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.



Things I learned between drafts three and four

As projects go, novel the first has been a complete disaster: no project management, no objectives, no targets, no deadlines. As a learning experience, it’s been great. Novels are sizeable undertakings and I’m trying to learn from my flouncing approach to this first one so that the second one will be easier. Working on the fourth, and hopefully pre-submission draft, I feel I can write down some of the lessons this review has driven home. Here are a few things I’ve learnt, in no particular order.

  • Do the research. Not all of the research has to be done before or during the first, very sketchy and quite bad draft, but it has to be done at some point.
  • Plan. I’m a bit of a seat of my pants writer but if I have more of a plan, the process becomes more linear. There are many different levels of planning. A story outline can be broken down in to chapter outlines can be broken down into scene outlines. Each level brings you closer to the written story.
  • Listen very carefully to what readers say. My first reader made a couple of comments that surprised me and that I couldn’t see. Instead of taking a fresh look and maybe addressing them, I put them down to personal quirks. My second reader made the same points. Ouch. If I’d listened properly, I would have used both my first and second readers’ time better.
  • Believe your brain. My gut speaks to me. It says things like “aaaaa, it’s all shit!”. It’s not a voice I should listen to. My brain speaks to me too. It says things like “you really need to think this through…” or “why is character A doing that?”. Sometimes I ignore my brain – it is a quiet and reasonable, not a shouting idiot like my gut. That is always a mistake. My brain says useful things. If I’m unsure how something works, or what has happened at a particular point in time, my characters will be unsure too which means that the reader has no idea. Experience has, finally, taught me that if I’m not sure something works, it probably doesn’t.
  • Use tools. I wrote character studies for the sequel that I’ve used for this project. It’s useful to get a reminder of what people look like, what they wear, what they like and how they behave. I’m also drawing detailed interiors for some of the main locations and outfit studies to remind me what characters wear. The novel is set over a month and I’ve found a calendar sheet with notes on what happens every day, including days just before and after the story, increadibly useful for reminding me about core events in the story. It also helps me work out when things should happen and visualise the rhythm of the action. Picking up the sequel again would be very difficult if it wasn’t for the fact that I have a plot spreadsheet, a map of Edinburgh with important sites marked and a list of names, dates and characteristics of some of the minor characters, as well as a couple of location studies I made when I first plotted the thing.

To read: a quick look at my book stack, November 2015

In the summer, a friend challenged me to take a photo of 10 books in my to read pile and post it on Facebook. I took the photo but I didn’t post it. I’ve taken another couple of photos since then and am finding it it peculiarly interesting to chart the movement (or not) of books through the stack. For my own amusement, I’m going to post them here.

Stack of books to read, 4 November 2015.
Stack of books to read, 4 November 2015.

Draft three: one more to go, and then…

I set myself a goal, to finish the third draft of project one, part one before the end of October. Yesterday, I reached that goal. So, what’s next? Third draft must mean it’s done, right?

Not quite.

Now I need someone (not me or my partner) to read the thing with a critical eye and tell me what’s still wrong with it. The plan is then to make changes, make it somewhat solid and then to start sending it out at the beginning of next year.

Meanwhile, November is almost here and I intend to spend most of the month working on finishing the first draft of project two. And find places to send the short stories I wrote this summer. Because, what good is a story sitting in a drawer?

Shameless plug: FREAK Circus magazine and showcase

Last week I had a cold and, disappointingly, was too ill to go to the launch of FREAK Circus, the new Edinburgh-based literary magazine. Matching theme to name, the first issue presents at all kinds of prose and poetry freakishness. My contribution, Mouth, is about a young woman who has odd growths on her side. Some things you can get used to, some you can’t. (If you want to read Mouth, buy FREAK Circus. Links to paper and Kindle copies below.)

If you want to find out more about the magazine, why not attend the free FREAK Circus show case at the Bongo Club on November 6th, 19:00? I’m looking forward to it and see it as a launch party for those of us who missed the launch party.