Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Positive Reinforcement

Like a lot of writers, I keep my rejection slips in a folder, but sometimes I wonder what I'm going to do with them. Mostly, they just depress me and I'm hardly going to brandish a fistful at the first agent or editor who signs me up! The amount of rejections you've received seems to be held as a badge of honour in some circles, in that the more you've amassed before you get published, the better a writer you somehow are. True, you have persisted and triumphed over adversity, but some of those agents and editors must have been on to something...

For my own part I've decided to stop looking at the rejections (I have about 30) and make a folder of all the positive comments I've had about my writing. I was very pleased this week to receive the judges' comment forms for Undiscovered Voices (I believe the people with honorary mentions got theirs too?) so they will go in the folder. Several of the judges had agreed on the things they liked and they all disagreed on what they thought I could improve (thus cancelling each other out!).

I started thinking about other stuff I could include: the complementary emails from authors who I had pestered to look at my work, nice comments from written critique sessions, even some positive comments from the rejection file. I will also include my wife's immortal comment: "It made a lot more sense than the last book you wrote" as this is high praise coming from her.

So now I think about it, the positive folder might just get to be thicker than the one with the rejections in it! I leave you with my favourite bit of positive feedback, a review of Back from the Dead written by an 11 year old. And no, they weren't related to me, and yes I've reproduced it as close to the original as possible (note the vampire vs zombie confusion):

I really enjoyed reading it. If you were to write a I think you should write a sequel as you have left it as a at a perfect point! Leaving the reader waiting for more! I liked the way that you rea revealed that he was a vampi zombie. Also I liked the tittle. I really think you should consider writing a sequel !!!! I would definetly read it !!!!!

Friday, 16 October 2009

Calm Descends

Not a lot to report this week, but I thought I'd blog anyway - I rarely miss an excuse to talk about myself ;-)

I find it hard to entirely relax when I have a manuscript (or even a partial) out with an agent, despite the fact that I know this is a slow and deliberate process. This is the first full submission I've done of Back from the Dead, though I did have two agents who requested the full text of my previous Young Adult novel (the first took one month to say no and the other four months - but I did get some good feedback from the latter). Anyway, I should know how the process goes by now, yet every time my phone rings or the email flag comes up, my heart makes a little leap. But so far, not to any avail.

As much as I might see Undiscovered Voices as a fast-track to publishing (please, oh please let it be so!), I will still need to make peace with publishing's more gentle rhythms. Whether the pace of production and supply will change when the E-Book really establishes itself, remains to be seen. I like the idea that independent writers might follow the pattern of independent musicians and be able to make a livelihood from their art via direct client delivery, but that seems 5-10 years off. For now, I guess we're stuck with publishing in one form or another. And let's be honest, we love books - right?

Nick.

Friday, 9 October 2009

My Wired Week

I finally got a whole night's sleep last night and feel able to put fingers to keyboard. It's ironic that in a week where I'm suddenly being feted for my writing, that writing is the thing I've done least of...

Adrenalin has been my drug of choice since last Friday - no need for coffee, energy drinks or amphetamine sulphate, I've been totally wired on nervous tension. Of course, SCBWI Undiscovered Voices 2010 is the cause of my condition, and I'm well aware what an enviable condition it is!

I got the confirmation call, drank some champagne (which we'd been conveniently saving for a special occasion) and jumped around for a bit in a state of moderate disbelief. The next day, I picked up my manuscript and started fiddling and proof-reading (my proof-reading obsession has already been well documented in previous posts).

The official announcement on Tuesday was another opportunity for jumping around, along with actually telling and thanking all of the people who've got me this far. Then an hour or so later, I got the phone call. The one I'd been waiting for, dreaming of all these years. A real live publishing person wanted to read my book. They were calling me.

I'd rehearsed that call so many times, so many different ways, and what surprised me afterwards was how calm I was. Despite all the stress on my adrenal glands, the whole conversation was quiet and business-like. I was struck by a truth (and bear with me 'cause this is kind of obvious), that the publishing industry is just that, and selling a book is no different in many ways from what I do in my day job, which often involves pitching and selling computer solutions.

But, and there's a big but here, this is my book. This is my heart that I have to send away and risk it being returned in a thousand pieces, the box rattling and tinkling as the postman drops it onto my doormat. (I actually sent the manuscript by email, but you try making up a romantic metaphor about that). Anyway, it's out there and we'll see what happens.

The reality shift of the last week has coloured my life in odd ways, subtly altering my perspective. On a visit to a prospective secondary school (for my daughter), last night, we walked into the library and suddenly there they were. Books. Children's books with their shiny dustcovers. Books like mine. I could almost stretch out and touch it. Then the doubts set in - the librarian told us about an author of samurai books (Chris Bradford) who had come in to talk to the children. He was a samurai expert who wore the armour and put on a display of martial arts skills. This was cool, but where was my gimmick? Could I find a zombie somewhere to bring in with me? Could I obsess about this stuff any more?!?

So that was my week, somehow very different and kind of the same all at once. It still had me in it, anyway.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

I'm In Undiscovered Voices 2010 !

I am ridiculously excited to announce that I have been selected as one of the 12 finalists of the British Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Undiscovered Voices 2010 competition. There were 150 entries and the competition was judged by a panel of publishing industry experts - 3 literary agents and 3 publishing editors. There will be an anthology published in February next year that will be sent to all UK and US children's agents and editors!


Full Press Release:

We are proud to announce the following twelve stories and authors will be featured in the British SCBWI’s Undiscovered Voices 2010 anthology:

Adele by Anne M Leone (Anne ML Anderson)
Back from the Dead by Nick Cross
Fifteen Days Without a Head by Dave Cousins
One of a Kind by Jude Ensaff (Najoud Ensaff)
From Darkness by Emily George
At Yellow Lake by Jane McLoughlin
Not Just the Blues by Claire O’Brien
The Truth about Celia Frost by Paula Rawsthorne
Vivian Divine and the Days of the Dead by Lauren Sabel
Slugs in the Toilet by Lisa Joy Smith
Blinding Darkness by Abbie Todd
Becoming Invisible by Yona Wiseman

We received nearly 150 submissions from SCBWI members. The response was beyond our wildest expectations both in terms of quantity and quality. These selected stories are a fantastic sample of the submissions we received. The judges endeavoured to select a variety of voices, styles and genre from the anonymous submissions in an effort to demonstrate the array of talent in the British SCBWI.

Undiscovered Voices will be published in February 2010 and distributed at no cost to US and UK-based editors and agents focusing on children’s literature. Best-selling children’s author Melvin Burgess will write an introduction to the book, and we will include judges’ comments for each selected story appearing in the anthology. The book will be available for sale at British SCBWI events after its publication.

The selection process was extremely competitive. Though they will not be included in the anthology, we are also pleased to announce seventeen honorary mentions:

The Biddles – Operation Sugarberg by L.M. Bouri (Leila Bouri)
Low Light by Judith Bunting
Hurrican Zen by JC Button
Vindaloo Victor by Alastair Caygill
Wind-up World by Julienne Durber
Mrs. Pinkerton’s Secret by Jennifer Gray
The Apothecary’s Apprentice by Sue Hyams
The Nightmare Factory by Lucy Jones
Shadow of the Oak by Sharon Jones
A Tale of Magic, Mischief and Mayhem – Book One: A Sinister Secret by Karen Laing
Gurner Gobbit and the Bloodcurdling Bug-Eyed Jawbreaker by Maureen Lynas
The Pocket Watch by Gareth Middleton
The Secret Chickenhouse Theatre by Helen Peters
Tree by Mike Pringle
The Vespertine Hour by Paul Romeo (Paolo Romeo)
The Summoning of Freiya Rolandson by Benjamin Scott
Secretorum Secretissimus by Jeannette Towey

The anthology’s goal is not only to introduce new, promising voices in children’s literature but also elevate British SCBWI in the minds of editors and agents which will help to benefit every SCBWI member.

Special thanks to our judges for their hard work and for their enthusiasm for the project:
Julia Churchill, The Greenhouse Literary Agency; Zoe Duncan, Scholastic Children’s Books; Lindsey Heaven, Puffin Books; Sarah Manson, Literary Agent; Jo Unwin, Conville and Walsh; and Emma Young, Macmillan Children’s Books.

And also thanks goes to Working Partners for their financial support, which makes the anthology possible.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Help! I Can't Stop Proofreading

There are a number of things of good things that writing has brought to my life, like providing a sense of purpose and improving my ability to empathise in everyday situations. Unfortunately, it seems that as my writing gets better, so my intolerance to other people's bad writing gets worse. This occasionally manifests with me closing a blog page or putting down a book with a snort after just a few sentences, but mostly it comes out in the form of proofreading.

Signs, newspapers, websites, pizza leaflets - nothing is safe from my internal monitor. Half the time, I don't even consciously know I'm doing it - I stood in front of a printed notice in our staff restaurant the other day, reading and re-reading it until I could see the error that I'd spotted out of the corner of my eye. It's surprising that I manage to cross the road in one piece, given the attention I lavish on misspelt or wrongly punctuated signs on the side of passing vans.

Bad English is everywhere, but it seems that once you notice that, there's no going back. I haven't reached Lynne Truss levels of angst yet, but give me time.

(Oh, and I thought that the word "proofreading" was hyphenated, but it's not. Always something new to learn about the English language...)

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Arriving Fully Formed

Building a world is hard, and Candy Gourlay has covered some of this stuff in her excellent post on the SCBWI Fantasy Fiction Master Class.

My personal epiphany came last night while watching Friends. Yes, you did read that right - a slightly dated sitcom involving six over-caffeinated New Yorkers on a sofa, trading bon mots and relationship advice.

Anyhow, I've avoided the endless re-runs on TV since it finished and forked-out the money for the latest uber-boxset with the intention of watching the series from the start. And what a start! The pilot drops us immediately into a scene at Central Perk, with Chandler, Monica, Joey and Phoebe slumped on the sofas, trading sharp lines and neurotic thoughts. A little later, Ross comes in, being prissy and in a moment of (mild) drama, Rachel turns up in a wedding dress having jilted her fiance at the altar. But she's soon on the sofa too, drinking coffee.

"So what?" I hear you cry, "That's what happens in every episode of Friends." Which is exactly my point. In most pilot episodes you would expect to have some set-up, some introduction and coming together of the characters who will henceforth be on your screens every week. Very little of that happens in Friends. For the first five or ten minutes we don't even know what the characters names are! Everything is done through dialogue, so by the time we find out their names, we already know their inter-relationships and inner tics. The actors are all really familiar and comfortable with each other. We are very much in a world that has existed for some time and will continue to exist long after Monica shuts her front door, 236 episodes (and 40 DVDs!) later.