Wednesday 7 January 2015

Achievements of yesteryear - 2014

It is usual at this time of year to cast a look back at the twelve months gone by and think of all that you've accomplished, as well as setting goals and resolutions for the coming year.

I find it is all too easy to think of all the things one hasn't managed to do. All the things you had planned but couldn't complete, or those things that didn't pan out through no fault of your own. My main goal for 2014 was to get a publishing deal. That didn't happen and I sometimes have to remind myself that that doesn't mean I have failed in any way. There is still a chance I will find that elusive book deal, but if I don't, there are thousands of other writers (maybe millions) who are publishing independently, so whatever happens, my writing will see the light of day. This is an amazing time for writers. The ability to get books published and distributed is available to everyone in a way that previous generations could not even dream of.

So, dwelling on the positives, here are some of the things that I've achieved in 2014.

I got a literary agent!

This one is actually pretty huge. In fact, I think I was spoilt by how easily I managed to find an agent who liked my book enough to agree to represent me. I started in earnest looking for an agent in January, and within two months I'd signed a contract with Robin Wade, a successful and well-established agent with strong connections in the historical fiction publishing world. Like most writers I'd heard all the horror stories of waiting months and never hearing from agents, so I was prepared for a lot of submissions and many rejections.

My experience was not bad at all. I sent targeted letters out to the first seven agents on my list of about twenty who I thought might be interested. Within a month, I got a few form rejections and then an email from Robin, saying he'd be delighted to represent me.

It was a tense few weeks waiting for replies, but nothing could prepare me for the long silence after Robin had sent my manuscript out to publishers.

Robin pitched THE SERPENT SWORD to all the major publishing houses in the UK at the London book fair. Many editors were interested, and requested the full manuscript. And then the waiting started.

I am not a patient person and the months waiting for replies dragged on and on.

I finished my second novel

While waiting for the publishers to read THE SERPENT SWORD and come back to my agent, I got on with the sequel, THE CROSS AND THE CURSE. That kept me busy, and I knew that I needed to be able to complete a novel in a year or so to be able to produce at the rate expected by mainstream publishers. So I set myself weekly targets and got on with it. I finished in about eight months, then spent a couple of months editing.

It was not easy. There were times when I felt lost and didn't know how to push through invisible walls in the plot, but in the end I got there. And my test readers and Robin liked it more than the first one! Perhaps I can really write, a small voice whispered. But if I am such a great writer, why weren't the publishers falling over themselves to offer me six figure advances?

Made lots of author "friends"

This is a great part of the modern age. You can find like-minded people to interact with online very easily. Twitter, Facebook, Google+, are amazing tools for writers. Writing is lonely and it is easy to get frustrated, but there is always someone out there who has had the same experience as you and who is willing to offer a word of advice, or a listening virtual ear.

In the last year I've had online chats with all manner of people, and quite a few published authors who I admire and aspire to emulate. It is incredibly gratifying that most of the authors I have conversed with have been open, friendly and actively helpful.

Got great quotes for THE SERPENT SWORD

One of the benefits of social media and communicating with authors meant it was easy for me to ask if some writers in the same genre would read my book and provide me with quotes for the cover and marketing. I have been humbled by the response. A few said they were too busy - something I can relate to - but most agreed to read the manuscript and to provide me with quotes, if they enjoyed the book.

Luckily, they all seemed to enjoy it!

A few (edited) examples from the quotes I've received so far (I'm still waiting on a couple):

"...a gripping and credible tale of Dark Ages Britain...Historical fiction doesn't get much better than this." ANGUS DONALD
"Vivid and compelling, The Serpent Sword is historical fiction at its brutal best." PAUL FRASER COLLARD 
"A storming debut novel fans of Bernard Cornwell should not miss!"
"The Serpent Sword is a stunning debut: fast, confident, adrenaline-pumped, this story of a young warrior's coming of age in the maelstrom of the Dark Ages has the flavour of early Giles Kristian or James Aitcheson: it's raw, rugged and rich in colour and texture."
"...a fast-paced tale of historical adventure beautifully written. The Serpent Sword is a story of revenge, passion, betrayal, honour, love and loss. Above all, it contains both a quest and a love story. Harffy’s characters are portrayed with depth and humanity. This novel is a thrilling read.”
"With powerful language and gripping action, Harffy tells a tale of courage, revenge and love..."

Reading the comments again as I'm typing this is making me grin. Did they really read my book?! It seems amazing to me that authors, all successful and extremely busy, would take the time to read my novel and have enjoyed it enough to endorse it.

Designed an awesome cover

I spent a couple of weeks at the end of the year using all kinds of free software tools (GIMP, Light Zone Project, Inkscape) to design a cover for THE SERPENT SWORD. The cover centres on a photo of authentic war gear (sword, mail, helm) supplied by the generous and talented, Matt Bunker (from the living history group Wulfheodenas), and I am very pleased with the results. I will use the image if I decide to publish independently in the end , but I think I'll save it for another blog post. It is always a good thing to leave something to look forward to.

In the meantime, here is a fantastic Serpent Sword logo that my very good friend, Gareth Jones, designed for me and gave me for Christmas! He also gave me the new domain, which I will add content to in the future. How cool is that?

2014 has been a busy, challenging, but ultimately very rewarding year. Thanks for being a part of it, if you have left a comment here or chatted with me on Facebook or Twitter. If you have just stumbled onto this blog, please follow me on Twitter, Like my Facebook page, sign up to my newsletter, so that you can join me on the ongoing journey towards publication.

Here's to a great 2015!


  1. What a great year - congratulations! I look forward to the day when I can pick up The Serpent Sword in bookstores - I definitely will! Happy New Year :-)

    1. Thanks, Courtney. Happy New Year to you too!

      I hope that it will not be too long until the book is out there....but we shall see! Patience is a virtue, so they say...

  2. A fantastic year, Matthew. I'm reading those quotes with great envy. I've been lucky enough to read your extracts on Excerpt Sunday in The Review. I'm so looking forward to be able to read the whole thing. Good luck with 2015. I reckon this will be your year!

    1. Thanks, Paula. Your encouragement and that of the other members of The Review is great.