Claire King

Author
Claire King Edited Choices (10 of 10)

Posts Tagged ‘novels’

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!

 

 

Books-in-Bed Advent Calendar

Posted on: December 1st, 2014 by Claire - No Comments

Our advent calendar was embroidered for my daughters by our lovely and much missed friend, Annie. It is made up of little girls in their beds, and of course, a little girl’s bed is not complete without a book to snuggle up with.

So every day this advent I thought I would pick a random book off our bookshelves, turn to the chapter number that corresponds to the date and that would be the first page of the chapter they are reading. It also meant that throughout advent I got to dip into a book I hadn’t picked up in (many cases) years, and have a little taster of the writing again. Exciting, and less fattening than chocolates.

And on December 25th? Well there’s no girl, just the Christmas tree, so here’s what was under mine. Pretty much all I asked for this Christmas was books, and I’m so excited with all the reading I have ahead of me. I’ll be starting with the 5th one down, as we have a capon for our Christmas meal and there are bound to be leftovers! I’d better go and cook it then…

 

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How Publishing a Novel will Change your Life

Posted on: April 13th, 2014 by Claire - 15 Comments

I read a blog post today by the debut novelist Mary Miller: Publishing a novel isn’t going to change your life 

Mary says: “I don’t mean to say that publishing a novel isn’t awesome. It is. In so many ways. But it disheartens me to see my friends talk as though it will solve all of their problems and alter their lives completely when I know it won’t.”

I absolutely agree with the point that for most authors – and in this I include myself – the publication of a debut novel doesn’t lead to a life of Riley. But most writers I know don’t expect this – we do understand the publishing industry to some extent and we also network with other authors on twitter who often share their experiences both amazing and frustrating. You can hope and dream, but you have to keep your expectations realistic.

I wonder if there is a difference in expectations if you are an MFA undergraduate or graduate and are expecting writing fiction to be your career from day one. That’s a big investment in time and money and so perhaps in that situation you do expect a payback?

Or perhaps it’s that I’m older, and I’ve already learned that getting that job, that promotion, that pay rise, that man, that flat…none of those things actually change your life in any meaningful way.

Wish

I recently wrote about a few things I’ve learned after a year of being published, but having read Mary’s post I wanted tell you about three ways in which publishing a novel has changed my life:

#1. (And most importantly) I have discovered that being a writer is what I really want.

You never really know if what you want is really what you want until you get it. Only then do you see if the reality meets your expectations, and even if it doesn’t, is it a reality you want? For me it is, and this has changed my life because holding on to this opportunity, digging in deeper, raising my game – all these things now are based in a better understanding of where disappointments may lie, and the risks I am taking. I am learning as I go, but at least now I see the path clearly.

#2. (The consequences of #1) I’ve discovered where I have even more to give…and where my limitations are.

Sometimes life throws things at us that adds more to our plates and tests our ability to manage it all, our stamina and our good humour. Sometimes we throw this stuff at ourselves, and I think that’s exactly what you are doing if you are trying to get a novel published these days, be it your debut or the second or the nth. You are setting yourself up for rejection, underachievement and disappointment that you could easily do without. And it doesn’t stop after the first novel is published. Writers are continually wracked by doubt and insecurity. And once you have a book out there the pressure on you increases. You have to deliver on the next book whilst promoting the first one and carrying on with your ‘normal’ life without dropping plates. But we do this because we choose to, because we have hope, we are driving ourselves to do something that is not easy and that smacks of character. If you don’t want to write then don’t. (I’m reminded of this post, from writer Kirsty Logan “Writing is not hard.”)

#3. My daughters think I’m awesome.

Yes OK they are too young to know better, and yes I have always had the magic card of ‘Mummy – the best person in the world’, but this is different. They tell everyone they meet about my book, and how I’m a writer. They’re excited by it and proud of me. They see me working hard and they see the exciting things happen. I feel as though I am role modelling something that will serve them well later in life.

So…

If you’re looking for your first published novel to change your life financially, you probably need to revise your expectations. But don’t think it won’t change your life. One way or another it probably will.

Postscript June 2015: I came across this (beautifully written) article today, on a similar topic. 

A Lesson in Creativity.

Posted on: February 23rd, 2012 by Claire - 29 Comments

I’ve just taken up piano for the second time.

I started playing not as a child, but in my early twenties. I lived in a rented apartment in Kiev that came with its own piano. I took lessons from a melodramatic and usually heart-broken Ukrainian musician who became a great friend. As my fingers crashed on the keys, so my Russian and her English crashed together to make some kind of vodka-fuelled conversation. We enjoyed making the music. Natasha let me take shortcuts, gave me free rein to experiment, as you might with a child learning to speak. We laughed a lot. It was fun, it was rewarding. After a few months I could play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata from start to finish, from memory. There are 6 year-olds in the world who could play it better, but for me it felt like an achievement.

So now, 15 years later, I finally have my own piano and I can play again. I thought I would like to add a bit of Bach to my repertoire, some Satie, maybe even Philip Glass. I found a new piano teacher, a highly organised German lady. No more tipsy, strung out evenings teetering between music and friendship. Now I have strict 30-minute lessons, squeezed into days already full-to-bursting.

I showed my new piano teacher what I could play.

“You’re using the wrong fingers,” she said. “It’s no good.”

I looked at my fingers. My wrong fingers. I wasn’t sure what she meant.

“You have to use the right fingers in the right places. Otherwise, when you move on to other pieces of music, they are going to get all tangled up. And what are you doing to the pedal?”

It turns out that although I could play the piano, I couldn’t actually play the piano. So I’ve been re-learning where to put my fingers, where to put my feet…and why.

At first it broke everything. There was no music, just disjointed staccato jabbing at keys with weak little fingers and overenthusiastic thumbs. I thought I had made a big mistake. I’m not a piano player after all. What would I tell my mum, who had saved up to buy me that piano for my 40th birthday?

Of course I couldn’t. So I carried on. The neighbours made comments. They thought it was my 4 year old (pictured above) playing…Still, I carried on. My new teacher is very encouraging and hardly ever laughs.

And now after a couple of months it’s starting to come back together again. Better than that, it feels more fluid than before. More comfortable.

Why am I telling you this?

I was speaking to someone recently who told me she used to win prizes in short story competitions. And because she was encouraged by her success, she wanted to write a novel. And she took a writing course, which she thought would help. On the writing course she started to learn techniques.

She discovered that she needed something called an ‘inciting incident’, that her story should have an arc, that her book should be divided into fifths and at each part something specific should happen. She copied down lists of things never to do, and more lists of things to always remember. She found it all overwhelming. She panicked, convinced that she wasn’t clever enough to write fiction after all. She stopped writing altogether.

There is a joyful expression of language, or music, or art that we have instinctively as children. Until at some stage someone tells us that we are not necessarily doing it ‘right’.

Some people take it in their stride, are lucky to find helpful coaches who explain how a little theory can help in the long run. Some people are less lucky. They are hit over the head with rule books and shame until they give up. Sometimes, as adults, we really know how to train the joy out of people.

What advice would you give to the woman who stopped writing? I told her to forget the rules for now. To write some stories that pleased her. To play with her words and find her delight again. I don’t know if that’s the right advice, but it made her smile.

Pub/Lit Roundup (2)

Posted on: March 19th, 2011 by Claire - 7 Comments

Here are my top 20 finds of the last month:

Literary Agents and Publishing

Are you on submission? Then exercise discretion on your blog – Literaticat

The 99 cent Kindle novel Perceived value and consumer choices by Nathan Bransford

Bloomsbury predict 2011 e-book sales will be ‘off the scale’ – London Book Fair article

The agency model for selling ebooks – unfair and illegal? Guardian article

A breakdown of marketing activities for a debut self-pub book launch by Joanna Penn

Self-publishing is hard work – Interview with Derek Haines

An interview with literary scout Louise Allen-Jones by Gemma Noon

The publishing pieMargaret Atwood talk, and here being interviewed afterwards – The author as a dead moose

How to write a query letter by Bubble Cow

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Craft/Writing

Checklist of 17 questions for your novel by Emma Darwin

The Training-Wheels Novel (some novels are just a warm up) by Nichole Bernier

You totally want to be a writer – Somewhat profane pep talk by Chuck Wendig

100 things about writing a novel – by Alexander Chee

We cannot create a fiction from a fiction – emotional structure in writing by Peter Dunne

Seven questions you should ask a writer by Richard Dansky

Inspiration vs. Determination by K.M. Weiland

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Writing Competitions

How to win a short story competition – Sarah Dobbs and Sarah Hilary

The BBC National Short Story Award

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Cool Stuff

How ink is made by Peter Welfare

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Literature

National Book Critics award – Female author wins, Male loser gets the publicity. – MOBYLIVES article

15 rules for writing novels.

Posted on: February 23rd, 2011 by Claire - 66 Comments

no-no-noAll the other writing blogs have lists of mistakes you should avoid making when writing. So here is mine.

1. Never write using a first person point of view

2. Never write in present tense

3. Don’t tell. Show (see illustration).

4. Don’t write dialogue in dialect.

5. Clichés are old hat.

6. You never write in second person POV. Dear God, I mean, not ever.

7. Don’t use adverbs. Or, if you must, use them sparingly. But never use ‘suddenly’ no matter what.

8. Don’t use prologues.

9. Never use a word other than ‘said’ to carry dialogue. Even ‘says’. If you find you have used ‘says’ as a dialogue tag then you are writing in present tense. See (2).

10. Don’t write what you know. No do. No don’t. Um. It depends what you know really.

11. Using the passive voice is not recommended.

12. If using the third person POV, which obviously one is, avoid use of the omniscient narrator.

13. Make sure you read widely. Also, focus on reading books similar to your own.

14. Network like crazy and build your platform.

15. Don’t procrastinate. Shut up and write.

Once you have rewritten your manuscript according to the above rules it will be ready to blend in with others on the slushpile. Next week we shall discuss how you can make your work stand out by use of the query letter in ‘100 things not to do when querying literary agents’.

First person, present tense: Snog, marry, or throw off a cliff?

Posted on: September 8th, 2010 by Claire - 19 Comments

It’s all me, me, me and now, now, now.

I recently finished writing a literary novel, which I wrote in first person, present tense. I can already hear some of you wincing. So before we look at first person, present tense (let’s call it FPPT), I would like to explain why I chose to write in that way:

My main character is a five year old girl. The only authentic way to view the world as she sees it is in the first person. This is critical to the plot, to the characterisation and everything about the book. There was no debate about that.

I chose present tense, rather than past tense, because although I have heard the opinion expressed that FPPT is often difficult both to write and to read, every moment is important to this little girl. Five year olds usually dwell very little on the past and rarely consider the future. Everything is about what is happening right now. The fly that has landed on your arm. The smells coming from the kitchen. The narrator is purely in the moment the action is talking place, not not weighed down with hindsight or reflections.

However, even in the last couple of weeks I have seen a proliferation of blog posts and tweets saying ‘agents hate FPPT, publishers hate FPPT, readers hate FPPT – don’t write it, you’re wasting your time’.

OK, many of the posts are less black and white than that. Here is the general concensus:

Where FPPT is “acceptable” – Young Adult Fiction (egos, urgency); Short stories (less need for reader stamina); Blogs.
Where FPPT is considered wrong, usually – Adult novels.

But there are exceptions of course. Do they prove the rule?

One of my favourite contemporary books, Audrey Niffeneggers ‘The Time Travellers Wife’, is written in FPPT. It found an agent, a publisher and a very wide readership.

I am currently reading ‘Room‘ by Emma Donoghue. It was published just after I began submitting my MS to agents and I bought it out of morbid curiosity – would reading this Booker shortlisted book, not only written in FPPT but from the point of view of a five year old child, show up fundamental problems with the way I used FPPT? Was I going to be encouraged, or shown up?

The answer is that I have been encouraged. I found the voice of Jack in ‘Room’ quite hard work to begin with. This worried me, because you really do need an engaging narrative voice if FPPT is going to be successfully used. In novel length fiction the reader has to want to spend a lot of time with this character. But as the relationship grows between reader and narrator, which Donoghue manages swiftly and skilfully, the book flows perfectly. FPPT gives a sense of intimacy and urgency to her excellent novel.

Another argument is that using FPPT is that it limits your POV – you can’t observe things that the narrator doesn’t know or can’t experience; you have to tell the story entirely from his or her POV. But this can work to your advantage if you want to keep certain things hidden from the reader or to examine a subject from an unusual vantage point. In the case of ‘Room’ it is used to throw the spotlight on the behaviour of adults as seen from the point of view of someone who has never been one, and up until his sixth year had only ever known two of them.

What is your experience of first person, present tense? Do you avoid books written that way? Do you even notice? If you are a writer how do you choose to use it, or do you follow the bulk of advice and avoid it altogether?

Writing what we love

Posted on: August 26th, 2010 by Claire - 5 Comments

I got some great food for thought from a writer friend this week.

This friend, a very successful author, has written in a couple of genres under two different names. The second of these genres, which at the time had just been a sort of side project, was the one that his publisher jumped on and said “Yes, yes! Write this, lots of this. This will sell books. Lovely.”

Imagine if you wrote, for example, science fiction, and suddenly you were handed a three book contract for historical fiction. On the one hand it’s all very well, but on the other hand, if it’s not really where your literary heart lies, can you spend the next three years writing historical without getting some sort of personality disorder?

Do you write what you love and accept it may never get published or read? Or do you snatch off the hand of the publisher for your three book contract and write what they want instead? Both, as it happens.

Geoff might have had to cross the ocean, but he did it his way.

Yes, my friend obviously wanted to be published, make a living and so on. But like most of us, he writes because he loves it. So he found a way to write the books the publisher was asking for, but in a way that he was still honest to himself as a writer.

What he told me was that even if the genre is set for you, it is the author, ultimately, who creates the characters. It is the author who throws conflicts at them and tests them time and time again until the resolution of the story. The characters and the themes are still yours. You can have your wicked way with them. You can, effectively, have your cake and eat it.

It doesn’t mean that the itch is gone for writing what your heart wants to write. On the side my friend continued writing novels in his preferred genre, in which he enjoyed past success but with no current publisher interest. He has a nice stack of unpublished novels. What now for those? That is another story.

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