SPS-394: Writing for Books, Film & TV – with Tim Sullivan

Writing a book is something filmaker, Tim Sullivan, always wanted to do. When he couldn’t find agents for it, however, he turned to one of the Self Publishing Formula’s courses and decided to publish on his own. Today he joins us for a chat about his own experiences writing Crime Fiction novels.

Show Notes

  • Writing and TV.
  • Neurodivergent characters and writing them.
  • How SPF helped Tim Sullivan.
  • Indie publishing and Trad publishing.
  • Forensics in crime fiction.

Resources mentioned in this episode:


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Speaker 1: On this edition of the Self-Publishing Show,

Tim Sullivan: Had a lot of traditionally published authors. And one said to me last year, oh, my contract's up. I really just really worried. I don't know if I, I dunno if my publisher will renew. And I went, why are you worried? And they went, well, if they don't renew you And I went, self-publish. And they look at you as if you're a bit mad. Yeah. And you go, you've got to understand it's a new and brave world out there.

Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers, no more barriers. No one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing? Join indie bestseller Mark Dawson and first time author James Blatch as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.

James Blatch: Hello and welcome to The Self-Publishing Show with me, James Blatch

Mark Dawson: And me Mark Dawson.

James Blatch: Hey, Mark Dawson, how are you doing?

Mark Dawson: Hey, James Blatch. I'm okay. Been very busy. Lots of lots of things going on. Some things we be able to talk about soon, I think. Yes, maybe something really potentially really, really cool, which we've been kind of working on for about six months, which we can't mention yet. But hopefully in the next month or two we might be able to make a quite exciting announcement.

James Blatch: I've had more meetings with lawyers in the last year than I had in my life up until that point. But deals like the Hello Books deal don't, I mean, these don't get over the line without getting into the weeds on stuff. And it's

Mark Dawson: Only, if only you knew someone who could take care of all of that for you.

James Blatch: Yeah, I'll tell you what, that is a blessed relief in our working relationship that I basically leave all that shit to you.

Mark Dawson: Yes. And it is, it is It's very tedious. And

James Blatch: But you love it. You love all that tedium.

Mark Dawson: I don't love it. I, there are some things I quite enjoy about the process. But yes, I mean, I, it does, it did remind me some of the things we've had to be doing over the last few, few weeks that I'm quite pleased to doing what I'm doing now rather than doing what I did then I'll, I'll say, I'll say that it's, it's more, it's much more enjoyable to not have to not have to do legal stuff and, and also things like, you know, keep speaking as an ex lawyery and how boring it was to account for every six minutes of your time, which is what Oh my God. Which is what you have to do when you're billing people. It's like, it's usually six, six minute increments and it's really tedious.

James Blatch: I can't only imagine.

Mark Dawson: No, I, I'm horrible. So, no, I don't miss that, that, that's for sure. Yeah.

James Blatch: So you much prefer writing. What are you writing at the moment?

Mark Dawson: I'm kind of, I'm at the end actually of the Milton Book Uppercut, which is in dublin. So that's gone to my copy editor and I'll get that back probably by Friday. In the meantime doing a little short novella with a new character, well, second book with a new character scout. He agrees, he agrees that that's an excellent way to spend my time. And so yeah, those are both going quite well. I'm also plotting ASCUS four and Milton 23. I think it's so kind of working on lots of things at the same time. And also, as I mentioned to you the other day, I'm, I'm seeing really, really excellent success with Facebook ads I think, although I'm not, something happened, the debate question on Atticus. So Atticus, the first three books have basically doubled, I think the profit they're making. I'm actually more than they tripled the profit they're making just by advertising to the first book on the series. So that's, but

James Blatch: That it's also on the back of being on the Richard and Judy book Club, isn't it?

Mark Dawson: I don't know that there's that much bleed through. Cause this is not paperback or, or print. This is, this is digital. It could be that. I can't say there's no effect. There must be some effect from that. Yeah. But I don't think it would be as significant. I mean, it's been Atticus one has been in the top 30, I'll say for about five or six weeks. And this is a book that's like over two years old now. So it's been it's been just sitting there and, and then obviously I'm seeing really strong reads through into book two and book three. Which is good. And so I've just been juicing it with, with Facebook ads and Amazon ads. But it's, it's weird. Yeah, just thinking to myself, I I was pretty sure it was the Facebook ads, but then I reduced the spend on the Amazon ads by about 50% yesterday and profits dropped by Right? Not, not by that amount, but they, they dropped. Now that's only one day and it could just be a fluke. So let's keep an eye on it. Yeah,

James Blatch: Small sample size,

Mark Dawson: Very small,

James Blatch: But yeah. Well that, yeah, that's good. I think I mentioned last time out that I've been running for the first time I've probably been running lead magnet adverts. So, so lead gen ads in Facebook to build my mailing list on my mailing list. I've not really focused a lot on, but I, I wrote the third book as a novella specifically to do that. But it sold quite well. Cause I think I've built up an audience for books one and two and they wanted to buy book three. So I kept it going and I sort of marketed it as a, as a regular book. And then I think about six weeks ago thought, okay, now's the time. So I took it out of ku, went wide with it, put it onto book funnel, started running lead gen ads. And I think I mentioned this to you, but I've now totted up June the last month.

And I run Amazon ads to my book to probably, oh, all by books actually. Amazon has to all the, all three books, cold War thrillers, Facebook ads, just to look like audiences. So on trying to get signups to the book Funnel Link Lead gen, and I can't remember how much I spent on that. It's probably about 700 pounds and knocking on a thousand dollars with the track, with the the rate. I made a 77 pound profit and added 560 odd signups to my list. Bearing in mind my list was less than a thousand or had only just gone over a thousand in this. So I've, half my list again has been added in a month and I made a small profit. So ba that's, so I'm just going to keep doing that for now. That's, I think six months of that really building up my list. I'm, I'm very happy with that, if that continues.

Mark Dawson: Just what I would do at this point is, is monitor the responsiveness of those subscribers. So it's no good adding them. See how much it's costing you. Also, you can start to do kind of work out how much you think each one of those is subscribers is worth. And yet there's been lots of guesswork in there, but you can kind of look at how the ads, the emails they're clicking on in your automation sequence to try and work out how much you think they're buying, how many books they're buying. Yeah. and look at things like, you know, what's their open rate, what's their click rate, all, all that kind of stuff. But no, that's, you know, sounds, that's sounds like a pretty good start. Yeah, but I got,

James Blatch: So I've got to think that people joining my main list and buying the books, books one and two, which are paid mm-hmm. has got to be contributing to the fact that I've made a small profit overall.

Mark Dawson: Yeah. Probably. Yeah. You probably is probably not good enough. It might be, it might be the best you can do, but if, if you gotta drill into that as much as you can. But that does sound sounds likely.

James Blatch: Yeah. And I certainly, anecdotally I get emails probably I get an email every other day now from somebody saying, I get, I was saying on one of the interviews I recorded this morning, they're quite quaint of the older people who, who don't really understand the main list. So they reply to an email saying, you know, I said, did you enjoy Desert Venom? They said, well, I haven't started it yet, James, but thank you very much for asking. And, and it's lovely that they, you know, I I treat it like it was a one-on-one email when I replied to 'em.

Mark Dawson: Yes. Yeah. Yeah.

James Blatch: But I, I get, I get an email every other day from someone saying really enjoyed De Desert Venom. Can't wait to read your books. Just bought them. And so anecdotally that's just an anecdote, but

Mark Dawson: No, that's great. Saying I've always preached all the way from since we were doing this, is those by just replying to them in a way that is not obviously canned. Yeah. Is will turn them, probably make them, they've taken the time to write to you. Right. And I think if you write back and they don't know that it's you and your shed in your garden, right. They, they'll have, they don't know. It's easy for as easy for us to think in the, in the space that we work in as authors, that all the myster mystery's gone. Cause we kind of, we, we see how the sausage is made and so, but it's, it is worth going back. I try to think what it was like when I was a child and writing to, if I, if I wrote a letter to Steven Donaldson, right. He wrote, he wrote a very, very good fantasy double trilogy with song called Thomas Covenant, really, really good books.

And I loved him. I think he was an amazing writer. And if he had written, I mean, he'd, he got me as a Because of a lifetime fan because his books are bloody brilliant. But if, if, if I just read the first one and he wrote back with actually better example Terry Pratchett who, he lived not far from me. A friend of mine had leukaemia when he was a child, when, when I was in high school. And I wrote, he loved Terry prt. So I wrote to Terry Pratchett and said, look, my friend's got leukaemia. He loves your books. I love them too. Is there anything, you know, could, you could do? And he sent back a signed photograph a letter that he'd obviously written and signed and, and a book and just, you know, that's the extreme example. But that, that kind of response, which wasn't by his assistant or his PA or anything that he'd done that, that, that's kind of, that's almost incalculably apart from being very nice.

It's also is is Incalculably valuable when it comes to how much that makes me want to buy everything he ever writes. so he wasn't doing that commercially, obviously he was doing that cause he, he was a nice person. But that kind of principle I think is something that is easy to forget sometimes. That just, just having an author write back that you like is, is really special. So anyway, that all those old people who are kind of, you know, sending you emails and, and you know, thanking you and complaining about can't get the books on their device. They're, they're probably telling all their friends, there's this nice, there's this nice young man called James

James Blatch: And of course the great thing if you used Book Funnel is they're they're among coincidentally interviewing Damon Courtney this afternoon who runs Book Funnel. But their support is fantastic. So it is, yeah. Obviously we do get, if you do use Book Funnel, you will get those emails from people say they can't

Mark Dawson: When speak, when you speak to Damon, tell him he needs to produce templates in German.

James Blatch: Okay.

Mark Dawson: Because I use BookFunnel for everything. And I don't think, unless I'm completely wrong, but I, and he probably ought to be on top of this cause I'm sure I'm not the only one who's, who's running kind of giveaways for Germany,

James Blatch: You're about landing pages and so on in Germany.

Mark Dawson: Yes, exactly. Yeah. So you can kind of amend some of it, but some bits you can't. I did get a few emails from, I sent out a free book I, i I novella that I just had translated, I gave it away to my list in, in Germany and I probably got half a dozen emails from people saying they couldn't understand how to do it. Okay. So Damon needs to think about landing pages in German and also support emails in German as well, which, unless you can do it with deep, deep L or, or Google Translate. But that's something as more authors get into translation will become more and more relevant I think. And if he doesn't do it, someone in Germany's going to, is going to do it. So he needs to, you know, snake his claim also by tell him, tell him that's my rate is 5% for that excellent business idea. Yes.

James Blatch: And okay, well my cut for passing that on is two and half percent.

Mark Dawson: Okay. Okay. It's getting expensive for him. Yeah,

James Blatch: It is. Yeah. He better do it soon for more people get in. Alright, I'll mention that. I mean, hopefully we'll have a chat as well as me just labouring him with the stuff he's gotta do. Right. Okay. Good chat. We have an interview today with Tim Sullivan, who was one of the panellists at Self-Publishing Show live in London. So before we hear from Tim, a reminder that you can look at that panel. In fact, you can see every session, including the excellent session from Bella Andre on translations and how you should be going about them not leaving money on the table if you get a digital ticket to our show, which you can do at self-publishing Those sessions are released on August the third and fourth. Over the two days, we're going to have a couple of live interviews to go with them as well.

And there'll be additional sessions going into that digital package that weren't at the live show. So last chance coming up to buy that before we release those sessions in August. So Tim Sullivan is a man with a lot of experience writing in television and film. He even wrote the full length feature, my Little Pony, not very similar to the stuff he writes, which is crime now he's turned his attention to novels and he absolutely loves self-publishing, although he's also done a trad deal. But self-publishing was a new love he discovered. He's very dynamic man, Tim. And unlike some writers who will be happy to sit back and let their publish and do everything, he is somebody who wants to get going. And I think that must be Mads. Is that Mads? Yeah, that's Mads. Yep. Yes, we hear about Mads if you're watching on YouTube. She's just delivered Mark's beer for the afternoon. Tea in his golf mug. Yes. Anyway, so Tim Sullivan can tell you all about himself in our interview and then Mark and I will be back for a quick chat at the end.

Speaker 1: This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.

James Blatch: Tim Sullivan, welcome to the Self-Publishing Show. We had you in person very recently on stage in London at the self-Publishing Show live, but here we are to get a little bit under the skin of Tim Sullivan. Sounds like a, sounds like it'll be autobiography one day,

Why, why don't you start by introducing yourself and telling us a bit about your your career, Tim.

Tim Sullivan: So my name's Tim Sullivan and I'm a screenwriter. I I'm, I've mostly worked in film and TV all my life. Directed in tv, made a movie. I've written a few movies. And then recently, as of the last sort of three years, I've delved into writing crime, which has always been a long ambition of my long held ambition. And COVID sort of seemed to be the right time to find out whether I could do it. So I started and and thanks to your course self-published, I've found myself in a position where I had to self-publish, which we can talk about later. But yeah, that, that's, that's me in a nutshell.

James Blatch: Great. Well, I definitely want to talk about the the transition to writing novels and, and how that came about and why, and how you found it. But I'm also keen to talk a little bit about your, your background in, in directing and writing in TV and film. I mean the directing, I always find that curious. I worked in news in television, which was like the, the poor relation of any kind of proper television. We did things very badly with cameras pretending we were, and I used to work at Television Centre in BBC where all these amazing programmes were made. We had no clue about tv, but I was always jealous of the big productions and how they operated. And curious also, particularly about the director role because the director seems to be quite a technical role in film and television,

and yet you are very editorial, you are very story focused. I suppose that probably makes a better director, does it?

Tim Sullivan: I think so. I mean, I, I think it's interesting you should mention news Because I, I did the, I was lucky enough to do the Grenada trainee director scheme that used to exist. And after you're trained for a few months, one of your first jobs was to direct the local news live. And in those days video had a three second queue time and film, which was still doing news on Stripe, had a seven second Introduction time. So everything had to be queued up front. And in fact, I met my wife in the local news. She was the local news reporter. Huh. so my background is also a news, I think. Yeah, I think that it depends, it depends on directors in drama because some tend to be just very technical in America, there's, they tend to, it's quite interesting. In America you'll find that a lot of big series have pilots directed by Brits and then they go on to use Americans because American TV directors tend to be shooters. They shoot from every other angle Because the power is now with the story, you know, the, the, the, the showrunner and the executive producers. So American directors tend to provide them with a lot of footage. British directors tend to have more of a, a kind of view of what it should be

James Blatch: Like a vision, their own vision. They're trying to realise.

Tim Sullivan: Yeah, yeah. Which maybe the executive producers don't want so much after a while, but in the UK it's still very much a kind of, I think, you know, you've got to be editorially focused. But I think there's been a shift recently to producers and production executives, some of whom have never made drama, now being in charge of script. But for me, I was very, I I was a technical director, but also very much an actors and a word director script was everything to me. Yeah.

James Blatch: It's funny actually, I've got a, a friend, a neighbor's daughter who's just started a script assistant on some quite big, I won't name them, but quite big shows. And I've been saying to her, you need to be reading novels. And because it's all about story for me, it's all about story, everything. Yeah. Lives or dies on that front.

And if everybody at every stage in a production is thinking, does this make sense? Is this, do I want to know what happens next that's going to help the whole production?

Tim Sullivan: Oh, absolutely. There's no, no question of that in my mind. When people say to me, oh, you know, there's this film course, you know, what do you think? Shall I go on this film? Course? I go, no, go to university and read a degree in English.

James Blatch: History in English. Yeah.

Tim Sullivan: Or history. Yeah. Any of those things that teach you a narrative and a, you know, don't you watch everyone watches enough TV and film in their life to, to self-educate? In my view.

James Blatch: Yeah. That's certainly true. And we're the first people to point out o often people don't, perhaps aren't able to say why they don't like something, but it doesn't take too much working out to, to realise. I, when we worked at the B bsu, we watched a lot of TV and film Five and a half hours a day, five days a week. And you'd very quickly know when a story didn't work or when it did work. Yeah. Or when, or when there was a half-baked concept or films became sometimes very big films with millions of dollars behind them didn't work. Which was always amazed me they got to that stage, but happens.

Tim Sullivan: Yeah. And, and you know, I mean, I think that they, in the American system, you know, films often go into production too early Yeah. Because of various factors like cast availability or location availability or money. And and the script isn't ready and they think, well, we'll fix it in the edit. Yeah. You can't fix things in the, you can't fix everything in the edit.

James Blatch: No. There's that great Batman cartoon. Robin says, oh, we'll fix it in post. And Batman says, you fix that shit now slapping him, which is it should be on every film set. Yeah. I think I saw in your CV you've directed Sherlock on tv. Was that the, was that the?

Tim Sullivan: Yeah, I did with Jeremy Brett,

James Blatch: Yes. Series. That was superb. I mean absolutely. For such a well trodden storyline. I soaked up every frame of that series.

Tim Sullivan: Yeah, no, it was, it was, it was great. I, I did two one hours in the case book of Sherlock Holmes and then did a final to our movie called The Last Vampire, which was based on a short story called the Sussex Vampire. And Jeremy was just, you know, Jeremy was just for me, was the definitive Holmes really. He was so, he was so loyal to the character and so devoted in everything he did to the character. He, he, he, he almost considered himself to be a sort of caretaker. And he, and he, you know, he had bonkers ideas that that was what was brilliant. That he, that was a danger to his homes. And and he expressed that often when you were working by pushing against you as a director and, and it was your job to work out what was genius and what was just Damn right. Bonkers. Yeah. And, and reign him in. he was,

James Blatch: Do you have to be, have to be quite a strong character sometimes when you're up against competing creative ideas and directions?

Tim Sullivan: Yeah, I mean, I think that, you know, I think, you know, when you go into a series like that where, you know, he'd been doing it for some years, now you have to respect what he does and tune into that to get the best out of that. There's no point in going in with your alternative version. It's that, you know, you, your job as a director is to bring out the best in that actor and, you know, that shouldn't involve confrontation. And it certainly didn't with Jeremy.

James Blatch: So maybe that was part, you know, your love for Sherlock and Souls, partly in your mind about crime. Crime fiction is a huge genre. It's a big selling genre. And people tend to devour the series once they found an author.

Was there a commercial decision as well in your mind as well as a creative outlet for you writing crime fiction?

Tim Sullivan: No, no. It was, it was purely that at the beginning. I've always wanted to see if I could write a novel. You know, I I I always felt the novels were a bit more grown up and I never had the chance and the beginning of lockdown, you know, the film worker had had petered off and, and I thought I'd been working on an idea for tv. And I thought, hang on, I'm going to make this a book. And, and so George Cross was born and no, it was simply, it was simply, I I wanted to, you know, if you are a successful screenwriter, something like 80% of your work, which is paid for never sees the light of day. In the old days, it used to stack up in scripts on people's offices, office shelves in Hollywood. It doesn't even do that anymore.

It's on their desktop, you know, it's on, in their computer somewhere. And after a while that gets really frustrating. And I spent a year on Shrek four, and then at the end of that year, we were, I thought we had a really good story about Shrek going in search of his father who was going to be played by Sean Connery. And, and then they bring in the director who just have, has a completely different idea of what he wants to do. He wants to remake it's a wonderful life. And, and that's it, that's the end that the director will always bring in his writer. And so you find yourself with a really good script, or certainly the beginnings of a great script that's just cast one side. Cause you know, scripts are the cheapest thing in Hollywood. So, so after a while it gets frustrating and, and I thought, you know, I, I I want to write a book. And I thought, you know, I foolishly felt that I had enough of a track record to attract publishers and literary agents. Obviously I have film and TV agents and whatever, but it wasn't to be the case, which is when I came across you guys.

James Blatch: So you did initially query or, or reach out to, to agents?

Tim Sullivan: Yeah. I, I, I reached out to three agents, one of whom included my own agency. Who'd turned me down and, and my own film and TV agent went, now why are you doing this? Don't crime fiction. It's just so competitive. Don't do it. And I just said, look, I'm doing it. And that's it. And then I was turned down by a couple of agents because my character is autistic. And I've done enormous amounts of research. I've done about two years prior to putting pen to paper, met up with various world experts, done a lot of research, read a huge number of books, and, and felt I was ready to do it. But I was asked whether I was autistic. And I said, no, not. And then I was asked whether my children were autistic. I thought it was a really odd question.

Yes. And they said, look, publishers are going to shy away from this. You know, everyone's worried about neuroscientific appropriation. And I just, what? And I, so I thought in that moment, I thought, that's it. You know, I, you know, I'm in my sixties, I'm starting this late, I'm just going to get on with it. Looked into self-publishing, came across your course with Mark and thought Right, okay. This February, I'm publishing this in July. And worked out various things from the course. Like, you know, I needed, I needed a good cover design and, and, which is not easy in itself. I, I, I found someone on the internet and it was sort of, I thought he was really good. And then when he sent me the first design, it was literally something I could have done myself in 10 minutes. And I was, I was crossed and I was talking to him on the phone saying, I want my books to look like Peter May's books. And I was flicking through the Peter May book I had in my hand to find out who had designed it, saw they had a website, and just fired. The bloke went, don't worry, keep the money. I'm off. emailed these people. And then the Peter Mays designer got in touch with me and said, oh, I'll do it. And you know, it cost a bit, but the one thing I learned from your courses, you have to invest. You've gotta invest in, in, in cover design, and you've gotta invest in editorial.

James Blatch: And are they your original covers that are on Amazon today? Have you redesigned that?

Tim Sullivan: No, they, they wanted to remarket them. So the original covers and now collectors items. But yeah, we've gone through a couple of phases with head of use and I'm now pleased with the, the kind of final look of them. But it was amazing when Dave Grogan did the first pass on the dentist. I mean, as soon as I opened up the file, it just went, well, that's it. Yeah. You know, some people know and some people don't. And Dave was actually the first one to say to me, why are you self-publishing? You know, th these are really good. And I was going, well, you know, people, good books still get self-published. And I've got this problem with autism. And my, my idea was to find out whether I would get knocked back. Cause I, I, I put the book up on Amazon before I followed the chapter in the course that said, you really need to have two books.

Yeah. So it was, oh, shit, So then I had to quickly sit down and write book two before Bookworm was published. So then I had two books. And then I, I followed your advice and I, I started the, the first book off cheaply, then went up to 2 99 advertising the second book, which if you're with a publisher, you can't do in terms of a link. You can't have a link with Amazon. But if you self publish, they seem to let you do it. And then I made, and I advertised, I learned about Facebook advertising with you guys and then, and the sales were going very well. And then I, you know, bit my lip and made the first book free when the second book came out and basically just suddenly had a life of its own. Wow. And I was picked up by Barnes and Noble in the States who got in touch with me saying, can we make this the free book of Friday? I got a book bub ad, which I was lucky to get. And then, you know, within four months, so from July to about November, we had over 200,000 downloads. For the two books. And it was like, oh. And you know, then when you look at the money that you are earning, and my wife said you must stop me when I'm talking too much. And you want,

James Blatch: You're not, you're not, I'm, we're lapping up every word. Especially bit, especially a bit about the money and what your wife said.

Tim Sullivan: Yeah. Well, you know, she said, you know, we've got to, we've got to, we need to get you some pub. I mean, neither of us knew she's an emmy award-winning TV producer, but we didn't know about the publishing world. Mm-Hmm. So we didn't know whether 200,000 books of which quite a few were free was a good thing or a bad thing. But we knew it wasn't a bad thing. We, but we didn't know it was a good thing. So I went to find a a publicist and I ended up with maas and they read the book and went, oh can we share this to our c e o? He's just started literary agents. And I went, no, why? I'm doing really well. And I was saying, do you know, do you understand the maths on self-publishing? And they were saying, what do you mean?

Well, you sell a book at 2 99, you're taking home two pounds 40, like, you know, I had a thousand pre-orders for my second book. No one knew who I was, but I still had a thousand pre-orders at 2 99. So that was two and a half grand before it was even published. And, you know, I'm not going to, I'm fine. Anyway, in the, the, the long and the short of it was, I ended up going with a publisher, as it were, to use it as a kind of lost leader to get visibility, to get recognition to, you know get reviewed.

James Blatch: Yeah. and they, and they can, to be fair, they can get into places that is, is harder for indie authors at airport shops and, and, you know, high street shops physically. And that's, that's, most people still read physical books. And Mark finds the same thing. That's a shop window for him that he builds the rest of his indie career on.

So that's your first, that's your, your series The Monk Detective, is that right? Dentist rather.

Tim Sullivan: Yeah. The dentist, the cyclist, the patient. The politician and the monk.

James Blatch: And

Tim Sullivan: They just

James Blatch: And you did that, that whole series went with is it Zeus, did you say Head of Zeus?

Tim Sullivan: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

James Blatch: Yeah.

And what are your plans? Have you started a second series? Are you going to sort of do something independent?

Tim Sullivan: I'm Starting a new series of books. Yeah. I've just done a, I've just got an another degree. I got I did a Master of letters, an M Lit at Dundee University. I don't know if your followers know, but Dundee is one of the forensic centres centres of forensic science in Europe. Ah. And and they were doing a course which was an m lit in crime fiction and forensic investigation. So we studied the, you know, the, the kind of history of crime fiction in this country and, and in America. And then studied alongside first year forensic investigators doing their course, which was invaluable. so yeah, no, that was, I don't know why I mentioned that, but

James Blatch: No, it's, well, I'd like to talk about authenticity in a bit Because it's another area of discussion, particularly for crime writers. But I wanted just go back to Dees Frost Yeah. Who say has, is on the autistic spectrum. Yeah. First of all, the whole thing about appropriation, I think that's, that's a bit of a minefield today. And probably there's some, some merit in, in some cases. But I also think a lot of big literary characters wouldn't have been written. You know, I mean, modern Day Tony Stark is, is basically autistic, isn't he? That's a big Marvel hero. Yeah. And he's, are we now saying to people, to new young authors, you can't write anyone unless they exactly reflect you.

Tim Sullivan: I think you've, I think you've got to do it thoroughly. You can't just make it a character trait or an accessory. Mm. You have to pay respect to it. You've gotta know about it cause you'll get found out. But also when you look back at it, I would argue that crosses in a long tradition of autistic yeah. Detectives, right. From Augustan Sherlock Holmes I think we would argue is on the Spectrum.

James Blatch: Holmes's communication. Definitely. Yeah.

Tim Sullivan: But I think that, well what what happened with me was, I mean, I've had hundreds and hundreds of emails about autism. I've had two negatives, one of which was only autistic people should write autistic book characters, which is a viewpoint. And in other words, my nephew's autistic, he's not like your character, which is another viewpoint. But the fact is it's spectrum. But I've had so many, so many touching emails saying, I had one only the other week from a young mother saying, my daughter is, my son is autistic. I've learned more from re I've learned more about his condition from reading your books than all the several textbooks that I've bought. I had another one from a man in America who, when I was self-published who said, I have this company. We're quite a big company of 10,000 employees and it's quite creative and we've got one chap who's really difficult, but he's really brilliant.

And I've read your book, the first book, and I realised that he has to have Asperger's now known as a s c I bought 10 books for my managers to read 10 of 10 of your books for them to read to understand how to deal with them. And you read that and you think, gosh. And then another recent one from a young, a woman saying, it's so good to see an autistic character portrayed in a positive way at the centre of a book. You might be interested to know that, that I'm autistic and I'm also serving police woman in the, in the UK So In the end, the, it it's been a positive thing.

James Blatch: And without, obviously, without falling into cliche, there is there is a trait with people on the Asperger spectrum. I have a family member I'm not going to divulge about, but I know that there's a career that they've had, which involves attention to detail and frankly, things that I would be bad at, Because my mind would probably wander at some point. But the but hours and hours focusing on, on small detail that, that I can see how actually as a detective, your friend who wrote to you, or a fan who wrote to you my family member whose job involved this long period of tenacious tenacity, there is something there isn't there for, for certain careers.

Tim Sullivan: A hundred percent. I mean, and also the, you know and I always say this, always preface this, you know, it is a spectrum and I'm dealing with the high functioning end of that. And, but, but certain common traits are obsessions. Mm-Hmm. you know, with whether it be Victorian Tomas ships or competitive cycling or matchbox collection, and then obsession with routine and, and patterns. And, and that of course for cross is, is fantastic that other people won't notice something really small that to him is really important. Mm. And, and, you know, he loves his paperwork, which all detectives famously hate. He loves his paperwork. And the barristers love him because his conviction rate is sores because there's, he has an odd quirk, which is that when he's charged someone, he'll spend at least two days trying to find them an alibi.

James Blatch: Right.

Tim Sullivan: And everyone goes, what are you doing?

James Blatch: That's a thoroughness. Right.

Tim Sullivan: It's Just his process. Yeah. Just to be thorough. Yeah.

James Blatch: Brilliant. I love the fact you came up with that and Yeah. Now you're saying that out loud, obviously Sherlock Holmes 100% falls into this as does Perro. In fact, I seem to remember Kristy wrote Perro occasionally apologising to people because of his manner, which is interesting looking back that there was a self-awareness that he, he did struggle a little bit with emotional connection and normal communications and, but he was aware of that. That's high functioning. That's what you call high functioning. That's what you meant by that. That Yeah,

Tim Sullivan: Exactly. I mean, it, it was referred to as Asperger's, but because it's now been proven that, that he kind of collaborated in a, in a terrible way with the Nazis voluntarily during the war. He's now been discredited as it were. But with Asperger's liked being called Asperger's because it marked them as a different type of autism. And what fascinated me was that notion of the high functioning autism in the workplace. And you know, when you, when you understand that the, the first diagnosis of all of Asperger's in this country wasn't made until the early nineties. Wow. Before that people were just seen as awkward or rude or, and so people didn't know how to deal with them. But once you know that that is the way someone functions and you see their value, you, you, you, it's not like making allowances, but you understand how to function with them.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Tim Sullivan: Yeah. That's the key thing. And that's, that's what Cross has.

James Blatch: I can see how cross has been a, a successful, it's very gripping premise. So you, you delved into this, you wrote out the two books quite quickly by the sounds of it then Yeah. During lockdown. I mean,

how, what was your process for, for structure and actual physical writing? How and when did you do that?

Tim Sullivan: Well I discovered when I write screenplays, you, you have to be a, a lot more, organised is the wrong word, but you have to kind of have much more of a grid plan of where this is going because there is so many things involved. Number of cast locations, budget, you know, countries, whatever. But with a novel, you don't have that. So I found myself writing, knowing who and what they did, who had, who had been killed and what they did. That's all I knew. Right. I didn't know anything else.

James Blatch: I mean, you probably enjoyed that, didn't you?

Tim Sullivan: I did to an extent. I, I mean obviously with the first one it was a bit terrifying. It's about 30,000 words in, you don't know how this is going to end, but what it means is that your readers are on the same page as you literally. Mm-Hmm. Then you are never ahead of them in any, you're never giving clues that are false because you don't know they're false. So you'll, so the detective is never ahead of them. And it gives it a sort of, it gives it quite an organic rhythm. You find that chapters get quicker when you want to move on to the next discovery. Whereas if you knew what the discovery would be, you would just write up to it. I, I found, I, I found I couldn't write from point A, B, C, D E, I couldn't do that. It's like painting by numbers for me. This is what happens now. Fill it in. I I, I have to find out as I go along.

James Blatch: That's interesting. We've mentioned Dan Brown a lot on this podcast Because he's somebody who is able to, where the reader is probably just the head of the story, which is a brilliant place to be. It's, but it's, it's a hard thing to come up with because we all want to be clever and a bit Show offy when we're writing. You have to really fight that.

Tim Sullivan: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I've, I've found that with the author's voice. So in screenplays there has to be an author's voice because a screenplay does many functions. Initially it's to attract financiers, actors, directors, it's to, to get them to go look at this movie, you've gotta make this movie. So it's gotta be written in the way that lures them in. But then when it bec when it goes out of your hands and onto set you, you've gotta have a voice because you are not there. So it's also got to be a kind of instruction manual as to how you see the, the, the film. But you can't do that in, in novels unless you're writing from an authorial standpoint. And I found that quite difficult.

James Blatch: the, the keeping Yourself out Of it,

Tim Sullivan: the notion of yeah. The notion of adapting to kind of perspectives, whose perspective is this was quite hard. But I loved it. I loved the, I loved the freedom of of, of going down a little sort of tangential wormhole when you're writing, which you can't do as as as, as a screenwriter. And I love the ability to have the occasional rant through cross.

James Blatch: Yeah. You know, I read a lot of John Lacari, he enjoyed that as well. And he did that his last couple of books. It was always a rant through through Smiley or someone.

Tim Sullivan: Yeah.

James Blatch: The the difference, also difference in writing is, is the sheer size of a, a novel. I mean, screenplays are what, how many words would make up a screenplays?

Tim Sullivan: I dunno how many words they would be, but they would be, well, I could look one up and tell you, but roughly you want in a four, you want to be about 110 pages. That's double spaced. And that's, you know, so it's quite, quite hard. Well, double spaced except for the stage directions.

James Blatch: So novels like four times the size of that.

Tim Sullivan: More, more, yeah. More six, six times. Right. And, and, and, and you, what's interesting about that is it's easier to shift stuff around in a screenplay because everything's about a lot more recent to you. You're aware of what you've written before a lot more, but when you are two months in and you think, hang on, what did I put in chapter three? Oh my God, he's not even called that. I got the name wrong. you know shifting blocks around have a lot more repercussions in books, which makes the edit process fascinating.

James Blatch: It is a bit daunting. And novella, I found that with my first novel in particular, I honestly didn't know where to start and therefore didn't for a year or two.

Tim Sullivan: Yeah.

James Blatch: Whereas now

Tim Sullivan: I understand that. But, you know, I think I said this at the conference, my advice to writers is don't sit if you want to write a novel, don't sit down with the intention to write a novel that day. Sit down and write, write bits. Write you've got your favourite scene that you know is going to happen in Act three of the book. Write the scene. You've got a brilliant bit of dialogue that you've had running around your head for months. Put it on paper. You know, I'd start with an A three artist pad and I'd just write down things that come to me and I kind of invent a cast. I had no idea how they relate to anything, but Oh, that would be quite interesting. Just do that, you know, that's writing. You know, it's, it's that kind of, I, I've got someone who's doing a rewrite on a script of mine at the moment, and I said to her, look, don't sit down to rewrite this script.

Write some favourite bits, just write some bits and then you find your way in. You know, and I, I found, I, I sometimes, you know, I'm, I'm 20,000, 30,000 words into a book, and then one day I go, oh, I'm in. Oh, thank God I'm in. You know, it just clicks. Even in the edit, you go, ah, you know, yesterday I'm editing book six and I was struggling a bit. And then yesterday I went, oh, oh, oh, right. I get it. Okay. It's never going to be perfect. You know, you're always going to, that's, and you're always going to have, you know, imposter syndrome because basically a book comes from there to your piece of paper. I mean, I write longhand, I write, I write in Fountain Pen, I'm real dinosaur. And I've tried, I write my screenplays in, in longhand. I've, I've tried writing directly into the computer.

It just doesn't work. It's just a different process for me. It goes into the computer in the end. And now, thank God with iPads, I then can rewrite by scribbling over my, you know, over my document. But, you know, it's, it's, so that makes it feel even less real. You know, when you're sitting in Islington, scribbling on a piece of paper, Shrek goes back into the swamp. You could be forgiven for thinking. It's just a divine practical joke. you're not actually writing this movie at all. you know, it's, it's such an insane thing to do. Did that ever get made Shrek four, the new version? No. No, it didn't. No. Well, Shrek goes forth got made. Oh, it didn't do very well. There was a funny story about that. My executive on the movie the studio was run by this great man called Jeffrey Katzenberg.

He's, he's one of the last great moguls and obsessed with animation. When he worked to Walt Disney, he used to go down to the archives at night and, and study Walt Disney's hand painted cells, you know. Real, real obsessive. And anyway, Shrek goes forth, I think it was called, never seen it, obviously for personal reasons, and it didn't do brilliantly well. And the, my executive had an a five copy of the script made of my script and had it framed in a glass box on which it was written in case of Emergency break glass. And there was a hammer hanging off the side. Which was nice. Just not as nice as if the film had been made, you know.

James Blatch: Yeah, yeah.

In terms of, of screen adaptations, did you write cross with a view to it potentially being adapted to a, a tv?

Tim Sullivan: Yeah. Originally it started off as a kind of an idea for tv. But it's, so I you, you can't have any expectations. I know what that business is like, and, you know, we've had approaches and obviously a lot of people who love the book are going, oh, this has gotta be a tv, but there are so many, you know, we, we'll see. I'd love it to be a TV, obviously. and I think it would make a great TV with the right actor.

James Blatch: And do you, do you write, do you find yourself writing because there is a different way, so you don't really think too much about TV and film. You can write a very expensive way of filming it with all sorts of suddenly on a cruise ship or, or, you know, aeroplanes involved.

And with your mind, probably even without you thinking about it, you're, have you sort of laid it out in a way that would work for tv?

Tim Sullivan: Not consciously. I haven't tried to restrict myself in that way because those things are easily cut. Okay. So there's no point in restricting yourself unless it's essential, you know, to I, I, no, I mean, they're based in Bristol and, and it's quite manageable. But I, I think it's a mistake to, I don't think of TV and I don't think of actors when I write cross books. I just want to write really good books. And if they then get made into tv, fine. I still feel I have a long way to go in learning my craft as a novelist. You know, I had 35 years to learn as a screenwriter. And this is just the beginning.

James Blatch: So seems like you make a pretty, pretty decent start of it, Tim. And I mean, you'd be up there with, with Peter May, and when I was looking at you on Amazon earlier, his books were coming up next to yours, and I think you outranked him on a couple of them. So yeah. You made a fantastic start and you've had a taste of independent publishing. Well, yeah.

Tim Sullivan: So, so, you know, I'm, I'm very, I'm obsessed with numbers and, and, and looking at charts and stuff, you know, it really interests me at the moment that, you know, three of my books are in Amazon Prime, which is, which is great. But number two book The Cyclist, which historically wasn't a big seller, has suddenly shot up the charts. It's declining a bit at the moment, but it got up to number 21. And, and it's book two out of five. And you're thinking, and you can't work out why. That's what's frustrating, you know, if you're a self-publisher, you'd be looking at it thinking, what have I done? I need to know what I've done so I can repeat it.

James Blatch: You don't what they do

Tim Sullivan: But, you know, there was a period about four weeks ago, I had four books in the overall top 100 of Amazon, which is pretty good, you know, because you understand what those figures mean when you've come out of self-publishing. You know, I you don't understand 'em so much when you're published.

James Blatch: Yeah. Well, all, all the books I've looked at are ranking extremely highly really well at the moment. So I can see how, how well they're doing.

And you, you say you think you will go back to it, your next series? I mean, surely Zeus are going to want

Tim Sullivan: Yeah, yeah. No, no, no. There's a lot, there's a lot to come from cross. I'm just finishing book six. The reason I brought up Dundee was I did part of it was you had to do a 30,000 word dissertation, which would go to a new novel. And I started by doing a cross. And then I thought, what am I doing? I've got cross, he's going really well. So I've got a new book series coming out of the Dundee project, and I hope I'll have the first one finished by the autumn, and then, then we'll see if anyone wants to publish it. But as I keep saying to people, you know, I, I, I meet quite a lot of traditionally published authors, and one said to me last year, oh, my contract's up, I really, really worried. I don't know if I, I dunno if my publisher will renew. And I went, why are you worried? They went, well, if they don't renew. And I went self-publish. And they look at you as if you're a bit mad. And you go, you've got to understand it's a new and brave world out there. People like Mark Dawson and Adam Croft and Rachel McClain Asel and Simon MCle Yeah. L are selling millions of

James Blatch: Books. LJ Ross and Yeah.

Tim Sullivan: LJ Ross. You know, a watch just gone through 8 million or something. I mean, you know, it's, it's not vanity publishing anymore. And obviously a lot of people don't do it properly. They need to do your course. you know, it, it takes a lot of work, but I loved it. I loved doing all the work and, and figuring it out, but for me, it's the same. You know, I, I said to my, I, I said to my agent, look, I'm going to write this book. And she went, yeah, I think that sounds really interesting. You know, we'll see what the publishers think. And I went, doesn't really matter to me because, you know, I'm being published. I'm visible. If a publish doesn't pick this up, I'll self-publish it very happily.

James Blatch: Yeah. you mentioned Dundee. So this course on forensics authenticity is, is a sword you have to carry when you are a crime fiction writer. And I think a lot of people really enjoy the genre, whether it's tv, film, or books because of their authenticity and the latest techniques. And seeing that. And I imagine you have some pretty nitty readers who will pick up on things that simply aren't the case.

You probably have a lot of people in the industry, right. In the law, law enforcement, industry, reading. So is this a, do you find that a comfortable sword to carry?

Tim Sullivan: I think, I think you, you've got to have a balance. I, I, I don't like writers who show off their knowledge and every page is littered with acronyms and police language they've picked up from somewhere. The police officers I deal with and talk to are, are fairly they know it's fiction and they like to read a good, some people, some of them don't read crime fiction, some of them do, but they know it's crime fiction. And actually, you know, some murder inquiries are mind numbingly tedious. You know, in real life Where people don't want to read that. Right. so, but I think you, you try not to make too many mistakes. That's what I tried to do. But, you know, in the cyclist I had budget cuts, which I thought was, I came across budget cuts and I came across the fact that in the southwest, you know, each police force had its own diving unit and now the three major police force in the South southwest share one, you know, and so you have to book it. Well, you can't book it Because you don't know when you're going to need it. Right. and forensics have become freelance, you know, the forensic centres now where, where stuff gets couriered to them. And that means budget Because you know, then you're paying. And so it's a, it's a very, it's that, that interests me working under those

James Blatch: that, that definitely feels reality to me dealing with budget cuts. And and there are some series, I mean, silent Witness is the one that always got me. Cause at the time, silent Witness was doing really well. I was a BBC news reporter covering murders, and I vaguely knew Dr. Nat Carey is a fantastic forensic pathologist for the Eastern region. He's a very se, serious business-like guy. And he, he goes in and gets, he doesn't really talk to the press very much. I most, I saw him talk, was giving evidence in Crown Court later. And he would do that in a very methodical way. And hi, hi. The framework that he operated in was, was here and he was brilliant at it. And lots of murders are in prison and families have been well served by him. And then you watch Silent Witness and she's knocking on doors and she's into People's Kitchen and she's deciding to go and interview somebody. And it's, it was so crazily unrealistic, but at the same time people loved it and it still sort of looked realistic to people.

Tim Sullivan: Yeah. I mean it's, I mean, yeah.

James Blatch: You're going to hold your counsel on that. I can see.

Tim Sullivan: Yeah, I mean, you know what, what interests me is, you know, I learned one, one thing I learned on the forensics course was remit. So when, when forensic investigators go to a crime scene, they're given a remit. They will, they, they will be asked to look at something. There are people that process everything. Crime scene investigators, and there are forensics that will analyse things. And if they're going to be expert witnesses, they're told to stay within that remit. So say it's blood splatter on a, on a back wall when they go to court, the, the, the prosecution or, or the defence rather, will try to have a dig at their expertise. So if they go within, without outside of their remit that they've been given, they can easily be shot down. So say you're talking about blood splatter and the defence goes, yeah, but you know, what about the footprint in the blood on the carpet? That wasn't in my remit. I'm just here to talk about the blood splatter on the wall. That is my expertise. Footprints and blood on a carpet is, and that's how they maintain their credibility. Yeah. And that's how they, you know, and, and so Silent witness is way off the Yeah. I mean though it's just, it's just someone, well, I'm not going to say, and

James Blatch: I suppose, I suppose the example I was giving is, it, it in some ways it doesn't matter because it did hugely well and people watched it and

Tim Sullivan: Oh, it doesn't, you know, and to an extent, you know, if you run a series that long, you're going to run outta cases. Yeah.

But for me, you know, the challenge with Cross is because of how he is, he doesn't have gut instincts about things. He doesn't like people for crimes. He only goes on what's in front of him, which can be frustrating for the people around him. But it makes him incredibly precise. It can be incredibly frustrating for the author because you go, I can't go down that road. Because why would he wouldn't think that. Yeah. He wouldn't go. And so obviously I've got other people who will come in and, and do that for him. But, you know, he, he doesn't theorise, he doesn't believe in theories, but he will often listen to other peoples in case it, you know, like, like something in his Yeah. In his sort of brain.

James Blatch: Yeah. Well my area is his air crashes, which are feature in my books. And I know from my, again, my experience that half of them is that everyone thinks they know what Hap knows what's gone wrong with the, and they play it crashes. And half the time you're right, the other half the time you are so wrong. It's unbelievable. And that's why all the professionals involved in it when asked immediately in the aftermath won't speculate Because you need to pick through the debris and find things out. Yeah. Which I guess is how your guys working and how good good detectives will work. They'll, the, the Ba ba Bamba case is the famous one in the UK, isn't it? Where Yeah. People in America might not be familiar with it has been televised a couple of times, but a family slaughtered in a farmhouse in rural Essex and and a very heart, a heartbroken son. It took them a long time to work out. In fact, it took somebody kind of on the fringes of the investigation to be dogged and say, you're overlooking something really obvious here. The son did it.

Tim Sullivan: Yeah. And weirdly, he still has a, a hugely vocal campaigning group saying he didn't do it.

James Blatch: Yeah. He almost got away with it.

Tim Sullivan: Yeah. I, funnily enough, I'm an r f baby. Oh. And and, and I grew up in all sorts of places in one place was Singapore. Mm. He grew up in I grew up in Chang, which is now where the airport Yeah.

James Blatch: Is. Yeah. My father flew into there as an RF pilot probably, maybe even when you were there. Who knows.

Tim Sullivan: Really? Mm. And, and we lived at the end of the runway pretty much. And there was a, there was an old bomber that they used for fire practise. And of course this is in the sick late sixties, so it was just, I I, I could just walk in and me and my friends would go on bombing missions. in a real plane stank of cordite And burnt and stuff. But it was just, you know, and, and a hazard of Yeah. All sorts of proportions. Broken glass. And it was just fabulous for, it was like sort of, you know it was like swallows and Amazons but with planes.

James Blatch: Yeah. Fantastic. Well, I had very similars I r f child as well and I think it was Hala Hospital down in Portsmouth for some reason. There was a derelict R e f Wessex with grass growing up around it. And we did exactly the same. We had to climb all the way to the top of, you're a long way up in that. And I dread to think Yeah. Of the health and safety implications, but we loved it. And I love that. Fabulous. That smell is still powerful too. If I go to an air museum, those aircraft have a particular smell. But yeah. So no, I, I wouldn't, wouldn't surprise me if my father flew into Chang around that time, late sixties. Wow. He was, wow. He was there. So and he, I think there were two airfields at the time. Yes. There were. Yeah.

And it's now just the one isn't there the main Yeah. Or the, I dunno if the military one's still there, but anyway, that's either here nor there. I'll check his log books. Look, we've, we've sort of come to the end of our 40 minutes has been it's ripped past Tim. Hugely enjoyed talking to you. I just want to thank you, congratulate you on your success. You you know, the one thing you haven't said is you are a brilliant writer, but I'm going to say it because that's got to be at the heart of why your books have taken off so well and done so well. And you are in a, I think you're in a fabulous position to have a very successful indie published career. We keep sort of waiting for the big, the very big name to say, you know what, I'm not going to sign another publishing contract. I'm going to do this indie now. But you, you could come up from that other route. Yeah. I think and

Tim Sullivan: Well, thank you. I appreciate those comments. And you know, I said I'm the South Bank, thank you for your course. I I, I simply wouldn't have got to where I've got to without it.

Speaker 1: This is the self-publishing show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.

James Blatch: There we go. That was Tim Sullivan, one of the panellists on our crime panel. Earlier or no, last month. Last month. This in July was last month. Last month. Track of time. Yeah. but just to reiterate, the digital version of the conference is being released on August 3rd. You can get a ticket at self-publishing where you'll get that session, all the other sessions and value added stuff about how to build a website and so on. It'd be a great ticket. $99 an absolute s snip at that. Okay. Mark, I think that is it for this recording. We are back to recording a couple Because it's the middle of the summer and we're having a little bit of r and r. Although when you work for yourself, all of us, I think listening to the show and producing a show in that position, you never quite get a whole day off to yourself. But that's okay as well. Good. I think that's it, unless you've got anything else to add?

Mark Dawson: No, no. It's all I'm

James Blatch: Good. Good. That all Remains We Say is says goodbye from him

Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me.

James Blatch: Goodbye. Goodbye.

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