THE WRITING LIFE – IT OFFICIAL, THE FIRST DRAFT IS CRAP!

Just a short post this week to keep you up-to-date. The last post was about me celebrating – drinking champagne, no less – because I’d finished and sent off the first draft of my 3rd novel. In that post, I made it clear that I was expecting to have to do a lot more work. I knew there were problems, particularly with the structure, but I’d got too close to be able to look at it objectively.

My wonderful agent and editor both read it quickly – they knew I’d be biting my nails down to the knuckles. Also, I’ve never pretended this book wasn’t proving particularly difficult, so perhaps they both suspected there would be a lot to do and wanted to get a head start!

Anyway, there is a lot to do, as expected. From our initial chats and emails, it looks like it will be a VERY, VERY LOT. More, even, than I’d anticipated. I’ll know more after we have a meeting next week, but it seems there’s a lot that’s not working at the moment. I suspect it won’t be so much a case of murdering a few darlings as embarking on some wholesale slaughter!

About halfway through writing this draft (which had already gone through a major change of plan from the original idea – I cut a whole storyline and about 30,000 words!) I began to understand what I was really writing about. And therein lies one of the major problems, I think.

Of course I went back and did a lots of rewriting when my characters began to go in a different direction, but in hindsight, I wonder if what I was doing was the equivalent of realising I’d made a chicken dopiaza instead of a chicken madras and then trying to sort it out by pouring off half the sauce and whacking in the extra spices. What I really need to do is wash all the sauce off, grab some fresh garlic and ginger and start combining the spices again from scratch.

I have lots of ingredients; some of them are good ingredients which are right for this novel; some are good ingredients but need to be set aside for something else, and the remainder need to be binned completely. I also need to bring in some fresh ingredients. Okay, I can no longer bear the screams of that metaphor so I’ll stop torturing it. But you get the gist.

On the upside this week, I’ve been catching up with some reading, including 50,000 words of a novel I started writing a few years ago and abandoned because I got stuck. While I can’t instantly see where that novel should go, there’s a lot of good material there which I’m sure will form the basis for my 4th novel.

I’m thinking a lot about book three, of course, but am very much looking forward to those thoughts becoming more focused after the meeting next week. There’s a lot of thinking ahead, and a serious amount of hard work, but I know it’ll be worth it, so bring it on!

Here’s a picture that may just be the light at the end of the tunnel – something I hope to see before too long!

If you’d like to know more about me and my work or keep an eye on what I’m up to, visit my website, ‘like’ my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter @sewelliot

THE WRITING LIFE

So, another two weeks of working on my novel in a really focused way, often for quite long hours. I feel like a real, proper author, rather than someone who’s masquerading as a real author and is likely to get found out at any moment!

I mentioned in my last post that I had one more decision to make about one of the characters before I could really move on and I’ve made that decision now, and written the necessary scene. I now have three more scenes to re-write, and out of an original 65 things on my novel ‘to do ‘list, there are 14 remaining, although of course, more will emerge as I continue to edit. Some of these are simply a question of going back and adding in references to something. For example, I realised that a character who smokes heavily at the start hasn’t had a fag for about five chapters! I also need to fill in some location details, but that’s going to require another research trip, so may have to wait until the second draft.

I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to cross things off the ‘to do’ list. I find that making such a list really helps me to organise my thoughts, but even if you don’t need to do that, it’s worth making a list if just for the pleasure of crossing things off it!

So satisfying!

One of the reasons I enjoy setting part of my novels in a different time period is that I love researching a particular decade. There’s a scene in this book where one of the characters is reading a copy of Woman’s Realm in 1967. What better way to research that than to read a copy of Woman’s Realm from 1967? I have to say, I found some of the advice on the problem page to be, well, shall we just say less than supportive of married women! These magazines make fascinating reading.

Woman’s Realm, 1967

I’ve been slightly better at scribbling notes in my journal over this last two weeks, but still haven’t got back into the habit of morning pages, something I fully intend to resume in the New Year. But I have kept some notes, and a quick flick through tells me that other writerly activities since my last post include a feedback session with a fellow writer, a coffee shop writing session with a (different) fellow writer, a boozy Christmas lunch with two (different again) fellow writers, and a signing session at WH Smith’s – not for my own book, but for the Watch and Wait anthology, which I’ve mentioned in this blog several times. Here’s a review.

As well as these more obvious writerly pursuits, I’ve prepared and taught my evening class, had tutorials with my MA students and read the opening chunk of a psychological thriller in readiness for preparing a critique. I love my job!

In addition to all that, I think I’ve made a fair dent in the Christmas shopping, and I’ve managed to knock up a few mince pies and nibbly things which are now in the freezer ready to be heated up later in the week when I’ll have some friends round for festive drinkies. So, all in all, I’m feeling reasonably productive and pleased with myself – and it’s not often you hear me say that!

I think I’m going to leave it there this time, because I’m itching to get back to my novel, which I plan to deliver on 5th of January. I’ve no doubt there will still be quite a lot of work to do, but although I could tweak and twiddle until the cows come home, I’m now at the stage where I need the insightful and experienced opinions of my agent and editor, who both seem to understand what I am trying to do and are able to point out how I could do it more effectively. I’m so looking forward to receiving their feedback – although it’ll be a nailbiting time while I wait to hear what they think!

I usually post fortnightly, but as that takes us to just after Christmas, I’ll be extending it to three weeks this time, so my next post will be on 5th January – the day I submit this draft!!

In the meantime, check out Simon & Schuster’s books and the city page, where you can read features entitled My Perfect Christmas Morning by the following authors: myself, Jane Costello, Rachel Hore, Isabel Broom, Kate Long, Patricia Scanlan, and Andy Jones.

I hope you all have a fabulous time over the festive period, and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

By the way, Merry Christmas or Happy Christmas? Discuss! (My vote is for Merry!)

If you’d like to keep an eye on what I’m up to, visit my website, ‘like’ my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter @sewelliot

I have a book deal!

The Writing Bit

This week, I have some rather wonderful news: I’m delighted to announce that my debut novel, The Things You Didn’t Know, is to be published by Simon & Schuster in 2013 as part of a two-book deal. I am thrilled to bits about this, as I’m sure you can imagine!  So my message this week is, don’t give up! This novel has had long journey, and as the publishing climate has become more and more difficult, I began to wonder if my beloved characters would ever see the light of day.

So I thought it might be interesting if I were to outline this novel’s journey:

After completing the novel, then titled Footsteps, to the best of my ability, I began to seek representation. I was lucky enough to receive an offer very quickly, although I was unable to take it up because the agent concerned was about to go on maternity leave. However, this gave me the confidence to keep approaching agents. I then received a number of rejections and began to wonder if the first offer had been a fluke. But then I received two offers of representation in the same week!

I met both agents, and chose Kate Shaw (then of Alexander Aitken, but now of The Viney Agency)  because she had ideas for the book and suggested revisions – including a major structural change – that I just knew were good.

So, I spent around seven or eight months doing these revisions, and after a bit more tinkering, we felt the novel was ready to go, and it was sent out to several major publishers. It didn’t sell on that occasion, but came very close indeed, with three of the editors saying that they’d been very tempted, four wanting to see my next novel and one – oh joy – actually taking my agent and me out to lunch. This particular editor had reservations about one of the characters, and so I set to work on more revisions, more subtle this time, perhaps rather too subtle, as it would later transpire, because Kate felt I hadn’t quite gone far enough with the changes. We talked about sending the book out with the new title to the smaller publishers, but then decided to put it aside for a while and concentrate on a second book.

I put the manuscript away for a whole year, during which time I wrote a radio play (currently under consideration with the BBC) and played around with a few different ideas for my second novel.  When I looked at The Things You Didn’t Know again, I saw things I hadn’t seen before, and did yet more rewriting. I was still unsure about a particular section, so I sent that section to a freelance editor for some professional feedback. Getting a fresh pair of eyes on your ms can be invaluable – you become far too close to it after a while. The editor made a brilliant observation about the order of events – by rearranging things slightly, that character’s story would be much clearer and more logical. Hurrah! I knew this was the right thing to do, and I spent the whole weekend busily re-ordering and rewriting, then rereading for ‘continuity’ errors.

The novel went out again, and bingo, a two-book deal with the wonderful Simon & Schuster! I couldn’t be more thrilled and excited!

So, if you’re trying to get your novel published, my advice is: don’t be in too much of a hurry – if a major revision will improve your novel, take the time and do it. Consider putting your work aside for several months so you can view it more objectively. Consider obtaining professional  feedback on your work and be open to suggestions, (only if they chime with you, though) even if it means a lot of work, and finally, don’t give up!

The Reading Bit

No reading bit, this week, I’m afraid. We’ve been busy and preoccupied with a family bereavement – my father-in-law died rather suddenly earlier in the week following a fall just a week before. This has obviously had a huge impact on the family, and things are in a state of flux at the moment.  It’s very strange to have had the good news about the book deal in the same week as this very sad news about my father-in-law.  
 

Next week’s blog will appear a little earlier than usual – hopefully midweek – with The Reading Bit covering  my ‘Top Reads of 2011’.


The Food Bit

No food bit either for the same reason (see above). However, watch this space for some gorgeous, vegan-friendly Christmas recipes in the next few days – it’ll be a bumper crop: a wonderful nut roast, some apricot and walnut stuffing and the nicest and most festive red cabbage with apple you have ever tasted!  Trust me!

For more about me and my work, check out my website: http://www.susanelliotwright.co.uk