Write Behind You – Sarah Manning of The Agency Group

I’m delighted to welcome the very lovely Sarah Manning onto the blog today. Sarah is a Literary Agent’s Assistant to Juliet Mushens at The Agency Group and is here to give us insight into her role and some insider info on life in a literary agency. Pull up a chair, Sarah and help yourself to cake!

Sarah pic

Can you tell us a bit about your background prior to working at The Agency Group?

I read History at Durham University. With no real idea what career I wanted to pursue, but aware that I loved books, I luckily landed myself a job at Orion working for their Paperbacks Department. I also interned in script development at Amber Entertainment and worked as a reader for Island Pictures before happily arriving at The Agency Group.

How long have you been working with Juliet at The Agency Group, Sarah, and how did you come to apply for the job?

I joined The Agency Group back in October 2013 and the time has absolutely flown by. I first stumbled across Juliet’s name during our many editorial meetings while working at Orion. I was beginning to realise that there were many exciting careers within the publishing industry that I hadn’t been aware of straight out of university, and so I closely followed Juliet’s career – she was in her twenties, vibrant and her success was snowballing. I found her easy to identify with and I knew I could learn a lot from her. At the time I was on a temporary contract at Orion and so I took the initiative to contact Juliet and ask her advice on how to move my career forward in publishing. Six months down the line Juliet was looking for an assistant and it felt like everything was falling into place. During that time I’d built up my experience and I knew for certain the direction I wanted my career to take.

What’s the best part of the working day for you?

The best part of my working day is reading the full manuscripts that have been called in from the slush pile. I love the creative, editorial side of reading submissions and it is especially exciting when you stumble across something special. But even when a submission still needs more work I enjoy sharing my thoughts with Juliet. I learn a lot from this process and it is always interesting to see how our comments compare.

What are you reading for pleasure at the moment?

I have just finished reading Apple Tree Yard and opened The Little Stranger by Sarah Walters on the train this morning. Apple Tree Yard was suggested to me by Juliet and, unsurprisingly, it didn’t disappoint. With a complex female narrator, and tackling interesting issues about sexual assault, it is an incredibly compelling read. I’ll let you know how I get on with The Little Stranger – here’s to hoping it’s as dark and chilling as I expect.

Could you please tell us about a typical day at The Agency Group and describe your workspace?

My days are pretty varied but there are some things which need to be done regularly. Every day we will have contracts coming in and out of the office, and it’s my job to keep a track of them all. Juliet does her own foreign rights and so we have contracts issued from all over the world, and with no separate contracts department this is quite a big job! I also complete the tax forms for our authors and am the one chasing all the money. Unlike in other jobs I have previously had, I don’t see these tasks as tiresome administration because they are so closely tied to direct contact with our clients, and I’m learning so much about the ins and outs of the industry. Hopefully this will just make me an efficient agent sometime in the future! And then, after all the general office jobs, I will help Juliet with the slush pile.

Our office is lovely, especially now we are slowly filling the white walls with framed book covers. And of course there is an enormous tube poster for James Oswald’s Mclean series.

office

Do you find you have a typical day or is each day different?

Each day is different working for Juliet and this is something I really appreciate about being her assistant. I am very lucky that I am welcome to sit in on all of Juliet’s meetings and so I find myself part of meetings with potential clients; existing authors; scouts and the list goes on!

Has anything surprised you about the job?

I was pleasantly surprised by just how fast-paced the working environment is here. There is always something going on and new deals being struck. It makes it very exciting to be a part of.

What was your dream job as a child?

I’m not entirely sure it would count as a job, but for most of my childhood I wanted to compete in the Olympics in synchronised swimming. Unfortunately, you can’t read books while upside down in the pool.

What’s your dream job in the future? Do you hope to become a full-time agent and build your own list?

When Juliet asked me where I’d like to be in five years’ time I replied, “your desk”. Well, perhaps not her actual desk, but one next door as a full-time agent would be lovely. My dream is to build a client list of my own with authors as varied and as exciting as those I get to work with now. My favourite aspect of the job is following authors from their slush pile submission through to their first deal, and championing debut authors is something I hope to take forward when establishing my own list.

Do you read the submissions that come in to Juliet’s slush pile – is this a job you share or do you both read promising submissions?

Juliet will read everything that comes into her slush pile and will decide which submissions to call in the full for. I will then read these full manuscripts alongside Juliet and we share our editorial comments. I absolutely love this process and, although the pile is often very large and somewhat daunting, it is always exciting when you begin reading a manuscript and realise you can’t put it down.

If you do read submissions, what would you love to find in the slush pile?

I have a weak spot for flawed, independent female characters that aren’t defined by the men around them. I would love to find an ‘Amy from Gone Girl’ type character placed in a historical setting: something that turns the male discourse of history on its head in a very modern way.

Who’s your favourite author / favourite book of all time?

Favourite author is a tricky one as, even if there is an author who I generally like the style of, it is always the story itself that I am most passionate about. A Thousand Splendid Suns is my go-to book and got me through my finals at university. There is something so magical about the strength of the characters despite the sadness that surrounds them, that no matter where I am it always manages to transport me. Plus, I’m a bit of a sucker for something that makes me cry!

Thank you so much, Sarah!

 

 

Sheila talks about the 60′s and Mods & Rockers…

Good morning all,

It’s the start of the weekend and I have a visit from a very lovely lady. Sheila 2014 Portrait

I am so pleased to welcome Sheila Norton into Romaniac HQ for a little chin wag and a slice of Celia’s chocolate cake. It’s a special one, too. You know the type – with the chocolate cream and the white chocolate shavings on top … heaven.

So, firstly a massive hello and welcome, Sheila, it is so lovely to have you here. We hear you have a new book out, can you tell us a little about it?

Thank you – for the lovely welcome and especially the chocolate cake! Yes, I have a new book just out now – YESTERDAY. It’s a Kindle ebook on Amazon, priced at £1.99 and is the story of Cathy, who as a middle-aged journalist in 2004 has to revisit her teenage years during the violent clashes between the Mods and Rockers – and find the answers to some questions that have always haunted her.

Yesterday’ is set in the 1960’s, what made you choose this era to write about? Is this the first book you have written within this time period?

Basically, I chose the 1960s because I was a teenager myself then and remember it well! And I also think it was such an exciting era, with such a lot of changes happening, especially for young people. Yes, it’s the first book I’ve set in the 1960s – or in any other period other than the current day. All my other books have been contemporary.

You also have some books under the pseudonym Olivia Ryan, can you tell us a little about those?

I wrote a series of three novels – the ‘Tales from’ series – as Olivia Ryan because my then-editor thought they were a little different from my first five novels and she wanted to promote them as if they were by a ‘new’ author. They’re three completely different stories, but the connection is weddings: the titles are ‘Tales from a Hen Weekend’, ‘Tales from a Wedding Day’, and ‘Tales from a Honeymoon Hotel’. Since I’ve started self-publishing, though, I’ve reverted to my own name, as I feel this is how most people know me and will look for me on Amazon. I’ve published the ‘Sisters’ series this way, and now YESTERDAY.

Which genres do you prefer to read yourself for pleasure?

I’ll try most things! – but my favourite reads these days are usually suspense and thrillers. I do still like Rom Coms too (most of my previous 11 novels fall loosely into this category) especially if they have some emotional depth.

You run the Chelmsford Chapter meeting each month which is for the RNA, do you think regularly meeting other writers face to face is an important factor of being a writer? What benefits do you think this brings to both new and established writers?

Yes, making friends through the Chelmsford RNA chapter has been a definite bonus for me, especially since I retired from my day job at a hospital, as I sometimes miss the stimulation of constant company and conversation with all sorts of people! For new writers, a group like ours is (I hope) somewhere where they can find encouragement and support, and ask questions about their writing in a friendly atmosphere. Those of us who are already established also need that kind of support – we never become immune to the ups and downs of the writing life, or reach the point where we ‘know it all’.

You are a full time writer now – do you have a set routine to get the words down each day or do you wait for inspiration to strike?

Neither, really! I’m fortunate, now I’m retired, that I can write whenever I want to. Having written my first six published novels while working full-time, you can probably imagine how liberating this is! So I resist any form of routine, now – I just write whenever I have nothing else taking priority (e.g. spending time with my three lovely daughters and six gorgeous grandkids!). But I certainly don’t wait for inspiration to strike. That’s fatal! No book would ever get written!

What top three tips would you give an aspiring writer?

  • Er … don’t wait for inspiration to strike! Just write – anything – no matter how bad it seems. It can be edited or deleted later but you have to get going.
  • Don’t try to write in the style of the latest trend, or try too hard to be clever. Just write in your own voice – it will flow much better and be so much more readable.
  • Most important of all: only write for one reason – because you love doing it. Everything else is a gamble.

Can we ask what you are going to be working on next?

There will be another book set mainly in the 1960s – this time set between England and Australia, and centred on a truly heartrending true life situation. I’ve also written the first draft of a contemporary book where the protagonists are all grandparents. I have plenty of experience to call on for this one! And finally I have a plan for yet another book set partly in the Sixties, and partly bang up to date in the current time.

Oooh, time for a Quick-fire round:

 

  • Left or right? Right
  • Seaside or mountains? Seaside
  • Ebook or paperback? Ebook
  • Champagne or cocktails? Champagne
  • Pen & paper or straight to computer? Computer
  • What or who makes you laugh? My little grandchildren
  • Disco or Rock ‘n’ roll? Rock ‘n’ Roll
  • Theatre or Cinema? Cinema
  • Facebook or Twitter? Facebook

 

Well, thank you so much for being such a fantastic guest. We wish you all the very best of luck with ‘Yesterday’.

Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure!

Lucie x

YESTERDAY cover jpeg

http://www.amazon.co.uk/YESTERDAY-Sheila-Norton-ebook/dp/B00JKOM7YY/

Sheila’s website – http://www.sheilanorton.co.uk/

Writing as Olivia Ryan – http://www.oliviaryan.com/

The WoMentoring Project

WoMen3

 

Today is the launch day of an incredibly exciting new initiative set up by Kerry Hudson, offering free mentoring from authors, editors and agents to up and coming female writers. The buzz about it on twitter has been building and today it’s officially launched and here at Romaniac HQ, we’re tucking into cake and already checking out the website. All the information about the initiative is below and the all-important website address is:

http://www.womentoringproject.co.uk

You can follow WoMentoring on twitter - @WoMentoringP

About the WoMentoring Project
The WoMentoring Project exists to offer free mentoring by professional literary women to up and coming female writers who would otherwise find it difficult to access similar opportunities.

WoMentoringIllo1CropWeb

bespoke illustration by Sally Jane Thompson

The mission of The WoMentoring Project is simply to introduce successful literary women to other women writers at the beginning of their careers who would benefit from some insight, knowledge and support. The hope is that we’ll see new, talented and diverse female voices emerging as a result of time and guidance received from our mentors. 

Each mentor selects their own mentee and it is at their discretion how little or much time they donate. We have no budget, it’s a completely free initiative and every aspect of the project – from the project management to the website design to the PR support – is being volunteered by a collective of female literary professionals. Quite simply this is about exceptional women supporting exceptional women. Welcome to The WoMentoring Project. 



Why do we need it?
Like many great (and not so great) ideas The WoMentoring Project came about via a conversation on Twitter. While discussing the current lack of peer mentoring and the prohibitive expense for many of professional mentoring we asked our followers – largely writers, editors and agents – who would be willing to donate a few hours of their time to another woman just starting out. The response was overwhelming – within two hours we had over sixty volunteer mentors.

The WoMentoring Project is managed by novelist Kerry Hudson and all of our mentors are all professional writers, editors or literary agents. Many of us received unofficial or official mentoring ourselves which helped us get ahead and the emphasis is on ‘paying forward’ some of the support we’ve been given. 

In an industry where male writers are still reviewed and paid more than their female counterparts in the UK, we wanted to balance the playing field. Likewise, we want to give female voices that would otherwise find it hard to be heard, a greater opportunity of reaching their true potential.

Applications
In an ideal world we would offer a mentor to every writer who needed and wanted one. Of course this isn’t possible so instead we’ve tried to ensure the application process is accessible while also ensuring that out mentors have enough information with which to make their selection.

Applicant mentees will submit a 1000 word writing sample and a 500 word statement about why they would benefit from free mentoring. All applications will be in application to a specific mentor and mentees can only apply for one mentor at a time. 

Why our mentors are getting involved

The reason I’m doing this is simple: mentoring can mean the difference between getting published and getting lost in the crowd. It can help a good writer become a brilliant one. But till now, opportunities for low-income writers to be mentored were few and far between. This initiative redresses the balance; I’m utterly delighted to be part of the project.
Shelley Harris, author of Jubilee

I have only achieved the success I have with the help of others, and now I am keen to pass on that help. I particularly want to reach out to those who don’t have the privileges of wealth, status or existing contacts, but who have so much to gain and to give.
Marie Phillips, author Gods Behaving Badly

I’m so pleased to be involved in the WoMentoring Project, and I can’t wait to meet my mentee. I know from my own authors how isolating an experience writing can often be, especially when you’re just starting out, and so I really wanted to be involved. I hope that knowing that there is someone on your side in those early days will give writers courage and confidence in their work.
Alison Hennessy, Senior Editor at Harvill Secker

The WoMentoring project is the kind of opportunity I would have relished when writing my first novel. It’s founded in the spirit of paying it forward, and I’ll take real pride in sharing whatever experience I’ve gained with a mentee. I’ve benefited from the advice and encouragement of some truly inspirational writers, the right voice cheering you on can make all the difference when you’re in your solitary writing bubble. The formality of the mentoring arrangement also gives a sense of responsibility and focus – something that’s invaluable when you’re lost in the sprawl of a work-in-progress – and it’s beneficial to mentors too.
Emylia Hall, author of The Book of Summers 

My career as an editor has been immeasurably enriched by working with inspiring women writers, yet the world of publishing would have been inaccessible to me without the time and support I was given when first starting out.  The WoMentoring Project is a wonderful, necessary thing and I’m very proud to be taking part in it.
Francesca Main, Editorial Director, Picador
 
I wanted to get involved with this project because I’d like to help authors feel that whoever they are, and wherever they come from, they have a right to be heard.
Jo Unwin of the Jo Unwin Literary Agency 

Why female writers feel they need this opportunity

I’m interested in being mentored because although I think you have to make mistakes to learn, having someone who’s been there help you work out the ones with no value can be really useful. Most of all I’d like to have someone to push and challenge me on what makes me and my writing tick.

The idea of women sharing their skills and experience in a dynamic, nurturing way is a really important one given the lower profile given to female writers. Even though the mentoring is one to one a collective voice and resilience is still being built up – I think it’s a great idea that, for writers like me, will help get rid of some of the layers of doubt and creative loneliness that come with being a beginner.
Clare Archibald 

 
I’m on my third novel; I’ve had good notices from Faber, HoZ etc. but still not quite there. What I need is that final push. I especially need guidance on pacing, keeping the action pulsing along. I feel a mentor could be hugely beneficial in this process.
Suzy Norman 

The First Time I … Pippa Croft/Phillipa Ashley

Phillipa Ashley Pippa Croft

THE FIRST TIME I…

 WROTE A ROMANCE SERIES

Pippa Croft/Phillipa Ashley

In spring 2013, I was lucky enough to be given a three book contract to write a series of hot romance novels for Penguin Books.

This is the first time I’ve written a series featuring the same characters in each book. Prior to this all my books have been standalone, with completely new characters and settings. Each book in the Oxford Blue series is full-length at approx 90k words and I’ve just started Third Time Lucky – funnily enough the third book in the series.

Sorry that I’ve got to use a blatant plug i.e.the publisher’s blurb to introduce my findings, but this will hopefully put things in context! (Mmm, think the Romaniacs…)

The First Time We Met is the first novel in the sizzling new Oxford Blue romance series from Pippa Croft.

When US Senator’s daughter Lauren Cusack arrives at the enchanting Wyckham College of Oxford University, she hopes to mend her broken heart by throwing herself into her studies.

But then English aristocrat Alexander Hunt walks into her life and everything changes. Handsome, brooding, and with his own dark past to escape, Alexander is exactly what Lauren doesn’t need – but she finds herself helplessly drawn towards him.

Both Alexander and Lauren know that they should stay away from each other . . . but sometimes desire is so powerful that it conquers all else.

Pippa Croft Series (2)

THE VERDICT SO FAR

So here’s my report so far, on the challenges and joys of writing a series as opposed to single titles and some questions to think about before you embark on this epic journey.

THE CHALLENGES

  • Are your main characters compelling enough and can they develop sufficiently to sustain a series of books? Do the hero, heroine, and secondary characters grow and change with each book and over the series as a whole?
  • How are you going to introduce previous events for readers who pick up the series with Book 2 or 3? How much of their back story should you include while still keeping the new books fresh and exciting for the reader?
  • If it’s a hot and steamy series, how can you keep the love scenes exciting? You need to make sure that each sexy scene is part of the character development and moves the characters on in some way, and isn’t simply there for titillation.
  • You need to keep in mind the story arc of the whole series and of each book.
  • You can’t go back and change the story in earlier books, if you’re writing a series as you go along – which you probably will be.
  • However, you can’t plan too far ahead or you’ll be shoehorning characters into the plot of three books rather than letting them develop naturally. However, you do need a very good idea of their motivations and conflicts and these have to develop and change.

THE JOYS

  • Neither you nor your readers have to say goodbye to characters you’ve grown to love – or hate – by the end of the book.
  • You can take your time over each character’s development, get deep under their skins and set them new challenges to overcome.
  • If it’s a hot and steamy series, you’ll have plenty of opportunities for love scenes to show the characters growing and changing. Great fun…
  • You have time to get deep inside your characters’ psyche and develop their voices.
  • Hopefully, your readers will be so engaged with the characters they will be desperate to read each book.

That looks like more challenges than joys; however I absolutely love writing the Oxford Blue series and slightly dread it finishing it at some point.

I’ll let you into a secret: I still don’t know exactly what’s going to happen to Lauren and Alexander, but I can promise you that it will be dramatic, sexy and a big surprise (to me as much as the reader…)

Thank you so much, Phillipa, for this fascinating insight and advice. I’ve not written a series but can see how exciting it must be.  Please do visit again and let us know how things develop.

Laura x

Struggling to get published? Great advice from Kerry Fisher.

I’m delighted that Kerry Fisher has joined us at Romaniac HQ today and she’s brought along her dog too! Kerry has recently signed a fantastic book deal and she’s chatting about her road to publication.

IMG_2054

The Power of Persistence

When I was struggling to get published, I used to dread reading blogs like this in case other authors were saying ‘Three weeks after I wrote the first draft, an agent snapped me up on account of my witty interactions on Twitter and two weeks later, I had a book and film deal.’

I am not that person. My story should give hope to any writers who need a Lever Arch file for their rejections. I’ve written three novels. The first was rubbish, but the other two were a series of ‘hopes raised, hopes dashed, nearly but not quite’ from agents. I simply didn’t have the appetite to write a fourth without finding a home for them. Plus I’d made the classic mistake of telling everyone I was writing a novel and was having to jump into the coat cupboard at parties when I saw the words, ‘Have you been published yet?’ forming on people’s lips. My husband has been hugely supportive of my writing but although he never actually articulated ‘When is all this writing nonsense going to stop?’, he did encourage me to apply for a job as a shepherd with the National Trust. Time for a different approach.

So I self-published in December 2012. I did two things right: I paid to have a cover professionally designed. I printed business cards and leaflets.

I did hundreds of things wrong. Instead of paying for a professional proofread, I revised the novel myself until my eyeballs bled, but still managed to miss loads of typos. Gravest mistake of all: I stuck my novel out there with nary a thought for how I was going to make it stand out from the 400,000 already jostling for space on Amazon.

My learning wasn’t a curve. More of a climbing wall without footholds. In a nutshell:

  • Two hundred Facebook friends do not equal two hundred sales.
  • Some of the people closest to you will be utterly disinterested – don’t take it personally.
  • Some acquaintances will champion you until you love them more than your dog.
  • Whatever you think of Twitter, it’s vital for networking and connecting with readers.
  • Learn as much as you can from other authors. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – most are very generous-spirited.
  • Old-fashioned, face-to-face networking has its place. I joined local business associations, approached writing and reading clubs, social groups (see http://www.meetup.com) and spoke at school coffee mornings.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of a thank you and help people you meet along the way to make mutually beneficial connections.

The biggest tip of all: join the Romantic Novelists’ Association!

I went to the summer party in May, where I met Helen Bolton, commissioning editor for the Avon imprint of HarperCollins. We chatted briefly about one of her authors, Mhairi McFarlane, who writes funny women’s commercial fiction. I knew Helen was unlikely to read an unagented submission but it’s not every day you speak directly to an editor who works in the market you’re targeting. I sent off a long shot submission of the first five chapters. Within a week she came back to me and told me to send the rest, plus my next book.

I had an informal meeting with her at HarperCollins HQ. I allowed myself a small skip on the steps but still didn’t think anything would come of it. However, I was determined not to squander the opportunity completely. If I didn’t get a publisher, then maybe I could still find an agent before I got rejected. On the back of ‘Avon are currently considering the manuscript’, several agents asked for the full. Clare Wallace from Darley Anderson – whom I had also met at the RNA party – came back to me very promptly and asked to see me.

The meeting felt ‘right’ – professional, detailed, honest, warm, with a clear plan of next steps if Avon didn’t buy The Class Ceiling.

I left with an offer of representation. My immediate reaction was to accept straightaway because she was smart, switched on and I knew I could work with her. There hadn’t been any point in our meeting when I’d thought, ‘Hmm. Not sure about that,’ or worse, ‘You’re scary’. But I also knew that it was crucial to make the right decision, so I asked for some time to consider her offer without cartwheeling clouding my judgment.

Events overtook me. That evening, a two-book deal from Avon pinged into my inbox. I phoned Clare the next morning. Thankfully, my first instincts were right – she did a great job negotiating my contract and then sold the books for me at auction in Germany.

Five years of writing into a black hole, then an agent and a book deal on the same day. The ultimate proof that the whole mad writing business can turn on a sixpence.

The Class Ceiling is currently available on Amazon Kindle. It will be published as The School Gate Survival Guide by Avon in August 2014.

CLASS_CEILING_FINAL

www.kerryfisherauthor.com

https://twitter.com/KerryFSwayne

https://www.facebook.com/kerryfisherauthor

Wannabe a Writer? Jane Wenham-Jones tells us how we can get there.

Wannabe A Writer TV Show Title Card

So you’ve written that novel that has been consuming your brain for years. Finally written it down and typed those magical words, The End. What now?

Or maybe you have written novel number 15, but still don’t have the courage to send it out to anyone for feedback.

Or even, you’ve written numerous novels, had other people read them and give you feedback, but still don’t know what to do with it.

If any of these scenarios describe you, then Jane Wenham-Jones is the perfect person to help you.

The very lovely, Jane Wenham-Jones

The very lovely, Jane Wenham-Jones

Jane has piloted a TV series called, ‘Wannabe a Writer.’ As part of this series, Jane takes an unpublished writer and introduces them to a top literary agent who reads their first three chapters and gives feedback. What an amazing opportunity! In the first episode, Delphine (the unpublished writer) is introduced to Carole Blake, of Blake Friedmann Literary Agency, and Carole offers some extremely important advice about Delphine’s manuscript. She highlights key points in Delphine’s story that are not working and tells her where it is going wrong. There is no sugar coating with Carole, but I loved that. As an unpublished writer myself, I don’t want to be blinded by happy smiles and ‘well done’s’ (although those are nice to have, too!) but I want to know how it really works. I want to be prepared for when I meet agents and be told just how blunt they may be. As Carole says in the film, she gets in excess of 20 manuscripts a day, so they don’t have time to think about how to say to someone that A,B and C needs changing in a nice way that wont hurt their feelings. That’s just the nature of the industry and that’s why every published author will say that you need to have the stomach for writing. So when I watched this first episode, I felt refreshed that it was putting forward an honest account of the writing/publishing industry.

Saying this, Jane does a very good job of making sure the writer feels supported afterwards. She is very encouraging and arranges a meeting with a bestselling author – I wont disclose who in case you haven’t seen the video.

Meeting the bestselling author was enjoyable to watch. She gave advice and tips to Delphine about her novel and answered all of her questions with expertise. I particularly liked the fact that Jane also got involved with giving advice and would throw in snippets as and when. So essentially you are getting two for the price of one! Fabulous!

Jane and Delphine

Jane and Delphine

The episode ends with Delphine returning to literary agent Carole Blake, with a revised opening chapter. Carole then gives her feedback on the new piece and is quite encouraging – showing that even though she was hard on Delphine at the start, it was all so Delphine could improve an already promising story.

Jane presents the programme extremely well. She is a very friendly person and this comes across on screen brilliantly. She is encouraging the whole way through the programme and makes the whole process relaxed and positive.

I do find sometimes, with things similar to this, that advice is sort of pushed upon you. You have asked for advice so here it is and you must listen. But with this programme, this is not the case. Advice and tips are offered constantly throughout but never at any time is it forced upon you. The bestselling author even says at one point about you having to use your judgement with the advice you’re getting and basically pick what is best for you and your work.

I absolutely love the whole idea of this TV series and I think it will do really well. There are so many people out there, like myself, who desperately want to break the barrier into being published and I think programmes like this are both informative and real and are exactly what we, as writers, need to help prepare ourselves better.

I asked Jane for a few words about her new venture and he is what she had to say…

It’s here! The fluffed lines, fits of the giggles and the marvellous moment where a certain best-selling author’s cat strolled into the scene, mewing, have been safely consigned to the cutting room floor and Wannabe a Writer – the TV Show is available on a youtube channel near you. This is a ground-breaking new concept I have been loosely billing as Come Dine With Me, meets Through the Keyhole with a dash of Britain’s Got Talent  – except designed to appeal to anyone who’s ever thought they might have a book in them, rather than those who want to sing or show off their carrot stroganoff  and  pecan pavlova.

We’re going to be pitching this to the TV channels this autumn, so we’d love you to watch, love you to comment, and love you to apply to come on a future programme (please also tell your friends).

This baby is the brainchild of me and my mate Steve – an ex- ITN TV producer– who I first met when he obligingly spilled the beans about how much tape Barbara Cartland used to hold her face up when she was being interviewed, for my book Wannabe a Writer We’ve Heard Of? (One way, for those interested, is to make news crews wait 24 hours while you bathe the room in pink light, get the florists on standby and use the aforementioned tape to hitch back your forehead.) Not that I am without sympathy, having seen myself in the opening shots, looking as if I have a particularly nasty hangover!

“I hope you’re bleaching out my wrinkles,” I’d squawk at Steve at regular intervals throughout filming. He appeared to ignore me  but was clearly listening. Hear that jaunty piece of music that plays as would-be author Delphine, and I board the train to London? It’s called “Botox Babe”…

To apply to be on the show, visit : www.wannabeawritertvshow.com

Thank you, Jane, we wish you lots of luck with it.

And here is the all important link to this fabulous show – enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1kJWTbsjbR4 - Part One

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ycfeR3Zze0 - Part Two

Lucie xx

Size DOES Matter…

We’ve been talking a lot about size at Romaniac HQ recently (I’m talking about word count, OF COURSE!) with some of us having had recent successes on the short story and flash fiction front as well as the exciting book deals.

Vanessa's flash fiction in print: Winter's Kiss

Vanessa’s prize-winning flash fiction in print: Winter’s Kiss

I’m currently between edits of a book, which is about 95,000 words long. I began writing it just under a year ago and it’s gone through many drafts, but I’m hoping it’s nearly at the point where I can say it’s finished.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I tend to feel a bit lost when a book is resting between drafts – when I’m forcing myself to leave it alone for a week or two. To go from such intense immersion in a fictional world for nearly a year back to real life is always a shock, and I’m always keen to dive back into another fictional land as soon as possible. Real life is all about contemplating the chores I haven’t done for a year because I’ve been too busy writing, or it’s about filling in tax returns and doing accounts… No thanks.

But another book straight away is too much, so I turn to short fiction between drafts, the shorter the better. Flash fiction is my thing – 500 words and under, every sentence edited down to the bare bones to get a complete story across in just a few short paragraphs… after a seemingly endless and meandering journey from 0 – 95,000 words with a novel, having only 500 words to tell a whole story is a refreshing change, an icy-cold gin and tonic in the sun after a year of rich red wine in a dark room, a slice of key lime pie after a year of gooey chocolate cake… you get my drift.

It’s a tonic, it’s a change, it’s a chance to re-charge batteries and best of all – I can finish a whole project in less than a day! Flash fiction is also brilliant for editing practice – I wrote a story the other week I wanted to enter in a competition and it came in at just under 700 words, but the word limit for the competition was 500 words. It can’t be done, I muttered to myself, every word is VITAL TO THE STORY. But when I went back through it, I found there were actually quite a few words – whole sentences even – I could delete without ruining the story. And I ended up with a much stronger piece of writing. And all the time I’m writing my flash fiction pieces, new ideas for the next book are brewing nicely…

The size of story I struggle with is the short story – anything between 2 and 5,000 words. I like my fiction very short or very long. What I find happens with this length of fiction is it gets away from me – I can’t stop and before I know it, I’ve got six chapters of something never intended to be a novel. The first book I wrote started out as a short story idea that never really stopped, which I guess makes me a bit of an accidental novelist – Vanessa Savage: The girl who could not type The End…

I’d love to know what word count works for you…

Vanessa x

An Earthless Melting Pot, an anthology of prize-winning flash fiction and short stories, can be bought here.

Mark West on Writing Horror

mark-west

Today, Friday 13th, we are delighted to welcome Mark West to Romaniac HQ. Now, dim the lights, settle back, and listen to his story …

My name is Mark West and I’m a horror writer. I’m only mildly superstitious, I have mixed feelings about ghosts (though I’ve seen two) and whilst I write about things that go bump in the night, I think I’m quite an amusing bloke. I’ve been a horror fan since I was a kid (the old Universal horrors that would often turn up on BBC2 got me started), I still love the thrill of having a ‘safe scare’ and my love for the genre has never diminished, though I don’t read it exclusively. I didn’t used to write it exclusively either and during the 90s submitted three novels – they were ‘contemporary drama’, since ‘Lad-Lit’ hadn’t been invented then – they never did anything. All the time though there was this nagging feeling to go back to the horror field. I started again, in earnest, with short stories in 1998 when I discovered the small press which, at that time, was very vibrant and – since the Internet wasn’t widely available – meant that all of my early publishing successes were in zines, rather than websites.

Genre fiction, whichever branch, is maligned, but horror seems to come in for more than it’s fair share of stick. Whilst I can sort of understand it sometimes (I will defend my field against all comers, but I can’t stand the torture-porn films like “Hostel” and “Saw”), what a lot of people seem to forget is that it’s a rich vein of creativity and some of the greatest literary minds in history have dipped their toe in.

It’s a broad field, with sub-genres that range from quiet supernatural tales to all-out gore epics, but each of them carries its own expectations, often a little faster-and-looser than – say – the Romance field would deal with them.

As an example, earlier this year, to mark his passing, I read “Stir Of Echoes” by the great Richard Matheson (he also wrote the Steven Spielberg film “Duel” and the 1975 novel “Bid Time Return”, which became “Somewhere In Time”, my wife’s favourite film – and she’s no horror fan). It’s an engrossing novel, written in 1958 and yet still modern, that tells of an office-worker who is apparently ‘touched’ by psychic ability and finds himself haunted by the ghost of an unknown woman. It’s creepy and told in a sparse, dry style (it’s almost noir-writing) with no gore but plenty of wit.

Mark West The Mill

In contrast, between 1984 and 1985, a young Liverpudlian called Clive Barker published six volumes of “The Books Of Blood” and for me – as a sixteen-year-old horror fan who’d grown up on The Three Investigators (spooky mysteries) and Stephen King (everything else) – they were a revelation. Barker is a very intelligent man, his work speaks of the human condition in often sobering terms but he revelled in the gore back then, with lots of sex and violence, which I loved and which he carried through to his directorial debut “Hellraiser” (1987). His work was creepy but more often than not, it was trying to find out what made us tick by peeling back the layers of flesh to see what was underneath.

Last year, my friend Gary McMahon published the final part of his “Concrete Grove” trilogy, through Solaris Books. I loved all three volumes but they’re tough reads – bleak as hell, examining the human condition when it’s really been put through the wringer – filled with damaged souls and lost lives and no hope, whilst dealing with violence in a brutal, abrupt way when it’s required. Some of the writing is very elegant, the monsters are generally real people and the novels are plotted and told with an enviable precision.

All three are horror novels (though Matheson argued that his wasn’t), all three are completely different, all three are equally good.

Horror is difficult to categorise but I think the following is true. It needs recognisable and believable characters, who might not be like me but who will react to the supernatural the way I think I might. It needs to have a purpose – the ghost or monster needs to be there for a reason. It needs to have strong writing, to pull the reader along and make them empathise with the characters, even through set pieces that might be ghastly, ghostly, gory or gruesome. Especially if that strong writing can hide some red herrings that wrong-foot the reader. The book needs to have an internal logic, which might sound odd, but if it doesn’t – for the monster, at the very least – you’re going to lose the reader. There needs to be cause and effect because we need to believe that this threat can be vanquished, even if we can’t quite see how. If a monster can adapt itself to whatever the hero or heroine does and can’t be beaten, I can stop reading at page 10 rather than struggle past page 500. Finally it needs a suitable ending, which can be bleak or hopeful or sometimes a terrible mixture of the two (in that the hope for one means bleakness for another). A common misconception is that horror must end with no hope at all that’s not often the case.

At its best, a horror is simply a mainstream tale looking at people (you, me, our neighbours) and the world (especially the bad stuff that happens to decent, everyday people) through a slightly cracked glass, dressing up in metaphor and subterfuge what so many of us have to deal with in real terms.

When we, as readers, hear a sound in the dead of night as we’re just about to drift off to sleep, we might be worried but we know, deep down, that it’s the wind against the windows or a pile of Lego falling down in our sons room. The horror story takes that concept, grins widely and does a little dance, taking it a step over the line of reality – what if it wasn’t a pile of Lego, what if it was something creeping into your house? What if this thing was going to climb the stairs slowly, letting you hear every riser creak, every hiss as claws caught on the carpet and every *skrit* as long, sharp nails dragged on the bannister? What if this thing was going to come into your life and take it over, ruining you and making the future bleak for everyone who loved you? In other words, what if this horror novel – about ghouls and real people dealing with them – was actually about disease, or loss and showing us another way to deal with the blights that litter the human life?

My website is http://www.markwest.org.uk/Mark West Conjure

The link to my Amazon page is http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mark-West/e/B004RFZRI4/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

My latest novel is “Conjure” which can be found at Amazon here – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Conjure-Mark-West/dp/1909636053/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1378892203&sr=1-1

Can Women Write Sex Scenes from Male POV?

Can a woman write a sex scene from a man’s point of view?

This is a question I asked myself recently when writing a hot sex scene between my heroine and hero.  I initially thought I would write it from the male point of view but after a couple of paragraphs I began to question my wisdom.

man thinkingDo I really know what a man thinks and feels emotionally when having sex? Does a man feel differently when having sex as opposed to making love? Is there actually a difference for men? Do men just have sex, regardless? Does my reader want to know what really goes through a man’s mind or does she want to imagine what she’d like him to be thinking?

I suppose the obvious answer would be to ask a man, or several, but I wouldn’t be sure if he was telling me what he really thought or what he thought I wanted to hear. I’m of the opinion, these are two different things and not only that, I could get myself into a bit of bother canvassing men to share their inner most thoughts on sex. Unless, of course, it was Richard Armitage … now there’s an idea [goes off to stalk him on Twitter.] What? That’s inappropriate? Okay delete that Tweet. Back to writing from a female point of view it is.

What are your thoughts on writing sex scenes from a male POV?

Should women attempt it or should they steer clear?

Sue Fortin profile

Sue

x

Tuesday Chit Chat with Cara Cooper

Cara Cooper

Hello, Cara, and a warm welcome to Romaniac HQ. The weather’s been so nice, we’ve had the windows open and we’ve aired the joint. It’s so much more pleasant. Iced tea? Cheesecake? It’s got flaky chocolate on top and a Hobnob base.

Thank you, any kind of cake is my downfall but as this is a special occasion I’ll have two slices please.

In recent months, you’ve been posting advice on your blog about writing a magazine serial. Please tell us about your pocket novel and serial writing.

I guess I’m an object lesson in slow and steady wins the race!

I researched many magazines and publishers and decided as The People’s Friend is dedicated to fiction I’d try and write for them. I studied the magazine from cover to cover – they know what their readers like. They produce sweet, feel-good stories with a clear narrative. After a number of attempts, I managed to have around five short stories accepted. I always feel you should try and go up a notch so then read a number of the PF pocket novels which at the time were around 50,000 words. I had half a dozen pocket novels published by The People’s Friend and My Weekly: Safe Harbour, Healing Love, Tango at Midnight, Leaving Home, The Sanctuary and Take a Chance on Love. I was then approached by PF who said, ‘you can write short and you can write long, so would you like to try a serial?’ I believe in always grasping opportunities even if they scare you to death so I’ll never say no. The result was an 8-part serial called The Lemon Grove set in sunny Sorrento.

Serial writing is tough in that you have to wait for each episode to be approved by the editors before going on to the next. Maybe for more experienced serial writers they get it right first time but I had revisions requested for each instalment. The most important elements are to have enough characters to carry that many episodes. PF is a family magazine so I included all ages from teenagers to a beloved granny. You also need a cliffhanger every week. This can be dramatic – one of my characters gets lost at sea – or more low key but it does need to contain enough intrigue to make the reader want to buy next week’s mag. Whilst I was writing each episode I always had at the back of my mind the ending scene. I’ve put some tips on writing serials on caracoopers.blogspot.com.

How did The Sanctuary come about? How much of an animal lover are you?

It was prompted by many idyllic visits to the Isle of Wight and is set in a beautiful cove by the sea. I also set Safe Harbour by the sea, being a city girl I have fantasies about living next to the tranquillity of water. I love animals and am besotted by our beautiful black cat, she came from Battersea dogs and cats home and gives us endless joy.

I love both the sea and cats, Cara.

Some authors write whilst listening to music. Although I love music, I need silence in which to write – I tend to get carried away if music’s playing. Is music important in your life?

I’m married to a musician! However, like you I need total silence to write or else I can’t concentrate on the story.

The first time we met, you were giving a demonstration of the Argentine tango. It was very cool. This is the dance I love watching on Strictly. Please tell me about your dancing. And the glitter. There is glitter, right?

Oh my, there’s glitter with salsa and loads of shimmy and shake. Argentine tango is far more reserved but there are split skirts and fishnet stockings….

What’s next for Cara Cooper?

Safe Harbour and Healing Love are being released by Accent Amour, a new romance imprint. I’m also working on a full length crime novel with a smouldering romance.

Cara Cooper Safe Harbour

Now for our Romaniac Quick Fire Questions:

Salsa or Tango? Salsa.

Classical or rock? Hmmm, tough but on balance classical please.

Beach or countryside? Beach every time.

Ice cream or ice lolly? Ice cream from my favourite ice cream and coffee shop in Soho or from Italy (but Soho’s nearer!)

Hot and spicy or sweet and sour? Either please.

Alhambra or Cavatina? I’ve heard my husband play both a million times and never tire of Recuerdos de la Alhambra.

Cara, thank you so much for dropping by Romaniac HQ. It’s been wonderful getting to know a little more about you and your books.

Thank you a million for asking me, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.

You can follow Cara at caracoopers.blogspot.com and find her books at these links:

Safe Harbour here

Healing Love here

The Sanctuary here

Take a Chance here