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!


“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
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!


“A word after a word after a word is power” – Margaret Atwood

Stumbling/tumblr-ing across Atwood’s quote reminded me of another I found (and lost) recently, which was along the lines of ‘an academic explains a simple thing in a difficult way, an artist explains a difficult thing in a simple way’*.

I like this idea. After nigh-on five years in university, I often find myself overcomplicating my views with theory. So when I was ask to speak on a panel for Oxford Brookes’ OutBurst Festival, on the topic of ‘The Power of Words’, I panicked. Not least because the other panelists include Man-Booker shortlisted Nikita Lalwani (who teaches on my course) and personal poetry idol Dan Holloway.

My initial thought was a big thumbs up for the power of words. Then the academic crept in. What if the others disagreed? What if my gut reaction wasn’t enough? What if I was *whispers* wrong?  hF3CD25BE

I settled down to do some serious thinking. I read essays from Robin Allott, Roland Barthes and Foucault. I thought myself into theoretical dead-ends and imagined a combative debate where I had to fight myself out of an ideological corner. But it wasn’t until I cracked, and did the social media equivalent of wikipedia-ing, on tumblr (searching ‘the power of words’) that I got anywhere.

Here I found quote after quote from writers such as Philip K Dick, Cassandra Clare, Edgar Allan Poe and, of course, Atwood. And each of them succinctly captured that initial, emotional reaction I had – ‘YES! I believe in the power of words! I do, I do!’

tumblr_lxj9g14zQm1r7haw0o1_250Clap with me!

Words have pulled me out of some pretty deep darkness, and other words have put me down there in the first place. In every book I’ve loved, I’ve found something completely true to me written down in someone else’s hand, someone who I never met and who doesn’t know I exist. Not only that, I believe in the power of the spaces around the words, the silence, which poetry has taught me is half the point.

Five years of academia has made me too cautious, too worried about being wrong, or scared of being mocked by someone I thought was a friend for googling a word they used that I didn’t know (AND breathe). But as a writer, it’s my job to learn, my right to be curious. I’m even allowed change my mind!

Screw you, Academic Cat. On Thursday,  I’m going to go in with my writer head on, and feel powerful in my words. If you want to bear witness to this resolve, come along:  http://www.englishpen.org/event/radical-publishing-the-power-of-words/

*If anyone knows where that quote is from, let me know!

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.


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:


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:


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.