Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Writing stuff - Editing time

The book is written, I've done the pitch, made a sale and got a top agent to negotiate the contact. Now it's time for the real fun to begin. It's editing time!

Working with an editor is very much like being back at school. You've done your best piece of work ever - and it must be good if you've got an agent and a publisher, right? Right, but that doesn't mean it's perfect. It's the editor's job to take a good script and make it even better. 


Here's a screen shot of a page somewhere near the end of Buttercup. There are two colours of comment box because I've got two editors working on this. 

No one writes a perfect script. Even Stephen King says that every writer needs and editor. That's simply because it's often impossible to see your own mistakes. Not just typos but continuity errors - someone out of breath in one scene, fine in the next. Wearing a yellow scarf on one page, a purple hat in the next. Also, because you have the full story in your head, if you haven't managed to get all the details across to the reader, some parts might not make sense. An editor will see those things, and a lot more. They also come up with suggestions to improve or strengthen the story, they spot areas where the story dips or moves too quickly. 

For a writer, there's something genuinely exciting about receiving a manuscript filled with edits and comments. Someone has read your work enough to really, really think about it. You also have to weigh up suggestions - if you really don't feel a suggestion works, argue the point. This isn't someone pulling your work to pieces for the fun of it - you're all in the same boat, trying to build the best sail that will take you to Land of Commercial Success. Or at least, trying to make the book the best it possibly can be.

So here goes...

Friday, 1 September 2017

Wheelie bin terror on wash day.

I love hearing how other writers get things moving. While sitting here, reading a post on Facebook, I could look out and see my wheelie bin standing in the street. It's bin day so there's a few lined up next to the road. The windows are wide open and the translucent roller-blind with the butterflies, that is usually there as a thin, white barrier is up, because I've been washing our fabric sofas and the whole place stinks of washing up powder. The result is a perfect view of my wheelie bin. And although I know what is in there is really an old brown towel all wrinkled up from being stuffed in the top, from here it looks just like three fat human fingers poking out the top. Can't shake he need to go and double check.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

I'm an illustrator!

I'm illustrating Buttercup Sunshine and the Deadly Undead Zombies of Dooooom!

I'm very happy about this, but also a bit nervous. I had to pitch a load of doodles then rework Buttercup herself until I got something the editor thinks is heading in the right direction. The contract is still being finalised, so I can't say anything official just yet, but I have bought a new graphics tablet to illustrate directly onto my laptop.

So just for fun, here's one of my early fine-liner sketches redrawn and coloured.


Sunday, 13 August 2017

Meeting Agent F and a new direction

I've just got back from a fab visit to London. Saw the Tower, Crown Jewels, Oxford Street and got lost on the Tube. But the reason for going was to meet my new agent, Felicity Trew of the Caroline Sheldon Literacy Agency.

I've had a few meetings with publishing people over the years, but some just shine out. This was one. I turned up late to the agency's offices in Notting Hill and was immediately hit with a sense of awe. To anyone else, it would just be a couple of small, cramped offices with packed shelves, but for me, it was like stepping into Hogwarts. Just the thought that this is where your submissions end up, put it up there with the Crown Jewels. This is where agents read material that no one else has seen, where hopes are dashed and dreams are made... where they photocopied the rejection slips I received in 2005. Spellbinding.

We went off to a local gastro pub with scored tables and creaking chairs and spent the next two hours just chatting. What I love about spending time with literary people, is it often shows in their choice of language, even how they begin a sentence. I asked Felicity about her own journey, how she became an agent. And her reply, 'It all began in Cairo...' Fab.

There was talk about books, Buttercup and ideas for future books. In preparation for this meeting, I outlined a list off current projects, nailing a short pitch for each. This is exactly what I thought I'd discuss here and know what to work on when I returned home. But on the way down, I realised something important. Buttercup is a turning point, and an important one.

I started out writing gritty, quite nasty YA thrillers. Clash is particularly dark, but that's what I wanted to write back then. It was exactly the kind of book I wanted to work on, and as a book takes many hours to write, that's a lot of time spent dealing with dark emotions.

After Matthew passed away, I found it increasingly difficult to work that same vein. It made me feel incredibly morose, which is never a good thing. Buttercup was a reaction to that and I had an an absolute blast writing it, and then had the same blast writing books 2 and 3. So I decided not to share the pitches of those WIPs and move forward from this point. I'm still proud of my previous work, of Clash and Arabesque and the two I published through KDP, but for now, I want to focus on fun stuff. Things that make me smile - Buttercup itself was written with Matthew's sense of humour in mind.

Now, thanks to that meeting, I have a good idea of the kind of fiction I want to write, and I know the area of the market to aim for. But best of all, I've got a plan. Books don't just happen. You don't come up with an idea and simply write it down. Digging up the idea takes some work, so that's Stage One: to work out six or seven book ideas. Stage Two is to write treatments for each idea. Stage 3 is taking the best as far as I can to create a pitch and samples.

So that's the plan. Now for the execution. First, I need an A3 pad and a load of fine-liners.


Just been out and got them. Let's go!


Monday, 7 August 2017

Buttercup sequels

Originally, Buttercup Sunshine was just going to be a stand alone story in a series set in the same little town. I had an idea that something had happened to cause a degree of calamity to the town and thought it would be great to show that through different events. What I didn't expect was for Buttercup herself to become the star of the series.

The publishing deal isn't signed as yet - contract negotiations take time, so while things got underway, I began thinking of what to write next. I had bounced a few ideas about, but they just didn't have the same edge. So, just for fun, I started a story with Buttercup walking back to town, having escaped from events that ended the first story. And the words began to flow.

Around this time, Agent F asked if I had any ideas, or if possible, a detailed synopsis for a second book. Perfect timing - things were going well with Buttercup #2. A week later, I sent the full script.

And then I sat waiting. Like I said, negotiating contracts is a slow process. I'm going to meet Agent F this week, so obviously my mind is very much focused on Buttercup and what could happen next, which inevitably led to a few scene ideas, a couple of jokes, and before I knew it, a totally unplanned story in the form of Buttercup #3.

Even better than that, it was playing with scenes and ideas in book #3 that I see how the series ends. At least, I think I can. Right now I've got some cleaning and fixing to do on #3, an edit and a polish and next week can get to work on the final story: Buttercup #4 - all before I've signed the contract for book #1.

And that, in the business, is what's known as blind optimism. 😜

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Buttercup update

Things are moving with Buttercup. Don't want to tempt fate, so I'll steer clear of details. But I did get to work on a few illustrations to see if I could settle on a style for the internals. An editor may well want to use their own illustrator or have a particular style in mind, and that's fine. This was purely for my own entertainment.

I had to go round the houses to find a style that suited the story. It took about a week. At one point, she was very refined with crisp, clean line work, bunches in her hair and a neck like ET - something between Disney and Manga. Far too refined, and very difficult to redraw in different scenes and situations. What I really want is something I can draw fast, the way I draw when I'm teaching or reading a story in class, but as far as my own finished artwork goes, I've always had this habit of developing things too far (if you have a look at the line work in the ARTWORK section of this site, you'll see what I mean - especially the Easter drawings and Dr. Lobotomy).

I got fed up, decided I couldn't draw a thing and was ready to give up. In sheer frustration, I drew something as fast as I could - exactly the way I'd draw on a whiteboard at school, and sat back. It looked okay - very scribbly, but okay. So I kept going and things got better and better. Here's a couple of examples...




The same day I settled on these drawings, I was contacted by an agent. I was utterly bowled over by her enthusiasm, not just for Buttercup but me as a writer and where I'm going next. In short, I've never felt so excited! Announcement soon...


Sunday, 4 June 2017

A nibble!!!

I only sent my submission of Buttercup Sunshine... out on Tuesday. On Friday I got a nibble from one publisher showing interest and wanting to know more about me!

Really, really happy about this because I only targeted four, but also because it's good to know that authors can submit directly and get a positive response. What's good about this is it means a writer can get the contract first, then the agent second. This sounds an upside down way of doing things, but getting the top agents is tough, so approaching them with a deal, rather than just a manuscript, stands you in a very attractive light.

Colin Mulhern





Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Yikes... submission time!

I've just made my first unagented submission. It's only to a couple of publishers to test the water, but I'm fizzing. It's been so long since I sent something out on my own.

The story is a 10,000 word chapter book aimed at younger readers, subtly titled:

Buttercup Sunshine
and the
DEADLY UNDEAD
ZOMBIES OF DOOOOM!

It's probably the silliest thing I've written, but it was great fun. A huge change from the edgy YA stuff. Couldn't resist a scribble of the MC and one of the zombies as I see them.


But I'd also like to leave it up to the editor, and see how they'd like this story presented. 

So... fingers crossed.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

KDP Paperbacks

I think I've reached a whole new level of nerdism. I've done a video blog on the quality of a paperback. But, somewhere out there is another equally nerdy writer desperate to know the quality of KDP paperbacks - are they actually any good? How long does the process take? Do they look like real papery paperbacks you find in bookshops.

Hold onto your seats... it's a white knuckle ride on the crazy wild roller-coaster that is Kindle Direct Publishing.


Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Notes on Grief

Have you ever seen those model houses with an old woman and an old man that come forward to tell the weather? The old woman means it's sunny and nice; the old man means it's stormy and cold.

Today was my first day back at work after the break. I work in a primary school and I like it. Usually, I'd say I love it (especially Fridays - on Fridays I work in Reception and Nursery. I could write a load of posts on that alone).

Today I was talking to a colleague about Christmas. She initially said she'd had a great Christmas, then added how it was, in fact, pretty bad. Grandparents and falls and broken hips and hospital. That sort of thing. So not really a great Christmas at all. I made a joke that people are inclined to say they've had a good Christmas because that's what people expect to hear, but actually, if you've had a shit holiday, it's good to have it acknowledged from those who understand, because Christmas is a pretty tough time for some.

This year is our second Christmas without Matthew, but things started getting heavy for me around October. I've dealt pretty well with things up until now. I mentioned this and said that I sometimes feel like one of those old models with the old woman and old man. When I'm at school I play a role of the old woman - all sunny and bright. I have fun and genuinely mean all the jokes that get me through the day. But inside, a storm is brewing.

When I get home, I can put the old woman back in the house. The old man steps forward and the bad weather comes with him. And that's not a bad thing, because in all honesty, sometimes it's nice to be the old man. It's nice to allow that side out.

Grief is hard. It comes in waves of different sizes, waves where the dips and peaks can last for months or days, or hours or minutes. Happy times come with their counterparts. What the hell do you call that? Bipolar grief?

One day, I'd like to write a story about this. Not a memoir, but a story, based on all of this. No holds barred, no emotion caged and I'll call it Notes On Grief.

But not yet. Not for a long time. For now, I'm content that I can be the old man in the comfort and safety of my own home, because that means tomorrow, I can be the old woman, and the sun will shine again.

For a while.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

The Girl With All The Gifts


Finally saw the movie. I read the book a couple of months ago and loved it. I first heard about it when it was shortlisted for the 2015 August Derleth award (alongside Station Eleven and that year's winner, the completely brilliant No One Gets Out Alive by Adam Nevill). It took me a long time to get round to it but it was worth the wait.

I read a few early reviews that were quite severe, stating it was an original idea that fell into cliché territory once the main characters left the compound. I can understand the frustration because neither the original cover nor the blurb gave any indication that this was a zombie story. And as zombies are the the modern day luvvies of the horror world, this particular area is getting a tad tedious (but thank god the romantic vampires finally slipped away).

There was a lot I loved about the book. More than anything, the detailed look at zombies at the physiological level. This approach, for me, means The Girl With All the Gifts does for zombies what the Necroscope series did for vampires.

The movie, by comparison was pretty good. It kept very close to the book with two unusual changes - the skin colour of girl and her teacher. For some reason they swap. It doesn't really impact, and anyway, Sennia Nanua is amazing as Melanie. I didn't recognise Glen Close till halfway through, which was round about the time I realised Sergeant Parks was Steve from The World's End. I did like the change in the way the movie dealt with the spores near the end, having them growing up the post office tower rather than filling the streets.

All in all, great book and pretty good movie.

And then I wrote some stuff. 700 words on Daniel's Daughter and 700 on another - more about that in another post. For now, I'm just playing with scenes.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Why you should write really bad scenes

Most writing guides focus on writing good scenes, getting the conflict and tension in there. A bit of detail to add colour and location, good dialogue. I'm going to put forward the argument for bad scenes - the stuff that gets cut.

The problem with focusing on good scenes and top copy is the moment you write a dull scene, you have a good idea that it should be cut, so you cut. And you start again, which leads to frustration and the feeling that you're getting nowhere. I certainly feel that way. And then I read an article by a YA author who said she had to write nearly half a million words to get one particular novel right. If an average YA novel is 70,000 words then that's 430,000 words not needed.

Does that mean they could be avoided?

Well, it got me thinking to how I wrote Clash and Arabesque. Clash actually started as a very different book, something called Get Even, Get Girl, Get Lost, and the story of Kyle and Alex was really just the opening of the book. It wasn't until I came to rewriting the entire novel that I realised Alex was really interesting and the rest of the book paled compared to those first few scenes. Two thirds were cut right there. About 40,000 words, and nothing of that was reused or reworked. It wasn't particularly bad, just nowhere near as strong.

So I began rewriting to develop those first scenes further. The majority of that first chunk was either rewritten or ditched. I think only two scenes of the original draft survived, and both were developed further and rewritten several times over. It was months before I had enough scenes to take a step back and be able to work on the plot.

I couldn't have planned Clash, and I couldn't have written it straight off. It was a mish-mash of good and bad scenes that were eventually hammered into shape.

Yesterday I wrote a scene for my current project (I'm going to call it Daniel's Daughter from now on, just as a working title so I can refer back to it), As a scene, it's okay. It was fun to write. It's got conflict and tension, it fires off questions for the reader and ends on a cliffhanger. But now that it's written I can't help thinking, 'What if...?' and approach the opening a different way. Over the past year or so, this has stumped me again and again and made me rethink, replan and start over. It's that fear of taking a wrong path that has held me back. It's that fear of writing bad scenes - or at least, unnecessary scenes - that holds back development of new ideas. The result of this is a book with lots of good scenes, but not a lot of development - no depth. I've written some clangers over the past few years!

So maybe writing those bad scenes has its place. I know that yesterday's scene probably won't make the final cut, and today's scene might not either. But I do think that writing them is the springboard to the good stuff.

So for now, the scenes stay, and Daniel's Daughter moves a step forward.