Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Ten weeks to go...generating publicity

You could have written (and maybe you have!) a really great book. But if no-one knows about it, how will they buy it?

Talking yesterday to the publicity and marketing departments, and was completely reassured. People will be told about my book. They will be offered opportunities to read it, or write reviews. They were helpful, encouraging and had ideas. For example, some authors put up readings, extracts or interviews on youtube, which reaches a different audience from, say, someone who reads the broadsheet reviews (of which there are few). It also made me realise the networks of people I am part of are more than I appreciated. I need to master all this networking stuff.

I also need to master twitter. Not easy... I am just worried it will take up more time I don't have. It would be easier if I had one of those all singing/all dancing phones that do twitter and FB and emails. Mine only begrudgingly does texts.

So I'm reading Tweet Right by Nicola Morgan and making copious notes. My ambition is to find my way to putting up a picture on Twitter, maybe even this blog post. I wonder if it will work? I have managed to tweet before but have never been sure quite how I did it. I think my address on Twitter is @RebAlexander1 and hopefully I have tweeted a picture of our neighbourhood badger. Possibly. Possibly not.  

Meanwhile book 3 races on, and I'm loving writing what I think is the best of the trilogy (possibly because it's the one I'm working on).

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

The book progresses - a US deal

The book now has a US publisher, a paperback house that will put it out next year. It's weird that it has a life of its own, I'm just in its past! Well, maybe not if it needs translating for an American audience but I hope not too much. Like most writers, the only project that I understand at the moment is the one I'm writing NOW, and the past books, even book 2 which I only finished in May, are in the past. I'm waiting for notes and edits to do on book 2 - but probably not for a few more weeks. The only frustration is, until I get it ready to deliver I don't get paid and having most of the kids home is turning out to be expensive!

I have itchy feet at the moment, looking at other places to live. I always said I would do the big, inconvenient house to contain the then five kids for five years, but it's been six years and no real prospect of moving until next year. I think I need a house where I could just walk out the front door without abseiling down the drive and walking a mile over the switchback road to town for a paper. The landscape here isn't so much steep as concertina'd.

One thing that I enjoyed enormously last Saturday is the first teaching I've done for a while, and the first teaching of adults for ages. We looked at short stories, finding the starting points, and developing them. It was brilliant, as usual it made me really look at my own writing, reminding myself of the basics (again) but also at the delicacy of touch that some people have for short stories, for me, the hardest and purest form of fiction. I'm passionate about teaching, and there is a huge gap in my area for creative writing tuition at degree or MA level. I'm hoping, with others, to fill that space and develop a culture of good creative writing - and improving writing - in North Devon.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

There's a poet in here somewhere...

Yesterday, I spent the day with Frances Corky Thompson and a small group of selected poets. We were looking at all aspects of travel and writing poetry and feeding back on it all day. The workshop was run by Ruth O'Callaghan, whose new book The Silence Unheard is available from Shoestring Press.

What a switchback ride. Ruth moved us straight into creative mode, jotting down impressions from a photograph, feeding back on the results, then getting us to start forming our impressions into a poem. The whole day was like that: work, work, work, think and feedback around the table. The six participants worked so hard, produced some amazing work, a couple of formed poems that blew me away included and loads of drafts with gems embedded in them. (I came away with dozens of lovely words highlighted). It was an advanced workshop, I was trawling through my knowledge of metre and rhyme, alliterations and onomatopoeia, weaving more and more references in. There were a few moments when I was just baffled, the word penumbra, for example was one I had heard but never understood (it means part shade, apparently).

More exercises, leading to more drafts, and more feedback which often found connections that, in my case anyway, had been unconscious. The other participants were so generous, and their work so wonderful, I was left feeling like a complete amateur. Despite that, Ruth and the rest of the group drew some good stuff from my fuddled brain. Frances laid on a feast in her gorgeous garden, and we chatted and breathed back out before it all started again in the afternoon. More challenges, some I thought were completely beyond me. More poems fell out, were slapped into shape with seconds to spare, read out. Terrifying. I felt completely nurtured by the group, their criticisms were constructive and a learning curve that I found so helpful. I can see more poetry in my future...

I wrote this: (be kind, early draft)

Air blows dusty and hot
rebounds through the train
as it surfs through Victorian earth
stations blur, circle again.

Metal brakes screech, jangle
around curves, the brick roof
pushes the river away,
spider hung with cables
and black with history.

We sag on sweaty, greasy seats
smell hot oil and hot people,
crowds pressed together, sway together,
blank-faces as we wait.

Oh, and on the book front, The Secrets of Life and Death has sold in the US to an imprint of Random House called Broadway. No more money for me but hopefully some more sales! How exciting...

Monday, 15 July 2013

Networking and publicity

I'm probably not one of those people who will have tee-shirts printed, jump up and down saying 'read my book - it's brilliant!' or bully people into buying it, but I accept that sales will be restricted to friends and family if I don't get out there and work it a bit. Because, it is a good book and it's written well and it tells the story of characters I love and believe in. So I'm networking.

I'm teaching, which reaches a few people (and I love, and it pushes me as a writer!). I'm hoping to do an author event in Barnstaple, which is good. I'm meeting people who are happy to promote a local author. I'm reaching back to my other community on the Island, which is still where my heart wants to be sometimes. I'm spending time on the computer connecting with people. It takes masses of time. It takes more time than I ever expected.

I have a writing website for teaching. I have just purchased website address for the books which will need servicing and looking after. I still have blogs etc. I'm webmistress of the North Devon Publishing Project (look us up) and I'm still trying to be a wife, mother and occasional reader. And fit in book 3 and research for book 4. Hm. Something has to give.

So, I'm hoping to meet up with the lady who will be doing publicity and maybe the marketing lady too, if she's around, and ask them all the baby questions that I need to understand to further promote the book, and hopefully reduce the anxiety and even manage the work better. How does one market their book? I feel like I need to invest in this first one. On my MA we were visited by an editor who said 'you only get one chance to be a debut author', and I know he's right. Making a splash for book 1 will give further books more of a chance.

Despite all this, I'm back on track with book 3, despite the distraction of sunshine, beach days and prickly heat nights (ouch!) and will be off celebrating my birthday with friends Thursday and Friday. Fabulous times.   

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Happy days in the heat of summer

One of the things I find less appealing about the English is that they seem to moan excessively about the weather. I LOVE our weather, we have one of the most fertile and varied climates in the world with some of the most fertile environments. Apart from a few adder bites every year we are largely free of man-eating creatures, our stinging nettles really don't compare to some of the poisonous plants around the world. And we manage bright sunshine and snow - sometimes just three months apart (remember April?). I'm loving it, even though I have developed prickly heat. Whether you like the sunshine or not, chances are some fog/rain/gales will be along shortly. At least we're topping up our vitamin D and our melatonin levels. I think I got seasonal affective disorder last summer in all the dark days.

The weather somehow creeps into my books. Secrets 1 starts in the autumn, leaves falling, the first frosts, driving rain. The story works its way up to the winter solstice (or Christmas). Secrets 2 is set in the following spring, the icy winds giving way to the first sunshine and the springing of bulbs. It also features a garden finding its way back to full fertility, buzzing with the first insects and new growth.

I'm doing a couple of workshops before I launch myself into the unknown world of book promotion (I'm hoping to go and see the relevant people in the next few weeks!) and it's getting my creative juices flowing. I love going back to the creative writing books and my library of fabulous, inspiring authors. One that blew me away from the off, was My Mother was an Upright Piano by Tania Hershman. She reads it here, and it remains one of those little gems that gets me reading it, smiling at the clever, funny imagery but left somehow profoundly sad. Teaching makes me think more creatively about what I do myself, whatever I'm teaching whether it's counselling skills or psychology or statistics or whatever. Maybe people think I'm odd when I say it, but I really do learn as much by teaching as I do by sitting in a class.

I've sorted out a website for teaching called www.rebecca-alexander.co.uk and I've bought up "www.thesecretsoflifeanddeath.co.uk" for a website related to the book itself. I hardly have time to write but it's all making me focus. On the book 3 front, I've found the fatal plot flaw and ironed it out neatly, so I can go back to writing and develop a few more. It's my method; it's not pretty or efficient but it's mine.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Magic words

It's been a long week of exploration of research for future books, and an internal debate about how much I can actually do. In a good spell with few or no interruptions, I can enjoy writing about 2 books a year, or just under. I can also manage some poetry, some drama and a bit of short story writing (even though I find it the most time consuming). With family problems, distractions and real life, it starts to dwindle down to just the books. At the moment, book 3 is growing nicely, I reached a point where I knew it was derailed but had found a way to rewrite so I paced it better, which is always my bugbear.   

So I'm back writing, while book 4 buzzes in the back of my head from all the research and the pictures and sensory impressions we gathered from Dartmoor. I started by writing the snippets of 'Dartmoor lore' that will shape the contemporary story. It will be a bit of relief to get away from the sixteenth century for a book and instead play around with the Victorian era. It will also be nice to write a bit more about my other character, Sage, the archaeologist from the prequel. I like her, not least because she has a solid scepticism about all things that go bump in the night.

The script above is called Ge'ez, it's one of the very earliest scripts ever written, some of the very early books of the Bible have been written in it. Associated with the earliest Christian community in Ethiopia (strange to think the earliest church wasn't in Rome, but in Africa!) the script remains as a written language that is only used in the church, a bit like our Latin. It spells out a message to enjoy the story, it amused me to think that 'magic words' might play a part in the promotion of the book. The book of Enoch, not canonical in most Christian or Jewish texts now, was written in Ge'ez in the third century BC. Sometimes these little snippets of fact find their way into my plots...it describes all the angelic beings. Playing around with angels is almost like inventing aliens, you have a lot of room for manoeuvre.

Always a bit reclusive (isn't that an occupational hazard of writing?) I've been making a real effort to network and it's paying off. I've met some interesting writers, at all levels, and it's opened up the chance to do some teaching, which always makes my own writing better. Good teaching, I think, throws a question out there and all the knowledge and experience of the whole group can be teased out and shared, I always learn loads, anyway! I'm teaching two workshops on writing short stories at Barnstaple library, should be good.