"A word after a word after a word is power" - Margaret Atwood


A blog for readers and writers

A blog about the stories we tell each other and how we tell them...

Friday, 29 October 2010

What agents hate to see in Chapter One

Laughed out loud when I read American literary agent Chip McGregor's horror of finding the following sentence in the first chapter of a submission. Of course, it shouldn't appear in any chapter.
The [adjective] [adjective] sun rose in the [adjective] [adjective] sky, shedding its [adjective] light across the [adjective] [adjective] [adjective] land."
I've said it before and I will say it again. Adjectives do not get lonely. They do not have to travel in pairs.

To read more about what agents do not want to see click on the title of this post to go to the blog about literary agents. (Hint: it was all a dream comes high on the list...)

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

PITCHING advice from an expert - there's nothing new under the sun

Here's advice from Rachelle Gardener, an American literary agent
In non-fiction book proposals, we always have to provide comparable titles (the "Competition" section) and increasingly, editors are asking us for comps even for fiction. Many authors write something like, "There are no books similar to mine." What it says is, "I haven't taken the time to properly research the market and I have no idea what other books could be compared to mine."
Remember, it's not bad to be able to compare your book to others people have heard of. It's good. It helps people begin to capture a vision for the type of book you've written. If you can point out the ways your book is similar and different, and why you think yours is a good complement to the other, you can further help a publisher understand what your book is all about. Don't ever claim "There are no books like mine." If that's your impression, go back to the bookstore and find some.
Good advice....and I guess A Good Confession was pitched as A London Irish Thorn Birds....the one I am working on the at the moment I hope has the absorbing action of Kate Atkinson's When Will There Be Good News combined with the rawness of Gerry Conlon's In the Name of the Father...I think...
Read more of Rachelle's advice on her blog by clicking the title of this post

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

International NOVELLA competition

                                    Me and Ernie hanging out
The 2011 Paris Literary Prize is for those who have written something perfectly formed (or in the process of writing it) that's too long to be a short story and too concise to be a novel.  Minimum word count of 20,000 and maximum of 30,000 and it must have a "sustained narrative". Linked short stories won't do. But you don't send the entire manuscript unless you are shortlisted. Here's how it pans out.
December 1st Send by midnight (Paris time) the following - online submission only:
• A title page: Your name, address, email, phone number, and title of novella
• A one-page (maximum 250 words) cover letter introducing yourself and your novella
• A maximum 300-word synopsis of your novella
• The first 3000 words (you may send less than 3000, but not over)
February 20th 2011shortlist announced.
March 20th 2011 short listed entrants have to send the complete manuscript.
June 16 2011 (Bloom's Day - that's nice) Winner announced
PRIZE 10,000€ and a weekend stay in Paris, France. The winner will also read from his or her work at a special event at Shakespeare and Company Bookshop in Paris.:
There will be two runner-ups. They will receive a weekend stay in Paris and an opportunity to read from their work at Shakespeare and Company Bookshop in Paris. 
Entry fee: 50 euros - pay by PayPal unless you're in Paris and can pop in.
It is heft entry fee but it's a prestigious award (and cool - the Left Bank bookshop has been an iconic gathering place for writers and artists such as Ernest Hemingway (see above), F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein.)
Click on the title of this post to go to the website

PAGE 99 - the true test

Open the book to page ninety nine, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.                        FORD MADDOX FORD
 Try it for yourself on this new website by clicking the title of this post. Read anonymous pages from the famous and the unpublished, from the classic to the so fresh the ink will come off on the screen. It's quite addictive. And you get to make comments. And you can post your own stuff too. What's not to like....
I admit that page 99 from A Good Confession is there. See if you can find it.
I suppose it does give a flavour of the book but there is one phrase that makes me wince every time I read it. How did that get past all the editing stages? What was I thinking of!

Monday, 25 October 2010

Austen and her editor

There were reports in the news today that the elegant style of Jane Austen was largely down to her Editor but read the story in full and a different picture emerges.
Professor Kathryn Sutherland of Oxford University has looked at 1,100 original handwritten pages of Austen's unpublished writings. She says that the manuscripts contain blots, crossing outs and a powerful counter-grammatical way of writing.  Absent was the  "The polished punctuation".
It's rather a relief to know that Austen made mistakes, took risks, played with language and ideas. Perfectly placed semi colons are important, but it takes nothing away from the writer if someone else helps put them in the right place. More worrying is Sutherland's assertions that the manuscripts show Austen "to be even better at writing dialogue and conversation than the edited style of her published novels suggest." Semi colons, only editors!

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Something new from Amazon

In a press release last week, Amazon announced that it will launch Kindle Singles. This is how they describe what they want.
"compelling ideas expressed at their natural length. Kindle Singles, which can be twice the length of a New Yorker feature or as much as a few chapters of a typical book might be the perfect, natural length to lay out a single killer idea, well researched, well argued and well illustrated--whether it's a business lesson, a political point of view, a scientific argument, or a beautifully crafted essay on a current event. Kindle Singles will have their own section in the Kindle Store and be priced much lower than a typical book."
I'll let you know if I find out more...but it could be a very interesting new market

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Best parking sign ever

Who would you reserve a parking space for? Click on the title of this post to go to writer's Catherine Howard's blog (worth reading if you are interested in self publishing, Orlando, the life of an emerging writer and parking signs that deserve a second look.)


It's hard. Very hard.
The novelist Norma Curtis - and soon to be Chair of the Romantic Novelists Association - says after the most basic and immediate business of the day is done (getting up, brushing teeth, dressing, waving goodbye to husband/son - not necessarily in that order) she writes 1000 words BEFORE she allows herself to do anything else. 
They don't have to be a thousand good words. She may later cut 999 of them but she has to get them down.
That might not work for you. It hasn't worked for me and I've tried it. (The list of basic things just gets bigger and I say that as someone with a very high tolerance level to crumbs in the sink and day old coffee marinating in the coffee machine.)
So if 1000 words is impossible, how about 10 minutes and if you click on the title to this post you can go to a handy time setter. 
And if you really haven't had time to write this week, not even 10 tiny minutes, then I presume that you also haven't watched a soap, heard Lord Sugar yell 'you're fired!', or raised an eyebrow over the prices on Antiques Roadshow. It's not wrong to listen and watch other people's stories but you shouldn't do it at the expense of your own. 
That's how I write. Watching television is not my default activity. And I'm reluctant to just watch. I treat television like most of us listen to the radio... while doing something else...(although I may make an exception for Kevin McCloud on tonight's Grand Designs)


Just come across WanderWomen Write contest. Although it's run by a Seattle based organisation, it is open to writers around the world. I've been in touch by email and double checked that point.
The prize is a 10 day trip to Cambodia and Vietnam but you have to pay to get out there from where ever you live so that's why they can make it international.
The contest is open to women, whether they are newly-emerging or seasoned travel writers. and last year they had more than 300 entries.
DEADLINE: December 31 2010 and the winning writers will be announced in mid-February. 
Entries have to be submitted under one of the following categories: 

Family Fun, 
Food & Drink, 
Off the Beaten Path 

The Prizes
Grand Prize: A 10-day tour for two of Vietnam and Cambodia with Buffalo Tours (value $3,550).
Category Winners: Each category winner will receive a Briggs & Riley BRX Explore 22” Upright carry-on bag (value $290)

Click on the title of this post for more information and - as always when entering any competition read ALL the rules carefully and then follow them.

Luck and the Booker

Work and a coughing not-quite-flu-but-feels-almost-as bad cold stopped me from posting straight after the Booker was announced. I was though able to follow events by Twitter. Miss Daisy Frost sent out tweets every few minutes from her table positioned on the frontline, commenting on the lamb dinner and the pallor of the short list nominees. 
Howard Jacobson's novel The Finkler Question, is the first funny book to have won and I wonder if that is a reflection of the times. When there is trouble ahead perhaps the only sensible thing to do is laugh.
Reading the newspapers and blogs such as The Literary Saloon I discovered a couple of surprising things about the way books are selected for consideration by the Booker judges (138 titles this year - some years it is a lot less).
Publishers can only submit two books but the judges can "call books in". It sounds very informal and haphazard. 
Jacobson's book was called in. Did that mean his publishers didn't put it forward themselves because they didn't think it would win? Or were they gambling on the Judges choosing it anyway (he has been long listed twice before) and they wanted to use their two book quota on something that might not otherwise come to the panel's attention? 
The Daily Telegraph says that Emma Donoghue's Room only came to be on the short list because one of the Booker judges went to a party and heard someone praising it a lot. Next day it was "called in".
I suppose the lesson to draw from that is never ever underestimate the power of word of mouth recommendations. 
Or luck.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Bookies worried about the Booker

I love the talk generated by the annual book award. Books should be the subject of debate and news stories and, yes, why not, betting. Books matter. 
For the first time last year the favourite won the Booker - Hiliary Mantel's Wolf Hall - and Graham Sharpe at William Hill bookmakers says they are worried the same thing could happen again with Tom McCarthy's novel C which is the "heaviest backed Booker book ever". It has been given shorter odds than the 2009 winner.
I haven't been able to check this out, but I am pretty sure  Graham was the man who started this kind of betting in the first place because he reckoned that the publicity generated was the kind of advertising that money couldn't buy... (met him years ago when my husband was at The Sporting Life) 
I admit I haven't yet read any of the shortlist this year but I love Peter Carey's writing and I'd be delighted for him to win for the third time, but Emma Donohue's Room is definitely on my to-read  list. 
The winner will be announced tonight at the Guildhall in London, with the successful author collecting a £50,000 prize.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

FISH COMPETITION and no rods or wriggly worms in sight

This international short story competition run by a small literary organisation in West Cork punches way above its weight. 
The Fish Short Story Prize is an open door that's inviting writers to walk through it. It has to be encouraged, celebrated, congratulated. - RODDY DOYLE -
Fish is doing God's own work. It's an inspiration and an avenue to writers everywhere.
Good news:
  • It's well established (it's been going since 1994)
  • Big name judges 
  • If the entry fee is sizable, then so too are the prizes. (And some folk think second prize is the best prize of all and I am one of them*.)
  • The maximum story length is a lot more generous than most competitions - this is an opportunity for the big idea, the one that needs space to develop. However, having said that, you never have to write up to the limit - let the story dictate how long it should be. 
Bad news:
  •  It attracts a lot of quality entries from around the world, but you can't have prestige AND a small mail bag.  
  • Can't think of anything else.
Word limit 5000 words
Deadline November 30
Entry Fee: 20 euros if online but 25 euroes if you submit by post
First prize is €3,000, of which €1,000 is for the winner to travel to the launch at the West Cork Literary Festival in July 2011. This is to insure that wherever in the world the winner hails from, they can join the other writers at the launch, where all the writers in the Anthology will read from their work.
Second prize is €300 with a week's residence at Anam Cara, a retreat for writers and artists in West Cork run by Sue Booth-Forbes, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on the Beara Peninsula. 
Third prize is €300.
Runners up are published in the annual anthology
* Anam Cara is an idyllic retreat for writers and artists. I stayed last summer and popped in a few weeks ago. The director Sue Booth-Forbes has a gift. She nourishes with good food and good talk around the kitchen table, she offers opportunities to become part of the local community and wellington boots in a range of sizes, and - best of all - creates an atmosphere that allows guests to be their most creative selves.  
I did so much work there. I went with 17000 words and not quite sure where my novel was going. I came away with 45,000 words, back in love with the story I was trying to tell and with a clear beginning, middle and end.

Sunday, 3 October 2010


Sent off the 201 page manuscript of my second novel on Wednesday and this poem by Anne Bradshaw* sums up some of my feelings...


THOU ill-form'd offspring of my feeble brain,
Who after birth did'st by my side remain,
Till snatcht from thence by friends, less wise than true
Who thee abroad, expos'd to publick view,
Made thee in raggs, halting to th' press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened (all may judg).
At thy return my blushing was not small,
My rambling brat (in print) should mother call,
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
Thy Visage was so irksome in my sight;
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, of so I could:
I wash'd thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot, still made a flaw.
I stretcht thy joynts to make thee even feet,
Yet still thou run'st more hobling then is meet;
In better dress to trim thee was my mind,
But nought save home-spun Cloth, i'th' house I find.
In this array, 'mongst Vulgars mayst thou roam,
In Criticks hands, beware thou dost not come;
And take thy way where yet thou art not known,
If for thy Father askt, say, thou hadst none:
And for thy Mother, she alas is poor,
Which caus'd her thus to send thee out of door.

I especially like the line

rubbing off a spot, still make a flaw

Sometimes it is hard to know when to give up on the editing, sometimes a little distance** is needed before you can decide when to leave well alone or when major surgery is required.  It's in my agent's hands now and I know he will look at it with a critick's eyes.
I wait. I wait.
*  America's first published poet. Northampton born, she was part of 17th century Massachusetts aristocracy - the men in the family were state governors and founders of Harvard
** Aristotle recommended nine years I believe...