Wednesday, 28 August 2019

The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy Boston




Lucy Boston’s stories abut the house at Green Knowe are based on her own home, The Manor, at Hemingord  Grey in Cambridgeshire. Her daughter-in-law, Diana Boston , still lives at the house and you can visit by making an appointment. It is full of artefacts that refer to the stories.  
This first story may be the most mysterious. Are there really ghosts of the children that used to live there or are they just in Tolly’s imagination, developed by his grandmother’s insistence that the children really exist? However she is quite careful in the way that she talks about them.  The reader may still wonder whether they are really there.
Tolly has a difficult life. His father is dismissive and his relationship with his stepmother is very difficult. He travels alone to Green Knowe and arrives when there are floods.
His grandmother offers some comfort. They establish a good relationship. He also cultivates a good relationship with the manservant Boggis. There are cosy evenings by the fire where his grandmother tells him stories.  
The ghosts are reasonably gentle, but they can tease and the stories his grandmother tells are full of mystery.  He has a frightening encounter with Green Noah, a topiary figure about which there is a lot of superstition.  
The text is 123 pages long and blocked in a close adult font. Peter Boston, Lucy Boston’s son, has illustrated the book.      

Monday, 26 August 2019

Stages of revision – all fifteen of them




I’m writing here about the stages of revision I put my novels through. I take between a month and three months to write the first draft and between six and eighteen to get it to the stage where I’ll let beta readers read it and then I send it out to agents and publishers or I self-publish. 

I’ve shared my young adult material with my friends from SCBWI as I’ve gone along, so they see my work at a very early stage sometimes.  

Anyway, I have the habit of writing a section and then reading it through three times. There is something optimum about three. After three times you’ll probably not notice much more unless you’re doing the very focussed edits I’ll write about in the next few posts.  The first read through at this point is largely about correcting typos. It’s amazing how much the other two read-throughs pick up as well.  

Why go to all this trouble you might ask, if an editor is going to work on it anyway?  Well an important point is that the better the script is in the first place, the better it will become after a professional edit, be it from an in-house editor in an established publishing house or a free-lancer you’ve employed to edit the text you intend to self-publish. 

As I work through my fifteen edits I’ll still adjust anything I see that’s out of kilter. It becomes like peeling layer after layer off.   

It is hard, then, when your beta readers or editors come back with something you haven’t noticed. But there are a few things you can consider here:
You are too close to the text so you may not see what is blindingly obvious to others.
It’s your choice in the end but if more than one person has said the same thing, they may have a point.
You and our editors are on the same side – you’re both trying to produce the best text possible.
You’re not an idiot because you made that mistake – that was then and this is now.  You’ve moved on as a writer.  

Over the next few posts I’ll be going into more detail about my self-editing process.                     

The Stuff of Nightmares by Malorie Blackman



Kyle encounters death when a train is derailed as he is travelling on a school trip. The only way to avoid death is to live in the nightmares of the other passengers.
Malorie Blackman admits that she has based the nightmares on some that she has had and that she has used some of these in other stories she has written. A full list is provided on the copyright page.  She also admits that she has been able to pinpoint the real life events that have led to the nightmares.  This is all discussed in the Author’s Note at the end of the book.  Possibly the book could lead to a discussion on the interpretation of dreams.
There is plenty of tension and pace throughout the novel and Blackman keeps us guessing as to whether Kyle will survive and if others in the train crash will live.
The hardback version is 338 pages long, uses a serif font, size 13/14 and the text is blocked. The chapters are reasonably short.    

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Event Planning




Alongside my  writing I enjoy arranging events and find this as creative as the writing itself. Here are my tips on the process.

Define your event

What do you actually want to do at this event? What will it look like? How will you define its success? What do you want to achieve? How many people would you like to attend?  Who do you think is likely to attend? 
     

Setting a budget

Do you have a set amount of money to spend? Will you have to charge participants? Do you expect to make more money out of the event e.g. by selling books, charging for catering or asking people to pay what they can afford.
Tip: assume you will make nothing on the event but if you do you can put that into the budget of the next event.  
Possible costs:
  hire of room
  cost of catering
  personnel  - e.g. compeer, book seller, front of house, food server

Some ways that you might save money:
  Some venues may be offered for free for a minimum spend
  Choose somewhere where there is cash bar or servery.  You can still supply a cake or similar so that you look generous. 
  Form a mutual support group where you help each other with events.   

     

Inviting people

You've probably selected your venue according to the number of people you're expecting. Remember some people will drop out nearer the time - illness, weather, family problems, car breaking down etc.  It's wise to overbook by about 15%. You'll get a full room. I once "sold" fifty tickets for an event . Thirty-one people turned up. Ll the "drop-outs" had genuine reasons.
There are three tools that may help:
Facebook events - free to use but if your event is paid for it won't handle money. However, you can use it in connection with the other two listed below and make it point to them.  It's the extra advertising for your event.    
Eventbrite  - for free or paid for events.  There are lots of helpful tools.
Ticket Source - better for paid-for events. Like Eventbrite  it offers a lot of useful tools. It has the look and feel of a theatre box office. 
Tip: charge for an event but include a free book. Folk are more likely to turn up if they have had to pay.             

Organising what happens

Work out a timetable but be prepared for it to change. Factor in setting up and clearing up. Here is an example:
5.30 - set up
6.00 - guests arrive, mingle, serve drinks.
6.30 - intro
6.35 - readings from the book
6.50 - 7.10  Q & A
7.10 - 7.25 serve cake
7.25 - 8.00 sell books, sign copies, more mingling
8.00 - 8.30 clear up   
  

Critical Time Planning

This is a must for any type of event. It's the order in which you do things. For example you don't look at taps for your bath before you have laid the foundations for your house. And yes: even looking at them may be counterproductive - by the time you get the bathroom installed they may not be made anymore. On the other hand you need to be sure of lead times so that you order them in time.

The key is to work backwards. What does the even look like? What do you need to do in order for it to turn out that way?
Here is an example, and note it is set out with the event at the top.

50 people at the International Crumpsall Centre for book launch of Daisy Days 17 April 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. 
Pick up cake / wine 17 April  12.00
Plan timings - discuss with helpers 10 April 2020
Order cake and wine 17 March   
Order 35 copies of book 12 March (Why not 50? Experience tells me this number is about right.  Would you be able to sell the further 15 afterwards? And if you do order more don' put them out all at once. Seeing a huge unsold pile puts people off. If it looks as if stocks  are running out people may make the effort to buy.
Find people to help - by 1 March                
Send invites (Invite 60 -writing friends, other friends, people interested in dementia) 1 March 2020.  Keep going until all tickets have gone.      
Book venue by 26 February
Set budget by 20 February 
      

Evaluating your event

This is a really important step and should be completed as soon as possible after the event has finished.
For a simple book launch you will probably not need to survey your participants. Even if your event is one where you have offered a service or a product I urge some caution. Invite people to complain and they will. Even if they are mainly satisfied ask them what could be done better and they'll tell you! And that may feel negative to you. Certainly that element should be there but it should be only one of many. Ask open questions such as:
What have you gained from this course?
What will you do next?
What else could we do for you?
What might we have done better?

For other sorts of events be kind to yourself. Still keep a critical head, though, and ask yourself these focused questions.
What went well?
What went less well?
What else would you do?
What would you do differently next time? 
It's important to record the answers and look at them before you plan the next event.    

Monday, 12 August 2019

Editing: a never-ending process




In a Facebook Group I belong to we recently discussed when you should give up on a short story. Almost everyone said: “Never!” I tend to agree. I’m putting together now collections of my own stories but only where they’ve been published elsewhere and when I have the rights back.
And here’s the thing: I edit them again before I publish them.

In fact, I read through again and often tweak those stories that are rejected before I send them out again.      

Surely, though, shouldn’t every story be the very best it can be before it goes out? Yes of course. But what was “the very best it could be” a couple of months ago may not be today. We all move on as writers and usually become better.  Language changes anyway. New facts creep in. 

On the other hand I very rarely alter stories to make them more suitable for a particular publication.  The story is what it is.  The trick is to find the right publication. I’ll make an exception, though, if I get some concrete feedback from an editor. I’ll often act on that unless it totally compromises what I was trying to achieve. 

I’m not alone either, in editing as I read my work aloud. The text sometimes needs to be a little different if you’re reading it aloud form if the reader is taking it in through her eyes. Also, again, you have moved on as a writer since you wrote the piece. 

Be warned as well, when that novel that you’ve slaved over and edited to what you perceive to be perfection, is finally accepted, your editor will proceed to tear it apart. Do not be discouraged: she is on your side. We scrape back the layers. The better it is to start with, the better it will become with more editing. 

Over the next fee posts I’ll be describing the stages of editing I put my novels through – before I release them to a beta reader, let alone send them out to publishers.