You’ve had some short stories published, and a few placings in competitions, but you’ve been working on a longer piece of fiction, and now you’re really interested in moving on to a full length novel.
Sound familiar? If so, you’ll enjoy this interview with Andy Rigley, author of The Lost Dark. Whilst Andy’s previous writing credits are certainly not to be sniffed at, in this guest blog, he talks us through the process of getting his first novel into print.
Q: First things first – to clear up any misunderstanding, you’re not that one from Wham! are you?
A: Correct. The last I heard, he was running a chip shop. But that’s just internet rumour. I do check up on him from time to time.
Q: So, without giving too much away, tell us a little bit about the book.
A: The Lost Dark is a paranormal horror novel. Jake is excited to find that he has a second shadow, that of a little girl. But he soon finds that he’s not the only one with a second shadow. Although the story predominantly follows Jake and his little girl, there are other weird and wonderful characters, each with very strong ideas about what they want, or don’t want, from second shadows. As the story unfolds, and the characters collide we see just what people will do to get what they want.
Q: You’ve had quite a bit of success with your short stories. What was it like making the transition to a full length piece of work?
A: As I’m sure is the case with most people, I grew up reading novels, and I still read novels. That love for the novel length story never went away. I only started to read and study short stories relatively recently. While I was writing and publishing shorts, I was also writing The Lost Dark, so strictly speaking there was no ‘transition’ as such. The two went hand in hand. I think it’s important to have multiple projects on the go at once, as they provide breathing space and quite often support for each other.
Q: Did the original idea for the book come to you in a blinding flash of inspiration, or was it more of a slow burn?
A: It came to me in a blinding flash after a slow burn.
Whilst studying for a Certificate in Creative Writing at Nottingham University, we were set a piece of homework: to write a piece of dialogue between a character and an ‘inanimate’ object. All the way home that evening, ideas circled through my head, nothing really made sense. An old shoe? A box of half eaten chocolates?. The blinding flash moment happened exactly how it happens in the opening chapter of the novel. As I was walking home, I noticed I had a second shadow, cast by the street lights. From there the possibilities seemed endless and the story grew.
Q: How long has this book been in development – can you break it down for us in terms of first draft, edits, more edits, and then the publication stage?
A: The first draft took around two years, written part-time in the evenings. And I mean first draft, I didn’t even spell check it until it was finished. I then started my MA in Creative Writing which for the next two years took up a lot of time. I continued to work on The Lost Dark as and when I could – mostly tightening the plot or prose – so you could say the next two years were editing.
With my MA finished, I made a final push to finish the novel. By this point it was self-edited and I was happy with it. I ran the novel through a beta-reader stage, hired a professional editor, and whilst all that was going on, I looked into publication options, marketing, and cover design. That final push took around five months, but it was a very intense five months, concentrating almost entirely on the project.
Q: You’ve worked with a professional editor on the production of the book – what was that like?
A: It was without doubt one of the best things I did. I think people are sometimes scared of editing, seeing it as some kind of gatekeeper, something that might dig up things you didn’t want to face. As writers, we spend a lot of time, money and energy writing, learning, being critiqued. For me hiring an editor was a very important part of the learning curve. It’s important to remember that an editor doesn’t ‘only’ point out grammatical errors. My editor, Kathryn Koller, was superb. Over a number of passes, she looked at plot, pace, and character, pointing out any weak areas. She was also very understanding of my ideas when I ‘pushed back’ on suggestions. It was very much a two-way thing.
Q: What was the most exhilarating part of the writing process? And conversely, was there any part which you found more of a chore than a pleasure?
A: The most exhilarating part was when things came together in the plot or characters without me having to work at them. Those moments where you just think, wow this world is alive. When a twist in the plot just happens and leads onto something new and refreshing.
As for chores, There really weren’t that many. Right at the end I guess, things like reading and rereading chapters looking for the tiniest plot-hole, clunky dialogue, or abnormal weather change. That got a bit ‘grating’. And formatting could be a pain. Getting it ‘just so’, then changing it oh so sightly breaking everything you just did in the last format. I’ve lost track of the amount of ‘Backup just before first line indent change’ type files I have.
Q: The cover looks great! Did you design it yourself, or seek professional help?
A: I designed and built the cover myself. I’ve had a misspent childhood playing with image editing software so I thought I could do it. I figured, hey – if it all goes wrong, I’ll hire a professional.
I already had a very clear image in my head that I wanted to achieve, helped by the fact that the girl on the cover is actually a photo of my daughter. The final image was actually inspired by a video game cover. I spent a lot of time researching book covers online and in book stores. I’m really happy with the result, but the process was very time consuming and mentally challenging. Getting everything pixel perfect and balanced took a lot of patience. I did get feedback from friends, family at various stages which helped a lot.
Q: I get the impression you’ve been quite creative about marketing your book – I’ve seen some of your postcards for instance. Tell us the thoughts behind your promotion strategy.
A: The marketing is a lot of fun, and I don’t think there are any limits to it. Anything that gets word out is great, and the more formats I use for that, the better. The physical things, like postcards, also give people something to ‘hold onto’. I think it makes the world of The Lost Dark much more three-dimensional. I remember what it was like as a kid to collect things and be involved in something.
Q: The book is available for Kindle and in paperback format. Can you talk us through how you chose a printer/publisher for the paperback version?
A: I went with Createspace after researching other print on demand publishers such as Lulu and Lightningsource. For me, at this stage, it offered everything I wanted. The process of reviewing and releasing your book is fairly straightforward. The sales channels provided ensure that your readers can easily get hold of the paperback (it sits alongside your Kindle version online).
I think you have to look at how you want to distribute your novel, how much money you want to invest, how much ‘help’ you might need, then make a personal decision based on what the publisher has to offer you and your reader.
Q: So, with the first book under your belt, what’s the next project?
A: I still have plans for supporting The Lost Dark. Including information blurbs and giveaways I love the idea of cross-media projects revolving around the world I’ve created, and I want people to be involved in that.
As for upcoming work, I’ve a written a children’s steam-punk novel.
I’ve also put together a collection of my previously published work called About the Size of It. I’m looking into the possibility of making that available through a small independent publisher.
I’m also working on my next novel The Pattern of Birds. It’s an uncanny tale of a girl who lives in Ravenscar – The Town That Never Was.
Q: And lastly, where should we look to find out more about your writing?
A: For The Lost Dark check out www.thelostdark.co.uk
For more about me, my projects, and previously published work, check out www.andyrigley.co.uk