Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Road To Rapture

The Road to Rapture

Like many authors, my path to mainstream publication has been somewhat rocky. I’ve had to sidestep some rather large boulders and avoid a few snares. Once, I even got trapped by quicksand.
Even though I’d always had aspirations to be a writer, I didn’t immediately pursue it as a serious career option. Why? Because let’s face it – it’s very difficult to make a living as a full time writer (especially now when I have a mortgage to pay and a wife and small child to support).

So I put thoughts of writing on the back burner and concentrated on surviving in the real world. Of course, I’ve never been terribly practical so my idea of surviving in the real world consisted of picking a career with very few practical applications and hardly any job opportunities.

After a brief stint as an officer cadet in the army, I decided that archaeology was my thing, primarily because I was really interested in all things ancient and also because I’d watched Indiana Jones far too many times. What a glamorous life, I thought. Traveling the world, having adventures, fleeing from bow wielding savages – that sort of thing. The reality was altogether different.

So I did my undergrad in ancient history and archaeology and then went on to complete my Masters in the latter. Sure, I went on digs and had a lot of fun fossicking around in the dirt but what about adventures? What about world shaking discoveries? Nope. Nada. I spent a lot of time in labs though counting shells and examining use-wear on stone tools.

To be honest, I didn’t mind the times fiddling about with stone tools. How to make a living out of it though?  I know! I’ll work at a museum. So, off to another university to study how to be a museum curator. When I finished, I got a job working at an historic house museum. Interesting but I still felt strangely unfulfilled.

It was at that point that I decided to travel. I arrived in London having no idea what I was going to do. I strolled up to the British Museum thinking I’d get some amazing and fascinating job that would make all my friends jealous. Instead, they offered me a job in administration (I can touch type) with a promise that the first junior assistant curator role would be mine. At the same time, my brother, who worked for a recruitment firm in London, urged me to apply for a job recruiting I.T staff. I was young and stupid and the job paid three times as much as the one at the museum. Guess which one I chose?

So, I worked in recruitment for four years. Didn’t like it much and to be honest, I don’t think I was really that good at it. I traveled a lot – around Europe and the UK and started to think more about writing. I wrote about my adventures and my friends said I should give the whole writing thing another go. While this thought was percolating, my brother decided to return to the southern hemisphere (via Africa) where he planned to set up his own company. Did I want in? Yes, I said, mostly because I love my brother and liked adventures.

The recruitment company was doing well but I still felt dissatisfied. I started working at Sydney University in the evenings with a view to choosing a topic for my PhD thesis. Eventually though, I realized that even if I finished my doctorate, it was still very difficult to get a decent job.

At that point, I realized that yes, I did still want to be a writer. I sold my share of the company to my brother and took a year off. I retreated to the country and rented the wooden cabin my brother had just bought. This was the life, I thought. Writing – check. Wooden cabin – check. To all appearances, I was a proper writer. Completed novel – check. Well sort of. It took me a year but I finally finished it and then started shopping it around. You know how much interest it generated from publishers and agents? Zilch. This writing gig, I decided, wasn’t easy.

Eventually, I ended up publishing it myself but I was no closer to becoming a full-time novelist. I then decided to become a teacher. I loved learning and I figured I could impart this passion on children. Besides, I could still try and live the dream in the holidays. So back to University.
Shortly thereafter, I got married to my lovely wife, Rose (who has always been my biggest fan). I taught. I wrote. I finished my second novel (a middle grade one) and got myself an agent who shopped it around to publishers for two years. Publishing deals: zero.

Around this time, I met a friends’ sister in law at a party who was an editor at Penguin. She knew I was a writer and a teacher and asked me to submit some ideas for a series she was working on. To my surprise, she accepted it and this became my first properly published book. 

This led to many more – mostly with educational tie-ins. My publishers these days include not only Penguin but Macmillan, Cengage, Oxford University Press, Iversen and Pearson. I enjoyed (and still do) writing these children’s books but they weren’t novels which I was passionate about.
My first novel was adult sci-fi and to be fair, pretty silly. My second, whilst a little more serious, possibly suffered from my lack of writing experience (although my publisher for Pear Jam books is currently considering it after I’ve finished the Rapture trilogy).

Then I started reading about the Rapture. I was fascinated. I was hooked. If only I could turn the concept into a novel (which had been done before, of course, with the Left Behind series). I needed a twist though – something different. I threw in elements I loved – demons, swords etc and suddenly I realized that I had an idea that worked (for me at least).

I wrote half of it and sent it off to a professional manuscript assessor. She loved it - realizing immediately what my target audience and market was.

I finished it and armed with her glowing report, I started sending it off to agents and publishers. I had interest from agents in NY and L.A. I sent it off to a big publisher here who loved it and forwarded to her colleague in NY (I never heard back). Even Stephanie Meyer’s agent requested it. Publishing deals: still zero. I was still getting partial and full requests when I got – to quote Al Capone – an offer I couldn’t refuse.

My manuscript assessor (Jill Marshall - an internationally best-selling author in her own right) had decided to set up her own publishing house. She’d already signed a dozen authors. She wanted to publish Rapture and not only that – wanted to make it a trilogy. How could I possibly say no? Well, I couldn’t obviously.

Around the same time, my wife and I received some bad news. We’d been trying for a baby for several years. We’d tried everything but the end result was no baby. We’d basically been told it wasn’t going to happen. So we gave up. And then… around the same time I finished Rapture, Rose told me she was pregnant. The timing was nothing short of miraculous. Jack is ten months old now (at this precise moment, he is tugging on my leg) and I didn’t believe that I could love anyone more than my wife.
So here I am over a year later. The second book (Tribulation) is done and out in October. The third book (Apocalypse) I hope to complete by the end of the year.

I still enjoy teaching. Even if I was in the position to write full-time (I’m not there yet), I would still teach. But I need to write. My goal now is to write two novels per year. They may not be any good but time will tell. I’m a much more efficient writer now. Given some space, I can finish a novel in a couple of months. Why? Because time is much more precious now. I work hard at my day job and write in the weekends and holidays, trying desperately to fit some quality family time in.

What has this journey taught me? What advice can I give to up and coming writers? Persevere. Develop a thick skin. Keep writing. And writing. And writing. You’ll get better (I like to think I have). Being a writer isn’t easy but the rewards and satisfaction of seeing your novel on the shelves in bookshops is perhaps one of the best sensations in life.

1 comment:

  1. awesome road to publication

    i'm so waiting for book two