Moments in time

Yesterday I received my contract with Tartarus Press for my novel, Hoxton.

Some way to go yet: editing, etc, but I’m thrilled.

So . . . all those years of ideas, tentative attempts, previous try-out novels, and learning . . . well, how to write really – my North London Comp school education didn’t really furnish me with any actual skills in that department.

Over the years I’ve come to view grammar and words rather like paint. You can learn the theory of how to apply it to canvas or wood but it’s through experimenting for hundreds of hours that you begin to see how it works; how it can be smeared, scuffed, diluted, scratched, etc, to form your own style.

The other thing I have learned in long-distance scribing (novels) is the importance of writing everyday. Even if it’s just a couple of hundred words. Keeping the idea moving along, keeping the characters in your mind, and always leave a little thread of plot dangling for the next time you approach the A4/notebook or computer . . .

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Mapco/ David Hale image of the Borough of Southwark – 1775. St Leonard’s Church near the centre of the map. St Leonard’s is the pivotal building in the book (although the story is set in 2072) Mind, it could look rather like this map again . . .

 

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Nearly four months on

Long time no post.

A tricky few months with life-stuff swamping most creative activity but yesterday while sighing over another other small problem that had arisen, an email plopped into my inbox which pushed all frettings aside.

My lovely agent has found HOXTON a book deal. Details still sketchy and a few days to wait to finalise but, Yow, what a difference a few words can make. All the years of writing, editing, culling piles of manuscripts, agent-hunting, receiving rejection letters, starting afresh, crying, raging and laughing are all totally worth it.

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One project that has been a constant over these afore-mentioned months has been getting my other blog – Writing and other stuff – (nearly ten years worth) into BOOKS. Yes, real hardback books . . . A surprisingly easy process – half an hour or so (after all the weeks of editing) and the Blog2Print site showed me a screen mock-up to flip through.

Wondering if the Real Thing might be a slight disappointment, I was utterly delighted with the three beautiful volumes that appeared within a couple of weeks – they had said within a month – even more impressive. Husband Mark commented it was a bit like ‘This is Your Life’ and it is somewhat, but in this age of us no longer making up photo albums, as we did before the digital age, they are a wonderful, and will be, a treasured documentation of our family, dogs, garden, projects and our home.

 

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The small and leaky boat of indecision

I seem to have climbed into it this morning and shoved myself off from the mooring without oars.

That’s what happens – to me anyway, if I don’t write for a few days.

It’s been a long and enjoyable summer with our son being at home from art college; days concerned with running our small bed and breakfast, socialising with family and friends, but always writing, every day. First thing.

I’ve just taken the lad back to college, including a road trip of a few days so the laptop and notebooks got rather abandoned. Now back at home, the other half is back at work and suddenly everything feels very large, empty and a little worrying, with winter jobs looming – stacking wood, organising chimney sweeps, fixing broken guttering, etc etc. I know what I have to do. Start writing again and immerse myself in the next project. Hoxton is with my agent and I have a choice of which way to go next – a follow up? It’s written but as Hoxton has gone through so many changes, the back half is now not relevant. I’ve started re-jigging it but . . .possibly best to wait and see what happens with the first one . . . A follow-up to my other book, The Hundred and Fifty-Eighth book? It’s half-written but until the first instalment gets any sort of OK, it’s possibly not worth pursuing.

On a long hike yesterday, Mark (afore-mentioned other half) suggested I should start something new. I think he’s probably right. There is a story that’s been hovering around my mind for some months, based on a short I wrote called, The Panto-horse End. Like all my tales it will have links to the other books so I’ll feel safe in this new world ready to be created.

Just have to jump into the sea and tow the boat back to land. Starting this afternoon.

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Nothing to do with oarless, leaky boats but I just had to post this beautiful image

Usefulness of Google

While trawling for a cover picture of my back-catalogue kids’ book, Alfi Beasti Don’t Eat That! I found this delightful photo of someone reading to their appreciative offspring. An image like this makes all the process of writing, illustrating, editing, endless meetings, and waiting totally worthwhile.

Thank you, ‘Red Rose Mummy’, for posting that image.

 

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16th August 2018

A memorable day for me as I signed and sent off a contract agreeing to be represented by Sandra Sawicka at Marjacq Scripts in London.

Wheeeeeeeeeee!

After a silence and an occasional tentative email prod from me over the last few months, Sandra wrote to me a few days ago saying she would love to take me on and work with me on HOXTON. There’s still quite a way to go with editing, discussing and finally tidying before the book can be sent out to prospective publishers, but this feels like a massive step forwards.

I was struck by Sandra’s enthusiasm for my work when she first asked me to send her the whole MS, compared to the other replies I received back regarding initial chapters. I had a feeling that she would be the right champion for it, even though at that stage there were many changes to work on for her to truly consider the book.

So, what have I learnt from the process of trying to find someone to take me on, and what could I relay to anyone else involved in this often spirit-crushing task?

Number one – you have to be able to bin large chunks of script that you may have felt perfectly happy with, and feel able to take a lot of constructive criticism from someone who knows a lot more than you do about how the industry works. Of, course this may not be the same for everyone but I feel I am continually learning by taking on big edits and re-writes, and cannot imagine the process ever being very different.

Number two – Hone and hone and hone the letters and synopsis, synopsises? synopi? to be sent out. I cringe now when I look at my early attempts. – far too much waffle about my past, typos, badly-summed up plots, etc , etc . . . it’s worth taking the time and it can become enjoyable (!). A few posts back when I was attempting to approach agents with an earlier Hoxton version I turned the whole process into a sort of art-performance piece, complete with dropping off hand-inked, tea-dipped letters off to my chosen ‘prey’ before sending the chapters out. It was an interesting exercise but failed utterly – one response being ‘I don’t know why you authors go to all this trouble and expense. We don’tappreciate it’.

Number three. Never give up – if you feel writing defines who you are and what you want to be.

So, his morning, I will slip my agent-contacting book away on a shelf, clear up my writing corner and start editing with a feeling that my efforts have been validated – officially. Feels . . . great.

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Three months on . . .

 

Following last post. I haven’t done much other than write, eat, sleep, be slightly sociable and deal with all the usual life-stuff that we all deal with. Half way through this re-write, I’d emailed the (potential) agent to say: ‘I’ll be sending the new draft through, end of April,’ and I will. A deadline, even if self-imposed is a good way to stop, reflect, and hope what you’ve been hunched over for many weeks is at least better than the last draft.

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 Fifth read through of this draft number . . . lost count

I’ve read through five times and three folks are reading at the moment; and I’m about to scoot through it again. There are still mistakes and my made-up language to improve on but . . . time to stop – for the moment – work on some of the illustrations whether they’d be ever used by a publisher or not. I feel the book needs a few of the visual elements camped out in my head, so, I’ll put the laptop away for a few days and concentrate on ink and paper.

 

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     A rough sketch of Bert the Swagger’s stilt house on the banks of Lady Thames.

I’d love to look at the full manuscript . . .

Uh?

Part of an email from a literary agent – one I had approached a couple of months back along with a few others with regard to my novel, Hoxton. I had idly clicked on the mail anticipating a ‘nice, but no thanks’ and there it was, positivity reaching out to me. After a hasty response of: ‘would you like: word doc? printed – loose pages, spiral bound, hardback, ink-pen original? all of the above’? she requested ‘just a word doc, thanks’; I sent it off and tried to remain very calm.

I did a good job of being calm. I waited patiently, knowing all agents are VERY busy, and expected nothing back for a couple of months. A few days later – ‘I’m loving this, can we meet in London next week?’ I said . . . ‘well, let me see, bit busy’ . . . (not really), booked trains, rearranged stuff and went about feeling all warm and worthy until an email the afternoon before my trip. She had read to the end and somewhere around halfway the narrative had obviously taken a massive weird trip somewhere she hadn’t been expecting. A page of notes was attached, and the invitation to duck out if I didn’t feel as if a massive re-write could be possible. As I love re-writes (see 2 posts ago) and was 100% reluctant give up on this possible chance, I wrote back saying: ‘not a problem – see you tomorrow’.

My initial feeling was one of desolation at the prospect of ripping the book up again – as it had already been thoroughly through an major edit with Cornerstones – but then all sorts of other more positive thoughts started converging in my head – sitting down, making cups of tea and settling themselves in for a really BIG conversation. Was I happy with the story? Really? Were there a few doubtful plot lines there? Could it do with an overhaul? Yes, yes and yes. I suppose I’d covered it all up – the doubt. Hoxton was written fairly plotlesslessly (is this a word?) and developed over time – I find it very difficult to plan anything beyond a few pages. Readers seemed to like it – or perhaps they enjoyed more my writing itself . . . I had good reviews – onto the next thing, send out a few submissions and see what happens.

The meeting  happened and it was great: incredibly useful and she homed in on all the content I had been less than sure about. I left with a million ideas, a positive mind and a lot of work to do.

So, here I am in my office (corner of the sitting room next to the wood-burner) fighting with the plot, and it is coming together – patching in the sections I want to keep, and the new stuff to be written. I’ve got the outline now – finished this morning, and a walk must now be done. It seems to be the best way for me: plan, wrestle with words then get out and let it all mill about in my mind until certain useful threads appear; run back and scribble it all down before the thoughts disappear.

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