Friday, 4 October 2013

Bad, bad blogger

I am a bad blogger. I've been racing away on my other blog (my writing blog, Witchway) but have completely neglected this one. So: news

The Secrets of Life and Death comes out on the 10th October *squeals in a mixture of excitement and terror*. I shall find out if it's a dud or not as far as readers go over the next few months - you never can tell. I've read some masterful books that didn't sell well, and some real monsters that have been bestsellers. That's not monster in a good way, that's terrible writing, thin story, unbelievable characters.

It looks like THIS
It has sold in America, to another Random House imprint. It will come out here in paperback in March 2014 and it will be off to Frankfurt to see if any other company would like translate it into, say, Polish or Hungarian since it features those great locations.

It's being recorded as an audiobook with two great voice artists, one reading the contemporary strand and another doing the historical.

I've written a website: and I've joined two writers' groups. I've also started teaching again, which I love. Life is going well.

I've been blogging for Mslexia, which has been great. What a fantastic opportunity to reach a whole load of new people - who like books!

I have no idea really what happens next. On my MA, we had an editor come to speak to us from Pan Macmillan. He said about 1 in 10 books flies off the shelf, a couple do moderately well, and the rest don't make good sales, and cost the publisher money. It's like having a lottery ticket - you might win big but probably won't. Except you've narrowed the competition down a bit. Helen Fielding's bringing out the next Bridget Junes book on the same day... who doesn't like a bit of a challenge?

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Moving forward

Book 2 is in early draft waiting for editorial advice, so I'm at a quiet point in the cycle. I'm working with other writers at the moment, trying to improve the connectedness (is that a word?) of writers in the area. Far from being isolated in a creative wilderness, it turns out that I'm surrounded by writers, there's even another novelist living about a mile away. Some areas have a more overt community of writers but the local area is buzzing with new initiatives - if you know where to look. The North Devon Publishing Project is, hopefully, going to connect more of these movers and shakers with writers in the community.

Otherwise, I'm looking forward to going to London to meet with my agent and also my editor at Del Rey UK. And, for fun, to meet up with two other Del Rey writers for a chat and to put faces to the blogs! I'm also looking for more opportunities to teach creative writing, I miss the interaction with other writers. They are also usually experienced readers, and who can teach you more about your writing than the other half of the creative process?

I've also been asked if I would like to guest on the Mslexia blog. This is a great opportunity, especially as the Mslexia novel writing competition deadline is in September and the book that was a runner up will be published in October. The winner's book, The Palace of Curiosities by Rosie Garland, came out in March and is marvellous. I urge you to read it.

Monday, 25 March 2013

One year after the Mslexia novel writing competition

Having had a busy winter, I'm ready to start spring in a new position. My first book, The Secrets of Life and Death is planned to be released in October 2013, I have an almost complete draft of book 2, and A Baby's Bones is ready to edit for next year. With rewrites, edits and new writing, I have written two hundred and fifty thousand reasonable words in one year. Book 1 is at the copy editor, and I'm waiting with bated breath to see what she has to say and what I have to do to get the book polished and sorted for the proof copies. Wow. What a fantastic year.

I'm also enjoying being part of a new imprint. Del Rey UK is part of Random House/Ebury and is concentrating on publishing fantasy, streampunk and science fiction, and all the crossovers between them. It's been lovely contacting Liesel Schwarz and E.J.Swift, and hearing their experiences of writing and publishing. It's also been great reading their own books and getting excited about Steampunk and Sci/Fi again.

I'm now in limbo (a bit). I've got a very clear picture of book 3, if book 1 and 2 do OK, maybe I'll be able to get that written and sold as well, but there are no promises or certainties in publishing. Meanwhile, I need to do what any writer at any point in their career needs to do, keep writing, keep coming up with characters and plot, and keep the fingers moving, despite the unseasonably cold weather. I'm getting involved with a community project, which is taking up some of my energy and time, but it would be too easy to let it take over! The house is also in chaos as we lift carpets and sand floors, and decorate the last few rooms. Just one bedroom and bathroom to go and then we're almost sorted. Well, almost ready to run around with a paintbrush again, probably, this house is like the Forth bridge, you get to one end and start again at the other. Chaos in my surroundings does make it hard to concentrate on writing, so I'm trying a new approach.

My crime book is three different perspectives on the same events, the victim's, the criminal's, and the man imprisoned for the crime. All three have quite abnormal psychology: one is traumatised, one is the victim of a violent and chaotic childhood, and one is a psychopath. Unlike most of my books, I've kind of met all three... I'm using a scrapbook approach rather than attempting a straight narrative. In order to stay in the victim's POV, for example, I'm writing her story in bits while staying, like a method actor, more in her head. Every now and then the psychopath intrudes with a journal entry of his own. It's slightly worrying when these characters start talking to you and push their way onto the page... It does help while the house is mad, anyway. I'm really looking forward to having the floors sanded and varnished and the furniture back in place. It remains to be seen if I can stitch a scrapbook of bits into a book that makes sense and has a proper narrative, though...

Friday, 9 November 2012

Back to work with a plan

My plan is to try and nail the first draft of book 2 - the one I haven't already written - by the end of the year AND do the big structural edits on book 1 when I get the guidance back from my editor. I have an editor, how great is that?

They still haven't announced anything, but I'm looking forward to being able to talk about all the amazing things that are going on with the new family of authors I have joined, even as a very junior partner. Not to mention, their incredible books, which I've been privileged to see in proof form, anyway.

Meanwhile, the illustrious winner of the Mslexia Novel competition, Rosie Garland, has been extremely generous in relaying her experiences into the world of publishing, from her amazing book deal to her progression through cover art, edits, and right through to the proof stage. I have been glued to her story, and am looking forward to her book, The Palace of Curiosities, coming out in March 2012 thanks to HarperCollins. I can't wait.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

I have been offered a book deal!

After what seemed like an inordinate amount of time but I'm sure was perfectly normal, my agent passed on the offer of a three book deal with one publisher, but also told me that at least one other company was interested. So now I am sitting waiting for acquisitions meetings and an outcome, that at least means I have a good deal with a great publisher! I am going to be published.

Those words are what we all long to be able to say, and it's taken me a few days to settle down after the first news. It's five year plan to go from amateur writer to actual novelist, one day to be published, paid off. I hope that others, who feel they have stories to tell and books to write, will be inspired to consider the path I took.

The most useful thing I did was start to write every day. I rarely take a day off, even on my 'celebratory weekend' I managed to squeak a few hundred words in each day. Friends have often said 'oh, if I had the time'...well, make the time. It takes me twenty to thirty minutes to write five hundred or so reasonable words. Forty minutes to write about a thousand. In three months, you have a novel at that pace. OK, a scrappy first draft, but the most valuable lesson I learned was how to get from a single story to the complex interweaving of characters and plots that I end up with in a novel. My first drafts are often very short, but when I come back to rewrite them, they grow. Five hundred word minimum a day was my target, and the momentum I gathered has led to writing six novels, a few poems and a children's book.

The courses I took also helped. I found it hard to let someone read my work, and even more daunting, criticise it. But it was nothing compared to the hard look agents and editors give our efforts, so I gradually toughened up. I don't like criticism, but I value it enormously, and I know it helps me improve.

Most of all, competitions tell you you are on the right track. When you know it's going to be judged by...well, actual work on your prose until it shines. That's excellent practice for the next step, trying to get something published. I wish you luck, of course, but I know there is no substitute for actually writing and writing until the stories flow - at least some of the time.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

News and no news

The publishing industry is a bit of mystery to me as a writer. My book went out to sixteen editors sixteen weeks ago... and now two of them are thinking about it. I am incredibly thankful that I have an agent who is familiar with the workings of publishing, who is doing all the work, because I wouldn't know where to start. Let's hear it for agents!

Meanwhile, I'm writing and writing... I've worked out in those sixteen weeks I have rewritten and finished A Baby's Bones (88k) and am 20k in on the rewrite of the beginning of BT2 - the sequel to Borrowed Time/ The Secrets of Life and Death. I've also worked on another book. It turns out that I'm quite productive when I'm stressed. I'm also enjoying the research - Elizabeth Jane Weston was one of our most highly regarded Elizabethan female poets, but because she lived in Prague and wrote in Latin, we hardly know her. She was also Kelley's step-daughter... and he gave her a fantastic education. I think she would know something about his shenanigans in Europe.

I've also joined a writing class, and it's really nice to be working on stuff unrelated to books, even if only an hour or two a week. It was helpful meeting other writers, too. I'm looking forward to ending the uncertainty about the publishers, though...

Friday, 14 September 2012

The Yeovil Literary Prize

I am very proud and excited to report that the results of the Yeovil competition are up. It is so exciting to see your name in print! That's hugely validating for someone like me, who hasn't yet had the big rubber stamp called Publication, that suggests you are on the right path.  Here's the results page, and congratulations to all the writers mentioned on it! Especially the winner, of course, Susan Luddem, whose book looks intriguing.

Meanwhile, the news from the the other book - The Secrets of Life and Death - is still waiting, but despite the long time involved, editors are still considering the book, and one has also requested a synopsis of the sequel. My agent sounds cautiously optimistic that we will get an offer, but I've got to adrenaline burn out at the moment, and am happy just to see what happens. Meanwhile, my MA dissertation goes in next week and then I will get on with my next project and editing A Baby's Bones. I've had some great feedback and am ready to put them into the next draft.