Tuesday 29 May 2012

Writers must write every day....

An email came through announcing the title of a new post from The Editor's Blog, it was entitled 'Writers Must Write Daily.' My immediate thought was 'oh no, not another one!' I was very relieved when I read it to find that Beth Hill was not in fact advocating it. But I have heard it several times before and I have to be honest I am not sure it is actually practical and not totally necessary. In my experience, you can start with this aim of writing every day and ensuring you have time to do it but in actuality life gets in the way. It is not always physically or mentally possible. I am a great believer that you shouldn't beat yourself up if you don't find the time. Instead find moments to write when you can. I know of an author who would only write on every other Saturday, another who is an insomniac who always writes at night. You have to find the right time for you and that is not necessarily going to be the same as everyone else.

You all know, as I have gone on about it ad infinitum, that I have had a lot of marking and teaching going on and this all but stopped me from writing. It didn't, however, stop me from thinking and planning, though I hadn't actually had the time to sit down and write anything or make it into something concrete. It was just a collection of thoughts and images. This was a bit of a worry.  Would I be able to be do it again? Could I still write? A good friend said to me last week, when I spoke to them about it, that writing is a bit like training to be an athlete, it is about resting and going. They were quite right. Your writing brain is like a muscle that needs to be respected, stretched and rested as necessary. Several other friends have given me a great deal of support which then encouraged me to let the denouement suddenly appear earlier in the week. (see the previous post) All from a 'what if...' moment. I had relaxed and stopped worrying which allowed it to happen.

I felt I was all set up and today was the day. The marking and teaching were done. I had the time and the mind space to have a go at writing again. I was excited but also partly terrified. I decided to take an athlete's approach and warm up. My own writer's warm up!

1. Have a long shower and let your brain wander through your story.
2. Straight afterwards splurge on to the page all those ideas and thoughts that came.
3. Go off to read some poetry....any will do, just something you enjoy. I find it helps my brain start thinking in images and stretching itself for the right word.
4. Start writing.....

It worked for me today as I managed to write the first two chapters of the new novel, which were brand new and not a bastardisation of other work. I felt empowered as I also had come up with various ideas as to how my story was going to flow and work. How were my characters going to get together? How would they be in a position to help the main character? I was lucky it all came to me and the relief is enormous.

But I also admit this may not work for you. You have to find your own writerly way but importantly have the guts to follow your instincts and if you can't manage to write every day, don't worry, the world won't come to an end and you will still be a writer.

So here is Sarah Bareilles' Once Upon Another Time for all you writers.

Friday 25 May 2012

Denouement surprises

I love writing because of the surprises it gives you. I am coming out of marking hell and have been thinking about my rewrites. It was all rather complicated and daunting and if I am honest I was quite worried about it. I have spoken to various people about my concerns who were all very supportive. Yesterday, I then decided to send an email to 'the editor' asking if we could have a chat. I was hoping that by talking to her I would be able to get things straight in my head. It was fully of woolly ideas and blank moments.

And then a strange thing happened. I was reading something else and suddenly a question came into my head. One of those 'what if?' questions. And that was it. The answer to the 'what if' was my denouement. Having been stuck and floored by the whole process by sending that email and admitting I had a problem to others I seemed to have given my brain permission to sort it out. It told me exactly where my story was heading and what would happen to all the characters.

I know I am lucky and this sounds very easy but actually it hasn't been. There has been a lot of worry and non-writing time. Admittedly, not helped by the marking, which as I mentioned before seems to suck the words out of you.  It was not writer's block as I still had ideas and was constantly thinking things through. I just had a problem  knowing in my head how my story was going to pan out. Even now I don't know the fine details but I have a basic structure. I can fill in the detail as I go along.

This is not the first time this has happened to me but I tend to forget in the meantime that I need to trust my brain. It will come up with the answer, normally when I least expect it and when I have actually stopped thinking for a moment and am distracted. Another good reason to have a notebook nearby. There should be a caveat here, you cannot force that moment, it just happens.  I suppose what this post, and my witterings, are about is suggesting that you give your brain a chance. It will come up with the answers.Have faith in it. All that thinking you do with lead to the answers....hopefully.

For me, this time, the inspiration was a certain surprise as it is taking the book in a direction I had not expected. Am off to write....

Friday 18 May 2012

Submitting to literary agents and publishers

This week I noticed on Facebook one of my former students was going through the angst of submitting his work to an agent (at the agent's behest I should add). Oh how I could empathise with his tortured statuses. That moment you decide your work is ready to be submitted is gut-wrenching. In my own experience the mouse has floated over and then away and then back to the 'send' button over and over again, until in a fit of 'just get on with it' clicking the button and watching the email with attachment fly away. Only to regret it immediately. Can't I have it back? Just one more look over it....damn. It used to be (and sometimes still is) the case of walking round and round the letter box. Thick envelope neatly prepared and stamped weighing heavily in your hands. At least now it is done in the privacy of your home rather than risking being arrested for stalking said letter box.

But then the next stage of angst starts. The wait. It could be days, weeks, months. Previously, a rejection was always preempted by that rather particular and distinct thwack as your returned, possibly unread, MSS hits the floor having been forced through the letter box by a potentially grumpy postman. These days it is almost more tortuous. As with every PING - 'you've got mail!' has the potential to end your dreams. But it is not the end of your dreams. It might be a hiccup in them but it might also just be a....'could we see more.' You just never know and you need to be prepared. It will happen, have faith.

Going back to making that decision when to submit there is actually always that risk that you don't get round to submitting because you keep thinking 'I will just give it one more proof read, edit, polish, rewrite, then it'll be ready.' Sometimes you have to be brave and let it go. It feels a bit like leaving your child on their first day at school, you don't know what's happening. Do they like it? Do they hate? Are they just sitting in the corner waiting (to be read)? But it is all part of being a writer. Perhaps there is a masochistic streak in all writers and that's why we do it.

Having listened to several agents and publishers and their thoughts on submissions I would like to give you some things to think about when submitting.

1. Read the Writers & Artists Year Book (other books are available). If in there (or on their website - another good place to check) it says they are not receiving unsolicited or unagented MSS. That does apply to YOU. They won't make a special case just because it is you. UNLESS they have personally invited you to submit in which case you need to state this clearly in your letter.

2. Read their submission guidelines. These are available on agents websites. Read them and adhere to them. Your story is not ready if you think you have to attach an extra couple of chapters because the story doesn't get going until then and they will miss your favourite bit.  If they want a two page synopsis - don't send them a ten page one  because you can't get it into two (and in the meantime read Nicola Morgan's excellent book on how to write a synopsis)

3. Now this is a tip coming from me, but am sure a few agents and publishers might agree so thought I would add it in. It is something I come across when marking, which I see as a kind of practice submission. (And obviously applies when submitting hard copy) Do not leave your MSS in your kitchen where you are cooking highly aromatic dishes(can you call cottage pie and chips aromatic?). It is revolting to have that smell waft at you the whole time you are reading and you turn a page. Do not let your cat/dog/child walk over it leaving muddy paw prints, however cute they are. The same with coffee or tea or unmentionable and indefinable stains.
Don't think you are safe when submitting on line - make sure you have removed track changes and comments. It is amazing what you can find out when someone hasn't!

4. And going back to point one really. If a publisher or agent has invited you to submit make sure you address it to them and mention in the letter that they had invited you. Saying where and when you met and the invited was handed out is always a good bet  in order to jog their memory. However, memorable you think you are you have to remember they see lots of people.

OK that's it, 4 Ness tips to help you with that angst moment of sending your work off. Go on, be brave, you can do it. You never know what might happen and good luck with it.

Happy Weekend and here's a piece of music because I always tried to play my guitar like this...and failed. Carlos Bonell and Strawberry Fields

Thursday 10 May 2012

Write4Children e-journal

e-journal latest edition
Today the latest edition of Write4Children went live. You see I am not just a lecturer and a writer, I also edit, with Andrew Melrose, an ejournal. Write4Children is an open access journal that is online. What that means is anyone can have a look at it. You don't have to pay a huge subscription in order to read the fascinating articles inside it.

We set it up back in 2008 because whilst doing my own research I spotted a gap in the market. There are some excellent journals that deal with children's literature and some equally good journals on creative writing. But there were none that really, and deliberately, combined the two. Children's literature is a broad and fascinating subject and as a writer of children's books I am a great believer that I need to have an understanding of it. This understanding can inform my writing. But also I consider it just as important, if you happen to study children's literature, for you to have an awareness of the issues involved when writing for children. And there are many things we have to consider when we put pen to paper. On this basis it seemed the logical conclusion to pull the two together into a single journal.

The journal has been supported by the University of Winchester Press and being online gives us a lot of flexibility. We can including pictures (with appropriate permissions),photographs and even YouTube clips, if you so desired. All our articles are peer reviewed, this is important for an academic journal. But I do believe that many of you will find something of interest in the articles therein. They are not all purely academic. We have had articles written by Meg Rosoff, Lucy Christopher, Lucy Cuthew (an editor) and most recently Madeleine Milburn, who is an agent. They have all spoken about various things from their creative processes to what it is like to be an editor. This time there are articles by BJ Epstein, Tony Eaton, Jessica Seymour and Felicity Pulman, as well as Madeleine's

It can be at times a huge amount of work but I have a great deal of support from our editorial assistant, Jen Morgan, who is fantastic at going through everything and chasing people up and generally being there. The satisfaction when it finally goes up is enormous. And we are going from strength to strength which includes having an international following now....But rather than me telling you all about it go and have a look at Write4Children

And here is a clip of Where The Wild Things Are being read as a tribute to the outstanding children's author, Maurice Sendak, who sadly died this week. Thank you for all the inspiration.

Saturday 5 May 2012

Balance #2

I know I wrote about the idea of balance a few weeks ago but this week I came across a wonderful quote by my mate Foucault, which said: 'I don't feel that it is necessary to know exactly what I am. The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning.' I love this idea, particularly as I am a woman has undergone many changes in my life regarding 'who I am'. I have been a business woman, a wife (which didn't last long), I am still a mother and now a grandmother. I have become an academic but I have always been a writer. Ever since I can remember I wrote stories. Places to escape into probably. Even that has changed, as I spoke about in my post on doing creative writing degrees, I am not the writer I thought I was. I have become a writer of young adult fiction who dabbles in short stories and a bit of poetry.

The fact that I have been a writer for most of my life should tell me something about myself. But it is something I have only just worked out (I can be a bit slow) - I need to write.  This idea was further reinforced when I saw another quote this morning which says 'writing is about being alive.' (Roselle Angwin, Writing the Bright Moment, p.15) You will know from my recent posts that I have some more major rewrites to do but I haven't been able to get to them, work has got in the way. There have been several meetings and conferences. I have pulled together the latest edition of Write4Children  and rewritten an academic book proposal, but none of this has left me time to write what I need to write. My own stuff. During this time I have been having various conversations with Jen Webb and Nicky Schmidt (check out Nicky's blog http://absolutevanilla.blogspot.co.uk/) about feeling disaffected and almost feeling 'poisoned'. And though it feels a physical thing it is not, I need to answer that itch to write and to stop feeling guilty about it. Just go on do it, Ness!

But I don't think this just happens to me. I think if you have a creative bone in your body you have to ensure you  do whatever it is that makes you creative otherwise you lose balance in your life. I can see it in colleagues and good friends. I know so many in academia who are currently struggling with ill health. Often they will have to do a huge amount of academic writing rather than their own. I have watched colleagues and friends become increasingly stressed as they produce the necessary academic 'outputs' which must then be disseminated on a world-wide front and, therefore, suitably REF-able. Those in academia will understand exactly what I mean here. REF means Research Excellence Framework which is the new system for assessing the quality of research in UK universities. The pressure is huge. It is worth noting that often creative outputs do not count! When they are given the chance to take a step back and start doing their own work again there is a noticeable difference, their stress levels reduce and their spirits lift. They start to smile again.

Maybe there is a lesson in this for us all and I know it is one that both Jen and Nicky agree with - it is important to find balance. To create those moments to do your own work. To stop and breathe and remember why you do what you do - for me it is what makes me who I am these days, I write because it makes me feel alive.

Seems appropriate to play one of my favourties: Goyte's 'Somebody That I used to know'

Wednesday 2 May 2012

A review of Slated by Teri Terry

by Teri Terry
I have been sitting on this review for a while and today seems an opportune moment to post it. Why? Well, tomorrow, 3rd May, Slated by Teri Terry is launched. Slated  is Teri's debut novel and is the first of her trilogy. It is published by Orchard Books and available at all good book stores near you.

Teri Terry is a friend who I initially met at the LBF through SCBWIs and because of this I have seen Slated in various guises and am delighted that it is finally being published. I boldly told Teri I would love to do a review of Slated but then the panic struck. Firstly, I am not particularly keen on dystopian fiction and secondly, as I said Teri is a friend, what if I hate it? I needn't of worried at all, it was a good read!

Slated is the story of sixteen-year-old Kyla who has been 'slated'. A brilliant idea which means that all of her past memories have been erased. Everything about her is now blank and she has to rebuild herself. She has been given a new name, a new date of birth and even new parents. This was done to her because the government claimed that she had been a terrorist. They told her she was being given a second chance. But have they truly wiped her memories...

It is a thrilling story right from the beginning, which is a good combination of romance and mystery. It is an intelligent narrative that asks some challenging questions of the reader and society. The story is credible. This for me, as I dislike dystopian fiction, was an important factor. I needed to be able to believe in the narrative. It is set in the future but not so far that it is impossible to imagine. Several reviewers are comparing it to Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games, I can see why.The characters were all strong and well rounded, making it easy to engage with them. I suppose the only part I found slightly dissatisfying was the number of story lines that were left hanging in anticipation of the next story, but it helps maintain a sense of tension throughout and shouldn't really be seen as a negative. I hope they publish the next one soon!

This is only a brief review as the full review will appear in the November edition of Write4Children.

Teri Terry also writes for various blogs. Check them out at: http://notesfromtheslushpile.blogspot.co.uk/
and http://dementionblog.blogspot.co.uk/?spref=fb

Congratulations and good luck Teri!

Here we have Barbara Streisand singing 'Windmills of your mind' in honour of having your mind Slated...