Book Bear is currently doing a book tour for Faisal Ansari’s new book The Prestilence and I was graciously provided with a fantastic interview/answers which Mr. Ansari answered.
His responses are great and his screw up with the first book agent he saw hilariously sad and a great read as well.
Unfortunately I don’t have time to check out this book at the moment but I hope to soon because it looks fantastic! If you give it a shot, let me know what you think.
Now, without further ado, here we gooooo!
Disclaimer: Adult language in the final interview set. Viewer discretion advised.
Faisal Ansari wrote his debut novel The Pestilence in twelve months. He shares his writing routine with us.
I wrote The Pestilence from October 2014 to June 2015 and was lucky enough to be able to treat writing as a full time job.
Dostoevsky said that one must have the courage to dare. I think any new writer needs to have the courage to sit down and just go for it. If you write from your heart, if you write from within; then the without will take care of itself.
When I commenced writing The Pestilence I had just finished a short story which contained the main characters of the book. It outlined for me who my characters were. Of The Pestilence itself, I knew the destination the story was headed in, but was not entirely sure of how best to get there.
Internet research told me that a typical first time novel was around 100,000 words in length. So I planned for 20 chapters comprising 5,000 words each. I broke this little rule on my very first chapter and the book eventually came it at 85,000 words.
I wrote scene by scene and not necessarily in chronological order. I asked myself every morning what scene did I feel like writing today. If I didn’t have an answer I would just continue where I left off the day before.
Keeping track of word count as you write is a small but supremely motivating detail. I averaged about 1,000 new words a day. My personal world record daily word count was 2,400 words when I achieved a once in a lifetime Zen like state and entered writing nirvana.
I rarely edited as I went along. I found that it was too disruptive (and boring). My focus was to get the ideas out of my head and onto the page/screen. I shied away from the write, edit, write, edit approach preferring instead to review big chunks at a time. I don’t believe in mentally masturbating over a word, paragraph or sentence. If I got stuck (which happened a lot) I just wrote something else.
I was lucky in that I had a network of people around me that would review and critique the book as I wrote it. Importantly they had the courage to tell me when something didn’t work or when what I wrote sucked balls. I changed large sections of the manuscripts based on the vital feedback I received.
My working routine when I didn’t have any outside appointments was as follows: Get kids breakfasted and off to school. Sit down about 9.30am to write. I took tea and half a packet of digestives at 11.30am religiously.
I wasted an insane amount of time looking out of the window or surfing the internet. I sometimes disconnected the network cable on the PC and switched off my phone just to find a moment free of distraction.
Due to the sacred digestives I found myself rapidly getting fat. I started a workout called P90X3. Which was 30 minutes and day and it helped keep my arse from spilling out of my chair. Lunch and exercise was around 1.30pm then I would write until kids returned from being educated. Any creativity dissipates in the face of family onslaught and I rarely wrote in the evenings.
Following editing (the most boring part of the whole process) and amendments the Pestilence was published by Matador on October 31 2015. The book took 12 months from inception to publication.
How I became a writer
Two factors came together that enabled me to write The Pestilence. Firstly, for the first time in my salaried life I had the luxury of time. I had been working in the City for 16 years. It was physically and mentally challenging. The long hours meant you were away from the people who matter most to you. Looking back it was an excellent experience, but there wasn’t much scope for creative writing. The closest I got to being creative was trying to sneak inappropriate words into legal documents such as Listing Particulars. My favourite sentence was saying that a product had a “banal penetration” rate in a market. Then on the next draft of the document the “b” would mysteriously disappear. Unfortunately, I never got it past the lawyers.
I had got to the point where I felt I wanted to carve out some time to write, making time is the single most important thing for a writer. I was lucky enough to be able to do so.
The second factor was inspiration. On an ordinary London street I witnessed a man falling badly. He was old and frail, his face awash with blood. The shock of the fall caused his hands to contract and flex like my daughter’s the day she was born. I couldn’t sleep thinking of that man and his hands, always his hands.
I wished I could have taken away his pain. I wished I could have given him my strength. I wished I could have healed him. I got to thinking; what would happen if somebody did? What would happen if in this 24/7 news cycle a healer came from the east that could guarantee you a long life, free from injury, sickness and disease?
Over the next two weeks I wrote a 2,500 word short story about the healer. Writing it was a horribly painful process far harder than writing the actual book, it was something akin to passing a watermelon. I have documented my struggles in my Writer’s Diary. The finished story was raw, but it contained the main characters and was the genesis of The Pestilence.
Author Faisal Ansari, took a drastic career change when he went from investment banker to author, and he’s here today, recalling one of his first tentative steps into the publishing world – meeting a literary agent!
It didn’t quite go as planned…
How I fucked up my first meeting with a literary agent
The demigod Zuul, worshipped by the Mesopotamians, Sumerians and Hittites was a minion of Gozer the Destructor; she was also known as the Gatekeeper.
In the publishing world, the Gatekeepers are the literary agents. Very few traditional publishers accept unsolicited manuscripts. For a hopeful debut author the literary agents are the bridge to the promised land. You want someone to publish your wonderfully crafted prose? Get an agent. This is how not to do it.
As a new author seeking to go down the traditional publishing route I had two choices to hook an agent: Write hundreds of submission letters and wait and wait and wait and then watch as the rejections slowly dripped into my inbox; or try agent speed dating. Writers’ festivals across the country offer the opportunity to pitch your work directly to a real life literary agent. Prior to the festival you submit the usual cover letter, synopsis and the required chapters of your manuscript and on the day you have a 15 minute slot to discuss your work with an agent. So I paid my money, sent my submissions and rocked up to the Winchester Writers’ Festival.
In a room full of agents and nervous authors my first interview was horrific and went something like this:
Agent question: What genre is your work?
Answer given: Errr… it’s a page-turning thriller set in Jerusalem about a healer. It has strong spiritual, religious and supernatural undertows, but not vampires or werewolves or anything shit like that. [I actually liked the Twilight series, so no idea why I said the last bit].
Answer I should have given: A commercial thriller set in Jerusalem.
Agent question: Who would read it?
Answer given: Errr…Men and Women.
[Trying again]. Errr…actually, everyone really. Most probably anyone who likes reading? [Yes, I managed to turn a stupid answer into a stupid question].
Answer I should have given: As a commercial thriller I believe the book will have wide popular appeal.
Agent question: Which book will it sit next to on the shelf?
Answer given: Errr…The Hand I Fan With by Tina McElroy Ansa [desperately trying to think of alphabetical shelf listings].
Answer I should have given: Any of the successful commercial thriller writers such as Dan Brown or John Grisham.
Agent question: Are you writing the next book in the series?
Answer given: Errr…no way. I have just emerged from my underground bunker after spending nine months of my short life writing this book. I am enjoying the sunlight and fresh air. I will start the next book soon, but right now I would rather eat my own feet than climb back in my bunker again.
Answer I should have given: Of course, I have so many exciting ideas for the next seven books in the series. I love writing, it is my life, my passion. I burst from the womb holding a pen.
Agent question: Who is your favourite author?
Answer given: Murakami.
Agent follow up question: What I have seen of your work it possess nothing like the flair of Murakami.
Answer given: Err…you asked me who my favourite author was.
Answer I should have given: Go fuck yourself you fluffed up arrogant arse.
You live and learn.
About the author:
Faisal Ansari has spent the majority of his adult life strapped into a suit writing marketing and stuffy legal documentation for M&A transactions in the City.
Despite growing up in London, Faisal’s overwhelming preference is to be outdoors. When trapped indoors he reads until his eyes bleed.
Faisal wrote full time to complete his first novel, The Pestilence.