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.