Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Over the Rainbow

A few weeks ago something happened that I had worried would never, ever happen.
I signed a publishing deal with Oxford University Press for my children’s fantasy adventure book –
 Mold and the Poison Plot.
Gosh. Even writing that seems bizarre!
I feel a bit like Dorothy when she woke up in OZ - dazed and stunned and wondering if it's all a dream. Weeks later I'm still wondering if I've had a bump on the head! 
Getting the very thing I’d been dreaming of for years is an amazing thing. But it has actually, properly, REALLY happened. During a meeting with my soon to be editor at OUP HQ in Oxford last week it finally sank in. A whole team of wonderful, talented people would be working with me to publish MY story! WOW!
Myself and my agent Kate Shaw outside OUP

I suppose you might be wondering how I got to this point so let’s Cue The Backstory and vanish back in time…

As soon as I began writing in 2010 it became clear just what a difficult and competitive industry I was trying to enter.  I did my best and followed all the advice: Writing draft after draft, joining SCBWI, setting up a crit group,  writing another book, going to events and conferences and workshops, reading books on craft and writer blogs and then writing some more.
I finished several projects, was rejected many, many times and kept on going regardless. I felt I was making progress but just not enough to break through.
I had been writing for over three years when the idea for this book popped into my head. I spent the next three months furiously writing the first draft and then, took a leap of faith and sent the first three chapters to The Golden Egg Academy.
Although I felt I had a plot and a voice and a story worth telling I also knew it wasn’t at the level it needed to be, not yet and I hoped GEA would help me get it there.
In January 2014 I met Imogen Cooper for the first time and our discussion sent sparks of inspiration flying in my head. I was lucky enough to be recommended for mentoring and my subsequent meeting with Maurice Lyon gave me such a clear path for the redraft that it almost didn’t feel like editing!
I did more work with Imogen until I finally felt it was ready to be seen by agents and in October 2014 I met and signed with the marvellous Kate Shaw from the Viney Agency.
More edits with Kate followed where I had to lose a full 10,000 words and then the hardest stage of all – submissions to publishers!
It was this part that felt the most terrifying. This was the make or break. Either someone would buy it or they wouldn’t and if they didn’t then I was looking at having to say goodbye to my much loved story and start again with something new…
Holding my nerve and staying positive through rejections was much easier with the help of my lovely supportive agent but it still tested my very sanity at times. (big thanks to my writer friends who put up with me and managed to make me laugh when I wanted to cry!)
And then the interest from publishers began and I held my breath, wondering if that interest would become something more concrete… and oh frabjous day it did! 

And so, we can return to the present day –

Summing up then, it’s taken two years since first beginning Mold and the Poison Plot to secure a book deal with OUP  that will lead to its publication in Spring 2017 – nearly FOUR YEARS after starting it and SEVEN YEARS after I began writing!
The years of scribbling away may have been long and often arduous but they have given me so much more than a publishing deal;  I’ve learned what makes me really happy (stories and writing), discovered I have more strength and grit than I ever imagined (who knew?), found supportive and wonderful friendships that I hope will be part of my life forever ( I’m not giving them any choice in the matter.) and a whole host of wonderful things to look forward to in the future from launch parties to school visits and hopefully more books!
I feel very lucky indeed and I'm going to do my best to enjoy it all, keep learning and try to remember always that the journey is just as important as the destination.                                              

Feel free to ignore the next bit everyone! It is a bit Oscar speech I’m afraid but I wanted those included to know how very much I appreciate them all. I could have waited for the book acknowledgements or my launch party speech but that is far away and life is uncertain so I just wanted to get it out there now –

I will be forever grateful to -
1)      The Golden Egg Academy, most especially Imogen and Maurice - for offering not just insightful editing advice and instruction on story but never ending support and the most wonderful writing community of which I am so happy to be a part of.
2)      My agent Kate Shaw for believing in me and my story.
3)       My crit group past and present who have been clever and funny and marvelous over the years  (Thank you - Miriam, Allison, Meira, Gail, Karen, Tania, Paula, Larisa and Michelle)
4)   Vashti and James for being the best writing chums a girl could ask for.
5)  Jude for knowing me forever and loving me anyway.
6)  My mum who took me to the library every week, sat and listened to me read endlessly and always believed I could do anything.
7)      My dad who told me such good stories about the pet crocodile he had as a boy in India that I believed they were true for years! Still kind of wish they were. 
8)      Steve – who supported me in every way possible, never grumbled about my new obsession and took his own joy from seeing me happy. Love you.
9)      Luke – my heart, my reason for writing, my sounding board, my harshest critic and always my baby boy. Sorry for the mushy stuff.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Forgetting is Easy

It's been a while since I posted, nearly a year in fact. (oops)

There's been plenty going on but the urge to blog has been strangely absent, perhaps because of the dangerous amount of time I spend on twitter where my thoughts can appear as I think them and without the unnecessary need to plan and focus and edit in the same way that a blog post requires.

If you have missed me on twitter (how?) or indeed if you never go near it then here is a very brief update of where I am with my writing -

I finished my MG fantasy adventure after much work (and some frenzied hair pulling) with the help of Imogen Cooper and Maurice Lyon at The Golden Egg Academy and sent it out to agents in September. In October I signed with my fabulous and amazing agent, Kate Shaw from the The Viney Agency (pause for whooping and excited dancing)

So with one book finished and out of my hands I did as had been recommended and started my second book. I was confident that after learning so much from the Golden Egg experience and going through such a rigorous editing process that my next book would be sufficiently easier to write.

Dear reader I must tell you now...


The first draft of my new book has driven me half mad.
  • I have questioned whether I could write at all.
  • I have questioned my sanity.
  • I have wondered whether it might be better to try something easier? Perhaps scuba diving with great white sharks? 
  • I've thought seriously about giving it up entirely and admitting that writing was just not for me.

Maybe my first book was just a weird fluke? 

But, BUT...somehow with the help and support of lovely writerly friends I slashed and hacked my way through a first draft and I now have something really quite rubbish.

And I know what you're going to say - "first drafts are supposed to be bad" and I know that's true but I had forgotten exactly how BAD they were. I'd forgotten in fact just how much work went into the early part of novel writing, of getting the meat and bones onto the page in some semblance of a story.

For nearly a year I'd been polishing and revising and editing my previous book, but I'd been working on something that did at least resemble a book. The plot, the structure, the basics were already there - I just had to refine them and polish them up. I had forgotten the bit before. Almost entirely in fact. And yet the first draft of my last book had been just as bad, possibly worse, but all I remembered was the beautifully polished version...

At this point I had an epiphany.

I realised that all those references to birthing a book were not just about the visceral love and attachment you have to your baby book but also about the strange tricks your mind plays on you after it's all over. Just as women forget the pain of childbirth, so writers forget just how terrible their first drafts were.

Selective amnesia has it's reasons of course - the continuance of the human race for one but also, and even more sneakily, to trick writers into starting another book.

And of course I'm glad for it. Perhaps if I'd remembered I never would have started at all. Now I have a first draft, however horrible it is, I can get on with the art of making it better. And no doubt when it comes to book three and book four I'll be just as innocent and forgetful as before.

But at least editing is easy right?  I'm sure I remember it as being easy...

Friday, 16 May 2014

Levelling up

I like video games.
I play them fairly often and I have done for years, my current favourite is the Uncharted trilogy which combines great story with well developed characters and has lots of shooty, climby type action to keep me entertained.
The thing I've noticed about all video games is that in order to complete them you have to level up. Games have different ways to help you with this, some start off with tutorial levels to show you exactly how to control and use the game, all of them tend to start off easy and gradually get harder and most will have different difficulty settings such as: Easy, medium, hard or beginner, advanced and expert.

The reason I mention all this is that there are a fair few similarities here to writing. In order to get better and have a chance of getting published you have to constantly improve or level up.
The easiest way in both gaming and writing is to practice.  The more you play/write the better you get. So you put in the hours and the work. You read books or internet articles on how to improve/succeed.

But that's not always enough.
It can take us a fair way, maybe move us from beginner to advanced but most of us need more help to really improve.
To advance to the next level may take outside imput. Playing against other people, judging your work against someone else's, asking for advice - the basics of a crit group, or one to one feedback from an agent or editor at a conference.

I felt as if I'd done all of these things for the last couple of years - I'd written and edited three books, I'd read books on writing, I'd had feedback from agents and publishers, I'd been to events and conferences, I'd joined a crit group...
I had levelled up a fair amount but still, when I looked at my current w.i.p I felt that there was something missing, that despite it holding together as a book with a decent plot and interesting characters it wasn't as good as it could be.

I could recognise this because of everything I'd learned but as yet I hadn't learned enough to know how to make it better. Not really better, not the better that will transform it from a decent bit of work to something damn good.

So at the end of last year I got in touch with the Golden Egg Academy  run by Imogen Cooper and I asked for help. I knew I needed an expert eye and I hoped they might be able to push me to the next level.

I saw Imogen in January of this year and left that meeting feeling like I was finally on the right track. Imogen's homework was for me to read "Into the Woods" by John Yorke and I can't thank her enough for recommending it.

It's not a book I would have picked up for myself but reading it has made such a difference to my understanding of plot and structure. What I found fascinating about it was that he uses plots from popular films to illustrate his points and there were light bulbs going off everywhere as I read!

The next bit of homework was to write my bookmap, a patented device that Imogen uses with all her writers that forces you to consider everything about your book in detail and in relation to everything else. It made me realise how little I really knew about some of my characters so I spent ages working out their history and character and this sparked off new ideas and scenarios. I finally felt as though my book was coming alive, the world, the people, it was all finally, really, there.

It felt as if I'd been pushed up several levels already. It was a heady rush of exultation, this was what I wanted, this new understanding and already I could see huge areas in my work that could do with improvement

More excitement came when I was offered the chance to be mentored by Maurice Lyon and when he read my m.s he sent me comments and we met to discuss in March.  Time sped by as we talked and discussed everything about my book in minute detail. I told him my ideas and he helped me fine tune what I needed to achieve and when he left I felt so motivated and more importantly even, I felt as if I had a clear idea of what I had to do now.

The last couple of months have involved some of the most enjoyable editing ever. Enjoyable because I knew what I needed to achieve and because all those months of preparation had given me the tools I needed. And of course I now had a mentor I could ask for advice if I got stuck, knowing that made it even easier to keep editing.

So the reason I've been so absent from this blog is because my brain has been exploding, it feels that since joining Golden Egg I've managed to move up several levels and although I may still be a fair way from the very top I think I may now have the tools to get up there one day.

First though I just need to scale a couple of walls, leap across a chasm and take out the baddie with my sniper rifle...

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Where's my motivation?

 Last week I was reading a book. An adult book (for a change!) by an author I know and love. It was a good book, intriguing with an interesting premise but about a third of the way through I got annoyed. The more I read the more annoyed I became until I was reading the book in a fairly angry manner. Cue grinding of teeth and agitated page turning.

 The reason?


 In my opinion the motivation for the main character to behave in a certain way was not reasonable. As the book continued and the protagonist carried on using this rather flimsy reason for their increasingly strange behaviour I lost my belief, my sympathy and my patience.
 I did finish the book, instead of throwing it out the window, because it was in part a mystery and I wanted to know what happened. But I was not happy.

 I felt let down.

 It seemed to me that the author needed a reason for their protagonist to behave in a fairly stupid, dangerous way in order to furnish the plot but the motivation she'd settled on was not good enough. No one would behave in such a way for such a reason. It was ludicrous. Ludicrous!

 While grumbling under my breath the writer part of my brain switched on and I started thinking about my own work. Were my characters properly motivated? Or was I simply pushing them into certain behaviour I needed for my plot?

 Luckily at this point I had some input from an editor who flagged up a particular character in my m.s. I looked up my notes and saw that I had written nothing about this person despite their relative importance to the story. Instead I'd simply slipped them into a standard role without even knowing in my own head who they really were and why they would behave like that. This was bad.

 I went away and thought about it. About all my characters in fact and I started imagining little cut scenes for them from their past. They became very quickly more well rounded because I understood them more. I worked out their relationships with each other, the dramas that had shaped them. Of course I don't need to put all this backstory into my m.s but I need to know it because plot comes from character.

 I now feel that my story will become stronger and richer with this added knowledge, the characters will live and breathe and behave the way they're supposed to, NOT just because it's the way I want them to. This also resulted in a few eureka moments, created by my new understanding, so much so that I'm quite excited about sitting down to my next draft.

 Of course then I started wondering why I hadn't just done the character analysis before I started writing, so that all that deeper understanding was already present in my first draft.  But on reflection I think the understanding in many ways COMES from writing the first and second drafts.

Anyway, it was a useful lesson to me. Readers will not accept flimsy reasons. They need to feel the motivation for behaviour is reasonable, compelling even. Otherwise they can get quite cross and lose belief in your whole book and that as I have seen first hand is not the response we want.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Stock Taking

So here we are. New Year. January 2014.  A good time to take stock of things, to consider what we learned in the past year and how that can help us in the new one.

 I'm going to go back a bit further though, just to remind myself of a few important truths.

Four Years Ago...

I was in pain every day. Practically housebound and surviving on an ever increasing amount of painkillers. A disc in my lower back had prolapsed and was pressing on my nerve causing every movement to be agony. After two years of living like this, with ever worsening episodes of pain I was losing the will to live. Depressed, worried and miserable, only my family and friends kept me sane. Them and the little notebook in which I was writing a silly story for my son.
I remember clearly thinking that if only the pain would go away I'd never ask for anything again. I would appreciate every pain free second of my life. Do all the things I wanted to. Be happy all the time as long as the pain would just go away...

The pain did go away. Finally. After an operation on my spine to remove the offending piece of disc. The relief was almost instantaneous but having been weakened for so long it took me about six months to fully recover.

Three Years Ago...

I was fit and healthy. I was happy. I started writing in earnest. I joined scbwi. I went to events. I met new people. I started planning a trip across America with my family.

Two Years Ago...

I started a crit group and met some lovely writers who helped me with my work.
I got lucky with my first book. people liked it. Agents liked it. I even met one who gave me detailed notes on how to improve it.
I went on my amazing month long trip and saw the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone and Florida and New York. I went white water rafting and trekking and all the things I thought I might never do again.

Then the agent turned my revised book down. It was a huge blow but I learned a great deal from that experience so I brushed myself down and carried on writing. Somehow though I could feel a desperation leaking into my life. And I had all this angst inside me. I was angry that I'd wasted so much of my life NOT writing.  It seemed hugely important that I got an agent and a book deal as fast as I could. ...
And I  forgot how very lucky I was.

One Year Ago...

 I was still writing, still going to events, still meeting with my crit group but the angst was easing. The desperation was gone. I was calm. It was a wonderful feeling. And before I got to the end of my third book I was overwhelmed with an urge to begin my fourth.
And this book has been a true pleasure to write. A joy from start to finish. It pretty much just flowed from my head onto the screen with the minimum of fuss. It made me wonder if I'd been too busy forcing my stories onto the page in my headlong rush to publication and that was why they'd been so much more difficult to write.
 Perhaps it was a mixture of relaxing into my writing AND the experience I'd gained over the previous years? I now knew so much more about the mechanics of plot and character, I understood how to plan and layer my story and my brain was doing all that WHILE I was enjoying the process of writing.
Perhaps I just got lucky. Either way  I finished the second draft at the end of the 2013.


 I don't know what this year will bring. I could hope for agents and book deals but they may still be very far away and that's fine.
 I may have to  spend this year reading (and writing) about everyone else's success stories while I'm once again facing rejections and failure.
 What is most important to me  though, is that I don't let those things bring me down. That I don't forget again how very lucky I really am simply to be living my life every day without pain. How fortunate I am even to be able to spend time doing what I love. And how blessed I feel to have met so many wonderful people in the process.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Goodbye 2013

                                    First of all Merry Christmas to everyone!

I apologise for being a bit lax about posting lately. I really used to try and post weekly but the problem is I don't want to blog just for the sake of it. I want each piece to be either interesting, useful or reflective otherwise what's the point?
And to be honest much of the angst that I had when I first started this blog two years ago has gone. I don't feel the need to rant or moan or whinge about the fact I'm not published. I've changed. A huge amount. And my need to blog has faded slightly because of it.
I'm not giving up blogging entirely however, I hope that I can keep up writing about events and even some progress in my personal journey now and then.If you miss me too much you can find me on twitter @authorontheedge
I am looking forward to next year with great excitement. I hope to see you there. :)

Monday, 2 December 2013

A year in the life.

  Looking back over 2013 I realise that I've spent nearly ALL of it writing!
 To sum up briefly -
 After a small submission round of my second book at the beginning of the year, I started writing my third book in February. 
 I finished the first draft of that book in June but before I had the chance to revise it I was overwhelmed by a voice in my head that forced me to start writing my fourth book. (That may sound weird but hopefully other writers will understand!)
 Last week, at the end of November I wrote the final word on the second draft of that same book. Hurrah!

 After all that it's no wonder I feel  exhausted. Drained even.
 But I'm also slightly euphoric. Why? Because a year spent writing is a year well spent in my opinion.
And because the changes I've noticed not just in my writing but in myself are heartening.

On Writing.

I've FINALLY learned not to rush. Whoop!
I've discovered  that many plot problems can be overcome by just letting them sit for a while. The answer will come. Eventually.
I've found there is a happy medium between planning and pantsing.
I know when something works and when it doesn't and have found the courage to rewrite as necessary.
I can take criticism and use it effectively and I can also ignore advice I don't agree with.
I've figured out that I really need the VOICE to spark the narrative. Not the other way around.
I know what works for me.

On Myself.

I have discovered the following ;

Writing makes me happy.
Writing is part of my life, not all of my life.
Spending half my life in a made up world is remarkable therapeutic. 
The writing community is somewhere I feel happy and enjoy being. I am lucky to be part of the warm and welcoming community that is SCBWI BI and also to belong to a wonderful critique group that's been going for nearly two years.
Optimism is more fun than Pessimism.
Giving up is not an option.

So there we have it. My thoughts at the end of another writing year.
I'm hoping that the things I've learned will be enough to help me cope with the inevitable traumas of submitting in 2014. Fingers crossed people!!