Going Incognito, a Tuesday Night Talk by novelist, TV Writer and Producer, Neil Arksey

 

Like all of us, Neil Arksey, novelist of mid-grade, YA and now dark adult crime, TV head writer, series producer and screenwriter, is in awe of Barbara Large’s work in founding the Winchester Writers’ Festival and the Hampshire Writers’ Society.

A closet writer for years, Neil, the only Neil of his kind was successful in acting. But after falling asleep whilst leaning on a column at Shakespeare’s Globe in the guise of Brutus, the fault of heavily overpowering pain killers he assures us, only to be awoken by a prod from Cassius, he decided a ‘sitting job,’ was needed. That was when Neil turned to writing.

Short stories were his choice to start with. One such story he sent to his nephew, Tom. On Tom’s advice, Neil submitted it to Random House. Here, he gave us some advice not to take – borrowing a book from his niece’s shelf, he copied the publisher’s address onto an envelope, stuffed the ice-cream stained copy of the story in, along with a post-it note saying: “My nephew liked this, you might too,” and sent it to Random House.

The problem was that Neil had unwittingly stereotyped himself. The view of his publisher was: “We own you and you are a brand.” More stories like Brooksie, Neil’s first novel, was what they wanted. MacB, Neil’s third book which was a slight change was rejected.

At this point he was feeling a little vulnerable. Neil took the advice of a fellow author and sought out a writer’s community. It was at an event held by Penguin, where he’d gone to hear one of his favourite authors, Melvin Burgess, speak, that he networked and found a home for MacB.

‘How hard is it to be a writer?’ Neil asked not just the present members and guests of the Hampshire Writers’ Society, but of himself, when his novel writing still failed to pay the bills.

Taking on writing for TV, Neil became a head writer. After a while he found that his own personal writing had taken a back seat; this was not what he wanted for his career. Teaching came next. A smattering of hours gave him enough to live on and he got back to writing.

Reading tomes of adult crime and using their techniques, Neil produced his much-loved dark adult crime fiction. ‘It took much longer than writing middle grade,’ he admitted. It needed drastically reducing. So, he re-wrote it.

The publishers were less than supportive. After fifteen years as a children’s author they were not keen to remarket him.

‘Do I really want to throw it all away and start again?’ he asked himself. Well, thank goodness the answer was yes.

Neil bandied about and re-hashed a pseudonym, finally settling on: James Brodie. Looking on it as active research for his students, he set about submitting his novel to agents. The role of head writer had given him some much welcomed experience of sitting ‘on the other side of the desk’ where he was used to receiving up to eighty unsolicited scripts a week. Tailoring his synopsis and covering letter to fit each of a list of thirty agents, he made a start in October last year and submitted to one a week.

‘Irritate them,’ he says, ‘you’ve spent so much time working on your novel, if you get even a glimmer of interest, send your work again. Even if you don’t, send it again – what’ve you got to lose?’

The response he got was the same lack-lustre response that many writers receive. It wasn’t until he’d somewhat alarmingly reached number twenty-three that he received some genuine interest.

Determined to play the game, Neil then contacted all those agents who’d requested the full manuscript only to brush him off and told them about the interest he’d had. Suddenly they all wanted him. After a ‘feeding frenzy’ as he called it, he selected an agent.

‘I think,’ he said, ‘We’ll leave it there.’ We wait with baited-breath for the next chapter.

Report by Lisa Nightingale

Its Not Who You Know by Claire Fuller

For the next couple of weeks, Hampshire Writers’ Society has gone all Publishy. Here, Claire Fuller tells us about finding her Agent.

Claire Fuller at HWS Book Fair
Claire Fuller at HWS Book Fair

It’s Not Who You Know

A few years ago when I was in the middle of writing my first novel, without any idea about what would happen to it, I went to a talk by a writer who told us how her book came to be published. ‘I went to a party in London,’ she said. ‘And I met a girl there who was the receptionist at a London literary agency. A few days later I sent her my manuscript; she showed it to her boss; and he offered to represent me. You’ve got to know someone in the industry.’

All of us came out of that talk feeling dejected – getting published was about who you know, and I didn’t know anyone, and I certainly didn’t get invited to any London parties.

But, I’m pleased to say that she was wrong. My novel got picked up from the ‘slush pile’, and I now know that so do many more. It’s not about who you know, but it is about following the rules.

Of course you still have to write a novel that an agent will be interested in. You need to be passionate about it, and that passion needs to come across in the writing. And it goes without saying that it must be well written and brilliantly edited.

After that you only need to regard your submission like a job application. I used Agent Hunter (www.agenthunter.co.uk) to select twelve agents who had open lists, were looking for my genre, and were interested in debut authors. I went onto each of their websites and I sent them a submission that followed their guidelines exactly and professionally. No funny coloured font, no gifts enclosed, no begging letters (and agents do receive all of these).

There is still some luck involved – will your submission hit the right desk at the right time? But get the basics right, and your novel, like mine, can be selected without knowing anyone in the industry or getting invited to any parties in London.

 

Claire Fuller, a member of the Hampshire Writers Society, is the author of Our Endless Numbered Days, published by Penguin.Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller It won the 2015 Desmond Elliott Prize and is a Richard & Judy, and Waterstones Book Club book.

www.clairefuller.co.uk

@ClaireFuller2

 

 

M.J. Arlidge – Liar, Liar – Published 10th September

PenguinLiar LiarLIAR LIAR

M.J. ARLIDGE

Published on 10th September 2015

£7.99 paperback/eBook

Perfect for fans of Jo Nesbo and Mo Hayder, Liar Liar showcases all the hallmarks of Arlidge’s taut and rapid-fire writing including his protagonist DI Helen Grace and the Southampton-based team. Faced with yet another ruthless serial killer, one with a penchant for pyromania, DI Helen Grace is an unwilling participant in a race against this new sadistic combatant.

  • A tantalizing follow-up to Eeny Meeny, Pop Goes the Weasel, and The Doll’s House which sees the return of series heroine DI Helen Grace
  • M.J. Arlidge sold in 28 territories and counting
  • M.J. Arlidge is one of Penguin’s most successful crime writers and, delivering a book every six months, neither his books not his sales show signs of slowing down
  • Sales for the series so far in the UK are 384k since Eeny Meeny published in May 2014.
  • DI Helen Grace series is in development for TV at the BBC.

M.J. Arlidge has worked in television for the last fifteen years specializing in high-end drama production, including prime-time crime serials Torn, The Little House and, most recently, Undeniable. Currently writing for the hit BBC series Silent Witness, Arlidge is also piloting original crime series for both UK and US networks. In 2015 his audio exclusive Six Degrees of Assassination was a number one bestseller. His debut thriller, Eeny Meeny was the UK’s bestselling crime debut of 2014. It was followed by the bestselling Pop Goes the Weasel and The Doll’s House. Liar Liar is the fourth DI Helen Grace thriller.

 

REVIEWS FOR M.J. ARLIDGE:

‘This is going to be as big as Jo Nesbo’ Judy Finnigan

‘Detective Inspector Helen Grace is one of the greatest heroes to come along in years’ Jeffery Deaver

‘Taut, fast-paced, truly excellent’ The Sun

‘DI Helen Grace is a genuinely fresh heroine … Arlidge weaves together a tapestry that chills to the bone’ Daily Mail

‘Chilling stuff’ Fabulous, Sun on Sunday

‘A chilling read’ My Weekly

‘Page-turningly chilling’ The Times

‘A grisly, gripping thriller’ Sunday Mirror

‘Gruesomely realistic, intriguing and relentless. Arlidge’s fledgling army of fans is about to grow’ Sunday Sport

‘Eeny Meeny debuts one of the best new series detectives, Helen Grace. Determined, tough and damaged, she must unravel a terrifying riddle of a killer kidnapping victims in pairs. Mesmerizing!’ Lisa Gardner

‘Expertly pulled off. It has a devious premise. DI Helen Grace is fiendishly awesome. It’s scary as all hell. And it has a full cast of realistically drawn, interesting characters that make the thing read like a bullet’ Will Lavender

James Marrison – The Drowning Ground – Published 27th August

PenguinTHE DROWNING GROUND

JAMES MARRISON

Published on 27 August 2015

£16.99 hardback

A man is found dead near his home, a pitchfork through his neck. When DCI Guillermo Downes is called to the scene he realizes he knows the victim.

A decade earlier, Downes promised the families of two missing girls that he would find their daughters. Although cleared of any involvement, the dead man had been a suspect. As the ripples from his death spread through the local community Downes hopes he might make good on his promise.

But as Downes pursues the case he soon finds a darkness at the heart of this investigation more dreadful than he ever imagined.

  • The Drowning Ground is James Marrison’s chilling fiction debut and marks the arrival of an exceptional crime writer
  • Introduces an intriguing new series characters, DCI Guillermo Downes and Sergeant Graves
  • Perfect for fans of Broadchurch and The Missing

James Marrison is a journalist whose writing has appeared in a number of national newspapers. Marrison now lives in Buenos Aires, which provides the inspiration for his lead character, Argentinian born detective Guillermo Downes, in his debut novel The Drowning Ground. James is originally from the Cotswolds and will be in the UK for publication.

‘Dark, gripping and unexpected’ – Linwood Barclay