Thursday, 28 May 2009


Just a quick note to let you all know that, as of tomorrow, I'll be in Greece! It's a week-long writing holiday ('Imagination and Voice') with other bits and bobs thrown in like yoga, stained glass making, wind surfing etc.

I'm hoping the course will inspire me (and give me a fab idea for book 3) and that I'll get the first draft of book 2 finished while I'm there but I'm going with an open mind. If I don't write a word and instead meet loads of new people, have a brilliant time and come back feeling all refreshed and inspired I'll be more than happy (a bit of a tan would be good too! ;)).

See you when I get back!

Sunday, 24 May 2009

It's a Wonderful (Publishing) Life...

A couple of days ago I noticed that people were posting messages on their blogs and Facebook about the fact that Salt Publishers, one of the very few independent presses to publish short stories and poetry, were in financial trouble and desperately needed people to buy 'Just One Book' to help their business survive.

I read around a bit, found out that everything I'd read was true, and went to visit Salt's website. I looked through all the short story anthologies and decided to buy "Balancing on the Edge of the World" by Elizabeth Baines. Then I twittered about the 'Just One Book' campaign and was delighted when some of my followers retweeted it.

Why did I feel so moved to help? Because I started off writing short stories (and I'll go on to write some more once I've finished the first draft of novel 2) and know how extraordinarily hard it can be to find a market for them. Those of us who write womag stories are lucky that Take a Break, Woman's Weekly et al pay quite well. Admittedly it's still a very tough market to crack but at least you're decently rewarded if you do sell one. When I was writing literary short stories the most I ever made from a sale was £15 - once to an Australian print mag and, on another occasion, to an American ezine. And it's not just about money. Writers like to see their work in print and fewer and fewer magazines are dedicated to short stories.

The market for short stories is tiny. It's almost impossible to get yourself an agent, even if you've pulled together a fantastic, prize-winning collection, because publishers just don't see big bucks in short story collections. Even in womag-world more and more magazines are closing their doors to fiction. So what's a short story writer to do? Where are they supposed to turn to see their work in print?

That's where Salt came in - they offered one of the very few havens for short story writers who wanted to see their work published and they've published some of the best - Vanessa Gebbie, Alex Keegan, Elizabeth Baines and Charles Lambert to name but a few. And let's not forget Tania Hershman whose short story collection, published by Salt, so impressed the judges of the Orange Prize for New Writers that she received a commendation.

If Salt folds it'll be another punch in the guts for short story writers, and readers, everywhere.

Today Salt published a blog post on the amazing response to their plea for 'Just One Book'. It's an amazingly honest post and I couldn't help but be touched by this paragraph:

"During the course of the day, a further 157 orders come in. Twitter is full of the news, our authors are picking up on the story. It seems as if everyone we’ve known is pulling together to save Salt. We’re overwhelmed. All I can think of is the closing scenes of Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life and Jen and I are James Stewart and Donna Reed. I wonder if it will continue, if it does, in 18 days we’ll be saved, in 30 we’ll be able to take the business forward."

It's only a couple of days into the campaign, not 18 and certainly not 30 and Salt still need you to buy a book. Buy one from their website or the Book Depository or Amazon, they really don't mind. Just please, if you've ever enjoyed reading a short story or dreamed of seeing one of yours in print, buy one book. It would be such a shame if they became another business that tried, and failed, to support short story writers.

Here's the Salt website again if you want to have a look (you could buy some poetry if short stories aren't your thing!).

PS. If you're a short story writer and you've ever wondered what kind of story wins a literary competition you could buy any one of the books I've listed in this post and you'll find the answer - many of their prize-winning stories are included.

Friday, 22 May 2009

8 Things Meme

My blog has been a teeny bit angsty and very 'me and my book' recently so I've decided to rectify that a bit.

I was going to blog about how busy I am at work, how stressed I am as I try to sell my flat and how I'm struggling to balance a social life and writing but, er, well, that's all a bit angsty isn't it?!

So, to keep in line with my previous post, I'm going to steal content from someone else's blog again. This time I'm stealing the 8 things meme from Karen!

8 Things I look forward to

1. Holidays (I'm off on a Skyr0s writing holiday (Imagination and Voice) a week today and I...CAN...NOT...WAIT!)

2. Holding my published book in my hands for the first time

3. Finishing the first draft of book 2

4. Finishing the edits of book 2

5. Getting back to writing a few short stories for SAF

6. Chocolate

7. Seeing my niece

8. Weekend lie-ins

8 Things I did yesterday

1. Hid my dirty washing in my wardrobe because my laundry basket was over-flowing (see point 2)

2. Wandered round a crematorium remembrance garden in the sunshine (I was wiling away half an hour while someone viewed my flat)

3. Went to see 'A View from the Bridge' (by Arthur Miller) at the Theatre Royal. It was absolutely AMAZING and I recommend everyone sees it if they can.

4. Ate a Graze box containing chopped apple, chilli rice crackers and BBQ cashews (if you want to try one for free go to and enter the code WTGJVYMA)

5. Opened YWriter to see how many words I need to write a day to finish novel 2 by 6th June (six months from start of 1st draft). Realised it had gone up to 1,047. Closed YWriter.

6. Twittered

7. Returned from theatre and used the Virgin OnDemand function to watch the latest episode of Katie & Peter

8. Read some more of Kate Harrison's excellent "The Secret Shopper's Revenge".

8 Things I wish I could do

1. Worry less.

2. Sing.

3. Fly

4. Travel by blinking my eyes and then magically appearing in my chosen destination

5. Cook

6. Procrastinate less

7. Play a musical instrument really well

8. Lose weight without exercising more or eating less

8 Shows I watch

1. Heroes

2. Lost

3. America's Next Top Model

4. Katie and Peter

5. 24

6. Grey's Anatomy

7. The Apprentice

8. Jools Holland

If you'd like to do this meme too - just steal it!

Shamelessly stolen from Keris

Because it made me grin - and well up a bit too! I love these Flash mob things. The shock, swiftly followed by childlike delight, gets me every time.

Keris's blog:

Friday, 15 May 2009

When your family reads your book

When I met up with my publisher in Liberty's the other month some of the girls expressed astonishment that no one, other than them and my agent, had read my book.

In fact, when I confessed that I'd refused to let my mum read it they looked so shocked that my cheeks went a bit warm and I felt like the world's worst daughter!

But there were three reasons why I didn't want my family to read my novel until a book-shaped proof was available:

1) I didn't want them to have to read 300+ page of A4 printer paper!
2) I wanted it to be as perfect as possible
3) I wanted my parents to see the 'For my parents' dedication in the front

Oh yes, and there's a four...

4) I was scared shitless!

Agents and publishers are supposed to like your book - they wouldn't have signed you if they didn't - but releasing your book to the 'real world' is a whole different ball game. People have different tastes, strong opinions, likes and dislikes etc etc and it's not part of their job description to bolster your ego!

And if there's one thing my family is very good at - it's being honest (often too honest) and expressing their opinions! When I first started secondary school I was often accused of being 'tactless' and that's definitely a family trait.

So yes, I was scared about sharing my book with them. Scared that if they responded with "it was okay" or "I didn't like X bit much" or "I though that scene with A and B was a bit unbelievable" I'd be horribly, terribly crushed (you're never to old to want your family to be proud of you are you?)

So when the proofs came out I bit the bullet and sent a copy to my Mum.

She started reading it on a Saturday morning, texting me sporadically to tell me what page she was on.

But Sunday night I felt a bit sick.

Then there was a text - she loved it, she was hugely proud of me and she was going to buy copies for all the teachers at her school for Christmas!

Apparently she liked it so much (and went on about it so much) my dad asked if he could read it next. Dad wanting to read a book, any book is a huge deal. In fact, I can't ever remember him reading anything other than a newspaper or gardening or DIY manual.

And he loved it too and texted me to say how much he enjoyed my characters and that I'd obviously inherited his sense of humour!

Then my soon-to-be-sister in law asked to read it. And emailed me to say she was "weeping with joy" and that it had made her laugh and cry and that I was "the best writer ever" (I think I might have to marry her now!)

Then my brother and sister read it. They've both inherited the 'I don't do reading' gene from my dad. In fact, my twenty-six year-old brother told me that the last book he'd read was "Stig of the Dump" when he was 15!

My sister read the book from cover to cover in six hours and said it was "addictive" and posted a note on Facebook to tell all her friends that she loved it and to order it off Amazon.

A couple of days later my brother finished it. Now out of my whole family he's the one that worried me the most. As much as I love him my little brother's favourite sport is taking the piss out of me so I was fully expecting to hear "I could have written it better" or "people paid you for that?" but no...his Amazon status said

"finally read his biggest sister's book. A clever ending, couldn't see that one coming, good twists and turns, but my god, I'm not reading again until book no.2!"

So that's it. My entire (close) family have now read my book and I've survived unscathed.

Scratch that. It sounds too negative.

My entire (close) family have now read my book and their reactions have made me impossibly happy.

It's taken me thirty-five years but I've finally made them proud.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009


I've just discovered where that Neil Gaiman quote came from - it was from a pep talk page for NaNoWriMo.

There are loads of other inspiring author pep talks on it.

Go take a look:

Novel fatigue and why I love Neil Gaiman

How far are you through the first draft of your novel?




According to YWriter I'm 0.09% away from hitting 75% of the way through novel 2 (assuming the final draft will be 90,000 words and won't mysteriously grow to 100,000 words like novel 1 did!) and I've been browsing other writers' websites, gawping at the number of novels they've written (check out Carole Matthew's astonishing list of published books for example!), assuming it came easy to them and feeling like I'm the only author in the world to struggle with her second novel (I'm not).

Nothing I told myself (including, "Don't you realise how bloody lucky you are to be in this situation!") was making me feel any better.

Until someone posted this snippet from a Neil Gaiman blog post on one of my writing forums...

"The last novel I wrote (it was ANANSI BOYS, in case you were wondering) when I got three-quarters of the way through I called my agent. I told her how stupid I felt writing something no-one would ever want to read, how thin the characters were, how pointless the plot. I strongly suggested that I was ready to abandon this book and write something else instead, or perhaps I could abandon the book and take up a new life as a landscape gardener, bank-robber, short-order cook or marine biologist. And instead of sympathising or agreeing with me, or blasting me forward with a wave of enthusiasm---or even arguing with me---she simply said, suspiciously cheerfully, "Oh, you're at that part of the book, are you?"

I was shocked. "You mean I've done this before?"

"You don't remember?"

"Not really."

"Oh yes," she said. "You do this every time you write a novel. But so do all my other clients."

I didn't even get to feel unique in my despair.

So I put down the phone and drove down to the coffee house in which I was writing the book, filled my pen and carried on writing.

... and suddenly I felt a whole load more enthusiastic about novel 2!

So thanks Mr Gaiman. I'm going to buy one of your books now to show my appreciation!*

* I know - so shameful that I've never read one of his books before. Anyone got a recommendation for which book I should start with?

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Ta daaaaaaaaa!

Want to know what's freaky?

a) This is pretty much how I always imagined my book cover would look but my publishers came up with it all on their own-some.

b) That street looks so much like my street that if you were to go through that door on the left, up the stairs and turn left that's pretty much my flat that Lucy (main character) is standing in!

When it's printed and a proper book (rather than a flat image) there will be glitter/sparkes in the sky and Spot UV (which I think is a kind of printing technique that makes certain bits of the illustration stand out/adds texture) but yep, this is pretty much what my book is going to look like :)

What do you think?

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Buenas noticias!

What does the blog title mean? For those of you that don't speak Spanish (and I've got got a grade C GCSE so I cheated and used an online translator!) it means 'good news'!

I was in a right grump the other day - long story short I've decided to sell the poky 1 bedroom flat where I've lived for the last 7 years and get a 2 bed place (so I've got a separate room to write in) and the lease is costing a bloody fortune to extend and there's no way I can get out of it.

Anyway, I was so grumpy I wrote, on Twitter, "Dear Cosmos/gods of literature. Some good news would cheer me up right now, love CalistroWriter".

Then I went to see my solicitor.

When I came back an email was waiting for me from my agent...

My book's been sold to a Spanish publisher!

I'm flabbergasted.

It's not for much money but still...that's SIX countries (including the UK) that are now going to publish my book!!! (The others being Russia, Hungary, Brazil and Germany).

That's SIX different covers!

So yes, I'm a very happy bunny.

Errrr...apart from the fact that I'm 14,000 words behind my (self-imposed) schedule for book 2 (currently at 70% of the way through the first draft). That's not good.

Still, I have a plan. One that involves lots of words on Saturday and Monday. Hopefully it'll help.

I'm already dreading the editing. I was lucky with book 1 in that it all seemed to fall together fairly easily but book 2 is going to need some quite substantial editing including a whole new subplot, some extensive tweaks to one of the main characters and a total reinvention of one of the more minor characters and a whole lot more funny.

But I'm not freaking out.


Second Book Syndrome. It's alive. It's well. And it's living in my head.

Time for a new letter to the Cosmos/gods of literature....