Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Debut Spotlight: M.J. Ford

Today it's my pleasure to be shining the debut spotlight on author M. J. Ford and his debut fiction novel Hold My Hand which was published last week.

M. J. Ford lives with his wife and family on the edge of the Peak District in the north of England. He has worked as an editor and writer of children’s fiction for many years. Hold My Hand is his first novel for adults.

I wanted to be a writer since my teen years. A poet, like many teenage boys of a bookish disposition. I even plucked up the courage to show some of my early efforts to an English teacher at school. How he managed not to laugh I don’t know, but I’m forever grateful. His feedback included the line, I remember, ‘an uneasy mixture of archaic and modern’. That was probably all the ‘thous’ and ‘thees’ I felt inclined to include…

I continued to dabble in poetry for several years after, and sought support from groups who met in person, which were really just glorified drinking societies, and the more savage criticism of online boards, where bearing the volleys of abuse was a badge of honour. I also read an awful lot of poetry, and it’s to my credit that I realised I’m a VERY BAD poet, and pretty much gave up. Occasionally I still hanker for that world, and write a few lines, but the delusion is short-lived.

I drifted into publishing as a job, and was fortunate enough after a few early misfires to end up at the book packager Working Partners as an editor. It’s not exaggeration to say I learned almost everything I know about writing while employed there. Working Partners are story-creators who work with publishers to come up with stories for the commercial fiction market. In the initial stages it’s mostly about brainstorming with a group of people, shaping plots and characters from broad ideas or little sparks. There’s no room for ego, or stubbornness – it’s a democratic, collaborative process with the single goal of coming up with the best story possible. The editors work these discussions up into full-length, detailed synopses. It’s at this stage the search for a writer starts. They ‘audition’ several to write a sample based on the storyline and then work with the best to write the full book. It’s a slightly closer relationship that a traditional writer/editor dynamic, because ultimately the finished book is a shared enterprise. The editor often knows the book, or the sort of book they want, better than the writer, and may have to do quite a bit of re-writing, or extensive line-editing, as well as communicating clearly the changes they’d like the writer to make. That process of storylining, then editing in detail, taught me so much about the technicalities of working with prose, and with how to shape the story itself. And it was an intensive learning curve, because in any given week I might be working on a chapter book for 7 year olds about dragons, a tween comedy set in a middle school, and a thriller for adults.

I wrote my first children’s fiction titles for Working Partners, an Ancient Greek adventure trilogy, on a freelance basis about three years after I started working there. Even within those three books, I was still learning so much from storylining, editing and being edited. To this day, about eleven years after I joined Working Partners, I work for the company part-time. Not only does it give me, as a fairly social person, much needed contact with colleagues, but it’s still an invaluable learning experience. I think that being an editor makes me a better writer, and vice-versa.

How long do you hunt for the missing?

A horrible vanishing act…

When a young Josie Masters sees a boy wearing a red football shirt, Dylan Jones, being taken by a clown at a carnival, she tries to alert the crowds. But it’s too late. Dylan has disappeared…

Thirty years later, Josie is working as a police officer in Bath. The remains of the body of a child have been found – complete with tatters of a torn red football shirt. Is it the boy she saw vanish in the clutches of the clown? Or is it someone else altogether?

And then another child disappears…

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