Lyrical Press is giving away free my magical Christmas story "A Christmas Star." To claim your copy in pdf file email firstname.lastname@example.org. In the subject line put Request for A Christmas Star by Caroline Dunford and within a very short space of time my story will be winging its way to you as a little extra to read under the tree. Please also drop by Lyrical to read the associated blog post (It's under the blog title Lyrical Press Holiday Giveaway Story 5) and drop a comment - but most importantly remember to request your copy of the story by email now. It's only free for a couple of days!
Have a wonderful holiday everyone. Be safe and Be kind!
I have a new super-power. I am able to make others turn green. My ability manifests with the words, "I'm taking December off."
No-one has been quite foolish enough to suggest "this writing lark is obviously a bit of a breeze'. But then they don't need to. It's written all over their faces. Other writers exhibit a much paler shade of a similar hue. But there reaction is usually along the lines of 'I wish I could get my schedule into that kind of order."
The thing is that for the last far too many months I have been writing in the overlap of son no 1 attending school and son no 2 sleeping. I have been writing late into the evening. I have been writing every weekend. I have notched up no less than three thousand words a day and in one memorable weekend sixteen thousand words. Really, I'm ready for a rest.
The harsh reality is that writing very rarely brings rewards equal to effort; no matter how talented you are. Essentially, you have to have something loose in your head to write professionally. You need to be driven enough that you do not mind that the creation of work will literally consume your life and will often yield less reward than a below average national wage. You need to be mad.
Of course all writers hope that the next book will be the one that is the best seller, that buys them the castle in the country and the gin palace - or perhaps, and this is a bit beyond the bounds of credibility, earns out enough to pay next year's heating bills. I don't think I have ever met a writer who doesn't have hope that their work will be internationally recognized and their lifestyle immeasurably altered by their work. Because, you know, writers work ridiculously hard.
Okay, so we're not doing manual labour. Currently the only active part of me other than my brain is my very busy fingers. But the hours and the level of organization and concentration required are quite extraordinary. If you don't believe me, try it.
But the real rub is this: if you do it for the money you will never succeed. If you do it because you can't help yourself, because you have to write or you will lose all grip on reality, then you a small chance of success... although to be honest you've still got a better chance of getting rich by buying a lottery ticket.
But even to a writer as obsessive as myself there must be things of more importance than writing. If there is nothing else than humanity vanishes in a puff of a word checker and prose becomes as inspiring as lettuce left at the back of the fridge for a week.
Anyway, as I used to write in my university essays, taking all the above into consideration my conclusion is that while I am mad, while I am driven to write, while I will never stop writing no matter who does or does not publish me, I have earned the right to take December off. Above all I need to take the month off because I owe it to others even more than to myself.
It's No 2's first Christmas. No 2 has had a rocky start. He's been hospitalized a couple of times already in his short life and we've been very, very scared for him. But now he's doing brilliantly, thriving and wanting his Mama. And you know, that's one thing that will stop me writing. I might push on writing despite my own health issues, but my family, partner and my sons, are my centre, my support, my inspiration and the very heart of me. Everything I am springs from them and this Christmas is theirs.
"Ms Dunford takes you on a twisted and complex ride through the mind of Penny Roberts. A journey that is emotionally and literarily captivating for her readers." Lototy, Reviewer for Coffee Time Romance. Reviewer for Karen Find Out About New Books.
"Readers looking for a well-written story that requires more than a little thought to read will enjoy Make Me One With Everything immensely". Reviewed by Whitney at Fallen Angel Review. Rated five Angels. Full review here.
I've been watching the news of the art world go by and to be honest it feels like a lot of the same old waltz of argument and counter argument. But as the dance is moving particularly fast today I thought I'd update you on the old issues
The ever thorny issue of how long can artists of any form make money out of their work has been raised today by musicians. The BBC reports 38,000 musicians are petitioning Gordon Brown for a change in copyright law. Their argument is that they contribute vitally to the export industry and the government is not recognizing this. Phil Pickett, from the 80s band Culture Club is quoted as saying 90% musicians earn less than £15,000 a year from royalties. As the majority of authors earn more like £5,000 a year I confess I could feel my sympathy slipping at this point. However...
Composers and authors currently retain copyright until 70 years after their death (who says you can't take it with you when you go?) while performers' copyright expires after fifty years. So if you made your money recording in the 60s things might be starting to look a little thin now regardless of your sales.
It raises the whole question about paying those who entertain in any form. A writer labors long and hard to create their work, but a performer is gaining royalties from recording the work of another. However, they are still employing their talent and their training and effect to reach their level of success will have been considerable.
Effectively we're asking when does it become reasonable to pay someone royalties, as opposed to a flat fee, for their work? For example should an architect get a proportion of rent or entrance fees on a building he designed? If you've trained long and hard to get to the level where you produce something that people generally enjoy, use and pay towards when is it fair to ask for a royalty? How about a surgeon, who saves your life, are they entitled to a proportion of your income for life? It's so easy to push at the boundaries of this issue and extend it far beyond reason.
I'm an author. I believe in royalties. Okay, there's a small part of me that sort of fancies the old days when a patron kept giving you chunks of money so you could peruse your art and you didn't have to worry about pleasing the general rabble - er - sorry, the great public. But even then your livelihood depending on continuing to please your audience.
Or is it about risk? I could, theoretically, become a wage slave at some institution or another. Or I can continue striving for that bright and elusive star, a best selling novel. Are royalties my reward for taking that leap of faith?
All this comes at a time when the draft European Copyright Term Directive is under debate. Under this performers and producers would have their copyright extended from 50 to 95 years after release.
I'll confess anything with Draft and European in it makes me want to run away and hide under the duvet. By the nature of the beast you just know it's going to be long, complicated and written by a committee - and while writing by committee seems to work well for some television shows that's about as far as it goes.
But we should pay attention. How we reward people in society for their efforts in all areas requires our attention. There are already, to my mind, some grossly unfair accepted ways of rewarding professionals.
And art - art is the heart beat of a people. It reflects and exposes as much as it entertains. Art in all forms represents the spirit of a nation. It can inspire, lift moods and generally remind us of our own humanity or lack of it. In these darker days books, music, art, film will become personal weapons against the demoralizing times of the credit crunch.
I can feel this is about to turn into an argument for why we need the arts at all, so I'll stop here. Please pay attention to the copyright arguments and make your opinion heard. If you don't you may find vast pool of artistic talent and associated products we have in the UK rapidly diminishing before your eyes as current and future generations opt for financially safe occupations rather than artistic ones.
I've been away for a while. Sadly not in Hawaii or any other luxury leisure resort but in places of my own imagining.
These are fun too. Although recently on my current work in progress I've been battling with two characters who insist on running away to sea at the least opportunity. I don't sail - or at least I don't sail either well or willingly. This requires me to do a lot of research on how boats work and how those flappy things were rigged through the ages. These two characters also have a propensity for heading into storms, which means I spend a lot of my time thinking about it feels, tastes, smells, sounds and looks like being in endless sheets of rain. As I live in Scotland it's not particularly hard to imagine, but I do keep getting up to turn up the central heating. Who says imagination can't affect body temperature?
Spending so much time mining for stories is not unlike mining for gems. As I shift through the sands of my imagination I'm never entirely sure how the raw materials I find are going to turn out. I cut and polish as best I can and eventually put them out on display. It's only then I discover if my idea of what makes a good story matches anyone else's. As a lot of writers before me have said offering up a story is rather like going naked - any of my stories gives you a window into my mind.
So if you want a peek then....
On Monday 3rd November the e-book version of my novel Make Me One with Everything is released. This is a romantic thriller set in contemporary Edinburgh. You will be able to buy it here at Lyrical Press's Once Upon a Time Bookstore. Remember it's released Nov 3rd EST. You can read an except here. And see the stunning cover art work here. At $5.50 it's a snip especially if you live in the UK! However, if e-books aren't your thing you'll be able to buy the print version from May 4th 2009.
Credit crunch. Recession. Global Economic Collapse. What people need in times like this is good, cheap, entertainment. Don't go down the pub. Don't go to the cinema. Buy a book. It's cheaper and will give you hours more entertainment. If you're worried about becoming a loner start a bookclub - people may even bring you biscuits.
So is this going to be a boom time for the generally downtrodden profession of writers? (Bearing in mind most UK writers currently make around £5,000 a year) Even the publishers, generally the strictest of disciples of the doom and gloom philosophy, are being mildly hopeful. They predict a rise in sales for crime, thrillers and books that tell you how to do things more cheaply - this millennium's making do and mend. Who knows they may even be digging out those old hippy books from the 70s that told you have to grow cress on your windowsill and stressed the importance of sharing baths. In fact books are so very much the next greatest thing they can even make obese children thin. Sure there's the odd shaky fear that EUK, the entertainment dominant wholesaler, parented by Woolworths might be on a bit of a sticky wicket and that might adversely affect Christmas stock. But then Sir Sugar's just stepped in and scooped up 4% of Woolworths and anyone who's seen the BBC's reality show The Apprentice won't be worrying.
But if you look a little closer it's not such good news for writers.
Lulu one of the champions of the little people (I mean individual authors not fairies) despite protesting its future is bright has cut a quarter of its employees. Could it be co-incidence that at the same time that publishing giant Amazon launches POD (print on demand)? Now, we all love amazon. It lets us search inside books, offers package deals, gets stuff to us quickly (for a small fee) and while you can't buy milk at the website you can pretty much buy anything else. What most people who buy from Amazon don't realize is that they take a hearty whack of the sales price. Even in the little, growing, hopeful future of ebooks Sony are taking a huge 50% of the sale price of any book bought to download for their ereader. Publishers have no choice but to cut royalites accordingly or lose money on stock - and eventually go bust.
Much as happened in the music industry everyone is taking such a big slice of the pie that the people who actually created the material are seeing an increasing diminishing return for their efforts.
While it's a nice, radical idea to say let's cut out the middle man and (to misquote) self-publish and be damned, the sad fact is self-publication rarely leads to success. (Remember what I was saying about the good, the great, the worthy Lulu above?). But why doesn't it work? It doesn't work because when faced with several thousand single voices shouting for sales your average member of the buying British public (myself included) opts to spend our hard earned pennies with people with we think we can trust to provide the kind of goods we're looking for - in short we go with globally known distributors like Amazon and publishers whose names we learned in our cradles. Sure some independent stuff might be cheaper, but it might also be rubbish and we won't know until we've spent our cash.
What we need is for someone to come along and help with the overwhelming choice of available books - whether that's going to the 3 for 2 section at Borders (where your last free throw is a risk taker) or whether it's doing some radically different.
It would also be good if we could find something that let authors get a decent royalty and stand a chance of making the week's garret rent.
There was another industry that had much the same problem. The music industry. Apple's itunes have on a number of occasions preventing the major music labels from upping their share of the ante.
It's not a perfect answer for the book world, but we need something and we need it now or your average author is going to become the archetypal starving artist in the very near future.
I've been absent for a while and the world has gone crazy. As writers and readers we reflect this madness. Can authors save the world? Can I as an author help?
I'm reasonably good at maths, but no one has asked me to sort out the Wall Street fiasco nor have they called on my political skills to stand in the US election. It's true I'm not an American citizen, but I do frequently create both military and diplomatic dissension in my writing and then I resolve it, so I guess you could say I have a lot of foreign policy experience. After all what could be more foreign than a fictional reality? I could spin off here into comments about the media and fiction and how I view it all as an once-journalist. But, more importantly...
Fiction cannot be other than a mirror to reality. As authors we write from our own experience however we clothe our tale. We aspire to touch our readers - in the most cases for the better. Publishers have to be concerned with what will sell - this may sound harsh, but they need to stay in business.
Let us consider the current craziness..
Beaufort books are speeding up their publication of The Jewel of Medina, a fictionalized tale of Aisha, wife of the Prophet Muhammad. The novel had earlier been dropped by Random house because of threats of violence. Bearing in mind that last weekend three men were arrested for firebombing the Beaufort's London office, these threats don't appear to have been idle. Beaufort have said that they believe that once the book is out there any threat will be neutralized. While author Sherry Jones says she feels no threat to her personal safety. What do I think? I think she's a brave lady. I believe in free prose, but I don't believe in denigration of creeds or cultures. I don't have a clue if Ms Jones' work lampoons an old and noble religion - and at this point the only people who do know are Ms Jones and her publisher.
As the world whirls readers need their escapism and they want it in particular, but unpredictable forms. At one of the Spectrum we have the happy world of the once single mother on benefit JK Rowling, who wrote her way to fame and last year earned an estimated $300 million. Forbes reports that second on the list of best selling authors is James Paterson with $50million with Stephen King (didn't he retire?) earning a mere $45 million. The tales of magical boarding schools now outselling a master of horror? (The master of horror?) What is it the modern public wants?
While over here in the UK the majority of authors earn around £5,000 a year - which I guestimate comes out at $8,800. This and the never ending pantomime of is print publishing here to stay or will it be gone tomorrow means that with the average lead time of a year for a book to make it into print publishers now days need a crystal ball to predict success. Or they need something outrageous, contentious or celeb backed.
Macmillian is happily reporting today that Gerri Halliwell's Ugenda Lavender's series is the 'most successful female celebrity children's author of 2008'. I think I have must have been blinking too much because I certainly missed the whole 'celebrity children's author' becoming a category in its own right. Though I don't doubt we will soon be seeing this special book corner labelled in stores.
Of course there is nothing preventing a celebrity from being a damn good author. There is also nothing preventing a non-celebrity from being one either, but I think we both know who publishers will forecast as a long shot.
Definitions on what actually constitutes a celebrity are invited.
(News of what I'm personally achieving must wait for future posts as contracts are signed and deals are done. However, I fear I shall continue to fail to be contentious or warm and fuzzy. Should I take singing lessons?)
I started keeping tabs recently on the influx of stories in the international press about print publishing, the digital revolution, e-books, ebook readers etc. However, despite being in the industry I quickly got fed up reading the whole print publishing is dead - oh, no, it's not debacle. The whole thing is like Christmas Panto come early - and I've never liked Panto.
Now, I've only read about thirty of these yes/no stories over the last week and I'm sure there have been many more, but as yet I haven't found one that really seems to grasp the issue. It's more like a bunch of nuns attempting to explain to each other what sex is actually like.
What I think people are missing is that e-books and e-readers aren't going to do one specific thing. Or in other words neither e-book or e-reader is a single one use product.
Let me explain.
If I'm going on holiday I'd be delighted to take the free e-reader on my Ipod touch and have twenty odd books on it. I don't mind the reader isn't perfect. I'm not looking for a book alternative I'm looking for a way of lugging an unfeasibly large amount of escapist fiction on holiday with me. I'll put up with the odd bit of flickering.
E-publishing can bring a huge amount of new writing to us cheaply and easily. Here, I'm more concerned that my e-publisher has taste and discretion. We're talking about loyalty to a new industry, where I can log on read a review and for a fraction of the cost download a writer I may well be thrilled to discover. I'm still not that fussy about how I read it. It's the story that's important. Of course, I don't want to get a migraine doing it, but I may even be using my PC to read during my lunch hour and I may well decide to buy the POD if it's offered.
I'm a print publisher who wants to promote my books. I may well give them away free in a belief they encourage sales - and so far I believe, feel free to correct me, mainstream books that are released as e-books do hike sales. In this case I'm probably reaching those people not that into e-books (for whatever reason) who have a quick flick through and decide to buy the paper book.
I'm a print publisher who believes all books should be available as e-books at the same price. Ain't going to work. E-readers are coming on in leaps and bounds but the leisurely comfort of a paper book is still hard to beat. Yes, this may happen in the future, but the future's not here yet.
Huge reference books - not that much different to those DVD reference works, but easier to keep in your pocket. Main market liable to be academics and students - and maybe bird watchers as long as the e-reader is quiet enough.
By now you're hopefully getting the idea. The ebook and the e-reader will be many things to many people. At the moment we have critics talking as if all e-books and e-book readers do the that same thing which is like saying all time telling devices are the same - when in reality we have church clocks, mantel piece clocks, wrist watches, bedside clocks, precision clocks - they all let us do the same thing, tell the time, but in many different ways and for many subtly different reasons. And you're certainly not going to buy a church clock as a bedside alarm in much the same way as you're not yet going to spend hundreds of pounds or dollars on an e-reader if you're only intending to use e-books to decide what you're going to buy in print.
I like the whole concept of e-books. I predict they will have a future, but it's an organically growing future and it is as much down to the social requirements as it is down to the evolution of tech.
I grew up during the cold war and at some point when I was very young some idiot told me about the four minute warning. So on those nights when I awoke from a bad dream, and like many people struggled with those moments of 4am irrational fear, it was all compounded by the fear of incoming missiles. If during those nocturnal post dream moments I heard the sound of something in the sky I would watch the bright red lights of my bedside radio alarm count down four minutes until I was sure I was safe.
I used to think I was absolutely mad. Now I know creative, imaginative children with other things on their mind (like exams or bullying) are particularly sensitive to these kind of end of the world fears. And Wednesday's switch on of the little big bang machine had even the most dull and unimaginative child in my son's school playground asking their mum's if the world was going to end.
But c'mon it was a great story. It made physics almost 'sexy' for a short period of time and after we'd spent so much money on the project (UK contribution around £500M) surely the press should play up the story a bit?
Well, no, I don't think so. And neither did one little girl in India, who was so scared she killed herself. The story I draw this from in the BBC counts numerous examples of children being afraid and parents, who have very little knowledge of physics having to counter alarmist fears raised by the press in general.
And besides the catastrophic fear was of the creation of run away black holes - there was no way on earth (or beyond it) for that matter that this could happen on Wednesday. This was only a test of beams running in a single direction. The actual high speed collisions will be happening next year after the machine is shut down for the winter for calibration. So, the press, always knew there was absolutely no danger of the world ending on Wednesday.
But if I step away for a moment from my rant against irresponsible journalism, I want to raise the point that children's literature and children's movies are growing increasingly dark. There's a school of thought that says as long as there is a good outcome children will put up with a lot of darkness before they get to the light. And yes, story is about conflict, obstacles - and usually the killing off of parents, so publishers won't be seen to condone children doing dangerous things. (If they're orphans there's no one looking after them and they don't know any better. Honestly. If you don't believe me, do a mental check of modern children's lit and see how many popular, adventuring little heros or heroines actually have parents!)
I think in many ways it's true that children are resilient to darkness. They like to see the heros battle the odds. But we're going a little further than that. In the finale of last season's Dr Who (and yes, this show is supposedly suitable for children) a father tried to protect his family (mother and child) by ordering them back into their house away from the daleks. The daleks line up and burn the house out. Now, Dr Who has always been about death. There's often the implication that tons of families are dying off screen, but it's not focussed in on.
And that's the key in any story, whatever the medium, all children can adore a struggle until it comes too close to home. When they start to imagine that it could affect them in their world, when they over-identify, then that's when we're hitting too hard.
Children can tell the difference between story and reality, but they can be overwhelmed by fictional misfortune and driven to total despair by irresponsible reporting. There are some lessons we want children to learn (for example) about the evils of war and violence, but no one learns anything when they're being frightened witless.
A lot of people don't understand copyright. A lot of people think it's outdated. A lot of people abuse it. But love it or hate it as an author you deal with the repercussions of copyright law on a daily basis. And as a consumer we all make choices all the time about how we respect (or don't respect) copyright.
As an author I hold copyright over my works. I've contracted to my publishers to allow them to produce my work for a set period and in return, because I hold the copyright, I'm paid royalties on every sale of my work. Royalties aren't a lot per copy, but they add up and they pay the bills - or more often than not, help pay the bills. Yes, some people do get advances. A few high fliers get a lot, but advances have to 'earn out' ie you don't get a further penny until you've sold enough in royalties to pay back your advance. It's also becoming increasingly common for mid-list and lower authors not to receive an advance, but to be on a royalty only contract. Most British authors earn less than £5,ooo per annum and therefore have a second job or three. But don't authors and artists deserve to be fully reimbursed for their creative contributions?
In the news today are two big name cases, author JK Rowling and music publisher, Universal Music Publishing. Their two stories highlight major copyright issues.
J. K. Rowling has just won her case to prevent the publishing of Steven Vander Ark's Harry Potter Lexicon. The Lexicon originally started life as a website for fans and was if not endorsed, at least 'supported' (in the words of the BBC) by Ms Rowling. However, when Mr Vander decided to turn this into a printed book and sell it Ms Rowling objected.
I have to go on record and say I absolutely support her action and applaud the judge who ruled in her favor. Her case was primarily upheld because the judge ruled 'Lexicon appropriates too much of Rowling's creative work for its purposes as a reference guide.' Ms Rowling said in a statement that she wasn't against works that explored her world per se, commenting that 'Many books have been published which offer original insights into the world of Harry Potter. The Lexicon just is not one of them.' She further added that Lexicon 'added virtually no original commentary of its own'. In other words, as a resource for fans she had no objection, but when someone decided to make money out of reprinting her ideas she objected.
Last year Stephanie Lenz uploaded a YouTube clip of her young son dancing to a song my Prince (Let's Go Crazy). Four months later it was removed after objections by Universal Music Publishing. Ms Lenz fought back, got her YouTube video reinstated and now it's had over 593,000 hits. However, the battle in court rages on. Ms Lenz's case is that she recorded her son to show his dancing to relatives and friends. And it has to be said that really you wouldn't chose to download this clip if you wanted to hear the music. Judge for yourself here. I'm not the biggest Prince fan, but if someone had told the background noise was whale music I wouldn't have argued.
The BBC website carries a long story about this and other recent copyright cases Universal Music Publishing has been involved with here. This includes Universal going after someone selling CDs on Ebay.
Before anyone raises the concept of Creative Commons in comments - yes, I do know what that is. And for those of you that don't know Creative Commons is a new idea for licensing creative work that allows you to reserve rights of your choice. Wikipedia entry here.
But the issue remains folks that writers and artists of all variants make their living from their work. With the new advent of e-books a number of pirate sites have cropped up where people are reposting original work, so readers don't have to go to the publisher's website and pay. A number I've come across seem to think they're doing the authors a favour and count themselves as fans. Honestly, if you're depriving us of our income you're doing your best to (even unwittingly) drive your author out of business and back into taking that fourth job stacking supermarket shelves.
It's a hugely complicated issue not helped by the fact that some of the new online bookshop browsers - ooh, let's say like ones that let you look inside books or search for a particular topic - are effectively letting people download recipes, poems, short stories, technical and academic information for free. There are only going to be certain instances when you still want to buy the whole cow.
I've yet to come across a copyright law I thought was perfect - and there is no doubt that some people abuse copyright laws to a ridiculous extent. In general, authors at least, are happy to be quoted, tolerant or flattered by fanfiction (which at least involves significant imagination on the behalf of the fan fiction writer) and accept, even if they don't like it, that people will buy a book and share it around their friends.
The stories I've quoted focus on people who have made an awful lot of money from their work. They are the exception. These cases are about the role of copyright for all authors and artists; the majority of whom earn a pretty meagre yearly income. Don't let the names and bright lights of these stars blind you to the real issue. Maybe there will come a day when authors and other artists are paid in a different way, but right now with the massive slices taken by publishers, music companies, etc the majority of authors and artists need their royalties to survive and continue to produce their work.
If you're been reading this blog for any length of time then you know how keen I am on the e-books event horizon.
Today the The New York Times carries the announcement of Constellation a new venture aimed at independent publishers by Perseus Books Group. Perseus, through Constellation, are offering to negotiate rates to give independents access to electronic readers, digital book search and POD at costs similar to those advantaged to the big boys. They already have Google, Amazon, Sony and Barnes and Noble (Search Inside) on board as willing to offer packages that the little people simply couldn't get on their own.
And this is where I predict the heart of the electronic revolution will be. It's all about new writing. Yes, people may some day prefer to have their copy of Pride and Prejudice on their Ipod, but I don't think that day is here yet. (Mind you, not having to lug around War and Peace would have its advantages.)
But no, with print publishing becoming ever more restricted - dare I say hidebound? - and with rising costs for both promotion and publication - the market for new, exciting, break through authors is going to move more and more into the electronic world.
The independents in question in this case may already be print publishers, but it will be in the electronic world they have the biggest opportunity to make a virtual splash.
Having fallen prey to the emergencies of real life, and in particular the demands of small people, this will undoubtedly be one of my shortest posts. Although in terms of fashionable brevity by the time you've read to this point it's overlong.
While the world lurches from one political crisis to another, I read this morning of the unconnected, but poignant, death of a fellow author.
Dave Freeman, c0-author of the best seller, 100 things to do before you die -travel events you just can't miss, died suddenly at the age of 47 in a freak accident at his home in Venice, California. He'd only done 50 of these 100 things - the others were completed by his co-author, Neil Teplica. But even so Mr Freeman had obviously had an extra-ordinary range of experiences beyond most people's dreams. The blurb on the back of this book reads "This life is a short journey. Make sure you fill it with the most fun and visit the coolest places on earth before you pack those bags for the very last time." He was single and loved traveling solo because of all the interesting people he met that way.
It sounds an amazing, if tragically short, life, but definitely not the one I would have wanted. I am not, nor ever will be, a solo adventurer except when I am traveling within the confines of my own imagination.
But it makes you think, doesn't it? None of us ever know how long. So if there is something you've been thinking of doing, dreaming about, hesitating over, today might be a very good day to take that first step.
And if you've been talking about, even planning on writing, that book someday, start today!
I'm a mother of two young children, one six and one six months. I often wish the world was a better, kinder, gentler place for them, but it isn't and as my kids grow up I want to arm them with information about the real world, to encourage them to be honorable, to respect others and above all to learn to make their own choices. My problem is what on earth am I going to let them read by way of entertainment?
While I've been busy at the Edinburgh International Book Festival children's and YA's (Young Adult) fiction has been under siege. It's political correctness gone mad.
Jacqueline Wilson, one of the most prolific writers of young adult and children's books, has had her work censored after one great aunt complains to a supermarket. Apparently this 55 year old great aunt bought the book for great niece and while pre-reading it for her niece -because heaven knows even if it's published for children by a respectable publisher it still might not be good enough - and thank goodness she did because -shock, horror - she found a bad word in it. Over 150,000 thousand copies of this book had already been sold (all those little minds corrupted), but when Great Aunt complained to the Supermarket the Supermarket felt they had to pull the book. And in this day and age when Supermarkets have such an effect on the publishing market (don't get me started on their low, low, low prices that offer such royalties that authors will soon be living in garrets and roasting rats for tea) the publisher must jump - and they changed the book. Can you believe it? The offending word has now been replaced with the word twit - change the vowel in the middle if you want to work out what it was before.The character in the book who utters the bad word is not a nice character; the book doesn't seek to promote bad words or suggest using them is cool. What it is doing is saying yes, kids know bad words too. Personally, I'm a fan of Ms Wilson (who's a Dame btw), who produces work that not only doesn't talk down to young people, but deals with many of the harsher and very real issues that young people have to face in our society today.
Then there's the argument about age-branding. Because you know, when a child turns eight then they can suddenly read all those books for the 8-12s, but not a moment before (on the dot, on their birthday, at the exact time of their birth). Authors on the other hand are arguing that children to learn to read at their own rate and that some children may be more advanced for their age and others less so. If you're a young person for whom reading is a bit of challenge at ten you're not going to be happy about being handed a book that is clearing marked for 7-9 are you? Besides I seem to recall when a certain series about a magical school launched there were an awful lot of very large eight year olds reading it.
But above all children's authors must now be paragons of virtue in their private lives. The Guardian reports on the new contract details for Random House authors. The actual clause reads "If you behave in a way which damages your reputation as a person suitable to work with or be associated with children, and consequently the market for or value of the work is seriously diminished, and we may (at our option) take any of the following actions: Delay publication/ Renegotiate advance/ Terminate the agreement." The Society of Authors have suggested that authors ask for this clause to be removed.
For the last couple of days I've been running workshops at the Edinburgh International Book Festival (EIBF). The EIBF, for those that don't know, is quite a big deal in the UK. The gardens of Charlotte Square in Edinburgh are, for a few short weeks, transformed with a series of giant tents into a paradise for book lovers. The place throngs with readers, would be writers, agents, publishers, writers, politicians and journalists. Everything that is most current in publishing in the UK is represented here and you never quite know who you are going to run into next.
Yesterday I ran a workshop on Dealing with Solitary Creativity. I had a great group of active participants and at the end a flurry of positive comments. I also had an industrial spy. Perhaps the term is a little strong, but at the end one of my participants told me that the chap sitting next to her couldn't contribute to the paired elevator pitch exercise as he was in PR at Random House and was scoping out the workshops. However, he did give some excellent insight into how she should pitch her book.
Then I had tea with John Prescott.
To be precise John Prescott and I were both drinking tea about three feet apart, but actually I was talking to his sign language interpreter for the day, Kyra. So technically I had tea with John Prescott. The author's yurt (and it really is a yurt) is open to all participants at the festival, so you frequently end up mingling with the famous. On Saturday the Prime Minister was there, but I wasn't.
Today's workshop was about dealing with rejection - the bottom line of which was
it happens to everyone
it's not personal
it's something you can learn from
it can be the start of a relationship (ie no we don't want this, but your writing is interesting.
To be a writer is to be a paradoxical creature. It's to be someone who happily spends hours in their own imagination creating worlds and who must also fully engage with life.
Today I am also guesting at The Lyrical Press Blog - where I talk a lot of about print versus ebooks having spent the week so far surrounded by print focussed people.
Along the journey to becoming a professional author lots of people will try to take money off you. Open any magazine that might possibly have a wannabe author reading it and you'll be swamped with adverts offering help. Personally, I'm deeply dubious of anyone who says they can explain how to become a best selling author overnight. Best selling authors make a lot of money (much more than your average UK author's income of £5,000) and if said instructor knows how to do this why is he or she teaching? Similarly, there are thousands of distance learning courses and people who will read your books for a fee and proffer advice. And then there are the courses you attend. Aspiring writers are positively besieged by people promising success for cash. But can they ever actually help? Common sense tells you that the majority of people who attend courses, workshops, pay fees for this and that aren't going to make it. There simply aren't that many books published.
And sometimes you benefit greatly from meeting people who are a little further along the journey than yourself and are able to point out the potholes.
I've just finished preparing my workshops for the Edinburgh International Book Festival next week. One is on dealing with rejection and the other on the difficulties of solitary creativity. The workshops are for twenty-five people and sold out within twenty-four hours of booking opening. However, I have no idea who is coming, nor what level they are at. Therefore I have to take a lot of decisions blind.
I've run workshops at the EIBF before and so I know for a lot of attendants the most important part is being with other aspiring writers. Some of them will be very well published and looking for a few tips, and some of them will be just starting out. I deal with such a mixed bunch by both providing basic and essential information and also incorporating a number of exercises that make my participants dig down deep inside to understand why they write and what they want from it. (Being a psychotherapist definitely helps with the latter.)
I'm going to be at the Edinburgh International Book Festival from this Saturday, so I've finally succumbed to twittering. You can find me on twitter as verdandiweaves. Let's hope EIBF has their web access sorted. At the moment the Festival is some tents and a very muddy green. It goes live on the 9th. The website is here and while many shows will be sold out there are always returns. Entrance to the general site is free, replete with cafes, bookstores and famous people roaming around.
Nowadays I use the Society of Authors to check all my contracts - and a grand job they do too. But when I started out writing I was so, so, so happy when anyone accepted anything I didn't pay much attention to contracts. And (hangs head) I'm not sure I even kept them all. But then back then it was more informal with many British smaller magazines - we were all too busy running from dinosaurs to get hung up on paperwork.
So last night and this morning I have spent several hours trying to track down if I have the rights to a story published in 1995. I'm pretty sure I have, but as I now have an offer for further publication I need to be sure. (Generally with a short story you offer first British serial rights, so that after initial publication rights revert to the author.)
The magazine I was published in now no longer publishes fiction, but I believe has only ever asked for first British serial rights. I've finally tracked down the current editor and emailed him.
And if you're wondering why I resubmitted a story without being sure about ownership - the confession gets worse. I came across the story, liked it, thought it needed a bit of editing and had entirely forgotten it had ever been published.
Perhaps one of the oddest things about a writing career is that so-called real life can easily and rudely tear you away from your internal worlds.
Working from home, as most writers do, lays you open to terrible, terrible traps. Now, I have a wonderful partner, who doesn't expect me to spend my time clearing up the domestic disasters my children regularly create, but of course they do have to be done. School holidays tend to upset all regular plans, but outwith these I am very strict on the hours I work. I need to be. My brain offers me a thousand reasons a day to stop doing something I love and go and do something far more boring instead.
Here's a list of things that happen to writers working at home. See if you can work out which I think are genuine reasons for stopping writing.
- the phone rings (friends and family know you're liable to be in)
- the meter man, local religious salesman, postman or lost soul rings your doorbell shattering your train of thought
- the house is terribly untidy and you're unsure if there are enough clean towels to last the weekend
- there's that awfully good programme on the telly that no one else is interested in and would really help your research
- it's sunny and you're feeling down - a good dose of vitamin D would be just the thing
- your professional blog is looking very empty
- you know you absolutely must clean the cooker
- a friend phones to ask for urgent help on a script or essay
And my take on the above -
- the phone is an interrupt device. Unless you have good reason to answer, such as (in my case)fearing what my wonderful but non-conformist six year old son might have got himself into at school, don't answer. If you don't have a answer service of some kind (and really any professional should have one) if it's urgent they will ring back. Encourage friends and family to contact you by email, so you can answer when you choose and won't get drawn into lengthy conversations at inappropriate times. If you can't bear to turn your mobile off then switch it to silent and let the text messages accumulate until you're ready to read them. If you *have to* answer then keep the conversation short and to the point. Be polite, but tell people when they can reach you and that you are working now. No one expects a surgeon to be up for a chat in the middle of an operation, so why should they expect you to break off from building an entire world?
- For safety reasons you should have a spy-hole or camera in your door- use it. But even before you get out of your chair to peek consider the fact that the world will not end if you don't open the door. You can opt to give your own meter readings for supplies by phone or email. Religious salesmen and other lost souls you probably don't want to talk to anyway. Expecting a parcel? Then yes, maybe you should check. People coming to the door with serious news are rare, but if you can't rid yourself of the paranoid fear that this is Agent Million or a policeman come to give you terrible tidings then open the door, but keep it brief. Unless it really is startling news then two minutes is your target time from getting up to sitting back down in your chair.
- The untidy house. If you worked in an office you wouldn't be home to do this. Do not confuse working time with trying-to-get-everything-else-done time. There are advantages to working from home - a smartly tidy and overly clean house should not be one unless you are working as a housekeeper.
- That awfully good programme on the telly can be watched at any time. Do you need to watch it now? Will it help you where you are in this manuscript? Unlike fish recordings keep.
- It's sunny and you're feeling down. I consider this a good reason to leave your desk. As a species writers are very prone to depression, and there are days when things genuinely *won't* happen. So on very, very rare occasions when you are enveloped by your own personal black cloud and pursued by the raging dogs of misery quit your desk, go out in the sun, and take the day off. If you often feel like this buy a sunlight lamp or talk to your GP!
- Yes, professional blogs do need to be maintained. Allocate time to write for these. Don't use your creative time.
- Well, yes, you shouldn't have let your cooker get so filthy, but it's your brain playing tricks on you and trying to get you away from writing that hard scene or finding your way out of a plot tangle. The accomplishment you feel on cleaning the cooker will be nothing compared to the satisfaction you will feel when you get some real work done. Clean the cooker later. Keep a notepad on your desk solely for urgent tasks you suddenly remember when you're writing. Record the task and (unless it's something dire like turning off the gas) let it go until after your writing time.
- Friends and colleagues in need always deserve consideration as long as you reserve the right to say no. However talented you are others will only take your writing career as seriously as you take it yourself. If you constantly agree to help then your help will be sought constantly and your own work will suffer.
It is certainly true that you can think about your work while you are doing other things. But it is also true you can spend your life having ideas instead of writing. A writer writes.
Whether you're a writer, an aspiring writer or an avid reader you're probably aware that currently the UK print market is drawing in its horns - and the thing is I can't remember a time since I began writing professionally (back in the 80s when the world could end if your cat pulled the lead out of the back of your PET computer) when the current year hasn't been more tight than the last for the publishing industry. But books still get published. Best sellers, even from the occasionally newbie, fly up the charts and money is still made by publishers and authors alike. The market never stops needing books, but how do you convince a publishing house or an agency your book is the one they really need?
Note: Nowadays getting an agent is not unlike getting a publisher. The process you're liable to go through will look pretty much identical. If you get an agent first then they submit to a publishing house for you and it will go in with a harder sell and further up the chain of command than you can generally achieve as a solo author. In fact many publishers will now no longer read unsolicited manuscripts. (Though this can sometimes be overcome by meeting a publisher in a bar, buying them lots of drinks and getting them to agree to allow you to send in a few pages - and yes, this does still happen. I've done it and so have other writers I know.) However, in any case the first barrier your MS will hit is the submissions reader.
Let's assume you've written the best cover letter, have the most polished manuscript (or have a real go-getter of an agent who's going to do the approach for you) and have got your work onto the desk of a submission reader. There are now an almost limitless number of factors the hand of fate can employ to determine your destiny. Here are a few examples -
Is your submissions reader (SR) paid solely to read new ms? This is highly unlikely.
Is your SR a senior member of staff, who will have a great deal of sway with the department, but who has less than 10% of there time to spend reading new work (the rest of the time they're either promoting authors and/or books - i.e. have a punishing round of dinners and parties to attend)?
Has your book about the grief felt on the death of a beloved aunt landed in the lap of someone who has just buried a beloved aunt. (Lucky, lucky you.)
Has your book about the beloved aunt landed in the lap of someone whose aunt disinherited them this morning? (Much less lucky you)
Does your SR have a hang-over (from all those parties)?
Is your SR nineteen doing office experience, has little knowledge of the book world and throws up a little in her mouth when she reads about your protagonist octogenarian swinger couple? (Your leading lady sounds just like her grandmother -euw!)
In reality most agents and publishers do their best with submissions, but if your work is going in without invitation and is therefore ending up on the slush pile it may well be read by a very junior member of staff who is learning the market. In all likelihood it will take a long time for anyone to read it - the primary business of both industries is to promote whoever they already have on board, and it is not unheard of for the slush pile to be periodically RTS-ed in order to allow oxygen back into the office. Popular agents and publishers can receive hundreds of manuscripts a day. That's trees worth of paper stacking up day after day after day. (Don't get me started on why everyone doesn't take email submissions.)
But to continue our scenario - it's three months later and you haven't heard a thing. When you're feeling upbeat you imagine your submission is being handed round the department, passed up the line and soon you'll hear that someone wants to talk to you. But when you're feeling down you imagine your submission is a lost leaf in the virtual forrest of submission awaiting your chosen SR. And then there's always the chance it was lost in the post.
So what do you do? After a reasonable length of time do you email? I'd say after three months you were entitled to query. But then what if you query and are told you've made it through the first round? Do you query again in a few months time or do you wait? How do you keep yourself in the mind of a very busy agent or publisher without becoming an annoyance? It's a hard call and one where everyone has to find their own middle ground.
You have to create the best work you can. You have to believe in it-(don't be British and apologize for being a writer. You have to be clear, straight forward and professional in your dealings with agents and publishers. You have to be proactive without becoming a liability.
Ultimately, you have to trust your work to speak for itself - and trust the post office to get it there in the first place.
After ranting about the wonder that is e-books it has just occurred to me why most of my friends aren't getting the revolutionary aspect of this technological shift. However, anyone reading this blog should have a good idea. But in case you don't -
The real impact of e-books
Launching a paper book costs a great deal of money. As the reading public tightens its belt publishers are more and more inclined to go with sure things, things in the vein of previous sure things and very occasionally something they believe (often erroneously) will be the next sure thing. People who write good entertaining stories that don't happen to have picked up on what the next sure thing is (recent ones include angst, misery, child murder, terrorism, angst, utter misery and yet more angst) aren't considered to have the cache of a breakthrough novel and therefore don't stand much of a chance of making it into the print market.
But now e-publishers, who can have just as good an eye as a print publisher (often a better and less angst obsessed eye), and who aren't so inhibited by finance, can take risks on new authors. I admit e-publishers are currently coming and going by the hour, but there are some who are staying - some who have been around for years. As e-publishers build up loyalty and reputation for sourcing new good work so the world expands a thousand fold for all those mildly published, yet to be published, those who have sunk to the bottom of the midlist and those who like writing less angst-ridden stories. (Can you tell I'm not a fan of angst? Dear gods, sometimes I just want entertainment from a book! If I want angst I can read my to-do list.)
And yes, some writers are already making a living from writing e-books alone. I know a lot of people don't believe this, but it's true. No-one I know in Britain yet, but across the pond they're going great guns.
And ultimately what's good for writers is good for readers. Like everyone else I've wandered into a bookstore and flicked hopelessly through the same-ish summer reads longing to find a 21st Century version of the wonderful (and sadly deceased) Robertson Davies, a new crime series that isn't embedded in blood, forensics and alcohol or a children's read that isn't about fairies or pirates (though a fairy pirate might be worth reading). E-publishing for both publisher and reader is an inexpensive option of experimenting with new writers. This, for me, is the real beauty and promise of the new ethereal world of the e-book.
More in The Independent on Waterstone's decision to sell the sony e-book reader here.
One of the big issues with professional blogging is ensuring that you post often enough to remind people you exist. If you're running a professional blog the chances are you're doing this to increase your profile, boost your market share and generally convince people that they're doing themselves a huge disservice if they don't attend to what you've got to offer. What is unlikely is that a) you're paid for your blogging time and b)that you don't have a busy life outside the blog.
It's all a matter of balance. I've known (and still know) writers, who will talk rather like literary fishermen over several pints of beer of their magnus opus, the one great story that will make their fortune and fame. Over the years, I've become far too intimate with some of these stories, most of which had yet to take form in a single inked word. A blog can become rather like this. It can be a place where you indulge in a little trumpet blowing or even innocently spend all your time declaiming your plans.
There's a lot to be said for putting you intention out into the world. If it's done with serious thought and for-planning then blogging about a project is as much for yourself as it is for your audience. You can use a blog to drawn your line in the sand and say I will do this - ever aware that if your blog is becoming in the least bit popular you'll look a right idiot if you don't do it.
But we all have lives beyond blogging. I've been quiet the last couple of days as I wrestle with a tricky family matter where the old guard have asked me -as one of the young 'uns (they're all in their eighties) - to sort out a difficult family matter. I've had re-allocate my already precious time to cope with this new demand.
In particular I had to choose between returning to this blog and finishing a proposal for a new (and I think) very exciting project. I chose the to finish the proposal.
It's not a straightforward choice. If a blog is inactive for a few days, especially early on, it is likely to dropped by readers, who assume it has gone the way of other ether musings and faded into disuse. But then if I don't put the work first I'm blogging about blogging - in which case this ceases to be a professional blog and becomes more of a personal journal.
A professional blog is for life not just for Christmas, but it must always be run in parallel, and as a support, to your profession.
Most writers are aware of the FOG index. This is a fairly simple formula to discover how readable your text is. Wikipedia has a definition here. For those adverse to maths Lichfield District council, who obviously pride themselves on clear communication, has an online FOG index checker that claims to be accurate within reasonable limits. Generally you are aiming for a FOG index of no more than twelve if you want your text to be appealing and ten if you're writing for a tabloid.
We all have favorite turns of phrase. My six year old now launches into imparting all his nuggets of wisdom with the preface 'By the Way', which is remarkably annoying. But then when I'm writing I'm prone to use certain words again and again that would doubtless drive my reader mad if I didn't ruthlessly prune them. A quick search of the net tells me there are relatively cheap programs such as this one that analyze your word patterns. But back in the old days when I was learning to write (and the air was thick with pterodactyls) you had to resort to combing through selected passages of past writing and simply searching for those annoying common words. Here are some of mine.
Just and almost - a suggestion perhaps that my psyche is always on the edge of madness.
Really, quite and actually - intimating I can't quite believe what I'm writing myself?
Over use of qualifiers is not unusual i.e. my major faults are actually quite common. (The shame!) But also look out for over use of favorite colors. There is nothing more irritating that discovering everything in a short story is 'sea-green' from the heroine's eyes to the color of the sky. Another danger is unusual verbs and obscure words.
We all try to write well, but as writers we do fall in love with certain expressions and words. Sometimes these are because they represent an underlying issue in our psyche (like my I don't believe this myself!). Sometimes it's because those around us overuse certain phrases - in the '80s none of my friends in the computer industry could start a sentence unless they said 'basically' first. - And sometimes it is simply because we have fallen in love with certain words (the more uncommon we perceive them to be the more likely this is.) To a certain extent this is our signature voice, but any voice can become annoying (Basically, By the Way, Didn't you know?). Be aware of your word patterns.
Being aware of these patterns also helps immeasurably in creating the unique voice of individual characters in fiction. By deliberately assigning a word pattern to a character you can make them jump off a page as easily as if you had put them in dialect.
An e-book reader (by William Younts of Fictionwise Inc) for the iphone and ipod touch is here. It uses the standard e-reader format. Suddenly electronic books have become a whole lot more accessible and a whole lot cooler.
The application is available now from itunes - here. It's FREE. It won't work until tomorrow when the updates for the iphone and ipod touch are released - and then publishing will become a whole different ball game.
Anyone can be an expert in the art of procrastination.
Today I had a long and useful work conversation. I have substantial notes from it to correct and develop a piece. I've also fed both children, entertained the baby for a bit and explained various house rules yet again to my older son (6) - such as why it's not ok to stuff the pancake you don't like under your chair. I've put on the dishwasher. I've watched a bit of a program I recorded last night. I've dropped a few comments on other blogs (and have obviously been reading other blogs too.) Finally remembered I need breakfast too and cleaned out the microwave. It's not quite 12.30pm and I'm ill with the cold from hell. On the sofa sits my eeepc along with one sheet of paper on which is written the one paragraph I wrote yesterday.
Working from home lays me open to a great deal of temptation. My house is not, and probably during my lifetime will never be, tidy, but there are always bits I can do. Obviously, the demands of the children are paramount, but the dishwasher would not have wept if I hadn't emptied it until after I've actually done some writing. But would if be different if I was at an office? I could hang around the water cooler, chat to colleagues and take long lunches... And I'd be fired.
As a writer I work for myself. This means I have to cultivate an inner boss, who will remind me when necessary that writing is a real job. It's not to be done between bouts of housework and any other duty I can drag up to be done because I-am-the-one-at-home. It's rather that all that stuff has to be done in-between my writing. It doesn't matter how much (or how little) I make from my writing. If I intend to succeed then I do have to write. (This may seem obvious, but a long time ago, when I was still an amateur, I once belonged to a writing group where everyone said they were serious about making their writing career and over three months the only one who wrote anything was me. I suspect the other members still meet and talk about when they will write.)
Today, with the average UK yearly income for a writer being £5,000 (sorry to disappoint), the majority of writers have second jobs. I'm lucky my second job is being a mother, but I will argue (and argue quite viciously) that it's at least as demanding, if not more so, than most other occupations. (You also cannot leave your children at the office - and no matter how very, very much you love them, - there will always be moments when you wish you could.) So if you want to be a writer, amateur, professional or best selling, you need to carve out your time for writing, and when you are in those hours of the day, unless there is a real crisis (and weeping dishwashers don't count) then you will write, plot, or in some concrete way move forward your writing career.
Inspiration is a mysterious beast. Whether you believe it hails from the touch of Odin's Mead or a sudden synergy of experience inspiration is the highlight of creating.
By now only people living in the remotest of locations won't have heard the story of how the first Harry Potter novel unfolded for JK Rowling while she was traveling on a train. In my imagination this has inspired a small army of aspiring authors to take to the rails clutching notebooks and laptops hoping that lightening with strike twice in the same place.
And if it has, I don't think they would be going that far wrong. Below I'm going to list key actions that really kick my brain into gear. If you're lucky they might work for you. I'm talking specifically about writing, but most of the ideas below will work for inspirations seekers of all kinds.
- do something different
Doing something away from your normal routine forces your brain out if its normal thinking patterns. If you can go outside your comfort zone even better. You stop repeating your life and start constructing it. This cannot help but change your perspective.
-carry a notebook and a pen at all times
I know! I know! Every writing course since the beginning of time labors this point. But do you? Don't count on your memory to retain the glittering gold of the moment.
- write something different
Switch genres, if only for an hour or two. Be really brave and switch forms. Writing a play requires a very different way of thinking to working on a novel.
- explain where you're stuck (for a new idea or on a plot point) to someone else
This is best done with a quiet friend (or cat). The act of talking aloud changes your brain processes, and simply having to explain your reasoning will show up strengths and weaknesses in your plot. (Cats are particularly good at making you justify yourself. It's in their nature to be aloof.) But you're not looking for extensive feed-back. Other people's ideas are often destructive to emerging ideas, so in desperate circumstances (if your friends are of the loquacious variety and you have no cat) you could always use a plant pot. Although having someone point out huge misconceptions/plot holes is as useful as it is painful.
- accept that you need fallow time
Creatives are like fields. Sometimes your soil is exhausted. You need to step back and rejoin the human race for a while. Maybe it will be hours. Maybe weeks. Perhaps even longer. But you cannot force good ideas.
- think about turning the music off
For some people music is inspirational for others like myself it's distracting. Music affects mood and if it's not in harmony with what you're writing then it's not helpful. Although music will work for some, it's rarely good for you to split your attention.
- read other people
This post was inspired by reading about Fiona Glass' Archimedes moment.
-accept sometimes your brilliant inspiration isn't quite right and will need further development
All of this is brought to you while I wait for my very kind, patient and lovely BBC radio producer to phone and explain why the latest version of my play (which I thought was very inspired) isn't quite right yet.
It's not exactly as if there is a shortage of blogs out here, but how do you establish yourself as a blog that can be trusted more than the bloke down the pub?
A long time ago, there used to be a term 'the authority of print' and people really did believe what they read in the the newspapers. Nowadays there have been enough newspaper scandals to convince the general public that things are not always what they seem. My personal watershed came when I was working on a Sunday paper during the first Gulf war and there was a frantic search for 'an expert' to comment on what was then an unprecedented situation. TV news, with the publicly exposed different coverage of various US channels in particular, has lost a lot of its weight. Possibly radio, particularly the BBC world service, retains some credibility, but blogs? Most of them are way, way down the information feeding chain.
However our thirst for information is greater today than ever. Information has become more tradable than a spy's whisper during the Cold War. There's a huge daunting body of facts out there that for many people is simply overwhelming. So first of all when you're establishing a professional blog of any kind endeavor to the best of your ability to ensure that at your time of writing any facts are accurate and any opinions you offer are founded on reasonable research. It doesn't matter if your blog is well known at this stage or not. Once your blog is out there it is out there and there's no going back. Remember the best way to be regarded as an expert is to offer information that is generally found to be correct.
Make your blog readable. The world of the blogger is not an academic one. This isn't the place for you to parade your superior knowledge of adverbs or show how you could star on the BBC word lovers' show, Call My Bluff. It's a world most often read by readers, who are taking a break, sneaking a quick google search when their boss isn't looking, and for a great many looking for entertainment. It's easy to google facts, but to make someone read your blog regularly you're going to have to give them something that is as great a pleasure to read as you can offer.
Tell readers how you know what you do. This comes after readability because you can be the most informed person in the world and still be thoroughly inaccessible. If you're an author like me you quote some of your publications. You drop into your writing how you used to work on international papers. You mention the thirty odd short stories (some of them very odd) you've had published. And of course, you promote your up and coming products, because ultimately the reason you're writing your blog is promotion.
You may be writing to establish yourself as an expert, to help publicize your work, your creations or even your political opinions, but this isn't why people read you until you become very, very famous. Promotion is a side effect of a blog. It's the side effect you might desperately want, but ultimately people turn to blogs for entertainment and information that helps them. Offer your readers useful links when you can. Make it personal in a way that allows them to trust you. For example if you're a writer writing to writers or a mother writing to mothers, emphasize with the very real struggles and challenges these particular occupations land you in. Don't be an all-knowing, all-seeing guru. Offer up the mistakes you've made and share what you learnt. Showing your humanity and a capability to laugh at yourself are endearing traits.
And at this point I should offer a personal story about myself. However, another key issue in establishing credibility, and one that is linked to loyalty too, is not to go on too long. Be assured then that I do poke fun at myself on Write Forward and please drop by any time.
The only point of having a professional blog is if you can get people to read it. But before you get down to the nitty gritty of google analytics and traffic flow promotion, you need to work out who you are trying to reach and why. Then along with your smart and witty title you need a few words of explanation that sums it all up - a really stunning tag line.
I'm in the middle of developing this blog, scratching my head over google analytics, collecting reciprocal links, links that reflect my current research and links I think all aspiring authors should read.
And there you have it. This is what my tag line needs to say. I decided when I set up this blog it wouldn't simply be about what goes on in my head as an author - fascinating and odd though that is - but it would also be of interest to other writers. I'm not simply writing this blog for people who I hope will read my work, but for people who want to write, are writing or are meaning to write someday themselves. I am passionate about writing. It defines me. I am also passionate about it as an activity and keen to promote it in all its forms. I have an underlying belief that for relationships on a personal and a global scale to prosper we have to listen to each other. Spoken words are all too often lost in the wind. The considered written word can change everything.
And back to the lighter side...
I did come up with the snappy tag line 'Musings of a Crimson Tea-Cat'. This relates to my endless consumption of tea, that I often wear a crimson robe when I'm writing and that I like cats. It's memorable, but not informative. And while it might increase the flow of cat lovers to my site, it is also more likely to suggest that I am a mad cat lady rather than an author. On a personal journal it would be fine, but here it's largely irrelevant. It's a title better reserved for a short story. (Even if I could have added 'spitting out hairballs of wisdom'. It's all too easy for me to get carried away with these things.)
Another idea was 'A girl, a mac and an imagination create'. The Mac part is relevant. I'm a strong supporter of the mighty Apple in its many forms as an excellent aid to creativity. But the title doesn't make it clear if this is a journal of a high school student or a published author, let alone touching on the issue of author resource.
'Components of a working author' is currently the strongest contender. It's not quite right, but it's informative while still being intriguing enough to click on. It states I'm an author and suggests I'm going to write about the ins and outs of authoring. It addresses both the issue of building a fan base and supporting other authors.
I could have waited until I got the tag line perfect before launching this blog, but Write Forward is about going forward, writing on, developing work as an organic process. If you wait until an idea is perfect in your head you will never write it. Once you have material you can work with it.
I'll be interspersing the Creating an Author Blog posts among other musings. So far on my list to do are establishing credibility, the art of reciprocal links, increasing traffic flow and ( hopefully one day) understanding google analytics. Please feel free to tell me about your glorious tag lines in comments (free promotion, folks), suggest a better one for me or raise any other issues that you think should be addressed in the Creating an Author Blog spin-off!
A few months ago a friend gave me a tip that a publisher was looking for some new weekender writers. Now, in case you don't know, a weekender is a stand alone novel about 50,000 words in length and something you (can you guess?) read at the weekend to forget the horrors of the office. It needs to be light and compulsive; in short a perfect bite of escapism. With my recent foray into epublishing with two romances (one urban fantasy Make Me One with Everything, one supernatural romance Appointment with the Past) appearing with Lyrical Press in November, it has dawned on me that I am capable of writing the shorter novel. However, when I queried about the publisher about 'the tip' I discovered they are not looking for romance. What a challenge.
I spent a couple of months thinking about this - certainly, longer than I had intended. Admittedly, while I published a post on why writers should have babies, it is also true that babies eat your writing time. At best they do it with a goo and a gurgle. At worst - well, in case you're about to eat soon I'll spare you. So let's just say there can be days, sometime weeks when you can't get to a keyboard. This isn't always a bad thing.
Yes, in a perfect world I would write everyday at a set time, but when I'm thinking about a new idea sometimes not being able to write is a godsend. It's all too easy too kill an idea by exposing before it is ready. Never, never, tell a friend what you're working on until an idea is established both in your mind and on your hard disc. The innocent, but searching questions of friends, will kill many an idea on the vine.
When a new idea pops into my mind it has problems, often lots of problems. Mulling it over, making the odd note until I am desperate to get to the keyboard, if it's a good idea, gives it a life of its own. It matures in my brain and gets to the point where it's pushing to be born. And if you let it out at that moment there ain't no stopping it. (Ask any woman who's been in labour.)
I'm not suggesting for a moment that this formed idea with be perfect. It will need (again with the baby simile) to be nurtured, schooled and generally tended. Personally, I will often write an opening (which may or may not make it into the final version), then construct a plot outline and then day by day start winding out the text. As I'm writing ideas will often pop up in the unlikeliest of places which may mean a rethink or an edit of the outline. It's an organic process with the chicken and the egg constantly vie-ing for first place.
Yes, I know this is quite normal. I already have an older son and he didn't talk as a baby either. In fact, long before he emerged onto the scene I knew, like the rest of you, that babies don't talk. However, when you're confronted with the reality of caring for a tiny human, who does interact, but without words - and you spend most of your life using words, it is a bit of a shock. Not least because so much is 'said' without words. You end up having _years_ of conversations in which one party communicates entirely non verbally.
There were several positive side-effects during my son's first year. Characters in my writing started moving more, demonstrating by action as well as with words their intent. This new take on communication helped even more when I was writing stage plays. Because of how my baby and I were communicating I become much more in tune and more cognizant of how physical communication between actors can work on stage.
And when he started to talk - number 1 son is now six - I found and still find that I have to be very clear with my directions and I am frequently called upon to define new words. I am of the school of thought that you talk to children as you would to an adult rather than in doggy-woggy terms. (This does pay off. When asked about his favorite animal my son replied without hesitation 'a chameleon' because of its 'natural ability in camouflage'. He was three and a half at the time.)
Effectively all mothers teach their offspring language from scratch. It's quite a duty and if you're going to do it well you need to develop the ability to be an exhaustless and accurate, walking thesaurus. It makes you think very carefully about your use of language.
Now, I'm back again in babyland I'm finding my writing is again becoming more physical and it is all the fresher for it. As for the fact I'm having one-sided conversations most days, I've always both read and plotted aloud when I'm checking out ideas and difficult passages. It's rather nice to have a constant critic, whose worst remark is 'goo' and will smile even at the most tortuous of prose.
It says 'writer' on my passport - even though it's out of date. At the time I got it I was working as a full time journalist and so 'journalist' would also have been an option, but I reckoned 'writer' would cause less fuss at foreign customers. To my mind, writers are viewed as mildly eccentric, but essentially harmless. Journalists, on the other hand, are more likely to be construed as noisy and possibly even up to no good.
But it was a choice I could make. Not being an ant I don't actually have a designation in my local hive or colony. I can describe myself as a I wish. A rather successful Scottish playwright I know tells the story of how he always described himself as a playwright, who was currently working in a game shop, while he waited for the rejections to cease and fame to begin. He had some really, really horrible rejections including one that asked him for the sake of theatre to stop writing. But he didn't.
Calling yourself a writer is about self-definition - telling the universe and everyone in it that that's what you are. You're also telling yourself. You can't claim to be a writer and not write. When you say it, enshrine it in various forms, you're drawing your boundaries and committing to a future - even if that future is full of rejection rather than success.
I'd like to say I started calling myself a writer when I had my first piece published in a newspaper (age 11) or even when prior to that I used to write plays at school that got performed to the whole school. But I didn't.
I'd like to say when I put writer on my passport application I felt strong and confident about it. However, despite the fact I was regularly writing for an international Sunday, I didn't. I felt like I was cheating. I was being read all over the world, working everyday including the weekends on pieces that were being published, but I didn't think I qualified.
It could be my good old British self-deprecation. It could be my very own special brand of lacking confidence. Calling yourself a writer is feels a big deal. But although I had success with short stories (even winning a couple of major competitions) it was only when I had my first son and decided I would be a mother and a writer - and started calling myself a writer to the outside world that the book publications, the mentorship and my involvement with the BBC came.
As is so often true in life, you need to believe in yourself for others to follow. You also need to know that you are a writer regardless of success, publication or public opinion. While I'd never advise someone to call themselves a dentist because they felt like it, being a writer is different. You do have to believe it first yourself before others will follow.
There are always those days when you sit in front your screen fingers resting idly on the keyboard and tumbleweed blowing through your mind. More often than not the days when you can't get to your computer are spent frantically writing paper notes or when for some ridiculous and highly implausible reason you can't get to a pen (eg you're with your kids in the swimming pool or breastfeeding) you end up repeating an idea over and over to yourself like a small mantra until you can get to a pen or your miraculous idea dissolves into the soup of everyday existence. And then there are those times when you're at your computer looking at the urgently scored and unwritten notes that says 'Cat Jelly Soup' totally unable to remember why you wrote these three words and somewhat fearful that dementia has arrived sooner than expected. There are days when it simply seems that the creative muse likes best to play when its ideas are most likely to be lost to the moment.
So what do you do?
I try at all times to have a pen, a notebook, an electronic notebook and in the worse cases a SMLAVSRD - supportive mobile listening and variably successful recording device (otherwise known as a friend) on hand. (NB never attempt to use your cat as SMLAVSRD. They may appear to listen, but the playback is always flawed.)
As for white screen - white screen time is for plotting and world building. When it comes down to it free flowing writing in character or the creation of great description is huge fun, but for most of us it rarely makes a novel. Whether you're writing fantasy or keeping it contemporary you need to know where your characters live. You need to know how their locations lie in relation to each other. You need to know who is in authority, who has jurisdiction over whom. And, of course, if you're writing fantasy you need to work out if a gerb is bigger than a greeb - and that's only the start.
Plotting is more complicated. The structure of the novel has been evolving since the first psychological novel was written. - I think this was Genji, but I'm open to correction - But novels do have structure. This structure rarely just comes into being. It's a puzzle that needs piecing together. If you can get the outline of this puzzle in place then the free flow of writing the A to B parts is not only enjoyable, but tends to comes more easily. (The writing programme scrivener is hugely helpful for plot and structure development.)
And if you're feeling utterly, utterly uninspired, it's time for housekeeping ie submitting to agents, publishers and trawling through relevant blogs and news sites.
But, and this is for another entry, writers are very like fields. We also need our fallow time.
I'm a journalist, an author, a mother of two boys, a psychotherapist, a playwright, an occasional voice actor, a runner of workshops and too busy for my own good. October 2009 saw the release of the first of the Euphemia Martins Mysteries: A Death in the Family.