Tuesday, 31 December 2013

How to survive waiting for submission responses with sanity intact

6 Rules of survival whilst waiting

1. Do not think about project. Remove all traces of project from work vicinity. Write something else. (50% success - wrote another novel. But then it was finished and started thinking again)
2. See people who still seem to like you since you turned into half-reclusive half-boring writer (100% success - Easy. I've missed them)
3. Read some engrossing novels that aren't for research purposes (70% success. Reading makes me think about writing makes me think about submissions)
4. Exercise. Bottom has grown to size of small bungalow in this year of writing (1% success. Went for first jog in 6 months today. Well it has been raining a lot)
5. Watch TV - when drafting I go weeks without it. 3 seasons of Sons of Anarchy since November. Great distraction (80% success. Jax reminds me a little of my lead character Smith)
6. Most importantly:

Saturday, 21 December 2013

A few of my favorite things in YA fiction.

A few of my favourite things they crop up in different forms (hopefully)

1. Girl heroes - feisty, with heart and who spend more time rescuing than being rescued.
2. Boy heroes - flawed but never misogynistic. I'll stop myself from making them all blond.
3. Prisons or being held captive.
4. Sacrifice.
5. Physical injury. I like it visceral.
6. All enduring friendship. Tested but comes out stronger.
7. Love. The slow burn that takes its time and lingers and hurts.
8. Love that ends. Most teenagers don't marry their first love.
9.Pledges and promises even if just to oneself.
10.Death. No-one believes the danger unless they've seen its consequences.

Things I pledge to avoid in my writing:

1. Insta-love. No. Not love at first sight. Attracted to at first sight. Love comes later.
2. Love triangles where it is obvious who the girl will end up with. Just let the other guy go already.
3.Wimpy girls waiting for boys to rescue them.
4. Excessive sarcasm or whining.
5. Boredom of any description.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Multiple writer's projects - a very good thing

So this is the way I do it.

1. Think it. In the car, in bed, whilst cooking (ie burning organic matter), whilst watching TV, driving.
2. Note it. Open sparkly new notebook but scribble on post-it's, receipts and lots of e-mails to self.
3. Research it. Internet. Books. Library. Read fiction in the genre. Make pinterest boards. More notes.
4. Plan it Test ideas against 3 act structure, Heroes journey. Construct character arcs. Chapter plan events.
5. First draft it. Head down, fingers blur, ideally five hours per day for a month.
6. Rest it. Go back and do some of the other steps for another unrelated project.
7. Write it readable. Structural quick edit. Smarten it up for first readers.
8. Listen and note. Detailed notes from readers. Compile them.
9. Rest it. Time to digest readers notes. No rushing. Work on something else.
10. Revision/ Rewrite Cycle begins with further readers and rests in between
i)Big stuff  - cut (plot/ story/ structure/ pace)
ii)Medium stuff - add (Character voice perfection/ relationships/ setting/ atmosphere)
iii) Small stuff (Line edits - polish it up and make it pretty)
11. Submit

What has made me so much more relaxed this year is that I have three projects on the go, all at different stages, so I can take a break when I reach a sticky patch or get fatigued - and work on something else.

But - some rules apply
a) Once first draft begins, no working on anything else until it is finished. And no cheating.
b) Read widely - always. Usually an hour a day. Inside and outside of genre.
c) Don't be too soft on myself. Sometimes those sticky bits can only be solved by writing them over and over.
d) Don't be too hard on self. Sometimes sticky bits can be solved by forgetting all about them and watching 3 episodes of Sons of Anarchy back to back with half a bottle of wine.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Which one next? Becoming an author might be all about the strategy.

I've a feeling I need to become a strategist, because I don't know what to write next.
Just finished second draft of my second novel, YA ghost story, The Journal of Apolline Durand. Out with my wonderful first readers, Kathryn, Sally, Helen and Lyann. So she's out of the loop for a few weeks.

A windy summer
Peter Lindbergh for Vogue Italia May 1999
Apolline! Play nice with the first readers like a good girl.

My firstborn manuscript Clamour is out with agents, full manuscript waiting on a response. Have lots of new revision idea for this, but makes no sense to do anything until I hear back from *the* agent.
Go Aster, wow those agents, get under their skin like you got under mine - I know you can do it
So I have two choices:
1. Start on new project The Red Edge. This is spanky new and exciting. Lead character is a boy, Hector. Already feel like I know him (and of course, love him). Story plotted vaguely, but I have a strong sense of premise, themes and place and a cracking good opening chapter. Scenes pop into my mind continuously for this one.
The view of the red dwarf sun Rutilus from Rutilus 2
The Red Edge - Space adventure that mainly takes place on the planet Rutilus 2 in the Scorpios Constellation.
2. Start on Scatter, second book in Clamour trilogy. This is SO ripe for the picking. These characters have voices already and they nag, nag, nag. Been thinking this for over a year. Could be good to write this before revising Clamour? Like my optimism. Could be a waste of precious time if Clamour never gets picked up? No, can't think that way. *The* agent could suggest revisions to Clamour that impact on the story.
Bản Giốc fall, Cao Bằng
Khone Falls in Laos. Setting of the tribal summit in Scatter - sequel to Clamour
So which should it be? Completely new manuscript meaning I have 3 separate projects on the go? And may get a mental overload? Vote Red.
Or second book in trilogy. Focus on the one I already love - and that would be easy as pie to write? Could probably knock out a first draft for this in a month or so. Vote Green.

Best thing of all? Love both these ideas and can't wait to get started....

Monday, 2 December 2013

pinterest for writers - an insight into my chaotic mind

So now I have a new distraction from my day job. http://www.pinterest.com/antonialindsay3/boards/
Something to fill all that time I have on my hands.....

Ever since I started my first novel I have always kept a folder of images that capture moments, mood, characters and setting. And now they are on pinterest.
I was a little afraid at first to pin, I want my readers to form their own images, but can't see too much harm in sharing mine.
And there's some tantalising tasters of future projects that if (when) I'm published, readers might find interesting.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Full Manuscript Request Joy - What does it mean? What doesn't it mean?

Wednesday last week - a favourite agent (the second one I ever submitted to back in August) say they would love to read my full manuscript exclusively. Note the word love. Love!

So here's my heart on a plate - wash it down with a fine Chianti
Cue - squeaking noise, hot sweat and a lot of silly dancing. I grant them 30 days exclusivity (and any body organs of their choice) because I'm a consummate professional.

So this is exciting. This is something. On to the bottom rung of a pretty tall ladder but at least out of the gutter.

I've done some research to try to prevent insanity whilst waiting.

So what does this actually mean?
1. This agency receive 1400 submissions per month. They see enough potential in mine to ask for a full.
2. They are going to use precious time that could be used on other massively famous clients - to read my story.
3. This agency state they usually give editorial notes if they read a full, so I might get professional feedback.

That's it - that's all it means.

So what doesn't this mean?
1. That they will take me on.
2. Anything else whatsoever.

So this is good news. It's great news. I feel vindicated and that I can safely assume I am not insane to ever believe I can be an author.

But still - probably best to shelve those red-carpet fantasies for the time being.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Author in training. I just don’t know when I’ll qualify.

It’s all about perception. Those first few rejections stung and I had to find a way to stop them stinging because this is it, this is what I want to do and rejection is part of it. I have to except that my precious debut novel that I still love and believe in might not get published.

So I’m thinking of my time spent now as study. It’s a great privilege to have people buying your novel, reading your work, identifying with your characters, wrapped up in your story. It’s arrogant of me to expect to be able to have my work published and competing for shelf space with the greats,when I only started writing seriously less than a year ago.

Writing is a skilled profession.

It took me four years to train to be a teacher.

It takes ten years to train to be a GP.

Four years to be an electrician.

Eight years to be a vet.

Four years to be an architect.

It’s the same for creative careers. Most musicians, artists and actors have spent many years working for free, waiting tables etc to pay the bills. The successful ones have talent and luck, but they also keep going. They never give up.

So I’m bringing out the humble, I’m just a first year student, I need to open my mind and learn. The psychology of that really helps. I’m now at peace if my first novel doesn’t get picked up during the current submission campaign. It might need some massive revisions that I’m just not qualified to undertake – yet.

The best think about training to be an author is you get to choose your course materials and for me, every day is a buzz. And the training really is on the job. So bring on the learning….

Thursday, 29 August 2013

It's all part of the process. My first rejection.

Excuse the bizarre video, but this is the song in my head today.
So for the last week I have been feeling downright weird. Wired. Unsettled. Because I arrived back from my 3 week holiday, passed through my novel twice, the last read being an intense proof read, and submitted to the first six agents on my list. When I was at the stage where I was changing a word and then changing back again, I didn't linger over it. I'd already done my agent research so it was all ready to go.

As I pressed the send button I thought I'd be relieved or a bit empty, or maybe proud of myself and elated. Instead I felt as if the last 10 months have never happened and that I'd never written a book. I was in no-mans land. I drank too much three nights in a row and was pretty grouchy on the days in between. I worked on my next novel half-heartedly and researched pointless (but therapeutic) things like other peoples rejection letters and average times it takes agents to respond. I tried to limit my inbox checking and failed.

And now I have my first response. Stock rejection. From a huge agent. Used my name rather than Dear Author, but that's the only hint at personalisation. Sent from the submissions team rather than the named agent to which I addressed my (meticulously researched and checked) submission letter.

I wont be disingenuous here, rejection does feel a little brutal. The thousand or more hours you put in were not appreciated by whoever read it. I feel it's unlikely my precious even got past the agents readers. The film might not be in cinemas next year...

But it doesn't feel as brutal as I thought it might. I feel real. A real writer, who wrote a real novel must receive at least one, and probably a lot more than one, real rejections.

So I'm not sorry for myself really. I'm a real rejected writer. Before this I was in a bubble of daydreams, now I'm part of a real professional process.

I'm absolutely fine about being a reject. Just a co-incidence that when I picked up my guitar this evening I didn't turn on the lights and started playing Everybody Hurts by REM.

And onwards.

Friday, 16 August 2013

How I wrote a novel Phase 4 of 10 A step back

Phase 4 of 10. Taking a step back. 80 hours March 2013

By now I had a first draft and I'd rewritten the first seven chapters. I was elated. I followed advice to take a break of a few weeks. I wish I hadn't.

I found this advice so difficult to follow as I was mid-flow, ideas materialising all the time and my characters finding their voices and their personalities as I wrote. In future I wont take a break at this point if I don't feel like it. I'll follow my instinct.

I was scared to leave my novel when it was going so well. So I fixed it in my mind.
I made record cards of my scenes. I enjoyed this. I colour coded them so I could see the different settings. I used coloured stickers for each character so I could track my subplots. It was really helpful.
I could see how much space I'd given to each of my POV characters. I laid the cards out on the floor in chapters. I transferred the data to two A4 sheets.

I didn't really take a break at all. I read 7 books on how to write fiction (I'll review these at a later date). I ordered my copy of Writers and Artists yearbook. I read and analysed 5 young adult novels in my genre. I researched various aspects of my novel.

So I got to know my novel. I had it fixed. Now I had to completely rewrite it.

Catch Phase 5 of 10 Diamond-hard Rewrite 150 hours.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Mid-week Squeak. The Civil Wars.

Whilst working on the early drafts of my novel I listened to a lot of music. Probably the album I listened to most was Barton Hollow by The Civil Wars. http://thecivilwars.com/
I also love to run to this track.

Music is really important when I'm writing. It creates mood and The Civil Wars are the masters of mood. Every track is undiluted emotion and conflict. And their new stuff is even better than the first album. I'm not going to chat on today. Listen to their new song below. Great lyrics. Can't stop singing this. And apparently the conflict is real. They have a lot of music differences and keep splitting up, cancelling tours, and stating irreconcilable differences.

Please keep warring Civil Wars.

Friday, 2 August 2013

How I wrote a novel Phase 3 Gollum arrives. 300 hours (conservative estimate)

How I wrote a novel Phase 3 Gollum arrives. 300 hours (conservative estimate)

It all went crazy. I found my precious and hunched over it in a dripping cave whilst my hair fell out and my skin turned grey. Not quite but almost.

I began an obsessive affair with my keyboard.

I had my idea. I had my synopsis. I had a 3 act structure and a scene summary.
I wrote. And I wrote. Line by line, scene by scene.
I wrote without looking back.
Following the theory that I needed words on the page, and it didn't matter much what the words were as long as they took me to the end. And they did. I used Scriv http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php to help me keep some semblance of order. Around 300 hours later I had 82,000 words, no speech marks, little punctuation, no description.
In this 8 weeks I wasn't pleasant to live with. I was Gollum. I couldn't stop thinking about my people (characters). They spoke to me night and day. I emailed myself at work with conversations, I wrote in the middle of the night in the notebook beside my bed. I scribbled notes before saying good morning to my real life beloveds. I wasn't present in any conversations. I hardly went out. I came in from work and wrote. I sacrificed a lot of sleep. This is first draft fever. Everything stops for the story.

But when I held the first draft of my novel  I danced till dawn.

Then I rewrote the first seven chapters because I could see now that they were total excrement and couldn't bear to let them be in my beloved first draft.

This was the point I knew I would be a writer. I knew it. My novel wasn't flying yet, but I was.

Catch How I wrote a novel Phase 4 Getting to know you, next Friday.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

How I wrote a novel Phase 2 Building a skeleton

Phase 2 of 10 Building a skeleton. November to December 50 hours.
So by Phase 2 I had a collection of notes and a story premise, a central conflict and a setting. It's a young adult novel. Boy meets girl. Two worlds collide. So much more.
I had K of course, and now A had arrived more hesitantly, developing into my feisty protagonist and main POV character.
I had no idea what to do next. My English Literature and Language degree was quite frankly of little help, although it did enable me to develop my excellent skim/speed reading abilities (it's my super power).
So to the internet of course.
Snowflake method. It was at the top of the google search on how to write a novel. That's all the thought I put into it.
It had pretty pictures, stuck to some classical theory and was well written.

I simply followed the first 6 steps on his website because they made sense. Thank you Randy, you helped me a lot in those early weeks. I only ever looked at the first page of Randy's website because by then I was flying.

My 15,319 word scene synopsis. It changed a lot.

I wrote a synopsis, I expanded upon it, I planned a three act structure, I split each act into scenes.

I blocked out each scene (blocking for me = characters + setting + what they actually do and why - working on it at the moment for book 2 - it's so exciting!).

I didn't spend a lot of time on character at this stage. Aside from K, I discovered my characters by writing them.

By the beginning of December I had 15,319 words. I was happy. Thrilled. A discovery draft. I had actually written more words than my dissertation and ENJOYED it.

Christmas had been and gone. Ideas kept coming. I needed better software. I craved organisation because ideas were coming thick and fast and in no particular order. I wasn't writing in a linear fashion. I followed my instinct.

I discovered Scrivener. http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php

So far (including phase 1) it's 70 hours. Not much. It's about to multiply.

Catch How I wrote a novel Phase 3 Gollum arrives next Friday to find out how My Precious worked its way up to 82,000 words in 8 weeks.


Wednesday, 24 July 2013

How I wrote a novel. Phase 1 of 10 The Sting.

Phase 1 March 2012 20 hours
I never planned to write my novel. I'm a teacher who really likes teaching. I have two small children. I have no time. It all began when an idea stung me.

I was driving home from work one day and he appeared. Named. My character, lets call him K. He arrived, fully formed, with his own way of speaking, his own look, his own character. It was as if K already existed and I'd just found out about him.

I turned off the radio and started thinking about him. I couldn't stop thinking about him. He spoke to me. He isn't even the main protagonist in my novel but everything revolves around him. None of my other characters arrived like that, but then K is special, different, because he's a main character but also the whole premise.

I pulled up outside my son's school, found a scrap of paper and wrote some notes.

Most of the ideas in these notes never got used but the central premise was there. K had burst into life.

I told my bemused husband about my idea and he made supportive (slightly bemused) noises.

 I left the idea for 7 months. I didn't even think about it much - hence 20 paltry hours. I had no idea how to write a book. I didn't even want to attempt it. I didn't think I could.

Then I went on a long car journey with my brother, Rob, a writer himself, a talented musician, an inspirational person. And he told me if I wanted to write a novel I should just start and see where it took me. So I did. I drew some pictures of my setting when I got home that evening.

I drilled my husband about the post-apocalyptic premise (he's even geekier than me). It's not hard sci-fi, but I'm a stickler for detail and the science must be right.

From that day at the end of October there hasn't been a day when I haven't thought about it.

I started building a world for K to live in. About time, he'd been homeless for 7 months. And so it began.

Please catch How I wrote a novel. Phase 2 of 10 Building a skeleton next Friday.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Mid-week Squeak - Pucket - finger flicking fun

So, no music today. I'm squeaking about a game instead.

The glorious Pucket.

No, I'm not having a bad day or trouble with my teeth. Go on, say the word nice and loud:

Pucket, Pucket, Pucket.

Trust me, once you start playing you'll want to say a few different words, because it's crazy fun and makes even the most chilled people into competitive screeching freaks. That's one of the reasons why I love it.

And this also has something to do with my writing.
Because playing Pucket is actually just like the stage I'm working on now. Word-level editing my novel. And this is how:
1. It's hard work. The game is basically about getting the discs through the hole, but the little blighters just keep bouncing straight back at you. The editing game is basically about finding the right word to fit. And sometimes it takes me a while, yes, just to find one word or phrase. And sometimes there's sweating involved.

2. It's random. Sometimes everything goes your way first time. Resist the urge to overthink, if the games going well, ride the wave. If the words come out best first time, leave them be, they're happy there.

3. Practice does pay off. But you'll still have bad games. I've improved so much in my writing. But sometimes I still write drivel and make myself giggle-cringe the next time I read it.

4. It's finger flicking fun, even when it's really frustrating. I love writing.

So visit http://www.pucket.co.uk/ and snag yourself a game of Pucket. Dinner parties will never be the same again.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Mid-week squeak (running late) Johnny Flynn Brown Trout Blues


Midweek Squeak is even more shrill than usual this week because it's Johnny Flynn - who helps me to channel my teenage self....(girly squeal).

Johnny Flynn. Brown Trout Blues. Oh my.

It's Folk like my mumma used to sing. Ingrained in me from the womb and beyond, and Johnny brought it back to me.

My lovely friend Anna introduced to this clip of the sublime Mr Flynn at work one day and I think my comment was "Brown Trout Blues? I'd show him a bit of the Old Trout Blues..." Inappropriate I know but hey, it's his music that I'm interested in. And I'm not that much older than him....

Sometimes it seems too many blessings are heaped on just one person, leaving the majority of us lesser beings sadly lacking. That voice, songwriter, actor, multiple instrument musician, easy on the eye - it's just unfair.

Inspiring lyrics galore from Johnny:

           I could be someone else
           I should be someone else but
           You wouldn't know me if I was
           You'd say I was a stranger just because
           You'd say I wasn't weak enough for you
           You'd want me just to feel as you do too.

I love this. Questions of identity. So Young Adult. My characters need to listen to this. Except they live in a post-apocalyptic world, so I'll listen for them.

So buy his albums A Larum and Been Listening and there's a new one out this summer. Support Johnny, I'm sure he'll be real famous too soon (he's filming a movie with Anne Hathaway later this year).

I need to put this second clip up, although I haven't see the film, I love Johnny's cover of this song.

And I get to see him live at Larmer Tree festival this year. I'll be the one right at the front singing all the words. Thank you Super H for taking me, your understanding goes beyond normal bounds of husbandness. You'll even catch me when I swoon. 

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Writing around your job vs Writing as your job

This is how I began my day today. No hands (not really).

I am on holiday from work and am in a state of bliss.

Because I have TIME.

Sweet, elusive TIME.

I love teaching but I want to write as my career. I want it bad.

This is why.

Day in my life normally
  • Get up - run downstairs write notes on novel ideas I dreamt last night.
  • Provide breakfast (or sit daydreaming and trying to wake-up while Super Husband (SH) provides it, as it's still hellishly early and I was up hellishly late writing)
  • Get ready, get two small ones ready.
  • Survive school run gauntlet.
  • Drive to work - here all good ideas come. Characters actually speak to me, plot holes are mended, new ideas only arrive when I'm doing something else - ideally moving.
  • E-mail myself in the car park with ideas from the drive.
  • Teach for the day. Full on. I love it but it is FULL ON.
  • Drive home. More ideas in notebook. Write them up whilst cooking (see blog post on Burnt Peas).
  • Eat with family. Sometimes fully there - sometimes in a fictional world.
  • Communicate with loved ones then bath and Bed for small people. When I was first drafting, Super did this nearly every night so I could tap tappity tap My Precious.
  • Teaching work/House chores. As quickly as possible. Desperate to start tapping now.
  • WRITE. 4/5 hours usually. No TV, ignore phone and friends in quest for my dream. Sometimes exercise on indoor bike so I can catch up with latest YA fiction and not become hugely fat.
  • Bed. Reading time. Then 6 hoursish sleep.
  • REPEAT for 8 months. In school holidays write in mornings for 3 hours as well.
Day in my life if I become professional (ie today as I am on holiday now)
  • Get up to school run the same except not as tired.
  • An hour out on my bike (see photo). Exercise and ideas time all in one. Thought up this blog post today.
  • WRITE 4/5 whole hours of uninterrupted writing time. By myself in the house. Take some breaks to play guitar, put washing on line. Get loads done as my mind is sparkling fresh.
  • School run, take offspring to the beach and play with them thereby becoming Proper Mummy rather than strange hunched Gollum creature.
  • Cook edible un-burnt food.
  • Cuddle and speak to Super H and help with bath and bed. Mummy and Wife roles fully operational.
  • WRITE. 2/3 hours is enough. Or see long-suffering friends. Or - shock horror - watch TV for an hour with a glass of wine.
That is why I want to do this professionally. I love it. I'm obsessed. But I want to be a mum and wife and friend too. Not a Gollum hunkering over my precious - well OK, but only when I'm first drafting.

Me at 3.20 today

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Mid-week Squeak I will wait, I will wait - For you

I'm introducing a regular feature. My Mid-week Squeak. I'm going to blog on Wednesdays about something that inspires me in my writing. It's a squeak because it's a little bit uncool and fan-like. Be warned - you may find me slightly shrill.

This week it is The Marvellous Mumford and Sons and their song I Will Wait. So many songs move me but this raised goosebumps everywhere when I heard the live front-lounge Glastonbury version on Sunday. I know writers are probably supposed to be aloof and individual and like things other people don't, and sometimes I do, but I also like this. A lot. Along with most of the planet.

How it inspires and influences my writing?
  Let's make a list:

1. Simplicity.
 Most of the song is made up of the words 'I will wait, I will wait for you.' And everybody sings along in utter bliss. Including, or rather especially me - with eyes shut-tight and hands in the air. Unless I'm driving. Three one syllable simple little words, so powerful. Using that. Beauty in simplicity.

2. Alliteration, Assonance.
 That line again - The W's the o's. It's got wings.

3. Pace. 
Marcus' rhythm guitar is frantic, I can't keep up when I play along. But then he stops completely on that magic 'I will wait' chorus. The slow times only seem slow if they come after the fast. I have taken note.

4. Yearning. 
I love yearning. I like my characters to experience love with a good dose of misery. Nothing better than star-crossed lovers and love unrequited. I like it when they have to wait. The main character in my novel will wait and wait and wait - for her. Sigh.

5. Playability/ Singability.
I like to be able to perform it in my front room. Loudly. And with no regard for the neighbours or for the music police. The chords are simple and its easy to sing. It's a perfect way to take a break from my writing, and gets me n the right mood for some majorly passionate yearning (see point 4) from my characters.

That's enough squeaking for today.

Just going to play it one more time before I get back to Chapter 43 on the 6th Edit.

Come on - share some songs that inspire you. You know you want to.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Beta Readers and Burnt Peas

I wanted to share a photo that demonstrates how my culinary prowess has taken a down-turn since I started writing.

Peas take a few minutes to cook don't they? Well I'll just tweak that conversation in Chapter 33 whilst they come to the boil. Whoops. At least I know the smoke alarms are working.

But my main topic is Beta Readers.

Yes, those words are capitalised and taking up all the seating on that line, because they are so important to me.
Since I started my novel I've read lots of advice. I found out I needed beta readers, a fancy term for people who read your work in progress (no-one ever mentions alpha readers, which is bit odd, no?) Apparently they should ideally be strangers or fellow writers, as your friends and family will never tell you straight.

I ignored that piece of advice. The person who wrote that doesn't know my best friend.

I didn't want to spend months networking on absolute write and other writers forums befriending strangers. I don't have time to join a writers group. Since I started writing I barely have time for the family and friends I've got.

So I invited my sister and three of my good friends to beta read for me. These people all love reading and critiquing books and are honest. They are intelligent and skilled. They are sharp, insightful and I trust their opinion.
I gave them some direction, so they couldn't be too nice.

I spoke to each of them for about four hours face-to-face. With the manuscript there, going through it page by page. I loved this. It's a luxury to talk about my creations even when they are being picked, prodded and dissected and its my job to put them back together again.
They did an amazing job.
My sister Kathryn and I ended up solving some big problems by creating a new character together. That was wicked fun. My best friend Sally was brutal also my biggest fan, understanding my characters so well she even pictured what they looked like before I had written the descriptions. Mags picked out my best bits and asked for more of them. Lyann challenged me to push my boundaries and notch up the peril and tension.

It was draft 3 (out of what I will expect to be 8).
The letter is pasted below. I also scattered question sheets at key emotional points throughout, to ask for their reactions.

Dear Friend, sisters, Beta-readers,

Thanks so much in advance for being the first readers of my manuscript. It is a post-apocalyptic adventure aimed at young adults.
I am afraid I will interrupt your reading pleasure (I hope it’s a pleasure!) with some question sheets scattered throughout, as picking your brilliant brains is the whole point of giving you this early draft.

Aspects I have concentrated on in my first 2 edits: Plot line/ continuity/ Flow, Pace, Characters, their voice, motivations and relationships.
Aspects for future edits: dialogue, description, grammar/punctuation/word choice
Your role is mainly to tell me your emotional reaction to the story and characters.

So please mark:

-Happy/Sad/Confused smileys for when it makes you feel this way. Let me know if it makes you laugh or cry (I can only dream…)

-Anything that doesn’t make sense, any conversations that sound fake or too long winded, anything at all that brings you out of the story/ annoys or irritates you.

-Any repetitions or if I have any pet phrases

-Anything boring (quite simply has to go)

-Bits you particularly enjoy (hoping)

You do not need to tell me how to fix anything – I’ll have to figure that out for myself.

 If you are a Grammar Queen (you know who you are!) please feel free to scribble all over as I do not inhabit that throne and need all the help I can get. If my grammar mistakes don’t bother you please feel free to ignore them.
Handing my baby over to you. Please be honest – I can take it.  L XXX

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

First Blog Post Blues - Nothing I ever write will be as cringe worthy

Yikes. It is stupidly scary catching my words and pinning them to the web like this. I’m a writer. I agonise.

I am also pathologically British. I don't like talking about myself. 

Cue people that have been submitted to my verbal incontinence in person spluttering into their tea /wine/gin.

Seriously people, I’m scared because this is a diary that other people are going to read.

Best way to face your fear – tackle it head on.

Now that’s an idea.

In the spirit of getting into the psyche of my teenage characters I’ve recently re-read the diaries I wrote obsessively when I was thirteen to fifteen. Oh lordy, lordy – I really don’t recommend it.

But you know what? In the spirit of overcoming fears I’m going to post a genuine extract of that diary right here, right now.

Gulp. I chose this extract because it was a momentous day – the day I got my first job aged fourteen. But you wouldn’t know it because I was slightly distracted as you will see below.

February 7th 1991

Dear Diary,

Today HTIA2 (He That Is Adored 2) was not at school. I couldn’t believe it, I was looking forward to double maths all week and when he wasn’t there I felt sick, actually sick to my stomach. He doesn’t even actually know I exist but when he is not there for one day that day is the slowest day ever and I felt totally miserable. I wish I could just fake being ill for the rest of week. I love him. I LOVE HIM. I’m going to die of it. No one can ever know how this feels. I need to get some new white socks to wear over my black tights. I love my new brown waxy DM’s glad I didn't get cherry reds. I love them! Yeah! I got the job. I start Saturday £12 a day and a girl called Jess works there who knows Gavin.

So that’s it. I’ve done the unthinkable. I’m liberated. Nothing I ever write will be as cringe worthy as that.

I didn't die of love.
I can't remember who HTIA1 was, let alone 2.
I really wish I’d kept those DM’s.

Anyone else keep a teenage diary? Go on share a snippet with me. You know you want to.