Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Novelwatch: A SERPENT UNCOILED


This is NOVELWATCH, here are the facts.

After a long time away, oh patient reader, I am back to sexpester your bookshelves and play prose-based sillybuggers with your brain. My new novel, A SERPENT UNCOILED, is scheduled for release on August 4th 2011. I tingle.

The back-cover blurb puts it like this:

A missing mobster. A bizarre spiritualist society. And three deaths, linked by a chilling forensic detail.

Working as an enforcer in London's criminal underworld brought Dan Shaper to the edge of a breakdown. Now he's a private investigator, kept perilously afloat by a growing cocktail of drugs. He needs to straighten-up and rebuild his life, but instead gets the attention of his old gangland masters and a job-offer from Mr George Glass. The elderly eccentric claims to be a New Age Messiah, but now needs a saviour of his own. He's been marked for murder.

Adrift amidst liars and thugs, Shaper must push his capsizing mind to its limits: stalked not only by a unique and terrifying killer, but by the ghosts of his own brutal past.

A crime novel with a twist, A Serpent Uncoiled is a wry, witty and utterly unique take on the classic private eye novel
.


...which amounts to a slab of grim, crimey, creepy fun, with a secret syringe of Unnatural sliding into its vein. Let’s get the linkage out the way right here, shall we?

Pre-order via Amazon.

Pre-order via Bookdepository.com (with free shipping to the US and elsewhere).

And to seal the deal, go read the first – and thoroughly bloody fantastic – review to hit the Internets. Which is, I warn you, ever-so-slightly spoily.


Okay, back to the behind-the-scenes stuff.

This book’s been a long time coming. That’s not so much down to slowness on my part – I’m pretty quick when I know what I’m doing (fnar). It has more to do with the vagaries (or, rather, specificaries, which should totally be a word) of the Publishing trade. I am Writor, Hear Me Expound:

My first novel, Contract, was planned and started entirely on spec, with the rather na├»ve attitude that as long as it was good and inventive and captivating and engaging it shouldn't amount to a single figgy fuck precisely how one might classify it along genre lines. I quickly discovered how wrong I was when – with the first three chapters proudly mixing weirdo psychedelic insanity with hardboiled noir tropes – my newly-engaged Agent patiently asked me which shelf, in a hypothetical bookstore, I imagined this novel haunting. Contemporary fiction? Crime? Fantasy?

‘Um,’ as I cleverly retorted.

In the event we got lucky, and found an editor at a well-established publishing house whose remit, as he described it, was to form a list of “the books that fall down the cracks.” It didn’t matter that said publishing house was all about Crime Novels with a capital “C” – see also: chalk outlines, bullet/gun motifs, “crimey” buzzwords ‘pon every blurb – because we were charting new territory with this stuff. A bold hybridisation of genre – that was Contract’s turf – born mewling and mutated… and glorious for it.

Contract was a great critical success. (The Sunday Times, which is probably the last place you’d expect to find any good-will for a novel about a delusional hitman whose victims are coming back to life, called it a “tour de force.” Blessem.) Yes, critically it did brilliantly. Financially? It did… okay. Respectably. Well enough that my two-novel deal wasn’t nuked from orbit, anyway. But not quite gold-plated yacht territory.

But then – as was patiently explained to me – that absolutely wasn’t a problem. Conventional publishing wisdom held (back then) that an author didn’t achieve the cache required to sell copies by name alone, to punch through the apathy-barrier, to encourage people outside their usual little genre-preferences, and P.S. to earn a fuckton of cash, until maybe their 4th or 5th book. Rather, publishers were in the business of investing in writers: speculating on the future. “Build the brand” was the buzzphrase du jour.

So I was dispatched to write a sequel, with a lot of enthusiastic encouragement and high confidence in my unique “voice”. And eight months tripped-by. Tum tiddly tum. This would’ve been 2008/9.

At the end of those eight months, when I submitted the m/s, I learnt various things. I learnt that my editor was leaving the company. I learnt that times were changing, and “investing in a debut novelist’s weirdo stylings in order to foster a unique authorial brand” had suffered somewhat in the face of the new, emergent agenda called "selling books." I learnt that when one’s publisher is one of the foremost crime-specialists in the world, and one has neither an editorial mandate nor a fuckoff-massive profit to wave as mitigation, all the "tour de force" critical success in the world won’t aid them in figuring-out what the hell they’re supposed to do with one's latest bizarro psychedelic weirdfest.

So talks were had. Possibilities were discussed. Frustrations were vented. Deadlines were rearranged. Many comics were written. And finally, some time towards the end of 2009, the plan emerged. I would write a Proper crime novel.

Oh... there’s still a bit of weirdness in there. There are spooky goings-on, and psychedelic breakdowns, and a question mark about some highly esoteric practices. I like to think the serious reader of horror or fantasy novels could pick up this puppy and not feel too much like it’s trying to piss on them. What I do know for sure is that the dyed-in-the-wool reader of crime thrillers will definitely feel on solid ground with A Serpent Uncoiled. For all its flexes and flinches, all its grim little peeks beneath the surface of London, all its genuinely scary – though entirely human – dangers, it is at heart a murder mystery. There’s a detective, there’s a killer, and there’s a reticulated fuckton of twists separating the two.

If I’ve done my job right – and the first, glowing reviews are making me dare to believe I have – your basic, savvy, sophisticated reader of Good Crime Fiction should barely even notice as I pour the poison of infectious oddity into their eyes...

Anyway. That’s the story of A Serpent Uncoiled. Sometimes it feels like I’ve sleepwalked into becoming a Crime! Writer!, as opposed to just a Writer! Writer!... but oddly enough I can’t bring myself to feel bad about that. I got so excited by the challenge of writing a really fucking good murder mystery, and I’m so proud of the result, that right now there’s nothing I’d rather be.

So there you go. I'll keep you updated on the launch, press, reviews etc. Any questions, feel free to post them here.

Thanks for reading!

-s.x

1 comment:

FS said...

Congrats! Pre-ordered.