On a sunny afternoon that never happened, I sat down with myself to find out about my writing journey.
So where did you get the idea for Lightfall?
Well it all began back in 2013, when I was coming towards the end of my first year as a secondary school English teacher.
Sorry, what? You were responsible for teenagers' educations?
That's rude. I wasn't a great teacher, probably wasn't even a good one, but I had my moments.
I'll take your word for it. Anyway, you were saying...
So it was the Easter holidays, and I was walking round the stunning city of York, which is where I go to relax/get inspiration. I was walking round a park and I suddenly thought "hey do you remember when you wanted to be a novelist most of your life? What happened to that?" I'd been writing short stories for years but somehow forgotten my strong desire to write novels. And in a moment, it was back. I needed an idea obviously. I got it on the next day's walk (York is like that). What if you had a world where everyone was immortal? A serious political fantasy world but with vampires and werewolves and sorcerers? Like epic fantasy blended with horror tropes?
It's okay I guess. Not exactly a "school for wizards" genius idea though, is it?
Why am I talking to you again?
So you started writing while teaching, right?
Uh, not quite. I did a bit in the year that followed, but nowhere near as much as I wanted to, because, you know, teaching (Editor's note: there was a long rant about teaching here but if you know a teacher you've already heard it so we don't need to go there). Anyway, I got frustrated at my lack of progress. So I quit teaching at the end of my second year completely, with no real other career lined up.
That was a bold move...
You mean stupid, don't you?
My friends and family were very nice about it but it was a bit risky, yeah. I was broke for about a year, just getting by on private tutoring. Then through a couple of lucky breaks and a lot of blagging I started to build up a career in freelance editing and proofreading. In the meantime, I finished the book very quickly.
Uh, not quite. The Endless Empire, Lightfall's predecessor. Roughly the same characters and kind of the same world, but as well as vampires, werewolves and sorcerers, there were shapeshifters and.... banshees
Yeah, banshees. I was bringing banshees back.
Were they ever gone? Were they ever there?
Anyway... In 2015 I queried The Endless Empire (Editor: that means he sent it off to literary agents).
Exciting, what happened?
Well, I should say at this point that I had no idea what I was doing. Like zero. I did my best to research, but I obviously didn't do it very well, because I can't read back my old queries to agents without shrieking loudly and then cringing in embarrassment. Also my novel, like many first first attempts, had its moments, and I'm very proud of it, but it was also... in need of things. Like more drafts, and less scenes with futuristic sex toys.
This is your way of building up to a monumental amount of rejections, isn't it?
Uh... not a monumental amount. Just 49. Out of 49.
Yes, very much ouch. I did get one request for a full (request to see my full manuscript) from one of my dream agents.
Who then completely ghosted me after I sent the full manuscript.
Oh. Not that you're bitter or anything.
Bitter? Me? I hardly every think about it. Anyway I sulked for about 6 months. A healthy, reflective sulk.
It definitely wasn't, was it?
Again, just rude. After my sulk was over, I started work on what would become Lightfall, a much better (in my opinion, cough) book with the same characters, a similar world but less weirdness and the kind of slightly improved writing you get after having already written 140,000 words of mediocre stuff.
Is that true, though? I heard a rumour you actually spent a year writing a sequel to The Endless Empire, the plan being to self publish the whole series and prove everyone wrong...
We don't talk about that. Anyway at the end of 2020 I sent Lightfall out to my beta readers. Then at the start of 2021 I was about to query it.... but I decided to apply to the Curtis Brown Creative 6-month online novel-writing course first.
Is that one of those fee-paying writing courses you do to increase your chances of getting an agent?
You know you'll never be happy if you're that cynical. But, uh, yes it does have a reputation of being a good course to do if you're serious about going the traditional publishing route in the UK. I'd applied a couple of times previously and not got on, but to my genuine surprise I was accepted onto it this time, which I would've taken as a sign of fate if I wasn't a ruthless nihilist who thinks we're probably all just brains in jars.
How was it?
Honestly? It was great. One of the tutors, a brilliant writer Simon Wroe, helped me completely rewrite my opening chapter, the most important part if you're trying to get an agent. There was a section on writing a good query letter which sorted that side out. I got Zoom time with agents, and my work was brilliantly critiqued by the other people on the course, who all got on so well that we all went on a weekend retreat a couple of months after it finished, and no one was murdered. The course definitely made my novel better, and I'm not sure I would've got an agent without it.
Hold on, you're skipping ahead. Agent?
Yeah, as soon as the course finished (July 2021) I did a final draft based on everything I'd learned, and then in September I sent off nine queries to my dream list of fantasy agents. This time, let's just say I was... more prepared.
I mean, you couldn't have been less prepared than last time.
I'm so glad this interview is almost over. Anyway, I got a very quick reply from Harry Illingworth of DHH Literary, who made me an offer of representation after reading the whole thing. Harry's behind some big fantasy names and has a great reputation...
You want to say he's a big deal, don't you?
Emphatically not. I'm not as arrogant as you. Anyway I signed with him quicker than Usain Bolt reincarnated as a cheetah. After a few months of extensive book-improving edits based on his suggestions, which, like, medieval dental surgery, is very necessary but painful, I'm now on submission, which means my manuscript is with a number of fantasy publishers and I'm waiting to see if any of them want to offer me a book deal.
Are you allowed to reveal that?
I hope so. Otherwise you've ruined my career as well as my mood.
You don't like me, do you?
Are we done now?