Friday, September 26, 2008

Dream a little dream of...

Does anyone else out there dream their stories?

Well, I have very vivid dreams and more often than not I remember them when I wake up. I can dream whole plot lines. When I was stuck on a plot of a recent book I was writing I would read where I'd got to in the story just before I went to bed and somehow when I woke up I had a vague storyline. Granted I think the story probably needs a lot more work and maybe a lot more sleep.

I keep a notebook by my bed most nights and often write down the stories I have dreamt. One day, I am going to write them all up as different novels. Right after I finsihed all these educational texts. But for now, I can officially say I am still working even when I am asleep.

This happens when I read other peoples books too mind you. If the characters are built up so clearly they sneak into my dreams... so Nicky, Selena is a culprit.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Anita the Columnist

Did I tell you I am now officially a regular writer for the national writing magazine Writers' Forum?

Yes, I have my very own column - every month.

It's all about writers and their research. You all know how much I love to do research and often spend hours surfing the net looking for relevant info... yes, that is what I'm doing... not playing on Facebook or MySpace at all.

Well, now I get to interview top authors and ask them to share their research methods and experiences and any hot tips they may have to help other writers. It's so cool.

Well, go buy a copy and see for yourself, or better still why not take out a subscription at: Then you'll never miss an issue and always be able to read my column. Yeah!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Books I have Written so far...

I have written 18 books since 2005.

Why am I telling you this? I am telling you this, not because I have outdone Julia Golding but, because I suddenly realised this fact after posting my last blog and felt rather pleased with myself.

After all, how will you all know if I don't tell you.

I am currently writing my 19th and 20th books, both for Hopscotch Educational More information on these books will be shared in due course. Both have to be finished by the end of the year.

Anyway, that averages out at writing five books a year. This does not even include the fiction books I have also written that have not been published by anyone... at all... ever!!!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Back to the SCBWI Retreat - My notes on Julia Golding

Here are my notes on Julia Golding. I know it seems such a very long time ago since the SCBWI Retreat but, as I'd written up my notes I thought I may as well share them with you. As you can see, I do tend to write prolific notes. I need to write things down for the information to get in my head. I wonder if this means I'm a visual person?

Julia has written 12 books since 2005.

The Diamond of Drury Lane is an historical series about an orphan girl, working in a theatre in Drury Lane. Her name is Catherine or ‘Cat’ for short. Cats have nine lives, so she has agreed to a nine book series. Julia has also written a fantasy quartet - The Ship Between the Worlds. Her quartet is based on the four elements – earth, water, wind and fire. Ringmaster was Julia’s answer to Anthony Horowitz. Julia worked in the foreign office when she was 21. Being a diplomat and working abroad was a big influence on this book.

But, where did it all begin. In 2002, she went on maternity leave and started to write a book for her first child. She sent Secrets of Sirens to Liz Cross at OUP and had a rejection that said in the current form your book is unpublishable but, within it there is a glimmer of an idea they liked. It was a long wait but Julia carried on writing whilst she was working at Oxfam. Sirens are birds with female faces.

She decided to get an agent so wrote The Diamond of Drury Lane, she also decided to use a club as a conscious effort not to base it in a school.

“We’re in the business of telling stories.”

If you ever get a personal letter from an editor have a look at it and think to yourself maybe they don’t like this but what will they like? They want people who respond to publisher’s comments.

“There are so many novelists out there so don’t have much power. It is important to have a reason for writing.”

Julia had advice from John Dickinson that she should get an agent but, her letter from OUP sort of excluded it. So that is why she wrote another book. She sent it to David Higham and it went so fast. It was sent to Harper Collins and Egmont. Harper Collins major in fantasy, whereas Egmont very enthusiastic. Egmont got Diamond out in January and OUP got Sirens out in March. So although Sirens was written first, Diamond is her first published book.

Before it was even published it had won the Waterstones Prize. The book shop people have to go as one of the characters and the nominated books get voted by Waterstones’ staff. It also won the Nestle Gold Prize voted by children and was shortlisted for the Costa Prize (part of Whitbread). She was also picked by The Independent as the top author in Top 25.

She went back to work to earn back the maternity leave and gave up work in 2003. She only sent to two agents Felicity Bryan and David Higham. Catherine Clark turned her down and said it was not her kind of thing. She purposely decided to focus with individual applications to agents. She was originally writing two books a year, but now she only writes one.

“One of the most annoying things is how little power you have as an author.”

Framework – Research
Think of the framework, which you are writing about. The framework is fun. Also uses a lot of the Internet and taken to travelling for research. Took a cruise to Norway to research her Viking book, which can claim back on her taxes.

“Make sure you like your notebook.”

Julia will plan her stories to a certain point before starts writing the blueprint, she works out the themes and the journey her characters are going on. She doesn’t like to know the end and that is part of the fun of day in working out - what happens next?

If you are a visual person mind maps help. Julia writes dialogue fragments as the books come as voices. She makes the chapter notes as dialogue which is her blueprint.

Keystone – Find a Voice
It’s very important to have a voice. Once you’ve heard the voice the book takes off. Even when writing in third person you need to hone in and narrow down your perspective. When it is clear in your head off you go. The actual moment of sitting down and starting to type is very difficult.

Julia’s Day
She takes the kids to school and then goes to a coffee shop for an hour and a half a day. She does not look at emails, she does not do research, she does not go online. She leaves the ‘I’d better just check,’ until later on in the day. Between 9:00 - 10:30 it is very quiet in the coffee shop.

The rest of the day is spent on the business side and revisions. Sometimes she goes back to it but it depends. She can write about 2000 words in that time. She reads her work to the family so drives her to write more so that she has something to read.

Suddenly you realise you are missing a few vital details, so you need to revisit and rework. Julia reckons sometimes it really is best to put it aside to get out and let go.

“You are in the job of amputation and have to let go.”

Sometimes you may have lost the big picture or have a crisis where you falter and stop. Look at the plot in terms of a scale. Julia calls this the heartbeat. If you have a story that flat lines at any point, you have a problem. It is worth seeing the plot from a bird’s eye view and return to the mind map and work out what ideas you are not exploiting. Work backwards. Merlin lives backwards so knows what happens in the future but does not what has happened in the past. You know that you want to end with the good overcoming the evil so work backwards.

“You are outside time once you have got your plot.”

How to approach a publisher or agent
1) Research what they have in their catalogue.
2) Do you fit? Is there something too similar? How can you know what the market is doing if you don’t know what the market is? You need to work this out.
3) Do check the submission policy as it saves time.
4) Do as they ask, don’t annoy them. You have thirty seconds to get someone’s attention. Make sure it looks professional. They turn to the covering letter first.
5) You have to able to describe your book in a sentence or two. Think is it relevant. What makes it relevant? Is it newsworthy?
6) Describe yourself in a nutshell. Have you had an interesting career or a quirky hobby? Agents and publishers want to know if they can promote you. Need to make yourself sound like they want to know you.

Julia was 36 when her first book came out and was able to describe herself as ex-diplomat, Oxfam novelist.

Where I’m At! - Working out how to sustain a career.

How do I sustain being a prolific writer?
Julia had six books published in a year. She has manufacturing days which is her writing and her marketing days. You have to be prepared to promote yourself. Julia goes into two schools a week. The book tours she is sent on by the publishers are FREE and she makes the money by selling the books. If go into schools the Society of Authors recommend £300-£500 per day, depending where you are on the scale. See the link on the bottom of the Society of Authors page. Try and go global and the best way to do this is to have an agent.

Foreign editions
When foreign editions come out publishers will change the covers and the text if you are not careful.

Invest in a website

  • Why? It is your shop window.

  • Replaces fan mail and reader content

  • It is a chance to alert readers about events

  • Good for an international audience

  • For kids a bit of fun and games

Take a look at

Think how your characters can take life on in cyberspace. She has her character Cat as an agony aunt.

Julia Golding spends an hour a day updating her site and has Amazon links for all her books. The idea is to go into pod casting but needs to buy the widget. Remember the more graphics you have the longer it takes to upload. Fans spin off and do their own sites.

As the author, you need to be the person who comes up with the ideas. I can see a low cost marketing idea of...

It’s all about money a traditionally thinking. It is rare to get an original campaign. A lot of Julia’s sales are word of mouth. You have to think way ahead and look for news worthy hooks.

School Events
Make it fun. Leave them with something they can use. Go in assuming ignorance. They have just got a live author for the day. Julia uses top trunks as a lead into talking about characters.

Julia is very efficient and focused. More authors flitter around a lot and find it difficult to get down to work. She’s got his chance now and it’s no good wasting it. The prize winning has given her a head start. She explains she writes lots of different books and invites questions at the end.

Publishers in 2008 are sitting around talking about 2010 and 2011. If you write something that is not suitable for today’s market let it go and write something new. The first book can establish you as a brand. Don’t let yourself get pigeon holed. Julia could have easily have come out as another British fantasy writer. She heard history was making a comeback so decided to write a historical novel. She had a large number of ideas and the problem was which one she was going to choose.

She specifically writes books to feature as a portfolio item. She wants a range of genres and has planned her writing career.

Who would I like to be?
She published 12 books in 24 months. The theory of a series means you need a number of hits in the series. You need to build up a particular series not unreasonable to write two in a series in a year. Three books a year is a comfortable pace. She has written two series books for next year and a stand alone for next year.

Each book she writes has a theme.

It’s all about managing your time. She feels much more efficient to project manage your life. Checks email twice a day. There are too few children’s book reviewers in the world and if you get on the wrong side of them it is difficult.

Julia does not write under a pseudonym. She wants to be a name in the children’s book world and is looking how to sustain it.

She particularly enjoyed Patrick O’Brien’s Pirate Seas books when she was younger:
The Mutiny on the Bounty
Treasons Harbour
Master & Commander

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

My Website

I have updated my website. If you have not yet had a look at my website - go and look at it now.

Monday, September 08, 2008

More Hits, More Exposure

Titles are important, not just on your book but for your blog posts as well. If I use a title with the person’s name I am blogging about, or the name of an event, or an organisation, when people search for things like Tony Bradman, the Tour of Britain (which finished today in Newbury near where I live), or SCBWI British Isles, my blog will come up and it will improve my ratings on search engines like Google.

I am aware I have not used very original titles for many of my posts. They tend to highlight what I am blogging about without the frills. Candy Gourlay always impresses me with her funny and interesting titles that still manage to push what her blog for the day is about.

It is also true, the more links with other websites you can make, the higher your ratings will be. That is why you should always have a links page on your website and if possible, ask for reciprocal links.

I suspect, like myself, many people do a Google Alert for themselves. This is where Google sends a message straight to your inbox whenever someone publishes your name on the Internet. This works very well when your name is Anita Loughrey, as there are not very many other Anita Loughrey’s out there. It enables me to keep track on what people are saying about me. However, it would not work quite as well if your name was John Smith.

So, when I put people’s names on my blog like Jane Wenham-Jones, or Lee Weatherly, they get an email sent to them saying I have done this and of course, like me they have to check it out and that means more hits for ME and consequently a higher Google rating and thus, more exposure and… well, we all know how I like to make an exhibition of myself.

And that is my blog for today.

Friday, September 05, 2008

SCBWI Agent's Party 2008

Yes, I know the blogging has been very scarce the last few months. I need to get myself back into the routine and thought I would start by reporting on the SCBWI Agent's Party 2008.

Yes, it was brilliant. And yes, Sue Hyams did an excellent job organising it. Thank you, Sue.

The above picture was lifted from Candy's blog without her permission. As it has got me in it, I am assuming she won't mind. LOL!

You can read Candy Gourlay’s notes on the event at: SCBWI's Agents Party ... How Nobody Was Bitten ... Plus Some Monster News. And you can read a blog by Sue Hyams at: Too busy to write?

As Candy mentioned, there were two illustrator agents and two author agents. They gave us a brief run down on their agencies and then there was an open forum of questions.

It was interesting to hear how the different agencies operated. There was a general consensus of opinion that the picture book market was improving for both illustrators and writers. Mark Mills from Plum Pudding Illustration also felt that there was an increased demand for comic style drawings, although Edward Burns from Advocate Art, had not experienced this.

I was also interested to hear that out of the hundreds of submissions they get every week they only take on about six new authors in a year and if their lists are full, they may not take on anyone. Although, Eve White did say if the writing is exceptional she would consider taking them anyway. She also warned not to send in your manuscripts too early. This is sound advice and a pitfall I have fallen into myself.

On the question of representing children's non-fiction, Daniel Neilson from PFD said they do not represent any children's non-fiction authors but, it was an area they were considering branching out to. However, they would not represent only an author's fiction, they would want to represent both. I felt very disappointed to hear this as, knowing the market quite well now, I do not believe publishers of children's non-fiction would be interested in dealing with agents and in fact this may lose an author work. Whereas, it is hard to get your children’s fiction noticed without an agent. This sort of puts me in a dilemma.

What do other people who write children’s non-fiction do?