Sunday, 27 September 2015

A bit more about StarMark

StarMark is so much a part of my life now, I tend to forget that some folk don't know anything about it. So, forgive this little indulgence of mine, but I'm going to tell you about it.

The book is a middle-grade fantasy (for the Brits, that means it probably sits in the 9-12 age bracket) about a girl called Irvana. The story is built around the fact that Irvana has a secret...but is completely unaware of it. The problems start when someone else discovers this secret before she does - and as a result, Irvana's life is threatened. When she does realise the secret she holds, she has to fight - with the help of friends - to regain what should have been her birthright. The StarMark of the title is a birthmark - black on the skin at birth, but turning to gold when the StarChain is worn at the point of succession by the new overlord of Koltarn.

The story began life way back, around 2008, I think. I sent it off (as you do, when you're an inexperienced newbie writer) to agents and publishing houses galore, only to have it firmly rejected by every single one.

And there, the real story of StarMark's writing begins...

October 2009 - first critique by Writer's Workshop. StarMark is roundly slammed for being inappropriate for children (too many adult themes).

October 2010 - a new version of StarMark is produced, taking into account everything that was wrong in the first critique. Second WW critique with the lovely Debi Alper - who said it had potential.

February 2011 - 3rd WW critique, also with Debi. Finally feeling like it's polished enough to send to agents. Make tentative enquiries with a local agent who asked to see the first few chapters. By the end of the month, I had an agent.

October 2011 - after a bit more tweaking, StarMark is sent out to publishers. All say no. Begin writing another novel - 'Rurik'. StarMark is shelved.

May 2013 - after not managing to tweak 'Rurik' to meet the agent's requirements, part from said agent.

September 2014 - can't let go of StarMark. More work, more editing, with the view of self-pubbing after the success of Granny Rainbow. Took it to York for agent's comments. Was asked by one agent whether I really believed enough in this story to rework it again and make it good? I decided I did.

late 2014 - submitted to Bedazzled Ink firmly believing that they'd say 'no', which would justify me self-pubbing as I'd planned.

January 2, 2015 - hear back from Bink - who offered me a contract!

September 2015 - StarMark gets a cover.

From September 2015 until whenever - editing!

April 2016 - fingers crossed: publication.

If you take into account the time I took prior to that first critique to actually write the story, I reckon it'll have taken StarMark around eight years to go from conception to publication. There is no overnight success...

What have I learned from the process so far?

Well, I suppose the main thing is don't give up on a story if you believe in it; if it's the one that fires you up, that's a story you simply HAVE to tell, do it!

The second is never stop trying to improve your writing skills. Learn all you can - from courses, from fellow writers, from readers... listen to advice and make it work for you. I certainly wouldn't be in the position I'm in if I'd stuck with the dreadful (I can admit it now) version of the first critique.

So there you go - all you ever wanted to know about StarMark - so far!

Friday, 25 September 2015

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Sharing my love of writing

I've been gratified to receive not one, but two, requests recently for creative writing workshops.

Now, I have to be honest - I'm not a qualified teacher. I do have training in my background; years ago I gained a Certificate in Training and Development when I was designing and running cleanliness courses at work. That learning was backed up with an NVQ Level 3 in Training and Development as an Association Trainer with the Guide Association. I've also spent quite a few years (paid and unpaid) supporting primary school children in the classroom. And I help to run a small creative writing group locally.

And I write. I've even had work published, so I do know a little bit about writing stories.

But does all of that really add up to me knowing enough about 'creative writing' to run a kosher workshop?

Having recently been to York and sat in some fabulous workshops (check out the FOW15 Diaries on dialogue, theme and taking risks), I feel woefully inadequate compared to those very distinguished workshop leaders. Almost like a fraud...

I suppose it depends on what you want out of a workshop. If you want to kick your writing into shape, you most probably need to find someone who's more of an expert in sentence formation and story arcs to run the session.

If, on the other hand, you want to play with words, explore ways of inspiring stories, create characters and settings to get your story-juices flowing...

Well, then I might just be the right person for the job.

That's what's gone into the session plan for now, anyway; I'll let you know how it works out when I do it for real with the children...

Getting to grips with technology during an author visit earlier this year...

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Someone's following me...

I'm always enormously chuffed to hear that someone is following me (and therefore the Scribbles) on Google+. It makes me feel like I'm not talking to myself! I also know that many of you are regular readers but choose not to 'follow' - and I'm just as chuffed when someone who isn't an official follower tells me they've enjoyed a particular post or starts a conversation about something I've shared with the wider world.

I enjoy blogging and sharing my experiences with you all and lots of you seem to enjoy reading, because recently, I've had a flurry of new followers. Well - almost a dozen in the space of five days, which is unheard of for this blog.

Without exception, my new followers are all male, single, and involved in the military.

I have no problem with this. I understand that there are algorithms and the like that search out and suggest people to follow. But it did set me thinking about search engines that exist simply to root out female profiles for men 'looking for a relationship'. And I found that thought uncomfortable, probably because I've never experienced it first hand before - other than to ignore the 'single men looking for women' ads on facebook. I know there is a risk when you 'put yourself out there' on the internet - and I don't mind being followed by people I don't know. That's part and parcel of being a blogger.

But somehow, I don't think I'm going to be providing what these guys are looking for with a blog about writing and life.

That said, if you are one of my newer followers, stick around. I hope you DO find something to catch your eye and keep your interest on the Scribbles.

PS. And I'm not talking about my profile pic or the fact I'm female...

Monday, 21 September 2015

Who Dares, Wins - Taking risks with your writing (FOW15 Diaries)

How often do you get stuck in your writing? You look at what you've written and go 'bleurgh!' because it just...isn't...working?

Sometimes we need something to pull us out of the hole we appear to have dug ourselves into - and this workshop, run by the lovely Shelley Harris (author of Jubilee and Vigilante) looked at some intriguing methods to get our writerly juices flowing again. But it meant taking risks, forcing ourselves to move outside of our comfort zone.

The first thing we tried was character names; we had to write five names that we would never give our characters. When asked why we'd not use them, the reasons were many and varied - but Shelley challenged us to go away and write a colourful character for the boring name, to write Tarquin Roderick Matthias Jameson the Fourth without a penny to his name... I found myself writing quite a few 'upper class' names, or ones that sounded like doddery old ladies. Wonder what that says about the names I do choose and perhaps my prejudices for those I don't...?

Then we considered what stories we'd write if no-one were ever to read them. That's because we've all got no-go areas in our writing. Perhaps we choose not to write about our past, because we worry about upsetting people still living. Perhaps we choose not to write about sex or violence, for fear of shocking our readers. (She seems so nice! How on earth would she know about that?)

There are bound to be other examples - these are just what popped into my head as I was writing the blog - but the real reason we don't write certain things is because we are afraid of being judged; we edit ourselves, even before we've begun writing the story. If you could write, knowing that no-one would ever read what you've written, you have edited out instead other people's judgements and allowed yourself the freedom to commit what you want to write to the page. I'm not sure what I'd write if you were never going to read it; I fear my own self-editing rules are etched too deep inside to ever erase completely...

(Both of these ideas were attributed to Susie Maguire)

The next idea Shelley showed us was a morphological matrix. The creative think tank on wikispace describes this as 'a tool for generating options. It provides a structured or systematic way to generate a large number of possibilities including many unique or highly unusual options.'

Sounds complicated, but it's not, really. Draw yourself a grid. Across the top of the columns, add labels like 'jobs I've done, locations I know well, skills/knowledge I possess, favourite smells, current obsession'. Now fill in the lists with at least eight items for each one. Dig deep.

When you've done, combine the items across the grid in many and varied ways - and when you have, for example, egg pickler, the brook path, how to knit socks, lily of the valley and notebooks, (yep, they really apply to me) sit and think about what story you'd tell with them. Mine the familiar - but tell an unfamiliar story. It's a bit like those books you had as a kid, where the page was split into three parts and you could flip over different sections so you had a diver's head with a doctor's middle and a ballet dancer's feet...

On the subject of mining your own life experience, ask yourself questions - do you believe in justice or mercy? In nature or nurture? If you could return to one time in your life, when would it be and why? Complete the sentence 'Most people wouldn't guess that I...' Can you use these things to add to or generate a story?

You could BE your character. At which point, Shelley shared her experience of dressing up as a superhero for a day while she researched her novel, Vigilante. (You can read about her experience here.) Easy, it was not. But without that experience, Shelley couldn't have known what it felt like to put on a mask and hide behind the anonymity whilst trying to do good.

Make the unexpected happen; Pixar story rule #9 states 'When you're stuck, list what WOULDN'T happen next and material to get you unstuck will show up.' Your subconscious inevitably finds a way - which led us onto Petals problem solving.

Now this one was spooky - lots of folk in the room seemed to come up with a solution to a problem using this method - all starting with a single, completely random word from a dictionary. My problem was trying to make a character more active in a scene where she's arriving at an island on the king's ship - I had no idea how to solve that.

Shelley asked for a number, which gave her the page in the dictionary. The second gave her which word to pick on that page; can you believe the word was 'ahoy'? When my problem was ship-based? Spooky moment number one...

On a clean page, we drew a central circle, and surrounded it with eight 'petals'. In the centre, we wrote 'Ahoy' and around the outside - in the petals - we wrote words we associated with it. Mine were all very piratey and sea-faring, as you might expect.

Then the work began. We had to use the words we'd written in the petals to solve our problem. And the weird thing? I did - but I'm not going to tell you because I've not worked it into the story quite just yet. We were asked to share our thinking process; some climbed up into their crow's nest or looked through a telescope to see the bigger picture, and solved their problem that way. Everyone agreed that this method felt 'spooky' because from just one word, we solved our many and varied problems.

The idea is that the apparent randomness isn't really as random as you think. The process simply allows your 'good' mind to step out of the way and allow your subconscious access to the problem; it might have worked just as well if we'd had the word 'bell' or 'foot' in the centre of our flower, who knows?

And the last thing to try, to get your writing out of a slump?  Ask yourself what you'd write if you couldn't fail? And get it written. (Or as Shelley said, The F***-It Draft, or FID) Only to be used as a last resort, mind you, this method can come up with moments of sheer genius because it releases you completely.

In summary, taking risks in your writing is about being counter intuitive, about finding strategies to unloose your subconscious - and, probably most importantly, to stop caring about what others think!

Here's to a riskier Squidge in future...

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Finding your novel's theme (FOW15 Diaries)

Julie Cohen is a great author, a wonderfully bubbly lady and she runs fantastic writing workshops. My last two York festivals, I've attended her Learning story structure from Pixar and Character sessions and got an awful lot out of them.

This year, I put myself down for another one - Finding your Novel's Theme - which was held on Severus Snape Sunday. Why Severus Snape Sunday? Because Julie decreed it so.

Anyway... theme. I can't say it's something I think about consciously up front, but apparently there are people who do - which makes me a discovery writer (pantser!) rather than an analytical one (planner!).

So what is theme? Well, it's the emotional core of your book... The question you're asking... The main abstract idea you're exploring... The problem you keep returning to... The pivot on which your book turns... The cakeness of your cake.

Sorry, have I lost you on that last one? Let me explain - Julie also recommended we look up one of Chuck Wendig's terribleminds blog post about theme, which uses the analogy of CAKE (among other things) to understand theme. Chuck wrote;

'In cake, every piece is a microcosm of the whole. A slice contains frosting, cake, filling. Okay, that’s not entirely true — sometimes you get a piece of cake where you get something other pieces don’t get, like a fondant rose, but really, let’s be honest, fondant tastes like sugary b***hole. Nasty stuff. So, let’s disregard that and go back to the original notion: all pieces of cake contain the essence of that cake. So it is with your story: all pieces of the story contain the essence of that story, and the essence of that story is the theme. The theme is cake, frosting, filling. In every slice you cut. Man, now I really want a piece of cake.'

(To see the rest of Chuck's post, follow this link.)

Sounds simple, doesn't it? The emotional core of your book., if you're like me and you don't start with a theme up front, how the heck do you figure it out so that every single morsel of story contains that essential essence? Does it fall into place naturally or do you have to work at it?

In already published novels, the covers will often hint at the theme - Julie's own novel, Dear Thing, is based on parenthood, reflected by a cover picturing baby shoes. Great for hinting at the reader what they might be getting. But for those of us still working on unpublished stories? Who can't use visual clues?

Well, THAT was the focus of the workshop - we had to find our own novel's theme.

Julie suggested looking at several things;
1. The main character's conflicts and desires
2. The premise of the story
3. The title and/or the first line
4. The main emotions
5. The idea or problem that as a writer, you are exploring
6. The resolution.

I tried it out with King Stone...and came to the conclusion that its central theme is 'doing the right thing'. Which sounds a little clumsy when you consider themes cover such huge issues as sacrifice, abandonment, loss, justice, identity, 'there's no place like home' and the like.

Incidentally - there was another 'doing the right thing' theme in the group, but as Julie pointed out, they would be totally different stories because as authors, we approach the theme from different directions and may choose to focus on different genres.

So, having found the theme, we moved onto a mind-map to explore it further. Here's mine:

Which gave rise to one of my favourite quotes of the weekend; 'How far you take this depends on how far you want to procrastinate.'

So with all these ideas now in the bag, how do you use them in your novel? Well, you could select subplots, using a 'branch' that is separate to your main character's branch. The central theme is reflected, but the subplot is distinctly different. You could design secondary characters to work with or against your MC. You can refine character conflicts. You could even choose your setting - in Julie's case, her parenthood theme led her to schools, hospitals, school playgrounds, antenatal classes, maternity shops and infertility clinics...all related, yet all distinctly separate.

Getting the drift?

I was surprised to see how much of my theme had subconsciously seeped into what I'd already written of King Stone; somewhere along the line, I must've given in to gut feeling and gone with where the story was heading. And as a pantser, I wonder whether that's preferable to trying to plan too much? (Although I think King Stone has been planned more than any other novel I've attempted to write, so maybe I'm moving towards a mix of the two?)

It's an interesting exercise that, having done it, I'm sure I'm going to be able to use to enrich King Stone. I can certainly see how my mind-map works for minor characters as well as main ones... And if it works for King Stone, who knows? My next WIP might start with theme rather than stumbling upon it halfway through the story.

So huge thanks again to Julie for another useful tool to go in my writer's toolkit.

And completely off-topic, I was delighted to see that Lego Hannibal (Lector), who travels everywhere with Julie, also made it to York!

Perhaps I should've introduced him to a few of the Lego peeps from the Squidge household? Next year, maybe...

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Dressing up time (The gala dinner - FOW15 diaries)

This time last week, the gala dinner was done and dusted - and I have no pictures from it at all. You'll just have to imagine the scene...

From DJ's to dirndls, sequins to sassy, we had it all. Even a vampire - complete with red silk lined cloak and eight inch high stand-up collar! Definitely a first for York...

The vast majority of folk were dressed up, though no-one was turned away if they were still in jeans. There didn't seem to be as many long frocks this year, more cocktail dresses than formal gowns. And a lot of the ladies wore trousers - I did, for a change. Some of the frocks were outstanding - special mention goes to the Writer's Workshop lass who was a veritable glitterball of a photographer...

The dining room (when we finally got in - they made us wait outside and it was freezing!) was a forest of red and black serviettes. I don't know how many folk sat down to dinner, but there were at least 33 tables, each with 8 people sitting round them.

The menu:
Prawn and salmon starter with lemon and dill cream.
Guinea fowl and veg. (Never eaten guinea fowl before - liked it.)
(Posh) Chocolate brownie with ice cream.
Coffee and mints.

After dinner, it was time for thank yous and competition winners. Flower maidens Jane and Moira, Hil, and Rachel were joined by 'the festival's poster boy', Imran. I can't remember all the competition winners, but I'll do my best. The children's star was a young man who wrote 'The Sound of Colour' (he also read at Friday Night Live). Best pitch was won by the same author who'd won Friday Night Live. (Interesting that her pitch was built from the opening few paragraphs of her book, all about her childhood with a veteran soldier father. And there was only one prize for best pitch, when previously there'd been information suggesting there would be two - one for an adult book, one for children's. Never did feel brave enough to collar the judges and ask what'd happened...) There was another prize, offered by a printing company, but I can't remember what it was for - the lady who won seemed utterly delighted anyway. And then there was The Big One - The Opening Chapter competition. I was dead chuffed to see a fellow cloudie, Sophie Wellstood, walk away with the prize.

There was the traditional self-edit course graduates photo - after 16 courses, there were loads of us! And it is so satisfying to see so many of those graduates who have gone on to reap the rewards of the course with MS requests, offers of representation and publishing contracts.

Then...Disco! We've been asking for one for the last few years. Whether WW finally gave in, or whether they decided to give us a treat for the WW 10th birthday celebrations, I'm not sure, but it was great fun. Several die-hard cloudies boogied the night away into the wee small hours, including Jody Klaire dancing on her new wheels and Dave Gaughran in The Hat. I was called a minx - whether because people saw me dancing, or the fact I was wearing a corset that didn't have much of a back to it, I do not know - but it was great to let our hair down. I think some folk found it too loud when the music started, but there was plenty of bar space or outside lounge to sit and chat if you wanted somewhere quieter...

I finally sloped off to bed just after half twelve, my feet killing me and my ears ringing; at least I got a bit more sleep than those who stayed up till 5am...

So tell me, what else did I miss?

Friday, 11 September 2015

Double the fun (Keynote speeches - FOW15 Diaries)

Both the keynote speeches at the festival this year were doubly worth listening to - not least because they were both double acts.

The making of Nicci French.

On Saturday morning, we were treated to a conversation with Sean French and Nicci Gerrard, the husband and wife duo who are behind the pseudonym Nikki French. (Here's an interview they did a few years ago from the BBC)

They shared their individual stories of how they became writers - both studied English Lit at Oxford, though they never met at the time, both became journalists - and then they met, married, carried on writing individually until...they had an idea for a story and decided to write it. Together.

Now, writing a book by myself is hard. Writing it with another person and not coming to blows over it must be even harder! But Sean and Nicci seem to have found a way that works for both of them and Nicci French can probably be described as 'the other woman' in their marriage...

The first thing Sean and Nicci do is find the beating heart of their book - what's the plot? Whose voice will tell it? And only when they are sure they both have the same book firmed up in their heads do they begin writing. Sean has a writing shed, Nicci has an attic and they email sections of the book to each other. So if Sean started the story off, he'd send the piece to Nicci, she'd read it, edit it if she felt it needed changing, maybe add a little something after, and send it back to Sean to continue. Individually, they have very different styles, but they never tell which bit was written by whom, they don't change anything back (!) and eventually, a third voice appears that is a mixture of two.

Nicci said that by reading one bit and accepting it, you have taken ownership of what has been written. The whole process of writing is based on trust, respect and courtesy to each other. (Which made me wonder whether we are as generous when we give or receive critique from others? I've certainly seen instances where respect and courtesy were distinctly lacking.) And it helps to see the changes made as not being personal - it's for the good of the book.

As to Nicci French's novels, they are described as psychological thrillers, which build on a feeling of dread and focus on extraordinary things happening to ordinary people; Nicci French definitely has a particular kind of thing she likes to write, and she thinks in a certain way - but as Nicci (G!) pointed out, "You become a new writer with every book you start."

It was a fascinating insight of collaborative working, and I was left wondering whether it was ever something I could do myself.

Diana Beaumont and Eve Harris.

The festival ended on Sunday with another conversation, this time between the agent Diana Beaumont and her author, Eve Harris; Eve's debut novel, The Marrying of Chani Kaufman, was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2013. (It sounded so fascinating, I bought it on Monday and have already finished it. Enjoyed the style and the insights into this normally closed world, but the book has received mixed reviews).

Their conversation bounced back and forth, sharing the story of how they met - not via the slushpile as you might think, but via an acupuncturist.

But before we reached that part of the story, Eve told us about herself. She was a teacher, first at a convent school, then at a North London Orthodox Jewish school for girls. She is also married to a secular Jew, and it is the world of Orthodox Jews that inspired her novel. Having enjoyed writing short stories, Eve joined a City Lit class. There, she had her work 'mauled' (her words, not mine!) by both the tutor and her peers and came close to jacking writing in.

Then she got mad and wrote a short piece about Jewish life. When it was read out the next week, everything changed; Eve was accepted into the writer's group (Perhaps you CAN write after all was the tutor's comment) and she continued to write the unfolding story. During that process, she also approached the Writer's Workshop to find a mentor - someone who would help her to shape the story she wanted to tell. Eve also began testing it on a bunch of friends who let her read to them - because as she pointed out, it's all right reading to other writers but their aim is to get published too, so they are always thinking about their novel rather than yours. I'd not thought about that before, but it makes sense...

One of those friends was Eve's acupuncturist, an avid reader. Naarva Carman thought it was so good, she passed it on to another of her clients - Diana Beaumont - who just happened to be an agent. As Diana said, "Success is about talent, tenacity and timing", at which point Eve chipped in with "And the right agent for the client." In their case, everything seemed to click.


The novel received 42 rejections from publishers. It got so bad for Eve, she would take lengthy detours rather than walk past another bookshop. Finally, they got the call; a small Scottish indie, Sandstone Press, would like to publish the story that was to become The Marrying of Chani Kaufman at 'Sandstone Bob's' suggestion. The original print run was only going to be 500 copies, but Sandstone were persuaded to increase to 1000...

And then there was the longlisting for the Man Booker Prize. The rest is history...

Eve hasn't written anything since, as she's had two children, but I'm sure this is not going to be the only novel we'll see from her.

What I took away most from this keynote was how important the relationship between agent and author is - it was very obvious that Eve and Diana work well together and that Diana believes very much in her client.

I can only hope that one day, I'll find the same...

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

'Ey up, me duck!' (Talking about dialogue - FOW 15 diaries)

If you listen to people talking, you are aware that they don't all use the Queen's English. Yet so many newbie writers tend to write any dialogue in their stories exactly that way. I probably did too.

I don't think I'm too bad at dialogue now, but I still chose J.S Law's workshop for two reasons:

1. I always hope there's something else I might learn about a subject, however confident I feel about it.

2. James is a fellow cloudie who recently published his first novel - Tenacity, a gritty crime thriller set in the world of naval submarines (I've read it - flippin' good!) - and I wanted to support him.


As an ex-navy man himself, James's style was brisk and to the point as you might expect - and boy, did he pack a lot into an hour. We could have gone on much longer; I found I didn't really have time to do the exercises we were given properly before we were sharing them. But that's a function of my need for a bit of thinking time before embarking on an exercise and is not to say I didn't learn anything - far from it.

The rules (yep, we started with rules) of the workshop were pretty simple and could be summarised by 'your words stand alone'. Don't apologise for what you'd written, James said. If you read aloud, then we - the rest of the room - discuss. Be supportive, be honest. And be brief and to the point. (Which made me wonder how many sessions he'd had sat through where one person dominated proceedings...I'm sure we've all probably been there?)

On to the meaty bit of the session...

Dialogue needs to tell us about the person who's speaking, and who they're speaking to. It should always - ALWAYS - move the plot forward. It should be compatible with the character, their environment, and be able to foreshadow events or declare intentions. It's no good having your Victorian urchin speaking in contemporary teenager-ese, for example. ('Yeah, so like, did you read abaht the latest Dickens book? Great Expectations? It's sick, man!') But don't go too far with 'insider knowledge' in dialogue either - we were shown a sample of a real conversation between two navy guys which read like gobble-de-gook to us but was perfectly understandable to those 'in the know'. For instance - do you know what 'Harry black noose' means? (Answer at the end of this blog...) Be wary of using dialect or accent so much that you isolate the reader.

(Having said that though, some authors use dialect and speech patterns to great effect - take a look at Brian Jacques' Redwall series and note how each kind of animal speaks. Great for reading aloud too - you just say what you see!)

We were shown how you can glean all sorts of information from dialogue - it can hint at gender, background, schooling, race, workplace, motivation... It is never lazy. It earns its place in a manuscript and if set up right, what is spoken should not need to be tagged. As in, you could lose 'she exclaimed' from "What a pretty dress!" if it's effectively framed by action. And 'Put the gun down' does not need 'he ordered'. 'He/she said' is almost invisible by comparison.

Every character speaks differently. Some of us waffle, others are more to the point. And in your writing of dialogue, you should bring in these differences. Not only does it make the characters unique in themselves, but by changing the way they routinely speak can hint at how they feel about situations that are occurring.

I can honestly say that I have never laughed so much during a workshop, or worked my brain so hard! I've taken away from the session the need to really make my dialogue work - make sure it is the character speaking, not me. And that I had never realised how much work dialogue does in the stories I've both read and written. I'm still not sure I can be as analytical about dialogue as James appeared to be, but having read his book, I can see the difference it makes, so I'm going to have a damn good go!

(And the answer? Black tie... which makes perfect sense once you know.)

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

York 15 : the first instalment.

The Festival of Writing. Every year I wonder whether I should go and this year I wondered even more, because I didn't have anything I felt was 'ready' to take. Even on the way up to York, chatting away to my travel-buddy Imran (who you might remember designed the covers of Granny Rainbow and is in his own right, a fabulously enthusiastic author of several books), I didn't feel particularly excited.

As soon as I stepped through the doors of the Roger Kirk Centre and saw the first of many familiar faces, I started grinning: there was the wonderful Writer's Workshop team booking everyone in, 'leprecaun noir' author Paddy and Nick Sheridan, cloudie friends like Skylark, Raine, John and J.Net, the amazing Debi Alper, agents and authors... The tingle was most definitely back, and as the weekend went on, I was glad I'd decided to make this my fourth year.

Some of you reading this from here on in will wonder what the heck I'm on about, but those Who Were There will understand these snippets from the weekend - some more than others!

"A proper author has an agent." Sam Copeland (just imagine how that went down in an audience which included several successful self-published authors...)

"That shower curtain REALLY loves me!" J.S. Law

"Every writer is full of faith and full of doubt - and self-criticism" and "You become a new writer with every book you start." Nikki French duo, Sean French and Nicky Gerard

"Why, oh why, does the publishing industry treat me like a leopard?" Unknown disgruntled writer

"Readers are bloodhounds for truth and authenticity." Shelley Harris

"Today is Severus Snape Sunday. Because." Julie Cohen

"Success relies on talent, tenacity and timing." Diane Beaumont

"My kidneys are crying!" Competition winner, the morning after the champagne...

"I was woken by The Phantom Noseblower at 6am." Me. (I'd forgotten how thin the walls are in uni halls!)

"They've asked to see the full MS!" Heard from far too many folk to name you all individually. You know who you are, and I'm cheering you on.

I will blog more over the next few days - about the specific workshops, my 1-2-1 feedback, the gala dinner and keynote speakers - because every time I go to York, I learn something. I learn something about myself, about the craft, about the people I spend time with.

This year, I learnt that I still have some fundamental flaws in my approach to storytelling, that I have a recognisable writing style (hereafter to be referred to as Squidge-speak) and that it's more the structure than the voice which means I fail to capture that elusive 'wow' factor.

But that's what York does; it enables, encourages, challenges you to be the best writer you can be. Not necessarily 'best' as in the most successful or well-known - but the best YOU can be.

I'm still trying to be the best I can. I AM moving forwards but I haven't reached the finish line yet, where I can say (like one of the competition winners who'd had multiple MS requests) "I think I get it now...I know how all of this works." One day...

Monday, 7 September 2015

Honey? I'm ho-ome!

Only those who've been to the York Festival of Writing will understand when I say that all weekend, you're buzzing. The adrenalin kicks in as soon as you see the Writer's Workshop staff at the registration desk, the first few cloudie friends, the geese on the lake...

By Sunday afternoon, you're so cream crackered that you can hardly think straight - you've 1-2-1 feedback running through your head, disbelief from MS requests or competition wins (not me, I hasten to add - but I saw many in that situation), and sheer lack of sleep.

Sunday night, if you're like me, you're glad to get back to your own bed, which is in a quiet room and not lumpy...there's even a proper shower instead of a curtain that loves you and won't leave you alone.

And then it's Monday morning. And you are going through the motions as the adrenalin drains away and normal service is resumed: alarm goes off at 6am, making sandwiches, finding PE kits, catching up with the washing pile (which has turned inexplicably into a mountain while you've been away, in spite of the fact you did LOADS before you went exactly so that wouldn't happen) and trying to morph from 'Squidge the author' back to 'Squidge the mum/wife/homemaker'.

I WILL tell you more about the festival - the workshops, the gala dinner, my 1-2-1 feedback on King Stone, the pitiful 2/3 photos that I took - but not just yet.

Be patient. It will be worth it, I promise.

Thursday, 3 September 2015


Tomorrow, I'm off to York; Festival of Writing 2015, here I come!

There's always good news after a festival when folk have MS requests or win competitions - but this time there's good news even BEFORE I get there; two cloudie friends have been shortlisted for the Friday Night Live Event, and another has received an email from an agent who is very excited about what my friend submitted for her 1-2-1 session.

I've had the privilege of reading work by all three friends; I shall be rooting for them all and hoping that this festival they'll all get their big break, because every single one of them deserves it.

So what's Squidge hoping to get out of the weekend? Lots of laughter, lots of fun, lots of food... and some idea of whether King Stone is working from the feedback of two rather wonderful book doctors. I want to take away lots of fresh approaches to my writing. I want to see a certain agent and tell her that the question she asked in my 1-2-1 last year - did I believe in StarMark enough to rework it - spurred me on to do exactly that and I ended up with a contract for my first children's novel. I want to hear how the killer leprecaun author's doing a year on, and talk Terry Pratchett with someone who's never read him... And I want to meet a very special pooch and his very special owners.

I will try to blog over the course of the festival, but the posts'll be short and sweet - there's always so much else to do!

Whatever you're up to, have a great weekend - I'll see you when I get back.


Tuesday, 1 September 2015

When things don't feel good any more...

I haven't blogged much recently. Things - generally - have stalled on the writing front.

It's not that I don't want to get on with projects or post blogs - far from it! But there are several things on the writing front that are out of my hands at the moment and I'm playing the waiting game. Which seems to be sapping my writing energy, big time.

It's affected King Stone pretty badly. As you know, I'm working through the first draft, editing and filling it out. I was blasting along quite merrily, getting a chapter done a day, and then...

The pace slowed. It felt like I was wading through treacle and - I admit - I let it get the better of me. Combined with the things that are out of my hands, everything simply...stopped.

Talking sternly to myself didn't help. I mean, I'm not going to move forward if I allow myself a 'meh' moment...or day...or week, as it finally ended up being. I was getting crosser and more frustrated by the day.

Plus it's coming up to York and the Writer's Workshop Festival of Writing. For some reason, I don't feel excited about it this year. I only entered one competition (which I stand no chance of getting picked for, but hey, it was the only one I had something I could submit); I couldn't bear the thought of not being picked for anything.

(Fellow authors will recognise this syndrome - hoping like mad that this year will be your year in the competitions, followed by crushing disappointment and horrid jealousy when it proves not to be.)

I know it'll be great once I'm in York - I'm booked into some fab workshops, have 1-2-1's with two wonderful book doctors and I'll meet lots of Cloudies, but it doesn't seem to hold quite the same magic when the writing's not going well. (As usual, blogs will follow... I'm taking the laptop with me this year, so you might even get a couple over the course of the weekend itself.)

Having said that, in literally the last couple of days, things have begun moving again - on King Stone at least. I was bemoaning to an author friend how I could not get past a scene.

"Could be your character doesn't want to go where you're sending her?" she said.

"Hmm...could be. She certainly doesn't want to go to bed!" says I.

"My character sometimes she doesn't want to do something, so I ask her what she wants to do instead. I write a scene talking to her and she usually comes up with something better. And yes, it sounds crazy, but it works for me!"

So I tried it. It does sound mad, (feels it, too, the first time you try it!) but somehow your subconscious kicks in and supplies the answer your gut was trying to provide all along. I asked my character why she wouldn't go to bed after a traumatic experience, and she told me EXACTLY why she couldn't afford to sleep - she had to keep travelling to stay one step ahead of the baddie! Since then, I've rewritten a large chunk of the chapter and only need to add a short section at the end before signing it off as official second draft material.

This post isn't all doom and gloom then. Thank goodness! I shall just have to be patient with respect to the other projects - and trust that they'll start moving again at the right time...