Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The London Book Fair felt very different this year. Previously, print publishers ruled the roost and showcased their star authors (Hilary Mantel, and in YA, Anthony Horowitz and Patrick Ness). They were stridently denying the digital revolution would have any impact on ‘real’ books.

This year the Kobo logo was everywhere, and the Books Are My bag give-away sounded a very defensive note. People who buy real (print) books from real (bricks-and-mortar) bookshops are now a niche who need to distinguish themselves with special markers. Once that was all there was, now – Welcome to the Age of the Algorithm.

New Adult

As a YA author my focus was on YA as a genre and how to get visibility as an author in the new digital world, and the intersection of the two (blogging, niche branding).

Two seminars examined the new genre of New Adult (New and Opening Markets: Young adult, teen, new adult and crossover

New-Adults-Steamies-Crossed-Genres–Reinventing-Teen-Fiction). Was it just YA with added sex? Is it defined by who reads it or the age/ life stage of the protagonist (leaving home, first years of college)?

Authors seemed to feel that it was a marketing invention aimed at the 18-25 age group with outliers, bright aspiring younger readers and some 25-35s, settled with young families looking back nostalgically on their college years. Though Abbi Glines said she had met readers in their 70s. All agreed that, because of the age of the protagonist (16+) you could include more sex, but what was really the focus of interest was romance, relationships, independence and self-discovery. Twilight readers grown up, pushing into chicklit territory.

It also seems to be driven by an audience raised on tv (Girls, Skins)


On the author side the buzz word is discoverability. Self-publishing is now technically simple, but how do you get any sort of visibility as an author? A number of seminars addressed this (Successful-Self-Publishing; branding, and what authors need to know; Good Reads; Amazon CreateSpace and KDP). I found all these useful and will write up in more detail. The star turn, though, which made the whole visit worthwhile was Advanced Online Marketing for Authors. I will devote a whole page to the enthusiastic Joanna Penn’s tips. I’ve paid hundreds of pounds over the years for workshops and seminars on how to ‘break in’ but this was simply the best.



Then there were the intersectional book bloggers, of whom the most prolific are YA readers, with publishers now knocking at their doors for reviews and coverage.


Equal Measures: Achieving diversity and equality in children’s books has now become something of an institution at LBF. I was particularly interested in the issue of gender and LGBT representation. As one of the speakers pointed out the BT bit tends to get lost. Where are the bi and trans characters in YA fiction? The few that there are tend to come from the US. I’ll be asking for suggestions of UK YA books that present positive representations.

Pitching Your Project

Posted: March 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

I am republishing this post to give participants at my Pitching Your Book workshop an idea of what’s in store. the workshop is modelled on the one given by Northern Film and Media. First posted this Jan 2010.

This was a fantastic experience, a workshop at Northern Film and Media, supported by the Indie Training Fund. The trainer, Christina Burnett, has worked with the greats. I felt awed and a bit intimidated to be there at all.


Name check who you’ve worked with, who likes your work: it makes your audience sit up and take notice.

Of course, this goes against all one’s upbringing. We have what is called in the MoneySupermarket ad an overdeveloped cringe gland. Ugh! Do I have to? Are people really that superficial? Shouldn’t the work speak for itself? Yes; yes; yes; and no, it won’t get the chance. Shy bairns get nowt.

What the workshop, throughout the day, demonstrated by putting us in the position of commissioners, was that we all make those instantaneous judgements. Commissioners, and that includes editors, agents and anyone who is in a position to green light a project, will be wading through thousands of submissions. Your work won’t get a chance to speak for itself unless it get noticed in the first place.

What struck me immediately was the difference between writers and producers in this respect. We writers were all shrinking violets compared to the producers and directors. Well, we’ll just have to get over it.

Christina explained that there are generally three stages or forms of pitching: verbal, written, and audio-visual/ supporting material. I’ll deal with these in three separate articles

Procrastination challenge

Posted: March 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

Dear Mslexia,

I turned eagerly to the article from life coach Bekki Hill about procrastination. I was sorely disappointed. As a chronic procrastinator, I was looking for the ‘cures for procrastination’ promised on the cover. I am sure most of your readers – self-defined ‘women who write’ – would have expected tips on how to overcome their own procrastinating tendencies. They certainly wouldn’t have been satisfied with a punch-line that says: she never really wanted to write in the first place and she needs therapy for deep-seated psychological issues! I am sure there are cases which are inappropriate to be dealt with by a life coach, and that some would-be writers don’t want to write at all, but I question the value of such a case study in a magazine for women who do write.

My initial reaction was to throw the magazine aside, snorting “I could do better than that. I’ve read every book there is on the subject of procrastination, will-power and self-discipline.” So this is my challenge both to you and myself: let me write the article I (and thousands of other procrastinating writers) would like to have read. I am aware that ‘waiting for a reply to my query’ is among the top ten procrastinating strategies, I will commit in public, on my blog The Ticking Clock to undertake my own procrastination/ will-power challenge – over the course of 10 weeks I will test out prescriptions for overcoming procrastination, resisting distraction and other temptations.


This is a report I wrote after the Northern Film and Media Pitching Your Project workshop, which may be of interest to those attending the SSWAG Pitching Your Book workshop tomorrow:

There were 9 participants with 9 projects. We were given 9 minutes to read all 9 one-page proposals. We were to notice what struck us going through them all, and if any one stood out.

tell me less

This, for me, was the most eye-opening moment of the day. I looked at the 9 proposals before me. More than 9 pages: some people hadn’t kept to the limit. My overwhelming feeling was: tell me less.

I wanted some way to sift through the information coming at me. Christina’s words: give them what they need to know up front, I heartily endorse. Be clear. Suddenly the truth of that was borne in on me quite physically. I couldn’t see what I was looking at. Where’s the white space?

what I noticed

The difference between the verbal and the written pitches. The two that stood out on the verbal pitching would, if I’m honest, have gone in the bin on the strength of the written effort. One, for the spelling and grammar; the other, because it looked utterly boring – solid blocks of uninterrupted text.


Play to your strengths. If you’re a bubbly attractive presenter, but not so hot on your written pitch, get help on your weaker area. Spell-check and double check; run it past a writer friend; as with the verbals: practice, practice, practice.

Clarity and concision

My written pitch was commented on by half the participants as a model of clarity and concision. You can see it here. Don’t, though, copy it. It has its faults. And your pitch must represent your vision, your strengths.

I could claim credit for it, but really it’s the flip side of my lack of preparation. I was given a last-minute place on the workshop after someone dropped out. I had a few hours’ notice to create my one-page proposal. Less is more. The time limit concentrated my mind. I also emailed to find out what it should include and the preferred format.


Give them what they ask for, not more. If they say one-page, give them one page. If you don’t know what they want, ask – or look at their website. You can always point them to where they can look for more. Which brings me to:


None of us put our details on our proposal. Always, always do this. (Unless it’s for a competition, in which case follow the Rules.) You’re not a secret agent. Every piece of paper or media that emanates from you should point straight back at you. You want them to know how to contact you, to see more, to arrange a meeting. On multi-page documents, put page numbers, title and some identifier in the footer.

Lay-out tips

  • no tiny fonts. 11 or 12 point for preference
  • don’t use Times Roman, sans serif fonts are easier to read, and more web-compliant
  • bold titles but don’t waste space with huge fonts in the title
  • use sub-heads for things you want to draw attention to
  • use bullet points or numbered lists
  • allow some white space
  • see below for the special rules for feature film scripts

Content tips

  • be concise: leave them wanting to know more
  • use hook-lines and images
  • have a clear premise
  • have an easy-to-read summary or synopsis
  • strong characters, vividly presented
  • read your summary for pace
  • if you have a ‘name’ on board, that will act as a hook
  • a clear lay-out should reflect a clear concept

Striking graphics

  • use colour, but test on a monochrome printer – your proposal may be photocopied and you still want it to be legible
  • for factual or entertainment programmes, use pictures, sketches and other graphics
  • for drama scripts, your words should paint the pictures
  • use your company logo or brand. Every proposal is a marketing opportunity

shortlist of thousands

Yes, you read that right. Channel 4 considered a shortlist of over a thousand for 46 programme slots. Commissioners receive thousands of submissions a year. This is what we’re up against. A minute to scan a proposal is probably quite generous.

what is it?

They are looking for this basic information: genre, length and format, number of episodes, channel, strand, slot on the schedule, audience.

who are you?

All contact details. If you are a company, who is the named contact person for the project?

Why are you the person/ people to do it? Can you deliver? What is your track record? For drama, the most important person is the writer. If you have a ‘name’ on board, use it.

can we afford it?

Always include a budget or at least a ball-park figure. They need to know what it will cost, and what sort of production values. If your budget is substantially over the norm, you need to justify it. If it is cheaper, then you can use it as a selling point (provided you can deliver on budget). Everyone loves a bargain.

always prepare for the best case

Dating books recommend you wear underwear that you wouldn’t mind being seen in by George Clooney. (I had to type that sentence very carefully: with George Clooney, in George Clooney, in with George Clooney, within George Clooney.)

Buyers are looking for something to fall in love with. Your project may be it.

FEATURE FILMS: special rules

Feature film scripts follow a rigid (and boring) format. If you deviate from it, you mark yourself out as an amateur. You can find out about film script formats in any screenwriting book.

Drama scripts also follow industry-standard formats. You can download a template from the BBC Writers Room.

Someone sent me a link to BBC Radio 4 – On the Ropes: Max Moseley. Since sadomasochism is one of the threads in my new novel, I thought I’d share these thoughts.
Overall, Moseley came over as thoughtful, articulate and rational. The interviewer, John Humphreys, came over as a moralistic twat. Amazing how sexual moralism can make a wealthy Tory son of fascists seem progressive compared to Humpreys’ reactionary spouting. Moseley pointed out that what consenting adults do in private is nobody’s business but their own. How can it be ‘in the public interest’ what people do in private, if nobody is being harmed? Public figures are surely allowed a private life. Isn’t that a universal human right?
The interviewer made great play of the fact that the women involved in the orgy were being paid. Moseley pointed out that these women, in their private lives, with their chosen partners, did the same things unpaid. Humphreys snorted derisively: they would say that. I know a few pro dommes and all of them do it because they like it. Of course they like getting paid too! But getting paid for something doesn’t in itself make that activity disreputable. I like writing and would do it whether I was paid or not, but it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to get paid for it. Indeed, I’m sure Mr Humpreys, in private, likes to pronounce moralistically. I’m sure he’d be the first to argue that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be paid. The reason for calling these women prostitutes and making much of their being paid is to make a connection in the listener’s mind between their activity and the image of street prostitutes, trafficked women and vulnerable teenagers forced into selling themselves. But it’s an illegitimate connection. Those women are coerced not consenting. It is the absence of consent that is key, not payment.
Moseley was interesting, too, in that he’d kept this side of his sexuality secret from his wife of fifty years. As a novelist, what a stunning idea! Secrets are always powerful in any drama. They create motive and mystery and suspense. When you have trouble plotting, it’s always good to give your character a secret. My heroine comes from the other end of the political spectrum. She’s an anarcho-eco- erstwhile feminist, and her reasons for keeping her secret are to do with the repressive moralism espoused by some ‘progressive’ people – especially a certain type of feminist. One could contrast Moseley’s “It’s nobody’s business but my own” attitude with that of Tommy Sheridan, who also took on the News of the World.

Trying to get back into it

Posted: March 2, 2010 in Uncategorized

Last week i caught up with some writers i hadn’t seen for ages. One had moved house and was settling into a new writing regime to fit in with her young family. She had, after a break, managed to get some dedicated writing time. She felt that, in the interim, she’d lost her ability to put sentences together. She’d forgotten how to write, and felt like a novice starting out painfully to learn the basics.

I said: that’s how it is after a break. The anxiety gets to you. Once you break the flow, everything becomes an effort.

And here I am, at that very same place. I decided to start March with a project I’d put down for several months. I told myself I could get into a regime of writing 1666 words a day as I had for Nanowrimo. In my head, it seemed so simple. In reality, yesterday I managed perhaps 100 words. My doubts about where it was going ate away my confidence. The idea was that I could get together 5,000 words and a synopsis for a Time to Write award.

Maybe that’s too much pressure. I can’t see anything. Where am I in this story? Where is it going? How will I know when I’ve got there?

I try to remind myself that this is what it is like. Sometimes you’re just lost. You can’t pull a shape out of the air, to order. Or at least, you can but just don’t believe it will resemble the final shape, what the story will look like when it’s finished. So much writing about writing is misleadingly elegant. It suggests, leads you believe that writing is an elevated, sleek, glamorous process, glidiong down the catwalk, twirling and dazzling. It’s not. It’s a mess. It’s a stutter of anxiety and a sprawl of ‘Oh fuck it, just get anything down. However awful. However fucking crap’.

Late Bloomers

Posted: March 2, 2010 in Uncategorized

I’ve just been reading ‘Late Bloomers’ in Malcolm Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw (Allen Lane). It’s heartening. He contrasts Picasso – precocious, ferociously naturally talented – with Cezanne, who had to painfully slog at learning to draw, to enable his vision to take shape. Cezanne would not have survived as an artist without support.

I find this doubly reassuring. I hold in mind the model of Penelope Fitzgerald, who never started earning in the higher tax bracket until well into her seventies. Age is not a barrier.

The other thing Gladwell talks about is the unconditional support of Cezanne’s father, and, another example, Ben fountain’s wife – paying the bills and keeping the household afloat not just for a year but for decades. It makes me think of Julia Cameron’s remark, what wouldn’t we do to support those we love – why can’t we extend the same to support to ourselves?

Which brings me back to the Writers’ Award. It’s hard to convince anybody if you don’t believe in yourself. And sometimes I think the real purpose for me of these applications is to convince myself that I am worth it. I wonder if the source of my frustration with myself is not my distractibility or disorganisation, poor time management or any other surface symptom, but a simple desperate lack of faith. I have a horror of being like those X Factor contestants who can’t sing and don’t know it. I fear I am too insanely deluded.

It cheers me to think of Cezanne learning to draw. I did an art foundation course and I can remember literally crying at my easel, trying to grasp perspective and 3-D. It’s just hard, and it really does help to know that other people find it hard too.


Posted: January 29, 2010 in Uncategorized

I found this article by Seth Godin which seems very pertinent to achieving your goals quieting the lizard brain

Effective Villains

Posted: January 14, 2010 in Uncategorized

Some exercises for when you have trouble with your villains

  1. Write from their point of view. Really get inside their head. People generally don’t see themselves as villains. They will have a way of explaining or justifying their actions. They may for example see themselves as the victim or the instrument of divine (or not so divine) justice. Look at the exercise Deadly Emotions: In their Shoes.
  2. Write the Dear Author letter
  3. If you are having trouble sympathising with them, let them share something with you. Let them love the same thing as you. Admire the same author/ thinker/ composer. Gift them some incident from your own life. Have them come from the same background as you.
  4. Give them a high or humane motive. Andre Jute describes how he humanises a duplicitous spy by making him go back and rescue his cat.
  5. Make them witty or charming. Think Hannibal Lecter.

What I really want is for them (the audience) to lean in into the crib and coo enthusiastically; to see features that are possibly, recognisably, mine as a source of delight: ah! she has my eyes — by implication my own eyes are a source of wondering exclamation.
The metaphor breaks down here — or takes a violent turn off. This work is not a fully formed Mini-me. It is more of an experiment in a jar — the story is narrated by twin embryos in the womb. Their perspective is necessarily limited to other people’s stories. They have no real substance yet to constitute their own story.
We do not see Frankenstein’s diary. In the weeks before his successful experiment in re-animating a whole, sewn together from salvaged body parts, we do not see his anxiety; the tentativeness of his steps; his false progress and back-tracking.
This is precisely what I will be documenting What is the genesis of fiction? Where do narrative ideas come from? These are questions that are always asked, after the event, yet remain mysterious.
We can answer the specific: That character was based on my aunt Irma; I read about that event in a newspaper and wondered what if…?; I noticed my reaction to such-and-such and thought to exaggerate it madly. But that’s not really it.
Fiction, like Frankenstein’s creation, is a compound process: this added to that creates a reaction that produces something different from the component parts. this new substance is introduced to another, and so on. This, presumably, is what happened at the beginning of all life…
Let me give an example: the girl in the purple fishnets.
the story is narrated by the embryos. This is the basic conceit established in the first post — which seems to be a kind of ‘first cause’.
One of the post is titled ‘The odd circumstances of their meeting’, following on from the first post which mentions Jacob musing on the rather surprising events that led to me being here on this plane of souls.
When I wrote it I had no idea what the circumstances were. I mention ‘the rather surprising events’, so now I have to justify the phrase. This move is known in Improv as ‘jump and justify’. Essentially, you make a bold statement: “I can’t look: it’s too horrible!” or “So you have found out my secret!” and after justify it.
It is only at this moment of writing that I realise what this project is — a kind of improv fiction. The medium, the technology, is almost beside the point. What is special is the rawness.
With (the previous web novel), I had a sense of the overarching narrative. I knew where it was going. I was in control: the freedom of the form was only apparent.
This time I want to extend, to push the openness, the unpredictability.
So the ‘odd circumstances of their meeting’ prompts the question: in what way odd? We learn (and I am learning just before you, the reader. It is an experiment and I am revealing the contents of the jar only moments after I have seen them myself) that they have met online. But that’s not really odd.
So I add mistaken identity. (A friend of mine described how his most successful chatr-up line was based on a similar mistake: he thought the woman he was talking to was part of the same MENSA event he attended.)
The fat girl in the purple fishnets was simply a punchline. The detail of the purple fishnets was salvaged from my own life: I had recently bought a pair for £1 on whim. The detail was added purely in the interest of a balanced sentence. Compare:

the girl in the corner with red hair and a geometric pattern dress

That’s a bit flat. It too obviously underscores the mistake.
But something has happened with:

Oblivious to the fat girl in the corner with the frizzy red curls, purple fishnets and a black-and-purple geometric print dress.

It’s something akin to Runtgen’s photographic plates or Fleming’s penicillium mould. The accidental has become the story. This, in improv, is known as a ‘turn’.
My immediate reaction:
I am very concerned about the fat girl in the purple fishnets.
This may prove a decisive turn, so why? What motivated it?
I think there are both formal and idiosyncratic reasons. There is a loose family resemblance to ‘Tristram Shandy’. So digressions will be in order. There is her narrative plight, which is more affecting than the happy accidental couple going off to the restaurant together. And there is the purely personal: she’s wearing my tights, dammit, I want to see where she goes with them.