Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Writing Life

This week I have been out and about listening to talks and critiques. On Tuesday night I went to a Professional Series talk by Nicolette Jones, reviewer of children's book for the Sunday Times. She says that she finds it hard to get her weekly column published at times because people don't think writing for children is as worthy as writing for adults. This was totally agreed with by the audience when someone mentioned that they'd been asked when they were going to write a real book after saying they write for children. Grrr. Nicolette receives lots of books but only has 4 slots to write so can't review them all, and she always ends up praising so there is no space for hostility. She says that she has H Potter books to thank for making editors realise that children's books can be worthy of reviewing and interesting. The internet has expanded the chance to recommend children's fiction but on the other hand so many blogs and review sites are running that it could put paper critics in jeopardy. Cross-over books are hard to review as don't know who should review them - children or adult book reviewer. And the snag is where to put them in shops. Although in Australia they have sections for 15-25 y-olds. Booksellers should find ways to put them in the right place. Puffin is putting out books with penguin on spine for children of 15 upwards.
She said that in an ideal world, there should be blogs that let you know what books are coming out, like they do films. Candy said that paper reviews generated more interest in her book than online ones.
When asked Nicolette thought that publishers aren't overpublishing children's books as there are fewer picture books being published but that is being rectified with the Big Picture Campaign. She likes Indies and thinks that bookshops should have a broader stock, and likes to see people in chains showing real interest and expertise with children's books. Doesn't want blackmail to get your book reviewed by her. Looks at most of the books she's sent but can't do all of them. Suggests that you start your book strong, so reader wants to read more and is interested in reading more.
Believes that hype with books doesn't work all the time. But if you can excite her with your work and make her laugh, she will read on. Has read self-published books which have to be on Amazon, but doens't recommend this route unless you have sold lots and then can go to an agent or publisher with them saying this - this has happened.
Very fond of children's poetry, which is popular in schools and Miriam said best to start with magazines then into anthologies as this has more child appeal.
She has a fantasy of having a best and worst book column. Says lots of boys do read, and others need to read, some don't admit reading but read magazines etc. Thin, snappy books are ideal for these boys. Believes that some books are packaged wrong eg the target is for boys but the cover is designed with girls in mind.
It was brought up about prizes for series fiction. Nicolette thought that she wasn't keen on this as this is tricky when there is a series of books that are written by different authors but seen to be by one.
She would like to see a children's TV programme on books/prizes and inspirations behind books. A channel that would make families believe that reading books is a part of family life.
She finished saying that literary editors have to do books with interesting angles, and Nicolette unless it is news worthy, and most commercial books aren't.

Then on Wednesday I had my second crit group meeting. There were only 3 of us this time so it went quicker. It was mentioned they like my book and feel that is child friendly as Tanya said that most children's books she has read the children try to work things out on their own instead of going to adults whereas mine, Georgina talks to her teachers and family. Kathryne likes the ideas of having magical powers about passions, so I was well chuffed about, of course there were lots of other comments that I have to work on and will do later on. They liked the idea of rooms and walls shimmering when Georgina does her magic so I will def put that in next time. Can't wait for the next group meeting.
I was due to go to a talk today but not feeling well so here I am instead.

Next time will let you know how Georgina is getting on and more news.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

SCBWI Masterclass

On Saturday I went to a SCBWI Masterclass called The Revision Game led by Sara Grant, who works for Working Partners and is an author too, her book Dark Parties is out later this year, and I can't wait to read it.

Before we even went to the workshop, Sara set us homework. She asked us to write about why we are writing the novel we are, what is keeping us interested in it, the premise of it, its controlling idea, a one-line and paragraph pitch, and a movie pitch (which I found hard to work out). I found this really good to do and will do this for each of my future novels in time to come. It helps you to work out what your book is all about and how you can pitch it to everyone.

Here is what I learnt at the workshop. Do macro editing first before the nitty gritting of checking spelling etc. Write the blurb and controlling idea etc first - I will do.

Then we got to writing about our novels - we had to take copies of the first 2 chapters with us. Going through them we had to write: the actions, the importance of the chapter, the length of the chapter and the timeline to each one.

Then Sara said that she had heard that 10% of a novel should read as the who, what, when and where and the other 90% be the how. The journey of the hero/heroine should be shown by the first 10 pages.
The beginning of the novel should be connected to the climax, and the climax should be in by 85-90% of the novel. Does the climax inc the best character? Is the climax making the point you want to make of the novel? Does it reveal points you want to make about the novel to the reader? (Here I made a note to change something in my book Georgina).

Then wordcloud was mentioned. I don't think I will be doing this unless I have time for procrastination.

Then it was work time. We got our highlighters and pencils out. Sara circles her characters' names and then goes through them asking, do the sound the same and look the same? Eg do they have the same colour eyes the whole way through. Ask yourself why do the need to be there? Why are they important? Are they compelling? Write down a list of what you learn about the characters in 2 pages. Is it enough for the reader to continue reading about them>

What is the emotional story of the character?

Highlighting time - we had to highlight different aspects of the novel eg. green for setting and description, pink for dialogue, box each scene, circle names, purple for flashback/background etc. I found this very useful and have decided to do this for all my other novels before I even get to revision and have one draft. For Georgina I am going to do all my revisions than do this.
You then need to ask yourselves, do the scenes build on each other? Are they changing? Do they push forward the theme and story?
You should start scene at first poss moment and end early as poss. Don't give info but experience. Are you orienting your reader to each scene? Is there enough action? (You can find this out once you have highlighted these bits).
You must have good reason to use flashback.
Does your chapter endings leave the reader thinking? Do they have a cliff hanger? Give the reader a question?
Try to leave out bits that readers skip? I think this means the exposition, which I found out means bits telling the story. Let the reader connect the dots.
Don't say that he/she is starting something, make them do it.

Oh and one thing I did learn which has bugged me for ages - the difference between lie and lay. These I found out are Sara's common mistakes. Lie is for person and lay is for object, so you lie down on the bed, and you lay the table.

All in all, I really enjoyed the day and learnt lots, despite having a stomach upset during the day. Thanks Sara.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

April News

I can't believe that it's May already. Where does the time go?

Here is my news for April now it's May. I had a letter published in the local paper South London Press praising Lambeth council for making recycling compulsory for their residents. I wish it was the same for all councils. No payment for that. Then yesterday I got a letter from Amateur Gardening magazine to say that my letter will be printed in the next issue out on Tuesday and I won a £5 National Garden voucher. Took Mum over to the local garden centre earlier and she bought some flowers to put in the front garden with the voucher and gave me the money in exchange. Those are my successes for April.

On another writing front, I had my first critique group meeting on Wednesday and it was great. It is so helpful to have other people look at your work because you are so close to it when working on it that you can't see problems that other people can. I found this out and now have a lot more drafts to work on for Georgina. I think it will end up more like 35,000 words than 32,000 that it's now heading for. Was told by the group that it doesn't matter. I have decided to describe the classrooms and teachers more, just like Harry Potter (which I have been reading and thoroughly enjoying). This was one of the things that came up about my first three chapters, that I need to be more visual. I will now. I think I am going to have fun describing the rooms and teachers. Haven't thought about what the teachers look like yet apart from the Headmistress Mrs Zabberwol, she is stern normally but friendly and helpful to the girls when she is needed. Our next meeting is on 18 May and we'll be meeting at the National Theatre. Can't wait.

Will be buying Amateur Gardening on Tuesday for my letter.