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...