Rejections and Party Preparations

Can you tell what it is yet?

Can you tell what it is yet?

I think my brain might just explode. Everyone take cover!

I always overthink things – it’s a major flaw and one I’ve battled with all my life. Mostly these days I deal with it by being so tired I can’t think. Besides, ignoring the cleaning and laundry and reading or writing a book instead doesn’t take much thought!

But once I enter into party-prep mode, my brain goes on overdrive. It’s as if it says, “Ooh, planning, I recognise this! This is what you did to earn a living. Hurrah, I’m needed. Think. Think. Think!”

So I wake at two in the morning, planning how I’ll make and decorate the piñata, and how I’ll keep it a secret from the kids. I plan how to make superhero cuffs to the nth degree. I stress over how to make a Ninjago cake, and what to do when the icing turns out germoline pink rather than lego red.

Not exactly things worth stressing over. Definitely Middle Class problems: especially in a world of refugees and politics and homelessness.

7 pairs of cuffs ready to go

7 pairs of cuffs ready to go

Which means then I feel guilt for my triviality. For rushing home to mow the lawn after dropping the children at school, rather than rushing to work to do something important and serious.

Except I worked in marketing. In car insurance. Not exactly earth shattering: hardly making the world a better place.

Perhaps planning just the right Jungle Scramble obstacle course, or Superhero Musical Statues, or Spiderman piñata is actually making the world a brighter place.

Who knows?

At least I’m being brought to earth by my ‘day job’ such as it is. My first rejection arrived this week. A lovely ‘thanks but no thanks’ which arrived at a speed to suggest the query wasn’t even read.

Never mind.

I suspect a pink ninja might not be appreciated!

I suspect a pink ninja might not be appreciated!

Rejections mean I’m trying: it’s like bad book reviews. It means I’ve written a book that someone read and had a reaction about.

Rejections mean I’m trying to find an agent, to get my books published and into children’s hands where they belong. I’m engaging with the world I want to belong to.

So bring on the piñata and the pink icing, bring on the rejections.

But most of all, bring on October, so I can let my brain drift back into its happy fog!

Waiting…

Home-painted tiger

Home-painted tiger

My son starts school this year. Except he hasn’t. Yet.

The school we selected for our children is awesome, but they do have this terribly long settling-in period for Reception children.

Even though my daughter went back last Thursday, my son won’t have his first session until tomorrow afternoon. Random sessions for the rest of this week, 9-12pm next week, 9-1pm the week after.

Only on 28th September will he start full time (which is only 9-3.10!)

I know he’s nearly five, and one of the eldest children, but seriously – his class mates are all friends from nursery, even the only-just-four ones. They’ve been used to childcare days – 10 hour days for some of them (including mine when they were little!) and often five days a week.

I understand that school is different, and my daughter was exhausted for most of Reception year. Also the year group share a smallish space and there are sixty kids starting. Introducing them all slowly allows the staff to get to know them better.

Face painting at Burghley

Face painting at Burghley

But it’s hard on the children who are more than ready. The ones whose siblings already go to school. My son starts every day with, ‘Am I going to school today?’ and then a sad little face when the answer is no.

As it turns out, he’s come down with a cold this morning, and so another day and a half at home watching TV is probably not a bad thing.

I got the face paints out this morning, because his sister had her face painted at Burghley Horse Trials yesterday, and he wanted his done. But almost as soon as I’d painted a tiger, he’d sneezed most of it off. (Is it bad that he’ll be starting school with black pirate eyebrows?! You can tell he’s second child.)

So, in the meantime, we wait. I wait until I can get the house straight again. The dog waits for a decent walk. My books wait for some love and attention. And my son waits to start school.

Books!

Books!

At least I’m getting a bit of work done while the poorly man watches TV. (And as he’s poorly I don’t need to feel so guilty about his amount of screen time!)

I decided to get paper copies of all my children’s books, so I can hand them out to friends for feedback. I formatted most of them during the holidays, while the kids were in childcare. The Seren Kitty series and Moon Pony arrived in the post last week – don’t they look cool!

All I have to do is finish the Will on The Water formatting and order a copy of that. It’s my favourite cover, so I can’t wait to see it in print.

Of course, printing them out is dangerous – it feels like ‘job done’ when it’s far from done. I can’t self-publish these books – I’d need an illustrator, and I can’t afford one of those. So I need to find an agent. I should be contacting agents, not playing publisher with front covers.

But it helps fill the waiting and make it all feel more real..! Until they’re really in print, I’ll just keep waiting…

 

Summer Holidays Week 1

Planning the Hell out of this Holiday!

Planning the Hell out of this Holiday!

It’s Day Six of the Summer Holidays and we’re all still here.

I have a plan and I’m sticking to it. It helps that I had Friday alone to write – that’s part of this year’s survival plan.

I can’t give up writing for the summer, much as I want to be that kind of parent: Last year I didn’t write properly again until January.

This is how the holidays are panning out so far:

Homemade Messenger Bag and Purse

Homemade Messenger Bag and Purse

Day 1:

Son at nursery, so daughter requested that we spend a day doing sewing on the machine.

We went to the knitting shop and bought three fat quarters (who knew material was soooo expensive!) and found an easy pattern online.

I have to do these activities early on in the holidays when my patience bucket is at its fullest.

Even so, I made the green purse by myself while my daughter did cartwheels. But she did help with the bag, including pressing it and gluing on the jewels.

Monopoly abandoned when crying started

Monopoly abandoned when crying started

Day 2:

Day started with Monopoly, followed by a trip to the Opticians (where daughter screamed the place down. Sigh), then to the sweetie shop and to a local garden centre to hear a friend play in the local festival.

A delicious lunch of pizza and ice cream followed, and I was feeling like a really good parent. Until we got home to pick up the swimming things and son and I fell out big style. I wouldn’t let him sit in the car without a t-shirt because I didn’t want the seat belt to cut him. He sulked and then asked if I was ready to apologise for being rude (or words to that effect).

Result: I exploded!

Ten minutes of screaming and ranting about ungrateful children etc etc. Sigh. We went swimming two hours later, but only so I could wear them out.

Day 3: Raining, but a good day because both children went to nursery!

Even though my daughter is too old now, the staff love her. My son’s keyworker was as excited as my daughter, and she invited her two daughters in to play too! A great day for all.

I wrote 8,000 words and still got the house ready for visiting rellies.

Day 4: Visiting rellies arrived overnight. I managed to stay awake until midnight to greet them. I also put a loaf on to cook at 7 a.m. and presented a breakfast suitable for Italians at 9 a.m. Then karate at 11 a.m. No idea what we did in the afternoon, slept probably. I still seem to be doing a lot of that this year!

Day 5: Invited my parents to lunch, so went for a run at 9 a.m. rather than cleaning the house. Bored of trying to keep the pigsty tidy already. Walked the dog and took kids to the supermarket to burn off some energy. It’s still raining. Cooked curry (dropped a whole jug of curry sauce all over the floor and DIDN’T CRY, despite taking my meds late on Friday. I did growl at the kids for spilling ink all over the table, but I’m only human.) and crumble and watched the kids pretend to be in a band. Slept from 4-6 p.m. Detecting a theme here…

Dog in her happy place

Dog in her happy place

Day 6: Pyjama Day planned, so I could do more writing. The dog got the hang of relaxing, and I slept curled up with her for an hour, but the children don’t really understand how it works.

Kept shooing them away, and we lasted until lunchtime, although the children ended up with me while I worked, so not sure how much I got done.

Quite proud of my latest story though – Moon Pony – and now just need to find someone to read it!

Pyjama Pancake Picnic in the Playroom

Pyjama Pancake Picnic in the Playroom

Lunch ended up being a pancake picnic in the playroom because I’ve given up trying to feed them healthy food already.

The fridge is empty and so is the fruitbowl. I’ve thrown away twice as much as they’ve eaten. I miss school meals when I didn’t have to know whether they ate or not.

We’re now heading off to the park because it’s finally stopped raining and I need to get us out the house. My son is running around in his waterproofs (which happen to be pink because he’s wearing his sister’s) yelling, “Super Pink! Super Pink!”

Only 38 more days to go. Not that I’m counting.

Radio Silence

Never-empty Ironing Basket

Never-empty Ironing Basket

I’m sorry for my crapness at keeping up with the blog. I was going to blame the hot weather, or the never-empty ironing basket, or Wimbledon, or my latest computer game obsession (Forge of Empires), or the great books I’ve read recently (Holly Webb is awesome), or the new blog, or the fact I’ve started running again. But the truth is I just don’t have much to say.

I know, it’s a shocker, right?

I seem to be at peace with myself and life, even with it being only six days to the start of the summer holidays. I’m eating well, sleeping okay (when it isn’t hot and humid!) and writing when I can.

There are things I’ve thought about sharing on here – great blog posts on parenting or recipes I’ve discovered or the new KDP Amazon pages-read reports – but I can’t help but feel I’ve said it all before.

And the stuff that gets me really riled these days is all political and I swore I wouldn’t get into politics on my blog. It’s for things mostly writing or parenting related, although I know I stray off topic from time to time!

Hopefully I’ll come up with something to share. Maybe bits of the novels I’m writing at the moment. I’ve started a new series – called Will on the Water – about a girl raised on a narrow boat. If anyone has any direct experience to share, that would really help my research!

I might also do Art in August again, too, just so the blog doesn’t wither and die in the long vacation! At least there will be less ironing to do when the children aren’t at school!

So please don’t give up on me yet. I’ll try harder I promise!

Even My Fictional Kids Don’t Behave

Seren Kitty books one and two

Seren Kitty books one and two

I finished my fourth Seren Kitty book last week (originally called Cat Girl Sophie). They’re only early drafts. Even though the first three are on Smashwords – that’s mostly for ease of being able to get copies to Beta Readers.

Four is a nice number and I’m ready to let them sit for a few weeks, or more, so I can get the proper distance for editing. Or can afford to hire an editor.

I’m still a bit vague about how to write a compelling children’s book, even though I can definitely tell the great from the meh ones I borrow from the library.

So this morning it was time to sit down and start afresh. I have one manuscript half-started, for an 8-12 yo novel, but I don’t feel like going back to it yet. I also have the outlines of two dozen picture book/early reader stories, but that’s not right either.

Recently I’ve been consuming some fantastic 8+ stories, by authors like Lucy Coats and Holly Web, and that’s where my mind is at.

Cue brainstorm time.

Books three and four

Books three and four

Seren Kitty was found in a brainstorm, and I find it’s a great way to discover characters. (I don’t invent them, as such, more flick through ideas and concepts until someone waves at me).

My stories always start with characters and much of writing is getting to know and understand that character. I’m not a planner, even if I’ve got better at sketching plot outlines before I get too stuck in.

I read once that, if your characters do something unexpected, it’s because you didn’t flesh out their backstory and personality fully. Oh dear. My characters are always misbehaving.

I don’t worry. Writing for me is more like online dating. You know quite a lot about the person you’re about to meet – you’ve read their profile and exchanged messages – but it’s only by spending time with them that you truly understand them. I met my online-dating husband nearly eleven years ago and I’m still discovering new things.

But, as with online dating, it starts with a spark. It starts with wanting to know more about a person. It starts with someone standing out from the crowd.

My latest character has a spark. More a roaring inferno, really, because she’s already causing trouble.

Most of the books I’ve read in recent months, aimed at the 7-10 market, are written in the third person, with varying degrees of internal monologue.

But that’s not good enough for Will (Willow), she wants to tell her own story. When she started chatting in my head, as I walked the dog, she wasn’t talking to another character, she was talking to me.

Now I don’t know what to do. I don’t like writing (or reading) first-person novels. Aside from Dragon Wraiths (written in the first-person present tense, by another bolshy character) I haven’t done it before. And Leah, in Dragon Wraiths, is a stroppy teen. Will is meant to be an adventurous nine-ish year old.

I like my own children being independent, strong-minded, feisty. Just not when I’m raising them. Similarly, I like characters that are alive in my mind, but not when they take over. Sigh. Time to go back to the drawing board.

Everyone Can Love Reading

LoveReading4Kids.co.uk

LoveReading4Kids.co.uk

I wanted to take a minute to share a great website with you if you have children. It’s called LoveReading4Kids.

I first came across it when I was helping a fellow parent who wanted to encourage her child to read. I suggested she look for Reluctant Reader books and she admitted she’d never heard of it as a category.

Reluctant Readers can be children who lack confidence, who aren’t interested in reading, or whose reading age is below their interest age. The fact that there are specialist publishers who focus on these areas (especially the latter aspect) is brilliant.

As it says on the LoveReading4Kids website, “When a reader is hooked on a story, his or her reading ability is proven to improve. He reads more fluently – because he wants to read on!”

The site goes on to say, “That’s why books for reluctant readers have to have fabulous stories. We’ve thought long and hard about the selection and we feel every one of the books selected provides a powerful and unputdownable story, even for the most reluctant reader.”

Their website is categorised into reading age and interest age, so it’s easier to find the right kind of book.

There is also a section on the site for readers with Dyslexia. The website explains,

“The term dyslexia literally means ‘difficulty with words’. In reality, it covers a whole spectrum of problems, not just with reading, writing and spelling, but also with comprehension, memory and organisational skills. With some 10% of people in the UK with dyslexia, here at lovereading we feel the time has come to provide some guidance on dyslexia-friendly books for children and teenagers alongside the leading publisher Barrington Stoke of dyslexia-friendly books and the charity Dyslexia Action.”

Dyslexia-friendly books concentrate on having the same layout and format, with cream pages and well-spaced, unjustified, paragraphs to make reading easier. It’s something I think all early readers would benefit from as I often notice my daughter losing her place easily on a close-written cluttered page.

Dyslexia-friendly book

Dyslexia-friendly book

As an aside, I read Mum Never Did Learn to Knock, by Cathy Hopkins last night in the library. It’s a short dyslexia-friendly book that is beautifully written, funny and perfect for anyone struggling with the loss of a loved-one.

I subscribe to the LoveReading4Kids newsletter, partly to keep on top of the market now I’m writing for children, and partly to find books my own children might be interested in. My daughter is a great but reluctant reader, which is partly why I started writing for children. I haven’t yet found the story she just couldn’t put down.

We have a great local library (a must for any parent!) but it’s small and the book selection is limited. It’s also not easy to tell at a glance what age a book is good for, as it’s divided into picture books, children’s fiction, and young adult. I’m learning there’s a huge difference between books for 8 year olds and books for ten year olds!

There are other great categories on the LoveReading4Kids website – books for boys, books for parents, must-read books, and If they like… They’ll love… Having given up on Amazon’s categories for children, which are hopeless, it’s great to have a whole website dedicated to books for children. It is a UK site, but I’m sure most books are worldwide published these days!

I should just point out, too, that I have nothing to do with the website, I merely think it’s a great resource for parents. And who knows, one day I might make it on there myself! Here’s hoping! 🙂

Listening for Echoes

The Martin Kids

The Martin Kids

When I get stuck with my writing – when I’m not sure how a scene plays out or what happens next – I walk the dog. And while I’m walking, I listen for echoes of my characters’ voices.

It feels like hunting for butterflies with a gossamer net. A scene, a visual, a story line, for me, nearly always starts with a fragment of dialogue.From the words, the tone, the attitude I hear, when the words appear in my mind, I can tell the mood and action of the character.

At the moment I’m finishing the first draft of my third Seren Kitty novel. I knew how the story was going to end (I do planning now, get me!) but sometimes that is more a burden than a blessing.

When I reach the climax my writing falls into, “And then Seren did this, then this happened, then this went wrong, then she fixed it like this…’ It’s all too fast and frantic.

So today I stopped, just as the rain stopped hammering on the plastic roof (My poor daughter has been on an outdoor school trip today through torrential rain. She’s going to be soaked!) I’ve come out to walk the dog (who isn’t happy because the vet has said she’s not allowed off-lead while her foot heals, after a bad sprain.)

Almost immediately after I left the house in sparkling afternoon sunshine and puddles, I could hear Seren’s voice. She was calling her mum from the phone she just borrowed from the baddies. She’s explaining what’s just happened. Her voice is clear in my head. She’s scared, but she’s come through a lot already and she’s a plucky girl. And, besides, the rain has stopped falling on her too (which is even more important when you’re sometimes a cat).

Seren has spoken and I have heard the echo. Now I need to go home and make it real. After I’ve taken a towel to the school pick up, that is.

Feeling Crap and a Cry for Help

My novel for 9yos

My novel for 9yos

My radio silence during and after a school break seems to be getting longer and longer. I think as parenting becomes increasingly complicated, and my children’s language and questions become more and more sophisticated, my brain is squeezed dry when they’re home for twenty days straight!

I did write one blog post during the Easter holidays, but I couldn’t find enough silence to finish it.

Then, once the children were back at school and nursery, there were doctors, dentists and vets to see, housework to catch up on. A mountain of ironing. But mostly there was apathy, illness and subsequent writer’s block.

Every time I even thought about writing, a massive headache crushed my brain and I slept instead.

I have, however, read LOADS! The blog post I’ve half written is all about the great children’s authors I’ve discovered. It turns out fiction for nine year olds is also perfect for harassed mummies with little free time and a microscopic attention span.

The only downside is it increases my nervousness about writing children’s fiction. While there are admittedly some mediocre books for under tens, there are also some amazing ones. It’s going to be a difficult market to crack. Especially as I can’t find anyone I trust to give me an honest opinion on my progress so far.

So that’s where you come in. I’ve cobbled together an ebook of my first complete novel for c.9yo children, currently called Cat Girl Sophie (working title!). It’s only second draft, it certainly shouldn’t be live in the web world. But I’ve made it five bucks, so hopefully no one will buy it!

But if it happened that anyone reading this blog also regularly reads (or writes!) children’s fiction, or has a child that does, and would be prepared to give some honest and constructive feedback, well that would be marvellous. Or perhaps not, if the feedback is ‘give up now.’

You’re a nice bunch, though, and I know you’ll take into consideration this is only a draft. If you are interested, visit Smashwords and use the code SD75M for a free copy. Thank you! 🙂

Advice vs Example: How Best to Write Dialogue

The Tricky World of Children's Fiction

The Tricky World of Children’s Fiction

Ever since I started taking my writing craft seriously, I have read a lot of advice on how to write dialogue. Specifically on dialogue tags.

Whether I’m reading writing advice books, studying creative writing, or perusing blogs on what to do and what not to do, the advice is all the same.

1. Don’t be afraid to use ‘said’.

People don’t see ‘said’. More importantly, don’t suffer from Dialogue Tag Thesaurus Syndrome.

E.g.

“Where are we?” Marina whispered.
“I don’t know,” Jacob answered.
“It looks like a cave,” Marina replied.
“It’s too dark to tell,” Jacob murmured.

This is good advice. There’s nothing worse than the obvious ‘trying too hard to avoid said‘ you see in some writing. Although I think there is a place for using some of these words sparingly to help add to the description and texture of the dialogue. Especially where word count is tight, like in children’s fiction.

2. Where possible, avoid using dialogue tags at all. Instead work in some action to help move the dialogue on and make it flow better.

E.g.

“It’s so beautiful.” Marina bent down and looked at the flower.
Jacob glared. “It’s girly.”
“No it’s not!” Marina gave him a furious look.
“Well, I think it is.” Jacob shrugged and turned away.

This is fine in moderation, but used too much I think it slows the dialogue down and makes it hard to read.

3. If you only have two characters speaking, you only need to identify them every few lines.

E.g.

“Come on, let’s go, Jacob.” Marina ran through the woods.
“Okay, I’m coming. Slow down!”
“Can’t catch me!”
Jacob heard Marina giggling and followed the sound. “Oh yes I can.”

I use this a lot in adult fiction, but I would use it sparingly when writing for young children. They read slowly and get lost and it’s easy to forget who is talking, unless it’s obvious from the voice of the character.

Plenty of examples of 'she beamed'

Plenty of examples of ignoring advice no.4

4. Don’t use dialogue tags that have nothing to do with talking. You cannot grin, laugh, giggle, sneer, sigh, groan, moan and talk at the same time. You can whisper, yell, shout, murmur, cry out, but only in moderation.

E.g.

“I bet you can’t climb that tree,” Jacob sneered.
“Oh yes I can,” Marina chuckled. “Watch me.”
“You’ll hurt yourself,” Jacob cautioned. “Girls can’t climb.”
“Don’t be silly,” Marina sighed. “You’ve seen me do it a hundred times.”

Now this is the advice I have the biggest problem with. I hear it everywhere, particularly in the writing course I’m doing at the moment. I’ve trained myself to always put the action separate. “Oh yes I can,” she said, grinning. or to use a full stop. “Oh yes I can.” She grinned at him. But since starting to write children’s fiction, I’ve discovered two things.

a) Using she said, grinning uses too many words. It makes the dialogue slow and static

b) No one else cares about this rule. Seriously. I’m reading a children’s book a day and every single one happily uses, She grinned, she giggled, she chuckled, she frowned. They even use, she hissed, when the dialogue doesn’t contain a sibilant word. (Advice says you can’t hiss ‘Granny’ because it doesn’t contain an s.)

So, here’s the rub. As a new writer, do I follow the writing advice or the examples? I have trained myself so well I actually cringe when reading ‘she sniggered’ as a dialogue tag, especially when reading out loud to my children. But they don’t care. To them it’s normal. It makes the writing flow, it adds texture, and – best of all – they understand it.

Anyone who thinks that writing for children is easy is wrong, wrong, wrong. 🙂

Have you come across this? Do you have a problem with ‘she grinned’? Do you always follow writing advice?