I started writing what would eventually become Dead Gone – the first Murphy and Rossi novel – in late 2010, embarking on my first attempt at a novel around six months after I wrote my first short story.
I came to writing late, at around age 27/28, believing until that point that I could never be a writer. I was happy enough being a reader, leaving the hard work to other people. However, writing that first short story was a starting point for a journey which continues to take many different and exciting turns frequently. That short story turned into many more, two charity anthologies, and what has become an actual career for me now.
Back in late 2010 however, I was struggling along with that first iteration of Dead Gone. And it was a struggle. Twenty odd thousand words of drugs, gangs, and gangsters on the mean streets of Liverpool. It was a mess. I wasn’t enamoured with the story whatsoever, feeling as if it was a subject already done many times before, by writers with more things to say about that world. It wasn’t something that interested me really as a reader, much less a writer, so I was about ready to give up on the whole novel-writing idea.
Two things happened at around that time – one, I was reading one of the best crime serial-killer-thrillers around (The 50/50 Killer by Steve Mosby) and two, I was in a psychology lecture regarding the subject of ethics. That lecture gave me the initial idea of a serial killer using historical psychological experiments to end the lives of his victims, whilst reading that book made me realise what type of book I wanted to write. I went home and wrote the first chapter, going on to complete a first draft in around seven weeks. I fixed a couple of things in it and sent it off to an agent who had expressed an interest in reading a novel if I ever had one, based on reading the short stories I had out there at that time. I sat back, thinking I had created the best book I could ever produce, expecting the phone call at any second with an offer of representation.
I didn’t get a phone call. I got an email. A long, long email, detailing everything that was wrong with the book. What didn’t work, which characters didn’t ring true, which story points where either ridiculous or boring. My first rejection as a writer.
Instead of doing what was my initial reaction of burning bridges and believing I knew what was best, I took every point that agent brought up and set about fixing the novel. That first rejection was in April 2011 and three months later I sent a revised version off to that same agent.
I waited for that inevitable phone call again, albeit with a hint of reservation this time around.
A month or so later, another email.
It was almost there, but not quite. Something was missing. The main character of David Murphy was better this time around, but his interplay with Nick Ayris didn’t work. The plot was good, but the twist wasn’t great and telegraphed throughout. The setting of Liverpool was interesting but not brought to the fore enough.
This was it that time. It was definitely the best book I could ever produce, so it was time to try other agents, I thought. As much as I liked this agent, I just wasn’t going to convince him about this book.
I sent the novel out to a few other agents, who all expressed an interest in reading more, but it was that first agent who still lurked in the back of my mind. I sent him an email letting him know that I’d sent the book out elsewhere, not expecting much in reply.
I finally got that phone call.
The things he had pointed out were right. Nick Ayris became Laura Rossi, drawing on my Italian roots. The big issue with the plot was eliminated with a simple shift in linear storytelling. Liverpool was brought out further, becoming a real setting and part of the book – almost a character itself – cementing the novel as my representation of the changing face of the city.
And he offered representation, based on those changes.
I took a month or so away from studying in university and rewrote the book incorporating those changes. It became a very different novel, mainly with the interactions of Murphy and Rossi being much more interesting than before. I wrote scenes in which Rossi sees her family, giving me a chance to put more of my own experiences in the novel. I was more than happy with what that novel became.
The book was sent out to publishers, with many rejecting it based on a variety of reasons – the setting of Liverpool proving to be a popular reason to turn it down, for some “unknown” reason – before two or three offers where made. Someone told me early on that publishers (or editors making that decision) where looking for reasons to say no, rather than yes, so even the slightest doubt can be the difference between an offer and a rejection. I don’t know how true that is, but when you think of the money those publishers are investing before a single sale is made, I would understand that way of thinking.
Avon, an imprint of HarperCollins made an offer in December 2011, which I was more than happy to accept. My editor there was very enthusiastic about the book, which was a great sign, and contracts were signed in January 2012. In just over a year, the book had undergone four major rewrites, a number of rejections, but was finally going to see print.
Dead Gone was released January 2014, and now The Dying Place is seeing publication. Writing the second book was very different, but the experience gained from that year or so on the road to publication proved to be invaluable. You have to learn pretty quickly that whilst rejection is hard to take, those saying no and providing feedback are only trying to help you as a writer to create the best book possible for you. I’ve kept that in mind ever since in working with different editors and taking on board all their advice. They’re usually right.
It may not have been as long a road as others have had, but that fifteen months or so writing/rewriting/rejection/acceptance seemed like a lifetime. Many ups and downs, but I’m now in a position to say my occupation, my career, my work is as a writer. And I wouldn’t change that for anything. I may have been late in discovering it – and there were many times I felt like giving up – but I really feel as if I’ve finally found that “thing” I’ve always wanted to do. I didn’t realise I enjoyed storytelling until I started telling stories.
(c) Luca Veste
About The Dying Place
DI David Murphy and DS Laura Rossi make a grisly discovery. The body of a teenage boy, dumped in front of a church in Liverpool. His torso covered with the unmistakable marks of torture.
And a shocking fact soon comes to light. Seventeen-year-old Dean Hughes was reported missing six months ago, yet no one has been looking for him. A known troublemaker, who cared if he was dead or alive?
But soon the police realise Dean isn’t the only boy who’s gone missing in similar circumstances. Someone has been abducting troubled teens. Someone who thinks they’re above the law. Someone with terrifying plans for them.