Monday 27 July 2015

Pat Walsh - Keep Writing, Keep Reading and Never Give Up

Pat Walsh is one of my tip-top favourite writers. I relish her beautiful prose, I admire her sparkling story-telling and her characterisation is warm and real. I wanted to know about Pat, her life, her work, her address, the restraining order is an effective deterrent. So read on, for all about Pat and her TOP TEN TIPS for writers. Addy Farmer

Pat Walsh was born in Kent, and spent her early years in Africa and Ireland. Her family eventually returned to the UK and settled in Leicestershire. From the age of nine, she knew she wanted to be an archaeologist, and she still works in archaeology today. She live in Bedfordshire with her husband, three rats and two goldfish, and is the proud owner of two grown up children. Her first book for children, THE CROWFIELD CURSE, was shortlisted for the Times/Chicken House competition, the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, and the Branford Boase Award. It was published in 2010 by Chicken House. The second book in the series, THE CROWFIELD DEMON, was published in the UK April 2011 and the US in January 2012. THE HOB AND THE DEERMAN, the first book in a new series (Hob Tales), was published in 2014.

Monday 20 July 2015

How to Organize a Book Launch Party

If you follow me on Facebook, you'll know that I attend a LOT of launch parties.

At the spring launch of my pal Joe Friedman's warmhearted book The Secret Dog

I try to accept invites when I can. I know the agony and ecstasy of writing a book. I also know that without a launch party, the publication of a book feels like a great big non-event. It was in your head and then suddenly, it's out in the world. There is no fanfare, no applause, no big moment of passing from one state into the next.

Monday 13 July 2015

Why we should all be more like Shakespeare

By Candy Gourlay and Moira McPartlin

This Wednesday, 15 July, at 6.30 PM at the Barbican Library, Candy will be in conversation with Scottish author Moira McPartlin at the London launch of Ways of the Doomed

CANDY GOURLAY: Moira, I've been reading Ways of the Doomed in preparation for our forthcoming event at the Barbican Library and the thing that immediately leaps out about the book is the inventive use of language. You play with words like a rock star riffing on his electric guitar - it is interesting, crazy making and pretty brave with lots of Scottish thrown in.

'For jupe sake,' one character swears mildly. He gets 'fair puggled' when he's tired. Another character 'puts his hands on the wall and takes a swatchie at the sky.'

The bending of language in young fiction has always fascinated me as an other-culture author who writes for a Western readership. When I'm writing my Filipino characters, I try to capture the music and humour of Filipino-ness without actually using Filipino words. It's a tremendous juggle, because not only must the Western reader get my character, my Filipino reader must see nothing askance.

Moira, is the creative use of language a signifier that this book is set not just in another culture but another, future time?

MOIRA MCPARTLIN: When I was writing it I knew three things about my book:

(1) It is set in the future, the year 2089 to be exact.

(2) The sixteen year old protagonist mean the book would be a good read for teens.

(3) Points one and two mean that I’d better play smart when creating a future world. The play smart device I used was language. Not a whole lot of gobbledygook, hard to remember language that often pops up in pure Sci-Fi. Nothing tech or geeky, just a smattering of different words, invented words, play-on words, and some good old Scots.

CANDY: Good old Scots! I'm still recovering from when Christina Banach taught me the word bahookie - as in 'shift yer bahookie'! From the sound of your book though, it's not just Scottishness that drives your playfulness with language.

MOIRA: I am no language expert, I failed my higher English after all! But language and vocabulary fascinate me. I love the way it evolves. New languages were introduced into Britain firstly by invaders and then by centuries of immigrants. English has moved from Old English, to the Middle English we can read in Chaucer and onward into Modern English. New words arrived from the days of the Empire, from the Colonies and are constantly required to keep up with technologies and with moving populations.

And words don’t just arrive, some words leave, take root elsewhere and return home. My particular favourite is ‘smashing.’ This word is thought to have come from the US sometime in the 20th Century, but some Gaels I’ve spoken to claim its origins are from the Gaelic phrase “is math sin” pronounced “sma shin” meaning good or fine. Could it be that this word left Britain during the Highland Clearances, settled in the US and made its back to us via WWII GIs or Television? There is some debate about this but the Gaels are sticking to their story and so they should, it’s a good one.

So this mishmash of influences can be used by any writer to invent words to give unique voice in our imagined worlds.

CANDY: I think you're very brave. English is my second language and I am often daunted by my non-nativeness. How dare I try to make a language not my own do my bidding!

What makes me keep going though is the fact that our readers are young people who have no hang ups about language. Almost ten years ago now, I attended a keynote by young adult author Scott Westerfeld on the subject of writing teen slang. Here's an excerpt from the piece I wrote YA Voice and Teen Vernacular:

“When you are a teenager you are still in the act of acquiring language ,” Scott told us. “One of the reasons I really like YA is that teenagers are more interested in voice than adults.”
Teenagers, he says, write more poetry per capita. They play more word games. They memorise more song lyrics. They like to spell things creatively. And a high percentage are in fact learning a language in school. 

Nine years later, re-reading my report on Scott's speech, I marvel not only at how USEFUL the talk was for us writers targeting teen readers, but how RESPECTFUL Scott was of the way teens use language, presenting the manipulation of language into slang as something to be admired. That's the kind of author I want to be, I thought.

Which is why I propose we writers of young adult and teen novels should be more like Shakespeare. Check out this video from 2007 of master YA author John Green (one of my favourite John Green videos) teaching his readers how to insult each other like Shakespeare:

Wasn't Shakespeare the master at making up words?

MOIRA: Shakespeare is reported to have invented over 1700 words currently in use today. He did this by changing nouns to verbs, joining words, using prefixes and manipulating words from foreign languages. By using these simple techniques he invented words that were exciting, surprising and, because of their familiar roots, were also easily understood.

Advertising, amazement, luggage, eyeball, monumental, moonbeam, bloodstained, undress, besmirched, discordant. discontent, premeditation - all words attributed to Shakespeare!

Incidentally, Shakespeare may not have invented the word ‘selfie’ but he has been credited as inventing the Emoticon. According to the Fifth Columnist Blog, in the First Folio of William Shakespeare’s plays : ) follows right after the naming of a character called Sir Smile.

CANDY: I like what Scott Westerfeld says about young people having no fear of recreating language. I think of Scott whenever I meet a teacher complaining about the way young people talk today!

MOIRA: In the novel 1984, George Orwell, famously invented Newspeak. Wikipedia describes it as “a controlled language created by the totalitarian state as a tool to limit freedom of thought and concepts (such as freedom and peace) that pose a threat to the regime.”

It is interesting that few Newspeak words have evolved into today’s language except the word Newspeak itself which has become the generic term for attempts to restrict disapproved language by the powers that be. Sadly we see more and more examples of this every day. It is fascinating to note that the two concepts from 1984 that have entered into our world as TV programmes and subsequently our vocabulary are Big Brother and Room 101.

CANDY: I could feel the influence of 1984 in Ways of the Doomed.

MOIRA: Well, I took my own advice and put the mishmash of influences to test.

The land where Ways of the Doomed is set is called Esperaneo so of course I use a few words from Esperanto, the universal language constructed in 1887 that today has over 2,000,000 fluent speakers worldwide 4.

CANDY: Yup, Scott Westerfeld warns writers not to use new slang for teen stories. It gets old too quickly. His advice was: steal it from really far away. In Uglies, he appropriated the 18th century word 'bogus' as slang used by his dystopic teenagers to mean 'no good'.

MOIRA: The easiest language for me to use is Scots or rather the mash up of Scots words I inherited from my parents. My family are from the Scottish Borders but we moved to Fife, just north of Edinburgh, when I was small. It wasn’t until I went to school in Fife that I realised that not everyone spoke like us. Words like speeder (spider), rummelled (a cross between rolled and pummelled) were alien to Fifers. Oh how they laughed!

But many other pure Scots words are wonderful to use in English text because of their onomatopoeia qualities, not just sounds but feelings too. Words like boak (to be sick) and stoondin (throbbing).
I also made up words from foreign roots. The black marketers in Ways of the Doomed are called the Noiri (noir being French for black) and one communication device that is placed in the ear is a Tympan from tympanic membrane or eardrum.

CANDY:  What fun! Okay, that makes me want to quote from that Scott Westerfeld article again:

“Teens are saying: I care about language, I am having fun with language; (slang) is pure emphasis on the joy and expansiveness of language. And that’s a perfectly good reason for slang.” 
When I was reading Ways of the Doomed, I could certainly feel your joy in expanding the language! But we've also got the gatekeepers to think about, don't we? When editing was almost done on my last novel, Shine, my editor emailed me saying something like, "Hey, you've only got one swear word (is CR*P even a swear word?) - take it out and your book could get a younger reader or two." The word was not particularly important to the story so we took it out.

MOIRA: In YA novels there is a risk that the over-use of swear words could put off many vetoing parents and teachers. I was conscious if this while writing later drafts so I duplicated some blasphemous words with the names of planets instead of gods, but I found this unoriginal. Then I discovered the army acronym SNAFU (you can google the meaning!) and came up with the swear word snaf. It works in most situation when an expletive is needed.

The most fun I had was making words from consumer goods. We live in a consumer world, in a world where Google has become a verb and Apples don’t always crunch. In my world old men have Brillo-brows, skin can be Areo’d and foreheads can Pringle. Once started the possibilities become endless. I am well into the sequel and already new words are appearing like speeder’s web on a Noiri man’s wallet.

CANDY:  Thanks for guesting on Notes from the Slushpile, Moira. Congratulations on another promising book. I hope gazillions of readers buy it!

MOIRA MCPARTLIN made a big impact with her debut novel The Incomers, which tells the tale of a West African woman moving to a small town in 1960s Scotland. It was shortlisted for the Saltire Society First Book of the Year Award and was a critical success. Moira is also a prolific writer of short stories and poetry, which have been published in a wide variety of literary magazines. She has delivered workshops to a wide range of audiences including Shell Oil executives, teenage singles mothers, refugees and asylum seekers and young offenders at HMYOI Polmont. She currently lives in Stirlingshire. Ways of the Doomed is the first book in the Sun Song Trilogy. It was published in June 2015 by Saraband.

Monday 6 July 2015

Stats from the Slushpile: A Decade of Dreaming

By Nick Cross

Hello again, slush fans. As anyone who's seen my Museum of Me series will attest, I like to keep hold of stuff from my past and inflict it upon share it with my loyal readers. Now that I've been writing seriously for a decade (actually slightly more, but 10 & 3/4 years didn't sound as good) it felt like time to take stock of my journey so far.
And what a journey it hasn't been. Well, not in the way I expected when I started out. For much of the time, I was driven by the conviction that my current book would soon be published, and I'd be on my way to fame and fortune. I was desperate but not entirely deluded, and got damn close on several occasions. Yet, my route to actual publication (and a smidgeon of critical acclaim) has come via a magazine, which wasn't a medium I'd even considered when starting out.

In writing this blog post, I also realised how many unresolved "issues" I have with the publishing industry and my position within it as an author (my position as an employee is thankfully much more settled). I thought this would be an easier post to write than my piece on stepping outside your comfort zone, but it was much, much harder. The reality of being on the slushpile is something that confronts all of us in the modern publishing world, where books go in and out of print constantly. It's a harsh environment, with sudden, glorious highs and some sickening lows that make you want to jack it all in and do something sensible with your life.

And yet, I'm still here, still writing and contemplating yet another jump into the world of submissions, false hope and form rejections. So, in tribute to that heroic and inadvisable urge, I present some infographics to chart each book from my decade of dreaming:

(Click images to enlarge)

The New Janice Powley was my first attempt at a novel and (so far) my only YA. I didn't know much about writing a book, so I just sort of wrote scenes as they came into my head, hoping to stitch them together later. This turned out to be a considerable job, as when I started to type up my hand-written first draft, I discovered I'd written more than 140,000 words! Over many months, with the help of a friend who was a trainee editor, I whittled it down to 80,000 and (mostly) got it to make sense.

In hindsight, getting two full manuscript reads of a book that, nowadays, would be little more than 99p Kindle fodder was an amazing achievement. But of course, I didn't see it like that - I wanted to be published, dammit!

Back from the Dead (a zombie horror comedy) was my golden ticket - the book that was going to get me out of obscurity and onto the bestseller lists, allowing me to give up my job (which at the time I hated) and settle into life as a full-time writer. Clearly, none of those things happened, and there's a part of me that still blames myself for blowing my big chance (however unwarranted that criticism is).

After I won a place in Undiscovered Voices 2010, a lot of things happened in quick succession: I got an agent! I rewrote 80% of the book! I got a publisher interested! I rewrote half the book again! I became clinically depressed from all the stress and expectation I was piling upon myself! I had the worst year of my life!

Be careful what you wish for.

The zombies had died a death, but my agent wanted us to strike again while the iron was hot. Even though I was still horribly messed-up and depressed-down, I launched into a new children's novel. The setting for Die Laughing - a world in which no-one could laugh or be happy, for fear of sudden, violent death - closely mirrored my daily life, where I had become gripped by the fear that I was about to die (a common symptom of depression, apparently). Thus, Die Laughing became my magnum opus and possibly the last book I would ever write.

To be fair to my agent, I'm not sure how much of my mental state was visible in my emails to her, as I apologised at monthly intervals for missing my deadlines for delivery of the first draft. The irony being that, when I finally did finish it, she took her own sweet time to decide that she hated it and would not represent it unless I made significant (and in my opinion disastrous) changes.

Feeling confused and betrayed, I terminated our arrangement, wrote another draft on my own terms and sent it out to some editors who'd expressed an interest. But my confidence in the book had long departed.

SuperNewman and MegaBeth (a riot of slapstick superhero silliness with a bittersweet subtext about mental illness) marked the point where I got serious again. No more would I be weighed down by the fear of rejection - this book was going out to as many people as possible. But I didn't want to just go through the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook and send blanket queries to everyone, no matter how inappropriate - I would select the recipients carefully and tailor the submissions. As anyone who's done this knows, it's a lot of work! I also kept ever more detailed statistics, which you can see reflected in the infographic.

The average time taken to reply to an initial submission works out at 5.4 weeks, which was less than I'd imagined. Actually, most agents replied within a month, and there were just a couple who took a really long time, which dragged down the averages.

The rewrite story looks very similar to the one I experienced on Back from the Dead, but it wasn't really. Yes, the book still got rejected at the end of it, but unlike the fear and loathing last time, reworking SuperNewman and MegaBeth was one of the best writing experiences of my life. In just six weeks I took the book down from 45,000 to 15,000 words, replacing one of the main characters and keeping only the most awesome parts of the original story. There was something very freeing about that.

* * *

Consider all this, then, as an exorcism of the last ten years - the blog post I had to write before I could finally move on. The past is long gone and the future again twinkles with hope and expectation. Meanwhile, in the present, I'm taking every step to make sure my latest book doesn't disappear without a fight. A decade on from when I started, the options available to me as an author have increased dramatically, and there are all sorts of alternative funding and publishing methods available if the traditional gatekeepers aren't interested. It's time to stop dreaming and take my fate into my own hands.


Nick Cross is a children's writer, Undiscovered Voices winner and Blog Network Editor for SCBWI Words & Pictures Magazine.
Nick's writing is published in Stew Magazine, and he's recently received the SCBWI Magazine Merit Award, for his short story The Last Typewriter.

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