Creative characters: Agency Authors

Everyone may have one book in them, yet not everyone ever manages to pen it. Or, for that matter, secure a literary agent and a publishing deal. However, those in the creative industries seem to be more adept at this than others. The Drum speaks to a quar

Andrew Wolffe,

Pointsize wolffe and Co

Author: The Rory Stories

The Rory Stories were conceived by Andrew shortly after the birth of his first child whilst he was still creative director at Tayburn.

In the books the main character Rory and his dog Scruff MacDuff live out adventures by the seaside and each story has a fantasy twist.

As part of the career move from Tayburn Andrew and his wife Alison established a publishing business that would publish The Rory Stories as well as other titles and, as his day job, he established Wolffe and Co.

The first two titles were published in 1998 and over the next six years a further five titles were added and Wolffe became a regular on the book festival circuit and doing readings at schools. Over 50,000 books were sold during this period.

“As my career as an author developed so did Wolffe and Co,” says Wolffe. “My design business quickly grew to service clients across the UK and Ireland and book events had to be fitted ‘round a busy schedule.

“At first I was shy about my career as an author but eventually it became something that I was confident to talk to clients about.

“My skills as a designer definitely helped me as a writer. I had always considered words an integral part of the design process.

“Doing book events in front of groups of children, teachers and carers was like making a presentation. I had to perform and communicate an idea to them.

“Most satisfying moments were at the Edinburgh International Book festival opening day, first event for me and first up in the children’s tent. I was a sell out and had a queue ‘round the book tent buying books and waiting for autographs. Another one was at an event at a school in Sighthill in Glasgow where the children all came in to the event wearing Rory and Scruff MacDuff masks that they had made.

“My favourite books; The Adventures of Tintin by Hergé. I think the excitement of an adventure has always been something that I have enjoyed.

“I was brought up near the coast in Galloway and in hindsight I have realised that the Rory Stories are reflective of days spent on the beach when I was young.

“I was interviewed for a radio programme and we went down to the beach to get the sound effects of waves and seagulls. I started guddling in rock pools and the interviewer realised that I was Rory!!!!

“I definitely see myself as a designer and an author.

Following the success of Wolffe’s books, a production company in London has since developed an animated version of one of the stories with a view to creating a series.

Chris Wallace,

Scottish Water

Author: The resurrection club, and others

The creative and communications industries are well suited to successful writers as, fundamentally, people choose to work in this industry because they want to be involved in some way in a creative process, and this applies as much to suits and bean-counters as it does to the creatives who are meant to dream up ads in the first place.

Being involved in the industry means you get comfortable with the whole process of shaping, developing and pitching ideas. Inhibitions aren’t allowed.

I’ve always imagined that writers coming from this background are easier to deal with for the editors and agents of the publishing industry because of this. The shy tortured, withdrawn author who can’t discuss his work, let alone talk about changing it, does exist and can be a nightmare to deal with.

The proposition of writing a book is very similar to communicating a message to the public through advertising or PR or any other channel... It is all about the proposition; the ‘what am I trying to say’ thing? What is the brief I’ve set myself? That kind of industry discipline can bring a lot of focus to writing.

It took me a year or so to write my first manuscript, at the end of which I submitted it to various agents, sending it out in batches of five.

What you’re meant to do, of course, is send out a synopsis and samples, not to give your postman a hernia when it comes back to you.

But mine was taken up on the second batch and my agent simply said that she would find the publisher from there on and to leave the rest to her. Looking back, I was impressively relaxed about all of this although that was probably due more to stupidity and ignorance and too much going on elsewhere than my choice to stay detached.

When I’m stuck, when the writers block kicks it I just don’t write. I daydream. I wait a while and then try some decent red wine.

But inspiration comes in all shapes, sizes and in all areas of life... Events, happenings, the big things going on around us...

My own books can all loosely be described as psychological thrillers where I’ve used research or direct experience to ask a “what if”?

When I look at these after the event it’s pretty obvious to me that every lousy meeting, or let down by others or when I’ve screwed up myself is in there, recycled and re-processed so I guess there’s some kind of release going on too.

While A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess, might be my favourite book, I don’t, however, have a favourite book I’ve written.

Your books are like your children; you love them all to the same extent but for different reasons and sometimes all the more because of their faults than despite them.

Zane Radcliffe, Newhaven

Author: London Irish, and others

When I was eighteen I told my mother that I would write a novel. She spat out her chewing tobacco, scratched her stubble and replied: ‘What the bejaysus would you write a novel about. You haven’t lived.’

It took me another fifteen years of living – in Belfast, Watford and London – before I finally penned the opening words to that long-promised opus. I was working at HHCL in London at the time. They’d just been named ‘Agency of the Decade’ by Campaign. As a creative, I thought I’d hit the jackpot. But after six months the agency lost a few accounts and the briefs dried up. Steve Henry wasn’t a man to let his creatives twiddle their thumbs. His advice was simple: ‘If you’re not busy go and watch a film or write a novel.’

So I did. I wrote ‘London Irish’ in 12 weeks and had a book deal secured a month after that. I had no idea that this was unusual. When I sat down to write the book I had no intention of actually sending it to publishers. I wasn’t even sure how many words a book should be. I was used to writing seven words at a time, on Tango posters.

My girlfriend Natalie (now my wife) read the manuscript and suggested I send it to editors and agents. With a bottle of Guinness in every package. My very own piece of DM! In the end, it wasn’t the Guinness that caught the attention of the editor at Black Swan. It was the fact that I’d misdirected the package and sent my ‘comic thriller’ to an editor of romantic fiction. Week in, week out, she received hundreds of bodice-rippers, and then some idiot sends her a bottle of Guinness and a chapter about a wee girl surviving a car bomb. She felt obliged to read it. And she gave it to Simon Taylor, who represents Dan Brown (among others). He read it too. And fame, riches and worldwide adulation duly followed (for Dan Brown, if not me).

The book went on to win the WHSmith ‘People’s Choice’ Award, thanks to my mum rigging the vote by mobilising the collective might of the Ladies at Bangor Golf Club. This lulled my publisher into a false sense of security and they rashly offered me another three-book deal. ‘Big Jessie’ was penned in a flat in Comely Bank as I prepared to join The Leith. And I had the idea for ‘The Killer’s Guide to Iceland’ while shooting a Tennent’s ad in Reykjavik.

It’s a natural desire in a lot of advertising copywriters to turn their hand to a book or a screenplay. Fay Weldon and Salman Rushdie did it. And Newhaven’s Chris Watson is turning his hand to a children’s book (when he’s not writing great beer ads).

But novel writing is a very different discipline. I think my first book is closest to what I do in advertising in the sense that it’s really a succession of shorter, punchy scenes strung together.

When you’re used to telling a story in 40 seconds it’s actually quite daunting to have the seeming luxury of 400 pages. Like a 100m sprinter being faced with the steeplechase.

But my writing has developed and the Iceland book is much more expansive in scope and remains the book I’m most proud of.

As for now, I’ve just written a short story for an anthology of Northern Irish writers compiled by Colin Bateman (‘Murphy’s Law’ / Dan Starkey novels). It’s due later in the year.

But I’ve been taking a break from writing novels to concentrate on the continued success of Newhaven and to start a family. My first son Arlo was published in 2006 and my follow-up is due in June. And for all the ads and books I’ve written, they’ll remain the most creative thing I’ll ever do.

Liz Holt,

copywriter

Author: um and em, and others

My head’s a nicer place to be since I started writing fiction. Spaceships, dream thieves and penguins zoom between headlines for tea and toothpaste. The ideas pop up from somewhere like Narnia or Pullman’s other worlds. No doubt there’s some fancy explanation involving neural pathways. I just see it as my job to catch the little critters before they fly away, and turn them into something exciting to read.

Once upon a time, I worked for a succession of direct marketing agencies. Then, about five years ago, a big idea for a Young Adult novel hit me so hard I turned freelance to write it. Being an author was a childhood dream. Why did I take so long to start? Truthfully, I don’t think I had my ‘voice’ till then.

A literary agent fell into my lap almost straightaway, when I wasn’t looking. But the first publishing contract has taken longer. ‘The Fairy Pools’ will be published this autumn by Scholastic, for 5+ readers. My YA novel, ‘Stolen Dreams’, has morphed into a historical magical realism story with the help of an editor at Oxford University Press. The latest draft is about to wing its way down there for consideration. To help make this happen, The Scottish Arts Council awarded me a New Writer’s Bursary. It took care of the bills while I breathed in the sixteenth century, enough to make this dark and glittering time feel real in the writing. As for picture books, Puffin nearly bought ‘Pebble the Penguin’, but it was culled during Acquisitions. Walker Books ummed and ahhed over the ‘Um and Em’ series; this met a similar fate, though my agent hasn’t abandoned hope and still sends them out. New picture book ideas tend to populate my head more than any other genre – perhaps a result of thinking visually. I see all my stories as films as I write. Also, picture books closely resemble advertising; the illustrations and words both tell 50% of the story.

So my own journey has had a few deviations and hesitations. I wouldn’t describe myself as a ‘successful author’ - just published. Quite apart from the state of the children’s book market, raising my daughter and putting bread on the table through copy must always come first. But it’s great to have one foot in the corporate world and the other in Narnia. I’m learning from authors up here and in faraway places like Bologna. I’m collaborating on projects with illustrators. And I’m enjoying opportunities, such as contributing to ‘Bard & Co’, a book published by Cyan (for 26 and The Globe Theatre).

There’s no doubt that copywriting has given me useful skills. I can spot a good idea. I can connect with and target different audiences (especially helpful in manoeuvring the authorial gap between words and the child’s level of understanding – an issue you don’t encounter when writing for adults). I know how to climb inside a brand and make it real – it’s the same when you want your character and their world feel utterly believable, especially in historical and fantasy fiction. However, the learning curve in writing for children has been like climbing Everest. I know a foothold when I see one and can skip up parts, but it’s still steep.

Likewise, writing fiction also makes me a better copywriter. The two work well together. Good job too because, unless I write a blockbuster, I’ll be writing copy alongside books forever; I’m told that the average UK author earns around £5k a year...

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