Though my “debut” crime thriller, The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die is about to be released on 2nd April 2015 by Maze/HarperCollins, I’m hardly a debut author. Debut authors rarely are new to the scene. They have often either published in another age group, as I had, have self-published or have written book after book after book with no breakthrough until they eventually got it right. And should my three George McKenzie thrillers become “overnight successes”, they will be anything but! Writing, after all, takes time. Your voice as a writer has to mature like a good stilton. How many authors have you heard of who attained great success with the very first thing they have ever written? Hardly any. How many authors have had first drafts published without the need for editing? Probably none.
The publishing industry has passionate, dedicated staff, but they are often overstretched and lead-in times are long. The best thing you can do is slow your ambition right down. Learn to wait. Let your manuscript bake. Your editing will be all the better for it. Then develop a thick skin, because this is your first line of defence against rejection. And there will be rejection after rejection.
Still reading? Well then, you must be serious about wanting to write, so I’ll continue…
My writing odyssey began decades ago, where I began a novelisation of an epic Dutch poem about Charlemagne the Great that I had been studying for my Dutch degree. Over two summers in 1992/1993, I scribbled down a rough draft and deemed it a masterpiece. But I wasn’t sure what to do with it. Luckily, I had the sense to put it in a wardrobe for seventeen years, because when I took it out again and dusted it off, it was an abysmal effort. By then, I was thirty seven. I had filled those seventeen years with life – being in bands, boring jobs, mortgage, marriage, children, house renovations, illness, strife, loss. I had something to write about! It was then that I realised that writing was my vocation, and I set out to become a successful children’s author.
I rewrote the Charlemagne thriller – three or four times! It was still rubbish. I wrote a book about fairies. That was rubbish. I wrote and illustrated a picture book about a hippo. That was also bumwipe. Then, I wrote a middle grade detective novel, which got me my first agent. It went on submission but never found a home, though I had already imagined myself winning the Carnegie medal for it. See what I mean about patience and thick skin? Then, a breakthrough, where I was commissioned to author the first six books of HarperCollins Children’s Time-Hunters series, under the pseudonym, Chris Blake. I had an advance and books coming out. I was published! Sort of. My name still wasn’t on the front of those books, but I am grateful for the experience, because working for the excellent book packager, Hothouse Fiction gave me a wealth of experience in working commercially. Tight deadlines. Strict word counts. One round of edits and it has to be right. If you ever get the chance to do something like this, don’t sniff at it!
It was around that time that I jacked in my day job to write The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die. I had already decided it was going to take the world by storm because I had written the best book I possibly could. It didn’t. It was a first draft and it was rough as hell. Two years, another unsuccessful middle grade novel and a couple of failed unions with literary agents later, the tremendous agent I’m now thankfully settled with read what must have been the tenth draft of my thriller. I had had an offer of representation elsewhere, but he and I really clicked. The clicking bit is very important. It hadn’t really happened before, but if you get good enough to attract agent interest and you have a choice, go with your gut instincts, because your agent is your business partner, mentor, editor, friend and drinking buddy. You ought to like each other. They have to get you and your writing. Anyway, he signed me up. Interest from HarperCollins was immediate but the deal still took a year or more before it was all in the bag. The biggest lesson to learn there is persistence.
But what really underpins writing success?
Well, start with reading. If you don’t read, you can’t write. Read the things you admire. Don’t worry about imitating your heroes. If you get anywhere near as good as them, you’re winning. Though his style was nothing like mine, I studied the characterisation and impressive, complex story arcs of Stieg Larsson, because I loved Lisbeth Salander. I analysed Thomas Harris’ chapter structures and storytelling techniques. If it weren’t for Nesbo’s plotting, my thriller might never have tightened up enough for publication. The number of aspiring novelists I’ve met who say they don’t want to read the work of others is astounding and it’s folly. So read!
And write, of course. You know that phrase, “practice makes perfect”? Well, it’s true. Write different things, not just one book that will become dated and hackneyed over time, so that you have no perspective left and your imagination becomes dulled. If you count my Time-Hunters books, over seven years of serious of writing intent, I’ve written thirteen full novels and two partials in four genres, for five different age groups, and that’s before my “debut” comes out. So, download craft guides from the internet if you can’t afford them. Get hold of the Writers’ & Artists Yearbook. Get serious! This is a professional industry. Listen to agent criticism if you’re lucky enough to get a personalised response to submissions. Know that you have everything to learn – I still do! But above all, keep grafting. Keep believing. Keep telling stories.
(c) Marnie Riches
About The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die
HE’S WATCHING HER. SHE DOESN’T KNOW IT…YET
When a bomb explodes at the University of Amsterdam, aspiring criminologist Georgina McKenzie is asked by the police to help flush out the killer. But the bomb is part of a much bigger, more sinister plot that will have the entire city quaking in fear.
And the killer has a very special part for George to play…
A thrilling race against time with a heroine you’ll be rooting for, this book will keep you up all night!
Pick up your copy of The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die online here!