16 June, 2016

Guest Post with Derek Thompson

Today, I am excited to be appearing on Derek Thompson's blog talking about why making a shortlist can be just as good as winning. You can check out the post here.

Derek is a friend of mine whose series of Brit-thrillers are getting great reviews. You can see what they're about here.

10 June, 2016

Competitions: the statistics!

Ever since I started writing I have kept a file on my computer listing the competitions I've entered and highlighting the ones where anything nice happened. By 'nice' I mean anything that wasn't a straight-forward nothing. These "hits" include being a winner, shortlisted, commended or published. The list starts in January 2007. So how am I doing?

  • I have entered 60 competitions
  • I have 30 hits of some sort
  • In seven of my hits I was the overall winner 
  • I have 29 misses (and one competition still awaiting results)
  • Over a third of my entries were in 2008 or 2009 - before I started writing novels or having children!
  • My longest run of hits was at the start - competitions one to six were all hits!
  • My longest run of misses was May to July 2009 where I entered seven competitions and missed out on the first six.
  • In the last two years (while concentrating on novel writing and taking two extended breaks to have babies) I have entered six competitions in total. One is still awaiting results and the other four were hits - hooray!
  • You can see a full list of my hits on the competitions tab
  • If I had to pick my favourite entries I think I would choose The Language of Fish (2nd place, December 2014) and Handrails and Parachutes (winner, October 2012)

So, it looks as if I'm running at a hit rate of about 50% overall, which I'm not unhappy with. I think a key to this is competition selection. I could have entered 61 international and prestigious competitions and had a hit rate of 0%. For me, competitions are a good chance to learn something about your level of writing. Yes, it's important to stretch yourself and enter the big competitions - Bridport, Costa etc. - from time-to-time as you never know what might happen, but you learn more from the competitions where you come third or make the longlist and can compare your writing to that of the winner. How do you choose which competitions to aim for?

I am heartened to see that the last couple of years, although very slow in terms of competitions entries, has been successful. I guess my ideal now would be one of two things:
a) to start entering more things again and choose my competitions well enough that my hit rate stays 50-60%, so I'm challenging myself but not being silly about my level of talent!
b) to keep entering very few competitions - ones where I stand a good chance but which attract a reasonable number of entrants - and try to keep my hit rate higher; focus on quality of writing and competition.

In reality, I am unlikely to enter much for the next few years. Finding time to write my second novel is difficult enough. If I enter more than one or two competitions, the extras are likely to be the fun ones - txtlit, or 100-word challenges, things like that. I am particularly interested to see that entering more competitions did not improve my hit rate - proof that, although practice is important, the quality of your practice is as important as the quantity!

Of course this list doesn't include the competitions associated with my novel, The Art of Letting Go. I am currently on the shortlist for the People's Book Prize, so please do go and vote for me and help me on my way to being a prize-winning novelist for the first time too! Thank-you.

27 May, 2016

May: Writing, Not Writing and Writing by Hand

At the start of May I began to write the second draft of my novel-in-progress. My plan was to try to write a full draft by the end of the year. In real-terms that meant writing about 3000 words a week. As a full-time mum that was a daunting target but I was ready to give it a go. It hasn't been the smoothest of starts.

I wrote the first chapter. I didn't like it. I couldn't even say why. There was something wrong; the voice wasn't there somehow. I tried again. And again. Three weeks into May and I hadn't even got 2000 words done, let alone my target of 9000. So I tried something different. I wrote by hand.

If I was to create an ideal writerly-life, I would write all my novels on sunny mornings in a summerhouse at the bottom of my perfect country-cottage garden. There would be a sea-view, of course, and I would be writing with a fountain pen in Moleskine notebooks. Later I would sit at my vintage typewriter and type it all up, sipping tea from a chintz teacup. In reality, I sit crammed into one end of our living room, with a view of two baby monitors, praying the boys don't wake up from their naps before I've finished my train of thought. I write on a computer because it's conveninet in a number of ways (including the fact that I taught myself to touch-type). And, despite being British, I can't stand tea.

The only thing I do by hand is plan. I find it easier to organise my thoughts if I can scribble and draw arrows and tap my pencil on the desk. I realised that I also plan by hand because I feel more creative - more in tune with what I'm trying to write. So, desperate to get my novel underway, I started to write the first chapter in pencil in a cheap exercise book. It worked! It took longer, but for some reason, the voice of my main character began to come out. When I typed it all up I asked my husband and my friend/chief-reader, Jenny, to have a look at it (a sign of how insecure I feel about my writing - I NEVER ask people to look at just a snippet of an early draft!) and they gave me the thumbs up to keep going in the same voice.

I haven't done 12000 words this month. I hope to get another thousand or maybe even two in at the beginning of next week, but so far I am only on 5800 so I won't hit my target. I am however, underway. Full steam ahead from here! I won't be writing the whole novel by hand, but I definitely WILL be going back the pencil and paper method whenever I need to sort anything out, or overcome a bump. Do you write by hand? How do you overcome hurdles in your writing path?

I will probably try to write a monthly update on here. If some of you could pretend it's fascinating and cheer and wave pompoms from time to time, that would help me enormously, thanks.And don't forget that voting is open in the People's Book Prize - please vote for my novel The Art of Letting Go in the fiction category!

16 May, 2016

People's Book Prize - The Final

The time has come, dear friends. Voting has opened in the People's Book Prize 2015-2016. My novel, The Art of Letting Go, is a finalist in this year's award and I need your vote!

The People's Book Prize is a nationwide award that aims to showcase "new and undiscovered works". The results are entirely voted-for by the public and will be announced during a live Sky News broadcast in London on 12th July.

So here you have a choice. If you vote for me, you can see me collecting my award on television and know that you have been directly responsible for my success. If you don't vote for me, you can watch me do my "oh jolly good show, well done" face on television as somebody else collects the award. Both are super-fun options, but I know which one I'd prefer!

There have been many, many kind readers of this blog who have cheered and encouraged me along the way. Lots of you have bought, read, reviewed and recommended my novel and I am so grateful. Many of you also helped get me on to the shortlist by voting in the earlier rounds. Please, help me again!

If you voted for me in the first round you can now vote again. If you didn't then now's your chance! And it's not too late to buy or borrow a copy of my book and get reading! You can find the voting page with instructions here. Voting is open until the 10th July.

12 May, 2016

Next Step: Success?

The idea that success is whatever lies just out of reach cannot be unique to writing. The feeling of being satisfied with what we've achieved if we only reach the next milestone is, I'm sure, something everyone understands. With writers it is easy to always be straining for the next goal: an agent, a publishing deal, a three-book deal, a place in the bestsellers, a proper income, a Hollywood blockbuster movie deal. Therefore I'm not sure if reading the story of Jojo Moyes in Good Housekeeping magazine this month is encouraging or discouraging.

Jojo Moyes had published eight novels.To many of us, that screams of success! To have an agent and to be traditionally published eight times would be a dream for so many writers. But she wasn't considered successful at all. None of her books had sold well and her publisher didn't want to publish her again. Another publisher told her agent that they thought her career was probably over. Then she had an idea for what she feared would be her final novel. That novel - Me Before You - ended up selling more than five million copies (so far!) and was turned into a major Hollywood film.

At first I was a bit discouraged. Jojo nearly didn't have the success she's had because it took too long coming. This wasn't someone who took wrote several novels before finding a publisher but then had a great career; this was someone who'd done the "hard bit" and found an agent and publisher (as I have) and still struggled.

Then I decided to be encouraged instead. Jojo mght have had to wait for her ninth novel to be successful in the eyes of the world, but it did happen on the ninth. And, who knows, if it hadn't happened then, maybe she would've kept going anyway. Maybe her 10th would've been the blockbuster, or her 15th. She kept on going.

Most of us, of course, will keep on going and never write a novel that sells anywhere near the number of copies that Me Before You has. But we will keep going too. I will keep going. I'm struggling to write my second novel. I'm finding it dispiriting at times, and it might end up terrible and unpublishable. And it might not. It might be OK. It might be brilliant.

My friend Dan, published a great post on not giving up on his blog the other day. My favourite bit was his plan to get back to writing (following a disappointment) after a cup of tea and a sulk. I think that encapsulates the writing life perfectly: Write. Don't succeed. Sulk a bit. Write some more. Repeat. Succeed (maybe).

Let's write!