I’ve Published a Thing. Or Two.

When I started this blog, part of the purpose was to keep a record of what I was doing writing-wise, both for myself and for anyone else at a similar (beginner) stage with their writing. So there have been posts about redrafting, sending manuscripts to literary agents and, swiftly afterwards, rejection. What there haven’t been many of is posts about successes, or getting something published. So I’m slightly baffled as to why I’ve published two things in quick succession recently and not mentioned them here.

Whoops.

Longtime readers will know that I’ve been working on three or four different novels over the last few years. A couple of years ago I posted about trying to write a game (I play more games than I read novels at the mo, so it seemed sensible). Unsurprisingly that involved learning a lot of new skills as I was trying to do it all myself, including art, animation and sound. After playing around with it for a while, I realised any finished piece wasn’t actually going to show off anything good writing-wise. Because I was struggling so much with all the other bits, the actual writing itself was almost an afterthought (which is something that could be extrapolated out to a sizeable percentage of actual games, now that I think about it). I was aware of software like Twine that can be used to make primarily text-based games (or Interactive Fiction depending on who you ask), but after a few cursory experiments I got distracted by novels again.

This summer however, at a bit of a crossroads with my various projects, I went on a week-long Twine summer school at the British Library and it’s kickstarted a few new ideas. I went to the course knowing what story I wanted to work on – it’s a horror story about people living in a squat and an ancient evil under the streets of London. I’ve been wondering what to do with it for a couple of years and couldn’t quite decide if it was a novel, a script or what. So taking it into a different medium seemed like a good way to actually get somewhere with it. Halfway through the course I realised that it was too big a project to actually utilise some of the techniques we were learning in the given time, so I swapped to something a bit lighter. And a few weeks after the course finished I published my first game.

Understudied places you as the understudy in a rock musical version of Macbeth. It’s three hours until press night and the star is ill. You must step up to the role having not rehearsed, and try to muddle you way through with generally pretty disastrous results… It takes about 15 minutes to play and is available here.

Now, that was pretty pleasing. I’ve been working on novels for a fair few years now, and not had a single thing published. While I’m not snooty about self-publishing, it’s not something I’ve wanted to pursue myself just yet. But with the Twine projects it feels a lot more free to finish (and test) it, then hit publish. And then it’s out there and, hopefully, able to be enjoyed.

But the title says I’ve published two things. Because with unerring timing I published Understudied a day before I looked up IFcomp, an annual interactive fiction competition. And one of the rules of IFcomp is that the entry can’t have been published previously. I love a deadline though, so with only six weeks to go before entries had to be in I decided to make my second game. Ostrich is altogether a less upbeat affair than Understudied. You start out as an advertising compliance officer for the government. But after a populist party rises to power the advertising rules start to tighten up, and then it’s not just adverts that you have to amend… And in the background you can choose how to spend your evening, get a sense of what’s happening in the country and, most importantly, decide how you will get through it all. Do you have a line in the sand, or is your head buried in it (ooh, that’s a better tagline than I’ve had for it so far)? That, along with more than 70 other entries, is available here. Judging is open to anyone who plays at least five games, and there’s some great stuff in there.

So there we go. It feels very strange to have two bits of creative writing finally published and able to pointed at. So strange that I have neglected pointing at them!

You may also remember me posting about a short film that I wrote and starred in. Well my partners in crime/doofusing have finished up the edit and it is 100% complete. I can’t share it yet as I’m planning on entering it into a few film festivals (like IFcomp, most festivals frown upon a film being available to the general public pre-festival). I imagine it will be the talk of Cannes soon enough. It’s silly and fun, and hopefully another thing that I can point to as an example of my writing.

This year feels like a few things have really come together and projects have gone from being things that I work on indefinitely with nothing tangible to show, to being out there and available and, of course, utterly nerve-wracking. But that’s part of the fun I guess.

What next? Well there’s still that horror game I want to write, and I’m thinking of using the structure of Understudied as a shortcut to making some more games. And now I’ve self-published games, I might take another look at one of my novels and see if that’s something I’d want to self-publish too.

If you have some spare time and haven’t tried Understudied or Ostrich yet, I’d love to know what you think.

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Finding an Ancient Manuscript

This week I’ve come to understand how all those Victorian explorers must have felt plundering Egyptian tombs and ancient temples. And not because I’ve started taking laudanum.

I posted recently about just fucking doing it, and in that spirit I dove back into planning a novel that I was working up a year or two ago. But at the same time I remembered that I had a whole manuscript sitting in a box that, upon completion, I’d never read. And so I read it.

And so I read it.

When I first started trying to write a novel I entered NaNoWriMo 2009 and ended up with my first ever beginning-middle-end longform story. It was called Hello Summertime and stretched to about 50,000 words (on the short side for something that might actually get published). And it was, of course, a right old mess. At that point I was a dedicated pantser, someone who thought planning a novel would kill the fun of writing. These days I’m quite the opposite because frankly, the plot was godawful.

Anyway, I wrote a few other short bits and bobs, and the first drafts of a couple of other novels. Along the way I did more research about how to plan a novel, plot structure and all that good stuff. So when I was letting a draft of a different novel sit, I started planning and then comprehensively rewrote the whole of Hello Summertime from scratch. The (sort of) second draft was 95,000 words. And then I put it to one side. That was in 2013 or thereabouts.

I’ve just finished rereading the manuscript and that’s where the explorer analogy comes in. Some of it I remember, some not at all. It’s like delving through the mind of me from 5 years ago and looking at what was occupying my thoughts, what themes were on my mind…. and what words I was overusing (anything involving walking/moving/stepping/heading and looking/staring/gazing fyi).

There’s a lot in there that’s reminiscent of themes in other stuff I’m working on. I once heard an interview with Emma Thompson about her dad, the Magic Roundabout creator. In it she said that people often write where they need healing, which is something I think about a lot. Is that why Stephen King often has alcoholic father figures in his books? I’m pretty sure that’s why my themes go the way they do (which I may talk about in a different post, but I’m not drunk enough today).

Anyway, like those Victorian explorers (or Indiana Jones, just to mix it up a bit) I must now decide whether the manuscript belongs in a museum, or whether I should try and flog it to the highest bidder. And it’s tricky. The novel is in rough shape in places, but seems pretty fixable. The language is very basic and full of repetition, but polishing the language is a job for further down the line. It’s the flow of the plot and characterisation that is more pressing.

As an aside, one of the reasons I let it sit originally is that it’s on a topic that was suddenly pretty overwhelmed a few years ago. The first draft was about a zombie apocalypse, though in the rewrite I got rid of the zombies. My heart wasn’t in it, so to speak. I was (and am) more interested in the emptiness of the world after a plague or similar rather than the shambling hordes. And it’s always people who are the real baddies in zombie stuff anyway.

But do you know what else is interesting? The new novel I’m planning full of ghosts and psychedelic cults. So I’ve come up with what I think is an alright plan… I’m going to spend the next couple of months doing a mild redraft of Hello Summertime to fix some of the glaringly obvious stuff. I’ve put together a bit of a writing schedule for myself as well as a deadline, as otherwise nothing will happen. I’m also going to dedicate a few spots of writing time to working up a one page synopsis of my new project. Then I’m going to send both off for a pro critique, see what the feedback and let that help me decide where to spend my time.

So I’ve come up with what I think is an alright plan… I’m going to spend the next couple of months doing a mild redraft of Hello Summertime to fix some of the glaringly obvious stuff. I’ve put together a bit of a writing schedule for myself as well as a deadline, as otherwise nothing will happen. I’m also going to dedicate a few spots of writing time to working up a one page synopsis of my new project. Then I’m going to send both off for a pro critique, see what the feedback and let that help me decide where to spend my time.

I want to be done with the redraft by the end of April at the latest, so hopefully I’ll have a better idea of how I want to spend the rest of my writing year in May.

The only fly in the ointment is that I’ve had an idea for turning the first part of Hello Summertime into a one man stage show and am Quite Excited about it. But that can wait until May, right?

Writing About Writing (For Once)

One of the original purposes of this blog was to document any successes or pitfalls I had as I tried to get a novel published. You might have spotted that more recently it’s been a lot of film review stuff (though I like to think the Chain Reaction Film Club posts end up saying more about me than the films themselves) and some noodling about video games. That’s because I’ve fallen into the deadliest pitfall of all – not actually doing any writing. Why haven’t I been writing? I dunno. A combination of factors from the risible to the more serious. Partly I blame Southern Rail.

I changed my commute about two years ago because Southern became too unreliable. I used to write on my way to and from work – somewhere between an hour and an hour and quarter of beautiful writing time. But that’s not possible on my new commute. Also, I shared a pro-critique of the novel I thought I’d finished a while back. And while it was positive in places, it also confirmed some things I feared about the manuscript. And I think it probably knocked me back a little further than I let on. Hey ho, that’s the creative life isn’t it.

And the novel I have been working on in the interim, the one about the teenage punk band and the devil, well… the second half is really not coming together for some reason. I’ve got what I think is a kick ass first half, somewhere around 60,000 words but… Well. I’ll work it out at some point.

But it’s a new year, and I’m pissed off with my lack of creativity. So instead of bang my head against The Judas Tattoo (or We Are The Scene or whatever I end up calling it) I’m turning my attention to one of the other books I’ve had in the back of my mind for a couple of years. I read though most of my notes today, a form of archaeology of the self, and got quite excited about it – there’s a more coherent plot than I remembered for a start.

When I started planning it the main character was intended to be a trans woman. Over the last few years since I started it’s become increasingly clear that there’s a bit of trans tokenism going on (I work in TV advertising, so I’ve seen the tokeniest, believe me). And while I do think my character was more than tokenly trans, I also don’t think I want to try and appropriate that experience out of something akin to pure curiosity (and empathy). So I decided today to have a cisgender female protagonist which will be a sort of first for me. Somewhere I’ve got a second draft of a zombie novel which is about 60% male POV, 40% female, but I haven’t read it since finishing a few years back.

It’s about ghosts, psychic terrorists, a kick-ass photographer of derelict spaces, judgement, death and guilt. And there’s stuff set in the 60s psychedelic revolution as well as present day. And some really creepy mummification. But the cutesy version is that it’s Chloe Price (from Life Is Strange) vs Edith Manning (from The Invisibles) vs John Dee (from beyond the grave). That’s all very exciting to me, and I may write more about it here as it develops. We’ll see.  It means I get to read lots of esoteric nonsense, which always makes me happy.

On a completely separate project, I may be doing a thing. I’ve written a short script for a two hander play or film, and the person I’m working on it with has very sensibly stuck a deadline on when we’re going to do something with it by. So hopefully by the end of the Easter hols I’ll have some news about a short film (that doesn’t involve ghosts, magick or other esoterica for once). Everything’s too scary until there’s a deadline, then you just have to work and fucking do it. So here’s hoping I just work and fucking do it.

@BornToPootle

 

Conflict-averse protagonists

It’s been a little while since I wrote about my own writing – sadly that’s because I haven’t been doing a huge amount of it. I’ll get back in the saddle soon I’m sure.

One of the problems is that I’m a little stuck in all of my usual go-to projects, and I don’t want to start something new as I’ve got so many juicy (albeit stalled) things under way already.

I can’t remember what I last posted about my novel A Calling-on Song so I’ll do a quick catch-up: I had it all nice and finished, sent it off to agents with no luck; I paid for a professional critique from one of the market leaders in such things; feedback was very useful and identified a few things which I’d been sort-of aware of and hoped had been buried beneath awesomeness.

The main issue highlighted was my main character, Robin. He still came across as too passive or stand-off-ish. One of the things this meant was that it’s unbelievable that the people who tag along with him and lend assistance would actually bother. This stems from the very initial draft and, rather than pluck the problem out and solve it, I wrote around it. I came up with motivations and reasons to excuse it all that fitted neatly into the narrative. Four drafts on and it’s much more daunting to tackle!

In the mornings before work I watch 20 minutes of a TV show. Over the years its been everything from an episode of The Simpsons or Friends to a smidge of The Wire to a variety of costume dramas. Right now I’m part way through a rewatch of Pushing Daisies, half-episode at a time. If you haven’t seen it I can’t recommend it highly enough – it’s not a big commitment as there were only 2 relatively short series. Just like Firefly it left me wanting much more, and just like Firefly it’s excellent.

The general premise is that the MC, a piemaker by trade, has the power to bring anything back to life with a touch. A second touch will permanently kill what was brought back. If something or someone is brought back for more than 60 seconds then something else close by will die in its place. He uses the power to help a private detective solve murders (obviously). The whole tone borrows very heavily from Amelie and it’s a lovely, romantic, funny and touching confection.

Anyway, the reason I bring it up is that the MC is very risk-averse, both physically and emotionally. He is stand-off-ish and often reactive rather than proactive. He wants, by and large, a normal life and to be left alone. And it works very well. This desire for a smooth ride causes tension among the other characters and, due to his use of his power, leads to secrets and intrigue. The characters that surround him are all very proactive, from the private detective starting new cases to the MC’s brought-back-to-life childhood sweetheart who wants to make the most of her new lease of life.

I’ve tried for a similar set up – my MC keeps the causes of some of his strange behaviour to himself, hoping his life will return to normal. Around him friends and colleagues poke and prod and investigate and suppose as they try to help or further their own agendas (or both). 

So why isn’t it working for me? 

A couple of considerations: maybe the critiquer is ‘wrong’. This is a dangerous door to open – disregarding what someone thinks of my novel is not something I intend to do, particularly if they’re a professional in the field! And it’s something I was deep down aware of to boot!

Perhaps its down to likeability? Despite his stand-off-ishness The Piemaker is very likeable thanks to a combination of both the script and performance. I may need to work on my MC, as I don’t have a top actor to rely on…

Another consideration is that the viewer doesn’t solely follow the Piemaker in Pushing Daisies. My novel is 3rd person, but we only follow the MC. Is this too much of a halfway house? Maybe committing to 1st person or pulling the ‘camera’ back to follow other characters would bring the dynamic that I’m lacking.

The Piemaker is pulled into scrapes partially because of his work with the detective. And he is only useful to the detective because of his power. My MC doesn’t really have a power or useful quality that his friends are lacking. So maybe that’s a key. They should need him for something as much as he ends up needing them…

There’s always the possibilty that it doesn’t work in Pushing Daisies. I mean, I love it of course. But it was cancelled after 2 short seasons so can’t have been wildly popular at the time. Could it be that I have a predilection for these kinds of characters, but popular appeal isn’t there?

And one final thought – maybe these kinds of characters are better suited to a visual medium. Characters who are ‘numb’ generally work better in film than on the page. Perhaps it’s the same for the risk-averse.

If you’ve got any suggestions of books featuring stand-off-ish characters trying desperately to cling to a normal life do let me know.

@BornToPootle

A Sketch and A Podcast

I’ve got a couple of exciting developments to report, which makes a nice change!
It’s an oft-used mantra that creativity comes from adversity. I haven’t really noticed a direct correlation in that for myself, other than a bout of songwriting while I was deeply unhappy in my late teens/early twenties. However, that’s all changed!

Like many of my friends, I’ve been bemoaning the recent political developments in the UK. So much so, that I put pen to paper and wrote a few topical/political sketches and songs. After a couple of non-starters I sent some sketches over to NewsRevue.

If you’re unfamiliar with NewsRevue, it’s a theatrical topical sketch show at the Canal Café Theatre that has been running for two decades. Every couple of months the cast and director are refreshed, and sketches are chosen on a weekly basis, or more often depending on what’s going on in the news. I even had an unsuccessful audition for their cast many moons ago! If you’re London-based I’d recommend heading down, it’s always a fun evening.

Anyway, the first bit of good news I’ve got to report is that one of my sketches was used. So now I’m a performed comedy writer, which is pretty cool. Just one sketch for now, but it’s a nice boost in what’s been a relatively unsuccessful year writing-wise.

On to the second exciting thing – I’m co-hosting a new podcast. You’ve no doubt noticed that my most recent few posts have been about videogames. Well rather than hijack my blog to be primarily about games, I’ve set up The Conversation Tree Podcast with my partner in crime Lydia Palmese.

We’re both narrative junkies and will be focussing more on analysis than reviewing per se. We’re particularly interested in how games reflect society and vice versa and will be looking at mixture of old, new, and upcoming titles. Given that we’re avid cinema-goers we’ll also be tackling films in the same vein to a degree, and even some of the odd events we pootle to around London town.

You can find the first episode of the podcast here or over on iTunes. Over the coming weeks I’ll work on getting it up in a few more places besides. You can also follow @TheConvoTree on Twitter if you’re feeling sociable (as well as my @BornToPootle account if you haven’t already). New episodes will be up every fortnight and feedback is more than welcome. We’re both new to podcasting, so tips will be gratefully received.

Discovery Day at Foyles

Today was Discovery Day at the Foyles book shop on Charing Cross Road. What that means is that a load of agents from Conville & Walsh and Curtis Brown had foolishly agreed to meet a massive load of authors and listen to hundreds of novel pitches.

I’ve written a fair bit about pitching generally (and specifically) while touting my novel A Calling-on Song (update: it needs a bit of a redraft and is waiting in my queue of projects to work on). What I hadn’t done to date though, was pitch my novel to an agent in person. Bearing that in mind I prepared a pitch for the novel I’m currently working on, which is roughly 50% complete and 50% drafted/plotted.

The Discovery Day Setup

Foyles

The view from the queue

I had been allotted a time slot, so was allowed into the queue (long, but well managed don’tcherknow). Awaiting me at the top was an agent looking for two things: a 30 second verbal pitch, and the first page of my novel. That’s all they were after.

I heard someone in the queue likening the experience to an X Factor audition. I think that’s a little unfair – X Factor seems predominantly about revelling in other people’s misery, humiliation and lack of self-knowledge (I’m not a fan). This, as the blurb promised, was more like speed dating. No-one would witness my soaring success or crashing failure apart from me and the agent, and maybe, just maybe, a long and fruitful relationship would come out of it all.

30 Seconds Of Glory

I reached the front of the queue, clutching my pitch notes and first page in an increasingly sweaty hand. Then it was time and I was led across the room to sit opposite an agent. Her surname was the same as one of the most famous/infamous magickal figures of the last couple of hundred years, which I took to be a good omen – my novels tend towards magick with a ‘k’ after all. We introduced ourselves and then it was showtime.

As I’ve written before, distilling a novel full of odd characters, weird cults and all sorts of dramatic goings on down into a handful of sentences is both gut-wrenching and necessary. This is what I came up with for this event, though I think it’s a bit on the long side in hindsight:

“When a teenage punk trio sell their souls to the wrong devil, the fate of all music hangs in the balance. Reuben James was the original guitarist with We Are The Scene, back before they were famous. Now he’s the most hated man on the planet. Blamed by tabloids and fans alike after the death of We Are The Scene’s singer, it’s time for Reuben to reveal the truth behind their stratospheric rise and tragic fall. This isn’t sex and drugs and rock and roll; this is small town toilet venues, revenge and ancient magick.”

Once that was done, the agent asked me a few questions: was it my first novel – nope, but would be my first to be published. Did I think it was stronger – yup, a much more active main character for starters. Where did the idea come from – mashing together some of my favourite things, together with a great deal of time spent at the Tunbridge Wells Forum in my youth, both watching and playing. That sort of thing.

And then?

She read the first page. Asked if it was a horror novel (more urban fantasy with horror elements than out and out horror I’d say. So I did). Then told me it wasn’t really her sort of thing and wrote down an agent who was building a SF/F list and bade me farewell.

That was it?

Not quite. I had been hoping for a little feedback on the pitch – was it on point or waffly etc, but there wasn’t any of that. I headed downstairs and joined a table of five other pitchers chatting to a different agent. This was more about the industry and process generally, not specifically about our individual pitches, but was a nice informal group. Following questions, the agent talked about his slush-pile process, trends in literary and women’s fiction and the like.

And that was that. Nerve-wracking and certainly an interesting experience. It was a bit of a shame there wasn’t really any feedback from the agent I pitched to – as with letters of rejection, the more feedback I get from the industry the more I can work out how to approach things in future. But talking about my novel to industry types was great practice which could prove invaluable, and I’ve got the name of an agent to approach once the novel is done. Now to ride up and down in Foyles lifts until one of the agents is trapped in there with me… All I need is 30 seconds!

@BornToPootle

Link

Due to that all-too-frequent excuse of life getting in the way, my writing has taken a back seat for a couple of months. On the plus side, both me and my wife have nifty new jobs that involve writing and analysing others’ writing respectively.

Now that’s all settled I’ve been trying to get back into a writing rhythm but struggling. The main reason is that I’m at a bit of an impasse with a couple of projects and at the early stages of another where it’s hard to pick it back up  again just like that – it’s not ingrained in my brain enough yet.

Fortunately I received an email from some newsletter or other I’d signed up to about a short story competition and something sparked in my head. Check out Create50 – they’ve got a horror comp on at the mo and it’s a variation on the usual. While I’ve submitted a short story (max 2000 words) they’re also open to creepy music and art. The panel, and they seem like a high profile one, will pick their top 50 and that amalgamation will be published together. Quite how that works with music too I’m not sure, but I like the idea.

In addition to being open to other media, there’s a great community vibe going on. As part of entering you have to pay (a fiver) but you also have to provide feedback on at least 3 other entries. This feedback can then be used by the author to redraft their submission once or twice if desired.

It’s a cool system that seems like a good way to build a community around the Create50 projects. So far I’ve received two bits of feedback on my story, both of which are really positive but highlight the same element as a weakness – that of course gives me a great idea for how to redraft and resubmit.

There is the potential, as there is in any crowd-based idea, for things not to work out. If many people highlight the same weakness then how can you be sure they all read the piece rather than copied an earlier review? 2000 words is pretty short which should encourage people to do it properly, and I get a supportive vibe from looking through profiles and the like.

Also, what if someone’s mean about my story? Well, the likelihood is they’re also a creator themselves so it’s more likely there’ll be some kind of constructiveness in there… right? We’ll see!

Another odd thing is the star ratings – when leaving feedback you have to give the piece a star rating out of five. I’ve received two 4s so far, which is nice, but it’s hard to know what they really mean. According to the competition blurb, the judging panel disregard these ratings which is good – otherwise it could turn into a popularity contest with social media campaigns trying to get chums to block vote. The idea of the star ratings is under discussion by the Create50 team at the mo, so perhaps they’ll disappear.

I’m going to take a look at a few submissions tonight and give feedback, so hopefully I’ll discover some nifty new horror.

The comp is open until November so there’s plenty more time for submissions and redrafts – I’ll let you know how I get on. If you’ve entered then let me know and I’ll have a read of your submission. Or a listen. Mine’s called The Cut if you fancy taking a gander.

Alternatively, if you’ve entered this kind of thing before let me know of any great or terrible experiences in a comment below.

@BornToPootle

A Professional Critique of my Novel

This is the latest in my series on trying to get my first novel published.

A little while ago I wrote about sending my manuscript off to a professional critiquing service. I chose one of the most reputable (based on my own research) – Writers’ Workshop.

I was happy with my manuscript, but had sent it out to a number of literary agents without luck. During the many drafts I had critiques from a few brave and trusted souls – trusted to give honest feedback rather than glowing praise, that is – but I’d put some money aside and thought a pro critique would be a good idea. After all, this is the first novel I’ve got to a stage that I’d call finished. I’m working on a number of other projects which are at various stages of completion, so if there are important lessons to learn or delusions I’m under then best to find out now.

Writers’ Workshop are frank on their website: they won’t sugarcoat bad news. So it was with some trepidation that I sent my manuscript off. They let me know the name of the chap who would be critiquing the novel. I looked him up (of course) and found out he had a massive number of books published. Most of them are children’s books, but also a fair few that seemed to fit with my novel’s genre and market.

I waited. I held my breath. I twiddled.

An email from my critiquer dropped into my inbox (in very good time, I should point out). Despite being under the weather when the email arrived, I opened it straight away. On a side note, there isn’t a really satisfying way of opening exciting emails. Not like tearing into an envelope or using that weapon of a more civilised age, the letter opener. Oh well, progress.

Now, I knew to keep my expectations in check. I’m self-taught as a writer and haven’t previously had anything looked at by a ‘proper’ author. That said, and if I’m entirely honest, deep down a tiny little part of me really did think the opening sentences were going to be singing the praises of the finest novel of its generation.

Sadly that’s not what awaited me.

First the good bit: he liked my writing style. That’s a biggie. If it turned out that I really can’t write that would be a rather large blow (though not career-ending, judging by a couple of obvious recent bestsellers).

There were major problems though. The critiquer thought the pacing / plotting wasn’t right and, even more crucially, hated the main character – particularly his passivity and refusal to engage. There were other things too (as well as a number of things he really liked), but these seemed to be the biggest issues that will require major work to fix.

Now this is interesting.

Very interesting.

Because after the first draft I noticed these problems myself. Over the following redrafts I tried to fix them with tweaks here and there (alongside other overhauling work), but I never tore out the root of the problem. I thought I could polish the issues away and hoped I’d succeeded. Apparently not.

And this is great news. Not as great as if I’d written the Finest Novel Of Its Generation of course, but great nonetheless.

Why?

It means I can trust my instincts. That’s a fantastic position to be in. I may not be hitting the bestseller lists any time soon, but if I can trust my writing, trust my instincts and keep plugging away then who knows where I’ll end up.

If you’ve had any good or bad experiences with pro critiquing then let me know in the comments – it’d be great to compare notes.

@BornToPootle

London Book Fair 2015

Or, A Drop In The Ocean

One of the earliest posts on this blog was after my sojourn to last year’s London Book Fair.  Well it’s that time of year again, only this time I popped along to all three days rather than just the one.

Held at Kensington Olympia, it was a wonderfully maze-like expanse of beautiful beautiful books (none of which were on sale to the likes of me – it’s an industry fair after all). Here’s the best cover I spotted:

Enough from Burt? Never!

Enough from Burt? Never!

Like last year, there was a dedicated ‘Author’ area slap bang in the middle of the labyrinth (where the minotaurs roam). Each day saw a series of 45 minute seminars and panel discussions on topics like tips on getting an agent, success stories from published authors and more general discussions on how authors are changing their writing to suit newer forms like Twitter.

I only went to the seminars I was most interested in, but that was still a hefty ten or eleven. There was a little variation in quality, but on the whole they were very well presented. I found a couple were either slightly mis-named (or perhaps they veered off topic at the beginning and didn’t recover) and one or two came across as marketing pitches for one or other e-publishing services. I suppose that’s the nature of this kind of event. There were great talks from representatives from The Bookseller and various agents, publishers, journalists and booksellers though, and served to give an interesting overview of a few different parts of the industry alongside decent practical advice.

I’m sure there were plenty of opportunities to network with other authors – just by hanging around and chatting with others at the Author HQ for example – but being an obtuse sort I used gaps in my schedule of seminars to meet up with a couple of editors I know of old and take foolish selfies.

A professional demeanor is key at these events.

A professional demeanor is key at these events.

Worth going to? Absolutely. I think a lot of what was covered in the seminars needs further research and, arguably, could be gleaned by decent research online in the first place, but I can put a few industry names to faces now, met a couple of other novice authors I’m going to try and keep in touch with and drank a fair bit of (pretty decent by exhibition centre standards) coffee. A good rebaptism into the publishing world, having had a couple of months of self-doubt. I’ll come on to that next time, but did you go to the Book Fair? Anything stand out particularly for you?

@BornToPootle

Professional Critiquing Services

This one fits into my ongoing series about trying to get published for the first time.

Quick summary of where I’m currently at (though feel free to have a look back at some of previous posts along the way) – I’ve got a novel that, after a lot of redrafting, I’m happy with and have sent out to agents. So far there haven’t been many nibbles, though I haven’t been quite as proactive about sending it out as I possibly could have been.

Something I’ve been thinking about for a while is paying for a professional critique of my novel. Whilst I am hopeful that it’s going to knock the socks off anyone who reads it, I am aware that it’s the first thing I’ve written and polished to this degree and I am entirely self-taught. I’ve been hoping that I might pique an agent’s interest enough to get a little specific feedback but, while I’ve had one little morsel, it’s not really enough to base a further redraft on.

At an earlier stage I got a few trusted friends (trusted also in the sense that I thought their opinions would be honest) to have a read and provide feedback which was invaluable, but now I’d really like something a bit more industry-centric. And that comes with a price tag.

I looked up quite a few different services, and tried to find peoples’ own reviews of them, which proved surprisingly hard. Google something like ‘Novel critique service uk review’, and of course you’re only really going to get links to the services themselves! There were a few that stood out from the pack though, and I’ve ended up going with the Writers’ Workshop. They seem to be at the higher end, both in terms of price (over £500 for my 87,000 word novel) and, hopefully, quality. I figured it’s probably worth going for it though – if it helps get towards publication then it’s money well spent, and any feedback on style/structure etc will be useful for future projects.

They’ve got an impressive list of editors, so I’m looking forward to finding out who’ll be tackling my novel, but what swung it for me were their sample critiques. Loads of detail (one of the sample reports is over 10,000 words!), and looking at things from all angles, including marketability. It looks like there should be the chance to chat with the editor about their feedback, and they have ties to agents and publishers should they think it’s strong enough or close to it. We’ll see.

I’ve been able to ask a few specific questions on areas I’m thinking may need attention (is the first quarter attention-grabbing enough? Is the MC active, or too passive? How the arse do I market it as anything other than UK-centric?!) so hopefully they’ll be addressed in particular detail as well as all the other bits and bobs. It takes a fair few weeks to hear back, but I’ll definitely post about the results.

Have any of you had professional critiques? How useful did you find them?

@BornToPootle