Book recycling

Having received my latest edit copy of HOXTON through the post yesterday, I decided to landmark it by creating a hardback cover for the floppy thing with its present nasty shiny encapsulation. Two agents are thinking about the tale at the moment so no point getting any further with a cover, until anyone says yea or nah.

So, down to the local up-cycling place, found an old red-covered book almost the exact dimensions, sliced out the old narrative and stuck Hoxton in its place. Black and gold paint added, various bits of old map and text added inside and it looks the part. The part being my idea that the reader is holding an ‘old’ book made in 2072 on the Sureditch Press that has somehow made its way back in time. If/when, this project ever gets to a publishing house, that’ll be an interesting discussion point.

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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.

Train journeys

Visual and audible writing-fodder. What could be better than to be nestled with your notebooks, laptop and paper mug of tea listening to everyone else’s conversations, and a continuously changing land/cityscape to look out upon.

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A day or two back, after a very elongated journey from France to the UK, I got on the train from Alton to Poole (usually takes about hour and a half) and became trapped in a time-displacement zone of some sort – five hours, including a freezing stop in Guildford while the display board’s info for my connecting train’s arrival time and platform number flickered indecisively in the gloom.

Lots of character studies, however . . .

On the Guildford to Poole train: to my right, a couple who might have been said to be stereotypes if I’d included them in a novel: he, groomed, neat stubble, latest iPhone, reading ‘Top Gear’ and Mm-ing occasionally in response to his immaculately made-up and jewelled wife/partner’s comments as she scanned ‘Closer’ magazine.

In front of them: two cheery older ladies dressed in acrylic, shortish, slightly curly white hair, carefully prepared sandwiches, Daily Mail, discussing grandchildren, a new conservatory and trips to Poole shopping centre.

My fellow passenger: young woman with head of perfect ice-blonde hair and very long manicured red nails, texted and face booked throughout the whole journey.

Two seats on front: a pack of young men on their way to Southampton for a football match: back-to-front baseball caps (still de-rigeur in Southern UK . . .) waving phones about, guffawing, comparing past football highlights and the merits of present girlfriends, much beer already drunk and being drunk.

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Outside the train window: equally inspiring for any writer who appreciates the melancholic atmosphere of a British January day: drizzle, dank gardens, mossy semi-detached houses, breakers yards, derelict buildings, bare-branched grizzled trees and dark rivers.

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Rewrites

I Love them. Really, I do. Especially really long ones.

My main project at the moment is a follow up book to my novel, The Hundred and Fifty-Eighth Book, and I’ve nothing much else to edit at the moment as the afore-mentioned 158th is finished (sort of) and I’ve started the agent-ensnaring process. So, I was thinking of another project I can dip in and out of, time allowing, during the day.

About seven years ago, I started a book called ‘Going Out in the Midday Sun’ which grew into a trilogy, was edited many, many, many times and was then self-published – (by myself.) I picked up a copy of Number One a few days ago, read a few paragraphs and mentally stepped back in surprise. I wrote this? Of course I did, but everything about it seemed so alien – the way people moved about, the dialogue, the jumping scenes. That, I suppose is what happens if you write something, don’t look at it for several years and in the meantime have written several other book-worths of words, phrases and paragraphs. A good thing. It must be. If it all felt as familiar and comfortable as morning tea in bed then something would be wrong. No advancement made.

So. Rewrite. Yes please! I’m on about chapter seven of the first book and it’s a wonderful and addictive exercise. I love the very different challenge of my main morning writing too but that’s not at all the same thing – for me anyway. No framework; rowing out into a vast sea of possibilities. The rewrite has that nice wide playing field with the fence all around – chapters already laid down, characters in place, story charging away in front of me and I just have to lasso it, reel it in for a while, give it a good checking over and let it free again.

The trilogy: ‘Going Out in the Midday Sun’ is currently on Amazon as paperback and kindle. Second edition coming up . . .

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‘Why hasn’t your agent…

… got you a film deal for this book’?

‘I haven’t got an agent’.

‘Well, get one, then’.

An exchange I’ve had several times with regard to my novels. It’s great to receive positive feedback, and great to realise that people think the work would transfer well to a screen, but they generally have no idea how difficult it is to even find an agent and get a book published, let alone entice anyone to make a film out of it.

‘Don’t worry, think of J.K Rowling, Stephen King, William Golding, James Joyce, Le Carré, etc. They were all rejected many, many times . . .’

I know. I know. I’ll keep trying. I have done it before after all – about 17 years ago. I was approaching children’s book agents for ‘Alfi Beasti, Don’t Eat That’, and was about to give up when one of my hand-made little concertina ‘Beasti’ leaflets caught the eye of an agent. ‘That would never get published’ she said, ‘but you’ve got something. Come and see me’. And I did, and the book, after much work, was published by Puffin. So based on my eventual luck with that idea, I thought I’d apply it to adult literature agents.

My ‘hunting’ session was pretty elaborate – hand-tea-dipped ‘letters’ from my future, post-apocalyptic characters, which I took round personally to each agent I had singled out – before I sent in the actual submission. It took me hours as they were spread out all over London, one in some eerie, flyover-infested distant outpost of the city. In fact it was such a weird, empty-looking place, I suspect it was a decoy, and my little pen and ink envelope is probably still lying in a disused lobby next to double-glazing leaflets and unpaid bills from failed companies . . . sob. Anyway, nothing happened except rejections and one slightly pissed off-sounding email from an agent along the lines of -‘I don’t know why you authors go to all this trouble and expense of trying to engage us agents. These sort of tricks don’t work. Goodbye.’

OK. So, nothing fancy then, just follow the instructions. So, I am – researching each person and their preferences; writing a separate and detailed letter; no blanket submissions, no just changing the name on the email each time and hoping for the best.

I’ve found I rather enjoy it. Each submission has become a project in itself – they take time and now feel more ‘crafted’, every one a little different and tailored to the person I’m writing to. I’m probably still making mistakes and there’s much to learn about gauging each agents likes and dislikes when being approached. The rejections haven’t started coming in yet, but when they do – I shall write this out in quill pen script and stick it on the wall of my writing den.

Each rejection is a chance to improve the next submission, and, like buying a scratch card – you never know, that could be the one . . .

 

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‘Stuff’ from my failed ‘hunting’ session: map of where my chosen agents’ offices are, tea-dipped letter of introduction to Londonia 2070, and letter ‘seals’ featuring the East-End church where, Hoxton, the heroine of the story lives.

Now agent-hunting for two novels: Hoxton, and The Hundred and Fifty-Eighth Book

 

Giveaways

Is it worth doing? I dread to imagine how much money I must have spent over the years handing out various tomes in the hope that people would read, enjoy and give (hopefully) constructive criticism. Yes it is worth doing – essential to my mind, and as much as possible. How else can you glean information as to whether you are rowing down a flowing river of possibilities or stuck in a swampy ditch with a defunct outboard motor?

So, what about throwing stuff out there into the wider world: not just friends and acquaintances? Goodreads Giveaways . . . having thought about it a few times I decided to give it a go with Hoxton – a tad stupid as these are hard-backs and the outlay of sending five out there was not inconsiderable – at all. I did it, received an email disclosing the fact that over a thousand folk had bid (quite encouraging in itself) and then the addresses of the winners. After reading a forum or two, I had pressed ‘worldwide’ including Tibet, Siberia, the Congo et al, (you never know, could be an English speaker keen to read about Dystopian London, in Tibet). Three winners were in the UK and two in America . . . one of the profiles revealing the somewhat invisible person had marked something like 8,000 books to read, no stars and no reviews. I protested in an email to Goodreads but it was just ‘luck of the draw’ and that copy is probably in a boot-sale pile – shit; the rest? God knows, but, yesterday I checked the site and there was a lovely review from a young woman ending with ‘It is an amazing book and I loved it’.

So, worth it for one review? Possibly not but that one review has prodded me into doing something with Hoxton – currently rather abandoned on the writerly back-burner. Cover to be done, corrections to correct, self-publish and promote.

 

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rough for a cover

 

 

 

 

Fifth review for the 158th book

Penny avidly read my first books – the trilogy, Going out in the Midday Sun, and loved them. Less keen on the futurist duo of books – Hoxton and Smithi, and always honest if something doesn’t work for her. Along with other friends she has been generous with her time: checking endless synopsis attempts, agent grovel letters, etc etc. Critical but always positive, and as a photographer she appreciates the visual slant to my books. I was so happy when she responded this way after she had read the book.

I can best describe this novel is a quirky page-turner. It took me a moment to care about Hamish, but once I did, I was hooked. The book is full of odd but believable characters. The descriptions so deftly bursting with detail – at times poignant, and others downright hilarious –  that I found it to be far more than the holiday read I expected. Towards the end I couldn’t put it down. I’d love to see it turned into a TV film.

From the many extracts I’d like to quote, here’s one.

 

The young woman eyes me with a smirk. “Didn’t quite do the job?”

“Sorry?”

“The lilies – half an hour ago. Or . . . is it for another lady?”

Suppressing an urge to make the flower shop assistant into a sculpture of buckets, moss and delphiniums, I smile serenely.

“Yes, it is for another lady – the one I will make crazed, sticky and overheated love to after I have presented her with the bouquet that you will fabricate for me from those pink roses over there.”

She stares at me for a moment – which I would have done too.

 

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