From Hook to Book

Archive for the tag “Writing Journey”

No Small Shame – Ta Da! A Cover!

I am so excited to be able to reveal the beautiful cover for my novel No Small Shame due for release 1 April 2020. Set in Australia, in the last chaotic days of WW1, Mary O’Donnell, a young Scottish immigrant must make an impossible choice that will change her life forever. No Small Shame is a tale of love and duty, loyalty and betrayal, and confronting the past before you can seek a future.

Ventura Press (Impact Press) and Christabella Designs have created such a beautiful cover! When I was initially sent three design concepts for my feedback, this one was the Ventura team’s pick and it quickly became my favourite too.

But first, I printed out the three cover designs, cut them to size and blu-tacked them onto three published books, of similar page lengths, to get a real feel for how they might look. I left the books lying around on the kitchen bench, the kitchen table, the coffee table and my desk, to test them out, but my eye just kept being drawn to the image of the bed, the beautiful wallpaper so evocative of the era, the crooked holy picture. Plus the suggestion had been made that a tear or crack could be added to the wallpaper. Combined with the title No Small Shame, it conjured so many questions and possibilities for the story. And that was for me, the author, who already knew exactly what the story was about! Of course, at the time, each of the three designs were only concepts and all needed tweaking: fonts, sizes, colours, etc.

Well, you can see the fabulous end result. I couldn’t be happier! And I’m thrilled to have already received some really positive feedback on social media, along with people saying they can’t to read the book. I can’t wait either until No Small Shame is out in the world in April 2020.

No Small Shame – The Dreaded Edit

The dreaded round one edit for my novel wasn’t so bad! After all!

I wasn’t sure what to expect for my first novel-length edit. My previously published work has either been short fiction for children that I can truthfully say had very few changes made to the words, or short stories published in anthologies and literary magazines that were all edited in-house with no input from me. So I wasn’t sure what to expect, other than that the publisher had said that the manuscript didn’t require a full structural edit.

I was still a tad nervous before the files arrived. What if the freelance editor had different ideas? What if she wanted major changes? What if she didn’t get my book? What if she hated it? You know the type of paranoid writer thoughts fuelled by an over-zealous imagination.

Well the editor’s files duly did arrive. A huge sigh of relief could be heard as I read her report. There were some lovely words expressed ie: compelling narrative; strong protagonist, distinctive voice; highly engaging; nuanced view of human frailty, complexity of character etc. All wonderful positives to read and very reassuring to a debut novelist.

The editor provided a structural analysis and made some suggestions for better establishing some of the settings ie: where they were located in relation to other places, the mileage and time distances etc.

I also needed to do some more work on a couple of the minor characters to give ‘a stronger sense of who they are—both independently’ of my main character ‘and outside of their narrative function’. Though this involved careful thought, words-wise it only really entailed adding a few lines apiece, but these truly made a difference and either brought in or strengthened existing character traits or backstory in subtle but important ways.

I then had to tackle the issue of my ‘unwieldy syntax’. As mentioned in a previous post, the voice of my novel is distinctive and my unwieldy syntax the narrative style. But, along with the editor, I do want the prose to be readable. So a delicate dance ensued where I had to make some tricky decisions, to simplify or not to simplify. In many cases, I rewrote the sentence. Hopefully it will still be highly readable and yet still retain its unique voice.

Though I know my edit was not overly onerous as many edits can reportedly be, and I was very fortunate to be given a very reasonable deadline, being a bit on the conscientious side, I took my full allotted time to get it back. And, because I’m running behind in keeping up with my blog posts on this last intense leg of the journey From Hook to Book, before I could blog about the first round edit, the second round arrived.

It was all very straightforward. For me, the hard part was sending it back once it was done. The terror of knowing that once I pressed send, it was gone and unchangeable. The next time I would see the manuscript, it would be typeset and at proofreading stage. I would then not be permitted to make any changes unless they were true errors. Terrifying! Of course, I met the round two deadline, but I didn’t press send until the very last day!

And then I promptly got sick. A bug I couldn’t beat and a cough that wouldn’t go for six whole weeks. So I guess the edit was more stressful on me than I’d thought.

I learned so much through the process though, particularly the fascinating difference it made in adding some tiny details that expanded my minor characters and gave a deeper insight into their backstories in such small but significant ways. We writers are so blessed to have editors.

Now back to work. Guess what’s just arrived – yep, the proofread round. I know I’m going to have to sit on my hands and fight the urge to fiddle, unless I find a real, actual error.

But it’s all happening and getting so exciting! The book is in sight.

Stay tuned for a cover reveal. It’s going to be any day now!

HNSA Colleen McCullough Residency 2019

When I first saw the Historical Novel Society Australasia (HNSA) announcement of their inaugural Colleen McCullough Residency, I was blown away by the generosity of the prize and the amazing opportunity open to all eligible attendees at the 2019 HNSA Conference in Sydney last weekend.

Who wouldn’t want to spend a week on the beautiful Norfolk Island, once home and inspiration to one of our country’s most acclaimed writers? Plus airfares, transfers, hire car, tours of both the Colleen McCullough library and the island, supplied by the generous sponsors, along with the incredible bonus of staying and writing on the grounds of the McCullough estate!

I am so thrilled and excited to have been awarded the inaugural HNSA Colleen McCullough Residency for an Established Writer. AND I GET TO GO TO NORFOLK ISLAND IN FEBRUARY!!!

When the final judge of the residency shortlists, best-selling author, Nicole Alexander, began to read out a couple of telling details from the winning established author submission, ie: set in France, post-WW1 etc, my heart just about stopped beating. And when she read out my name, I really couldn’t believe it. But, eventually, I did manage to collect myself and my certificate from Nicole, and utter a few inarticulate words.

It’s taken a few days to sink in, though never the fact what an amazing opportunity I’ve been given. It’s also incredibly validating to know that the choices I made a few months ago to start my novel at a different point in the story have worked. I’m so excited about my WIP, but I won’t go into any details about the project here at this early stage of the writing.

Congratulations to Sally Colin James, winner of the aspiring category. We’ve already planned to get together at the end of the writing day and debrief, perhaps share a meal and a sunset.

No doubt, come February, this blog will feature some beautiful photos set amid the inspiration of Norfolk Island, a place I’ve always, always wanted to visit. I only wish Colleen McCullough was still in residence, per chance I could meet her. Hopefully some more of her magic will rub off on me.

My grateful thanks to HNSA, Nicole Alexander, Burnt Pine Travel, Baunti Escapes and the McCullough Estate for the opportunity, their support and sponsorship.

Month of Writing Wrap

My Month of Writing is over. Yay! I achieved my goal of adding 25,000-words to my manuscript and met my deadline last Friday 31st August at 7.29pm. (Then I collapsed with exhaustion! And wine!)

I only exceeded my goal by a miniscule 93 words but I’m really pleased with the new scenes and chapters I’ve written and the considerable development of the storyline. It’s not all sparkling prose that’s for sure, but the bones are there. (Though, I’m not sure that the final 1000-words written on Friday will stay or go. I haven’t been back yet to read them over and fear they may have turned into waffly exposition in order to hit the 55,000 mark by my self-imposed deadline.)

So was it a good approach or a positive way to write for me?

Yes and no! Yes: it worked on lots of levels: achieved word count, added scenes, developed storyline. No, it’s not a way I’d want to write all the time. I really missed taking time to go back and edit and rework scenes as I went, but I realised early-on that if I wanted to hit my word count goal, I had to just write and worry if it was all working later.

The real positive is that the new scenes capture the essence of what I want to say and where I want the story to go. And now they’re written I have something to work on. Another bonus is that these latest 25,000-words have really progressed the plot and inspired an important sub-plot in the story.

I don’t think that I could ever do NaNoWriMo with its word count goal of 50,000 words. I started my month of writing with a strong plan for the different scenes that I wanted to write in the belief that I should be able to just sit down first thing each morning and crack on with the writing. I can actually write quite quickly when I’m in scene but, regardless of all my planning and good intentions, it still took me half the day to get started – as is usual for me. Turns out I still need to dream, think, imagine my way into the writing. The great thing though is that by having my Month of Writing goal and deadline, I did just crack on with the writing before the end of the day and it was incredibly satisfying to watch that story/word count grow daily. (Or almost daily.)

So, the stats:

Achieved:

  • 13 new scenes
  • 25,093 words
  • 1 new subplot
  • belief and confidence this story is worth writing

Pros:

  • inspiration to get words down
  • permission to write regardless of quality (equally a con)
  • inspired serious plotting
  • enforced the writing of some ‘skipped’ scenes
  • enabled strong character development through intense writing
  • proved the idea has legs (even if still a spindly, wobbly first draft)

Cons:

  • permission to write regardless of quality (equally a pro)
  • gave licence to waffle
  • limited scope for editing of completed scenes (as I prefer to do as I go)

So now to review the 55,000-words to date, give in to the urge to edit and then reset my writing goal. It just won’t be quite so intense next time!

 

 

Month of Writing

Today I begin a “Month of Writing”. A writing retreat if you like with a fixed deadline and word count aim.

But it’s all self-imposed and self-inflicted! And necessary. Of course I would love to go off on a fully-fledged writing retreat in some idyllic setting, meals laid on and nothing to interrupt the writing flow but my own thoughts. But with a young puppy in the house and planning an overseas trip next year, I can’t afford either the time away or the financial outlay.

So I’ve devised a plan: I’m keeping my August calendar as clear as I can. I’ve set a 9 am daily start, so I’d better type faster now. I’ve set myself a daily word count aim of 1000-words. I’ve multiple scenes mapped out and some exciting aspects of my novel to explore. I know where it’s all heading and the only way to get there now is to write. I’ve also given myself permission to just write. Crap, if necessary. But words.

No, I don’t have to tell the world my plan (not that the world is reading my blog!), but I’m a person who thrives on accountability. This is my commitment to myself. So here I go – manuscript currently at 30,200-words. End of month aim 55,0000-words. I’m leaving myself a little leeway, because life always interrupts. My plan is to bar the door against all but the most important of interruptions. See you on the 31st.

Inspiration, Imagination and an Operation

I’ve been thinking a lot about inspiration and imagination of late. This has been an unusual year for me, as it’s mostly been taken up with editing and rewriting and not a lot of new writing. After a spinal surgery last December, I gave myself time out to rest and recuperate, but back then I had no idea how long it would be before I’d get back to my WIP, or started on my new adult novel project or even how neglected my blog would be since then.

Then, while researching the new novel, Hugo turned up. In truth, the name of the young man pictured above is not Hugo. I will share his real name and shattering story another day, but for now this image (blu-tacked to my Mac screen) represents my protagonist in my new adult work. His deeply expressive eyes drew me in and in short time the character has become real to me. The voluminous research has sparked so many ideas and every day I add more to my story map. The excitement and pull to begin writing is electric. It’s like an adrenaline shot that I’m sure all creators experience. It’s made me think a lot about inspiration, imagination and what helps us create place and people when we’re not out in the world physically scouting settings or spying on Joe or Jillian Public.

Sitting at my desk, I’m sure, like other creators, I’m surrounded by ephemera deeply connected to my writing life. The bits and bobs, I’ve collected over time that resonate with my stories and ideas, but may look like an assortment of oddities to anyone else.

My fascination for the Great War and post-war years continues and is probably the reason my inspirational touchstones have not changed much over recent years. Though I was almost sorry to roll away my rabid gang of 1830s convicts that served as evil inspiration while writing (my war-based exception) a YA historical convict era novel. The sometimes defeated, sad, ugly, vicious, devastated faces of these men filled my dreams some nights and I’m sure gave rise to traits in one or more of the vile characters that I’ve been told I write very well. Not sure what writing them says or reveals about me.

I’ve now returned to a large wall map of the Somme that I bought during a trip to France in 2012. My research at the time was not as in depth, as the novel I was writing was set largely in Australia. I couldn’t have imagined then the significance of that battlefields’ visit or the excitement of the story idea that has emerged since.

The shrapnel and rusty wire pictured were retrieved from the edge of a field on the roadside by our guide. I debated whether it was somehow wrong to remove them, but accepted after I was assured that farmers are digging up shrapnel, bits of barbed wire and WW1 relics all the time and that the soil of the Somme will probably never be rid of it. Just as it still gives up a body, or rather skeleton, on occasions.

The small pebble (at left) comes from the banks of the Strathclyde Loch in Strathclyde Country Park, Motherwell, Scotland. Undoubtedly, it was brought in for the construction of the park, long after the pit village of Bothwellhaugh was removed and the paths my great-parents trod, or stones they skipped in the River Clyde, had long gone. But it connects me to them and to my story, the day I stood on the water’s edge writing a scene that refused to wait for me to get out of the lightly, misting rain.

The silver miniature of the coal miner with pick axe came from a shop in a museum in Scotland. It reminds me daily of my great-grandfather and the life he and my characters, Liam, Joe and Da led.

The little steam engine came out of a Kinder Surprise™ many, many years ago. Somehow I still have it, and it has become a touchstone to my great-grandparents journey from Scotland down to catch the steamship at Tilbury Dock, along with my character’s journey, and my own steam train ride through the Yorkshire Dales where I crossed the same spans of the Ribble Head Bridge in 2015.  (My blog banner at the top of the page features my photo as we’re about to cross that amazing bridge.)

I bought the decorative horse brass (at right) from a small, cluttered craft shop at Land’s End in Cornwall. The pit pony and miner on the cart practically jumped off a pile of dusty similar brasses as I passed, which items tend to do when I’m travelling and/or in story mode. They seem to find me as often as I find them.

I wonder, what’s your inspiration?

Writer Meets Research

IMG_7909 Ribblehead Viaduct croppedFrom the instant the wheels of the London train began to cross the twenty-four arches of the Ribblehead viaduct, it seemed everything Mary had ever known fell behind and no one seemed even to care. Every thud served a stab to her heart like each span were crumbling, blocking her way back. When they reached the far side of the bridge, it struck her that every moment passing instantly becomes a memory. Worse, she became only a memory to it too and all trace of the reality either side knew—gone.

It seems a lifetime ago since I first wrote those words into my adult historical novel. They spoke of a place I’d never seen, but one I had a great affinity for through both my characters’ journey south from Glasgow to London early in 1914 and following in the footsteps of, or close to, my grandmother and great-grandparents when they journeyed to Australia, just prior to World War One, from their tiny pit village in Scotland to the Wonthaggi State Coal Mine in Australia.

That journey is the impetus for my novel. Though the plot and characters are entirely fictitious, it is a small nod to my forebears and my heritage. A story born of whispers when I first visited the reconstructed State Coal Mine site in Wonthaggi back in 2008.

P1010591 Yorkshire DalesmanSo it was my utter thrill to return to Scotland recently and take the steam rail journey on the Yorkshire Dalesman from Skipton to Carlisle and cross the Ribblehead Viaduct and see for myself this amazing landscape and piece of history. The views, I suspect, are not so very different from the vista a century ago when my family travelled the same rails.

P1010611 Yorkshire DalesWe were lucky to experience a fabulous blue sky day and witness the etchings of clouds on the hillsides and valley floors. I wasn’t the only one catching flitters of coal grit and straining for a look (photo opp) out the window. Our fellow travellers appeared seized with a like excitement and thrill. For me it held a deeply personal resonance and I found my eyes prickling at the double whammy of life meeting art, and the timeliness. I’m sure my ancestors experienced an even greater excitement, perhaps fear, heading for a new land, rather than a delicious bistro lunch and glass of vino.

The viaduct was built between 1870 to 1874 by over one-hundred navvies (manual labourers) who set up camps and shanty towns on the land around the site, which is now a scheduled archaeological monument. Over one-hundred men died during in its construction through accidents and illness and lie alongside an equal number of their women and children in nearby cemeteries.

The viaduct is 400 metres long and sits 32 metres at its highest point. It is breathtaking to see and a credit to the workmanship and hardship endured by those who built it. And to those who dared travel its breadth and beyond.

P1010559 Chris Bell Yorkshire DalesmanOnce again it reminded me of the courage and exertions of our forebears and how very, very lucky I am to all these years later to have had the opportunity to experience the same journey and tiny part of the history for myself.

If you’d like a small taste of a similar journey crossing the viaduct, please check out the Youtube video below.

 

Baggage limit? But there are books to buy!

Bartrums Hay-on-WyeHow can a travelling author be given a baggage weight limit when there are books to buy? Lots of books. Plus lots of amazing new book shops to visit, not to mention literary museums and quirky stationery shops! And when one location turns out to be the very setting and inspiration the author was searching for, complete with printed histories, background info and individual (published) stories…

P1000641 Chris Hay on Wye

Eek, the conundrum! Especially when said author has a small domestic flight from Belfast to Inverness that insists on only 20kgs of baggage and a stop off first, in Hay-on-Wye – national book town of Wales – where every second shop is book related – plus they have the incredible Bartrums & Co Stationers. How was I possibly going to gain less than 3 kgs before flying?

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Of course, I couldn’t leave Hay-on-Wye empty handed and I picked up several books including two novels The Miniaturist and The Little Paris Bookshop at the wonderful Richard Booth’s Bookshop. I know I could get both of these novels at home, but I do have to say it, books are cheaper in the UK – even applying the horrifying June 2015 exchange rate of the Aussie dollar to GBP. Here The Miniaturist sells in the three majors I checked for A$19.99. I paid £7.99 (equiv approx. $16.00). The Little Paris Bookshop sells in Australia for $29.99 and I paid £12.99 (equiv approx. $26.00).

Isn’t it good when one can make an almost reasonable excuse for one’s passions (read obsessions)?
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Admittedly, I did have to add 67 euros postage in Ireland to post my purchases and paper paraphernalia back to Oz pre domestic flight. But by then I’d also found my potential story setting and acquired a lot more accompanying research literature besides, so the novels didn’t substantially affect the 7 kilo cost.

Books bought os

The hoard pictured above is the greater majority of my book and literature purchases this trip, bar a couple lent out already. Alas, most of it purchased pre domestic flight! Hence the hefty postage charge.

It doesn’t include all the associated brochures, maps and sight-seeing site literature one picks up along the tourist trail. I can’t believe how much paper stuff I discarded. Tourism sure takes a hefty chomp out of the world’s tree population. In fact, I think I think it should be mandatory that every castle, museum, place of interest, provide recycle bins at exits for visitors to dump printed paraphernalia. Most tourists probably bin it before stepping back on the plane anyway. Except writers, of course, who often want to study the minutiae later, on the look out for that elusive idea, word, name, inspiration that they may have missed whilst taking in the vista. Or while saving their concentration for climbing and descending the multiple x multiple stairs UK/Europe insist upon to earn your rite of passage!

Yet I could’ve bought so much more, especially post small domestic flight.

P1020477 Chris Bell Foyles LondonFoyles in London, is reader heaven. I practically had to be dragged out of the place. I was incredibly well controlled though, as I wouldn’t buy anything I could buy at home once back in England. But the range in Foyles, spread over four levels, is incredible. I was possibly too overawed to even think much about purchasing. I was also too busy plotting how could I move to Charing Cross Road, work there/write there. At least for a year or two!

Book buying is almost always as much part of my holiday pleasure as reading. I’m not sure if I should be worried that I spent more time buying books while away than actually reading them.

Every writer needs a hobby

Writers are lucky. We love our work. Well we do when we’re not having to rewrite whole slabs that seemed so promising at first, but fell so flat; or freaking out didn’t I change that bit last week? Have I lost that draft? Aaah! Or suddenly discovering that something we’ve set up cannot work and it’s all about to come crashing down. Eeek! Etc, etc.

We love our story so much that sometimes it’s easy to keep writing, day in and day out, until one day, you realise that you’ve not only forgotten to smell the roses, but they’ve budded up, bloomed and fallen while you’ve not been looking. I think the official term is “lack of balance”.

This year I’m going to try working to more like office hours, take weekends. (Of course flexi-time is included. And maybe even RDOs, since I do the roster.) At least when not working to a deadline or in that heady, urgent “new” story zone that demands you write, right then, to catch all the ideas and characters buzzing in your head.

It’s sort-of hard getting away from writing/work when one’s hobbies are reading and writing poetry though, but, with a new address and larger garden, I’ve discovered a new passion – growing vegies and herbs and all things edible.

DSC04620Growing food is not unlike writing a new story, especially watching it grow from seed. Waiting to see if that tiny kernel will sprout into a seedling. One that will grow and grow and flower and once the prettiness falls away, the fruit remains to develop and mature into something palatable. Something to be enjoyed and satisfy and leave  you recalling it later. (Sorry, that could just be indigestion!)

I’m loving the watering (thinking time), harvest, and the eating of what we are growing. Nearly as much as sending a new manuscript out into the world and seeing a published book come back.

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A Varuna Fellowship – a tick off the old bucket list!

Varuna Writers HouseWhen I first started writing seriously and heard of Varuna Writing Fellowships, and Varuna Writers’ House, I wrote “achieve a Varuna Fellowship” clearly on my bucket list of writing goals.

So forgive me while I jump up and down with excitement to share the news that I have been awarded a 2014 Varuna Retreat Fellowship to work on my YA historical novel Prison Boy.

I have been to Varuna. Back in 2011, I paid for a one-week residency. It was writer heaven to be encircled by the quiet of the house, knowing my fellow writers too were squirrelled away at their desks, writing, reading, imagining. Best, there were no interruptions. No appointments, no ringing phone, no clothes to wash and most importantly and best of all (if you don’t count the writing) no meals to prepare. The wonderful Sheila prepares and cooks the most incredible meals and all one has to do is come down to dinner. Oh, and share a drink and conversation with fellow writers and/or illustrators.

I have to say that last time, a little part of me didn’t quite feel I’d earned the right to be there. I still coveted a Fellowship. Three weeks after the announcement, I’m still pinching myself.

Maggie the MuseI can’t wait to revisit, hopefully, the same productivity and inspiration of last time. Also I want to see if my little mate, Maggie, the magpie, and muse, with his twisted foot, is still there. I hope so.

Varuna, here I come!

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