Rorie from Tan Tan Books says:
My name is Rorie Smith and I run Tan Tan Books. I worked as a journalist until my wife got Parkinson’s disease and it became a priority to look after her. My first novel was published by FrontList Books of Gullane in Scotland in 2008. It was called Tombola and even managed to get some decent reviews. FrontList is no longer, so now I have set up my own imprint, Tan Tan Books. Two new books are out, Counterpart and One Million Euro. There is also a re edited version of the first book, now called Tombola! We are based partly in Cornwall, partly in France. Looking for first submissions early 2015. You can find us at tantanbooks.co.uk.
The thing that will strike me straightaway in a good manuscript is the clarity of the writing. The words will be like shiny pebbles glinting in the sunlight beneath the water of a fast flowing stream. James Salter comes to mind as I write that.
The effect is simple, clear cut and refreshing. And to learn to do it, unless you are one of those rare ‘naturals,’ takes a lifetime of writing, rewriting, thinking, crossing out and starting again.
When I talk about clarity I do not mean however that the meaning of the words has to be clear straightaway. A first reading of the The Pedersen Kid by William Gass can leave the reader confused.
With a second reading the sense emerges. It is not that those pebbles in the stream are not shiny enough, it is just that Gass has laid them out on his river bed in such an unusual pattern that it takes time for the brain to adjust.
But finally, when we get the focus, we realise that the words are crystal clear.
This brings me to originality. Of course every editor would like to receive a script so original that it breaks moulds and starts us on a new path. But this is very rare.
At the other end of the spectrum the heart sinks when one sees yet another poor imitation of a well known genre - a second rate crime novel or a poorly thought out suspense thriller.
There are people who do these sorts of genre books very well. They are skilled practioners. Unless you have an unusual angle to offer, leave them to it.
But in between those two extremes there is room. Legend of a Suicide by David Vann is really quite a simple tale, told with almost journalistic plainness, but it gives the reader a profound jolt.
So, off the top of my head, I would be happy, say, to receive a travel story that was the opposite of a heroic adventure - a trip to the shops rather than an ascent of Everest. And I have no problem if fact mixes with fiction.
Then there is the story. Some writers can dispense with plot, narrative and story and get away with it. But they have to be very smart to do that. And most of us are not that smart. So for me there has to be something that makes me want to turn the page. We are sitting around a camp fire listening to a story being told. For me, somewhere in there, you can bury it quite deep if you like, there have to be those key
words - ‘ and then’ ‘suddenly’ ‘next.’ I exaggerate but you get the point.
Finally the best books come from somewhere deep inside the writer. That is why Counterpart is the best thing I have written. If you don’t really feel it, it is probably not going to be much good.
There is a scene that must be familiar in a lot of publishers offices. Someone has had the idea to ask a well known media personality, someone who sparkles in the cut and thrust of TV and radio debate, to write a novel. The manuscript is delivered and the editor begins to read. And then as the pages are turned there is the awful realisation that it is a pale imitation of something dated and long gone, perhaps Agatha Christie or Eric Ambler or Tom Sharpe. The characters are wooden, the whole thing is as flat as a pancake.
It as if the famous broadcaster, in searching for a voice and a theme, has returned to his or her parents bookcase in search of a comfort blanket.
I am not sure why this occurs, but the point is it does seem to happen to most writers. You have to push through and come out the other side. For most new writers these drafts are simply discarded. It is a literary growing up process. For the unfortunate celebrity they end up on the shelves of Waterstones.
The answer to the problem is that you have to be ruthless. You either give up altogether and go and do something else, or you keep going until you emerge the other side of this mental Sargasso Sea. Then you are ready to start properly.
But when you do start how do you use your material? Because by and large the material you are going to use is probably going to come somewhere from your own life experience.
When you go about your daily business do you take pen and paper and jot down all your experiences and thoughts while they are still fresh?
Or do you let time pass so that in the end you are looking back on those experiences from a distance through a sort of gauze of memory. Then you can mould those memories into something useful.
I am not going to say which is best, except to make writers aware that their own life experience is their writer’s seed corn and they need to work out how best they are going to harvest the crop when it is ready.
Please be realistic. Unless you are very talented, in which case you will have already been picked up by a big publisher, sales are going to be low. Profits are going to be equally small. And the number of writers taken on at the beginning is going to be very limited. But just to get the damn thing finished and to an editor, who looks at it and says, you know I think there is something here, that is an achievement in itself. No advance, but the money flow will be from us to you. You are not expected to pay anything. However it is going to be a great plus if you can come up with ideas for marketing your work. We are in this together. The problem for small publishers is to get that elusive oxygen of publicity. If you can show initiative and innovation in getting your name noticed that is going to weigh heavily in your favour. Hopefully it is also not too much to ask that before sending in a manuscript writers have at least a working familiarity with the type of book Tan Tan Books is publishing?
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST REGRET IN A WORKING LIFE AS A JOURNALIST/WRITER/PUBLISHER?
Not having read every novel in the local library. New writers - read, absorb, all you can. You will be a hundred times the better writer for it.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT?
Not giving up. My first half dozen efforts were pitiful. Then I stopped trying to fit into a formula. I threw away the rule book and began to write what I wanted, how I wanted. Tombola is pared back to the bone. It is almost a graphic novel without the graphics. The characters are one step away from being caricatures. They could have stepped out of a Blackpool sea side post card or from a TV sit com script. But then I took them into a space where you would not normally expect to find those sort of characters - they become potential assassins of a mad newspaper tycoon.
One Million Euro has the long dead poet Walt Whitman and the grumpy Scottish football manager Sir Roy Babadouche leading an eccentric group of pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. This makes it odd. Deliberately so. Some critics have said it is too odd, like putting marmalade on roast beef. But I like it, and that’s what counts.
Counterpart is without doubt the best thing I have ever written. It sits between memoir and fiction and tells the story of the lives my late wife and my late father might have led. It’s the best thing I have done because it evolved from somewhere deep inside me. It wasn’t constructed or thought out in advance. It is like a piece of abstract art. It is no use asking the artist what it means, the reader/viewer takes out of it what he/she wants. If I were pinned to the wall by my ears and had to give an answer as to what it was actually about I think I would have to say it is a celebration of life. In A Season in Hell, Arthur Rimbaud has a line which reads:
"A chaque être plusieurs autres vies me semblaient dues."
(To every being, I felt, several other
lives seemed due).
That is also a pretty good summing up of what the book is about.
CAN YOU GIVE SOME IDEA OF YOUR SUBMISSION PROCESS?
Start thinking about it now, though we are not officially open to new writers till 2015. Don’t send in your manuscript half finished. Work at it, polish it until it shines. Get rid of all typos and errors. Great to have an exclusive submission but not expecting it. However you are going to get a brownie point if you have some idea of what we are about. If you have actually read one of our books you will certainly go straight to the head of the queue! More seriously please don’t stick us on us an automated list that is going round to all publishers. We will do you the service of reading what you send, so don’t overwhelm us with your discards. At the beginning a short synopsis, a few lines about yourself. Thoughts on marketing. Please be kind to us. Not manuscripts that are way too long. Something short and snappy is to going to be more welcome than a three volume tome. By e mail, as a word doc to email@example.com
WHAT WOULD BE YOUR PERFECT MANUSCRIPT?
Well, the writer would show he/she had the descriptive abilities of James Salter, the intelligence of William Gass, the comic genius of Damyon Runyon, the humanity of Robert Tressell and the spikiness of Ellis Sharpe. And of course that would come out like a total dog’s breakfast. So perhaps I would settle for a description of a morning trip to the shops to buy melons, beer or sausages in Macclesfield, Mumbai or Moscow. It would come in under the heading My Life’s Great Adventure.