When an Agent Calls

Canopied Penny Farthing from The Prisoner
Image courtesy of David Stimpson

I don’t tend to post much about the novel I’m writing as I’m always scared that telling the world will jinx it and it won’t happen.

But it’s too late for that now… because I’m delighted to say that I have been signed up by a literary agent:

Phil Patterson of Marjacq.

As I can no longer hide, I thought I’d share a bit about how recent events have brought me to this point.

After several failed novel attempts – failed as in, not completed – over the last six years, I finally worked out what I wanted to write and how I was going to write it. The novel is called BLACK WOOD, and it falls under the genre of  ‘psychological suspense’, but that’s all I’m saying about it for now.

What finally got me to where I am today, was learning from my failures. My start-stop technique of writing did not help, but then everyone has ‘real life’ to deal with, so I couldn’t blame that forever… My main failing was having a big idea, then running out of steam. No, actually, that’s not true. My main failing was thinking that I couldn’t write.

I’ve had some success with short stories and flash, but the novel is a different beast entirely, and not everyone can do it. I admire anyone and everyone who has ever written a novel, even more if they’ve written more than one; and that’s irrespective of whether I’ve read or enjoyed their book(s). Writing a novel is a huge achievement for anyone.

My technique varied a little, but always ended the same way. I used to start with a brief outline, a snippet of an idea, some notes on the way. A few character ideas. The basic plot was always clear. How I was going to fill in the thousands of words to get there, less so.

Then in January 2013, a couple of things happened.

(1) I had a very strong idea. The most obvious one (as it was sparked by true events) but one I hadn’t considered before. So, I wrote a detailed outline, synopsis, and started writing full steam ahead

(2) I hooked up a critique partner – RJ Barker – and we started to chapter swap

This went ok for a while. Really well, actually. RJ was very encouraging, and I enjoyed reading and commenting on his work.  But sometimes the ideas that were tossed around led me to think too much, and while RJ finished his first draft, I floundered and eventually stopped again. Note: RJ has since signed with Rob Dinsdale of Dinsdale Imber and is working hard on his masterpiece as we speak…

I thought about giving it all up. Decided I could never write a full length novel. I enjoy writing short stories. Maybe I should stick with that? But then by putting the novel aside for a bit, it cleared my mind. I had a few plot epiphanies. The suggestions from RJ had shaped it into something else in my mind. Something better. Thank you, RJ (this will be one of the first thank yous of many… he just came up with a great blurb for me, too.)

But I digress… how did I end up with an agent, you may ask….

(1) I entered the CWA Debut Dagger and as an indirect result of that, got some feedback on early chapters (thank you Keith B Walters, Luca Veste and Keshini Naidoo) which boosted my confidence that the story wasn’t shit and that I wasn’t the worst writer in the world

(2) An author friend of mine, (again, that Luca Veste – who has his first novel DEAD GONE coming out in Jan 2014 and it looks bloody brilliant), someone who prophesied ‘You’ll have an agent by Harrogate’, spoke to his agent about me… his agent was Phil… and I was invited to ‘submit the full manuscript when complete’ – I was very excited about this, but doubted I was going to be ready for my (and Luca’s) deadline of Harrogate which is in two weeks time (but I was in no rush… I was biding my time, plugging away… dreaming…)

(3) I entered my prologue in the MR Hall crime writing comp; and got a runner up place, which I was thrilled about

(4) I attended Winchester Writers’ Conference on Friday 21st June, and realised (after doing a little course) that I didn’t really need any more ‘how to write’ advice (as my primary failing was losing faith in myself), but enjoyed the networking aspect, which included three one-to-one sessions with an editor, an agent and an author (Eileen Robertson, who wrote me a lovely note) – all three were extremely positive (in fact, all three said ‘this book will be published’) and this boosted my confidence further (note that at this point, I’d been writing like a demon and written over 10k in a week, which is a lot when you work full-time!)

(5) On Monday 24th June – I was contacted by Phil, who, after seeing my tweet about the MR Hall comp, asked if I was ready to send him something… The novel is not finished, but I had a well edited 10k and I had just tweaked the first chapter after the advice from the one-to-ones, so I decided to bite the bullet and send him what I had ready. I hoped he would like what he saw, and hoped he’d repeat his request to send me the full thing when it was finished.

I wasn’t really prepared for what happened next.

A bit of background – I’ve met Phil before, at Harrogate (Theakstons Crime). He seemed like a top bloke. He has an excellent reputation and an interesting and varied mix of clients. I always planned to submit to him (partly because of his agency being co-founded by George Markstein of The Prisoner fame… ), mainly because of the attention he clearly gives to his clients. I wanted an agent who could identify with me, see me as ‘me’, be flexible, supportive, excited about my work and, most of all, be honest (I am not a number… etc).

Anyway, he called me less than 24h later. I was in the toilets at work. ‘Is this a good time,’ he said. I didn’t realise until I got into the car after work that my zip had been undone all day…

(6) On Friday we met at the Marjacq offices in London. We talked books – other peoples, and my own. We discussed my plans. We talked about ghosts… and we sealed the deal.

So I have an agent.

Surreal. Exciting. Unbelievable.

This is only STEP ONE in the ‘Getting Published’ saga. But it has happened a lot quicker than I expected. Don’t worry though, I am under no illusions. Having an agent does not guarantee success. But it’s definitely a nudge in the right direction… And it certainly gave me a bit of credibility when talking to dozens of authors at last night’s Crime in The Court party!

I have a lot of work to do now to get my manuscript ready for Phil’s red pen, but I am completely and utterly ready for the challenge.

I’ll keep you posted on the journey 🙂

The 'Write' Place

Having the right place to write is the only way you’re ever going to get anything written, right? Wrong…

So where do you write? At a desk? On the train? In the airing cupboard? This week’s guest post comes from the luxury writing environment of Keith B Walters, where we find out that it’s really not that simple…

My daughter just came into the room before I finished typing that title – which in many ways illustrates just how difficult I find it with a young family to find the right place (not mention the right time) to write. Okay, so it’s nearly 10pm on a Sunday night and she should be in bed ready for school tomorrow – but the downfall of snow has put paid to that theory this particular evening. She did, however, have to open a door to find me. After many years of moving my working and writing space around my home, I have settled in half of our dining room to give me room, and that much welcomed door I mentioned.

For me, setting up places to work in and around my home has got to have been the biggest form of procrastination I have ever entered into, and I don’t even want to think about the hours lost making working spaces that could have been spent writing.

I’ve always made spaces to write, to draw, or to paint – whatever the current project is and at all stages of my life. When I lived with my parents I had a large semi-circular desk top made to fill the bay window of my room – at that time I was into movie special effects and horror fiction writing, so the large desk top was often filled with all manner of horrible projects at various stages – making many wonder just how I slept in that room.

When the current Mrs W and I moved into our first flat, I earmarked the spare bedroom, with a flat-pack Ikea desk set-up which served for my day job (as a Sales Manager I have been home-based for many years) and my then horror fanzine writing in the evenings and weekends.

I soon discovered that the small room wasn’t really big enough though, and so installed a loft ladder and made a makeshift den in the loft space above our kitchen table where I could type stories and reviews on an old Amstrad 9512 computer (Lord Sugar would have been impressed).

And then it was the move to our house where (in the thirteen years we have been living here) I would guess I have had about seven areas of working. I set up a small Argos desk in one of the alcoves of the living room – too noisy when the children came along and then a desk in the dining room (where it was often too cold to work). A few years back we had the loft converted to give us extra space and I adjusted the plans to give a small office space on the landing between the staircases just enough for a desk and chair (oh, and my bookcases) and I was happy there for quite some time – but then I outgrew that too. And, always at the back of my mind was that I needed somewhere to hide away, to lock out all distractions, all noise (if possible) – then, and only then (I foolishly thought) the magic would happen and I would finally write THAT novel.

My dear Nan left me some money when she passed away and that, I decided, was the time to do what I had always wanted, which was to build a special place, a shed at the end of the garden, a place just for me, for my books and for my writing. The shed was ordered and, over the course of a weekend and with help from my Dad, was built and decorated – noticeboards, electricity, a small desk and chair, a rug (because it really ties the room together – Lebowski fans) and then I was good to go!

Keith's Writing Shed

Well, that was the plan….but then it rained, it rained a lot. And then the kids wanted help with homework after school and started to go to bed later and, before I knew it, it was always after 9pm before I could even contemplate skulking up the garden path in the dark and the wet and the with a laptop under my arm to start anything and, did I mention, I was tired?

And so, although my lovely little writing shed is there, and I do intend to get a lot of use out of it someday, for now I have remained inside – returned to the dining room, another new desk (a nice one from Staples this time with one tower of drawers for work related stuff and the other for writing stuff), and I close the door when I want to get things done.

All that said, and despite the fact that I write mainly here, in this one place, I have come to terms that, in order to get things done, I am having to be much more flexible with my writing space. I now carry a notebook at all times at work, I write whilst on trains, I tap on an ipad if I get ideas in bed, tape them or record them on my phone if out and without paper for any reason. I use coffee breaks when out at work to split between half working on work emails and then some time to write some notes on whatever my current project is.

I kick myself often when I see professional writers’ working spaces on television shows or in magazines – they are rarely the huge and expensive looking book-lined offices you might expect and that has helped me realise that the ‘write’ place is just the place that’s right for you and it’s the words and the work that matter, wherever you can get them down.

***

About Keith

Keith B Walters has been dabbling with horror and crime fiction for some years, mainly writing about other people’s writing until recently; although he’s always tried to get some of his own work done when time permits.  He initially interviewed horror authors and actors, before branching into ‘a life more crime’ – inspired in a big way by a Crime Writing Masterclass run by Minette Walters (no relation) and Mark Billingham several years ago at the London Book Fair.  A keen blogger, he has attended recordings of the TV Book Club, the launch of World Book Night and, for the last two years, has been ‘Blogger in Residence’ at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate. He has stories in two collections: Once Upon A Time: A Collection of Unexpected Fairytales and Off the Record 2: At the Movies.

You can find him online at his two blogs:

Keith has recently released two short story collections:

  • DEADLINE: Seven stories featuring his character Detective Inspector George Haven
  • GOOD FOR ONE FARE:  a collection of crime, supernatural and horror tales

And also a children’s book called Neverville

You can also find him on twitter @keithbwalters