Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Know your characters

I was talking to a writerly friend yesterday and she has an amazing idea for a novel, but no idea where to start. I've come across Pre-Novel Stress Disorder before. A writer can be so excited about their idea (and maybe it's a BIG idea that involves... gulp... world-building) that they are paralyzed by it - they can't set fingers to keyboard for fear of screwing it up completely. Maybe they think they won't be able to do the idea justice - that they'll never be able to translate what's in their head onto the page. It's a scary business.

So my suggestion was to start small. Get to know your main character. Here's a little questionnaire I provided as a starting point for said writerly friend:

Who’s her best friend? Does she even have a best friend?

Who was her first crush?
Has she ever had a serious relationship?
What does she want to be when she grows up?
How does she feel about herself? Body image?
Is she the kind of person who’s always on the peripherary, or is she more likely to be the centre of attention?
What three words would her friends use to describe her?
What’s her relationship with her parents like?
What is she scared of?
What kind of music does she like?
How many siblings? How do they get on?
Is she a cat person or a dog person?
What makes her happy?
What makes her sad?
What’s her favourite subject at school?
Would she be more likely to text you or call you?

Some fairly obvious questions there. And perhaps it won't help at all, but it's a START. And we all need somewhere to start, don't we?
So how do YOU start a new project? Do you suffer from the dreaded Pre-Novel Stress Disorder? Any tips to share?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Copy-editing Genius Lady

I love my copy-editor. I am in AWE of my copy-editor. She has made ENTANGLED much, much better in so many ways. Here are a few of them:

1. She pointed out my frankly ridiculous overuse of the J-word and managed to cull some of those bad boys. I culled a few more when I went through the copy-edit. It was very satisfying.

2. She got to know my characters so well that she was able to say 'I don't think Grace would say something like that'. Of course, I immediately thought 'Ha! You are WRONG! Nobody knows my characters like I do. If I wrote it, it MUST be something Grace would say.' And then I read it. And realized how very wrong I was.

3. She managed to get me to change a bit of the manuscript that was (ever so slightly) morally dubious. Again, at first I was all 'I LIKE being morally dubious! Morally dubious is what I do best!' And then I thought about it. And realized how very wrong I was.

4. She made me look at ENTANGLED with a much more critical eye. I got rid of some bits that made me cringe and looked at every sentence afresh. This was time-consuming and brain-hurty, but definitely worthwhile.

5. There's a word I've been spelling wrong for years and years. Copy-editing Genius Lady drew this to my attention. I hung my head in shame.

So I hereby declare today to be International Love Your Copy-editor Day. I bow down to these unsing heroes of the publishing world. They deserve thanks and praise and MEDALS.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

London Book Fair MADNESS

London Book Fair went ahead this week, despite lots of people not being able to get here. I'm sure this was very annoying for the publishers/agents/other people trying to do serious business-type things. But for me it meant:

1. No queues for the toilets.
2. Plenty of room in the aisles, which meant it was easier to spot friends and stop to have a natter without getting in anyone's way.
3. Empty stands to sit at and pretend I was Conducting Business.
4. Lots and lots and lots of chatting.

I was at the Fair on Tuesday with my authorly hat on, so I went to a Chicken House panel event on Writing for Teens. It was a really interesting event and I took lots and lots of notes. And later on I got to catch up with one of the panellists, Sophia Bennett, who wrote Threads. Sophia is officially Lovely (with an entirely necessary capital 'L' there). Go read her book... you know you want to.

I was also able to catch up with/meet lots of lovely Twitter folk throughout the day, including the legendary Ben Johncock, who was doing a very good job of luring people to the Bookseller stand. Oh, and I also found out that Quercus has been shortlisted for Publisher of the Year. I happened to notice that the Quercus stand was very busy every time I passed... unlike a lot of other big stands. Just sayin'.

Another highlight of the day was meeting up with my agent, Marvellous Victoria, and the ever-awesome Nancy Miles. At this point I was able to have a well-deserved beer to soothe my parched vocal cords. (I'm sure that's a medically proven cure... although my knowledge of anything even vaguely sciencey is sketchy at the best of times.) It was lovely chatting to them both in person for a change, rather than on email or on the phone.

If there any vegetarians reading, please look away now...
I rounded off the day by eating chicken wings and ribs at Bodean's with two of my very favourite people. Much meat was consumed and Fair gossip exchanged. Seriously, it was A LOT of meat (and A LOT of gossip).

Was back at the Fair on Wednesday afternoon, this time wearing my rather fetching Editor Hat. This was a much more sedate visit, as everything was winding down. I got to meet an author I'm going to be working with, eat pizza with my best mate, mooch around other publishers' stands, see Ben Johncock (AGAIN!) and snag a whole load of free books. Staying till the bitter end definitely had its advantages.

I'll miss you, LBF 2010.
Roll on, LBF 2011... when I'll actually have a book out... gulp.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Help! It's a music emergency!

I'm stuck indoors again today, and it's looking GLORIOUS outside. No giant ash cloud or nuffink. (What does that bloody volcano have against London Book Fair anyway? More on LBF next week...)

Today is the day I conquer the copy-edit. I WILL be finished by midnight. This is a promise to myself, and to you. Please hold me to it. But I can't do this alone, I need help. I need music. And that's where you come in.

Please please please recommend me a song or two. A song that inspires you to write. A moody, atmospheric song. A song that breaks your heart. Any song whatsoever really. Having said that, I probably don't need mega-cheery songs - Walkin' on Sunshine does that job for me.

As soon as I've got a recommendation or two, I'm going to find them on and hopefully add them to my playlist. Blip is a wonderful discovery (thanks to Nova for that one). In case you haven't heard of it, it's a site where you can effectively create our own radio station. You can find gazillions of songs on there, and add them to your playlist for FREE. Oh, and you can listen to other people's playlists too. I am hearting it lots.

So please help me get through my copy-edit: recommend a song (or ten!) in the comments section. Thanks lovelies.

Here's my recommendation for you:

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A good day

Yesterday was a very writerly sort of day, despite not actually doing any writing. First exciting thing was visiting Quercus Towers and having lunch with my amazing publicity guru.

Quercus Towers is awesome. There's a garden - a garden they have parties in! How cool is that?! And there are many, many books (and I got to take some home... the TBR pile is now officially Out Of Control). I got to meet everyone, and needless to say, everyone was lovely. Seriously, the publishing biz is packed to the rafters with supernice people. There surely must be a supernice-people deficit in all other industries...

Lunch with Amazing Publicity Guru was fab (lamb souvlaki - nom nom). It was really interesting to find out more about the whole publicity malarkey and to start thinking about the day when (gulp) Entangled will be out there in the world. All very exciting/scary biscuits.

I headed back to work for a busy afternoon - one in which I actually (shock, horror) ACHIEVED something tangible. And then it was cocktail o'clock and time to meet up with the fabulous Liz (of My Favourite Books fame) and Kaz (FYI: fabulous UK author whose debut The Iron Witch is being published by Flux in the US next Spring). Much fun was had. Conversation topics included: books, publishing and er... the downside of wearing leather trousers. (Don't ask. No, really, don't ask.) On the way home we went to Waterstone's and generally caused a ruckus. They had to chuck us out at closing time. This has never happened to me in a bookshop before. (It has, however, happened to me in many other establishments...)

Yesterday was a good day for me. I hope it was a good day for you too.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Contest winner (and personal shame) REVEALED

The lines are closed, the votes have been counted and verified (and giggled at), and I can now reveal that the winner of JUST A CONTEST is...

BeckyS! Woohoo! Congrats, Becky. Please email me your details and your choice of prize.

Becky guessed that I used the dreaded 'just' 501 times in Entangled. I actually used it 533 times. Yup, you read that right. 533 times. The shame, the horror, the incompetence.

I must thank those of you who thought I couldn't possibly be that rubbish, and guessed lovely low numbers. You'll know better next time.

I started going through the copy-edit yesterday. I thought I'd be able to nail it this weekend, but I only got a quarter of the way through the ms after a full day's work (admittedly, that included a small amount of idling on Twitter too). It turns out that this is HARD. I'm reading sentences and thinking 'I would NEVER write that now'. Luckily I'm allowed to make some teeny-tiny tweaks at this stage, but it's time-consuming! I'm taking great satisfaction from extrerminating a few more 'justs'. Die, you suckers, DIE! Um... yes. I think my copy-edit might me making me crazy.

On an entirely unrelated matter, Becky (aka The Bookette) asked a very interesting question yesterday. I can't imagine where she got the inspiration from!

If your next door neighbour liked to sing karaoke all day long which song would it be that tipped you over the edge?

I've given this some serious thought, and I'm going to have to go with Michael Jackson's Earth Song. When I was studying for my A-levels, a man in the flat upstairs used to listen to this song on repeat for hours and hours on end. Unsurprisingly, this drove me round the twist. I reckon that hearing a neighbour singing that (badly, no doubt) could just tip me over the edge. I would not be respinsible for my actions in such a situation, so let's hope it doesn't happen.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Any questions?

I hope it's sunny wherever you are today, and that you're not stuck inside on the computer. I am deep into the copyedit on Entangled. Would I prefer to be outside in the park? Possibly. Is the copyedit trickier than anticipated? Definitely. Am I enjoying myself? Weirdly, yes.

The winner of the contest will be announced tomorrow so if you've got any last-minute guesses, get them in now. I'd hate for you to miss out on the chance to win one of the Prizes of Awesomeness.

So that I have something else to talk about tomorrow other than the name of the lucky winner, please feel free to ask me a question.

Go on, ask me anything... I DARE you. (OK, anything within reason.)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Interview with children's book publicist extraordinaire

Another interview! Don't say I never give you anything. This time we're venturing into the world of publicity, with the ever-wonderful Liz Scott. Now Liz used to be my BOSS, back when I was a baby marketing assistant, new to publishing and new to London. There aren't many bosses I've had that I would consider to be real, proper friends (*scans memory* *fails*). So here she is...

So what do you do then?
I am a freelance book publicist working with various publishers on their PR and marketing for children’s and YA books.

How did you get into the wondrous world of children’s books?
I always knew I wanted to work in publishing but have to admit to sort of falling into children’s books before I realised it was the world for me.

I started my book career in 1998 as an excitable bookseller in Bradford Waterstones where I worked for a year with inspiring, knowledgeable book folk, who cemented my desire to work with books. So I packed up my knotted hankie and headed to London Town where I found my first publishing job as a Sales Assistant at Phaidon Press. From there I moved to a Sales & Marketing Executive job at Usborne where I worked out that the children’s book world is indeed wondrous. So I stayed. I worked at Usborne for 7 years, 4 years as Marketing Manager, before the lure of the North got too much and I left for Manchester and freelance life.

Any exciting books you’re working on at the moment? Please plug away!
I could list all of them as I really am working on some excellent books but will keep it to a couple.

I’m immersed in the world of horror with William Hussey author of Witchfinder: Dawn of the Demontide – the first in the Witchfinder trilogy. William is an author who is seriously committed to his subject matter and a true horror fan himself so it’s a real joy working with him to promote his first book for children and to learn about his horror influences – reading Tales from the Crypt from the age of 6!

I’m also massively looking forward to being involved with Angel by LA Weatherly with the Usborne team. The buzz is building early and the angel phenomenon looks like being huge.

What would your ideal author do in terms of publicity?
That’s a really tough one because I really appreciate how hard it must be for authors with the weight of expectation heaped on them in terms of publicity ‘these days’. They have to be blogging, tweeting children’s entertainers with a love of long, tedious train journeys – not something that always comes naturally to someone who has chosen the essentially solitary job of writing!

Really I just like working with authors who have a passion for what they do, the audience they do it for and who appreciate the hard work involved by everyone in making it work.

And what would your nightmare author do?

Good answer! If you could work with any author in the world (children’s or grown-ups’) who would it be?
I’m from Yorkshire and that ALWAYS means an all-consuming enthusiasm for all things Yorkshire. I have a long standing admiration (borderline obsession) for poet Simon Armitage so would chose him for his dour wit.

If I could have 2 (please?) my second would be Frank Cottrell Boyce.

Top three children’s books?
Obviously the answer to this question would be different on any given day, but for today:

The BFG by Roald Dahl– especially the whizzpoppers chapter. When is pumping not funny?

Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce – just thinking about it makes me giggle. Pure joy.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith – just coz.

I Capture the Castle is one of my very favourite books too!
So... please look into your crystal ball and tell us what the Next Big Thing is in children’s books... preferably 2-3 years down the line, to give us time to write the books and make the big bucks.
Blimey – who knows?!

For the past few years there has very much been the ‘big thing’. Whether its boy wizards, vampires, angels, people have seriously embraced trends. This has definitely been great in raising the profile of children’s and YA books so maybe the next big thing will just be a diverse, quality range. Ahhh!

What’s your favourite trashy reality TV show? I KNOW you’ve got one.
I am a really, really late comer to Come Dine with Me – after months of people (you) telling me that it is must-watch TV I have finally watched it. I love it! Fave moment so far on Celebrity Come Dine with Me – while Darren Day cooks, the background music plays ‘There’s a rat in me kitchen what am I gonna do’!! TV GOLD.

Would you rather have muffins for hands or squirrels for feet?
Whenever I’ve considered this question before (!) I’ve always read it as ‘squirrels’ feet’ which is much easier to answer than ‘squirrels FOR feet’. Whole squirrels for feet? That’s hard.

I’m going to go with muffins for hands which will at least give me a little something sweet to nibble on as my answer to the next question is undisputable...

Chocolate or cheese?
Cheese every time with no exceptions.

Not even a hint of indecision - I like your style.

Now, Liz has kindly agreed to answer any questions you might have. Please leave them in the comments section below.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

100th post! Let's celebrate!

This is my 100th post! Woohoo! Hard to believe, isn't it? OK, maybe not for you, but for me, this is an achievement. Not a HUGE achievement, granted, but an achievement nonetheless.

To celebrate, I'm going to share with you 100 Things About Me You Will Probably Not Know (But You Might If You Happen To Be A Member Of My Family Or A Close Personal Friend):

1. I'm obsessed with sharks, and have been for years and years and years. I used to have a lot of dreams about being attacked by sharks. (NB - dreams not nightmares).

2. So far I have named all my cats after characters in To Kill a Mockingbird.

3. I get mardy trying on clothes in shops and sometimes feel like the clothes are trying to attack me. Going shopping with me can be a bad idea.

4. One day, I'd like to be in a West End musical. Probably as 'Third wench on the left' or something lame like that. As long as there's a bit of singing and dancing, I don't care!

5. I heart all reality cookery shows, especially Top Chef.

6. My most-played song on my iPod is still Dance, Dance by Fall Out Boy.

7. I make an awesome goat's cheese and pea risotto.

8. I wish Friday Night Lights was real.

9. I am TERRIBLE at waiting for emails. Most. Impatient. Person. Ever.

Whoa, whoa, whoa there! You didn't SERIOUSLY think I was going to make it to 100, did you? AS IF. I don't have the patience for that, and also... I'm just not that interesting. So, nine it is. Sorry. 

Anyhoo, here's to 100 more posts. Maybe even better than the last 100 (well, we can dream, can't we?).

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Contest update

The contest is going SWIMMINGLY! And I'd like to thank all of you who've entered so far for fully embracing my embarrassment. Your support (and mocking, in some cases) makes it all worthwhile. I will endeavour to be as rubbish with the next book so I can hold another contest.

Your guesses have amused me greatly. The lowest guess so far is 37, and the highest is 4680. There's still a week to go so I'll say no more.

A short post today, I'm afraid. Got to go and do birthday things. A cup of tea is beckoning (along with some Cadbury's mini eggs), and a glass or two of champagne will be quaffed in a few hours.

Hope you're all having a lovely weekend. Laters, 'gators.