Rubix

13 06 2014

I was given a Rubix cube at a book launch the other night. Each side was coloured complemented by text, each side giving a teaser about a certain aspect of the plot or about one of the character’s back-stories. I loved it and it got me thinking about these 30-year old toys.

They are very like a writer’s mind at the start of a story. So many different aspects of a tale whirling around. A dervish of character and plot and scene. But then you get some clarity. A block of colour appears on one side. Your hero is formed. Some of the side colours adjacent to the block still need moving around to match other sides, but the hero’s heart, his voice has become clear.

Then another side, or perhaps the middle layer. You have a tale. You have it in your mind. Clear. Nearly focused but still some work to go and this is where it gets a bit trickier. All the side stories have to come together. The edges rotated. To give the whole. The plan, the future. Where you are aiming.

I took that cube home from Mayfair and played with it. I got a side quite quickly. The basic idea. Then I stalled.

So I cheated. It’s what I do in so many things.

For this cheat, Mr Google came to my rescue. I used his mind to creatively solve the rest of the puzzle and now it sits on my desk as a reminder. I didn’t finish it you see. Two corners still need to be rotated to give six sided symmetry. I know the pattern of moves to fix these flaws but I like them. They’re a reminder. They remind me that no matter how far along a story you are as a writer there is always something ready to jump out of a character or a scene to make you need to stop and reassess. Stop and think. Your job is never finished.

I have the cube, I see the teasers on each side. Can’t be bothered to read the recently launched book though!

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First books – how autobiographical are they?

16 08 2013

First books are autobiographical.

This is something I have always known, both intellectually and anecdotally. The proof sits on the shelves of any bookseller. First novels are where authors pour their naked souls only to edit and rewrite to take some bits back, hide themselves away again, disguise and disfigure to bring new heroes and villains to life.

I have often wondered if I re-read the first novels of each of my series, would I see different facets of the creative mind in each heroine. Does Mrs Vintner hide more darkness than Penny B? Will Mischa give people a view of my lightness of spirit at times?

Or…

Or is the first novel which no-one sees the one where you are most naked? We all have that first book – it may not be finished – it may never have fully left your mind– but we authors all have the first embarrassing secret text where we gave too much and could not edit it enough to hide our true selves from the readers

To quote some advice given in my latest work:

“This is your first novel. There are always autobiographical elements. Don’t worry about it, there has to be. But if you don’t give Mischa her own face, her own voice, she will assume the readers know her as well as you know yourself. You, the writer, are just recording her actions, her thoughts – not your own – no matter how similar you might think she is.”





The envelope of doom – part 2

7 08 2013

How do they do it? What do they look for? What makes the next big thing? What do they want to see?

If publishers and agents knew what the next big thing was my guess is they would have hired a ghost writer and already thrown it to the reading wolves. The next big thing isn’t based on a recipe. It isn’t, by definition, formulaic. A sequel can be formulaic, a follow-up can continue a story we know people are interested in – whether messrs Langdon, Potter or Grey – but a first novel has to break new ground to win big.

Most don’t.

First novels can be launched to great fanfare and perhaps they are the Great British Novel awaiting only time to bring awards and accolades to your door. Most aren’t.  Most fit a genre, have a bit of a twist or are penned by an author with potential to produce more and the face to fit on a breakfast telly sofa and pull readers in. Most do OK. Only OK. Some a bit better, some a bit worse, but OK.

But back to the point of this blog. What do they look for? They are looking for you. They want you to have written something good, something readable, saleable, promotable and ultimately, just plain interesting. Write your best, edit it to hell and back, then have friends and family do the same.

If you want specifics on what they look for, you’ve come to the wrong place. Speculation is all very well, it has its place, but why not look at the website, look in one of the Writers’ yearbooks/guides etc. Don’t speculate – do some research. They want to waste their time even less than you want to waste it so DON’T. Give them what they ask for in a format they want to see it. The contents, the story, then has a chance to shine through.

And please do a final spell-check before you send it! I’d be disheartened at finding typos on the first page – your target might not even get to the excellent third sequence before it is on the slush pile!





The envelope of doom!

6 08 2013

So here it is. That time of trial, of testing. The torment of a wait begun.

Your first manuscript, in a big brown envelope. Just three paragraphs, the synopsis, CV, covering letter and self-addressed envelope. A recipe followed, with the secret ingredient being your talent to turn a great story idea into a great story.

You don’t trust the postbox – obviously. Post office only. Main branch, for preference. Registered or just first class?

“Are the contents worth more than £20, sir?”

Stupid question – I always hope so anyway.

Then it’s gone. Vanished. In the system. Flying through the ether with a sparking thread latched back onto your heart.  The one big hope is that you never, ever see that self-addressed envelope again! You hope against hope that those stamps on the SAE never fulfil their potential.

But it is gone from you, to another. It appears on a desk, in a tray, probably with a score of other hopefuls. Whose desk? A name from a website, perhaps a face found on the t’interweb – a kind face, one that beams hope to all who see it. You could marry that face if it smiled back at you. Is it an agent or have you, a new author, dared to go straight to a publisher. You interloper, you!

But it is on the desk, in the office. Waiting a letter-opener, the sigh of a bored reader expecting paste but hoping for diamonds. Third cold-read of the day. Have they had a good night’s sleep? Are they full of caffeine, hyped on sugar? Do they even like the title?

Perhaps I will rename the blog.  Is ‘The envelope of hope!’ more appropriate? I do hope so.





The synopsis

5 08 2013

If I could fit my story into a page I wouldn’t have needed the other 300+ would I? A synopsis! Bah humbug. How the hell does anyone craft a synopsis for the first time?

It’s never that hard actually. I always rant at the request but then fall back on reality.  It should be the easiest thing in the world because most authors explain their latest pet to anyone who will listen – friends, at family gatherings, at parties. Just writing down that normal patter had a synopsis ready to go in half an hour. The elevator pitch!

It wasn’t that hard – but nor was it that easy. The premise is fine, one paragraph, one edit and done. But an author never tells random people the ending. Never reveals the key twists, the characters’ difficult relationships. But a publisher only wants to read three full chapters and then expects to know how the rest of the book develops in only one page more. Completely. Utterly. Conclusively.

That’s usually more tricky. Five pages long. First edit down to four. Then three (and a half, unfortunately).

I mentioned my professional life in a previous blog. Another role with writing at its heart. Reports, reviews, succinct summaries of complex issues for the time-poor. I’d been so busy focussing on my writing life I felt like a Homer ‘Doh!’ moment was appropriate. I stopped looking at my synopsis as a book and saw it as a report to be summarised. Extraneous text vanished, pared to the bone. Whole paragraphs fell beneath my professional sword.

And there it was. A story on a page.

I noticed in my research that one agent was only expecting a paragraph of synopsis. ONE paragraph!

Bah humbug!





Writer’s CV – addendum

4 08 2013

I realise that my last blog didn’t tell you exactly what I put into my writing CV. That was deliberate but perhaps I should explain why.

I did some research. Trawled the chat rooms and forums as well as websites of other authors, agents, publishers and pros.  All gave advice and tips. And all was useful. But it was too much! If I listened to all the cooks, my broth would be spoiled. So, as I am sure thousands have done before, I took a pinch from one, a soupcon from another and a handful from the best and mixed them all together.

However, no matter how confident I am in my final output, I am not going to tell other people how to do it.  Two reasons. Firstly, I am no expect – an amateur indeed. Secondly, if I have got the mixture just right I think, for once, I will keep it to myself my cocktail hits the desk of someone who likes the taste.

The t’interweb has quite enough people adding unchecked, inaccurate, subjective opinion about things they know little enough about for me to add more with advice on writing a CV.

I think this mini-blog is enough subjective opinion added for today!





Writer’s CV

3 08 2013

I need to be creative. Focused and creative. It’s strange, but I thought this would be easy. I’ve never been asked before but for an upcoming event they want my “writer’s CV”. They asked in the expectation I would have it ready to hand. But I don’t. I’ve never had to do one before.

I remember when I was in the job market, a salary-man, I could craft a mean CV. My friends’ job interview hit rates improved massively when I let my English teacher skills loose to roam across the job experience of the under-qualified.  But this is different. This is about the inner me.

I’ve done it – written it. An unfinished symphony. My writing life (to date only, I hope) on a page. Long on writing experience, long on life experience.

But I ask myself – how would someone short on both fill even a single page? Tell me, dear reader, what makes you interested in reading a new book? Which snippets of a life will draw you beyond the first words of the blurb?

Would their job do it? That the writer has the swearword ‘banker’ on the CV or would you prefer a crusty marine archaeologist or a youthful ballet dancer? Do you laugh out loud and take the book to the till just because the author’s young son amusingly shouted – out of the blue at the swimming pool, say – that he no longer wanted to grow up to be an ice-cream man, but instead an author?

That’s your problem to solve. I think my CV reads well. I’d give me an interview!