Time for a client round-up:
Emma Adams has just been commissioned by Chol Theatre to write Northern Big Board, a play set in the swimming pool. It’s about fear (high diving board).
Mike Carey’s thriller The Demon Code came out last week from Little, Brown. He’s delivered the last draft of his $30m movie for Slingshot/Intrepid, Silent War, which is about to go out to cast.
Stephen Davis has delivered a cracking new US television pilot, a political thriller called Pilgrim.
Daniel Depp is working on the new draft of his new novel.
Anne Perry’s Sunless Sea comes out next week, and her new hardcover Midnight at Marble Arch next month. These have had excellent reviews, and two have said she’s at the top of her form. Her biography, In Search of Anne Perry, was launched last week and went to #3 on the bestseller list in New Zealand.
Simon Scarrow’s Praetorian came out in paperback a couple of weeks ago. Look out for a new series of e-book novellas coming out in the next couple of months. His new book about the siege of Malta, Sword and Scimitar, comes out in October; a book which shines a big light on a turning point in the Muslim influence on Europe.
Catherine Webb’s new urban fantasy Stray Souls is out in October, and she’s delivered the next one; headlong, exciting storytelling.
Tim Wilson’s The Secret Life of William Shakespeare is selling very well and getting great reviews. His The Taste of Sorrow has been optioned to the BBC.
I had a very interesting conversation with artist Liz Churton yesterday, which I quote with her permission (and add a thumbnail of one of her paintings).
When asked ‘When do you know when a painting’s finished?’ she says, ‘When there’s a balance between the eye, the hand and the heart.’
If I’ve got this right, she means that the eye is where the brain receives the sensory information; the hand brings the technique to the painting, and the heart is the emotion, or love, that’s so crucial.
Without the emotion, a piece of art, or writing, is just a piece of information that’s been processed. When the artist puts their emotion into it, only then can it touch another human being.
Liz says that it’s the child in us that feels things directly, without the adult’s intellectual censorship.
Having leapt a variety of show-jumps, and shown off my footwork in the dressage, this horse is having a quiet day munching some writers’ contracts.
Today at beautiful Swanwick I’ve been doing a day of one-to-one meetings with writers. Quite a mixed bag – both in subject matter and style. A very funny coming-of-age novel, a thriller about a stalker, a contemporary novel about an accident, a fantasy, a children’s book, a supernatural thriller, and a literary novel. It’s the agent equivalent of show-jumping or maybe dressage, and I can only hope I’ve been useful to all of them.
It’s always an interesting thing to do. First, it exercises the analytical muscles. Second, you don’t just get to test-drive the novel, you also get to lift the bonnet and look at the authorial engine underneath. Often all I’ve had to do is confirm that their creative choices are along the right lines, and to suggest tweaks for their strategy in approaching agents.
A couple of the writers have also had meetings with Alexa here, and – without wanting to colour each other’s judgement – it’s been nice to stroke our chins over the work and confer about what advice to give. What’s your diagnosis, doctor?
Sunny and beautiful at Swanwick Writers’ School near Derby. Having given an after-dinner talk last year, I feel privileged to be asked back to give a couple of sessions and do a day of 1:1s with writers.
Agents always get asked to talk about How to Get an Agent. It’s quite exciting when you’re asked to do this early in your career, but since the principles don’t change much, it gets a bit daunting after a few years: you don’t want to repeat yourself, you don’t want to repeat other people, and you don’t want to bore yourself to sleep mid-sentence.
But it makes a good framework for smuggling in other tips from the front line. The writers at Swanwick have a very professional attitude, and welcome the raw, dirty facts. They indulged my story about a writer who, very late with a historical novel, sent me a book narrated by a dog – that had dog sex in chapter 3 – and how sorting out this kind of problem illustrates the importance of an agent’s good relationships with publishers. They’ve asked some very interesting questions about what to do if your agent insists on doing everything on a handshake and won’t issue the (now normal) letter of representation. They’ve asked about the balance between asking reasonably for information, and harassing an agent. How long does an agent take to read something? Does an agent consider themselves to represent a book or an author?- in other words, if they don’t sell the first book, will they sack the writer or carry on with the next?
Last night’s speaker was my excellent client Stephen Leo Davis, whose talk was on the changes in TV while he’s been writing for the medium, which everyone loved until they realized he had even more interesting things to say about his experiences as a writer in Ireland and the States. Tonight it’s the publisher Alan Samson, who will probably be his usual mix of being urbane and irreverant. Latin and Ballroom dancing follows, and then buskers’ night. I’m really hoping this won’t be inspiration for an unwise late night blog…
If a dip in form can’t be attributed to something external, and seems mysterious, I think it’s usually a signal to try something different. Annoyingly, winning techniques don’t last.
You can think about changing:
Your sources of ideas: If you look to newspaper articles, think about mining your own experiences. If you need an emotional spark such as anger, try a different flavour. If you work it out with a slide rule, try picking something that seems counter-intuitive.
Your structure: Try telling the story backwards. Try drawing a shape and seeing what sort of plot it suggests. Try a different point of view character than the obvious.
Your working patterns: If you’re typically a marathon writer, try sprinting. If the words come slowly and painfully, try blurting it all out knowing you’ll do one additional rewrite. If you write straight onto the computer, try a pencil. Draw some of it. Write scenes out of sequence, and if the connecting scenes seem boring, don’t do them. Leave yourself a fun scene to the end, as a treat.
Try not to: succumb to panic and/or superstition (‘Sh*t! The cat’s kicked my mascot into the litter tray! That’s why this draft is rubbish.’). Try not to use this as an excuse to divorce your spouse, sack your agent, have a mid-life crisis, blame the BBC, emigrate, etc.
Don’t panic. Stay fresh.
One of the Olympic commentators mentioned ‘alarming dips in form’ for an athlete last week. Can anything be more scary, for an athlete or a writer (or an agent)? And yet it happens to almost everyone.
We can’t expect ability, commissions, sales, etc to follow a regular upward progression. Sometimes we inexplicably lose a knack that came naturally, which we only laboriously regain. Sometimes we have to succumb to exhaustion, grief, lack of confidence – stuff that life throws at us. Sometimes we’re just not at our best, for no apparent reason.
The French have a great phrase – reculer pour mieux sauter – to draw back to take a bigger leap. Often that’s what a dip in form ends up being.
That athlete? Won a gold.