I’d written lots of stage and radio plays which were produced and broadcast and a few short stories, but it never occurred to me that I should try a novel until I read about a competition and decided to enter. This was so long ago that blogs, Facebook and the rest didn’t exist and even PCs were scarce and definitely unaffordable. So I wrote it in longhand and typed it up. It didn’t win the competition but I sent it to an agent and he took me on.
In the end, he didn’t manage to sell it, but the important thing was that it had shown me I could sustain and control an extended narrative, so I started writing the next one, which was an early version of The Darkness and which led me to another agent and my first published novel, Material Evidence.
So now you’re yawning and asking ‘So what?’
Well, I’m suggesting that ideas, words, even apparently unwanted stories can be successfully recycled. The Darkness is another example. As I said, it was the second novel I wrote but, after many, many rewrites and changes of title, personnel, and themes, I think it’s become one of my best. So ‘recycling’ doesn’t just mean you keep sending it off to one agent and/or publisher after another, it means keep working on it, rewrite, edit, polish, improve. OK, some ideas don’t work and should be discarded, but give them a chance and only throw them out when it’s obvious they’re rubbish.
It reinforces, too, my conviction that writing and editing are separate processes. In your first draft, don’t be held back by the need to be ‘correct’ – either in terms of grammar, spelling or, for want of a better term, morality. Let the words flow, let the characters do what they want, don’t try to drag them back into any preconceived plotlines without first checking whether they’re actually leading you to somewhere more interesting. Then step away from them, forget about them for as long as possible and return to them as an editor, with your critical faculties sharpened.
The Sparrow Conundrum has been through even more changes than The Darkness. It started as a spoof spy story, moved to a spoof crime story, changed locations several times and titles even more – but its personnel and central story were there from the start. I’ve always had a soft spot for it because it’s (intended to be) a frankly comic (absurd, farcical) novel which I wrote purely to entertain. It’s the only book I posted on Authonomy in the brief period I spent on the site and there’s no doubt at all that it benefitted enormously from the reactions and constructive criticism of the other writers there.
So there, that’s its story. For the moment, it's available on Amazon.com but soon there'll be a print version, too, available in Europe as well as in the USA. So what I want you to do now is …
… first of all, become its friend or fan or whatever the correct designation is on Facebook. I’ve cleverly called its page The Sparrow Conundrum. Then, after you've written comments there saying how wonderful and funny it is, buy it, read it, tell all your friends and extended families and community groups and reading groups to buy it, order several copies for all the libraries within a twenty mile radius of your home and place of work and, in your spare time, try to get it put onto the reading list of every subject in your local schools, colleges and universities, nominate it for the Man Booker and Pulitzer prizes, nominate me for a Nobel prize, tell the Coen brothers they can have first option on the film rights and … well, that’s enough to start with.