Saturday, 31 December 2016

How to write 200,000 words in a year



This time last year I made a resolution to write 500 words in every day of the year. Here I am on December 31st 2016 and I’m pleased to report that I’ve made it. My final total (adjusted when I finish writing this piece) is 209,803 words. That’s 26,803 more than the bare 500 words a day for 366 days.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

A Gingerbread & Cupcake Christmas




As a little Christmas present to my readers, here is a Christmas story featuring some characters you'll recognise. Merry Christmas!

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Snippets: Shoe



“I don’t know why they’re making me bother with all this. It’s not like they’re actually going to let me marry whoever I choose anyway.” The prince waved away the attendant who was about to lift his foot to slip on his shoe. “Go on. Out! The lot of you. Yes, you too. We can do the rest.”

As the door closed behind the troupe of dressers and footmen, hairdressers and tailors, he flung himself down into a chair next to the mannequin that held his gold brocade coat. “Come on out, they’ve all gone.”

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

I WILL use the library



If you asked me how I felt about public libraries, I would tell you that I love them, of course. I think they are necessary and beautiful and egalitarian and one of the vital pieces of the puzzle that is social inclusion. As a child, I went to the library every week or so with my mother and I relished the browsing and the choosing of books. There they were, all these stories, all these ideas, all this information, and I could take any of it.

So my position in relation to the closing of libraries and the reductions in funding and the sacking of qualified librarians is – of course – horror and disgust. How can they do that? It shouldn’t be allowed. We shouldn’t sit by and them do that to our libraries.

But here’s the thing: I hardly ever use the library these days.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Snippets: Dark and Stormy



The Queen shivered. The padded box of hot coals beneath her slippers didn’t seem to dispel the deep cold that had settled into her bones. She felt the heavy wetness of the bottom foot of her brocade skirt, soaked up from the wet straw strewn on the floor. The fur trim on her gown couldn’t warm the expanse of bosom that she was obliged to display for the sake of fashion.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

The stockings were hung...



WARNING! If there are any children looking over your shoulder as you read this, you’d better move because they may discover SECRETS to do with CHRISTMAS that they are too young to be party to.

This week I’ve been putting together Christmas stockings for my daughters.

(I know – this is supposed to be a blog about books – but bear with me, the book is coming.)

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Snippets: Plait



Snick! went the scissors. The girl felt the pain on her scalp ease on one side as the hair fell away.

“There!” Drops of spittle flew past her face as Mother spat out the words. “Not so beautiful now, eh?”

The girl kept her eyes on the end of her copper plait where it lay curled at her feet. It shifted slightly as Mother twisted another loop around her fist and pulled it tight so that the girl’s scalp burned.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Revelation



I’m going to tell you one of the reasons I love writing.
Are you sitting comfortably?
Then I’ll begin.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Snippets: Plans



The queen sat back in her chair and pushed her spectacles onto the top of her head so that they seemed to be a rather unusual addition to the small tiara she wore for everyday.

“There!” she said to the king indicating the papers that lay strewn across the entirety of the banqueting table in front of her. “I’m pretty sure I’ve thought of everything. This is going to be the finest christening in history.”

Friday, 25 November 2016

Now for the hard work...



This week, after putting the finishing touches to Gingerbread & Cupcake (out December 1st!), I’ve returned to work on something that’s been set aside for several months.

It’s an idea that I’ve been playing around with for years. In fact, it’s been with me longer than almost any other project. The first notes I made for this book were written in 1995. Ironic actually, since it’s about the education of a witch and I would have been writing those notes right around the time that You-Know-Who was working on You-Know-What.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Too many ideas...



Many writers keep a handy notebook for jotting down random ideas that spring to mind or observations they make as they go about their lives have some resonance for them. When I decided that I was going to throw myself into fiction writing, I spent a year or so with such a notebook in my bag. But it stayed in my bag for the most part. I looked around, I listened to people’s conversations, I noticed the quirky, the fascinating, the poignant. But I didn’t feel drawn to record any of it.

I don’t write down ideas for new stories as they occur to me either. I have done this occasionally, but these half-formed ideas mock me with their incompleteness. What’s the point of this three sentence outline of a setting without a plot or characters? Why did I bother to record that I wanted to write something futuristic about refugees? The trouble is, I have so many ideas popping into my head and writing them down gives them a substance they don’t yet deserve. Those ideas, they’re the ones people tell you about when you tell them you’re a writer. “I’ve got this really good idea for a book,” they start and they know and you know that the idea is not enough.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Writer seeks plan



I am a person who needs a plan. The idea that you can sit down and write something worthwhile off the top of your head is something I find very hard to understand. Not that I need a completely rigid plan, you understand, just a direction.

So, for example, these past two months, I have been writing tiny pieces of fairy tale each day. If you want to know any more about this you can look back at earlier blogs. The good thing about this is that I have a place to start writing each day but I don’t have to spend time on planning because it’s not part of a plot. What I’ve done each day is, when I’ve woken but not yet got up, I’ve let my mind wander around in the canon of fairy tales until something snagged and then I’ve teased that until I could see a thread, then set it to one side until I was here, with the keyboard under my fingers. 
Occasionally over the two months if I’ve been lying awake, I’ve delved a bit further into my next day’s fairy tale – much better than letting my brain dwell on those dastardly circular middle-of-the-night thoughts. Then, of course, I’ve got hope I remember it all the next morning.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Snippets: fifteen



The key’s smaller than most of the others on the bunch, but you can pick it out easily because it is always slick with fresh blood. Some magic keeps it that way, never dripping, never drying, never rubbing off onto the other keys or onto your fingers. Not until you choose that one, put it in the lock, open the door.

I know she’s looked at it. They all do. Perfectly reasonable, a bit of curiosity. It’s only to be expected when something so mysterious is forbidden to you. And there’s always a chance everything’s going to work out this time – if all she does is look.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Snippets: miller



The miller’s wife lifts her skirt hem to her knees and pounds up the stairs. She throws open the bedroom door and the sour smell of yesterday’s drink hits her as her husband shifts and moans in the big bed. He groans louder and pulls the covers over his head as she unhooks the shutter and pushes it back so that a shaft of bright midday sunshine falls over him.

She perches gently beside the hump under the covers and lays a hand on him. She can hardly contain her excitement, but if this great smelly lump of a husband of hers has achieved what she thinks he’s achieved, it’s only reasonable to be gentle with him.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Snippets: invitation



“For goodness’ sake!” her stepmother muttered. “We really don’t have time for this. Go on, girls, the carriage is waiting. I’ll just be a moment.”

The girl hesitated before setting her foot on the next step down, watching her sisters disappear, smirking.

“I’m waiting for an explanation,” her stepmother said.

The girl took two more steps down, cautiously because suddenly the too-big shoes seemed far more of a problem than they had when she had put them on in her room.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Labadie



I’ve been coming here for more than half of my life. If you add up all the days I’ve spent here, it won’t add up to much, not compared to all the other days I’ve spent in other places. But it’s the coming back, that’s what’s important. That’s what makes it feel like home.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Snippets: beanstalk



From his bedroom window the plant had looked shiny in the early morning sun, but close to it was only the smooth, glossy dark, green leaves that shone. The stalk was paler, rougher, almost the texture of the big chestnut tree at the far side of the meadow that he used to climb to hide from his mother.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Happily ever after




I’ve been writing fairy tale pieces – as you may already know – and I’m also finishing off a young adult novel which will be published in December and it’s led me to think about happy ever afters.
It’s the ‘ever’ that bothers me. I mean, if you’re always happy, is it possible to appreciate the fact that you’re happy? And doesn’t it get a bit boring, constant happiness? Basically, if you’re going to be prosaic about it, I can’t see how ‘happy ever after’ is realistic.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Snippets: Wolf



So I’m on my way through the forest, setting each paw down very gently as I walk because, even if I’m not hungry, it’s such fun to see the way everyone stands stock-still and stares when I appear from nowhere, just before they scarper. Honestly, do they think I’d let them actually see me if I wanted to eat them? They have no idea of the skill it takes to be a successful predator.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Snippets: Gingerbread


“It can’t be. It’s impossible.”

But his little sister dropped his hand and reached out towards the rich brown fence topped with a neat line of pearly white…

“Wait!” He snatched her hand away before she could touch. He held her cold fingers tight in his and squatted down to her level. “I know you’re hungry. But I just want look round first, to make sure it’s safe. OK?” She nodded and he stood and led her around the building, talking more to himself now than to her. “I mean, the thing is, why would anyone build an actual house out of gingerbread, here, in the middle of the forest? How is it even possible? What happens when it rains?”

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Snippets: Rocket



Here's one of the little snippets of fairy tale I've been writing lately. Hope you enjoy it!
 
Obviously I did not actually intend to end up with a baby. I’m perfectly happy on my own, thank you very much, and if that man had never come into my vegetable garden and started stealing my rocket none of this would ever have happened.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

My fascination for fairy tales



My mother used to take me to the library once a week to change my books. Considering the book-buying habit I have these days it seems odd that I don’t remember ever feeling that I needed to own any of these books. Or perhaps it was that I felt that I did own these books. After all, there they all were – I could take any five I wanted.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Just get on with it!



Motivation is tricky for people engaged in creative activities. The initial enthusiasm, the new idea that you’re desperate to work on anytime, all the time, that doesn’t last.

Most of the time it’s slog. It’s digging the foundations, setting brick upon brick, standing back and sighing over how little you’ve done or how it sags, right there, where it really needs to be strong, deciding that the twiddly bit you spent so long on is just totally wrong and will have to go.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

On writing gush-free reviews



I was recently reading a first novel by someone I won’t name. The cover carried a quote from a fellow YA writer which suggested that the novel was utterly marvellous and gripping. Inside were a dozen more such quotes from well-known writers. Now of course, I understand that writers want to support other writers they know, and it’s also possible that these writers share an agent or a publisher who asked them to read and quote. But can you trust these quotes? Probably not. All that gush strikes me as so much luvvy back-patting. (Though I will say that I did enjoy the book.)

Friday, 5 August 2016

500 words a day – update 3




Current yearly total: 125,245 words


Keeping up with my 500 words a day is proving tricky at the moment. I’m deep in a major new draft of a book I’ve been working on for a couple of years and I have a deadline to finish it. That means, whatever else happens in my day, I need at least a couple of hours to devote on this. My head is right in the rather complex world of this book a good deal of the time, which would be great if I needed to write more of it – I could easily dash off 500 words of stuff that would fit. Unfortunately though, what the book actually needs is streamlining, which mostly means cutting. And that means that after I’ve done my redrafting work on this book each say, I have to tear my mind from this world and find another one to play with.

Now for a good part of the year, I was working on a new book – let’s call it the witch book – for which I had created a meticulous plan (you can find out something about it here). Each individual scene was mapped out and although I didn’t necessarily know the detail of what was to happen, I could conjure up 500 words from these brief scene notes fairly easily. The key was, I suppose, that having all the detail there made slipping out of the world of the book I’m editing and into this one easier. 

However, about a month ago, I ran out of planned scenes to write. All I had left were the final, wrapping everything up scenes and try as I might, those just wouldn’t come.
Since then I’ve been much less efficient with my 500 words. I’ve written blogs and reviews – I can always witter on about books or writing for 500 words and over on the Paisley Piranha blog we’re having Classic YA month, which required more reviews than usual. I’ve also been writing a bunch of totally unplanned scenes for a sequel to the witch book (I have a vague outline of four books in a series). This new thing would come together much better if I had the time to plan it properly, but, until I’ve finished the redraft I’m working on and can devote time to serious planning, I thought I would write a scene involving each of the characters, get to know them a bit and discover the place where my witch, Rowan, finds herself by stepping into the unknown next to her. I’m sure it’s not very efficient, as writing goes; I suspect I’ll end up getting rid of most of what I’m writing, but it’s quite fun to pick a character and write, knowing nothing about them but, for example, that this is someone who will end up being sympathetic but seems antagonistic at first.

Thinking about how this 500 words a day has worked for me over the past few months, I’m trying to work out the best way to use what I’ve learned when the year is up. I don’t think I’ll carry on with 500 a day every day. If I do that, I’m going to end up with thousands of first-draft words and no time to hone them. I currently have three first drafts almost complete – it’s always the endings that come later for me – and there’s no point in churning out all those words if I’m not going to go back and make them into something worth reading. Words need plenty of honing, and they need time to settle between drafts, so you can work on them effectively. So I think I’ll aim for new books to start with an intensive planning session, probably a week to make sure I’ve done effective plotting and given some thought to setting and characters before I start. Then I can write 500 words a day using this plan (as I did with the witch book), so a 60,000 word book would take about four months to write. I can do lesser edits on other projects, proof-reads and so on during these writing months, but I think I’ll lay off trying to do the new words and the deep redrafting at the same time. I don’t think I can do intense editorial work for more than a couple of months before the words start to be meaningless, but that’s fine: I can schedule a couple of months for that and then back to writing something new.

Will this work? I don’t know. It rather depends on how much the rest of life intrudes on my time and energy. You’ll note I’m only talking about the lonely-author-in-her-garret types of work here. At some point I’m going to have to accept that now and then I need to step out of the garret and jump up and down and shout so someone will read what I’ve written!

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Book Tourist


I’m spending a little time in Canada, visiting family, and as you do, we got to a point when they said, “What would you like to do?” and obviously, being me, I said, “I’d like to go to a bookshop.” Because that’s what you do, don’t you, when you’re book-obsessed – you look in bookshops wherever you go, even in countries where all the books are in languages you can’t read. (My husband, who is bicycle-obsessed, seeks out bike shops wherever we go.)

So the question is, when you enter a bookshop in another country, what do you look for? Well, first, you need to browse, just to get the feel of the place. I thought I might find here, in this English-speaking country with its historical links to Britain, that the shelves were full of familiar British authors plus all those ubiquitous American authors. My knowledge of literary Canadians is limited to Margaret Atwood, L M Montgomery and Carol Shields – though I’ve just looked up a list of Canadian writers and found that I’ve read several more but hadn’t realised they were Canadian. I was pleasantly surprised to find the small independent bookshop we visited full of unfamiliar names and lovely books from publishers I’d never heard of – though of course Harry Potter and the Cursed Child did take up a large display table and most of the window, but then, bookshops have to make their money from what’s going to sell, even lovely little independent ones.

First stop, something historical and Canadian for the husband (whose other obsession is history). Slight feeling of not knowing where to start, but my brother (who lives here) pointed out something perfect. Deep breath. Now to indulge myself.

Momentarily considered buying books for my daughters, but to be honest we all read each other’s books all the time, so I might as well just suit myself (plus I’d already bought chocolate for them). I did head for the young adult section first though. If I’m not directly buying YA titles to give to the girls, I can always pretend I’m buying them for research if anyone asks (though you and I know this isn’t true). I had one rule: Canadian authors only. Which turned out to be easier than I thought it would be as so many of those on the shelves were by Canadians. So I got a couple of YA books (one with a title I recognised from somewhere – who could forget Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend when they had heard it once) and then moved on to the adult fiction shelves for a couple more.

As souvenirs go, books are definitely top-end in terms of price, and weighty in your luggage too, but what could be better as far as taking home a little bit of the culture from your visit? Take home a picture or a piece crafted by someone native to the country and you can look at it and remember what it felt like to be a stranger in that country. Take home a book and you can inhabit the mind and the life of a Canadian for a while. (Plus Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend – once you’ve seen that on the shelves, don’t you just have to read it?)

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

My Kickstarter Project


In the last two years I’ve published two novels for young adults – What They Don’t Tell You About Love in the Movies and How Do You Say Gooseberry in French? I say ‘published’ but of course what I mean is ‘self-published’ or ‘indie-published’. 

A note on forms of publishing

I’m sure the majority of you reading this know the difference, but just in case, here it is:
A traditionally published book is published by a publishing house, who pay the author a share of the proceeds of the sales of the book. They pay for all the costs of production, so all the author is putting in up-front is their time (lots and lots of it of it) plus the emotional stress of the whole submission process, of course. Although the publisher will do a certain amount of PR and marketing for the book, these days the author is expected to do a lot themselves. However, they had the advantage that their book will be easily available through bookshops.
An indie-published book is published by the author, who will receive most of the proceeds from sales of the book. A small royalty will go to whatever body produces and sells the book in e-book and paperback form. So theoretically, I could write a book, format the pages, take a picture for the cover and, hey presto, it cost me nothing but time so it’s all profit from now on. However, no one who thinks their book is worthwhile would do that. I want someone to have the same reading experience when they pick up my indie-published books as they would if they picked up a book from one of the big publishing houses. And for that, I need to invest money in having professionals help me create the best book I can. I need the services of an editor (yes, I am an editor myself, but it is absolutely necessary to have someone else do a thorough edit of your book), a cover designer (because I wouldn’t know where to start) and a proof-reader (no way is my book going anywhere with typos). If I keep the interior of the book very, very simple, I can format it myself and save the expense of a designer. After I’ve paid all these people, I will have to pay to have a stock of paperbacks printed unless I choose to go down the e-book only line. Personally, I think paperbacks are necessary because you need actual books people can handle when you do reader events.
You get the picture. Theoretically, the author earns less money per book from traditionally published books, but they have no upfront costs, so every penny earned is profit, and their books are easily available in more places, so more potential customers will happen to come across them.
For an indie-published book, on the other hand, there is a large upfront cost and, after the book is published, the marketing is harder because the availability of the book is restricted.
So I’ve decided to have a go at generating some of the costs of publishing my next book up-front by using Kickstarter. This is a site where people introduce their creative projects to the world in the hope of getting financial backing to enable them to complete their project. I have no idea if this will work for my book. It seemed to me that it was worth a try, because my previous two books are nowhere near breaking even yet. I’m interested to know if releasing the idea of the book into the world in this way will generate more interest than before, or different interest and also whether it is possible to generate sufficient interest to pay some or all of my up-front costs.

Sourdough starter for yummy bread!
The way it works is that you have a project page (you can see mine here) which tells the potential supporter all about what you are planning to do and when you hope to do it, plus what the possible pitfalls will be. You offer a series of rewards with different financial values to supporters. Mine vary from £2 for some of my four-year-old sourdough starter to £50 for a deluxe package of books and other goodies. For £5 plus postage, you get a copy of the book when I publish it. That’s less than the paperback will cost on publication, so it’s worth supporting me now if you were planning to buy the book anyway.

When the campaign is over, if you’ve reached your target, your supporters are charged, you get the money (less a small commission), you complete your project and distribute your rewards. If you don’t reach the target, no one is charged and you don’t get the money. My Kickstarter project was easy to set up and I can see that checking how it’s doing is going to become addictive.

So here’s hoping my new book Gingerbread & Cupcake will pay for itself before I publish it.

Fingers crossed.

Here’s the video I made (I know, but amateur is cute, isn’t it?)

Here's the Kickstarter link again (in case you missed it!)

Here's my writer page on FaceBook - if you LIKE it, it should keep you up to date with all the writery stuff I've got going on.