In My Wildest Dreams: Adventures in Children's Fiction

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.

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:


Almost home.

3000 words to go until I finish the first draft of The Reaping. Another thousand words tomorrow, then a five day break. I should be finished by the end of next week. Pleasingly, I shall be well inside my schedule.

I shall then take a break and begin working on the second draft at the beginning of the second week in April and hope to complete the final draft by the beginning of September. The book will have taken 12 months. Time goes quickly when you are writing a book, although paradoxically the process seems slow. Deadlines come around faster than Christmas. So far, so good.

Meanwhile, the world turns as normal.

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...


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 :)

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.


Age & the wings of migration.

The changing of the seasons. I know that autumn is rolling around, because I have started writing a new book today. That is my routine; a kind of migration. Summer and Spring in one space, and the rest of the year in another.

I have begun a cross-over novel, which I think means a Young Adult novel (YA), which can be read by adults. Or maybe it is New Adult novel, (NA) that new category for 18-25 year olds about rights of passage. I don't really care about categorisation. Perhaps I am writing a novel for adults which can be equally ready by 14 year olds.

It comes down to telling the story in the best way possible. The end result must be spectacular, better than anything I have written before. I am committed to upping my game for this one. That's how a writer should feel on starting out on a new project. But it is more pertinent than ever, as the publishing business has got so tight.

I am sixty years old. In this up and coming book age is no barrier.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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...

My Window, the Pencil Sharpener

It isn't the biggest window in the world, but it is possibly the biggest pencil sharpener... unless your study has a bigger, more distracting window with a better view. The sun is shining too. Maybe I should turn my desk around and face the other way.

I am big on BIG this morning too. Truly procrastinating. Back from holiday. Staring at the blue Adriatic last week, the task of finishing The Key to Finlac seemed a very simple one. I could see the light and shape of things. I would be ready to come home and start again.

So here I am, turning the smallest of pencils around and around in the big sharpener. Writing. A window on the world.

Why I have no appetite for The Hunger Games

Why does The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins vex me so much? Not because it is a huge commercial success or because it is just the first part of a best-selling trilogy. I admire anyone who can do the time and stick at their desk day after day to finish something. I support the work ethic.

But ethics is only one of the issues for me. The violence is comic book and described without attention to detail and nor is much attention paid to the emotional consequences of it. The pages are dotted with splats as if a succession of flies have been squashed. The only death that disturbed me was that of the twelve year old Rue. For two reasons: Apart from Katniss Everdeen, she was the only rounded character in the novel. Secondly her death smacks of exploitation, for shock value, rather than as emblematic of the brutality of the Capitol's regime.

There lies another problem. The dystopian setting of The Hunger Games is never credible. In the past I have said that the Harry Potter books are a triumph of concept, setting and character over content, but in all four of those areas they leave Suzanne Collins' work trailing behind. I believe in Hogwarts, I don't believe in Panem, the Capitol and the 13 Districts. Where is the rest of the world? Considering the Capitol's extermination of District 13, wouldn't you have thought that the people of a Chinese liberal democracy might have made some kind of military intervention? Absurd? Yes. But I think that if you are to write about dystopian worlds, they need a proper context; one which can be discussed, as in Robert C O'Brian's admirable Z for Zachariah.

And why have the twelve districts in servitude all with a separate economic function? Only for the purposes of the Reaping. Given what we learn about the Capitol's ability to terraform the arena and engineer genes to the extent that they can produce the laughable wolverine mutants from the corpses of the fallen Tributes at the end of the novel, clearly the Capitol could produce all the food and resources it requires.

It is the poor plotting (the sudden change of the rules to allow two people from the same district to win), cartoon characters (the stylists and people of the Capitol), lack of challenging themes and paucity of language that really offends me. The book reads like a poorly produced video game. I want to know how those cameras see everything, even in caves - come on explain the technology - how do those parachutes bearing gifts from the sponsors land so accurately?

And teenage romance?  Katniss & Peeta. Where is the intensity? Gale in the background. An interesting love triangle that could provide so much more in the book.

Burgers and fries. Children and young people deserve so much more.

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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.

Cloud Gazing & The Book Without a Story

On my third attempt, after eight hours work (well, a lot of sitting around actually) across two days and downloading some more software, I have uploaded a competent time-lapse movie (32 seconds covering a period of two hours).

It is technically ok. I solved a few problems along the way, like making sure I switched off the autofocus on the camera. My first attempt was dizzying, because the lens kept zooming in and out every 24th of a second during my first movie attempt. (N.B. You have to take 24 still pictures to create one second of video.)

So what's wrong with it? At first sight, nothing. Have a look for yourself. (Click here for Movie.)

But it's like a book. Without a story, without artistry and without a heart it is nothing. It is a doodling; a lesson learned along the way to something better.

Funnily enough, all this has helped me re-focus on my writing.