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Sunday, 25 March 2018

How to Edit - well, to start with...

So, you've finished writing your novel! Well done! You should now have in front of you, a file of around 75,000 consecutive words! Some of them make sense! Some of them may even be good words like 'sussuration' and 'castigate', two words of which I am particularly fond but find little excuse to drop into conversation. And I am sure you think that these 75,000(ish) words are ready to go out in public, where they will undoubtedly draw the praise of many, the attention of a few, and possibly the finances of a publisher.

But hold your horses there. It is, and I hate to tell you this, extremely unlikely that your book is ready to be seen unescorted and out alone yet. It, like a three year old, may appear to be perfectly functional in all ways, but is still incapable of crossing a road or whipping up a cheese souffle. In fact, you may discover that it isn't even a proper book, but we can sort that out in the edits.

Firstly - put it away. Honestly. Somewhere you can't see it or smell it. A locked box in the bottom of a filing cabinet (you can put a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard' if it makes you feel more comfortable). At least six weeks should do it.
If you understand this reference, you are My Kind of People
But as long as you can bear it. Whilst it is marinading in there, write something new. Or go on a long holiday - anything that distracts you.

When a decent length of time has passed, withdraw the book and sit down with a big red pen (or highlights open on your computer) a bar of chocolate and the curtains drawn. DO NOT tell people what you are doing. They will Ask Questions, which is very offputting. Now read through your book again, and make notes as you go (hint, if you want to know how bad things really are, do a word search through your manuscript for little modifiers like 'just' . Once you've passed the 200 mark you can scream if you want).  Remember what I said about your characters having to grow and change? And every word moving the action on or developing the characters? Be honest now, can you really say that they do? Do you have four page descriptions of locations (or, even worse, clothes)?

And then, sit back, and think 'why should the reader care about this?'

Now, eat the chocolate. You can despair a bit, if you like, it's natural. You are also allowed to think you've written the worst book ever in the history of books, and that's including that four page illustrated 'Store of The Heghog' you wrote when you were seven.
'A captivating tale of nature' - your mum
But, admit it. There's a few sentences in there, a few descriptions, where you think 'that wasn't too bad'. Maybe the characters are wooden and don't behave like real people but there's this bit where they.... and that's not too terrible. Maybe the storyline still strikes you as unique. There's...just....something....

Now, quick. Make notes. Capture those 'somethings' that stood out for you. Circle them if you have to. Scribble all over your page (it's easier if you've printed it out for this bit, we've all ruined lots of laptops doing this). You will end up with things like 'why did she say this here? Why not earler?' and 'where's the caravan gone?' and, if your handwriting is like mine 'habble flib con not won argon'. Which you can decipher later.

What you will end up with is lots of coloured circles, post it notes stuck on, chocolate stains, scribble, tear-stains, turned down corners and a notebook where you have, hopefully, written ideas. Oh, and lots of chocolate wrappers.

But the main things is - you've got something to work with. And, if I don't get distracted, next week I shall help you with that.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Starting your novel - some words of advice

"Gosh", people sometimes say to me, often from a considerable distance because I have a look in my eye that suggests I might throw things at them if they come closer, "I'd really like to write a book!" Then they look at my ragged clothes and my unheated, damp house and add, "A successful one though." And then, cautiously, sometimes poking me with a stick, "Can you give me some advice?"

So I thought I'd use this blog to give that advice, without the poor souls having to come any closer to me. Can't really help with the 'successful' bit, but I can tell you about how to go about starting...

1. Make sure you are writing for the right reasons. Don't think you will write a book because it's a good way of getting famous, making lots of money or easy. If you think it's a good, easy way of being famous and making lots of money, then writing a book is not for you. Why not try being a contestant on a game show? It will give you your desired effect with less humiliation than writing a book.

2. Make sure you have a Big Enough Idea. That interesting thing that happened to you once won't even fill a chapter, trust me. Your characters have to grow and change and develop over the course of a novel, and dropping an ice cream won't do that. Unless your character is the Incredible Hulk, of course, Because I imagine dropping his ice cream would make the Hulk grow and change quite a lot.
3. Have a vague idea of which genre you are writing in and read up on those genres. For example, romance (my genre) has certain conventions. Like having a happy ending, where the couple get together. Now, you can break that convention, but it will mean your book will become 'women's fiction', and publishers may shake their heads and mutter, and, as a first time author, you don't want to give a publisher the chance to shake their head and mutter. Know Your Genre.
Trust me, romance and the happy ending does not have to mean 'fluffy' books. But work with the conventions.

4. Write. And, whilst writing, ask yourself if everything you are putting in that book is necessary. Remember what I said about characters growing and changing (and possibly ripping their trousers, if they are the Hulk)? Well, every word must either move your story on or develop your characters. No lengthy discussions about dresses, please.
Not relevant, not relevant, not relevant - but nicer in the blue, with the sweetheart neckline and more embroidery on the bodice...

5. Finish it. Doesn't matter if you hate it by the time you get to the end, we all hate every word we've written once we get to the end. But the road to Writing a Novel is paved with unfinished first chapters, you need to stick with it and keep going. It will feel like pulling teeth and you will pray for death around about 50,000 words, but Keep Going. We will talk about making something readable out of what you've written, next time.
When you've written these words, you have my permission to go and eat a lot of chocolate. Or biscuits. Or cake...look, just go and eat everything you can see. It's fine. You're a writer now, it's what we do...

Sunday, 11 March 2018

The Unexpected Rose Bowl of Doom...and why I think it should be a cake.

So, you know last week, when I went off to the RoNAs. with my little suitcase and a packet of HobNobs, a bit like Paddington Bear only without the label?

Well, I only went and WON THE RONA ROSE!!!

For anyone who doesn't know, that's the award for the best 'short' Romantic Novel of the Year. Think novella, Mills and Boon length books, in fact, I think Mills and Boon donated the trophy in the first place (It's actually called the Betty Neels trophy after one of their more successful authors. You can look at her books here. She seems like a nice lady). So they gave me a rosebowl.

Here is the rosebowl in question. Also pictured, flowers and the star that you get when you win your category. And the dog's blanket.

And I was wearing unsuitable shoes! Now, if you've ever tried walking around a room carrying a rosebowl and a crystal star, talking in an overexcited fashion to people you haven't seen for nearly two years, and wearing shoes that you can barely stand up in, well. I don't recommend it unless you want people to think you are a) drunk b) in need of medication or c) possessed by the spirit of a three legged terrier hopped up on Bonio and in drastic need of walkies.

Here are pictures: 
This is the line up (minus two who hadn't arrived yet) for the Romantic Comedy award. Eve Devon, Trisha Ashley and Matt Dunn, plus me. We all had a good giggle before this was taken, and lots of talk about underwear (although, to be fair, that was mostly Eve and me).

And this is me, post win. Looking, as you can see, somewhat shell shocked. But that might have been the shoes.

And then, the next day, I had to walk back through London, on a kind of inverse 'walk of shame', carrying the Unexpected Rosebowl. It's quite big and didn't fit in any of the bags I had, so it was stuffed, rather ignominiously, into a carrier bag, and turned out to be Quite Heavy when carted through town on plastic handles. Plus, I have no idea what to do with a rose bowl. In my house it's pretty much just a very posh Quality Street dispenser...

so, I put it to the Committee that, in future, all awards should be either very very light things which are easy to pop into a bag and carry for miles without arousing suspicion (like a bath sponge. Very light and squashy)
The new RoNA Rose award. Lacks a certain something, though.
or cake, OR something that is v v useful to have in the house (washing machine, log burner) or cake.

I realise it's harder to engrave the winner's name on a cake, and possibly a little harder to keep to pass on to next year's winner, but...IT'S CAKE! Plus much easier to carry, probably internally.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Off to the RoNAs...

Tomorrow I shall be leaving my cosy existence in the wilds of North Yorkshire, for that there London, where I shall be attending the Romantic Novel of the Year Awards ceremony. Once there, I shall be running about with a big pink face, squeaking in excitement at all the very well known people there. I may even try to pee in one or two handbags.

It is a wonderful honour to be shortlisted. You knew I was shortlisted, didn't you? Well, I am. Once with
this, and once with
this. The list of other shortlisters is so esteemed that I am the only person on that list that I have never heard of and, indeed, very few people attending will have heard of me - except in the context of 'watch out for the one with the big pink face, she pees in your handbag if you don't keep an eye on her'.

So, think of me tomorrow, trying to be all polite and well behaved and everything, and trying to look acceptable in the pictures, where I must appear with normal people who look nice and are wearing lovely dresses (or not, in the case of the men) and shoes, and clapping happily at whoever wins. Because it's all about the books, you know, and the best book will most definitely win, even though I am pretty sure it won't be one of mine. It will just be lovely to see some of my friends there and have a giggle and a drink and applaud and just generally lig about.

Oh, and pee in a handbag, that's a given.

Here is the rogues gallery where you can see all the beautiful books and their beautiful authors. And me.