Monday, 7 April 2014

Story. It's all there is. My Writing Process Blog Tour.

Yay! More writing process.
I am snatching the Writing Process Blog Tour baton from the fabulous Anthony Burt (and my hair does actually look like that). I met Anthony on twitter through the Golden Egg Academy, who welcomed me under their writerly wing when I was a little writing island, all alone. You can find his post here

So - on to the Four Questions.

What am I working on?

I am awaiting edits from my *new agents* for my debut novel BREATHING SEA, first in a YA speculative adventure series. 

This is not a mermaid story, but to survive the journey—you will be BREATHING SEA.

And that's all I have to say about that. 

In the meantime, yesterday, I started first-drafting the sequel. I am currently in a first-drafting whirl so please excuse me if I am a little manic. I've been planning this sequel since I started writing and am so excited, I have constant butterflies.

I have also written another unrelated YA ghostly mystery, now shelved as an early draft whilst I concentrate on the trilogy. Yes. I know - I write quick. But it takes a lot of work for it to be good.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

BREATHING SEA isn't really tied to a particular genre so I pitched it with that rather vague 'speculative' tag. Half of the novel is set underwater but there are no mermaids. It is not fantasy, more soft sci-fi. Also, despite it being post-apocalypse it is not dystopian. I'm good at saying what it isn't, aren't I? My story is one of a new start, in a world wrought with perils but ultimately hopeful. There's themes of racism and bigotry, truth and deceit and the testing of how far you will go, for the ones who mean the most.

And there are killer crabs and other critters. And sad things happen. And there's first-love at it's rawest.

My style is fast paced with lashings of tension but never at the expense of character (I hope). I don't want my readers to notice the writing too much, I strive for full immersion. I am not into fancy tricks with point of view or punctuation. Probably because I wouldn't know how do them anyway. One (very nice) agent rejection described my style as filmic and compulsive. When I heard that, I felt like I was getting to where I want to be.

Why do I write what I do?

The boy beneath the water
Some books that helped me write him
This + This

I wasn't a writer before this book. It all started when I was driving to work and had the idea. I started discussing feasibility with my science-teacher husband who liked the idea. In November 2012 I thought I'd give novel-writing a go. I wasn't very confident but I had nothing to lose. My only qualifications were a English Lit degree from 16 years ago and a love of reading. During early drafts I read a pile of novel writing books recommended by favourite authors. Ordered here with my favourite ones at the top. I handed my work out to people at early stages and listened to everything they had to say. More on that later.

The setting for BREATHING SEA comes straight from my experiences scuba-diving in Thailand and Egypt. Especially night dives, cave and wreck dives. It's been a while since I dived but I have a great memory. I love the sea and live within sight of it now (although it's never so cold and grey in my story).

Age 18 - with my now husband Billy
I'm writing YA because I think I'm still half a teenager. I certainly hate getting up in the morning and tidying my room. I certainly like drinking too much and staying up too late.
I remember the angst so clearly, especially in those first relationships where a glance from *him* can send you into a swoon for weeks. I don't want insta-love in my novels, I want to express what it really feels like to be a young person on the cusp of everything.

I actually married my boyfriend Billy, who I met in sixth form, but we had four years apart first, including living with different (very unsuitable) people.

How does my writing process work?

I have fun. Writing isn't arduous for me (maybe because I'm new?) and when I'm tired of it I play guitar badly and sing loudly. I watch TV as a treat - not every night - too busy writing. I feel privileged every day to have found something I adore doing.
I write quickly and I write a lot. And then I change it a lot. I write anywhere, anytime, usually on the end of the dining room table surrounded by lego and colouring pens without lids (first one to tell me where the lids go get's a prize). I have a three day a week teaching job and two sons, 6 and 4 years old so am often interrupted with 'I can't find the end to the sticky tape' or more worryingly 'Oscar's climbing in the fridge'. I don't need anything special to write. Certainly not peace and quiet. I don't really need to get in a zone either (maybe I'm permanently in the zone!) if I do need inspiration I browse through my novel inspiration Pinterest boards or listen to a playlist I've compiled for a particular character.
So when I start a novel, this is how it goes:
1. I think about my characters continuously but I don't write much in the way of character sheets - they find their personality and unique voice through their actions and dialogue in early drafting stages. I get a lot of my ideas driving. Which is inconvenient.
2. I plot. I outline over and over. I use the 3 act structure, heroes journey, screen-writing beat sheets to test my plot out. I need the security of knowing where I am going, that the story is structurally sound.
3. I block it out scene by scene in Scrivener - which is the perfect tool for the way I work. By blocking - I mean I write the action and snatches of dialogue. It ends up at about 5000 words. Then I build on this a little.

First draft is my preciousssss
4. First draft. With BREATHING SEA it was a wild unleashing of creative energy. It took 5 weeks. I could not stop typing, sometimes clocking more than 5000 words on my days off, terrified that the amazing inspiration would disappear if I took a break. I would I like to think I've calmed down a little now. 2 or 3K words a day hits a sweet spot without brain-fry or eye-bleeds. I hunker down with my precious until first draft is finish. It's exhilarating.
5. I revise and edit roughly, just enough for my first readers. I like to send to readers in batches of 3 or 4, then I ply them with wine and delve into what they really thought, demanding brutal honesty. I compare and compile their comments and revise.
6. I revise and repeat with more readers. Gradually the revisions turn into edits turn into tweaks turn into polishing.
7. I work at it and try not to cling to my darlings. It isn't always easy. The draft that landed me an agent was draft 14 and had just been subject to a massive darling-killing rewrite. I started from scratch on huge sections and it was daunting, but the story needed it and it's all about the story. And I knew the characters so well it was easy to write them. It took me 4 weeks. 
If it isn't right, no-one will read it and I want to be read.

Yes *strained smile* it IS real
Story. It's all there is. You can even have it tattooed on your wrist to remind you. If you're a bit weird like that.

End of my writing process! If you want to follow my first draft craziness I'm @antonialindsay0 under the hashtag #firstdrafters.

I'm now handing over to two authors I met through twitter and the wonderful #ukyachat.

SF Said's first book, Varjak Paw, won the NestlĂ© Smarties Book Prize for Children's Literature.  The sequel, The Outlaw Varjak Paw, won the BBC's Blue Peter Book Of The Year.  His new book, Phoenix, was nominated for both the Carnegie Medal and the Kate Greenaway Medal.  Like the Varjak Paw books, it is illustrated by Dave McKean and published by David Fickling Books.  SF Said is based in London, and currently working on his fourth book, TYGER.
Please find SF's writing process post here on the 14th April 2014:

Joshua J. Johnson currently lives in England with a serious case of wanderlust and a wardrobe full of books. He started writing as soon as he discovered that book didn't randomly appear, and that they were actually written by people. After growing up writing short stories by hand for his brother and his family-- including a weekly family newspaper-- he created a blog where his writing has been captivated, treasured, and enjoyed by thousands of people in nearly eighty countries around the world. He is now the proud author of 6 published books, including BONES OF THE SURFACE, SOULLESS, THE SWEET LIFE, THEIR TIME TO GO, THE DIAMOND HOTEL, and TO BE AN UNKNOWN, as well as several other upcoming novels.
Please find Joshua's writing progress post here on the 14th April:

Friday, 4 April 2014

How I signed with my agent. Mad March Part 2.

The Meetings - following straight on from Part 1

Step back for a moment please – this part really makes me *bounce*. It is like a dream come true except I never ever allow myself to fantasise anything as good as this.

I have a pounding head and heart, dry mouth and cannnot sleep. I am utterly delighted to be meeting with 4 agents but know I need to calm myself, keep a straight face, ask the right questions and secure the best agent for my career.

I message some lovely agented writers on twitter who come back with questions for me to ask. They are kind and supportive and give me a confidence boost. 

I pack my satchel and the notebook my best friend gave me for Christmas. Questions already copied out a page per question.
She has written a note in it. It seems apt.

I am nervous. I play some rousing music. There may be a song with the word ROAR featuring heavily. Can’t say.

I travel to London by train from the South Coast. I miss my train connection whilst emailing another agent my full (yes that did actually happen). I call Billy - long suffering husband - and he tells me which route to take and calms me down. I end up standing in the middle of Picadilly circus like the provincial nobody I am, texting the first lovely agent to say I have not a clue where I am going. He rescues me.
I meet 3 agents in one afternoon, each one kindly delivering me to the next as I don’t know London (and have scary manic owl eyes). 5 hours of back to back meetings. It is a complete head-spin to hear my novel admired by these respected industry professionals.
I manage to maintain dignity when all I want to do is hug each agent and scream
“Are you sure? Thank you - thank you so much! Are you really sure it’s me you want? That it’s my writing you love? Yes of course I’ll bloody well sign with you. Quick before you change your mind!”

Even though I would happily sign with any one of these brilliant people, I have to make a sensible career decision. I ask for a week to think.

I go home, hug my kids and Billy. I chill, drink wine, smile and let the realisation of what is happening sink in. I relax a little. I remember Amanda Preston, one of the first agents I ever researched a year ago. She rejected my previous draft before Christmas but I’ve not yet resubmitted this fresh draft to her. I email her my new query and sample on Friday evening.  She replies a few hours later saying she’d like to see the rest. By now it’s late and I’ve been celebrating with friends and *bubbles* have been involved.
I email Amanda the full but forget the attachment. Rookie alert!

She emails straight back saying please attach it, she wants to read on. I blearily own up to the *bubbles* and she seems to laugh over e-mail. I feel we would get along and I’m crazy flattered she’s reading my manuscript on a Friday night.
I meet another agent on Saturday – he is awesome too. The choice is becoming impossible. All agents have different ideas for edits and different strategies and as a total newbie, I can see merits in all of them. Everyone tells me to go with my gut. My gut enters cryogenic stasis (you’ll see more of that in my novel).

On Monday Amanda e-mails to say she, and her colleague Louise Lamont both love the manuscript and she invites me to the LBA offices (in beautiful Bloomsbury). I have a great feeling about this meeting.

Amanda and Louise are lovely, but it is their edits win me over. We chat for 2 hours and their ideas chime with me the most. They will probably give me the most work (I have not yet received these edits) but they have ways to solve niggling main character problems I knew existed but couldn’t figure out for myself. I like that they are a small but well-established agency with a great reputation. They are clearly the manuscript wizards I need, have utter faith in my writing ability, but also swoon over my characters and get the essence of what I am trying to achieve. I decide to go with them during the meeting but make myself sleep on it for a night.

I email the 3 agents still reading the full to tell them to stop reading. I can’t handle any more meetings or choice. They seem flatteringly disappointed, but grateful I haven't wasted their time.
I’ve decided.
Thursday 27th March I email Amanda and Louise my acceptance of their offer of representation. They seem thrilled. I am THRILLED. And very relieved it is over.
The rejection e-mails to the 4 agents who also want to sign me are tough to write. After months desperately seeking an agent, it feels wrong to turn someone down that I admire and respect.  I admit I feel sick and tearful, especially over one of them who I had really clicked with and thought I would go with before I met LBA. I now understand that rejecting can sometimes be almost as hard as being rejected (almost).

I have an agent. Just over seven months after I started querying. I keep expecting the bubble to burst.

I feel great. Truly. I cannot believe it. I sign the agreement and send it off the same day, and am still resisting the temptation to e-mail my new agent every day to say “Hello! Just checking you haven’t changed your mind.”


I live in hope that when I am a published author I’ll be a bit more cool and breezy.
Don’t count on it.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

How I signed with my agent. Mad March Part 1.

The Method

Please stand back a little *bounces around room in joy*

So let’s rewind. In November 2012 I start writing a novel. I have no writing experience, at all, just the one big idea and I fall in love with writing the moment I begin. I discover Scrivener, I write a lot of drafts, I read a lot of novel-writing books, I read a lot of YA books in my genre and I benefit from the critiques of a lot of readers. I take a month away, polish my new novel when I get back and *think* it is ready for submission. First batch of queries out 22nd August 2013. Whilst querying I write the first draft of another unrelated novel (now shelved whilst I concentrate on my trilogy).

Submission Campaign 1 is a modest success. Very modest. 2 full requests result in helpful rejections, 19 form rejections (yes – 19!) and 2 personalised rejections.

Doesn’t sound like good stats, but I’m a realist. I know this book might not make it and the whole process can take years, so I am satisfied with these few votes of confidence. I recognise this manuscript still needs work. So with the help of agent comments and four new critiques, I power through a huge January rewrite.

It goes well.

Darlings are massacred.

I read Blake Snyder's Save the Cat and make a beat sheet. More darling blood spilt.

First 6 chapters rewritten. Middle 7 chapters rewritten. New ending. Entire novel revised. One character combined with another. Major main character personality tweak. New title comes to me.

I finally feel I KNOW my novel and I am even able to sum it up in a twitter pitch (more on that later).

I send the new draft out on Submission Campaign 2 with a fresh new pitch. I have a method – same as last time. I send out 3 sets of 8 submissions. I research and write notes on every agent and tweak my letter and submission accordingly. One set of 8 every 3 weeks - I like to plan. Some are new agents, some resubmissions to agents from last round. Some small agencies, some large, some new agents, some very well established.

All falls quiet *tumbleweeds roll by*.
After 3 weeks, a form rejection. Ho Hum. First rejection after submission is a tiny death of the spirit.  I sigh and send out the second batch of 8 submissions.

At the beginning of March it starts getting interesting. I receive one full request, then another in the same week. Then a rejection on my full, then another request the same day. At this point I allow myself to get excited. I join in a twitter chat with the wonderful Golden Egg Academy – where I made my first writer friends on twitter. An agent favourites my twitter pitch, I contact him, he likes my sample and also quickly requests full. *Levitation ensues*

3 fulls out. Another couple of rejections dribble in, but the agents reading my full like it. They email me saying they are busy but enjoying reading and to ‘keep them posted’. My heart races every time I open my inbox (which is far too often) and I continuously feel like there had been some mistake.

Then another agent requests – saying he loves my sample and not to do anything until he’s read the full. Later on that day he OFFERS REPRESENTATION!

I cannot believe it. I am in a free lesson at work and can’t help whooping (wooo hopping) all over the place.

I email the other 3 agents reading my full manuscript to tell them I have an offer. They ALL want to meet me. I line up 3 meetings in London for the next day and one for the following Saturday.

I email all other agents who still have my query/ initial submission and haven’t rejected, and most say they’ll they fast-track reading. I have ANOTHER 5 full requests. I think. I am rapidly losing track. My world is a blur. I’m having hot and cold sweats. Some reject pretty quickly – all with lots of heart-warming compliments and excellent reasons – it wasn’t for them or they didn’t have time to compete (it was Bologna Children’s Book Fair week). No more form rejections – Yay!

Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow up tomorrow. How I chose my agent.

Who - me? I’m just a girl with too many notebooks and an unhealthy obsession with her crumby old laptop. Literally crumby. Twiglet crumbs.