On writing

Behind-the-scenes with Simon Mayo

From final draft to finished copies, to 'the end is nigh!' moment, in this diary Simon Mayo shares what it is really like to be a published author.

October 1

So off goes the edit. One more time? I'm sure it'll come back for more attention and maybe that's what needs to happen anyway. After two years I'm not quite ready to say goodbye to Joe, Dick and Habs. Soon maybe, one day, but not now. And anyway, what about a sequel? I always thought of Mad Blood Stirring as a one-off but can I leave them all like that? First reaction is to follow Joe and Habs. But King Dick is the man. King Dick is a great title. So need to keep him in UK?

October 3

Transworld pics with everyone in Dan Brown t-shirts. Top idea. Mad Blood Stirring cover will make a splended t-shirt. Kermode will love the film obviously.

October 4

Too many film interviews to write (Fassbender, Garfield, Foy, Gyllenhall I'm looking at you). Bump into Jason Isaacs (of course) who tells me I look terrible. Which is what back pain does. He asks after the book. I show him the cover (I show everyone the cover). He loves it (I think) and says he'll look up some dialogue coaches who might be able to help. He suggests a diary. (This is it.) Meantime, no word from anyone about the MSS.

October 21

Hardback copy sent for the back cover. Unbelievably, I found it quite moving! When the radio stuff is stressful, the publishing stuff is a joy (for now).

October 30

To Transworld central! Not been since Itch 1. And the receptionist remembered! Am I even sure I'm going to write another? No, not really and my studio will mock me forever.

November 2

Sir Kenneth Branagh has started it! Was fulsome in his praise on the way out from interview. PA says he's 'telling everyone about it'.

November 7

Transworld host a soirée tonight for adult debuts. That's me (and Ruth Jones, Karen Cleveland). So excited to finally get to talk Mad Blood Stirring.

November 18

Lee Child was very encouraging. Says he's invited me to Harrogate. I say I've been told that historical fiction is hard to sell, he says you're always told something's impossible. Can't do wizards, can't do this and that. New books can always punch through. Kind words but I don't believe them of course.

November 25

The Copy Edit is IN (well half of it). THE END IS NIGH.

December 15

So its 7.30am and the email buzzes on the phone. It's a message from Sir Kenneth Branagh. So this is it! Maybe I have something at last. Holding my breath. Sir Ken begins:

Dear Simon,
At last after a couple of months on the road I got to finish your excellent book, for which I thank you. Please use anything from the following paragraph if it's of any help.
"Mad Blood Stirring is an astonishing account of an explosive piece of neglected history.
Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is woven through a tense prison drama that sets itself against the epic backdrop of mighty Dartmoor. The passions unleashed in Simon Mayo's riveting account places black against white, Americans against Britons and the stirring soul of a forbidden love caught in between.
It's a rapid page turner with dark humour, intellectual heft, and a gallery of deeply human characters that shake our spirits. This is a cracking novel."
And, congratulations! All the best, Ken

I read it again. And over. It seems too good to be true and here it is in black and white. The greatest populariser of Shakespeare in my generation - and he likes it! I try to read it out loud to my wife and, inexplicably, start to sob. Good grief man, get a grip. Anyway, later when H's back goes again, it still manages to shine a light and make us both smile. So, thank you Sir Ken Branagh. I tell him my smile is as wide as Poirot's moustache.

December 16

Proof pages arrive and it all looks very fine although no sign of a map of Dartmoor. I hope this hasn't been axed as it would be very useful.

December 19

Despite the BBC's best attempts to lose it in their parcel delivery system, the magical first copy arrives. It's such a glamorous moment! And it's a thing of beauty - Transworld have excelled I think. Maybe I'll read it on the tube, ostentatiously removing it from its envelope and thumbing its 400 pages.

More about the author

Mad Blood Stirring

Simon Mayo

1815: The war is over but for the inmates at Dartmoor Prison, peace - like home - is still a long way away.

On the eve of the year 1815, the American sailors of the Eagle finally arrive at Dartmoor prison; bedraggled, exhausted but burning with hope. They’ve only had one thing to sustain them – a snatched whisper overheard along the way.

The war is over.

Joe Hill thought he’d left the war outside these walls but it’s quickly clear that there’s a different type of fight to be had within. The seven prison blocks surrounding him have been segregated; six white and one black. As his voice rings out across the courtyard, announcing the peace, the redcoat guards bristle and the inmates stir. The powder keg was already fixed to blow and Joe has just lit the fuse.

Elizabeth Shortland, wife of the Governor looks down at the swirling crowd from the window of her own personal prison. The peace means the end is near, that she needn’t be here for ever. But suddenly, she cannot bear the thought of leaving.

Inspired by a true story, Mad Blood Stirring tells of a few frantic months in the suffocating atmosphere of a prison awaiting liberation. It is a story of hope and freedom, of loss and suffering. It is a story about how sometimes, in our darkest hour, it can be the most unlikely of things that see us through.


'Wonderful - a story I never heard before, told with style, pace, character, texture, and tension ... bliss.' Lee Child

'Bristling with energy, written with passion, Mad Blood Stirring is a joy to read.' John Boyne

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