I’m still alive!

Sorry for the long silence. I am in that curious state of limbo that is Submissions, combined with writing The First Draft of my next manuscript. When I get going it’s basically all I can focus on. I have written 15,000 words so far, and am aiming to reach my expected target of 40,000-50,000 words in the next two weeks. I hope to have the first round of edits done by the end of June (preferably 2014).

This is only my second ms so I’m not sure if I have a modus operandi yet, but so far it is progressing much like my first. I complete a basic storyline, usually four or five key points, then write between 1,000-5,000 words a day. If the story wants to change, I let it. At this stage the only things I am really thinking about are plot and voice, because they are what come most easily, and I just want to get the story out as quickly as possible.

Then the really fun part begins – editing! With ‘The Cartographer’s Daughter’, this involved adding a lot of world building elements, and developing characters. There were too many events happening in a bang! bang! bang! fashion (technical term) and so it needed more scenery and more connection for the reader.

This manuscript’s problems are different. The voice is very strong and dominates the book, so I don’t think connection will be a problem. It will be a case of balancing this with pace, and ensuring the plot holds up. It is in some ways a quieter book, but with a louder voice coming through.

I have also been reading a lot since starting the second ms – most recently Wonder by RJ Palacio, Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan, and currently Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell, and The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt (translated by Laura Watkinson). Though it’s scary to admit it, these are the kind of books I want mine to be mentioned in the same breath as. So aside from enjoyment it is useful/essential to see what successful writers are doing right.

More soon. Happy writing!

ceiling-cat-write1

“So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: “You are not alone.”

Keeping Roald Dahl’s quote from Matilda close as today it’s submissions day for The Cartographer’s Daughter. As the wait begins, it’s nice to step back and remember that books like his are why I wanted to write my own.

This quote descibes exactly how I felt growing up – books were ships or lights or doors to open, follow and explore. As my mum always says, “You’re never alone with a book”, and, as it is for everyone, growing up was sometimes very hard. The following books and authors were the biggest ships on my horizon throughout my childhood and beyond. I’ve largely left out YA – that’s a whole other post!

Alan Garner – The Owl Service and Red Shift
Anne Fine – The Tulip Touch and Flour Babies
David Almond – Skellig and My Name is Mina
Diana Wynn-Jones – Christomanci series
Dick King-Smith all but especially the Sophie series and The Crowstarver
Eloise McGraw – The Moorchild
Eoin Colfer – Artemis Fowl series and The Wish List
Eva Ibbotson – Journey to the River Sea and Which Witch?
Jacqueline Wilson – The Illustrated Mum and Girls Under Pressure
JK Rowling – Harry Potter series, especially …Philosopher’s Stone and …Goblet of Fire
Judith Kerr – When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and The Tiger Who Came to Tea
Julia Bell – Massive
Julia Clarke – The Starling Tree
Lemony
SnicketA Series of Unfortunate Events series
Louis Sanchar – Holes
Michael Morpurgo – all but especially The Butterfly Lion and Kensuke’s Kingdom
Odo Hirsch – Bartlett and the Ice-Voyage
Philip Pullman – His Dark Materials trilogy, The Firework-maker’s Daughter and The Tiger in the Well
Roald Dahl – all but especially Matilda, The TwitsJames and the Giant Peach, Esio Trot and (later) Skin & Other Stories.

I have read many other wonderful children’s books  in more recent years, but the biggest revelation has been Cathrynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who… series. They are funny, brilliantly crafted, and scarily imaginative. Anyone who thinks children’s books are just for children would be converted by the end of a chapter!

 

Writer, Waiting – How to cope

The best part of being a writer, is writing. The hardest part, for me at least, is waiting. Waiting for the next idea to form, waiting for agents to get back to you, waiting for edits, hopefully at some point  waiting for publishers, and then for the wildly successful reviews to come flooding in.

Maybe I’ve been in therapy too long, but I have come to term the following helpful hints ‘coping devices’. These were hugely necessary for me each time I sent to Agent A, and especially when I was waiting after the second draft, but it’s good to have some throughout the writing process.

1) The first, and most important one if you’re waiting after finishing a book, is start your next project. I’m assuming you’re hoping this ms is the first of many, and certainly agents are far more likely to take you on if you see writing as a career, not as ending with single publication. So you can never really start the next story soon enough. Unless you are burnt out, in which case skip to tip two. Just after sending out The Cartographer’s Daughter I wrote the first chapter of my next project, but wasn’t really feeling it. So I went back to reading, and writing poetry.

keep-calm-and-write-your-damn-book

2) R&R. This means different things to different people. It could be a long bath/bed time half hour early/a book instead of TV (or vice versa). For my dad and other people with instincts for self-preservation, it’s going for a long run. For me, it’s spending the day in bed watching Gray’s Anatomy, with a cat curled up next to my feet. No judgements here (except maybe from the cat).

imagesYou tell ’em, Bailey!

3) Talk to your friends. Drink/dance with your friends. Watch Twin Peaks/Girls/Game of Thrones marathons with your friends. Sarvat, Tom and Daisy (hereafter STD mwahaha) live with me and so get the brunt of my incessant ‘what if’ scenarios, and I’m lucky because they are going through the same sort of thing. It’s also good to stop talking about it sometimes and, oh I don’t know, maybe go drinking at three in the afternoon (you may have gathered I’m still a student).

4) Get out of the house. Also known as getting out of your head. Go for a walk, work in a cafe for a bit, go buy yourself a book (I give you permission).

5) I struggle with anxiety, and often introducing a bit of humour into the situation helps. This is where Tom, boyfriend and live-in comic relief, comes in. Just after I sent my second round of submissions (full story here), I was stressing out A LOT. I couldn’t sleep, it was all I could think about. I made a table with all the agents I had sent the manuscript to, with columns ready for ‘responses’ and ‘results’. It looked a little like this:

Submissions

Agency / Agent                 Submitted                     Date of response                  Outcome

T saw it and decided that a scary table was the last thing I need to be looking at. So he made some edits, and this is what we ended up with:

Purrrcatory

Gatekeepers                      Soul delivered               Date of destiny                    Poop or not poop?

It’s easy to take yourself too seriously. Don’t.

6) Finally – and this is something I still need to work on – get some perspective. Realise that writing this story is your choice (or maybe it chose you, lottery finger style), and as such you have control over it. What’s more, it’s fun. Not easy, and it’s important to know when to write through the blocks, and when to turn to duvet and drink. But when it’s working, writing feels vital, invigorating and fun. Enjoy your good writing days, because unfortunately/thankfully, the rest is out of your control.

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Purrrgatory, or, How I came to have an agent – the short version

I’m sorry I’m not sorry for the cat gifs. And the needless* cat pun in the title. I really, really like cats, and it is a somewhat damning love for reasons you will discover. And yes, this really is the short version.

*Not as needless as it may appear – explanation post pending.

July 2013

Met The Agent at my creative writing course showcase. Despite only being about halfway through my first draft of my first novel The Cartographer’s Daughter, I send her my submission within a week of talking.

Mistake counter: 3

 August

The Agent requests the full ms two weeks later. Too panicked to celebrate, I send excuses-laden email asking for two months’ grace to actually finish the darn thing polish the manuscript. The Agent probably sees straight through my grovelling, but through the kindness of her heart, she agrees.

Mistake counter: 4

September

Write. Eat. Sleep. Write. Eat. Sleep. Repeat until…holy hotcakes, Batman – first draft of first novel done! Feel feelings. Make friends/family read and suggest edits. Edit. Eat. Sleep. Edit. Eat. Sleep. Edit.

Mistake counter: still 4, though maybe I deserve an extra half point penalty for the sheer stupidity of what I was trying to do. 4.5

 October

Send the polished draft. Attempt to re-engage with relationships, usual sanitation etc. Get an email back two weeks later (I sense a pattern) to arrange a meeting. Could this be The Meeting?

cat_image6The anticipation is killing me-ow!

…no, but it is hugely energising. The Agent and her junior agent (Agent A) talk through their thoughts, and suggest edits. I largely agree with their suggestions, and knuckle down to the second draft.

Mistake counter: 5.5

January 2014

Finish the second draft. My novel grows from 56,887 words, to 105,306, and back down to settle at 68,223 during this time. Send to The Agent and Agent A. Receive an email from The Agent to say Agent A is taking over the reins as she is really ‘championing’ my book. Feel even more feelings – someone is ‘championing’ my book!

Mistake counter: 5.5

February

Meet Agent A on Valentines’ Day, wearing red. It doesn’t quite have the desired effect, but I do leave with more edits. At the end of the meeting I woman up and ask if representation is on the cards. She says maybe if the next draft is good enough, and that I am welcome to approach other agents. I get the edits done within two weeks (67,349 words) and send the revised ms to Agent A, and three more agencies, including one with a Big Fish Client.

Mistake counter: 6 (another half point penalty)

March

Big Fish Client agency requests full, then a meeting. Meeting is politely postponed three times. Attend creative writing course weekend retreat. First speaker is an agent from an Established Agency. In the Q&A session, I ask what the protocol should be for applying to other agencies if you are already working with an agent on your ms. He looks shocked. He said if he liked an ms enough to work on it, he thought it was only fair to offer the author some security in the form of representation. Immediately after, I email Agent A and Big Fish Client agency, as well as submitting to six other agents from my Dream Agent list. For the first time in ages, I feel back in control.

Five days later, I have two requests for a full. One is from Hellie Ogden at Janklow and Nesbit.

Mistake counter: 7

April

Hellie reads my manuscript over the weekend and organises a meeting for the following Thursday. I also speak to another agent that week, but as soon as I meet Hellie, I know. We talk about possible edits, her upcoming marathon and my love-of, and allergy-to, cats. She offers me representation. It sinks in very slowly, until:

h29E3A3B4Me after A LOT of cocktails.

I just about contain the urge to say yes straight away, and take her advice to email everyone else it’s out on submission with, to say I have an offer. (I have an offer!)

I should take a moment to say that this was happening the week between Bologna and London Book Fairs, two of the largest events of the publishing calendar. So it would have been understandable if the agents hadn’t found the time to respond to, let alone read my email. But all but one of them did. And all of them requested fulls. What’s more, all but one of them made me an offer. Including Agent A, who I met again.

I felt completely overwhelmed. I talked to everyone I knew about the decision, and they all said the same. They already knew which agent I should go for: the person I had been gushing about since I met them. It was a real ‘trust your gut’ moment. So, I declined the other offers. Emailing Agent A was surprisingly sad, but I’m learning that it’s a strange quirk of the writing world that although it all feels very personal, it’s mainly business.

Two weeks after our first meeting, I signed with Hellie at Janklow and Nesbit. Here’s the evidence (bin not included):

1044649_294737304017451_3921772827540166293_nStrangely like signing marriage papers.

Mistake counter: -3 (surely signing with a Dream Agent is minus at least ten mistake points?)

Now the real work begins. I can’t wait!