Ask and ye shall receive, and even if you didn’t ask for it: you’re getting it anyway.
Right, here’s the deal: I was not always thus – way back in the day, I was a sensible everyday kind of chap, but I fell in with a bad crowd. Protowriters. Two lassies from Germany, over in Aberdeen to learn Gaelic and drink proper beer for a change. They were both writing novels, so I thought, ‘what the hell, I’ll give that a go…’ This resulted in ‘212 666’ (subtitled ‘the phone number of the beast’ as it was the number of the dreaded Inland Revenue office in Aberdeen at the time), a jolly romp following two Edinburgh hit men on a tour of the north east of Scotland, clearing their order book. Pursued by both the Inland Revenue and the VAT man – who’s an altogether scarier prospect – for non declared earnings. Sent out to agents and publishers, received some nice comments, including one which said “You have a really, really twisted sense of humour…”, but no takers.
Now it was at this time that I shared office space on Marishall Street – within condom-flinging distance of the heart of Aberdeen’s red light district (more of which in book 2) – and just up the road was the SF+ bookshop. They had a competition: write a science fiction short story and maybe win £100! I had a bash and knocked up ‘Dead Men’s Shoes’ overnight, and walked away with £100 and an embarrassing article in the Press and Journal, Aberdeen’s main newspaper.
Flushed with success I decided to try an SF novel: an action adventure thing set in a near-future Glasgow. A bit heavy on the technobabble, but I was working in the IT / internet industry by then and that was how the people I dealt with day-in-day-out spoke. Once more out to the agents – this time with success. The first place I tried from the ‘Writers and Artists’ Yearbook’, who said they did SF, and they took me on board. Hurrah! Sound bells and trumpets and other noisy things… Only nothing came of it.
So off Stuart goes, still working in IT, and writes a follow-up to ‘Wonderland’ called ‘Halfhead’. Now this, thinks our bearded hero, is going to be the one that does it. This is going to be the one that actually does something… But it’s taken three years to complete (what with getting married, changing jobs two times and moving home) and there is a deadly silence from the agents. Nothing. Letters and emails are sent, letting them know the joyous news: “New Book!”
Silence. Not even the courtesy of a reply.
‘Right’, thinks Stuart, ‘sod you then!’
Back to the yearbook. This time I pick Marjacq Scripts: they boast amongst their clients Rodney Wingfield – guru superman when it comes to police procedurals. This is the man who wrote the superb ‘Touch of Frost’ books, which I cannot recommend highly enough. So away goes sample chapters and the usual whatnot. And back comes an invitation to join the ranks of Marjacq’s clients. Once more with the trumpets and other loud-ish implements. If a little muted with the cynicism born of having been there before. Mark. That was my agent’s name and he was a good one, came back with specific things I could do to polish the book (the last lot were more inclined to give vague, generic feedback that was virtually useless when it came to making alts) and off it went to various publishers.
Then the silence.
And it was during this lull in communications that I wrote a supernatural action adventure thing, which, looking back on it, has its flaws, but also some really kick-ass bits. This book is sent off to Mark the agent, but he can see the flaws in it and says “It’d be really interesting to see what would happen if you were to write a straight serial killer novel.” The inference being ‘stop writing this crap and produce something that people might actually want to read, you hairy-faced bum-hole!’
So I did. But while that was going on Mark had to leave the heady world of publishing (personal reasons) and I passed through a number of hands (still at Marjacq) before falling into the sticky fingers of Phil.
Now a number of people Mark had sent Halfhead to, still had it – no response received as yet – so Phil starts to do his thing and, for once, there’s real interest coming in. It actually looks like that-book-I-thought-would-do-something, is actually going to do something! And it does, in a weird roundabout way…
Jane at HarperCollins gets Halfhead (new submission by Phil) and kinda likes it. So she asks, “What else has this bloke written?” and by a weird freak of serendipity, I’ve just that month finished the straight serial killer novel Mark wanted to see. This goes off to Jane along with the supernatural thing and before you know it, we’re involved in a whirlwind of contracts and international rights deals for Cold Granite.
And the rest, as they say, is home economics.