Monthly Archives

July 2011

Books, friends, Writing

Inspire and mentor: how to get published

Last week I hooked up with my girl pal and published author Tracy Buchanan to mingle with fellow literati at the Marie Claire UK’s How to get Published event, part of their Inspire and Mentor 2011 series. A jolly good campaign if you ask me! Plus we scoffed champers and canapés, bonus. Apologies for the picture of me and Tracy  by the way (Buchy as I call her) – this is the only one I can find of us together without a wig on or wine glass in our hand). And no, we’re not very photogenic.

Anyway, I digress… so, as we sat on mega uncomfy chairs in a super hot room at the Malmaison Hotel in Birmingham, we listened to a panel of uber nice and informed folk in the publishing business as they handed out stories of their own success, top tips and general encouragement for those of us who want to see our manuscripts turned into best-selling novels.

So it was mildly amusing to me that when Q&A time rolled around, one wannabe author asked Lindsey Kelk to tell us how she got into publishing. Er… she told us like 20 minutes ago in her little talk? Were you not listening? Lesson 1, pay attention.

Another asked if you need a degree to get your book published. Can you imagine it… “JK, we just love your Harry Potter books, they could be massive, but there’s just one thing….

Tracy Buchanan and Robyn Bateman

Christmas hats and cheesy grins... Tracy and Robyn do Christmas

you don’t have a degree. So maybe come back to us in a few years when you’ve got some letters behind your name?” Unlikely.

Another said she couldn’t get published in the UK because she was young, successful and black. I’d like to think the publishing industry represents more than just middle class white women and that it’s your writing and ideas that get you published, not your ethnicity or your degree.

Others said they were half way through writing their first novel and looking to approach agents soon. I wrote my novel over a year ago and am currently on draft 2.5. Given, I’ve utterly neglected it of late, but I’d be naïve if I thought my first draft would ever get beyond an agent’s in tray. I guess I’m lucky enough to have a published author for a buddy and several completely dedicated writing friends who are fonts of all knowledge when it comes to publishing dos and don’ts.

The most telling part of the evening, to me, was how the audience, 70 of us in total, formed an orderly queue to get books signed by Lindsey Kelk when the evening drew to a close, yet very few dashed to speak to the agent – the woman in the room who could actually help get our books published. But maybe the bulk of these girlies aren’t ready for pitching yet, just there to soak up the info.

Gah, maybe I’m coming across as bitchy and what do I know, I’m so far from being a published novelist I might as well be writing from the moon. The panelists were surprisingly unbitchy (given the competitive industry they work in) and highly likeable and composed. The theme of the evening was Inspire and Mentor, after all, and they certainly succeeded in both. I loved Rowan Lawton from PFD and would love for her to be my agent; she was nice, informed, passionate and fun. And she takes a lot of commercial women’s fiction (chick lit – considered to be a dirty word these days), which is what I write (despite my mostly hate-hate relationship with the genre). So Rowan, when I get my novel to a ‘fit for public consumption’ state, I’ll be coming for ya!

The over-arching theme was to GET AN AGENT, so much s that I had to write it in capitals. Your agent is a friend, your champion and the one person who’s going to work their sweaty butt off you get you in print. After all, they don’t make money of they don’t get you a publishing deal so have to believe in you and your work.

Anyway, here’s a round up of what was said, hope you find it useful…

THE BEST-SELLING AUTHOR

Lindsey Kelk

Get an agent! Be passionate, believe in what you’re doing and keep trying are Lindsey’s key themes. Working as a copywriter she took a pay CUT to work in publishing, to be closer to her passion, and when she decided to start writing her own book she was determined, made contacts and opened the right doors. And now she has a series of published books with more on the way.

THE ONLINE MAGAZINE EDITOR

Helen Russell, online editor, Marie Claire magazine

  • Do your research – editors are impressed by salient facts
  • Know your audience! Who will love your ideas, who will love reading your story?
  • How to pitch – catchy title, snappy synopsis and spellcheck, spellcheck, spellcheck
  • When contacting an editor, know their name and how to spell it right and call their assistant to find out if you don’t already know
  • Include your CV and examples of any work you’ve had published when you make your pitch
  • Don’t hide behind email, face to face works too. Get to know an editor by offering to take them for a coffee and learn more about their personality, their tone and their interests – they’re more likely to remember you that way
  • A great idea is a great idea so don’t get disheartened
  • What Marie Claire is looking for now –  what readers are doing now that they wouldn’t have done six to 12 months ago, for example, infidelity via Twitter; cultural zeitgeists; emotional first person stories; and the wow features that make people talk
  • If you want to work online you need to be online already – so get on Facebook and Twitter and start blogging etc
  • Make contacts and connections and have a USP (unique selling point)

THE AGENT

Rowan Lawton, Peters Fraser & Dunlop (PFD)

  • Get an agent! Most publishers don’t accept unsolicited submissions so you will need one, plus they’re your first champion, someone who’s always going to be on your side
  • A good agent will be honest and may disagree with you
  • How to get noticed – you need a compelling submission, a high concept idea with strong plot and characterisation
  • A strong title will get noticed and needs to tell the reader exactly what the book’s about.
  • Know your market!
  • You have to really want it. Agents get bombarded with submissions so you won’t have long to get an agent’s attention
  • Do your research so you approach the right agents – Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, online, author websites and the acknowledgement section of authors’ books. If your writing’s similar to a published author, check out their agent
  • It boils down to the quality of your work in the end but the first step is to get noticed so do something bold
  • Write a stellar covering letter, make it personal to the agent’s client list and pitch your idea in a couple of sentences
  • If you have friends or contacts who are authors or journalists, mention it but don’t make your letter too long
  • Treat it as  career, be dedicated

THE COMMISSIONING EDITOR

Kate Bradley, Harper Collins

  • The publishing world is challenging, book sales are in decline and the market is poor. So it’s a tough nut to crack!
  • Traditional booksellers are fading fast with Tesco is currently the biggest bookseller in the UK. With the price of books so low it’s hard for publishers to make money so they have to be certain they can sell your book; it’s all about profit. Publishers want books that Tesco will want to sell.
  • Out of the 70 people in the room, one is likely to get published
  • Make friends with other writers, they can help and support you and possibly even write a quote for the back of your book should you ever get published
  • Sign up with something like the Romantic Novelists’ Association
  • Authonomy – useful site where you can grade each others’ books, make connections and possibly get noticed
  • Do you have a personal story to tell, something to pitch about you? Use your USP to set you apart
  • Editors WILL pick your work apart
  • Practice. There’ always something to learn
Books, crime, Just stuff, reviews, what I think, Writing

On expanding my literary horizons…

Until recently I’ve been pretty disappointed with some of the reading choices I’ve made. It makes me cross to invest hours only to be utterly disappointed 80,000 words. There’s some real pap out there, which makes me wonder in a competitive market how it ever made it into print. Last year I decided I needed to pull myself away from the crime fiction I love and expand my reading horizons. What else is out there that I’m missing? And I found it hard to have literary conversations with my writer buddies as my own reading list’s so restricted. And if a crime were to happen on my estate I’d be the prime suspect. Save for notes in the margins and highlighted passages of kill scenes, my bookshelves probably paint a picture of a twisted crime fanatic. Er… yeah, that’s me.

My bookshelf

My bookshelf... or at least some of it

So, not only was I going to try new genres I was also going to try new authors; it’s a habit of mine to find an author I like, read everything they’ve ever written, find another author I love and repeat. So my bookshelf is limited and my knowledge needed growing, especially if I’m to pursue my own hope of one day being a published author. And I don’t think the poem I had featured on page 187 of a poetry compendium really counts, does it?

But this year my reading choices were poor, or at least for me they were. It’s all subjective isn’t it but, for me, I like books like I like my movies; they need to have a point and be believable.

I read some bad chick lit, so bad I couldn’t bring myself to review it (research for my own novel, a genre I have a love-hate relationship with); and some ropey crime-type stuff (I couldn’t help myself  with the crime but the untried authors thing didn’t work for me. Even Patricia Cornwell’s latest, an old fave of mine from years ago, left me disappointed and a little bit angry.

But the last three books I’ve read have left me in awe. Amazing storytelling ability with an emotional depth that not only tugged at my heart strings, it pulled them tort to the brink of snapping.

And I came to realise that books, the ones that are really, really good, aren’t the ones that keep me turning pages because I want to find out whodunnit, or who the serial killer’s next victim is, or what that little bit of evidence is likely to reveal, but the ones that connect with me emotionally, striking a match in me, a warmth, a glow; something that makes me look into my soul and see my life from the inside out. Deep huh? Yeah, sorry, I don’t know what came over me, but these books move me, sometimes to tears, with their true-to-life characters and the stories that unravel around them.

The books I’m talking about – and I’m lucky to have read them back to back – are Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson, Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton and The Making of Us by Lisa Jewell.

All three were completely amazing and two of them, the latter, forced tears from my eyes which is a tad embarrassing when reading on a crowded beach. Thank God for sunglasses! The former moved me in another way, in the realisation that the things we take for granted, like our memory, make us incredibly vulnerable if we were ever to lose them. Who could we trust if we lost everything? Who’d have our back?

Anyway, reviews of the above are all in my book review section on this blog but I just felt it worthy of giving them an extra mention.

And am I pleased to be stepping away from the old forensic pathologist/detective with a ‘tude style novels? I’ll always be a crime lover and continue to try new authors and support the ones I love, but it’s been refreshing to read something different and experience new ways of writing and expression. I hope my own writing with improve because I’m better read. After all, variety is the spice of life… and I do like spicy.

Next up on my reading list is Hunter by Tom Wood, The Hating Game by Talli Roland (reading on kindle app and been meaning to get round to for an age) and this Platform Book Club choice, A Balance To Survive by Lisa W.B.

Holidays, Just stuff, Life in general

My holiday? C'est bon!

Dry skin, sore eyes and red and white bits. No, I don’t have some horrible disease, I’m just back from hols; my sun-kissed skin singing out for hydration, my contact lenses unforgiving as they cling to sun cream-stung eyes and the odd burnt bit to boot. But I had a lovely time in the south of France!

I discovered a few things while I was away, not least that I drink half as much alcohol as other members of my family, that bikinis turn from white to yellow thanks to sun cream, and that I cannot stomach the ocean. I also found the south of France to be beautiful, friendly, hot and a pleasant cultural change to my usual European destination of choice, Spain.

We stayed in Cannes and when I say “we” I mean me and my family. Yes, at 31 I’m probably way too old to go on family holidays but I packed my husband so surely it’s fine?

Robyn and Richard Bateman in Cannes

Me and the hubbles

Anyhoo, we had a fab six days in Cannes, flying into nearby Nice, and said bonjour and merci more times than I can remember.  We soaked up the rays on the beach, explored the old part of town, it’s cobbled streets and typical French eateries, admired the views of Cannes and its harbour from on high after a very sweaty walk and spent two days on a boat, visiting the coastline from Cannes to St Tropez, back to Cannes and then on to Monaco and back again. We saw Bridget Bardot’s quaint cottage, ate French fancies in the gorgeous and unspoiled coastal resort of Ville Franche and learned how to manage sea sickness. And some of us didn’t. Oh, and that there’s no dignified way to get on and off a boat.

The first hour on the boat didn’t sit well with me; my body doesn’t take to sloshing around and it was mixed with an irrational fear – and poor balance – that I’d topple overboard and be swallowed up by the sea. And the sea scares me more than boats; it’s dark, vast and eats people alive. It’s menacing, eery and just bloody scary – so no sea swimming or jet skis for me, uh uh. A trip below deck to the loo proved too much for my stomach and while I didn’t puke it was a close call and even put me off my lunch. And if you know me, you know I rarely say no to lunch.

On day two I’d almost acclimatised but gobbled down a sea sickness tablet nonetheless and felt my brother’s pain when he emptied a day’s stomach contents into the sea. What’s most odd is how the rocking sensation stays with you for a day or two after you get off the boat, and it’s none too pleasant. Add to that a bumpy flight to Southampton, a train journey to Dorchester, a drive to Beaminster to pick doggy up from his grandparents and then a three-hour trek back to Milton Keynes in the very late hours, and that’s probably why I feel tired, rough and totally unrefreshed today. It’s like the French sun and breeze that warmed my bones into relaxation never even happened. Thank God for an extra day off work is all I can say, otherwise I’d be completely evil. And thanks to Papa Slingsby for spoiling us kids rotten!

Anyway, holidays are best told in pictures so here are a few…

View of Cannes from up high

View of Cannes from up high

A view of Bridget Bardot's house from the sea

A view of Bridget Bardot's house from the sea

Up the coast from St Tropez

Up the coast from St Tropez

Feet, beach and a view of the sea in Cannes

On the beach in Cannes

friends, Just stuff, Life in general, Serious stuff, what I think

Drink too much, it gets ugly

Only a small scuffle for a taxi took the shine off an evening of cockails and convo with the girls last night. I’m exaggerating when I take it took the shine off, ‘cos the shine was firmly in place after a gathering of five girls, 15 cocktails, a sharing platter, some main courses and a sprinkling of cheesecake and chocolate brownie. But it has inspired this blog post.

We laughed when my friend, the birthday girl, announced at the dinner table: “I’ve been looking forward to staying out until it’s dark.” Now in our late 20s, early 30s we’re mostly in bed or asleep on the sofa when daylight leaves the sky.

But as a heavily intoxicated girl fell from the top of her four inch heels to the cold concrete of a Milton KeyneGirl dancing on a night outs pavement, yelling obscenities as we climbed into the pre-booked taxi she’s tried to hijack, I was reminded that night time is when the monsters come out.

As the taxi pulled off we glimpsed back at the high heeled girl struggling to stay on her feet but steady enough to plunge her middle finger clearly in our direction and yell a few unoriginal swear words. I felt embarrassed for her.

And it’s only because I’ve been there, done that and got the T shirt  (the whole outfit in fact) in a previous life that I’m able to say this: how unattractive and unsafe it is to get so leathered you’re happy to make a show of yourself in public.

Drink too much, it gets ugly, says the Australian Government and if I’d heard that 10 years ago I’d have raised a hand to my mouth and mocked a yawn. Now, it’s truth rings a huge bell of recognition.

According to this report it is estimated that the cost of alcohol related harm to the NHS in England is £2.7 billion in 2006/07 prices. That’s a lot of money.

The statistics linking alcohol with fatalities, serious injuries, broken homes, and major health problems, don’t make for good reading and it’s easy to catch a glimpse of that when you look around town on a Friday night. When I go out and about on an evening I want my wits about me and that doesn’t involve numbing them vodka.

But what will change? Probably nothing. Getting hammered, waking up with no memory of how you got home (if you even did get home) and spending a morning gripping the toilet bowl isn’t how I want to spend my weekends but I’ve given plenty of them over to just that in a previous life. Perhaps it’s part of growing up. My younger siblings are certainly continuing the tradition.

Am I saying I’ll never get drunk again? Hell no. When the first sip of that Kir Royale touched my lips the stresses and strains of the week wriggled from my shoulders and I eased myself into the weekend. And while three cocktails sounds miniscule my pansy arse self feels a tad jaded this morning. The difference is I don’t want to waste my weekend shaking off a hangover, I don’t want to have grazes on my knees from toppling drunkenly off my heels, I don’t want to have a black hole where my memory should be and I don’t want my friends to hold my hair back while I empty my stomach contents onto the street. I want to know when my mascara is sliding down my face, I want to hold myself upright when I walk, I want to treat people with respect when I talk to them and I want to avoid losing hours to alcohol induced blur.

I’ve reached the point in this blog post where I need to draw some kind of conclusion, but I’m not entirely sure I have one. I had a fab night last night with the girlies and think it’s only experience and hindsight that can turn you from binge drinker to sensible drinker and still have just as much fun.

Picture by Edward Allen L. Lim taken from Flickr under Creative Commons Licence