Waiting For Doggo

Waiting For Doggo

By Mark Mills

We have a bit of a game in our office. We try and find the most ridiculous X meets Y descriptors for new books.

Publishers will often try to sell a book into us by telling us it’s the next Gone Girl (which was the next Before I Go To Sleep, by the way) – or the next Fifty Shades. If there’s no obvious comparison they’ll tell us it’s the prodigal child of two other blockbusters.

 

Maeve Binchy meets Dan Brown

Harry Potter meets Queer as Folk

Game of Thrones meets Bridget Jones (Bridget Thrones, anyone?)

 

Ok – so, we’ve never actually had any of those (as far as I know!) but these are the kinds of descriptors we get. It’s sort of ridiculous, for example Gone Girl was bigger, better and completely different to BIGTS, but sort of understandable. I’ve used it myself (Memories of a Murder is Agatha Christie meets LOST, in case you were wondering) – it’s a really quick and simple way of explaining what you’re going to get.

Last week I received a proof copy of the new Mark Mills – Waiting for Doggo. Frankly, I was sold on the title alone – but the inside blurb describes it as appealing to ‘readers of Marley and Me and One Day and fans of It’s A Wonderful Life’

I’ve never seen It’s A Wonderful Life (shock!), I adored One Day, and I’ve never been that enticed by Marley & Me, so I had no idea what to expect when I opened this book.

First of all, it’s nothing like One Day, it has nowhere near the same emotional punch – but that doesn’t mean it’s not as good.

It’s a short book, but it’s almost perfectly constructed. It tells the tale of Dan who’s girlfriend of several years one day, just leaves him, leaving only a letter behind. She takes everything that they bought together over the years, including a wooden salad bowl. The only thing she’s left behind is the most recent addition to their family, an ugly, rescue dog temporarily named Doggo.

Doggo and Dan do not get on, but somehow they start to form a bond as Dan starts his new job at an advertising agency. Amazingly, Doggo is the most well-drawn character in the book, despite actually not getting a huge amount of ‘page-time’ (like screen time, but on paper).

That’s not a put down on the other characters, I actually think the reason the books is because he’s not a character, he’s a real person who springs forth right at the beginning of the book – everyone else – including Doggo – are the characters we see develop through his eyes, some of the minor ones not that well defined, to be honest.

The similarities between Doggo and Dan are not subtle, but they’re not clichéd, it’s this link between them, along with a great sense of humour (the Hatchback of Notre Dame particularly made me chuckle) makes for a great book.

There is a small emotional punch – naturally at the conclusion of Doggo’s arc – which almost elicits a tear or two, but at a mere 208 pages, the book can’t afford to dabble in sentimentality and so avoids dragging it out too long.

Waiting for Doggo is it’s own book – it deserves to stand alone on it’s own merit, so whether you’re a fan of Marley and Me, Game of Thrones or midgets wrestling in jelly (that last one’s not a book, I hope) – give it a go, at most you’ll lose an hour or two of your life, but the chances are you’ll find a little gem.

For me, it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

If you can get hold of a proof copy, then do it – otherwise you’ll have to wait until it’s officially published in November of this year.

Advertisements

You’ve Sold Yourself, What Next?

A couple of weeks ago, when I wrote about the hardest thing that I’d ever written, Olivia Berrier commented that the thing she’d always found the hardest thing to write was the synopsis

These can sometimes be just as difficult as a covering letter, just how do you summarise your 150,000 word opus into just one side of A4? If you could do the story justice in just five hundred words, then it’s likely you would never have written the thing in the first place.

The best place to start is to think about what you’re trying to achieve with a synopsis. What is the end goal of this plot summary?

If the purpose of the covering letter is to sell yourself, and the sample chapters are to sell your style of writing, then the synopsis is to sell your ability to construct a story.

At the same time, it shows the skill of being able to effectively communicate a specific set of information in a brief, concise format. It might not be exactly what an agent would be looking for, but it doesn’t hurt in any walk of life to be able to do this.

For me, and the way I write, a synopsis of the book is fairly easy to write, mostly because it’s already written.

The novel itself is a synopsis, albeit quite a lengthy one. You just need to boil it down and reduce it to just the basic parts. Sounds easy, but of course it isn’t, because the art of boiling it down is basically butchering your piece of work, taking out every single piece of beautiful prose.

Think of writing a synopsis as giving directions to someone coming to visit your house from another city. You might want to tell them that they’ll pass the school you used to go to, but it won’t help them get to you, instead you should concentrate on the key landmarks, signposts and road features.

By all means, tell them that they’ll pass a school on their right hand side, but they don’t need to know you were imprisoned there for five years in the late nineties.

For me, though, writing a synopsis is even easier than that. When I was originally starting Memories of a Murder I had a plan. I knew how many chapters there were going to be, and what was going to happen in each of them. Mostly.

I had folders on my PC called things like: ‘4Robert Fucks Frederick’ and ’13 Gary Argues With Nicole and Then Passes Out’. They’re hardly award winning bits of prose, and they wouldn’t even cut the mustard in a synopsis, but they were the main plot point in that chapter.

Start with these, but then boil them down a bit more. For instance, for ‘Chapter 4, Robert Fucks Frederick’, when I first wrote it, I wrote some key bullet points at the top of the page, all the key points I had to tick off through the writing. They were:

  • Harry and Frederick argue over Harry’s sexuality and Frederick’s work and Frederick heads home to England.
  • Robert waits for an interview with Ernest. He is left alone with Frederick and they end up having sex.
  • Afterwards, Frederick convinces Ernest to give Robert a job.

It didn’t matter when I was writing it how I got there, as long as I got there (that was the creative bit) in approximately four thousand words.

I eventually ended up adding some more bits in during the edit, so the synopsis for this chapter ends up becoming:

Tricia warns Harry that he must keep his sexuality and his relationship with Frederick a secret if he wants to make it in Hollywood. After spending the night together, Harry and Frederick argue about this, and about the screenplay that Frederick is supposed to be writing. After the argument, Frederick flies home to England to gain some funding from his grandfather. While there, he meets Robert Curtis who is waiting to have an interview with Ernest. While Ernest deals with some important pieces of paperwork, Robert has sex with Frederick and manipulates him into convincing Ernest into hiring him.

There was so much more in that chapter, and stuff that comes up later on in the book as an important plot point in an argument between Harry and Frederick, however later on in the synopsis that can be covered by: “Harry and Frederick argue over Frederick’s dalliance with Robert and the two of them split up.”

Dalliance. Another good word.

You don’t need to be specific, you’re just relaying the bare facts – however, that doesn’t mean you need to let your adolescent writer take chart (“And then he went to the shops and then he bought a piece of chewing gum and then he started to chew it and then it didn’t taste very good so he spit it out and then he stood on it, and then…”), remember this is still an example of your writing, don’t let it become too dry, you must be passionate about your plot.

I hope some of this can help some people to write their own synopsis. It’s certainly helped me refine mine and to keep a focus on the important facts.

Get It Write

How do you write a good covering letter? I promised in the my last blog post that I would try and find out.

Of course, on the presumption that my book is flawlessly written, this can only lead us to believe that I cannot write a good covering letter, or else said letter, with said flawless manuscript would have resulted in me being available in all good book stores by now – as well as the bad ones.

Therefore, this entire blog post is flawed. How can I tell you how to write a good covering letter if I haven’t written one? Well, here’s how:

I said last time that I didn’t like covering letters, that I wanted my sample chapters and my synopsis to do the talking. Well, that’s all very fine and well, but it would be a bit like a television program without opening credits, a book without a front cover, a prostitute without a short leather skirt and fishnets. It’s all there, it does the job, it’s just not been presented.

The point of the covering letter is to say hello, this is who I am, this is what this is, and this is why I’m talking to you.

It sounds simple. It’s not.

Have a look at some examples out there, a lot of them are pretty dry. That’s fine if you’re writing to someone to ask them to pop round and measure up your front room for a new carpet, but we’re talking about a covering letters in the context of trying to get yourself published.

Trying to get your writing recognised for how amazing it is.

The covering letter will be the first thing your agent reads. It is the first representation of your writing. The most important thing is to make it ‘not dull’. I’m not saying memorable, it just needs to hold their attention long enough to get them to read your manuscript.

So, include the following points

  • Why you’re writing to them
  • Who you are
  • Why you wrote the book
  • Any writing experience you have

But write it perfectly. Do not have any spelling or grammar mistakes in it and definitely make sure you get their name right.

Tell them something about yourself that isn’t relevant to the writing. Tell them, that in your spare time you like eating orange jelly babies and singing to your budgie, or that you’re planning to trek across the Antarctic in search of the Holy Grail – if that is indeed what you’re planning to do.

That’s how you write a covering letter. Keep it short, keep it simple, but above all, remember it is the first thing a prospective agent will read.

Keep it interesting. It could be the most important thing you’ll ever write.