Having published in science fiction, I wanted to write a thriller with a scuba diving context, as it’s my other passion. As usual, I took my manuscript to the Writers Workshop Festival o f Writing at York in September 2015. It had already been favourably reviewed by both WW and Cornerstones, so I was really hoping for a breakthrough.
I had three 9 minute one-to-ones with two agents and an editor all, on the same day. One was brutal, told me to go read more thrillers and start again. The second said the first chapter really didn’t do it for her, not enough engagement with the heroine, and why was it set in Penzance and not somewhere more exotic like London or Tokyo? The third also said chapter one wasn’t working: not exciting enough for a thriller, needs to be higher-octane.
That evening I had rather a lot to drink, and my York writing buddies (Craig, Jeremy, Helen and others) consoled me. The next day I skipped the lectures and sat down to forge a rescue plan. On the way home to France, I rewrote chapter one and set it in London, added a helicopter ditching in the Thames and a cyber-attack. Okay for higher octane, but not for heroine engagement. So I took a scene, a flashback from chapter 15 that everyone had said was hard-hitting, and made it into a prologue.
Back in Paris my writers group said chapter one was now too Jason Bourne-ish. I reminded them it was a thriller. They liked the new prologue. I worked for another few months, and then started sending it to agents in November. By April I’d sent it to twenty agents and five publishers. Half responded within a week, a quarter within a month, the rest never. The feedback was generally pretty good, but no takers. Then a publisher asked for the whole MS, liked it, but said they had decided to stop doing thrillers. I found myself logging onto CreateSpace, staring at the options, and seriously wondering about finding a new way to spend hundreds of hours.
Then I got an offer from a medium-sized American publisher, a 3 Ebook deal with an option to go to paperback if it sold well. I pondered. Shortly afterwards, I got a letter from Carina UK, aka HarperCollins, again for a 3 Ebook deal. I signed with Carina. It was still Ebook (maybe paperback later), but it was HarperCollins!
Since then, things have moved pretty fast. I met my editor at HarperCollins at their offices in London next to the Shard. During my tour of one of the Big 5 publishers, I felt like Harry Potter arriving at Hogwarts. I met the woman who picked my submission pack out of the slush pile (she said she loved it right off), and I met the cover designer, too (her cover design blew me away!). My editor had a lot of comments, but over the next few months and intensive editing rounds, she helped me raise my game by asking tough questions about the plot, the characters, pacing, setting, and the protagonist’s emotions during a couple of particularly harrowing scenes. We didn’t agree on everything, but the book has really improved. It’s under a slight pseudonym (JF Kirwan) as Carina wanted to keep some distance between my Scifi books and the thriller series, as they are different genres. 66 Metres launches on August 25, available on Amazon and elsewhere. I’m now writing the sequel.
I want to say a big thank you to The York FESTIVAL OF WRITING (The Writers’ Workshop) and the agents/editor who gave me hard-to-hear feedback. My advice to others trying to get published is to use these venues, and listen to what the professionals say, and try out their suggestions. If you don’t like the result, go back to what you had before. But like me, in trying to prove them wrong, you just might prove them right.