Pesky Pets and Puzzling Programming

September didn’t get much better. I don’t know if it was exhaustion or a change in meds supplier but I was (am) fragile as a poppy. Any attempt to process more than one thing and I crash like a crappy computer.

So far October is okay. I did four hours of karate training this weekend and, while my body is broken and I can’t walk, my soul feels replenished.

I reached a nadir last week and decided a proper career shift is essential to my sanity. I put out a query for career paths where people skills are not a key aspect, and programming was the answer. I did go for a programming job as a new graduate and got 87% on the paper. Unfortunately the pass rate was 90%. Apparently I needed to slow down and read the questions better. Funnily enough I say the same thing to my son every time he gets stuck on his maths.

So it isn’t completely crazy for this ditsy arts student slash author to try and learn something as methodical as programming. But the brain is soooooo slow at 42 (even if it is the answer to life, the universe and everything!) I’m doing an online course from Harvard and have already nodded off during a lecture.

Mind you, the pesky pets have a lot to do with my exhaustion. Puppy is growing, and can escape from her pen and scramble past the stair block. She came into our bedroom six times last night, and when I finally locked her into her crate, she cried non-stop. Don’t be fooled by her cuteness, she’s a clever little minx.

And even my therapigs are being pickles. I keep trying to combine them into a herd but I have one that’s a bit of a bully. In my advice emails from the lovely people at Wood Green, they said that some gps are just like that and “it’s great that she has a companion already.” Ha! She’s basically me: impossible to live with and lucky she has a life partner who will put up with her. What it does mean is they stay in separate cages, so two lots of mucking out and laundry. Perhaps I need to stick to the guinea pig Mum gave me for my birthday.

Writing is still happening, in between all the chaos and mayhem. I gave Esmerelda Smudge an overhaul, using the awesome Save The Cat book, and renamed it Dani and the Djinni. [As an aside, I’m quite excited to see there’s going to be a Save the Cat book for novelists, although the screen play version has revolutionised my writing.]

I’ve submitted Dani and the Djinni for the Mslexia Children’s Novel Award and, if that goes nowhere, it will be the next in line to be illustrated. I’m doing a book signing at my local library next month so I need to keep plodding on with the writer bit of writermummy.

In the meantime, I’m surviving on coffee and beautiful sunrises. The only benefit of a 5am start.

The Book I Wrote In a Month

Meet Esmerelda Smudge

Meet Esmerelda Smudge

This is a post about how NOT to self-publish – experts like Kristen Lamb and Catherine Howard should look away now.

My last post was all about how I wrote a first draft in four or five days, in response to finding out my Chicken House novel was a bit pants.

I came up with the idea of a girl called Esmerelda Smudge (in tribute to Esmerelda Weatherwax from the Discworld novels). I sketched out the character and most of the plot during a 30-min dog walk, and wrote 20,000 words over the next few days.

That was on 12th November.

On 17th November I sent my tweaked draft to an editor I’ve used before, who I love because she writes Children’s Fiction and has kids too. She edited Dragon Wraiths for the competition last year, and her insights were super helpful. Plus she charges proofreading rates! It’s Christmas, I don’t have much money to spare. I also sent Alfie Stanton The Half-Baked Hero to her (the ‘pants’ book) so I could work out from her comments which one to enter in the competition.

On 27th November (because, did I mention, she’s awesome?) my editor sent back the annotated manuscript, with excellent comments on character arc, dialogue, research and all that good stuff. I made the changes that week, while waiting to hear back about Alfie Stanton.

On 4th December I got back Alfie Stanton, with the view that – with some hard work on dialogue – it should be my Chicken House entry. So, being me, I ignored those edits and decided to publish Esmerelda instead!

My purchased iStock Image

My purchased iStock Image

I purchased a great set of composite artwork from iStockphoto for the princely sum of £8.40 and set about turning it into a passable cover design. Did I mention money is tight at Christmas? I bought the image because I knew I could cut and paste and adobe photoshop the hair to make three images of the same girl doing different things, things that Esme does in the novel.

I used an existing novel template (Moon Pony) that was already set up for CreateSpace to create my print document, just dropping the novel into place. I uploaded the files to CreateSpace on 9th December.

Yesterday, one month after first dreaming up Esmerelda Smudge, I ordered a print copy. And so did someone else! Don’t know who, which means I made my first sale. 🙂

This is obviously NOT how to self publish. I have several things that made this a smooth process: practice (I’ve written and published six children’s books this year), a willing and wonderful editor, and the urgency of a competition deadline.

The final cover doesn’t look quite right on the print copy and my new one doesn’t seem to have uploaded, although sometimes there is a lag on Amazon and the printed version will be fine.

Did I mention this is how NOT to do it – a proof version should always be printed before setting a book live. But the proof versions for me come from overseas and can take ages to arrive. So it’s quicker and cheaper to set it live and order my own copy. Except no one is meant to buy one in the mean time! 🙂

I spent a total of £51.99 including ordering a print copy. I won’t even make that amount back in sales unless something miraculous happens. But I released a fun, sweet, heartwarming story into the world for the price of a meal out for two.

For me, that’s how to self-publish!

You can find the kindle version of my book here for the bargain price of £1.98 (I haven’t checked the formatting on that either, that’s my next job, but hey it’s not expensive!)

Merry Christmas

 

 

My Mini NaNoWriMo

Latest incarnation of Alfie

Latest incarnation of Alfie

I wasn’t going to do NaNoWriMo this year. I am desperately trying to get an entry together for the Chicken House/Times Children’s Fiction competition, so I’m all about the red pen, not the free-flowing first draft.

Except.

I gave the latest version of my Alfie Stanton manuscript to my husband, waiting for applause, or at least constructive feedback and got … Nothing.

The story is doomed. I started it two years ago, with a character called George. Resurrected it for Chicken House last year, but had the first chapter trashed by a children’s editor so shelved it and entered Dragon Wraiths instead. In fact, after being told by the editor that maybe I wasn’t cut out to be an author if I wouldn’t break my manuscript down to the smallest part, I nearly quit writing for good.

I don’t do ‘edit to death’. I find my work tends to get worse rather than better if I overthink it and let ‘analyst’ brain take the wheel. But anybody who’s anybody in the writing world will tell you to edit, edit, then edit some more. Even last year’s Chicken House winner gave that as her main piece of advice.

So this time I thought it was time to grow up and do it properly. I broke my manuscript down, looked at characters and themes, description, language, conflict. But mostly I got in a huge muddle and came to hate the story and everyone in it. The harder I tried, the flatter and duller my writing became.

It wasn’t a great surprise, then, when husband’s silence screamed, “this is shit!” although I thought it was just the first draft of anything that was meant to be that.

And do you know what, I think he’s probably right. By trying to be literary and funny and to incorporate all of Barry Cunningham’s advice, I broke my story.

What would once have killed me made me stronger. Seven days ago, I came up with a brand new character – Esmerelda Smudge. Six days ago I started writing, and two days ago I sent a 20,000-word lightly-edited brand new story to my (new) editor. 20k words in just over 4 days. That knocks the spots off NaNo.

Rough Cover

Rough Cover

Is it good enough to enter in the Chicken House competition? I’m not sure. I still think Alfie, for all his flaws, is more what they’re looking for, which is probably why I can’t quite get him right. My style has always been more mainstream than award-winning. But Esmerelda has a great story. I gave the first 14k words to hubbie to read, and he polished them off in an hour. Not that he’s the best judge, but at least he’s honest.

Maybe, instead of trying to follow all the advice, to force myself into a mold and mode of working that doesn’t fit, I should continue on my own deluded way. After all I wrote Two Hundred Steps Home that way and it’s proved popular. Dickens wrote in serial form – he can’t have analysed his story arc to death on every book.

And I do put in the work. When I’m drafting, my brain buzzes and sleep is scarce. I carry the story arc, character profiles, the motivation, the continuity and conflict and comedy, all around in my head and pour it into each chapter. But it’s written fast, with no time for fear. And, for me, it works.

Most of all, it produces books that I would choose to read. That at least is one piece of writing advice that I can follow!