In My Wildest Dreams: Adventures in Children's Fiction






Back where I belong?

I am happy to have spent the morning deep in the  Ramswold Valley! Good to be back where I belong. A new book to write. Batteries recharged.



Mind, you I nearly started writing another thing entirely. Time will tell whether I chose wisely! No more elation until I finish.
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Reading between the lines.

Having finished revising The Tall Story of Tobias Small at the end of MarchI find myself in the in between times:

Small things - waiting for the new iMac to arrive in June (my mid-2007 example has slowed to a recalcitrant stumble. Daily, I tug it by its lead.) I am waiting for the wind to turn around from the North - it is holding up bird migration, though a Swift has just been reported over Bristol. It is time to get over my irritation at agents who after five months have still not replied. I shall not chase them. I have a publisher looking at a manuscript. I remain patient. The outcome is uncertain,

Big things - waiting for my father's funeral. He was 90, a D-Day naval veteran at 20. I am an orphan at 62. That's a lucky life.

Small things: I have plenty of inspiration - I know what I have to do. For the time being, I am enjoying the warm April sunshine.
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An odd case of mistaken identity.

After two months off, I have started writing again. This week I started reworking my book for 9-12s, The Tall Story of Tiberius Small. This was the one which was politely declined by a eleven agents in 2013.  (Four never replied). I received one very kind 'near miss' amongst the correspondence.

Now that I have abandoned the idea of changing my name to Jackie Durango, 35 year old mother of two from Chiswick and dismissed all notions of there being ageism in children's publishing as a sad delusion, I feel ready to start work again.

I have begun by modifying the title. My book has become The Tall Story of Tobias Small. I think this is better, but time will tell. Thank goodness for global find and replace. I shall be changing more names, but this is less important than developing character, narrative voice comedy, place and other things.

Why am I doing this? Because I believe the heart of the book is sound. I have the faith of ten Ray Bradbury's. I am working without the benefit of an editor in a world where, for an old hand like me who has been published three times and remaindered, a book has to be tuned and polished before it will be taken seriously by anyone who wants to make money out of it. There is no leeway for someone who has been there before.

I am taking the book apart and putting it back together anew. In motoring parlance, I am pimping my ride. Street legal or not, I want it to shine
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Four years on: indefatigable and still uncategorizable

It's two months since I've blogged. Meanwhile I have been to Alberta, Canada for a month over Christmas. I have done no writing since finishing The Reaping, but have been collecting my thoughts. On my return from Canada I went down with a debilitating cough - transatlantic air travel - but I am better now. I have shovelled out my my study and reoriented my desk at right angles to the window. New beginnings. Ha!

Agents? I have heard from 11 out of 21. Ten pro-forma negatives and one more personal, but still a negative reply. I am beginning to think I am uncategorizable in that I don't write genre fiction, I flit between age groups, and am not intent on producing a series or recognisable brand. I write about what interests me. No complaints. I write well enough. Some might say unprofessional. Ha!

In the past four years I have written four novels for children & young people, a total of a quarter of a million words, more if you include all the redrafting. Three of these I sent off to agents, unsuccessfully, one I didn't feel was ready.

What's next then? I have choices:

  1. Rework the four novels I have written? The stories are worth telling.
  2. Develop two of the above into a series?
  3. Settle on writing for 9-12's?
  4. Begin a new children's novel? I have two ideas.
  5. Write an adult novel?

I still have some thinking time. I tend to think it will be a year of consolidation, travel in the camper van, and then come October the beginning of a new story. Self-publication is still a maybe.

Ha!
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Becoming the next big K-ching!

Sometimes when you throw a ball against a wall it will bounce right back up and hit you under the nose before you've had time to settle your stance. It stings! Game spoiled, temporarily. That's how it was with my second submission of The Reaping to an agent. Outbox on the 13th November, back with a clout to my inbox on the 17th. The positive: agents work weekends. The negative: my proposal failed to entice. I probably had 30 seconds to impress - same with buying houses - speed dating in the dark. 50 submissions to consider. Despite being a published author, I warranted a mechanical rejection. That's the way it is. Next! K-ching!

I have a further nine submissions out there at the moment and more to follow. I like to hear back, but I also enjoy the deluded interlude where you imagine anything can happen!

I have had a brief Twitter exchange with Ed James ( @EdJamesAuthor ) about self-publishing. He has worked hard and been very successful at it, but it may be more difficult to successfully self-publish children's/YA fiction. I am not complaining.

I shall give it some consideration in 2015.
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A manuscript is a duplicitous beguiling thing

This is where I'm at!

 (Not that I ever really know, but it's a happy sentence if you're an optimist; dark if you are not.)

I have completed the 2nd draft of The Reaping and read the whole thing again. In my head I have sent it off to an editor. Euphoria.

 It is useful to role-play the situation and I have been on the receiving end of tough love about a book before. And now in my head, the book has been returned and the comments are more devastating than I thought.

Misery. Kick the wall. Throw a bottle out of the window and hope it hasn't hurt anyone as it shatters. Regret. Go for a long walk. Have a drink. The first half of the book works, the second half does not quite so well.

I have written myself a stiff and unambiguous note about the problem areas. Time to set another deadline. 2nd draft was due 1st July - I managed that. The next? I haven't decided yet. Summer beckons.

I have to get this book right. I know I shall. It's just going to take a little longer than I thought. There is absolutely no point sending it to an agent before it is ready. I am more than halfway there, but there are some big issues to resolve. I may change the narrative voice. I may not. That is the whole point of a third draft. Some huge decisions to be made.

The RAG rated revisions plan:


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I must not go a wandering...


I have not posted anything on the blog for a while, simply because I have been working on revisions to my manuscript, currently standing at 61k words. I have used Scapple to develop a revisions map, and as you can see I am working through it (whilst listening to piano music) and RAG (Red Amber Green) rating my progress.

I started with small details that could easily be changed, but have now moved on to writing new scenes and revising others. Then I shall play around with the structure of the story. Finally I shall look at fleshing out some of the character descriptions (physical) before I re-read the whole thing and begin polishing the text.

So far so good... but I would say that wouldn't I? The sunshine makes working more difficult, but I am sticking at it and hope to finish by end of June 2014








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Getting there!


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On time and perspective

55 days to go to my deadline for finishing the first draft of my YA/crossover novel.  11,231 words remaining to complete the 60K. 11 working days. Sounds like plenty of time.

How's it going? I am approaching the final scenes. I have been writing in chronological order, working out the story as I go (my usual working method) and making notes for changes, using Scrivener's Document Notes along the way. I am optimistic, but the book will require extensive rewriting. It has taken this long (I began mid-August 2013) to discover relationships and motivations. I have been sketching. I need to layer some colour & texture, bring light and shade to the piece.

I have stopped fretting about agents and what other writers are doing. I am not sure it ever bothered me that much. When I look at Twitter now, it is mostly to see what visual artists are up to - an ever changing gallery to look at before I begin work each morning. Visual artists know all about perspective. Then there's the bird world and the weather....
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You know what happens to lines drawn in the sand.

Deadlines. Important, particularly when self-imposed. I have 82 days left to finish the first draft of my current project. (YA/cross-over). I am back into it today, back to writing a 1000 words after three+ weeks off over Christmas. I have accumulated 42,084 words to date out of 60,000. I hadn't realised so much time had slipped by while I was enjoying the season of good will and good intentions. Think how much I could have achieved in those few weeks? I could be 5,000 words, 5 days from finishing. Now 82 days doesn't sound very long, especially when you knock out the weekends.

It is 9 January 2014 and this is my first attempt to practise my New Year's resolution to write the blog more often; after all that is why I have bought a wireless keyboard for my iPad. (That is my story and I'm sticking to it). I thought if I wrote the blog downstairs and did some social networking in the evenings at the dining room table (whilst being sociable) I might keep that side of things current. Hmm. I'll make a start on that on Monday night; after all tomorrow is Friday.

Time will tell. Meanwhile I have abandoned all thoughts of agents. Three still haven't replied about The Tall Story of Tiberius Small. Finishing the current book is the priority and to support that, I have even relegated birding to the afternoons...

Mostly.
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If you fiddle Rome will burn.

The thing about creating any piece of work is knowing when to stop and let it go. ebooks allow for any amount of post-publication fiddling and revision. Letting the work go has to be a matter of self-discipline, self-belief and an acknowledgment that it was how you saw things at the time. After the event if you see the world differently, then create something else that reflects that. Let's not be lazy.

When I came to think about the ebook of Badgerman & Bogwitch, I initially saw it as an opportunity to update it, if not significantly revise it. I fiddled around with dates and updated the book to reflect the changes in technology in the twenty years since I began to write it. But in the end what I realised was that making it more contemporary added nothing to the power of the story, so after a few months fiddling and reformatting, I went back to the original text. I am happy with that. It helped me focus on  my new projects.

At the  end of the day the electrification of Badgerman & Bogwitch was a technical exercise. I learned a lot on the way about the new format. I am still learning how to manage the book once it is on line. I have dipped in and out of publication on Amazon - I have deleted my own book from the list - and made it available as a free download on my website. I am about to distribute it more widely for free through Smashwords.

Having said all, this I have revised the cover.

I have returned to my favourite colour: blue.


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An ebook is a lost child in a soundproof warehouse run by robots.

20 writer's neuroses in no particular order :) 
  1. Why doesn't anyone under thirty think print books have a future.
  2. Why hasn't my blog views' counter moved in the past four days?
  3. Should I really look at Google Analytics to see how my web page is doing? 
  4. If I lived in London, I would network with other writers & court agents at parties. (Doubt it!)
  5. Should  I read more books by other authors to get a feel of the market? (I am not fourteen, though I once was, so what do I know?)
  6. Should I be writing more than 1000 words a day, and an additional day a week?
  7. Do I bore my Twitter followers?
  8. Do they care enough to be bored?
  9. Should I get into Linkedin, Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest, and......?
  10. Do I have time to make a splash on Goodreads?
  11. How do I stop myself looking at Amazon's Daily Deal?
  12. Why are agents always looking for new writers, not old ones?
  13. Should I give my ebooks away for free?
  14. Everyone else seems to be going to writers' conferences.
  15. How many self-help ebooks does one writer need?
  16. Should I stop buying on Amazon and support my local bookshop?
  17. How can I compete with those who turn out 5+ ebooks a year?
  18. Why am I not interested in zombies, vampires and life after the apocalypse?
  19. Publishing an ebook is like abandoning a small child in a soundproof warehouse run by robots.
  20. Why can't I take myself more seriously?


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Diggle's Dilemma.


So which blue sky to choose?

This is Diggle's Dilemma. A clear blue sky is so rare in autumn in my part of the Northern Hemisphere, it is tempting to just shelve the writing and spend time outside. The alternative is to pull the blind and just get on with it.

But then when lunchtime comes and the sky has clouded over - particularly if the work has not gone well - there is regret to be dealt with.

As it happens, today I had made a start - 265 words to be precise and some simple revisions - I lost an hour because I overslept (I hate it when that occurs.)

Now it is 12.30 p.m. & cloudy. But I did go out for a coffee. No regrets. 735 words to write this afternoon.

P.S. Best of both worlds. I wrote 761 words in the afternoon. And it is grey & cloudy outside :)
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Lucky 13: Premises that underpin my writing.


  1. It is not a competition. The only person who can defeat you is yourself.
  2. Success is not measured in money; or by being traditionally published.
  3. Don’t expect to make a living out of it; the world doesn't owe you one.
  4. Have a story to tell.
  5. You don’t have to enjoy writing, but it helps if the balance is at least 60/40 in favour of happiness.
  6. Social media is not writing; turn it off when you are working.
  7. Every blank page has a story to tell. Write and it will speak to you.
  8. Read widely and often.
  9. What you have written is your legacy.
  10. A writer who doesn’t write is lazy.
  11. Keep a notebook; you can work on more than one project at a time.
  12. Like food & exercise, little and often is best.
  13. REMEMBER: Everything you write will burn up one day in one sun or another.

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The remedy for rejection.

I am in that happy place - 20% into the first draft of a new book, which in this case translates to about thirteen thousand words - telling a tale to myself, finding out who inhabits it already and who else is to be met along the way. This is just as well, because of the ten agents to whom I have sent The Tall Story of Tiberius Small, seven have said no, albeit one was a near miss. I have three left in the mix, before I have to start thinking about buying a monochrome laser printer and sending out submissions on paper to the diminishing number of agents who still accept such things. An inkjet just won't cut it as far as printing text is concerned. I look forward to the time when all agents accept electronic submissions only.

Writing is the only remedy for rejection. Self-publishing doesn't quite do the trick. It is an aspirin; not quite as good as meditation as a way of clearing the head. And that's what writing is, when it is going well: a meditative state. It's only when the self-editing begins, that stresses come into play as you wrestle with the nuts and bolts of the construction that is creaking and wobbling and tilting in front of you.

So life is good. The story, the discovery of it and the writing remains the thing.
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Twitter twitching & why I deleted North America

Twitter is a good thing, trolls apart, but it can make you itch and twitch. I began my Twitter experience by following local birders. They are an informative bunch, mostly good tempered, keen to share and generally celebrate their experience of the natural world. I have learned a lot.

Then I started following people in the 'literary' world. Agents. Starting with London, I ended up in New York. One link led to another like shots lined up in a pub lock-in after hours. Twitter is always trying to make you join up.

Enough.

This morning I deleted North America. While I am in bed, that continent tweets all night. When I opened up Twitter in the morning it had become a dawn chorus where Magpies and Crows drowned out the songsters. I like the day to break gently. Twitter had become a caffeine fuelled frenzy.

I am not parochial. American agents, nice as they are, are simply of no interest to me at the moment. However, I am learning a lot from following agents in London, not just about their drinking habits and what kind of birthday presents they receive, but actually what books are current and what kind of thing I ought to write. I am not talking about genre or trends, but the need to write something I want to write but which is also SPECTACULAR.

So I Tweet small and think BIG.
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'I thought you were dead...,' he said.

A way back a child expressed surprise on seeing me. "I thought you were dead," he said.

"Why did you think that?" I asked.

"Because all authors are dead," he said.

Certainly not dead, but I have been out of print for a while, obtainable only through Abe Books or Amazon, sourcing my novels from secondhand dealers in Australia, Japan, the UK or wherever my books have ended up. They have been thinly spread across the globe; a small miracle in itself.

But now? Badgerman & Bogwitch has a wider distribution. Having wrestled with the old WordPerfect files until I put it back in shape, I uploaded it to Amazon today as an ebook.

It was a painless procedure. It went without a hitch, except that I wanted to price the book at £1.99 in the UK, but it ended up showing as £2.00, which to my mind seems somewhat more expensive. (If you decide to download it, please don't email me asking for change.)

I am left with one question? How long will this book be in eprint? It could be 1000 years. No one seems to know the answer. I am not inclined to delete it.


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When a miss is as good as a smile.

The smiling villains are in politics. I don't think of literary agents as people like that (though I imagine  those in that line of business could probably come up with a name or two). It's not been my experience anyway. Like most people they are doing a difficult job in trying and ever changing circumstances. This is my Wind in the Willows view of the world.

The smile then. Well, yes, an actual personal email from a well-known agent. Alas: "There is an awful lot I like about it." (The book) ....  "I’m sorry that it’s been a near miss for me."

Well, that's not bad, is it?


a) It's not a pro-forma rejection - death by a thousand cuts.
b) The book is along the right lines - it may be publishable but not in these dark competitive times. It is not a slam-dunk, it is the basketball spinning around the rim of the net.


What would Tiberius Small do? Well he is tall enough to slam-dunk every time & if by some fluke he did miss, I guess he'd use one of his many connections to make sure he stayed on the first team and took all the plaudits in the school newspaper, if not the Sunday Times. But that's another story?


 Me?  I'll go on submitting, (but not in the passive sense) until I find the right fit, either with The Tall Story of Tiberius Small or another book..







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Have you seen Tiberius Small?

So what's happening with Tiberius Small, the six foot ten year old with the loaded gun and 2.5 million stolen Euros? You'd thing a boy that dangerous would have a load of people after him! Well, he hasn't been caught yet. He's still out there looking for a new venture. In fact even though he's six foot tall he has to jump up and down to get noticed.

Actually a couple of agents did catch a glimpse of him. I guess they shook their heads and said, "I do not believe it!" I reckon Tiberius Small will just have to leap higher and wave his arms around more vigorously. After all he is a boy who never gives up.

Early days. I have sent Tiberius Small to act the fool in front of three other agents and I am looking for others he might entertain. Success is all in the luck and timing (and having a good book in the first place... that fits). After all my first book Inside the Glasshouse was rejected by 12 publishers before it landed on Christopher Reid's desk at Faber & Faber and he liked the idea enough to develop it with me all those years ago. Had it arrived a week later ... or he'd had a headache... who knows? The same goes with agents I guess.

However, I am enjoying the regular Twitter event #askagent where hopefuls: young, old, experienced, whoever, can ask questions of agents about getting published. It is like having Radio 4 wired straight into your head. I haven't asked any questions, but I enjoy hearing the answers, which mostly seem to be that there are no real answers except: don't give up, keep trying, don't follow trends, be yourself, work to improve, we read everything...

So I go on...
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Did I really write that?

A brave thing to go back to the first draft of a book after a year's absence? It's loaded onto the Kindle, ready, but I have just put it down to write this, prompted by the first section heading: Nightshade. I don't even remember writing that word. This may be a good omen, indicating that I shall be able to stand outside the story and see it afresh as others might view it.

On the other hand. like places and things in childhood the story may turn out to be smaller and less wondrous. Like favourite holiday destinations it may have suffered over the time and be almost unrecognisable. These are the risks that come with committing a chunk of one's life to writing something you hope will be enduring.

It is not an exciting prospect, but hopefully after the examination there will be exhilaration. Then relief.

It will be short lived. Doubt will creep back in on taking a third look at the book. So I shall revise it a fourth time until I reach the point where I think it is time to let it go. Hopefully.


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The Tall Story of Tiberius Small

So it is now May. I went to Australia for much of March and April. I meant to look at my final draft while I was away, but I just let it sit, knowing that it was pretty well finished. On my return I read it though once again and made one or two minor changes, sharpened a few sentences and checked it for continuity.

The Tall Story of Tiberius Small is finished and weighs in at 37,000 words, which I hope is about right.  Nine and ten and eleven year olds should be able to read it as long as they are due to hit Level 4 English and have a sense of humour... and still like books. What do I really know? I enjoyed writing it and I am not embarrassed by any of it... so... time will tell. For the moment I am a success.

Tomorrow? Am I heading for a fall? Whatever, I am thick skinned. It is done. I have pressed the Send button. I am right back where I was when I started this blog about three years ago. I am waiting for the joyous Ping! of acceptance arriving in my Inbox.
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Why writing is all Snakes & Ladders.

I am pleased to say I have just finished adding the final touches to my new book (Title remains a secret). I can now have a break. In just over a month's time I shall have one last look at it and then send it off to agents.

I shall then have to go back and look at the first draft of a book I finished this time last year. (Title remains a secret) When I'll look again at The Key to Finlac, I am not quite sure. I have a long version, and most of a shorter version ready.

Why do titles remain a secret? I guess because until I send a book off, I have not quite settled on it and don't want to give too much away.

So how do I feel about my progress towards being published again? Sanguine I guess. I have written at least 40,000 words a year for the past three, so something might happen in the end. I know I am a good writer. So much depends on the market... and getting past the intern at the door!

In October, I shall start a new project. I know exactly what it is. At least for the moment, I am at the top of another ladder!
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More threads than fingers.

I have been busy. On 3 October, I started writing a new book (That's three now in various stages.) I've been feeding my 1000 words a day habit and am 10,000 words from finishing this first draft.

As I knew I would eventually, I have stumbled this morning and only managed 300 words, which is why I guess I have turned to this blog again. I have spent the last six weeks or so (at least  for 3 hours a day) seeing the world through the eyes of my ten year old self. I have managed to amuse myself, so I hope my book might entertain others. A 10 year old is a 12 year old is an 8 year old is a 10 year old. I don't really believe one generation of children is much different from another when you scratch the surface.

Now with just 10,000 words to go (Ten days - that is the way I measure things, like small children counting 'sleeps') I have to pull all the threads together and leave no loose ends, except maybe one or two that  I can pick up in another book.

My hands are full. My fingers are busy. Can't afford to drop anything now :)                
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Burning the rainbow at both ends

Funnily enough I photographed another rainbow today. It was one of those complete ones, where you could see both ends, but is impossible to photograph without a super-wide angle lens. (Which is why we have an imagination and a memory.)  It boded good weather for birding... and as it turned out for writing too.

I have been making notes for a number of days - off and on - but just before lunch I began to write the new book. I have spent three hours writing 250 words. That seems like a long time spend with little to show for it, but I have been working carefully to find the narrative voice and set the tone. I think I have  gone some way towards finding them.

I have set the two main characters up and now I shall let them run and see where they lead me.
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Optometry & Optimism - seeing the road ahead.

This morning finds me a happy man. A rainbow arcing over Stroud at 8.00 a.m. I have managed to remove 20,000 words from The Key to Finlac so far (over the summer, not this morning!) I am listening to the new Bob Dylan album and I have the title for the new book I have just started writing (not drawn from Tempest).

It's raining. Less of a distraction.

As usual I was planning on writing something else. That book will have to wait while it ferments a little longer. As I have two books currently in various drafts, I thought I'd be better off writing something for 10-12's (30-35,000 words) - a comic creation to keep me chuckling when the revisions get hard. Ever the optimist...

... or should that be optometrist? I have four pairs of glasses: for reading, for reading in the sun, for watching tv & a pair for working on the computer. Make that five - sunglasses. Maybe six - rose-tinted.



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New Shoes & Autumn Leaves

Why do I still use school terms for my reference points even though I am no longer involved in education? Like a dutiful school boy I still settle down to work every time a new term begins and kick off my shoes & go barefooted when end of term comes around. I never have been comfortable with the notion of New Year's Day or the beginning of the financial year in April. Spring & the beginning of the Summer Term has more significance.

And then there is September, where it all really starts. New shoes, new uniform, new stationery; looking forward to kicking though the autumn leaves.

Time for me to review the past two years. I have written 100,000 words. I have a couple of children's novels in nearly final draft. I am a "finisher" - the work ethic side of me sees to that - but I also want to start something new. I want to get back to my 1000 words a day habit. I want to kick though the leaves rather than trudge back from town, laden with shopping however interesting my purchases

If a painter can work on several pieces at once, then so can I - as long as there is an end in sight. That is the challenge. The juggling....but not as the mood takes me. It requires more discipline than that.
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Tupperware tells its own story

Does not posting a blog recently mean I have been focusing hard on the book? Mostly.

Writing the first draft of a book is like being a child again, running down the beach on the first day of the holidays to stamp my feet in the water. It's all shrieks and hollering. The second draft is shivering back up from the shore line, feet stabbed by stones. The final draft is being rubbed hard with a sandy towel. Warming, but unpleasantly abrasive.

But there will be a time when the sun breaks through, and I'll sip scalding sweet tea from a Tupperware cup, hot sand between my toes. And I'll dream that dream of never going back to school again.


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When Less is More...More or Less...

This is my morning. Still working on the revisions to The Key to Finlac. Still trying to reduce the first 45,000 words to no more than 10,000. It's a tough call, but I'm, getting there. The question to be asked all the time is: What is essential to the story? If it doesn't move the narrative forward, leave it out.

But it is also important to remember that 35,000 words have not been wasted. They have not been expunged. Not so much evaporation as distillation.

I write this, so I have the heart to go back to the book again tomorrow. It's a reminder to myself as well as a glimpse into the writing process.



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A Sparrowhawk ate my homework...

... and other excuses. It sometimes doesn't take much to disrupt the writing. The appearance of the Sparrowhawk on the garden bird feeders did just that and my compulsion to video it (See it here). Then of course I had to tell my friends about it and Tweet about it, followed by a celebration coffee in Kitsch (My coffee shop of the moment.)

Fortunately, I had produced a significant amount of writing yesterday, as well as making some important decisions re: the structure of The Key to Finlac. A day off then is excusable.

This though is the stuff of writing stories. It is the accumulation of small things, the looking and the excitement of it and the desire to tell people about it in a way that is fresh and conveys the wonder of it all...
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Forensics: Getting to the Truth of the Story

Forensic has popped into my head this morning. Slow, methodical, painstaking work to analyse what has happened. What exactly is the truth of the story I have written? As another person, I have to go back to the scene and find out what really occurred there. What is still to be discovered?

I have begun re-writing, The Key to Finlac, opening the book with an entirely new episode involving a character I knew little about before. And as I'm discovering, I had not properly explored and explained the world she inhabits. I have been looking for clues - trace evidence - and putting a credible scenario together to present to the reader.

It is delicate work, tricky in that I have to tread carefully so as not to destroy or contaminate that which needs to be preserved.

Without all the pieces, those already logged and those freshly seen, the story cannot be rightly told.
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Agony & Avocets: what birds tell us about story-telling

What could possibly take me a way from me desk when I should be writing? I write in the morning I go birding in the afternoon, not necessarily the best time. Compromise.

Yesterday I broke my habit.  Avocets had hatched three chicks at WWT Slimbridge the day before. This is the first time Avocets have bred on the reserve, or anywhere in Gloucestershire. I felt an urgency to see them - history in the making -  and via Twitter @slimbridge_wild I had an inkling that the parents were about to move them. I left home at 7.30 a.m. I wanted to capture the moment on video.

I succeeded. You can watch it happening here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1HX72-jtmo. Magical. The birds performed right on time, boldly leading the chicks across the water to a fringe of weeds on the other side. A meagre shelter. This just fifteen minutes before I was due to go back to Stroud.

Jubilant, I went home and uploaded my video, then went into town for coffee.

In the afternoon, comes another Tweet. The Avocet family had gone missing. Predated? Or in a place of safety? The wardens can't find them so the first seems most likely. Agony. Uncertainty. My video somehow has taken on the aura of CCTV images. Last known sighting.

Life is more dramatic than art. Art distills its intensity and fixes it in the collective memory. The Avocets is a story in the making: a struggle against the odds creates a unique and thrilling event, then a mystery that we hope shall have a resolution.

The Slimbridge Avocets & Me says it all about our need to hear a tale well-told, and in children's books, the desire for a happy ending... whilst allowing for the fact that life is often not like that.


This morning the latest Tweets from @slimbridge_wild :

"We have found the male Avocet this morning feeding on the Top New Piece, but still no sign of the female and three young."


"We hope that the female Avocet is being a good mum & keeping a low profile with her family. Let us know if you see her from our hides today?"

To be continued....


The latest Tweets from @slimbridge_wild :


"Great news it looks like the Avocet family has made it to the Bottom New Piece (Kingfisher Hide) That's about 300M from the nest site."10.45. a.m.

Saturday 19 May 2012

"Fantastic news all three Avocet chicks are still with their parents on the Bottom New Piece (Kingfisher Hide) this morning #GlosBirds"
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Bulldozing and Landscaping the Novel

The restructuring of The Key to Finlac continues:

  • I have killed off a brother even before the story begins.
  • I have abandoned a set of parents.
  • I have demolished two houses, a factory, and a school.
  • I have remodelled a significant landscape.
  • I have scrapped a motley collection of old vehicles.
  • I have put a property developer out of business.
  • I have buried a pensioner-gardener
  • I have removed one mystery and replaced it with another.
  • I have added a new character and developed others.
  • I have written a more engaging back story for my other main protagonist.
  • I have done away with 500 years of history.
  • I have mislaid a brew bin.

I shall begin writing again tomorrow, having rewritten history today.
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Monarch of the Pen: The Flight of Fancy.

No longer so perplexed about revisions today. In the early hours of the morning came a moment of clarity. What brought it on? Our upcoming flight to Croatia had been changed from a civilised 12.55 p.m. to an unthinkable 6.25 a.m. I was furious. I shall never fly with Monarch again. It prevented me from sleeping. I had to switch off and change the subject.

Out of bad comes good. At 1.00 a.m. I worked out exactly what I have to do with my book. Not the new one, but The Key to Finlac, which I "finished" in August. I now know how to reduce the MS by 40,000 words whilst retaining the heart of the story. That's the theory anyway. I began making notes this morning.

As for the recent book? Can I really revise both stories at once? The human brain is an unfathomable thing.
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Truth can't be revised but it can be found through revision.

How do I feel now I've finished re-reading the first draft of my new book? A little perplexed and looking for kind words to deliver myself a difficult message. My then editor Christopher Reid found the words to describe one of my early drafts of Badgerman & Bogwitch:

"I'm afraid, though, I am still quite a long way from being satisfied. The whole thing still gives me the impression of muddled improvisation, and it has grown to an unwieldy size in the process....One of your weaknesses here and elsewhere, may have been the very fertility of your imagination."

And this is true of the new book. Rein in the imagination, find the truth of the characters, discover the real story and set it out in clear terms.

Back in 1990 when Christopher Reid wrote me that letter, I went for a stomp round the woods to vent my anger & despair. Now I am wiser. I keep the letter close by and listen to what it tells me.

You can rewrite a book; it is foolhardy to rewrite history.
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Revision and the Taming of Two Horses

I always look forward to the task of revision, then immediately long for the carefree days of tapping the keys, meeting the characters listening to their story. But revise I must.

Sometimes it feels like raking up leaves in a high wind or chasing a lottery ticket along the seafront. Other times it seems like the plot is almost there, but it cannot quite be recalled, like waking from a vivid dream the details of which are suddenly lost.

Then inevitably halfway through the first read comes the loss of confidence and the realisation that you are going to have to write much of the novel over again, and that is like straddling pair of wild horses who want to pull in different directions, whilst juggling three flaming torches. It's an unnerving journey.

So I try to proceed methodically:

  • A read through, spotting immediate faults with the plotting and characterisation.
  • Listing the key things that need to be changed.
  • Producing a good plot outline (scene by scene).
  • Re-writing and/or deleting scenes and introducing new characters as necessary.
  • Re-reading and sharpening the plot.
  • Sharpening the prose and checking for typos.
Right now though I am staring at two wild horses.
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