Wednesday, 27 August 2008


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!

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Protecting our precious darlings

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.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Edinburgh International Book Festival and Rejection

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 hurts
  • 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. 

Thursday, 7 August 2008

BBC article on e-books

BBC predicts future for e-books here. 

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Workshops, courses, know hows and don'ts

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.

However, there are some reputable agencies and tutors. The Literary Consultancy and Cornerstone reading services have very good reputations. That MA in East Anglia keeps turning out best selling authors. The Arvon foundation gets some pretty cool tutors. All in all there are some fine opportunities out there, but there are also a lot of charlatans. Whoever you're thinking of giving money to research them very, very carefully. Although Preditors and Editors is US biased in this global day and age it's always worth checking out. And of course you all have your copies of either The Writers and Artists Yearbook or The Writer's Handbook to keep you straight.

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.)

Monday, 4 August 2008


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. 

Friday, 1 August 2008

Are you intrigued by Spam?

Weird Tales is running a competition for flash fiction inspired by the subject lines of spam emails.  Full details here

Please learn from my mistakes - contracts

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.