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Sarah Dixon

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Magic Oxygen Result

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!)

MOLP

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.

Check your email

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?

Market Research

Last year, I gave a proof copy of Alfie Slider vs the Shape Shifter to one of the teachers at my local primary school. The teacher offered to use it as her class reader, and get the children to review the book for me. When I did some workshops at the school recently, I was given the forms back; 29 reviews from my target readership! Terrifying and exciting, all at the same time.

The class was made up of 12 girls and 17 boys, who ranged in ages from 7 to 9. These are their responses:

How much did you like this book?
four-point-four

Average 4.4 out of 5. There was less gender difference than I had expected; the average for boys was 4.5, for girls 4.2. (The rating on Amazon at time of writing is 4.9)

What did you like about it?

I took the answers to this question and broke it down into concepts, putting things like When Alfie went to the Monkesto together with Travelling to a parallel universe together under transported. Here’s a word cloud with the most popular choices; number one was…

…suspense!

like_wordcloud

What could be improved?

A few simply didn’t like Sci Fi. A couple wanted illustrations. One or two had technical suggestions about description or the use of cliff hangers. But the most popular answer, which a delightful 17 of them chose was…

improved

Good for the ego, even if it doesn’t give me much to work on 😉

Who was your favourite character?

I honestly thought this would be an easy win for Alfie, but as you’ll see he had some competition not just from the ship’s computer, Mr Monk, but also the bad guy! (Also glad to see Omar getting a mention there as he features more in Frozen Prince!)

character_chart

Who do you think would enjoy this story?

Some children answered this question with an age range, which I’ve converted to a bar chart below. I’d agree with them generally, though I am surprised that so many included teenagers!

9 children thought only Sci Fi lovers would enjoy it, and three specifically mentioned boys; but six commented they thought boys and girls would enjoy it.

reader-age

So there we have it. The scores on the doors, courtesy of 29 of my target market. I have to take into account some personal bias from the reviewers; some of them know me, and they were excited to have been asked their opinion by a real, live, author. Even so? I’m thrilled to bits.

Asking people to read your work can be a very frightening prospect but it is also very, very, rewarding.

You can buy your copy of Alfie Slider vs the Shape Shifter here.

School Visits

I knew, from the very first time I thought about it,  that I wanted my book launch to be at the local primary school; my kids’ school. I also wanted to make sure that if I ‘took’ from them, in terms of their time and energy to promote a book signing, that I would want to give back. I had a meeting with school in early January, and suggested that I come in to school and run workshops with the different year groups and over the course of the discussion and my planning, I realised these would need to be done on a class by class basis.

I wrote up outlines for about five different workshops/ talks that I could offer and told the school that I’d be available to them all that week; the staff discussed it and I was blown away to be given a timetable that involved visits to every single class in the school over the course of the week and finished with a book signing after school.

All the classes from Reception up to year 4 had chosen to have ‘What Makes  a Hero?’ a workshop that looks at the idea of being a hero from early myths (Hercules), the dictionary definition of the word, and some fictional and real life examples of heroes that, hopefully, bust a few preconceptions and leave the kids not only thinking they could be heroes, but realising that they already are. This was the same PowerPoint presentation for year 1-4, it was only the level of the discussion afterwards that differed; reception had their own tailor made version that was just 30 minutes long as I wasn’t sure if they would sit still for that long! I delivered 8 sessions of this workshop, and loved each and every one. The kids were interested, engaged and came up with some great knowledge to share and interesting questions.

hero

One of the year 3/4 classes has been reading Alfie Slider vs the Shape Shifter for their class reader, and presented me with their reviews! More about those in another post, I promise.

Years 5 & 6 had chosen, ‘How Aliens Change the World’ – the workshop that I first gave at Howsham Mill last year. It’s a fifteen minute talk about how Sci Fi has brought about social change, followed by 30 minutes of the kids designing their own alien race to bring light to a problem, and the final 15 minutes with them presenting. Just as with Howsham, the kids at Headlands were fearless in the scale of problems they were willing to tackle and completely brilliant to work with. It was great to hear that I had made people think again about Science Fiction, which so often gets dismissed as a genre.

The librarian gave me a lovely thank you and a bunch of flowers; I had somehow got so caught up in what the school were doing for me (gaining experience, being able to sell books) that I had forgotten that I was also giving quite a lot to them! The book signing wet well at the end of the day, it was lovely to chat to the kids again and see them get to enthusiastic about reading Alfie Slider vs the Shape Shifter.

I expected to be tired from the experience, but was actually really energised by it (just as well, as this week is half term!) I am currently reading more about inspiring children to read and write, and planning to add more workshops to the list I am going to offer to other schools.

I hope that a good part of my work in the year ahead will be school visits. I’ve definitely been bitten by the bug!

If you’d like to arrange a school visit, please check out this page with more information.

Romance

I thought it would be nice to share a romantic story with you for Valentine’s Day. So, I scanned my back catalog of stories and realised…I don’t write romance. I knew it wasn’t a theme that cropped up often in my work, but I thought there’d be more of it than there was. Maybe one of my goals for this year will be to try and write more about love, to include these important human relationships in my stories.

Here, though, is one piece that is definitely romantic. It was written as an Hour of Writes entry in response to the prompt Health and Safety; that means the story below is literally an hours work, it hasn’t been edited since and will contain imperfections. I hope you enjoy it, anyway.

Happy Valentine’s Day.


Getting a nickname was how you knew you’d been accepted at Henshaw’s. It didn’t matter if you started as an apprentice, or came in fully trained from another garage, until you had your nickname you were on a sort of probation. Once you had your name, you were a fixture.
There were no hard and fast rules for how a nickname came to be assigned, some of the lads were named after their particular abilities, like Tyres who could change and balance a pair of wheels faster than anyone else. Others got their names as the result of happenstance, like Flat-head, who had once been underneath a car when it had come off the ramps and given him a fairly serious head injury. Romeo got his name for the number of married ladies who arrived at the workshop doors asking for him particularly, wanting him to check their oil or listen to a banging noise from the engine. There was no way to control how your nickname came about, and no way to change it once you’d been given it unless you stayed at Henshaw’s long enough to be given a new one, as had happened with Codger.
Stanley Hetherington had been working at Henshaw’s for eight weeks now and was beginning to feel the lack of a nickname. He had no reason to suspect that the other lads didn’t like him, they were pleasant enough once the initial teasing of the new chap had settled down. He’d been wise enough not to go and ask in stores for a left handed hammer, but he hadn’t expected them to fill his boots with ice water. Laughing along with them was all part of it, and he’d done it out of good spirits as well as a keen desire to be liked.
Always on time, Stanley did his job to the best of his ability but he didn’t shine in any particular area. There was nothing remarkable about the things he said, or how he said them, he didn’t hold strong political views like the lad they dubbed The PM. He didn’t want to force a nickname, that wasn’t in the spirit of the thing at all, but he was becoming more anxious that, whatever he was called eventually, it was something positive.
His anxieties had started three weeks ago, when the bosses daughter, Mildred Henshaw, started working in the office. Mildred was no starlet, but something stirred inside Stanley the first time she paused in the doorway to the workshop clutching their wage packets with one hand and pushing her thick, national health spectacles up her nose with the other. She’d called all the lads by their nicknames but had hesitated when she’d got to him, and stuttered out ‘S..s..s..Stanley?’
From that very moment, Stanley was seized with a keen desire to protect the lovely Mildred from the embarrassment of speaking his true name again but what would it be replaced with? The lads could be course, and whatever she called him, it had to be the sort of word that you could whisper with, well, fondness. The way that he said her name, in the privacy of his own thoughts.
But here we were at the end of his ninth working week, and still no event had transpired to give Stanley the name he waited for. He had just finished his last job for the day and was carefully putting his tools back in his toolbox when he saw Codger making his way across the workshop floor. The older man was carrying a box of spare parts that obscured his view, and he didn’t notice the hose that Tyres had running across the workshop at just the right height to trip a man. Stanley spotted it, and realising the older man was about to fall, he quickly closed the distance between them calling ‘Stop!’
Flat-head was the first to call it out ‘Oh ho! Health and Safety!’ and the chorus was soon taken up by the other lads. Stanley felt his heart sink, although there were definitely worse things to be named for (ask ‘Skid’ Mark Turner, the paint sprayer) this nickname still held the troublesome, sibilant S sound that would trip the tongue of his beloved Mildred.
It was with heavy heart that he waited for his pay slip that week, cap in hand and eyes downcast. Then all of a sudden he heard her gentle voice calling ‘Health and Safety’ and for a wonder, she didn’t trip over the sounds at all. Looking up to meet her eyes, a surprising green behind the spectacles, he was warmed by her smile.
‘I like it,’ she said.
‘You do?’
‘I do. Health and safety. Them’s good qualities, in a man.’
The lads were stifling laughter or outright tittering, but he didn’t care. Stanley Hetherington felt ten feet tall.
‘Oh, um, well then. Could I walk you home, Miss Henshaw?’
‘I suppose you can,’ she replied, pushing her glasses up her nose and making Stanley’s heart quicken, ‘and you can call me Mildred, too.’
A roar of approval went up from the lads behind him, and Stanley suddenly found himself being lifted from the floor and held between Romeo and The PM. He had time to see Mildred retreat in blushing confusion before he was paraded around the workshop to the chants of his work mates.
Good old Health and Safety.

Subtext

The subtext of Alfie Slider vs the Shape Shifter, the thing that I hope children will ‘get’ while they’re enjoying the story is that they’re capable of more than adults, usually, think they are. I feel like kids thoughts, feelings and opinions are often overlooked, because they’re young. They lack experience, right? How can they know? And yet still, sometimes, they do.

I was told, as I was working on Alfie, that I was unlikely to get published unless I made Alfie a lot older. 14. Not because there was anything wrong with the story I had written, but because publishers want to maximise the profit on a book, and they believe that kids only want to read books about characters that are older than them, and 14 is older than all the kids in the 9-12-year-old age group; therefore, maximum profit. When I asked the kids, though? They didn’t care so much how old the character was, they just wanted an exciting story.

So it made sense to me, that when I was asking for reviews of Alfie Slider vs the Shape Shifter, that I asked kids. No, they might not be the ones who order the stock in a book shops, or decide what the local library are spending their precious resources on, but those people should be listening to them, the readers, not market forces. My first priority in marketing Shape Shifter was to compile a list of kid bloggers, and approach them for reviews.

Today, the first blogger review was published. Mika, a 12 year old who blogs as Sci-Fi Pie wrote me a great review. It’s full of the sorts of things a reviewer would love to hear; ‘a protagonist that everyone can identify with’, ‘it’s funny, exciting and full of suspense when it needs to be’ and ‘I’d recommend this book to any young readers’.

Read the review here.

I think, though, that the part that makes me happiest is when Mika says that Alfie’s choices, ‘perfectly shows the difference between how a child would think and how an adult would think in this situation’.

I didn’t write this book for adults. I didn’t write this book for a demographic. I didn’t write this book to maximise profits.

I wrote this book for kids.

We have liftoff!

Yesterday was launch day. It didn’t go as planned.
I’d emptied my calendar for the day, so I could be completely focused on Alfie. But in the end, my kids were both off school sick, and I wasn’t feeling too great myself, I spent the day in my PJ’s under a blanket. Good job the book launch event isn’t until next month!

However, it was still a wonderful day. We tipped the heights of #62 on Amazon for the paperback, and #20 for the Kindle version (Young Adult/Science Fiction and Fantasy/Science Fiction/Action Adventure). I don’t know what sales were like from Amazon, I’ll find out when I get a statement from SilverWood, but it was a record day for visits to this website and I was pleased with direct orders.

The Thunderclap went ahead, giving 95,000 plus people a link to this website (hence the record day) and I felt so supported, seeing my social media lighting up with Alfie Slider. Thank you.

And then there were the reviews. The first one came in mid-morning – 5 stars, and was soon joined by several more.

Alfie Slider, you have liftoff.

To infinity, and beyond 😉

Thank you

Tomorrow, Alfie Slider vs the Shape Shifter will be officially published.

It’s been an amazing journey over the last two(ish) years since I started writing, and there have been many ups and downs along the way; but this post isn’t about that. This post is about saying thank you to all the amazing people who have helped me along the way.

Thank you to my children; Aiden and Niamh. You’ve been my inspiration, my first readers. my harshest critics and my most fervent supporters.

Thank you to my beta readers, Joseph, Nicole, Monique, Ayda and Nancy Mae. You gave me great insight into what worked and what didn’t, and your enthusiasm kept me going when the rejections came in.

Thank you to my colleagues from York Writers and beyond, especially the members of the Novelist Support Group. It is no exaggeration to say that this book wouldn’t have happened without you, and your warmth, enthusiasm and expertise.

Thank you to my friends and family, especially Caroline, Sally, and Jen who have read for me, lifted me up when I was down and celebrated my successes. I’ve been blown away with the support, the desire to help and see me succeed. I’m truly humbled and grateful to have you.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me on social media. Reading this blog, following me on Twitter, liking the Facebook page and joining the Thunderclap. As an Indie author, anything that helps me get my message out is invaluable. All the likes, shares, re-tweets, comments? They made me feel hopeful that others shared my enthusiasm for this story.

Thank you to Silverwood books, especially my publishing assistant Annie who was the first to read Alfie Slider and championed it. Also huge props to their design department for coming up with the perfect cover. Really, it’s amazing. Everyone I’ve shown it to has loved it.

Thank you to the schools, bookshops, libraries and events who have let me visit, or are going to let me visit in the coming months and to the media for their coverage.  I am so excited by what this year has to offer.

Finally, the most important thank you of all. For Valentine’s Day a few years back, my husband bought me a course on writing for children. Since then he has been relentlessly supportive. He made Alfie Slider possible not just in a practical sense, but by making me believe it was possible each and every single time I faltered. Thank you, David.

Tomorrow is quite literally a dream come true for me; my childhood ambition has come to fruition. I am an author, my book is in the British Library! Alfie Slider is a little bit magic, there’s an energy to it that escapes and makes people’s eyes shine with excitement. Now I’ve released him into the world, and I get to sit back and see that spread around the globe.

Wow.

Thank you.

 

Beta Readers

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Aiden, Phillipa, Joseph, Niamh, Ayda, Monique and Nancy Mae – the elite of Beta Readers

I’d like to introduce you to some very important people. Those amazing kids up there all played an important part in Alfie Slider vs the Shape Shifter getting into print. Three of them were the inspiration for characters in the book (Alfie, Amy and Lizzie) and all of them read the story and told me what they liked, and what they didn’t. And yes, you will notice a certain family resemblance between me, Aiden and Niamh; they’re my children. Write what you know 😉

These kids (especially Joseph, the young man nearest me wearing the black coat) kept me going through the grind of editing, through the rejection from agents, through the uncertainty about whether, having written one I could do another. They asked interesting questions, they answered my questions, and they showed me that kids really love Alfie, Amy, the Monkesto and Mr Monk.

With just two days until the book launches, I’m feeling incredibly grateful to lots of people for helping me along the way but I will always have a special place in my heart for these guys. They’re amazing, they really are.

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