Project files: Singularity

Where things stand with the project

Singularity wasn’t the first novel I wrote but it was the first one that I queried. I got some interest from an agent when I pitched it at XPONorth in 2016 but that never went anywhere and I was unprepared for how much the lack of interest from the other agents I sent it to was going to hurt.

The complete lack of any feedback from agents led me to wonder if there might be something fundamentally wrong with the novel that I was too close to see. After relatively few form rejections I put it to one side and decided to focus on something else for a while. That something else turned out to be finishing and then querying Project Kindness.

Now that I have a bit more experience of the querying process and I’ve learned more about it I suspect that the problem with Singularity is more likely to be in the query letter, the synopsis and in the pacing of the first three chapters than in the underlying structure of the novel.

I’m almost ready to take another look at Singularity and see how much work it would take before I could send it out to more agents. Now that I’ve got to the stage with Project Kindness where I can rewrite the synopsis without retiring to my fainting couch [LINK TO POST] it might be possible to restart work on Singularity.

So what’s it all about then?

It’s always tempting to answer that question with the synopsis. The elevator pitch is a briefer and more entertaining answer but it doesn’t really tell you what it’s about. We’ll get to the pitch later, but what it’s really about is the lure of the road not travelled.

We’ve all been there. Standing in the yellow wood, looking at two roads diverging and having to choose. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like a choice and sometimes it’s more like a coin toss and once we choose we are stuck on that one path and we can never go back and choose differently. We’ve been shunted down one leg of the trousers of time and some other version of us is in the other.

Even if we found a similar looking fork in the road it wouldn’t take us to the same path because we can no longer get there from here.

But what if you could? What if you could see the places the other path would have taken you? What if you could meet the person you would have become if you’d taken that path? Would you admire them, envy them or would you be appalled by the things they’ve done? And what would they think of you?

Singularity is told in three narrative strands. One is the tale of an investigation into an apparently impossible murder, the second is the story of a witch planning the most dangerous magical ritual there is, the third is the story of the Brain: the world’s first artificially intelligent, quantum processing supercomputer.

The three strands are on a collision course involving demons, the Many Worlds interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, the secret city beneath London, mechanical revenants and, potentially, the end of all things.

How about a few short excerpts from it?

“The house was no longer ordinary. It was made extraordinary by the crime scene tape and the uniformed officers milling about outside. Inside it was full of Scene Of Crime Officers in blue paper suits, the home office Pathologist and staff in white paper suits and CID in crumpled off the peg suits.”

“Lizzie walked the short distance from her ugly tower block to Latham road. The once busy shopping street was clinging on to life like a drowning man clinging on to a partially-inflated beach ball. Half the shops were closed or closing down. Only the stubborn, the optimistic, the charities, the bookies and the pound shops remained. Even the off-licence had closed down when the new Tesco Metro opened up round the corner.

At the far end of the road, where it was closer to the Victorian brick tenements than the estate, was the last remaining proper greasy spoon café in this part of London.

The Ha’penny Bit hadn’t changed in at least 20 years. The lettering of the sign was so retro it had gone in and out of fashion twice. The tables were Formica and the chairs were covered in orange vinyl that made your bum sweat. The coffee machine made coffee. You could have it with hot milk, cold milk or black. If you asked for a cappuccino the staff would give you a look that suggested they’d knife you if they could be bothered.

The place had probably only survived because of the huge, hand lettered sign on the door that read Come in and try our Atkins all day breakfast.”

“George drew himself up to his full height, about 5’10, and said, ‘No you don’t. Cuz I’m not a cleaner. I’m a Janitor. I’m here to make sure that the heating and the air conditioning work and the bulbs get changed and someone with two degrees don’t spend their time fixing the recliner on an office chair when they could be creating world peace or inventing the perfect biscuit or doing whatever the hell it is you people are doing down here. I just also clean.’ He passed her the clipboard.”

Where things are going with the project

Picking out the excerpts for this post forced me to really look at Singularity with fresh eyes. I can see that while it’s worth going through it again and tightening up the point of view in a few scenes there doesn’t seem to be anything major wrong with it. I think the problem was with the query letter and the synopsis. That and giving up too soon.

However, while it was as good as I could make it at the time I’m a better writer now so I’m going to tighten it up and see if I can’t take the word count down a bit. I reckon I could have it ready to query with by the time I run out of agents to query with Project Kindness.

Back to the Query trenches

I think I can now officially say that I’ve been querying too long.

Last night I was preparing a query package and double checking the requirements on the agent’s website and I discovered that I’d misread one of the requirements. I thought they wanted a synopsis of under 500 words. No problem, I thought, I’ve got mine under 400. However, on checking I realised that was the requirement for nonfiction queries. For fiction they want the synopsis under 300.

Well, shit.

The standard advice on synopsis length is that it should fit on a single page. That’s around 600 words with single line spacing. Writing a sub 600 word synopsis is hard enough. If I could tell my story in 600 words I wouldn’t have spent months writing 110,000 words. After a week or so of struggle I got a presentable synopsis. I left it a week, went back, realised it was trash, rewrote it entirely, decided it would do and then queried with it a few times. Synopsis version 2.

Then I learned some more about querying and realised that part of the job of the synopsis is to entertain and entice. I took a couple of days to rewrite it completely – to better reflect the journey of the central character. Synopsis version 3.

Then I queried an agent who required a synopsis of under 400 words. I spent a day complaining about that to all my writer friends. I got the word count down to just over 400 without dropping any of the plot. One of my writer friends volunteered to edit it (thanks Vanessa) and she came up with an elegant version that was just under 400. Synopsis version 3.2.

So how do I know I’ve been querying too long? This time I didn’t even bother complaining. I dumped the entire existing synopsis apart from the first and last paragraphs, rewrote the rest, ditched a huge chunk of plot, got it down to 265 words. Took me just over half an hour.

Now. I’m not saying it’s a good synopsis. I’m saying that it fits the requirements and that’s good enough for me.

Project Kindness

Welcome to the first of the project files.

This project is the novel that I’m currently sending out to agents. It does have a title but I’m not going to share it here to prevent confusion. I hear that it’s very common for working titles to get changed. Someday there will be a title reveal. It will be awesome.

This novel is about sexy spies and Celtic Gods. It’s about PTSD. It’s about the ways righteous anger can lead you astray. It’s about how much greatness costs and who pays the price. It’s about facing the consequences of your actions.

I loved writing the characters in this book. They’re hilarious but they are also utter bastards. They’re not good people but they’re great company. I can’t wait to share them with you all. I just hope you won’t think that I’m like them.

How about a little look at it. Just a peek.

There were already two people standing over the car. 

One was a tall, freckled, man in a long white robe with a garland of greenery in his dark hair. He had a long brown beard that could have beaten the one upstairs in a fight.

The other one was a tanned woman in a lab coat who looked about five foot six until Number Seven approached. As he got closer he realised that she was about four foot eleven with four inch heels and three inches of back-combed purple hair that was surely a wig. Between the wig and the lab coat there was a lot of makeup. It had been applied with great care and skill but it made her look like she’d just stepped off the stage of a Soho drag revue. She was wearing at least two pairs of false eyelashes and such a weight of purple glitter eye-shadow that he was amazed she could get her eyes open.

And she really was holding a small portable cutting torch and eyeing his boot lock. Fortunately she was having trouble getting it to light.

WOAH’! He shouted. ‘I’ve got the keys right here.

She stopped and looked up at him with the exact facial expression of a spaniel that’s being shouted at for chewing shoes. She pocketed the cutting torch.

‘Um. Hi,’ she said.

‘So… Why do you have a raven in your boot?’ said the man in white.

‘It was eating a friend of mine. And we’re not sure that it’s just a raven. Corvids don’t usually break into high security hospitals and peck professional assassins to death,’ said Seven.

‘Nasty,’ said the short woman but she was grinning. Seven knew that look. It was the look of a scientist with a new puzzle. She pulled on a pair of latex gloves. ‘Right, go for it big boy.’ 

‘What?’ said Seven.

‘Pop the trunk. Open the boot. Let the imaginary dog see the metaphorical rabbit.’

Seven pressed the remote unlock button and very slowly raised the boot lid. He half expected the raven to explode out at him in a cloud of feathers and rage and go for his eyes with beak and claws. Either that or it would have vanished.

Nothing happened.

There was still a tightly-bound lump in the boot. He prodded it. Nothing continued to happen. Maybe he’d killed it by thrashing the car all the way back to London? He picked up the bundle.

‘Who wants the jacket full of killer raven?’ he said.

Give it here,’ said the man in the robe. He crouched down by a large travel cage that Seven hadn’t noticed before. He put the bundle inside before unrolling it with all the care of a man defusing a bomb. To Seven’s relief there was still a dazed-looking raven inside the jacket.

‘Is that thing still alive?’ said Seven.

‘Yeah. Don’t worry about it. It’s just in a tonic trance,’ said the man in white. The raven began to perk up as the door of the cage clicked shut. It eyed them for a moment.

Ah Fuck,’ said the raven.

‘Either I’m coming down with PTSD or that bird just spoke,’ said Seven.

‘Must be a London bird,’ said the woman.

What the hell were you doing out in the country?’ said the man in white.

‘Whatever it was I claim diplomatic immunity,’ said the bird.

‘Do me a favour. Take a look at his face,’ said the man in white. The bird inspected Seven. 

‘That uncomfortably full feeling is part of a friend of his. You can come with us for a bit of a chat or I can hand the cage to him.

The bird considered it for about half a second. ‘I’ll talk.’

The Project Files

When I was a kid there was no world wide web. The backbone of the internet already existed but it wasn’t something the general public got to use. So when big movies wanted to generate advance hype they had to do it by television and radio. the bigger the movie they more they would throw at it. There would be tie-in singles released by famous bands and half the time the track wouldn’t even appear in the film. The director, the stars, the producer and the person that wrote the book they were largely ignoring for the plot would all get interviewed. They would be on day-time TV and late night chat shows. If the film claimed to be high brow the director would go on Radio Four. If it didn’t then the star would go on Radio One.

The big franchise moves used to get these ‘documentaries’ about how they were made. In retrospect they were just extended trailers but I loved those things. I would sit in rapt attention while Harrison Ford explained that the reason why Indiana Jones always wore his hat was so you couldn’t tell when it was him and when it was the stunt man.

My intention for these project files is to write the blog equivalent of those ‘documentaries’. I hope that they’ll be entertaining in their own right and will make you want to read the finished work. Maybe they’ll even be useful to other writers.

Alternatively they could just end up being self indulgent trash but that would still be pretty close to some of those ‘documentaries’ so I wouldn’t be too far off target.

What my query letter would say if I wasn’t a coward

Query letters. 

Bane of the unpublished writer’s existence. They’re supposed to be professional business letters because you’re trying to enter into a business arrangement with the agent. A query must also be entertaining in order to prove that you can actually write. You have to enthuse to prove that you have faith in your book and you can be trusted to self promote. Entertaining and enthusiastic are not words I’d normally associate with a professional business letter.

Then there’s the other consideration which is the sheer investment of time and effort that is a novel. The general advice is to query widely so you could get the idea that each rejection doesn’t mean much but you only get one chance per novel with each agent. There’s a finite number of agents and not all of them are capable of representing any given book. 

Agents are busy and the publishing industry as a whole is in trouble. You may lose the one agent who could have got your book into print because you made a stupid error in the letter and they didn’t have time to read past that error. That’s not the fault of the agent. It still sucks, though.

So here it is, my moment of catharsis, a look at what my query letter would look like if I wasn’t a coward.

Dear Agent,

I am seeking representation for my novel [REDACTED]. It is 110,000 words of supernatural espionage and features sexy spies and celtic gods. Yes I know that’s too long for a thriller but I’m giving you two genres for the price of one and I’m not cutting out the sex scenes. Something’s got to give somewhere and it turned out to be the word count.

 [REDACTED] also contains a strong vein of dark humour that is laugh out loud funny in places. What do you mean people don’t like funny sex scenes? Have you seen sex? It’s hilarious.

Please reply with a standard rejection email at your earliest convenience. I’m sure you are an excellent agent and I’d love to work with you, but experience tells me that you don’t want to represent either me or the novel (possibly both). The last thing you want in the current crisis is a book in Frankenstine’s genre written by a broke idiot from the frozen north/wrong side of the atlantic. 

At this point I’m just querying every agent I can find because, apparently, rejections don’t count until you’ve collected at least 100. It’s also a displacement activity because I can’t afford to hire a professional editor and a cover artist so I can publish it myself and I’m trying to avoid learning anything new about spreadsheets.

I am fat, poor and from an unmarketable bit of Scotland. I’ve done fuck all of interest with my life and I have no connections. I’m also older than you but I somehow have not accumulated enough money to be able to pay in order to have talked to you face to face at a convention, back when conventions were still a thing. I am not even slightly famous.

I look forward to hearing from you soon (in an obvious form reply about how you’re not passionate enough about my novel which doesn’t fit into your agency and isn’t right for your list).


A carefully selected pseudonym that could be any gender because sexism is not dead.


If you’re reading this then the chances are that my fancy new author website is still under construction. That’s a thing that used to be common in the bad old days of the World Wide Web, back when we all had to know HTML and there was no Google yet so looking anything up involved a twenty minute tussle with AltaVista and Ask Jeeves before giving up and asking someone that you knew in real life..

The site isn’t under construction because I’m handcrafting my own bespoke writing gallery. It’s under construction because I don’t yet know what this site is for.

I’m in the process of working out what it’s for. I am choosing to have faith that this is a logical next step even if I don’t know where this road is going.