On my blog today, Liz Barnsley (Liz Loves Books) grills NEIL WHITE about being a writer. Neil's latest book - The Domino Killer - is being published by Sphere on 30 July 2015.
How did it feel landing a publishing deal?
Strange. It was a mixture of relief, elation and disbelief.
I’d been writing for around twelve years, although perhaps only seriously for five or six years. It had always felt like the door was ajar, with things happening that gave me encouragement, like securing an agent, but it had got to the point where I thought it just wasn’t going to happen for me.
I’d made a decision to write three manuscripts, and if I didn’t succeed, I’d take the hint and get on with my life. I was a full-time criminal lawyer and had a young family, so I could only devote so much time to it. It was frustrating, because it felt like it always happened to someone else, but I knew the odds were against me.
As it turned out, I got lucky. I had an agent who never stopped trying, and when HarperCollins set up a new imprint, Avon, and they were looking for new British writers, she did her work. I set out with a three-book deal from at the same time as people like Claire Seeber and Lee Weeks, and since its launch in 2007 Avon has published people like Scott Mariani, Paul Finch and Luca Veste. It was great to be part of a new team like that, and I look back on those early years with immense fondness.
The news itself came to me when I was on holiday in Mallorca, and I spent most of that second week on the phone to my agent and trying to get hold of my new editor. It was a few weeks before we were eventually able to talk, and that was a long few weeks, wondering whether the offer was about to be snatched away. It wasn’t, and here I am, still here, years later, just having signed a deal for three more books, eventually taking my running total to twelve.
Has the excitement waned? How does the reality compare to the dream?
No, it hasn’t, is the truthful answer. I do still feel very privileged to do this for a living and I realise how lucky I am. If I ever get grumpy about things, I take myself back to the pre-publication years and tell myself off.
The reality is exactly how I thought it would be: it’s a thrill. What does happen though is that you move your own expectations, your own goals, but that is human nature. There does come a time when you’ve got to stop patting yourself on the back and get on with being a writer, which is where the reality takes over from the thrill. That’s probably the biggest risk for a new writer, that he or she spends the first year of their contract congratulating themselves and then not putting in the same amount of effort into their second book as they did in their first. I’m not a particularly confident writer, so my starting point is that what I will do won’t be very good, and put a lot of effort into it until I’m happy with it.
What do you like most about being a writer?
Seeing the books in a shop. No matter what happens, I can say that the book is mine, that I wrote it. When I first saw my book in a supermarket, I stood there and stared at it, like a parent staring through the glass at a row of incubators.
I should really say that the joy is breathing life into a story, creating something, but I find writing quite hard. I like the achievement of the finished story rather than the process itself.
It also involves lots of loafing around. I have a dayjob still, as a part-time criminal lawyer, and that is very busy. Writing is such a slower pace, where I can call lying around “plot-planning”.
The biggest thrill is hearing from people abroad. The thought that someone in some far-flung exotic place is reading something that I typed out in my little grey cul-de-sac is always rewarding.
What do you dislike most about being a writer?
The temptation to spend all my time loafing around. The shouting for attention too. I’m not a big fan of the publicity trail, the newspaper interviews, but it is all part of making people aware of the books.
How other people perceive me has changed too. For me, I’m the same person I always was, good and bad, I suppose. I live in the same house, have the same view, have the same friends and have the same interests. Now people talk to me sometimes as if I’m some hotshot author, when I’m just the same old Neil. A bit grumpy, too tall, too grey.
Also, the self-doubts, the worries...
Do you get nervous about people liking a new book?
I do. I hate it when people say to me, “I’m reading your book, I’ll let you know what I think”. In my head, I’m screaming, “don’t tell me, because I know you won’t like it”. What I really mean is, “fawning only, please.”
No one reads anything I’ve written until it’s finished and complete, and even then only my editor and agent, on the basis that they’re in the profession and used to seeing rough-cuts.
Should writers interact with their readers or stay reclusive?
That depends on the author. I’m always happy to interact with readers, although I don’t often reply to someone who is being offensive. Thankfully, I haven’t had many, but in these days of instant contact I’ve had a few emails that have just been blunt or rude. Fine, I get that they didn’t like the book, but just put it down and read something else. Don’t abuse me. I just delete those, assuming that what will annoy them more, not knowing whether their rant has been read.
I have considered whether to draft what sounds like a standard reply email for those, like an auto-response that reads, “Thank you for your kind email. I’m so pleased to hear that you enjoyed my latest book. My next book is due out on …”. I figured in the end that the angry internet user is not to be provoked.
Reviews. Read or not?
No. In the process of this blog tour, a lot of people have written reviews, and I’m so grateful to them for taking the time. I have deliberately avoided reading them, however, as I get so nervous about it. I have come to terms with the fact that negative comments (and I confess that “negative” in my world means anything that doesn’t gush with praise) make me feel ill, so I just don’t look. I avoid Amazon.
The reviews aren’t there to massage my ego but to inform other readers.
My Friday evenings are often spent watching rugby league on the television, and the family computer is in the same room. My wife was once surfing as I was trying to watch a game (I’ll save that argument for another day) and commented something along the lines of, “I don’t know why you get so uptight. Of these 62 reviews of Cold Kill, 56 are three stars and above”. In my head, I went, “six are two stars and below”. It ruined the second half of the game.
Do you have a favourite bad review?
Of the ones I’ve read, I did get a one star review for one of my books because the reader’s Kindle broke when reading it. Ones like that make me laugh.
A reader did send me a letter, excerpts of which are as follows:
“I was horrified by the book, to the extent that I can’t read anything else by you, and I can’t go to your public readings…. I even find myself frightened by the thought of bumping into you in the street or wherever.”
I quite liked that.
What questions do you get asked the most about being a writer?
The most common question is, “how much do you earn?” I worked with one person who I would see every month or so, and she would always ask me about the money. I can’t understand the curiosity and I never answer. If they press and press, I end up giving them an answer that is untrue but always bound to annoy them, like a vague hint as to an enormous amount without ever putting a number to it.
Have you ever thought about doing a Harper Lee and stopping?
No, not yet. There might come a time when I realise that the well is dry, or a publisher might even make the decision for me, but not yet. There might be a time when I’m only writing, rather than being a lawyer as well, but I don’t feel ready to give up on the law yet. It’s good to get out of the house sometimes.
About Neil WhiteFind Neil White on his official Facebook page and follow Neil on Twitter - @neilwhite1965
Neil White grew up in Wakefield in West Yorkshire before moving to Bridlington, a fish and chips town on the Yorkshire coast. He drifted there into his mid-twenties before returning to education and eventually qualifying as a solicitor in 1995. He is a criminal lawyer by day and a writer by night. He is published by Sphere and his ninth book, The Domino Killer, is the final book in the Parker brothers trilogy, with the second in the trilogy, The Death Collector, released in paperback in July 2015. His books are translated into French, German, Russian and Polish.
The Domino Killer
Published by Sphere (30 July 2015)
When a man is found beaten to death in a local Manchester park, Detective Constable Sam Parker is one of the investigating officers. Sam swiftly identifies the victim, but what at first looks like an open and shut case quickly starts to unravel when he realises that the victim's fingerprints were found on a knife at another crime scene, a month earlier.
Meanwhile, Sam's brother, Joe - a criminal defence lawyer in the city - comes face to face with a man whose very presence sends shockwaves through his life. Joe must confront the demons of his past as he struggles to come to terms with the darkness that this man represents.
Before long, Joe and Sam are in way over their heads, both sucked into a terrifying game of cat-and-mouse that threatens to change their lives for ever...
Click here to find it on Amazon UK.
Click here to visit Liz Loves Books.