Wednesday, 31 December 2008

End of Year Round-up

This time last year I wrote "2007 has been a good year writing-wise. Let's hope 2008 is even better!" I couldn't have made a more prophetic wish.

To anyone who reads this blog semi-regularly you'll already know that 2008 has been my best writing year EVER. Let's face it - when the one dream you've hung onto since you were eight years old finally comes true it's going to be one pretty damned amazing year.

I ummed and ahhed about whether to write an end of year round-up because I didn't want anyone to think I was being a big, fat show-off but I can't let the end of the year pass without doing some kind of summary of my year.

So here we go:

In 2008 I:
  • Wrote 9 new short stories thanks to my Story a Fortnight Group
  • Rewrote novel 1 after agent feedback which said it needed more work
  • Wrote 20,000 words of novel 2 (a)
  • Sent 28 short stories to women's magazines (a lot of the submissions were the same story sent to multiple magazines. A story isn't dead until it's done the rounds!)
  • Entered 8 stories and 1 novel extract to writing competitions
  • Came up with a new idea for novel 2 (b), started writing it in December and hit 11,000 words by the 31st

'Bad' things in 2008:

  • 7 of my competition entries were rejected
  • 20 of my short story submissions to women's magazines were rejected
  • Scrapping 20,000 words of the original novel 2 and wondering if I'd ever fall in love with a novel again and actually finish it

Good things in 2008:

  • 8 of my short stories were bought. 6 by women's magazines. 1 by an online magazine. 1 by an arts magazine (my only story sale without payment). 6 of the 8 stories bought have now been published
  • An extract of novel 1 became one of four finalists in the Romance Writers of America Stiletto contest (paranormal chicklit contest)
  • My story "My Daughter the Deep Sea Diver" placed third in the Writers Bureau short story competition
  • I signed with my literary agent
  • Said agent got me a two book deal with Orion (novel 1 to be published in October 2009) and sold foreign rights to Russia, Germany and Brazil
  • I met Orion to discuss novel 1 and was stunned when lots of people popped into the meeting told me how much they'd enjoyed reading it
  • I got my mojo back and fell in love with my new idea for novel 2 and wrote 11,000 words of it.

So there you go. To say I'm excited about 2009 would be an understatement. I've got so many wonderful things to look forward to writing-wise including the publication of my novel and a writing holiday in Thailand (please god let it happen!). I also have to do the edits for novel 1 and continue to fight the demon that sits on my shoulder and says, "Novel 2 is never going to be as good as novel 1 and your agent and editor will hate it!" and finish the first draft by September. There's also a few things I'm planning on changing in my personal life but more about those if and when they happen!

And I just want to end this wonderful year by pointing you all to Sally Quilford's inspirational post here on the secret to achieving writing success.

Here's to a wonderful 2009 for all my blog readers. May all your dreams (writing and otherwise) come true.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Happy Christmas!

I'll be off line for the next few days so just wanted to take this opportunity to wish all my blog readers a very...

Happy Christmas!

I hope you all have a wonderful time.

Friday, 19 December 2008

What editors want

It's all about the links this week. Here's a good one about why your novel was rejected/what editor's want and includes some useful things to think about if you're not sure why your book isn't quite working:

I'm off work at the moment so, in theory, I've got all the time in the world to work on novel 2 (well, 24 hours a day if I don't sleep). The only trouble is I have been sleeping - a lot - and watching TV - a lot - and getting out and about - a lot - and faffing around - get the picture.

It's weird isn't it, when you've got a day job you think, "Oh, if I could just give up work and write full time I'd get a lot more writing done" but when you do have time off you write exactly the same amount as you would if you'd done a full day at work.

Well I do anyway.

Over the last few days I've written between 1,000 and 2,000 words a day. Not that my word count has grown much. Today I deleted all the words I wrote yesterday and wrote something new (I changed my mind about the right way to approach a certain scene). I also went back and tweaked a few scenes. When you write romantic-comedies your novel has to be humorous and my first 4,000 words were decidedly NOT. For a while I worried that I'd lost my 'funny' but an idea for a scene came to me today that actually made me grin while I was writing it.

Which is a good thing.

I read an interview with Sophie Kinsella the other day that said something along the lines of, "If a scene doesn't make me laugh when I'm writing it it obviously doesn't work, so I go back and re-write it until I do laugh."

I'm starting to understand the way I write - I need what I've written to be structurally sound before I can move on and write more. If I don't it bugs me and I find myself thinking about what needs to be fixed or what doesn't work and I feel blocked and can't write.

So things are good and I'm actually enjoying writing book 2 (crossed my fingers when I typed that bit!). My aim is to get to 10,000 words by the end of the year.

Book 2 wordcount: 6,339 / 90,000 (7.0%)

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

How Publishing Works

I don't know why it's taken me so long to find this blog

but I've just spent a good half an hour reading through her posts and nodding my head at most of the advice proffered.

I particularly like this paragraph in a post on criticism:

"Remember that your levels of reading comprehension drop dramatically when reading a criticism of your own work: you filter out the good stuff and magnify the bad, so that you translate “this is good but you need to work a little on your characterisation” into “I hate all your characters!”

I think the same can be said when you're critiquing your OWN work. You're totally blind to the good stuff and all you can see are the faults.

Worth thinking about when I start my edits of book 2 some time next summer...

Monday, 15 December 2008

On meeting my publishers!

Today was a day I've been looking forward to and dreading in equal measures for AGES!

I was looking forward to it because...well, that's fairly obviously really isn't it? In my mind it was the day that would make all this getting a book published malarkey real.

And dreading it? Because:

a) I was nervous I'd be asked to make lots of changes to HoWG
b) I was nervous my editor wouldn't like my idea for book 2
c) I'd been told I had 'lots of fans in the office' who wanted to meet me and I hate being the centre of attention
d) I was sure I'd do or say something so inane and idiotic they'd immediately rescind the 2-book deal and tell me never to darken their door again!

As it turned out I really, really shouldn't have worried. It was a great few hours and none of the scenarios I'd been dreading came true.

So what happened?

I met my agent at her agency at 11am. She gave me a guided tour of the agency (I'd only seen a little bit of it during my last visit) and I totally fell in love with it. It's a house that has been converted into offices and it's full of charm, an adopted cat - and books. Books everywhere! There's a ten foot bookshelf in the hallway that is absolutely stuffed with books and every office is absolutely crammed with shelves filled with book after book after book. The staff there even use piles of hard-back books to raise their computer monitors up to the correct height! Book heaven I tell you.

I was introduced to my agent's assistant who told me she'd sobbed over the last few pages of my book when she read it at her desk (is it awful that I love that fact it made her cry?) and then gave me some fabulous news - she'd sold my novel to Russia!

I was still taking in that news when my agent and I set off across London to my publishers'. It was an impressive-looking building with glass doors, fancy lifts and two reception desks to navigate and if I hadn't had my agent at my side (and been dosed up on cold and flu remedies) I'd have been quaking in my boots when my editor came out to meet us! I shouldn't have worried - she was really lovely and very welcoming. She led us into the main office (which looked just like a normal office - little booths in the middle with glass-walled offices on one side) and then into her office. I was introduced to someone who went off to make me a cup of coffee and then my editor started talking about my book and what happens next -

First of all she'll get some edits to me before Christmas (not very many thankfully!) and she thinks I should be able to get them done within a week. The manuscript will then go off to a copy-editor who'll go through the book with a fine tooth comb and highlight any inconsistencies, glitches in time span/clothing/description etc and get them back to me. I'll then have to make the changes and a 'proof' will be produced (my manuscript in book form - either with a plain cover and my name and book title or a mock-up of the final cover) and I'll get to read through that to check that the typesetting hasn't introduced any glaring inconsistencies/changes. A proof-reader will also do the same. At some point during this process I'll also be asked for my feedback on the cover (apparently the first cover mock-ups will be produced in around February time next year!).

So we talked a bit about covers and retailers and various people popped into the office to meet me. I can't begin to explain how truly BIZARRE it is to meet so many people that have read (and enjoyed) your book. Other than my agent and publishers NO ONE other than me has read the book from start to finish (my editor told me she's read it FOUR TIMES now!) and for someone to say, "It was really funny," or "I could hear my colleague giggling from my office," or "there are some really touching bits," is a real pinch yourself moment. For a start you have no idea how to respond. My natural response was to go, "Really?!!!" but I managed to smile and say "thank you" instead. Of course now I feel a HUGE pressure to make book 2 equally as funny but I'm trying not to think about that!

At one point I was asked how I'd written the book as it all seemed to slot into place and I sheepishly admitted that, while I knew the first few scenes and how it ended, I'd made up the middle bit on the fly. I expected everyone in the room to gasp in horror but instead they just nodded sagely and commented that all authors were different - some plotting every scene while others sat down with a blank screen and made up the whole lot as they went along.

That was a relief as I'm approaching book 2 in the same way (I know the first 9 scenes and the ending but not the middle) and I was dreading being asked to provide a more detailed synopsis! I asked when I'd be expected to let her see book 2 and she said I could either provide a bit at a time or finish it and then let her see it. I went for the latter - I'd much rather finish a draft and then edit it into shape than send in 3 or 4 chapters that I might end up changing later anyway. My editor suggested next September as a delivery date and I agreed that that sounded do-able.

So about an hour into the meeting my editor suggested that we go to lunch. She took us to a lovely restaurant in Covent Garden and ordered each of us a glass of champagne and toasted me (so weird!) and then we perused the menu. I had king prawns and squid for starter and swordfish for main and a coffee instead of dessert. We mostly talked about non-writing things over lunch and the next two hours flew by.

Goodbyes were said and then I headed home.

So there you go - my not-very-terrifying-at-all meeting with my publishers! There are more people to meet in the future (there's an authors' party in January that I'm really looking forward to - apparently the last one was at the Royal Opera House with unlimited champagne!) and lots of work to be done but it's all really exciting stuff.

And I'm not going to feel stressed about book two (much!).

Friday, 12 December 2008

Fake vs Real (aka the bizarre conversations you have at your work Christmas do)

First things first. I've got a question for you...

If I were to say to you, "Fake or real?" what would you think I was asking about?

Hold that answer in your head.

The conversation started off innocently enough with a discussion about who'd bought an artificial Christmas tree and who'd bought a real one. We discussed the number of people needed to carry a real tree home, the maximum distance you could be expected to lug it without the help of a car or taxi, and how many months you can expect to be sweeping up pine needles after Christmas is over.

Then the conversation swiftly changed to another subject.

About an hour later one of my male colleagues turned back to us (myself and two female colleagues).

"It's unanimous," he said.

"Sorry?" we chorused.

"On the fake verse real debate," he said.

"Sorry?" we repeated.

"All the boys are in agreement."

Three brows knitted in confusion.

"About fake verses real," he said. "And what that conjures up."

"Boobs!" I said.

Male workmate nodded. My two female colleagues did not.

"We thought you were talking about orgasms," they said.

I raised an eyebrow. "Surely everyone thinks boobs when asked 'fake or real?'"

They shrugged.

"I immediately thought orgasms," said female colleague to my right.

"Why don't you ask that bloke what he thinks," suggested female colleague to my left, pointing to a gay gentleman on the next table.

The colleague to my right tapped the guy at the next table on the shoulder.

"Excuse me?" she said. "If someone were to say 'fake or real' to you what would you think they were talking about?"

"Handbags," he said.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Progress and links

Book 2 is going well *touches wood*. I've been writing every other day and that seems to be working for me. On writing days I manage about 1,000 words before my brain goes 'that's enough' and shuts down. On the days that I don't write my brain still thinks about my novel and I've had ideas for various scenes/bits of dialogue/funny bits on the train, on the sofa, at work, right before I fall asleep. Pretty much everywhere really. As a result I've now got lots of scribbled notes on the backs of envelopes, important letters and, very occasionally, actually in my notebook. Hmmm...time to transfer them all to my index cards so I've got them all in one place.

Anyway, I've got a secret weapon for those days when I'm supposed to write but the words won't come...

Write or Die!

I first saw this linked to on Sally's blog and I think it's a genius idea. Basically you set yourself a word goal and the amount of time you're giving yourself to write those words (2 hours max) and then you choose the mode you want - from gentle (if you stop writing the screen gradually goes red and you get a pop up message telling you to get writing) to normal (screen goes red plus scary noise if you stop writing) to kamikaze (if you stop writing it starts deleting your words!!! Not recommended).

On the subject of links...

Do you ever find yourself using the same physically descriptions over and over again to express certain moods e.g. she frowned, he bit his bottom lip, she glared, he folded his arms etc (it's easily done over the course of 80-100,000 words!). If so check out the site below:

Body language cues to emotion

I don't recommend you use the exact words/phrases used on the site but it's certainly useful for thinking about the way a character might physically show that they're defensive/nervous etc.

Book 2 word count: 3,087 / 90,000 (3.4% written)

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Time to stop faffing...

...and get writing!

"I won't start writing book 2 until I've tidied up my desk," I told myself earlier this week.


"I won't start writing until I've had my new book shelf put up next to my desk," I thought. "I need all my 'how to' books near me before I get started."


"I need a white/cork board next to the desk."


"I just need to print out my synopsis and breakdown of the first 9 scenes and pin them to the board."


"I just need to read through my notes on book 2."


"If I created some images of my characters and pinned them to the board that would help me visualise my characters as I write the novel."


"I need to set up a new word counter for this book on my blog"

And then the realisation hit me - all this is well and good but what you actually should be doing Calistro is WRITING the damned thing!

So I got started today.

I fired up my old favourite YWriter and started at the very beginning of book 2 - chapter 1, scene 1. At first I felt a bit self-conscious and the words stumbled out of me as my internal editor awoke and started mumbling, "that's not very good," and "bit of a weak opening there," and "are you sure this is the best way to start?" but I forced my way onwards and, before I knew it, I had 1,289 brand news words.

It's a good start.

I wrote book 1 in 3 months and 3 weeks but didn't have much of a life outside of work and writing. This time around I'm going to give myself 6 months to finish the first draft so, fingers crossed, I should be finished by 5th June. That's 3,750 words a week if I want to write a 90,000 word first draft. Or 1,250 words 3x a week. Perfectly do-able.

I hope.

I'm still a bit nervous about getting 20,000 words in and realising the book isn't working and needs to be ditched (like I did with the original idea for book 2) but I'm feeling positive and I'm enjoying getting to know my new characters. And besides, with all four of them staring down at me from the cork board on the wall, it's not like I'm going to be able to forget about them!

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Good news and bad news

There has been good news and bad news today.

The bad news is.... of my stories was rejected by Woman's Weekly.


The good news is... of my stories was bought by Take a Break Fiction Feast.


It's one of the stories I wrote for my Story a Fortnight group and my second 'SAF' sale since the group started back in April. As a group we've now had TEN sales and I couldn't be more grateful to the girls for their enthusiasm, dedication and fantastic prompts!

Here's to doubling that 10 to 20 in 2009 girls! ;o)

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

What's in a name?

My surname is very common, my first name is not, and if you type my full name into Facebook you'll only find 9 matches. In fact, if you type my name into google most of the results that come up are to do with me (but not the poetry, that's definitely not mine!).

So imagine my surprise when I tuned into Holby City (a medical drama for those not from the UK) on BBC 1 tonight to find that one of the 'extra' characters had EXACTLY the same name as me!

It's really quite disconcerting to watch your name-doppelganger slip into a coma while the doctors desperately shout her name and try to save her!

How about you? Have you ever watched a TV programme/film/play where a character has the same first and last name as you? Did you find it a bit freaky or am I on my own on this one?

Writers' Rooms - one for the voyeurs amongst us!

Are you curious about where other writers write? Want a peek into their rooms? Go here:

(link 'borrowed' from Scott Pack)

Fascinating stuff!

Seeing some of those rooms makes me want to ring up everyone who's every accused me of being messy so I can say, "You think I'm messy, look at THAT!"

And the writer with all the yellow post it notes on the wall - WOW! That's some serious plotting (at least that's what I assume it's for).

Hmmm...maybe I should get in touch with the photographer to offer him my a shot of my 'basement-like' writing room (although he'd probably say no because I'm not famous). Okay so it's not a basement (it's my bedroom) but my desk is wedged up against my bed and there isn't enough room to swing a mouse!

Monday, 1 December 2008


...a sign saying "Santa stop here"... the window of a Funeral Director's.

Is it just me or is that a tiny bit wrong?