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February 2021. After an odd year of working through the pandemic and spending a lot of time in the car on my own as an essential worker (nothing glamorous or heroic like a nurse, but a project manager in the power generation and waste industry), I was once again in the car on my own driving along mostly deserted roads. I would have preferred desserted roads with ice cream and apple pie.
Passing through the sleeping streets of Swindon heading for the M4 my mind began to wander and think upon all that happened in the previous year through multiple lockdowns, isolations, social distancing and the public learning what furlough and the R value meant. As often commented we had lived through unprecedented times and much of life had changed, likely forever. Blowing out birthday candles and expecting people to eat the spittle covered food was now tantamount to biological warfare.
It occurred to me that 2020 would be a (hopefully) unique year and an ideal backdrop for a novel. Relationships had been tested during the year and it became the make or break of some. For those still in the market it began a confusing period where even dating was illegal at times. An invisible threat had put the breaks on many life plans to find ‘the one’ and settle down, or even just to take someone home for Netflix and chill. During a recent run I’d passed a couple several times who were walking around the local lake at the required two metre distance and from the snatches of conversation I picked up it became clear this was a very awkward first date. Thankful not be alone during the pandemic and having the support of my wife and family, I began to formulate a story arc of two singletons thrown together by the events of 2020. By the time I arrived in Bridgwater I had the entire story mapped out in my head with the key scenes and I sat in the car park of Greggs jotting down notes before it left my mind as it was destined to shortly be replaced by performance testing characteristics of generator sets.
In those brief 20 or 30 lines I got down everything I needed and emailed it back to myself. I had a full story. If felt like it would be a good story. Under no delusion that I had devised a work to rival 1984 or Catcher in the Rye I was hopeful it could be an enjoyable read and a compelling tale that might help capture the events of the past 12 months. If still around in a decade it could be picked up by a holidaymaker on a lounger who’d laugh and recall the odd year where we didn’t leave the house and could only meet up with family if they formed a sports team or came to your house to quote for building works. All that was left was to write it.
The advantage of a defined story arc is I could drop in wherever I wanted and work on the key chapters that appealed to me whenever I had the opportunity to write. Being my first novel I found it far slower to progress than the previous two non-fiction works. Even the simple matter of inserting quotation marks and formatting the conversation correctly added to the process. It’s far easier to state that “Bob and I discussed dinner and went to the curry house” than it is to outline the conversation, the setting, our motivation and what we were wearing. Did Bob reluctantly agree to the curry or was he jubilant at the decision?
By June I had most of the book written and planned to finish it off over a holiday booked on a UK cruise. Unable to sail their usual routes some companies were offering cruises that never left UK waters, avoiding the issue of travelling and border entry checks by simply idling around the UK coast as a mobile hotel. In reality the timetable was busier than I expected and I had the first physical copies of my second book Ducking Long Way delivered so was keen to read that again, praying that no mistakes had made it through the proof reading.
Back home I realised I needed to make the final push and get it finished. 25th August it was done. Being conscious that I was a bloke writing a book very much from the dual perspective of a man and a woman as the lead characters I elected to give a copy to my wife for honest feedback and comment. It was truly scary. My running books were written for runners. I was a runner therefore largely confident it was something that the target market would relate to and enjoy. This was a novel written for everyone to (hopefully) enjoy. What if she turned around and asked what this steaming pile of stupidity was that I subjected her to?
Fortunately the response was positive. She read the whole thing within a few days, making a list of comments or corrections, but largely minor in nature. None of the suggestions were “burn this excuse for literature before anyone else has to read it” which was a relief.
It should be noted that in one scene I had the main female character looking for a dress for her first date and pondering something with ‘side-boob’ (a nod to Family Guy). I was firmly advised that no woman in history has ever set out to show side boob and to correct it. The market research continued as she asked every female friend to voice their opinion and it was unanimous. Women do not ever seek out a dress with side boob. So it was re-written. I was lied to by Family Guy. If I find out dogs can’t talk I will really lose all respect for that show.
After the final rewrite I began to approach publishers and literary agents. Most writers are represented by agents as many publishers won’t even entertain submissions that aren’t via an agent. I had been lucky to secure two book deals with the wonderful people at Sandstone Press without one but this was far from usual.
As I progressed options I looked at self-publishing as well. My sales figures from the first book had gradually shifted from physical books being the majority to eBooks making a considerable chunk, even the majority in periods dominated by Covid and shop closures. Having chatted to other local running author James Adams about using a self-publishing service such as Matador I approached them to see what the arrangement would be.
A common misconception is that a self-publishing service will release anything. Whilst this may be true for some, the majority still have quality control in terms of content and choice of genre. Matador considered my manuscript and offered a publishing arrangement. The difference between a traditional publishing contract and a self-publishing arrangement is that everything has a cost attached that as the author you have to stump up ahead of any income. Some items such as copy editing are a single price, whilst the various format specific services for physical (paper) or eBook (kindle etc) are unique to each and it can all begin to mount up. Taking into account the majority of my recent sales had been eBooks I elected to go for that only, with a mind that in the event it became a success I could later release a physical version (50 shades Of Grey used a similar approach) and if it flopped I wouldn’t be stuck with a loft full of books.
Contracts were signed 1st November and I received the copy edited version 7th December. They advised that it would be around 6 weeks due to workload of the copy editors. Meanwhile a draft cover was generated and I approved on 8th December whilst working through the suggested changes to the book which I finally finished and signed off on 12th December. The book was now complete. All that was left for Matador to finish the formatting for the eBook formats and get it ready for sale. They finished the formatting on 24th December, and got it to me in January for final approval on 4th and it went live on Amazon on 6th January.
The book, Locked Down & Lonely is now out, 11 months since I had the initial idea, and just over 2 months since signing contracts.
Now I just need to pray someone buys it……