Monday 18 December 2017

Holiday Greetings in 2017: we thank you very sweetly

We spent hours getting our costumes right!

Of course the lyrics of the song sung by the Munchkins from The Wizard of Oz film, when Dorothy's house lands in Oz and kills the Wicked Witch, actually go like this:

We thank you very sweetly for doing it so neatly
You've killed her so completely,
That we thank you very sweetly

Not exactly what we meant. What we at Notes from the Slushpile really want to say this lovely season – sweetly – is:

Thank You

... for being such kind, loyal readers in 2017!

We thought we would each offer you our book of the year and a top tip ... so here goes ...

PAULA HARRISON my book of the year was Letters from the Lighthouse by Emma Carroll which is a fantastic piece of historical fiction with themes of tolerance and friendship all wrapped up in a page-turning mystery.
Letters from the Lighthouse by Emma Carroll

Top tip: Keep trying different things, meeting new people, making new connections. At a time when the market is asking you for more of the same, writing something different on the side will keep you sane and who knows where it may lead!

ADDY FARMER Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders. This was the book with a heart, worn feather-light on its sleeve. I loved how Saunders managed the delicate balance of funny stuff and profound sadness with the best, most wonderfully sad and satisfying ending EVER.

Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders

And my tip? Write who you are and don't strain to find who you think you ought to be. I love to write sad stuff and I love to write funny and that is what I'm finally doing. Enjoy!

KATHRYN EVANS My book recommendation is Wonder by RJ Palacio, an absolute masterclass in character and how to control your readers emotions... I know I'm five years behind the curve but my TBR pile is HUGE.

Wonder by RJ Palacio

And my top tip is to set yourself writing targets – 500 words a day is honestly achievable no matter what else you are doing. In two months you'd have 30,000 words!

NICK CROSS I know that elsewhere in this article, Kathryn Evans complains of being off the zeitgeist. Well, the book that I found most inspiring this year wasn’t even published this century! But, reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky made me realise that it was OK to write a sweet but emotional coming of age story set in the 1990s. So I am!

Tip: Do something that scares you. And then another thing. This year, I have taken to the stage, decided to self-publish, begun learning to draw and come out as an author/illustrator. Frankly, it has all been rather terrifying, but I did it anyway. I’m not sure if that makes me brave or just stupid!

TERI TERRY My book of the year is Indigo Donut by Patrice Lawrence. It was far out of the usual stuff I'd read and I'm glad I got to know Indigo and Bailey: gut wrenching, realistic and ultimately hopeful.

Indigo Donut by Patrice Lawrence

My top tip: get a puppy! Being a full time writer it is easy to become isolated and to spend too much time in your own head - which isn't healthy for anyone. She's not doing much for my word count, but isn't Scooby ADORABLE?

EM LYNAS My book of the year is The Tale of Angelino Brown by David Almond and illustrated by Alex T Smith. A gentle story about an angel who appears in Bert Brown's top pocket one day and goes on to change everyone's lives in a warm and humorous way. The language was so beautifully understated and my favourite repetitive phrase was Angelino's, "I know nowt." To quote my daughter, "It's a hug in a book." I wish I'd written it.

The Tale of Angelino Brown by David Almond and illustrated by Alex T Smith

My top tip for writers is - join SCBWI and build an amazing group of friends and supporters who are willing to go daft and don silly hats on the publication day of your very first children's novel. As a surprise. It was a day of laughter and fun. I thank them all xxx

CANDY GOURLAY My book of the year is one I can't help looking at every chance I get. Town is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz and Sydney Smith, a story of very few words and yet encompassing a life, its tragedies and the love that sustains it. And Sydney Smith's sparkling illustrations. I adore it.

Town is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz and Sydney Smith

My top tip: my battle this year has been with the distractions that, like demons, needle me every time I look up from my writing. The meditation app Headspace recommends: "Know what you're doing next." So during any pause in my writing time, whether it's to go to the bathroom or answer a phone call or to have a quick look at Facebook, I scribble down what I'm doing next. It has really helped!

See you next year!

Friday 15 December 2017

How to Be a Writer

By Candy Gourlay

This is another one of those 'I pressed SEND' blog posts.

Douglas Adams: I love deadlines


I've been solidly working on final edits for a few weeks now,  interrupted only by the usual stuff that comes from actually having a life outside books.

Still, I was fairly confident that I would make the deadline, despite an unexpected intervention by Southwest Trains when I found myself spending a day riding cancelled trains and waiting on sidings for fires to be put out.

See, I had colour-coded my chapters on Scrivener, pink for FINISHED FOREVER AND NEVER TO BE TOUCHED AGAIN and blue for TO BE WRITTEN IN NICER WORDS. I could see that my manuscript outline was a sea of pink. There were only four items in blue. What could possibly go wrong? Well. Those blue chapters, it turned out, needed a complete revamp.

And so, dear reader, I did one of those marathon writing things where you write through the night, sleeping for an hour at a time when your eyes won't stay open anymore, while taking frequent showers to fool your brain into thinking it is still fresh.

My editor is usually kind about missed deadlines, but there was definitely a little frisson in her response when I sent her a grovelling message to say I needed more time.

Two days after my deadline had passed with that dreaded wooshing sound immortalised by Douglas Adams, I wearily pressed SEND and stumbled to bed, glancing at the clock on the way. It was 6.45 am.

I think I mostly did a good job in the end. Those are the key words: in the end. Because I spent the whole time on an emotional see-saw:

Fear, as the time ticked on.

Rapture, when I found words.

Despair, when I didn't.


Several times during this experience I asked myself what the point of it all was. Why I was doing it? What was I trying to achieve? Could I do it again and again? Why would I?

Did writing mean anything anymore?

To my readers?

To me?

When I woke up the next day, I  was so tired I found myself scrolling through wellness articles on the internet.

It being the end of the year, there was a bonanza of them: 8 Ways to Have a Better Relationship in 2018 ... 9 Ways to Live Healthier in 2018 ... 5 tips to Help You Figure Out What to Do With Your Life ...

That last one quoted this advice from Nathaniel Koloc, CEO of a recruiting services company:

Careers are long, so think long term. It's not about what job you want next, but what life you want.

How would all that apply to a writer who started writing books rather late in life? (I am 55 and have written only two books in seven years – in an industry where the consumer outgrows you before you've had a chance to build a body of work. )

Koloc advises workers to pay attention to four categories: legacy, mastery, freedom and alignment.


According to the article, legacy and mastery is about body of work, about 'what you want to achieve and the skills you want to cultivate and strengthen.'

Okay, so I'm putting a tick on that one. One thing you quickly realise when you begin writing books is that it is a life long learning experience.

I always quote Neil Gaiman quoting his friend Gene Wolf in the foreword to American Gods:  'You never learn to write a novel. You only learn to write the novel you're on.'

This is the part I love about being an author, the learning all the time, the figuring out how to do it, the craft.

But the other half of the question is what do you want to achieve?

When I started, what I wanted to achieve was to write a book that children will read and love.  I don't know that all my readers have loved my books, but some must have because they bother to tell me so.

But once you write one book, you have to write another one, don't you? Because author. That's what authors do. But what if my next book is the wrong one to write? What if I get halfway through it and it doesn't work? What if what if what if?

But that is not thinking long term. It's not about what job I'm doing next but what life I want, Mr. Koloc said.

Hmm. Something for all of us to think about.


The article defined freedom as 'the conditions you need to have the lifestyle you want, like salary, benefits, flexibility.'

The funny thing about being a children's author is that people are constantly offering you opportunities to promote yourself by appearing for free in a festival/book group/conference/talk. It always comes as a shock when they discover you want to be paid.

Most authors I know make their living from speaking engagements. The book itself does not make enough money to put socks on one's  children's feet. So in effect, this thing you had yearned for, that you created with heart and soul, turns out not to be the living you want to make. It's merely an entrance ticket to the world of paid performance.

But again, I am focusing on the next thing rather than the life. Where the money comes from is relevant, but what it's there for is to enable the life I want.

Hmm. There it is again.


Alignment, Mr. Koloc says, is about belonging. It's about culture. It's about values.

When I was still a struggling-to-be-published-rejection-punching-bag, I made one of the best decisions of my life.

I decided that I wasn't going to wait to be published to live the life of a children's writer.

I joined an organisation called the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators so that I could hang out with people like me. I love SCBWI. Even now as a published writer, SCBWI is where I continue to meet the best people to hang out with.

I attended every talk about writing children's books that I could find. I was learning. I was immersed.

And then, most important of all, I began to write, which really ... if you want to write, is the thing you have to do. You don't become a writer by saving it for when your children are grown/your job is easier/your dog is potty trained. You just have to do it – which I am proud to say, is what I did.

I suppose this blog post is me, after a particularly tough time, trying to remind myself of why I spent the last few days banging my head on a keyboard.

Yes, it's been hard ... but it was all part and parcel of enabling the life I want.

So many of my friends in the children's writing world tell me they feel fraudulent, that they can't call themselves authors until they've got that publishing deal. According to Mr. Koloc: that publishing deal? It's just the next thing.

Ask not how you can become an author, ask how you can live an author's life.

You're probably living it right now.

Candy Gourlay is the award-winning author of Tall Story and Shine. Follow her Facebook page to receive posts on reading and writing children's books. Visit her website to book her for school visits and other speaking engagements. Read Candy's previous Slushpile post: Why I Changed My Mind About Facebook Pages for Authors

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