From English Language to Zany Fiction by guest author Geoff Parkes
I am thrilled to have my fellow writer and friend from Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, Geoff Parkes, joining me on my blog today to share his writing journey. Thank you, Geoff.
My writing journey began by accident 30 years ago. I was lying in hospital after an operation on my vocal cords, unable to speak. It was scarier than the time I got cragbound at dusk in the Lake District. My career as a language teacher seemed over. How on earth could I earn a living? Only by writing. Paper, pens and books were brought to the hospital, and I began research into a specialised language topic that fascinated me.
My voice returned two months later, and my teaching career resumed, but by then I had done so much research that it would have been silly not to publish. Thus began a long-standing second career in writing and publishing EFL – English as a Foreign Language.
Soon after my first book was self-published, I had a phone call from National Textbook Company in Chicago. My co-author and I were commissioned to write a dictionary for Americans learning German. Hooray! We were now “real” authors, not just self-published. The only problem was that NTC paid us a measly 3.5% royalty each. They earned a tidy sum from that book whilst we made around £250 each – scarcely a fair reward for two years’ hard labour. I went back to self-publishing.
My niche publishing company, Englang Books, has enjoyed success I never dreamed of. Over the years, counting all titles, I’ve sold more than 60,000 books. I’ll list the keys to success in my talk on Niche Publishing at Swanwick Writers’ Conference this August. For now, it’s enough to note that I learned a lot about the trade from other publishers, including how to deal with unsolicited manuscripts.
Englang Books has published 14 titles, half of which I wrote or co-wrote. For the remaining half, representing work by 12 other people, I was editor. It is extraordinary how many authors lack the ability or self-discipline to self-edit. There is nothing worse for an editor than to have to spend days cutting material that should have been cut by the author. Verbosity is a sin: don’t use twelve words if four will do. Of all the unsolicited manuscripts I received, I published only one. Many contained good ideas, and I sent back encouraging remarks, but I could not face days on end of knocking sloppy work into shape. People unable to edit their work efficiently need to find someone who can. It’s a must.
I came to fiction late – 2013 – and I love it. From the outset, I made a point of learning the craft as best I could, as it’s a very different skill from writing EFL. Attending numerous courses and joining writing groups have helped enormously, and I’ve been lucky enough to win several prizes. Getting feedback from other competent writers is essential; without it you don’t improve.
In short stories, I seek out the quirky, the amusing, the disturbing. At the end, I try to zonk you between the eyes. In my novels, Whale Soup and Nothing Ever Happens in Clacton, locations play as big a part as character and plot. I’ll whisk you from London to Hawaii via Cornwall, from Manchester to San Francisco via the Isle of Wight, and I’ll make sure you smell the sea air or feel the menace on city streets. I want to make people laugh and cry and think. I want my fiction to zing and fly and buzz, and I want my readers to do the same.
Geoff Parkes is an ex-University Lecturer in English Language. He divides his time between running a publishing business, writing fiction, public speaking, and travelling – especially to Cuba, New Zealand, and the Canary Islands.