An Interview with Rob Furber, journalist and aspiring author.

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself, your writing experience, etc.

I’m 34, living in Royston, Hertfordshire (near Cambridge). I’ve worked as a journalist for over nine years now, having completed a post-graduate journalism course (with PMA Training) in 1993. I started out in business publications – initially working as a reporter for an IT mag, worked my way up the editorial scale, reaching the heady heights of deputy editor for an arcade games magazine, and then decided freelance was the route I wanted to take, rather than become an editor. Been freelancing for nearly five years now – writing features and sub-editing for numerous magazines, both business and consumer. The most high profile I write for currently – on the business side Marketing Week, consumer – Arena. Started writing my first novel at the beginning of this year. Completed it, and now reached the painstaking re-drafting stage.

2. You have recently finished your first novel. Can you tell us a little about the book.

My novel is called ‘Fade Out’. It would fall into the category of ‘lad-lit’, though I’d like to think it’s a different take on the genre compared to the likes of Nick Hornby, Tim Lott and Mike Gayle. The central character is an early thirties guy on one of life’s cusps – confronted by an ailing career and a relationship that threatens to be lifelong. The book has a surreal edge to it in that the central character converses with an idol of his, in his dreams. This aids him through his philosophical dilemmas, reaching a dramatic conclusion. Fade Out is really about the wake up call a lot of thirtysomethings have when life gets serious and all those hopes and dreams look like being dashed. It’s about that loss of youth and ambition, and trying to work out where fulfillment lies. I’d also describe it as a darkly humorous tale of modern-day disenchantment, intended to be both poignant and witty.

3. Did you find that being a journalist was helpful in the process, or is writing fiction a completely different ball game?

Journalism has helped in the sense I know what is required to craft good, clean copy, and I can sub-edit ruthlessly. But where it hasn’t helped me, and where I’ve had to learn new skills, is in describing scenes and characters evocatively, and working out how to make dialogue flow in a pacey, and natural way. Fiction is definitely a different ball game in these respects, but the bottom line is, I’d like to think journalism at least enables me to write well, and spot when the prose sparkles, and where more work is needed.

4. Can you explain how you submitted your work to agents, and whether you found them to be generally helpful or rather unhelpful?

I guess I’m still in the early stages of submitting to agents, but so far it has simply been a case of referring to The Writer’s Handbook, studying the list of UK agents, and slowly submitting to ones I think might be interested – covering letter, synopsis and first three chapters. I initially sent my first three chapters to The Literary Consultancy (TLC) for a professional appraisal before attending to one or two minor issues. Becky Swift at TLC was then able to suggest some agencies to contact. My rep lies from agents to date, have mainly been short, sharp rejections – ‘client list full’, ‘not our cup of tea’ etc. I’ve only had one constructive reply to date which stated they thought it was well-written and I should keep submitting it. So my overall impression so far has been disappointment that agents haven’t made more effort to explain why they didn’t like it, and haven’t been willing to take a punt on me, because I remain convinced my novel is highly sellable.

5. As authors we are constantly being told by editors that having a good ‘track record’ can help authors get a publishing contract. Obviously being a journalist has not helped you get a foot in the door of the literary world. Why do you think this is the case?

‘Having a good track record helps…?’ Yeah, good question. I think it only helps if you have the very highest journalist credentials. In other words, you are a former editor of a top lifestyle magazine, or have written a regular column for one of the Nationals. Maybe only five or six years ago, it was slightly easier to break into the literary world, but now I sense it is much harder, perhaps because more people are trying to write books, and the standard of first novel has improved massively. Of course, I still remain hopeful of getting a publishing deal, and would like to think my first novel is well up to standard.

6. Do you find the whole process of submitting your work to agents discouraging? And where do you find the ‘inspiration’ to keep going?

The process of submitting has been slightly discouraging, but a career in journalism has taught me the importance of persistence. I think you need to have an iron jaw, accept that rejections are part of the learning curve, try and keep improving your skills as a writer, and hopefully one day it’ll all pay off. I also don’t like the way a book must be judged on the first three chapters. I think much of the early stages of a novel are situational – trying to build up the background of the central character etc. So in terms of the forward push of the story (and getting a true sense of the tone, style, and what the story is about), sending the first three chapters isn’t really ideal. My inspiration comes from writing a good scene, or a nice piece of dialogue I know, in my heart of hearts, is well up to publishing standard. It also comes from acknowledging the amount of time I have spent during the last year writing this first novel, and having come so far being determined not to end up disappointed.

7. Are you planning another novel?

I would very much like to carve out a career as an author. I really enjoy the creative process, despite the fact it can often be quite a tortuous thing. I definitely have plans for a second book and have already started to put in some preliminiary work on it.

8. And finally, are there any writers who have particularly inspired you as a writer and reader?

Top of the list of writers to have inspired me would be William Sutcliffe, author of ‘Are You Experienced?’. It’s a light read, which I personally prefer, and I love the dialogue in that novel and the highly amusing portrayal of an early twenties guy, whose horizons are gradually broadened. I also think Tim Lott’s ‘White City Blue’ is a fantastic novel with prose that really jumps off the page. Reading Lott also makes me appreciate the exceptional standards achieved by certain writers of commercial fiction. Another inspiration would have to be Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s BBC2 comedy The Office. In terms of comedy writing I think it’s peerless, but also the sentiment behind that show is something that really strikes a chord with me and is something I’m aiming to touch on in my novel. I must confess I’m also inspired by seeing some of the novels on the market today that, in my humble opinion as an unpublished author, are no great shakes. But what do I know?


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