Sunday, 22 December 2013

Goodbye 2013

                                    First of all Merry Christmas to everyone!

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

Monday, 2 December 2013

A year in the life.

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

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

On Writing.

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

On Myself.

I have discovered the following ;

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

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

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Philosophy for Writers

Writing isn't easy.
Getting published is even harder.
But never fear people, I am here with a whole list of ways to help
you be philosophical  about a writing life.
Pick one of these and all your troubles will be over!*

(*the author accepts no responsibility for any harm that comes to you or others through using these techniques. Nor are any actual promises made as to the success or failure of your writing or the trouble freeness of your life)

Philosophy Number One

Confidence  Arrogancius Pluribus Maximus - 

 Perfect if you think your work is stupendous and the whole world needs to read it. After every rejection you receive simply rail at their sheer stupidity, write aggressive blog posts and send furious emails. The best part of this philosophy is that you can die convinced that you've been unappreciated in your own time and that only when you've gone will your genius be discovered.

Philosophy Number Two

Goddicus Fateicus

 Take the view that nothing is in your hands or in your control. Don't worry about whether your book is any good because it doesn't matter. If it's meant to be it will happen. If it's not then it won't. You have no influence on any of it so why worry?

Philosophy Number Three

Superstitious Extremus

You control everything. Your lucky knickers and special bendy pen can make the difference between success or failure. As long as you follow your special routine of writing on a Wednesday between three and four in the morning while wearing your wellies and singing "Paperback Writer" by the Beatles then your work is guaranteed to be lauded by all. 
Then all you have to do is send it off on the 3rd Tuesday when the moon is rising in Pluto, to any agents whose names begin with the letter P and are born in September while chanting Celtic nursery rhymes and you're bound to be snatched off the slush pile.
If not then it must have be the fault of that black cat that crossed your path or the ladder you walked under. 

Philosophy Number Four

Superious Stalkerific

  Basically if you have stalker tendencies this is the one for you. It's based on the idea that what you write isn't as important as who you know. What you must do is use the internet and social networks to find every agent and publisher you can. Then ignore their submission guidelines.
 Instead find out where they are, hang around outside their offices, gatecrash parties, linger around the loos and whenever possible force your manuscript into their hands. That way they're bound to read it and hey presto you'll be published before you know it.
 Your other option in case they all take out a restraining order on you (and they probably will) is to try meeting other writers and telling them how brilliant your work is in comparison to theirs. They're bound to realise (after you harass them for long enough) that their real purpose in life is not to write their own books but to help you get published by passing your manuscript on to their agents and publishers.

Philosophy Number Five

Optimism Overloadus

Of course you'll be published! Your mum and dad said so. And you got a gold star for your story in year five so that proves how good you are. You don't need to read any books or go to any courses. And you don't need feedback from others because you know you're destined to be a writer. All you need to do is keep writing. You've already made it to number seven in your twenty three part series. When you've finished them all you're sure someone will be desperate to publish them.

  That's all I'm covering this week but I hope you find something there that catches your eye. Remember, the right philosophy can make all the difference to your writing life!

Monday, 28 October 2013

Mastering Middle Grade

 Yesterday I attended my very first SCBWI masterclass and lucky me, it was run by the wonderful Sara O Connor from Hot Key Books.

 Twenty eager scooby people turned up at the Theodore Bullfrog Pub in Charing Cross hoping for a practical workshop on writing the best middlegrade fiction and that's exactly what we got!

 For those of you who couldn't join us Sara has very kindly allowed me to blog about the day, so here we go, Halfway to the Middle by Sara O Connor.

We started off by looking at the basics -

 How do you define Middle Grade?

1. Age of the main character (between 10 and 13 usually)

2. Level of violence (do what you want to monsters etc but not so much with people) and romance (not beyond hand holding)

3. Length (around 40 000 words)

4. Contains innocence and optimism and isn't cynical

5. Earnest with a sense of justice.

 We then moved onto talking about character and Sara encouraged us to find our inner ten year old. Most importantly;

Do Not Condescend or Underestimate 

Make sure there is Authentic Depth to your character - 
Know what they Want, Think and Need  
Ensure there is True Motivation.

Writing Exercise One -
Read your first two pages - what do you learn about character? Underline everything you learn about them.
(Remember - Physical description isn't character - we need to find out what they believe, see authentic motivation for the plot as early as possible.)
If we don't find out enough, why not? Is backstory or secondary characters getting in the way?

Remember the Less is More adage. Everything you tell your reader must be worth it!
Imagine that your reader has to carry a backpack from page one to the end of the story. The backpack holds everything you tell your reader so make sure they NEED to carry it.
If they don't need it - CUT IT OUT and remember small details often matter most.

Writing Exercise Two

To make space for the essential details go through your first page and CUT twenty unnecessary words.
(Yes, 20 words!)
Now Cut twenty more. (Yes I know, it's hard. We moaned as well but No Pain No Gain!)

Main Character Essentials

We have to love them in order to want to spend the next however many pages with them. 
They need Conviction - we have to believe in them and what they want and need.
Their Motivation must be in sync with the plot.
They must be in the drivers seat, make decisions and drive the plot forward.

For more help with this Sara suggested we check out the Carnegie Shadowing site and specifically Roddy Doyle talking about Greyhound Girl.

Writing Exercise  Three
Ask yourself these questions;
What is the first thing your character does that will make the reader care about them? (how early or late does it happen?)
Why should the reader want to be your main character? (reading is aspirational)
What is memorable about your main character in the first chapter?
What is the worst thing that could ever happen to them?
What is the one thing they will do anything to avoid admitting to themselves or others?

Sara used examples from published books and participants submissions to highlight her points and the whole group was buzzing over lunch as Sara's ideas inspired us all to think differently about our work.

Plot Basics

Plot should be inseparable from character.
Plot should be because of character.
Ask big questions to develop the plot.
Ask questions again and again - how far will your character go to get what they want?
Each answer should complicate your plot and test your character.
Don't force it! You can't make people do what you want and you can't overlay plot onto character.
Create the situation bring in your character and see how they react.

Before the workshop Sara asked us to write a two line chapter summary that gave the most important points. It was a really useful way to get the whole picture of your novel and check whether the following points all work.

Each chapter should be able to lead on to the next with the word because not and then.
Each chapter should move the story on in terms of plot or character. If it doesn't - Cut It!
With each chapter get in late and leave early.
Remember your backpack and make sure only the essentials are going in.

Writing Exercise Four
Write a two line summary chapter summary for your book.
Now cut out three chapters.
(Don't shout at me, Sara made me do it!)
 Our last instruction came in terms of making our story meaningful in some way. 
We talked about the Obligatory Scene which should almost have been set up in the early chapters. It is what readers have been expecting from the beginning and therefore it MUST happen!

Writing Exercise Five
 Do you have your obligatory scene?
Does your protagonist meet the antagonist?
How does the scene change both characters?
Is it the biggest, best scene in the book?
Where does it occur? Would a different setting make it more dramatic?
If the scene isn't as good as it could be look at the buildup before.

And here's what Sara thinks makes great middle grade -

Brilliant idea
Vivid characters
Don't condescend.
Make it meaningful.
Embrace revision.
Have fun! 

I want to thank Sara for giving such a great masterclass. Everything in it was useful and can be applied to my w.i.p so I'm very glad I came along and as always I had a brilliant day with my fellow scoobies and the very lovely Sara!

If you found Sara's ideas useful and would like the chance to work more closely with Sara and three other great editors do check out her new venture Book Bound.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The Big Book World

 As you know, if you read this blog regularly, I am often out at events for writers. The last few weeks have been particularly busy, culminating in the wonderful SCBWI agent party.
 As much as I enjoy going to these events I do occasionally wonder if it's actually worth going out in to the Big Book World and if I'd be better off staying in and, you know, writing.

 I decided it was worth analysing in more detail, what do I really gain by going to these events that justifies the amount of time, money and effort that I put in?

1. Connection with other writers.
You've heard it said before but writing really is a lonely business. At times the self doubt and the revising and the rejections are enough to send you quietly mad. Which is why I've put this as number one on my list. Going out and talking to others, finding out you're not alone, the giving and receiving of sympathy, the drinks, the chats, the laughs, the bonding of people who all want the same thing. Who all understand. It is priceless.

2. Pulling back the publishing curtain.
Like many writers when I first began to think about publication I was desperate to find out more. I trawled the internet, read blogs and books and tried my best to educate myself in the art of writing and submitting. The one thing that was really hard to find though was what the agents and editors were actually like.
 My first submissions were made using the Writers Handbook and based on a very short paragraph. It was hard to imagine them as real people and when the rejections came in it seemed as if they were the gatekeepers. Barring my way into publishing, stopping me achieving my dream.
 The first events I went to gave me the chance to see the people in the publishing world as actual human beings. All of the ones I've met, without exception, have been passionate about what they do, giving up their free time to attend events and talk to would be authors. They are unfailingly kind when we flub our pitches, they excuse our stammering attempts at conversation, they know how hard it is and they do our best to help.
 It  helped me understand that they are all looking for something fabulous and that what that was would differ from person to person. It enabled me to tailor my submissions, to prove that I was serious about what I was doing and to accept the rejections as a business situation, not a personal reflection of me.

 3. Managing Expectations
 Meeting with professionals and other writers has helped me understand so much more about the process, the hard work, the difficulties, the things that can go wrong.
 I know now just how long it could take to find an agent and get published, I know how much work is required, how much patience and perseverance. I understand much more about what's involved in being an author, the school visits, the deadlines, the marketing and social networking, the economic instability, the bad reviews, the bottom line.
 And I know that being published will not change my life. I will not become rich or famous. I will not be happy forever more.
 But somehow knowing all that and still wanting it makes me quite philosophical. I'm doing it for the love of it and that is a wonderful thing.

  Are there any downsides to going to events? Well, I'm not the most sociable person nor the most confident so I've had to push myself to talk to strangers, to pitch to agents, to mingle with the crowds. If anything though it's all been good for me. For example, my ability to converse with five agents at the last agent party with some modicum of dignity and to give a decent pitch at the same time is only because of the previous stuttered and embarrassing attempts of previous years.

 The other aspect that can be hard is that being at publishing events moves your focus from the actual writing to the process of submitting instead. It often makes me want to send things out even when they're not done, I feel rushed into submitting so I can make use of the contacts I've made. I feel pressure to just get on with it, to get published now damn it!
 I've learnt to my detriment that this is always a bad idea so now I refuse to give into the feeling and after a day or two it tends to fade and I can get back to writing.

 Overall then I'd say that going to events has helped much more than hindered. I've learnt huge amounts about writing, submitting and the mechanics of publishing. When I'm finally ready to go into my next round of submissions it will be with an understanding of what I'm doing, an idea of who might best be suited to not just my work but to me as a person and with a few hard earned personal contacts.

 Best of all though, because of the events I've gone to in the past I will have a group of people who will be there to help me through the inevitable rejections, to encourage me to keep going and to help me improve for next time. Best of all is knowing you're not alone.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Four editors, one weekend.

I know I should be waist deep in revision but I have to admit to being out and about in the world of publishing again this week. Bad news for my W.I.P but good news for any of you who missed it!

On Saturday I joined twenty four other writers in London at a free event run by the lovely people at Book Bound Retreat to find out a bit more about what they're offering.

The four editors running the event were Sara O Connor, UV co founder and editorial director at Hot Key Books, Karen Ball from Little Brown, Jasmine Richards from OUP and UV co founder Sara Grant.

They met while working at Working partners and since then they have all published their own childrens' and YA books which gives them a unique perspective when working with writers. As well as knowing what publishers are looking for they also understand the authors point of view.

Book Bound has been in the works for a couple of years but was delayed due to a surge of baby making! They are all now very excited about launching their new venture which will offer a weekend of workshops to twenty four writers at a beautiful location in Kent.

The retreat takes place from 9th to 11th May 2014 and includes accommodation, food, workshops and an in depth one to one with one of the editors. You will also have the chance to pitch your work (after a handy session on how to pitch) to four agents - 
Zoe King from the Blair Partnership, Julia Churchill from A.M Heath, Claire Wilson from R.C.W and Polly Nolan from the Greenhouse Agency. 

As a little taste of what to expect each editor gave us a few tips based on the workshops they'll be running over the weekend.

Sara O Connor talked about how to make the most of your opening pages by using details. She said we should bring our characters to life with concrete, character defining details that paint a vivid picture and root us immediately into the story.

Karen Ball will be running a workshop on character and suggested we use Pinterest to make up a mood board, we can use it to deepen our understanding of the character and make them more three dimensional.  Stalking our characters through the story from beginning to end was another tip she offered and can help us to see changes and ensure they are learning something during the story.

Jasmine Richards gave us some input on plot and the rather excellent quote
"Conflict is plot. Plot is conflict"
Another good pointer was to describe each scene and see if you use the word "and" to connect them or "but/therefore". If it's the former then it may be that the scene isn't moving the story on and should be changed.
She was also quite keen for us to be as mean as possible to our characters and offered us a few ways to add conflict to our story;
 1. deception and rescue, 
 3.different setting,
 4.death of a minor character,

Sara Grant is well known for her revision workshops and offered us some basic pointers that should help us all with revising.
MOST IMPORTANT - "Don't get it right, get it writ!"
1. Don't revise as you go.
2. Finish the 1st draft then revise it.
3. Macro edit first, look at the big picture, - conflict/voice/plot
4.Focus on what's best for the story
5.Great story is more important than great writing.

It was a very enjoyable event and all the editors showed huge enthusiasm for the project. A big thank you to everyone involved for sharing a little of their expertise with us. It gave a real indication of how useful the weekend could be.

If you would like the chance to go on this retreat then you need to submit per the guidelines on the website. The writers will be chosen based on potential and what the editors feel they can offer you. They want everyone to be at the same stage so that they can make full use of the weekend. They aim to let writers know within two weeks as to whether they have been accepted or not. Full payment will be required on acceptance but if you sign up to their newsletter now you can claim a £50 discount.

I am off now to do some actual writing but will be out again on Thursday night for the marvelous SCBWI agents party! No doubt I will report back on all the excitement in a week or so.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Reasons to be Cheerful

Number One - I don't have an agent!

Number Two - I don't have a book deal!

Why would that make me cheerful you might ask. Surely those are things I've been yearning for? And yes it's true, I  DO  want a lovely agent one day in the future and a book deal would be a most marvelous thing but, rather than bemoan my lack of either, I decided to try a change of perspective and see what happened.

A couple of  things have occured that set me on this path and one of them was talking to a friend who has an agent and had been given a deadline. That's not a bad thing of course, deadlines can be very useful and they become part of the job when you have an agent or a publisher.

But the thing is that I don't. I don't have anyone's expectations to fulfil except my own and that is a freedom I intend to enjoy while I still have it.

It means I can write if I want to but if I don't, if I'm busy or not in the mood then that's fine. It doesn't affect anyone else and that let's me balance my writing in to my life in a way that's stress free. It means that writing can always be a pleasure rather than a chore.

I can also write exactly what I want. I don't have to factor in the opinions of others, market trends or publisher preferences. If I want to write a book about a girl who discovers she's a witch and falls in love with a vampire then I can do that. I don't, funnily enough, but the choice is mine for now.

And, because there's no book to market,  I don't have to worry about reviews or think about sales. I don't have to do school visits or book festivals. And much as I will enjoy promoting any book of mine in the future I think it's important to appreciate the fact that for now, for this little part of my life, I don't have to work at anything except writing the darn thing. That thought fills me with cheer.

The second thing that altered my perspective was reading  a blog by the very talented and refreshingly honest Candy Gourlay called The Pursuit of Happiness. She talked about the publication of her second book Shine and how she sometimes misses the days of being on the slushpile. I have to admit that surprised me.

Candy had achieved what so many of us long for, she had escaped the misery of rejection and toil that the rest of us pre published authors have to suffer and yet she looked back on that time with affection! Why? What could possibly be good about the slushpile Candy?

"it really was lovely when the dream hadn't come true yet." - she said

And that is the key! Hope is a wonderful thing. I might still have all that to come.  One day in the near or distant future I might have the joy of running around telling the world that I have an Agent! A Book Deal! A Launch Party! A Million Pound Film Deal...okay, I got a bit carried away there but you get my drift.

I could, if I'm very lucky, have some of that to look forward to one day and that thought, that idea, that dream makes me cheerful.

Now then, back to the editing.
And the hoping. :)

Monday, 2 September 2013

Chickens, eggs and editors.

I have been following the development of The Golden Egg Academy since it first began last year, after all how often can you expect editors the caliber of Imogen Cooper (Previously Head of Fiction at Chicken House), Beverley Birch (Previous commissioning editor at Hodder) and Bella Pearson (Previously at David Fickling) to be available to help up and coming authors?

Therefore as soon as the opportunity arose to meet Imogen in person came up I jumped at the chance and headed off to a London Writers Cafe event at a pub near Liverpool Street last Tuesday night. I wasn't the only one either as the room was packed with hopeful writers all waiting to hear Imogen's words of wisdom.

She began with a brief introduction and told us how much she enjoyed working with Barry Cunningham at Chicken House. She said that the small team of seven led to a very exciting environment, with plenty of creative ideas and a fair few arguments as they all worked together towards the same goal. However Imogen saw so many manuscripts from the slushpile with potential that just needed the help of a good editor she decided to take a step back.
She moved from the position of Head of Fiction at Chicken House to the role of Senior Editor and set up the Golden Egg Academy with Beverley and Bella.

They are now offering their skills and support to writers in the way of workshops, in depth reports, one to one sessions and mentoring.  Imogen is also planning to set up a course for editors with Winchester University that will provide training for up and coming industry professionals.

Next, Imogen began to talk about the three things that make a desirable novel -

1. Strong Concept
2. Driving Plot
3. Universal Themes

When she became an acquiring editor she had to start looking at manuscripts in a different way. She needed to be able to explain to a whole team of people from different departments why the novel she wanted to buy was so great and back it up with solid reasoning. This meant that she had to have a real understanding of the novel, she needed to be able to find the essence and heart of the story so she could explain why children needed to read this book and what made it so original.

Imogen was firm in the idea that knowing the heart of your novel will make it stronger and enable you to edit it effectively.

She asked us if we knew what our book was about, was it different to others and could we describe it in one paragraph? Imogen suggested we all try to distill our work into one paragraph that we could then use when submitting or pitching to agents and publishers.

What is the backstory/skeleton upon which everything else hangs?

Who are the main characters and what are their motivations? (You should be able to see these in every scene).

The story must come first with any themes supporting the story and being shown subtly within the motivations.

She said it was very important to be able to break your story down and be objective. Of course it isn't that easy as any writer could tell you and one of the reasons why an editor can be so important. She quoted one of her mentoring clients as saying her book was a beautiful jigsaw puzzle until Imogen helped her turn it into a 3D picture. A bit like connecting the left and right sides of your brain or turning a written play into the stage version.

Most importantly she said the paragraph should be about the BIG PICTURE and not the detail.

To give us some ideas Imogen brought along some advanced information sheets on a few Chicken House Books like Poison Boy by Fletcher Moss and Muncle Trogg by Janet Foxley. On one side was a copy of the book cover and on the other some info on the author and the all important blurb.
It was very useful to see how these books had been distilled down to their essential parts and I understood just how hard it could be as during my submission to Undiscovered Voices I'd been forced to write a fifty word blurb for my entry.

Imogen suggested we all try to write that paragraph and then keep it written up near our writing space so that we never lose track of the heart of our story.

Next we were lucky enough to hear about the Book Map which Imogen sees as an essential tool for use with editing. After the first draft has been written she suggests writing out some or all of the following -

Chapter info
Plot summary
Dramatic incidents
Main characters - including their involvement and motivations. You could divide these up into fore, mid and background characters.

You can add or take away from this but however you do it she believes it helps you to take a step back from your story and view it as a whole.
It's a little bit like storyboarding where you make the whole thing come alive.

You can then use this method to see the whole novel, all of it's important elements and then try to weave everything else through during your second and third drafts.

The whole room was buzzing by the time Imogen finished speaking and she very kindly agreed to answer some of our questions. One of which was on the biggest problems she sees in submissions.
Imogen said it was mainly plot related and often involved authors not seeding the clues throughout their book and not signposting enough.

I really enjoyed hearing Imogen speak, her enthusiasm for her work shone through and I'm sure motivated many of us to go away and start working on our manuscripts! I imagine it would be a real pleasure and privilege to have her keen and exacting eye focused on to your own work and with the Golden Egg Academy you might just get that chance.

Thank you to Imogen for such a useful and informative talk. You can find out more about what the Golden Egg Academy offers Here.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Unofficial update

Hello lovely peeps!

It's not quite September yet so I'm not officially posting but I thought I'd write a quick update and let you know what I've been doing with my time for the last six weeks.

1. There's been a Glamping trip in a Tipi with my lovely friend Jude, the highlight of which was sitting outside in front of a log fire, chatting and staring into the flames for hours. No wonder fires are called natures T.V!

2.A family holiday in Wales which involved fishing, plenty of trips to the beach, a musical production of Little Shop of Horrors and vast amounts of scrummy fish and chips!

3. A trip to the West End to watch Horrible Histories Barmy Britain show and learn some new and amusing songs.

4. A large amount of boring and necessary chores like buying school uniform and looking after a  recuperating spouse.

5. Still to come this Sunday is a trip to Kellermans Holiday Camp where I will be reliving Dirty Dancing all over again with the lovely Jude and Kez.

All of this excitement has meant that I haven't done any writing of course but weirdly, in many ways it's felt like a very creative period.
 Ideas for the revision of my latest story have been flooding into my head, revelations about my characters, possible twists, ways to add depth...
And rather than trying to edit when the house is full and busy and my time is short instead I've been making notes, drawing maps and making up a history and timeline for my storyworld.

Somehow without even trying my brain has been working and after such a long rest I'm really excited about getting back to work and editing my book.

So next week I'll be beginning revisions and getting back to blogging. Join me then when I'll be writing up a recent event I went to with the lovely Imogen Cooper from Golden Egg Academy.

Friday, 5 July 2013

It's my blog and I'll skive if I want to, skive if I want to...

You would skive too if you wanted toooooo!

Sorry about that, for anyone not around in the 80's that was a blatant rip off of "it's my party and I'll cry of I want to."

I'm feeling rather dizzy with all the SUNSHINE and have a distinctly summery vibe going on so I've decided to take a break from blogging.

I will of course be writing, trying to polish up my U.V entry and start work on a new series idea I've been hatching but after 18 months of nearly weekly blogs I've decided to have a summer break and forget about routines while I have the chance

I will be back in September, probably, if I don't decide to give it all up for a life of yak farming first, so enjoy the sun everyone!

Lorraine xxx

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Self Publishing Report Part Two

As promised, part two of my report on the CBC self publishing event on 18th June 2013.

Gareth Howard - CEO of Authoright was a confident and engaging speaker. Originally a lawyer he wrote his first book and had it rejected despite good writing because the publishers thought it wasn't marketable enough.
Gareth disagreed and decided to self publish. This was in 2004 before ebooks existed but with the marketing campaign he ran his book became a bestseller and he was then signed by LAW agency.

He set up his own P.R company offering marketing services for authors and he works with self published and traditional authors.They also offer consultancy services for agents and publishers to help them adjust to the changes.

 Gareth was very positive about self publishing and believes that authors are now mobilising and becoming extremely savvy about the business. He said that lines were breaking down and this was leading to the democratisation of publishing.

He followed up with the idea that self publishing is becoming quicker and easier and the benefits of marketing that used to be offered by traditional publishers are no longer available for all authors. This is why many authors with publishing contracts are paying for their own marketing campaign.

He believes that debut authors need to think of their book as a start up business and that S/P authors are savvier than their counterparts in trad publishing. Gareth also thinks that  eventually the S/P system will work as an incubator for traditional publishing with authors proving the market is there for a book before being signed.

Authoright charge around £2000 for a marketing campaign and £400 for an original cover which he thought was excellent value.
He also warned authors to beware the sharks and do their research before using any company.

Two other company's that were recommended by Karen Inglis for authors were Silverwood Books and Matador

The final speaker was Emil Howard, the digital editor at Random House. He was also positive about self publishing, he thought it would provide more culture, more niches and more routes to publishing. However this huge explosion of books is still facing a finite number of readers.

He spoke a little about the role of trad publishers. The two pillars of a publishing company are -

1. Efficient purchasing services or getting stuff cheap! Paper, designs, even editors are all cheaper when bought in bulk.

2.Risk management - i.e the publisher takes all the risks and pays the author whether the book sells or not.

Emil said that it was interesting to see authors banding together to pay for services and to manage any risk. Also, by talking about putting quality stamps on S/P work, they were almost taking on the role of a publisher!

My favourite part of his talk was when he decided to take us back to the 19th century and related how expensive paper used to be because it was made from linen. This kept books out of the reach of most people, only the rich could afford them BUT when it was discovered that paper could be made from wood pulp it quite literally changed the world.

"Pulp" fiction was the result or "penny dreadfuls" as they were called over here and they made stories available to everyone. Much of it was trash but hidden away in there were diamonds, a little like the S/P market today.

Emil likened the disruption that occurred at this time to what is happening now - ebooks are changing the economy but he's not worried about the competition.

He thinks the changes will supply new literature, new niches and new genres and that's a good thing.

He finished by saying that publishers needed to demonstrate their value every day but he thinks that the different areas of publishing can all co exist. With regard to Random House he informed us that they offer their authors twitter workshops and help them build a blog platform and coming up in the future they will have author portals where they can check their sales and royalties in the same way as a S/P author.

Overall I found the event very useful, it has allowed me to consider self publishing with a little more knowledge and it gave me some idea of what to do if I decide to make the leap.

I'm not quite there yet however but who knows what the future holds?

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Self Publishing - the good, the bad and the future

 I've always been slightly old fashioned when it comes to books, I like the real ones that come with covers and pages, that I can put on a bookshelf and stroke when I so choose but that's a personal reading choice. As a writer, self publishing is something I need to be aware of so I decided to find out what I could at the Children's Book Circle event last night in the Penguin Offices on The Strand.

 It is my intention to share what I learned with you all but there was so much interesting and important discussion that I've decided to split this post into two parts.

Part one will look at Self Publishing from the point of view of LAW Agent Phillippa Milnes Smith and author Karen Inglis.

Part Two will look at the perspective of CEO of Authoright, Gareth Howard and digital editor at Random House Emil Fortune.

Part One

Phillippa Milnes Smith from LAW agency was the first to speak. With a background in publishing and now working as an agent she thought that publishing at the moment was a very exciting world but also that it can be traumatic and disruptive and not somewhere that everyone currently writing will be comfortable with.

 She said that Children's digital publishing is slightly behind adult at the moment (except for YA) and that until devices become cheaper and stronger and perhaps a part of the education system it will remain that way.

 The Law agency is embracing the new but they think Publishers are still important, some of their authors like Stephen Leather and Kate Harrison are using both self publishing and traditional very successfully.

 She said that the best things about traditional publishing is the editorial work and the creativity that can occur  with the right partnership, the worst was that it can at times be slow, stale and untargeted.

 From an agent point of view she said their role had become both simpler and more complicated;

Simple because they are doing what they always did, representing clients in all media, responding to the market, finding new income and opportunities and most importantly managing their clients.

Complicated because authors now need certain technical skills, they need to be creative and yet savvy to marketing. For agents the contracts have become more complicated, the income strands and timescales have changed and they need new skills to help their authors compete in the current marketplace.

The second speaker was author Karen Inglis who has self published three books for children - The Lake House, Eeek the runaway alien and Ferdinand Fox's big sleep. Having written the books ten years ago and had them rejected for being too traditional or not marketable she put them away in a box.

 With the digital revolution however the next time she got them out she decided to self publish and get her stories out there for children to enjoy. She thinks that it's very empowering for authors but for serious S/P authors the importance of hard work, professionalism and quality cannot be denied.

 Karen spoke about the newly launched Alliance of independent authors which champions quality, is an excellent resource and a great community also.

After some serious editing Karen used Amazon Create Space and their free templates to design the layout of her books. She said it was very simple, fast and user friendly. The financial cost and risk of self publishing with print on demand is very low as you only pay for each book once it's been sold.

 She said uploading the finished book on to Amazon was easy and fast and up on the website within 48 hours. You can check sales and royalties plus control the pricing, adjusting it as often as you like to try and find the price bracket where your book sells best. You can also find out where your book is selling which is an interesting feature.

 Karen is a copywriter by day so she found it easy to do her own marketing for the book, getting features in her local papers and magazines and she said Waterstones love indie authors and she'd done several sell out signings there.

 She warned that there are many sharks out there who prey on authors desire to be published so do your research and be careful, but she finished with the belief that as the quality of self published books improves so too will people's attitude.

It's all fascinating stuff and Gareth and Emil have some great insights to share so come back for Part Two available to read next week!

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Are you cut out to be a children's writer? Find out today!

Well are you?
Only one way to find out for sure - take my patented superquiz!
Yes, after months (minutes?) of research I have  formulated a test that will tell you whether you have what it takes to be a children's writer. Just answer the simple multiple choice questions and discover if you're destined to hit the bestseller charts or if you'd be better off retraining in accountancy or yak farming.

Question 1
How do you feel about children?

a) I love and adore them, each one is a little miracle and I would be both  honored and privileged to share my writing with them.

b) I'm a firm believer that kids should be seen and not heard. My books are designed to teach them the old fashioned values I myself grew up with.

c) They're horrid little monsters but they should be easy to write for because they're too stupid to know if something's any good or not.

Question 2
How imaginative are you?

a) Very! I'm always making up stories in my head and spend lots of time lost in an imaginary world.

b) Imagination! New fangled poppycock in my opinion that's led to the collapse of western civilisation. Discipline that's what every child needs and my books would provide it.

c) I'm very imaginative. I can imagine just what I'll do with all the money I'll earn when my children's books get published.

Question 3
What's your favourite children's book?

a) Oh it's so hard to choose! Something by Roald Dahl perhaps?

b) Enid Blyton. Although she was a bit lackadaisical on discipline. I'm sure I could do better.

c) Children's book? I've never read any. They're all the same aren't they?

Question 4
Do you think it will be easy to get published in the current climate?

a) I could self publish if I wanted to but I'd like to try mainstream first if I can and see how I get on. It won't be easy and it might take years but I'm determined to keep trying.

b)Well, it should be easy if you have a quality product like my own. I just hope the publishers aren't too stupid to see talent when it's under their nose.

c) Climate? You mean like when it's cold outside? Can't imagine why that should matter, I'm bound to be published straight away summer or winter. My stuffs much better then most of the s**t around. Not that I've read any but still, how hard can it be?

Question 5
Are you prepared to promote your work using social media like facebook and twitter?

a) I'd rather be able to spend my time writing but I understand how important it is to self promote so I'm prepared to give it a go.

b) Facebook? Isn't that what they use in police stations so you can pick out the criminals?

c) Why should I? The publishers should do all that b******s for me. I've got better things to do with my time. Like spending all the money I earn!

Question 6
How do you think you'll cope with rejection?

a) I'm sure it's not very nice but it's something every writer has to cope with so I'll just have to get used to it because I'm not giving up.

b) I'm sure that no one will reject me after I've turned up at their office, barricaded the door and read them my entire manuscript. If they're too stupid to see quality when it's pointing a gun at them then it's their own fault.

c) What rejection? I keep telling you my stuff is quality. It took me hours to write. Like, at least two.

Question 7
Would you be interested in joining a critique group to help improve your writing?

a) I think it would be great to meet like minded people and have their input in my work.

b) No. Other people are generally idiots and I wouldn't waste my time on their paltry efforts.

c) You mean let other people nick my ideas? No way. besides there's nothing to improve I keep telling you!

Question 8
Why do you want to be a children's writer?

a) It's been my lifelong dream!

b) Because children need to be taught how to behave. Their parents are obviously too stupid to do it so my books will give them a chance of turning out halfway decent.

c) So I can earn millions and become famous of course. What other reason is there?

 Okay then, count up and see if you've answered mostly a's, b's or c's and then check your results below.

Mostly A's 
Congratulations, you have a great chance of getting published one day!

Mostly B's 
Umm, accountancy might be fun?

Mostly C's 
Just go away please, you're very annoying and would benefit from ten years yak farming in Timbuctoo.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Book Memories

The SCBWI Ning group has been aflutter with nostalgic memories of the first books people have read and this has inspired me to compile my own list of books.
These are books that I can still remember reading, where I was, how I felt at the time and so these books contain memories, yes, it feels as if the book contains an actual nugget of my life and by re reading it or sometimes simply sniffing the book in question those memories are re awoken. One reason of many why I will always love books more than a kindle however useful and space saving they may be.

1. Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl.
This stays with me because it was one of the first books I ever bought for myself. Purchased proudly from the charity shop when I was six or seven I read it all by myself and gave it pride of place on my very first (but definitely not last!) bookshelf. I still love the story, devastatingly simple but completely brilliant. How can you go wrong with quotes like "Boggis, Bunce and Bean, one fat one short one lean."

2. When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr
I was  a few years older when this book landed in my lap and how I devoured it. The childlike perspective of a young girl whose family flees the Nazis it is so involving, I was utterly gripped by it all. I felt the pain of leaving Pink Rabbit behind and even if I didn't understand the background of the war completely when I read it I understood that little girl and I loved her. Recently I read the continuation of the series which I never realised was the first part of a trilogy. The sequels are great reads but don't have quite the same resonance as that book did.

3. Deenie by Judy Blume
If I'm honest all of Judy Blumes books belong on this list because each one affected me. "Are you there god it's me Margaret?", "Blubber", "Tiger Eyes", "Forever" how I loved them. So entirely honest and true I re read them all a hundred times. Going through puberty without them would have been almost impossible and I will be eternally grateful to Judy Blume for her skills. I picked Deenie in particular though because I remember how much I wanted to be her, the cover design showed a stunning young girl with long blond hair who was picked to be a model but ended up in a back brace due to scoliosis of the spine. As a not very attractive teenager I longed for beauty and all it's trappings but this book made me understand that looks aren't everything and accepting yourself  and all your flaws is the only way to go. Thank you Judy!!

4. Twopence to Cross the Mersey by Helen Forrester
I was given this book by my mum  when I was a teenager and was immediately drawn into Helen's world. An autobiographical tale of her growing up as part of a large family fallen on hard times and forced to move to Liverpool and live in the slums. I lived all of it with Helen, the bedbugs, the hunger, the shame, the anger at her parents for their inability to cope, for spending money on furniture they couldn't afford just to make a good impression even thought their children were cold and hungry...sorry. I can feel a rant coming on so I'll just say the injustice and hardship that she suffered and how she coped with it all was an honour to read and
I still have the original boxset containing all three volumes of her life on my bookshelf now. In fact i might just read them again!

5.Firestarter by Stephen King
Due to the lack of YA available in my youth I started reading adult books I found on my parents shelves and Stephen King was one of my favourites. I love his writing, the characters come alive and leap off the page and they're always completely memorable. Firestarter was one of my favourites because it has a young girl in the lead role, her parents were part of a secret government experiment that gave them psychic powers and Charlie as a result ended up with a very powerful ability, she could start fires with her mind. Just writing that reminds me how completely cool it was!

6.Stranger With My Face by Lois Duncan
One of the very few authors  for teenagers around Lois Duncan had a fabulously creepy way of writing and this book kept me up at night, devouring each word and then being unable to sleep because I'd scared myself. The tale of identical twins separated at birth and how one girl learns the art of astral projection and takes over the life of her much luckier sister it was so thrilling to my young self I remembered it for years and finally got hold of a copy from ebay.

There are many more books I could list of course but these six give a flavour of what I was reading growing up and from here you can almost see how my taste developed. I'm now a huge fan of historical fiction, fantasy and YA and it's been a huge pleasure reliving all those memories once again. A great reminder of why books are fabulous and how amazing it must be to touch someone's life as those authors touched mine.
Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Not Going Out

 So, did I survive my critique?
 The simple answer is yes, I did.
 I spent fifteen minutes with an editor from Macmillan who basically liked my book.
 Yes, she liked it.
 The writing, the idea, the synopsis, she liked it all.
 There were no major plot holes, no glaring problems, nothing of the negative persuasion so we spent a bit of time discussing the use of certain words, what was suitable for my age range in terms of blood and violence and a little bit on the motivation of certain characters and the rough word count this type of book should aim for.
 It was a pleasant fifteen minutes and I left reasonably happy that I seemed to be on the right lines with this book.


 I had made the mistake of going out and jumping back into the whole arena of publishing after months of relative hermitlike behaviour where all I thought of was the writing and now the beast was back.
 The desire to get published.
 It's easy to keep it at bay when I stay at home and tap away at my keyboard, my mind full of character and plot. Easy to feel smug and say "No, it's the writing that I love,  I don't need to get published."
Going out and meeting editors, brought it all back and I must admit to a tiny meltdown afterwards as the longing for external validation returned big time.
 Luckily my friend Tania was with me to talk me back down from the ledge over pizza and wine (thank you Tania!) but I felt quite bad that night.
 I felt weak for wanting it so much, for not being able to keep that desire down and just focus on my craft.
What was wrong with me? Was I a bad person? Why couldn't I love my craft for craft's sake and not need the validation of publication?
My epiphany came a couple of days later when I realised that that passion was good. That longing would be the thing  that kept me going long after any normal person would give up. That desire to be published would make me slog on with my writing and submitting until I got somewhere.
If I could give up easily on my dream then maybe it wasn't really my dream?

But I do think it's important to keep control of  this desire, to want it and work quietly towards it rather than career about in desperation trying to achieve it any way possible. I know how easy it is for the wanting to take over everything and that is not a place I want to go to again.
 So I'm doing my best to stay focused, calm and patient.
 Good things will come.
I've also decided that the best way to manage it is to time my forays into the world of agents and publishers to when I'm ready to submit. While I'm writing I'm going to focus on that and when the writing is good enough then I will step into the arena once again.
So I'm off to hermitville for the next few months, I have a first draft to finish and some editing to do. I hope to come out and play in the autumn.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Highs and Lows

 Starting a new project is exciting. There's a spark and a buzz and the joy of creation. I watch the words fall onto the page, the voice emerge, the plot take shape and I'm full of hope.
This could be the one.
The project that finally works.
The book that someone loves.
The kick into the world of publishing.

When I'm in my bubble I love my work and my characters and my story.
It's a happy place. It is the cusp, the moment before anyone else reads it and points out all it's flaws.

Eventually of course, the bubble is burst and the reality sinks in.
Usually it's my lovely crit group that have the honour of ruining my life (Did I really tell them to be honest? Why??) but this time, with my very newest project I did something rather stupid.
Of course it seemed like a good idea at the time but really, sending out the first five pages and synopsis for a critique with a proper, real life editor?
What was I thinking?
Was I mad?
Well, unfortunately I must have been because that's exactly what I did and tomorrow night I have to go and hear the results face to face.

The Children's Book Circle run their Meet and Critique every year and last year I went for the first time and found it really useful. But then, last year I went with a completed manuscript and was ready to start revisions, this time I've submitted my work while still in it's infancy. While I'm still deeply attached to every word.

I usually submit work for crits after I've finished a first draft and when there's been a bit of distance. This allows me to take negative comments far more easily.

 I'm worried that having a professional opinion at such an early point could quite literally be devastating. If she hates it that could stop me in my creative tracks and plunge me into misery.
BUT, I guess I'm hoping that the editor will tell me, right now if the idea I've got is good enough and also show up any glaring problems in my synopsis. I'm hoping that she might be able to steer me in the right direction, inspire me and save me from months of work later on.

It could go either way.

It made me think about the difficulty of being an editor, I am in awe of their ability to look at a m.s and see where the strengths and weaknesses are but most of all, their skill in dealing with people.
It must be hard to give negative feedback and yet they have to do it probably every day and in a way that can be constructive and empowering.
I'm sure they must vary in their skills and some of it must depend on the relationship between author and editor and even between m.s and editor.

Personally I've had a few critiques now with editor and to be honest they've varied hugely. Some have been immensely helpful and I felt a real rapport with the editor, a couple have been a bit of a waste of time and I wished I'd saved the money!

Hopefully I will survive tomorrow, m.s unsavaged and creative spark still burning but who knows? Critiques are a tricky business but luckily I have arranged to go out for a drink afterwards so perhaps I'll be able to forget anything harsh after  a few pints of malibu and pineapple!

I will report back next week and let you know. (If I'm not in my pajamas, eating ice cream and watching Les Miserables of course!)

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

The Voice

 I've been watching The Voice recently and before you scoff may I just say that it was purely due to research (and my love of tacky talent shows of course - sssh, don't tell anyone).
 The fascinating part of the program is that despite all of the contestants being good singers, whether the judges turned round for them depended entirely on their personal taste. Some singers appealed to everyone, some to no one and others to one or two of the judges. The thing is that no matter how much skill you show, how much work you put in, how talented you are or how desperately you want it, the opinions of others are not yours to control. Of course this is true for all creative pursuits. Whether you sing, paint, dance,cook, draw or indeed, write, the opinion of others is always subjective.

 One of the things agents and publishers are always asking for is "Voice". They want a great voice, a distinctive voice, a strong voice but as far as I can tell Voice is one of the most subjective parts of writing and therefore one of the hardest things to do.
 I can understand entirely why they want it however because it's hugely important to me in my own reading. All my favourite books have a fantastic voice that grabs me and pulls me in and makes the character and their world entirely real.

 The Twilight series worked for me not because of the vampire/werewolf romance but because I loved Bella's voice.
 Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger games trilogy again had a marvelous voice that blended perfectly with the chilling world of Panam.
 Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner creates a stunning yet terrifying world with the simple, understated voice of Standish.

All of these examples are in a  first person narrative which is what I use and can be very hard to capture. I think it's one of the most difficult things we do as writers but while we all try to find a great voice that everyone likes, perhaps that's just not possible. Just as we all make snap judgments about people when we meet them, so do we when we read the first page of a book. It can be that quick - like/don't like. Read/ don't read. Sometimes of course it might be more of a - okay, give it a try, type of reaction but is that good enough?

 In my own writing I have found that voices can be a bit like Marmite.
 The ones that hate the voice will not want to read it at all, despite the great plot or strong characters which can feel harsh.
 But the ones that love it, really love it and sometimes enough to take a chance on it even if there are problems.

 But can we manufacture that? Can we sit down and decide on the perfect voice? Or is it a bit like magic? A voice that whispers in our ear, a vision from a dream, an idea like a bolt from the blue?
 Maybe, who knows?
 Finding the perfect voice can be just as hard as finding the person who will love it enough to take a chance.
 And yet we keep striving because you never know, maybe that voice or that person is just around the corner.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Fighting the Dragon

The fabulous Beverley Birth, successful author and long time editor for Hodder ran a workshop at theVerulam Writers Club Conference last month called "Fighting the dragon" which explored ways to ensure your book had enough tension and conflict to keep readers hooked. 

 Many children's stories don't have enough tension in them to grab readers by the throat and keep them turning the pages according to Beverey. She said the crux of your novel was in delivering the point of tension fast and then sustaining the action throughout.

 This needs to be done whatever type of book you're writing. If the conflict is internal it still needs to grab readers and take them on a journey. 

 She suggested asking yourself three questions about your m.s and answering them in one sentence.

1. What is the conflict?

2. What is the central theme?

3. What is the essential dilemma/choice?

 Beverley insisted that the core of your novel MUST be defined in order to shape the storytelling.

I found this exercise quite hard but it does force you to consider your book as a whole and think more deeply about what you're trying to achieve. It ties in with other advice that suggests we should  be able to describe our novel in one sentence, if we can't then perhaps there's a problem.

Beverley told us that choices were the heart of creating tension because the reader wants to know that the decision will be and what the character is going to do. We need to think about the possible consequences for our protagonists and make sure that they are strong enough to capture our audience. We must also ensure we look at everything through our characters eyes and note not just their reactions but the processing they go through.

Beverley ended her talk with three more questions-

1.Why do you think you are special?
Come up with three unique selling points.

2.Why would anyone pick my book? What's special about it?
Come up with three u.s.p's.

3.Are those u.s.p.s in my novel? Are they there on the first page and throughout the book?

I found Beverley's workshop very interesting and when chatting to her afterwards her enthusiasm for helping writers really shone through. 
 I hope you found these notes useful and you can make use of some of the points I've highlighted, I recommend you try and catch one of Beverley's talks if you can as they're very inspirational.

. 2013 will see Beverley stepping down from her fiction commissioning role
at Hodder Children’s Books to concentrate on her author life
and on mentoring new writers. She will be joining Imogen
Cooper’s Golden Egg Academy team, to help run workshops
and provide creative support for promising writers.
Golden Egg Academy or follow Golden Egg
Workshops for Children's Writers on Facebook.

Thursday, 2 May 2013


I'm afraid this post has been hijacked.
I was planning to tell you all about the workshop I went to with the fabulous Beverley Birch and pass on some of her words of wisdom.
I'm not going to do that now because my brain has been hijacked.
Yes, it's true.
There I was working hard finishing off my novel. I was very close to the end and looking forward to a break from writing for a few months and then bang!
An innocent comment sparked off an idea, the idea developed a voice and that voice refused to leave.
"Look, I'm a bit busy now," I said politely. "Come back later when I've finished this book."
But the voice wouldn't leave. It capered about in a diverting way and dragged my attention away from my novel.
 "Go away!" I said a bit more firmly now. "I can't talk now, I have to finish."
Still no joy. It fluttered about my head, sending out possibilities and ideas and worming it's way ever deeper.
Finally I realised I wouldn't be able to escape and found myself sitting at my laptop and opening a new file.
I was writing the first chapter.
Just the first chapter I thought and then I'd stop.
I didn't want to though. The voice dragged me deeper...what could happen next?
I was making notes then, fleshing out a story and about to embark on a new novel.

But, luckily for me I was reined in by my son.
I'd been reading him my current project and he'd been listening eagerly. When he realised I was thinking of not finishing it in favour of a new project he was furious.
I had to finish it or face his wrath.

So I did. I'm pleased to say that I managed to write the last few chapters and now I'm putting  the first draft away so I can start on the next one. My month of rest and relaxation has gone up the spout because I've been hijacked by a voice in my head. I'll be forced to write now, to find out what will happen to him, to find out the truth hidden in his past, to find a way to shut him up and get some peace.

Of course there are benefits to this method. Instead of fretting and worrying and rewriting my first draft before I'm ready, I can instead put it away easily and will be able to leave it there for a reasonable time.
Also, it's much easier to have crits and rejections on a work that you've emotionally cut off from, when you're still invested it's much harder.

And I'm hoping, of course, that this new voice that I couldn't resist will contain a story so special, so remarkable that not only will I not be able to help writing it but that others won't be able to stop reading it!

I'm  hoping I'm not the only one hearing these voices in my head,  do you manage to ignore them or do they take over your life? Let me know!

I'm hoping to resume normal service next week but no promises. I'll have to ask the voices first...

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

No Man is an Island

 And no writer should spend all their time alone. Every so often we should put down our laptops and enter out into the world in search of like minded people.
This is exactly what I did on Saturday when I headed off to the Verulam Writers Conference in St Albans with my lovely writerly friend Tania.

The Verulam Writers club is a long running writers club that holds a one day conference every year for the extremely reasonable price of £55 which includes lunch, refreshments AND a five minute pitch with a professional of your choice. For a further ten pounds you can also book a ten minute pitch where you can submit five pages in advance and then hear their feedback.

 The day offers a choice of workshops in a variety of genres but it focuses mainly on crime and childrens writing. (A strange combination but it seems to work!) and much like SCBWI it is organised entirely by volunteers. I had a workshop with the inspirational Beverley Birch on creating tension, one with Julie Mayhew (author of new YA book Red Ink) on finding your teen voice and another with Lesley Eames on beginnings. There was a very interesting panel on childrens writing with Beverley Birch, Julie Mayhew and Marianne Levy (author of the Ellie May books) with open question and answer time.

 The best part of the day was not the workshops or the pitches however but the sense of being surrounded by people just like me. And because of my recent epiphany (see my last post - Desperation Station) instead of being stressed and anxious and slightly desperate like I was at Winchester in November, this time I was relaxed and calm. I found it easy to talk to people, all the people, be it  author, agent or editor and I wasn't worried about networking and getting requests for my work. I just wanted to chat. The freedom was simply glorious and I left the day feeling positive and happy to be part of this great writing community.

Thanks to everyone who made the day so fabulous and to Tania who not only recommended the day but drove me there as well!!

 Come back next week where I will discuss what I learned from the marvelous Beverley Birch!


Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Desperation Station

Everybody off!

Final stop, Desperation Station!

Let's face it, it's not a good place to be. Desperation gives off a certain whiff and makes you behave a certain way. It affects everything that you do and colours your life in shades of panic and anguish. No one wants to visit you there and there's nothing to do but obsess and worry in a pit of wretchedness and self pity.

I never thought I'd end up here. Not really. Maybe, it was possible I'd get off at this stop after many years of trying to get published but somehow, I seem to have got off at this stop far too early.
I'm not sure why. When I first began I had no delusions, in fact I never thought I'd get anywhere at all but  my first book did surprisingly well, with agents requesting it and reading it and liking it and almost taking it on. When it eventually failed to find a home it seemed to spark off something of a panic.

 I needed an agent.
 I needed a book deal.
And I needed them now!

 But everything took so long - the writing, the editing, the revising and then the submissions and the waiting and the rejections and all of that before you got anywhere near a publisher or a deal. Worrying about the time factor only exacerbated the desire to get things moving and to push as hard as I could.

 Convinced that my second novel would be the one I worked like a dervish trying to finish it but despite spending a long time revising and editing I failed to address one of the key problems. It was a problem I'd been aware of all along but I thought I could maybe ignore it and no one would notice...
They did.
And the second book is still sitting on my laptop, homeless and unloved.

But, I went away and started my third book and discovered something I'd forgotten.

The love of creation. 
The pure joy of writing.
The sheer pleasure of words.

And because I took what I learned from my last two books and used it to plan and structure this book it's been a pleasure to write. Because I considered themes and ideas and motivations before I even started I feel that the book is more well rounded even at this first draft stage. Yes, it needs editing and revising but I don't think it will need the huge rewrites that I've had to do before. (Could be entirely wrong about that of course but here's hoping!)

The most interesting thing about writing the third book however is that the sense of desperation has left me. I'm writing for me in my own time and in my own way. I'm not trying to write for the market or to please anyone else and it's remarkably freeing.
 I'd still like an agent and a publisher of course, but I don't NEED one. I have no idea if this project has that special ingredient that will make someone want to publish it and that's okay.
I made it and it's mine and I love it. Creating every day makes me happy.
That is what I'm going to focus on now.

I will still go to events and workshops. I will read and work and do my best to improve but I'm going to do that for me,  I want the satisfaction of knowing I'm improving and growing as a writer. I want to have writing in my life but I don't NEED publication to make me happy and I refuse to let it define me. Published or unpublished I am a writer because I write. That is the lesson I've learned.

 So I'm leaving Desperation Station. I'm going somewhere new, somewhere that I can relax and create and enjoy my life. Hopefully others will come and visit me there...everyone's welcome!

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Harry Potter in a pot!

All seven Harry Potter books in one show?
All seven Harry Potter books in just 70 minutes?
It's not possible surely?
Well, actually it is because I saw the very thing just last night. My son and I went to the Garrick Theatre in the West End to watch Potted Potter and neither of us expected to enjoy it quite as much as we did. 

The whole show contains just two actors - Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner and a handful of props and silly hats. During the anarchic and extremely funny hour and ten minutes they weave in the Harry Potter stories with jokes, games, rants, dressing up, cuddly toys, more jokes, silliness, parody, fighting, dancing, even more jokes, audience participation, madness, mistakes, wigs, accents, sarcasm and song!

It was a true Tour de Force, the two actors were amazing at improvising and managed to enchant both children and adults with their non stop madness. I can't remember laughing so much at another show before and it was made even more enjoyable because I shared the whole thing with my son. He loved the whole madcap nature of the show and nearly fell off his seat several times he was laughing so hard!

Highlights included the interactive Quidditch game, the magic duel between Harry and Voldemort and the remarkable duet of "I will survive" which included the line - "as long as I have seven souls I know I'll stay alive!" but to be honest there is not a dull moment in the whole thing.

Out of all my Harry Potter experiences ( I've also been to the theme park in Florida and the UK Studio Tour) I have to say this one was actually my favourite. (Florida was amazing but with the queues and the crowds it was hard work too!)
 I think that's because the show felt as if real affection and fun had been used to create it rather than being just a moneymaking experience designed by marketing types. I really do recommend it whether you're a Potter fan or not, take your kids or go on your own, it's a super feel good show and might just remind you why you loved Harry in the first place!

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

The Beanstalk is back!

 Yes, it is true, Jack and the Beanstalk has had a face lift and been re-imagined as "Jack the Giantslayer" for the big screen. One of many Fairy tales now being used as fodder for movie makers - last year it was the turn of Snow White in "Snow White and the Huntsman, earlier this year it was Hansel and Gretel in "Hansel and Gretel - Witch Hunters". Still to come we have "Meleficent" next year with Angelina Jolie in the title role plus there's talk of Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast still to come.

 So, how did they do with Jack? Well, overall I quite enjoyed it. Ewan Magregor, Nicholas Hoult and Ian Macshane do a reasonable job of being charming and believable. The script is cohesive and amusing at times. The special effects Giants are suitable disgusting and monstrous although not very frightening.
 Some of the aspects have remained the same, a boy (well, he's eighteen), some beans and a land of Giants but they have deepened the backstory and added in a magic crown that can control the Giants. They've also padded out the story with a cliched "Princess who really wants adventure" who provides some love interest for Jack. Also added to the mix is an obvious villain who steals the magic crown so he can use the Giants to take over the Kingdom.

 I'd say it was aimed squarely at younger children,( unlike Snow White and Hansel and Gretel) and is a decent enough way to spend a couple of hours in the Easter Holidays but then again, you wouldn't miss much if you waited for the DVD version.

 So far I haven't been hugely impressed with the films produced from fairy tales (although I did love "Tangled" by Disney) despite the CGI that allows filmmakers to bring these stories to life, they tend to fall a little flat. Perhaps it's because Fairy tales are so deeply ingrained in our culture, in our childhood that they somehow lose their charm once taken off the page?
 Or is it because the film makers are trying to update and change what should remain a classic and this niggles at me?
  I'm not sure exactly but so far I haven't found a fairy tale film that compares to a fairy tale book. Not yet anyway...

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Write the book you want?

The most common advice I hear as a writer is to "write what you want to write."
Don't write to a formula.
Don't write for the market.
Don't write what you think agents and publishers might want.
Just write the book you want to write.

This is exactly what I've been doing and I'm on my third book now. I wrote what I wanted and didn't consider whether they were commercial or whether there was a market or any of that stuff. I wrote them because I was swept away by an idea and I wanted to find out what happened next.
What if what you want to write is not commercial or marketable or popular?
What if you don't have a killer concept or a breakout idea that's never been done?
What if the book you want to write is not the book an agent or publisher will want to take on?
What if you spend a year or more on an idea that will never sell?

Are we setting ourselves up for failure by assuming we can write what we want and be able to sell it? Should we be thinking about our work as more than just a way to express ourselves?

There seem to be more questions than answers in this blog post and that's because I'm afraid I don't really know the answer!

I think that what the advice really means is that only when we allow ourselves creative freedom will we ever write anything worthy of being published. Formulaic writing to try and cash in on the latest vampire craze or  dystopian mania will never ring as true as something we write from our heart.
I think that's true but I worry nonetheless.

What do you think?

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

I'm a secret wannabe writer

This blog post is confidential. If you reveal the contents I may have to hunt you down and give you a      stern telling off or, in extreme cases, a slap round the face with a wet kipper.

My secret identity as a wannabe writer is something I prefer to keep to myself.
Only a few, essential people know and only because I had to tell them.

1. My husband and son because
a) it would be rather hard to hide the fact I spend most of my time writing.
b) I need them to listen to my ideas and read my work.
and c) so I have excuses for not doing any housework and ignoring them shamefully whenever the creative urge strikes.

2. My two best friends because
a) they spent twenty years listening to me talk about wanting to be an author.
b) they spent twenty years telling me to stop being an idiot and start writing.
and c) I wanted to avoid being called an idiot for another twenty years if possible.

3. My mum because
a) she's my mum.
b) she spent many years telling me I could be whatever I wanted to be.
and c) so i could request occasional babysitting duties.

That's it. Only five people in my life know about my secret ambition. Why have I kept it such a secret?
 Well, it's always been something private, a deep, dark desire that I couldn't articulate for years for fear of being ridiculed. I've never felt comfortable talking about it and I didn't want to deal with other people's opinions.
I imagined they'd fall somewhere in between
"Ha, are you crazy? It's impossible to get published and there's no way you're talented enough. You should just give up now and save yourself the trouble."
"Have you been published yet? No? Why not?"
"Oh anyone can get published nowadays. I'm thinking of getting my epic half a million word biography of a dancing tulip published next week."

I knew it could take years to get published and I wanted to avoid being quizzed on my progress every week and feeling the weight of expectations and disappointment bearing down on me and making my own struggle even harder.
I decided I would wait to tell everyone else until I had something concrete to pass on. I looked forward to the conversation, imagining it would go something like:

"You want to be a writer? Are you mad?"
"Yes, probably but I've been perfecting my craft for a few years and I now have an agent and a three book publishing deal so nah nah na nah nah!"

I'm aware that that actual conversation may never happen. I may never get an agent or any publishing deal, let alone a three book one. Does that mean I never tell anyone else about my dream?
And is that so strange?
Surely many people keep their ambitions and dreams to themselves?
Don't they?
At least I've now admitted it to myself and set about trying to make it happen. That's real progress in my book!

Of course, since I began writing I've been lucky enough to join SCBWI, find a crit group and make a whole load of new friends, all of whom share my dream, all of whom understand exactly how hard it is to achieve, all of whom support me in so many ways. Having them know makes it all seem real and hearing about their successes makes it all seem possible.

Thank you!

P.s - this message will self destruct in 30 seconds......