I am SO delighted to be announcing this plug of the month. Tomorrow my lovely friend Anne Booth will be publishing her children’s novel Girl With A White Dog. I’ve been privileged to watch the development of this story over the last eighteen months from first draft to publication and it’s a great read. Not only does it provide a moving account of a young girl’s attempt to understand her grandmother’s past, but it also highlights an issue close to my heart – the rise of disablism in the UK and the need to challenge it. I’m totally biased, of course, but this one is highly recommended.
In my blog last week, I posted on my writing process. I’m delighted to offer this space to my guest, and lovely friend Judith Heneghan, a wonderful writer, teacher, friend. Over to you Judith!
You might have noticed me mention recently that I’m currently looking for an agent. It’s quite a tricky place to be but it’s also an important part of the path to publication, so I thought it worth a blogpost.
In some ways I feel like I’ve been here before. In my early twenties, I was a happy singleton; but, as friends, family and acquaintances started pairing off and creating families of their own, I realised I wanted marriage and kids too. Although I was pleased for them, as the years passed it was hard sometimes not to grit my teeth at the latest birth announcement or engagement. I was delighted for them, of course I was, but for a long time, I thought, no matter how much I wanted it, it was never going to happen for me.
This stage of my writing career feels rather similar. For years I aspired to be a writer without doing anything about it. When I finally got going, it took me a lot longer than I’d anticipated to write my first novel. During which time, I’ve watched friends, family and acquaintances write novels, acquire agents and book deals, some seemingly without any effort whatsoever. Once more I find myself trying not to grit my teeth as someone I know fills their social media with the good news that I’d love to announce myself. And once more, it’s not that I resent their good fortune (and indeed I know that no-one gets there easily, however much it looks that way) it’s just the fear that it won’t ever happen for me.
So I’m trying to hold on to the knowledge that the self-belief and determination that preceded meeting my husband can help me here. Love and motherhood didn’t happen overnight, but it happened eventually. It happened because I didn’t give up in the face of failed relationships. It happened because I learnt lessons about myself from every rejection. When I finally met my lovely Chris, I was more than ready, and so was he, and everything just slotted into place.
I’m holding onto that knowledge as I search for the agent of my dreams. Writing submissions is hard, waiting for a response harder;and no matter how much I try and prepare myself, that “no” entering my in-box hurts every time. But, when the “ouch” moment has passed, I’ve been able to look at the helpful feedback and see how it can help me improve my work.
So I’m beginning to realise rejection doesn’t mean that I’m a bad writer, or my novel hasn’t got potential, it’s just that I haven’t found the right agent yet. The person that will get what I’m about and what I’m trying to do. The person who will love my novel as much as I do. The person who will champion my writing and get me the book deal I desire.
We haven’t met yet, but I know that agent is out there. And I like to think that s/he is looking for a writer like me. So that when we finally meet, everything will slot into place. However long it takes – 6 weeks, 6 months, a year or even more – I know it’s a moment well worth waiting for.
I was tagged into the My Writing Process Blog Tour by my lovely friend Anne Booth. Anne, and I and our friend Judith Heneghan (see below) were at University together where we used to talk into the wee small hours about our desire to be writers. Both of them got started before me, and have inspired me to keep going. I’m delighted that Anne’s excellent first book for children, Girl with A White Dog, is coming out next month. (Watch out for it as a plug of the month).
I really enjoyed Anne’s account of her writing process which she has written about here. And here is my attempt to answer the same questions:
1) What am I working on?
I have just completed (or completed as far as I can without professional help) my first novel, “Echo Hall”. I’m in the process of submitting to agents, getting rejections, learning, revising, resubmitting, which is all very nerve-wracking. So to give myself something to think about, I have written the first draft of my second novel, “The Wave”. I did this in a month for Nanowrimo, and I’ve left it aside for a few weeks so I can think about the re-writes. I’m aiming to get back to it soon. The novels are very different. The first is told over eighty years with complex plotting and a strong narrative arc as it explores the impact of unresolved conflict from one generation to the next (both personally and politically). The second takes place in less than 24 hours and is much more character and ideas driven, so it’s posing very different challenges. (With the first novel, I’ve spend ten years taming an unruly plot, with the second, I am trying to work out how to make limited action interesting and alive.)
I have also completed a collection of flash fiction drawn from writing on this blog and some newer pieces. “rapture and what comes after” contains ten paired stories dealing with the light and dark aspects of love. I’m hoping to publish as an e-book soon in order to generate income for a pamphlet version.
Finally, I have a strong idea for a play, and have the beginnings of a screenplay sitting in my files, but never have time to take them forward. (So many ideas so little time…)
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
That’s quite a difficult question to answer, partly because I don’t consider that I write to a particular genre, (“Echo Hall” has several, and “The Wave” is quite different); and partly because unless you are writing formulaic fiction, each writer should have their unique way of writing in the genre they choose. What I can say is that I aim to write to the best of my abilities, using the genre most suitable for the narrative, and experimenting only when it serves the story.
3. Why do I write what I do?
This one is easier. Reading and writing have always been inseparable for me. I read to be entertained, thrilled, horrified, amazed, inspired, moved. I write to do the same for other readers. I write because I absolutely have to, because I am possessed by stories that only I can tell, peopled by characters jostling in my head who demand to be heard.
All fiction writers draw from their experience, vision and values, and I am no exception. I aim to tell stories that people can’t put down, but which also make them think. I hope I manage to communicate something about my views on war, God, politics, relationships without preaching or forcing readers to agree with me.
4) How does your writing process work?
I spent a very painful two years on the treadmill of a creative writing course that demanded two long assignments each term. I found trying to write to such short deadlines absolutely excruciating and it did nothing for the quality of my work. However, whilst it was a difficult period, and I nearly gave up on the course more than once, it did teach me what process works best for me.
I now realise that when I have an idea, I have to just throw it on the page, not thinking about the writing, till I can see the shape of it. Once I’ve got that down, I have to put it away for a while (as I have done with “The Wave”). In the meantime, I research and keep my writing skills honed doing other projects (flash fiction is particularly good for working on precision). When I come back to it with clear eyes I can see what is working and what is not. I start by dealing with the structure, and after that will edit the words. My first drafts are always banal, full of cliche, repetition and limited character development. I have to do a lot of re-writes to create work that uses the right words in the right way, feels fresh and clarifies character motives. I have to be prepared to jettison scenes and chapters I really love, to ensure the story is told the best of my abilities. My writing can’t be rushed!
So that’s my process. Here are three more writers, who next week will tell you theirs:
Julia Williams. Julia is my twin sister, chief cheerleader, and unpaid editor. She was a brilliant editor for Scholastic Children’s Books where she took over the prestigious Point Horror series, developed Point Crime, Point Romance, Point Fantasy and edited “The Sterkhalm Handshake” which won the The Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize in 1998. When she took a career break to raise her family, she began writing fiction of her own. She is now a successful author of commercial women’s fiction, with six best-selling novels to her name, including “Pastures New,” “Last Christmas” and “Midsummer Magic”. She is currently developing a great fantasy series for children. Julia’s website is http://juliawilliamsauthor.com/ and she tweets as @jccwilliams
Dan Holloway. I first met Dan on-line. For a long time I thought he was a woman, till I discovered his twitter handle @agnieszkasshoes was derived from his novel “The Man Who Painted Agnieszkasshoes”. Since then our paths have crossed at a flash fiction reading, a protest and somewhat surprisingly, when he was a guest at my work’s annual fun run (where despite his pretence to be slow he beat me hands down). Dan is a prolific writer of novels, poetry, flash fiction. He was self-publishing before Kindle, and is a leading light in avant-garde independent fiction. He has recently announced his first book deal. He blogs at http://danholloway.wordpress.com/about-me-2/
Judith Heneghan. As noted above, Judith, Anne and I have been close friends for thirty years. Judith was the first to forge ahead with her writing career, when she took an MA in Creative Writing for Children at Winchester, which inspired me to get going myself. Her first novel “Stonecipher” is a wonderful piece of historical fiction, which reminds me a lot of Diana Wynne Jones. Since then she has written a number of picture books and over forty non-fiction books. She is a highly regarded lecturer in Creative Writing and is currently Programme Leader for the Winchester Children’s MA course. She has recently been appointed Director of the Winchester Writer’s Festival. Her blog for the festival can be found at http://writersfestival.co.uk/blog. She tweets as @JudithHeneghan
This week sees the 60th anniversary of the first radio performance of “Under Milk Wood”, Dylan Thomas’ wild and funny play/prose/poem. I love “Under Milk Wood” (which I first read in English lessons with my wonderful teacher Sue Brown) and was enchanted to discover on holiday in Wales in 2008, that the town of Laugharne where Dylan Thomas lived for many years, was the inspiration for Milk Wood. We were staying close by, so of course, I had to take a look. It was an important visit in more ways than one. I had just completed the first year of a tough writing course which had not ended well. In fact, I’d received some feedback near the end of term that had shaken my confidence so much I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a writer anymore. I love literary pilgrimages, but as I arrived in the rain-soaked town that August afternoon, I knew this one was going to be therapeutic.