Monday 30 November 2009

Workshop with SCBWI Scotland

This happened in Glasgow on Saturday and was immensely satisfying. It was pleasing for starters to put faces to names I’ve known for some time, not least of all two of our own Bridge House writers.
We had been planning to meet at Borders, but since that has gone into receivership they cancelled our booking. A little short-sighted, I thought, as they could do with footfall through the shop so that as much stock is sold as possible. However, we ended up at the Kog Café project and to me delight this would be a great candidate also for the Creative Café project. It reminded my somewhat of the Nexus Arts Café in Manchester, and I guess the Merchants Quarter Glasgow is similar enough to the Northern Quarter Manchester. It was a good space, if a little cold for the first part of the day, and the food was home made and appetising.
I talked a little about Bridge House and the Red Telephone. I hope we’ll get lots of submissions. There is some distrust of us as a little publisher. Hopefully that will disappear in time. We’ll make good.
I also did sessions on voice, characterisation, plot structure, characteristics of the Young Adult novel, what young adults are like and editing.
SCBWI Scotland members are an advanced bunch. You can always be afraid that you’re talking down to them. I hope I didn’t. They did take plenty of notes. They did ask questions and a couple of them thanked me for what I’d taught them.
And I’ve decided I like Glasgow.

Thursday 26 November 2009

Publisher’s Progress.

Aha. We are getting somewhere. (See yesterday’s post.)
The main publishing house is also not happy with what the designers / copy editors have done. Meanwhile, we’ve had a little go at doing it ourselves. And we can do it better. It just goes to show.
But I’m glad some of us are talking the same language.
Question is, do I go ahead and finish the proof read? I think I might. The main editors are keen to see what I disagree with.

Wednesday 25 November 2009

Aren't publishers great?

I’ll not name names. I’m just about to pay in a cheque they’ve sent me for development of the book. So, I’m hoping we can settle it amicably. The money will melt into my overdraft the minute it hits my account. Anyway in fee-per-hour terms, I’ve still done a lot of work for my £400.
The book in question is a teaching resource with photocopiable sheets for the students. I’ve created tons of resources like this for another publisher. A lot of consideration is about words fitting the page and what it looks like.
They requested an unformatted version. This is not unreasonable. As I also work as a publisher I know why this is. However, as they did not provide a full formatting language and what they did supply was not like formatting language I’d used before, I also provided a visual copy of the text. Which they have ignored twice, having requested it the second time. Many of the student pages look terrible and don’t make any sense.
They requested a lot of supplementary material. I duly put this in. Of course, it has now made some of the pages too big. I told them it would. Some of it is because I’m a victim of my own success. I introduced a couple of good ideas. They have latched on to these and extended them.
They have now produced pages in tiny squashed up writing which give you a headache to read. Some important aspects of layout have been ignored. What do you do?
Well, I’ve emailed back and expressed my concerns. Fingers crossed they’re decent people and will respond positively. Watch this space.

Monday 23 November 2009

Free Author Visit to Wetherby High School

This was a very enjoyable visit. I worked with mainly year 8s. There were more boys and they were remarkably engaged. And they say boys are not interested in reading… Still, I do have to confess that rumour had it that the alternative was their usual French lesson. How ironic! I used to be a language teacher. And today I had the proofs of a French resource I’ve written. If only they knew!
Nevertheless, the students- the majority boys –listened well and responded well to my questions. Many admitted to liking fantasy and science fiction. Only a few girls liked science fiction. Could The Prophecy change that? Who knows?
It was good that they understood, much of what was going on in the snippets of The Prophecy that I read out. Am I allowed to say I wrote it right?
They listened well and asked some very shrewd questions. Extremely pleasing for their age again – especially from the boys. I told them quite a lot about my editing processes, and they seemed to understand quite easily.
I also met a teacher and a Y13 student very committed to writing. It is good to meet people like that.
I arrived at about break-time. I realise the staff room is something I miss from my days as a secondary school teacher. There is a certain camaraderie not found in Higher Education. A large chocolate cake dominated. Someone had reached their thirtieth birthday at the weekend. At the university, you are lucky if somebody comes out of their box -aka office- at the same time as you let alone meets your for a coffee or lunch. But I guess we also have compensations. Like the fact that I’m working from home for the rest of the day.

Friday 20 November 2009

Crafting, Recrafting and Crafting Again

I snatched a couple of hours yesterday to work on an academic book proposal. It should have been with the editor a month ago but there was a rush on with some other books I was writing and editing. I may be too late with this one, but nevertheless the proposal will go out to someone soon.
I do edit as I go along. I write a chunk – a chapter or part of a chapter - then I reread it three times. I’ll even do that with this blog post. I’ll later do precise edits. I have to admit, though, that I’ve got this buttoned down better with fiction than with non-fiction. I don’t have a sophisticated checklist for non-fiction / academic as I have for fiction.
Finally, I print off and read in hardcopy. And still I find things I need to correct. In this final edit, I read out loud. Yes, even when it’s a 100,000 word novel. It’s good reading out loud. It slows you right down and you notice oddities that you don’t notice when you read in your head. You have to take a little care that you’re not dealing with something that should be written another way if it is to be read out loud. This only applies in a very few cases anyway. And you find things you need to alter. Every single time.
The question is: when do you stop? Do you print it out again and again? Until you finally get a copy where you don’t want to alter anything?
I don’t, actually. Unless I’ve made some big alterations, I just make the final changes from the hard copy I’ve read out. After all, you have to leave something for the editors, don’t you?
Then the book arrives. You open it. You, the writer who has continued to grow, reads it … and you want to alter it yet again. Just as you would like to tinker with all those texts written by others.
Yes, it’s all about crafting, recrafting and crafting again.

Thursday 19 November 2009

Michael Rosen at Salford University

I’m not going to talk about the content of Michael’s lecture – that will be handled elsewhere, including on his own web site. The content was of course engaging and convincing.
Actually, I’m most impressed about his power to hold an audience. He started at six prompt. He spoke clearly and warmly, and kept us entertained as well as informed, continued for an hour and at no time did I ever feel that I’d had enough. Often I can listen to a lecture, find the content fascinating but be bored by the form – even at Salford where the seats are comfortable. This was not the case last night. When he stopped at seven, I wanted him to carry on. If anything, it was the questions which were tedious. Some were mere comments, confirming what he had said. Others were more affirmations of the questioner’s own beliefs. No one raised anything of note.
I felt a little overwhelmed. I’ve been in the same room as him several times and I’ve even been published in the same book. Would he remember that? Maybe. In the very first edition of Lines in the Sand, in which we both appear, Frances Lincoln managed to chop out the last third of my story. So that other writers would not believe me to be an idiot, Mary Hoffman, the editor, emailed the complete story to all the other writers and illustrators in the book. It’s probably, though, a case of I know him but he doesn’t know me. And of course he was the Children’s Laureate.
Yet it is unfair to him to be overwhelmed. He is human. He is pleasant. In addition he is focussed, he is charismatic and he communicates well. All good qualities for a Children’s Laureate?

Wednesday 18 November 2009

The Dream and the Reality

We long for that opportunity, don’t we? To write for x number of hours a day, then get some exercise and perhaps make the occasional public appearance. Not too many though.
Someone described it last weekend as writing in your bedroom and pushing the manuscript under the door and waiting for the cheque to be pushed back in the other direction. We’d all like that. It just doesn’t happen.
Not even if you write a bestseller. Because even a bestseller doesn’t sell forever and then because you have to go on tour to stretch its selling potential you have to be disciplined enough to do your writing on the train and in the hotel room. Or grab ten minutes like I am now.
Until you achieve that bestseller, you have to do something else. Great, if like me, you can have a job where you are employed because you are a writer. A lot of my activities include editing and critiquing and that actually enhances my writing as well.
An then there is something else.
If you are just in that bubble of writing might you not run out of things to write about? Doesn’t the rest of your life feed your writing? And of course the life around you that you observe.
The story-tellers of days gone by were often employed in other capacities, too. By day they might be hunters or fishermen, in the evenings they told their stories.

Monday 16 November 2009

NAWE Conference at Chillworth Manor, 13-15 November

NAWE seems to be going from strength to strength. Paul Munden, NAWE’s director, gave a very entertaining and informative presentation about the current state of play. One of the greatest delights is that that corporate and professional members have public liability insurance included into their annual fee. And we’re covered up to £10,000,000. It used to cost me £85.00 a year to get cover up to £2,000,000.
But of course, that is not all. The conference was bigger than ever this year. We started on Friday afternoon, finished on Sunday morning, and there were five strands. There have been four before and when I first joined, it was usually a day conference in London.
There was a lot of choices, though inevitably there were times that you wanted to go to two or even three session at once, and other times when you had less interesting choices. I went to a mixture of the Higher Education sessions, one or two of the writers in schools session and a few of the less sector dominated ones. One or two resulted in some healthy arguments.
As usual, at such events the networking opportunities provided and the chances offered to catch up with old friends is of great value. Chillworth Manor provided a very comfortable and incredibly beautiful setting for such activities.
I came back really inspired and very relaxed.

Tuesday 10 November 2009

Get Writing

Some days are just so busy that by the time you find those few minutes’ you hardly have the brain space to write any more. It isn’t just a matter of having enough time. You need the chuntering voice to stop debating the other issues.
I long for the time when I could get a couple of hours writing done before I started the office work. When you do have the time after you’ve been running around like a mad thing, you can’t get the necessary concentration.
Yet, it is the mere habit of sitting down at the keyboard, or with a pen in your hand that brings that concentration. It may take twenty minutes or so to get into it, but get into you can, any time anywhere. Then you don’t want to stop.
I used to give a young boy French lessons. I asked his older sister who supervised his homework to make sure that he did at least fifteen minutes a day. The first five were always the hardest, she reported. After that he was into it and he got going. Sometimes he did as much as an hour. That is what I now have to be like with my writing. It isn’t as comfortable as when I came to it fresh and raring to go. But it still works.
I must remember as well that I tend to write better on the days when I struggle.

Monday 9 November 2009

The Three Aspects of Being a Writer

Being a writer isn’t just about being a writer. Writing is important and writing as well as you can is crucial. Yet there are two other activities that you really have to take part in: networking and marketing.
I’ve been doing some of the latter today. I’ve actually done two types. I’ve sent a revamped copy of the first three chapters of a Young Adult book and a synopsis out to an agent. It’s odd how you never send exactly the same out each time. Each time it comes back, you’ve moved on a little and you write differently. I would just so love to get an agent. So, I have to market myself to potential agents.
I’ve also spent some time approaching festivals to attend as a writer. I send pretty much the same basic email out to each one. But I do custom it to what I’ve found out about their festival. It’s only polite to find out as much as you can before you approach the organisers.
It’s always important with these to address people by name if you can. It really helps.
It’s actually quite fun doing it once you have persuaded yourself you can.

Friday 6 November 2009

Salford Quays

I’ve been madly editing a book which had to be back with the publisher yesterday. Hence, I’ve not really had much time to write this blog lately. I hope a change for the better is now happening.
I’ve also been busy with my choir, the Ordsall Acapella Singers. We had two gigs down at the Quays last night and a rehearsal Tuesday evening – followed by normal choir practice. Today, as I’m now secretary for the organisation, I had to go and do some business at the bank – our branch happens just to be on the Quays.
The Quays is an odd sort of place. It doesn’t belong to Salford proper – it’s a tad too posh as well and that may become even more so once the BBC gets there. Yet it’s also oddly desolate. The bank itself seem futuristic and ahead of its time inside.
Yet it used to be a very industrialised area. In fact the performance we did down by the waterside celebrated Salford’s industrial past. Later, we performed in the Lowry Theatre during the interval. The audience was middle class and then some.
There’s a big council estate next to the Quays. A lot of good things happen there. Yet the residents remain in awe of this whole regenerated area and of nearby Salford University. It was really good then to see children from the estate coming to the venue carrying lanterns and enjoying the show we put on.
We were spared the rain both evenings. Not so this afternoon. Yet I still couldn’t’ help wondering at the amount of wildlife living on and by the water. Despite the grey skies and despite the rain, the place was beautiful. Post-industrial.