Wednesday 28 May 2008

Coping with Rejections

Rejection is just part of life when you are a writer. It doesn’t stop hurting, though. It is definitely the down on the roller-coaster. Or is it?

At least when you’ve had the rejection you can move onto the next submission. I have my really beloved baby, The Prophecy, out there now. One publisher has the first three chapters and a synopsis. They’ve had them a couple of weeks. They haven’t acknowledged them and I have a creepy sort of feeling that maybe they didn’t get them: they were emailed as an attachment. But I don’t want to ask yet, as it might sound like nagging.

I did send another query letter yesterday, again by email, and the answer came back: no they don’t publish YA. It didn’t say that in their guidelines and they looked just the zany sort of publisher who would. Oh well!

I’m not hurrying this one. I’ll go for likely looking people as I see them and only proactively seek new opportunities as the rejections come in. I’m really waiting on my first publisher as being published with them would be so appropriate. Meanwhile, I’ll get on with other writing.

I know another writer who just calls rejections “rewrites”. I guess that is an optimistic way of looking at them. I can see that that works for those rejections where you get some feedback. I’m not sure that it works for the ones which are just standard slips. I guess, though, that you make a mental note of the fact that that imprint doesn’t quite fit the style and content of your writing. Can you make it a better fit? If not with this piece, then with another?

Hopefully, the more you write the better you get.

In any case, I can’t not write. It seems to be in my blood now.

Sunday 25 May 2008

Maintaining a Web Presence

I guess that is what I am doing right now, in writing this blog. I’m often amazed to see that people have read it. Okay, just a handful, but it’s earning me money on Adsense and it’s a strange feeling that there are people out there, people I don’t know, who are reading my words. In some cases, they are even coming back for a second look.

It would be great, actually, if any of you who are reading this would let me know who you are, and if you keep coming, why. But if you want to remain anonymous, that’s okay, too.

There has been much debate recently on a couple of forums I’m a member of about:

· Why we need to have a web presence

· How much time it takes to keep that going

· Whether or not it takes us away from our writing.

Well I think presence, web or otherwise, is vital writers who take themselves seriously. Yes you have to write well, and then you have to get yourself out there. Get the public interested in you. After all, what does “publish” really mean? It has to be something to do with making your work public. You are part of your work.

Anyway I enjoy writing my blogs. I do this one, a fictional one, “Rozia” that is about a quite important character who has just left anoterh story. This is what happens to her after she leaves. It’s quite an experiment for me. Firstly, as a fictional blog and secondly as an experiment in writing from character. Thirdly, I never plan what I’m going to writer before I start. Then there is my “The Language Expert” blog, which is all about language learning. After all, in a former life, I spent twenty-four years teaching languages and I still write a few materials for language learning. I used to also maintain two other blogs – one about property investment and the other about the silly things which are happening in the 21st Century. However, having decided I’m first and foremost a writer, I’ve abandoned the latter two. Other people do these things better. However, I have not taken the content down.

What I love about blogging is that is it instant publication. It also gets my writing muscles warmed up, as it’s the first writing task I do each day.

For your convenience, and if you’re interested I’ve listed my other blogs and websites on this page.

What about all those other places? My Space, Facebook, Shelfari, Twitter, Wiki and Eacademy? Oh yes, I’m there. But I don’t use those all that much. I will respond to anyone who contacts me that way and I do always list my events and new books on My Space and Facebook. Authors’ Den is also great. It’s in effect a web site you can build yourself. I am, however, using this less now and I prefer the Blogger blogging provider to the Author’s Den one.

I’m very fortunate in having a husband who maintains my personal web site. I just send him emails about what I want doing and he does it. I do spend time every now and then reviewing that site. And if I see a great idea on somebody else’s, I copy it. No shame, this woman.

Plus there are the forums: Wordpool, Bristish SCBWI and Children’s Writers.

All of this helps you to network without leaving your desk. The chat also stops the loneliness.

However, I do issue a word of caution. Remember, by being there you are putting yourself in the public eye. I do also have a writing related day job. I work as a Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Salford. I keep myself in check by reminding myself never to post anything I would be ashamed of the Vice-Chancellor knowing about me.

Wednesday 21 May 2008

Build a Book in a Day

I did one of these sessions in a school on Monday and I’m doing another one on Friday. One learns and refines as one goes along.

Both of this week are in primary schools, Y5 and Y6.

It’s a hectic but very productive day.

The students do finish between two and four pieces of work. In the afternoon, they’re involved in editing, designing, marketing and illustrating.

Well, on Monday we did it. We produced enough material for a whole book and a good one at that. It was chaos, but chaos always does lurk behind beauty. And it isn’t chaos, really. It is just proactive cause and rewarding effect.

I have worked out how to make the writing part go more smoothly. I won’t expect full length stories. We’ll use the introductions to build plot driven and character driven stories to then write some flash fiction. I’ll ask the Y5 teacher if they feel comfortable introducing the acrostic poems. I’ll then introduce haikus to Y6. Then I go to Y5 to introduce plot driven stories. Back to Y6 to introduce character-driven stories. Then to Y5 to introduce Flash Fiction. Y6 to introduce Flash Fiction. Y5 then do opposite poems, going through the Gargoyles and Angels exercise. Y6 can do Flash Non-Fiction. Finally, default activity, crosswords for Y6, wordsearches for Y5. I’ll create a group story with each year group, which I’ll write up and can be included in the book.

But I haven’t yet got my head around the chaos of the afternoon session. Perhaps that is something which will become clear on Friday.

Saturday 17 May 2008

“The Lombardy Grotto” as a basis for your courses

As I make my way from school to school reading from this book and talking to students and teachers about writing in general and this book is particular, it does occur to me that it could form the basis of a very good course. It would even be a course which could be quite crosscurricular.

One could, draw out the following points:

  1. Characters. I use Chapter 2 quite a lot. Here they meet Uncle Sparky for the first time and find out more about Jayne, the main character and her two brothers Toby and Michael. You could use this chapter to analyse how we know what they’re like, but also to look at how a writer creates character. Then students could write their own.
  2. Writing with the senses. Well, exactly how do you describe chocolate to someone who has not eaten it before? Chapter 5.
  3. For that matter, could we invent some food? There are plenty of new tastes in the Lombardy Grotto.
  4. How do you create a fantasy setting? This goes through the whole book. The river may be allowed to go backwards, but only if that is consistent with the world you create. Establishing the fantasy world requires as much research as writing an historic novel. It’s just that you search within your imagination. What fun one could have creating another world with a group of Y6 students.
  5. Making a computer game based on this story. Well, after all, that is what Uncle Sparky does in the end.
  6. Examining the story arc. What is it? Is it there? Could the youngsters create their own?
  7. And of course, that favourite question, “Where do you get your ideas form?” I’ve pretty well explained that to those schools I’ve visited. Maybe we could get the students to create their own story from the same stimuli. Or perhaps we could collect some random items to spark off a story.
If anyone out there is interested in developing this further, do contact me. I’d be happy to put together some work packages if there is enough interest.

Tuesday 13 May 2008

Workign with Students

I have my marking load in from the university now. I’ve done the first two scripts – one creative project and one “Writer’s Reflection”. They both seemed good. I’ve started looking at a second creative piece. I do like to mark as near as possible in one go so that I keep to the same standard throughout. We have mark descriptors, which helps greatly, though I often find that gut reaction is as accurate, if not more so.

It was gratifying to read that a student values keeping a journal, that they understand the power of the workshop and that they have benefited from it. Others have noticed things about their work that they had not noticed. Do they realise that I learn too? I see what they have noticed and ask the same questions about my own work. If anything recommends doing creative writing at university that does: having the chance, on a weekly basis, to workshop with a group of people who are equally serious about their work.

I do come across some incredibly tight writing from my students. Many have found a voice already. Some are also aware of a need for a change of voice and that the narrator is also fictionalised. I often come across texts which are stronger than those which are already published.

A general weakness I have found, however, is lack of structure or unconvincing plot. It seems then that writing well is not the problem. That can be learnt. Finding a really good plot is more difficult.

Wednesday 7 May 2008


I guess I’m putting off two jobs I don’t really want to do.

One is making those phone calls, or even the decisions about which phone calls to make to get that huge novel of mine out into the world. I keep telling myself I have other things to do. I am not quite sure, actually, how this fits into the bigger scheme of things. How do I fit it into my routines which are already based on principles similar to the 7 Habits as by Stephen Covey. Am I being proactive, beginning with the end in mind, putting first things first, thinking win / win ( I get my book published; they get a great book), seeking first to understand and then be understood, synergising and sharpening the saw? I haven’t really got it safely and sensibly programmed in.

That’s easily fixed – change what you do. But I’m getting the feeling that I’m quite glad I haven’t got it properly programmed in because it gives me the excuse not to do it. Ha!

The second is getting back to “Potatoes in Spring” and writing the chapter about how the German girls reacted to the outbreak of war in 1939. I keep telling myself I don’t know a thing about it, but what happened to the writerly idea of exploring with the imagination? Is it just that I don’t want to face the issues?

I spent some considerable time yesterday writing to the Head of one of the Stuttgart Waldorf (Steiner) Schools. I already have an interesting reply from him and from a colleague of his who will really be able to help. I guess I’ll now use having to reply to them as a further excuse not to actually write that chapter.

Plus, I have to get all of my worksheets ready for a couple of school visits the week after next.

Friday 2 May 2008

Final Draft “Peace Child”

Yes, yet another final draft. I did make quite a major change in this. I renamed one of the characters for part of the story, which for the readers slightly disguises who she is. It gives another layer of mystery, hopefully. I was intrigued, too, to spot some really loose bits. You would have thought I’d have got those ironed out by now or be experienced enough not to have them in the first place. But there they were. I guess we do carry on growing as writers. All the time.

I discussed this with a colleague yesterday whose latest book has just come out. It looked good. He was pleased with it, and I’ll probably buy a copy. But I almost detected in him the same cringe factor I feel about looking at work that was completed a while ago. He also confessed to having moved on. That is the way of it for writers.

Indeed, the new “patch” in PC does seem to stand out. It is quite vibrant. I am pleased with it. But does that create a problem for the rest of it?

The novel has also changed its name. It is now “The Prophecy”. Part II of the trilogy will be “Babel” and the final part “Peace Child”. It will be known as the Peace Child trilogy. But yes, my husband and my PhD internal examiner were right. Would young adults want to read a book with the word “child” in the title?

I’m now going to have about ten copies made into a proper book and let a bunch of people read it again. A plain dark blue cover, I think. Good old Lightning Source. I may, that way, get some endorsements even before it goes out in the big wide world.