I think you know your book’s cooked when it stops screaming.

As Gordon Ramsay so often says when conjuring another fine dish for us home chefs to marvel at…

‘DONE!’

Trouble is, I’m not sure writers can ever really say we’re ‘done’. I thought I was done a while back but then I sent my debut novel out to a few agents and they wrote back very politely to say that their idea of ‘done’ wasn’t really the same as mine. At least, I think that’s what they said, because the average form rejection is an abject lesson in what isn’t said, so much as what is.

Thankfully, there were two or three agents who took the time and trouble to offer some personalised feedback and, from those precious comments, I was able to figure out that I can probably write but just hadn’t got this debut novel nailed. Too many POVs, that damned prologue I fought so desperately hard to keep (don’t worry, I did eventually surrender), starting the story in the wrong place, too much telling – in fact just about every mistake it was possible to make including, but not limited to, all those errors any beginner would be expected to deliver.

But by this point I’d discovered the deep and desperate importance of Beta readers and Critique Partners. Honing my pitch in competitions had blessed me with the opportunity to find a few wonderful writers who didn’t mind seeing mine if they could show me theirs. Because while we might not all be the best writers, we’re all pretty good readers, and that feedback is worth it’s weight in gold.

So I revised my story for the, oh I don’t know, twenty seventh time, and sent my manuscript to a few trusted souls who promised to break it to me gently. And they did.

Ahhh. Still, not quite so done as I thought.

So I went onto revision thirty nine, or was it forty six, and sent it all out again. The feedback was better, there was even occasional praise, and I felt like I was getting somewhere.

Which is when an agent saw my pitch in a competition and asked for the first 50 pages. And then the full manuscript. And then wrote back and said, ‘ya know, your synopsis is incredible but there’s some free-writing hiccups in here and a few other things to fix (here’s a list). You’ve got three months to sort it, good luck.’

And I cast around and looked again and noticed the distinct lack of a comfort blanket. I was on my own. And it didn’t feel very nice. So I called for help in the form of a professional freelance editor (thebrazenbibliophile.com) I’d found thanks to Twitter, which has a habit of bringing us writerly sorts together.

I sent Marissa my Revise & Resubmit notes and told her I wanted to do the best possible job of fixing the issues highlighted therein and, by the way, what exactly was a free-writing hiccup (plot while you write, write while you plot) and please could she tell me how to fix it. And she did. Along with a long list of other things. And then she told me that my book was shiny, and she was confident it would be picked up by an agent, and to get on with querying so I could write another one. Which felt nice.

But I’d fallen for that ‘someone just said something nice about my book’ trickery before so I sent the revised version out to those trusted readers again, including a couple who are particularly diligent, and I still got a list but it was much shorter than before. In fact the list was mostly questions such as ‘you sure this is what happens when you shoot a man in the head’ (yes, I checked) or ‘how does she know it was insulin’ (it said so on the syringe)  and having now answered every question I’m going to make a very bold statement.

I’m done.

Now we all know that means not really done. Just done for now. Until the R&R agent says ‘still not good enough’, or ‘good effort, now fix these last few things and we’ve got a deal’, or after that, should I be really lucky, an editor starts having their deserved two penneth. None of which I mind, because I’m only interested in one thing:-

Getting done. Whatever it takes, however long it takes, no matter how many hours it takes. I’ll do whatever I need to do until it’s done.

But I thought you should know, for now at least, THE SAWOL: DISCOVERY is done. And the reason I nearly believe it, is because the last time I read it there really wasn’t any screaming. At least not from outside the cover.

To blog or not to blog…

So why haven’t I posted for a while? Because I’ve been writing. And learning. Avidly. Steeply.

And one of the things I’ve learned is that it’s too easy to get distracted from writing by…erm, writing (or blogging or Tweeting or working) and life and the internet and everything else that isn’t writing what you should be writing. So I’ve spent a few solid months not getting distracted and I’m pleased to report my debut novel, The Sawol Discovery, is ‘finished’.

Which only means it’s now been submitted to a small number of agents, some of whom I was lucky enough to meet in person at the Festival of Writing in York mid September and a few others who favourited my Twitter pitch on #PitMad. The agents I’ve met were all lovely, helpful, incredibly bright (actually, made-me-feel-a-bit-thick sort of bright) and generous people. They all care deeply about great writing and about finding great writers. They were also frighteningly honest about the prospects of getting traditionally published  (you don’t want to know the odds, shocking).

I have also learned that ‘finished’ doesn’t really mean finished, it means as ready as you can make it before daring to submit a sample to the professionals, all of whom are inundated (and I mean INUNDATED) with submissions and who may take quite some time to respond (or not, because they can’t justify the time to respond to everyone).

If you are lucky enough to get noticed, if your work is good enough to be loved by an agent (who all look for something different), then there’s a chance you get to the next step, full submission (rather than the first chapter or two).

And then you wait again. And keep writing. And learning. Because that’s all you can do.

So today I started my second novel. And I’d thought I’d tell you that before I disappear again. Because I can’t get too distracted.

And because I’ve also learned that the number of Twitter followers you have, or blogs you’ve written, or Facebook likes you’ve got, makes absolutely no difference whatsoever to the quality of your writing or an agent’s decision to love your work.

Unless your route to market is self publishing and your ‘social platform’ can help sales.

Which might matter to me one day.

But not today. Because #amwriting

Setting oneself up for a fall…

Determined to write a publishable novel, my game plan was set:-

1. Write great thriller, heart and soul job, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite

2. Set up blog giving occasional insight into the roller coaster ride that is writing and the publishing process, which is almost certain to end in disaster/no agent/no publisher based on statistics alone

3. Attempt to build a modicum of interest in said book via honest blog

4. Draw attention to said blog via Twitter

5. Send manuscript to chosen agent

6. Get agent

7. Get published

8. Post blog, everyone’s happy

Good plan eh? Here’s what’s happened so far…

1. Still writing great thriller (not saying it is great but got to believe it’s going to be great otherwise what’s the point?)

2. Blog established

3. Interest building

4. @caroleagent reads Blog and tweets the following:-

“Fictional novel” @jimormonde? Tautology AND no fact checking. Twitter name you quote in article is wrong

5. Mmmmmmmm…..feeling rather foolish now.

Antagonist, protagonist, prologue or other?

When I worked as a journalist for the BBC and before then for newspapers, it was well understood that stories had to be structured in a certain way. Headline, tight intro, explanatory paragraph, another if you really have to, then who says what (actually the five w’s…who, what, why, when, where) in the least words possible without taking their speech out of context.

In newspapers at least this allowed sub editors to cut from the bottom up rather than rewrite if they were short on space and for radio or TV a hard-hitting intro meant you were quickly into live or recorded speech from your interviewees. All very sensible.

National newspapers, in those days at least, were even more demanding and I remember once being told to count the words in the first five paragraphs for every story in any edition of The Sun – there was a remarkable consistency to weight and pace, making The Sun harder to write for than so-called quality newspapers, despite a general belief that the reverse would be true.

It seems that novels are no different, everyone wants to meet the lead character quickly and understand their story/predicament before going on to meet our bad guys and the supporting cast. Every ‘how to write’ book I’ve read and, unsurprisingly, almost every novel I’ve enjoyed also tends to conform.

I also agree that Prologues are mostly irritating (hang on a minute, I was there a page ago and now I’m somewhere else, how did that happen?).

Trouble is, I’ve tried the start of my debut novel all ways up and to my ear at least it reads better by breaking the rules. Common sense and abundant humility tell me to go and rewrite it, I just know mine won’t be the exception that proves, but by gum it’s hard, especially when a reversal of scenes makes for a story which has a lesser flow even if it’s more attune to standard practice.

The answer…..can I tell you when I’ve figured it out? But in the meantime here’s the piece that reinforced the apparent need not to stray too far from the path, thanks to @caroleagent for drawing it my attention through her excellent tweets.

http://wannabeawritertvshow.com

Note to self, must send @caroleagent my debut novel when complete. Two new clients in six years….if I could become the next one, well that’s a greater rarity than getting published, who wouldn’t want to dine out on that one….

‘So how’s the new book going.’

‘Oh not too bad thanks but who cares about sales, I actually managed to find an agent which was way harder.’

All to come, can’t wait!

The Sawol: Discovery

‘Humanity has proved itself capable of creation almost beyond imagination…but its greatest single talent is that of self destruction. Let this failure be encouraged.’

As science and complacency usurp man’s withering faith in God, our claim to be true inheritors of the Earth is threatened. The Sawol: Discovery follows a murderous campaign to prevent the emergence of science with the potential to extend life by predicting disease and illness before it occurs. As billionaire philanthropist Jacob Bernstein and biotechnology expert Dr Alice Sebastian edge closer to a breakthrough they uncover the existence of intelligence more ancient than our own and a plot to hasten global genocide. The weapon of choice adopted by our fanatical antagonists is humanity’s most potent enemy – ourselves.

Well that’s the blurby thing written…sounds exciting! Just the small matter of another 40,000 words or so, two or three rewrites, getting an agent, finding a publisher, then editing. What do you all think? Summer? (!) (Didn’t say which year, obviously)