From Literary Scout to Author by Sam Blake – guest post

Sam Blake is the author of Little Bones and Deep Water. Her latest book in the Cathy Connlly series, No Turning Back was published by Bonnier Zaffre on 17 May 2018.

She has written about her journey from literary scout to author.

I’ve been working in publishing for a long time (about twelve years) but it all started because my husband went sailing across the Atlantic for 8 weeks and I had an idea for a story.  My first book was truly awful but I was convinced I’d write a bestseller – there is power in positive thinking, but there was also a little delusion at that stage!  I was given the best advice ever from an author friend, Sarah Webb, who told me to ‘just keep writing’. It kept me going through the rejections (which were many!) It sounds simple but it’s only through writing that you find your voice and get better.

I knew I needed to improve my writing, so I set up Inkwell, running intensive workshops featuring bestselling authors, and sat in the back of every single one absorbing EVERYTHING! I still never hear an author speak at an event and fail to learn something – in writing you never stop growing. Learning fiction writing technique is essential to writing a great book.

At the end of every Inkwell season I ran a ‘Getting Published’ workshop, bringing in agents and editors to explain the business end, so I quickly made lots of contacts and began to understand how publishing works. Through the workshops, writers would show me their work and I found I became better and better at spotting what was ready to go, and connecting those writers with publishers and agents. I love meeting people and I knew lots of agents in London that I’d met through events and festivals that I’d been invited to speak at, and began sending them manuscripts. Over the years we’ve had some fabulous successes. There is NOTHING more exciting that reading a manuscript and just knowing it’s going to be big and knowing exactly the agent who will love it. My job as a scout is a bit like matchmaking, connecting people who can make a difference.

I met my own agent, Simon Trewin at WME, originally through a publishing event we were both invited to speak at, and I started scouting for him before he even knew I wrote. One day we met for coffee in Covent Garden and I had the latest copy of Alex Barclay’s book with me – he commented on it and I explained how influential she’d been on my writing (I’ve completely adopted the plotting system she uses). His response was, “Oh do you write?” I wasn’t entirely sure how I’d forgotten to mention it, but I told him that I wrote crime and I’d written this book about a Garda detective who finds the bones of a baby hidden in the hem of a wedding dress. He wanted to see it straight away, which was fabulous but I’d been very busy building the Writing.ie website and I hadn’t looked at it for ages. I was terrified – if it was total rubbish my credibility as a scout would hit the floor! We had coffee on Friday and I read it over on Saturday and was very surprised that it read quite well – and I’d totally forgotten the big ending. I sent it over and he loved it and found Little Bones a wonderful publisher in Bonnier Zaffre. He’s sold the Film/TV option, and audio in the UK and recently to the US, so the series is continuing to build.

Writing is strange through because knowing what works in someone else’s book is actually not as useful as you’d think when it comes to your own. Like every writer, it’s extremely hard to see what you’ve brought the page. I have the images in my head so when I read a chapter, I can see it all there in glorious colour, but what the reader sees can be completely different! I’m blessed that I have amazing writer friends and a brilliant agent who help me get it right, but like everyone my first drafts need a lot of work.

Finding the story and getting it to the page in the first instance is the biggest part of writing, then the polishing and rewriting is vital. No Turning Back, particularly, changed dramatically between edits – the end changed entirely from the first draft (although the location didn’t – we come to London as events begin to dovetail). I think reading masses is vital for any writer, and I read lots of early drafts, so from that perspective I know how much work a book needs before it will be submission ready, but I find it very hard to distance myself and be objective about my own work in that first draft. You’re passionate about the story and it only comes with redrafting that you get a bit of distance and can be brutal with changes. Being a scout does mean that I know that changes and rewrites are what makes a book, so if I have to rewrite a third of it, it pains me without question, but I know the end result will be worth it. I also know that each book has to work as a standalone as well as part of the series and put a lot of work into making that happen. As an author you have a contract with your reader to deliver the best possible story, and I hope I’ve done that with the Cat Connolly series Little Bones, In Deep Water and No Turning Back.

About the book

Even perfect families have secrets . . .

Orla and Conor Quinn are the perfect power couple: smart, successful and glamorous. But then the unthinkable happens. Their only son, Tom, is the victim of a deliberate hit-and-run.

Detective Garda Cathy Connolly has just left Tom’s parents when she is called to the discovery of another body, this time in Dillon’s Park, not far from where Tom Quinn was found. What led shy student Lauren O’Reilly to apparently take her own life? She was a friend of Tom’s and they both died on the same night – are their deaths connected and if so, how?

As Cathy delves deeper, she uncovers links to the Dark Web and a catalogue of cold cases, realising that those involved each have their own reasons for hiding things from the police. But events are about to get a lot more frightening . . .

About the author

Sam Blake is a pseudonym for Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin, the founder of The Inkwell Group publishing consultancy and the hugely popular national writing resources website Writing.ie. She is Ireland’s leading literary scout and has assisted many award winning and bestselling authors to publication. Vanessa has been writing fiction since her husband set sail across the Atlantic for eight weeks and she had an idea for a book.

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