Archive for September, 2013



1. Write a really good book.

2. By good, I mean the book you actually want to write, written the way you want to write it. If that means writing War and Peace with talking squirrels, then do it. Just write the thing you are going to believe in the most, because that belief will be the wind in the sails of your words.

3. Expect rejections. Agents and publishers expect to reject you so, in turn, you should expect them to. If publishers published every single book that has been written we would all have to live in the sea because there would be no room because of all the books. We’d have to live on a big ship paid for by Lee Child.

4. Do not get jealous. Okay, this is hard. But do not assume that publishers/agents/readers are stupid. Do not automatically assume that if a book does well it is because they were best mates with the publisher or something. Sometimes, things succeed because they are good and people like them.

5. Look for doors, not walls. Stop blaming the system. Yes, prejudices exist. But if you are a) good enough and b) want it enough and c) stop trying to see walls instead of doors, your chances can be as good as anyone’s.

6.  It is entirely self-defeating – though quite easy – to say ‘Oh, I’m not published because my book is above people’s heads’, ‘I’m not published because I didn’t go to Oxbridge’, ‘I’m not published because I write fantasy/sci-fi/about talking squirrels’, ‘I’m too exotic’, ‘I’m not posh/exotically working class enough’, ‘It’s Amazon’s fault’, ‘I’m too ordinary,’ ‘I don’t write middlebrow reading group tat’, ‘I was born with the wrong genitals’, ‘I’m too northern’, ‘I’m not famous/a columnist’, ‘I’m not published because I’m not an alien lizard and everyone who runs the world is an alien lizard’.

7. Ignore the title of this article. Stop thinking about ‘how’ to get published, and start trying to be objective about ‘why’ your book should be.

8. Be persistent and determined and practical. I got 17 rejection letters for my first novel. I used to put them in to two categories -’contains useful information’ and ‘contains paper that is flammable’.

9. Don’t take it personally. Okay, I admit this one is bullshit. If you have written something you care about, if you have put yourself in it, then having people reject or criticise it is personal.

10. Be realistic about what you are aiming for. Being published is great, but it is no wardrobe to Narnia. Your brain chemistry will not be altered for ever. You will still have to work exactly as hard on your next book too (for every new author, an old one falls off the other end of the conveyor belt). Writers are generally not rich. Except the rich ones. But they are all in therapy. And rejection letters don’t disappear, they just evolve into bad reviews. Oh, and remember, if you want a long-term career, with a predictable income, become a publisher. Actually, even better, invent Grand Theft Auto. And only write because you love it, because you have to do it even when it hurts, because you have a story inside you that you would genuinely want to read if it was written by you.

11. Good luck. You could always do with some of that.




It’s hard to explain depression to people who haven’t suffered from it.

It is like explaining life on Earth to an alien. The reference points just aren’t there. You just have to resort to metaphors. You are at the bottom of the ocean. You are on fire. The main thing is the intensity of it. It does not fit within the normal spectrum of emotions. When you are in it, you are really in it. You can’t step outside it without stepping outside of life, because it is life. It is your life. Every single thing you experience is filtered through it. Consequently it magnifies everything. At its most extreme, things which an everyday normal person wouldn’t even hardly notice, have overwhelming effects. The sun sinks behind a cloud, and you feel that slight change in weather as if a friend has died. You feel the difference between inside and outside as a baby feels the difference between womb and world. You swallow an ibuprofen and your neurotic brain acts like it has taken an overdose of methamphetamine.

Depression, for me, wasn’t a dulling but a sharpening, an intensifying, as though I had been living my life in a shell and now the shell wasn’t there. It was total exposure. A red-raw naked mind. A skinned personality. A brain in a jar full of the acid that is experience. What I didn’t realise, at the time, what would have seemed incomprehensible to me, was that this state of mind would end up having positive effects as well as negative effects.

I’m not talking about all that What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger mythology. No. That’s simply not true. What doesn’t kill you very often makes you weaker. What doesn’t kill you can leave you limping for the rest of your days. What doesn’t kill you can make you scared to leave your house, or even your bedroom, and have you trembling, or mumbling incoherently, or leaning with your head on a window-pane, wishing you could return to the time before the thing that didn’t kill you.


What I’m talking about isn’t strength. Not the stoic, get-on-with-stuff-without-thinking-too-much kind of strength anyway. It’s more about the reverse of what I was saying about that intensity. That sharpening. That switch from the prosaic to the poetic. You know, before the age of 24 I hadn’t known how bad things could feel, but I hadn’t realised how good they could feel either. That shell might be protecting you, but it’s also stopping you feel the full force of that good stuff.

From, I suppose, April 2000, that good stuff started to become availiable. The bad stuff was still there. At the start, the bad stuff was there most of the time. The good stuff probably amounted to about 0.0001 per cent of that April. The good stuff was just warm sunshine on my face as me and Andrea walked from our flat in the suburbs to the city centre. It lasted as long as the sunshine was there and then it disappeared. But from that point on I knew it could be accessed. I knew life was available to me again.  And so in May 0.0001 per cent became about 0.1 per cent.

Then, at the start of June, we moved to a flat in the city centre. It was one of those soulless modern flats that were becoming an increasing feature of cities in the North. At eight hundred pounds a month it was too expensive for two people who were in debt and getting more in debt, though it was financially better than the previous situation. (The previous situation had been renting an office for £800 and a flat in the Hyde Park area of Leeds for £400 when our ‘company’ was earning £1000 a month.)

But the thing I liked about it was the light. I liked that the walls were white and that the unnatural laminated floor mimicked the blondest wood and that the square modern windows made up most of the walls and that the low-grade sofa the landlord had put in was turquoise. Of course, it was still England. It was still Yorkshire. Light was severely rationed. But this was as good as it got on our budget, or just above our budget, and it was certainly better than the Hyde Park student flat with its burgundy carpets and its brown kitchen. Turquoise sofa beat turquoise mould.