Monday, 16 March 2009

So while I was away...

Blimey, the last few weeks have been busy.

I mentioned in my last post that I'd been to a conference in NYC. Well, the best thing that could have happened there would have been copious editors/agents falling upon my writing like voracious bears, and signing me up in a flash....ok, that didn't happen. But the second best thing did: I met a great bunch of children's writers who invited me into their crit group based a mere 15 mins from where I live! Gawd, meeting folks here at events and networking is so much easier than back home in the UK. My new group meets fortnightly and hand on heart, they're all writing (and crit-ing) to a really high standard. It's been such a boost. I dug my chapter book out, dusted it off and presented them with the first three chaps. What a blast; they were all desperately positive about it, but also had some hugely useful ass-kicking feedback for me. I will be running the next few chaps by them in a week or two, then doing another draft before I submit it to some editors I met at the conference. So that's all jolly.

Had a fab new idea for a kid's novel and outlined the whole thing in one day. That's unheard of for me; I am the queen of making it up as I go along. I'm really excited about it and trying to get stuck in, but I am majorly distracted at the mo', because...

On the chick lit front, all is good, but nerve-wracking in the extreme. I was shortlisted in a competition in the UK which meant that I had the opportunity to have the beginning of my book showcased to a handful of top agents. (A sort of helping hand from the slush pile, if you will.) I was flat-out last week, polishing the last few bits of the book, in order to be able to send it through to the organisers who are acting as a go-between with the agents. After a the long nights of editing, I'm now waiting for news. If any of the agents request more of my book to read, the organisers will let me know - cue huge cries of RAH! and much jumping up and down. Every time my email pings, I'm a total state. I know a couple of the other peeps on the shortlist, and they have both had requests for more chapters...but all is quiet for me! Aargh, it's agony. The other writers are in a different category from me, so it's possible I shouldn't judge my book's chances by their experience, but still, it's horrible not hearing anything. It's only been a couple of days, which is a nano second in publishing so it's not exactly like my hopes are gone, but it's still unbearable waiting!

Off to pace and chew some furniture!

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Er...Happy New Year...?

Wow, it's been a long time.

Excuses? I've been travelling a fair old bit, there was Christmas, I've had to look after a poorly family member in the UK for a couple of weeks then travel back to Boston, go to New York for a writers' conference and then I got the flu!

The good news is: the sick family member is now much better, I've been writing/editing like CRAZY, and I'm thinking I might be able to get out of bed later today for the first time in six days!

I'm feeling extremely positive about my writing at the moment, very excited and enthusiastic - both for the chick lit novel and my kids' books. It's all about finding enough hours in the day at the moment.

I'll write more about my exploits, including a lil' competition I've been shortlisted in, and my time at the New York conference, very soon. In the meantime, hope everyone is doing well and writing like fiends!

Monday, 24 November 2008

Pass me the machete

Just a quickie to say I've edited 15% of the book so far, and all is well. This isn't the first edit for the beginning of the book by any means - certainly the first third of the book has been through quite a few drafts already. Still, I'm struck by what amount of work it still needs! And I'm anticipating doing at least 2 further drafts (including this one) before the thing is ready to be submitted anywhere.

I've cut 2000 words which is good - it's so cathartic! I'm about to get rid of a character who doesn't do anything and save them for another book. It's enough to give you a god complex. I love it.

I really like this process so far. It was such a relief to end the story, as I was never entirely sure how it would end until I got there. Now I feel like I can tinker and cut and rewrite to my heart's content, having got a better idea of the overall shape of the story. That's what was so difficult when I was still writing the first draft: keeping the through-line and shape of the book in my head. I see now that everything (dialogue, scenes, funny bits) has to add something significant to character and/or keep moving the story forward, every scene has to contribute to the whole, rather than the book being a series of vignettes. I guess that's what they mean by killing your darlings. I feel like a mass murderer at the moment! It's great!

Thursday, 13 November 2008

First Draft Done! RAH!!!!

It's finally flippin' well finished!

Lordy, it's only taken me, what?


Fuck me, I cannot believe it. Sorry for the language, but it has been a long time coming. And do you know what? In true style, I wrote the last sentence, went to save it and for the first time, EVER, my laptop crashed. Yes. I am not making this up. It's like it KNEW. Cue long phone conversation to husband who is Oracle of All Things I.T. I was remarkably calm, in fact I was more worried that I wasn't going to be able to post my Novel Racers coffee morning tomorrow. I'm not sure why I was so calm, I guess I was in denial.

After much clicking on stuff that wouldn't work and monitoring CPU usage and trying to shut random things down, we resorted to shutting everything down and crossing our fingers.

I fired the thing up again, and who would have guessed it? It's intact. Thank you, Bill Gates. Thank you a lot.

I'm delirious - look, it's 130,000 sodding words long and it's taken a while...I can't wait to edit, I'm serious. Did I mention it was 130,000 words long? I'm going to take a scythe to it, I'm telling you. Whole characters are going to go (probably), whole scenes, maybe even a subplot. It's going to be 110,000 absolute max and as tight as a gnat's chuff.

I over-write. I'm going to deal with it. I just don't know any other way, yet.

Anyway, I am being remarkably restrained and having a wee snifter of Gew├╝rztraminer, because it's all we have in the fridge, but tomorrow night there will be Champagne and smiles and laughter and just the slightest bit of regret...ahh...


Thursday, 9 October 2008

Autumn only more so

As I sit here at my desk, the window in front of me is open and there's a strong, warm wind blowing in a drying my hair. It's glorious; it's 76F and wonderfully balmy. Or barmy, from the point of view of a Brit who is definitely not used to this kind of weather in October. I got all the winter woolies out at the weekend and me and the husband ventured up into New Hampshire to see the fall foliage - what amazing colours! It was a little chillier up there. We saw the first snow in the White Mountains and took heaps of pictures of all the pumpkin people and harvest and Halloween paraphernalia. I love this time of year! I am so looking forward to Halloween; here it seems like the Yanks start gearing up for it at the end of September and everyone seems to make an effort in dressing their doorways or windows or gardens. You can get black trees with baubles! It's like Christmas but spookier! I'm really excited about the whole pumpkin thing. I grew up in the north east of England where we used to hollow out turnips with spoons. It was an all-day job, but they do smell rather delicious when they have a candle burning in them and they biodegrade in a really alarming and satisfyingly grotesque way. And of course, you can eat the mash. I'm not sure what I'll do with all the pumpkin innards; I'm really not up on pumpkin recipes, although I am sure they are legion.

I've been told that the temperature is going to suddenly drop. One day we'll be skipping around in our light jumpers, the next we'll be pulling on the thermals. It's all good; when it's colder I'll be writing even more instead of looking out of the window and yearning to go sailing one more time...

Ah! I'm loving it!

The last few weeks I've felt a little bit lonely for the first time during our 7 months here. It's a weird feeling, I'm not normally prone to loneliness at all. I like spending time on my own, I am not the sort who needs people around me and constant activities. However, I have been really missing my good friends from home. It would be lovely to meet up with some of my best girl buds for a drink or a moan or a laugh. It's so fricking difficult to meet new peeps in your thirties unless you have a child or work with folks. The New Englanders are very friendly and welcoming, but they have a reserve - not unlike the Brits - and it's hard to break that wall down. And I've realised how often us Brits bond with humour: a self-deprecating, dry, ironic humour that is widely misunderstood over here. I love the Americans' positivity, but it can be a little alienating in a strange sort of way. We have a couple of friends from the husband's work who are fab, and we're slowly meeting others through joining various clubs and wotnot, but it's a bloody gradual process and sometimes I feel like a bit of a saddo.

However, I've had no excuse not to write! I have been tackling my chick/wit lit novel and I'm on the final leg of my first draft.

The writing is actually going extremely well. At least, in the sense that it's pouring out of me. I'm not convinced that it's particularly good; I think I might have some serious editing and rewriting to tackle in due course, but the flow is there and that's what I'm excited about. I am just shy of the 100,000 word mark and I reckon I'll be finished my first draft in about 2 weeks time. Then it'll be time to bring out the Champagne! In the meantime, I might have to try one of those pumpkin spice lattes...

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Are the Boys of Summer gone, then?

Well, there haven't been any boys. Apart from the husband, of course. But I have that Don Henley classic rolling round me head as I write this, wondering when the leaves are going to start to turn and I'll get the first peek at the famed New England fall. It's still pretty damn hot, the kind of weather that would constitute an amazing summer back home in the UK. And yet they tell me that summer ended on Sept 1st - so why am I wearing shorts and t-shirt?

(I've never fully got to grips with the question of whether seasons should be capitalized - Summer, Autumn or summer, autumn. And while we're at it - is South East England correct, or is it south east England or southeast England?)

So here I am - after almost a 3 month hiatus which consisted of:

1 Going back to the UK for a couple of weeks
2 Having my ma to stay here in the US for a month
3 Having a 3 week mad writing marathon to make up for all the time off
4 Having one of my best mates here for a couple of weeks
5 Having a wee holiday on Cape Cod - hurrah!

So that's what I've been up to. I've powered my way into a new kids' book - an adventure story for 9-12 year olds, and would have been nearly finished the first draft had I not fallen into the usual trap of writing too damn much. I was aiming for around 30,000 words, but I've already written about 25,000 and I'm only halfway through my plot. Bugger. I think one of the reasons is that I still haven't found my 'voice' for this book, so I'm over-writing and trying different things out. First draft stuff. I'm going to be doing some serious culling and re-writing when I finally get to the end, but I think it's the best way to go for now.

Writing this book has been a very different experience from writing my first kids' book and my chick lit novel. It's been much harder to write and I've had to stick to very strict schedules and word counts for each day. It's been a trial and has felt like work. I'm enjoying the story and being in the world of the book, but the process of getting it down on paper has been much more of an effort for some reason. I think that this is because it is more plot-led than character-based. That's probably no bad thing for my writing. There's more action (which involves more description) and less dialogue. It's probably more male, less anecdotal. And it's not comic - not that it's without humour, I don't think I could write it otherwise, I'm all about the funny. I guess it's just a little more straight. I just hope that doesn't translate as boring.

Anyway, I'm going to give it a rest! In true style, I'm going to bury it for a few weeks and switch to the chick lit novel again. This has kind of been the pattern of the year, swapping from one to the other as the whim takes me. The thing is, the chick lit thing is just eating away at me until I get it done, it's so easy to be fired up about this book as it's such a huge ol' dollop of me and I want to start subbing it. I had a long conversation with the husband about the book at the weekend as we were walking, and he was hugely helpful with getting a few things straight in my head. He's a creative person and understands a lot about story arcs, so it was great to run a few things by him.

I guess I'm feeling all back to school-y, so it's a great time to crack on. In some ways, this always used to be a favourite time of year for me. Time to get enthused, inspired and knuckle down and get busy.

Besides, they've closed the damn swimming pool on the roof, so what else am I gonna do with my day?

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Twisted, yes. But definitely not bitter.

Ok, so it was a joke.

I haven't written a novel called 'Man on a Galloping Horse' and I didn't receive that letter. Just to clear that up, if anyone was in any doubt.

I wrote that post on a whim in response to some of the feedback that I've received in the last few months. Of course it hasn't all been that extreme - and in fact, I'd welcome it if the advice was that specific in some cases! I just feel that this problem of agents suggesting major rewrites with no promise of representation, seems to be a common occurrence amongst new writers that I know. There's a lot of people bloggging about it, it does present a dilemma. What the hell do you do if you've received 3 completely different batches of advice? You can't make all the changes that everyone wants, it would be nonsensical.

These days, an agent really needs to fall in love with your book as it stands. From what I've gleaned, in years gone by an agent might be more willing to take a chance on someone who they feel writes well, while still having reservations about aspects of the original piece submitted. Now it seems like they want all the work done before they'll sign you up. I understand why this is perhaps a good idea; believe me, I get it. But it takes one hell of a lot of work and soul-searching to take a couple of the elements that the agent liked and basically start from scratch. I have literally had an agent turn round to me and say something along the lines of, 'I love the Harry Potter character, but I don't like the idea of him being a wizard.' So I'm left thinking, well...what the hell should I write? Because if he's not a wizard, then all that stuff that happens to him can't happen...and the whole thing changes completely.

I know the answer is that I have to put ego aside but also only make the changes that are true to my vision. I have to follow my instinct, listen to my heart, blah, blah. But I like my story as it stands! I really do. It's not perfect, I know it - it does need work, I'm not sure exactly what, but I suspect I just need to WRITE BETTER. If the agents are not buying some aspect of the book, it's because I'm not selling it well enough. You can't please all of the folks all of the time, but I'm obviously not quite ticking enough boxes with the folks that matter.

My husband read my last post and was all like, 'You can't post that!' - but sod it. I don't mean it to be a bitter and twisted thing. I meant to take the piss - yes, out of the agents but also out of myself - I've created this monster, this rollercoaster, and I can't handle it on my own. I need guidance! I have got a lot to learn and TRULY, I'm open to learning it, but there's so much confusion! If there was any kind of cross-over area which more than one person had said they didn't like, I'd know what to address, but there has been such mixed response. One agent's meat is another agent's poison...

So what to do? Sit on it! I'm not changing a bloody thing for now. There will be some soul-searching, some serious mulling, but not any revising...yet. I'm going to get the hell on with something else, keep submitting and take a fresh look in a few months time. It's the only way to go. I hope.