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  • Tan Tan Books is looking for submissions
    by Anna Reynolds at 23:55 on 13 August 2014
    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?
    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.
    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.
    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 rorie@tantanbooks.co.uk.
    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.