Wednesday, 31 December 2014

New Year's Resolutions 2015...

My New Year's Resolutions for 2015!

  1. Get a new job (blah blah, very boring and pretty obvious)
  2. Read a book every week (52 before the end of 2015)
  3. Keep submitting Grey Sister (don't give up!)
  4. Write something every day (because every writer should)
I hope you have a lovely New Year and a completely wonderful 2015. 

Alys x

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Merry Christmas...!

Seasonal salutations to you all! Hope you have a lovely time, with much merriment, yums and books in your stockings.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Vlog: Post Uni Blues...

End of November Update...

Don't look at the date of the post! I'm on time, honest! (Lies.)

November was pretty poor, writing wise. I didn't send off any submissions and I probably did less than 1000 words of The Sequel. It's been a mixture of laziness and busyness in the past few weeks. Plenty of nights I had time but just sat down in front of the telly or with a book and just didn't move. But I was applying for jobs and I also had an interview which consumed most of a Saturday, so it wasn't all bad. With Christmas up next, I've been doing lots of shop hunting for presents too.

Naughtily, I've been doing a lot of sewing this past month, which has consumed a lot of time. Though these Advent Calenders I made for the Small People in our lives were gifts, so I feel that's allowed.

The patchwork quilt I started making for myself was a little bit more of a time-waster though... but look how pretty! Here it's just loose, but it's all patched together now and I've started on (the incredibly tricky and time consuming) quilting stage. 

So, yeah. Bad month for writing. I knew Christmas was going to be a bother this year! I really don't know how much I'll manage to do in December either. Blurgh.

Monday, 3 November 2014

End of October Update...

Dang it. Dang it. DANG IT! I miss this post every month. Gyah.

October was another submission heavy month, with lots of responses (OK, rejections) coming back from agents. It was good to hear back from some of the submissions I sent a few months ago and get those cleared off the list. Any progress is good progress!

Writing wise, I'm finally starting to get into Grey Sister's sequel. So far I've got 15k+ words, which is slower progress than I'm used to, but I have a better idea of where I'm going next which it good.

I decided not to go in for NaNoWriMo again this year. I have so many other things I need to be concentrating on (cough, real world job, cough) that I just can't dedicate that much time to writing at the moment. And anyway: who put NaNo so close to Christmas?! When would I have time to start my seasonal crafting?

I'm hoping to send out plenty more submissions in November and try and get some more headway on The Sequel.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Rejection #9

Date Submitted: 28th September 2014

Date Rejected: 28th October 2014

Response Time: 1 month

Response Type: Form, no further request.


"Many thanks for sending us the material for GREY SISTER but I'm afraid that we are going to pass."

Is it just me, or is that kind of a harsh way to say no? 

Friday, 17 October 2014

Rejection #8

Date Submitted: 1st July 2014

Date Rejected: 14th October 2014

Response Time: 14 weeks (approx 3 1/2 months)

Form for Response: Form letter, no further request. 


Another pre-recent edits rejection. Not a big surprise, especially as this was a big name agency. They did apologise for the late reply, which was very considerate.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Rejection #7

Date Submitted: 29th September 2014

Date Rejected: 7th October 2014

Response Time: 5 working days

Form for Response: Form letter, no further request. 


Given that this was a snail-mail submission and that the response came back in less than a week, I have the sneaking suspicion that I did something wrong in my submission... poop.

Nevertheless, the fact that the person who emailed me forgot change the name of the novel when she copied and pasted the form letter, suggests perhaps its not too much of a loss. 

To whoever wrote 'Lloyd's Book of Humour': I'm sorry they didn't like your book either. Perhaps we could form a support group?

Rejection #6

Date Submitted: 14th May 2014

Date Rejected: 7th August 2014

Response Time: 12 weeks (approx. 3 months)

Form for Response: Brief email (form possibly)


Argh! How did I forget to blog this one? Much grovelling and many apologies. 

Possibly it has to do with my actually really wanting this agency to like me...

I sent this before my recent edits (and actually I think there were a few other amendments made in between as well). Further evidence that you should be ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN of your manuscript before you submit. Though, I must admit, I did think it was ready. So, who am I to preach?

Anyway, I received a brief email from this (very small) agency quite some time after submitting. Although it seemed pre-composed, it did include statements like, "You're clearly very talented", and that the work had "an intriguing premise". I'd like to flatter myself that not every submission hears that! Ha ha. Such a big head I have!

Thursday, 2 October 2014

End of September Update...

Dang it! I missed the end of the month again! Flump nuggets. Sorry.

September was busy with re-re-re-editing (what draft am I even on now? It feels like a three digit figure...) the opening chapters of 'Grey Sister'. I'm really happy with how it all turned out and I really think it's made some big improvements to the opening of the book.

In the past week I've been back to Agent Hunting and I've sent out four submissions. Now I cower behind the sofa cushions while I wait for replies. Yay.

I'm thinking (very, VERY tentatively) about doing NANOWRIMO this year. If I do I think I'd like to try out a new idea, rather than continue with Thea's story. It seems like a good opportunity to start a different project and get a big chunk done all at once. I don't know.... Has anyone else done NANO before? How did you find it?

As for now, I'm off to be rubbed and pampered at a spa break with my Mama Dearest. How decadent!

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

End of August Update...

Ooops! How is it already the 2nd of September? Completely missed the end of last month: sorry!

August has been a not-very-nice month. As I mentioned last month, I'm trying to find a new day job. If you follow me on tumblr, you'll have seen how well that's been going. Oh dear.

I've also decided, following the feedback I received from an agent recently, to completely restructure my opening chapters. Huzzah and hurray! More editing! The actual feedback I received didn't say anything about being so dramatic, though she did suggest I look at the pacing in the opening. But it's something I've been thinking about for a while. I'll try and write a bigger post about it all soon, but the short answer is I've been unsure about the opening for a while. To be honest, I ignored a lot of the big writing no-nos (no flashbacks, no long and meandering growing-up scenes, etc, etc...) and I've been trying to justify why I've kept them for a long time.

Now I've actually started, the restructuring isn't so scary as I thought. I'm trying to keep all the information the same, but change the way its told. So it's more a matter of rearranging than rewriting, which makes things a little less daunting.

I'm STILL not writing much (Ok, any) new stuff. It's frustrating, but I feel like I've been working towards too many other things this month to feel too guilty about it. Hopefully I can get this work done on the opening of 'Grey Sister' soon and then I can get back to submitting to agents and maybe even working on The Sequel...

(P.S Did anyone see my recent Youtube debut? Eeek!)

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Hello Youtube...

Something I've been toying with for a long time now is the idea of joining Youtube. I've been following various vloggers for years, both book-based and not, and I've seen how much impact video can have. It also looks like a lot of fin. So, a few weeks ago, I bit the bullet and bought myself a nice camera, set up a make-do tripod out of books and got filming.

My hope is that joining youtube will help me expand my online-i-ness a little and hopefully allow me to find some other people in my shoes.

So... "Ta-Da", I suppose...?

Thursday, 31 July 2014

End of July Update...

It's been a really slow month all things considered.

Until today, I'd received no word from any agents and I still have 3 submissions out that I'm waiting to hear back from. As well as the radio silence from agencies, I've barely done any actual writing. After all the all-out run to get 'Grey Sister' finished, writing a second book feels like crawling and I'm finding it hard to get into a rhythm again. I feel like I've lost all momentum. I'm submitting what I have and waiting for replies, while at the same time trying hard to find a better day job. Writing itself has become a second (third, fourth...) place concern.

As time goes on, even 'Grey Sister' starts to feel a little distant. As if all the work I put into it and all the submissions I've sent have made it fuzzy and far away. I worry that the more time that passes, the more distant it feels and the more chance there is that I might not keep pressing forward.

I still love 'Grey Sister' and the plot of the 'Ellorah' series. I'm still proud of what I've written. And I still want (want want want!) to get it published. I'm not going to give up any time soon. I believe 'Grey Sister' has the potential to reach publication. I'm just not sure what else I should be doing to make that happen.

So much of where I am now is waiting and hoping and willing my work to find its way into the hands of the right person. Combined with my real-world responsibilities and my hunt for a new job, it makes progress feel incredibly slow.

I want to try and write more in the next month, to try and get back into the habit of getting those words out of my head. I just need to keep going...

Rejection #5

Date Submitted: 1st July (/17th July?) 2014

Date Rejected: 31st July 2014

Response Time: 1 month (/2 weeks)

Form for Response: Personally written by agent, no further request.


As the submission dates suggest, this was a pretty unusual submission. 

I initially got in touch with this agent over twitter in order to find out which of their agents would be best suited to receiving my submission (pro tip: ALWAYS identify a single agent in submissions. It shows awareness of the agency and consideration in your submission). They replied quickly, with a nice, friendly response and I duly sent off my submission by snail mail, as requested on their submission page.

Then, on the 17th I received a tweet, not from the agency as a whole, but from the specific agent who'd been pointed out to me to begin with, asking if I'd sent my submission. I told her I had and 'hoped it hadn't gotten lost in the post'. She then told me to send it again via email just in case. So off submission version 1.2 went and she immediately replied to say she'd received it.

The rejection I got today was, while obvious a disappointing one, still the most positive one I've had so far. The agent emailed to say,
"I wanted to like this - and I almost really, really do - [but] it did not grab me by the throat..."
It feels like a step in the right direction to at least get a personally written reply. This agency has a strong background in fantasy, though they're not as grand nor as established as many of the more well known agencies. I wish I could have at least made it as far as a full request. I've asked for some feedback, so maybe that will give me something to work from...

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

End of June Update...

Another month and not much more to tell.

Rejections arrive, new submissions are sent and rejections arrive. The cycle repeats itself, on and on we go. Its just the road you have to travel if you're looking to get published. It can't much be helped.

I was watching a documentary recently about the upcoming Monty Python Live Show, when John Cleese (who I love and think is fabulous, by-the-by) made a comment about the modern era not being "a terribly intelligent or terrible creative one" (57 mins in). Which, for anyone in a position like mine, is both pretty insulting and quite misinformed.

From where I sit, our world and our generation is an incredibly inventive one. Even beyond technical advances, everywhere I look I see people making things, thinking new things, trying to bring something new to the world. The internet is full of authors trying to get published and artists trying to find an audience. There is SO much creativity in our era. And that is precisely why it is so hard to make it today; because competition is at a premium.

It feels sometimes like everyone in the world has written a book (or is making music, or acting, or drawing comics, or making jewellery, or designing clothes, or, or or...). But, as my boyfriend keeps reminding me, just because others are, doesn't mean your work means nothing. Creativity has value in itself. Trying to succeed in making a dream come true is never a mistake. Failure happens. But it doesn't define our attempts. We just have to keep trying.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Location Scouting in the Great Yorkshire Forest...

This weekend, as myself and my charming young gentleman friend both had a Sunday off together, I was finally able to go on a research outing for my second book. 

As a fair bit of 'Grey Sister's sequel takes place in woodland, we hopped in the car to visit Dalby Forest. It's an absolutely gorgeous place, with so many beautiful walks and trails to try out. We spent the day exploring and enjoying the warm (if grey) English summer while I hunted for inspiration...

So, with plenty of photos to sustain me, I can return to my natural habitat: under a blanket with a laptop and a big mug of tea!

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Rejection #4

Date Submitted: 10th June 2014

Date of Rejection: 16th June 2014

Response Time: 4 working days

Rejection Type: Form, no further request.


Although this was the fastest response I've had, my phone decided to stop alerting me to emails, so it was an extra few days before I could read it, which is a little frustrating.

I really liked the sound of this agent, so it was a disappointment not to get any further with my submission. I did find some great author's already on her list though and ended up ordering two books, one of which I've already almost finished reading. So, at least I can fuel my book lust! 

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Getting Back on the Horse...

So, my first two months of submissions have been a little rough.

I've had three out of four submissions come back rejected. Of course, this is no big deal. Harry Potter was rejected twelve times and 'The Help' a whopping forty-five times! So really, three is nothing to worry about.

But worry I have.

So I went back over my opening chapter, picking apart every niggle. I re-worked scenes that fell flat, removed unnecessary characters and changed them for ones more central to later plot lines. Thanks to another feedback session with the critique group, I tweaked the opening page to make it clearer. I even went  so far as to change my main character's age to give her choices later in the book more impact.

And I do feel better for doing it. Which just creates more worries. What if those little changes could have meant the difference between a rejection and a request? What if those few little issues cost me an agent? I fear now that I was (and, quite likely, still am) under-prepared for submission. Even though I want to keep trying, a big part of me just wants to put everything on hold so I can edit, edit, edit all over again.

Nevertheless, I've gotten back to the agent hunt and have two envelopes full of submissions to take to the post office tomorrow morning. I've developed something of a phobia of the bigger agencies, I've found. After all, why would J.K.Rowling's agency (honestly, I've looked into them and everything) have any interest in a silly little book about a library written by a girl who works in a shop? And yet, here I am still writing to agencies with celebrities and leading names on their books.

Such a glutton for punishment.

My confidence hasn't been overly bolstered by my continuing inability to secure myself a real-world job, either. Getting back rejections from agents and potential employers makes for something of a downer. There's been lots of sulks and cheer-up songs blasted in the past week or so.

But on we must press. An agent can't accept me if I don't send them anything, right? Nothing comes from nothing, after all. So here's a little pep talk that's kept me going...

Monday, 2 June 2014

Rejection #3

Date Submitted: 28th April 2014

Date of Rejection: 30th May 2014

Response Time: 23 working days (1 month)

Rejection Type: Form, no further request.


This was the first submission I made, so it was a tough one to receive. I got pretty down about it to be honest. 

The submission was via post, but I received an email  response, with my material to follow later. It was considerate of them to get back to me as soon as possible, rather than making me wait for the post. 

Fun fact: every rejection so far has come on a Friday. My guess is agencies clear their submission piles at the end of every week...?

Saturday, 31 May 2014

End of May Update...

So, one month after my first submission, the rejections are rolling in thick and fast.

Oh, the glory of failure!

Last night (7pm on a Friday, I mean come on! Give me a break!), I heard back from the very first agent I sent to. Another no, of course. I know I said I was realistic about my prospects, but I couldn't help feeling pretty down about being rejected. It was my very first go-to after all. Cue self-pitying sulk and a large glass of wine.

The trouble with submissions - and the inevitable rejections that come with them - is that you go in totally blind. Most of the responses you get are form letters, typed up years ago to send to every 'No thank you' submission. Without feedback, it's hard to understand why your writing is being rejected.

Are my characters flawed? 
Did I write the cover letter wrong?
Was my synopsis lacking?
Is my writing just terrible?

Of course, agencies are overwhelmed. They don't have time to give critique on every submission. But it's still pretty rough to be on the receiving end, with no hints to help you improve.

All I can do right now is keep trying. But I can't help but wonder if I ought to change something. (Re-write? Edit? Start again? Something!) Ultimately, I am SO proud of 'Grey Sister' and I love the story and the characters as they first appeared. But I realise it isn't perfect and that knowledge gives the rejections room to itch.

 As well as submissions, I've also started writing Book Two in the 'Ellorah' series. It's lovely to be back at the beginning again, planning new plots and creating new characters. I can't wait to explore Thea's story more. 

I hope I have some better news next month...

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Rejection #2

Date Submitted: 3rd May 2014

Date of Rejection: 24th May 2014

Response Time: 15 working days (3 weeks)

Rejection Type: Form, no further request.


I was better prepared for the rejection note this time and I wasn't so upset as I was with #1. This agency was one of the less specific ones I've chosen and I approached them more for their wider experiences than because they are known to produce a lot of fantasy titles. 

The form letter was a little softer than the first and - though, of course, I know it IS just a standard response - it left me feeling a little more optimistic about my chances elsewhere. 

It probably took a little longer to hear back because the submission was sent through the post, rather than email.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Rejection #1

Date submitted: 30th April 2014

Date of Rejection: 9th May 2014

Response Time: 8 working days

Rejection Type: Form, no further request.


My very first rejection. Hurray and Huzzah! I'm part of the big leagues now.

I was more shaken by my first rejection than I thought I'd be. I was so prepared to be upbeat and, though I did expect it, it was still a little unsettling to get that first knock. No tears though, which was good since I was at work when the email came!

This was a large agency, with an established rapour and a big team of staff. I chose them because they represented an author I greatly admire *ahem*, with the dream of being on the same books as a hero of mine.

Que sera sera. Onwards and upwards! Bring on the next contender!

Friday, 9 May 2014

Birthday Book Haul...

Loath though I am to jump on the internet meme train (I'm not- I've just never had the opportunity to play with the cool kids), I thought I'd have a go at a book haul. The girls at work have me a Waterstone's voucher for my birthday, which I had a brilliant time spending...

'ACID' by Emma Pass
I picked this up after finding Pass while looking for agents. Pass is actually on the books of the very first agent I submitted to (no responses yet. My butterflies have butterflies!). I read the whole thing in two days- due to enjoyment, not shortness. 'ACID' is your standard modern-day dystopian, complete with modern-day dystopian booty-kicking heroine. I loved the premise, though it was a little disappointing that one of the biggest revelations of the book was given away in the blurb... a fun book though and a nice variation from a trilogy/series.

'Fangirl' by Rainbow Rowell 
I heard about 'Fangirl' through the artist who designed the cover art, who I happen to follow on tumblr. Having been the awkward fanfiction writing teenager myself, I couldn't wait to get my hands on this book. Rowell's writing is so lyrical and swift and deliciously funny! It was such a pleasure to read, with real gasp-out-loud drama and tummy-warming references to nerd culture that just made my little dorky soul so happy. Probably my favourite of the haul. 

'Daughter of Smoke and Bone' by Laini Taylor 
I've had my eyes on this one for a while and I've heard lots of good things about Taylor. I always love finding a new series. Can't wait! 

'The Prisoner of Heaven' by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
This was a gift from my boyfriend. It's a little different from the things I usually read (no magic, no female lead, no apparent romantic tension) so it'll be interesting to expand my horizons a little. It's all about the power of books though...

'The Wild Girl' by Kate Forsyth 
This was a spur of the moment pick-up but I loved the blurb (and the cover) so much I wanted to take a chance. The story, based on the Brothers Grimm, sounded brilliant and I'm always a sucker for a good romance! 

Happy reading to me!

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

End of April Update...

My big goal for April was to have 'Grey Sister' ready for submission. And I'm pleased to say I made it!

On Monday, the day before my big deadline (my 23rd birthday, I'm so old now), I took my big brown envelope to the post office and sent it on its merry way to the big city. A veritable Dick Whittington indeed!

I'm very conservative about the kind of reception my first submission is likely to receive. For one thing, I went for a very small, one-woman agency. This means that, while there might be more chance of my manuscript being seen, there's also a far slimmer chance that the agent is going to have the time/space on her books to take me on. However, I made sure the agency was tailored towards my genre (fantasy and young adult, even though I'm unsure about the age restrictions as of yet) and I've seen plenty of favourable recommendations, the most subtle of which describes her as "a lovely lady", which I hope will improve my chances of at least not being completely shot down. Even if I do get nothing but a rejection slip though, I'm so glad I've done it.

Last week I went to a novelist support group, run by the same group as the manuscript critique group. While I'm beginning to sound like a addict going through rehab, going to these meetings has been very helpful. Apart from anything else, writing is a lonely occupation, so meeting other people going through the same experience is always reassuring. I was also able to take away the kind of success stories that encourage me not to give up before I've tried.

There was another scary moment to confront this week, when I finally told my parents about my writing. As I've mentioned before, I've not told many people about my ambitions, so telling Mum and Dad was daunting for me. They were both so supportive though and interested to find out more about what I've been doing. I'm glad I waited until there was 'something to tell' though: I don't think I could have coped with having to answer endless questions while I was in the midst of first draft fever!

I've got another submission ready to send off in the morning (when, hopefully, I'll have figured out how to fluff that cover letter into shape) and I'm hoping to have at least one or two more sent by the end of the week. It's a really scary time, but I'm ready for the rejections to do their worst. Maybe I'll even find my Fairy God-Agent some day!

Friday, 25 April 2014

Criticism, Feedback and Confidence...

Having finished 'Grey Sister', I've been approaching that terrifying ultimatum: submission.

This, of course, means letting other people read and, inevitably, criticise my work. It's a necessary evil on the path to publication, but the first step is always the hardest and the fear of rejection will inevitably rear its head. What if the feedback is bad? What if no one likes it? What if this isn't for me after all?!

It's advisable to get feedback before launching head-first at the professionals. Giving your writing to friends and family is a great way to test the water. They'll undoubtedly give you the encouragement you need to hear and tell you what works. Of course, such lovely and supportive darlings as your nearest and dearest will probably avoid the harder truths for the sake of saving your feelings. I still think asking people you know to have a read-through is a good thing (if nothing else, it gives you a more gentle introduction to the criticism monster!). But, once you've had your pat on the back and well deserved high-fives, it's time to give yourself a bigger test.

In the past fortnight, I submitted my synopsis (aimed to attract a prospective agent) to an online forum. It was, to be honest, ripped apart. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure my critic was aiming to be helpful and I understand that my synopsis was a not-all-together-well-researched first attempt. But it was pretty hard to hear and had me scampering for the safety of my blanket and a strong glass of merlot.

Posted my synopsis for critique online…
… the first response was rough.

I've also been to a writers critique group run by my local (and lovely) writers group, who kindly allowed me to join them. Having sent in my piece (an extract from Chapter 1), all the submissions were sent out to the attending group so we could have a look through and get some ideas ready. It felt good to be able to give as well as receive feedback and gave a great feeling of support to the meeting. The group assured me beforehand that they would be gentle, but it honestly felt like such a welcoming and supportive group that I can't imagine they would ever be harsh or careless in their feedback. They were all very positive, giving everyone encouragement, as well as ideas for improvements. What criticism they did give was well thought out and always outnumbered by the positive reflections on the piece. 

It's made me realise that there are some things to remember in giving good feedback. 

Be sensitive. 

When someone lets you see their work - whether it's writing, or art, or an essay for school - you need to remember that this is something a person has worked hard on and is, most likely something they're nervous to have criticised. Focus on the positives and point out the things you think work well first. Even if it's something obvious, it's good to let them know they did well. 

Don't be unnecessarily harsh. 

If there's a problem or a repeated error, don't make a joke of it or rip it apart. Again, be sensitive. No one wants to hear that they've messed up, especially if the mistakes are given more importance than the successes. 

Be honest. 

If something doesn't work, say so. While there's no reason to be unkind, the author hasn't asked for your advice just to have their head patted. So long as it's constructive, criticism is invaluable. A writer needs to get an outside perspective to see issues they might not be able to see. Don't let your fear of offending the author stop you from offering your opinion. 

Suggest improvements.

When you see a problem, try to imagine how it could be improved. If there's a grammatical error, say what will fix it. If there's a problem with continuity, point out what's missing. Empty criticism doesn't mean much if a writer has no where to take it. 

And if you're on the receiving end...

Listen. Take notes. Don't take the criticism as an attack, because it IS there to help. But if you disagree, argue your case. No ones perfect and if you strongly believe your original choices were correct, it's within your rights to say so.

I think my forum days might be over, to be honest. But the careful support and encouragement of the writers group was so useful and really helped my confidence. If you have a considerate audience, there shouldn't be anything to fear in asking for advice.

Just be sure you're prepared to be as kind to others as you want them to be to you.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

A Day of Editing...

8:00am - Boyfriend leaves for work and I wake up. Browse the internet for a while.

9:00am - Get some coffee and eggs and start on Chapter 18.

10:20am - Get a shower and get dressed.

11:20am - Chapter 19.

11:40am: Chapter 20. Run out of coffee.

12:10pm: Chapter 21.

12:20pm: Chapter 22.

12:35pm: Get distracted by Tumblr.

1:30pm: Pasta break.

1:50pm: Back to work! Chapter 23.

2:15pm: Chapter 24. Squeal over my own characters like a ridiculous fan girl.

2:40pm: Boil kettle to make much-needed tea.

2:50pm: Chapter 25 while painting nails and drinking afore-mentioned tea.

3:20pm: Get distracted by internet again.

3:30pm: Chapter 26.

3:45pm: Chapter 27. I have such a nice computer chair, but nevertheless: my booty hurts.

4:20pm: Finish editing for the day as we're going to a party tonight (which sounds very young and cool of us until you realise it's an 80th birthday party).

Was this really boring to read? I have no idea. Ha ha. Sorry if it was!

Monday, 31 March 2014

End of March Update...

It's strange having an update without a word count. But it's been a busy month and there's been a lot happening, so I wanted to maintain the end of the month progress reports. After finishing the first draft of 'Grey Sister' at the start of the month, I've been busy with proof reading and editing.

I've completely re-written the first two chapters (kill the darlings!), which was the biggest revision I wanted to get done. An author once told me that the first 50,000 words is just about the author finding their voice and that was definitely true about my first attempts at writing! I was a little worried, when I started to read through, to see how rough that first section was. Thankfully it didn't take the whole 50k for my voice to come out and about half way through Chapter 3 I was able to convince myself that, 'it's all right, I'm not so bad at this after all'. Surprisingly the Prologue, which was the very first thing I wrote, didn't seem so bad. I was actually surprised by how much I still liked it. Maybe it's just the emotional tie I have to that first piece of the book. Perhaps an impartial eye would see it differently. I'll just have to wait and see.

I've been working through the rest of the book as well to make the big and small amendments that came up in the read through. Reading through the book as a whole first definitely helped and I can see now how easy it is to get tunnel vision during proof reading. Because I viewed it at a wider scale, I could pick out missing pieces of information, flaws in characters' relationships and inconsistencies in tone and pace. But when it came time to focus in again, I was getting so lost in sentence-to-sentence level details that it would have been impossible to see those problems I could see during the read through. Thankfully I made plenty of notes.

My next deadline is the 29th April, my birthday, by which point I want to submit the manuscript of 'Grey Sister' to at least one agency (wheeeeeze). It's terrifying, but I'm so excited to be finally reaching the point of submission. I have an endless list of jobs to do before then, most important of which is going back over the Prologue and first two chapters to get them to the point of perfection, since those are the ones that go out to agencies before the full MS (though some agencies may ask for the complete work straight away). Then it'll be a matter of writing up a decent cover letter.

Lots of work to do! Busy month ahead.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Review: The Bone Season

'The Bone Season' is the début novel by British author Samantha Shannon

Synopsis (from The Bone Season Website)
Nineteen-year-old Paige Mahoney works in the criminal underworld of Scion London. Her job is to scout for information by breaking into people’s minds. For Paige is a dreamwalker, a clairvoyant and, in the world of Scion, she commits treason simply by breathing…

'The Bone Season' is another offering to the ever-hungry Gods of The Dystopian. But Shannon really does an excellent job of expanding the genre and giving it a new stage to play on. For the first time, at least in my limited experience, we see clairvoyance, communication with the dead, used as a central magical element. Like Brandon Sanderson's 'Mistborn' trilogy (see my review here), Shannon really works hard to give the reader a new magic to wrap their heads around. And, as with Mistborn, there is plenty to learn! The huge lists of clairvoyant powers and their dissidents at the start of the book intimidated me to begin with and I must admit that even by the end I've still not quite wrapped my brain round all the limits and scope of it. 

While 'The Bone Season' is set in the year 2058, the course of history as we know it is distorted by the take over of Scion at the end of the 19th Century. This gives the setting a bizarre mix of pocket watches and ipads, which I just loved. I mean, who wouldn't want to watch TV on the tube while wearing a waistcoat and lace up boots? Its also nice to have a dystopian future set in the UK. It makes my little English heart happy.

Paige Mahoney, the main character, comes to us as a fully-formed member of the criminal underworld, which is an interesting divergence from the everyday-girl-turned-warrior you often see. It sets up for an brilliant back story and I like the fact that the reader knows this person has already had plenty of experiences even before the start of the story.

I had some struggles trying to actually buy 'The Bone Season'. Primarily because I couldn't find it! I had expected it to be in the YA section, or at the very least with Fantasy, but it was placed with the general fiction. I'm not sure if this is a positive or a negative. It's wonderful to see a book like this included in the bigger collection, but perhaps not highlighting its fantasy genre could turn potential readers away? It's an interesting question and is one that, as someone looking to promote a book to agents, a potentially very important one.

I've been excited to read 'The Bone Season' for months, ever since I first saw it. It had a huge impact on me even before I'd read it. Because, truth be told, it was what made me write 'Grey Sister'. (Beware: hopeless fangirling approaching. Please keep your arms inside the ride at all times.) Because of the author. 

(Isn't she a cutie?)
Samantha Shannon wrote, completed and published 'The Bone Season' at the age of 21, while she was at Oxford completing her degree! During my final year I barely had time to eat, never mind write a book! That someone younger than me had already come so far was a huge inspiration to me and gave me the hope that I could actually try to chase my own dream. The fact that she had written something in my preferred genre helped to. If I hadn't read her bio on the back page of 'The Bone Season', I may never have started writing. So, thank goodness for her! 

'The Bone Season' is the first in a seven-part series (oh dear, we're in for a long haul). The second book, 'The Mime Order' is out 21st October.

I'm going to give 'The Bone Season' 8 out of 10, for being such inspiration and such a fascinating introduction to the story. 

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Book Cover Dreaming...

One of my favourite ways to procrastinate is to fantasise about what kind of cover I would give 'Grey Sister' should it ever get to have one. 

I love the style of "classic" book covers, like the iconic re-designs from Penguin:

Or how about a real classic?

There's lots of newer books that also have some serious cover-appeal. The mockingjay design on the 'Hunger Games' series is a particular favourite. I'm not a fan of photographs on covers (I think they remind me a little too much of Mills and Boon paperbacks!). I much prefer typography and elegant design. These are a few favourites... 

Howls Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Though any thought of cover design is a looong way away yet, it'd still fun to play around with some ideas. I wonder what my choices say about the kind of book 'Grey Sister' is...?

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Chapter length...

One of the unique problems in writing a novel is deciding on chapter layout.

It's one of those defining elements of writing that really doesn't have any rules. Chapters can be as long or short as the author wants. But how do you decide what works best?

If you look at my monthly word count updates, you'll see I finished the draft of 'Grey Sister' with 23 chapters (plus a prologue). Having just finished the read through of the book, I've now juggled around with the chapter lengths, so that now I have 34!

That's a huge difference, especially as I haven't touched the word count at all. I ended up splitting a lot of the chapters into two because I felt they were just too long. So, how did there end up being such a big change needed?

While I was writing, I tended to form chapters around what I considered to be one major event, trying to fit one important plot point into every chapter. Reading through, I realised I have often ended up with two or three events in one chapter (or else the single event had stretched itself into such a large word count that I decided it needed to take up multiple chapters on its own). Part of the problem also comes from my inexplicable conviction that my writing is secretly very short. Even with a word count of well over a hundred thousand, I've struggled to convince myself that 'Grey Sister' was long enough. Perhaps that's why I ended up trying to cram so much into every chapter.

So, how long should a chapter actually be?

From Stephenie Myers single word chapters in 'New Moon', to Terry Pratchett's tendency to avoid chapters all together, the choices for chapter lengths is endless.

For the most part, chapters are determined by the story itself, focusing on events in the plot that round nicely into sections. Or, you can ignore the plot entirely and place chapter markers at indeterminate points to create tension or emphasise the narrative or even just to unsettle the reader.

On average, just as novels tend to be between 85-90,000 words, chapters tend to settle around the 2000-3000 word mark. Many of my chapters were already this length, but a lot were much longer. So I've used the 2/3000 standard as a starting point and found a nice fluidity in it. That being said, there's plenty of variation and a few chapters still stretch into the 5000 region. But I feel happier with having a higher number of chapters, not only because it convinces me that my book is definitely not short, but also because I think it gives the story a better flow.

Where do you stand on chapter length? Do you like them short and snappy, or long and lovely?

Friday, 14 March 2014

What comes next...

So, with the first draft of 'Grey Sister' all done, it's time to look towards the next step.

First, I need to get the manuscript all polished and shiney and lovely and not full of terrible clichés and bad grammar and oh-goodness-so-much-else. I've done a quick once-over check of the whole book, clearing away a little of the more obvious little problems (spelling, grammar, repetition etc). I'm about half way into a read through of the whole book, which should give me some perspective on any bigger issues in the book. So far, it's fairly apparent that I need to consider cutting the chapters up into smaller chunks. It's also clear that the first two chapters need a SERIOUS re-write (oh, goodness, I can't believe I started writing like that. Uuurgh.). But let's face it, eight months after writing something, there's bound to be things to change. 

Once I finished the read through, I'll start the BIG EDITING STAGE. I'm expecting this to take quite a few weeks, if not months, while I try and get 'Grey Sister' as good as I want it to be. This will include the re-writing previously mentioned as well as smaller things like grammar-checking and general polishing.

Then... (deep breath)... it'll be time to approach agents. I'm still so clueless about the whole process, but I've started to collect some idea of how to go about it and my copy of 'The Writers and Artists Yearbook 2014' is at the ready. 

So, to recap:
  1. Read through
  2. Edit
  3. Send to agents
  4. Get published
  5. Take over the world
Seems easy enough. 

Sunday, 9 March 2014


I... Oh gods, give me a moment. *Deep breath*

Ok, I'm alright. I'm good.

Right, OK, so.... I'm finished. Done. Complete.

I just wrote the final chapter of 'Grey Sister'.

For the past eight months, this has been my whole goal. Everything I've been working towards. A whole book, written from start to finish. And I've done it. I actually made it. I didn't give up half way or forget about it or move on to something else. I actually finished. And you know what?

It was easy. 

Don't get me wrong. It was hard. REALLY hard. Its been hours and hours, day after day, of work. I've not stopped thinking about writing for more than twenty minutes at a time. It's constantly on my mind, constantly wanting my attention. I've sacrificed a lot of hours that I could have been spending with friends or family or my boyfriend for it. I've put aside books I've wanted to read, stopped watching TV shows I loved, I've even cut down on my long, lovely soaks in the bath because The Book Always Comes First. I've kept working in a shop and put aside my career plans aside, passing up on job opportunities because I so wanted to do my best and try to achieve this one, stupid, outlandish dream.

The writing itself has been a huge learning curve, figuring out all the rules from scratch and working my way through plot holes and poor grammar and my constant desire to repeat the same basic writing techniques again and again (and again. See? There I go again with the triplication!)

But it's been fun. So fun. The best fun (Triplication again, dammit). Even though it was tough, writing has never actually felt like "work". I've never sat down to write and wished I could be doing something else. Even when I struggled to find the words or got stuck in a scene, I've constantly enjoyed the simple pleasure of writing.

While it has been a long time, it never really daunted me how far I still had to go. If it had been an university assignment, the idea that I would be working on it for the next who-knows how many months would have made me want to run and hide. But the only thing that's ever really scared me about writing has been finishing. Because next is the really hard bit and I'm equal parts excited and terrified to enter the publishing game.

I'm so happy that I've finally made it. I keep insisting that getting published is the main aim of all this, but actually writing a whole book has always been the biggest goal. If nothing else, even if 'Grey Sister' never comes to anything more than a series of files on my computer, I'm so glad I've done this.

So then, for one last time.

The word count, as of 9th March, 2014 is:

135, 917.
Eight months since starting. Prologue and twenty three chapters. 

Now, where's my champagne? 

Sunday, 2 March 2014

End of February Wordcount...


Prologue, twenty chapters and a quarter.
Seven + months since starting.

Only a few days late! Oops. There's been a lot going on story-wise this month and there's been some scenes I've been looking forward to writing for months and months, which has really helped speed me up. I'm someone who definitely likes to write chronologically, so its exciting to start reaching the end. 

There was one chapter in particular I had real struggles with this month and it bogged me down for quite a while. It was a scene I felt was important for the characters, but not very interesting for the reader so I had some difficulty trying to get over that and just get it written so I could move on. Hopefully when I go back to it I'll be able to see it a little clearer and hopefully get it polished up better. 

Not much more to go now. March may be my very last progress update! Eeek!

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Review: The Mistborn Trilogy

(Image from: MCMbuzz)
((Isn't the cover art just gorgeous?!))

The Mistborn Trilogy is a high fantasy series by acclaimed novelist Brandon Sanderson

I actually picked up the first book, 'The Final Empire', in a second-hand charity bookshop here in York. I tend to find a lot of books this way and buying pre-loved means getting to know books that aren't necessarily in the lime light any more. It also usually guarantees that the rest of the series is already published and waiting for me when I finish! I only got a few chapters in before I knew I had to get my hands on the next two books. 

A Quick Synopsis
The trilogy opens in the dystopian world of the Final Empire, ruled over by the god-like Lord Ruler who has lived and presided over his empire for a thousand years. Vin, a street urchin in the criminal underworld, is taken into a crew of thieves planning to overthrow the Lord Ruler, lead by the charismatic and wild Kelsier. She and Kelsier both hold the power of Allomancy: the ability to draw power from metal. Tin to heighten the senses; iron to pull on metal and steel to push; pewter for strength...

The Final Empire is a beautifully dark setting, a land of grey skies and falling ash and nights of swirling mist, all brilliantly explored with delicate and thoughtful prose. The subtle introductions to the history of the Final Empire is woven with great skill into the story, creating a very natural backdrop for this dark future.

It was definitely the magic of this series that enticed me most. Using metals as a base of power is something I've not seen before and I really enjoyed how it was used in the series. Sanderson's descriptions are very visual and the fight scenes (of which there are plenty) are stunningly written.

The three volumes all had a very particular feel to them and a very particular aim. When the first book in a series has a very definitive conclusion, the sequels can sometimes struggle to create an independent (but connected) identity. 'The Well of Ascension' and 'The Hero of Ages' both have very individual identities and focus broadly on different subjects (politics, theology, power struggles, etc). I enjoyed the fact that they were all a little different and I think the development of the plot and the subjects reflects the progression of the characters and of the world of the Final Empire nicely.

I finished the final book at one in the morning, wide awake in bed, having not been able to bare putting the book down until morning. Always the sign of a good series, I think!

A brilliant series for an avid fantasy fan and good for those who, like me, want to be assured there's plenty more to read after book one.

I've yet to buy the fourth book in the series, 'Alloy of Law'. To be honest, I enjoyed the way the series was left and I feel like I need a bit of an emotional break from the trauma of such a Big Finale (sorry, spoiler alert). But it's definitely on my 'To Buy' list.

I'll give 'Mistborn' a great big 9 out of 10 for being absolutely brilliant!

Check out Brandon Sanderson

Monday, 10 February 2014

Grey Sister

The Book has a name!

Or a tentative one at least...

'Grey Sister' is the first book in the 'Ellorah' triology. A full synopsis (which, to be honest, isn't terribly informative) can be found on the 'About the Book' page.

Friday, 31 January 2014

End of January Wordcount...

110, 202. 

Prologue, sixteen chapters and a quarter. 
Six + months since starting. 

January has been another busy month for me. I only finished my extra work in the library in the last week, so time still hasn't been on my side writing wise. I also had my five year anniversary with my other half to celebrate which, of course, kept my away from my laptop (but, for a pretty nice reason, so I can forgive him).

I have, however, reached a very big milestone this month: 100k words! Really pleased to have made it to such a big milestone in my writing. It's also been a full half a year since I began The Book, which feels at once like a long time and not enough at all. The Book has become a huge part of my life and, to be totally honest, almost my entire vision for the future. I find it hard to believe that this time last year I hadn't even had the first idea for the story.

Now I'm so far into writing I'm starting to think seriously about What Comes Next. That has scared me a little and I think my pace has slowed recently because of that. Nevertheless, I'm almost finished plot wise. I figure I have three major events left before the climax, which really isn't much at all. Another 20,000 words, perhaps?

Next month I hope I can get a really good focus and start heading for the finish line in earnest....