Sunday, 31 December 2017

2017 roundup and goals for 2018

Quite odd that at the start of the year I decided to quit writing, and at the end I find myself in a stronger position than ever - certainly a situation I never would have imagined back in March.

Personal stuff.

There was a good deal of personal difficulty at the start of the year. My brother-in-law and friend for almost twenty years had been diagnosed with a brain tumour in August of 2016. He went through treatment and seemed to be doing very well, but as we moved into 2017 it was clear things weren't going well. At the same time, we were approaching March, which would mark the second anniversary of Matthew's death. On that particular day, and that particular time, I know where I should be, but that was also the date of a consultation for my brother-in-law. We thought it was just going to be a question of getting his pain under control, but ended up driving through to a palliative care hospice in Sunderland where he died a couple of weeks later. What shocked everyone was how fast the cancer destroyed him. Horrible. 

Writing

With March being such an emotionally difficult time, the rejection of a book I'd invested the last of my YA skills in tipped the balance. I wasn't up to writing another YA book, so I decided to put that YA novel out on KDP as Here in the Poison Garden and draw a line under it. 

I needed a big change. As I work in a primary school, I thought I try the lower Middle Grade audience (approx age: 7-10) - something quirky and silly with a horror slant. My agent wasn't confident in pitching books for this audience, and I had no intention of writing any more YA books, so I left the agency and decided to just write for fun. No more agents. No more publishers. No more stress. 

But once you have a finished book, it's hard just to leave it. So, during the half term break, I had a moment of madness and sent this MG book directly to three publishers. A few days later, one requested the full script and offered to publish. On the back of that I contacted my dream agency. I went down to London, met Agent F, I pitched to do my own illustrations and Buttercup became a two-book deal. 

At the end of the year, I'm in a situation where I have a top agent who really knows the younger market and I have a load of Middle Grade ideas bouncing around in my head. The first Buttercup book is going to proof in the new year and the second book is already written.

Goals for 2018

The illustrations for Buttercup #2 don't really count as a goal because they're something I have to do - and I can't wait to get started. Goals are something I want to achieve that I don't have to do. Something to work towards. So here are a few.

  • To write a new MG title. Something very different from Buttercup.
  • To write twelve book pitches over three months - three sample chapters and a pitch for each. 
  • To read more. Much more.
  • To write and illustrate a picture book - a few ideas bouncing around for that.
And that's it. So here's to 2018. Let's give it a go and see what happens.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Zombie-Col

Quick Buttercup update. Two weeks back, I met Steve from Maverick. Before he became a publisher, he used to have his own photography business, so he wanted to do some promo shots.

We spent a stunning, but cold, Sunday morning flying around North East landmarks including The Angel of the North, some strange statues in South Shields, Stadium of Light and Penshaw Monument.

The best shots are going to be used for press releases early next year, but this one makes me smile. When we went to the Angel, it was early so there weren't many people about. The same in South Shields. There were a few learner drivers in the car park of the Stadium of Light, but by the time we took this one, at Penshaw, there were people walking past giving us some strange looks while I staggered down the slope, zombie style.

All part of the fun of being an author-superstar.

On the illustration side, things are going well. The drawings are taking much longer than I thought. I draw directly onto a computer, so I knock out a first sketch, then zoom in and do a more detailed drawing, then zoom right in and draw the final outlines. It means each image takes about an hour but it has the advantage that when it comes to editing them, I can change things quite easily.


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. 😜