Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Pillar to post

Oh god, there's so much conflicting information on how to approach agents that my heads spinning.

'Make sure you ALWAYS include a SAE with the postage paid for them to return your manuscript.'
'NEVER include a SAE. It's like you're telling them it isn't good enough and needs to be sent back.'
'Be HONEST about your credentials on your covering letter.'
'Don't be afraid to EMBELLISH the truth. Remember, you're selling yourself.'
'Tell them the WORD COUNT in your covering letter.'
'As for the word count. DON'T include it.'

Why isn't there just one method of doing this? It's. Never. Simple.

I kind of get it though. When I desperately used to browse the Internet for tips on landing that perfect job straight from university, I encountered the same issue. The truth is, there's no right way of doing things, just a way that's worked for some people.

I have the added pressure of my day job. It's tough and takes up a lot of head space. I go for walks quite often and, with my classic rock blasting in my headphones, I think about my writing and possible ideas for a follow up to my novel. I did the same last night and realised when I got home that I had no idea what songs I'd been listening to and had instead been practising what I was going to say during today's presentation. I was annoyed with myself. I'd been at work all day and the few hours I get in the evening should be dedicated to my book.

However, I just have to reside myself to the fact my 'real life' will sometimes win the battle. That's...well, life I suppose.

Sometimes I'm tempted to stay up all night so I can work on the book but I know my life won't be worth living if I don't get any sleep. No, I need to get through my stressful work week and concentrate on the weekend ahead - that's when I'll be reunited with my great love.



Ps. If I start blogging at daft times in the night then feel free to scold me and send me to bed!

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Back to the scene of the crime

I'm still struggling to write my synopsis and it's making me question elements of the book and whether I need to do another serious cut. If the truth be told I'm really not enjoying it and whenever I sit down to work on it, I'll use any excuse to distract myself.

Make a cup of tea
Put some washing in
Make another cup of tea

I've now firmly got my 'business' head on and the actual story that I've dedicated myself to for so long has taken a backseat to agent research, editing, and that bloody synopsis. I knew the day was going to come where I'd have to take off my creative hat but it's hard.

Yesterday I visited an old friend in Manchester and I found myself back in the place where the book started. I began writing Driving Exile four years ago as a bit of a joke before I upped sticks to Liverpool. My main character is from Manchester and a lot of the scenes at the start are set in the City Centre so I used the opportunity in the spare hour I had to just have a wander and remember what inspired me in the first place.

I sat in the same Starbucks my lead character does during an uncomfortable early scene that shapes the the events of the book. I drank it all in and tried to get some perspective. It's easy to forget that early process when you get the first spark of an idea which then snowballs into a full blown story. It's an amazing moment and one that had slipped to the back of my mind until yesterday.

I've also been slightly obsessed (you may be able to tell by my Tweets) with re-runs of VH1's Behind the Music documentaries. I grew up on a diet of music documentaries as well as stories and trivia from my Dad and this undoubtedly shaped the book. Watching the story of glam rockers Poison this morning, I couldn't help but smile as they talked about wild antics and in-fighting between the band members - all things I've spent the last few years writing about.

It all reminds me of those early creative days and just all the more determined to get the book published. It's a good book and I just need to get my head down and complete these necessary evils and stop bloody moaning about it.

If Poison's Bret Michaels can survive a subarachnoid hemorrhage then I can sure as hell write a synopsis. 



Tuesday, 21 June 2011

"I've got a book in me, you know..."

I mentioned to some of my work colleagues a while ago that I was working on a book. It was a comment made in passing that I thought nothing of but the reactions have been interesting.

Most responded in the way I wanted - complete ignorance. Others have shown a polite interest and then there are the ones who act quite strangely indeed. Case in point, a conversation that occurred last week...

"I've got a book in me, you know."
"I'm sorry?" I looked up at my colleague.
"Me," He said again, nodding. "I could write a book."
"Oh," I smiled, not quite sure what to say. "In that case, maybe you should."
"Can't," He shrugged nonchalantly. "I mean, I could if only I had the time."
I nodded enthusiastically and moved my chair closer to him, "But you should make the time if you really want to do it. If it's a dream."
"Yeah..." He rubbed his chin. "It's not that simple really, Em. You see, I've got quite a busy life. A lot going on. It's okay for someone like you."
I raised an eyebrow, "Oh, how's that?"
"Well," He started. "You're not married and you don't have children." He pointed at himself and flashed me a sympathetic smile. "I do."
"Yes, but-"
"So, what I'm saying is," He cocked his head to one side, "Someone like you has the time to write little stories."
"Hmm, maybe you're right," I said through gritted teeth, wheeling my chair back to the desk. "Perhaps there's not a book in you after all."
"There is. I'll get around to it when I'm retired."
"I'm sure you will."
"It's impossible for your first book to be a best-seller you know."
"Oh, well...Thanks for the advice."

This kind of conversation has happened a few times with different people and I can't figure out whether they think I'm really pathetic or that they're jealous in some way. I can't imagine why on earth it'd be the latter, it's not like I'm suddenly JK Rowling. I'm still sat at my desk furiously typing away, trying to tackle my ever increasing mountain of work.

No, perhaps they're not jealous of my 'success' but more the fact I remind them of the things they haven't done that they always promised they would. We all have a mental checklist of things we want to achieve and those crazy dreams never go away. Whether it's being signed to Manchester United, or playing a sell out concert at Madison Square Garden, we all believe there's a chance this could still happen, no matter how old and wrinkly we get.

It's true, everyone thinks they can write a novel but the fact is, most people never do. Someone like me, with my battered, over-read manuscript stuffed in my bag, reminds them of yet another thing they haven't done. Doesn't make me a better person. My tactless colleague probably has a wonderful family who are the centre of his universe. A family he loves more than anything and would die for if he had to.

Not too shabby eh?

And when you think like that, it suddenly feels silly to belittle someone who dreams of having her little stories on the shelves of Waterstones.



Sunday, 19 June 2011

Tick tock

Ah yes, tick tock indeed. At least that's the sound I'm currently listening to while sat in my Dads kitchen.

The sound of the clock ticking while I sip my peppermint tea and stare nervously at my copy of the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook 2011. I've marked it with half a dozen pink post-it's and now I'm just...staring at it.

I really don't have any excuses not to motor on anymore. Despite the recurring mental images I keep getting of my book characters quaking in their boots at the thought of being read and then rejected, it's now or never.

I need an agent. That's one thing I know for sure and (as I've read over and over again), it ain't gonna be easy. I know that I have a few things I need to do:

Write a more detailed 300-400 word synopsis
Research agents and see which ones actually represent the genre I've written
Work on a covering letter that isn't just a page of me waffling, thanking them profusely for their time and apologising incessantly for my lack of talent

I'm still fannying around with the book abs debating another cull and a rewrite of the first chapter but the harsh reality is that I can tinker with the book forever and it'll never be perfect. I need to get out there and...well, sell it I suppose.

My Dad told me to hurry up and 'get it published' last night, so that I can become rich and famous (and buy him that Ferrari he's been talking about since I was about four). I told him I will.

And I'm sure it'll be as simple as that (love you, Dad). However, I'll never know if I don't try.

Time for another peppermint tea before I delve back into the Yearbook and find out just how the hell this works...

Em x

Ps. If the grammar is particularly bad on this post it's because I wrote it on my phone. Damn tiny screen.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Editing my own book (or not)

Is it really possible to edit your own book? I mean really edit it.

As my final word count was in the region of 220,000 words, I figured I needed to get cutting and fast (especially as I read somewhere the average novel has a word count of between 80-100,000). It's been tough though. Every scene was written for a reason and yes, I admit some are a little indulgent (random conversations, comic-caper esque scenarios) and these have been chopped out and inserted into my document entitled Deleted Scenes.

I'm now starting to get my head around the fact that I need to story to flow quickly in order for it to capture the readers attention. This was all the more evident when I got the book printed and sat down with it over a cup of coffee on a Saturday afternoon as I would with any other book. About a third of the way through, I got to a section that actually bored me. I WROTE IT and it bored me! That's when I knew I needed to be more heavy handed with the red pen and get crossing out entire pages. It's a brutal task but I either want the book published or I want a Word document sat on my computer for the rest of my life.

Once I got my head around this I came across another obstacle - over familiarity. I've been writing this book for a long time and it's adapted and evolved in such a way that I know both the characters and the story inside out. The best way I can describe it is like looking at photograph of yourself - you never really see yourself to be able to judge objectively whether it's a good, average or just really bad (okay, maybe the bad ones are easier to pick out). It's the same with the book. Aside from the obvious spelling mistakes and certain sentences that make me cringe and wonder whether a five year old version of myself could have done a better job, I'm struggling to pick out which bits are great and which need to go.

That's where I'm hoping my unofficial story editors come in but it's wrong of me to sit around and rely on other people before I start putting my book out there. It's the lazy option. So I figure I'll transpose all of my written amends into the computer document and start knocking on some doors and speaking to people. I figure this is going to be a long process anyway so by the time the editors are done and have fed back, I'll probably still be trying to convince some poor sap to be my agent.

Going to get making my own cuts and amends today. I just know I'll end up cutting scenes that my story editors will love and insist stay - sod's law! However, I have my Deleted Scenes document so will be able to dive head-first into the trash can to retrieve them if they think I've made some big mistakes.

It's a grey miserable Sunday and I'm trying to edit. Going to need copious amounts of coffee.



Wednesday, 8 June 2011

My playlist

You only need to read the synopsis for my book Driving Exile to realise how much music has been a huge influence in my life. From my childhood years listening to the Carpenters and Michael Jackson, right through to my present day obsession with classic rock, it's always been my greatest love.

I wrote the whole book with my trusty playlist blasting in my ears and I quite honestly don't think I would have done it without the dulcet tones of Alice Cooper, Jimi Hendrix and Lou Reed to name a few.

It's been an absolute indulgent pleasure listening to my favourite music everyday for the last few months while the race was on to finish the book and, while the songs still remain, the hammering on the keyboard has stopped. This leaves me just staring into space and mouthing the lyrics to myself.

In case you're interested, here's my beloved Driving Exile playlist:

I love each and everyone of those songs and can assign scenes from the book to each one. I'm surprised I'm not completely bonkers especially as there was one particular night where I listened to The Music's Turn Out The Light on repeat for four hours writing one particular scene.

Love, love, loved writing that book. It was a dream.



Monday, 6 June 2011

When life gives you lemons...

...ask for salt and tequila.

Ah yes, it's been a turbulent start to 2011 and I've now realised we're halfway through. How the hell did that happen?

Without going into detail (thank the lord! I hear you cry), the last few months have been some of the most stressful on (Emma) record. The only decent thing I have to show for it is Driving Exile but I fear by becoming absorbed in writing the book, I've become...well...slightly mad actually.

Sessions pounding it out at the gym before/after work with all of the other nine to fivers have been replaced with a brisk (albeit three hour) stroll along Liverpool docks with my ipod blasting in my ears, while I fantasise about what could happen in Book 2.

Just the other day, I actually heard my own voice as I was walking. Yes folks, I was talking OUT LOUD to myself.

The danger of writing a book, I'm soon starting to realise, is just how desperately lonely it can be. Don't get me wrong, I love my own company. In fact, it's the love of my own company that's caused the turbulent few months but let's not get into that...

I just think that while it's amazing to get sucked into your own fantasy land, it's also quite strange. I mean, you can't really talk about it without sounding like a loony and there's not really an awful lot to talk about anyway. It's unfolding in your mind so unless you sit across from your poor victim and reel it off like a Jackanory session, it's pointless.

When friends or family talk about events in their lives, I find myself nodding and smiling whilst inwardly panicking:

"Oh shit, I haven't actually done anything for weeks."
"Have I even got dressed the last few weekends?"
"Did I speak yesterday?"
"Wonder if they'll want to hear what happens to Katie when she..."

In the end I just settle with:

"I'm fine. Not been up to much, just working."

I did start to wonder whether I had actually lost the plot completely. Maybe people were whispering behind my back and planning an intervention to get me into a straitjacket? Images of Jack Nicholson in The Shining kept going around my head:

All work and no play makes Emma a dull girl
All work and no play makes Emma a dull girl
All work and no play makes Emma a dull girl
All work and no play makes Emma a dull girl
All work and no play makes Emma a dull girl


But then I started thinking. What on earth did I expect the writing process to be? Of course I was going to become absorbed in the world of the characters. If I didn't then there's no way it'd be finished and even if I did manage to cobble it together I'm quite sure it'd be a half-assed attempt at a first novel.

No, I need to embrace the madness and accept the process. Hopefully, it'll pay off one day if I see my book on the shelves of Waterstones.

I'll keep dreaming, listening to my ipod and talking to myself.

And when life decides to hand me lemons again, I'll accept them graciously.



Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Uno, Dos, Tres...

I've read a lot of advice on how to get published and I must admit, it can be quite contradictory.

There is one piece of advice that remains common though.

Don't. Pass. The. Book. On to. Friends. Or. Family.

"Don't do it!"
"It's not objective!"
"It's a waste of time!"
"It'll over inflate your ego!"

Noted! (But spectacularly ignored...)

Enter the room, my three story editors - Uno, Dos, Tres. My beautiful friends who are currently buried in the wonderful (my opinion) world of Exile. Each bringing a different element to the editing mix...

Indulged me in my flights of fancy for months until she got fed up and asked for an extract to find out what the hell I was going on about. My equally-as-disenchanted work colleague turned sister-from-another-mister, Uno was soon quizzing me over copious amounts of coffee (or red wine depending on the mood) about the antics of the characters (and setting me straight when I got it soooo wrong). Her eyes wide and unblinking, she'd listen as I laid out the idea for the various scenes and shake her head in disbelief at just how utterly insane one person can be. The book wouldn't be finished if it wasn't for this one so thanks Uno (you're paying for it now though! Get editing!).

My best friend. My rock. My ex.
Dos is the musical ear of my book, making sure the technical elements are kosher. He's cute and plays guitar which means he's very much forgiven for being such a slow-ass reader ;-)

The most frightening editor of all. The book worm. Armed with a top degree in English literature, and always with her nose in a book, Tres is an editing force to be reckoned with. My oldest friend and wine guzzling buddy (sensing a theme?), she's the one who's causing me to bite my nails right down to the quick. So-called because she was the third and final person to receive a copy of the book, Tres is remaining tight-lipped so far (which isn't bothering me at all....). Straight-talking and the collective voice of the chick-lit reader, she's my very own Claire (who's Claire? Well, you'll need to read the book...).

I'll be taking them all out for a stiff drink after the editing trauma.

That's when I'll break the news that I've started on Book 2...



PS. (Brackets much?!) Apologies!