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.