Sunday, 4 June 2017

A nibble!!!

I only sent my submission of Buttercup Sunshine... out on Tuesday. On Friday I got a nibble from one publisher showing interest and wanting to know more about me!

Really, really happy about this because I only targeted four, but also because it's good to know that authors can submit directly and get a positive response. What's good about this is it means a writer can get the contract first, then the agent second. This sounds an upside down way of doing things, but getting the top agents is tough, so approaching them with a deal, rather than just a manuscript, stands you in a very attractive light.

Colin Mulhern





Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Yikes... submission time!

I've just made my first unagented submission. It's only to a couple of publishers to test the water, but I'm fizzing. It's been so long since I sent something out on my own.

The story is a 10,000 word chapter book aimed at younger readers, subtly titled:

Buttercup Sunshine
and the
DEADLY UNDEAD
ZOMBIES OF DOOOOM!

It's probably the silliest thing I've written, but it was great fun. A huge change from the edgy YA stuff. Couldn't resist a scribble of the MC and one of the zombies as I see them.


But I'd also like to leave it up to the editor, and see how they'd like this story presented. 

So... fingers crossed.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

KDP Paperbacks

I think I've reached a whole new level of nerdism. I've done a video blog on the quality of a paperback. But, somewhere out there is another equally nerdy writer desperate to know the quality of KDP paperbacks - are they actually any good? How long does the process take? Do they look like real papery paperbacks you find in bookshops.

Hold onto your seats... it's a white knuckle ride on the crazy wild roller-coaster that is Kindle Direct Publishing.


Sunday, 23 April 2017

Life without a Literary Agent

Can a writer survive without a literary agent?

A few weeks ago I decided to take a step back from the traditional route to publishing and cancel the contract with my agent. A bit of a leap of faith in one respect, and a bit scary in another, especially when you consider that many writers are desperate to get taken on by an agent. After all, if you want to get a manuscript in front of an editor with a major publisher, the only way to do it is via an agent, right? So why give up that chance?

Short version: An agency is a business built on reputations. Agents build up a reputation with sales - rejections are set backs, so pitching a second or third book from a writer that an editor has already rejected is a bit of risk to that reputation. The agent works for the agency first, the writer second.

In my time with my last agency, my first novel scored a contract (18 months later, the publisher had problems and the book didn't come out). However, after that I wrote two other books - one YA, one MG. These got very positive responses, but no contract. Because of that, the next books, (two MG and one YA) simply didn't get pitched - not because they were bad, but because they weren't so fantastic that the agent was sure of a sale.

And that's the crux - the agent has to be sure. And that's fair enough - an agency is a business. But here's the problem - you can't go off to another agent who might love that book, and would be very happy to send it out. You can't, because when you sign to an agent, you agree that all work goes to that agent.

This doesn't make sense - all of your books don't have to go through one editor. Those contracts are on a book by book basis, so why can't we have the same arrangements with agents? If you don't want to represent this book, how about I ask someone else? Nope. That's just not how we work.

The last book I sent to the agent was a short middle grade novel about a zombie attack on a fairytale cottage. I wrote it as a break from the frustration of trying to write for the market. I wanted to write something fun and silly and zany - something our Matthew would have loved. And you know what, I had the best time. I was so proud of the result. I sent it off - my agent liked it, but again, wasn't confident in sending it out. Same thing over again.

Bit of holiday reading
Around the same time, I ordered something through Amazon - a book written by a friend and published directly through Amazon's KDP. No agent. No publisher. The book has some minor formatting issues and a few copy edit issues but you know what? I absolutely loved it. It's an adult horror bloodbath with a story that entertained me for three whole days. It was brutal, stomach churning and completely OTT - Manga meets 90s Splatterpunk.

For some reason, it reminded me of the early copies of VIZ, back in the eighties when the illustrations were messy as hell. VIZ wasn't about quality or pleasing some third party; it was about laughs and an audience that wanted something utterly insane. VIZ had the feel of a punk fanzine. In fact, VIZ was punk through and through.
VIZ, issue 5. One of the first I read.

Which got me thinking about punk music and the bands I liked as a kid. I grew up on a diet of Sex Pistols and Stiff Little Fingers. When I hit my teens I developed a thing for thrash metal, then speed/death metal, indie punk, grunge and industrial goth.

That stuff was never about the sales, never about the big deal. While my older brother followed the likes of KISS and Bon Jovi who could fill arenas, I was into Napalm Death and Gaye Bykers on Acid. I loved the underground stuff: the smelly bars and sticky floors, the weird looking fans, photocopied fanzines, moshpits, murk and meyhem. I used to go to gigs where the place was nearly an empty room - I once saw Extreme Noise Terror with only about fifty people in the audience, but they were amazing.

And so I took another look at the books I'd written - in particular that last MG book. The one I'd written just for the sheer utter, silly fun of it. A book that would never see a publisher so long as I stayed with this agent. So I left, because I realised right there that I'm never going to be Bon Jovi or KISS. My books might never appeal to a huge audience, but I'm okay with that. In fact, I'm better than okay with it - I think I've finally found out the key of being a writer, and that last book was the most fun I've had for years and I want more of that.

Can I survive without an agent?

Don't know. What I do know is that if the only books pitched to editors were the safe books, the ones guaranteed a sale, then we'd have no Bunker Diary, no Watership Down, Lord of the Rings or even Harry Potter. Because in their own way, these books are all punk too.

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Added - The book that got a deal but never came out is available in paperback and ebook from amazon.

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Added - The MG book came out through Maverick as Buttercup Sunshine and the Zombies of DOOOOOM. On the back of that, I got another agent, but the same problems outlined above came back causing frustrations on both sides, and so, exactly two years later, here I am again.

Only this time, I have a plan.

Colin Mulhern

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Notes on Grief

Have you ever seen those model houses with an old woman and an old man that come forward to tell the weather? The old woman means it's sunny and nice; the old man means it's stormy and cold.

Today was my first day back at work after the break. I work in a primary school and I like it. Usually, I'd say I love it (especially Fridays - on Fridays I work in Reception and Nursery. I could write a load of posts on that alone).

Today I was talking to a colleague about Christmas. She initially said she'd had a great Christmas, then added how it was, in fact, pretty bad. Grandparents and falls and broken hips and hospital. That sort of thing. So not really a great Christmas at all. I made a joke that people are inclined to say they've had a good Christmas because that's what people expect to hear, but actually, if you've had a shit holiday, it's good to have it acknowledged from those who understand, because Christmas is a pretty tough time for some.

This year is our second Christmas without Matthew, but things started getting heavy for me around October. I've dealt pretty well with things up until now. I mentioned this and said that I sometimes feel like one of those old models with the old woman and old man. When I'm at school I play a role of the old woman - all sunny and bright. I have fun and genuinely mean all the jokes that get me through the day. But inside, a storm is brewing.

When I get home, I can put the old woman back in the house. The old man steps forward and the bad weather comes with him. And that's not a bad thing, because in all honesty, sometimes it's nice to be the old man. It's nice to allow that side out.

Grief is hard. It comes in waves of different sizes, waves where the dips and peaks can last for months or days, or hours or minutes. Happy times come with their counterparts. What the hell do you call that? Bipolar grief?

One day, I'd like to write a story about this. Not a memoir, but a story, based on all of this. No holds barred, no emotion caged and I'll call it Notes On Grief.

But not yet. Not for a long time. For now, I'm content that I can be the old man in the comfort and safety of my own home, because that means tomorrow, I can be the old woman, and the sun will shine again.

For a while.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

The Girl With All The Gifts


Finally saw the movie. I read the book a couple of months ago and loved it. I first heard about it when it was shortlisted for the 2015 August Derleth award (alongside Station Eleven and that year's winner, the completely brilliant No One Gets Out Alive by Adam Nevill). It took me a long time to get round to it but it was worth the wait.

I read a few early reviews that were quite severe, stating it was an original idea that fell into cliché territory once the main characters left the compound. I can understand the frustration because neither the original cover nor the blurb gave any indication that this was a zombie story. And as zombies are the the modern day luvvies of the horror world, this particular area is getting a tad tedious (but thank god the romantic vampires finally slipped away).

There was a lot I loved about the book. More than anything, the detailed look at zombies at the physiological level. This approach, for me, means The Girl With All the Gifts does for zombies what the Necroscope series did for vampires.

The movie, by comparison was pretty good. It kept very close to the book with two unusual changes - the skin colour of girl and her teacher. For some reason they swap. It doesn't really impact, and anyway, Sennia Nanua is amazing as Melanie. I didn't recognise Glen Close till halfway through, which was round about the time I realised Sergeant Parks was Steve from The World's End. I did like the change in the way the movie dealt with the spores near the end, having them growing up the post office tower rather than filling the streets.

All in all, great book and pretty good movie.

And then I wrote some stuff. 700 words on Daniel's Daughter and 700 on another - more about that in another post. For now, I'm just playing with scenes.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Why you should write really bad scenes

Most writing guides focus on writing good scenes, getting the conflict and tension in there. A bit of detail to add colour and location, good dialogue. I'm going to put forward the argument for bad scenes - the stuff that gets cut.

The problem with focusing on good scenes and top copy is the moment you write a dull scene, you have a good idea that it should be cut, so you cut. And you start again, which leads to frustration and the feeling that you're getting nowhere. I certainly feel that way. And then I read an article by a YA author who said she had to write nearly half a million words to get one particular novel right. If an average YA novel is 70,000 words then that's 430,000 words not needed.

Does that mean they could be avoided?

Well, it got me thinking to how I wrote Clash and Arabesque. Clash actually started as a very different book, something called Get Even, Get Girl, Get Lost, and the story of Kyle and Alex was really just the opening of the book. It wasn't until I came to rewriting the entire novel that I realised Alex was really interesting and the rest of the book paled compared to those first few scenes. Two thirds were cut right there. About 40,000 words, and nothing of that was reused or reworked. It wasn't particularly bad, just nowhere near as strong.

So I began rewriting to develop those first scenes further. The majority of that first chunk was either rewritten or ditched. I think only two scenes of the original draft survived, and both were developed further and rewritten several times over. It was months before I had enough scenes to take a step back and be able to work on the plot.

I couldn't have planned Clash, and I couldn't have written it straight off. It was a mish-mash of good and bad scenes that were eventually hammered into shape.

Yesterday I wrote a scene for my current project (I'm going to call it Daniel's Daughter from now on, just as a working title so I can refer back to it), As a scene, it's okay. It was fun to write. It's got conflict and tension, it fires off questions for the reader and ends on a cliffhanger. But now that it's written I can't help thinking, 'What if...?' and approach the opening a different way. Over the past year or so, this has stumped me again and again and made me rethink, replan and start over. It's that fear of taking a wrong path that has held me back. It's that fear of writing bad scenes - or at least, unnecessary scenes - that holds back development of new ideas. The result of this is a book with lots of good scenes, but not a lot of development - no depth. I've written some clangers over the past few years!

So maybe writing those bad scenes has its place. I know that yesterday's scene probably won't make the final cut, and today's scene might not either. But I do think that writing them is the springboard to the good stuff.

So for now, the scenes stay, and Daniel's Daughter moves a step forward.