Sunday, 8 December 2013

Writing from someone else's imagination

I have never written fanfic. I know a lot of people who write it, often as well as writing their own original fiction, but it's not something I've ever been tempted to do. Why? Because it's hard! Taking characters that came to life in someone else's mind and putting them into a plot that came from mine never seemed to work for me. I'm a huge fan of Harry Potter, Doctor Who and Sherlock, all of which have stacks of fanfic written about them every day, but I have never written any myself. I have plenty of my own original ideas to be getting on with, I tell myself.

That's why, when I first heard about the Dark Crystal Author Quest, I glossed over it. I absolutely adore the Dark Crystal, in fact I adore everything Henson, but I didn't think there was any way I could fulfil the requirements of the contest. What they're looking for, in effect, is fanfic. There's the original canon and a timeline, with guidance material for authors taking part in the contest that helps to evoke the general time in which they want the novel to be set. I glanced at the website, but didn't think any further about it.

A couple of weeks ago, however, I saw a tweet about it and decided to give the site another look. This time, I read the background material in much greater detail and downloaded the author's resource document, and something marvellous happened. I found myself getting ideas! Ideas that fit within the canon and utilised the characters provided, as well as some of my own characters who appeared in my head. Ideas that made me really excited. Within a day or two I had a whole novel briefly plotted out.

So, I'll be one of the many people entering the contest. I have no idea of my chances, but that's not really the point of this post. It's more of a celebration of my excitement, of the inspiration I felt to write a story that's built on someone else's world. I've always wanted to write harder fantasy, and this has given me that opportunity. Even if I'm not successful, I'll probably still put what I've written online as Dark Crystal fanfic, and use what I've learnt to begin world-building for some detailed fantasy of my own creation.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Age stats of the Empire Top 100 Sexiest Movie Stars

In a change from my usual type of post, I thought I'd stick this up here. I'm always fascinated by ages in films, including how often there's quite a disparity between the ages of male and female leads. As the Empire Top 100 Sexiest Movie Stars list has come out recently, I decided to a bit of statisticating (yes, it's a word now).

*I found all of these ages on IMDb on 6/10/13, and I'm well aware some of them may be inaccurate, as not everyone wants their real date of birth online. Still, I'm working with what I've got. Also, I'm not a statistician or anything, I just worked out some basic averages.

The Top 50 Men

Youngest: Daniel Radcliffe, 24
Oldest: Alan Rickman, 67
Age range: 43 years

Total age of the Top 50 men: 1980 years
Mean age: 39.6 years
Median age: 37.5 years
Mode age: 32 and 36 years

The Top 50 Women
(This posed a slight dilemma, as two of the women on the list are deceased. I chose to use the age they were when they died, rather than the age they would be were they still alive, as I felt that presented the most accurate portrayal of the list.)

Youngest: Kristen Stewart, Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Watson, all of whom are 23
Oldest: Julianne Moore, 52, and Grace Kelly, who was 52 when she died
Age range: 29 years

Total age of the Top 50 women: 1761 years
Mean age: 35.2 years
Median age: 34.5 years
Mode age: 38 years

Without statistics on the people voting, it's not really possible to draw many scientific conclusions - I just worked these out simply out of curiosity. What does anyone else think of these stats?

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Getting Too Comfortable

This is the first of my *proper* post-Festival of Writing blogs, so I thought I'd begin at the beginning. After all, it's a very good place to start. (Yes, I'm mixing my references, but it's my blog so I'll do what I want.)

On the Saturday morning, the first event was a keynote address from Adele Parks. Now, I must confess, I have never read any of her books, but I will be making the effort to. She spoke about her journey to being the successful published author she is today, and was a compelling speaker. There was one small point in particular that really resonated with me, however, and that was when she talked about her writing dropping off for a little while because she became too comfortable in her life as it was.

In the last six months I've gone from being really fired up about my writing and its potential to completely avoiding adding anything to the story. Before going to the Festival, I actually said to myself 'If nobody's keen on this one, I'm just giving up'. (Thankfully, someone did like it, but that story's for another day...) I thought this change in attitude came because I was being realistic - if I hadn't found any success so far, was it really likely to happen? Might as well just call it quits and not bother any more.

No! I had such a lightbulb moment last weekend when Adele Parks said those two words, "too comfortable" - that's exactly the problem I've been having! I enjoy my day job, which is more than many people can say. My little flat is really nice, and I like living where I do. The rest of my life is pretty good, and I don't have many worries about what I'm going to do or how I'm going to improve my situation. Sounds cushy, right? Not as far as my writing is concerned. For many people, maybe there isn't such a thing as "too comfortable", but for any artist there's got to be some sort of friction, some kind of working edge that's pushing you on to create, to change the world as you see it.

So, if my life is comfortable, how am I going to keep bringing myself back to my laptop and writing? I think an awareness of the situation will definitely make a difference - then, when I am coming up with endless excuses not to write, I can find a way to squash those excuses and just keep at it. Making a list of reasons why I write and why I want my novels to be published is another way I'm trying to keep myself going. I'm still riding high on the positive atmosphere of the Festival, so right now it's easy to write, but when that dies off I'll have to keep reminding myself that my life shouldn't be comfortable until I run out of stories to tell.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Riding High On Words! Post-York reflections.

The weekend of 13th-15th September was the annual Festival of Writing in York, run by the Writers' Workshop. Three days of mini-courses, workshops, keynote speakers, one-to-one sessions with agents and book doctors, competitions and a gala dinner, attended by writers and publishing professionals from around the UK and beyond. There are no words to describe just how incredible this experience is. 

I feel like my whole attitude to writing has turned around this weekend. I've had a big dip recently, but I'm finally back to the stage where I spend my day excited about writing later on, planning what I'm going to add to my chapters. There are so many things I can blog about, so I'll save a lot of the big things for future posts, but I wanted to do a quick blog this week while I'm still getting my head round everything. So here are a few things I've learnt this weekend:

  • Published and unpublished writers have a lot more in common than I realised.
  • It's really not that hard to walk across a room and talk to someone.
  • If you keep working at it, you will undoubtedly improve, provided you listen to advice.
  • Sometimes all you need is one other person to look over your work to figure out the improvements that are required.
  • I'm not as rubbish at characterisation as I thought, but I do need to put time and effort into making my characters engaging.
  • Writer friends are some of the best friends I will ever make.
  • Every Pixar film is a trail of tears with excellent story structure.
  • At the Gala dinner, the best table to sit at is the #funtable. 
More to come!

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Proactive or Reactive? How to respond to rejection

I'm currently ensconced in the cycle of submitting one of my novels to literary agents, which means a lot of research, crafting carefully worded query emails, checking word counts and rigorously following submission guidelines. There are lots of dos and don'ts out there to help unpublished writers find their way through the process, but there's just one of those that always boggles my mind: how to respond to a rejection.

Option one: react. React angrily. Rage and shout and send an angry email. Tell the agent just how ridiculous and stupid and ugly they are, and how they'll regret not recognising your genius when they had the opportunity.

Unsurprisingly, this is the "don't". I'm flabbergasted than anyone even needs to be told this. Surely this is just common courtesy, ordinary human decency, to avoid this response? But apparently not. Every agent will be able to tell you about writers who reply to rejections, sending emails that are full of insults and threats and the bile that's thrown up in the heat of the moment. Would you reply to a job rejection like this? Possibly, but you really shouldn't. If you asked someone out and they said no, would you rail and curse at them? I hope not! (If you would, then I do not want to be your friend). Apart from the fact that it's just plain rude, do the people who behave in this way think it's going to make the agent change their mind? All they're doing is showing they'd be difficult to work with.

Option two: be proactive. Take it on the chin and keep going. Accept that it's part of this business and move on.

I've now reached the dizzy heights of rejections in double figures (admittedly for three different novels, over several years, but still...) so I think I'm qualified to comment. Of course rejection is HORRIBLE, especially when it's the agent you desperately wanted to love it, but sitting and rocking in the corner of your bedroom isn't going to get you published. This week I've had three rejections, but I've also sent out more submissions. I am determined to keep going, because somewhere out there is the agent who will absolutely love this novel and believe in me as a writer. I'll only find her/him if I keep looking.

I'm not saying never respond to a rejection: I've responded to some myself, but only ever politely. Most of the time I've had form rejections, but some have clearly been worded specifically for me, so if that agent is willing to take the time to do that I'm going to thank them for their time. But that's all you should ever do. Take the energy that comes from disappointment and use it to keep you going - above all, be proactive.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Thickening the skin

I'm back on that terrifying rollercoaster that is submitting my novel to literary agents. I've had two rejections so far, and each one has been painful. Of course it has. I'm not going to lie about it - when you see an email from one of the agents you've sent your precious words to, there will always be a little thrill that hopes for a full request. After that, I assume it becomes a game of hovering over your phone, hoping and praying that the call will come...but I've not got that far yet.

All advice reminds writers not to take rejection personally, but that doesn't mean it's not disappointing. I know, this person hasn't met me (in most cases), they're not my friend or colleague, they're not judging me as a person. They're not even saying that my novel is terrible, just that it's not right for them. But rejection is rejection, however much you rationalise it, and it hurts.

I hope that as I go on, my skin will toughen up, because after each rejection I get a pang of despair. I feel like I'm rubbish and I should give up. Luckily, I have encouraging friends, and written feedback from professional editors that I can read to claw back some self-esteem. The drive to get published is strong enough to shine through the gloom, so I'll keep going!

Saturday, 16 March 2013

The benefit of writing events

Two weeks ago I went to the Writers' Workshop Getting Published event at Regent's College in London, and came back buzzing. I've been so busy since then, both with writing and the rest of life, that I've hardly had time to breathe, let alone blog! Now things have calmed a little, I thought I'd share my thoughts on why it's so important to go to writing events.

  • Meeting other writers. This writing lark can be an incredibly lonely one, and it's great to meet others who are in the same position as yourself. You can discuss ideas, share submission woes and swap editing tips, as well as having someone to prop up the bar with at the end of the night.
  • Advice. I've yet to go to a writing workshop or keynote address that I haven't gained something from, even if it was a lesson in what not to do. This particular event really got me thinking about a number of different aspects of my novel, and the plot is tighter now as a result. Events are especially wonderful if you get one-to-one advice included as part of your ticket.
  • Networking. As long as you go about it the right way, writing events are a great place to meet agents, editors and published writers. Just don't leap out in front of them when they're on their way to give a talk, or pass them notes under the toilet door. Common sense, really.
  • Inspiration. There's something about being in a room full of people who are all full of interesting stories that I find incredibly inspiring. We're all working away in our time, doing our best to get our stories out there, all committed to making them the best they can possibly be.
At the start of this year I made a resolution to spend time with other writers as often as work and finances would allow, and I'm already seeing the benefits. Don't spend all your time locked away in your writing cave - come out every so often, smile and shake hands, have a normal conversation with someone in the publishing business. It'll be great, I promise.

Friday, 8 February 2013

The Next Big Thing blog hop

Had a bit of a blog hiatus, due to being incredibly busy in the day job, but now I'm finally getting around to this thing. The "Next Big Thing" blog hop has been going around for quite a while now, and I was tagged in it nearly two months ago, so it's about time I answered some questions about my current novel.

What is the working title of your book?

The Gathering of Silver. It's been through a couple of different titles, but that's what I'm sticking with right now.

Where did the idea come from for your book?

A number of different places, really. I have a folder full of random photographs that I've nicked off the internet that I use as writing prompts, many of which have vague plot or premise ideas scribbled beneath them, and I had an idea about some sort of GM or alien plant that gave off a scent that produced a completely safe high. I hadn't thought about the idea in ages, but then I was sitting in a workshop listening to Gary Gibson speak and suddenly thought, "Yeah, I'll write that one next!" After that, I just kind of left the idea to simmer - I find that things only really come to me if I don't think about them directly. My subconscious needs a lot of time to play! I can't miss out the help I got from my bestie Hannah, however, who can always be relied upon for slightly twisted thoughts: I sent her a text along the lines of "Why would someone kidnap teenagers?" and within 30 seconds received the response "Body parts". See, every writer needs a Hannah.

What genre does your book fall under?

Science fiction, for young adults.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

When Rowena's little brother Alfie goes missing, she must contend with corrupt Wardens, mysterious symbols and gangs of maimed, amnesiac teens in order to find him and bring him home.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I don't have an agent but I'll be submitting my work as soon as I've finished this round of edits. I intend to pursue traditional publishing and have no plans to self-publish, but never say never.

How long did it take for you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Well, I wrote the majority of it in four weeks, but the ending dragged, so it was two months from start to finish. I take a few weeks to plot a novel, then bash the first draft out pretty quickly.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Urgh, that's a really tricky one. I find it hard to compare my writing to other novels. I have so many influences, classic sci-fi writers like Vonnegut and Wells and modern YA authors like Lauren DeStefano and Maureen Johnson. The story itself I have jokingly been calling Nancy Drew meets X-Men.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Ooh, this is fun! Rowena would be someone like Ellen Page as a teenager. Anyone who knows me knows I'd love Benedict Cumberbatch to play Heath Wilson - a talented actor for a complex character. Other than that, I'm not really sure - I would just be thrilled if it ever happened!

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I can't put my finger on one particular inspiration, but all of the writers and people in the publishing industry that I've met or interacted with over the last year have, in a way, contributed to its existence. I have begun to see the major flaws in my previous novels and knew what I had to improve in this one, so I really feel that I've taken my writing forward with this novel. I wanted to write a YA sci-fi novel that was exciting and had an element of mystery to it, without falling into the chasm of argh-not-another-dystopian-novel. One piece of advice I've been given (can't remember the source, sorry!) is to avoid making sci-fi novels too different from the world people know, so I built this up from a premise that people could identify with, the bond between siblings and the terror of a family member going missing.

Right, I think that's enough to be going on with! I haven't tagged anyone else in it, because most writers/bloggers I know have already done this, but if anyone I know wants to be tagged, please let me know!

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Writing goals for 2013

A new year, a new opportunity to work towards my writing goals. In 2012 I learnt a massive amount by taking an editing course, attending a writing festival, and picking up hints and tips from writers, editors and agents via the internet and social media. This year I want to make sure that I make the most of every opportunity and continue to develop as a writer, so here are my goals.

1. Work hard

This may seem to be self-explanatory, but I have sometimes been guilty of spending far too much time talking about writing than actually doing it. Nothing is going to happen in my writing career without a lot of effort, so I'm not going to slack off this year.

2. Spend time creating an excellent submission package

I'm not going to say that this is the year I'll get an agent and a publisher (although I hope it is), rather that this is the year I'll work on my novel, synopsis and submission letter so they're all of a high standard.

3. Take opportunities to meet other writers

Social media makes it easy to interact with other writers, as well as people in the publishing industry, but it's not the same as actually getting together in person. Last year I really enjoyed the writing festival I attended, as well as gaining a lot from it, so this year I'm going to keep my eye out for similar opportunities and attend as many as I can afford.

So those are my writing goals for 2013, and I'll blog about how they're going as the year progresses. What writing goals have you set yourself this year?