Encouragement

Image Ever since I finished the first draft of my novel I’ve been constantly revising and re-writing and editing in between going to all these brilliant local writing events, doing the day job and keeping up with everything else that we all have to do throughout the day. In short, it’s been hectic and there are many times when I’ve been itching to get stuck into my book but have had to set it aside to do all these other things.

Anyway, the point is, every time you think you’ve got it all tied up… it seems that you haven’t! I was asked over the weekend by a couple of people about how I knew when the story was completely finished and the truth is, you could probably edit it forever and end up never doing anything else with it! So, my answer to that was – when you feel it’s as good as you can make it after all your revisions, you just have to decide that it’s done. When that is, really has to be up to you.

One thing I’ve been fortunate in so far (and I really do appreciate my luck in this), is that any writer I’ve shown my first chapter to has been very positive about it, with constructive feedback from Bernie McGill about my character profile, lovely words from Felicity McCall about the style of writing and how to market the book and now… some useful advice on my chapter length from Damian Gorman.

I received my feedback from Damian at the end of last week and was delighted to hear that he had enjoyed reading what I emailed over to him. He wasn’t too sure on my title and thought the synopsis too long (the dreaded synopsis is proving rather tricky!), but aside from that, his main point was to break my one chapter up into shorter, snappier chapters. Having looked at quite a lot of fiction for 9-12 year-olds since, they do all seem to have fairly short chapters and yet… I hadn’t thought to break some of my longer chapters up in all my editing! Proof again why you always benefit from having fresh eyes look over your work, no matter how sussed you think you are.

So, my new dilemma in my ‘finished manuscript’ is…. do I now have too many chapters in my book?! Having broken up quite a few more of them – where I might have had natural page breaks before or just where a break seems good in the story – I have now, er, doubled the amount of chapters in my book…. However, they are all quite short so my question is… does that then, make it ok?

I’m afraid I had to make a quick dash down to Waterstones at lunchtime today to check out what was lining the shelves of their 9-12 section and I actually found a consoling mixture of books boasting upwards of 30 chapters – a few around the 40 mark and one with a staggering 78 chapters! These were each 2/3 pages long though, but still, the book wasn’t the thickest, so I’ve decided that this is encouraging! My own manuscript is now coming in at around 46/48 chapters… but, as I said before, they’re much shortened, so I may just run with it as it is, after all these edits…

More writing encouragement also came at the weekend from my friend Jenny (picture-book Jenny!), who was as positive and inspiring as always over a good cup of coffee about what to do next and about keeping on at it. She too has made good progress with her own story, even drawing some very nice sketches to illustrate her ideas, and it helps so much chatting to like-minded people about these things.

On that note, I met more like-minded people on Saturday evening at Flowerfield Arts Centre in Portstewart, where Bernie McGill had organised the Flowerfield Writer’s Group ‘Say the Word’ event. Every year, local writing groups and writers converge to read their work and catch up with one another and this year… I decided to go along as well. (see pic above with writers Bernie, me, DJ McCune, Mandy Taggart, Hilda and a man whose name I can’t quite remember but then I only met him on Saturday and I’m not the best with names!)

Now – I had brought my re-shaped first chapter just in case, but had really decided I wasn’t going to read anything out loud when I saw the crowd, so I sat back and caught up with Hilda and a few others from my creative writing class from last winter and enjoyed the readings, which ranged from side-splitingly funny, to poetic and reflective.

At the interval however, Bernie asked if I wanted to read. I said no. Then Hilda encouraged me to go ahead and Bernie came back and I finally decided that I was there and I might as well, even though it was quite terrifying! I was first up after the break and although it seems that I came across quite calm, I can assure you I wasn’t, although I have to say that my reading aloud in Damian’s classes last year rid me of the worst of the nerves, so at least I didn’t feel as if I was having an actual heart attack… Progress then!

All in all, it was a great evening, with all sorts of stories and poetry read aloud, including an extract from Mandy Taggart’s award-winning short story, a reading from DJ McCune’s novel Death & Co. and various other pieces. My favourite though had to be a reading by one of the Jane Ross Writers, about a ladybird which lived in her kitchen. She read it in such a deadpan voice and the writing was truly hilarious – best of the evening!

So, it was a weekend of encouragement and busyness as always, but definitely a good one. As for my manuscript, I’m keen to send it to a few publishers and agents ahead of the summer holidays over July/August, when there’s just no point in sending them anything, so I might stick with my shorter chapters after the up-teenth ‘final’ read-through (despite the fact there are now more of them), perfect my pitch and synopsis (!) and wave it goodbye…

As Jenny was saying on Sunday, I could now also be thinking about cracking on with my next story (a sequel is pretty definitely on the cards for me) and do you know what?

I think she might be right.

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