Too Many ‘Me’s

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My Etsy Shop

When I started this blog, several years ago, (and I am so sorry, blog, for my recent neglect), I called it ‘Writer/Mummy’. I argued that my generation were increasingly the slash/slash generation, with several job titles and careers, and I was opting for Writer-slash-Mummy.

 

Fast-forward several years and, regardless of all the job titles that ‘Mummy’ incorporates (you know how it goes: cook / cleaner / confidant / taxi / ironing service / dog walker / general shit-scooper), there are now so many ‘me’s that I have lost myself in trying to find myself.

Currently I am trying to juggle personal assistant / etsy crafter / ebay seller / writer / runner / karate student as well as all the usual wife/mother/taxi driver/school-paperwork-handler duties.

And I am going slowly mad.

ImageOn top of that, I’m not actually doing any of the jobs particularly well. Instead I spend all my time playing a daft game called Farmville Tropic Escape, which also has me completing lots of chores and tasks. The difference is the instructions are clear and the rewards are clearer. I never have to wonder what on earth to cook.

I’ve deleted the darn thing twice.

But there is something addictive about knowing what you are supposed to be doing, accompanied by happy smiling faces and cute somersaulting dolphins.

MrsDeansDoll

Teacher Gift

With all my different ‘me’s I don’t have a scooby doo what I’m meant to be doing. Should I finish one of the far-too-many knitting projects I’ve started? That’s hard, because I’m used to knitting for individuals, and so am motivated to finish because it’s a gift for someone I know and love.

Now I’m knitting for profit, for a.n.other, and the finishing part (always my downfall) seems impossibly hard. Besides, if I don’t finish the items, and list them, I don’t have to come to terms with the bit I’m even worse at – the trying to get a sale part.

Ditto ebay selling. I had a couple of early successes, picking up new and nearly new stuff at charity shops and selling them on ebay to fund my own charity/ebay shopping obsession. But now I have a few items listed that haven’t sold, and it’s creating more loss than profit.

And as for the PA role. Well. That was a bit of an odd one. I applied to do a gentleman’s typing and ended up responsible for selling one of his properties. Not exactly in my comfort zone, and I’ve tried to quit once already, but he’s such a dear, with no one really looking out for him. So I’m persisting. Just.

MslexiaWriting? Well, mostly that’s dead in the water. Except I entered a novel in the Mslexia competition a couple of weeks ago, and the annual Times / Chicken House competition is looming again.

I haven’t missed a year yet. But to enter I really need to dig out an existing manuscript and really work on it until it’s at least half as good as the books I love to read.

There’s that motivation / finishing thing again. Aint gonna happen. But writer is the ‘me’ that’s lasted the longest, and I’m not ready to see it die.

The problem with all these ‘me’s is that I’m Jack of all Trades and definitely Master of None. My son had his birthday this week and, in previous years, I would have arranged a party, made a cake, remembered to buy a helium balloon, and made him feel special. He spent this birthday sobbing because the secondhand nerf gun I bought didn’t work, and instead of a party we’re going to the zoo with a voucher I got last Christmas.

My daughter seems to have hit teenage meltdown a few years early, and yelled at me the other day that I’m ‘Always too busy to listen to her’ despite me trying to get these school-hour jobs precisely so I can be there for them. But my head is so cluttered (and the house even more so) that I’m just a mess.

First Sale

My first and only etsy sale

If I’m honest, I want to do the things that earn me praise. I read a great article about Bliss, and how we lose the passion we had as a child (that gave Bliss) through schooling, switching it for the things that will get us noticed / praised / rewarded.

I’m paraphrasing, obviously, but there’s no doubt I do most of what I do so that someone, somewhere, one day, will pat me on the back and say, ‘well done’, rather than because my passion brings me joy.

Dangerous.

Anyway, I’ve been reading up this morning on the difference between complaining and venting. I’m definitely not complaining. I made this bed, however itchy the sheets and lumpy the pillow.

I’m not really even venting. Perhaps just using the blog as a way to clear my head, as it has always been. Chatting away to a tribe of people who I know understand. Ask any writer / artist / general creative person / parent whether they feel like they’re juggling a hundred different wants / needs / must-dos, and they’ll all say yes.

Really I already know the answer. Take on less. Concentrate more. Delete the app. Finish the knitting projects. Vacuum the lounge and stock the fridge. Look, easy. Right?

Well, at least I can put a tick against ‘write a blog post before you forget how’ even if this post is just a long boring whinge. One step at a time.

June Journals #9 ~ Unreasonable Terms & Unpaid Leave

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Knitted Jester

There’s this thing, when you’re an artist of any description, that people expect you to work for free, and sell it to you as ‘exposure’.

It’s an ongoing problem, a debate I won’t add much to that hasn’t already been said, except you wouldn’t call out a plumber and pay him in good reviews.

But I saw something today that made me a bit cross. On Bridget Whelan’s blog (and I don’t blame her at all for sharing this), I came across a competition being run by Gransnet (think Mumsnet for the over-50s).

Working with Independent Publishers Bobaloo Books, Gransnet are running a competition to find an unpublished author of a children’s book aimed at the 3 to 12 market.

My ears immediately prick up at ‘competition’ and ‘unpublished’ because usually self-published is okay.

And who wouldn’t jump at a chance to bypass the slush pile and go direct to a publishers?

Except…

Thankfully, I always read the small print (to make sure self-published is okay) and frankly I’m disgusted. From the terms and conditions I read this:

By entering this competition you hereby (a) unconditionally and irrevocably grant and assign to Bobaloo books throughout the world in all languages all copyright and rights in the nature of copyright and all other rights in your entry, together with full title guarantee and all rights of action to the same belonging or accrued and shall hold the same to Bobaloo Books for the full period of copyright and all extensions and renewals thereof and thereafter; (b) waive all moral rights as defined by sections 77-83 of the Copyrights Designs and Patents Act 1988 or any similar laws of any jurisdiction; (c) warrant you have the power to grant the rights herein stated, that your entry is original to you, does not infringe copyright, moral rights or the rights or licence of any other third person/entity, has never been published anywhere in the world, does not contain anything libellous, in breach of confidence, inaccurate or in any other way contrary to law and any recipes or formulas are not in any way injurious or harmful; and (d) indemnify and keep Bobaloo Books harmless against all loss, risk, cost, damages, claims, liabilities and expense occasioned to Bobaloo Books in consequence of any breach of these warranties or arising out of any claim alleging that your entry constitutes in any way a breach of these warranties.

I mean, WTF Bobaloo? I hadn’t heard of you before, but I sure have now. I’m no lawyer, and I’ve never been fortunate enough to have a contract with a publisher, but even I can see that not only does this give the author zero rights, it even puts the onus on them to make sure their work is in no way libellous or inaccurate. How on earth does an author do that? They’d have to take out liability insurance before entering, just to be safe.

Not cool.

Compare this to the Chicken House Times Fiction Competition Ts & Cs:

7. There will be one prize winner. […] the prize is the offer of a worldwide publishing contract with Chicken House (which shall be subject to negotiation and completion between Chicken House and the winner. If the negotiations between the parties fail, then the winner will receive the alternative prize set out below). […]

8. Entrants retain all rights to their entries, except in the case of the winner to whom a publishing contract will be offered (as referred to in term 7 above). The winner will retain the copyright to the work and shall exclusively license worldwide publishing rights of the entry to Chicken House Publishing Limited on completion of the publishing contract. The publishing contract with the winner will be in line with industry standards for a debut children’s novel with a Royalty Advance of £10,000 from Chicken House and will include full volume rights including Film & TV. The winner will also receive an offer of representation from a leading literary agent.

Now isn’t that nice? An offer of Royalties and a negotiated contract on ‘license’ – not a handing over of all copyright. No one expects to be in a brilliant negotiating position with a first novel selected through a competition (rather than hotly contested by several interested agents) but at least it all sounds fair and reasonable.

I made a decision a long time ago that I’d rather retain copyright to my writing and remain anonymous and poor, than hand it over willy-nilly on a chance of fame and fortune.

Anyway, there went my chance of a productive day, so aside from an hour of study in the morning, I took the day off.

I didn’t intend to take the whole day, but I starting watching Les Misérables without realising it was three hours long! I did at least complete most of the knitting for my son’s jester. Now I just have to sew it all together.

Gulp.

And if I’m going to be an unpaid author, I’d rather it was unpaid leave, knitting and watching an awesome movie, than writing a book for someone else to claim!

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!

 

Rather Prosaic Life Update

My submission pack

My submission pack

One of my regular blog followers/commenters, Hollis (thank you, Hollis!) suggested recently that my blog silence might be due to my being busy with the children or maybe even volunteering. I felt guilty, because my absence is due to nothing so altruistic.

I have been head-down this month, it’s true, but with the purely selfish motive of getting Dragon Wraiths ready for The Times/Chicken House children’s novel competition. The deadline is the end of October but, as it’s half term next week, I wisely posted my manuscript on Monday.

There’s nothing like printing off 265 pages of manuscript to make you realise you are a real author. Unfortunately I still struggle with cover letters and writing a synopsis. But it’s done. All I can do now is hope. My dream is to make top twenty. Fingers crossed.

Mohair Brooches

Mohair Brooches

It shows the cyclical nature of writing and trying to get published, as it was almost exactly two years ago that Dragon Wraiths (in it’s original format) was longlisted for the Mslexia competition and I was polishing final edits before posting the manuscript. Let’s hope it’s second time lucky.

I have also been knitting like a demon. I want to have enough things to run a stall at the children’s Christmas Fair, with little things at pocket money prices. So I’ve put cats, monkeys and dogs on hold, and I’m making mohair brooches with the gorgeous wool my mum gave me on my birthday. Great fun, if not great for the hands.

It’s been a creative month, all in all. I have taken up piano again, in an effort to get the children interested in music, and work is progressing on Finding Lucy. I solved my writer’s block by adding in two extra points of view, for the two lead males. I’m enjoying getting inside different heads.

I made the blue one!

I made the blue one!

It was also my daughter’s first Learning Conversation (parents’ evening) since starting school proper in September. She’s nicely middle of the road although I did have to confess to her teacher how hard I find it to not correct her spelling (they let them spell phonetically)!

And, of course, as November approaches, I have the annual NaNoWriMo dilemma. Finding Lucy started life in my first NaNoWriMo attempt, six years ago. But the only child I had then was growing in my tummy, not demanding my twenty-four hour attention.

Now November means half-term, early starts after the clocks go back and the terrors start getting up at 5am, and pitch-black school pick ups. Not really conducive to creativity for me.

So I think I’ll plod on with my WIP and let others with more energy sprint for the 50,000 word finish line! If you’re NaNoing this year, good luck!

My NaNo top tips are here.

Learning Characterisation from Humans Of New York

HONY Facebook Page

HONY Facebook Page

I’ve talked about the Humans of New York Facebook page many times before, mostly in passing. Today I wanted to discuss what an amazing resource the page is for writers.

For me, one of the hardest parts of being a writer is coming up with three-dimensional characters. When I start a first draft my characters are usually pretty vague. I know their motivation or I know the key story problem (Helen getting pregnant, Rebecca’s dislike of the upper class, Lucy’s need for a family and to fit in), but the character starts out as a hazy version of me at some earlier point in my life. They move on from that, and by the end of the first draft they become living, breathing, talkative people in my head. But I think one of the reasons I like my male characters better is because the starting point for them is more often men I know and admire or love, rather than versions of me. (There’s a lot of hubbie in Marcio!)

The problem now is that my novels are starting to have mirror scenes. I’m stuck with Finding Lucy because it starts with a death and a funeral – as does Class Act (although Finding Lucy came first.) Now, it’s unlikely many people will read both, as Class Act bombed, but I can see the reviews now. “Amanda Martin’s latest novel is dull and repetitive, with chunks lifted directly from her previous release.” Oh joy.

Similarly, the protagonists often have similar upbringings and backgrounds because I write more authentically when I can really live it (or have lived it!)

Brandon's Latest Post

Brandon’s Latest Post

So where does HONY come in? I’ve been editing Dragon Wraiths this week for one final time before entering it in the Chicken House/Times competition, after having had the lovely lady who proofread Class Act run through it. She pointed out the bits where I lose the sense of Leah being a teen (my editor has teenage kids, which is fantastic). But she also pointed to the bits where I evoke Leah’s backstory well, when she was in foster care.

I did a lot of research online for the care scenes, and the snippet of Leah’s time on the streets. I wanted it to be realistic but not sensationalist, genuine but not too gritty. A fine line. But then I read a HONY post yesterday which gave an insight into care in one paragraph. In fact it created a whole story and three-dimensional character in a couple of hundred words. Each HONY post does.

When Brandon Stanton (the amazing man behind Humans Of New York) was on his UN tour, the stories were beyond my ability to visualise, but now he’s back in New York the wealth of material is incredible. Not just for main characters. I think one of the reasons Baby Blues resonates with people is because all the characters have stories of their own. I chose not to develop the bit-characters in Class Act, because some reviews of Baby Blues said it was crowded with people, but I’m learning you can’t please everyone!

What Brandon shows is that a person’s whole life and character can be depicted in half a page. He has a way of getting under people’s skin to their very essence. He gets them to tell the core of their life story succinctly but with feeling. I read his posts to keep me grounded in the stories of the world, but also I read them to learn from a master.

Autumn Already?

Smiley Son

Smiley Son

What happened to September? Someone stole it while I wasn’t paying attention. I can’t believe it’s October already (and nearly my birthday!) Despite the glorious warm and sunny days we’ve had recently, autumn is still in the air as we shiver our way to school in the morning, through rainbow coloured leaves and fallen conkers.

I love autumn, I think it’s my favourite time of year. Misty mornings, crisp afternoons, riotous colour everywhere and an excuse to wear jeans again.

My daughter has Harvest Festival today and I feel that I also want to celebrate the abundance and beauty around me. It’s been a year of ups and downs but, despite everything, we’re still muddling through, still smiling.

I’ve recently altered the time of day I take my meds and have realised just how much they give me. Returning to the twitchy, ranty insomniac for even a few days was enough to be grateful for the change. I might have become a little more dozy, a little more befuddled, since starting on SSRIs, but I’m definitely happier.

My challenge for this month is to concentrate on finding things to be happy about rather than things to worry me. Good enough parenting, good enough housework. I’m taking up piano again and knitting like a demon. I even enjoyed spending time with my son yesterday, as he took a break from being a whiny, greedy, annoying four-year-old and (briefly) became my little boy again.

October is also about getting Dragon Wraiths entered into the Times / Chicken House competition (the deadline is sneaking up fast. Thank goodness for my editor who has agreed to proofread it in a hurry). I’m almost convinced I shouldn’t waste my time and money, having had another half-dozen rejections on it in the summer. Almost, but not quite. Got to be in it to win it, isn’t that what they say? 🙂

Meanwhile, Finding Lucy is slowly taking shape and Baby Blues is doing well on the new Kindle Unlimited. I have no idea yet if that earns me any money, but it’s nice to see the numbers ticking over.

That’s life in the Martin household at the moment. What does autumn mean to you?

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.