Usually when a novel comes out I have found you have about six weeks.
Six weeks of daily notifications on Twitter telling you of a new review.
Six weeks of your publisher asking you to be interviewed by this blog, or this magazine.
Six weeks of getting the buzz of seeing your shiny new tome prominently displayed on the shelf at Waterstones.
Then (unless there is some unexpected surprise further down the line) a subtle but pronounced fade in the attention your book gets. For my last novel, An Honest Deceit, it has happily been a different experience.
The novel was published in October 2016, but last year I was delighted to be told it had been selected for New Writing North’s Read Regional Campaign, along with a host of great titles. Having had to keep this news buttoned for the best part of the year, at the start of 2018 a photo-shoot and publicity campaign took place before the news was announced. A tour of Northern English libraries for all the writers involved was planned.
To ease myself into this I had a few talks and events added to the itinerary. Each has opened my eyes as to what it’s like to be an author on tour. On Thursday 1 February I was asked by Newcastle, Centre for Literary Arts to do an author event with children’s author Liz Flanagan (who also teaches at Newcastle).
We made for an interesting double billing, with her work having a magical element and mine exploring how digital media has exposed corruption in the modern day. I wasn’t sure how the two works would sit together! One challenge at such events is working out how to pitch your work, especially if there are different components to your story you could focus on. The big lesson here for me was that all audiences are different. A pacy, action-packed scene might read well at one event. Or a more involving, thematic scene might be preferable at another. I went for the former, and realised that despite the differences between my book and Liz’s at the heart of them they were both around people. It was rewarding to find that link and I realised how important it is to try and do a reading of the room.
On Thursday 6 February, at Commercial Union House in Newcastle I was asked to give a talk on a subject central to An Honest Deceit. The title of the talk was Are We Living in a Post-Truth world? My novel examines whether we can actually define what has really happened during a contentious event or if the present day allows facts to be irretrievably obscured. Debates about the accuracy of Donald Trump’s tweets and the use of statistics during the Junior Doctors strike raised the point that Fact Checking is a great way to bring rigour to a debate. But the conversation also considered the way that the world is changing with digital media, and so at once everything is recorded but nothing is clear.
On 15 February at Northumbria University I was honoured to take part in a joint event with authors Fiona Shaw, Andrew Crumey and Tracey Iceton. All were launching excellent and exciting new novels, except me, who was marking the release of a new edition of An Honest Deceit (with extra material). A panel discussion again uncovered an interesting thread between novels; that of the role of the subconscious in creativity. Fiona Shaw’s book novel Outwalkers was first inspired in a dream, which provoked her to explore what the UK might be like in the near future. I was amazed to hear that with the Scottish Referendum debate and then Brexit how accurately her subconscious had predicted future events. In my book the characters are haunted by memories and dreams that dictate their actions in the present day, blurring the line between the present and the past. As writers we all agreed that finding ways to utilise our subconscious is an important resource for the artist. Tips on how to achieve this – from writing very early in the morning to recording dreams – were debated. What amazed me most was that all writers at the event agreed that they had described events in their fiction only to see them later take place in real life!
These events so far have certainly whetted my appetite for the Read Regional dates to come. They are-
Wednesday 15 March- Darlington, Crown Street Library, Crown St, Darlington DL1 1ND Author reading and talk. 1.30pm.
Thursday 16 March- Doncaster, Central Library, Waterdale, Doncaster DN1 3JE Library reading, 10 am.
Thursday 22 March- Hull, Central Library, Albion St, Hull HU1 3TF Author reading and talk, 6.30 pm.
Tuesday 10 April- Stockport Heatons, Thornfield Road, Heaton Moor Stockport, SK4 3LD Author reading and talk, 6.30 pm.
Wednesday 18 April. Sunderland University. Reg Vardy Building 213. TALK- POST PRESENT- SYNTHETIC FUTURES IN FICTION. 4.30pm.
Wednesday 25 April, Stockon On Tees, Norton Library, 87 High Street, Norton, Stockton, TS20 1AE. EVENT WITH DAVID MARK, 7pm.
Saturday 5 March, Bradford, Shipley Library, 2 Wellcroft, Shipley BD18 3QH. Author reading and talk, 2pm.
Thursday 24 May, Calderdale, Halifax Central Library and Archives, Library, Square Rd, Halifax HX1 1QG. Author reading and talk, 7pm.
Tuesday 5 June, Durham, Barnard Castle Library, Witham Building, 2 Hall St, Barnard Castle DL12 8JB. Reading group, 10am.