Life Cycle of a Writer – On Retreat

Going away for a writing retreat has been a long-held dream that I’m happy to say was realised at the beginning of 2017. Last year, I entered the Myriad Editions First Drafts prize for the opening of a crime novel with 5000 words of my new psychological thriller Reunion. The prize was a week’s writing retreat at West Dean College, plus mentoring from one of the judges. I never expected to win – I didn’t expect to be shortlisted. But I got the email to tell me I was on the shortlist of eight writers, inviting me to a prizegiving event in London, at Waterstones Piccadilly, where I’d have the chance to read an extract and hear feedback from the judges, bestselling crime writers Peter James, Elly Griffiths, Lisa Cutts, Lesley Thomson and Elizabeth Haynes.

This opportunity seemed like a prize in itself and I went there, meeting Laura, Sue and Jan for a fortifying cocktail before (and several after) the event.

I’d been shortlisted for the prize before and was going along with no expectation of winning. But when Candida Lacey, the editor from Myriad Editions stood up to announce the winner, I almost fell off my chair when she said my name! http://www.myriadeditions.com/competitions/first-drafts/

Having to organise time off work and childcare meant it was a while before I could take up my prize so it wasn’t until the beginning of January that I got on the train and headed for Chichester. West Dean College in West Sussex is internationally recognised for conservation and creative arts. It has beautifully restored gardens perfect for winter walks, seeking inspiration and solving tricky plot problems. West Dean College is part of The Edward James Foundation, a registered charity originating from the vision of founder and Surrealist patron Edward James.

West Dean College

West Dean College

Inside West Dean

Inside West Dean

My prize was for a full week, staying in the beautiful 19th Century vicarage in the grounds, with views of the gardens and South Downs, a writing desk and access to the house, archives and library. I arrived with the hope of writing 20,000 words. I looked forward to hours of time to write in beautiful surroundings and not having to worry about school runs, work, cleaning and cooking.  What I didn’t expect was to be made so welcome by Martine McDonagh, a writer and teacher who runs the creative writing MA there. I joined her and her students for several teaching sessions, sitting in on lessons about point of view and psychogeography. I was also lucky enough to be there for the first ever West Dean literary salon, enjoying a very entertaining talk from CWA Diamond Dagger winner Simon Brett.

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The Vicarage

Another part of my prize was the offer of mentoring from two of the prize judges, Elly Griffiths and Leslie Thompson, who both teach on the MA. I got to chat with Elly while at West Dean to talk about the form this mentoring might take and look forward to working with her and Leslie later in the year.

Meeting up with the lovely Sue Fortin in West Dean Gardens

Meeting up with the lovely Sue Fortin in West Dean Gardens

The view from my room

The view from my room

I was initially worried I’d spend too much time procrastinating and not enough time writing, but the week was both productive and inspiring. With no constraints on my time other than turning up for meals which I didn’t have to cook, I could write for as long as I wished and luxuriate in planning time, strolling around the gardens or sitting by the fire in the Oak Room. I finished the week with more than 22,000 words written and the rest of the book planned out. It was an amazing start to the year and I hope to visit West Dean again in the very near future. My aim now is to have a first draft of Reunion finished by the spring and for 2017 to be THE year I become a published writer!

Thank you to Myriad Editions and West Dean College for the wonderful opportunity!

 

Vanessa x

 

An interview with Sam Eades – Senior Commissioning editor at Orion

I’m very happy to welcome Sam Eades, senior commissioning editor and associate publicist at Orion, to the blog today, answering some questions and offering some great advice!

Hi Sam, and welcome. Can I start by asking you to give us an insight into your day to day role?
I am a senior commissioning editor and associate publicist at Orion. I’ve been here seven months now, following stints at Transworld, Headline and Macmillan in the publicity department. I have an unusual role in that I both commission fiction AND publicise it! And no, I don’t publicise my own books, I think I’d annoy myself too much. No day is the same but some of the day to day tasks I might do include on the pr side: circulating coverage to agent, author and sales team; pitching for media; accompanying an author to interviews and events; pitching a book at an internal meeting; organising an author tour and on a really good day lunch with a journalist.

And on the editorial side: taking new business to the acquisition meeting; following up on submissions from agents; preparing an offer and a pitch letter for someone I want to take on; checking over a contract; briefing covers; checking metadata to make sure books feature in the right categories on Amazon; responding to an agent query about an existing author; looking at trends and anticipating trends in the fiction market for future commissions and on a really good day lunch with an agent!

As a child, was there a book or a series you returned to over and over? What was it that drew you in?
I’m embarrassed to say I owned every Goosebumps novel ever published. Ahem. I was a big Agatha Christie fan, I read lots of classics, Enid Blyton, Judy Blume, Roald Dahl, Anne Fine before moving on to all the books on my parent’s shelf, Virginia Andrews, Jilly Cooper, James Herbert!

At what point did you know books were, or had to, feature heavily in your life?
My mum took me to the library once a week, and a voracious love of reading began. The first Brownie badge I got was a Book Lover badge which may have been a clue as to where I would end up.  I didn’t realise publishing was an actual industry where people had jobs until a work experience placement at Little Brown.

What advice do you give to those wishing to pursue a career in publishing?
Apply to internships at big publishing houses, small publishing houses, literary agents, scouts and freelance pr agencies. The more placements you apply for, the more experience you will get and the more likely you are to be in the right place at the right time when a vacancy comes up. Don’t limit yourself to editorial; there are a number of creative and exciting departments and individuals, who are responsible for bringing a book to market. Read Make Your Mark by Aliza Licht, it will teach you how to make the most of an internship and be remembered without being pushy. Once you land a placement, have a look at the publisher’s catalogue and familiarise yourself with their list. A heads up that entry level jobs involve admin and support work.

What book have you read most recently that you just can’t get out of your head?
Most recently, I really enjoyed Amy Cuddy’s PRESENCE *power poses at desk*. Over Christmas I read a ton of classics I’ve always wanted to read including Shirley Jackson’s WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE and COLD COMFORT FARM. I also was very lucky to get a proof of Curtis Sittenfeld’s ELIGIBLE and I loved every single word of it. I’m remembering that book now with a huge smile on my face.

What submissions would you love to see arrive in your in-box? / What’s your current wish list?
Where to begin! I would love to find a British suburban Ripley, a bit like Phil Hogan’s A PLEASURE AND A CALLING. Having read so many psychological thrillers, I’m leaning towards something warmer, a vintage set or vintage feel cosy crime series would really hit the spot. I think JoJo Moyes is a genius, and would love to find women’s fiction that packs an emotional punch like ME BEFORE YOU. I really enjoyed books like THE SHINING GIRLS and FIRST FIFTEEN LIVES OF HARRY AUGUST, so a high concept crime/sf thriller. Basically I like twisty, high concept novels, a good weepy or to channel my inner Poirot. And despite reading psychological thriller after psychological thriller I still can’t get enough of them! Finding the new Ruth Rendell would be nice. I like multiple voices, deftly balanced past and present narratives, mysterious prologues where we don’t discover who is narrating until the end… etc etc!

Did you ever want to be on the other side and write a book?
NO!

What is your favourite / least favourite part of your job?
Hanging out with your favourite authors and reading is the best bit. Eating sausage rolls at train stations in the middle of nowhere is the worst bit.

Is your taste in books the same as your taste in films or do you find they differ?
I love twisty American thrillers like INCEPTION and SHUTTER ISLAND, so there is some crossover there. I’m a real Netflix addict and enjoy PRETTY LITTLE LIARS, REIGN, THE GOOD WIFE etc. I’d love it if fiction could be as addictive!

Do you have any advice / top tips for writers?
These four books have been helpful to me on the editorial side. 1. INTO THE WOODS by John Yorke. It will help with plotting and examines the plot structures of famous books, films and tv series. 2. WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL by Donald Maass. There are some great sections on landscape, character development, coming up with a theme and creating tension. 3. ON WRITING by Stephen King. Will fill you with pride at being a writer. 4. SAVE THE CAT. A book on scriptwriter than can be applicable to books (and recommended by @Mushenska no less). It will help you come up with your pitch, which will be invaluable when contacting agents.

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For anyone dreaming of being published by Orion, do you have any advice?
Do you
accept unagented submissions? 
Have a look in the acknowledgements for your favourite books and books you feel are similar to your WIP and see who the author’s agent is. Get a copy of the WRITERS AND ARTISTS YEARBOOK, find those agents and check out their guidelines and look at their websites too. Here are some great articles on how to submit and land an agent:
https://www.writersandartists.co.uk/writers/preparing-for-submission/how-to-find-a-literary-agent
http://www.torbooks.co.uk/blog/2014/05/27/juliet-mushens-on-how-to-approach-an-agent-dos-and-donts
If you can’t get an agent, don’t think all is lost. We have periods of open submissions at Orion with Gollancz and have a creative writing competition with Good Housekeeping. Authors we have published include Eva Holland and Diana Bretherick.

Thanks Sam for taking the time to come and chat with us!

Follow up Friday

It’s follow up Friday time – Here’s how Vanessa got on…

Vanessa’s Aims:

  1. Edit first 100 pages of the work-in-progress – I’ve just finished a fairly major re-write, so now need to embark on a major edit!
  2. Work out exactly how the ending of the same wip is going to be structured… because I have several characters to get to a certain point, I keep re-writing the ending over and over, changing it each time. This week will be the week I pick an ending and stick to it!!
  3. Find five new writing competitions to enter in January/February – I’m looking for new flash fiction competitions.
  4. Come up with some ideas for new flash fiction to enter in those competitions!

Sort of… I’ve edited more than 100 pages – I’m up to page 116 and have added a few new scenes. It’s definitely going to need another edit though as I’ve added so many new bits! I’ve printed out the ending ready to work on and made some notes so I’m getting there.

I haven’t written any new flash fiction, but I have found some flash and short story competitions to enter: The Writers & Artists Yearbook Short Story competition closes on the 15th February – it’s free entry on the theme of Ageing and the prize includes an Arvon course. Flash500 (always my favourite flash fiction competition) has a short story competition (up to 3000 words) closing at the end of February judged by Sue Moorcroft, the Bath Flash Fiction Award closes on the 14th February and the Fish Publishing Flash Fiction Prize (both 300 words limit) closes at the end of February

I’m loving having lists to refer to – it keeps me focused! How’s everyone else getting on?

Vanessa x

Added at 13:56 by Catherine who has survived her second week at twin club:

You what? It’s Friday already? Let’s recap on what I said I try to get up to:

  1. Try to survive my first ever zumba class. Well, I did get in the car. I did drive to zumba. I did wonder how I would manage after a busy day. My sat nav took me to a building site. Then I only got as far as a B&Q car park before giving up on finding where it was with only five minutes to spare. I’m going to try harder on this one this week.
  2. Get to the half way point of Novel Two. I have 2K to go so should be able to squeeze them in over the weekend.
  3. Do more organising for book tour/promotional day/launch day for Waiting for You. Going great guns on these. You can find out about the promotional day here with chances to win some great prizes.
  4. Sit still for one hour and read. I did this on Monday instead of zumba.
  5. Try a new recipe. I’ve done lots of new recipes over the past week and very pleased with a 6lb weight loss at my Slimming World group. Just need to keep it up for the rest of the year! 

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Motivation Monday

Welcome to our second Motivation Monday! This week, it’s Vanessa and Catherine sharing their ‘to do’ list for the week. We would love it if you could join in too, it doesn’t have to be anything huge, just something you want to get done that week. All you have to do is leave a comment below.

Motivation Monday

Vanessa

  1. Edit first 100 pages of the work-in-progress – I’ve just finished a fairly major re-write, so now need to embark on a major edit!
  2. Work out exactly how the ending of the same wip is going to be structured… because I have several characters to get to a certain point, I keep re-writing the ending over and over, changing it each time. This week will be the week I pick an ending and stick to it!!
  3. Find five new writing competitions to enter in January/February – I’m looking for new flash fiction competitions.
  4. Come up with some ideas for new flash fiction to enter in those competitions!

Catherine

  1. Try to survive my first ever zumba class.
  2. Get to the half way point of Novel Two.
  3. Do more organising for book tour/promotional day/launch day for Waiting for You.
  4. Sit still for one hour and read.
  5. Try a new recipe.

I’ll let you know how I got on on Friday!

Life Cycle of a Writer – Learning to be patient…

The last few weeks have been about short story celebrations and learning to be patient when it comes to the novel… I’m in the middle of a major re-write of my work-in-progress, taking out one character’s POV, adding in a whole new character and sub-plot. I had a really good, constructive conversation with my fabulous agent, Juliet Mushens, and embarked on the re-write full of enthusiasm. I sent her the first few re-written chapters and obsessively checked my emails for the next couple of weeks, waiting for her feedback. The feedback, when I rather nervously opened the email, was good – she loved the new chapters. Hurray!

I promptly emailed back saying brilliant-I’ll-give-up-sleep-and-finish-writing-the-book-in-the-next-two-weeks-and-send-it-back-to-you, to which she responded – stop! Slow down! Write it, rest it, then edit it, then send it. Make sure it’s the best you can possibly make it. I’d given myself a deadline – totally self-imposed – of having this book finished and out on submission by the end of the year, so I was racing through the edits to meet a deadline that no one else even knew about. I’m now attempting to be patient – far better for it to go out next spring as a finished, polished book than rush through it now and have to re-edit yet again.

I had a couple of nice surprises on the short story and flash fiction front – my story A Life Lived in Colour made the top twenty shortlist out of a thousand entries in the inaugural Bath Flash Fiction Award and I got to attend a prize-giving event at Wells Festival of Literature when a story made their shortlist.

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I was also thrilled to make the shortlist for a flash fiction piece in the Hysteria competition, and my story will be in the anthology released at the end of November.

This all helped to remind me, when I get impatient and want to have a book published now now now, that although I don’t yet have a novel published, I’m building up a nice collection of magazines and anthologies with my stories in them.

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I think sometimes, as writers, we’re so keen to progress, to move on – win the competition, win a prize, get an agent, get a book deal, get another, bigger, better book deal… – that we forget to congratulate ourselves on what we have achieved. It doesn’t matter whether that’s a shortlisting, a book deal or just finishing a story and being able to say I did it. We’re doing it, we’re writing, and that’s worth celebrating.

Pass the cake, someone, crack open the wine – let’s celebrate!

Vanessa
xx

 

Vanessa Savage – Inspired by…

I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s in a small Gloucestershire village – back then, there were only four channels on the telly and as a teenager there was nothing to do and nowhere to go. My nearest library was ten miles away, my nearest bookshop twenty.

I was never one of the hanging-round-on street-corner kids, I preferred to stay in and read. As a teenager, I remember endless rainy Saturday afternoons when there was nothing but horse racing and darts on TV and my mum and dad’s bookshelves became my escape. Lack of access to bookshops meant I had to make do with what I could find and expand my reading genres – once I’d worked my way through the teenage reads in the school library, I read anything and everything we had at home. On my mum’s shelf, there was Mills & Boon and Catherine Cookson, Jackie Collins and Shirley Conran. On my dad’s, it was Alistair MacLean, Stephen King and James Herbert. I read my dad’s non-fiction books about nature and war, I read cookbooks, I read the bible. I read every copy of 2000AD stashed in my brother’s room and I even read the Watchtower magazines the Jehovah’s Witnesses stuffed through the letterbox.

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I learned a lot from all of them, but most of all I learned not to be a reading snob: I appreciated a good thriller or a sweet romance as much as any of the classics we read at school.

Some of those books still sit on my shelves – all my old Enid Blyton and Noel Streatfield books, the Narnia books, What Katy Did and Little Women. But also my dad’s Stephen Kings and Alistair MacLeans, my mum’s Catherine Cooksons and Jackie Collins.

Now I’m all grown up and writing my own stories – whether it’s short stories, flash fiction or novels, I’ve written thrillers and romance, comedy, fantasy, sci-fi and horror. I like to think the access my parents gave me to all those wonderful fictional worlds has helped shape me as a writer and I want to thank them for that – I only wish they were still alive to see where their love of books has taken their daughter.

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At the moment, my eldest daughter is only interested in books with horses in them and my youngest books about fairies, but I’m hoping they’ll find their own inspiration in my bookshelves as they get older – shelves that offer romance and crime and horror and fantasy, a fictional look into the past and the future, classic books and future literary classics.

I hope that some rainy afternoon when there’s nothing on TV will open up a whole new world for them like it did for me.

Vanessa x

Life Cycle of a Writer – Jumping in and letting go

I made the decision at the start of the school summer holidays to lock my work-in-progress away and leave it alone for a couple of months. Complicated editing left my brain aching and I was no longer sure if I had something good or the worst thing ever written in the history of the written word. I couldn’t look at it objectively – all I could see was a big, tangled mess. Definitely time to let go and walk away before I deleted the whole thing. So I did think my turn on LCOAW would be a very short and not-so-sweet ‘I’ve done nothing in the last two months’… but sometimes the down times can be productive in other ways.

  1. Progress has been made on the next book – I have a sheet full of post-it notes, a notebook slowly filling with character and plot notes.
  1. My house is tidier. (Not tidy – but tidier…)
  1. My garden has real flowers in it, not just weeds.
  1. I’ve caught up on a lot of reading – all ready to top up the TBR pile with lots of lovely new releases.

And most importantly, I’ve had time to spend with my daughters – trips to the park, the beach, the cinema – picnics and playtime and fun. Sometimes that’s as important for grown-ups as it is for kids!

Last week, I went on holiday – first week away in the sun for many years – and it was total bliss. A wonderful week of relaxing and reading. Mostly there was a lot of this:

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But I did also put the work-in-progress on my kindle to take with me. Having rested it, I was ready to read it through again – away from the computer so I couldn’t edit as I went along, but armed with a notebook so I could make brief notes.

The time away from it worked wonders – as did the lack of access to a computer. I read it through in one go and could see right away the problem that’s been bogging me down for ages, and I could see how to resolve it. And as soon as the children go back to school next week, I’m going to sit down, re-edit and finally call the book finished!

On the first day of our holiday, the first thing my daughters did was jump straight in the pool with all their clothes on. I was more cautious – one toe at a time… that’s how it’s been with this book. Changing genre is scary and I’ve been nervous about jumping straight in – it’s definitely been a one toe at a time kind of book, nudged and encouraged along by my agent. Maybe by the time I get stuck into the next one, I’ll be braver – maybe I’ll even jump straight in 🙂

Vanessa
x