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

 

Word, and other distractions

Finally, after about two hours, several you-tube tutorials and much swearing, I managed to create a try-out for the cover of my newly edited, ‘Hundred and Fifty-Eighth Book’.

Now, to attempt the even more complex (for me anyway) Lulu Publishing Cover program.

Then to attempt the almost impossible task of ensnaring an Agent . . .

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Website

Working on it . . . My dear brother came to stay and spent about 80% of his break making me a site. Now I have to work through the very long list he’s left me, and that’s fine. It’s making me step back and look at all the stuff, not just the books but the paintings and photographs that are part of what makes up my fairly visual way of writing.

I would never have thought of including the art but he just went ahead and put it up there and I’m now very glad he did. It’s part of who I am, how I record the everyday and the unusual – sketches, snaps, thoughts scribbled down.

So, website to appear in the near future featuring my books, my scribbles, paintings and photographs. Back to the things to do . . .

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Corner of my writing room (bedroom) and a painting from my ‘Train Window’ series

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Sixth review for the Hundred and Fifty-Eighth Book

Katherine has read, I think, everything I have written and is always generous with her time, giving very useful feedback and writing reviews for me on Goodreads, Amazon, etc. I still use her early reviews for ‘Alfi Beasti, don’t eat that!’ and the ‘Going Out in the Midday Sun’ trilogy, and in fact for most of my books as she has a knack of, without waffle, creatively encapsulating the elements of the writing.

 

“If you found a book that contained your entire life from beginning to end, would you read it?”

Such is the dilemma, one of many often posed on the internet, which is faced by the protagonist in ”The Hundred and Fifty – Eighth Book”.
 
Hamish, a Bloomsbury bookseller, stumbles upon the red leather bound volume during a quiet morning at his shop. On opening the first chapter it seems that the narrative bears an uncanny resemblance to recent events in his life.  From this mysterious beginning, the reader is propelled into a fast paced and curious romp through 1980’s London, where it soon becomes clear that there may indeed be more than one version of this book.
 
Hamish’s adventures are deeply rooted in the era and place.  The sights, sounds and smells of 1980’s London are beautifully evoked by an author who clearly knows her patch and the setting is further enhanced by her own atmospheric drawings. Ms Hardy has a strong eye for detail, for the small everyday things that are easily overlooked but are very evocative of a time or place.
 
The characters are so affectionately depicted that one feels they must be at least partly based on real people of Ms Hardy’s acquaintance! I particularly liked Hamish’s mother and Evan, the Yorkshire chapters in which they feature forming a poignant contrast to the rest of the narrative.
 
This is a cleverly woven and most enjoyable tale. “To whoever picks this up” hang on to your hat!  You are in for a colourful and intriguing ride!
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