Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Things there are no photos of by Anne Booth


I am sitting in a bit of a tired stupor on the sofa and have realised that it is the 21st in under half an hour and so my date to write a blog post.

Why am I so tired? (Apart from it being 11.31p.m.)

I have had a very busy few weeks. Here are some photos:

I went to Oxford and saw a wonderful window display of my latest book 'The Magical Kingdom of Birds: The Sleepy Hummingbirds', illustrated by Rosie Butcher, in the OUP shop, signed some books and  met the lovely manager. Lovely Fraser Hutchinson from OUP marketing took the picture.

I did some workshops about The Magical Kingdom of Birds at this gorgeous place

Waddesdon Manor

Here are some things I brought along for the workshops:

And here am I showing Rosie Butcher's illustrations, and holding a brilliant toy magpie I bought.

However, other things were happening in my own life, and I don't have photos of them.

Like GOING TO THE GYM (absolutely no photos here) as I have got so unfit over these past years I have FINALLY signed up for the gym and some one to one sessions with an extremely kind and good and beautiful trainer called Poppy who is in her early twenties and fitter and more mature than me. Today, I was lying on the mat after a VERY tiring thing which was really only raising my legs with a rubber band around them, and I said 'OH, I could just go to sleep now', and Poppy said kindly but firmly, 'Anne, we are only 16 minutes into the session....'

Like  rushing off to London after the workshops and going to see my goddaughter, who had just graduated from acting school, in a play for children (her very first professional acting role as a brilliant singing teaspoon and fork ) and getting stuck when the District line stopped and rushing off to catch a bus and getting there late and flustered. (She is very good, by the way, and has just got her second acting role, so watch this space - I hope there will be lots of photos of her I can share!)

Like our dog Ben having a general anaesthetic and five teeth out.  Which was a worry but he is fine.

Like organising the burial of my dad's ashes last week, something which took a great deal of organisation and worry over the past year but which we finally have done. He is buried in a beautiful peaceful place where my mother and brother's ashes were scattered years ago, (but which changed its policy and wouldn't allow ashes to be scattered there any more but finally allowed a special dispensation for burial ) and where he wanted to be.  That was a huge relief which is only just sinking in.

Like celebrating the birthday of my eldest daughter the next day. I have no photos because finding photos all my family will accept to be shared is IMPOSSIBLE. But it was lovely and so is she.

Oh and I baked a lovely cake, if I say so myself. It was just a round chocolate  sponge but it had nutella icing and I melted chocolate for the top and put loads of chocolate buttons on it. But I didn't take a photo as I was too busy trying not to let the candles all melt all over it and it was late after a concert and we were all hungry.

Like going to two great folk music concerts in one week AND 'Incredibles 2' (which is excellent). A very unusual and delightful bit of the week.

Like having two of our family get their A level results (sigh of relief and happiness  that they are both going where they want to, but too many young people we know are feeling stressed and disappointed by exams which do not reflect their abilities).

Like worrying unnecessarily about each of my four children (who are lovely and patient about my over imaginative worrying). I can't really take author photos of me worrying unnecessarily. You wouldn't want to see them anyway.

Like the fact that my side of my bedroom looks like a book case has collapsed (it hasn't) and there are so many books which have tumbled on to the floor and I NEED TO SORT IT. And there are no photos of that either.

So, behind every author's promotional pictures are all the many many more non pictures of non-events, and the lovely promotional pictures wouldn't even be there without the books which were written over many non-photographed days in the messy busy non-pictured life alongside the family who won't often be photographed but are central to everything. And I'm not sure exactly what I'm saying, except that I am very very proud of pictures of beautiful window displays and I feel so lucky to have gone to a place like Waddesdon Manor but they are the icing on the cake and most of the time I am rushing around trying to get the ingredients together, never mind actually baking the thing... And I depend on others to do the icing...like my wonderful agent and editors and lovely people like Fraser and Hannah and bookshop managers and talented people creating windows displays...

And I am going on holiday this week and I am really looking forward to it...

So here is a picture of my dogs at least, as they have never vetoed a photo. And they look lovely.  Happy day to you all, whether you are photographed in it or not!

Monday, 20 August 2018

Voice by Joan Lennon

I've just been to the Masters Degree Show at Dundee University where one of my sons is displaying his work along with other student artists in a wide variety of disciplines, from Forensic Modelling to Animation to Graphic Novels and Comics.  It was an impressive display with a high level of professionalism - and yes, of course, I thought his was the best!  But parental prejudice aside, there was something I noticed from time to time on a wall or a screen or on a table ... that indefinable thing - an individual voice.  Of course all the voices (if I can use the word for visual art) were individual, but you know the feeling I'm talking about - that this is something different.  It exists in all the arts - visual, music, writing, dance, craft. I'm not talking about anything self-conscious or cynical or slick.  Often it can be rough around the edges to begin with.  But we know it when we see it and it draws us.

So join me as I raise my coffee mug to that ineffability that is voice - individual, authentic, original - as it reminds us that there's more to this being human thing than bad news.  Cheers.

different voices -
angels singing - 
detail from the Ghent Altarpiece 
by Hubert and Jan van Eyck (15th century)

Joan Lennon's website.
Joan Lennon's blog.
Walking Mountain.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

The Art of Tidying -- Lucy Coats

I've just moved from the house I've lived in for the last 25 years, into a much smaller one. This has, naturally, involved a lot of letting go, including letting go of many many possessions. But that's not what I'm here to talk about. Moving house has also meant moving my writing office -- and my books (3 TONS of them, which seems like quite a lot, really). Obviously, many of them have had to go into store as I just didn't have the time to sort them out, so that's a task for the future. What I did bring here were my precious research books -- the ones I can't do my job without.

And of course, I had to bring everything else the office contained. Or did I? Some kind person here recommended Marie Kondo's book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, which appears to have sold over a million copies.

I've always been a hanger-onto of stuff, 'just in case'. But Kondo's method (which truly works) is to categorise, and then go through EVERYTHING in that category, sorting and throwing anything away which doesn't give you joy, or is useful to you in your life. It does help, the categorising, and I was pretty ruthless. The recycling benefited to the point where I had to take carloads to the tip. And now I feel so much lighter. In my new office, there is only the stuff I really need. Everything has a place. I can put my hand on anything I need within seconds, without having to think about it. It is truly marvellous to have given up all the junk (years of proofs, compliments slips, filing going back to the 1990s, old pens and pencils, badges from long-ago conferences and so much more). I have tried to curate, so that the 'bones' of my career as a writer are still there, so the important letters, the contracts and all that, but instead of being in drop files, everything is now in a series of lever-arch files, in date order, and categorised. I have never been this tidy! All I have to do now is to go through the pile of 'to do' and 'misc' sitting on the left of my desk, and I will be more organised than I've ever been in my life.  Oh -- and actually start writing some more books!

What to you hang onto, and what do you find most difficult to throw away? And how many of you are hoarders?

PS -- I did try to upload more photos, but the only bad thing about the new place is the painfully slow internet. One was all I could manage!

OUT NOW: Cleo 2: Chosen and Cleo (UKYA historical fantasy about the teenage Cleopatra VII) '[a] sparkling thriller packed with historical intrigue, humour, loyalty and poison.' Amanda Craig, New Statesman
Also out:  Beasts of Olympus series "rippingly funny" Publishers Weekly US starred review
Lucy's Website Twitter - Facebook - Instagram
Lucy is represented by Sophie Hicks at The Sophie Hicks Agency

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Waking a Goddess - by Lu Hersey

Most writers have unpublished manuscripts (or at least partial manuscripts) stashed away somewhere. These might be abandoned books written before a debut publication, or manuscripts publishers simply didn’t warm to for one reason or another.

There are probably thousands of sleeping books out there - buried in bottom drawers or deep in writers' laptops. One writer I know wrote 18 books before getting published – that’s not just the number of rejections, it’s the number of full manuscripts she wrote before one was finally accepted for publication. And I heard the wonderful Malorie Blackman say she wrote even more than that! We're talking about complete books. That never saw the light of day.

I only have two full sleeping manuscripts. For various reasons, neither has been out on general submission to publishers and I'd pushed them to one side to write something else. Then just recently, a character in one of the abandoned books started shouting at me. She’s a scary ancient Celtic goddess who appears back on earth to demand a blood sacrifice, and she was drumming her woad covered fingers on my writing desk so loudly, I had to take a look at her again.

The problem with that particular manuscript was it took me two years of painful, emotionally taxing work to write it and a publisher a few minutes to read 26 pages before asking if I had any other ideas. It hurt like I’d been stabbed in the chest – and the goddess has been sulking in otherworld (okay, somewhere in the laptop) ever since.

Until now. She got so loud, finally I had to heed her shrieking battle cry and try and get her out into the world.

So what’s it like taking a new look at something you were really proud of and thought was close to perfection a couple of years ago?

Ouch. It’s been quite an eye-opener.

Fortunately I still think the idea is good. But the execution? Oh dear.

It’s taken me two more full edits to unruffle the goddess’s feather headdress and get the manuscript to a point where it’s actually ready to go out on submission.

 For a start there was the incredible amount of surplus explaining to scrub out. Seems I suffer from a constant worry about how people get from one place to another –  when in reality nobody actually cares. The reader accepts they’re just there and if it isn’t important to the plot, it really doesn’t matter whether they walked, flew or caught a bus.

Then there was the Tupperware. Do teenagers care what their cake is kept in? I don’t think so. And do they really care about the type of chicken food the hero is feeding the hens? Are they really going to drink water when there’s cider available?

There were also important subplots I hadn’t developed properly. The kind that really help explain what happens at the end, but I’d left the reader to grasp the threads by telepathy alone.

And the number of typos? Don’t get me started…

So just in case you want to resurrect an earlier masterpiece, be warned. It might take longer than you think. But if you’ve got a character who starts haunting your dreams, an equivalent of the shouty goddess, it’s worth the pain just to get some peace.

Lu Hersey
w: luhersey.com
t: @LuWrites

Friday, 17 August 2018

Memory Games - Tracy Darnton

I’ve been having fun lately playing memory games as part of the promotion of The Truth About Lies and thought I’d share some of them.

First up - the memory game, or Kim’s game.  

This gets its name from Kipling’s book when Kim is taught to quickly assess the precious stones on a tray. We played this at parties when I was little - just after hunt the thimble and before pin the tail on the donkey (all part of my wild, misspent youth). I use items which appear in the book such as a postcard and lipstick, give 10 seconds and then take one away.

Kids these days are more likely to have adrenaline-rush trampolining parties so when I used it at a school book camp with Year 10s I did have to explain it, but they really enjoyed playing it. We then used the items as the basis for their own stories in a mini-workshop where each of them picked one from the tray and answered a fun set of questions about who it belonged to before putting it into a short piece of writing.

So far the prize for speedily spotting what was missing goes to the ladies at my recent trip to the Bath WI book club who had played it in childhood and were much quicker than the teenagers.

My next activity is memory pairs using the blank cards (from Tiger) which the kids can illustrate to match books and characters as pairs.
While making the cards was fun it requires a bit too much time and space to play. Lesson learnt.

I’ve also been teaching quick techniques for remembering. I wrote an article for TEEN Breathe magazine called Picture the Memory and I’ve been using that and the fab illustrations to demonstrate how to remember names, PIN numbers and lists by assigning striking images. That went down well at the WI too.

The brain and I out and about
With the help of my trusty crocheted brain all these games serve as a warm-up for discussing memory. I’ve touched on how memories are formed and recalled and are dynamic rather than a true recollection of events, how we see things through a prism of our own ego and whether we are contracting out our memory to our phones and Google etc. There is so much to talk about and people can very much contribute with their own experiences of memory and what they themselves find easy or difficult to remember.

So what have I learnt so far with the broad range of 13 to 73 year old readers I’ve engaged with?

Mainly that an activity based around your book seems to appeal to everyone, young and old, and is a good ice-breaker, if nothing else. I’ve learnt that there’s plenty to discuss about memory which can easily be tailored for the age of the participants. I should probably develop a PowerPoint which would widen what I could talk about and the potential size of the audience, maybe exploring our memory for faces and images. But so far I’ve enjoyed the more hands-on playful approach with small groups.

So how did you do at the Memory Game? No looking back, but what’s missing?

Tracy Darnton's The Truth About Lies is a YA thriller about the nature of memory. Follow Tracy on Twitter @TracyDarnton

Thursday, 16 August 2018

What to Write About When You Can't Think What to Write About

This month I am between.

Between projects, between inspiration. Between the excitement of the last book and the fresh excitement of a new idea that absolutely must be written.

This is quite a normal phase. I’ve been through it many times and it hasn’t stopped me writing yet. I have been reminding myself that everyone knows 90% of writing consists of waiting. In fact, just last winter at the Scattered Authors’ Folly Farm retreat, we talked about the rhythm of the seasons and the danger of trying to be constantly productive when we need the fallow periods for stories to put down roots. I’m a gardener. I should understand that.

Just because there’s nothing growing, it doesn’t mean I am not working on it.

In some ways, the between times were easier to deal with before I went full-time as an author. I could take a break from writing, go to work and still feel like I’d achieved something by the end of the day. And if I stamped around, irritable and idea-less, annoying my colleagues, at least I did it outside the house.

I don't mean to sound ungrateful. I am incredibly lucky to be able to write full-time. I'm even luckier to have author friends in Cardiff so we can share the ups and downs of the writing life. But what do you do to get out of a 'down' patch?

Here's some of what I've been doing.


I find it increasingly difficult to read when I’m in the middle of editing. After spending my whole day looking at words, my eyes just can’t take any more. So I buy books, stack them up artistically and dive into them in the between periods. Occasionally, it’ll spark off new ideas. Mostly, though, I simply enjoy being in other people’s stories without any pressure.

Getting Outside

Last week, I took a trip up to Abergavenny to meet the local members of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Much cake was eaten and, as my next book is set in Abergavenny, the lovely Jo Thomas offered to take me on a research trip.

This is Cwmcelyn (Holly Valley) nature reserve. It’s a small pond between housing estates. If you turn in one direction you’ll see red roofs everywhere. But stand at the right spot and gaze the length of the pond and you’re staring straight up into the mountains. I've lived 40 minutes away from this place for the past 20 years and I've never visited before. I wonder how many other little spots lie just around the corner, waiting to be discovered. 

The landscape is a great source of inspiration. I can imagine fairies living around Cwmcelyn, dragons nesting in the long grass...

Create Something Else

Creativity sparks creativity. Whether it’s learning a new piano piece, sewing, baking, gardening. The act of turning away from the blank notebook and doing something else can allow ideas to form in the dark recesses of the mind.

Gardening definitely sparks creativity as you struggle to find a use for yet another batch of tomatoes.

Write Rubbish

Really, the best way to get rid of a blank notebook is to fill it up. 

In the between times I will abandon my computer, grab one of my many notebooks and scrawl whatever comes into my head. Lists of all the things I like. Character names. Books and films I've enjoyed. What I can see out of the window. The idea is to take away the pressure of creating something good. I like to think that the random words are like the primordial atoms that floating in the Great Void before the Big Bang. Maybe something will draw them together and they’ll explode into a new universe. If not, you can look at them some time later and laugh.

Finally, if all else fails, you can also write a blog post. Deadlines are the best motivator in the world!

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Five thoughts on editing for style – by Rowena House

I’m lucky enough to mentor through the Cornerstones Literary Agency, which gives me the chance to focus regularly on some aspect of the craft of writing which otherwise I’m likely to forget amid research for my own work-in-progress and occasional bouts of inspiration.

Most of the mentoring time seems to be taken up with structure, but the other day I found myself preparing a session on editing for style, and realized how much my approach had changed since working with editors at Andersen Press and then Walker.

A few years ago, when I was looking for an agent, a unique Voice seemed to be the single most important thing they were looking for in debut writers. Maybe they still are. Yet when it came to editing with publishing houses, style seemed secondary to structure: the story was the thing.

This was echoed elsewhere in the industry, by luminaries such as Barry Cunningham and Robert McKee, for example. But I can’t think those agents were wrong. The trick, it seems, is to nail both.

So here, in case they’re useful to anyone else, are five exercises I find valuable when confronted with stylistic flabbiness.

1. Read the text aloud. This, I think, is almost universally acknowledged as a great thing to do. Reading aloud reveals clumsiness, repetitions, logical and stylistic inconsistencies, and complex sentence constructions that are bound to trip a reader.

To speed up a spoken read through (and this advice, I think, comes from the marvellous Book Bound UK team) is to print out the manuscript – or at least sizeable chunks of it – and read it quickly, without interruption, marking in the margins every place where you stumble, and only going back afterwards to sort out the problems.

Personally, I can’t do a read through on-screen. It has to be a paper exercise. And worth every hour it takes!

2. Another excellent rule I came across while editing is ‘2+2’.

The rule? Never give ’em four. Because 'Four' leaves the reader with nothing to figure out.  Which is boring. Thus, cut all answers to rhetorical questions. Never explain cliff-hangers.

It may be that 2+2 isn’t a stylistic issue at all, and has more to do with the process of learning to trust the reader, which until I had a realistic expectation of having readers – as opposed to critique partners – felt  way too abstract to worry about.  

It was Stephen King’s fantastic On Writing that blew this misconception out of the water. The reader, he explained, is integral to the story. For instance, the writer must ask: what do I want the reader to know that my characters don’t know? How will they know it and when? For storytelling purposes, that takes precedence over details such as choosing active verbs and laying off the adjectives.

That epiphany, in turn, made me wonder whether other, purely stylistic issues couldn’t be left until the end as well. Can we, in effect, retro-fit Voice?

I know many writers (and some agents and editors) will say, ‘No. You can’t.’ For them, discovering the right Voice is key to unlocking the story itself. Maybe, then, it is a matter of degree. If Voice is all important, it’s not a question of style. Otherwise…

3. One straightforward but deeply satisfying edit is to tidy up dialogue attribution.

The convention that ‘said’ is better than ‘expostulated’ or ‘remonstrated’ is widely accepted these days. But, boy, don’t all those saids get boring? Me, I allow my characters to cry, shout, answer, mutter, spit, protest and a few others, too.
I also love this formulation: ‘“That’s absurd!” She laughed.’ Where an action substitutes for attribution. And if there are only two people in conversation, I cut out attribution completely so long as it’s clear who is talking.

4. I’m deeply indebted to Em Lynas for the following order of things:

i. Observe

ii. Emote

iii. Analyse

iv. React

Thus, ‘The bomb exploded. Her heart leapt into her mouth. The sound was terrifyingly close. She scrambled to hide herself under the desk, and waited for the ceiling to fall.’

Just as adjectives fit most comfortably into a particular order, and jar in any alternative sequence, so this progression somehow imparts the clearest sense of immediacy, allowing the reader to experience an event at the same time as the character.

I've no idea how this works, but THANK YOU, Maureen.

5. The ever-brilliant Emma Darwin opened my eyes to another fabulous editing tool: the filter-ectomy.

In her invaluable blog, This Itch of Writing, she defines filtering as showing the reader something via an observing ‘consciousness’ - usually through the eyes of a character – rather than describing the thing itself.

As she says, ‘Generally speaking - though no laws are absolute in fiction - vividness urges that almost every occurrence of such phrases as "she noticed" and "she saw" be suppressed in favour of direct presentation of the thing seen.’

Apparently, early in our careers, we all tend to write: ‘Turning, she noticed two soldiers’ bodies lying in the mud.’

In the edit, this becomes: ‘She turned. In the mud, lay two soldiers’ bodies.’

While homogenising every observation in this way would be dull and unoriginal, I agree 100% that a thorough filter-ectomy works wonders.
Twitter: @houserowena Instagram: @rowenahouse Website: rowenahouse.com