Today I’m delighted to welcome again someone whom I first interviewed here when my blog was a mere babe in arms. Since then he has completed four (?) books that I can think of to my measley two. But the reason (or excuse) for his appearance today is publication of his very latest offering – a comic mathematical thriller The Truth About Archie and Pye. It’s not often I describe a book as a total blast, but if you want to see the impression it made on me, my review is here.
Last time we bumped into each other we were on the MA at Bath Spa. Were you working on Archie and Pye then? If not (which is what I suspect!) was it something you have always had in mind or a more recent idea?
At first, no. I had a completely different idea for the book I was going to write on the course – something quite ambitious and unusual – but then I realised that I was always going to be trying to write something comic, and it was about time I owned up to that.
I’m not sure the question ‘where did you get the idea’ is a valid one, but feel free to spill if it is.
Archie and Pye first showed up in a short story that I wrote in response to a prompt in a competition run on a writing forum, The Write Idea, back in 2008. Then they lurked in the background for several years before unexpectedly re-emerging on the MA course. The original prompt, incidentally, was ‘going down an angle so sharp it makes Pythagoras puke.’ From tiny acorns…
Your hero Tom is utterly hapless but also quite endearing. I have to ask if he ever really did hold down a good job in PR? I mean was he really doing well or was he always due for a fall? (This proves of course that your character is real – as all good fictional characters are!)
Good question. I think at one time he was actually quite ambitious, but somewhere along the line he lost his way. There’s only so much enthusiasm you can work up for a career doing PR for dodgy meat products, after all.
What’s the story of its publication? Do you have an agent? Did you have to knock on many doors?
*Checks spreadsheet* Hmm. Over a period of I submitted Archie and Pye to a total of 43 agents. I’m still waiting to hear from 17 of them. Of the remaining 26, 5 asked to see the full manuscript, but they all rejected it in the end. I also submitted to 10 independent publishers who were taking direct submissions. 6 of those didn’t bother replying and a further 3 rejected it – very nicely, but still. Finally, I happened to spot on Twitter that Farrago were open to submissions of humorous series, and I was in like a shot. Just over a month later, I had a contract for two books.
So, yes, I knocked on a lot of doors. Humour is a tough sell. And I haven’t even gone into the horrors of the MA anthology launch, which was like all my worst teenage party experiences rolled into one. Every agent in London in the room, and no-one wanted to dance with me.
Was just going to add, how long was it from ‘deal’ to publication? (just curious!)
Just over 6 months, which is quite quick by industry standards. That said, the production quality of the book is excellent, and the editing process was the best I’ve come across by a long way.
You write across many genres. How does that work? Do you have days/weeks/months for litfic, comedy and creative non-fiction or just flit about as the feeling takes you?
I think in the past I’ve probably tended to flit about as the feeling’s taken me. Right now, however, I am writing comedy for the foreseeable future. I think it’s my spiritual home.
You were an experienced writer when you started the MA. What did you hope to get out of it and did it turn out as you expected?
My CV was, depending on how you looked at it, either ‘eclectic’ or ‘a complete mess,’ so my main aim was to work out what I should be writing, and then to be forced to knuckle down and write it. I was also hoping to get some hardcore writing tuition from people I’ve heard of. Much to my surprise, all of this actually happened.
Would you recommend writers to do an MA – if so, any caveats? Any other thoughts on teaching/learning creative writing?
Yes, I would, although if I hadn’t come up with the idea for Archie and Pye quite late in the day, I might well have ended up trying to write completely the wrong thing, and I would have a very different view of the course now. Also, if I hadn’t managed to sell the book to Farrago, I would probably be much less enthusiastic.
But the book wouldn’t have existed at all without the course and, even if it had somehow existed, it probably wouldn’t have been publishable. I was extremely fortunate in finding a manuscript tutor (Celia Brayfield) who was very sympathetic to what I was trying to do. I know others were not so lucky.
(Blogger’s note: Despite having abandoned the same course that Jonathan completed, I also feel it played a big part in the success of what I did next!)
Who are your favourite comic writers?
Apart from the usual suspects such as Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett and PG Wodehouse, my favourite comic writer is probably Flann O’Brien – The Third Policeman is a work of genius. I’m also a massive Victoria Wood fan. Best comic novel I’ve read recently is Their Brilliant Careers by Ryan O’Neill. But comic writers – at least writers of comic novels – are actually few and far between. Forgot to mention Sue Townsend – Adrian Mole is a wonderful creation, and may well have informed Tom Winscombe more than I care to admit. (Ah yes, I can see that!)
Anything exciting in the pipeline?
Well, Book Two in the series, A Question of Trust is due out next April, which means I’ve got to finish it by the end of November. No further comment.
Thank you, Jonathan. Here’s to knocking on doors and to A Question of Trust.
Meanwhile everyone please get hold of this masterpiece of hilarity, published by Farrago books, and available in all the usual places.
Something doesn’t add up about Archie and Pye …
After a disastrous day at work, disillusioned junior PR executive Tom Winscombe finds himself sharing a train carriage and a dodgy Merlot with George Burgess, biographer of the Vavasor twins, mathematicians Archimedes and Pythagoras, who both died in curious circumstances a decade ago.
Burgess himself will die tonight in an equally odd manner, leaving Tom with a locked case and a lot of unanswered questions.
Join Tom and a cast of disreputable and downright dangerous characters in this witty thriller set in a murky world of murder, mystery and complex equations, involving internet conspiracy theorists, hedge fund managers, the Belarusian mafia and a cat called µ.
More about Jonathan on his website.