks is not a tsunami to wash away traditional books.
ML: eBooks are often given away free so a threat.
JK: If newspapers die, would you write a blog?
TP: Won’t happen in our lifetimes.
JK: Why did you turn to crime writing?
NH: Always loved crime and mysteries. Wanted to write a book that was “properly sad, where things hurt”. Where are those without death? Her partner is an actor (always plays a policeman as he has a police-type jaw!) and if he can’t guess what happens, she’s hopeful that the reader won’t either. Soaps are usually set in places e.g. Emmerdale (Farm), Brookside, Coronation Street. Suggests writers read Greek tragedies (90 minutes end to end).
ML: Lives in Northamptonshire and has written about Buckinghamshire, their neighbouring county. Most of his books are journalistic. Doesn’t go too far back. Keeping up with the Jones’ is a generational thing.
JK: Asked Sarah about not sticking with one genre.
SP: All her horrors have some mystery in them.
JK: Victorians had an appetite for crime.
SP: They took picnics to courts.
ML: And operating theatres, which were called ‘theatres’ because they had an audience.
JK: (to TP) Why did you leave it so long to write crime?
TP: Emailed by Sam Mendes (the director) who was going to do a James Bond and was going to read all the James Bond books. (TP said he wasn’t sure why Sam had emailed him to tell him this). TP was envious and did the same (read the books) which inspired him to write a crime novel although he wanted to make it something to be proud of. Had the murder weapon: a commando dagger (which his father had) and if caught, the owner would be shot for being a spy. Likes the idea of cutting rich men’s throats.
JK: How much should you like the books’ characters?
NH: Read 200+ books for various novel prizes (inc. Theakston’s 2011, Orange 2012, Booker 2013). You have to care what happens to them.
ML: The press makes an issue of where people go to school and some readers are less sympathetic when a posh child (teen) dies. It shouldn’t matter.
<the audience was then invited to ask questions>
Q: If started again, would you start with crime?
TP: Would have started with crime although it’s been a good journey.
NH: Not sure if would have spent so long being a stand-up but it would have been a shame to have never done it. We put our lives in our writing.
ML: Been told he’s obsessed with how people speak, but probably because he’s interviewed so many people.
SP: Reading is important. Young writers have great stories to tell but you do develop.
TP: If had hard jobs then be a writer – they’re so grateful that they don’t have to do that job anymore.
ML: Would Colin Dexter have written about Oxford if he’d not taught there?
Q: Is there a different writing process when switching genres?
SP: Plots and plans. Finds it more difficult going from crime to something else especially an emotional book as less timed reveal.
ML: Readers have more expectations with crime novels because everything has to fit.
NH: With Chekov, if there was a loaded gun in the first act, it had to go off in the second.
ML: If there’s a thong in the first act it has to go off in the fourth. 🙂
TP: Crime writing is toughest thing ever done – has to live up to other writers who do it brilliantly, and although his police contacts say his writing ‘works’, he looks for approval from his peers.
<TP’s book is called ‘The Murder Bag’ after http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_bag>
More to follow in Part 3 next week.
- and from this blog, my guests who have written the topic of events (inc. book signings): Alice Shapiro, Carol Wyer, Feather Schwarz Foster, Jane Wenham-Jones, Judith Marshall, Lev Raphael, and Terri Morgan.
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