Did first-time novelist Gareth Powell have a literary agent when he got a publishing deal with Solaris? What does he think about writer’s block? Does he consider Oprah a loon for once saying there’s no such thing as luck without preparation and a moment of opportunity? The answers to these burning questions — and many more — can be found in this week’s Debut Author Q&A.
Name of book: The Recollection
Book genre: Science Fiction
Date Published: September 2011
Publisher: Solaris Books
What is your day job? I work two days a week as a public relations officer for a disabled children’s charity, and three days per week as a freelance copywriter. I am also a full-time father.
What is your book about? In a nutshell, the book is the story of four characters and the way their relationships play out over several centuries, and the way they pull together in the face of an ancient and unexpected threat.
What would you say is the most challenging part of writing a book? Writing the first line.
What motivates you to write? I don’t know. It’s just something I have to do. I don’t really have a choice. I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. I’ve always had that urge, and I can’t imagine a life in which I didn’t feel the compulsion to put words on paper.
Did you experience writer’s block? I think writer’s block is just a euphemism for indecision. If you can write about anything, sometimes it can be tough to narrow your choices down to one particular storyline. I have dry periods where I’ve not known what to write about, but I’ve found that constantly tinkering away with notes and ideas keeps the process fresh and alive in my head, so that even when I’m doing something else, part of my brain stays in writing mode.
How long did it take you to write this book? It took a year, although most of the main body of the book was written in a three month period.
Do you have an agent? I did something that most people will tell you is impossible: I sold my novel to Solaris without an agent, and before I’d finished writing it. They commissioned the book on the strength of the synopsis and first 40 pages. That may have had something to do with the reputation I’d already built up on the SF scene through the short stories I’d published in magazines and anthologies. But, if asked, I would definitely recommend that new writers try to get agency representation. I was lucky, but the market is so competitive that an agent can make all the difference. When an editor receives a manuscript from an agent, they know that the agent has read it and considers it of publishable quality.
What was your favorite aspect of the writing process for this book? When you get into a novel and the characters come alive in your mind, the words start flowing in a rush and the story takes on a life of its own. It’s a giddy feeling, like riding a high and beautiful wave, and it can carry you forward. I mentioned that I wrote most of this book in three months. As soon as I got the go-ahead from Solaris, I poured this book out onto the page, and loved every minute of it.
What advice would you give to writers regarding promotion? The best advice I can give is to be friendly and act professionally. Use social media to get to know people. Engage in conversations. Help people out. Offer encouragement. Support fellow writers and they will support you. Go along to conventions and shake hands with editors and agents. Be polite. Have confidence, but temper it with humility. Get as much of your work in print as possible, and make sure it’s the best you can possibly make it.
Any other novels on the horizon? I’m currently working on three books, but I don’t really like to reveal details of what I’m working on until it’s finished.
Oprah has famously said that there is no such thing as luck, without preparation and a moment of opportunity. Would you agree or disagree with regard to your own success as a writer? I think that’s a valid statement. Luck certainly plays a part. But you can increase your chances by writing a damn good book, and building a credible reputation. Don’t be arrogant. Be the kind of writer that editors want to work with. And write to the very best of your ability. Never settle for less than your very best work.