Monday 30 May 2011

When It Starts To Feel Like Work

At the moment I'm editing my novel, Storms in Teacups, for submission. When you first start to write a book and you only have a few thousand words under your belt, submitting feels like a finish line. You write your first draft, edit, edit, and edit again. You rewrite parts that aren't working, cut sub-plots that seem to go nowhere and then shove it in an envelope and send it off. Alas, it's not quite so simple.

First you have to research your agents. I've drawn up a list of around fifteen agents, and each wants to be approached in a different way. Most want to be approached in a standard way in the British Isles, which is a packet sent by post that contains a cover letter, synopsis and the first three chapters of my novel. Each agent has different ideas on how long this synopsis should be, so I have to write different synopses for each one. All cover letters have to be personalised, generic letters are apparently a big no-no. Then I have to write a query letter for agents who like to be approached by that method. All this takes an unbelievably long time.

Now, the one thing that query letters and synopses have in common is that they both involve distilling the essence of your novel down to a page or two, and convince the person reading it that they need to read this book. This is hard. Added to this is the fact that hundreds of hours of work have gone into your novel, yet it's fate hinges on just one piece of paper. This is nerve-wracking like writing a CV (or resume) for a job that you really want. Which, when you think about it, is exactly what it is.

With all this serious writing, I'm looking forward to getting back to some proper fiction writing in June.  How do all of you find the submission process?

Saturday 28 May 2011

Looking for opinions on author platforms...

All us aspiring authors know that if we are to be successful we need to build a social platform. Every book or article on becoming a successful writer tells us this. Yet when we go out to create one there are almost too many options. I have a Blogger account and that's about it. I have personal Facebook and Twitter accounts, but I don't want to use those for networking because most people in my real life don't know that I write so seriously.

I'm starting to think I should set up writing accounts on Twitter and Facebook. But then there's Wordpress, Tumblr and personal websites. My question is, just how many of these things are necessary when you're still at the 'aspiring' stage? What tools do you all use?

Friday 27 May 2011

Friday Fives: Internet Distractions

Every Friday the nice people over at Paper Hangover come up with a blogging prompt. This week's topic of choice is your top five internet distractions.

I have to say, I'm finding this one difficult. Not because I can't think of five, I must say, but because it's hard for me to narrow it down to just five. I'm a champion procrastinator. I could probably compete for Ireland in a procrastinating competition (wouldn't that be cool...see! I'm always getting distracted!).

So here we go:

1: Blogger: It's hard for me to believe that a couple of months ago I didn't have a blog. I knew they were a good idea, I know that every aspiring writer should build a platform, but I thought I was too busy for one. Now though, it sucks in hours of my time. Because what I love about blogs is that not only do I get to ramble incessantly about musings of my choice (which gives my husband's ears a break, thereby saving my marriage) but I can follow people and get a little glimpse into their lives. And for someone as interested in other people as I am (read: as nosy as bedamned) it's completely addictive.

2: Salacious celebrity gossip: Yes, there are more important things going on in the world than the fact that Cheryl Cole has been dropped from the American X-Factor, but hey. As I said above, I'm nosy.

3: Newspaper sites: Hours of my like are sucked into reading articles and opinion pieces. But I'm a journalist and a writer so I can claim that it's work...ahem!

4: YouTube: I love watching YouTube, particularly clips from the Ellen DeGeneres show. I love her so much! I wonder if Ellen and Portia would adopt me...(God I hope that my mother never finds this blog)

5: Wikipedia: I love facts. Maybe it comes from being a historian, maybe it comes from my nosiness (as you can see, I'm working hard to get this character flaw seen as a good thing by y'all. Though it probably isn't working) but I tend to go off on mad tangents, and Google crazy things to find out more about them. I can do this for hours, because every answer presents a question.

These are the main things on the internet that take me away from my writing. What internet distractions do you all have?

Wednesday 25 May 2011

It's The Final Countdown!

(Aside: Don't you just love camp-tastic 80's stadium rock?)

Well, it is the final countdown for me. Next Wednesday, June 1, my first three chapters along with a synopsis and cover letter will be winging their way to agents in the British Isles. Why does it have to be June 1 you ask? Because that was the arbitrary date I picked way back when it was reasonably far away. Now?

Now it's next week and I'm getting nervous. Seriously nervous. My hand even shook as I handed over the money for the ten padded envelopes I'll need.

So...yeah. I am editing like the world is going to end. Which is ridiculous because if I found out the world was going to end the last thing I would do is edit. Although my husband interviewed Harold Camping a couple of months back, and when he asked Camping what was going to happen to him and his wife he was told that not only were we going to die come May 21, we were also going to hell. Nice guy.

If this post is a little all over the place it's because I have stepped up the caffeine intake in order to make sure my stuff is ready on time. I have edited this book many times before, but this is the final polish. I have discovered illy coffee. It packs more of a punch than my usual brand, so I'm a little hyped. I could ease the pressure on myself by pushing back my deadline, but my default setting is so laid back I'm horizontal. I was the same in college, I needed the pressure of the deadline looming at me in big letters to get anything really done. When I was in college I often started an essay the day before it was due. Now I work steadily and start working intensively ten days before a deadline. I reckon that this is maturity. Or as mature as I'm going to get, anyway.

June will be busy too. I'll be editing Ravensborough for submission, I think I've given it enough post-ABNA time to cool. I'll also be taking part in Bunowrimo over at Burrowers, Books & Balderdash. It's an attempt to write 50,000 in June. It can be a new or existing project, and anyone who needs an incentive or a bit of camaraderie to break up this lonely business of writing should check it out. (I got the Bunowrimo image off Hart Johnson's  awesome blog. Hopefully she won't mind...) 

Friday 20 May 2011

Five Things I Can't Live Without...

Ok, the lovely people over at Paper Hangover have asked us to talk about the five things that we just can't live without when we're writing. So here are my top five:

1: Coffee. I used to be addicted to tea, but it proved to be a gateway drug. I now drink double shot espresso Americano whenever I write. And the number of them I drink daily is slowly increasing...

2: My lovely Ikea office chair. When my husband and I bought it, it cost us the same amount of money as two weeks worth of groceries. Money was super tight back then, so it really was a ridiculous extravagance. However, I spend so much time writing that if I sat in a normal chair I may have spent ten times as much in the physiotherapists. (If you think ten times is an exaggeration, you should see the cost of healthcare in Ireland. It's unbelievable. And not in the good way.)

3: Focus Booster. I think I've talked about it before. It's a free app that aims to make you more aware of your time so that you are more productive. And it really works. Anything that can stop me wandering into various internet fora is a good thing in my book. And a good thing for my book.

4: My dog. I have a chocolate Labrador, and she lies by my feet when I write. I sometimes read parts aloud to see if the rhythm of the language is right, so she knows what is going on in my stories. She sometimes makes suggestions, like maybe one of my characters might like to run like crazy after a frisbee, catch it in her mouth and slobber over it. I politely decline these suggestions.

5: My husband. I could get all emotional and talk about how supportive he is, and it would all be true. However, he is also practically helpful. He's my number one beta reader and he picks up all my grammatical errors. I also talk about plot with him. He's my sounding board.

What about you? What things can you not do without?

Thursday 19 May 2011

Plot Bunnies

I wish I had come up with this idea at Easter, that would have been cool and very in keeping with the season. Unfortunately, I didn't. My mind doesn't work that way. I only thought about writing about plot bunnies after I was attacked by one.

It was a normal evening, pretty much like any other. I was trawling through my final edit which, as I've mentioned here numerous times, I am finding increasingly tedious. My husband (he's my beta reader, he works as an editor which makes him more critical than the average husband) was reading over some chapters with his customary little frown on his face. He chuckled a couple of times, which I took as a good sign. Then he told me that it was very good, and I relaxed slightly. It's nerve wracking giving someone part of your work to read. My writing is entirely fictional, but deeply personal.

I felt upbeat then, and went back to my editing with renewed vigour. 'You're so close to the finish line,' I told myself excitedly. 'You can do this.' And then...the plot bunny attacked.

Plot bunnies are strange creatures. When you actually need one, catching one can seem almost impossible. But whenever I'm working on a story, a plot bunny pops up and waves it's little paw at me. Incessantly. This bunny is especially unwelcome, because I've put writing novel 2 on hod in order to edit novel 1. And this plot bunny told me firmly that he was destined for novel 3.

I have to try and ignore it while I finish the job at hand. But I don't want to completely ignore it, in case it wanders away and I can't find it when I come to write novel 3.

What about all of you? How do you deal with plot bunnies?

Tuesday 17 May 2011

In which Christine visits the Rebel County and thinks about the Queen...

The reason that I haven't been blogging much over the past weekend is because I was away. Myself and my husband were in Cork City for a training course, and there was just so much on that I couldn't come up with one logical sentence to put up for y'all. I did, however, manage to get some editing done on the train down there and back. I think I deserve a gold star for that.

Cork was named a European Capital of Culture in 2005, and it must be true because I saw a man weaving his way through rush hour traffic on a unicycle while playing a guitar and singing. Honestly, this really happened. I swear.

Today marks the first day of Queen Elizabeth II's visit to Ireland, the first time in 100 years that a British monarch has visited us. This is a good thing for Anglo-Irish relations, but I do question why it had to happen now. Ireland is in a huge amount of debt, and implementing the required security measures will cost in the region of €20 million. We don't have enough beds in hospitals, teachers are being let go, the number of Gardai (Irish police) is going down and taxes are climbing to deal with our bailout.Cars can't be parked on many streets, including outside The Rotunda, one of Dublin's main maternity hospitals. Operations in some hospitals have been cancelled. I don't blame the Queen on this, but I question why we had to wait so long to invite her anyway. Britain are our nearest neighbours, we have a huge amount in common and for the Republic of Ireland armed conflict ended years ago.

There have been a number of bombs around the capital, and in London, put down by people who object to the Queen's visit on principle. Luckily none of them have gone off. This makes me ashamed, to be honest. As I said, Ireland is independent now. The struggles are in the past, and anyway, Queen Elizabeth II presided over none of it. As for the knotty problem of Northern Ireland, I don't feel as an Irish citizen I have a right to lay claim to that piece of land. I don't think the UK have the right either. It is up to the people of Northern Ireland to decide their own destiny, through peaceful means, and that's that.

I hope the visit goes off smoothly, and that the occasion isn't marred by any violent incident. The last thing this island needs is more bloodshed.

Wednesday 11 May 2011

Frailty, thy name is...Christine.

Ok, the title is a bit melodramatic but there you go. I feel bad because I haven't written a blog post in a few days, but there has been a really good reason. I went into a fibromyalgia flare, which for those not in the know (you lucky, lucky, things) is when the symptoms step up in intensity and normal functioning is almost impossible. I've spent the last few days migrating from the bed to the couch and back again. I haven't written, blogged, or edited in days. I even had to use a sick day on my journalism work which I only do when I absolutely have to. I'll freely admit I sometimes cry off my fiction writing too easily, but journalism pays the bills. Some bills anyway. And short term bill paying can sometimes can often get in the way of long term dream building.

Husband was great. He made dinner, and went on valiant searches for dairy free chocolate. He didn't even give out to me when he found out I'd let my meds run low and therefore didn't have effective pain relief. This was especially good, because I do that all the time. Organisation and Christine do not go together. My fourteen year old sister despairs of me. I'm going to the doctor tonight anyway, and have vowed not to be so stupid again...

Back on track with editing now though. And I logged into my account this afternoon to find out that I have 50 followers! Hurrah! I thought the only way I would ever get 50 followers was if I started my own religious cult but, like I said, organisation and Christine do not go together. Thank you to everyone who reads my witterings. It means a lot.

Hope everyone is having a good week :)

Saturday 7 May 2011

This above all, to thine own self be true

I've wanted to be a writer ever since I can remember. I was the oddball only child of two reading addicts, and my parents would rather read than do just about anything else. This is something I inherited from them, and I started reading before I went to play school. For as long as I can remember I have had a book on the go constantly. I read fast and if I haven't got at least another two books lined up for after I finish my current one then I start to get panicky. 

Since I loved books so much, I knew I wanted to be a writer from a young age. I was good at creative writing in school, so it seemed like a logical extension of my book addiction. My grandad tried to put me off by telling me that I'd never make any money as a writer so I should do something else. But I still wasn't deterred.

I wrote short stories and poetry, and some of them did well in competitions. But then there was my novel. I tried to write a novel so many times, but always fell at the first hurdle. Or the first chapter.

There were three main reasons why I didn't get very far. One was that I just didn't have the discipline yet. I expected to write a novel from start to finish, read over it a couple of times and submit it. If only it were that simple. Second of all, I couldn't turn off my inner editor. I would pour over the paragraphs that I'd written sighing internally. Now I write without pause for the first draft, then start to edit. And because I've had time to cool off I tend to find that the prose isn't as bad as I feared at the time.

But the big block to me writing my first novel, was that I was writing for other people. I love literary fiction, and I've read reams of it. Literary fiction is widely regarded as having more merit than popular or commercial fiction. I was writing a literary novel to impress other people, when every competition I'd won was for my more popular chatty style of writing. I was writing the book I wanted other people to think I'd written, rather than the book I wanted to write. Once I gave myself permission to be myself, the writing process became a lot easier and a lot more fun.

If you're going to finish your novel and write a book that other people will enjoy, you have to be true to yourself. That is the single most important piece of advice out there. And then maybe editors will liek ur submishuns.

P.S. I got a Versatile Blogger award from Michelle. How cool is that? Thanks Michelle :)

Friday 6 May 2011

Top Five Pieces of Advice for Aspiring Writers

Every week the nice peeps over at Paper Hangover give a blogging prompt. Today they've asked people to write about the top five pieces of advice that they have gotten as an aspiring writer.

1: You need to write regularly. Very regularly. All the reasons that you come up with to explain why you haven't written your book yet? They're excuses. You have to find time to write.

2: The first draft sucks. But that's ok, because the real part of writing is in the editing. That's when you convert your basic line drawing into a three dimensional work of art.

3: Don't try to write like anyone else. Don't write in a genre just because it's commercially viable or highly regarded. Write the book you want to write in your own voice. It might take a while to find your voice, but its worth taking time to hone. A writer's unique style is the reason why a reader buys more than one of their books.

4: Get someone else to read your book. Get as much constructive criticism as possible. At first it's difficult to take, writing is such a personal thing, but it gets easier with time. Also, when people have taken time out of their busy lives to read your material, remember to show your gratitude. Even if you don't like what they say.

5: Unless you are to doing this as a pure hobby, remember that writing is a business. When traditional publishers take you on they are taking a financial risk. They pay an advance (if you're lucky!), editing costs, advertising costs and fund the print run and transporting of books. None of this includes admin. If you want to persuade a publisher to spend money on you, you need to show them that you are a professional and that you will take the process seriously. That means all submissions should be edited a gazillion times, your letter should sell your book yet still sound modest. It's a job interview in paper form.

They were my favourite ones anyway. Hope everyone has a great weekend! :)

Wednesday 4 May 2011

Another Award!

Wow, I was having one of those awful days today. You know the type. I spent the majority of the day waiting for a delivery person who never arrived, seething inwardly at myself for being one of those people who always seemed to get shoved to the bottom of the queue. I've had a blinding headache since yesterday which means that I'm behind in my edits. So, all in all, not a good day. But then, my day turned around when the fabulous Kate Larkindale gave me this lovely shiny award right here, and my day started looking up! Thanks Kate!

Ok, so this award comes with some rules, which are thus:

1. Thank and link to the person who nominated you.
2. Share seven random facts about yourself.
3. Pass the award along to 5 new-found blogging buddies.
4. Contact the winners to congratulate them.

So here are seven things you may not know about me:

1: I'm trained as a social historian, and my main research interest is public health legislation in the British Isles during the Victorian and early Edwardian era.

2: My name is Christine, and my parents deny that they named me after the female lead in Phantom of The Opera despite the fact it came out the year I was born and they played the album all the time. When I was a kid and I heard the characters sing about 'Christine' I thought that there was somebody in our house calling me, and would run off to find them. My parents found this so funny that they played the album over and over again just to see me search.

3: I was an only child until age fourteen, but am now the eldest of seven. I'm the only biological child my parents have. Three of my siblings are adopted, two from Romania and one from China, and the other three are foster siblings. 

4: The first writing award I ever won was a national poetry competition I entered when I was ten. My poem was about a unicorn.

5: When I was in Transylvania with two of my brothers I got two mosquito bites on my neck about an inch and a half apart. At least I think they were mosquito bites...

6: My first pet was a rabbit called Bunny that I had when I was two. My granny told me that it died because I hugged it to death. I carried a whole lot of guilt around with me about that until a couple of years ago when my mother told me that in actual fact it died from anaphylactic shock after being stung by a bee. Though why my granny told me that I'd killed it is still a mystery...

7: I love archaeology, and worked on an excavation of a Cistercian nunnery in Belgium. The site was so close to the Luxembourg border that we would walk across the border in the pitch black every night to go to the nearest pub.

Ok, so the people I am passing this award onto are:

5: Julia

Hope everyone is having a great day :)

Tuesday 3 May 2011

My Writerly Routine/Once More With Feeling

My Writerly Routine

My working days tend to take a fairly regular pattern. I get up early, walk the dog, and aim to be sitting at my desk for eight am. Then I do my journalistic work which, on a good day with no procrastination, I can do in under two hours. Then I do some household chores and set myself up for an afternoon of writing. My husband works is out of the house for around twelve hours, and often times the only people I meet are dog walkers, the postman and the biweekly Tesco delivery man. In some ways it's a hermetic existence, well as hermetic as you can get when you live in a suburb of a capital city. My routine (and even the fact that I call it a 'routine') makes me sound all hard-working and diligent, but just because I'm at my desk in person does not mean that I'm working. I would not like to see a tot up of the hours that I waste fawning over fora.

I write in the kitchen, with my French doors open onto our lovely garden. We have an office in the front of the house, but it doesn't get the sun and can be dark and gloomy. In the kitchen I can see the sun filled garden and listen to birdsong which is all very inspirational. In short, I love my routine and didn't realise how much until I found out that my husband and I have an appointment tomorrow morning in our house. This will mess up my system. If I don't get a certain amount of work done in the morning, my day is practically a write-off. I find it hard to get into the groove again. I've been this way as far back as I can remember. This may make some of you worry that I have some form OCD, but trust me, fifteen seconds in my less than immaculate home would set you straight.

Once More, With Feeling

So, this is it for Storms in Teacups. I've set my submission date for Wednesday June 1, the day when I sent out my sample chapters, synopsis and cover letter out to agents across the British Isles. I have a month of hard editing to do, and then I'm done. Now, I love my book. I think it's good, and there's parts of it that still make me smile even though I've read it around a dozen times. The problem is, this edit is making me crazy. Maybe because it's the last one, maybe because I've edited it countless times before, but I'm starting to lose the will to live. Not to mention the fact that I have The Fear. On previous edits I haven't worried to much over whether or not my corrections are the best they can be, because if they don't work then I can always pick it up in subsequent edits can't I? Ah, no. Not any more.

My husband must know I'm under strain, as he bought me this Fry's Chocolate Cream (well, not this exact one) completely unprompted. Yummy and scrummy and completely dairy free. He's a man in a million.

Monday 2 May 2011

Goals and Awards

Ok, so my goals for the month of May are:

1: Finish Storms in Teacups edit, write synopsis, write cover letter and query letter.
2: Finish application for PhD programme.
3: Get If Life Gives You Lemons to 70,000 words in time for BuNoWriMo (Check it out here)
4: Stay on top of journalism work.

Now, one of things about the award I got yesterday is that it gets passed forward. So, the five blogs I think deserve the award are:

1: Allison M Simon. Not only does her blog talk about interesting things about writing, there's also some good stuff about movies and abstract topics like the Peter Principle. This is a really intelligent blog.

2: Laura at Chick Lit Love. She really works hard at making her content interesting and different from a lot of chick lit blogs out there, it's a really cheery site.

3. Princess of Procrastination. I love this blog, it's hilarious. If you're looking for a laugh (and to learn more about Taffs) then it's worth heading over here.

4: Alison DeLuca. Alison is going down the self-publishing route, and her posts on writing in general and being an indy author in particular are really interesting.

5: Kate Larkindale. Kate is a YA writer who works in the film industry, and who is refreshingly down to earth about life and writing. She also has some great tips.

Today is bank holiday Monday in Ireland. And it's sunny! Life is good.

Magic Month of May

Ok, I wimped out of finishing the A-Z challenge, I didn't do Y and Z before the end of April. I was going to finish it on the last day of April, but I forgot until yesterday that there was only thirty days in that month. I can only ever remember by using the rhyme. Still, the challenge did what I wanted it to do, it got me writing in my blog regularly so I'm pretty thrilled with that.

May is promising to be a busy month with a lot of introspection. Do you remember my angst about whether or not to go further with my education? Well, my potential PhD supervisor got back to me and said she'd support my application. She agreed to do it last year, but I couldn't proceed because I was too ill. I always wanted to do a history doctorate, and doing it would be an achievement that I didn't let my fibromyalgia stop me from achieving my dreams. But I have another dream - to be a published writer - and I only have so many spoons. If I do a PhD then I will have less time to write, but if I don't do a PhD and I don't become a published writer then I've lost two dreams. It's hard to decide. You're probably thinking 'But Christine, you can't even remember how many days are in April, are you sure that going back to University is the right thing for you to do?' This is a valid point, but I'm actually quite a good student. It's real life that leaves me baffled.

I'm also editing Storms in Teacups for an early June submission to a number of agents. How scary is that? Oh, and hopefully by the end of this month I will be halfway through the first draft of If Life Gives You Lemons. So a busy month ahoy.

And in totally awesome news, the fabulous Caitlin Vincent gave me an award! How cool is that? I'm fairly new (yet addicted) to the blogosphere, and it made me tear up a little to think that someone would give me an award like this. It literally made my day, thank you so much Caitlin!

Hope everyone had a lovely weekend :)