Friday, 3 February 2012

Getting Published: The Magic Formula

One of the best (and sometimes worst) things about being a writer is that overnight, you become magical. Get a book/feature/short story published and suddenly other aspiring writers believe you have some fantastic secret formula or an ancient spell  that will produce a puff of green smoke and a contract with William Morris.

Not my agent
Sadly, I don’t. As with every other branch of the arts (see music, dance, art or even perhaps reading the weather on local TV), it all comes down to a lot of hard work and a decent amount of blind luck. However talented you are, everyone needs a Brian Epstein/Andy Warhol/Simon Cowell to stumble across you and say ‘You’re a genius! Step this way and I’ll make you a star.’

Or at the very least, you need to catch an editor or agent at that perfect moment, when a) they have the time to read something and b) what you have written just happens to be the exact thing they’re looking for at that exact moment. Actually, THAT’s the magic formula: being there at the right time. 

But while everyone needs a lucky break, I’m also a great believer in making your own luck, i.e. the more you plug away in a positive manner, the more likely it is that someone else will notice what you’re doing and give you a leg-up.

And, it being 2012, you don’t actually need any one else’s permission to get a book published. Ten years ago, your only option was to wait until Random House or HarperCollins got around to reading your manuscript. Of course, that still holds – every new writer dreams of landing a big book deal - but that was before the internet and specifically, before the Kindle. Now you can publish your own book on the web, which exactly what I have just done in the US. It’s a bit fiddly, but it can be done.
So what’s the magic formula? Simple:
1. Write your book
2. Get it published.
3. Bask in the glory at signing events, author parties and invitations to red carpet movie premieres…preferably of film adaptations of your book!

Coke's secret formula: slightly more complicated.
Seems far-fetched, I know, but it all begins with stage one. Write that book. It doesn’t have to be a vampire book (although vampire books are the best and – have I mentioned? – there are some particularly good ones available on, in fact it doesn’t have to be a whole book. A short story, a feature, a review of someone else’s book on Amazon, even.

You can do it – start today.

Why I Write (and why you should too!)

Spring. It’s not quite here, but you can feel it coming. There’s a rash of snowdrops scattered under the tree just outside my window and I’ve left the door of my little garden office slightly ajar this morning. It’s still frosty, but there’s sunshine on the glass; there’s no mistaking that it’s a new year with everything that implies.

Not quite my garden, but similar!
Fitting then that I’ve just written the first page of the third Ravenwood book. I don’t have much of a plan, just a stream of consciousness at the moment – April’s leaving that famous yellow door, wandering through Highgate, should she go down to the cemetery? What will be waiting for her? Gabriel? A vengeful sucker? The police? I don’t know either yet, but that’s the fun part.

Sometimes, I’ll admit, writing novels can be hard work. When I’m a hundred thousand words in, there’s a deadline looming and I’m still working way past midnight for the third night in a row, I wish I could finish work at five O’Clock like everyone else. But on nights like that, it’s days like today I dream of, days when anything (well anything within my own self-created world, anyway) is possible.

And that’s why I write. To be creating something new. Not necessarily the world’s greatest literary work – in my case, definitely not – but something other people might like to read. Of course, there are other benefits to being a writer. You get to set your own hours, you can bugger off to Cornwall (or Hawaii or Zambia) whenever you like and no one gives you a funny look if you want to have lunch early.

But mostly you do it for the tingle you get setting down the words on a sharp, clear morning like this, making something appear from nowhere. On days like today, it’s the best job in the world.

Friday, 6 January 2012

A New Year – A New You

So Christmas came and went, the clocks chimed midnight all over the world and all the decorations have gone back in the loft. You’re back at work/school/college, back in the old routines. And how do you feel? Fat, tired and a bit sick from too much cake? Yeah, me too.

You know what? I couldn't eat another thing.

But I have a solution for you and it doesn’t involve joining a gym or eating more fibre. It’s much more simple and you can even do it sitting down: start your book. That’s it, that’s all you have to do. Well, it’s probably a good idea to avoid eating chocolate biscuits and go on the occasional brisk walk too, but studies have shown that doing something positive has a far more beneficial effect on your well-being than any number of diets.

The subtitle of Sharp Teeth is ‘On Writing A Vampire Book’, but of course, your book can be about cowboys or wizards or just ordinary people with ordinary problems told in an extraordinary way. It doesn’t matter as long as you are passionate about your subject matter. I happen to love the vampire genre, that’s why I write about them. In fact, when I began writing By Midnight, I didn’t really need to do any research as I already knew it inside out.

But if you love horses or antiques or men with beards, go for it. As long as you’ve got a story to tell, the book will come – you just have to start it. Now I know it’s daunting starting something new, but it’s the perfect time to start (New Year’s resolution, bank account empty from the festive season, very, very cold outside) and you’re not going to be doing it on your own: I’m going to help.

Mia to the rescue (that's me behind the Hoff)

Think of this blog as your very own creative writing course. I won’t be able to read your stuff – I have my own stuff to write and a very strict editor who takes a dim view of missed deadlines – but I will answer your questions. Anything you want to know: ‘How do I do dialogue?’ ‘What shall I call my characters?’ ‘How do I find an agent?’, put it in the comments box at the bottom of each post and I’ll do my best to address it in subsequent posts.

Come on, you don’t get that kind of offer from Stephen King, do you? So no excuses. It’s a new year and it’s time you started something new, something that’s just for you.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Halloween Creepiness

It being All Hallow's Eve, I thought it would be fitting to add a few real chills. I also thought there might be a few of you out there who aren't spending the evening roaming about in the dark bothering strangers for sweets and might prefer to stay inside where it's safe (yeah, like that ever worked in any Freddie Kruger movies!) and the DVD has an 'off' button, should you need it.

Anyway, creepy though Freddie is, I'm not talking about horror movies or even vampire movies, but properly creepy movies. Those genuinely unsettling, creepy movies that really stay with you and give you the shivers when you turn off the lights, not the ones awash with blood – anyone can chuck fake blood!

When I was writing By Midnight and the new book in the Ravenwood series, Darkness Falls, I tried to fill the setting (Highgate Cemetery and the surrounding village) with long shadows and dark corners and that feeling that you don’t know what – or who – is going to jump out at you. So I thought I’d share a few of the films I watched to get me in the mood.  

First, Invasion of the Bodysnatchers - the 70s version with Kiefer Sutherland’s dad Donald in a bad perm. Everyone in a small American town seems to be changing overnight and Don has no idea who to trust; the last scene just before the credits still makes the hairs stand up on my neck.

Next, the Blair Witch Project. Yes, I know it’s been lampooned to death, but I watched this alone in a pitch black movie theatre in LA the week it was released, not knowing a thing about it and I’m not ashamed to say it completely scared the pants off me (still does, if I’m honest).

Rosemary’s Baby is next, a brilliant piece of creepiness where Mia Farrow (with fab hair, by the way) suspects her neighbours and husband have sold their souls to the devil – it has another deeply unsettling last scene too.

And finally, The Innocents. A super-dark 1961 version of Henry James’ novel ‘Turn of the Screw’ about a young nanny driven mad by some of the creepiest children in the history of the cinema. Is she insane? Are the children evil? You’ll have to watch it to find out. But don’t watch it alone…

The Covent Garden Vampire

Darkness Falls, the second of the Ravenwood books is mainly set in and around the very creepy Highgate Cemetery in North London and the series’ website (, features a virtual tour of all the sites featured in the books, from April’s house to the school itself, so I thought it might be good to do a tour of the other main setting in the books – Covent Garden.

The reason I chose WC1 in the first place is because Coventry street, which runs East from Trafalgar Square, is the only other place in London that real-life vampires have been reported. In 1922, a man walking along this street was bitten on the neck and taken to Charing Cross hospital. That same day, two more people were admitted to the hospital, bleeding from similar puncture marks. The vampire never reappeared, but it made me think ‘where did he – or she – go?’

It helped that Covent Garden is one of the most haunted parts of London: even the tube station has two ghosts, one called the Screaming Spectre’. If you’ve read By Midnight, you’ll know that April’s grandfather lives here (there’s a big house just east of the market I based it on) and that her favourite cafĂ© is Patisserie Valerie on Bedford Street, which is where the big chase scene in By Midnight begins, ending just south of there by Cleopatra’s Needle on Victoria Embankment. In Darkness Falls, an important location is Redfearne’s Bookshop, which was based on Treadwells Occult Bookshop on Tavistock Street. Sadly, it moved to Bloomsbury in February, so you can only stand outside, like April, imagining what was inside.

Oh, and the final reason I chose Covent Garden is that the shopping there is fabulous. There’s no reason research has to get in the way of retail therapy, is there?

Monday, 10 October 2011

Just Who Is The Highgate Vampire?

Highgate is where it all began for me. My uncle is an eccentric artist who lives in a super modern house perched on the hillside overlooking the cemetery. It's an awesome, and quite beautiful place, but it's also exactly the kind of place that vampires could be – possibly are – hiding and that’s why I decided to set By Midnight and the new Ravenwood book Darkness Falls there.

The other reason is that Highgate is one of the few places in the British Isles (and possibly the whole world outside of Transylvania) with an actual documented sighting of a real-life vampire. Well, I say, a ‘real-life’ vampire, but the first sighting was of a ‘spectral presence’, which was seen in December 1969. That began a whole rush of sightings and one mass invasion after the story was featured on the Six O’Clock News – and people have been seeing them ever since, there was even a police investigation into the body of a woman found beheaded and burnt in the graveyard.

So it’s really not surprising that people see things through the iron railings as they walk up Swain’s Lane, especially after dark – in fact, it’s hard not to see something lurking between the gravestones. Whether it’s a ‘sucker’ or a ‘bleeder’ that’s for you to decide. I’d keep walking if I were you though – and personally I only go during the day! Although as the gorgeous Gabriel Swift says in Darkness Falls, ‘Vampires will kill you in the middle of the day if they have to.’