This page shows some of my recent blog posts. If you want to read more, see my blog.
I’m not going to go into detail here about the Thing, though I intend to at some point in order to warn others. The Thing was very negative and this post is the opposite of that. I won’t allow it to taint this space. I don’t like spreading negativity – there’s more than enough of it online and in the real world – and so I haven’t said anything in public about the Bad Thing before now. Only those closest to me knew about it.
At the lowest point in the last five months, I turned to G and said, ‘I’ve always thought things happen for a reason. We’re in the middle of this right now and have no perspective beyond it but a point will come when we’ll look back and say, Ah, so that’s what all that was about.’
How right I was, though I never expected the answer to come so soon and I could never, in my wildest dreams, have anticipated the form it would take. Without my knowledge, those few people who knew about the Thing – some of whom had never met each other – got together to start thinking about ways they could turn the Bad Thing around, support us in a practical way and, most importantly, restore our faith in human nature. They came up with an audacious plan to start a Crowdfunding campaign. Knowing me as they do, they agreed it was vital to keep the plan a secret from me because I would have vetoed it. Not because I’d be ungrateful (how could I possibly be?) but because the very idea would make me squirm with discomfort.
By the time I knew it was happening, donations were well into four figures. I sat staring at my laptop, struggling to breathe, trying to process what I was seeing. What had me gasping for breath the most was not so much the gob-smacking amount that had been raised but the comments people had left. I was reading the sorts of things usually said about someone after they’ve died, when everyone says what a shame it is that they never knew people cared so much for them. And here I was, alive and very much kicking, the recipient of an outpouring of love and generosity that knocked me sideways. I was way beyond my comfort zone and had no idea how I was supposed to be, or act, or even feel. Words – the raw material of my trade – escaped me or took refuge in cliché. The only way I could cope was to pretend it wasn’t happening. I asked the inner circle to pass on a request not to link to me, while worrying that it might look like I was taking it all for granted. But the one thing I was certain about was that it was really important for me not to appear in any way as if I was soliciting on my own behalf.
By the end of the campaign, 171 people had donated, leaving comments that made my eyes stream and my heart soar. (See? Not possible without resorting to clichés.) Many chose to be anonymous and I will never know who they – you – are. I wanted to contact everyone and thank them personally but it felt somehow wrong when there were so many I can’t identify.
So I hope no one will consider it lazy if I give a huge collective
here to each and every one of you. Please imagine me looking into your eyes and holding your hands and telling you how you have touched my heart. I hope that everyone this applies to will see this at some point.
One person was responsible for the Bad Thing. 171 of you have counter-balanced that negativity with a tidal wave of love. If life is all about making a difference, then you all win at life. And I win because I know all of you.
I think it’s appropriate to end by quoting my dad. I once remarked when out with him that he always chatted with everyone he encountered: in shops, banks, on the street.
‘I like to think that when I meet someone, they go away feeling a little better than before,’ he replied.
Thank you all for being like Daddy Alper.
But there have also been things to celebrate and that’s what I’m trying to focus on. I ran 4 more online Self-Edit Your Novel courses, together with Emma Darwin, taking the total to 21 courses and 239 alumni. The Hall of Fame for our graduates is getting crowded. I started singing in a choir (video here) and discovered a love for mudlarking, inspired by this wonderful woman. In the face of the housing crisis, Sally Swingewood and I decided it was time to create another Stories for Homes anthology. (The last one raised mucho dosho for Shelter, as well as being the launchpad for several authors who have gone on to achieve great things.) Details of how to submit are here. Join our community on Facebook, where you can find out all the ways you can get involved.
On Mayday, I published De Nada Nirvana – my first new (though written over a decade ago) novel to be available to readers since 2005. And on 20 December, Me, John and a Bomb exploded onto the scene. This novel was written in 2004-5 – a time when chequebooks and cards were still a thing, it was announced in July that London had won the 2012 Olympic bid and, the following day, the city reeled under devastating terrorist attacks.
What goes around, comes around and the issues are still very relevant. No one needs me to tell them about the ongoing terrorist threat. And, in one of those strange bits of writer-ly synchronicity, the day before Me, John and a Bomb was published, I saw a piece on the news about a cop who infiltrated the anarchist network in Cardiff 10 years ago – the central plot thread of my novel.
We all know Amazon rankings are pretty much meaningless, but I had a little frisson when I saw Me, John and a Bomb had shot up higher than Nirvana Bites and Trading Tatiana ever did when they were published by Orion. Of course, that was pre-FB and Twitter. Still worth a small squee, I reckon. You can see excerpts from all my Nirvana novels on my website. Next year, I hope to publish The Gene Pool, the 5th and final book in the series.
Wishing you all the very best for 2017 and hoping for some sweetness and light in a world that often seems filled with darkness.
Yet again, the Festival of Writing was an absolute blast. So much talent; so many inspiring stories; such warmth and love between fellow authors. I think the weekend is best summed up in this email I’ve received from a delegate who has just signed up for the January online self-edit course. (September’s is sold out.)
I did feel a huge sense of trepidation on Friday when I was driving up to York. My inner monologue kept asking me what on earth I was doing! By total contrast, I listened to Jo Cannon’s heartwarming story yesterday and felt a real sense that I belonged there. I really didn’t want to leave! But I have come away with a wealth of information and tips to apply to my writing, and am looking forward to getting stuck in.
For me, it was my busiest festie yet – and that’s saying something. I ran the self-edit mini course on Friday and was also on the panel for the wonderful Friday Night Live experience. Massive congrats to all the shortlisted authors and the joint winners, Gerry Fenge and Jo Bunt. On Saturday, I had two hours of Book Doctor slots, a workshop on psychic distance and I did the compering for the Saturday competitions after the gala dinner. Congrats to everyone who had cause to celebrate. The real high was being on the crime genre panel as an author rather than an editor or tutor. And on Sunday, I had another hour of Book Doctoring, a final workshop on dialogue and – oh bliss – I had the privilege and enormous pleasure of being the person who introduced the final keynote speaker and FoW success story, Joanna Cannon.
|Self-edit mini course. Interesting body language when people are forced to write about an emotionally charged episode from their own past.|
|Self-edit alumni: Gerry Fenge, Sylvia Petter, Julie Cordiner and Arabella Murray|
|The view from my desk for Book Doctor sessions|
|Veggie starter at the gala dinner|
|Yet more Cloudies|
|The wonderful Cally Taylor and her agent, Madeleine Milburn|
|Cally and Madeleine|
|Struggling with psychic distance|
|Cloudie, Scheherezade, who won the Pitch Perfect competition|
|Katherine Hetzel AKA Squidge, with tiara for added sparkle|
|Winner and runner up for Jo Cannon’s Goat bursary: Linda McLaughlin and Nasreen Rafiq|
|The glorious and inspiring Joanna Cannon, who made me cry in front of several hundred people. Be more goat, people|
|The only book I came away with – but what a book|
|I’ve been mentioned in acknowledgements for many novels but this is the first time I’ve had one dedicated to me. Thank you, Squidge|
|Dialogue workshop – writers gotta write|
|Who could ask for a more beautiful setting?|
|The traditional self-edit alumni photo. Similar numbers to previous years but many different faces|
Having been reminded that I’m also an author, I’ll sneak in a nod and a wink to remind people that my first three Nirvana novels are all available as e-books on Amazon: here for the UK and here in the US. This has just been posted on my FB wall by someone who bought a copy of Trading Tatiana over the weekend:
Every line is bursting with wit handled with the lightest touch, and I can’t stop chuckling. The characterisation is very clever and your observations hilarious. Every time you introduce someone they become my new favourite… The list is growing.
My cockles are warmed to boiling point.
As in previous years, lives will have changed over this weekend. Whether or not people end up being signed by agents, everyone should go away with new tools to apply to their writing. FoW is magical and I wish everyone the very best for the journey ahead. See you online – if you haven’t already joined the Cloud, what are you waiting for? – and, hopefully, at FoW17.
That’s where the 6-week online Self-Edit Your Novel course comes in. Emma Darwin and I designed the course for The Writers’ Workshop and wrote the tutorials together, though I now do all the detailed feedback, with Emma coming in at the end of the week with an invaluable round-up of the topic.
But does the course make a real difference, in practical ways? Can it increase your chances? Is there any way of proving that it does?
This should convince you: the self-edit course in numbers.
The first course was in April 2011, 5 years ago, and it runs 4 times a year.
So far, we have had 19 courses and a total of 215 participants.
I recently asked on Facebook and the Word Cloud how many of our alumni now have books ‘out there’. The answer was 24 – and they’re only the ones I know about. Most of these come from our early courses, the authors having had the time to edit their drafts and go through the next steps towards being published. I’m sure there are many more in the pipeline and probably several I’ve missed.
So how does that figure compare to the industry average?
A top agent will receive about 2,000 submissions a year, of whom they will sign maybe 2 authors - a hit rate of .01%.
The hit rate for our alumni is 24 out of 215 = 11.16%. (See below for updated figures.) Some of these have self-published but I know from the signed books on my shelf that they are as professionally presented, and as well-written, as the trade published novels they sit next to.
In case you don’t believe me, here’s our Self-Editing alumni roll of honour, with links to their Amazon pages and other sites when the novels are forthcoming. Oh, and we’ve sneaked a poetry collection in there too, though I’m not sure how much credit we can take for that.
In no particular order, hearty congrats to:
G D Harper
Claire Evans (forthcoming Spring 2017)
Chrissie Bradshaw (forthcoming Summer 2016)
Isabel Rogers (poetry collection forthcoming October 2016)
Sally Miller (forthcoming Autumn 2016, writing as Sara Bailey)
If you know of anyone I’ve missed, please shout in the comments and I’ll add them to the list.
Edited to add Susie Campbell. Updated figure 25 out of 215 = 11.62%
Edited to add Barb Ettridge. Updated figure 26 out of 215 = 12.09%
Edited to add E S Rollett. Updated figure 27 out of 215 = 12.56%
Edited to add Sophie Cayeux & Laxmi Hariharan. Updated figure 29 out of 215 = 13.49%
Edited to add Marjorie Lazoro. Updated figure 30 out of 215 = 13.95%
Edited to add Sophie Wellstood. Updated figure 31 out of 215 = 14.42%
Edited to add Vicky Newham. Updated figure 32 out of 215 = 14.88%
Edited to add Mandy Berriman. Updated figure 33 out of 215 = 15.35%
Edited to add Maddie Please. Updated figure 34 out of 215 = 15.81%
To see details of forthcoming courses, click HERE.
As at April 2017, I’m currently running the 23rd course, and we have 263 alumni. The above percentages refer to people who had taken the course at the time of the original post.
No party, no booze and nibbles and signings, no cards and flowers, but this one is just as meaningful as the previous ones. So here’s a photo of me and my dad at the launch of Trading Tatiana in Jan 2005. Dad was 90 in this pic, and had crossed London on public transport from Edgware to Crystal Palace to be there. (Londoners will get the enormity of going from NW of the city to SE.)
DE NADA NIRVANA IS NOW AVAILABLE HERE IN THE UK AND HERE IN THE US
NIRVANA BITES AND TRADING TATIANA ARE STILL ON SPECIAL OFFER AT 99p EACH. Check them out here (UK) and here (US)
Massive thanks to all those people who have encouraged me to make this happen. You know who you are.