Increasingly, there are many paths a novelist might take. Gone are the days when an agent and traditional publishing house was the only route to success. In recent years self-publishing has taken off, as have smaller independent publishers. The traditional agent and publisher route still exist, of course, and not a few writers cross from one route to the other. But with publishing as an industry in flux, and books having increasingly to compete with other entertainment mediums, new approaches are flourishing.
One such innovation is the crowd-funding publisher, Unbound being one of the leading proponents. On the Unbound website authors share their ideas for the books they want to write. If enough people support it by pledging in advance then the book gets published, a special subscribers edition for those who pledged money, a regular edition and ebook sold to the general reading public.
Having read and reviewed a number of Unbound titles I found them to be as good as any published by the traditional publishing houses, just as importantly, the books were edited and presented just as professionally.
As an aspiring author myself, I’m intrigued by Unbound and thus decided to put my money where my mouth is. East of England by Eamonn Griffin was the title I decided to back. A noir crime thriller set in rural England, it is just the kind of book that I enjoy reading. This Q&A with its author, I post on the day I received my copy of his book.
Where did you get the idea behind East of England?
The idea was an image first, that became the first shot of a film script that I never got my head around. The opening, where Dan Matlock leaves prison and steals a car. That, filmed as a shot in a single camera move was pretty much all I had.
Over time, I got to thinking about who this person was, and what might motivate them to be prepared to launch themselves into something straight out of jail. Everything fell into place from there.
Your novel sounds like it has a tremendous sense of time and place, in fact that was one of the things that sold it to me, this evocation of rural England and how a noir crime thriller would work with that. How did you achieve this?
That’s very kind of you to say so. Straightforwardly, I was born in Lincoln, and was raised in a town called Louth, which is on the east of the county of Lincolnshire, which is where the book is set. The places evoked in the novel are based firmly on existing places; the names have been changed slightly to allow me some fictional wriggle-room, but that’s about it.
In terms of temporal setting – the book’s set in the early-to-mid 80s – that’s drawn partly from my own experiences, and partly from the needs of the book and the genre. I was an adolescent in the 80s, and so my first independent experiences of life and of the county are from that time, so I’ve drawn from that. Also, I wanted some kind of specificity, and I can do that with the Lincolnshire of the 1980s. Though the book didn’t need to be set in the past, I wanted - eventually – to support the book by making sure that people had to go to places to do things. Not having mobile phones helps with that a lot! Plus, it distances the book slightly; some of my influences in writing this are from the past, and from the US in particular, and I wanted to draw on the feelings I get as a reader when shown a combination of time and place that’s not familiar to me, in pat to help the writing and in part to make the book a little distinctive.
What made you want to tell this particular story and in this particular way?
Inevitability. Once I started thinking constructively about the beginning I mentioned earlier, things fell into place a bit. In terms of organisation – the story takes place over five consecutive days – I like tight timeframes (that’s a feature of all of my books to date), and I like being specific too, so that helps as well. A ticking clock is always useful.
How do you get your ideas? What’s the process and how do they go from vague inspiration to fully fleshed out notions?
Ideas are easy. My pockets are full of them. The stronger ones take root, though, and start nagging at you. That’s when - these days – I make a note of them on an app on my phone. The they sit there until the phone can’t contain them. The seed or spark is always a little thing, and usually something which provokes a series of questions for me, and part of the project of writing the book is finding out answers to those questions.
Tell me about the research that goes into your writing?
It depends a lot on the story, inevitably. Some of East of England is experiential, some relies on books/interviews/documentaries, some of it is imaginative. The trick – if there is one – is making everything feel organic, so that it comes from the characters and their situations. There’s a bit of thinking about what would X do now, rather than what might make sense for me to do in that situation.
In the past I’ve spent both a whole year reading before writing, and on the other hand having an idea so strong and vivid and fully-formed that I’ve had to get off a Tube train (I’m not a Londoner so this isn’t an everyday thing), find a bookshop, double-check the idea, and then try to capture it before is fades.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Of the two, a pantser. I like to know where I’m going, and then work out interesting and logical – for the characters – ways to get there.
As a non-plotter, how do you make sure you don’t go off on wild tangents?
I use a mixture of simple spreadsheet-style diagrams and random notes. Sometimes snatches of dialogue, sometimes detail on beat-by-beat movements through scenes.
Tell me about your writing, do you write full time?
I’ve got a full-time job job. That’s writing-based also, but the creative writing has to work around the time commitment to the da job.
When is your most productive period of the day?
Early morning. The earlier the better.
Is any part of your writing biographical or are any of the characters inspired by real people?
Yes and yes. I’m a magpie, and steal from everywhere, though mostly from myself. Some of the characters in East of England are drawn from real life, or are composites. Sometimes I’ve thought who might play the character in a movie, and have used that to support the writing.
What writing projects are you working on now?
I’ve three. Maybe four. It depends.
There’s a sequel to East of England, titled Canine Jubilee. Then, a proper haunted house novel of the old school. And a historical novel about Sir Francis Walsingham. And a non-fiction project I’m still wresting into shape.
Is East of England your first novel? What, if anything, have you written previously?
East of England’s my fourth novel, and my fifth book. Previously:
The Prospect of This City: a novel about the days before the Great Fire of London
Torc: a timeslip children’s novel about modern-day and 2ndcentury Scotland
Juggernaut: a sequel to RL Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Benches of Louth: a non-fiction exploration of my old home town
They’re all up on Amazon if folk are interested!
Unbound is a unique and new publishing company. How did you find the process of crowdfunding your book?
It’s harder than it looks, especially for fiction projects, unless you’re a household name (and even then it’s not straightforward). Non-fiction is perhaps easier to explain to people, and so folk can more easily make a decision about whether to support the book or not. That’s not so easy with a novel. You’ve got to be patient, persistent, and realistic.
How has your experience with Unbound contrasted with that of publishing your previous books?
It’s been pretty straightforward. The other books have ended up being self-published, so it’s a pleasure not to have to do everything yourself. There’s still plenty of stuff to do though, and in lots of ways the writing of the book is the easy bit.
Finally, I’m going to shamelessly poach two questions the author Mark Hill (author of His First Lie and It Was Her) used to put to writers on his blog. Like me, Mark was a book blogger before he became a successful author and I like to think that the answers to these questions helped him glean valuable help for his own writing. Certainly, reading them on his blog is helping me. So here goes:
What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?
That no-one respects it. With other creative activity there’s a corresponding physical skill, be it in dance, music, painting, sculpture, drama. With writing there’s just typing. And it’s easy to confuse the two, because everyone’s got a laptop or a smartphone, or has at least used a keyboard.
Give me some advice about writing?
First, learn to use your writing software of choice.
Second, back everything up twice.
Third, story is structure. Stories are stories because they’re shaped like stories. Like houses, they’re all the same, and each is unique. Start to appreciate their general shape, and that’ll help no end in getting towards interesting specifics.
Fourth, there’s no short cuts.
Fifth, and most importantly, [indecipherable]