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Magical Masquerade

ink-316909_1280So … it’s the start of a new year and I’m happy to report that, aside from taking a few days off over Christmas to celebrate the season, I spent most of my time editing The Book. What’s more, my winter whittling shaved off a further 16,000 or so words from that, which I consider a definite result.

My book is aimed at what would be termed middle-grade readers, and is a fantasy story which, my research shows, provides more scope for length. Fantasy novels for any age just tend to be that bit longer, what with all the world-building and so on, so I think I’m on track, though there’s still time for more snipping before publication if needs be. My beta readers also said that when reading a fantasy book, they preferred something chunkier, which signified a story they could really get stuck into. So, we’ll see.

Introductions, please…. 

Before I go any further however, I thought I’d share something which probably should have been shared a little while ago now. Yes, that’s right – it’s maybe time now for a title??

In truth, my title has been in place more or less since I started hand-writing The Book quite a few years ago. It did undergo a complete revision at one stage, but I ended up reverting back to the original because I just felt it fitted what the story is all about and well, because I’m also an alliteration addict….

I’m still holding back on sharing the cover, as I need to get a further wee thing added onto that and would rather it was in its final form before I make it public (maybe I’m being precious about this but that’s just how I want to do it! Also, if any of you good people subsequently feel inclined to share it when I do put it’ out there’ [here’s hoping!], then at least the right version will be floating about the internet.)

Anyway, I hope I haven’t built this up too much, and if you’re an eagle-eyed sort of a person, then you’ll know the title already, as it’s also the title of this week’s blog post. Yep, you’ve guessed it. My book is called:

Magical Masquerade

I hope you like it.

If you don’t, then apologies, but that’s what it is. 🙂

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CreateSpace

Back to the business of book-making…. I’ve been re-reading my self-publishing manual over the holidays and New Year (which is Self-Printed by Catherine Ryan Howard, for those of you who are interested), and it’s been great. Again. Although there’s A LOT of work to be done in formatting the e-book and POD (print on demand) paperback once the manuscript is good to go, knowing what the things are that need to be done is better than not knowing (or forgetting), which just makes the process seem scary and impossible all over again.

So, thank you again Catherine for (A) blogging about all this stuff in the first place and (B) self-publishing a pretty cool book about it.

One thing I did forget though, was that Self-Printed isn’t written in the order that you’ll necessarily be doing things (which Catherine does make clear at the start). So, there’s some stuff in the final section for example, which is all about selling SP books, which you need to be aware of early on, as you’ve got to get certain things in place re promo etc., rather than waiting until the book is live on Amazon. This is why I read the book last year, but I forget things, hence the re-reads…

That said, I think I’m pretty much on track with most of the prep work, though much still needs to be done. I’m someone who likes to have lists and lists and yet more lists when doing pretty much anything in life – it’s just ordering them into a chronology that will ensure everything happens in a timely fashion which sometimes complicates things!

For example, while I’m going to wait until the finished book is uploaded to CreateSpace and I can order proof copies for myself and hopefully, some reviewers, if I want to get a quote for the cover, then an ARC (advanced reader copy) would be ideal. The book still needs to be in a near-final form to do this, however, so one has to think ahead for that. Have I got someone who’s actually agreed to do this…? Stay tuned my friends, and I’ll keep you updated. 🙂

The copy-edit

clockAs we speak, Magical Masquerade is back in the inbox of my editor, who will be working on the final copy-edit throughout January. After that I will take a couple of weeks to work through her feedback again and make the required changes. Then, once I’m happy the book is worthy of publication (!) I will format and upload the e-book and paperback interiors (and order my proof paperbacks), wait up to a week for these to be approved and then wait a further week or two for my proofs to arrive in the post.

After that, I’ll be happily spending a few more weeks poring over the paperback and once that’s finally cleared for publication, I’ll hopefully get, at last, to hit that ‘approve proof’ button on CreateSpace and release it into the world. (Though it’ll then still take a week or two to actually appear on the Amazon site).

This is the timeline, and I’m aiming for an April release of Magical Masquerade, BUT, I know plans are all very well, but things don’t often go to plan. The holidays are over and I’ve still got a copywriting business to run, while there’s bound to be some sort of hiccup when it comes to formatting the different book versions. (I just know there will be – I’m not a technical whizz!)

However, I do now actually have a CreateSpace account and have filled out my tax details and completed the required tax questionnaire for that. I’ve also got my trim size confirmed (i.e. the size of the paperback) and have downloaded my interior files template (which I’ll copy my manuscript text onto for formatting later), so it’s all getting more real by the second.

Oh – and I now have an ISBN, so it’s official. The Book is really real. 😉

What’s next?Q

Good question. A lot of stuff, but I’ll need to consult my ever-lengthening list and get back to you on that one. More details are definitely coming soon about my self-publishing journey though and … perhaps also a little snippet about the official launch? Well, maybe, maybe not. Suffice it to say, there will definitely be a launch, but details are under wraps for the moment, though discussions are ongoing, so I’ll share about that when I can!

In short story news, The Ghastling journal should be out this month, so I’ll post a pic of that when I have it. (I’ve got a story in it, in case you didn’t read my last post).

That’s all for now!

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Fairy tale feedback….

So … since last writing here, feedback has flowed in with regards to the book – both from my editor and from some helpful (and age-appropriate) beta readers. The short version is that all of this feedback has been very positive, but the long version is just that little bit more interesting….

My editor, who edits both children’s and adult’s fiction, was first to deliver her analysis. I’ve always understood the value of hiring an editor, but having now worked directly with one on my own novel, I really understand the value of hiring an editor. It makes my mind boggle as to why anyone would think they don’t need one – and I say this as a journalist, sub-editor/editor, creative writer – you just need an outside professional to look at your work.book-863418_1280

My book is still a bit long, so it definitely needs cutting some more, but this is where the elements of interest begin because, believe it or not, the passages my editor is suggesting could be chopped, are the very same ones my beta readers LOVE.

So, here we have a conundrum. I was reading my editorial report and agreeing with what my editor was saying. Some scenes possibly didn’t move the story along and could be cut (I’ll admit to having indulged myself in some lovely flowery descriptions throughout!), and although I really liked those scenes, I was prepared to axe them. (I don’t mind so much about ‘killing my darlings’, as Stephen King would say. 🙂 )

THEN, I met my beta readers, and was quizzing them on what they thought of the story. Did they have any favourite scenes? Did they think any were too long or boring? Their feedback would have been music to my ears up until a few days ago, but hearing how much they loved one rather descriptive scene in particular (which my editor said should definitely go), made alarm bells ring. Do I go with what the readers are telling me, who are, after all, my target audience, or with the professional editor who, let’s face it, knows exactly what she’s talking about??

Granted, my beta readers are but currently two people reading the book and are not representative of the mass populous of children. Also, my editor has her opinion, which is not necessarily the same opinion that another editor may have.

My own thoughts? Well, I want my book to read as well as it can, but I do also love those descriptive scenes myself, and I want to keep my readers happy… (assuming I get any more of them, that is!!). I suggested to the girls that I might be cutting some scenes, including the one they really like, and they looked positively aghast. One in particular was adamant I shouldn’t cut it, as it was her favourite so far. Oh, the irony….

I’ve got a very early start to Dublin tomorrow to meet my editor, so our morning coffee will no doubt include some interesting discussion, as I’m keen to hear her reaction to all this. It certainly threw me, but then, all I was wanting to hear from my betas was that they liked the book – I really hadn’t considered the implications if what they fed back differed vastly from what the editor said.

That ‘small’ dilemma aside … my editor has pointed out more than a few things which I now need to address within my manuscript and this is why I’m so glad I hired her. Despite leaving the book to rest for the past two years, I nevertheless still know the story far too well. I’ve also changed it around quite a bit in various edits since I started writing, and while I thought I’d tied up all those loose ends that referred back to stuff that was no longer in the text, it turns out, some of them slipped through the net.

Interestingly, my first few drafts also included a bit more back story, which I later cut out (for fear of stalling the story). Feedback from my editor however, suggests that some of this information needs re-introduced.mermaid-866581_1280

It’s great to get both a child’s and an adult’s perspective on the story though, as some things the editor is pointing out – such as my main character at times seeming to escape rather easily from certain situations – aren’t registering with the betas at all. They told me they thought the main character found herself in challenging situations and that it wasn’t too easy for her to escape them!

Obviously, an adult – and an editor to boot – will be reading the text more closely than a child who trusts you and just wants to get on with the story, but it’s interesting nonetheless to get these insights. I’m definitely taking on board all my editor has said and do think I need to tighten things up and make various changes. The great thing now however, is that with her feedback on particular points in the book, I now have a much clearer idea of what I need to focus on and why. The mist has lifted….

I’m also delighted that she thinks my writing is very strong and the pace of narrative is very good – though tension could be increased in some places. All of this information is ultimately helping me to create a better book.

As for my betas, well, I met them at the halfway point of reading – they’ve had exams and starting a new school to contend with recently – but I’m extremely heartened that they simply like the story so far. AND – they’re keen to keep reading it to the end and will let me know what they think of that.

They like the main character and identify with her. They think the story is ‘very creative’, ‘exciting’ and ‘mysterious’, and said it reminds them of Enid Blyton (not the same, they reassured me – but similar with regards to all the magical characters and going to strange places. I like this reference, as Enid Blyton was my favourite author growing up!)

They also said the chapters ended with cliff-hangers and made them want to read on. Oh, and let’s not forget – they like those flowery descriptions….

colorful-1312799_1280I may just have hit it lucky with these betas. Others of the same age may not like the descriptions, but it’s definitely food for thought. They’re also both 11 years old and have just started secondary school, so it’s great they like the book and think it’s ok for their age-group and isn’t too childish. My editor also thankfully agrees the writing style is age-appropriate. (It’s pitched at 8-11/12 year-olds).

I’ve already started making lots of fresh notes on the changes I want to make and the things I need to work on, but it’s exciting. I’m in the final stages of getting my book to a publishable format and Christmas will most definitely be filled with rewriting….

Of course, there’s a lot more to come after that, in terms of formatting etc. etc., but we’ll deal with all that when we come to it. In the meantime, the cover is almost signed off (that pesky blurb is nearly pinned down) and it all seems to be coming together….

 

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Do you feel the need to speed-read…?

booksIt’s halfway through my Christmas holidays and I have to admit – I’m flagging a little on my reading. But no worries – I’ve nearly finished the sprawling novel that is Zadie Smith’s White Teeth (which I’d forgotten I hadn’t quite completed…) and am edging onwards to the stack I’d set aside for the Yuletide period.

When I was growing up, I often read two or three novels simultaneously (my sister thought it odd and said it would make me mix up the stories… what can I say – it didn’t), but these days I tend to stick to one at a time. Well, almost – I had already started Catherynne M Valente’s latest offering while still immersed in Zadie Smith’s book, but it’s generally a one-off now.

Anyway, it got me to thinking of those crafty ‘speed-readers’ – those who can devour one novel or more in a day, despite being as busy as the rest of us. I was chatting to someone before Christmas who said this was what his wife was like – she can read a novel a day BUT (and there is a but!), ask her about the story the following day and, well, she struggles to recall it.

We’ve all read books which we just couldn’t put down, but (and maybe this is just me), even when I have a book like this, I still like to savour it. I enjoy the writing, the pace of the story, and just being sucked into the narrative. And if I do seem to read it ‘too quickly’, then afterwards, I’ll usually reflect on what I’ve just read.bookworm-151738_1280

My point (if a point here needs to be made!), is that we all seem to be in a rush to do everything all the time – and us readers do have ever-growing mounds of books to plough through – but there’s a lot to be said for diving into a story and just swimming about in it for a while. You can whizz through those pages if you like, but if you can’t remember much afterwards then for me, it removes some of the joy from reading.

I have a few more days off yet though, and I’m confident I’ll get the chance to savour a couple more of my holiday reads. All the same, whether you’re a speed-reader or not – enjoy those books and have a Happy New Year!

 

 

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Get lost in a library

A library I visited in Vienna

A library I visited in Vienna

As someone who grew up with a love of reading in the pre-internet age (yes, really) – before the invention of e-books and digital, well, anything really, the local library was the holy grail of book lovers everywhere. Period. I even remember the library van – that clumsy looking box-shaped old van which had seen better days but which was stuffed with tomes of all shapes and sizes. I devoured my library books from the town where I lived, but I also played away when I could, taking great delight to hop on board the big library van when it rolled into the village where my granny lived.

Vienese library books

Vienese library books

Yes, it was to convenience the elderly, who perhaps couldn’t always make the journey into the nearest town to satisfy their craving for stories, but us kids could certainly join in the party. It also gave the already exciting library visit an even more thrilling edge. What wonderful stories would the library van bring this week? Would they find out you were secretly borrowing books from your local town library, the library in the seaside town where you holidayed every summer and the library van?! Which was actually, technically, for people like your dear old granny to use! And what if that big old van accidentally trundled off with you in it?! It was a little Tardis-like inside and one very easily forgot about any sort of time dimension once on board… The vans spent only a certain amount of time in each town or village, so the added thrill was trying to return your books, find new ones and hop off again before they spirited you away.

Words of wisdom from NYC library

Words of wisdom from NYC library

Although – a life on the library van? There are worse ways to end up I’d say!

Alas, I know not the fate of library vans and whilst I’d love to think they still trundle faithfully around the country giving elderly people and little kids bookish delight every week, I’m pretty sure the digital age has put paid to that (correct me if I’m wrong though).

I now live in a digital world and am of a generation which was probably the last to be able to say – I grew up without mobile phones, the internet etc etc. Don’t get me wrong – the digital age is great. I use it every day, although I’m yet to read an e-book or buy a Kindle-type device. I do now have a proper smart phone though, so progress.

Whether you’ve grown up reading online books and articles, or are an older convert to the digital word, I do hope that there are some of you who recall with fondness your favourite library, and encourage the kids you know to seek them out. I recently saw a rather depressing (for me anyway!) photo of a completely digitised library online – that is, one with two rows of computers and NO BOOKS. A small part of me shrivelled up and died as I realised this could well be the fate of libraries not too far into the future. Perhaps not – I know many old diehards like me still enjoy the physically printed book and use both digital and hard copy interchangeably. Will future generations? I don’t know.

Reading area in NYC library

Reading area in NYC library

All I know is that I need to visit my local library more and help give them a reason to continue. I prefer to buy my books these days – mostly from second-hand bookshops – and I don’t quite know when this obsession to have to own every novel I read quite took hold. I read so many books as a child which I happily gave back to my libraries, although I do wish some of them I could have kept and I’m sure I’ve forgotten so many of the titles I enjoyed.

The original Winnie-the-Pooh & Piglet. You never know who you'll meet in a library...

The original Winnie-the-Pooh & Piglet. You never know who you’ll meet in a library…

I think perhaps I just like to look at them on my bookcases as to me, they’re homely; they’re a reminder of all the adventures I’ve taken; all the places I’ve visited; the characters I’ve met – liked, disliked, loved and loathed. They have beautiful covers (I like this!); they’re dog-eared/pristine/well-worn. They remind me of where I was when I read them; who I was with; what I was like then.

My last library cards...

My last library cards…

Libraries were a big part of my youth and I whiled many a summer’s day away with a stack of library books beside me. I progressed from the standard four library cards, to seven (delight!) and then, when computers took off – to the plastic swipe card. I still have some of my old yellowy-brown paper library cards, which the librarian would use to hold the little white slips of paper from the books I’d chosen, until I returned them and she’d fill them with more little white slips.

Libraries I loved and I always seek them out where possible when I go away. While they’re still here in traditional form I’d say – take yourself off and get lost in a library…

 

 

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Musing on Mansfield

‘Katherine Mansfield’s claim on out attention rests on the subtlety, emotional depth and originality of her gifts as a short-story writer. [She] brings her imaginative gifts to bear on many kinds of lives in quite disparate settings with an artist’s feeling for the angle and light that would bring her stories to life.’

KatherinemansfieldIt goes without saying that any writer would revel in such an introduction to their work and this is but a snippet of praise for Katherine Mansfield – ‘widely regarded as a writer who helped to create the modern short story’ – in an anthology of her work, which I am just about to read.

You’ve got to love second-hand bookshops and even better – your local Co-op, when it has a table bulging with such books by its tills. If every supermarket did the same, and replaced sweets at the check-outs with books… Well, a thought for another day perhaps.

Anyway, as I embark upon a year of crafting my own collection of short stories (and poems), it’s only sensible to seek inspiration from a few of the greats, and I’m hoping this particular collection will do just that. Short stories weave their own sort of magic and have less space in which to do it, so I think there’s an extra skill in being able to produce shorter fiction.

Points to consider:

  • How much description is too much in a short story?Q
  • How quickly should the pace be set?
  • Are myriad characters better, or are fewer preferable?
  • Plotlines… how complicated should they be? There is the risk, is there not, of cramming too much into a small space.

I’m thinking off the top of my head here and of course, a short story can be long enough to become a novella. It can be anything from 1,000 words to 4,000, six or 8,000 words or more.

Another good question then:

  • At what point do you wind it up?

Well, a story, I believe, will usually tell you when it’s done and if in doubt, wind it up, leave it a while and come back and edit it. Perspective and a little time away always helps.

As I say – I’m musing on Mansfield right now. We’ll see how it goes…

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Snufkin’s forest

‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year…’ The Christmas tree glitters proudly as the fire blazes merrily in the hearth; the wind buffets the house but finds no way in to penetrate the cosy calm of the lamp-lit living room, where you might just find a writer scribbling away the hours; her little dog curled up beside her…

TreeWell, every other year that might have been the case. This year, such nights are few and far between, as I now work almost all of them in Belfast. However, they are not non-existent, which is, of course, the main thing. I was once told by a well known writer that, quite bluntly, writing ‘by candlelight’ so to speak, or indeed, by fairy lights and the glow of a fire, romanticises the process and often results in rather poor writing at the end of it all – that is, what may sound brilliant in the atmospheric gloom can, in the cruel light of day, present as saccharine, self-indulgent gloop.

I agree with this in some ways, but in some ways not. I see the potential for falling into such a trap unwittingly and getting carried away by the mood of it all but then again, if you’re writing children’s fantasy stories, I rather think it adds to the magic of it all. We all have our own conditions in which we like to write and, although I will write just as easily on a cold, dull day as I will on a sunny, rainy or snowy day – the night is when I seem to work best. Fairy lights optional…

Normally at Christmas, I am surrounded by books – literally. For the first time in about six years, I will not be in Waterstones this festive season, temping away the weekend and perusing the myriad bestsellers, beautifully illustrated children’s books and festive special editions, as I try to display them without adding more and more titles to my mental list of ‘must buy’. It has to be the best place to work at Christmas time and, in the little town of Coleraine, on the north coast of Ireland, books are still flying off the shelves.

Every year – of the whole of Northern Ireland – the Coleraine store exceeds all expectations in book sales, beating the other shops hands down – an incredibly encouraging feat in my opinion. Yes, in the age of the Kindle, e-reader and everything else, people here still love buying books and come, arms full, to the checkout to prove the point. A steady stream of shoppers flow in and out of the shop all day long and they continue to come on Boxing Day and into the New Year.Library

Working in a bookstore can be both inspiring and slightly unnerving. There are so many titles – stuffed floor to ceiling – so many new releases, old classics, recent reads, soon-to-be-published, that it seems impossible that anyone could ever stand a chance of getting published any more. But they do and the other way of looking at this of course, is that it shows the market is still healthy – although, caution comes attached. Look a little closer and it’s a lot of ‘celebrity’ autobiographies, celebrity children’s books, novels from long-established authors, well known adult writers turning their hands to young adult and children’s stories and so on….

It can be overwhelming but it’s good to also keep up to date with what is selling in your own particular market. Yes, like it or not, everyone writes for a market – mine being the children’s (8-12). There is always a flip side though and this one is – what is selling now won’t be by the time your novel would hit the shelves (if, indeed, it ever makes it that length). You need to be fresh-thinking/innovative/trend-setting…

Indeed.

Anyway, as Christmas creeps upon us, I for one will simply be appreciating the fact that people can still be called ‘book-lovers’, that publishers are still eager to publish (where they can…) and that no matter my winter schedule, books will always be part of it.

SnufkinI called this post ‘Snufkin’s Forest’ and you may be wondering why. Well, to be honest, for no other reason than because it strikes a cord with my inner writer. The writer is stereotypically a solitary soul – a thinker, an observer of detail, a pensive sort of a person – and old Snufkin, as he plods into his forest of silence, reminds me of this.

He shuns the hub of activity for the peaceful, solitary and unknown forest – just as I think a writer, to write well and as he/she so desires, must also do from time to time – shut out the busy world for a while and explore the mysterious, unchartered territory of their very own ‘silent forest’ and see what they find. I for one, intend to do just this. Will it lead me down the path of a follow-up book, a completely new story or… something else altogether? Time will tell.

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