I was fortunate to have an opportunity to pitch Sympathy for the Devil to an agent at the recent London Author Fair.

I’ve just received feedback. It’s a “no”.  But! I am enormously grateful to agent Meg Davis for her very kind and positive words on such an early draft.

Here’s an extract from her feedback:


That’s the sort of comment that keeps me motivated. Thank you.

Writing update 30 March 2014

A quick update on my writing projects.


Sympathy for the Devil

I have a full second draft of the novel, with a proper ending. The first draft was finished within three months (I think taking May-August 2013), and it’s taken another 7 months to properly re-write that initial draft. The first draft was about 70,000 words long, and the second draft is 96,000 words.

In terms of re-writing, I deleted the final 30,000 words of draft one and re-wrote from scratch, taking it into a completely different direction. Of the remaining 40,000 words from the original draft, at least 25,000 words were wholly re-written.

I think this is a good thing. Some initial drafts are strong and need tinkering. This initial draft was strong on the central character (Lucy) and a few key scenes, but had little direction or cohesiveness. I’ve had to put a huge amount of thought and research into giving story a logical structure, supporting characters with depth and multiple and rising tensions that make sense and keep complicating the story in an understandable way.

I think this full second draft of Sympathy for the Devil has an open and accessible style, which is what I was hoping for. (I contrast this with Planetfall, which was quite densely written for a scifi crowd who would already understand the kind of world put forward.)

I’m now resting Sympathy for a few weeks so that I can go back in a few weeks and make a few final tweaks. Afterwards, I’ll be sending it to a professional editor – and all suggestions on good editors are gratefully received.



I mentioned Planetfall, and there’s an update on this too.

Book one, All Fall Down, has now shifted over 500 copies through physical book sales and digital downloads. Reviews keep popping up on the Amazon page, which is satisfying. I’d really like to see more reviews on there – there are seven now. Thirty would be amazing. 

A plea – if you’ve read the book, please leave an honest review (whether you loved or loathed it, I don’t mind) on its Amazon page.

Book 2, Children of Fall, is still on hold while I’ve been writing Sympathy for the Devil. I’m hoping to be back with it by September 2014.

In the meantime, while I rest Sympathy, I am writing a short story set in the Planetfall universe. I’m hoping to release it on Kindle and other formats towards the end of May 2014. More updates as and when.


Other writing projects

Robocop fan fiction. A couple of years ago I started writing a Robocop fan fiction novella. I have now abandoned this.

Backpackers 2. I wrote half an opening chapter for a sequel to Backpackers. I’ve no idea where that might go. Maybe I’ll add the occasional thousand words here and there. Cath’s a hard character to shake off, and the format – short stories linked together by a single character – is still attractive to me.

Job Centre sitcom script. I was really pleased with the spec script I wrote in 2012. This is now shelved due to lack of time. 


Future writing projects

I’ve agreed to co-write a script, probably for a short stage play but potentially a pilot script for a series. The subject will be on mental health, and work will hopefully start around November or December 2014.

Writing update 02 March 2014

It’s been a long time since I blogged about writing, at least in this long form. (I do use Twitter every day to talk about writing @astrotomato).

The back half of 2013 proved an eventful time. Lots of things happened in my private life which aren’t for a public forum, except to say that they took my spare time and energy, and things like blogging had to go by the wayside. I had hoped to spend the summer giving critical feedback to an author called Len, who shared his psychics/action thriller with me. I owe him an apology for not being able to do that, but no longer have the email address (if you’re out there, apologies). Life happened, but I should have found time to say that I couldn’t fulfil your request.

The rest of my spare time, when I had the mental space, was focused on writing Sympathy for the Devil. This is my 3rd completed novel, and I am now almost at the end of the 3rd draft.

Sympathy has gone through a lot of changes since I wrote the first draft in an intense 3 month period between May-August 2013. Before Christmas I deleted the final 1/3 of the book, 30,000 words. I suspect this will sound horrifying to some authors; I found it liberating. With the 2nd draft I had started to hone in on some of the core drama at the heart of the book, and I also had to change one of the key characters, who was frankly too boring. Those early changes meant the end of the book no longer matched the beginning. With a blank page, I was able to pull a completely different story into focus, a stronger story, and one which had more action and more opportunity for insight into political satire.

The accepted wisdom about writing is that it’s mostly re-writing, and I think this pretty much proves that.

Within the next month I hope to have a final 3rd draft ready to go to a professional editor. Neither of my 2 self-published books have been through professional editing, due to lack of funds. I’ve saved up for this one, and am looking forward to having an experienced eye look over the structure and character and dramatic flow (as well as spotting those annoying typos).

All of this means I see an end point approaching. At some point this year, the book will be finished and ready to send to agents. I’ve started airing it already. On Friday I was at the inaugural London Author Fair, where I pitched Sympathy to a literary agent. Her feedback was that satires aren’t hugely popular with publishers, and that they’ll only pick up one or two a year. I appreciated her honesty, it means when I submit to other agents that I won’t be expecting to hit a lucrative market. That’s OK. Managed expectations are better than unrealistic expectations.

In May I hope to send out the draft of Sympathy to my beta reading group. If you’d like to be one of them, let me know. You’ll get to read a book for ‘free’, in return for sending me 1 page of critical feedback. All of my books have gone through this process, and benefited enormously from real reader feedback.

I hope you writing is going well,

astro x

London Author Fair 2014

I was pleased to attend the inaugural London Author Fair yesterday. It’s a great indication, I think, of how far the publishing industry has come in supporting its lifeblood: authors.

The fair was structured around a day of seminars and workshops, covering everything from digital publishing, through cover design, what literary agents do, and how the distribution industry works. There were representatives from Kobo, Nook, Blurb, Amazon (Kindle, Createspace) and a host of other providers in the new publishing industry.

And let’s acknowledge that straight away.

The publishing isn’t going through change. It has changed. Traditionally published (ie, physical) books now account for 80% of total sales. Go back 10 years and that was 100%. 1 in 5 books now sold is digital.

And the industry, I think, is adapting incredibly well. I say that because I look at the music business, which utterly failed to respond to digital music formats in the 90s. Arguably, large parts of the music business are still struggling with digital, although the last few years have seen significant improvements, with the likes of Google Music, Spotify and other streaming services starting to drive the market.

Publishing has long been the preserve of a few lucky people. Musicians can gig anywhere – busking, bar gigs, small venues in focused regions. No such audience for the author, who traditionally could get published by getting snapped up by an agent, or going to enormous expense and vanity publishing.

Now an author can cut out the entire middle bit of the industry and go from writer to publishing on their laptop.

And so back to the London Author Fair. Most of the seminars were focused entirely on this. And the technical content (as mentioned above, like cover design) was matched by this strong message: authors may no longer need agents or publishers, but that means they too need to adapt.

Authors have to think of themselves differently now. No longer the tortured artist slaving over a typewriter.

An author is now a business person.

That puts us right in the realm of showbusiness. We might have a book to show off, but no one ever made (much) money by simply showing up or showing off. No, people make money by accepting that the money from ‘show’ comes from tying it to ‘business’. Now that might be anathema for some, it might be uncomfortable or alien to others. But this message needs to go out strongly and be repeated by all authors now entering the market:

An author creates (writes) a product (a book) and is responsible for taking it to a market (a set of readers who like that kind of book).

There is no way to escape this.

I was pleased that this message came through in the seminars at the London Author Fair. We are the CEO of our own small businesses. Like any businesses, as CEO we might not be good at marketing, we may be weaker on finance, we may have started in logistics and now have responsibility for the art department. But as CEO we don’t have to do all of those things, we simply have to accept responsibility for ensuring they are done.

This is an important distinction. All of us authors are responsible for producing one thing: the story. It’s then up to us to find out how to run the rest of our business. That will mean employing others. Employment might be on a temporary basis: hiring someone to design a book cover, contracting a professional editor, perhaps even asking a friend to upload a manuscript to Kindle and do the tech-y things. More successful authors, those who earn millions, have researchers and publicists and managers, all employed from their income. They get it. They understand that to be successful they need to be business-like. And we need to get it to.

That’s the challenge I took away from the London Author Fair 2014: think like a business. Act like a business. Market your product. Find your product’s niche in the market and exploit it. Have a marketing plan. Look after the finances. And if the market doesn’t want the product, go back to the drawing board, do some research, find out what it does like, be humble, and create content that fits a niche.

It’s a hard lesson to learn. It’s an essential lesson to learn. And I think the London Author Fair 2014 did a great job of showing the publishing industry has woken up to authors, and of pushing that challenge back to us. I’m taking it on board. And to my fellow authors, I challenge you to take it on board, too.

As ever, good luck with your writing, and I’m happy to hear everyone’s thoughts.

astro x

The Short Story: A Way for a Writer to Experiment?

Originally posted on Creative Writing with the Crimson League:

test-tubes-1256556-mEarlier this week, to commemorate my mom’s birthday, I wrote about a fun memory: how she taught the value of branching out and trying new things. This is no less applicable to writing fiction: all authors need to stretch themselves and leave their comfort zone to develop new skills.

What are some ways to do that, though?

Well, of course, there’s always reading. Find an example of a great novel that exhibits the qualities you want to try out, to see what makes the technique work.

When it comes to giving that technique a shot on your end, though, the short story is GREAT for experimentation!

I realize none of those observations are particularly deep or earth-shatteringly brilliant. Still, I’m sure I’m not the only novelist out there who avoids writing short stories, and I think that’s not good for me.

I don’t think it’s good for any writer to…

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A sneak peek at “Sympathy for the Devil”

Since April I’ve been writing a novel which I’ve heretofore called a “secret project”, simply because I had no title for it.

Around early August I hit upon a title: Sympathy for the Devil. And at the same time I finished the first draft of the novel. It was a quick turnaround for a first draft: about 4 months, writing in my spare time outside work.

During August I rested the material and started writing some new material for Sympathy, with the intention of matching it up when I started editing. I find this an important exercise when writing – it gives me an opportunity to ‘brain dump’ material that never quite made it into the first rush through the narrative, or which might give clues for editing or character or plot development.

Longer-time readers will know that I occasionally publish rejected material for my books, and I’m repeating that habit here. Pasted in below is a rejected Chapter One for Sympathy. There’s nothing wrong per se with the writing, except for one thing: the tone and voice of the material, and the narrative perspective, doesn’t fit the rest of the book. This rejected Chapter One is written from a 3rd person omniscient point of view, whereas the rest is from a 1st person. And this text includes a confused amount of the unique voice of the main character. On which note, a warning: the main character’s voice is in poor grammar, so you’ll see wrong words in places. These are deliberate, not typos. Spelling mistakes are typos, but poor grammar isn’t.

I owe a debt of thanks to my writing circle for convincing me to reject this material.

If you’re still reading by this point, and want a sneak peek at Sympathy for the Devil, then here you go. This is the real background to the novel, but the material won’t make it into the final edit.


astro x

Sympathy for the Devil:


Chapter One – 1984 CE, 1945 CE, 61 CE

It started in many places. Three, if you want to focus. But who’s to say they was more important than another three? Let me pick one for you, though, my love. Because you’re new to this and you want to know what’s going on, ain’t I right?

Now how do I know where it started, you’re wondering? Me and all. Well, there’s some things what you just know. Know what I mean?

It started up north in Yorkshire in 1984CE, when Little Ruthie put up her hand and said, “My dad says there’s no such thing as G-d. He says there’s no need for G-d in nineteen eighty four.”

Mr. Sowerby, who was her teacher, held his hand behind his back. Between thumb and forefinger he squeezed the stick of compressed skeletons what he wrote confused facts with about people long since dead. “Does he now? I know your dad. Taught him in this very classroom, Miss Willoughby.”

“Yes, Sir.”


“But he does say that Margaret Thatcher is the devil.”

“Really?” Squeeze. “And who is the Saviour, then?” A smile full of pride on his face.

“Mr. Scargill, dad says.”

“That donkey jacketed,” squeeze, but she interrupted again.

“Sir, my dad says Manvers will never be closed. That’s why Mr. Scargill’s got them to walk out. To keep it open.”

“So he’s a picket, is he? Always was a trouble maker. You listen to me. Your dad could have had a proper job, rather than being buried underground ten hours a day hitting rocks. Thatcher’s Britain doesn’t need uneducated oafs. It needs people with O levels and ambition. Britain needs strivers, not miners.”

You can imagine him thinking, There, that shut her up. Ten years old and full of herself.


“Miss. Willoughby.”

“My dad says Mrs. Thatcher is a complete,”

“We’ve all heard quite enough from you, Miss Willoughby. Let’s return to your religious,”

“When I’m Prime Minister I’ll re-open Manvers.”

Little Ruthie ducked as the chalk flew over her head and shattered on the wall behind her. It made a high pitched chink when it struck the tiled floor, where it rolled from side to side to side to side. Children looked every which way.

“There’ll be no presumption in this class, you hear me? This is a religious education lesson. I am in control.”

O’d faces all around the class. No one had ever seen Sowerby mad.

Little Ruthie looked at him and opened her mouth to speak.

“Enough!” he shouted.

“I’m telling my dad on you.”

“Tell him all you like. If you can get him off the picket line. These strikers care more about coal than they do their families. Now, anyone else wish to discuss the politics of Communists? No? Good. Then please open your bibles to the Book of Job.”

Little Ruthie flicked through the pages. Her eyes was out the window, on the distant colliery where the wheel no longer turned. No fun fairs went to Wath, not any more. The only spinning lights came from the riot vans at the coal plant.

One day, she thought, one day I’ll prove my dad’s right.


And it started in London in 1945CE, where it carried on decades later. And sometimes for startings, names ain’t so important, not now and not after.

“Let’s see,” said the girl. “Is it really Mr. Churchill?”

“He’s with someone. Who is it?”

“Shh, shh, he’s gonna speak.” The girl craned her neck.

“He’s done us ever so proud,” said someone nearby.

“It’s his victory what’s freed us,” said a woman close to the girl.

“We should all say that, eh?” said the girl. “Shout at him, ‘It’s your victory!’”

“’It’s your victory.’ I like that. Here, mate, you hear what she said?”

And so on through the crowd.

Winston Churchill took the balcony of the Ministry of Health, abet by two colleagues. The skies were finally clear. That nice Mr. Hitler’s bombs and doodlebugs and V2 rockets were silent, his scientists fled to America to dream of space and rocket ships.

“Here he goes, shh shh,” said the girl.

On different sides of the throng of people, two men dressed almost identically started pushing their way in. They thought very similar thoughts and were headed for the same point in the crowd. Each was in a smart wool suit, fedora, Mackintosh coat. Even in the crowds they cut a dash, while their eyes and elbows cut a swathe. One was tall, the other short. From a distance that was the only difference.

“G-d bless you all. This is your victory!” said Winston Churchill from the balcony.

“No, it is yours!” shouted the crowd. People looked around at each other. They’d done it, said the thing all together. There was that spirit, still working together, singing the same message. They all cheered. It was a new dawn, a new day. Britain was a community, working together to defeat National Socialism. Now Britain was victorious, triumphant.

Churchill looked down at the crowds of people: nurses, labourers, soldiers, children.

“It is the victory of the cause of freedom in every land,” he continued. “In all our long history we have never seen a greater day than this.”

In the crowd, the two men pushed, separately, through hugging friends and wormed through strangers bonded over that singular moment of triumph.

“Everyone, man or woman, has done their best. Everyone has tried. Neither the long years, nor the dangers, nor the fierce attacks of the enemy, have in any way weakened the unbending resolve of the British nation. G-d bless you all.”

Applause. Cheers. Hats thrown in the air in that way what don’t happen no more. London in celebration, a nation glued to its valve-radios and memories of steamer ships and Victorian colonies. Flags flipped back and forth, hearts swelled with pride, relief and grief and loss.

In the crowd there was a surge, and it pushed a gentleman against the girl.

Further back, another gentleman looked on, eyes flat. He tipped his hat and turned: it was too late. He would have to wait. He disappeared into the crowd, melted away into London and the world and future plans.

She, the girl, looked round, briefly, at the contact. People pushing didn’t bother her. It was a crowd. Besides, she thought, it was gentle and felt nice. Sort of cosy, like. And she knew the cues, the signals, how her profession worked.

Churchill carried on talking, but the girl had places to go. There was money to earn, bread to put on a table. She turned and looked up into a smile and a twinkle.

“Quite the speaker, isn’t he?” said the man behind her. Nice hat, she thought. Nice suit.

“Did you hear what he said?” she smiled back. “We all done our best. No one ever said that before. Least not to me.”

The man looked into her eyes, “I wonder if a victory gin would be appropriate?”

“For you or for me?”

“For us both.”

“Sauce. Don’t even know you.”

“Perhaps,” and he leaned until his breath stroked the fine hair on her earlobe, “today demands the spirit of triumph, rather than the spirit of propriety.”

She looked at him, her hands fiddling with a purse, irises never quite settling in one place. “Where was you stationed?” she asked. “Gotta know you’re respectable, ain’t I?”

“North Africa, originally,” he said, and pulled back, adjusting his hat.

“Rommel and Montgomery?” she weren’t quite sure who they were. Surviving the Blitz and keeping up with what was happening over in France had taken all her time. But everyone knew the names, and it had always been enough to strike up a conversation with other clients.

“Something like that,” the man smiled. “What’s your name?”

She tugged his tie, gently, gently smiling, “No names today, Mr. Desert Fox. Gin and triumph only. Alright?”

He offered his arm, and they fought their way out of a cheering crowd.

They drank in a little place he knew, and then went to a quiet back street hotel where they saw in the dawn.

By the morning he was gone. Despite her insistence that the night was a celebration, there was still a pile of money on the dresser. “Bloody men,” she whispered.

A knock on the door, “You’ve had your fun. Ten minutes, then I call the police. Back to normal, missy. This is a respectable place.”

The girl pulled her clothes on and picked up the money. “Bloody Nora,” and she looked to the window, even though she knew he wouldn’t be outside, standing by a lamp-post, looking up at the window, waiting for a reaction. “Gin and triumph,” she whispered. She left behind the stained and crumpled bed sheets, and entered that new world with a swing in her step and a seed in her belly.


And it started somewhere above Watford, in Northamptonshire, long before it were called that in 64CE. It were somewhere along the Fosse Way, after the sacking of Londinium and Camulodonum and Verulamium. Bodies of Romans strew the land. And the warriors of the Iceni and Trinovantes and the other tribes lay with them, their blood seeping into the mystical land of northern Europe, that land what the Greeks called Albion. Cos sometimes stories don’t start all together. Sometimes you gotta go way back to the roots, ain’t ya?

“We are defeated.”

“My Queen, the Romans are too many and too strong. It’s impossible. Their ships arrive every day with more soldiers.”

“Send word Corslan. Despatch a rider to the Fair Folk. Then tell the tribal chieftans. Those who want to remain may do so. But we will take our armies and those who will come with us, and retreat.”

“My lady?”

“We retreat to Tír inna n-Óc until the time is right.”

“Retreat? But the Romans will spread and take Britain.”

“We will abide. The Fair Folk will provide a champion. When the time is right we will win back Ierne and Albion from the foreign invaders.”

“Yes, my lady.”

“Albion will endure.”


Little Ruthie, Ruth Willoughby, ten year old Yorkshire lass. Hair pulled back under an Alice-band. School bag decorated with pins for Bananarama and Adam and the Ants.

The streets of Wath-upon-Dearne was decorated with banners, “SUPPORT THE MINERS”.

Policemen walked around in pairs or sat in riot vans, bored, waiting for something to happen. Pissy little mining towns with their upstart miners. Why couldn’t they just get other jobs?

Men in donkey jackets stood at braziers, watching pathetic flames lick at the cold air. The great chimney at the colliery was quiet, its usual belch settled in its belly. The men grumbled about the lack of jobs, and talked about the families what had moved south, to the factories of the Midlands. One family had even moved to the south coast to open a bed and breakfast. Not one of the men could bring themselves to call those who’d gone traitors. But still the word floated in the air between them, missing its lightning rod. Traitors. Traitors. Traitors.

“It’s John’s girl,” one of the men nodded his head at Little Ruthie. “John! Your lass is here.”

John Willoughby was stood in a group of miners, a confabulation.

“Ruthie, come ‘ere love,” suddenly all smiles for his daughter.

Over their shoulders, the coal ramps were still. The site was asleep, the workers was outside and above ground, and the coal slumbered in its bed.

“Bring her along, John. She should see,” said one of the other men.

“You want to come to Orgreaves, Ruthie? We’re going on a demo up Rotherham way.”


“It might be a bit scary. Lots of pigs around.”

Little Ruthie held her dad’s hand. The callouses and ground-in coal dust were home, her tiny hand was soft and clean, now smudged with that solid fuel that burns so well. She could smell her dad a mile away, the pit was in his lungs and his bones.

“Will Margaret Thatcher be there?”

“Trained her well, John!” shouted the men behind him. They laughed and turned away.

“No, she won’t come up here. Them politicians don’t care, Ruthie. We have to care instead. Listen, don’t tell your mam we’re away to Orgreaves, you know how she is.”

“I’ll say I’m at Nanny and Granda’s, don’t worry.”

“There’s my girl.”

A coach pulled up. Men moved and shared cigarettes, small roll-ups which drooped and went flat between their fingers.

Little Ruthie climbed onto the bus, the only girl amongst those grown-up men, strikers, pit workers.

Little Ruthie went on the bus to Orgreaves, her first demonstration.

Ten year old Little Ruthie darted between the legs of policemen and strikers alike, avoiding the truncheons and flung stones.

Little Ruthie hid behind a police car, hating its protection, and watched her dad struck, fall to the floor, blood on the tarmac and flow between its cracks where grass pushed up, ever hopeful.

Ten year old Little Ruthie hated Margaret Thatcher.

Little Ruthie, Ruth Willoughby, cradled her dad, John Willoughby, while he held his cut head and looked at his blood on the soil of his country. “Never forget, Ruthie,” he said, all the way to the hospital, and all the way home. “Never forget.”


The girl quit her old job. Not that there was a boss to tell. She just stopped turning up at the regular places.

The man had left her more money than she earned in three years. Five. She bought a house, decorated, bought plants. Started a small allotment. Dig for victory! still rang in her mind.

She took up sewing work.

Well, she had to. She knew almost immediately that the gin and triumph of victory in Europe had become motherhood and hope. The other girls told her about back street doctors, about women who had gin and coat hangers and hot baths and towels.

“No. It’s a new start,” she told them.

And forty weeks later, she gave birth in that small house, and as the midwife was tidying her room, the man walked in and sat down. Bold as brass. Nary a word nor letter in between before and then.

“Mr. Desert Fox,” she said, hair slick to her forehead. The baby was clamped to her nipple, gumming it, blind, a maggot squirming in swaddling. “Had a feeling you’d be back.”

“Wild horses and all that. So, boy or girl?” He took a seat from the opposite side of the room and put it next to the bed. No other introduction or by your leave. No explanation. Straight in, treated the place like it was his. Which.

“Girl,” said the girl. Woman now. Mother.

“She’s perfect,” said the midwife. “Don’t mind me, I’ll be on my way. I’ll pop in tomorrow, see how you are. Good day,” a professional nod to the man. She saw similar things every day. A baby boom, she called it. The Victory Effect, others said.

“You left me alone at that hotel,” said the woman, mother. She stared at her daughter’s face, the gummy eyes.

“Duty called.”

“It’s OK. Thank you for,” she looked at the walls of the house and around. “What shall we call her?”

Straight away, “Lucy. The light bearer. The morning star.”

“Morning star, I like that. Here, Lucy, meet your father.”

The man held his daughter and looked into her face, “Lucy. You’re going to run this country one day.”

“You can hold her a bit longer,” said the woman, “I need my sleep. Do you mind?”

“Of course not.” The man walked away with the baby and left the mother to sleep.

When the midwife returned the following day, she found the woman still in bed, propped up on pillows. Her face was serene. Possibly the most beautiful face the midwife had ever seen. Not for her natural beauty; she was plain at best. But for the look of deep contentment and peace which had settled over her.

Shame, thought the midwife. The bed sheets was already turning black, the blood dried to a resin.

“Haemorrhage,” the midwife shook her head. “Where’s little miss? She’ll need a wet nurse.”

But the baby weren’t anywhere to be seen.


“My lady. We have what villagers will come. Some of our warriors have chosen to stay.”

“Very well. And the Romans?”

“Sending heralds to the other tribes. They will soon know of our defeat.”

“Queen Boudicca is never defeated.”

“No, my lady.”

Queen Boudicca looked over a stone fence at the rolling green of Albion. “I have a final mission for you. This is your life’s work.”

“My lady?”

“My son. I’m appointing you as his protector, Corslan.”

“I’m honoured. But,”

“I am not going with you. I am the last of the Iceni. Britain goes under Roman rule. But promise me one thing, Corslan, Steward of Britain.”

He said nothing, instead standing straighter and looking to the horizon.

“These islands, Albion and Ierne, will soon be over-run with Romans and their gods. The Fair Folk have agreed to grant you the power of Tír inna n-Óc. We will absorb the Romans, they will become British, and we will win the slow victory. But others will come behind them. New people, new gods. Defend our lands, Corslan, defend Britain against the darkness, against chaos, against anyone who does not hold our values.”

“Yes, my Queen.”

“And when the time is right, put my son on the throne of this land.”

“And what about you?”

She reached out, a muddy hand in a misty field on a young captain’s shoulder. He became a Queen’s knight, “I will become myth. Legend. We shall not meet again. But my spirit will be in this land evermore.”

Corslan kept his gaze on the horizon, “The morning star is risen.”

“Sunrise approaches. Take our people. Protect my son.”

“He shall take the throne, Queen Boudicca. For Albion.”

“For Albion.”


Editing Sympathy for the Devil

Writing update 26/08/2013

I finished a first draft of Sympathy for the Devil, my new novel. The novel started well, but I wrote it without a thought on overall plot, which meant it went awry near the end.

The first edit I’m doing is for grammar, fill in sentences and tidying up the dialect it was written in. I find it hard to edit when there are simple readability errors in the text.

The next edit will be for storyline. There are 2 significant sub-plots which need considerable strengthening or re-writing.

Overall, though, I’m please with the first draft, and looking forward to a stronger novel coming into shape throughout September and October.

I may post some sections of it as editing goes on – maybe of deleted material to give a taste of the novel’s tone.

Hope you are all enjoying your own writing,

astro x

Breaking the Glass Ceiling

Originally posted on Len Berry:

Yesterday, I mentioned my woes when it comes to getting a large amount of feedback, especially on something the size of a novel.  I called it my glass ceiling, and I think it’s the right term.

Many times in my life, I’ve heard the line, “God helps those who help themselves.”  This is me helping myself.  This is me trying to break the glass ceiling.

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9 Tips on Submitting Novels for Publication

In this blog I’m returning to the mechanics of writing and getting published.

I’ve self published, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be published the old fashioned route. I’ve learned about getting published the hard way – by figuring things out as I went along. So I thought that a post for newer authors on the route to getting published might help. So here are my 9 tips on submitting novels for publication.

Tip one – get your work checked before you send it

As an absolute minimum, get someone to read your manuscript for typos and repeated words. Agents don’t mind the odd typo here and there – we’re all human – but if you send in work that’s littered with poor spelling, poor grammar, typos, repeated words, half finished sentences, and so on, it will be binned.

Tip two – use a professional editor

A professional editor is someone who understands how stories work, and can read your work and give specific feedback on its structure, characters, stories, and the central concept or ‘hook’ of the story. They can also identify typos and grammar issues if you ask.

Beware that professional editors tend to be self-employed and that this is their job, so they rightly charge for their services. A typical cost for a sample of your manuscript to be reviewed, and to receive a report, is £500. Check editors’ fees with them in advance, and make sure you identify your budget in advance. If you only have £200 available, tell them up front, and ask what you can receive for that. If you have £1000, you can obviously have more in depth feedback, or more of your work read.

Authors should consider this an investment in their work. But like all investments, it’s a gamble on the author’s side.

Tip three – ignore the publishers

This is a tip for newer authors who might not – yet – have much insight into the publishing industry. There are two ways to get published – the first is to self-publish on Kindle, Lulu, FeedaRead, iBooks, Nook or other platforms.

The more traditional route is to get published by a publishing house, like Random House/Penguin, Orion, Picador, and so on. But many first time authors make an unwitting mistake in sending their complete manuscript to these publishing companies.

If you’re approaching completion of your first novel or short collection, hold back. Here’s the route to take.

Literary agents are the people to focus on. They are like the gate keepers – they look for work and decide which books they want to publish. Publishing houses will approach agents for material, and also let agents know what kinds of books they’re looking for.

To be clear – in general, publishing houses will not accept direct submissions of work (there are a few exceptions, but this is the norm).

A literary agent acts as the first line of formal quality control in the publishing ecosystem. Their quality control includes identifying books they can sell to publishers. This means first time authors really need to write for the market. Identify what’s selling, and write a book that pitches to those successful markets. For example, crime books are still selling well, but the interest in teen vampire books is on the wane.

I’ve been to many talks by agents who talk openly and passionately about the many brilliant books they receive for consideration and which they choose not to represent. They talk with genuine regret about not being able to pick up books that have no existing market into which they can be sold.

Newer authors might think this is unfair – it suggests that the industry is conservative and favours existing authors, or stories very similar to what’s already sold. There is some truth to this. Authors like Neil Gaiman have spoken openly about the publishing industry needing to take more risks. But we also have to accept that we live in a world where people need to pay their rent or mortgage, which means they need to be able to predict sales from books they publish. Authors need to accept this is the case.

So, if getting a literary agent is the way in, how do you get one?

Tip four – getting a literary agent

The general approach for agents is this:

  • check their website first to see if they are currently accepting submissions from new authors. There is no point sending material to an agency which is closed to submissions. Your work won’t be read.
  • if they’re accepting submissions, send a query to them either via email or in print, depending on what they prefer.
  • Your query should feature: a cover letter giving brief details of your book; a 1 or 2 page synopsis of your book (with the ending!), and usually the first 3 chapters or 50 pages of your book. Do not send the full manuscript.

At the end of this post, under my sign-off, is a list of literary agents I’ve submit work to so far.

Tip five – writing a cover letter to agents

Here’s a cover letter I use when submitting to agents. I’m not saying it’s perfect, however I get responses from 90% of the agencies I contact, so I believe it isn’t putting them off. Please feel free to use the format if you think it’s useful.

  • Literary agent cover letter sample
Dear [name of literary agent],
please find attached a submission document containing a synopsis and the first 3 chapters of my novel “Backpackers”.

Escalator pitch: Skins meets Eat, Pray, Love.
Logline: In 2013, rock star Jack Wolf tries to track down Cath Pearson, a backpacker he fell in love with in south east Asia ten years previously. He traces her through the stories of other backpackers, but the more he hears about her, the more he fears she never survived her backpacker days.
Genre: General fiction / road journey
Target audience: 18 – 35 year olds
Full novel word count: 107,260
Notes: Backpackers is currently self-published on a number of platforms. It is my second novel.
Author biog:
My first novel, Planetfall book one: All Fall Down, is science fiction/space opera and has around 400 book sales or electronic downloads from self publishing sites (primarily Kindle). I am halfway through writing the sequel. (Note: published under a pseudonym)
I am currently writing a genre book about the antichrist coming to power in the UK, and her desperate attempt to avoid her fate (horror/political satire).
I attended City University’s creative writing course Towards Publication, and have previously self published a collection of short stories, Dark Things, and written a sitcom pilot Out Of Work.
I blog about my writing at
I am 40 years old and work in the sustainability sector. I live in Surrey with a gay cat.
I hope you enjoy the material,
[your name]
So that’s the generic template I use. Notice a couple of important things here:
  • Escalator pitch – this describes your work using the format of 2 well known books or films (etc) crossed with each other. So for Backpackers, I’ve said it’s like Skins (young people having trouble growing up) mixed with Eat, Pray, Love (a woman goes on a road trip to discover herself).
  • Logline – this gives a one or two sentence description of the core tension within the book. Note that it’s not the same as a book cover blurb (although it is similar). It can be quite hard to produce loglines! It’s worth writing a number of these before you send off your first query. Don’t worry if you don’t get the hang of it immediately.
  • Word count – most novels should be between 80,000-100,000 words. My books are slightly over this. Including the word count allows the agent to judge if you’ve written to the industry standard. For example, if it was under 80,000 words, they may class it as a novella, which has a lower chance of sale to publishers. Significantly over 100,000 is also difficult to sell, unless you have a track record in the industry. (Would you risk your money on 1000 pages of a new author’s work? Or would you prefer to reduce your risk to 250 pages and less time?)
  • Notes – if your book is already self-published, you must say so. The vast majority of agents and publishers don’t mind, but they do need to know if your work is already on the market, or if it has a profile and sales record behind it.
  • Biography – tell the agent a little about yourself. What have you written previously? Are you a serious writer, with a number of works, or is this the very first thing you’ve ever written? Have you had a short story published anywhere? Also, bring yourself to life – give them some insight into who you are as a person, without divulging your life story.

Tip six – write a synopsis

Your work must be accompanied by a synopsis. This will be a description of the story, the main characters, the main dramatic themes or tensions, so that the agent can see what the whole book is about. Remember, the agent will only see three chapters of your work, and needs to make a decision about asking for the rest of the book based on those 3 chapters, and your synopsis. You must include the end of your book in the synopsis, even if there is a twist. Every important plot point must be divulged.

I’ve attached a file here with a synopsis of Backpackers. However! I know that writing synopses is a weak point of mine, so while I’ve included it for reference purposes, I would advise that you can find better examples on the internet.

The agent’s website will tell you how long the synopsis should be – as a guide, you should keep it under 2 pages, and aim for 1 page.

Backpackers synopsis

Note that the synopsis is at 1.5 line spacing. You should use this or double line spacing.

Tip seven – don’t send the whole manuscript

Most agents will ask for the first 3 chapters or about the first 50 pages of the novel. Make sure you stick to this. If you have long chapters, or no chapter structure, then stick to the 50 page limit. Certain agencies stipulate 10 pages only, so check carefully.

Tip eight – keep track of agents

Literary agents tend to take 2 – 12 weeks to read submissions and respond. If after 12 weeks you haven’t heard anything, it’s fine to send a polite query asking if the agent has any feedback. Phoning agents every day, or sending angry or impolite or hassling emails will get you blacklisted.

Remember that agents love literature but need to be able to sell your book. If they respond with a “this book is not right for us at this time”, don’t take it personally. Most of the amazing authors we all love had scores, if not hundreds, of rejections before they were published. And their “debut novel” might actually be the third, sixth, or tenth book they wrote. This is a journey.

When submitting to agents, it’s important to keep a note of which agents you’ve contacted and when. This allows you to check when to send a polite query asking for feedback (if you don’t hear from them), and also means that you don’t submit your work twice. I’ve made this mistake before, and I am sure it’s pissed off an agent (apologies to Janklow and Nesbit).

Tip nine – self publishing

What if agents keep saying “no”? Does that mean your work’s unpublishable or has no audience?

Not necessarily. Publishers only have statistics on what’s selling in the formal marketplace and which books have sold most. They aren’t psychic and can’t know how books might sell in unproven markets.

Self publishing is a great way of testing your material. There are millions of novels self published now, and many of them are very good, and of a quality that could be published in the traditional route. But they are in niche, unproven markets. Let’s be clear – the publishing houses are watching what’s being published and what’s selling. If a significant new market emerges – like with Fifty Shades of Grey – they will investigate and try to develop it.

Self publishing is also good for understanding the tasks involved in the publishing world: producing drafts, book covers, writing the back cover blurb, marketing, reaching readers, dealing with feedback, pricing, and so on. If you choose to self publish be clear with yourself that it’s almost a full time role, where you are Creative Director of a company. You will need to enlist the help of different people (readers, proof readers, editors, cover designers, etc). Books don’t sell by magic, so be prepared to learn about marketing, identifying your key readership markets, influential blogs… It’s a tall order.

So there we have it. Nine tips on the route to getting published. If you have any advice to add to this, think you can improve on anything I’ve said, or want to write a better synopsis of Backpackers which I can use, please leave a comment.

Bye for now,

astro x

Literary agents (most accept email submissions)

A M Heath (by post)
Ampersand Agency
Andrew Lownie
Annette Green Agency
Anthony Harwood
Blake Friedmann
Capel & Land (by post)
CarinaUK (publisher)
Caroline Sheldon
Conville and Walsh
Curiosity Quills Press (publisher)
Curtis Brown Creative
Darley Anderson
Ethan Ellenberg
Eve White
Felicity Bryan
Futerman Rose Associates
Greene & Heaton
Gregory and Company
Hardman and Swainson
HMA Literary Agency
Janklow and Nesbit
Jenny brown associates
Johnson & Alcock
Ki Agency (Donald Maass)
Kimberley Cameron
Knight Agency
Lindsay Literary Agency
Lutyens Rubinstein
Madelein Milburn
MBA Literary Agents
MCA Agency (Mulcahy Conway)
Mic Cheetham Associates (by post)
Prentice Beaumont
Rogers, Coleridge and White
Rupert Heath Agency
Sharon Ring (independent)
Standen Literary Agency
Susan Yearwood
Talcott Notch
The Susijn Agency
Tibor Jones
Toby Eady
United Agents
Viney Agency
Voyager publishing
Wade & Doherty
Williams Agency
WME Literary Agency

Free ebook summer giveaway!

Hi groovers,

It’s summer in the UK and it’s hot and sunny, and we’ve all gone a bit bonkers with the heat.

So let’s go a bit crazier: for the next month the ebook versions of my 2 novels, Planetfall and Backpackers, will be free to download from

Follow this link to grab them. And if you like one or both books, feel free to share them:

What can you expect? Well, if you don’t mind following a different link to Amazon (where they’re not free because of the way Amazon Kindle works), you can read reviews from readers. Click:

here for planetfall reviews

here for Backpackers reviews

Happy reading!

astro x