Writing

Newcastle Writing Conference 2015 – Part Two

In case you’re wondering what I’m talking about, have a peek at Part One here. If you read that already, help yourself to a biscuit as a reward for coming back for more of my musings.

So, dear readers, I have just been fired up by the keynote, and informed about building a digital presence by the first panel. We had a break, in which Meg Rosoff signed books, and I caught up on my family troubles before resolutely silencing my phone and deciding to mingle. This was followed by the first breakout session – my chosen session was on how to edit because, frankly, I don’t need to be told more and newer creative ways to spend time on the internet, what I need is some discipline and work advice! The session was led by Fiona Shaw, a novelist and lecturer from Northumbria University, and it was both nerve-wracking and motivating.

Fiona’s advice was very thorough, despite only having an hour, and peppered with quotes on the process from notable writers – the most notable of course being Snoopy. The first important piece of advice was to defamiliarize yourself with your work, which is of course very difficult when you yourself have done it so we brainstormed ways of doing this such as reading aloud, changing the format (eg printing it out, putting onto Kindle), and “Most useful of all: put it away for as long as you can. Months would be best!” Fiona also gave advice on finding a reader who isn’t a) yourself, b) over-nice and c) over-critical. I’ll take names of volunteers if anyone would like to do this; you can form an orderly queue, and no pushing at the back, please.

Getting down to the nitty-gritty of actually editing, Fiona advised looking at the big stuff first – structure, redundant characters (I particularly like the idea of ‘walk-on parts’, I suspect I have a few characters that exist just to fulfill a single role that I can probably cut), missing or redundant chapters. Look out for ‘stage directions’ – descriptions that add nothing. Fiona observed that these can be vital for a writer trying to visualize the scene as they write but once they’ve done their job they need to be cut.

Cutting is key – murdering darlings left, right and centre. Look out for adverbs and adjectives – use them but make them work. Fiona also mentioned a list of most-used words to look out for and potentially cut.

Finally, the exercise – cutting our words ruthlessly and weighing every one, following the advice of Ursula LeGuin: “Forced to weigh your words, you find out which are the styrofoam and which are the heavy gold.” This really resonated with me and it’s lurking in the back of my mind, ready to be used as a maxim when I bite the bullet and begin editing my current three first draft novels. Anyway, back to the session. I had been asked, on signing up for this session, to bring along two copies of an extract of my work, double spaced. Yes, we had to edit each other’s work (cue dramatic chords). We tried to apply all of the advice Fiona had just given on the poor stranger who happened to be sitting next to us before handing the work back and receiving our own. Before looking over the changes suggested by our ‘editor’, we had to do the same thing on the second copy of our work, then compare the two sets of revisions.

This was really interesting, and actually I was far more ruthless with my own work than the very kind guy sitting next to me. It really opens your eyes though, to see the changes a stranger would make, and to see whether you would make those same changes, forcing you to really think about why you have put something a certain way and how necessary a particular phrase is.

Lunch followed, a packed lunch supplied by the organisers. You went along the counter picking up various components then search for a seat, feeling remarkably like the first day of school. Most people sat alone, casting surreptitious glances around. There are only two likely thought processes going on here: either “I’m supposed to be mingling. Why am I not mingling? They seem nice, maybe I could go sit with them? Or can I make myself look friendly enough for someone to sit down? [apply friendly face with encouraging yet not creepy smile]” OR “Oh god, please don’t sit next to me, I just want to have a think about the conference so far/my WIP/why I couldn’t get the sandwich I wanted. And my head is far too busy to think of clever and witty things to say. [head down, stare intently into paper lunch bag]” Luckily I had already made a friend and she and I and another friendly fella had lunch together chatting about life, the universe and everything writing-related.

After lunch was the second breakout session – this was the real gold dust, the thing I had zoned in on when booking my place. This was a Meet the Agent session, with Jo Unwin, in dialogue with a lady from New Writing North. Jo was incredibly nice and encouraging, and gave us several pieces of good advice. She looks for stuff that is “a bit warm, a bit funny, but with real heart”. She says that agents are looking for work very excitedly, very passionately, but they have a very short time in which to sit down and read submissions, so it really needs to stand out – for example, she will get 30-40 submissions to read in a couple of hours. For this reason (among others), Jo advised researching the agents you are going to submit to carefully to make sure it’s someone likely to be interested in what you write. Google the agency/agent and check out their recent work; have a sense of the kind of book you’ve written and if it chimes with any of their recent signings then it could be a good place to start. She also says that while some agents might be very very busy with long lists, it’s worth checking out their assistants who will be looking to build their own list. Golden tip!

Jo also warned that different agents want different things, so you need to target each submission carefully and give them what they ask for. She also said it’s important to make sure it’s as ready as it can be before sending it, so that if an agent likes what they see you don’t lose that sense of momentum: “very often, if things go well, they go well fast“.

We had the chance to ask questions, and Jo was unfailingly patient and tried to answer all of our questions as well as she could. She also allowed a few brave souls (yes, me included) to approach her after the session; there was an exceptionally brave girl who did a pitch (and was encouraged to submit her manuscript), a lady who tried to give Jo her manuscript to read on the train (pretty sure this would be a no-go for most agents – you could end up with fifty manuscripts to haul around with you!) and me, asking if Jo usually found herself inundated with submissions after doing an event like this and if so, would it be better to wait. Jo said that no, send the work when it’s ready to send – which after this weekend I’m rather more keenly aware that it isn’t…yet.

The final session was another panel event, on what’s hot and what’s not. This featured Jo, Francesca Main from Picador, Anna James from The Bookseller and Rachael Kerr from Unbound (a crowd-funding publisher, exciting!). This was also the point at which my phone ran out of battery so I couldn’t live-tweet. Sob.

A fairly universal opinion was that knowing what’s hot and what’s not is not necessarily that helpful. As Jo pointed out, both now and in her previous session, by the time a book reaches the shelves it’s been through an agent, reworked, gone through the publisher and the whole process could be a couple of years, so basing your writing on what’s hot now means you’re out of date already. She said “be aware of the world around you, not just the publishing world” which I personally think is very sound advice. In a similar vein, Rachael said that publishing is a notoriously copycat industry and successes can be driven by readers rather than predicted by publishers, giving an example of the ‘nice books about nature’ type that are popular now.

Following on from this, Francesca said that “Readers are hot!” She is driven by what she thinks readers want and looks at popular trends more in terms of marketing a book the editor loved instead of ‘hot’. She also said “plot is hot”, which was echoed by Anna who said that “what’s always hot is a good book and a strong voice”. Anna’s enthusiasm for a good book and a strong voice shone this afternoon, and I genuinely couldn’t keep up with the books she was excited about coming out!

Suggestions to help writers were to get peer reviews, for example from Jottify, or the Writers Workshop. There was also general consensus that true stories based on real people were popular; Francesca advised finding something “at once very universal and very specific” for example an event that is specific to one person but draws in bigger universal themes such as grief.

The panel closed with everyone saying the things they were looking forward to this year (too many again to keep up with!) and the day closed there.

Judging by the swells of chatter and noise as people left the venue, I’d say pretty much everyone found the day just as interesting, motivating and downright exciting as I did. It’s now a week and half since the conference and people are still talking about it on twitter with the hashtag #NclWritingConf, and blogging about it (*cough*). Not only did we get to hear from and talk to some incredibly knowledgeable and passionate people in the world of books, but we have gone back to our notepads and computers and we’re looking at our work just a little bit differently, with maybe fresher eyes or new resolutions.

Roll on 2016’s conference.

Newcastle Writing Conference 2015: Do It Yourself Part One.

I went to my first every writing conference at the weekend – Newcastle Writing Conference, arranged by New Writing North at Northumbria University. I jumped at the chance to go because the lineup was just brilliant – the speakers included Meg Rosoff! As it turned out, family worries made the day get off to a shaky start but getting regular text updates reassured me enough to settle down and enjoy the day.

I was tweeting a good bit – with the hashtag #NclWritingConf, if you’re interested – until disaster in the afternoon. My phone battery ran right down. I had stern words with it; I said “Look, I need to tweet this, it’s fabulous and I want to share these nuggets of wisdom”. I cajoled and begged and promised to give it a long lie down in a dark room at the end of the day,  but my phone refused to co-operate and the battery died. With my last tweet I pledged to blog, so here I am. Luckily I scribbled loads of notes, so I don’t have to rely on my scatty memory.

Keynote address – Meg Rosoff. I’ll be honest, I have had a MAD few weeks so in between booking and turning up, I’d sort of forgotten the details. I got in on Saturday morning, scanned through the lineup and choked on my coffee – getting to hear Meg Rosoff talk was a massive treat and a real privilege. Her first bit of advice (after a not-entirely-tongue-in-cheek recommendation to throw the computer away to avoid distraction, very apt bearing in mind the digital focus to the day!) was to not be in a hurry. I’d say that I was fairly middle of the road in terms of the age range attending, being in my mid-30s, so I imagine that advice hit home with many, many people. We do have a tendency to think that “if I’m not a bestseller by the time I’m 16 I’m a complete failure” (or is that just me?!) and it was HUGELY reassuring to hear that Meg didn’t start writing creatively until she was in her mid-40s. Her story resonated very much with me, and in some parts it could have been my story (for example, being a precocious reader as a child and thinking it just isn’t worth writing if I can’t write like [insert idolised author here]).  Other gems of advice from Meg included the fact that there’s never just one story to anything, and this (paraphrased from notes!):

Think of your brain as a colander. Everything that happens to you goes in the colander and 99% of it goes through. Every once in a while something will stick. For example, if people are in a train carriage going through scenery, every single person will take something different from the scenery; some people won’t even see the scenery because they’ll be looking around, or at their phone. The thing you notice from the scenery, the thing that sticks in the colander, none of it is the same as anyone else’s and that is your strength and your weapon.

It’s not who you know, or whether you “know” plot, it’s about what you have to say that no-one else can. She used the example of her first (failed) submission to an agent, to show that it helped her find out how her brain worked and the kind of things that ‘stuck in her colander’ (the pony book with too much sex. You had to be there.). Meg said you have to write for who you are – although she tried to write a pony book, she has quite a dark brain and that was what she had to write – the rest, as they say, is history.

Another brilliant piece of advice comes from her asking her first agent how to write YA, and this is what she relayed to us: forget about the audience and the rules. “Write the fiercest book you can write and I’ll find someone to read it” was the advice of the agent. Forget the rules and write fiercely – I love this. I don’t think I’ve heard ‘write fiercely’ before and there is something very liberating, very energetic and motivating, about the idea of writing fiercely.

Meg’s keynote address had the absolutely perfect effect of firing us all up for the first panel: How to Stand Out In A Digital Age. The panel was Ben Willis from Transworld, book vlogger Sanne Vliegenthart, author Nikesh Shukla (whose video Meatspace is great fun, highly recommended) and book blogger Simon Savidge. The panel had a variety of approaches to the brave new world of social media but consistently the message is “Be Yourself”. As Ben pointed out, there are loads of different platforms, with twitter, Facebook, GoodReads, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, etc – find the space you’re comfortable with and do it well. I’ve had a fairly extensive break from twitter and blogging, both of which I enjoy, and this talk really gave me some motivation to re-engage and enjoy these platforms which I like and IMHO I do well.

Authenticity really came across as an important point. Simon recommended, for book reviews, to put some emotion behind them and show how the book connects with you. As I’ve done a few reviews here in the past this was something I’d like to take on board and do better. Nikesh advised using social media as both a user or content absorber as well as having something to promote yourself – use it as if you had NOTHING to promote! He also recommended simplicity – his  Meatspace video he described as “A simple idea that revelled in its own stupidity!” If you can write your idea on the back of a fag packet, it’s worth considering.

Sanne brought a new perspective – vlogging. I’d never heard of BookTube and now I’ve gone and subscribed to a bunch of BookTube channels. She mentioned lots of formats and themes: bookshelf tours, tags,  book hauls. I may have to unsubscribe if I’m being consumed with avarice for all of these wonderful new books. Sanne said she basically wanted to join in the community and started making videos. The importance of community was underlined heavily – basically, people want to engage and be part of a conversation and digital media are offering a whole new world of ways in which to do that.

That brings me to the end of Part One – seriously, this event was far too packed for just one post!

Happy Birthday!

A short and sweet post today.

My baby girl is TWO today. I absolutely can’t believe we’ve had her for two years already.

But I absolutely can’t imagine or even remember clearly life without her either.

Happy birthday Emily. You complete us. xx

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PS hobby horses are horrendous to wrap. Just sayin’.

Game Night

We were in Smyth’s toy shop yesterday. Emily had fallen over in the previous shop and bumped her head on the concrete floor so in the classic manner of paranoid parents we were walking around trying to decide if we should get her to hospital or if she would probably be ok. Smyth’s seemed a good place to distract Daniel while we quietly panicked. We decided that Emily was, on reflection, absolutely fine and turned our attention to the toys.

The board games aisle was like a flash back twenty-odd years. Daniel, being Nearly Five, is right at the age where we could start playing family games and I was looking at what was available. Now obviously there was Cluedo, Monopoly, Scrabble and junior versions of these. I mean, y’know, these are classics. I was more surprised by some of the others. Here’s a few of the games I saw yesterday that had me exclaiming “Eeh, I remember playing that!”

  • Hungry Hippos. My cousins had this and it was played almost every time I went to their house. I never won but I remember shrieking and jumping while pounding the levers frantically to try and get the last little white ball. Which always rolled away to the opposite corner of the board.
  • Buckaroo. Brought out in a million different versions, whether a cheap one trying to be virtually the same and just within copyright limits or special editions (like a Zingzillas one we bought for Andrew’s little cousin).
  • Guess Who. Now in an “Extra” edition. What? Extra what? Sheesh. Don’t mess with a classic.
  • Mousetrap. Not one I actually ever played but I remember it doing the rounds of my schoolfriends. And I vaguely remember a tv advert for it.
  • Operation. Now this was fantastic. One of my primary school friends had this and I was always quite good at it. I think I took it a bit too seriously; I have a memory of trying to remove the poor patient’s heart with utter concentration while my friends were rather enjoying the buzz when they touched the side. I may have shouted at them, I’m not prepared to commit myself.

I don’t really like it when they update the games, as you might have gathered from my comment on Guess Who above. I mean, take Monopoly. Now I’m not against a regional edition as a special; we have a French edition which we love. BUT. Why do we need to make a Monopoly with credit cards? I don’t want my kids getting the credit card habit when they’re eight! Not unless they’re buying stuff for me and paying it off with their pocket money anyway. Ahem. And Game of Life – another one I didn’t actually play but it was everywhere. Now it’s Adventure edition. Like Life isn’t enough of an adventure? Pah.

Of course, that could just be me getting old. We drove on a road that we haven’t been on for a while the other day and they’re completely rejigging the layout. As we passed the sign saying “New Road Layout Ahead” I actually muttered to Andrew “What was wrong with the way it was?” He didn’t reply. He was too busy laughing.

Failure & Finishing

Uh oh. That was a bad start to the A-Z Challenge, wasn’t it? When I realised I’d missed C, I thought I’d combine it with D in a post. Then I didn’t get to do one for D either so I thought I’d try really hard to combine C, D and E (while thinking “Oh crikey me how on earth am I going to do that??”). But yesterday was a bit mad too, so I didn’t get that done. Now, there is no way in the world I’m going to be able to combine C, D, E and F so I’m going to admit failure and consign C, D and E to the great blog heaven in the sky.

Failure is a recurring theme – for me and, I imagine, for most people. Things we haven’t done, or haven’t done as well as we could have. I failed to do many things and some of them I’ve made peace with, some continue to be regrets. Failure can be particularly painful when you suffer from low self-esteem as it reinforces the negative impression you have of yourself. It also tends to be self-perpetuating. You fail at something, so you think “I really must do better next time” and not only do you set up another set of hurdles for yourself, you also put more importance on not falling at them. If/when something goes wrong with this new plan, you’ve failed again, you’ve failed worse, and you’re generally a failure at life. So I’ll start another thing, and on it goes. The achievement of actually finishing something is immense, as when I finished my first draft of Skive which is now thoroughly cooled off and awaiting rewrites. But there are still many, many past and current failures drowning out that little success.

Failure is also very much down to perception. I tell myself I’m a failure because I don’t always complete things, I don’t get done the things that I both want and need to get done, and I have unfinished manuscripts or blog challenges or housework. Beloved Husband thinks I have unrealistic expectations of myself and that I’m doing pretty well to keep on top of the house and look after the kids. I think he’s lovely but biased. Another cycle!

I would love to be able to find a way of changing my perception. I’d love to be able to look at my failures and think “At least I gave it a go.” I’ll give pretty much anything a go, which should be exciting and interesting instead of a quick ticket to “Oops, I Did It (Or Rather, Didn’t) Again.” I think it could be helped a lot by realising that nothing is permanent. Because I leave something to one side for now, it doesn’t mean I’ll never come back to it, it just means that now isn’t the right time. My historical novel has been a Work In Progress for about two years now but it doesn’t mean I’ve failed to write it, just that I haven’t finished it YET because it’s not the right time.

At school I was a languages whizz. It was always what I was going to do, I even did the first year of a degree in Interpreting and Translating. Since I did my GCSEs a million years ago I’ve had two huge dictionaries, one in French, one in Spanish, and a few verb books. I’ve never been able to bring myself to throw them away even though I’m no longer considering a career in languages. We had a book clearout the other day and I put the verb books on the pile of books to go. Then I picked them up and thought about one of my big regrets, my failure to finish my degree. Beloved Husband said “You know, you don’t have to get rid of them. You can always take it back up again any time.” He’s right you know, but don’t tell him. I haven’t failed at languages, I just didn’t finish my degree. One of my ambitions is to do an Open University degree in the Arts; I’m keeping my languages books in case some of my modules end up being languages, and I finish what I started.

 

Blessings

Last year was a bit of a rough ‘un. For a multitude of reasons; I’m not going to go through them now otherwise I’ll have to retreat to the sofa in pyjamas and eat Ben and Jerry’s out of the tub (ooh, actually…)

This year I was determined to leave all that behind. So to keep that resolution going, here’s a quick list of ten blessings: things I’m actually really happy about in my life right now.

  • My kids – they’re happy, healthy, developing bang on target and make me laugh and melt as much as they drive me up the wall. There’s no middle ground – they move me, daily, one way or another. Frankly, it’s exhausting 😉
  • My husband – he’s soft as muck, funny (though don’t tell him I said that), talented (his design business is going fantastically well after only a year) and he would do pretty much anything to look after us all. He’s not perfect but he does a pretty good impression of it.
  • My home – I’m quite keen on the idea of moving house when we’re able to afford it but until then we’re warm and secure and in a nice home.
  • Daniel’s school – we had the extremely privileged dilemma when Daniel started school of having two brilliant schools to choose between. Isn’t that a nice decision to have to make? And the one we chose I just love. The teachers are supportive and have brought Daniel on leaps and bounds and he’s a bright, confident little boy. They really invest in the children, and I don’t just mean financially.
  • Music – I just LOVE music. I recently made a playlist on my phone which gets me in a good mood and it works every single time. 
Half way there…
  • My phone – I won an iPhone 4 in a twitter competition not long after they came out and it’s been fabulous. I sometimes toy with the idea of going back to a ‘normal’ phone and I would really miss it. And despite being nearly two years old and used heavily every day it’s as good as a brand new one bar a slightly sticky button. How many gadgets can say that, eh?
  • Twitter – I’m not on very much at the minute but I pop in and there’s always a friend to say hello. A couple of my very best friends are people I met on twitter. Nettie, you know I’m looking at you.
  • Books – we’re about to have a cull of our books and looking through the shelves I realise how many books I have that I love, but also how many brilliant books are still out there, waiting for me! Recent books that I’ve loved are The Cleaning Bible (by Kim & Aggie, y’know, off the telly), A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell.

Two left. Hmm, this is getting tricky now…

  • Another soppy one – my parents and in-laws. They’re just amazing and supportive and mad as hatters.
  • My health – this is a tricky one as I’ve been feeling pretty low lately, and I’m overweight and unfit. But I have no major diseases, the conditions I have are managed easily with tablets and I’m not housebound or dependant. Way more important to remember those things than the negative things.

Phew! Made it to ten. Actually, it was easier than I thought.

I’m going  to finish with this infographic I found on Pinterest:

Worth remembering! (from http://alexandrasheppard.com/2010/03/31/why-we-are-rather-lucky/)

Source: google.co.uk via Rebecca on Pinterest

April

April 1st!

This year is really flying over. It doesn’t seem two minutes since I did a blog post saying March would be here soon.

Or maybe it’s because my blog posts have fallen by the wayside. The tiredness I’ve been struggling with for a few months has been identified as an iron deficiency and between that and trying to get on top of stuff at home the blog has taken a back seat.

But I’ve missed it! So I’m leaping into April to take up last year’s A-Z blog challenge, in which I’ll attempt to post something every day of April (except Sundays…er, after today) which is tenuously related to a letter of the alphabet.

And in honour of April and the unseasonably warm weather we’ve had for the last week, here’s a picture of Daniel and Emily enjoying the sunshine!

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And here is the list of blogs participating in the A-Z Challenge:

Hope for Willow Burn

As most of my friends online know, my grandpa has been very ill for about a month. He’s currently being cared for by Willow Burn hospice in Co Durham and they have been absolutely wonderful.

My mum always says that dying is inevitable, but important; one of the most important things you will ever do. Willow Burn, and hospices like it across the country, provide care and compassion and dignity at the time when you need it most, but they get almost no state funding; as their website says, they survive on the goodwill of the community and fundraising. Doesn’t this seem wrong? That hospices, which look after you at the most critical time of your life, need to rely on fundraising to survive?

Of course, it’s not just Willow Burn. My husband in a previous life was a professional fundraiser for a wonderful hospice in Stockton, and his friend is still doing the same job at a hospice in Sunderland. So why am I shouting for Willow Burn in particular, other than my own personal link?

Because they desperately need it, basically. They deliver the most amazing care in an old, under-resourced building, and have only four beds when they could easily fill twice as many. If you follow me on twitter or Facebook, you might have seen me ask for fundraising ideas a couple of days ago. I want to show my appreciation of their dedication as well as donate to them some much-needed funds. So many people had some amazing ideas, and my favourite was an anthology of short stories, with all the proceeds going to Willow Burn.

And so to the point. I would be hugely, amazingly grateful for short stories. I have some very talented friends, both published and unpublished, and I think if you would help me we could make a fabulous anthology that would raise a little bit of money for a fabulous place. I want to focus on hope, and have stories that are hopeful, humourous, uplifting… you get the idea. If you can help, or if you don’t fancy writing a story but can help by spreading the word, please, please do. I’ll do all the formatting and Andrew will do me a cover so all you have to do is send me a story you’re happy with. If I get inundated (yes please!) I might need some help to narrow it down but that’s an appeal for another day.

Keep an eye here as I’ll be doing a couple more blog posts on the hospice itself. And thank you – in advance – for your help and support!

Updated to add: If anyone has a story to submit, send it to this email. Thanks again!

FINISHED

This morning I finished my first ever draft of a novel. A WHOLE novel. What I wrote. Me.

Ahem.

I know that for real, proper authors this isn’t a big deal – and maybe it shouldn’t be such a big deal? But it really is. Not only am I a bit of a procrastinator, and have all the usual writerly hangups about fear of failure, etc etc, but I have genuinely struggled over the last year or so with life in general and self-doubt and all the rest of it. Anyway, no more, I have achieved my next writing goal and finished an entire novel, and I’m blooming proud of myself.

I’m not sure of the exact word count because a) it needs quite a lot of rewriting and knocking into shape and what have you. It is the epitome of Anne Lamott’s “s****y first draft” but it’s definitely got a decent novel in there. And b) because the last leg was all done longhand in my cheapy, scruffy, beloved reporter’s notebook, so I’m about to start typing it up ready to print out. And from there, I’ll leave it for a few days before attacking it with a pencil and red biro. In the meantime, donning a Real Writer’s mantle, I have a competition entry to write, a new ebook to plan (my first is HERE in case I haven’t mentioned it before…) and  my nearly-finished historical to get to the finishing line. And, by the way, this is HUGELY more likely having finished one first draft. So it’s more than likely that in a couple of months I will have TWO finished first drafts of novels and in six months I will hopefully have both rewritten, polished, and out on submission. Which will probably mean many, many anguished blog posts and practising gracious responses to rejection.

So, because I know EVERYONE is agog to know the details of my masterpiece, here you go…

It’s a YA thriller, aimed at the younger end of the age range (around 11-16), and the working title (thanks to the very brilliant MarshallBuckley) is SKIVE. The pitch, developed a little from the one I gave my twitter pals this morning (and, btw, trying to get across the point of book on twitter in as few tweets as possible is brilliant practice for pitching), is…

Nicky skives off the school trip to Newcastle & ends up on a quest for a mysterious artefact, involving supernatural villains & a ghost who can’t quite get over his death.

I have practiced my award acceptance speech and put the champagne in the fridge. All of which are, as well as this blog post, quite obviously new avoidance tactics for starting the revision…

Write A Great Synopsis

2012 is the year I finally finish off my two ongoing WIPS, then begin the ordeal of putting together a submission package and sending it all off. With that in mind, it’s perfect timing that I’m helping Nicola Morgan with the blog tour for her new book, Write A Great Synopsis: An Expert Guide. This short ebook has got some brilliant ideas in for turning said ordeal into something manageable and even exciting. No, really!

Without further ado, let me hand over to the Crabbit One…

Hello, Becca, and thanks for hosting me on the Write a Great Synopsis (WAGS) blog tour. Not that, *cough*, you had much choice…

I thought a sensible thing to do for my lovely blog hosts who want an actual post would be to give each one a different extract from the book. (There will be links to the whole blog tour on my blog sidebar.) So, what will I offer to your readers? Well, in WAGS I have a whole chapter devoted to answering actual questions from writers. I thought I’d give you three of them here.

What if your novel is exceptionally long?

It doesn’t mean that the synopsis should be or even needs to be. If you’ve written Anna Karenina, leave out the farming stuff and that should help a lot. A book that is very long is usually so because there are many obstacles or incidents to get through, in which case not all need be mentioned individually: “Seraphina spends fifteen years on the ranch, working her way through a series of increasingly unsuitable men” is a perfectly adequate way to convey a whole section of your saga. If your book is long because of rich description or characterisation, or farming, that is stuff which doesn’t appear in a synopsis anyway.

Do I really have to include the ending?

Another blog-reader, Laura Mary, wondered whether this is necessary if the ending gives away a vital twist, the knowledge of which will spoil the enjoyment for the reader. Yes, almost everyone agrees that endings must be given in synopses for agents and editors. Yes, it may remove some of their anticipation while reading the book, but they are professionals and they will survive the pain. Besides, if you write your synopsis well enough, they will still get that “Ahhh, clever ending!” feeling when reading the synopsis itself.

What’s more important: content or style?

Neal wondered whether it’s a “judgement call between content and style.” He says, “I’m struggling to work out the balance between making a synopsis a proof of the structure as a viable vehicle for a compelling story, and it giving an idea of style and tone, which seems to me needs a slightly more expansive approach.”

I don’t think the two ever have to be mutually exclusive. I certainly don’t think style and tone require a more expansive approach: they can be conveyed with no extra words, just well chosen words. I do understand the question, though, and can see why writers might ask it. I just believe that a writer who is even asking the question most likely has enough skill to tread the balance and satisfy the needs for both content and style. However, you cannot hope to achieve a piece of flash fiction; a synopsis is a functional exercise, little more.

(Extract ends)

Hope that was useful!

Write a Great Synopsis covers everything about synopsis-writing, clearly and reassuringly. At the end of it I believe you truly will say to yourself, “Don’t panic – it’s only a synopsis!” That is my aim.

All commenters below (by Feb 15th) will be entered into the Big WAGS Competition, with chances to win a critique of your synopsis by the Crabbit Old Bat herself! One comment per person on each blog – though you can add to your chances by commenting on the other posts on the tour. Details of all stops on the tour will appear on my blog (Help! I Need a Publisher!) as they go out.

Thank you for listening and I do hope I can help you write a great synopsis! For details about the book, including buying options, go here.  The link direct to Amazon UK is here.

Thanks again for letting me visit!

Pleasure! Now, off to write…