Skip to content

Tag: novel

My publication story

If you’ve looked at this blog before, or you look back at the dates on previous posts, you will see that there are major gaps and there has been a long hiatus when I’ve posted nothing. Stuff happened – and didn’t happen.

I started the blog because I wanted to get into the habit of writing and sharing what I had written. Even when you know you want to be published, putting your words out in front of people can be difficult and scary. However, consistency, in good habits at least, is not one of my strengths. I’d get into whatever fiction I was working on and stop writing blog posts. I’d get despondent about writing and stop. I started another, secret, blog. Life would get good or bad and the blogging would be abandoned. I’m back to it now because I’m excited that my book is being published and not yet back into writing the work in progress – I find it difficult during school holidays.

So, although you can see some of the journey through the blog, I thought I should share an overview of how I got to this – exciting – place.

Like most people who write as adults, I loved writing, and reading, as a child. There were reasons I didn’t start writing fiction seriously until my forties, and I might share those another day. For now, we’ll skip forwards…

I was the mother of a difficult young child, work as a freelance communication consultant and business writer was difficult, I was stressed and needed to do something creative. Unable to find an appropriate creative writing evening class, I signed myself up to do a part-time Masters course in the evening at my local university. I tried different writing forms, started to find my voice and found a novel I wanted to write. I finished the course with an MA, some lovely writing pals, a half-written novel and writing as part of my daily life.

I finished the novel and entered it into a competition, the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize. It was shortlisted and one of the judges, Allison Pearson, said some very encouraging things about it. I submitted it to agents and found no takers.

I wrote two more novels, was shortlisted in the Good Housekeeping novel competition, got an agent, broke up, amicably, with the agent, and did some more work on my first novel (and it’s pitch) before sending it to a publisher inviting open submissions for a new digital imprint. Ta-dah! (That sounds much easier and quicker and less soul destroying than it was.)

The editor, Victoria Oundjian, loved Beverley from the outset and was amazingly positive. I couldn’t believe it when I received her email saying she was interested in my book and I couldn’t believe how lovely she was. I was used to rejection (that’s a lie, I don’t think you ever get used to rejection) and re-read the email many, many times looking for the ‘but’. With Victoria’s gentle encouragement, I made some more edits and came up with a new title. (I am terrible at titles. I use obscure cultural references that mean something to me and about 12 other people in the world. I fear it reflects the fact that I am not naturally aligned with commercial realities and, you know, other people. I think I got there in the end with ‘The Busy Mum’s Guide to Murder’.)

The thing with digital publishing is that the turnaround is incredibly quick. I signed the contract about a month ago, did my copy edits last week and the book is published in 30 days’ time. I haven’t met any of the people involved in person and I even signed the contract electronically. It took years to get to this point and now it’s all happening in weeks!

I don’t know how it’s going to go from here. I fear everyone will hate my book – well, the three people outside of my friends who read it. I want to publish more novels, but am concerned that I won’t be able to deliver what the market wants. (And now I feel like I have to be funny. I’ve never tried to be funny before. I think life and politics may have sucked me dry of humour.) I’d like an agent who has the time to help me develop a career. None of this might happen. I have to keep the insecurities at bay, enjoy this moment of success and hold on to my love of writing, whatever comes next. So, for now, cheers!If you’ve looked at this blog before, or you look back at the dates on previous posts, you will see that there are major gaps and there has been a long hiatus when I’ve posted nothing. Stuff happened – and didn’t happen.

I started the blog because I wanted to get into the habit of writing and sharing what I had written. Even when you know you want to be published, putting your words out in front of people can be difficult and scary. However, consistency, in good habits at least, is not one of my strengths. I’d get into whatever fiction I was working on and stop writing blog posts. I’d get despondent about writing and stop. I started another, secret, blog. Life would get good or bad and the blogging would be abandoned. I’m back to it now because I’m excited that my book is being published and not yet back into writing the work in progress – I find it difficult during school holidays.

So, although you can see some of the journey through the blog, I thought I should share an overview of how I got to this – exciting – place.

Like most people who write as adults, I loved writing, and reading, as a child. There were reasons I didn’t start writing fiction seriously until my forties, and I might share those another day. For now, we’ll skip forwards…

I was the mother of a difficult young child, work as a freelance communication consultant and business writer was difficult, I was stressed and needed to do something creative. Unable to find an appropriate creative writing evening class, I signed myself up to do a part-time Masters course in the evening at my local university. I tried different writing forms, started to find my voice and found a novel I wanted to write. I finished the course with an MA, some lovely writing pals, a half-written novel and writing as part of my daily life.

I finished the novel and entered it into a competition, the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize. It was shortlisted and one of the judges, Allison Pearson, said some very encouraging things about it. I submitted it to agents and found no takers.

I wrote two more novels, was shortlisted in the Good Housekeeping novel competition, got an agent, broke up, amicably, with the agent, and did some more work on my first novel (and it’s pitch) before sending it to a publisher inviting open submissions for a new digital imprint. Ta-dah! (That sounds much easier and quicker and less soul destroying than it was.)

The editor, Victoria Oundjian, loved Beverley from the outset and was amazingly positive. I couldn’t believe it when I received her email saying she was interested in my book and I couldn’t believe how lovely she was. I was used to rejection (that’s a lie, I don’t think you ever get used to rejection) and re-read the email many, many times looking for the ‘but’. With Victoria’s gentle encouragement, I made some more edits and came up with a new title. (I am terrible at titles. I use obscure cultural references that mean something to me and about 12 other people in the world. I fear it reflects the fact that I am not naturally aligned with commercial realities and, you know, other people. I think I got there in the end with ‘The Busy Mum’s Guide to Murder’.)

The thing with digital publishing is that the turnaround is incredibly quick. I signed the contract about a month ago, did my copy edits last week and the book is published in 30 days’ time. I haven’t met any of the people involved in person and I even signed the contract electronically. It took years to get to this point and now it’s all happening in weeks!

I don’t know how it’s going to go from here. I fear everyone will hate my book – well, the three people outside of my friends who read it. I want to publish more novels, but am concerned that I won’t be able to deliver what the market wants. (And now I feel like I have to be funny. I’ve never tried to be funny before. I think life and politics may have sucked me dry of humour.) I’d like an agent who has the time to help me develop a career. None of this might happen. I have to keep the insecurities at bay, enjoy this moment of success and hold on to my love of writing, whatever comes next. So, for now, cheers!

Bev’s school essentials shopping list

In the spirit of Beverley from my novel ‘The Busy Mum’s Guide to Murder’, I felt I should offer some helpful guidance for parents entering the unique circle of hell that lies just the other side of the primary school gates. If you’re going to survive with any kind of sanity intact, you’re going to need to get organised. Firstly, can I offer a shopping list of some essentials.

Nit treatment

Sorry, but it’s going to happen, and keep happening.

Calpol

Stock up. Schools are like Petri dishes and germs run rampant. Especially if your child has not been to nursery, it will take a while for them to build up resistance.

Name labels

Label everything that you can’t afford to keep replacing. Even at secondary, I swear my son’s PE socks have wings.

Spare lunchbox

I know, you can’t see how a lunchbox can go missing. Let me tell you that they do. They may reappear, smelly and slightly mouldy, but for a few days they will be totally awol and you will need an alternative. (Spare are generally pretty useful – hats, gloves, PE shorts, best friends…)

A box/basket

You need a central place for all the school crap. In the door – in the basket. Find reading log under the sofa – in the basket. Homework left in the bathroom – in the basket. ‘Muuuum, where’s my book?’ ‘In the basket.’ (A single drawer or space for all school uniform works similarly.)

Hot glue gun

I bought one in the recommendation of a friend and, oh, the revelation. No collapsing cardboard volcanoes soggy with paste. No limbs falling off bog roll robots on the way across the playground. No arms aching as you hold on to castle ramparts while they dry. You stick it with hot glue and that bugger stays stuck. The third degree burns are worth it. (Add Savlon to the list.)

Wine

Whether you favour alcohol or green tea, you will need something to steady your nerves through first drop off, first friendship collapse, first fight about having to go to school every day, 96th conversation with the alpha mum about her child’s reading age/fascination with the silent ‘e’/knowledge of the eight times table (who the hell could do eights?)/ running prowess/ability to speak clearly, tie shoe laces, play the violin…

Lipstick

You are going to those school gates every morning, looking and feeling like shit. You might be wearing yesterday’s clothes and not had a shower yet, but a bit of lippy can be like armour. (If you’re smugly noting that you work and will be dropping off suited and booted for the office, remember that even when you’re off with the flu, the kid has to go to school.)

And remember, smile and walk comrades, smile and walk.

Genre à la mode

 

Literary fiction gets up my nose. Not the books themselves, necessarily, though some of them do put up-yer-arse-ness above readability and a bloody good yarn to far too great a degree. I mean the idea of it and its elitism. ‘So whose bloodline can you claim? Austen? Conrad?’ … ‘Sorry? Weldon. Keyes.’ ‘Oh. You’ll be needing next door.’

Then there’s the fact that most people, whilst claiming it as their friend, don’t know what it is. I’ve heard publishing folk talk about the need to categorise books so they ‘know where to put them in a bookshop’. Really? I’ve bought all kinds of books off alphabetised shelves and tables of random picks, and my local Sally Army secondhand shop doesn’t even bother dividing the As from the Zs. It never stops me finding what I want. Academics say they know what it is – generally it’s the ‘good’ stuff. A friend who writes genre crime fiction was once asked, ‘Why don’t you write literary fiction instead? You’re good enough.’ I went there once and wrote an essay challenging the existence of a binary opposition between literary fiction and genre fiction. Let’s just say that it was not wholly successful and my theory was not well received. I like to think that the problem was that I didn’t find the right way to make my point, not that I was entirely wrong.

Agents, publishers, academics, the writing industry, seem to be obsessed with labelling books and writers. Writer as brand is where it’s at. I once worked in branding and was told by the very bright but very drug-addled Creative Director that what the label was mattered less than that it be stuck to, consistent. Fine for a toothpaste or a firm of accountants, but a writer?

And the labelling starts before the work is created. It’s marketing, baby, respond to customer need! Tell me what you’re writing? Is it literary fiction or genre? These were the most common questions I was asked during my writing MA. I don’t know! If it’s not deep and intellectual, unlikely to be short-listed for a booker, does that mean that it needs to fit into a pre-existing genre jacket? You find yourself shopping for a genre, checking what’s in fashion, what might suit you. Young, unmarried female protagonist – clearly the high heels and designer handbag of chicklit. She’s married with children – grab the Boden catalogue for slim fit jeans and a co-ordinating sweater to disguise the mummy-midriff. Someone dies in dodgy circumstances – crime – something black, purple nail varnish. Add a bit of horror – stick a hoody on.

What if I want to shake things up, create my own style? Did Dickens think: Ahh, I think I’ll write literary fiction, something Dickensian?

Fine. I accept that it helps to know who you want to read your book and to be able to say it’s a bit like X or Y to help readers to find it. But if you try to hard to write within a box you can create a monster. What would Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights have been like if she’d tried to write it for the YA market? All those sensitive souls who want to write literary fiction and end up writing something faux brow (thank CF) and unreadable. What if you want to mix things up?

What do I know? I’ve decided to write my story and create my own genre (with some help – thanks AB). It’s called ‘Mummycrime’. It’s a mix and subversion of mummylit and crime fiction (not detective fiction – that’s another genre, silly!), and it’s literate, not literary. I’m hoping that if I say this enough, by the time the novel is finished I will have willed my genre into existence – think Boden jeans with something boho from Camden Market and purple nails, probably Mac.

The long and dusty middle

Middles are hard.
Not body middles, not mine anyway. I had a baby and it went all mushy. No sign of muscle tone anywhere. Beckham’s looks hard, but his brain’s mushy. But, as they say, I digress. The middle of stories I mean. Writing the middle of a novel is much more hard work than writing the beginning and I suspect, if you ever get there, it gets easier again at the end.
You know the part in those old Western films where the wagons roll to the top of a ridge and stretched out before them is Death Valley, miles and miles of dry sand and rock. That’s the middle. No end in sight, no guarantee that they will reach the other side, no water, bad men in black hats. That’s the middle. An endless slog that will test them to the limit, so far that some will never make it. Yep, the middle.
I think it’s different when you’re reading. Stuff happens in the middle that you want to know about – assuming the beginning has been good enough to get you there. The trouble is when you’re writing, when I’m writing (note the inappropriate use of the second person there, this could be a personal thing, me alone, with my own personal problem with middles, rather than a universal shared problem), is that you/I know what is going to happen in the middle. All that’s left to do is write it. And I’m a completer finisher and in a novel the middle is a long, long way from the finish.
‘Skip to the end’ someone said. I can’t do that! The story must unroll in my mind. I have to go with the ups and downs. I can write notes for future scenes, but I, personally, have to write it as it happens. Plus, when I do get to the end, I need to know that it’s the end, of the first draft at least.
So, here I am, pushing on word by word, slow chapter by slow chapter, with more perspiration than inspiration, painfully through the middle. Wish me luck.

A kick up the whatsit from Transworld and Cath Staincliffe

Last night I was lucky enough to attend a Transworld event marking the launch of Cath Staincliffe’s new Scott & Bailey novel ‘Bleed Like Me’. It was a great opportunity to meet the real people who work in publishing and discover that they are not the money-obsessed naysayers nascent writers, like myself, fear exist only to shatter our dreams. They were really rather nice. Furthermore they were genuinely passionate about books and writing and loving every minute of making dreams fly for both writers and readers.

Cath Staincliffe was there to talk about her writing process and career, and specifically about the Scott & Bailey novels. I had been avoiding the books because I assumed that they were re-tellings of the TV series plots. Not so, the first is a prequel to the series and ‘Bleed Like Me’, and the future titles, slot in between the stories told on TV. So, another couple of books to add to the to-read pile.

However, despite having a signed copy of the book in my paws, thanks to last night, I won’t be reading it right away. I’m sure this wasn’t the intention of last night (sorry lovely people), but what I took away with me was the determination to get on with my writing. Cath is an inspiration. Her output is phenomenal and her publishers clearly love her for her professionalism – because that’s what she is a professional who is bloody good at what she does.

I’ve written commercially for years – mastered the structure, written properly formed sentences and paragraphs, targeted to my audience and finished on deadline. So why am I being so airy fairy and insecure about my creative writing? I might not be Cath Staincliffe but I’ll never get anywhere if I don’t get what’s in my head down on paper.

So, thanks Cath for being so gracious and for the book. Thanks Transworld for the meal, the wine, the chat and the murderous cup cakes. I hope you will forgive me if I don’t read the books just yet. I have a few thousand words to write first.

Bitch!

20130129-172618.jpg
The protagonist of my WIP is a bitch, cunning, manipulative, ruthless and murderous. She says the unsayable and does the undoable (if for good reasons). I don’t call her a bitch. I think she’s fine. (Apparently my moral compass is off – it’s only hit and run and she had a good reason!) Someone else, who clearly holds people to higher moral and social standards than I do, dubbed her ‘bitch’. So, it got me thinking about what we mean by ‘bitch’.

It’s only used of women and it’s clearly meant to be bad. But then calling someone ‘the c-word’ is really really bad and that’s just a term for lady bits. But let’s stick with ‘bitch’ for now.

Bitch. Literally, a female dog. Originally slang for a lewd or ill-tempered woman. Then the suggestion of greater evil and (pause for intake of breath) unfaithfulness. When feminism came along, the bitch became bad-good. Along with shoulder pads and spiky heels, we girls needed a bit more earthy fighting spirit (balls?!) to fight patriarchy and claim equality.

In more recent times, some might call them ‘post-feminist’, the term bitch seems to have been further reclaimed and rehabilitated. You can now ‘bitch’n’stitch and there are web magazines for online bitches. These bitches seem a somewhat sanitised version of the foul-mouthed, arsy harridan of yesteryear, sort of ladettes with attitude. Take Elizabeth Wurtzel’s ‘Bitch Rules’, for example. Her rules for a modern day bitch include ‘Eat Dessert’, Be Gorgeous’ and ‘The Only Way to get One Person Off Your Mind is to Get Another One on Your Body’. Whoop. Hundreds of years of female activism and we claim the right to eat, dress up and be promiscuous! Another bitch rule is always ask questions. Why? Because it will make you a provocateur, which is sexy! And here was me thinking asking questions was just a good way to find out what you wanted to know.

The good/bad news is that my protagonist (let’s call her Bev) is not a ladette or a yummy/slummy mummy. She doesn’t have acceptable flaws, such as a penchant for too much white wine, chocolate and the bad boy. She doesn’t go to school in her pyjamas or spend all her money on shoes. She is rude, forthright and Machiavellian. And she is willing to do anything, absolutely anything, to protect her children. That’s my version of the good-bad bitch.

Maybe I need to write some ‘Bev Rules’.

Why I need sequinned socks

Recently, I read my work in progress out loud to an audience. It was terrifying. I’ve given presentations, run seminars and read out loud before. But not my own work. Reading it out, volunteering to read it out, is saying ‘I think this is worth listening to’. And that’s opening the door to rejection. Who wants rejection? Who wants rejection of something that is so close to yourself and that you really really want people to like?

I did this because it is something you are meant to do if you want to be taken seriously as a writer. So that’s worse. I’m standing up in front of a bunch of people who love and know about writing and saying: ‘take me seriously as one of those people you study and admire’.

All I could think as I waited for it to be my turn was, why have I agreed to do this? And why did I change the font of my manuscript from Arial to Times New Roman just before printing a copy to read? Times New Roman is tiny and I’m short sighted. When I last went to the optician complaining about my eyesight he kindly informed me that, considering the state of my eyes, I was lucky I could see as well as I could. Err, thanks?

There was one other thing that worried me and that was my lack of sequins. I read this article on public readings. I’m sure it said lots of really helpful things but the key points I remember were don’t drink alcohol and wear sequins. I don’t have anything with sequins. I’m not a sequins kind of gal. I felt naked. So I had a drink. To be honest I did mind less about the sequins after that.

I’d bagged myself a slot in the middle of the first half of the series of readings. The day before I’d been to watch my son in his school Christmas play. He was one of any three children in his class to have a line to say. It was: ‘Three Wise Men entered the stable and laid their gifts before the baby’. I remember. I will probably remember it til I die now (that and the der-der der-der from Suzanne Vega’s Tom’s Diner). The point is that anything about the wise men is right near the end. There are donkeys, stables, babies born, angels and shepherds that all come before that bit. So there was the longest of waits until he got to say his line, until we would know whether he had remembered it and was able to speak slowly and clearly and I would able to restrain myself from leaping up and saying it with him. The tension was terrible. I couldn’t go through that twice in as many days.

So, my time came and I did it. I read the Prologue to my novel. Apparently some people laughed, not just my friends. (Just to be clear, it is supposed to be funny.) I lived. And then I drank. And I didn’t need sequins. Maybe next time though. What if there was no drink?

What next?

Assignment done. Or rather I’m done with my assignment. There are the correct number of words, more or less (ok, more), a bibliography in alphabetical order, mostly (I have a morbid horror of mixing apples and Fiats) and there is a title, two titles actually, one for each part (but panic ye not oh pedants of the university administration, they are in one document with one properly printed cover sheet). So, just the handing in to do. Then what?

I’m handing in Act I of a screenplay for a TV crime drama – an urban, more contemporary  Midsomer Murders, set in a university city – Cambridge not Oxford – with a very un-Morse-like detective. I’ve drafted Acts II and III, but they need editing. The assignment is done but the completer-finisher in me insists I complete and finish. Then what?

I don’t know!

Do I go back to the novel I abandoned eight chapters in about modern, urban witches with life issues rather than broomsticks? I think the solution to the novel’s own issues could be a switch from third to first person. Or there’s the crime novel based on the story from the screenplay. Possibly more commercial. But will I get bored having done it. And I rather enjoyed writing a screenplay – I could make the witches into a screenplay. Or write another Inspector Gunn story. Or there’s Bev…

To be a writer, just write they say. But what? Screenplay or novel? Witches, Gunn or Bev?

Turkey or the egg?

Turkey or the egg
Am I depressed because I can’t write or can I not write because I’m depressed? Which comes first? This blog is becoming more of a non-writing blog than a writing blog. The lovely CF, writing mentor, published novelist and good egg, suggested two possible techniques to overcome the problem. Firstly, set yourself a small task, such as writing 500 words a day or for just an hour. Apparently this is what Marian Keyes is doing to overcome the writer’s block she has faced due to severe depression (not that I place either my writing or depression on a par with hers). However, even that seems too great a hill to climb. The other suggestion was to write some back story or a single incident from the novel I am (was) working on, something that I never intend to be part of the finished narrative. The idea is that this will remove the pressure of carrying on with the novel whilst getting me going writing about those characters and ideas again. Nope. There’s nothing there. It’s as though the creative synapses in my head are dead. Whatever is the source of original words and thoughts, I am cut off from it. Every word has to be pulled from a pit under deep brambles, dragged through sharp thorns, and all you find yourself left with is a squashed, oozy syllable. I hold pen to paper and nothing happens. I have nothing to write. My Beloved suggests, practically, that I get on with it or give up – I’m wasting his time ranting on and on about it saying the same things, apparently. I’ve always maintained that practical writing, like this blog and writing marketing and training materials, comes from a different place from the creative writing. This seems to be further proof. I don’t want proof! I want back in to that other place! (And for my aforementioned Beloved to learn more sensitivity.)