Mark Griffiths Books

Laying a Lizard Egg

A few years ago I made a note of a story idea in my notebook.

Yesterday I walked into Blackwells bookshop on Oxford Road, Manchester and saw this (note the shiny-spined red and green book in the middle).

Weird, eh?

Well no. Not really. It took a shedload of hard work. I’m reminded of quote from a Monty Python sketch:

Could Marconi have invented the radio if he hadn’t by pure chance spent years working at the problem?

That’s it really, isn’t it? It’s great having dreams and fantasies and ambitions but at the end of the day you have to apply bum to chair and spend an awful long time working at it to get anywhere. But that’s as it should be. Books wouldn’t be the precious, magical objects they are if anyone could just knock one off with no effort (I’m discounting works by reality TV stars here). So how did Space Lizards Stole My Brain! get from scribbled note to bookshelf-hogging physical object? Read on…

Cast your mind back to the distant year of 2005. Christopher Eccleston was Prime Minister. Tony Blair was Doctor Who. And I decided that I positively, definitely, abso-flipping-lutely have to write a children’s novel. I have an idea about an evil alien warlord who is trapped in the body of a nerdy 11 year old Earth boy. I’ve brushed up on prose writing techniques by studying the advice of top writers like Stephen King and Chuck Palahniuk. And I’ve invested in a new USB drive so I can ferry my material between home and work (where I only work on it during DESIGNATED BREAK PERIODS, of course). Off I go…type type type, setting myself a target of a thousand words a day. It seems to be working. I’m quietly chuffed with the first three chapters – in many ways the most important part of the book as it’s on these that agents and publishers will initially judge you. If nothing else I’m having fun.

But then.

But then I read an article online called something like “The Top 20 Mistakes Made By Aspiring Novelists”. I realise I’ve made about seven of them. It feels like a punch in the stomach. Instead of going back and fixing the problems, I get discouraged. The book feels unsalvageable to me. About this time, there is some interest in my scriptwriting and I end up writing some plays, two for stage and one for Radio 4. Maybe novel writing isn’t for me…

Four years pass. Now Gordon Brown is Doctor Who but rumour has it he is about to regenerate very soon. And still the urge to write a book niggles away at me like a psychotic wasp that’s ignoring a restraining order. I open up the old Word document of Space Lizards, then called Lord Dragonbreath. The opening still reads really well. And the rest of it isn’t terrible. If I snip this bit here and add another bit there… I should finish this thing, I think, and send it off.

So I do.

In time-honoured tradition, I acquire a copy of The Writer’s & Artist’s Yearbook (the one aimed specifically at children’s writers) and make a list of about 25 potential agents. I send off the first three chapters to each of them. Simultaneously. If you waited for an agent to reply before submitting to another you’d be lucky to get a book published before the heat death of the Universe.

Then I wait.

Replies trickle in. Mainly rejections.

A few agents want to read the rest of the book. Brilliant! Off it goes to them. Then two agents get back to me. They like it and want to represent me! After a little consideration I go with Kate Shaw at the Viney Agency. Kate imagines the book could be the start of a series. A series? The thought never occurred to me (showing how little I understood what publishers are looking for). Kate also has some suggestions for rewrites. She feels the book is too long and too unfocussed. The story needs to be boiled down to its essentials. I agree and set about a rewrite. There’s nothing like a bit of interest in your work to motivate you to produce another draft. Eventually Kate thinks the book is ready to submit to publishers. Manuscripts are despatched. Follow-up emails are sent. Meetings are set-up. Cups of Earl Grey are consumed in swanky London patisseries (patisseries are very important in the world of publishing, I learn.) And then … offers are made.

We go with Simon & Schuster. Their offer seems best and they will without doubt be lovely people to work with.

Whew! Done it! We have a deal! The book’s coming out! The work is done, right?

Turns out not.

Editorial changes remain to be finalised, as does copyediting, finding an illustrator (again it had never occurred to me it might need illustrations), approving character designs, producing layouts, producing illustration briefs, producing and approving cover designs and copy for the back cover blurb, producing and approving the illustrations themselves, producing cover proofs, setting up a web site … on and on it goes. A publication date is settled on, then brought forward, then reverted to the original. But now, at last, the end is in sight.

Ahead of publication I decide to have some drinks with friends to celebrate at the Fab Café in Manchester. We have lizard cupcakes.

Apologies to the Fab Café for my tired and emotional, silly-dancing, cupcake-throwing behaviour that night. As you can see, it’s taken a long time getting this thing from my notebook and into the shops.