Saturday, August 19, 2006

Bad Experience

Hi All,

Just thought I'd share with you all a sad discovery. This is when I go off into one of my stories.

Over a year ago I sent a pack of educational resources to a certain online educational publishing group and everything seemed to go smoothly until it came to signing the contracts.

As normal, I dutifully sent my contract to the Society of Authors and they sent a few comments back with suggested changes. I sent these to the publisher and they basically told me the contract was non-negotiable. They also said they'd never heard of the Society of Authors and if I didn't like it I could always withdraw my manuscript. Well, as you can imagine I was a bit upset by this. But, I was not happy with their bully tactics so I did withdraw my manuscript and sent it to another publisher who has since published it.

Why is that sad or a bad experience you ask? Well, I haven't finished yet.

I recently found out from the original publisher catalogue they were publishing a resource with a very similar title as the one I sent them. Anyway, through contacts I managed to get hold of a copy and it is very similar to the stuff I'd sent them. However, they had changed it just enough to be different. Another thing is they've used a lot of the illustrations I'd drawn as well. They have not acknowledged me or even paid me for these pictures. I'm not sure if they've changed them so they are slightly different, as I was so upset I've put it away for now.

I've no idea what to do.

My charming daughter says sue them. I'm not sure I have grounds to do that.

Any, suggestions of any kind would be helpful.

For now I will go on my hols and not think about it for two weeks and maybe if I'm still upset by it when I get back I will contact the Society of Authors and ask their advice.

Has anyone had a similar experience? What did you do?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Setting and Research


Setting and Research

Suzanne Ruthven outlined several important tips when researching the setting of your novel. She said:

  • Make sure your facts are accurate, such as if you are using real places you have not got your characters driving the wrong way up a one-way street.
  • Make your own sketch-map of an area it is a good working tool whether, you setting is real or imaginary.
  • Remember the information out at the time may be different form what we know now in hindsight. Pears encyclopaedias give details relevant to the year and can be collected quite cheaply from boot sales.
  • Contemporary stories with flashback in time must be accurate. Double-check everything.
  • Never take one source, do a lot of crosschecking. Where possible use library and university sites, museums and book searches where you can type in a keyword and find a lot of good reference books. Often, you can buy the books cheaply second-hand. For example from:
  • The best research is unobtrusive. You don’t need to put everything in to prove you know your subject. Drop things in casually to set the scene and let the reader know a little background. You can paint a picture using the information this way. You have the research in your mind but only have to use a couple of lines.
  • Use research to feed motivation and plot. It is no good your character having a glamorous job if you’re not using the job to move the story forward.
  • Describe clothes and period costume by using action. Use the description and research as part of the action. All the time something should be happening.
  • Check your setting compliments other areas of the plot. If you are trying to create an atmosphere with your research, it must work within the confines of the plot.
  • Can your setting and the research you have done into it be used to create tension, conflict or theme? Could it be used to draw comparisons?
  • If you are going back in history, do not forget to use all your senses. Think taste, smell and sound. Think like a photographer.

Suzanne suggested a good exercise is to go through your novel and list the settings you use. Consider how many and are they too similar or even too unrealistic. Examine their characteristics.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Interesting Article

There is an interesting article on the Times Online website this week about the controversy between the large book stores and big-time publishers, which I thought some of you may be interested in - Buyer Beware.

This article supports the post I wrote on The Book Selling Debate and Suzanne Ruthven's advice that small publishers are more supportive of new writers in the article Plotting and Coursing Your Novel with Suzanne Ruthven

As a mother of an ADHD daughter, I know exactly what the president of the Association of Authors’ Agents, Clare Alexander, means.

However, as Susan Abraham pointed out on Jude’s Writing Blog, small publishers in UK take on few manuscripts a year, compared to the hundreds received each week. The publishing world is becoming more and more competitive. I would be interested to hear your comments and opinions on this debate.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Plot, Pace and Theme


1) Plot

Suzanne Ruthven gave some handy tips for sharpening the plot of our novels.
  • A novel needs an ending but this ending need not be cast in stone. You need to have something to work towards, something to aim for.
  • With plot, you also need to have a sub-plot. The sub-plot moves the reader along.
  • It is very tempting to have another set of characters coming in when the hero needs to learn important information, try to avoid this. Sharpen in the re-write by cutting subsidiary characters.
  • Don’t overcrowd scenes. Does the plot really require lots of people to be together in one place at one particular time? Be economical in the number of cast and scene changes. See action in your sequences. Think like a play-write or film director. You can fast forward and backwards to visualise your plot as frames. This way you can see if it isn’t running smoothly form one scene to the next.
  • Use flashback rather than having a large scene that shows the plot and use it with purpose to move the story on.
  • Imagine conversations to hone dialogue.
  • In the first draft don’t worry about getting it right, just get it out of your mind and onto the paper, then you can edit and mould it into shape. The first draft is the bones – the bar skeleton.
  • Analyse where your peaks and troughs are and always finish each chapter on a cliffhanger.
  • If you use symbolism, it must play a part in the conclusion.
  • End as soon as possible after the dramatic climax of the novel. Open with a bang but don’t go out with a phut.

2) Narrative Style and Pace

Your style is unique. Do not change it. If you try to write in the style of someone else, you are changing your individuality.

The pace is governed by the time frame of the story. In long stories, such as sagas, you need to find the level of the story, which has the greatest continuation of plot and have the rest in flashback. In this way, it is possible to condense three generations into a weekend. If writing thrillers, Suzanne suggests you narrow it down to a week or a year.

Get the reader feeling they are on a roller coaster, if you drag it out too much the reader will get confused. Dialogue is a good way for bridging time. Your characters could easily pick the phone up and ask someone.

Avoid lengthy description. It slows the pace. Suzanne suggested taking a look at the colour supplements in the newspapers because they have good examples of brief descriptions of rooms, people and moods. They sum it all up in a thumbnail. She said a good exercise is to go through these supplements with a highlighter pen.

The picture should be created by character and dialogue, not by lengthy description.

3) Theme

It is important to understand what theme your book fits in to.

That’s all I wrote under this heading so, I obviously did not understand a word of it.

I have made a mental note to look into what theme my main children’s novel fits, as this is something I do not know. I think it probably has more than one theme. I’m not sure if this is allowed / advisable.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Rejections, Writing Style and Submitting a Manuscript


This is my summary of the second of Suzanne Ruthven’s workshops I took at the Caerleon Writer’s Holiday.

1) Rejection Slips

Suzanne said, “Rejection slips can tell you quite a lot. If it says it is not suitable for their list, it means you have not done enough market study and that is why it does not fit in. However, it could also mean it is too similar.”

When anything becomes popular, others tend to follow suit but publishers want something with a totally different slant. Suzanne advises that you should never try to copy someone else’s style or try to emulate. Leaning towards with an original voice is your twist.

2) Writing Style

Every book has a hero and / or a heroine and you as the writer have to empathise with the age group you are writing about. Especially, if you are writing for children, maturity age can always show through. The writer must be aware of this. Listen to the age group you are writing about and the way they express themselves.

“Think about the way people communicate and write in a language they can empathise with. The days of writing for ourselves are long gone and if you want to see yourself in print you need to be clear and focused about your novel.”

She stressed it is important to read the latest in the genre you are writing. Look at the language and the writing style the publisher will accept. The only way to get a feel is to find out what everyone is publishing.

Suzanne said, “Really study what the publisher is accepting. If your novel is wordy, it is no good sending it to a publisher who likes short, sharp sound bites. Editor’s preferences influence what gets taken on.”

Know what you are writing, who for and where you are going with it. Always finish a chapter on a cliffhanger. There are no preferred lengths for chapters and no problem with shorter chapters. Keep it short, snappy and punchy.

3) Submitting Your Manuscript

Suzanne’s advice for new writers is never to submit anything over 80,000 words, as you will be told to cut it. This is not so relevant for children’s writers as some of the novels I have written are only 8000 words. I could not imagine writing 80,000. She suggested we aim for 100,000 words and cut.

She also said, what you submit should be the final product. It is no good thinking you can edit it later or an editor will go through it and make the necessary amendments. This will not happen. Nowadays the book-publishing world is an industry and a writer, especially new writers, should treat it as such.

We were told that when you’re a beginner do not approach a publisher or agent until you’ve finished your book. Once finished in the first draft, you can start tightening. They also want to know you’ve got something else in the pipeline. They want continuity.

Publishers need to know that you’ve finished a book and what you are now working on. It gives them an indication that you are serious. Suzanne also said you can waste more time trying to get an agent than writing a book. Often it is not what you know, but whom you know.

On the question of simultaneous submissions, Suzanne said she knows the handbooks say not to but she recommends you send out as many as you like. As soon as someone asks to see the whole of it then you stop sending it out and let the publisher know who else is considering it.

Suzanne added that nowadays, writers are expected to do a lot of their own publicity.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Plotting and Coursing Your Novel with Suzanne Ruthven

Suzanne Ruthven is the editor of the New Writer, a creative writing magazine for writers that claims to provide more publishing opportunities for fiction, poetry and articles than any other creative writing magazine. They also provide an excellent monthly email newsletter, which contains up-to-date information on marketing trends and other stuff of interest to writers, although not necessarily children’s writers. To subscribe to their newsletter and the magazine visit

I found her workshops were relevant to all writers whether they are writing crime, romance, horror, or children’s fiction, like me.


1) Identify the Market Place

The first question we were all asked was who is going to publish our novel. Suzanne stressed how important it was to identify the market place and know who would be publishing our work even before it was finished.

She suggested that we look at who is publishing what. Not only by looking at the publisher of the types of books we like to read that are the same genre as what we write. Suzanne emphasised if the books are already in print they are two or three years out of date from what publishers are looking for now. You need to have your finger on the pulse, look at their catalogues and websites for things that are due to come out. Narrow your market down and log into sites on the Internet.

Suzanne recommends you find out about independent presses, as they are more sympathetic to new writers. She suggested new writers take a look at:
Publish fiction, poetry & non fiction books that are: unique, enjoyable, accessible, thought provoking and make a difference to your life.
Publish women's novels and crime.
Publish imaginative, top-quality crime novels

Please note none of the above publish children's books.

Mainstream publishers suggest you get an agent first and as we all know, agents are becoming increasingly difficult to find. With the big publishers, what is being published is what was accepted eighteen months ago. The independent book publishers get things out a lot faster and so their turnaround is often about six months.

Don’t plough on with a book before you know where you are going to send it. Know where your story fits in the market but be careful about typecasting yourself. If you have a problem defining your book, think is it working for the reader. You have to be able to sell your novel else what is the point of writing it.

2) Think about the opening

Suzanne informed us as an editor, she always reads the synopsis first. If it hasn’t hooked her on the first page then she does not read on and she claims nor does anyone else.

She said, “A publisher will discard you on the strength of your first page. Open with a bang. The first page, or even the first paragraph of your book, is the most important bit. Spend time getting it right. ”

3) Know what period you are writing and let your reader know

“It is important to set the scene in your novel straight away.” Suzanne explained. “The reader needs to know where everything is taking place, even if it is simply giving a date, it can trigger the readers imagination. You’ve got to begin with a bang. Often there is too much scene setting, which lacks impact. Grab their attention and hit them between the eyes.”

4) Emotion and Drama

Suzanne stressed that emotion and drama feature in all books, no matter what the genre.

Emotion develops empathy – it is what you hang the emotional baggage on. The characters develop around the emotion where as, drama is needed to carry the story on. It builds the plot.

Books are plot or people led. In both, there are different types of drama. It is people that explore emotions, such as in romances. Examples of plot led books are thrillers and crime novels. Both have peaks and troughs but drama carries it forward. Overwriting can stop the action and will need lots of strong editing.

“If you cut something out,” Suzanne said, “you can always use it in something else. Do not throw anything away and Do not to be too clever about sub-plots and secondary characters. Everything has to have a purpose.”

5) The Synopsis

A synopsis must include what happens at the end of the novel. It must be a complete summary of the book. It is not a list of characters. It is a brief outline of the story and preferably should be one A4 page, single-spaced.

Don’t worry if the middle of the novel goes off on a tangent but try to go with the ending you originally thought of. This is why it is important for first-time writers to plot.

Suzanne suggested a good exercise is to write a blurb for your novel in 150 words or less. This is the bit that could be used for the back of the book cover that outlines just the story.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Leisurely Trip up the River

Yesterday evening, I went for a cruise up the river with my writing group the Thatcham Writers. We sailed down the River Thames toward Sonning and sat on top of the barge and read the latest bits we had written for our last assignment. For more details on the assignment visit:

It was so relaxing. I really enjoyed myself. Here are some photos I took:

Inside the barge

From left to right - Steve (the owner of the barge), Tony, Lisa, Geoff and Pat

Ian, steering the barge

The Thatcham Writers

From left to right - Tony, Ian, Lisa, Steve, Geoff, David and Pat

Unfortunately, both Phil and I are missing from this photograph. I was missing because I was taking the picture and Phil couldn't make it because of work committments.

For more information about the Thatcham Writers what we do and where we meet you can visit our website. There will also be more pictures of our trip added to the Thatcham Writers site soon.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Caerleon Update

Hi All,

Had a brilliant time at Caerleon, as normal, and I highly recommend the event to anyone who is serious about becoming a writer. I love the informal atmosphere. Here are some pictures of me and my friends:

Maureen and Ian


Irene and Lynne in the bookroom

Me on the balcony

The highlight of the week was listening to, rescuing and talking to the male voice choir, in the bar on the Thursday evening.

The most important thing I learnt was to be more confident and create a more confident / competent persona. Apparently, I have to tell myself I am brilliant and eventually I might believe it. I think I need to work on this a bit more. Lynne has sent me a book to help me - Be Your Own Life Coach by Fiona Harrold. I'll let you know if it helps.

I plan to write up some of my notes for anyone who is interested and will post them up over the next few weeks.

Went straight from Caerleon, camping in North Devon and that was fun too. We had fairly good weather and walked from Lynton to the Valley of the Rocks. There were some spectacular views. Here are some pictures:

Doone Valley

Lynmouth Beach

Castle Rock in the Valley of the Rocks
Me on the bridge at Malmsmead
As you can see, it is beautiful. I love the mountains and walking over the rocks on the beach. Got a few ideas for my fictional blog on Moira. If you have not read this yet I suggest you take a look at: