Monday, 30 November 2009


So, I met with an agent last week. Note the lack of fanfare, although I did my best to work myself up about it beforehand. We sat down for an hour and a half, discussed Back from the Dead in detail and she thoroughly resisted the urge to sign me up until she's seen another draft. Which is fair comment, because let me tell you kids, I have a lot of work to do.

On the upside: my voice, setting, characters and humour are all great. The downside? My plot stinks. Well, not stinks perhaps, but it certainly smells like the wet washing that you left in the machine all week. A musty odour redolent of over-complex plotting and lack of strong character motivation. Plenty of room for improvement, let us say.

I got a little maudlin the day after, as is my want, thinking about the scale of the problem ahead of me, about the amount of writing that needed to be done, about the impossibility of restructuring the current plot. I hate to waste words - I could never do NaNoWriMo because it would be like chucking about 30,000 words straight into a skip - and the idea of losing so much of what I had worked at so hard was not a pleasant one. Little by little though, things started to change - a plot idea here, a character note there - and I began to realise that changing the novel was possible. More than that, I realised that I wanted to see this book through to the end - however many rewrites that will be down the line. I'm quite fortunate that I've stayed in the world of the book all this year, first revising it and then starting a sequel, so I feel that I'm really invested in the characters and can keep working with them, wherever the plot takes us.

I have heard agents talk of writers who refuse to accept editorial advice - these authors should be self-publishing. Seriously, what is the point of putting yourself through the publishing mill if you have that level of self-confidence in your work? Conversely I also hear from authors about agents who don't give editorial advice. I only can hope these agents charge a smaller percentage (but I bet they don't).

As for me, I figured that I'm going to be writing something over the next year or so - why shouldn't I be re-writing a book that I care about and that has a good chance of being published? I'll just cross the literary tightrope the way I always have: keep putting one word in front of another and try not to look down.


Monday, 23 November 2009

My Brain Hurts!

And let me tell you, when all you are is a brain in a jar, that's a major problem!

Joking aside, I've just come back from the SCBWI Winchester conference and there are so many writing ideas in my head that I'm seriously worried that some will leak out. It was such a liberating experience to talk about my book with likeminded people and as anyone who met me can testify, I talked about it a LOT! For me, that has really re-affirmed my self belief in Back from the Dead and the series that will hopefully follow, as well as giving me some fantastic perspective on the plot and characters that I never could have come up with in a thousand solitary writing sessions.

So to summarise the weekend, in the spirit of that glorious adrenaline rush:
Got lost in Winchester 4 times, almost talked more than Meg Rosoff during her seminar (she was very nice and didn't throw me out), was amused and enchanted by Sue Eves and Woofy, got rejected by an agent, discussed historical teen sex novels, drank too much coffee, laughed more than I thought possible during the school visits panel, thought of a three word synopsis for my novel that made me cry, ate the world's tiniest chocolate eclairs, met a ton of people I only knew off the web and discussed Twilight ENDLESSLY!

All in all then, it was a job well done. Looking forward to next year already.


Sunday, 15 November 2009

Who Wants to Read About Me?

Why be a blogging writer? Is it all a time-wasting exercise in navel-gazing?

Another writer said to me this week, (or rather emailed, since we don't do anything as old-fashioned as actually talking any more) that she didn't know where to start with a blog and that she preferred to write about other people. This is a fair point and sent me scurrying to find a passage from my first (unpublished) novel. The scene is between an aspiring young writer and his succesful but deeply troubled mentor:

Alex took a slug of whisky and his tone slid into melancholy. "When an author is at their lowest ebb, when they reach the depths of their creative redundancy, they turn to the only subject they truly understand."


"You're joking, aren't you?" Alex swilled the alcohol around his tongue. "You don't get into writing to understand yourself. You do it to be someone else." He slammed the glass down on the table. "The blocked author hides his shame and misery by writing about writing."

Re-reading this, it struck me as a pretty major statement of intent. So why am I here right now, talking about writing? The mealy-mouthed answer is to declare myself just another product of our age. We are, as a society, obsessed with talking rather than listening, trapped in a value system that rewards our ability to self-promote. I observed a conversation at work a few months back, where one colleague was talking to another about how ill she had been over the weekend. "But you must have known about it," she protested, "didn't you see my Facebook status?" The blank look she received in exchange was pure poetry - perhaps we're not all fully paid-up members of the "me me me" club yet.

A collusion with and simultaneous dislike of the modern age is for me a major creative force. I love to shop, but hate consumerism. I even hate the word "aspirational" - a snake-headed hiss of conformity. But as a working author, especially one writing for teenagers, I will need to blog, to be on Facebook, even to Twitter. The task is how to work best within the system, where to subvert and where to follow the party line. And if my feelings are hopelessly conflicted, well, maybe I understand more about being a teenager than I care to admit.


Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Proof of the Pudding

The proofs of Undiscovered Voices dropped into my inbox yesterday. Yay! Not just for the fact that this must mean I'm being published, or something, but I get to proofread too! I spotted two mistakes in the introduction and I wasn't even supposed to be checking that bit...

I don't think it will all feel completely real until I have a printed copy in my hands, but a PDF is a pretty good start. I also finally get to read the other winning entries and what do you know - they're really good! How did my book end up amongst those? Maybe I'll just keep quiet and hope no-one notices their mistake (oops, too late).

The agent who asked for my manuscript came back with a lot of positive feedback about the content of the book, but was less keen on the style. In particular, she didn't like the use of present tense throughout and thought it interfered with the flow of the story. I don't have a really strong opinion about this - present tense was how I always saw the book beginning and I just continued in that style. I rewrote the first chapter in past tense and I've been testing it out on the SCBWI 11+ Fantasy eCritique group. Current feedback is about 60/40 in favour of the present tense version, so it seems the past tense version isn't too terrible. The first chapter is also the one that would be most affected by the tense switch, I think.

I've had another approach from one of the judges, so my manuscript has gone to her as well. The fact that publishing people are coming to me is kind of weird. I think of all the time I spent composing very professional submission letters and now all the communication is via quick phone chats and relatively informal emails. Quite odd.

The anthology judges don't seem to be aggressively hoovering up the winners thus far, which I guess reflects their cautious business sense and is also good for the anthology - there wouldn't be much point publishing it if everyone had contracts before it came out! But, then again, I don't mind being signed up before February - offers to the usual address.