Book Launch: The Papyrus Empire by Niels Saunders

A global secret society with its own currency.

A mysterious murder with no witnesses.

How far will one man go to learn the truth?

Click to buy

A dark mystery thriller

The Papyrus Empire is now available to buy in paperback and ebook from Amazon. Here’s the blurb:

When Tommy Duchesne takes out fifty perks from a cash machine, he thinks he’s been conned. It’s actually the currency of the Papyrus Empire, a secret society founded in the forties by Sigmund Papyrus, a Swiss entrepreneur with a splendid moustache.

Tommy tries spending the perks around town, and realises he wasn’t conned at all. If he uses it in shops, he gets special service. If he uses it on slot machines, he wins every spin. At first he has the time of his life, but a sinister side soon emerges.

A close friend is found dead, and he believes the Empire is to blame. To discover the truth, he joins their ranks himself. Allied with his enemies, the weight of that truth, and the price he pays to unearth it, will make him question everything he’s ever known.

The Papyrus Empire is a dark and complex thriller unlike anything you’ve read before.

The Papyrus Empire is the culmination of ten years of planning, writing and editing. It’s been through countless versions, but it’s finally ready. As you may have noticed from the Amazon listing, it’s the first instalment of The Empire Saga. Thankfully, my writing speed has increased dramatically over the years, so it hopefully won’t take another decade until its sequel, The Ivory Tower, is ready. The story is set in an English city named Vestibue, which some of you may recognise from my previous novel, Grand Theft Octo. You don’t have to have read any of my previous books to fully enjoy The Papyrus Empire, but there are some Easter eggs and character references to Grand Theft Octo sprinkled throughout.

In the days leading up to this launch, I’ve been making promotional posters inspired by events from the story:

Come to Rosenthal Manor Tonight

The Papyrus Empire is Recruiting

Warning to Usurpers

Information About Vestibue Zoo

If you’re not in the mood for buying an ebook or paperback, The Papyrus Empire is also available to read for free on Kindle Unlimited.  Alternatively, you can check out the first few chapters on Amazon for free.  Please do leave me a comment if you decide to read my book. Finally, if you enjoyed the posters I made, you can follow me on Facebook for more regular updates.

The book is dedicated to the memory of Arif Khan, whose death inspired much of the story. As such, there are no acknowledgements within the pages, but I’d like to thank the following people who’ve read the book in its various versions over the years and passed on their helpful comments: Nao Saunders, Susan Saunders, Gail Grantham, Preston Parris, Elina Zachariadi, Jerry Devenish, Robin Woodward, Paul Clark and Kiera Buckley-Jones.

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Writing Tips: Surviving the Skill Plateau

A remarkable thing happened while working on my latest novel, Grand Theft Octo. I wrote about 500 words that needed almost no editing whatsoever. Although I didn’t splurge them out in a carefree frenzy, I didn’t write them especially slowly either. They took about an hour. There were a few places where I had to ponder and a couple of lines that tripped me up but somehow I managed to write about 500 words that required almost no editing whatsoever in an hour. If you’re not a writer yourself, you might wonder why that’s a big deal, but for me it was a miracle. Let me tell you why.

Writing is Rewriting

People say writing is rewriting. Writing is the fun part whereas the real skill and effort comes during editing and rewriting. A lot of this depends on the way someone writes. Some people edit as they go whereas others bash out a first draft before editing it later. Either way, editing and rewriting is the largest factor in the quality of prose. Most first drafts are full of clichés and humdrum phrasing. They almost never shine. Although you’ll occasionally get lucky and come up with a great line on the fly, most of the real gems come later.

Welcome to the Skill Plateau

You wouldn’t want to live there

Editing is a skill you hone, a muscle you develop. There are books to help you on the way but for most authors it’s self-taught. When I first started writing as a child, I thought everything I wrote was a masterpiece. Even if I re-read a story, I couldn’t spot a single thing to change. Criticisms from my teachers seemed absurd. I assumed they were biased or too stuffy to recognise my dazzling skill. The more I wrote, however, the fussier I became. I’d take more time with my sentences and ponder over the story instead of splurging it out. Nevertheless, writing was a joy. Each story I wrote was like an adventure. I’d polish them the best I could and looked forward to my future as a world-famous author.

Welcome to the Skill Plateau

When I was a teenager, after two abandoned novels, I started on another. That’s when I hit the plateau. I scrutinised every single word, trying to make each sentence perfect. I tried to inject subtext, metaphors and hidden meanings to subconsciously influence the reader. I wanted every description to paint a picture so vivid that the reader would see a realer world than the one outside their window. I avoided every cliché, I ran from every trope. And at this pace, I managed to write a sentence an hour. That’s not an exaggeration. The first (and only) chapter of my third (abandoned) book took six months to write. I re-read it not long ago and although it has some inventive language, it’s clearly over-laboured and bordering on pretentious.

For my next book, I tried to limber up. I didn’t want to make the same mistake. The problem is, I’m a perfectionist. Only the best would do. Although I managed to work quicker, my next book took three years to write. I only managed to get it finished by drinking 4 litres of Diet Coke every day and staying up to 6am. With that book, I’d bash out a chapter in a couple of days and then spend a month or two editing it. Tricky paragraphs could take whole days. I’d read and re-read them over and over, changing words and tweaking commas while ruining my kidneys with Diet Coke and testing the patience of my long-suffering girlfriend (thankfully now my wife and the mother of my children).

Taylor Swift Enjoying a Diet Coke

I didn’t look this elegant

Sit at Your Chair and Bleed

My next book was even harder. I wrote the first draft in a couple of weeks and then spent four years rewriting it. One particular chapter took an entire year. Nevertheless, I kept my head down and finally finished the damned thing. Then I was struck by an awful realisation: the better I got at writing, the harder it became. This is something the narrator of my novel, Mervyn vs. Dennis, discusses:

Writing works backwards. The better you get, the harder it is. I missed how I wrote when I was eight. I’d sit down and splurge and love every word, absurd little stories that made little sense. Now I spent half my time sweating about passive voice and dangling participles. I’d fret and I’d fuss over each precious word then come along a month later and bin the whole chapter. I knew this was the graft to make fiction flow but sometimes it felt like the wrong way around.

I was terrified about the future. If I kept getting better, writing would keep getting harder. It would get to the point where writing became so hard that I’d never be able to write at all.

Sit and bleed

Bleed, dear boy, bleed!

Escaping the Skill Plateau

At the time, I didn’t know there was a skill plateau. I honestly thought I was doomed. My own standards had become so cripplingly high and writing itself had become so hard that a lot of the pleasure of writing was lost. I’d put so many years into writing, at the expense or learning other skills, that I couldn’t simply give up on the only thing I seemed half-decent at. But the prospect of writing another book was so daunting that I couldn’t face it. Having just written a dark, complex thriller, I decided to write something light and easy. That’s where Mervyn vs. Dennis came from. Although it has many dark moments, it was a genuine pleasure to write, and much easier than my previous book. This time, I edited as I wrote, managing a steady 500 words per day. I finished the book in 9 months.

Despite being easier to write, I still spent a lot of time rewriting and editing. Those chunks of 500 words that I wrote and edited every day were several hours of work each. Nevertheless, I wrote an entire novel in under a year compared to writing a single chapter in a year. Having said that, I never had a moment like I did recently while writing Grand Theft Octo. I have never had a moment where I managed to write 500 words that required almost no editing whatsoever. So what has happened to me? Why am I finally able to write at a reasonable pace without feeling like I’m bashing my head against a wall? It’s something I’ve thought a lot about lately, and I have a few possible answers.

Beyond the Skill Plateau

The cynical answer is that my standards have slipped. I used to labour over my craft and now I churn out books without quality control. The problem with that theory is I think my writing is better than ever. I’m currently working on a dark fantasy novel and it’s the best stuff I’ve ever written. So if my standards haven’t slipped then what on earth is going on? I think, after countless years of toil and suffering, I’ve finally escaped the skill plateau. I’m not saying that I’ve mastered writing. I want to keep improving. But now I can write and edit much more efficiently. I’m no longer wandering in the dark. I know much better now what works and what doesn’t.

There are, of course, still moments when I bash my head against the wall. In that past, I would have been stuck for weeks but now all it takes is a contemplative walk or pensive shower. I now see 500 edited words per day as my absolute minimum. If I don’t have any freelance work from my day job, I can manage 1000 words. Once upon a time, that was unthinkable. Right now, not only do my first drafts need less work than they used do, but my editing process is so much more focused and efficient that it no longer feels like an uphill struggle. That allows me to look beyond the minutiae of the words themselves and focus even more on storytelling and character.

Never Give Up Hope

If you’re suffering in a skill plateau of your own, I have one message for you: there is hope. It won’t last forever. What you’re doing right now is improving. It might feel like a never-ending struggle but what’s really happening is that you’re becoming a better writer. All those hours you spend contemplating a tricky sentence aren’t wasted at all. They’re all part of your journey to improve your craft. So, keep on suffering, but always remember that it won’t last forever. There’s a chance, of course, that another skill plateau is heading my way. If that happens, hopefully I’ll be able to follow my own advice.

Marc Crepeaux’s Video Review of Mervyn vs. Dennis

Video Review of Mervyn vs. Dennis by Niels Saunders

I’ve been a been a bad father lately. I’ve neglected my firstborn in favour of my latest offspring. Before you call child services, hear me out a second. I’m not talking about my daughters, but the other children in my life: my books, of course. I published my debut novel Mervyn vs. Dennis in 2016. Since then, a sapient talking Wotsit has moved into the White House and the United Kingdom has had a nervous breakdown. Undeterred by the apparent unravelling of civilised life as we know it, earlier this year I published my second novel, a satire about the world’s most unusual businessman entitled Grand Theft Octo. It’s already getting some great reviews and people seem to enjoy the mix of satire, surreal professions and invertebrate-based violence.

I’ve been busy promoting Grand Theft Octo, editing my upcoming thriller The Papyrus Empire and also writing a dark fantasy about a macaque in mythological Japan. As such, Mervyn vs. Dennis has been feeling rather neglected lately. His new siblings are getting all the limelight, and he’s wondering why he’s not the apple of my eye anymore. That’s one of the many reasons why Marc D. Crepeaux‘s hilarious video review of Mervyn vs. Dennis is so utterly delightful. Inspired by a mysterious subplot in the novel, it starts with him fleeing for his life with a pineapple under his arm. From there, he gives his witty and insightful views on the book itself along with an uproarious discussion on the alleged differences between British and American refrigerators.  Here it is, in all it’s glory:

Rather delightfully, he applauds the covers of my books and says I should pay my designer more. As they’re all designed by me, I guess I’ll have to treat myself to a nice bottle of pinot noir for breakfast. When I first wrote Mervyn vs. Dennis, I always hoped it might inspire reactions and interpretations such as Marc’s, so this video review means a lot to me. Seeing him summarise the plot while chuckling about the moments he found particularly amusing is truly delightful. Please be sure to like his video and subscribe to his YouTube channel for lots of other great reviews.

Marc has also taken the time to pen an excellent accompanying written review which you can read here.  His books are available to buy on Amazon and be sure to check out and follow his blog.

Video Review of Mervyn vs. Dennis

I’m still at the stage in my writing career where every review is special to me. I’ve recently had a couple of great ones from talented bloggers Shaun Green and Sadie Forsythe , who both wrote insightful and witty critiques of Mervyn vs. Dennis. Alongside these, something new and exciting has just happened: my first ever video review. It’s by J. Cassidy (or perhaps Faye Kename) who runs a great blog called 6twistedbiscuits specialising in comedy and book reviews. She’s also a talented writer and game developer herself, so be sure to check out her site and work too. Here it is:

Don’t forget to like and subscribe to her channel!

Writing Tips: The Author as God

The Author as God by Niels Saunders

Don’t mess with Zeus

As an author, you are god to your characters. No matter their religious beliefs, when your characters pray to their own gods, they are really praying to an empty sky. You, as god, decide which prayers to answer and which to ignore. Likewise, if your characters are atheists, you choose whether to fulfil or crush their irreligious hopes and dreams. As authors, we play god, and we have to choose what kind of god we’ll be. Will we be a vengeful and interventionist Old Testament style deity? Or will we be a caring and peaceful god who loves their characters like their own children? The choice you make will make a huge impact on the style, tone and content of your story, so it’s wise to consider what kind of god you’ll be before you start writing.

Playing God by the Rules

First off, you need ground rules. In my writing, as god, I have control over luck, the weather and coincidences. This means if a character goes to a casino, it’s entirely up to me whether they win or lose. Likewise, I decide if it’s sunny or rainy. This is where John Ruskin’s pathetic fallacy comes into play. We can use the weather to mirror a character’s emotions or we can use it ironically as a contrast. It’s something of a cliché to have a broken-hearted character walk through rainy streets but it doesn’t have to be so dramatic. A depressed character, for example, is more likely to notice the grey clouds in the sky than the warm and pleasant breeze on their face.

Don’t Reveal Yourself

As god, you have a responsibility not to reveal yourself. Imagine having a character who won the lottery ten weeks in a row. Both your character and your reader wouldn’t believe it. By fixing the odds irresponsibly, you’ve broken the reader’s suspension of disbelief and also likely driven your character insane. They might, understandably, start to believe they’ve been blessed by a higher power. This would cause them to act irrationally and doubt the very order of the universe itself. This could make a good starting off point for a story but you’d have to balance all that good luck with something else to satisfy the reader’s desire for order. If a character prays, they are actually praying to you. If you choose to answer back, you’ll have to accept the consequences.

Telling a Good Story

What does a good story typically need? Conflict. As god, it’s your job to engineer situations whereby characters will find themselves entrenched in conflict. This is where it starts getting tricky to be a benevolent god. If you grant all your characters’ wishes, your story will be over. Therefore, you have to take a step back and allow your characters to achieve them on their own. Unfortunately, happiness is rarely interesting for long. To tell a compelling story, we need our characters to struggle and suffer. For the greater good of your story, you have to be cruel to be kind. As always, though, it’s a balance. Be too cruel and the reader may become so depressed they can’t even finish your book.

The Power of Free Will

As a god, you have a lot of power, but you also have your limits. Never force your characters to do things they don’t want to. It’s tempting to do this if you have a great idea and want the character to fulfil it, but I can guarantee one thing: if you allow your characters to make their own decisions, they’ll do something more interesting than what you had planned. If you force your godly will upon your characters, there’s a good chance your characters will revolt and you’ll suffer from writer’s block. Throw as many obstacles in their path as you want but never influence their will. If you want to change their mind, try doing it obliquely through metaphors and coincidences. In this way, your characters’ interaction with their god (you) may well mirror your own interaction with God (if you’re a believer).

Do You Believe in Fate?

If you’ve sketched out your story in a plan, you may have plotted the deaths of certain characters. In my experience, these rarely change. This might contradict what I said above about free will but if you’ve decided a certain character is fated to die, it’s likely you’ve foreshadowed that death and made it such an integral part of the story that they simply have to die. This is one place where, as an author, you can make death mean more than it does in real life. Whereas death in our own world often seems random, pointless and cruel, in our stories, death is a narrative device to drive or resolve conflict. Have fun killing your characters but make sure it means something.

Authors Work in Mysterious Ways

As writers we are bound to the conventions of storytelling. Readers expect mysteries to be revealed and conflicts to be resolved. As the author, it’s up to you choose if you’re a fickle god or not. Will you punish the good guy and reward the bad? Will the wishes you grant be double-edged swords? A lot of it is guided by the kind of story we want to tell, whether moralistic or nihilistic. For the sake of a good story, I tend to put my characters through the wringer. On more than one occasion, I’ve had characters directly curse me, as their god, for the situations I’ve engineered. The weird thing is, I adore them all. My characters are like my kids. Even though I love them, I want them to have compelling stories, so I make bad things happen to them (which I wouldn’t wish upon my real life kids).

What Kind of God Are You?

Are you benevolent? Malevolent? An interventionist? Do you agree that characters should have their own free will? Let me know in the comments!

Update: Here’s a great  piece of flash fiction from mythicalmusingsblog that was inspired by this post!

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20 Questions ~ Chapter 3

Here’s 20 questions about me via the very talented Evie Gaughan’s blog.

Evie Gaughan

book_nerd1

Next up for the quick-fire round of 20 questions is newcomer Niels Saunders.  The most important thing you need to know about Niels? Do Not Challenge This Man To A Chili Eating Competition!  You will lose.  And if you want to find out why he’s holding a pineapple, you’ll have to read his book.  Take it away Niels!

Niels Saunders, Author of Mervyn vs. Dennis ‘God I love a good pineapple’

1. Hemingway famously said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Where the hell do you find the motivation to stick at it?
Once I invent a character, they’re extremely pushy. They demand to have their story told and won’t let me rest. Writing is the only way I can get them to shut up. Stories are like secrets : they demand to be told. As storytellers, it’s our duty to tell them the best we…

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Mervyn Vs Dennis – Books

Here’s quite possibly the most heart-warming review of Mervyn vs. Dennis so far.

6twistedbiscuits

* * * * * * * * * * 10/10

Niels Saunders

I have no idea how to begin this review. I can say that it became one of my new favourites. Like, ever. It’s going on the Top Shelf. Only three other authors have a place on the Top Shelf.

There’s a lot of humour, and a lot of darkness hiding away under it. It’s like a person. A charming, funny person that you love to be around but spend a lot of time thinking about because there’s something about them that isn’t quite sunshine.

Mervyn is in need of a job so he pretends to be racist. So his tale of woe begins, brought entirely on himself. His ultra-racist and super-allergic new boss is a grade-A tosspot who somehow manages to wriggle his way into Mervyn’s life deeper and deeper like the slimy worm that he is.

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