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A good time to write again

I haven’t written here for a while; the whole summer in fact. My silence was due to a variety of reasons; not least because every spare minute I did have I have spent working on my novel.

This, however, is a very good time to begin blogging again. You see, today marked an exciting* day. After a zillion (SIXTEEN) rewrites and three and a half years of work, my first novel, Never Go There, has been sent to the copy editor at Hodder & Stoughton.

Obviously, I am marking this latest achievement with a G&T. I also promised myself, yet again, to take a day off writing and focus on other things. And, yet again, I didn’t quite make it. I have planned the next two chapters of my second book; the first whilst running to the beach and back and the second whilst practising yoga in front of my pin board for book 2.  My stunning 1.5m wide, pale grey, felt, pine-edged pin board. It is so very beautiful.

I digress.

The other writing I have done today, rather obviously, is the very blog you are reading now. It’s odd writing these nowadays, as I know of at least one very important person, outside of my immediate family, who will read it. There is something so disconcerting about writing for an audience.

Ridiculous, I know. My career as a writer depends on people spending their valuable time and money on reading my work. I write in order to be read. Yet, writing this very post, leaves me with that familiarly unnerving feeling of worry, that sense that someone will read this and judge this and…what if they don’t like it? Which anyone with a basic understanding of psychology could easily translate as…what if they don’t like me?

That is the thing about writing. We pour our whole selves into it; we spend hours writing and rewriting and honing and editing and creating. To create anything is to sacrifice a little of yourself. And how very vulnerable that can leave us.

I’m writing this post slightly scared you won’t like it.

I read the email from my incredible editor, Emily, stating that the novel had gone through to copy-ed with excitement and, I hate to say it, the smallest undercurrent of fear. Because what if the copy editor doesn’t like the book?

I will have to get used to this feeling. Hopefully, lots of people will read my book. Hopefully, lots of them will like it. But I know that, even if they don’t, I won’t stop. It would be like the greatest of challenges to change those readers minds with book two.

And still, the predominant feeling is that of thrill, achievement, excitement.

*I deleted so many qualifiers from exciting in the drafts for this blog; somewhat, rather, uncommonly. None of them fit. It is an instance where simplifying the sentence rams the sentiment home. My excitement, today, has been pure.
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Reality check

Oh, Winchester, how I missed you last weekend. It was the first time I hadn’t gone Winchester Writers’ Festival in three years and, by all accounts, this year’s festival was one of the best.

But I couldn’t attend. You see, I’ve been rather busy…

Never Go There has just been edited/rewritten for the thirteenth time. Or is it the fourteenth? I’ve honestly lost count. It was a big edit, not so much in terms of the amount requiring a rewrite, but more in terms of significance. It was the first time I had rewritten the novel under the guidance of my editor, Emily. The first time I had rewritten the novel since signing my book deal.

Oh, how good that feels to write!

Returning to my blog after such an edit has given me cause for reflection. This time last year I was returning from the Winchester Writer’s Festival feeling jubilant, optimistic, determined. It still feels like a fantasy that one year later all the dreams I had kept in my pocket are coming true. A book deal with a top publisher, working with an amazing editor on a book I am so damn proud of.

How did I get here? How did it happen? Well, a lot of it is down to the people I met at Winchester and the knowledge and experience I gained there.

I didn’t sign with my agent or publisher at Winchester, but it was the critical time after the festival that lead me to success. Here are my top three recommendations for what to do next.

  • Be objective regarding the critique you received on your manuscript and rewrite it accordingly. The agents, publishers and writers at the festival know their stuff and, whilst you may not necessarily agree with their opinions or like their suggestions, you should definitely consider them seriously. (I ended up deleting one character and one subplot entirely at this stage, and though painful to do, it made the work clearer and stronger.)
  • Say thank you. A brief, polite email to the agents and publishers you saw at the festival thanking them for their time, consideration and advice. This is not only good practice for a being, well, a decent human being, it may also help those agents remember you in a positive light when you come to resubmitting your work.
  • Connect with other festival attendees and get chatting. Writing full time can be isolating, and one of the joys of the festival is the connections that can be made with fellow writers, the opportunity to build a support network of people who get it. At the times when rejections are flooding in and your confidence is shaky, it’s these guys who will most likely pull you through.

And whilst all the hopeful attendees are preparing to resubmit, fighting for that elusive book deal, I am going to be living the reality; the adrenaline rush of working to a deadline, the gut-wrenching nerves of reading editorial notes, the rewrites and more rewrites. It’s an incredible feeling, one I hope many other Winchester alumni will experience. And it’s worth every second of that tumultuous journey.

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Oh, the places you’ll…write

Oh, the places you’ll go.

I’ve been in Banbury this weekend, a quiet trip away to work and visit my mum. Embracing the cliché, I decided to write in cafes.

The benefit of writing in a café away from home is that I can enjoy all of the normal writing in a café experience without the interruption of my friends/neighbours wanting to know what I’m doing (Just call me Happy Mrs Misanthrope)

I also have a bit of an issue of setting. I like to mix it up. Too long in one place and I lose my rhythm, get bored and self-conscious. So, after a couple of hours in one coffee shop, I switched to another.

amsterdamThe first, a gorgeous little café called Café Amsterdam, was delightful. Quiet, just the right level of background noise, delicious little Indonesian spiced treats called Bami Bites, which I gobbled so quickly I burnt my mouth. Peaceful, GREAT coffee, free Wi-Fi. Can’t beat that for a workspace.

The second was a more commercial venue; the Café Nero on Banbury High Street, sitting outside in the sunshine.

I got to appreciate just how many people wear leather jackets and how damn jealous I am of every single one of them (my leather jacket crush has been going on for some time. I don’t think I can last much longer without one. (I thought my leather trousers may cure my hankering but, if anything, it’s made my leather crush far worse)).

Where was I?

Ah, yes.

Outside, in the sunshine.

It was noisier by far, but the conversations were carried out in languages I cannot speak and therefore they did not intrude on my chain of thought. Just a melodic bubble of vowels and consonants. I imagined it like being a baby who could not yet understand, gaining my meaning from gesticulations and facial expressions whenever I dared to look up.

The smells. Now, I do not condone smoking. I don’t smoke myself. But there is something very atmospheric about the occasional breeze of smoke across my laptop. Sets up a nice atmosphere, a contrast to the floral scents travelling from the flower stand opposite my seat. Kind of makes me feel like a real writer (rather than a pretend writer, which is how I feel most of the time.)

We all have our favourite places to write and I am in no hurry to prescribe a setting for anyone, let alone myself. But I think mixing it up certainly helps me to keep my focus. Even if it does mean having to put up with the large, red-faced woman with the mushroom shaped haircut, staring unblinkingly at me whilst I write this…

 

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The Wobbles

As a writer, I spend my time making stuff up, writing it down and sending it off. I don’t spend very long looking inward, but rather looking outward, examining what I see and not who I am or, even, who I want to be.

I have had, what I would describe, as a wobbly week.

The reason for this is the attention I have been paying to my public profile, the image I portray to the world. Not the image of me writing in my pyjamas, a piece of lego stuck to the sole of my foot and a tea stain on my t-shirt, as is so often the case. In this age of social media and instant connectivity it has become more important than ever to get out there and, well, connect. Readers, bloggers, fellow authors, publishers, agents, editors: there all online and I need to be too.

Viewing myself from the outside and analyse the image I portray, the person I am going to be seen as being is a little odd. A little scary.

I have come to a stage in my life where I am relatively happy in my own skin. I know where I want to go, what I want to do, who I want to do it with. I am, essentially, pretty happy in myself.

But… am I happy with how others may view me?

So much of my history has been spent practising the necessary skills of not caring what people think of me. I’ve mastered this pretty well. I’m happy with my style, in all senses of the word. So, when I eventually confronted the idea that other people are going to form their own ideas of who I am, I suddenly got wobbly.

It made me question everything I have spent so long practising not caring about. What a pickle. It made me look like this:

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I may not care what people think.

But I do have to be aware of it.

And it’s this awareness that gives me the wobbles.

It’s a funny business, creating a social profile, a space where anyone from the world can see you, judge you, comment as only they see fit.

The best way to solve this problem, this slight knee-weakening anxiety, is to go ahead, bite the bullet and do it. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram I’m coming for you.

So, here I am, right now, as I write this. Headphones in, feet tapping to Maroon 5 as I work, doing the thing I love doing most.

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A reminder to myself that I am who I am. No need to change, just to, perhaps, brace myself and not waver.

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In-Joke

My sister, Alice, came to stay recently and we had a ball. The joy of close friends and family, or even better family who double up as close friends, is the frequency in laughter, the sheer joy of their company.

All Alice and I have to do at the moment is tell each other, as straight-faced as we can, that we use antlers in all of our decorating and we fall into a fit of helpless giggles. Childish, ridiculous, understood by no one other than ourselves. It is the very definition of an in-joke.

Whilst laughing with my sister over the sheer excess of venison I currently have, on account of needing nothing but the antlers, I became suddenly worried that this would not last forever, that one day I would not laugh like this with my sister, or with my friends, that my children would grow up without seeing me giggle like a fool. I wracked my brain for a memory of one of my mothers lying doubled over on the floor with laughter tears streaming down their face on account of an in-joke with their own sister or friend but came up blank. I tried to think of any of the ladies from my village. Anyone I had seen in town.

At some point in life do the in-jokes stop? Do we get so good at controlling ourselves that the laughter halts on our lips and we merely hum out a giggle whilst dying of laughter inside and unseen?

That thought is so very, very sad because laughter, true, joyous laughter, is a beautiful sight to behold.

I tried to console myself with the fact that I have many in-jokes with my fictional entourage. One of the characters I’m currently writing frequently makes me laugh. And that’s OK, right? It’s normal to say to these folk in my head, “Hey, Selina, remember the time when…” whilst I laugh out loud and she laughs silently inside my imagination where no one else can see her or hear her. That’s normal, right?

Then I remembered, much to my utter joy (and relief), a scene I was witness to on a train recently. Two ladies, post-sixty, huddled together over a table on the GWR journey from Paddington to Reading. They had just been to see Fifty Shades Darker at the cinema and were giggling about it, heads together, in such a high-pitched, helpless squeal that it was impossible not to smile at the sound. One reached over and touched the elbow of the other in a certain, pointed way and, for reasons unbeknownst to me, this simple movement set them off again for another few minutes of shoulder-juddering laughter. For the rest of the journey, a dance ensued. The women would control themselves, sit straight faced and talk about something unrelated, their eldest son’s law degree, their husband’s broken lawn mower. Then one would lean over, touch the elbow of the other in that certain way and that would set them off again laughing and talking about Christian Grey.

I hope this is the way my life pans out. I hope that aged one hundred and two, I can be found on a train laughing with my friend about something no one else gets or doubled over in a giggling fit because my sister had just asked me if I have any antlers to spare.

And no, Alice, I have none to spare.

I’ve used them all in my decorating.

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Fierce Mothers

Like many sane people, I am trying (with help from their father) to raise two feminists. And I mean feminist in the true sense of the word; raising children to believe that we are all equal, that we should all be treated equally. Nothing made me happier this Mother’s Day than to watch my six-year-old daughter prancing around the garden singing Beyonce’s “Who rules the world?”, whilst my four-year-old son trit-trotted behind her shouting “Girls and boys should rule the world! They should share it!”

There are many people who have influenced my stance as a feminist. Caitlin Moran, OBVIOUSLY. Good friends, literary heroes, teachers. But most of all, my beliefs and attitudes have been honed by the two mothers in my life.

Yes, I have two of them and yes, I love them equally.

This, despite many of my childhood friends thinking it the best thing since, well, ever, has not always been easy. It can be difficult to manage the relationships, to divide your time and affection, to manage your guilt. My first mother is my biological mother, though this makes our relationship sound far more clinical than it is. She gave birth to me, looked after me during my infancy and has continued to be a strong presence in my life going forward. My second mother is my stepmother, who I lived with from the age of about seven onwards and gave me possibly the best role model I could have asked for during the later stages of my childhood and those vital, miserable, formative teenage years.

Both women are fiercely independent, both are very determined and both helped me become the woman, and the writer, I am today. My first mother has shown me how to live life with dignity, whatever may be thrown your way. To manage relationships and navigate difficult situations. My second mother has taught me integrity, drive and courage. She has shown me how to carve my own path in the world without a map to fall back on, how to believe in and trust myself.

Without their strength, tenacity and example I would be a poor, half-formed creature. As it is I am strong.

And I have those two women to thank for it.

Happy Mothers’ Day Mums.

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What it’s like to have your book deal announced…

When the above announcement went out in BookBrunch and on Twitter, I was unprepared for exactly how I would feel.

I had signed the contract a few weeks before, keeping the deal as close to my chest as a locket with a secret inside. A few close relatives and friends new and that was it. Until Emily’s announcement on Twitter, it was something very few people knew about.

After the announcement from Hodder and the subsequent tweets from my agent and a Facebook post by myself, the news was well and truly out. It was good just to be able to talk about it, I told myself. It was good not to have to keep a secret anymore. What I didn’t expect, however, was how I felt afterwards.

Emotional, for starters. Each new comment on Facebook or Twitter, each new congratulatory email I was sent, or card I received in the post, bought a lump to the base of my throat. Like I had swallowed a hunk of cake with such greedy rapidity I hadn’t paused to chew (which, of course, I would never do. Not ever. (OK, maybe once or twice)).

The relief. I didn’t have to keep it secret anymore! I can tell the world! I can shout it from the rooftops!

Relief, again. The submission process, that nail biting, obsessive email-checking period is over, for now. I can sit back and bask in the glow of the deal.

And then…

Panic.

This was the last to set in, wearing the stealth-like cloak of anxiety. Everyone knows, now. Everyone will be watching. I am not just a mother anymore, not just a friend, a cake baker, a Take That enthusiast, an avid reader. Everyone knows who I really am. A writer. My mask is off, I am left stripped bare in the world I clothed myself from.

This last feeling is the one I am working on the most, acknowledging the panic and stress so it can flood through my system and out again, leaving me with the euphoria of reality.

A reality which still seems too beautifully dreamlike to be real.

But it is.

IT IS!!!!!

OH, MY GOD!!!!!!!!!