Guest Post: Simon Whaley (+ BOOK GIVEAWAY!)

Today, I’m welcoming my writing pal Simon Whaley to the blog! It’s not the first time he’s been featured! Back in 2012, his was the first guest blog I had on here.

Wow, a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then!

As Simon says below, we first met at the Writers’ Holiday in Caerleon.

What he’s neglected to tell you, is that every year (for about 5 years!) we were in rooms next door to each other, on the same corridor, because that’s how Writers’ Holiday worked: you had the same room every year unless you specifically asked to move.

Amazingly, Simon – as far as I’m aware – didn’t ask to move, so I can’t have been too bad a neighbour.

Now we have the same agent (he got there first…). I’m not stalking him, honestly!

Since he ‘debuted’ on this blog in 2012 he’s written tons more articles and books, including his very latest creation, a cosy crime novel, Blooming Murder, about which he’s talking to us today.

The book’s just been on a very successful blog tour (this is the last stop!) and other reviewers have described it as ‘funny and quirky’ and ‘Midsomer Murders Meets Carry On’! ‘Father Brown’ was also mentioned (and I have a soft spot for Father Brown as it’s filmed in my village).

I agree, it’s funny and fast-paced and very entertaining. My favourite character, is man-mad Hortensia Hayes, Head Judge of the Borders in Blossom competition, who has a penchant for Greek yoghurt…. (say no more). Let’s face it, after last night (don’t mention the football. Eeek, too late), we could all do with a laugh, right?

So, over to Simon AND, there is a paperback copy of Blooming Murder up for grabs! Wheee!

Win a Copy of Blooming Murder

All you have to do is leave a comment or ask Simon a question, in the comments below and you’ll be included in the draw. All entries must be received by 6pm on Monday 19th July (a week today), after which I’ll do a random draw and Simon will whizz the book off to you. (UK only, I’m afraid). 

Blooming Hard Work! – by Simon Whaley  

Firstly, many thanks, Helen, for inviting me onto your blog.

For those of you who don’t know, Helen and I first met at the brilliant Writers’ Holiday when it was held at Caerleon (near to Cardiff). And now we’re both represented by the same literary agency.

Like most writers, once I’d secured an agent, I thought I’d cracked it. I mean, that’s part of the publication journey we imagine in our head, isn’t it? Write novel. Get agent. Submit to publishers. One buys it. Whoop for joy. Sign contract. Bank advance cheque. Prepare for publication. Job done.

For many authors, it can work like that (fingers crossed for you, Helen!).

However, life is rarely that nice straight journey in our head. My novel publication journey has been on so many diversions, I’m sure I’ve double-backed on myself at least six times.

But, in hindsight, that meandering journey has helped me develop as a writer and enabled my humorous cosy crime novel, Blooming Murder, to become the book it is today. Reader, it is not the book that the agency took me on with.

Blooming Murder has been to two publisher acquisitions meetings (three if you count the two times it went to acquisitions at the same publisher). After the first acquisitions meeting, when the publisher decided not to take it on, the editor (who loved the book) gave me some feedback.

I have to say, that 30-minute telephone conversation was one of the most nerve-wracking conversations of my life, but without it I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Originally, Blooming Murder had my main character, Aldermaston, as a local independent councillor. I wanted an amateur-sleuth-type character who would get drawn into solving lots of different crimes, and I thought a local councillor was different. Here was someone people would come to with their problems, and as a local councillor, he’d have lots of contacts in various organisations – ideal for calling in favours.

My novel was also 125,000-words long. (It had been longer, but I had been through a few editing stages.)

The editor explained that while they were primarily a digital-first publisher, they still produced paperbacks, and so paperback costings were an important part of the financial equation when deciding what to publish. My 125,000-word manuscript would make an expensive paperback.

They’d rather it was closer to 90,000-words.

Usually, he would suggest cutting a subplot to reduce the word count. But having read my novel, and the way the subplots were so tightly interwoven into the main plot, he didn’t think that was possible. In fact, he wished me luck in cutting that many words! (Gee, thanks!)

He also explained that the American market is the biggest market for cosy crime, especially British-based cosy crime, and what most American readers enjoy are characters with aristocratic links. Could I turn my main character, Aldermaston, into a Lord?

Now, some writers might be uncomfortable with this suggestion, but I liked the potential opportunities for more humour.

So, I worked hard at cutting 35,000 words and rewriting the novel making Aldermaston a Marquess. Changing Aldermaston from a local councillor to a Marquess wasn’t easy. I had to move him from his three-bedroom semi into a large country estate, for a start.

This process has taught me that your novel can become a different beast, yet still be the same. While Aldermaston is now a Marquess and not a local councillor, he’s still a respected member of the community whom people trust with their problems. That’s what I wanted in my amateur-sleuth. And I’ve still got it.

And even though it’s now 35,000-words slimmer (don’t ask me how I did that), it’s still the same plot.

Writing novels is blooming hard work, and it may not pan out how we think it will. But is it worth it? Yes. You could say, it’s blooming marvellous.

For more information about Simon and his novel, visit http://www.simonwhaley.co.uk/blooming-murder/, where you can also download the first chapter for free!

 

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28 Responses to Guest Post: Simon Whaley (+ BOOK GIVEAWAY!)

  1. gailaldwin says:

    Thanks for sharing your publication journey, Simon.

  2. Eirin Thompson says:

    Very interesting to learn that US readers are big on British-based cosy crime – I had no idea. Your book sounds terrific, Simon, and I’d love to be included in the draw to win a copy.

  3. I don’t have an agent, but I do know that feeling of thinking I’d cracked it and then discovering I had a lot more to learn and do. It happened when I got my first short story published, won my first prize, had my first book published… It’s like unlocking a new level on a video game, isn’t it?

  4. Sharon boothroyd says:

    I’d to love win this, so please include me in the draw! My question for Simon is this – how long did it take you to write the novel in total?

    • simonwhaley says:

      Well, that’s a difficult one, really, Sharon, because I started it so long ago (it was the novel the agent took me on with back in 2015). I think it had taken me about two years to get written (but that was writing in my spare time – the ‘day’ time was spent writing the non-fiction stuff because that was more guaranteed money coming in. Then, after the first editor took it to the acquisitions meeting and suggested the rewrites, it took me about six months to get it rewritten to something both I and my agent were happy with.

  5. pennywrite says:

    Your book sounds like great fun … for the reader, that is, although ‘losing’ 35,000 words is quite an ask, I imagine. Dare I ask if you plan more books in this genre, or if you never want to think of making such an effort again :-)) ?

    • simonwhaley says:

      Hi Penny,

      I’m just going through the proofreader’s notes of the second novel now. And I’m trying to get going on the third in the series! I learned a lot from that first one, so the second one didn’t need as many words cutting from it. Thankfully!

  6. Joanna Hunter says:

    It was interesting to hear that length was picked up on in terms of cost, I hadn’t thought of it in those terms, and while I am a long way away from agents and publishers it is a useful thing to keep in mind. I am also impressed you managed to completely change your character but keep the essence – sounds an interesting read!

    • simonwhaley says:

      Yes, Joanna, I think we’re so used to digital books, and knowing that it doesn’t matter how long they are, we forget there are still cost implications with paperback printing. (And it is nice holding the paperback in my hands 😁.)

  7. Alan Barker says:

    Congratulations Simon. Sounds as though you had a lot of fun writing this novel! But what was the most important to you: the plot, characters, or setting? I’m guessing perhaps all three!

    • simonwhaley says:

      Hi Alan,

      It didn’t feel much fun when I was cutting those 35,000 words 🤣. But, yes, it’s definitely a mixture of all three. The plot is influenced by the setting and the characters, the characters are influenced by the limitations the setting puts on them, which in turn influences the plot. And it’s the going round in circles that creates the farce-like atmosphere!

  8. Alison Edwards says:

    Well done! I am interested that you were advised to make it about 90,000 words – I have always thought that is an ideal size – not too long, not too short. I don’t buy my books by size, but can be a bit put off weighty tomes. Let’s hope the buying public agree.

    • simonwhaley says:

      Hi Alison,

      Wordcount is influenced by genre too, so there are some genres where readers expect longer and others where they expect shorter. Ironically, the editor who loved my ‘long’ version said he enjoyed it and at no point did its length influence its pace. He liked it at that length and thought it worked well, but acquisitions thought otherwise. It was certainly an interesting exercise!

  9. jbettany2013 says:

    Good luck with the book, Simin. How on earth did you manage to cut 35k words? Do you think reducing the word count made it a better book, or did you find it hard to ‘kill your darlings’?

    • jbettany2013 says:

      Simon, obvs. Not Simin. 🙂

      • simonwhaley says:

        Hi jbettany,

        Don’t ask me how I did it … but somehow I did. 🤣. Which just proves it is possible, even though you think it isn’t! And, yes, it is a better book because of it. That’s why, even though it didn’t get taken on by the publisher, I’m pleased I went through this process.

  10. MARGARET GARROD says:

    I’d love to be included in the draw. Good luck with the book and well done for turning it around.

  11. Margaret Mather says:

    Hi Simon, how do you fit everything in? You are always out and about taking brilliant photos then your articles pop up regularly in different magazines. Now, to top it all, a book. I stand in awe.

  12. ados123 says:

    Good luck with the book, Simon! Always read your column in Writing News. It was you who first alerted me to ALCS. So many thanks…
    Alyson

  13. Ann Williams says:

    Sounds just my cup of tea, Simon – although in the world of cosy crime the tea room is rarely a safe location. You have written a lot of articles and non-fiction books and I wonder how you find the elements of writing non-fiction cross over into writing fiction. Both require research, for example, and both, in there way, tell a story, but I’d be interested to know of any other elements of previous experience you feel are mutually beneficial.

  14. Sharon boothroyd says:

    There’s trouble with writers claiming through ALCS now, isn’t there? It might make good article Simon!

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