Wednesday 25 January 2012

Notes From The Revisions Cave - The Survival Kit

Since I got my editor's notes for ACID in November, I’ve been hanging out in the Revisions Cave. It’s a place that looks a lot like my sofa (the place I always write), only messier, because there’s a gigantic folder containing my notes and manuscript and pens and bits of paper spread out across it; stuff that has to be moved out of the way when friends or family come over so they’ve got somewhere to sit down.  

I was excited when my notes arrived. I’ve always preferred the revising/re-drafting stage to the first draft stage – there’s something about chopping a story into pieces and putting it back together that’s utterly satisfying. And I was awed by my editor’s insight. Her ideas about how to make the book better, bigger, are incredible.

But I have to admit, I was apprehensive too. Although my agent and I have always worked on revisions together, this was editing on a whole ‘nother level. And for the first time ever, I was on a proper deadline. Would I actually be able to do this?

Thankfully, now I’m a few weeks away from seeing sunlight again, I’ve realised that what seemed like a frighteningly huge task back in November wasn’t so huge (or frightening) after-all. This is in large part thanks to my Revisions Cave Survival Kit, which I've assembled along the way.

Here’s what’s inside:

Coloured pens
These are essential for note-making, highlighting sections of the manuscript according to what needs doing to them, and also because, well, any excuse to buy stationery is a good one, right?

I have to have music on when I write. It helps get me shut myself off from the distractions of the outside world. And yes, I am one of those authors who makes playlists for their WIPs - I’ll post ACID’s here soon!

When I was a kid, I used to wonder what on earth my parents were talking about when they said they could ‘feel coffee working’. Now I know. Until I’ve had my first cup of the day, getting the words out feels like pushing porridge through muslin. Afterwards, it can still feel like that… but that’s usually fixed by making a second cup. Or a third. Or…
Brain fuel

Although I’m a fast reader, I’ve not had as much time to read while I’ve been in the Revisions Cave. As a result, my TBR pile is reaching dangerously wobbly proportions. However, I'm still trying to fit it in where I can. Reading other people’s books reminds me of my own passion for writing when I’m having a difficult day, and helps me relax afterwards.
My actual TBR pile

Fluffy socks
I always get cold feet when I’m sitting down for any period of time, which makes it hard to concentrate, so these are a must. Also: a hot water bottle.

The Hound
There’s nothing quite like a Hound walk when the words are going slow, or I’m stuck on a particular plot point. Or any other activity that’s not related to writing. Not thinking about my book is often the best way to solve something I’m stuck on. I usually find that once I’ve stopped stressing about an idea and trying to force it to appear, my subconscious mind, which has been working furiously behind the scenes the whole time, taps me on the shoulder and hands me the answer.
Also, The Hound does this face when you say 'Walk'…  how could anyone resist!

I’d love to be one of those writers who can pull an all-nighter working on their book and be able to feel vaguely human the following day. Unfortunately, I’m not one of those writers. I can work late into the night if I have to, but usually spend the next twenty-four hours with my brain feeling like an overstretched elastic band. So I try not to do it. Much.

Other writers
This has been the biggest help of all. Hearing about other authors’ experiences of being in the Revisions Cave has made me realise I’m not alone; that just because my editor’s picked up on things I know I should have seen for myself doesn’t mean my book’s awful, and that everyone else has porridge-through-muslin days too. Whether it’s chatting on Twitter, talking to my fellow 2013 debut-ers over at The Lucky 13s or reading the many other excellent author blogs that are out there about the process (just google 'Revisions Cave' and you'll see what I mean), I’ve come to realise that this is a great place to be.

So, do you have Revisions Cave survival kit? What’s in there?

Wednesday 18 January 2012

A Million Words* (And Then Some)

When I started my first ever novel, and realised that maybe this was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, I thought getting published was easy. I’d finish the book, tweak it a bit, send it off and… voila!


Ha ha.

I know there must be people whose first ever novels are their debuts. People who are either ridiculously lucky or ridiculously talented, or both. But I’m not one of those people. If I could go back now and tell my thirteen-year-old self just how long it was going to take, and how many words she’d have to write to get there, I think she’d have almost died of shock.

Fourteen years to get an agent.

Another four years, and two novels, to get a book deal.

So you’ll understand why, when I got The Email saying ACID had sold, one of the first things I did was go upstairs, open a cupboard and stand there looking at what was inside for a while.

And then this, which I keep stashed away in a filing cabinet:

That’s all the writing I’ve ever done, from when I started up to now. (The bright green folder in the picture above is the manuscript for ACID, which I’m currently in the middle of editing.)

I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you’re a writer, and you’re trying to get published, don’t stop, even if you feel like you’re never going to get anywhere.

Because the next book could be the one that gets a yes. Or the next one. Or the next. And if you don’t write it, how will you ever know?

*The title for this post comes from a quote, attributed to various authors (if anyone knows for sure who it was, please tell me!), that you have to write a million words to find your voice as a writer.

Wednesday 11 January 2012

My Favourite Fictional Females

ACID is the first book I’ve ever written which has a female protagonist. I was a real tomboy as a kid, and with a few exceptions, I always preferred to read stories with male MCs. So naturally, when I started writing, all my MCs were male too, and the female characters were strictly secondary.

Then I started work on an idea for a prison story (you can read more about how that happened here), and Jenna Strong walked into my head. She wasn’t like any female character I’d ever written about before. She was kick-ass, angry, even scary at times. But as I got to know her, I began to find out why. And I realised that this prison story I wanted to tell was hers.

So, this week, inspired by Jenna, I thought I’d do a post about four of my favourite fictional female characters – characters who, in turn, have provided inspiration for Jenna as ACID has grown from a collection of ideas and notes into a fully-fledged novel.

Lol – This is England
This is England, directed by Shane Meadows, has to be one of the best films I’ve ever seen, and as for its two spin-off TV miniseries, This is England ’86 and ’88, well, just… wow. All the characters are incredible, but for me, Lol, brilliantly played by Vicky McLure, stands out. She goes through things no-one should ever have to, yet she remains such a strong character throughout. Her story so far has ripped my heart out. I hope I’ll get to see more of it.

Emily Byrd Starr – the EMILY OF NEW MOON trilogy by L.M. Montgomery
I like ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, but I’ve always found Anne Shirley a little saccharine. She so good ­– too good. Emily Byrd Starr, on the other hand, is sparky and rebellious. She has violet eyes (I always wanted violet eyes). She’s a little bit psychic. And she’s a writer. Could she get any cooler?

Saba - BLOOD RED ROAD by Moira Young

I loved this book. Saba’s voice is so unique – she gets into your head immediately and stays there long after you’ve finished reading. Along with my final pick, she’s one of the toughest fictional females I’ve ever come across, and as BLOOD RED ROAD is the first in a trilogy, I can’t wait to find out how her character develops.


I have a confession to make – I’ve yet to read any of the Millennium trilogy books (although I’ll be remedying that very shortly, I promise!). But recently, on the recommendation of a work friend, I watched the original Swedish films (I haven’t seen the Hollywood remake yet), and I was blown away by Noomi Rapace’s portrayal of Salander. Edgy and violent, Salander shouldn’t be a sympathetic character, and yet as I came to understand why she’s the way she is, I liked her more and more.

What about you? Who are your favourite fictional female characters, and why?

Wednesday 4 January 2012

Do You Remember the First Time?

Happy new year! I hope it's treating you well so far. How can it be 2012 already? 2011 seems to have gone past at a crazy speed, and when I think back to this time last year… well, ACID wasn't  out on submission yet. I didn't have this blog. I wasn't on Twitter, and hardly anyone even knew I was a writer. 

It's mind-boggling to think how much things have changed in the last twelve months, so I suppose it's inevitable that I've been thinking about where it all began.

I was 13. It was a Saturday in early September, and I’d just been shopping in town with my mum where, instead of spending my pocket money on chocolate, I’d bought a 300-page shorthand notebook with a bright yellow cover, and a black Crystal Bic biro from John Menzies. On the way home, we stopped at a garden centre. While my mum went in, I stayed in the car and took the notebook and pen out of its bag. I opened the notebook, breathing in the faintly sulphurous smell of the smooth, blue-lined paper inside.

Then I uncapped the pen and began to write my first ever novel.

It was inspired by the film JURASSIC PARK, which I’d seen a few weeks before – you can read more about how that film made me realise I wanted to be a writer over at the Lucky 13s blog here – and was a thriller about a policeman and a scientist who go to search for real live velociraptors in the rainforests of Central America. After a jeep crash leaves them stranded (but miraculously unhurt), they find themselves fighting to survive, stalked by bandits, poachers… and, of course, lots of very hungry raptors.

I can still remember the overwhelming sense of excitement I felt when I was writing that story. Because it wasn’t just a story – it was a discovery. As soon as I started it I knew this was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, and – without meaning to sound melodramatic – it was a revelation. One that changed my entire world.

I wrote my story before school. I wrote it after school. I even wrote it at school, hiding my notebook under my work during maths lessons – and, somehow, managing never to get caught. The words stacked up; I daydreamed about sending it off and becoming a Famous Published Author.

Ah… yeah.

Luckily, I realised it wasn’t good enough before I got to the sending-off stage – it was only 175 pages long, for a start. As it turned out, I wouldn’t start submitting stuff to publishers for another decade, and it would be eight more years before ACID sold. But to this day, I only feel comfortable making notes or writing longhand with a black Crystal Bic (blue ink – forget it!). And If I write in a notebook, I much prefer it to have blue lines rather than grey or black (or any other colour for that matter). I’m still obsessed with the smell of paper, and I’m still horrible at maths.

And I still have that novel. The notebook’s showing its age now – the cover’s come loose, and several pages are held in with staples – but I don’t ever intend to throw it away. It’s a precious reminder, on days when the words are slow, of just how much fun writing can be.

I’ll leave you with the opening paragraphs (completely unedited, I promise!)…

Apryl Carson stretched lazily, yawned and adjusted the striped beach towel that she was lying on. The blue sea stretched as far as she could see with gentle waves breaking on the hot white sand. Palm trees waved their branches in the warm breeze. Costa Rica was the perfect place for a holiday, Apryl thought. She pushed her sunglasses up onto her head and glanced at the newspaper in her hand. Perfect it might be, she said to herself, but it was also very bo– Something caught her eye, a sudden, but careful movement in a cluster of palm trees to her right. It was something big. At the same time, Apryl smelled a terrible stench of decay and heard a snuffling, scratching sound. She closed her eyes momentarily, trembling with fear. The beach, which had seemed so pleasantly empty a moment before was now frighteningly deserted. She wasted no time in gathering up her towel and bag. She could hear her frightened, rapid breathing and her heart was beating so fast it deafened her. The movement again, and it appeared to be nearer, then another, Apryl’s head whipped around, her eyes fixed on the huge head…
No-one witnessed her death. Apryl had a breif vision of six hurtling bodies, the gaping jaws, the pain, the smell… It was all over before she could even scream. One of the animals lifted it’s enourmous head and looked around with huge golden eyes. It was bigger than the others. It growled, and as if on cue, the other 5 dragged Apryl into the trees and fell to eating her with a savage snarling. A trail of blood stained the white sand and dried into a dark brown crust almost instantly, and nearby lay a striped beach towel and shoulder bag, torn to shreds by massive claws.