Saturday, 21 March 2015

The Accidental Novel


Suddenly, out of nowhere, I am rather unexpectedly working on a new novel.

It is not, I must confess, a particularly serious project. It’s a bit of fun, really, which is possibly dangerous if you go with the idea that you should always write from the heart, and so forth. But on the other hand there seems to be an audience – albeit a very small one – which actually wants to read it, and it’s raising some money for charity, so it’s probably having a more positive impact than any of my other works of fiction.

It all started last Sunday morning, during an edition of Treasure Quest, a radio programme I produce for BBC Radio Norfolk. The radio car team were heading for Scarrowbeck Road in North Norfolk, and the observation was made that “Scarrowbeck” sounds as if it should be some sort of historical romance. Presenters David Clayton and Sophie Little started joking about what characters might be in it, and the listeners joined in, on the show’s Facebook page as well as on the show itself.

That evening, purely for a bit of fun, I wrote the first chapter of Scarrowbeck and posted it on the Treasure Quest Facebook page. Just a two-and-a-half thousand word pastiche of a cheap and cheerful Victorian-set costume drama.

I was, admittedly, quite pleased with it – I thought I’d done a decent job of capturing something of the genre. It’s always easy to write the beginning of something, of course, and trying to write in a broad-strokes parody of a certain style is also easier than casting about for your own voice, whatever that might be.

But nevertheless, it went quite well, so I thought, perhaps, I could have a go at carrying it on. I also decided to try and make some money for charity out of it, by setting up a JustGiving page where people could donate £5 per chapter, with the aim of ending up with 30 chapters - £150 for Children in Need. At time of writing half the money has already been raised, so it looks as if I am well and truly committed to it now!

On the one hand, you might think “why are you wasting your time messing around with this nonsense?” But at least I am writing something. Until I started writing Scarrowbeck, I hadn’t written any new fiction all year. Since January, I have been buried deep into the research for my prospective new Doctor Who Magazine submission, which is finally coming towards its conclusion. It’s been a fascinating and enjoyable experience, but has left me with little time for anything else. So it’s nice to be writing something, anything fictional again, the fact I have monetised it for charity means I have the added discipline of having to get it done.

Plus, unlike pretty much any other fiction I have ever written, there is actually an audience for this. It may be only a dozen or so people, and most of them will quickly get bored it I suspect, but even so… They’re there. They exist.

And it only takes me about an hour or so to write each chapter, based on the two I’ve done so far. That’s not too much of a commitment. I’m aiming to do two a week, so should have it finished sometime in the summer. Plus the idea of writing something in serial format is rather appealing.

It’s better to be writing something than nothing, anyway. So if you do want to follow it, the chapters will be available as they are written on the Treasure Quest Facebook page, here. And if you fancy donating to the cause, you can do that via the JustGiving page, here.

In other news, as mentioned my new DWM piece is going well. I have done far too much research really, as it’s difficult if not impossible to squeeze it all in while making a short enough and readable piece, but you never know what you’re going to need to know to write well about something. I’m also working on another new documentary project for the radio station, so plenty of irons in the fire. Plenty of productivity.

So a little nonsense fiction can’t hurt!

Saturday, 10 January 2015

A good start to the year!

 My byline in this month's Doctor Who Magazine!

As anyone who’s read probably more than a couple of entries in this blog will know, I am a card-carrying, lifelong Doctor Who fan. As a part of this I have, for the past twenty years, been a reader of Doctor Who Magazine, the august journal which has been published – originally by Marvel, and latterly by Panini – continuously since 1979, impressively even managing to survive the series being off-air for sixteen years during that time.

I first bought DWM, as it is known to fans, in December 1994, picking up a rather tatty copy of issue 220 in WH Smith’s in Worthing. And I’ve been a reader ever since, non-stop. I’ve been an occasional contributor to the letters page and had some comments published in the round-ups of annual polls and the like – even being “Letter of the Month” on a couple of occasions, first at the age of 13 in 1997, and then again in 2013 in the 50th anniversary special, which was very pleasing.

However, this month, something rather wonderful has happened of which I am very proud – after all those years of reading and occasionally writing to DWM, I have become one of their writers! For one month only, but it still counts. A proper, professional piece of writing for them, which is rather nice!

 DWM 220 from December 1994, the first issue I ever bought, at the age of ten, and issue 482 from January 2015, with my piece in - coincidentally, they both also contain interviews with Peter Purves!

It’s an interview with David Fisher, a scriptwriter who wrote four stories during Tom Baker’s time as the Doctor. I actually originally interviewed Fisher as part of my day job, for my Doctor Who 50th anniversary features for BBC Radio Norfolk. However, he’d led such an interesting life and had so much to say that I thought he was worth a longer piece than a radio package could allow, and I asked if he’d mind me writing up an interview with him for DWM.

He said that was fine, so I wrote up the feature and eventually submitted it to the lovely Peter Ware, the assistant editor of DWM, who I’d briefly met in November 2013 when we sat next to each other at the BFI première of An Adventure in Space and Time. He liked it, the editor Tom Spilsbury evidently did as well, and with a few tweaks it sat waiting for its opportunity for a slot in the magazine… Which came with this month’s issue, published on Thursday!

Rather pathetically, I can’t stop looking at it. I’m very proud of it, having never really thought I’d get the opportunity to write for DWM. Although I can certainly turn a good article, I’d thought that pretty much every angle of Doctor Who I could write about had already been covered by other people or could be covered by people who knew a lot more about it than I did. So I’d always been more of a bystander than a participant in Doctor Who writing, but I must admit that the excitement of having this published has kicked off another idea in my head, which I’m going to try and sufficiently research to work up into an idea for them… We shall see!

In other writing news, just before Christmas I received a rejection for Another Life, but it was at least a personal one. They’d clearly read the book, and had well-explained reasons why they didn’t want to take it on – and there were some nice comments, such as “I was impressed by the intensity and depth of your novel that demonstrates a very careful and literary approach…” But at the end of the day a rejection is still a rejection.

I’ve sent off an e-mail of enquiry to another publisher to see if they’re interested – like the one who rejected it, a small publisher I’ve had some correspondence with before. If they don’t want it, I may then start on agents rather than publishers.

Also through the day job, I had the opportunity to meet a proper writer this week – the winner of this year’s Costa Book Award for Best Debut Novel, no less! It was Emma Healey, who lives in Norwich and won for her book Elizabeth is Missing. I’d actually briefly met her last summer, when the novel was published and she came in as a guest on the show I produce during the week, but on Monday after we had the embargoed press release about her win I was able to pop round to her house and record a piece. She was very nice, very friendly, and clearly extremely talented. I, needless to say, was sick with jealousy! But I don’t think I let it come across too badly in the interview, which you can listen to here:



Aside from that, I’m plotting the next Alice Flack story which I am hoping to write soon, and doing some initial research on that possible new piece I’d like to submit to DWM. I’d like to get the first Alice Flack story up online soon, probably as a giveaway e-book on Amazon, but I’m told it really needs an appealing cover to help catch the eye of the browsing reader, and I need to somehow get that sorted first.

But a good start to the year, anyway. Even if I haven’t so far done much actual bloody writing in it!

Monday, 13 October 2014

Latest scribblings

The Yearbook and I are fighting the good fight once again...

It’s been a long time since I last wrote a blog entry, I know, for which I apologise to anybody who was checking back here for one. (I can’t imagine that represents a very large audience!) There hasn’t been a great deal to say about my writing in recent months, but there are a few things I should catch up on, for the record.

Firstly, I have actually earned a bit of money for some writing, which is always extremely gratifying! It makes it sound mercenary and shallow to feel as if financial reward somehow validates the effort of writing, but… Well, it does. It’s not the only reason I do it, of course – I do it because I am almost compelled to, because it’s the only thing I have ever wanted to do with my life. But it’s always very satisfying when someone thinks you have written something good enough to be paid for.

It wasn’t for a piece of fiction, sadly, but for a magazine article which has yet to be published, so I won’t reveal here what it is – mainly because I don’t yet know when it will be appearing! But I have been paid over £500 for it, which rather took me aback. It was much more than I had expected!

In other exciting news, I have finally started submitting Another Life to people. At the end of June I sent it in to a new writing scheme being run by the publishers Cape, but after all of July, August and September had elapsed without my having heard anything back from them, I decided that was probably a write-off and at the start of this month I took the plunge, bought the new edition of The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and began the process of submitting it to other agents and publishers.

Having said that, the first publisher to whom I have submitted it isn’t one I needed to look up in the book as I’ve had contact with them before, when I was sending The Wicket in the Rec to people. The woman I corresponded with last time is still there, and after an initial e-mail of enquiry from me she’s asked to see the whole manuscript of Another Life, which I have sent across to her. That was nearly a week ago now, so I am holding off on any more submissions while I await a verdict on that.

I have been doing some more writing over the summer months and into the beginning of autumn, mainly on two particular projects. Firstly, I have been playing around with some ideas for a possible future novel called This Other England, and indeed have written some background notes and a chunk of a few thousand words of one section. It’s an idea I’ve had idly bubbling away at the back of my mind for a while, the story of a fictional England World Cup team, so it won’t surprise you to learn that watching this summer’s tournament on TV finally inspired me to start doing something with it.

I quite like the idea, it’s quite a fun one to write, and there might even be a market for it… But it’s just a possible idea at the moment. The sort of thing I might play with every now and again when the mood takes me, and I feel inspired to write another chunk.

The other thing, which I have just completed the first draft of, is a long short story called The Ruined Heart. This is a sort of murder mystery set in 1946, and involves a character I came up with and wrote a few stories about many years ago, a kind of private detective-type investigator called Alice Flack (she even co-starred in one of my early efforts at a novel). She was always a contemporary character before, but now I’ve put her into the 1940s and given her a rather nasty war wound.

The plot itself was inspired by something I read about while doing some research for a radio programme, and thought “There must be a good story in that, surely?” It’s ended up being quite hefty for a short story, 24,000 words, and I am just going through it this week for the first major proof read. I’m reasonably pleased with it – it’s not spectacular but nor, I think, is it awful, and I even have half an idea of what to do with it…

I am toying with the idea of putting it up on Amazon, to buy for e-readers. I know, I know – I have gone on in the past on here about my distaste for self-publishing. But it’s not a novel, it’s an odd length that doesn’t really fit anywhere for submitting it to people, and I wouldn’t put it up for more than 50p or whatever the cheapest rate is. I haven’t seriously looked into it yet, and won’t until I’ve properly proofed it and got a few friends to read it and let me know what they think.

I do like the character of Alice, and I even have an idea pretty much all set out in my mind for a second 1946 story featuring her. It could be a series, I suppose, if people were interested in them, which remains to be seen.

So that’s the current state of play on the writing projects, anyway. I’m not sure how much work I’ll do on any more Alice stories or This Other England before Christmas, as there’s a lot to do work-wise, which eats up a lot of my free time – another Treasure Quest Live stage show to produce, and a documentary to be edited… At least I’m keeping busy!