Tuesday, 27 September 2011

This week's blog comes from crime novelist Gillian Hamer

When I read Gillian Hamer's crime novel, The Gold Detectives, I fell in love with the characters. They were so warm and real I felt like I was spending time with friends and was bereft when it ended. If anyone deserves to be published, Gillian does. Here she bemoans the fact that, as yet, no publisher has been savvy enough to snap her up. It surely can't be long before someone has the sense to make her an offer. And don't believe the title - lack of a publisher does not a literary failure make!

My Life as a Literary Failure …
Gillian Hamer

I know self pity brings tears quicker than anything. And I know terming yourself as a failure is frowned upon in today’s age of molly-coddling – but hand on heart that’s how I’ve been feeling these past few months. And boy does it impact on any chance of writing anything borderline decent.

I’ve been with my current agent fourteen months and in total we’ve subbed to probably around a dozen publishers, maybe a few more. Big players, household names. At the beginning, I was flattered, delighted, overwhelmed, that someone had so much faith in my writing. My writing. Little old me who’d started this as a bit of a laugh, then an interesting hobby, and finally a time-consuming, blood, sweat and tears obsession.

But what I’ve come out of the past year learning principally – is that rejection is never easy no matter in what form it disguises itself.

When you’re unagented, every agent refusal is a smack in the face and a stamp on your ego. But you live with the burning desire that getting that agent, actually signing a contract, is like some kind of Holy Grail. As a new writer, you believe that having someone on board who appreciates your writing, understands you as person, and generally ‘gets’ what you’re trying to achieve – is all you need in this world. With a qualified, experienced, contacted, real-life agent by your side – you will have hit the big time running.

Link to Gillian's Blog


Increasingly, I am seeing talented writers (people who without doubt in the good times would have been snapped up by one of the big three publishers and currently be discussing Hollywood film rights) struggling in much the same way as I am.

I’m going to paste in a selection below of the responses I’ve received over the past months, replies that are echoed across genres, ages and styles. No one wants to put their money into new authors right now, that’s the truth of the matter. Money is tight, the economy is tighter, consumers aren’t parting with cash – and publishers want a fast return on any advances.

There’s only so many times, when after waiting six months, you’re told:

• ...but don’t quite know what to do as to be honest, we now have so many new writers that have come onto the crime list, marketing and publicity haven’t got the capacity to take on any more as pushing new authors – especially in fiction – as you know, is incredibly hard.

• I think the best I can do at this stage is to say that if you haven’t had an alternative offer by the new year I would love to reconsider.

• I just didn’t have the vision for how to publish this on our list, so I shall have to pass.

• I enjoyed it and found the narrative original and intriguing. However, despite the commercial potential of this series, I wasn’t as gripped by the writing as I had hoped to be.

• I enjoyed Gillian's writing, and thought the premise was great. However, I'm afraid I couldn't quite see how this novel would fit within our list at the moment, so this isn't one for us.

And I could … but won’t … go on!

So, what’s the answer? How do you fit in with lists? Grip the publishers? Supply extra vision? Tick all the boxes?? And so on and so on …

Self pity is all very well. Giving it all up and flouncing off to Zumba classes is an option. But you’re a writer, ergo you have to write and are probably not much cop at anything else truth be told.
I can’t wave a magic wand and solve everyone’s problems, but in my search for a solution I’ve taken a complete break from fiction writing. I’ve immersed myself in my non-fiction work for a literary magazine, and I’ve booked myself in for my first ever writer’s workshop at the end of the month.

What I’ve learned I think, is that in these tough times, it’s not enough to be good, mediocre, or maybe even great. You have to be phenomenal. Your writing, story and every aspect of your craft needs to shine like a new star and set you apart from the crowd.

Yes, you could do as I did for a while and bemoan the amount of published drivel – from Z list celebs to poor quality authors – and fine, do that. Kick the wall while you’re at it if it helps. But that won’t get you published, and if that’s seriously your aim, you need to sit down, work out a strategy, and write. That’s all you can do. Write and write some more, hone your work until it sparkles – because if you do that to the very best of your capabilities, I still believe, despite all the knock backs, that someone, somewhere, sometime will discover you as a tiny shiny diamond in one hell of an epic coalfield.

Read some excerpts from Gillian's work on her Blog.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Works in Progress

Just an update on what I'm up to as I haven't blogged for a week or two.

I've been formatting an ebook for Kindle (Garlands & Shadows by Karen MacLeod). It's a romance set in Scotland with a heroine who's no pushover and it features a dishy Spanish hotelier as the love interest. I'll be formatting this one for Smashwords as well soon.

I'm also doing some editing for another writer - Jimmy Bain - and I'll be formatting his new Bumble book (The Long Drop Goodbye) for Kindle shortly. I've got a great cover for it and will be redoing the cover for The Bumble's End to match when the new book is launched.
If anyone out there needs an ebook formatted for Kindle/Smashwords and/or a cover created, do get in touch either here or by Facebook or Twitter or my website. My rates are very reasonable.

Meanwhile, my own projects are proceeding as follows:

Don't Look Down formerly Chill Factor, a crime novel set in Germany, is currently being edited and will be available as an ebook later this year. Hopefully by Christmas!

Poetic Justice or The Spiritual Hunt, a novel about a Rimbaud manuscript, is my current writing project and should be available next year. Fingers very much crossed on this one.

Excerpts from novels in progress can be read on my website but bear in mind these are drafts and the final version will probably be completely different.
Oh, and I've been making blackberry wine, sloe gin, bramble brandy and lots of jam.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011



My Time in the Northern Territory and How it Turned into

The Land Beyond Goodbye

The story that became The Land Beyond Goodbye started to bubble up some years ago when I was working as a temp for a week or two in the dingy basement of a solicitorʼs office in Edinburgh. In my youth, Iʼd lived for a while in various small towns in the Northern Territory of Australia. The vibrant lifestyle had got into my consciousness and the stories, people and atmosphere of that beautiful stark landscape still had a hold on me and wouldnʼt let me go. So, to relieve the boredom of my temp job, I started typing up little snippets inspired by my time there. I still have these first attempts, badly typed on flimsy green file paper, though it was years before the book properly got going, and years more before I finally decided it was finished.

The people I met in the Northern Territory were like characters in a wild west film -- or perhaps some surrealist painting. Territorians were gutsy, eccentric, and individual. They didnʼt wait for other people to solve their problems but got on and did it themselves. This was summed up for me in the actions of Mrs Richardson, who spotted a deadly King Brown snake curling through the feet of her customers at the Mataranka Homestead one night. She went and got an axe, chopped its head off with one blow, and then continued serving drinks as if nothing much had happened.

I suppose I could have become a Territorian myself, since I received several proposals of marriage while I was there. One was from a cowpoke type who reminded me of Hoss from Bonanza. He proposed to me after Iʼd known him, ooh, a week or so. ʻYaʼd mike me real happy if yerʼd be ma woife,ʼ he said, and offered to give me a horse. I declined the horse and he offered a Labrador instead. When I told him I didnʼt want anything I had to feed, he suggested a marcasite watch. He even took me to see it in the Chinese general store that sold everything from hundredweight sacks of animal feed to, well, marcasite watches. I was touched by his offer but felt I really couldnʼt accept as I wasnʼt even going out with him at the time.

Another random proposal came from a 49 year old Italian man (I was 20). He kept assuring me (or possibly himself) that at 5'2" he was exactly the same height as Napoleon. He took me aside one day and told me quite seriously that, though he would happily divorce his German wife for me, he couldnʼt divorce his Italian wife because she was Catholic. Oddly, I found myself able to turn this offer down as well.

None of these characters found their way into The Land Beyond Goodbye but there were others who sparked off ideas for the novel. There was the man who reputedly owned a goldmine and drank rum and milk; the handsome cattle station manager who always dressed in cream denim; the hirsute hermit who lived in a shack made of packing cases; and the policeman who dressed in shorts and rubber flip-flops and and helped out at the telephone exchange; there was also the story told of a man who had killed someone in the bar.

In addition to the wild stockmen and miners who came in from far outposts every weekend, that same bar sometimes hosted horses and wallabies, and on one occasion, a crocodile. But there were also the aboriginal men and women who were not allowed to enter the bar and could only be served flagons of red biddy from a counter in the outside wall.

Though nothing in the book is true in the sense that it actually happened, all these various elements mingled together, fermented, and turned into The Land Beyond Goodbye. The title is taken from an old book about the history of Australia. I canʼt now remember which book I found this quote in and though Iʼve searched through everything Iʼve got, have been unable to track it down. If anyone knows the source, Iʼd love to hear from them.

Oh, and the sleazy lawyer isnʼt based on any of the wonderful solicitors I worked for in that dingy basement in Edinburgh, where it all started.



First published on Jo Reed's Blog
The Land Beyond Goodbye is available as an ebook from Amazon.

Friday, 2 September 2011

FREE short story: NOISES OFF

Here's another one I wrote for a women's magazine. Again, it's not my usual style.


It's the noises you miss. The sound of feet thundering up and down the stairs, of doors slamming, of music turned up far too loud. Did we listen to music that loud? I can't believe I ever did.
  It's the voices calling:
  'Mum, where's my clean shirt?'
  'Mum, can I go over to Angie's place?'
  'Oh Mum! I can't eat that. I'm on a diet!'
  It's the little sounds too. Noises in the night. The bathroom door opening and closing softly, then the crash as something is knocked over. It's the bleep of the computer. The tinny sound of music heard through headphones. The muted giggles.
  'Go to sleep!' I'd shout, knowing that would only make them giggle all the more.
  The girls are both married now, and living too far away. Well, they have their own lives, don't they? Helen brought the baby over a month or two ago, but Jenny doesn't want children yet. She's concentrating on her career, so she says. Steve, my youngest, is off travelling around Europe. It's his gap year. When he comes back he'll go straight to University. The house has been much less noisy since he went. In fact, the only sound in the night I've heard recently has been the soft snore of my husband, Peter. Until I'd dig him in the ribs and he'd turn on his side, that is.
  But now I don't even have that.
  The television helps, I suppose, but it's not the same, is it? It doesn't call out, 'I'm home!' at six o'clock each evening. It doesn't say, 'Thanks love, that was delicious,' when I've cooked a special meal. Oh it's distracting, the television, for a little while. Takes your mind off things. For a while.
  But it's the other sounds I miss most. The companionable rustle of a newspaper. The tuneless whistle through the teeth that he didn't even know he was doing. The chink of cups in the kitchen when he made me a cup of tea. The little things. Nothing can replace them. Nothing makes up for the silence in the early morning, when there should be water running and splashing noises coming from the shower. Nothing makes up for the missing scrape of a fork on a plate, across the dining room table.
  At first I thought there should be recording available for people like me. 'What a good idea!' I said to myself. You could go into a shop and buy a CD, a recording of ordinary, day to day noises. A cough or a sneeze, a drink being poured, the creak of an armchair as someone sits down. I'd be able to play it to fill in the gaps, the silences. It would keep me company. Come to think of it, there could be recordings for all sorts of occasions. CDs of do-it-yourself noises — hammerings and sawings, the noise of a drill, a muffled curse. There'd be getting-up-in-the-morning noises — the sound of teeth being cleaned and drawers being rummaged through. The clunk of a toe being stubbed on the blanket chest. And there'd be eating-dinner-together CDs — the soft clatter of cutlery, an appreciative 'Mmmm', maybe even a 'Pass the salt.'
   Of course I know it would never be the same. Because it's not just the noises, is it? It's the presence of another person that makes such a difference. The knowledge that someone is in the next room or upstairs, or out in the garden. That's what makes being alone acceptable, even welcome, for a little while. It's the knowledge that they will come back soon. That all those little sounds you take for granted, whether they irritate you, or whether you hardly even hear them, will continue to enliven the house and will go on forming the background music of your life.
  It's been six days now and the house rings with emptiness. That's why I'm so glad that this loneliness is only temporary. So grateful that this silence, which I can hardly bear, will soon end. You see, Peter is away on a training course this week. Something to do with transference of skills and updating his technical knowledge, with a bit of executive team building thrown in for good measure, but he'll be back tomorrow.
  And for that I thank Providence and never cease to appreciate just how lucky I truly am.