A Time and a Place for your Story

There is a tendency among critics to find fault with writers who follow a trend, or try to make their work more saleable by linking it to events in the past. The obvious example this year is the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War and the positive flood of articles and books appearing now. I don’t have a problem with linking one’s work to a happening in the past. It can be extremely effective, provided that the writer has something original to say. I came to book authorship by way of freelance journalism, which of course depends on current events and in a thin time, looks back at past happenings that may link with the happenings of today. For several years I wrote for an Irish sporting newspaper about horses – breeding, show-jumping, etc. Occasionally the editor of the racing section asked me for a piece about racing or breeding, usually leaving it to me to decide what to write. I hadn’t much time to think about it, as the reason he asked me was that frost or rain had forced the cancellation of a race meeting and he was faced with ‘blank page syndrome.’ Or perhaps a regular contributor was late with his piece, owing to illness. In those days there was no email and no FAX. I would have maybe twelve hours to deliver 1,000 or 15,000 words to Dublin. I would write my piece, take it five miles to the nearest town and give it to the guard on the Dublin train. The train would be met by a junior journalist with a bicycle and rushed to the office. In 1984, the editor was faced with a missing article on Derby day. He rang up at the last second. ‘Write something – no, I don’t know what – anything! 800 words.’ He hung...

From Traditional to Self Publishing and Back

When I first thought of writing a book I had no confidence in producing anything people would want to read. So I took my (brief) manuscript to the local printer, who mostly produced posters and newsletters. The finished book (a bit of nonsense called One Dog and His Man) cost me just £1 (Irish) in 1984 and sold quickly at £2, so whatever it made was doubled. I sold 500 copies locally and thought I should rewrite and improve my work and offer it to a publisher. A writer friend found me an agent and everything stopped for more than a year. My book was rejected again and again, making me think I should have stayed with the printer. My agent was ready to give up and I asked him to try just one more publisher. He tried the Blackstaff Press in Belfast and they accepted at once. It was out in a matter of weeks and got fantastic reviews. I followed with a sequel, One Dog and his Trials and that did well too. I turned the two books into one, One Dog, his Man and his Trials, which stayed in print for many years and is still popular. Before I acquired an agent, I had tried to place ‘One dog’ with a publisher myself. Having no idea how to start, I thought I’d send it to the next publisher whose name I saw in print. I went to Church and noticed that my hymnbook had been published by Collins of London. I duly sent the handwritten copy to this august firm. They answered! They liked it! They said they would contact me if they wanted an animal book. Because the book wasn’t accepted at once, I thought ‘it’s no good. Forget it.’ I was 54; old enough to have more sense, but I didn’t recognise the personal...

Do I Need An Editor For My Self Published Book?

This is one of those questions with several answers; a trick question if you like. The nearest I can get is, ‘probably.’ I have edited more than fifty self-published books, fiction and non fiction and in every case I had no doubt that I was needed and that it would pay my client to pay me! I have been following a discussion on line, which is sure to bewilder anyone looking for information. Yes, there was good advice, but also bad advice and fits of childish temper on the part of people who ought to have known better. One popular question was, ‘can a writer edit his or her work?’ That’s a tricky one. If you are writing a memoir or a book about a subject that you know backwards, the answer is usually ‘yes.’ In fact, the writer can do what the editor can’t, having more knowledge of the subject. That doesn’t mean that the editor is ignorant, merely that the writer will keep remembering things, researching fresh material and needing to update while writing. Back in 1991, I wrote a memoir called Breakfast the Night Before. It was published by a famous London house, André Deutsch. I had already had two novels accepted by Collins, also of London, and experienced a publishers’ editor. I didn’t know there were such people! I discovered the hard way that I could resist changes if I was sure I was right. When I wasn’t sure, I kept quiet. The books had done well, but I was nervous about the memoir. To my astonishment it came back to me with minor tweaks and nothing that I couldn’t understand. I discovered that the editor was the publisher herself, a prize-winning author, Diana Athill. Later, she wrote a wonderful foreword for my non-fiction Part-Time Writer, Notes and Reflections. Incidentally, Breakfast the Night Before was...