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December 21, 2010

'The art of suspense'

 Well, I've sent my manuscript to my agent with completed revisions, so now I'm taking my own advice and turning my attention back to another project, one which I started earlier this year during the wait for news on my MS which was out on submission.

It's a completely different genre from my last MS, and I've had trouble pinpointing what genre it is (though I think I've decided it's more a psychological thriller than anything else), so I'm still at the point of feeling my way, trying to work out how to tell the story, whether to include multiple points of view and all that other fun stuff which will be familiar to most of you.

Of course, books don't have to conform to a particular genre. And they can straddle boundaries between genres, or shun genre boundaries entirely. But...in the interest of informing myself a bit more about what the heck I should be doing if in fact I am trying to write a psychological thriller, I've just watched Ken Follett's online video lecture on the history of the thriller. Though he has a career spanning more than thirty years as a writer of thrillers, to some he is best known for Pillars of the Earth, his historical novel about the building of a cathedral in the Middle Ages. His writer's biography is comforting for anyone contemplating genre hopping at some point in their career!

December 8, 2010

110,000 words and counting...

Smite & Scattles, UK created versions of MölkkyImage via Wikipedia
I've been working on revisions discussed with my agent for the last couple of months now.

And there's been progress...finally! November - the early part of it at least - wasn't a good writing month for me. Those of you who've read my earliest posts will know I'm a believer in writing mojo. I sometimes think there's a finite quantity in the universe to go around, and all those busy NaNo writers used mine up.

November 30, 2010

What's the magic number when re-drafting?

How many drafts do you have to do before your manuscript will be 'right'?

Should writers really be spending as long polishing their work before submission as some would have us believe? Going through laboriously, line by line, and making our verbs wonderfully strong and emphatic and our metaphors sparkle? Or is this one of the great fallacies perpetuated among new writers?

Perhaps, instead, we should just write that first draft (a difficult enough task for many!) tidy up the spelling and grammar, incorporate the changes suggested by one or two trusted readers and then send it out?

To some extent, the answer depends on the individual, and where they currently are in their journey as a writer, remembering that each of us works differently.

November 21, 2010

Refilling the creativity well

View over my vegetable garden in Spring
While every writer is different, I believe that for many of us, inspiration flows from somewhere among the rich tapestry of threads which make up our lives. So to bring our best writerly selves (and fresh ideas) to the table/computer/notebook, we need to make sure that the other parts of our bodies and souls are 'full'. Fulfilled, regularly recharged, however you want to view it. For some people, that means a regular walk around the neighbourhood where they're free to wander and think. For others, it means getting into the kitchen and creating something.

A luxurious bath with essential oils. A shopping trip where you can be all alone. Time with family. Time with friends. Time to read. Travel.

However you prefer to 'recharge', doing so is essential, or over time, your ideas and words will become flat and stale. I'm sure we've all experienced this!

November 14, 2010

Music and the Muse: are there any lyrics writers out there?

Modern musical symbolsImage via Wikipedia
 When it comes right down to it, words are just words, and I know many of you out there write many things other than novels: poetry, flash fiction, short stories, non-fiction. Even reports, documentation and marketing copy in the boring day jobs!

So are there any lyrics writers out there?

November 9, 2010

Beta-readers NOT beta-writers

8.28.09Image by aprilzosia via Flickr
I was recently writing an email on critiquing to a young writer friend and it gave me the idea for this post, because it's something I've been thinking about lately.

I've read several blog posts by others sending thanks to the members of their online critique groups etc. And this made me realise that many, even most people who work with critique groups or partners, are pairing themselves with others of the writing fraternity/sorority to do so. Well yeah, I hear you say, scratching your head. That's the way it always seems to work. Writers in critique groups with other writers. So?

I just thought I'd mention that that wasn't the way things worked out for me. I did go down the path of trying to join a couple of critique groups after finishing my second novel, one online group and one face-to-face. I'm not sure why I didn't do so earlier. I think I was too focused on just writing! And when I did go through the exercise of trying to connect with other writers, I found the whole process less fruitful than I'd expected.

October 31, 2010

The lessons I learnt writing my first novel

It's been a while since I looked back at my first manuscript. Many of us have one; the first baby we laboured over and poured love into, and thought was wonderful in every way...back when we didn't know any better.

I first started writing just for me. Back before I'd ever read another novel analytically, trying to see what worked. Back before I'd ever read any of the writing 'how to' tips. Or more importantly, tips on what not to do. In other words, back before I'd ever put any effort into thinking about how to express my ideas in a way which would be interesting for others to read.

October 22, 2010


You may not know this about me, but I suffer from humour envy.

I did promise my posts from now on would be gems of honesty and personal insight. No safely hiding under an umbrella while the heavens open around me. No pretending my closet is oh-so skeleton free. I'm going to let the rain fall where it may, and the skeletons walk free. It is almost Halloween, after all. So here goes.

October 21, 2010

Confessions and promises

Okay, there have been confessions happening all over the place lately. In fact I've been weighing in with confessions about a number of things in comments on other people's blogs (I really can't keep track of what, my memory isn't that good). But I know I have confessed. To, oh, lots of things...from a weakness for a good recipe, to chocolate cravings, to not passing on blog awards, to not reading enough and instead, watching too much TV.

October 9, 2010

The facts beneath the fiction

New River Gorge Bridge, West Virginia, USA.Image via Wikipedia
New River Gorge Bridge, West Virginia
 Research is an important tool for the writer. It can help you breathe life into your work, evoke a particular time or place, and add complexity to both your characters and settings.

Of course, it's worth remembering that all the research in the world does not a novel make. It's possible to fall into the trap of researching too much, and ending up with writing which is fact-heavy and lifeless. The aim is always to use what you've gleaned from research judiciously in your writing to enrich and enhance the reader's experience - not to beat them over the head with how clever you are.

October 3, 2010

What's in a name? On picking a pseudonym.

 "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

 Some authors have achieved considerable fame writing under pseudonyms; George Eliot, George Orwell, Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain and more recently, Lemony Snicket spring to mind...among many others.

A pseudonym is, of course, a fictitious name or 'pen name' which an author may choose to use for a variety of reasons. Perhaps to maintain privacy by concealing their real identity; perhaps to keep identities separate when writing in more than one genre, or for more than one age-group. Perhaps so an employer or prospective employer doesn't doubt their commitment to their everyday 'paying' job.

September 29, 2010

Prepare to revise...

I remember reading some great advice on this a couple of years ago on author Nalini Singh's website. At the time I was nowhere near having a completed manuscript, but of course I spent countless hours trawling writing how-to websites and reading the writing tips on author websites hoping for insight into things I wasn't vaguely ready for yet. Sound familiar?

September 24, 2010

Creating Compelling Characters

Illustration for CheatingImage via Wikipedia
I'm an executive summary kinda gal, and as there's a huge amount written on this topic, I thought I'd distill it to its essence. Of course, a complicated idea can always be expressed simply, and that doesn't necessarily mean it's easy to do. But if you can think of things in simple terms I think it makes them feel more achievable.

So this is my cheat sheet for character writing.

September 23, 2010

A door opens - to my new agent

It's finally happened. I've just received an offer of representation and signed with an agent. I still can't quite believe it. One step closer to my dream of publication - and my mind is having trouble shifting gear.

At the beginning of the agent search, the power relationship (if it makes sense to think of it that way) between the writer and agent is very unequal, as most of the power lies with the agent. I'll admit I was very intimidated by the querying process. I've spent months sweating over my query letter. Writing and sending multiple drafts. Tweaking and revising my first few chapters.

September 20, 2010

Book Review - Burnt Snow by Van Badham

My review of Van Badham's debut YA novel is now up over at the Infinitas Bookshop site, and I'll post it here too. It's a great read.

I've been giving lots of thought to the YA market lately, as I've been told my MS currently on submission may be positioned somewhere between the YA and adult markets, not that I intended that when I wrote it. One of the latest big things in publishing (not that new really) seems to be the YA crossover market, which refers to books which ostensibly are intended for those in their teens but hook in many readers from the adult market too.
What have you been reading lately? Do you like reading/writing Young Adult fiction, even though (like me) you may have left high school behind a good few years ago? What appeals about this kind of book?

Read on for my Burnt Snow review.

September 18, 2010

Building a writer's platform

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBase
 I know people who have had blogs for years and years. These 'early adopters' are usually the more IT savvy among us, but now (in case you haven't noticed) everyone's hopping on board. Social media in general has been increasing exponentially in recent times. Keep in mind that Facebook (not to mention Twitter and tweeting) barely existed five years ago, and you'll see what I mean.

The digital age is here. But what does it all mean for the aspiring writer?

September 9, 2010

Revision request from an agent

I'm getting excited now. If you've read my last post, you'll know that I'm 'in discussions' via email about my MS with an agent. Well, all the long discussing is happening on my side of the email equation, while she writes two line replies. But anyway...

The agent has read my revised synopsis and had some further questions about the 'romantic elements'. How did I feel about including more romance?

September 5, 2010

An email from an agent!

An email icon designed for my userpage.
When you're waiting to hear
back from an agent there's
nothing quite so exciting
as getting new mail...

I've had some response to my many query letters, and I've even sent out the full manuscript when requested, and now...finally! I've heard back from an agent who has read my MS.

The email was brief - only a couple of lines. She said she liked it - except for a few major problems.

Now I could have responded to this email by being cast into the doldrums and thinking I'd done everything wrong. After all, there was no offer of representation. But I didn't.

September 3, 2010

Waiting for news? Start writing a new book!

Author/Creator: Date: 1686 Physical Descriptio...

Think we haven't come far? This is what a manuscript would
have looked like before computers. And before...um...typewriters.

We're familiar with the old saying: put another iron in the fire. And that's never better advice than when you've just completed your first book.

Patience is a virtue. I know that. But gee it's hard sometimes! Having sent out my many copies of my query letter via email quite a few months ago for my first ever completed manuscript, the only way I could deal with the nervous anticipation (and fear of rejection) was to put the whole process out of my mind. No, really.

Well, actually it wasn't quite as easy as that makes it sound. But I took some good advice from my sister, who often surprises me with her wisdom and common sense - and I started writing a new book.

August 30, 2010

The pen thief

The pen is mightier than the sword...

We've all heard about how the pen is mightier than the sword. I'm sure those words were very comforting to many a tonsured scribe in centuries gone past when faced with a huge, sweaty, chain mail wearing knight.

What I'm not so sure about is how one can ever redeem oneself if one has stolen a pen - the writer's tool of choice - from someone who makes their living from writing.

August 25, 2010

Besetting sin...

It may not be mentioned among the ten commandments, but to the fledgling writer, no sin is more damaging than procrastination. I foolishly thought that once I'd pushed through imagined barriers and achieved the incredible - actually finishing a writing project - I was clear of the dreaded thing. I imagined that I'd outsmarted it, that I knew how it worked. Never again, I vowed, will I let its tentacle-fingers trap me in my chair, while its seductive voice whispers Just check your email...

Well, more fool me. Procrastination, my friends, is alive and well.

August 19, 2010

The great agent hunt

Yes, I've finished the novel. And polished, tidied and trimmed it through multiple drafts.

That was just the beginning.

I'm dedicating my first post to my search for an agent because this is the area which has, I think, devoured the most hours of my time in recent months.

Sometimes when I'm talking to a friend, they'll ask how the writing is going, and when they hear that I've finished my latest novel they immediately ask whether I'm planning to send it to publishers.
"Oh no no no, you can't do THAT," I say, and watch their eyes glaze over as I attempt to explain how the publishing industry really works these days.
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