World Book Day

I genuinely think a book can alter the course of your life.  For children uninterested in reading, the right book can open up an infinity of worlds, trigger new emotions and enable children to think outside the parameters of their own life and their parents’ views.

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A book is a companion to those who find it hard to socialise. You simply don’t feel lonely when you’re reading quality books. There’s no pressure to respond; to say the right thing.  Even the super confident can struggle conversing in this climate of political correctness. The older generation are under pressure to remove vocab and phrases they’ve used for decades. Their language might be narrow, racist, sexist; unacceptable but not easy to delete when you’ve been fed it from infancy. So I could see some of the elderly losing confidence and relying on books as company. A book accepts you regardless of your disabilities, struggles, insecurities and prejudices.

helperI’m unsure if YA books were around when I was a teen. I’m losing my memory and my faculties because I feel like I progressed from The Famous Five to P D James. I can’t remember any books in between, other than difficult English Lit books.  Chaucer? For goodness sake what were the examining boards thinking of. A teen is not going to develop a love of books when faced with The Canterbury Tales at fifteen/sixteen.  They need novels that captivate, with characters they identify with. Adults might love reading YA but that’s not automatically reciprocal.  I have four children and Mice and Men and An Inspector Calls four flippin years is a killer. Some contemporary books please!

I introduced The Famous Five to my children and Gerty, Tom and Paddy stalled. They  couldn’t connect with the kids, they were too far removed from their reality…but Kitty was well in there and funnily enough Literature emerged as her career path.

yaFrom my first born to my last, YA has sprouted like dandelions.  I was literally salivating each time I took my kids to Waterstones. I loved touching the books, feeling the covers, especially when titles were embossed.  I wanted my kids to be swept up in fantasy or on a knife edge or gooey over kissing.

A Series of Unfortunate Events, Harry Potter, Darren Shan, Martyn Pig, Shadows; some fantastic YA literature was emerging.  I fell into a habit of reading my children’s books probably to justify the cost but also to make it a shared experience. Just like we watched Disney together, Dr Who, X Factor, Buffy and now Love Island

Alongside I’d be reading Val McDermid, Stephen King, Mark Billingham, Jilly Cooper.

I can easily reel off my three favourite books:

  • Killing Me Softly by Nicci French
  • The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
  • 13  Reasons Why by Jay Asher

I don’t read for reading’s sake; I’d rather watch NetFlix. I’m not someone who can read any genre, in any style.  I avoid overly descriptive novels with a plethora of multiple syllable words. Not because I don’t understand them but because the author showing off can effect the flow of a book and the depth of the characters. My only exception to this is Donna Tart; I’ll happily engage my brain there.

I can’t help think how fortunate I am to have access to so many books. When I’ve a little spare cash spending £7.99 on a book is worth it. Consider the cost of the cinema or any activity that takes an hour or more and you’ll see it’s a bargain. When I’m broke (regular occurrence) it’s the library and the charity shops for me.

As a teen, living on a council estate, in a flat charged with emotion, I would escape to the library.  I actually remember resting my head against a row of novels, silently crying. It was my refuge; here I could be anyone and go anywhere. Libraries need to flourish, to connect with the kids that aren’t coming to the library.  We, the people of Britain, debate no end why children turn to antisocial behavior? Millions is probably spent analysing and procrastinating when the answer is simple.  Children need free facilities: school breakfast clubs, social clubs, swimming and libraries; lots of libraries. Ones with cafes and I don’t mean Costa, I mean a hot chocolate for 50p, a bag of crisps for 50p, a coke for 50p.  There should be sofas and cushions and a free book section where a kid can take a book without being a member.  Let’s be fair, unfit parents don’t sign you up to the library.  I was terrified joining the library. I thought they wouldn’t want someone like me.  I never understand how, surrounded by amazing literature, some librarians can be unwelcoming and unapproachable. Jolliness should be on the person spec and there should be book recycle schemes.

As an author I love that my book is on a journey, from one reader to another, one home to another. I’m more than happy for my book to be passed to a hundred people.  I count myself lucky if  someone has purchased my book and liked it enough to pass it to a friend. I just hope I didn’t disappoint…but it’s good to know…I’d like to think being new to writing I can improve.  That the girl holding a book in front of her face to hide the tears can learn to put a smile on a similar kid, forty years later.

I hope every reader and writer has a lovely WORLD BOOK DAY.

 

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The Agent

I guess we write for different reasons.

Me? I was desperate. I needed to escape from my bed, from my pain and immobility.  My daughters said write a book, about an assassin and an orphan.  A man who could dip in and out of right and wrong.  A girl plagued by bullies with hair extensions and lip fillers.

There was no plan, no character analysis, no plot, only a focus to get up every day, shower, sit at the laptop and type.  The word organic is so overused but that’s what it was. This natural ramble, through lives of people I would like to know, and others I hoped never to cross. There was nothing high brow or complex about my words.  They were distractions from pain and a loneliness I never wanted to share with my family.

henry front coverHow did I come up with my protagonists names? When I turned my laptop on Phoenix would flash in the bottom, left corner and Whittle was the first pop-up in my brain.

Phoenix Whittle; it felt perfect. Henry, a name ones associated with a solid citizen not a special forces hitman.

Writing felt comfortable; pain easing. I’d spend three/four hours a day with Phoenix and Henry.  They became as real to me as my family.  I love them.

I had bad days. When my fingers wouldn’t work. When brain fog blocked all creativity. I remember as my third spine operation loomed I felt panicked that if something went wrong my novel would be lost.  I finished it about two am before leaving at 5am for the hospital.

It was a month later that my daughters said send it off.  Like it was the easiest thing to do.  I’m not a researcher, I never will be. I leap, I don’t look. I’m inpatient.  I spent about half an hour googling how to get published before getting overwhelmed.  If I was to do this I had to make it easy on myself. I wrote a naff query letter.  I’m not great at selling myself or pretending to be something I’m not.  I have very limited energy. I have spinal cord damage and making a cup of tea is a challenge. Getting an agent seemed an insurmountable challenge.  No one was more surprised than me when agents began requesting the full manuscript.  I still got a lot of no’s…until one asked could she ring me to discuss representation.  We chatted; hearing someone as excited as me about Henry and Phoenix had me ecstatic.

We met at a patisserie in Notting Hill Gate.  I’ll never forget it.  I had no clothes…really.  I lived in pjs and lounge wear.  I had to get a whole outfit, coat, shoes, the lot from NEXT. I hadn’t traveled unassisted in 5 years.  My daughter came on the train with me and helped me up the station stairs.  I told the literary agent I’d be in a pink coat and she said she’d have red lipstick. I was nearly combusting with excitement. I won’t lie; I saw Waterstones and nearly keeled over imagining my novel on display.  I was so naive.

We ordered drinks; I desperately wanted a pastry, a sugar rush, but was too nervous to eat in public.  She was lovely, not intimidating, but confident and cultured.  Her enthusiasm matched my own and when she offered representation, I knew this was probably a once in a lifetime opportunity.  I’ll always remember the fun I had saying ‘my agent’; it was mad.

What comes next I hold myself totally responsible for.  We spent about seven months editing.  There were times when my gut told me no, this isn’t what Henry and Phoenix are about. My silence led to a dilution of my characters. They lost that rawness. The completed novel was in many ways improved but sadly tame.

Editors at Penguin, Bloomsbury, all the biggies, were queried and read the manuscript with interest.  The no’s came quick.  The feedback was positive, but they felt Phoenix’s voice wasn’t strong enough or it wasn’t dark enough.  I wasn’t too put out. I don’t think I ever expected the route to publication to be that easy. I thought we’d go forward and rebuild but a distance emerged.  It might have been my imagination but I felt I’d been passed over for the next bright spark. We’d had a meeting and my agent spent more time talking about her latest discovery than Henry & Phoenix.

IIMG_0314 decided to take a break. Which lasted about a week. I had the bug so I continued with a second project I’d begun in between editing Henry Whittle.

Random Attachment had me seriously questionning representation.  It was quickly obvious my second novel was going down the dark route…borderline Young Adult/New Adult – not suitable for under 14’s. A route I new my agent wasn’t comfortable with.  So I emailed her and called it off. What upset me was, not saying adios to getting published, but cutting myself off from the first person who believed in me as a writer. It was like I was ungrateful, but if all I have is my writing, then I can’t compromise.  It has to be my words, my way.

I miss our emails, our patisserie meetings but I feel like I’m running through a field of barley, the sun on my back.  My legs don’t drag when I write.  My head doesn’t hurt from nerve damage when I’m with Mia, Flynn, Phoenix and Henry…my Henry.

Then there’s you: WordPress, Twitter, Facebook, the Writing Community.  Just tonight I found another writer in my genre just starting her journey and I feel excited for her.  I want her to write a brilliant query letter, to find a champion for her work. Yes get edited if it’s within your budget but don’t rely totally on others to make your dream reality. If you gut speaks…listen…talk up. Don’t make my mistake and put the responsibility of success on your agent’s shoulders.

And if you can’t afford editing before submitting your work don’t let that stop you. If your premise is original and your characters solid you have as good a chance as anyone else. Be daring. Share your writing with as many as you can.  Feedback is like gold dust. Self publishing is rewarding and confidence building.

My main advice is this: enjoy writing; don’t chase the money or prestige. x