Monday, 29 August 2011

We're All Going On A Summer Holiday





I recently read an article by Caitlin Moran where she said she didn't really like travelling. Indeed, she had spent the vast majority of her life returning to the same three places on holiday, all of which were in the UK.






I've got to admit that I'm a bit gobsmacked by that. I mean I love Cate's column and read How To Be A Woman in one sitting, alternating unbridled laughter with vigorous head nodding at her sharp insights into modern feminism. But holidays in Gower? Every year? Why? Surely that's tantemount to self harm?






I'm the absolute opposite. I bloody love going to new places and plan our holidays with an energy and rigour that I fail in almost all other aspects of my life. I suspect my children wish I spent as much time and effort poring over their school timetables as I do travel books, which might result in them not having missed the first day of term two years running.



Though I have never written a shopping list in my life and the fridge often houses a haphazard collection of items from goats cheese to maple syrup, but rarely milk or eggs I do regularly write a list of places I'm desperate to see as soon as possible. And it never gets any shorter. I just seem to keep adding whenever I'm inspired by a book, an article or a film.






A couple of years ago I watched The Shipping News with Kevin Spacey and was so taken with the wild landscapes and the idea of eating seal flipper pie (c'mon tell me you're not curious) that Newfoundland made its way onto my list. A quick reccy at accommodation however told me that this was not a goer, not with two kids in the mix, so instead we ended up in Quebec. It was magnificent. The national park is the size of Wales.






And this summer, inspired by the Quebec trip, we ended up at the other side of Canada, spending a few days in Vancouver (where we went whale watching and saw three pods of Killer whales) before heading to the Rockies. They are dizzingly stunning, stretching endlessly to the horizon, snowcapped even in August, punctuated by lakes so blue they make you laugh out loud at the sheer absurdity.






Each morning we'd grab our Starbucks and then head out into the wilderness with last night's waitresses' tales of bear spottings and couples airlifted to safety from wolves. Heady stuff. And a world away from what was going on at home.






To be honest, despite having a lap top, an iPad and three mobiles with us, we had spectaculaly failed to notice that the UK had all but descended into anarchy.



The first mention of riots came from a text from a radio station I often contribute to, asking me whether I had any views I could share given my special interest. In my defence there is a massive time difference and it mashed my brain. Plus the beautiful surroundings can make a girl giddy, but I couldn't for the life of me think what my 'special interest' might be. I'd written my dissertation on the Brixton riots epochs ago, but couldn't imagine how anyone knew owt about that.

Not one to let folk down (and a complete meeja whore into the bargain) I put my alarm on and hauled my sorry ass out of bed at three in the morning. I blathered a bit about Lord Denning with the presenter sounding even more confused than me. Fortunately I was too knackered to be embarrassed.

Then she mentioned Blood Rush, my latest book, and it dawned on me...it's about gangs and how young people can get dragged into doing despicable things. I did have a special interest. I did have something to say. But sadly, we were out of time. I think we could safely call it a missed opportunity.

I couldn't get back to sleep of course, and I didn't want to wake up the tribe, so I went outside onto the deck and watched the sun rise. Then I pulled out my list...Naples, Japan, Miami, South Africa...decisions, decisions.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Quickfire questions with Naomi Alderman
















Naomi Alderman’s first novel, Disobedience, was published in ten languages; it was read on BBC radio's Book at Bedtime and won the Orange Award for New Writers. Penguin published her second novel, The Lessons in April 2010. In 2007, she was named Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year, and one of Waterstones' 25 Writers for the Future. She has published prize-winning short fiction in Prospect, Woman and Home, the Sunday Express and a number of anthologies and in 2009 was shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award. From 2004 to 2007 Naomi was lead writer on the BAFTA-shortlisted alternate reality game Perplex City. In 2008 she wrote the Alice in Storyland game for Penguin's online We Tell Stories project, and her most recent online work is 'The Winter House'. She broadcasts regularly, and writes a weekly games column for the Guardian

Which 3 writers, living or dead, would you invite to dinner?

Definitely Douglas Adams, whom I'm gutted never to have had the chance to meet. So I think if I get to bring him back for an evening I might plan the evening around him and people I think he liked and have Richard Dawkins and Steve Meretzky.

What's your favourite writing snack?

Very dark chocolate, I'm up to 90% proof.


Longhand or computer?

Computer. But I sort of wish I was one of those longhand people.

Win Booker prize or land Hollywood film deal?

Ooooh. Does one mean "definitely can't ever do the other"? I'd rather write something that would still be read in 100 years than either of the two, and can't choose. Sorry.

Tabloid or broadsheet?

Broadsheet. Obvs.

Independent bookshop or Amazon?

Sigh. I have taken my credit cards off Amazon to stop myself 1-clicking. But while I do go to independent bookshops, I love the range of stock you can get online. I plead the fifth. I hope both can co-exist.

Hacker or adder? (in terms of editing)

I am rubbish at these questions! I do both. Probably more of a hacker, but I tend to hack, then add to fill in the missing bit.

Plotter or panter?

Panter. Otherwise I bore myself.

Leave on a cliffhanger or tell all?

Cliffhanger.

You really must read: The Shaking Woman by Siri Hustvedt

I get most excited by: my imagination.

If I wasn't a writer I would be: dreaming of being a writer. Or a chef. Who wanted to be a writer.

An author should always write what they believe.

Naomi's website is here

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

An Integral Part

A bit like the fully-functional fridge-freezer that's cunningly disguised as a larder unit or the washing machine that giggles, hidden behind another 600mm complementary kitchen housing, writing  is something that's always been an integral part of Me.

And, as it's definition confirms: "Necessary to the completeness of the whole".

It was simple enough to slip it into daily life at school - there was always an English lesson, thank goodness.  And  from the day I learned that the teacher wasn't asking me to write the letters 'S' and 'A' on the front of my new English exercise book, I couldn't wait for the next time we were set a new essay to write.  For me, it was like surfacing from the murky depths and being able to breathe, unconstrained by silly lessons involving equations and bar-graphs, cumulus and nimbus, formulas and thick grey gym knickers (although not all at the same time, you understand).

Slightly more difficult to pull off at work as a Secretary,  I managed to restrain myself from turning the Minutes of Meetings into iambic pentameter and felt wholly disheartened when a memo of only one sentence wasn't given the Haiku it deserved.  Even more frustrating were the twenty thousand word reports I had to churn out on behalf of Development Departments at the Ministry of Defence which, although had a beginning, a middle and an (always disappointing) end, were completely devoid of plot.

I couldn't bear it.  I flounced off in a creative huff (I didn't really, I handed in my notice, worked my obligatory 4 week notice and was presented with a Thesaurus and a Complete Guide to English Literature - which made me cry because they HAD realised my artistic leanings and here they were, applauding them *sob*)  and went to work somewhere which I believed would allow my wings to spread.

But being an Employment Counsellor was probably not the brightest of moves.  I couldn't even write in my lunch hour like I'd done back at the MoD, as I hadn't got my own typewriter (more tears) because we had a secretary who did that for us.  So, with wings firmly clipped again, I did another flounce (actually I found myself a job, put myself forward for an interview and even got commission after placing myself, but you didn't hear me say that).

And here at Magic Shrinkwrapping*, I finally began to flower.

Even though my boss was a bit creepy and insisted on talking to me in the fourth person (is that right?) - every Monday morning he would sidle up and ask me "So, did Deborahs have a nice weekend?  What did they get up to?" freaky, right?  And after about a year of freaking me out, I decided to look around for another job.  One in which there wasn't, frankly, a creepy, freaky boss lurking behind the next door asking me if I could step into his orifice (I know).
And when the MD got wind that I wanted Out, he, amazingly, did something I don't think I ever properly thanked him for, not even now, and produced for me, my ideal job.  I became the company's first Advertising and PR Co-ordinator.  I got my own office (smaller than the broom cupboard ... actually it might have been the old broom cupboard come to think of it) and my own budget and I was given almost free reign to write whatever I liked.  So long as it was about Shrinkwrapping machines and how splendid they were.

Mmmmm... shrinkwrapping!
I loved making up the titles - my favourite still being the one I wrote for a Cadbury's line "Eggs-pertise by Magic Shrinkwrapping"* I loved seeing my pieces in print.  I just didn't love my MC particularly.  Shrinkwrappers are pretty much a one trick pony.  They never deviate from the norm.  They don't get all passionate on wild and windswept moors and they certainly wouldn't be seen dead getting all swoony over a member of the opposite sex - if there IS an opposing gender in the shrinkwrapping species.

And so, after having squeezed every last ounce of creativity from this role, I once more slung my metaphoric bindle stick over my shoulder and high-hoed it to my next position of choice.

In which I was rather scarily put in charge of a Junior Secretary and supposed to control six Area Managers at a local Brewery.  Place the company Bar on the same floor as us and a stick a 50% discount on all wines, spirits and ales and you pretty much have a recipe for disaster.  I did become involved in the company newsletter although a lot of it was deemed unprintable (more the result of the Bar being 14 floor tiles away than lack of talent on my part) and not quite the sort of creative juices that the company was looking for -especially when fuelled by 14% abv.

My last (pre-maternity) post was in the Legal Department at our local government offices.  Memos were over-written - mostly to the wrong people, letters were hencetoforthwithnotwithstandingly over-Latinised and my only means of creative enlightenment - apart from getting fictional with my flexi-hours - was to enter (anonymously) articles, working-party assassinations and satiric commenteering to the Staff Newsletter.  Only to find that although my literary genius had been printed, it was minus the irony, sarcasm, rheotric and downright slander.  Some of it didn't even rhyme anymore.

Finally I realised there was nothing else for it; I needed to create something that would make my mark on the world which nobody would be able to edit, cut, alter, restrict or delete.

I would write a book have a baby.
Both of which complete me.  It's just that one's turned out to be a whole lot harder to feel successful about than the other.

Oh, *Magic Shrinkwrapping wasn't the real name of the company.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Tell, and Show



Ten weeks ago, I moved to a new city. Somewhere I'd never lived before. Somewhere where I only knew one person.

Since then, there have been plenty of ups and downs, including 15 workman visits to the flat I'm renting, most spectacularly from the utilities company who took 7 visits to move my gas meter (which was located, bizzarely, in the maisonette below). I have been deafened by Water Hammer (don't ask), traffic, the road being dug up outside my window and the complementary strains of sander, saw and drill from the renovations in the flat above. I have taken to wearing earplugs a lot.

So much for holing up in my new flat and writing. Mind you, even going out proved problematic the other day, as I ventured to my first book group meeting. I walked into the hall and into a mist of white dust which promptly settled on my black jersey and my black shoes, and seeped under and round the door to settle on my coat and new boots. The workman was very apologetic. I promptly burst into tears. Moving is a stressful business.

But I digress. Living in Cornwall for seven years, I became a hermit. Moving to Bristol is an opportunity for me to Do Things Differently. Apart from the noise factor, city living is hugely welcome to my inner urbanite, and suddenly I'm faced with a plethora of choices: places to explore, new walks to try, exciting shops, wonderful delis and cafes. And, most importantly, new places to meet people. My old self would have shrunk from this last. But I've decided that I have the choice, this time, between disappearing or Showing Up. So far, I have shown up for the book group (who were very welcoming). I have auditioned for a singing group (and been rejected.) I have offered to volunteer at the local art gallery (they never called back). I have signed on for courses in Qi Gong, Portrait Painting, Voice Enhancement and Public Speaking. Yes, Public Speaking. With my novel due to be published in spring next year, it will be up to me to put on my brave hat and visit bookshops, libraries, book groups and anywhere else that will have me. So I'd better be prepared.

The trouble with Showing Up is that there's always the fear that you will Show Yourself Up (as an amateur, a fraud, an imposter or whoever your inner critic is labelling you this week). That comes with the territory. For writers, showing up in one form or another is a way of life - which is an odd thing, given that so many of us are introverted and shy. But unless we show up at the page, the novel or the poem or the story will never be written. And unless we submit to agents and publishers (which is showing ourselves up in every sense) our work will never be seen.

Showing Up means knocking on a lot of doors. Some will remain shut. Some will open a tiny crack and then, when they see who you are, will slam shut in your face. And, just sometimes, a door will be opened.

The other day I took my courage in my hands and wrote to a well-known author to ask her if she might consider reading my novel and writing a review. To my overwhelming gratitude and astonishment, she emailed me straight back saying that she would be delighted. What a wonderful example of an experienced writer lending a helping hand to a newbie. It's given me the courage to knock on a few more doors.

It puts me in mind of the famous quote from Marianne Williamson, which is always worth reading for the umpteenth time:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

So here's a challenge. What will you do this week to Show Up?




Friday, 19 August 2011

Envy? Dream on!

Should anybody mention online that they’re not particularly keen on Twilight, they face the prospect of die-hard fans popping up to say ‘OMG ur soooo stupid how can u hate my edward ur just jelus!!!

I’ve noticed, however, that assumptions of literary jealousy aren’t confined to the inarticulate. They're a standard way of comforting an author who has received a bad Amazon review.

Ignore him,’ the author’s friends say. ‘He's obviously jealous because you're a better writer than he is.

Whether or not they technically mean 'envious', comforting a distressed author is a nice thing to do, so I’m not going to suggest people tell their writing chums to stop whining. I don’t believe, however, that bad reviews are automatically the result of jealousy or envy. Books are commodities purchased by readers, who have no obligation to see the author as anything other than a name on the cover. It's a bit conceited to imagine they give you a second thought, let alone be so awestruck by your talent that they're seething in resentment about it.

No doubt there are some occasions when a reader has a personal grudge against a writer who once refused to help with their English homework in 1989. But the average book-lover is an intelligent individual choosing a product that they hope to enjoy, not a supervillain on a mission to destroy the mental state of the person who produced it.

The reading relationship surely isn't between the reader and the writer but between the reader and the book. Sometimes it doesn’t work out and the reader is disappointed. Maybe they feel misled by the cover or bewildered that the story doesn't live up to a friend's recommendation. Maybe they are amused at how far-fetched they found the plot, or maybe they're downright angry at having wasted their money. Expressing an opinion about this is natural, even if writers wail: 'What sort of miserable little person could put so much time and energy into writing a bad review?' Well, people are free to use their time and energy how they like – after all, you used yours writing an entire book for some reason.

If I had a disappointing meal in a restaurant, I might tell other people not to bother going there. This does not mean I was jealous of the chef and determined to crush his delicate feelings. If a recently fitted tap starts to leak, I might find this annoying - but I'm not therefore responsible for the plumber's depression and alcoholism. (Incidentally, why are plumbers the standard unit of measurement when comparing writing with other occupations?)

The difference with these situations is that one can get some money back or have the problem fixed. It's more difficult to return a book to the shop just because you didn't enjoy it. Negative reviews are perhaps a way of redressing a perceived imbalance of power and enabling the reader to get a refund on their emotional investment. This does not need to have anything to do with envy. Are we writers so awash with talent and all-round amazingness that everyone envies us? Yeah, right!

Feeling mortified and upset (in private) is a valid writerly response to a bad review. But that does not make the reviewer jealous, stupid, evil, lonely, bitter, twisted, untalented, or any of the other adjectives our well-meaning buddies might come up with.

A person just didn't like your book. That's about it, really.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Author Susan Lewis answers some Quick Fire Questions

Susan Lewis is the bestselling author of twenty-six novels. She is also the author of Just One More Day, a moving memoir of her childhood in Bristol. Having resided in France and Los Angeles for many years she now lives in Gloucestershire.  The Strictly team were particularly impressed with Susan's remarkable talent for not only producing two books a year, but with her self-imposed discipline in the art of non-procrastination. Something with which writers are not normally associated!

Her latest book, 'Stolen' is out in paperback on 1st September.

What is a typical writing day for you?
I tend to start by ten at the latest and go through until six or seven.

We've heard that you sit down to write every single day, never take correspondence before 4pm (and then only Tuesday - Thursday) and feel stressed and panicky if it gets past 10am and you haven't written anything yet.  What got you into this routine?
I'm in this routine partly by necessity, because I write 2 books a year; and partly because when a book is underway I want to give it as much time as I possibly can in a day before I drop.

Does ANYTHING tempt you or distract you away from writing?
The sun can be fairly distracting - it makes me want to go out with my dogs, or for lunch with friends. Perhaps that's why it's a good thing being back in England, not quite so much "distraction".


Where do you write?
At home in my study.

Do you carefully plan your plot when you write, or do you "fly by the seat of your pants" with your plots?
I have some seeds of a few ideas when I get started, then I go on the journey with my characters and see where they take me.

Would you rather win the Booker Prize or have one of your novels made into a Hollywood Movie?
The Booker Prize is a bit beyond me, so it would definitely be a Hollywood Movie.

Favourite writing snack - sweet or savoury?
A glass of wine and some olives, which I tend to treat myself to towards the end of the writing day.

What makes your inner writer happy? 
When something happens in a book that I hadn't expected and it just works!! It's utterly exhilarating.

If you’d like to know more about Susan, or be in touch with her personally, then please feel free to contact her either through her website or Facebook. 

Susan's website is here: https://www.susanlewis.com and she can also be found on her Facebook page: 
https://www.facebook.com/SusanLewisBooks




Monday, 15 August 2011

Arvon a good time

It's my turn to post today, but I can't. Sorry. As some of you know, I have become addicted to Arvon writing courses in the last year. As you read this I am back at Lumb Bank, in Yorkshire, for the third time in less than twelve months. I am waking in Ted Hughes' house and looking out over the "tops".

This course is with Don Paterson and Lavinia Greenlaw, two of the most established poets in Britain today. It's a reading course, not a writing one. We are going to learn how to really read poems and how to use that to inform our writing. It is supposed to be for "advanced poets" so I am feeling a bit of a fraud as well as excited. I expect everyone else will have a much deeper knowledge of poetry than me.

Actually I am basking in a sense of anxious anticipation. Maybe this is the week that will take my writing to a new level. We'll see.

Sorry not to post today.

Alright, an admission. I scheduled this with blogger in advance. Imagine someone who scheduled a blog post, or a series of posts, and then was killed before they are published. It would be sort of like speaking from beyond the grave. It must have happened. I might be doing that now. I'll let you know if I make it back from Lumb Bank.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Trial and error



I’ve just handed in the third draft of my second YA novel for Piccadilly Press.

Phew.

It’s a longer book than my first one, plus the story is more complex. The second draft came back with loads of comments from my editor...so many in fact that I groaned and collapsed in my chair when I read them. Annoyingly, they were all great suggestions [she’s like that, damn her]. Everything she highlighted, I was probably aware wasn’t working deep down. I spent a good few days brooding, mumbling and generally fretting.

Then I picked myself up, dusted myself down, put on my thinking cap and got out the highlighter pens and jumbo pads of paper. I was ready to go back in. I finally emerged, blinking into the sunlight, at the end of last week. It felt as though life was on hold until I’d got it done.


But it struck me that it’s a quite different process when you deliver a book, post-publication, to when you’re starting out.


When you’re trying to get published, your manuscript often goes through various edits. You may, as I did, pay for a professional report [I used Cornerstones]. I also had input from two different agents [who didn’t subsequently sign me...but that’s another story] and re-wrote accordingly. So by the time my editor at Piccadilly Press saw what is now Dark Ride, it had been through a fair number of changes.


This time round, my editor wanted to see my other book before it was even finished. It was, shall we say, rough... so rough that I cringe to think about it. Keep going, she said, though. This could be good.


A good few months later and we’re up to the third full draft. I’ve had some despairing moments and I think there’s still work to be done. But it helped when I reminded myself of just how much polishing had taken place the first time round, before my editor even saw the manuscript.


I’m now in the horrible no-man’s-land of waiting to hear back again. I was hoping to forget about it until after my holidays but she tells me I’ll hear back within ten days. Cue much gnashing, wailing and rending of garments.
I just hope that with every draft I write, I’m getting a little closer to the finishing line. Wish me luck... ?

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

very small is very beautiful

One of the joys of being published by a small press is the sense of involvement and collaboration throughout the process. Not just the writing and editing process, but the whole business of producing and marketing and selling the book. Some may argue that it is the writer’s job to write and the publisher's job to publish - a simple division of labour. I disagree. I have no wish to hand over my novel to someone else and forget about it. I find the whole publishing process intensely interesting, especially since this is my first (and quite possibly only) chance.

First, the editing. All publishers will offer some editing - most with a great deal of commitment. I am lucky enough to have an editor who also happens to own the company (Linen Press Books), so between us we are pretty focused on creating the very best ‘product’ we can. The first stage focused on the manuscript as a whole. My editor suggested a number of structural revisions: a new beginning; bringing in a character earlier; writing new scenes to create empathy for one character; working on making another character more spirited. And in the process I discovered two new sub-plots which needed to be written. Once these were done, we began going through the manuscript, chapter by chapter, by email. My editor tidies up a lot at a superficial level (I’ve discovered various writerly ‘ticks’ which I was barely aware of) and makes suggestions for rewriting some whole sections. She is very good at putting her finger on the issues that need addressing, making appropriate suggestions and then letting me address them in my own way. This process will take months – the novel is about fifty chapters and we get through two or three per week. Simultaneously, she is working with another writer, Sophie Radice, whose novel, The Henry Experiment will be published early next year, so it’s all go. Mine is due to come out around the same time.

Then there’s the cover. As a painter, this has been one of the most exciting bits so far. I have heard of writers who feel upset and angry because their covers do not reflect the content of their book. I was directed to a wonderful photographic images site (Arcangel-Images) where I browsed for many happy hours, finding photographs which reflected the atmosphere and themes of my novel. My editor did so too, and there was quite a bit of to-and-froing until we found an image we both loved. This was then handed over to the designer to create the cover design.

Now we are approaching the marketing stage. This is where the big difference between the small independent publisher and the ‘big boys’ becomes clear. If you are published by one of the large houses, you may be assigned a publicity person and there may be some money in the pot for marketing. This might include your novel being sold in a prominent position in the bookshops (although not for very long, unless it turns out to be a best-seller). The publicity for The Making of Her will be entirely down to myself, my editor and her hard-working intern, as will persuading bookshops to stock it. This feels like a mountain to climb – but a fascinating and challenging one. As someone who is happy (ish) spending vast amounts of time alone with her computer, the thought of going out there and talking about my book is daunting, to say the least. But it’s also exciting. It's bringing out my latent extravert. I’ve drawn up a marketing plan. I am planning to take some evening classes in public speaking and I’m learning how to write a press release. Hema Macherla, Linen Press author of Blue Eyes and Breeze from the River Manjeera has been really helpful in answering my questions about how she approaches bookshops. I’m going to have postcards printed to hand out to everyone I know or meet. I'm researching literary festivals, book groups and libraries, local papers and magazines. This is the easy bit. The hard part will be making myself go out and talk to people. I suspect it may be like my search for an agent: a lot of knocking on doors and a lot of No, thank you.

Recently Linen Press have withdrawn their books from Amazon because every sale costs them £3. Yes, that’s right. Amazon takes 60%. So The Making of Her will be available through the Linen Press website, through Gardners and in chain stores like Waterstones if we can persuade them to take it. The indies may stock it but their turnover is generally small. An individually tailored marketing package and a personal approach seems to be the best, and only way forward.

Of course, the likelihood of selling a large number of copies is small and we don't know whether it depends on good reviews, articles in magazines, the grape-vine or just good luck. But you know what? After years and years of rejections and knock-backs, I consider it a huge privilege to be involved in the process of creating and selling my book. It may never happen again. So I'm going to do my best to enjoy every minute.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Quickfire Questions With Martin Edwards





















Martin Edwards was born in Knutsford in 1955.
He studied law at Oxford and studied to become a solicitor in Leeds. He then moved to Liverpool on qualification and continues to live and practise there.
In addition to his legal skills, Martin is also a prolific and talented crime writer. His debut novel All The Lonely People was published in 1991 and nominated for the John Creasy Dagger for best first crime novel of the year. A further fifteen books followed and his latest The Hanging Wood was released at the beginning of August.

Which three writers, living or dead, would you invite to dinner?
GK Chesterton, Dorothy L Sayers and Anthony Berkeley (aka Francis Iles) because they were not only fine crime writers, but complex, strange and fascinating people who were never lost for an opinion.

What's your favourite writing snack?
Coffee and a Mars bar.

Longhand or computer?
Computer- But I've just started using voice recognition, and I'm wondering if this will affect the way I write. With any luck it will improve it.

Win Booker Prize or land Hollywood film deal?
Hollywood, no question. Doesn't matter if the film doesn't actually get made. In fact it might be better that way...

Tabloid or broadsheet?
Broadsheet, but read online. I enjoy seeing how different political perspectives influence choice and treatment of story.

Independent bookshop or Amazon?

Both. Amazon is great, but I love real shops, including second hand specialists. An annual trip to Hay on Wye is a must!

Hacker or adder?
Hacker. Death to all adverbs.

Plotter or pantser?
Plotter (is this becuase I've spent too long as a lawyer?). I always know what the 'solution' will be, but I don't usually know how I will arrive at it. As I've grown in confidence, I've tended to plan less.

Leave on a cliffhanger or tell all?
Resolution is good, but I also like an element of ambiguity. The snag with ambiguity is that it can irritate the reader. But handled carefully, it makes the story more believable.

You really must read...
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, A Fatal Inversion by Barbara Vine, Ukirdge by PG Wodehouse and Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse.

I get most excited by...
Travelling abroad with my family, meeting readers, discovering talented new authors...and Manchester City getting the upper hand over Manchester United.

If I wasn't a writer I would be...
Missing a huge amount of pleasure (as well as the pain that goes with the territory).

An author should always...
Remember and respect the reader.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Confidence R Us...is I... Me... oh, you know what I mean

On my list of worries there sits:
1. Getting older
2. Getting wider (from the typo ‘wiser’)
3. Getting Alzheimers
4. Getting up. As in Not Liking It Very Much.

I don’t like to set goals because when I don’t achieve them I never heal from the bruises I get after beating myself up about it. And the bruises never make way for thicker skin. They just make me feel madder – with myself. Hence the absence of New Years Resolutions - never make them, never break them.

And although I like to blame my parents for most of my shortcomings (which makes it doubly easier when they’re somewhere they can’t take issue – hint: rhymes with Devon, letters – 7) I’m not sure how much longer I can realistically expect them to shoulder the burden of my lack of self-assurance.

I mean, surely BY NOW I should have grown up, moved on,  accepted things and dealt with these issues of self-confidence?

SURELY?

I became an adult – meaning I got through adolescence which is a battlefield in itself, right - all those wrong turns, all those difficult choices? I have married - twice but who’s counting? I have given birth - once and that was quite enough thank you - I'm not good with pain. I have been bereaved so many times it’s going to take me a l-o-n-g time to get through the welcome committee at the end of my own particular tunnel of light come My Time....
And I have made decisions in my life.
Not all of which turned out… well, brilliantly (see puberty back there). But who knows? Maybe bad decisions are rubbish for a reason – for a higher purpose than we can ever know in this world?

And one of my decisions was to write a book. Something that I know without even having to consider it for a millisecond, my parents would BOTH not believe me capable of achieving.  Much less add another 5 to the list.

I still remember the euphoria of typing ‘The End’ at the *ahem* end of my first attempt (see, even now I doubt calling it a real ‘book’ because it didn’t make the Grade and get published – but does that make it any less a proper ‘book’? I don’t know). (Is this like the tree falling in a forest and nobody there to hear it or am I mixing my metaphors again?). Anyway…
The euphoria….
Was short-lived it has to be said. I’d love to say I remember tearing the page out of the typewriter with feverish hands and leaping half-naked around my garret making squeaking noises that would shame the squeakiest of creatures (I’m so good with these analogies - I’m SUCH a natural, right?).
But not really. I simply watched the cursor cagily spit out out the letters ‘t’ ‘h’ ‘e’ ‘e’ ‘n’ ‘d’ and half a beat later, deleted them.
I sat back, thoroughly puzzled with what I thought I’d done.
Surely not?
I must be mistaken. There’s NO WAY I could’ve written a book.
Word count beamed at me from a bar and announced I had written in excess of 120,000 words so I must have.
Well, hadn’t I?
I tried typing ‘the end’ in a different font then deleted it.
I capitalised the first letters and deleted it again.
It was too easy to type ‘The End’. Surely if it was this simple, then everybody would be doing it?
And no Tippex was harmed during this particular execution, therefore doubly doubtful.

And there was nobody around to confirm or dispute the fact that I was ALLOWED to write ‘the end’, much less decide that this. Was. It. The End.
*gulp*

Maybe I’d got confused and had just written a really long shopping list without noticing the absence of bread and eggs.
Perhaps I’d just had one v-e-r-y l-o-n-g moan about how sh*t my life had been; aren’t most first attempts/books meant to be more memoir-y than subsequent? I couldn’t very well produce that as a bonafide Book, surely?

Briefly I allowed myself to imagine it already published in it’s shiny mauve cover with a rat wearing a wedding dress peering dolefully through it’s Perspex cage on the front – oh, it was called “Labrats” in case you’re thinking my imagination has gone way past the over-active stage and into the realms of proper Psychosis. And I also allowed myself a little shiver of anticipation at the thought.
I already had a desk in the corner of Watertsones – WHSmith at a push – and I was gaily scribbling my signature on the first page for my expectant readers. My Readers. My God! And I was in the local papers. Not front page you understand, but three or four perhaps. With the heading of ‘Local author signs books for local people in her local bookshop’ or something like that. I’m not good with headlines.

I wanted, no, needed to tell somebody. Of course the first to come to mind was my mum and dad. But even if I’d had a decent connection, I swear the conversation would still have gone something like:
“I’ve just finished writing a book…. (reply) you know, the book I said I was writing? (reply) well, I've been writing a book (reply) um...three years actually but…. (reply) no, no, it’s probably not a real book…(reply) yes …(reply)… no (reply) no… (reply) okay I can hear the adverts are finishing now, sorry … no, you don’t have to call back later, it’s fine."

So this happened anyway – but in my head.

Because I’m not good with the self-confidence thing. And I know precisely why but for the life of me I still don’t know how to grab it by the scruff and shake it up until it becomes my best friend. Or at least doesn't cross to the other side of the road when it sees me waiting.

How do you find it?
How do you get it and how do you keep it?
And is it fully self-supporting or does it require external validation?

Answers please.

Friday, 5 August 2011

The three-headed writer

We have often discussed the two modes that a writer needs to work in: the creative and the editorial. Everyone seems to agree that they require quite different capabilities and yet every writer needs to be adept at both.

If we leave out nebulous notions of “talent”, the creative mode depends mainly on the availability of: imagination, confidence and space.

In order to produce a body of raw creative material (the famous shitty first draft) we need to be in the right frame of mind to let our imaginations run wild and have the confidence to trust our unconscious to throw up fresh ideas for a story or a poem. For that to happen we must carve out enough space in our lives – find the time. This is the reason we neglect our husbands, wives and children. It also provides the (perfectly reasonable) excuse for why many people never get started at all and spend their whole lives with the belief that they have a book in them.

The editorial mode is fed by experience, detail and doggedness. Experience is the part where all that reading comes in. Our first exhortation to new writers is always to read. I believe it is our experience as a skilled reader of fine examples of the craft that gives us any chance to gain a critical perspective over our own work. Next we need a detailed eye to go over the work again and again and again and to spot what needs to change. And we won’t do that without the doggedness to keep going back to the work; the doggedness to accept nothing less than the best we can do. Hard work is perhaps the greatest requirement, but it is a mountain to keep on keeping on when your confidence is low. In the end you probably need some sort of affirmation that you are not wasting your time, and you don't get that without . . .

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the third mode: it is tempting to call this admin, but let’s call it presenting. All the gubbins that goes into getting your work to come out of someone else's printer for a change. Presenting your work to the world is not a skill you need in the first couple of years, but it then grows and grows, until it intrudes into the space required by the other modes. I’m thinking of: entering competitions, sending material to editors, writing synopses, writing biogs, writing covering letters, finding outlets for your work, licking stamps, sleeping next to the letter box. Writing this probably fits here too.

What are the skills for the presenting mode? Confidence, but a different sort. It’s not the confidence to write but the sort that propels you to mosey up to a publisher or agent at a party and introduce yourself. I had chances to do both of those recently, even encouraged by writer friends whose agent/publisher they were, but I slunk away to the pub. Let’s call that sort of confidence: brazenness. You also need all the exciting clerical skills for keeping spreadsheets of your submissions, etc (yawn). And you must have the famous resilience (probably the subject we have posted about most here) to keep sending the stuff out despite the bastard rejections and snail progress.

This is the part of writing that takes up so much of my thinking now. And it gets worse if you have a published book – there’s readings, signings, festivals, editorial meetings, not to mention trawling through copy edits, etc, etc. We just signed up for writing, for god’s sake.

Here’s the full list

Creative mode
Imagination, Confidence, Space

Editorial mode
Experience, Detail, Doggedness

Presenting mode
Brazenness, Clerical skill, Resilience

I’m sure you can add others, the list is endless; essentially you have to be a super-being.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

GUEST BLOG - AUTHOR DEE WEAVER



It feels like a long time since I first heard comments that e-publishing would toll the death-knell of traditional paper books. For a long time we all poo-pooed the idea – electronic readers were clumsy and clonky and would never survive being dropped into the bathwater. And e-publishing was only a last resort of the worst bad writing. And it’s not really being published, is it – not properly published, with a contract and an editor and stuff.

Well… I still don’t believe ebooks will replace paper ones. At least I hope they don’t, although I do think they have a place alongside, in the same way paperbacks have a place alongside hardbacks. But it is publication; the book is out in the marketplace, being bought and read. And the e-readers are pretty damned cool now too.

My novel is called The Winter House. It’s a paranormal romance about a haunted house and karmic debt. I and my current agent have punted it round every mainstream publisher in this world and the next. Some – there had to be some – simply didn’t like it, but the majority said they loved it – well written, great characters, super dialogue – yada yada – but there’s no call for paranormal fiction, they said, so they couldn’t take it on. One mainstream publisher was very keen, and persuaded me to change the plot, change the characters and do a complete rewrite, but then they decided not to go ahead with it.

I found one small indie publisher who specialised in paranormal and we signed a contract. End of my problems, right? Well… not exactly. Six weeks before publication date they contacted me to say it wouldn’t fit into their binding machine so I would have to cut 20,000 words, which amounted to about a fifth. Needless to say, I refused to butcher my work for such a ridiculous reason, and we parted company, more or less amicably. The ms went under the bed and I took up knitting.

Last winter I heard about another indie publisher, this time in America, and decided to have one final bash. They wanted it but ultimately the deal fell through when we couldn’t agree on the contract. In the process I had discovered that I could publish the book myself on Kindle, so I started to investigate. At first glance the process looks daunting, but there is a comprehensive step-by-step guide as well as a forum where you can compare notes with others in the same situation. There is no upfront cost, although it’s worth paying for a proofread and a professionally designed cover – the most common criticism of self-publishing is the perceived (and sometimes, I'm afraid, actual) lack of professionalism. An ISBN isn’t essential for Kindle, although it is for other platforms such as Smashwords.

There are two major downsides.

1. Marketing – you have to learn how to promote yourself and your work. This is the thing I'm finding terribly difficult to do. Suddenly I'm reluctant to talk about the small fact that I have a novel for sale on Amazon. It’s a serious consideration for anyone not of a naturally gregarious nature. Having said that, for most writers with a traditional publishing contract the position is no different. Everyone has to go out and sell themselves, even the big guns, and marketing support is being reduced for the majority of writers; indeed, some get none at all.

2. The negative attitude from so many people – especially other writers – that self-publishing is a sign of failure. However, the mood is changing; traditional publishers, both large and small, are taking on fewer new writers and are cutting back on the support they offer the authors already on their lists. It’s a brutal fact that ‘success’ in their terms means getting your ms in front of the right person at the right time when s/he is in the right mood and the market is heading in the same direction. The chances are slim, so e-publishing is beginning to look like a viable alternative.

And the upsides?
You get to keep up to 70% of the selling price, depending on which option you take.
You have total control over your work. Ok, it’s not easy to get one ebook to rise to the surface of the hundreds available, but at least you don’t have to suffer seeing your printed books returned when they haven’t sold during their first few short weeks. An ebook doesn’t have to jostle for shelf space in a shop or justify its place in a book warehouse. It is easily accessible and available for as long as the author chooses.
More and more people are buying kindles, or are reading fiction on their laptop, netbook, smartphone. As I say, they won't totally replace paper books, but I believe there is a place for them alongside. Ebooks cost considerably less than printed ones, on the whole. Mine sells at £2.14 and is equivalent to a 450 – 500 page standard paperback. 70% of that is more than I would get through a traditional publisher selling it at an average cover price in the high street.
Indeed, only mainstream publishers hike up the price of their ebooks so as not to compete with the traditional paper edition - and I’d be interested to know how much of this money they pass on to the author, given that it doesn’t cost anything to put a book on Amazon Kindle.

I'm now formatting The Winter House so that it can go on Smashwords from where it will be distributed to Barnes & Noble’s online store, and also Sony, Nook, and various other ebook stores. I have a couple of other finished manuscripts that I’d like to upload too. They’re not paranormal, but that’s OK because I don’t have anyone shoving me into a paranormal pigeonhole. Before that, though, I want to learn how to create the covers myself. At the moment it’s the only thing I can’t do. And that’s another benefit of self-publishing – I'm learning so many new tricks!

The Winter House is available here:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Winter-House-ebook/dp/B0058KS5Q8/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1312133098&sr=1-1

More information on Kindle publishing:
https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=A2RYO17TIRUIVI

Smashwords:
http://www.smashwords.com/

Dee Weaver is Northumbrian, Aquarian, Pagan.Her current passions (apart from reading and writing, obviously) are ghosts, English history, rock music, cats, Formula 1, and Jacobean embroidery.She now lives in Yorkshire with her partner and one feisty cat. Until recently she shared a house with two of its original Victorian residents. It was an amicable arrangement, and she was sorry to leave them behind when she moved out.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Quickfire questions with Gillian Phillip



Gillian Philip lives in the north of Scotland with her husband, ten-year-old twins, two dogs, two cats, a slayer hamster, three chickens and several nervous fish. She writes anything that comes into her head, including fantasy, crime, science fiction and horror. Her books include Bad Faith, Crossing The Line, The Opposite of Amber and (for Hothouse Fiction) the Darke Academy teen horror series. Firebrand, the first of four novels about the Scottish Sithe, was published last year and the second episode, Bloodstone, comes out this August. She has been writing all her life, but has also tried proper jobs as a record store assistant, theatre usherette, barmaid, sales rep, political assistant, radio presenter, typesetter, and singer in an Irish bar in Barbados.




Which 3 writers, living or dead, would you invite to dinner?


Christopher Hitchens, Richard Holloway and CS Lewis. That ought to be good.


What's your favourite writing snack?


Coffee and an occasional cigarette… which I’m giving up. (No, honestly I am.) I like being slightly hungry while I’m writing. It’s harder to write when I’ve just eaten.

Longhand or computer?


Longhand notes and then computer all the way. I’m more inclined to lose notebooks (or have them eaten by dogs) than I am to delete files accidentally.


Win Booker prize or land Hollywood film deal?

Oh, Hollywood film deal, no question. But I’d want dibs on the casting couch.

Tabloid or broadsheet?

Broadsheet, usually the Times. But I stand in Tesco for ages reading the good bits in the tabloids. And I love a good Sun headline. They are an underrated art form.

Independent bookshop or Amazon?

Both. And my lovely local Waterstones. Um, I buy too many books.

Hacker or adder? (in terms of editing)

Adder. I have to race to get the plot down because I need to find out what actually happens (see following answer). I like going back and adding in scenes and conversations and incidents. It feels positively relaxing.

Plotter or panter?

Seat of pants. I start with a scene and a character. But I like to have an idea where it’s going by about halfway through or I start to panic.

Leave on a cliffhanger or tell all?

Complete cliffhangers are annoying. Even in a series I like to round off any particular episode of the story into a sort-of ending. But tell all? Heck, I don’t even KNOW all.

You really must read…

How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World by Francis Wheen. And every single Calvin & Hobbes book ever. That strip is a masterpiece of storytelling, draughtsmanship, character, conciseness, care, and knowing when to stop.

I get most excited by…

The lightbulb moment when I see how a book is going to work without everyone dying.

If I wasn’t a writer I would be…

Incredibly bored and boring, and trying to retrain as a forester.

An author should always…

Avoid self-indulgence. Except with whisky, pasta and chocolate.