Peony, the scientific fairy, suited up to fly into adventure.
‘What do you write?’
As a question, that never used to be complicated. I write comic fantasy, it’s where my heart and mind sit and live and laugh and share. It’s just…me. The first person to inspire me to believe I could write as any kind of professional gig was Douglas Adams, and the ideas which come to me and have the most natural ‘legs’ sit naturally within the comic fantasy/comic sci-fi genre.
Sure, over the years, you have ideas in different genres, and you think ‘Oh, that might be fun, when I’m finished with the story I’m actually writing right now…’ I’ve got a trilogy of darker, more philosophical stories that are waiting in the wings, as well as a kind of Jurassic Park-meets-Brave New World techno-social satire that I’m putting off more or less because it would be deeply difficult to write, whereas the comic fantasy stuff comes easily to my mind and fingers.
But someone asked me the question again recently, and it stymied me.
‘What do you write?’
I stopped and thought about it, because here’s the dichotomy. What I write and have yet to seriously submit anywhere is comic fantasy, and it’s novel-length comic fantasy at that. So I think of myself as a novelist in the comic fantasy genre.
But what I actually write and submit to places is entirely different. Over the course of the last year or so, inspired initially (and somewhat shamefully, in retrospect) by a pal submitting a story and asking me to have a look at it before she did so, I’ve submitted a handful of erotic short stories to three publishers.
I’ve submitted five.
Get yourself some Sinful Pleasures today. You deserve them.
The publisher of the first one – the one inspired by my pal submitting and me, being bloody-minded, thinking ‘Well, why not give it a go?’ – said some very kind words about it. Something along the lines of me ‘having missed my calling in life till now.’ That’ll put a spring in your step, I don’t mind telling you, especially when it was written the night before the submission deadline in a bit of a blur. If you want to catch up with my first official foray into erotica, the anthology’s called Sinful Pleasures, from Sinful Press. Go click and enjoy.
The second one I submitted, a story of vampires on the Queen Mary, I was never happy with and rightly, I think, it failed to get published.
The third and fourth were two different stories in two different anthologies published by an American publisher, SinCyr Publishing, with whom I’m rather smitten for the grooviness of their consent-and-body-positivity politics. Check out Working It and Owning it here. And I’ve heard today that the fifth one is also to be published by them in an upcoming anthology, called Kintsugi. There’s a sixth which is alive in my mind for a submission call with them which has to be done by the end of the month.
So far, my story in Sinful Pleasures was Male/Female, from a Male perspective. The Vampire story was a free-for-all, but again from a Male perspective. Working It was Female/Male, from a Female perspective. Owning It was mostly Female/Female, from a self-evidently Female point of view. Kintsugi was Male/Male and Male/Female, from a Male viewpoint. and the new one which I intend to submit by the end of the month is – get this, it’s in the submission requirements – Male/Male, romantic shapeshifting pregnancy with a happy ending. Which I suppose, if nothing else, brings in a degree of fantasy writing – or at least, it does the way I’m doing it.
All of which is just a way of re-framing how we see ourselves. If people ask you ‘What do you write?’, do you answer them based on what you aspire to be, or based on what you’ve actually delivered? You can argue black is blue that you shouldn’t have to put yourself in a box, but it’s a key question when adding items to your authorial CV – have you done similar things before with any provable success? If you went for an interview, you couldn’t get away with saying ‘Well, I’ve been successful in several positions as a bricklayer before now, but really I see myself as a computer programmer,’ because your proven experience wouldn’t match the requirements of the role.
So what do I write?
Hell, I’m still writing comic fantasy, and enjoying it, and getting good responses when I show it to people. But purely on the basis of production, submission, and popular uptake, I guess you’d have to say the chief strings to my bow are currently erotic short stories and Doctor Who audio drama scripts, of which I’ve also written four in the last year or two, with a fifth to be delivered by the end fo the month. What you write, ultimately, isn’t just a question of what you actually write, but what you write, finish, and submit somewhere, because it’s what other people know you write, or can be shown that you’ve written, that ultimately builds your profile as a writer.
So – best finish a novel then, otherwise I’ll be a short story and audio drama writer, rather than the novelist I’ve always thought I was going to be.
Mind you, one publisher did say they’d take a look at pitches from me for a novel-length erotic story…hmm…
I have come to one inevitable conclusion: I would be a useless baker.
All that kneading and proving and shaping and re-proving and waiting, and waiting, and waaaaaaaaaiiiiiting.
Were I, in some parallel universe, to end up on the Great British Bake-Off, I’d be pacing, and crouching, and pacing, and drumming my fingers on countertops, and hitting things with wooden spoons (probably including fellow competitors), and kicking the proving drawer, and reading three books and pondering the nature of spatulas and whistling tunelessly and driving everybody else as far up the wall as I was.
I know this to be true, because, for the first time in recent history, I am being made to wait.
Yes. I know. I’ve got one book out with one agent. I should be you, with your multiple books, multiple agents, Venn diagrams of rejection, lists of people against whom bloody revenge will be enacted when you’re rich and bestseller famous, short stories by the sackful with magazines around the globe, yadda yadda yadda. I’m also aware of the advice I recently gave a ghostwriting client, that if he was going to demand the universe bend to his timescales, he fundamentally wasn’t cut out for the traditional publishing route. I know. I know. I know!
But still, the evil little thought-worms burrow through your brain, don’t they? Wonder if he’s read it it yet.
Haven’t heard a peep – and he asked for it.Surely it was at least peepworthy?
Maybe he’s just not that into me…
Read me, damn you! I worked hard on this thing. Validate me!
At which point, all the rational, logical people (which is to say non-writers), give you good, honest, utterly unhelpful advice.
He’s got a life, you know?
How would you feel if someone was pressurising you to validate them?
Have you any idea how much he has to read?
You remember at the conference, agents said they only read new writers in their own time, right? Between breakfast and the office, between the office and dinner. Give the man a break.
Sure, right…Write the next one…
Write the next one while you’re waiting.
All of which, as I say, is perfectly reasonable, logical advice, and all of which makes you want to scream “But I’m DIFFERENT!” The illusion of one’s own difference, of one’s own secret, hidden away literary genius burns, however much you try to tell the world and yourself that it doesn’t, deep down inside you. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t have put up with all the nonsense that writing a book entails. You’d have had…well, a life of your own! Your family would remember what you looked like, and wouldn’t have that slightly glazed look on their faces when you emerge periodically from your self-induced isolation to grab a coffee or some toast. Personally speaking, I’d have hair. A working liver. Probably wouldn’t have had to switch to the pointlessness of decaff as the ideas and characters prodded me with sticks to write all through the night. Goddammit, man, validate my existence and answer me!
There comes a point when even a “This is nonsense, go away and live under a stone” answer feels like it would be better that the nothing. The hopeful, hopeful nothing.
That’s the point when you can collapse the waveform of this particular hope and move on to the next one on the list, opening yourself up to the next set of critical boots. But that’s just the masochism of the writer talking. My wife calls it my “Fifty Shades of Writing” instinct.
So what the hell should we do, while the dough of our hope rises, or doesn’t, in someone else’s hands?
Probably, this. Probably getting it out once in a while among a community that doesn’t think we’re stark raving bonkers is the healthy thing to do. It’s probably the thing that saves us going up somewhere high with an automatic weapon.
Write. Any damn thing you can. I know from personal experience that there’s a sense of living in the shadow of one book until you know what, if anything, is happening to it, so I understand it can be hard to “Start the next one” while your mind is still entangled with your current progeny. But don’t let yourself get rusty, or you’ll have a longer journey back to the kind of form of which you’re capable when you do start. Articles, short stories, blog entries, diaries, write any damn thing you can, but write it as if it’s for public consumption, even if it isn’t. Polish it if you can. You never know, it might turn out to have a market down the line.
Resist. Oh my WritingBrothers and ScribeSisters, resist at all costs the urge to tinker. The minute you tinker in a feedback-vacuum, the version that gets accepted or rejected is not the ‘right’ version in your head. When the answer comes, one way or another, tinker your ever-loving hearts out if you need to, if the answer to why a scene never quite worked has come to you. But resist the urge to change what’s on your machine without the feedback of the people you’ve sent it to. That way lie multiple literary dimensions, and it’s the easiest way to get lost in Version-Hell. What’s perhaps more, it’s the easiest way to dodge the pain of rejection, falling back on ‘Ah, but they haven’t seen the tweaked version.’ Take your licks when they come, for everything they’re actually worth.
Plan. You can be a pantser all you like, and absolutely, sometimes, the best, funniest, most dramatic or emotionally intense scenes comes from a blank screen or a blank sheet of paper and absolutely no fixed idea of what the next scene should be. But your next book will be aboutsomething. Answer the question of what. Answer the question of why. Let the characters wander into your mind, look at your answers and kick them around a bit, and see what they look like then. Once you’ve answered the what and why questions, let the spiderwebs begin to form, the connections between one thing and another. Let the world begin to build itself inside your head – ultimately, the only thing that’ll stop you obsessing over your current book is the dynamic force of the next one needing to be written.
Read. Read and read and read. Listen, the world’s a big place, and it’s been around a while. You’re not going to live long enough even to read everything you want to read, but chain-reading’s the only way to get even close. Read widely within your genre, so you know its heartbeat, its must-haves, its already-dones. Read widely outside your genre to bring your difference. Read sideways, read random, read books you’re not even sure you want to read. You never know what might end up feeding in to your worlds, your books in the future. I got what turned out to be a major underpinning factor of my current book from a marked-down, torn-cover book of quantum biology I bought in a post-Christmas sale the year before last. Always allow yourself to be surprised by things you read – after all, it’s not like you’ve got anything else to do while the inbox stays silent and the phone doesn’t ring.
Live. You know you’re probably going to turn into a grumpy, fizzing but strangely uncommunicative hermit once you start your next book. So take time out to reconnect with the people who still love you. Take time out to catch up with people who probably used to love you before you locked yourself away and started shouting at the walls.
Now, you’ll have to excuse me – there’s a woman sitting across from me, raising one eyebrow. I’m fairly sure at some point I was married to her. I should probably try speaking to her in the ‘out-loud’ world.
Hammersmith, Bailey and Hark – Wonderful. Image from PSBrooks.com
That’s it, then. Draft Three, the polishing draft, of Wonderful is complete. After feedback from my editor, the only thing that really hurt was changing the ending, but as it turns out, she was so ridiculously right I’m a little gobsmacked I couldn’t see it myself. So, big thumbs-up to editor Sam on that one, and proof if proof were needed that you should always get a set of professional eyes on your work, even when your day-job is casting a set of professional eyes over other people’s. You’re simply too close to your own work to make solid editorial judgments 100% of the time.
The book’s gone out to a few friends for beta-reading as we speak, and I’m getting some feedback that’s making me think seriously about the beginning. To show the behind-the-scenes action, or to leave it mysterious in the first chapter? Hmm.
It’s possible this is a viable concern, and that the behind-the-scenes…erm…scenes in Chapter 1 are giving a false impression of the book as a whole. But it’s also entirely possible that I’m just finding ways to stall myself from sending the book out into the world, where it has to stand or fall to judgment by others. I might take just one more look at just that first chapter. Then off it goes – I’ve been through the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook today, selecting my first handful of agents to try it out on. After the advice I got at York though, and if I’m honest, the advice I’ve pretty much given myself having read through it for Draft Three, I need to alter the tone of my synopsis and covering letter. I’ve always thought that what I was writing was a comic fantasy. But I’m not sure you can still get away with calling it that when it covers the persecution of Galileo, when it goes to Ethiopia in 1985, and when one of its key scenes takes place in an Auschwitz gas chamber. Besides, if I came away from York with one message ringing in my ears it was that the writing was great – but comic fantasy is the hardest thing in the world to sell.
The synopsis and the letter need to change – but this is something I’m sure isn’t me stalling. This is me trying to give it the best chance of being understood, marketed and eventually sold. Knowing the difference between stalling and perfecting is probably important. Getting the hell on with it is even moreso.
Hammersmith, Bailey and Hark – Wonderful. Image from PSBrooks.com
I completed Draft Two of Wonderful the night before going to the Festival of Writing at York. The net result of York was that I spoke to three agents. One specializes in fantasy, but wondered if the opening wasn’t perhaps trying too hard to be jazz-hands funny. He also said I needed to figure out who the extra market for the book would be, given that comic fantasy was the hardest thing in the world to sell, even when, as he kindly put it, it was genuinely funny, as mine was, and the writing was damn good, as mine was.
The second was a substitute for the guy I was supposed to see from her agency. She loved everything about it – absolutely everything. But she doesn’t represent fantasy. She did give me the name of the guy at her agency who’s building a fantasy list though, and tell me to contact him.
And the third was a guy I’d met before. I can’t help liking the guy – he’ll happily tell you he’s going to bullshit a crowd, just before going to do it. And he enjoyed the sample I presented too, but said this: ‘Fantasy’s only about five per cent of my list. I’ve only sold one comic fantasy before in my life. But I’m a gambler – there’s no reason you shouldn’t send this to me, but I can’t promise anything.’
As the last bit of Draft Two went to my pal and fellow editor Sam just before York, I’m going to do Draft Three, the polishing draft, before I send the book anywhere. But the feedback feels generally encouraging about the quality of the work – if less so about the state of the market.
Draft two – in the middle distance. Draft three, close up – with rings! The joys of working between worlds.
Well hello! It seems to have been forever since I actively blogged about writing. There’ll be more of this from now on – mostly because there’s been a lot of writing of late.
You may remember I originally gave myself three months to finish the first draft of my novel, Wonderful. I hit that target within hours of its expiration, writing 90,000 words. Then I put it away for three months to get some editorial detachment from it. I’ve been moving through it slowly since, but with increasing rapidity and severity in recent months. As it stands, I’ve written Draft 2, to within the last 80 pages. I’ve also submitted the rest of it for professional editing with my friends at Bowler Fern, So while most of me is in Draft 2, a sizeable chunk of me is now in the middle of Draft 3, working with them. And there’s a deadline – On 1st September – less than two weeks from now – I start another three month stint of active writing, on the second novel, Fired! It rather behooves me to have finished the first one properly by the time I start the second, and besides, I’m going to the York Festival of Writing on the 5th September, to try and pitch the book to three agents. They really do tend to get cranky if you try to sell them unfinished work, and while technically the book does come to an end-point, it needs quite a lot of work in those last 80 pages to make it properly the book I wanted to write. So – a little pressure then, to get the pedal to the metal. This is me, working between worlds, working between drafts and realities to try and end up with a coherent, rich, fully-realised dimension when all is said and done.
Writing hat on head – Check. Tardis in background – Check. Head full of words – Check. Challenge accepted.
Hello writers, readers, agents, publishers, and occasional wanderers-in.
My name is Tony Fyler, and when I was 24, I was going to be a writer. That was it, there was no Plan B, no pension, no pretension to actually working for a living, nothing. I was going to be a writer. I’d known this with a certainty you could break rocks on since writing a story in primary school, aged 9, in which the Daleks, the Cybermen and the Martians from War of the Worlds, battled each other for the planet, and my teacher had given me an A for it, along with the somewhat cryptic and exhausted comment, “Very Imaginative”.
So when I was 24, I wrote a novel. Just like that. Locked myself in my room for a couple of months, and just wrote it. As it happened, BBC Radio Wales had a book review show at the time, on which unpublished authors could send in their first few chapters, and if they were good enough, get a critique from a publisher. A real one, like John Jarrold, Simon Spanton etc from companies like Pan MacMillan, HarperCollins, Orion and so on.
I got on the show. In fact I got on the show several times. A couple of publishers were interested, but one had “just signed someone similar”, the other needed changes made to the manuscript etc. I spent the best part of a year talking to and rewriting for HarperCollins, before ultimately, they turned it down. (Oh yes, brother writers, I have known your pain!)
Not knowing what to do after that, I became a journalist, pretty much to spite them. The thing is, I’ve always, since that time, thought of myself as a writer, despite not doing very much in the way of proper creative writing. I’ve dabbled, and I did finish a second manuscript, but that was very much too long and complicated, made little sense in the third act and has what I’m reliably informed are “tonal issues” here and there.
Now, I am an editor by trade. I still have no pretensions to actually working for a living, but now some people are nice enough to give me money to edit a magazine and a website, and lots more people are nice enough to give me money to tell them how to fix their novels, and yet I still haven’t written and published one of my own.
That’s going to change. From 1st August – 31st October, 2014, I am taking a three-month sabbatical from my editing company, to focus on my writing.
No, I’m not mad enough to think it only takes three months. No, I’m not going to give up after that. But clearly, nearly 20 years on, I’m many things, and I still think of myself as a writer. Which means it’s time to finally write something. Write it and sell it. So that’s my challenge to myself: One of my day jobs continues – the magazine and website one. But I’m taking time off my own company to invest in my writing. This website is where you’ll find out how it goes. There’s information on my current Works In Progress – the two books I’m aiming to push forward first, entitled Wonderful and Happily Ever After respectively. It’s also where you’ll find links to my short fiction and non-fiction articles when they’re published elsewhere.
We have links to some realy cool stuff – some of it writing related, some which will just improve your life immeasurably. There will be blogs – on the process of writing, the inspiration, the frustration, the challenge and hopefully the triumph. There will be blogs about editing and publishing too – what to do, what not to do, and why, and how, and lots of other subjects beside, though all writing-related. And there will be news – both of my work when it’s published either online or in traditional format, and news from the literary world, competitions, opportunities to get noticed, published or to win a bit of cash.
Three months to write, edit and begin to try to sell at least one market-ready novel, maybe two. That’s the challenge. Deep breaths, everyone. Challenge accepted.