Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Interview: Graeme Shimmin

I now present my interview with Graeme Shimmin, author of A Kill in the Morning:

Welcome to The Update, Graeme. Tell us about yourself.

I’m an alternate history and spy thriller novelist, and the author of the award-winning novel A Kill in the Morning. I also run a website where I review spy thrillers and advise aspiring authors about writing and getting published.

What got you interested in alternate history?

I'd always been interested in military history and wargames, and I read SS-GB by Len Deighton when I was a teenager. But I think what really got me interested was two things: reading Fatherland by Robert Harris and joining This was quite a while ago now and there weren't the same social media options, so being able to chat to people from all over the world about a shared interest was a new and exciting thing for me.

Tell us about A Kill in the Morning.

I describe it as “James Bond versus the Nazis”. It’s an action-packed, fun spy thriller set in a world where there's a cold war between Britain and Nazi Germany. It has won YouWriteOn Book of the Year, an Superlative Award and it was shortlisted for the Terry Pratchett Prize.

Stephen Baxter, winner of multiple literary awards, including the Philip K Dick Award, and the John W Campbell Memorial Award, sends this review: “Superbly researched, scarily plausible, and with a great narrative drive – A Kill in the Morning is a cracking counterfactual, and a terrific debut.”

What inspired you to write it?

I’d had an image in my head for years of hanger doors grinding open to reveal an amazing superweapon that I could never quite see. I also had inspiration from all the classic spy novels I'd read. When I started writing, all those ideas just seemed to flood out. About halfway through, I suddenly realised how it had to end and that it was really going to work. I sat back and just thought, "This is the story I was born to write". It was an amazing moment. I felt like a sculptor, chipping away and finding the sculpture was already there inside the marble.

Did you post the original version of the story on

Yes, was incredibly useful to me. One of the hardest things when you're writing a first draft is the feeling that "it'll never be finished, it's crap, and no one cares anyway". So having ‘fans’ clamouring for the next episode helped to keep me writing. A Kill in the Morning was a big hit on, and winning the Superlative Turtledove award was a huge confidence boost.

Posting every few days did have some disadvantages, for example, I couldn't go back to change things that weren't quite working or introduce things I'd need later and just had to plow on. But actually, for a first draft, 'plowing on' is probably for the best.

The commercially published version is hugely improved from that initial draft of course. It’s 30% longer for one thing, but at the same time I've trimmed out all those bits that didn't work.

Who designed the cover?

It was a joint effort between me, my editor, a cover designer at Transworld called Leon Dufour and an artist called Mark Thomas. My editor and I discussed branding and concepts, and I produced a 'mood board' with references to people and events in the novel, Leon sketched the layout and the elements on the cover and amended them based on suggestions by my editor and me. Then the sketch went off to Mark to be painted. A couple of weeks later, the painting came back, Leon tweaked it and added the lettering. My editor and I wrote the 'blurb' for the back, and then it was done. There's an article on my website where I explain the cover design process in detail. It includes the concept art, etc.

Are there any sequels on the horizon?

I'm editing a novel called Angel in Amber at the moment and hoping to bring that out next year. Angel in Amber is a thriller set in the near future, with Britain trapped between a feuding USA and Europe. It's written in the same all-action style as A Kill in the Morning. After that, there will be sequels to A Kill in the Morning. I've worked out how the series will continue and I've already written the first chapter of the next book.

What are you reading now?

The novel I’m reading is Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene. I’m rereading all his spy-related novels. A non-fiction book I’ve been reading is Inside the Third Reich by Albert Speer, as part of my research for the sequel to A Kill in the Morning.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

First and most important: don’t give up the day job!

It took me ten years to get published, and that’s not unusual. Even most commercially published writers have to teach writing to make ends meet.

Second, you have to realise the first draft isn’t the end.

You need to write at least three drafts before you even attempt to find an agent or publisher. There will be at least three more drafts if they buy your book. Related to that: learn the rules of editing - you’re wasting every one’s time, including your own, if you send out work that has basic errors in it.

Third, keep learning and improving.

Read all the classic examples of the kind of novel you want to write, buy books about writing techniques, do creative writing courses, join critique groups, online and in real life, and really listen to your feedback. Learning is the key difference between eventual success and ongoing failure in my opinion. Everyone always says not to give up, and it’s true that you shouldn't, but you have to get better too.

Fourth, Network.

Commercial publishing is a relationship business. You either have to know people or be extremely lucky if you want to get commercially published. How do you network though? Start with other authors. Support each other. Help each other. They move in the circles you need to get into.

Finally don’t give up.

If you keep writing, keep learning and improving and keep networking, you’ll get published eventually.

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