Thursday, 14 June 2018

News!!

Well, unfortunately Kingstone didn't make the shortlist for the Leicester Book Prize; I always knew it would be a tough call when I saw the other books longlisted with it!

Congratulations to Rod Duncan, whose novel Queen of All Crows, was crowned Leicester Book of the Year 2018.

However, I do have a little bit of good news to share...



Yup. 

I'm going to be publishing a third novel with Bink under their Dragonfeather imprint. 

The Mage of Merjan is the first in a series of - hopefully - five novels about Tilda and her adventures on the island of Issraya. (I'm already half way through drafting the second...) 

So I can't be too sad about the Book Prize, can I?

Looking forward very much to introducing you to Tilda sometime in the future. 

Monday, 4 June 2018

Longlisted!




Delighted to say that Kingstone has been longlisted for the Leicester Book Prize. 


It therefore stands a chance (a slim one, maybe, as the other books on the list are awesome; I've read half of them!) of making the shortlist and, ultimately, coming away with the title of 
Leicester Book of the Year 2018. 

Squeeee!

Sunday, 3 June 2018

This is what drafting a novel REALLY looks like...

I've been working on the second book of a series - working title The Black Diamond - and I suddenly realised how much I'm editing myself now as I write.

Perhaps it's just something that comes with experience, but I thought I would take the opportunity, before I get too deep into the editing, to show you the actual versions of what I recognise as my s****y first hand draft, my slightly less s****y first computer draft, and my first polish draft.

It might also serve to remind myself at some point in the future, when I'm writing book 3, that great writing doesn't just appear on the first go, especially when you begin a new project. I found myself getting really disheartened when I began this novel, because it had been a long time since I started anything genuinely new. (The first book in the series is a rework of an old story, so it needed less work than a real first draft...) It's hard to remember, when you're polishing and editing and making something read well, that it started life as something very, very different.

So to anyone who thinks they aren't writing well at the moment, take a look at this little section and the stages it's gone through - and tell yourself that there IS hope! Just stick at it.

Of course, other authors approach their draft stages very differently to me. I am not showing you my drafting because I'm saying it's how it SHOULD be done. I'm trying to demonstrate how a draft can be improved. 

Here goes. Don't expect to follow the story - I've selected a scene at random.

1. Hand drafted, in a notebook. 
Lots of scribbles, but the bones of the scene are there. No proper formatting, though strangely, there's more than is evident in the first computer draft; I've at least got paragraphs...


2. First write up on the computer.
There's no formatting, as I tend to just get the stuff down. I'm surprised I've even got a few speech marks... There's still some editing going on at this point, so it doesn't sound bad, but it doesn't read well. Yet.

 “It’ll be me first in the tub, Sparkles!” someone shouted, running past.
Startled, Tilda spun round, right into the middle of the walkway. 
“Watch out!”
Before she could move, someone else crashed into Tilda and she went sprawling.
She lay where she’d fallen, too choked on red dust to move, as a filthy young miner jumped quickly to his feet.
Dammit, Yan, he yelled. It was my turn tonight!
A whoop of triumph came from further down the road. Tilda rolled onto all fours and got shakily to her feet. I’m fine. Thanks for asking.
The miner rounded on her with a frown. You should look where you’re going. He snatched up a bag which must’ve fallen to the floor with him.
Anger heated Tilda’s cheeks. And you should walk on the pavement, she snapped, glaring at him.
You’d run too, believe me, he snarled. And set off at a jog after the disappearing Yan.  
Tilda, are you alright? I saw what happened. Duska hurried out of the shop.
Yes. Just dusty. Tilda tried to brush the owrst of it off. He barged straight into me, and all for some hot water.
Ah… To Tilda’s surprise, Duska laughed. You don’t want to get between a miner and his after shift bath. I’ve seen grown men fight over who’s next into the tub. They have races, you know, see who can get down and cleaned up the quickest.
I’ll make sure I’m out of the way for that, then. To Tilda’s horror, she felt her bottom lip tremble.
Duska must’ve noticed; she put a hand on Tilda’s shoulder. I think it might be best if we leave finding Feliks until tomorrow. Shall we go back? See if Sasha’s finished that floor yet?

Tilda nodded gratefully. Yes, please. She glanced down the road. She could still see the miner who’d crashed into her. I hope your bath water’s cold when you get in it, she muttered under her breath.

3. My first attempt at a polish up... 
It's formatted, I've played around with it a bit, but I won't do a proper edit on it until I've got to the end of the novel and all of it is to this standard.

            “It’ll be me first in the tub, Sparkles!” someone shouted, running past.

          Startled, Tilda spun round, right into the middle of the walkway. 
          “Watch out!”
          Before she could move, someone crashed into her and she went sprawling. She lay where she’d fallen, too choked on red dust to move, while a filthy young miner jumped quickly to his feet.
          “Dammit, Yan,” he yelled. “It was my turn tonight!”
          A whoop of triumph came from further down the road. Tilda rolled onto all fours and got shakily to her feet. “I’m fine. Thanks for asking.”
          The miner rounded on her with a frown. “You should look where you’re going.” He snatched up a bag which must’ve fallen to the floor with him.
          Anger heated Tilda’s cheeks. “And you should walk on the pavement, not run,” she snapped, glaring at him.
          “You’d run too, if you were me,” he snarled back, before jogging after the disappearing Yan.  
          “Tilda, are you alright? I saw what happened.” Duska hurried out of the shop.
          “Yes.” Tilda tried to brush the worst of the dust off. “He barged straight into me, and all for some hot water.”
          “Ah…” To Tilda’s surprise, Duska laughed. “You don’t want to get between a miner and his after shift bath. I’ve seen grown men fight over who’s next into the tub. They have races, you know, see who can get down and cleaned up the quickest.”
          “I’ll make sure I’m out of their way next time.” To Tilda’s horror, she felt her bottom lip tremble.
          Duska must’ve noticed; she put a hand on Tilda’s shoulder. “I think it might be best if we leave finding Feliks until tomorrow. Shall we go back? See if Sasha’s finished washing that floor yet?”
          Tilda nodded gratefully. “Yes, please.” She looked down the road; the miner who’d crashed into her was just turning a corner. “I hope your bath water’s cold when you get in it,” she told him, under her breath.


So there you go. That's my drafting process. I am finding too, that as I'm working on the first computer draft of this book, I get so far, then go back to do a section of polishing - but never so much that I haven't got a fair bit of the really naff, unformatted version to pick up from when I move the story forwards again. I suppose it's my built-in reminder of how I'm allowed to write 'badly' in the first pass...

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Like a Bat out of Hell...

Squidgeling J bought Squidgeling T and me tickets to see the musical Bat out of Hell as early birthday presents. Mr Squidge got himself a ticket, too - and we went to see it yesterday.

I was introduced to Meatloaf's Bat out of Hell album on a dodgy pirate tape that my dad brought back from a trip working abroad in the Oman. We used to write and ask him to bring back tapes of some of the best albums of the time - I have all sorts still in my tape drawer. And back then, in the late 80's, there wasn't such a big thing about piracy. In fact, I don't think I even thought about the legality of it. Dad was just pleased to be able to enjoy lots of his favourite music while he was working away from home for extended periods, and bring us home some of ours...

I digress.

Bat out of Hell. I loved the album - dramatic, sing-along, storytelling...it had a bit of everything, and I felt like a bit of a rebel for having it in my record (tape!) collection when I usually listened to the Eurythmics or Duran Duran or Soft Cell...

We drove down to Watford Junction in the afternoon, parked at the station, and got the train into London. We literally came out of Tottenham Court Road and there it was - The Dominion Theatre, with BOOH all over it.



We wandered down Oxford Street to get a bite to eat (BRGR Co - lovely food, and not too pricey considering we were in central London.) and then sauntered back through Soho Gardens to find the Phoenix Theatre so Squidgeling T could take a pic. (His 'house' for the theatre club he belongs to is Phoenix, so it had to be done)

Back to the Dominion. A quick photo opportunity..



..and we took our seats.

We sat somewhere up the top, out of shot, on the RHS

I'll try to give you a flavour of the show, but without too many spoilers!

The set is amazing - built to come right out into the theatre. This is obviously not a show that going to be moving on fast! There's a solidity to it, a play on perspective, that directs the eye into the centre of the stage. It makes the most of the space, too, with retracting walls and raised stages and a video screen for the live action footage being filmed during the performance. At times, you didn't know quite where to look, because the performers were acting there, but the video was showing THERE. There are some real 'oooh!' clever moments in set manipulation too, and we were trying to work out how they were done.

As you'd expect from a West End show, the performers were incredible. The energy that goes into it all... I didn't recognise all of the songs, because apparently some are taken from the follow-up album Bat out of Hell; Back into Hell, which I don't have. But the ones I did know...I sang, much to the amusement of Squidgeling T. (I did apologise to the lady on my other side in advance for any singing, but I simply couldn't not join in. Quietly, of course.)

I hadn't realised that the story of this musical - conceived so many years ago - is based around Barrie's Peter Pan, and when you know that, you can see references to it all the way through. Let's just say the 'Captain Hook' character was probably my favourite...

Can I just give a shout out too, to the crew who came out in the interval to clean the stage? There were folks with hoovers and a chap with a fishing net to get all the silver glitter off the stage and out of the pond, and kudos to the fake blood clearer-upper. That splatter got everywhere...

The cast and orchestra got a deserved standing ovation at the end, and once again Squidgeling T had a laugh at his mum because I was punching the air and singing along...

I was buzzing when we came out. Even the fact that we ended up on a slow train back to Watford, sitting opposite a young lady who was speaking very loudly and frankly to a friend in less than complimentary terms about her work colleagues (she was so rude, Mr Squidge got up and moved two carriages down so he didn't have to hear her) and we didn't get home until about 1.30am, couldn't take the shine off.

Best. Birthday. Present. EVER!! Thank you, Squidgeling J!

And don't take my word for it - go, see it yourself, even if it's not your birthday! You won't be disappointed.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

A Special Anniversary

Mr Squidge and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary earlier this week - our Silver Wedding.

I wrote about our wedding a little bit three years ago, when I was struck by the passage of time. Somehow, having reached twenty five years, it seems like a Very Significant Point has been reached. Still not a reason to splurge on pressies - though I did buy Mr Squidge some silver infinity cuff links. I have my ring - the one I made in my silversmithing classes - which I asked the curate at church to bless, and I'm now wearing that.



Instead, to mark the day, we decided we'd spend some time together. We visited Calke Abbey, our local National Trust house. It used to be called 'The house that time forgot', and has been kept pretty much as it was found when it was donated to the NT back in the 1980's, to represent the decline of many of the grand country houses. It's unusual in that everything in the property pretty much was there at the handing over - everything from a state bed, given as a wedding present in the 1700's and never used, to a room full of broken chairs and peeling wallpaper.

The grounds are lovely, too - the cow parsley was almost as tall as me, and the lawns were full of buttercups, pink clover, faded cowslips and others I couldn't identify.

Gorgeous wisteria in the kitchen garden

Shame - my sparkly silver shoes don't show up!

The path through the cow parsley

Later we went out for a lovely meal in the evening at the Thai Grand. I don't usually take photos of my food, but the vegetable rose on the mixed platter of starters deserved one!



The only sore point - literally - of the evening was that after rejecting a good half dozen outfits and finally deciding on a dress (as one does, sometimes), I couldn't wear the shoes I usually wear with the dress, because we were walking into town and they had four inch heels. Then I spotted my twenty five year old wedding shoes and tried them on. They'll do, I thought. Still fit, feel fine.

Except by the time we got to the restaurant, I had some very bad torn blisters on my heels. And the very bottom of the shoe heels had dropped off! We assumed the glue had gone brittle with time and somewhere along our route are two little bits of plastic...

But going back to the wedding, it was strange to look through the official photo album again. There are many in those photos who are no longer with us. There are children who have grown up. Heads which have turned a lot greyer - including my own. But equally there are a lot of family and friends still with us - and seeing the joy on their faces as they celebrated with us on our big day made me smile all over again. In fact, I remember my cheeks aching the day after, from smiling so much...



I had a look at the flowers in my bouquet, too - lots of orchids... I remember really wanting lily of the valley, but it was too late in the season.



We started to think about what we've achieved in the last twenty five years. Two kids are probably the biggest thing, though putting up Bob, our windmill, and being published come a close second - they're our other 'babies'! We've enjoyed holidays where we've been skiing, sunbathing, and sailing. (Not all at the same time, I hasten to add!) We've worked on our house and garden to turn them into a home. We've celebrated milestones for ourselves and others.

Wears you out, thinking about it all. I wonder what'll be in store over the next - God-willing - twenty five years?

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Sunny!

What is it about the sun in the UK that makes everything feel so much better?

We've had a glorious recent Bank Holiday - a bit different to two years ago, when Mr Squidge insisted on a Bank Holiday Barbeque and ended up cooking under a gazebo in the pouring rain, while the thunder rumbled overhead... This year, we barbied with friends in the field we part-own, in blazing sunshine.

I love to feel the heat of the sun on my skin - it gets a certain 'holiday smell', have you noticed that? - but I am more careful nowadays than I used to be. Lots of high factor suntan lotion, or sit in the shade...but that makes writing - especially typing on a laptop - difficult because you get so much glare.

Not this year... I've been sitting on a bean bag, typing away in the garden room, with the doors wide open. It's been blissful.

Taken on not such a sunny day, but you get the gist...?

There's a blackbird who's laid claim to our garden. He sits up in the neighbour's silver birch tree, singing his heart out. If you listen carefully, you can hear him singing '1,2,3 - Rapido!' (Anyone else remember the TV show? Or am I just showing my age?)

I've been able to watch the blue and great tits picking insects off the ivy, and have been lucky enough to see a pair of bullfinches - the male with his bright pink-red chest - and a thrush. The pigeons strut round the lawn like they own the place, and Timmy, our cat, crouches next to me and 'wa-ows' at them. Add the collared doves, which nest in the holly tree over the road from our house, who sit on the roof and coodle-coo for hours...

Most of the spring flowers are over and the summer ones not yet out, but the lilac tree, supposed to be a miniature but about 8 feet tall now, was full of flower and kept wafting its beautiful scent over me as I wrote, so heady and sweet. It's now going over, and my lawn is covered in purple petals.

Distancing myself from the house (and all the jobs I know are waiting there for me), being able to enjoy my garden while staying safe from the sun AND still being able to write - productively; I'm about 10K into a new novel - is wonderful. I consider myself very lucky.

Now all I need to do is find a CD player that works, and I can have music to write to, too. Although sometimes, Squidgeling T pops down, bags another bean bag and plays his guitar, so maybe I've already got what I need...

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Getting started on your first book

This week, I received an email from a lad called Josh. It said;

I am a 14-yr-old boy who wants to write his first book. How do I start my first book?


I replied with some advice, but thought that actually, this would make a good blog post. So for any other young folk out there who are thinking of writing a book and wondering where to start, here's my advice. 

(Remember though, it's only advice. What works for me might not work for you. Read the advice of other authors too, and be wary of applying advice as 'rules'.)


1. The best advice I can give is...start writing! A writer writes - simple as. So pick up that pen and start putting words on the page, and see where it takes you. Keep a notebook to jot ideas into; write short stories; write scenes, dialogue, descriptions; play with words. Use prompt sites to give you ideas if you're stuck. The more you write, the better your writing will become. 

One of my notebooks and a story that has yet to be finished...

2. Read. A lot. By reading you get to see how the best authors structure their stories, and equally, how those that aren't so good make mistakes. Don't just get to the end of the book and say 'that was great!' or 'That was awful!' Try and analyse what made it good or bad for you - and then try and use or avoid similar things in your own writing.

3. Be aware of how you approach your writing. Are you a planner? Do you need to know exactly what the story's about before you begin to write it? Or are you a pantser? You get a whiff of an idea and you're off, seeing where it takes you? Are you a mix of the two (I certainly am!) Do you like to write every day, or only when the muse strikes? What works for you won't necessarily be the same for someone else...and it might take you some time to figure out how you work best.  

4. Don't worry if your story isn't perfect to start with. Tell yourself it's the s****y first draft, it's you working it out for yourself. The 'proper' story comes later, when you're writing it for your reader. And don't be surprised if you end up editing it again and again and again...

Tea...my fuel of choice when editing

5. Make sure the writing is as good as you can make it, especially if you reach the point of wanting to submit it anywhere. Check spellings, grammar, punctuation, and presentation etc. Ask for help if you need it - and be prepared to accept it.

6. Don't give up. If you really want to be a writer, then you have to be prepared for some serious knocks - and each time you get knocked, you have to get up again and keep on trying. If you believe there's a story in you which you have to tell, make sure you tell it. Persistence pays off, as long as you are learning and improving.



There's probably a lot more I could add, but I think that will do for starters. Picking up that pen is the first step in capturing the story ideas that are in your head. Once you've done that, well...who knows where you'll end up?