How did you hook up with your agent?
Luca – I was quite bullish when it came to finding an agent. I knew a few other writers at the time and there were a couple who always raved about their agent. Now, I edited a couple of charity anthologies around that time, and I think that agent was tipped off that I was writing a novel. He sent me a message on Twitter saying good work on the anthologies, when you’ve got a novel to show people, I’d love to read it. That was back in February 2012. I finished the first draft in about March, read it once, thought it was as good as it was ever going to be, and sent it to the agent.
He rejected it, somewhat nicely, a few weeks later.
I took his notes on board, redrafted, and sent it back in the June.
He rejected that one as well, with the option to resend another draft. I was, similar to you, devastated. I’d worked tirelessly on all the notes and only succeeded in creating new problems.
By this point, I was convinced I couldn’t write a better book, so decided to send it to four other agents. One rejected within a day, as they had decided to concentrate on children’s fiction. The other three agents asked for the full manuscript. As a matter of courtesy, I emailed the original agent, who by now was quite friendly with me, and let him know I was showing other agents the book and was getting some interest. I received an email back straight away, asking if I could speak on the phone. What followed was ninety minutes of the agent telling me exactly what was wrong with the book, what need fixing, and a general tearing apart of my work. The last five minutes of the call was him offering me representation. I pretty much immediately accepted the offer.
Best decision I’ve ever made. I rewrote the book in a month, working almost every hour I was awake (which as an insomniac, is quite a few), and he was happy with the result.
What is bizarre, is that it took only six weeks after that to find a publisher. A year to get an agent, six weeks to get a publisher … shows how valuable a good agent can be, and I have a great one in Phil Patterson.
The Defence is ridiculously good. To the point where I was hoping it wasn’t really a debut, but a new novel from an established writer under a pseudonym. I can only imagine it was picked up the next day by a publisher in a sixteen-way auction?
Steve – That’s class. I love that story. What I hear sometimes from writers who are looking for an agent, or a publishing deal, is that they are quite precious about their book. Which is totally the wrong attitude. When you write your first book you basically know nothing. You learn by writing and then it’s your agent’s and publisher’s job to point out all the shit that you can’t see and make the book better.
Thanks for the kind words about The Defence. It was picked up quick, but only after a lot of work. I got representation from Euan Thorneycroft in April 2013, and he sent me pages of notes on the book; what worked, what didn’t work. I knew we were a good match because everything he thought needed changing really did need changing, but I just couldn’t see that. So I worked on the book flat out, and we got it ready for submission in September.
I remember Euan telling me he was sending it out and that it could take months to hear back, so he would email me in three or four weeks and let me know how we got on. That was on a Monday. On the Friday I was stood in my hall, when I got an email. It was from Euan – there was an offer for the book in the UK. Four offers. He would be conducting an auction. I was completely blown away. I remember running into the living room and telling my wife that the book would be published. At that stage I didn’t care who published it, but I knew somebody would and that was enough. In the end I went with Orion, who publish some of my heroes and things have worked out well.
So in your first book we meet DI David Murphy and DS Laura Rossi. How did you go about shaping those characters and did you conceive the first book as the beginning of a series? If you didn’t, is there anything you would change now?
Luca – That’s my favourite kind of publishing story. Unsurprising, given how good it is, but there’s still an element of doubt with anything regarding publishing!
Well, Murphy happened quite by accident. I’ve already mentioned the discarded scouse-gangster novel, which contained an element of what makes up Dead Gone – the psychology angle, someone killing people based on real psychological experiments etc. When I started over, I kept the psychology bit, and disregarded everything else. I remember I was re-reading one of my favourite books – The 50/50 Killer by Steve Mosby – and thinking I wanted to write something more like that. So, I started with the woman on the night out, getting in the taxi, and disappearing. Then, I was going to concentrate on her partner, but realised writing those ‘ordinary people in extraordinary situations’ novels were extremely difficult to write! I decided I needed a police point of view, as they could do things ordinary people couldn’t really. My uncle is an ex-copper, so I used him as a basis. He shares his physical size, nickname, some of his qualities, but has none of the baggage Murphy does. Once I started writing about Murphy, I just found he was more interesting to me. Murphy quickly usurped the boyfriend character and became the star.
However, back then, his sidekick was a bloke called Nick Ayris.
Going back to that phone conversation with Agent Phil, he casually mentioned that usually it’s a male/female partnership, and that there was nothing Italian in the book. Which was surprising to him, given I was half-Italian.
Nick Ayris became Laura Rossi and that’s why agents are important!
Rossi is by far my favourite character to write now. I can get all these little things about my Italian family in there – my nan asking me if I’m hungry as soon as I’d walked through the door, before saying hello, my dad swearing in Italian, the quick-temper, etc.
I did envisage a series if it got picked up, but I’d still change things. I probably wouldn’t have Murphy having quite such a lot of baggage to carry, although that worked (hopefully) eventually. That’s about it though. There’s no plan as such, but I have ideas for about seven or eight books total. I’m writing number four now, so I’m halfway through! And those ideas will probably change.
You and Eddie Flynn … always a series as well?
Steve – Have to say I love Rossi; the Italian swearing! She is such a great character.
Ahm, yeah, I had an idea for the character first. A con artist who became a lawyer, because I wanted to explore the overlap in those professions and how a trial works – the art of cross examination and how that really is the art of persuasion, misdirection and manipulation. Before the book got picked up I had an idea for four or five, and I really wanted to start writing them but I knew The Defence had to be the first one. If that book hadn’t been published I wouldn’t be writing about that character because the events in The Defence cause Eddie to fall back into his old hustler ways. No other storyline could’ve achieved that in the same way. Right now I’m writing the third book. I love series characters, so it felt natural to try and start my own. Although, I’ve been hit with several decent ideas for standalone books lately. I don’t know if I’ll write them. Maybe down the line.
Do you ever think of trying a standalone? And how do you go about writing? Plotter, pantser, when and how do you write?
Luca – Can’t wait to read more Eddie.
I’ve got the beginning of a standalone in a word doc on my computer. It’s pretty much plotted out as well, but I’m happy writing the series for now. I’m a big fan of series characters as well, so I’m happy at the moment. I’m a little of both. I plot a little, then just write for a while, before plotting a little more. Usually, this leads to me rewriting half a book, four weeks before a deadline though!
I start with a small idea. Then, I need some sort of theme – with the new one, Bloodstream, it’s about love and media – and I can just go from there. With my books, there’s always an investigation that starts you off, which usually involves a body or the lack of one, so it’s just a battle against making that too samey/cliche and just writing. Then rewriting. Then throwing things at the wall and hoping inspiration hits at some point!
Do you plan much? And the same question about standalones to you… would you consider writing something set in your own country?
Steve – That’s interesting that you start off with a theme. I know Ian Rankin does something similar so you’re in good company. I think doing it that way, with a theme in mind, really helps you focus on what you want to achieve with the book. I’m reading Bloodstream at the moment, and loving it. The whole celebrity thing is well done, and my wife zipped through the book in a day or so.
I tend not to have a theme, and one or two kind of emerge. I don’t plot or plan anything. I write line by line, and then I go back and rewrite the beginning until I have it nailed. Once I’ve got a decent 50 pages or so, I’m off and I don’t tend to look back until I’m almost at the end. Then I stop. Go back and redraft from the beginning before I write the end. It’s a weird process. I tend to have a vague idea, and go from there. The second book, The Plea, touches on white collar crime like money laundering and how it’s done in the digital age, and there’s a locked room mystery done with CCTV. (A word of advice to new writers. NEVER do a locked room mystery, not until you are well down the line with at least a couple of books under your belt. And then plan it all out from the beginning.)
Standalones are very appealing when you’re writing a series, but also scary. I think you have to time it right. That last thing you want to do is release a standalone when everyone is waiting for the next book in the series. It never quite has the same impact.
I don’t know if I’d write something set in Northern Ireland. I won’t rule it out, but the ideas for standalones that are kicking around in my head are set in the US. Although, I did have one idea for a Northern Ireland story, but I sort of think that would work much better on TV than in a book.
Luca – I’ll take the company of Ian Rankin. I saved a penalty of his, in a crime writers’ football match. I don’t mention it very often.
Locked room mystery, ouch. That’s not something I have planned to do any time soon!