A Bio, A Synopsis and The Danger of Distraction

Back at Nursery Today

Back at Nursery Today

My son went back to nursery today (hurrah!) and I was able to get back to work. Unfortunately a night of broken sleep has left me a little dazed and I’m finding it hard to concentrate. So, rather dangerously, I decided to do something different. I’ve just read Julie Duffy’s guest post on Charlotte Rains Dixon’s blog, about 15 Fixes for Your Worst Writer’s Block (worth a read!) I decided to combine ‘Work On A Different Part Of The Project’ and ‘Change Projects’. So today I’ve been working on the extra stuff I need to enter my WIP in the Independent’s children’s novel competition – the bio and synopsis – and I got out an old manuscript that I want to work on next.

It was a shock looking at the old manuscript and realising I started writing it in 2008, before my daughter was born. That’s five and a half years ago! Where did the time go? It’s also tough reading something that you remember as being quite good and realising your writing has come on some way since then. Which is of course fantastic – I’d hate to think my writing had got worse – but as I wrote the manuscript whilst also studying a Creative Writing degree course with the Open University, I kind of assumed it might be okay. Actually the writing might be – I didn’t get much chance to go into it – but the formatting and grammar are awful!

I spent the morning roughly reformatting it because I’ve programmed myself to write ready-to-publish documents, after doing Two-Hundred Steps Home last year, when everything had to be ready to publish at the end of each month. Formatting and layout, styles and chapter headings, all have to be to Smashwords standards (easy enough to convert to Kindle formatting). It did mean that I noticed things like how many bits of dialogue start with, “So…” Which is how I speak, but no longer how I write fiction. It’s nice to know I have grown a bit as a writer in half a decade.

I had to quickly put the manuscript away before it dragged me further in. It’s probably a blessing that it needs so much work: I’m not tempted to start that particular challenge when I have two big deadlines looming: finishing this children’s book by the end of next week, and getting Class Act out by the end of June.

So I wrote my Author Biography (see! I started another sentence with ‘so’!) It was rather gratifying. I was able to put:

Amanda Martin is a self-published author and blogger, with a presence on Facebook and Twitter. Her blog, Writermummy, has accumulated 550 posts in two years, and she has published four novels. Amanda’s women’s fiction novel Two-Hundred Steps Home was written in daily instalments and published in monthly volumes in 2013 as part of a challenge on her blog. A section of the novel has been selected to appear in a Cambridge University Press study book. Amanda’s Young Adult novel, Dragon Wraiths, was long-listed for the Mslexia Children’s Novel award in 2013. George and the Magic Arch is her first Middle Grade novel, although MG fiction is her favourite genre.

All of which should hopefully be true by the time I put in the competition entry, or at least by the time someone comes to read it! It’s nice to feel I’ve been doing something with my time at home these last five years.  I even managed to write a one-page synopsis which, although it will need tweaking, takes a weight off my mind. I hate writing synopses (if that’s the correct plural?)

Anyway, distraction time is over. As the children have been off sick this week I’m marginally behind on my 15,000 word target, although it’s still in sights. I definitely do better working to a target. I must remember that.

What Others Think

A brief moment of co-operation

A brief moment of co-operation

My whole life seems to be ruled by what other people think of me. Apparently that’s a personality trait of Highly Sensitive People, a category I discovered through one of my blog followers from Setting the World to Rights. I took this online test and, unsurprisingly, scored very highly. At least it’s nice to know there are others who are so sensitive to noise etc and it’s not just me being difficult or highly strung.

This week has been all about other people’s opinions. First I got a one-star rating on Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes – but with no review to tell me why. I don’t mind one-star reviews – in fact I expect them, because most of the time I don’t rate myself as a writer – but I worry what people think and I want to know what they hated.

The same is true of my next two novels. Class Act is with an editor but only one other person has read it and I’m really worried the story is weak and is going to get terrible reviews. Unfortunately I can’t find anyone else to read it and give me an honest opinion, so I’ll have to wait for the public to tell me (assuming they do! Reviews are hard to get: I’ve had 4,000 downloads of Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes on Amazon and still only have 8 reviews.)

My poorly knight

My poorly knight

The children’s book I’m in the process of writing is even worse, because it’s aimed at a target market I have no personal experience of. I love reading MG fiction myself, but I’m not 7-12 and when I was I was reading either Mills & Boon and Sweet Valley High or Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. I have no idea if the language is pitched right or if the story is authentic and entertaining to that age group. And I really need to know: I need external validation to make up for a lack of self confidence.

Parenting is the same. Yesterday I kept both children home from nursery/school. The youngest had a sky-high temperature and couldn’t go to nursery. The eldest complained of also feeling poorly. She only had a slightly raised temperature and on a normal day I would have taken her to school. But we were all feeling rough and I didn’t want to do the school run with poorly kids. I also foolishly thought if they were both home I might be able to rest as they would entertain each other.

But I did feel bad, so I wrote something on Facebook about having slightly-poorly children home and how they seemed to be instantly better once I’d called them in sick. Some friends came back and said ‘relax, enjoy the day with them’ (!!) while others said, ‘I send my slightly-poorly children to school’. In both instances I felt awful because a) I wasn’t enjoying having them home and would have preferred to be by myself, writing and b) I was a soft mama for not sending them both in to school (like I normally would!). By trying to get a second opinion all I got was a feeling that I was doing it all wrong.

Not so poorly girl

Not so poorly girl

As it turns out we’ve all learnt something: my daughter has learnt not to say she feels poorly just because she wants to stay home from school: a poorly premenstrual mummy and cranky ill brother don’t make good company; and I’ve learned that having two ill kids at home is different to having two happy, healthy children. Because even though they were well enough to play, they bickered and fought and cried and whimpered and had tantrums ALL DAY. Poor hubby walked into a maelstrom when he got in from work. I’ve got just one home today and he’s happily watching TV while I work. Much better.

I know I’m in good company, both with other parents and other writers. We all care and so we worry about getting it right. These posts on parenting – Mother’s Guilt and None of Us are Perfect – could have been written by me on a different day (and you can see I wrote an essay in the comments on both). And I know most writers struggle to appreciate their own writing. In fact, as I’ve been working on my children’s book I’ve been reciting to myself, “Just keep writing – Every first draft is sh!t,” over and over and over. But of course, I still need a second opinion!

Women’s Cycle Tour and On a Writing Roll

Watching the start of the bike race

Watching the start of the bike race

I had a slow start to writing this week. I’ve been struggling to sleep, and our local town was all caught up in the inaugural Women’s Cycling Tour, so my brain has been fried. Add to that spending all day Tuesday walking round town due to road closures and staying late to attend the festival to celebrate the race, leaving me aching in places I never expected, and it hasn’t been the most conducive environment to write.

I spent Monday and Wednesday breaking the writing rules by editing what I have already written on my WIP. Generally writers will advise you not to edit as you go, because editing uses a different part of the brain and can kill creativity. But I was in full editing mode after working on Class Act in April so it made sense, and allowed me to figure out where I got to with it before stopping at Easter. I also learned how to curse in Middle Grade fiction.

The best part of going through the first 25,000 words was that I actually enjoyed what I’d already written and got excited about the story again. I also spent time on Wednesday, before going off the watch the start of the cycling race (including seeing Laura Trott up close), brainstorming ideas for where the story might go next. I’d come to a squidgy stop in the soggy middle right before the children broke for Easter and it had given me a bit of writer’s block.

Plate spinning at the Women's Tour festival

Plate spinning at the Women’s Tour festival

Anyway by Friday all of my strategies seemed to have paid off, as I sat down and had a five thousand word day. I haven’t had many of those in the last two years – last year was all about writing small amounts every day for Claire and the daily blog, and before that I was rewriting and editing Dragon Wraiths and Baby Blues. I’d forgotten how nice it feels to get on a roll.

Unfortunately, doing that on a Friday has taken me into the weekend a bit distracted. I even added another thousand words after the children were in bed last night and this morning while they watched TV – unheard of, as I rarely write unless I’m by myself. Then Grandad came round for tea and cake and this afternoon we’re all off to a 70s fancy dress party. Not much chance to write.

I still have at least thirty thousand words to write to finish the novel, and I want it done before I go to Italy at half term (two weeks away) because the Independent are running a competition I want to enter it into, which requires the first 5,000 words and a synopsis. Pantsers can’t write the synopsis until the book is finished because they don’t actually know what’s going to happen. It only means I have to produce five-thousand-word days on each of my six nursery days between now and then.

I can do that easily, right? 😉

How Do You Tackle Swearing When Writing For Children?

The Tricky Task of Writing for Children

The Tricky Task of Writing for Children

This morning I’ve been researching the interesting world of swearing, for my MG fiction book. This is the first time I’ve written for pre-teens and I hadn’t realised how many mild swear words litter my writing, or how different words have different shock values depending on the country.

For example bloody hell and bugger off probably wouldn’t cause too much consternation in the UK, although there is obviously more impact on the written page than in the spoken word. I don’t think anyone would bat an eyelid at crap or oh my god or good heavens. But then I come from a non religious family and I’m sure the latter two would worry religious families more.

Interestingly my children are more shocked by ‘rubbish’ and ‘stupid’ than ‘shit’ because we as a family have given the words more power, although I do try and distinguish between saying ‘that shot was rubbish’ and ‘you’re rubbish’. I’m not even going to discuss the reaction I got from nursery when my son repeated my stressed-out-end-of-tether phrase ‘shut up!’ to another child. Let’s say they would have been less disapproving if he’d said f-off. Maybe.

Swearing, after all, is all about shock value. You only had to see my unfortunate and accidental (and instantly-regretted) reaction when my daughter mispronounced ‘can’t’ during a recent reading session. Having to explain why even Mummy wouldn’t use that word probably gave her the ultimate weapon against me. But I digress.

Some level of exclamation is needed when writing, to show emotion and make dialogue sound realistic. Unfortunately I don’t yet have Tweens, so I don’t know what they say when they’re upset/shocked/scared/angry. And I’m sure what they say to each other isn’t what their parents want to see them reading in a children’s novel.

Scouring several websites this morning, it seems the safest thing to do is to make up your own swear words. But how to do so without sounding twee? In Elizabeth Kay’s lovely book, Ice Feathers, she uses phrases like ‘for the Wind’s sake’ and ‘flapping’. Unfortunately they make me think of all the phrases I hear on Cbeebies like ‘galloping guinea pigs’ and ‘flapperty flippers’, ‘jumping jellyfish’, or, my favourite, ‘Well, I’ll be a sea monkey’s uncle.’

I think I will use foodie words for my male protagonist, as he loves cooking. Things like ‘fried tomatoes’, ‘pancakes and crepes’ and possibly ‘shiitake mushrooms’ although apparently that’s from a Spy Kids movie and I don’t want plagiarism issues. My female lead is a fairy and lives in the woods, so phrases like ‘eggshells’ and ‘creeping caterpillars’ might work. Is ‘bird poo’ too much? I’m sure I’ve borrowed books from the library for under fives that have the words poo and pants. Does it become unacceptable if Mummy isn’t reading it?

Who knew writing for children was so much harder than writing for adults, especially when you’ve had a colourful upbringing. Well, me actually. But it will be worth the effort I hope!

What are your favourite non-swearing cuss words? What do you let your children say and not say?

Related Articles:

Bob and Jack’s Writing Blog: Danika Dinsmore ~ Tropes & Tips for Middle Grade Fiction Writers

From the Mixed-Up Files… Of Middle Grade Authors: Is it Okay to Curse in MG Books

AbsoluteWrite: Acceptable Swear Words for Children?

Back To Work… I Hope

Partners in Fun

Partners in Fun

It’s 6.50am on Wednesday morning. Not just any Wednesday, but my first day without children in seventeen days. In two hours, after the chaos of the school run, dropping reluctant (and probably tearful) children at school and nursery, I can finally get back to my work in progress. And my mind is blank.

I’ve been reading like mad these last two weeks, to keep my writer’s brain active, in between trips to the park, scraping up sand and dishing out snacks. But still I can barely remember how to write, the ideas are all gone and I haven’t a clue what my WIP is about.

It doesn’t help that I have to give a progress report to my Doctor at 10am on how the medication is working. I think I can say ‘fine’, given that we’ve survived the holidays still smiling (more or less!)

Actually, the kids have been amazing. Thanks to two weeks of incredible weather (for England, especially in April), they’ve played together almost non stop, with few arguments. It has made me so proud to watch and listen to them co-operating and scheming. Maybe the long vacation won’t be so awful (provided it doesn’t rain all summer…)

And on a positive note, I re-read the first chapter of Class Act and was quietly impressed, if I’m allowed to say that of my own novel. I’m going to select an editor this week, which is exciting. There are only four and a half weeks until half term, when we’re away visiting rellies in Italy, so I need to crack on and find some inspiration from somewhere. Pass the coffee!

All Quiet on the Blogging Front

Busy busy...

Busy busy…

This is just a quick note to explain my silence on the blog recently and to say that normal service will hopefully resume in a week or two.

This week I’ve been concentrating on drafting my children’s book (working title George and the Arch, but that will change!) I’m around a third through, at 22,000 words, and have realised that writing a first draft uses ALL my energy and inspiration.

My daughter’s school teacher pointed out that there are only 11 full weeks of school left before the summer vacation, which means I have that much time to get George ready for the Chicken House competition AND get Class Act ready to publish (I haven’t even sourced an editor yet). Argh!

The reason for my silence over the next two weeks (more specifically the next four days) is that the children are on their Easter Holidays. In four hours the children and I will drive to Skegness to stay in a static caravan for the week with my good friend and her two children. I’m terrified. Please God don’t let it rain!

I’m looking forward to it too, but the idea of four days in a small box with four kids aged 2-6 does fill me with fear! Ear plugs and wine at the ready! 😉 I don’t even know if there will be internet…

So, enjoy the peace and quiet and I’ll hopefully have some new things to write about when I get back! Wish me luck.

How to Get Out of Writer’s Block

Designing plot: like trying to assemble a marble run

Designing plot: like trying to assemble a marble run

For me the most effective way through writer’s block is to become like my three-year-old and son ask questions. “Mummy, why?” is something he repeats ten times a minutes and, as infuriating as it is, it’s how he learns about the world around him. Most of my answers start with “I don’t know, maybe because…”, or, “Let’s google it”.

Working out what’s going on in a new novel is no different. The more questions you ask, the better the story gets. The harder you search for answers the further you get away from clichés and predictable plot lines. But when asking what happens next and why comes up with nothing, you can start questioning the characters instead. What are their motivations? What are they yearning for, even if they don’t know themselves? What are their greatest fears? What might happen to chuck them out their comfort zone.

Like many younger siblings, my protagonist George is looking for his own identity. He knows he isn’t smart like his sister or sporty and musical like his brother. He thinks his mum doesn’t love him, that he’s always useless. Only his dad understood him, and he vanished a year ago. The thing he likes to do most is kill aliens in his computer games. But he also likes to cook.

As the story progresses, George is discovering he’s fitter and smarter than he thinks he is, and his cooking ability is earning him respect. But, now that I’m at a dead end in the plot, I’ve been questioning him to see if he can help me work out what happens next. And he’s reminded me he loves computer games, which means he is observant and tactical. If the games he plays are like the Tomb Raider games I loved as a teenager, he has to work out puzzles and keep trying until something works. He must be tenacious and brave and good at lateral thinking.

So far his co-protagonist Merula has been leading them both and making the decisions. They are in her world and she has the answers. But he’s been challenging her thinking, questioning things she’s always believed in, and now they’re at an impasse. I think it’s time for George to come into his own and develop a clever strategy to take the action forward, using his game-playing skills.

Now if only I knew what games ten-year-old boys are playing these days I would feel on more solid ground. Any ideas?