Friday 26 November 2010

The Copy Edit

I’m just going though, accepting and rejecting changes, on the final copy-edit of Babel. The copy-edit proof can look horrendous. It can really put off an inexperienced writer. By this stage, anyway, one is weary of the book and one may want to just get it signed off. The temptation is to “accept all changes”. This is actually rather a dangerous thing to do, for several reasons.
I know the copy-editor who worked on Babel quite well and thoroughly trust him. Even so, I had plenty of cause to examine every single suggestion very carefully.
One of the most worrying things was that half way through, he suddenly got a different take on how to punctuate direct speech. It’s easy to make this sort of mistake: I know that my students sometimes get the same thing wrong persistently and I begin to query my own judgement. I actually disagreed with some of the rules that he seemed to follow about commas, especially after “and”, and when to start a new paragraph. Interestingly, he was using same rules that I’d learnt at school – and that was a Grammar School, so there must be something in it. However, I sincerely believe that our fast-paced life has made us move away from using commas where we used to and that a comma in front of “and” is often acceptable and frequently creates another meaning. I’m actually seeking a third opinion on that and on the paragraph breaks. We always have two copy-edits and the other copy editor did not pick up many of these.
Sometimes the suggestions did not improve the text. Neither did they spoil it. Why not go with the suggestion, anyway?
In other cases I absolutely agreed with the copy editor but decided not to change: the slight clumsy phrase or the overwritten sentence was part of the text’s or a character’s voice.
In most cases, however, the copy editor’s suggestion made the text much tighter and much more readable. These suggestions are probably also lessons for me for next time I do my own copy edit.
Perhaps then, we need a set of rules for reacting to a copy-edit:
1. Don’t believe that your copy-editor is infallible.
2. Read and respond to each suggestion carefully.
3. If what the copy-editor suggests is no better nor no worse than what you put in the first place, why not go with it anyway? It’s the copy-editor’s job to know about these things.
4. If you disagree, discuss this with him / her and / or get another opinion.
5. Resist any changes that will spoil the voice of the text or one of its characters. You may have to make your case!
Happy writing!

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Calling for Angels

I am absolutely enthralled by this book. I have now read it four times and still get a lump in my throat when I get to page 143. It is rather amazing, as well, that it is written by a 17 year-old who was actually only 14 when she completed her first draft.
As a university lecturer in English and Creative Writing, specialising in young adult literature, and because my Ph D thesis was entitled Peace Child: Towards a Global Definition of the Young Adult Novel I get to read a lot of teen and young adult novels. There are many published ones I love and I see extraordinarily good extracts of novels, as yet unpublished, written by my students. But I have never seen anything as rich, light and engaging as this one.
The launch that we held last Friday was fun. Caffe Yum, an independent coffee shop in Hertford, was exactly the right place for such an event.
I recommend this book as an ideal Christmas present for younger teen girls. But note, it moved also the young male editor and the older male designer at The Red Telephone.
Calling for Angels by Alex Smith. Available here.

Friday 19 November 2010

To Do Right Now

There is quite a lot to do when you are a writer. Here is my list of ongoing writing projects:
• Accept – or not – copy editor’s remarks on Babel (2nd part of Peace Child trilogy).
• Finish first draft of Peace Child (third part of Peace Child trilogy).
• Complete And They Thought I didn’t Know ( verse ya novel)
• Final edit in response to peer reviewer of an academic paper.
• Complete first draft of an academic paper I’m writing.
• Continue enrolling writers for a book I’m editing
• Resubmit thrice rejected ya novel Spooking.
• Write for various competition and small press calls to submission.
• Write some sort of article about the workshop I delivered at the recent NAWE conference.
• Write various blog posts.
• Write for Triond.
And over the next week these are my writing related activities:
• Drive to Hertford for the book launch of Calling for Angels, the debut novel of Alex Smith, just 17, and winner of The Red Telephone’s competition.
• Mark the first assignment from my students on the Intro to Children’s Literature Module.
• Complete many routine administration jobs at the university.
• Teach on two modules: Final Portfolio and Intro to Children’s Literature
• Look at a lot of student’s work, including one dissertation.
• Talk to students about writing.
• Prepare two lectures on Narrative Fiction and the Novel.
• Edit and think of ideas for Bridge House.
• Edit and think of ideas for CafeLit and the Creative Café Project.
• Go to my choir practice and the MACC competition.
• Go to my Opening the Quays rehearsal.
• Keep an eye on my various email accounts, Facebook and Twitter.
All in all, a very satisfying way of spending my time.

Thursday 18 November 2010

NAWE Conference 2010

This conference, held in a very comfortable hotel in Cheltenham, excelled itself last weekend. Possibly this is a reflection of the fact that NAWE itself is going from strength to strength. As usual much of the joy and the usefulness came from the opportunity offered between sessions and over meals to network.
NAWE is doing well. That is very clear. The new web site is splendid. Literature training has been renamed Writer’s Compass. What is provided is just as good as ever. Professional and institutional members get £10,000,000 of public liability insurance and can download the certificate from the site. NAWE will do a CRB check for those writers who need to work in schools or with vulnerable adults. And you can join the Professional Register to advertise what you offer. The new HE committee was formed at the conference. One of the highlights was hearing reading from the Young Writers’ hub. Another good initiative.
All of the sessions I attended were good and my own workshop, about using foreign language work to enhance our creativity, was well received, it seems. There was a mixture of workshops, information about conducting school visits, and discussions about current concerns. Naturally, “cut-backs” featured highly in the latter. But when don’t we always have concerns about funding? There was a real choice of sessions, and often I found myself wanting to go to two or even three at once, including at the time when my own session ran. The most important one for me, I think, was a discussion of the failings of the traditional writers’ workshop and how we might improve it. Some good ideas were discussed but we must be careful about anything that will increase our marking load.
We were also provided with two excellent after-dinner speaker. And oh, I ended up buying yet more books. The speakers and the bookstall full of members’ books were just too irresistible this year.

Friday 5 November 2010

Contrasts – Writing Fiction / Non-fiction

I have fixed myself another writing-routine in order to ensure enough I actually do some writing whilst holding a demanding day job albeit one that is very related to writing. Now I do my two hours writing first. And I’m alternating working on my novel and some academic writing. I have a list of academic projects and that does actually include some competition entries etc. It’s a good variety.
Yesterday was an academic writing day and I managed more than my 2,000 words in under two hours. I was actually preparing a short article about point of view for the Virtual Learning Environment, Blackboard. I find that my students – and other inexperienced writers - make more mistakes with point of view than almost anything else. The article was almost written and I’d actually got to the easy final couple of paragraphs.
On Wednesday I’d worked on my novel Peace Child. Now that I am spending some time every other day on it it is flowing better. However, I only managed 1657 words in the time. This is because I also had to digest and respond to some editorial comment to its prequel, Babel.
I generally do find non-fiction, apart from very intellectual academic papers, easier to write. It requires less concentration and I can listen to music while I write. When I’m writing fiction, even the birds singing in the garden can become annoying. On the other hand, I have little trouble planning fiction: I have story theory down to a fine art. Non-fiction I find difficult to marshal. A collection of given facts can be arranged in so many different ways. But once I know what I’m doing, the writing just flows.
I do actually enjoy the contrast, though.
Today is fiction: I’m anticipating editing Babel.

Thursday 4 November 2010

Singing joy- what writers do in their spare time

I love my job. I used to dream of the hours at the desk writing things that people wanted to read and then other hours talking to people about their writing and giving advice. I have all of that now – and a good deal of isolation, bouts of self-doubt and a fatigue of self-promotion. Plus there’s the feed-back, and though often positive, usually contains a call to compulsory improvement. And you do get stuck in your own head.
An antidote to all of this, I find, is belonging to a choir. You may have read the article I posted on Triond yesterday. My choir activities have become a little routine and when I was offered an additional opportunity and I found that I was available for all of the meetings, I jumped at the chance.
This meant that I spent yesterday evening at the Lowry Theatre, Salford Quays, on one of four song-writing / singing workshops. The talented Gospel and Soul Diva Yvonne Shelton is our leader and she is aided by the Lowry’s own Dave Smith. There were just four singers – there will be a few more next time.
We had a fascinating time looking at the words that two Salford song-writers had put together based on their research and thinking about what Salford means to us. I personally see this north-west British town as a big spider of a place that turns up everywhere. You’re driving along anywhere in north-east Manchester and suddenly you see the bright pink sign that tells you you are in Salford. Salford is older than Manchester, and as I come form West Bromwich, which enjoys a similar relationship to Birmingham, I can relate to that. I used to think West Bromwich was the dirty old town in the song. Salford is now post-industrial, as is West Bromwich. Both towns have a history of poverty and mucky industry. This is all symbolised for me, in both cases, by watching and actually enjoying the sunset over the gasworks. And the big question for me now is: Has the development on the Quays, including the BBC coming to Media City, been fair to the real people of Salford?
The song-writing really turned out to be thinking of and trying out sounds that went with the words. Though I’m not a confident singer Yvonne managed to put us at our ease and convince us that we can do it. It reminded me a little of when our choir split into smaller groups for our concert at Ordsall Hall: you do perform well because you have to. It was good moving in a space as well.
I am so glad that I decided to join in this!