Q – I’m rewriting my first novel and would like to know how to grab an agent’s attention when submitting.

Justin – There is no right or wrong way, just make sure you’ve done the obvious things right – spelling, grammar, etc. You know the drill. Just be polite. Be aware they read thousands of submissions and seem to enjoy the process about as much as filling in a tax form. Therefore make it easy for them. Good tone to the letter, sizzling teasers, and then be patient.

And start writing something new right away.

I currently have the beginning and end of my book and am having trouble stringing events and character motivations together to make the entire thing complete. Of course, this still means I’m in my outline phase. Do you think I should scrap my idea because I can’t put the beginning and end together, or any other advice?

All I can offer is my experience. I have one unpublished book for 8-12-year-olds. I’m on draft number 10. It has taken me that long to discover what the actual story is. There are two options – you can either struggle away or (gasp) put the book aside. That way you can start on something else, and often when you start on something else, ideas arrive for your first story. Re outlines, some people use them, some don’t. It’s whatever works for you. Joanna Rowling did alright by using one.

How do you get started, especially when it’s a passion and you have a career-oriented day job that pays the bills.

You write. Write when you’re tired, when you’re hungover, when you don’t want to write. If you love the craft enough you’d do it at 2 in the morning if someone asked you. I write when I cook, no jokes, I have the laptop open and add any lines that come to me. Which can be damn annoying. And dangerous.

Working and writing at the same time can be tough. Maybe try to write for an hour a night instead of watching TV. This can become two hours. Soon enough you’ll be more into your own story than any lame show on telly. 100 words becomes 1000, becomes a manuscript. The first draft will be shit, it always is, but keep going.

Do you have your characters fully planned out in your head before you start, or do you let them develop as you write the story?

This is rare – my latest manuscript arrived fully formed, names, setting, title. It was bizarre. Again, some writers like to see what happens, others plan meticulously. You’ve got to know how your main characters will react in any given situation. Once they start doing things by themselves, now that’s creepy.

How do you know a manuscript is ready and it’s time to stop editing/revising?

Make it as perfect as you can and as easy to read (and follow) as possible. Endings can change, so can character, but a lot of these issues and challenges might arise once you’ve actually scored a contract when you’ll have time to rewrite with an editor. That’s the best part. Make it sparkly, be proud of it before you hit send.

How do you introduce things like currency when there’s no direct way to correlate it to our universe. I’m writing a fantasy book in a different universe that while some things are the same, things like the currency are entirely different and I have no idea how to incorporate the value of this currency without stating it outright.

Make it up! It’s your story. 3 spigglets = 1 grosnipod. As long as you’re consistent, and more importantly that the reader understands, you’ll be okay. Please don’t complicate the reader. It’s a right ol turn off.

Does every idea, even the good ones, feel hopeless or not-worth-it at some point? I’ve never finished a single first draft. I wrote for years, recently switched over to comic scripts and screenplays and stuff because I was having ideas that fit that format and they’re so much easier to finish. Is every idea going to try to beat me up at some point?

Finish the damn book. Australian guitarist Tommy Emmanuel talks about The Shitty Committee who jump into your head and tell you how bad your piece of work is. Finish the damn book. Because if you do, you have a completed work, and if it’s not perfect, something similarly amazing could come out of the process: a character, a title, an idea. Go for it.

Having seen some scary stuff about fake publishers and stealing people’s writing, how do you find a real (and good) publisher and/or agent?

You gotta kiss a lot of frogs. Re fake publishers, ask around or google, you’ll know if it sounds too good to be true. ‘PAY US TO READ YOUR MANUSCRIPT!’ Really, now come on. This is, however, a long game so take your time finding the right team. It’s not easy, but what is? It’s the 10,000 hours thing. It’s no different. Good luck!

How many of your 31 published books do you hate?

Good question. No writer is ever 100% happy with their work, there’s always something that niggles years later. I don’t hate any of them, it’s a cliche but the whole thing has been a journey, so there are some works I like less than others.

I was recently interviewed by Danny McCrum on his podcast ‘Don’t Give Up Your Day Job.’

It’s strange talking about your creative journey and the decisions you made along the way. In the chat, we cover Thomas Magnum, JK Rowling, turkey plucking, lost bets, sharing a green room with Graham Norton, and I discovered that back in the day I wanted to be pilot. Who knew?

I enjoyed this interview, hope you do too. Here’s the link.

Once upon a time I toured the US and played golf with whoever was on the front page of the newspaper in each town I visited. Amazingly, I was never arrested. I met clowns, Stevie Wonder impersonators, crocodile wranglers and drunken beauty queens. In El Paso, I hung out with a young Beto O’Rourke, who is now a superstar politician about to ‘trump’ Trump by running for President. (google him – he’s massive, interviewed by Oprah yesterday.) There were so many stories I decided to put them into a book – In Search of Swingers – hope you enjoy it.

Here’s the first chapter.

Intro – In Search of Swingers

SO IT GOES LIKE THIS. I like golf, but mostly I like meeting people. My previous travel books (‘One Man, 23 Beers and a Crazy Bet’ and ‘Bowling Through India’) are proof of that. The former involved street singing around the UK in the middle of winter (door-to-door I might add) and trying to make enough money to fly home. The latter was a case of five grown men gallivanting around the most populous nation on earth and losing cricket matches against nine-year-olds.

The book you are reading has a similar theme, only this time my idea was to tour the U.S. and play golf with whoever happened to feature on the front page of the newspaper in whatever town I happened to be visiting.

As you’ll see, it was a scary, brilliant, eye-opening look at a wonderful country.

Since this trip, new towers have been built in Manhattan and New Orleans is still recovering from the effects of Katrina. But friendships live on and many of the Americans you’ll meet in the following pages are still my friends today. Thank you to anyone who took this crazy adventure seriously.

Justin Brown

Bowling Through India by Justin Brown – Kindle ebook link 

What’s it all about?

Joined by a high-country farmer, a businessman, a photographer and a shoestring traveller named Blanket Boy, the amateur sportsmen take to the streets of India to face off against kids who can bat and bowl like demons. Amidst the sledging and inappropriate jokes, the Black Craps, as they name their team, learn about life, love, death, compassion and the fascination of India.

A book about travel, humour, mateship and the love of cricket that unites people whatever their age, race and station, Bowling Through India is an endearing and affecting read.

What do readers say?

Kit Packer (Amazon review)

If you’ve ever fancied going on a road trip with your best friends, this story will only make you want it more! Though the road trip has cricket as its central theme, the real story here is what happens when friends escape their ‘normal’ lives and get the chance to go crazy, lots of laughs.

Sasha Naryshkine (Amazon review

Great fun, well written, loved it. In fact loved it so much that I wanted to organise my own team to head off to India to do the same!

raveburbleblog (Amazon review)

Justin Brown describes India in words I never would have thought of and had me cracking up all the way through. I’m only giving him four stars though, ‘cos he went and made me homesick for the place, the rotten sod.

And here is the book – for free.

 

 

I’ll admit I may have been rocking on the back of my heels pre-show but there was no need. City of 100 Lovers kicked off with a thunderous bang. Brilliant and funny with a tuneful crew, this is a show for Kiwis from all backgrounds, with a few un-pc and inappropriate moments biffed in for good measure. I may have had a tear in my eye during the final song.

I am one of 158 people in the show. What a bloody privilege. Kia Ora!

I was approached to write an original story concept for what was to become a live musical comedy about Auckland. Where to start! Exactly. In my opinion, the story needed to encompass love, travel, the city itself, and most importantly, to showcase NZ to the rest of the world. The City of 100 Lovers was born. Since then I’ve been closely associated with the show and rehearsals are looking all G. And just today, Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote to me and said how much he loves it.*

*citation needed.

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My publisher sent me a bottle of plonk to celebrate the launch of my new book today.

I’m very grateful. I’ll make a dent in it later, maybe sooner.

This new version of ‘Kiwi Speak’ is upsized and updated. The original (with a grass-green cover) came out ten years ago and somehow wrangled its way into homes all over the country. And it fits nicely inside your handbag, which I’m told is a bonus.

It’s a book you might read in the bach, or on the bus, or when you emigrate to New Zealand when you need to know the difference between a ‘manu’ and a ‘manus,’ ‘hamu’ and ‘hungus,’ or the ‘wop wops’ from ‘Whack City.’ (All of these gems just popped up as ‘unknown words’ on spellcheck which is bloody enlightening.)

A lot has changed in our little country in the past decade. Along with the chapters ‘Mum Speak,’ ‘Dad Speak,’ and ‘Nana Speak,’ are newbies ‘Skuxx Speak,’ ‘Street Speak,’ and ‘School Speak.’ Like many Kiwis, I’m inspired by Taika’s movies, Lorde’s songs, random youtube clips posted by downhearted skaters (‘Nek minnit’) and loveable hooligan country kids (‘Eat some ice creams do some bombs!’).

This time around I dedicated the book to the late Murry Ball and John Clarke, two Kiwis who shaped our country with their words and ideas. If it weren’t for your gumboots where would you be?

Chur, New Zealand!

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