November 21, 2015
7th December 2006.
My inbox pinged with a message from “The Literary Consultancy” – a leading London based manuscript Assessment Company saying that a play I had written with a friend of mine called “Shaadi” had won their inaugural playwriting competition.
It was the first real script I had written.
A report followed which complimented the subversion of a common storyline in Asian circles (arranged marriages). My friend and I attended a workshop in London where we met some key-industry insiders and they were hugely enthusiastic about the play.
There was some discussion about interested parties and some connections made but we were unable to find a suitable theatre-house which might have helped two amateur script-writers to hone their skills. Especially with a story like “Shaadi” which was a no-holds barred, humorous look at the absurdity and darkness which can result from age-old traditions.
I referred back to the report for the first time in nine years today. The judges said,
“I find myself in the very unusual position of having very little to say about this play. I loved it. It is funny. It is unexpected (and no I didn’t see the ‘twists’ coming) and it also has something serious to say. So many plays these days may have two of these three elements, but it is unusual to find all three. What you have done is taken a popular, yet often almost clichéd subject – the tensions of cross-cultures, east and west, tradition versus modernity and part subverted it…”
This small competition win was the start of my crime-writing career.
Because I had gained some credibility in my own mind, that I could tell a decent story.
The story was unique and told from an unexpected angle.
And of course, it was a little dark with a few mind-blowing twists.
It was, in retrospect, a crime-thriller of a play infused with hilarious comedy. The reader was taken on a comic journey but all the while there was darkness lurking.
Until the explosive and dramatic end.
That was December 2006.
Also, in that month, one of my colleagues at work gave me a copy of Tess Gerritsen’s novel, “The Surgeon”. It was an intensely edgy crime-thriller – the first one I had read since I was fifteen years old. The book terrified me yet I couldn’t stop reading.
I had forgotten the effect a damn good thriller could have.
I read it in two days, finishing it at one a.m. on a Friday night and I kid you not, after putting the book down, I went downstairs and checked my front door and my window were locked.
Tess Gerritsen scared the crap out of me.
A book – ink on a page, fiction imprinted on my memory gave me the first sleepless night for over a decade.
In the morning – after settling my nerves and assuring myself there wasn’t a serial-killer coming for me, I decided I wanted to try.
I wanted to write a crime-thriller, similar to “The Surgeon.”
I didn’t have a clue how to start.
But I knew one thing – I wanted to write a unique storyline, taking the reader into the dark realms of Bradford.
Asian writers were lauded for writing very specific types of novels. Either great works of fiction with amazing prose or sympathetic stories about the difficulties of integration.
I wanted to write neither.
What I wanted was to thrill. Forget the stereotypes.
To be honest I wanted to write a Tess Gerritsen thriller. I read everything she had written, becoming more and more obsessed with the genre.
I also discovered that Tess was a doctor, yet had followed her dreams and become a writer.
So now I had a mentor sorted, I just needed a storyline.
I started in January 2007.
A year later I had finished.
The book, called “Aisha” was 99,000 messy words of murder, love, comedy, alcoholism, detectives, serial killers, arranged marriages and…corner shops.
Jeez it was complicated.
I gave it to my old English teacher (poor, poor bloke) who said whilst I had flair as a storyteller, I needed to focus more on the writing.
It was an even bigger mess.
I was adding to it, not taking away.
In desperation (I had written 108,000 words, I couldn’t leave it!), I sent it to “The Literary Consultancy” and sacrificed a month of my salary to get it analysed.
Four weeks later, the report arrived – all ten pages of it and pretty much said, great story-telling, great flair but too many caricatures.
My Detective was wildly over-dramatic.
I didn’t know whether he was a hero or a bum?
The murderer was way over the top, with no reason for being so.
The corner-shop was authentic.
What to do?
So I edited it once.
Now I was getting good.
108,000 – 100,000 – 95000 – 90,000.
I was happy with it.
Forget that, I was thrilled with it.
New York Times best seller!
Who were they?
I did some research, bought The Artists and Writers Yearbook and highlighted the top twenty I wanted (hey I was optimistic – I had the greatest novel in the world, remember).
Twenty submissions, on 100g quality paper, with SAE for return-mail.
World was ending.
Then… four requests for the manuscript and… one phone-call.
What a phone call.
I didn’t know the agency but as I spoke to the editor I was Googling it and saw that it was one of the top-rated agencies in London.
They invited me to London for a chat and on the 08.08.08 I signed with the agency.
Just over a year. 90,000 words. Top agency. I was well on the way.
I had an editorial session – I didn’t realise at the time just what an important session that was. I wasn’t a seasoned writer so I learned about;
“Showing not telling”
“Removing the hyperbole”
‘Well rounded characters”
And most importantly,
“In crime, less can always be more…”
I listened to the advice, took the book away and messed around / kind of re-wrote it – murdered it.
2009, a full two rewrites later, I had killed it.
I couldn’t see it but the agency said – nope.
Write something else.
I’ll never forget that meeting.
I don’t know what it feels like to be shot – but in my mind, I reckon that meeting was like it.
My first draft of that book had been 108,000 words. I added up that with the edits and subsequent re-writes I had put in 300,000 words.
And got nothing.
Well – at the time I thought nothing but the lessons I had learned would put me in great shape for the future.
And the pain – the feeling of failure would never be forgotten. I didn’t want to ever feel that way again.
2010 – Year off. Moping about. Thinking of why I was right and my agency was wrong (Foolish of me – and it is worth noting here that they were 100% correct – the book wasn’t good enough. Takes hindsight to see it).
January 2012 – new storyline “Fields of Blood”. Excited. An international thriller, part set in Bradford, past set in India. Linwood Barclay style – an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances.
October 2012 – First draft finished. Needs work. Needs authenticity of India.
November 2012 – trip to India. Researched book. Did the trail my character does. Nearly got arrested. Nearly got robbed. Nearly ended up in a royal mess, 5000 miles from home. Survived.
January 2013 – Rewrite.
May 2013 – First edit.
August 2013 – second edit.
October 2013 – sent to agent. Feeling confident.
October 2013 – rejected by agency after reading the first three chapters and a (terrible) synopsis.
October 2013 – world ending. Feel like I’ve been shot again.
November 2013 – fired off the manuscript to a few competitions whilst escaping for a soul-searching holiday (I’m allowed a few moments of melodrama).
1st December 2013 – decided to quit. Threw the book in the bin. “I’m done.”
8th December 2013 – phone call. From crime-reviewer, Graham Smith, whose competition I had entered. “Fields of Blood” selected as winner out of seventy novels. Prize – all expenses paid weekend at a crime-writing masterclass.
9th December 2013 - fished manuscript out of the bin. Apologised to it. Re-printed it on gold paper, put a ribbon around it. Slept with it. Took it to work. Kept admiring it.
10th December 2013 – wife took book off me. Said I needed help.
11th December 2013 – left the wife. Kept the book.
12th December 2013 – got some help.
13th December 2013 – found a happy balance between the wife and the book.
14th December 2013 – got more help.
February 2014 – attended a life-changing crime-writing weekend in Scotland (more on this in a separate blog later).
March 2014 – after many, many sleepless nights, terminated contract with my current agency; the most difficult decision I’ve made on my writing journey.
April 2014 – attended a two-day workshop at Faber & Faber (publishers) in London – “how to proceed when you have a completed manuscript and how to get an agent…”
April 2014 – sent out letters to twenty agencies.
May 2014 – rejections. Not so painful this time – in fact felt little reaction as normalised to the rejection process by now.
June 2014 – big hit from a huge agency. Met for coffee in London. No offer of representation but loved the book and wanted to see my current work in progress (first in a series). Asked me to keep in touch – very good meeting and a bigger agency than my previous agent. Feeling good. Feeling positive.
September 2014 – WME agency London. Let’s meet. Loved the book.
October 2014 – met with and immediately signed with Simon Trewin. Great guy. Loved the book. His office loved the book – first time anyone ever told me what I had written had moved them. I remember one of Simon’s staff saying, ‘loved it – couldn’t put the damn thing down.” Fabulous feeling.
November 2014 – book went out on submission. Waiting game.
December 2014 – started writing new book. Easiest one I have written. Maybe it was fate, maybe the practise just finally paid off.
February 2015 – finished latest book. Felt different. Felt…ready.
March 2015 – Book sent to Simon (agent).
April 2015 – Simon loved it.
Friday 15th May 2015 – Transworld given the copy as an exclusive. First option.
Monday 18th May 2015 – Offer made.
Tuesday 19th May 2015 – negotiations.
Wednesday 20th May 2015 – DEAL.
There you have it.
Easy? Hell no.
1.1 million words.
Considerable investment (money and time).
"If you love writing - you'll never do a days work..."
16th June 2016… Publication. For Bradford; the darkness is coming…
Fields of Blood
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