One-Star Company

One of the most daunting parts of publication is the wait for reviews. As with all greatly anticipated events in my life, I found the hardest part to bear was the anticipation itself. Knowing people were reading the novel I had spent four years pouring my soul into was like waiting outside the headmaster’s office at school, uncertain as to whether you’re lining up for a rap on the knuckles or a pat on the back.

The anxiety was thankfully unfounded. To date, the reviews are predominantly positive, as you can see for yourself on Amazon.  They are not, however, all positive. Oh no, no, no. My novel is exceptionally dark. Some find it too dark to be comfortable, some find it not nearly dark enough and some, gulp, hate it. One-star review hate it.

The lone-star review has become something of a badge of honour among authors. I try to take the few negative reviews I’ve received with the sanguinity of one who has, themselves, not enjoyed every book they have ever read**. The beauty of art, be it a painting, or, in this case, commercial fiction, is the fact it is open to such interpretation and everyone is entitled to their opinion. Even Crimson Petal And The White by Faber, one of the most captivating books I’ve read in a long while, has its share of haters. (Though, seriously, how you could one-star that bad boy is quite beyond me.)

My other source of comfort is that those who left me negative reviews rarely left positive reviews for anyone. The most vitriolic were left by people who are equally vitriolic about other writers. Best of all, they left awful reviews for books I absolutely adore and whose authors I greatly admire. Sarah Pinborough, Alice Feeney and Jo Spain all received one-star reviews from the people who left them for me. To be frank, I’m so overjoyed at being considered in the same league as these talented women, that the league itself completely unfazed me.

Never in a million years, as I sat waiting with bitten-down fingernails for the reviews to come in, did I think I would find such joy in a joyless soul’s one-star.

 

** This is an out an out lie, made in an effort to appear nonchalant. My journey to sanguinity has four stages. The first is an abject shame. How could I release something into the world that is so despised? That people hate? My god, does this mean they hate me? (Yes, I’m that bad. Creative types are, as a rule, excruciatingly sensitive.)

The second stage is denial. If I do not load that Amazon page, I will not see the review. If I do not see it, it does not exist. And if by accident, I do see it then it’s not real but a figment of my overly active imagination.

The third is high-and-mighty anger. This person is clearly a buffoon, who wouldn’t know a good book if it smacked them on the bottom and gave them a paper cut.

And eventually, I come around to acceptance. Hardly sanguine really, but that sounds far more impressive than a writer wrought with anxiety and neurosis.

 

Never Go There is available now as an ebook or to pre-order as a paperback (released June 28th 2018)

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Facing up to my procrastination

I have started and abandoned this blog four times so far, each entry not seeming quite right, quite honest enough. I could feel something growing beneath my breastbone, some truth I couldn’t quite wheedle out of myself (I am painfully aware, as I write that, how awfully pretentious that sounds) and it took that many attempts for me to realise that what it is, is this; I am using this blog, this week, as a form of procrastination.

I like to write here, I often feel the need to, but I don’t have to. What I do have to do is write my second book and that is what I am procrastinating over.

I know the plot, I know the characters, I know what needs to be done, all that is left is the doing. I am comparatively lucky; I know many writers find the second book a struggle. I am finding it a struggle in a very different way, due, strange as it may sound, to the very fact that I do know what I need to write. I know it exactly.

I have been plotting this story for two years, I’ve written a hefty chunk of the first draft already. I have got to know the characters very well. I often talk to them in my car. Not Connie, possibly the very worst conversationalist you could ever hope to meet, but definitely Selina and occasionally even Michael. I write this knowing that these names are meaningless to you; you know nothing about them. But I do. And that is where the problem lies.

My stories are not nice stories. Anyone who has read an early proof of Never Go There can vouch for that. They are not sweet, or romantic or in any way pleasant at all. They are dark, the plots move like a twisted briar; full of sharp thorns, the odd nettle thrown in to sting the reader quite on purpose. And I have reached a point in writing my second novel where one of these characters I have grown to know so very, very well is about to do something horrid, something that will change the way she lives her life and views herself forever. And, despite her being fictitious, a part of me wants to preserve her innocence, to protect her.

So, instead of forcing her hand with my pen (or, more accurately, my keyboard) I began writing and swiftly abandoned four different articles. One on the feeling of seeing my printed book for the first time. Another on the disappointment I felt in forgetting to give a copy to my chap at the earliest available opportunity. The delight in handing a copy to my mum and to a close friend. The last on the realisation that I had unwittingly been writing about someone I know. These topics I may well revisit in the near future, but they were not what had to be written today. Today, I had to face up to the truth of my procrastination, to acknowledge why I was finding it so hard to write the next chapter so that, in the morning, I can begin writing that difficult chapter unburdened.

Wish me luck.

Never go…back

I have just sent an email to my editor at Hodder, Emily Kitchin. Attached to the email was my completed, copyedited manuscript.

In other words, I have just sent back what should be the final edit. The book is, theoretically, done.

Last night, as soon as I made the last tweak to the MS and closed the Word file I whooped out loud with joy. I immediately sent a text screaming “I’m finished!” to the one person I had to tell. I sipped a G&T. I felt relief, pride, accomplishment and a huge surge of adrenaline.

What a pleasure it would be if that proud state of bliss could reign on.

But I’m a writer and, therefore, cursed/blessed with the same duality of emotions that plague most in the creative industries.

I still feel all of those wonderful things: they are coursing through me at a delightful rate but, alongside them, is another set. A visceral sadness that I have finished. A nostalgia for those characters whose lives I have made up and written down. And an abject terror that I have missed something. That if I gave it one more complete rewrite it would be so much better. If I could just have another six weeks…six months…six years it would be so amazing and oh my goodness it’s not ready. In fact, it’s awful. Just plain awful. I need to rewrite it from scratch.

The feeling is similar, actually, to how I felt when the first twinges of contractions set in before my daughter’s birth. The hallelujah this pregnancy is over and I am finally going to meet my child, blurred somewhat by the feelings of no, no, no, stay inside little one, you’re not, I’m not, the world is not ready quite just yet.

Whereas, my protective nature for my novel is not quite as fierce as that for my children, it is pretty damn close. This novel has seen me through some of the biggest changes in my recent history. Writing it gave me the courage to change my life, I got to know myself and understand myself again. I have many acquaintances who have marvelled at my ability to write a novel when so much in my life was changing. Those closest to me know that it was writing this novel that saw me through some of the toughest few years of my life. It was my crutch, my goal and my future.

And whereas, the writing will always be there, this novel will never be written again. I will be letting it go and that is rather frightening.

In times such as these, I repeat a mantra to myself. It is the same I use when I am nervous about anything. It is simple and to the point and goes something like this: all will be fine.

Take a deep breath, close your eyes and say it to yourself.

All will be fine.

Because, and trust me on this, it will be.

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.

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.

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.