‘A Brief Eternity’ is OCA student Paul Beaumont’s first novel. Shortlisted for this year’s Dundee International Book Prize, it was published in November by independent publisher Dangerous Little Books. Paul started studying with OCA in 2006 and began the novel on the level 3 Advanced Writing course. Here’s what he has learnt about writing, publishing and promoting a novel.
New writers are advised to ‘write about what you know’. It’s advice Paul has followed with ‘A Brief Eternity’, drawing on 25 years as an evangelical Christian which ended when a personal crisis prompted him to rethink his faith. The novel began life as a 3,000-word short story about a pub quiz in which Jesus is the quiz master, written for the level 1 Starting to Write course. The story finds its way into ‘A Brief Eternity’ as one of the set pieces that punctuate the narrative.
Paul’s tutor at the time, Joanna Laurens, saw the story’s potential to become a novel. Paul was keen to get started by putting together a top level plan, but Joanna counselled him against that approach, saying it would constrain him. ‘It’s the best advice I was ever given,’ he says. Fast forward three years and Paul’s tutor on Advanced Writing, Liz Newman, suggested he approach her agent with the manuscript for what had become ‘A Brief Eternity’.
The agent was impressed with Paul’s work and sent the novel to Orion and Canongate, two publishers she thought might be interested. ‘I had rejection letters from both,’ recalls Paul. ‘Now I know there is such a thing as a nice rejection letter. They inspired me to sign up for a half-day course by Bloomsbury on how to hook an agent. That was the day I realised just how heavily the odds are stacked against writers getting published. Some agents receive 1,000 manuscripts a month and take on just two or three new writers a year. That’s one to 4,000 odds.’
Paul’s solution? To approach publishers himself, especially those likely to be sympathetic to the type of novel he had written (a parody of the fundamentalist Christian view of the afterlife). He remembered receiving a recommendation from Amazon for a book called,‘God Hates You, Hate Him Back’ by CJ Werleman. Werleman’s publisher, Dangerous Little Books, define their mission as being to ‘bring you the books they don’t want you to read’ and although their list was dominated by non-fiction titles Paul decided to send them his manuscript anyway. To his delight, he received an e-mail reply in just two weeks from CJ Werleman himself who, as the reader for Dangerous Little Books, recommended publication.
Another do-it-yourself technique Paul has used successfully with ‘A Brief Eternity’, and which other OCA writers could consider, is to invite people with an interest in what you are writing about and who pack some punch to read your book and review it. Good publishers do this anyway, but there’s nothing to stop authors doing it too. Paul had read ‘Godless’ by former US Minister-turned-atheist Dan Barker and found his Freedom From Religion Foundation through a Google search. Dan read Paul’s manuscript and wrote a review in praise of it. Dangerous Little Books has included the review in the published book.
Paul Beaumont’s ‘A Brief Eternity’ is available in paperback, hard cover and Kindle edition format.