Ideas from the shed

Shed in the woodsI’ve moved my attention across the Atlantic. With the U.S version of the Writer’s and Artists Yearbook, namely The Writer’s Market, I’m scouring for suitable agents. There’s an immediate, and promising, difference. I’m finding agents with interests in Lovecraft, weird fiction, Gaiman – they actually use those words in their bio-pic. One stated he had authors on his list who can’t define their genre, but get labelled as thriller, horror and supernatural writers. He went on to say that none of those genres fit precisely, but defining creative work into boxes isn’t always possible. Delightful.

I officially hit thirty submissions last night. Every time I hear how many rejections Harry Potter received the number changes. At this stage, the higher numbers are sweet, sweet music. Something like sixty-seven was the last number I heard. I appreciate that many of my submissions could have been to the wrong person, or arrived when a list was full.Hopefully, I can do it in quicker time than J.K.

Not all responses (rejections) have been automatic responses either. Many have been complementary and referenced parts of my manuscript as being engaging, ‘something I would love to publish’, and ‘with a wonderful twist.’ These comments are heartwarming, they bump the confidence into submitting again. I think I’ll cry for a week when someone responds with, ‘Let’s get to work.’

The follow-up to A Plague of Ladybirds hasn’t received words-on-page for a little while. My focus has been on the structure and my desire for dynamic character interaction. The common-place book is bursting with goodness. I hope all that goodness, written in my barbed-wire handwriting, is decipherable when I need it.

This week I am off work. The job is heavy and wearing – it eats into creativity. So I am resting…as fast as possible. My method for relaxing, in what remains of the week, is to write a short story for fun. At the bottom of the garden, inside the shed, a painting is coming together; something else I’ve been working on. The painting, however, is a scene from the final stages of this short story.

So, off for fun.

In phase with WIP ‘Out of Phase’.

trimdon400I’m feeling better this week, the cure: Writing. I’m living my humble dream of being a full-time writer…for a week. One week off work and I’m bristling with creativity. Today is day four, I have 2,500 first draft words on the page.  My schedule for each day this week has been: Wake up, write, coffee, write, family! In the evenings, I’ve read over the manuscript (if such a small collection of words can be called a manuscript) and edited as necessary.

Surprises of the week so far have included achieving small chapter structure. A practise that seems popular is to have bite size pieces of text that the reader can consume quickly. I find, as a particularly slow reader, that this encourages me to push on to the next break…and the next break. Facing off against forty pages before the next chapter can be intimidating.

I had anticipated that the plot outline I have for chapter one would be a full 10,000 words, yet I seem to have the shell of it in 2,500. Not to worry, I’ve already identified places that need character back story so I would imagine the chapter will bulk up before having Stephen King’s 10% cut from it.

Song of the week whilst writing? A rather lively, ‘Chandelier’ by Sia; a cautionary tale about not drinking too much. I’m not a party girl and I haven’t got hurt this week, so perhaps the song has been therapeutic. My mellow playlist that I planned to listen to whilst writing, was a bit of failure. I work best with one track on repeat for hour after hour. This was a strategy I used at university – it’s still a useful tonic to focus my attentions.

Submissions happened again last week. Once again, lovely agents in England with friendly engagement. I can only hope to meet their standards, vacancies and tastes. After sending in the manuscript/synopses/cover letter, I noticed that the manuscript page header said, ‘A Plague of Ladybirds – 2014.’ I wonder if I should change the year to 2015? It’s improbable that the book is aging like wine and, untouched, will be a masterpiece by 2020. Although, if I leave it, does it say, ‘This manuscript wasn’t just finished as a first draft and sent in’? These are the unnecessary mental tortures of a submitting writer.

As I write/plan this second book I have noted one or two small changes for APOL. Oh, and at the moment this second WIP book is titled, ‘Out of Phase.’ Doesn’t really say spooky-shit-in-the ladybird-universe does it. Plenty of time for an innovative title yet. My deadline calendar predicts May 2016 for completion of the first draft. If I could enjoy spending my time writing, as I have done this week, that deadline would shrink by months.

While the embers glow, there is life.


Book number two steams forth, thanks to a solid playlist and a calendar of deadlines. However, I may have misjudged how to start a second novel. 

When commencing APOL, my enthusiasm was bristling and, after a modicum of planning, I just wrote.  Later in APOL, I wish I’d planned more and knew my characters better. I needed to rewrite a lot in order to line everything up the way I wanted it. This dilemma, however, doesn’t seem to be cured by ‘over-planning’; something of the chicken and the egg about this conundrum.

It’s very difficult to know how your characters will act in a situation without knowing who they are.  Equally, it’s a bit of a bastard to decide who your characters are without knowing what they will be challenged by. Which scenes will sparkle with which type of character? I’ve used my basic, ‘That would be cool to see’ model, plus character archetypes, plus historical research – I’m finding it difficult to find a great reference for how coal miners cut into the coalface in the late 1940’sUK.

Of course, with a polished manuscript – yet to be accepted by an agent/publisher – under my belt, the crushing lack of self-confidence slows progress too. When writing a first draft, I must ignore the years of work that went into the previous writing.  The manuscript has years of work in it.  The line I am writing now has just been born.  I musn’t accuse my newborns of being inept young adults.

To aid in Book Two efforts, I’ve booked myself a week off work and home alone at the end of July. This needs to be serious; I need to spend decades being creative. The sooner I can get to a standard – the sooner I can live creatively. This is my mid-life crisis talking now…yet I have to listen.  I’m forever fearful of being on my death bed and wondering why I never tried.  Now is the time to achieve, work hard.  Fuck, I sound like a motivational tape.

This last month did see a rejection from a publisher that really upset me. Strangely, I initially told this publisher my manuscript wasn’t for them.  I gave my elevator pitch and brief synopsis with the goal of having them suggest OTHER suitable publishers who may be interested. Yet, after this, they asked to have a look themselves. In here, somewhere, a spark of hope ignited. When that spark was extinguished, the hurt grated more than other rejections/silences.  It’s a horrible business. The embers of hope remain, I need to feed them.

Irons need to be added to the fire. I’m sure it’s a matter of waiting for the right publisher, or agent, on the right day.

Not really a shit sandwich format today, rather a nice slice of crusty loaf sitting on a cowpat.  The final turd I have to dump here is a gripe with casual readers. If you are a hobbyist writer, doing it for fun, you’ll give your stories to friends and they’ll tell you how great you are.  Once you declare that you are writing seriously, everybody you give your work to – no matter how well you know them – no matter what their level of writing proficiency – no matter how informal their request for a read – will return to you with a critique of how your work didn’t satisfy them.

I am a writer.
Here to entertain and thrill.
Please insert complaints.

…and out on a haiku.

A Broken Wallflower Snail

season-of-the-friendly-snails-by-gilles-tranBack in November 2014 I asked, ‘Shouldn’t I be waiting months for a response?’  Well, it’s May 2015.  I estimate I have submitted the novel twenty to twenty-five times.  The majority of these have been to agents (after the panic in November last year).  Obviously, there is a trick to writing, an art to editing and now, I’m finding, a method to submitting.

I think I have a system for the former two, however, submitting my novel has been odd.  The manic beast that was my writing habit, has slowed to whimpering snail pace; I have a cracked shell and one of my antennae is twitching.  I think I have a ‘completionist’ mentality; I have a need to see things through to the end before moving on.  This compulsion is useful for writing and editing, yet a complete life-handbrake whilst submitting.

Waiting on others is the reason I enjoy writing; all the demands are on me.  I answer to my own deadlines, and make sure they’re met.  Each time I send out a batch of submissions, I fall a little-bit-in-love with each agent and I hope it will be THEM that responds.  This makes it hard to respond to other agents afterwards.  It’s like asking a girl out in high school, and then another…and another…and then it’s Thursday and you think, ‘She’s cute.’

So, I haven’t got it figured out.  The good news is I have been asked for full manuscripts, from amazing agencies.  I am still a wallflower, however, a creepy, snail-like wallflower.  My focus must now be on a second book.  Regardless of the destiny of APOL, I need to make a second book.  So today, I’m making an Arnold J. Rimmer class schedule.  I will forward this schedule to some of you: a list of deadlines for Character development – Chapter by Chapter beat points – Chapter completion – and First draft completion.  Once that is out there, I’ll be too afraid to fail and the gears of manic writing should start to turn.

Eight is many, many, many too few.

despair_by_astridle-d60lux7I finish January with a little spark of life.  In October last year, I completed a mass of submissions; a volume of work so large, I recently took time out to count how many agents had received my work.  My cup of tea had barely stopped swirling.  In the bin, the teabag still perspired with Earl Grey’s sweat.  Before me, I had the number: eight.

Eight was not as vast as the number of submissions I had envisaged.  I honestly think, following my manuscript assessment, that I’d acquired a little…er…confidence.  The cold wind howls and a tumbleweed tumbles across an icy tundra…it had rolled a long way.  As I wrote last month, my rejections were very supportive.  Since then, I’ve had a conversation with a lovely publisher (who rejected my manuscript) who also offered praise for the book.

The spark?  Well after looking at the number EIGHT, I realised that it needed to be much larger.  Didn’t J.K have fifty or sixty rejections?  I employed assistance, my wife lay on the bed with ‘The Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook’, whilst I scoured the internet.  She called out UK agent names and I read their websites – I hope they appreciate that some of us do try to find an engaging match with both company and agent.

On one agent’s page, they recommend that a writer’s submission will be immediately thrown out if emoticons are used.  This kind of information fills me with the confidence that tells me, ‘You’re already beating someone.’  The race however, is to be the first out of thousands.  Another site recommends, ‘Don’t address us by another agent’s name.’…brilliant, that’s two people I can do better than.

Today, the submission count is at seventeen.  I think I’ve fallen in love with the idea of working with all nine of the new contacts.  As the submissions pile up, it becomes more apparent that I need:
The right agent, on the right day, with the right needs and the right publishing contact in mind.

Next weekend: I’M HOME ALONE!  Debauchery – excesses – wild abandon…
…are all things that won’t happen.  Instead, I think The Hollow needs a kick in the backside.  I’ve never written a short story over such a long period of time.  I usually tear through the first draft and then edit it for the rest of eternity.  Writing the first draft for, The Hollow has been like building a Lego car, except the bricks are arriving one at a time via sea mail.  Well, let’s see what happens next weekend, maybe a bulk order will arrive.

Fuelled by Christmas Wine

Merry Face-SSwamp Monstertuffing!  As I drift off into a post lunch coma, I will attempt to write this month’s blog.  Fuelled by two-to-three wines I will try to report what’s been happening in December?  There have been a few very positive responses to my novel, but silence rules most of all.  I have received two rejection emails and, after eight weeks, about six to eight non-responses.  I am still agent and publisher bereft.

I’m happy with the rejections as they were both extremely polite.  They said that they had enjoyed the work…but it just wasn’t ‘what they were looking for.’  One of the respondents indulged me with their reader’s feedback, which was very kind.  I believe, to my credit, one of the companies who rejected the story didn’t get what I was trying to do.  Ultimately, this is always my fault, however, I’m still not keen to ‘dumb the novel down’ at this stage.

In last month’s blog, I made the observation that submitting one’s novel required a steady stream of submissions.  I have immediately ignored this rule…to my own detriment.  If the agents who haven’t responded, don’t respond, then I’m at least eight weeks off hearing anything new.  I need to submit-submit-submit.

There is one publisher, whom I have submitted the novel to, that I hope will still get back to me.  I love their stuff and would love to be part of growing with them.

As for new writing – that never stops.  I have started another Greysham short story titled, ‘The Hollow’.  It has been in the works for years and I’m enjoying the first draft.  I’m playing with the idea of a narrator disliking another character for being similar to himself.  In this exercise, I have Poppy making a guest appearance.  Initially, a character is rather sexist towards her.  She puts him in his place – as Poppy can do.  The narrator observes this and reports what a pig the man is.  He then journals his own lustful thoughts, almost in unison with the man he despises.

It’s a weird exercise to attempt.  I risk losing the reader’s trust in the narrator at this point.  Perhaps the double standard the narrator exhibits will be viewed as false…it’s an illustration of ‘thoughts’ that maybe covered in polite interaction.  I think the issue is an interesting one, and will hopefully provoke thought.

Now…back to my coma…ZZzzzz…..

A Collective-Noun of Submissions

BrokenWithin forty-eight hours of the first collective-noun of submissions, I received a response.  Well, that’s not how it’s supposed to work, shouldn’t I be waiting for months…in silence…checking the mail…watching the inbox…tick, tick, tick.  The response was positive, too: ‘Please send the rest of your novel.’ I had initially provided the first three chapters as required.  They loved the premise of the book, and ‘the writing caught our attention.’  Within a fortnight, this happened twice again.  By this time, naturally, I started to panic.

I realised that if a publisher made me an offer, I might not know what to do.  I would need an agent.  Therefore, during this first round of submissions, I changed gears from submitting to publishers to only submitting to agents.  It seemed like a step I would need to take anyway – so why not now.

Most submission outlines declare that the author should wait eight weeks before considering their efforts a failure.  After my blistering start, I immediately ceased further submissions and waited for more promising news.  Another forty-eight hours passed and nothing.  It hasn’t even been a month since my first submission, and I think I’ve become a little spoilt.  Submitting your novel tip #1: Keep sending out the manuscript.  If I reach the second week of December without hearing from anyone, I don’t want to be starting all over again.  A steady trickle out, should mean a chance of a steady trickle of return.

In a small act of artistic cross-pollination here in the journal, I’m going to try and have guest artists for the thumbnail.  I will attach a link to their website, so that if you like their stuff you can buy it.  If you are an artist and would like me to like to you, please get in touch through one of the many ways…here, social-media, blah, blah.

Finally, the ideas for Greysham-shorts have been flooding my idle thinking time.  I hope to sit down beneath Plushy-Cthulu and start work on a new tale tonight.  I’ve been mapping it out for a few weeks and I think it deserves a chance at life.

Thanks to everyone who is now supporting the blog – I really appreciate your interest, time and well wishes.

Blushing my way to a better book.

Rick BerryThis week the ‘journey within’ has become the ‘journey without’.  Hopefully, it won’t be without good fortune.  It’s all about having the right person out there read the book.

Since May, I have been hammering away at John Harman‘s Manuscript Assessment.  Fortunately, his remarks were full of praise and the list of recommendations were short.  I was still conscious of getting the changes correct.  As a result, I found myself interviewing a Consultant Psychiatrist colleague on what the mindset of a strong feminine woman might be.  Her answer inspired one of my favourite scenes in the book.  I believe, Poppy grew as a character because of my efforts in questioning my work-mate…despite my stuttering and blushing and repeated assurances that, ‘it’s for my book.’

I sent three new scenes off to friends for feedback.  When I thought the passages were close to complete, I sent them on to John and then wove them into the book.  After this I tweeted that a new anxiety had been born…the worry over opening the document and accidentally placing a comma, or a space where there should not be one.  Copies of the manuscript appeared on different hard drives, dropbox, thumb drives…all needing to be updated when the smallest change had occurred.  The time to submit the book had arrived.

So back to this week, a week off work.  I’ve been scouring the Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook, the internet and chatting to writers about what and whom they know.  Submissions have begun.

As I started this process I noted that this website looked dowdy.  The cobwebs were cool, but ‘the house’ needed a spring clean.  Hence, the new theme – I just hope it all works.  Fortunately, I’ve been doing a lot of preparation for this moment…yet, you don’t know, what you don’t know.  At the end of the day, it is for art reasons that all of this is done.  The dream is still big though.  Henry, Charles and Poppy have set sail.

I’ll blog progress as it happens…I hope you’ll join me.

Fragment, oil painting © 2014 Rick Berry
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