Monday 19 December 2016

Standing On My Own Two Feet - Goodbye Writers Workshop

I almost feel like I graduated from sixth form again or something.  I'm quite possibly never going to see a bunch of people I saw once a month for the past two years.  Writers Workshop has concluded for 2016 and I will not be able to attend next year.

I'm always amazed at how well a group of strangers can work together and build meaningful relationships when they have something in common.  And when that something is a love of words and writing it really does feel like a secret club you're privileged to be a member of.

With regards to content, we had a bit of mop up - a brief foray into what you do when you've finished ordering your words into the most perfect arrangement.  As ever, that discussion was wide ranging with differing opinion but also charged with electric possibility and hope.  You have to have buckets of hope as an inspiring writer.

The resounding piece of advice was to 'let it go'.  Apologies for creating images of snow, ice and Disney princesses singing but.... you really do need to send out your book without still being deeply, personally, attached to it.  You have to consider it as a saleable, marketable product.  Detach yourself emotionally, if you can, because there will be negative reactions and reviews.  Once you launch your book into the universe, you will be out of control of the outcome.  Someone, somewhere will be trying to make money from your emotional heartache so when you've finished your book....WRITE SOMETHING ELSE!

The Writers & Artist Yearbook is your bible - but then you should already know that.  Get a headshot. Yes, really, get a professional image to use across all your platforms, for interviews and on the back of your book.  I know, I know, it's on my to do list.  Write a professional sounding, third person, biography - you will need one.  Set yourself up as self employed for when all those royalties come rolling in.  And finally, write.  Everyday.

Sunday 11 December 2016

Indie Publishing - Promo Promo Promo

In January 2015 I wrote the first chapter of The Gaia Effect.  It had a different title at that time and that was all I had, one chapter - no plan, no idea, no clue of what would happen next.  The chapter made it through to the finalist stage of a local writing competition so I then had seven months to complete the book.  And complete it I did.  I came second.

The next step was to get an agent so I researched and refined query letter after synopsis after query letter and sent out to 50 agents.  I had a lot of positive no thank-yous which was strangely encouraging.  I had one request for full manuscript.  The feedback was brief but negative.  There was still work to be done but now I was uncertain how to move forward.

Then I had more good news from Barking & Dagenham Library service.  They would pay for The Gaia Effect to be published by New Generation Publishing, a self publishing service for independent authors.  I knuckled down and made a huge editing sweep of the book - I cut all my darlings.  I recorded the book and listened to it chapter by chapter which was actually incredibly helpful.  There are still bits that I wish were better than they are but there comes a point when you just have to let it go and move on.

Manuscript submitted, typeset checked, cover artwork approved.  And with that the book is done and sent to the printers.  It will soon be made available for anyone and everyone to buy, read and *gulp* review.  What should I be doing now?

It turns out - a whole hell of a lot.  BooksGoSocial has some very interesting training programs about direct marketing and using email marketing which gave me a great starting point.  I have a huge list of bookmarked websites to go through and there are a lot of social media platforms on which I have little or no presence.  Did you know that Pinterest is the 3rd largest social media site?  And that something like 85% of the users are women.  That's good for my book.  I need an author Pinterest board.  And apparently book trailers are a thing.  So I need a YouTube channel.  And a mailing list. And an email newsletter.  And more twitter followers.  And I need to plan a book launch.  And go through nine pages of notes in my A4 notepad.  Turns out just being able to write a book in the first place is the easy part.

Tuesday 6 December 2016

Get into twos #playwriting

It's that awful phrase you dreaded at school - it usually meant the teacher wanted you to get into a partnership with someone other than your mates.  As a grown up being asked to work in a pair is no less daunting.  The last playwriting workshop of the year involved a collaborative exercise - work together to write the beginning of a play using the theme of moving - in ten minutes.

As always a diverse group of people results in diverse pieces of writing.  We had two on moving house, one on moving forward in life and one on being part of a movement.  Working with someone else was an interesting experience.  So often the words we choose to use are highly personal, the topics mean something deeply to us even if we are not aware of it at first.  How would two different writers find a common ground?  I sat back, I didn't want to antagonise anything - I've been accused of being bossy too many times.

But it worked out well.  We just began talking, throwing names out into the air.  Trying to find ones that fitted the characters we were thinking of.  My partner liked to talk through all the back story, getting more and more complicated, thinking up more twists and turns.  We had burned through five minutes of the precious time we had for writing and I needed to get it down on paper.  It was fun, bouncing ideas off of each other and creating new characters from scratch.

When we read the piece out to the group they commented that we had been clever and subtle, how well we had woven things together, thought of all the interplay but in reality we just bounced wild ideas off each other and had a lot of fun doing it.  It was a good thing to hear as two days previously at Writers Workshop I had sat through a round up of everything we'd covered - all these things I was supposed to be doing while I was writing and I panicked.  I didn't think I did any of them.  Maybe I wasn't cut out to be a writer at all.  But now I believe that maybe writing is a instinctual thing and we keep learning with every sentence we write.

Here is the ten minute collaboration.

New Home
Malcolm & Wendy Tibbins, late 40s, meet Ashley, a young estate agent outside a two up, two down terrace.

ASHLEY:  Mr & Mrs Tibbins, you found it alright then.
MALCOLM:  Yes fine thanks.
ASHLEY:  Mrs Price is here, ready to show us round.  (rings doorbell)

Yvonne Price opens the door, Malcolm starts spluttering.

ASHLEY:  Ah, Good Morning Mrs Price
YVONNE:  Ms actually.  Please call me Yvonne.
MALCOLM:  Yvonne!
WENDY:  Where are your manners Malcolm?
MALCOLM:  Oh sorry, good morning Yvonne
WENDY:  (whispers) Why did you say it like that?
MALCOLM:  Looks more like a Marie to me.
ASHLEY:  Come through, come through.  This is the lounge area.  A very welcoming space.
MALCOLM:  So M...err Yvonne, why are you selling?
WENDY:  Malcolm!  Manners.
YVONNE:  I'm moving to Spain.  There's no future for me here.
WENDY:  Oh, you got family out there?
YVONNE:  My fiance has a condo.
MALCOLM:  Fiance!!
WENDY:  What's wrong with you Malcolm?
ASHLEY:  Shall we go through to the kitchen?  There's a lovely breakfast bar that catches the morning sun.
WENDY:  Oh what a lovely photo - are those your children?
MALCOLM:  You never said you had kids.

Wendy looks at Malcolm and Yvonne in turn.

ASHLEY:  And if we just go upstairs... here is the master bedroom.
WENDY:  Oh what's that perfume?
YVONNE:  Chanel No. 5
WENDY:  That's what you bought your mum for her birthday isn't it?

Wendy exits the room.

YVONNE:  Malcolm, are you alright?  You look a little pale.
MALCOLM:  Why didn't you tell me you were engaged?
YVONNE:  Why didn't you tell me you were married?

They walk into the hallway.

ASHLEY:  And this is the bathroom.
WENDY:  What are you two whispering about?
Malcolm and Yvonne look guilty.
ASHLEY:  As you can see it's a lovely family home.
WENDY:  Huh - that's just like the tie our son bought you for Christmas.  Where is your fiance Mrs Price?
YVONNE:  In Spain (looks at Malcolm)

Wednesday 30 November 2016

Writers Workshop #9 What have we learnt?

I'm always a bit wary of recap episodes - they either get really annoying because you sit there going yep, yep, yep, yep or you listen in a growing panic as you can't remember any of things mentioned. Unluckily for me, this month's workshop was a little bit of both.

My entire writing journey often feels like that scene in Tangled.  I oscillate rapidly between the two.

We were given a handy checklist.  Some of it covers things that you would check without even thinking about it, others are things that I most certainly did not do with my book due to be published in January.  Does that mean that I should tear it all up and start again?  My soul is in a corner crying. I cannot.  All I can do it learn and grow.  This business they call writing isn't easy despite the dearth of novels that are available for us to read.  You'd think anyone can do it but the thing is - just because anyone can do it doesn't necessarily mean anyone should be doing it.  Like all things in life really.  I digress.

Writers workshop left me feeling very wobbly as a writer.  Playwriting course which happened two days later lifted me up to a higher state of being.  But that is another blog entirely.

The Checklist (as always take with a pinch of common sense, it's a guiding hand)

  • Do they have desires?
  • Are they distinctive enough to not be cliches?
  • Do they have contrasting traits that make them complex?
  • Are your characters consistent?
  • Do your characters have the ability to change?
  • Do you know your characters well enough?
  • Are the right characters 'round' and the right characters 'flat'?
  • Are you showing your characters more than telling them?
  • Are you utilising all four methods of showing - action, speech, appearance, thought?
  • Do your characters have the right names?
  • Do you have a major dramatic question?
  • Do you have a protagonist with a strong goal and plenty of obstacles?
  • Does your protagonist have both external and internal obstacles?
  • Do you have a beginning, middle and end?
  • Is your beginning free of exposition and to the point?
  • Does your conflict escalate in the middle?
  • Are the events in your middle linked by cause and effect?
  • Do you have crisis, climax and consequences at the end?
  • Is your ending plausible, satisfying, and not too long?
Point of View
  • Does your story work best in first, second or third person?
  • Does your story work best with a single-vision or multiple-vision POV?
  • Is there any reason your story might work best with the omniscient or objective POV?
  • If you're using a second or third person narrator, how close emotionally is the narrator in to the story and characters?
  • Are you keeping your POV consistent?
  • Are your descriptions utilising all five senses?
  • Are your descriptions specific enough?
  • Are you overusing adjectives and adverbs?
  • Are you using figurative language and lyrical techniques where appropriate?
  • Are your descriptions overdone, choking your story?
  • Are you using telling details?
  • Are you watching out for such description traps as cliches and mixed metaphors?
  • Do your descriptions reflect the consciousness of your POV character or characters?
  • Are you using dialogue and scenes for the more important points to your story?
  • Does your dialogue sound real yet also get to the point quickly?
  • Do your tags call too much attention to themselves?
  • Are you using stage directions to enhance your dialogue?
  • Do your characters sound distinctive from one another and appropriate to who they are?
  • Is there anywhere your dialogue can be improved by using subtext?
  • Does your dialogue contain clunky exposition or off-putting dialect?
  • Have you grounded your story in a specific place, or places?
  • Have you grounded your story in a specific time, or times?
  • Do the place and time of your story affect the action?
  • Are there opportunities to let the setting enhance the atmosphere or mood?
  • Do your characters act in a way that reflects either their comfort or discomfort with the setting?
  • Are you describing your settings so much that they slow down the action?
  • Have you chosen the right places either to expand or to compress time?
  • Have you picked a voice that works in harmony with your POV choice, the personality of your narrator, and the narrator's emotional distance to the story?
  • Do your word, sentence, and paragraph choices support your voice?
  • Does your voice remain consistent throughout the story?
  • Have you identified a theme for your story?
  • Does your theme surround your story with a light enough touch?
  • Do all elements of your story work to support the theme?
  • Have you gotten enough distance from your story to begin the revision process?
  • Have you considered re-envisioning your story?
  • Have you looked through a magnifying glass at the Big Things in your story?
  • Have you looked through a microscope at all the Little Things in your story?
  • Have you cut and tweaked as much as you possibly can?

If reading through that makes your palms clammy and brings home the realisation that good writing is a lot more than just putting down words on a page then you're in good company.  Just take a moment to consider the different people in your life and think about how they are different and how they react to life - it's a good measure to use against the characters in your story.  When struggling with daily word count or trying to find a vehicle to move the plot on then just add an obstacle, things will soon start flowing again.  Think about your own emotional challenges - what stops you from achieving your goals?  Real or imagined, we are all people dealing with life in our own individual way.

(List courtesy of Writing Fiction: A Practical Guide from New York's Acclaimed Writing School by Gotham's Writing Workshop)

Sunday 30 October 2016

You Dancin? #playwriting

Dance  - it's something that everyone does in one form or another.  There are traditional, cultural, even religious dances.  There are spectacular showy competitive dance competitions.  There are discos and nightclubs pulsing and heaving all around the world.  There are mums boogieing whilst washing up in the kitchen, dads toe tapping and head banging, teenagers secretly wishing they could let loose.  Best of all there are children whirling, twirling, jumping, leaping, spinning, twisting, krumping their little hearts out to every single piece of music under the sun.  Dance brings joy and laughter.  You just have to look at prime time Saturday night TV - the ever popular Strictly Come Dancing, now in its 13th season, was born out of the much beloved 1949 Come Dancing show and I'm fairly certain we were throwing shapes a long time before then.

This month's playwriting challenge was to write a short, ten-minute (ish) play on the theme of Dancing.  Time frame - five days.  Challengers - seven.  Who would step up?  Well, they all did and it was fascinating at the different aspects of the topic each writer decided on, for example:

  • The dance macabre with monologues from three different types of dancer
  • A well established married couple going for their first ballroom dance lesson
  • An end of the world party with dancing
  • Competitive dance and a reluctant participant dancing for all the wrong reasons
  • Two women in a nightclub, trying to avoid the cheesy chat ups
  • Interwoven commentary from a trio of women who'd been to see Fosse
  • A monologue about the thinly veiled sex & horror behind Strictly

It becomes very difficult to gauge your own work against such a varied collection and doubts set in that your style is less convoluted, your dialogue without long monologues, in fact your entire piece without an inner wisdom revealed - just characters experiencing an event.  And yet feedback was encouraging.  Despite being a window into the ordinary and everyday it wasn't boring, the dialogue flowed naturally and there were moments of comedy.  

Fast forward a few days to writers workshop and we are challenged on free writing for twenty minutes and then - just like marking tests at school - swapping with a partner to edit freely in red pen. The purpose behind this was eventually revealed.  Did we discover the emotional intent behind the prose?  It wasn't about just editing the words and the grammar.  It was about feeding back what we discovered from the piece and finding out whether our inner meaning matched the author's.  This is my biggest fear - that I have no inner meaning and my work is just words collected together in a somewhat pleasing arrangement.  Time will tell.  

Sunday 16 October 2016

PT123 Transference From Nappy to Pant

This module is designed to take you through the fundamentals of potty training your child.  It will help you integrate the differing methods and ideas you've discovered through Google and speaking to other parents whilst being spoken to by the older generation and build your confidence for future training.  You'll cover spills, misses, hidden puddles, multiple outfit changes and the development of talking about wee-wee and poo-poos in public in great detail.  Formal qualifications are not necessary and you are not expected to have any previous knowledge as each subject ranges in ability.  The skills introduced in this module will be ideal for when your subject has children of their own and you can advise them on what they're doing wrong.

What you will study

In order to complete this module successfully you should expect to actively participate for at least 12 hours a day, seven days a week for the foreseeable future.  Please note: we advise all students that this course must be completed if started, there are no deferrals or points transfer available.  This course is for male subjects, you will have to retrain should you gain a female subject.

You will learn

  • to identify the different 'I need a wee-wee/poo-poo' dances
  • to carry round with you at all times four sets of clothing, nappy bags, toilet roll, baby wipes, a potty, a toddler toilet seat and congratulatory stickers
  • that one good day does not necessarily mean course completion has been achieved
  • neither does two
  • that little winkles don't always fit into potty's
  • that little winkles don't always point the right way
  • that your subject will wet themselves outside unexpectedly even if they've just been to the toilet
  • that when outside and asked 'Do you need a wee-wee?' the subject will invariably lie
  • to take your subject to the toilet when you arrive and leave all places of travel, including supermarkets, libraries, train stations and anywhere else that has a public convenience
  • to ignore the stares when your subject demands a wee-wee in an unlikely place and you whip the potty out for use
  • to just accept the fact that you are handling more wee-wee and poo-poo than ever before
  • to suddenly devour toilet roll - kitchen roll - flash wipes and other articles of clean up
  • to avoid long journeys
  • to heavily restrict previous abundantly available sources of refreshment
  • to immediately discard soiled underwear - Primark exists for a reason
  • to understand that dry days do not necessarily lead into dry nights
  • to learn how to clap enthusiastically for the 27th wee-wee that day
  • to brief all non-subject supplied friends that they too will have to comment enthusiastically and may even be shown subject efforts
You will need
  • An abundance of patience
  • Excellent washer/dryer capabilities
  • At least 14 sets of trousers and 28 sets of pants
  • Supreme patience
  • Quick reaction skills
  • A calm demeanor
  • Excellent motivational skills
  • The ability to execute repetitive actions with the exact high level of enthusiasm
  • Endless sheets of congratulatory stickers
  • A potty, toddler toilet seat & step
  • Baby wipes, toilet training wipes, flash wipes, toilet roll, kitchen roll and in severe cases absorbant sheets
  • Several books, games, songs and other motivational user tool, ideally tailored towards the subject's current preference e.g. Thomas the Tank Engine et al
  • No fondness for any furniture as accidents will happen
  • An extra supply of patience

Teaching and Assessment

This course is distance learning, to be completed at home with the chosen subject.  We recommend reduced travel for the first two weeks in order to establish excellent study habits.  There is no online tutor or support group for this course however you may find learners with similar subjects at your local Mother & Toddler Groups.  Don't forget to visit your parental resources as well as the multiple books and websites available for extra credit study.

We wish you the very best with your studies and look forward to welcoming you back with new subjects in the future.  

Monday 3 October 2016

Projects Update - October 16

Apologies for the negligence but I have been busy.  Well.. I think I have.  I cannot quite believe that we are sitting at the beginning of October.  I have smelt that delicious crisp Autumnal smell first thing in the morning.  I have my invitation to a Halloween party and already pumpkins fill every second spare thought I have.  I even wore a jumper today.  The nights are drawing in and with them, hopefully, a bit more time for the blog and for flexing those writing muscles.

One of the things I have learnt this year is how easy it is for writers to distract themselves and how very long it can take for a book to be published.  The London Borough of Barking & Dagenham, as part of the Pen to Print 2015 competition prize have now paid for the winning books to be published through New Generation Publishing.  The deal is done so as soon as I finish editing The Gaia Effect I can send it over for publishing.  The reality of all of this is that in the new year, you will be able to buy my book.  I will have a published book.  I will be an author.  Naysayers can poo poo self publishing and bandy around words such as vanity publishing all they like.  This has been a fantastic journey and learning experience and I am so very grateful to have this opportunity.  Even if my book is only bought by family and friends I hope they get as much enjoyment out of reading it as I did from writing it.  

Now you know why I have been so quiet - I have been working through that final draft, combing through one more time, attempting to perfect my words as much as I can.  I'm about half-way - I have two dedicated and (hopefully) eager readers ready and waiting.  The idea being that I send the manuscript through to the publishers by the end of October.  That's my timeline.  Without one I will procrastinate and distract myself with a myriad of other exciting projects I have lined up.

As part of the playwriting course I attended, I wrote a deeply personal monologue, Burying my Baby, which was read out superbly by Lily-Anne Coleman and recorded for Pen to Print 2016 Real People Real Stories.  

I have also written two ten-minute plays this summer, Bodies in the Graveyard can be found on my website and Airport was performed, script in hand, for the first time at ReadFest at the end of September in front of an audience of my peers.  I had butterflies.  The play was meant to be amusing, my main fear was that no-one would laugh at all.  One person's humour is not necessarily anothers.  I brought the house down.  I don't think I truly realised how funny the play was or how alive the actors would bring my words on the page.  To have such a sincere reaction from the audience was one of the best feelings I've ever had.  All writers face that crippling desire to have their work heard and yet not wanting to know what people think.  Be brave, it is so worth it.  Actors, writers, members of my writers workshop and fellow budding playwrights made a point of telling me what they thought.  And it was all positive.  I hope to share a live recording with you soon.

There will be more playwriting in my future.  

I began a great habit of writing 1000 words a day.  Then I went away on a mini-break and all excellent habits were broken.  That is one I shall endeavour to re-establish, after all I have 24,000 words of a new story marinating.

I also conducted my first interview, today in fact, for another new project which is so hush hush I cannot possibly divulge any information.  Needless to say there will be at least four more interviews in the near future I hope and then my attempts to combine that with 14,000 words about a shared love of books.  What could possibly go wrong?

In summary - more blogging - more reading - more writing - more sharing.  

Friday 16 September 2016

Writers Workshop #8 What do you mean??

Now that you've dipped a toe into the wonderful world of editing and you've finally got to grips with adjectives I've got to tell you something you might find upsetting.

It is not enough to edit your words.

You must also consider your meaning - your intent - your what's it all about mate. If your characters and the events that happen to them have no meaning there will be no impact.  That hard fought for reader will walk away and never come back.

Here's a handy little exercise - write what your book is about in one paragraph.  Yes just one.  Then write what it's really about in one sentence.  If you can't do that then your book isn't ready.  You're the writer and if you don't know what your story means then there is little hope your reader will.

Ask yourself - do your characters feel natural or appear alive?  If not then find out why - is it in the way they move or speak or interact with other characters.  Which lines don't work?  Dialogue must fit the character, it needs to be consistent but in-line with their development, keep it succinct and be exact.  Dialogue speeds up a novel and creates pace but remember, lack of dialogue can also be very strong. Are your character names appropriate and distinct?  Look out for similar sounding names, they can get confusing.  The reader doesn't necessarily have the same familiarity you have with your characters, don't forget you need to describe all that intricate detail fizzing around in your head.  If a character is a walkon - leave them as a walkon.  Give them too much attention and the reader will be wondering where they are later in the book, this is a distraction.  Distractions are bad.

Another piece of advice is to record your novel.  Read it aloud, chapter by chapter, page by page and save the recordings.  Once you've finished, listen to them. It's quite possible you'll hear problems when you're reading the words aloud but you will definitely hear them when you listen to the prose. We are looking for a balance between dialogue, description and action but they are your words so you will know when it sounds wrong.

Write the beginning.  Write the middle.  Write the end.  Get rid of the beginning and the end.   A good quote but maybe we don't need to be quite as brutal as that.  It's worth bearing in mind that the start of your book represents you finding your style & story and the end of the book represents your reluctance to let go.

And so we come to endings.  They need to have an internal logic that matches the meaning of your story.  They have to make sense.  It does not matter whether they are satisfying or whether they tie up all loose ends, that depends on the type of book you are writing.  Your ending must be the only ending possible.  Concise.

Sunday 21 August 2016

Ten Minutes #playwriting

If I were to tell you to go write a ten minute play you might think, easy - I can do that.  And I dare say some of you lovely writers out there would go sit down and bang out a ten minute just like that.  But when I sat down to write such a thing my brain said back in a mo and skipped merrily out of my left ear.  That left me with a blank screen, itchy fingers and absolutely no idea of what to do next.

Naturally I turned to Google and came across this wonderful little site helpfully called 10-Minute Plays.  I do so enjoy it when a Google search actually comes back with what you're looking for and doesn't add in any more black marks in the dodgy topic search results column.  Being both busy and lazy - it's an artform - I only perused the mere surface of this cornucopia of riches and only read one play.  It was a single moment in one man's life colourfully brought to life with rich characters, comedy and a great little twist.  I can't remember for the life of me what it was called but it was very good and it made me realise that I was thinking too grandly.  In short I was thinking bookish.  I was thinking of story arcs and complex inter-character relationships and intricate backstory and you get the idea.  What a ten minute play needs, to some extent, is simplicity and I don't mean simplistic ideas or words but a clean, compact moment in time.

This was great progress - I still had no idea what I was going to write but at least I knew what I didn't need to write. And so for my first ever play I hacked apart and re-sewed a short story called Bodies in the Graveyard.  It worked well I think.  It taught me how to 'write' play and to think about stage directions, how to get all that descriptive work into your dialogue with just a few actions.  Don't get me wrong it still needs to be read by actors who know what they're doing but that's the point - they know what they're doing so you don't have to worry about every single nuance.  It got read out in class and went down well.  People laughed when they were supposed to and seemed to enjoy the little tale.  Excellent.  The only problem was that it was still a little too complex for opening night.

My play will read on the 30th September, 7pm at the final night of ReadFest 16, a week long celebration of all things book and author as well as a look at the work the poetry and playwriting groups have created.  So it needs to be under ten minutes and simple hence my multiple characters and scene changes, whilst good, do not quite fit the bill.  Back to the drawing board.  This time I needed real inspiration and not a hack job.

Then my husband left.  Not for good - just the weekend.  He flew to Ireland to see family and this got me thinking.  What if one husband met an ex-husband at the airport and they started talking about their other half.  Could be quite amusing.  And so in two evenings 'Airport' was born.  It was unveiled yesterday in class and was received moderately well.  Positive comments ensued - the individual character language helped to identify their differences - the ending was satisfying - one character was a bit annoying (meant to be) and the other was unwilling to converse (supposed to be).  All in all a good reaction.  And so I have my play.   Efforts will be made to record and upload the grand opening at the end of September but while you're waiting feel free to hop over to the website and read Bodies in the Graveyard.  All constructive comments gratefully received.

Friday 29 July 2016

Writers Workshop #7 Editing

I came home from WW feeling angry.  These are very common emotions stirred up by the extrememly difficult yet (apparently) rewarding process of editing.  It's writers marmite and it has to be done to the absolute best of your ability and - here's the kicker - more than once!  Yes that's right, you will have to edit your masterpiece multiple times.

Whilst editing is often viewed as a negative process let's try and look at it through positivity goggles. What doesn't work can be rewritten, brand new passages can evolve and best of all, if it's done right, whatever is left will be pure quality.

Remember two important words - clarity and precision.

Use the best words possibly when writing - enough for us to understand what you see but not too much that we can't decipher your brilliant vision.  Avoid weak words like ... errr... brilliant.... and be more adventurous with your vocabulary.  Minimal adjectives - no adverbs and heavens above no cliches on pain of death.

If you don't know exactly who your characters are and what they are meant to be doing then there is very little chance the reader will either.  Guess what?  Writing requires effort and thought, it's hard work and sometimes it seems that the creative idea is the very smallest part of the whole.

Persevere.  Be pedantic.  Analyse every single word because if it doesn't tell the reader something about the character or further the plot then it doesn't need to be there.  Strong writing creates strong images so be wary of hesitant words.  Nine times out of ten you can get rid of or change the following:

  • maybe
  • almost
  • just
  • nearly
  • perhaps
  • very
  • really
Say what you want to say without fannying around.  Something is either happening or it isn't.  Take charge of your words.

Editing advice - read it through once without doing anything at all.  Then read it tuned in with a coloured pen of your choice.  Plant a tree if you feel bad for the environment because editing on paper is a real requirement.  Correction time may well involve several gallons of the beverage of your choice and a preferred snack.  If you can stomach it, and you want your work to be the absolute best it can be, record your novel and listen to it aloud.  You will discover issues with pace - words that jar - dialogue that doesn't flow naturally but that's alright because you are building a masterpiece.  It takes time, it takes effort and it takes love.  If your work truly becomes a chore then, quite possibly, it is not the book you are meant to write.

Thursday 14 July 2016

Mid Year Review

How are you?  What's your year been like so far?  If it's anything like mine then at times it has seemed to be a slo-mo tortoise wading through treacle and at others the life cycle of a may fly would be an eternity in comparison.  I read all about the importance of making achievable goals and planning every day how to move towards completing them and at the time I remember nodding sagely and thinking, yes - this is the way to do it.  Since then I have been too busy/tired/lazy/forgetful to put such superb planning into place.

So let's review and see how I did . . .   (looks for yearly goals blog post)

Ah - I was sneaky and never actually set out a list of goals to achieve for the year - well done me - instead I rambled for a couple of paragraphs about how, in an ideal world, I'd quite like to get round to doing one or two things and see how it went from there.  I sense that I channel a very good Winnie the Pooh.  And yes, we have been reading the Many Adventures at bedtime so I am also in love with, and spend quite some time gazing fondly, at the extremely long yet charming sentences A A Milne peppers into his prose.

I said I was going to move and get a job.  Nope.

I said I was going to start the Insanity workout.  Which I did.  Then my knees said who the bloody hell do you think you are and I stopped.  I have since completed the 22Min Hard Corps eight-week program and am now weighing up my exercise options.  I'm lazy, so it may take some time.  My thoughts are why run when you can curl up in an arm chair with a good book. And a chocolate digestive or three.  Sadly my waistline disagrees.

I said I was going to write the query letter for Gaia and get it sent out to agents.  Which I did.  I got one request for full manuscript and then a steady-ish trickle of polite, positive rejections.  So I decided to go through and edit it again. It's now with my long suffering volunteer readers, Still no news on the details of the self publishing deal - I will get to the bottom of it, I will!!!

I said I was going to create a website.  I did.  And I've changed it about three times since but that's normal.  These things are quite organic and change with you as a writer and the different works you have to offer.  I appreciate all feedback and any cool ideas you've seen elsewhere.

I said there were other projects in the pipeline.  There are.  Many and varied.  I haven't really developed any of them further, just added to the quantity.  Something to do on those long hot summer evenings when you can't sleep I guess.

I said there would be trips to see friends and family.  With that in mind, we now have a car which is a very exciting, expensive development.  We have the means to get there but not necessarily the fuel.  I have still seen all the same friends and family that I would've seen normally but none of the others who live that bit further away.  I have planned a gathering though.  It's all an awful lot of focused effort involving memory and freshness of brain - both of which I am sadly lacking.

I said there would be lots of crafting.  There has been.  I think glitter is now an additional food group in our household.

I said there would be lots and lots of books.  There have been.  I am 50 books into my target of 75 for the year.  Any recommendations gratefully received.

On the whole I think I get a B+ for the achievement of goals so far this year.  I just want to continue reading more books and carving out the time to write.  It's what I want to do but sometimes I feel as if my entire life conspires against me.  And that's without a 9-5!!

Thursday 7 July 2016

Writers Workshop #6 Description is Everything

In our modern world everything around us is intensely visual and interactive, it's fast and bright, loud and twirly and the world is getting smaller every day.  Social media allows us to see far more than we'd possibly ever want to into every single aspect of almost any individual's life.  If, as writers, we try to describe the people and scenes in our book as though we are looking through a camera lens watching a film then we should be able to make the descriptions vivid and interesting.

If only it was that easy.  We walk a careful line when describing the characters and scenery in our books - we have to include the salient points but we don't want to go overboard.  Descriptions are also genre specific - I think it's safe to say there is more depth of detail in a period drama than a chick lit novel and should that chick lit novel be overly descriptive then its' usual readership are likely to switch off.  I am turning myself off in attempting to describe the difference.  Tricky stuff.

When describing objects we look at the physicality of them - relatively straightforward, providing we are trying to describe objects that exist.  When writing in the realm of science fiction it gets a little trickier as often the items being mentioned are fantastic creations of a fertile imagination.  It's harder to describe your characters on paper because you know them so intimately in your mind - oftentimes you can miss obvious things out but don't forget your readers aren't privy to the image in your head.

Our five senses help us interact in our world and will also help us in our writing.  Taste - touch - sight - smell - sound can all be used to write superior descriptions.  Keep your adjectives sparse and as always avoid adverbs, and alliteration.  Clarity is key, if it doesn't further the plot then don't use it.

It's also worth remembering that the external look of your characters may not match their internal conflict.  Each inner world is different for each character as well as being different to the world outside that they live in.  We have to describe our characters relationships with their worlds as well as their inner struggles - not only what they look like but how they feel.

Workshop then went into similes, metaphors and onomatopoeia.  I am not going to because quite frankly, if you don't know what they are then you shouldn't be writing. That said I don't write with these tools in the back of my mind, I just write.  I suspect those things are sprinkled throughout my prose.  Somewhere.  Like chocolate chips hiding in what you thought was a plain cookie.

Beware of mixed metaphors.  Beware of trying to be too clever.  Beware of slowing down your book.

Saturday 2 July 2016

Talking to myself #playwriting

All plays have monologues.  Well..... some plays have monologues.   Well.... I assume monologues feature in most plays.  The thing is monologues are important.  Plays need them.

Think of the monologue as a story - it needs a hook at the beginning, a climax in the middle and the end needs to return the audience to the play.  According to Google, another character must be present in order for the speech to be a monologue - that can be another cast member, a split personality or the audience.  According to our class discussion that distinction is incorrect.  A monologue needs no audience.

But if there is no audience do we then venture into soliloquy territory.  A solili what now?  A soliloquy is 'an act of speaking one's thoughts aloud when by oneself or regardless of any hearers, especially by a character in a play.'  (Online dictionary).   The obvious example is of course Hamlet's speech 'To be or not to be' and if you haven't seen it, watch the special BBC Shakespeare programme which included an excellent take on the famous soliloquy.

Back to class.  Individual monologues were read out and as always in this situations there was a huge difference between style and length, content and purpose.  It used to worry me that my work never sounded like anyone else's then I realised that was ok, different is good and really, lets be honest - there is no wrong in writing.  I'd love to include my monologue here for you but .... I drew on some personal experiences and to be honest it's fine for strangers but way too close to the bone for people who know me.

However, all hope is not lost.  I have the opportunity to record a monologue in a video booth as part of Pen to Print, Real People, Real Stories.  The only problem is now I have to write another!  How hard can it be?

Thursday 9 June 2016

Projects Update - June 16

I am sheepish.  If you could actually see me right now there's a very good chance that you'd admire my woolly coat and be impressed at the length of aaaaa I can carry on my baa.

Another month gone.  All the days of potential disappeared into the ether, never to be seen again. And what have you been doing with yourself young lady?  I need no help, I can fully castigate myself. Clearly I haven't been blogging.  And it's not like the weather has been encouraging long lengthy strolls to further improve my constitution - although I do type this with a lobster-red burnt right side. Incidentally my writer's side.  Make of that what you will.

There I said it.  With capitals.  So you get the full effect.  If you haven't done it yet, good luck to you and if you have then I send my sincerest condolences and commiserations.  Having finally plucked the courage to give The Gaia Effect a proper workover the paper copy has duly been graffitied and now the painstaking paper to computer alterations march onwards at the rate of two pages per hour - or thereabouts.  It will be worth it.  In the end.  I am somewhat amazed and gratified that all my initial readers have agreed to go through the new and improved manuscript again.  Who are these wonderful human beings?  The hubster - natch.  The bestie - no brainer.  The literary friend and fellow writer - good choice.  The geek mate - thorough and insightful.  The mentor - pedestal high and incapable of saying no thank goodness.  

As I have so much spare time I agreed to edit someone else's novel AT THE SAME TIME.  Just because it's my husband book doesn't mean I had to say yes however, life very possibly wouldn't have been worth living if I'd said no.  But seriously, it's exciting to read the insides of your life partner's brain and be able to put orange pen all over it.  We go orange not red because we're all about positive changes not damaging fledging creativity.  Double editing.  Can you imagine the joy?

I have done nothing with my other book ideas.  They languish in limbo.  I think they're quite happy about it.  Maybe they'll mate and spawn.

The short story exercise was exciting.  I managed to write five.  When I say write, I wrote one in full. One was a no goer.  One became the beginning of a play.  One only just began but has bountiful cups of potential.  One came into being 800 words and this blog post ago.  It's the one I'm most excited about.  But then I am highly fickle.  Hence the playwriting.  If you read my blog you know about my extra curricular adventures which came with homework.  I haven't done the homework.  I've done the reading.  And yes I really have.  But it's completely OK because I have until the 20th to send the homework in which is a whole eleven days away and I have a highly important, epic, secret and awesome first wedding anniversary gift to create by then.  Plus I only have to write a monologue and five pages of the opening scene of my first ever play.

I'll leave you with my reading progress for the year.  41 books so far.  And I have to say that The Long Walk by Richard Bachman aka Stephen King was just spectacular.  I urge you to go read it. Happy June.

Sunday 29 May 2016

Writers Workshop #5 'You talkin' to me?'

It's all about the dialogue.  When you think about it, dialogue is all a book consists of.  There are the conversations between the characters and the conversation from the writer talking to their reader.  I am dialoguing with you right now.

Why do we like dialogue so much?  Well, it helps the writer tell their story, it breaks up the exposition and helps speed up the text - a vital tool in the creation of literary illusion.

So what do we need to avoid?  ADVERBS!!

But really, adverbs.  

Don't write verbatim even though people speak with ummms and errrs, it's boring and unless they are significant character traits vital to the plot they are unnecessary.  Don't state the obvious or repeat what has been described in the preceding text.  Don't use your dialogue as a wikipedia info dump - yes, of course two characters talking to each other is a great way of introducing new information or explaining about something but it shouldn't be written as a two page monologue.  The reader will get bored and quite frankly, the speaker has probably asphyxiated due to lack of breath.  At the same time don't make your dialogue a zippy tennis match between your characters - no-one talks like that. People emote, they fidget, their attention becomes distracted, that wacky thing called life continues to cycle on regardless in the background.  It's got to be believable and readable.  Which means a 6-way character conversation will be almost as difficult to read as it is to write.  Even with highly defined characters and differentiated speech patterns it's hard to tell who is who.

Good dialogue has lots of conflict.  Each character speaking wants something specific and different from the conversation.  The use of contractions lends a natural flow to your dialogue - don't instead of do not, can't instead of cannot.  Unless of course your character talks extrememly properly and correctly - in writing, there is always an unless.  Good dialogue takes into account that people generally talk differently depending on whom they are with - we don't talk to our boss the same we talk to our mates or indeed our lovers.  Hopefully.  Otherwise it would get very confusing.  Unless your boss is your only friend and lover in which case you probably need to get out more.

Great ways to tell your characters apart include the use of slang, stutters, accents, word choice and word order but for goodness sake be consistent and allow your character to grow verbally with their story and plot timeline.  Your dialogue needs to match the time period you're writing in.  I'm fairly certain the Elizabethans didn't call each other cray cray.

Another annoying thing to bear in mind is that people don't always say what they mean.  They lie, they hide their feelings, they flatter to get somewhere and they often have an ulterior motive.  Don't believe me - analyse the conversations you had this week.  Were you completely honest and truthful in everything you said to absolutely everyone.  So why should your characters be such unnatural paragons of virtue.  We're supposed to find them believable.  Sometimes the best dialogue is what isn't spoken.  Which brings me to thoughts.  If you're writing first person perspective, it's likely that you will have thought dialogue.  Any other point of view and it's just confusing, especially when you have a cast of characters and your story is told from different angles.

Finally, remember - you hear and know the meaning to your story, dialogue and characters in your head but the reader doesn't have your inside knowledge so you have to work hard to convey that meaning.  Yes, that's right - work hard.


Sunday 15 May 2016

Picture the scene

We've all got some kind of association with plays.  For some of us it means painful association with hot stuffy classrooms and Shakespeare being beaten to death by a teacher who doesn't care and a class who wouldn't know an iambic pentameter if it hit them in the face.  Then there are those lucky ones who enjoyed Ibsen's A Dolls House - mostly due to the excellent local production - which encouraged them to attend the local summer Shakespeare plays, to see that Pratchett book to play adaptation and save up for a few special trips to musical theatre.  

If nothing else there is a very good chance that as a small child you were taken to see your local panto and you stood proudly at the back of the stage as a banker/penguin with an unexpected duet as the old woman who feeds the birds in your primary school's production of Mary Poppins. Theatre is very much a part of British life and really it's our choice as adults whether or not we continue that love affair with the stage.  I'm ashamed to admit that I have not been as nurturing to that part of my younger life as I could have been and so it was with great joy that I signed up for a local playwriting course.

In learning my craft as a writer I must say yes to everything and I'm so very glad that I did.  Whilst only a short four session course, at the end of our brief time together I will have produced a monologue for the Pen to Print, Real People - Real Stories video booth and a 10 minute play that I have written will be put on by real actors for real people to watch.  How exciting is that???  I'll admit that when I heard that was the desired outcome, a real thrill went through me at the thought of someone speaking my lines.  And to think, playwriting wasn't something I had really thought about yet in my brief writing career.  

And so to learning.  What makes a play a play?  You need a story with a theme - a beginning, middle and an end with some kind of conflict your main character(s) has to resolve.  So far so same as writing a book. You will need Acts and Scenes and a certain style of delivery.  Right... chapters and genre?  You need strong characters, dramatic tension, subtext, a great hook at the beginning, an interesting concept and a fantastic finale.  Easy really.  I don't know why we don't all write plays instead of books.......

But really, writing is writing.  If you want to be a writer then you need to be writing and maybe the format that suits your creativity best is a novel but maybe it's a play.  How will you know if you don't have a go?  The exercise for the week is to take five minutes and write an opening scene between two characters.  See what happens.  If it flows then just go with it and write a play.  If you struggle with the format yet the idea is brilliant then you have your next book - what's to lose?

I need to go and wrestle with my inner monologue now, ready for the next session.  Or rather I need to go find out exactly what one is - it's like making a souffle, I'm pretty sure I know what I need to do but it's probably a good idea to find a recipe and read through a few different methods before I actually have a go.   I shall leave you with my opening scene - be gentle dear readers.

Scene: A small flat.  Jack is searching for something.  Ned is standing by the door.

Jack: We're going to be late.
Ned: We won't be late.
Jack: We should've left 10 minutes ago!
Ned: We'll be fine.
Jack: But what if we miss it?
Ned: We won't miss it.
Jack: I can't find my thingy.

Jack leaves stage right.

Jack: (shouts from off stage) Did you do the dooflop?
Ned: I can't hear you.

Jack returns to the stage.

Jack: Did you turn off everything?  And set the timer for that recording?  And tell Mrs Johnson to come and water the plants?
Ned: Yes dear.
Jack.  OK.  I think we're ready to go.  Have you got everything?  Keys?  Wallet?  Phone?
Ned: Yes.
Jack: Let's go then.
Ned: I just need a quick wee.

Ned leaves stage left.

Jack: Seriously????

Ned returns to the stage.  Both exit through the door.

Ned: (speaks off stage) Have you got the tickets?
Jack: OMG.  We're going to be so late!!!!

Sunday 8 May 2016

Projects Update - May 16

I'll admit it has been a little quiet on the blog front but there has been some furious writing behind closed doors.

The Gaia Effect
The agent who had the full manuscript  There was a small amount of feedback. Nothing I didn't already know.  Without being completely defeatist and highly self critical there are serious issues.  I have realised, almost a year since writing the book, that there are no descriptions of people or places.  How did that happen?  Because I know what they look like and I know what the city layout is but I have neglected to tell the reader.  The story is dialogue driven which means I can see the characters talking in my head but I have not written that action into the dialogue so it can seem a little flat in places.  I do not have a main protagonist, I have a group of main characters on a journey together so there are multiple perspectives.  These are confusing because my characters aren't highly defined.  This is because I know what they look like, I know their different personality traits but I haven't infused my prose with their little quirks and speech individuality.  This may look like an awful lot of work.  It is.  But then this is my first book and I'm learning.  And it should be a lot of work.  Writing is tough.  So it's editing, editing, editing, refining, refining, refining, improving, improving, improving.  And then I'll be taking the self publishing deal that came with second place in the competition.  My Nan wants to read it so I've got to get on with it.

2016 Pen to Print Competition
Neither of my entries made it through.  Which was disappointing.  To my mind Thursday's Child lacks a historical perspective so I need to read more books set in the 1920-1940s and figure out how to write a sense of time period.  A Pint of Milk and A Stabbing dances around the harsh reality of the witnessed crime.  It needs to get grittier.  There is work to be done.

New work
Book Club - a semi autobiographical look at how important my book club has been to me.  With 5000 words so far it has really captured my imagination.  I also look at it being an opportunity to interview my fellow book clubbers - if they are willing - giving me some experience in talking to others and telling their stories.

Short Story Challenge
After being inspired by writers workshop I've decided to push myself to putting together a short story collection.  I have my headings so I will be writing one a week until I run out of titles on the list. Bodies in the Graveyard has been written.  Next up - Lunch on Venus.

I now have the beginnings of four books.  The poetry book is still dangling over the abyss of self publishing.  There will be a short story collection.  I am going to a playwriting workshop in a couple of weeks so there should be more exciting avenues to explore.  It's happening - slowly - but it's happening.

Friday 29 April 2016

Writers Workshop #4 Short Stories

The trick - allegedly - to writing short stories is the ability to find your writer's voice.  This is the one that naturally comes forth when you allow yourself to romp through words without thought, i.e. free writing.

If you think about how different everyone looks physically then it stands to reason that we each have our own distinctive writing voice.  For example:

'When Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton. Bilbo was very rich and very peculiar, and had been the wonder of the Shire for sixty years, ever since his remarkable disappearance and unexpected return.'  The Lord of The Rings, Tolkien

'Watch. . .
This is space.  It's sometimes called the final frontier.
(Except that of course you can't have a final frontier, because there'd be nothing for it to be a frontier to, but as frontiers go, it's pretty penultimate . . . )
And against the wach of stars a nebula hangs, vast and black, one red giant gleaming like the madness of gods . . .'  Moving Pictures, Terry Pratchett

'Wind howled through the night, carrying a scent that would change the world.  A tall Shade lifted his head and sniffed the air.  He looked human except for his crimson hair and maroon eyes.
He blinked in surprise.  The message had been correct: they were here,  Or was it a trap?  He weighed the odds, then said icily, "Spread out; hide behind trees and bushes.  Stop whoever is coming . . . or die." ' Eragon, Christopher Paolini

My bookcase may or may not be skewered to a particular genre.  But the point is that each book sounds different.  And so to the elusive short stories - where do they come from?  Conventionally they can follow guidelines such as conversations on a bus, what if..., seeing someone in the street and telling their story, your own emotions about an event and indeed your past experiences.  But what if you allowed your writing voice to dictate your short stories.

Without thinking write down three story titles.

Who told you those?  Where did they come from?  A blend of your own imagination and external influences from books you've read or films you've watched perhaps - but what if there are a queue of characters in your head just waiting for you to let them tell you their story.

Now take one of the titles and allow it's main character to tell you their name.  Start writing My name is ... and then describe them.  Try not to write story, just write about the character.  Don't think, just write - as soon as you start thinking, stop!

Finally take your story title and your character and write a few sentences telling you what the story is about e.g.  The Bandstand is a story about Geoff Brider who, after his wife walked out and he lost his job, tries to save a derelict band stand in his local park.  Geoff finds himself swept along by batty park defender Margot and together their unlikely alliance develops into friendship.

Et voila.  Short story beginnings.  The big question, of course, is how long is a short story.  Who knows?  But let's address convention again - Flash Fiction you're looking at about a 1000 words - short stories are generally 500-3500 - novellas 18,000-35,000.   In the words of Ian Ayris short stories are the jogging you have to do before running a marathon that is writing a book.

The Ray Bradbury challenge - over the weekend free write as many titles as you can without thinking about it too much.  On Monday pick one and write the story.  Spend the rest of the week reviewing and refining. Repeat each week until you have a short story collection.  Send them out to magazines and competitions, create that ebook, gift them to friends and family.  Imagine the writing experience you will gain.

 ~challenge accepted~

Friday 8 April 2016

Projects Update - April 16

The Gaia Effect
You probably saw my post about positive rejections - here's a link just in case you missed it.  I have rung and spoken to the agent that asked for my manuscript so a tenuous relationship has begun but we are still very much in the wait and see holding pattern.

I have just researched likely publishing houses who will take direct submissions.  It's not many.  But there are still a few out there so with nothing to lose I shall sally forth and chance my arm - why not?

The Pen to Print - How Writing Changed My Life event, as part of Women's Empowerment Month, on 31st March 2016 was possibly the best experience I've had thus far as a budding collector of words.  Wonderfully organised by Lena Smith at Barking Learning Centre with, quite possibly, THE best selection of biscuits I have ever seen.  My fellow Book Challenge winners, Jessica McLean with The Vidents and Farzana Hakim with Sweethearts of Ilford Lane, and I sat before a small, yet perfectly formed audience answering Lena's insightful Q&A's and each of us read a small extract from our books.  It was also Writer's Workshop that evening and the ever wonderful Ian Ayris bought the troops through for the final part of the evening.  I will be uploading the Q&A session to my website soon.

I am entering The Gaia Effect into the 2016 Daily Mail competition so at the moment the first 5000 words are currently being revisited with a fine tooth comb and all characters involved are being interviewed at length.  I like my book but I have always felt that it's not quite there yet so I shall continue to tinker, probably until the end of time.

Pen to Print Competition 2016 - two entries
Thursday's Child
This is based on the life of my late paternal grandmother Daphne Davis.  My dad was extrememly generous in letting me use her story as the basis for a new book and I have entered the first chapter to the competition.
Pint of Milk & a Stabbing
This is based on my recent experience with my little boy - we unwittingly watched the getaway of a group of youths after they brutally stabbed someone in broad daylight on a Monday afternoon.  It seems you really can't make this stuff up.

I am incredibly inspired by both stories and will be writing them in full regardless of whether I place in the competition or not.

Other News
My poetry book, Little Book of Verse, is currently waiting for me to figure out all the tax information CreateSpace and KDP require you to be incredibly knowledgeable about.  I am completely clueless but I think I may have to become a business in some form or another.  I may have a guy who knows a guy.  To be continued.

Hackers & Jackers collaboration with the hubster is awaiting the husband approved draft.  I shall be editing and wotnot when he is ready.  There will be a bulk purchase of red pens.  And chocolate.

Finally I am trying to read about writing and I am still working through the OU course about writing and reading lots of books to gauge other writer styles.  I have lately been chuckling over alternative plot devices and talking at length at the clever ways other authors have managed to do X, Y and Z. I'm liking this learning curve.  The short stories are looking at me mournfully from the folder on the side. Hey - it's on the side and not under the bed, that's progress.

Oh - I'm also looking at how we can increase the number of hours in a day.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday 5 April 2016

Lit Agency Gives Positive No

What do you do after you've written your first book?

The advice I was given was to try and get a literary agent so for the past four months that is what I've been attempting.  I wrangled with my query letter.  I researched the Writers & Artists Yearbook for the right kind of agent for my genre.  I looked each one up on Google and where possible found the exact submission requirements and specific named person.  I then sent 44 emails.

So far this year I have received 17 no thank yous.  I have 26 timed out responses - I haven't heard anything in three months so now I won't hear anything at all.  I got one request for the full manuscript.  That was a magical moment.  But I hadn't heard from them since sending the manuscript at the end of January.  Eventually I worked up the courage to call - the agent knew who I was but hadn't read my book yet.  I nervously asked for a timescale.  End of the month.  So at least I can relax and forget about it until then.  Ha!

How do you handle negative positives?

I do not know whether the responses I received were run-of-the-mill copy and pastes.  I felt strangely positive after receiving them so whoever originally wrote them - good job.  I thought I'd share them with you - feel free to comment.

"I urge you to continue your search for representation."

"I thought there was much to be admired but sadly I didn't quite feel the connection to your work."

"The Gaia Effect isn't for us.  Please see this as a sign of how few new clients we take on rather than a reflection on your writing."

"Not quite right for my list."

"While we enjoyed reading your submission, which stood out from the many we receive, we couldn't find a place for it on X's list and therefore we are afraid we are not able to offer you representation for this project.  It's a great premise but I'm afraid that we didn't feel strongly enough about the writing to want to take the project further at this time."

"We have read this with great interest.  We are sorry to say that after careful consideration we are not able to offer you representation for your work."

Where do I go now?  I've got some options.  I can go back to the drawing board with Gaia - I've been reading alot lately about character development and writing the best prose you can.  Admittedly The Gaia Effect was written extremely quickly in order to meet competition deadlines so in reality it's probably only in second draft status.  I'm finally ready to go through it again.

I can then send submissions to those publishers who will take them direct from the author, after all, I have nothing to lose.   Finally, there was a self publishing deal available to the winners of the competition I entered.  Either way I need to revisit City 42 and my cast of characters to make sure they are the very best version they can be.

Friday 1 April 2016

Writers Workshop #3 - Plots

And so it thickens.  Sorry, couldn't resist.  

There are two trains of thought when it comes to plotting.  One is to wing it, trust in your characters and off you go.  Journey of a lifetime.  Obviously you need some kind of framework - you don't want to end up in Bognor Regis if you were aiming for Las Vegas - but the key is to not cling to an ending. How do you know where you're going to end up if you have no idea how to get there in the first place.  It's a very organic process.

The second is to plan in minute detail what will happen.  For once you are actually allowed to write a step by step synopsis with chapter breakdowns.  Just never show it to anyone.  And sure, this way certainly focuses the mind but don't let it block character creativity.  Otherwise what's the point?

You must must must give yourself permission to write rubbish and make it to that finish line.  First drafts are pretty much about emptying your head of every single thought you ever had about your novel.  And let's be honest - 90% of those were random tangents you had because of too much/too little coffee.

So how can knowing our plot help us as writers?  Well, apart from the obvious - it means we can finish the book - it becomes the answer to the hardest question we'll ever get asked.  What's your book about then?  I'm getting better at answering that question.  My first attempts went into way too much detail and because I know my book inside and out, backwards and front I whizzed about, dipping into the good bits and trying to impart every single awesome thing that happens.  I'm pretty sure that the person who asked the question still has no idea and fervently wishes they had never asked in the first place.

Imagine the scenario.  You landed the publishing deal.  You are at your very first book signing ever. Members of the public have no idea who you are but hey, you're sat a desk with a pile of books round you.  They pick up one of your babies.  And ask the question.  You've now got about 20 seconds to wow them before they lose interest and walk away.

I know.  I'm with you.  Sweaty palms, lots of umms and that deflated feeling of stammering to someone's back as they walk away.

Here's the solution.  In one line tell me who your main character is.  Then tell me what they want. Now tell me why they can't have it.  BOOM!  That's your plot in a nutshell and it's sounds fantastic. If you can't answer those questions then you and your characters need to spend some serious time together.  One of my new projects, called Thursday's Child, is about a lady called Daphne Davis who was looking for love and instead found heartbreak and pain.  

The last word goes to Ian Ayris who said last night 'Write with courage, write what it's really about.'

Be brave my fellow writers.

Monday 21 March 2016


Since my very determined decision to work on my characters a lot has happened.  For one I forgot to blog.  For another spring sprung right at us and I found out I literally have no sunshine in my life. Well, when I say literally I mean apparently and when I say no sunshine I mean not enough.  But it's the same thing.

I am still struggling to fully commit to any writing project.  Whether this is because I just don't believe in my ability to write (90% of the time), the fact that I never seem to have any free time (97.5% of the time) or because I just don't like the projects in my pipeline and I don't have the gumption to tell the pipeline.  How will you know if you don't like the project if you never actually start working on it?  I scream that to myself regularly.  Especially when the other half is busy tap tap tapping away on his story.  Nothing like a productive person to sap your creative thought process. Love you hon.

Now to spring.  Well.  I have seen the odd daff here and there and I have to admit I was very excited to discover crocii at the local park a couple of weeks ago but the weather really can't seem to make its mind up.  Either that or my body is going through several bouts of menopause all at the same time. It's chilly so I grab a coat and then the instant I start walking down the street I feel like I've invented the first ever portable sauna and I have to de-coat.  That gets many odd looks.  People with 17 layers on and two bobble hats think I'm completely mental as well as cruel to children as my incredibly hot blooded son isn't wearing 27 layers and a parka.  As for bobble hats.....he won't even wear one long enough for me to take an amusing photo.

Finally, it turns out I have a vitamin D deficiency.  Sounds like lots of fun.  Just go sit in the sun.  But it has to be the right kind of wavelength sunshine and you have to have plenty of calcium to absorb it. And not too much fat to soak it up and prevent the calcium from getting to it.  Ooops.  So it really is crucial to get that beach body ready.

Thursday 17 March 2016

Character Interview

Now that I've decided to, finally, bite the bullet and call myself a writer, it occurred to me that it was probably worthwhile reading about the craft.  I have been given a list of books to read, all of which I am sure are excellent and I feel quite confident that any fellow writers reading this will have ones of their own to add.  But, I have decided to start with the Open University's free taster course on writing fiction which looks at characterisation.

I'm about half way through, resisting the activities because I never was very fond of putting effort into homework however I have realised that I am very lazy.  More so than you might think.  I didn't really think about my characters at all.  They just sort of appeared as the book wrote itself.  I didn't question their arrival, I just pulled up a chair for them and baked some more cake.  Eventually I wrote a one page of bullet points, in large letters, for each of the four female main characters.  It was an extremely useful exercise but I'm not sure it was really enough.

The competition feedback I received, whilst mostly positive, commented on the difficulty in telling the four women apart.  All the incredibly polite, encouraging, yet negative responses I've had from literary agents have basically said the agent failed to connect with my characters.  Now that might be their standard email template but I'm beginning to think that I should have done more, I should have worked harder on getting to know my characters.

'They' say that your first novel is the one you learn the most from and even thought The Gaia Effect is finished I would say that we are probably only on the second draft.  The first was editing the crap out of it in order to make it presentable for the competition.  I almost felt like I could never read it again. Now I'm thinking it's time to interview my characters in depth and physically build the world they live in.  If I can't do that then I can't say with confidence that I did my best.  I know the writing is good, it's just the craft that needs improvement.

Monday 14 March 2016

Pint of milk and a stabbing

This afternoon, while the sun shone above in a blue sky without a care in the world, my little man and I walked home from the shops.  As our attention was caught by a great deal of shouting, a silver car drove up onto the pavement. The car had all three passenger doors open.  How odd I thought.  The driver, a surly looking chunk of a man gave me a rather belligerent stare.  I stopped to allow him to take up all my pavement, ushering my little man over to the far side and walking slowly past.

Suddenly three skinny youths ran out of a yard.  Hoods up, strings pulled, caps down low. They barreled into the car.  That explains the doors I thought.  The car reversed sharply without any consideration for the traffic coming along on either side of the road and exited.

Another young man burst out of the yard.  He ran back in.  He ran out again looking highly agitated. He ran back in and started to reverse a car out of the yard then stopped and disappeared again.  A van came past slowly just as the man ran out again.  He waved wildly and shouted.  Help.  Help.  I need help.  He opened the van door and began to beg.  My mate's been stabbed.  You've got to take him. He's bleeding out.

A car driver had stopped as commotion was forming.  The young man continued to beg.  Someone please, help me pick him up.  Then he ran back in.  Car man and van man followed.  I crossed the road cautiously not quite believing what I'd just witnessed.  More shouting. What road is this?  Does anyone know what road this is?  I didn't.

Just as I got my phone out to try and help I saw the ambulance.  Traffic was backed up on both sides due to abandoned vehicles but I was confident they would get through.  I saw the lady who worked in the shop, in her car, with her family.  I motioned for her to wind her window.  There's been a stabbing I said, not quite believing my own words.  You might want to turn around.  Not you might want to rush in there and help but you might want to go a different way so as not to delay your journey any further.

I got home just as the air ambulance landed in the field across from our flat.

What struck me the most from the experience - apart from my lack of action reaction - is how ordinary the four men looked.  How sunny the afternoon was.  How none of the youths looked like they'd just stabbed someone.  They looked like teenagers running away from writing clean me on the back of a dirty van.  A little bit guilty but highly amused by it all.  Had someone really been stabbed while my son and I stood a road away?  In broad daylight?  On a Monday?

I shook a little as I gave my statement over the phone.  I didn't know how much help I would be, after all I couldn't remember many useful details.  After I'd finished trembling, I sobbed briefly involuntarily and then I felt a little bit sick.  I hope he made it.

Saturday 12 March 2016

Guilty Pleasure

I may or may not have many guilty pleasures but the one I am prepared to share with you is my love for the Discovery Channel and before you say, yes I know, Shark Week - let me open your eyes. There is much much more to the Discovery Channel than sharks.

It all started with a pregnancy that wouldn't let me sleep and then a small wee person who enjoyed 4am feeds.  That's when we discovered Deadliest Catch.  Now you may indeed have watched the odd episode but we have weathered several seasons with the king crab fishermen of Dutch Harbour. We've watched Wild Bill have rotten luck with greenhorns, Jake Anderson make it to Captain his own boat, Sig and Edgar sharing responsibilities (a teeny tiny bit lol) and Josh Harris sit on his butt smoking.  That man really doesn't appear to know the meaning of hard work.  And that's not even the full complement of unique characters that pepper the show.  Together with Mike Rowe's earnest narration we ride every wave and gasp at every deck wipeout.

Image result for deadliest catch

We then moved on to Auction Hunters.  Now there are other shows of a similar nature - Storage Wars and Storage Hunters but despite their bizarre cast of bidders they don't quite match up to Ton and Allen who scour America in their beat up bread van attending auctions and vying for that unique item.  They once sold back some original graffiti artwork to the artist Risk for $60,000!

Image result for auction hunters painting

After that we got sucked into the world of Parker Schnabel, Tod 'Fricking' Hoffman and originally Dakota Fred & Dustin who in later seasons morphed into Tony Beets - the viking gold king of the Klondike.  Yes, that's right - a TV show about gold mining.  Don't knock it till you've tried it - that stuff is addictive!  

Image result for gold rush discovery

Why are these reality TV shows so addictive?  Is it because they bear absolutely no relation to our lives and are therefore seen as something exotic?  Or perhaps, and more likely, there are characters we love to hate, those we root for to succeed and those we secretly admire and wish we were more like.  And these are real people.  Yes, they probably ham it up for the cameras and yes I'm sure there is some expert editing going on to make selective traits more obvious but oddly that's all part of the charm.  We care about these people and what happens to them, we deride them when they make mistakes and we sit in our armchairs shaking our heads at the ridiculous situations they find themselves in.  If you're me you also argue with the cutting floor when they get the time lines are screwy which happens more often than I'd like. 

The problem with watching these shows is that you begin to think others on the same channel will be just as absorbing and enjoyable.

            Image result for snake island tv  Image result for running wild with bear grylls

Image result for fast and loud   Image result for lizard lick towing

You're not wrong.  My only hope is that some day my characters will be just as addictive.