Summer Reading for Locked-Down Travellers

Namisa and its sister island of Pundar are the setting for my new novel, A Traveller’s Guide to Namisa, which is available now on an Amazon site near you. Namisa can be difficult to find on a map and exceedingly problematic to Google, but when readers get there, they will have the time of their lives. 

If I were to try to describe A Traveller’s Guide to Namisa, I’d say it is a contemporary, modestly amusing, coming-of-age-for-late-developers kind of novel, set in a world of work for the inadequately qualified.

Had I written about a real country, I would, alas, have been by now declared persona non grata by its government. A very unhelpful literary agent, who shall remain nameless, told me to set my story in a known location so that readers could more easily understand it and identify with it. If I had done this, I would have cancelled out all of the novel’s unique selling points – its whacky invented locations, its Namisan language, and its idiosyncratic customs.

You need to know that I have looked for an agent for my writing since the 1990s. Many publications and many prizes later, I have come up blank. In my lifetime I only ever received one response from an agent and that was in 1995. On that occasion, the person concerned was a very well-known and respected American agent. He had the good grace to write back to this new fiction writer with words of encouragement and guidance. It is due to him that I am still writing today.

Because I believed in this particular novel, I took it forward and published it myself. Literary agents are very valuable if you find a good one. Otherwise, there is absolutely no need for you to go cap-in-hand to someone who doesn’t know the difference between an adverb and an adjective. This, sadly, has been my experience. So very often, the people who are supposed to arbitrate public taste, lack the knowledge or the skills to do so. If you believe in your novel, if you have polished it as well as you can, and then no one replies to your agent queries, publish your novel yourself and move on rapidly to the writing of your next book. There is no overnight success. Don’t spend a lifetime hoping. You could die in the meantime.

My protagonist Philip Blair is an ‘innocent abroad,’ but he learns quickly. Among the issues he has to contend with in his role as Officer of Culture and Education for an NGO in Namisa are the autumn-autumn uprising, Pundexit, cultural appropriation, British imperialism, immigration, racism, the role of women, office politics, and happy-happy hour cocktails.

Writers, if you believe in the book you are writing, then stick with it and make it as good as it can be. Trust your own judgement when agents or publishers tell you that your book won’t sell unless you do X, Y, and Z. They may well be right up to a point, but ultimately you – the author – have to write the book that you need to write.

If you enjoyed Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, and if you enjoyed The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, then the likelihood is that you will also enjoy A Traveller’s Guide to Namisa. If not, then you will need to wait for my next novel. Sorry about that!

Why you should stop exposing your clunky writing to the world

If you have the time, I strongly urge you to listen at least to the first half of this podcast from The Guardian newspaper of an interview with two traditionally published first-time authors.

What we learn, amongst other things, is how long it took these authors to write their books and the process they went through in the editing of them. One author spent three years on her book, the other seven years. One spent three months just doing a line edit of her novel, going painstakingly through the text with a ruler under each line, re-reading, correcting and adjusting. ‘Writers’ often hand me stories that they proudly tell me they finished just the night before… and, of course, it shows.

Another interesting piece of information from this podcast concerns the results of the last ALCS survey on author earnings in the UK. The average amount they earned was 11,000 GBP per year. This leads us to reflect on why we write and what we want from our writing. From talking to many would-be authors, I find that there is still a desire for and a belief in overnight success. Publication, they believe, will bring them the kind of glory and recognition that they are unlikely to find in other fields of work. What they do not put into the mix is that, for experienced critics and the discerning reader, the faults of their work will be on display for all to see. So, instead of showcasing their remarkable imagination and insights, they may well, through haste, and careless or the absence of editing, simply be demonstrating their ignorance and incompetence.

Everyone who can think can write, but not everyone who can write can produce work of quality. My advice for anyone publishing or hoping to publish traditionally or by self-publishing is 1) keep writing, 2) put in the work, 3) learn from your mistakes, 4) read books that have been professionally edited in order to learn, and 5) build your life around your writing, not your writing around your life.