Friday, 17 December 2021

Back to Writing after a Year of Art

After a couple of years of exhaustion and disenchantment with the whole publishing journey, I decided to relax and find the creativity and joy again. Of course I did - basically anything creative I do circles back to story and writing and novels. My lockdown novel, Northern Penguins has been on a journey. It started out as a heap of barely related scenes written compulsively and sorted itself into a book by May this year. I sent it off to a few agents and one gave me some invaluable advice - write the backstory as a historical strand about a baby in a carpet bag. I wrote and wrote all through the summer and completed and edited the book by September. I mocked up this cover so I could print off a few draft copies for the Appledore Book Festival. 

Feedback from readers was encouraging so I sent it out to Bookouture, which had been recommended by my last agent. They liked it and now it's travelling on its journey. I'm waiting to see if the book (and a couple of sequels) are needed. It's women's fiction (I think, I'm never really sure where to put a book in a genre) but has a male protagonist trying to rediscover his mother's history through doing up the house she grew up in. The historical strand tells the story of her mother Patience, and how she tried to have her cake and eat it, bringing home an 'orphan' baby and adopting it, keeping her job as a teacher. The whole book is set on an island (a lot like the Scillies) because my village felt like an island during lockdown! It feels like going back to writing is fun again, and I know better than to put my head in a creative head collar again. Ideas for books 2 and 3 are piling up in my journal, and I have basic outlines. If Bookouture don't want the books, I'm going to have a go at sending to big publishers, then some smaller ones. Ready to go!

Monday, 8 March 2021

Writing and Painting

So, I'm still writing but I'm now spending time on art! It feels very self-indulgent, and given my depressed state of mind, very therapeutic. What do I like? Why? I'm one of those people that could make a good guess at what all the family would choose in a restaurant but then have no idea when it comes to me. It turns out I love words in paintings and loads of turquoise. 

I started out with some new brushes, a box of elderly acrylic paints and paper and about a thousand YouTube videos watched over Christmas. With many thanks to all the generous artists who create tutorials online, like Louise Fletcher, Nicholas Wilton, Alice Sheridan, Lewis Noble and Pauline Jans. I signed up for a free workshop by Art2Life and was hooked. I'm now doing a 12 week course with Art2Life and it's a massive challenge, but hugely enjoyable. When it's all too stressful I remind myself that a) I teach creative writing and everyone who comes to the workshops has the same fears and b) I wander off and do some writing. My paintings are shit, but I think of them as early drafts since I work over them anyway. 

Northern Penguins is almost finished, slowed down by a general depression and lockdown but now coming to a lovely finale. I've really enjoyed being the with characters, many of whom (with their consent) are based on my actual friends. No wonder I like them. I'm going to have to find a new agent though - it's nothing like the genres I've written before. No murders, no supernatural, just a man discovering his own past in renovating a house in a friendly and small community. There's a proper love story and everything. But I'm able to write at my own pace before worrying about what someone else thinks.

Now I'm balancing writing with painting and my imagination is getting a proper run out. I hope my mental health will improve in the better weather, longer days and time taken for myself. This was my first week's homework, a collage of things that inspires me (it's not supposed to be art, just to remind me). It was terrifying to do and I kept adding to it. Roll on week 2's tutorials and homework, I loved week 1! PS I intend to blog a lot more!

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

Evaluating the value of a blog

Years and years ago, when I started this blog (July 2009!) I had a clear intention. I was going to systematically work on my writing until I got up to a publishable standard - or at least, as far as I could take it. With the Open University's excellent courses and an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Winchester, I found an outlet for my imagination. I've loved it, I've honed my craft and am still enjoying writing and still learning. I've done well in competitions, got an agent, got books published. I wouldn't change that, it's been a great journey. I made all

And it was fun, and hard work, and frustrating at times. Because publishing is slow and I work fast. Most of my books are done, in first draft, in about 8-10 weeks. Which means I now have a backlog of books that haven't found a home, mostly because they are sat on my hard drive in second draft. I miss the guidance that a good agent can give you, a few pointers in the right direction that can make or break a book. So, January/February will come with more approache
s to agents, with the new book: Northern Penguins. I never thought I would write anything like it, it's about a new person in a settled community with all its traditions and tensions and secrets. As I can't come up with thirty distinct characters, I have broadly based some of them on people in the village (with their consent, of course). This is going to be interesting. I might be thrown out of the village next year, if they a) don't like the book or b) don't like the character they think is based on them.

In the meantime, I have taken up art again, which is hilarious. There is something very challenging about not knowing enough, being bad at something, making mistakes. I always learn as much as I can before I go on a course. I'm one of those people who hates the idea of being the idiot in the room.  So I think this will be very good for me.

So why continue to blog (especially as i haven't been very reliable at it)? I think a creative journey, with all that learning is always valuable to record, so I will continue to witter into the universe alone about all my artistic and creative endeavours, no matter how badly they turn out. 

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: 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!