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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Fourth review for 158th book

From Ruth, great friend, grammar expert and reader of my stuff from the first early drafts. If she winced at my terrible comprehensive school English she did it internally, and kindly steered me in the direction, along with other generous friends, of communicating what was in my head onto screen and paper.

A roller-coaster of a read with never a dull moment. Life mirrors fiction in this fantastical novel; at least it does if you start reading one of the five copies of the novel ‘Five’. Each has a different ending, so, as our hero discovers, best to avoid owning or reading a version with a not-so-good ending. The twists and turns chart his progress from when he first realises that what he reads in ‘Five’ will happen to him. The action is set against an atmospheric backdrop of 1980s’ London – Liberty’s, Muswell Hill, Chelsea, the East End – and Yorkshire too – pubs, beer and dramatic landscapes.

Descriptions of places and settings are keenly observed: colours, smells, décor and scenery flow from the text like a film.

The fantastic elements of the novel can be wonderfully crazy: our hero – broke, but given money by a dear elderly friend to spend on something frivolous – does just that: a Citroen DS (opal green). These are the details I particularly love.   Who buys an Armani suit in a Bond Street store when facing bankruptcy? Our hero does. To block out worries of losing his shop and his home, he reads more of ‘Five’. True to the text, he falls in love, immediately!  The story dips in and out of his relationships with friends, his mother (and her new man) and sister, his ex, and –  of course –  his new love.

It’s an entertaining read – great fun and wonderfully romantic!

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Overlooked stuff uncovered . . .

by my wonderful and dynamic brother.

A few months back I started wondering about whether I should get a website done – to consolidate all the wandering threads of writing: published stuff, work in progress and first jottings. I asked a few folk, reeled away slightly at the cost and decided to wait until I had a really good reason for doing such a thing – like landing an agent . . . I’d also mentioned it to my brother but knowing how incredibly busy he is, I’d put the idea firmly to one side and got on with everything else.

An email appeared one morning: ‘Hi, did you get the mockup?’ No I hadn’t; he sent it again and the result was the start of the website he is building now and of which I will be linking to this blog as soon as I’ve done all my allowed homework for the site – files of it. I don’t know how anyone goes about doing anything as seemingly complex as this. He’s showed me all the various stages from a neurone cluster-like diagram to the beautiful pallet of colour and script he has devised. I shut down mentally after about three minutes of how-it-all-works explanation, and I wish I didn’t. Could be the Luddite in me, or maybe I just don’t have that sort of a brain. Anyway, I can certainly appreciate the result, and his generosity!

I mentioned overlooked stuff in the blog-post title. It refers to the other art things that I do – photography and painting/illustration. I haven’t made any paintings for a while as the writing has taken over; the illustration continues in my books in the form of line drawing and inky experiments but the photography is a continual process – I just never considered it to be an art form, just something I do all the time, like a diary. My brother has decided otherwise and has, under his marketing hat, put it all on the site. It’s a revelation to me, and something I wouldn’t have considered but he’s so right. It’s all part of my writing progress: visiting places, observing, recording and storing away visual images to use at a later date.

Thanks Adrian. You are the most marvellous being!

Site is live at kateahardy.com if you want to have a peep but lots still to do so excuse the (creative) disorder.

 

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One of many, many visual recordings . . .