Sunday, 6 April 2014

Creative Process Blog Tour, or Whatever Floats Your Boat

HMS Creativity

Having been kindly tagged in Rachel Howard’s blog to produce my own little missive for the Creative Process Blog Tour, I sat down to answer the following questions.

1) What am I working on?
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
3) Why do I write what I do?
4) How does my writing process work?

And erk … I quickly realised there was only one question I could answer with any real clarity, and that’s the first one.

1) What am I working on?
Well, I’m working on a women’s novel at the moment. And when I say ‘working’, what I mean of course is staring at my computer for days on end, stamping my feet, crying, tweeting, bleating, and meeting other desperate writers suffering from clinical angst and loss of faith in their ability to ever complete anything half decent ever again. Ever. (Ask me this same question on a good day and I might say something like, “I’m working on a women’s novel. It’s an exciting new direction for me and I’m having such fun writing for a grown-up audience, as opposed to the young teenagers I am used to. It’s liberating to have more complex characters and plot lines, with plenty of internal conflict, and I’m loving the opportunity to create a really sick baddie. Plus of course, I get to swear fucking loads.”) Today’s a bad day though; that’s why I am writing blog posts instead of chipping away at my literary Venus de Milo.

So onto questions 2, 3 and 4; let the vagaries begin.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
My writing differs from others of its genre because... but does it? Does it actually though? I write contemporary real life fiction, and I mean it’s obviously awesome and I’d like to think it was unique, but lots of people write awesome contemporary fiction. My brief flirtation with a traditional publisher led me to believe I was the second Jacqueline Wilson, because my stories put me in the ‘social issues’ camp, but they are more than just issue based. They are stories about ordinary people leading ordinary lives when something ordinary threatens to tear their world apart. Don’t you find that compelling? Because I do. I want to be Jacqueline Wilson meets John Green, at the fair, on the rollercoaster.

3) Why do I write what I do?
I write what I do because it’s what I know. I am an ordinary person leading an ordinary life and on more than one occasion, something ordinary has threatened to tear my world apart. But I’m still here and most days I’m happy and some days I’m not. The stories are pulled from the emotional vibrations which lie between those potentially life changing events. They are my means of expression, so could that be why I write what I do? Pah, *shrugs* who knows?

4) How does my writing process work?
Ummm, well, an idea comes to me and I mull it over, consciously and/or unconsciously for weeks, months, or even years, and then I put pen to paper and start writing. I don’t plan in detail. Sometimes I don’t plan at all.  I’ve started a book with nothing but a title before now, although not recently. I’ve tried to plan more. But really, my writing process is still evolving and I think it always will be. All I can tell you for definite is that I spend a whole lot longer editing than I do writing the first draft, and that at some point (during the creative process) I will fall in love with my work, hate my work, get despondent about my ability, think I am the greatest writer of my time, laugh, cry, enjoy the richness and beauty of language, think about my mum, miss my dog, drink too much coffee, plan what I’m going to have for dinner, play Words with Friends, be bold, be brave, shrink and hide away, write through the pain … and somewhere at the end of all that, I will hopefully have a book I’m proud to share with the world.

I ♥ being creative
One thing I will say about the creative process is that it's exhilarating, awesome and unpredictable. And if you look back through past bloggers on the Creative Process Blog Tour, you will find that no two writers approach creativity in the same way. When it comes to creation, my best advice is, do whatever floats your boat.

So now I am going to pass the buck to Kate Hanney, Marnie Riches and Emma Haughton, whom I met through SCBWI some years ago, and who are now my good friends.

Kate Hanney lives in Sheffield with her partner, two young children and an assortment of pets. By day she teaches English to teenagers who have social, emotional and behavioural difficulties, and by night - and whenever she finds two minutes to put together - she writes books. So far, Kate has published three novels for young adults, all of which fall into the gritty, contemporary realism genre. She is currently working on a sequel to one of these, and also an adult novel.
Find her blog here
Find her on Twitter here
Find her on Facebook here 


Marnie Riches, aka The Horrormoanal Woman, grew up on a rough estate in Manchester. With the ability to talk utter rubbish in five different languages, she ended up graduating from Cambridge University. She has been a punk, a trainee rock star, a pretend artist, a property developer and professional fundraiser. Having authored the first six books of HarperCollins Children’s Time-Hunters series, she also writes crime thrillers for adults. Represented by Caspian Dennis of Abner Stein.
Find her Horrormoanal Woman Blog here
Find her on Twitter here
Find her on Facebook here


Emma Haughton is a one-time family and travel journalist turned YA writer. Her first YA thriller, Now You See Me, is published by Usborne on 1st May 2014; her second, Better Left Buried, is coming out in May 2015.
Find Emma’s blog here
Find her on Twitter here
Find her on Facebook here 


Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Feel the fear and run for the hills, by Emma Haughton

I am delighted to welcome back Emma Haughton for this week's guest post. In case you missed her last post, you can find it here. Otherwise, settle down and read on ...

The worst is definitely over, right?
First you face the blank screen. You feel the fear and you write that damn novel anyway, and then you’re out enduring the agonies of the submission process. You get lucky – you get your agent, your longed-for publishing deal. Time to kick back your heels. You’ve crawled your way to the top of the mountain, and all that’s left now is to enjoy the panorama below. The worst is definitely over, right?

Err, no. Sadly not. Climb to the top of the ‘I’m being published’ peak and what faces you are the many slopes that still lie ahead. And they’re steep. Scary steep.

Welcome to the world of a soon-to-be-published writer, as bewildering as it is daunting. First stop post deal – the structural edits. My publisher, Usborne, presented me with a formidable list of things I needed to do to make Now You See Me into a proper book. I wasn’t at all convinced I could manage them all; hell, I wasn’t sure I even understood half of them.

Nothing to do but bite the bullet – short of handing back the advance and running for the hills. And sure enough, when I sat down and went through the editing notes systematically, marking up what I needed to do on the manuscript, I found I not only agreed with most of their points, but executing them would definitely make Now You See Me into a better book. And after the ordeal of the first set of edits, the second felt like a doddle.

Then there was the title. Now You See Me has a rich history. It started life as Coming Home, which morphed into Welcome Home when I landed my agent and publishing deal. There was a brief spell where it looked like it was going to be called Missing, then we settled on Nowhere Boy. Great, I thought, finally I can go out there are start referring to it by name, as opposed to My First Book.

Sadly not. After feedback from various trade outlets, Usborne decided we needed a new title – Now You See Me is the result. That’s what it says on the cover, and I’m sticking to it.

Talking of covers, there’s another hurdle. As a writer, you quickly discover you don’t really get much say over the images that will adorn the front of your book. This is the province of the art department, in conjunction with marketing – they, after all, are the experts in what will help sell it and what won’t. I got lucky there. I loved my cover from the very first moment I saw it. I loved the startling imagery and the sophisticated cross-over feel. Not to mention that gorgeous zingy green.

So far, so promising, but as the months dwindled towards the May 1st publication day, I faced other challenges. Principally building a platform, which entailed whole new learning curves on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites. Not to mention having to design and commission a website, and create a blog for it. Luckily all this has been a pretty enjoyable, and I’ve made lots of new friends along the way. And thanks to a great training day with Author Profile, sponsored by Usborne, I at least have a small clue what I’m doing.

With just one month to go to publication, I won’t deny I’m still apprehensive. I know there’s plenty more hills to climb – reviews, ratings, sales – not to mention those terrifying first appearances at schools, bookshops and festivals as a bona fide author. But at least I’m following a well-trodden path, and I’ve got plenty of people cheering me on. I might never get to the very top of the mountain, but at least I’ve enjoyed some seriously great views along the way.


Emma Haughton is a one-time family and travel journalist turned YA writer. Her first YA thriller, Now You See Me, is published by Usborne on 1st May 2014; her second, Better Left Buried, is coming out in May 2015.


Visit Emma’s website for more details, or connect with her on Facebook or @Emma_Haughton on Twitter.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

#AmEditing

I'm editing at the moment -- hence the recent interruption to blogging -- and I am finding it all-consuming. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE editing, but with this particular novel, I did such a bad job on my first splurged draft there is a long and difficult editing journey ahead.

Seriously, my first draft was like this...
Avoid the obstacles and carry on...
I made it from A to B to C, but that's about all.
So now I'm faced with something like this...
Dead ends

One dimensional characters
Pot holes Plot holes
And there are no short cuts to putting them right.

I'm chipping away, little by little, day by day; sculpting this giant blot on my creative landscape into something meaningful and clever. And I'm not going to give up until I've told the story in the best possible way. It might look something like this...

Every page a thing of beauty
Or this...
Every character in her place















Or this...
Every spider perfectly formed

(Or all of the above.) But however it ends up, it may take some time...

So apologies for the lull in blogging. I'm not being tardy, I'm actually being quite creative. And having lots of fun.

Being creative means making some mess along the way...

Sunday, 19 January 2014

How long is a piece of string?

"It's 90,000 I tell you, Fool!"
"We'll see about that," said Roger.
I'm writing a book with a friend. She says it needs to be 90,000 words, and I say it will be as long as it will be. So obviously, instead of the usual pistols at dawn scenario, we turned to Mrs Google.

There are no end of blog posts about the subject, and it actually appears that lots of people agree with my friend, lots of other people think it can be much shorter and lots of people think it can be much longer. What Mrs Google appears to be telling me is that a women's novel can be anything between 50,000 and 250,000, although if it is your debut novel both are unlikely to be published traditionally. (Unless of course it is a work of utter undeniable genius, as ours will surely be.) A more normal range appears to be between 60,000 and 125,000, so although I am loathe to admit it, my friend's middling 90k target was sort of right.

After a hard days work,
Mrs Google enjoys a hearty sing song.
Except that I stand by what I said. Of course. Our story will be as long as it needs to be.

But what I want to know is, do other people write to fit a word count, or do you you write to tell the story? And if you do write to a word count, what do you do if you fall way short or go massively over?

Answers below, or on a postcard please...

Yes, but how long is a piece of string?


Monday, 6 January 2014

Imposter Syndrome

Call yourself a rabbit?
In theory, I am now ready to run, downhill all the way, into finishing the first set of edits on my women’s novel. I’m so nearly there…

But it has been three weeks since I last sat down to write, and in that three weeks Christmas, New Year, relatives, and the lack of routine have all been niggling away at me, whispering from cupboard tops and scratching the surface of my writer’s veneer. “Call yourself a writer?” they say. “Everyone else is better than you,” they mock. “Faker!” they sing, in tune with my morning alarm.

It’s not uncommon for me to have these bouts of self-doubt, and I know many of my writing friends who feel the same. When you self publish, you never get that moment of signing on the dotted line of a big fat book deal which signals you’ve ‘made it’, and external validation comes along drip by drop. Great reviews are always nice, connecting with appreciative readers is lovely, and sales of course are always good for the ego, and these continue even when you’re not writing. But it’s the writing, and writing more, which feeds the soul and cancels out the voices in my head; when I don’t write, when I have a ‘break’, the voices get louder and I can only ignore them for so long before they are shouting, “Imposter!”

Meerkats are the real cats.
The impostor syndrome, as it happens, is a genuine psychological phenomenon characterised by self-doubt, a sense of incompetence, fear, immobility and stress. Sufferers chalk up their accomplishments to luck, being in the right place at the right time, fluke. They may shy away from challenges, beat themselves up over mistakes and feel crushed by criticism. Chiefly, they live in fear of being found out.

For the most part, we don’t verbalise these feelings; we don’t put them into words. They are the hidden persuaders who lurk unseen and unacknowledged. When I am writing, when I am feeling good about myself, I can ignore them. But after a three week break, erk… they are starting to get on my nerves.

Dr. Valerie Young, a leading expert on the impostor syndrome, believes it's particularly persistent in creative fields such as acting or writing, where you think you're only as good as your last effort. She quotes Maya Angelou on her website… “I have written eleven books, but each time I think, uh-oh they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody and they’re going to find me out.” Mike Myers… “At any time I still expect that the no-talent police will come and arrest me.” And Meryl Streep… “You think, ‘Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie? And I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?’”
"I don't think they've spotted me yet," said a hopeful Mr Pickles.

So what’s the answer? Well there is a wealth of advice out there, including these top tips…
1. Talk about it
2. Write a list of all you have accomplished
3. Stop comparing yourself to others
4. Accept that you are not perfect, but neither is anyone else
5. Do what makes you happy…

Okay – so I don’t know if I am going to rush headlong into numbers 1 to 4, but even acknowledging the problem here has helped me a little, and I’m now ready to climb back up that hill, put on my running shoes and have me some fun.

Do you feel like joining me on the downhill leg?

Wheeeeeeeee!

Monday, 9 December 2013

10 Reasons why writing a book is a lot like falling in love

  1. The early stages of a relationship are wonderful. You feel euphoric; excited to wake up every day and see what joy will come your way.
  2. The early stages of a relationship are frustrating and scary and you feel exhausted. 
    Ahhh... love's young dream
  3. Either way, it’s hard to concentrate on anything else. Your new relationship, (with a book or a person) consumes your energy, focus, and time, to the point where everything else can just wait. You can't stop thinking about this new love.
  4. Normal every day things (eating, cleaning, friends and ringing your mum) start to annoy you because can’t they see this is important? There’s nothing wrong with becoming a recluse. Is there?
  5. You start to obsess, night and day, about your future together. Are you a match made in heaven? Will you go all the way? Is this one they’ll want to make into a Hollywood love story?
  6. Love is blind and you won’t hear a word said against your dazzling partner. You will probably idealise them for a while, magnifying their virtues and overlooking their flaws.
  7. When you first fall out, it’s total disaster! You cry and turn to your friends for help. But they are treading a fine line between critical support and unwanted criticism.
  8. You start to feel insecure and needy. You want constant reassurance. What if all this has been for nothing? You might even rush to seal the relationship deal, just to put an end to these uncomfortable feelings, even though you know there is still work to be done.
  9. Alternatively, you might decide that you need some time apart. But that’s difficult too because even when you are apart you are constantly reminded of the good times you once spent together…
  10. You will eventually go your separate ways. Don’t start a new relationship too soon; your heart is still somewhere else and nobody wants a rebound book…
"You said you wanted to make me happy forever," said Vladimir.
"I didn't expect to live so long..." replied Clara.




Saturday, 7 December 2013

I am on the list...

... of The Guardian Readers' recommended self-published authors! 

Back in June, The Guardian Newspaper asked readers to tell them about the best self-published books they had discovered, and out of over 3,200 authors, they featured just 34 'great authors', including me!

Can't tell you what a compliment that is, after all the hard work which goes into writing a book and then publicising it, so I'd just like to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who recommended my book, Bring Me Sunshine. You have made me very happy.

Get your signed copy of Bring Me Sunshine (FINALIST in the Mslexia Children's Novel Competition 2012/13) here...

Also available in paperback or Kindle from Amazon UK and Amazon US
and other online retailers.

Have a go at the BRING ME SUNSHINE jigsaw!

KS2 and KS3 Schools' Resources Packs for Bring Me Sunshine also available - FREE!

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Free Dog

I am a BIG fan of comedy. I watch practically nothing else on TV and when I do venture out from my writing shell, I like to see comedy live. I’ve never written comedy because a) I don’t know how, and b) a part of me is scared about uncovering a formula which might destroy the magic. It’s one of the reasons I’ve become so picky about what I read – because I read as a writer and can’t help but notice ‘flaws’.

But this week, when someone asked very nicely for my help with a comedy routine I couldn’t say no, and thought I’d better have a proper look to see how it works.

And it turns out that these guys aren’t just funny, they really know how to tell a story. They’ve got it all there – a solid story structure (setting, set up, rising actions, climax, falling actions and resolution) beautiful conflict, well formed characters, bags of show not tell via some rich and hilariously emotive language, and lots of laughs too.

Here’s Bill Burr talking about getting a ‘free dog’.



Bill Burr’s facial expressions are brilliant, and his one liners are very funny, but for me this works as a routine because it is a great story, is perfectly structured, is brimming with conflict and has some properly funny characters.

I’ve got a new respect for comedians after analysing this. I just hope I can still enjoy them as much as I used to.



Friday, 15 November 2013

I’VE GOT 5 REWRITING PROBLEMS AND A SCRIPT AIN’T ONE

Lucy V Hay
Guest post by Lucy V aka @Bang2write

So this week I’ve been rewriting my novel.

Well, I *say* rewriting my novel, what I’ve actually been doing is this:

Reading and re-reading the manuscript
Pacing up and down a lot
Drinking coffee
Baiting other writers on Twitter
Doing other work
Swearing
Phoning my husband at work and leaving him long bleating voicemails about how this book will NEVER be finished
Emailing writer friends and sorting out THEIR problems instead
Freaking out on Facebook

So in other words, I’ve not really got any rewriting done at all.

Why is rewriting so hard? Well, unhelpfully that can depend on the project. For me, this time around, it’s very specific. It’s a problem of tone. As this novel is a companion to another which was very gritty and realistic, this one is simply too … OTT, ie. it’s not based in reality “enough”. (I already knew this before I got the feedback that confirmed it, which made it all the more difficult somehow – GRRR!).

Dealing with writers in my other job as a script editor however, I would say writers’ main issues with rewriting are actually psychological and cover the following:

1) “I’m not good enough”.

You need confidence to be a writer and no one’s going to validate you; you have to believe in yourself. And if you don’t? You find yourself paralysed with indecision or worse, fear. Ergo no writing gets done. So believe in yourself. Do whatever it takes. Only you can know what that is.

2) “I’m so confused.”

Lots is made of getting something down on paper – anything  - and then “just editing/rewriting it later”. And if you have problems finishing (ooh Matron), then this is a good tactic. However, if your central concept does not work or you’re not sure of your motivations for writing that piece in the first place, then you can really flounder later on. Sometimes, doing whatever it takes and putting in the time at FOUNDATION level can mean less rewriting. Honest guv!

3) “It’s up to others to validate me”.

Unless you’re a hobby writer, there comes a point when a work has to go out into the big bad world. Others will see it and rate it – and the savvy writer knows that these are only OPINIONS, not facts. So what if someone says you’re a crap writer? But equally, who cares if someone says you’re a GOOD writer! Seriously! The key here is – DOES THE STORY WORK? That’s what you must know. Don’t let yourself off the hook worrying if it’s “good” or not.

4) I don’t want to “kill my darlings”.

Look, I get it. You’ve spent ages over this writing and made all kinds of sacrifices both personal and financial to get it done.  As a result, if you rip out *this scene/ chapter/character and/or return to page 1, you feel like all that time is wasted. But guess what: it’s NOT wasted if it means you get to where the story *should* be. Holding on to flawed pages will never cut it. Doing whatever it takes WILL (are you beginning to see a theme here?).

5) Writer as serial killer: killing darlings TOO MUCH.

Over the years, many of my Bang2writers have fallen in love with the simple ACT of writing and sabotage themselves another way: they rewrite their projects literally TO DEATH. As a result, again: they never finish. Throw those flawed pages away; move on to the good stuff – and RECOGNISE IT WHEN YOU SEE IT. That’s a skill itself. And guess what you have to do to learn it: whatever it … right! See you get it.

So, don’t let these errant thoughts get in the way of your rewriting … Because, as I’ve found out this week, there’s plenty of other ways to derail you, so why add to the list?? Good luck!

BIO:

Lucy V Hay is a script editor, novelist and blogger who helps writers via her Bang2write consultancy. Lucy is author of the book, WRITING AND SELLING THRILLER SCREENPLAYS (Creative Essentials) and the novels, THE DECISION: ELIZABETH’S STORY and THE DECISION: JASMINE’S STORY, both out in 2014.

Introduce yourself to Lucy on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Authors for Philippines

This is an online auction to raise money for the Red Cross’s Typhoon Haiyan Appeal.

Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippines on Friday (8 November), causing catastrophic damage. It is the strongest storm ever to make landfall, hitting an area where thousands of people are already homeless after an earthquake in mid-October.

The 300-mile wide typhoon – locally known as Yolanda – has left a trail of destruction with thousands feared dead. The full extent of the damage will become clearer in the next few days as rescue teams reach the more remote areas.

Philippine Red Cross volunteers have been on the ground since before the storm hit, helping with evacuation plans and warning communities. Now, they are getting aid to the people who are most in need and preparing to help thousands more.

The auction is now live and you can bid on the items via the comments on the individual posts.

Once the auction has ended (Wednesday 20th November), the winning bidder will donate the funds directly to the Red Cross and send the confirmation of payment to the Authors for Philippines appeal. When they have received the confirmation, they'’ll ask the relevant author to contact the winning bidder.

If you’re interested in bidding on an item, please see the Browsing & Bidding page.

If you’re an author who would like to offer an item for auction, please email authorsforphilippines@gmail.com

I am offering a read and review of your YA manuscript (up to 60,000 words), plus signed copies of my books, Bring Me Sunshine and Where Bluebirds Fly, plus I will name a character after you in my soon to be completed story – How to be Lucky!

If you would like to bid on my lot in this auction, you can do so here.