How to write a beast of a novel

9780575123182We’re excited to announce the UK launch of A J Dalton’s Gateway of the Saviours, the huge and machiavellian sequel to Empire of the Saviours. On behalf of all the readers and authors-in-the-making out there, we thought we’d ask the author if he could share a few of his secrets (without then having to kill us!) on how to go about writing such an epic. Here are Adam’s top tips:

1.  Don’t let anyone tell you how to do it. Ironic tip to open with, I know, but basically there’s no formula for success. If there was, everyone would be successful, wouldn’t they? Simply, whatever works for you is the right way. Some people find it valuable to be a member of a writers’ group, some go on writing courses – but none of that works for me personally. Some people like to shut themselves away and never show anyone their stuff. That can work too.

2.  Never give up. You’ll have heard of ‘big names’ being rejected by lots of publishers before getting their material published. I heard (although it might be apocryphal) that William Golding had Lord of the Flies rejected by 29 publishers before it got published… and that book is now considered one of the great works of English literature.

3.  Believe in yourself and trust your own opinion over that of others. Publishers are not just looking for quality (Oh, yes they are! – Marcus, Adam’s editor at Gollancz), you must remember that. They’re looking for something that is commercial and will make them money (Well, that helps, admittedly – Marcus). Think about trashy romances. They’re not successful because they’re quality literature, are they? But they sell, so they get published.

4. Practice makes perfect. I started my first novel at 15. I got some poems published at 21. I got a short story published at 35. I got Necromancer’s Gambit out there at 37, having done five books previously that failed to get published. But I eventually got it all sorted and now the writing’s much easier. It’s a skill you can improve with practice.

5. Don’t be scared to fail. We can learn to do something better when we’ve failed at it first time. Think of it as improving your aim. You can only improve your aim by practice. Ask Jonny Wilkinson – he’s on the training pitch in all weathers.

6. Write for yourself, not someone else. You need to enjoy writing what you write because otherwise you’ll never stay motivated. When you’re in a dimly-lit lonely room, it can be the brightest place on earth if you’re in the sunlit world of the story you’re creating.

7. Don’t feel you need to have worked out the whole plot before you start writing. A lot of American publishers ask for full plot outlines before they’ll agree to supporting an author. However, books that are written once the plot has been agreed can be very by-the-numbers, very then-this-happened-then-this-then-this. Their quality of writing is (arguably, sometimes) low. British publishers still let you work things out as you go along. That makes your writing reflective, complex and surprising.

8. Make life easy for yourself and decide what ‘genre’ you’re going to write in before you start writing anything. Hey! No one else in the writing game is obliged to make life easy for you, so you may as well be your own best friend.

9. Be careful of the ‘author voice’ in your writing. All writing comes from a perspective. That perspective is effectively an extra character in your book. That character can sometimes be a vague and tantalising ghost, and sometimes it can be a wailing banshee that is way too intrusive and can drown out everything else. Some writers get round the problem by writing in the first person: ‘I’. But a lot of readers don’t like books written like that. What I do in my writing is deliberately tell the story from the perspectives of its different characters. I let them ‘own’ the viewpoint… and that makes them more interesting and believable.

10. Put yourself under a bit of pressure. Set yourself a deadline, block out a time every week in your calendar, have your friend lock you in a room where there’s nothing but pen and paper, enter a competition, get a bank manager who’s a monster, whatever – just find something that makes you knuckle down and stick to a weekly writing quota.

No, it’s not easy. Is it all worth it? Even the stress-related hair loss? ‘Course it is. Writing a book involves pouring all of your creativity and passion onto paper, using your intellect to its utmost, and sharing some of the most important ideas you have with others. When you get your first piece of fan mail from someone who isn’t your mum, when someone ‘gets’ your writing and is affected by your ideas, then it all becomes worth it. It’s the highest form of communication, a sort of communication that makes both reader and writer feel different, bigger and better somehow. After all, writers don’t do it for the money (95% of authors make less than £20K a year) – no, they do it for far more important reasons than that. A love of fantasy and a belief that things are possible.

Take it from us at Gollancz, if you haven’t read Empire of the Saviours or Gateway of the Saviours yet, you really should. It’ll make you feel different, bigger and better somehow (This is not a scientifically-backed promise).

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