Category Archives: Publishing

Target Audience

It’s been a while…but, yes I’m back.

Why the silence? Well many reasons, but mainly because I’ve been beavering away on a total re-write of my book, which will no longer be entitled Prophecy of Innocence.

If you recall I paid out quite a few hundred pounds to have a professional edit done on the book which I had been writing for 4 years. My epic ‘children’s’ fantasy tale, Prophecy of Innocence. I’d also written the second in the three volume novel, though this was not sent for editorial feedback.

I have spent the past month and a half having to totally re-think my approach and I thought the best way to update on this (as this blog is all about this writing journey) is to take all the editorial points in hand and talk about how I’m tackling each one in a series of short posts. So here’s the first:

Target Audience.

I paid for an editorial for two reasons. One I have never had any specific writing training. None. I started writing this book simply because I had an idea once upon a time. Also because I wanted to have it published, whether that be by a professional publisher or by myself. But I needed to have professional opinion on it, and so that is what I sought. I am glad I did, despite the initial gut-wrenching desire to throw in the towel and give up!

So, I thought Prophecy was definitely a children’s story and I stood by it as such. I ‘sold’ it as such and the edit was done bearing in mind I’d said it was for middle grade readers.

And therein lay my first problem.

The story I had written had a bunch of stuff in it that middle grade readers wouldn’t be remotely interested in.  Hard punch to take when you work with said demographic on a daily basis!

I hadn’t written specifically enough for my target audience. Although the editor acknowledged there was “much about the novel suitable for the middle grade reader”  it seemed that there were more things which were not than were!

Here are some of the points made:

  • “There’s a lot within it that isn’t necessarily suitable for the MG audience  and much of the novel is concerned with adult characters and their journeys – again not ideal.”
  • “While the beginning is wonderfully dramatic, especially chapter three and the destruction of the factory, so much death isn’t appropriate for your intended readership.” Ooops! (Though I’d argue and point out it was of generic non important characters as a whole and not detailed in descriptive gore!)
  • “For me the title Prophecy of Innocence doesn’t sound like an MG book title, and I don’t believe it will reach out to your audience in the way that it should. It sounds very old – adult- in fact.” Yes, novice writers out there if you pay for an edit be prepared for harsh truths! My new novel has no title as yet… 🙂
  • “The story becomes focussed on romance and marriage.” (Guilty as charged, your honour!)
  • “Toddington’s job – running a factory – makes him seem adult and therefore the reader will probably struggle to engage with him and his experiences.”
  • Summing up: “I wonder if you’ve allowed the story to get carried away with itself, and forgotten your audience in the process.” (And there, dear reader is a lesson in plotting and planning instead of pantsing your way through a novel! Though in my defence I did just start writing this for fun. I never had any ambition much at first to be published, so I just wrote a story and enjoyed it.)

Now I could have taken the view that okay, I could just re-write it based on the other editing points for a YA audience to whom some of these themes would be more suited. However, it wasn’t that simple. All the things wrong with my novice writing attempt tie in together and so I didn’t feel this was the best course of action, though I did consider it.

So what did I do? Well once I’d ironed out a few of the other issues which didn’t work with the book, I set about firstly having my main character as a contemporary child rather than one of (or a few of ) the elflings underground. Basically, I changed main character and viewpoint  and this made me focus much more on being the child. This isn’t an entirely new idea as Book 3 was due to fast forward to the modern age and some contemporary child characters. I guess what I’ve been doing for 4 years is writing an origins story. A history book!)

Then I have been reading lots and lots of Roald Dahl and David Walliams books to my nephew. Not that I am writing humour, you understand, but actually it’s no good me reading only my adult books (not that kind!) if I’m writing for children. I needed to get a grip on how to write for this audience as really I’d never properly considered it before other than in a very vague, generic way.

Secondly I interviewed some ten  and eleven year old girls and boys at the school I work at to find out if my main character needed to be a boy or a girl. This sounds ridiculous. Surely I should know, but there were a lot of things in my plot that I needed to know how boys react versus girls to certain situations. I also had a voice in my head and needed to see who fit it best. Then I wanted to find out about how they behave generally, what are their motivations, what do they do in their spare time, what kind of language do they use, because the type of colloquialisms I used at eleven are not going to be the same 30 years on.

So I did that and that has helped no end in thinking about how my main character reacts to certain events which I’d already plotted out.

Then I wrote the first three chapters in the first person so I could really get inside the child character’s head. This is something the editor suggested I do to help me with viewpoint and sticking with one. I have since changed it to third person (as I prefer this for the type of story I have) but it did really work for me. It might sound laborious, but it isn’t as though I need to do it for the whole book. I might still dabble into it if I have problems later on, but for now I am happy I am in one head. (I will talk about my problems with viewpoint in another post!)

And since then I have simply been writing and playing around with and re-writing and re-writing the first  four chapters and getting to know the two main characters so far.

I’ve also forgotten about aiming to be published. For now. I’ve decided I just want to learn more about the art of crafting a good novel. Maybe joining a writing group/course would be best for this, but I don’t think those types of things are really for me. It’s more fun finding out for yourself and trying different things.

As well as this I’ve also started plotting rather than pantsing! And I’ll talk about this in my next post.

What about your own experiences as a novice novelist? What problems have you encountered/did you encounter and how have you/how did you fixed them? I’d love to hear any thoughts from both novices and those with more experience!

Thanks, as ever, for reading.

 

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Filed under Editing, Plot Development, Publishing, Writing

30 Days ’til 40 #8

This one comes with a deep breath and is actually related to what this blog was set up for in the first place…to write about my writing journey… So, today on October 8th we have…

#8: I paid for a Professional Edit on my first novel.

When I started writing this children’s novel 4 years ago I had not a Scooby Doo what I was doing. 4 years, 174 million re-writes and edits later, and now a professional eye cast over the work, it seems I still don’t have a clue.

I am pleased I paid for a professional edit, very pleased, because I could have continued to flounder around in the dark writing more aimless rubbish. I haven’t written a great book. I knew that anyway, even without an edit, but I desperately needed to know what and how to fix it. Every single thing the editor I hired has put in the report I received back today, is absolutely spot on and so I am for that extremely pleased to have invested my £600.

However, it’s only an investment if I do now continue to work on it and aim to be published, surely? None of the outcome of the edit or my thoughts around it alters the fact though that I have been an amateur about all this for too long. Writing has been a hobby and I wonder really if I am cut out to be a writer of fiction novels at all any way. There must be a reason I became a teacher not a writer.

Firstly I think this because I only have one real idea and even that one has taken me years to get so completely and utterly wrong.

I may sound disheartened or negative, but I’m not especially. I just know I am going to have to do a hell of a lot of work and scrapping and re-plotting to get the past 4 years work like anything up to scratch, (and even then I might not get it right) and so I wonder if it is worth it. I wonder if I should just leave novel writing to the likes of Matt Haig and Rick Riorden. To those who actually have a talent for it. Let’s face it there’s enough shite out there without my trying to compete.

But…I love working on this story. I love the story, I love the characters.

I guess the real decision is: Do I just want to write my story and keep it for me? Or do I really want to be published as I once thought was what I wanted?

The main issues at the moment are: its suitability in some of its themes and characters for middle grade readership, and that I don’t have a strong plot driver in volume one.  That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Right now, there’s a huge mountain to climb and I feel a little overwhelmed by it.

However, I do need a goal as I enter into my next decade…so perhaps I need to knuckle down and get serious.

Watch this space…

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To the End

“Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?

It took me years to write, will you take a look?….”

So I was all a bit doom and gloom last week when I wrote my post on how the writing is going so far. That may be something to do with my strange, annual “I’ve now got six weeks off work” feeling that I get, which should see me dancing on the ceiling, but which invariably, as I said to one friend, sees me staring at the ceiling blankly for a couple of days instead. My brain is indeed a strange machine.

So anyway, I took a Twitter break intending for it to be for two weeks (as I figured that would be how long it would take me to get my backside into gear and finally finish the first draft of Book 2 of Prophecy of Innocence).

Turns out taking a Twitter break was a brilliant thing to do, if not excruciatingly hard for a hobbity hermit such as myself who has come to rely on it so much for contact with the outside world. Ooops. May need to rectify that. Yes, I missed it. Shocking. (I say it, I mean you all, of course.) However, the break does mean I have now finally finished the first draft of Book 2! Yay!

Near enough four years ago now, I sat down at my little Samsung net-book and typed the first words for Book 1. (No longer the first words, naturally, after a million revisions.) So it’s hard to believe  I have actually completed the second one. And the final leg only took me five writing sessions during my Twitter break to finally finish it off. (I have also had to do holiday stuff with the little one, as well as paint my hallway and lounge you understand. It’s not all been “write, write, write.” Though it just goes to show how much time I must spend on Twitter! A hem…)

However, if it wasn’t for Twitter I’d not have managed to find the editor who has agreed to work on my first manuscript. (Yes, despite my worries in my last post that she wouldn’t want to after reading the sample I sent, she emailed saying “I enjoyed reading the sample, and found the characters and set-up fascinating,” so I was worrying over nothing as usual. I’m trying to tell myself she doesn’t use the same stock phrase to all her clients. Put the cynic back in her box, Joanne.)

As I said, my editor came on recommendation from a Twitter pal who has worked with her. I spoke to her the other day, and I believe this may be the best nearly £600 I’ve ever spent. Yes, folks, an in depth editorial report with annotated manuscript does cost that much, and actually knowing how much goes into it, it’s very reasonable for the work needed. I could have gone for the cheaper less detailed edit, but I am a novice writer. It is important to learn as much as I can and take advice from the professionals, even if as my friend says “Just be prepared for your ego to take a battering.” Anyway, that’s also happening (an edit not my ego battering) and I will have the feedback around about the 12th October. (When the ego battering will take place! Happy Birthday!)

So what will I do until then? Writing wise that is? Well, I need to begin outlining Book 3. Book 3 is going to be the most complex as it will obviously be where everything comes to a climax and the whole story is finally resolved. Although in some ways this should be easy, as I know how the story ends, getting to the story’s end is always very tricky. Book 3 will also be trickier as we fast forward in time to the modern day and there will be new (human children) characters to introduce. Book 3 will in some ways be easier  as it was Book 3 which was actually the original idea for the story. Books 1 and 2 grew backwards from that idea. I guess I could actually have written Book 3 first, with hindsight, but I’m quite a linear writer – I felt the need to go back to the beginning. Anyway, there will be a lot of outlining for Book 3. There was none for Book 1 (hence why 4 years later we’re only just getting to professional edit stage). Book 2 has outlines. (Plural because the outlines have changed about a hundred times, or at least it feels like it!) Of course, I need to go back to Book 2 and begin the re-writes, but I’ll probably sit on that for a few weeks and go back to it with fresh eyes to begin that process.

Also whilst on my Twitter break I wrote a short story which I may or may not go back to. It’s an FP inspired one, but I’m not sure how much I like it. It needs work and I did it mainly just to warm up for getting back into the writing habit, so what I do with it may, in fact, be nothing.

I also recently started a draft of another children’s book I had an idea for a few weeks a go. I may well go back to that and start writing it properly, if I have enough time.

Once the editor comes back to me in October I will also have more re-writes and edits to do on Book 1, which will have a knock on effect on Book 2 and then Book 3. We will have to see how it goes. When I’m happy I will then start submitting properly to agents, if I feel that is a viable option. If not, I will look once more into self publishing, which will be an expensive business if I want to do it properly.

For those of you who think a book can be knocked out in a matter of months, or if there are first time writers out there frustrated that they are not getting anywhere, well the truth is it is a long game, as I said in my last post. It takes years, and in those years there are highs (like now) and lows (like last week when I had all the doubts one could have crowding around my brain).

As a result there is little point to asking “when are you going to be published?” because that is like asking me to answer “when will you die?” I don’t know. I can only hope I have published my book one way or another before I do die. That’s the best I can tell you.

My all means, ask how the book is going, because clearly I’m not about to be quitting on it (despite how I might feel at times)!

No, it seems now, having completed Book 2, I will indeed make it to the *end.

*Whenever the end may be 🙂

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Leaving the Stable

It was never going to be part of my writing journey that I send my manuscript direct to a publisher (the few who will actually take unsolicited manuscripts of novels these days) and they offer me an advance and gush about how much they need to publish my wonderful novel.

No, that’s not quite how my life story has ever gone, or indeed probably not how the vast majority of dreams are achieved. And I never really expected it to be, though one can always hope of course!

So, now for two months I, and some of you, have been waiting to hear on a decision from the marketing and production people at the publishing house who read my manuscript.

If you recall, there were some positive things said, (you can read for yourself here) though there were weaknesses, they were confident a good editor could iron those out.

Then yesterday, finally I had this email. It was a mixed bag, as you’ll see:

Dear Joanne
 
I have now received responses from my colleagues in marketing and production. Marketing have expressed some concerns as to you, the author, being unknown and untried. It is always difficult to market such a book and its author to the reading public as compared to someone who is known and in the public domain. However they do believe that the theme of your book is saleable. They also suggest that a paperback edition would perhaps be more marketable than a hardback edition.
 
On the other hand our production department are suggesting that if well proofread and edited that this book would have potential.
 [I have had preliminary discussions with our publishing executives who are reluctant to take this book on with our full financial commitment. They have suggested that if some of the costs can be shared with the author they would be prepared to give it a shot and bring it into our stable.]
 
I did not want to prepare contracts before I had written to you to explain our thinking. If you are agreeable to this suggestion I will arrange for a contract to be prepared. I will endeavour to keep working with you to support your work, but my hands are tied. I do feel that your book is quite unique.
 
Please let me know your decision.
I can’t even begin to comment on the “bring it into our stable” line, so I won’t!
Anyway, though there are some positives, (theme of the book is saleable, has potential, your book is quite unique…)  my gut reaction upon reading the email was a deflation rather than elation and one which screamed ‘no, this will not be the path to take.’ Although it is their own personal company practice to have a mix of authors they pay an advance to and others who share costs which I knew this from the outset, it is not even so much the idea of paying out money which bothers me. (Though subsequently discovering this would be in the region of £1800-£2000 has of course put a lid on the whole thing anyway.)
No, my reasons for not wanting to go ahead are as follows:
1) I want a publisher to be wholeheartedly behind my book. I want them to have a least some of the passion I have for it, otherwise who’s championing it? I do realise this is an industry, a business like any other and their primary aim is to make money, I am not naive, but I can’t help but wonder how much effort they are going to put into marketing something they only half believe in and haven’t invested much money in. My answer is they probably won’t.
2) I want the best look for this book. I have visions for it and yes, I might be a snob wanting it in hardback, but that is what I want. If I ever do end up self publishing, this will be one of the options. When they say paperback is more saleable, they mean it’s cheaper. It’s cheaper to make, it’s cheaper to the consumer and it’s less risky if they don’t sell. However, I believe this book deserves more and the children who finally get to read it, deserve more.
3) A publisher’s job surely entails some form of risk? It irks me that new authors are not given much consideration, simply because they are unknown. (No wonder the indie publishing business has taken off.)  The line on “being unknown and not in the public domain” grates on me a lot in this email After all what are we selling? A book or a person? Seemingly not a book any more. I find this sad because I don’t think children are bothered about who writes the book. Children want a good story. It’s tough writing for children in a business where all the decisions are actually made by adults. The only reason I myself decided not to go down the self publishing route is because I envisage the book to have a certain stylistic look and feel, which I could not achieve as an indie publisher. Particularly not in relation to the art work. There needs to be maps and family trees. Not necessarily illustrations but certainly a bespoke front cover.
4) Bearing all that in mind, if this publisher is wanting me to invest £2000, then I may as well hire an artist and editor and self publish. The fact is though, I don’t have that kind of money. Writer’s generally aren’t rich folk. (You’d think they would have realised this from the covering bio letter I had sent them: Part time teacher should give a clue to how much money I don’t have!)
So there it is. I will now go to plan B. I have exhausted the list of publishers for children’s fiction who accept unsolicited manuscripts. Now it’s time to bombard agents. (Lucky people!) Thankfully I am already armed with my Writers and Artists’ Handbook complete with pink post-it notes already earmarked on likely targets candidates. 😉
However, first I will work further on the manuscript, as it is evident from comments received that I need to do this. Of course doing so, will take me away from completing the draft of Book 2, as soon as I liked (now 54,000 words in). However, this is what needs to be done.
So, as they say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” “Good things come to those who wait” etc, etc….
The journey…now in it’s fourth year, continues. Thanks for keeping on with me, through the highs, lows and plateaus! 🙂
(Also, if you’ve read this and wondered why there are no spaces between paragraphs and points after the copied email section, please ask WordPress as I can’t fathom what’s happened!)
 
 

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The Long and the Short of It.

As you will know, if you are a regular visitor to the blog, I spent a fair part of 2014 writing short stories and pieces of flash fiction which included a high rate of participation in the Twitter flash writing game, Friday Phrases (FP). You can even find some of the short stories here and here if you so wish to torture yourself with a variety of pieces of fiction  which I don’t hold in particularly high regard.

Now, at the time, I enjoyed writing in this form. I guess, as I was pretty depressed for the first half of last year, writing flash fiction and shorts gave me an opportunity to carry on writing when I didn’t much feel like it. Also I needed feedback as to how my writing was developing and it felt the quickest way to achieve that.

You see, for me writing a short story is a little like the practice for the big event, the novel. Now I say ‘for me’ with good reason as I know this is not the case for a huge number of writers. Many I know in fact only write short stories or novellas and like it and are very good at it. It’s their thing.  However, it is not my thing I have discovered. This is because, when I write a short it’s usually from a ghost of an idea that flits about my mind (which does not happen nearly as frequently as perhaps it should) and then I just write it. I don’t outline, I don’t plan characters, I don’t  worry about it or have sleepless nights about it. I draft it, then I edit it and it’s done. It can feel like an accomplishment of sorts when I’ve not worked properly on my novel, but it does not satisfy me fully. Possibly because I do see them as an exercise in writing rather than something I’d aim to have published.

Now, the trouble was last year I became a little distracted by writing these short stories and flash fiction, as well as this blog and  all of those things combined only served to take me away from what I actually love working on which is my novel(s).

I have a theory as to why I became distracted. The main one being that I don’t consider to myself to be a true writer in the pure sense of the word. Simply I don’t feel a deep seated need to bleed ideas onto the page lest I die, as other writers speak of. Unless I am in a state of heart break. Which I very much was until I bled all that out in this blog post. Seems writing really does have the power to heal.

No,  the only thing I feel a need to tell is the story in my novel, and in truth, it’s the only story I have to tell. Really. All those other ideas which found their way here last year could have quite happily remained in the recesses of my mind and no one would have suffered the worst for it. Me least of all.

So whilst I was writing shorts, and blog posts, and participating in FP, my novel sat without moving off the 18,000 word count it’d been on for months and months. This bothered me of course but I justified it and comforted myself with the idea that at least I was writing. Something, anything. No matter what came out. Oh dear.

Then, without my conscious knowledge my participation  in FP began to dribble off in the final quarter of the year until, in December, it became none existent. I pondered on why this was the other day and realised it is mainly because I have no ideas.  They’ve dried up and this I put down to my not being utterly depressed and heartbroken. In February, March, April time when I was perhaps at my lowest I look through my notebook and there were perhaps six or seven Flash Fiction FPs a week. It seems, as I’ve alluded to before in another post, I need heartbreak for my emotions to really surface so that I can have the ideas to then develop further maybe when I’m not so down. My emotions are heightened and so apparently is my creativity.  (An ongoing debate which many have written about before.) This in turn meant my well for short story ideas dried up, and in all honesty I lost interest in writing shorts altogether. I have two sitting half finished in draft form, but I doubt I’ll be finishing them in a hurry.

Anyway,  with news from the publisher in mid November that they were interested in my novel and passing it onto marketing and production to make a decision, I figured I desperately needed to get back to the second book which leads on from Book One. The word count now stands at just over 53,000 which has grown from those 18,000 in early November and which had been sat at 18,000 for a good nine months previously. Not my most productive writing phase.

Getting back to the novel, really getting back into it, has made me realise this much: I much prefer writing a novel to short stories. The process that is. Despite the fact that it is, in my opinion, much harder. It is for me at least so much more enjoyable.

This then got me thinking about different writers and how they view the long and short form.

I know many people in the writing world who very much enjoy writing short stories, even prefer it to novel writing. They submit continuously to websites and magazines for publications and are sometimes successful  at being published, at other times they are not. Nevertheless, they write and write and write and seem to do little else with their spare time from their day job.

They seem to be able to write story after story after story, having so many ideas flowing from them they don’t know what to write next.

I don’t. I just don’t have that many ideas floating around in my brain. I did back in February/March/April time but generally I don’t.  Hence why I can never really consider myself a proper writer. What I do is a hobby as I have too many other things I love to do in my spare time too. My novel is, nevertheless, a hobby I hope one day to have published and be able to share with the children of the world. I have other writers being kind enough to recommend places to submit short stories and poems to or competitions to enter, but truth is, I have no real interest in this. Maybe that’s cutting my nose off to spite my face.  All these other writers who write and submit, write and submit will one day get their break. The law of probability is on their side. I’m not making it easy for myself by not doing those things too, this I know. However, I wouldn’t submit my shorts as I know they are simply not good enough. Also, maybe I just like the thought of a long hard slog on one project which I can eventually feel proud of. I’ve never felt especially proud of my short stories, (probably because they are not that great, or original) but I feel very proud of the 130,000 odd words I’ve written so far over the two novels.

On the up side though, writing shorts has helped me develop such technical skills as: showing not telling or playing around with viewpoint and structure. For me this feeds directly into my novel -the big project, the one I am passionate about. I don’t have that same passion for writing short stories. Maybe, if I’m really honest, my passion is not even for writing itself ; it is for the process of creating. I’ve created a whole world with characters and a plot and a history and timelines and maps and family trees. Writing is just the form this has taken. If I was any good at art it could have been a mural or a comic strip. I don’t know. But to perfect that form I’ve had to pay attention to the technical stuff and writing shorts and flash has indeed helped me to focus on the actual art of writing.

To my mind, and perhaps this may be controversial in writerly circles, (as I generally have no clue what I’m talking about having never attended a writer’s club, forum, support group or workshop) the process of writing a short compared to writing a novel is completely different.

When writing a novel, for example, there is more opportunity to develop characters, get to know them, play around with them, shake them up when need be. In a novel the characters drive the story, where for me in short stories it seems the plot drives the characters.  (Maybe because I’m doing it all wrong!) The characters in short stories don’t seem to do unexpected things because there is a ‘punchline’ to reach and it needs to be reached in a specific word count.

Writing a novel also means weaving multiple different threads together. So much so it can feel almost like solving a murder mystery and really gets the brain thinking. It can make it ache too, but in a good way. Weaving multiple narrative and making them meet is  a form of problem solving and it feels great when it all comes together. (Especially if you’re a bit of a pantser like me!) This feeling of accomplishment is something I have never found I gain with writing in the short form. As I say, with a short the ending presents itself like a flash of inspiration and then you run with it until you reach it. The biggest problem solving you have when writing a short story or Flash Fiction is to convey what you want to say in as few words as possible. We all know I’m verbose to the extreme, so perhaps this is why I prefer novel writing!

Now, on a personal level I do actually like reading short stories very much. I loved all Roald Dahl’s Tales of The Unexpected and other short stories when I was a teenager. He, to me, is a master in the art of short story telling, and the novella “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” is one of my all time favourites. However, as a writer, they simply do not give me the same pleasure (and perhaps the same pain!) that writing a novel does.

Those light-bulb, Eureka! moments in the shower when you work out, almost subconsciously, how to fix that plot hole that’s been bugging you for months or maybe that you didn’t even know was there until a couple of characters started a conversation in your head whilst you were washing up! That is a complete thrill and once you get it written down, utterly satisfying.

Writing a novel is a marathon over the sprint of a short. It’s harder, certainly; it’s more gruelling, but the feeling when you finish it is far more exhilarating.

These are just my thoughts of course.

What do you writers think? Do you prefer the marathon or the sprint? Which process do you enjoy more?

What do you readers think? Do you prefer to read short stories, what with the busy lives we now all seem to lead, or do you prefer something you can get your teeth into?

I’d be happy to hear your thoughts in the comments box below. 🙂

Thanks, as ever, for reading.

 

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Glimmer

Don’t fall off your sofas/bar stools/whatever you may be perched on, but welcome to an actual blog post about my writing journey as advertised in the small print at the bottom of the page.

So, at the end of September I had a publisher request to read the whole manuscript for Prophecy of Innocence, which was quite a big deal for me I have to say. I have spent the last six weeks whilst it was in their possession working on Book 2 which has helped me focus away from what their answer might be.

Last night when I was working on it I thought about how much I love my novel. I don’t mean that in a conceited way, I mean it in a nurturing way. I love my characters and the world I’ve created and the things they get up to and their personalities. So I told myself last night I didn’t care if no one else ever loves this book, because I do and I love working on it and that’s the truth of the matter and what is important.

Then today I arrived home from work to find an email in my inbox.

From the publisher.

It read:

I am pleased to inform you that we have now read your work.

 Unfortunately your work has areas which are weak..

At this point I steeled myself for the inevitable. I’d prepared for rejection and to be honest with where I am in my head right now, I didn’t feel despondent. Nevertheless I read on as I hoped there might be some feedback on what needed working on. This I had to read twice as the first time I read it I don’t think the words I read were the same words on the page, or if they were, my brain jumbled them up. It said:

…but with good editorial input we believe that this can be improved upon. Happily many attractive features are included in your submission and we certainly enjoyed your style of writing.

So I re-read it and my heart stopped for just a small moment because a publisher said they enjoyed my style. That one sentence just made me feel so happy and that the three years of slog has been worth it. Then the e-mail went on to say…

We now have to consider its potential and I have asked my colleagues in marketing and production to give us their opinion.

 I will write to you again with our decision.

First of all I couldn’t believe it. I read the whole thing again. Twice. Then I looked around for someone to tell and hug, but being alone, as it wasn’t yet school run time, I jumped around the room and then couldn’t sit still with the thought that a publisher has said there may be potential.

Now I am not being complacent. If you know me, I hope you know it is not in my nature to be so or to rest on my laurels. This publisher may still pass, but, but, but…here’s the thing. That doesn’t matter so much. It means I can keep trying if it’s not for them. It means I have produced something which someone else might see the same potential and a bit more. It means (I hope) I can get feedback on what to improve before I may need to go back down the submissions route. But more excitingly someone in this book business is reading and considering my work and that means more than anything to me right now.

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Week 1 of the A-Z Blog Challenge

So week one of April’s A-Z blog challenge is over and boy I really didn’t think I’d fit a blog a day in but I actually have and today we reached G! Hooray! For those of you who don’t know, I am writing a blog post about my current WIP for my children’s novel Prophecy of Innocence, one entry for each letter of the alphabet.

I’ve decided to group the posts into a weekly blog (mainly so I can come back to them with ease I have to say!) So here, all in one post are the entries for A-G. Enjoy.

A is for… Annandale.

So I’m a day late to this alphabet blog type thingy and actually I don’t even know if it is an alphabet-blog thingy but I have seen a few so… Having done NO research on the matter I’m delving in with an alphabet challenge related to my children’s novel. Ah how dull. Yes but when I get to x I have no idea what I’ll write so that’ll be a challenge. Plus this will be good as these will be short. 🙂

Annandale is one of the female elfling characters in Prophecy of Innocence. She’s not a major character but she was the first to be sacrificed  in the name of moving some of the other characters into action. I recently read you shouldn’t kill characters off in children’s books. I read this from the great Anthony Horowitz who I admire greatly as a writer as he wrote episodes of my favourite ever TV show in the 80’s, Robin of Sherwood. (He’s also done some Poirot’s as those of you who know me know I love but he’s done loads of other TV stuff and written numerous books.)  But  anyway, I’m not a great one for following rules so er…yes it’s not a massive spoiler to say she dies. (Besides the fact most reading this will never read my WIP so…)

So where did the name Annandale derive? Well , like so many other of my elflings,she  is named after a British motorway service station. (Okay I know it’s weird but why the hell not? I bet no one else has ever done it.) In this case, Annandale Water Services which just s happens is my favourite one.

Situated on the A74(M) in the Dumfries and Galloway region of Scotland, there is nothing that special about the interior of the services but, unlike the majority of UK motorway service stations I’ve visited, there are beautiful views of rolling hills, a duck pond where each year ducklings roam the outdoor eating area and a huge lake at the back to gaze at whilst you eat. And that’s it. But it’s a regular stop on my way up North and I love it.

So before I turn myself into a tour guide for UK motorway service stations, I’ll bid you goodnight and go and think about B & C for tomorrow as I think I’ll have to combine them to catch up.

B is for… babies.

Babies become an integral part of the plot in Book 2 (which is still in first draft form). Orphaned babies to be precise. Orphaned babies from workhouses of the Industrial Revolution. Orphaned babies from industrial workhouses who are subsequently shrunk down to elfling size. (Elflings? Elflings? See here) I told you this would make me seem crazy. Which takes me swiftly on to the letter C…

 

C is for… Crystonal. 

Crystonal is an imaginary compound made by the elflings which gives them a longer life span (they live up to one-thousand years) and ensures they do not age physically. It is a compound made by crushing up gemstones mined from deep in the rocks underground into a shimmering fine dust. Crystonal is kept by the parents of an elfling until an elfling’s eighteenth birthday when they are sprinkled with the dust. This means that all elflings above the age of eighteen still look eighteen. The only way other elflings can determine another elfling’s approximate age is through the way they dress. It is later on in Book One when another use for crystonal is found that the elflings realise its positive potential. In Book 2, however, crystonal becomes even more important to the overall plot development and the elflings come to realise not just its true potential but how, if in the wrong hands, it has the power to damage.

And the name crystonal? Well it didn’t have a name for about 2 years. In my WIP it was simply referred to as magic dust. When I decided to name it (because I hadn’t even originally thought to do that bizarrely!) I thought of how gemstones are sometimes called crystals and that was it. Crystonal was born. The start of the word made me think of kryptonite but I didn’t want ‘nite’ on the end because of this association. I think Crystonal as a word just popped up in my head and I do remember Googling it to make sure it didn’t actually exist. And no. It definitely isn’t a UK Motorway service station.  🙂

D is for…depth

I was struggling with what to write about for D for this A-Z blog challenge related to my WIP of my first children’s novel I really was.

But then…my saviour for this challenge arrived not half an hour ago in an unexpected guise. For this lunchtime I arrived home to find my very first (as I’m sure there will be others) rejection letter from the publisher I had sent the first three chapters of my WIP to. Mixed emotions as you can imagine, nevertheless the editor had clearly read the chapters thoroughly and has gone to the trouble of providing me with some very constructive, and therefore valuable, feedback.

One being to do with depth. Hence D is for…depth.

Now irony would have it that my story is set in the depths of Trelflande, an imaginary world underneath our own. However from the feedback I’ve received it appears the main issue is actually a lack of depth. Both of the world and of the characters. Believe me this is a hard punch to take after you have spent 2 and a half years working on something and have cut out a lot of these details for fear of there being too much world building and not enough story. Ho hum. Seemingly I may have been closer to the mark with my original beginnings. I have battled long and hard with world building. With no desire to risk boring a child reader with reams of lengthy Tolkien-esque description to begin the story, instead I delved straight into the action because everything I’ve read suggests you need to. Especially in our fast moving, visually stimulating day and age. Perhaps I need to find a balance here and I’m sure I can.

The comments about characters being ‘difficult to relate to’ and being ‘over-credulous, too readily accepting of incredulous events’ are also very fair and something I hope I can easily work on once I find the resolve to get back on the metaphorical horse again. As I  have often said before I find character writing very difficult.

So, I have been advised to elaborate on the points made to me, all of which I agree with.  Imagine. Me – having to elaborate on things?! Shouldn’t be too difficult should it? 😉

The one thing I was pleased with though is that the actual premise of the story was not dismissed. As you will now know from my previous A-Z posts I worry it’s a bit ‘out there’ and a bit old fashioned.  In fact the editor said  ‘I felt the narrative had potential – the Blakian pursuit of social and environmental “innocence” as suggested by the title resonating rather nicely in our age of ecological degradation.’ (Blakian being a reference to William Blake not a mispelling of Blaikie!) So I take heart in that.

Furthermore the advice to be prepared to extend the text overall if I hope to achieve the “epic-ness” of authors such as Tolkien and Lewis does not daunt me! Ah ha! At last verbosity wins the day!

And so I will try not to sink into the depths of despair.

Instead I will rise up to the challenge ahead. But perhaps in a few weeks when I muster the courage to go back to the start and change it again.

The journey really does continue…

E is for…Edingworth

Today we continue the A-Z walk through my WIP with the letter E. After yesterday’s post about the rejection of my manuscript I did kind of wonder whether to continue with this as I have swung between being determined to take on board and follow the advice offered, and tearing up the entire WIP and throwing it away. However, I finish what I start and so both with the blog challenge and the WIP, I will continue. Even if I don’t touch the WIP again for weeks. Which is a massive possibility.

It would have been easier to do a blog post on the elflings in general for the letter e, but you can find out all about them elsewhere on this site so I’ll focus on one in particular.  Besides which, Edingworth Trailstar is one of my favourite characters so far. He doesn’t enter Book 1 until towards the end but he becomes the main antagonist and he, along with his father who makes more of an impact in book 2, has been more fun to write than perhaps the protagonists.

Edingworth is not named after a motorway service station (see A is for… Annandale) but he is named, in part at least, after my favourite city, Edinburgh. Like the city, Edingworth is a mixture of complexities. He appears to be one thing on the surface but as the story develops so does his character and what you see on the surface is not necessarily what lies beneath. Then when you think you have worked out exactly what motivates him, Book 2 throws that out of the window and another layer to his personality is revealed.

Edingworth is an elfling from a different tribe to the main protagonist. He gets called ‘smarmy’, ‘smooth’ and ‘too good to be true’. He is extremely charming but at the same time there is a sinister element to his character. He wears flamboyant, brightly coloured clothes and holds himself with an air of confidence and superiority which only serves to annoy and well..antagonise the other characters. Edingworth is a vet by trade and has the power to communicate with animals. Not verbally, more like a horse whisperer type ability.  At the same time he is  learning from his father how to become Keeper of the Trelflande Archives, ready to take over the position once his father dies. Both of these points become of more importance in Book 2.

One thing from yesterday’s letter and today’s post which I think will move my WIP forward is to go back to Book 1 and flesh out one particular scene with Edingworth. I feel he is seen from the eyes of the protagonist too much and perhaps there needs to be more  getting to the heart of him without the views of the protagonists taking over.

F is for…fungi

Ah! So to day 6 of the A-Z blog challenge and here I am about to write of the most abhorrent, repulsive, disgusting food stuff known to mankind.  That’s right: Mushrooms. (Now just hold your horses before you go all pro-mushroom on me.)

“This is an A-Z blog guide to your novel “Prophecy of Innocence isn’t it?”

mushroom

Yes dear reader, it is. As to how mushrooms and toadstools ever became an integral part of my novel I’ll never know. It certainly wasn’t a conscious decision. Like many aspects of story writing some things just…well…evolve.

However I will attempt to explain, perhaps not why they came to be there but what purpose they serve now they are there.

So to begin. My main protagonist is a design engineer. (More on him when we get to the letter P.)  I needed something which he could  ‘design engineer’ at and, having worked in an umbrella factory in my student days, I made a strange link.  I don’t know what made me think “Oh I know, he can make umbrellas out of fungi.” It perhaps may be to do with the fairy tale visual of a red and white spotted toadstool which did it. Combined with a photograph I had of one taken by an ex-boyfriend who happened to be a design engineer (though obviously not with toadstools or mushrooms) perhaps all the jigsaw pieces slotted together. I don’t know exactly what it was but once it was there, there it lodged.

Mushrooms and toadstools feature quite heavily in the story as a result. Firstly, The main protagonists’s father dies from being poisoned by a mushroom.  (Don’t worry this is not a plot spoiler. It’s a back-story piece of information.)The mushrooms are also used as food of course (uuurgh).  They are made into umbrellas known as ‘stoolbrellas at the factory the main protagonist owns and finally they are used in burial rituals.

Now as you can tell I am not a fan of fungi. It’s the one food I cannot abide at all. I’ll eat anything  put in front of me pretty much but mushrooms? Not a chance of those things passing my lips. So I do find it amusing they’ve ended up being a major feature in the book.

Out in nature they are another story though. I do find them amazingly fascinating to look at. I actually think most are very pretty. When one of my friends bought me a junior field guide of fungi as a joke, I rolled my eyes and sniggered. Oh ha ha! Very funny and off it went to my garage into a box full of books.

But then when I suddenly had this growing idea for the role of fungi related products in my WIP the joke was on her as I hurried down to retrieve the book and made sketches and notes on a whole variety of fungi to suit the purposes for which my characters would use them. Bonus.

I have hit on many problems though. The main one being that obviously mushrooms and toadstools grow up above ground. They have no real robust roots to speak of so how the heck do my little underground elflings get hold of them and bring them down through the ground? I grappled with whether to even explain this in a children’s fantasy book. Does it need explaining considering elflings don’t exist? But there is a certain amount of realistic features to the story and so there is a point where it is mentioned. Because I work with kids and although they can indulge in fantasy, as can we all, there are just some things they will ask about. However there is no where near as much explaining as there was originally. I think in my first draft I may have practically written an actual field guide myself. Thank goodness for re-writes and edits!

G is for…Giving up on Gordano.

As regular visitors to my blog and my followers on Twitter will know I have felt like giving up on this whole writing malarky many times. Particularly on this WIP. This has been particularly true this week. Why? Because I got a rejection from a publisher? Possibly. Partly. Because I have been depressed lately? More likely. Because it’s damn hard work digging into your imagination AGAIN, just when you think there is nothing else you could possibly mine from in there after two and a half years of building this damn world and its characters and its plot and yet someone is demanding more, more, MORE! Oh yes. Definitely. This week I have been on the verge of ripping it up and pretending this whole silly idea for a story never fermented itself in my brain at all.

Although I viewed the feedback from the publisher last week as positive and took it in my stride, when I sat down and actually began to write notes about what needed “fleshing out” I panicked a bit. The overwhelming monster came to sit on my shoulder and hissed at me “Why bother? You’re only going to have to go and start all over again and change numerous things. Do you really want to do that?”

Answer: “Not really” but than I don’t want to do a lot of things but I do them nevertheless. So instead I decided to not think about it.  I decided to leave it be. The world will not end if I don’t change my WIP. If I don’t finish it. If I don’t publish it. I’ll just leave it for now.

Then, last night I was cleaning my teeth (bathrooms feature heavily in my creative world) and suddenly I felt my mind start to resurrect a scene. A scene which happens already but through my protagonist  re-living a memory later on in the story. But as I cleaned my teeth I  found myself  narrating a whole new prologue scene in my head. So I grabbed my notepad and scribbled down the first few lines.

It is a royal pain in the arse I have to do this because I now have to go back over so many other things in Book One to make sure I don’t repeat myself with this new fleshing out. I also need to drop the current prologue which I’ve always suspected is a bit rubbish anyway so I’m not too sad to see it go but I know some things will need building in. Oh more work. It is daunting and I really do feel like giving up on it sometimes. Though having spent so long on it now kind of makes me like a dog with a bone.

So Gordano? Where does he come into this post then? (Ah you didn’t even know Gordano was a character did you?)  Well Gordano is my main protagonist’s father who actually only appeared in this memory scene because well… he’s dead. However as his death moulds an aspect of my main protagonists personality, I can see the value in resurrecting Gordano and so he now appears in the prologue which is seven years prior to the opening action of the book. (He does make an appearance in Book 2 actually but that is an actual flashback scene. Who even knows if that will stay!)

I wanted to keep Chapter 1 as Chapter 1 because, despite what the publisher said I do think it is a strong opening driven by action but hopefully this prologue (which I drafted this afternoon)  will serve to strengthen it as will a few tweaks I have in mind. I will be consulting with a few trusted individuals on this in due course.

I do seriously feel like this is a never ending process. But I guess that’s what you get for deciding to write a novel, an epic fantasy trilogy novel at that, as your first stab at writing. I am still very much in a learning cycle. But surely at some point I can get off?

Oh and just in case you’re wondering – Gordano is named after a UK motorway service station. It was the first one I decided on as it’s near Bristol where some of the action above ground is set and there is a specific link to be made in Book 3.  But that’s a long way off yet considering I haven’t even got Book 1 right yet!

And that’s week one! Thanks for reading and I’m looking forward to figuring out what I’ll be writing about for the next few letters of the alphabet because in typical me style I didn’t really plan this! 

 

 

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