I have been busy sending my second novel -Masonic Fire to literary agents for consideration and bracing myself for the inevitable slew of polite rejections as well as hoping for at least one reply expressing interest.
This activity – with the half a dozen different query letters, synopses, extracts and covering emails needed by the different requirements of the agencies – has prompted me to think about what sort of book it is.
It started out as a more or less straightforward thriller with a hidden conspiracy behind the series of arsons and murders in contemporary Norwich I wrote over 15 days for National Novel Writing month the year before last. What it was actually about was the state of Britain today – how we treat those on the margins based on greed, lust for power or advantage, and the desire to have someone we can look down on to make ourselves feel better.
The historic conspiracy mixed up lots of real facts about Norwich’s history in a blender with its mythology and came up with links to the Hellfire Club and the occult. In researching these I realised there was a lot more in this aspect – enough for several more books if I used the core characters and moved the action to different locations to pick up other issues. So I rewrote it adding in a fantasy element. However my then agent rightly said that it would confuse readers as the beginning was one sort of book which suddenly became something different part of the way through. I don’t actually mind that sort of mutation myself, but I took his point. It is one thing expanding the sense of wonder by successive revelations, but that sort of switching genres in mid stride would mean a very restricted audience.
I was also taken with my idea of an artificial intelligence that interacts via a model talking head (a project I had actually thought of some years ago as a way of being a tourism and historical interpretation portal based on local work on AI avatars but never got round to pitching for funding). The idea was based on the myth of Roger Bacon’s Brass Head – featured in a play by the Norwich Playwright Robert Greene – and used in C S Lewis’ book That Hideous Strength. It had a lot of resonance and I wanted to see if I could give it amore important role.
My wife, and wonderful first reader, Jules also reminded me that my mindset is a pretty rationalist one. I accept there are things that do not have a scientific explanation, but I’m a lot happier if I can find or invent one. So I went back to basics and tried to fit together an explanation of how magic could work – see my post A Kind of Magic for details.
To give readers a way into the new book without making them suffer genre confusion I came up with an agency responsible for tackling threats to life as we know it – the London Institute of Parapsychology – which has spotted a growing crisis in Norwich and launches its own investigation parallel to the one which was the core of the first draft. This means the reader knows more about some aspects of the mystery than the hero, but the two investigations converge at the end and set up things for further novels in the series.
Hopefully this now works and I will find an agent that agrees with me!