Tuesday 21 October 2014

Reading again

I know three posts in quick succession after so few but I had to write this one following reading yet another article where an author boasted about how he never read children's book but loved writing them! Why would you say that? I really don't understand it. Don't get me wrong I don't ONLY read children's literature but I see no shame in it. I love the children's and young adult fiction I read and as I write young adult fiction I feel it is an important part of my life.

As I have said before I also read poetry to get the creative brain going - thank you to Tim Bowler for my latest find as he introduced me to the poet Gunnar Ekelof. I have a book I read in the bath. I have books I read for research and I have a book I read before I go to sleep to relax me. My life is all about reading. (Even more so when you take into the assignments and manuscripts I read) Sometimes I escape into books because I need to, because everything around me is going wrong and I need to get away.  It must be better to go to a book than a bottle surely?

I find it so sad that an author thinks it is appropriate to say things like this in an interview that is basically a bit of PR for his new book which is aimed at young adults. What message does it give those teenagers? 'Oh I might write for you but the stuff I do is not worthy of being read as I don't bother reading the stuff...' It is hard enough to them to read without giving them an excuse not to I would have thought.

I find it almost impossible to look aspiring writers in the face when they say to me that they don't read or they can't remember the last time they read a children's book or piece of young adult fiction when that is exactly what hey are writing. These sort of comments don't help that either. You cannot write if you don't read....well that's not true obviously you can write but you will probably be a better writer if you read. I thought I ought to add that caveat in there before someone hauls me up on a technicality.

I know I only wrote about reading in February I think but this irritated me so much I couldn't just ignore it. Please if you are a writer or an aspiring writer READ! You will be better for it.

And just because here's Lars Eriksson - The Lonely Journey Called Life

Saturday 18 October 2014

My Love Letter to Liverpool Libraries

Cathy Cassidy leads a protest against the closure of Liverpool's libraries
Authors fight to save libraries
Authors Cathy Cassidy and Alan Gibbons have started a campaign to save Liverpool libraries. This is a campaign backed by many, many people including myself. This is just a small blog but I wanted to add my thoughts and my love letter to Liverpool libraries. I will email the link to Mayor Anderson as I beg him to change his mind.

First of all here is what Cathy has said: 'Eleven much-loved and well-used Liverpool libraries are about to be closed, and as the council are not listening to protests or petitions, a campaign to bombard Mayor Joe Anderson with love letters to the libraries has been launched. The letters will show how much the people of Liverpool - and beyond - care. Schools, colleges, teachers, families, businesses, individuals...we can all write letters to Mayor Anderson to ask him to change his mind.'

We have support for our campaign from over 500 authors, poets, actors, musicians, academics & creatives of all kinds including Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, Children's Laureate Malorie Blackman and many other big names. Could YOU support us too by writing a 'Love Letter to Liverpool's Libraries'? Send your letter to Mayor Anderson at the Town Hall, High Street, Liverpool L2 3SW or email to: http://liverpool.gov.co.uk/contact-us/contact-the-mayor/
http://cathycassidydreamcatcher/blogspot.co.uk/2014/10cathy-my-love-letter-to-liverpool.html '

Here is my letter:

Dear Mayor Anderson

Do you have children? Have you spent time reading to them? Last night I sat with my three year old grandson on my lap and read stories, one after the other. I lost count how many we got through. He lived every single one of them. He loves stories. He is lucky we are able to give him books but he also loves nothing better than a visit to the library as do his brothers and sister. 

In a recent article it was stated that 4 million children have no access to books in their homes. Can you imagine that? No chance to escape into different worlds. To explore and imagine. Those children may not own a book but they would have access to them if they can go to a library close by. If you close any libraries you are taking away those chances. You are taking away the opportunity for a child to let their imagination develop. 

I write young adult fiction. Young adult fiction allows teenagers to ask questions of the text and of the world they live in. It can help them to work out who they are and just as importantly who they are not. It is all about the vicarious experience as they think how they would react in any given situation. Once again by closing these libraries you are taking away opportunities for some teenagers to have access to books. To give them chances to read about others like them or maybe not like them but to help them understand how the world works. Why would you do that?

Liverpool has such a name for culture and for nurturing that culture. Being supportive of the underdog and believing that anyone can do anything. Libraries are the linchpin of all these beliefs. Why close them? Why take away these opportunities? These dreams? 
Please reconsider. 
We love libraries. 
We love Liverpool libraries. 


Dr Vanessa Harbour

Senior Lecturer - University of Winchester
Mentor - Golden Egg Academy
Writer - YAF

Seems only appropriate to use one of Liverpool's own as my musical message. We are all going to stand together

Wednesday 15 October 2014

The book map - my nemesis but my writing would be lost without it.

A few sheets of my current book map
Writers have many tools to help them write and focus on their plot/story but at the Golden Egg Academy they use the book map. This is a tool that Imogen Cooper created and introduced me to several years ago. I have used it on two novels now and I love the map. Actually let me rephrase that there are times when I love it, there are also times when I hate it. There are moments when I am wrestling with the plot and trying to get all the various aspects of the novel to work together and into the map when it becomes my nemesis. It is when you see all those columns and think 'I can't do this' but you can and you do. It is always for the better.

It is a tool that allows you to spot that inevitable baggy middle bit - for example I have just ripped out two chapters in my own WIP. It was easy to do because you could see in the book map that they didn't actually move the story forward. Off they went into my 'darlings' document (yes  I have a kill your darlings one). Immediately the story is tighter.

My map is hugely detailed in that it has a column for the moon. I needed to know what the moon would look like each night through a cycle. You can't have a full moon when you only had one two days ago! Very important when the majority of the first half of your story takes place at night. I also have a column for my horses. I have so many of the animals that I needed to know who was dealing with what and where. This helped me keep track all the time. I could look at the map and double check. Everything is there you see. My character descriptions and yes that does include the horses. All my settings - fictional and real. It is all there.  Importantly my editor can see it too so that when she is looking at my novel she can check back to it as well. It makes communication easy.

I have worked with Imogen in the past on the Introduction to Book Mapping session that we run and inevitably there will be someone there who thinks this is really easy. I can almost guarantee that within a few weeks maybe a couple of months they will be saying, 'Actually it is really hard!' And it is. Doing a book map takes time, makes you ask questions of your manuscript so that you know it inside out. You really have to get to the heart of it and you will hate the process at times but I know from experience it is worth it so I put up with the pain now. I welcome it. Embrace the map, that's what I say.

If you want to see how others use the book map check out Sue Eves' blog

And especially for the Eggers in particular Andrew Wright who always says that the book map does this for him

Sunday 5 October 2014

Are you STILL writing that book?

It's a long and lonely journey
'Are you STILL writing that book?' are words that weigh heavy for any writer and cause much pain. They are often said by a well meaning non writer who has no concept of the process. No doubt that first draft was written rapidly to great delight but that is only the beginning.

A first draft is a shell of a story. It shows the basic form of it and gives you a chance to see whether the story does actually work. No doubt it will have a baggy middle and you may well have started in the wrong place. We all do but only by writing that first draft are we able to work these things out. What comes next is probably several rewrites. The rewrites may well go into double figures and that is not to be ashamed of as each one will be better than the last. I am currently on the sixth rewrite of my WIP. Rewriting is all part of the editing process. It gives you a chance to iron out all those parts where you can ask the question 'could I show this better?' It allows you to get to know your characters inside out. Work out your settings. I have in the past as I have mentioned on in this blog previously totally changed settings. Not this time though.

Writing is a long and lonely journey. This can be eased by working with the likes of the Golden Egg Academy  (GEA) where you have the chance to work with an experienced editor. You can be part of a critique group, where you develop a real trust for all the members and you can provide support for each other as you are in the same situation.

Don't give it to family and friends for feedback. However much you ask them to be truthful in their feedback they won't. They care about you and they are going to want to like it and not hurt you. Feedback is always a tricky thing. You don't always have to agree with it. It is there for you to ask questions of the manuscript. If several people are coming up with the same thing then there really is a problem but you have to remember all feedback is subjective.

Writing, rewriting, rewriting again however many times is necessary to get it right and editing all takes times and cannot be rushed. You cannot put a time limit on it. People often ask me 'How long until you think I will be finished?' I cannot give them an honest answer because I  don't know how long their personal writing journey will take. I don't know what their writing processes are but also you never know when life might get in the way. For example my own life has been turned upside down by a simple total knee replacement. I was supposed to be back at work last week. I am not and I still can't drive. It is quietly driving me potty particularly as the pain is very distracting and making it very difficult to concentrate. I couldn't have planned for that.

Those who do not write expect that you just write your novel, send it off and it is published. Oh how wrong could they be? As mentioned in my previous post please do not send your MS off to an agent or a publisher until it is as good as you can get it. There is a caveat to that though. There is a risk of spending too long tinkering for fear of sending it off. Sometimes you do have to bite the bullet and say enough is enough but only you (or if you have the support of the likes of GEA they will help you) can decide.

So next time that well meaning person asks 'Are you STILL writing that book?' reply 'Yes I am!' with pride not with embarrassment because you are doing the best job you can.

This seemed apt today