Saturday, 31 March 2012

A-Z of blogging about writing.

Having a focus to think (and write) about writing has been very therapeutic. I'm wrestling with motivation, being in limbo with the book away - it's been like sending one of the children to camp, you can't quite settle to anything until you are sure they are OK! What I should be doing is getting on with other projects, which I am starting to do. Borrowed Time 2 (my name for the new BT book, even though BT is going to be called something else, apparently) is coming on and I'm enjoying exploring the house and garden, especially as it's all so spooky. I've also written another poem for the collection and am playing with that.

Meanwhile, the A-Z forces a blogger to settle on a topic. So far I've come up with posts on:
  • A is for Agent (predictably, I still can't get over it)
  • B is for Blogging
  • C is for Competitions
  • D Is for Deadlines
  • E is for Editing
  • F is for Fear (of failure, of success)
  • G is for Good writing
  • H is for Hope
  • I is for Imagination
Meanwhile, real life goes on: the kids are mostly home, visitors coming and going, the garden crying out for attention after the winter, and the house is still unfinished. Our horrid shower room is going to be stripped out to the plasterboard and re-tiled, re-plumbed and hopefully won't smell like a boys' locker room. This weekend, the boys have finished off the herb garden with some landscape fabric and bark. It's more of an azalea garden, really!

I'm strangely melancholic, it's been a busy few months and the anniversaries and birthdays of our loved ones sneak up on me now and then. My first baby, Robin, was stillborn thirty years ago. I made it to 29 weeks but he died before they could get him out. It still hurts, I was twenty-one years old. I've written a few bits about him and the experience, mostly poetry, and the trigger for the emotion, bizarrely, is daffodils. Ouch.   

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Now I have to be patient

I'm not a patient person. Now the book is off with the agent, I have to sit tight and see what she thinks. I like to have things to be getting on with, so I've had a little play with book 2. My biggest problem is the third POV character - is a garden. I'm not sure I can pull this off, but here's my very first draft (complete with typos, probably) of the first scene from the garden's POV.
The garden waits. It has forgotten what it waits for, and guards against, but it waits and guards anyway. It twitches out a few lime green nettle shoots, and brambles clench, searching for unwary rabbits.
Paths wind between shrubs with names like ‘Bottle Top Silverleaf’ and ‘Serpent Bush’ (variety argentia x ballistica), many unknown to modern science. A lone rhododendron has been harried into the shadow of the wall, ostracised by the native plants, its branches defending itself against attacks by blackthorn and a spiteful Pyracanthus. 
Apple and plum trees tease local children with fat fruit, hanging just out of reach over the wall, as if tempting them to try their footing between the shamble of stones. They always fall. Once, many seasons ago, a child died when the slab of limestone atop the wall slid after his tumbling body, and crushed his skull. Now the fruit goes unpicked, prey only to the crows, who grow fat and unmolested around the house, nesting between the chimneys, hiding behind its shattered windows.
And everywhere, the Elders, children of the great Elder mother, bang in the middle of the acre garden, defended on all sides by her progeny, shedding fat, black tears every autumn for the loss of the Witch.
It was easy to move Jack and Sadie up there, and their voices are much clearer now I know them so well. Taking characters from one book into another is new for me, and I like the familiarity, and it helps me develop the main character (MC). My biggest problem with first drafts is the MC is often a bit shadowy compared to everyone else. This time Jack is easy to write, I'm 2000 words in today. Hopefully, the tension of waiting will spur me on to write more!  

Monday, 26 March 2012

It's gone!

Having spent a few weeks working on the book, the last edits were tweaked this morning, and it's off. I could fiddle with it for the rest of my life, but I can't see the silly mistakes, so I'm happy to send if off for someone else to wince over them.
Now I'm at a loose end. I've got to find something to do that doesn't take too long (I'll have to get back to the edits when the manuscript returns) and whittles down the long list of things I want to do - and work on AA100. I'm a long way behind there, partly because I got a terrible grade for TMA01. I know it was my first arts essay, but still - ouch. I had to throw my notes in with so little editing I even got pulled up for my writing (oh, the shame!). 

So here's my provisional list:

Put A Baby's Bones in for the Yeovil competition in May.
Finish the poetry collection for June.
Rewrite Marley and the Crow for September.
Sketch out Borrowed Time 2 in case I get some interest in Borrowed Time.
Finish my A-Z blog posts.

Sadly, I spend a lot of time not doing any of them because I can't choose. Magic mouse time (shuts eyes, winds it around cyberpaper with 5 numbers on...) BT 2 it is.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Holding the whole book in my head

This is the point I haven't quite reached before - I have both strands in my head, letting them overlap and touch where they need to, and they are much stronger at the end. The agent suggested a few (major) edits, one of which was bringing the main historical antagonist forward, and the other was adding some violins to the big emotional scenes at the end. In October, I was under a lot of pressure to complete the book, and I threw a few brief scenes together so now I'm writing them in full.

The most flattering thing she said about the book, was that she cried at the end. So a few more violins for the other chapters, and I've written six more historical chapters, put epigraphs at the beginning of each historical chapter, tidied and sorted and worked on the prose - but repetitions still catch me out. This is one of my favourites, discovered today:
The house was a mess, a bottle of vodka open in the living room, papers all over the room. Photographs of Sadie covered every inch of the windowsill of the living room, with vases that scented the room with the bitterness of decaying flowers.  
 What was I thinking? There's loads more of those to go through, and I don't see them, although I do hear them. So I have to read out loud, to some willing victim (because I skip over it and read what I meant to say otherwise) to recognise where I've gone horribly wrong. I feel guilty about printing off so many pages but it seems to be the only way, reading with a few coloured pens in my hand.

I need to go through the second half of the book, now, ready to send it off to the agent's line editing. Then more edits... At least I will have a bit of time to breathe and work on the next book(s) and get back to Sage. The next Borrowed Time is writing itself in my head, which is lovely, but not at 4a.m. 

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Finishing the book

I've been away, I now have parents visiting, but I am trying to finish the last edits and additions to the book. I have 100,000 words, a proper plot, mostly well paced, well written prose (except the new chapters which need tidying up) and I have one short scene to finish and one to write. It's a relief, because I don't think I have ever got this far - written and rewritten a book to this standard, and it's a lot better than the book I put in for the competition! I haven't so much stuck to the simple list of edits as reorganised the book better, and balanced up the historical strand. It's now about 45% of the book, and as the other strand hots up, so does this one.

My aim for the MA was to produce a book to even, ready for submission-to-agent standard. It seems strange, even counter productive, to sit down and work on the rationale and the first 20k of the book for the dissertation! I will get down to it soon, once I've sent the book off for line editing, and got that back. Lovely stuff.

Meanwhile, because we live in a lovely place, and the wildlife tends to intrude on my concentration, I stopped to watch a peregrine falcon feeding on a wood pigeon, four feet from the window. I've seen them shoot past, occasionally snatching a sparrow out of the tree by the front door, but this one pigged out on fresh pigeon until it could barely take off.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Looking back over the journey to publication

Back on the 28th July 2009, I started this blog. I had no idea what I was doing, nor why I was doing it, but I felt like I should diarise - for myself - my progress into a new area. I came to the title, and chose Witchway, because it was the name of my parents' old boat, and then I had to come up with  a description.

A Writer's Journey to Publication. I worked on that for a long time. It seemed (it still does) hugely optimistic but I was trying to be positive. My aim at the time was to get one short story or a poem out there in print. On good days, I dared dream I would push a novel out there, but it feels like a pipe dream. Everywhere, in writers' magazines and journals, on the internet, on writing courses, we hear how impossible it is to get published. Not difficult, impossible. We are bombarded with negative messages, and yes, I do try to be positive, but it sinks in by osmosis.

One message I get from hearing novelists, especially new novelists at writing events, is that it does happen, it can happen. Providing the book is really, really good. I can't work on impossible but I can work on making my books really really good. Maybe they will never achieve that, or maybe the right person will just never see them, but I am a writer, and I continue to work towards publication, however unlikely that seems.

Today I have reorganised 74 chapters of my book, sketched out two new chapters, tidied up the beginning and written out a comprehensive list of edits, which I am working through. It may all be for nothing, but I am compelled to write anyway, so I may as well work on the first of those reallys. 

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

The messy bit - the book in pieces!

I hope this is going to work! The book is now divided into scenes, and these have been reordered into a more even spread of the two strands. I'm also working on trying to end each chapter on some tension, a bit of a cliff hanger (ish). At the moment, it's an almighty mess and is a huge heap of paper covered in coloured scribbles.
One advantage is that I'm seeing the story afresh, as different moods are created by each new chapter. The downside is that I seem to have gone from 48 quite chunky chapters to 72 little ones, and am acquiring what I think will be another ten or so thousand words. Here I'm getting a bit nervous, because my reading has suggested not going too far over 100k. I am looking at it afresh, which has the effect of liking it more! Plus, when I went for the competition at Mslexia, I threw the last historical chapters together and sidestepped how the good guys got away from the bad guys by adding a quick epilogue.
The countess, I hear, is fat with chylde, and her husband is back at the Turkish front. Of Zsófia, there are just rumours. Her bodie was left in the forest, covered in bites, drayned of blood. Or, she lives as a pale shadow, opening her vayns for her mistresses to suckle.
I have no paper left to explayn how we escaped the clutches of the Inquisition, and made our way to Vienna, to meet up with our tearful wives. It is an adventure in ittself, and when I am seated in a quiet room in England, with a well trimmed pen and fresh vellum, I will tell the storie.
What a cheap cop out! Now I have a few fabulous scenes to play with it will be a lot easier to balance the story up with the two strands both having action scenes to resolve them properly. I'm adding a short extract of Kelley's memoirs to each chapter, that tell bits of the backstory and show us the strange culture of 1580's Europe. In this country we grow up thinking everywhere's a bit the same us Britain, with our 'Elizabethan England' but the rest of the Latin speaking world was much more dynamic and interesting than Britain's relative stability. It also shows (hopefully) Kelley's egocentric, rather cowardly character which makes him more of an everyman than the high minded Dee. I wonder what the agent will think though?

Monday, 12 March 2012

Hissy fit over - back to editing

Thanks to the wise words of the kind commentators, I have got on with the edits. There's a lot more work that I thought, but I think I have a handle on it. More of the historical strand is great fun, even if hard work, because at one time I was discouraged from writing it! Now I'm sorting a pile of coloured cards (scenes from the two strands) I can see that most of the pink ones - from 1585 - are at the front of the book, and need to be seeded through more evenly. Also, the agent loved the references to Elizabeth Bathory, and wants her to feature more strongly. It is hard making changes but I was lost as to how to finish the book, and now I am looking at each component carefully, even if I don't completely agree with every detail.

The problem is, I have tried to link one scene with the next, as they cross from the main strands. Losing those links means creating new connections and identifying the old ones so I can remove them. I've spent six hours at my desk and all I seem to have created is pretty patterns with lots of pink and green cards, and a muddled storyline on the computer. Hopefully I'll be able to unravel them tomorrow! I've set myself the deadline of next Wednesday - perfectly reasonable normally, but I'm going to be away on the Island catching up with friends and family, then we've got house guests (though very supportive ones!). It's going to be hard finding the time so I'm going to blitz it tomorrow and Wed before we pack up to go away. I can see I'm going to be glued to the laptop every evening!  

Meanwhile, I'm loving the research into a strange paraphilia which makes women into serial killers...fascinating.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Paper Cuts

I have a list of edits to do. Some (manageable, mostly small) were discussed with the agent. New ones were emailed over once she had read the book again. Ah. BIG changes. My immediate reaction was predictable but surprisingly painful.

I know the book is flawed, I've said it enough here, but a couple of her suggestions - which is how they are posed - just don't sit right with my vision of the book. The main problem is that she would like to put the bad guy - well, girl - front and centre, and I have slowly introduced her. I've managed to advance her introduction to the first scene, and boost her appearance throughout. I think the agent is right, she's thinly written, I think I was trying to keep her mysterious, but as a reader once I'm curious about a character, I want more information. Damn, I've just agreed with her again...

How do we let go of our stories? My niece has just had a baby, and she suggested writing a book was a bit similar. It takes ages, you bring it painfully and with a lot of effort out of yourself, and it's yours. Then someone else wants to substantially change it?

Here's my thinking. I want to be the kind of client who trusts that the agent has far superior knowledge of what  editors are looking for, and takes advice. I want to do a good job producing a manuscript that will go far, and deliver a good read.

I also want to be true to myself, true to the work, and retain some small certainty that the book works. After all, I am the writer.

So far I've changed seventeen things, some small, some whole chapters. I've decided not to completely change two ideas, doing my best to find a compromise. One thing I know I can't do unless I rewrite two thirds of the book and lose the main focus. I hope I'm doing the right thing but it is my baby! What would you do? 

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Meeting an agent

The agent is young, warm and friendly. She met me at Paddington, then we claimed a corner of a Brasserie, ordered high tea, and spent two hours talking about my book. I explained Borrowed Time wasn't a project I had really had confidence in, and she said, 'that's OK because I have confidence in it'. She knew the characters, told me what she liked and where I could improve it, and with a few simple strokes, laid out how I should develop it. She loved all the historical strand (which I have had criticisms about) and wants me to put more emotion into the rather hastily sketched ending. She was pleased that I had another project in hand and interested in the next book in a series involving the characters in Borrowed Time. There is one other thing she was quite certain of. I can't call it Borrowed Time.

As I went home, I started to think about what to call it, exactly, because I liked the name. I have always envisaged one of my characters, Pierce, looking like Phil Davis, the actor. He has just played a character in a film called - guess what? Borrowed Time. Well, I got the character looking right, anyway! New name, coming up. Everything else she said is also spot on, I've already made some of the same changes she suggested.

She asked about my life, and I found myself chattering away, swapping kid stories and house stories, and even talked about other clients and their books. I came away with an agent, a warm hug, a feeling that we were going in the right direction and very positive messages about publication. I haven't written a genre novel at all, I was told, but an intelligent read for reading groups.

It was all easy, because as many clever people have said, she already liked the book. Those manuscripts of the Mslexia shortlisted books got mulled over and read by a lot of experienced publishing people, editors as well and agents. After everything I've read about how hard it is to get an agent (and it is) I had a great experience. I will now settle down to getting the book ready for my agent to pitch my book at the London Book Fair. Wow.  

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

I have an agent!

I'm too tired to blog properly but here's a quick summary:-
  • Paddington is bloody miles from Ilfracombe (225), but adrenaline (and £200 in train fares for 2 adults!) got me there
  • The agent was lovely and loved my book! More than I love my book! Someone has read and enjoyed my book (I'm sorry to go on, but this is the most exciting thing to me)
  • She suggested broad and simple edits that will take me a day or two
  • Promised me more feedback next week
  • Bought me a nice afternoon tea and swapped war stories about life in general
  • Told me she was now my agent
  • Then she came and met Russ who was hanging about waiting for me, and was still lovely.
  • She has ideas about how to sell my book!?!
I am home after 12 hours - 3 in the car, 5 on a train - and am very, very excited and relieved and thrilled that someone else likes my book!

Tuesday, 6 March 2012


I'm nervous about the meeting tomorrow. I know why I'm nervous (don't know the person, don't know what to expect, major opportunity to be gained or lost) but I can't seem to get past it. This is going to sound very silly BUT I don't know what to wear.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I don't care what I wear normally. I find something comfortable and buy half a dozen of them wear them all year. Sorted. Summer? Lose the vest and jumper. Winter? Extra vest and jumper. I only wear trainers because I have ridiculously wide feet ands I hate being uncomfortable. I went to the hairdresser - before we moved off the Island 5 years ago. I really don't care what I wear.

But now, I feel like I need to dress 'for work', since writing is my new job. My few remaining 'work clothes' are for a job either in lecturing or in psychology. Do I turn up looking like a therapist or a lecturer, or do I dress like I normally do? I have a feeling making an effort would be a good thing, because agents are the mediators between the creative process of writing a version of the book, and the end point of hopefully selling a book to a publisher. Publisher = business, ergo, maybe I should dress for business? But then, I would I be representing myself as a writer, because I hate all that suity/smart/ironed stuff.

So, will dressing up make me feel more like a potentially saleable author, or will I just be self-conscious? I know I'm rambling, but I'm really nervous, and I don't get like this very often. I know I'm just focusing on one aspect of the meeting to avoid the actual fear of rejection (I hate analysing myself) but there you go. I'm going to feel so stupid tomorrow, on the train home.

Instead, I'm going to focus on the books. I've got a synopsis of A Baby's Bones and Borrowed Time 2, as well as my willingness to be guided and shown how I can improve Borrowed Time. That's what matters, right?

Monday, 5 March 2012

Drafts, redrafts.

I've found myself at the one third point of the novel, and, for a change, I've been redrafting as I go. This makes the process seem very slow because normally I throw myself at the project, miss sleep, wear myself out etc. This year, partly because my back is so bad, I'm slowing down and doing more of the editing. I'm taking loads of people's advice, and having a go at planning (which I do my analysing what I've written and plotting out the strands that have crept in). I hate dead ends in a story, and I seem to create loads. Having found strange welts on the suspected antagonist, I was very surprised to find she is covering for her daughter. In fact, the kid has been creepily upbeat throughout (why didn't I see that coming?) so I spent the morning planting little plot seeds.

My back means I can only type in a stupid position, which is stressing my shoulder and wrists, so I'm trying to vary the strain by moving around a bit more. The back is sore, but everything else is a lot happier. I have TMA1 to do this week, but can't settle to it. I think I'm trying to write an MA answer to an undergraduate level 1 course question. Maybe I should relax a bit! 

The house is being sorted at light speed (it feels). Two new carpets down, two rooms furnished and the electrics replaced, windows covered, furniture moved. Every time one of the kids changes rooms, about a thousand books, DVDs and CDs goes with them. I think this is a displacement activity for me, before I go to London to meet the agent. I suspect I will come home on Wednesday, and fall in a  heap, whatever the outcome. At least I have a choice of freshly painted, newly furnished rooms to fall into.  

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Boasting Over - Back to Work

Actually, that's the transition I have to make, to work. Writing used to be a major part of my job. You may have come across my leaflets: What to do when Someone Dies? and my favourite, Living with an Indwelling Catheter. Alternatively, I wrote handouts - seemingly thousands of them. I realised a few years ago I was turning out 150-200k words a year just for work, then about the same in my hobby writing. Last year I wrote almost half a million words, some of them here. That's a whole book, half a new one, a children's book, twenty odd poems and a blog. The hour a day spent tapping on the computer has progressed through the MA to 5+ hours a day writing, editing, or sketching out scenes or poetry. Add a couple of hours research and reading, and I've got a work day. The problem is, because I've been thinking of it as 'hobby writing' I haven't taken proper time off, which is why I keep getting repetitive strain injuries.

I need to think of it as a job, like I did during the MA. I had strict deadlines (assignments), strict word counts, and five days a week completely alone, from 8.30am to 6pm. This novel/agent thing has suggested to me that I need someone to give me deadlines and set me challenges, and that will help me get something of a work mindset.

The Mslexia competitions for poetry collections and children's novel are very inviting, especially as I have so much ready from the MA. Looks good!

Friday, 2 March 2012

It's official - I'm a runner up

I can't say I have done any work today, because I keep having to upload the Mslexia novel competition page to prove to myself - again - that it wasn't a mistake and Rebecca Allison's Borrowed Wine wasn't actually the runner up. (Apologies to Ms Allison's and her fine book, if in fact she exists, and worse, if she entered the competition with Borrowed Wine. But if she checks the relevant page, she will see it was me and my book that was shortlisted!)

I am now on a complete high and can't wait for my copy of the magazine, so I can carry it around with me and show people at bus queues and DIY shops. Can I suggest that if you shop at Tesco, Ilfracombe, that you might avoid certain evenings for the next few weeks.

I also noticed the children's novel competition slipped in underneath the big announcement. Last year I wrote a kids' book called Marley and the Crow, and it did have some problems (mostly that all the characters except the central one were strongly written) and I think I can fix them by September. Worth a try! I have entries ready for the poetry competition, but I notice Mslexia are introducing a collection competition as well, so there's a thought. I have a whole sequence of a dozen poems about my sister already... but novels have to come first. For me, poetry not only improves my precision of choice of words, but keeps my imagination awake. The downside is, I seem to use completely opposite sides of the brain to do them: I'm either writing poetry or prose and take a few days to change gear. Maybe I should set aside a week's holiday from fiction to concentrate on poetry.   

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Planting seeds

I find February to be a good time to sit down and look at seed catalogues, plan the garden, so I can plant them in March. This year, the seeds I am selecting seem to be more in my writing life, and in relation to work.

Since giving up the proper job - an amazing 5 years ago - I have found it hard to see writing as anything other than a hobby,  and I have felt a bit guilty putting it ahead of the kids. Five years ago we had a dilapidated old house, two houses worth of stuff to find home for and two families worth of kids to shoehorn in. Our relationship was still quite new, and I had been used to being a working, single mother and he had been used to being a very full-time working Dad with a stay at home wife. Taking over that role - however willingly - made writing so sidelined I just felt guilty even sneaking off for an hour in the evening. After all, I wasn't a writer, I wasn't published.

That distinction seems daft now.Of course I'm a writer. Even back then, sneaking off for an hour or two still resulted in 150-200k words of fiction and poetry being written. Doing the MA, taking the time to prioritise writing so highly I put it above my family a lot of the time, made it feel more important. Writers don't have to be published to be writers, but it's something to aspire to. I did the MA not to get published, but to teach, which is my passion. Since then, the opportunity to teach has come up and I've realised that the writing itself has become more important.  

One of the speakers on the MA was asked, how does anyone get published, if it's so difficult? He said, the key is determination, focus. Write, submit, write some more. Don't give up, keep working, keep submitting. Without wanting that to turn into a huge pressure, that's what I'm going to do. So I'm taking my other books to this meeting, listening to all the ideas and suggestions, promoting myself as the writer I am. I'm going to plant the seeds of a publishing career, so I have something to water and nurture. Self administered pep talk over.