2022 has been a good year. I’ve written two more books, one a medical thriller (currently in the hands of a literary agent) and the second the next book in my self-published Indian cozy mystery series.
At the end of all that, I find myself in a reflective mood. What better time, then, to look back at how it all began, and where I find myself now. Along with what I’ve learned on the way.
The story began a few years before all that, though. By 2017, it was clear that I needed a side hustle. Medicine was fun, but I couldn’t see myself running around the hospital until I hit 60. Especially with the government’s pension changes meaning it would be increasingly expensive for me to continue as an NHS doctor.
So I thought about what else I might do. Thoughts turned to writing.
Lesson #1: If you’re thinking about writing, start writing.
First Steps: Pitch Perfect
In 2017, I entered the Pitch Perfect competition for the upcoming Bloody Scotland crime writing festival. The brief was simple: send in a 100 word pitch for a book.
“How difficult can it be?” I thought. So I did it.
I didn’t expect to be selected but I was. A few months later, I was in front of a live audience and a panel of literary agents and editors in Stirling.
It was tough. But it was fun.
I do remember the panel looked distinctly worried as I made my pitch. Why? Well, I was pitching an Indian speculative fiction murder mystery set in the near-future, featuring drones and an Indian warrior goddess.
I didn’t win. No surprise.
In retrospect, it was a ridiculous concept BUT I did have one audience member come up to me after and say that he would buy that book!
That was all it took. I was off.
Lesson #2: The best time to write a book was ten years ago. The second best time is now. Go to it.
Bad Book #1: The Crazy Indian Mythical Speculative Cosy Murder Mystery
Over the next year, I wrote that weird book. It was a disaster. And it was all my fault.
I did no plotting. I just had a beginning and an ending. So I wrote. About halfway through, it was such a mess that I couldn’t bear to look at it for months. Finally, I finished it. And then sent it off to some literary agents.
No surprise that it was rejected.
My sincere apologies to all the literary agents who wasted irrecoverable minutes of their lives reading it.
Lesson #3: Before you try to write across genres, learn to write well in one genre. Unless you’re Anthony Horowitz. In which case, write more.
Bad Book #2: The Gangster Medical Thriller
After picking myself up again, and out of pique, I decided to write a second book. To prove to the world that I could do it.
“Write what you know,” says the adage. So I wrote a medical thriller. After all, I’d been in and out of hospitals all my life. My parents were both doctors. I was born in a small mission hospital in India and spent my early childhood wandering its corridors. How could it go wrong?
To my credit, I had learnt something from the first book. I actually plotted this one out. The characters evolved, as did the plot. The process of writing it felt fluid. It felt a more polished affair than the first.
That book, too, did the rounds. It got a few more manuscript requests than the first. But no takers.
The problem was that the story was implausible. Or, more precisely, I didn’t yet have the skills to make it plausible.
Lesson #4: Just because you know something doesn’t mean you can write about it well – yet. Get good at your craft. Write more.
Time To Regroup: The Coconut Book
Clearly I had gotten better. But not by much. It was time to get some proper instruction.
I signed up for a beginner’s creative writing course run by Strathclyde University. The start date was in April 2020. Two weeks before it began, the first wave of the COVID pandemic hit the UK. And I was one of twenty-odd anaesthetists volunteered to work in Intensive Care.
The writing course went online and I managed to keep up with the coursework in between the draining Intensive Care shifts. From that process was born the first half-decent book: The Tender Coconut Tamasha, featuring a dysfunctional Indian police unit specialising in minor crime: the Bangalore Civil Nuisance Unit.
Lesson #5: Working with other people is fun. Take a course. Reflect. Learn. You’ll improve.
It was time to revisit the submission process for the third time.
Surely this would be it! Finally, I would be a published author!
The Tender Coconut Tamasha got as far as the desk of an editor at one of the Big Five publishers, but no further.
This time, though, I had agents saying “if you write anything else, send it my way.” Another step forward.
Having done all the work on the Coconut Book, I ended up publishing it myself as ebook and paperback on platforms worldwide.
In the process, I learned more than I ever wished to about book formatting, typography, cover design and marketing.
My aim was to break even in six months. I did it in four. Not enough to retire on by any means, but another step forward.
Lesson #6: Define your own measure of success. It’s easy to overlook the fact that you’re making progress.
Thankfully, the reader feedback for the Coconut Book was overwhelmingly positive. And it made the longlist for the 2022 Page Turner Awards. So I decided to write more.
Book #2 in the Civil Nuisance Series will be out shortly. Two more will follow in 2023.
Lesson #7: Take a risk now and then.
Getting an agent…
I happened to see an advertisement for a crime thriller writing competition. Thoughts turned to Bad Book #2, the gangster medical thriller. Might I revisit it, now that I had a better sense of how to write?
I did. I polished up the first five chapters of it and sent it in. I didn’t win that competition (see the pattern here?) but I did get an email back saying I had made the top ten out of over a hundred entries.
So I worked on the rest of it and sent it off to one of the few literary agents who had offered some comments on The Coconut Book. I was surprised when I received an offer of representation. The medical thriller is now in the process of being submitted to publishers.
I might end up as a ‘proper’ author after all. But I might not.
Regardless, I’m making progress, and that’s the key thing.
Lesson #8: Old dogs CAN learn new tricks. They just need to practice. Write more.
Appearing at Bloody Scotland 2022
Most recently, I’ve had the privilege of featuring as ‘support act’ to Anthony Horowitz at the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival in 2022, as part of their “Crime in The Spotlight” feature, highlighting “new and emerging published crime writers”.
It was a privilege to be chosen, and a fantastic experience. I got a lanyard that said ‘AUTHOR’ on it. I got to wander in and out of events for free. I was given three minutes to pitch the Coconut Book to five hundred readers and I did my first ever book signing alongside Anthony.
Lesson #8: Persevere. Oh, and take a risk. And write more.
As for that crazy Bad Book #1…it’s coming back to life.
Without the speculative future fiction but definitely with warrior goddesses. And drones.
Watch out for “The Arms of Durga” in 2023.