Tuesday, 27 January 2015


When I walk into a bookshop to browse, the first thing that catches my eye is probably the cover. Something about the artwork draws me in, makes me want to pick up the book and take a closer look.

The next thing I do is check the blurb.

Blurb is crucial. Those words on the back cover? They give me, the potential reader, a taste of what is sandwiched inside that rather attractive cover - and if it's interesting and appealing enough, I might check out the first couple of pages and who knows? I might even buy the book...

StarMark's going to need a blurb.

There's loads of advice on writing blurbs. The main advice seems to be 'keep it short, make it interesting, and pack a punch.' Others suggest including a hint of the plot, the main characters, words that evoke the genre, an idea of setting, a question to suggest mystery, a strong theme if the book contains one, and even something about the author or what other people think of the book...

Trying to include all of that sounds harder than writing the flippin' book! How do you condense the essence of your story into around 150 words? Where do you even start?

So I took a look at the blurbs from some books I have on my shelf.

I'm not sure that in Dickens' day, there would have been a blurb on the book cover - I imagine all books at that time to be leather bound and gilt-edged, without the need for anything other than a title. However, a Puffin Classic copy of A Christmas Carol says this:

Go on a ghostly journey with Ebeneezer Scrooge... Scrooge is a mean old man with no friends or family to love him - he's just so miserable and bitter! One freezing cold Christmas Eve, Marley's Ghost pays Scrooge a visit and an eerie night-time journey begins. The Christmas spirits are here to show Scrooge the error of his nasty ways. By visiting his past, present and future, will Scrooge learn to love Christmas and the others around him?

OK, so we have character (Scrooge) who's not very nice, we know it's a ghost story which happens at Christmas, and Scrooge has a lesson to learn from the encounters. Sets the scene and leaves the reader with a question...Nice. (Although I probably would have changed the first sentence to read less...teenagery.)

Sir Terry Pratchett is my favourite author, so I don't always read his blurbs - I'd buy the books, regardless. But here's what's on the back of my copy of The Colour of Magic:

On a world supported on the back of a giant turtle (sex unknown), a gleeful, explosive, wickedly eccentric expedition sets out. There's an avaricious but inept wizard, a naive tourist whose luggage moves on hundreds of dear little legs, dragons who only exist if you believe in them, and of course THE EDGE of the planet...

Hmmm. Setting, characters, a hint of fun - and literally leaves you hanging on THE EDGE. There's a pattern emerging.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone:

Harry Potter thinks he is an ordinary boy - until he is rescued by a beetle-eyed giant of a man, enrols at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, learns to play Quidditch and does battle in a deadly duel. The Reason: HARRY POTTER IS A WIZARD!

Now that one's actually very clever. See the word 'thinks'? And 'rescued'? Completely undermines the use of the word 'ordinary'. Regarding character, only Harry is mentioned, though it hints at Hagrid. There's no mention of Dumbledore or Ron or Hermione, who are pretty major players - nor even He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named...

And my own Granny Rainbow:

Granny Rainbow has a knack for solving problems. Whether it's getting rid of the Black Shadow, improving a violinist's performance, helping to mend a quarrel or putting the secret ingredient into perfect marmalade, she has a potion or a powder for the job. Step into a world of colour with these illustrated short stories about a very special lady.

You know who the main character is, what she does, and that there are pictures. I reckon that's not bad, even if I do say so myself.

I only took a small sample of blurbs, but it was enough to get me started on a blurb for StarMark. I had something left over from the agented days, when the book first went out to UK publishers, but it felt very explain-y, and too long for a back cover. So I tried to write something a bit more question-y, to hook the reader in. I'm not sure that it hits the spot exactly - and the team at Bedazzled Ink will do a much better job of writing the finished copy - but it's a start:

Imagine your future, written on your skin.
The StarMark; black on the skin at birth, which changes to gold when it's your turn to be in charge.
But what happens when you don't know it's there - and someone else discovers it before you do? Especially when that someone will do anything in their power to stop you from fulfilling your destiny?
Irvana is about to find out...

So be honest - would that blurb make you want to read StarMark? And if not, what else would you want to know?

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Highs...and lows

Things are a bit weird at the moment.

On the one hand, I'm on an incredible high; I've had the very exciting news about StarMark, am prepping More Granny Rainbow for publication, and I've got four author events lined up over the next month or so. (Harry Potter Book Night on the 5th Feb at The Reading Shop, celebrating National Library Day on the 7th Feb, and two school visits, if you were interested.)

Writing-wise, I'm not feeling the same. I've got an idea bubbling away for a short story for the second Random Writers anthology, but otherwise things are a bit stuck. I've got Rurik, who is written but I'm not sure what to do with him - edit, like I did StarMark, or self-pub as is?

And then I've got a half-written novel which has stalled, big-time.

'Ani's story' (working title!) has a broad theme. It has characters who are beginning to make themselves known to me, and it has an animal POV popping up ocassionally. I know what's going to happen to my MC and how to resolve her issues. BUT - and it's a big but - I cannot make the storyline believable. I can't pull everything I want to include together enough to make a credible story. I've got about 18,000 words down so far of a s****y first draft, but when I sit down to flesh it out, I get tied up in knots and stop writing. Pantsing just isn't working this time...

So today, I concentrated on firming up the plot. I spent hours on it, the result of which is a good dozen pages of A4 filled with what-ifs and questions, that have not supplied a single satisfactory solution in any of them. I tried writing out the characters a la Ally Spencer and still can't discover certain characters' motivations for their actions. I've even tried to run the ideas past the kids..."Sorry Mum, got homework to do."

And that's when you realise this writing lark's a pain in the proverbial. On the one hand, it promises the highs of publication, of creating something other-wordly and unique, of talking to your readers, (I won't say fans, but if they like your writing enough...). And just when you're riding the crest, it slams you with a wall that you have to break through in order to create that which might be published or enjoyed by readers.

Today, it's felt like an impossible task. Some would say keep going - get the words down and you can polish them later. Others would tell me to keep mulling - let the ideas percolate and something will come... Today, neither are working, and the writing demon at my shoulder is telling me I need to get it right before I go any further.

Tomorrow, things might feel different. I flippin' well hope so.

The roller coaster of writing...

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

The typos that slipped through the net...

I’ve just read StarMark through for the first time since I sent it to Bedazzled Ink last November. Weird, reading your own book. 

You think you know the story after so many years of working on it, but there were sections I hadn’t remembered writing – particularly where I’d rewritten with the express intention of getting the character’s voice across more strongly. Perhaps it was just that they were the 'new' bits, and hadn't had long enough to settle in my brain?  

Anyway, you know that before you send anything off to an agent or a publisher, you check and check - and check again - to make sure there are no typos or obvious mistakes. I thought I’d done a good job of StarMark before I sent it off to Bedazzled Ink: was I wrong! 

I am mortified! I’ve found some bits that don’t quite work…several instances of repeated words on the same page…formatting errors (though that could be to do with the fact that I change the look of the printed page to a book on the laptop when reading through, which sometimes beetles the formatting…) I've even changed a character's name between the start and the end of the book - rookie error! Although to be more accurate, it's how I've spelt his name rather than changing him from Fred to Frank, so perhaps that's not quite so bad. At least he's consistently Simean at the start and Simeon at the end...

I have it on good authority that Bedazzled Ink have some very special polish they use when editing manuscripts – I think I’ve just found quite a few places that will need shining up...

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Fan mail!

It was a big day for me last Thursday, announcing the news about StarMark. But what really put the proverbial cherry on the cake wasn't the real one in my celebratory Babycham the same evening - it was an email.

Remember I wrote a while back, about Granny Rainbow being used in the classroom? Well, the email came from one of the children at St Michael's C of E Primary School in Pelsall. (Her Mum and I are old friends from uni - I'm not sure that anyone would have mailed me otherwise. Although if any readers of Granny Rainbow do want to mail me, they can do so using microscribbler@gmail.com)

Anyway, here's what it said:

Hi Katherine,
At school we are writing our own made up chapter of granny rainbow with granny, tom, marmaduke and mrs fluffy and our own made up character based on our own colour all because of your granny rainbow!!!
every one is enjoying it!
From S xxx


I'm looking forward very much to reading some of these chapters. Who knows, perhaps the class can produce their own classroom version of a Granny Rainbow book? D'you reckon they'd send me a copy, signed by all the authors? Wouldn't that be something?

You know, THIS is why I write; to enthuse children and help them experience the magic of the written word, whether by reading it, hearing it, or writing it. In the case of St. Michael's, there are some very talented teachers who've been essential to adapting my book for use in the classroom: I take my hat off to you.

It's so affirming to hear from the readers. There may be a future author among these children, someone who will look back and say 'I decided to become a writer when I read Granny Rainbow...'

I am one very happy Squidge.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Got something to tell you...

I think you might have picked up that I was thinking of self-publishing StarMark? (For those who don't know, it's a children's novel I wrote some years ago. It landed me an agent for a while and was sent to a few UK publishers but was not deemed either commercial or strong enough to be picked up.)

Well, I need to tell you that I will NOT be self-publishing StarMark.

Because... Dragonfeather Books, an imprint of Bedazzled Ink (a US publisher), have offered me a publishing contract for it!

It's official! My first full length novel for children - StarMark - will be published later this year! 

*pause for squeals of delight, general merriment and champagne*

*happy dancing*

To say that I am excited is an understatement.

I don't think I actually believed that anyone 'official' would ever want to publish me, based on my past record. I thought my only way of being an author was to self-publish, because my novels are apparently 'too nice' and 'not competitive enough for the current market'. Numerous rejections had made me scared to go down the traditional route any more - I hated how that process made me feel.

It was Granny Rainbow who changed everything.

She must've slipped a potion or two into my tea, because not only has she given me the confidence to self-pub a collection of short stories about her, she's also boosted my confidence in the material I write because kids loved her! (And their parents. And grandparents. And teachers.) I didn't need to worry what the 'big boys' thought any more - Granny Rainbow sold - is still selling. (So much so, I'm planning to publish the second collection in the first half of this year.) She made me realise that I could succeed, in a small way, at this writing lark.

If I'm honest, I think I only took the plunge and sent StarMark to Bedazzled Ink because I'd already begun to lay the groundwork to self-publish the novel. I had nothing to lose if it wasn't picked up - and at least I could say I'd tried. However, much to my delight and surprise, BInk said 'yes, please!'

And you know what's amazing about all of it? I came scarily close to leaving StarMark in the drawer I'd put it into after it was turned down.

Something about it kept niggling at me though. I believed in this story - and not just because I'd written it, or because I thought it was the best thing since sliced bread, or because I can't tell when to let something go. I'm not that blinkered about what I write. StarMark is a good story, and I believe young readers will enjoy it. That's why I took it out of the drawer, dusted it down, polished it up and sent it off.

So I'd love it if you, dear Scribbles Reader, would join me in a virtual toast to Bedazzled Ink, Dragonfeather Books, and to the start of what I hope will be wonderful future for StarMark.


Tuesday, 13 January 2015

On writing 'nasty' instead of 'nice'

I have been told that my writing in the past has been 'too nice'. By that, I don't mean that nothing bad ever happens - far from it. There are deaths and sadnesses and problems to overcome...but the overall sense is that I write 'nicely'. Which actually meant, I came to realise, that I don't write emotion very well. I've blogged about this problem before (Pesky psychic distanceLighting up my characters;) - about trying to get into the head of my characters so that the reader actually feels what the character is feeling. Which all helps to make the end result feel...not so nice.

So I experimented, writing a couple of very dark (for me) pieces, where I deliberately set out to view the story from the character's head, rather than my storyteller one.

One of the characters I created while I was experimenting, Lord Baraat, is violent and ruthless. In my head, he looks a bit like this....

And I say 'he is violent and ruthless', because he's now appeared in two short stories and a piece of flash. (You can read about him in Thread (published in A Seeming Glass) and Blood on His Hands. on the Random Writers website) 

Several readers have commented about Baraat - here are just two examples of what's been said:

"Highly imaginative and with a deep understanding of the worst of human nature."

"I am starting to worry that you enjoy inhabiting his head a bit too much..."

Others have pointed out that in real life, I am nothing like Baraat - I'm pretty normal! I am not cruel or sadistic, I hate violence, and I don't like reading horror. So where the heck does he and his violent life spring from? Because - guilty secret - I really enjoy writing as him.

Is it that because I'm nothing like him, I can allow myself the freedom - in words only - to 'be' nasty? Is it a bit of a throwback to my am-dram days, when I could throw on a persona with a wig, a costume and dialogue for a two-hour performance, except this time it's a written performance? Or is it, and I think this might be key, I have immersed myself so completely in my character and become so familiar with his world, that I become him while I'm writing, so he's easy to write?

To be honest, I'm not sure, but whichever it is, it seems to be working. Baraat creates strong feelings in readers. He's definitely not a character fit for a children's book, but he has helped me to go inside the heads of characters I've written in stories aimed at children, improving them no end.

It takes time to get to know your characters; it doesn't just happen overnight. But like any real relationship, the more time you spend with them, the more you find out about them.

Now that I know Baraat so well, I may write more about him and the world he inhabits. Perhaps one day, there'll be a collection of Baraat's stories, just like Granny Rainbow's? They'll be just as colourful, but nowhere near as nice...and DEFINITELY only for grown-ups.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Cuban Nights

Mr Squidge is member of the local Round Table. Just over a year ago, their Chairman died unexpectedly. Since then, the guys have continued their fundraising, helping to fund an outdoor playground at a local school for disabled children, Jon's choice of 'Chairman's Charity' during his time in office.

The guys also decided to hold a Challenge Evening in Jon's memory.

Now, Jon was not a tall man, and was partial therefore to wearing Cuban heels. So the challenge was for the Round Table lads to wear the best Cuban heels they could find on a night out in the city.

Mr Squidge threw himself into the challenge with gusto. The shoes he ordered were plain black, but he decided to...embellish them. Have you seen the TV programme 'Pimp My Ride'? This was more a case of 'Pimp My Shoe'.

There was mention of zebra stripes. Polka dots. Freesian cow... (Personally, I'd have bought a few paint pens and doodled all over them - rainbows, of course *winks*)

Anyway, he decided to go for stripes. Chevrons, to be precise. It took AGES to mask 'em up, especially as the shoes were panelled and Mr Squidge only wanted certain panels stripy...

So the white bits ended up black
and the black bits ended up white...
The spray painting went reasonably well - a couple of bleeds where the tape wasn't stuck fast, but nothing a good permanent pen couldn't cover and sharpen up.

Then it was time for the illuminations. Yes, you did just read 'illuminations'. In recent weeks, T, my son, has been building a model of Star Trek Voyager. He wanted to light up the warp drive engines, so Mr Squidge had already researched teensy battery-operated LED lights; he ordered what he needed for the shoes this time, (good old Maplins) and set to work.

The battery compartments were bored into the heels. The LEDs and switches were glued to the soles, under the arches. The wires were soldered onto all the terminals. Cork bungs were devised to keep the battery in place, covered over with good ol' gaffer tape and...


Mr Squidge's Customised Cubans!

When, on the Friday night, I dropped Mr Squidge off at the pub, those lights were very blue and very bright. By all accounts, a good night was had by all, and if Mr Squidge's toes hurt by the end of the night, he wasn't saying so.

You put your right...er...left?...leg in...

I reckon Jon is laughing his socks off in the big beyond - and probably still wearing his Cubans.

(With thanks to Mark A for letting me use his photos from the evening)

Thursday, 8 January 2015

A Granny Rainbow Day

Yesterday, I had a Granny Rainbow day.

No, I didn't make marmalade. No, I didn't drink gallons of tea - hot Ribena's my drink of choice at the moment. And no, I didn't spend the day mixing magical potions from powders, though it would've been really brilliant if I had!

Instead, I spent the whole day working on 'More Granny Rainbow', the second collection of short stories about Granny and Old Tom and several new characters that I know you will LOVE to meet. And yes, that IS the title: More Granny Rainbow. I didn't fancy Granny Rainbow 2, though that's how I've been referring to it!

It meant writing a few emails: to the wonderful Imran Siddiq, who is creating the cover for me again. It will be similar to the original (can't have Granny Rainbow without her rainbow stripes) but there'll be some subtle changes so you can tell it's a different book. To Panda Eyes, the publisher, so I knew what the ISBN number would be. And to Laura (my fabulous illustrator) so that she could begin creating a coloured version of the Mayoress (a new character in the competition winning story idea, Granny Rainbow and the Blue Bees) which will be part of the prize.

Then...I made the last few changes to the text. It's not formatted ready for printing yet, as I've yet to add the pictures and get some-one to proof-read it, but I'm happy with the stories. Folks who've had a sneaky peek at the early stages have made suggestions for improvements which have (mostly) been incorporated, so I reckon they'll stand up to scrutiny.

So. Just a few loose ends to tie up, a phone call to the printer, and we'll be away on more adventures with Granny Rainbow!

Will you be coming along for the ride? I hope so!

Monday, 5 January 2015

2015 - the Year of the House Project with a Bit of Writing Stuff on the Side..

I spent some time today trying to order my thoughts as to which projects to work on this year. And I don't just mean writing...

Mr Squidge and I decided to have a multi-fuel stove installed into our yellow room. (So called because our dining room faces north and is always cold - I painted it bright yellow to warm it up.) As a result, we will have a shallower hearth than we currently have with the 50's tiled fireplace, so we'll need new flooring. And the walls will need repainting. And the curtains will have to be replaced. And the dining room chairs will need recovering because the seats have the old curtain fabric on them... 

It'll look something like this to start with...
...and something like this afterwards. Except this pic doesn't have shelves.
Or a dining room table and chairs. Or a computer table. Or a 3D printer...
You know the old thing about starting one job and finding loads more? That's us.

We're also hoping to repoint the external gable end of the house and insulate the same wall internally. Mr Squidge has done the maths and it will apparently take only a thin insulated plasterboard to drastically cut the heat we're losing over the vast expanse of double-brick-with-no-cavity wall. 

This is what I'm expecting...along the length of my hall
and up the height of two floors...
Then we'll have to redecorate the hall, landings and stairs - might even end up with stair carpet up to the loft. We've only been up there eight years. Throw in a couple of replacement stained glass windows (currently still the original 1930's metal frames, but we're hoping to get the design copied into double-glazed units) and we'll be done.

We might even have to tackle the lounge - the carpet is threadbare in places and the paintwork needs freshening up. That one might have to wait 'til 2016...

In between all this redecorating and inevitable furniture shifting, there's the writing stuff.

I've said before that Granny Rainbow 2 will be published this year. There'll also be another Random Writer's Anthology, but I don't know yet whether I'll have anything to offer for submission or if my involvement will stop at proofreading. 

I need to work on my website, get it up to date. In fact, I'm wondering whether I even need a website... Decided I need a website fairy to do it for me. (Applications in writing please. *winks*)

I've got one school author visit lined up for March, with three other potential visits. I'm hoping that this year I can make more connections with local schools. 

Oh yes...and there'll be writing. New stuff and old-to-be-revamped. But Granny remains my priority at the moment, so I'll pencil in the rest for later.

So what projects have you got lined up this year? I'd love to know. Drop me a line in the comments below and share what you're planning...

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Off to a good start

Today, I completed a dreadful first draft of the story I started the other day...

It's not just dreadful though - it's appalling. Incomplete sentences, time jumps between scenes, repeated phrases, millions of adjectives and adverbs, blank spaces for characters' names... Present are many of the kinds of mistakes a rookie writer makes when he/she writes a story, gets to the end of it and shrieks 'Yay! I've written a story! I'm going to publish it!'

Difference is - I'm now an experienced enough author to recognise that this IS the first, s****y draft, and will never see the light of day in anything other than my notebook.

But this s****y draft has potential. From here on in, there WILL be changes made which (hopefully) improve the base material. In front of this s****y draft lies the typing up onto the laptop (the main computer gives me migraines now because of my vari-focal glasses), the line by line and word by word editing to make it tight, the 'getting-inside-the-character's-head' moments to add which will draw the reader in, and the fine polishing of the resulting whole to make it shine like a diamond.

Then - and only then - will it be submitted for judgement by my peers in a little in-house competition on the Word Cloud. It'll be good to be back there - I feel I've rather neglected that community of late...

But for now, I have a date with the laptop and a brutal overlord...