Children’s Book Blog: Ask the Author – Damien M Love
Damien M Love’s debut novel Like Clockwork is exceptional in a variety of ways. Firstly, it was released as a six-part serial, like the boys’ adventure stories of yore. Secondly, as a self-published work, it has broken through the barriers of the, let’s face it, often quite snobby literary world to be nominated for the Edinburgh International Festival First Book Award. And thirdly, it tells a good old-fashioned, rip-roaring tale full of killer robots, globe-trotting chases, and medieval monsters (not to mention one rather heroic and martial arts-proficient grandfather), all seen through the eyes of an ordinary modern teenager called Alex.
Now available in paperback as well as ebook form, it’s the sort of compulsive reading that makes you secretly glad the days are getting darker and colder, so you can stay tucked up inside devouring it. I asked Damien about the inspiration behind the book and the pros and cons of self-publishing.
Why did you decide to publish Like Clockwork as a serial?
It sort of happened organically. I originally wrote it as a book, but there was a fairly long time between writing it and eventual publication – a long time while nothing was happening. When I dug it out again, it was, as often happens when you go back to something you haven’t looked at for ages, like seeing it with fresh eyes. I’d had the idea of old serials at the back of my mind while writing it: both as a genre, with a particular mood, and as a form, a story that unfolds in chunks of a certain size, which end on moments that make you want to find out what happens next chunk. But it was only when I looked at it again that I realised how strong the influence was. So I decided to honour it, by publishing it chunk by chunk. That dovetailed with the decision to do it as an ebook first. Putting stories out in weekly ‘episodes’ seems incredibly suited to the way ebooks are delivered. It’s like broadcasting a book. I think we’ll see more of it. It doesn’t work for every kind of novel, of course, but serialisation can be a fantastic way to experience some stories. Having to wait can be delicious fun.
Was it inspired by any particular adventure serials you have read?
Something like The 39 Steps, which was originally a short magazine serial, is a definite inspiration – it’s the great chase. But then, I’ve only ever known that as a complete novel. Or, actually, a movie. Many of Like Clockwork’s influences are less literary than drawn from pop culture: old movies, old TV action shows, old comics. Watching Dr Who and reading 2000AD as a kid taught me more about serialised stories than learning about how Dickens worked. Old cinema serials, like Flash Gordon and some French silent sagas from around 100 years ago, were another touchstone. Nothing specific, but as a background hum, a particular atmosphere and pace. Hopefully.
I was thinking about voodoo and… stuff. And, on another level, maybe how obsessive pursuits and beliefs can scar and consume people. And, as a kid, I was myself scarred by seeing the 1970s horror movie Asylum on TV late one night while feverishly sick, and too young to be watching it, anyway: the ideal circumstances to see that film.
The best bit is a mad section involving Herbert Lom and a little robot. Also as a kid, I remember one single old issue of Valiant comic lying around the house, and reading this one episode of the House Of Dolmann strip over and over: another insane tale of little robots. These things probably lurked in my head for decades, then finally met up with some other ideas. Above all, though, I just wanted something a little bit gross.
Who created the illustrative collages in the book? And where did the inspiration for them come from?
I did the illustrations, a mixture collage and new drawings. When I decided to issue the book as a serial first, I was thinking about that vanished breed of story magazines and how they looked – things like The Strand, and old Boy’s Own-style pre-comics weeklies. When I launched the ebook serial, I also physically published Part One as a limited edition newspaper, designed to suggest those old publications. There’s a strong element of collage in the writing of Like Clockwork, various things put together to form something else, and I try to reflect that. Although that sounds a bit highfalutin. I should stress that, essentially, this is a story about getting chased over rooftops by robots.
Why did you decide to self-publish the novel?
It was really that or shut it away in a drawer. I wrote it in 2009, then spent a couple of years submitting it around literary agents. I finally signed with a good London agency in 2011, and then the agent there spent another year-and-a-half showing it to publishers. When it looked clear that nothing was happening, I asked the agent about publishing it myself, but they didn’t seem too interested in that. I eventually left the agency, sat down and read Like Clockwork again, and decided it still didn’t seem that bad to me. So I gave it a go.
Are there any benefits to self-publishing over the more traditional publishing route?
Freedom, speed and control over every aspect are the benefits. But they’re absolutely the greatest dangers, too. You also stand to get a slightly larger royalty; but then, you have to work 1,000 times as hard to convince anyone to buy your book. That said, many writers signed with traditional publishers are increasingly being left to do their own marketing anyway. But there’s huge prejudice against self-published novels, some of which might be justified. It’s practically impossible to convince newspapers to consider a self-published book for review, especially when book sections are being cut to shreds. Many book bloggers also refuse to cover self-published stuff, however.
Do you think you will stick to self-publishing, despite the book’s success?
I’d be pretty happy to be faced with the dilemma of having to decide whether or not to sign with a publisher! I suspect that, regardless, I’d do another punk DIY job of some sort at some point, though.
What advice would you give to any authors considering self-publishing their work?
Work with an editor to make your work the best it can be. Whether it’s a professional editor – ideally one recommended to you – or just someone you genuinely trust in this, you need another pair of eyes on your book long before it gets near publication. Someone to ask questions, point out what strikes them as flaws, weaknesses, entire chapters that don’t work. You’ll have a hissy fit, of course. But after a month of sulking, you might grudgingly concede they have a point. The book can only benefit from questions being asked. At the very least, before hitting ‘Publish,’ always, always get someone who knows what they’re doing to proof-read it. Also, anyone thinking about self-publishing should accept going in that you’ll probably wind up working twice as hard and at least twice as long to try and convince people to read your book as you ever did writing it. I’m still trying.
Children’s Book Blog notice: I’m off on holiday shortly, but will return in a couple of weeks with more recommended reads, author Q&As and insider tips from the world of children’s book publishing. See you then!
Follow Rebecca on Twitter @TheStoryMonsterTagged in: 2000AD, charles dickens, Damien M Love, Dr Who, Flash Gordon, Like Clockwork, The 39 Steps
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