When asked about their "starting out" experience in crime fiction, all bar Robotham might be described as kindergarten authors, with Robotham having progressed from kindergarten in another school - that of ghost writing autobiographies.
Welsh was kind enough to inform us that she'd outsold her £15k advance on her first novel (The Cutting Room). Barclay's first novel (Darkhouse) had gone to auction and the "buzz" for her is receiving emails from readers. Rickards (first novel Winter's End) philosophically pointed out that things are relative - when starting out, just getting an agent is great; then it's getting a publisher and then things move on... And the second novel carries a risk that it will not match the success of the first. Robotham, with his track record, had a different kind of pressure arising from "big expectations". Publishers knew he could write and knew he could deliver a finished product. But what amazed Robotham was that his first novel (The Suspect) was bought on the strength of the first 174 pages and at a stage when even he did not know the ending. He was pleased that the novel repaid his advance.
The next stage...
Where Barclay considers that money has little impact on creativity, Robotham finds having a mortgage quite motivating. For Welsh, money was not at the forefront of her mind when writing - she had fear about finishing and knowing the ending, although the obligation of having a publishing contract helped her to finish the book. She stressed that she was lucky with her fist novel as the Guardian ran a feature on the "best first novels" that year, an article they had not done before and have not done since. Including The Cutting Room brought her a lot of attention. The pressure of a contract meant that Rickards had finished his second novel before the first was published.
Following the success of the first novel, Robotham was more terrified and felt more pressure on the second as it needed to be delivered in a year, noting that the first novel "may have been ten years in the making". Barclay had not finished her second when Darkhouse came out and suddenly felt the impact of reviews. She made a concerted effort to keep "writing for me" and is now relieved that she managed to exclude external factors.
Welsh's second novel was quite different to the first and expressed appreciation that Canongate had not asked for more of the same, noting again that she had been "lucky". Rickards's third novel is due out next year following some delays. He feels that this is now "almost a relaunch" for him. Welsh added that the publishing business no longer nurtures writers, describing it as "cut throat". Robotham noted that there was a time in the past when a successful first book "welded a reader on". Now, that is not the case unless the reader sees your name on many books on the shelf.
On staying sane...
Barclay thinks it's the element of fear that keeps you sane, normal and not arrogant. Rickards agreed with Barclay that the neurosis is with the writer and not the publisher. Robotham doesn't believe authors who say they don't read their reviews. Welsh's top tip for dealing with the risk of neurosis developing from reading reviews is to read them not individually, but in a big batch, allowing for a balanced approach.
On books published abroad & perks arising...
Welsh has been published in America and in another language. Rickards's books have been published in translation and he said that he hopes they're good as he doesn't understand a word of them. Robotham noted that he'd been discussing this with Craig Russell in Spain the previous week. They'd talked about a "500 Euro deal" and decided that they should not laugh at Estovian translations.
It had never occurred to Welsh that she'd be published in translation. But she considered it a "brilliant perk" to get to travel promoting her novels, albeit it's something that needs to be kept in check as she still needs to write.
Rickards has never spoken to a translator for his novels. Barclay wondered how they deal with made up words, as she has some in her books, e.g. "randomer". Robotham met his Spanish translator who kept apologising for her English...
On festival attendances...
Welsh was pleased to be invited and started out by attending "every festival that did not overlap with another". She felt that she became part of a team and realised that the job is more than just sitting in a room and writing. Then she cut back as she realised she'd never write another book otherwise. Barclay now finds herself writing in more places, but like Welsh, she started out attending as much as possible and then cut back. For Rickards festivals are short holidays and are fun. He does not write in complete isolation as he types up in a pub. He also finds writing on trains effective as he can't find any distractions.
Robotham noted that as ghostwriter for autobiographies including those of Rolf Harris, Lulu and Geri Halliwell he'd been hidden from publicity. When he first saw his name on a book he thought it was a "massive mistake". As for festivals - he spends time at home writing, so he finds beauty in getting out and talking to other writers and readers.
Questions from the Audience
The Work of an Editor
Rickards has part ripped up and rewritten all his first three novels. Welsh was some 30,000 words into her first novel and with the second she discussed the idea with her publisher, and found that not much changed. For her third, she met her publisher who asked her about the novel. She said nothing and did not show the novel until the end. Welsh did admit that she has had disputes, but that everyone has the same aim - the best possible book. Robotham considers editors to be brilliant. His American editors wanted to "dumb down" his first novel for the American market, taking out about 4.000 words. On delivery of his second manuscript, his American editors did not want to change a thing, so he worried about what might have gone wrong.
Barclay had thought that editing might be like having school homework corrected, but found it was at a higher level along the lines of "Cut this 65 page description of a door and knob". She agrees with all proposed changes, but thinks the method of delivery helps. Her editor includes smileys in his emails and addresses her as "honey" etc., thus the changes are proposed in a "lovely fashion".
The Impact of Being in the Public Eye, (or, are you gathering more freaks and weirdos?)
Robotham included a George Bush joke in his first novel which has led to contacts from a certain sector. He has a stalker as a result. Rickards has had a couple of weird emails: one from someone trying to trace their relatives; another from an old American guy emailed as if a character in the book. Barclay has received emails from a chap which contain a shot gun delivery of questions. (Rickards thinks he may know him too...) Welsh said that she has no website or public email address, describing herself as "not efficient".
For Robotham - Why did his second novel Lost become The Drowning Man?
Yes, it was because of a certain successful TV series from the States.
Building on Success was an informative panel, with the authors generously relaying their experiences of what it is like to become a published author and how their worlds moved on from there.