MY CIRCULAR WRITING AND PUBLISHING PATH
The story telling journey has, for me, been a circular one – involving reading what I love to write, and writing what I want to read.
I’ve always enjoyed crime fiction, but I equally appreciate good travel writing. When I visit a place, I yearn to read strong stories set there. I started visiting Amsterdam eight years ago when my sister moved there with her husband, and was struck by the dearth of crime fiction set in the Dutch capital (in English translation). This surprised me, given that it’s one of northern Europe’s great port cities, lending itself superbly to the genre.
I’ve also enjoyed the maverick cop stories of Michael Connelly, Ian Rankin and the Scandinavian masters such as the late Henning Mankell … So I set about creating a stoical Dutch police detective, Henk van der Pol, whose beat is in the atmospheric docklands area of Amsterdam. Indeed, I ended up moving there in 2013, in order to deepen my understanding of the story world (and consume Dubbelbock beer and jenever gin in De Druif /The Grape, Henk’s local!).
I began writing the Harbour Master series in novella-length installments – again, a story type I love to read – and was fortunate to have the first two books accepted as Kindle Singles (Amazon’s curated, short e-book programme). They sold well, the first one becoming the number one short story on Amazon UK, and this in turn got me picked up by a good agent – Kirsty McLachlan at David Godwin Associates.
However the very ingredients that had brought me initial success – the novella-length e-books, the high-selling Kindle Singles – turned into a conundrum as my agent began submitting to publishers. While the publishers were complimentary about the stories, they questioned how they could publish collections of novellas as novel-length print books (especially novellas that had already sold in significant numbers as e-books).
In July of this year, I took part in the online crime writing festival BritCrime (@BritCrime), founded by the wonderful Helen Smith. As well as being tremendous fun, the event generated a new focus on my Harbour Master series among bloggers and readers. One couple in Scotland – a husband looking after a wife with a long-term illness – left a particularly nice review after they won a copy of The Harbour Master Collected Edition; these are the things you don’t forget.
Not long after the BritCrime festival, my agent received offers from two publishers, one of which was the crime and noir specialist No Exit Press, who looked past the format of the books to see one continuous story.
The novella length of the initial installments has in fact turned into a positive once more as my agent seeks to sell the TV rights. (Another of my books – a standalone novella set in Luxembourg – was separately optioned for film adaptation, and one of the things I’ve learned from this experience is that it is actually more straightforward to ‘un-pack’ a novella into a screenplay than to adapt a full-length novel … although nothing is easy in film land!).
In parallel, I’m continuing with the Kindle Singles programme. In fact I’ve just released a new, pre-Xmas short story called The Lion Hunter, which was inspired by a combination of Cecil the lion and a recent trip to Tanzania. It’s about a newly married British couple who meet a Texan trophy hunter at a remote game lodge. The lion hunting turns out to be less morally straightforward than the husband bargains for. It really is short at approximately 50 pages. I loved writing it, and I love the creature it’s based around.
What my experience has shown me is that it’s crucial to pay close attention to what truly enthuses us. For me, that was novella-length tales with a strong sense of location – a hybrid of travel and crime writing. These are the stories I love to read, and write.
What enthuses you?
Amazon UK product page: www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0186DYH2Y/
Amazon US product page: www.amazon.com/dp/B0186DYH2Y/