Learning to row and little ones growing up

Turns out rowing is in my family’s blood!

I must apologise for my prolonged silence. When my babies were born a childminder I met said, “As a parent of very young children your world will shrink to a tiny point where the only things that matter are whether they eat and sleep and are happy. As they grow older you will begin to remember that there’s a whole other world out there.”

As my son’s second birthday approaches (this Friday – I can’t believe it) that prophecy has become true. All of a sudden I have re-joined the human race. As a result, some things – like my writing and this blog – have been forced into the background, despite my best intentions that that wouldn’t happen. I’m particularly concerned that I have entered my young-adult novel Dragon Wraiths into the Mslexia competition without the final draft being completely finished. I’m taking a gamble that I’ll be able to at least fix any continuity errors before I might have to submit the full manuscript, which they estimate as being in November for the short list. To be honest I don’t really expect to make the short list so it will be a nice dilemma to have.

For those paying attention to my on-going ramblings about my young adult book I have had to forgo entering the Chicken House competition, as the final first draft came in a third over their word count limit of 80,000. I’m not an enthusiastic (or experienced) enough editor to lop off thirty-five thousand words in a month.

So what have I been doing in the real world?

Learning to row

I married into a family of rowers and always vowed I would learn one day. I vowed I’d learn Italian too (my husband is half-Italian) but that’s proving more tricky. My husband planned to teach me to row after our second child was born, but a premature baby and postnatal depression put paid to that idea.

Then this summer our local Adult Education brochure arrived and I read it cover to cover, as I always do. I’m an academic junkie as well as always being on the lookout for local Italian classes. No joy on that front but there was a five-week Ladies Only Learn to Row course. Fate.

I changed the kids’ nursery days, swore my husband to secrecy, and signed up. Three weeks in and I’m loving it: Now I can actually propel the boat without facing the prospect of a cold bath that is. The first two weeks were HARD. My brain wasn’t used to concentrating for two hours at a time and I got very cross with my lack of coordination. The lady from British Rowing seemed to think I was the antithesis of a natural.

Today, though, the boat flew. It was amazing. I rowed with my eyes closed. Literally. To start out rubbish and get better – to feel myself improve and to get instant feedback (if I sense I’m about to join the ducks I’m doing it wrong) – is exhilarating.

If only writing was like that. Or parenting.

After nearly four years of feeling like a failure it was fantastic to be proud of myself for once.

Little ones growing up

The other thing we’ve been doing this week is looking at primary schools for my daughter. Scary stuff. I’ve thought about where I would like my children to go to school pretty much since my daughter was born. Several of my friends are teachers and my sister moved her family to America partly because of a school she wants them to attend. Education is important.

I think back to the various schools I went to as a child and I can see the different shifts in my personality that came with each one. To make that decision now, when my daughter is not even four and my son (who will hopefully go to the same school) is not quite two, seems madness. Thankfully we are blessed with an array of great state schools around us so the choice is more small village school versus larger town school, and whether to take current friendships into account. No decisions yet. I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime I am trying to get my head back into writing, to plod on with editing Dragon Wraiths (harder than I hoped it would be) and writing query letters for Pictures of Love (which I still intend to self-publish but, as I haven’t got time to do the final proof-read at the moment, I may as well rack up a few more rejection letters!)

Have any of you recently sent your first child to school or started a new hobby? What keeps you away from editing and blog writing?

Children’s Novel Competitions: Mslexia vs Chicken House

Ok so now I have a dilemma. The lovely Helen Yendall over on her Blog About Writing posted a link to another children’s novel competition running this autumn, this time with The Times and the publisher Chicken House.

If you follow my blog, you may know that I am writing a Young-Adult book – Dragon Wraiths – to enter in the Mslexia Children’s Novel competition.

Now I have to decide whether to continue to aim for the Mslexia competition, or to change direction and enter this one with The Times and Chicken House instead. They each have their pros and cons.

The deadline for the Chicken House is later than the Mslexia one (26th October vs. 10th September) but the entry is a full printed manuscript, up to 80,000 words (suggested minimum 30,000 words, which is the same as Mslexia). In the first instance, Mslexia are asking for the first chapter, up to 3000 words, with the full manuscript and synopsis to be sent later, if you are shortlisted. Now this is where the comparison gets tricky.

As well as the wanting the full manuscript, Chicken House state:

Each entry must be accompanied by a brief synopsis, plot plan and a letter of submission explaining the book’s appeal to children. (A plot plan is a chapter-by-chapter breakdown, with a couple of sentences on each, paying attention to the roles of the main characters, dramatic high points, and the most important strands of the plot. The synopsis should be no more than a page, and should give an overview of the complete story, including key characters, events and settings.)

So, how confident am I about my writing? Do I feel my opening chapter has enough impact for me to take the easier (more lazy) route, or will my story come across better will a full synopsis?

The latter, of course.  

I’ve already discussed how I’m worried my first chapter alone isn’t enough without a synopsis, because the dragons don’t come until a third of the way into the book. On the other hand, writing the synopsis is going to be hellish, because the novel skips between two worlds and two timelines, using different fonts (at the moment) to keep it all separate. Also the plot-plan is going to highlight my weaknesses when it comes to planning, as I’m not sure every chapter has a dramatic high point and so on.

There are other differences between the two competitions: the terms and conditions for the Times competition are much more thorough, including lots about the paper having rights forever to publish excerpts of any entry for free. That kind of stuff worries me, but I’ve convinced myself it’s just free publicity, assuming all excerpts are accredited to me as author.

Getting down to the nitty gritty of money, entry into Mslexia is £25 whereas the Times / Chicken House is £15. The minimum winner’s pot, as I read it, is £5,000 and £10,000 respectively. That’s pretty irrelevant: I don’t expect to win, really, although there’s no harm in hope.

The Times/Chicken House Ts & Cs have an interesting one-liner on what they are looking for:

The winner will be the entrant whose story, in the opinion of the judges, demonstrates the greatest entertainment value, quality, originality and suitability for children aged 7-18.

That’s a tall order for any author, but something we should all aspire to. I have no idea whether my idea is original and I don’t know any young-adults to try it out for entertainment or suitability. I guess these are things outside my control in a way. I find the story entertaining, and I like Young-Adult fiction (I’m re-reading Philip Pulman’s His Dark Materials at the moment, and finding it hard to put down, even though I’ve read it before)

Despite the entry cost I am extremely tempted to submit to both competitions. I can’t find anything in the rules expressly forbidding it. I would love to double my chances of at least getting some great feedback and the Times/Chicken House competition offers editorial feedback to the 20 shortlisted entries. That is something I can aim for.

Of course, there might be a problem if I won both competitions, but wouldn’t that be a nice problem to have? 😉

 

Other Links:

Competition Rules:

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/public/competitions/article3375938.ece

http://mslexia.co.uk/whatson/msbusiness/ncomp_rules.php

The Chicken House Writer’s Guide

Waiting, Dragons, Tennis and Sleep

Wimbledon 2007 – photo by Kol Tregaskes on Flickr

Pictures of Love, my WIP, is out with beta readers. I’ve never had anyone but family or agents read my work before. The former have always loved it, the latter rejected it. So I wait with more than a small amount of trepidation.

To use the time well (hopefully) I have gone back to my Young Adult book, Dragon Wraiths, which I hope to enter in the Mslexia Children’s Novel competition in September. I had put the idea on hold, because the rules state: Women who have had a novel published commercially, for any age group, in any country, are not eligible.

As I hope to self-publish Pictures of Love in August, I figured that meant I couldn’t enter. But I read the rules again, more closely, and it says Self-published manuscripts are eligible, so it’s game on.

Only now I’ve read the rules again I’ve spotted that the entry is 3000 words with no synopsis.

Eek.

The dragons don’t come in until Part Two, a third of the way through the book, and the weighty stuff about global warming etc comes in Part Three, (assuming I can research enough by the September deadline; it’s a new addition to the story).

How can I get enough plot into 3000 words to hook a reader, and still have character development, voice, YA themes and all that jazz, without a synopsis? I guess I have to finish the first draft and see how much time I have left before I worry about it.

That’s if I can stay awake.

Youngest child has had an ear infection, together with a lovely temperature of 39.2 for days, so sleep has been a rare commodity all round. Husband and I have been staggering about sighing I’m so tired; so much so that it’s my eldest child’s favourite excuse every time she has the screaming heebie-jeebies (by the way, I love that Word has that in its dictionary!).

“But mummy I’m just so tired, that’s why I lashed out and threw something at you.”

I have to bite my tongue on snapping back, “You slept for ten hours last night, I’ve barely had that this whole week!”

One of the by-products of sleep deprivation is that I, too, become a tiresome three-year-old.

As a result, my return to writing today, after two weeks without penning a word, as I wrestled with Lulu printing and e-book formatting (posts to come), only lasted until lunchtime. Then I had to admit defeat, close the laptop and turn on the tennis. I saw about three shots before I fell asleep.

Now I’m walking the dog, hoping the rain and soggy trousers will wake me up enough to finish my chapter before I collect the kids.

Or I might go nap in front of Murray.

This is WriterMummy saying night night.

 

P.S. Can’t sleep. Murray is making me too nervous. Come on Murray, hold your serve!