Posts Tagged ‘Novel’

We’re halfway through the year.

This is exciting on many levels, not least of which is that in 43 days, I’ll be entering the UK for a glorious five months. Already, so much of significance has happened in 2009 – Solace and Grief being accepted for publication, joining the excellent SuperNova writing group, planning our trip – that part of me finds it hard to believe how much else is yet to come. Tomorrow, for instance, I’ll be meeting my publisher at Ford Street, Paul Collins, face-to-face for the first time. Later this month, I’ll be attending my first ever event as a writer, the Pan Macmillan winter sales conference, about which I am both exhilirated and nervous. Once we’re in the UK, Toby and I will have our second wedding anniversary in Bristol; we’ll be in Scotland for winter and Surry for Christmas, which will be a new experience for both of us. I’ve started writing short stories, which is a new and fascinating thing – not that they’re brilliant so far, but I’m working on it, and the more I write them, the more confident I feel. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been blogging less: my strange ideas are ending up in stories rather than expository posts, refracted through a fictitious lens instead of a journalistic one.

I’m loving 2009. My only worry is that so much will have happened by December 31 that the sheer volume of significance will cause a mental implosion – that it will be too hard to remember each little thing, and so I’ll forget everything instead, swept away by the Big Event of 2010, which will be the book release itself. But at least I’ll be able to use my blog as a reminder. After all, that’s part of why it’s here.

Like most people, I occasionally Google myself. (Shut up.) Perhaps unlike most people, I habitually learn something I didn’t actually know, but probably should’ve done. Hence the following, quasi-belated links:

Running Deep, a short story;

The Nihilist Ice-Cream Parlour, another short story; and

An interview with Paul Collins, my publisher, in which (among other things) my book is mentioned.


As of Easter, my editor has finished with Solace and Grief. Apparently, she even enjoyed it, which makes me glow with a quiet firefly-warmth. I’ve taken a break from the sequel these past couple of months, so hearing this now is like snuggling happily into a favourite blanket. The exhausting thing about trying to get a first novel published – or rather, one of the many exhausting things – is that if you stop work on it, nothing happens. Editors do not magically gain access to your halfway finished draft, nor do agents ring and ask if they might peruse the most recent chapters. Instead, you are alone in your creative universe. Progress only happens when you make it happen – and when the necessity of eventual publication hangs over your head like the proverbial Pointy Thing of Damocles, there is a guilty need, both pressing and urgent, to always be doing something. Submission is only a temporary fix, elation quickly overriden by a nagging question: now what? Most publishers take months to respond – what happens in the interim? Editing what you’ve already sent off is a good way to keep busy, but waiting for a response still feels like sitting on your hands. In more ways than the obvious, publication comes as a refreshing change. Perversely, it grants the freedom to vacation from your characters sans guilt, to sit back and work on something else (or catch up on your DVDs, whatevs) in the delightful knowledge that somewhere, some wonderful soul is tinkering away on your behalf. The novel is being Worked On, and all is right with the universe.

Solace and Grief, as I may or may not have mentioned, is the first of a trilogy. Book 2 is currently under construction to the tune of about 40,000 words, with the caveat that the last 20,000 are in disarray. Literally. Many scenes have been roughly hacked into a new order, but before I read through and start a-stitching with my elegant surgeon’s keys, there’s a small matter of imperative: a new character whose intentions I must fathom absolutely before putting her – and the middle chapters – back in play. I’ve not addressed the problem for a while, but now that the editor is done, certain mental wheels have started clicking. Soon enough, the story will start to itch at me, and when the internal pressure reaches critical strength, I’ll fling myself back into it with a vengeance.

Assuming all my uni essays are done, that is. Publication changes many things, but – alas! – the intrusion of the real world isn’t one of them. Damned necessity.

I signed my first book contract yesterday. In a way, it was a more momentous event than actually hearing the novel had been accepted, because it was concrete, fixed in paper. For the first time, I spoke to my publisher on the phone. We chatted about the contract, diverting fragmentarily into what comes next, and now it’s finally hit me that there is a next, that I don’t have to start reshopping again, and that all the emailed back-and-forth about series names and schools and libraries had a point.

I’m actually getting published.

Dazedly, I keep wandering into Reader’s Feast at lunch, greedily eyeing the ‘M’ slot on shelves and noting where my book, potentially, could sit. At home, working on the next volume, it startles me to think of not needing to submit all over again; that, like a privileged second child, it will never know the anxiety and heartache of its elder sibling’s early days. Wandering into Readings, I feel my stomach jump to recognise books on display as originating from my new publishing house. And so on.

I don’t have many details yet. I’m new at this. But the book, for those who are interested, will be called Solace and Grief. It’s young adult fantasy. I’m working with Ford Street Publishing and the wonderful Paul Collins. Also, I’m now on Twitter. And I am – and will continue to be – extremely, wonderfully excited.

Dear Everyone I’ve Ever Met,

My book is getting published. Champagne will happen shortly.

That is all.




Posted: January 11, 2009 in Ink & Feather
Tags: , , , , ,

The last time I shopped my novel around, I sent it to a local Victorian publishing house specialising in young adult fantasy. They read the book, sent me a report on its pros and cons, and expressed an interest in seeing it again once I’d made some structural edits. As I agreed with about 98% of the constructive criticism, I set to work. This was back in early October 08, or so Gmail informs me. Anyhow, in a burst of creative energy, I finally finished this evening. It’s odd to think that the bulk of the task was actually completed this week, at the end of my holiday – sure, the biggest, newest, longest bit went in last year, but otherwise, I’ve pretty much ploughed on through since last Sunday night. And now it’s done, and I’m happy with the results. Extremely happy – not just because I feel like my writing is right on track, but because the publishers have confirmed their interest in seeing it again.

Which means I’m submitting tomorrow.

My job starts up again in the morning. In between the getting-back-into-the-swing-of-things and work-doing, I shall make my way stealthily to the printer. I will replicate my manuscript on paper. Lovingly, I will place it in a plain, purloined envelope. As always, I will touch a finger to my lips, rest it lightly on the cover page and then, unable to help myself, repeat the gesture twice, because if there’s one superstition I cling to, it’s that good things come in threes, and must therefore be encouraged by threes. And then I will send it off, and wait, with heart in mouth.

It may well get turned down. I’m ready for that. Well, no, I’m not – that is, in point of fact, a baldfaced lie. As before, there’ll be one soaring moment when I sight the crucial email and my whole internal infrastructure will clench, waiting; and then, as I read the reply in the negative, I’ll feel something burrow into me, devouring and deep. Only for a moment. It can’t be helped. But then, I’ll smile and move on, knowing that, if nothing else, my novel has come out all the stronger for the experience, and that I am stronger, too. And if the answer comes back yes? I have no idea. But I suspect shrieking will be involved.

In between now and whenever this is, I’ll develop a curious anxiety towards my phone. Any unfamiliar number will send a tingle of anticipatory fear through my hand, as though the buttons were humming. I’ll check it madly, pedantically, when I usually ignore the thing for days on end. I’ll carry it with me compulsively, reaching down to touch it, make sure it’s safe. These reactions are all ludicrous: whether the book is good or not, they won’t help me a jot. But I do them. They are my rituals. They anchor me to something more practical, more tangible than anxiety.  

I’ve written a lot already this year, given that it’s only the 11th of January. I’ve read three books, too, and taken something valuable from each one. The other night, for the first time since I first picked up a pencil with an idea to storytelling, I jotted down an idea from beginning to end, sculpted characters, scenes and scenarios without so much as a single guiding name in my head. If you’re not me, that probably makes no sense. But for years, I lead with character names; from them came the characters themselves; from the characters, a scenario; from the scenario, a story. The fact that I’ve suddenly learned this process in reverse thrills me, as did the spontenaity of its execution. I feel like my writing has kicked up a gear with the turning of the annum; or maybe I’m only just noticing what’s been there for a while. But either way, I’m confident now if I never was before: that I can write. I will be a published author.

Maybe not this time around. But someday. Soon.

Yesterday, I heard back from the publisher. They liked my writing style, but had some problems with the structure of the novel – most of which, it was oddly gratifying to realise, I already agreed with. They did say, however, that they’d be interested in seeing the manuscript again once/if I made some changes, which I’m genuinely inclined to do.

My guess is, it’ll take me one or two months to fix everything up. Originally, I started writing the novel because I’d been watching a lot of Buffy and was bored at work, and later on, I had some crazy idea about crafting a story which took place almost entirely in dead time. The end product was a mixture of those two drives, to such a degree that the actual plot eventuated as a kind of retrospective: I know where I’m headed now, of course, having long since sat down and thought about it, but the opening in particular is slow. I take a long time to get to the point, and almost everything of relevance happens in the last forty pages. The new version will start earlier on, faster, but with a longer lead-up to meeting the other characters. A few criticisms I disagreed with, too, but those aspects were, I believe, poorly exacerbated by the more structural failings rather than being bad narrative choices in their own right.

All in all, it was extremely productive to have my own negative suspicions confirmed – much more so, really, than to hear that my writing was good. It means my instinct for weakness was correct. Prevously, I’ve held off making such major structrual alterations on the grounds that I was just being fussy, no matter my qualms about this aspect or that, especially given that my first, never-to-be-published novel went through so many iterations. This time, however, I feel invigorated by the prospect, and once my essay is out of the way, I’ll set to with a will.

I’ve been pretty quiet on the blog front lately, mostly because being fired tends to necessitate a different, more productive use of one’s spare time, despite the fact that said time has, for the same reason, undergone a net increase. Apart from the obvious job-hunting chores, I’ve also been doing uni work and editing my novel. The latter activity has been particularly enjoyable. If my writing life were an RPG, I’d have recently levelled up, because my ability to self-correct has suddenly leapt forwards. In the past, frantic editing surges have usually resulted in scrapping the lot and starting again, but while I’m definitely rewriting en masse, it’s with an eye to building up instead of tearing down. Chapters I’ve been content with for months are being systematically fleshed out, tightened up and otherwise made over. The question isn’t why I’ve left it so long: it’s why I can suddenly see the flaws.

And flaws there are, ultimately as the result of sloppy writing. It’s a sobering realisation that despite my dedication towards becoming a published author, I’ve still, on some subconscious level, retained the belief that I can do less than my best, and have this be enough. Throughout school, I always coasted and cut corners for a number of reasons – disinterest in the subject, a preference to spend my time on other projects – and while these were usually, if not saintly, then at least defensible reasons, I ultimately did so, or was able to do so, because I was bright enough. Laziness didn’t punish me. Although I cared about being perceived as smart, I wasn’t fiercely competitive: a dip in marks didn’t matter, so long as they were still good marks. Which, looking back, was both a healthy mental attitude on one level, and an active choice not to be challeneged on another. Quite often, my parents would look at my results, sigh affectionately, and say, “Imagine what you could do if you’d put in some effort!” But only now do I understand what they meant.

Since starting the second novel, I’ve improved. Writing characters I’ve already introduced is different to starting anew: there’s an implied confidence to it, with room for more flourishes, in-jokes, insight and general development. It means that when I look back at the story so far, my standards have lifted. But, still, I’d been letting things lie. I’d read the first book so many times that I only saw the cadence of what I’d written, and not the substance. This time around, however, the veil has lifted. It was holding together, yes, but it wasn’t as good as it could be. 

And so I’m fixing it, hammer and nail. After completing the first three chapters, I even submitted yesterday to a local publisher, which gave me a tingly, back-on-the-horse kind of feeling. I still need a job, but in the mean time, I’m getting things done.

Who says getting fired can’t be a good thing?