2019 so far…

So it’s April tomorrow already! Where did the first part of this year go?

I’ve been busy with various writing-related activities in my Chasing Time, SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), and Scottish Association of Writers guises, and there’s lots to report. Including a couple of exciting developments on the writing front and meeting a literary hero of mine…

But first up SCBWI.

In January we ran a Synopsis Teach-In in Edinburgh with the help of lovely SCBWI member and 2019 recipient of a New Writers Award from Scottish Book Trust, Sheila Averbuch. It was a packed event, with lively discussion on how to conquer the dreaded synopses.

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Next up on the busy Scottish SCBWI calendar was a Scribble and Scrawl Crawl at the stunning new V&A in Dundee, where we were ably assisted on the illustration front by the very talented Jill Calder. This was a brilliant way to spend a morning and we couldn’t help but be inspired by the building and its exhibits.

Then earlier this month we ran an event for our growing published and agented network members with special guest Dawn Geddes, freelance journalist, Book Correspondent for The Scots Magazine and YA author, who spoke about the business of being an author and how to find your brand, build your platform and market yourself. Phew – it’s been busy in the world of SCBWI!

In between this, Sandra, Dawn and I ran a Tick Tock РWriting Detox Chasing Time Retreat in February covering editing, structure and prioritising your writing time. We had a great group of writers join us and it was a fantastic weekend.

The last two months have been particularly exciting personally as, first of all, I found out I had been longlisted in the Mslexia Children’s Novel Award. Aargh!

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Then at the annual Scottish Association of Writers Conference last weekend I picked up the T.C. Farries Trophy for the Children’s Novel Category with my current YA WIP, ‘The Eyelash Dandelion’, as well as third place with a previous novel, and second in the Under 7s category too, so that was exciting! My writing group, Angus Writers’ Circle, did amazingly overall, with us taking home 17 placed entries, including 5 trophies between us.

All topped off nicely with a little welcome home message from the kids…

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So cute!

And as to that literary hero I mentioned? A major highlight of the year to date was attending an early Edinburgh International Book Festival event with the one and only Angie Thomas, which was chaired perfectly by Nadine Aisha Jassat. Angie is such an inspirational speaker and it was hard not to cheer after everything she said!

So, that’s my 2019 news to date – I hope you have all had a great start to the year too.

There are lots more exciting book/writing related things coming up over the next few months as well, but April looks surprisingly quiet, so think I’ll go and have a quick lie down to recover in the meantime. ūüėČ

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In Pursuit of the Strange and Curious…

Our next retreat focuses on settings and characters, drawing inspiration from some gothic writing of the past. Here’s a little teaser from Sandra to whet your appetites…

Source: In Pursuit of the Strange and Curious…

Hello and Goodbye August! (And all the bookish things in between)

Well, August came and went pretty quickly, huh? But what a month it was. Between managing to get lots of writing done on my own YA novel, Sixteen Again, whilst on holiday, to coming home and launching straight into the fabulous Edinburgh Book Festival, then formalising lots of arrangements for our first Chasing Time Writing Retreat in Angus at the end of the month, it’s been all go.

The Edinburgh Book Festival has quickly become a highlight of my literary year, and this year I was lucky enough to include an overnight stay in Edinburgh and to attend lots of author events, as well as two SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) crit groups in the Spiegeltent. Special mention has also to be made of the Unbound evening on the 18th, where singer/songwriter Genevieve Dawson ( @gdawsonmusic ) and novelist Sarah Perry ( @_sarah_perry ) in particular were amazing. (Watch out for Sarah’s book coming out – the writing is beautiful and I was seriously holding back tears by the end).

It was also the first time that I had heard Matt Haig speak, and he had us all spellbound, even as it was touch and go at one point as to whether the Bosco Theatre venue would be blown away by the fierce winds outside. And of course, there was the sold out SCBWI event, The Great Gender Debate, with authors Jonathan Stroud, David Leviathan and Kathryn Evans, ably chaired by the South East Scotland SCBWI Coordinators, Sarah Broadley and Anita Gallo.

I even managed to squeeze in a visit to Blackwell’s Writers at the Fringe¬†to support my lovely author friend, Sandra Ireland, who was one of five authors reading from their books. (Check out ‘Beneath the Skin’ by Sandra if you love a slice of gothic noir and fantastically well-written novels).

So that brings me smoothly on to the writing retreats that Sandra, Dawn Geddes and I are launching, with the first one being at the end of this month. It’s come round fast and we’re really looking forward to welcoming all our guests soon. The venue is superbly atmospheric and bound to inspire, and I might even be able to squeeze some more of my own writing in over the weekend too!

The Chasing Time team

For more information go to http://www.chasingtimescotland.wordpress.com/retreats

Hope your own writing/reading is going well too – bye for now.

Book Review – Release by Patrick Ness

This is what it says about the book on Goodreads:

Inspired by Mrs Dalloway and Judy Blume’s Forever, Release is one day in the life of Adam Thorn, 17. It’s a big day. Things go wrong. It’s intense, and all the while, weirdness approaches…

Adam Thorn is having what will turn out to be the most unsettling, difficult day of his life, with relationships fracturing, a harrowing incident at work, and a showdown between this gay teen and his preacher father that changes everything. It’s a day of confrontation, running, sex, love, heartbreak, and maybe, just maybe, hope. He won’t come out of it unchanged. And all the while, lurking at the edges of the story, something extraordinary and unsettling is on a collision course.

My own thoughts…

This is the third Patrick Ness novel I’ve read (still have the Chaos Walking trilogy on my TBR¬†pile which I must read soon) and, as usual, I loved it. I think what I most admire about Patrick is the fact that he takes risks when he writes and tries out unusual formats and/or concepts – if you haven’t read his short story in the ‘Losing It’ anthology edited by Keith Gray, you really should, it’s so clever.

Anyway, back to Release. I was so looking forward to this coming out (excuse the pun) and it didn’t disappoint. Adam is a great character, so well drawn, that you immediately empathise with him and his struggle for acceptance, and his best friend, Angela, is brilliant. A seriously kick-ass, got your back kind of best friend. I loved Linus, detested Enzo, and held my breath all the way through a pivotal scene with Adam and his father.

There is a mystical mythology type of story running alongside the main thread and I’ve seen this getting mixed reviews, but I thought it really worked, and that it was another example of Patrick doing something different in a way that only he can. The way that both threads tied up together in the end was almost poetic.
I would definitely recommend this to readers.

**** 4 Stars

Book Review – The Nearest Far away Place by Hayley Long

I have been a member of Goodreads for some time now and think it is a fantastic site. However, I have not been the best at contributing to it in the past so, in my quest to become a better Goodreads user and also share some of my thoughts and recommendations about books and authors, I have decided to link my reviews to my blog. I hope you find some of them interesting – who knows, perhaps I will help you to discover a new favourite book in the process…

Faraway Place

I read the first three chapters of this when my daughter got it from her Toppings’ Book Club as she was just finishing another book, and then I had to wait a couple of weeks to finish it, which was a challenge, as I was immediately hooked.
The story centres around brothers Griff and Dylan, who are in a terrible car accident where both their parents are killed. Dylan is worried that his younger brother is not coping well and we get a great sense of both their characters and their feelings throughout the book. It is in turns heartbreaking and heartwarming as we follow them both from New York to Aberystwyth via various flashbacks to the nearest faraway place, where we also get a good sense of their parents and what family life was like before the accident.
The story is beautifully written and very visual and, having not read any of the author’s other books before, I know I will be buying them now for both me and my daughter to enjoy.

***** Five Stars

Scottish Association of Writers Annual Conference 2017

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I’m just back from this year’s Scottish Association of Writers¬†Conference at The Westerwood Hotel (@TheWesterwoodQ) in Cumbernauld. And what another fantastic weekend it has been! The SAW Council work hard to put on such a great event and this year we had the biggest turn out from our writing group, @AWCAngus since I started attending a few years ago. It’s so good to be able to spend more time with friends and get to know each other better, as well as just generally soak up the buzz of being in the company of like-minded people. The icing on the cake is that we again came away with some prizes and placings in the various competitions that are adjudicated over the weekend, including top prizes of The Dorothy Dunbar Rose Bowl for poetry for our Club Secretary, Sandra Ireland (author of ‘Beneath The Skin’), and The Constable Silver Stag for a General Novel to Pam Turner.

Last year I was lucky enough to win the beautiful T.C. Farries¬†trophy for a Children’s Novel, and it was with a certain reluctance that I found myself packing it up in order to pass the baton. However the consolation was that this year it was awarded to fellow Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators¬†(SCWBI) member, Sheila Adamson, so it was a bit like keeping it in the family.

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Apart from the competitions and the social side, there are a number of fantastic SAW workshops to attend, and my favourite two of the weekend were run by YA authors Keith Gray and Victoria Gemmell (another fellow SCBWI). Thank you both for being so lovely and helping to turn it into such a special weekend once again. I was also able to attend an outside workshop run by editor and literary consultant, Claire Wingfield (www.clairewingfield.co.uk) and between the three of them, have left feeling inspired and keen to get back to my own work in progress.

Our keynote speaker was the very funny Helen Lederer who rounded off a brilliant conference.

If you would like to know more about Angus Writers’ Circle you can follow us on Twitter @AWCAngus, and I hope your own writing is going well.

 

 

 

 

Pitching Your Stories

This comes to you a little later than hoped as, like many it seems, we have been a little laid up with colds and flu over December and then we hit the madness of Christmas and the New Year.  Speaking of which, Happy New Year and hope 2017 will be a happy, healthy and productive year for all of you.

Anyway, I had earlier promised to post some highlights of my recent Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference so I thought I would start with pitching, especially as this also ties in nicely with recent Twitter pitches that I have taken part in over the past few weeks.

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At the conference I attended a pitching session with Benjamin Scott who said that ‘our goal in pitching is simply to excite another person about our story… whether an agent, editor, parent or reader’. ¬†Simple, huh? ¬†Why is it then that as soon as somebody asks what our book/story is about, many of us struggle to summarise it, or can turn into gibbering idiots? ¬†(I find the latter tends to happen to me, especially when you throw an agent into the mix!) ¬†He continued that ‘the expectation should be¬†that sounds like an interesting¬†idea, tell me more’¬†notthis is going to get me an agent, publisher, make me the next JK Rowling. ¬†These lower expectations immediately lessen the pressure.’

Pitching is therefore just presenting your work in the best possible light for maximum excitement, but you should bear the following in mind;

  • You can¬†choose¬†to pitch – it’s never compulsory
  • Relax – having a prepared pitch makes it easier to relax
  • Versatility – a good pitch is useful for many things
  • Creative aid – when constructing one it can act as a great developmental tool as it helps identify what’s at the heart of your book
  • What is the peril, the conflict, and the consequences?

Conflict is the beating heart of the story and what happens is an expression of the conflict. ¬†So avoid listing what happens, e.g. ‘Steph goes to her brother, then her mother, and then the bank to borrow money. ¬†Lastly she goes to a drug dealer,’ and focus on the conflicts at the core of the story instead. ¬†Avoid using bespoke and confusing story language, distill the best bits, ignore the subplots and try to focus on the heart of the story.

A good pitch should introduce the main protagonist, give an indication of target audience and genre, lay out the core conflict and leave people wanting more, i.e. what is happening, to who, and why?  What is at stake?

Also perhaps, is it similar in style to any other books on the market?  Or can the writing style be likened to other authors (this can be particularly helpful if it is similar to another author you know the person likes, or perhaps already represents).  One technique can be to use XXX meets XXX, something which is also apparently quite popular when pitching scripts to Hollywood.

You have probably heard of the ‘elevator pitch’ concept, where you should be able to summarise your book in the short space of time it would take to ride in a lift between floors (in the unlikely event that the agent/publisher of your dreams just happens to get in the lift with you). ¬†This is similar to a paragraph synopsis, which I’ve also seen some writing competitions ask for alongside your writing sample.

To challenge yourself even more, it seems that Twitter pitches are becoming more common as well. ¬†These are organised events with a designated hashtag where you have to tweet your pitch in around 136 characters (to leave sufficient room for the appropriate hashtag), and where agents and publishers are able to dip in and out and favourite any tweets that grab their attention. ¬†This is in effect an invitation to submit directly to them and skip the dreaded slush pile. ¬†A recent example was organised by Emergents CIC Ltd and XPO North in Scotland, with the hashtag #xpo (followed by the appropriate letter for your genre of book). ¬†Or look out for #PitchMAS, which takes place each December and was set up by two US authors. ¬†It’s a long-shot, but if you don’t put yourself out there then you never know!

Now, back to the conference. ¬† I’m not holding myself up as an expert by any means, but thought you may be interested in seeing what I came up with during the breakout session. ¬†In general it seemed to do the job, with both Benjamin and our surprise guest, Imogen Cooper of the fantastic Golden Egg, giving me decent feedback and encouragement.

The Maze Runner meets Alex Rider in a contemporary upper MG thriller featuring a sinkhole, a sinister cult and a secret bunker of trapped children. ¬†When disillusioned 15-year-old Will sees a¬†sinkhole¬†appear in their living room and swallow his twin brother and sister, this is no simple freak of nature. ¬†Sunk! is a story of siblings, where one is being hunted above ground and the others are trapped below the earth. ¬†Where can you turn when you’ve been betrayed by those you trust the most?

I’ll leave things here for now but will lay out some valuable words of wisdom from one of our keynote speakers, Sarah Davies of the Greenhouse Literary Agency, in my next post.

SCBWI Conference & Harry Potter

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A couple of weekends ago I travelled to Winchester for my first ever Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Conference and I’m still buzzing!

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Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be reporting on the various workshops and keynote speakers (once I’ve calmed down enough to be able to decipher my notes) and hope to share some of the useful tips and words of wisdom from what was a jam-packed weekend.

One highlight for me though has to be the Mass Book Launch Party on the Saturday night, where we were invited to dress up as one of our favourite book characters.  My first thought was perhaps Mary Poppins, but then the logistics of transporting the outfit, her bag and of course the famous parrot umbrella on an over eight hour train journey ruled that out.

Being a (Scottish) Harry Potter fan, my next option was very obvious. ¬†Who else could I choose but Professor Minerva McGonagall? ¬†As it turned out, I was in very good company as Harry himself was there, along with a couple of Luna Lovegoods, Professor Snape, Bellatrix Lestrange, Dolores Umbridge and even Hedwig! To make things extra special, see if you can work out who Professor Dumbledore is…

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(Clue – he is someone very instrumental in bringing the world of Harry Potter to us all)

 

My first time at Dundee Literary Festival

Last week, on the 19th-23rd October 2016, my home town welcomed back the Dundee Literary Festival.  This year it was special for three reasons:

  1. It was the festival’s tenth year in operation;
  2. It was the first time I had managed to attend as it falls during the October school holidays and we are normally away;
  3. My friend, Sandra Ireland, was featured talking about her debut novel, ‘Beneath the Skin’, alongside Shelley Day and her debut, ‘The Confession of Stella Moon’.

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The Literary Dundee website says the following:

Literary Dundee is a cultural organisation, part of the University of Dundee, which celebrates readers and writers, and brings the best writers in the world to Dundee.

We support the literary community in Dundee through the Dundee Literary Festival (October), publications such as New Writing Dundee, projects such as the Dundee International Book Prize, and a series of year round events, including our Literary Lock-Ins, produced in partnership with bright sparks within the University and outside it.

What’s not to like?

I feel lucky to live in a place that is so supportive of literary pursuits and am embarrassed that it has taken so long to be able to attend some of the fantastic and varied talks and events over the period of the festival, some with fellow writers and some with my young children.

As well as Sandra’s event I also managed to attend a lecture on The Fall of the Tay Bridge with David Swinfen; a Memoir and the Art of Life Writing showcase with writers from the University of Dundee’s Continuing Life Writing course and their course tutor, Josie Jules Andrews; a talk by Scotland’s Booker Prize winner James Kelman about his new novel, ‘Dirt Road’; a fascinating discussion about Shirley Jackson (of ‘The Lottery’ fame) and Josephine Tey; and two events for younger people – a ‘Rock and Roald Dahl party’ with Matthew Fitt, who has translated some of Dahl’s books into Scots, and a ‘Create a Comic workshop with Jim Glen. ¬†My two eight year olds had a blast. ¬†Here’s a picture of Georgia with a certain recognisable DC Thomson character…

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I can’t sign off without mention of the Ex Libris Book Fair on the last day, which was a treasure trove for anyone with a love of the arts. ¬†As an added bonus I met a fellow SCBWI member, Elizabeth Wein, who I only previously knew through the Society’s Facebook page, and it was lovely, as always, to put a face to a name.

All in all it was a fantastic few days and a new highlight of my year.  I think I have a bit of reading to do judging by my literary haul!

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WHAT EDITORS WANT

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WHAT EDITORS WANT

A SOCIETY OF CHILDREN’S BOOK WRITERS AND ILLUSTRATORS (SCBWI) PANEL AT THE EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL BOOK FESTIVAL, 18 AUGUST 2016.

¬†Panel ¬† ‚Äď ¬† ¬† ¬†Barry Cunningham, Chicken House Publishing

                        Lauren Fortune, Scholastic

                        Sally Polson, Floris Books  

 Chaired By Louise Kelly and Sheila M Averbuch

I was lucky enough to attend an interesting and lively panel event at this year’s Edinburgh Book Festival in the esteemed company of an amazing panel of children’s/YA book industry heavyweights, so I thought I would share some of their comments and advice here.

Q. What does editing entail? 

Lauren          

How much work we do completely varies from author to author.  We are looking for something to identify with, or to be transported to a fantastic land, but the kernel is to find something you love and something similar to the feeling you had as a child when discovering your favourite books.

Barry             

Editors are far more engaged in the process now and think we look for a manuscript in all its possibilities and for how it works in its broader sense.¬† We could perhaps be seen as a ‚Äėmidwife for books‚Äô but ultimately represent our readers and must look at how it will work around the world and in the context of how our other books work.

With debut authors we can tell if something has been worked on so much that the voice has been lost and so it is a case of having to go back to the beginning to re-establish that unique thing.

Have you got a good villain/problem/disadvantage?  Children’s books tend to be about struggle. Maybe change the POV?

Q. What personality traits do you like in your authors and book characters?

Sally               

I enjoy working with writers that like receiving feedback and are quite open minded in receiving criticism and are then able to go off and find their own way.¬† For example, Ross McKenzie of ‚ÄėThe Nowhere Emporium‚Äô and ‚ÄėShadowsmith‚Äô is good to work with as he takes feedback well and writes excellent villains.

Characters ‚Äď are they memorable and will they stay with me?

A general comment would be that if we commission a book, the position in the schedule can determine how much/how quickly it is worked on. ¬†We tend to do one structural edit ‚Äď i.e. plot, beginning/end, characters, pacing‚Ķ

Lauren          

Monsters and villains are so important.¬† An example would be ‚ÄėRobyn Silver: The Midnight Chimes‚Äô by Paula Harrison.

Things that are not so good: are writers reluctant to make their characters suffer?  Would always encourage writers to put their characters in difficult situations.

Barry             

We have to see the main character change.¬† Linking back to the last question, ‚ÄėThe Girl of Ink and Stars‚Äô by Kiran Millwood Hargrave was originally written in 3rd person, but when Kiran changed it into 1st person it brought it to life.

Also, it’s important for characters to have some loss as well as victory.

Q. Would you encourage reading as ‚Äėwriters‚Äô as well as simply for enjoyment?

Lauren          

Reading is an enormous part of writing, you absorb a lot, sometimes without realising.  Dialogue, for example, is hugely important and difficult to do.

Sally               

Reading also helps writers to understand the market.

Q. What are the new trends in illustration?

Lauren

MG illustrated fiction (black and white line pictures) is having a moment.   It is good for more reluctant readers and we are very keen on this at Scholastic.  David Baddiel and Jim Field are a great example of when an author and illustrator work well together.

Sally   

Floris are keen on it too, but don’t have an author/illustrator in that field at present.

Barry             

Chicken House don’t do picture books any more as are not keen on them and find a lot don’t have much story and leave the art to do all the work.

However, we are now seeing more illustrated content even in older books, including YA, which sit somewhere between the more traditional books and graphic novels.

Q. What about age banding?  Are there any issues/shifts occurring?

Barry

Older MG is different in America where it is up to 14 years of age instead of 12 here, but a lot of books are being bought by a wide range of ages.  For overseas markets we sometimes get advice to bring content down or similar and YA is fracturing into older and younger YA.

Age banding is more for publishing categories though rather than reader categories.

Q. Is there anything that you would like to see?

Sally   

More diverse, ethnic, disabilities, plus a series for 6-8 year olds, e.g. ‚ÄėThorfinn the Nicest Viking‚Äô.¬† Are also looking for author/illustrators as don‚Äôt have a lot of these.

Lauren          

This can be influenced by the demands of the list.  Scholastic is strong on series fiction, so are more looking for standalone stories, and would also like to see a YA fantasy.  Anything page turning, cinematic, high concept.

For non-fiction we publish the ‚ÄėHorrible Histories‚Äô books and would look at others to tie around an historical event or similar.

Q. What do you look for in a book?

Barry 

Humour, superlative villain or dark force, great dialogue.

Would recommend that authors write complete character studies even though a lot doesn’t end up in the book as you will get to know the character better.

Q. What would be the main reason(s) to reject a ‚Äėnearly there‚Äô manuscript?

Sally

It could be to do with other factors, e.g. the existing list, or it doesn’t quite fit, or may need author to be in Scotland…

Lauren          

Can always work on plot, but is looking for an original voice and that bit of ‚Äėmagic‚Äô.¬† It has to stay with her.¬† Can pick up one page and recognise the author.

Barry 

Whether he thinks he can work with the author and share the same vision.  Mostly if don’t think they can work with the author to make it better.

Audience Questions

  • Should we use dialect or not?

Barry

Could use an element, but sustaining it for a whole book may be hard.

Lauren          

If it fits into a broader narrative would welcome it, but should always read dialogue aloud when writing it.

Sally               

Plus a child must be able to understand it.

 

  • What do you not want?¬†

Lauren          

Something you’ve seen before told in a fairly familiar voice.

Sally   

A misunderstanding of being unique, where people might think they need to be completely wacky and all over the place.

Barry

Would be scared of multi volume fantasy where the synopsis is longer than the first book.

Lauren          

‚ÄúI‚Äôd quite like that!‚ÄĚ

 

  • Should writers look at current themes?

Barry

There’s no point as publishers and agents tend to be inundated with these and they would be likely to be over too soon by the time any book was ready for publication.

Lauren          

Perhaps look at themes but then strip out the actual theme and see what’s left that works and has the broad appeal.

 

  • Would you advise authors to use freelance editorial services?

Sally               

Not sure you can tell which manuscripts have or haven’t used one.

Lauren          

If we see something that has come from Golden Egg then ears immediately prick up.

*****

So there you have it!  I found the event to be very useful and hope my notes are of some interest to you too.