A few weeks ago I met my friend and co-author Dan Crow to talk to him about Alfie, writing and more for his Yorkshire Writer Podcast. I had a lovely afternoon, even with getting locked in at our local Costa 🙂
I once had to make small talk (aka torture) with a woman who I had not met before. On the surface, she and I were very different; she was impeccably elegant and poised, I was my usual roughly put together bundle of anxiety, but, as we talked we found common ground. We both had children, we both worked, we both loved York and the opportunities it afforded us.
Then she asked me what I did for work, and I said, ‘I’m a writer!’ and she looked at me as though I had just grown another head. ‘Oh, I could never do that,’ she said. ‘I have absolutely no imagination.’ Suddenly, I faced her across a void of infinite proportions. What did she mean, she had no imagination? How…what?
It’s incomprehensible to me, that other people don’t have brains that work like mine. A thousand browser windows open at once, and a relentless questioning (why? how?) that is usually answered with a gleeful, ‘Magic!’ or ‘Aliens!’ I love being alone with my brain, it’s endlessly entertaining, I never know what idea it’s going to come up with next. I never mind being kept waiting, or how long a journey takes, as long as I have my brain for company (which I usually do) then all is well with the world.
All this neural activity means that I can sit down and let the ideas pour out my fingers (only when they’re entirely ready, of course) and transmit my ideas via the internet, or the pages of a book or e-reader, to other people. I love being able to do that; being able to make other people as excited about a subject as I am myself. It’s a gift, in every sense of the word.
But I understand that not everyone has this natural ability, that for some people finding ideas is hard. Either they’ve never done it, or they haven’t done it for so long that they’re out of practice. I also worry, a lot, that all the creativity is being taught out of children via our school system and the obsession this government has with SATS and results and measuring things that really, truly, cannot be measured.
Faced with this problem, I (of course) had lots of ideas. I disregarded the ones involving magic and aliens, and concentrated on the more practical ones. So, coming soon, will be a series of posts about writing starting with the most basic building block – finding something to write about.
Watch this space 🙂
I took some time out from marketing, studying from my MA and of course writing in its various different forms to do something purely for pleasure, yesterday. I went to a workshop organised by York Writers at Howsham Mill (regular readers will know this is not my first trip to the Mill, I’ve been there before for another writing workshop and to do a school visit!) and delivered by Carrot Smash about writing from experience.
I rarely write directly from experience; experience is usually something that informs my writing rather than providing the plot. I might draw on personal experience to know what it’s like on an icy planet, or to get the dialogue right when Alfie Slider is talking to friends at school, but I don’t usually write stories that are directly drawn from personal experience.
Ali Cargill, our facilitator for the day, took us back in time to our teenage years and asked us to write about a particular memory. She challenged us to choose something shocking, if we were up to it, but as I’ve had quite a challenging time on a personal level lately I chose to think about something positive instead. I chose to talk about a crystal clear memory I have of an encounter with the boy who went on to be my first love. Rather than a story, I forced myself to slow down from my usual break-neck pace and to really relish the moment. 350 words for just a few seconds of time; a rare thing for me. Here it is:
It was her first experience of time slowing down. She was walking alongside Abi, pinky fingers linked around matching pale pink scars: blood sisters. Emerging from biology, she had met Abi coming out of Chem, strides effortlessly synchronising as they walked down the cinder path that curved its way to the language block. Homogeneous faces in uniform blue (dark for boys, pale for girls) offset with a garish orange tie, blurred past and then – there he was.
A shaft of winter sunlight caught him, gilding his skin, illuminating eyes that shone the exact same shade of green as his fur-trimmed parka. A sharp inhale of chill air, and time slowed to detail.
Oh, but he was beautiful. Flawless skin, hair the colour of gold; not harsh blonde, no peroxide streaks or over-gelled spikes, just the warm curve of wind-bowed wheat stalks. A boy, still, but with the burgeoning promise of the man he would become. He smiled, and it was a thing of power; rousing sleeping butterflies in her belly and softening her knees.
Time beat at her, insistent like the stuck second hand of a broken clock. First one foot and then another hit the floor, flashing fluorescent pink socks; a glimpse of a rebellion from the invisible girl.
Be cool, her mental voice whispered, but still she turned her head to capture every last glimpse of him as they drew alongside and then passed. The curl to his lips was unmistakable, and shame flushed pink to her cheeks. Their eyes had met: he had seen her, and in that glance an invisible transfer of power had occurred. Something precious, that she hadn’t really known she had, had been taken and she sensed she would never reclaim it.
‘He likes you,’ Abi whispered.
The moment evaporated. She turned to her friend, disbelieving.
‘Does he?’ Turning back, she caught him doing the same. His chest puffed out, friends clapping him on the back, his mouth wide with laughter at catching her looking again.
He liked her, perhaps, but in the way a cat likes a mouse.
One thing that I haven’t done so much in 2017 is take myself out of my writerly comfort zone. I’ve been writing Sci Fi for adults in my MA, for kids with Alfie 2 and Fantasy in my collaboration with Danny; all very much home ground. Today’s workshop made me realise that I should challenge myself more. I’ll try and find time for Hour of Writes again, and generally try different things. It’s never a bad thing to have more tools than you use in your writers toolkit.
Last year, back when I was just approving the internal proofs and finalising the cover design, I messaged the two local independent bookshops to see if they’d be interested in me coming in for a book signing. One of them replied to say they didn’t have space for author events, the other asked me to pop down to talk it over.
That was the first time I set foot in Readwell and Wright, a gem of a bookstore in the bustling market town of Pocklington. Nic was welcoming and enthusiastic, we had a cuppa together and made plans for me to do a book signing in the Easter holidays. Back then, that seemed like such a long time away!
That day arrived last week. The weather forecast threatened rain and it was certainly blustery enough, but I packed my trolley with books, bookmarks and that all-important signing pen and hopped on the first of two buses that took me from home to Pocklington.
I made it to York station with plenty of time to space at which point EYMS tested my nerves to breaking point; the bus to Pocklington was over 10 minutes late and the driver took a break. I’d planned the journey to give me an hour to grab some lunch before the signing but in the end I stepped over the threshold and into Readwell & Wright a perfect (for me) half an hour early.
Nic had set me up a lovely little signing station, we set out some books and made a cuppa then sat back to chat while we waited for people to come. I then whiled away a lovely two hours; customers came and went, I met some great children and their parents and we talked about Sci Fi, books, writing and more. I read a couple of chapters and, most importantly for me, sold a book to every family I spoke to.
It was a slightly surreal experience, to suddenly be (in a very small way) a celebrity. I felt that I was representing not just myself, and Alfie, but the joy of reading in general. A few people asked to take pictures of me with their kids, meeting me has become part of their holiday snaps! I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to that.
I think perhaps my favourite moment was when a young lad called Jonah started reading; he was sat with nose firmly in book and had to be told to put it down while he was walking along the street. Although perhaps it was when Nic’s son came and said, ‘I’ve just seen someone with one of your books in the bank!’ Or the way the kids eyes lit up when I added a special space doodle, or…yes, lots of lovely moments to choose from.
I really loved being in the shop, even when customers hadn’t come in to see me. Spending time in bookshops is a favourite thing, anyway, and Readwell and Wright is a lovely example. Nic has a real passion for books, and reading, and that came over in her customer care. It’s something you just don’t get online or from the big, chain retailers. The very personal touch.
And then, (another cup of tea later!) it was all over. I packed my trolled (thankfully much lighter on the way home!) and wandered down to the bus stop to go back home. The sun was shining, and I’d just fulfilled a lifetime’s ambition. Days don’t get much better than that, really.
Back when I was 8-years-old and my first ever piece of writing was published (My Cat, a poem that was included in the Anthology Poems by the Children and People of Bracknell), I imagined that life as a writer was pretty cushy. You wrote an amazing book, someone paid you a fortune for the privilege of publishing it, and then you flounced around the place being lauded and cherished for your brilliance. Turns out, real life isn’t like that.
Alfie Slider vs the Shape Shifter was published in January, and although I’ve had payment for the direct sales I’ve made, I won’t get any royalties for copies that were bought from Amazon, Kobo, iBooks or through ‘real’ bookshops until later this month. In fact, at the moment, I don’t know how many copies I’ve sold.
I knew that sales alone weren’t going to generate me an income, so I started contacting schools, libraries and other such places to see if they’d like me to go and visit; but of course the schedules for those kinds of things are planned well in advance so, while people are interested, they won’t be able to slot me in until next year, or later.
My motto has always been: Start where you are, use what you’ve got, do what you can. Being a qualified fundraising consultant as well as a writer, I wondered if perhaps I could get some grant money, so that I could offer schools free author visits, rather than tying up their budgets. Research is currently underway on that one, but watch this space.
In the meantime, I am using my skills to earn money in other ways – I’ve edited work for other writers, and I offer a critiquing service too. I’m writing blog posts for a whole range of freelance clients, mostly through copy-writing portals, but I’ve also had some direct approaches; and today I did a test piece for a transcription service. That work involves listening to audio recordings of meetings and writing them up, sometimes verbatim and other times giving them a bit of the old polish so they read more naturally.
These are the things that will keep the wolf from the door (and hopefully mean I can be there at school drop off and pick up every day for my kids) until someone finally realises my genius, and starts lauding, cherishing and paying me squillions to do what I love.
Fingers crossed 🙂
Back in January when Alfie Slider vs the Shape Shifter was published, I sent off details to Writing Magazine to see if they would feature the book in their Subscriber Spotlight pages. They said they would, and I’ve been waiting ever since for it to be included. Today was that day!
It’s strange but, every time I see a picture of the cover in a new light, I’m blown away all over again by how awesome it is! Look at it? It makes me want to pick that book up and have a good read.
I also got a lovely email today from Nic of Readwell & Wright; an independent book shop nearby. She wanted me to know she’d sold a copy! I’m going in there, next week, for an author event which is very, very exciting.
All in all, a positive day. I’m hoping to get my quarterly sales figures from SilverWood Books soon. It’s all felt a bit unreal so far, not really knowing how many people out there in the world are reading about Alfie from paperbacks, Kindles, iPads and more but I’ll know soon.
I’m really excited to be able to tell you that the 2017 York Writers Anthology is now available to order!
Behind Closed Doors is a wonderful collection of stories and poems from the amazingly talented York Writers. As one of the team who put it together, it’s been my great pleasure to see every entry and the standard is really high.
We’re hoping to have it available for sale at our Lit Fest Hub event next week, but if you can’t wait that long you can order from Amazon now.
Saturday was my daughter’s sixth birthday. I spent the day setting up a party and doing crafts with her school friends. Her big desire this year was a Hatchimal, she asked her friends to give her birthday money which they did and when it was all added up she had enough. In the late afternoon we went to the toy shop to buy the prized toy, and by evening we were settled in front of the TV watching her choice of film; something with cute kittens in it (Nine Lives).
At 7pm I plugged in my headphones and pulled up the awards page on Magic Oxygen, looking forward to a night of poetry before the result but…it was not to be. Due to a technical fault there was no live webcast of the event.
Results were posted via email, instead. My story didn’t make it into the top 5, and whilst (obviously) that would have been wonderful I’m still very proud to have made it to the shortlist at all. Magic Oxygen is an international competition, this was its third year and over 800 people entered for the first; I don’t know the number of entries this time around but I would imagine it was as many if not more. To get into the top ten of a field like that is something to be proud of, and I’m looking forward to getting my copy of the anthology so I can read the other entries which sound amazing. (You should buy one too, they plant a tree for every copy sold!)
Tylluan Valley is not my normal type of story. It’s a gothic inspired horror story, that stands alone in my work for the genre and the narrative voice. It’s a real one-off. I wrote it for the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge in 2016; it was highly commended in the first heat but I didn’t make it further than that. I’ve revisited the story since then, tweaked it a bit (particularly the ending) and, while I like it a lot, it still doesn’t really feel mine. I don’t write ghost stories (although maybe I should because I won an award for one last year!)
I’m not sure what will happen to that story, next. I might revisit it, and enter it into something else. I might just let it sit in my ‘resting’ folder. Plenty of time to decide what to do with that in due course.
Right now, I’m hopeful that my entry for this years Short Story Challenge, Redshift, will get me into the second round but if not? Well, Tylluan Valley and Magic Oxygen have told me that all is not lost.
It’s been a hectic month, since Alfie Slider vs the Shape Shifter was published, in a good way of course but it has left me wondering sometimes what day of the week it is.
Part of my regular routine is to check work that I’ve submitted for publishing or contests and see how I got on; I remember doing this about the 10th of February, but there was no news. Then I got busy with school visits and marketing, and I hadn’t checked again.
Today I got a phone call; it was Simon from Magic Oxygen Publishing and he was ringing to let me know that my story, Tylluan Valley, had been shortlisted for their 2017 Literatary Prize! All the shortlisted entries will be included in the Prize Anthology, which is available to pre-order.
The good news had originally come via email, but in the bustle of the past couple of weeks I’d missed it, which is a shame as there were a few points over those weeks when I could have done with a boost.
The winner will be announced on Saturday, 11th March at a special event in Lyme Regis. That’s my daughter’s sixth birthday so I can’t attend but I will be watching via webcast – will you be joining Magic Oxygen, or me?
The moral of the story, though, is check your email.
Who knows what good news might be waiting there?