My last blog post at the beginning of November 2016 (and my first ever NaNoWrMo) you’ll notice that I abruptly finish posting on November 8th. All will be revealed – although I’ll confess now – it doesn’t involve much about writing – at least initially.
In November I had a serious digestive system issue, which ultimately led to numerous tests and me sinking into – what I can only describe as – a pit of despair. I’ll spare you the gruesome details, but suffice to say I didn’t feel at all able to write – I could barely leave my sofa 😦 Fast forward to November 2017, and I was beginning to feel relatively like my old self – although three stone lighter (every cloud and all that). So I set about (in earnest) bringing my book, Restless: A Novella, to the world.
Weirdly, being struck down with some mysterious malaise enabled me to see clearly what I needed to do regarding getting published – it was as if I’d finally listened to some inner voice – which was shouting in my ear to get on with it! So that’s exactly what I did.
In late 2017, after having employed the professional services of a copy editor & proof reader (Catherine Coe), and book jacket designer (Rachel Lawston), I set up my own independent publishing house (agnesjackpress.com) and began navigating the complex world of independently publishing my book. In December 2017 my book ‘hit the shelves’. Restless: A Novella, is available in both paperback and eBook formats, from all good bookshops – including of course, everyones love/hate organisation – Amazon.
I won’t lie to you and say the process of bringing my book to print was easy, it wasn’t. The concept was straightforward enough, but I wasn’t in the best frame of mind to deal with technical issues – which there were a few. I’ll write another blog post soon about the ins and outs, but for now believe me when I say you’ll need a lot of patience, and please, please make sure you’ve checked your work to within an inch of its life!
I had planned on having a pre-Christmas launch (on my pub. date) but due to issues with IngramSpark’s delivery date, I had to delay it until January 19th. But in hindsight I’m so glad I had my launch in January, as practically everyone I’d invited was able to attend. I think in the end I had about 40 people turn up at The Suffolk Anthology in Cheltenham; friends, family, my writing group, my book group and most of my fellow MA grads. It was a wonderful evening, and the cake I’d commissioned was absolutely delicious… Gluten free too!
So… November 1st 2016! Almost a year since my last post, and I have no excuses 😦
Last year I attempted NaNo for the first time – but unfortunately I didn’t get very far – 2000 words to be exact! Which was frustrating to say the least because I had given up work to concentrate on my writing, and for whatever reason I wasn’t managing to actually sit down and write – somehow life just seemed (and seems) to get in the way. So this year I thought I’d try again, but with a twist…
Just over a year ago I bought a FitBit and had taken up walking – mainly to get fit/lose weight (the usual). And I’m still wearing my purple Jiminy Cricket FitBit band. So every day, come rain or shine, I walk – I’m fortunate to live in the beautiful Cotswolds, and even in the town where I live there are numerous green spaces to enjoy without having to get in the car first. There are also miles of canal paths to explore through the Stroud Valleys, and I’m an avid fan/member of the National Trust. So I’ve become a converted country girl and feel really down if I don’t get out and about. What’s this to do with NaNoWriMo you might ask – well when I walk, I think, sometimes about my story, sometimes about nothing in particular. I also try to take photos of the beautiful landscapes – I use my iPhone as it is light and always with me – there’s a famous quote about that
“The Best Camera is the One You Have With You.” – Chase Jarvis
So I thought – what if I combine walking, photography and writing? And as I already do the first two everyday – it shouldn’t be too difficult to include the third… I’ll let you know how it goes!
So here’s my entry today – 1st Nov. 2016
Visited Dyrham Park a NT property on the outskirts of Bath. I arranged to meet a writer friend – Elaine Cline – to walk, write, chat over lunch and do a little more writing. Today it worked wonderfully – I managed 1500 words in no time. And tonight I’m planning on joining my local Waterstone’s NaNo Write In – so I may have more words to add to that! And here’s my Instagram photo for today…
Writing is a walk in the park – you just have to sit down and write 🙂
Popped along to the Nano Write In at my local Watersones and wrote another 1500 words 🙂 How about that? Total for Day 1 – 3000+.
So far I’m at 1100 words. Haven’t been for my walk yet. Morning was lost to housework 😦 I’ve still got to go food shopping – which I absolutely hate doing, but the cupboards are empty! I hope to write at least another 500 words this evening. And of course add a lovely landscape photo…
Walk completed – photo taken in local church graveyard – such a peaceful setting 🙂
Total word count for today 1720. Not bad considering… 🙂
400 words. I knew today was going to be difficult – I had three appointments – morning, afternoon & evening! So the fact I managed to write anything is a miracle! My story seems to have lost its Victorian feel – which is frustrating 😦 But as it’s NaNoWriMo I’m not supposed to edit, stop for research etc. So for the time being I’ll leave it. My walk consisted of a quick jaunt around town – so I popped into my local church, St. John [the] Baptist, which is awe inspiring. The chancel dates back to 1115, and the church holds the Boleyn Cup – made in 1535 for Anne Boleyn & given first to her daughter (Queen Elizabeth) then by the Queen to her physician Richard Master – who then gave it to the church. So much history on my doorstep! The Master family are still prominent landowners in the area – and my IG photo is of one of the ancestors – Thomas Master – who looks pretty relaxed reading a book!
Not so many words today – but lots of story ideas… 🙂
I’ve written over 1000 words so far & hope to make at least 1500. Have popped into town to get ingredients for tonight’s dinner, and decided to take a detour through Cirencester Park, which is owned by the Bathurst family and has been in the family for generations – I sense a theme here 🙂 The walk, which is five minutes away from the hustle and bustle of shops, cafes etc is the Mecca for dog walkers living in town. Anyway, I hope you like today’s IG photo…
Word update tonight (fingers crossed)
Didn’t manage to write anything last night. I somehow managed to strain my back so went to bed early…
Today isn’t going great either. The story I’m writing seems to be rambling on and on; and as it’s set in the 1850s I’m also struggling with the temptation to research every last detail!
Does it count (NaNoWriMo) if I switch to a different story?
I hope not… As I have several ideas & I’m thinking of picking up a short story I started on the Bath Spa MA course. This story isn’t set in Victorian England, it is set in a fictitious land many moons ago – and I definitely imagine it as a graphic novel or illustrated book for teens… I wonder what the rules are for graphic novels? Resist, resist…
I think I’ll go for a walk to clear my head 🙂
A little while later… And here’s my IG photo taken along the way.
I’ve managed just over a 1000 words today. Really not focused or in the mood to type word after miserable word, with no editing etc. As I said earlier, the Victorian ‘feel’ has gone & it’s making it more difficult for me to stay in character. I’m going to have tonight off and relax with a good film or book. Currently reading The Lie Tree by Francis Hardinge – why is it that so many good books are written in 3rd person, and yet on my MA we were encouraged to write in 1st person, present tense (?) Maybe a different POV would get me going again (?)
Was up all night with stomach upset – think it was an allergic reaction to something 😦 So will be giving NaNoWriMo a miss today.
I did get out for a walk – hoping it would make me feel better – and it did for a while, but feeling rough again now!
My IG photo was taken in Hare Bushes Woods, owned by the Chester-Master family (see above)… lovely we plebs can enjoy it though.
Days – 7 & 8
Yuk! Still struggling with food poisoning! Have managed to get out and walk. Saw my lovely writer friend Sharon Tregenza for a walk in Corsham and a writerly chat over lunch. Haven’t managed to write, but I have had several thoughts/ideas, and have made a huge decision about my MA manuscript… All will be revealed!
Banging on the door of The Hole in the Wall pub in Bristol before opening time not only made me feel desperate, I probably looked it too. Fellow desperado Fran Price had apparently arrived even earlier than me and had quickly scuttled off to a far more respectable coffee establishment before being spotted. It felt like a scene from ‘The Unexpected Party’ (The Hobbit) with a little clutch of writers keen to get indoors!
This was just my second meeting, so I was a little nervous to say the least. Who would be there? Would everyone know each other, leaving me as the newbie sitting on the sidelines biting my nails? After the initial embarrassment of not gaining entry to the HITW, I couldn’t have wished for a more welcoming group. Thank you Jo Thomas, Nicky Keller, Glyn Scott, Mike Pringle, Fran Price and Claire Fayers for making me feel so welcome.
Before the meeting, Jo had asked if someone would write a blog for Words & Pictures – so I thought it would make me feel safer with a ‘screen’ separating me from the unknown if I offered 🙂 I certainly felt more official – a reason for being there, so to speak…
The meeting started with a quick intro which set the tone for the discussion that followed. Some of the topics covered included:
How to keep motivated
Ideas we’re working on – love Mike’s ‘Auto-pets’ idea
Energy – remember it’s a resource, not infinite, so spend it wisely
Plotter or panster? Most said they liked the story to unfold – too much plotting made them feel like the story was already written – leaving little room to breath
Gender – boys/girls books (argh)
What kids actually like to read (Glyn worked as a headmaster and now delivers creative writing based workshops in schools – so shared his insider info on this).
After a quick coffee refill, we settled back down to hear Clare Fayers generously share her tale of discovery with us and lead us in a discussion about our own work.
I was particularly interested to hear about Clare’s journey, because her opening sentence resonated with me – “A few years ago, I almost gave up!” No? I’m sure we’ve all felt like that on occasions, especially when money is tight and Christmas is fast approaching. Then Clare discovered she was one of the finalists in the Undiscovered Voices competition (SCWBI/Working Partners) and since then life has been a whirlwind of writerly based activities.
Prior to UV, Clare’s book (now called The Accidental Pirates Book 1: Voyage to the Magical North) had been rejected by the two agents who’d asked to see it. Clare decided enough was enough and wrote another book – a steampunk novel – which she sent out but which was also rejected. Clare felt disillusioned about ever finding an agent or getting published. She said, “It was only a small step from being rejected to thinking I was rubbish.” But her mind kept returning to her pirate story, so she looked at it again. After the break from it, she was more able to take on board what the rejection emails had said and she worked hard on rectifying ‘the problem’. And, hey presto! The rest is history (as they say). After UV, Clare was taken on by her agent and her book sold to Macmillan in a three book deal. It will be published in the UK and the US in July 2016
Clare admitted that if it hadn’t been for her husband’s encouragement and belief in her, she may have given up the dream. And actually, that made me think about the people that support me – and those that support fellow writers (published and unpublished). The unsung heroes/heroines who support us in many different ways – maybe financially, domestically, emotionally, verbally, on social media and so on. Friends and family who are proud of what we do and are keen to brag to their friends and colleagues about their parent, sibling, daughter, son, aunty, uncle – who constantly live in the dream world of their imagination – because that’s what it’s like being a writer! Not dreaming of fame & fortune JK style, but the dream world that swirls around in our heads, when walking the dog, cooking dinner, doing housework, shopping, working, going to the gym and sleeping. The world that never seems to run out of ideas…
Our little group talked about our own stories. Stories still in the idea stage, or research, writing, editing, polishing stage. Stories that will hopefully be in the hands of keen young readers one day. That’s the writer’s goal after all, and for me, it’s not about how children read stories – either in ebook form or as a traditional paperback – it’s about just getting the story in their hands.
To finish, here’s something Claire shared with us. Her ‘Day in the Mind of a Writer’. Something we can all identify with I’m sure…
9am Today, I will work hard. I’ll start off by working on characters for my new book. My main character doesn’t have a name yet so I’ll start there.
9.20am I didn’t realise how many lists of boys’ names you could find online.
9.30am There really are a lot of them.
10am What about Nathaniel? No, that’s no good. Jonathan Stroud already bagged that one for the Amulet of Samarkand. I think he did. I’ll just check.
11am The Amulet of Samarkand is rather good, isn’t it?
11.30am I ought to stop reading The Amulet of Samarkand now.
12 noon Enough. I am putting this book down. I have read it before. It does not count as research. I fancy a biscuit. I think I might make some biscuits. It’ll help me focus on character names.
12.05pm It appears that my other half has used all the eggs. I could make shortbread, I suppose. Or just defrost a muffin in the microwave.
12.07pm That was a tasty muffin.
1pm Right, I am going back to work and nothing will distract me. It’s time to work through my character creation chart.
2pm Favourite colour: blue. Favourite food: herrings. Greatest fear: snakes. What the worst thing that could happen to the character? Hmm. Getting eaten alive by radioactive scorpions: that would be nasty. Or his parents both die and his evil guardian tries to murder him for his fortune. No, I think Lemony Snickett has done that already. I like his books.
2.01pm PUT THE LEMONY SNICKETT DOWN!
2.30pm What kind of a person is my main character? What does he like doing? Let’s see if I can find a photo of him online.
3pm Ooh, I’ve just had a great idea for this character. It’ll mean rewriting everything I’ve done so far, but that’s fine, it was all rubbish anyway.
5.30pm How is that the time already? My husband will be home soon and it’s my turn to cook and I’ve only just finished rewriting these chapters. Tomorrow there will be no messing about. I will be on my chair at 9am and I will write!
Forgive me readers for I have sinned. It’s been almost eight months since my last post…
But I have been busy. Very busy…
After the hype of finishing the MA and the fabulous anthology launch in Foyles’ flagship store in London, I felt like I was in a sort of vacuum waiting for the next MA related event – which wasn’t too long coming… the wonderful graduation ceremony at Bath Abbey in July. I told myself that once all the loose ends were tied up, maybe I’d feel that the MA had reached its ultimate conclusion and I would settle down to work as a writer of children’s fiction. Maybe…
So what have I been doing with myself since my launch into self-employment on January 1st (see first post)? As a writer I’ve been beavering away at polishing my novel, The Silence of Secrets (otherwise known as editing). I’ve also been researching for book two, and generally trying to organise/tidy my very small study! Oh, I was also writing and delivering IT based courses for the wonderful community based charity I used to work for (www.churnproject.org.uk) – which to be honest sucked all my brain power (the teaching prep. that is!) So by the time August was upon me I had to make the decision to stop procrastinating and start sending my book out (eek). Which I did – to two competitions – David Fickling Books’ (Master of the Inkpot) and Undiscovered Voices (Working Partners/SCWBI) and guess what? I’ve been longlisted for the UV comp. – watch this space!
And here is the link to our wonderful anthology http://beautiful-lies-anthology.com/download/ Discover nineteen talented writers – all different; but all writing for children 🙂 This is Bath Spa’s tenth anniversary anthology, celebrating the MA Writing for Young People… Enjoy.
Earlier this year I read an interesting article about ‘ideas’ and where ‘creative people’ get their inspiration from. The article which appeared in Intelligent Life (http://moreintelligentlife.com/content/lifestyle/isabel-lloyd/hold-thought) asked thirteen designers what object(s) inspired them, their responses make excellent reading. Creativity, is, it appears, shrouded in mystery, and most people are keen to know what the magical formula is. Those not employed or engaged in the creative industry think there must be some elusive means to writing, designing, making, painting, inventing etc etc. that once discovered would bring about automatic success! Alas, if only it were that simple 🙂
Having recently completed the MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University I’m still finding my writerly feet – having been cast out into the cold real world of the solitary writer. So using the above article as my ‘idea’ springboard – I thought it would be interesting to find out how other writers and illustrators of children’s literature manage to stay focused and get their work done, but also where they get their ideas from. Below is a selection of the responses I received from my tutors, recent graduates of the MA course (published, or in the process of having their first book published), and an illustrator/writer.
Steve Voake (author & tutor on the MA WYP) wrote, “Initial ideas can come from anywhere – the idea for my first book came as a result of being chased by a horsefly, but other book ideas have come from things as diverse as travelling across America, reading about NASA’s plans to build a new submarine, cycling past a travellers’ camp and listening to my daughter talk to her rabbit.”
Any superstitious rituals, Steve?
“I don’t have any lucky charms, but I write best in the mornings so try and make sure I’m at my desk before nine o’clock. That way I can pretend it’s a proper job too…”
Eugene Lambert (MA WYP graduate) whose book, The Sign of One is soon to be published, says he can’t really recall where the initial idea for his book came from, but he found himself, “thinking about a premise, namely why might identical twins be considered evil?” Why indeed? Eugene says a lot of daydreaming followed – which is where the “fleshing out” takes place. “I know I’m on the right track with my daydreams when one idea leads to another and another.” All this ‘daydreaming’ led to one possible answer – one twin is human, the other is not. And so the story ‘idea’ was born… “As soon as I get an idea for an opening scene, I start writing. Then repeat, with a kind of looping around of daydreams from premise to plot to characters, with each leading to more thoughts on the other…”
“I do have a favourite writing fleece for the winter :-), but my main rituals revolve around discipline and technology. You can’t just write when you feel like it – you have to put the hours in, set targets and hit them. My daily goal is 1,000 words, because I do a lot of editing as I go along. Being a nerdy techy guy, I track my writing with a spreadsheet…” (ouch!) “…and that helps me stay on track. In terms of technology, I do like to write with a big-screen monitor attached to the laptop, as I can have multiple windows open, one with the manuscript, the other with my plot summary. That said, I think it is important not to be too attached to ritual to the extent that it becomes an excuse not to write if you don’t have exactly the right setup.”
Follow Eugene on Twitter: @eugene_lambert
Steve Hutton (illustrator & writer) is currently illustrating a new edition of Peter Pan (how exciting) and I’ve seen glimpses on his Facebook page, but Steve also writes and illustrates his own work – which can be found here… http://www.wildwoodwitches.co.uk (I’m a huge fan!)
Steve says his approach to book commissions is very different to his own work. “After deciding which parts of the story to illustrate I then think about how I can make them different to what’s gone before. This might be with lighting, point-of-view, colour scheme etc. With Pan, I always felt Neverland seemed like an ordinary jungle/forest. I wanted my Neverland to feel more mysterious, and to that end I’ve added fantastical ruins, creatures, landscapes, and fairytale trappings. I like to have fun with my drawings and incorporate playful little details or subtle relationships between the characters.”
And your own work?
“When not working on commissions, I like to expand my own fictional world: ‘Wildwood Witches’ (see above). Here I can write and draw what I wish, and I find the writing comes first, by which I mean the stories inspire the illustrations. Taking a bike ride is a great way for me to think, especially if I’m churning over a story plot. I almost always get my best ideas while pedalling and I take visual inspiration from the natural landscape around me…”
Any magical formula, Steve?
“My workspace is important, but having moved thirteen times in ten years I’ve learned not to be too precious about the setting. As long as I’ve got my trusty drawing board and lamp I’m ok. The only other thing I need is something to play my music or audio books on while working, and plenty of tea.”
So far the ‘magical formula’ is beginning to look like this…
Being open to ideas (surroundings) + discipline + asking profound ‘what if…’ questions + daydreaming + discipline + getting outdoors to think + being aware of natural landscape (senses) + lots of tea…
Can Elen Caldecott (author & tutor) add anything else to the creative cauldron?
“If I feel I need a creative kick up the bum, I do two things. The first is to look at beautiful or interesting pictures. I collect snapshots of people, I also love the film stills in something like Sight and Sound (http://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/sight-sound-magazine). The second thing is to walk my dog. There’s something about a regular rhythm, with the sky open above me, that generates ideas. I imagine you don’t need a dog for this to work, but why take the risk?”
I hope this insight into the way other people come up with ideas and then set about executing them is inspiring and encouraging. It would seem that there is no magic formula – just sheer determination to get the job done. Coming up with ideas – is merely the beginning…
As an aspiring writer of children’s fiction myself I often find myself making excuses for my own non-productivity – distraction of family & friends, household chores, work – we all have to earn a living! Writing this blog has helped me understand how other writers and illustrators manage to get their work completed. I realise that my biggest distraction is not having a “room of one’s own” in which to write. Virginia Woolf also mentioned money in that famous little book – but that’s not as romantic an issue as having a study, or ‘shed’, in which to work, preferably one with a view!
Well, at least I’m not short of ideas – it’s just sitting down and getting the words on to the page which is my problem… Which puts me in good company – as most writers find this the hardest thing to do too!
Oh, and Ernest Hemingway says ‘an unhappy childhood’ helps… Hmm, unfortunately that’s not something we can change!
Writing historical fiction obviously requires plenty of research. But surprisingly, research is also essential when writing any fiction – fantasy, sci-fi, contemporary and so on. I hadn’t really thought about it too much, because my story – ‘The Silence of Secrets’, is set in Victorian London – so naturally, I was completely absorbed in the 19th century. But if you step back for a moment – it makes sense – fiction has to be believable, otherwise the reader would lose interest. All writers want their readers to lose themselves in their story, but if a factual element is wrong, that could signal the beginning of the end for that book. Even in a fantastical story the unbelievable has to be conceivable! The suspension of disbelief only goes so far…
You might think that as a writer the ‘real’ work is creating the characters, settings, plot, dialogue etc. – essentially coming up with a great story. But the story will only work if all the elements come together in a perfect package – and perfection requires time and dedication. Unfortunately, it is very easy to get so absorbed in fact finding/checking that the creative writing gets put to one side. A day put aside for writing, can easily end up being a day spent googling, with very little progress story wise 😞
When I started writing my book, ‘The Silence of Secrets’, I started a Pinterest account to collect all my online images together – which you can view here… http://pinterest.com/photoartbyjak/victorian I also visited London to get a feel for the place (yes it’s changed), but the distance between this street, and that street remains constant. The river Thames is more or less the same size, and ‘Nancy’s Steps’ (from Oliver Twist) still exists, leading the way to a newer version of London Bridge (quick internet search) http://www.londonremembers.com/memorials/nancy-s-steps As I walked between the huge warehouses towards Jacob’s Island (an amazing experience) I just needed to look up – rather than gaze into the contemporary shop windows and my imagination did the rest. Finally, I read, read and read some more – not only contemporary historical fiction, but also Victorian literature, letters, articles, non-fiction – both contemporary and 19th century works. I located and studied maps produced at the time – and in fact, bought a fairly large one that I put on my study wall – which needed a magnifying glass to read! Of course there is a huge amount available online, including reference books – which makes it very quick and easy to access information – but do be careful, not all information online is thoroughly researched – and could therefore be erroneous.
In ‘Bleak House’ by Charles Dickens – which I’ve just started to reread – there is a scene where the character Krook is a victim of “spontaneous combustion”. At the time of writing (1852) Dickens was questioned about this phenomena, with many saying it was scientifically impossible – Dickens had done his research though, and could, with confidence, quote various cases! And just to make sure he wouldn’t constantly be asked about the same thing over and over, he wrote the following…
“I took pains to investigate the subject. There are about thirty cases on record, of which the most famous, that of the Countess Cornelia de Baudi Cesenate, was minutely investigated and described by Guiseppe Bianchini, a prebendary of Verona […] The appearances, beyond all rational doubt, observed in that case are the appearances observed in Mr. Krook’s case.”
Well said, Mr Dickens 🙂
Research can be a fascinating part of writing, but please remember to keep the details of where the information was found. There is nothing worse than trying to recall where a certain fact was listed, written, found etc – before including in your writing – and then realising you can’t remember the exact details. Always check facts, then check them again!
When I was studying on the MA Writing for Young People, at Bath Spa University, I was occasionally asked by my fellow students whether certain factual elements of my story were discovered/written/built/established when my story was set, in 1851 – and of course, I could with confidence say YES 😊