Thursday, 21 November 2013

And then....

I apologise to my blog for neglecting it so often I'm sure it's thinking 'yeah, yeah, here we go again...' so this time I'll just dive in...

I have an agent! This is the most exciting writerly thing to have occurred in the last few months since I've updated, and possibly one of the most exciting things to happen to me, ever.

It's all still a bit surreal but the tale runs thus: I finished my YA novel Of Shades and Nightingales, and decided that I did want to seek representation for it (after various discussions during the MA about the role of the agent and the pros/cons of having one, of which the cons seemed to be very few), so began to mooch about the internet to see where would be best to send it.  I'd heard of DKW Literary Agency through my MA classmate,Virginia Macgregor, who'd signed with Bryony Woods last year. V (as we called her in seminars) had spoken so highly of Bryony and the agency as a whole (new, young, passionate, with great editorial support), and with V being such a wonderful writer herself, and their tastes then fantastic, I decided to try my luck.

I pressed send.
And then there was a wait.
And then there was an email.
A request.
For the whole manuscript!

After running around the house 'woooooo-ing!' I kept telling myself that yes, it was encouraging, but that it didn't mean that anything would come of it, and that maybe Bryony would read it all and hate it. If that happened, I told the still star-jumping me, I'd be fine as the request to read it all was a compliment in itself, and it was a sure sign of progress, whatever the outcome.
There was one minor problem, in that I needed to quickly polish the ending of my novel which I'd been tinkering with post-submission.  It was complete, but on re-reading, and re-reading, I'd start shifting bits about, but by slightly altering one thing I'd disrupted a plot-line, so I then had to fix that, and then there was something else which needed adjusting.  Most advice from agents wholeheartedly states FINISH THE MANUSCRIPT BEFORE QUERYING (do this!) and while I'd made sure it was completed, I was kicking myself for my fiddling which meant that I couldn't send it that very second, and needed a snippet of time to just tie the loose ends (back) up.

I sent the manuscript and within a few weeks there was another EMAIL.

About meeting up.
To discuss representation.

Well.  If I wasn't performing acrobatics the first time, now I certainly was.  Still the voice of caution whispered: you may not fit each other.  You are sussing out the agent as much as they are sussing you out. Do not be swayed.  They will change too much.  You will weep.

This happened around Halloween, at which time I worked in a fancy dress shop (albeit now laid off due to dwindling trade, but highs and lows and all that), so whilst advising customers on which fake blood was best, or whether the zombie schoolgirl or zombie cheerleader was the most flattering, or recommending Poligrip for fang-application, all I was thinking was londonsoonohmygodlondonbooksagentsonmygod.

I met Bryony and while I babbled on like a maniac (i'm generally nervy, and speak really really quickly!) she was so lovely and encouraging and helpful, and after discussing various things (books, her role, what other ideas I may have) she turned her keen editorial eye to my novel. And then I breathed a huge sigh of relief.  Aside from picking out all sorts of plot-holes which had escaped my attention, and suggesting ways to make the characters/the plot so much stronger, the overwhelming thought was: I'm in very, very capable hands here.  Writers are generally too close to their work, especially after several months looking over the same thing, and Bryony's insights/suggestions made me see things afresh, and feel completely excited about implementing them and getting stuck in with the revisions.  But she didn't want to change too much.  The novel is slang-heavy, with lots of kennings and neologisms and odd turns of phrase, and the plot is quite complex, so I'd fully prepared myself to hear that unless I toned it all down that it wouldn't really find a home, with agents or publishers.  The slang is an integral part of the novel, and it's there for a reason, and I think it gives the piece a unique voice, but I'd been Gollum-ing with myself with what I'd say/do if i was told to take it out.  The story could certainly function without it, but it would lose a lot, in my opinion, so having Bryony 'get' it just gave me a whole new level of confidence.

So, the contracts are signed and the official announcement is made and I'm so delighted/thrilled to be on board.  But now back to work.  My brain is ticking and notepads are collecting scribbles and the sleeves are being rolled up for the next bout, and the next step.

Other news:

The Pushcart Prize.

In the space of twenty-fours hours this week  I received two Puschcart Prize nominations, which I was very happy about.  The Pushcart Prize basically celebrates the best of the small presses, including online magazines. There's a lot of sniffing and snobbery about it ('it doesn't mean anything' 'thousands of authors get nominated' 'it doesn't mean you're good' 'there's no chance you'll win' 'but which journal nominated you?') but that's the type of literary elitism which is best ignored and I'm just pleased that the editors liked my stories enough to think of me, and I'm honored to be a nominee.  And these are the two:

'Dippin and Dustin' in Jersey Devil Press

' Smoke Surfaces in Slumber' in Menacing Hedge.


I haven't really sent many short stories out this year as I've been focused on getting the novel finished, but while this was published a few months back for kindle purchase, it's now viewable online.

"And Down We Fall" : a tale of misery, murderous angels and Marc Bolan.

The MA:

I began the 'reading' module in September (first book: The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith, which was excellent) but with my graduate overdraft facility being removed by the bank (being a part-time student doesn't qualify you) and with work woes and finances tight, it soon became apparent that I couldn't afford the fees this year.  I am going to return next year to finish up, and I'm hoping that the class size has shrunk by then!  In my first reading module there were around ten students, and a tutor, which made for really helpful online discussions and great group participation, but this year's class had twenty-three students, plus a tutor. This means that you essentially make one comment in two hours and sit back scrolling through as everybody cut-and-pastes their insights.  The related exercises and the questions given by the tutor prior to the seminar to help you really get to the nuts and bolts of the book are great, but overall it's frustrating.  Much like the MA in general where's there's been so much good stuff (the workshops, some of the tutors, the connections made) dragged down by a lot that's discouraging (the lack of response from certain tutors, the online scrums with too many squeezed in etc)

So, to the rewriting! :)

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Of Shades and Nightingales

Last updated on 5th March 2013? Oops. Ahem. That must mean that I’ve been way too busy scribbling away and studying to possibly update my blog. Yes. Well, something like that.

A brief run through as it’s sunny and it’s NEVER sunny and these things need to be celebrated.

The MA:

The last module I studied was entitled The Text, and whereas before the focus was on creative writing techniques -be it studying other authors or using workshops to critique the work of other students- these few months shifted attention to more practical matters, including assessing the roles of agents and insights into the publishing industry (copyright, promotion etc).   

Every week a visiting speaker would answer questions that the students had pre-posted on Moodle, and while it was helpful, the seminars were essentially an online scrum as all the student groups were lumped in together (a huge contrast to the smaller workshop groups, my current one now consisting of me and only four others) who were all (cyber) calling out over each other to the point where I’d often just log in and sit back and read through the transcript after. If it had been less chaotic though there’s the chance that I would have still zoned out as who wants to think about the benefits of twitter and branding when there are imaginary worlds to be forged and steampunk gadgets to design and be-mutton-chopped gents to describe?

The summer term consists of The Transmission project, where you utilise writing in a different way to your main project (i.e the novel). While the tendency to get carried away (“I’m going to write a graphic novel and make a film and write a musical score!”) had to be tempered with practicality I’ve decided to adapt my novel into screenplay and while procrastinating, as ever, I’m quite excited about exploring the differences between the different forms of representation and narrative.  A big harrumph though for the student-tutor support, as while so far we’ve had some great tutors who’ve gone beyond what’s expected (Rachel Genn, for example who posted our novel extracts back to us after she’d printed them off and made really helpful notes/suggestions on them) chasing around after people who don’t bother to email back and who blatantly have no interest in your work is…irritating. Which is a shame as overall I’ve enjoyed/am enjoying the course, so I’m hoping that this does improve in the future.


My novel has made the shift from ‘fantasy’ to (very soft) sci-fi, and while this may seem slight I do feel that fantasy -the paranormal, in particular- has been a little overdone in YA (even though I'm a fan), and I'm itching to do something that pushes me and will hopefully be more enticing to fantasy-fatigued readers. So now I need to dig my GCSE science books out to oil my rusty brain so I at least have some idea of what I'm talking about.

I’ve provisionally entitled it ‘Of Shades and Nightingales’ and I’ve started sending it out to agents this week, so now my heart near explodes every single time I get an email in case it’s from ONE OF THEM. Excerpts will follow on here at some point but now even though I’m unveiling it to the world in a sense I also feel curiously protective of it and don’t want too many critical eyes upon it until it’s done its push-ups and had its spinach and (hopefully) got some feedback.


I’ve had a few things published, to start, B in The Journal of Unlikely Entomology.  A love story, of sorts, and inspired by research I actually did for a novel I've long abandoned which involved bees and bee goddesses. This bug-themed journal is great and it features many wonderful writers so I was pleased to be a part of it and the accompanying artwork, 'The Hive' by Athina Saloniti is amazing.

Slowly Light Strengthens appeared on 365 fiction, another bleak love story, of sorts, and a story that I’d messed about with for ages (it initially didn’t feature any fantasy elements) and I was about to forget about it when it got picked up.

Sunday Afternoon was short-listed on the 1000Words Flash site (you pick a picture prompt from their Pinterest page and get writing), a piece just over 500 words long which is... another troubled love story. Hmm.

It’s a bit unnerving to see these three pieces all appear together, and while I don’t sit down and consciously choose a subject to write about, they all feature relationships under pressure/the exploration of the nature of love. This 'theme' has been prominent in my private life so it’s probably little wonder these stories do sway that way, but it feels a bit like dirty laundry airing/public wailing. I know that others/readers do relate to the more personal, myself included, but here’s hoping this theme is usurped by others in the next batch of stories.

Also published was ‘And Down We Fall’ by The Colored Lens.  (I’ll post the link when it becomes available online, e-version available to buy here) a story set in the North of England during the seventies, and featuring angels, of sorts. It’s probably one of the favourite stories I’ve written in that I can see PROGRESS within it (more showing, more subtlety, better characterization...), and it’s also one of my longest.

A teeny taster for now:

'Always thought she was the cat's mother, that one,' my mom says, and across the road I can see Mrs. Trent dangling the bloody bed sheets out of the bedroom window, showing off because her dumb, lanky daughter's become one. 
My mom shuffles me inside and shuts the door, stomps through to the kitchen and back to making tea, flicking the radio on to drown out all the cheering and clapping and back-slapping. I don't know why she bothers. The band will be here soon, making a racket with their horns and their trumpets; half-deaf old codgers in red suits and brass buttons playing hymns over the screaming as the lord does his work...

Until next time...

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Self-Doubt and Smoky Slumber.

If blogging is an exercise in vanity, then maybe it's no surprise that this post is so belated, as the last few months have been marked with scary-soul-squashing SELF-DOUBT.  Caps lock necessary.

Sylvia Plath once stated, 'the worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt', and while I know that all writers have to deal with that dictatorial bellowing in their ears ('this is shit! Who'll want to read this pile of dung?!'), and while I've managed to ignore the niggles before (for the most part), over the last few months it's manifested itself in a distinct 'MEH' feeling about all of my writing.

2013 so far has been pretty unsettled for various non-writing related reasons, but whereas before having an artistic outlet was an anchor when all else was topsy-turvy, now I'm tempted to toss it all overboard and paddle off to a nice, safe office where I can happily file things without all the horrible revising-rejection-self-recrimination business.

Related to this is the fact that it's my birthday in a month, and while I'm not THAT old, yet (30-ish, if anyone asks), I did envisage myself more settled at this age, and with some major publications under my belt, so every passing year (silly as it sounds) prompts a new bout of nail-biting and teeth-gnashing.  Why? Maybe because young writers are instantly marketable. Maybe genius is only aligned with precocity. Maybe I'm just a mediocre writer, who won't see see (major) publication until I'm middle-aged? Worrying about what will (or won't be) is ridiculous, and racing, racing, racing against time is as foolish as Dick Dastardly chasing the pigeon, with lots of 'drat-drat and double-drat'-ing, when one should really be focusing on making their flying machine more effective, to flog the metaphor. AND I KNOW THIS. But still... (And apologies for referring to myself as 'one'. Unforgiveable.)


Related to all this gloom, this semester at university is the second (and final) writing workshop module of my MA, which has made several melodramatic things whir about my mind:

-I've seen how far my peers have progressed from last year to now: am I keeping up?

-I've seen many of my peers find agents/garner agent interest/do well with regards to publications and prizes: where am I now? 

-This is the last chance to get 'proper' feedback on my writing: am I ready to whip off my stabilizers and sway off, or will I smash into a tree and cut my head open?

My peers are all wonderfully supportive, and their feedback has been essential in helping me hone my work, so to use them as points of comparison is self-defeating and misery-inducing, but while I know this, there's that voice, still whispering, 'Pull up your socks, woman! Stop being so lazy! if they can write a book then why haven't you done it, sloth girl? It's just a hobby for you, isn't it...? and on, and on...

And it doesn't stop there! Twitter. Facebook. All my writerly 'friends' tweeting and posting about their deals and film contracts and their wonderful stories being published in all the best magazines, the same ones who've rejected me over and over, which makes me want to throw my computer out of the window, and join a commune, away from all those social-network-succubus-things that suck my confidence away.

Of course, even reading back through this rambling it's clear that a sense of proportion is needed, as (the unfailingly helpful) Chuck Wending states in his column about how to kill self-doubt:

'’re not exactly saving lives. You’re not pulling children out of burning buildings or shooting Osama bin Laden or curing a global pandemic. You’re a writer. Self-doubt for those other guys is life-threatening. They fuck up, people die. You fuck up, the the ink on your manuscript bleeds from your blubbering tears and you put on a couple pounds from wolfing down three boxes of strawberry Pop-Tarts.'

Quite.  So enough whining, for now :)

Publication News:

My short story 'Smoke Surfaces in Slumber' was published by Menacing Hedge at the beginning of the year,  a love-story, of sorts, set in Medieval times and inspired by reading about anchorites and martyrs, and Jersey Devil Press will publish a short-fantasy piece entitled 'Dippin' and Dustin'' in April, I think.(Check out this page too for a Kickstarter project with a difference, where your contribution will buy not a book, but a new pair of lungs for JDP's founder, which certainly puts all my self-centred grumbling into perspective).

Other than that, my focus has been getting my first draft of my Victorian Fantasy novel finished, and reading all the Victorian/Neo-Victorian stuff I can, but more about that next time, once I pull myself back out of the 19th Century.

So, thanks for letting me ramble on, and on, and until then, then!