Friday, 28 February 2014

Planning an author visit.

I'm booked for my very first author visit on World Book Day - 6th March - at the school where my own children spent their primary years and where I worked until last summer.

The good thing is, I qualified as a trainer in the Guide Association some years back, so planning sessions isn't too difficult for me. I've also worked with children in a voluntary capacity and some paid work since I was 18, so kids don't phase me either. Armed with all that experience, I started with some grand ideas...

There'd be a reading from Granny Rainbow. I'd tell the kids about some of the books I enjoyed reading as a child and why, talk about how I didn't learn much grammar and punctuation at school and am still learning now, how writing needs lots of practice and time...the list went on.

Then I found out I'm doing five storytelling sessions of 30 minutes each, with Y3 and 4 children (aged 7-9 years). 


The less grand idea, suitable for 30 minutes instead of 3 hours, and repeatable up to a point, is as follows... 

Remember the 'challenge me' posts? Sarah's story - Arnie's Aerial Adventure? (Read it here) Well, just as I did in the challenge, I've decided to take a story bag with me; the children can pick three objects from the bag and we'll spend some time making up our own story with them. Not sure at the moment whether to do that as a class exercise or in small groups, but either way, I've run round the house today collecting things to use. Among other things, there's already a stuffed dragon, a button, a monkey, a toy truck, a feather...

I'll take Arnie's Aerial Adventure with me to read, to give the kids the idea of how it works. And of course, I'm hoping there'll be time to read from Granny Rainbow too.

But one lesson already learned before my first official appearance as an author is 'Don't start planning till you know what the school has in mind, or it could all go bottoms up.'

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Planning a book launch

It's not easy planning a launch. I looked it up on the web, trying to find out what other folk had done so I could scrounge some ideas.

Most of what I found was good advice:
1. Plan it well - a bit like a wedding reception but without the angst over the seating plan. Having said that, consider whether you want it to be an invite only or drop-in event; both have their advantages and disadvantages.
2. Find a venue - the local bookshop? A swish bar in the centre of town? Or somewhere more appropriate to the theme of your book? (Fellow cloudies SP Moss and Vanessa Wester launched their respective novels at an aeroplane museum and on Gibraltar!)
3. Include refreshments - something a bit special that fits your book's theme or simple bowls of nibbley bits: it'll all get eaten or drunk.
4. Staff your launch - ensure you have enough willing helpers so it's not just yourself trying to juggle selling books and topping up the crisps with signing copies of the book and posing for selfies to prove it's all really happening.
5. Have books to sell at the launch - sounds obvious, but I have read some horror stories where books were late arriving or didn't turn up...
6. Make sure the press have the details well in advance.

I found lots of other useful tips - like having post-it notes for guests to write names on for dedications (no embarrassing mistakes), a good pen (or two) and having something free to give to your guests, like a bookmark, for example.

I've taken it all on board, and have come up with The Plan.

So far, I've booked the rather super upstairs room in Delice Deli, a lovely French inspired deli-cum-restaurant in town, who support many local companies, for my venue. (See, there's that local thing popping up again!) I've also designed the invites, prepared the press release, made a list of props, come up with a couple of activities for the kids to keep them occupied, bought material to make bunting and decided on the food. I've also devised a rather cunning way to decide which Granny Rainbow story to read...

I'm not going to tell you any details at the moment - I want it to be a surprise for the folk who come! But it won't be too hard to guess the general theme...and there WILL be a blog post afterwards to let you know what I did and how it turned out.

Oh - and the date? Saturday, 15th March. Can't wait.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Another freebie!

If you fancy something a little ghostly and ghastly to sink your teeth into at the moment, you're in for a treat.

Have a look at Out of Darkness, an anthology of short stories put together by the Short Stories Group, because the ebook is FREE until the 28th February; download it from here

(My own contribution to the book is Red Shoes)


Monday, 24 February 2014

Having fun!

Having huge fun today, drafting a short story for submission to a twisted tales anthology. I'm working on a version of Sleeping Beauty - set in space!

I've been playing with this for a while, making notes on various aspects of the storyline to pull in enough of the original that folk will recognise it as Sleeping Beauty, but when the twist comes it'll be a real 'wow' moment.

Well, that's what I'm hoping for! The proof will be if the editors decide to accept it or not.

It's keeping my mind off Granny Rainbow, anyway...

Saturday, 22 February 2014

I was wrong...

Back home at last and catching up with post, emails and washing. Thought I ought to let you know...

I was wrong.

Skiing is great!

It wasn't when it was bucketing fresh snow and I couldn't see out of my goggles. It wasn't when Mr Squidge and the kids took me to the Austrian side of the resort to share the gentler slopes they'd found with me; most of which turned out so steep (for me) that I ended up walking down the worst of them or screaming my snowploughing way down the narrow ones where there was no room to turn. And it definitely wasn't when my legs started to feel phantom skiing movements when I went to bed...

But it was wonderful when the sun shone on the snow and set it all aglitter. It was wonderful when you were so high in the mountains, the air got fresher and crisper. It was wonderful when we finally reached the Stallenalm hut and sampled Grostl for the first time. And it was wonderful too, when I sat alone on a halted skilift chair in the silence and the whiteness, watching coloured specks curve their way down the broad slopes.

I'll even admit to a little frisson of pleasure when, late in the week, I managed to get up enough speed on the runs down so that the wind whistled under my helmet...

I always said I'd go skiing at least once, to satisfy Mr Squidge's intention to take us as a family.

Somehow, having done it, I don't think once will be enough...

Squidge and the Stallenalm Grostl

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Skiing - so far!

Guten abend alles!

Just a quickie from the Scribbles today - coming to you from deepest, darkest Bavaria, where I’m on half-term holiday with the family. Skiing is going reasonably well; now we’re here and doing it for real, the kids go hurtling down everything in sight with no fear at all, hubby follows a little more cautiously, and me…

Well, I had to resort to a lesson today, as after one day feeling okay, followed by heavy snow and two days of snowploughing down a 1.2km blue run (working on the theory that if I keep a straight line, everyone else coming up from behind can see what I’m doing and won’t run into me) made me realise that I couldn’t carry on without working out a) how to turn and b) how to stop. Daft thing is, I’d done it all in the SnowDome at home…

But somehow, the other skiers flashing past at high speed and lines of kids playing follow-my-leader behind their instructors sent me into such a panic, everything I’d learned went out of the window.

Hence two hours 1-2-1 with an English-speaking instructor to get me back on track. Viet (pronounced ‘fight’) my instructor, was really good - helped me to stop and turn. (Thank goodness). He also had the bluest eyes I have ever, ever seen – the colour of glacial ice in the sun…But I digress. He only had to pick me up twice and I got to the stage of about 80% parallel skiing after a couple of hours: a huge improvement.

At least I got down in one piece each time…unlike the poor devil who needed airlifting off the slopes, mid-afternoon.

Anyway, tomorrow, there’s more snow forecast, so we’re having a day off; going to Chiemsee instead to see a palace on an island lake.

See you soon, Scribblers!

Friday, 14 February 2014

Spreading some lurve...Giveaway time!

Valentine's Day!

So - to spread the love, I'm going to do a giveaway! First one ever on the Scribbles, so not quite sure how it's going to work...

Leave me a comment by the end of the 14th, and I use a random number generator to pick out the nth commenter, who will receive a copy of Love is in the Air (or A Test of Time if you've already got the other!).

It will be a week or so 'til I can sort it out, as I'm off on hols today; the Scribbles may be few and far between for a few days...but I'll post in these comments tomorrow to say who's won so the winner can mail me with your address.

Good luck!

Thursday, 13 February 2014

The proof!

Look! Granny Rainbow - in the flesh! A proof copy!

A couple of tweaks to be made to the cover to get it absolutely spot on, but I'm so chuffed! I'm grinning like a Cheshire cat.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

An uphill struggle

In the last 24 hours, I have been on an emotional roller coaster.

Remember yesterday, when I said I'd finished formatting Granny Rainbow? Hmm. I was so far off the mark, you wouldn't believe...

A friend offered to cast an eye over the text before I pdf-ed it. 'Fine', says I. 'I think I've got 99% of stuff, but I'd appreciate someone else looking at it. Thanks!'

When I received the list of mistakes, there were rather more alterations still to be made than I'd thought.

Most of them stemmed from my general ignorance, like the fact that I didn't know the difference between a hyphen and an em-dash, (or was it en-dash?) and where to use them. I do now. Or the fact that my computer was doing start-curly-apostrophes rather than end-curly-apostrophes when I dropped some 'aitches' in a character's dialogue; every single one had to be hunted down and changed. OR the fact that at one point, the computer had decided to use straight speechmarks rather than curly ones, for no apparent reason other than it could. (All I know is, I kept hitting the single apostrophe button for single speechmarks...there is no curly/straight option on the keyboard as far as I'm aware.)

It wasn't easy to make said changes, because although I'd received notes from said friend, (to whom I owe a very large drink when I see them at York) pinpointing exactly where I had to make the changes, the page numbers had all gone squiffy on her machine, so I had to make an informed guess as to where the changes should be made on my copy! Even when she made some of the changes for me, the spacing went doo-lally and I had to go through her notes with my original master copy.

Finally, Mr Squidge and I tried to save the final cover as a pdf...and discovered that none of our computer equipment has the facility to do this. Which meant chasing my long-suffering cover designer to send through an emergency pdf file.

As if all that wasn't enough, Bob, our windmill, stopped working, so Mr Squidge had to go to site with his netbook (the only bit of computer equipment that will convert my text file to pdf) before I'd made the absolute, final, definitely-the-last tweaks.

So I can't do the conversion of .doc to .pdf and send the stuff to the printers 'til he gets back. Aaargh!!

I have lots of grey hair already; the past 24 hours have added at least a few hundred more.

On the plus side, I'll know what to watch for in future when I'm editing. And how bloomin' difficult it is to get something print-ready. And to definitely avoid trying try to get stuff to the printer in a panic before leaving the country for a week.

I'm not sure now whether there'll be a proof copy before I go away...but I do know I need the holiday to get over preparing Granny for print!

Monday, 10 February 2014

'Tis done...

I have literally just finished formatting Granny Rainbow.

The pictures look fantastic, the cover is everything I hoped it would be, and the stories...well, you'll have to be the judge of those. But everything will be ready to go to the printer tomorrow...

I'm scared to let it go, in case there is something I've missed. I can't blame mistakes on anyone other than myself; I wanted creative control. There's only me to take the rap if this book doesn't come up to scratch.

This is really it, isn't it?

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Water, water - everywhere...

I'm sitting in my lounge, listening to the wind howl. At least the rain has stopped - for a while at least.

I can't put into words how devastated I feel for the people and communities affected by the unprecedented flooding in the Somerset Levels and the tidal onslaught on the south-west coast. If there was anything I could practically do to relieve the suffering of those affected, I would.

All I can do is pray for relief - from the wind, from the waves, and from the relentless creeping water.

Well - prayers have been known to move mountains; about time we started to work on the jet stream, don't you think?

Friday, 7 February 2014

Stories for Homes - the movie(s)!

Just after I posted yesterday, I discovered that video clips have been posted of the Stories for Homes 
Ivy House gig!

You can find all of them here - just scroll through to find the performer of your choice - as they're all in bite-size chunks of 5-10 mins. Humungous thanks to Dan Maitland who organised it, and to his trusty video-bods for making us all look so fabulous!

Here's me, reading an extract from Homeland, with a couple of bits missing around the two-and-a-half-and four-and-a-half minute marks... (Buy the book to get the whole story!)

It's a bit funny watching yourself on a video; for a start, I don't sound like me! And to think I was concerned about the double chin on the photos - seeing myself on video, I've decided I really must keep my eyebrows under control when reading in future!

Thursday, 6 February 2014

More Ivy House pictures...

When I blogged about the Ivy House gig in aid of Stories for Homes, my pics were OK. Enough to give you a flavour of the night, anyway.

But now, we've got some professional ones! Take a look at these beauties by Richard Denney!

(Have to say, I'm really pleased to see that the photos Richard took of me have avoided any hint of a double chin...)

And if you were wondering why I'm still promoting this whole only had to be watching the BBC documentary 'Tough Young Teachers' which aired earlier this week. Although primarily about the experiences of six newly qualified teachers in their first ever teaching posts, (talk about being thrown in the deep end!) there are several students who come under scrutiny too. One student, having moved to the UK from Brazil, was dropping grades just prior to his GCSE exam; the new teacher told him (and many of his classmates) he needed to pull his socks up.

Then the programme visited the lad at home.

Home was a single room in a hostel, shared with his brother and mother. In a room the size of my lounge were crammed three beds, a wardrobe, a small sink and a 2-ring cooker. The toilet was down the corridor.

The presenter asked the boy 'Where do you do your work?'

He gave a half-smile and gestured to the corner of the room. 'My bed.' There was black mould growing on the walls beside his pillow.

And the teacher wondered why his grades were dropping...

That is why Stories for Homes - and the continuing promotion of it - is so important. It's got to be about more than having a story published.

It's about changing the future for folks who don't have a decent home.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Granny Rainbow - getting closer?

A short while back, I wrote that Granny Rainbow was going to be slightly delayed after a decision to tweak some of the illustrations.

Instead of a publication date in January, as I'd originally hoped, it was looking likely to be nearer March before I had real, paper copies in my sweaty mitts. Especially when the printer contacted me to say he needs all the material by the 17th Feb in order to deliver by the 5th March - the day before World Book Day. Well, I need to whisper this so as not to jinx things, but...

*I think we might be on track for the 5th March!* 

The last two redrawn pics are due this weekend, which should give me enough time to add them to the text and let the printer have everything he needs to start formatting.

I can't put into words how this makes me feel. Am I excited? Scared? Difficult to tell. On one hand, it's the culmination of a dream - to have produced a real book with my name on the cover and filled it with my stories. On the other hand, it means it's getting closer to the time I find out whether a) my writing is professional enough to be accepted by the market, b) actually going to be read by the folk I intended it to be read by and c) whether I've made a huge mistake in placing a large order.

I'm not going to fix a launch date until I'm absolutely certain I can meet it - but when I do, you'll be the first to know... 

Monday, 3 February 2014

I'm stuck

I didn't get much writing done last week. Between the London trip for Stories for Homes, a migraine, some paid editing and waiting for some important feedback, my mind wasn't in a good place for thinking up new stuff. This week, I'm in a better place; I can write!

Mondays are normally good writing days, because Mr Squidge is out all day and the kids have clubs after school. If I'm lucky, I can write for hours! But today, I knew I had to catch up with the housework before I could allow myself that indulgence. I finally sat down, in a very much cleaner house, at 1pm, with the aim of getting stuck in for a couple of hours before the kids come home.

By 2pm, I'd had to stop. I got stuck, rather than stuck in.

Reason being, with my current WIP, I'm trying a different approach to get the story down. It involves keeping on writing till I get to the end, no looking back, no editing - forward only. A rough outline of where I was going was all I needed, and it seemed to be paying off.

Then Ani (the main character) got bolshy and changed the storyline. Which had a knock-on effect on several other characters and the blinkin' plot. So I've had no choice but to go back and tweak bits I know now don't fit...otherwise, I'll get to the end and it'll be like spaghetti, all knotty and twisty turny.

I simply can't hold in my head all the possibilities that are arising out of where the story is at the moment! There are no chapters either, which is proving to be a distinct disadvantage at the moment. I'm not really a planner - more of a pantser - but in this case, I'm going to have to make an exception to get me back on track.

My writing time this week will therefore be spent on chapter plans and plotting, rather than writing the new scenes which are trying to break out of my head.

I am somewhat dischuffed at the prospect, but at least, once it's done, I can get writing 'properly' again...fingers crossed.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Thinking about why I write how I write...

If you've followed the Scribbles for a while, you'll know I've had a few problems with getting my writing accepted by agents. 'Nice' is a word that crops up a lot, as well as the phrase 'lacks sparkle'.

In a conversation with an agent recently, who said both of those things (along with some other very lovely feedback and suggestions for possible improvements for Rurik), I was given a challenge to try to find 'sparkle' ingredients.

Said agent asked me to re-read some of my favourite children's stories and try to identify why I liked them so much. Was it the characters? The action? The dialogue? Then, look at what I considered to be the exciting bits in Rurik and decide whether I could see the same things there - and if not, how would I change what was already written?

I find this SO hard to do! I don't know why I enjoy certain books rather than others! I just know that I like it or I don't - if I get sucked in, it's generally because of a mixture of things.

I do know that what I don't like reading - and therefore avoid writing - include some of the following;

1. Long descriptions of people or places (I want to see action!)
2. Characters with stilted dialogue (Oh, Mrs Smith, do you remember that he pursued me to the woods? Oh yes, he chased you for half a mile over Farmer Fairley's fields and you were quite muddy when you got home, were you not?)
3, Convenient storylines (and then the butler appeared with the same knife in his hand so he was the murderer)
4. Ping-pong dialogue (Are you OK? Yes I'm OK. Are you sure? Yes, of course I'm sure - will you stop fussing? I'm not fussing, I'm concerned)
5. Detailed descriptions of action scenes (Jim's right fist thrust upwards as his left leg kicked out towards the bloated stomach of his attacker. The impact jarred Jim to the core but he followed through with a side chop to the larynx...)
6. Cliffhanger endings (The mystery was solved. 'But you are not my son,' Father said. My whole world had just fallen apart. The End.)

Working on the flip side then, that must mean that generally, I like...
1. Lots of subtle little details about people and places that bring them alive.
2. Dialogue that's realistic.
3. A plot that carries me onwards all the time and then makes me go 'oh! I didn't see that coming, but it's so obvious now!'
4. Action that isn't necessarily a fight scene.
5. A complete story - something that ties up enough loose ends to come to a logical conclusion but also leaves enough strands to weave into a new story at a later date.

I thought - hoped - I included these things in my own writing, but feedback continually shows I'm falling short somewhere.

I wonder how much of the problem comes from the fact that as a child, I read 'nice' books? They were gentle stories which took you on fantasy adventures, unlike the rollercoaster rides of action which seem to be pretty popular today. Off the top of my head, I'm remembering the Magic Faraway Tree, Olga da Polga, King of the Copper Mountain...I can certainly see that 'gentler' element in my own creations. Don't get me wrong - I'm not averse to a bit of Alex Rider, or Skulduggery Pleasant, or Artemis Fowl, but I do get exhausted reading them because of their relentless pace! As a result, I don't write that kind of story - my pacing ebbs and flows.

I suppose the question is, are there enough children today who still appreciate a 'gentle' read? Or will I need to change what appears to be my natural (gentler) writing style to fit the (faster paced) market to stand any chance of reasonable success?