Posts Tagged ‘school’

The beginning of a long road.

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

As anyone who follows me regularly on twitter will know I have started writing Manuscript Number 3! It does have a name which I will keep to myself for a while; suffice to say it is one of my favourite words in the world. As the title of this blog says it is the beginning of a very long road so I thought I would write a post about each stage of it because I find the creation of a book a fascinating process. You can never predict what will happen or how it will happen, and right now I am at the very, very start of it all.

If I have one aim every time I start writing something new, it is to plan better than I ever have before. The number of times I look at my screen and just wish that I had detailed notes about what’s going to happen written down next to me is huge. But that would be a massive luxury and I am slowly learning that this isn’t how I work. And when I say slowly, I do mean very slowly  – it’s taken me approximately 440,000 words and six years to learn. I should have realised before, really. I aspire to be an organised person and I’m not. I would love to have set routines every day, but I don’t, I behave very much as the mood takes me. And my writing is no different. I spent about three solid days planning this manuscript and poured hours and hours more of thought into it. As I commented to someone on twitter I felt like I never stopped ‘working’. No matter what I was doing I found myself shifting ideas around in my head, peering through the tangles of potential plot lines, ruthlessly scything away anything that was superfluous and seizing upon all inspiration. It had to sort itself out. Once I had the bare outline of a plot I wrote it down. But I struggled here too; I mean, how do you create one, coherent document of what is going to happen in your book when it necessarily involves relationships between all the characters? I found that I couldn’t. So these are honestly the tags I have taped to my planning notebook (in order):

  1. ‘to remember’
  2. ‘main female character’
  3. ‘random details’
  4. ‘main female character and secondary female character’
  5. ‘main female character and main male character’
  6. ‘secondary male character’
  7. ‘plot construction’
  8. ‘secondary female character’
  9. ‘main male character’
  10. ‘PLOT’

And in between all of this well-behaved preparation the only thing I wanted to do was to start writing and bring the characters to life. And of course once I did the whole thing was out of my control anyway. I will never cease to be amazed by just how much a book constructs itself. Within a very few hundred words I had changed the POV which was a huge gamble for me but it seems to have paid off. I always email my sister chapters of my manuscript as I write it and she critiques it for me.  When I did so this time I deliberately didn’t mention the fact that I was writing it in the first person rather than the third person  and she didn’t  mention it in her reply so I’m assuming she didn’t notice and if she did she felt it worked. I sent her on this occasion the prologue and the first chapter and her comments were: “What’s the character’s name???? And what does she look like, I have no idea what she looks like! And the conversation between X&Y is too long and too boring.” Which wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear but it did make me realise that I had made a grave and fundamental error which I instantly corrected and rewrote the chapter which she much preferred.

The characters do honestly bring themselves to life, decide their own names, where they live and so on and so forth. I have but the barest influence on them. I know that sounds delusional but it’s true. I’d named my characters before I started, nice names I thought, but whilst I was writing the correct names presented themselves to me and of course they were better. And once I had the correct names the characters themselves leaped and flared to life and once they’ve done that they start telling their story far more accurately than I can. It’s an amazing process. And it does feel like having a secret world to creep into. The best analogy I can think of is when you go camping, crawl into a tent and zip it up behind you. That’s what it feels like when I start writing in the morning.

And obviously now the girls are back at school I have plenty of time for writing. My manuscript currently stands at 5,211 words. Most of which was written in one day. I can’t keep that output up, my brain feels exhausted, but I hope to produce an amount of writing every single day. Apart from the weekends, maybe. I haven’t decided about those yet. My eldest daughter has Saturday school so technically I shall some free time but perhaps it would be better to try and stick to a traditional working week? My husband doubles over with mirth every time I tell him that I am ‘working’. But I am. I am sitting down and applying myself and not being distracted by Jeremy Kyle or Radio 4. Disparate potential distractions, I grant you. But I do feel like I’m constructing a new life for myself, I have never had this sort of time before. I’ve either been at school, Uni or had one or the other of the girls at home with me. This solitude and space to write is an absolute novelty to me – and I am loving it. I’m still wondrous every night when I put my younger daughter to bed that in the morning she’s going to get up and go back to school. Every day. I do miss having her around sometimes, but on the whole I feel everyone is going to be a lot happier with this new arrangement. She is thoroughly enjoying school and having a lot of fun, and I am able to be very creative and produce a lot of words, which is great. I wonder how long it will take me to write this book? Another interesting point is that I always feel that the current manuscript I am working on is the best thing I have ever written. I always feel that, and I don’t know why. Is it because I am filled with enthusiasm for the current project? Or is it really the best thing I have ever written because my writing is improving with time and practice? I don’t have the answer yet.

I have no more publisher news.  Which is partly nice because it means that I have no more rejections. It’s an odd feeling to be so far removed  from something that is so personal to me. Out there, somewhere, in some editor’s inbox my manuscript is sitting. And when it is commented upon it won’t be me that receives the news, it will be my agent. There’s a whole step between me and it. Which is nice in some ways; I can get on with writing the next one without having to worry about dealing with the previous one.

See! 1,272 words and it isn’t even ten o’ clock in the morning. I said I was being productive 🙂  xx

Submission….and rejection. Nine weeks in the life of an anxious author.

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

I have written only one blog post this summer. That’s it. A far cry from this time a year ago in the run-up to publishing Things He Never Knew when I was writing once or twice a week. This year is very different; first of all I was so burnt out by completing my second manuscript – the final push was tough – that I had little enthusiasm for creating anything, and secondly all I have done for nine weeks is look after my children. Which has been lovely, but not worth reporting here on my blog. There’s only so much playing and plasticine that people want to read about.

Summer has gone so quickly! Staring down the gun barrel of nine weeks of childcare is always daunting, but before I know it the diary is filled up with playdates, visits and weekends away – there’s always something going on – and oh so quickly September is here and they’re back to school. It’s extra poignant for me this year because now it’s time for my younger daughter to join her big sister in the main school as she starts Reception. As I’ve said before Alice has a genetic abnormality called 22q11 deletion, and when she was born I didn’t know if she would ever go to school, so preparing her big girl’s uniform for her has been extra-special. I’m not an over-protective mother by any stretch of the imagination, but I can’t deny feeling a little anxious this time round. However she is going into a class with lots of her friends from the Nursery and she is happy and excited about starting school so she is as well prepared as she can be. Which is more than can be said for me as I attempt to return to some semblance of routine with both girls occupied Monday-Friday. I decided back in June to give myself the entire summer away from writing, partly because of the intensity of finishing Daisychain (my manuscript) and partly because it’s impossible to be able to focus on anything with two girls to entertain, and unfair on them to try. September however heralds a return to writing…..hopefully….

At the beginning of the summer I wrote a blog post about the submission of Daisychain; after it had been approved and I had cut 30,000 precious words from it (easier than it sounds, actually) it was sent to five publishers. I was told to expect a four to six week wait and probably longer because it was summer and everyone would be away. Or sitting in the sunshine, drinking cider in a beer garden somewhere. No, she didn’t say that really. Anyway, exactly four weeks to the day it was submitted I received my first rejection. From Headline. I had a lovely email from them forwarded to me by my agent which was the nicest rejection I could have received – but it was a rejection. And I was hit far harder by it than I had ever anticipated. As any author, aspiring or otherwise will know, rejection is very much part of being a writer. Inevitably, not everyone who reads your work is going to like it. I’ve never been that bothered by rejection from agents however, most of the time I doubted they had read it anyway and if they had I respected their opinion that it wasn’t for them. In fact, strange though it may sound I didn’t see rejection as dispiriting, I saw it as a challenge – and I love challenges. I shrugged metaphorically and turned elsewhere, hoping that I was simply a step closer. I had a lot of confidence that I would be taken on by someone one day – whether this is due to the sometime positive feedback that I did receive, or just my over-inflated sense of ability I really don’t know. But I do know that you can never give up hope. And this is something that I clung to in those days after my first rejection from a publisher. It was far more of a blow because I thought finding an agent to represent me would be a lot harder than getting a publisher to accept the manuscript. Now I know that the reverse is true. And each publisher rejection is a further signature on the death warrant of the manuscript; if they all reject it there really is nowhere else to turn, I shall simply have to put it to one side and move on. And four weeks after the first I received a second rejection, from Ebury this time, which whilst it didn’t shock me as much as the first, it certainly didn’t help either. Though I’m loath to admit it I was plunged into despair, convinced that I would get five rejections and my confidence to write anything else disappeared entirely. And this was a real problem to me. I like to be quite organised and as the end of the holidays approached I wanted to be in a position to start writing something else as soon as the girls were back at school – but I had absolutely no confidence in my ability to judge the appeal of a plot. If my manuscript is being rejected surely that means there’s no market for my writing? Surely I’m writing the wrong stuff? And at that point I had ideas floating around my mind but nothing definite, and try as I might I simply could not twist them into something compelling enough for me to start planning. So then I started wondering whether I should change my writing style, choose something a little more light-hearted perhaps? But no, that would be silly and weak I decided. Whatever I write has to be true to me and if the market isn’t ready for it at the moment then perhaps it will be in the future. I can’t try and predict future trends and tailor my writing to them; that would be crazy. No, I just had to be patient and hope inspiration would come. And tonight it did. An idea that I’ve been toying with for a while suddenly morphed into a tangible shape and took on contours and colour. It truly was a Eureka! moment. Before I knew it I had the title and the cover image flooding into my mind and my heart was beating faster and I was thinking – this is it! That’s when I reached for my phone by the way and quickly the tapped the news into twitter. My idea was seconds old but I had to share the birth of it immediately. And at that point I understood – it’s not about having confidence in your writing – it’s about being passionate enough about an idea or a plot that you would write it anyway, even if everyone else hated it, just for yourself. You can’t write specifically for a market, first and foremost you need to be true to yourself. Or I do at least, anyway. So I haven’t got any further with it at the moment, but I don’t need to because it’s there, ready and waiting when I need it. The girls go back to school on Thursday and straight away I shall be knuckling down and working on it, kneading it into shape and bringing it to life. I can’t wait.

From busy to busier

Friday, September 10th, 2010

Well as the title says I am run off my feet here. I’m not sure how those of you who have been working twenty years plus manage it at all; on current form I’m not sure I’ll be able to manage twenty days. I feel like the proverbial dog chasing its own tail; no matter how hard you try, you’re not going to make it. Of course I will make it and probably sooner than I think, I am wading through my list gradually. That is a point actually, it would help if I had a list. But I don’t. I just hold all the relevant details in my head and constantly go over them to check that there’s nothing I’ve forgotten, which leads to unnecessary stress. But by the time I’ve deliberated whether I should handwrite or type a list, and if handwrite then in which notebook I’m most likely to remember to check and update it, it seems more productive just to get on with doing the tasks I’m procrastinating about writing down. You see? I make things unnecessarily difficult.

The invitations for my book launch have been consuming a lot of my time over the last few days. It’s very important to get them right, and I know this. They will be going out to Very Important People and it’s vital that they convey the right image. I want them to say: good book and Bright Young Thing basically. Not quite in the Evelyn Waugh/Stephen Fry way, I can’t have alcohol and scandal tarnishing my reputation, but similar. Ish. And I won’t be able to call myself ‘young’ for much longer, so I’d better do it while I can. Anyway, a friend of mine alerted me to the idea that people will perceive me in a certain way (before that I’d thought they would concentrate on the book) by commenting on my intended outfit for the book launch. “So,” he said, “you’re going for the young, sexy, author look are you?” I must be honest – until that point I hadn’t even been aware that such a thing existed. I certainly haven’t seen it as a fancy dress option anywhere before. But that aside, it was vital that I spent time making sure that my invitations were right. I want them to be classy, clear and – well – inviting. And I started off with all good intentions but then when I was in the offices of the printing place and being offered lots of different designs and choices – most of which I didn’t understand because they related to the size and thickness of the card used – frankly it sounded as though the proprietor were speaking in code. And I felt my attention begin to slip away onto more interesting things. I’d drag it back and focus and before I knew it, it was sliding away again and taking my eyes with it. Luckily the appointment ended fairly soon after that with the promise of a proof image via email within the hour. It arrived and I deliberated over it for a lot of hours – without actually managing to appraise it effectively at all. The sensible part of me (0.4%) knew that I should spend time making sure it was perfect, but the rest (can’t do maths) was screaming ‘it’s fine, just say yes’. But I didn’t! I listened to sense, and also someone else, and forced myself to make sure it was as perfect as it could be before I gave the go-ahead to print them. Just to clarify: it isn’t laziness/disinterest that prevents me from taking a proper interest in things, it’s the fact that I have So Much Stuff to focus on at the moment I feel guilty for prioritising one thing. It’s like trying not to favour a child, except inanimate objects really don’t listen to reason. So my mind flicks back and forth continually with other thoughts crowding out the one I’m actually trying to progress….. If anyone says a book release is easy, they are lying.

However, my eldest daughter went back to school yesterday, and my younger one went today.  Which should, in theory, give me a lot more free time in which to be productive. Yesterday it didn’t work out like that, I got sidetracked by a coffee morning and conversations. This is more important than it sounds because my new manuscript is largely reliant on these conversations – they will be its lifeblood if I get the stuff I’m looking for. To give you an example I heard one such conversation today – it was a serious conversation – and it ran like this (between two American women):

A:“You know, I’m so used to my kids being the only white-blondes around that I struggle to identify them here. I used to say ‘there’s mine’ and now I’m like ‘oh – I’m not so sure’”.

B: “I totally know what you mean, it was like that when we lived in Japan. It was easy finding my kids because they were the whitest ones there.”

A: “Guess it’s going to be more difficult here, huh?”

B: “Totally.”

For those not in the know, this not a normal school-gate conversation. Not a lot of people have previously lived in Japan, but even less rely on their children’s hair and skin colour to identify them in a crowd. I have no problems identifying my eldest daughter at the moment however, she’ll be the child scratching her head. Oh yes, the Nits Are Back. I discovered this at bedtime the night before school started – nightmare. But the nits paid for it. After I combed them all out onto kitchen paper we lit a little nit bonfire outside and I was immensely satisfied to watch them burn. Hideous things.

So to re-cap: I am very busy and also quite stressed. This is a new emotion to me, nothing has ever stressed me before; GCSEs, A-Levels, Uni, childbirth, motherhood….I’ve been quite relaxed about it all. But not this and I don’t know why. I suppose it might have something to do with finally achieving a really important goal and wanting to make sure that everything goes to plan…..but let’s just say that my stress-relievers are definitely in demand at the moment. And they go by the names of Chablis, Sancerre, Meursault, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay. This last is a wine and not a child, just to be clear. I don’t know if you’ve met them? But yesterday I found myself in an alcohol-free house! This was purely by accident I hasten to add. Mere oversight by my stressed and tired brain. My in-laws live nearby (who am I kidding? They live next door) and I considered crawling round there and begging for a bottle of wine, but this is NOT a good look and my pride prevented me. I decided to root through the kitchen cupboards for the meths instead. Clearly I am verging on true bona fide, alcoholic, scandalous, Bright Young Thing territory.