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.

Random Stuff

I stumbled across my first real problematic chapter yesterday in the editing process. In the end, there was nothing for it but to print the damn thing and go over it by hand. I think I’ve cracked it though and will do the digital edit today. At least I am now past the half way mark so the end is in sight!

I did a little baking yesterday and made some peanut butter and chocolate flapjacks. They’re adapted from a recipe in the 15 Minute Vegan cookbook. They’re still vegan but I used Sweet Freedom Chocolate Syrup and agave nectar in place of Flapjacksgolden syrup. They came out beautifully; so much so that I may have to hide them from my boyfriend!

For anyone reading this blog who is into similar music to me (rock all the way!) I would like to mention a band by the name of My Soliloquy. This little known group have a new album coming out on the 14th September by the name of Engines of Gravity. As my aforementioned boyfriend is the creator of this band, I’ve had the privilege of hearing the completed album and can say that it is a stonker of a record. Proggers, metalhead and rockers are all catered for and I invite you to check out this band and their previous endeavours.

That’s all for now 🙂

My Soliloquy Band Page

Man of Much Metal – Engines of Gravity Review

Progressive Music Planet – Engines of Gravity Review

Editing: A Necessary Evil

Since putting my pen down, tidying the notepads away and sitting back with the smug feeling of having written my book; I am now at the stage which has filled me with some trepidation.

Editing.

I follow lots of writers on Twitter, many in the same boat as me, we’ve sailed the river of writing our fast draft but now find ourselves alone, navigating the choppy seas of editing. I must admit, a lot of writers have made no bones about the fact that editing can be a labour intensive, boring process but one that must be done to get the book into a more cohesive, second draft.

I have waited three weeks since downing the pen and revisiting my manuscript and I enter the process as a complete novice. The thought of cutting words, whole paragraphs, characters even is a scary prospect and I must admit, I went gently with the first couple of chapters!

However, today’s editing process felt a little different. Chapter 3, a good chapter (I believe) but which the direct influence of LOTR was screaming out of it, demanded changes and those changes have been made. Maybe not as brutal as it should have been but I don’t want to do anything too drastic and alter the tone completely. The story is still my story and the 3rd draft will provide further opportunity for more changes.

So, for anyone reading this who is perhaps still working through their 1st draft and worrying about it being any good: don’t be. Your 1st draft is the outline, an introduction to the world you’re creating and the characters within it. It’s the first stepping stone on the way to completion.

This is an old article but it is very useful and this is the guideline I’m working with as far as the editing process goes:

Writers’ Digest – How To Edit Your Book

In the meantime, feel free to add your comments about editing here, learning from other writers is invaluable!

I’ve Written A Book…Now What?!

A week ago today, I placed my pen down, closed my notepad and realised, “I’ve done it. I’ve actually written a book!”

How anti-climactic it felt, this huge achievement, that there was no fanfare, no ticker tape and, more importantly: no wine, (an oversight that has now been rectified). I wanted to cry with joy both at finishing the damn thing and completing it in the most ordinary of places: the sofa.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned during the writing process is that the first draft isn’t perfect, it’s never meant to be perfect. The first draft exists as the progenitor to all other drafts that come. It bears the main crux of what the story is about, who the characters are and where they’re going. What I will need to work out over the coming months is how to expand on that story further, flesh out the characters, trim the fat and tighten it up into a real page turner.

I have written the story I would want to read; that much is true. The characters who have taken up residence in my head finally have breathing space and purpose, they’re free to run amok and create chaos in the world I have created for them.

I have written 37 chapters, two of which are the prologue and epilogueNotepads, 90,820 words (80,000 original target) over three notebooks (I write long hand) and dedicated as much time as I could over the last five years to getting my book written.

My story has had many incarnations over the years. When it first popped into my head in my mid 20’s  it had a very different plot but the characters were basically the same. I used to write on a digital typewriter so the pages were there instantaneously but, life, as you know, has a habit of getting in the way on occasion so I dipped in and out of writing for years before really getting down to it.

Even as a kid I used to write but I was very plagiarist back then (even though I didn’t know it). I once wrote a story called The Secret of Sarah Willow which was directly influenced by the fabulous Wolves of Willoughby Chase but at least I was exploring the ability to write. Who knows, I may return to that story one day and write it from my own imagination and not that of someone else.

I digress…

What next? According to my research and other writers I’ve connected with via places like Twitter the main consensus is to have a break from the book (someone said two months!) so I can go back to it with a completely fresh outlook. I’m not sure I can wait that long as I’ve written in such fits and starts over the years that sometimes I’ve left it more than two months between chapters so I’m thinking a couple of weeks might be in order. The prologue was written in 2012 and having glanced at it recently, I’m pretty sure that it will need an overhaul as will most of the very early chapters.

But, how many drafts and rewrites should I do? Do writers get to a point where they think, “That’s it, I can’t do anymore?”  or do they keep going?

Should I find an editor first or beta-readers? An agent or a publisher? (I’m thinking to try for an agent first). Is self-publishing better than e-publishing? What’s a good way of marketing my work?

So many questions!

It’s safe to say however, that, if I ever had a bucket list; then writing a book would definitely be on it and I can happily tick it off

 

Tell Me No Lies

I appeal to anyone with a modicum of sense to stop taking as gospel, the continuing smear campaign perpetrated against Jeremy Corbyn by the right-wing media. It’s time these people woke up and smelt the coffee.

Let’s start with the “news” papers shall we? It’s in their interests to keep the Tories in power so their owners can continue their lavish lifestyles and demonise anyone who doesn’t toe the line of Tory rhetoric.

So, if you read The Sun, The Daily Mail, The Telegraph, The Times or any of their subsidiary publications you are being manipulated by their unfair and completely biased reporting. It’s also scary that you would allow yourself to take what they spoon feed you as absolute gospel. Why would you allow this instead of getting the facts for yourself?

Which brings me onto my next point. Corbyn being painted as a full on supporter of the IRA and terrorist sympathiser. This is simply not true and again, why are people believing what is being spouted to them by the gutter press? Why not go and investigate the facts for yourself? Corbyn has condemned violence on all sides of the struggle and supports the fight for peace when it is conducted in a civilised non-violent manner. I could be photographed in a room full of Tory supporters (gods forbid) but it doesn’t make me a Conservative (hell no!) Corbyn believes in round the table discussions and diplomacy, he doesn’t believe in violence. When it came to Hamas and Hezbollah, Corbyn is being vilified for the use of the term “our friends.” You know what? It’s a colloquialism, not a reference to them being best buddies. He was hardly going to invite two opposing factions for a discussion and refer to them as “our enemies” was he? That wouldn’t have been very diplomatic would it?

People forget that back in the 80’s, Margaret Thatcher was friends with General Pinochet and Robert Mugabe. Ruthless dictators responsible for the torture, imprisonment, murder and displacement of untold thousands.

Now, I don’t pretend to be the most politically savvy person to walk the earth but I’m savvy enough to know when facts are manipulated and fiction is presented as truth. These are the reasons why I don’t read the newspapers.

So, where do I get my information from if not the “free press”? Well, I’m connected to a lot more politically savvy people on Twitter than myself, I research and read independent publications and blogs and I’m so bloody minded that I will always stand by my views.

I also have the benefit of experience. Of growing up in a poor family of Tory controlled Britain in the 1980’s, seeing first hand what the Tories were capable of even then. Having a parent be one of the 3 million unemployed because cuts made to British manufacturing meant no job came without the threat of future redundancy. My parents suffered massively in those days and as a young child, I didn’t fully understand what we were going through. I grew up on a council estate, on benefits, free school dinners and hand me down clothes whilst my parents worked hard, scrimped and struggled to achieve a better life for our family.  Every single penny mattered to us, where it came from and what it was spent on. I would never wish that kind of existence onto another family but it’s still happening today and when I hear people being told to “work hard”, I just think, “some have to hold down two or three jobs to get by, if that’s not hard work then what is?”

For the NHS Jeremy Hunt wants a U.S. style system where it’s all done through insurance but a glimpse at a medical bill in the U.S. is heart stopping and those bills come in the second a patient sees a doctor or gets into an ambulance. Imagine having to deal with that if someone you love had just died in a terrible accident or you were on life support and returned home to thousands of pounds worth of debt? What if you couldn’t even afford the insurance? What then?

I’ve heard people say, “don’t have kids if you can’t afford to pay for them”. I think that’s such a crass, sweeping statement that generalises and demonises poor families into one category: “scroungers”. This makes my blood boil. Family situations can change at any time; you could be ticking over nicely until the company you work for decides to close its doors and relocate to the Far East in favour of cheap labour and manufacturing costs. Mass redundancies  in one area has a huge impact on unemployment figures and social funding. Thousands of people in one town or city aren’t suddenly going to get snapped up for the same jobs elsewhere. So what, there are people who do scrounge (I believe they’re called bankers, hedge fund managers, billionaire non dom tax exiles etc) but if you’re thinking of those who pop out a couple of kids to get a council house, remember this – they are the minority and do not represent the majority of those in need but it’s just too damn easy to bully the less fortunate isn’t it?

If you’re voting Tory because of Brexit then I have to ask you, what makes the NHS, public services, emergency services, schools, the disabled and mentally ill (all of whom have suffered extreme financial cuts) far less important than whether or not we belong in the EU? Where has that magical £350 million a week for the NHS disappeared to? (It was on a big red bus if you remember).

What about the environment and the terrible damage caused by fracking when it’s clear that renewable energy is the way forward? What about animal welfare? 80% of the British public opposes fox-hunting but we’re being ignored. The Tories have even dropped their pledge to ban the ivory trade condemning elephants ever closer to extinction.

Does any of this matter to you?

If it does, give it some thought. You might change your mind, you might not. The decision is yours but don’t let the media and the press make it for you.