Tuesday, 12 November 2019

A Fresh Start

Things change, things move on. My publishing career seemed to be wandering off on a direction of its own, so I committed the possibly insane act of parting ways with my agent. A Shroud of Leaves came out in July and I'm well into my new book as well as sitting on several projects that have been waiting for their turn in the sun. I realised I need to get my focus back. One of the problems with having an agent is they don't have much time and they have lots of different authors and books to represent. A remark made in an email might get me rewriting the whole book - just to find for them it was just a passing idea. They are the experts but - here's the heresy - they don't know if anyone will buy the book either. But they know a lot more than I do, so I've been guided by them for years and they have been wonderfully supportive and helpful. But I need someone who has the time and energy to nudge me in the right direction.

It's my own fault in a way. They are trying to make books commercially successful and my priority has been to write a better book (rather than a saleable one) in the first place. Of course it would be lovely if it found loads of happy readers and maybe some money for me and my agents too. But my priority is to write the books. There is a pressure from publishers to create another book just like the last one, only more saleable and more dramatic.

I think I write too fast. A Baby's Bones and A Shroud of Leaves came out 15 months apart, during which time I wrote a whole different book and started another one. I also have two earlier books just sitting there, not able to do anything with them while we wait for the publishing process to run its course. It's driving me nuts, I'm a creative, I need to be working.

So I'm writing query letters and submissions for agents. But I need to chat to them face to face to see if they are up for the challenge. I'm very biddable, I will happily work on a book and edit it to fit a publisher's vision, I'm just rubbish at sitting on my hands. 

So, the Writers and Artists yearbook is out and the website for the Association of Authors' Agents is very helpful: http://www.agentsassoc.co.uk/members-directory/. Back to rejections and being ignored (why do we do this to ourselves?). And writing synopses and emails and counting 10, 30 and 50 pages and making them compelling and not end in a stupid place. Putting some in envelopes with stamped addressed envelopes and some in emails with or without attachments etc... Sigh. But the new book is over 40k words and flying down, wants to be written. New house is lovely and we have a new grandson, Wren.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

It's been a busy year

I've been terrible at blogging, mostly because I've been so busy. A Shroud of Leaves has been edited (several times) and many, many thanks to Cath Trechman at Titan for never saying 'do the whole thing again!'. Definitely a lot of work but I'm thrilled with the way it's turned out. 

It comes out on the 9th July 2019, which amazingly is just around the corner, and you can pre-order it here if you're so inclined. Where did spring go? 

Oh, yes, in a frenzy of packing and moving. We have sold the house in Northam and are now in the middle of selling the cottage in Appledore to buy (don't want to jinx it so I'll say it quietly) a lovely Georgian double fronted house up the road. With a proper study and spare room to park the youngest child when she's not having adventures at university and a 60ft walled garden which is literally my fantasy garden. It even has my most wishes for feature of enough room in the kitchen for a table and chairs.

Our two year old granddaughter will have something to say about the garden, no doubt, although the play house isn't safe to use. It may need to be replaced, Grandy... or Mangee as she calls him.

As a writer, things have changed quite subtly. After the sadness of Christmas with the loss of my father-in-law, I parted company with my lovely, kind agent. I think I felt too stretched and stressed to even care about writing at the time. Of course, when you take the pressure off the creativity flows back, I haven't stopped writing, but have had time to think what do I actually want to write? I love crime, I read loads of crime, but I'm not sure I want to stick to the formula of traditional crime books with red herrings and suspects. I'm more interested in solving the psychological mysteries around people's lives. I also write the historical stories in a quarter of the time so I think I might stretch into purely historical at some point. Meanwhile I have a stack of books ready to edit to hopefully find a publisher. Finding Noah is nearly complete, Sage 3 needs a better ending but is nearly there and The Asylum Sisters is finished and looking for a home. Meanwhile we're living in a cottage 8 feet wide with one bookcase. Hopefully, not for long! 

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Fresh start, new book

It's been a difficult couple of months. My father-in-law died in December and we organised his funeral. It was a privilege to arrange another creative's funeral, his coffin was decorated with some of his favourite cartoon characters. He drew some of them for a dozen years for children's comics in this country. I left a pile of pens on top of the coffin, people wrote messages of love and farewell, coloured in the drawings, even drew their own. A strange but lovely moment of remembrance and celebration. 

Meanwhile, I've been working on A Shroud of Leaves, trying to get the new edit to the same standard as A Baby's Bones and keep it in the same style. Not easy, I think writing evolves and moves on, it makes writing a series more complicated. It's getting there, but it;s been much harder work than I expected. My editor has had to work very hard too! I hope the next book I have to edit won't be so much work (for either me or an editor). 

It feels like a proper book now. I like the cover, it's got a similar creepiness to the other one without giving too much away. I imagined a brick house in the book though so I've changed it to stone in the text!

After running a novel in a  year course, I'm now working on an course looking at editing (very timely), at Barnstaple library. It should be fun, and great to be working on a few books that were written in that year. 

Thursday, 29 November 2018

A regular blogger - no, wait

I used to be a regular blogger. I always had something to say about writing, the books I was reading and writing, the struggle I was going through to write better stores and better prose. But this year especially, one big real life story has got in the way. I'm watching my father in law die very slowly. He's a creative himself, he used to draw for children's comics as well as draw cartoons for publications like newspapers and magazines like the Radio Times. 

This is the cover of the book he wrote (with my help) about his life in cartooning. He drew it off the cuff at the age of 80 something. He drew for Whizzer and Chips (my favourite), Dandy, Beano, Pow! and Buster amongst many others for forty years.
His life is drawing to a close so slowly you can see all the different phases. He started with losing his appetite for food and especially drink, and has progressed though to now, when he just sleep, wakes for a few minutes, drops off again. He's not in pain, thanks to the doctor, but he's not comfortable either. He's not accepting of death, but he wants this stage over. 

What keeps running through my mind is how much nicer it would have been to have these last six weeks ten years ago, when he came to stay at our house with his wife, and we had so much fun. Or five years before that when he bought a box of toy guns that fired foam disks and had running battles with all the kids around his bungalow,or when he played badminton with them in the garden. It has made me quite anxious about our own deaths, and has raised issues around the level of care that most cancer patients are offered compared to non-cancer patients. I'm not in favour of euthanasia as such although I understand the case for assisted suicide and think it might help some families. I am in favour of palliative care being much more used in the community. Having an 'end of life' care pack in a residential home is useless if the staff can't touch the contents without calling the doctor. If we were looking after him at home we would have access to powerful pain relief, the district nurses and syringe drivers. But it's all down to funding and allocating scarce resources, it makes me so sad that one old man was left in pain over the weekend.because care staff didn't know what to do, we didn't know who to turn to.

So I am writing and thinking about books and getting published but this is what's happening in our lives. A small, expected but painful emotional bomb is about to go off and it's been hissing and fizzing for six weeks.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

It seems like a very long year.

It has been a very busy year. A Baby's Bones came out to a good reception, which was great. I wrote Finding Noah, which I am editing right now, and completely rewrote A Shroud of Leaves (the sequel to A Baby's Bones). Which all sound very productive except the whole year has been taken up with other things, with writing side-lined to odd moments and days when I could sneak off to the computer. There have been a lot of promotion events from library talks to festival events, all of them different and interesting. I've taught workshops, read manuscripts for people and worked on next year's book idea. 

But it's felt like it was all too much, too complicated and difficult because real life was so emotional and complex. My father-in-law from my first marriage reached his mid eighties, had a heart attack and died, bang, there in the bathroom. His son, my husband, suffered a haemorrhage caused by unsuspected leukaemia, and died. Light out, gone, and much missed at the age of 33. My second husband's parents haven't been so lucky. They are wrestling with dementia, struggling to remember who they are and understand what's happening around them. My father-in-law has been devastated by Parkinson's, the disease which he shrugged off for many years but has suddenly combined with three strokes to limit his mobility, even his speaking and drinking. This year they had to give up their home and their independence. They are living through the moment of dying in slow motion, and it's cruel to see. It's a sadness at the back of every moment of our days. I visited my mother in law yesterday and she genuinely didn't know who I was or even if she knew me, that was hard. It took her a few minutes to download the file that is me, now relegated to 'that lovely girl's mother'. She clings to fragments of memory of the grandchildren and the baby, she remembers men better than women. But a woman who can't physically care for herself is fighting to remember who she is now even the distant memories are out of reach. Her main concern is 'Can I stay here?' and 'Where's my husband?'. He's on another floor, fighting off a chest infection. It feels like just writing their year down would be the most awful drama. 

Other transitions had to be weathered too - our youngest child went off to university. That left us looking at each other with nothing to talk about except selling the in-laws' bungalow, getting the care home right, transitioning their medical and social care to a new town. At first we couldn't even get their tablets transferred, let alone the funding they were entitled to. The house is empty and quiet or filled with talk of illness and work, and my husband has taken every opportunity to get out of it to play music.  

So, I haven't blogged because it would all seem so sad. Now, it's out there, I've vented, and can get back to writing about writing. Because there's a lot to say, it's a steep learning curve even now, with five books written and more to work on. Each editor teaches me a new focus to work on, highlights a new skill. I feel like my editing has come on more than my writing, which comes easier with each book. The gap between my first draft and anything publishable, however, gapes ever wider... My next blog will be more hopeful.

Friday, 10 August 2018

Hacking the book apart and putting it back together

It's been a really interesting week. I've been waiting for feedback from my new editor on the sequel to A Baby's Bones. I was very nervous. It's the first time I've tried to write from a detailed plan and it was incredibly uphill for me. The book felt muddled and overly complicated but I just didn't know where to start with structural edits. 

Fortunately, she did. She was kind but honest - using lots of words like 'it's difficult to see' and 'I wonder if' she basically reworked the whole thing, turned it gently upside down until all the complications and distractions fell out and voila! What looks like a proper crime story just needing to be substantially rewritten. Which is easily done, because most of the strands don't rely one each other (red flag right there) and pulling one out doesn't unravel the whole.  

She also liked the historical strand from the get go and it doesn't need as much work so, just 60k words to sort out. I knew it wasn't right, it seemed overlong for an early draft. I have pages of helpful notes to work through.

It occurs to me that as a writer, one of the things we need to learn is to take criticism in the spirit it was given. I used to find it so hard, I nearly ducked out of my first writing course because the honest (and amazingly helpful!) feedback was so painful. I've just helped someone self publish their book. It's a good read but honestly, it would be ten times better with a structural edit, a good copy edit and some proofreading. But they can't cope with even the smallest suggestion of a change word let alone a big chunk of story. 

My editor suggested taking out two characters, two subplots and about 15k words and I was very happy to hear it. I'm quite proud of myself, really, I've come a long way from crying over a few adjectives and a moderate mark! 

The other thing some writers struggle with is positive feedback. She liked the historical strand and I'm taking that at face value. It works. No doubt it will work even better with a  thorough rewrite. I'm learning not to go all bashful and self critical when someone likes something. I think it's a skill we don't learn early enough. 

Monday, 30 July 2018

Meeting new writers

I've been very happy and very impressed to spend the last couple of months enjoying other people's writing. I met someone in Penzance whose poetry is lyrically beautiful, a fellow writer in Barnstaple has just self published her first book which is well worth a read (when she goes public).  I've heard first draft writing in workshops that show so much promise, I feel drunk on good words. 

I'm looking forward to running a workshop in Taunton (21st September at the Brewhouse) and after that settling into a year's course at Barnstaple Library (Write a Better Book). I meet so many authors who write a book (kudos to them, it's quite a slog!) but then rush to self publish before they consider traditional routes. I hear a lot of 'Oh, the agent turned me down' but not many stay the course, take a professional approach to it. Your book has to attract an agent, it has to be so engaging they fall in love with it enough to work with you (unpaid) and then put it into the world to earn some money for you.

If you can't get an agent or publisher, I would ask:
  • Is the book as brilliant and polished as you can make it?
  • Is it right for the genre/audience?
  • Are you really trying every avenue i.e. all relevant agents, all publishers who take submissions?
  • Is your work of prize-worthy quality? (Even getting on a longlist says it's getting there).
  • Primarily, though, is it actually good enough?
I'm not dissing self publishing, sometimes it's the best option, especially if you have a professional approach to selling your own work and are prepared to do the promotion yourself. I presently have a novella that I think will need to be self published just because of the length. But getting commercially published confirms that you're on the right track.

Of course, that doesn't guarantee the elusive best seller... Back to those intoxicating words. There's some bloody brilliant writers in the West Country...