That Difficult Second Book…

When a musician has a hit album in the Top 10, it’s inevitable that they will face pressure to produce something equally successful with their next batch of songs. Is it the same for a writer after their début novel has hit the shelves?

download (1)My debut novel, Talk of the Toun, isn’t a best-seller, I didn’t sign a deal for another book and apart from a few friends and family asking me, no one has put me under any pressure to publish another book.  But here’s the thing… I had already written two books before Talk of the Toun was published.

 

You might well ask, if they were any good, then surely they would’ve been published years ago?

turtleclimbsfenceThe second book I wrote (let’s not dwell on my first attempt – it was only for practice!)  nearly did get published; the strength of the writing and concept of the novel secured me a London literary agent. She sent it to the ‘big five’ who gave us feedback along the lines of, “we liked it but didn’t love it enough”. I sent it to the Hookline Novel Competition where book groups read and then vote on the winning novel to be published. My novel made it to the final four in the UK – a bawhair (official unit of measurement for any non-Scottish readers) away from being published!

downloadI sucked up the near misses, went off to do my MLitt course and eventually wrote Talk of the Toun. But in the process of developing my writing ‘voice’, I realised that I still felt passionately about my second novel and I couldn’t let it gather digital dust. After more than five years’ rest, I decided it was time for me and the novel to take ourselves to writing boot camp and knock the manuscript into shape. There was no doubt in my mind that the original plot worked, the difference was I feel that I’m a better writer now, so it was well worth giving the manuscript a proper workout to see if I could take it to the next level.

After months of editing, I am chuffed to say that Buy Buy Baby is fit enough (this metaphor only applies to the book – not me!) to get out there and jog alongside Talk of the Toun. It’s a very different book – one that will show that I don’t just “write what I know” although I do know many women who’re affected by the issues explored in Buy Buy Baby.

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“The proof of the pudding is in the reading.”

Buy Buy Baby is the story of two very different Scottish women united by the same desire – they desperately want a baby. But how far are they willing to go to fill the baby-shaped hole in their lives?

Buy Buy Baby will be published later this year by Cranachan Publishing – a new-born publisher based in Scotland.  That’s not the only news I have to share – I am part of the Cranachan team who will be launching Buy Buy Baby as well as working with other writers to give birth to their novels. Call the midwife… it’s an exciting time for me and Cranachan, watch this space!

 

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My Writing Process Blog Tour

Blog-TourI was flattered to receive an invitation from writer Catherine Noble to take part in a series of blog posts where writers nominate others to answer four key questions about their writing process. I ‘know’ Catherine via Twitter and hope to meet her one day in real life too – by the tone of her blog I’m sure we’re on the same wave length.

Some of my answers are things I’ve talked about in previous posts so regular readers (the blog stats reveal this figure is not in the hunners but there are a few of you out there!) might have read it all before and prefer to skip this post, hopefully I’ll see you on the other side. For those diehards or new followers, here are my answers to the questions passed on by Catherine…

1) What am I working on? 

I’m working on my third novel – you could describe me as determined or delusional but I’m definitely not a quitter. My first attempt was really just a personal challenge to see if I could actually go the distance and complete a full length novel. I had never written fiction before, not even short stories and I’m sure if I had the guts to read it now, I’d cringe. It has a DNR order firmly attached to it and its final resting place is in a ‘vintage’ style suitcase (can’t beat Matalan for a bargain in home décor). I got help with the writing (not my fantasies of being published) and went on two Arvon courses, left a permanent job to go to uni to do an MLitt so you’d think novel no.2 would be better. You’d be right; it got within a bawhair (a recognised unit of measurement in the west of Scotland) of being published and was shortlisted in Hookline Book’s competition for writing graduates. The rejections hurt but of course a whiff of success (and short stories being published) made me believe that I could write and helped to keep the dream alive.

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So, third time lucky eh? I love to think that this is THE ONE. I feel my ‘voice’ has developed over the years and because the novel is set in 1985, in the same town I grew up in, I hope the fiction has an authenticity the others lacked. It’s a coming-of-age novel about a teenage friendship and how the dynamics of their relationship has lifelong consequences.

 

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’d class my writing as Scottish contemporary fiction. Novel no.3 deals with gritty themes such as sectarianism and yet it still has lots of black humour in it (at least I hope it’s funny!) I admire writers such as Kerry Hudson and Damian Barr who have also tackled hard-hitting issues but still make room in their writing for lighter moments. That’s what I’m aiming for, and in that sense, my writing style is similar (if I’m gallus enough to compare myself to established writers) but obviously as they are my words, my ideas and my voice, then it has to be different – it’s my story, whatever genre label that’s slapped on it.

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3) Why do I write what I do? 

I write the type of book I want to read. I admire authors such as Jackie Kay, Janice Galloway, Anne Donovan, to name but a few, I could go on but you get the idea, they are writers of Scottish contemporary fiction who bring the world I know alive and help me understand it better. I want to do the same, give a voice to Scottish working class characters that don’t often feature in fiction.

4) How does my writing process work?

The initial ideas for novel no.3 came from an assignment I did during my MLitt course. The brief was to write an A to Z on any topic – I’m no expert on anything but myself so I wrote about my childhood. The exercise triggered ideas to expand the piece into something more substantial and before I knew it, no.3 had legs and ran off the page using the ‘freefall’ method. It’s a technique I’d never tried before and helped get the words down and the story out without constantly self-censoring each and every paragraph. The downside is that the editing process has taken much longer than I expected as the initial draft was so rough. I’ve hacked away at the words and tried my best to buff them into something worth sharing – if not, there’s room in the Matalan suitcase and no.1 and 2. would enjoy the company…

T-shirt pic 2This is the closest you’ll see me get to athletics by passing the virtual ‘baton’ to writer Paul Cuddihy to write the next blog post. One of my good pals is the sister-in-law of Paul and I’ve been to two of his book launches – both great evenings where Paul entertained the crowd with words and music. He’s a talented guy whose post will no doubt show off his wit and vibrant personality. Here’s a wee bit about him…

Paul Cuddihy read a lot of books in 2013 and then wrote all about his year of falling in love with literature again in a book called ‘Read All About It’, which is published on Amazon as a paperback and eBook. He’s also written a trilogy of historical fiction novels, as well as a couple of football books. He believes that subtle product placement is the key to book promotion.

Does your writing process sound similar to mine? Has anyone else helped you develop your writing process or have you improved through trial and error?

 

 

The Highs and Lows of my Writing Year

1473055_612428212125677_1989818867_nIt’s been an interesting year as far as my writing goes with a couple real yippee moments but also a few harsh kicks in the teeth. I’d hoped that 2013 would be my year and all those hours locked away with my laptop wouldn’t have been better spent watching The Great British Bake Off (at least I might have been able to eat the results of my hard work).

I started 2013 raring to go on my 3rd novel and for the first time I used the ‘freefall’ method. This has its good and bad points with the main bonus being that you quickly get the story down on paper (or screen in my case) so it’s great for keeping up momentum BUT when you finish and begin editing there’s a LOT of work to be done. I naively believed that I’d be able to finish editing by the end of the year but no matter how much I wanted to reach my goal,  I soon realised that my target was unachievable if I wanted to give it my best effort. Patience is a virtue which I don’t possess, I want to get it out there and also I’m keen to develop ideas I’ve had for my next novel (ask any writer, there’s always a next one…).

ups-downs-in-life-278x278Of course, I WILL finish editing at some point (hopefully early in 2014) but annoyingly it’s taken a lot longer than I’d like. Because I’ve dedicated my time to the novel, I decided to put writing short stories on hold this year. However, I submitted a story I wrote a while ago and was chuffed to bits to have it published in Gutter magazine. That was no2 in my top highlights of the year as I’d been unsuccessful in my previous submission and to have a piece in Gutter is to be in prestigious writing company.

Midsummer, it felt like it was all happening! The no1 high of my writing year had to be making the shortlist of the Hookline Novel Competition.  I was skipping round my bedroom singing The Only Way is Up (takes me back to hearing Yazz played on a constant loop in Kavos in 1988). It was an anxious wait to see if my last novel would be selected by book groups to be published by Hookline but unfortunately the bubble burst. I didn’t make it so it was a bittersweet high that became the no2 low of my writing year.

And the no1 low? Being unsuccessful in my application for the Scottish Book Trust’s New Writers Award, making the shortlist might have taken the edge off the disappointment but that didn’t happen either. The standard knock-back states that, “due to the high volume of applications we are unable to give individual feedback.” This is frustrating because this was my second attempt and I’m none the wiser as to how I could improve my chances next time.

imagesAnd will there be a next time? If the truth be told that despite positive experiences with Hookline, Gutter, Paragraph Planet and inspiration from seeing other wannabe writers succeed, I’m at an all-time low as far as my hope of achieving a career as a writer. I first blogged about my writing journey in 2011 when I began my MLitt course but I was on the long and winding route years before uni. I’d already been on two Arvon courses, written three novels, had a handful of stories published and yet although I’ve made progress, I’m wondering if being a published novelist will ever happen. What’s a girl (okay, forty something woman) to do???

When the latest rejection hit home there was a lot of, “Why am I bothering?” moans and groans. It’s not easy to constantly bounce back and keep telling yourself (and try to convince family and friends that you’re not delusional) that it’ll happen one day and maybe this latest novel is the ONE.

It took my hubby to point out that I was always writing the novel for me, for pleasure, not to win an award, a competition or even get published. The man talks sense. Seeking external approval is not why I started writing in the first place and it’s why I’ll keep going, no matter how many knock-backs 2014 brings…

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And the winner is…

downloadAnd the winner is…Not me! (but many congratulations to Alex Morgan on her winning novel).  After months of waiting for the final verdict I got the news that my shortlisted entry to the Hookline Novel Competition wasn’t successful. Disappointed? Of course I was! If I didn’t want to win then why would I’ve entered? (and paid the hefty £50 fee to add to the hunners I’ve already spent on pursuing the dream).

So you’d expect a self-confessed drama queen like me would be gutted to get the bad news that my last novel had failed to be published and there’d be tears and snotters. My reaction was subdued, not because I didn’t care but because I’m now used to dealing with rejection, it comes with the territory of being a writer.

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Heartbreaking viewing.

Also, I wasn’t sobbing because I got the ‘bad’ news email just before I switched on the news to see Fernando Ricksen break down in tears while explaining that he has been diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease. It doesn’t matter that Fernando is a handsome, gifted, wealthy sportsman; his world has been turned upside down and he now has to cope with an incurable muscle wasting illness. If I needed a sense of perspective then the evening news slapped me across the chops. And yet I still enjoyed wrapping myself up in the comfort blanket of clichés my close family and friends kindly offered when I shared my ‘bad’ news and said I was still a winner in their eyes.

But the interesting part of the process was that I got feedback from the book groups which selected the winner. This might initially seem like a valuable starting point for a rewrite. Wrong. The response to my novel was a love/hate batch of random comments.

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How do I respond to statements like, Clever story, interestingly resolved” versus Rather predictable and plodding”.

The answer is I can’t!

I have to write the story that I want to write and not one that I think others might enjoy because I will never please everybody.

The result made me reflect on two excellent blog posts I’d read this week. ‘Writing Terrors’ written by Catherine Simpson for the Scottish Book Trust dealt with the concept of fear experienced by writers. I read it and could relate to everything Catherine lists as fears associated with calling yourself a writer and add a few more! As I waited on the final outcome from Hookline, although I desperately wanted to win, my perverse fear was of success and worrying about what the next stage would involve (a wasted night’s sleep!).

But the seemingly negative result also made me reflect on another thought-provoking blog post. In it Dan Holloway asks writers to take time to consider what appears to be a simple question, “What do you want from your writing?” And to nail that mission statement in a one liner. Dan’s aim as a writer is to Help those whose identities are marginalised or confused to figure out who they are, and then to be that person and no one else.”

Every writer measures their success in different ways but if the only reason I write was to have my novel published then I didn’t need to enter the competition, I could’ve easily uploaded my novel on to Amazon and called myself a published writer. So why do I write novels despite remaining unpublished in the traditional sense?

The answer is in the name of this blog. I believe I’m a natural storyteller with a way with words. I want to entertain folk with my stories that’s my one liner. Not everyone will enjoy reading these words but they’re MY words and I’ll keep writing them even if they don’t win prizes!

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One Step Closer…

Being a published writer has been my ambition for a loooong time now and today my dream of becoming a published writer seemed one step closer when the postie delivered a parcel. I managed to rescue the package from the dog’s grip just in time to discover that it contained an exciting memento of my writing journey.

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I’ve often been tempted to indulge myself by paying to have my ms printed as a real book just to be able to put it on my book shelf rather than it staying hidden in the hard drive of my laptop. To have the book, albeit a plain proof copy, in my hands feels amazing!

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My ms kidding on it’s a real book sitting in Waterstones!

For anyone who hasn’t crossed my path in person or online (but I doubt I’ve missed you out) my novel, ‘Buy, Buy Baby’ has been shortlisted in the next stage of the Hookline Books Novel Competition.

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At Hookline Books novels are chosen for publication by book groups from around the UK. Their process is to run an annual competition and invite manuscripts from students and graduates of MA/MLitt writing courses. The entrants submit the first three chapters, reading groups create a short list of interesting work, and those writers submit their complete manuscripts for book group review. Hookline Books then publish the works that book groups endorse as well-written and engaging. No pressure at all then!

Here’s a short video made by the BBC which shows a book group in action mauling discussing an entry.

My book is now through to the final four and the book groups have until the end of October to make their judgment whilst I have weeks of wondering if my story is being pulled apart or praised. It will be a long wait and although I’m really excited at the possibility of winning, I’m not buying a new outift and shoes (any excuse) or organising a book launch party yet!

images (1)I also read a sobering article by Joan Smith in the Guardian and a blog post, ‘An Open Letter to New and Would-be Writers’ by James Smythe. Both pieces highlighted the harsh reality of being a debut writer, if I ever get that far. In the week that JK Rowling was outed as using a pseudonym, Robert Galbraith, for her first foray into crime fiction, this piece gives any other wannabes like me a reality check and a reminder that although my copy of ‘Buy, Buy Baby’ clearly states, ‘not for sale’, there’s value in writing that doesn’t relate to fame and fortune. You only need to ask why JK Rowling, with an estimated wealth of £560 million, felt the need to write, ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ to understand that writers write for the love of it, although winning the Hookline Book’s completion wouldn’t hurt one wee bit!!!