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Finally, perhaps an end to whaling

breaching whale

My passion for the sea and marine life meant I was thrilled on Friday, when the Australian government announced they would press ahead with legal action to try to stop whaling in the Antarctic. It’s been a long time coming, but hopefully this will prove to be a true step towards change. Of course, the real celebration will come when whaling actually ends for good.

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Editing Beneath the Shadows

I’m about to start editing Beneath the Shadows, and I’m very excited about it. It is through this process that my book will gradually evolve from its raw first draft into a finely polished finished piece. With a background as an editor I feel very open to the editing process, which can be pretty daunting and confronting for a writer. Everything from characters, plot and pace, and the strength of the writing itself, is examined thoroughly during editing; and as a result the book can change quite a bit, sometimes in ways the author never envisioned. Come Back to Me was a much better book after editing, and I’m sure that it will be the same for Beneath the Shadows

Beneath the Shadows is currently at the structural editing stage. So we’re looking at things like how the chapters work, both on their own and with one another; whether the characters are developing fully; if there are gaps that need filling, or sections that need paring back. So wish me luck, and I’ll post some updates on how it’s going.

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BOOK LOVE: Beautiful Malice by Rebecca James

Katherine has moved to Sydney to start afresh, after a terrible tragedy shattered her family. There she meets alluring Alice, but their friendship grows gradually darker and more troubled, spiralling towards a shocking finale.

I’m always eager to read a book I’ve heard a lot about, and this one didn’t disappoint. An absolute page-turner that draws you in from the start, I read it in one sitting, and was only disappointed when it finished. Looking forward to the next one!

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BOOK LOVE: One Day by David Nicholls

Emma and Dexter meet on the night of their graduation. Tomorrow they must go their separate ways. So where will they be on this one day next year? And the year after that? And every year that follows?

This was on my reading list for ages. It took me a little while to get into the characters, but once I did I really enjoyed it, and there were a few laugh-out-loud moments. A compelling exploration of the evolution of a relationship while trying to find one’s way in life beyond the university years – some of it disconcertingly familiar!

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On pursuing publication

Book pages 1This blog also appeared on the Random House ‘Random Blogs’ website on 9th April 2010

I was recently asked advice on how to become a published writer.

Here’s my take on what it takes:

Originality
In general, the more original your concept, the better. But originality must still be able to be placed within the market. Sometimes what’s original to one person can be just a bit too way out to the next reader, so don’t go too far. Alternatively, you may want to follow a trend – vampires, anyone? – but you still need an original take on it. And you need to get the timing right, so the market isn’t oversaturated by the time you finish your book.

Determination
You have to really want to succeed, be prepared for knockbacks, not get bogged down in them but use them to make you stronger.

Stamina
First of all to finish the book. An enormous feat. Then to go over and over it yourself, figuring out how you can make it better. Then to allow other people to do the same.

Enthusiasm
To learn from those who have been there. Listen to published writers. They can give you so many ideas, and to hear them talk is often inspirational. No one begins life as a published writer, they were all once in unpublished shoes, without exception. Read lots of books. They all have something to inspire you – even if it’s only, ‘I could do better than this!’

Listening skills
Listen to critique. While it’s great to wholly believe in what you have written, it’s also good to remember that your readers might just have a point. Try to look dispassionately at your writing, and pay particular attention if you hear the same comment more than once, even if it’s not what you want to hear.

Insight
Put yourself in a busy publisher’s shoes. They have thirty manuscripts. Four meetings that morning. Which should they pick up? I can guarantee you that it will usually be the one sent with a bit of razzmatazz from an agent. So then perhaps you should find an agent. If you decide to go this route, put yourself in their shoes. They have thirty manuscripts. Four meetings that morning. Which should they pick up? The one that’s double-line spaced, interestingly presented, with a quick-to-grasp concept. And a covering letter that stands out. From someone who phoned or emailed first with a great, succinct pitch (although do check what type of contact each agent prefers before doing this)? Or the single-spaced scruffy sheaf of papers, appended to a meandering cover letter, from a person they’ve never heard of or from. I know which I would choose.

And finally: Passion
For the written word. For writing for writing’s sake, not just for publishing’s sake. Because that joy and commitment will be immediately recognisable to the reader, and there is little more compelling than that.

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Finding the time to write

Book pages 1An older version of this blog also appeared on the Random House ‘Random Blogs’ website on 8th April 2010

For me, for a long time my writing was my hobby, and as such I would get through everything else first, promising myself writing time later, as some kind of reward. However, it’s far too easy for that time to never arrive. It was only when I dedicated myself to finishing Come Back to Me at the end of 2007 that I really made the strides forward that I needed to then pursue publication. Now I do try to schedule time to write, but it’s not always easy. I have an active one-year-old little girl, all the general aspects of life to keep going, and my husband would quite like some attention sometimes too, I think. I have just finished my second book, and managed it by making the most of the time my little girl was asleep or my husband was here to care for her, as well as having the help of a wonderful childminder for a few hours a week. (Also invaluable was a well-timed visit by my mother!) Although I used to write at all hours of the day, for now I have to make the most of this dedicated, limited time. I usually have lots of scribbled notes to work through by the time each session comes around, as when I’m busy on other things I still make sure to make notes on ideas so that I can refer back to them later.

As with many other writers, it may well be necessary for me to continue my day job of editing to make a living. Then I will not only have to remind myself to make time for my writing, but to work hard to make sure that time actually happens. When the task at hand seems enormous, I also remind myself to just make a start, and that if I keep doing that every day, one day I’ll reach the finish line! And, if I don’t find the time I need, I may have to look hard at the things I am making time for. I once heard a popular fiction writer in England talking about how if you just turned off EastEnders, a prime-time soap opera that runs for half an hour four nights a week, and used the time to write, in six months you would have a book.  It’s worth thinking about.

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Friends and family readers

Book pages 2This blog also appeared on the Random House ‘Random Blogs’ website on 7th April 2010

For the past eighteen months I have been telling family and friends that my book will be published. Before that I was just ‘writing a book’ – an oft-heard phrase. I think many of them have grown so used to hearing about this mythical book that it will actually be quite a surprise when they see it on sale. However, waiting for family and friends’ reactions is in many ways as daunting as waiting for the reviews. Because they read it from a different perspective, knowing me and my story. And because I can’t scrunch them all up and throw them in the bin if I don’t like what they say! Although, I’m not sure I can even trust their feedback – after all, I don’t think I would tell anyone I was fond of that I thought their book was a load of rubbish – at least, not if I wanted to remain on speaking terms.

I also realised a while ago that there’s another potential problem with having people I know read my book. I’m not sure if it’s a bigger problem for me or for them really. The question is: how many of them will be looking for themselves somewhere inside the pages? Sure enough, when my mother had finished reading Come Back to Me, one of her first comments was that she hoped the character of Chloe’s mother wasn’t modelled on her! I was pleased to reassure her that it wasn’t the case. None of my characters have been modelled on anyone I know, though no doubt at times I have drawn on my own experiences with people to help me to look further into a character’s actions and motivations. But it’s very general – believe me! Although perhaps I should do a quick friend tally now, and see if anyone stops speaking to me in the next few months – the reason why, whether valid or not, might just lie within the pages of my novel.

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Your editor is on your side

Book pages 2This blog also appeared on the Random House ‘Random Blogs’ website on 6th April 2010

It is always interesting to see how writers respond to editorial guidance. Some are completely open to suggestions, others are not, and there’s a third category who seem to be keen for a critique, but then either don’t like the reality, or don’t seem to alter anything much as a result. What many writers appear to get stuck on is the ‘Well, I like it’, or ‘It has to happen because…’ response. A writer becomes so attached to a piece of writing, or a certain event in their plot, that they will hold on to it come hell or high water. But I believe that the more malleable you see your work, right up to the point it becomes set in print, then the more likely you are to create a better book. This doesn’t mean you have to follow any or all editorial suggestions, because ultimately, and quite rightly, the author has the final say. However, it is worth remembering that editors are there to help you produce the best finished product you can, not to ruin your treasured script! Therefore their comments should not be dismissed too lightly.

That’s the theory, anyway, coming from an editor’s perspective. But how did I go as a writer? Well, I had this experience with Come Back to Me. The book had a prologue, which was the very first thing I wrote for the novel, and I loved it. Every time I reread the prologue, it made me think that maybe, just maybe, I could get this thing published. So when the script came back with a big pencil line streaking across the first page, I did have a bit of a gulp. And, if I hadn’t had an editing background, I would have probably argued passionately for it to remain – because I loved it. However, the thing is, while I felt it was a fine piece of writing, it interfered with something more important: it delayed the real start to my story. So when I’d had a few minutes to think about it, I knew the editor was right. The prologue was a personally beloved part of an earlier draft, but it didn’t belong in the finished piece. So out it went. And the book is better for it.

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When characters get minds of their own

Book pages 2This blog also appeared on the Random House ‘Random Blogs’ website on 5th April 2010

I find it very easy to lose myself in my writing, and once I do, I often feel more like an observer within the story rather than its creator. On coming back from one of these reveries it can seem like I’m waking up, since I’ve usually forgotten where I am. During these times, one of the absolute pleasures I get from writing is when my characters turn around and do something completely unexpected. When I was working on Come Back to Me, my husband would give me the raised eyebrow on occasions where I would excitedly announce that ‘Wow, my character did something so strange today… it took me completely by surprise’, or, ‘I found out something I never knew about my character today’. And I don’t blame him – depending on how you look at it, this sounds anything from a little bit pretentious to borderline insane. However, I’ve heard many other writers talk about experiencing the same thing. I’m inclined to believe that it happens when your imagination is firing so well that the process of creation is occurring spontaneously rather than through concerted effort. This doesn’t happen to me all the time, but it does occur now and again – and then I find my stories going off in directions that I’m quite sure were not in the original concept.

However, on evaluating such occurrences, while sometimes I love them, at other times it looks more like my characters have just been having fun running amuck in my head upon realising I’ve let them loose. Which is why it is great to be able to put my editor’s hat on again, and examine just what these new events are doing for my story. Ultimately, are they contributing to it, or taking it off on too much of a tangent. Because now and again it’s not a bad idea to remind my characters who’s boss.