Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Tale of Two Authors

Is there no end to the uplifting author stories in this blog?
It seems not ...

Remember I told you about Shelley Harris's triumph at Authonomy Live at the Festival of Writing in York?
Well, I'm delighted to pass on the news that Shelley's book had several publishers slavering over its potential and she has now signed a two book deal with W&N (who also published my first two books).

You can read Shelley's amazing journey in her own words here on WordCloud.
Exciting, or what?

(What d'you mean, you're not already on WordCloud?  It's only the best writing community on t'internet - and it's free to join.)

And the other tale?  No links for Roger Hardy as he has no online presence.

I first started working with Roger in October 2008.  His novel, Miracle in Carvoeiro, needed a lot of heavy engineering and there were issues in almost every area of plotting and characterisation, but there was a kernel of something very special there.   Two weeks later and after a lengthy email exchange, he was back with a complete redraft, asking for a second read, which I completed as well as posting the amended MS back to him.

By December 08, I was still discussing polishing and pitching of Book 1, but had meanwhile received Roger's second book for editing.  He'd hopped genres and produced a very good Da Vinci Code-esque book.  I thought The Eye of Sayf-Udeen had serious potential - it was different enough to provide a  fresh angle on the formula - and was far better written IMO than Dan Brown's books.  I was seriously impressed at the way Roger had learnt the lessons from previous feedback and incorporated them into his new writing.

So, by this time, Roger was pitching Book 1, editing Book 2 and already talking about Book 3.  More emails and in Jan I sent him the report of The Eye of Sayf-Udeen.  In Feb, he completed the first draft of his third book.  Artcore is a thriller set in the gay scenes in Amsterdam and Brighton.  Once again, I thought that his book should be theoretically publishable once he'd completed an edit. 

By March, he had self-published the first book on Lulu and I was working on the critique for Artcore as well as a reread for The Eye of Sayf-Udeen. I sent him an email re the latter, saying,
'Roger – I love it!  Huge respect and kudos to you – I really feel you are on the brink of coming up with a publishable MS.'

In April 2009, I pitched The Eye of Sayf-Udeen to the Writers' Workshop for the free read they offer for books recommended by editors as having commercial potential. 
They agreed with me ... YIPPEE!
... and pitched the book themselves to a well-known agent.  YIPPEE!

The agent felt the market for the genre was over saturated.  BOO!
Roger decided he'd carry on pitching to other agents himself.

May 2009 and I was editing the redraft of Artcore.
July 2009 found me editing the 3rd draft of Artcore

Book 4, Sylvia, arrived on my desk in October 2009.
Alas.  I had told Roger I was convinced he'd get there in the end as long as he kept on writing and pitching.  Sadly, with this book, he seemed to have forgotten that each book needed to be better than the last; that he needed to focus on quality, not just quantity.  Although his writing skills has improved beyond recognition, I felt this was his weakest book yet.

With characteristic resilience, Roger took the criticism on the chin.  I told him I thought he needed to slow down and do some more reading in order to prepare for his next book, which we had already discussed.

After lots more discussions, I received the first draft of The Zarathustra Principle in March 2010.  This was Roger's most ambitious book yet.  Set in Cologne in the 1920s, it told the story of a relationship between a young  agnostic man from an Orthodox Jewish family and a fellow student, the two united by a shared love for Nietzsche.  That scenario, and the central European setting in the days before Nazism took a hold, has been explored in literature before but what made Roger's book stand out was that there was a strong spiritual element in the form of a latter day prophet. 

What worried me was that this unique quality was both the book's greatest strength and its fundamental weakness.  We all know how publishers like to pigeon hole books and my concern was that this one was straddling genres.  But damn, it was good! 

Meanwhile, Roger and I finally had the chance to meet face to face in York.  Later in April, I received the second draft of The Zarathustra Principle for editing.  

And now?  Roger is still pitching his previous books and has amassed a sizable pile of rejection slips.
Think 'water' ... Think 'duck's back' ...  He's published all four (neither of us count Sylvia) on Lulu and he's cooking his next book. 

It sounds as though it will incorporate his undoubted strengths.
It sounds as though it will avoid both the genre-straddling and the too similar/too different conundrum that has dogged his previous books.
I know it will be very well-written.
It sounds like this could be the one ...!

By now, you're probably asking yourself why I'm sharing all this with you.  Maybe you're exhausted just thinking about Roger's prodigious output and his determination to keep on writing and pitching.
'After all,' you might say, 'Roger still hasn't fulfilled his ambitions in spite of all that incredibly hard work.'

But there's the point, y'see.  Roger's writing skills, which always had genuine potential as far as I'm concerned, have gone from strength to strength.  At times his creations have tortured him to the point of obsession, but most of the time he has derived wonderful satisfaction from the creative process.  He is also determined and persistent, rolling with the punches and never allowing rejections to make him lose sight of his goals.


I wanted you to hear his name here first!

Incidentally, if you have a book that's ready to be released into the world, you might be interested in the Getting Published Day this October, which should give you many of the tools you need.

Good luck!

Friday, July 16, 2010

A (true) fairy tale

Are you sitting comfortably?
Then I'll begin ...

Once upon a time, (last night actually) I attended the Brit Writers' Awards at the O2.  G and I were sitting at a table with a very nice group of people but one woman in particular stood out for her warmth and friendliness and she shared her personal story with us.

Catherine  Cooper worked as a primary school teacher for 29 years until four years ago, at the age of 50, she was simultaneously diagnosed with both breast cancer and a debilitating genetic condition resulting in severe disability.  She was forced to take immediate retirement on medical grounds, thereby losing her health and the job she loved in one devastating double whammy.

As we all know, we can't control what life throws at us.  All we can control is how we react to the hand we're dealt.  Catherine's response to her situation is awe inspiring.

'I always said I'd write a book when I retired,' she told us.  'The retirement came somewhat earlier than anticipated, but I saw it as an opportunity to get going.'

Disabled, pumped full of drugs and in constant pain that prevented her sleeping at night, she began writing a series of children's books, illustrated by her husband.

'I wanted to write the kind of magical fantasy adventure story I would have enjoyed reading to my classes, had I still been teaching,' Catherine said.

She told us it was writing fiction that kept her going through the dark days and nights, and she gave thanks for the chance it gave her to escape from a grim reality into a fictional world of her own making.

Catherine self-published the first three books and began taking them into schools, inspiring children with her love of books and reading.  She set herself a target: 500 books to be sold by Xmas; another 500 by Easter; 1500 by the summer.  Each target was met and exceeded.

Humble in spite of this impressive success, Catherine was surprised and delighted to be short listed in the BWA children's category.  When her name was announced as the winner and we watched Catherine, walking with the aid of two sticks, make her way to accept her award, all of us on the table were choked.

But the story doesn't end there.  Oh no ...

The evening wore on, with more uplifting tales of writers achieving their dreams.  The only category for published writers was won with universal approval by the mighty Terry Pratchett.  All around the O2 applause broke out as each new winner went to collect their awards.

And then ... the grand finale as we waited to hear who had won the overall BWA award.  £10,000, an instant book deal, 300 copies of the winner's book already printed and hot from the press, universal acclaim ...

Drum roll, please ...

And the winner was ... Catherine Cooper!

So, if you're one of those people who are always making excuses why they can't write ... or who crumple under life's knockbacks ... or believe dreams can't come true ... be inspired by Catherine's story.

But note:  this success didn't come to her out of thin air.  It came about through her determination to rise above adversity; her ability to create something positive from the most negative of circumstances; days, weeks and months of sheer hard work; the generosity of her spirit and the magic of her own imagination.

There's no doubt that this is just the first day of the rest of Catherine's life and I'm sure you will be hearing more from her in the future. Meanwhile, you can get a sneaky preview of her Jack Brenin series of books here.

Amazing though it is, Catherine's was not the only magical personal story last night.  I was blown away to hear that the winner of the short story category was Helen Hardy, longstanding and valued member of the East Dulwich Writer's Group.  (Before anyone suggests corruption, let me hasten to add that I judged the full length novel category, so had no hand in Helen's well-deserved success.)

Helen was unable to accept her award in person because ... she gave birth earlier the same day!  How magical is that?

And if I may be so bold, I'd like to add one small piece of personal evidence that I have had a small part to play in The BWA story.  On page 5 of the souvenir brochure there were quotes from Cameron, Clegg, Alex Salmond, a Local Literacy Leader, a member of the Muslim Writers' Awards (from which BWA grew) and two judges.  One of them was Professor Thom Brookes.

Guess who the other was ...

Here's what I said:
With the dire situation currently reflected in the publishing industry, and the almost insurmountable difficulties faced by new writers in achieving that elusive first deal, initiatives like the BWA provide a much-needed and welcome opportunity for new authors to receive recognition for their writing.

So there we go.  That's the end of the (true) fairy tale and I hope all involved live happily ever after.

As for you, what are you waiting for?  Come on.  No excuses now. Get writing!

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Clear your diary ...

Oh boy, July is barely underway and I'm already overwhelmed at the number of crucial dates in my diary.

So, on the basis that a lit date shared is ... a lit date shared ... I'm giving you all the info in one post so you can put them  in your diary too.

Hope to see you there ... and there ... and ... 

Members of the East Dulwich Writers' Group will be chatting to passers by and selling Hoovering the Roof, their first anthology, as well as other books by EDWG membersHtR is now on its 2nd print run, having sold out of the 1st. 

10.00 am - 3.00 pm Sat  3rd July

Northcross Road market, London, SE22

EDWG members are at it again - this time with munchies and readings from Hoovering the Roof

4.00 - 6.00 pm Sun 4th July

Alhambra (sumptuous shop selling Spanish goodies), 148 Kirkdale, London, SE26 4BB

24 hr Oxfam Bookfest readathon.
Last year’s Bookfest resulted in a 40% increase in book donations to Oxfam, and hundreds of thousands of pounds of additional book sales in the months following Bookfest. When you consider that the sale of just 21 books is enough to equip a whole classroom in Vietnam, or that a normal month’s book sales buys safe water for 2.1 million people, you can appreciate how much more your support of Oxfam’s Bookfest events can achieve.  
9.00 am Mon 5th July - 9.00 am Tues 6th July.  7 members of EDWG (including some woman called Debi Alper) will  be reading in 20 minute slots between midnight and 2.00 am. (Gasp)

Oxfam Bookstore, 91 Marylebone High Street, London, W1U 4RB


EDWG event with readings from the anthology

7.00 - 8.30 pm Thurs 8th July

Review Bookshop, Bellenden Road, SE15 4QY


Launch of 33, short story anthology published by Glasshouse Books with a story set in each of London's boroughs.  Authors include Stella Duffy,  Emma Darwin, Nicola Monaghan, Jess Ruston, Rachael Dunlop and many more.  (That Debi Alper woman crops up there again.)  See here for further details.

From 6.30 pm Wed 14th July

The Press House Wine Bar, 1 St Bride's Passage, EC4Y 8EJ.  If you can't make the launch, you can pre-order a copy of the book here.


Brit Writers' Awards Ceremony.  The talented finalists, selected from 21,000 entries, will hear the results in a stellar evening.  (Hang on - that Alper woman isn't one of them ... oh yeah, she was one of the judges instead.)

Thurs 15th July

IndigO2,  O2 Arena, Peninsula Square, London, SE10 0DX


What I really need now is an extended lie down in a darkened room.
Can't see that happening before August ...