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.

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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!

 

 

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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.

 

 

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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.

 

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Now the fun starts!

I have just finished writing “Song of the Nightingale” – my second novel – that tells the story of two young boys in 18th century Italy who are bought from their families by a count, castrated and then taught to sing as castrati. It is told from the point of view of the count’s secretary, Philippe. Needless to say all does not end as expected. My sister has read it and says she likes it (she is the sister that hated one of my chapters, resulting in me totally rewriting it and producing a much better one).

I am the sort of writer that tries to perfect a chapter before going onto the next one, so although I did find a few typos when I read it through, again it was, as far as I am concerned, fundamentally OK. However, I decided to send it out for a professional review. I did this with my debut novel, “The Jewel Garden”. I sent it to Ben Smith (“Benjamin Smith” <englishwritingconsultant@gmail.com>) and he made some really useful comments so I have sent SotN to him as well – the cost for the report is £195.

When he sends the report, (hopefully in a week or two), as long as there is no rewrite necessary (as there was with TJG ) I will send out to literary agents. When I sent out TJG I got a large number of rejections, but one of them did say they would be interested in SotN as she likes music. So I will send the 1st 3 chapters and the synopsis to her first, then if she is not interested (as I expect will be the case), send out to other agents. I would much prefer to have an agent or find a publisher myself, rather than self-publish – at the moment anyway.

I have a draft synopsis ready, but I need to refine it. As most writers, I find the synopsis really hard to write – it is incredibly difficult to summarise an 83,000 book into just a few hundred words, telling the main story without making is sound like a list  of “then this happens, than that happens……”

I’ve loved writing the book and I believe that it is really good – but if my experience with TJG is anything to go by, my confidence will be worn away with every rejection. One thing I am pretty confident about if that I will get a large number of them!

I will write another blog when I have something more to say.

Just an update on TJG – I am still trying to promote it and recently I have:

  1. Given a talk at Coventry Library about Mary De Morgan and the writing of TJG. This was the first time I did a talk so although there were only two people it gave me the confidence to do it again.
  2. Given an interview to Neil Wilkes of Coventry Culture Show on TJG, which was broadcast on Saturday 29th September. A pretty scary experience but again, it went better than I expected and boosted my confidence.
  3. Given an after dinner talk to the Guild at the Barr’s Hill 110th Anniversary dinner, telling them who Mary De Morgan was and how I came to write a novel about her. The attendees were all old Barr’s Hillians and were aged from 63 (me and another from my year) to 98. They were wonderful, bright, feisty women and it was a real honour to be asked to speak.
  4. I am giving a talk at Atherstone Library on TJG in January.

Small steps………

I have two projects I am about to start – one is to rewrite some of Mary De Morgan’s fairy tales for today’s children and the other is novel number 3 (more later).

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Too many loose ends?

I have just finished my second novel, “Song of the Nightingale.” The seed was sown early 2015 and I played around with the beginning over the next few years whilst I finished my first novel, but didn’t really start writing in earnest until the middle of last year, after I had sent off “The Jewel Garden” to literary agents and publishers for the second time.

I had a very clear idea of how I wanted it to start and to end and actually wrote the final paragraphs in January of this year. The detailed plotting of the middle section was made easier because I knew where all the characters needed to be and what needed to have happened to them.

I was surprised, therefore, when I actually came to the end and was just about to copy the last paragraphs from the file that had been sitting waiting all year, when I thought, “no,” this isn’t how it should end. All my characters were in the right place, all the right things had happened to them and all it needed was for the loose ends to be neatly tied up. This is how a novel should end, isn’t it?

Well, yes. But I think it does no harm to leave some ends flying in the wind. I have no intention of writing a sequel that provides the answers to the questions readers may have, I would prefer them to use their imagination.

I won’t tell you all the details, after all I would like you to read the book if it is ever published, but here is the first ending I wrote:

I sat with my legs stretched out, my boots off. Berti was playing with the wooden blocks I had made for Tabitha. He piled them up as high as his ill-coordinated, podgy hands would allow, then laughed heartily as they tumbled down. I watched, fascinated by his delight at his continuing failure. “He won’t be an engineer.”

            Sofia lifted her head from kneading the bread and I sensed, rather than saw her smile. “He will be what he will be.” She turn towards me and tilted her head. “You look very comfortable, sir. Are you sure you can’t find anything more useful to do? Does il Conte not need you for anything?”

            “No, he is away for the day and yes, I am indeed very comfortable, thank you.” Then it just came out, unbidden but not regretted. “I wish I could stay here always, with you and the children. Il Conte can do very well, without me; he has Roberto now to do his bidding. Perhaps it is time for us to become a proper family?”

            Sofia stopped pummelling.  “I have told you many times, Philippe, I will not marry you, not in a Church. Not by a priest who considers me to be a witch just because I know how to use herbs, herbs created by God Himself.”

            I don’t know where the thought came from, perhaps God put it there. “I know, I know, Sofia. But we can still say our vows before God. I am sure He will still listen to us, even if we are in a field rather than a man-made building. Perhaps he will listen even more?”

            Sofia stood with her hands idle, buried deep into the dough. “Really? You would do that for me? Be married only in the eyes of God? You would live and work here with me, with us?”

            I frowned at her doubtful expression. “Of course! Do you doubt me? You can teach me all about herbs and how to keep chickens and goats.”

            Sophia laughed excitedly. “And you can teach me and the children to read and write. I can label all the bottles properly!”

            An idea suddenly came to me, or perhaps God’s hand was again guiding me. “I could teach the village children too. We could start a school!”

            “We wouldn’t charge, though.”

            We. How I liked the sound of that. “No, we wouldn’t charge. So, shall we do it?”

            Sofia merely nodded, winked at me then turned back to her kneading.

            I sprang to my feet, feeling a surge of hope and exhilaration surge through my body. “When Sofia, when?”

            “Tomorrow at dawn. A new day, a new beginning. Now, entertain the children whilst I finish this baking.”

            The following morning, before even the sun had risen, Sofia got the children up, then woke me and we all went outside and walked up the path to the glade in the wood. I remembered how both Berti and Tabitha had been conceived there; it seemed an appropriate place. Sofia had put some flowers in her hair but she wore her normal pinafore, having no other. She looked the most beautiful woman in the world to me.

            We stood holding hands facing each other. Neither of us spoke as the sun’s rays caressed our bodies and warmed our skin. Then Sofia spoke, looking me directly in the eye.

            “I, Sofia, promise, before God, before the man I love and before the children we have both created, to love and honour Philippe Augustino, every minute, of every hour, of every day, of every week, of every month, of every year, until my dying breath, and beyond. Amen”

            I had written and memorised a love poem during the night, but Sofia’s simple honesty dried the fancy words in my mouth.

            “I, Philippe, promise before God and the family He has blessed me with, to protect and cherish them with every fibre of my being; to respect my wife as an equal and to raise our children to love God, God’s world and God’s people.” My vision was blurred with emotion. Then I remembered to say “For ever and ever. Amen.”

            Our witnesses were the children and some chickens that had followed is in the hope of being fed. Tabitha sat on the carpet of pine needles, holding Berti on her lap, who would have much preferred to go foraging amongst the roots. She had a big grin on her face and clapped when we finished our vows.

            As I stood there I suddenly remembered the wood the boys and I had stopped in the night we had left il Barbiere’s after he had died, poisoned by Fabio I now knew. I could hear their angelic voices, still untrained but oh, so sublime, but then the breeze took them and wafted them up to God for one last time and it was the dawn chorus that celebrated our union.

Since writing this ending, I have written the middle of the book, which, after all is the vast majority and my understanding of the characters and even my style of writing has changed. This ending, therefore, is no longer right.

It is true that Sofia didn’t want to get married throughout the book for very good reasons, so why would she suddenly change her mind now? She may have been that sort of woman nine months ago, but not now I knew her better.

In the original ending I had Roberto take over from Philippe because then I thought Roberto was innocent and it would fit very nicely for Roberto to become il Conte’s secretary so that Philippe could leave. But by the end of the book Philippe, and the reader, is not sure which of the boys was the killer. So Roberto didn’t take over from Philippe when he left, no-one did. Does it matter if the reader doesn’t know whether il Conte managed to get a replacement secretary? Of course not!

In the original, Philippe’s decision to leave is a spur of the moment decision, in the final version, not so. It wouldn’t have been much of a change to rewrite that bit.

The main thing I no longer liked about the ending, was the sheer length of it and the description of their plans for the future. I wanted the future to be uncertain, for isn’t that what it is really? I wasn’t going to write a sequel, so I didn’t need to plan out their lives. The readers should know enough about Philippe and Sofia by the end to imagine for themselves what their future might hold.

So here is the ending I have just written:

I left the horse at the vineyard and walked home. When I arrived at the house I was tired, dishevelled and dusty and my stomach was growling with hunger. The door was open and I stood in the opening and quietly enjoyed the domestic scene before me. Sofia was kneading bread and humming tunelessly, Tabitha was building a tower of wooden bricks that Berti took great pleasure in knocking down each time.

Sofia glanced up and saw me. It was like a scene in a painting where the characters were frozen in one position for ever, the artist having caught Sofia’s expression of surprise, Tabitha’s of patience and Berti’s of sheer joy.  

I heard the horse munching on the grass, the chickens clucking, the pigs snuffling, the goats bleating. It was early evening and the birds were settling down and singing their final psalm of the day.

Just for a moment, I thought I heard a nightingale.

You may not agree, but I think this is much better. Yes, the reader doesn’t know what happens to Roberto and Fabio, whether Philippe and Sofia get married, open a school, even if Sofia will have him living with her.

Does it matter? Are these too many loose ends? I think not but I suppose time will tell.

Let me know which ending you prefer.

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When is it time to say, “Enough, I can’t afford to promote my book?”

If you want answers then don’t bother reading this blog. I have no answers, merely questions.

If you have read my previous blogs you will realise that all I seem to do is moan about how hard and time-consuming it all is, once your book is published. But I am facing yet another conundrum.

How much should I pay out in order to promote my debut novel, “The Jewel Garden”? When is it time to say, “Enough, I can’t afford to promote my book?”

Obviously, if it was easy to determine that a cost of £x resulted in sales of £y, then it would be an easy decision. But it is difficult (if not impossible) to determine why any reader buys a book and what it was that caught their attention and made them make the actual purchase.

I hope I have done all the basic things that I have been advised to do in order to promote my book, some of which have no cost (other than time), others do have a cost.

So, the costs I have paid out so far, which I would not have done if I had not written a book and wanted to promote myself as a write as well as my book, are:

  1. The cover of the book. This was painted by an artist friend. She asked for no money but I gave her a £100 token in appreciation. I have no idea how this compares with any other means of getting a cover produced.
  2. I have purchased about 10 hard-copies so far at discount to send to reviewers at a cost of £60. I have not yet received the reviews from some of the reviewers.
  3. Postcards printed to leave at bookshops, literary festivals, shop windows etc etc. I have had 150 printed at a cost of £90. I still have well over 100 left.
  4.  I have joined the following societies in order to help promote me as an author as well as my book:
    1. Society of Authors – £102 per annum
    2. Contact an Author – £49.50 per annum. No-one has contacted me as yet.
    3. Historical Novel Society – $50 per annum. Not received their review as yet.
    4. Readers Review Room – £26.08 (will no longer be in operation after 2018. No reviews added.
    5. SWWJ – £55 per annum. Not received their review as yet.

There are a few other things that I could potentially pay for:

  1. A blog tour. I gather there are blog tours for historical novels but they certainly don’t get such mainstream visibility as those for crime/thrillers/light romances.  I have had mixed responses about whether these are worth while. Some enthuse and some say they are not worth it. I suppose it depends on whether the author believes the tour resulted in sales. There are, unfortunately, no guarantees, so it is always going to be a risk. The costs vary, the cheapest I have seen is £45, which covers the basics but for £85 I would get my book “promoted over the blogs every day for a week. This includes reviews, interviews, guest posts and extracts. We also provide a professionally designed poster.” This sounds good to me, but I would have to sell a couple of hundred Kindle versions to cover the costs. Can anyone actually convince me that this is cost effective?
  2. Use a company such as Publishing Push to do all the promotion for you. This sounds perfect for someone like me – but comes at a relatively high cost. I seem to have lost the e-mail I had with indicative costs but I seem to recall that it is in the region on £400+. I would have to sell thousands of Kindle versions to cover these costs.
  3. Audio version. This is only something I started to consider yesterday after a writer colleague posted something on FaceBook. Again, there is a cost (I haven’t researched how much yet) and more time and effort.
  4. There are doubtless many more ways I could pay someone, which might possibly increase my sales.

No one cost is high, but there is the potential to spend a small fortune, far more than I may ever earn in sales, especially when the cost of the Kindle version is £1.99 and I get a % of that after the publisher has taken his %.

I still love my book and have faith that others will love it if they read it (based on the reviews on Amazon.co.uk). But how much should I spend before I say, “Enough, I can’t afford to promote my book?”

 

 

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Musings of a lone long-distance walker/writer

I have just returned from walking the last leg of the South West Coastal Path. It took nearly two weeks and I covered over 130 miles. It has taken me five years to walk the whole path, which is 630 miles long, not including the distance to walk to and from campsites or B&Bs, or getting lost. I did it in sections: Minehead to Bude, Bude to St. ives, St. Ives to Falmouth, Falmouth to Exmouth, and just now Exmouth to Poole.

As a result of this last 2-week walk, I have almost finished hand-writing novel number 2 (working title was “I Castrati”, but is now “Song of the Nightingale”).  I am absolutely amazed at the amount I have written in this relatively short time. If I hadn’t gone on this walk it would have taken me many months to write the same amount, and to be honest, I don’t think i would have been so inspired. I definitely had my muse packed in my rucksack!

So, the point of this blog is to share some of my musings that I thought of as I walked along, and to recommend long-distance walking to all writers. There are not many occasions when you can just focus on your writing  for hour after hour, day after day. So here are just a few thoughts:

  1. Accept that it may take a day or two to clear your mind of your non-writing life – replaying the conversations at work in which you wish you had (not) said something; planned what you are going to do on your return, the next month, year, rest of your life etc. Only then can you lose yourself in what you are currently writing. On one of the days it was cool, windy and damp but my head was in sunny Florence in Italy – the imagination is a powerful thing.
  2. You will have to change your approach to writing. My normal approach is to write at the weekends. I live alone, so I can just sit in my study and write, write, write straight onto my laptop. I am a Planner and so I know roughly what scenes I want to write. I am the sort that likes to get a sentence right before proceeding so I take my time but I rarely go back and re-write a section.  (There is not. of course, a right or a wrong way of writing, it is just my way.) As I was carrying all my camping equipment there was no way on earth I could carry my laptop with me so my writing approach just had to change – which in itself is quite a traumatic experience and takes some getting used to! So my new routine was to break camp in the morning, scoff a bacon and egg bap (that’s what they call batches down south), then spend the better part of the day just thinking about the next few scenes I wanted to write. I almost wrote the whole scenes in my head, working on phrases, getting bits of conversation to my liking. I didn’t think too far ahead – just the next couple of scenes. I don’t dictate into a machine (most people think I am mad walking alone in the first place, they would be convinced if I appeared to be continuously talking to myself), nor do I make notes as I walk – it’s hard enough and takes long enough just walking up and down the multitude of steep inclines that make up the SWCP, without stopping to make notes. Then at the end of the day, once the tent is up, I find somewhere to sit (preferably where I can get a cup of tea and a slice of cake – I deserve it!) and I just write everything down in a sort of literary diarrhoea.  Just a small point – you also have to learn to write again – when was the last time you actually hand-wrote more than a few sentences??
  3. One major lesson – don’t dither, just move on. This is one of the hardest things, for me, anyway. With a laptop you can play around with words, cut and paste, use the on-line Thesaurus, google something. You just can’t do that with pen and paper. I learned, eventually, just to write and if I wasn’t sure of something just put an * and make a note – but move on. I didn’t re-read what I had written, I just wrote what was swilling around in my mind. This is how some people write anyway, but I am a Planner and it took me out of my comfort zone. Just as an example – I wanted my main protagonist, Philippe, to explain to two young boys a way of memorising the Latin words of a hymn. If I had been at home I would have first of all found a Latin hymn, and then googled for different ways of memorising words – and then I would have put the two together.  But this time, all I could do was put my * and move on. It is hard for someone like me to be vague and not finish the detail, but it is possible!
  4. Linked to the previous comment is that as a long-distance walker who also camps, the iPhone must be used sparingly as there are rarely places where the battery can be charged. Therefore I always switched it off during the day and only switched it on in the evening to send a quick message to my children & sisters to tell them where I was and that I hadn’t fallen off a cliff. Therefore I didn’t access the internet as it would have used too much battery. Mind you, being away from e-mails, FaceTime and Twitter is one of the huge benefits!
  5. Another hint – take your watch off. Not only will you not get a white band if you are lucky enough to get sunshine, but really, what does it matter what time it is? You have no meeting to get to, no appointments – just a place to reach when your legs get you there.
  6. My personal recommendation is to walk alone. I think this is quite rare and I certainly didn’t see many solo walkers, but how can you imagine yourself to be a character in your book whilst someone is wittering in your ear about the size of their blisters? Note – buy decent walking boots, then you won’t get blisters.
  7. Don’t think about your writing all the time. I did stop and enjoy the view, smell the roses (literally), admired the colours of the butterflies, looked (unsuccessfully) for dolphins and, as the path I was walking was along the Jurassic Coast, kept my eyes open for dinosaurs.
  8. Don’t forget to say a cheery “Hullo” to everyone you meet. After all, they may be writers too.
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The transmogrification of chapter 13

The definition of “transmogrify” is “to change or be changed completely”. This is certainly what has happened with chapter 13 of the book I am writing and I thought I would share how it has been changed through the three incarnations.

I am writing a novel whose working title is I Castrati. It tells of two seven year old boys, who are bought from their families by Count De Lorenzo, castrated and sent to a conservatoire to be taught to sing. The story is told from the point of view of Philippe, the count’s secretary, who is tasked with accompanying the boys to Florence and remains their friend and mentor as they succeed/fail as castrati.

At the start, Philippe is the lover of the counts’s wife, Eleanora but I want a sub-plot of the book to be the love story of Philippe and a woman, Sofia, who is referred to as a witch, but is actually just a woman who lives alone in the woods and makes healing potions form herbs and roots.

Chapter 13 tells of the first meeting between Philippe and Sofia and I am currently writing its 3rd incarnation. The reasons for the radical changes are:

  • as a result of my sister saying Incarnation 1 was predictable and Sofia was stereotypical. I wrote a blog about how this cut me to the quick – but she was right.
  • as a result of Ann Evans, the writing group leader, providing feedback on Incarnation 2 and advising that I need to put more obstacles in the way of this romance and that Philippe had got over his love for Eleanora far too quickly.

There are three main areas that have changed dramatically:

  1. The description of Sofia
  2. Philippe’s reaction to Sofia telling him that Eleanora is pregnant
  3. Philippe’s reaction to Sofia herself

1. The description of Sofia

INCARNATION 1

In this incarnation I described Sofia as being fey and a bit ethereal – not realistic enough.

She was my height and I looked into eyes that were as blue as a summer sky, fringed by long black lashes and laughter lines that spread out like the rays of the sun. Her pink lips were curved into a teasing smile.

…..

Her smile turned into a laugh and she threw back her head, her long, copper tresses shimmering in the light of the candles that were placed all around the room. I noticed that small flowers were entwined into the locks, those of the meadow and mountain slopes.

…..

“You’re la Strega!” (note – this is Italian for the witch)

“No, my name, as I have just said, is Sofia. I am no more a witch than you are. I live off the land and use God’s gifts to make potions that ease pain and cure simple ailments.”

INCARNATION 2

In this incarnation Sofia is far more realistic and down to earth.

She was the same height as me, tall for a woman, and her eyes glared directly into mine. Her expression was one of disdain with no glimmer of warmth and I felt awkward and unwelcome.

…..

She wore a plain green dress that didn’t quite reach the floor and had seen better days; the hem was frayed and the skirt was threadbare in places. Her copper-coloured hair was left loose and hung in unkempt waves almost down to her waist. She handed me the mug and bread and I noticed her hands were rough and ingrained with dirt.

…..

“The boys told me about you, you’re La Strega!”

She looked at me, her black eyes full of anger and she almost spat her words at me.   “No! My name, as I have just said, is Sofia. The ignorant fear what they do not understand and resort to mockery and abuse. I live alone, as my mother did, and her mother before her, and I make use of God’s gifts to heal. I do not read the stars; I do not speak in a secret language; I do not get rid of evil spirits by sorcery; I do not make magic potions that will make someone fall in love, grow a beard or drop down dead. Those who take the time to know me realise that I am merely a simple woman who can help ease the pains caused by hard work, poor diet and, of course, child-bearing.”

INCARNATION 3

Pretty much the same as Incarnation 2.

2. Philippe’s reaction to Sofia telling him that Eleanora is pregnant

INCARNATION 1

In this incarnation Philippe accepts the end of their relationship far too easily.

I must have seemed so stupid to Sofia for I still did not understand. “Il conte said she was a bit under the weather, but why isn’t she seeing a proper doctor?”

“She doesn’t need a ‘proper’ doctor, she is not ill, signore, she is merely expecting another child. And no, before you ask it is not yours, she is certain of that. Shut your mouth, signore, you look like the village idiota.”

It was so much to take in. I knew that Eleanora had been still sleeping with her husband and I had had no illusions that our relationship was anything more than just sexual, but I had hoped that it would continue for a bit longer. I would miss our secret meetings and romps in the most unlikely places.

INCARNATION 2

In this incarnation I wanted Philippe to be far more upset that Eleanora was pregnant.

My heart beat fast. Was the child mine? If so, I could legitimately take Eleanora away and we could bring him up together. I laughed out loud until I saw the expression on Sofia’s face.

“It is not yours. It was conceived in June when you were away.”

My heart pounded even faster. “Did he force himself on her? If he did, I’ll kill him!”

“No, signore. Eleanora is no longer the child who thought she loved you. She is a grown woman with responsibilities and is content with her place in society. She has grown to love her husband, she just did not know how to tell you. It was she who suggested to her husband that you accompanied the boys to Florence and stayed there awhile. She thought it would make her breaking from you the easier.”

I was overcome with rage and I leapt up and pulled Sofia to her feet and, God forgive me, shook her with all my strength.

INCARNATION 3

I haven’t written it yet, but I am going to change it so that the baby could be Philippe’s – so his relationship with Eleanor will continue for much longer and will become more fraught over the following months.

3. Philippe’s reaction to Sofia herself. 

INCARNATION 1

In this incarnation Philippe had feelings for Sofia far too quickly.

I didn’t know who she was, I had no idea why she was living in the middle of a wood, I didn’t understand how she knew my name or how she had obviously been expecting me, but I felt as if my being here was the most natural thing in the world and that this was where I was meant to be.

The last thing I definitely remembered was Sofia leading me to the curtained corner. After that it was as if I was recalling a dream or a distant memory: I heard echoes of laughter and sighs; I saw flashes of pink, copper and sparkling blue; I smelt earth and fresh grass.

INCARNATION 2

In this incarnation, I still wanted there to be a doubt about whether Philippe & Sofia had made love.

I was lost in my feelings that fluctuated from grief at the loss of my dreams to hatred of Eleanora and her duplicity. I stared into the flames and saw her lying naked upon her bed, the satin sheets rumpled after vigorous love-making. I saw her at the dinner table, her head thrown back in laughter, revealing her slender neck and the swell of her bosom. I groaned as I imagined her sitting astride me, her hair hanging down like a copper curtain. I felt her fingers pulling at my britches, then putting me inside her and her naked breasts swaying as she rode me as if I were an untamed colt. I heard her shout out words of desire and lust, words I had never heard her say before, not even at her most ardent. I smelled her fragrance of fresh earth and leaves.

INCARNATION 3

I haven’t written it yet but as Philippe will still be in love with Eleanora at the end of the chapter I will leave his and Sofia’s love-making to much later in the book. I am thinking that maybe Philippe is so upset one night he goes to Sofia’s and ends up raping her.

 

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