Author, Guy Roberts, was kind enough to share his time with us to talk about his fictional thriller, ‘Napoleon’s Gold’. We wanted to know more about his life as a writer and here he shares a little of his writing journey with us…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR…
Guy was born in the UK and moved to Australia when he was eight years old. He has a PhD in international relations from the University of Melbourne, a Master of Arts in Strategic Studies from the ANU, a BA from Monash University and has published a book and several articles on international relations.
Guy currently teaches a variety of subjects at the University of Melbourne, focusing on international relations and American and Chinese culture, history and politics. Guy has been a young leader delegate to the Australia/American leadership Dialogue and the Australia-China Futures Dialogue in Beijing and is active in local community service. Guy is an active public speaker on a variety of topics, including the French and American Revolutions, Benjamin Franklin and, most recently, on Napoleon, Wellington and the Battle of Waterloo.
‘Napoleon’s Gold‘ is Guy’s first novel, a Da Vinci Code style thriller that takes the reader on a madcap ride through London and Europe in pursuit of a two hundred year-old cache of hidden treasure. Reviews are declaring ‘Napoleon’s Gold’ ‘a memorable debut novel’, ‘a fast-paced, smart and lively debut,’ and ‘an enjoyable romp in the style of Da Vinci’.
Guy lives in Black Rock, Victoria, with his partner, Claire and their dog, Nelson.
ABOUT THE MANUSCRIPT…
Can you describe your manuscript, ‘Napoleon’s Gold’?
From the blurb:
‘Disgraced soldier Jack Starling returns to London and finds his brother dead. Hidden nearby is a mysterious hand-written poem hinting at a secret treasure trove of Napoleonic gold. With his life on the line, Jack tracks the poem’s clues across the sites and monuments of London, at the same time evading murderous criminals, beautiful fortune-hunters and the implacable pursuit of the British authorities. Will Jack be able to solve the poem and uncover the secret of Napoleon’s gold, or will he face torture and death at the hands of his brother’s killer?’
Can you tell us about where this particular story idea came from?
I’ve had vague ideas about ‘Napoleon’s Gold’ for about ten years. In 2006 I visited the Battlefield of Waterloo, which features in the story, and imagined a couple of modern day heroes racing through the middle of a re-enactment – amid all the pageantry and fake musket fire would be some modern villains with some very real weapons!
What genre would you say your manuscript fits into?
Have you ever been tempted to write in other genres?
‘Napoleon’s Gold’ is pure thriller, very much in the tradition of Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’. I’ve enjoyed writing it, and have a few ideas about sequels slowly forming in the back of my head, but I also have ideas about some political dramas and epic fantasy novels taking shape.
How long have you been writing
this particular manuscript?
I’ve been writing fiction on and off since primary school. But I have been working on ‘Napoleon’s Gold’ in stops and starts from mid-2007 until mid-2014, when I gave myself a deadline and really got stuck into it… 9 months (or so) later, I felt it was time to publish and see what happened.
ABOUT THE WRITING PROCESS...
When you write, do you jot down all your ideas first,
or do they come to you as you go?
Occasionally a flash of inspiration will hit and I’ll scramble to jot down a bit of dialogue, phrase or image onto a post-it note before I forget. Usually, though, I have a very rough idea of what the story will be about, with five or six set ‘scenes’ in my head – perhaps a moment of crisis or interaction between characters. Once those are on the page I tend to just jump into the rest of the story as quickly as possible – this means the evolution of the story can catch me by surprise at times.
The negative to this, however, is that once the story is on the page, it might take a lot of banging and polishing to get all the subplots and events of the story ironed out into their proper order and shape (and making sure that people’s eyes don’t change colour from one chapter to the next)!
With that in mind, I’m currently using an excel spreadsheet to try and plan out Jack’s next adventure much more thoroughly – which will make the editing phase much easier, I hope!
Overall, I think it’s a very organic process though – and figuring how to get Jack out of (or into) danger is an enjoyable brain teaser when I’m out giving Nelson his morning walk!
What happened in writing that you didn’t expect would happen?
I love discovering things about the characters that I hadn’t consciously thought of – there’s those moments when they seize the narrative and say or do or feel something, which catches you by surprise… and then you realise ‘oh, of course that’s how they would respond!’
How does the actual writing of your manuscript develop?
I usually have vague story ‘beats’ in my head when I sit down to write – fully fleshed out scenes, or confrontations between characters, or even just images or a certain phrase… I write these out first and then try to discover the rest of the story that happens between these different scenes – that is to say, I know where my hero is at point A and point C… but finding out what they are up to at point B is the interesting bit! One of the first images I had for ‘Napoleon’s Gold’ was the hero, Jack, standing alone and conflicted in the rain outside his brother’s home… and another of Cleo Draycott, a cat burglar, stealthily entering a room unaware that she’s being observed… it was a matter of discovery and good luck to find out why Jack was conflicted and how he got into that room before Cleo did!
What do you hope people will take away from reading your work?
I hope that people come away from ‘Napoleon’s Gold’ with a smile on their face, having met some great characters and enjoyed a fun adventure. I had a great time writing and researching the story, and getting to know the goodies and baddies – hopefully this comes through in the text!
What has been your publishing journey to date?
In August 2014 I sent the ‘Napoleon’s Gold’ manuscript out to about 60 publishers in the UK and Australia… and received many polite rejection letters in the weeks and months that followed. In hindsight, I feel the initial approach was rushed and, to be honest, not good enough! I thought that publishers would be interested in the ‘hook’ of the story – coinciding as it does with the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. Unfortunately, I think, the quality of the draft at that point wasn’t up to the premise. I had finished the manuscript, but the writing was still incredibly rough, and that alone would be enough to make publishers move on to the next submission. I decided to polish the text some more, and to have the manuscript appraised by Kit’s team at the Manuscript Appraisal Agency – Kit’s team was recommended by two of the publishers in their rejection letters!
What are the reasons you decided to self-publish
at this point and not pursue traditional publishing?
Once the appraisal and final polishing was done, I decided to self-publish online in May 2015. I felt by then that the story had pretty strong legs, even if a publishing house didn’t want to back it! Putting it on amazon.com was a bit nerve wracking – finally letting something be seen that you’ve work on for so long and so privately… but it was a big thrill to get such positive feedback from so many friends and family.
How have you tackled marketing your book
now that it is ‘out there’ for audiences?
I immediately let friends and family know – via Facebook and group emails. I have set up a Facebook page for the book and publish regular updates and newsy items about characters, locations and themes from the book. There are a number of advertising options on amazon, both paid and unpaid. Paid advertising is relatively inexpensive, but you are, again, competing against hundreds of thousands of similar campaigns. You can also sign up for free-to-download campaigns (five day windows, advertised by Amazon itself, when people can download your book for free) which are certainly effective in seeing increased sales – more than 20-fold in my case – but, of course, that means no actual royalties!
What did you find easy, difficult, surprising about this process?
The difficulty of self-publishing, of course, is that you’re a very small fish, on your own, in a very big pond, with only your own private networks to build upon. Authors lucky enough to get a publishing contract get so much along with that – the publishing house wants your book to be a best seller, and so there is institutional knowledge, networking and machinery in place designed to support your book as much as possible. But that means the publishers know what works and what doesn’t! As Napoleon’s Gold is over 150,000 words long, it would have been a pretty extraordinary risk for a publishing house to take me on, given that I am a first-time author without a proven track record (most first time manuscripts are 80,000 to 90,000 words long)!
Essentially, as a self-published author, you really have to accept that your work must be strong enough to compete on its own merits – in terms of grammar, spelling and punctuation if nothing else! In my case that meant a lot of rewrites, polishing, re-rewrites, getting friends to read through with a red pen, using the Manuscript Appraisal Agency and then, ultimately, letting the story get out there and be read by as many people as possible!
Where can we buy your book?
And is there anywhere else we can find out more about you?
Which authors do you most admire, and why?
I really admire J.K. Rowling and the story behind ‘Harry Potter’. I find that quite inspirational! I’m also a big fan of (deep breath) John Le Carre, Anthony Price, John Wyndham, Ian Fleming, George R. R. Martin, Ursula Le Guin, J. R. R. Tolkien, Arthur Conan Doyle, Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Robin Hobb, Neil Gaiman and Janny Wurts. I also enjoy a good Dan Brown or Matthew Reilly novel.
Finally, given the subject matter of ‘Napoleon’s Gold’, it’s probably no surprise that Bernard Cornwell’s ‘Sharpe’ series and C. S. Forrester’s ‘Hornblower’ series are both favourites of mine!
I also enjoy good non-fiction – David McCullough is a particular favourite – his biography of John Adams is an absolute page turner!
Tell us what’s next for you?
I’ve got a few different ideas bubbling away at the back of my mind, but a sequel to ‘Napoleon’s Gold’ is definitely in the works – this time set in Afghanistan and the United States.