Friday, 29 July 2011

Cats, Phones and Days Off

So I can't remember if I mentioned this or not, but I've spent the last few weeks busy working on a round of revisions for A TORRENT OF LIGHT. Yesterday I finished them. Yes! Finished! And not just finished: I finished them and was happy.

Normally I edit and feel pleased but also a teeny bit dissatisfied because something didn't turn out quite as well as I'd wanted. Or it just didn't do justice to the way I imagined it in my head. This time I am happy. It's not perfect - I don't think any author thinks their drafts are perfect! - but it's so close to the book I want it to be. For that I need to thank my agent Melissa, my editor Sara, my husband Steve and myself Me, because without them I wouldn't have gotten to this point.

(I realize this makes it sound like the work's totally over and it's going to print, but that's not true. There will be more work. I'm just quite pleased with the work already done - not to mention I'm still basking in the afterglow of finishing revisions!)

All of which means I've given myself a day off. Today, to be precise. A day off! A guilt free day off!

So what have I done on this fine day?

I've pondered the unsolvable puzzle of the cat in this photograph. Try it. If you can find the bloody cat please tell me where it is because it's driving me crazy.

I have discovered that if you drop your phone in water you can heal it with uncooked rice. There. Your Invaluable Tip of the Day. I did not discover this the hard way. I heard mysterious rumours about it and immediately felt compelled to experiment but a few desperate words from Steve made me see reason. My phone is dry, never fear. However I did have this mysterious rumour confirmed on Twitter: it worked for someone in my agent's office!

I had a Skype chat with my mother. I have these quite often but so rarely without a sense of 'oh heavens I've been doing this half an hour, that's half an hour of work-time I've cavalierly frittered away!' For those of you who have not heard about my mother before, here is one of her finer moments (skip to the last paragraphs of the post).

I've read a book to my unborn offspring. I think he liked it.

I pondered new ideas and projects. Because I'm irrepressible that way and even on a day off I can't shake off my Writer Brain.

And I haven't done this yet but I tonight I'm going on date. With Steve. Today marks six months since we condemned ourselves to a lifetime with one another (i.e. got married) and we're going out on a date to celebrate. And also because he just got a new credit card and felt we should abuse it a little bit.

What have you done this Friday? Any big plans for the weekend?

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Reader Request: Red Flags

This post is several days overdue because Blogger has been an absolute nightmare this past week. I could break it.

Today I have a request from Ian, who said:

I'm not a newbie or anything but I seem to notice I'm running into suspicious and dodgy-sounding situations lately. I'd love it if you could do a reader request post about publishing red flags/warning signs and what to look out for?

Normally I pick Reader Requests at random but I chose this one deliberately this week because it seems very timely. Anyone else read this post about a cruel hoax?

There must be a thousand excellent posts on this subject out there but I'm going to make a stab at it. About five years ago I almost got myself into a tricky spot because I ignored an awful lot of red flags, so I can completely sympathize with Ian. This isn't going to be an enormous and exhaustive list - it's just a few common things I've come across or heard about.

Red Flags (or, Turn Around, Run Away and Never Look Back)

1. A literary agent or publisher asks you for an up-front fee. No legitimate person in the business will do this. Agents make money when you make money. Publishers buy the right to publish your book - even if you aren't offered an advance at the go, you are still supposed to make money off royalties when the book is out. You shouldn't be paying anyone any money up front.

(Note: obviously this doesn't apply to specific pay-to-publish and self-publishing places; that's a whole other subject.)

2. You can't find any information about the agent/publisher online. Sometimes these places will have excellent, professional-looking websites. I ran into one a few years ago, submitted my query through their online form, and received a 'yay we'd like to represent you!' email the next day. Followed by a list of their costs. When I went back to their website and re-checked their online form, I found that you could put anythingin - yes, even a few nasty swear words - and you'd still get exactly the same 'yay!' email the next day.

It just goes to show that a pretty website doesn't always mean everything is okay. On the flip side, some successful and legit agencies/publishers may not have a big fancy website. This shouldn't put you off.

What should send you running is a complete lack of information about these people online. Even a brand new agency or publisher usually has a web record: someone used to work somewhere else, a glowing blog post from a client or author, an interview at a reputable blog or website... you get the idea. If you can't find anything about someone online - and certainly if you can't find anything good - it's probably best to avoid them. Or at least bookmark them and check back in a few months, in case they really are legit and just very very new.

3. You sign a contract, agreeing to work with them, only to be forgotten. Your emails aren't answered, your phone calls are ignored, and you don't hear a peep out of them for weeks on end. People are busy. People also go out of town and don't check their work emails. That's a fact. You can't expect replies and hand-holding in five minutes flat. But if you're being ignored for weeks or months (and this doesn't apply to the querying process where it could very well be normal not to receive a reply at all), well, that's not very professional or courteous.

4. They recommend you get your manuscript professionally edited before they are willing to move forward with you... and they tell you who to go to. It's one thing to suggest that a manuscript be professionally edited because it's not quite up to par yet. It's even okay if they suggest editors/places they've worked with before. But when an agency or publisher tells you to get your manuscript edited at a specific place or they're not interested, you should be concerned. Odds are they're two threads of the same con and you're going to lose a lot of money. No legit agent or publisher will demand that you pay money to have your manuscript edited before they are willing to take you on.

5. You are approached by an agent/publisher who seems wildly enthusiastic about your material/story/blog and within hours they have stunning results for you. This is very much what happened to Aaronni Miller, as described in the post by Victoria Strauss that I linked to above. Publishing just doesn't move this fast. Always check out anyone who approaches you. And be very wary of hourly miracles.

And finally, a couple of excellent resources:

Can you think of any other red flags? Have you ever found yourself in a nasty place because of something like this?

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Mine's bigger than yours

I think it starts when we're, what? Four? And in a sandpit with our new toys determined to show everyone around us that our stuff is way cooler. And if our stuff just visibly isn't cooler - at least, we don't think it is - then we suffer pangs of anxiety, insecurity and the certainty that life just means nothing.

And years on... well, not much has changed, has it? We constantly compare ourselves to other people. Mrs Perfect Mother's baby never cries. Mr Debut Novelist got given a seven-figure advance on his first book. Those reviews are better, my book just isn't up to scratch, she's prettier, my toes are wonkier (and they are, too. I swear my littlest toes are misshapen.)

I've found it's pretty much unavoidable. I'm always going to compare myself to other people. But I've learned not to find myself so lacking. I've learned to judge myself by my own standards and not worry too much about the rest.

So how do you cope? What do you do when you start comparing myself to someone else?

Thursday, 14 July 2011


I feel like so many things are happening at once - and it's completely flung my carefully planned blog schedule out the window! Oh well.

Steve and I had our scan at the hospital and it looks like we're having a boy! I'd have been just as excited no matter what it was, but it's so much fun actually knowing and being able to refer to the baby as a 'he' and not 'it'.

I spent a fantastic day in London on Tuesday. I met UK agent Sarah Molloy, who is so lovely and funny, and then had lunch with Ruth Knowles and Natalie Doherty of Random House - they're both completely awesome, by the way. We went back to their offices after that to meet more of their team. (Oddly, before I first talk to or meet publishing people, I find that I'm terrified of them. I'm always convinced they'll be scary. I should really know better by now.) It was beyond cool getting to meet everybody in London.

I should really have taken a few photographs. I didn't.

I'm in the middle of a round of edits on TORRENT right now and though there are still some important things to figure out, I've finally hit my stride. Hooray!

And on a bloggy note, this guest post by Dan Holloway is fantastic - it's all about authors and physical appearances and whether or not we're expected to 'look good'. It also leads into the inevitable question of how much or how little the book itself matters.

Yep. This post is a muddle of things. Sorry. I'd try to make it more coherent, only I'm off to stare fondly at my ultrasound photo.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Learning Curve

I'm putting up Tuesday's post early because I will be in London all day tomorrow. Also: thank you for all the lovely replies to my post last week - all the congratulations and support are so appreciated!

I had this idea, when I was fifteen or sixteen, that at some point (imminently) I would soon learn and know everything. Most of these thoughts were centred on writing. I thought I'd learn everything by the time I was sixteen and it would be smooth sailing from there.


The thing is, you never stop learning. Not just as a writer, but generally. So here are a few things I've learned lately. Some were learned the hard way.

Forcing yourself to 'just get down to it' does work. An essay you've been putting off for weeks, vacuuming the bedroom, editing your book again - well, let's just say there are a lot of things we'd all like to put off or forget about or just not do at all. In fact, some days those things might hurt your brain so much you don't ever think you can do them. 

But here's a secret: if you force yourself - literally force yourself - to just get started, you might be amazed by how quickly you end up getting stuff done. Or how quickly buried ideas start flowing to the fore. Getting started's the hard part.

Never go anywhere without wet wipes. You never know when you might a) be sick in public, b) have a pigeon poo on you, c) spill Coke down your top or d) who-knows-what-else.

Nothing's as bad as it seems. Honestly. If you stop to think about it, there's always something to laugh at.

No matter what happens, Robert Pattinson will get the girl. When all else seems uncertain and rocky and the earth itself is coming apart at the edges, there is always this cast-iron fact to fall back upon. Like the sun rising in the east, Robert Pattinson will end up with the girl. He might or might not perish tragically afterward, but fact is, he'll get her first. Often beating out the likes of Daniel Radcliffe (seriously, Cho Chang? Cedric over Harry? What a travesty.) and Christoph Waltz in the process.

It can be done. Unless you're playing the very last Rainbow level of Racing Penguin, rest assured that nothing is impossible anymore. You can fly across the world. You can change gender. You can publish a book. You can - with considerable effort and much hilarious contorting - touch your nose with the tip of your tongue. 

I'm pretty sure there's even someone out there who can lick their elbow. So there you go. Whatever you dream of, it's not impossible.

What have you learned lately?

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Great Things About July

1. The weather. What post would be complete without mentioning this? Now I will admit the weather has been sketchy here in the UK - disgustingly cold for summer, appallingly hot, rainy, bits in between - but today, for example, is a lovely day. And the weather is gorgeous. And all I want to do is go for a long drive with the windows down, and drink ice cold things, and snooze.

2. A TORRENT OF LIGHT has sold to Germany (Ravensburger) and the UK (Random House)! 

Now obviously I am super-excited about the fact that my book will be published in the US and Germany, but I have to admit I'm a teeny bit more excited about it being out here in the UK next year - just because I live here and it means I can maybe walk into a bookstore and see it, right there on the shelves.

It's a dizzying thought.

3. Steve and I have an appointment at the hospital mid-month for our second scan. Where, amongst other things, we will hopefully find out if we're having a boy or a girl.

This is terribly exciting to me. I'm one of those people who can't stand surprises. The moment I hear a surprise is in the offing, I pester and plead until I find out what it is or until it's time for said surprise to be unveiled, whichever comes first. The thought that my unborn offspring might already be keeping secrets from me is intolerable. I must know if he is a he or she is a she.

4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. It will all really be over when that film is out. And I don't really want it to end. It's kind of sad knowing there's never going to be another book or another movie out. But at the same time I can't wait to watch the darn thing.

5. Being able to wear my bee-yoo-ti-ful new maternity dresses. They're very summery. All floaty knee-length skirts and short sleeves (or no sleeves) and general prettiness. So I guess this should really be part of Weather, above, but I'm putting it under Fashion, here. Because quite frankly fashion can be difficult when one is with child.

What are you happy about this July? What are you looking forward to?

Friday, 1 July 2011

Reader Request: I Do

A picture-filled post today! Talli Roland demanded requested more wedding photos and I'm pretty darn sure she's going to stick a hot poker in my ear if I don't comply, like, now. So here we are. A flashback to January. I'm telling The Story of Our Wedding in Four Photographs.

That's the wedding cake, sitting on our kitchen table the night before the wedding. You can also see a) my father's legs and b) the glass of Pina Colada I guzzled almost compulsively in the hopes that it would ease my terror of Walking Down an Aisle. (It didn't.)

The aforementioned terrifying Walk Down the Aisle. We had music. We had a whole minute of music picked out for this very moment, actually. Everything had been timed. Fifteen seconds in, I was at the front and they had to turn the music abruptly off. Yep. I sprinted. All I could think was OMGsomanyfacesIthinkI'mgoingtofaintmustgettherenow.

I think I was reaching for Steve's ring here, to put it on his finger. You can't tell from this photo - obviously, because that's his back you see there - but he was a little teary at this point. Probably thinking 'holy s***, what am I doing? I'm condemning myself to a lifetime of making tea while my wife becomes a hunchbacked crab over her laptop!'

You have to feel for the boy.

And finally, that's us cutting the wedding cake at the party afterwards. It's not one of my better facial expressions, I'll admit, but I blame it on the cake. I swear the thing did not want to be cut. It wasn't tradition that compelled us to cut it together - it was necessity. Neither of us could so much as make a dent in it on our own!

So there you have it. Cakes, booze, terror-inducing Walks, rings and a groom who is no doubt by now wishing he'd never met me or my laptop. It was the best day ever.

What was your best day?