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 I have one unpublished book for 8-12-year-olds.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 invited to write a story concept for what was to become a live musical comedy about Auckland. The story would encompass love, travel, Auckland city itself, and most importantly, showcase New Zealand to the rest of the world. The City of 100 Lovers was born, an 80-minute show, with more than 150 costumes, 16 musical numbers, including 11 original songs.
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.
Creative Crew: Justin Brown, Vincent Ward, Tony Stimac, Tom McLeod, Taiaroa Royal, Ian Aitken.
Above: An early draft of City of 100 Lovers.
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.*
Thanks for your support, New Zillund.
Enjoy the book. CHUR!
19 years ago at the age of 50, my old man was diagnosed with MS. Since then he’s reinvented himself as an artist and specializes in hand-painted rocks.
I spoke yesterday to Radio Live about his inspiring journey.
You can find his amazing work on Instagram.
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!
Orrgh, ace buzz!
Who knew this book would survive two Rugby World Cups and be celebrated ten years later with an upsized, updated edition. Might have a hoon on my durrie to celebrate. At the blue light disco.
If you want to speak with the author (ME) please get in touch with Jerome JBuckleigh@penguinrandomhouse.co.nz who is taking care of publicity for the book.
Meanwhile, here’s Kiwi Speak’s intro.
New Zealand was the first country to give women the vote. It’s also the only place on Earth where builders eat pie sandwiches for lunch. This land of plenty invented the jet boat, spreadable butter and the electric fence. It’s also the only place where jandals and shorts are considered ‘semi-formal’. This is the home of tiny bathroom basins and 20 million traffic cones, where courgettes are zucchinis, flannels are face cloths, cling film is glad wrap, a dairy is a shop, swimming shorts are togs, sweets are lollies, and where homes are insulated by a solitary heated towel rail.
Welcome to Kiwi Speak, a book that toasts the way New Zealanders yarn. It celebrates the vowel-flatteners and noun-nasalers among us. There are sayings we used to say and sayings we shouldn’t. There are put-downs, pick-me-ups and things you can yell in the pub. You’ll discover how Kiwis lose their rag on the road, in the bach and up over the backblocks. The little toerags have their own lingo too. (When they’re not wagging, that is. Or is that bunking?).
Maybe you’re new to New Zealand. Maybe it fits like an old pair of Stubbies. Whatever the reason, why not pull on your ugg boots, jump in the La-Z-Boy, grab an L&P and check out a few of these beauties. And don’t sweat it if you’re not a big reader — you’ll knock this bastard off in no time. PS: Though these sayings aren’t all exclusive to New Zealand, they are used in everyday speech, often having been passed down generations. Some youngsters born after Helen started running the joint won’t know some of the old ones. Conversely, your nana probably reckons the ‘Street Speak’ section sounds as ludicrous as fart tax. One thing’s for sure: New Zealanders, we’re different. So let’s have a shandy and celebrate.
This past week I was fortunate to join other Kiwi entrepreneurs and business peeps on a state-level delegation to Beijing and Shenzhen, China.
We visited innovation and tech hubs, medical and nuclear plants, attended a BioTech summit and had one too many 12-course meals.
Our first stop was a dinner in Beijing with Madame Qiu, Chinese Minister for Foreign Affairs (centre). Miss Qiu was a very cool, accommodating lady who took an interest in all of our respective businesses and projects. Note – regarding formalities below – I thought it was a huggy pic. Wasn’t.
But I’d already seen Beijing once before, and even though there was the novelty of blue sky, it was Southern China’s tech-powerhouse I really wanted to discover.
30 years ago Shenzhen, a 40-minute drive from Hong Kong, had a population of 30,000. Today it’s home to Tencent and Huawei, among other tech giants, and has a population of 19.2 million, all of whom reside in a very liveable city with a lush climate. There are also some pretty big incentives set by the local government to encourage foreign start-ups to set up shop.
If I was 20 and starting out in innovation and tech I’d be there.
Just when you think an idea is too stupid for words or is best left at the bottom of the wine bottle at 4 am, you discover China’s already selling it. Below is the equivalent of Fitbit for chickens. It’s simple – tag the chicken and the device records the steps, meaning you charge more for a dead, but formally fit, chicken.
Those 12-course meals I talked about earlier included the usual Chinese fare, with the added bonus of duck feet, sea cucumber, and a water creature found only in China, the duck-billed golden-line fish.
Some dishes, however, awaken your typically dormant vegetarian tendencies.
China leaves a mark, it fires you up. It rips you out of your comfort zone. It confronts and challenges you. It inspires and invigorates. It’s also exhausting. So after a week of travelling madness, I stumbled home after an overnight flight happy to hear a little voice say, ‘Dad, I got new pyjama pants with rockets on them!’
Thanks a ton to NZCYF for a top trip. Xiexie!
Recently I’ve worked with VR and AR specialists M Theory to create a story for the world’s first virtual reality experience to help prospective university students choose their course of study.
Quite a mouthful, but here’s the blurb.
‘The Future of You’ (Torrens University Australia) takes students on an interactive journey designed to help them find their future career paths. It’s a fully immersive VR environment where students make a series of decisions to discover their personality profile, which uncovers courses that might suit them best.
Launched this month at Torrens University Open Days across Australia, ‘The Future of You’ features a virtual fortune-teller, developed using face mapping technology, who guides students through a series of questions and tests based on American psychologist John L Holland’s theory of career and vocational choice, The Holland Codes.
The virtual environment within ‘The Future of You’ is beautiful and mysterious, with the landscape shifting and changing as the visitor completes each series of questions. Sound and visual cues enhance the experience and create an engaging and lasting memory. At the end of the journey, the fortune teller presents visitors with their personality type in tarot card format, a brief descriptor and suggested career paths best suited to this personality type.
Which sure beats a visit to the school’s guidance counsellor.
‘The Future of You’ operates on Samsung Gear VR headsets. It will also be delivered through schools via Cardboard VR headsets and will be available for public download from the Oculus store from October.