From Rejection to Two-Book Publishing Deal with Hodder & Stoughton

I’m overjoyed that my debut novel The Maid’s Room will be published by Hodder & Stoughton in November this year.

The Maid’s Room is also being published by Penguin in Spain, Mondadori in Italy, Gyldendal in Norway and Rosinante in Denmark.

In addition to this, Hodder & Stoughton has commissioned me to write a second book.

I’m feeling so many things at the moment – excitement, relief (it’s been a long road) and such gratitude to the many people who have helped me get to this  place – the domestic helpers in Singapore who shared their stories with me, the wonderful editor who put her heart and soul into getting my book back on track, my formidable literary agent Rowan Lawton, and to Kate Howard, publisher at Hodder & Stoughton, as well as the numerous friends who’ve mopped up my tears along the way.

More from me soon.

 

 

Why This Writer needs Company (Sometimes)

I’ve been working on my own for years now. When you’re writing a book, you have to be alone much of the time – poring over the screen for hours, hoping some magic might descend.

As a freelance journalist, there was a lot of just me, the computer and the telephone. But over the past few months, it’s started to get to me.

I missed my days of working in magazine publishing where, stood beside the kettle, we’d mull over what we did at the weekend, all while trying to find a mug with an inside free of thick brown rings.

I missed the office banter – ‘Did you see Line of Duty last night?’ The birthday cake serenades. The ‘I’ve just bought these inedible toffees back from my holiday. Want one?’

Working on my tod was becoming too quiet. Sure, quiet has its benefits: the telephone didn’t ring all that much, and no one ever asked me to read yet another proof. And sometimes I even wrote some pretty good scenes.

But an emotion had started to chisel away at me. I tried to swallow it down, but it wouldn’t disappear. God, I was lonely.

I’d begun to drag myself through the day, lethargic and easily distracted.

A friend of mine, who’s doing a PhD, told me that she works a lot in the university library, so that she can be around other people. She finds it stimulating and as a result is able to focus more; she produces better work.

I tried working in a cafe for a while. Okay, so it worked for JK Rowling, but let me tell you, when you’re sat next to a man with a perma-tan and bleach white teeth who shares his travel itinerary at full volume, it’s pretty hard to tune out. (He was a regular.)

Then another friend made a suggestion. She invited me to take a desk in her office. She runs her own business and her office is at the end of her garden. Surely though, I’d be more productive if I just carried on sitting in silence and typed. I kept on going it alone, and I kept on getting through the day as if I was wading through glue. Something had to change, so I took that desk in my friend’s office for one day last week. It’s a grand desk too – tidy, with a glass top and a pot of pens perched in the corner. It’s set in front of a window that’s surrounded by trees.

It was difficult to concentrate for the first half hour, but then I was off, typing, squinting at the screen, muttering to myself. We had a natter over tea, not a stained mug in sight. We ate our lunch together, and my friend made lots of phone calls in the background.

It worked, I wasn’t distracted. I wasn’t lethargic, and best of all, I didn’t feel lonely. I was more focused and did some decent work.

So I’m going back to that lovely desk this week. Going it alone is okay some days, but I need my fix of people.

The Blue Pencil Agency Novel Award

Brand New Novel Competition run by The Blue Pencil Agency

Deadline: 30 June 2017

Entry fee: £15

Prizes for 2017 are 1st prize – £1000 and an introduction to literary agent Eve White

Runner-up: Four nights at Retreats for You and an editorial report

Unrepresented and unpublished writers, enter your first chapter or up to 5000 words along with a 300 word synopsis and a covering letter.

  • Entries must be double spaced in a clear font (Times New Roman or similar) and pages numbered.
  • The novel’s title must be on every page, but your name should not appear anywhere on the story.
  • The covering letter should include the following details: your name, the title of your novel, your email address and telephone number, a brief CV or publication history and the genre of your novel if applicable.
  • The work must be completed or close to completion by the competition deadline of 30 June.

For more details visit The Blue Pencil Agency.

 

What It’s Like to Attend a Writing Masterclass

Paul McVeigh’s fantastic blog for writers has wrenched me out of the downest of days, so when Word Factory announced he was giving a Masterclass at Waterstones Piccadilly, I signed up.

About 30 people listened as The Good Son author talked about the challenges of getting your book on the shelves and helping it into the hands of readers. His honesty was refreshing, and at times hilarious too.

‘“What’s your book about?” It’s the cringiest question in the world.’ Paul proceeded to do a pretty good impression of most writers when they’re asked that question. Bumbling, boring on about themes, eyes scraping the ceiling in search of the right words, five minutes of waffle then the ensuing painful silence. Clearly, we all related to this because the room was loud with laughter.

Best to have your tagline ready for when people ask then. In fact, keep it in mind while you’re writing the book.

Write down what your character’s goal is and what’s preventing her from achieving her goal then put this in the header and footer of your manuscript to encourage you not to stray.

‘Every sentence should further the plot or enhance character. If it doesn’t do this, it shouldn’t be in there,’ said Paul. And when the character reaches her goal, ‘it should be a complex victory. There should always be a price to pay.’

Paul spent the second half of the three-hour session talking about how to publicise your book before it hits the shelves. Get involved, he said. Help out at writing events. Cultivate relationships with writers and other organisations too. Think about what angles your book has and write blog posts accordingly, so that you have a stock of good quality stuff ready to go for when the time comes.

I am easily distracted, but not once did I stop listening to Polari-Prize-winning Paul who is dynamic and witty. And during the breaks I enjoyed talking to some of the other writers. It was particularly special to meet my Twitter friend, Word Factory apprentice writer Emily Devane for the first time.

The class was well worth the money. I came away with lots to think about, including this: ‘All writers have an arrogance. You must have because you think you’ve got something important to say.’ Blimey – that’s an idea to hold on to, especially if another rejection email happens to plop into your inbox today…..

The Bristol Short Story Prize

WritingMad

The 2017 Bristol Short Story Prize. Deadline: 3rd May.

Fee: £8

Prizes for 2017 are: 1st prize-£1000, 2nd prize -£700, 3rd prize -£400. Each of the 17 remaining shortlisted writers will receive £100. Winning and shortlisted stories will be included in the 2016 Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology.

Enter your stories of up to 4,000 words on any subject and in any theme. There is no minimum length and both published and non published writers are eligible to enter. Entries must not have been previously published.

  • Entries are accepted in a Word document, pdf or equivalent. There are no specific formatting requirements – font type, font size, line spacing. Writers may format their work in the way they feel is most appropriate. Postal entries will only be accepted as printed typescripts. Please send postal entry/entries to : Bristol Short Story Prize, Unit 5.16, Paintworks, Bath Road Bristol BS4 3EH. Click here

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Digging Deep for the Second Draft #novel #writing

This next bit’s going to be painful, but it’s my favourite part. I’ve written the first draft of my novel, and am about to embark on my second.

This is when the characters will take shape, but for that to happen, I’m going to have to get into their heads and feel what they’re feeling. Flinging yourself over a six-foot-high wall to save someone’s life? I’m in. Finding out your husband’s told you a huge lie? Yep – here I come.

Switch on FaceTime by mistake in the middle of this draft and I’ll see my own brow knitted, or my lip curled into a snarl. It’s not going to be pretty, but it’s essential.

This is method acting for writers. I’m going to be a 43-year-old woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown, an Italian man who’s a cross between Benicio del Toro and my friend’s husband, and an elderly man paralysed down his left side.

I’m going to have to dig deep. Imagination, yes; a bad mood, most probably; yet another frown line, you bet. And masses of research.

This time around I’ll be rewriting and editing with this word on replay: Emotion. Emotion. Emotion.

Why This Writer Needs Other Writers

I spent the first half of last year being cross at my writing. It had taken me away from people and I was beginning to feel quite isolated.

Then something started to change – my writing began to bring connection, people who I could really hear, people who energised me.

It started when an agent put me in touch with an editor. Yeah, yeah – I know lots of us have been through this, and I was cynical but decided to take a leap of faith and pay for my novel to be edited. It was a wise choice. Editor, Sara Sarre, got my book, was enthusiastic about it. Her wisdom gave me a new spark. Suddenly I felt as if I wasn’t in this alone.

And it was a magical moment in June when literary agent Rowan Lawton signed me. My face hurt, my smile was that wide.

Writing has brought me new friends too. In November, I met up with a group of writers who I knew only through Twitter. I stood outside a restaurant in Covent Garden feeling nervous before I opened the door and sat down to lunch with seven complete strangers. It was one of the highlights of my year. Forget nothing conversations about the weather; here we talked openly about our fears, our hopes, our children. And oh how we laughed.

For a long time, I’d wanted to meet gifted writer Joanna Campbell whose work I admire. In December, I got my chance at the launch of her short story collection When Planets Slip Their Tracks. Her nuggets of wisdom have stayed with me. As has her book – it is so well observed and funny and I am enjoying it immensely.

I’m ending the year feeling grateful to my writing. It’s brought me some special personalities, people who have made my life better with their thoughts and funny asides. I’ll be holed up in the writer’s cave again throughout 2017, but I intend to make regular escapes to talk about it all.

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How to Start Writing a Novel – The First Steps to a First Draft

I’m three weeks into writing my new novel. It had been so long since I wrote a first draft that I’d forgotten just how difficult it is.

For starters, there was blank page syndrome. That sickly feeling when you see your computer lurking on your desk, and all those things you do to avoid sitting in front of it. Gardening in sub-zero temperatures anyone?

My first few paragraphs didn’t have an easy birth, beset by distractions. Copious cups of tea were made. Toast was burnt. And oh, what the hell, just one more look at my emails.

Then, falteringly, somehow I hit 31,000 words. 31,000 rough words that I wouldn’t want anyone to read just yet. But still….

For me – starting is the hardest part. And in starting, it all came back to me. So here are three steps that have kept me on the straight and narrow and stopped me staring aimlessly into space.

Step One: Make a Plan then Make Another One

I scribbled a rough plan of the whole book before I started to write. Once I’d started, the story began to take its own shape, so I tore up my plan and wrote a new one, detailing the dramatic peaks of the story and the development of my characters. If I was an organised kind of person, I’d pin this new plan to the wall, but every time I start writing again, there’s a snowstorm of papers as I riffle through the mounds to find it. (Note to self – buy some Blu Tack.

Step Two: Research then Research Some More

I did a lot of research before I started to write -newspaper cuttings, lectures, speaking to an in-the-know friend. And I’ve punctuated my writing with doing yet more research. Reading about the subject at the centre  of my novel is helping to make the writing more authentic. It informs character development and sets off new ideas too.

Step Three: Write one Character at a Time then Rewrite and Repeat

My novel has two points of view, so I’ve started by writing one character in her entirety. That way, I might get more of a handle on her essence, on how she reacts to things, the way she speaks. She started off as a Victoria, transformed into a Kate and now she’s someone else entirely. Once I’ve finished writing her, I’ll rewrite her all over again hopefully turning her into a really strong character. Next it’ll be over to my second character. After that, I’ll start piecing their narratives together and work on pace.

Right, I’m going back in…..

 

5 Things to Know about Writing your First Draft

‘You’re an old hand.’

‘You must know what you’re doing by now.’

These are just two of the things my friends have cajoled me with this week while I’ve done everything in my power (and some things that were beyond my power – let’s not mention unscrewing the U-bend of that blocked sink) to avoid starting the first draft of my next novel.

You see, it’s been a while since I faced the dreaded blank page. Back in December 2010, I started typing my first novel only to get lost in a crowd of superfluous characters. Then there was that literary flirtation with the love story in 2014 (the one with the unmentionably pretentious title – breaks off here to delete all blog post references to it). And last year I began the first draft of my third book, The Maid’s Room, which, aided by a detailed plan, flowed well.

This next manuscript will be my fourth novel and I have to confess I’m a bit scared. To quell my concerns I’m reverting to what works best for me, writing a detailed plan on a piece of A3 paper. At the top of it, I’ve scrawled DRIVE and INTRIGUE and CHARACTER ARCS inside helpful squiggly clouds to urge me to stay on course. And yesterday was a good day, I finished with 3,074 words.

Whether you’re taking part in National Novel Writing Month or going it alone, here are some first draft nuggets to remind you (and me) how it’s done.

  1. Don’t stress about the future. If you’ve done this novel writing malarkey before, chances are you’re inhibited by what lies ahead. The agent rejections. Will this ever get published? It all comes tumbling in, so that you might end up shutting down your blank page and looking at Facebook instead. Well, don’t. Stop thinking big. Just plonk yourself in front of the computer and type. I’m aiming for 1,000 words a day. But if you’re taking part in National Novel Writing Month, you’ll be going 1,000 better than me. 2,000, ladies and gentlemen.
  2. Do write rubbish. The first draft can’t be anything else, can it? You don’t know your cast of characters yet. They’ll probably be acting in a way that will end up contrary to their later, more fully-formed selves. And the voices might be clunky. Just keep on tapping those keys though and the characters should eventually start to take shape.
  3. Don’t go back and edit. Not too much anyway. Let me just mention my pretentious novel again here. I ended up with 70,000 words that might have been coiffured and polished to the max, but that didn’t stop them causing a catatonic state in one of my liveliest friends. I’d wasted so much time titivating along the way that I hadn’t seen the glaringly obvious; the book was drivel. This time I’m going to leave the editing to the end. This draft isn’t about perfection after all; it’s about making it up the mountain.
  4. Do turn up. Tidy your desk. Pop a couple of inspirational books on top of it, so you can read some pages to spur you on. My chosen one is Letters to the Lost by Iona Grey. I’m not writing a love story, but reading Grey’s flowing and immersive narrative puts me in the right mood. Make a deal with yourself not to get distracted. I try to write for an hour before I allow myself to get up and make a cup of tea. I became absorbed in writing The Maid’s Room – I’d get up early and write late into the night. The more you write, the more you want to write, and the better the writing gets.
  5. Don’t isolate yourself completely. Because a) you’ll develop twitchy eye syndrome, and b) you’ll stop writing well. Go to the party. Attend that book launch. Listen to your friends talk their hearts out. Seeing people will energise you and make your characters sing. You might even find a new subplot.

Right, I’m going in again. Are you?

Word-ometer: (as of Thursday 17th November) 28,267.

The Bristol Prize Awards Ceremony 2016 – Here’s What Happened

The reading room at Bristol Central Library was packed with people when acclaimed short story writer Tania Hershman announced the winner of this year’s Bristol Prize.

Writer Stefanie Seddon stepped out from the audience to take her £1,000 prize, her face pale with shock. The moment she took the mic and started reading her story Kākahu, it was clear what a talent she is. I was among the runners-up in the front row who got to hear just a few paragraphs of Stefanie’s story, including the killer first line: ‘There are lots of ways to remember that day; the day I became a bird’. I’d say everyone in the room will read her story to the end though. I have and, oh, it’s a gem.

Afterwards photographs were taken, much wine was drunk and lots of people stood around talking.

‘Congratulations!’

‘Well done!’

‘Congratulations!’

Nobody was quite sure – apart from competition organiser Joe Melia that is – which 20 faces had their work in the anthology, so partygoers scattergunned congratulations. ‘Oh, no, not me, I’m not in the anthology,’ was said more than once.

According to one of the early readers, there were a lot of stories about birds in her pile this year. And there must have been a lot of piles since more than 2,000 people entered.

The room was furnished with some of those people. I recognised several from the supportive network of writers on Twitter.

We laughed, we enthused about writing, we even signed a few books. But when the room started to thin out, and the wine bottles had been drunk dry, it was time to say my goodbyes. I felt a bit sad because I’m pretty sure I won’t enter next year. After three shortlistings, it seems the right place to stop. For now at least. I’d like to focus on trying to write my next novel.

Since 2014, the Bristol Prize has been beside me through the ups and downs of this business called writing. The business where sometimes you think you can’t do it anymore, the business which is populated by more nos than yeses. But hold out for those yeses, please do.

I was signed by former Bristol Prize judge, literary agent Rowan Lawton in June this year, so I’m really pleased I persevered with my writing. And my Bristol Prize shortlistings encouraged me to do just that.

Getting into the Bristol Prize long and shortlist isn’t easy. You need a strong dose of luck to match your good writing. But at just £8 an entry, it’s definitely worth a punt, don’t you think?

Get hold of this year’s  anthology to see what makes a winning story, and pens at the ready, entries for 2017 open later this month. #KeepWriting

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Bristol Short Story Prize 2016, Bristol Central Library. ©Barbara Evripidou2016