Totally stunned, tears brim, head shakes in a slightly absent way - what, really?! Wow! The Ghost Boy, my short story about Jake Bennett, has actually gone and won the Bath Short Story Award! It did, it really did! I keep checking the page to make sure but it's definitely my title on there.
The link to the story is here: http://bathshortstoryaward.co.uk/
Most of the settings are vivid in my head but to help really clarify them, I googled images and collated them to make it easier to write - because although it's good leaving some things to the readers' imagination, not everything should be. Having studied graphic design as part of my degree, I found I couldn't just leave the images in separate files on my laptop and so I began creating a mood board. A mood board is something designers use when creating a product, advertising campaign or an interior and can include anything you feel is relevant: a key characteristic, a colour, a location, a fabric. I found when making mine, it allowed me to concisely summarise characters and places, like visual bullet points. As a whole, it basically conveys my novel as a picture.
It has been so much fun and I really recommend it. I shall print mine off and hang it somewhere in the house. And, with my second novel tentatively taking shape, I shall do the same thing again - only much sooner in the writing process!
So last night I went to bed with my head buzzing like a beehive - or maybe that should be honking like a geese coop Why? I attended my first workshop with the Golden Egg Academy - www.goldeneggacademy.co.uk - a team of experienced children’s publishing and creative writing professionals who provide (in their words): 'traditional structural editing, industry-led direction and networking opportunities to talented writers for children.'
After meeting Imogen Cooper (previously Head of Fiction for Chicken House Publishing) at a Bath Writing Event, I sent my novel to Golden Egg hoping they would take me on - which amazingly they did! Apparently only 1 in 4 writers are accepted so that's a big confidence boost.
I went to the 'Book Mapping Introduction' workshop without much idea on what to expect. I hoped I'd gain some idea on how to better see the flaws in my novel and to get feedback from industry professionals. What I got was vastly more. Imogen's idea for the book map seems on the surface quite simple: a kind of spreadsheet that allows you the writer and she the editor to track not only the continuity and plot of the novel but also dramatic incidents, the reveals, the character's motivations. It will take me a while to complete, I think, but well worth the time. I hope to choose Imogen as the editor I'll work with at Golden Egg as she is clearly very good at her job but, more importantly for me, she is a really lovely, caring person.
Also, Imogen and Dr Vanessa Harbour (Doctor of creative writing at the University of Winchester, editor of the ejournal Write4Children, and YA author - also an outstanding tea-lady!!) explained the process of being part of the nest of the Golden Egg Academy - and it is fantastic! Supportive and instructive, the editors of Golden Egg are already within a network of agents and publishing houses and want to get good stories out there. I'm so excited and grateful to be part of the academy and among other good writers in a similar position.
Now to get to grips with the book map...
Dyer: I made the best sellers list!
Dyer's wife: You didn't, your book did.
This is such a great reminder that (good and bad), it's your work that's being judged in competitions and not you. With this in mind, I not only entered the Bath Novel Award - www.bathnovelaward.co.uk - I also entered a short story into the Bath Short Story Award - www.bathshortstoryward.co.uk
And when neither get short-listed or when both of them win (!), I will remember Wayne Dyer's wife's words of wisdom.
The problem with writing rapidly and getting so swept up in it you enter a competition? The story has some flaws which only occurred to me several days later...
Having had a couple of days to digest the pitch workshop I went to, organised by the lovely Jude and Alex - www.writingeventsbath.co.uk - and given by Imogen Cooper, senior editor of Chicken House publishers - www.doublecluck.com - I want to summarise the main points Imogen identified with our pitches.
Firstly, get the title right
The title of your book is the first thing any potential agent / editor / reader sees. Really think about the title, the way it sounds when you say it aloud, the way it looks on paper. It needs to really express something about your manuscript, be it lyrical, or hard-edged, or funny. Think of titles you love and why they work so well. One of my favourite book titles is The Remains of the Day which encapsulates Kazuo Ishiguro's tale of a tightly repressed butler and his selfless dedication to his profession so profoundly.
Secondly, what is a pitch exactly?
The pitch is a brief description of your manuscript that should entice the agent / editor / reader with its unique and best qualities as well as your own - all in just a few paragraphs! It's worth spending as much time working on it as you can as it is what sells your book - before you're published and after. Read the blurbs on the back of books and on Amazon as this is what you're aiming for. Imogen showed us printed blurbs, like advertisements, that are shown to bookshops as a marketing tool. These pitches, if good enough, are used far down the line in publishing.
Thirdly, the spine, key moments and unique selling points
A good strategy is to think of the pitch as a film trailer. What are the key moments? What is the central theme, or as Imogen describes it, the spine of the story? In your manuscript, everything should relate back to the spine so it should be very clear in your pitch. As the writer, it's often very difficult to identify the key moments in your manuscript - it's all important! It's worth trying to explain to a friend your novel. What pricks their interest, what's unclear? If something in your novel is unusual, or your central character is in a unique predicament, that's often a good place to start. What is the main conflict or the main goal in your manuscript?
Fourthly, what is its genre and what is it comparable to?
It's useful to compare your novel to other books or authors, such as: It's a cross between Jane Eyre and Twilight with a dash of Hansel and Gretel. Something intriguing as well as informative. This allows an agent / editor to immediately understand where it might fit on a book shelf. Understand genre and what genre your novel is in. Also, if it's targeting Adults, New Adults (18 - 30), Young Adult (13-18), Children.
Practice giving your pitch, off the cuff or reading aloud. And remember to breath - which is something I forgot to do when I gave my pitch to Imogen!
So I've woken blurry eyed but my mind is racing after attending the Faber Academy course After 'The End'. There were fourteen writers, all writing in different genres. The focus of the course was on approaching agents, writing a good covering letter and an even better first page. Sarah Savitt (@sarahsavitt) is an editor at Faber and was full of constructive and thoughtful advice. Nicola Barr (@Nicklerb) is an agent with Greene and Heaton and was honest and forthright. It may come as a surprise to some writers who've hit a brick wall when submitting, that they both were human and really genuinely looking for great authors and exciting new novels.
My favourite piece of advice was 'not to leave any characterat the service station'! Meaning, don't forget to round up all your characters by the end of the book.
The advice I was given was to sort out the points of view in my book. It's something I've really struggled with so I wasn't surprised. I did my best not to feel too disappointed that they weren't jumping up and down with excitement at the idea of my novel - but it has knocked my confidence. Still, I believe in my novel so I've just got to grit my teeth and carry on.
Oh, another rewrite? I guess so!
Am adding here what I wrote about the previous masterclass I went to at Tindal Street Press in Birmingham so I don't forget. The two days really helped me feel like maybe I could become a writer.
Written 5th August 2012 and poster on the Writers Workshop Word Cloud Forum:
"So I feel like a slug has worked it's way through my brain and deadened every spark of connection with its slime... Why? Because I've just done a two day masterclass in novel writing!
Despite the dull ache in my head from having to concentrate for two days (made especially difficult by the booming Jamaican music outside on the second day) I thought I'd share with you Cloudies what went on in case it's helpful to someone. I've never been to any writing class before so had no idea what to expect...
Firstly, if you've never heard of Tindal Street Press, it's a tiny publishing house in Birmingham who publish literary fiction based generally around the Midlands.
The first day (2 - 6pm) was spent with the publishing director, Alan Mahar, and focused on publishing. He impressed on us (9 in all) the importance of a good synopsis and where our novels might sit in terms of genre and comparable authors. This is surprisingly difficult to judge, I think. Knowing whose writing yours is similar to is a tough one as who you say could easily give the wrong impression. But publishers like to have an idea of your style from the get-go.
The synopsis (an outline of the entire novel) is important to get right too so well worth investing time on (Mslexia have an online masterclass on their website which guides you through it, as well as the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook.) We did this verbally in pairs, the partner detailing your novel from what you said. Eek, describing it was really hard! Great way to focus on what you intend, though, and can also reveal potential confusion / gaps in your novel.
The second day (10am - 5pm) was split into two halves. Firstly, Catherine O'Flynn, winner of the Costa First Novel prize for 'What Was Lost' (great book, would recommend!) did a questions and answers session. This was very helpful and because of the small group, no one person monopolised the questions. She was very down-to-earth, detailing how she mistakenly sent out 10 manuscripts to agents who advertised acceptance of unsolicited manuscripts and heard nothing from any of them. She was lucky in that her friend had an agent who introduced her work...
Also, the agent suggested a restructuring of her novel which took her a year to do (she was initially reluctant) and then it was sent out to publishers. This is quite common practice (for both editors and agents) to make these sometimes huge structural edits. So worth remembering if you're asked to do this that it isn't the end of the world and to be open-minded.
Throughout the morning, Alan Mahar took us for an individual 'chat' about the work we'd submitted (about 10,000 words). This was truly invaluable because he could personally direct your novel, indicate problems, suggest improvement.
This led to the afternoon session where we spent a little time addressing an issue he'd raised. Horribly, we then took it in turns to read a page or two of our novel to the others. I say horribly because I personally haven't read out my work to my peers since I was 16... However, like on the Cloud, it was fascinating hearing other people's ideas and stories, Alan Mahar's gentle critique of them (based on whatever element he'd suggested needed improvement).
Terribly nerve-wracking (I didn't stop shaking for 15 minutes after reading mine and receiving face to face feedback!) but well worth it. Maybe I was lucky because I was with a group who were excellent writers themselves but all genuine, nice people (like the Cloud!)
So, there it is. If anyone wants to know anything particularly, ask and I will endeavour to shake my head, wake myself up and answer if I can!"
In reply to a question about the music:
"Yes, I like Tindal books too, Scheherazade.
The music, Alanboy, could only be heard as an annoying bass beat. Outside, it probably sounded great! I enjoyed going back to B'ham, especially with this Jamaican celebration going on and the Olympics on a massive screen in Victoria Square. I went to uni in Birmingham and lived there for seven years. It gets rough press but I like it and the people are so friendly!"