Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Interview with Santa!

Christmas is fast approaching but I have managed to wangle a quick interview with Father Christmas himself!

Me - Santa, thank you so much for talking to me today, I know this is a busy time of year for you.

Santa - Indeed it is my dear but it's a pleasure to be asked. Don't get many interviews these days you know!

Me - Well we're very grateful. Now, tell me, do you get many letters from aspiring authors?

Santa - Absolutely scads!

Me - And what are they usually asking for?

Santa - Number one on their wishlist is an Agent.

Me - They do seem to be rather important. Um...what are the chances of receiving one for Christmas?

Santa - There are no agents in my sack I'm afraid.

Me - Oh.

Santa - I'm sorry my dear but they're an absolute nightmare to wrap!

Me - I see. Is there anything else they ask for?

Santa - Let me think, oh yes, a publishing deal.

Me -  Well, they must be easier to wrap, any chance of one of those under the tree?

Santa - No. I won't be bringing any of those either.

Me - So, no agents, no publishing deals, what will you be bringing to all those desperate pre published authors for Christmas?

Santa - I've got plenty of books in my bag, some lovely notebooks and pens, a laptop or two, everything you need to get writing!

Me - But Santa, we want an agent, we want a publishing deal !

Santa - You don't need me for one of those. They'll come as soon as you've written the best book you possibly can. 

Me - sigh

Santa - I'm afraid some things you have to work for my dear and trust me, it will mean far more to you that way when it finally happens.

Me - But it's so hard!

Santa - Hard? Try being Santa for the day - 5000 overexcited elves to supervise, 730000000000 presents to wrap and not to mention the piles of reindeer sh.....

Me - Okay! Thank you for that Santa.

Santa - Thank you, my dear and Merry Christmas to everyone!

                                                       I'll be back in the New Year! xx

Tuesday, 11 December 2012


My second book is nearly finished. Nearly ready to be sent out. This should fill me with excitement and joy of course but instead, anxiety and fear are my main emotions.
It's not entirely rational.
After all, I've done everything right with this book so I should be feeling confident.

With my first I did everything wrong -

I wrote it without really having any idea of what I what I was doing.
I didn't get it read by anyone.
I didn't leave it and go back to it.
I didn't revise it at all.
I sent it out as soon as it was finished.
To a few agents I picked out of a book.

But I got lucky. People liked it and with their help I revised it and although I didn't get either an agent or a book contract I got fairly close.
I put that book to one side after some traumatic rejections so I could concentrate on my second book and I used everything I learned to try and make this book as good as possible.
And this time I did everything I was supposed to.

I worked on it for nearly eighteen months, I had it read by crit groups and editors and I revised it many times. It's nearly as good as I can make it.

And logically of course, your second book should be better, it's what everyone says,  "The more you write the better you get." so why am I so worried?

Because -

Now I think I might have just got really lucky first time round.
Now I know exactly how hard it is.
Now I've invested real time and  effort into my dream.
Now I know how much I want it.
Now I know how difficult the market it.
Now I understand that it's not just about being a good writer - well written books get rejected every day after all - it's much more then that. The concept, the style,  the plot, the characters, they all have to be special. Special enough to make someone love it.

So, although I do think my writing, my style and my understanding of craft have all improved I don't necessarily think it's enough.
Even though I've done everything right this time and followed all the guidance I don't necessarily think it's enough.
I'd hope an agent or publisher could see the work and the craft invested in my work but it's NOT ENOUGH.

So, I have a severe case of secondbookitis and when (or if ) I get round to submitting my second novel it will be despite knowing everything I now know. It will be, in fact a huge leap of faith.
Wish me luck!

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Angels and werewolves and vamps, oh my!

                                   Supernatural beings are taking over the world!!

                    They're everywhere. Books, films, television, you just can't escape them.

However, rather then something to be scared of, as they were originally, they have now evolved into the hottest and most attractive of species, so much so, that I wonder how ordinary mortals can ever compete?

Let me make it clearer - if you were a seventeen year old girl would you go for the mortal or the super?

Reasons to love supernatural guys -

1. Let's face it, supernatural guys are dangerous, they're bad boys and girls just love bad guys.
2. They're hot. Seriously. Not just handsome or good looking or sexy but beyond that, they're perfect.
3. As well as good looks they usually possess super strength and impressive fighting skills - they can protect you from everyone and everything.
4. They have special powers, mind reading, seeing the future, flying etc
5. Quite often, they're immortal.
6. Because they're immortal they're usually very rich.
7. Need I go on?

Reasons to love mortal guys -

1. Same species, more in common, etc etc
2. Less risk to your health - (those supernatural guys always have enemies and they usually try to kill you.)
3. I can't think of any more. Seriously.

I can see perfectly why authors have used supernatural heroes in their books and I can definitely see the attraction but I wonder what it's doing to the psyche of teenage girls.

 Romantic heroes have always been out of reach of course -  because of their looks or charm or wealth  - but at least they actually existed. It was possible you could meet someone like them, if you got lucky. Now, the romantic leads are unattainable because they're not actually real so what are girls supposed to do?

 Or, what are the guys supposed to do? Normal, lovely, human guys? How can they ever live up to their make believe rivals?

 And where can it all go? When people have had their fill of supernatural love do we return to the normal kind? Won't that seem a little weak, a little boring? Is there another path to go down, something else that can be twisted to provide a new excitement?

 This blog seems to be filled with many questions and no answers. Sorry about that. The truth is that I'm not sure if it's a problem or just a phase that will gradually disappear.

What do you think? Do you have any answers to my questions? Let me know! Thanks.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Rollercoaster Ride

  My weekend at the SCBWI conference is over and all I can compare it to is a rollercoaster ride. I considered writing a detailed report on the whole thing but in the end it seemed a better idea to make a couple of  lists instead.


10 things I learned at the conference;

1. I am not a wannabe writer. I am a pre published author! (Thank you to Lin Oliver for that one!)

2. Winchester is a wonderful place to visit and the Cathedral is magnificent.

3. Receiving many critiques in a short space of time can be hard and demoralizing.

4. Celia Rees was in a crit group called The Literary Ladies of Leamington Spa - I say!

5. Conference is exhausting - might pace myself slightly next time and hopefully avoid nodding off in my lasagne.

6. The future of publishing is changing and no one knows where we'll be in five years.

7. Dressing up to mix with the great and good of publishing is marvelous fun.

8. It's good to have lovely writer friends like Tania, Larisa and Miriam - thank you!

9. "Character is the engine of plot." - quote from Celia Rees.

10.  SCBWI volunteers are all fabulous, wonderful and completely barmy - Thank You!

3 amazing things that happened to me at conference.

1. I somehow ended up having lunch with Celia Rees and Steve Hartley. I may have made an idiot of myself by mentioning Philippa  Gregory but luckily I've blanked the whole thing from memory. Thank you to Steve for talking to me anyway.

2. I talked to five agents at the party. FIVE. And they were all lovely. Thank you Gemma Cooper, Molly Ker Hawn, Bryony Woods, Ella Kahn and Penny Holroyde!

3. I won a Raffle Prize! I never win anything and now I have a one to one crit with Piccadilly Press - hurrah!

1 final and gushing word

THANK YOU TO ; the volunteers who organised it,
                                   the speakers who attended,
                   the agents and publishers who gave up their time,
           the other attendees who were so enthusiastic and welcoming
                                not only but including
    Jan for saying hello to me, Faye for having a laugh, Tania for sharing a room, Mo for telling me about her amazing year, Larisa for putting up with my moaning, Lin for her humour, Celia for her candour, Miriam for listening...

Monday, 19 November 2012

Fight the Fear

The fear of failure stopped me chasing my dream for twenty years.
Twenty. Years.
Apart from making me feel very old it also makes me feel rather stupid. What was I thinking of? Why was I so scared?

Because, I suppose, at the age of twenty failure felt like the worst possible outcome. Twenty years ago I hadn't failed at anything of importance. I didn't know if I could cope so instead of trying to become a writer I gave up writing altogether.

It's a stupid dream I said. Dreams never come true and besides,
Hardly anyone becomes a writer, so,
Why put myself through all that agony for nothing? Might as well be sensible and just get on with life. Get a normal job, settle down, have children, forget about dreams...

So I did. And I was happy. I was fulfilled with my family and my work, it was all fine.
Besides, I had my secret life. The one inside my head. The one where I made up stories. I never attempted to write them down, I never spoke of them but I worked on them, changed them, adapted them, lived them all in my imagination. That was enough wasn't it?

Some years later during a late night conversation with one of my best friends she asked me why I never tried to write if it was what I'd always wanted to do.
I gulped and from somewhere came the truth.
"If I try and fail then I'll have to give up on my dream. If I never try, then I'll never fail and it can always be my dream."
I think I realised how stupid it was when I said it aloud but it took a bit longer for me to change.

It was a prolapsed disc, years of pain, spinal surgery and months spent flat on my back that finally forced me to try. I started to write a story for my son and I read it to him, as I wrote, chapter by chapter and he jumped around on the bed with excitement and rolled around laughing at my words and suddenly I knew how very much I wanted other children to read my words, how important it was that I put my imaginary worlds out there for others to enjoy.

 I didn't think it would be easy. I knew I'd probably fail. Alot. But somehow, twenty years on the fear was finally manageable. Because by now I had failed in other things and discovered that it wasn't the worst thing ever. In fact it was okay. You fail. You try again. That's it.
It's not like losing someone you love. Or living in pain every day. Or a thousand other terrible things that people deal with every day.
A rejection is just someone saying no. No is just a word.

So, finally, twenty years later I am trying to live the dream. I do feel some regret that I wasted so much time but on the other hand life has made me into the person I am now, the mulch of my brain has fermented over all those years in to the compost from where my stories come so perhaps only now, at this stage of my life, could it have actually happened.

These days I write as much as I can.
I cope with rejections and revisions and creative crises.
And I don't fear failure any more. What scares me now is never trying, never giving it a go, never putting myself out there.

So, this is me, putting myself out there and to everyone else, out there, giving it a go and fighting the fear - more power to you and me and all of us!

Friday, 16 November 2012

Critically Yours?

 It's one week until my very first S.C.B.W.I conference and mixed in with the excitement there are a certain amount of nerves kicking in. Doing anything for the first time always makes me a little nervous and meeting so many new people is also making me anxious - what if no one likes me?? !- but conference also means crits and that's where the nerves really kick in.

 I have had some experience of critiquing since I began writing just as all the books suggest. I had a report done by a literary consultant on my first book, ( my m.s looked like the victim of murder there was so much red scrawled across it !) I joined an online crit group through SCBWI and then moved on earlier this year to my very first face to face group which I helped to set up.

 I know how useful good crits can be, I know that they can help you move your writing on and I'm very grateful for the help I've had but at the same time they can still be hard. Nobody really likes to hear negative comments about their babies, however justified, however useful.

 I'm booked in for two sessions at the conference, the Friday night crit done in small groups with other authors and a fifteen minute crit with an agent or editor.
 Now, although I have anxiety about hearing feedback on my work - what if they hate it?? - I find myself more worried about giving my comments to the others in my group. Giving constructive criticism is a real art form and I'm not sure if I've mastered it.

 I had a tutor once who had the most remarkable gift for giving feedback. Even if you had done terribly, by the time she was finished talking you felt amazing, confident and ready to fix whatever problems you needed to. Part of her skill came from the fact that she was very experienced and spoke from a knowledgeable place and I sometimes feel I'm far too much of a beginner to be offering anyone advice. Of course I know what I like, I think I can determine good writing and that I understand a little about the craft but do I know enough to be criticising anyone? I don't know.

 And I want to do a good job, I want to feel that my comments might make a difference, might show a way forward or inspire someone to improve but I also want to be honest. I think tough, honest feedback is what can make the real difference to a writer but I don't know if I'm perceptive enough to analyze someone's work the way it should be. I've read other peoples comments and I'm often amazed at how perfectly they've summed up the problems. All I seem to do is offer my very subjective opinion and I'm not sure that's enough.

 Perhaps it's something I'll learn to do as time goes on, or perhaps I'll just never be good at editing other peoples work, perhaps that is a gift that can't be learned? Or perhaps it's something that should be left for professionals? Do editors and agents offer the best possible critiques? Of course their comments are still subjective but they also come with experience, training and  market knowledge. Is that what we really need or can other writers offer us the same help? Does it depend on the writer?

 I must admit some of the best and most useful feedback has come from agents and editors who seemed to see through to the very heart of my story and show me the way forward. But at the same time I love my critique group, the support and friendship and feedback have been invaluable.
 So perhaps we need both?
 Perhaps my sessions will give me the perfect balance I need?
And perhaps, even if my comments aren't perfect they may be helpful and they will of course be offered with my respect, understanding and support.

 What do you think? Crit groups or Publishing professionals? Have you had great or terrible feedback from one or the other? I'd love to hear - please comment below and for anyone going to the conference ...
please like me!!! ;)

Monday, 12 November 2012

Judgement Day

 Occasionally, I will read through my m.s and be entirely happy. "It's good," I'll think," it's really good!"
 The next day however I can quite easily read it through again only this time I'll be entirely miserable. "It's rubbish, it's awful, it's a pile of monkey poo and I'm going to give up writing and move to Mongolia to try my hand at Yak farming instead."
 I believe, that this is actually quite normal among writers. This sort of Jekyll and Hyde behaviour is common and if we're lucky the good days will outnumber the bad and we won't actually book a flight to Mongolia.

 The hardest days though usually come after long months of revising, after you've read your m.s so many times you could almost recite it backwards and that is that day when you no longer have any idea of whether your work is good or bad and you've lost all sense of judgement about it entirely.
 Possibly it's a work of genius that will lead to a publication deal, fame, glory and riches but it's also possible that any agent  receiving it will be so offended that they'll decide to give up their job and get the next flight out to Mongolia so they can start a new career in Yak farming.
 I hate those days with a passion because what are you supposed to do now?
 There is a huge temptation at this point to just send it out on submission and let someone else figure it out for you. Usually you're so fed up of it you never want to see it again anyway so you might as well try your luck!

Or should you?

 Because, let's face it, even when you send out your work when you're as confident as possible that its as good as possible  it  that holds no guarantees at all. It may be good, it may be well written but;
 It may not be what they're looking for.
 It may not have a saleable concept.
 It may be similar to something else they're already representing.
 It may not be a genre they enjoy.
 It may not be a voice they engage with.
 It may not be to their taste.
 Or, quite simply, (as my friend Larisa once told me when I was rejected on my full m.s) - they might not love it enough. And by that I mean really LOVE it.
How often do you really LOVE a book? Love it enough to take a risk on? Love it enough to read it over and over again? Love it enough to talk about all day with everyone you meet?
 I'm guessing it's not that often and I imagine it's the same for agents and publishers.

 So with all the possible problems that can stop even the best manuscripts being successful, imagine how much more difficult it will be to surmount them on a manuscript that you're not confident about? An m.s that you've sent out in a fit of panic?

 The answer to those days when your judgement is impaired, when you can no longer see the wheat in the chaff is not to panic. Don't send it out. Don't delete it. Just put it away. Give it a few weeks. A month. Read it again with fresh eyes.
 You'll discover it all over again and if you're lucky you might fall in love with it and be able to send it out with a warm and fuzzy glow or you might see nothing but problems and things that need fixing but honestly isn't it better that you see them then an agent?

Monday, 5 November 2012

Trilogy Anxiety

 The book I'm currently working on was originally planned as part of a trilogy but the more I learn about them the more I wonder if it's the right move.
 It might seem like a good idea of course because sequels and trilogys are big business at the moment , they're everywhere, Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games - and I can see why they're popular :
 For the writer it makes good sense, financially and career wise a popular series can make all the difference.
 For an agent or a publisher it almost guarantees a long term, lucrative return on any investment plus there's also the possibility of film rights and other merchandising so they're bound to like them.
 Finally, for the reader it offers the chance to spend more time in the world you love, more time with the characters you relate to and with any luck a guarantee that the next book will be as good as, if not better then, the last.

 Sometimes that last part is true, sometimes a series is completely fulfilling...but not always. Recently I've read some long awaited for sequels and unfortunately found them a real disappointment.
 Blood Red Road by Moira Young was one of my favourite books and I waited eagerly for the sequel Rebel Heart but it didn't grip me in the way of the first, I found it quite hard to finish it in fact and felt rather downhearted after such high expectations.
 Part of the problem with sequels is when they're not  actually designed to have a sequel - so, for example, you have a fast paced story such as Saba in Blood Red Road who must go on a journey to find her brother Lugh who's been kidnapped. At the end you have a resolution, the bad guys defeated and the siblings are reunited just as you would expect but what do you then do for the next book? You split Saba up from her true love of course so now you can create a fast paced story where Saba must go on a journey to find him instead...but, now you're in territory that the reader has already seen before only this time it's not fresh and exciting but convenient, contrived and slightly boring.

 Another book that I loved was Divergent by Veronica Roth - a great concept, intriging idea, appealing voice, good story so of course I was keen to read the next but Insurgent never really held my interest in the same way. The big concept was already gone of course, we knew how the world worked so now we were just traipsing around in the midst of it and it was nowhere near as exciting.

 My last and perhaps biggest disappointment was the final part of Kristen Cashore's trilogy. The first book Graceling was amazing and the second Fire was just as good so I was sure Bitterblue would be well worth the wait. I was so excited I waited until I had a free weekend so I'd be able to read it in peace... but...(sigh)...it failed to deliver what I was hoping for.
 The first two books focus on young women with remarkable gifts, Katsa is a fighter without equal, Fire has the power to look into other's minds and control them. Bitterblue on the other hand has no gifts, she is a Queen trying to cope with the legacy her gifted but evil father Leck left behind. They're all well written, they're all set in a fascinating world but our third heroine never beguiles in the same way and is limited not only by her lack of gifts but her position as Queen.
 Part of the problem may be expectations - if they're very high then it's much easier to be disappointed, or if you imagine the story to go a certain way and it doesn't that can also be difficult.

 The best series in my opinion seem to be the ones that were always planned that way. Lord of the Rings was written as one book and only split into three by the publisher because of the length. Harry Potter was meticulously planned to be one of seven books.
 But one of the problems for writers is that all the advice suggests that books must be written as standalones with the "potential" to be a series. It seems that agents and publishers don't want to be pitched whole series but they want you to be able to create one if necessary, without the proper foundations however I think this can lead to problems.
 The other opposing issue is that if you do create a series to start with it often means you split your story up into parts and therefore each part may leave unresolved questions which your reader will need to wait to have answered and this can annoy readers.

 So, what do I do? Go for a standalone or a trilogy? Concentrate on number one or plan out three stories? I, more then anything, would hate to disappoint my readers and the pressure of having to write a second or third book that will fit in perfectly with the first would be huge.
 And yes I know the chances of my book ever being published are minimal but do I need to consider these things now just in case? Or can I just worry about it later?
 Are any of you writing sequels or trilogies? Do you have any advice that might help or words of warning perhaps? Please share!

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Wanted - Children's Author...

Anyone interested in the following  advert from the little known publication -
"Guide to jobs that everyone wants but hardly anyone ever gets."?


We are looking for a very special person to fulfill this important role, they should display the following characteristics;

Imagination, creativity, determination, patience and perseverance with a certain amount of desperation thrown in.

Ideally the candidate should be very hard working, self motivated, thick skinned and willing to keep going despite the challenges facing them.

Job Role - We are looking for someone to create something entirely unique that at the same time is well known. It must be well written, funny, exciting, scary and brilliant. Unfortunately we can offer you no guidelines as to what we actually want because we don't know that until we see it.
 You will submit your work to us when you feel it is up to standard and we will get back to you at some point when we feel like it. We will probably reject 95% of everything you send us with little or no feedback but we will expect you to keep submitting work until we  feel you have written something truly spectacular.
 If on the rare occasion you manage to write something that is any good we will agree to your proposal and then ask you to take it away and revise it until we feel it is ready.
 At this point it will be looked at by others and may still be rejected if they don't like it, feel it won't sell or won't make us any money.
 We will then expect you to go away and write something else even better.

Hours of Work - 
You should write whenever you can, including evenings, weekends and holidays. You should stay up late and wake up early and be prepared to give up on all social engagements and family time for the foreseeable future.

Remuneration -
 For this difficult and thankless task we will probably pay you exactly nothing. You must be prepared to cover all your expenses, including any courses, conferences or events you attend. If you manage to produce something that sells we will pay you a small amount but probably not enough to cover all the hours of work you've put in. 

Career Opportunities - 
There are many exciting possibilities open to you if your work is popular but the chances of this happening are rare and growing smaller. If you do produce something that can be sold you will then be expected to work even harder. Your new role will involve; revising the book, meeting with editors and agents, attempting to gain publicity through social networking sites, visiting schools and libraries and attending literary events. Of course you must also start writing the next book at the same time and now you will have a deadline to meet as well as huge expectations to live up to.

 How To Apply -

 We are expecting a  vast amount of applicants for this job but the good news is that it's open to everyone regardless of experience, talent, skills or any knowledge of writing at all. We will provide no training but expect everyone to learn on the job. 
 If you think you have what it takes to be a writer then all you have to do is write a book! Send it to us  at wannabewriters@you'llbelucky.com and we will do our best to get back to you within eight weeks or possibly never.

Good luck!

 Is it weird that I still think it sounds like an amazing job? ;)

Monday, 15 October 2012

Eating Elephants

 I was ready to start my revision. I'd had some great feedback from an editor, her comments had sparked off   a myriad of new ideas and I was excited about implementing them. I could see how this new angle would add depth and nuance to my work. It was going to be fabulous. I could see it all in my mind.
 Then I sat down at my computer and...choked.
 I couldn't do it.
 Should I start again, just rewrite the whole thing entirely?
 Should I try and revise what I'd already written?
 Should I hit myself over the head repeatedly with a brick?
 I spent a couple of days in a pit of despair. I couldn't do it. I didn't know how. Perhaps I should just give up. If I couldn't revise then I obviously had no chance of becoming a writer.
But then I had an idea.
 I would look at the first chapter and annotate the text with the changes it needed.
 Then I would look at the second chapter and so on.
 It worked.
 The notes helped me clarify my ideas and showed me where to start and the whole experience reminded me of that old joke -

It's old but it's true. Looking at a huge project can make us feel overwhelmed. So remember, in writing or revising, eat your elephant one bite at a time and you'll be surprised how easy it can be to eat the whole thing!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Matilda - read the book, seen the film, watched the musical

Last Friday I took my son to see Matilda at the Cambridge Theatre. It was brilliant, the songs were catchy, the child performers were talented and the drag act that was Miss Trunchbull was spectacular.
Best of all though Tim Minchin had captured entirely the essence of Roald Dahl and who doesn't love Roald Dahl? The man was a genius when it comes to writing for children.
When I discovered him as a child I was blown away by his imagination, The Fantastic Mr Fox was actually the first book I read entirely by myself and if I'm honest it was about then that I decided I wanted to be a writer, I wanted to create stories of my own.
I was keen to share my love of his books with my own child and sure enough as soon as he was old enough I began reading him Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach. Like me he was enraptured and I must admit to being annoyed when we came to the end of all his books. What were we going to read now?
My son was notoriously fussy about books, they had to be interesting, funny, fast paced with a great baddie and no boring bits. Everything in fact that was basically included in a Roald Dahl book so who was there that could compete?
No one. Believe me I looked but I have as yet to find anyone else that comes close.
And why is that? If we look  at his work there seems to be a formula to most of them
 1. A good child, usually either an orphan or with terrible parents,
2. A fabulous funny concept (chocolate factory/giant peach/special powers/big giant)
3. Lot's of horrible characters (most other children/grown up's)
4. An adventure that tests the protagonist and leads to a happy ending.

 So surely it would be easy to copy that, to become the next Roald Dahl? Well, no actually, I don't think it's easy at all. He may have made it look easy but really I think what he did was incredibly hard and incredibly perfect. His stories haven't dated, they are as much loved now as when they were first published, perhaps more so with all the new films and musicals being created from his work. He is loved all over the world, he does in fact have his very own day which is celebrated in schools and libraries.
I think he was that very rare person who really could relate to children and capture their world on paper. He wrote beautifully with humour and sadness, never shying away from difficult aspects, never patronising.
So as a writer I can't copy him, I wouldn't even try but I can continue to be inspired by him as are so many others.

Do you know anyone who can equal Roald Dahl? Leave a comment and let me know!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

The Magic Recipe?

Just recently I've been travelling up to London for several author events; the Curtis Brown Day at Foyles, the annual S.C.B.W.I agent party, a meeting with my critique group and a Childrens Book Circle meet and critique evening.
Sitting on the tube at ten o clock last night I found myself asking why I found these events so useful, wouldn't I be better off spending my time writing instead? Well, maybe not. One reason for going is of course to meet other writers, to spend time with people who understand the struggles and joy of trying to get published and to feel a sense of support. Another great reason to spend time at these events is to learn about the industry, to get to know agents and editors and find out what they're looking for.
But more importantly for me is that I find that attending these events helps me with one of the magic ingredients needed by all authors...Motivation.
For example, at the agent party I spoke to several lovely agents who asked me to send in my manuscript, this pushes me to polish my work to perfection and get it out there on submission.
Another magic ingredient was provided at the Meet and Critique session where I talked to an editor about my work in progress  and that was - Inspiration. Having a professional viewpoint was so enlightening and sparked off so many ideas I feel completely inspired to incorporate all the ideas we discussed and I now feel confident that my revision will be going in the right direction.
So that's two ingredients - Inspiration and Motivation, each of them very important but perhaps the biggest factor for me is - Perspiration. Yes, the actual hard slog of sitting down and typing, day after day and week after week. Keeping going when you want to give up. The wrestling with ideas and problems until your brain literally hurts. Working for months and months on revision. Coping with feedback and critiques and rejections.
 But let's face is, that part is much easier if you have inspiration and motivation in the first place!
So what's my final ingredient? After Inspiration, Motivation and Perspiration?
This can't of course be found at events or crit groups. It is a random and uncontrollable factor within writing, publishing and life itself. However while I can't control my own luck I do believe I can increase my chance of getting lucky. How?
By getting critiques from professionals so I can make my work as good as possible.
By meeting agents and finding out what they want so I can make sure I send my work to the right person.
By making personal contacts in the business I may improve the odds of getting my work read.
So, yes, staying at home and writing is important but so is getting out there, finding support, making friends, learning about the industry, getting critiques and attempting to improve your chances. It all helps with the magic recipe and one day I hope to produce a perfectly mixed, light and fluffy, enormously satisfying...book!
Happy baking to you all.

Monday, 24 September 2012

The end of the slushpile?

Saturday the 22nd September saw nearly 250 aspiring authors queuing around the shelves of Foyles bookshop in Charing Cross waiting to meet one of Curtis Brown's agents. All of them nervous and anxious and muttering their pitches under their breath.
Standing in the line for Children's authors I asked myself repeatedly why I was putting myself through such torture. It had seemed like a good idea at the time - practice my pitching, meet an agent, get a little feedback on my work and all for free etc etc.
 But now I was here, minutes away from going in I was deciding it was actually a very bad idea, I had visions of a) falling over as I approached the agent, b) my mind going completely blank, c) being told by the agent that I should not give up my day job and d) crying.
 I'm very pleased to say that none of those things did happen and in fact the whole process was far less traumatic than I'd been imagining. There was no small room with a stern faced agent across the desk looking bored as I stumbled through my words, instead there was a long gallery space filled with about eight to ten desks behind which sat agents, all of whom were friendly, welcoming and very considerate of the nervous and trembling authors they were meeting.
 I was slightly disappointed not to be able to meet their Children's agent, Stephanie Thwaites but her assistant Catherine Saunders was lovely, charming and very easy to talk to. I managed to pull off my pitch without any disasters and was hugely relieved when she told me it was "Well delivered." She then read the first page of my novel, gave me her thoughts and then asked me lot's of questions about what happened next. We spent about ten minutes chatting and when we were finished I felt a large sense of relief that a) it was over and b) she hadn't laughed at my idea.
 Next we were directed to the cafe where we had ten minutes to ask more general questions to some more very friendly agents. It was here that I discovered that the Discovery Day linked in with the launch of Curtis Brown's new website http://curtisbrowncreative.co.uk.
 Here you can look at their writing school, where many courses are on offer including one on writing for children which starts at the end of this month and includes a one to one with Stephanie Thwaites as well as several workshops. It costs £900.
 They are also claiming to have got rid of the slushpile by asking authors to use their new submit on line tool which they claim is "quick, efficient and responsive." Rather then send in attachments they want you to answer a few questions and then copy and paste in a covering letter, a synopsis and the first three chapters of your work. There are short biographies of each agent as well as info about their new writing team (made up of agent assistants) so you can send your submission to the most appropriate person. They promise to reply to everyone within six to eight weeks.
 There is also a blog where you can read posts about the industry and what the agents are looking for and the new writing room offers insights into the craft of writing, interviews and guest blogs from agents and authors.
 Of course how this all works in practice remains to be seen but I was impressed by the effort that had gone into the day and by their passion for new work and now I've survived that pitch I do feel more confident about doing it all over again  at the SCBWI agents party on Thursday. That is until I get there when no doubt the nerves and anxiety will kick in and I'll wonder why I keep doing this to myself...

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

A visit from the "What's the point?" Fairy

"What's the point?" She asked me.
"The point is I want to get published."
"But you'll never get published. Look at the statistics!"
"I have but they're not really representative. I mean, they apply to the masses, not to people like me who take it seriously. After all I've done courses and workshops and read books and blogs and booked a place at the SCBWI conference, that must improve my chances!"

 The fairy raises her perfect eyebrow at me.

"Maybe slightly but it's still nearly impossible so why are you bothering?"
"Because I want to see my books on shelves in bookshops that's why."
"But that's a dream and how many people actually get to live out a dream? Hardly anyone that's who."
"But it could happen one day, if I work hard."
"Not necessarily. You could do everything right, you could work hard for years and years and STILL never get published so what's the point of trying? Why don't you just give up? Make your life easier, save yourself from the pain..."

She smiles at me beguilingly and a small part of me responds. Maybe it would be better?

"But I came close, I nealy found an agent, I must have a chance surely?"
"But you failed. You messed it up. You weren't good enough then and you'll probably never be good enough."

In case you thought fairies were cute you were wrong. They're mean.

"I need to keep trying, every time I write something I get better and I learn from the rejections and I think I'm improving."
"But even if you do get published you probably won't make any money and your book might flop and no publisher will take you on again and really why put yourself through the heartache?"
"Because I want children to read my books, I want them to love my books."
"But most children would rather play computer games and books will probably die out soon."
"Oh just shut up you annoying fairy!"
"Oh that's nice that is! I'm just trying to help. Trying to save you time and effort and pain, trying to help you face the facts about getting published,"
"I know the facts! I know it's hard and painful and I might never ever get there but I'm doing it anyway alright!"
"But what's the point?"
"The point is I enjoy it. So there. Now B****r off and annoy someone else!!"

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Split Personality Author Disorder

 It seems to me that attempting to become a published author can be somewhat dangerous to our mental health.
 When I'm writing I'm filled with excitement and joy. I'm thrilled with my own brilliance, the perfection of my story, the beauty of my dialogue and convinced that very soon agents and publishers will be queuing to sign me up. I call this stage - confidence dismorphia - a distorted sense of confidence brought on by the creative surge.
 Next, it's the revision stage, and now you become convinced that your work is absolute rubbish. You are riddled with self doubt, you wonder why you ever started and you know that no one will ever want to publish such dross. This stage is psychotic doubt and can lead to tears, tantrums and over indulgence in ice cream and chocolate.
 The submission cycle is a source of real anxiety, a roller coaster of excitement and depression I like to call the email paranoia stage.
 But it doesn't stop there. Once an author has finally found an agent/publishing deal they need to change from an introverted loner to a gregarious salesperson so they can market their books, visit schools, talk at fairs etc all while going through the above stages with their new book.
 It's not easy. Coping with the highs and lows of a creative life is a difficult emotional journey and yet, I sometimes feel as if it's an addictive thing. When I don't have anything on submission I almost start to crave some drama in my life,  am I masochistic I wonder? Are we all? Or simply so in love with writing that all the pain and doubt and fear become unimportant when compared to the excitement and the joy and the hope?
 All I know is that my life has become richer since I started writing and the journey has been  remarkable so whether I ever each my dream destination or not I won't ever regret my choice to set off in the first place!

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

What's the rush?

I am ashamed to admit that I am a hypocrite. Why? because I tell my son to have patience. When he can't do something first time and he get's annoyed and fed up I say to him in a motherly tone - "You can't expect to do everything first time. It takes practice. Just have patience."
But do I follow my own advice? No. I have no patience.
I get cross in queues, I get fed up in restaurants and I always want things to happen straight away. And when I finally made the decision to write a book I was the same way. I wrote my first novel and sent it off in a rush of excitement, imagining publishing deals and fame and fortune. It was of course rejected, by everyone and rightly so. It was rubbish.
The next time I managed to hold off a little but still sent it off to agents before anyone else had even read it. Yes, I admit it, I sent off a first draft. Why? Because I wanted it out there, I wanted things happening, I wanted an agent and a publishing deal and everything else before I even really knew what I was doing.
It was rejected again.
Slowly I started to learn that I needed to work on my ideas. More then I ever thought possible. And I have learned about patience.
Each time I submit something  I must practice patience as I wait for the torturous process to move to the next stage, each time I finish a draft I must practice patience as I put it aside and let it rest before I rework it yet again and I think it's working. I believe I can see improvements in my work and in the responses I get but it's hard.
It's hard for my son and it's hard for me.
We live in a culture that promotes instant success, got a talent? Go on a talent show and find instant fame and fortune instead of striving for perfection and working for years to improve your craft. Don't have a talent? Get on the telly somehow and become a celebrity famous for having no talent.
Working for years to achieve what you want almost seems to be an outdated concept but I wonder what method is really more fulfilling?
Does instant success make you happier? Probably not. Being thrust into a world you barely understand, being asked to perform beyond your capabilities and possibly failing to live up to the expectations are all possible pitfalls.
Achieving that success after years of effort though, that's the ultimate rush and the benefits are huge. The experience you've gained, the battle scars you've earned mean that you understand what you're doing and you have the skills necessary to sustain a career.
So, really, what's the rush? The agents and editors aren't going anywhere. Send in your best work, work that shines like a polished gem. That's my new motto.
Can't guarantee not to get annoyed in queues though...

Monday, 27 August 2012

Pitching pitfalls

The pitch seems to be a ubiquitous part of a writers road to publication. There are different types of pitch, the standard one we put in our submission letter to try and tempt the agent/publisher to keep reading. Generally this is relatively easy to write. If you're having problems can I recommend Nicola Morgan's ebook "Dear Agent" which covers everything to do with submissions.
 The really hard pitch is the one you have to do in person in a short space of time. The very thought of it is enough to send most writers (including me!) into a tizzy of stress and worry.
I'm not quite sure why, I speak in front of lot's of people every day for my job so it's not public speaking that bothers me. I think it's more the actual SELLING part that I find hard. I do feel enthusiastic about my work and I do think everyone should read it but I find it incredibly hard to make that come across.
 I think it's partly a British thing. A sense of reserve if you will. After all I don't want people to think I'm arrogant or anything. I'm more likely to say "it's quite good, you might like it but don't worry if you don't, it's probably not that good after all..."
 The reason I'm worrying about it is that I have a few pitching opportunities coming up, I'll be at the Foyles event on the 21st Sept doing a one to one pitch to a Curtis Brown agent and then a week later I'll be at the SCBWI agents party where many agents will endure many pitches from many a desperate author.
 So I've been trying to think of how to do a good pitch and have come up with some useful points;

1. Stay calm. Panic makes you talk faster.
2.BREATHE. In between sentences. Very useful.
3.Focus on your story, give a short, two or three sentences that sum it up and will entice someone to read more. Let your enthusiasm shine through.
4. Remember that whoever you are pitching to is a real person. Treat them as you would like to be treated. Be polite and courteous. Don't pounce on them while they're eating, going to the loo or otherwise occupied.
5. Keep an eye on the glazed eye scenario. If your agent is looking tired, fed up or cross, don't approach them!
6.Be yourself, you're  lovely person, let them know that by not harrassing them, demanding immediate feedback or thrusting your entire m.s into their hands.
7. RELAX. No agent or publisher is going to judge you entirely on your pitch. It's your writing that counts always. But you could put them off wanting to read it if you let panic get the better of you.

 I hope this helps you and I hope I can follow my own advice when the day comes round! If you have any other advice please share it.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

The Cliffs of Insanity

 Those of you who've read William Goldman's "The Princess Bride" ( or seen the very excellent film) will understand what I mean by my title. To those of you who haven't, why not? It is  AMAZING! Anyway, the cliffs of insanity are, to be brief, enormously high, almost impossible to scale cliffs and sometimes that's how writing feels to me.
 Not every day of course. Some days are positively glorious.  Some days words flow from my brain to the paper in an effortless stream and I stay up half the night writing chapter after chapter. Some days I feel as if my characters live and breathe, my plot sings and my prose shines. On those days I believe with every fiber of my being that I am a writer and that one day I will be published.
 But then there are days like today. Days when each word I write seems a chore. Days when I stare at the screen with no idea of where to start. Days when I read through months of work and decide it's all rubbish and I've no chance of ever being published. Days when I imagine agents would laugh at my delusions.
 They are not good days. Obviously. They are hard and horrible and enough to make me want to give up entirely. They test my beliefs and my commitment to the core.
 But it's always useful to use some perspective at this point. A bad day writing is still in comparison to most other occupations a wonderful way to spend my time. And let's not forget that in some jobs a bad day could mean something truly awful happens.
 So, with that in mind it seems churlish to complain about the anguish and pain that comes with creation. It is, I suppose, a part of the process and something we must all learn to cope with but it's certainly not something I was prepared for when I began this journey.
 The problem is that when you read a book it's impossible to tell how many months or years of work have gone in to it and now that I know a bit more I am amazed at the time and effort that is necessary. Amazed and terrified it must be said. Can I really do it? Do I have the perseverance to keep going, draft after draft, rejection after rejection? It seems to me that it's that very ability that in some ways counts even more then talent and skill.

 So I can't guarantee that I'll be here five years from now. But I very much hope so, I hope I can keep the faith despite everything. For now though I will carry on climbing my personal cliff and cling to the fact that everything worth having is worth fighting for.

How do you cope with bad days? How do you keep going? Leave a comment and let me know!

Monday, 6 August 2012

Revision Fever

You're excited. You're ready to revise your book. To polish it into a gem that no agent will be able to resist. You imagine it will take no more then a couple of weeks, after all it doesn't
need much work does it? The hard bit was writing it, getting all your thoughts down on paper. Editing it will be easy peasy lemon squeezy.

And then you get your manuscript out from where you hid it many weeks ago, you sit down to savour the words, to read through your masterpiece and ...
All you can see are problems, enormous plot holes, one dimensional characters, shoddy dialogue...

This won't take a couple of weeks to fix, it it will take months, years, forever!
You have a minor breakdown.
Consider burning your m.s.
Contemplate a change of career...the circus perhaps? Easier to be fired out of a canon or to wrestle lions then to revise your book.

After some therapy (otherwise known as several large Vodkas) you calm down. You can do this. All you need is a plan.

1. Print off m.s -
2. Read m.s aloud (preferably when alone as sniggering can affect creative juices)
3. Scribble all over m.s with red pen.
4. Make notes on what needs to be done, chapter by chapter.
5. Start Revision.
6. Several weeks/months/ decades later you finish.

 Absolutely. Positively. Finished.

Allow brief celebration. (Also known as vodka)
Spend some time catching up on life, talking to your family, reminding your friends you're still alive.

A couple of weeks later take out your m.s, get ready for a final polish, but then, what's this?
Plot inconsistencies? Weak protagonists? Soggy middle? Unsatisfying ending?


After much more therapy (also known as getting pi**ed) you calm down, you remember your plan.

Repeat steps 1 to 6.

At some time during this process you will question your sanity. You will decide that the revision is worse then the original. You will scream and shout and pull out your hair. You will look at your m.s and have absolutely no idea if it's any good or not. You may consider becoming a llama farmer in tibet.

This is revision fever. It is a disease. As a writer you will go through it many times. No medicine can help (well, except for vodka, obviously) and the only thing that may save you is your crit group/ supportive writer friends who will at least understand. Who can assure you you're not entirely mad (just a bit) and will be there at the end when you're finally ready to submit. They will warn you of the next disease you will encounter - submission psychosis....

More on that next week dear friends.
Till then, have you any revision tips? Words of wisdom?

Sunday, 29 July 2012

The supporting your author guide

I'm sure we'd all agree that writing is a difficult, rollercoaser of a journey (Just see last weeks post if you don't believe me!) but I sometimes think that the people who have it hardest are those unsung heroes that support us.
 After all it's not something they choose, it's not their own dream they're following but ours. And authors may have it hard but we're not alone. There are groups we can belong to, blogs we can read, courses we can attend and many books full of advice and information.
But the author supporter has nothing to help them...until now!


*****HEALTH WARNING**********

Please note that supporting your author may be hazardous to your health.

1. Neglect is common for author supporters. You may find your author will forget to fulfil many of their normal duties. This could lead to extreme hunger as the shopping, cleaning, D.I.Y or cooking will rarely be done.

2. Personal injury is also possible as you might fall over mounds of washing, unpaid bills, rubbish bags or rejected draft copies.

3.(NOTE FOR CHILDREN  _ You may be reported to social services for any of the following -
1. Being dirty, hair unbrushed, unwashed uniform.
2. Failing to bring in homework or P.E kit.
3. Having a lunchbox with only an apple and a sock inside it.
4. Repeatedly being forgotten about at the school gates. )

4. Mental Torture is extremely likely as you are forced to read miriad draft copies of your authors work. You will then be asked to offer your opinion. In detail. Your author will then ignore everything positive you say and focus entirely on your one criticism. They will then accuse you of being an idiot who knows nothing about writing. They will then recieve the same comments from their crit group and change their work accordingly.

5. Mental Stress is paramount when your authors work is on submission. They will become moody, difficult and paranoid. You will be required to be patient and considerate at all times. You must be sympathetic to their trauma if rejected and be able to offer abuse of said rejecting agent/publisher.

6.Mental Abuse is a problem when your author is attempting a revision of their work. You may find your author will disappear for long periods and even when present they will adopt a vacant expression and ignore any attempt at conversation. You may find the extreme stress your author is under will lead to snapping, sniping and occasionally shouting. All of which you must accept as being part of the creative process.

 Of course it's not all bad news. No. The author supporter will of course be rewarded for their hard work and perseverance. As soon as your author has an agent (very unlikely) or publisher (even more unlikely) then celebrations will abound. There may be parties and champagne. And of course financially you can expect - well, not very much really - but your author will be happy and may even dedicate their book to you!

A worthwhile and fitting end to the whole process I'm sure you'll agree. Although you will of course have to go through it all again and this time there will be deadlines and school visits and 2nd book traumas to go through as well...

Please pass this information on to any author supporters you know, I'm sure it will make a huge difference to have such a valuable and insightful guide at their fingertips.
(The author takes no responsibility for any abandonment that follows.)

Sunday, 22 July 2012

A moment of Revelation

Last week was quite traumatic for me. After two and a half months of waiting for a response from an agent I heard back with a no. And it wasn't just a no to a submission, or a no to a full but a no to a big revision she had personally given me notes on. It was to be honest, the biggest no I'd ever had, the closest I'd ever got to the nirvana of being a represented author and now it was gone. Over.
I couldn't understand it. I'd done everything she'd asked for hadn't I? I'd revised and edited for nearly two months to improve my story and sent it back with a frisson of excitement. This could be nearly it!
Except it wasn't.
Because I hadn't done enough. I hadn't taken on board what she'd said about the plot. Not really. I'd fiddled about with it, I'd changed it, I'd adapted it but I didn't in my heart of hearts REALLY change it. I tried as so many of us do to get away with an easier revision. And now I was paying for it because I'd lost my chance.
  It wasn't laziness exactly. I believed the book was significantly better and that the plot change had been adequately dealt with. I didn't send it back thinking I'd done it half heartedly, of course not and so I was obviously hugely disappointed.
   Despite my failure the agent had very kindly given me some feedbak and her reasons for rejecting me but I couldn't understand it. Not at first.
 So I decided to put my story away. I couldn't bear to look at it. I couldn't even begin to change it when I couldn't work out what the problem was.
  Perhaps my first book could never be fixed, would never be published.. so I'd just move on to the next. That was the sensible thing to do surely?
 And so I've been editing and working on my second book for the last week and it's been hugely enjoyable.
I can see it improving every day. I can see the story shape changing, the characters developing but somehow my mind kept turning over the problem of my first book and that damned rejection...and then last night, at three a.m I had A MOMENT OF REVELATION.
  I saw suddenly that the problem at the heart of it could be changed. But not by small, careful edits. Not by clinging on to the story the way it was. I had to take a fresh perspective. I had to be willing to play around and change almost everything and it would mean another complete rewrite but I could do it.
 I got out of bed and made notes for half an hour and went back to bed knowing the solution.
 Perhaps I could have come up with it before, if I'd taken more time, if I'd really taken in the advice I was given or maybe it was only receiving that terrible rejection that allowed me to see, finally what was needed.
 Of course I could revise it all and it still might not be good enough. I realise that. But regardless I'd going to do it and hopefully I won't make the same mistakes again.

My lessons-

1. Do not rush an edit. Take your time. Let it sit with you for a while, months even, until you see a way forward that really fits, not just the easiest option.

2. Don't be scared of revision. Don't be afraid of thinking entirely differently and letting go of your original idea.

3. Believe that you can do it. You can change anything. It's your story after all.

4. Rejection may be your best friend. It may show you the way forward.

Have you had a moment of revelation? Do you have any tips on revision? Share them with us!

Monday, 16 July 2012

Princess Power - A review of "Brave"

Let's face it Disney princesses aren't exactly known for being kick ass, from the earliest days of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty their main characteristics have always been focused on their beauty and their overwhelming kindness to small woodland creatures.
 And of course their main aim in life is to nab the handsome Prince who generally comes along and does all of the heroic, fighty stuff before whisking them away to happily ever afterville.
 But be not downhearted fellow sisters, Disney has finally bucked the trend and made a stand for womenslib with their new heroine Merida, a fiesty scottish Princess from Brave.
 I saw this film in New York and was pleasantly surprised to see a wild and endearing princess with a mass of red curls fighting against her mothers constant attempts to turn her daughter into a respectable lady.
The irrespressible Merida loves to ride in the woods and is a crack shot with her bow and arrow and is none too pleased to discover the plans being made for her to be married to one of the eligible suitors from another clan.
 The story heads down an unusual path for Disney, our heroine is not interested in marriage or men and wants to make her own choices, she meets a witch and begs her give her a spell which will change her fate. The resulting magic muffin (?) is then eaten by Merida's mother but rather then affecting her decisions it turns her into a bear (honestly.)
 The rest of the film follows Merida and her mother as they attempt to reverse the spell and heal their relationship.
 I think Disney have made a great decision here by giving their heroine real personality and for once not focussing on a love story. I am sure that children - especially girls - will love this story and how marvellous to have a role model princess who's not just a ginger but a tomboy too!
 It really is very entertaining, plenty of humour and action and I'd heartily recommend it for the kids this summer hols. And parents should check out Billy Connoly's voiceover talent as Merida's dad.

 Well done Disney for finally offering girls a real heroine and I vote for more kick ass princesses in the future or even - shock horror - a girl who isn't a princess at all ?

Sunday, 8 July 2012

You can't sniff a Kindle!

  "I know every book of mine by it's smell, and I have but to put my nose between the pages to be reminded of all sorts of things." George Robert Gissing

 The above marvellous quote is clear evidence that e readers can never replace books. So there.
I mean, you just can't sniff a Kindle can you? It's plastic and metal and holds no memories in it's circuits.
Nor can you touch them. Or stroke them. Or perform other weird obsessy booky behaviour that should probably remain private between me and my shelves.
Nor can you pass them onto a friend or give to a charity shop or a jumble sale thereby allowing others to enjoy the story - I love giving my books many lifetimes, each of which  will imbue it's pages with character and memories and the unmistakable smell of a well loved book.

Now before you imagine I'm talking without experiencing the marvel of technology that is an e reader, let me tell you that I downloaded the kindle app on to my tablet and downloaded some books a couple of months ago. So I'm not talking out of my bottom, I have tried both and I unreservedly choose books books books.
But to be fair I must admit a couple of points that I liked about the kindle:

1. I loved being able to choose a book from amazon and having it on my kindle to read a minute later, no delivery times, no trips to the book shop.

2. I liked the fact you could carry a hundred books around with you at all times, giving choice and functionality.

But there were many more points that I didn't like:

1. No idea how long a book is or how far through it you are - very annoying.

2. Not being able to skip back through the pages to confirm a point or refresh my memory - not without lots of tedious finger flicking anyway.

3. No power = No reading.

4. It's just not the same experience, it doesn't feel the same, reading words on a screen is a totally different feel to reading them off of a page and far less enjoyable.

5. And don't get me started on the environmental impact of millions of unnecessary electronic devices being used, creating a huge drain on energy not to mention the fact they'll all end up in landfill sites in India in five or ten years.
 And the argument about books killing trees is pretty poor seeing as trees are a sustainable resource, so as long as publishers use an ethical supplier there is no long term impact on the planet AND books can be reused for years and if they are eventually thrown away they can be recycled or will simply biodegrade - a point that can't be made about electronics.

6.I just don't see the point of them.
 Why are we trying to fix something that is not broken?
 Why are we changing the way we read?
I know we can. I know we have the technology but is it necessary? Does everything we own
need to have a power supply? At one point books were what you did to make a change from the t.v or computer but now we're lumping them all in together so that even when we're reading we're staring at a screen and using power...it feels like a form of madness, progress for no reason and I wonder, in my darkest hours, in a world running out of natural resources, exactly where it will all lead....?

A suitably spooky ending I think.
 Looking forward to hearing what you think. Am I a lone voice in the wilderness? Or does anyone out there feel the same way?

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Inspiration Point.

Some of you may know I've been on my travels this month through the great U S of A and although I'd planned to post more frequently I've found myself without internet access for much of the trip so that spoilt my plans somewhat.
Anyway, while I was being driven through Yellowstone National Park in our R.V we passed a place called Inspiration Point and it got me wondering...
How do we find our inspiration for the stories in our head?
Where does that first kernel of an idea spring from?
Indeed I'm not the only one to wonder as one of the most common questions authors are asked is "Where do you get your ideas from?" and it may be we can't remember specifically but something, somewhere sparked a neuron in our subconscious and there it will sit for a while in the digestive juices of our brains until it's ready for some more serious thought in the good old frontal lobe.
Personally I've found ideas in songs, in a line from a movie and once quite out of the blue while sitting in the bath! The important thing is to be open to inspiration, to find time to daydream and to let your mind wander away from the daily minutaie that consume us and enter the world of what if....?
Ideas have never been hard for me, if anything I think I have too many, they drag me away from the hard work of writing into the realm of possibility and freedom, which can seem much more alluring! As a consequence I have many first drafts and only one completed (I think!) novel and when I should be working on revising and editing an existing work I instead go off to gallivant in the palace of new ideas.
My trip has given me much room for inspiration and I am sure my subconscious is churning out some possible book ideas as I write but what I have learned is that it takes more then inspiration to be a writer and that an idea is very far away from a finished book and yet without them we are nothing at all...
Am off to give myself a strict talking to but if you want to share your tales of inspiration please do so in the comments!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

I went to Hogwarts!!

Yes, dear readers it is true, yours truly has been to Hogwarts. I also took a wander through Hogsmeade, ate dinner at the Three Broomsticks and purchased a purple pygmy puff at Zonko's.
And no, it did not take place in my imagination but in the marvellous world of Universal Studios, Orlando where I happen to be holidaying. As I lingered outside Olivanders (and the ENORMOUS queue of desperate wannabe wizards waiting for a wand) I wondered how it must feel for J.K Rowling to have her imagination realised to such a degree.
To go from bestselling books, to a succesful film and merchandise francise is beyond the dreams of most authors and yet J.K has surpassed even those lofty heights by having her very own world at Universal Studios. A world of stunning accuracy and filled to bursting every day by gazillions of fans spending a fortune on wands, costumes, broomsticks, sweets and toys.
I have to say it was a very enjoyable day, the attention to detail is superb, the rides are huge fun and you can even buy pumpkin juice and butterbeer along the way. The forbidden journey ride gives you the chance to wander through Hogwarts (albeit while in a very long and winding queue) and the simulator allows you to join Harry, Ron and Hermione on a flying adventure meeting Dementors, giant spiders and dragons along the way.
The only drawback to the whole thing is that you have to share the experience with millions of others which does rather detract from the fun and lead to some colossal wait times. (My advice if you fancy going is to turn up either very early or very late to try and avoid the queues.) Also Hogsmede has been designed to be realistic and not to cope with the numbers of people who are there which means that many of the shops are jam packed and almost imposssible to enjoy as you might like to.
All in all though I would recommend it to any fans of the books, it is an amazing experience to be able to be a part of a story I so loved, my only wish is that I could have it all to myself for a morning and truly enjoy all the detail and wonder of this very special world.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Desert Island Books

The sun is shining! Summer is here! And seeing as we don't know how long it's going to last I thought we should start celebrating now so join me if you will for my first instalment of......(drum roll please).......

The idea came to me while considering which books to take away with me on my holiday next week. This is a difficult and time consuming task as having the right reading material can make a big difference to my holiday experience and I take it very seriously... too seriously perhaps?
Well, no actually because part of the joy of a holiday  is uninterrupted reading time and I want to fill that time with wonderful marvellous books. But it's not easy, I need to fill certain requirements on a holiday  and this led me to wonder how hard would it be to pick books for a more significant reason? Like being sranded on a desert Island for example?
 What books would I choose to help keep me sane?
I certainly don't want to end up talking to a coconut a la Tom Hanks in castaway so I'd need inspiring, involving, disappear into another world books and of course there would have to be rules.


1. Maximum of ten books.
2. And fiction, ficton, fiction. I'm talking about feeding the mind and the imagination not following a guidebook on how to survive on a desert island or anything equally boring.
3.You can't choose a trilogy as ONE book. You'd have to use three choices if you wanted all three, gedddit?

So, it's easy enough, post your choices in the comments section with your reasons why and to start you off I'm going to let you see my first five choices you lucky things!

1. Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell.
Love this book, a great epic with brilliant characters and importantly a big, chunky read!

2. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry.
Don't normally do westerns at all but this is an amazing read and completely recreates the old west. Also very chunky!

3.Kushiels Dart by Jacqueline Carey.
A brilliant fantasy and a beautifully drawn world with fantastic voice and a great plot.

4. The Host by Stephanie Meyer.
Hasn't had the fanfare of twilight but is still a great read and very involving not to mention chunky!

5. The Black Jewels Trilogy by Anne Bishop
What can I say? It's my blog and I'll cheat if I want to. Anyway I do have this in one volume and it is entirely brilliant. World building at it's best and how could you not love a book where the three main characters are named Saetan, Lucivar and Daemon???

So, there you go, now it's your turn. What books would you take to your desert Island???

Thursday, 24 May 2012

So you want to be a publisher?

On Tuesday Night I went along to a Childrens Book Circle event held in the Penguin Offices and featuring three independant and inspirational pubishers.
Sarah Odedina who runs the new Hot Key imprint from Bonnier.
Barry Cunningham who set up Chicken House.
Kate Wilson who owns Nosy Crow.

Sarah began her career  as an associate literary agent and then moved into rights, she moved to orchard and found a love for childrens books which continued when she moved to Bloomsbury, taking over from Barry Cunningham and working with authors like Celia Reys, Neil Gaiman and J.K Rowling.
Having been asked to run Hot Key books, a new imprint of Bonnier looking at books for children and teens between 9 and 19 years old, she's now running a team of twelve with great optimism and belief that people want good stories, just as they always have.
With 9 titles launching this year and 30 titles next year Sarah described their ethos as being author led with regard to the books but marketing led with regard to sales.

Barry Cunningham started his career in the music business running a punk music label called "Stiff" before moving into publishing with Penguin and Puffin. He found that adult authors had more dissapointing relationships with their readers than childrens authors like Roald Dahl. Barry believes that children see the author as almost another character in the book and just as important.
He moved to Bloomsbury, started a childrens list and rather famously discovered Harry Potter. Starting up Chicken house he wanted a synergie between the authors and the list.
Chicken House is part of the Scholastic family and now has links with germany and holland also.
 They have always wanted to publish new authors as they have no baggage and  it usually results in more rights being available for the publisher. He believes that now is the perfect time to start publishing from home.

Kate Wilson started in the rights department which gave her a global understanding of the business and she enjoyed the freedom she was given as she travelled the world selling books. She moved to Macmillan for ten years, got married, had two kids and realised she'd missed most of their childhood.
Deciding she wanted to run her own business she set up an adult publishing company which didn't work and only lasted five months.
Eventually she and her husband set up Nosy Crow using their own money, looking for the best authors and illustrators and connecting with mums to offer them suitable books for their children. They publish books and apps for babies up to 12ish. They don't do Y.A or anything with swearing, drugs or controversial issues.
Kate is enjoying creating and commissioning work and although she claims to be not good with authors as she's not very nice she was certainly very direct and funny. As she said every penny she spends on marketing or publicity she has to decide if she'd rather be spending it on cheese in Sainsburys!

This was a different event to the usual ones I attend, aimed primarily at the publishing industry, (many attendees were from Penguin itself) rather then wannabe writers like myself.
This gave a rather interesting perspective, perhaps more honest then the ones I usually hear and looking at the way publishing is changing in a digital age. As it's so easy for anyone to publish their own books Kate said it was important to look at what a traditional publisher could actually offer.

However for my fellow writers I did ask the question  - why should a debut author choose a smaller publisher over a large one? The answers were as follows;

1. A better, closer relationship .
2. Meeting everyone in the team.
3. More committed to making your book a success because it really matters to the publisher that it does well.
4.Good cake! (V. important obviously!)

If you would like to submit your work to any of these publishers, Hot Key and Nosy Crow are currently looking at unagented submissions whereas Chicken House run their annual competition. Good Luck!

Monday, 21 May 2012

Things to do while you wait...

A big part of a writers life revolves around waiting. It seems that every single stage on the road to publication involves a waiting period and we never know quite now how long the wait will be, anything from a few days to a few months seems possible.

 And I can understand why, agents and publishers are very busy people, I'm often amazed that they bother reading all the submissions that come to them at all. Beause let's face it they're not being paid for that are they?
 So I don't blame the lovely people in publishing for my angst, it was my choice to submit and my decision to wait for a response after all.  But unfortunately, knowing that doesn't make the waiting any easier!
And the length of time you wait has no bearing on whether the news is good or bad as far as I can tell. 
I've sent out a submission email on a monday and had a form rejection the next day.
 I've also sent out a submission email and had a request for a full the same day.
So what can we do? The advice from the experts seems to be that while we wait we simply get on with churning out the next book.

 Oh, if only it were so easy!

But if I've just been working on a huge rewrite ready to send out to agents then I need some time to clear my head before I can start any thing new which means I need something else to fill my time while waiting to hear back such as...

1. Checking my email. I can do this hundreds of times a day. Just in case.

2. Cleaning the house. Boring but let's face it I'm not cleaning it when I'm writing and I'd like to avoid an appearance on "How filthy is my house? Really flipping filthy obviously but I'm happy to be humiliated on t.v if you just clean it all for me."

3. Read. Read books by published authors and consider all the ways that my book is better then theirs and the obvious unfairness of publishing and life in general.

4. Spend time with my family. Also known as whinging on about how stressful it is to be a writer and asking them repeatedly if they think agent xyz will love my work? If I'm lucky I can then provoke an argument based on either a yes or no answer and this will distract me even further.

5. Eat chocolate. Or biscuits. Or cake. Or ice cream. Or all of them together. This can make me feel better briefly and when I discover how much weight I've put on I can panic about dieting instead of worrying about rejection. Result!

6. Shopping. Buy books. Or clothes. Or Cake. Or anything really as long as it distracts me however briefly from the fact I still haven't heard anything!

7. Surf the internet. Read blogs by agents and authors and publishers or buy lot's of lovely things from amazon. This is two distractions in one and of course allows me to do number one also.

8. Erm....once I've tried all of the above and I still haven't heard anything now may be the time to contemplate the deepest recesses of my soul and consider what twisted part of my psyche persuaded me to become a writer at all??? I could have started a nice hobby instead like knitting or watercolour painting or making models out of matchsticks. I could have spent my time sticking pins into my eyes and repeatedly banging my head with a hammer instead of becoming involved in the sheer hell that is trying to get published!!!

Pause for deep breathing and happy thoughts...

9. Remember how much I love writing. Remember that I am not alone. Remember that getting published is a huge dream and that it's worth a bit of waiting because one day that wait may lead to something marvellous.

 One day...

Monday, 14 May 2012

Boys Don't Read

 As a lifelong avid reader I must admit I was looking forward to passing on my love of books to any offspring of mine own.  When my son was born I assumed that by having books in the house, reading bedtime stories and generally demonstrating the fabulousness of reading that he would of course follow, eagerly in my footsteps.
 I was wrong.
 He was a boy and boys don't read, do they?
 That is apart from books with facts in them. He would spend hours pouring over books about cars or volcanoes or crocodiles but rarely looked at stories.
I wondered why, surely I had done everything I could to promote a love of reading? Was it just because he was a boy? Were they so different to girls? Well, research would back this up with boys falling well below girls in their literacy levels and many boys being unable to read past level three by the time they started secondary school.
 I was determined to struggle on however, to encourage him to find thesame joy I did in a good story. It's sort of worked. My son is eleven now and he owns many books but the only reason he reads fiction at all is because I spend a large amount of time searching for exactly the right type of book.
He is enormously fussy:

If he doesn't like a book within the first chapter he will stop reading it. 
If it gets boring later on he will stop reading it.
If it is a long book he won't even start reading it.
And if he has to find a book for himself then there's no chance.

 When I was a child I would happily lose myself in a library or a bookshop for hours and there were always many books I wanted to take home with me but he spends most of his time trying to drag me out of bookshops and off to a shop that sells toys or computer games.
 However if I invest the time in finding him the right book he will devour it with passion, take it off to bed with him and read late into the night. But only with the right book. And they are few and far between. Once he'd read all the Roald Dahl's there was Horrid Henry and Mr Gum, Captain Underpants and How to Train Your Dragon but then life became more difficult. Many of the books suitable to his age like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson - although he'd seen the films - were too long/boring/uninteresting to him.
 What was I to do? He needed a book with an exciting story, a great bad guy, lot's of action and all in less then forty thousand words. Finding one seemed an impossible task so one day I sat down and started writing one. I discussed it with him and he eagerly participated in the storyline, the characters and the plot. Every day he would ask me how much I'd written and insist I read it to him. He would make suggestions and act out certain of his favourite bits. He would beg me to write more and sit, rapt as I read my story to him.

Let me tell you, as a writer there is no greater motivation then a child desperate to hear your words!

Overall, it was an immensely bonding experience, it sparked his interest in the written word and I'm pleased to say he is still heavily invested in my work which has now been through several re writes and is currently out on submission...again!

 I have to say that my experience with my son taught me many of the basic rules for writing for boys -

1.Jump straight into the excitement.
2.Have plenty of action and/or humour.
3.Never allow it to get boring or you've lost them.
4.Keep it as short as you possibly can.

It's not an easy task I admit but knowing that you've created a story that could spark a love of reading in an otherwise reluctant boy is hugely rewarding. If my book ever get's published I hope it will do just that for other boys out there. My other fond wish is that my son will develop a lifelong relationship with books, even if I have to write them all myself!
My conclusion, such as it is, is that some boys will read out of love but others will need encouragement and effort and most of all  the right stories so get writing!

Monday, 7 May 2012

The loneliness of a wannabe author.

 Let's face it, writing is a solo sport. You need to spend days and weeks and months of time on your own to turn out a book and most of us, luckily, are quite happy in our own heads. We make friends with our characters, we live and breathe them and gain great satisfaction from their creation.
 But, the problem with the life of solitude comes when you're not writing. It comes when you're trying to work out if your book is any good or when you're starting to submit your work to agents and publishers because that endeavour requires help and support.
 Yes, you can read books about it, or search the internet and you can find huge amounts of information. But it's not the same as having real life people to talk to, people who understand what you're trying to do and why.
 So, are your friends and family the right people to help you? Perhaps.  Certainly at least it's beneficial if they support your love of writing and your quest to get published but whether they can give you decent feedback or truly understand how crushed you are at each rejection is another thing.
 My family and friends have been wonderful and I'm very grateful but in my opinion other writers are the only ones who can really understand how it feels. So, if you could find a whole group of writers, all of them willing to work and learn and pass on their own knowledge to others, how marvellous would that be?
 Very marvellous in my opinion. I joined the society for childrens book writers and illustrators eighteen months ago and SCBWI has been a fabulous resource for me . Not only was I able to find an online crit group but they also hold many events and classes where you can meet not only other writers, published and unpublished but also (shock, horror, gasp) real live industry professionals like agents and editors who are actually wonderfully nice people and very happy to talk to us.
 There is also an online community who will answer questions and share the highs and lows of the writers life. I have met some very lovely friends through scbwi as well as meeting agents who have gone on to read my work. I may still be unpublished but I'm much further on then I would have been without SCBWI so my recommendation to all of you is to join as well!
 It really  is the only place I've found that's not full of negativity about the chances of getting published but in fact often has stories from members who have found an agent or received a publishing deal. Stories like that make you believe in the possibilities and that is what we all need if we are ever to find our own slice of success.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

The Hunger Games - Book vs Film

I am a huge fan of the books so I was excited and nervous when I heard a film would be made. I hoped it would be able to capture the excitement of the books but I had my doubts and unfortunately they were proven true.

I really wanted to love the film but I just didn't. That's not to say it wasn't done well, I could see the film makers had done their best, they had a great cast, a good script and they followed the story to a tee but it just didn't work for me. So why not?

Well, because it didn't move me. I felt nothing as I watched Katniss fighting for her life yet when I read it I was gripped. Completely gripped. I felt Katniss' pain, her sacrifice, her urge to survive, her anger, her sadness but during the film I had no emotional reaction except for disappointment.

The other problem I find is the need in films to switch between characters. The book may well be in the first person but in films they always want to show the bad guys, the background characters and so the intensity present in the book is missing. It becomes watered down here for example we see the gamemaker and president Snow making their plans and that detracts from Katniss' struggle. Another example of this is Eclipse - the third film in the twilight series where they add in the perspective of Bree Tanner - not shown in the original book but published as a short story later - and so take away from the core story.

The other watered down aspect of the film was the violence. Despite what you may have heard in the papers The Hunger Games movie is not particularly violent and this is a negative in my opinion. The fighting in the books is shocking and harsh and sends a message. The fighting in the film is weak and unexciting, there's no blood or gore - this may be a decision based on the audience or their age rating but it leaves you uninvolved. It doesn't look real or terrifying and it should. That's the point. The hunger games are designed to break the population, to keep them under control and we should be horrified by that and yet in the film I don't think that point comes across as stongly as it should.

It's always hard to turn any book into a film, partly because when you read a story you imagine it in your head, you see it a certain way and then it jars with you when the filmmakers do something different. Just occasionally they do something startling - they make it better. It's rare I admit but the Lord of  the Rings trilogy is a classic example. Peter Jackson did a fantastic job with it and exceeded everyone's expectations.
More often I'm disappointed, the Harry Potter films, the Twilight saga , they're all good films but not quite as good as the books:

Harry Potter because too much had to be left out leaving the story sketchy and malformed, oftimes hard to follow if you hadn't read the books first.

Twilight had the same problem as the Hunger Games but to a lesser degree and that is the lack of voice.

Bella and Katniss both have striking, unique, enchanting voices that you can't help but love but they don't exist in the film and so you lose a huge part of the understanding and all of the empathy.
One of the wonderful things about books is that they allow us to see inside someone's head and it immerses us into their world...but on film that link is gone, we only understand what we can physically see and hear, we don't have the inner monologue and it makes a difference.
So, what does that mean, can great books with a strong first person voice be recreated on the big screen? I don't know to be honest but certainly not in this case.

I am sure Hunger Games will be a huge success and anyone who hasn't read the books will probably love it but  for me, it will never work, will never replace the books and that's fine, disappointing but fine. Not every book should be a film. Some of them live on best in our own imaginations.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Up the Garden Path

Okay so this was going to be a post on The Hunger Games film but I've been distracted by another topic. Deep into revision it occured to me how easy it is to simply take the wrong path while writing.
I admit I'm not a planner, I begin my writing with a kernel of an idea and set off on the journey with no real idea of where I'm going. So therefore it's easy for me to wander off in the wrong direction. That's not a problem as such if, and I say if, you figure out when you've gone wrong.
Unfortunately it's harder than it sounds! Because let's face it, if you have no plan how do you even know when you've gone wrong?
Of course you should be able to figure out when something doesn't sound right but it's often hard to pinpoint exactly where the problem is. It's easy to spend ages fiddling with what you've done and never see the deeper issues.
So what do you do? Can you avoid the brambles on the path? Should you even want to? What if you find some blackberries among the brambles? What if your wrong path leads somewhere amazing?
A detailed plan could save you wandering too far but it may also prevent those moments of startling revelation that occasionally surprise us all so what do we do?
Well, in my case I used a literary consultant and she very kindly kicked me in the right direction. You don't have to pay for this service of course, you could use a crit group or a writing buddy to help you see where you may have taken a wrong turn. The perspective gained from others can't be underestimated in my opinion - as long as they have some understanding of writing of course - opinions from your mum, your friend or your child can't entirely be trusted, trust me!
So, don't be afraid of wrong turnings, they may not even be wrong, just different from what you expected and if you do find yourself up a cul de sac withot a paddle get another opinion, fresh eyes can make all the difference.