Thursday 30 January 2020

#writingishard3 - Synopsis

 Writing is hard. And everyone’s journey is different. There is a TEDtalk doing the rounds at the moment, which tells a fabulous journey that happens to be a very quick writer’s journey. I just want to say don’t get disheartened by this. It doesn’t make you any less of a writer if your journey is longer. Writing takes tenacity. Have faith in your writing. You will get there.

The journey can be long...

 I have had a request from the ever-lovely Annaliese Avery. We all think writing a book is hard, but it is really easy in comparison to writing a synopsis. That is like pulling teeth. There is no definitive way to write a synopsis, but I am going to offer some suggestions to help you. I would suggest you look at Nicola Morgan’s book Write a Great Synopsis – An Expert Guide. She goes into a lot of detail and it is accessible.

What I will say you must do is: Always check on the agent’s website to check exactly what their submission guidelines are, then adhere to them. They are not optional. If they say a one-page synopsis that’s what you do. On the other hand, if they say two pages or more that’s what you provide.

Image result for write a great synopsis - an expert guideIn general, it is suggested that the synopsis should be no more than one or two pages. What a synopsis is not, is an outline or chapter breakdown. Instead, it tells the reader what the book is about and gives the sense that the author has managed to write a book with a complete narrative and an arc. The synopsis gives details of the main characters and the main plotlines while not dealing with minor characters and subplots. It should convey conflict and setting, themes even the denouement while giving a sense of the voice.

Unlike, the chapters which should be double spaced the synopsis can be single-spaced. Once again it should have the title of your novel, who it is aimed at – middle grade/teen/YA and that it is written by you. It should be in a clear font – something like Ariel or Times New Roman – Point size 12. Don’t go smaller or they won’t be able to read it. Neither have ridiculously small margins in order to cram as much information into the two pages. Agents have seen it all before, and are not going to be impressed, or tricked by it. They are looking for a well written, concise and punchy synopsis that grabs their attention and informs them.

Do not be afraid to repeat information that has been said in your covering letter. In fact, you are almost guaranteed to do so, as you are likely to repeat your pitch. Avoid rhetorical questions. It is better to answer all the questions you pose in your synopsis. It should be written in the present tense even if your story is written in the past tense. In the same way, it should be written in the third person
Get to the core of your story
even if the story is in the first person while still getting across a sense of the voice and feel of the story. If your story has multi viewpoints, ensure that you get this across in the synopsis too. Most importantly though, ensure that there are no grammatical or spelling mistakes throughout - proofread it carefully.

This is based on Nicola Morgan’s method of writing a synopsis:

1.     Write your one-sentence pitch

2.     Expand it until you have a paragraph that you might use as your pitch paragraph in your submission letter (don’t be afraid to repeat information in synopsis and letter)

3.     Expand this by including what happens at the end, show how the main character’s journey is completed. This should give you two paragraphs.

4.     Then include climaxes and plot stages or major obstacles. Add those into your paragraphs. You may want to change the order for clarity. Hopefully, you now have at least a page.

5.     Connect them all together with beautiful prose. Focus on the important information and avoid the unnecessary.

6.     Hone it to within an inch of its life until it is ready for submission. Get others to look at it.
Don’t be afraid of it. Yes, writing a synopsis is hard but if you know what is at the core of your story it is much easier. Focus on that Think about what is really at the heart of your narrative. Use that to help you write your pitch and your synopsis.

Books are rarely rejected just because of a synopsis unless it is really badly written. Decisions are more likely to be based on a combination of the idea as pitched in the letter and the standard of the writing in the chapters. Some may suggest that the synopsis really is the least important part of the submission; however, and importantly, this does not mean you should not pay attention to it. Agents may need it to back up your submission. They will read it in order to feel confident that you really do have an idea that hangs together and that you can show that you understand your narrative fully. You are highlighting through your synopsis that this is a strong concept. They may also use it later when marketing your book. 

Good luck everyone – you can do this!

Wednesday 22 January 2020

Exciting news - Read for Empathy Collection 2020

I am thrilled to say that the wonderful judges from the EmpathyLabUK have selected Flight for their Read for Empathy Collection 2020. In the collection, they look for books that have been well researched and written that will develop children's emotional vocabulary. They have picked some truly outstanding books and I feel honoured that Flight is among them.

Empathy is a core life skill and reading books is one way of helping us to become more empathetic. It helps us understand the world more because we get a chance to walk in someone else's shoes. To see how they might feel and to ask questions of the text and of ourselves. Thinking how we might respond in the same situation.

Here the judges talk about making the selection for the Read for Empathy Collection 2020

Highlighting this year's collection's themes:

Books provide us with an opportunity to escape our reality. To ask questions of ourselves and to provide hope. This is particularly important in a world that is increasingly full of hatred and a lack of compassion. Children need to know that the world doesn't have to be like that, that they don't have to be like that. That it is ok to be kind, to be different and to care.

When I wrote Flight, I was conscious that we are losing those that remembered what actually happened during the Second World War. These are memories that should not be forgotten. Flight has multiple layers of empathy throughout it. Kizzy and Jakob both needed to remember what it was like to be part of a family again. They also showed what it was like to care so much for something that you are willing to put their safety before your own.

Thank you, judges, for picking Flight and I hope everyone enjoys reading it.

Thursday 16 January 2020


This time of year can be very hard, it is often dark and grey outside. There might’ve been pressure over the holiday period when well-meaning people ask, ‘Are you STILL wring your book?’ or ‘When IS your going to be published?’ It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, particularly if you feel like you have
Writing pressures
been writing/editing for a long time, you’re facing edits/rewrites, or it’s a blank screen blinking at you because you can’t think of an idea, but you know you want to write. It’s hard, but you need to ignore these pressures and focus on your writing.

One of the most important things you can focus on is the difference a story can make to the reader, particularly if you are writing for children or young adults. A story can help a reader escape their reality. It can provide a sense of hope and a belief that things can be all right in the end. Stories can be a way to understand the world we live in. We hear the term ‘windows and mirrors’ a lot, but it is important. A book can provide a window on someone else’s life, so a reader can walk in their shoes, or it can be a mirror, so a reader can see themselves in a story. This is particularly important when thinking about creating stories that are inclusive. Writers should not shy away from difficult and challenging themes as well because a book is a safe place for a reader to explore said themes. The stories provide an opportunity to ask questions of the narrative but also for the reader to ask questions of themselves. It helps them work out who they are, but just as importantly, who they are not.

In a world that is becoming increasingly hostile and intolerant, it is important to encourage empathy. It is proven that reading stories can create empathy. Empathy Lab is doing great things to #EmpathyDay is 9th June this year. They also create a reading list entitled Read for Empathy Guides for Primary and Secondary which schools. Empathy is a key element of emotional intelligence, and part of helping children to appreciate others. As writers we understand we need to create fully rounded characters and that includes emotional depth: even the ‘baddies’ in a story should be making decisions that are right for them, emotionally, at that particular moment.
highlight the importance of empathy around the country.

Philip Pullman
When thinking about your writing, I will add a caveat for all writers. I have spent many years supporting aspiring writers in my jobs either as a Creative Writing Lecturer or working as an editor/workshop leader at The Golden Egg Academy. There is a moment when a new writer comes to me and confidently tells me about their story starting with the words ‘My story is going to give a message about…’ It might be any contentious subject or a moral message of some sort, whatever it is my heart sinks. I can understand the desire to want to write a story like that but invariably they become didactic. Philip Pullman summed it up brilliantly in his acceptance speech for his Carnegie Medal when he suggested ‘”Thou shalt not” is easily forgotten but “Once upon a time…” is remembered forever.’ What this means to me is that the story has to be the priority, not the message. Focus on that and let the narrative do the work rather than lecturing the reader.

Keep writing your stories, focus on the hope you can create and empathy. Remember books show that the world can be a better place and that the reader can make it so: as Neil Gaiman has suggested when talking about reading: ‘You’re finding something out as you read that will be vitally important for making your way in the world. And it’s this: The world doesn’t have to be like this. Things can be different.’

Stories bring hope, even in these difficult times. Remember the difference you can make.  Good luck with your writing. I know it’s hard, but you can do it.

'Those Sweet Words' by Norah Jones for today

Wednesday 1 January 2020


HAPPY NEW YEAR! And welcome to my new #Writingishard series. This series is for all writers whether you are new writers just starting, you are a little way along the journey, a debut author, one battling with your second novel, or several books under your belt. Whoever you are, if you love writing you will also understand that writing is hard. It can be such a long journey. It took me well over ten years from beginning to take my writing seriously to having my first novel published. The idea behind #writingishard is to provide support, a shoulder to lean on, a place to celebrate occasionally the joy of writing, but to acknowledge how difficult it is. It is somewhere to find useful sources and where I can provide helpful strategies that might help you through those difficult times. A place you can come back to at any time for support. Knowing we've got your back.

The intention is to post every other Thursday starting on the 16th of January and using the hashtag  #writingishard, so do keep an eye out for it. When I post feel free to add to the posts if you have questions or additional useful information that you feel might help people or you need help. Don't be afraid to ask. The idea is for this to be a safe and supportive place. Not a critical one. There is no right or wrong way to write. You have to find what works for you. I will be sharing some of the ways I have found that works for me and the strategies I use. That doesn't necessarily mean they will work for you, but I am a great believer that you never stop learning when you are a writer. I always like to listen to how others do things, as I often find I come away with a useful nugget that I can apply to my writing and improve how I do things.

Probably most of you who are reading this already know who I am but just in case, here's a bit of an introduction as to who Ness Harbour, or Vanessa Harbour depending what you want to call me, actually is:

I am a writer: 10 years ago I wrote young adult fiction, in 2018 Firefly published my debut middle grade novel Flight. When I started at university I thought I wrote for adults. I also dabble in poetry - but nobody ever sees that! I have had a short story published in Citizens of Nowhere.

In 2011 I got a PhD - this was a creative and critical one which included writing a YA novel.

I have lectured in creative writing for thirteen years at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. I also supervise PhDs. I have also lectured in English and children's literature.

I have had the privilege of being involved with the Golden Egg Academy since it started and my wonderful friend Imogen Cooper came to me and said 'I've had an idea, do you want to be involved,'. I am very lucky.

I happen to be disabled - my grandsons call me bionic.

I am a mother (a single parent) and a grandmother. I've been a carer.

I love finding beautiful things in the world and having a good laugh. I also think our lives should have its own musical soundtrack!

I wrote three novels before Flight was picked up.

I am currently working on my second novel with Firefly and also on a sequel to Flight. I love visiting schools and hearing from my young readers, teachers and librarians.

I hope you will join me on this journey and I hope #writingishard can make it a little easier for you.

Let's fill the new decade with lots of positivity


For memories and for happiness, I love this song by McFly