I really don’t want to capitalise on the World Shit-Show that we’re all living through, but hey, what the f**k.
My book is out – A Garden of Bones: Blood Runs Thicker. Available in print and on Kindle. Buy a copy and have a read . . . before the Olivia Colman drama comes out. Get it from the horse’s mouth . . . how it really happened.
Over the last few days ‘sh*t has gotten real’ as the saying goes. I now have a book cover, following a massive amount of input from friends and colleagues. There have been some tweaks and changes along the way, obviously . . . otherwise what’s the point of consulting people.
The book itself is almost ready to go – print pdfs are back and I’m just waiting on the digital versions to be returned. Over the next couple of days A Garden of Bones should also be visible to the world, after ISBNs were assigned a yesterday.
I can also reveal that the official release date for both print and ebook editions will be March 20
There is, frankly, a vast amount still to do before that date – I’m currently getting a media pack together, which I’ll be publishing on this site in the days ahead, hopefully a round of interviews with journalists and bloggers, an official launch event to put together and the ongoing marketing battle.
And that’s on top of continuing to turn up for the day job.
When I first entered this circus – around about the time of the fall of Carthage – it was a different world, to put it lightly.
Firstly, it was still deemed as a remotely sensible, if a bit showbiz, means of earning a living, It never was, by the way. It always struck me as a bit intrusive – a bit like you were walking into other people’s tragedies and being offered a temporary seat at the table while they poured over their grief.
Maybe it has to feel like that though. If it didn’t feel like that then that would make me a sociopath . . . wouldn’t it?
It also involved a lot of working over weekends, working late into the evening, hoping bugger all would kick off at five to ten at night when you could finally go home,
I have become ‘battle hardened’ and that worries me. Recently there was an alleged double murder in the next village to where I live – and I have to say ‘alleged’ because the person accused of the killing had gone ‘not guilty’, and is, therefore, innocent until a jury makes a decision. Just like with Susan and Christopher Edwards.
I was at the suspect’s first magistrates’ court appearance, his first crown court appearance . . . and the whole thing will now go quiet until his trial later this year. That’s the way it is.
Speaking to people who knew the victims . . . friends or friends of my wife, I have built up a picture of what happened, the dynamics of why someone might, allegedly, kill his estranged wife and her new lover. And there is a part of me which, speaking as a hack of 20-odd years, just sees the story. You do lose the humanity . . . unless you steadfastly insist on holding onto it.
In this game accuracy is everything, and I suppose getting something wrong . . . some fact, some spelling . . . is akin to a plumber coming round to fix a leaky pipe and flooding your cellar. We take such fuck-ups very seriously, on a personal lever as much as a corporate one.
Last week, I covered a case where a solicitor named and shamed a company which had treated a young apprentice very badly. He’s been fired and punched the son of the company’s owners. Only the solicitor had given the wrong name of the company. I’m covered by court privilege – if it’s said in court, even if it’s not true, I am protected. But it still has an impact and you feel that.
You just want to get it right. You don’t want to flood the cellar.
Many years ago I had a stint as a sub editor, when sub editors still existed. It was their job to go through the copy, sort out the grammar, fix the typos, put in all the stray commas, the missing hyphens and generally make the copy ‘clean’.
They’d also check to ensure that the copy was legally sound, that it didn’t defame or otherwise interfere with any legal processes that may be taking place. There is, frankly, very little worse than being dragged before a judge and being asked to justify yourself in a contempt of court proceeding.
But there is also very little worse than spelling something wrong . . . a typo. The bane of professional writer’s life.
Rolling back 20 years, when I wrote a story, it would go to the newsdesk, which would then take it into a conference, and once approved, it would go back for ‘desking’, before it went to the subs, before it went to the night editor, who would pick up anything that had been missed . . . often literally a missing comma. So by the time it ‘hit the streets’ it was perfect.
Then they got rid of the subs and, in many cases the night editor. It became about the web and immediacy and ‘getting it right first time’ . . . a corporate shitbag in pushing the onus of accuracy onto the reporters; the company taking no ownership in removing layer after layer of scrutiny.
And that’s really how I’ve found the process of writing this book. I’ve produced a little over 80,000 words. A dear friend called Kate did my initial proofs, twice, and I thought it was there, because she’s brilliant.
Then I sent it out to other friends and they came back with more. A total of nine, I think. Handbreak, not handbrake. A few missed hyphens, a few literals. But it’s exhausting all the same. When you want something to be perfect in every way. When you don’t want someone’s lasting impression of the book it’s taken you half a decade to write to be a typo or a stray comma on page 157.
I think as writers though, we need to be paranoid about it. If we’re not then our product will suffer.
To be honest, I’ve had a busy week, I’m knackered, and I could really do with collapsing in front of the telly. Only I can’t because I need to blog, I need to get this book out. So now I’m paranoid that this post will have typos. It probably will. I’m only human. But I hope you will understand.
The most difficult thing I’ve had to deal with recently, in terms of getting A Garden of Bones out is deciding on a cover design. The problem, I think, is that I am a creative snob.
I had two designs to consider. I loved one, although while, for me, it was more creatively fulfilling, I sort of knew the other one would work better in terms of selling copies. One looked like a true crime book, the other like a crime novel. I’ve said all of this before, so won’t go back over old ground.
I even went as far as asking for a mash-up of the two covers to see if that presented a solution. It didn’t. Everybody hated it and, in a nutshell, saw it as a weaker version (whether they were in favour of one design or another) of the cover they liked.
And I’ve got to say a massive thank you to my cover designer, Liam Relph, for his patience.
What I’ve come to realise, is that from where I’m at now, this has become a commercial over a creative process. It’s about flogging books. And while I initially preferred the other design . . . classier, referenced my involvement in the story, acknowledged me etc etc . . . that was my own ego messing with the process.
This is about the book; making sure that it attracts as many people as possible, gets as many people buying it as possible. And for that to happen, you have to take personal ego out of the equation. You have to think about the reader . . . your market, your target audience, and what will draw them in, what will make them click ‘buy’ on their Kindle or their phone.
My strategy, at present, is to offer it to Kindle on their 70 per cent exclusivity deal, and to access their services for print sales.
But the best thing about the KDP thingy, is that it only applies to e-books. They really don’t care about print copies. So you can sign up for this and get a massive 70 per cent on all digital sales, but also push it out to other providers.
So I’m going to go with IngramSpark as my second print supplier, because they supply print copies to a lot of libraries around the world, to a lot of independent bookshops; and because their print editions come out in a much higher quality that Amazon’s offering. Ultimately, if you buy a print book, you want it to sit with the rest of your book collection once you’ve finished it and not look like a cheap addition.
I’ve also resisted Amazon’s preferred manuscript shape. They’d prefer you to publish tall and thin so it works on smartphones.
Fuck that, frankly.
It’s a book, in my eyes, so it’s book-shaped.
This whole thing is running wild at the moment. I’m dealing with cover designers, I’m dealing with page designers, I’m setting up a publishing company, which I’ve called Crazy Dog Publishing (another post for another day), which is essentially for my writing, but wouldn’t rule out expanding.
I’ve forked out £170 buying ISBN numbers – block of 10 when I actually need two – although I may need more in the future.
There may be an audiobook (watch this space) and I sort of want to put out a large print version. My mother suffered a stroke a couple of years ago and is slowly losing her sight. I wanted her to b able to read it in a format that worked for her, but also saw the commercial potential in that market. Old people love a bit of crime, a bit of true crime, don’t they.
But it’s all very real now. It’ all a month away, at best. And I know I’ve got a winner. Afterall, it’s only taken half a decade to get to this point.
This is a relatively short post . . . you maybe delighted to hear. Here are the finalists for the cover design for A Garden of Bones. I have a firm favourite, but I’d love to hear your views.
One is more your traditional crime fiction front. The other seems a bit more true crime.
And it’s difficult because A Garden of Bones sits squarely in the middle of the two genres . . . not making life easy for myself am I.
Maybe next time I will write a crime book about an alcoholic Oxford graduate detective . . . or an alcoholic Oslo detective.
For me, the stand-out thing with this one is the spade. It’s stark and almost brutal in its simplicity. But it does have an edge to it. From the outset it doesn’t seem like your average Midsomer Murders fodder. It gives the impression that something very dark and brutal has occurred.
It’s dark and almost brutal in its simplicity . . .”
This one seems much more true crime. It’s stark and fairly brutal . . . it also had a documentary feel and lets the reader know from the outset that they are dealing with real events here.
I didn’t really want Susan and Christopher Edward’s mugs on the front of it, when I was commenting on social media a few days ago, but here I think it’s so subtle that it works.
It’s over to you though. Please share your views. The more feedback I can get, the better for me and for the book.
So, I suppose when you write a book – when you go through those months and years of endless nights hammering it out; those nights of rewriting, re-plotting and re-planning, you never actually see the thing finally getting out there.
I didn’t. For me it was all about the book . . . getting it written in the first instance, getting a second draft out that I was happy with, fine tuning, tweaking and pondering . . . and finally getting to a point where you knew you could do no more.
It had been passed around numerous people, those who had read it, those who had critiqued it, and those who had proofed it.
Then, finally, it is there. There is nothing else you can do as a writer to perfect it. It’s not perfect, because it never is; but you reach a point where you can’t bare to chance another comma to a semi-colon; where you think you’ll scream if you spot another typo after proof after proof after proof; when you can’t even contemplate whether a tense in one sentence jars with another.
You are happy.
As happy as you can be.
And you need to let it go.
Only, until about a month ago, I had only ever seen A Garden of Bones laid out on an A4 sheet. It didn’t look like a book. It looked like an essay . . . albeit a very, very long one.
It comes in just short of 84,000 words. It’s been longer and it’s been shorter. But considering that the second re-write was essentially a restart, I must have written 160,000 works of it in the past few years. And that’s on top of the, on average, 250,000 word I write each year through the day job.
But it is time to let it go, to let it be itself. I have now stepped back and allowed other expertise to take over. I can tell you from my typesetter – the exceptional Andrew Tennant – that it is 324 pages long and its shape is 12.85 x 19.84 cm. I Ignored the Kindle Direct plea to make it taller and thinner so it works better on a smart phone. Read it on a phone if you want, but, even better, buy a kindle because it feels like a book. Or even buy the book.
It will come to you in bound paper. You can break the spine and prove to those who visit your home and peruse your bookshelves while you pour them wine, that you have read it . . . along with all those others.
I’m now in my second major collaboration with A Garden of Bones. I’m working with the outstanding Liam Relph to create the artwork.
My on is a massively talented artist. Got a Grade A at A Level, currently studying an Art Foundation and plans on studying Fine Art at one of several art schools in London later this year. A lot of people said to me, ‘Why don’t you get Ollie to design it?’. And a really big part of me wanted him to. And I’m sure that whatever he created would have been wonderful.
Only I didn’t want to put it on his shoulders, and I wanted to engage someone who has experience of creating book covers that sell copies.
That’s why we do this, right? We do this to sell as many copies of our book as we can. We have, after all, spent many a long evening kicking this bastard into shape.
Writing is a solitary experience, but at some point two things happen.
You have to involve other people.
And you have to let the bugger loose and start to think about what you’re going to write next.
I’m hoping to be able to share initial artwork ideas over the next few days, and I would very much appreciate your feedback.
When I discover an author I tend to go all out with him or her. My recent discoveries have been Shirley Jackson, Sarah Waters, Donna Tarrt and Patrick Süskind.
I’m not always that highbrow, it has to be said. A couple of years ago I discovered Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series and – following advise not to bother with the first two ‘because they’re crap’ – started with the third novel and read nothing else for the best part of a year until I got to the end.
There’s a new one out which I haven’t read, but it will probably be next on my list . . . unless something else catches my eye.
I did go back to his first two, after I stumbled into them in a bargain bookshop in Buxton. They’re not crap. They’re just not as good as the rest of the series.
And the reason, I think, is that they lack darkness. A crime novel set in Oslo, where it’s dark from 2.30pm in the afternoon, automatically adds a hell of a lot of mood . . . of weight.
If you set your first novel in Sydney and the second in Bangkok – as he does – then the sun is out, the light nights are late, and you have no real way of creating any sense of ‘Noir’.
I can see why he did it. He was new to it, and the notion of exotic foreigh locations must have appealed. Only it was counterproductive to the overall impact of the books. If it had been set in some winter-filled world, interspersed with the intrusion of neon street lighting, freezing smack addicts and the heavy weight of snow on the ground like an intrusive blanket, then the Bat and Cockroaches would have worked as well as all the others. It is a journey of discovery, I have come to realise..
As a writer, and as a reader I am drawn to darkness. I don’t just read crime. My tastes are fairly eclectic.
But all the same, give me darkness, give me noir.
Give me Dark Materials over Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, give me Perfume, give me Secret History. Whatever the genre, darkness for me opens up the human condition. It makes us explore what is most wrong with us, by exploring characters in works of fiction who have the most wrong with them.
I mean . . . come on . . . who wants to read about people like the ones who live next door . . . unless they’re Bill and Pat Wycherley.
Hesitant footsteps on the stairs, laboured; one creak, then a pause, then another – like someone carrying a heavy load.
The shuffle of feet outside the door; a key, turning in a lock – a rasping clunk as it is pulled out.
The squeak of the handle, the hiss of wood gliding over carpet, and the sense that someone is standing behind her.
She doesn’t turn.
After all, who else is it going to be?
She has stayed all day in the tiny flat, pokier even than their former home in Dagenham. The floors squeak when you walk around and the whole floor in the living room sinks into a corner. If you happened to drop a ball on the floor it would naturally roll towards it.
She is slight – not short but slump-shouldered, which are slender and sagged.
A Garden of Bones
The attic rooms drop in the corners, bend in the walls, and have windows jutting upwards in a failed attempt to make more space, like an afterthought.
She looks out over the skyline, almost Russian in its multi-coloured and domed splendor, every now and then.
She wanders a lot. She wanders and looks at her watch. She clutches her hands, rubs them together a lot – so bad that she has to use cream to soften them – like there’s blood on them, like a bashful Lady Macbeth.
She is slight – not short but slump-shouldered, which are slender and sagged.
Her hair is grey and forgotten, like she has been cutting it herself, and she wears no make-up. She has no need.
Her clothes are dour and shabby – an old green cardigan over her shoulders, plain cream trousers and a round-necked top of an indeterminable shade of white.
She wears no jewellery.
She never has.
There is no TV, and she couldn’t understand it even if there was. They have a small radio – good enough to give them a crackly rendition of the World Service.
There is also no TV because there is no money – what little pot they had has now dwindled
I think we’re almost there. My typesetting is almost there for the innards, and I’ve had a long chat with my cover artist today, so I hope that within a month A Garden of Bones will be good to meet the world.
I asked a number of people to read it prior to publication and write truly honest reviews. These are all people I know professionally. But the directive was simple . . . Do not suck my d!c$. Be honest. If you hate it, please say that you hate it. You will be doing me a favour.
“It’s a book that works on many levels . . .”
Anyway, here is one of them, written by a guy who grew up and still lives in the town where A Garden of Bones is set.
AND I am eternally grateful.
“With a deft pen, Andy Done-Johnson gives a first-hand account of how he broke a true crime story which was gripping, shocking and bizarre in equal measure.
It’s a book that works on many levels.
First and foremost, it gives a journalist’s perspective on what it’s like to catch the story of a lifetime, then stay one step ahead of the press pack to keep it alive.
It’s also a study into the character and psychology of the story’s main protagonists, the perpetrators of such a chilling and callous crime, and the police officers tasked with tracking them down and piecing together the jigsaw of what happened.
Finally, it tells the story of the disintegration of a former mining town that has never recovered from its main industry and employment source closing down, and the devastating impact on the unfolding investigation of ever-tightening budget cuts on a force that’s already been stripped to the bone.
An assured debut.
I’ll be sharing the artwork soon . . . and maybe a bit more of the book.