Thursday, October 25, 2007

Paddington Station

My study can be a bit like Paddington Station. I do tend to leave the door open so my family walk in and out whenever they please. But, even if I shut the door they walk in and out anyway. I suppose, they all know that is where they will find me.

Sometimes I worry that I am neglecting the children and maybe I shouldn't be working or being distracted by my PC when they are home, after school and in the school holidays, etc. But, I do like it in my study.

I was reading the other day a book called, Detoxing Childhood by Sue Palmer . In it Sue made some very valid points about being a parent in the 21st century. I wrote a review of the book for Write Away. See: Detoxing Childhood. In the book she pointed out the latest addiction, which she termed 'pigeon post'. This is where in any spare moments people think, 'Oh - I'll just go and check the email.' Then once logged on may spend ages on their correspondence, quite forgetting the family. I do this all the time. I am addicted.

Sue Palmer compared this addiction to the experiments the psychologist, B. F. Skinner, did on pigeons. He found if you gave pigeons intermittent, unpredictable rewards, the pigeons would peck enthusiastically at a particualr spot - even to the point some would peck their beaks totally blunt. Emails are my intermittent rewards. I am a pigeon and probably just as stupid as one in that I am not even sure I want to put it right. Getting emails makes me happy, especially if they contain good news or are from a dear friend.

However, most of the time the children are just as happy to be getting on with things on their own. I remember as a child I loved playing in the street, my parents never knew half the things I got up to. But, I think they purposely wait until I am fully engrossed in a piece of writing before they walk in and interrupt me. It takes ages for me to start to write and just as long to get going again when I’m interrupted.

The other time they like to all congress in my study is when I’m on the phone. Yep, I can guarantee anybody who is in the house, not just the kids, will come into my study if I need to make a phone call.

Yet, I know they would not be competing for my attention like this if I just switched the computer off, or made the phone calls whilst they were at school, or in bed. Maybe, it is a problem of working from home? Organising the time around the children is easier said than done. In my review Detoxing Childhood, I mentioned the need for a new kind of self-help group. I think I am one of the people who needs to enrol on one of these.

My kids are the modern equivalent of 'latch key children'. I wonder if there is a term for it?

Monday, October 22, 2007


Good News!
Looks like I'm off to Bologna in March next year, for the SCBWI conference and hopefully the bookfair as well. I'm very excited. Although, my cartwheels are more like sideways rolls.

I was asked to do the interviews of the authors, editors and agents who will be speaking at the conference. I've made a start trying to think of imaginative questions to ask. It will be great to meet them all in person.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Hi All,

You'll never guess what? I've decided to give NaNoWriMo a go. Do I think I can write 50,000 words in a month. I've no idea but, I certainly hope so and plan to give it a good try. This is me with my fingers poised ready to go.

I'm a little nervous but I reckon it is the kick I needed to get my Moira Miller idea, that has been brewing for nearly two years now, finally off the ground.

So I have signed up and read the instructions and Number 3 said, and I quote:

Tell everyone you know that you're writing a novel in November. This will pay big dividends in Week Two, when the only thing keeping you from quitting is the fear of looking pathetic in front of all the people who've had to hear about your novel for the past month. Seriously. Email them now about
your awesome new book. The looming specter of personal humiliation is a very
reliable muse.

So this is what I'm doing - telling you all I'm going to write a novel in a month. And you all have to check on me in Week Two and make sure I am still on track. Here is the link so you can check up on me:

I'm going to start totally from scratch and try to keep in the NaNoWriMo spirit by not editing as I go along. but, that will be a hard one for me.

Wish me luck, because I am going to need it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

How important is a synopsis?

This is a question that is often asked at writing meetings and events.

Some highly established writers claim to have never written a synopsis in their life - such as Dee Williams and Iris Gower.

Others, like Marti Leimbach, tell you it is harder to write than the actual novel. Whereas, some very lucky people like Lee Weatherly claim they are easy to write.

You can read Lee Weatherly's Tips on How to Write a Synopsis on Candy's excellent blog Notes from the Slushpile. Unfortunately, I lost my notebook which had all my notes from the Lee Weatherly talk – I kept saying to myself it was bound to turn up and it never has. I may have left it on the train!

Then, I have been told at conferences by agents and publishers they don't even read the synopsis. You should have heard me groan at that news. I spent hours and hours on mine and they're not even going to read it. I could have stood up and screamed. Is a synopsis a waste of time?

But, other editors and agents have said – much more recently – they read the synopsis first and if they don’t like it don’t bother reading the rest. Arrggghhhh!

So, what do we do?

I believe the most important thing is how good your writing is. But, I do think a synopsis is a useful tool to see how well the story hangs together and if it has a defined beginning, middle and end. So I will persevere with my synopsises and hope they help me to clarify my own story, even if they are not being read.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Next Move

I am my own worse enemy.

There is nobody I know who criticises me, more than myself. This is the realisation that has dawned on me over the past few weeks. I am very critiical of myself. To the point I have put my children's book manuscripts away and not sent them out to anybody for over a year - maybe two.

But, how can I become a published author if I never send my manuscipts out? Is it because I am scared of them being judged and I don't think I want to know that my hard work is not good enough for publication?

I try to console myself by remembering that the rejection letters I had in the past were all very positive. But, then I remember I was told, by a very good friend of mine, I should throw all the rejection letters in the bin - positive or not - because it is very bad karma to keep them. I moved them to the attic, unable to part with them.

So, I dug out my favourite manuscript and started to re-read it and was pleasantly surprised. It's rather good even if I do say so myself. But, then I closed down all the files and it is hidden away again. What the hell am I doing?

You know, my problem - I am scared of success.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Sally Gardner

At the September SCBWI Professional Series event, Sally Gardner talked about her writing process. She mainly works directly onto an apple laptop because she loves the free-form where she writes and writes, stop, then discards most of it. She explained she might only keep three sentences and then she starts all over again, until she finally gets the rhythm of the book.

When the manuscript is complete she sends it to her agent, who has an editor who looks at the grammar and tidies up her spelling. This is a necessity for Sally because she is chronically dyslexic and she described how she has built up an excellent rapport with the editor.

However, Sally thinks it is a great mistake to have too many voices listening to your work. She has never belonged to a writer’s group and insists it is not the sort of thing she would do as she is not a group person. Sally told us she felt writing is an intensely private thing and you’ve got to have someone you trust not to bring in their own agenda to your work. If you’re showing it and you own it, if you’ve got a clear feel you need to be sure it’s not going to be tarried by their prejudices or jealousies. You must be very careful whom you choose.

She also recommend authors back-off the child-tested idea, claiming it is OK for the younger child, but when children get older they can pollute your work.

Sally never wrote for her own children, she writes for herself. She said if she hadn’t have had children, she would have still wanted to write children’s books. But, reinforced, it is important you know your market, know the genre and to know yourself.

Her advice to new writers is to keep writing and never give up:

"Actually, it is difficult to know what advice to give. It’s really about
finding your voice and how you wish to write. You’ve got to want to write.
Listen to the words. Do they sing out? Do they capture you?"

You have to have some recall on your memories of justice, being wronged, being in trouble, etc to be able to find your own voice. When writing for children believe in the child within you. Never patronise. Always assume the children know more than you do. It is only adults that have problems with concepts. Have an idea of alluring magical surrealism and live true to that reality.

Sally told us how she felt very privileged in her life especially when she worked in the theatre, because she got to work with alot of different writers and has watched a lot of plays being performed. She explained how she has seen what works and what doesn’t work; what makes the audience fidget, what makes the audience get up and leave. Most solitary writers never get to see this. She told us how she believes her own voice grew over a long period of years from this experience and being very involved in the written word.
"I just love the sound of words. Dyslexia does not stop anyone loving words.
You’ve got to love words; you’ve got to be riveted by them to want to write."
Some people say writing is all about swallowing a dictionary to write a book, but Sally does not think this is true. She said some of the best books have the most simple words and it is these simple words that make the books so powerful.

Lots of people plot, but she doesn't. She also advised to be careful you’re not a tourist. Take the child very fast by the hand and lead them quickly through the plot. When she writes for older children she uses music to inspire her. It helps her to get back into the mood straight away.

When she falls asleep she said it is just as important as writing. Walking and time away from the computer is also just as important. It’s in these lazy moments you get to know where you want to go. Sally recommended that we as writers should have lots of talks aloud to ourselves. She said, opening yourself up will help your story grow.

At the moment, Sally is working on the sequel to the Red Necklace. It is a love story between the two main protagonists, Yann and Sido.

Her only regret is she wishes she’d had this belief in herself earlier. People can achieve their dreams. She feels like she has waited all herlife to get to this moment and now she is flying.

Listening to Sally talk was truely an inspiration. Her enthusiasm for writing was contagious. It was a most enjoyable evening.