Monday, 29 December 2008

Happy Hogmanay

Well, that's another one over with and this year I got a bumper load of useless gifts. It's at times like this you realise your so-called nearest and dearest don't know you at all! Ah, well. At least I got some book tokens so they'll come in handy.

So now there's New Year, or Hogmanay as we call it up here, to look forward to. I'm detoxing at the moment, so only the resolutions for me this year. One thing I must do is try to cut down on my internet forum usage which has almost eclipsed my writing lately. I'll try to keep blogging, but we'll see how it goes. I also must spend more time getting fitter as I've really become a couch potato in 2008.

Happy Hogmanay one and all!

Monday, 22 December 2008

Season's Greetings

Christmas is looming. This means:

The family are all home all day every day so no time to myself.

The housework, long dismissed as irrelevant while I tap at my keyboard, refuses to be ignored any longer.

My elderly relations will need to be fed and watered.

So, blogging will sadly have to drop down my priority list. I wish you all a very nice holiday and may all your dreams come true in 2009. I'll see you when I get the chance.

If you're interested in my friend Edie Tor's plans for Christmas please see them here. And feel free to leave any comments - I'm having trouble convincing her that anyone is reading.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

YouWriteOn (Again)

The YouWriteOn POD debacle shows no sign of cooling off, with some individuals making some pretty extreme and probably libelous accusations against the site and its founder, Ted, on the various message boards I visit. I don't want to add to it, there's enough hot air being expended already. But I will say this.

YWO was my first taste of an internet writers' site, and my experience of it was good on the whole. When I joined it had no forum to speak of so there was no "networking". The system seemed beautifully simple: post your work for review, and review other people's work. The positive feedback I got gave me the confidence to go on with my writing, and for that I am grateful to some lovely, well-meaning people.

The POD offer is free and no one is being forced to do it. In some cases, years of frustration and rejection have left people with no alternative. It's a free country (mostly) and they are free to choose that option. If it gives them the opportunity to see their work in print then good luck to them.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Introducing Edie Tor

Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce...Edie Tor.
My good friend, confidante and editor par excellence. Hopefully her useful insights will help us all view the publishing business with less innocent eyes.

Visit Edie on her own blog "Edie Tor Talks Turkey".


I'm thinking of launching another blog. This one will star my alter ego, the editor from hell, Edie Tor. You know how all authors are really a split personality; the tender sensitive creative writer and the hard-as-nails bitch who edits the hell out of everything. Well Edie is my other half.

Watch this space.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Not right for our list

Finally heard from the agency who requested my full two months ago. While they enjoyed reading it they didn't think it was right for their list. No feedback other than that, so I've emailed to ask.

Oh well. It's disappointing of course, but I don't feel too bad on the whole. I'd more or less convinced myself this would be the outcome. So it's back to subbing and waiting.

Sunday, 14 December 2008


You may recall I mentioned the YouWriteOn free POD offer in an earlier post.
By all accounts, with the promised Christmas deadline looming, it has not gone swimmingly, with huge delays and many books listed on Amazon with mistakes on the covers. It's caused a lot of worry and distress, lots of bad publicity for the site and much frantic posting on writers' boards. I have to say it doesn't surprise me. The aim of publishing 5000 books in a few weeks always looked like wishful thinking.

But I really feel for the people who put their faith in YWO and have been let down, so I won't be joining in with the I-told-you-so gloating that some are indulging in. Nor will I be joining in with the condemnation of YWO which I believe provides writers with a useful free peer-review service. The whole thing just makes me sad.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Email from Agency

Someone give me a valium.

Just got an email from the agency I sent my full manuscript to seven weeks ago. They apologise for the delay and say it is currently being considered. She promises to get back to me as soon as possible.

There goes my concentration.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

How not to write a query letter

An antidote to query writing:

Dear Tony
You may recall we met at the Edinburgh Book Festival in 1992. I was the one in the green leotard shouting and waving at the back of the hall as you gave your keynote address. Anyway you suggested I go off and write or words to that effect, so here is the result of your encouragement. My debut novel, a sci-fi/western/supernatural/romance you-name-it-it's-in-there, entitled "Bungee Jumping In The Gobi Desert", is 560k words long. I realise that's a bit on the long side, but I reckon I could get it down to 550k with a bit of nip and tuck. It would make a terrific film and I'm sending a copy to Stephen Spielberg - does he accept email attachments do you know? I can see Brad Pitt in the lead role, and if he's not available then maybe George Cluney but definitely not Leonardo di Caprio who sucks big time.
Anyway hope you enjoy reading it. I've put my phone number at the top of the page, but for God's sake don't call after nine because the dog goes wild when the phone rings and wakes up the whole street.
Yours, Wally

Making writing special

A rejection comment that I see a lot on the forums I frequent is that someone's writing isn't "special" enough to be published. Technically it may be perfect but it lacks the zing that grabs the agent/editor's lapels and keeps him glued to the sofa.

I think it highlights the problem we have as writers. Usually criticism on peer review forums deals with the nuts and bolts of writing; technical skill which is easy to pinpoint and put a name to. Rules and spelling, grammar etc. Of course you need all that, just as you need a feel for structure, dialogue, scene-setting, characterisation. But having learned all those things you then need the passion to put it all together. Like a chef creating a dish from all the various ingredients, it is passion and energy that lifts it above the ordinary. But it's elusive. You can't find it in the grammar or the structure or any other components. It's there, driving the writing forward, keeping them reading.

There's a kind of channelling that happens when you concentrate so hard you forget yourself or time and it just flows. Has anyone else experienced that? Almost as if this story isn't coming from you at all but somewhere else. That is where this drive comes from, I believe. It's an unconscious thing, so perhaps that's why it makes us slightly uncomfortable. It involves forgetting ourselves and just creating.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

New Mystery

Getting the inkling of a new story. It started yesterday and I've scribbled a few notes. Another mystery - paranormal/psychological again. I'd begun to worry I had dried up, but this idea is exciting me like The Bookseller did.

But this time there's more to worry about at this stage. I confess to being a lot more ignorant about the writing process when I started The Bookseller. I didn't give a thought to tense or tone, I just wrote it. Rightly or wrongly, I relied on instinct. This time I'm trying to do more prep. At the moment I don't really have a story yet, just a few notes about events I want to happen and a nebulous idea about the resolution.

It's going to be all about paranoia. That's definitely my favourite stomping ground. Someone thinks they're going mad, the things happening to them make no sense, but once they change their mindset it all falls into place. This time the protagonist is a woman. I think. (Like I said, it's still early days)

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Where do you get your Main Characters?

Aaargh! A dose of lurgi has stalled the writing so here I am wasting time instead...

Where do you get your characters? Are they really you in disguise?

It's an interesting thought. Some MCs I've read have very obviously been richer sexier versions of their author. For some people it's a good wish-fulfilment exercise. One recently separated middle-aged man of my acquaintance wrote an entire novel about a fabulously wealthy recently separated middle-aged man who did nothing other than have affairs with gorgeous adoring young women and bitch about his dreadful ex-wife. Some authors claim to be the antithesis of their MC - I'm thinking of Iain Rankin whose Rebus is based on men he grew up knowing rather than himself.

But aren't all our characters really parts of our own personalities? We need to get into their heads, so to some extent they must be part of us or we wouldn't understand them. We may not make the same choices they make, but that's where imagination comes into it.

The MC if The Bookseller is a man, so he obviously isn't me. I think I am in the book though, just not the main character. But I recognize his paranoia and neurosis - they are universal and why (I hope) people will read the book.

Monday, 24 November 2008

What are critiques for?

Following on from my earlier post about writers' groups, I got to thinking: what do we need crits for? OK, I know, I know. We need crits to find out if our story is any good. But do crits really tell us? All they tell us is what a handful of people think, after all.

I think critting is useful because it helps us to see our work more objectively. That's a hard thing to do when you're stuck in your little garret scribbling away without another soul for company. The story is part of you; you give birth to it and like your beloved offspring it is too close to your heart to see its faults.

But it's not just what others think of our work that teaches us objectivity. It's what we learn from critting other people's work. That is ultimately more valuable because spotting someone else's flaws is always easier and teaches us to better spot our own. And ultimately that is what we need to do to become professional writers. We need to see our own flaws and fix them.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Adverb abuse

Yippee! I have a follower! Cheers, Lori! :-)

Adverbs. Do you use them? Well go and stand in the corner you naughty writer, you!

I've seen so many heated arguments about Adverbs and their misuse, I've decided to start the Society for the Prevention of Adverb Abuse. We aim to rescue adverbs that have been overused or callously tossed aside by an uncaring society. After careful rehabilitation they will be rehomed.

If you know of an adverb that is overused or neglected, please post it here so we can stop this cruelty.

And if you can offer a home to one of our adverbs in your story, please call us NOW. (Or NOWLY)

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

First person present tense

I'm delighted to say I've pretty well broken the back of my nanowrimo rewrite. It's a novel I wrote a couple of years ago, since when it's lain in a drawer. Written in a nano frenzy, it was very rough. It was only my second attempt at a novel. I chose third person past tense, with the POV moving around the three main characters, but one flaw I sensed in it was this dissipated the tension. So when I finally decided to have another go I chose to make it a kid's story, first person from the boy's POV. I also settled for present tense - can't remember why, although at the start it seemed to suit the vernacular way he spoke. You know: so I says to him sort of thing.

But it's been hard going. The new POV called for a completely new opening, no problem there. But once the action got tighter I found the limits of first person a struggle to overcome. You have to come up with ingenious ways for why he knows things, or how he discovers things that were taken as read with third person. And at first I kept slipping into past tense without realising it. Very frustrating when you have to redo a page changing all the verbs. But that's improved with practice.

So for a while I wasn't making much headway and really felt it was more trouble than it was worth. This week I seem to have turned a corner and the ideas are flowing again. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. But I still haven't resolved the big finale...

Thursday, 13 November 2008

The Submission Yo-yo

It's now four weeks since my full went out to the agency. It's the weirdest sensation. I wait for the Postman, but dread his arrival at the same time. And then I think, if it's good news they'd be more likely to phone. And that scares me even more.

I don't know why it should. Somehow the immediacy of the phone is so much more intimate and personal. Not to mention immediate. What if I'm making the dinner or on the loo or trying to stop Theo tormenting my ailing cat? I'll probably go blank and sound like a first-class idiot and God only knows what she'll think. And I'll have blown my one chance to impress.

So, organise. Plan it all in advance. What is she likely to ask? Think of some clever and witty replies. (This'll never work - not unless I write them on the back of my hand - I can't remember what day it is usually!)

By the time I've thought all this I'm having a full blown panic attack. And now every time the phone rings I'm having palpitations.

So, you know what? I'm going to wing it. For better or worse, it's the only way.

Ah, that's better. I can now go back to worrying about the postman...

Monday, 10 November 2008

To Peer Review or Not

When you've finished your story, how do you know if it's any good? Received wisdom suggests joining a writers' group to get impartial feedback from your peers. I've belonged to a couple of online ones and they can be very helpful up to a point.

But the problem is the whole business is so subjective. What I love could be dead boring to someone else, and vice versa. I once tried to review a sci-fi novel and couldn't make head nor tail of it, but then I don't usually read much sci-fi so is the fault mine, or theirs?

And these groups are peopled by a wide array of levels of expertise. From relative beginners to, if you're lucky, industry pros and published authors. Not all the advice on offer is worth the trouble. And who do you believe?

There are definitely some unreliable types to beware of. The embittered wannabe has been writing his whole life and never published a thing. He sees himself as the angry young man, although he's now well into middle age, and the publishing world as a greedy heartless machine intent on destroying his soul so he would rather starve than compromise with these monsters. The pseudo-intellectual who writes "literary fiction" that is so dense and pretentious nobody but him can make any sense of it. The perfectionist who never gets past chapter three before going back to rework the start. Criticism from these types can do more harm than good.

And because of this diversity flame wars can break out on these sites over crits. Some people cannot take criticism and react as if personally attacked. It can get bitter and nasty. Writing is such a personal thing, it's hard to take personality out of the equation altogether. (I'm more a sulker, really. Too much of a wimp to start an argument.)

There is often a trend towards conformity in these groups. Strong characters set the standard and everyone else falls into line. Before you know it your writing is being influenced by this trend and you're losing your individuality.

So, I would say join online peer review groups and take from them what you can, but beware of taking any critiques too seriously. Ultimately writing is a solitary activity.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Is there something in the air?

I frequent a couple of writers' forums and lately all hell has been breaking out. No one reason for this that I can see, but tempers seem to be fraying even more than usual. Perhaps it's another manifestation of SAD or the credit crunch or the prospect of another Christmas season looming.

A thread will start quite innocently; a question is asked or an observation made, and somehow the responses escalate into an unpleasant fracas out of all proportion to the issue raised. I see it on forums from time to time but just lately it seems to be breaking out everywhere and from the most mild mannered individuals.

The internet somehow promotes this literary road-rage. It brings out the Mr Hyde in us all. I'm not immune to the urge to let fly and in the past I've shed a tear or lain awake because of the turmoil it causes. Somehow, sitting alone at a computer, it's easy to forget they're just opinions. Our egos seem to hang on getting the last word, on scoring a point off some arrogant SOB who has inadvertently trod on our toes.

There's only one cure I know of. The off switch. But then, where's the fun in that?

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Quotes about writing

Here are a few of my favourites:

Writing is the hardest way of earning a living, with the possible exception of wrestling alligators.
Olin Miller

Easy reading is damned hard writing.

Writing is a cop-out. An excuse to live perpetually in fantasy land, where you can create, direct and watch the products of your own head. Very selfish.
Monica Dickens

Only ambitious nonentities and hearty mediocrities exhibit their rough drafts. It's like passing around samples of sputum.
Vladimir Nabokov

Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.
Oscar Wilde

Find more at:

Monday, 3 November 2008


I've signed up for NaNoWriMo this month. I've done it twice before, but never at the appointed time. By that I mean I've done it alone in another month, set myself a target of at least 1665 words per day and kept a running total to keep on track. It was back in the days before I discovered the joyous distraction of internet forums. I must say, I got a lot more written back then.

But this Nano excursion isn't the real MacCoy. Instead of churning out a new first draft I'm trying to rewrite an old Nano project, a kids romp involving armed robbers, cross dressers and grotesque teachers. So I'm not aiming for 50k (which I have already - I just want a new first person POV and a lot less back story) I want to get it finished and around 35k by the end of November. I'm hoping the Nano buzz will help keep me on track.

Some people get very uppity about Nano, but not me. Of course a lot of what's written is drivel, but then isn't every first draft? And there's no better way to stay focussed on your story than to get it down so fast, in an obsessional frenzy. When you're not writing you're thinking about it. Forget the fine tuning, you can do that later. It's a helter skelter of excitement and discovery and I love it!

For anyone who hasn't tried it yet, I recommend you have a look at the website (below) but I'd leave it until November is over. It's a bit busy just now.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Letting go

Sending one's work out into the world isn't just an exciting step into the unknown, it's also an act of faith and optimism. We know the chances of rejection are enormous and the pain will be terrible but we still submit. I have enormous respect for anyone who does it because I know how much courage it takes.

I've spent two and a half years creating something, from the first inkling of an idea through the frantic excitement of the first draft, and the sometimes grinding boredom of seemingly endless edits and revisions. Shutting myself away from humanity to create this story. All the while trying to hold onto that initial spark that first inspired me and has kept me going.

Finally I feel I've achieved what I wanted, can feel proud of what I see on the page. What else is there to do but send it out into the world? If I don't, it will all have been for nothing.

Here's the funny part. All the while I told myself that I could do anything I wanted just as soon as this was finished. I thought I'd be giddy with excitement at the prospect of writing something different. But it isn't the case. It's harder to let it go than I imagined. I'm trying to work on something else but it's hard to concentrate. My heart isn't in it. I'm worrying about my precious baby out there in the world on its own.

So that's something new I've learned. Letting go is as important as creating, and they are both acts of courage worthy of respect.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Rejection letters

Haven't had one in a while. I'm starting to wonder whether I'll hear back from any of the other agencies I've tried.

Apart from obsessing about the full and standing outside waiting for Theo to pee I've been surfing a lot this past week. Mainly agency/editorial blogs which can be a useful mine of information. The kind of stuff no one ever tells you on their website.

Rejection letters, or any kind of letters, can be difficult to interpret. If someone says "You are a very good writer" are they just spinning you a line? Does "This story is not for us" mean they think you're crap?

I came across this site which gives some useful advice on the subject:

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

More writing books

Remembered a few more.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. Written by two editors, this should be your first port of call when you come to edit/revise your novel. Very useful.

Is There A Book In You? by Alison Baverstock. I recently re-read the part relating to the publishing business. Contains lots of quotes from industry professionals as well as an analysis of your own commitment to being a full time author.

The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman. Written by a literary agent, this makes the point that hooking the reader is the author's first priority. And it's true. What's the point in writing the next War And Peace if no one ever reads it? But his advice pertains to your whole manuscript, not just the start. Read it before you submit your manuscript to anyone.

Monday, 20 October 2008

So hard to settle...

Everything is conspiring against me writing at the moment.

First, I'm wondering about my manuscript submission. Has anyone looked at it yet? Has anyone opened the envelope yet? Is it already winging its way back to me with "No Thanks" stamped on the front page?

I keep remembering bits of the story, cringing at the thought of someone reading it. "Why did I leave that in? It's terrible!"

I keep trying to concentrate on the other book I'm trying to edit into shape, but find myself surfing the Net instead.

And the other major distraction is the new addition to the family, my 9 week old cavalier pup, Theo who demands my full attention when he isn't sabotaging my attempts at writing. Pen drives make good chew toys, I have discovered. Authors beware.

So I'm not getting a lot done at the moment. I've tentatively signed up for Nanowrimo next month to try and focus myself, but I don't know how successful it'll be. I could use it to get this editing job done, and there's a comic novel I started last month but shelved after the first two chapters.

Here's hoping...

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Good news

Only just stopped jumping up and down.

Today I got my first request for a full manuscript.

I say "first". Of course, it might be my last!

Anyway, good feeling, and I'm hanging onto it.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Writing books

This afternoon I have ordered yet another writers' book. I used to be addicted to them, but it's under control now. Just about. There's only one thing I like doing more than writing and that's reading about writing.

So I started to think, what is my favourite book about writing. Not an easy question, there have been so many over the years I can barely remember them all. But a few stand out.

"Story" by Robert McKee. It's really about screenwriting but a story is a story regardless of the medium. I love his elegant style.

Anything by James N. Frey. I started with How To Write A Damn Good Novel and ended up reading a few more of his. His writing has such energy it is inspiring and it taught me a lot about story structure.

Wannabe a Writer by Jane Wenham-Jones is a good laugh and she has some useful insights.

78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published and 14 Reasons Why It Just Might by Pat Walsh is a reality checklist. If you have any illusions about your ability this will help squash them.

No Plot, No Problem by Chris Baty is the procrastinator's bible, written for anyone who's been planning that novel for years in his head but never put pen to paper. Very entertaining and inspiring.

Better stop there, although there have been others. No doubt I'll remember a few more by next time.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

All quiet on the submissions front...

It's quiet. Too quiet.

Got my last rejection on Sunday. Sunday? Yes, and what's more I only emailed it to them the previous Thursday pm so that gave them barely three days to read it.

Now, I don't mind getting a rejection. (Well, I do, obviously, but that's another story.) The thing I mind is getting a suggestion with it to send my manuscript to a Literary Consultancy (which probably charges an exorbitant fee) when they likely haven't even read my submission. Are they getting a little backhander from the Lit Consultancy to send work their way, I wonder? And is this professional behaviour?

Thursday, 2 October 2008

The Great YWO POD Debate

Well, it's raged on all week. Nothing seems to polarise the writing community like self-publishing. But here's a poser:

This is a fictional scenario but it could describe many wannabes (including me!).

Supposing Jill has been writing for twenty years. She has done a couple of writing courses, read loads of books on the subject, had a few articles and short stories published over the years. But for the last five years she's devoted all her spare time and energy to getting her novel published.

She's tried everything. Writers' groups, peer review sites, endless redrafts and editing. She has sought advice from any and all published authors she encounters. And she has sent her sample chapters to every publisher and agent in the WAYB, and even the dodgy ones (well, you get desperate eventually). But all she has to show for it is a heap of rejection letters.

One morning she wakes up and looks in the mirror and thinks "I can't go on with this any more." She promised herself many years ago that one day she would see her name on the cover of a paperback and she's damn well going to make it happen. She picks up the flier that fell out of her latest writers' journal and dials the number of a self-publishing company.

The question is, can you blame her?

I've heard a lot of argument for and against self publishing this week, and I've found it very helpful in showing me the lie of this alien publishing land. But faced with the desperation of someone who just can't get a publishing deal, how can anyone condemn it?

Thursday, 25 September 2008

publish and be damned!

I went on a bit of a roller coaster ride this week over YouWriteOn’s Free POD offer. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, they are offering to publish the first 5000 completed manuscripts free. Not surprisingly it has stirred up a lot of interest among we slushpile inhabitants. It gave me a rush for just long enough to email them my details and tell my family to expect my published book as a Christmas present this year.

But slowly reality has crept in to replace the euphoria. It appears there will be no editing. Whatever is submitted will be published.

OK. I’ve just sent out three chapters of my manuscript to my first round of agents, so I’m reasonably confident it’s properly proofread and in a fit state for human consumption. BUT – and this is big but, hence the capitals – I have never published a book before so I must bow to the greater experience an agent and editor could bring to my efforts. If you ask me whether my manuscript is in perfectly publishable condition as it stands, I couldn’t say yes. I just don’t know.

And with a flood of 5000 unedited books coming out for Christmas, how can I be sure the product will do me and my writing justice?

So my feet have by now gone completely freezing on the whole thing.


(another big but – lots of them about!)

A glimmer of good news came in the post the following day. One of said agents sent me a very encouraging personal letter, declining the manuscript as it stands, but offering to discuss it further if I have no luck finding anyone else and am willing to make some changes to the narrative. So, that’s not bad, is it? I might not have published books to give my family this Christmas, but maybe next year…?

Friday, 19 September 2008

the first of many

Today is a momentous day. I got my first rejection slip for "The Bookseller". Oh, well.

But you know what's weird? I thought I'd prepared myself thoroughly for this. I've been lurking around writers' websites, reading writers' magazines and watching author interviews for long enough to hear all the horror stories about bedrooms decorated with rejection notes. JK Rowling hawked Harry Potter round all the slush piles before she got a sniff. I've seen the long discussions about agents being snowed under with submissions and how 99% of the time don't even have time let alone inclination to look at yours. It's nothing personal. I've read (and even dished out) the sound advice to ignore it and try, try again.

But it still stings, just the same.

It makes no logical sense. Never in a million years would my manuscript be accepted at the first try. I'd have better odds doing the lottery. So, knowing that, I'm a little surprised at my own reaction. Part of me must have hoped, against all the odds...

So for about half an hour I've gone through the usual "Why am I doing this, I clearly have no talent and don't stand a chance, it's just a waste of time and effort..."

But the good news is, it does pass. I'm nothing if not an optimist. So what if I get to redecorate my bedroom with rejection slips? It needed decorating anyway. :-)

Friday, 12 September 2008

It's sent!!!!!

Why do I feel light as a feather today?

Answer: Yesterday my first batch of submissions went off in the post. I know it won't last long, but I feel quite elated about it. The first step has been taken.

I've done little else this week and it's time consuming. Now I must get back to doing some real writing...

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Anything but writing...

OK, I admit it. I'm lurking on here to avoid the task I've set myself this week: writing my synopsis. The first attempt lies before me as I type this and I'm trying to avoid looking at it. What a coward, I hear you cry. And you're right.

The trouble is, there's so much riding on it. As a marketing tool, the synopsis is your possibly one chance to get an editor's attention. Never mind those 85k words of carefully crafted plot, poetic description and fascinating insight. If you can't grab 'em with this potted version you can forget it.

So here I am trying to shoe-horn in every detail I can, trying to remember all the important bits and not leave out anything that might help sell it. So far I've managed to avoid the temptation to write "And then ... " at the start of every sentence, which is encouraging. But some of the sentences end up very convoluted: Kevin discovers his life-long friend, Barnaby, whose dog had swallowed the ransom note, is having a clandestine affair with Ruby, his housekeeper and the blackmailer of Jonathan, his flat-mate.

Keeping it in present tense isn't as easy as it sounds. Old habits die hard. And there is a lot of conflicting advice around. Double-spaced or not? One page long or six? Don't ask.

But I must press on and get these submissions out this week, if only so I can forget it and get on with some writing.

I can feel one of my heads coming on...

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

RIP Honey 1996-2008

Some sad news. My eleven year old cavalier king charles spaniel bitch, Honey (that's her in the picture), took ill last week and had to be put to sleep yesterday. At nearly twelve she had a good run for her breed and never suffered one day of illness in that time. She was very peaceful at the end and resigned to leaving. In fact I think she was glad to go.
Now I'm walking around in a daze. This morning I spent five minutes sobbing my heart out in the car when sad music came on the radio. She was only a little dog and in recent years spent most of her day snoozing, but the house suddenly seems very empty without her. I keep forgetting she won't need a walk or a biscuit or a brush, but I suppose I'll get used to it in time.
She's left an ache in me. I know it shouldn't come as a surprise, but it does. It's the end of an era. She was around for a lot of my sons' childhood, and through every up and down was my constant companion.
I will miss you, dear friend, but you are forever in my heart.

Friday, 29 August 2008

I should be dancing...

This morning I finished my last chapter of The Bookseller, my first completed novel, a mystery set in contemporary Edinburgh. I expected to be in celebratory mood. It has only taken something like 2 years out of my life, after all. (Admittedly, I haven't stopped doing all the other stuff and there has been a lot of other writing in the gaps - but psychologically this has been a big commitment)

So I expected to feel more than a little euphoric, but actually a feel quite sad. OK the ending was a bit poignant, maybe it's just the residue from that. But really, I feel cheated. No applause, no rush of excitement, just a weird feeling of something having finally come to a close.

Maybe it'll hit me tomorrow.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Is Dame Jacqueline a Twit or a Twat?

OK, no prizes for guessing what this is about.

I'm not a bad language prude. In my time I've f***ed and b******ed with the best of them.
But as I get older I seem to get more sensitive to the use of obscenities. They are words that carry a weight of aggression and should be used with care. In the right context they can have impact. The trouble is there are too many trigger-happy f*** monkeys out there, peppering their prose with obscenities in the vain hope it will shock their readers into believing it renders their sub-standard offerings cutting edge and artistic. All they are doing is corrupting our language. They need to grow up.

One manifestation of political correctness is the determination to use obscenities in literature in spite of the sensitivities of others. This is Freedom of Speech, the f***-monkeys cry. Stop me f***ing swearing at your peril!

This is just daft. Reading and writing are a collaboration between the reader and the writer, and if writers have so little respect for their readers as to ride roughshod over their feelings in this then they don't deserve to be read. The latest hysteria when publishers withdrew a children's fiction book because it contained "twat" is just silly. How on earth can it be a Freedom of Speech issue if, as she claims, Dame Jacqueline Wilson did not even realise there was a difference between twit and twat? It is nothing to do with freedom of speech and anyone who says so is a twit (or is it twat?).

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Just a thought...

This month's target is to finish the mystery I've been working on for two years. This latest revision started out as a proofreading exercise and ended up with some major plot changes. I came unstuck last December trying to write the synopsis, I think realising that the middle section didn't have enough meat on it and more was needed. It's meant introducing two new characters so quite a major overhaul. But I'm starting to see the end, so it shouldn't be too long now.
I was intending to get cracking on the comic novel but I'm letting that cook a while longer, although I have some ideas. It might end up being a play, in fact. I haven't decided.
It's not that easy to divide your attention. For a while I was writing one book in the morning and revising another one in the afternoon but I don't know whether I'd try it again. It takes me a while to get into the mind set of a book, and switching between them is a bit of a stretch. I suppose if you're working to a deadline you have no choice.
One thing I'm planning to include in the new story is a peer review group, because I think there's lots of scope for comedy in these crits. Here is a sample:

Hi Wetwarbler, here are my thoughts about your piece. I loved it really, you have a marvellous talent although perhaps not for writing. But anyway please take or leave this crit as you see fit; it is only my opinion and I'm sure you'll find someone who'll enjoy it sooner or later.

I loved the opening sentence. I could just picture him on the chimney stack in his wife's underwear, but would it perhaps be better to make his sexuality less obvious? Keep the reader guessing? Just a thought. Your description of the bun fight was a bit long at seven pages, you could easily cut it down to a paragraph, or even a sentence, or even cut it altogether. Is it really necessary at all? Just a thought.
I got a bit confused in chapter two. I couldn't help wondering why Colonel Molotov kept asking Agnethe to dance. Is that feasible in a life raft? And didn't she die in chapter one? Or were there two Agnethes? Probably best not to have two or more characters with the same name. Just a thought.
I'm not sure most people would get the Chaucerian references in chapter three, and they do tend to confuse the issue in the rape scene. Out of interest, have you checked whether it is possible to get eight people into the boot of a mini metro?

Friday, 15 August 2008

The Great Genre Debate

If you trawl around some online writers' groups like me you may have encountered a strange subterranean war that is going on vis-a-vis the subject of genre. I first encountered it on a forum where someone had brought up the subject of how useful reviews were if the reviewer wasn't familiar with your particular genre. I was startled by the vitriolic response of some members on the subject. It's a publishing invention, they say. A Good Story is a Good Story, full stop. All well and good, but go into any bookshop and you won't find books arranged according to "Good Story" and "Not Good Story". So ignoring the phenomenon seems a bit naive.

According to which source you go with, there are hundreds of different fiction "genres" ranging from Chicklit to Crime and all points in between. And then of course there's Literary Fiction which seems to sweep across everything but take it to a deeper level, whatever that means. (I'm not sure you can get a Literary Chicklit novel - what do you think?) I recently enquired on one forum about what constituted literary fiction and brought down on my head accusations of snobbery. In fact I'd only wondered because while researching agents and publishers I find the term used by them, and I genuinely wondered who decides if a book is "literary" or not.

But the overall impression is that the subject of genre twangs a few writerly nerves out there. I'm not sure why. Do writers just hate to be categorised? Any thoughts, people?

Monday, 11 August 2008

The end in sight...

Today I started the last chapter of current WIP. Oh, what a great feeling! I'm so near the end now I can almost smell it. It's no wonder really, I was working it out and it's been about 6 months to get to this stage. I take back what I said before, this time will be euphoric.

And not least because my next project is very near to my heart and my funny bone. It's going to be my first attempt at a comic novel. I have tried comedy before, but only sketches and an ill-fated sitcom that is gathering dust in the vault somewhere. (One day I may resurrect it for a rewrite.) But comedy is how I started writing in the first place. Many moons ago I submitted material for various sketch shows, and even had a couple used - the only occasion I've been paid for my writing. But I've never attempted comedy in prose before, so it will be a new departure for me.

I'm very influenced by Sue Townsend who is a national treasure in my opinion. I love her ability to get to the nub of the absurdities of life. I particularly like the royal family stories, The Queen and I etc. The way she punctures pomposity is just brilliant. I hate pomposity and pretentiousness, and they will be the main targets of my story.

But as a wise man once said, laughter is a serious business, so this one might just be my undoing. Watch this space!

Saturday, 9 August 2008

A bit drafty

Of course, what I should have made clear in my last post was that I was referring to the First Draft. And Phil and Tracy, you are absolutely right, it is just the beginning. But at least finishing the first draft is the End of the Beginning even if it isn't the Beginning of the End.

I know the veracity of this only too well. I am currently still editing/revising my first WIP which has to date taken up a fair chunk of the last two years. I'm starting to get heartily sick of it now and am determined to knock it into some final shape before much longer so I can start submitting. Although I want to be done with it I find it impossible to stop tinkering even with the bits I'm reasonably confident about. If it ever should make it into print I could well be sneaking into Waterstones with a bottle of Tippex to make a few "last minute adjustments".

It's very easy to get addicted to editing. A lot of writers complain about it, but I've come to love it. In some ways I do think it's the most creative part; adding colour, improving dialogue, cutting and embellishing. But I also recognize a tendency to obsess about it, and therein lies madness. Some writers I know try to perfect each chapter before moving on to the next one. There is a real danger they will never finish the book because it will never be good enough. I'd rather get the first draft down, warts and all, before worrying about how crap it is.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Getting to the end....

It's now about four months since I set out on the long arduous journey that is my latest novel, and the end is finally coming into view. I can see it, like a mirage on the horizon, a little watering hole in the desert, surrounded by leafy palms. I stagger on, feeble legs sinking into the sand, tongue hanging out. One thought in my mind. The End. The End...

And then, I come over a sand dune and it's gone. Vanished. Everything had been so clear, but now my head is a fog of indecision. Shouldn't I do this instead? Wouldn't it be better if he left his wife and went off with the mistress? What if the police were in on it all along?

It must be a recognized medical condition, the inability to finish your novel. Fictionus inconclusiva. I tell myself, two more chapters, tops - but the goalposts keep receding as I get hopelessly bogged down with putting in more unnecessary plot complications. I lie awake in the small hours, desperately wondering if "He woke up and it was all a dream" wouldn't be such a bad ending after all. Any ending starts to look like a blessed relief. But the harder I try, it feels like two repelling magnets determined to avoid each other.

Why is so hard to finish? Is it the emotional attachment to the project? Is it the fear of failure? I don't know really, but in my case I think it's to do with lost opportunity. When your novel is in your head, anything is possible. Once it's on the page, that's it for better or worse. OK, you can tweak it till the cows come home, but that's more or less the story. And I don't like that. I want everything to still be possible.

But I do eventually get a grip and force myself to get to the end. It's never as much of a climax as I expected, more of a weary relief. But it's a good feeling - and this time round I've got another project I'm itching to start so that's added incentive.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Peer Review Sites - good or bad?

The voice in my head - you know the one that constantly nags and nags - tells me it is time I added another post. I hear and obey, oh Master! (Right you can cut that out for a start.)

So following on from the last entry, I was wondering about peer review sites and whether they are a good or bad thing. I've experienced a few in the last five years and I have mixed feelings about them. Like any writer's group, they seem to attract a peculiar species who want to set the Rules of Writing in stone, but really it's just a way of formalising the rules of belonging to the group. If you disagree you will find yourself sidelined pretty quick, and it's not a nice feeling however much you pretend you don't care.

Support groups are great, don't get me wrong. The trouble is when it goes further and becomes an exclusive clique. I've witness some particularly nasty bullying and playground behaviour on some sites, and the price I paid for objecting to it was being kicked out. Ah well. I suppose some individuals never grow out of this behaviour the way the majority do. In the words of the seventies icon but now disgraced pop-star, Gary Glitter: "Dyou wanna be in my gang, my gang, my gang..."

Sunday, 3 August 2008

When to stop flogging...?

There comes a point when every writer wonders why they've done all they can to make something work and it just won't.

You write a scene or chapter, you know it lacks something but you're not sure what. You show it to a few people, or post it for review on one of the many peer review sites available. You get some lukewarm responses, usually contradictory on the finer points, but agreeing that IT LACKS SOMETHING. One reviewer says the pace is too slow, another there is too much description, another the characters are one dimensional, another the situation is unconvincing.

After a lot of soul searching and gnashing of teeth you get to work slashing and burning your beautiful prose and rewrite. You post it again, and guess what. The reviewers, though contradictory on the finer points, agree IT LACKS SOMETHING.

So now you have a choice. You can continue this process until:

a. You get so sick of it you give up writing and become a Trappist.
b. You get so sick of it you become beligerent and eventually get thrown out of the group.
c. You go mad.
d. All of the above.

But don't despair. There is another option. Sometimes a scene/chapter will not work. There are many possible reasons for this; you might be approaching it from the wrong angle, you might be too close to the subject matter, your story may not be worth telling after all. Whatever the reason, you have the choice to just walk away. Stop flogging this dead horse and get on with something else. It's a very important lesson to learn, and you'll never make it as a writer without digesting the important fact that not all the outpourings from your pen are worth giving the time of day.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Hi All!

Yes, I have finally succumbed to the temptation of posting my own blog despite my firm belief that the internet is the root of all evil and all blogs should be burned. So if you're daft enough to be reading this, don't say you weren't warned!
Now all I have to do is think up something to write, which isn't as easy as it looks. Especially when you have a brain as addled as mine. Years of parenthood and self-abuse have taken care of that.
Anyway, enough of that rubbish. Still reading? God, you should get a life. No really, this is pure rubbish, don't you think? I'm going off this business already and I haven't even posted it yet.

Seriously though, the internet is wonderful isn't it? I know, I know, I just finished saying it was evil but it does have its uses. Take google - it's great. In days gone by you had to learn stuff at school, pay attention to boring teachers and waste years of your youth getting an education. Now you just type a word or two into google and you're away. Do we need schools any more? You've got to wonder. I mean, they cost a lot of money and is it worth it? Next time you need some delicate open heart surgery you don't need to fork out for an expensive operation just get one of your mates to look up the relevant procedures on wikipedia and bob's your uncle.