Claire King

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Claire King Edited Choices (10 of 10)

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How to Squash all the Bookish things into 7 Days

Posted on: November 14th, 2014 by Claire - 5 Comments

I spent last week in the UK, which is something I rarely do, especially on my own. Because of that it became a very condensed seven days doing all the bookish things I would do more often (but in a more spaced out way) if I lived in Britain.

On Thursday evening was my initial reason for the trip: a Newnham College alumnae networking dinner. My old college is great at finding ways to bring people back together, and this dinner was themed around literature. There were 15 of us, including authors, screenwriters, radio producers, journalists, publishers and editors and a fascinating talk was given by Cathy Moore on how she founded and developed Cambridge Word Fest, now Cambridge Literary Festival. I was reminded how lucky I am to be part of this network of accomplished women who have gone on, and continue going on to do diverse and extraordinary things in their lives.

On Friday I called by Bloomsbury to pick up some books they were kindly donating for my school visit on Monday. I have to admit to keeping the very sexy ‘Sleeper and the Spindle’ bag they came in. I also managed to snag an hour with my lovely editor Helen for a catch up, which generally means talking about what books we have read, the state of publishing, life in general and my writing. I was happy to be able to finally tell her that she’d be shortly receiving the MS of my new novel.

London2Coffee in Bloomsbury was followed immediately by lunch in the basement of Pizza Express in Soho. The lovely Gillian Stern had organised a “twunch” (yes, it’s a thing) where a whole load of lovely literary Twitter chums get together and talk writing, publishing, books and just get to know each other a bit better in the flesh. There were more than 30 of us there and of course I didn’t get to chat with with everyone, but I managed to catch up with some familiar faces and meet some new. Just as on twitter, there was a very diverse bunch of people (although Ben, Lloyd, Barry and Alexander had to hold up the side for the men), all with interesting stories and backgrounds and all willing to be open about their writing ups and downs, to offer cheers as well as sympathy and to network in the best sense of the word, sharing experiences and ideas. A really energising and fun do, and here are the last six of us to leave after managing to make a pizza lunch last four hours…@JaneRusbridge, @IsabelCostello, @EmilyBenet, Jackie Buxton (@Jaxbees) and @KnightJennyMrsLondon1

At the twunch, fired up by a glass of prosecco, good humour and dough balls, I started talking about my new book, Everything Love Is as though it was actually a thing. That might sound like a strange thing to say, but after so long writing and editing it, and all the doubts and uncertainties that go along with writing a novel on your own, I’d become very reluctant to discuss it. But since it had already been with my agent a week or so, and now I’d told Helen she’d get it next, it had suddenly begun to seem inevitable, regardless of what fate has in store for it. It was very encouraging that when I told people ‘what it’s about’ they seemed to like the idea (although small voice inside still whispers “maybe they were just being kind”).

Over the weekend I caught up with some of the friends and family I miss so much. It was absolutely lovely to spend time with some of the people I wish I saw more of – the major downside of living over here in France

Then on Monday I was up in South Yorkshire where I grew up, visiting Bawtry Mayflower Primary school where I had a chat with a group of year 6 pupils about reading and story telling. I’d been asked to do this talk because I’m signed up as a volunteer on the Inspiring the Future project – it’s not just for writers, it’s for anyone who’d like to volunteer, offering an hour a year of their time to go and talk at local schools about what they do. The idea is to inspire the children and expand their horizons. I’d encourage you all to please sign up for this if you can.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had no idea what this class of children would like, or be like, so I’ll admit to being a little apprehensive. I was delighted to find a really lovely friendly school, with bright, polite and engaged children, full of questions and enthusiasm for books and reading, which made my job a lot easier.

We all chatted about our favourite books and why we like them (Roald Dahl did really well, but there were some very diverse books discussed and I made a note of some for my 9yo), and then we talked about why human beings tell stories and what reading stories does to your brain.

Then we talked about metaphors in story telling and discussed the idea of G.K. Chesterton that “Fairy tales are more than true – not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”

An interesting question that came out of that discussion was this: Why are children’s stories more fantastical whereas adult stories tend to be set in real life situations, with events that really could take place?

I thought that was a great question. We had the idea that perhaps children have more imagination, or that real problems upset children more than imaginary ones, or that children have very little power and fairytales can imbue child heroes with not only courage but also super human powers. What do you think, why do children’s books lean more to fantasy whereas in adult fiction it’s only one genre of many?

Children holding books

As part of the discussion we used the books donated by the lovely people at Bloomsbury Kids and it was brilliant to see how excited the children’ were about receiving these books for their class.

At the end of the session one of the girls asked about my writing, and when I mentioned The Night Rainbow she said “My mum has that book!” This was followed by a flurry of requests to sign autographs on scraps of paper. I’ve never been asked for an autograph before. I suddenly felt quite the star!

Tuesday and back down in London to meet my agent and find out the verdict on The New Novel. But first, since it was armistice day, I got up early to see the poppies at the tower before it got too busy. Even at 7:30am there were lots of people. London3The installation was stunning, inspiring and an invitation to contemplation, not just about the hundreds of thousands who lost their lives in the UK in the first world war, but about all those other lives lost across the world, then and in subsequent wars. About the families left behind. About the wars which are still raging today, and what is behind them, and how peace still evades our species and why. This is what I think the arts do best: yes, they can be beautiful, entertaining or relaxing, but most importantly they turn the questions back on ourselves and provoke us to think.London4

The previous day, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan had made a speech advising teenagers to steer away from arts and humanities subjects if they wanted a better range of job opportunities. That maths, science, engineering and technology would be more worthwhile. Putting economic arguments aside (but not because I believe for a minute that devaluing the arts wouldn’t harm the economy), how can we reconcile the idea of the arts being less useful with the amazing response to the tower poppies? People flocked to see them, to be moved and reminded and challenged intellectually and emotionally. The arts and the humanities are needed to balance out the STEM subjects. They make the human race human.

Some of you may know that I do also have what I call a “day job” (my day job colleagues consider that I am “also a writer”), and after seeing the poppies I popped into an office in Old Street to catch up with a few people there. And the most beautiful surprise, out of the blue I was given this beautiful leather bound copy of The Night Rainbow as a present. I now feel as though I’ve won the Booker. And it smells so good!London5

Book shopping! One of my highlights of trips to the UK, as I just love browsing in bookshops, but I do read mostly in English not in French, so it’s not as much fun over here. Right by the office I found Camden Lock Books, a gorgeous little shop with books piled high around the base of the shelves and creatively stacked to fit as many in as possible. Obviously I bought some, including a couple of Michael Morpurgo’s I hadn’t heard of for my daughters.Londonz2

Then it was off to Covent Garden to meet my agent…

Hallelujah, she loves the new book. Much rejoicing over fish pie and a cheeky lunchtime glass of wine, followed by the crossing of fingers over coffee.

Then on Wednesday it was back home to autumn sunshine, the first snow on the mountain and best of all, my lovely family. What a whirlwind of a week.

Since Helen is going to need some time to read and consider Everything Love Is, the waiting game starts here. I’ve decided to take a writing break until the new year, to refresh and catch up on reading. I’ve just read The Rosie Project and The Kite Runner, and I’m in a pause midway into The Luminaries, and now reading Carys Bray’s A Song for Issey Bradley. I bought Roald Dahls short stories in London too (it seemed appropriate after his popularity on Monday). I fully intend to gorge on books between now and Christmas.

My other plan is to do lots of “spring” cleaning as the house has suffered rather a lot during the last couple of years of writing, and to get stuck into some of the DIY that’s been waiting around. I find that smacking things with big hammers is great therapy for nerves…

No-one is buying debut novels

Posted on: May 24th, 2011 by Claire - 53 Comments

No-one is buying debut novels these days. Publishers don’t want them. Agents don’t want to take on new writers because they can’t sell debuts. Booksellers are closing down and the way forward is 99cent ebooks. It’s all doom and gloom out there. So why bother? The chances are infinitesimally slim that you will ever get the book deal your heart is set on. Why not go to the pub, or get comfy and watch re-runs of Friends instead?

‘They’ would have us believe that this is true. I wonder if the reason ‘They’ would have it that way is because ‘They’ are writing their own books and don’t want the competition? Maybe not. Maybe just because dismal news seems to sell. Unlike debut novels.

But wait!

For about 18 months now I’ve been using Twitter to meet and chat with writers all around the world. A few of them were already published writers, but most were like myself – scraping time to write in jam-packed days, entering writing competitions, occasionally getting shortlisted, or getting short pieces accepted in literary magazines. For me it’s been one of the best things I ever did in my writing career – in my Twitter stream I’ve found encouragement, wisdom, cheerleading, information, coaching, tips, consolation…and I hope I’ve managed to give back, which is in the spirit of Twitter.

And recently, in the last few months, some of the debut novelists on my twitter network are having breakthroughs.

These people are not different from you and me. They are not better educated. They are not richer. They are not people with industry connections. They are people who sat down and wrote. A lot. And re-wrote. They have families and day jobs and they are busy too. These people are getting agents and they are getting book deals. Three cheers for these people:

Maria Duffy, who signed with Sheila Crowley at Curtis Brown last autumn and has just signed a two book deal with Hachette Ireland. Her debut novel, Any Dream Will Do, will be published November 2011

D.J. Kirkby, who writes fiction and non-fiction and after self publishing her first novel, Without Alice, has just signed up with Judith Murray at Greene & Heaton

Liz Fenwick recently signed with Carol Blake at  Blake Friedman and signed with Orion for her debut – A Cornish House - and a second novel…

Claire LeGrand (Who is 24, by the way!) has just sold her debut novel to Simon & Schuster

Kate Brown who just signed with Jamie Coleman at Toby Eady Associates for her debut historical novel.

Mariam Kobras who just signed her contract with Buddhapuss Ink independent publishers for her debut contemporary romance The Distant Shore

Kerry Hudson whose debut novel TONY HOGAN BOUGHT ME AN ICE-CREAM FLOAT BEFORE HE STOLE MY MA comes out from Chatto & Windus in summer 2012

Claire McGowan whose debut novel sold in February to Headline and will be published in 2012. See her blog post about living the dream here.

Jonathan Pinnock whose debut Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens is out this September from Proxima Books

Rebecca Emin whose children’s novel New Beginnings will be published next year by Grimoire books.

Hip, hip, HOORAY! And many congratulations to all these writers!

I’m NOT saying that it’s easy. The market is difficult at the moment and I know several brilliant writers who have got great agents and are still waiting for a publisher to buy their book. That must be so frustrating after that magic moment of finding an agent raises your hopes…But what they aren’t doing is sitting around moaning about it. They are all, without exception, writing the next novel.

And as well as those people there are still many of my twitter friends submitting to agents, getting rejections, revising and submitting again. And of course there are those still climbing the first draft mountain. But I’m convinced that many of them will succeed because it’s clear they are determined to do so.

So, what’s stopping you?  Write. Write today. And come and find us on Twitter – make friends, watch others succeed and be encouraged (keep an eye on the #writegoodnews hashtag). Or occasionally drown your sorrows together.

Claire King on Twitter

 

Notes from an ex-Twitterphobe

Posted on: June 27th, 2010 by Claire - 9 Comments

Not too long ago I was a Twitter-phobe. Then my good friend Martha Williams said to me ‘No, really, there are some cool writer people on Twitter – agents, publishers, writers and more writers. Loads of writers’
‘Ooh,’ I thought, since I live in the arse end of nowhere and nary a writers group for miles. And I signed up. Claire King was taken. I became @ckingwriter. That was some months ago. Now near to 700 people know me as @ckingwriter. All (but 3) people I have never met.
I’m glad I jumped in because there are some fabulous people out there twittering all sorts of interesting things about writing: the craft, the exertion, the route to publication, the tenacity, the need to laugh at ourselves and yet take ourselves seriously and so on.

I’m not too caught up in the rage for thousands of followers. In any case, if I build it (the regular flow of best selling novels, for example) then I’m sure they will come. However I have come to the conclusion that there are two kinds of people that I follow on Twitter. They both fall into under the heading of writers (for everything else there is linked in, facebook oh yes and actual meat space). Here they are:

1) Peers – people who write. Struggling, successful or just zen, but in any case willing to strike up a conversation and offer a bit of mutual support. A network of like minded souls. Just like real life, you give a little, you get a little.

2) People who would never follow my tweets in a million years but who tweet a stream of useful literary awesomeness. Thanks, you know who you are. Actually you are not reading this, but still…

This is how I justify the few minutes a day I spend twittering when maybe I should be writing, or taking more showers.
You?

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