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Out of my Comfort Zone: The Manhattan Project by Paul McNeive

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Paul McNeive © 15 October 2018.
Posted in the Magazine ( · Crime · Interviews ).

Resistent! It’s the German spelling. They want to rename your book for the German market-and re-design the cover too. I think we should agree.” That was the good advice of my publishers, Black and White Publishing, in Edinburgh, who had negotiated a sell-on of my first thriller The Manhattan Project. Not long afterwards, I was being asked for my opinion on another cover re-design for the audio-book rights, which have also been sold internationally.

These issues are a far cry from contemplating the scores of annoying rejection letters from agents and publishers over the years. But guess what?  Those rejection letters were right! Despite a few “near –misses” with major publishers who liked the book, in hindsight, my writing wasn’t good enough. I had this huge, original premise for a thriller, which I had researched to death, and I was trying to transplant it onto a set of characters who were struggling under the weight. It lacked sparkle, and there were some structural/timing issues as well. But the recession was biting, publishers weren’t looking for new thriller writers and weren’t prepared to invest in putting an editor on my book.

So I struggled on. And on. A huge leap forward came when I attended a three-day thriller writing workshop run by international best-selling author Glenn Meade at the Listowel Writers Week. It was brilliant. Glenn is a fantastic teacher. It all started to make sense. Glenn ran another workshop, which I attended, and he read some of my book. He suggested turning the plot upside–down. What? After all my work? That would mean a complete re-write! I didn’t do it.

Instead, I fell into a trap of improving the book a little more every year, sending it out again, and getting more rejections (albeit that some were encouraging.) One major publisher maintained an ongoing interest, and told me the book needed a structural edit. But they weren’t going to do it, and couldn’t recommend anyone.

As a “motivational speaker,” I’m supposed to be good at breaking through an impasse, but it took two days of listening to great speakers at The Pendulum Summit one January, to “see the light.” There were consistent big messages coming through:

  1. If we don’t change our behaviour, we can’t expect results to change. You need to make your goal “non-negotiable.” Getting a book-deal had to take second place to all of the other distractions.
  2. Our greatest dream or goal, is way outside our comfort-zone.
  3. 80% done is better than nothing at all.

Now, we all instinctively know a lot of this, but I certainly wasn’t practicing it as regards my writing. So I decided to change. I consulted the Inkwell Group and explained my problem. They recommended an editor and I took the plunge. It was fantastic. A real eye-opener. The editor pointed out lots of problems, but made even more great suggestions on how to solve them, how to strengthen my characters and how to add more twists to the plot. But they also recommended deleting 17,500 words! Sentences that I had lovingly constructed over years!

Now, I was seriously out of my comfort zone, as my finger hovered over “accept all changes.” But I did accept them, and that led to a substantial re-write. And this time, I went with Glenn Meade’s advice to turn the plot upside down-so that the reader has to figure out the plot at the same time as the detectives – advice I should have taken years before.

I also invested in an online thriller writing class by James Patterson. I’m not a huge fan of his books, and I don’t like those two page chapters, but I knew that he was the ultimate in creating commercially successful thrillers, and I knew that I needed more of that “commerciality.” That was worthwhile too, Again, those who have attended workshops and studied writing, will find the same type of advice cropping-up, but sometimes it’s a new voice, or the way they explain it-or perhaps your own state of readiness, that makes a difference, and you begin to “get-it.”

My passion was reignited and I dived into the rewrite. Sometimes I would think of new plot twists or characters, or a line of dialogue, in my sleep, or whilst driving, and I would rush into making more small changes. Which led to more small changes. But I eventually realised that I had fallen back into another writers trap-the compulsion to keep improving, whilst time fritters away.

So, remembering that 80% done is better than nothing at all, I drew a line under it, and sent out my manuscript. This time, however, I had interest within two weeks, and within a month, I had signed contracts. The edit and the re-write had made all the difference. And what a thrill when I entered the bestseller lists, and the foreign rights deals started happening.

From my experience, if you’re struggling for a long time to get a deal, then change what you’re doing, rather than try for another small improvement. That may mean a complete re-write, or starting a different book, or taking classes-or investing in an editor. Take the professional feedback on-board-even if you don’t like it. Get out of your comfort-zone, or as the Germans say-stop being “Resistent!”

(c) Paul McNeive

About The Manhattan Project:

Real. Invisible. Devastating.

And it’s taking New York by storm.

With its insatiable hunger for fast food, easy fixes and life lived at breakneck speed, the city that never sleeps is hurtling towards disaster. Now John Wyse, an ordinary New York cop, looks set to be the only person who can thwart catastrophe on an apocalyptic scale …

New York City is under attack. Millions may die. But the enemy’s weapons are invisible, undetectable and creating terror at lightning speed. Now, there’s nothing to stand in their way …

A Hiroshima survivor turned criminal mastermind
A pharma industry riddled with corruption
A Libyan entrepreneur coerced by threats to his family
A New York cop falling fast for an elusive beauty
A visitor to Tokyo from the mountains of Afghanistan

One terrible desire for revenge connects them all. With the clock ticking on an audacious, devastating plot to bring America to its knees, can anyone save New York from catastrophe?

Order your copy online here.

Paul McNeive will be appearing as part of Murder One Fresh Blood, in an event that also features Olivia Kiernan, Alex Reeve and Sam Blake.

Murder One, Ireland’s International Crime Writing Festival, runs from 2nd-4th November 2018 More details available here.

The Inkwell Group assists hundreds of new writers each year to take the next step on their journey – and assists many through to publication.


Paul McNeive lost his legs in a fire aged 20, and his own experiences with antibiotic resistance are the inspiration for The Manhattan Project. His injuries did not prevent Paul going on to have a successful business career - he was managing director of Savills in Ireland and is the first double amputee helicopter pilot in the world.
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