Thursday, 28 April 2011

Rejections: My tips for Survival

Building relationships and public visibility is what a new author wants and needs. And I’m eager to establish myself and construct a profile which I started this year so, I still regard myself as a novice author, because I’m learning how to connect with an authorship that I’m not sure is there yet. I’ve joined Twitter and I’m growing a firm following with my tweets and it’s a great place to develop new freindships with like minded people, especially other authors.

But there is a new part to building relationships that I’m having to tackle head on: Rejections! This is a new arena as I’ve submitted more of my work to different organisations with a view to increasing my profile, and spreading the word. Why would I do that? For two reasons really: to be read and to share my work, and eventually to get paid for it. That would be fab!

I’m sending my work to editors both in the UK and USA. And to date I’ve been remarkably lucky. I’ve had what I would class as very pleasant rejections. Editors have been gracious and taken the time to explain why or what might not be right with my work for their publication.

For me this advice has lessened the sting of the rejection. Maybe my initial approach was good enough and it’s only my timing that is off, by this I mean my submitted piece although well crafted isn’t a good fit with the publishers current publishing requirements.

So I make a point of taking time to saying ‘thank you’ to these editors who have read my work and given me personalised feedback. Why? Because I may need to approach them again, another time. They are busy people and if I leave them with a sense that I’m easy to deal with then maybe next time they will remember me as easy to work alongside.

So these are my tips on how to handle rejections from editors and publishers: please take them with a pinch of salt, because what works for me may not work for you.

• Don’t take the rejection personally. Move beyond it, even if it irks you.
• Don’t get bitter… what’s the point?
• Accept that maybe it’s not an idea/story that they want/need currently.
• Try to study what they sell/publish – did you slot right in?
• Find and/or try somewhere else – they may have the slot.
• Consider a re-write if you aren’t entirely happy with the piece.
• Grow a thicker skin and be resilient. We have more battles to fight.
• Have other distractions to ease the discomfort. Chocolate works for me!
• And if you care about your writing passionately accept that you may be hurt.

But think about what you have done… you were brave, you put your work out to be critiqued by the toughest guys in the business and you survived. So keep all avenues of communication open and be graceful even in defeat. Let it go and move on is my best advice but make a point of saying thank you. Editors are busy people and if they took time to respond then acknowledge it.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

People I’m in awe of:

At the foot of my garden I can hear Tony’s shovel slice the earth and a soft thud as he turns over the mud and another clod falls into place. He does a little patch each day and his vegetable plot is growing. It’s quite a large area and almost ready for planting. Tony is a tiny man, a super-fit Octogenarian, it would seem indelicate to ask for a specific age, but somewhere around his mid-eighties! He’s a darling man too, as each summer he calls at my door and brings me fresh runner beans, which are absolutely delicious when served dripping with lashing of hot melted butter!

The previous tenants of Tony’s bungalow were Connie and Doris and these two dear old spinster ladies were lovely and rather special. I would be in my house doing something random when I would hear the whoosh of gasoline igniting the bonfire. I would race to the back fence and remain quite silent and still as I held my breath and watched terrified as Connie, a fraction unsteady on her pins would poke this raging inferno of a bonfire with a long stick! Guiding errant pieces of rubbish into the path of the all consuming flames. How she kept her balance will always remain a mystery to me. She never fell forwards although I would be ever ready to spring into action and leap over that fence. Thank goodness it was only a three foot six high barrier!

And years ago our village would suffer frequent and inconvenient power outages until they fixed the problem on the grid. When the lights went off, I would grab my torch and run down the street to visit Connie and Doris (I had a house key). I would find them on their Zimmer frames or worse (outdoor walker-wheels) wearing nighties, carrying naked lit candles! These darling women were from a different era and in their eighties and they had survived and seen so much danger in their lives but they never saw their own danger. I miss them still, they were such colourful characters, because they got up to no good when ever they could. Like the day Doris wandered off because the front door was left open… when Connie was in hospital having a hip replacement. It was never dull…

And then there’s my mother. Her energy knows no limits. She’s in her mid-seventies and I’m constantly faced by her indomitable spirit, which can frequently leave my heart racing. Last December during the unusual heavy snowfall she rang to tell me she had cleared the greenhouse of snow! I was appalled. The glass house is neatly tucked away, hidden from view at the bottom of her large garden and the roads were impassable. At seventy-five she’d been up a ladder, against a rickety, beyond its sell by date, glasshouse wiping off the snow with her broom! I know I can not stop her but I fear the consequences of her actions should they go wrong.

There is something about this older generation that leaves me wondering if I will be as spirited in my septuagenarian years? (Thankfully, a rather long way off yet!) I’m rather used to being attached to a computer, not doing mad cap activities that involve ladders & bonfires… but then I do have a rather over active imagination so who knows what’s possible… in the years to come!

So who do you admire?

Monday, 25 April 2011

Book review: The Amateur Marriage by Ann Tyler

Ann Tyler writes a sympathetic account of a mis-matched couple that is supremely ordinary and yet she accurately captures how two people get caught and remain in a loveless marriage. This couple do not get off to a great start and she shows us how they never quite find their marriage footing.

At first they do love each other but they never get to know each other confidentially. As a couple they are diametrically opposed, she is flighty and careless whilst he is solid and dependable. But neither of them learns to accommodate the other fully in their own life. So they rub along and frequently rub each other the wrong way.

Micheal and Pauline come from different worlds and collide into each other during a time of great confrontation, Pearl Harbour has just been bombed, and it’s this fervour that drives our couple to marry in great haste, that impacts the rest of their lives.
Micheal is content in his Polish neighbourhood but Pauline has aspirations to move to the suburbs. Micheal is tight with money and Pauline is extravagant and over the years they flourish financially but they never do well emotionally.

Ann exquisitely shows us the lack of choices people are truly faced with as individuals especially during a trip to San Francisco, when Micheal fails to secure his aim and feels helpless. But is this restriction a freedom? Here she reflects how much our freedom is limited, especially when he is not allowed to have access to his daughter. Returning home with Pagan reflects his lack of choice.

She succeeds in giving us both characters points of views and we do see a glimpse of a positive side in amongst a series of negative acts. But the endless petty feuding between them finally drives a wedge between them.

Ann Tyler portrays this ill advised match perfectly with her intimate depiction of daily life and presents the reader with both the public and the private aspects of a married life seamlessly through sixty years of marriage from late 1940’s to 2001 and occasionally you the reader may find yourself smiling as she describes changes in period with attention to small details, but ultimately she shows the reader how this couple’s domestic dis-harmony impacts three generations of their family.

If you like family drama’s you will love this book. I’d recommend you read it soon.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Why Write When I Can Read?

It’s strange but this unseasonably spectacular spring weather that is more akin to an English summer has encouraged me to read more and more. I’ve got a least four fiction books on the go this week but perhaps long ago I made the connection between long relaxing days in the sun and reading.

But things have changed: the reader is me has taken a bit of a back seat because the writer has come to the fore. When I read other authors works a whole series of events can occur and may trigger endless options for my various projects, my work in progress.

So now I find I do both. I’ve learned to read and write simultaneously. I refuse to stop reading but I have to capture my own thoughts, however I find this can make reading quite an arduous process.

It can be frustrating if it’s a great book and I don’t always enjoy the intrusion of my own thoughts distracting me from the story I’m attempting to take pleasure in reading. However, if the read is not as satisfying as I’d hoped then I can easily cease reading and turn my full attention to my own writing.

I can read for pleasure.

I can write for my own enjoyment and if by chance others enjoy reading my work then my efforts have not been wasted.

So which are you: a Reader? A Writer? Or a Writer who Reads?

Monday, 18 April 2011

My Novel is Important to me

I want to see my novel published and climb the best sellers chart. Ambitious, I know but dreams are made of this. So my relationship with my novel demands my time and energy, lots of it. I don’t know the conventional Publishing industry yet, however I have made a promising start as a new writer by entering the digital age, via Ether Books who have published some of my short stories.

My novel is just a bunch of words around 75,000. But finding the right words and stringing them together to convey exactly what I mean, how a character feels or setting a scene is getting tougher. As I am editing I am getting more critical of my own work!

On re-reading sometimes I can see that I forget, I assume the reader will keep up with my active imagination, see what I see, so occasionally I have to be remind myself to give more detail. A short time ago I wrote a closely observed section in a chapter that I was sure was padding. However I got a pleasant surprise, my ‘critiquers’ loved it. Said it was good, gave them a clear image and sense of place. So it has stayed in the chapter. I hope a future editor agrees too.

When I write I try to have a clear idea in my minds eye of what I want or need to achieve before I start to record a chapter. Then I write free hand and I can be slap dash, so my scrawled handwriting can become barely legibly as my hand attempts to keep up with my though processes which race to the finish. Then I try not to edit it until my work has settled.

I literally write as I think, or speak within my head. I deliberately do not edit as I am thinking, or writing because I try to allow the words to fall out on the paper and it’s for this reason that superfluous words can creep in to my written work. My speech patterns often encourages colour and embellishment especially if I want to emphasize a point, however, sometimes I do over-egg it as I write, but I don’t want to loose the energy and the vitality in a piece. Learning that ‘Brevity often delivers action,’ has been hard.

After the work is typed up to an end copy, I use ‘Control F’ and scavenge for specific words all those superfluous idioms and unnecessary parts of speech that slip into my/our colloquial speak. Then I print off my work and sit and read it out loud. A minor battle can commence as I return some of those deleted words, and then on re-reading re-remove them a second time. Before finally deciding that if a passage flows better an offending word may remain included. If it works the superfluous word gets a reprieve. It gets to stay. (You see there I go again over-egging it: tell 'em once, tell 'em twice, tell 'em three time’s, old habits die hard and a sales pitch is not what I’m writing!)

My list of deletions start with: all, but, yet, just, only, and I always check correct usage of: it’s or its and their, they’re, and there or too, two, and to. So why do I do this? Because I want my work to look polished. It’s not about ‘a quantity of words but their quality,’ they have to work, to earn their keep and place in my novel.

Which words do you remove? I'd love to know...

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Book Review: The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Pratchett

At the heart of this story all the women in this book are portrayed as alone and lonely whether they are married or have been married in the past.

Sabine accepts her future husbands offer to be his widow and she consents knowing that there will never be any opportunity to be his wife, no chance of anything more than this, his widow. Parsifal does not want a wife, but his generous offer masks the cruelty of unrequited love. He knows Sabine loves him, she has stood by him for more than twenty years as his faithful assistant, a long and intimate relationship based on secrets but with trust at its heart and a mutual understanding and respect for their profession. Ultimately his final act is meant as a loving act of kindness, he wants to ensure that Sabine is financially secure. However, well meant this desire is, financial security is not what Sabine desires.

Dot never stood up to her husband and she accepted Al’s rage as part of her married life. Kitty does stand up to Howard, her husband, but pays a heavy price for this brave attempt, because ultimately it does her no good, except to confirm that she has made a poor marriage. Yet only Bertie, Dot’s youngest daughter, appears to have any genuine opportunity of happiness and a chance to make a good arrangement, if only she can find the courage to leave home.

Throughout this story there is a false sense of security, as each character clings to what they know or believes makes them secure, whether it is a floundering relationship or a home, as each one of them hides their own ‘hurt.’

Sabine is the main character relaying facts and information sometimes in a dream like state that feels incredibly real as she grieves for her loss, because Parsifal’s death was a shock. She struggles to come to terms with the inevitable changes to her life and makes the necessary adjustments.

Ann Pratchett’s skill lies in her ability to weave a drama of intensely personal events but in revealing each new fact she is careful to dispel the sting that this shocking news might hold, by handling each event in a neutral manner. It’s as if she defuses the bomb as she unwraps it.

Sabine was as happy as she was allowed to be with Parsifal. The personal limits placed on their relationship and marriage made if far from perfect but Sabine settled for this arrangement knowing that it would be far from passionate. She knows she will never have a committed physical affair with him, not like his with Phan, his previous lover who died before Parsifal.

All the characters, even minor ones, survive these events, with varying degrees of success, that Parsifal created by his desire to keep his past early life a secret. But as a proficient magician his ability to build an illusion and maintain the deception formed part of his daily life, he was adept at slight of hand and only shared information on a need to know basis. Parsifal specifically chose never to share his alternative history with Sabine. No consideration for how she might feel after his death is given. Was he selfish? Not really. He did not need to remind himself of his past life, the ugly truth of events that damaged him.

If any magic has occurred it is Ann Pratchett’s skilful manipulation of the reader who with careful guidance is shown each characters fears revealed and yet we never quite know exactly what they think. Each appears to be reticent to let go. Speak their mind. This theme of sadness runs throughout the book as each character grieves their loss. Dot accepts that her son would never return home to a small town mentality that would consider it necessary to remind him, daily, of his transgression. Kitty never really got over losing her twin brother, she felt abandoned yet she too knew he would never return, not here, to these narrow confines. But being excluded from her brother’s life ruined hers. Bertie never knew her brother or her father but she had to survive, grow up watching these two women cope, bear and mourn their losses.

Ann Pratchett has written an eloquent piece embroidered with lush descriptions using Los Angeles and Nebraska as good stark contrasts and backdrops for emotions and justification of characters emotions and life choices. Her characters are well crafted, flawed individuals, who struggle and do their best to lead good lives from the hand that they have been dealt. It would be too easy to say that Ann Pratchett used ‘Magic’ as a metaphor, it would be unfair and too simplistic to suggest that she has deliberately used slight of hand, or misdirected readers because this is a beguiling story from start to finish. Her use of magic tricks to frame her story equates to artist creativity, it’s even adroit.

The main character, Parsifal, which each character relates to and interacts with is never present, except as a phantom. He dies in the opening paragraph and yet his hold over proceedings is immense. And the fact he is homosexual has very little to do with this story which is primarily a strong tale of love versus loss versus release.

I strongly recommended this book as a great read!

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Building Relationships

Thank you very much to Ange Barton ( who kindly awarded me the Stylish Blogger Award back last month. I can’t begin to tell you or her how surprised I was to receive it and therefore I will keep my responses short and snappy, as I tell you seven things about myself and then award others this accolade too.

1. I love to drive very very fast especially round a race track in a sports car!

2. I love photography but much prefer to be behind the lens holding the camera and taking the shots as quite frankly I dread being in front of it!

3. I’m currently revising my second novel and would love to see it published. So I’ve decided that April must be the month I dedicate to making sense of my Manuscript. My first novel languishes at the bottom of a drawer waiting to be reviewed and edited as it was meant to start life as a play and ended up as a book. (A few too many words for a play!)

4. Even now with a plan at hand a third novel is forming in my head and I find this both terribly infuriating yet wildly exciting, because I need to focus on one project at a time to give my fullest attention and not to ricochet off at another tangent! However I have written a draft outline for characters and a detailed mind map that captures the basic premise for this new story.

5. I have recently compiled an anthology of work for sixteen fellow authors of my writing group, and we have not secured funding yet so we may end up self-publishing as I can’t wait to see this volume of work in print. It represents the growth in our writing group.

6. When I was published in Dec 2009 by EtherBooks I nearly died happy! Honest.

7. If I could own anything in the world it would be a ‘Bluebell Woodland’ in England and I would create a wonderland walk for all to enjoy.

I've enjoyed reading and following lots of blogs, but sadly I can only choose a handful to pass on the Stylish Blogger Award. Here are some of my choices for the lovely blogs they've created and whom I've chosen to award, a ‘Stylish Blogger’ award.

Kay Sexton

Isabel Ashdown

Rebecca Emin

Catherine Miller

Rachel Carter

Claire Marriot


Rachel Lyndhurst

Penelope Young

Nik Perring

Monday, 4 April 2011

My New Best Friend

I have a brand new relationship in my life that has taken me by storm, and that’s a big surprise, I'm something of a ‘techno-phobe,’ (unless I can see a benefit of a shiny gadget) so it came as a shocking revelation that I have a new best friend, with the social media outlet: Twitter!

Oh my god there’s an immediacy at Twitter that’s addictive, truly it’s hilarious fun building a following over recent months but I still regard myself as a newbie.

Meeting like minded people has been an eye-opener, most are friendly, and a few are incredibly helpful, willing to assist with queries from a recently published short story teller. And part of the fun is getting a message out in only 140 characters! I’ve learned to be precise!

In my opinion we authors, writers, and bloggers who sit alone at our terminals appear to have taken Twitter to our hearts. However there is a down side: we can end up spending time chatting or being shameless and publish our work. At first it did seem almost bad manners and wrong to promote oneself but it comes easier now that I’m over the shock of doing this and remember it is a ‘product.’

My 'Twitter' aim initially was simple, ‘be light and fluffy if a little irreverent.’ It seems to be working so far… good manners count for a lot here and just saying ‘thank you’ gets acknowledged, and we promote each other by retweeting comments and sharing others good fortune. However I’m learning to be ruthless as I no longer follow people who do not follow me back, what’s the point? Courtesy costs very little and it seems to abound with the people I have met to date. I’ve learned quickly and picked up followers. To me it’s like being at a massive speed dating event on a global scale. People pop in meet you, some stay and stick around as they seem to like what you have to say, while others move on quickly if you don’t offer what they need.

Today I will promote my blog via Twitter (otherwise how else would anyone know I was out there on the internet with a blog?) A few of my tweeps will go directly to my site and read my entry and then some may leave comments.

A special thanks to those who have left a comment on my blog. These comments mean a lot to me as an aspiring author. It’s heartening that people take the time to make a remake especially when I discover that they have enjoyed my sense of humour and found my writing funny. Oh to write a Romantic Comedy and gets laughs, wouldn’t that be fab!

I’m very big on family and over the years I have established long lasting friendships. Relationships form the basis of who I am, and without them I don’t think I would be very interesting. So for my April blog my emphasis is going to be focused on exploring ‘Relationships.’ What they mean to me and how they enhance my writing…come along for the ride.

It would be lovely if you would join me…