Friday, 29 June 2012

Horrible day (warning - whinge)

I think the fact that the day started at 3am is partly to blame. I couldn't get to sleep until about 1am, then woke up two hours later completely miserable - and wide awake. I did manage to finish Liz Fenwick's The Cornish House, which was lovely and did cheer me up. It's a debut novel, a romance, with a bit of mystery about the two leads' parents. Lovely, well written, fun. And it did drive away the blues. I'm a huge fan of her blog, too. 

Then I took the kids out to the garden to show them how to feed and care for our new chickens, Charley, Maisie, Florence and Charlotte. Maisie had prolapsed all her egg making equipment with her first egg, not something the vet could fix, so she went on a one way trip to the vet. Where she behaved impeccably, letting them stroke her and fuss her while they slipped the needle in. Even the vet cried, that was one tame chicken.
Maisie is on the left, next to Florence, the white one. 
So, of to a very sad start, especially as Maisie was the chicken that would sit on my lap, make absurd leaps at raspberries, just tame as anything. 

Anyway, then the joy that is mammography. They have a mobile X-ray unit at Tesco's car park in Ilfracombe, and apart from the inevitable embarrassment of being half naked, and the incredible 'discomfort' of having your boobs pressed between two plates until they are about 3mm thick, then you have to hang about for a letter with the results. 

I also hate packing. Hate it. When Leonie was little, we were in and out of hospital, sometimes with a toddler and a newborn, often at very short notice, like after a hospital appointment or in the middle of the night. So I packed all the time. Empty my 'ready' bag, pack a new one, as soon as we got home. We had to go back within the same day, several times, often blue-lighted in by ambulance. So packing is a dismal task and I always forget something. Being sleep deprived doesn't help. Being on tablets which are stated to have a high risk of depression as a side effect just makes it worse. I am not a happy camper. Spare a kind thought for the poor bugger who has to drive me for eight hours tomorrow.  

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Well overdue for a holiday

I don't know whether to be uplifted or depressed by Rosie Garland's amazing success, generously shared on the Mslexia blog. Here am I, same competition (but not the winner, of course) and same situation. The book is out to editors, which is great. But I haven't heard one word. It's early days, maybe. Perhaps they all have loads to do before they take their summer break (I've heard this a few times). It is possible the book just isn't commercial enough. I am uplifted, to be honest, that it can happen to someone  who works at their craft, develops it and certainly has paid her dues in the publishing world. There's hope for me yet, then. But there's an element of preparing for disappointment in the waiting. I'm grateful for the opportunity, I really am, I know what a great position I am in just to have an agent. But not all agented work is published. 

Worse, I really want to get on with the sequel, but that doesn't seem like a good idea if I can't sell book 1. I have treated myself to a few research books, but only the ones that are really cheap second hand. The story is telling itself every time I close my eyes at night, causing a number of late night note taking sessions which are difficult to decipher in the morning. I have even found a delicious narrator, the under-valued Elizabeth Jane Weston, the Elizabethan poet who grew up in Europe following her step-father, Edward Kelley, and made a life for herself in Prague. 
Elizabeth Jane Weston

We think of people in the past as hardly going outside their village but so many of them travelled. She travelled a lot more than I have, and she was little more than half my age (and the mother of seven children) when she died. Not to mention having written a best selling volume of poetry. What on earth have I been doing with my life?

So I am uplifted by Rosie's story, but a little sorry for myself, in a pathetic, self-indulgent way. I'm off on holiday, nine days of just husband, no kids, no whiny cats, no household chores and appointments or shopping, and I'm going to try and put the whole thing out of my mind. I shall get some perspective. For goodness sake, Ms Garland had cancer to beat, as well. I shall rise above the whole thing, and get on with what I really get out of writing - crafting my new story. I'm now at 40k with A Baby's Bones, draft 2, and loving doing it. That's the heart of it, not publication. Somehow in the glamour and wonder of hearing about Rosie's success, I lost sight of that.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Cyberfriends and beta readers

It's my turn to be a beta reader, and I'm enjoying the next draft of a book I've seen develop since its early incarnations on the MA. Being able to hand my book over to readers who are able to stand back and take a critical view - and are confident enough to be honest - was a real gift. I hope I can be helpful, too.

If there's one thing blogging has done for me that I didn't expect, it's to connect with so many people trying to achieve the same goal. Fellow writers, all scrambling for the same limited resource, a publishers' attention and a contract. Yet the spirit of support and co-operation is astonishing. Writers dig into their imaginations, into their very selves, and they connect on a deep level. I will probably meet very few of the people I meet online, yet they have been instrumental in my development as a writer. I started my blog thinking it would just be me, and it would be a record of my growth as a writer (partly to draw on for those pesky rationales and essays). It has become so much more. It's partly therapy, as a whinge (sorry) about dead ends, lack of motivation, lack of confidence. It's partly celebration as I master new skills, travel outside my comfort zone, and have little successes along the way. But mostly, it's to connect with other writers. I can't imagine not blogging, and hope some day I can use the blog to publicise an actual novel.

Meanwhile, reading other people's work gives me the inspiration to keep going, keep trying to get better. It's a journey, and reading is a guide along the way. I think you often pick up things other people do, that you should watch out for in your own work. Back to work. I'm at 17k with the contemporary strand, which is very satisfying.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Draft 2

Having spent time plotting and rearranging I am ready to write draft 2, the first whole draft of the book. I have eleven new scenes to write, then adapt previous scenes, and one of the main characters needs rewriting but I find the actual writing easier than the planning! It's all better than just wailing at the phone 'Ring, damn you' and dissolving into chocolate cravings. No news from the editors or the agent. If I twiddle my thumbs much more they will come off. So, write.

Meanwhile, the sequel to Secrets (still called BT2) is starting to gel. Edward Kelley is such a shady character (we don't even know his actual name, he also went by Talbot) I can sort of make up bits of his journey. That will enable me to finish the Dee strand I started in Secrets. I seem to sort it out in conversation in the car. Since it will take eight hours to drive to the Lake District, I should get the rest planned out before I get back!

My crazy daughter is home, having taken a few days from her hectic life in Plymouth, and I'm so enjoying her company. She's new to all these discussions, and full of questions and ideas. I'm looking forward to no. 1 son-and-editor coming home next week. It's been a collaboration, the kids, the agent, tutors, friends, and they all seem to have an interest in what happens next in 'their' story. I just hope I can give them some good publication-type news at some point. 
The motivation for Bones: the well. I pinched it off a house moving website!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

The Planning process - not!

Having got to 40k words with Baby's Bones, I printed it all off, scene by scene, single spaced to save paper, and had a really good look at what I actually have.

On the plus side, good mystery, enjoyable historical strand, archaeology. On the minus side...where do I start? Dull main character, inane second character, cliché, cliché...So I arranged the scenes in some sort of order and have gone through with a  pen. Changing scenes, adding scenes, cutting great chunks. I'm always reluctant to cut scenes which is daft, they take relatively little time to replace and if they are not working, they are just so much compost anyway.

So, the secondary character has a back story, is less loveable and much more interesting, and my main character is more accessible. In my distant past, I found myself in a relationship with a 'separated' man. I'm drawing on that slow and horrible disappointment as I (and Sage), realised that just because something is said apparently sincerely, doesn't mean it's real. It's what, at the moment, he wants to be real. I'd like to be grown up and mature about it, but I hope he has warts and his wife has chucked him out. Sage's ex-lover may get his comeuppance, too. 

So the dining room table is covered with scenes, the living room with discarded notes and scribbled time-lines and the worst is nearly over. Tomorrow I hope to sit down and really write draft 2. 

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Gruesome subjects

I'm having a lot of satisfaction writing about - well, a really horrible, can't-stop-reading about-it subject. Foetal abduction. This horribly real crime is on the increase worldwide (but thankfully, extremely rare). I first read about a small village in Italy that had two over a period of a decade, I think between the wars, and the facts stuck with me. Women will pretend to be pregnant then befriend or abduct a pregnant woman to attack her and steal the baby. Very few mothers survive, several babies have died. Worse, there are a small number of cases when the abductor has also killed the woman's other children.

Writing about such a painful, horrible crime allows me, as a writer, to dig deep into the psyche: my own experiences of being pregnant, even the painful years when I couldn't get pregnant. How someone goes from longing for a baby to needing one, obviously, is beyond me. Most abductors have been diagnosed with serious mental illnesses. But the more common crime of abducting babies from prams or hospitals is from the same psychopathology. Women either seek to attach a partner by claiming they are carrying his child, or they are obsessed with having a child and want to experience a parody of birth. They just turn up with a newborn, announcing the birth to have taken them by surprise. 

Anyway, I wondered how other people write the tough stuff, especially people who write about emotional anguish or crime. I can't say I feel upset exactly, but I do prefer to write undisturbed, because it takes longer to get deep, deep into the painful stuff.  

Monday, 18 June 2012


When I was in my twenties, writing a book/short stories/poems/articles was a process of anticipation, followed by despair (no-one ever answered in less than several months) followed by rejection. Or acceptance but with a load of qualifying conditions like 'could you make it shorter/better or longer/lighter and could the heroine be blond and more bubbly?' When my daughter was born I had had some success but the weight of crushing rejections was heartbreaking. I stopped writing because my daughter was disabled, and I did intend to get back to it, BUT I was glad to give up all the rejections. I was successful as a parent, I was largely unsuccessful as a writer. My acceptance rate for creative work was about 10%. I did get a lot of articles published, but they didn't count to me, they didn't seem important (except that they usually came with a useful cheque). Now, I've stepped on that merry-go-round again, with a load of people reading (and probably mostly rejecting) the book. Kind fellow bloggers have warned me: rejections come first, and fast. Deals are often preceded by questions and criticism. One was asked to change her book from a multiple third to a single first person POV (which means the character has to be at all the action, or told about it, to maintain the story). If I do get a deal, it will all happen fast, and can't be predicted.

So I'm sat here, concentrating on the next book, which isn't tainted by all this possible rejection. It's all mine. I've read it over the weekend and a sharper, darker second draft with a stronger story is forming in my head. My children's book is growing fast, and for fun, and a holiday is two weeks away.

Thank you to all the kind and knowledgeable people that have been supporting me.     The blogging community of writers is a generous and creative one. I'll let you know what happens.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Writing a children's book

Last year, I wrote a kids' book, at least in first draft. My kids (who are mostly over 18!) love the story and have encouraged me to finish up a better draft but I lost faith a bit because it was marked down by a tutor. Quite rightly, as the central character was the least well visualised. But it left it at the back of the pile.

I always write two books at a time. The B&B book (I know it's a terrible title!) and Borrowed Time, then Borrowed Time (now Secrets) and A Baby's Bones. Now I've got Bones to work on, there's a window for the kids' book, maybe in time for the Mslexia competition. Writing two books can be very therapeutic for me. I write fast so my words tend to run ahead of the plot. 1000-2000 words and I need to sit down and think about the next scenes. To keep the fingers flying, I play with writing random scenes for the future book. This means by the time I sit down seriously to write the next book, I've experimented with the characters, got to know them, and have some plot ideas. Marley and the Crow is about 30k words of good quality (except for Marley) but patchy, poorly paced children's fiction for 9-11 year olds. It needs a new draft. So today, to stop myself chewing my fingers to the knuckles, I played with a first person rewrite of Marley, and I think it worked. Very satisfying. It has tension (will the evil developer con poor Aunt Marianne out of her house?) and threat (who is poisoning all the rooks?) and comedy (the budding relationship between a tame crow and Marley) who is trying to deal with her parents' break up. Anyone who knows me is familiar with the crow theme, we have rescued a number of corvids, and we were recently offered a young rook...called ASBO for some reason. We had to decline as we don't have an aviary and I think he would be at war with the cats!
Here is a little sample, and apologies to those who have seen it before.
   ‘Who are you?’
   I jumped a mile. It’s creepy being in someone else’s house, looking for teabags, and the voice was really nearby. It seemed to be coming from a box of cornflakes on a shelf just over my head. Then, there was a really loud tapping, like a little hammer on a metal drum. I pulled the cereal packet forward—and came nose to nose with a huge beak. A big, black bird was sat on a jar, filled with yellow sweets, with a label on. Sherbet Lemons. The bird turned its head, looking at me with one amber eye, then swivelled its head to look at me with the other.
   ‘Who are you?’ I could see its beak open and shut, but it still sounded really weird that a crow was speaking. It pecked the lid of the jar with a loud dink.
   ‘Aunt Marianne!’ I shouted, and stood back against the table. I ought to explain, my aunt’s house is really old fashioned, and her kitchen is like a museum. All the walls are covered in shelves with giant jars on, with strange labels like ‘chocolate sugar strands’ and ‘pumpkin seeds—eat first’ on. We wouldn’t be there, but Mum and Dad had a huge row, and Mum drove us all the way to Cornwall from London.
   ‘Oh, there he is!’ Aunt Marianne bustled in, wearing what looked like a pair of flowery curtains made into a dress, a scarf wound around her hair and about a million bangles and bracelets. ‘Bram, come down from there, you scruffy old thing!’
   ‘I was just trying to make Mum a cup of tea.’
   Aunt Marianne flapped her long sleeves, which made a mist of white powder fly up from a bowl on the table. It tasted sweet, but made me cough.
   ‘Marley, help me. Cut him off…’
   I stood at the end of the shelf while she tried to shoo him off the shelf, but I wasn’t getting too close to his beak. He just hopped from jar to jar. He started cackling, which made him sound like he was laughing at us.
   ‘Get down!’ he shouted, in Aunt Marianne’s voice which was hysterical. ‘Get down, get down, get down!’
   Even Aunt Marianne had to laugh at him, as he hopped and flapped to the end of the shelf.   ‘Quick, Marley, get me a tea towel.’
    I looked around, and grabbed a cloth that was hanging on the back of a chair. ‘He really talks.’
   ‘Oh, crows are excellent mimics.’ She took the towel and held it in both hands, in front of the bird. ‘Oh, come down you silly—’
   As she said silly, she waved the towel at him, he started slipping on a curved lid, and he had to clap his wings to stay on. Aunt Marianne was tall, easily as tall as Dad, but even she couldn’t quite reach him. He tried to get his balance, but fell off, flapping his wings like mad, and landed…whoomph…straight in the bowl of powdered sugar.
   I screwed my eyes up tight, and held my breath.
   When I opened them, everything looked frosted. The bird was sat on the table, looking like a short, fat seagull standing in snow.
   I started to laugh, even as Aunt Marianne started to swear under her breath.
   ‘Ha ha ha,’ said the bird. The more I laughed, the more he said the words, until even Aunt    Marianne joined in. The patterns of her dress had faded with the dust.
   The bird shook himself, turning grey. ‘Who are you?’ he said again. ‘Who are you?’
   I stepped out of the way of the beak. ‘Is it safe...I mean, does it bite?’
   ‘Bram? Goodness, no, he’s quite gentle.’ She batted herself with the tea towel, which just smeared the sugar. ‘If you hold your hand out he’ll probably come to you.’ She tutted. ‘Silly bird.’
   ‘Silly bird, silly bird,’ he echoed. Then he sneezed and his feathers darkened again.
   Then Aunt Marianne did something weird. She gave the bird one of those “don’t-you-dare” looks she sometimes gives Christy, my disgusting little brother, right before he picks his nose in front of Grandma. ‘Just stay there and be good, silly bird. I’ll get the dustpan and brush.’
   ‘Silly bird, silly bird,’ chanted the bird, shaking the dust off his feathers and making my nose itch. I started brushing the sugar off, but it was sticky. The bird walked towards me with lizardy, scaly feet, his tail brushing a zigzag in the sugar on the table.
   ‘Who are you?’
   I brushed the sugar off my T-short until I could see the pattern. ‘I’m Marley, crazy bird.’
I wasn’t planning to hold my hand out for him to peck. He fluffed himself up, looking twice as big, then all his feathers sort of made a rattling sound, like kicking dry leaves. Then every one fell into place, looking as black and glossy as before.
   ‘But who are you?’ he said, in a little growly voice. ‘And what kind of name is Marley?’  

Friday, 15 June 2012

What does it take to write a book of potentially publishable quality?

I have no, really, I was asked this in a email a few days ago, by a student on an MA in creative writing, and I'll answer it again because I need reminding occasionally too. I've met a lot of people who are aiming to write a novel, and they seem to fall into three camps.
  • Those who think they have a novel in them but haven't started one because it seems so unlikely that they would be able to get published there's no point. My advice would be that the reason most of us write novels is because we are driven to write anyway, publication isn't the only goal. Write short stories, send them off to magazines, put your toe in the publishing pool.
  • Those who have written a novel and are now polishing and honing the masterpiece prior to taking the marketplace by storm. My advice would be to remind them that first novels very rarely get published,  most of us learn a lot with each novel, and statistically we are more likely to get novel 4 published than 1, 2 or 3. Put the book out there, but start book 2. And book 3. Grieve, move on, get stronger.
  • Those who have written a stack of books but can't finish them (oh, that's me!). Take a long, hard look at the best of those books, then rewrite to make the book stronger. Whatever the core of the book is, whether it's a relationship, a threat, a journey - make it more so. If it's a tense thriller, make it more tense. If it's emotionally draining, make it more so. Rewrite, rewrite. If you aren't sure you are making the book better, join a writing group, take a class, apply to an MA, work on your craft. Read good books in your genre, analyse how they do it.
And remember, no matter how good your query letter and synopsis, it's the book that needs to impress the reader. Make the first three chapters absolutely perfect, good enough to enter a competition, say. Then rewrite all the other chapters to be at least as good. If there's one thing I've learned in the last few years and the five books I've written over them, it's that writing is hard work, and your first draft will be enormously improved by being rewritten and re-crafted, probably several times. Whether you do that as you go along, or through successive drafts, those words can probably be improved. I don't know whether I can get a book published, but I know I've got pretty close over the last few months. I'm waiting to hear back from editors, but I'm not sitting around. I'm off to write more books, and more drafts, to make my chances even better. And remember...

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Between there...and over there.

There was editing a book I had written. Over there is what happens when a whole load of editors have read it and responded. At the moment, I'm sandwiched in the middle, I neither have a book to edit for an agent nor do I have...well, a book to edit for a publisher. I shall go to the supermarket and do the shopping.

It's been an emotional day. My agent very kindly sent me a copy of her pitch, which was wonderfully written, warm, funny, clever and full of hooks. I can see what she did, but I'm completely sure I couldn't have done it. It's a difficult book to place in a genre, and I know that's a problem, so she's called it 'fresh and original', while planting it with crime and historical with a  touch of fantasy. She didn't even mention the main characters, which is genius, because they are the characters whose stories are most complex, most tangled. Instead, she has gone straight to the historical characters and my Professor.

The agent has obviously been talking the book up for ages, since the Mslexia competition really, and has whetted a lot of appetites. I don't think I have ever realised or appreciated what agents do before. In the past, I wondered if an agent would just be one  more person to worry about, but now I realise she is the buffer between me, and the mean machine that is publishing. If you're writing novels, I wish you every success in getting yourself your own lovely agent, because she has just made it look so easy.

And if the book doesn't sell? I realised today, I've got as close to being published as you can without actually getting a contract, with a book that was easy to write, in fact a pleasure to write. I'm sure I could do a bit better, especially with the advice of an agent to help me. It's all going in the right direction. I have been inspired and encouraged by reading blogs like Jeff Abbott's, Catherine Robertson and Liz Fenwick to name just a few. I hope that my 'journey to publication', the one I started three years ago, will encourage my visitors to do the same (hell, go for it, outdo me!) I'm off to avoid the chocolate aisle and linger in the healthy eating vegetables, before sneaking off for a fat slice of CAKE.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012's gone

Polished, corrected, tidied, the manuscript is off on its journey to editors. My lovely agent, and she is kind, she phoned me just to reassure me today, is writing the pitch, phoning around to get the book to the right people, and tidying up my biography. She also wanted the synopsis of my next book, just to prove I'm not a one book wonder, I suppose. It's going off to many people, people she's been talking it up to for months. Most will 'thanks, but no thanks', it's not an easy book to place, with elements of a historical novel and a fantasy edge too. Hopefully one (or better, two) will like it.

My job is now to forget about it and let her show it around. It may all come to nothing, but it's out of my hands, which is a huge relief. On days like this, I remember all the negative messages you hear about how impossible it is to get published. While I'm actually working on it, it seems more likely. Time will tell.

Meanwhile, the poetry collection is having its final polishes too. There comes a point when you have to say, for novels as well as poetry, it ain't perfect but I'm out of time/patience. I'm tired, sad and unwell, so it feels a bit uphill at the moment. But in a few weeks, I'm off for the rarest of treats, a whole week on holiday with my husband. No kids, just the two of us, in the Lake District. 

All the frustrations of the last weeks, from UCAS cock-ups with no.1 son (now resolved), having to declare an elderly relative no longer able to cope with her finances, and the sheer tiredness that comes with being ill, will be left behind, and we can get a bit of the perspective that comes from looking back at your life from a long way away.  

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Fear of failure, fear of success

I don't think I'm alone in my insecurities. I don't think I have ever finished a manuscript, really polished, checked, read-out-loud, read again, finished a book. Because if I did, then someone can come along and judge it, and I can't tell myself, 'well, of course they think that, it isn't finished.' Then I can keep the hope alive, that I am really an undiscovered writing talent and publishers will want to buy my book.   

There's another fear. Not only am I afraid that I am not the above talent, but I also have a fear that I might be. In which case, the opportunity to mismanage my writing is enormous. And how do people cope with public success? Getting published isn't something you can do quietly, in private, like a painter who just shows a picture to their nicest friends. The book is going to be sent away to the harshest of judges - people who need to make money out of something born of imagination and whimsy. Even if they like it, they have to show it's a commercial proposition. If it passes that (HUGE) hurdle, then it is tested against the world of booksellers and book sales. The opportunities for failure are just so enormous. The odd chance of success is just as scary, not everyone will like the blasted thing. Even the most successful of books has its detractors (in fact, I suspect they have many more).   

I'm rambling. I am becoming a book bore, because I am trying to hold two equally impossible ideas in the same head. This book is either going to be a monumental failure, or an actual success. I should just go back in the other room and complete the polishing, send it off to my lovely agent, change my phone number and hide under a duvet until about 2015. That sounds like a plan...

Friday, 8 June 2012

Final stages

For the first time ever, I have dared to take the time to add the final gloss to a manuscript. I took the decision to ask the agent to hold fire for a day or two, while I sit down and consciously read the whole book (The Secrets of Life and Death) out loud, with a red pen in my hand. The book looks very different in paperback, and I am coming at it as a critical reader rather than as a panicky writer. 

There aren't any major mistakes. Most of what I am doing is improving the writing, adding a layer of polish, while picking up the odd error. It's a lot more reassuring than I expected it to be, as mostly (for the first time), it feels consistent, sharp, edgy, well paced. I don't write very positively about my writing, and even less so about this particular book, but now I'm pleased with it. I don't want an editor to pick it up, see three or four less than smart phrases, or dialogue that doesn't flow, and start to build up an image of a book that isn't all that well written. I know the story works for some readers, but with the help of readers and editors I haven't just chased down mistakes but gained confidence in critiquing my own writing. 

So, thank you to those people who have been enormously supportive and helpful, and I hope the final version (which will be finished early next week, just in time for the agent to come back) reflects all the time and energy that has gone into it. I feel like this is my 'training book', writing A Baby's Bones is so much easier and the first draft was so much better. Even if it doesn't get published, it has made me more able to do every stage of writing a novel. 

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Freedom to plot

Giving myself permission to start draft 2 of A Baby's Bones has had a freeing effect. I can look at what I have, and take the main character in an entirely new direction. What the book needs (I think) is to be darker, more tense and the characters more conflicted. The male character is being wasted, he can be much more focused and bloody minded, which would help the story. 

I started with the idea that the story in the past can slowly parallel the story in the present. In the past, the man has a 'stalker', a woman who believes that he loves her although he doesn't spend any time with her or ever speak to her (erotomania). I liked the idea of mirroring the past with the present but getting away from that slightly predictable idea, gives me room to really explore two better rounded human beings. I also need contrast between the male characters, and starting a new draft allows redrawing them.

Best of all, redrafting has given me valuable thinking time. I tend to be a slave to the writing process and don't give enough thought to where the story is going (or going to end up) and grind to a halt because I took a wrong turn chapters ago. Now I can chill out, start again. I have some very good words I can just move around and rework, so I will quickly build a good platform from which to launch the new chapters. I hope! 

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Plotting (again)

I think I have just about come to terms with the fact that I am not a plotter, after all. No matter how many different methods I try, the second I have a coherent plan, I think of something way cooler and write that instead. I have been analysing what I do do, and as I save major drafts (I email them to myself in case the computer blows up or the house is knocked down) and there's a common thread squeaking through the mishmash. 

  • Crime novel: I got to 40k and keeled over, started again with the same characters (which I knew much better), got to 60k, ran out of steam, started a third draft, which finished at 87k.
  • Novel about B&B (I know, pedestrian for me): first draft, 38k, second draft 61k, final book 77k
  • Borrowed Time: 40k, 60k, then up to present 98k. 

Each time, I realised the characters had developed, perhaps plotlines that were in the first draft could be replaced or improved upon in subsequent drafts. Maybe a whole new strand needs to be woven into the narrative, or an additional character, or maybe characters need to be pruned out to make the main character more important. What I seem to do is analyse what I have and then build on those foundations - not so much plotting as writing the story again, only better. The problem is, coming to that fateful point when I'm running out of energy at 40k feels like I've run dry of ideas, and I know I'm not. I'm trying to spend more time thinking, so I can start draft 2 with new energy. For a start, I know that the 'romance' in A Baby's Bones needs to be dragged back to a few speculative glances and misunderstandings until the end of the book.  Instead, the tension in the story can develop through the book without light relief. (Next draft, I may change this again, but it's a process).

I hugely admire people who write a passage, review, edit and perfect it the next day, then calmly carry on with the next passage in a linear fashion. But I'm definitely not one of them.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Chickens and lettuces

After the airy fairy work of trying to get published, and with a period of waiting forecast, which may or may not be productive, it's time to get back to earth. The rain is falling, which means the weeds are springing out of the ground far faster than the beleaguered vegetables, and we have new hens. Nature and the cycle of life...well, chicken keeping anyway. There's something very grounding about pulling up tiny chickweed plants, tossing them to greedy hens, scraping up chicken poo for the compost, turning and watering and nurturing said compost then spreading it over raised grow more lettuces/beans/tomatoes. The other day all I had to harvest was a big handful of fresh sorrel leaves and a crumble's worth of rhubarb, but it's incredibly satisfying to pick. This morning one of the juvenile chickens produced a perfect, miniature egg in warm cream - probably the Light Sussex hen. Like this one. 

There's just something lovely about growing your own food, even if it's just a few herbs and a bit of salad. The raspberries are growing like mad, too, and that's something we can't afford as a family unless we grow them.

One of the hens is a brown leghorn, a very pretty little hen but the bigger birds aren't making life easy for her, she's getting chased away from all the treats. She will grow up to look like this one: 
I'm inclined to write chickens into the next chapter of the current WIP. Meanwhile, I'm enjoying a few days off, the kids are home, the husband's off work, the book is out of reach, and I've got time to make bread and possibly some pots of jam from all that rhubarb. My rhubarb and lemon jam, though I say it myself, is very good on toast, and I think we still have a big bag of berries from last year's crop in the freezer somewhere for blackberry and raspberry might make the unseasonably wet weather more bearable! Meanwhile, on an animal theme, if I sit at the computer too long, the cat politely pats my leg, then sits heavily on my arm, and finally does THIS:
Time between pat and THIS was about forty seconds, Harry Wooggo gets less patient with age. If that fails she knocks the jar of cat biscuits into the bin and my tea onto the keyboard. I usually have to give in.