Life Cycle of a Writer – Time to Write

I’m sitting here staring up at the empty space where my ceiling used to be… A few weeks ago, it was just a ceiling – white painted, a light in the middle, it did the job it was meant to do. But then there was a leak that made a hole and then we decided to get the house re-wired. When the electrician turned up, he looked at the ceiling and said why not pull it down and get it done again properly, rather than patch it up and keep on making do. Cost-wise, there wasn’t much in it. Yes, there would be mess, yes there would be disruption and yes, it would take longer, but in the end it would be perfect. Finished, perfect and just how we want it. (Hold on – I am coming to a point with this.)

ceiling

Sitting there, staring at the mess, it struck me that this is just like editing. My book was finished – first draft done, it was okay; it did the job it was meant to do. But there were plot-holes, a saggy middle, a bit of a tangle at the end… I looked at it again. I could patch it up, but I’ve decided to pull it apart and get it done properly. Yes, there’ll be mess and yes, there will be disruption and yes, it’ll take longer, but in the end I think it’ll be worth it.

So that’s where I am with my writing – the old edit is in bits in the back garden and I’m looking at the bare bones of it, getting ready to put the new ceiling up.

The timing for my week on Life Cycle of a Writer has turned out to be perfect –

At the end of last month, I was thrilled to be awarded a bursary from Literature Wales for my work-in-progress The Murder House. The bursary is allowing me to take six weeks off from the day job to write, and this week is the first week of that bursary period, the rest of April and the whole of May stretches before me with nothing to do but write (well, between the hours of 9am and 3pm anyway – then it’s back to school runs and after school activities and real life.)

It means for the next six weeks, for six hours a day, five days a week, I’m being paid to write – I’m getting a taste of living the dream. Even with no ceiling and an awful lot of mess.

I’ve spent the last few weeks planning my time – setting myself targets to get the most out of the time. I want to have The Murder House finished and polished by the time I go back to work – and I’m also hoping to have the next book, which is currently just a few fragments floating about somewhere in my brain, plotted and planned and ready to go.

At the moment, writing is limited to evenings, the odd day off work and sneaky half hours snatched at the weekends. Being a full time writer is a long-held dream and I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to this little taste of it. I’m not going to waste a second of it, so if you see me on twitter, tell me off and send me back to my desk.

See you later – I’m off to live the dream.

Vanessa
xx

Dear Auntie Romaniac… Plotting panic

Dear Auntie Romaniac …

Keyboard

I’m just beginning to think about a new book idea. I’ve bought a new notebook and a new pen and I have some vague thoughts in my head. Now, what I usually do is have a beginning and an end in mind, a setting and an idea of my main characters and armed with that, I begin writing and the story forms as I write and as I really get to know the characters. The problem is, I then end up with lots of scenes and chapters that are really just character studies, or nice descriptive bits, which don’t advance the story and my second/third drafts involve major re-writing. I have tried advance planning and plotting and character questionnaires but I struggle until I get into the minds of my characters by writing them. How can I plot and structure my book when I don’t really know the characters yet?

Vanessa
x

Sue: I always plot heavily before I write, but I have found if I can get to know my character really well beforehand, this makes life easier. You could ask your character a number of questions, or give them some moral dilemmas – these don’t necessarily have to be part of the story, but they will help you know your character thoroughly before you start writing. Maybe, write the first draft focussing on the plot and then go back and weave character traits, thoughts, feelings and reactions in afterwards. 

Catherine: I think I’m still learning on this, like you, Vanessa. I use a bullet point story line method. I start out by planning what is going to happen in the novel and I scribbled it all out in a notebook. Each bullet point is about a paragraph of information and that eventually becomes a chapter. I haven’t stuck to it rigidly, but it has given me a framework to go by, so each chapter I know what the purpose of those events are and where it will eventually lead. In my second draft I will add more detail and check the timeline, something I could have done prior if I’d been more organised, and that’s something I will try to do with the next one.

Laura: It’s a great question, Vanessa. I tried detailed planning for the first time for book I’ve recently finished, using the three act structure, brilliantly explained by author, Fiona Harper, at a Romantic Novelists’ Association conference. Here is a great series Fiona wrote for the Pink Heart Society in 2012 about that. I usually start with an idea, then bring in the characters, and sketch out a rough picture in my head of what I’d like to happen. Often parts of the plot don’t come to me until I’m inside the story. Even having planned book 3, I struggled with refining the end. How was it resolved? I talked through it with Catherine – she was my captive audience in my car for five hours – Some might say that’s extreme advice, but I’m only suggesting talking it out as the method, not the kidnapping. It really helps me to talk through the story with trusted friends. However, I do like to get to know my characters well before I start writing. I use enneagrams to determine their personality traits. This was one of the many tips I picked up from the fab Julie Cohen a few years ago. This gives me an instant insight into what motivates my characters, and a foundation on which to build.

Jan: I’m a serious plotter. To touch on what Sue has suggested above, I create and then interview each main character, posing various questions and scenarios. This gives me a great sense of who they really are, how they think, their gut feelings, motivations, private versus public reactions. I then roughly draft out what will happen in each chapter, as in ‘harmony versus tension’ scenes, points of conflict, timelines, etc, making sure I have a good idea of balance and story pace. It probably sounds a bit regimental, Vanessa, but even though I’m methodical in my approach, I do keep an open mind when I’m writing, to allow for any unexpected diversions. That’s the fun and beauty of telling the actual story – you’re never 100% certain where it may lead you. I wish I could come up with a magic solution, but I suppose it really is a case of trying every option, every which way, until it gels for you.

Life Cycle of a Writer – In the Waiting Room

It’s my turn to give an update for our Life Cycle Of A Writer series this week …

I was due to send a new edit of my work-in-progress off to my agent at the end of January – this has been delayed by a few weeks as I moved house and it’s taken me a while to find my way through the boxes to my desk!  Also delayed by the fact I keep thinking I’ve finished, then waking up in the night with new ideas so I go back to re-edit. But I think I’m nearly there and the latest edit will be going off to Juliet at the end of the week and I’ll be back in the waiting room refreshing my emails every five seconds and biting my nails waiting for feedback.

I think all writers spend time in that waiting room, whether unpublished or published, agented or not. We wait for responses to agent or publisher submissions, we wait for feedback, we wait for editorial notes, we wait for the day our books are finally published, we wait for reviews, we wait for sales figures. We wear out our computer keyboards refreshing that email in-box and we jump every time the post hits the mat.

waiting room

I often fill the waiting time by entering writing competitions – this is also good for my poor agent who, otherwise, would end up getting a squillion needy emails a day from me looking for updates/news/reassurance. Entering writing competitions also adds to that email checking excitement – the next email that comes through might not be spam, it could be news of a shortlisting or even a win!

Last year, I entered a lot of competitions (I’m not very good at waiting) but also had a lot of shortlist success which is another kind of reassurance – I found myself on shortlists of competitions I’ve come nowhere in in previous years: The Harry Bowling Prize, the Yeovil Literary Prize, the Mslexia Novel Competition, the Brighton Prize, the Caledonia Novel Award. For me, it’s a sign I’m heading in the right direction with my writing – a sign I need at the moment as I’ve changed direction and this book is a psychological thriller. Previously, I was writing women’s fiction, but with dark themes and ideas and I could see I was heading for a cliff edge where I needed to decide whether to step back and go lighter or make the commitment and jump. Talking through my ideas with lovely agent Juliet, I could see where this book wanted to go – it wanted me to jump, to fully embrace the dark side. The clue was in the title – my original working title was Hunting the Light, which is maybe what I was doing, nervously standing at the edge of that cliff, but it didn’t work for the book so I’ve re-named it The Murder House, taken a deep breath and jumped off the cliff.

standing on the cliff edge

I was thrilled last week to find The Murder House in the final four of the inaugural Caledonia Novel Award so I think taking that jump was the right move. And I’m also hoping that with The Murder House in its new edited form, this year will be the year the waiting ends.

Vanessa
x

 

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!

 

 

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 

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.

Roving Romaniacs – An Earthless Melting Pot anthology launch

I was very happy to spend a lovely, sunny, writerly couple of days in London at the end of May, traveling up on the Friday for author drinks arranged by super-agent Juliet Mushens. In a busy bar in Soho, around twenty of Juliet’s authors gathered to drink and chat. It was lovely to spend time with an eclectic group of writers at all different stages of the journey to publication: Those, like myself, at the nail-biting editing/submitting stage, those who have the longed for book deal who are now awaiting publication, and the published ones – the writers on the Richard & Judy list, the bestsellers, the debut writers and the ones sweating over their second. All lovely, all inspiring – I’m already looking forward to the next Team Mushens outing!

bookDay 2 saw me back in Soho, this time in The Gallery at Foyles bookshop, for a private party to celebrate the launch of the Words with JAM short story anthology. My partner in crime for this do was fellow Romaniac Sue Fortin. The anthology is a collection of the prize-winning stories from the annual Words with JAM short story competition and I was thrilled to have one of my flash fiction pieces, Winter’s Kiss, included – my first story to appear in book form!

June Kearns, Sue Fortin and Lizzie Lamb

June Kearns, Sue Fortin and Lizzie Lamb

We weren’t expecting to see any familiar faces, so Sue and I were very happy to spot fellow RNAers Cathie Hartigan, Margaret James, Lizzie Lamb, June Kearns and Rosemary Gemmell amongst the guests. Cathie was another prize winner with her gorgeous story Scent of Lemons.

Me and Cathie Hartigan

Me and Cathie Hartigan

The anthology itself, An Earthless Melting Pot, was beautifully designed and produced and I still haven’t got over the thrill of seeing my name in a book…

photo[2]As well as the anthology launch, the event was to toast Triskele Books first birthday and the launch of four books by Catriona Troth, JD Smith, Gillian Hamer and JJ Marsh. Each of the authors spent a few minutes talking about their books and we were also treated to readings of the prize-winning stories by Ruby Cowling and Ken Elkes.

Add to this an amazing buffet and lots and lots of sparkly drinks and the evening was just about perfect…

Vanessa x