I recently met the writer Allen Miles via twitter, and I’m glad I did. Read on for sage advice, expensive booze, and why you should read emails slo-o-owly and carefully – especially those regarding submissions.
Your e-book ’18 Days’ is out now from Byker Books as part of the ‘Best of British’ series, and is quickly amassing rave reviews. Congratulations! What attracted you to Byker Books?
I sent 18 Days to Byker on the recommendation of my friend Darren who was already signed to them. I’d had a few offers from other firms but Byker seemed to be interested in actually putting out work they were interested in personally rather than just anything they could sell. It’s a small house and I liked that, the contract was simple and generous and although I’ve never met the editor personally, we have had many conversations over the internet. To compare it, I would say I’ve signed to Factory rather than EMI.
I’ve found that with small presses, too. How long have you been writing fiction and sending it out on submission?
I’ve been writing fiction since I was eight, and started sending it out on submission when I was 29. I have massive confidence issues. 18 Days was the first thing I ever sent to a publisher.
I don’t think I’ve ever met a writer who didn’t, at least in the early stages of their career. You’ve done SO well with ’18 Days’ – that’s really great! Have you had any particular highlights as a writer, anything that led to airpunching or champagne-shaking?
My first piece published on-line was a big moment for me, it made me realise that maybe I should start sending my stuff off. Also the day that I got the offer from Byker. I misread the e-mail at first and spent the rest of the day sulking at work, when I got home and read it properly I was thrilled and bought myself a £5.99 bottle of Shiraz to celebrate, which is more than I can afford for wine these days, really.
You must have a distinguished palate – it all tastes like off grape juice to me. If you were to take a writer new to the publishing world under your wing, what would you tell them that you wish you’d known to begin with?
You have nothing to lose. Even if a publisher thinks your work is the worst pile of shite they’ve ever read, they’re not going to turn up at your house and laugh at you through your front window. And save everything. The number of times I’ve been digging around on my computer and found something I’ve half-finished and thought “I’m on to something there, let’s go back to it…” It’s also an interesting way to gauge how you’re improving.
Absolutely. I tend to email things to myself (especially since my 5 year old took to nicking my flashdrive), and you’re dead right about going over early work to see how you’re progressing. Makes me cringe at times. E-publishing has given new life to the novella – is this the form/length you’re particularly drawn to as a writer or did it just ‘feel right’ for this particular piece?
It came to a natural conclusion at 30,000 words. It was originally meant to be a short story but I went off on one, which I have a tendency to do.
If it wasn’t for e-publishing, and the increasing acceptability of the novella form, would you have felt pressure (internal or otherwise) to compress ’18 Days’ into a short story as part of a collection, or extended it to novel length? And would you have done so?
I never felt any pressure because I never thought anyone would see it. Byker did say it was a bit of a departure for them to publish it but that was due to the subject matter rather than the length. It’s a very intense read (or so I’m told) and I wrote it in five days, which was quite a draining experience. Had I made it into a novel (which in hindsight I definitely could have done) I would have written it in three weeks, which might have killed me. That’s the way I write though, nothing for months then monstrous six-hour sessions in the middle of the night for days on end. I blame these cheap Red Bull drinks from Aldi.
I’ve noticed from friends that stimulants can be a writer’s best friend (mine come in the form of chocolate, cake, and Nutella). What about as a reader – do you prefer short stories, novellas, novels, or a mix?
Probably my most-read book of all time is Tales Of Ordinary Madness by Charles Bukowski, which is a short story collection. I don’t think I’ve ever read a novella, to be honest. I think the rise of the e-book means that format, length-wise, is pretty irrelevant now, but I’ll read anything.
I haven’t read it but I do like the title. Writers can be quirky, ‘rum buggers’ is a phrase I’ve heard and particularly liked – possibly because it reminds me of rum truffles – do you have any particular habits or superstitions to do with your writing or do you just write whenever and wherever you have an opportunity?
I can’t set myself times to write because it just doesn’t work, if I’m not at the races that day I’ll stare at a blank page for half an hour then start looking for Dangermouse memorabilia on e-bay. I tend to go on spontaneous splurges at one in the morning when I’ve had a few glasses of wine. I also need a suitably evocative musical background. Nothing with words in it though, as that distracts from the writing. 18 Days was written whilst I was listening to the Fight Club Soundtrack by The Dust Brothers and Orbital’s In Sides album.
I’ve been using Radiohead’s ‘OK Computer’ in a similar way. What are you hoping to accomplish or have come your way in 2013?
I will finally get my wordpress site up and running in the next week or so which will contain rants and stuff that hasn’t really found a home such as prose pieces and various articles that I’ve done for other sites and not sent off. I’m also hoping to publish a short story collection, either through Byker or I’ll do it myself if I can work out how to. And of course my crime novel, Dick, which is taking absolutely ages because I have no discipline.
Well, I can see your crime novel generating plenty of clicks and publicity, that’s for sure! Best of luck with ’18 Days’, the site, and of course, ‘Dick’.
Go to http://tinyurl.com/8d2pysx to buy your copy of 18 Days, and find Allen on twitter as @ManicOwl and @Eighteen_Days