Thursday, 27 December 2012

Finding my way back to work

Having had a prolonged break from work, I'm rather too relaxed to just dive back into it but I have no excuses now. I have my edits ready to work on, and can start straight away. Only, I've lost the writing groove, my word habit. It takes a while to lose it and it takes even longer to find it again. Pah.

On the plus side, my editor basically liked the book as it was, made 40 or so comments in the margin, most tiny things that needed rewriting or bits he liked, but a few of them will impact through the whole book. Somehow, I haven't really consistently captured the servant/master relationship between my main historical characters. Sometimes they seem more like equals than others. It's always difficult to write from the perspective of an unreliable narrator, Kelley thinks he's more important than he is, so I need to rewrite so there's a clarification for the reader. Fair point.

He also gave me a couple of pages of notes on the characters, which did make me smile, because he's sometimes told me to put stuff back in that I took out earlier this year. My agent didn't know who it would sell to, of course, and advised making changes that perhaps would appeal to a broader audience. Now the editor has suggested what he would prefer, and it's a relief that he doesn't want me to change it too much from my vision. I must admit I was worried that it would drift further from my vision but it's ending up pretty close to where it started out, only, thanks to my agent, much better written and much more even in tone! Still, I'm very conscious that this is my last chance to really improve it and it will be the showcase into my work, so I want it to look as smart and shiny as possible. Happy days. I'll get back to it immediately...OK, tomorrow. Maybe Monday...

Meanwhile, I have played board games and card games (and lost every time), watched films and silly TV, eaten too much and over-purchased cheese. The winter celebrations appear to be over so I can chill out. We saw a garden warbler this morning, which really should be overseas by now, but with raspberries still ripening, the wet weather doesn't seem to have warned the countryside it's winter yet. Though the lapwings are here, and I did see a fieldfare.

I have also read a spectacular debut author called Liesel Schwarz - make a note, this writer's books are going to be big, and hugely entertaining to book. A Conspiracy of Alchemists is a steampunk fantasy Gothic adventure written with a fantastic female protagonist, Elle Chance, a pioneering dirigible pilot caught up in a battle between Alchemists and Warlocks. Liesel draws readers in from the first sentence, and it's a rollercoaster ride from then on. It's available for pre-order and will be released in hardback and e-book formats on the 7th February.

Once you've fallen in love with Elle's story, and with her mysterious companion, Marsh, you don't have long to wait for the sequel, A Clockwork Heart, the next in The Chronicles of Light and Shadow series. I have been lucky enough to read a draft and - wow! Somehow Liesel has managed to ramp up the tension and the drama and create a storming ride through the next chapter in the story. I don't have a kindle, so I had to sit at the computer to read it - as the lights fell and I grew thirstier and stiffer. I couldn't tear myself away from it. Fantastic. Now, I wouldn't post a duff review, I just wouldn't post a review at all if I didn't like it. But this is one of those books that you just wish you had written.

They haven't announced anything, but since it's just you guys, I can can secretly tell you that Liesel and I share an editor...I'm hoping some of her imagination and energy rub off on me.  

Thursday, 20 December 2012

2012 - What I have learned about publishing

I've had a fairy tale year. I got a book shortlisted for the Mslexia prize, then that book went on to be sold as part of a three book deal (announcement shortly). Now the fairy dust has settled, I have time to look back at the valuable lessons I have learned.

Everything takes a long time. It turns out that agents and editors are amazingly busy people who - gasp - have other books to work on. Writers that got there first, who are closer to publication. Debut authors who have time to spare have to learn to wait their turn, secure in the knowledge that when it is their turn, everything happens ASAP. But when it is your turn they are amazingly generous and helpful.

It is essential to put one's ego (kicking and screaming though it may be) to one side, and be edited. I may have a diploma in creative writing and now an MA, but neither told me what will get published, nor how to align my writing to the market. That's the specialised job of agents and editors who don't have any magic formulae for success either. But they know a lot more than I do about what is selling, has sold and might sell. I've have learned to like being edited, as sometimes another person's 'can we do more with this character?' is my lightbulb moment.

Writers are an incredibly generous and kind bunch. Over the last rollercoaster year I have been supported by so many. Some are working their way up the ladder, some are already published, but all have offered wise words, experience and encouragement. Thank you all, especially the kind souls who have beta read my book and offered just what I needed - critical feedback.

I love writing. I have these perfect ideas in my head, then start tapping away and somehow they become chaotic, messy stories with no focus and uneven pace. But rewriting and editing prune away the mad growth to reveal - OK, not perfection - but stories that I would enjoy reading. I hope other people do in the end. I have learned that this is the way I want to earn my living. 

You can't write if you don't read. Not just read, but in your own genre. I'm making time to read books that inspire my own writing, as part of the work of writing.

Learning about writing improves my work. I enjoyed the process of reflecting on my work to get my MA, it taught me loads and I'm still working on improving that book.

But most of all, the process of writing is how I improve. I've written two books from scratch this year and edited another one. Writing, it turns out, is easier and better the more you do it. If you want your fairy tale year, write and write, show it to people who have the confidence to tell you the truth and listen to their comments with a critical ear. I wish you all the luck that I have had.

Friday, 14 December 2012

It's real

When I started this blog, it seemed like an impossible dream. I would make something up - actually invent a story - and get it published. You know, for money. I can still hear the raucous laughter of doubt, mostly mine, but others too, ringing in my memory's ears. It seemed impossibly pretentious to put 'publication' in the tag line of the blog. But if you don't ask, you don't get, and I thought a short story in a magazine or a poem in an anthology was within my grasp.

But yesterday I got paid. The publisher (which still hasn't made an announcement so I can't give details) pays a chunk on signing, and that's what I got yesterday. Not a fortune, but as the mother of six coming up to Christmas I can tell you, that deposit in my bank was very timely. Yesterday I became someone who makes things up for money, instead of just doing it as a hobby. Suddenly, it all seems real. The fact that there are nine more chunks of various sizes to come, on delivery of three manuscripts, three hardback publications and three softback publications, seems amazing. Humbling. Today, I paid back the credit card, which was groaning after our eighteen year old car needed major surgery in the autumn. Something I wrote - something I just made up then worked on - paid off a (admittedly, modest) bill. Of course, I'd make a lot more if I went back to work in a proper job as a psychologist, but this is so much fun. Work, yes, but I'm enjoying it. After all, I used to do this for fun, before there was any suggestion of payment!

I'm slightly uncomfortable, too. I have been privileged to read several books this year by amazingly talented writers, which are not, at this date, yet bought. These are books which have amazed me with their artistry, creating a tapestry of character and story in the beautifully precise use of words. So I feel grateful, but also lucky, because it is hard to get published. But not impossible, so I wish those writers every good fortune in 2013 in getting their books at the right time to the right editor.

I'm also very grateful to my agent, who kept the hope alive over a long, quiet summer. And my editor, who saw something he liked and offered for it. Those two have faith in my book, and in me, and now I just want to deliver the right books. The last bit of the puzzle - will anyone buy it? - remains to be seen.    

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Enjoying the break

Although I have a couple of books to write, I'm enjoying the break. For once, I am not stressed out about Christmas and solstice preparations, I am ahead of my schedule. Presents bought (or made) and wrapped, cakes and mince pies made and wrapped or frozen, shopping ordered, trees up, the house is even tidy-ish. I'm on top of the laundry. We have spare teabags and toilet rolls in case of snow (we get completely cut off by our vertical drive). The log store is full. It's probably best that I am not writing at the moment, as my back is about as close as it can get to going 'crack!' as it can, and could do with the rest.

I'm stalled because I'm waiting for edits on book 1 - but as other writers have said, it's not a bad thing to leave books 2 and 3 to settle so I can come back to them fresh in January. My fingers are still itching to start another book, and as I'm contemplating starting a PhD, I'm looking at the application process and starting to solidify ideas for the synopsis as a guideline for this book. Each university has its own process and there are money implications as well, so I'm going slow and thinking carefully about it. I think I benefit from having to look at the way I write in order to write better. I find myself catching cliches and repetitions, thinking more about what effect I want to craft. It would be useful to carry on doing that. In know the most important factor in improving is writing, but learning helps me too.

To that end, I am reading Celia Brayfield's Bestseller: Secrets of Successful Writing to keep the process of improving going. I'm also trying to work out Scrivener,a s I would like to write this newer, slower book in Scrivener that in Word. The idea is that I actually plan. Plot, like a grown up writer. Who'd have thought? It remains to be seen if I actually can.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

New Projects

It's that time of year again. Time to plant creative seeds and let them germinate over December, ready to be either potted on or weeded out over the new year period. I've started a new book every New Year for seven years, and it's a lovely thing to be doing. Of course, I have to write book 2 between January and June, so the book won't get that much time or attention, but in my experience the 'also ran' second book is more fun to write and probably more imaginative than the 'proper' book. Secrets was an 'also ran' fun book, written alongside another, darker, better written book. I wonder what would have happened if I'd put that one into the competition. Nothing, probably, it lacked the imaginative freedom of Secrets.

Where do ideas come from? It's a question writers get asked all the time, and I'm not sure I have an answer. There's a psychological theory or two, but in my heart I'm not convinced by them. Characters seem to appear, with all their foibles and their own voice, out of the blue. One such character was Felix, one of the protagonists in Secrets. He appeared in a short story seven years ago, uninvited, and frankly, stalled the story dead. But I couldn't take him out. One of my brothers says I fancy Felix, my own character. Maybe I do, maybe he's a mixture of men I have liked and favourite film portrayals and a bit of me for leaven. But he appeared as he is now, I didn't consciously create or adjust him. He had a failing marriage, a cat, all his personality traits.

Another character appeared a few years ago, and now her story is nagging to be told. I'm interested in how people overcome overwhelming disasters. We see people in the news, wrestling with being involved in terrible accidents or injuries, and they fascinate me and inspire me. But when they go home, away from the cameras, and shut the door...what is life like on the inside? I think that is the seed of a new story, the what if? I'm letting them float up, and seeing which ones have got enough potential to be a novel.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Back to work

I've had a lovely week off. You know, actual time off, not writing a single word kind of week off. Thinking, of course, has proceeded at a great rate and the thinking has now caught up with the rest of the writing.

Meanwhile, I have aced Christmas and Solstice with some help from the children: presents and food on order, a freezer full of goodies, logs in the store (you never know, it might snow!) and the house organised. It's become a bit of a stress over the last few years - so many people, not enough time - but this year I got organised early enough and told people they would be helping. And they did. Thank you, Sophie, Matt, Sam, Isaac, Carey and Rosie, as well as thank you to my ever patient chauffeur. Today we went to Exeter and indulged ourselves with some new clothes and a lovely lunch out. So, the holiday is drawing to a close but I'm ready to jump back to work and my edits on Book 1.

Now writing is work (even though it's still fun) I have to find some way to balance up life and work. I wrote every day for 81 days, and while this might suit some people, it turns out, I may need a bit of thinking time. Say, Sunday afternoons and bank holidays. Maybe sick days. I am lost in admiration of writers who work in proper jobs and still construct brilliant novels.

Last night, our writing tutor set us a task that ended up...nauseating. We were made to produce the crassest of romantic writing. We were to use all the tricks of the trade and exaggerate them into the most disastrous of bad writing. Well, I hope I don't sound too big-headed but after five years of unlearning bad habits and establishing new ones I winced my way through one page and announced the nausea to be overwhelming. I do get to write a monologue, though, should be fun.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Holiday time

I used to take days off all the time...and enjoyed my hobby, writing. Now, writing is work, so I'll have to find another hobby. We have decided (partly because I'm not very well, admittedly) to take a few days off, really off, so no writing. I've finished two books I had started but kept putting down. I've entertained a visiting daughter plus one, and played board games and gone out to lunch and planned the Christmas/solstice break like a military campaign. I've cooked for the freezer, I've sorted out books and papers, and we even cleaned a room and reorganised the furniture.

Now I do feel guilty because I didn't write, in a way, yet my thinking time has been incredibly fruitful. I have a main plot for book 2 and various subplots, one of which is growing and becoming...uh, book 3. Time away from the draft, which is essentially now ready to rewrite into the next draft anyway, has given me a perspective I didn't have while I was toiling away at the keyboard. I shall bounce back renewed, hopefully. I'm just waiting for medicine to work, and fortunately, my husband has a rare week off anyway, so we are enjoying the time off.

Oh, and I passed my MA. I am now officially a graduate of an MA in Creative and Critical writing. I have had one disappointment. I knew I wouldn't get a distinction for the MA overall because one of my marks was too low to qualify (by 2%, so I didn't feel too bad). But I did expect to get a distinction for the creative part of my dissertation because the criteria includes the description "publishable" as part of the distinction mark, 70%. I got 68%. Not quite publishable. Should I return the advance? Or can I just accept that maybe the markers are a tiny bit out of synch with what publishers are actually looking for?  

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The NEXT BIG THING blog hop

I was tagged to be a part of this meme by Kate Kelly at The Scribbling SeaSerpent, whose debut novel is called Red Rock and is going to be published next year. Her version appeared last Wednesday.

What is the title of your next book?
It’s called The Secrets Of Life And Death and will be published sometime next autumn, hopefully around October. I can’t say more than that as the publisher hasn’t announced anything yet officially, but I am signing contracts at the moment! I am terrible at titles (this one was invented by my clever agent) and so far the other books in the series are called—wait for it—book 2 and book 3.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
My main character, Jackdaw Hammond, just started whispering to me after I was thinking about the idea of living on ‘borrowed time’. I was writing another book (creatively named ‘the B&B book’) and I started Secrets for fun. It eventually ended up in my MA dissertation.

What genre does your book fall under?
It’s fantasy, but inserted into a real world setting, about three fifths is set now in rural Devon and about two fifths in sixteenth century Eastern Europe. Lots of yummy research. 

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
My professor, Felix Guichard, would be played by Rufus Sewell. Sorry, I’m distracted now.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
The Secrets of Life and Death is a supernatural mystery centred around Jackdaw Hammond, who lives on ‘Borrowed Time’; she has extended her natural life by sorcery designed in the sixteenth century. Jack has rescued fourteen year old Sadie, who barely has time to come to terms with her magical state before she comes under attack. Threaded through the events of the present, are the adventures of John Dee and Edward Kelley in 1585, as they attempt to push back death itself, under the sword of Istvan Báthory, uncle of the serial murderer Elizabeth Báthory…

I just can’t do one sentence, I really try. I can’t pitch for toffee either.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I was so lucky. I went in for a competition and was one of two runners up (the other, Nicola Vincent-Abnett is tagged below). One of the judges was Clare Alexander of Aitken Alexander Associates, who sent my book over to Charlotte Robertson, who took me on! 

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
About four months, but my first drafts are written in advanced cliché and consist almost entirely of loose ends. It took seven more drafts to have a single, coherent entity. I’d love to say I’ve learned my lesson, but I’ve done exactly the same with Book 2.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova inspired me, I also enjoyed Kate Mosse’s books but I think Kelley Armstrong’s series would possibly be in a similar vein too. It’s hard to look at books you love and imagine your own anywhere near them, to be honest.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My son, Carey, who loves Armstrong’s books so much. Talking ideas over with him, then with my husband when we drive out to a favourite restaurant once a week, developed the plot. Though the historical strand was all mine. 

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Did you know the Inquisition is alive and well? Knowing that, I introduced Stephen McNamara, inquisitor for the modern age, who becomes a kind of hero. I was fascinated by Elizabeth Báthory, a real character from history who murdered dozens if not hundreds of girls, and who plays a big part in both strands of the book.

Now it’s my turn! These are THE NEXT BIG THINGS you should be keeping an eye on, so you can tell all your friends to buy their books! Hopefully, they will answer the same questions next Wednesday - but if they are too busy, still check out their blogs and books!

v  NicolaVincent-Abnett, who I mentioned before, because she has written a book of heart-wrenching power and emotion about survival in the face of overwhelming challenges.  

v  Bethany Coombs, who writes second world fantasy series and needs encouragement to get an agent and get out there. I can’t wait for book 2 of her series!

v  TeresaStenson who has supported and encouraged so many other writers while honing her considerable craft. Not only a notable short story writer (shortlisted for the Bridport prize 2009, no less, among other competitions) but widely published. I’m waiting for that first collection or novel…

v  Liz Fenwick, whose first book, The Cornish House is delightful, and funny, and emotional, and I’m looking forward so much to the sequel. She has also shared her publishing journey, which has encouraged me.
v  And CallyTaylor, who so generously blogged the whole experience of becoming published and being a writer, and was personally supportive. I know I’m not the only one who wants to know more about the new book!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Progressing again

I recognised that I was in the doldrums so looked back at what I did on previous books at the same point. Interesting reading! When I really get stuck I write the ending in a mad rush, because I've been thinking about it for ever, and then the links just appear. I'm writing fast and making notes on what has to have happened to get from A (the beginning) to B (the middle) to C. It's working, and better than that, the action scenes are good to write after a lot of chatting earlier. it did occur to me that I have written two books from scratch this year, one to second draft and I have substantially rewritten a previous book. Productive year. I've also managed a poetry collection. Blimey. Success is the best encouragement to write.

I'm waiting to her from my new editor about book 1...then I can make the necessary changes and get the book back to him. Meanwhile, I'm trying to get the scrappy, untidy draft of book 2 into a reasonable shape so it can be tucked away for the fermentation process that happens while I work on the next book. I'm amazed at how many ideas I've had about the 'old book' now I've half forgotten it! Anyaway, back to work... it turns out writers work 7 days a week.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Low points in the narrative

There are two areas of the books I struggle with. After the initial rush to get all the first ideas down I sit back and think, what next? I know, broadly how the story will end, and am thinking about the ending through the whole process. I stall for a while, at about page 40 or 50, and struggle to write a minimum of a thousand words a day, which I know will be the most heavily edited parts in round 2. I gain confidence in the story strands and the writing comes steadily, but then, at about page 200, I falter again. How do I get from all the middle stuff to the last chapters, which I've been writing in my head for weeks? This, I am sure, is where a sensible plan would have come in useful. That's where I am, in the planning doldrums. People are starting to sit about and drink tea again. It's like they are waiting to jump into the last chapters, too. I usually write those very fast - it only took three days to write the last 11k words of the Secrets of Life and Death. Still, the end is in sight. Strands that reach out into the third book are becoming more obvious. I'm hoping to plot the series on some sort of table, to try and keep tabs on where it's all going. Then I can put book 2 away for a few weeks and work on something else - like book 3, or something completely new.

Meanwhile, the writing group's homework is poetry. It's a simple task, but all things with poetry look simple until you try to do them. Argh! We're supposed to look at examples of imagist poetry and have a go at writing them. This is Ezra Pound's example. He described it as being inspired by oriental forms like the hokku.
In a Station of the MetroThe apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
The idea is to link a very concrete experience or place to a metaphor. I'm off to scribble and struggle because any fool can write forty lines with some poetic bits in (OK, it takes a lot of editing to pare that down to a real poem), but two lines (and the title) has to be concentrated and perfect. Hm. 

Monday, 12 November 2012

A master at work - Ian Rankin

Whether you like crime fiction in general or Ian Rankin's work in particular, if you write novels you will be informed by a programme made by the BBC. It followed the six months in which he actually wrote his latest book, Standing in Another Man's Grave. He details the process of coming up with the idea from cuttings and notes accumulated over a period of months if not years, and we see him hesitate over each word of the first line. Gradually, the book emerges, complete with notes, thoughts, ideas - and still he doesn't know what's going to happen. He was still deciding 'who did it' as he wrote the last few pages.

Then the rewriting, redrafting, fact checking and polishing, working with his editor, grumping at changes he might need to make, until after six months, he is bored with the book and ready to let it go. To someone like me who a) doesn't extensively plot and b) has a deadline for book 2 of June next year, it's incredibly comforting. He doesn't work every day, he suggests he's lazy enough to hit the coffee shop and the crossword before he even sits down to type. But the words build up. Even though, I think like a lot of us, he has doubts about the book while he's writing it, he carries on. That's the message for me. I recognised the sentiment that when you sit down to write page 1 the book in your head is perfect, but as it gets translated onto the page, it becomes less and less perfect. It was a wonderfully helpful insight into a writer's process, and I recommend it to anyone wanting to write a novel.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Plotting on...little cards

Despite insomnia (slightly better but the nightmares can [insert expletive] off), the words and scenes are steadily coming. I set myself a minimum of 10k a week, and they are assembling themselves into scenes and chapters. It's uphill work, I'm suffering from a real dip in motivation (for everything, really) but 10k is a good pace for me. The thing that slows me down in having enough thinking time to write, keeping ahead of the plot. Once I finish this draft, which hopefully will have all the main components in, I can go back and see what I have, plot it out, decide where everything needs to go. I tend to write short first drafts, then write more stuff to sort out the continuity slip ups, loose ends and naff scenes, then finally start trimming down the bits I don't need to concentrate the story down. I have a lot of plot to wrangle, and I still wish I could really plot. Especially as book 1-3 have a certain through flow, and need planning beyond each individual book. I almost feel a spreadsheet coming, it's OK, it's still me, I can't plot on a spreadsheet. I can't plot on anything.
Today I'm expecting my copy of: Scrivener for Dummies.
A few months ago, I bought a copy of the Scrivener programme and wrestled with it. As a Word user, I just haven't got my head around it, and the workload didn't allow much time to work on it. I'm back to the very comprehensive tutorial, but when I get stuck I need a paper 'idiot's guide'. This would enable me to replace my inefficient, if colourful, method of putting everything on little coloured cards and moving them around.

It's based on - little virtual cards that you - yes, move around. The difference is, your scenes and chapters move with them. No white knuckle ride of cutting (eek!) and pasting. And you have an evolving overview of the whole book.

So, I've decided to reorganise my writing a bit. Words first, in case I don't do them. Half an hour of Scrivener training next. Then, the rewriting, attempts at plotting and other bits I do afterwards. Not today,  obviously, because I don't have the book yet and I blogged first! 

No word on the book deal, I'm supposed to be keeping it under wraps until it's all signed and officially announced. Still very exciting, and I'm looking forward to doing the edits for Secrets.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Slow progress

Normally, I'm a deadline ninja. I love deadlines, I can work out how much I have to do each day and get ahead, and have a sense of the scale of it all. 'Write a book, 100k words' sounds impossible, sounds ridiculous. But then you chop it into little deadlines, and it all makes sense. So I chopped the rest of the first draft into bite sized chunks and, writing one thousand words a day, it will just be finished by the beginning of December. I don;t have a real plan, but I do have a list of things that have to happen before other things happen, so I should be writing away on plan, and a couple of days ahead.

But I'm not. After all the waiting over the summer, I'm stuck again, struggling to think of words, find plot lines, or enjoy the process of writing, which is normally automatic. I'm distracted by escaping chickens, arguing kids, whining cats (mostly because I haven't lit the woodburner and it's raining), and lack of sleep. I was up before six this morning, unable to get back to sleep, and the house is so cold and dark now, in the mornings, and it's so long before anyone else has to get up. I did manage to read a bit, at least, and I did write a bit, but I'm short on ideas. I seem to be stuck in a loop where my creativity is being used up by the need to create excuses for why I'm not working.

Monday, 29 October 2012


I have insomnia. It's a bit self defeating to say you 'suffer' from insomnia even though you do, so I try to manage it by remembering I don't need all that much sleep, I can try one of my strategies for getting myself to sleep including telling myself a story (sounds mad but it sometimes works), reading a book I've read many times, going through relaxation routine, taking Valerian, getting up again and going to bed slower (sounds daft, but sometimes works), sex, back rub, actual sleeping tablets etc. Nothing really works. Yesterday, the bed looked as if I'd gone ten rounds with the duvet. I think the duvet won, and one of the pillows is still missing. Anyway, I'm tired and tired makes you less energetic/enthusiastic/imaginative except I'm also managing horrendous nightmares when I do sleep. It's such a simple thing, sleep, but if you don't get it it it affects every aspect of your life.

I'm still writing, at least. I've got about half book 2 in one big lump and a new bit of the historical strand as well so about two thirds through first draft - what I like to think as my draft, bit to be shared with anyone. It's full of cliches, random punctuation, and inconsistencies. But it's the raw material for probably a very different second draft which takes a few weeks then gets honed into a readable third draft. What it will need is time, for the familiarity to wear off so I can approach each draft with fresh eyes. So, when I finish book 2 hopefully I will get some time to work on edits book 1 then start the big structural changes on Baby's Bones - now designated as book 3.

But every year about this time, I start to wonder what story will come out of my imagination over the days around Christmas, which is when I normally start a new book. Maybe if I get some sleep it will just appear in my mind, as I make stollen/cake/turkey escalopes. Who knows? Where do these ideas come from anyway?

Thursday, 25 October 2012

A New Day

OK, the stunned phase and probably the grief stuff is over - and the whole world has changed. Isn't that the weird thing? You start a new job, or meet a new person or do something unexpected and it makes you re-evaluate everything. I've agreed to a book deal, I can't announce who and what yet until formal announcements etc. but today, I woke up and realised I am going to be published.

And somehow, today, that no longer seems like a pipe dream, it all seems possible, (still sparkly and special and amazing) but quite possible. Sensible, even. After all, I wrote the book, and a sequel, and half another sequel, otherwise, why was I worrying over little details like editing? Clearly I was heading towards publication, and after five years, I'm just about ready for it. It's so strange that at no time in that five years did I ever believe it was going to happen to me. It seemed like a mountain of obstacles and doubts just sitting up there, looming over me, possibly laughing at my feeble efforts to climb. From the other side it looks quite different. There's the Mslexia funicular railway that got me halfway up, there's that set of steps my agent pointed out, there's the ridiculous circular groove I wore into the top while I waited... Now I have to think about how to get down the other side. Yesterday I had no idea. Today, a helpful editor has given me a map of all the steps and paths and picnic tables on the way down. It's suddenly all real.

The contrast between labouring on your own on a book no-one even knows about let alone wants to buy, and being guided into the world of publishing is huge. I feel great. I have faith in the book. I'm ready for the next part of the adventure.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

A strangely quiet day

I know I've been a bit bonkers recently what with offers for books, kids all home, waiting, waiting, other projects, escape artist chickens... but today is different. Today I woke up subdued, remembering Steve, who was once my husband, and who died when Carey was a baby. Anniversaries are hard, and sad, and drag you back to the past for a long moment. When I was someone different, that's for sure.

We were looking after our terminally ill daughter when he died. He'd been admitted to hospital with a  'chest infection' and for ten days, this cloud of awful foreboding formed in me, this terror. On the eleventh day, he died. Then they told me that they'd got it wrong, and he had had leukaemia all along. I remember my brother and I raising that question over the previous ten days but both of us were dismissed. So he died. He probably would have died anyway. He was thirty-three years old, and was a warm, funny man who adored his children and me. We were together since I was 17, and married for 12 years. He was terribly missed by all of us. Now some of the people who knew him best are dead - his father, my sister, our daughter, and with each person he fades a little more. So today, even though family and books are important, a little corner of me needs to be quiet, and remember someone who completely believed in me, and told me so every day.

Friday, 19 October 2012

I'm so glad I've got an agent...

I've been lucky enough to get a better offer for three books - that feels like a fantastic launch pad for a possible career in the future. But is my agent sitting down with a well earned cuppa and a custard cream? Probably not, as she's asked both the bidding parties if they can do more. More money to me means less time worrying about earning more money to pay for little luxuries like, I don't know, food maybe, or heating. We don't quite live within our means - something to do with our plentitude of children, possibly, or our Amazon addictions...

Meanwhile, I've been busy working on my course at the college. This week we looked at very small stories and things like structure. The tutor copied our stories and handed out scissors. Cutting up stories and rearranging them worked for me, even though it's something I've done before, I still get distracted faffing about with words rather than structure, which tightens up the story.

This was my original. 
‘Don’t put it on, it’s supposed to be haunted.’ She crouched on the loft floor, and rolled the ring towards him.

He balanced on the ladder. ‘You’re superstitious.’

‘Our great-grandmother fell down the stairs.’

‘She was probably drunk,’ he said, releasing the ladder to slide the ring onto his finger.
 Then it became:
‘Our great-grandmother fell down the stairs.’
‘She was probably drunk,’ he said, releasing the ladder to slide the ring onto his finger.
‘Don’t put it on! It’s supposed to be haunted.’ She crouched on the loft floor.
He balanced on the ladder over the stairs. ‘You’re just superstitious.’
Who would have thought you can play around with just 50 words! Not to mention I actually cut two words... Since I have to rewrite and edit the structure of A Baby's Bones, this gives me confidence to do sweeping changes.

I'm also chuffed Hilary Mantel won the Booker prize with Bring up the Bodies. I was a huge fan of Wolf Hall, and glad that this one did as well. Mantel is one of those authors who writes across genres and just goes where her imagination takes her. Looking forward to the final instalment. 

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

An Embarrassment of Riches

I seem to be in a very nice, if confusing, situation. I have an offer for three books (Yay!) from one company, and a rather better offer but just for one book. Back to the agent...

My brother put it beautifully yesterday - not so much the white knuckle ride as the queueing for the ride. More waiting, so more time to get on with the sequel. But it's a great position to be in!

Here's my other dilemma. I've written two-and-a-half books with a supernatural theme, and have an offer on them. I have also written a crime novel. I had a lot of fun working on the characters at the time. No-one is all good or all bad. The victim, Caitlin, struggles with PTSD and her lowered credibility in the eyes of family and the law. The actual murderer whispered his diary into my imagination, creepy. He's fun to write, though. The man who was convicted of the attack (I think) is a great character. I had got to 60k before I realised I had based him on one of my brothers...not the above one. Whoops.

Now, if you are paid to write fantasy, will a publisher be interested in something from a different genre? Will they see it as time taken away from the writing they were initially interested in?

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Very very short fiction

At my creative writing class we have been exploring short stories, and shorter stories, and the joys of trimming, editing and concentrating story down until it squeaks. We looked at the Ernest Hemingway short Hills like White Elephants, and moved onto flash fiction. Speaking of which... I have heard on Helen Yendall's blog of a new 50 word story with great prizes, closing date 23rd October and free to enter! Since homework this week is write short fiction then make it shorter, I'll have a go.  

Meanwhile, the waiting continues, though it looks like it might result in another offer tomorrow for my books. With one offer on the table I feel fairly secure, and another one would be very flattering, especially as it's from a really big publisher. I shall wait and see what transpires. Once I know what's happening, I shall feel more able to get back to writing the sequel. On one hand, I feel liek I ought to be able to write loads faster, after all, I can type thousands of words a day, but I need enough thinking time to keep up with the story as well.

I've also been editing my father-in-law's book, and enjoying his delightful artwork and humour. The book's about drawing for children's comics, and it's filled with his anarchic humour - he clearly is in touch with his inner eight year old when he is drawing! It's a lot of work to get it all - text, pictures and captions, all in the right place and ready for pdf and then off to Lulu for publishing. I'm glad fiction just requires minimal formatting and words! I'm still astonished at how much fussing over commas, dialogue, punctuation, repetitions, spellings etc. even fiction needs. Many hours work.

My tentative plan is to get a good first draft of the sequel by the end of November then start on a major overhaul and rewrite of Baby's Bones. Of course, an editor might throw that out the window...

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Calming Down

I'm just finding my feet again after a hectic few months. Life is different when you sleep all night! The kids and husband have blitzed the garden, getting ready for the winter, and we've worked on my father-in-law's book about working in comics as an artist. The cats have started their autumn routine (sit in front of woodburner suggestively, find beds instead of playing in the garden). I'm letting the news sink in, and taking a few days off. Which feels weird, because unless we're actually travelling, I write every day. Strange. Back to work tomorrow, I think, ahead of more news from the world of publishing.

I'm really looking forward to having an editor. It would, I think, be a fantastic learning curve for me. I just don't know who, yet...but I don't mind people asking for changes to the book. I've accepted that my version, locked in my hard drive, is one entity. The product that I polish for a reader who isn't me might look quite different. After all, they don't have my interests or knowledge, they might like a happier ending or a more creepy one than I would have thought of. An editor can stand back and tell me what it looks like on first reading, close reading, re-reading. I'm too close, and to be honest, I don't know anything about writing for publication. Crash course coming up, I suspect!

Meanwhile, my characters are finding life in the Lake District has plenty of scary worries, all tied up with the Kelley legacy. I'm loving the research...

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Yay! A book deal!

A book deal has been offered. It's like the first chink in a dam, now two other publishers are thinking about it too. All that waiting (impatiently, I know) has been worth it, and it's time to relax a bit now. The money's not huge, but who knows? Maybe someone else will have a bit more to spend. Either way, more waiting, but this time I have the certainty. I am going to be published. I wish anyone out there who is also waiting...and waiting...the very best of news, because I feel relieved and excited and happy all at once.

No news (sigh), thank god for agents.

Blimey, this book business is slow going. At least I don't have to actually do it. My agent is probably juggling many people's careers at once, and I know I couldn't even juggle mine. Meanwhile, I'm getting on with growing the sequel, in case it's needed, but also because I'm really enjoying it. I'm developing my own cack-handed plotting strategy: put virtual post-its up about scenes/chapters I need to write or have written (different colours - you see the strategy?) on the desktop, so I see them every time I log on.

I'm also spending some of the time reading. Nicola Abnett-Vincent has been refining her heart-wrenching novel 'Naming Names', which I now have the privilege of reading. I was glued to the last version, read the last two thirds straight through. This time I'm savouring the language, the layers of complexity, the wonderful word picture of a character who survived against the odds...but not intact. This is fiction that draws you in, fascinates, horrifies and still engages. It's a hugely emotional novel - I can't wait to hear it's going to make it into print. Nik and I met for the first time in July, at the networking event, but had been communicating by email and through each other's blogs. Sometimes our views are very different but it doesn't matter. That's what I, as a grown up, want from a friend. 

Waiting hasn't got any easier, but I'm on the low side, so I'm OK just to chill out, write, maybe go for a walk. It's harder when I have all this pent up energy and nowhere to put it. I might make some bread - that's a good way to chill out, I find, a nice combination of mindless exercise and a little creativity. I often solve plot problems when I'm cooking! 

Monday, 1 October 2012

Cyclothymia and Creativity

I'm a little cyclothymic. If you stretch a line between placid-easygoing normal and nutty-as-a-fruitcake bipolar, I'm slightly up towards the fruitcake end. I'm not alone - cyclothymia has been linked to creativity e.g. here. In fact, both creativity and bipolar/cyclothymia seem common both in my family and the writing community. Unlike flat out bipolar, the hypomanic phases aren't so extreme that they are disabling, but when I'm on a roll, I'm really on one. When I'm stuck in a depressive phase, it's hard. Everything seems uphill, everything slows down. I'm falling into a trough because this hanging about business (still no word) is stressful. A lot of people have warned that publishing is a 'them and us' industry, with them being in a  buyers' market. There are just so many of us. I wouldn't not be cyclothymic most of the time, you should see me witha  deadline! But I am ill equipped to wait.

I've just got to find a way to stress less about the whole process. I'm looking at ways to separate the 'real' stress, like deadlines, from what I perceive as stress, like uncertainty and waiting. I'm in a really good position, according to my agent, I have a publisher putting an offer together. Instead of doubting/worrying I should just be much more zen about the whole thing. Waiting could be savouring the moment, for example. I've had sixteen weeks to get my head round being published one day, and to read books like Alison Baverstock's Marketing Your Book and Carole Blake's From Pitch to Publication.

And I'm being ridiculously ungrateful. Happiness, in part, comes from knowing what you have already, rather than whingeing about what you haven't got. How much would I have enjoyed being in this position last year, or ten years ago?

Cyclothymia can be a serious business and I've been ignoring it. I'm taking a few days off writing/stressing and hopefully the deal will come in its own time. What I need is to eat and drink at regular times, cut down the caffeine, improve my sleep patterns (which are all over the place) and remember I have been blessed with creativity.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Learning again

Having waited all week, I have heard that I shall get an offer for my book on Monday. I'm still astonished by that. Wow. Of course, they may offer ten quid and a Mars bar. Fair enough.

Well, the writing class was OK, and I did learn some useful stuff, as well as meet other writers, which was very cool. We looked at Hemingway's classic story:

 For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never Worn

It makes the reader speculate and fill in all the gaps, I think of it as concentrated story, but other students thought all sorts of things about it. I have always assumed the narrator is male, for example, but many thought it was a female. We looked at story structure, and got prompts to write our own mini story. I had to think hard why I wanted to join, essentially, a mixed class of writers having studied writing at post-graduate level but last night confirmed - I want to learn to be more comfortable presenting my work and having feedback, and I want to fill in the gaps in my knowledge of writing. Like a lot of writers, my work comes out of having read so many books, and I'm not always sure what I am doing, or if it works, why it works. It was good to have to start with the basics...consider the reader. I hope that at some point, a few of the group might want to start a writing group.    

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Fresh start at college

Despite not hearing anything from editors/agent yet, I am about to set off an a new adventure - a writing group. The local college are running a course, and I am of the opinion that being open to learning is the only way you learn anything, so I am packing my trusty notebook, an assortment of coloured pens, and setting off for the town college.

I realise I have no idea what level this course is pitched at, but hopefully it will stretch me on the genres I struggle with (drama, anyone?) and maybe I will hear about other groups, or at least meet someone who might like to help me form the kernel of a group. I need critical feedback. It does me good, it makes me concentrate on the reader and it reminds me of the basic skills of writing which it's easy to float away from. One complication is that I'm agoraphobic, so walking into a college is a bit of a challenge anyway! I'm a perpetual student, but I think this course is good value, and will put me in touch with other, local writers. We moved here five years ago and I'm finding it hard to find writing friends/rivals to bounce ideas and drafts off. I've been lucky that I've found very good beta readers for the novels, but I'm a complete beginner at drama and still struggling with literary short stories. I also know that I produce a lot of good work off writing prompts that come from outside myself. Being made to do homework, or write with a pen in class also makes me much more inventive.

Anyway, it's a great distraction from the waiting! 

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Still no word

I've worked out what's wrong with me. I'm in denial. That numb, nasty feeling you get when faced with something you can't cope with. Deep down, I don't believe the book is good enough. Do we ever believe something we've created ourselves is good enough, though?

I have doubt. Doubt whispers in my ear. 'You aren't very good. They are all being kind, and polite, and dishonest.' I couldn't pitch my book because I didn't believe in it. Deep down, I can't believe something I made up is worth publishing.

Now wonderful friends and family have told me otherwise. A couple of them haven't much liked the book, and that was helpful too, because even if it was brilliant no book can be universally loved. But somehow the external messages don't really help, do they?

I need to deal with my denial first. It's not about my writing, really, it's about the difficulty we have really loving and celebrating ourselves. It's so...British. Human maybe, I don't know. It's easier to say: 'Oh, that old thing? It's OK, work in progress, just a good yarn.'

So I looked at the book (which I printed off in Lulu so it looks more like a real book) again. I tried to imagine what I would say if it was someone else's novel. A friend is reading it at the moment and is giving me lots of positive feedback. So I looked for the bits she highlighted and thought, yeah, it's good there, that bit's funny/atmospheric/clever. Then I think about it objectively, and if it's like that in the first few chapters it's like that in the rest. I have written a good book. I am a good writer. I have masses to learn, and will continue to improve, but it's all there somewhere.

So, if you have doubt, and are not blooming with self-belief, I suggest you look at your own writing as if it was someone else's. Stand back and celebrate your work. Give yourself feedback, make a list of all the positives. And, guess what? That feedback makes all the good things others have said seem more real. So, yes, I'm impatient and in denial, but less so today, because I've lit a little flame of pride in my own book.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Still waiting...ungracefully

*Whine alert* *Whine alert* *Whine alert*
I'm not very good at waiting.

I am good at cooking, patchwork, bird-keeping, poetry, making up rude lyrics for songs, board games (don't play me at monopoly), reading books, shopping on a budget, writing novels (I think), making bread and reading tarot cards.

I'm terrible at waiting. (I'm also terrible at Suduko, dancing, knitting, horseriding, drawing, foreign languages, maths, playing piano and sports quizzes, among other things.)

I want to be one of those people who airily says, 'Oh, has it really been fourteen weeks and five days? Goodness, I didn't notice.' Of course I would have to become one of those people who says 'Goodness', which isn't likely, frankly. Of course, the stress makes me miserable. Not depressed, thank God, or even goodness, because depression is like being chained up in a  box full of pain. But something akin to it, something like I just want to stay in bed and come out when it's over.

Isn't that pathetic? I had the nearly the best news a novelist could ever have: 'someone is going to offer for your book' ('they have done so' slightly eclipses it) and I'm sitting here whingeing. What I should be is productive, but even here I'm struggling to do my 1000 words a day. More like half that, and I'm not sure they're any good. People seem to be waiting a lot in my books at the moment. They are miserable, and it's raining. There is no chocolate. 

Deep down, I find it hard to believe the good news. I mean, it hasn't happened yet, so it isn't real. My world is full of made up, for goodness sake (and again) I write fiction. The one anchor in all this, is my lovely agent. She is real, in fact her voice down the phone is so real it's sort of anchoring me in the place where I get a book deal. So I'm still planning my Oscar speech. (I would like to thank Earl Grey, whoever he is, without which I would never have finished a book...)

I am trying to wait quietly, without emailing my agent every four minutes 'Are we there yet?' because she would phone if we were. I'm trying to see the joy in the rest of my life. But I can't get past it. I WANT MY GOOD NEWS!

Monday, 24 September 2012

Change is in the air

OK, no fabulous book deal yet (expected this week) but things are changing. As an adapting agoraphobic I have tackled all sorts of scary occasions including theatres and universities and public transport. I now enjoy eating out, I love walking in the countryside and the seaside here, I've even been into London - twice this year. But hairdressers are especially scary...terrifying places full of snapping scissors and judgemental hairdressers. So it was with trepidation that I ventured into a hairdresser with my thirteen year old to watch the scary people cut her hair.

Ten minutes later, with a happily truncated daughter, the charming and helpful Mersadie suggested I might like to just sit in the chair. Maybe have a little trim? Just snip off the loose ends that must have accumulated in the last six years. Seriously, it's a nuisance, it's so long I can tuck it into my knickers (what a great look that would be?) and usually have it tied back, in a  bun or contorted into a plait.

I got comfortable in the chair and remembered to breathe out. Whoosh. Maybe she could cut it about as long as Rosie's...who was now dancing around the shop looking in all the mirrors. Maybe with a  bit of layers or something? In 1996 (last shop haircut) I think that was what they did.

That's what she did. Stopping with each few inches to give me a chance to say 'that's enough', she cut my hair. I concentrated on breathing. In...out. I boasted a bit about the impending book deal, not because I really believed it yet (I'm not sure I do yet), but for a bit of Dutch courage.

It ended up looking really nice (I think). I don't keep leaning on it, cooking can go on without me catching fire or adding frazzled hair to the dish, it was fine. And painless. I even discussed, when I remembered to breathe, maybe one day having highlights to disguise the grey hairs that are creeping in.

So, I'm sitting here with my new hair, tapping away at the sequel, waiting for a book deal. The sun is even out, intermittently. Happy days.

Friday, 21 September 2012

One step closer...

For months, I feel like I've been toiling up a mountain in a fog. Low cloud, maybe. It's always uphill, and I've kept pushing, but the signposts have kept me going. Mslexia runner up, that was a big one. Getting an agent, definitely encouraging. Keep going, keep going. But the last three months has been frustrating. It felt steeper, and the end was nowhere in sight, and I began to lose heart. Then...the sun came out. It turns out I was almost at the top of the mountain. My agent phoned to say that a publisher was putting an offer together. Now, I don't want to say too much, or jinx it in any way, so I can't say more than next week sometime, I will have an offer for my book, which is a hand up to the last bit of that mountain. So I do feel fantastic and wrecked all at the same time. part of me just wants to lie down and cry as I look back over the last years of working and hoping and writing some more. The other part wants my book deal, and to run down the other side. I realise ahead lies more mountains, but the first one is the biggest. So, if you are toiling up your own mountain in the fog, relish the encouragement you get, keep on working, and you will get to the top of your mountain.

Now I'm going for a long, hot soak in the bath to recover. Then possibly, to bed early. Climbing's hard work.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Reflecting on the MA

Well, it's over, all bar a bit of binding and posting and marking. One dissertation. 20k of Borrowed Time, as it was, and a 3k rationale, a critical reflection on the creative writing. That's two years in total and an intensive year of classes and assignments in Winchester. Was it worth it? Writers are divided about MAs in general, ( see 'Can you teach creative writing; Jeanette Winterson: teaching creative writing; Creative writing courses are protecting our literary future) so here's my personal answer.


I went from being a writer with no idea if I had any storytelling ability or craft, to knowing my strengths and weaknesses. I didn't know what I was doing well, or what I needed to work on. I write insufficient description (it just doesn't occur to me). I cannot plot, but it's OK to write a first, rambly, rubbish draft then rewrite it into something coherent. There's no such thing as writing publishable words, for me, it's only rewriting that is publishable. And my MA, my OCA and Open University courses all confirmed that my very best work is of publishable quality. I've even seen a few bits in print. I may sell a novel. I learned to take criticism, and weigh it up, and use it to improve my drafts. The module which introduced us to the world of publishing was helpful, and gave us an overview of the industry which has been invaluable, now I'm interacting with it. I put writing on a business footing, and managed my time around it. I spent a year training myself to think of it as developing a career and creating art, not a hobby that's behind hanging out the laundry or feeding the cats in importance. 

And no.

I didn't need to spend almost half the MA doing obscure literary theory modules. I enjoyed them - the research module linked up art and literature for me, and inspired some interesting poetry, but they didn't push my writing. The other students varied from immensely talented, to working towards, to what felt like beginners, and all offered comments on my writing. I found myself contacting those students whose writing genuinely impressed me, and leaving the (few) others behind. One of those students has gained a first class MA, which I don't get. It seemed as if the MA was at least partly about becoming a bit of a literary nerd rather than a better writer. But the worst thing was the cost. Ignoring the move to Winchester, the degree was about £4000. Now, as a family, we live on a low income, and if it wasn't for the kindness of a relative passing on part of an inheritance that she received I wouldn't have been able to afford it. We had six hours of contact time each week, per semester - that's 144 hours, plus a few extra hours supervision. That's about £26 an hour. Each. I realise the universities have to run for all the student body, and the buildings and staff need paying for - but it is a lot of money. Not to mention all the books and peripherals that we needed.  

But I don't regret it.

I used to be someone who wrote as a hobby, who always fancied writing a book. Now I have written and re-written millions of words in a pile of books, and I may even get published. And all that was possible because, at a very painful time in our lives, my husband helped me go away for most of year and supported us all while I did it. He listens to plot twists in the car, reads my drafts, offers endless encouragement when I am despairing. Knowing I am loved and supported? That's priceless.   

Friday, 14 September 2012

The Yeovil Literary Prize - official

I've been blathering on about it for weeks, but it's finally here! I must say, getting an actual prize did make it seem a bigger deal, I always thought the Mslexia shortlist should get a celebratory certificate (like a swimming certificate, but less penguins or dolphins) or book token or something. It makes it hard to prove it in days to come when we might want to impress and agent or editor. I think the competition idea is good for me, it brought my writing to the attention of a lot of industry readers. One of my writing colleagues said: 'oh, I couldn't enter a competition, I'd be so upset if I didn't make the shortlist.' OK, but sending your masterpiece off to an unknown agent is much harsher, and there is only a winner, no shortlist to work your way up. People quibble over the entry fee, but it costs that much to print off your book and post it multiple times! The Yeovil opens in January and the deadline is in May.

Meanwhile, all is eerily quiet on the book front with several editors still holding it. The good news is that people who my very knowledgeable agent trusts, have declared it an adult book which is great. Much as I admire YA writers (and read them), the rest of my writing is definitely adult, and I didn't want to have to give that up.

I have talked to my tutor about my rationale, which she says would already probably pass but has suggested a number of changes that I could think about. This is a huge relief, and although I have a lot of rewriting to do, it's all possible. So that's my weekend sewn up!

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Prize money and crazy stress

I've had some extremely stressful times in my life (haven't we all?) and as I get older, I get better at managing it. But this summer has been bad, mostly because the stresses are coming from things that I can't resolve. Relationships with family, friends, money worries. But the everyday stress is coming from another direction. The book has been with editors, who are still considering it, for THIRTEEN WEEKS. I know it's just a book, it's just a hobby...but that's the point. I feel like I've been on a three month job interview with the two options being a career in publishing goes back to being a hobby.

I had a doctor's appointment this morning, which I went off to without any concerns, because I'm pretty well, I thought, despite mild diabetes. Wrong. My blood sugar is out of control. This is ridiculous. I've been sensible and careful and taken my medication properly - the nurse asked the big question. Have you been under any extra stress lately? I can't remember the last really good night's sleep I had, because the normal summer stress of extra kids has been complicated by this full on worry about the book. This morning I had a phone call from a  relative who comforted me by saying it took him years to break into writing (for a hobby magazine) and hopefully I'll get my big break too. He also said he couldn't see what all the fuss was about with 50 Shades because at OUR age, we're past all that! Now, he's a lovely bloke but he's a generation older than me and I'm not past anything. So I sit and wait for news (some more) and the stress is literally making me ill. Bugger that.

I'm going to get on with the next book and forget about what is or isn't going on at editors. What I do need (I really need) is a couple of weeks off the summer stress and get used to going back to just 2 kids. And I would like a chance to sit back and work out what kind of a writing career I would like. Yesterday I went to Exeter and spent £250 prize money on me. New clothes, new boots. Now, that felt good, having had a new book do well in a big competition! There's hope yet...

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Now they want more

I'm taking this as a good sign. One editor from one publisher would like to see the synopsis to the sequel. This is encouraging, since I have a sequel at least outlined and most of the first third written in first draft. This seems like good news. I don't really know my agent that well, and I want them to know that I'm prolific, I am amenable to edits and suggestions, and that I have a plan for these books. Funny enough, I've found book 2 leads naturally on to a book 3, where Elizabeth Bathory's and Edward Kelley's story changes/ends. So I sent off the synopsis and I'm working to tidy up the front of the book in case they want a first few chapters to see if the style and pace are similar to book 1.

Anyway, while I wait, I am enjoying pottering about with my father-in-law's book and thinking about my next non-series book. In addition to out night time badger invasion, we also had a much less welcome visitor, a young fox, right next to the gate where I keep my chickens. This is the time of year the vixens turf their babies out, and he's mangy and bald on his back, and very, very thin. He was nose to nose with my ginger cat and ran off when he saw me. Hopefully, he'll come back at badger feeding time and share their biscuits, long after my ladies have gone to bed in their secure accommodation.


Thursday, 6 September 2012

Twelve weeks today

What are they doing? Why haven't they all rejected my manuscript (Secrets/Borrowed Time) with a nice 'no thank you', or said they liked it? I'm confused. It's starting to get me down, especially as I'm in the 'Oh God, how the hell do I slap Baby's Bones into shape?' stage of editing. It's all rather depressing.

So, I've started the next book. I promised myself they would have deliberated and judged the first book by the time I finished the second, which with hindsight is probably why I finished the second book so fast! Maybe it's the third book...on the plus side, this is a book that's been incubating in my imagination for a long time, so I will actually have a novel plan, like a real, grown up writer! One unexpected complication: I wrote a character sketch of one of my two bad guys - not that anyone is entirely bad - and found I'd based one of them on my brother. I have two, one a health care professional, very family orientated, and one a builder, also very family orientated. I found the bad guy was so much like one of them, I had to dial back considerably and reinvent him to be more like a real psychopath I saw interviewed on the telly. Unconsciously, we do use the people we know as characters, or at least bits of them. I'm trying not to use real people but they creep in. Does everyone do that?  

I'm also waiting to hear what my tutor has to say about the rationale I wrote last week, which was so hard to commit to. I found the process of thinking about what I did and why was a challenge, though I did learn a lot about the process along the way. Useful exercise, but I'm not sure I want it marked. It would be like opening the blog up to be marked by some unknown criteria.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Weary and sad

I'm struggling with motivation, mostly because I had to write my dissertation for the MA, but partly because I'm feeling blue. They call it 'empty nest syndrome', but it's more than that, it feels like my whole purpose has been undermined. I had hoped to have a career in publishing to put in its place, but no news yet. The Secrets of Life and Death (Borrowed Time as was) is out, as of today (still) with seven publishers, one of which asked for a synopsis today. Who knows? Meantime, my kids are gathering ready to move out at the end of the summer, like swallows, but with loads more luggage. At least my daughter is home for a few days with her delightful fiance, to lighten the mood a little.

The rationale for the dissertation made me reflect on the crazy way I wrote Borrowed Time, and to focus on its weaknesses and strengths. It's from multiple points of view (POVs) which really don't help the narrative thread at all. You just get into one story - and you're off on another one. A Baby's Bones just has one narrator of each strand - easier - but I find the present tense in one strand a bit dislocating when I read it aloud. I do like the present, because there is no hint in what's going to happen but...I'm not sure. Feedback from the kind and generous Nicola Vincent-Abnett has given me ideas about restructuring for the next draft and about Felix's role in both books. I do have a next book featuring Felix, so maybe it would be worth writing him more evenly over the whole series now, rather than try and match up as I go along. Other ideas, too...

I wish I had the energy to get into it, but need to take a few days to get myself back on track. But time to get back to another editing project!