Thursday, 30 August 2007

Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated...

Several theories have sought to explain why I’ve been blog awol for the last week:

1) The fridges ganged up on me and pinned me to a wall, preventing me from blogging

2) I murdered the electrician and spent the last week burying him and his wretched safety certificate under the patio

Sorry to disappoint folks but none of the above are true. I’m still surrounded by fridges, the electrician is still alive (though it was a close thing when he told me I’d have to wait for my cheque to clear before he gave me the safety certificate!) .

The truth is I decided to have an internet-free bank holiday and a very good one it was too. I even managed to finish a short story and sent it off to the Guildford ‘Up Your Street’ competition. I didn’t have chance to send it to my critique group so I decided to just send it and hope.

On Sunday I went off to Reading Festival to see Nine Inch Nails and the Smashing Pumpkins and, God, was that an adventure and a half! If you ever need short inspiration I suggest you queue for a taxi outside Paddington station at two in the morning. The list of characters included:

  • A black guy in his fifties who wore a full suit, a trilby, sunglasses and had a suitcase at his feet. He was propped up against a wall, statue-like and was, to all intents and purposes fast asleep

  • The long, skinny ginger-haired youth curled up at his feet, trying to keep warm by snuggling against the warm air vents at the side of the station. Whenever he moved position his mouth would gape and he would look around, bewildered. Then the black guy would stamp his foot and ginger would close his eyes again

  • ‘Milk woman’ The jury was out on whether this 40-something woman with three shopping bags and a litre of milk that she constantly swigged at was homeless or, perhaps, a little mentally impaired. Either way she addressed the queue as though we were her audience, telling us “Here comes a taxi” every time one appeared and got very annoyed when someone else decided to talk to the crowd. At one point milk woman tried to tidy up by re-affixing a ‘No smoking’ sign to the wall – upside down

  • The Serial Killer fake taxi driver with his dog. Typically this was the taxi drive that appeared when we were, finally, at the head of the queue. He drew up, light off, but agreed to take us to our destination. When we scrambled into the back we realised that this was no normal black cab. The adverts were ripped, the floor was dirty and the seatbelts didn’t work. Our guess was this guy had bought a second hand taxi and rigged up a fare counter. In the front a West Highland terrier was tethered to a seatbelt and we watched as he jumped up at the window, then fell back onto the seat, then jumped up at the window and fell back again. All this while the taxi driver thumped at his control panel and ignored him. Oh, and I should also add that an unlicensed blue mini cab that we’d earlier waved away was waiting round the corner as we pulled away from the station. When our cab overtook him he trailed us for several minutes. We really, really thought we might be driven to some deserted location and then…well…doesn’t bear thinking about. We did get home safely in the end.

Oh yes, and the other reason I’ve been awol recently is because I developed a chest infection earlier this week and am only now starting to feel a bit better.

Novel editing progress is still slow. My novelist critique group have now looked at my revised chapter one and half of chapter two and so far so good. I’ve read through a third of the novel and have made little notes in the margins and am alternating reading with re-writing the second half of chapter two. This really is a much more lengthy and boring process than I anticipated and to be honest I’m really missing writing something fresh. I think the answer is to alternate short story writing with editing.

Stay tuned…

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Another useful link (and a whinge)

Much quietness from me today as I have been one big stress bunny what with a very heavy workload at work and more Kitchen Hell (tm) related stress at home. To start the day I had an argument with the electrician at 8am about the electrical safety certificate. Several hours later I had to lift a fridge over a workspace and into the fridge space all on my own when the oh-so-kind delivery guys told me it wouldn't fit in the kitchen and left it in my hallway! Oh yes, and then I discovered that the hole the fitters had cut in the worksurface for the fridge plug to fit through was too small. So, I couldn't plug the bloody thing in. Cue another frantic call to kitchen fitting company. Aaaggh.

Oh yes and I currently have not one, not two but THREE fridges in my tiny one bedroom flat. There's one in the kitchen (the one I received today that isn't plugged in) that was delivered to replace fridge number 2 which didn't have an ice compartment (and is unplugged and is in the lounge awaiting collection from kitchen fitting company this time next week) and my original fridge freezer which is too big for my newly renovated kitchen and is in my bedroom, complete with oversized microwave on the top (both waiting to be sold).

To make a cup of coffee in the morning I have to open the fridge in my bedroom to get the milk, wander into the kitchen for the coffee, mug, water and kettle and then wander back into the bedroom to put the milk away.

I feel like I'm living in the freakin' Big Brother house!


Anyway... yes, useful link:


The Bookseller is the industry bible for publishing companies and booksellers. It's also a useful read for agents and authors who want to know about news and trends in publishing. Subscription to the paper version of the bookseller is £100 a year so is pretty bloody pricey but you can pick up copies in your local library. Until recently you couldn't access the content on the website without being a subscriber but they've opened up a lot more of the site recently so it's worth a browse. Earlier I read that the big thing in publishing is 'commercial women's fiction' which is good.

Oh - and sorry everyone, I'm really behind on replying to all your emails and comments. Once my stress levels have reduced I promise to reply.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

SuperEd on Radio Cumbria now!

Well, in the next few minutes

Go to

and click the listen now button on the right.

("SuperEd" is the story I wrote that won the Sedbergh Festival of Books and Drama 2007)

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Questions about the publishing process

I recently answered some question over on Sarah's blog and thought I'd reproduce my answers here in case they're of any help to anyone else. Hopefully Sarah won't mind me reproducing her questions...

NB: These are my opinions on the matter (based on research I've done and writing forums I've visited). Other people may disagree with my advice!

1. In Writers and Artist Yearbook in the Literary Agents section is says 'No unsolicited MSS' in some of the agents profiles. What does that mean?

It means - no unsoliciated manuscripts i.e. don't just package up your entire novel and send it to them! It may also mean 'don't send your synopsis and first 3 chapters either'. If you REALLY want to place your novel with someone who says no unsolicitated manuscripts you should just write them an email or letter instead. Kind of like a cover letter - telling them what your novel is about, what market it is aimed at, what the title and word count is and some background about your writing history. Oh and a stamped addressed envelope. If they're interested in your novel they'll invite you to sent in the synopsis and first 3 chapters.

2. Can you send to more than 1 agent at at time or is it best to wait for a response first?

Most people tend to send their novel out to between 5-10 agents at a time. As I said in my blog agents can take between 6 weeks and 9 months on average to get back to you so if you only send to one at a time and each one takes 9 months and then rejects you it could take a long, long time to get an agent! As/if the rejections roll in you should send it out to some more agents so your novel is always 'out there'.

3. What is the better route of sending your writing, agent or publisher first?

I'd suggest you send it to an agent first and only approach publishers directly if you can't find an agent. An agent will negociate your deal with the publishers, could potentially set up a bidding war between different publishers and will handle any foreign rights issues/publishers. If you go straight to a publisher you'll have to handle those negociations yourself.

4. What kind of word count is best to aim for when writing? My genre of choice is what is sometimes classed as 'chick lit'. Some people like that term and some don't. I don't mind it.

Chick-lit is around 80,000 - 100,000 words although the more established authors are normally asked to up that to around 120,000 words for their later novels. There's a rumour going around that Marion Keyes new novel will end up over 200,000 words! That's the exception rather than the rule and debut novelists should stick to 80,000 - 100,000 words.

5. is it best to have completed the whole book before sending off synopsis and first few chapters or do you have to send off the whole thing?

Most people say you should at least complete the first draft of your book before sending it off to agents. Otherwise, if they like your first 3 chapters and ask to see more you'll end up in the slightly embarrassing position of having to say "Um, can you hold on for a bit - I haven't written it yet". It's better to finish the book first, especially as your synopsis may change as your novel progresses.

p.s. Some very good advice here Writers and Artists Yearbook

Saturday, 18 August 2007

I broke my own editing rules!

Oops, after claiming on this very blog that I was going to read my novel all the way through without editing! The first two chapters were bothering me so much I HAD to go back and have a go at re-writing the first chapter.

I spent AGES on it - I even bought a 'natural voice' reader* so I could listen to it back and hear how it sounded. After a few hours I thought, okay, that's it. I can't take this any further, time to bite the bullet and submit it to my novel critique group.

I was POOING myself as I waited for their feedback. NO ONE has seen my opening chapter (apart from Vanda at who critiqued the first 3 chapters many moons ago) and I had no idea whether it was any good or not.

After a nail-biting wait of several hours the critiques were all in - they really liked it and thought it was funny. Oh thank god. I can't begin to tell you how relieved I was. There were a few constructive comments that I need to work in but, overall, it was very, very good feedback.

Now of course I'm stressing about whether or not chapter 2 is any good or if they'll find it a bit of a disappointment after chapter 1!

But first, I MUST finish my read-through (and finish the short story I started a few days ago).

* It's a piece of software that reads out text. You can get the computer voice version for free or pay extra for a 'natural voice'. I paid about £20 for one natural voice. The one I chose was 'Audrey' a UK female voice (you can also get UK male). The site is here -

Thursday, 16 August 2007

"SuperEd" on BBC Radio Cumbria next week

I just received an email from the Special Features Editor at BBC Radio Cumbria telling me that my story "SuperEd" (the one that was a joint winner in the Sedbergh Festival of Books and Drama 2007) is going to be broadcast next week! If you'd like to listen to it the details are below:

Date: Wednesday 22nd August
Time: 1210

Location: You should be able to hear it by logging on to
On the right handside of the front page is the "listen live" link just below the Radio Cumbria link.

What's the betting I forget to listen in now I've told you all about it!

P.S. Thanks to everyone who has voted for the Heaven's Heavens on the mobileACT website (see post below). Thanks to you guys the band are now at #70 out of 1,600! That's great news...but they need to get in the top 25 to be in with a chance at a record deal/performing on channel 4. Please keep voting every day up until 23rd August if you can. And if you haven't already voted please, please do!

Monday, 13 August 2007

Novel Progress - Still editing (and a bit of writing too)

Did some more editing over the weekend - another three chapters. Seven down only twenty-three to go. MY GOD. How long will this take? All I'm doing is reading through and making little notes in the margins!

I'd (wrongly) assumed that I'd just breeze through this stage as though I was reading someone else's novel. Was I wrong! I keep hitting paragraphs where I think "This needs to be changed. This bit should come before that bit and that bit should be completely cut" and out comes the pen and, before I know it, there are arrows and scribblings everywhere. God knows how I'm going to make sense of it all when I start editing individual scenes. "Move on," I ordered myself several times. "Just move on or you'll never finishing the read-through."

So yes, this stage is going to take a while.

I also promised myself I'd write a short story over the weekend (as I didn't write anything last month) and, while I didn't actually finish the story, I did start it.

When I write short stories I can't get going until I've got the right voice and the right first sentence and it took me several abortive attempts before, finally, I had the right first line and the right voice. Of course that might all change when I edit the story later (often the second paragraph turns out to be the best opening) but at least I got going. Now all I need to do is finish the thing! Anyway, it felt good to be writing again so hopefully I've beaten the block that struck me when I finished the novel last month.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Novel Progress - Editing

I've finally started editing my novel (about time too I hear you say!). I'm editing it using the pyramid structure I mentioned in one of my last posts (ie. start with overall story, then move to individual scenes, then individual sentences).

So, I've printed out the novel and, so far, have read the first four chapters (out of thirty) with a pen in my hand. At this stage I'm not allowing myself to re-write anything because the aim is to read the novel as a whole and see how it feels but I am allowing myself to underline bits and scribble "re-write this" or "insert X here" or strike out entire sentences that don't work or phrases that are obvious repetitions or cliches.

This is more of a 'first impressions' stage and I'm asking myself these questions as I read:
  • Does the story flow?
  • Does the language flow?
  • Are there enough hooks to keep the reader reading?
  • How's the pace? If I find anything dull or slow or I'm tempted to skip over it as I'm reading, the reader will too. Anything I find like that gets a big "Pace problem" scribble next to it and will need re-writing later. Is the pace too fast? Do I need to slow it down a little to give the reader the chance to catch their breath?
  • How's the characterisation? Are the characters distinctive enough? Are they 'real'? Do my characters react and act as they should? Is anything they do or say out of character?
  • How's the description? Too much? Too little?
  • How's the dialogue? Do I need to insert 'beats' within the dialogue? (i.e. descriptions of the characters' actions and reactions as they talk). If I ignore all the 'he said' 'she said' in a piece of dialogue can I guess who is talking? (i.e. the voice of each character needs to be distinctive enough to distinguish between them)
  • How's the voice of the main character? Consistent?
  • Do flashbacks interrupt the flow of the story? Could they be moved around to avoid interrupting the action? Could they be cut or shortened?
  • Is the first sentence, the first paragraph, the first page interesting enough to keep the reader hooked and convince them to read the entire novel?
  • Is the story believable/logical?

After I've finished reading the entire novel I'm going to draw up a chapter/character grid (as suggested in "Wannabe a Writer?") so I can see which characters feature in which chapters and analyse how well it works. Anyway, more on that when I start.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Editing a Novel

Okay, back to writing...

I've been thinking about editing a lot recently (in order to make myself feel less guilty for not actually doing any editing) and have found a website called . While I wouldn't recommend anyone solely uses a website to do all of their editing (you really need to do it yourself using a book like "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print" as a guide) the website does have some useful functions for checking things that might escape your notice when you've edited your novel for the 105th time - things like overused words, repeated phrases, cliches etc.

Unfortunately it's not a free site but there is a free trial that checks up to 800 words of your text for:
  • overused words
  • repeated phrases
  • sentence length variation

I just tested it out on the first 800 words of my novel and the results were quite interesting (I noticed a short phrase repeated in the first paragraph but, on a positive note, my sentence length did vary).

For your free trial go here:

One more thing - there's also a brief, free pdf on the 3 stage of editing (which, to summarise, are: story, scene, sentence).

You can find there here:

Okay - really must start editing now. Stage 1 - read the whole thing all the way through.

Happy Belated Birthday, Blog

Dear Blog
I'm so sorry I forgot your birthday. You were one year old on 4th August and I totally forgot (I forgot a birthday, no change there!). Anyway, what a long way you've come in a year, dear blog. I remember when you were first born and you babbled and waffled, talking to no one in particular, not entirely what you were saying and why.
Now, at one year old, you seem to have developed some social skills and made some friends - well done! There have been some great times and some not so great times over the last year. I've watched you struggle with rejections and celebrate your successes. You're still prone to waffling on about random and redundant topics (you are supposed to be a writing blog after all) but I'll turn a blind to that seeing as it's your special day.
Happy Birthday Blog!
p.s. Is it weird I'm addressing you as though you're a sentient being? Yes, thought so...

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Gods Behaving...Wonderfully!

A wonderful surprise when I got to work this morning - a signed copy of Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips that I'd ordered many moons ago.

That in itself was a delight but what was even better was that Marie had signed the book to me!

"For Cally with lots of love Ma_Phillp" (hand cramp - she had to sign over 3,000 books in one day!).

I started reading Marie's blog (now password protected or I'd give you the link) ages ago (before she got her contract) and feel like I've experienced all the highs and lows of the writing/publishing process with her. In many ways Marie's experience is the kind of success story you dream about ( although she suffered nearly as many household disasters as I have en route). I could summarise her experience and book but this interview with the Telegraph does it better.

So anyway, thanks very much to Marie and Crockatt and Powell"(the bookshop that sent me the signed copy) for the personal touch. Hugely appreciated. If you want to get your hands on a signed copy of Marie's book call Crockatt and Powell asap on 020 7928 0234 (I'm not sure how many they've got left).

The book will now sit on my bookshelf (after I've read it) by the only other signed book I own (a copy of The Tent by Margaret Atwood - I queued patiently at the London Book Fair last year to get her to sign it).

Talking of books and bloggers - I have a list of books by blogging authors and novel racer friends that I must buy soon - these include "In Search of Adam" by Caroline Smailes, "The Self-Preservation Society" by Kate Harrison, "Any Way You Want Me" by Lucy Diamond and "Accidental Mother" by Rowan Coleman. If any of you lovely ladies know how I can get my mitts on a signed copy I'd be very grateful and will buy as soon as funds allow (I'm planning on buying your books even if they're not signed btw, but signed would be extra lovely and can keep my other two company!)*

* Apologies to anyone I've missed off this list. Please leave a comment/kick up the arse to remind me to buy your book.

Blogging awards

I just wanted to say a big thank you to A.Writer and Sally for giving me an "Creative Blogger" award, a "Rocking Girl Blogger" award (A.Writer) and an "Inspirational Blogger" award (Sally).

I started this blog as a record of the writing side of my life - more for me than for anyone else but it's so wonderful that other people see it as creative, inspirational! I really, really appreciate the support and inspiration of the novel racers and wider writing community that blogs. Writing is such a solitary endeavour and it's lovely to log on and receive supportive comments and suggestions and read about other writers' lives. You all deserve awards!

I STILL haven't started editing (more due to current living arrangements than lack of motivation) but I full intend to print out the first 50 pages of my 481 page monstrosity novel today and get started on it.

I'm also working on a new idea for a short story. Last month was the first month in a very, very long time that I failed to write a new short story and I need to turn that around before it become a habit. There's a themed competition I want to enter soon (it closes at the end of this month) and I've struggled to come up with an original idea for it. I was thinking about it on the tube the other day and realised I can combine the theme with another short story idea I've had for a while (but hadn't been able to expand on) and create a full, workable story. I've been sketching out the idea in my notebook and it's starting to come to life. It just needs a tiny bit more thought and work and then I'll be ready to start writing it.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Another text competition

I spent my weekend renouncing evil, chanting aloud with others and watching a small child get drenched with water by a man in dress.

Yep, I went to a christening. And very lovely it was too (I would say that, the small child was my 'if-she-was-any-more-cute-she'd-explode' niece). It's the shame t'internet can be such a nasty perverted place or I'd post a photo.

Anyway, back to to the writing - er, sort of, as I still haven't written anything and haven't started my editing yet but the old brain is ticking over and the itch to write is getting stronger so it's only a matter of time. In fact, all I might need is a little comp like the one below to get me writing again. Why don't you give it a go too?

Txt Crime competition

Closes: 31st August 2007
Fees: £1 for one entry. Plus the cost of a standard text.
Prizes: £50 for first place. Prize is at least £50. More depending on the competition's popularity.
Details: The UK's easiest to enter writing competitions. Micro stories up to 154 characters on the theme of crime. Enter by phone.
Contact: To enter, from your mobile phone text crime followed by a space and then your micro-story in no more than 154 further characters to 88010.
Country: United Kingdom

NB: I haven't checked how legit this competition is so make sure you check it out before you spend money on it.

Edited to add: I received an email in response to this post from Kieran O'Donoghue (of to reassure me that the competition is completely legit. His response here:

"Thanks for your mention of the competitions on your blog. I’d like to reassure you that the competition is legitimate, but I guess I won’t be able to really do that until we have posted the first winning entry and details of the author on the website. That said, it’s only £1 to enter.

The idea for was born from the desire to see people use proper English in all forms of written communication whilst exploiting the capabilities of modern technology. I think people will be surprised at how much information can be crammed into 155 characters.

I hope you give the competition a try (or two). As you point out in your blog, it’s a great way to at least write something, and just those few words could be the spark to spawn an epic novel. It’s completely anonymous. The only information I will have of the author is their mobile phone number, so the result will be judged purely on writing ability."

Thanks for getting in touch Kieran.

Friday, 3 August 2007

Reading your published work

I've just had an interesting discussion with someone about reading the work you've had published (short stories, novels, whatever) and we both agreed that we didn't - mostly because you start to re-write it in your head, thinking "Oh God, I should have re-phrased that sentence" or "Why did I choose that word? It sticks out like a sore thumb" and by the time you've finished reading it the glow of holding the publication in your hands has diminuished a little.

These days, when I receive a copy of a magazine or anthology that has published one of my short stories I rarely re-read my story. Don't get me wrong I LOVE the growing pile of publications on my desk (it represents so much hard work) but read my story again? No thanks.

How about you? Do you read the published version of your work? (I'm including you too novelists).

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

My Kitchen Hell (tm)

So, I was supposed to start editing my novel this week but haven't been able to thanks to My Kitchen Hell (tm). Here's what I've faced so far this week:

1) A built in fridge not fitting due to some 'who knew they were there?' pipes

2) A replacement fridge brought in that, on closer inspection, has no freezer compartment. As I've just sold my fridge freezer (because it didn't fit in the new kitchen) this discovery didn't go down well. A third fridge is ordered (not here yet though)

3) An electrician (whose quote I hadn't accepted) turns up to do the electrics.

4) A 'heated discussion' with the fitter about which way round the drainer should go. My suggestion was logical, his way saved him doing a bit of extra work

5) Another 'heated discussion' with the fitter about the fact he hadn't booked someone in to do the tiling. Apparently 'kitchen company' had told him I wanted tiling after he'd received the job spec. Funny that because his job spec printout was exactly the same as mine. After telling me I should get a refund for tiling from kitchen company he suggested he'd 'do the job myself for cash in hand'.

6) Fitter tells me I have to come back urgently from where I'm working to discuss something with me. I wait outside on a cold step for THREE separate taxis that failed to show up. When I finally turn up the fitters are gone.

7) Fitter tells me that he'll get the kitchen company to refund me for 'finishing to decoration standard' because the flat doesn't need it. When I examine the work there are MASSIVE HOLES IN ALL THE WALLS. Cue another heated discussion.

8) One piece of the work surface arrived damaged so the fitter tried to find a replacement piece. Tells me it's out of stock everywhere...EVERYWHERE. The only replacement piece there is is being held to ransom by a woman who has lodged a complaint with the kitchen company and won't release the piece of work surface until they pay her a million pounds (or something)

9) Fitter tells me he can recommend someone to replace my boiler. I try hard not to laugh in his face.

One day all this will be a distant memory...(and I'll actually have started editing my book)