This page shows some of my recent blog posts. If you want to read more, see my blog.
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%
To see details of forthcoming courses, click HERE.
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.
I can’t say procrastination paralysed me. Instead, I suddenly found a huge number of things to do that needed to take priority. Except I didn’t. Not really. True, I was running a self-edit course, but there was a lull in editing commissions and I didn’t have my usual pile of MSs to work through. But there were Other Things getting in the way. I told myself my website had to be updated first. Emails that I’d usually consider to be non-urgent shot up the to-do list. I even cleaned corners of the flat that were shocked to see me.
My mood plummeted and the questions began to roll in. What if this wasn’t just a lull in editing work? What if it had dried up forever? Had my career stalled? Was I going to go back to struggling to pay the rent? Eventually, the questions crystallised and I identified the big one, The Fear.
What if people HATED my new novel?
Yep, I’d been beset by the Doubt Demons, as a writer friend calls them. Only one way to deal with them. I had to call each of them out from the shadows and get them to state their case so I could come up with the answers to silence them.
The conversation went like this:
Doubt Demon: De Nada Nirvana is the first novel you’ve published in ten years.
Me: No need to rub it in.
Doubt Demon: Ah, but this one’s different, isn’t it. It hasn’t been through a gatekeeper.
Me: That’s not strictly true. My agent took me on, on the basis of this novel.
Doubt Demon: Wait. You mean you didn’t have an agent for the first two? Are you mad? Or just stupid?
Me: Quite possibly both. What can I say? Hindsight’s a bitch.
Doubt Demon: So let me get this right. You were signed direct by Orion without an agent. They didn’t offer you a third book deal though, did they? Hmmm? Wouldn’t you say that suggests it Just Wasn’t Good Enough?
Me: Maybe. But it’s also true that a lot of that might have been down to timing and circumstances beyond my control.
Doubt Demon: Yeah, yeah. Keep telling yourself that. Or maybe it’s because the first two weren’t that good either. Your sales didn’t exactly set the world on fire, did they?
Me: Sales of Nirvana Bites were not spectacular, it’s true, but they weren’t disastrous either. Don’t forget I had no web presence back then. It was much harder to build a buzz. But Trading Tatiana had a fraught journey before she even got to the published stage. There was a series of events at the publishers – some tragic – that meant she went through four different editors before she was launched. It was nothing to do with me, nor did it have any connection to my novel. The editorial team must have been in total disarray. There was no one in my corner, championing me.
Doubt Demon: Shame you didn’t have an agent back then, isn’t it, eh?
Me: Oh, do piss off. We’ve covered this one. Move on.
Doubt Demon: OK, we will. Let’s get back to De Nada Nirvana. Your agent loved it but he couldn’t sell it, so it hasn’t been through any kind of professional editing process, has it. Answer me that one.
Me: I believe I can answer that, since you ask. I wrote De Nada Nirvana over ten years ago and only returned to it last year when I decided to self-publish it. In those intervening ten years, I’ve worked as a freelance editor, editing an average of 2-3 MSs a month. For the last five years, I’ve run an online Self-Edit Your Novel course with Emma Darwin, as well as teaching creative writing at events and to writers’ groups. I believe I have both the skills and the distance to edit my own novels. In any case, De Nada Nirvana looks very different now from the version my agent was unable to sell. I know it’s a better book. As far as I’m concerned, it has been professionally edited.
Doubt Demon: Yeah, but you have some worries about it, don’t you. Go on. Spit them out. You’ve broken rules and you’re scared you’re gonna be called out on it. And then that’ll undermine your reputation as a professional editor and tutor. You’re done. This is the end, my friend.
Me: You’re no friend of mine.
Doubt Demon: Go on then. Defend yourself against the charge that you’ve head-hopped.
Me: Right, I will. I’ve looked very carefully at the areas where some people might think that’s what I’ve done and you know what? I think it works in the story. A newbie to the concept, looking for things to criticise when they read published novels, might spot it and go, ‘Aha! Practise what you preach, Editrix!’ but I’m willing to bet that readers won’t notice any of the dislocation you get when the psychic distance spectrum hasn’t been used to good effect.
Doubt Demon: OK, but while we’re on the subject of breaking rules, you always bang on about how novels often struggle to sustain more than three or four. Remind me again how many POVs you have in De Nada Nirvana?
Me: Don’t forget that I’m a huge fan of breaking the rules, as long as you have a good reason and do it well. I concede that there are several characters, some very minor, who have their own limited POVs, but I maintain that it’s very clear that the story belongs to Jo and Jen. Besides, it’s not that uncommon in the thriller genre to have brief scenes in minor POVs.
Doubt Demon: Ah, I’m glad you brought up the business of genre. What the hell is this novel? The politics are more in the background than in the two previous Nirvana books. De Nada Nirvana was the first you wrote in third person. There are two threads: Jo’s, in Spain, is the crime thread, and Jen’s in South London is … is … What the hell is that? Are you writing romance, Alper?
Me: Ha! Yeah, I know. It took me by surprise too. But I don’t think I’ll be joining the Romantic Novelists’ Association any time soon. It’s a very quirky sort of romance and I think it’s the kind of thing that readers who are following these characters would expect and want to see. One of the reviews for Trading Tatiana, described it as an unorthodox mix of comedy, kitchen-sink drama and dark thriller. All I’ve done with De Nada Nirvana is throw a new element into the mix. The threads are interwoven. What can I say? I believe in the book. I enjoyed writing it and hope others will enjoy reading it.
Doubt Demon: You do realise that by writing this blog you’re going to draw people’s attention to the very things you’re twitching about …
Me: Sigh. I know. What can I do? I’m a writer. Lots of us have a tendency to over-share.
Doubt Demon: Right, howzabout this for the killer punch then. You’re crap at self-promotion. You’ll sell a few copies. You have loyal friends, many of then writers themselves, who will buy it because they know you. But you’ll never spread the word beyond that small community because you have neither the will nor the skill to tell the rest of the world your books are out there.
Me: You’re absolutely right. I’m not going to try arguing with you on this one. I’m fully aware that self-publishing also means self-promoting. That doesn’t have to mean you should be ramming your novel down people’s throats at every opportunity but there’s an enormous gulf between doing that and doing sod all. I know I should be thinking about mailing lists and competitions and blog tours and special offers and all that but I’m not.
And you know what? I’m OK with that. It all depends on how you measure success and what it is you want to achieve. I wanted to write books I’d enjoy reading. I’ve succeeded in doing that. I wanted to make the rest of the Nirvana series available for those who want to read them. The job’s in hand and making progress. I also want and need to balance being an author with my role in working with other people to perfect their novels. I’m simply not prepared to devote the time and energy it takes to do more than the occasional blog post, or FB post or tweet to promote my novels. But I’m cool with this. I’m not settling for second best. It feels right to me. De Nada Nirvana will be out shortly and then I’m going to start looking at Me, John and a Bomb. It’s gonna happen.
Doubt Demon: Bollocks. Looks like we’ll have to go off and find some other poor author to torment.
And there we have it. I’ve faced The Fear and I’m still standing. De Nada Nirvana will be published on 1 May. Because Mayday, y’know. Over the next day or so, I’ll set it up so it’s available for pre-orders. Meanwhile, Nirvana Bites and Trading Tatiana are still on special offer at 99p each. Let’s get this show on the road.