The Crime Readers' Association

Mick Finlay: Diary of a Debut Author #2

6th March 2017

My book, Arrowood, is going to be published at the end of this month, and a lot’s been happening in preparation. The cover, now in its fifth version, has been agreed. The first two had a silhouette of a man in Victorian garb, his back to the reader, running through the fog past a street lamp. The next version, used for the review copy, was a map of Victorian London. I really liked that one, but the feedback from booksellers and the publishers was that it wasn’t immediately clear what type of book it was. Now we’ve gone back to having a figure, but this one is much more eye-catching. Instead of running, the detective’s staring into an inferno, deep in thought – it looks dangerous and troubling.

The design process has taken the best part of six months, and I didn’t realize how personal it was going to feel. It was like someone was designing a new face for me. Sally Williamson, my editor (HQ Harper Collins), did a great job of showing me each version and taking my comments seriously, and I’ve learnt a few things along the way. At first, I was only thinking about what appealed to me visually. Now I understand that for a debut crime author the cover also has to convey the genre and setting of the book to readers who don’t know who you are. My agent, Jo Unwin, said in an interview that writers don’t necessarily know what type of book they’ve written. Seeing what covers your agent and publisher fit to your book really makes it clear how they see it, and it does slightly alter how you see it yourself.

In my last Diary of a Debut Author post, I talked about the long wait between signing my contract and publication, and how I’d begun to ruminate over all the little details. After the diary was published on the CRA website, I even found myself obsessing over that, wanting to change lines, cut out paragraphs, add details. My day job is an academic in a Psychology Department, so I naturally wondered why my brain was doing this to me. Writing fiction encourages you into obsessive and pedantic habits. When you write a novel, you need to keep in mind hundreds of fluid details, and, when you change one of those details, you need to be able to track back over hundreds of pages where you might need to change other things to make it fit. Sometimes when you change a small detail something magical happens: it can lead a reader to understand other aspects of the plot or a relationship differently without the writer having to change anything else. This can be very exciting, because characters and plotlines can suddenly have depths and complexities you never expected. Even the tone of the story can transform in ways you didn’t plan.

Initially I wasn’t sure how to tell people I was having a book published, or whether I should at all. It felt arrogant somehow. My closest friends knew I was writing, but most others didn’t. As publication day got nearer, it began to feel dishonest not telling people. On the other hand, dropping it into the conversation felt like boasting. Sometimes now, with publication only weeks away, I find myself leading the conversation in a certain way so a friend will ask a question that gives me the opportunity to tell them. It always feels manipulative, even though the good will and enthusiasm of people I tell has been amazing. A case of over-thinking it? Maybe, but it’s the writing’s fault.

I knew being a modern author wasn’t just about writing, but I’m beginning to understand the extent of it now. A few months ago, my publishers trained me to use Twitter. I set up my account and sent a few tentative tweets which were immediately ‘liked’ and ‘retweeted’ by everyone at the publishers. I knew they were encouraging me, patting me on the head as I learned to become a functioning 21st century writer. It was nice, though. I liked it. Now I’ve built up a massive 98 followers, most of whom I’m sure have muted me. I also had a PR meeting, where I learned that they’d be sending out review copies to book bloggers, newspapers and magazines. This became something I thought about a lot, and well before the first review appeared I was nervously checking the internet to see if anybody had read it. I discovered Goodreads and NetGalley, and the world of book bloggers who do an amazing job of supporting books and readers.

I’ve had lots of luck recently. My publishers and agent have managed to get me booked to do some speaking events: the Aye Write literary festival in Glasgow with Michelle Birkby in an event called ‘Sherlockish’; a Q & A at the Somerset House Book Club; a book signing at Goldsboro Books in London; and an interview with BBC Radio Sussex. And while I’m trying to finish my sequel (already a month overdue!), TV rights to the book have been optioned by Cave Bear (Tiger Aspect). I went to meet them and was struck almost dumb to find Kathy Burke sitting on the sofa in the meeting room having read my book. Hearing someone you’ve never met tell you how much they enjoyed your story and characters feels amazing, and it makes all the years of becoming a writer worth it. Kathy’s a Londoner, just like Arrowood, and she picked out all the elements that were most important to me in the book. I’m sure all writers would tell you this is absolutely the best thing that can happen. I left the meeting stunned. Even now, a couple of months later, I’m still a little stunned.

Arrowood will be published on March 23, 2017 by HQ (Harper Collins).

Mick Finlay

Twitter: @mickfinlay2

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