Wednesday 25 April 2012

One More Sleep Until Abi Burlingham's Buttercup Magic!

Finishing up edits again, so I'm not really here, but I thought I'd drop by to tell you some very exciting news. Tomorrow is the launch of my writer friend Abi Burlingham's latest book, BUTTERCUP MAGIC - A MYSTERY FOR MEGAN. Hurrah!

When nine year old Megan moves to Buttercup House, she has no idea how special the house is. With her new best friend, Freya, who lives next door, they find out all the wonderful secrets about her new home, and she meets the magical animals that live there: some very clever mice, Dorothy, the mysterious black cat, and a very sepcial dog called Buttercup. A book about friendship and magic, aimed at 6-9 years. (Description from Goodreads)


Where: Clay Cross Library, Holmgate Road, Clay Cross, Derbyshire S42 6YQ
When: Thursday 26th April, 3.30-4.30pm

All are welcome, and I have it on good authority that there will be lollies! So hopefully see you there. BIG congratulations on your new book, Abi!

You can buy Buttercup Magic - a Mystery for Megan here. There is a lovely review on Serendipity Viv's blog here and you can find out more about how the book came to exist on Abi's blog here and Jenny Alexander's blog here.

Wednesday 18 April 2012

Word-by-Word, Scene-by-Scene, Chapter-by-Chapter - a Guest Post by Julia Munroe Martin

Today, I'm absolutely thrilled to welcome Julia Martin Munroe Martin to the blog. I first met Julia, a freelance writer and editor who describes herself as a 'Novelist-in-progress', on Twitter, where I discovered her fascinating blog, There, she blogs about all sorts of things to do with writing and her life on the coast of Maine - if you haven't checked it out yet, it's well worth a read!

Take it away, Julia…

When Emma posted recently about feeling like she was on the Outside Looking In as a teenager, I could really relate.

I felt a lot of the same ways Emma wrote about feeling—and in many ways I really was on the outside. That’s because even though I’m an American, I spent a significant amount of my childhood outside the U.S.

In fact, I wasn’t even born in the U.S.—I was born in France. Then, when I was seven, a year in Belize; at eleven I lived in Kenya and Uganda; at fifteen I lived another year in a different part of Kenya. My problems were compounded by the fact that I also missed formal schooling (and more importantly meeting friends) during those years. Add in that time, my parents moved our permanent U.S. home base 3000 miles from one coast to the other…. and I think any of us who are parents can clearly see a perfect storm of problems gathering like clouds for a child raised like this.

But here’s the thing…my parents—cross cultural researchers—didn’t see. They were so focused on the end result of their own work that their own child’s, my fitting in, my cultural experience, took a back seat. (I should add that a few years ago—when I was in my forties—my father apologized for “dragging” me all over the world, acknowledging that it might not have been a best practice in child rearing.)

I know, I know, lots of you may be thinking “cry me a river, what an amazing life, Julia.” And sure, I had an amazing life: game parks in Africa, traveling by river boats in Central America, eating hippopotamus on the shores of the Nile River, side trips to the Egyptian pyramids, London, Paris, Rome, just to name a few.

But for every exotic lovely memory, there are the others too: no friends to speak of, always feeling and being different in every culture, never fitting in anywhere, and really never knowing what on Earth (or where on Earth) I was going to be.

So much so, that here’s what happened. The only time I ever felt comfortable, really comfortable, was when I was with other people who had the same background I did—other third culture kids:

A third culture kid (TCK) (first coined by sociologist and anthropologist Ruth Hill Useem) refers to children who accompany their parents into another society—a child who spends a significant period of time in one or more cultures outside their own.

And now, to quote Emma: “The trouble is, when you’re a teenager, fitting in can be everything.” And I didn’t. Fit in. Not ever. So I kept looking and wondering: where do I find those people, those kids, those other third culture kids? They were few and far between.

The phrase uncomfortable in my own skin probably best describes it even now. Unsure. Always questioning why, as Emma said. Usually a loner. Add to that, almost always feeling more comfortable with people who aren’t “from the U.S.” or more—were brought up like me: in cultures outside their own.

It’s one of the things I love most about social media: meeting people in other countries and cultures, with different experiences, far from my usual beaten path, and realizing the world is truly getting smaller—people who make me feel more at home. It’s especially wonderful when I meet other writers, like Emma, who make me feel less alone, less different.

So what’s the upside? Is there one? Yes being a TCK makes me a better writer—this feeling of not belonging, of looking at things from every possible angle—providing me with not just a multi-cultural but a multi-dimensional view. And writing also gives me a way to help make sense of everything, especially where I fit in—both literally and figuratively—again and again I write about home and searching and wanting to fit in—in my fiction, my personal essays, and on my blog too.

Because here’s the thing, I am searching, always searching, but I’ve also come to terms with the realization that I’m comfortable with the discomfort—and that’s partly because of the writing. In the writing, when I create those other worlds, I can also create the closure, and by doing that I create the transformation for my characters that I myself have so desperately sought my whole life long.

But my story, that story? My story is still being written word-by-word, scene-by-scene and chapter-by-chapter.

If you want to find out more about Julia, here's her blog link again: You can also follow her on Twitter: @wordsxo 

Thank you so much for stopping by, Julia! 

Thursday 12 April 2012

Jaffa Cakes & Mini Eggs (AKA My First Ever Creative Writing Workshop)

On Tuesday night, I ran my first ever proper workshop session at Chesterfield Library. It was for a group of young writers called the Write Here Group, which is run by River Woltona recent Derbyshire Poet Laureate and workshop wizard extraordinaire, who I’ve worked with before and who will be chairing the panel discussion I’m taking part in for the Derbyshire Literature Festival next month. I'd been asked to talk about getting published and how to write believable fiction that's set in the future.

Was I nervous? Definitely. I’ve been running a small writing group at the library where I work for several years now, so I wasn’t quite as terrified as I might have been if I was going into this cold, but it was still a slightly scary prospect. What if no-one turned up? What if they thought I was boring? What if they thought the exercises I was going to do with them were crap? I even had an anxiety dream the night before, where I had to meet the group at a party in the hallway of a large, posh house. Everyone was talking so loudly I couldn’t make myself heard, even when I shouted. Then I realised I’d forgotten all the worksheets I’d so painstakingly put together and printed out. NIGHTMARE.

Thankfully, the reality was completely different. When I arrived at the library, I was met by River, and when we got down to the meeting room, two of the group were already there. I chatted to them about the novels they’re currently working on, which sound amazing. There were chocolate mini eggs, and grapes to snack on, and when the rest of the group arrived someone had even brought a box of Jaffa cakes with them.

So far, so good.

We kicked off by talking about how I got my agent, and how to look for an agent that represents your genre (look at the Writers and Artist’s Yearbook, and find out who represents the authors you like to read in your genre – which is how I found mine). Then we did an exercise about how to make up believable future names, which resulted in creating a character biography, then writing a scene featuring that character on the theme of ‘most frightening/exciting day in their life’.

After that we did a more general exercise about worldbuilding, and then I had the opportunity to answer more questions about writing and getting published. Before I knew it, the two hours were up. And I’d loved every minute of it! The group were awesome – friendly and talented, and the quality of their writing just blew me away. It was an honour to be asked to speak to them. 

A huge thank you to the Write Here group and River for making me feel so welcome!

Wednesday 11 April 2012

I'm Not Here Today…

But I will be tomorrow. In the meantime, you can find me over at the fabulous Friday The Thirteeners blog, where I've been dared by Thirteener and fellow Lucky 13 April Tucholke to draw a cartoon strip featuring The Hound. Did I do it? Find out here!

Wednesday 4 April 2012

Keep Writing

Firstly! A fantastic new blog for all things UK YA has been launched, courtesy of Keris Stainton, Keren David and Susie Day. Check it out for book recommendations, reviews, guest posts and more.

Secondly! I'm taking part in Crits for Water 2012, which has been set up by the fab Kat Brauer. You can donate to charity:water in return for critiques of your work from authors, agents and editors. I'm not up till June, but the campaign is already running, and there are some amazing critiques to bid for. So go! Bid!

Thirdly! The details of the Derbyshire Literature Festival are up, and you can find out more about mine, Chelsey Flood's and Helen Mort's event on 15th May, where we'll be answering questions about our writing and getting published here. We'll also be reading from our upcoming debuts, so you could get a sneak preview of the opening chapter of ACID!

Fourthly! I have an interview up at fellow Lucky 13 Mindy McGinnis's awesome Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire blog, where you can read more about my writing process, how I got my lovely agent and what it was like to be querying and out on submission.

Which brings me to today's post… 

This time last year, ACID was still being sent out to publishers. I’d already had one book out on sub that hadn’t sold, although it was a near miss. With that book, I hadn’t found the process too stressful, because (and this probably sounds pretty naive) I had an agent! Surely that meant my book would sell… right?

Wrong. Because they don’t. Not always. No-one was to blame – it just wasn’t the right book, and it wasn’t the right time, and eventually, my agent and I agreed we should put the MS to rest.

While that first novel (a contemporary YA) was doing the rounds, I’d already written another, which, for various reasons and after about 5 drafts, got trunked. After that, I started writing ACID. Thankfully, that MS worked out, but when my agent sent it out on submission, I didn’t feel quite so sure about anything any more. Because it doesn’t matter how many people (or books, or blogs) tell you to take the rejections in your stride, to move on, it’s hard – really hard – not to let them knock your confidence. Or it is for me, anyway, as, like most people, I suspect, there’s always that tiny voice in my ear telling me nothing I do is any good. That voice I have to ignore at all costs if I want to get anything written at-all.

This time last year, that voice nearly got the better of me.

With each rejection, I got more miserable and stressed. I was trying to work on a new book, but I wasn’t enjoying it because my confidence had dipped so low. I started to question whether I should be a writer at-all. And I lost sight of the most important thing of all – the writing itself.

Then, right in the middle of all this, I remember asking myself, does my life depend on getting published right now?

And I asked myself, If ACID doesn’t sell, will I stop writing?

The answer to both those questions, of course, was No.

It didn’t make the rejections any less disappointing, and it didn’t quiet my fears that I’d never be a good enough writer to get published, but it did help me gain a sense of perspective about the whole thing. I was putting all my energies into wanting to get published when what I needed to do was put them into my writing. I first started writing (and have kept writing ever since) because I love writing, and I can’t imagine not doing it. I’m also a firm believer that things happen when they’re meant to happen, and reminding myself of that helped too. If I wasn’t meant to get published yet, I wasn’t meant to. Instead, I needed to keep writing, and keep improving.

Easy for you to say, you might think. Your book sold. But it could so easily not have. And if I’d kept get published as my overriding ambition, instead of becoming a better writer, I’m not sure where I’d be right now. Not in a very happy place, that’s for sure.

So if you’re in the query trenches or out on submission right now? Keep writing. Because that’s why you’re there in the first place. And that’s what will get you through… whatever the end result.