Saturday, April 10, 2010

Author Shane Briant on Writing Your Novel

I'm thrilled to welcome actor and author Shane Briant to Musings.  In this post, Briant shares his process of development for his most recent novel, Worst Nightmares, as well as his thoughts on the benefits of securing a literary agent.

 Shane Briant is an actor and novelist who studied law at Trinity College Dublin before becoming a professional actor at age 21. Starring in films and television opposite Paul Newman, Rosemary Harris, Jeremy Irons, John Hurt, Olivia de Havilland, George Chakiris, and Jack Palance, among others, Briant has worked with directors such as John Huston, David Wolper, Glenn Jordan, and Just Jaekin. The first short film Briant wrote, “A Message from Fallujah,” won the “Best of the Fest” award at the 2005 Los Angeles International Short Film Festival and was in the final mix of ten shorts for consideration for an Academy Award that year.  He is also the author of 5 best selling novels - "The Webber Agenda" (1994), "The Chasen Catalyst" (1996), "Hitkids" (2000),"Bite of the Lotus" (2001) and "Graphic" (2005). All have been optioned for film.

His American debut novel, 'WorstNightmares' was published by Vanguard Press in America in May 2009.  Shane Briant resides in Sydney, Australia. 


    My father was an author. He started as editor of the Oxford University Isis, a prestigious position. From that he started writing biographies (such as the one on world famous doctor Marie Stopes – the pioneer of birth control in England) So I suppose I always had the yearning to write a novel in my blood. 

    And for me, because I had been in films all my life, it had to be a thriller! But the idea of writing ‘a book’ is always something daunting – until you say to yourself “I can do it. Even if the book’s not that good, I will have achieved something terrific!” And really it’s not so hard. 

    I was over forty when I decided I’d see if I could write a thriller. I was touring Europe with a television production (‘Mission Top Secret’) an Australian co-production with France, Germany, Poland, the U.K, Spain and Switzerland. 

    My idea was simple – I would write three pages every day, without fail. I would set the book in all the six countries I was visiting and I’d make up a story as I went along, researching the landscape of each town I went to. I’d make the book fascinating by having my central character eat in wonderful restaurants and I’d write about the food, the smells, the characters I saw in the rooms. I’d incorporate the history of the landscape, I’d describe the trams, railways etc. In short my reader would literally be breathing the same air my leading man.

     Now, this was a pretty crazy way of going about things but, to my surprise, it seemed to work. Every evening I’d look at the notes I’d taken during the day (when I wasn’t filming) and then make up the story, writing my three pages (or more) of my novel. Ideas came quicker and ever quicker.

    I was overseas for six months, so when I returned home I had almost 200 pages of a rough novel. This made me feel so proud, that there was no way I wasn’t going to do things properly. So I buckled down to polish it up.

    After several more weeks I had finished my first novel. So now...what to do? Send it to a publisher? Well, that’s what I thought. What a bad move that was! I sent it to HarperCollins Australia and it was read by someone VERY low down the literary food chain. I got the manuscript back two weeks later with a polite note. I was VERY disappointed. So...what to do now? 

    That’s when inspiration set in and I realized how foolish I’d been not to interest an agent in representing me. You see, no one will take an actor seriously unless he has an agent. The better and fancier the agent, the more kudos you’ll receive. It’s the same with literary agents. So I approached my late agent in Sydney, Tony Williams. He told me he’d read the novel. Two weeks later he called me, telling me he thought he’d be able to interest HarperCollins, who just happened to be looking for homegrown thriller talent. Ahem...I didn’t tell him I’d just received a ‘no thank you’ from some reader on the top floor. Tony offered it DIRECTLY to the publisher who read it immediately, said it was ‘just what Harper were looking for’, and the deal was done. A $10,000 advance and my first paperback was published! Lucky ol’ me!

    The moral of this story is this. There is no particular way you should write your novel. Do what suits you best. You don’t even have to know what happens in the end when you start. At least, I NEVER have – it just comes to me and that’s the way I love to write. But be absolutely certain you are never discouraged and really try to write every day. If you lapse and don’t write for a week after you get to chapter three the chances are you’ll give up. Just remember, if you write 3 pages a day, that’s almost a hundred pages in just one month! I invariably find that it’s the first thoughts that come to me that are the best, so get them down on paper and never mind about the grammar, spelling, the flow – anything. Simply write, as you can easily clear it all up later. Then get a literary agent. 

    This will be hard! It always is, in the same way as an actor finding a good theatrical agent. But you must have one – there’s little point in sending manuscripts to publishers yourself, they’ll come right back. For starters, publishers don’t like unsolicited manuscripts, and they always ask themselves this: “How come no agent will touch him? He/she can’t be much good.” If you can’t find an agent it’s always possible writing is simply not your thing. But remember that J.K. Rowling was turned down by every publishing house in Australia and it was in desperation she ultimately went to a very small publisher, Bloomsbury. Then...wham!  So don’t give up. Keep writing because you love it – not because you want to make some cash. And there’s always self-publishing.

Other things I think are important, nay VITAL? The first page has got to grip the reader like a vice. The first paragraph HAS to be thrilling. The initial line must take you by the throat! Try short chapters. People love a short chapter so they can have a quick read and finish at the end of a chapter. ALWAYS end a chapter with a hook – something that MAKES the reader want to read on, because he/she HAS to. And the final chapter must leave you satisfied and yet wanting much MORE! A sequel. If you don’t believe me, read my latest novel ‘Worst Nightmares’ and ask yourself honestly if the story doesn’t really GRIP you. It may not be the best book ever written but no one has ever told me they could put it down!

Today is the official release date for Worst Nightmares ($7.99 Vanguard Press) by Shane Briant.  Check out the website for more info and if you're in the mood for something really chilling check out the videos---yikes! 
Links to buy the book here


1 comment:

  1. Cool interview! It's inspiring to read about writers who've done other things before picking up the pen. Nice one, Nilki!


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