My book ~ the deadline is set

I’ve spent most of the weekend working on my book but it’s getting harder and harder to write. I am my own harshest critic which leads me to regularly delete great swathes of text, but at least I am not one of those writers who think that anybody can write a book. To date 86% of my intended 80,000 words are written and edited. Some writers write the whole thing and edit afterwards. Others, like me edit and re-edit over and over as they progress. Neither is right or wrong. Just as the style of our writing varies, so does our method of completion. But this has gone on for long enough. I’ve set myself a deadline – the book has to be written, final edit completed and ready for submission by 30th April.

That’s when the really hard work begins. First off is finding out which agents or publishers to target. There’s no point in sending it to someone whose bread & butter is dystopian fantasy.  I am looking for an agent who deals in Women’s fiction/Irish fiction/Wartime romance and doesn’t have an aversion to graphic(ish) war scenes. It narrows it down.  My starting point will be the latest edition of the Writers and Artists Yearbook – an invaluable tome full of advice, contact names and numbers for editors, agents and publishers and, importantly, submission criteria. It is also a great help to look inside novels of a similar genre to see who the author is thanking – what publishers, which agents, who is their editor?

The statistics are, to say the least, discouraging. The fact is that the odds on getting published are a bit like winning the lottery jackpot – very slim indeed. But hey, someone’s got to get lucky. And it really does come down, in no small part, to luck. The big publishers each receive around 4-5,000 unsolicited manuscripts each year. Many don’t even accept unsolicited ones so they go straight in the shredder. Those that do will add them to the slush pile where they can sit unread for months as those which have come via agents take precedence. So sending the manuscript to an agent is the thing to do then?

Not necessarily…many agents don’t accept unsolicited work either.  The first thing to do is contact them with a letter introducing yourself and a synopsis of your book’s plot (some will accept the first three chapters at this stage but with others you are relying on that synopsis to get them to request more – which at least then becomes a solicited, rather than unsolicited manuscript. Even then your book may not get read. Why would you, as an agent, spend your time reading new writers when you already represent several successful authors guaranteed to earn you money.  Around 90% of those that are picked up will fail by the end of the first page, 98% by the end of the first chapter. It’s not looking good, is it? Read on, it gets worse.

Some of the reasons that a new writer fails to attract an agent are simple: poor story, poor writing. Other reasons are less tangible –  perhaps the agent is just too busy – inundated with manuscripts, maybe the timing is wrong – they’ve taken on their quota for the year, or perhaps your kind of story is not the kind of thing the agent likes or isn’t in fashion at the moment. The only thing you can do is to keep trying. Remember that JK Rowling’s rejections ran well into double figures. Which only goes to prove that great stories by good writers which will overwhelmingly capture the public’s imagination, don’t necessarily mean a contract. Further demonstrating how hard it is for a new writer – when Rowling submitted a story to her publisher under a pseudonym it was instantly rejected.

So how about if you ARE that lucky lottery winner? Well, one thing is for sure – you’re not going to make your fortune yet! The average annual income earned by published writers is a little short of £12,000. No  I didn’t miss a zero off.  I’ll say it again …£12,000.  Of course the Joanna Trollopes and James Pattersons earn far in excess of that. Lots of writers do but that’s the thing about averages – they take account of everyone and there are an awful lot of struggling writers out there.

If that contract does get signed, bear in mind that no risky, untested writer is going to  pick up a publisher’s advance of more than a a few thousand and a large proportion of that will have to be used on self promotion.  Marketing and advertising cost a great deal and a new writer will have to do lots of the groundwork themselves to get their book into the shops. Even publishers get it wrong for there are books which don’t even sell enough copies to cover the advance and every year the major publishing houses write off large amounts of money.  They’re bound to be cautious when it comes to investing in new writers.

Even with that all important contract and the advance in your pocket there are no guarantees that your book will get published. The editing process can take months …6, 9, 12. Who knows? Then there’s the typesetting and printing and the timing for release: the publisher’s launch schedule may not have a slot for six months and if that takes you to December, January or February , hard luck. New books are rarely published in those months. It’s easy to see that your ‘bestseller’ could take two years to hit the shops.   And if, whilst all this is going on, another writer with a very similar storyline is just ahead of you in the game, your publisher might pull the plug and yours will end up being shelved (and unfortunately not in Waterstones)! You get to keep the advance but at what cost? What other publisher is going to risk an author who has already taken an advance but not delivered? You won’t get the chance to explain.

Of course, we’ve all heard of the massive earnings that the Fifty Shades writer earned, but remember she began by -publishing online in a genre that was pretty much untapped before her high sales came to the notice of a publisher. Subsequent copy-cat authors earned very much less.  So will I consider self publishing? No.  I think it’s a great platform for niche books, for the kind of books where mainstream publishers are few, and often small with scant resources for promotion. But professional editors, jacket designers, type setters and printers don’t come cheap. They don’t even come fairly inexpensive; they cost A LOT.

E-publishing is very much more cost effective but it’s not the way I want to go. Writing my book has been for my own satisfaction. Getting it published would be wonderful, a dream come true but it’s not the be all and end all. For me, the writing, the achievement of having accomplished it, is the prize. It tells (loosely, and with considerable embellishment) the story of my parents meeting during the Korean War. It began three years ago as a research project at university and continued because I developed an abiding interest in the memoirs I read.

It all Sounds rather depressing but just like that lottery – you have to be in it to win it.

 

Me and my blog

Back in May, not long after I’d begun writing my blog, I wrote how pleased I was that  I was attracting an average of 26 visitors a day. Six months on, I am amazed and delighted to report that the visitor count is usually reaching 100 (and occasionally 200) per day, a few of them reading five or six individual posts.  Isn’t that brilliant?

I find the WordPress stats page very interesting. One thing which continues to intrigue me is why some of my posts attract a far greater number of readers than others.  Is it down to the title perhaps? And why is it that on a particular day a post which I wrote months ago suddenly receive more hits than one I wrote just a week before? I’ve been monitoring what seems to work best and although the overall best read piece was the childhood memoir of time I spent at my grandparents:  https://thisissixty.blog/2017/05/11/fruitcake-for-the-rabbit/  Other than this, and somewhat surprisingly, it seems that writing about the minutiae of my unremarkable day to day life is most popular. I’m always touched when people I know say ‘I really enjoyed your post about…..’

It’s an odd feeling to think that all those people are reading what I’ve written but I have no idea who they are or what they think. A few people ‘follow’ me i.e. elect to be notified each time I post, but curiously they are not the ones most likely to make a comment. Another thing –  are the 8 or 9 Australian readers the same people each day or do some drop out whilst others drop in?  I love it when people leave comments and always try to reply as acknowledgement that they have taken the time to do so. I understand why, though, that authors of the most popular blogs can’t do this. It would be a full time job!

When I began writing my blog I wondered whether I’d be able to think of enough material. It hasn’t been a problem. I guess if you are someone who enjoys talking to people, it just flows. I can strike up a conversation with anyone and I’m never afraid of asking questions. Husband is always amazed at how much I find out about people whom we’ve only just met! I like finding out what makes other people tick. I’ve made it easier on myself by not making thisissixty.blog a single subject blog. My strap line is ‘All kinds of everything’ and that’s what it is. However, I made the decision to avoid religion or politics since I have no wish to offend or enter into what may become heated discussion (as these subject areas can tend towards).

You may have noticed that on the right hand side of this post there is a short list called Blogs I enjoy reading. Have you ever clicked on the any of the links? That’s how, when I read other blogs, I discover new ones to enjoy and I’ve learned all kinds of things since I’ve joined the blogging community. I’ve also made a smashing friend. We even met up for coffee (and cake, of course) when I visited her home county of Devon recently and got along famously.  We agreed that writers have a NEED to write; they want an outlet and they want to be read.

So, to those of you who read my blog regularly and enjoy it, thank you. To those who drop in occasionally, again thank you. And if you’re a new reader who is thinking (as one anonymous person commented) … ‘[what] boring drivel’, no problem, just ‘switch off’. No offence taken!

 

 

Books, books and more books

I am writing this paragraph after completing the rest of the post. I never intended listing so many books; I’d had in mind perhaps a dozen favourites but I just kept on thinking of more. There are, I am certain, many, many others if I could only remember them all. 

I shall be going away a couple of times during October and have begun to think about my reading matter – always an essential part of holiday planning. Since one of those trips involves flying to Ireland with hand luggage only, I shall be making use of the Kindle app on my iPad. You can read about my reluctant conversion to e-books in this earlier post: Real books

I have to confess to not being a great fan of many of the books considered to be classics. For me, the style is often too flowery and I find much of the description unbearably protracted.  I thought I’d share a some of the novels that I have enjoyed with you:

Book D

My absolute favourite book for years now has been William Boyd’s Any Human heart.  Having read it several times, I once recommended this to my book group; it was universally disliked and I just can’t understand why!

It is probably the most involved novel I’ve ever read and by this I mean that it covers such wide-ranging subjects.  The book documents protagonist Logan Mountstuart’s (what a glorious name that is) student years, his literary career, the complexity of his relationships, and his friends and acquaintances – Virginia Woolf, Picasso, James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway. Set amid an ever-changing historical backdrop –  the abdication of Edward  VIII, World War II (when Logan is recruited as a spy by Ian Fleming), The Spanish Civil War and later his unwitting involvement with the West German far left militant group, Baader-Meinhof.  It sounds rather like a ‘Boy’s Own Adventure’ and yet somehow the story seems perfectly plausible. I imagine that a liking for the book might depend on one’s liking for Logan. I did like him, immensely though the character is somewhat self-centred at times, particularly as a young man. There is a marvellous Channel 4 film which, rarely, is as good as the book. Three actors portray Logan at his various ages and the marvellous Jim Broadbent (above) as the old man gives an outstanding and poignant performance.

Book A

Another book which had a great impact is Rohinton Mistry’s   A Fine Balance. Read only once, I doubt I ever shall again. I found it harrowing but ‘unputdownable’. It follows the story of two tailors living in India. It left me sad and appalled at the squalor in their lives.

Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden), read when newly published and again more recently, tells the story of a young girl in the 1920s who is indentured to the madame of a geisha training house. Her treatment by the jealous Hatsumomo makes for a miserable life.  Eventually she becomes a geisha herself but her idea of what makes for a happy life is very much at odds with western values. It’s one of those books that stays with you for a long time after reading it.

Set during the winter following the Spanish Civil War, CJ Sansome’s Winter in Madrid focuses on Harry Brett, a spy.  Commended for the accuracy of his research, author Sansome pulls no punches and his account  of the living conditions in Madrid at the time and the book contains many examples of real events. If my own book is ever published I would be more than satisfied to be praised for the quality of meticulous research.

Book E

 Margaret Leroy’s  The Collaborator  (more recently marketed under the title The Soldier’s Wife)  is a love story set in occupied Guernsey during WWII. This author is, I believe, very underrated since her name never seems to appear in any list of ‘good books’ or recommendations and yet she has written several cracking good reads. I haven’t yet read A Brief Affair but have it on my ipad ready for holiday reading.

 

 

 

I’m not generally a fan of humorous books but have lately read several with somewhat eccentric protagonists who did make me smile. I absolutely loved The Rosie Project and its sequel, The Rosie Effect. Author Graeme Simison perfectly portrays the social difficulties encountered by an Asperger’s sufferer. If you read and enjoyed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night time, then these are for you.  Other similarly quirky books include The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window and Disappeared and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. This kind of book seems to be forming a new genre of novel.

Book L

JK Rowling made her name with the Harry Potter books which I confess never to have read though I know many adults who have (including my daughter who, despite being an out and out academic, loves them). However, I did read The Casual Vacancy, her firts book written for adults. I though it superb with excellent characterisation, though the TV adaptation was not that well received. It was indeed a pale imitation of the book. Her latest offerings (written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith) feature Cormoran Strike, war veteran turned private eye. I’ve not read the books but am enjoying the current TV series.

 

 

Pretty much anything written by Louise Candlish (her latest, The Swimming Pool, was excellent), Monica McInerney,  Anita Shreeve, Catherine Ryan Hyde, Diane Chamberlain, Katherine McMahon, Lisa Jewell, Kate Morton and Maggie O’Farrell (often family sagas) always please too. I found a voucher in yesterday’s Daily Mail for a recent Lisa Jewell book The Girls for just £1 at WH Smith. Husband went to town and got it for me and it’s been put by ready for the non-flight holiday.

 

When I’ve really enjoyed a book I find that I miss the characters once it’s finished so I like writers who continue a running theme which underpins each of their stories. Three authors spring to mind, coincidentally all detective based:

 

Peter James – Roy Grace police series with the running theme of his missing wife. There are around a dozen books so far, beginning with Dead Simple. I’m less keen on James’s other books which focus on the paranormal, not a genre that I enjoy.

Sophie Hannah – Culver Valley series (ten books to date) where the complex relationship between two detectives is the ongoing, underlying story.

The off-beat  Jackson Brodie private eye series were great. There are four books and I recommend Case Histories as an introduction. Brodie’s slightly chaotic life with intermittent visits from his delightful daughter are quirky and engaging.  A short TV series was made with Jason Isaacs cast in the lead role…very successfully, I thought.  Kate Atkinson tells a great tale but of late she has written quite differently (such as  Life after Life which won the Costa Novel Award and the South Bank Sky Arts Literature Prize) but  I thoroughly dislike this change of style and hope that she will bring back Brodie soon.

Back in the eighties and nineties I was a fan of  Anita Burgh and can still remember the opening line in Love, the Bright Foreigner …. ‘Stored deep within her, petrified for all time’ …..I have no recall at all what the story was about but clearly the words made an impact. It’s one I’d like to revisit. Our tastes change and I wonder if I would still enjoy it.Book K

My first ever ‘grown up’ read was Kathleen Winsor’s novel written in 1940s, Forever Amber. What I’d think of it now, I have no idea. Maybe I’ll read it again soon and find out. It was out of print for some years but later reprinted with a foreword by Barbara Taylor Bradford. This alone makes me think that I wouldn’t feel the same about it any more. Her books are certainly popular but having read a couple (due to the urging of friends who are fans) I can say with absolute conviction that I found them to be unremittingly  boring.  Apologies if that offends!

A few other odds and ends: Rose Tremain The Road Home, Lori Lansens Rush Home Road,  Nick Hornby High Fidelity, Liane Moriaty The Husband’s Secret… there are so, so many and I’m sure that as soon as I post this I will think of other books that I wish I’d included.

Who are your favourite authors and why?

POSTSCRIPT: I knew it would happen! How could I have forgotten ……. three more excellent reads

 

In defence (or celebration) of the dropped ‘t’

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Gallimaufry. Did you wonder when you read my post the other day from whence came that peculiar word?  As an ex student of linguistics, which relates to the scientific study of language and its structure, I love all things word related and enjoy discovering their origins; it is nothing less than delightful to discover a new word.  There are, of course, a great many words in our language that are rarely used. Who, for example, ever describes someone as magniloquent? And yet we probably all know someone who perfectly fits the description. For your information it relates to someone who uses high-flown or bombastic language. Haha, I am probably leaving myself open to accusations of exactly that by writing this post!

To condense several centuries of linguistic history into a sentence – the spoken word in Britain as we know it today is derived from a combination of Celtic, Germanic (from the Anglo-Frisian dialects of the 5th century), Latin (thanks to the Romans), and French, (courtesy of the Normans). And, of course, each of these has its own, sometimes complex, origins. No wonder we have such a rich and varied language. I believe that we should celebrate this diversity rather than condemn those who use alternative turns of phrase or pronounce words differently to how we, as individuals, do.

What people refer to as the correct form of English is in fact a relatively modern version officially known as Standard English (grammar and vocabulary) and is closely intertwined with ‘Received Pronunciation’ which is an accent and considered by some to be the ‘correct’ way of pronouncing words.  It may surprise you to know that Standard English is in fact a minority version of English, spoken by less than 15% of the population. Even more astonishing is that only 3% use RP  and yet its demise is something most of us will have heard bemoaned by those who consider it superior. Why is it that a soft Dublin accent is thought attractive but a Brummie or cockney one just the opposite, when each is simply a variation of that standard?

Although there is a need for a prescriptive convention for the written word, the now defunct Queen’s English Society (which railed against what they considered to be a deteriorating standard and ceased to exist in 2012), incorrectly believed that there should also be a single way of pronouncing words but do we really want accents to disappear?  I don’t.  I enjoy the gradual softening of vowels as I travel from the centre of the Midlands closer and closer to the South West. And when I visit my family in Ireland I would hate to find that the accent I love had given way to the harsher, clipped consonants of RP.  The glottalisation (or dropping) of  the ‘t’ sound in ‘water’ is not lazy or wrong; it is simply a feature of a different accent, not an inferior one, and as such is no less valid. Indeed, it is a common feature of many other languages.

Language is a constantly changing entity; new words are absorbed, older ones fall out of fashion. With regard to accent, some object to the ‘Eastenders factor’ and television has, of course, had a marked effect on the way in which accents have spread. Both the unique vocabularies and accents of different regions are now less bound as we become an increasingly mobile and culturally diverse population. People travel to work in difefrent areas and students often do not return to their home town after university – these factors will continue to affect how we speak.

David Crystal, author of more than a hundred academic books on the English language has produced, in conjunction with his actor son, Ben, a wholly accessible, non-academic tome on this very subject. Described as ‘a celebration of the myriad ways in which the English language is spoken’, You say potato is a brilliantly entertaining book which, very much more eloquently than I, reinforces the delight of accents.

‘Gallimaufry’, by the way, derives from the archaic French word galimafrée, meaning an unappetising dish. You might have found this post defending accents exactly that, but as you may deduce from these pictures of one of my bookshelves, it is a subject about which I am passionate.

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Three is the Magic Number

three-wise-monkeys

Fridge needs a new thermostat,  washing machine springs a leak, and you find yourself warily eyeing the other kitchen appliances wondering what next. These are not recent occurrences in my life but I’m sure you’ll identify with the concept of things, good or bad,  happening in threes.

The reason we buy into this belief is ‘the rule of three’ phenomenon.  It is common in both the literary (Three musketeers, Three little pigs, Goldilocks and the three bears) and spiritual worlds (mind, body and spirit or Father, son and Holy Ghost) and in rhetorical devices used by writers as a way of engaging readers (Friends, Romans, Countrymen …).  So strong is the power invested in the number three that it is often used as a persuasion technique in advertising (remember the Mars bar slogan: ‘helps you work, rest and play’), and in speeches; who could forget Tony Blair’s “Education, education, education” pledge?

The number three has figured rather nicely for me recently. In the past few days, I have celebrated three pieces of good news:

1. Proud mum moment: Last year my son decided to return to university to complete the final year of his degree, abandoned sixteen years ago. With a full time job and his two youngest children just fifteen months old and newborn (actually born the same week as his course started) he began his studies. I’ll be honest here, I thought the timing could have been better (understatement)! Working late into the evenings, crying babies through the night and 7.30am starts at work and assignments submitted with only hours to spare took its toll; although he mostly denied it, I could see that he was pretty stressed out. But he did it and a few days ago his determination and hard work was rewarded when he heard that he had gained a very respectable  2:1 . We’re now looking forward to his graduation in September .

2. Sigh of relief moment: I  received the all-clear following a biopsy on two breast lumps.

3. YES! moment: I have a new job. Thanks to the changes in pension age, I now have to wait until I am 66 before drawing my state pension so this meant that after completing my degree last year I needed to return to work. There’s not a great deal of choice for a sixty year old woman who has been out of the workplace for several years and is seeking part time hours over three days. In fact, at the time, I could find nothing so had to compromise my ideal and take what was on offer – a mixture of afternoons and all day Saturday as a supervisor in a shoe shop. One of the largest independent shoe shops in the UK, it has around fifty, mostly part time, staff. Yes, it’s a big one! And it’s busy. I have spent my days going up and down the 42 stairs over and over and it’s played havoc with my knees and ankles. BUT, on 1st August I will be going back into a HR role for three (that number again!) ‘long’ mornings on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Three is the magic number (Blind Melon)

“Three is a magic number
It is, it’s a magic number
Somewhere in that ancient mystic trinity
You’ll get three
As a magic number
The past, the present, the future,
Faith, and hope, and charity,
It’s a magic number”

Real books

Books

It was Christmas 2013: ‘Never, ever,’ I said when asked if I would like a Kindle. ‘Absolutely not,’ I replied when again offered one, this time as a birthday present. It simply wasn’t going to happen despite the fact that my insatiable appetite for the written word means that, on even the shortest holiday, I cannot relax unless I know I have ample reading material readily available. I like books. I like the feel of books, the smell of books, books which are cherished, books that I can share with my grandchildren, books that may be inscribed and given as gifts … real books.

Strictly speaking, I still don’t have a Kindle, but the following year , I reluctantly downloaded the Kindle App onto my ipad, and the reason for this unenthusiastic volte-face? Stena Line Ferries.  Anyone who knows me well is aware that I detest flying. Unfortunately, my personal preference for boats over aeroplanes, held little sway when Stena decided, in 2015, to end the 180 year old passenger service to Dun Laoghaire which I used to visit my family. Notwithstanding the admittedly much reduced travel time, the only positive aspect, so far as I was concerned, is that a return flight costs barely more than half the ferry cost; that is, so long as you opt for hand luggage only … and therein lay the problem. Whilst I perfected the art of packing clothes, hair styling paraphernalia and the various cosmetic enhancers necessary for me to face the day, into the tiniest of suitcases, I failed miserably in working out a way to carry several books without exceeding the weight limit. Aer Lingus don’t even allow a handbag as an extra so no leeway there. Ryanair, in case you’re wondering, are a little more reasonable in this respect since they allow a small handbag, but with the best will in the world, the space in a small handbag is … well…small.

E-books are the answer, of course, but I am saddened by the way in which digital print media has had such a profound effect on the publishing industry. In 2012 almost one hundred publishers and seventy independent bookshops ceased trading. Already challenged by discount stores and internet sales of printed books, their problems were exacerbated by high sales of e-books which, of course, benefit from vastly lower production costs. Apparently, in 2014 only three hardback adult fiction books sold more than 100,000 copies.

But all may not be lost. Commercial digital media companies are driven by the need to satisfy shareholders who demand a good return. This means that independent publishers are still needed for niche books which don’t have mass appeal. To add strength to this admittedly tenuous lifeline, we can hope that the e-book phenomenon might replicate what happened in the 1980s when the advent of the compact disc decimated the vinyl music market. A generation later, in 2013, sales of vinyl records were at their highest for fifteen years and last year, it was reported that Tesco have started selling vinyl. The real book is not yet dead.

There was some talk of another company running ferries on this crossing but I have no idea whether this ever happened. I have since resigned myself to air travel on grounds of cost.

Chill-out time

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We’ve been to Telford today. Possessor of the dubious title of ‘fastest growing town in the UK’ it’s not the prettiest town centre but it’s not bad for shopping and has a large and very attractive town park. It is also set amid some of the loveliest countryside in the Midlands. Foregoing the quickest route (motorways), we enjoyed a leisurely drive through several pretty Worcestershire and Shropshire villages.

After a delicious early lunch provided by my daughter who lives not far from Telford, we drove into the town where I stocked up on some Bare Minerals items I needed (said daughter keeps me well stocked with Debenhams vouchers for Christmas, Birthdays etc. for this very purpose), and bought a few tasty treats in the M&S food hall for later. The rest of the afternoon was spent in her lovely old cottage lazily doing not very much.

I have a few days off work. Nine to be precise. Whoopee! We have outings planned and I shall be enjoying lots of chill-out time with plenty of reading material to hand:
*Power Lines -an quarterly industry publication for staff, to keep me linked to my past career
*Saga Magazine – we have a monthly subscription
*Healthy – purchased today in Holland & Barrett
*The Lady -several back copies picked up at the ladies gym where I am a member (we have a bookshelf where members donate items for which others make a voluntary donation to raise funds for the local hospice – around £6,000 to date.
*Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriaty – also picked up at the gym
*Two e-books – Confinement and The Woman in the Picture by Katharine McMahon (author of several excellent novels including The Rose of Sebastol and The Crimson Rooms).

And, of course, the daily and Sunday newspapers.