Monday 25 November 2013

SCBWI Conference - Malorie Blackman Was Here

by Addy Farmer 

Yes, Malorie Blackman, children's Laureate, writing superstar and all round amazing person was here, in my car. 

Nuff said.

Monday 18 November 2013

Shopping for All the Right Reasons on Authors for the Philippines. Plus a few thoughts

By Candy Gourlay


'Just give some money for god's sake,' Someone tweeted snarkily at the start of this mammoth endeavour. Sure. We did that too, thanks very much.

But moving on, there are only two days left before the Authors for the Philippines auction closes to bids.

I am touched and amazed by the numbers who stepped up to help the Authors for the Philippines Appeal. The job now is to get bids going. And I hope this shopping guide will help you find some treasure. If you know what you want, use the search bar on the top right of the website.

This is a long post so to make things easy I've put links at the top - if you're shopping click on 'SHOPPING' , if you'd like to read some thoughts on the storm click on 'MUSING'








STUFF FOR WRITERS! Books above are Lot 420 and Lot 351




I'm getting a lot of congratulations for setting up the Authors for the Philippines site. But it is totally undeserved because it was the decision to Just Do It came from young adult authors Keren David (left) and Keris Stainton.

When the horrendousness of the calamity was unveiled on the morning news, Keren immediately contacted Keris because it was Keris who led the UK book world in raising funds during the Japanese Tsunami.

In fact, on the day of Haiyan, I'd received a lot of emails from people saying, Candy, you should do something! I brainstormed with my family over dinner about what I could do - but the mountain felt so huge and I have this weird thing of not wanting to impose on anybody. I know, I know. I completely underestimated the wave of emotion that the storm raised in the UK.

I rather feebly decided to try to get a school visits for the Philippines thing going when I got an email from Keren inviting me to write a foreword for the site. I was delighted and relieved.

Keris had the website up in two days (two days!!! AND SHE HAS A YOUNG CHILD!!!). And THEN social media did its thing and suddenly there were hundreds of people wanting to get involved.

The whole thing turned into an informal bucket brigade - Keris manned the inbox - fielding emails from all over the world and handing entries to upload to an amorphous group of that included Susie Day, Keren, Diane Shipley and me. I would leave early to get a few hours of writing done at a cafe then get home to dozens of emails of donations to upload from Keris. After we uploaded the stuff, Keris indexed, numbered and catalogued the entries. Other writers like Teri Terry vociferously blogged and tweeted to promote the appeal.

After we closed the website to donations today, we turned our attention to trying to get some coverage from newspapers, which took a bit of energy since no, we couldn't seem to offer a hard enough angle.

It reminded me of the olden days when I was a journalist having to pitch stories to the foreign desks of newspapers over crackly overseas lines. ('Do you write in elegant English?' a deskman at the Independent asked me when I rang them from Pyongyang on the 40th anniversary of Kim Il Sung. Urgh - I never want to do it again.)


Friends from my days as a journalist in the Far East offered their wares.

Pulitzer winner Bob Drogin came up with a non-fiction manuscript review. Bob was there when Mount Pinatubo flipped its lid and became the second largest eruption in the 20th century. Here's a picture from his FB page fleeing from the volcano with a gang of photojournalists.

Pam Belluck, Humphrey Hawksley
And then there was a book by Pam Belluck (now a Prize winning New York Times journalist, which we enthusiastically headlined on her offer).

We got to reminiscing on Twitter about the bad old days. Pam's quite a musician and we used to hang out in Manila bars watching her jamming with bands on her sax. She told me she once sang I've Got You Under My Skin to a military officer to get him to take her a strategic island. Only in the Philippines! (Funny that, I once got railroaded into a karaoke session with a town mayor - in fact it was in Leyte - who afterwards tried to break into my hotel room - sheesh!)

The BBC's Humphrey Hawksley, who used to share an office with my hubby when he was the FT's Manila correspondent, offered  a ticket to the premiere of Carlos Acosta's new movie - including a ticket to the start-studded party afterwards. Hump continues to be a familiar face on the news - but he's been writing thrillers on the side. I don't know how he does it.


Meanwhile I've been following the news from the Philippines via my Facebook feed.

While my friends in the West are relentlessly posting appeals for donations, the feed from my Filipino friends started out the week with terrifying cries for help.

Photos of missing family members scrolled through my feed. 'If you are in Leyte and you see these people, please contact ...'

And then there were the calls for volunteers, opportunities to send help. 'we are packing goods at ...' 'There's a ship leaving in the morning ...'

But more recentlyit has turned into a political morass.

Blame, recriminations, grandstanding not to mention a gaff prone president ("But you did not die?" - this to a businessman who was held at gunpoint by looters) and who appears to be bewilderingly embarrassed by the death toll, trying to push estimates downward.

And then there are officials like our Vice President Binay, who takes the opportunity to brand donations so that the suffering masses know who to vote for in the next election. For shame!

Well that's appalling, Jejomar Binay. Yuck.

But while one is disgusted by the shenanigans of the few - the disaster zone is glowing with uplifting tales of dogged survival, kindness and generosity that knows no bounds.

I was moved by this first person account by Agence France Presse reporter Agnes Bun, who took that footage of that baby born in the aftermath that we saw repeated over and over again on the news everywhere.

During my six days there, I was impressed by the endurance, the generosity and also the pride of the Filipinos. Everywhere I went, people smiled in front of the camera, asked me where I was from, asked me if I was alright. Lessons in Life from the Hell of Haiyan by Agnes Bun, AFP

The Filipino online news site Rappler set up a base in Tacloban - and their feed is by turns harrowing and inspiring.

There are no words big enough to describe what is happening here. This is Haiti. This is Katrina. This is the Book of Revelations. Bang the drums for the four horsemen of the apocalypse. For tens of thousands of people, the world as they knew it ended in the morning of November 8, 2013, and they know the resurrection will be a long time coming. From The Long Road to Tacloban, Rappler
It's strange but the stories I've been hearing reminds me of the bad old days of the 1986 revolution that kicked the Marcos dictatorship out.

At the time there was an overwhelming sense of gratitude to the journalists who were telling the world our story. I remember how that felt in '86. I would have done anything to help a foreign correspondent get the truth out about my country.

When I made this tongue-in-cheek video chastising the BBC for mispronouncing Tacloban -

- a Filipino subscriber didn't see the humour. She chided me on Facebook for disrespecting the foreign correspondents. 'Just say Thank you,' she told me.

The fact is: journalists are just doing their job. And then they will move on.

Even though the reporters will no doubt soon be packing their parachutes to move on to other bigger stories, our story will not be going anywhere for a while.

Still: this week of abject horror has also been a week of overwhelming kindness.

So to everyone who got out of bed to do something - anything - THANK YOU.

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Authors for the Philippines: bid on lots of cool stuff from authors & others in publishing, with proceeds to the typhoon Haiyan appeal

by Teri Terry

Authors for the Philippines:

An online auction in aid of the Typhoon Haiyan Appeal : Bidding opens 8am Wednesday 13th November and will close 8pm Wednesday 20th November (both GMT)

Authors, agents, editors, illustrators: would you like to donate an item for auction? 
Here's how. Go here and follow instructions. It's easy - an email, what is up for auction, a few words of bio, and away we go! The awesome Keris Stainton is the boss, and thanks so much to her for all her hard work in setting things up (previously she set up Authors for Japan, which raised over £12,000 for the tsunami appeal).

And everyone - readers, writers and all in-between: WOW.
There is so much cool stuff on offer, and there is only one WEEK to bid. Don't risk missing out.
Here are some examples, but there is loads more on the website:

  • a character named after you! by Liz de Jager, here; by Keren David, here; and in my next book, Game of the Few, by Teri Terry, here
  • a school visit to YOUR school! by me, Teri Terry - here; or an author event by Sally Nicholls, here
  • SO many signed books, from all your favourite authors! Like a first edition of the Graveyard Book, signed by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell, donated by Sue Eves; signed books from Cathy Cassidy, Clodagh Murphy, Gillian Philip, and many, many more 
  • original artwork by Debi Gliori, here
  • and so much for writers: manuscript critique by Random House editorial director, Becky Stradwick, here; an email critique from children's book agent, Julia Churchill, here; a submission package critique from author Ruth Warburton, here; there are many, many more opportunities for writers.

And here are a few words from Candy Gourlay - Notes from the Slushpile magnate, author and most of all right now, someone who is worried for her friends and family back home, as reproduced from Authors for the Philippines:

Waking up to apocalyptic photographs of my native Philippines I was filled first with fear for my family at home. The next emotion was guilt.

Guilt because here I was, receiving hundreds of messages of concern and commiseration from friends all over the United Kingdom when the only thing I have endured over the weekend was suffering by association.

Thank you, friends, my family escaped unscathed as Typhoon Haiyan – Yolanda, as we named her in the Philippines, swerved away from the capital city Manila where they live and set out across the South China Sea for Vietnam. But others have not been so lucky.

You do not need me to repeat the awful statistics, the gruesome coverage, the details of lives swept away by a storm that will make history as the most powerful ever to make land fall since meteorologists began to keep weather records.

But what can we do? This question has been asked over and over again in the messages that have come pouring into my inbox. WHAT CAN WE DO?

We are not on the ground to share the suffering, we are not there to help pack boxes or offer comfort to those who have lost everything.

This Philippine disaster with talk of storm surges and families swept away has reminded many of the Japanese tsunami of March 2011.

At the time, a group of British authors led by young adult author Keris Stainton set up the campaign Authors for Japan. It galvanized booky people here and abroad to donate books, merchandise, manuscript critiques even character names to successfully raise more than £12k for the cause.

Keris et. Al. on hearing about the Philippines have, without hesitation, decided to go for it again with Authors for the Philippines.

On behalf of my suffering country, I thank all the kind people who are participating in this auction – let us show the world that good can follow bad. The Philippines was a poor country to start with and the road to recovery is going to be long and arduous. With your support, not only will we be able to help the victims of the disaster but make sure that they are not forgotten, even after the headlines are gone.


Thursday 7 November 2013

When words won't come: advice for the stuck writer

by Teri Terry
The Cry of the Stuck Author: I'm all impatient now because I started off so well! I want to have the whole plot worked out in a day! Damn it, this story telling malarkey is difficult...
Isn't it just.

I get asked all the time: what do you do when you hit the wall: the dreaded writer's block? There seems to be
Could this help?
an assumption behind the question that because I'm published now I've got it all figured out.

If only! Could there be one sweet, secret answer?

I'm not sure I believe in writer's block in the way this term is often used - I see it more as writer's procrastination. Or fear: of not finding the 'right' way. Of not being good enough.
Or this?
But staring at a page and not knowing what happens next, or, more usual in my case, knowing where I want to end up, but not being sure how to get there - that happens, all the time. 

This came up recently with a group of writing friends:
Caroline Green: What do you guys do (the ones who plan in advance) when you have a great idea and are all fired up and a synopsis is pouring out...and then you hit a brick wall and can't see around it at all? Write a chapter and see where it goes? Draw some sort of exciting graphic thingie? Cry?
I was fascinated at some of the answers. Some are things I've learned to do, some are new to me but I'm very definitely going to try them! 

So here they are:

1. Incubation: patience, grasshopper...
The pie of destiny may be just around the corner...

Hilary Freeman: Leave it a while. It'll come to you.

R.M. Ivory: Sleep/dream on it, like Hilary says it will come to you but sometimes you need some time and space away from it. In the meantime you could write a chapter or a scene from it and see what happens.

Maybe wisdom is hiding in a few of these?

Ruth Warburton: It depends on the brick wall. If it's something that happens further down the line in the plot, quite often I start writing and let my subconscious sort it out while I write - and often the key is in something to do with their characters which only becomes apparent while I write. Usually by the time I get to the wall it's solved. If it's something more fundamental about the shape of the book or something closer then I agree, it's a sign that it needs to grow a bit more in its egg before it hatches. Pop it back for some more incubation time.

Bryony Pearce: I give it time. My brain always works it out in the end. Did for me today in fact - had been stuck for weeks.

2. Slip into neutral: do something else,leaving your brain time and space to muddle things through

Teri Terry: write a blog. Have a very, very long shower.
 Make cookies. Or polish your ducks. 
Definite problem solvers, these ones
Addy FarmerI go for a walk. It works pretty much every time. Everything unsticks or unknots and I find good ideas flow free. I always take a notebook with me, ready!

Candy GourlayWhen I'm stuck, I read until I'm back in the mood to write. The rule is that the book must be in the same mood, genre, general world, emotional place, as the scene I'm trying to write.

3. Make things up as you go along

Michelle Harrison: Blag it. I hit a wall with the synopsis of the book I'm writing now. I hate giving away everything anyway, even though you're *supposed* to, so I write it in a way that I call the extended blurb which doesn't give all the answers.

Dive in...!

Eve Harvey: I get my favourite pen out and an A4 notebook and just write any ideas I can think of, no matter how shite. I scribble and doodle all over page after page and eventually I write the solution. My pen and imagination seem to work well together.

4. Attack the problem: be analytical

Cath Murphy: I'm very analytical so I ask myself a lot of questions about what exactly the problem is and try to find an answer that way. Or sometimes I write backwards from the end (if I know what the end is). Or sometimes I give up and open a bottle of red wine.
A woman after my own heart

Emma Haughton: Like Cath I use questions. I use a fresh Word document and ask myself questions around the problem and write down all the possible solutions. Sometimes I use mindmaps too, to brainstorm all the possibilities. The answer always seems to emerge.

Sally NichollsLook at the things you've already given your characters - hobbies, relations, friends, skills, places. Often one of those turns out to be the solution.
You could even see it as a challenge - my main character needs to find her mum, and she's only got a love of art, a grumpy granny, an obsession with Facebook, two brothers, a cat, a D in maths, a holiday in France last year and a dream to be a ballerina to help her. Set it out like that and you discover she only really needs Granny and Facebook.

And me?
I was really fascinated by all of this, as I'd hit a wall recently in my shiny new thing, too. I knew the shape of the story, but there was an event that was crucial, with a specific result, and I couldn't work out how the event took place. The original way I'd envisioned was flawed and I needed a new way. And I tried writing down all the possibilities; I tried making it up as I went along. Nothing was working.

The wall of fear
One thing I've learned about myself more and more? Incubation really is key. No matter how much a deadline is looming, there's no point in barrelling ahead if the story hasn't cooked enough in my imagination.

In this instance I woke up from a sound sleep at 2 a.m., and the answer was just there, in my mind. How that I happens sometimes, I don't know! Both incubation, and letting my mind think/dream about it while I'm doing other things, seemed to play a role in this instance. In this case - and this happens to me a LOT - the problem was this: I was focusing on something specific (how to write a scene) when the problem was more general (there was an aspect of the story that needed to tie in, and I hadn't realized it yet).
The gingerbread of hope
I just thanked the muse for the gift, and got up in the middle of the night to write it down.

The trick for me is working out when I'm stuck because I need to stop and think, and when I'm just being lazy. Sometimes just writing and going for it and seeing what happens can work. And I love tackling the how-to-get-from-a-to-b problem by scribbling all the possibilities I can think of with pen and paper: it is surprising how often this makes the answer blindingly obvious. I haven't attacked the problem in an analytical way so much, and I'm intrigued to try that.

But most of all - I'm just surprised nobody mentioned cake.

Friday 1 November 2013

Ten Top Tips to Finding an Agent - Benjamin Scott's Guest Blog

by Addy Farmer

Benjamin is the Writing for Young Adults online course tutor for Oxford University Continuing Education Department. He teaches creative writing to a range of groups, schools and organisations. As well as pursuing his own writing, he is lead author on the Star Fighters series written under Max Chase for Working Partners. He runs his own private critique and editing service and is honoured to be one of the four editors for this year’s Undiscovered Voices. Website and Twitter: and @Benjamin_Scott

Having just signed with my agent, Gillie Russell at Aitken Alexander, I’m delighted to share with you 10 tips to help you with your agent search. I can’t promise to make it faster, but there are several things you can do to make it easier to find that agent willing to champion you and your work. My own achievement on taking my writing journey that bit further is still sinking in, but it’s a delight to know that I’m now sharing the next stage with my agent.
1). Join SCBWI. As a former ARA, I bet you think I might be biased, but the truth is I wouldn't have come this far without the support of some great friends, making some brilliant contacts and having access to amazing advice which being a SCBWI member brings.

2). Get involved. It’s not just a matter of joining and hoping good things will come to you. I say this as someone who lives over two hours from London and gets back after midnight from any evening event in the capital. Grab as many chances as you can to meet people and participate as much as possible.
It’s true, the more you put in, the more you get out.

3). Welcome friends who will encourage you to push your work further. I’ve been blessed to find some great critique partners. If you’re really lucky, they’ll hold off telling you to send it out until they genuinely believe your work is ready and then give you a massive shove to send it out. I’m a huge rewriter and it helped to have someone say it’s time I sent it out and stopped avoiding the submissions process.

4). Live in the moment. Celebrate all concrete achievements. Don’t worry about things you have yet to achieve or problems that don’t exist. Creative people can be easily distracted by the shiny baubles of the future, but grasp onto the future too tightly and those glass baubles can break and hurt. A question I try to live by is “What if this is it?” What if today, this hour, this minute is it? Am I going to appreciate and love this moment? Am I going to be grateful for my achievements however modest or am I going to feel bad because I haven’t won a Carnegie yet? What a thrill to have at least tried and got this far. I have no guarantee that I’ll get any further in publishing than this (although I plan and hope to do more - much more) but if this is it for me then I want to go to sleep with a smile on my face and have sweet dreams. I want to write without worrying about the future.

More friends on a journey
5). Remember, it’s a numbers game. In a book on job hunting I co-wrote years ago, we made the point that applying for jobs is a numbers game. The fewer jobs you apply for, the lower your relative chances of being hired. The more companies that know you’re looking for work the higher the chance one of them will take you on. Publishing is a numbers game too. It comes down to luck and subjective evaluation.
Even if your book is a perfect bestseller-in-the-making just as it is, the more people you offer it to, the higher the chances someone will say yes.
6). Write more than one book (but not in the same series). I’ve stolen this advice from Sara O’Connor who told a SCBWI Masterclass that the only way to double your chances of selling work to an agent or editor is to write another book – on a different topic. I was pitching a 7+ series called Eureka Evans: A Disaster Waiting to Be Discovered, but I had a YA fantasy up my sleeve called The Summoning of Freiya Rolandson. My query letter only mentioned Freiya in passing, but my agent was keen to look at both projects. Two different books make two different opportunities – you double your chances.

7). Delete the R-Word from your vocabulary. I’m serious. Promise never to use the word Rejection again. You’d think as people who take care with words we’d find a better way to describe the phenomenon of an agent/editor deciding not to devote their time, energy and emotions/money to the book we sent them. The R-Word comes with too many connotations. As much as I can see the analogy between publishing and dating, rejection is not an easy word to feel neutral about, let alone positive. It’s also too personal. A pass from a gatekeeper is about the text and them, not about us as writers/people and them. Instead, I offer you the more neutral suggestion of a project simply being ‘passed on’ – that’s all it is. It simply wasn’t a fit this time around.
sometimes the fault lies with the stars
8). What was that about feeling positive about being passed on? Impossible, right? Like duelling scars in Bismark’s Prussia, I regard each pass is a BADGE OF HONOUR. It’s a rite of passage. Let’s face it, few, if any, writers get away without a single agent or editor passing on one of their books at some point. If it was all right for J.K. Rowling or William Golding to have had work turned down then I see it as a personal Badges of Honour to have at least had the courage to send my best work out and see how it fared. Somewhere inscribed on these imaginary badges are the words Perseverance vincit (Perseverance conquers). Each Badge of Honour is a personal invite to try again as Samuel Beckett wrote: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

J.K. never gave up on Harry

9). Stagger your submissions and plan for the long haul. This is just practical planning really. Draw up a list of all the agents who represent the work you’re sending out and draw up a list of potential editors too. As an agent advised at a SCBWI Agent’s Party a while back, if you apply to editors and they all pass on your project then there’s nothing an agent can do for you – the well of opportunity is dry. However, if all the agents pass on your book then there’s a whole load of editors to approach.
I found the way that worked best for me was to send out one query a week (and therefore hopefully one submission a week) to ensure no matter whom passed on my work I knew what to do next: just follow the plan.

10). Send a query first and start a dialogue before you send a submission. I like to know that I’ve got the right email address and that the agent has some sense of me and my project before they receive a manuscript or sample. Time is hugely precious and an informative and to the point query often gets a quick response that a submission. It goes without saying always be polite and always be patient.

Thanks so much, Benjamin! This is such good advice from someone who knows. 

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