Monday, February 01, 2016

I'm a hybrid!

The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed an addition to the sidebar of this blog. Yep, I'm now a fully paid-up member of the Alliance of Independent Authors - a giant step forward for my new incarnation as a hybrid author.

For those of you who may not know, my first two novels, Nirvana Bites and Trading Tatiana were originally published by Orion. A few months ago, (on my birthday, since you ask) I set up my own imprint and published them as e-books. (See here for Nirvana Bites and here for Trading Tatiana.) I've now edited De Nada Nirvana, the third novel in the series. It was fun to re-visit a novel I considered to be final draft several years ago, when I was still largely operating by instinct. This was my first novel written in third person, with two different threads: one set in London, following Jen and her fellow Nirvanans, and one set in Spain, where Jo has gone to search for a missing teenager.

As an editor and tutor, I often advise people not to have characters with names beginning with the same initial but it's too late to change Jen and Jo now. Anyway, if it was good enough for Orion ... But I did have to cast a beady eye on some of the other characters when I realised four of them had names beginning with T.
  • Tony Bennett is a mobster and there are references to him having the same name as the crooner so that's not going to be changed
  • Tina's name is fixed in stone for me but she's a woman and stretched very far apart from TB, so no possible confusion there
  • Techno Tom has only a small part and is likewise unlikely to be muddled up with TB
  • Ted Baxter, I decided definitely was a problem and so he has become Harry Baxter. There was a salutary lesson there, folks. Thank goodness I knew not to use a global find/replace, or I would have ended up with lots of things like I wanHarry and I was exhausHarry. 
While I'm naming names, I have a main character who never appears in the story: the missing teenager, Matt Willis. Since I wrote the original draft, I have met a real life Matt Willis and wondered whether to change the name of my character but have been persuaded to let it stand. I guess this is why novels always have the warning note about characters not being based on real people.

Anyway, the previous draft has now been edited (by moi), proofread by my wonderful friend Angie, who has been with me on this journey from the beginning, and has now been sent to the wonderful Leigh Forbes, who is doing the techy schmecky stuff, including creating the series covers. I LOVE working with other people on their novels but I have to say it's felt really good to focus on my own stories again. Who knows? I may even find myself blogging more.


Saturday, January 02, 2016

Happy 10th birthday to my blog

This blog is ten years old. A whole decade of blogging.

A lot has happened in the world since then and it's fascinating to look back at my early posts.

I'm still spending a lot more time over on Facebook and Twitter these days but have popped in here to announce that De Nada Nirvana is scheduled for publication in the next few months under my Nirvana Publishing imprint. Nirvana Bites and Trading Tatiana are already available and I intend to edit Me, John and a Bomb and The Gene Pool next, thereby completing the Nirvana series. Unless there's a miracle between now and then, I'll also be publishing Somebody's Child, the novel which my agent loved so much but has sadly been unable to sell.

The only way I've been able to carve out time for my own writing has been to treat myself like a client. And, as a client, I've also felt free to tell my editor-self to piss off, as I break the rules the Editrix points out.

Monday, September 07, 2015

#FoW15 in words and pictures

It's the morning after the weekend before and, as ever, I feel jet-lagged, hung-over, culture-shocked (Real Life is WEIRD!) and, especially this year, very happy. Although previous years have been fab, it always felt like I spent a lot of time picking people up from the floor and handing them tissues. In some ways, that's not a bad thing. It shows how much they cared about what they do.

Back: Sophie Wellstood, Mandy Berriman Front: Jody Klaire, Katherine Hetzel, John Taylor
But here's the real point: those people who had dusted themselves off, who had taken on board the advice from their 1-1s, internalised what they learnt in the workshops and panels, and come back to the festie with sparkly new writing were the ones who, this year, had the affirmation they had worked so hard for. Time after time, I was approached by shiny-eyed people who had received really positive feedback from agents who want to see the whole MS. At least one, including my gorgeous mentee Mandy Berriman, was told by a top agent that they are 'really excited' by their stories. Another RL friend, Rachael Dunlop, faces the possibility of having to choose between several agents. Two Cloudie friends, Michelle Bromley and Hilary Taylor, were shortlisted for the Friday Night Live Competition and one, the fabulous Sophie Wellstood (who I first met when we accepted her submission for Stories for Homes) won the Opening Chapter competition.

The shortlisted authors in the Friday Night Live competition
 These are the competitions which have led to such runaway success in the past for authors such as Shelley Harris, Deborah Install and Jo Cannon. (Click the links to see their FoW stories.) And these are just a few of the people I know who were wearing ear-to-ear grins this time. Truly, my cup runneth over.
Andrew Wille, Deborah Install and Jenny Savill
When I stood in for Harry Bingham on Saturday night, I asked for a show of hands. How many people were festie returnees? I calculated approximately a third. When I asked our self-edit alumni to come up on stage for a group photo, I was blown away to see that about 30 of the 179 people who have taken the course so far were at the festival. These are the people who, by dedicating themselves to their craft and demonstrating their commitment to their writing, are now reaping the harvest of all that hard work.

A reminder that the self-edit course runs 4 times a year and consists of detailed tutorials to give you the tools of creative writing, and exercises which are based on your own WIP, thereby showing how to apply the tools to your own story. See here for some feedback and here for the syllabus and booking details.

Huge thanks to everyone who has tweeted, FBd and emailed their appreciation following the mini course, workshops and 1-1s. The Psychic Distance workshop was, as ever, the one that blew people's minds, even though it was the last workshop of a packed weekend. More than one person said the insights almost brought them to tears but then it was the end of a totes emosh weekend for all of us. Do check out Emma Darwin's blogposts on PD to get those synapses firing.

If anyone is itching for more writerly input before FoW16, I'll be running workshops at Verulam Writers' Get Writing Day on 26 Sept and also a one day Craft of Writing event in Exeter for The Place to Write on 10 Oct.

York Uni is a stunning setting
Some of the wonderful Writers' Workshop team

Delegates and pros trickling in
Jane Ayres and Moira Please, who run The Place to Write

Mandy Berriman and Janette Owen - natural storytellers

No caption needed. Well worth the indigestion

Craig Taylor at the controls

For the first time - a DISCO!
Discovering the magic of Psychic Distance
Happy birthday, WW!

One final thing, which I post while attempting to uncurl my toes. Several people had a go at me for not talking more about my own books and writing so I'm just slipping in here that Nirvana Bites and Trading Tatiana are now available as e-books and yes, I will try to get the next 3 out there too at some point. 

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Lovely bloggers

A glance down my list of recent posts shows I've been a lazy blogger for some time now. I'm so busy, and there are so many other people who say what I would about the craft of writing better than I can, so I spend most of my online activity accessing the quick fix of Facebook and Twitter.

So why am I posting now? Well, I've been shamed into it by the wonderful Loretta Milan who has declared this blog to be lovely. 


To accept the award, there are a few things nominees have to do…
  • Thank the person who nominated them for the award.
  • Add the One Lovely Blog logo to their post.
  • Share 7 facts/or things about themselves.
  • Nominate up to 15 bloggers they admire and inform nominees by commenting on their blog.
I've ticked off 1) and 2) so here are 7 personal facts that you might not know about me. In no particular order:
  1.  I can speak backwards fluently.
  2. I covered my hair for 6 years when I was in my 30s. In that time, more people saw my breasts than the top of my head.
  3. One of my eyes is lighter than the other.
  4. In another lifetime, I would have been an archaeologist.
  5. I'm the shortest person in my immediate family by over a foot.
  6. I was made homeless when I was seven months pregnant.
  7. I once lost the losers' race at my primary school, despite being the oldest child competing.
There we go. Please note: I will NOT be elaborating on any of the above. 

And herewith my nominees, bearing in mind that Loretta has named many I would and Squidge has named some more of my favourites. I've chosen the ones I think are most useful/entertaining and, in some cases, it wouldn't be appropriate to leave a comment on their blog so I'm just putting these up here as a resource.

Jackie Buxton's Agenthood and Submissionville
Isabel Rogers' blog never promises to be entirely serious
A collective of bibliophiles talking about books - Vulpes Libris 
Rachael Dunlop's blog, Butterflies
Writers' Workshop House Blog
Agent Hunter blog
Nicola Morgan's Heartsong
And though she no longer posts there, Nicola's Help! I Need a Publisher is a treasure trove of useful advice
I know Squidge mentioned Chuck Wendig, but his Terrible Minds blog merits a mention here too
The ramblings of a few scattered authors - An Awfully Big Blog Adventure
Norman Geras sadly died in October 2013, but his normblog remains as a beacon of sanity in a naughty world

 Authors for Nepal

While I'm here and have you attention, do you know about Authors for Philippines? Set up by the wonderful Julia Williams, you can bid on ebay for all kinds of goodies including signed books, illustrations, named characters and critiques. Every penny goes directly to help the Nepalese people in the wake of the devastating earthquake. My offer of a crit of synopsis and first 5000 words of a novel is here.

Right, I'm off. I'll try not to leave it so long before I post again. Thanks again to Loretta's Literary Lightbox for bringing me out of the shadows.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Hold the front page

Hmmm. The ups and downs of authordom. For reasons too complex to go into, I have ended my contract with the e-publisher and have negotiated the rights back. This means that, for a while at least, my novels will no longer be available in e-format. I fully intend to self-publish them, as well as the next three in the Nirvana series, and will be on the case ASAP.

In the meantime, if you want to know just how bumpy the road can be for authors, check out Harry Bingham's journey in his blog posts on the Writers' Workshop site. Pulls no punches, does our Harry.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Electronic Nirvana

NB: this post has been superseded by the next one but, in the interests of keeping an accurate record, I will leave this one to stand.

When it comes to self-promo, it's very much a matter of do as I say, not as I do. Hates it, I does, but it's essential if I want to sell any of my own books. So here goes ...

I'm delighted to announce that my first two novels, Nirvana Bites and Trading Tatiana, are now available as e-books. They were originally published by Orion in 2002 and 2005 respectively and it's great to know that they will now be available to a new and wider readership via US indie publisher, Dzanc Books as part of their rEprint series. If you would like to know more about the novels, including extracts and reviews, please click on the books tab on my website. The e-books are available direct from Dzanc here or from the usual other places: Kindle and Kobo.

This has given me the impetus to self-publish the next three novels in the Nirvana series. That will mean my Nirvanans will eventually represent every type of publishing, from trade, through indie to self-publishing. An interesting journey. Before I can execute the next stage I'll need to edit the MSs though. I had a quick scan and realised there's a lot that needs to be changed. They never went through an external editing process but, fortunately, I now have the distance (and skills) to self-edit them. I just need to find the time.

And if there's one thing I'm even worse at than self-promo, it's finding time for my own writing.

Monday, September 15, 2014

#FoW14 in pictures

In previous years, I've live-blogged the Festival of Writing in York. This year, I've decided to let my photos do the talking.There are plenty more on Twitter on the hashtag #FoW14 and on @festivalwriting's profile. I will add more as I come across them.

Emma Darwin and I re-hashed our double act for the self-edit mini course.
Here's Emma - using chalk!

  Cathy Bramley, who says her life was changed by the online self-edit course

My FoW14 slogan

Workshop attendees wrestling with clich├ęs

York wouldn't be York without at least one duck photo

 The view from my bedroom window

 Gala dinner

Shelley Harris and Jo Unwin announcing the results of the Opening Chapter competition

Joanna Cannon, winner of Friday Night Live and runner up in the Opening Chapter competition

Sara Green, winner of the Opening Chapter competition

All hail to the wonderful 1-1 guardians. 

Because everyone knows writers need cake
Photo by Imran Siddiq

 Some of the awesome team assembled by Writers' Workshop 
Massive shout out to Laura and Nikki who don't get nearly enough credit.
Without them, there would be no FoW. 

 Agent table tennis (no, I'm not quite sure why either)
featuring Sam Copeland and Chris Wellbelove, with Juliet Mushens keeping score

These lucky writers have just discovered the magic of Psychic Distance

 I met an empath at FoW14. And her book rocks. (T-shirt's good too.)

 With JK - she's the one with proper proportions. 
I'm the one who apparently has a huge head and teensy body

 Katherine Hetzel and Jody Klaire 
- the only authors who offer Welsh cakes as well as books

Aneeta Sundararaj came all the way from Malaysia for the festie

L-R: Mandy Berriman, John Taylor, yours truly and Rachael Dunlop

Cloudie alert! (Links are to Cloud profiles)
Front L-R: Squidge, Jody Klaire, BlueDiamondMist 

UPDATE: the official photos have now been posted on the Festival's Facebook page

And here's one of the photos of the online self-edit course alumni.  
Emma and I couldn't be more proud.

 Photo by NE David

And another - this one by our Squidge, who has posted yet more pix on her blog.

 Photo by Katherine Hetzel

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Adventures in Cyberspace

I was interviewed recently by Julie Tomlin for Digital Women UK about my online journey. You can go straight to the interview here. It was interesting - and fun - to look back over the almost-ten-years since this blog first emerged, blinking in the blinding light of cyberspace, in Jan 2006. And you know what conclusion I came to when I looked back over this journey? This is a great time to be alive. The contacts I've made online with people who enrich my life in so many ways - people I would never have met if we lived in a different time - are part of a phenomenon unique to our generation.

When my Teen1 went to Cambodia and Goa earlier this year, I saw photos of sights at the same time as he saw them or soon after. In the Cambodian evenings and UK mornings, we would chat about how he was doing as a volunteer at Anjali House. Sometimes we'd be popping in and out of chats over an hour or so. (Didn't happen when he was in Goa, where he was with friends, but that was OK too.) Compare that to when I was in Grenada and my parents relied on the occasional hand-written letter or a rare phone call when I could make it to the Cable & Wireless office in the capital.

These days, this blog is pretty dormant. I gave up thinking I had to post regularly and took the pressure off, posting only when I have something to say that wouldn't fit into a tweet or FB status. Since I'm doing a review of my online journey, I just checked my stats for the first time in I don't know how long. 93,197 people have visited this blog and there have been 151,920 page views. That's a lorra lorra clicks.

While I'm here, I thought I'd do a quick round up of what I'm up to. I'm currently hosting the 12th 6-week online self-edit course together with Emma Darwin. Emma and I knew each other for about 6 months online before we worked out that we lived a few doors away from each other. The vast majority of my editing work comes to me online, either through my website or via Writers' Workshop. I recently ran a workshop for the delightful Chiltern Writers' Group who approached me online. The Festival of Writing in York sells all its places online. I have another workshop lined up in October for Verulam Writers' Circle who found me online. Also in October, I will be running workshops and Book Doctor sessions at a retreat in a 12th century monastery run by The Place to Write. The same people have asked me to do the same sort of thing at a different retreat in January 2015. Needless to say, this came via online contacts. I'm currently forming links between Stories for Homes and Journey to Justice. The latter is particularly interesting in this context because the project's aim is to build on the civil rights movement and other historical struggles to tackle injustice today. Just look at what we can do in terms of mobilisation now that was not available just a couple of decades ago.

Wonder what this will all look like in ten years time. Yes. This is a good time to be alive.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Get your self-edit toolkit here

Completing a full draft of a novel is an awesome achievement and one which should be celebrated but, on its own, it's not enough. Whether you intend to pitch to agents or self-publish your novel, you need to polish your MS until it sparkles and it's hard to do that on your own. A critique is one possibility. According to the 120+ people who have done the Writers' Workshop 6-week online Self-Edit Your Novel course, is another option and one that you won't regret.

Emma Darwin and I designed the course together. Hosted in a private group on the Word Cloud, each week, there's a short video introduction and a detailed tutorial. The homework we set is based on participants' own novels and we workshop the exercises together in the group. In other words, the course is designed to give you the tools of creative writing and then show how you can apply them to your own MS.

In a couple of weeks, the 11th course begins, adding to the wonderful groups we've had over the last years. The fruits for many of those on the earlier courses are beginning to be harvested. How amazing is it to hear that authors have gone on to success and credit the course for getting them there? It can't and won't happen for everyone, but we can guarantee that the standard of your writing will shoot up several levels as a result of those 6 weeks. If you're not sure if the course is for you because, say, you're not confident about your grammar, have a look at Emma's blog here. Check here for an example of the sort of detail we go into in the Prose Microscope week.

One of the advantages of the course is its flexibility and the way you can fit it into your Real Life (though some will say it tends to take over for those 6 sweaty, intense weeks). Also, the groups stay in place on the Cloud for EVER, and several have continued to function as online writers' groups after the course finishes.

But don't take my word about how good it is. I'd rather you hear it from some of our self-edit graduates. Jules Ironside blogged about it here. Below is a selection of quotes from various posts on the Cloud.

It's a really fab course - you won't regret a moment on it ... what I've written since has taken leaps forward in terms of writer's craft and how I feel about what I write.

Some of our group are still meeting ... and offering pieces to read and critique ... the SE course gave me the tools to look critically at my own work stand apart from my baby and be a bit less emotional about it. Clear and supportive, but not namby pambying direction from Debi and Emma got me to the stage where I understood that writing is re-writing, rather than just spouting the phrase. So, absolutely excellent investment into your future as a writer! 

The six weeks was the most writing-related fun I've ever had ... the best investment in your writing you'll ever make ... The course does much more than teach you how to edit. It teaches you to be an all-round better writer. Yes, in six weeks.
Richard B
Do this course. Your writing will level up and you'll get more weapons. 

It has given me the confidence to pull the whole WIP apart and weave it back together, hopefully with better materials! 

Do it. Get the money - sell the car / kids / a kidney, it doesn't matter ... JUST DO IT!! The skills learned on this course don't just apply to the WIP you work on, but to ALL your writing - it's invaluable, and I have never, ever regretted doing it. 
I have not had so much intense fun in ages (but then I'm an engineer...). No hesitation in recommending it unreservedly. Forget low energy lightbulbs, all my light bulb moments were high energy incandescent! And Debi is a saint, generous and patient and tough and wise. Emma is a font of wisdom. And on my group the course buddies were awesome.
It was revolutionary for me. Can't believe how much I learned and am still learning. Still have the support of my classmates over in our little group too so well worth it!
We had Young Adult, Historical, alternative universes, magic powers, crossed continents, burgeoning super-spies and family sagas; a veritable Waterstone's of WIPs - and yet they all worked together ... more arc-lights than lightbulbs, and yes, although it's an editing course, it's very much a be a better writer course ... you don't just get the guidance of one uber-editrix, you also get however-many-other-people-are-on-the-course editors too. Do the course. Do it. Do it. Do it (everybody now,) Do it. Do it. Do it...

I couldn't imagine more perfect teachers. Not only are you both writers that I admire and not only do you both know your craft inside and out, but also you know how to share your 'toolkit' and teach others how to pick up and use the tools ... you never made us feel stupid for not knowing or asking questions, but have always been ready to come to the rescue with answers, links and encouragement ... combined with humour, kindness and the right amount of challenge.

... your energy and care for detail has surpassed anything I could have possibly expected. Your fierce support has been like medicine to our lows and your praise when we have got things right has given us wings. On this occasion, even with the help of this course, words are inadequate to relay my depth of gratitude.

In the past six weeks, I've been shown the error of my ways a number of times, but always with patience, humour and honest truth and a knowledge of the craft and an insight in how to impart it so as to enable us to improve. 

It blows my mind to look back at how far we have all come in six weeks. I started out as a leaky wee boat, but now, not only am I floating, I am sealing all the cracks instead of simply bailing out water. 

See here for a breakdown of how we cover the subjects during the 6 weeks. Go here to book. The course runs 4 times a year, so there are plenty of options. Maybe use the date as a deadline to finish that first draft? Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Stories for Homes - making a difference

Watch out, I'm about to get philosophical on y'all.

So what's it all about, eh, this life business? What's our purpose in being here? We all know that the answer to the meaning of life, the universe and everything is 42 but that can't be all there is to it, can it?

With such a diversity of belief systems (or lack of) among us all, I reckon there's one thing we can agree on: we're here to make a difference. In the week that Nelson Mandela died, we're all aware of the enormous difference one single person can make. Here's what Madiba said on the subject:  

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” 

Madiba was unique, of course, but on a much smaller scale perhaps we can emulate his example. We're at our strongest when we join together, rather than act alone. I've seen people doing that recently. The Authors for Philippines project raised over £50,000 for the Red Cross Typhoon Haiyan appeal and is just one example of a good deed in a naughty world.

But the difference I'm posting about today is the Stories for Homes project which was the result of a community of people united for one purpose: to create a world-class anthology of short stories on the theme of 'home' with all proceeds going to the housing and homelessness charity, Shelter.

You can see the background to the project in this blog post in July, which celebrated the launch of the e-book - available here. Our community of supporters have made a promotional video, supplied unique artwork, come up with genius ideas, created a press release, contacted local and national media, emailed, blogged, Facebooked and tweeted. We've had authors, editors, proofreaders, designers, techy wizards, artists, journalists and more on board. There are far too many places where the anthology has been promoted for me to link to here. Check the hashtag #storiesforhomes on Twitter for a full list.

And readers, of course, we've had readers who have bought the book, knowing they can enjoy great writing while simultaneously sending money in Shelter's direction. Because we all know books need readers.

We started here, back in June:

The e-book was published in July and we watched as it leapt up the Kindle charts and the royalties flowed in. In less than four months, we raised almost £600. The reviews have awarded the collection an average of 4.8 stars and we knew we had achieved our aim. Truly, this is a world-class anthology and. most importantly, Shelter was receiving some serious money.

And now, five months later, we're here:

The paperback was published a week ago (available here) and has already raised £213 in royalties at the time I'm posting. Add this to the money already raised from sales of the e-book and we've already made over £1000. We have a launch event at my fave indie bookshop, Bookseller Crow on the Hill, coming up this Friday. (Other events will be taking place across the country.) Another talented person has joined our community and created this wonderful window display.

But hang on, let's just take a moment to remember what all this is about. All the following info comes from Shelter's news page. 80,000 children will be homeless in the UK this Christmas. The highest number of families are in emergency accommodation for a decade. In over half the country, less than 10% of properties are affordable for a typical working family. 45% of people renting in the South West are living in homes that are damp, cold, overcrowded or in a bad state of repair.

Shocking, isn't it? But behind the stats lie real people, real stories. You can see some of the people Shelter has helped here. It's in order to help Shelter help those who need their support the most that the whole Stories for Homes project was brought into being, inspiring dozens of people to take part and hundreds more to buy the book.

Please play your part. Buy the book. Post a review on  Amazon. Come to the events. Tell others about the project.

Make a difference.

Going back to the point I made at the start of this post, I leave you with the Stories for Homes dedication page.

Thank you.

UPDATE 18/12/13
Since writing that post, I can report that we handed over a symbolic cheque to Shelter at the launch for the money raised so far!

    Can you see the amount on that cheque?

    This includes 45 copies sold at the launch. Many of them were signed by all the authors who came from far and wide - including one who flew in from Germany. 

    We even had souvenir bookmarks.

In the days following the launch, we shot up the bestselling charts. At one point, we were number 5 in the bestselling paperback anthology charts, nestled between George Orwell and Doris Lessing. When you check out the massive marketing and publicity budgets behind the other books on the list and compare it to our shoestring-would-have-been-a-luxury budget this feat is all the more remarkable.

Cyberspace has been flooded with SfH book blasts. See the comments here on Squidge's Scribbles for a full list. The momentum has built, more events are planned, more books will be sold, more money will be passed to Shelter to help them to help those who need their services the most.