I write about Bellefleur for 100 Bookpeeps

Blythe Robertson started 100 Book Peeps as a way to raise money for his part of Bookfellas, a project that hopes to get men and boys reading for pleasure.

Bookpeep’s aim is to get 100 people to write something about their favourite book and raise money. It makes for very interesting reading: all kinds of books are in the list. My choice was Bellefleur by Joyce Carol Oats which I first read as a teenager. I’ve still not read anything quite like it. Read the Book Peeps post.

My tech is dying: a moan with a point

Last year, I experimented with writing using pen and paper, hoping that the slower speed would result in better writing and that the transcription stage would introduce a valuable editing. It didn’t: I transcribe first, edit later, making only slight changes to the hand-written text. So I went back to writing using keyboards. All was good. I finished a novel and settled in to edit another one.

Then my tech started dying.

Working on the bus: the things we do to write

As I write this, I’m on the bus. It’s a one-hour bus ride to the place I’m working. Cutting two hours off my daily allotment of free time removes a lot of options from my life and it puts stress on the weekend, turning it into my main writing time. The thing is, there are other things to do on the weekend, like sleep, spend time with my partner, run errands.

I’m not a morning person so getting up early to write isn’t an option. Staying up late is, but then I’d probably oversleep and miss the bus. There is only one bus. (Luckily, not a metaphor.)

I’ve been trying to use the time. First, to edit. It’s not the easiest thing in the world (the drivers are out to kill us, the tablet keyboard is tiny and I press mostly the wrong keys) but with practice I think it will become easier. Saying that, it took me six journeys to do what I thought would be a two-hour edit.

Next, I tried writing. First version writing: chuck it all in and see what comes out. At the moment, putting words in seems easier than refining them. That worked quite well and I now have a small handful of short stories to edit.

Next week, I’m editing again. This time, I’m not editing directly. Instead, I’ll read one or two chapters a day, mark them up and make the changes when I get home (or at the weekend if they are too extensive). I’m hoping to get through the first edit of one of my resting projects this way. It’s been waiting for my attention for a few months and with Anna I in fresh memory, now I a good time to work on it again.

If this approach works, I’ll have a proper first draft of Anna II in six weeks. If it doesn’t, it’ll take a lot longer. I’m curious to find out which it will be.


A Gift of Life and Death accepted by Mad Scientist Journal

Next year A Gift of Life and Death will appear in Mad Scientist Journal. The main character, Mira, is a character from a longer project I’m working on (the same one that Makiruku appears in). A story with her has sat in my digital drawer for a while. It never really worked until I had the idea, prompted by a call for submissions by Mad Scientist Journal, to re-write it in the first person.

I’m rather pleased to see Mira, a secondary character in the novel, take centre stage to tell us, in her own words, what happened last night and why she’s changing the bedtime ritual she’s followed for years.

This was, incidentally, the fist project that I edited on the bus. So what? It turns out that editing on the bus (at least on First buses) is much more difficult than producing new material. More on that next week.

Makiruku’s First Courtship accepted for New Writing Scotland 34

New Writing Scotland has a special place in my heart because it showcases current Scottish writing, from newbies like me to well-established writers. I also like it because it was the first print market to buy one of my stories. So, a couple of weeks ago, I was pleased to see a letter from them: they’ve accepted my short story Makiruku’s First Courtship for New Writing Scotland 34.

Makiruku is a minor character from a longer work I’m working on. This story was a way for me to explore his origin story. I’m rather fond of the guy, self-obsessed grump that he is.

The anthology will be released later in the year. Details to follow.

Finish one, start another

So I finished a novel: it took ages. Mountains rose and were worn down to pebbles.

Before I had finished project 1 properly, I started project 2, the sequel to project 1. That one I planned – unlike the first – so when I came back to it after a hiatus of 12+ months, having diverted myself with the completely unrelated joys of project 3, I had chapter notes and plot progressions that told me where I was going. That’s what we call a good thing: I don’t remember details like plot, characters and the point of it all between novel-writing sessions.

Over the last couple of months, ever since completing project 1, I’ve been working hard on the sequel. Three days ago, I reached a crucial milestone: I completed the toilet-paper draft. In my process, that’s the draft before the first draft: something that shows the bones of the story, and has a whole bunch of colour and cheerful exchanges but usually in the wrong places. The toilet-paper draft is plump with enthusiasm but thin on anything else, including grammar. It’s too rough to share.

Now, it needs to rest.

You write, you edit, you submit, you file the rejection

It was pretty much what I thought would happen: my first full novel submission was rejected.

In one way it was worse than I had expected. Temporarily convinced of my own genius (if I wasn’t, just for a moment, I wouldn’t send anything, ever) I hoped, crossing fingers and toes, that they’d want to read the whole thing. They didn’t.

You write, you edit, then you submit

I did it: I finished novel #1. Then I sent a sample of it to a publisher. (Thank you Gollancz for opening your slush pile to direct submissions!) What happens next?

The most likely outcome is this: nothing.

A better outcome would be a request for the complete manuscript. Then, I’ll dance and dance and dance. Even if that momentous email is followed by silence.

Next on the ladder of success is a considerate email that suggests what I can do to improve the novel, and why they’re not taking it. Again, dancing would follow.

The absolute best outcome, of course, is that they like it and want to do something with it. My chances are slim.

Can you imagine the slush pile they’ll have after opening the door to direct submissions for three weeks? From reading the comments on the blog, I know people from all over the world have sent in writing samples. We’re all crossing our fingers that our story is the one to get through, the one that catches someone’s attention, that doesn’t annoy or bore a tired editor who is wading through sackfuls of submissions as well as doing their day-job.

While I’m waiting to see if anything happens with my submission, I’m compiling a list of UK SFF literary agents. As excited as I am by this, my first submission to a publisher, and as much as I believe in my work, I know that the chances of anything happening this time are extremely low.  I need to plan for the next step.

My mother condensed her delights, concerns and recent bookshelf-tidying experiences into a dream that ended with a review of my book: ‘We no longer need bookshelves. We each only need two books: the Quran and Caroline von Schmalensee’s phenomenal new novel’.* The best review I’ll ever get comes from my mother’s subconscious. It’s rather wonderful, and awe-inspiring, to realise how much the people around you invest in your dreams. Thanks, mum. I love you too.


* I dreamt that I had misspelled the publisher’s name in two different ways in the cover letter.

It’s happening: I’m submitting

At the befinning of January, Gollanzc announced that they were open to direct submissions to un-represented writers. They wanted manuscripts for finished novels over 80K in length. To submitt, all we have to do is send in the 50 first pages, a synopsis and a cover letter, post-stamped by the 22nd.

I have a near-complete 100K crime/fantasy novel. It could be complete in the next ten days.

I can do this.