Wednesday, 29 December 2010

It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent...

It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn't give it up because by that time I was too famous.  ~Robert Benchley

So I started reading my edited manuscript and I must say they have done well but I have only read through the first couple of chapters. One huge concern was the word "tyres" as in aeroplane tyres that features in one of the first lines of my book. The editor has changed the spelling to "tires" which concerns me slightly. The rest of the changes are fine, I have spotted a few inconsistencies that I can easily correct but reading though it is taking me time as I want to get it as close to perfect as possible. This will be my final edit. 

One issue that lept out at me was the first three chapters of the book, the ones that you normally send in as a submission to a writers agency or publishing house. before I send to my submissions I read a piece of advice that said " If you book really gets going on chapter ten, start it at chapter ten and get rid of the rest" I mused over this piece of advice as I prepared my submission. The first couple of chapters in my book I was describing my protagonist and the other main characters and I realised because of the way I started writing (with no real direction) this "describing" was probably for my benefit than for the reader. In all honesty did they really want to know little details about a character they had only just met? probably not, the first few chapters are to hook the reader surely, start the story and fill in the character description later. So that is what I did. It was an awful moment for me, ripping out what I felt was the foundation of the book (I did insert these vital chapters later on) - At several times during the journey of writing this novel I wanted to put each and every page through the shredder and pretend I had never started (either because I didn't like what I had written, lost my confidence and more often than not; lost my way) - But now to have such thoughts are not so good, especially when self publishing- It is scary as you constantly have to tell yourself that what you have written is not awful, that it is good, and because you have no one in publishing authority telling you the book you have written will be a success you begin to think that maybe you are not so good. To any novelist out there going down the self publishing route you may have this issue as well or you may be uber confident in which case I say try a partnership publishing company- for about £10,000 they will publish you book the traditional way and if its successful put it in reprint the second time round for free, but of course you bare the £10,000 cost of the first time round. 

Anyway getting back to my first point was as I was reading through the first few chapters I couldn't help but think the first three which I discarded were better, but they were just description. I am not sure what to do. My gut instinct tells me to keep it as it is, and people close to me that I have consulted have suggested the same but without a publishing figure looking at my work I am sceptical and therein lies the main problem with self publishing. You have to rely on your feelings, your instincts which I suppose may not be the same as the rest of your audience, but then I am torn- it is my book, one that I have written, maybe it should be read that way (I don't know though, I really don't know)

I will continue to read through my manuscript and let you know how that ends up, but most importantly the next two weeks are going to be spent obtaining ideas and inspiration for the front cover of my book! I must have this all complete by the end of January. 

Friday, 24 December 2010

Never judge a book by its cover?!!

Never Judge a book by its cover!!!!!! 

Mmmm Where to begin today, no I still have not started to read my final edited manuscript- but I am thinking of a front cover. The book is set mostly in Goa in India and I wonder what should be on the front cover. Do people really judge a book by its cover? Surely it is the first thing you see when you walk into a book shop. Something on the front cover makes you pick it up, a bit like a girl or boy you may happen to meet on a night out in a bar. It’s all based on looks at this point, but then you get chatting, or reading the back of the book. That hooks you or it doesn’t the decision is yours. It is the combination of the two that make you want to take it home. How often do you pick up a book with the dullest of book covers and the back blurb make you want to take it home? It happens I am not saying it doesn’t but remember I am self publishing so it will not be competing in a line of other glossy front covers in attractive colours and designs- it will be mostly available on-line. Maybe people will read the spiel before they actually see the cover- A bit like a blind date! Now there is a business idea!!! 

I have read some self publishing reviews and they all say use you own image for the front cover they warn not to pick from the art work they have. So I need to jet off- find a good scene that draws the reader in, makes sure when a reader sees the front cover they pick my book. Ideas and thoughts are welcome- what would make you pick out a book??? My photography skills are poor but I am going to give it a go the next time I am in India.

I have looked through my library of books and I have to admit mostly its art- rarely does a photo depict the front cover- and what I recollect is tones of blues and oranges- Have I made this up? Is it just the books that I have bought that have tones of blue and orange? Maybe that says something about me.  Books come in all sorts of shapes and sizes but I need the correct book cover. Help me!!! The novel is set in Goa and England. The Protagonist is a single female, the story involves love which turns into something more sinister- think illegal activities. Any inspiration would help! 

Thursday, 23 December 2010

If there's a book you really want to read...

If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.  ~Toni Morrison

I have joined some writing forums. This was suggested to me by a couple of people and so that is what I have done. I have joined and both of which are good but the latter is more responsive and more like facebook so you can really interact and get to know other writers. The good thing about these sites is that you can upload excerpts of your novel or just your writing in general and people can have a good read and critique your work.  I like the idea of this, yet it scares me as well. As you know I have ventured down the path of self publishing, signed the contract, and now had my manuscript edited. To post a chapter on a writing forum to have it critiqued is scary and if I did make changes –costly. I will hide behind my good old theory “Subjectivity”. Of course letting other people critique your work will make you a better writer and I will do this for novel number two, but I have come  too far with novel number one to let it be ripped to shreds in the final hour. 

It makes me reflect on Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s words in Love in the Time of Cholera “ To release a story into the world is to relinquish sole proprietorship. When you let other people into your business you allow them to have opinions about it.” That is what I am doing, if I am lucky enough to get some column inches and I get slated, I am sure I will still try and hide behind that word subjective but I will also accept the critique (I am being pessimistic here- the critique may be good) – perhaps it will improve my writing style- that was once described as heavy! – If anyone reading this knows what that means- by all means enlighten me please! 
I am enjoying these forums though, as the writers groups around where I live are bursting to the seams. They will provide  me with people to bounce my ideas off and  I will learn something for sure. If you are thinking about writing, join a writing forum, even if its just to look at discussions and not participate the information and ideas on there is worth it alone. 
Can you believe I haven’t started reading my final edited copy of my book as yet. I will start soon, once Christmas is out of the way. That way I can be totally absorbed in it- make sure it is perfect I will let you know how it goes. My plan is to have completed the final read by the second week in January so fingers crossed I can send it for publishing then!!!!! Fingers crossed 

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart..

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.  ~William Wordsworth

I have a major issue with grammar and I say this at every opportunity I can as I am quite ashamed of it. I want to justify and excuse my bad use of English language before someone else points this out to me. It is utterly awful I know but is good grammar essential to be a novelist?  No I don’t think so, for me I just want to write like I have said in previous posts the words kind of fly out of me, I don’t even think about the grammar but due to my shame I must start thinking about this. Surely I will be a better writer if it all makes sense the first time around and requires less editing. Surely I will try to get across what I am saying to my reader with fewer words. To be succinct is to be a good writer I think. 

So my edited manuscript arrived a couple of days ago with a covering letter indicating that I had a “serious issue” with punctuation. I knew that already but I swallowed the criticism and a three page lecture on where to use commas and semi colons. I will read that bit later. The manuscript was carefully edited and ideas and solutions suggested. I was very impressed they even checked the spelling of a famous Bollywood actor. Brownie points to the editors!! So I trawled through the manuscript and accepted the tracked changes, mostly just punctuation. I kind of skim read paragraphs and clicked on accept. To just accept the clean copy they had sent through as well would have meant that I didn’t really care surely. I have now printed (hopefully the final edited version) manuscript to go through with a fine tooth comb. I am paying for this book to be published so of course it has to be perfect. As perfect as it can be for someone who has never written or published a book before. For someone who desperately (like most writers) wants to be a published writer. I wonder to myself whether this will be a stepping stone, whether after this book has been published the next book will have a better footing because surely I could now put this on my writers CV, which is currently blank. We will see how this develops as I read through my book through the holidays. 

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

A critic can only review the book he has read...

A critic can only review the book he has read, not the one which the writer wrote.  ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic's Notebook, 1960

I must interupt my daily musings and bringing you up to speed on my novel because I have just come across an article of rejected famous authors - this has made me feel much better about my 14 rejections. Of course most people (let alone writers) know the  rejection J K Rowling faced but here are just a few others: Stephen King’s Carrie , William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, John Grisham’s A time to kill was apparently rejected by 16 agents and 12 publishers, Rudyard Kipling, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the wind (38 times rejected) and D H Lawrence. 

It is sad that publishing is so subjective based on what a few people like, how many books from unpublished authors are going untold due to the views of others? To me it seems unfair, completely unreasonable. I suppose many industries are the same, such as musicians etc, anything creative really. I have read some really bad books in my time and I wonder how did they get published? – maybe it is who you know or that once you have one best seller it doesn't matter what you write. That aside I am grateful for self publishing and I think that although it is described as “vanity” publishing, which I am not denying it is, maybe there is more to it. Maybe it should be up there with the traditional routes. But most of us don’t have that kind of money to spend of advertising etc. This is going to be my experiment, I want to see just how popular I can get this book. Lets open up self publishing to the world so that everyone can tell their story.  Let us not be restricted to what publishing houses think we should read. 

So let me get back to where I left of. Yes I decided to self publish – there were a couple of big names out there that had good reviews  for a couple of hundred pounds you could publish your own book! But I needed some hand holding so yes I have gone for a company where the reviews were mixed. 

I have signed up! It was an exciting first phonecall as I held the manuscript in my hand and was ready to send it in immediately, or upload it because that is what you do, but I knew that I could not just send it as it was it needed an edit. My grammar as you can tell from this blog is atrocious. I blame the English education system. Grammar was never an important part of our curriculum and therefore it was never important to me. Now I am a writer I suffer. English Language for Dummies is on my Christmas list. 

So I needed an editor and my friend who happens to be one was very busy so that was a no-no! and editing is so expensive you are looking at about £21-£25 an hour, I can obviously see the benefits of the traditional publishing route. So I paid the vanity publishers to edit my completed novel, and this is where I am in this journey now. Two days ago I received my edited manuscript! 

Monday, 20 December 2010

Don't tell me the moon is shining...

Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.  ~Anton Chekhov

I will not bore you with a detailed description of everyday of my writing experience as I would like to get up to speed pronto. So ultimately through some struggle and occasionally leaving my writing for several months at a time I completed my manuscript. That was some time last year. I printed my meagre 55000 words and thought that I should feel elated but no that feeling never came, for one it was too short despite it being the skeleton of the book, it obviously didn’t feel like it was complete and therefore no feeling of gratification arrive and secondly, I was not happy with it entirely, the characters I felt needed more depth.  But even though it was only a first draft I gave it to my nearest and dearest to read. Surprisingly they loved it and my family are VERY critical. They said it kept them entertained that it was a page turner but they also pointed out the flaws, they wanted more description, the characters needed depth and the most difficult was that it needed a sub plot. So I attacked it again. I read the whole manuscript and wrote all over it, typed up the changes (old school I know- but this method really works for me). I did this about three to four times until I printed a copy and beamed with delight at my work. Finally two years later my debut novel was born. 

It was then that I realised that the easy part was over. Where did I go from here?! I did a million writers workshops on-line to perfect my query letter, synopsis and find the perfect title for my book and this took a couple of weeks. I then looked at my work and although by now a few non family members had read it and equally loved it, I lost all confidence. “I am going to self publish” I declared one evening to my boyfriend. “You haven’t even tried sending it off to publishers” he said. I was so annoyed, I wanted him to say, yep pay all that money and do it- To me that would be less hassle and less rejection. Who likes rejection? But my boyfriends words resonated in my mind. I had to try the traditional route before committing to self publishing so that’s what I did. 

I bought the Writers handbook and spent a day marking all the writers agents that I thought would take my work, I researched their websites, I noted their submission requirements. I sent 20 submissions out. I was excited but a little part of me was just waiting for the rejection. I queried just how many would actually respond. Well let me tell you because that was about three months ago now. I got 14 rejections, which in hindsight was good as I read somewhere that if you get over 15 there is something wrong with your book. No real feedback, someone liked the plot, another didn’t. All this told me was that this traditional route (and these were writers agencies not even publishing houses) was very subjective.  So when that 14th rejection came in (the other 6 did not even reply), I decided then and there to self publish and I suppose that is where I am right now. Leaping into the world of self publishing, and I will make it work, I am determined! 

...the capacity to astonish...

"The important thing in writing is the capacity to astonish. Not shock - shock is a worn-out word - but astonish.” Terry Southern 

So if you are a writer and you haven’t lived a life involving weird and wonderful stories where you nearly lost a limb trying to save a friend from a grizzly bear or you haven’t had that many experiences, does it mean that you are not qualified to write? No I definitely don’t think so. My life to me is normal as I have lived it for so many years and habit becomes normal but say if I met a stranger and told them my life story I think they would say it is not the norm (depending on their own story I guess) I have experienced lots of things in my life and now that I have the observational skills of a writer I feel I experience more than the average person so to me that makes me qualified to write. Don’t you agree? 

But like I said previously writing is not as easy as it seems. I started my novel as you now know at Heathrow airport  in a little notepad. I continued to write intermittently in this note pad as well developing my storey further, adding another character. I had no idea where the story was going but I couldn’t help but day dream about my characters and what was most likely to happen to them on this journey. 

I then left my writing for a couple of weeks, thinking that same old thought, maybe I am just not good enough for this, and the task before me to write a novel now seemed mammoth, so I left it. It wasn’t until my sister was thumbing through the pages and said that it was actually quite good (which for her to say is quite something) that I thought maybe I’ll carry on. So that is what I did. I typed up my scribble and when I had finished that the words just followed, and there was no stopping me. I was looking for a job after travelling and instead of watching day time TV every day and waiting patiently for my boyfriend to return home from work I started to write everyday. It was an exhilarating feeling, no writers block, the characters developed without me having to work at it. And better still I didn’t have to sit and think about plot lines, they flowed too. This is too easy I though…. How naive I was. 

I found a job though a month or so later and that was my first downfall, we then started looking to move out of rented accommodation into our own house. The new job and the search for a new house pushed writing to the back of my mind so my novel ground to a halt. I left it for some months and later returned to it, but luckily I picked up where I left it and continued with my story. I finished Part 1 the first bit of the story was out, but this was where the problem lay. I couldn’t get started on part two, the lack of plot line and forward thinking made me think “now where to I take this story? What does my Protagonist do?”  I even developed a bit of writers block. I knew I had taken it too easy to begin with. I found myself googling “writers block” read information on how you need to force yourself to write every day (which is why I think you have to be organised to write) and I struggled. I struggled to force words out on to the computer before me, even my traditional method of scribbling my thoughts didn’t help.  It was no use. So I decided to think of a rough outline of where my character would end  . I succumbed to all that advice early on and plotted my characters route, vaguely, but nevertheless she now had some direction. It worked, slowly at first but I churned out the majority of the second half joining libraries and desperately googling to fill the gaps in my information. To make the story shock people it had to be as close to the truth as possible. Any writer will tell you that the reader is not ignorant, it has to be believable to be worth reading. 

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Writing is like prostitution...

“Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, and then for a few close friends, and then for money.” Moliere
So let me tell you how I started this journey . Like I said I was sitting outside a sushi bar in terminal three Heathrow waiting impatiently for my flight. I was of course about three hours too early because as a child I had this instilled in me – that it was better to be early for a flight than late- that you may as well be sitting at an airport than sitting at home- either way your are waiting somewhere. This of course does not apply to ridiculously early flights when in fact you could still be tucked up in bed catching a few more well needed minutes of sleep.
I was watching people eat sushi and a sliver of envy ran through me. I love sushi, it was around about lunch time I was facing 9 hours of cramped aeroplane conditions and pre-packaged meals where it didn’t matter whether you picked the chicken or lamb they both tasted the same. I thought I could do with some sushi, instead of the depressing looking £5.00( airports are such rip-offs)  packet sandwich that I held in my hand.  And I thought then to myself no matter how much I could try to convince myself otherwise I am not a risk taker. Scared to eat Sushi before a flight just because it was a high risk  food, I wouldn’t do it, neither would I eat in a restaurant alone.  So I had two major hang ups and whilst I was contemplating my inadequacies I thought of a character developing out of my own issues. So I named her and as I said yesterday  a story began to form in my mind, but this time instead of distracting myself with duty free I took out a tiny notebook and pen I had in my bag and started to write. I wrote furiously, my hand could not keep up with my brain as it churned the in’s and outs of my protagonist. Before I knew it my flight was called and suddenly the world as I saw it changed.
As I clambered into my window seat and fastened my seatbelt still clutching my notepad and pen, it was as if the whole world slowed down. In two hours I had turned from normal person going on holiday to a writer, I had changed. I wanted to notice what people said, how they said it, their mannerisms. As I flew over time zones I wanted to capture anything and everything I could to use in my writing. The way people in India use the word “one” more often than  “a” or “an”, like “pass me one apple” instead of pass me an apple”  and “carton” they always use the word carton instead of box. It’s not incorrect but when you write speech it makes more sense to add these minor almost obscure cultural  differences in your writing. It is just more genuine, more believable to the reader. It is very important. Well I think so. 
I am sure all writers must see the world differently, depending  of course on the type of writer they are I guess. Writers in my opinion are of course creative but not eccentric like artists?!! Most people I know who are extremely creative are slightly “off the beaten path”, they are never on time, hate any kind of organisation and work to their own timing. What is even better is that they make up their own rules as they go along. It is a fabulous quality that I admire but I don’t possess.  I am organised not overly so, but if I need to get something done I generally make a list and start ticking things off. I rarely procrastinate  and am mostly always on time.  The thought of this makes me worry. I don’t know all that many writers; are they the same as me? or are they erratic? It would be quite hard to complete a book if you were not organised, which is another lesson I have learnt along the way. Writing is not as easy as it looks!!! But if all writers have this crazy streak to them which I think I am lacking then I worry, I worry for my writing. I hope this is not the case! 

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Most of us can read the writing on the wall

Most of us can read the writing on the wall; we just assume it's addressed to someone else.” Ivern Ball
Are you a budding novelist? What are you writing about? Have you been thinking on putting pen to paper and just haven’t started yet because of something or the other that has just got in the way? I wanted to write for ages. I remember day dreaming about being a famous writer. I remember reading the “about the author” section in almost all novels I even so happened to glance at, and I used to think  “wow, I want to do that.” I probably had these thoughts for about ten years. Not persistently mind, on and off randomly when I was in the back of a taxi or taking a flight somewhere. The opening lines of a story would just pop in to my mind, a figure appeared, a character I could develop and create and then I ran with it, unravelling a story in my mind. They always started with some kind of simple scene; a medicine bottle falling from a bathroom cabinet, tiny white  pills scattering around her bare feet as her hand shook with fear. Or they related to my dreams creating characters I would never be in real life but somehow at the back of my mind admired ; a budding journalist with dreadlocks and wearing harem pants travelling around the world with nothing more than the bag on her back stumbles across …… I don’t know, something. I had dozens of stories that I started in my mind and never finished.    I should have written all these tasty little morsels down, but I never did. I got distracted or worse still I distracted myself with something else more mundane assuming I couldn’t do it. Perhaps I wasn’t ready, maybe I was too young.
Writing is a hugely scary process. When you take that first sheet of white paper and start scribbling things down well it gets you thinking for a moment (yes I always like to start a book on a scrap of paper- generally I am somewhere random with no access to a computer when I start to write)- I was told that to write a novel you should write out a brief synopsis of where you want to go with your story, the plots, the sub plots all in about 10 points. So when I took this scrap of paper out and looked at the scary blankness of it I couldn’t think. I had writers block before I even started. This happened several times, which made me think “I cannot write, I am not a writer”.  Destined to fail in this department I would abandon  my scrap of paper or in some instances a newly purchased work book and feel utterly dejected.
But I was looking at it all wrong- I realised this about five years later- writing is not prescriptive- its not like an school essay where they tell you that you have to include a bit of this and a bit of that make it balance show each side blah blah blah!  It is so much more than that and I discovered this sitting outside a sushi bar in Heathrow’s  terminal three just two years ago. 

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Writing is a socially acceptable form of....

"Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia" E L Doctorow

I have finally bitten the bullet and started writing a novel, at the same time I have entered the world of blogging as well, which is more confusing if I’m honest – Well it’s a bit of a lie (the first bit) I started writing the novel I am working on about two years ago. I had just returned from 10 months of travelling around the world and as I  was speeding  towards my 30th Birthday I suddenly thought  “oh no….. what have I done with my life??? Like many women and some men  in their late twenties I was having a “Thrisis”, a blatantly obvious panic at the thought of reaching that milestone age without having accomplished what I really wanted to. And what exactly did I want to do, I mused.  I had certainly accomplished some things– well on paper I had - I was... am a qualified surveyor, with a degree and a masters – a completed once in a life time trip around the world, an impending wedding my own even– In fact when I mentioned my "thrisis" to my friends and  colleagues they ignored me “What is the problem?”  They asked “You’ve done quite a bit for someone your age.” 

Yes I had there was no denying that, I didn’t want to sound like I wanted the world on a stick, but this is not what I had in mind for things I wanted to accomplish. The key to a smile on my thirtieth birthday was success which by some peoples definitions I had achieved, but not to my own.

So this was why I was freaking out. But  what exactly did I want to accomplish?  The surveying, the degrees were part of a process from my A-levels to my masters they were ways of prolonging my youth and deferring the difficult decision to actually move on with my life. I hid behind the numerous letters after my name. I convinced myself it was what I wanted to do; when I sat for my Surveying interview I thought – this is it, this is what I want – as long as I pass this, get this qualification then all will be okay. I can move on have the career of my dreams- but I was flat out lying to myself- I knew deep down there was a niggling feeling that actually I didn’t really like the whole property malarkey of Surveying- the countless breakfast meetings with stuffy suits. It wasn’t me – a bit souless- when I fell in to social housing though I loved it- It was an eye opener- and most of all it had soul! Heaps of it embedded in every nook and cranny of the job. I loved it- but no after getting my prized qualification I felt I owed it to myself to step in to property development. So I applied for a development job and got it. I’m still in it! Its in social housing so its got some soul  but the crux of it is – I realised amongst  all this bad decision making that all  I wanted to do was  write (despite my bad grammar which I blame the education system for). As Doctorow implies I could do both!!! By day a developer, by night a writer unleashing a whole host of feelings and stepping into a career I really am passionate about.

That is the most important thing isn’t it?  To be happy at what you do? Going to a dull monotonous work place everyday is not what you want from life. Don’t get me wrong I like my work place- it’s the nine to five (lack of control on your own life) that I have a problem with- But I am veering away from what I had started to say.

So here I am hurtling towards 30, only 6 months left to go and my mission is to get my story told!! Well not so much my story told but my book published! So  keep an eye on this blog if you want to know how I am progressing, what my book is about (its fiction- don't worry not a whining life story), when my book will be published and all the trials and tribulations I face as I try to create a living out of it!!!