How to write a novel, according to Author Colin Weldon

This interview took place in February 2016 on DCUfm.

Dubliner Colin Weldon wrote Sci-Fi novel The Agathon. He doesn’t seem like a Sci-Fi nerd, confident and joking. And, they don’t feel like Sci-Fi novels; his wife calls them a soap opera in space.

“I wanted to keep it a little bit grounded, but as grounded as a 4 armed alien can be. It’s not until the third one that I get more into the development of alien cultures and alien races.”

However he agrees that at that stage the reader has committed.

“That’s it, you’ve got 2 sane books, and I can do whatever the hell I want now! Giant mutant bananas!

“I’m very tempted to do a George R.R Martin, and kill off half the characters.”

One difference between the two men though (one of many), is their style of work.

“I’m the polar opposite to George R. R. Martin. I’m hoping to crank out quite a lot of these. I always had a target of 3 books by 36 and that’s in August. My goal is 10 by 40. I have a whole plan at home with post-it notes and everything.

“Writing a novel has always been a dream. When I hit my early 30s I got a big shock, and when I looked at myself in the mirror one day and went “right, okay, look: if you don’t do it now you’re never going to do it.”

Weldon runs a family business, a jewellers, in the heart of Dublin. Adorning rich folk by day, adorning paper by night. He spoke at length about escaping the business by studying journalism to pursue his writing career. But other responsibilities come with life, and they postponed his dream.

“I wasn’t ready until now.

“If you don’t slot out a routine you’ll never get it done. My brain is most active in the mornings; I get up early and tell myself ‘you will write for 3 hours before you go to work. If you do nothing, you will stare at the screen for 3 hours. But you will do 1000 words before you go to work. No matter what.’

“If you keep that regime it becomes really enjoyable. It’s therapeutic. If you bang out 1000, 2000 words before you go to work, in 3 or 4 months you’ve got a book. The math just adds up.

“It’s a very easy thing to keep going. It’s initially getting yourself to the first 10,000 words which is the real test.”

He discovered this when he tried to begin the third book after a long break.

“Your brain just shifts focus. It changes gear. It’s like running and then eating chocolate for 6 months and then trying to go back on the treadmill, it just doesn’t work until your mind gets into a steady rhythm.

“For me, once you get over the first 10, *clicks fingers* you’re in it, and there’s no way out. When you hit midway, the 40, 50 thousand mark you can’t stop until you’re done.

“When I run, I mean I try my best, but 4 of 5 kilometres out, and all of a sudden I have to get home. I mean, you can order a taxi! I can’t say I’ve never hailo’ed in the middle of a run!

“But you can’t hailo on a book – you’re defeating yourself.”

Not all of the answers come with that 10,000 words though. Lingering doubt puts the project at risk when you’re teetering there.

“That actually happened with the first book The Agathon. I got 10,000 in, and realised I was in trouble. But I said ‘Screw it. Just complete it. Get the story on paper no matter what.’

“When I finished it, I locked it in a drawer for a month and came back. The first 20,000 words went into the bin. I rewrote the whole thing because I knew at the outset where the story was going to go.

“As soon as you finish it, if it’s a mess or not a mess, at least you have completed something. When you’re writing, you just have to write. Whether it’s garbage or not, you can always fix it, you can always go back and change it, you can always amend things.”

But, as many writers know, writing the book is often the east part. Publishing it is the challenge. He received kind words from the biggest UK publishers. But kind words doth butter no parsnips.

“They sent me feedback saying that they loved it. I thought this thing was wrapped and ready to go. But they passed on it; they said look, keep writing, we love your stuff. We’ll keep an eye on Amazon.”

A setback, for sure. But Weldon was prepared to self-publish from the outset. It comes with its own set of advantages.

“I like the idea of having creative control. I like the idea of creating the cover myself. I like the idea of personally liaising with a great editor Audra Laback who is doing book 2 and book 3 at the moment.

“It took a year and a half to get feedback from the big publishers. And if it’s yes, great. But if it’s a no, you’re back on square one a year later.”

Going it alone taught Weldon valuable lessons he may have missed otherwise, like the importance of proof reading. He cringed before he launched into a story.

“I can be a little bit impatient at times, I sent my first manuscript out without it being proof read to a huge agent, who was lovely and funny.

“She was like ‘Colin, you need to learn how to spell this word, that’s not where you put a comma, you’re missing an entire sentence here,’ so I learnt the hard way. I learnt from falling down and picking myself up.”

And the rewards are great. He can explore other genres in ways a writer reliant on publishers would be pidgeonholed out of.

“I’m planning book 4 to be a bit of a Bourne identity type thriller.

“When you’re writing a thriller you’ve got to have your facts down. You can’t just go ‘and now we’re at planet blorb,’ there’s going to be a lot of reading up. I read a lot, if you write you have to read a lot.

“One of my favourite things to do is to go into bookshops and I really hope they don’t die out because there’s nothing from my experience like going into a bookshop and seeing all of these things that you can’t possibly read in a lifetime. I like paper books. I have a kindle myself, but I love paper books.

“I’ve always had trouble getting into the kindle reading thing…”

His eyes light up as he realises the error of his ways. The Agathon is only available in eBook form.

“…But I think it’s amazing. Buy kindles, they’re great!

“and buy my book.”


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