Irresolute

81598009_3296375277044185_5649797549654016000_nNew Year’s Greetings to you all. I won’t say Happy New Year, because I find it often isn’t. This year is probably the worst for most of us. A new decade, Australia is burning and Trump is trying to start World War III. The parallels to the 1920s don’t really bear thinking about. So, for the most part, I’m trying not to. I will donate to the wildlife charities, sign the ‘no war’ petitions, and keep my fingers crossed. What else can we do?

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t do resolutions, certainly not New Year’s Resolutions. This picture from my favourite Facebook blog, Hurrah for Gin, sums it up perfectly. New Year’s Resolutions suggest that the old you wasn’t up to scratch. While that may be true, it’s not good for your mental health to reinvent yourself because some magazine or TV show told you to, and certainly not because of a date in the calendar. Don’t even get me started on Dry January (but visit Hurrah for Gin to see my opinion!) However, I have resolved to try and write more this year.

I miss writing. I have started several books since I finished my last, adult, novel. All with little success. The children fill my head in a way now that they never did when they were little. Their schedules; their worries; my worries about them; trying to work out what rules to implement; it’s all mentally exhausting. And my job is filled with words too, so when I’m still, my head is empty. When I was invigilating, I had time and my head was full of ideas, but they were gone when I stopped. Now when I stop there’s nothing.

But writing, like any hobby, takes practice. I haven’t been blogging because I feel like I’ve said it all before. I guess when you’ve written more than 750 posts over seven years, you become aware of repeating yourself. I forget that many people reading my blog now don’t go back and read all the old stuff. And anyway, according to my kids, I repeat myself all the time! So my non-resolution but sort of suggestion to myself is to blog more. Hopefully if I get back into the habit of writing, and just letting the words flow without over-analysing them, I will be able to do the same with fiction.

I wanted to enter the Times Chicken House Children’s Fiction competition this year, as I generally do. But nothing I’ve written has ever even been long-listed. I read a lot of books published by Chicken House, and they are always my favourites. When I told my daughter that I didn’t have a chance of winning she said, ‘Write a better book.’ Kids, eh? But unfortunately I seem to have taken the words into my head. Every time I start, I want to come up with a prize-winning idea. Something dazzling. Something even my children might read. That is not the way to start writing a novel. I believe it was Ernest Hemingway who said, ‘The first draft of anything is shit’. The point is you can’t edit a blank page, but these days I get too bogged down in the world building, or the research, or the opening page to get to grips with a gripping story.

I can’t tell you how many books I’ve bought on Japanese culture (I want to write a book about karate) or Greek Gods (I wanted to write a book about wind gods, because of my son’s phobia, until I read the awesome Who Let the Gods Out series). I haven’t read any of them. It’s like I think I’ll absorb the information through osmosis. Or, by having the books, I’m one step closer to writing that masterpiece. The problem is, research leads me into academia and, as my History Professor told me when he handed back my First Class Dissertation, my academic writing is, quote, ‘Rather dull.’ Hmmm.

Besides, that level of detail isn’t really necessary. You need good world building – I’ve read a series with my son about a world of witches, and the world building is fun, but there are no boys. It drives my son nuts. Not because it’s sexist (although that too) but ‘how do they have babies?’ Good point. So, some world building is necessary. But so many brilliant books I’ve read don’t go too far into the ‘how’. Even Moon Pony manages to have a magical horse without going too much into where he comes from.

So, more writing, less thinking, if that’s possible. Sorry. It means more rambling blog posts from me, as I try to find my writing flow again. You don’t have to read them! My irresolute resolution doesn’t need to be yours.

Oh, and I’m going to pass my black belt this year, but that’s another conversation all together.

 

The Dos and Don’ts of Self-Publishing

TheFamilyWeChooseKindleI published two books this week. The children were at a music camp for five days last week, 9am-4pm, so I had time to get some work done. Although I may have bitten off more than I could chew.

I decided to publish my adult novel, previously called Riley Road, renamed The Family We Choose. But it needed proofreading. I hadn’t realised how many errors there were – no wonder it didn’t go past long-listing for the Mslexia award.

The problem is, it’s such a hard read for me. It was written very close to the bone. I spent last week listening to it being read by the PDF Read Aloud software, to distance myself from it. Brilliant for picking up typos, not so great for proofreading a 60,000 word novel in a week. He. Talks. So. Slowly. And still I spent most of the week under a heavy cloud of being ‘not enough’. Sorry family!

Anyway, I managed to get that done and published, only to spot a typo on the cover. Just after submitting it for review. Twenty-Four hours later, I could change the cover and submit for review again. Check twice, publish once, and all that.

HopeGlimmersCoverAt the same time, I was working on finalising the sequel to Moon Pony, called Hope Glimmers, which I have done the illustrations for. I’ve been pretty pleased with them, I love drawing horses. But, again, it’s very time consuming converting all the images to black and white and getting Word to cooperate with slotting them into the text.

No typos on the cover though, which was great.

Unfortunately, it’s just gone live on Amazon and I’ve noticed that a) I’ve called it Home Glimmers, instead of Hope Glimmers (doh!) and b) I’ve put my author name as Amanda Martin (which I use for adult novels) rather than Mandy Martin (for kids books) so it isn’t going to appear alongside Moon Pony at all, despite being the sequel.

Idiot.

And neither fields can be adjusted in the Member Dashboard, resulting in two grovelling emails to Amazon (because, of course, I spotted the mistakes separately) which I hope they read and fix asap, as soon as they’ve stopped laughing.

SeagullandPippaStill, I have published two books in a week, including illustrations, cover design, proofreading, and everything, which isn’t to be sniffed at, even if it is unlikely I’ll sell any copies of either, since my Amazon sales seem to have dwindled into nothing recently. Even Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes, which was always my ‘cup of coffee a month’ earner, has dropped off to nothing.

Not great, considering my books owe me a few hundred each in editing and covers and illustrations. Not much of a money spinner, more an expensive hobby! Lucky I sort of have a day job now.

And so, once my self-publishing fails have been fixed, it will be on to writing something new. Which I haven’t done in a long long while. I want it to be a children’s book – Mslexia are running their competition on Children’s and Short Fiction this year – but unfortunately the judge for the children’s novel is Katherine Rundell and her books are outstanding. Nothing like that to give you complete writer’s block. When you know you can’t write a Carnegie Medal short-listed novel, it’s hard to even make a start.

But start I shall, because it’s write books or learn how to market them better, and I know which I prefer.

 

To Paula, With Thanks

PaulaBack in November 2016 I was working for a friend of a friend, typing up audio files, and she asked if I would help one of her dream writers with a final edit of their autobiography. My first response was to say no: I didn’t feel qualified to edit someone else’s work, especially when I pay someone to do a final edit on my own novels. In fact, I recommended that the author speak to my editor, and assumed that would be the end of it.

It wasn’t.

The author, Paula, wanted me to look at her book regardless, and our mutual friend agreed. I gave a low quote, reflective of my lack of experience, and took it on. To this day it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I got to read an inspirational autobiography – My Life in Colour: From Brighton to Bali and Back [Free on Kindle I see] – and meet the extraordinary individual who wrote and lived it. I also got to feel that I had contributed to the final shaping of a wonderful book, as well as helping to put together the manuscript ready for self-publishing: that at least I have plenty of experience at.

Fast forward a few months, and I got to finally meet Paula at her book launch in Waterstones in Brighton. It was a lovely event and Paula was even more amazing in person. Larger than life and even more colourful than her book.

Paula taught me to have more belief in my own writing. When I first had contact with her, she said of her book, “I am at that nervous stage and would like to hide it and me from the world.” Despite self-publishing all my novels, I’ve never really escaped from that feeling. I apologise for my writing, because I feel it hasn’t been validated by the awarding of a publishing contract. And with my children’s books, I always felt I couldn’t promote them because they weren’t illustrated.

Paula inspired me to get Moon Pony illustrated: in fact she gave me the means to do so, through the work I did for her and other subsequent editing work. Without her support and financial help it wouldn’t have happened. But it did, and I am so proud of the result.

Tomorrow I stand up in front of three different primary school classes to talk about my writing, read from Moon Pony, and hand out some signed copies. I have actually sold copies of my children’s book to children. It feels epic.

I write about Paula in the past tense because tragically she died last autumn, following a car accident on what turned out to be my birthday. I have never mourned someone so much who I had only met once, but it was like a firework burning bright and leaving a pitch darkness behind.

When I was asked to do the author talks, my first response was no. I don’t do people, especially children, and I hate talking in public. Never mind the thought of reading something I have written out loud for people to judge. Terrifying. It’s why I don’t belong to a writers’ group. But then I remembered Paula, and I said yes. Because she was brave and, despite her fears, she launched her book into the world with gusto and self-belief.

Books are meant to be read, heard, shared, loved (and hated) and they can’t do that lurking at the end of a URL.

So, wish me luck. And Paula, thank you. You are missed.

Looking for Focus

Haven't Even Planned it Yet!

Haven’t Even Planned it Yet!

One of the problems I never thought I’d have with writing was too many ideas.

When I started as an author, I had to do a free-write, and then pants-out the first draft of a novel, to have any idea of a plot or story. If I sat down to think it through, my mind went blank and ideas refused to come.

As a result, I have half a dozen unfinished novels with some potential to be good stories, albeit with a LOT of work. (Pantsing tends to result in huge plot problems unless you have a rough idea of the outcome of the story!)

Every now and then I think I should grab one of those manuscripts and give it the attention it deserves.

At the same time, though, there’s no rush like the rush of starting a brand new project. Especially now I have some vague concepts of planning and character arcs and the like. And I have ideas. Oh yes. Although mostly those ideas come in the middle of the night, or while walking the dog, or are born out of convoluted dreams. (As an aside, I’m reading Gone by Michael Grant at the moment, and boy are my dreams weird and wired!)

On top of all that – the half finished stories and the stories yet to be born – I have a dozen stories already published that need some love. The adult books need promotion and possibly revamped covers. The YA book needs a sequel or two (well, a complete rewrite from part one, actually!) and the eight children’s books need illustrations. Or an agent.

Unfinished Sequel to Moon Pony

Unfinished Sequel to Moon Pony

Recently I had some image credits to use up on iStockphoto, after doing the covers for Josie and the Unicorn and Alfie Stanton Half-Baked Hero. I dug around to see what other stories were near completion and remembered I have sequels to Moon Pony and Will on the Water that are two-thirds done.

So I did covers for those.

And another idea for a YA book has been kicking around my head recently. So I did a cover for that.

And I’d love to write a period children’s book, as I’ve really enjoyed reading Katherine Woodfine’s stories recently – set in Edwardian London – so I used my last credit on a potential image for that.

To top it all off, I had the vague idea of writing a fun book for hubbie, like I wrote Josie and the Unicorn for my niece. The kids threw in some ideas and we came up with Dad and the Dinosaurs. I wrote the first three-hundred words and ground to a halt.

Arrgghh!

That makes eight potential projects: Two NaNoWrimo projects, two Dragon Wraiths books, two half-finished children’s books, and two new ideas. And don’t even get me started on the fact that the Bridport Prize now has a category for novels with a deadline in a fortnight.

So what have I decided to do?

Sleep. Iron. Sleep. Clean. Kill dinosaurs. Sleep.

It’s two weeks to the end of term, and only two months until the children break up for the summer. If I could pick one project, it’s a good amount of time to get stuck in. But with no feedback, no direction, no deadlines or external force driving me, I’m in a quicksand of indecision.

Oh well. At least I’m on top of the ironing!