Wednesday 30 November 2011

Notes from the Slushpile Counts Down to Christmas!

Here at Notes from the Slushpile, we've thrown off economic gloom, dispensed with bah-humbug and we've embraced the warm, fuzzy spirit of Christmas. It is with delight that we give you, dear readers, the gift of insider knowledge.

Thursday 24 November 2011

Great Expectations - the SCBWI Winchester Conference and Candy Gourlay

by Addy Farmer & all the rest of the Slushpile gang, except one: surprise, Candy!!

Stand up for the outstanding Candy Gourlay!

Thanks to Kathy Evans for the pic!
That's what we did in a packed conference hall - we stood and applauded Candy as she was awarded the Crystal Kite Member Choice Award which is given by the SCBWI to recognise great books from around the world.It is chosen by other children's book writers and illustrators and is a testament to Candy's fizzing creativity, her warm and generous spirit and that great thing she has, stickability.

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Great Expectations at the SCBWI Conference 2011

All the links and photos you ever wanted about the 2011 Great Expectations Conference of SBWI British Isles

This past weekend we slushpilers five congregated with other devotees to the children's book craft at the Great Expectations conference of SCBWI in the British Isles. It's a generous and friendly conference. Over the years a sense of community has grown, and for many in attendance, this was a chance to hook up with friends made over SCBWI's social platforms - the Ning, Twitter and Facebook - a bit like blind-dating between children's book obsessives!

When some of us started attending the annual event in early 2000, the tables of conference bookseller P&G Wells were rarely graced by the books of members. This year it was stacked high with books by SCBWI authors. We were so proud!

There's a lot of buzz about the conference in the blogosphere, here are Candy's photos (and thanks to Steph, Kathy, Paul and Sue for the other pics) plus links that we will be updating as people put up their reports ... but really, you had to be there!

Monday 21 November 2011

Author Profile Training Day at Hachette

Last week I was very lucky to attend a training day for new authors of Orchard Books and Hodder Children's Books in London.

The fast track course was designed to orient, energise and focus new authors, especially - but not exclusively - those new to the publishing process. That's me!

It was run by Author Profile, recently founded by publicist and Vampirates author Justin Somper, and learning and development specialist, PJ Norman. What are they about?

Thursday 17 November 2011

Surviving the Slushpile: Editing Your Manuscript... After Feedback

by Jo Wyton

Notes from the Slushpile attempts to make some sense out of the mad scramble for a publishing deal. As the newest slushpile guinea pig, I'm going to attempt to take you all with me... This is the third in new series Surviving the Slushpile, where we'll highlight some of the highs and lows of the slushpile journey.

Today, it's the turn of the feedback helter-skelter..

The editing process is one of the trickiest things to learn. I think it is, anyway. You have to figure out how to stand back, remove those rose-tinted glasses you didn’t realise you were wearing and see your novel for what it really is. It’s a skill, and experience teaches you what you need to know.

You get the knack of it, and all is good in the world until...

Until you start getting other people’s feedback. Oh lord above, what to do now? Tom says he likes chapter one but doesn’t think chapter two is necessary. Dick thinks chapter one is redundant and the story should start with chapter two. (Harry isn’t impressed with any of it. You casually buy him a beer and hope he'll change his mind.)

You sit, and you stew. Different versions of your novel clutter your brain. It feels more like trying to play Giant Jenga than writing.

In the end, you delete chapter one, and start with chapter two instead. Hmm. Dick was right; it is a punchier beginning. And look – the main character seems more real already. Unfortunately it does mean that you’ll have to slot that lost information from chapter one in somewhere else, but that shouldn’t take too long, right?

Two and a half months later, you’ve finished your new draft. Punchy opening? Check. Lost information placed elsewhere? Absolutely. You even remembered to fix that bit in chapter fourteen that relied on chapter one living long enough to see the light on the other side.

You put your beloved manuscript to one side and start writing your covering letter and synopsis.

Oh, FOR GOODNESS SAKES. Your synopsis isn’t working. This isn’t the novel you wanted to write at all. The novel needs chapter one. No, it won’t do. You’ll have to start again.

It only takes a few attempts to find the old version. Ah, hello again chapter one. Long time, no see. Now then – what was it Tom said? Ah, that’s right – chapter two isn’t necessary. Well, maybe he’s right. Your finger hovers over the delete button for a mere twenty minutes before you finally hit it. Chapter two vanishes. OK, so now you just have to drop the bit about the pig into chapter eight and the drop about the time Bruce spent breeding crickets into chapter four.

Taadaa! Done.

You put it to one side again, and get on with that synopsis.

Argh! It still doesn’t work. Why can’t you just get it right? And what exactly IS the book you wanted to write again?

There’s one last person who hasn’t read it yet. Maybe they’ll know what’s wrong with it...

And so you continue, until any idea you had of what book you were trying to write fled a long time ago. You’re left with a jigsaw-puzzle of forced-together ideas that you know nobody will ever enjoy reading. It doesn’t even feel like it’s yours anymore.

Maybe you should send it out anyway. Maybe someone will take pity on you and publish it. After all, you can always keep editing whilst you’re waiting for the rejections to come through.

That’s pretty much the process I went through with my first attempt at a novel. Constantly trying to take everyone’s suggestions and opinions on board. Some of the suggestions may have been exactly what the book needed, and some of them may have done more harm than good, but truth is I’ll never know! Because I used just about all of them.

I’m at the same stage right now with my current attempt. Different people suggesting different things. But it feels a little easier this time. This time I have a better idea of what I’m aiming for, and what I want the story to be about. Just for a change, before I launched into editing, I wrote a synopsis. It helped me see which suggestions allowed my idea to come through better, and which changed the idea itself. (Which coincidentally gave me an idea for a shiny new novel!)

It’s still a struggle, separating advice that will change the book from advice that will make it better, but I guess I’m the only one who knows what book I want to write, and what story I want to tell. Taking the bits of advice from Tom, Dick and Harry that I think make the book more like the one I was aiming for all along, and leaving the rest behind, sounds good to me. I love getting friends to read my writing, and love getting their feedback. Some of the feedback has done amazing things. But it's important to know what is right for you and your book. because it is, after all, Your Book.

A friend gave me a great piece of advice the other day. ‘If you had each version of your book in front of you, which one would you want your name on?’

Think I’ll have to remember that one for next time.

Sunday 13 November 2011

Undiscovered Voices 2012: The Long-List

by Jo Wyton

The time is nigh. Well, nearly.

In a few weeks, the winners of the SCBWI Undiscovered Voices 2012 competition will be announced. 25 writers made the long-list (which, if we’re being honest, is really a short-list). In a dramatic plot twist, only 12 will go on to have their 4000-word extracts published in the Undiscovered Voices anthology in February…

Undiscovered Voices cover image

The SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) strives to create opportunities for unpublished writers at every turn – and boy, do they do it well! Much in the spirit of the society, this year the Undiscovered Voices team announced the long-list prior to announcing the winners for the first time.

In an effort to milk the last bit of calm before the storm, I asked some of those on the long-list to give their thoughts, hopefully to give everyone a flavour of SCBWI and the suberb Undiscovered Voices competition.

Rosie Best: I picked up the email on my phone at about midnight. It's hard to adequately express the feeling in words - interpretive dance might be better, but to the untrained eye it would probably just look like a lot of flailing and jumping up and down! I work in the Working Partners office with some of the people who organise the competition so it's been a hard couple of months trying to keep a straight face whenever it came up in conversation - they had no idea I'd entered and I had no idea whether anyone had liked my submission! Plus, I've read the previous anthologies and it means a huge amount to me to be in that company. I'm so flattered to think anyone thought my submission might possibly have as much potential as some of the ones we've had in previous years.

Liz de Jager: More than anything else, from the responses I’ve had from friends who are writing YA or kids books and who have not heard about SCBWI before, I know that UV has done something incredible: it has highlighted SCBWI, the fun and camaraderie we have and also the opportunities we offer aspiring writers. I would be surprised if we don’t get a swathe more members joining because of the buzz. At least, I hope so! As to how I feel weeks on from the announcement? Still very weird!

Julienne Durber: Of course I’m incredibly pleased to have made the long list, as my family and friends keep reminding me. But, while 125 budding authors shrug and move on to the next submission strategy, I along with 24 others am chewing my nails up to the elbow wondering whether I’ll be in the top 12 and make it into the anthology ...

Sharon Jones: I nearly didn’t enter Undiscovered Voices. The voices of doubt all but drowned out those of my critique partners, until one of them told me in no uncertain terms to stop being such a wimp and put something in. I will be eternally grateful for her nagging! Being longlisted has given me everything a budding writer needs: a boost in confidence, an introduction to industry professionals, and the motivation to get on with writing the next thing. Jo asked how I feel… well… I feel grateful… and lucky… and as nervous as an X Factor contestant on elimination night!

Rachel Latham: When I got the email to say I'd been long-listed I screamed for my eldest daughter and husband to check I'd read it correctly. How I feel is unbelievably excited and so hopeful. But it's hard not to live in that fantasy world of turning into JK Rowling overnight but at the same time I have to keep going to work, running the home and caring for my daughters. I want to be a published author so much I feel as though someone in a position to know has said "Yep you can write and so..." but I don't know the outcome yet. So hard, so exciting.

Maureen Lynas: How did I feel when I received the email from the UV team? Thrilled that the judges enjoyed my work. Excited by the possibilities. Nervous about the possibilities. Hopeful for the future. I think it went something like ‘Yay! Wow! Eek! Yay!’

Stephanie McGregor: SCBWI has played such a huge role in my growth as a writer, and I am so thankful to have been chosen as one of the long listees! You asked what it means to me, and gosh, isn't that a huge question? Hopefully it means being discovered, as the title insinuates, but there's more to it than that. It's been a long black tunnel though rejection hell, and the honour of having someone acknowledge my work is a light, not necessarily at the end of the tunnel, but at least guiding me in that direction. The dream of having my own novels on the bookshelf remains to be seen, but just having SCBWI UV take the time to say 'well done' has meant almost as much to me.

Chantel Napier: I am absolutely thrilled to be long-listed for Undiscovered Voices 2012. What an honour! I began writing North of Nowhere last autumn and felt encouraged by my critique group to enter. I can’t wait to read all the short-listed entries. Good luck to everyone!

Sally Poyton: Imagine the scene: my husband’s away and has promised to call before he goes to bed. It’s ten past one in the morning, and he’s not called. Annoyed and determined to stay awake for when he eventually phones, I switch on my PC. An e-mail from the Undiscovered Voices team is waiting, saying I’ve made the long-list. I’m Dyslexic, and they manage see the story through the spelling errors - wow! Has it actually happened? Have I read it wrong, better read through, again, and again, and again. So when my husband eventually called at 1.15am, (hanging out of the hotel window to get signal), instead of being cross with him, I was uber happy. So Undiscovered Voices, at the very least, saved me a huge argument!

Lara Williamson: I must make a confession. I only joined the SCBWI seven months ago. But the seven months since have been fantastic. The writing bubble I'd lived in, on my own, has grown and flourished. Now I'm joined and supported by like-minded people. And it feels good. Finding out I was long listed for UV2012 was amazing. (Could you hear my heart pounding as I opened that email?) No, it was more than that. It was amazing x100. I am very grateful and proud to be part of it.

As for me? Well, I’d like to say that the envelope went in the post and I calmly forgot about it, but I didn't. I’d like to say that when I got the email saying I’d made the long-list I took the news with the grace and togetherness of a proper grown-up, but I didn't. What I can say is that this has been a great end to the year that has changed the way I see writing, a year that started with joining the SCBWI. I know for sure if it weren't for the great people I've met, who have between them supported and cajoled with brilliance, I’d never have thought to enter something like Undiscovered Voices, let alone stood a chance of being long-listed. Of course, we now have an agonizing five weeks to discover who will make the infamous anthology. And I thought people in the writing business were nice...

So that’s it. Eleven of the Undiscovered Voices 2012 long-listers. (Apologies to those I couldn’t get in touch with in time!) The remaining long-listers are: Jan Carr, Veronica Cossanteli, Sandra Greaves, Jane Hardstaff, Deborah Hewitt, Jennifer Hicks, David Hofmeyr & Zoe Crookes, Michael Marett-Crosby, Richard Masson, Anne Mitchell, Melissa Rogerson, Joanna Sargent and Rachel Wolfreys.

This year, writers weren't the only ones to get pen-happy - illustrators joined in too. The illustration long-listers are: Kim Geyer, Jennifer Graham, Julia Groves, Amber Hsu, Heather Kilgour, Shana Nieburg-Suschitzky, Nicola Patten, and Rachel Quarry, and I for one can't wait to see their efforts!

Of course, this competition is only one of the myriad of ways for writers to get a foot in the publishing door, and from talking to others who entered I know that the effort that went into getting work ready for Undiscovered Voices was a testament to the SCBWI in itself – and all that care and support won’t have gone to waste for anyone, regardless of whether they found themselves on that long-list.

Those who did can enjoy the feeling for another few weeks, and then it’s Judgement Day. Until then, we’ll party on!

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Bloodied and Bandaged: My Arvon Experience

by Jo Wyton

Last week I attended an Arvon Foundation course in the rainy depths of Shropshire, and I will just say up front that it was fantastic!
My course ran at the John Osborne centre at the Hurst
For those unfamiliar with Arvon, it’s a charitable foundation set up in 1968 by John Fairfax and John Moat, both close friends of Ted Hughes. They have a number of houses dotted around the UK, all in the middle of nowhere in the beautiful and mercifully remote countryside. Their courses cover everything from Writing for Beginners to Writing for Games and Writing Poetry. Each course is led by two or three (if you’re very lucky) published authors, with the occasional visiting author popping up during the week.
See - middle of nowhere!
In this case, Linda Newbery and Celia Rees were our Writers in Residence, and Gillian Cross was the visiting author. (Excuse me whilst I steady myself.) Each morning consisted of workshops, with one-to-one tutorials in the afternoon and various discussions (and sing-a-longs, for that matter) in the evening. Our group ranged from 17 to, well, that would just be rude, wouldn’t it?

The lovely Celia Rees (left) and Gillian Cross (right)
Now it’s a strange kind of place, an Arvon centre, where everyone takes it in turns to cook and wash-up, you find yourself sitting next to Linda Newbery at dinner, and the toilets are sponsored by Dame Maggie Smith. (No, really.)

Arvon Centre folk get imaginative as often as possible!

On the inside of the downstairs toilet...
(thanks to Becca Beddow for the above photos!)
Most people arrive at an Arvon course a little bit bloodied in some sense of the word – it might be that they’ve had writers block for a year, or that their lives have drastically changed and they’ve decided to pick up a pen (or a laptop) for the first time. It might simply be that their plot or first chapter isn’t working.

Whatever ailment people arrived with on day one, I am certain that by the time we all left, they were a bit closer to fixing it. My own particular ailment is confidence in my writing, but to be honest I mostly just wanted to learn some new tricks and meet some new people.

The bloomin' brilliant Sheena Wilkinson (whose debut novel Taking Flight is scooping up the awards!) and Philippa Francis (writing as KM Lockwood)
Becca Beddow trying to concentrate despite me taking photos of her!
It’s safe to say that new tricks a plenty were offered up and gratefully received, and I did indeed meet plenty of new people, many of whom I will definitely stay in touch with. But mainly I just came back feeling ready to tackle anything!

Arvon provides the chance to surround yourself with writers, every one at a different stage in their quest to transform into the Lesser Spotted Author, and maybe to rediscover what it is that makes them love what they do. It also, coincidentally, gives you a peaceful week away from your emails, telephone and the general rigmarole of daily life.
No e-mails here, thank you very much!

I picked up some great tips and advice during my Arvon week – from everybody, I think. Gillian Cross spoke of the serendipity of writing a novel on Wednesday night, and then the following evening another guest provided me with my own serendipitous moment. Linda Newbery listened with patience whilst, with great ineptitude, I tried to explain my plot, and somehow she even managed to follow what I was saying enough to help. Celia Rees welcomed me to my tutorial with the words, “Well this is all good, but THIS is a prologue. You don’t need it.” So at least one darling was murdered this week.
Celia said something else that I’m certain is going to stick with me. She said, “Don’t just write a novel. Write your break-through novel.” (Or something to that effect. I was generally thinking ‘Oh my god, I’m sitting next to Celia Rees’ and trying not to hyperventilate at the time.)

Celia Rees (left) and Linda Newbery (right) planning our next punishment. I mean, workshop.

The tutors were all more than generous with their time and experience, as were the other people on the course. Everyone was so supportive, which isn’t unusual for children’s writers, but it is unusual to experience it for almost a week!

By the end, the atmosphere in the house had descended into friendship, and our last night was full of people reading their work and singing folk songs over a glass of wine. For me personally, it was also full of a trip up the stairs, a couple of bags of frozen peas (one of which ruptured on the stairs – apologies lovely Arvon people), and the wonderful Gita, who bandaged me up.

Just in case you needed to see evidence...

Arvon courses mean different things to different people. But everyone went away with something new, something to work on, and I reckon everyone’s writing will be all the better for it.

Sign me up for next year.

Slushpilers go to Arvon:

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