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.