About (or An Interview with an Agent Hunter)

Just who is the Agent Hunter?
I’m an unpublished writer seeking literary agent representation for my 51,000 word YA sci-fi manuscript The Twin World Academy.

Why a writer? Isn’t it painful?
From a very early age I’ve always had an interest in cinema, books, computers and popular culture in general. When I was about ten in primary school I remember basing an illustrated book project on the then revolutionary arcade game Dragon’s Lair. The class loved it. While the other kids were colouring in stories about their pet dogs and grandmas, I was getting a kick from providing something exciting and compelling. We created lots of these book projects throughout the year and I remember watching (although waaay too young) Evil Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Exorcist, Class of 1984 and other great horror movies. I based some of my creations around these horror films with severed limbs, copious amounts of blood with veins and bones sticking out everywhere! You wouldn’t be able to do that these days – but everyone loved it! Even the teachers! This really got me hooked on the audience’s anticipation of my next “release”. I’ve always liked that idea of getting a reaction.

Tell us your other interests?
I love music, movies, video games and reading. I’m currently obsessed with Kubrick. It’s testament to his genius that 2001: A Space Odyssey puts me to sleep every time I watch it, not in a negative way (read: boring), but in a magical, hypnotic way. I’m also infatuated with film history, in particular early film noir influenced Hollywood. Billy Wilder, Fritz Lang and John Huston are current favourites.

Music is vital to me. I would say the most important thing to me. A small taste of influential bands I love (or have loved): Animal Collective, Aphex Twin, Arcade Fire, Atari Teenage Riot, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Besnard Lakes, The Blood Brothers, The Chemical Brothers, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Death Cab For Cutie, Deerhoof, Deerhunter, F##K Buttons, The Hold Steady, Interpol, Joanna Newsom, Joy Division, LCD Soundsystem, The Libertines, Lightning Bolt, M.I.A., The Magic Numbers, Modest Mouse, Mogwai, My Bloody Valentine, My Morning Jacket, The National, Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana, Oasis, Of Montreal, Pavement, Pink Floyd, Pixies, Portishead, Radiohead, The Smashing Pumpkins, Sparklehorse, The Strokes, Sunset Rubdown, Tool and TV On The Radio.

I’m an avid follower of the video games industry in general and have been since a child. Currently I own an Xbox 360 and can’t stop playing Black Ops online.

What’s the most enjoyable aspect of the writing process?
Definitely the most exciting is developing the story. I could never truly articulate the exhilaration, the delight when the ideas and narrative all just magically evolves and comes together.

For The Twin World Academy I had the basic story loosely outlined in my head for a long time. You have to start somewhere so I hand wrote the first third or so circa 2004. I never thought I could do it, you know be a writer, but the idea simply wouldn’t go away. In 2005 I quit my job and travelled around the world for a year. Ideas just exploded. I love that feeling when a great idea comes, I remember jotting down ideas into my mobile phone, onto napkins – whatever was available at the time.

I returned back home early 2006 and this was the most productive period I’ve ever experienced for writing, I was just furiously pounding out ideas and concepts that were original and exciting and, best of all, my complex story all just came together like magic. This had me hooked. I wholeheartedly recommend travelling to unfamiliar places to open your head up like nothing else. As stated before, I could never describe the excitement, the feelings during this time.

And the least enjoyable?
Finding an agent? Ha ha. Seriously, for me the most painful phase would have to be the final polishing stages. By now you’ve read through the manuscript a thousand times and you just want it done. Oh God will it ever be done? You come to learn it’s never really done though.

Briefly elaborate on your writing process from beginning to end?
It’s gonna be difficult to keep it brief. The Twin World Academy came about from a strong idea of juxtaposing a real everyday teenager with a surreal, mind-bending world that although he initially doesn’t want to be part of, he learns to accept and even heal deep wounds that relate to his life back on Earth. I also like the idea that everything we learn about our world is a lie. We trust what the government and teachers tell us. For example in my story the stars we see in the night sky are not really stars at all.  How does a person, the average person, know what a star really is? We go by what we’re told don’t we.

I then wrote a very rough draft of the first act of the story. I didn’t really know what the last two acts were going to be. As above I travelled the world, returned, and virtually wrote the whole thing in six months. I call it my “golden phase”.

I hired Maria Sosh – an amazingly enthusiastic and supportive editor who helped me strengthen concepts and fine tune the narrative of the first draft. This took around a year. I also hired Gordon Keegan, an editor with extensive experience, to translate some dialogue into a German accent that I was itching to add to a particular character. I then naively thought “OK that’s it. I now have a saleable product ready to publish”. Not so.

To make sure it was absolutely perfect, proof reading seemed to be the next logical step. I hired another editor Nick Slawicz. It was around this time I discovered Cornerstones from glowing Litopia reviews. Wanting my story to be the very best it could be – before shopping it around – I reluctantly (due to being practically broke at the time) paid up for a detailed report on my MS. When I received the report back from Cornerstones I was gob smacked. My eyes were opened very wide to the amount of work still to be done. Yet I was amazed at how much better my story could be, and how much I had missed. We’re talking industry professionals here – so a detailed, honest, straight to the point critique was delivered. It was so exciting to hear them say my MS was really good and “very marketable indeed”. But it was equally disappointing to realise how much work was still to be done. I’m talking major sections of dialogue and character restructure. Thankfully the pacing and overall narrative was in place. It just needed a major tune up. This was the best money I have ever spent in my life. The report is essential for someone like me, who doesn’t really know what they’re doing. To make me realise I can take my story from good to great.

So I chopped away, section by section, at the Cornerstones report. In around six months I had the next draft ready.  Before I presented Cornerstones with my MS for round two, I wanted it to be the best it could possibly be. I was lucky enough to hire Laura Canning of Taste the Bright Lights fame. Laura and I continue to be friends to this day and if you haven’t read her brilliant, edgy book about a teenage girls life gone bad – you’re really missing out on something rather special. Laura did her job and I sent the majorly revised MS off to Cornerstones for round two. Surely it was perfect now? Not quite. I was a little disappointed that this six year project still had some fine tuning to do. And yet again the report was eye-opening, and in retrospect essential. The previous draft required a major overhaul; this one required a subtle fine tune. Considering it could mean the difference of being published or not, the effort would be worth it. I’ve recently made the revisions and Laura has just finished proofing this draft as we speak.

So surely now I have a truly saleable product that is the best it can be? I’m tempted to go a Cornerstones round three.

The furthest you’ve gotten with a literary agent?
That’s a bit personal! Seriously, a year or so ago I received a chapter request from PMA after querying them. I was sooo excited. Alas it stopped at that.

How do you deal with the inevitable rejections?
There’s no doubt seeking agency representation is difficult. Really difficult.

I’ve done the research, read the books, talked to published authors and unpublished writers. I fully understand the difficulties involved in snagging an agent. There’s no doubt, unless you’re at the extreme end of lucky, you will get rejected. Again and again. You’ll never push on if you don’t believe in yourself. You have to believe your story is worth the battle. You must be able to source and absorb good advice. You must not get caught up in your own self-importance, of how you know best. You don’t. That’s why you’re not published yet.

For me with each rejection, although disappointed, I’m actually more confident to prepare for the next one. It makes preparing for the next one easier. Rejections push me hard, challenge me, to make the next query letter better than before. My motto will always be: NEVER EVER GIVE UP!

Other writing projects you’ve worked on, or are working on?
The first serious piece I ever wrote was a short horror screenplay called The Brother. It’s creepy and disturbing, and I swear one day I will make into a film if I have to shoot it myself! After finishing the first draft of The Brother around early 2005, I was lucky enough to hire Mark Meyers (who now owns a production company Citizen Skull Productions and has previously worked with Disney, Porchlight and others) to do an edit which turned out fantastic.

The second phase of editing for The Brother introduced me to a really good friend of mine (although we’ve never talked in person, on the phone or anything – just email!) Sherry Moore liked the screenplay and offered to collaborate and turn it into a full feature that we would then shop around. This was such an intense learning period for me, many ups and downs. We continue to tweak the screenplay together to this day and hope to sell the screenplay someday.

Other projects I’m working on are; 1. A black comedy screenplay (working title Kickstart) about a depressed guy suddenly told he only has weeks to live and goes on this amazing ride. I’m really excited about it, and 2. The sequel to The Twin World Academy