Claire King

Author

Archive for September, 2011

Ode to books

Posted on: September 27th, 2011 by Claire - 20 Comments

My name is Claire and I like books made of paper.

It is becoming increasingly unfashionable to admit this, a little like saying I prefer…well, what is it like?

  • LPs to CDs?
  • Telephone boxes to mobile phones?
  • Horse drawn carriages to modern day cars?

No, none of these analogies fit because books are not being antiquated by technology. There are elements of improvement and technological advance – digital books have huge potential for interactivity, portability, etc. But there are also elements of paper books that are not improved by rendering them electronic.

I was reminded of this on my recent visit to Tilton House. It was such a joy to find books all over the house, like a treasure hunt. You could find them, of course, in the library – novels, autobiographies, some I have read, many I have not. All of them waiting to entice you in a spare moment and have you browse their pages.

In the sitting room and the conservatory there were coffee table books – biographies, textbooks, and some rather strange and unusual tomes.

I even found inspiration in the books found in the bathroom – if you’re a writer and have never seen a copy of the Collins Guide to Roses by Bertram Park then check it out. You’ll never be stuck for a character name again.

I was lucky enough to visit the neighbouring Charleston, home to the Bloomsbury set. There J.M. Keynes (as a regular visitor) had been awarded his own bedroom. As someone who has spent a lot of time studying Keynes, the opportunity for me to nose around his bookshelves was the chance to peer into the mind of the man, not just the economist. On his shelves was Punch – lots of Punch, the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the manifesto of the communist party and many other books that allowed my imagination to fly. Thank goodness Keynes didn’t have a Kindle.

I do have a Kindle. It’s very practical for travelling, and for buying books that I suspect I will only read once. But I do still buy paper books. I love the covers, I love the tactile nature of the pages that transform the book under the weight of your fingertips.

Last week I spend an hour browsing in a bookshop to buy two children’s books. It would have taken me ten minutes on Amazon, but the whole process is so much less fun.

Perhaps the best analogy I can come up with is the love letter. It’s very nice to recieve a romantic email or a cute text message. It costs nothing to send, it’s fast and no trees are killed. But there is something about receiving those words hand written on paper: something physical, something sensual, something that can be held to the heart today, and left for those who follow to find.

The Novel Edits (Part 1)

Posted on: September 23rd, 2011 by Claire - 30 Comments

It’s starting at last. The Night Rainbow is on the move, on its way to becoming a book. And the first step is…edits.

I met my editor, Helen last week to talk through her suggestions for changes to The Night Rainbow before it goes for copy editing and translation.

I’ve never been edited before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Well, here is my manuscript, returned to me over lunch and marked up with edits:

edits

The yellow post it notes mark pages where Helen has suggested changes. There aren’t as many as I had expected.

Or should that be ‘feared’? After all this is my baby, my beautiful first novel.

Or should that be ‘hoped’? Because that way, the more edits come from someone other than myself, the more accountability I can pass over to others if people don’t like what they read.

Well, enough of that. You’re all going to love this book, despite the panic in my heart that tries to convince me otherwise.

Helen had told me there wouldn’t be many edits, but as a newbie to all this I didn’t really have an idea of scale. I think I was expecting to be asked to rewrite whole chunks of narrative, delete or move scenes, fill in missing details in a few thousand extra words…and apparently that does happen. It can be the case, but it wasn’t for me. So what were my edits like?

Helen has now read the book three times, and the main thing that she is focusing on is voice. My book has a five year-old narrator. The credibility of the novel rests on her voice being spot on. She doesn’t have to sound like child narrators in other books (and she won’t), but she does have to be believable, allowing the reader to be immersed in her story. To this end, Helen has gone through meticulously and pulled me up on a few words that she feels don’t sit well with the voice of my narrator. And guess what, she’s right.

I have spent the last few days going through these changes, using my eldest daughter as a sounding board – she is now conveniently just turned 6, so is very helpful for vocabulary cross-checks – how would you describe the smell of pastry? What sound does the rain make?

What has been very interesting for me as I do this is that Helen’s suggestions are sparking off ideas in my own mind about how to improve the narrative. The suggestion of one change of word has a cascade effect on the way whole paragraphs are written. The process seems very organic.

I now find myself criticising the entire manuscript yet again (and believe me I did that many times before submitting it to my agent). These words are going to be printed on beautiful paper, bound and covered and marked with my name. I want it to be perfect.

Can it be perfect? I doubt it could ever be, and readers probably are more forgiving than an editor, but we are making it as perfect as we can.

Next step, the copyedits!

 

Room of One’s Own.

Posted on: September 20th, 2011 by Claire - 16 Comments

I’m just back from a two day writers’ retreat at Tilton House in Sussex. Having never done a writing course/retreat/anything before I blogged about having booked it…and now as promised, here are my thoughts on how it went:

The setting at Tilton House is sublime. Very spacious, clean and comfortable. Hammocks in the sunshine, crackling log fires and comfy sofas and many, many nooks and crannies perfect for writing in. Books everywhere. Healthy and delicious food morning, noon and night and a yurt at the bottom of the garden for yoga before breakfast. The location undeniably was a great foundation for our writing.

Vanessa Gebbie, who was running the weekend had put together an ambitious schedule of workshops, one-on-ones and individual writing time, as well as some opportunities to get out and about. During the two days we talked about where stories come from – the internal and external stimuli that prompt us to start writing. We tried some visualisations and other creative exercises to spark off ideas that really grabbed us. We also talked about the things that can block us from writing and how to get around them.

We also had two exceptional guests over the weekend. On Saturday evening Carole Hayman regaled us after dinner with tales of her writing life and advice on how to succeed (including how having a rasher of bacon festering down the side of your cooker is perfectly normal). And then on Sunday, Helen Garnons-Williams, editorial director at Bloomsbury (who also happens to be my editor) brought her passion and enthusiasm for great books, talking about the world of publishing, how literary agents fit in, how she sees e-books evolving and answering our questions.

What did I personally get out of it?

I was one of a diverse group of eleven women who had jumped at the opportunity to put our writing first for a change. We included playwrights, poets, creative non-fiction writers and novelists and some writers who were just starting off on their writing journey. The virtual writing community has been a life saver for me over the last couple of years, but it was truly lovely to meet people face to face and I’m sure I’ve made some friendships that will stick.

The workshops that Vanessa ran were great fun and very informative. I found that some of the exercises really clicked for me, and others less so. So I’ve learned something about my own creative processes and I have some new ideas, tips and tricks to keep things moving and, I think, bring some new life to my prose.

At the start of the retreat we talked about our objectives (mine were very vague, but involved writing a lot!) then afterwards we had a chat about how we had done versus those objectives. Perhaps I was expecting to write thousands and thousands of words on my novel over the weekend. What I actually came out with was a surprising piece of flash, a poem, the beginnings of a short story and some work on my novel…but not the work I’d been expecting to do.

I think the biggest benefit is yet to be seen. By actually allowing myself some down time, time to think, sleep, do some yoga, be inspired, try new things…the nourishment that that provided, along with the seeds of inspiration will see me in good stead for the writing I do over the next few months and I suspect will bear fruit when I’m least expecting it.

Thanks to Vanessa Gebbie for conceiving and running this weekend, from a very happy writer!

Interview with Jonathan Pinnock

Posted on: September 5th, 2011 by Claire - 12 Comments

CK: Hi Jonathan and congratulations on the publication of your first novel! Thanks for coming over to my blog, especially now you are famous, to be grilled about Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens and to answer other impertinent and only tenuously relevant questions.

JP: Thank you for having me. I will try to behave myself.

CK: Let’s start with the hardest question for many writers: In a nutshell, what is your book about?

JP: Well, the clue’s in the title. Sequel to Pride and Prejudice. With aliens. I would, however, like to point out that I’ve taken considerable care to make sure it fits seamlessly with the original (or, as I tend to refer to it, “the first book in the series”). Much of Wickham’s behaviour in P&P, for example, can be explained in terms of him being an undercover agent for the Department of Unusual Affairs. I’ve also devoted a fair degree of attention to developing a credible character arc for Austen’s characters. For instance, it seems clear to me that the only way Charlotte could cope with marriage to Mr Collins would be to become a laudanum addict. Especially if she happened to bump into Lord Byron.

CK: What is it like being sandwiched between Rosamunde Pilcher and Bella Pollen?

JP: Odd. I bet they’re both thinking “There goes the neighbourhood”. Actually, I had to look up Bella Pollen, because I’d never heard of her and she sounded like something out of a Roald Dahl story. Her books look quite interesting, though.

CK: You describe the work with Salt, in particular with your editor, as being published ‘well’. Has your experience changed the way you view the book market and the options for publication? What advice would you now give to other writers hoping to publish a novel?

JP: Good question. I don’t think it’s changed anything particularly in that – despite the fact that I ended up serialising the book online – I’ve always wanted a traditional publication with a good-looking book for sale in the high street. Somehow or other that actually came to pass, and I feel very lucky. My advice to a first-time novelist would still be to aim for a traditional publisher because that’s still where the credibility is. However, if you do decided to self-publish, be prepared to shell out for a decent cover and an editor. And be aware that before he made his million sales, John Locke was also a millionaire insurance salesman. If you want to achieve his level of sales, you probably also need his sales and marketing skills. Then again, even if you’re aiming to be traditionally published, you probably need a fair bit of self-marketing nous. I had to pull quite a few stunts to make myself noticed after all.

CK: Have you considered that the cover art for Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens could also represent the two sides of Jonathan Pinnock – Respectable Software Developer and ….well, that other one?

JP: Ha. That hadn’t occurred to me! I would however question the juxtaposition of “Respectable” with “Software Developer”. It’s hardly a proper job, you know.

CK: You initially published Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens on the internet, where it was available for free. What was your thinking behind this? When is it OK for writers to give away their work without payment?

JP: It was borne out of desperation, to be honest. I was fairly sure that what I was writing was worthy of publication, but it kept running up against the idea that it was just another of those Pride and Prejudice and Zombie things. So I thought, well, I’ve got a decent social networking footprint and I’ve been writing it in short chunks: let’s see if I can persuade a few people to read it as a serial. I still can’t really believe that the strategy worked.

As for when it’s OK for writers to give away their work without payment, that’s a much thornier issue. The intention with Mrs Darcy was always to take the serialisation down as soon as I got a deal, and that’s exactly what I did. I’m pretty certain that most of my regular readers from last year will buy the book, because that’s what I would do myself. Also, I don’t have a problem with giving my short stories away to ezines like Eclectica or indeed The View From Here, because I know they’re not going to be making loads of money out of me and I also know that they have credibility as a platform for getting my work out there. But once again, the long-term goal is to get a traditionally-published short story collection out – in fact, like the one I’ve got lined up for 2012! With the likes of the Huffington Post, however, the long-term advantage is a lot less clear cut, and I’m not entirely sure it’s a healthy trend.

CK: Do aliens exist?

JP: Whoa! Curve ball alert! I’m sure they do, although it’s a little surprising they haven’t bothered to come knocking yet. Either way, they probably don’t have tentacles.

CK: What are the top 3 reasons why people should click here and buy Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens right now?

JP: 1) It’s got aliens.
2) It’s got Lord Byron.
3) It’s the most fun you can have with a bonnet on.

You heard it here 5th! Thanks again, Jonathan and good luck with the book sales!

For more information and sample chapters, please click
Sample from the novel
Special Novel Publication Day episode
The Wickhampedia

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