Romantic comedy novelist, Matt Dunn, has chosen the indie route with his latest book, A Day at the Office. Read his amazing interview here . . .
You’re a man in a woman’s genre, top of the pile too, how does that
make you feel?
Thanks, though I’m not even sure I’d be top of the
slush pile! To be honest, I don’t think about it. I just try to write
entertaining stories about real people, and hope they appeal to both men and
women. If there’s one thing ‘unique’ about someone like me writing in this
genre, perhaps it’s simply that I can give the male point of view. Though I do
write as a woman (or two) as well in A Day At The Office, so maybe that’s all
At last count, you have seven published books, have you stayed with
the same publisher with those seven?
No. Simon and Schuster published my first six
novels, but I published A Day At The Office myself.
You’re an accomplished writer of many novels, but how long did it
take you to get where you are today?
I’d known I wanted to write since I wrote/read out a piece at school assembly when I was fourteen – I’d put a few jokes in and they actually got a laugh, and I was hooked – but didn’t know what to do about it until I read High Fidelity in the late nineties, and realised there might be a readership for the kind of thing I wanted to write. A couple of years later I ‘decided’ to take a sabbatical (when my headhunting business collapsed thanks to 9/11) to write up the idea I’d been toying with, and actually finished the first draft pretty quickly. It took a while to get it published (see below) but to be honest, I wasn’t in any rush – rather than spend my evenings typing in a draughty garret, a friend of mine had loaned me his villa in the south of Spain, which was nice. From typing the first word to actually seeing the book on the shelves probably took around five years. Though playing a lot of tennis didn’t help speed the process up.
How did you find your agent? Was it in
a long line of writing submissions and receiving the rejections before being
signed, or were you one of the lucky ones and found the process easy?
I took the traditional route of sending my ms off to agents and publishers, and had the usual load of rejections (31, I think), so no, it wasn’t easy, especially when the ones who did deign to reply with anything more than a ‘no’ would often give me conflicting advice (‘loved the plot, characters need work’, followed by the next one saying ‘love the characterisation, but the plot needs developing’) but every third or fourth one would give me a little tip, or suggest how I could make the manuscript better, which I tried to take on board – the best being ‘read the bestsellers in your genre, and see how they achieve their page-turning quality’. Eventually, after a LOT of rewriting, and after being a bit smarter in the way I approached them (making personal contact by directly emailing ones I knew who represented similar writers, making my approach email more ‘salesy’), an agent took me on.
In A Day at the Office was there a
character you loved over all the rest? For me, I found Nathan a little cold and
self-absorbed, Sophie was an excellent chick-lit type of character, but my
favourite was Calum, the ginger short guy. So vulnerable and adorable!
Calum was certainly the most fun to write – but I
tend to try not to show favouritism to any of my characters. Unlike my previous
novels, which were all told from the point of view of the main protagonist, A
Day At The Office is an ensemble piece, and I think it might have been tricky
to get the balance right if I’d been tempted to give all the best lines to one.
Having said that, I developed a real soft spot for Sophie.
What I like about your books in
particular is that the characters seem like your average Joe Blogs on the
street. There was one character that stayed with me (secondary character) who
was forever talking about cars. No matter the conversation, it always went back
to cars! I think the book was called The Good Bride Guide. Also, there isn’t
any swearing or too saucy scenes, do you have an aversion to writing those
Thank you – that’s a great compliment! I try very
hard to write real people, even though some of my characters (Dan from the
Ex-Boyfriend’s Handbook, for example) might seem like I’m pushing it a little.
And no – I don’t make my books overly sweary, or write sex scenes, for three
reasons – firstly I don’t think they add to the type of books I write, secondly
because my mum reads my books, and thirdly because I’d hate to write a sex
scene based on, ahem, personal knowledge, and find out I’d been doing it wrong
in real life!
What’s the worst part of being a
writer? (confessions are encouraged here :))
Hmm. Worst part about a job where I get paid
to make up stories… Er… Nope. Oh yes, hang on, the osteopath bills, from
being hunched over my laptop all day every day! And my addiction to twitter.
And of course the rejection. Though if you’re a man who’s had any experience
asking girls out, you’re used to that.
What are writing conventions really
like? An excuse for a booze up or full of serious like-minded people having
I’ve never been one for conventions – of any type. Book launch parties, on the other hand (when they still happen) are usually drunken affairs. In my experience, writers do drink a lot. Especially when someone else is picking up the tab.
What is your writing schedule? Do you
plan, have charts and write a certain amount of words on a daily process, or do
you wing it.
Get up, make the ten-yard commute to my desk, do the Guardian crossword over breakfast (yes, really – it’s like my word warm-up stretch), glance at my mortgage statement, panic, and start typing! I usually set myself a daily word target (1000 words if I don’t have a hurriedly-approaching deadline, 2,000 if I do, or if I’m writing two different books at once like last year – though I’m not keen to do THAT again). Quite often, once I’ve hit that target, I’ll stop, no matter whether it takes me an hour (I wish) or ten hours.
In terms of planning, I start with a premise, and then come up with a title, write the first and last lines, then simply go about filling in the (90,000-odd word) gap. I tend not to plot beforehand – I quite like seeing where the characters take me en route to the ending. Then I re-draft and re-draft until I’m happy (or run out of time – which is more often the case).
When you’re reading for pleasure do you choose books in the
genre you write or do you prefer to read something completely different?
I love reading books in my genre – there are some
really funny writers out there, but tend to read a real variety, and usually
have two or three books on the go at once; a couple of fiction, plus something
non-fiction. For example, I’m currently reading Tina Fey’s Bossypants, plus
Jonathan Tropper’s latest (he’s my current favourite writer), and The Hundred
Year Old Man… That’s the great thing about eBooks – you can carry loads with
you, and dip in and out of them, e.g. when you’re on the tube, or out shopping waiting
outside a changing room while your girlfriend tries on yet another pair of
jeans/shoes/parades around with a handbag she doesn’t need, etc.
What are you working on now that you can talk about?
A love triangle romcom, which is a little easier to write than A Day At The Office, as there are only two (well, three, obviously, but two main) characters (though I’m writing as a woman for one of them again, which I’m still nervous about getting right). Unusually, I’ve arrived at a longer draft of around 100,000 words which I’m trying to cut down and make funny at the same time. Normally the editing process is all about building up from my initial 70,000 word first draft. This time, I’m hitting ‘delete’ a lot.
Do you have a critique partner or do you rely on an editor?
My editors have always been fairly hands-off
– it was usually my agent who provided the initial feedback critique. A Day At
The Office was all me, though, which I kind of felt confident to do after six
Do you read your reviews and how do you feel about the bad
I do read reviews, otherwise I won’t have a clue
whether people like the book or not! It’s hard not to be hurt by bad reviews,
just as it’s difficult not to let good ones go to your head. With the advent of
the internet, everyone’s a critic, and to be honest, they’re all entitled to
their opinion, though you certainly can’t please everyone. It’s when you’re not
pleasing anyone I think you should really sit up and take notice of what people
most of my author friends, it’s the nasty personal ones (and I’ve had a few) that
tend to surprise me most – you sometimes wonder what you’ve done to the reader
to inspire that sort of bile. Generally, though, being in touch with your
readers is a good thing, and thanks to the likes of twitter and facebook I get
to interact with readers on a regular basis, which is great.
I’ve a few questions from my writing buddies
who’d like to interrogate, er, ask you a few questions (I apologise in advance
Now that self-publishing has proved its worth in the
marketplace, what would it take for you to publish independently yourself? –
A Day At The Office is self-published. I had an idea
I really wanted to write, thought it would work well as an eBook (and wanted to
get it out by Valentine’s Day), and was actually surprised by how quick and
easy (and stress-free) the whole process was.
Would you ever promote an Indie author to your agent/publisher
if you knew and loved their work and even if they didn’t have huge sales? – Ey Wade
Of course – I have done in the past. Trouble is,
what I may think is good may not be the same as my agent/publisher does, or it
may simply be the fact that they don’t think there’s a market for it. Everyone has
to remember that publishing is a business, and unless a publisher thinks they
can sell your book, they aren’t going to publish it. It’s why self publishing
is such a good thing – people can put their own work out relatively
easily/cheaply, and let the public decide.
How many books have you published with this company and do you
think they’ll continue to support your work? And how much effort do you put
into your own promotion? – Catherine Kirby.
A Day At The Office is my first self-published
novel, so yes, I’ll continue to support my work! And at the moment, I’m putting
an incredible amount of time into promotion, through twitter, facebook, blog
tours etc. Fortunately I LOVE social media, so it doesn’t really feel like
Did you ever feel it was time to give up as a writer and what
kept you going? – Francine LaSala.
I think most writers have felt like giving up at
some time or another. It’s a harsh industry, you spend a lot of time on your
own (which is when self doubt can develop) and the nature of the industry means
you suffer regular knockbacks. What kept/keeps me going is the lovely emails
and tweets I get from readers, and the constant supply of jokes I can’t stop
myself coming up with. Oh, and my mortgage/not knowing what else I’d do.
By trade you’re a professional lifeguard – have you given
anyone the kiss of life? – Jane Grant
Yes, and reader, I married her! No, I didn’t
really, but actually, I have given CPR. Though it was a 70-year old man. And they lived
to tell the tale!
|Author Matt Dunn
Matt Dunn is an award-winning romantic comedy novelist, including The Ex-Boyfriend’s Handbook, which was shortlisted for both the Romantic Novel of the Year Award and the Melissa Nathan Award for Comedy Romance and his latest A Day at the Office.
He has also written about life, love, and relationships for The Times, Guardian, and The Sun, along with a number of magazines including Cosmopolitan, Company, Elle, and Glamour.