Friday, 25 November 2011

What team? Wildcats!

In a global world one country's celebration can feel very close and yesterday lots of people were sharing the things that they were thankful for. One of the things from the past year that I am thankful for is my CP group. In the aftermath of NV11 if I had one piece of advice for any aspiring writer it would be this: get yourself a good Critique Partner.

We all need cheerleaders at times. We all have those moments when we need someone to tell us that they believe (am I the only one who tears up at the beginning of HSM3 when it all slows down and the spotlight is on Gabriella as she sings 'Troy!' and he looks up at her and says 'Sometimes I can hardly breathe?' and she tells him 'You can do it just know that I believe.' Yes? Okay then. But, romance writers, it is the perfect moment - he can only be strong because she believes in him, the arc of all three films. I also sob through Soaring Flying.).

When I first started writing six years ago I was alone. My husband would read it if I begged him too and nodded sagely with a 'very good, dear' in the manner of some seventies sitcom husband leaving me feeling like Wendy Craig. No wonder I submitted just three chapters in two years although I did do an enormous amount of reading; ahem, research. Really it's only been in the last year that I have taken writing really seriously.

There's a few reasons for that - the online competitions, joining the RNA, the course I did with Jessica Hart, these have all been great boosts adding to my knowledge and confidence. The main reason however has been my own personal cheerleaders.

The internet is a strange and wonderful thing allowing you to connect with people all over the world, people you may never meet. New Voices 2010 was the first time I really shared my writing with anyone.
Suddenly I connected with lots of people through FB & Twitter - published authors, aspiring authors, newbies; all knowing exactly how it feels to sit down at a blank screen and push yourself to write something. People to talk ideas through with, to get enthusiastic, to ask questions, to point out massive plot holes or small typos.

Gradually, through the craziness of last year's Nano and as I made the first steps into Summer Fling I began to rely on a small group more and more. Their enthusiasm, honesty and kindliness pushed and supported me as I doubted, angsted, panicked and procrastinated. They are my cheerleaders - and I do my best to return the favour as they are also a very talented trio who I know will be published one day
We're far apart geographically but meet up to chat, critique, gossip, reassure, celebrate, share learnings every day. I would never have come this far without them. Thanks Julia, Jane and Maggie xxx

Sunday, 20 November 2011

A waiting game

You know it's Christmas when John Lewis turn a beautiful song into easy listening pseudo jazz (yes, I am looking at you, Ellie Goulding) and team it with a sentimental ad.
It must be nearly Christmas (click on link to either cry or sniff derisively)

 And  yet, despite the scorn and derision from the cynics on my Twitter feed (the romance writers love it), I can't help be charmed. Because it strikes a real chord. The theme this year is 'it is better to give than to receive' through the eyes of a small boy who is waiting for Christmas morning. And how long that wait is...

How I sympathise with that little boy as he watches the clock refuse to move, as the days drag slowly by. No, I am not waiting for Christmas day (I haven't bought a single present yet as it is NOVEMBER and Christmas is in DECEMBER; if I had my way there would be no adverts, crackers, tins of biscuits, cards etc allowed until 1 December and any house putting up their lights and tree before the 18th Dec would be fined. Christmas is so much more exciting when it comes suddenly upon you, not when it's dragged out over two months). Anyone who has submitted a book knows exactly how he feels.

When @nellbelleandme and I submitted our actually-not-bad-at-all jointly written book to agents it got returned depressingly quickly. There weren't many days to sit through before the clatter of the letterbox announced the return of the A4 brown envelope containing a painstakingly printed copy of our masterpiece and a 'no thanks'.

One of the many exciting things about submitting to Mills & Boon is their promise that every submission - every one of the thousands of unsolicited manuscripts landing on their mat (or inbox) every year will be read by an editor. This is a great opportunity. But of course the editors have a lot of work to do apart from reading our work of heartbreaking genius (their social media shows an idyllic working environment of eating cupcakes and discussing the relative hotness of Grey's Anatomy & ER docs; I suspect this is a tad misleading). They promise to get back to us within 24 weeks.

Six months. And it can be longer. The second standard R took eleven months to arrive. Eleven months of casually flicking on my email, desperately hoping every spam offer might be THE email, THE opportunity. So, of course this time, this submission, I have learnt from my experience and I am using the waiting time wisely, using it to write the next book, to keep learning, to read. Six months away is next spring, there's no point getting my hopes up until then.
So why do I get just a little jolt of excitement every time I see that envelope icon at the top of my phone screen?

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The tortoise and the hare

Tortoises are great; ambling along, munching on grapes and carrots, basking in the sun and sleeping away the winter. No wonder they practically live for ever! And they were name checked in the second-to-last-ever-episode-of-Spooks (sob, gulp) when ex-FBI agent turned politician soon to turn wife killer announced portentously that his house in Moscow had a tortoise in the garden. It sounded like some brilliant password to which the only reply could be 'the Hare is asleep in the field' but actually was a metaphor for a soon to be shattered post Glastnost life which is why I will love Spooks forever and mourn its passing along with other TV greats such as ER (sob), Buffy (sob) and Gilmore Girls (do not judge me...).
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Anyhow I love tortoises and my perfect cottage by the sea will have a tortoise in the garden (and a hare in the field) and hopefully my dream tortoise will co-exist peacefully with my dream red setter and dream dachshund.

In most of life I am a Hare, rushing madly around, ears flapping (metaphorically you understand), no time to stop and enjoy things until I drop exhausted by the side of the road whilst tortoises plod calmly past me. But I am a wannabe romance writer who works 4 days a week and volunteers with a local Cub group, whose 8yo has a schedule of activities which neatly sums up crazy 21st Century parenting – although no Mandarin, I live in Yorkshire, not Wimbledon. I don't have time to plod however much I want to.

As a writer too I am mostly a Hare, especially when self imposed deadlines loom. Half of last year's never-to-be-seen-again Nano was achieved in a mad sprint during the last 10 days. The last three chapters of just-submitted Summer Fling were written in week; don't worry it has been extensively edited since. But sometimes, especially at the beginning of a project I plod. I sit staring at the page. I type, delete, type again. It hurts. And I feel a fraud. What kind of writer doesn't actually write?

But I am thinking. All the time. Turning my characters over in my head. They accompany me every where – except work OF COURSE - In the shower, in bed, on the school run, shopping. And then, slowly, surely the characters and vague plot I have formulated begin to make sense. I can't do Nano this year much as I want to but was hoping to take advantage of the writing-frenzy that is November to really make some inroads into Minty. Six days and 1000 words later I have clearly failed, because although I knew where I wanted my characters to go I just couldn't see how. This morning though (whilst washing my hair) I began to see the way.

So I'm plodding on for now, allowing myself the luxury of thinking my way into my plot, my characters, the conflict. Not for too long though. At some point this tortoise needs to turn into a Hare and sprint towards just writing the damn thing!