Robert Lloyd, the son of parents who worked in the British Foreign Office, grew up in South London, Innsbruck, and Kinshasa. He studied for a Fine Art degree, starting as a landscape painter, but it was while studying for his master’s degree in The History of Ideas that he first read Robert Hooke's diary, detailing the life and experiments of this extraordinary man.
In this post, Robert discusses the process of traditionally publishing his previously self-published historical thriller, The Bloodless Boy, his advice for other writers, and more!
Name: Robert J. Lloyd
Literary agent: Gaia Banks at Sheil Land Associates
Book title: The Bloodless Boy
Publisher: Melville House Publishing
Expected release date: November 2, 2021
Genre/category: Historical thriller / historical fiction
Elevator pitch for the book: Winter 1678. The body of a young boy, drained of his blood and with a sequence of numbers inscribed on his skin, is discovered on the bank of the Fleet River. With London gripped by rumors of Catholic plots and foreign assassins, the Justice of Peace for Westminster enlists Robert Hooke, the Curator of Experiments of the Royal Society, and his assistant Harry Hunt to help with his enquiry.
What prompted you to write this book?
In 2000, quite simply, I decided to write a novel. For fun, and as an intellectual challenge. (It’s proved to be slightly more than that.) I remember reading Lawrence Norfolk’s Lemprière’s Dictionary, and thinking it was exactly the sort of book I should write. I read it at around the same time as Iain Pears’s An Instance of the Fingerpost, Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, Allen Kurzweil’s A Case of Curiosities, and Peter Ackroyd’s Hawksmoor.
All share a common enjoyment of language, science, pedantry, the obscure and the arcane, and all are still among my favorite books. I should write the kind of book I like to read, I reasoned.
How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?
21 years! Part of the reason for this extraordinary length of time is that I self-published it in 2013, after four publishers were interested, but despite making the various changes they asked for, no contract ensued. This was crushing. Sheil Land Associates, my agent, then published a Kindle version, and I produced a paperback using CreateSpace and sold through Amazon.
Although it received some great reviews, it wasn’t until last year, after a great write-up on his blog and a mention on the radio from Christopher Fowler, author of the Bryant and May mysteries, that it received wider attention. Word reached Dennis Johnson at Melville House Publishing, and—very luckily for me—he liked it, too.
One liberating change during writing the book came when I decided not to follow the historical record too closely—in other words, to take more liberties. Otherwise, what was I bringing that was new? Before, it was too much history, not enough thriller, and my anxiety to be fair to all my cast of real characters got in the way of a convincing and entertaining plot. The liberties I’ve taken hopefully are plausible.
History has many gaps: rather than using only events there is evidence for, I began to look for these gaps, or contradictions, which gave me the freedom to invent without suffering so much guilt.
Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?
Perhaps because I self-published The Bloodless Boy, it felt very strange to receive detailed editorial notes for the rewrite. These were suggested politely, and I was allowed to discuss them—even to argue against them—but I now had to convince a professional rather than just me. The surprise lay in how much I enjoyed this part of the process, working with Carl Bromley at Melville House. Suddenly, I had an ally who also wanted it to be as good as we could make it.
Secondly, and a tougher learn because, for the self-published version, I had set the page layout, chosen the fonts, and designed the cover: It was odd and unsettling to realize I had little to do with this part of the process. Melville House has been kind enough to publish The Bloodless Boy, and its sequel, so these decisions are theirs, not mine, to make.
Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?
How hard writing a book is!
What do you hope readers will get out of your book?
I set out to write a historical thriller, so I hope it delivers a convincing setting and an entertaining story. It’s set in late-17th century London, so at a richly fascinating time: after the Civil Wars and Charles I’s execution, Cromwell’s rule, the restoration of Charles II, after plague and fire, and during the Popish Plot.
I hope readers will also enjoy Robert Hooke and his assistant Harry Hunt as the two main characters, with their work for the Royal Society and their expertise in the ‘new philosophy.’ It has a crime, a mystery, villains, elements of horror, and some twists along the way. I think it’s a fast-paced and exciting read.
If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?
From starting The Bloodless Boy to having it in a state I was willing to send to agents took me 12 years. (Written around a full-time teaching job, but even so.) Much of this time was spent worrying at the plot and without any sort of ending I was happy with. This meant a lot of unnecessary rewriting, as I constantly dithered, changing who did what to whom, and when.
The sequel took me around two years, because I started with an ending in mind and I made a detailed plan. Books 3 and 4 continue apace. Sorry, pantsers out there, but that’s my advice. Have an ending. Make a plan.