Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Depression and writing

It's hard to say you have depression when you're very peripherally related to an industry like publishing. I have always felt that you, as a writer, have to be ready to say, brightly and enthusiastically, 'Of course I can do that line edit in six days! Complete rewrite, sure, two weeks? No problem.'

To an outsider, it might seem that the writer is CENTRAL to the publishing process, but that's not how it feels. So much work goes into turning an idea (a well written 100k book is still essentially just an idea) into a product. Experts are considering how your book will read, how it will affect the reader throughout the read, what comparisons can be made and how to position your book in a busy market. Sending the book to an agent is step one - they have to sell it to editors. They know what they want, what they have bought or read before (I've had a book turned down because it was too similar to something that was coming out). All this is invisible to most writers. 

Well, I do suffer from depression and unfortunately, I haven't had much benefit from modern antidepressants. So, it's a long slog back to the light each time. It doesn't stop me being imaginative or creative, it makes concentration harder, the words flow slowly and worst of all, it undercuts my confidence. I look at today's words and all the old fears come flooding back. Is it all a pile of steaming crap?  

Well, obviously it IS, it's first draft, from which I will grow better drafts, whole chapters and books and series. But it's hard to see that while you're just wishing you could sleep (without nightmares), walk into the village (without panic attacks) and look forward to a brighter day. Good days and hours are coming, but the bad days are hard. I just fantasise about those lovely safe asylums, where you can sit in the corner in your pyjamas and rock... In the real world, I'm gathering the happy days to me to keep warm. The weekend with both grandchildren and the birthday my husband was told he would never see, the research for future books coming together, the art course and camping trips ahead, all happy moments. But writing has definitely lost its ability to heal me. 

If I have to pretend I'm not depressed, I don't care if I don't sell another book to a big commercial publisher. I think I would need to be in a better place than I am now, certainly, to cope with the pressure. I feel like I'm transitioning to seeing writing books in a completely different way...

Meanwhile, I've been reading a book a day. The Binding by Bridget Collins was great, unashamedly fantasy but completely accessible to people who won't read fantasy. A historical story with lovers torn apart, trying to find each other. Heartwarming story, real tension, great writing. I thought it was a bit like The Night Circus and maybe a bit better ending.

The Binding Bridget Collins

Friday, 6 December 2019

At the mercy of unknown agents

I know I was lucky. I got placed in a big writing competition and found an agent all without having to query one. But six years on, I need a new agent and a chance to get the other books I have written in the last five years that haven't been published, out there. So I did what was recommended and sent out to a whole batch of very professional agents - and one asked for the whole MS. Three more said thanks, but no thanks. One asked for anything else I had for consideration. I knew The Asylum Sisters would be a challenge, but I wanted to give it one more chance. I'll go out with Finding Noah next month. I've still got other books so I can keep going BUT... As my books have changed, have I moved from saleable to more niche and less commercial? Who knows? That's why a writer needs an agent. The hardest thing is the rejection. They look at what you wrote and - no thanks. It's hard on the confidence. Meanwhile, I have FOUR books to sell and more stories to finish. 

Anyway, the new book rolls on. It's so hard to get into the head of someone who doesn't think like non-psychopaths. My character enjoys the challenge of taking on the establishment, he doesn't actually like hurting people. He doesn't care that much though... I'm rationing the time I spend with him and concentrating on my grandchildren (plural - how lovely is that?). One is a month old, one is just three years old today. Fantastic. We're doing our pre-Christmas get together, just the kids and their people, to celebrate Lily's birthday, get a bit of Solstice cheer going on. Another excuse not to write this weekend.

We're also loving being settled in our new house. I haven't felt at home since we left Pinehurst with its hot and cold running badgers and precipitous drive. I don't miss being so isolated, though, Appledore is a wonderfully welcoming community. And when my neighbour's security light went off in the middle of the night, waking me, it turned out to be a fat, grey badger. 
Old house

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.