This is a guest post by Mark Pepper my newest staff writer. That’s his picture by the way (doesn’t he look awfully cute)? You’ll soon see that Mark has wonderful humor (sometimes he is a bit of a smart ass,) but that’s exactly why we clicked instantly when he contacted me not so long ago and now you get to see the talent of this wonderful published author first hand once a week. Enjoy
Hello and welcome to what will hopefully become my weekly rant. I would write more often but they only unstrap my arms once a week. My, it feels good to stretch.
My name is Mark Pepper, and through one of those strange meetings only made possible by this internet thing, I got in touch with Monika who is now allowing me to blog here on a weekly basis. She hasn’t said, but I suspect I’m probably in some sort of probationary period to start. She certainly hasn’t paid me upfront for the full year, which saddens me, but I suppose it shows the wisdom of her experience.
I’m going to be writing every week on matters relating to the world of the freelance writer. Until I run out of things to say, at which point I will recycle my old articles and hope no one notices. What qualifies me for this privilege? What bounteous experience buoys up my right to be doing this? Not a lot. In fact, let me just check … Tools … Word Count … okay, that’s 173 words of experience to date. Certainly, as far as the online freelance writing market goes, I am a newbie, a rookie, a relative virgin.
However, I’m not new to writing. In fact, I am a twice-published novelist (another two unpublished), and I have for the past two years been providing corporate intelligence reports for some of the biggest companies in the world, such as Yahoo, GE Energy, Panasonic and Unisys.
The start of my writing career
My writing career started back in 1991. I use the term “career” loosely. I’d graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London in 1990, and it was only a matter of time before Hollywood came a-calling. In case you don’t know, RADA is the English equivalent of that place in Fame, only without the leg-warmers or the dancing on taxi cabs – actually, I may have done the latter, but it would have been through alcohol not any irritating zest for life.
A year later, still waiting for Mr Spielberg to make contact, I began to write. I did so for several reasons: it seemed easier than getting a job; I’d recently read a couple of novels that really disappointed me; I thought I could write a damn sight better; and I had a story I thought the world should hear.
I was wrong on the first and fourth counts. And you may already think I was also wrong on the third count, but, if so, I’d rather you kept your opinion to yourself. I think I’m safe on the second count as you have no idea which books they were, and I can’t remember.
Where was I?
Yes, so I started writing a novel on my Amstrad word processor. Looking back, that machine was to the modern technological age what the skateboard is to space travel. It served its purpose, though, and after a couple of years I was finished. Yup, I said two years. I’m easily distracted and I had a motorbike at the time, and I somehow managed to accidentally and irretrievably delete 50 pages at one point. Backups? What are they?
It wasn’t until I was finished that it occurred to me I might be able to sell it. I fairly quickly found an agent who liked my writing and thought it showed “promise”. That meant he didn’t want the book I’d written, but would I mind writing another one?
Two years later …
I finished my second novel and called it The Short Cut, which is quite ironic considering what a convoluted journey it turned out to be. At the time, I was living in Poynton, a little village in Cheshire, north-west England. Ringpull Press, a small but reputable publisher in Manchester – my nearest big city – liked the book, and we arranged to meet up for an informal chat. Where exactly are you in Manchester? Actually, we say Manchester, but we’re in a little village called Poynton.
Well, that was it. It was fated, written in the stars, destined to be. How else to explain it? I left my house, wandered around the corner – literally – and found their anonymous office located next to my local parade of shops. Ringpull’s brilliant editor, Steve Powell, said he liked the first half of The Short Cut and wanted to take it further. I was ecstatic.
“That’s brilliant, Steve, thank you so mu- … what did you say? The first half?”
And he’d meant it – when he’d said the first half. He wanted me to scrap around 150 pages. I don’t mean tweak or even largely rewrite. I mean he wanted me to completely delete the last 150 pages, which took the Amstrad about half an hour. Annoying, given that the sodding thing had earlier managed an instant delete of 50 pages I’d wanted to keep. (I know it’s only a machine, but I tend to hold grudges.) I immediately started rewriting, and the novel went in an entirely new direction. Beyond the first half, not a single sentence remained the same.
Six months later …
To be or not to be
Steve loved it. We signed a contract, which was to include a second novel. Ringpull Press almost immediately merged with big literary publisher Fourth Estate. Fourth Estate wanted a more commercial arm, and my novel was going to be their first commercial shot across the bows. I received the biggest advance they’d ever paid. We had a launch party. I may have danced on the roof of a taxi, I can’t recall. Then Steve fell out with Fourth Estate, Ringpull ceased to be, and Fourth Estate had a little rethink. My novel was de-launched. They didn’t want a commercial arm any more. Yay! Money for nothing and your chicks for free …
Not quite. Fourth Estate managed to sell The Short Cut to Hodder & Stoughton, the people who publish Stephen King in the UK. Thankfully, my new editor also loved the novel. I started writing another, as per my contract. The Short Cut was published hardback in 1996, then paperback by Hodder’s New English Library. It garnered some good reviews, with certain individuals predicting a glittering future for me. Then my editor went to New York and my second novel, Man on a Murder Cycle, was handed over to a new editor who … well, let’s just say she was Canadian and something got a little lost in translation.
In 1998, Man on a Murder Cycle was published hardback and paperback to some excellent reviews, but I knew a third novel would not place so easily with Hodder. My editor was really … Canadian. She didn’t click with me, and I found her very … Canadian. I’m still not even sure where Canadia is. I think you may have to pass through Narnia to get there.
It didn’t help that the horror genre was – no pun intended – dying a death. My novels were horror-thriller, and a little tongue-in-cheek. I had caught the tail-end of a genre phenomenon, largely powered by the brilliance of Stephen King, but the popularity of certain genres comes and goes, and horror was well and truly on its way out.
What sealed my fate with Hodder was, crazily enough, a really good review. Really good; except for one little off-the-record comment I had (naïvely) made to the journalist, which he had seen fit to include as a parting shot – the details of which will be in a future blog. Hodder’s press cuttings agency discovered the review and that was it: career over. With another novel, Veteran Avenue, nearly completed – an adventure/thriller this time – I was sent packing. My agent stuck with me for an admirably loyal length of time after that, but we never got Veteran Avenue published and we parted ways. Veteran Avenue still languishes on my hard drive – the best novel I’ve written.
Eleven years down the line, I don’t bear that much ill-will towards the journalist who ruined my career, but I suppose it’s still sufficiently manifested for them to keep me here. I have to go now; they’re coming back. One final stretch … ooh, that’s good. My Word Count tells me this is a lot more than the 400 words Monika suggested, but I like to write when I’m allowed. Until next time, remember … the pen is mightier than the sword!
But if I ever bump into that journo again, I’d prefer the sword.