30 December, 2013

Let's Say Goodbye With a Smile, Dear...

Last week I wrote a rather melancholy post reviewing my less-than-prestigious year of writing. So I thought I'd end 2013 on a more positive note with a short and cheerful post and a request for recommendations...

I know I've mentioned on here before how much I love statistics. I'm not going to bore you with detailing every fact about this blog over the last year, however. Instead, here is a little list of the most popular posts on this blog in 2013 (I'm only including the posts written this year - the very top post, and number three, were actually written in 2012) - if something catches your eye, then take a peek!

  1. Calling Writers, Poets and Bloggers. My call for volunteers to take part in Team Zodiac - demonstrating the power of social media (thanks to everyone who shared this post!)
  2. Christmas Gifts for Writers and Book Lovers. Christmas might be over but there's always a stream of birthdays to buy for...
  3. Speakeasy. My first post of the year, celebrating first prize in a short story competition. The first line of the post is "How lovely to be able to start 2013 with some good news!". A little poignant to me now.
  4. Cancer by Simon P Clark. One of the Team Zodiac stories, all about a dead crab. Who knew dead crabs were so popular?
  5. Sagittarius by Helen Murray. Another of Team Zodiac and the first in the series. A love story with a twist.

What were the most popular things on your blog this year? Let me know and I'll go and take a look! I shall remain forever grateful to the person who found my blog in 2013 by searching for "really cool writers". Bless you, whoever you are.

Away from the blog, this is the first full year I've kept a reading diary. I've gave 10/10 for enjoyment to three books I read, but before I reveal them I'd like to ask you for your recommendations of great books to read in 2014. I'm especially looking for books you've read recently - perhaps that have been released in the last couple of years - but older and classic recommendations are always a welcome addition to my book list!

So my top reads in 2013:
  • Room - Emma Donoghue
  • One Day - David Nicholls
  • Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn

I also gave 9/10 to: The Marriage Plot (Jeffrey Eugenides), Haroun and the Sea of Stories (Salman Rushdie), Life of Pi (Yann Martel), Luka and the Fire of Life (Salman Rushdie), The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follet), The Collection (Agatha Christie), The Horizontal Epistles of Andromeda Veal (Adrian Plass), An Autobiography (Agatha Christie), Me Talk Pretty One Day (David Sedaris) and The Fault in Our Stars (John Green). Have you read any of these?

See you all next year!

19 December, 2013

2013: How Was It For You?

Last month I wrote a post I didn't want to have to write - a perspective on what it's like to not have a publishing contract a year after signing with a very good literary agency. My overall feeling, despite rejection, was positive, but 2013 hasn't been a year of sitting by my inbox waiting for those rejections to roll in. So what have I been doing instead?

2013 has not been a good year for writing. There. I've said it. In past years I've mixed writing novel drafts with a good handful of short stories and met with a few prizes (and plentiful rejections!) along the way. This year - my first as an agented author - expectations were a bit different.

With my novel, The Art of Letting Go, on submission to publishers from March I felt the pressure to get another novel under my belt as quickly as possible. I thought I had a good idea and spent the next six months working almost exclusively on it. Two drafts later and the whole project fell flat. I don't have the space here to explain, but it became obvious that I had the choice of a) re-structuring the whole thing into a different book entirely or b) putting it into the bottom drawer. I chose b. The novel was the novel I wanted to write and I still think it could work one day, even if it doesn't now. I'd rather come back to it in a few years' time and write the book I want, than spend another year writing a book I don't want to write. Perhaps that's foolish.

It wasn't wasted time of course - I learned a lot, and I do think my writing style improved - but, honestly, it feels wasted. Six months for nothing (for now!). While I was working on this second novel I barely wrote anything else - not because I didn't want to but because I found I couldn't. I'm so out of practice for short story writing - it's almost as if I can't remember how to structure anything over 1000 and under 80 000 words! I'd love to get back to short stories, but I'm struggling to know how.

In 2013 I completed just three pieces of flash fiction and one short story. I abandoned a few others. Compare that to say, 2010, where I wrote 10 pieces of flash or short fiction, of which six won prizes. That's not to say I was idle - I spent some time this year editing and submitting old stories of mine, but with limited success. I know I'm a better writer than this time last year, I know I've worked hard, but I look at where I was then and where I am now, and it's hard to see what I've achieved in 2013. So here is a little summary of the things that HAVE happened:

  • One small competition success - being shortlisted in the Flash 500 competition for March
  • Two other pieces of flash fiction were published on Everyday Fiction: a flippant re-telling of Sleeping Beauty and an imagining of what would happen if there were no more Conspiracy Theories.
  • I've blogged nearly 90 times (this is post 87!). This may seem like scraping the barrel, but I've so appreciated the interaction I've had with other writers through this blog and others.
  • Two old stories of mine - Breakdown and A Dollop of Mother - are now available for Download at Alfie Dog Fiction
  • I ran a series of guest blog posts - each a piece of flash fiction or a poem inspired by one of the signs of the zodiac and written by a different author. Not my writing exactly, but I enjoyed it very much.
  • Plenty of rejections from various quarters - a lot of which were actually very positive and encouraging, so I can count them as achievements right?

I am grateful for these things, though I do feel as if I should've been able to achieve these small victories in my spare time over one month rather than as a summation of my entire writing year. Oh well - onwards to 2014! I've just started writing another novel entirely and am finding the process a lot more frightening and uncertain than before. BUT I am enjoying it more too. I am writing because I want to again, not because it is expected.

I'm not setting goals for 2014. Many of my dreams are now out of my hands anyway, but the main reason for this is that my husband and I are expecting our first baby in about three months' time. Who knows what life will look like after that?! The only thing I'm sure of is that 2014 will include plenty of writing of some sort. Because I love it. So to summarise the year: I am a better writer, I understand more about the technical aspects of writing fiction, I am not entirely discontent just deflated.

How has 2013 treated you? Whether you had a fabulous or terrible 2013 (and I'd like to make it clear that, apart from writing, my life was pretty great this year!), have a very merry Christmas!

16 December, 2013

Bauble Christmas Tree 2013

Merry Christmas! Almost. Last year I posted pictures on here of the tree my husband and I made out of books. The books gave it a tenuous link to this blog which allowed me to post photographs such as this:

This year, our tree is nothing to do with books, so you'll just have to indulge me and make oohing and aahing sounds anyway. Roughly following the instructions we found on notmartha.org, my friends Joe and Jenny, and I made this Christmas tree out of baubles while my husband was away with work:

For much better pictures and a little insight into how we made it, please do pop over to Joe and Jenny's blog on all things crafty.

11 December, 2013

Alfie Dog Fiction

Today, two of my short stories have been published on Alfie Dog Fiction. ADF is one of the biggest short story downloads websites around, with about 1200 stories currently available. What I love about it is the range of stories they have on site. Most fiction websites are quite niche - often focussing on one genre or (my pet hate) saying they only publish the very best of literary fiction without paying their authors anything.

On Alfie Dog you're pretty much guaranteed to be able to find something you like, with the satisfaction of knowing that the person who wrote the story is going to actually be paid for their work. They have a huge range of commerical fiction and you can pick individual stories, single-author anthologies or multi-author anthologies. At just 39 pence per story it's good value and you can choose the file type to suit your particular brand of e-reader or to be able to read on your normal computer as well.

I've been looking for somewhere like Alfie Dog for ages. I have a back-catalogue of stories which have won awards or been published elsewhere just sitting on my computer. I wanted to find a home for them that had some editorial control - i.e. not a place where they accept everything thrown at them, but are at least a little selective about quality - but that didn't mind stories having been published in the past. And here it is! It's a relatively new venture and I know they'd be really glad for readers and writers to spread the word about them and to submit work to them as well. So please have a browse, tweet about them, and maybe find a couple of stories you like the look of to download for your lunch break. Hey, if you can't choose, you can always start with mine! Only 78p to download both...

Breakdown won first prize in a short story competition a couple of years ago.  
Convinced she will never be the mother she should be, Jenny is running away from her daughter in order to give her a better life. However, on a late-night train to Anywhere-At-All, she falls into conversation with an odd ticket inspector and suddenly things don’t seem quite so simple.

A Dollop of Mother was one of my first stories to be highly commended in a competition. It's a bit more of a light-hearted tale than my usual offerings!
Melanie’s attempts to charm her village neighbours by entering the Victoria Sponge Cake competition have only succeeded in proving she is not the culinary queen her mother was. This year, she’s determined to do better. Can she avoid scorn? Will her sponge be light enough? And will she ever learn to be like her mother?

05 December, 2013

The Nation's Favourite Children's Book

Last week booktrust revealed the results of their poll to discover the nation's favourite book to read before the age of 14. Having posted about the angst canon of books teenagers read, I thought it was only right to bring you the top ten list from this vote as well. Here it is, in the correct order: 

  1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - JK Rowling [also overall winner 9-11 years]
  2. The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins [overall winner 12-14 years]
  3. The BFG - Roald Dahl [overall winner 6-8 years]
  4. The Very Hungry Caterpillar - Eric Carle [overall winner 0-5 years]
  5. Winnie-the-Pooh - AA  Milne
  6. The Cat in the Hat - Dr. Seuss
  7. The Fellowship of the Ring - JRR Tolkien
  8. Charlotte's Web - EB White
  9. Northern Lights - Philip Pullman
  10. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - CS Lewis

I read nine of these before or around the time I was 14. The Hunger Games wasn't published then, though I've seen the first film, and I think the premise is amazing. It's interesting that nine of the books WERE published while I was a child. The books of the last decade - with the exception of The Hunger Games - seem to have some catching up to do!

What would you have on your list of top children's books? I think this list is quite well-rounded - well done to the 24 000 people who voted!

03 December, 2013

Hang on... Wait... Taurus by Lindsay Fisher

So, I've been running this story series on my blog in autumn - a new poem or piece of flash fiction inspired by a sign of the zodiac, written by a different author each week.The series finished last week on a bit of a whimper, with a summary of the previous 11 stories only, as my final author - Taurus - hadn't shown up. Well, stop the press! I have a Taurus story for you.

I received a lovely e-mail last week from a blog reader I'd never had contact with before. Lindsay Fisher was disappointed for me that the series was incomplete after three months of work and had therefore written a Taurus story for me to complete my collection - just as a present for me. What a sweetheart! Not only that but he has agreed to let me post it up here for you to see as I loved it. So please show some love for our newest member of Team Zodiac!

Lindsay Fisher Leaks stories. It is an age thing, they say. It can’t be helped. Sometimes they pool in the dirt and dry to nothing; sometimes they spill into nice places, and people say stuff about the stories. Currently work appears in ‘Stories For Homes’, an anthology sold in aid of 'Shelter', a UK based charity for the homeless; and there's something in ‘Cease Cows’ a new online literary magazine.



It was a dare. And you have to accept a dare. It’s like a rule and you ain’t much of a boy if’n you don’t. ‘Course, if you took a dare then you had to give one back. That was a rule, too. And it’s funny, cos we wasn’t much for rules in any place else. School for that matter, we was always breakin’ the rules there and that was just what we did. And ‘Keep off the Grass’ it said in the public gardens and the Parkie kept an eye out for us; he knowed we’d no respect for his signs. And ‘Trespassers will be Prosecuted’ it said up at the old estate; they had the best orchard for miles and we all knowed that cos we got our apples there. But rules that we had a hand in, well, that was different. And takin a dare was a rule and givin one back was a rule, too.

I’d dared Tinker to leap the low fence into Mr Muggeridge’s garden. Our football had gone in there, and not once but three times. Old man Muggeridge had shaken his hoary fist at us before and he’d snarled at us and said the next time he’d put a knife to the ball and he’d set the dog on us. The dog was a right mean bugger and we’d heard stories of its teeth sharp as broken glass, and how once it had you it never let you go. And I’d dared Tinker to get back our ball.

The dog was on a lenght of rope and soon as Tinker had cleared the fence and was on the other side, it set to with its barkin and growling and pullin at the rope till it was chokin on its own spittin rage. And the barkin brought old Muggeridge out and he had a breadknife in one hand and a look in his eye that showed he meant business. It might've been the ball or Tinker he stabbed that day, but Tink was as fast as fizz and he got us our ball back and a mouth full of threats thrown at his back from old Muggeridge.

We didn’t hang around waitin for the police to turn up with their heads shakin and their notebooks out and pencils poised to take down our particulars. We just ran along Cooper’s Lane and out into the fields by Kittley Knowe Farm. It’s quiet up there and no one bothers you. And there’s a lass there called Amy and she’s the prettiest girl in all the town and the first boy to ever kiss her was Arty Blake, and Kensington said he’d done more than kiss her, by which he meant he’d touched her diddies.

It was up at Kittley Knowe Farm that Tinker delivered a dare back to me. There was a bull in the paddock, a big fucker. Big as a truck and it’s black head a great swiveling slab, and it stamped its feet and snorted like a steam train huffin. And a sign said to ‘Beware of the Bull’, painted in red letters, red like blood had been spilled. And Tinker dared me to run across the paddock, one side to the other.

I stood at the fence a while just watchin the beast. It moved slow and heavy, like every step was an effort, like slow was all it could do. But I knowed that was all just a show. I knowed it could run if it wanted to, a small thunder under its feet and a chargin sledgehammer that’d smash anythin in its path. I stood at the fence makin dove calls and talkin real soft so as to calm it.

‘A dare’s a dare,’ said Tinker.

‘Course, he was right but it didn’t help to know that.

‘It’s a rule,’ he said.

Some rules are for breakin when you’re thirteen; some, you’d die to keep. I scaled the fence and lowered myself down into the paddock, not takin my eye off the bull for a second. I could see it was watchin me too, one great rheumy eye just starin. I tried whistlin and walkin casual across the paddock. Like it was the most natural thing in the world and nothin for any bull to remark on. I got about ten steps in and it started movin towards me, shuffling slow as no nevermind at first. But then a quickenin in its step and a quickenin in mine and suddenly we was both runnin and I could hear its breath at my back and the tramplin of its hooves and Tinker yellin at me in fright to get a fuckin move on or I’d be a bull’s plaything.

How I made it to the other side is a blur. I ran till my legs ached and my lungs fit to burstin, and I leapt the high fence as easy as Tinker had leapt old Muggeridge’s low fence, and I collapsed on the other side with the bull smackin its head against the wooden fence posts. And there she was, the prettiest girl in the town and maybe the world and she knelt down beside me and kissed me with her tongue, which is almost as good as touchin her diddies, so that I was twice the hero that day.

Still, I’m a little more careful with the dares I give out since then, and so would you be.

29 November, 2013

An Angst Canon

Two articles about book lists have caught my eye in the last couple of weeks. Firstly, this article from the BBC about whether there is an "angst canon" of books that teenagers love to read, featuring main characters who are alienated by society.

You can buy me on Amazon. (Or your local bookshop!)
Books included in this list are The Ousider (Albert Camus), 1984 (George Orwell), Catch-22 (Joseph Heller) and The Catcher in the Rye (JD Salinger), among many others. The idea is, of course, that teenagers are drawn to these books as they struggle to find their own place in society, making that shift into adulthood. Perhaps these books are accessories - designed to say something to the world about who we are by the fact we read them. I'm not sure. I read these books (except for The Outsider) as a teenager because they were on a book list, and the only one I liked was 1984. But if teenagers are using good literature to express themselves then three cheers for them, I say!

Which books spoke to you as a teenager?

Secondly, the 2014 list of books to be given out on World Book Night was released last week. I won't talk about World Book Night here because I've done that before, but I always love to see which books are going to be distributed for free among communities that might not have much access to books. I've only read four of this year's list, and only heard of one other. I'm getting behind in my literary knowledge!

I've read The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Whatever it Takes, After the Funeral and Short Stories. I only read Whatever it Takes in order to review it for Good Housekeeping and I have to say I didn't think a whole lot of it. The plot was engaging enough, but maybe I was put off by the fact that by page 16 the characters (almost none of whom were that likeable) hadn't just spoken to each other but they'd grunted, whispered, commented and goodness knows what else. The other three though, I really enjoyed.

How many have you read? Any recommendations?

Me too!
  • Rivers of London - Ben Aaronovitch
  • Four Warned - Jeffrey Archer
  • The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - John Boyne
  • After the Funeral - Agatha Christie
  • Short Stories - Roald Dahl
  • Confessions of a GP - Dr. Benjamin Daniels
  • Hello Mum - Bernardine Evaristo
  • Getting Rid of Matthew - Jane Fallon
  • Theodore Boon - John Grisham
  • The Humans - Matt Haig
  • The Perfect Murder - Peter James
  • Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
  • Today Everything Changes - Andy McNab
  • Geezer Girls - Dreda Say Mitchell
  • CHERUB: The Recruit - Robery Muchamore
  • Whatever it Takes - Adele Parks
  • Black Hills - Nora Roberts
  • The Boy with the Topknot - Sathnam Sanghera
  • Gorky Park - Martin Cruz Smith
  • 59 Seconds - Richard Wiseman

26 November, 2013

Taurus by... Everybody!

Welcome to the final part of my 12-part Zodiac Blog Series. On Tuesdays in autumn I posted a story or poem each written especially for this blog by a different author. Each piece of writing took one of the signs of the zodiac as its inspiration. For the full list of participants - from established authors to first-time writers - plus links to previous stories and poems, please visit the Zodiac Blog Series Page.

Following 11 successful weeks my final author has gone missing in action! After eager enthusiasm for the project I never heard another word from her, despite a few attempts to make contact. It was a particular shame as she had chosen the one sign of the zodiac that several people wanted to do. But we will not be defeated!

Following the outstanding critical reception of my masterpiece A Cautionary Tale for Zombies, I thought I would round off the series by offering an overview of the 11 completed pieces of work, under the pretence that it is a good substitute for a story about a bull (this week was meant to be Taurus). I've been so delighted with the range of stories and poems we've had over the last three months, and amazed at the generosity of the authors who donated them - thank-you so much! I've had a lot of fun reading and posting your work.

It's not too late to go and read any story you haven't read yet and leave a comment for the writer. I'm going to leave the series page up for another few months. I'd love to know which your favourite tales were (other than Taurus obviously - I think that's a given!). Leave a comment below...

We started with a story of a real-life Cupid,
Distracted for a second; did something rather stupid.
There there was the tale of a man who cloned his wife.
But three's something of a crowd when it comes to married life.
September finished up with the thrill of the chase:
Poetry's youthful passion; love's true embrace.

Two felines were the stars of October's opening tale,
But which one was at home, and which one was in jail?
When a dead crab and a mad woman were found in the hall,
Was it a joke to tell your friends? Or the apocalypse for all?
Arriving at the theatre we found an actor in the wings,
Time creeping ever on as he nervously waited to sing.
Our next man controlled himself as much as he was able,
But who could resiste the lure of the whiskey on the table?
Sign language was our theme at October's grand conclusion:
A futuristic glimpse of education without exclusion.

November started with a pun (or two, or three, or ten)
Along with a sheep and a mountain, and bucket loads of zen.
Now, have you ever wondered what it's like to be a fish?
If you have, our tenth tale, splashed down to grant your wish.
House-hunting was the setting for a not-so-innocent tale.
What was odd about that fountain? Why was the house for sale?
With crime, romance and drama, autumn was nearly full,
There was just time left for Taurus. But that was a load of old bull.

And that's all, Folks!

22 November, 2013

Quotable Friday (19)

A special anniversary quotation today. No, not the epic 19th Quotable Friday celebration, but the commemoration of an important date. 50 years ago today, the world lost a great man. He died before his time. Known affectionately as Jack to his closest friends and as a genius to many, his influence continues to be felt half a century after his death. I am talking, of course, of CS Lewis.

CS Lewis's death (like that of fellow-writer Aldous Huxley) went largely unnoticed at the time, occurring as it did on the same day as a rather famous assassination. But I'm pleased to see there have been some attempts to commemorate this great man this year. By coincidence I happen to be reading the new biography of Lewis - CS Lewis: A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet - by Alister McGrath at the moment. It's a little academic, but I'm enjoying it.

I've quoted from Lewis's wonderfully witty Narnia books on the blog before here and here. So today I'm going for something a bit different. I've always been charmed by the friendship between Lewis and another great writer, JRR Tolkien. How wonderful that these men were friends! Anybody who knows much about CS Lewis will know that Tolkien ("Tollers") played a important part in Lewis's final acceptance of Christianity. For that reason, Tolkien can be said to have played his part in the writing both of the Narnia series and all the theological books CS Lewis went on to write following his role as "the wartime apologist" for the BBC.

Not everybody might realise that CS Lewis was just as crucial in the writing of The Lord of the Rings. This is what dear JRR had to say about it in a letter to Rayner Unwin after Lewis's death:

"The unpayable debt that I owe to [Lewis] is not "influence" as it is ordinarily understood, but sheer encouragement. He was for long my only audience. Only from him did I ever get the idea that my "stuff" could be more than a private hobby. But for his interest and unceasing eagerness for more I should never have brought The L. of the R. to conclusion."

All writers need a CS Lewis! Imagine if he hadn't encouraged his friend to continue with his "second hobbit book". Encouragement is one of the greatest gifts you can give someone - whatever stage they're at.

Now... points to anyone who knows JRR Tolkien's first three names without looking them up!

19 November, 2013

Aquarius by Kirsten-Valerie Nott

Welcome to Part 11 of my 12-part Zodiac Blog Series. On Tuesdays in autumn I'm posting a story or poem each written especially for this blog by a different author. Each piece of writing has taken one of the signs of the zodiac as its inspiration. For the full list of participants - from established authors to first-time writers - plus the posting schedule and links to previous stories and poems, please visit the Zodiac Blog Series Page.

For our penultimate week, we have a story inspired by Aquarius by Kirsten-Valerie Nott.

Kirsten is a 22 year-old Christian who lives in York. She loves reading, writing, drinking coffee and much more. She's been writing as long as she can remember but has never entered any competitions and this is her first published piece! She is about to return to university to study English Literature and Creative writing and hoped that the Zodiac Challenge would be good preparation. I'm sure she'd appreciate any encouragement or advice fellow writers can give! You can catch up with Kirsten on her blog.


The Water Carrier

The house was a large, old red-brick, with crumbling corners and ivy growing all over its fa├žade. It had large, wooden-framed sash windows with most of the glass missing. The door was huge and heavy and though it had been painted red, the paint had mostly peeled away to show the dark wood underneath. There were several roof tiles missing and one of the chimney stacks was cracked and leaning at a rather precarious angle. The estate agent placed the large, old-looking, brass key in the lock and, with some difficulty, turned it. He pushed open the heavy door which issued a horrible high pitched sound. 

Inside, the house was dark and smelt of dust and earth. With all of the broken windows, it had been open to the elements. It would need a lot of work. The estate agent fumbled around for a light switch. There was a click, but they remained in darkness. Clearly the electricity was a little temperamental. The estate agent then made his way through an archway, indicating that the young couple viewing the property should follow. The room they entered was lighter, due to the sunlight coming in through the large windows. It was a sitting room, with a high ceiling and was still mostly furnished; though the furniture looked rather old and battered.

As they wandered from room to room, all high-ceilinged, filled with old furniture and with wallpaper peeling from the walls, the estate agent explained that the property had been empty for a long period because the previous owners had often gone away to Africa to work as aid workers with Water Aid. On their last trip out there, they had gone missing and had never returned. They had had people taking care of the house during the times when they were away, but when they had been reported missing, the staff had not bothered returning. The estate agent shad had difficulty selling it due to its size and location and the amount of work that needed doing to it. 

By the time the estate agent had finished talking, they had reached the back of the house and were standing in a long, thin, galley kitchen. There was a small door in one wall. Light streamed through the windows in the top of the door, though it faced the middle of the house rather than the outside of it. They slid back the bolts and pushed the door open. It opened onto a small square patio of off-white flagstones. The space was mostly empty but for a small fountain right in the centre. In the middle of the fountain stood a stone figure; a girl. She wore what appeared to be rags and had no shoes on her feet. She was carrying, on her shoulder, a large water urn, presumably where the water flowed from when the fountain was working. At the foot of the fountain was a plaque that read simply, The Longest Journey.

15 November, 2013

An Agent - One Year On

It's been a year since I received a glorious e-mail from an agent concerning my newly-finished novel: "I've read the full MS now... I think it's tremendous... I'd very much like to take you on." Less than a month after finishing, and with another agency also interested, it was a bit of whirlwind time for me. But what happens after the whirlwind dies down? I thought it was time to update you...

You can read all about how I came to be represented by David Haviland at The Andrew Lownie Literary Agency here. Since then, I've been mostly silent on the subject of that first novel - The Art of Letting Go - and for a good reason: there's been little to say. Yet.

After meeting David and signing the agency contract, I spent a few months re-writing TAOLG based on David's feedback, and on working with him to put together a proposal package (sample chapters, short synopsis, detailed chapter breakdown, marketing ideas....). David started submitting the MS to editors at publishing houses in March - about 8 months ago.

At first, even receiving rejections was exciting. Unlike submitting to agents, most publishers offer a sentence or two of feedback, rather than standard rejections. Here were professional publishers discussing my work with an agent - who'd have thought it?! I knew the chance of a publishing contract was still small - an inexperienced, young author writing general (rather than genre) fiction, with a book that is a psychological exploration of human interaction, rather than an action-packed romp - but I was hopeful and, despite the lack of contract so far, I still am. I still believe in it. I know of authors who had a publishing deal within a month of getting an agent; but I also know a few authors who have taken a year or more to get a deal. And I also know authors who never sell their first book but for whom it opens a door to getting their next book published.

I could write a detailed post about the rejections I've received but I suspect it would be rather like writing down dreams: dull and pointless for the reader! To summarise it instead, I would say I am pleased with my rejections so far. That might sound odd - it's easy to feel embarrassed at the lack of an immediate publishing deal - but with one or two exceptions, the response has been positive. People have said nicer things on rejecting this novel than they have on awarding me short story prizes in the past! Among other things I've been told:

It's a shocking story, told with confidence and verve... a sense of darkness lurking below the surface of the narrative...
The layering of the story is deftly handled and navigated. A compelling novel.
It has a powerful sense of place and careful attention to humanity.

And in case that sounds like showing off, I will remind you that all this is in the context of being rejected! I am still waiting for somebody willing to give it a shot among the famous names and boldest thrillers. From the more, shall we call it 'constructive' feedback I've just finished writing yet another version of the novel (number six, if you're counting) and we are waiting to see what happens with that. But to avoid this blog post becoming an essay of epic proportions, I'll leave telling you what else I've been doing for the last 8 months for another time (not just refreshing my e-mail inbox, I promise).

For now, here are some things I've learned this year:

  1. Progress is not linear. Two years ago I had a great year - winning several short story prizes. Last year seemed slow but ended with an agency deal of my dreams. This year I've mostly just put words on paper. Just because you are going in the right direction doesn't mean you are going there fast! None of those hours trying to herd words are wasted.
  2. I can write. Several editors have described my writing as beautiful or told David they think I'm talented. I remind myself of this when it seems nothing I write is any good. I am not a polished writer. I am not a genius. I have so much work to do to even be publishable let alone worthy of attention. But I can write. In fact, my biggest comfort has been that the criticism has been for technical stuff (e.g. plot structure) - stuff writers can (hopefully) learn - whereas the praise has been for the writing itself - much harder to learn.
  3. Writing is subjective. Things that one editor loves, another hates. My characters have been criticised and complimented. The quirky structure of my novel has been praised as skillful and called a mess!
  4. Being open-minded is everything. Not only must a new writer be willing to change their precious manuscript, but dreams must be flexible too. I do possibly have a chance to be published by a good-quality, professional digital publisher. It could get my book out there quicker, possibly sell more than a traditional deal would and get over that first hurdle in publishing. I haven't thought about it much yet, but I am determined not to dismiss it only because it isn't the sort of deal I've dreamed of at night!
  5. It's easy to forget the positives. A rejection is negative, even if the editor says lovely things. BUT if they have said lovely things, they're not lying. I tend to forget the praise in the despair. Add in the hormonal free-for-all that is pregnancy, and teacups can be filled with tempests if I'm not careful!
  6. I want this book to be published. Yes, I want to be published one day. More than that though, I want THIS book to be published. I still love it and I am willing to work as hard as I can - listen to any advice - to bring it to life. Hell, I've written it six times already - why not 10?!

What have you learned from a bumpy journey, you might never have learned from a smooth road?

12 November, 2013

Pisces by Joe Hickson

Welcome to Part Ten of my 12-part Zodiac Blog Series. On Tuesdays in autumn I'm posting a story or poem each written especially for this blog by a different author. Each piece of writing has taken one of the signs of the zodiac as its inspiration. For the full list of participants - from established authors to first-time writers - plus the posting schedule and links to previous stories and poems, please visit the Zodiac Blog Series Page.

This week's story is inspired by Pisces and is written by Joe Hickson.

Joe obligingly allowed me to post his story a week early to give the last couple of writers a bit more time to finish their work. So give Joe a little round of applause at your desk before reading on...

Joe works on a computer all day but doesn't normally write joined together sentences. As a programmer he spent a long spell not writing anything outside the third person, since before starting his university degree. He started writing a food blog about 18 months ago before switching to join up with his wife, Jenny, on a joint project blogging about all the projects they get up to in the house. This is his first attempt at creative writing of this sort. Joe has been a Pisces since birth and found inspiration in science and nature for his story.


There is nothing but dark and light. It comes slowly at first, like a cold winter refusing to surrender its icy grips. Gradual awareness arrives, there is more to the long gaps in the dark than just light. It fluctuates and ripples, occasionally guttering as a candle on a summers night. An instinct to twitch, to escape from the spectral shadows, that is all consuming. Hide. Shelter. Seek refuge. Beneath a great fortress there is peace, where there is a slight calm and safety. But still there is a tether, a cumbersome life giving link. It restricts, it slows, it hinders. Hunger comes and the fortress diminishes. Moving out the tether is no longer there. Freedom to move, to stretch, to grow.

Restlessness. Things are changing. Home no longer feels right. Something indefinable. An itch that can’t be scratched. The pace increases. Open spaces expand. Suddenly salt courses over the taste buds. Oh sweet salt. Powerful motions propel ever onwards. Further. Deeper. Darker. The great celestial source of light is weaker here, swallowed in the gloom. New sights. New sounds. New feelings. Giants pass on the edge of detection, engines add their din over nature’s perpetual cacophony, and pressure constricts every surface. This is where destiny leads.

A yearning for home. It comes to everyone eventually. A longing for the familiar, comfortable places from childhood. Tension builds. The time to move has come. Expectation, anticipation and stress all add their notes to the harmony. Bodies jostle. Skin hits skin, hits stone, hits nothing. Great claws rent the air and teeth snatch at pink flesh. Scales from fallen comrades rush past in the current. Home is close, its taste grows stronger. Others fall by the wayside. Strength fades but it is complete. The calm at the end of the storm welcomes with its cool embrace. Exhaustion overcomes and for the final time light loses its battle with dark.

07 November, 2013

Christmas Gifts for Writers and Book-Lovers

Back in March I wrote a post about The Literary Gift Company and some of the wonderful things they sell. As we are approaching Christmas - or at least, the Christmas shopping season - I thought I'd help you out again with five more ideas of what to get the special writer in your life. [I'm not one to drop hints but, following my last post, one of my lovely blogging friends did send me one of the gifts I mentioned, and I received another couple for my birthday. Just sayin'.]

I've tried to pick five different websites this time - though many of the gifts can be found on many of the websites and each site is worth a good long browse! With each, I've also included another gift found on the same site. Any of these tickle your fancy?

For the arty one. Set of three cool prints of authors. £35. You can choose which three you have from: Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsburgh, William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Virginia Woolf, Oscar Wilde. By Lucy Loves This at Not On The High Street. Also available: 642 Things to Write About Journal (notebook full of great writing prompts). £17 by Deservedly So.

For the perfectionist. Grammar Grumble mug (one of a set of six). Teach people to talk proper as you drink. £7.95 (whole set is £39.95). From The Literary Gift Company. Also available: adult and children's book cover t-shirts, such as this Charlotte's Web one. £19.95.

For the tea-lover. Novel Teas - individual teabags of English Breakfast Tea, each with a literary quotation. £7.90 for a box of 25. From Writer's Gifts. Also available: Shakespeare's Insults A5 notebook (because what says Christmas more than a book covered in quotations such as, "The tartness of his face sours ripe grapes"?) £4.50.
For the dreamer. Secret Garden necklace - a key and a rose, accompanied by the quotation "If you look the right way you can see that the whole world is a garden." £14 from Literary Emporium. (This is one of an extensive set of necklaces each with a quotation from authors as varied as Edward Lear, Mary Shelley, Emily Bronte, Wordsworth, Lewis Carroll.... and many more.) Also available: iPhone case with JRR Tolkien quotation, "Not all those who wander are lost". £14.

 For the reluctantly modern man (or woman!). Ted Baker Typewriter laptop case (takes up to 13" screen). £29.99 from Book-Ish. Also available: Penguin Pencil Box (with pencils). £5.99.

05 November, 2013

Aries by Iain Pattison

Welcome to Part Nine of my 12-part Zodiac Blog Series. On Tuesdays in autumn I'm posting a story or poem each written especially for this blog by a different author. Each piece of writing has taken one of the signs of the zodiac as its inspiration. For the full list of participants - from established authors to first-time writers - plus the posting schedule and links to previous stories and poems, please visit the Zodiac Blog Series Page.

This week we have a story by Iain Pattison and inspired by Aries.

Birmingham-based Iain Pattison is an expert in the craft of writing and seIling short stories. He is the author of the best-seller, Cracking the Short Story Market. A prolific short story writer and competition winner, his work has been published on both sides of the Atlantic, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and appeared in a raft of popular magazines. When he's not penning quirky tales he's a busy competition judge, creative writing tutor, script doctor and appraiser. As an Aries - March 27th if anyone wants to send a card - he says he just had to "grab the ram". It may result in a court case...

You can find Iain on his website, Twitter and Facebook, or you can read his stories for yourself by clicking here.


Ram-a-Lama Ding Dong!

“Holy sh-“
His Most Exulted and Celestial Reverence the Dalai Lama slapped his hand across his mouth just in time to prevent a string of obscenities turning the Tibetan air blue.
Blinking, he rubbed his eyes unable to accept what he was seeing. Instead of a benign, portly man with bulging stomach and holy aura, the statute that had just been unveiled was an animal – a towering 20-foot woolly vision with horns.
He gazed darkly at the beaming young monk leant against the plinth of his creation, clearly delighted at the results of his six month labour.
“Whaddya think, chief?” he urged. “Isn’t it great? Isn’t it just what we need to bring in the punters.”  
The Dalai Lama wanted to answer “I can’t believe it’s not Buddha” but had an eerie feeling he’d heard the phrase somewhere before. Instead, he spluttered; “But, it’s a .. a… sheep!”
Screwing up his face, the monk nodded. “Technically, yes. But it’s actually a ram. Much more impressive.”
His holiness’ various lives flashed through his mind as he tried to recall what he’d ever done to deserve this. His orders had been clear – build a new religious edifice to boost the dwindling numbers of pilgrims making the arduous climb to the temple high in the Himalayas. Create something traditional; signalling that this was a place to seek enlightenment, inner knowledge and spiritual peace. He hadn’t mentioned anything about livestock. 
“It’s in your honour,” the monk explained. “I researched your Holiness’ birth chart and discovered you are an Aries. Hence the ram…”
For someone who was supposed to be at one with everything, the Dalai Lama found himself at sixes and sevens. It was all too much. It was difficult to be sure – all the monks looked identical with their shaven heads, bare feet and orange robes - but he had a horrible feeling it was the same initiate who’d suggested a range of Buddhist t-shirts emblazoned with slogans like:
Reincarnation: in my next life I’m coming back as evaporated milk!
Keep Karma and Carry on Meditating!
When you get angry, stop and count to Zen!
Nirvana – you’ve heard the music, now try the state of mind.
He knew he should be furious, but reminded himself forcefully that the demented disciple had meant well. Besides, he suddenly had an idea of how he could rescue something from the mess.
“Fetch me some paint,” he instructed. “And rollers, lots of rollers.”

Several hours later, His Most Exulted and Celestial Reverence smiled serenely as he surveyed pilgrims making their way upwards – hundreds of them – all attracted by the dazzling sunlight reflecting off the top of the newly glistening statute.
The yellow hued ram was gaudy, admittedly, but he knew once word spread the curious would be – he allowed himself an inner chuckle – flocking to see it.
It just went to prove the golden rule of all faiths, he mused wisely – if you gild it, they will come…