Guest Blog

On the Writers and Artists website about writers’ groups – are they a good idea?

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Pass the Port

To be a writer you’re supposed to write every day. I try to adhere to this, although I don’t crucify myself over it. During the mayhem of Christmas and the New Year, I tend to put aside my ongoing projects and allow my writing to wander along different tracks. It’s a time for freewheeling. For writing anything. Stuff I wouldn’t normally ‘waste’ time on. A bit like the delight taken in frivolous presents. Just as I find myself playing silly games pulled from the bottom of a Christmas stocking, I also find myself writing odd paragraphs spilled from the bottom of a glass of port. Hey, it’s still writing.

I’m always hopeful I’ll get lots of reading done, but I rarely do. It’s not so easy when the giblets need boiling and The Snowman needs watching.  But I can at least dip into the magazines piled in a corner, or read some short stories.

My year ended with a short story of mine being published in a small anthology. It’s nothing major, a mere stocking filler. Without wishing to sound greedy, I’m hoping the coming year will bring me bigger presents in the world of writing and publishing. But, remembering how my grandma was grateful as a child if she received an orange for Christmas and nothing else, I’ll settle for just being able to carry on writing.

Happy New Year.

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The Upside of Not Finding an Agent

When you’re looking for an agent, it seems like nothing on earth can make you happy till you find one. You’ve spent a long time working on your novel and now you want to see it published and you’re desperately trying to get your foot in the door. Then you go along to some literary event and you hear a published author speak. And what she says is she wishes she could go back to the time when she was unpublished, before she’d found an agent. Wait a minute. There she stands in her ivory tower of three book deals and translation rights and literary festivals and launch parties and signings. And she’s hankering after the halcyon days when she was a struggling writer? She’s joking, surely?

Or is she? For, even in the midst of the tortuous process of trying to find an agent, I can see certain advantages to my situation now.

  1. I am free to write what I like. I have no brief to fulfil and no pitch I must live up to. I can experiment all I want. If I feel like it, I can completely change tack and deviate from everything I’ve written before. I have no ‘brand’ built around me, no expectations to satisfy.
  2. I can take as long as I like to write my novel. I have no deadlines to meet, no contractual time constraints, no-one breathing down my neck. If I want to work on it for the next ten years, I can.
  3. My writing time is my own. During this time, I can dedicate myself purely to the act of writing because I have no other authorial tasks to perform: no marketing or promotional duties; no wistful talks to give at literary events.
  4. Though I live in fear of the agent’s rejection slip, yet I need not fear the dreaded book review which would lay bare all the faults of my novel for everyone to see without a care for my feelings.
  5. I am not faced with Second Book Syndrome whereby, having spent years perfecting and honing my beautiful first novel, I now have to produce another one in a matter of months whilst most of my available writing time is taken up grappling with the aforementioned marketing duties and I am wandering around in a state of shock at having been published in the first place.
  6. I can still meet with my fellow un-agented, unpublished writer friends to pool our despair at being members of this misunderstood club whilst slagging off lots of published books we deem to be less accomplished than our own.

No wonder published authors sometimes long for the good old days. These are the days when you’re truly your own person, when nobody owns you and when your dreams are unsullied by experience.

It’s useful to remember that there’s always an upside. But does this mean I’ll be consigning my synopsis and cover letter to the recycling bin? I don’t think so. I know the grass isn’t always greener, but I think I’ll take my chances, all the same.

 

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Writing desk at Retreats for You (see Links)

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Shhh!

I have the seed of an idea for my next novel. Don’t tell anyone, Claudia. Keep it a secret. Don’t say what it’s about. Don’t say what kind of novel it is. Don’t say ANYTHING.

Tentatively, I’ve begun to write a little scene. Maybe it will form a short story to test the waters. Maybe it will form a future chapter. Surreptitiously, barely consciously, I’m jotting down ideas. Just characters for now. And a key situation.

But I don’t know, I don’t know, if it will grow into anything. At the moment it’s just a wayward seed on the ground. It needs to sink into the darkness and be ignored for the most part in order to grow.

Don’t tell anyone.

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Out Now!

The third in my series of blogs for the Writers and Artists website.  About entering novel writing competitions.  Read it here.

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Post-Submission Decisions

Here’s my second guest blog for Writers and Artists, all about the dilemmas that crop up once you’ve sent your submission to agents. To read it click here.

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Confessions of a Literary Flibbertygibbet

Since finishing my novel, following a brief period of depression (see my Post Novel Blues blog) I have entered a period of exuberance and proliferation. That is to say, I have been enjoying my newfound freedom.

Working on a novel is a long-term commitment. It ties you down. It guards you jealously. In order to get the job done, it is necessary to be dogged, blinkered and fiercely faithful. No forays into other writing projects. No flighty flirtations with anything that doesn’t directly appertain to the novel. Well, now, this is no longer the case. Now, I can do what the hell I like.

Reading, for example. Now, not only do I have more time for it, but I seem to be enjoying it more. It reminds me of years ago, when I finished my BA in English Literature and took up reading books purely for ‘fun’. Whilst writing my novel, at the back of my mind I was always trying to draw some lesson from every book I read: some intimation of whether or not I was on the right track with my own writing and, if not, how I could do better. Now, there is no secret anxiety and I somehow feel freer to read what I like.

Most recently, for example, I have delighted in Joanna Rakoff’s ‘My Salinger Year,’ followed by Salinger’s own ‘Nine Stories’ and on audiobook I have luxuriated in Meryl Streep’s narration of Colm Toibin’s stunning ‘The Testament of Mary.’ I haven’t cared if it made my own writing look crap by comparison. With the novel in the can, that seems largely immaterial.

I have also delved into the world of short story writing, but with a carefree and random, rather than rigorous, approach. I’ve started several short stories at once, dipping in and out of each when I feel like it, starting another on a whim. I’ve even written a poem or two. What a floozie.

And I have finally surrendered myself to the internet. I’ve devoured feeds on Twitter, Facebook and other people’s blogs. I’ve clicked on links to this article and that. Followed links within links, like an endless succession of Russian dolls.

Last, but not least, I am beginning to consider my novel in a fresh light. No, I have not forgotten it. No, I can’t just leave the damn thing alone. I have gained a greater perspective, not just because I’ve had time away from it, but because I’ve spent that time writing other things, thinking other things, responding to other things.

With writing, no one project stands alone: everything feeds into everything else. The short fiction you write influences the long fiction and vice versa. The more I diversify, the more experience I will bring to bear on the most precious item in my repertoire. I couldn’t diversify whilst I was writing it: that felt like betrayal. But now I can stray. I am straying. And, ultimately, I hope this will bring the novel and me to a deeper understanding.

girl with raised hands and broken chains

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Guest Blog Writers and Artists

I am delighted to say that I have been invited to write a guest blog for the Writers and Artists website. It’s called Leapfrogging the Slushpile and is about my experiences of live pitching to agents. You can read it here

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The Post Novel Blues

What do you do when you’ve finished writing your novel? Start another one, right? Well, I’d really like to do that, believe me, and I know – I know – any prospective agent will want to hear all about it. But I can’t. Not yet. I need some recovery time. My creative resources have been seriously depleted by the sustained effort of writing a novel and I am quite simply knackered.

Not just knackered. I am also deflated and, dare I admit it, somewhat depressed. The driving force behind my days, the activity I’ve tried so hard to clear space and time for, has disappeared. It has left me adrift, without focus, waiting to be rescued by a merciful literary agent, the odds stacked against me: a situation over which I have no control. It’s hard not to wonder, at times, what was the point?

In a previous post, I wrote about how I had taken the opportunity of a break from my novel to put my house in order. Well, now that I’ve finished the novel, I’ve decided to put my writing in order. To soothe my malaise, I have resolved to pay attention to other aspects of my writing.

Here’s what I’m doing.

One

I’m reading. Yes, I was reading before, but not so much. Now that I have more time, I’ve turned to the numerous books I already own that I haven’t yet read and I have bought some new books to go with them. There is no better boost for a writer’s mental health than to feast on the work of others.

Two

I’m writing. Not a novel, but short stories. I believe it’s not uncommon for novelists to do this in between novels. It makes sense. The short story, whilst a very exacting art form, doesn’t require the same kind of stamina as a novel. A first draft can be accomplished in a matter of hours, even if the finished product ends up taking years. I’m also making an effort to study this somewhat alien form. I’m reading lots of short stories and reading about writing short stories.

Three

I’m attending talks about publishing. Okay, so my previous blog testified to a less than auspicious example of this. But there are other events in the diary about which I’m more hopeful. One or two will bring me into direct contact with agents and give me the opportunity to pitch my novel. At least that feels more positive than sitting around waiting for that elusive email which could be the miracle cure.

Four

I’m trying out a couple of writers’ groups. This also is a slightly precarious endeavour as writers’ groups vary widely, as do the members within each group. On my MA, I realise, standards were pretty high. No need, however, for anyone to bow down in mock worship upon hearing I’ve done an MA, as did the members of the first group I sampled, much to my dismay.

To be honest, the main impetus for attending these groups is from a social point of view. Writing is a lonely existence, all the more so when you stop for a moment and take a look around.

Five

I’ve been compiling a list of competitions and magazines to which I intend to submit my work. That way, I have deadlines to meet and tangible goals to target.

So you see, I have been trying. I’ve taken some positive steps to alleviate these post novel blues. Like any recovery process it takes time. But it is helping. Perhaps the next step is to set up a self-help group.

Hi. My name’s Claudia and I’ve just finished a novel.

bb king

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How to Write Two Novels in One

Today I attended a small literary festival, specifically to listen to a talk about publishing. Oh, how depressing it was. This wasn’t for the usual reasons. There were no gloomy statistics on the odds stacked against aspiring authors. Rather the opposite, in fact.

The talk was billed as exploring how to get published the traditional way and the alternative option of self-publishing. The speaker was introduced to a rather elderly, middle class audience as a ‘bestseller author.’ I’m not sure how many of us had heard of him. Anyway, he spent around three minutes talking about the traditional route: buy the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and submit appropriately. For the remaining fifty-seven minutes he talked about self-publishing by eBooks which is, apparently, ‘purely a matter of mastering Amazon algorithms.’

Okay, here are some words of advice. Don’t bother publishing your own eBooks if you’re only going to write a book every three years. Heaven forbid you should spend that long writing just one book. No, you need to be churning out a couple a year, or more, if you want to make money.

Don’t bother writing a lengthy novel. In the world of eBooks, novels of 40k and 100k words sell for the same price, so writing more than 40k words is simply a waste. Someone in the audience did confess to having penned a novel of around 100k. No problem, the speaker reassured him. Just cut it in half. Stick an ending in the middle and, hey presto, you’ve got two novels! Price them both at £1.99 – in fact, give them away for nothing for a limited period and you will gain ‘traction’ i.e. more people will download it and you’ll be advertising yourself to Amazon as a potential bestseller.

Back this up with a shed load of automated tweets night and day via Tweetdeck and you’re away. Don’t forget to ask other writers to review your book, so you can quote their praise in your blurb, promising to return the favour, of course. What you’re aiming for is to one day appear in the Amazon recommendations toolbar down the bottom of the page. Then you’ll know you’ve cracked it.

Self-published authors on Amazon take a 70% share of the sale price as opposed to the usual 15% taken by those poor authors who get published the traditional route. I mean, you can make money out of this writing malarkey. Yay!

Somebody in the audience did actually mention the word, quality. The mic was thrust into their hands and they sort of muffled the word into it. Quality? Well, if the book’s rubbish it will only get awarded one star by readers and it won’t sell. Sorted.

Oh, one more thing. Don’t bother with literary fiction. Nobody wants to read that, obviously.

The talk should have been advertised as being about making money. That’s all the speaker concerned himself with. It certainly wasn’t anything to do with writing.

In every industry there is good and bad. There is quality and trash. Self-publishing can be a respectable and viable alternative to the traditional route. Traditional publishers can also publish populist rubbish. But I have never before experienced first-hand the invidious, cynical end of the industry where success is measured purely in sales. Neither, I believe, had most of the audience, who spent the majority of the question and answer session struggling to come to terms with the concept of hashtags.

It made me wonder about readers. Are there really people who go on Amazon and trawl through the £1.99 downloadable books in search of their reading material? I suppose there must be.

Back home, I went on Amazon myself and searched for this bestselling author. Maybe his work was really great. I found his books, lots of them, some with a ‘look inside’ option. So I dipped in and read a few pages.

 

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