Monthly Archives: April 2013

Am I too old for this..?

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Candice: Read with interest this article on the BBC website about a teen author who has had her first book published by 17 and is now on course for a film deal.  Debut book by teen author could be made into film

Listening to an interview with her, she writes between doing her school work and taking her exams.  She’s had one book published and has others in the pipeline.  Blimey, should Phil and I just park it for now and forget it!

What I found most interesting was the way she got noticed.  She initially posted her story, chapter by chapter, on line and it got so much interest she got picked up by an agent. Now, Phil and I have had a similar idea but I always have the following questions:

How did she make sure she wasn’t just posting crap?

How did she build her followers (we are over a year into blog posts and have a few hundred of you on side)?

How did the agent find her – did she spam them with her links?

Perhaps, being twice her age, I just over analyse and we should just get on with it, but my brain is always thinking of the marketing plan.

I think it probably helps that she’s photogenic and can string a sentence together for interviews.

But, going back to Phil’s and my plans after the self publishing event last week we definitely need to get ‘the book’ out there to you readers, as well as our more conventional route of sending chapters to Agents.  Hey, we might have a film deal by the time I’m 50!

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“How To Get Published” at Stratford Literary Festival

WilliamSPhil: “Happy Birthday Billy Shakespeare”, I thought as I nipped into his next-door neighbours place for the How to Get Published…or How We Did It session at the Literary festival. We both went last year and enjoyed it, so much so that we’ve both read the books by all the authors on stage. I was flying solo this time, but with instructions to report back all the juicy details.

The format was as before – 3 authors who could explain how they escaped the slush pile to see their book in print.

Hilary Boyd had been writing and being rejected for 20 years before seeing Thursdays in the Park published. The book was published in print and e-book format, where it didn’t sell well enough to bother the bestseller charts for a year. Then, Amazon pushed it with a 20p price tag to promote the Kindle. This saw it climb the e-book charts and sit at the top for 6 weeks. From here, the media started to show an interest, tagging it “Granny-Lit” which in turn saw sales of print copies rise as Grannies don’t do Kindle. Total sales for the e-book are a whopping 430,000 – We’ll have a bit of that please!

Her backgrounds in medical non-fiction books didn’t help much with the transition to fiction sadly. Nor did she find the publicity required that easy. Being presented with 4 inch heels for a photo shoot apparently doesn’t work if you are 6 foot tall already – I’ll remember that for the future. She’s now working on the follow-up, which is a struggle because after so many unsuccessful attempts, she doesn’t really understand how the “good” one was written.

Emylia Hall got her break by winning a short story competition in Country Living Magazine. She then gave up her job and put all her eggs in the writing a novel basket, the result being The Book of Summers. This involved moving with her husband, a comic book artist, to Bristol for cheaper accommodation. There were several creative writing courses too which she valued enormously. Being locked away with both amateur and professional writers for a week helps apparently, although I suspect the lack of distractions like the web and being forced to focus is part of it.

Emylia described herself as “very methodical” and a quick look at her blog would confirm this. There’s some plotting using Post-it notes on a wall that would be at home in a management consultancy meeting! Sales of the print book so far are 30,000, helped by Richard & Judy including it in their book club.

Michelle Heatley was alone in not having a copy of Fish Soup to show as it hasn’t quite emerged from the printers. She also got started with short stories and won the Stratford Literary Festival 2009 competition with the tale which later grew into her novel. An Open University creative writing course helped her while writing the novel.

All three writers have been traditionally published. Hilary and Emylia both acquired agents and then publishers. Michelle went straight to a small publishing house who took her on after a 6 month wait. The chair insisted that each author read a short extract from their novels and from this I would say that Emylia and Michelle have similar styles. Hilary’s was rather more racy than the others and (to me) the most intriguing.

All commented on the effort required by authors to sell themselves to the public. The support provided seemed to vary a lot. With a small company, Michelle knows she has to work the hardest on this. She doesn’t even have an agent (yet) to fall back on. Emylia on the other hand gets welcome feedback from the publishers and was the only one to have a publicist in the room.

I suppose I should provide fashion notes in lieu of my colleague: All the authors wore black but Michelle tried the hardest to look like a proper creative type with a wide-brimmed hat and sparkly scarf. It’s a look I will be effecting when we are on the stage and not in the audience.

Talking of the audience, what is it with potential authors and questions? You’d hope that this would be a group capable of stringing a concise sentence together yet there was rambling, showing off and at least one person who seemed to be asking a question more suited to the previous days event. Never mind, the tea and cakes were excellent and the event is certainly popular, with a full house in the lecture hall.


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Self Publishing – not as bad as we thought?

Cakes!Candice: Phil and I toddled along to a “self publishing clinic” as part of Stratford Literary Festival yesterday afternoon.  Having delved into the idea of self publishing before Phil and I had been reluctant as it seemed like the route for those who couldn’t get an Agent or a proper publishing contract, but having listened to tonight’s event, it seems things have changed in the publishing world.

In fact, in the two years since we started this project, and went to London to the Writers and Artists year book event, the perception of self publishing seems to have come along in leaps and bounds.  No longer is the pariah of the book world, it seems that more people are going down this route than the traditional as the publishing world gets squeezed by ebooks and the recession.

The event was compared by Ian Davies, owner of a self publishing company Swift Publishing, Gareth Howard, a book marketing expert and Polly Courtney, self published author.  Obviously, these guys are going to have a bias as they work in this industry (or have been successful by this route) but what they said made a lot of sense.

I really like Gareth’s description of this being like selling your house:

1. Get an Estate Agent – yes it’s slightly easier than getting a literary agent but their job is to sell your house/book.  They don’t have to like it, it just has to be well presented and saleable.

2. Market it properly – be that rightmove or social media, it’s about getting your commodity out there on the market.  In the book world, that’s about creating a good sales package that you can do alongside what your agent is doing.

3. It’s all about the money – remember this is a commercial enterprise so whether selling a house or a book, it needs to make money.  Make your offering as good as possible, perhaps sell the first book online and then show you are a saleable entity – Agents aren’t about making the world a better place, they are all about ROI.

And then finally, you have to be an entrepreneur in all this.  You can’t be precious about what you are selling, you need to put together a professional package, be that social media or a good spokesperson for the media. Tim backed this up by saying publishers may often turn away a perfectly good book if the author isn’t PR friendly.

Polly added some useful thoughts on how she made it in this book world. I admired her gumption as she had the offer of a publisher but stuck to her guns to publish the book she wanted, not what they wanted.  And she’s carried on from there.

Another useful event for Phil and I, and has left us fired up to investigate the world of self publishing as it sounds like it’s no longer “vanity” publishing.  Put us on your Christmas book shopping list now!

And of course, there were tea and cakes with this event, something I think we should have at all of our signing events in the future.


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The ‘Moonlighting’ Curse

BonesCandice : Was googling something the other day and came across a post about one of my favourite TV programs – ‘Bones‘ – describing how the impact of creating a romance between the two main characters has changed the show.

When the two main artists in a TV show get together it can be described as the ‘Moonlighting Curse’.  For those of you too young to remember this program it was about two characters David (Bruce Willis with hair) and Maddie (Cybil Shepherd) who were forced together so they could run a detective agency.  They hated each other and the ins and outs of their relationship is what created the drama in the TV show, mainly because, of course, they didnt really hate each other.  There was a lot of friction between them, on and off screen but the whole “will they, won’t they” was the main crux of the program.  And then, it was decided they would get together, and the program fell apart.  It lost it is frison and energy as they got all snuggly together.

Anyone writing about a male and female lead who might have romantic possibilities has this problem… do you ever let them get together?

Phil and I have been wrangling with this for awhile, as we have mapped out a seven book arch for our protagonist, Kate, and her love interest, Dave.  But we’ve been trying to work out how you might get them together without losing the drama, because but by not getting them together in this many stories it becomes unrealistic.

Bones‘ has had the same issue, but created as the main female character, played by Emily Deschanel, fell pregnant.  They had to write this into the series, hence they had to find a way for her to get pregnant.  They’d created an almost relationship with her and her sleuthing partner, played by David Boreanaz, but how to you move it on without losing what they had.

Hart Hanson, the creator of Bones says he thinks it has helped not hindered, as they are already seven series in, by adding an extra layer to the program.  Though, I think the fact they are cancelling the show means they can make it work for a short period of time.

I find it interesting that TV writers call it the ‘Moonlighting curse’ as that’s how I have described it to Phil, without even looking it up.

Its a problem I think we can fix, a bit like the way we are rewriting the book at the moment.  It might just take a fresh approach.


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Grown-ups shouldn’t be beige

BeigePhil: My next door neighbours son has curtains printed with pictures of planets and stars. Great big ones in virulent colours. Walking by the house at night, if the light is on you can see this fabric solar system.

If you look at any of the curtains in the same street owned by adults, you won’t see any bold designs. Watch one of the property programmes that infest television (why are there so many?) and the first thing bellowed at prospective sellers is to paint the walls a “neutral” tone so the potential buyers can project their own ideas onto this blank canvas. Anyone who dares to indulge in colour is ridiculed back into line PDQ.

Sadly, as Candice has found, buyers arrive at the house completely lacking in any imagination. Bedrooms must contain a bed for example, or the person looking around is incapable of working out that the room upstairs is a bedroom. Put a desk in there and they will think it’s an office and wonder why there aren’t as many bedrooms as advertised but an office that isn’t. Therefore when they see the regulation beige walls, they don’t think “Oh, I could paint that a nice lilac colour” they thing “Oh, beige. Lovely.”

I hate sodding beige and not just ‘cos I live in a town painted in it.

It’s the same with clothes. Look at a station platform full of commuters and you’ll see a sea of black. Lots and lots of black coats. On the rare occasion you see someone who has dared to buck the trend and chose a colour, or heaven forfend a pattern and colour, for their coat, I want to run up and hug them. Obviously I don’t because I’m British and don’t want to be arrested.

When employed in an office, I wear a white shirt and black trousers. It’s easy as you don’t have to work out which clothes to wear in the morning. I do put on a tie though and I have a massive collection. Most are bright. Tasteful, not cartoons, but bright. Nice enough to wear to a proper meeting with important people but definitely not beige or grey. I used to have a reputation for them. It was the nearest I got to being “wild and wacky”.

As a child, my favorite T-shirt featured a big picture of two space ships fighting. It was some sort of horrid polyester material but I loved the big, colourful picture.

What’s all this got to do with writing?

Simple. When we are children our imaginations are allowed to run free. We haven’t learned not to be creative. As we age, all this spark is drained from us. The solar system curtains become nice plain ones to fit the decor. Our clothes monotone. We aspire to be beige.  I wish I’d never stopped writing stories – I know I wrote some and illustraited them when I was young. As you get older it becomes harder to re-learn the skill. When you get back in the grove, as we have recently re-plotting The Book, it’s wonderful.


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Dipping in the pot of inspiration

Phil has an idea !Phil: During our recent writing day over at Chez Nolan we knew that the only way any work is done at all is if we sit well away from each other, preferably in separate rooms so no chatting can occur. This is one of the reason libraries work so well for us but they were all shut ‘cos of Easter.  Anyway, I found myself sitting at the dining room table staring into my laptop screen trying to work out what I wanted to write.

I had a basic plan, just no idea how to form the words. A bit like a sculptor standing in front of a block of marble and trying to decide if he was going to carve a figure or unicorn.

What I wanted to do was bring the dark mystery element forward in the text. There’s a bit of whodunnit going on but we came up with it late and so the early chapters don’t mention it at all. This is rubbish as the final scenes largely revolve around this and so we need to make more of it.

But how?

As I sat there struggling, I read about 1/3rd of The Book without striking a seam of inspiration.

Then Madame came past for a glass of water and we briefly chatted. It was at this point it hit me. Not one of the famous Nolan “Jackhammer” right hooks as a punishment for producing no work while she had been slaving away to good effect. No, an idea. A way to introduce our characters to their dilemma without re-writing the entire book.

Happy, I went away and wrote a couple of pages. Which I promptly lost in a horrible computer saving incident. Still, the second go written the next day was longer, tighter and probably made more sense anyway.

Sometimes though, ideas appear just when you stop looking for them.

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Plebs comedy

Candice: Has anyone been watching the programme Plebs?  We saw it advertised a few weeks ago and thought, hum that looks interesting, I’ll set the tivo box for this.

Well, finally got round to watching the first two episodes last night.  Sunday night is not a good night for anyone who works on Monday: that sudden realisation that you still have lots of things to do you havent done, all the ironing has piled up, its work tomorrow… everything that makes Sunday the day my friend used to get really grumpy about when we went to the pub quiz on that night.

So, I thought alittle Pleb action might lighten our load.  Plebs, for those not in the know, are the Plebians; ie the lowest of free men in Roman society.  It’s where the expression Pleb for the masses came from.  Plebs is set around three characters: Marcus the slightly more intelligent worker, Stylax his work colleague and flat mate, and Grumio, Marcus’ slave.  In half an hour they get up to a cross-section of hilarity, contrasting present day with Roman society.

It made Rich and I chuckle, in a way that we haven’t both laughed at something for a while.  Episode one was all about going to an Orgy, though really about how we can’t say what we mean to the girl that we like, episode two about a gladiator and how jealousy can make you do silly things.

The stories are entertaining, short and sweet and well played.  Stylax is played by the chap who was the stupid guy in Trollied (character very similar!).

One of the best bits is Marcus and Stylax’s boss.  She is the typical forceful woman trying to keep everyone in control in a man’s world and she had some brilliant one liners.  My favourite is Stylax sends out a memo to the whole company asking for a girl to go to the orgy with him.  The boss pulls him in, tells him he’s for it, and then says she’ll go with him.  His jaw hits the floor.

Well done for some good British comedy writing.  I like it as I can see some of the Roman history I like so much being played with, but its like taking a current day situation and saying ‘hey, Roman life wasn’t that different too’. I hope that Phil and I can take some nuggets from that and add them into the comedic part of our stories.

Annoyingly, the main chap is an absolute ringer for someone who I can’t place.  I’ve googled him and he’s not who I think he is – it’s really bugging me.


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You have to chuck the right person off the roof

Oxford RoofPhil: As mentioned on Tuesday, we had a bit of a writing sesh last week where The Book received a good reordering.

Much of the feedback from test readers mentioned that we have fallen into the newbie trap of taking up too much valuable reader time setting introducing characters and setting up the story. If I’m honest, while the first third is sublime, we don’t really get stuck in to the story. Having expended a lot of effort in short stories and also analysing other peoples books, we realised that you have to pitch the reader straight in and worry about explaining things later.  To make matters worse, this the three first chapters that are submitted to agents, the very people you need to grab by the throat with your writing.

Some months ago, I had a go at tackling this. Taking a scene midway in the story that only receives a passing mention, I expanded it out with the intention of providing a bit of drama and introducing our main character. The result was (I thought) funny and reasonably dramatic but it didn’t really do it. Despite revolving around someone nearly going over the edge* of a roof, we didn’t feel it was right for the opening.

My choice of start point was partly influenced by a lack of imagination as to how we got back into the main story afterwards. It’s all very well being dramatic but if you cut straight to the chase, the book ends up ten pages long and no one has a clue what lead up to the denouncement. I grabbed an extra scene that was fun but only introduced one person. It simply didn’t do enough.

Candice was braver and picked a different point with someone going over the edge. We don’t do a lot of it, but chucking people from the roof is dramatic and no one can tell me otherwise. By using a single viewpoint we get three main characters introduced quickly and manage to incorporates a mystery element in too. All in just over two pages. Best of all, in our pre-cake rehashing, we worked out how the intro can drop us back in the main story and even use it to make the main character more sympathetic. To be honest, it’s pretty much perfect.

By the time we were looking at coloured cupcake, we were in possession of a plan. This is a relief. I’ve been pondering the problem on and off for a while but while I could see the solution, it always seemed in soft focus. A bit like the world before I put my glasses on in the morning. Now I can see it not just with specs on but through recently cleaned lenses.

*True fact. As I was typing this, on my iPod the Manic Street Preachers were singing “Suicide is Painless” on random play. How’s that for serendipity?


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Too much chocolate not enough writing?

Easter the @KerrangRadio way.#foofighters @Practical_Phil

Candice: Phil and I got together on Friday for a writing session.  I wasn’t sure how it was going to go as we haven’t done this on “the book” for a while as we have been ignoring it.  Why?  Too frightened to start again and not sure how it would go.

Anyway, Phil turned up a present for me – a Foo Fighters‘ egg.  Well, not exactly, its more like the only time that OneD and the Foo’s are likely to be in a mash up. Made me smile though.

Anyway, after an hour of catch up I said ‘work time!’ off we went to our respective corners.  I was upstairs keeping an eye on the cat while on the big computer.

Well after some surfing I pulled up the words and had a go.  And out it came.  All the ideas I’d had floating around in my head for the last year.  And new first chapter took shape.  An hour later I gave it Phil to read and we were well on our way.

However, then things sort of fell apart as we rehashed all our ideas over food and then went to Fallen Angel for a final celebratory cupcake.

I was in a very single track mind on Friday and wanted to get something done.  But I’m not sure we’d done enough to deserve the cake.

But I spent Saturday and Sunday beating myself up for not doing enough, and then have come back today to update Chap 2.  What I can say is what came out is pretty good.  I think we might have cracked it in making our story more punchy.  I’ve been ruthless with the pruning so its now much slicker.

Plan – 1 lunch break a week for running and 1 for writing.  And when I say writing I mean book writing not just the short stories.  We’ll see….

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