On the 6th of March, the Italian publication of 2020’s novel, Saving Lucia. Title and cover reveal in the new year, plus details of the April Italian tour, beginning in Milan. This is the UK edition, with Bluemoose books. Still time to read. Then 8tto Edizione
Then on 31st March, my memoir comes out. Trauma, survival and the imagination, kid up, explored over twelve essays on the natural world. Reflex Press.
On the 27th of September, my new novel, The Zebra and Lord Jones, is out with Renard Press as UK and Commonwealth (excluding Canada) edition. Plenty of news to come in the new year and this is currently on US submission.
Then, on the 25th of October, my first book on writing, The Alchemy is out – also awaiting cover. This is very specifically about gentle productivity and writing your book in less than ideal circumstances. This book was recently acquired, like The Zebra and Lord Jones, by Renard Press.
Through the year, you have various pieces of work from me – such as my Mslexia column!
On January 10th, join me here!
Also, in the new year, if you fancy joining me – and the fab team – come and work on your novel for a year; applications open in early 2023 and the new course starts in March. Image below is for the one I am currently teaching on.
On 1st of January, the Curae Prize opens for first submissions. This is a new literary award I have set up, with brilliant support from people across the publishing industry, for writer and would-be writer-carers.
A writing prize – just for writers who are also carers
It is my dream that I go on to build out from this – educational platforms and opportunities for young carers – and, ideally, for carers around the world. We have to see how well this first year goes first!
As to my hopes and dreams? I truly think, eight books published in seven years – by the end of 2023 and one in translation, plus two major columns and over forty features – well…I truly think that if I were going to be a star from my writing and have a big profile, I would have done it with this ouput. I was very sad about this, but then I reminded myself that, in order, I am teacher, reader, writer.
And before all of that, mum.
Things looked very different! I felt much more optimistic and began seeing possibilities.
There are additional needs within my family and it has become clearer to me that focus needs to adjust and I will need to be hands on and flexible, perhaps permanently. We have had no additional support and have been through significant trauma over a long period owing to this. To be frank, I have to plan and to anticipate and there are too many fluid, unpredictable bits in publishing for someone who has additional demands plus a day job – and I also manage chronic illness. I am sure you get the picture. So I am working sideways, instead. It took me months to recover from a novel being comprehensively ghosted by editors. I had not understood that ghosting – a practice of which I disapprove – went on beyond the query stage. Seeing this in action has made me reappraise my approach, partly because I do not have the bandwidth for it. I have so many ideas; so many books I want to write, but the issue is not the writing, but where I meet industry. Thus, while I have a number of books out in 2023, my focus going forward and beyond is teaching and the Curae. With the exception of sending a book of essays out on query in mid February! And unless I get a nice US deal, or someone wants to make a film – or anything which is a big splash in that way. I will be talking about moving sideways and the portfolio concept; being nimble and flexible. I aim to connect it both to The Alchemy and to the Curae. I aim to put in place for others what I needed.
Think of all your creative endeavours as ONE BIG PROJECT.
In other words, do not pin your hopes on one book. Actually, do not pin all your hopes on the query, the acquisition of an agent or an indie publisher sans agent who will stick with you; do not pin all your hopes on the success of said book, a linear and clearly burgeoning career and further books following on from that and, PLEASE, do not pin your self-worth of any of the things I just described OR sit around thinking that if you don’t have recognition it isn’t worth it; you’re no good. (I have done all of these things until someone gave me the advice and then I tweaked my thought and began to feel better.)
Now, it may be that you are lucky enough to find artistic and commercial success quickly, to find and develop a niche for yourself and to be able to form/be given a team around you with which you can nurture your talent. I KNOW that a good number of writers are in this position, but I would bet that the vast majority of writers are not.
My seventh and eighth books have just been placed. Well, seven years ago I hadn’t started a book, so I know I have the ability to be prolific. BUT MY GOD. There have been some wonderful adventures in that time and I have made some brilliant friends and discovered many wonderful things to read, but until I tweaked my thought I would feel really wounded by two episodes of bad treatment that seemed to come from nowhere, the exasperation of waiting and ghosting, of publishers not wanting a second book from me (see waiting again) and of books that weren’t good enough to take forward. I have yet to have a breakthrough book in that I have not been particularly visible yet in not having been with a major publisher. And yet and yet.
The one big project. If you think of it as a series of creative endeavours, things begin to look different. Two books have led on to two years’ teaching, university teaching and workshops. I have pitched and written features and columns for national and industry press and kept a focus on mental health and wellbeing; as a result of that focus, I have been asked to take on further columns and workshops and to speak to university students about imaginative routes to publication and lots more. Because I have written all of my books – and particularly in the past three years – managing additional needs for my family and then my son was very ill for three years, and because I was teaching all that time, I have been asked to speak to MA students on time and on productivity; I have written a new book on gentle productivity and just set up a literary prize for carers. Do you see how all these things are connected, and that I might argue I can likely do them better because I wrote in hardcore circumstances and have not had a smooth path? Like I said, no breakout book, publishers not wanting further work and, at one point, my agent removing rights from a publisher. Rocky!
So, if you are feeling blue, look at the possibilities of what you might do to make YOUR one big creative project. Writing in other forms and genres? Offering copywriting and editing, mentoring, gradually accruing some teaching, doing an online discussion group, making an online themed retreat – just for starters! Don’t make it only about one book or about your books. When you shift your thought and begin to hustle and then to jostle sideways, things begin to look very different.
It may be that you saw a recent slew of articles in the industry press on burnout in the publishing industry. I then did my best to dovetail with pieces in The Bookseller on this – you can read what I had to say here:
First let us define burnout. The World Health Organisation, which classified it in 2019, conceptualises the syndrome as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It has three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy. When it comes to authors and this definition, it’s important to remember that our workplace is often our home, and the site of a multi-strand freelance career, which can make things harder, rather than easier; I personally have experienced all these feelings over the past three years while launching two books in lockdown, being unwell, home-schooling, teaching online, and being a carer. Writing can make for quite an isolating as well as an overwhelming life, especially in times of strife.
So there is a definition.
Then, I was able to suggest some things we might do to support ourselves, but in a short piece I could not offer much detail. So that’s what I want to do now. If you are feeling rotten, exhausted, what might you do?
First line of defence – and I am not a medical or mental health professional, but these are things I know: if you feel you are in crisis and you are frightened, remember that The Samaritans are there twenty four hours and here is a link. There are ways to access help beyond calling and these are outlined here: https://www.samaritans.org You may be aware of the text line SHOUT but here: https://giveusashout.org/ – this is twenty four hour text support. I also offer you this next page, because there are further resources and it also lists urgent mental health care routes in your area: https://www.nhs.uk/nhs-services/mental-health-services/where-to-get-urgent-help-for-mental-health/ Promise me you will not ever be embarrassed about being scared, feeling vulnerable or needing help? Human beings get ill; they have tipping points. Here are some starting points if things have got very bad and you don’t know what to do. Emotions are massive unwieldy things for a start, no-one is invulnerable and it is estimated that, at any one time, one in four people in the UK is coping with a mental health problem. It may be that you are overwhelmed and exhausted and what you need are rest and pals and respite; or it could be that this needs input. I think it’s important to say that it need not be your call: I have been in and out of mental health care for decades and this is something I would say. On two occasions I got extremely ill and because I had things to do, kids to look after, classes to teach, I did not ask for help soon enough: it resulted in people needing to advocate for me because I fell apart and could not verbalise what was going on. For me, that’s bad! So yes: promise me that you will take action and not feel embarrassed, that someone else’s need is greater or that you ought to toughen up or you’re probably okay really. Bravery is actually asking for help. Now, in more specific terms, that is, in terms of being an author, what might you do? I am going to have to approach this one rather broadly, because being an author may mean that you are first querying work, that you are more established, or that you have stalled. That’s a lot of situations. Some things that I have done, because of feeling awful, have included everything on this bullet list…
Evolve a group of writers at similar stages. Your tribe. It can be online: put the call out on twitter and do not be shy. You could have a writing support group through twitter DMs or WhatsApp, say, considering which option feels best. When people are very down or overwhelmed, the tap tap and pressure to keep up in an online group can be too much, so you could all set some parameters for what is helpful.
Compare and despair. Look: I regularly see people with the opportunities and exposure with one book and after one book (and no other writing) that I have yet to access after many articles, pieces in the national press, a column in the industry press and seven books either published or coming to press. Is it fair? Well no, you could say not, but it’s common, just as it’s common in life. If you are expecting parity of this sort, you’ve come to the wrong industry! Possibly the wrong planet! So you can allow resentment to curdle here or you can smile (I KNOW it is hard) and understand that everyone has a different route in writing and publishing. You do not know what will happen further down the line after a magnificent debut with full voltage exposure, just as you do not really know what else is going on in that person’s life. Be generous and also be kind to yourself. As I said, compare and despair. Plough your own furrow here. If you reiterate to yourself how unfair it is, you will suffer creatively and become – which I know, because it happened to me – less buoyant and more vulnerable. It is hard, but focus on you.
Now, people may write, oh take a break. But that is predicated on privilege and, frequently, ableism, and the assumption that we can all get out for a run, or a weekend away. I have tried to rethink this, so it is the case of finding time and support in your mind supported by, as far as possible, being in and honouring your body as best you can (which you are also not going to beat yourself up about right?) How might you repeat helpful things to yourself, praise yourself? How might you develop that quality of rest? Think about that and do it. Write it down if need be. Because of the serious challenges my family and I have had to face over the past few years, I have had to recalibrate and rethink the notion of success. So, for example, while other families were putting their amazing holiday pictures on socials, I was focusing on the maxim, ‘Everybody fed, nobody dead’ at Bookworm Towers. Do the same with your writing. It takes courage to put your creative work out there, for example: never stop reminding yourself of that. As treats, be very kind to yourself in your head. If I do this, it is like a tiny holiday and it makes me feel less tired. It all helps.
It is trite as hell, but live in the moment as much as you can to minimise panic and overwhelm. You can never BE in the future, up ahead, and the past is a different country: it was and there’s nothing you can do about it now. Focus on right now: what you can do, in this moment, to make yourself feel better. Because I have had a very ill offspring, I have had to do that. I didn’t at first, but exhaustion claimed me. Things are scarier when you are always anticipating and, in my experience, getting too stuck in anticipation leads to catastrophising. Feel free to disagree.
Try using the Kaizen method – google it but there are a number of books (around £2-3 second-hand; I just checked) – where you think about making very small positive changes – VERY small – to change your attitude or practice. That could be a simple to-do list you set down for writing goals; a small piece of industry research. The point is small. It’s all you need to keep moving.
If you are burning out or think you have burned out because of others’ unkindness in the industry – cutting to the chase here, in seven years I have encountered a handful of shockers – take it to your tribe (point 2, above) and don’t be shy about joining and telling a union. In my case Society of Authors – such as here https://societyofauthors.org/advice There is a range of guides, but you can also call and write to them about a specific matter. Something that caused me a great deal of upset led me to ask for help and they replied in considerable detail to everything and also outlined how a professional complaint might be made. My point here is two-fold: don’t suffer alone and, also reclaim some power – which brings me to the next point…
Rejection happens at all stages, whether you are first querying or a few books in. Some have an easier road of it than others but, as in point 3, compare and despair. So know that this is normal and natural. It is actually ghosting and being ignored – from first queries to full books sent to commissioning editors by your agent – which floors me. I got extremely low about this. Talk about it, but look at what you can do – because this is disappointing and feels disempowering, yes? (And I should say, cope with rejection by always being working on something else, at however tentative a stage.) What I have done now in response to the ghosting is to set deadlines in my mind and then move on. In some cases. I have begun, very politely, to ask for deadlines when I have queried independently. For agency work, I’ve asked that we do the same. It has been a way of reclaiming some power.
Don’t see patterns where there are none. It is very easy to assume that because it has been tough, it will always be tough; even to connect other areas of your life where you have screwed up and connect that to feeling terrible as an author. But life is not a place where everything happens for a reason; it is full of happenstance and changes, small and radical, and tomorrow can be different from today. That is easy to forget, isn’t it? I believe that human beings mess most things up and I am absolutely sure that most creative projects fail – because creative endeavour is full of risk. I would say, start each day – each moment – afresh and then it is easier to spot opportunities; to be as positive as you can be. This is something I have been practising in order to feel lighter.
Reading. I am a reader before I am a writer. I think of reading as my saviour, so if you are burned out, increase or vary your reading and into your life will come new forms of beauty, new worlds and new ideas. And do you know, I talk a lot about gentle productivity, so I want to emphasise that it is in play here: you are also working – writing – when you are reading, even though you don’t notice it. Nourishing your imagination, your core; relaxing into it and finding a myriad ways of looking at the world.
With much love and remember that you are not alone,
I was wondering if I had enough to say here! That is, I’ve tweeted quite a bit of it, in personal terms there is only so much I can say without breaching confidences and in writing about the difficulties of the publishing year that are particular to my work, I would rather move on positively as there so many blessings! Some things were connected with timing; others with having little control over situations. But chin up, I thought! I will keep this short and do write and share your thoughts, if you like?
I was mildly ill with cold-like symptoms in early March, as were my husband and one of my three kids. At this point my eldest had been seriously unwell, so we were navigating difficult times before Covid and so marched on. I will come back to that! With advice – a lot of it from the brilliant people you meet on twitter – and a great community, we could cope. When the pandemic began, I had all three at home and then was responsible for home learning with the youngest and access to ongoing support we really needed with eldest ebbed away. I had a book out imminently, Saving Lucia. The launch was cancelled and there were no other events, barring my involvement in the fantastic Lockdown festival and a turn for SL on some online events. I was devastated, but decided it was best kept in context because of what folk were going through, though I still had to acknowledge that it mattered to me because I had waited two and half years for publication from acceptance. It helped so very much to connect with readers, read extracts from the book and think about my new book having a long life – beyond this time. I found someone to have mentoring chats with and that really helped. Also, to write short pieces related to my books for various journals and for my blog. Keeping it moving and lively as much as I was able. BECAUSE the other thing that happened was that I was not well and I have not been for about 9 months now. Hello Long Covid. You remember I mentioned the cold-like symptoms in early March? AArgh. Chest pain, vertigo, shortness of breath and hello fatigue like I had never experienced it.
Once Saving Lucia was out, I decided what I needed to do was focus on the book under construction. I had seen my lovely agent in February, shortly before she went on maternity, and had great edits and notes. I do believe you should always be working on something, because there are a lot of waiting, planning and, I think, variables in writing and publishing. Between April and August, I rewrote my novel and began plotting another one, The Cabinet of Curiosities. Just as I finished this run of The Zebra and Lord Jones, I won the publishing and writing section of Creative Bath, which was great because it was a broad acknowledgement of what I am trying to do with my volunteer and community work alongside my writing. Then, in September, Famished was out. Again, I found it wonderful to focus on engagement with readers, to offer readings of the book and to work diligently on social media. We had a lovely launch event and then – very 2020 – Instagram went down shortly after it started. Very important to laugh, my bravehearts!
When all is said and done, I am immensely proud to have been part of two little teams and to have met so many brilliant people. Also, I think, to have been building new and enduring friendships because of the books, because of a shared love of reading and, frankly, because I have had to ask for help in navigating what is still a new world to me alongside work, domestic stress, exhaustion and illness. I am immensely proud that we got two books out this year, that I rewrote another one and, frankly, that I coped as well as I did when a further novel and volume of short stories were turned down this year and I was told rights and translation were not shifting. This happens; it’s natural. But it’s hard! But we made a plan and hopefully it will come to fruition.
So, The Zebra and Lord Jones (novel) rewritten, I began a new novel, The Cabinet of Curiosities and made some – for me! – major pitches for features. I also tentatively began plans for a non-fiction book I am passionate about doing. Where are we as we stand? I have to be vague about a lot of this as you can imagine, so I will say that I am working on this pitch, making approaches to people, keeping in touch with my agent and that there is a lot of work on desk. Recently, I was longlisted for the new Barbellion prize – you can read about the prize here – https://www.thebarbellionprize.com/ for Saving Lucia and, in four books and lots of entries for prizes, it is my first longlisting and I am delighted.
During this year, I have also been fortunate both to work on several manuscripts with writers, to mentor and, also, to receive some mentoring myself from kind, brilliant and inspiring people whom I will not embarrass here. And for 2021, well…as I said, there is a lot on the desk and I know that we will be clarifying, planning and strategising. As I am still not better and because I still have complexities within my home life – and quite possibly I will have 2/3 not going back to school and college (the other is on a rather uneventful gap year before studying Psychology at university) – I need to pace. I have made some PhD applications – that is, a PhD by Publication to be worked on with three of my own books – but it will not be the end of the world if it does not happen; far from it. In a terrible year, there is, if I may say, already so much that I am thankful for.
My new book, Saving Lucia, is out on 30th of April with Bluemoose books. My editor there has been Lin Webb and I have so enjoyed working with her. Look what we made, as part of a team at Bluemoose.
It occurred to me it would be fun to interview Lin, reflecting on the editing process for me, but also because I knew she would be full of advice and ideas and we thought these things might be really useful for a new writer – or perhaps any writer. I have asked her both general and specific questions, including those to highlight the particular challenges we faced on my own book. Finally, I wanted to draw attention to the role of an editor on a book. They are vital and you can learn so much. There is a degree of self-editing you do when preparing your manuscript for submission – and I hope you may find tips for this stage if that is where you are now – but when that book is accepted it is the skill of the editor which brings it to press: they see things that, perhaps, you do not and, with a firm hand if necessary, your book has a chance to be polished; to shine. It is vital, therefore, that you work with and not against them. I have had a few rocky writing and publishing experiences to date and I am sure most people do, but working with Lin has restored a sense of fun and self-belief, too: I will always be grateful to her. You will see, also, that Lin shows you how she is part of a team, for example referring to going back to Kevin and Hetha at Bluemoose and particularly Hetha (another very experienced editor as well as co-director of the press) on the thorny issue of punctuation in this particular book. Now that brought us to some tremulous then rather wonderful changes…read on.
TEN QUESTIONS WITH LIN WEBB, SENIOR EDITOR AT BLUEMOOSE, DRUMMER, WOODWORKER, AND ALL-ROUND GOOD EGG.
What do you enjoy most about editing?
I enjoy the whole process: familiarising myself with the text, getting onto the writer’s wavelength, and working with them to shape, smooth and polish their manuscript. Seeing the book go out into the world buffed up to a shine is deeply satisfying.
Building a rapport with ‘my’ authors is a bonus which enhances the editing process and has led to some lasting friendships. I’m very fortunate in working for a small, independent publisher that adopts writers into the Bluemoose ‘family’. The editor/writer relationship can be very different, depending on the context. Some editors make only two or three passes through the manuscript; I‘ll go through it dozens of times, getting to know the work as well as the writer does. The big publishing houses employ different editors for each level of editing, whereas I’m likely to see the work through from start to finish, albeit with back-up from other editors if needed and fresh eyes at the proof-reading stage. I believe that this makes for a better experience for the author, as well as a satisfying one for me.
Could you describe any particular challenges for you as an editor? That is, in general terms, what are the trickiest things about editing a book?
The aim of editing is to make the book the best possible version of itself (while preserving the author’s voice, of course), but some authors think that their book is already the best it can be and may be resistant to cutting or changing any of their carefully-chosen words. If I say that a sentence is unclear or over-complex and the writer retorts, ‘That’s just your opinion’ or ‘Nobody else has complained’, I know it’s going to be an uphill struggle at first. Eventually, one hopes, they will accept that I’m working on behalf of their readers, as well as with the writer and for the publisher, and become more receptive to suggestions for improvement.
As an editor of some years’ experience, might you comment on pitfalls for authors – perhaps about structure of narrative? I understand that there is a degree of subjectivity here!
One of the most common pitfalls is cramming in too much information too soon: an interesting opening is followed by a surfeit of explanation and a history lesson. The writer needs to know all the back-story, but readers need a lot less detail, and the essential elements should be dished out in small helpings.
Do you have any pet hates? Appalling things that your authors do. For example, sloppy speech punctuation, non-English words placed in italics, strange crimes against apostrophes – you name it!
I do wish that writers would check their default language setting in Word and change it, if necessary, from US to UK English before they start on their manuscript. I can change the submitted work to UK English, but I have to spend time checking for US spellings and punctuation differences. My other pet peeve is finding that writers have moved to a new page for a new chapter by pressing Enter repeatedly. (Anna’s note: WHO WOULD DO SUCH A THING?) This means that any changes to the text will move the start of the chapter, so I have to go through and delete the multiple returns and insert page breaks instead. If writers know how to insert page breaks, it saves my time for more important editor-y matters.
Other than these time-sinks, I don’t have a problem with people’s peculiarities of punctuation, spelling or grammar – although I’m sometimes surprised by new strange crimes against apostrophes.
Any advice for writers in terms of looking back critically at your own manuscript? Tips and things to watch out for?
Reading your work aloud is invaluable, as Nicola Morgan explains in Write to be Published (which I highly recommend). As well as listening for errors and repetitions, she says: ‘I imagine that my audience consists of a group of potential readers who would far rather be doing something else. My job is to hold them there. So, I’m honing my prose to ensure that each sentence, phrase and word works hard. If it doesn’t, it goes.’
Reading aloud is also the best way of checking that your dialogue sounds natural and that the speech tags aren’t obtrusive. There’s no need for variations like ‘he gruffed’. Some writers worry about using ‘said’ too often, but readers barely notice it. A further benefit of reading aloud is to hear the rhythm of the phrasing, plus the variations in sentence length and construction. Or the lack of rhythm and variations.
Beware of over-writing! It gets in the way of the story and covers the beauty of it with frilly bits. Over-descriptive passages can give an inflated idea of the significance of a place or person in the story; over-written description can also tempt the reader to skip past it. Look very closely at paragraphs you’re particularly pleased with and ask yourself if they could be improved by judicious pruning. Have you overdone the adjectives or the adverbs?
Might you tell us about highlights of your editing career – other than the fun we have had together and the fact that SL* is your favourite Bluemoose title to date? (*Joking.)
The highlights depend on when you ask me, since it’s always the most recent project. Every writer is different, every book is different, and with each one I learn something new; each one feels like the best so far. So yes, at the moment you and Saving Lucia are my favourites…
May I ask you about my own book, Saving Lucia, and a little specific insight here? What were the challenges you and I faced as we worked on this book, would you say?
It was important to ensure that the book is accessible to readers who, like me, aren’t familiar with the work of Joyce and/or Beckett, without losing the essence of it, leaving the influences visible to those in the know.
We had to rein in your fondness for obscure words, didn’t we? I think it’s ok to use unusual words as long as they don’t bring the reader to a halt, and if the context permits readers to bypass the unfamiliar words and look them up later. Repetition is not recommended, though. Another challenge was that there were so many passages in foreign languages that it looked rather like showing off. We had to cut those back.
Still on Saving Lucia, what about decisions we made on the book – for example, things we were hesitant about but pleased with later?
We ran into problems with nested single and double quotation marks when, for example, Lucia was reporting Violet’s telling of Bertha’s story, which included quotations. It looked messy, especially where closing speech marks were clustered. I asked Hetha’s advice and she suggested cutting out some of the quotation marks. I’ve never been in favour of unconventional punctuation, and it went against the grain for you, too, but we agreed to give it a try. Cutting away one level of speech marks made the pages a lot cleaner and, while I was going through the proof and finding strays that I’d missed, I started to wonder if we could get away with removing them all. Greatly daring, I marked up all the remaining quotation marks for deletion and tweaked the text slightly where necessary. When the typesetter sent the fresh proofs back, I was stunned at how much better it all flowed and I emailed it to you with a warning to take off your English teacher hat. Your unexpectedly enthusiastic response was a great relief, I must admit. I don’t think either of us expected the punctuation change to improve the book so much. Hetha and Kevin are also pleased with the finished result.
What next for Lin?
I’m editing Heidi James’s new book, The Sound Mirror, which will be out later this year.
And finally, tell us about books you like to read?
I like humour: I have lots of books by Patrick Campbell, Alan Coren, Bill Bryson, Carl Hiaasen and Terry Pratchett; only one by Brian Bilston, as yet. I hadn’t realised it before, but my fiction bookshelves are full of strong female characters, from Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise collection andAlexander McCall Smith’s Number 1 Detective Agency series, via Sue Grafton’s ‘Alphabet’ books, Anne Cleeves’ Vera Stanhope and the Kathy Reichs ‘Bones’ novels, to all of Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak books. I’m also a fan of Val McDermid and of Joanne Harris, whose short stories I’m currently reading, and I should have mentioned Dorothy Parker earlier.
Recent non-fiction purchases include Dreyer’s English for dipping into, and Tom Cox’s The Good, The Bad and The Furry because it’s cats.
Thank you Lin. It has been a tremendous thing. xxx
I am off social media until November or so as I am working on edits for my next book (novel, Saving Lucia, which is out in April) and doing a rewrite – and expansion – of another book. Head is down because I’m balancing this with teaching and a brood of offspring and…well, you know. Anyway, if you reply to me on twitter or FB, I won’t see it, but I hope you find these thoughts encouraging or interesting. They are not only about me, but about what I have learned and seen, since I started writing in 2014.
Don’t ever assume that writing is not for you. There are many reasons why you might. In my case, I thought, ‘Oh I’ve left it too late’ and other lame things related, in my case, to self esteem, which has, I will tell you frankly (and as I have written about elsewhere), been radically affected by a tricky background and a daily management of sometimes scary mental health stuff. And I am not going to sugar coat issues of structural inequality; it’s there – let’s look for ways to overcome it as we support each other. Writing, if you want to do it and can make a good shot at it, IS FOR YOU.
Related to this, I bet pretty much everyone feels like an outsider or has that old chestnut, imposter syndrome. I am constantly sure I am about to make a massive fool of myself, but if I do, I do it with a full heart. Make sense? Would you rather be mightily arrogant and therefore, I would argue, less able to self reflect, less delicate in your observations, perhaps less kind to others, because you NOTICE LESS – and maybe you are thus a lesser writer? Because don’t you need doubt in order to write well?
There could well be some mighty cock ups. You don’t need to hear the ins and outs of what has gone wrong for me, but you might be heftily let down by someone, have a book that is not promoted, simply not be valued or find yourself actually gaslit by someone you work on a book with, in some capacity. This is not the end; it is part of learning, of amassing (sorry, but I do love swearing) the twats in one useful corner (or rather the people who were twats to you) and, though beaten, you can get back up. The writing community is large and welcoming, everyone has disasters sooner or later, far as I can tell, every writer has bad track in common (that is, a book that tanked, but bear in mind that this is more subtle than it looks because much also depends on the provenance of that book) and so lift your sights.
Do not wait for ideal circumstances. Room of your own? I should cocoa; no chance in my house. To be happier, thinner, less busy, add anything…NOOOO. If you want to do it, start right now. YEAH. THIS AFTERNOON. Even it’s just scribbles or a few lines; or a chapter; or the whole first draft vomited onto the page. It will be dreadful, it will be your shit first draft, but it will also be the germ of something that is not. Or lead on to another piece of writing that is so much better in the first place.
You do not have to write every day. Well, if you feel you do you do. But don’t feel that you can’t write a book if you can’t write every day. Write when you can. Also, don’t wait for inspiration. Start writing and inspiration will come; if it doesn’t, take a break. Try later.
Read. It’s your greatest teacher. Why not read from a genre you haven’t tried before? Or perhaps read a book that seems too long or too difficult. Try works in translation, novellas, poetry, a play. All time periods if you like. Get to know the brilliant small presses there are. Try non-fiction as well as fiction.
Your writing and all the shit first drafts that got crossed out or maybe the books – it happens – that didn’t make it: it’s all an apprenticeship. You are learning. While I have been writing, though, I’ve been learning about the industry, because that seemed to me to be something I ought to do. Plus I was interested because I like to learn now things work. By the industry, I mean learning about small presses and big publishers, agents, independent and big booksellers, international markets, editors, marketing and book PR. Also, connect with people. I am a funny mix; I’m naturally quite shy and need to hide, preferably under a duvet with a book, after a big social event, because my tank runneth dry. Nonetheless, I love talking to people and learning about what they do; chatting to people who love reading is a joy of my life but it is also a great way of learning what’s going on.
Pay it forward. Help others. I am a great believer in communities; they are the mainstay, I think, of our world. If you get a break, try and help someone else to. Or just try anyway.
When you come to submit – and this is based on manuscripts I have seen and conversations I’ve had with people more knowledgeable than I am – be you, but be mindful of the fact that agents and small publishers get many, many submissions and so as well as being you, you’ve got to be you pitching up having done the groundwork. Craft your approach really well; make your query personal to them and really do your homework – on their catalogue, say; or be aware – and tell them – of a recent wish list they published or an interview they gave where they mentioned a book they’d love to see and you think you might pique an interest. Likewise, if you are submitting to an indie press, then you really should have read some of the books on that catalogue, otherwise why are you submitting to them if you don’t really know what they publish? If you’re submitting in a particular genre you need to be aware of that genre at market. And follow the submissions guidelines always and without exception.
This might be a testy one, but I stand by it. I have found the best use of your time while waiting for rejections – or hits! – is to be working on something new. I’ve heard people say that they cannot start another book until they know about the one that they have submitted, but you might be waiting many months. This may or may not have happened to you and it sucks and it isn’t really good enough, but here are two things that happened to me. First, I wrote something to time for an agent who then rejected it with a form letter after many a cheery back and forth and I never heard from them again. I thought THIS IS IT (how naive was I?) and didn’t work on anything else. Then I stalled because I was upset. Also, I haven’t, compared with some of you extraordinary indomitable people out there, submitted that widely. But I would say that about 30% or so of the people I submitted to, including big agencies who promise they take notice of the slush pile, never replied. I had a no reply after a full manuscript request. Submission is testing; rejection after rejection is testing. There will be low points. So I say, don’t wait to clear your decks before you start another book. Get cracking. This, by the way, is one reason I’ve managed (nearly!) 7 in four years and I am not a full time writer by any means: I am always writing a book. And the writing can be planning, researching, daydreaming in the bath, reading, mind-mapping: all this is your book writing, be reassured. x
In haste this one – and apologies that I haven’t written for a while. Just to say that I have placed my first book of short stories Famished (publisher TBA all in good time; I’m not allowed to tell you yet) to be published September, 2020 and so, with my historical fiction Saving Luciaout with Bluemoose next spring…herewith some stars of the show: the Honourable Violet Gibson who, in 1926, went to Rome and tried to assassinate Mussolini – and Lucia Joyce, dancer and artist, daughter of novelist James Joyce. She, like Violet, was admitted for life to St Andrew’s Infirmary (formerly the Northampton General Lunatic Asylum).
….that’s two books for you next year. I also have a piece on rebuilding your mind with books for Trauma: Art as a response to mental health for Dodo Ink in January – and we’ll see if there are further commissions. In other news. Tempest…
…the anthology of writings about dystopias for Patrician Press for which I wrote the introductory essay came out on March 1st and, this summer, one of my stories is published in Newcon press’s Best of British Horror, 2019. Now, if you are looking for my first two books, 2016’s Killing Hapless Allyand this year’s The Life of Almost, you may, at time of updating this (4th April) be able to buy copies online, but these books are, as of this week, currently between publishers and I will post updates as soon as I can.
What else? Well my second historical fiction, The Revelations of Celia Masters (set in mid 17th-century Somerset and Virginia) is waiting for its read (will update) and I have more short stories and another novel, The Fabulist (working title only…) on the go.
Hello: this is me, by the way! My seven year old took it and I have snow in my hair.
And also…I have a literary agent! I have just signed with Kate Johnson of Mackenzie Wolf Literary Agency, NY…http://www.mwlit.com/…
…and we will see where this takes us. Kate has been very involved already – actually I have been talking to her for a year and it is partly Kate whom I have to thank for Famished, partly because she encouraged me to write gothic fiction. We are both delighted with the press it has gone to: it’s a fantastic home! I am currently writing a second volume of short stories which will go directly to Kate and that is called Ravished. While Famished is a series of gothic, horror and weird fiction tales linked by the theme of food and feasts, Ravished is all about age, faith, death and judgement. It’s bloody terrifying me, in fact. I call it my eschatological volume. I’ve been researching Victorian memento mori, photos of the dead, embalming…flipping to googledocs now, it looks like Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children in its use of photos…ooohhh.
Much love and happy writing – or writing amidst a whole lot of other things going wrong and Brexit stress. Don’t wait for the perfect moment, the clear day or a room of one’s own, huh?
Hello. I am in the process of transferring my data over so I have a whizzier and more interactive site – with my social media links working properly – but come and say hello. I do post at https://www.facebook.com/annavaughtwrites/ but really, it’s twitter I like.
Here is what I am up to! The first thing, which has made me extremely happy, is that my third book, Saving Lucia(mentioned below) will be published by Bluemoose Books in 2020. I’ve also started to write weird fiction and horror. More on this as I work, but my non-fiction, ‘Shadow Babies’ will be published soon on The Shadow Booth website, with two short stories, ‘Feasting; fasting’ and ‘Cave Venus et Stellas’, appearing in the next print anthology of the same. It’s a new, crowdfunded anthology. Do look! Here’s the current edition of the print and a website link:
Although I can’t say much about this, I am in the process of working on a fourth book, a Southern Gothic novel called The Hollows. This is influenced very much by books I love and pieces of research I’ve been doing. I was fired up, also, by David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed, a wonderful piece of scholarship, detailing the folkways of four distinct groups of people who went from ‘Albion’ to America and what was transplanted with them in terms of culture, worship, food…do read it; such a fascinating book. My book is an account of very early settlers from the West Country…but it goes dark, very dark. My own Tidewater ‘Tess’ (do you see a clue to her origins there?) is a complex character and, in building a new life, begins to hold court. She is charismatic, brilliant, well read and to look at her…as you will hear, it is like looking into the sun. Except you should not. You should not look; or attend. Do not visit her in The Hollows of Appalachia. Yes, yes, I know: what’s a British writer, with a language that’s inflected by Welsh family and influence, even thinking of doing here? How on earth is she going to pull off the language? How will she have a ear? Well, for a start we are in the mid to late 17-th century, a favourite period of mine in British literature, history and culture and we have very early settlers, for whom there is little record of language spoken or adopted while in America, but a wealth from their recent ‘Albion’. Even so, mistakes will be all my own, but in case you think I am appropriating something, let me say that this is a region I love and I am married to a Georgian. More on which another time.
I have begun, having been asked by a heroine of mine, to draft with her a pitch for a collection of essays on a theme which I shall be able to detail soon.
A book I’ve co-edited is out this March. My Europe by Patrician Press.
My second book, a novella called The Life of Almost, will be published by Patrician Press this October. Here: ‘This is a dark comedy set in Wales and a spectral reworking of Dickens’s Great Expectations. Almost is a boy, brought up by his sister, Perfection. He is shrouded by bereavement and surrounded by the hauntings of his family’s undead. He plays in the sea caves, visits graves, amongst mermaids, longing mermen, morticians, houses that respire and a poltergeist moss that grabs your foot. A cast of family and friends drawn from sea caves, the embalming table, the graveyard and the dark Clandestine House, which respires heavily and in which time has stopped. And like Pip, he sings into the sea and likes to tell stories – the key theme of the book which is the story of his life, his struggles and triumphs. He is thwarted in love but understands – the night he meets a ragged convict, for the convict is a merman, come on land – that he has deep and commanding powers.’
Almost is a bard boy, you know. And what is more, how can he be there when the eprigraph tells you that he was, some time ago, drowned at sea with his beloved Seren, of Clandestine House on the Cleddau? I’ve sprinkled the novella with original poems, too; all about landscape, love, sea-worlds, magic and longing; that word hiraeth, in Welsh.
Oh yes, if you do look at the Patrician Press site (link above), here’s my first book:
‘This is a black comedy in which Alison conceived in childhood an alter ego called ‘Hapless Ally’ to present a different, more palatable version of herself to her family and to the world beyond. Ominously, the alter ego began to develop autonomy. Alison deals with this helped by a varied catalogue of imaginary friends. The book is about serious matters: fear, confusion, dark days of depression and breakdowns. It carries a timely message to anyone pole-axed by depression or associated problems — or any reader interested in such things: you can, like Alison, survive and prevail. Ah, if you had to survive — would you kill for it? Now that is an interesting question.’
It’s an autobiographical novel.
My third book, Saving Luciawill be published by Bluemoose Books in 2020…I mentioned this above. I really do feel that this press is one of the finest in the British Isles and I am so delighted that they have accepted my book. Here are its central characters. The Honourable Violet Gibson, who tried to assassinate Mussolini in 1926, and her fellow hospital patient, Lucia Joyce, daughter of the novelist James Joyce.
Knock yourself out. Go shopping on the Bluemoose site or at an independent bookshop near you. I am about to read Harriet Paige’s Man with a Seagull on his Head.