Claire King

Author

Archive for January, 2015

Blurby be Kind (2)

Posted on: January 30th, 2015 by Claire - 15 Comments

In the Before Time, when my editor at Bloomsbury was sending The Night Rainbow proofs out to authors with little enthusiastic and hopeful notes, suggesting if they liked it they might consider saying something nice for the jacket, I wrote this post: Blurby be Kind (do have a read and then come back!)

The post talked about how I was feeling, which was anxious, mostly, and how I *would* behave in the future, should I be faced with the same request myself.

Three years on, and I am indeed getting quite a few requests to read novels, usually debuts, with a view to providing quotes for the book jacket or for PR releases.

proof

And when I say quite a few, well, I have read more of these proofs in the last six months than I have read books from my (very tall) to-read pile, because they often come with deadlines whereas my own reading does not. Some have come direct from authors I know personally or on social media. Some have come from my editor and the remainder arrive from other publishers.

In some ways I’m absolutely delighted about this. It’s an opportunity to pay forward some of the kindness I received myself. (An actual author giving up their time to read my book – amazing). But in other ways it is a tricky thing to handle because however much you want to love a book, sometimes you just don’t. And that’s sad, especially when you know the effort and the hope that are bound up in that little proof.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and have come to this conclusion: I’ve been reading for pleasure for decades now, and I tend to know what I like. When I browse books I flick through the first pages and when I find a voice that is going to grab me and delight me I just know it straight away. When I listen to others making personal recommendations, in reviews, on blogs or on twitter, I tend to get a good sense of if a book is for me. That’s how I choose what to read. So I enjoy the books I’ve chosen for myself more often than not.

But with the hopeful books lining up for a bit of cheerleading, there’s none of that. My personal taste in books is not usually a factor, and so many of the books I am sent, just as with many of the books in a bookshop, are simply not my cup of tea, no matter how well written they are or how successful they will go on to be.

Still, when I read one of those books that nevertheless found its way into my hands I get such a sinking feeling. Because I want to be that cheerleader, I do. I carry on with those books long past the point I would normally – either as a reader or as an editor – because I want the magic to happen. But to be honest I already know it won’t. It’s like a blind date with a lovely person that you just don’t fancy. So if you know your book has been sent to me hoping for some blurb-love, please know that I have given it my best attentions, whatever the outcome. And if I don’t fall in love with it, well,  it’s not you, it’s me.

And by the way, isn’t PROOF a weird looking word?

proof

 

 

Fallow Fields

Posted on: January 5th, 2015 by Claire - 13 Comments

The idea of a fallow field is thousands of years old. Farmers would let a field fallow for a year so that the field could regain its strength. If a field was used year in year out, especially for the same crop, the soil’s fertility was exhausted.

In modern times fewer and fewer fields are left fallow as it has a significant impact on farmers’ yields, and these days rather than grazing animals on the land for a year, letting the manure and the earthworms and the wild grasses do their work, farmers use commercial fertilisers instead.

I am not a farmer, but I do believe that this shift away from ‘resting’ a field and towards artificially stimulating the land to produce non-stop, must have an environmental impact. Just think how it affects the bee population, for example. There is also a theory that without fallowing, levels of carbon in the soil are reduced, releasing it into the atmosphere (see here if interested in this theory). I’m also convinced there’s  an impact on the flavour and nutritional value of the food produced.

ARS2009-fallowing-1_1

 

It’s quite easy to see, I think, how this example from agriculture is analogous to writers, and indeed to our lives in general. In Jewish teachings the concept of leaving fields fallow, or ‘shmita‘ gives us the idea of the sabbatical:

Sabbatical or a sabbatical (from Latin sabbaticus, from Greek σαββατικός sabbatikos, from Hebrew shabbat, i.e., Sabbath, literally a “ceasing”) is a rest from work, or a break, often lasting from two months to a year. The concept of sabbatical has a source in shmita, described several places in the Bible (Leviticus 25, for example, where there is a commandment to desist from working the fields in the seventh year).” (from Wikipedia)

ARS2009-diversitymanagement-1_6

As writers, we are often told that we should write every day, and when I can I do. In recent years this kind of routine and discipline has been the thing that has kept my words flowing even when I was too tired or too busy or just not motivated. But recently I got to a point where I felt I was forcing my brain to write, but there was something missing – an energy or an inspiration – that left me feeling flat. And when you are prioritising writing above, say, spending an extra hour with your family, that decision becomes easy to question too.

I wonder, can you really force creativity to work non stop? If you look you will find plenty of advice on how to keep going. But is that the right advice? I don’t think it is, at least not for everyone. I think sometimes our imaginations also need to be left fallow for a while. It doesn’t mean that nothing is happening, that the time isn’t productive. Far from it. Great things are taking place below the surface.

Daniel J. Levitin, the director of the Laboratory for Music, Cognition and Expertise at McGill University explains why in his post in the New York Times on taking a real break. It seems that for our brains, stopping focusing on a task is exactly what we need sometimes to be truly creative. And writer Rachael Dunlop describes the process in action in this post about her taking a conscious decision not to write.

I am convinced. Not just for writers, but for anyone trying to produce creative work, every now and then our minds need a restorative sabbatical. It might be the best investment of time you could make.

My lovely editor sent me this link to the Wapping Project Berlin a ten week residency in Berlin for artists (aged 33+) photographers, writers, musicians etc. The residency is ten weeks accommodation in the heart of creative Berlin, and the one condition is that you do NOT use the residency for work. Instead, you take the time for “rest, recreation and reflection”. Perfect, right? (Well, perhaps when you have got over that part of you that’s protesting “but imagine how much writing I could get done in ten weeks!”)

I’m not in a position to be able to apply for this residency, sadly. Even while on writing sabbatical I still had to carry on with the rest of my life as usual – earning a living, being a mum and so on. But maybe YOU could – you have until 14th February, so follow the link and good luck!

My two-month writing sabbatical comes to an end today. My notebook is bursting with jottings and prompts and I’m feeling full of momentum again. I’m ready to sow the seeds of the next novel. Wish me luck…

Book News, or How my Writing Process is like Monty Python.

Posted on: January 1st, 2015 by Claire - 9 Comments

Back in February last year, Science Fiction author Una McCormack tagged me in a blog chain for writers about our current projects. Here’s her post, so do head over there to find out more about her and her new Star Trek novel which will be published this month. Yes that’s right. Star Trek!

In accepting her tag I had four questions to answer: What am I working on?  How does my work differ from others in its genre? (I’m not going to answer that one, by the way) Why do I write what I do? and How does my writing process work?

I didn’t want to reply immediately because I wasn’t ready to talk about the novel I’ve been working on. In fact I’ve discovered in the last three years that in fact being asked about a book I’m writing, especially if it’s tough going, makes me pretty grumpy and defensive.

Effectively, in 2014 I was silenced by this book. I wrote just 9 blog posts in 2014 and only one of them was about writing or editing, the one from January: The Order of Things. Even that was a post about not actually being able to write because, well, life. When I posted that blog I thought I was close to finished. In fact I didn’t finish until nine months later. So many times I thought I was ready to submit it, but then I’d fall into a pothole of confidence and set off again on ‘just one last edit’. So I guess this is the part where I talk about how my writing “process” works:

I spent 2014 wrestling with my own editing process. The more I edited, the further I seemed to be getting from the end. And then suddenly, in autumn, it finally came together. A bit like this:

With hindsight I think a lot of this was to do with the fact that I had no experience at what stage a first draft was good enough to show to an agent or editor. I wanted it to be clear exactly what I was trying to do with the book and for the writing to shine, at least in parts. With your first book you are always told to polish your novel as much as you can before you send it to agents. But with a second one? When is it good enough to share?

Times are still tricky in publishing. Just as getting an agent doesn’t mean the novel she took you on for will get published, so getting that first book published doesn’t automatically mean your publisher will want your second (unless you are contracted for it). And the novel I had chosen to write was pretty ambitious. I felt a huge pressure to get it right.

Funnily enough, by the time I thought it was good to go and finally sent my agent my manuscript in October, I was so drained by the effort of getting to that place that I was starting to wonder if anyone would ever actually love this book that had caused me so much heartache…

But they did (joy!), and because they did I now feel positive and confident about it again myself. Oh the roller-coastering of it all. Now I am really looking forward to (my editor) Helen’s edits this month. I’m convinced that she will be able to illuminate things I can work on that will turn this book into what I want it to be for readers.

Meanwhile, in the last two months I’ve been having a writing break, I needed to read, spend some time with my neglected family and get my writing groove back again. I’m starting 2015 feeling refreshed and raring to go.

 

So what is it I’m are working on?

Firstly, it’s my second novel, Everything Love Is, which is now scheduled for publication in 2016. I’m delighted that it’s no longer just me that’s working on it, but me the team at Bloomsbury too. It’s set in France on the Canal du Midi, and is a love story wrapped up in a mystery, about memory and the happy endings we conceive for ourselves.

I’m also starting the first draft of my next novel. My plan is to use the very early mornings for this, before the rest of the family get up for breakfast, as I find that’s when my brain is at its least polluted and most uninhibited. I’ll save the editing work for later in the day when I’m more analytical.

I also plan to try and squeeze in at least one short story in January/February. It’s a form I’ve neglected lately and I do get a lot out of writing short stories, both creatively and from a satisfaction point of view. And I’ve promised my daughters I will write them a children’s book we’ve been talking about, which is a great fun thing to pick up on difficult days.

It looks as though in January I won’t have much day job work on, which is just as well really, given all the above.

 

Why do I write what I do?

I always seem to struggle to describe my novels in terms that don’t make them sound bleak. The Night Rainbow, I would tell people, is about a little girl whose pregnant mother is too depressed, following the deaths of her husband and a previous baby, to look after her. How gloomy does that sound?!

And Everything Love Is, well it’s about a man who discovers he has early onset dementia just as he meets the love of his life. It doesn’t sound like an uplifting read, put like that (but I promise it will be).

And if I told you about the new book I’m working on (which I won’t, sorry!), the elevator pitch would be similarly jolly.

But the thing is that none of these books are dismal books. For me the common thread in the novels I choose to write is the resilience of the human spirit. The challenges that I throw at my characters are not burning buildings, but burning hearts. I am convinced of our extraordinary capacity for strength of character and hope in the face of struggles and that’s what I want to write about. Those are the stories I want to tell.

 

Who next?

I’m also allowed to tag one or two other writers to write a similar blog post. I am going to tag Alison Wells, a writer who leaps across genres with great skill and tenacity, who writes some of the most beautiful prose, both in her novels and short fiction, and who I hope will soon be snapped up by an agent and a publisher.  No hurry, Alison, obviously!

 

 

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