Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Finding the coherent whole in all the bits

At this stage, my manuscript looks a bit like a book but actually is a pile of disparate scenes and chapters which more or less meander along in a narrative. To a disappointing ending, because book 2 ran on into book 3 and I couldn't work out how to separate them. Now I have a whiteboard full of snags to fix, and am reading through it finding the bits that are repetitive and bits that don't connect.

Last week my agent and editor mentioned the same thing: the links between the two strands. It's disconnecting to move from a dramatic scene in the contemporary story to a scene in 1587 in Venice...unless they somehow tell the same story. So I'm linking the two strands up much more. The whiteboard would be even more helpful if I hadn't groped for the light switch the other day and erased some of the useful suggestions on it.

Book promotion is still on my mind, mostly because the concept is terrifying. I've read a book about it  (twice) and am waiting for contact from the publisher. I often reflect on the fact that in some ways I am unprepared for this journey. The Mslexia competition got me an agent, who got me a publisher... I wasn't expecting all that. I was just gearing up for a first round of submissions and rejections. I'm very grateful, I just wish the fast track came with a few more explanations! I've been informed by a number of writers that I should have been worrying about promotion months ago, and here I am, barely starting the process.

Writing the books is so much easier, but if no-one knows about them, no-one buys them, and the publishers stop buying your books. But I know authors that are fantastic at publicity and promotion who have modest sales, and a few lucky recluses that do just as well with a very low key campaign. Confusing. More research needed I think. I have a few volunteers for a project I'm working on, more about that later.

I'm still missing my moggie writing companion. His sister has taken to sitting on my lap all day, which makes typing impossible...not the same.

Cookie a.k.a Harry Wooggo


Thursday, 23 May 2013

Promoting a book

Now here's a subject I know even less about than usual! How does a writer promote their own book?

There are those writers that just go around gushing: 'It's brilliant, the best thing I ever wrote!' They tweet, and blog and message you, and I find it puts me off reading their masterpiece.

Then there are the others who pretend the book isn't even theirs. 'Oh, that old thing?' *blush*. I have a horrible feeling I fall into the second camp. I get embarrassed just trying to describe the books, let alone when people praise them. It's not that I don't think it's a good book, I do, and I know it's well written or it wouldn't have done well in the Mslexia competition.  It's just, books are very personal, I can't promise someone would enjoy any book, even my favourites.

So I'm looking into ways to promote my book  that don't involve me having to beg people to buy it while proclaiming it brilliant. There are a small number of very kind people who have offered to help big up the book and I think I'm going to ask them to help. I think I need a team of people who can help rather than just me. So, if you think you might like to help, could you drop me an email with your email address and I'll get back to you. I will reciprocate, of course.

And if you have any ideas, please make suggestions! I'm at a loose end here. I've been invited to give a few talks and I have a book launch/signing organised on the Island but that's as far as I've got. I have bought a book on promoting novels, too, and Liesel Schwarz has been encouraging and is going through the same process and I'm following her advice, too.

Meanwhile, I am making some lovely writing friends through a new venture that is slowly unfurling. I set up a hub for writers to connect up in North Devon and so far, I've met some lovely people and found several writing groups. Maybe they will have a few ideas...

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Renewed energy and positivity

I set off for London to see my agent, Charlotte Robertson of Aitken Alexander Associates, with some trepidation. Writing books is something you do essentially alone, chained to a keyboard somewhere, it's not as if you have weekly progress meetings or anything. So you can get seventy, eighty, ninety thousand words into a book and have no idea if it's working or not. My first drafts are just a heap of chapters and scenes in no particular sequence, even though I do try to write in order. So, months after I start I have reordered, rewritten and hopefully improved the thing into an actual novel, then something happens. I start to like it. Not the whole, but bits of it. I start to pat myself, entirely secretly, on the back for the chase through the forest or the scene at the hotel. Then I have to show it to someone.

Charlotte is my show-it-to person.

She is quite matter of fact with things that don't work, and enthusiastic about things that do. I have come back fired up with ideas to work n those areas of the book that don't excite and enthuse either of us. More than that, I showed her the plans for book 3 and a crime novel I'm rewriting for fun. (My hobby is writing as well as work!). Book 3, yes, green light. And my quirky crime novel where no-one is actually murdered, yes, give it a go! But what I really needed was reassurance ahead of publication that I could write, my books work and my instincts are good. It's heady stuff, all that positive feedback, and I shall keep it in the back of my mind for dark days when the words stutter.

I also met my editor, Michael Rowley and his assistant Emily Yau, from Del Rey UK. We joined two other Del Rey authors (Liesel Schwarz and E J Swift) that I've met on line, and we had a great evening. A whole evening full of people who are passionate about writing and story and books. It turned out we are also captivated by our cats, which helped with the I've-just-put-my-cat-down blues. Publication still seems a distant fantasy, but less so, hearing these writers describe their journey. I was inspired by them, as I have already been by their books.     

Thursday, 16 May 2013

A stressful week

All the time someone is reading my work, I'm anxious. I get more anxious as the time goes on. Maybe they can't think of a nice way to tell me it's bad, I think. Maybe I've completely lost it and handed in the worse book in history. Was it even English? I do it every time. Alternatively, maybe they haven't had time to read it yet. Maybe they haven't had time to write me an email full of useful feedback. They probably have a million other things to do. Maybe they are waiting until they actually see me.

But it isn't just that that is stressing me out. Dodger, my ginger cat, who is part teddy bear and is my constant writing companion, is in the vet hospital. He stopped eating last weekend, and was diagnosed with jaundice on Monday. Four days on a drip with antibiotics and steroids haven't brought any improvement so I think everyone is agreed that, unless he is much better by morning, his time is up. He's fourteen, it's not a shock and yet...I can't bear it. Every now and then a wave of grief overwhelms me. In between, I'm sane and sensible, but then... I'm just hoping for it to pass once Dodger is gone.

So this is a sad me, not writing, not cuddling my cat, just waiting to feel better.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Exciting days!

I've been invited to contribute to the Mslexia blog, for three months from August. This is nicely over the deadline for the Mslexia novel competition (write, ladies, write!) and my own book launch. This feels like a wonderful development to me. A great platform from which to introduce my book to the world, and say to a lot of writer women, if I can do it, maybe you can too. It gets lonely and frustrating out there, writing, wondering if anyone will ever read the words we wrestle with.

Which means, it's time for another plug for the competition that gave me an agent and a book deal. How rare are opportunities like this? Your book will get a proper look from people who know about good writing. The prize is £5000 for the winner but the extras are worth far more. The top three will get feedback from the Literary Consultancy, and the shortlisted authors will get to meet agents and editors at a special event in London.

Not to mention that even to be longlisted is something in your query letter. You do have to be female, and writing for adults or YA (not children) and have a book of 50,000 words at least, ready to send off if you are longlisted. It's £25. That's a return for me of...priceless. You can be from anywhere, but write in English, and you can't be published commercially, but that's it. No preferred genre. Mine is urban fantasy and while I hope it's well written, it's not what I think of as literary. Go for it. I dare you.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Finishing the proof pages

I'm just finishing up the proof read of The Secrets of Life and Death, and it's been a humbling experience. Despite countless reads and edits, a lot of silly mistakes, mainly repetitions, have slipped through. And stray commas. And odd spaces and reversed speech marks. Some of them I probably created during the copy edit. I'm marking them all up and putting them into a note to go to the publishers, but I'm embarrassed by the sheer number. I'm also blushing at the fact that I can't spell 'embarrassed', thank goodness for the spell check.

I've been fairly astonished at the process of tidying up a novel. A bit like pregnancy, you focus on the birth and distracted from all the work and emotional madness that follows. Getting a book deal was a lot of work for my agent but I just sat around and daydreamed about what it would be like. Then edits, and changes, and more edits, and discussions about the cover. More edits, more polishing...it has taken a lot of work to get it this far, and we still have proof copies to look at. I have a lot more respect for the process now, it's hard to get a tidy copy of your book out there. I can't remember the last time I read a book and didn't find a mistake so I'm dreading opening the book straight to one...hopefully not. 

The weather here is stormy, the wind's getting up, the sun is mostly out but clouds are scudding across from the west and my writing seems strangely influenced by the atmosphere. On rainy days I'm more likely to write moody, dark forest scenes or indoor chapters. On frosty, snowy or cold days sunshine sneaks into my writing, and warm days definitely lighten the mood on the page. I can read a first scruffy draft and often guess what the weather was like at the time...not very helpful when you write a scene over several days! But today it's cheered me up. The chickens keep getting their skirts blown up and are clucking and skipping around the yard. They prefer that to being stuck in the run, but I'll get them in if it rains. Odd gusts give them all punk hair, though.

I have a love/hate relationship with the wildlife around here. Squirrels entertain us with battles over the bird feeder but will eat all my sweetcorn, badgers that enchant us by eating dried fruit and dog biscuits off the front step, but dig up my seedlings. The onion and garlic bed planted last year now has baby onions coming up all over the place as they get dug up and replanted. I'm amazed they survive. But I wouldn't swap it. I know having such a huge house (it is silly big but there were seven of us) for a diminishing family is a bit daft, but they will all be home in the summer and I can pretend that we couldn't possibly move down to a smaller house. But in September no. 5 child goes off to university and it will just be us and the fourteen year old.  

Thursday, 2 May 2013


I've got the proof pages of The Secrets of Life and Death to work through, and it's slow going. I've managed 60 pages - before my brain went numb - reading every word out loud and looking for tiny errors. Spaces in front of dialogue, a couple of those. A couple of commas perhaps I shouldn't have taken out, an 'of' instead of 'on'. I can't believe that the many many edits haven't found these tiny snags, that I could have read them wrong so many times. I know there will be some in the finished document. Ouch.

Worse, today I seem to have my 'literary' hat on. Normally I just rush through telling my story, and don't worry too much about whether I have written well, but today I am wincing at all the odd phrases, accidental alliterations, things that could have been worded better. I know this is my shop window, this is the book that will be out there on its own for a long time as the only available example of my writing, and it's not my best work because I have learned so much over the last eighteen months.

Meanwhile book 2 is having its first read through, by my agent, who will hopefully gently point me in the direction of the major snags and highlight what works and what doesn't. I feel rushed at the moment, perhaps I will ask for more time to really finish book 2. It isn't going out until June 2014. Having said that, I always think that.

On a different subject, the building work and decoration over in my new bedroom, we took delivery of my new bed. We ordered it in the Christmas sales and it's finally here, so I may unwind with a quick bounce on my new mattress - immature but there you go. I've had a really busy day.