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Preparing for my audience

I have accepted a challenge, courtesy of the evil genius Simon Hall.

I have to read a section of my novel.

Out loud.

In public.

And I am shitting myself.

Any of you who’ve read this post know how difficult I find it letting my husband read my work, let alone reading it myself to a room full of strangers at an open mic (even if they are the friendly, mildly boozed-up strangers I’m hoping they’ll be.)

In preparation I’ve been trawling the internet for advice and think I’ve come up trumps.

The easiest mistake when performing at an open mic is speaking too quickly. Think about it; listening to prose is very different from reading it. You can’t choose the pace in which you listen, your eye can’t linger over particular words as your brain lets them sink in. You have to take them as you hear them and, if they are spoken too quickly, you will invariably miss some out.

Hence the universal advice: read slowly.

I have tried writing SLOW DOWN in huge letters alone the margins of the page, as advised by @HappyMrsH and I’ve also tried forcing myself to breath in and out at every full stop courtesy of the hubster @TinnellyD.

Another strategy I’ve devised is formatting my piece not as I would like it to be read, but as I would like it to be heard.

Full stops, commas, basically all punctuation have gone out of the window and I space and paragraph based on the amount of time I want to leave between words.

So

When I want a word to really linger

I leave it at the end of the line. And when I want to give a smaller pause     I     space    the words       further       apart so it takes me longer

To       read     them.

Bold reminds me to emphasise.

And when I want to read something quickly I leave the format as is.

Try it! It works! (in my living room at least.)

Now all I have to do is practice like mad and hope all goes well on the night.

Oh, God, I hope it goes well on the night.

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Community Spirit

Roll up, Roll up, who needs a pick-me-up?

Who’s feeling lost in this world of writing?

Who’s been worrying that it won’t happen, it will never happen, that no one is ever going to publish this book?

I have just the remedy for you and it comes in the medicinal form of #WritersWise, courtesy of Dr Liam Farrell and Sharon Thompson. (@drlfarrell and @sharontwriter respectively on Twitter)

Like most writers I have my eccentricities, I have a tendency to spend most of my time away with the fairies and I like my solitude. But I also love socialising and it’s something I get to do very little of (I have a novel to write, after all!)

Even the most hermetic of writers occasionally needs someone to talk to. And this where the wonderful, quirky and marvellously supportive writing community really shines.

This week I took part in the aforementioned twitter chat, #WritersWise, a platform for writers from all walks of life to connect and talk shop. Not only did I get to talk to, and gain excellent advice from, other writers, but I also got to see, once again, how similar we all are.

I discovered that other writers also have that momentary sense of doubt whenever someone asks them; “What do you do?”  (“Can I really say I’m a writer…really?”)

They too hope for the day they can support themselves financially by their writing alone, whilst tearing their hair out worrying that day will never come.

But best of all I rediscovered how supportive they all are, how other writers genuinely, emphatically want fellow writers to succeed and how happy we  are to help each other, be it through industry advice or just encouraging one another to keep at it.

I will definitely be taking part again.

If you do, too, you can join the next #WritersWise chat on the 23rd June, at 8pm GMT (3PM ET)

See you there!

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Goodbye panic, hello euphoria!

This week I posted my submissions for the Winchester Writers’ Festival. Three agents from three very well respected agencies and the editorial director from one of my favourite publishers will be reading my work, ready to give me a brutally honest assessment next month, face to face.

But something else happened this week, and it happened at a very opportune moment. I had just come back from the post office, the delivery receipt for my submissions in my greasy mitts and my mind already going into panic mode about my sample material, my one-to-one appointments and my writing in general when I received the best piece of news.

Catherine Tinley, my cousin (via my husband, hence the surname) is going to be published!  PUBLISHED! Not only that, she has signed a two book deal with possibly the best publisher for her genre (regency romance;) Harlequin Mills and Boon.

Suddenly, all those nerves, the uncertainty and, let’s face it, the FEAR melted away. I was jumping around the house, whooping for joy and telling anyone and everyone the news. I know just how hard Catherine has worked on her novel, the time and dedication she has put in, the uncertainly and doubt she has overcome and, more importantly, how bloody brilliant her writing is.

I’m not there yet but, with the festival looming and my submission material ready to go, who knows what may happen in the months to come. I do know this though: I won’t be giving up. If my joy for Catherine is even half of what she is feeling right now, I know it will all be worth it!

To find out more about Catherine Tinley you can follow her on twitter (@CatherineTinley) Facebook and via her website catherinetinley.com

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The less romantic truth about my writing….

I spend so much time wondering, hoping, despairing about how good a writer I am.

I have to stop this.

Why? Well, with four one-to-one appointments looming at the Winchester Writers’ Festival next month I have realised that it’s really not worth dwelling on. These people will read my work, they will decide for themselves.

There is, however, one question I should be pondering: Am I potentially profitable?

What is it about me, about my work, that can make an agent and publisher money? Where will my book fit into the thousands of other books that are published, and already have been published? Who will buy it, why?

These are the questions I have been asking this week and they are important ones. My goal is not romantic or noble, certainly not altruistic, but it is the same goal that agents and publishers will have: to make money from my book.

In my previous life, before my two beautiful children came into existence, I worked in recruitment in London and then corporate sales (selling wicker coffins, would you believe) in Somerset. I am lucky that I have experience of holding hundreds of meetings with clients, with customers, have attended trade fairs and events. I used to refer to the persona I adopted as “putting my business head on.” And it always did the trick, I was successful but, more to the point, I was profitable.

And it’s this business head I need to adopt now.  I need to show agents that I can not only write a good book, but that I can sell myself too. I can hold my own in a room of people, I can stand up and talk to a crowd (which, God help me, I’ll be proving at the open mike night at Winchester!) and that I take the promotion and sales of my book seriously. Essentially, that I see publication as a long-term business move (which I do) and not just a hobby.

Now I just need to find an agent who can see that too!

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The enigma of the first three chapters

With the Winchester writers’ festival just around the corner it’s time I got my house in order, so to speak. And nothing requires more maintenance than my submission material: the first three chapters of my novel.

We all know submissions have to sparkle, that the first chapters have to be perfect to hook that vital agent. But what is perfect? I read this blog by Evie Gaughan last week, perfectly highlighting just how confusing it can be and how, above all else, you have to maintain your own voice and style. You have to believe in yourself, whilst being open to changing the work you believe in. It’s tough.

I revisit my submission material every couple of weeks. Sometimes I change just one word, sometimes I re-sculpt paragraphs or (deep breath) delete sentences completely (though I write the really good ones down. I might need them again one day, for another book.)

One of the trickiest parts is nailing the pace. High paced without being confusing or melodramatic, enough action to reel the reader in without giving too much away. My old nemesis foreshadowing has been very useful in these first few chapters; the promise of something good to come without actually telling them what’s coming.

And what about exposition? No one, repeat NO ONE, likes an exposition dump. I’ve replaced all exposition with action/dialogue or deleted it completely. No “Bob likes cheese but has a nasty temper” from me, oh no no no. Instead you’ll see a sneering Bob chomping his brie with one hand whilst the other reflexes into a fist.

But the hardest bit by far? Having the confidence to know that the elements I’m changing are the right ones, that this beautiful sentence does need to go, that this paragraph needs to there and this one needs to go here and the work will be better for it.

It is better. It is much better. I am much better and my submission is good enough

I just have to keep telling myself that for the next seven weeks!