Revision, Revision, Revision – Please Let This Be The End!

I must admit, I’ve been dipping in and out of Horizon Skies for the last few weeks and realising that, despite all the editing, the book I presented to agents is still not completely finished.

The notes from my editor are incredibly helpful but have raised more questions about my work.

World building and my magic system are two areas that still need expansion. I honestly thought I had built my world quite nicely. Apparently, it reads as rather generic with no unique markers to differentiate the various locations. Weird how, what is in my head has not necessarily translated that well onto paper.

Luckily, she has been complimentary overall about the book, the story and my writing style so at least that’s an affirmation of my ability to write.

After spending a few hours on Horizon Skies yesterday, I achieved very little. I’m focusing on the minor revisions such as, what people look like and adding in a bit of detail here and there. When I get to an area that needs a major overhaul, I’m terrified! In my head, I’m thinking, “I spent YEARS writing this, I can’t face it again!”

So, giving it some thought this morning and I think I’ve come up with a battle plan:

  1. Work through the minor revisions first
  2. Print the chapters off requiring more of an overhaul
  3. Get the old notebooks out again and revise by hand (I prefer writing this way)
  4. Expand upon the magic system

I think the magic system will be quite hard. The basics are already there but I have to consider the following:

  1. Type of magic i.e. elemental, chemical etc.?
  2. Are magic wielders born with it or is it taught?
  3. Are there levels of magic?
  4. Does everyone have an ability or just a select few?

Elemental magic is a very common trope in Fantasy, mainly because it is an incredibly easy system to write. People with the ability to manipulate fire, earth, air and water are seen quite often in the books we read from this genre.

I’d love to be able to have the ability to create different magic systems the way Brandon Sanderson does. He manages to create something different in all his novels, they are all unique to the planets within the Cosmere (his universe for the uninitiated). From swallowing different metals (Mistborn) to Lashing (The Way of Kings) Sanderson cleverly demonstrates that we don’t have to rely on tried and tested tropes.

I lean towards elemental, it’s in a lot of books I read plus, as a bit of gamer, I’ve seen it’s very common in RPG’s. The earlier Final Fantasy games had characters specifically gifted with one of the elements.

There are some very handy charts and diagrams all over the internet explaining magic systems, some of these are very intricate but I don’t want to borrow from anyone else. Let’s face it, a lot of fantasy stories have very common themes, especially in Young Adult so it’s important that, as writers, we do create something unique. Something that will make the story stand out just that little bit more to an agent.

Here I go again…

Motivation Station!

For the last few weeks, I have been counting down the days to a well earned, truly deserved week off from the old day job.

Work continues to be a cause of high stress levels for me and it’s one of my motivators to purse a career as a writer. I want to dictate my days and hours of work, not have them dictated to me by poor staffing levels, low morale and a workload that keeps getting bigger.

As today is my first day of annual leave (hurrah!) I have started my week as I intend to continue it: writing!

Ok, aside from the usual distractions of Twitter (who knew a thread about tea vs coffee could go viral?) I have picked up my notebooks for a story I started whilst I was writing Horizon Skies.

I usually refer to said story as my 2nd WIP but realised that a working title is needed. For the time being, it is called The Puzzle Box. Previous titles were The Castle and 30 Days and 30 Nights but I felt they were a bit, “meh” and have been scrapped. The working title I have chosen does nothing to conjure up any kind of imagery of what the story is about but, it’ll have to do for now.

The Puzzle Box reached an impasse some months ago and I put it to one side to concentrate on Horizon Skies. Looking at it with fresh eyes was like reading something written by a different person. I read the last couple of chapters I’d written, and realised that they’re actually pretty damn good!

I finished writing chapter 9 yesterday and today is about typing up into New Novelist, the programme I use for writing. (I tried Scrivener but felt like I needed a degree in rocket science to figure it out).

New Novelist is great for just getting the story down in place where I can then copy into Word and fine tune using ProWritingAid for editing. This might seem convoluted but we all have ways of working that suit us and this is mine.

Once all that’s done, I’ll be rewriting the remaining story arc as I feel this book will come in at a shorter length than Horizon Skies; which is clocking on towards 100,000 words with the revisions.

Feeling motivated, feeling excited and looking forward to getting so much more done this week!

Dreams & Desires

As a young girl, I harboured dreams of becoming a famous actress. I would fantasise constantly of walking down the road and being “discovered” by Steven Spielberg, whisked off to Hollywood to live a life of Oscar parties, signing autographs and starring in movies with my favourite leading actors and actresses.

My reality, however, was quite different. I took up drama at school, hoping to achieve a qualification and continue on to college and maybe even join the ranks of RADA or LAMDA. My burning desire to become an actress still aflame, I joined the class at school only to soon discover that some of my bullies were in the same class.

The experience was soul-destroying. I couldn’t face two years of working at close quarters with some of the girls who had been making my life hell during my secondary years. The school failed me as they did so many other victims of bullying, my parents didn’t really comprehend what was going on, I had no support from anyone.

I gave up the class, swapped it for needlework (REALLY hated that!) and eventually ended up doing Physical Education which was a bit more manageable. Friday afternoons were double period so we’d go out ten-pin bowling or trying archery (which I loved).

I dampened down the flame of desire, went to work at 16, tried dabbling in Amdram when I was about 20, dipped in and out of writing and eventually decided to try for my A-Level in Drama & Theatre studies at a local college. I achieved a C-grade which, at the age of 27 and not having been in formal education for 11 years was quite an achievement. Buoyed by the experience, I did another two years (part-time I might add) at another local college, eventually achieving a Silver and Gold Medal for Solo Acting from the prestigious London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.

Afterwards, I joined a local Amdram group very well-known in Southampton who put their productions on at the famous Nuffield Theatre. The play being performed was George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion and I won the role of Eliza Doolittle. To say I was ecstatic is something of an understatement. I felt vindicated that my dreams and desires weren’t just the fanciful escapist musings of an unhappy child but a real ambition. I could finally see myself as an actress and be taken seriously.

Fate’s cruel hand, intervened again though. A week before dress rehearsals, I was struck with flu and the group sacked me from the production. Another cast member had secretly been understudying me and stepped in to save the day as it were.

I can’t describe the feelings of humiliation and hurt I felt, especially as the director at the time did not have the decency to tell me face to face. I cut all ties with them and that was the year I moved away to London.

Fast forward ten years.

In my new home town in beautiful Lincolnshire where I have now been for almost four years I am now part of an amazing community of theatre lovers. I’ve been in three productions and achieved my dream of performing on stage. There is nothing like the feeling of being on stage. When I step out from behind the tabs, I feel like I’ve come home.

One of the nicest things about it is when people compliment me on my ability. The most recent production I was in was “Goodnight Mister Tom” by Michelle Magorian which the writer herself has adapted into a musical. It was hard work but a lot of fun and after the matinée performance, a lady came up to me and said, “Well done, I really liked you. You were my favourite.” To hear that was music to my ears, especially when the standard set by the rest of the cast was so high.

So, the point of this entry is this: Do not ever give up on your dreams. No matter what anyone says or does. There will be set backs, there will be discouragement. Ignore all the negativity and go for it. If I had been just that little bit stronger or had more belief in myself, I might have gone on to achieve my dream in a much bigger way.

PS – the header image is me as Detective Inspector Lestrade in Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Stolen Suspender. My first show back in 2015. Nerve racking but a lot of fun!

Rejection is the Name of the Game

I’ve been fully prepared for the rejection process since I started submitting my novel back in May. I’ve had a few “form” rejections and a few positive rejections; the best of which came from Curtis Brown and Skylark (nice e-mails from these agents too).

So, I have now joined the echelons of writers who have put themselves in the laps of the literary gods, bared my heart and soul to people who hold my future in their hands.

Ok, that might seem a little melodramtic but anyone who knows me, knows that I have a penchant for theatrics!

So far, I’ve clocked up thirteen actual rejections. Next, I have to look at those who simply haven’t responded at all; but, my list is dwindling. I have twenty-four agents yet to respond and whilst I am fully educated in the nature of rejection (ALL writers, published or not have gone through this experience) I am starting to feel ever so slightly despondent.

Being rejected definitely raises questions.

  1. What wasn’t “quite right” about my story?
  2. Why weren’t they “passionate” or “enthusiastic” enough to take it further?
  3. Am I a terrible writer?
  4. Is it a terrible story?
  5. What’s so wrong with it?

Honestly, I think I could drive myself made with these questions whirling around my head.

I read so many books and sometimes I think, “mine is definitely as good as this”, but what is it about THAT book that made the cut? What made it stand out enough to attract the attention of a literary agent?

I’ve researched that a poor cover letter can be enough to earn a firm “No” but the fact that I am getting responses suggests to me that I must be doing something right. One agent’s response was “Your submission caught my eye so I read it straight away. I enjoyed HORIZON SKIES. It was an intriguing concept. However, I’m afraid I didn’t quite love this enough to take it further.” It was definitely encouraging but obviously not what I wanted to hear.

So, what next? Do I revisit my manuscript, get some new betas, hire an editor? Or, consign my creation to the bottom of the pile and hope that my current WIP makes the grade?

One thing I am definitely sure of in all this; I am NOT giving up on my ambition. I AM a writer, you just won’t see me on the shelves of Waterstones…yet.

Slacking off…again

I feel like, sometimes, I take a visit to my blog and realise I haven’t posted anything in a while. Either through laziness or forgetfulness. Not because I don’t want to; let’s face it, I usually have a lot to say on a variety of subjects 🙂

This time, I’ll put it down to a combination of both the aforementioned excuses as well as the old “life gets in the way sometimes” adage.

Life hasn’t been going so well these past few months, (reasons I won’t go into), I’m battling another bout of depression which has severely depleted most of my motivation and I simply don’t know what to do with myself.

I’ve made a return to AmDram after being completely absent from it for almost a year but it was still hard making myself go. I am glad I did though. I’m looking forward to being involved in something with likeminded people. It’s fun and it certainly takes my mind off things.

The one positive, I guess; is that I have finally made my submission queries to literary agents (yay!).

But wow, that’s a whole other ball game!

You can’t just submit your manscript and cover letter to every agent you can think of. Different agents represent different genres and types of writers. They all have a very specific idea of what they want. Also, the submission requirement itself varies a great deal. From agents who want a brief synopsis and the first 10,000 words to those who want a two page synopsis, the first three chapters and a cover letter with a sales pitch. There definitely is no “one size fits all” scenario. Submitting to just three agents, I found, could take up most of a morning.

I have targeted a group of agents from the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2018 and narrowed them down into two groups. First and second choice. First choice agents are those whose entry jumped off the page at me, the second choice are those where the entries really don’t give much away. What I have found out however, is that a lot of my second choices are those agents with some rather successful clients on their roster.

It’s not enough just to go by the book though. From there, I visited the websites, read the agent bios, looked at the authors and books being represented, then decided if I should send my manuscript. I’ve had to adapt everything depending on the requirements with those agents so I hope I’ve done everything right.

I have had three rejections so far. Two written and one non-response (their threshold was 4 weeks). My first rejection came back within a week of submitting (I have no idea if that means they were initially interested) and one was from JK Rowling’s agent (I knew that one would be a long shot!) The responses so far have been polite and pleasant, I’m grateful for that because I know there are agents out there who can be very derisive.

So, all that remains now is for me to wait for further responses (or not, as the case maybe) but I am working on my second WIP at the moment. Still untitled but it’s coming along quite nicely.

What Price A Life?

Every day, as I drive to work, I see at least one dead animal lying on the side of the road. Some look like they’re sleeping; others, well…

Whenever I see one of these unfortunate creatures, I always say “rest in peace” as I drive past. Unable to stop and move them to a better spot and every time, I just feel so heartbroken and sad.

I’m sure there are plenty of people who feel terrible when they hit an animal with their vehicle but equally, there are those who simply don’t give a damn and it’s this attitude that I find so depressing.

When did it happen that humans were able to decide that the life of a creature that is NOT human became so disposable? Just because animals don’t communicate the way we do, that they live as nature dictates, they follow their instincts. When were those traits deemed inferior to ours?

Take away the shell and what do you have? The soul of the creature within or an empty space? Are human beings really so arrogant as to believe that we are the only inhabitants of this planet capable of fear, pain, joy and love?

To kill an animal by accident is one thing but what of animals NOT killed by accident? The foxes, deers, badgers, hen harriers etc. “hunted” by humans in the name of sport or country tradition? The principle is the same, it’s the taking of a life by whatever means available and it’s that attitude again that these animals are fair game or pests to be controlled somehow.

Animals in research laboratories, treated with such cruelty and contempt in their short, miserable lives. Intense factory farming, chickens, by the thousands, kept in horrific, cramped conditions, the dead and dying beneath their diseased feet.

Race horses, greyhounds, seen as so disposable that they are usually euthanised when they have outlived their usefulness.

Elephants, rhinos, tigers, lions al under threat of extinction due to the selfish nature of human greed and corporate gluttony.

It goes from one extreme to the other.

I’m no angel and I don’t profess to be. I didn’t become vegetarian until Christmas 2014 and I’m only transitioning to veganism this year. What I am though is compassionate and I do my research. As painful as it is to see videos of animal abuse or the conditions some animals are forced to endure, I watch because I want to ensure I am making an informed choice and not just turning a blind, ignorant eye to the truth.

Animals were here before us, they’ll go on after us (provided we haven’t murdered them all into extinction). As the self-styled apex predators of this world (we most definitely are not), we have an obligation to care for and nuture, not just this beautiful world we live on, but the other animals that also live here. It is their planet too, they were not put here for us to consume and treat as commodities with no feelings.

We’re intelligent creatures, yes but we are also selfish, perpetuated through millenia and has made us feel so entitled to do what we want with the treasures of this world. If humans had chosen the path of living in equilibrium with the world it would be a vastly different place to what we inhabit now.

 

 

 

I Am A Suffragette!

100 years ago today, a momentous event took place in British history.

8 million women were given the right to vote.

The year was 1918. It was the 20th Century.

Today, we celebrate that turning point but, even after 100 years, women the world over are STILL fighting. For their voices to be heard. For equal pay in the workplace. For freedom from sexual harassment. To live in a society that treats us as equals, where we can walk the streets at night, confident in our safety from predators. To not hear demeaning and degrading comments from colleagues or the ordinary Joe on the street.

I am lucky in many respects. Being British, I have grown up in a country where child marriage is outlawed, girls have the same access to education as the boys, where women can dress how they want, go to work (or not) raise a family, get married, stay single, have a career, teach, read, write. The list is endless. But, we still have many industries and sections of society in the UK that continue to view women as second-rate citizens. Nothing more than tits on legs, there for fun or ridicule.

I still cannot fathom some of these outdated attitudes.

Are the men perpetrating these ideas of women’s lesser place really so afraid of us that the only way to battle that fear is to behave in the most cowardly way possible? Through bullying and repression?

Fear breeds hate; those who hate create a far more dangerous world than those who embrace change and see us as equals. Let’s be thankful for the men who HAVE stood by us, supported us and championed us!

There are so many countries where girls and women are subjugated and oppressed their entire lives. From cradle to grave. Child marriage. Honour killing. Rape as punishment. FGM. Sexual trafficking. Prevention of education. The list is not exhaustive.

In Hollywood, the #MeToo movement has empowered hundreds of women to come forward, and shed light on the predatory practises of heavy weights in the multi-billion dollar movie industry. Women who are at the top of their game and who should be celebrated for their achievements routinely humiliated and abused behind closed doors. But, time is almost up for this most ferocious behemoth.

So, the fight goes on. A lot has changed in 100 years but there is a long way to go. For millions of women the world over, the fight goes on.

https://plan-international.org/because-i-am-a-girl/issues-affecting-girls

#MeToo

#TimesUp

P.S. Anyone who says that the Suffragettes fought for us to also have the right to abstain from voting, sorry, you are wrong. Those women fought, bled and died for you to have a voice so bloody well use it.

 

Patience, Grace!

My book is now in the hands of my alpha-reader. The lucky victim candidate is my other half, the one who has been with me since I actually knuckled down in 2012 and started writing the book.

Now, I don’t know how other writers choose their alphas and betas and I expect they all have different groups of people in which they can implicitly trust their precious manuscripts. I’m going with the “less is more” approach. One alpha and maybe 2-3 betas as I’m worried that too many opinions may muddy the next stage and I really don’t want to get into another round of edits that maybe wholly unnecessary.

I find myself, however, badgering my beleaguered partner to tell me where he is in the story, what chapter, who does he like, is he enjoying it? I think perhaps, I maybe ruining the experience for him somewhat!

It’s exciting though; having someone actually read a book that I have written. Even up to the point when I finished it, I don’t think I ever told him what it was about. I don’t tell anyone, it’s always been a closely guarded secret. I think I’m paranoid that someone might steal the idea from me 🙂

One good thing about my alpha is that he’s not really into fantasy fiction. His taste tends to lean towards auto-biographies and the odd thriller however, he has read a few books from my collection and as 95% of my books are all fantasy he’s read Marie Lu, Patrick Ness and James Dashner who have all written fantastic novels. I’m hoping these will have given him a good grounding in fantasy works from world building to characterisation.

Whilst all this is going on, I have started on my second book which is another fantasy story but is not the sequel to Horizon Skies, and I am now collating information on agents in the UK to approach with queries/submissions. I read a very useful guide written by Patrick Ness in which he provides some very useful guidance on how to find an agent. So, I have bought my copy of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2018, highlighted agents in orange for my first choice, green for my second. The reason for the second choice? The entries are not always clear as to which genres/authors these agents represent so will take a little more research.

At present, I have 35 first choice and 48 second choice. A grand total of 83. That’s a lot of agents but I have to face up to the fact that writing is a highly competitive business, and I could end up rejected by everyone I approach. I have to be pragmatic. Every agent works differently. They have different guidelines for submissions and queries. Agents will be looking for something specific, something about the manuscript that stands out against all the others. Above all, my research so far tells me, they appreciate a writer taking the time to follow the guidelines correctly, are professional and do not badger them for a response.

I’m still excited at the prospect of getting published even if I don’t succeed via the traditional route, self publishing has paved the way for so many authors and I know that, one way, or another, my book will be out there in the future.

New Year’s Resolutions…..yeah, right..

Sorry, I just don’t believe in making promises to myself for a New Year that I will probably fail within the first few weeks. I believe that you should maintain your goals for as long as it takes to achieve them, whether that be five months or five years.

Horizon Skies took me five years to complete. That was because I had to fit it in around my very busy day job, three house moves, amdram and the day-to-day business of life. If I had stuck to every New Year’s Resolution in that five years I might have finished the book sooner and got it out quicker but I don’t currently have the luxury of being able to call writing my day job. That is something I am steadily working towards and each year does bring me a little closer.

My boyfriend is now reading my completed manuscript, he’s only two chapters in but has already said that it comes across as a compelling story so the hook has worked; the prologue and the first chapter have got him interested in reading more and that is only a good thing.

I have already plotted the sequel and another standalone book which I have made a start on so 2018 should represent exciting times for me.

There are other goals though that I do think deserve better attention than I’ve been inclined to provide in the past.

Eat healthy, exercise more and less alcohol are achievable. I have massively indulged myself over the last couple of weeks and one thing I have noticed as I head to my mid-40s is that aches and pains are a little more frequent, the body a little stiffer in the mornings. Not good.

I still feel very young in my mind and spirit but if I don’t take care of the vessel that contains my very being I will end up a withered old lady. So, it’s back to the Yoga and the Walk At Home programme which I really enjoyed.

I am quite lazy by nature, it takes a lot for me to get motivated and earlier in 2017 I was experiencing a weird heart condition which was diagnosed as an ectopic heartbeat. My doctor said it was a wake up call to manage my stress better and not to overdo the exercise (I was working out every single day) so I went the other way and stopped altogether. My heart is doing better, I don’t feel the skipped beat anymore but I do still experience palpitations, these go back to the stress I was under at my previous job and they haven’t gone away. It’s another reason why I want to get out of the rat race and make a living as a writer. Work under my own steam, doing something I truly love and enjoy.

Completing Horizon Skies was all the motivation I needed to write more. When I wrote the final words, I knew then that I could do it, write a book, see it through to the end and if I can write one book then, I can surely write another.

The over indulgence of Christmas and New Year has left my body feeling tender and quite battered. The alcohol has given me some very weird and vivid dreams, the rich food made me sluggish and heavy. That’s the motivation I need to take better care of myself (my heart being the most important aspect). So, I’m looking forward to going on a nice little walk, getting some fresh air into my lungs (as fresh as it can be living near the A1!) and just getting myself moving.

So, whatever it is that motivates you, make that your goal, not a resolution. Most people fail at their resolutions before the end of January (new diet, stopping smoking etc.) so just keep your goal in mind and whether you achieve it this or next year doesn’t matter. The journey matters more than the destination.

 

Sticks and Stones

Last week was anti-bullying week. I have written about my experiences of bullying in previous posts but every time the campaign resurfaces, my old bullying demons decide to rear their very ugly heads.

Having gone through years of being bullied at every single school I attended, I went out into the workplace at the tender age of 16 thinking I had left all that behind, only to discover that not only was workplace bullying a common occurrence but that I was to be granted no reprieve and became a victim once more on several occasions.

I am yet to reconcile my feelings of anger over what happened to me. I still boil with resentment when I think back to how so many different people treated me. In my experience, girls are the worst. They can be vicious, vindictive and downright evil when belittling someone they consider to be beneath them. During my latter school years, they almost drove me to suicide. In one work place, a particular tormentor managed to turn all my colleagues against me.

No one helped.

My friends could only do so much. I was lucky to not be totally alone as some victims of bullying are. My home life wasn’t a happy one so I kept a lot from my parents and retreated into my books and music, squirreling myself away in my room to be alone with thoughts of worthlessness whirling around my head.

Bullying is one of the most psychologically damaging experiences a person can go through. At a young age, those seeds of discord are sown so deep that the roots will remain long after the experiences have been consigned to the past.

I am no longer a victim of bullying, I am a survivor but it still hurts.

My heart breaks every time I read in the news that a child has killed him or herself as a direct result of being bullied. Why aren’t the bullies being arrested and charged with murder? Why aren’t their friends or parents being arrested as accessories to the crime? Because that is what it is. Driving someone to take their own life is murder.

I understand that a lot of bullies become the way they are as a result of their own unhappiness, they lash out and pick someone who they perceive as being too weak to fight back. Then again, there are some who bully simply because they get a kick out of it, in my opinion, this makes them a sociopath.

Whatever the reasons behind their actions (reasons or compulsions?) I will always loathe those who seek to destroy the essence of a person, make them feel worthless, that life isn’t worth living, that no one loves or cares for them. I know this to be untrue. Victims of bullying tend to be those with the greatest potential. We’re the geeks, nerds, the wordy kids, the kids who are bit different. Ultimately, we are better than those who belittle us.

To all the bullies out there who may read this, just remember, karma has a very long memory and she is more vicious than you can ever be.

Ruby Redfort, Sticks and Stones

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can also hurt me.
Stones and sticks break only skin, while words are ghosts that haunt me.
Slant and curved the word-swords fall, it pierces and sticks inside me.
Bats and bricks may ache through bones, but words can mortify me.
Pain from words has left its’ scar, on mind and heart that’s tender.
Cuts and bruises have not healed, it’s words that I remember.