THE WRITING LIFE – publication week and what it’s really like

The long-awaited (by me, anyway) publication of What She Lost was a week ago, so I thought this might be a good time to reflect on what publication day (and week) actually means for an author.


A mother whose memory is ravaged by Alzheimer’s, a daughter desperate to discover the truth, a terrible secret that has haunted them both. Can Eleanor reconnect with her mother before it’s too late?

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Usually, when I come to write this blog, I refer to the notebook in which I’ve been doing my ‘morning pages’ in the form of a sort of writing journal. Imagine my horror when I opened the notebook today to find that the last entry was on 19th November! So I’m going to have to rely on my very poor memory (ironic, given that this is one of the themes in the novel I’m writing at the moment!)
The reason I’ve neglected the morning writing is that I’ve been completely caught up with working on the novel. I’m nearly there with my first draft, which is a wonderful feeling. At the moment, not only am I finding it easy to motivate myself to work on the book, but I actually resent time spent away from it, even time spent sleeping! I’ve been going to bed wishing the night would hurry up and pass so I can get up and start again. I wish I didn’t need sleep – if only I could just plug myself in to a wall socket to recharge!
Since my last post, I don’t think there’s been a single day where I haven’t done at least some rewriting or editing, (more of this in a moment) even though these last two weeks have included a three day trip to London and a book signing as well as the usual teaching and preparation, tutorials (and reading work for them) and domestic annoyances like having to get the car serviced etc.
The London trip was fun, and included talking to a book group who’d recently read The Secrets We Left Behind. They plied me with wine and cheese and we had a lovely chats about my books, and lots of other books as well. 
I did a book signing at WH Smith on Saturday, the highlight of which was meeting lovely fellow author Samantha Priestly who kindly popped in to say hello and to buy a copy of The Things We Never Said. Book signings are strange occasions – you get little flurries of interest, then quite long periods where no-one approaches you (except to ask where they can find the gardening books…) So, it was lovely to see you, Sam – and I hope you like the book!
Hawk-eyed readers will notice copies of another little book on the signing table – this is the Watch and Wait anthology that I’ve mentioned before on this blog. I’m one of 20 authors who have gifted stories to this anthology, which is published by Cybermouse books and is being sold in support of the Lymphoma Association. A few of us will be back at WH Smith, Fargate, Sheffield S1 on 13 December, promoting and signing this anthology.

So, back to what’s happening with the novel. The story is almost completely in place now. I still need to make a decision regarding what happens to one character in the final chapters, but I’m hoping the answer will come to me as I work through editing / redrafting the rest of the novel.
It might be helpful to some of you for me to outline the way I approach this. First, I print out the whole draft and read through it with a pen in my hand. I said I wasn’t going to do any close editing at this point, but if I spot something, I find it impossible to ignore it, so I’ll underline typos, repetitions, dodgy punctuation etc. But I’m mostly looking for inconsistencies in plot or character, clumsy phrasing, repeated ideas, and sections that feel too ‘told’ rather than shown. Similarly, there may be places where I’ve ‘shown’ too much, and If this happens, I could find myself deleting a whole page and replacing it with a paragraph.
I’ll mark the text wherever I find problems, sometimes suggesting alternative phrasing, but sometimes just making a note in the margin. It might be something like: ‘add more depth here’ or ‘rework this paragraph to show her feelings’; or it might be simply ‘show!’ or ‘trim’. Sometimes, it’s just a question mark – which means, what the hell are you getting at here? 
When I’ve finished making my notes, I then go back to the screen and work through from page 1 making all the changes that are fairly easy and don’t need thinking about too much. At the same time, I make a ‘to do’ list, where I note the page number and what needs doing. Things on the list could be anything from ‘rework this paragraph’ to ‘add in a scene to show xyz’. These small changes can be worked on at any time when I have a spare half-hour, but bigger changes on the to-do list mean I need to set aside a block of time, so I can get myself right back into the story and the characters.
At the moment, I’m about halfway through making the ‘to do’ list. I’m hoping I’ll be able to start working through the things on it by this weekend. But whether I do or not, I’m still loving it. If only writing was like this all the time! 
I have told my agent and my editor that I will deliver this draft on 5 January. There, now I’ve told you lot as well, so it has to happen!

In other news:
I was delighted to hear that The Things We Never Said has been nominated for the Impac Dublin literary award which means that one or more libraries has deemed the book to be of literary merit (a number of libraries in major cities worldwide are invited to nominate up to three books for the award) I’m on a long – very, very long- longlist, and when I look at my fellow nominees, I just feel enormously chuffed to be on the same list as such distinguished authors.
New Amazon reviews:
Only a couple this week – a five-star for The Things We Never Said, and a three star for The Secrets We Left Behind. 
Also, I had a lovely email from the Italian translator of The Secrets We Left Behind, saying how much she’d enjoyed reading the book, and was looking forward to translating it into Italian.
If you’d like to keep her eye on what I’m up to, follow me on Twitter @sewelliot or ‘like’ my Facebook page Or you can visit my website Here


Another busy couple of weeks, but probably a bit more writerly activity than I reported last time – including actual writing! Reading back over my writing journal. I see that I didn’t touch the novel from 13th to the 25th of October. This is quite a long break when you’re working on a first draft, because you lose momentum and it becomes increasingly difficult to re-enter the ‘zone’. Fortunately, I’d booked a one day urban writing retreat for the 25th, so that forced me back into it. More of that in a moment. First, a quick roundup of my other writerly activities.

On Tuesday 21st  saw the launch of Watch & Wait, (Cybermouse multimedia). The proceeds from the sale of the book and from the launch are gifted to the Lymphoma Association – just over £1000 so far. My short story Day Tripper  appears in the anthology, which also contains stories from 19 other authors, including Marina Lewycka, Rony Robinson, Danuta Reah, Bryony Doran and Berlie Doherty to name but a few. The launch was a huge success. The room was packed, and it was such a pleasure to hear these wonderful authors reading from their work and talking about their writing lives. The evening continued with live music, drinking and chatting.

Saturday 25th started with the aforementioned retreat. I could only stay for the morning but just those three hours sitting in a room working quietly with other writers was enough to reacquaint me with my novel, so although I only wrote about 600 words, I felt so much better.

In the afternoon, I joined Danuta Reah for a book-signing at WH Smith in Fargate, Sheffield. This was mainly Danuta’s signing – I was the ‘support act’.  Danuta is a crime writer, and much of her work is set in Sheffield – I can highly recommend Bleak Water, which is set the around the canals. I’ll definitely be reading more of her work. We’ll be at WH Smith’s again on 29th of November, and this time, I’ll be the ‘main attraction’ with Danuta supporting me. So if you’d like a signed copy of one of my books, one of Danuta’s, or the Watch & Wait anthology – all great Christmas presents – pop along for a chat on the 29th.

On Saturday evening, I met up with six writer friends for one of our regular ‘writers dinners’. Writing is a solitary business, and you can feel very much alone when you’re wrestling with problems in your work, so it’s always great to reconnect with people who understand. My lovely friend Ruby, who I met 12 years ago on an Arvon course, stayed overnight and so we had lots of time on Sunday to chat talk about our novels (and to ‘do lunch’, of course.)

Some writers prefer not to discuss their work in progress, but I find it incredibly useful to talk about ideas and problems with other writers. This almost always helps to clarify things. After chatting with Ruby, I felt clearer about the problems, and I had a few ideas about how to move forward. On Monday, a phone chat with my lovely editor helped to complete the process and put me right back on track. Sometimes, the solution to a problem is staring you in the face, but you’re just too close to the work to see it. Discussing it with someone who knows what they’re talking about can really set you free!

This was all great timing, because on Tuesday, I headed off to the Forest of Dean for a few days’ retreat with the wonderful and inspiring Annie McKie. I went on a retreat with Annie in July and had a terrific breakthrough in my work. I find that being away from the distractions of home and not having to think about shopping and cooking – Annie is a fabulous vegetarian cook –  means I can really focus on my work in a way that’s impossible at other times.

I ate with Annie and her husband on my last evening, and these gorgeous roasted vegetables were part of the meal

‘My’ room – it has its own back door, an en-suite shower & loo and the most wonderful view

Annie is the perfect host – she leaves you to concentrate on  your work, bringing food when you need it, and she’s on hand with helpful ideas for when you get stuck. The retreat room opens out onto a balcony overlooking the Forest of Dean.

I’m really pleased with what I achieved in those few days – I wrote three completely new scenes and rewrote two others. I came back on Saturday – did more writing on the train – and now, as if the loveliness will never end, I’m off to Lumb Bank near Hebden Bridge for an Arvon retreat. I’m really hoping to build on the good work I did at Annie’s and come back next Saturday feeling significantly further forward with my novel.

In other news: Apple ibooks have picked up The Secrets We Left Behind For a special promotion, so for the next two weeks (from midnight 3rd Nov) the e-book will be £1.99 on iBooks.

A cheeky request
If you’ve enjoyed this post, I’d be so grateful if you’d Tweet the link. I never usually ask for RTs of my blog posts, but as I’m off to Arvon in a couple of hours, I won’t have time to do much Tweeting myself, and my poor little blog that I’ve worked on the morning will lie unread. Thanks in advance!

New Amazon reviews:
The Secrets We Left Behind: Two 5-star, one 4-star and one 3-star.
The Things We Never Said: Three 5-star, two 4-star and two 3-star.

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