Write, don't tell

Write, don't tell

<p>The two-book Canongate offer came via a phonecall just before Chris Killen was about to start the late shift in the fiction department at Waterstone&#39;s Manchester Deansgate store. Killen was, understandably, thrilled and he describes Canongate as the publisher he &quot;would have dreamed about&quot; as an aspiring author. But as a graduate from the one-year full-time MA in Creative Writing course, where he studied under Geoff Ryman among others (before Martin Amis joined), Killen was under no illusions as to the difficulty of becoming a published writer: &quot;My plan was to try the agents, and if that didn&#39;t work try the small presses, and if that didn&#39;t work, self-publish.&quot; The tried and tested route of finding an agent came to nothing: &quot;I sent it [the m/s] out to around 15 agents from the <em>Writers&#39; and Artists&#39; Yearbook</em> . . . pretty much across the board I got stock letters back with my name penned in. I think I got one personal reply from A M Heath that was quite positive, but it was a positive &lsquo;no&#39;!&quot;</p><p>Killen credits the MA with instilling some much-needed discipline: &quot;Up until that point I&#39;d made a lot of starts on things. I was writing a lot of short stories but a couple of times before I&#39;d made an attempt to start a novel and each time I&#39;d have an initial flurry of activity and I&#39;d do that awful thing of telling people&mdash;I&#39;d tell friends I was writing a novel and I&#39;d see them a month later and they&#39;d remember and ask me about it and I&#39;d have given up.&quot;<br /><br /><strong>Relationships</strong><br />The course required regular submissions of five thousand words, and the first chunk Killen handed in included the first chapter of what was to become <em>The Bird Room</em> (Canongate, 22nd January, &pound;9.99, tpb), a modern love story of sorts: &quot;It&#39;s about a relationship falling apart, a relationship destroyed due to paranoia and jealousy.&quot; The splintered, spare narrative moves back and forth in time and the reader must piece together the story. Will is in love with Alice but he&#39;s becoming increasingly obsessed with her past and specifically a clip filmed by an ex-boyfriend that may, or may not, be available on an amateur porn site. </p><p>Visits from published authors were an integral part of the course, and Killen confesses to being initially &quot;star-struck&quot;, although it would be his contacts made with writers while working at Waterstone&#39;s that would lead to his eventual book deal.</p><p>Starting at Waterstone&#39;s as a Christmas temp in late 2006, he realised: &quot;If I signed myself up to do [author] events and help out at the readings there&#39;d often be a lot of time before, when you&#39;re setting up, or afterwards, when you&#39;d get to have a little chat.&quot; Killen met several helpful and supportive authors this way but the most significant for his career was to be with Steven Hall, in Manchester to promote <em>The Raw Shark Texts</em>: &quot;At that point I didn&#39;t try and foist my manuscript on him or anything,&quot; he laughs. A month later Hall was back in the store: &quot;He [Hall] came to my till with two books by an American author, Tao Lin,&quot; Killen explains. &quot;We got chatting and I mentioned that Tao Lin was going to blurb my novel because at that point I&#39;d had an &lsquo;almost yes&#39; from a small UK press.&quot; Hall asked to read the novel and was so impressed that he passed it on to his editor Francis Bickmore at Canongate.</p><p>Killen now has an agent, Catherine Summerhayes at WMA, and is due to take up the position of Writing Fellow at the University of Manchester, affording him another year focusing solely on his writing: &quot;I can have the nicest day, go and sit in the park and go and hang out with my friends but if I haven&#39;t done something then it just gnaws at me. It just makes me feel miserable if I haven&#39;t written.&quot;<br /><br /></p>