Bridge to Certain Death

Getting your first novel into print. It's like taking your hunk of manuscript (lets call it an elephant) across a small bridge that separates you from the publishing world.

It takes a step of courage and faith and madness. You need to keep going even though the chances are the bridge will collapse and you'll plummet to your death.

But heh if a bit of imagination can get Horton over. Then who knows. And authors are good at imagination.

I think.

Just one more step.



Picture from Horton Hears a Who

Behind the Scenes: Part 2 of 3

For part 1 of this Behind The Scenes feature of with Edward Smith click here.

Have you had occasions when things have got heated in author critiques of others work? And if so how have you handled that?

Yes there has. Reader opinion, as with reader opinion for published books, will often be very diverse and we try to get that across to writers. The publishing world is much harsher in its practical consideration of writers potential than anything seen on YouWriteOn. Everyone has different tastes and preferences, and we try to underscore this message and emphasise that it is the collective opinion about their writing that writers should consider overall - rather than individual opinion - that is the most important when considering what works well and what needs developing in their stories.

Do you sit back and let the site police itself then? Or have you had to step in sometimes?

Usually members will have a more philosophical view of reviews that they may have initially been displeased with after letting the review and its points 'settle' over a few days. Either that or they will remove it via the ‘remove one review and rating every eight reviews' function.

It depends on individual circumstances, for example, if a review is really unconstructive then this goes against the ethos of the site and we may remove a review and rating and take this up with the reviewer. This will include forwarding our guide on constructive reviewing. On the other hand, it may be an issue with the writer not being used to viewing critical but constructive advice, which can be a learning curve for new writers. In these cases we may write to the writer and point out the best ways to consider constructive reviews.

Now this is the place where you put the top Questions about the site: Here's one to add to the list: Are there enough quality reviewers on the site that authors stats on average aren't affected by people who don’t really know what they are doing?

We've found the majority of feedback on is very constructive, as budding writers who review others usually appreciate what it is to want to receive helpful feedback. The collective feedback from readers negates the influence of any out-of-sync minority individual reviews, members can also remove one review and rating every eight reviews, and this all ensures the best stories rise to the top. I think the ‘proof of the pudding' is that the site's members and literary professionals alike have commented on the very high quality of stories reaching the top of the charts. Including our editor reviewers at Bloomsbury and Orion. Sara O'Keefe, from Orion, commented,

"On YouWriteOn, the standard of work is much higher than on the slush pile."

Looks like you have picked up some press on your Press Page. What would you say though to the criticism that writers of true talent would not need to enter a voting contest?

Though we do have a chart system and annual book awards, the site's less a competition and more a development site at its core. It's a place where writers of all levels can get feedback to help them develop their stories, and, for the highest rated, gain literary professional feedback and attention.

The majority of the UK's largest publishers have closed their slush piles for unsolicited submissions, and development systems like help fill the gap. We provide feedback to help writers develop that it is no longer really possible to get from an inundated publishing industry. The main reason the slush-piles were closed was because it was so hard to spot the gems amongst all the submissions. Agents and publishers like the chart 'filtering' system that highlights the best stories.

I believe feedback sites fill the gap to help all writers develop and also are a more effective way to help talented writers develop and come to the attention of leading publishing professionals like on

Next week I ask Edward about YouWriteOn's new venture with Legend Books and his thoughts on the publishing industry today.

If you want to join click here.

For part 3 of this interview click here.

Behind the Scenes: Part 1 of 3

Easter is here and with it a new feature at The View From Here. I'm adding a Behind The Scenes series, the first of which is with the site is a free website to help new writers develop, and to help talented writers get noticed and published. So let's kick back the virtual doors and see what lies behind the pages ....

Open up!

And Hi to Edward Smith from the team, thanks for giving us a backstage tour.

This looks like the
the Simple Guide to getting started we're in front off, how long has being going for Edward and who originally started it? began in late 2005. It was started by me, along with authors Martyn Bedford and Phil Whitaker who devised the ratings system, and the site was designed by Zarr.

How did you go about approaching literary agents and publishers? And how were you received?

Initially it was similar to a writer submitting a manuscript to a busy literary agent. The feedback was limited, I'm sure because the immediate reaction was that they couldn't publish a website! Agents are very busy, and, quite rightly perhaps for an unknown, the initial replies ranged from a scribbled 'Sounds like a good idea' on our letter, to a downward scribble of 'I can't see how this would work.' But then JK Rowling was rejected by 12 publishers, so, as with writing, it was all about perseverance and believing in what you have to say.

Our big break, from literary agents, was when Joanna Devereux from Pollinger agreed early on to be involved and provide critiques for highly rated writers. This really appealed to YouWriteOn's budding writers. It's so difficult to get feedback from inundated publishing professionals these days.

After we became established, The Christopher Little Literary Agency, JK Rowling's Agent, and the head of Curtis Brown replied to us with interest in getting involved on the same day that we contacted them. I think it's the same with writing, you have to make things happen for yourself, and it can be a hard slog. Then once you achieve success, as with most things, people start to come to you instead of the other way round. For example, we've had top agencies like Bonomi Associates and the Annette Green Literary Agency contact us in the last two months and they consider highly rated stories on site.

Behind us now is the Top 10 chart. It's like Top of the Pops! Edward what has been one of your greatest success stories?

A story called Caligula by Doug Jackson, which received a 6 figure book deal from Transworld. Doug's success encapsulated how we envisaged's processes working at their best. His opening chapters of his story (then entitled The Emperor's Elephant) were voted to the top of the YouWriteOn Charts by fellow members, and,as a Top 5 member, he received a free YouWriteOn professional critique from Orion senior editor Sara O'Keeffe. Sara advised Doug on development of his story using her indepth knowledge of the story genre of action-adventure and historical fiction, which involved advising Doug to take the story in a completely different direction. This was a hard challenge, but Doug developed his story using Sara's advice and his other feedback. The result was his six figure book deal.

And here is the Best Sellers Chart by Book Genre. Do you find certain genres fair better than others Edward?

We've found on the whole that a great story and appeal will rise above genre preferences. All genres, including ones that may not be perceived as the most popular, have seen success on YouWriteOn. We often see reviews that rave about highly rated stories beginning 'I don't normally read this genre but .."

This looks like the Staff room, how do you foster a sense of team as a virtual company?

By keeping in touch, attempting unsuccessfully to be charming, but mainly forwarding payments on time!

Who are on the staff ?

Me, our literary professionals (see YouWriteOn About Us page) and the Zarr team who design and add features to the site. Not forgetting Assignment Robot, who runs the review exchange system, and his companion, Help Dog. We try not to mention the latter two too much, as Assignment Robot is actually a recycled toaster. We are very adaptable about who and what we will consider for staff in this high-tech world, ideally, though, we prefer staff whose vocabulary extends beyond barking.

Get off Help Dog! Listen come back next week after I find the first aid kit and follow me deeper into the site as I ask Edward about what happens when authors throw spanners into the works and asks him how he would respond to criticism that writers of true talent should not need to enter a voting contest. Get off me, down, I said down!

If you want to join click here.

Have a great Easter!

For part 2 click here.

For a printed edition of this interview go here.

Remember How to Die

The grey stone hides its meaning,
Bolivian soldiers on a cold November evening.

The sun dances drawing shared feelings,
Friendship together footsteps reeling.

Inside their room an empty space,
Hidden treasures in the look of her face.

If only the dead could take on life,
Kiss her again from Hade's knife.

Out into the sepia, "Fuego" comes the cry,
Bullets tear as they remember how to die.

Mike French March08

Men in Space: WINNER

Last week:

ALMA BOOKS are giving away a signed hardback copy of Men in Space by Tom McCarthy to go with his interview on The View From Here.

For a chance to win, tell me what you would graffiti on the wall in the picture opposite.

Tom agreed to choose the winner for us...

"In the absence of any obscene words or images, I choose JafaGirls Rock. I like it. It's enigmatic. You see it and wonder who JafaGirls are, or if it's a command (like the expression Finnegans Wake could be), and you think of Jaffa Cakes, and rocks. Yup, that one gets my rosette. Hope she/he likes the book."

Thanks Tom and well done JafaBrit a signed copy of Tom's book in the post to you!


BLOG idol

I made this short promo for GO! Smell the Flowers.

Check it out, it's a lot of fun!

FAV it, Rate it and comment at it at YOUtube to help it get to a wider audience!

Let me know what you think and if you want to enter BLOG idol yourself then visit GO! Smell the Flowers here!


Tom McCarthy at the Barbican: What is Art?

Tom McCarthy:

I'll be delivering my 'Red Paper on Terrestrial Art' to the Alien Affairs Committee of Mars, at the Martian Museum of Terrestrial Art in the Barbican Art Gallery, at 6.30 pm on Thursday March 20th.

It's free with entry to the exhibition Martian Museum of Terrestrial Art, which is well worth seeing anyway.

For the purposes of the Red Paper, I'm agent 083TOM33McC5THY, who has infiltrated the London art world ith a view to reporting back exactly what 'art' is, how it operates etc.

The report is also published in the book accompanying the exhibition, 'Encyclopaedia of Terrestrial Life Volume VIII: Martian Museum of Terrestrial Art' (Barbican Art Gallery/Merrell Press 2008).

Sounds good. For more details visit here.

So what is art?

Let me know your view in the comments below!


Mike Interviews: Tom McCarthy Part 3 of 3

Mike Interviews

Part 1 of the interview can be found here.

Part 2 of the interview can be found here.

Win a signed hardback copy of Men in Space here.

The book cover for Men in Space and the new cover for Remainder are kept simple with clean uncluttered designs. Did you have any say in them and do you think it is important to have a cover that reflects the book, or gets the book off the shelf?

I really don't have an opinion on this one. I once saw a crazy cover for an early paperback edition of Heart of Darkness, and it had Kurtz (who appears in the book for about two pages) looking all macho and heroic like Burt Lancaster or someone, and his African mistress (who appears for about one sentence) standing all brooding and sexy right beside him.

Are you content to stay within the "art world" or do you want your work to reach more of a mainstream audience?

Remainder's a bestseller in the US, and I don't think there are enough artists there to make that happen on their own, so other people must be reading it too! The Alma edition's been in the 3-for-2 piles of all the big bookshops here as well, so that's pretty mainstream. It broke out of the art circuit even with the Metronome Press edition in that all the mainstream papers were writing about it. And the movie version that Film4 are making certainly isn't shaping up to be an arthouse film. I don't have preconditions about who I want to read my books: the more the merrier.

I didn't know about the film. Can you tell us a bit about it and what involvement you have?

It's being produced by a partnership of Film4 and Cowboy Films, who won an Oscar with their last collaboration on The Last King of Scotland. The script's been written by John Hodge, who wrote the script for Trainspotting. I've read it; it's good. Officially I don't have any involvement, but they're keeping me in the loop. Plus, when they film the re-enactments, with loads of back-up people and back-up back-up people standing around in the background with clipboards, I want to be one of the most insignificant of those people, someone whose head you see from behind for half a second.

What art presses and small publishers would you recommend to an author trying to get literary work into the public arena?

I finished Remainder in a kind of gap, when the older great independent publishers like John Calder and Marion Boyars were in decline, Granta weren't doing fiction and smaller presses were getting swallowed up by conglomerates or going bust. Now it's much better: Alma have bought Calder and revived his remarkable list, Granta are firing on all cylinders, and new art-literature crossover ventures like Sternberg Press in America or Bookworks here are taking off. There are also smaller presses like Twisted Spoon in Prague and Social Disease here. Things are getting better; it was dreadful for a while.

What advice would you give fellow writers?

Read voraciously, and don't go anywhere near a 'creative writing' class.

Thanks Tom, it's been great talking with you. I'm looking forward to reading your future stuff and seeing the film when it comes out.

Don't hold your breath. These things take ages.


Mike Interviews: Tom McCarthy Part 2 of 3

Mike Interviews

Part 1 of the interview can be found here.

Win a signed hardback copy of Men in Space here.

How did you feel about Metronome's response, "If people want it, they can go to the ICA." to Waterstones request to stock Remainder?

Metronome Press was an art project, run by two curators, launched firmly from within the art world and its networks. Having one foot in that world myself, I'd noticed that that was the environment in which people actually read proper literature rather than the latest Booker/Richard-and-Judy crap. So I was happy for them to take that stance. Perhaps at the time I wasn't, but in retrospect I thought it was pretty cool; and as it worked out, bigger publishers would bring out their own editions of Remainder later and put them in Waterstones and every other shop. The Metronome edition was just a limited run thing anyway.

The title of your first book "Remainder", is the same term used for books returned by retailers that are not sold. Was this an intentional joke on your behalf and how confident were you that the book would sell?

I was aware of the bookselling connotation of the term 'remainder', and liked it, but it wasn't the main one. I was thinking mainly of residues, marks, traces, things left behind; also the half in the eight-and-a-half million pound settlement the hero receives. I had no idea if the book would sell a lot or not; the question didn't cross my mind. What interested me was the kind of critical response it would get.

Whilst reading "Remainder", I was reminded of Mark Haddon's book, "The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night-Time", which deals with a boy who has autism. I was struck by the similarity of how someone with autism sees everything in minute detail and how your main character similarly tries to reconstruct his memories with a fanatical attention to detail. Mark says that he didn't do any research and just wrote from the voice of his character in his head. How did you approach this with your character?

I read some books about trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder,and interviewed two people who'd been in bad accidents. But my character's main impulse - to repeat and reconstruct - was there right from the outset.

In your acknowledgments in your new book, 'Men in Space', you say the manuscript 'started as a series of disjointed, semi- autobiographical sketches.' Is it mainly through the character, Nicholas Boardaman that these autobiographical bits are revealed, or did your experiences colour each of the main characters?

I knew all of those people, really well. Nick is the one who most corresponds to myself - but they're all based on people who were in Prague in the early nineties.

What made you decide not to split the book up into chapters?

It's split into sections, but rather than divide them by numbers I put five stars in between each, which is a motif from the book. I think I had in mind the way Pynchon divides the sections of Gravity's Rainbow with those holes you get at the edge of strips of film.

Read the final part of this interview tomorrow.

For part 3 click here.

COMPETITION: Win a signed copy of Men in Space


ALMA BOOKS are giving away a signed hardback copy of Men in Space by Tom McCarthy to go with his interview on The View From Here.

For a chance to win, tell me what you would graffiti on the wall in the picture opposite.

Spray paint your answer in the comments.

Tom McCarthy himself will pick the winner - so make them cutting, eye catching and even slightly obscene - it is graffiti after all!

Competition closes Thursday 13th March.

Good Luck!


(Read Part 1 of my interview with Tom here.)

Mike Interviews: Tom McCarthy Part 1 of 3

Mike Interviews

I thought I'd kick this interview off with Tom's agent Jonny Pegg from Curtis Brown. I asked him about Tom and he had this to say:

It's been a joy to see Tom's talents recognized, but I'm most excited about what's to come. Tom combines genuine originality with a passion for the big ideas of art, philosophy, science and literature, and to me this promises an oeuvre rich in both trademark qualities and new directions. Having seen a little of his work in progress, I can say 'watch this space' with confidence.

Tom McCarthy is the author of Remainder and recently Men in Space, he has also written TinTin and the Secret of Literature, a non fiction book.

Tell me a bit about yourself.

I was born in 1969 and grew up in Greenwich.

What's your ideal night out/in?

I once woke up to find, on my coffee table, a pair of skimpy knickers, white powder residue and an open copy of Francis Ponge's 'La Partie Pris des Choses'. I can't remember what I'd done the night before - but whatever it was, that's my perfect night.

What is your favorite book?

'The Sound and the Fury' by William Faulkner.

When did you start writing?

When I was very young. My mother told me the story of Macbeth and I thought: that's great, I'll write it. So I borrowed a neighbour's typewriter and wrote 'Macbeth, by Tom McCarthy'. The neighbour said: 'Shouldn't it be 'by William Shakespeare?' and I asked: 'Why?' I was right. Someone wrote Macbeth before Shakespeare too. I don't think I finished my version; somewhere around Act II I went and played outside instead.

How did you get involved in the International Necronautical Society and what is the INS?

The INS is a construct, just like the IMF or Catholic Church are constructs - and like all constructs, it involves both fictions and realities. I founded it because I was interested in the modes and procedures of early twentieth century avant-gardes - manifestos, committees, proclamations and denunciations and so on - and wanted to use that 'found' format in a contemporary cultural environment. I was also interested in continental philosophy and modernist literature, and death is a central theme in both of these. So I set up the INS, appointed philosophers and artists to the First Committee, and pretty soon we had a whole international network of agents and associates.

What was the reason behind you writing Tintin and the Secret of Literature and how was that received?

Granta asked if I wanted to write a book on Freud or Derrida or someone like that, and I said: 'Well, if I write about HergĂ© I can write about Freud, Derrida and whole bunch of other people – plus it'll be much more fun.' It was received well for the most part. There were one or two hilarious English reviews in which you could virtually see the reviewer's veins bursting with little-England rage at the book's continental bent.

How did you come to the attention of agent, Jonny Pegg and what effect did it have on you getting such a good agent?

I was represented initially by Jonny's predecessor Mike Shaw; when Jonny took over, he inherited me. I was very lucky: he's the best there is here. In the US I'm represented by Melanie Jackson, who's also magnificent, so I'm doubly lucky.

How did you feel when Metronome Press picked up your first novel Remainder?

I knew Clementine Deliss; she'd talked with me a year or so earlier about this project she wanted to do, publishing contemporary fiction in a format that emulated Maurice Girodias's Olympia Press of the fifties and sixties, right down to the layout of the books and the release of small 'Teaser' pamphlets in which excerpts from the novels mingled with soft porn. I thought it was a great idea, not least because Olympia published everyone worth reading back then: Nabokov, Burroughs, Trocchi, the lot. So when she asked if I had anything I happily showed her Remainder and was delighted for it to come out in that context.

Tomorrow: Part 2 and a chance to win a signed copy of Men in Space from ALMA BOOKS, Tom's publisher.
Friday: Part 3 , where Tom talks about the film, Film4 are making of Remainder.

For this interview in the printed edition of TVFH visit here.

Picture Credit: Alisa Conan

For part 2 click here.

The Irresistible Competition: WINNER

Last week I ran a competition to win a hardback edition of The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce by Paul Torday.

Let me jog your memory:

TNMWWTTW is a mnemonic that Wilberforce uses to remember a dramatic incident in his life.

Come up with your own phrase to fit the letters above, like for example ...

The northward migrating whales will tickle their women.

Well there were some great entries, but one stood out above the rest as it was so damn clever. So well done JP33 with this as the winning entry ...

Talented narration mourning windfall whizzkid turned to wine.

(the 8 word synopsis) ;-)

A copy of Paul's book on its way. Nice one.


Mark Stanton talks to The View From Here

Mark Stanton, or "Stan" is Paul Torday's agent. I asked him about working with Paul Torday and about Paul's new book, The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce, and he was kind enough to reply ...

Paul is an ideal client. He's assiduous and talented, takes constructive criticism well, and while he always takes a great interest in the publishing process is always happy - when push comes to shove - to leave key decisions to his publisher (who he has formed an excellent relationship with).

His new novel - IIOW - while dealing with darker issues than SALMON FISHING, is a joy to read. It retains the same humanity, imagination and interest in the world that marked out his debut, while showcasing a multi-faceted talent.

In IIOW, Paul has achieved something quite remarkable - to reveal his 'ending' at the novel's outset; then, whilst working backwards - chronologically - maintaining the reader's interest and giving them a deeply poignant and emotive ending.

It is, in my opinion, a superior novel to SALMON FISHING.

I have a huge respect for Paul and the way in which he tackles, and approaches, his writing. While he evidently loves to write there must always be days when it becomes a chore - yet, no matter what, Paul produces page after page - novel after novel - of wonderful work.

Thanks Stan.

Stan is part of Jenny Brown Associates visit them here.