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

 

Follow up Friday

So… how did we do with our targets this week?

Vanessa:

  1. I’m on target with my edits – I need to finish the final polishing of the wip this week ready to…
  2. Send the wip off to my agent!!

I did it!!! Finished the polishing of my edits Tuesday night and pressed send! Now it’s time to obsessively stalk my email in-box…

  1. Finish a short story for a mid-Feb deadline (still on the list from last time!!)

Sort of… Didn’t manage to finish the short story but I have written a new flash fiction piece for another competition. 300 words instead of 3000 🙂

  1. Non-writing related: when the wip has gone off, do some very neglected housework!

We’ll say no more about this one!

Catherine:

I’ve only written 500 words of the 5,000 word target, but there is still the weekend to go and I have babysitters to help get me to my deadline!

I have a nice shiny loooonnngggg TTD list.

Relocation occurring on Saturday!

 

How has everyone else got on this week?

 

Motivation Monday – 8th February

Happy Monday everybody! Time for some of us to share our targets for the week ahead – writing and non-writing related!

Vanessa:

  1. I’m on target with my edits – I need to finish the final polishing of the wip this week ready to…
  2. Send the wip off to my agent!!
  3. Finish a short story for a mid-Feb deadline (still on the list from last time!!)
  4. Non-writing related: when the wip has gone off, do some very neglected housework!

What are everyone else’s plans for the week? I’ll let you know how I got on on Friday!

Vanessa x

Jan:

Well, my targets for this week are: 1)  To complete and return my answers to some fab questions posed to me by a fellow writer for her blog. 2) To chase up some research enquiries for Book Two. 3)  To gear myself up for my next dental appointment this coming Thursday (second half of root canal treatment, oh joy of absolute joys!).

Catherine:

  1. Write 5,000 words minimum to be on target for book deadline.
  2. Relocate my twins and myself to my mum’s house while my husband stays behind and we have new heating fitted in the house.
  3. Write another TTD list for all the things I need to do in the run up to P Day! Just over a month to go!

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!

Motivation Monday

Is it Monday again already?! It’s a new week and a new list of targets for some of us…

Vanessa:

  1. Finish my edits! I’ve set myself a target of sending the revised ms to my lovely agent by half term, which is w/c 15th Feb, so I’m hoping to finish the edits this week so I have a couple of weeks to polish it and make it all nice and shiny!
  2. Polish first 3000 words of ms for a novel competition
  3. Finish a short story for a mid-Feb deadline
  4. Non-writing related: make birthday cake for father-in-law’s birthday, calm nine year old’s nerves before her first youth theatre panto appearance next weekend!

What are everyone else’s plans for the week? I’ll let you know how I got on on Friday!

Vanessa x

Lucie: Wow, it’s Monday again – where did that weekend go?  I had better set my weekly targets then…

  1. Carrying over from last week, write up a plan for my contemporary series.
  2. Complete more of my Autism training.
  3. Write the blog posts that I need to do.
  4. Get some editing done!

Hopefully I’ll have a more successful week, writing wise, than last week. Good luck everyone! X

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