The Teller of Tales

Due to the current situation all my planning to attend book fairs and give talks at libraries and at U3A (University of the 3rd Age) has had to be put on hold. As I don’t depend on book sales for an income this is not the end of the world.

There is one new initiative that has just started: There are 75 writers published by The Conrad Press (who published Song of the Nightingale, my second historical novel) and we have started buying each other’s books to review them. This means quite a few positive things:

  1. We get to sell a few more copies of our books
  2. We get to read books we might not normally have read
  3. We get more reviews on Amazon
  4. We get to know other writers

I am retired, live alone and live in a small village so this current lock-down has minimal affect on my life.  I am looking after my daughter’s dog so it means she and I get exercise each day. I am feel very lucky but also incredibly guilty, but don’t know what else I can do other than do as I am told – and stay at home. I always tried to write as much as possible but now there are no art classes, no visits to children & grandchildren, no book fairs etc I am managing to write every day. Consequently I am almost finished my 3rd novel, called The Teller of Tales.

The Teller of Tales is the first book of a trilogy that will relate how three generations of women attempt to tell their own “herstories” to a world that won’t listen. In it Lizzie writes fairy tales, many of which tell of  girls who go on quests, who spend their prize money on schools for girls, who refuse to marry because they don’t love the man. Lizzie fervently believes that women are capable of far more than they are allowed to do, but she is forestalled at every attempt to escape from the role imposed on her.  She writes her stories down but they are never published. It is this book of fairy tales that is passed to Lizzie’s grand-daughter, Martha, whose story will be told in the second book, Grandmother’s Footsteps, and then onto her daughter, Imogen, whose story will be told in the final book, I have a story to tell. The stories are never told outside of the family until that are discovered in the 1970s by Sally, who gives a paper at a feminist conference and finally the stories her female ancestors had tried to tell are heard.

I thought I would share one of the fairy tales that Lizzie tells.

There was once a family who were very poor. Although they all worked hard there never seemed to be enough money. Mama stayed at home and mended clothes, made bread and tended to the bees, whilst the father, the two brothers and the young daughter all worked in the mines that belonged to Mr Sutton, who was a mean and cruel man.

The coal is not near the surface like it is here, so the miners had to go deep underground to dig it out. They had to work in the tunnels every day, from dawn to dusk, so they never felt the warmth of the sun’s rays nor had to squint at its brightness. Papa and the two brothers chipped at the walls of the tunnel with their picks whilst Alice, the daughter, put the pieces in a basket. When it was full, Alice carried the heavy basket through the long tunnels to the shaft then climbed up a rope ladder to the top, where she emptied the basket onto an ever-growing heap of coal. It was tiring and dirty work but Alice had a beautiful voice and she would cheer herself up by singing of butterflies and bees, sunshine and rain, laughter and tears.

One morning, the family arrived at the entrance to the mine earlier than everyone else. They saw a piece of paper pinned to a post.

 

REWARD!!

       A reward of one hundred, yes one hundred, gold pieces to the man who can rid the mines of the boggarts once and for all.

      

            One hundred gold pieces was more money than the whole family would ever earn in a life time, ten life times! One of the brothers tore down the poster so that no-one else could read it and win the reward. No, the money had to be theirs!

            That night, after a hard day’s work they sat round the table, eating their bread and honey and discussing how they would rid the mine of the boggarts and so win the reward. The father said he would herd them all into a corner then beat them to death with his pick. The eldest brother said he would herd them all into a corner, build a fence and starve them to death. The younger brother said he would herd them all into a corner then set fire to them.

            No-one asked the mother or Alice what they would do; after all they were only females.

            The next night, after a hard day’s work, the brothers and Alice went home as usual but the father stayed behind in the mine. When everyone had left he took a candle and went deeper and deeper underground to where the boggarts lived. He saw their heels as they ran from him and heard their mocking laughter, but he couldn’t round them up in order to herd them into a corner. He grew more and more tired until he stumbled to his knees, dropped the candle and plunged the tunnel into absolute blackness. The felt something sharp in his legs, his arms, his back and he realised in horror that the boggarts were attacking him with their own little picks, just as he had threatened he would do to them. He was so far underground that no-one heard his cries so no-one came to save him.

            The next night, after a hard day’s work, one brother and Alice went home as usual but the elder brother stayed behind in the mine. When everyone had left he took a candle and went deeper and deeper underground to where the boggarts lived. He saw their heels as they ran from him and heard their mocking laughter, but he couldn’t round them up in order to herd them into a corner. He grew more and more tired until he stumbled over something, his father perhaps, dropping the candle and plunging the tunnel into absolute blackness. He managed to get to his feet again but he didn’t see the opening to a deep pit in front of him and he fell and fell and fell until he hit the bottom. He couldn’t climb out for the pit was too deep. The boggarts stood around the opening jumping up and down and laughing with excitement. They didn’t have to touch this one, he would just slowly starve to death just as he had threatened he would do to them. He was so far underground that no-one heard his cries so no-one came to save him.

            The next night, after a hard day’s work, Alice went home as usual but the younger brother stayed behind in the mine. When everyone had left he took a candle and went deeper and deeper underground to where the boggarts lived. He saw their heels as they ran from him and heard their mocking laughter, but he couldn’t round them up in order to herd them into a corner. He grew more and more tired until he stumbled over something, his father perhaps, so that the candle tipped over and the flame caught the sleeve of his shirt. Before he could blow it out the flames spread over his whole body and the last he heard was the sound of the boggarts laughing and cheering as he burnt to death, just as he had threatened he would do to them. He was so far underground that no-one heard his cries so no-one came to save him.

            The next day Alice didn’t go to the mine but worked with her mother baking bread and collecting honey from the friendly bees. The next night she waited until everyone had left then she went down the shaft, lit a candle and went deeper and deeper underground to where the boggarts lived. She carried a basket of bread spread thickly with honey and she broke off little pieces and dropped them to the floor, all the while singing. One by one the boggarts followed her, tempted by the sweet smell and the sweet sound. When she stopped singing, they stopped following, so she sang on, although her throat was dry and sore from the coal dust.

            She walked slowly along the tunnels going up all the time, the boggarts following meekly behind, totally mesmerised by her singing. She led them to the bottom of the shaft and up the rope ladder, the boggarts following meekly behind; she led them along the road and past Mr Sutton’s house, the boggarts following meekly behind. She led them up hill and down dale, through forest and across moor, along rivers and around lakes, the boggarts following meekly behind. When she got to the sea she continued walking until the water reached the top of her thighs and the boggarts followed meekly behind. But the boggarts were short, shorter than the top of Alice’s thighs and they couldn’t swim so quietly and with no fuss, they all drowned.

            Mr Sutton and his son, Charles,  who was very handsome, had followed Alice when they had seen her leading the boggarts away and when they saw that she had rid their mine of them once and for all, the handsome son carried her on his strong shoulders, telling everyone they met that she was a heroine. When they returned home Mr Sutton gave her a bag of gold pieces (not one hundred though, for remember he was a mean and cruel man), and the son asked her to marry him.

            Alice laughed in their faces. ‘I don’t want the reward Mr Sutton. Instead I want you to give all your workers a decent wage so that they might live in comfortable homes and have enough to eat each and every day. And I won’t marry you Charles, not until you prove to me that you are a kind man, care for your workers and admit publicly that a girl can do anything a boy does, often better. Even then I may not marry you, for I will only ever marry for love.

Standard

Wanted: readers

First, some good news that may result in more readers for The Jewel Garden, which was my debut novel. And if they read that and like it, they might read my next novel, and the next ….. In January 2019 I submitted the book for the Chanticleer 2019 Goethe Book Award for post 1750s Historical Fiction, then promptly forgot about it, although it did cost me the princely sum of $75, which is quite ridiculous, but I was working at the time. Anyway, I found out in December that I have been shortlisted. To be honest, I am not sure if this is a big deal or not, but I am hoping it is. I will find out if it gets further over the next few months. Apparently I am entitled to attach a sticker to the book which says I am on the shortlist – as long as I pay  $62 (plus another $30+ for shipping)! This is for 150 stickers – as I don’t have 150 physical books to hand and as I may actually get to be a semi-finalist or even a finalist (which is a different sticker, of course) I will give this a miss.

So, Song of the Nightingale: a tale of two castrati, has been published. If you recall I paid £755 to The Conrad Press to get it published (most of the cost was for the cover, which is absolutely fabulous and well worth the money).

I paid another £525+ for the printing of 300 books, 195 of which were delivered to my house and are now sitting in my study. I have given a few away, sold a few and sent some to reviewers and to competitions, but I need now to find places to sell the rest. I have a long list of things to do to market, which I will share with you.

  1. Book Signings:
    1. Contact Waterstones to see if I can arrange book signings. I have sent many e-mails and even popped into the Nuneaton and Coventry shops, but I have never had a response, when I was trying to do a signing for The Jewel Garden. I will persevere because I think book signings are quite good ways to get your name known. I am hoping that I can use the fact I have been short-listed for the Chanticleer award to tempt them.
    2. I have already done a book signing for TJG in December at Kenilworth Books and as I had just had the new book delivered I took some along. I sold some to my sister (it counts!), 1 to the lead of the writing group I used to attend who came to support me and 1 to a complete stranger who picked it up whilst he was queueing up to buy something else. I will contact Kenilworth books again to see if I can do another signing later in the year.
    3. Find other places I can do book signings.
  2. Submit for awards
    1. I am thinking about submitting to Chanticleer again. I’ll see what results from TJG being shortlisted. Deadline is not until end of year so there is plenty of time. This time it will be the Chaucer Book Award for pre 1750s Historical Fiction. Another $75.
    2. Also thinking of submitting to the Rubery Book Award. It is £37 to enter.
    3. I am submitting to the Encore Awards, which is for a second novel (very unusual). There is no cost but you do have to post 5 copies.
    4. Submit to the Historical Writers’ Association Crown Award for the best historical novel published between 1st April 2019 and 31st March 2020. It costs £35 to submit.
    5. Keep an eye open for other awards that are not too costly.
  3. Reviews
    1. I am sending the book to the Historical Novel Society for a review. If accepted it will be in their on-line (and possibly paper) magazine in Aprilish.
    2. I am also a member of the Historical Writers Association and they will add the book to their “new releases”. I am going to write an article about castration and why/how I wrote the book.
    3. I am waiting to hear if the Society for Women Writers and Journalists (SWWJ) will review. If so this is printed in their magazine “The Woman Writer”.
    4. I am thinking about doing a blog tour. I had one for TJG but I am not sure if it resulted in any sales. There will be a cost, of course.
  4. Advertising
    1. I will send a Press Release to local magazines such as Arley News & Your Call, which get sent to very many places but probably doesn’t result in many sales.
    2. I am a member of the National Association of Writers’ Groups and they will advertise in their magazine, “The Link”.
    3. SWWJ and HNS also publish the book details in their magazines.
    4. I am thinking about using a company called Books Go Social Authors (bgsauthors.com) who do different promotion packages, priced at $87 (4 weeks), $229 (8 weeks) and $489 (12 weeks). I have asked some other authors if they have used the company and whether it is worth the money.
  5. Libraries etc
    1. I have asked a couple of people from a reading group I attend if they would recommend both TJG & SotN to be added to the Reading Group List. If this is done then it will be available for reading groups (local or national, not sure) to request. There is no guarantee the books will be added but if you don’t ask….
    2. I will give a copy to Earlsdon library which is now community run and appreciate donations of new books.
    3. I will contact other local libraries, WI, U3A, historical societies etc to see if I can maybe give a talk and sell some books.

The list is long and I haven’t ticked off many and there is potentially a significant cost involved – I cannot see how I will ever sell enough to cover the outlay.

And I would much rather be working on my next novel……

 

Standard

A new chapter & updates

Not a new chapter in my book, but in my life.

On Friday 25th October I handed back my work’s laptop and ‘phone and was escorted out of the office (only because I no longer had a door pass – not because I was in disgrace), never to return. I’ve finally retired!

I wrote a poem about the last day:

Pale faces staring at windows;

expressions of regret or envy.

Having done my time,

I’m escorted off the premises,

my electronic tools of the trade

taken off me

to be cleansed, reconditioned, ready for re-use.

The door sighs wistfully shut;

its single eye blinks green to red

and I am barred for perpetuity.

I take a step forward,

straining at the cables that had bound me.

Snap!

There go the processes and policies that had ruled my working life.

Snap!

There the Vision that was never mine

and the Mission Statement I didn’t make.

Like a hot-air balloon released from its moorings,

I am free.

With each step my data banks are

cleansed, reconditioned, ready for re-use.

A backward glance.

No faces at the windows now,

They will be bent over blinking screens,

each in their hermetically sealed cell,

like robotic bees making electronic honey

for someone else to sell.

Each step is lighter than the last,

each breath of air fresher.

This morning an employee,

this afternoon a retiree.

Poetry!

Security raise a quizzical brow,

“Finishing early?”

“No, finishing.

Full stop.”

I have taken early retirement (just a year) because I want to enjoy life to the full, something work was getting in the way of. I have a great long list of things I want to do and learn (is it too late to learn to play the piano?) but top of my list is to spend much more time writing and marketing my book – soon to be books.

“The Jewel Garden” was published in February 2018 and I have been doing a number of things to try and promote it:

  • Joined FaceBook groups – not sure if this actually results in sales
  • Joined Twitter – see above
  • Given talks at 3 different libraries on Mary De Morgan and why I decided to write both a biography and a novel. Sold 1 novel and 1 biography in total. An excellent way of getting your name out there but probably not for selling books.
  • I went to the Southam Book Fair a few weeks ago (first book fair I have attended) and sold 9 books. Now that is a good result I think so I hope to go to others. Having seen how effective a roller banner is to draw people, I have had one done by Vistaprint (who I use to print bookmarks and A5 cards – both of which I give away free at every opportunity). This is the banner which I am waiting to be delivered soon in readiness for the next book fair in Henley-in-Arden:

  • I have sent copies of the book to journals that do reviews (Society of Women Writers and Journalists, Historical Novel Society) in the hope that someone may buy a book based on the review.
  • I had a blog tour – which is when people get sick of the sight of it for 5 days. As I don’t have access to numbers sold, I don’t know how successful this was – but again it gets your name out there.
  • I did a local radio interview, where I sounded like an eccentric old biddy – which actually is my ambition!
  • I was “interviewed” on a couple of blogs and had to answer some standard questions on myself and my book.
  • I actually mentioned the book in my farewell e-mail. It might prompt a few people to take a look at Amazon and buy it.
  • I have just bought a book called “The Frugal Book Promoter” by Carolyn Howard-Johnson. I am hoping this will give me more ideas on how to promote this novel and my next one.

“Song of the Nightingale” is to be published by The Conrad Press in March 2020. If you recall, I dithered about using them as I had to pay £755, most of the cost going towards the cover design. Well, having seen it, the money is well spent. The designer is Charlotte Mouncey (http://www.bookstyle.co.uk/) and I can’t recommend her enough. The book tells of two young boys who are bought from their families, castrated and taken to a conservatoire in Florence in order to be taught to sing as castrati. My suggestion to Charlotte was that the cover should show the dome of Florence cathedral, overshadowing the silhouette of two young boys who are holding hands. I wanted the cover to show the vulnerability of the boys and a sinister atmosphere. The cathedral dome is so iconic and would show the setting of the book. Charlotte took my idea and put her own spin on it and wow, wow, wow! I can’t share it yet but it is absolutely stunning and I have every hope that people will buy the book just for the cover!

I also had to write the back cover text in about 100 or so words. Simple! However, it actually took 7 attempts before James Essinger (of The Conrad Press) accepted it. The general gist did not change but James explained why certain words had to be re-phrased and it took quite a while before he was happy with it. James explained that the back cover text (he told me never, never, never use the word “blurb”) is more important than the content of the book itself, because a potential reader will not open the book unless s/he is drawn in by the words on the back cover. I am happy with the result – so with the fabulous cover and the enticing back cover text, who will be able to resist buying it??

Charlotte also does the typesetting and sent it to me the final version to do a final check. I had read it prior to sending the full manuscript to James just a couple of months ago, so I was pretty complacent and didn’t expect to find anything.

Ha!

I found about 43 changes – all my own fault. I honestly cannot understand how I had missed so many fundamental issues:

  • In the first chapter I describe the moon as being new. Just a few pages on it was nearly full.
  • In an early chapter Philippe refers to his father as Guiseppe, much later on as Alberto.
  • Before sending to James I had added a paragraph which described how Philippe and the boys had to ride through a wood. I have had to remove it as just in the previous page I had said how the route they needed to take avoided the wood where bandits are likely to hide.
  • In one chapter I described Father Pietro, who had had his tongue ripped out so he couldn’t speak. Later on, I had him telling Philippe that he had not seen one of the boys.
  • In one scene I called the young girl Tabitha by the name of the other young female character, Isabella.
  • Quite a few grammatical errors (missing full-stops and apostrophes) and words misspelled.

These are all very basic mistakes and I am mortified that I have only found them now, but glad that I have. I think I need to pay for someone to do this in-depth checking of my next book – more expense!

“Grandmother’s Footsteps” has been put on hold since June because of other commitments. But now that I am retired I intend to get down to finishing it. I am currently writing it in first person, present tense which suits the book very well. However, there are potentially another two books in the series and I am not sure it will work so well for these. I want them all to be the same (actually, do they have to be??), so I am going to re-write the first few pages in different combinations (first person, present; first person, past; third person, present; third person, past) and give them to a few people to see which they prefer. I don’t really expect anyone to say any one is better than the other so I guess I will have to make the decision myself in the end – I am just prevaricating!

 

Standard

Paying to get published does not make me a bad writer.

I have decided to go with the publisher who rang me only last Saturday evening (17th August). This is after days of indecision, sleepless nights, numerous calls with the publisher, e-mails galore with the lead of the writers’ group I have belonged to for 4 years, much trawling through the internet and speaking with a couple of the authors in the publisher’s list.

The reason why the decision has been so hard is because I am paying £755 up front.

I can hear the screams of “Nooooooooooooooooooo!” and the mantra “Authors should never, ever pay a publisher” resounding around the country.

I absolutely understand why vanity publishers are reviled and spat on. But The Conrad Press is not a vanity publisher. If it has to be pigeon-holed, then it is a hybrid-publisher – that is, somewhere between a traditional publisher and self-publishing. A definition of a hybrid publisher is:

  • Hybrid publishers must set forth a vision to follow for their company.
  • Submissions must be reviewed, in order to not be classified as a vanity press, submissions need to be vetted.
  • The publisher must publish as its own defined imprint and request its own ISBNs.
  • Hybrid publishers must meet the standards and best practices set out by the publishing industry.
  • The quality of the production (design and printing) and editorial services must be up to industry standards.
  • The hybrid publisher must manage the rights of the works they publish as well as any subsequent rights that are acquired, and work for find additional rights to sell for their authors.
  • Manage distribution services or hire a distributor for the works.
  • Hybrid publishers need to report reputable sales on the titles they publish.
  • Authors who sign with hybrid publishers must be paid a higher royalty than that of standard traditional publisher rates (see royalty payment).

I know I am lucky to have the money but let’s face it, most writers need a shed-load of luck to get published. I have great faith in my novel and just want it out there so that people can enjoy it. Is that too much to ask? Does it make me a bad writer because I am willing to put some money where my mouth is? I think not.

In my eyes I am paying TCP for a service, which is to get a cover professionally designed (they use Charlotte Mouncey), edit the book (he has already made some suggestions, nothing major but small things to make it a better book), getting the book onto world-wide ebook sales sites, getting the book ready for publication and distribution (ISBN number etc) and all the things a traditional publisher does.

What TCP don’t do is take over the rights. This allays many of the concerns I had about the possibility of making a bad decision and then being stuck with it. I can, if I so desire, walk away at any time. I hope I don’t ever feel I want to.

The revenue split is good and does comply with the %s mentioned in a few of the articles I have read.

I am sure there are lot’s of horror stories of authors being suckered in, sending their money and never seeing a page of their book, but I have already received an e-mail that is sent out to all of the TCP authors on a regular basis, and there are 72 e-mail addresses.  They can’t all be gullible fools can they?

I have no expectations of me now sitting back and TCP doing everything for me. I am already doing a lot of marketing and promotion for my first novel, “The Jewel Garden,” and I intend to do as much for “Song of the Nightingale,” if not more. Once I retire (2 months to go) I intend to submerge myself in the world of books and all things literary,  and I am very hopeful that I can work with TCP in order to make this happen.

And it occurs to me that when someone picks up a book and flicks through it to see if they want to buy it they most certainly do not know or care how it came to be published or whether the author made a contribution.

So, I have made my decision, and I am extremely happy with it. I may indeed have made a bad decision (it won’t be the worst I’ve ever made, my exes can vouch for that) but I feel happy and excited.

So, please be excited with me. “Song of the Nightingale” is going to be published!!!!!

Standard

One small step for a publisher, one giant step for an author…..

I can’t believe it is 4 months since my last blog.

I want to keep you up-to-date with my endeavours to find a literary agent or publisher for my second historical novel, “Song of the Nightingale.”

Up to yesterday there has been minimal progress apart from more rejections.  One publisher did ask for the full manuscript a couple of months ago, which is always very heartening.  I waited and waited to hear whether they were interested and after about 6 weeks I wrote a very polite e-mail gently prodding for a response. A rejection came the next day.

I have joined Jericho Writers. It is expensive but I wanted to make use of their Agent Match, which provides a relatively easy way of finding literary agents. I had made a list many months ago but not sent out my manuscript to all of them, so I dusted the list off and started sending it out again. I am also a member of the Historical Novel Society and I trawled through their quarterly magazine and did an on-line search for the publishers of the hundreds of books that the magazine reviews. I ignored the US ones, leaving only a small  number of UK publishers, most of which don’t accept unsolicited submissions.

So I spent a few evenings sending out the 1st 3 chapters and the synopsis and then sat back and waited. Whilst the manuscript hasn’t actually been rejected, there is always hope.

Yesterday evening (Saturday 17th August), just 3 days after sending out, I was sitting reading, and the ‘phone rang. It was a publisher who said he loved the bit I had sent and could I send the full manuscript. How nice of him to ring rather than just e-mail (although an e-mail asking for the whole manuscript is also very welcome). Hence the title of this blog – for minimal effort on his side, the impact on my side was colossal!

He may yet not be interested – he has only read the 1st 20 pages, but he enjoyed it and obviously feels it has potential. Isn’t this what we writers want – just some acknowledgement that we have written something other people might like to read?

I am also a member of the Society of Authors and I have asked for their opinion of this publisher. He claims they are not a vanity press (and to be honest they don’t seem to be) but their business model is for the author to pay some money up-front. I have also messaged a couple of the authors listed on the publisher’s website to ask for their opinion – no response as yet.

He had obviously read it as he asked for some slight changes (I am mortified to say I was inconsistent with how I wrote someone’s name). I won’t jinx it by saying the name – but it is now a waiting game – but I do feel hopeful, although I am trying not to be, especially as I need to know they are not a vanity press.

I also asked if he might be interested in publishing my debut novel “The Jewel Garden.” The current publisher is not well and is not taking an active role and has said he will revert the rights. I will have to change the title and perhaps the cover – although I would like to keep the main design as it was done by a close friend. Also, this will give me the chance to put right the faux pas I made by knowingly changing the date when Mary De Morgan died. Only one reviewer has noticed this but there was such a fuss and bother about it that I would like to rectify it – even if it is just explaining in the postscript.

Other news:

  • I am giving a talk on Mary De Morgan at Earlsdon Library in Coventry (now run by the community and needing everyone’s support) Saturday 14th September 2pm – 4pm.
  • I am giving a talk based around fairy tales at the Southam Literary Festival on Tuesday 15th October – not sure when or where!
  • I am retiring at the end of October. This means that I will have more time to write my 3rd novel, write poetry, submit to competitions, write my three grandchildren’s Christmas stories that have become a tradition, go on more long-distance walks. Won’t I?

 

 

 

 

Standard

A dilemma – wait, send more or chase?

I have felt guilty over the last few months because I promised to write a blog about my progress getting a literary agent/publisher for my second novel “Song of the Nightingale” but I haven’t written one since end of January, basically because so little has happened.

Since October I have sent to 23 literary agents and have had 9 rejections, the last one being early March. Most of the outstanding ones are well past when they promised they would respond by. I have also sent to 5 publishers and have had 2 rejections, both again in early March.

I am almost wishing to get a rejection just so I know someone is a least reading it. I am trying to remain optimistic but really, what are the chances that they are all considering it? More likely it has just been discarded into a big black hole.

I attended the “Get Published Day” a few weeks ago, run by Jericho Writers. I chose to pay £50 for a one-to-one with a Book Doctor, who spent the 15 minutes saying he didn’t have anything to say other than that the book is ready to send out. I have had a good review from a professional reviewer, who also said it is ready, so I don’t know what else I can do.

I must admit I have been feeling a bit despondent, which is affecting the writing of my third novel. I still get a tingle of excitement when I think about it, but I am really struggling to sit down and write it. I haven’t actually thought out loud “what’s the point” because I don’t write to earn money so I suppose it doesn’t matter if I don’t sell any, but I must admit that I do want my writing to be acknowledged and appreciated.

I occasionally take a look at the Amazon reviews for my 1st novel, “The Jewel Garden” with little hope in my heart that the number will have gone up but today it had another one which was so good it has really given me a boost:

I absolutely adored this story. The level of description was consistently beautiful throughout, and the characters were very skilfully built in such a way that they were believable, interesting, relatable and sometimes very irritating! (A sign of a great writer!)
Marilyn has clearly done a lot of research prior to writing this novel, and as well as enjoying the story, I also enjoyed learning about the contextual aspects surrounding the novel too. (The poverty in Victorian London, life in Cairo etc.)
As an English teacher, I plan to use this novel in my teaching so that I can show my students how a piece of beautifully detailed and well crafted descriptive writing should look!
I am excited to read Marilyn’s next novel.

So, here is one reader at least who is looking forward to my next novel – literary agents take note! This review has restored my confidence in my writing, for which I thank her (I assume it is a her) most profusely.

I am also going to see about a blog tour for “The Jewel Garden” – do literary agents follow them?

So, my conundrum is – do I just wait longer for a response (nearly said a rejection – I must be more positive!), send out to more agents or chase the ones I have already sent to?

Other news, for anyone who is interested:

  1. I picked up 2nd prize for a competition run by the Society of Women Writers and Journalists, for a poem with the theme of an anniversary.
  2. I have sent a children’s story called “The Lion who Lost his Roar”  to three publishers – no response as yet.
  3. I am very pleased that I have been asked to give a talk at the Southam Book Festival in October 2019. Again, the talk will be based on Mary De Morgan, fairy tales and my first novel – but hopefully if people like “The Jewel Garden” they will want to read “Song of the Nightingale” – if it ever gets published.
  4. I am working with Cambridge Scholars Publishing to get my biography of Mary De Morgan “Out of the Shadows” out as a paper back and to do some proper marketing. I am excited about this – I think this will always be my favourite baby and it would make an excellent companion to “The Jewel Garden”.

 

Standard

My rejection score – and an exciting new writing project

Rejection score

If you recall I sent out “Song of the Nightingale” to 13 literary agents just after Christmas, and I have sent another 4 since.

Rejection score to-date = 6.

Without naming names, the reasons are:

  • “I am sorry to say that this is not the kind of book we are looking for at the moment.”
  • “I don’t feel confident of finding a publisher”
  • “I’m afraid I didn’t feel strongly enough about the sample material to want to take things further, but thank you for the chance.”
  • “We have considered your proposal carefully and I am sorry to say that it is not going to be one for us, though your writing stands out from the many we receive.” They then went on to recommend editorial agencies and that I join a writing group – I think (hope) this is just standard blurb as I have had it professionally reviewed and I have been a member of a writing group for years.
  •  “Many thanks for sending us this proposal, which I read with interest. I considered it carefully but I’m afraid on balance it just doesn’t quite grab my imagination in the way that it must for me to offer to represent you. So I must follow my instinct and pass on this occasion. I’m really sorry to be so disappointing, but thanks for thinking of us. Of course this is a totally subjective judgement, so do try other agents and I wish you every success.” I liked this one and it felt personal, even though it might not actually be.
  • “Many thanks for sending me your submission, which I read with interest. I’m afraid to say, however, that I didn’t feel passionately enough to offer you representation. Our business is subjective by nature and another agent may well feel differently. I wish you the best of luck with that. I do think your writing is promising so I’d be happy to consider whatever you write next.” Again, this felt personal and did say they think my writing is promising.

 

None of the reasons were because they thought it was a load of rubbish (would they say if they thought it was?) and some had something positive to say.

I know this process can take months and years so I am not disheartened.

I will send out to more literary agents if/when I get more rejections.

I have also sent the first few pages to a competition – no harm in trying!

And, I have just booked to go to a “Getting Published Day” in London run by Jericho Writers. I went a few years ago and it was interesting. I have paid for a 1-2-1 with an agent where they give feedback on your letter, synopsis and 1st 50 pages.

Exciting new writing project

I retire in September 2020 (21 months to go) and as I love walking I thought that as soon as I stop work I would take myself to Europe and do a combined train/walking trip.  I have 6 weeks in mind but I am not sure where that came from. One of the reasons I love walking is because that is when I do my best writing (or is it merely “promising”?) so I thought, I’ll be able to start a new novel, possibly using some of the scenes I go through or people I meet. Then, thought I, why don’t I actually write about my own experiences as a travelogue. Maybe someone might like to read a light-hearted book about a 66 year old biddy wandering aimlessly around Europe?

So, I have just bought myself a very snazzy notebook and I am just going to write down what planning I do, hints and tips on booking trains & accommodation, then during the tour I will write about the places and people and see, the funny and awful things that happen  and on my return I will write a book. I am thinking of calling it “An old biddy’s Grand Tour” – or something similar.

I am also going to see if a publisher is interested – so will be working on a proposal over the next few weeks/months. More chances of rejections – yay!

I am extremely excited. I need to finish novel number 3 before then – but I am now counting the weeks before I retire and can set off on my adventure.

Standard

Fingers crossed!

I have just sent out “Song of the Nightingale” to 13 literary agents. It has taken me many days and hours to get to this point and I am exhausted. I know some will say that 13 is too many, but if each agent takes 6 – 8 weeks on average to respond, then I don’t have enough years left to send it out one by one until someone accepts it!

I sent my first novel, “The Jewel Garden,” to well over 70 agents and 30 publishers before it got accepted by a publisher. So I know that the chances of getting an agent for “Song of the Nightingale” is low, but I still want to try as I think they can offer more than I can ever achieve with a publisher or just by myself.

It isn’t easy to select the right literary agents. For “The Jewel Garden” I used Agent Hunter, an on-line search engine. I can’t recall whether I had to pay something – but if I did it certainly wasn’t the £195 annual subscription demanded by Jericho Writers, which has incorporated AgentMatch into its many services. Jericho Writers is probably well worth the money if you want videos on getting published, how to write, how to self-publish, and advice on writing etc – but it is expensive if all you want is a quick way to find literary agents who are interested in historical fiction.

So, this time I purchased the Writers & Artists’ Yearbook 2019 instead and trawled through the list of literary agents – some 27 pages, averaging 6 per page = approx 162. I looked at their website for any who listed literary or historical fiction (ie most of them)  and were open to submissions (ie most of them). I made a list on a spreadsheet of any that seemed reasonable – that is, if I liked the website because it was encouraging and supportive, rather than dictatorial and discouraging, or because one of the agents said they were particularly interested in the type of book I think “Song of the Nightingale” is, or sometimes just because.

In the end I had a list of 42 potential literary agents, of which I highlighted 13 because I think they are possibilities – usually because I really like what one of the agents has to say or, to be honest, because they promise to respond within a very short time. Then, of course, I had to return to each website and read the submission instructions. Most want a cover letter that gives a very brief overview of the novel , including number of words, genre etc, and what else you have written and will be writing. I wrote a skeleton as a word document that I then copied and pasted into the body of the e-mail. I made sure I personalised each e-mail by addressing to a specific agent and also tried to add something that showed I had read their web page and I explained why I was sending my novel to them.  I always admitted I was submitting to a number of other agents – they often ask you to say. I don’t know whether they ignore these submissions or whether, in fact, this makes them more keen if they are the slightest bit interested.

Most agencies want a synopsis. I had one that I was quite happy with, which came to over 1200 words. This was fine for those agencies which just said “send a synopsis” but not so fine when they said “send a synopsis of no more than 300 words”. 300 words! I started by cutting out all the flowery words and used full stops rather than and or but. Then I removed whole paragraphs, then sentences until I had reduced the synopsis to the required 300 words. Time will tell whether any agent is able to tell from these few words whether the book is worth reading!

Lastly, the easiest thing the agency wants is an example of the book itself. Usually the 1st three chapters or the first 50 pages or 1st 10,000 words – it must be consecutive from the beginning of the book.

Every time I pressed “send” I felt a spark of hope but it will be hard to keep the flame alight once the rejections start coming in. But, dammit, it’s a good book, so I am going to keep my fingers crossed!

 

 

Standard

To re-write or not to re-write, that is the question

I said I would write a blog about the progress of getting my second novel “Song of the Nightingale” published (or not, as the case may be).

I have sent it out to two people so far:

  1. A professional reviewer called Ben Smith. He gave me excellent advice for “The Jewel Garden” and I trust his suggestions.
  2. Ben took a bit longer than the 2 weeks I expected and I got a bit impatient and decided to send it to just one literary agent. She had rejected “The Jewel Garden” but said she might be interested in a book about castrati.

I have had responses from both and I need to decide whether I agree with their recommendations and what changes I should make.

I could, of course, ignore their feedback, but what would be the point of spending £195 and then ignoring Ben’s advice? Similarly, although the literary agent reminded me it was just her opinion, she is a reader and presumably knows what makes a good novel. Her views may be the views of the majority of other readers.

BEN’S REPORT

I have selected some excerpts from Ben’s report:

Narrative Strategy

The first person narration works well for the story and allows for exploration of the emotional impact of traumatic events. It also services the concealed facts of the story. I feel that a slight proportional increase in dialogue would balance the narrative more effectively and aid characterisation.

Characterisation

I have just taken Philippe as it is a good example of Ben’s feedback. Similar comments regarding the other main characters.

Philippe: He has a good vantage point as a narrator as he is present for most of the story and credibly absent when facts need to be concealed. Additionally, his middling social status allows him a broad view of society. His family circumstances lend him an ‘outsider’ status which you could perhaps make more of. His observations about wealth disparity and religious corruption could be sharper; this would contextualise his empathy for the boys and remove the suspicion that he is a passive character by underlining his impotence within the social structure. I’d particularly like to see him reflect on this when he wears il Conte’s ring.

Sofia: A wonderfully drawn character, I wouldn’t change her at all.

Story/Plot

The story is very strong indeed and is plotted out lucidly. The opening is arresting and I like the ending although some readers (and publishers) might suggest that following the boys’ contrasting lives further would bear fruit.

Ben then suggests one addition and one significant change:

  1. Adding in the scene, as a flashback, of when the boys are actually taken from their families
  2. Changing the rape scene into one where Sofia consents but then regrets.

Conclusion

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. The premise is enticing and it is executed with pace and clever plotting. It is more commercial than your previous work and sits happily in a historical fiction genre that publishers will understand. None of the revisions I suggest are structural so, from my point of view, this is one draft away from completion.

All in all, I was very pleased with Ben’s report. There are no structural changes and, as he says, most of the improvements can be made by dialogue and an extra scene or two. My biggest doubt is regarding the rape scene. My intention was that Philippe thinks he has raped Sofia but that actually she wants his seed (sorry, a bit basic!) because she wants a baby but no husband. I think I will make this a bit more obvious – but I still want Philippe to feel immense guilt, which he would only do if he thinks he has raped her.

LITERARY AGENT’S RESPONSE

I have to say I was quietly thrilled when she asked for the manuscript just a few days after I had sent the 1st 3 chapters. She then sent an e-mail a week or so later, which in itself is pretty amazing – the time not the content.

Her main concern is that it is Philippe’s story, whereas she thinks it should be the boys’. She obviously doesn’t like first person narratives and considers Philippe to be a “crashing bore” (see Narrative Strategy above for Ben’s opinion that 1st person works well). She suggests that it will be easier to understand why, for instance, Sofia accepts Philippe as a lover, if this part of the story is told from her point of view. Also, the story of the boys would be brought more to life if the reader understands their motivations and thoughts from their point of view.

I am a very insecure writer and over the last day or two I have swung between leaving it in the first person or re-writing in the 3rd. Who is right? Ben? The literary agent? Me? No-one?

But as I wrote this blog and re-read the literary agent’s e-mail it is her sentence “(Philippe) dominates the novel which is more his story than that of the far more interesting castrati” that has decided me.

Yes, it is Philippe’s story – and that is the story I want to tell. So, decision made – I will retain the 1st person and not try and please the one literary agent. Phew!

I will, however, absolutely take on board Ben’s suggestions:

  1. Improve the dialogue to make clearer the characters’ personalities and to put more flesh on their bones.  Also, make Philippe less of a crashing bore!
  2. Add a few more scenes to describe dramatic events that I had left to the readers’ imagination
  3. Change the rape scene slightly (but only slightly) to try and make it clearer that it is only rape in Philippe’s head. Ann Evans, the leader of the writing group I attend, who had read the whole novel also suggests I should take out Philippe kicking Sofia’s dog during this scene. I don’t agree. Philippe is full of anger and guilt and the dog is trying to bite him – wouldn’t you kick him? The dog doesn’t die, by the way. I think I will make more of this bit of the scene but, sorry Ann, the kicking stays in.

So, unless I have another period of dithering or every other literary agent I eventually send it to also says otherwise, I won’t re-write in the 3rd person because, after all, it is Philippe’s story I want to tell.

 

 

Standard

How important are facts in historical fiction?

This is a common question and much discussed on FaceBook and Twitter. It is very relevant to me because there has just been a review published in “The Woman Writer” (published by the “Society of Women Writers & Journalists” – SWWJ) in which the reviewer says:

“The Jewel Garden is a work of fiction, based on the life of the Victorian fairytale writer Mary De Morgan (sister of the famous tile-maker William De Morgan).

It is a fascinating story, set first in England, then in Egypt, where Mary taught in a children’s reformatory and died of tuberculosis in 1907 …. and this is where, as a reader who loves historical fiction, I have a problem: why does the author, who published a non-fiction book Out of the Shadows: The Life and Works of Mary De Morgan in 2012, write in her novel, and very poignantly too, about Mary’s death in 1895?”

The reviewer then goes on to say very nice things about the book and the characters.

So, why did I change the year of Mary’s death? I obviously knew it, as I have indeed written her biography and in the Postscript of The Jewel Garden I start by saying “I came across Mary De Morgan (1850 – 1907) ….”.

I thought long and hard about:

  • The age difference between Hannah (a purely fictional character) and Mary. I decided on a ten year gap, Hannah being the younger, so she has to be born in 1860. If the age difference was more I was concerned that Hannah would more likely to look to Mary as a mother, rather than a lover.
  • At what age Hannah would first meet Mary. I wanted Hannah to be old enough to be able to live independently so I have her first meeting Mary when she is twenty and therefore Mary is thirty.

Obviously Mary is a key character in the novel and I use her fairy tales to introduce each chapter; I have Hannah accompanying her on many of the visits that actually took place; I have Hannah meeting some of the people Mary actually knew; I have events occurring that actually happened. But the story is Hannah’s and I wanted to tell of one woman’s love for another, how she coped with the loss of her lover and her feelings when she discovered she had been deceived.

Hannah had to be born in 1860 and the events I tell of cover thirty five years until Mary’s death (1895) reasonably well. In all honesty I just could not make their relationship last another twelve years without it changing, which I didn’t want it to do.

I did struggle with making Mary die earlier than she did in reality, but I convinced myself that this piece of “poetic licence” would not even be noticed by most readers who would most likely never have heard of Mary De Morgan and wouldn’t know when she had really died. If I had kept Mary’s date of death as being 1907 then the book would not be the same and, I believe, not as good.

So far, this reviewer, whose opinion I totally respect, is the only one who has either noticed or cared that I have chosen to change the date of death of a little known person.

So, have I made a complete and unforgivable faux pas? Or am I excused?

Only the readers can say.

 

Standard