Thursday, March 31, 2005

Confession 25 Authors' Names Muck Up Design: Official

Response from non-f. editor: 1

Apparently, though the book is definitely credited to me but (as with most of their books) my name doesn’t appear on the cover. Editor spoke to the designer about this and she feels strongly that it will muck up the design to try to fit my name on. As I can see from Amazon, I was told, it is under my name, which will appear on the copyright page.

So, there you have it. Authors' names muck up cover designs.

Enough of that. Think the chapters are ready for the agent now, so will be working on synopsis for next few days. Read a synopsis article on Mslexia the other day and discovered have been doing it wrong all this time. Mine have been getting more like company proposals, full of bullet points and headings. I thought bullet points were the way everything was going, but apparently not. Have also only recently discovered that most agents and editors read the three chapters first, and only look at the synopsis if their interest has been whetted so there's not much point in spending too much time on the intro.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Confession 24 Rewriting Tedium

Response from non-fiction ed.: 0

Have got over that. Will call her later, mustn't let it affect everything else. Woke up with positive plans for novel this morning. After all the gloom of it, realise the big problem is the rhythm. Having taken it from first person to third, it hasn't been written with flow and lots of bits have been added here and there. So this morning I set to on the first 3 chapters, cutting out any beat that didn't sound right, no matter what it said. I've kept all the bits on a separate page and will be able to use some of them elsewhere. Having done that, will now work on the synopsis so that I can get it sent to agent by end of Easter hols, as planned. For some reason felt had to get seven chapters in shape, but will send him just the three, three really tight ones, and by the time he may want to see more I'll have another four to send. There's plenty to put in the new synop, still needs more story development, so will work on that over the next few days.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Confession 23 Proof-Reading Depression

No. of replies from non-fiction ed. : 0

Have been in the glums the past few days. Yesterday morning I e-mailed this to non-fiction editor about non-appearance of name on cover:

Hi, Bella,

I have just noticed the new cover on my Amazon page. It doesn't appear to have an author credit! I'd be grateful if you could assure me this won't be the case when the book actually appears.

Many thanks,

Kind of light and jolly. No reply yet. Maybe she's still on her Easter holidays. Or perhaps she's not bothering to respond. T.t.t.t. stop it - mustn't get grumpy and moany old bag-like yet. There could, COULD be a genuine reasonable mistake. Saw friend who bought the other non-fiction at Wisley over the hols and heard all the details. Lots of them on display, apparently, face-out and next to Nigella Lawson. What with the women's mag interview, anyone who didn't know would think I'm a fledgling Nigella instead of some nameless slave idiot.

Checked my contract to see if there was any wording in all the millions of words about actually getting credited for writing the thing. Not the sort of thing I ever thought you'd have to include.

Proof-reading-style correcting of novel has been sensationally depressing, throwing me into pits of wondering why I'm bothering at all any more. The odds are so low on it getting accepted. On any book getting accepted in today's climate. Feel like giving it all up now.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Confession 22 Author Status Sinks to New Depths

No. of new titles on Amazon: 1
New Celebdaq rating record: 535

That's it. Am giving up non fiction. Would rather stack shelves in Tesco, it pays more that's for sure.

My next non-fiction comes out in August. It has been on the US Amazon for a while, but has just appeared on the UK listing and the cover has just appeared on both. They had terrible production problems with this one, I took it on after another author completely screwed on it. There was a horrible deadline. As I'd signed the contract there was little I could do, I needed the work. But, as I only discovered after I'd signed, the research the previous author had done was completely useless. It was a 90% rewrite job which they expected me to do in six weeks. I asked for more money twice and eventually got a teeny bit, enough to buy Christmas presents. They couldn't give me any more as there was nothing left in the budget. They promised me that if I could give my goodwill, and that if I'd pleease work for them again they'd make it up to me on their next contract. I finished the job in two and a half months, with the help of my dear friend J, who did a couple of chapters out of the kindness of her heart. I haven't had any more commissions from them, and now I discover they haven't even put my name on the cover. No author credit at all. I shall e-mail the editor after Easter to find out why.

Meantime I've printed the first 7 chapters of the novel and put them in a punch-hole file to work on over Easter. I've never done that before. It's horrible, a bit like proof reading, but will keep me away from the computer for a while.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Confession 21 How I Got Published Part III

How I got published Part III:

September 11th 2001 was the day I received an e mail from my agent saying she had 2 publishers left to try and that if they said no, then that would be it. The terrible tragedy of that day overshadowed my private gloom. I went and sat in my American friend Debbie's kitchen while she baked stacks of very large chocolate chip cookies.

In a follow-up phone call, something about photocopying, my agent said I shouldn't be too disappointed as many authors don't get their first book published. The only good thing about that was the fact that she'd called me an author. The first time anyone ever had. I worried about the photocopying bill. I had to pay for that. If I got the final rejections all I'd have to show for it would be a bloody bill from Frank Xerox.

Two months later my agent called to say she'd had an offer. The deal was for 2 books to be published a year apart; the only problem was the first wouldn't be published for l8 months as they wanted it for a spring tie-in promotion. She said this as if I might consider refusing the offer. I liked the sound of tie-in promotion very much. She told me what a lovely small friendly publisher they were and how they'd launched one famous contemporary women's fiction author very well and, although she'd never worked with them, she thought they'd do well for me.

I put the phone down and did all the yippee stuff and waited to be called in to meet my new editor. This was another well-rehearsed fantasy moment. I imagined going into the West End with my agent. She'd introduce me and the editor would shake my hand warmly and ask me to sit down. She'd then tell me how much she loved my book and welcome me into the bosom of her publishing house. She'd explain their marketing plan, perhaps I'd have to attend a marketing conference to meet the sales reps. Perhaps there'd be a little goodie bag for me to take home with me, with a mini-bottle of champagne and some of their titles.

Four months. Not a peek, not a phone call, nothing. I sent my agent a couple of reminders. Nothing. Supposing they were stalling? I was seriously worried. I had told everyone I'd got a deal, but I had no contract and there was no sign of the editor wishing to meet up. The contract finally arrived in March and I really began to think it would be happening. I turned to the next chapter in Carole Blake's From Pitch to Publication - contracts. All the precentages stuff meant little to me, I had a good agent, so I signed the contract and off it went. And that was it. I didn't hear anything again for ages. I got used to being a published author who hadn't been published yet. In fact it was quite good. No-one had read my book, and so they had no idea what it was like, but I could still brag at parties to anyone who'd listen that I had a publisher, a real publisher who was going to publish ME.

I kept track of the publisher's activities on Google. A piece in The Bookseller came out with them talking about their coming year's offerings. I read it all eyes, searching for my modest debut appearance. My heart leapt as I got to the bit where they talked of their high hopes for a talented new women's fiction author they were launching in the spring. I thought it might be me but it wasn't.

I finally met my editor at their Christmas party, three months before publication. She was really nice, a little nervy but not at all scary, which was a relief. I had a brilliant time, got drunk and met loads of authors.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Confession 20 A new Amazon ranking!

No. of baby guppys sold in the playground: 1
No. of sightings of new book in bookshop: 1
No. of new Amazon rankings to check every day: 1

Yes, big excitement yesterday as my friend Jean called to say she'd bought my new non-fiction book. She jumped quite high in astonishment when she saw it in Wisley bookshop. wisley/index.asp is the home of the Royal Horticultural Society & the last place she expected to see my name as she ferretted about on the shelves. I rushed to Amazon to find it's first little ranking:


Sorry, but it's quite an author moment, a bit like a baby's first poo.

I don't know if I'll be really annoyed or happy if it sells as I don't get any royalties.

Meantime Novel 1 has had 2 nice reviews on Australian e-bay from people trying to flog it and a BID! of $3Aus from someone called orangedogski. I wonder, in lieu of famous author raves, cover of next bk cld have e bay flogging reviews. No. of bids, that sort of thing.

Good progress on Chapter 6 today. Just one more chapter to tidy up and it'll be back to concentrating on the storyline to get a new synopsis ready.
I'll then look at it again and realise it needs lots more work. Then I'll send it back to agent and have the most miserable few weeks of my life whilst I wait to hear what he's got to say about it.

Daughter's flexing her entrepeneurial muscles, flogging guppies at £1 a piece. Could be lucrative. They're great fish, very entertaining, & lovely to see them living and giving birth naturally without any of that neutering so many pets have to go through. Also, the deaths bring no tears, as we go 'bah it was only a fish' and on with the next litter. Talking of pets, saw a rat in the garden this morning. 'Belongs' to our weird neighbours (other side to baby monitor three for two neighbours) who have an uncanny resemblance to the Royle Family and are classic How Clean is Your House candidates, the kitchen piled with stuff sort of spills out into this open lean-to full of junk. Eugh.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Confession 19 Writing Group Litmus

No. of new fish in tank: 30
Celebdaq rating: 46,107

Woke up and wrote two words on piece of paper by bed:

scrap metal

Have no idea why.

It's a rainy day today and all I have to do is stay in and write. My favourite kind of a day.

Wrote a new chapter on Sunday morning, early, in bed, then typed it up and spent yesterday working on it. It's Chapter 3 and it introduces two new characters, the children of the protagonist.

Do I use real people I know? Whell I have, yes... Book 1 was based on the interplay between a group of females from very different backgrounds. I shamelessly took 2 from that group at the kick-off. But like the famous people or strangers, it's more of a way to get started. A cameraman who was writing a screenplay said to me once that anyone who made up characters was crazy when there were so many real ones to choose from. At the end of the day it's always you. By the end of writing Book 1 the four main women were all cartoon portraits of different parts of myself, my shy side, my snobbish side, my earth-mother side and my smug side. That's why I find it helps writing under a different name, getting at the truth can be painful.

I read the chapter out last night at my writing group. It's still early draft but it went down OK. L thought it could have more of the introspective descriptive writing, much of which I'd culled out. It's a sad subject and I'm finding it's too easy to go off on the literary tangent when I'm trying to keep it light and funny. Maybe a mistake, I don't know. Bizarrely the twist at the end of the chapter had actually happened to J in real life and she was wiping away a tear at the end. Her reading as always was beautiful. L didn't read but talked about her future plans and we heard the other L's latest news on her mega-agent who has called her to tell her he's about to release the buzz on her. Unbelievably exciting. J's signed up to go on an Arvon course and I banged on about how lucky authors are who can go to a country retreat and write for months on end. This set us talking about perhaps going away together for a weekend.

The guppys: no sooner had pere guppy The Prince of Whales gone to his grave in the rubbish bin than his lady-friend, Camilla, produces.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Confession 18 Getting Published: Cynicism Needed

No. of horrendous bills in post: 1
No. of dead fish in tank: 1

Not a good start to the day, despite the sunshine. Have been wondering about that 20% estimate. Looked up which lists the latest deals to see how many 'new talents' had done the deal lately. I counted 3 major authors, 8 established authors, 2 screenwriters, 1 movie tie-in, 1 living legend, 1 football tie-in, 4 journalists, 1 new author with help of established journalist, 1 non fiction on dead pope, which left 1 'major new talent' and 1 other. Not very encouraging. Perhaps John Walsh is closer to the mark. Perhaps it's time to give up now.

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Friday, March 18, 2005

Confession 17 How To Get Published Cynicism

The Sound of Music jog:

Discovered a new form of jogging today. It was another sunny spring morning so instead of running around the edge, zigging through daffodil clumps huffing and wondering when I could stop, I ran down grassy slope through centre of park to the river, arms out to side, Sound-of-Music-like. There aren't many people around at that time of the morning, and I didn't sing. Perhaps I'll wear frock tomorrow, though.

Partner pointed this article out to me yesterday, said I should read it. Thanks. It's John Walsh talking about his stint chairing a one day seminar called How to Get Published at the London Book Fair.

The meanies of the Independent make you pay £1 to read it but I wouldn't bother. He was saying basically all these people on his course were deluding themselves and didn't have a hope in hell. Yes it is really, really hard to get published these days, and was in any other day. And some of those people probably couldn't write for toffee, but others probably could. And it's true that of the books that are published a high percentage of those authors will have a marketing gimmiky thing that publishers love like being a footballer or a model or something, and a large chunk will be journalists and magazine editors. That probably leaves about 20% of the spaces left for the rest of us. It's best to know that being able to write isn't enough. That is assumed. It's finding an original angle, identifying a genre before it's happened, but not too soon because the publishers won't have seen it, it's all that kind of stuff that probably gives the best odds. It's a painful time, in between deciding to give it a go and getting that first contract.

I've been editing all day, deleting each scene and tagging it with a summary so that I can move them all around and delete a lot of them. There are far too many at the moment and I need to identify the ones that move the story forward, that have something to say and junk the rest.

My favourite rediscovered note of the day:

The smell of France: "Gauloise, slumberous sauces, scented flesh and opulent farmlands."
The smell of Spain: "the salt of dried fish, some wine and sickness, stone and thorn, old horses and rotting leather, the whiff of rags and woodsmoke."

Laurie Lee:

I am going to try and do something on Greece. As can't nip over to Hydra for mini-break, and even local restaurant is out at the moment, will have to rely on memory: hotel full of furred up Russian mafia, hundreds of Greek hairdressers on annual convention blocking the lifts, kids club losing daughter, rain.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Confession 16 Quotation Madness

No. of new cheques in post: 1
Celebdaq rating: 827

'If you don't learn to laugh at trouble, you won't have anything to laugh at when you're old.' Edgar Watson Howe

What about if you're already old?

I'm a mess of quotes right now. Many of them culled from Have been doing the web job. It took 2 days including evenings, rather than the one day commissioned, but am grateful for the work & praying for more. It's so different writing for internet people. The instructions state the maximum and minimum characters rather than words (characters as in A,B,C) and precise instructions for type and size of Font. I found my 50 quotes and added my supplementary insights and sent them off. Quite mad. My friend K says perhaps I'll become a guru instead of a bus driver come September.

September's the deadline I've given myself to keep on writing, after that I'll have to get a job. I don't know as what, I've forgotten how to do telly work, and am so old they'd probably not have me anyway. There'll be no excuse, though, as daughter will be at secondary school and I won't have to drive her backwards and forwards twice a day.

SPRING arrived today! Glorious sunshine, so threw open all the windows and wished for a laptop. My neighbour had a babygroup meeting in her garden, so constant babble of conversation in background.

'Oh, that's hysterical.'
'It is funny.'
'Going like this.'
'I KNOW!!'
'It's going to involve curry and lager.'

So, this afternoon I got back onto the fiction for the first time after my splurge of new ideas last weekend. I typed up all my notes and blocked the chapters all out onto one file. This made a very satisfying 32,217 wordcount, but more cuts needed. I usually keep the chapters separate but am going to be jumping around so much with the new inserts think this'll be a more straightforward method. Am scared of losing file now. Have copied it onto 2 discs and e-mailed it to self. Must set up weblog file saving thingy except don't know how to.

Got a cheque today for last instalment of my first non-fiction book. There's a payment up front, a payment when you complete and a payment on publication (April). It's early! Unheard of. That's it. No more dues. Lots of stuff going out of the bank and 1 day's pay to go in. I just hope I haven't screwed on it.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

'Every exit is an entry to somewhere.' Tom Stoppard

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Confession 15 Rejection from Academia

No. of new commissions: 1
No. of new rejections: 1
Celebdaq rating: 905

Playing truant:

A day away on Monday, tube to Green Park (author in transit note: NO books, everyone reading METRO newspaper) and out onto Piccadilly. Girlfriend K took me to the Royal Academy for The Turks exhibition and Matisse. Enjoyed Turks but even Matisse and all his colours seemed faded after all the Topkapi goldings and sable-lined kaftans. Loved the kaftans. Have a thing about kaftans.

We had lunch in the Friends' dining room in only window seat overlooking the courtyard and the queues, very satisfying. Then we went to Hatchards Bookshop & Fortnum & Mason. Quite fancied the job at the front desk of Hatchards. Now that I've fallen into the lull of the once-published and perhaps-never-to-be-published-again, I don't have to go and look for my non-existent books or anyone else's. Didn't even look at fiction as it was upstairs or downstairs somewhere and didn't buy anything as I never do, books aren't in my budget. Bought a sausage roll in Fortnums, though. They wrapped it up in embossed greaseproof paper, then sealed it in turquoise parcel with royal crescent and then put it in one of their dinky carrier bags. I wanted to carry it everywhere forever just because it was so ridiculous.

I got back in the afternoon ready to steam into new ideas for novel to find an e-mail commissioning me for the first stage of the web writing job. Hooray. A day's work to begin with, which will take me more like 3 days probably, but if it goes well there could be some more and it's the kind of thing which will speed as I get the hang of it. I have to write commentaries on inspiring quotations so will be putting my amateur philosopher's hat on and driving everyone mad with Lao Tzu and Thoreau words of wisdom.

Today I got a rejection letter from Birkbeck, boos. Had applied to do an MA in creative writing. Didn't even get an interview. Perhaps it's something to do with my CV, 3 O levels never goes down very well. (I was going for the 'mature student' ticket) Am feeling quite fine about it, I don't think academia is for me somehow. If I'd got in and then had managed to blag a grant, what would I have then done with the great big 'I never went to university' chip that lives on shoulder?

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Confession 14 Story, Story, Story

Story, story, story

Have been mulling over story all weekend. Stephen King in his book On Writing says that plot is a dirty word, a near-relative of plod. I don't read many How To books, it's so easy to spend too much time on them.

Story, plot, whatever, I find it the most difficult process. Am trying to take lessons from Desperate Housewives, which has such bonkers Dallas-like storylines, but I sit and take it all in and enjoy it because of the characters. Reminding myself of this over and over, have progressed synopsis to different level, which is really daft but could be fun. It's so easy to get bogged down in irrelevant stuff, like, how did they get from A to B and when's she going to book the removals van, when it's always best to cull the explanatory stuff and get on with the: story. I'm going to be doing a lot of leaping with this one, trying to keep emotion and feelings up front and out there at the same time. However could easily wake again tomorrow and realise new idea was dumb and stupid.

Booked tickets for Rufus Wainwright's Shepherd's Bush Empire gig this evening which has put me in a cheery mood.

We shouldn't be going at all in our present circumstances, but after watching the documentary about him on Channel 4 last night, and playing Want One for months and months, I decided I really couldn't miss it.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Confession 13 The Four Things That Happen to New Authors

The 4 things they say happen when you become an author:

  • You acquire a Penelope.

A Penelope is another author launched at same time as you. There are thousands to choose from every month, which one sticks is a matter of chance. It could be to do with genre or same publishing house, whichever, they are more loved by their publishers and PR people, get more publicity and make more money than you. Penelopes can and do appear later in a career, Neville Shute was Anthony Burgess' Penelope, Posh Spice is Jordan's Penelope.

  • You never walk into a bookshop in the same way ever again

See Confession 1. I would add that the pleasure of finding your book on the shelves is dampened by the realisation that it hasn't sold and the pleasure of not finding your rival's books on the shelves is squashed by the almost definite fact that they've probably flown out of the shop like hot cakes. And then there's the returns business. Three to six months later your books will be gone. The only way to stop this is to sign them. With book 1 I innocently did a tour of local and West End bookshops and signed happily away. I even had an author moment in Waterstones Piccadilly where the friendly assistant cleared a sofa, shooing the occupant off by hissing that an author was present and they needed to sit down to do some signing. It would have been my finest bookshop moment by far if the occupant hadn't been an old lady taking a rest. I was too gobsmacked by what I'd just heard to intervene. At another bookshop, however, they didn't just say yeah go ahead, the girl spent a long time checking her computer, for what I don't know, before consenting. How would it be to be refused? After that I stopped and did none of it for book 2 apart from the friendly local bookshop. It occurred to me I could be anybody at all. They don't check identity. Perhaps when I'm an old lady I'll spend my days being any author I choose, signing away.

  • You lose 3 friends

True. Well, two anyway. But two big ones.

  • You put on weight

Fairly obvious but depressing fact. Atkins-like crash diets before publication in case book is instant hit and all the magazine and newspaper photographers come calling only add to yo yo effect. Latest attempt to drop the extra stone is running in park for 10 minute a day. Like word-count calculations, it all adds up: 5 times a week = 50 minutes of running. The other problem is am into swing of writing by lunchtime, after endless avoidance tactics, and, having got there, the last thing I want to do is stop. This means that by teatime am starving and start picking at rubbish food.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Confession 12 How I Got Published Part II

How I got published part II:

So, I got me an agent. She didn't fire me for not being called Kate and we decided she would call me by my real name. She had one author who insisted on being called by his pseudonym, even though everyone knew his real name, which was funny. I eventually dropped Kate and used my real first name to avoid the two first names problem.

She was the second agent I sent my stuff to. I was still in the writing class. The first agent I'd contacted was famous, at the time, for signing first-time authors. Our writing teacher had taken us on a class outing to hear him talk. It was great to see an agent in the flesh, to realise they were normal people trying to do the best job. Amongst his words of advice were: don't mention Bridget Jones, ever. If a trend is out there, forget it, if you can see the bandwagon, you've missed it. He also advised against jokes and exclamation marks in the covering letter and said you should be able to sum up what your book is about in ten words. He talked a lot about admiring 'dark' and 'cutting edge' writing, a clue my stuff wasn't for him somehow; but try him I did, managing to get in my ten words a BJ reference, a joke and an exclamation mark. The formula rejection letter, my first, nearly finished me off.

The agency I went with was small, with tiny offices above a shop in west London, but they were long-established and had lots of famous clients. The next time I went into a bookshop I looked up my new stablemates. I imagined the agency Christmas party, drinking sherry in a book-lined study, the fire crackling.

My new agent said she thought my kind of book could be the start of a new publishing trend. She was very positive. Her agency, she explained, always kept the territorial rights of their books so that they could re-sell them abroad and each time pick up a new advance. This is, I now know, normal practice and why it's not a good idea to sign with a publisher direct without the advice, at least, of an agent or the Author's Society. Some national writing competitions still offer a 'worldwide publishing deal' as the prize - that's exactly what you don't want. Another thing I didn't realise was that when it comes to the contract, it often starts off at the agency end. They're called 'boilerplate' contracts, and it saves the agent having to go through with a toothcomb from the off.

So, my agent started sending my novel out as an 'exclusive'. There followed months and months of rejection. I now know rejection is a big part of writing, but it was difficult to get through. I reached second base a couple of times - if an editor likes a ms they'll 'share' it with a colleague. They are the both, always looking for reasons not to publish rather than reasons to take you on. Then, if both (or maybe it's more) editors like it - or rather feel they have to publish this before one of their rivals snaps it up - they'll test others in the company, most importantly their marketing department. If the ticks keep coming, you'll get an offer. It's not just one editor's opinion any more. After 6 rejections there were just 2 more publishers my agent was going to try. She warned me that if they didn't want me, that would be the end of the game as far as that particular book went. But one of those final two publishers did want me and signed me up.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Confession 11 RIP Alice Thomas Ellis

RIP Anna/Alice:

A sad moment this morning as I read of the death of Alice Thomas Ellis. She was the first real author I ever met. Working on a documentary about her was also my first close-up look at the authorly life. It looked pretty damned good to me - she wrote in bed in her pyjamas. She was married to Colin Haycraft who owned Duckworths, housed in an old piano factory just down the road from their big shabby Victorian house in Camden Town. Colin cheerfully followed us around while we followed Anna around, dishing out tumblers of whiskey and chatting about anything and everything. As well as this lovely husband she had lots of good-looking sons, a moody daughter and Janet. Janet was a close friend and an employee at the same time. Beryl Bainbridge lived in the same street, (as did Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller). Beryl was always popping into the basement kitchen for a fag and a chat by the Aga. Anna had this amazing house in Wales too, in the middle of the middle of nowhere. It was haunted and the crew and I played ghost tricks on each other. She was a warm and funny, but sad, lady. She never got over losing her teenage son in an accident.

I had no ambitions to write at that time, I was more concerned wondering if she'd ever write about me. I caught her surreptitiously studying me once as we stood by a skip, in Gloucester Crescent. I looked for me and my skip in her subsequent novels but we never appeared.

I worked on character today. Realised I couldn't go any further until I'd firmed up a few people and changed some names. Also, woke up this morning realising I had to condense the first three chapters into one. This meant losing lots of lovely wordcount, but that's how it goes.

Before getting going I read Rose Tremain on character:

There's so much on this site. There's this fun tool that does the William Borroughs, David Bowie cut up thingy for you:

and J from my writing group recommends the character building tool.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Confession 10 Proof Reading, Nightmare

Moving from the first person to the third:

Started the morning with , all about Virginia Woolf today. She delivered her first MS, The Voyage Out, to her publishers on this day in 1913. It took her seven years to write. She wrote "I have wasted all my time trying to begin things and taking up different points of view, and dropping them, and grinding out the dullest stuff, which makes my blood run thick." When the proofs arrived, she hated reading them so much she had one of her nervous breakdowns and took two years to recover. Reading proofs is horrible. When I got mine I couldn't believe I'd written such crap and that it was on its way out there for all to read (not that many as it happens). I drive past Virginia's old house in Paradise Road every morning on my way back from the school run. I always give it a nod and am pleased when there's a traffic jam so's I can sit and imagine her at the doorstep, off on one of her walks. The Voyage Out took 15 years to sell 2,000 copies.

A non-fiction-free day today. Unfortunately that means a non-income day as well but I'm trying not to panic. The woman's magazine called again last night, a different editor this time, wanting my advice on fake tanning lotion. It could be the start of something big.

The novel is tedious and I'm finding any excuse to stop. I'm going in from Chapter One, changing all the I's to she's, plain and simple. It's no fun when it's such ploddy work like this. The best way, I've found, to get a novel finished is to move on with the story every day and the brain eventually begins to engage of its own accord, but that doesn't kick in until about a third of the way in for me. I've done four chapters over two days: 9081 words, nearly a tenth of the way. (But also have been working on extra non-fiction stuff. I don't think I got the web job, by the way, and I definitely didn't get the newspaper job, oh well, but a new contact made and there might be something in the future. Who knows.)

Partner pointed out this piece last night, it's the Sunday Times TV critic A A Gill on the difficulties of adapting the first person novel for the screen:,,14934-1510998,00.html

I love A A Gill. He does restaurants as well:,,2104-682534_1,00.html

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Confession 9 Starting to Write

Starting to write:

The most difficult thing in the world is starting. The best feeling in the world is having written which makes you want to start again.

I began at a local college writing class. It was very important that the class had the words 'beginners welcome' in the blurb. The first lesson was to choose a letter and write lots of words that letter began with. I chose J. J, Jay, jabberjay, jabberjejay, jooo, joke, jim, this is a joke jim......... We then turned to our partner and read our words out to each other. The teacher went round and picked the best out for reading to the class.

We were then given homework. This got me stuck. Everything I wrote sounded self-conscious and ridiculous. I didn't want to reveal anything of myself. I decided to be a Chinese boy, as distant a character from the real me as I could think of. But I couldn't start. Then I looked at the books on my shelves wondering if I could copy something out. Just to get me started. The one I chose was Electricity byVictoria Glendinning.

"Sunday afternoon, waiting for the stranger. I was eighteen.
I sat on the left of the fireplace. My father sat on the right, his back to the brown door. My father's name was Alfred Mortimer, and I suppose he would then have been about forty-seven.
It was an autumn of terrible gales and high tides engulfing the coasts. That was over. The world was waiting. The day was fading, discolouring, the muslin curtains that covered the window, dimming the already dim reddish-brown velvet drapes and the leaf-patterned wallpaper."

I copied it out then changed the room to one in China, the father to the boy's grandfather and it came out like this:

"Powdery light filtered through the half-closed shutters of the small, dark parlour. Grandfather and I sat in silence waiting for the reality of his memories, memories that were my imaginings, soon to be made real. The tension of waiting was growing. Grandfather fiddled nervously with the lid of his white china tea mug. Supposing Song Huan didn't come? his clatterings were saying. He was very close to death now. His bony old body, propped up in the chair, looked as if it could topple over at any time. Outside, just a few feet away from where he sat in front of the window, the River Foloon flowed its brown stagnant way. He didn't look at it any more. He'd turned his chair round over fourteen years ago, when pollution from the factory began to kill the clear, strong water, now so thick with chemicals it meandered and crept like a lava-flow. But there was no heat, no energy here. The fish that once thrived were long gone."

I used Victoria's experience in setting up a scene and turned it into my own, and once I'd started that was it....

The teacher got me to read it out at the next class, and that was me hooked to writing. People said admiring things. I basked. I imagined the soft black beret on my head, slightly tilted to one side, honestly, I did. The ego of it all. I didn't tell them about Victoria.

The answer to the mindreading magic comes from my friend Debbie's genius brother, John, who started his reply Debbie, Debbie, Debbie, which she knew he'd do:

"Oh debbie, debbie, debbie.......Any two digit number "xy" is numerically equal to 10x + y. For example 27 = 2*10 + 7. The program tells you to subtract the sum of the two digits (x + y). 10x + y - (x + y) = 9x, where x = 1, 2, 3, .... So 9x is 9, 18, 27, 36, ..... No matter what 2 digit number you pick, you'll always end up at a multiple of 9 after you subtract the sum of the two digits. The program tricks you by changing the symbols each time, but you'll notice that for all multiples of 9, the symbol is the same.

I forgot to mention that an exception is that 90 (which is a multiple of 9) may have a different symbol, however, if you start with a two digit number (as instructed) and subtract the sum of the two digits, you cannot actually land on 90. Any number you pick from 90...99 takes you to 81."

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Monday, March 07, 2005

Confession 8 Out and About

The author out and about:

When you become an author, every journey on public transport turns into an important market research opportunity. For there you will see people, lots and lots of people, in the act of reading. You might even, one fine day, see someone in the act of reading your own book. Putting it down on their lap every so often to wipe tears of mirth or sadness from their eyes. Being a writer, I don't get out very much. But when I do, it's always an event. To maximise my chances I always walk up and down the tube carriage before taking my seat or grabbing my pole, even in rush hour I squeeze my way through as much of the carriage as possible, stepping on peoples' heads if necessary. What if someone had been reading my book, only inches away and I'd missed them?

With a steady strike rate over the past two years of zero, I then move on to phase two which is to examine what people are reading instead of me. I saw someone laugh out loud on the tube the other day, this is a multiple bingo situation for lucky author, I had to know who it was. I nonchalantly moved opposite the reader and squirmed and twisted, trying to see the cover. I tried not to seem too obvious, but, frankly, I wasn't that bothered. If I hadn't got the title I would have become reader's underground stalker. He closed the book with a happy sigh and put it in his bag, slowly enough for me to see it was Joseph Heller's Catch 22. Fair cop.

I have never seen my own books in the big wide world BUT I have had these three exciting reports:

My friend Philippa's husband's sister, Ruth, spotted first novel being read on tube. I believe it was the Northern Line.

Carole and Mark from the playground spotted second novel being read on beach in Costa del Sol.

Diana, from my old writing class, spotted second novel in small bookshop in Tenerife, in between Ruth Rendall and John Grisham.

So - they're out there somewhere!

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Sunday, March 06, 2005

Confession 7 First person/third person

I haven't worked on the new novel since that conversation about moving the tense. I'm letting it settle rather than going through any avoidance regimes. I hope that's the case.

I conferred with my writing group. They reckon it's working well in the first, there are plenty of examples of commercial women's fiction working well in the first, and if I feel strongly about it I must continue as I am. To be fair, the agent said this too, it was only a suggestion. But I do like the idea, new opening sentences are going round in my head. My last two books were in the third person. It's just all the WORK.

Besides which I am having to write to earn a living, which, unfortunately, isn't via fiction at the moment. This weekend I've had to find five famous quotes and make some meaningful in-depth comments about them and then 'draw' the reader in with a stimulating question referring to said comment. This is a commission for a psychology website, worth a go but I'm not sure I'm up to it. I'll hand my five samples in tomorrow and wait to see if I've got the job. I've also had a go at writing a column for a newspaper, another writerly dreamjob; I've heard there's a one-off up for grabs, the chances of getting it are minus 5000 but I've given it a go. It's much more difficult than it appears.

Most of my time is taken up with non-fiction. One-off fees for lots of work and no royalties, they don't feel like my own books somehow. They're not my ideas. With the kind of non fiction I do, the publishers sell the idea first at the international book fairs and then commission an author to write it. I've just been interviewed by a big woman's magazine about one of them. I guess all publicity is good publicity, more exposure than I got for the novels anyhow. The good news is they go down on my plr and alcs register, both of which give handy annual payouts (, All authors should belong to these organisations.

My family has also been sidelined by this little mystery

It has us baffled for a while. My daughter was hiding under the chair she was so spooked. We discovered the answer together.

A word on my writer's group. I know some people don't like the idea, but I can only think this is because they haven't found the right people. Trying to become a writer is full of unavoidably depressing lows. I would have given up a long time ago if it weren't for the girls. Sorry I can't share mine because I have the best. There are six of us. We've been together about five years now. When we started there were four of us, a spin-off from another writing group. One of us had a major deal the other three of us were trying for agents. Since then I've been published and L has just signed to a big agent we're all soooo excited about. J is still trying for an agent, but she's a brilliant writer and will probably eclipse the lot of us. And we've been joined by two others: a twice-published literary author, a UEA graduate, she was originally a teacher at the writing college we all met at; and a member of the chickliterati whose second book comes out next month. We meet twice a month and read for ten minutes (strictly adhered to) each. As the years have gone on, the wine and gossip sessions before we start get longer and longer. Apart from anything else, I find it really useful to have a deadline to write towards, reading out gives me a much better idea of how it's going.

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Thursday, March 03, 2005

Confession 6 How I Got Published Part I

How I got published, part 1:

There are many good writers but only a small percentage of them are going to make it to the shelves. To turn yourself from a good unpublished writer into a good published writer requires an enormous amount of LUCK and TENACITY.

I had written short stories for years but to get beyond winning a few book tokens in competitions I had to write a novel. The only other, Kate Atkinson, way would be to win one of the big competitions like the Ian St James annual short story competition. (Write an original short story in any genre, with the exception of stories for children. Ten awards with a top prize of £2,000. Details: Merric Davidson, PO Box 60, Cranbrook, Kent TN17 2ZR). I reckoned it was harder to win a major short story competition than getting a novel published. Of the many people who can give good copy, who can write brilliant unputdownable stuff, not all of them have the staying power to complete a novel. So you're narrowing the competition there. But then you've got to have the dogged determination to write 80,000 words plus with rotten odds on chance of success at the end of it.

I decided to write commercial fiction because I thought I had a chance of doing as well as some of the stuff I'd picked up in the bookstores, whereas the literary end of things just held me in awe. Oh, all right then, the Bridget Jones bandwagon was in full swing and the papers were full of stories about girly authors winning enormous six figure advances. So I wrote three chapters, short sentences, sympathetic main character etc., and a synopsis and sent them off to an agent under a pseudonym. I used a pseudonym because I felt I could be more honest, write more what I wanted (s.e.x.) without feeling restricted. The 3 chapters were a tester, I had no idea if I was good enough to be considered or not.

When my agent phoned and said she liked it and wanted to see the rest, after asking her to hold on while I silently punched the air, I had to confess I hadn't written any more. 'Good,' she said, 'because I can help you.' Luck. I heard one big agent say recently that she found this practice extremely annoying. She'd invested her time reading the chapters, analysing how they'd do in the current market, only to find out there wasn't a book. This is understandable. From an author's point of view, however, getting a professional opinion at this stage is no bad thing. Of course, you won't know the whole story, unless you're a master plotter, so you'll have to fill out the synopsis with a bit of blag, but it can be done.

I am 33,000 words into my current novel. The agent I'm working with called yesterday after his first read to say he thought it should be in the third person, not the first. An idea I hadn't considered. It'll open up opportunities the restrictions of the first person would have held me under.

Going back to that first book and the first agent, we changed the viewpoint from four viewpoints to one, much easier to handle as a beginner, and she helped me all the way through the writing process over the following year. After the carefully honed, drafted and redrafted first three chapters, the first complete draft I sent her was TERRIBLE, truly truly Konnie from Blue Peter singing terrible. But fortunately she stuck with it.

Five drafts later, when it eventually got to a state of sellability, I went in to meet her. Big grins, handshakes, 'Hello Kate, lovely to meet you.' How do I tell her? I wondered as I sat, all hairdo'd up, in her in her little office stuffed with manuscripts and posters and books. How do I tell her I'm not called Kate? She might tell me to get lost. She might not like me if I'm not called Kate. All through our glitzy conversation, the conversation I'd always dreamed of having, about exclusive submissions and foreign rights and film deals all I could think of was this.

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Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Confession 5 Acknowledgements



Acknowledgements and the many different ways to say thank you:

The coolest thing is to be like the literary and have none at all. Thank people personally and leave the awards ceremonies out of it. But I am not cool and I love reading other people's. Mine went through more rewrites than the novel.

After reading everyone else's on the tables at Waterstones I gave myself a stern warning about pretentious gushing. On the other hand, gushing can be really charming if it's done well. After lots of 'thanks to... for this' and 'to... for that'.... I cut all that out and made a list, treating it like TV credits and only mentioning people who'd helped with the book in a direct way, which caused its own problems.

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