Friday 25 September 2009

The Boy Who Fell Down Exit 43 by Harriet Goodwin

If you're a writer or anyone who loves books, watch this:

And here's another someone launching a career to inspire children, Harriet Goodwin.

My daughter and I bussed it to the Waterstones in Islington last night to attend the launch of a book by yet another Undiscovered Voice.

The Boy Who Fell Down Exit 43 was the first book snapped up by agent Sarah Davies who was one of the judges to the UV competition and it also has the distinction of being the first one-off young fiction title to be published by Stripes Publishing.

Authors take note: it was a nice Waterstones for a book launch, the party took place at a spacious upper floor, good acoustics for the book reading, fab Upper Street restaurants nearby, and MOST importantly, a short, door to door bus journey from my house (thanks, Harriet).

Here's the powerhouse behind the book: Harriet, Julia Churchill of Greenhouse Literary Agency standing in for Sarah Davies, and Jane Harris, who edited the book.

Julia read a message from Sarah

Stripes publishing team in a dignified and mature scramble to take photographs (health and safety notice: no editors were injured in the taking of this photograph)
Hat with her exceedingly tall and sparkly nine year old daughter who is ripe for recruitment to my daughter's recently formed My Mum Is Writing A Novel support group

And as the party wound down, the SCBWI people took shots of each other posing with random books.

Sarwat ChaddaCandy GourlayMargaret
Sarwat with Twilight, Margaret with When Cats Turn Bad, and Candy with Thanks and Have Fun Running the Country,

As one does.

Well done, Harriet. Now onward and upward!

Wednesday 23 September 2009

What Blogging Writers Can Learn from Street Performers

How do you build an audience?

Do you sometimes feel like this Elvis impersonator, spewing hound dogs into a mic with an empty pavement for an audience?

Last Monday, I caught Passing the Hat, a BBC radio feature by Jolyon Jenkins, about street performers (it's on iplayer until 28 September).

In the programme, the world famous street magician Gazzo serves up the following pearls:
People think it's the performer that gets the audience. But it's the audience that gets the audience.
Yes! That's it! I wanted to shout. It's not about YOU. It's about the audience!

If I were to put a FAQ on my website, I would put "Should I start a blog?" as the top question. When writers realise that I am involved in websites, this is the question most frequently asked of me.

A lot of writers skip the question and simply inform me, "My book is coming out. I'm going to start a blog."


A blog is an incredible way to reach out to an audience. But so many bloggers use it as an indulgence and forget about their audience in a way that goes against the spirit of blogging. I blog primarily because I enjoy it, and I really make an effort to make it an enjoyable experience for my readers too. It's not about broadcasting your message, telling people Ding Dong Your Book is Out. Unless you win the audience, your message will not be heard by very many people. You might as well dress up as Elvis and stand on a street corner.

There is, of course, the book. The book will draw readers. And then after the book, there is the huge marketing spend your publishers will put behind your book (is that hysterical laughter I hear around me?). And then after the marketing budget, there's you. How do YOU build that audience? And keep it?

If you haven't got the time to listen to the BBC programme you can go straight to 12:10 on the iplayer where the show goes into the nitty gritty of pulling a crowd. It's about "marshalling" people, "taking control of the situation". Here's how a magician named Neill described it:
It's about unifying the people who are watching you into an audience ... when we go to the theatre, a performance still has a job to do of turning that crowd of people sitting in the auditorium into an audience.

But on a street .. they are just individual people going about their daily busness. To get those people to stop, to stand in one place, to feel connected as a unified whole as disparate groupings ... then it's better for the performer and it's better as an experience for the people who are watching it as well
Like the street performer, your blog draws them in with your talent and your humour. You make them stay by forging bonds, not just between you and the reader but bonds between the readers themselves.
Here are some ways to keep your audience:
  • Be useful. Give stuff (information, freebies, anything that your readers like)
  • Be entertaining. Make an effort to put that extra something into your posts eg. pictures, design. Give them a reason to come back.
  • Be human. Don't just churn out the words. Reply to comments (and try to reply in a way that sounds like you are a real human being), praise, react, be real.
  • Engage with your reader. Remember, blogs are conversations. You have to show that you are listening too.
  • Visit your readers' blogs and comment on their posts. It's a relationship not a one way street.
Here are more tips from the Pro Blogger blog 9 Ways to Make Sure Your Post is Read By More than Just Your Mom
And if you care enough to do it right, your reward is a loyal reader who might just buy your book. As Gazzo says:
Every street trick needs some form of pay-off. That's what will get you the money

Monday 21 September 2009

Book Trailer for Mortlock by Jon Mayhew

Now it gives me GREAT pleasure to see someone I met on the internet get some mileage! Here's the trailer for John Mayhew's book, coming soon ... and it's wonderful!


Sunday 20 September 2009

Fantasy Master Class with Sara "Slasher" O'Connor

Is this scene essential? If it’s not actually essential, cut it.

Look at your first two paragraphs. If it is designed to give information, cut it.

This was the first task Sara O'Connor (pictured right), senior commissioning editor at Working Partners, handed attendees at SCBWI's Fantasy Fiction Master Class last Saturday.

I looked at the chapter I'd taken along.

Sure enough. My very first sentence was a total info download.


And that was pretty much the recurring theme of Sara's master class.

Cut 20 words from your first page.

Now cut 20 more.

Now look at your chapter outline. Cut a chapter. Cut another.

Slash, burn, chop, chop, chop. Kill those darlings. To say it was a little bit bloody is an understatement.

"Be tough on yourself," says Sara. "Where most fantasies fall down is in loading up the back story at the beginning."
Tough is a good way to describe it.
Fantasy covers a gamut of story - from Tokienesque wizards to Westerfeldian dystopias ... anything with an alternate world. And building a world is all about back story: setting, past action, orientation, context.
How do you do that without long tracts of explanation? How does one write fantasy without putting the reader to sleep?
The secret, says Sara, is to "show, show, show" -
  • This world has always been there and is not new to those who live in it.
  • They wouldn’t sit there and describe it to themselves.
  • Or they don’t know it and they learn about it piece by piece. In neither case are long paragraphs acceptable
  • There is absolutely no room for explanation in dialogue whatsoever ... that kind of download is a big turn-off for agents and publishers
Here's a useful rule of thumb - Sara's 1 to 20 ratio: Only state a fact or have non-active description ever 20 lines.
I had a look at my text. AAAAARGH! Suddenly all my clever weaving in of information within the first few paragraphs screams AMATEUR at me!

It's all about what's essential, Sara says.

Think Backpack. Any information you impart to the reader is something they will have to carry for the entire course of the book.

So before you load the reader up, ask yourself, is it essential?
Is this paragraph essential? Is this scene essential? If it’s not actually essential, cut it.
Apart from the Slash and Burn, you have to ask yourself: is this exceptional enough?
"A lot of what's out there is derivative," says Sara, "the world must be aspirational and inspirational. Build a world I would want to live in. Build a world that draws me in."
She quotes Sarah Davis, agent extraordinaire of the Greenhouse Literary Agency:
Approximately 50% of the 150-200 submissions that we receive every week involve some kind of fantasy element – from slightly magical to dark paranormal to full blown high fantasy. We get shape-shifters, yet more vampires, girls coming into powers at a certain age, fallen angels, dark fairies, hot dead guys, prophecies, etc.

It’s very hard to show me something I haven’t seen before. Authors often think they have hit on something original but I’ve seen it three times already.

Ultimately it isn’t about the genre. I am looking for something that’s wonderful. There are no rules, just make it exceptional. Weave magic with your language. It’s the glorious writing that is the x factor and that is the hardest thing to achieve, and the hardest thing to find!
British SCBWI fantasy masterclassLooking for fabulous: my fellow attendees
Inevitably you will find yourself writing within fantasy conventions "prologues, prophecies, dragons, a sword, wizards, vampires, werewolves, wizened old ,men, new races of people, all-powerful objects, not knowing about your powers" ... Says Sara:

"It's not that you have to avoid (conventions) but you have to be extra skilled to stand out."

General tips on how to be fabulous:
  • Set up expectations that you must deliver eg. Hints of the magical-ness in the story
  • Start in the most exciting part of your story
  • Embrace revision: big to little – don’t do little (line editing) the first time you revise. See that things are working big picture before you do little picture
  • Don't let the world take over your plot.
  • Sympathy only gets you part way there (with characters). You need action to really make a character engaging.

Wednesday 16 September 2009

Charlie Higson's Zombie Trailer for The Enemy

Just saw this terrific new zombie trailer flagged on the Tall Tales and Short Stories blog.

Mind you, some author trailers manage to achieve Charlie Higson's look without having written a zombie book.

Tuesday 1 September 2009

When superheroes get into social networking

My baby brother made this video - voiced it, shot it, drew it! I especially love the voice!

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