Inside RTC North – Simon Monaghan: Business Coach Turned Published Author

24th Aug 2023

During lockdown Simon discovered a newfound talent in writing and has now published several books with the intention of writing many more. Find out more about Simon and how his writing journey has progressed over the years below.

“Like many others, life changed for me immeasurably when lockdown arrived in early 2020. Until then I had been working as a self-employed business coach based in Leeds. I mainly worked alone, though with notable collaborations along the way including with RTC North on the Access Innovation programme for Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership.

When lockdown hit, I found it difficult change my delivery model and I lost my biggest retained customer. I decided to hunker down for the duration, and I was left with time on my hands. I took the opportunity to start write a book which was something that had been on my mind for a while.

Following university, I served in the Royal Hong Kong Police for many years, and I had always been aware that the RHKP provided wonderful material for a book. The only problem was that various colleagues had got there before me, and they had flogged the ‘I once was a copper in Kowloon’ routine to death. Consequently, going down the fiction road was the only sensible option in my mind.

I knew from the off that I would have to learn new skills since I am not trained in creative writing. Inexperience did not prevent me quickly coming up with a story based around the series of violent robberies that Hong Kong experienced in the ‘80’s and 90’s and I quickly bashed out 60,000 words on my laptop. That gave me a basic storyline but joining RTC in June 2020 made me put it on hold for a while which was no bad thing. I used the next few months to seek feedback on my very rough draft from old colleagues and they were kind enough to point out the error of my ways whilst not killing my enthusiasm.

Feedback in hand, I made another attempt at the end of that year. I cut out a lot of procedural detail and added another 60,000 words. The story got longer and better but it had gone from too short to too long and I spent the next year or so tinkering.

The big breakthrough involved recruiting an editor. I knew it needed to be someone sympathetic to my aims of telling a gritty story whilst keeping it authentic. I was lucky to find Chris who had also served in the RHKP for three years in the 1980’s and has since published over 20 novels of his own. It is fair to say that I could not have done I without him.

The first thing he did was educate me about the niceties of historical fiction. I bought a book on the genre by a well-known author, Emma Darwen, and watched 12 hours of online university lectures by Brandon Sanderson, a bestselling sci-fi author. Adjusting my writing style was painful and it is still a work in progress.

It was worth the effort though, and two years after I first started, The Division was published under the pen name of Ben Kennedy in June 2022, a date chosen to mark the 25th anniversary of The Handover. I would describe the book as an earthy cross between ‘Life on Mars’ and ‘Virgin Soldiers’ and it is not for everyone, though the book should appeal to readers interested in Hong Kong, the police, and colonial history. The book was published on Amazon, and I’ve been fortunate that friends, family and old colleagues have supported the project enthusiastically.

The end result has been some very gratifying Amazon reviews which is far more important that high sales at this stage of the game. The positive reaction encouraged me to start work on the sequel, The District. Finding time can be a problem but last year I was ‘fortunate’ to get trapped in a Jakarta hotel suite for five days due to a covid outbreak during an Energy Catalyst brokerage visit in July. That gave me the time to make a good start on book two, and every cloud has a silver lining as they say. The District was eventually published in January 2023 and that was followed by The Team in July 2023. My immediate aim is to write six novels by December 2024 and then assess progress at that point.  

Writing a book is a great topic for conversation. Over the last year or so I’ve met many people who told me they nearly wrote a book once. I’ve also had many questions about the writing process, the time and creativity involved, and the level of book sales etc.

I’m completely open about the fact that my writing is a hobby not a business. I’ve only sold several hundred books over the last 14 months, yet I feel fortunate to be breaking even as a result of sales of my three novels which are distributed through Amazon, a Hong Kong book chain, and in person. I am a million miles away from making a living from writing and the truth of the matter is that I’m not even trying, yet.”

 Simons tips for budding writers:

Write about something you know and are passionate about, maintaining enthusiasm is critical

Don’t worry about perfection initially, just get something down on paper - ‘get it writ and then get it right’ as they say

Try to be disciplined, I try to get up at 6 am and write for an hour or two every day before work

Persistence is important, writing a book is effectively a project management challenge involving multiple small pieces melded together to form the finished product  

Seek feedback and assistance, there is a lot of support available for wannabe authors

Do some research before you start. I didn’t know what I was doing at the beginning and it took me months to unpick the early drafts

If in doubt, just start writing and see where it takes you. The second and each successive draft is always better than the first and getting it right first time is unlikely so don’t fret about perfection and just let the words flow.

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