No heckling please, I’m only a poor author.

speechOn Monday I went along to a local school to talk about writing and publishing. I had been invited by the school librarian of Haywood Engineering College, a lovely lady who is as passionate about literature as anyone I have met (and she’s also named Sharon, which can only be good!). Sharon emailed me to ask whether I would be happy to talk to year seven. Talk to year seven? I can do that, I thought with a modicum of confidence. Two hundred year sevens, Sharon said. Ok, I can still do that, I thought, with slightly less confidence.

I made up cue cards so that I could remind myself of everything I wanted to say on my ten minute introductory talk. I carefully chose a passage of Runners to read that didn’t contain too much dialogue (doing voices is not my forte) and I rehearsed it. I thought about all the questions I might get asked at the Q&A afterwards.

Was I ready? Was I hell!

After a brief chat and a cuppa, lovely Sharon led me into the hall where I’d be meeting the kids. With row upon row of chairs laid out, it was at that point I realised that two hundred was a lot more than I’d imagined. It’s ok, I thought, I’ll keep it together. Then the kids started to file in, a class at a time. I was getting more nervous with each row of chairs that filled. Then I was introduced and it was time to talk!

In the hours beforehand, I had carefully gone over a succinct and chronologically correct version of my life and career, I had even prepared a few jokes to throw in, and the reminders for each bit were on my cue cards. But as I started to talk, my brain decided that it couldn’t read cue cards – I kept looking at them but the words on there didn’t mean anything. My clever little introductory chat turned into an outpouring of breakneck speed and I missed almost everything important out, especially my jokes. We were supposed to view the Runners trailer next but as we all know that technology hates me, the sound wouldn’t work. We went to a reading instead, which I’m sure I rushed through even quicker than the intro, and then went back to the trailer (phew, a break!) and then came the Q&A. This was where it got fun!

I loved the question and answer session. I was really worried that none of the audience would have anything to ask me and we’d be staring each other down in some sort of High Noon scenario, but I needn’t have been. The kids were fantastic, hands shot up all over the place with brilliant and funny questions (are you rich, are you famous, how long does it take to write a book, will you write a book with me in it?) and before I knew it I was bouncing around the hall like an over-excited chicken trying to not to miss anyone and trying to come up with the best answers I could.

The school very kindly supplied lunch (yum, good choice by Sharon) then I went into a class to help with a creative writing session. We took our cue from the Runners extract I had read out to talk about dystopia and utopia and, once again, the discussions and ideas coming from the kids were lively and interesting and in some cases hilarious. I haven’t had so much fun in ages.

I felt so welcomed by the school, its children and staff, that I needn’t have been worried or nervous. Next time I do an author talk I’ll be ready to enjoy it.  A big thanks goes out to Haywood year seven for being amazing!

Dreams can come true…

You can add Runners to your bookshelf on Goodreads

You can add Runners to your bookshelf on Goodreads

Six years ago I had a very strange dream in which a group of teenagers trekked across a barren landscape on a quest. I woke in the middle of the night and wrote it all down, each kid somehow a real, fully formed person that just squeezed out of my head and onto the notepad. I didn’t know what the quest was; all I knew was that they were on a great journey. A bit like the one Runners began the very next day.

I’m sure in lots of guest posts over the coming months, I’ll be talking about the characters of the book, what influenced the plot and setting, what I think about who is the strongest/ most reliable/ my favourite. So this post is going to be about the journey that the book has taken from my head that night to publication, for that has been a quest in itself.

I’d never actually finished writing a book before, though I had attempted many over the previous years. I was just coming to the end of the first year of my English and creative writing degree. I started the book straight away and worked on it during the summer holidays in between reading texts for the new term that would follow in September. I had an old cranky desktop computer which promptly died at around chapter four, so I resorted to carting the book file around on a memory stick between different computers at the university library and at my brothers’ houses. I worked whenever and wherever I could. At that time my daughters were still young so their care had to be factored in somewhere too, which often led me to work late into the night after they had gone to bed. It seemed that, for the first time, a book was just not going to leave me alone until it was out. By the time the new term had begun I had a first draft, which I nervously printed out and took to show my friend, Louise (an extremely talented writer herself) who was in the same creative writing class as me. I expected her to make up some sort of excuse, or give me a vague ‘it was good’, but she brought the manuscript back a matter of days later and told me she loved it. Still, I thought, she’s being nice to me because she’s my friend.

But I got the bug, I wrote another book straight away (which became Sky Song) and I was just addicted to writing more and more stories for a while so Runners sat on my memory stick (you’ll be relieved to hear that I got a new computer from my student loan too!). Then I saw a competition run by Chicken House for new novels. I entered Runners. My friend was convinced that I was going to win. I didn’t, but it did go past the first stages and that, considering the sheer number of entrants and that, really, looking back, the draft was far from complete, was an encouraging sign. So I worked on it some more and sent it to another competition. This time it made the long list. I knew it wasn’t finished. I rewrote it again. I tried a few agents but got the inevitable rejections. I gave it a new title (it wasn’t called Runners at first) I tried a brand new publisher who was calling for full manuscripts and they wrote a fantastic email saying that they had read it and that it was a ‘well written and heart-warming tale’ but, unfortunately, it wasn’t for their list.

Then university got more demanding and I had other creative writing projects to do for my degree and Runners got forgotten. I’m ashamed to say that I lost faith in it – perhaps I was mistaken, perhaps it really wasn’t all that good. Every so often my friend would remind me of how much she loved it and she’d tell me I ought to be submitting it again but I worked on other things. Just before my university course ended in 2009 I began to help out at Immanion Press as an editor; soon I was taken on with pay and it began to take up lots of my time. Shortly after that, I graduated and I had to get a day job too and so writing took a back seat for a couple of years.

Fast forward to 2012. Two things happened at the same time and my life took a surprising but wonderful path. Firstly, I met another local writer, Mel Sherratt, who had been self-publishing, very successfully, on Amazon KDP and gave me so much advice and support about it that I had the idea to self-publish Runners. Then, just as I was preparing to do that, Immanion Press, who had never published Young Adult before, decided they were going to create a Young Adult list and offered me a contract for Runners. With the ego boost, I started to write again, lots and lots. The Sky Song trilogy became my first foray into self-publishing instead and I’ve loved every minute of the ride so far.

Some things are undoubtedly meant to be. I’m convinced (as I’m an incurable romantic at heart) that my silly little dream might just be the start of something wonderful. It certainly changed my life.

With a little help from my friends…

old-paper-with-quill-pen-vector_34-14879I’ve made a lot of friends through writing. Many of these are in real life: through my university course and local writing networks. Many more have been via social media. It’s been a strange experience in many ways, particularly ‘meeting’ people virtually.  Some of my online friends I’ve since met in real life and they’ve been every bit as delightful as they are in the ether. Some, I know I will never meet, and that makes me sad, because they are people I feel I have a strong friendship with, even a deep affection for, despite never having met them face to face.

In today’s writing world, I think there is no stronger tool than collaboration with other writers. In the days of ink and quill, writing was considered a rather solitary affair, but not anymore. In our rapidly shrinking world, we have so many ways to link up. We’re in constant contact every day, updating each other from across the globe about how many words we’ve done, when we’re taking a break, how our editing is driving us nuts.  We participate in blog hops and Nanowrimo and virtual launch parties. Some of us take these relationships, cherish them and build on them, because we understand that you can’t make it alone. People just like you are the people who will root for you, will retweet you, will send readers to your blog, will beta read for you and critique with the best of intentions, will give you heads-up on news, will egg you on when you flag. And you will do the same for them. In my opinion, that’s how it should be – a community based on mutual respect and collaboration.

But I have also encountered the flip-side of this.  Take this example:  A friend on twitter chats to a friend of theirs who has exactly the same interests as me, has other mutual friends, even writes the same genre.  I follow that person, attempt to chat to them, and I’m ignored.  I don’t understand why.  Not for a minute am I suggesting that everyone has to follow me because I follow them, or reply to me when I mention them, but I fail to see the logic in not doing these things when we quite clearly have so much in common.  We have all the necessary ingredients to make another strong link in the chain; why would you throw that opportunity away? Why would you actively set yourself apart from other writers like you? What does this achieve?

Sometimes, I admit, I feel envious of others I consider vastly more talented/ successful/ popular than me; I’m a human being, after all.  But I fight those feelings because I think that life as an indie author is hard enough without negativity taking hold and without alienating yourself from the people who could support you on your journey, just as you can support them.  I’d rather try my best to be happy for others, even when I have a down day and I don’t feel like it, than sit stewing in my juices.  The writing journey is a much more fulfilling one when you can share it with people who understand each step.

If songs could be blurbs…

You know when you sit and daydream about your new book and imagine a montage in the film version that you’re absolutely certain will be made one day, then you make a mental note of the music that would be playing over the scene and decide that you’ll insist the film’s producers approach the band in question and pay them any amount of money they ask for that song?

Oh, so that’s just me then? Well, the first time I heard this song the lyrics immediately resonated with me because they were so reminiscent of the scenes where Elijah is travelling the road with his friends in Runners. Enjoy!

Trailer Trash

Today is all about book trailers. I’ve been looking at trailers for other books for a while now and I love the idea so I finally decided to set aside the time to make one of my own for Runners. You select some images, a tag line, some music, and stick it all together – I mean, how hard can it be?   You’re sighing now and rolling your eyes heavenward and you’d be justified.  Misguided doesn’t even begin to cover it.

The music I want is something like this…

or this…

but what I find is available that I am allowed to use sounds mostly like this…

And don’t even get me started on photos! Free and also royalty free downloads are as about as easy to find as a unicorn in Birmingham, but not nearly so much of a delightful surprise when you do. Then there’s the problem of converting everything you want so that it will all go onto the same software, setting up a YouTube channel… My lack of skill with anything technical is now legendary so you don’t expect me to be good at this, do you?

A twenty minute job is turning into twenty days. Don’t you dare laugh when you finally see it.

The ones that got away…

There’s some feverish activity going on chez Sant this week.  Number one on the list of jobs is final preparations for the release of Runners, my first traditionally published book.   Some of you may know that Runners is actually the first novel I ever wrote (or finished, at least) way back in 2007.  So it seems like I’ve been waiting for this moment forever, the moment where I finally get to see it in print and hold and stroke its pretty cover and… well, you get the picture…

The inside of the book has been set and needs a final proof read. I have my fabulous editor, Louise Coquio to thank for that.  The cover has been chosen after a very long period of procrastination and a lot of hard work from everyone involved.  I need to bestow huge thanks on our model, Erin, who braved soggy forests, rain, rampaging stags and swarms of bees to pose for us.  And I need to thank my lovely designer, Kath Hickton, who has spent hours bringing the photos to life.  I can’t show you the final choice yet, but I can show you some of the ones that almost made it.  I hope you like them…

ErinBlueEyesandFontDarkerblue

 

BlueTintcorrectsize1RunBWErin5

Serial Spoilers

I’ve recently seen two separate blog posts about spoilers in reviews (check out both excellent sites, Liz Loves Books and Between the Lines)  and many other tweets/Facebook comments.  It started up a Twitter conversation of my own with fellow authors and we got to the point of how difficult it is for the author themselves not to spoil when writing a book series. 3065361442_21d4cc62e7

This was a problem I wrestled with for some time when writing the blurbs for The Young Moon and Not of Our Sky, which follow on directly from Sky Song.  While it was difficult enough to write a blurb and talk about The Young Moon in interviews, it was particularly problematic when it came to Not of Our Sky.  In the final book, almost everything that happens is as a direct result of what happens in the final chapter of The Young Moon, and without referring to that, it was pretty much impossible to give any indication of the story.  The other side of this issue is that I want to give some information, and it has to be enough to hint at something that will tempt the reader to come back to books two and three.

I’ve read one or two reviews of the follow-on books to Sky Song, and some give away more than others.  While this makes me a little nervous, I completely understand how difficult it is to comment in any meaningful way without referring to events that might be viewed as spoilers.  It’s a tough call when you have to decide how much information is too much.  I can also see why potential readers would be put off by spoilers.  I can’t tell you how angry I was Christmas 2010 when the Radio Times gave away the series finale of Merlin by printing the teaser before the penultimate episode had aired!

As usual, everything comes back to Merlin!  It’s not like I’m obsessed or anything. But the question remains: When it comes to series sequels, how much is too much?  What are your thoughts?

Knowing when to stop…

You may be heaving a silent sigh of relief that my blog has been quiet this week.  You could say I’m on location!  I’m on holiday with lots and lots of family members and there isn’t much time alone for blogging.  The fact is, I had promised myself that I wouldn’t blog or write anything this week.  Since the end of last year, I’ve worked every spare minute trying to make some sort of impact on the world of publishing, not to mention new books that I’m desperate to write.  But I know that time away from all that is good for the soul, or so everyone keeps telling me, so I decided that time away from it is exactly what I would get.  blackpool sands

Except I just can’t do it.  The laptop came with me ‘just in case’.  Internet is sporadic at best here but I’ve wrangled and fiddled to get it working in a fashion, ‘just in case’.  Yesterday I went to the most beautiful beach, Blackpool Sands in Devon. It was gorgeous, however, everywhere I looked I saw not scenery but stories. It’s just no good, this bug has me gripped.

I decided today that all I can do is give in and write where I have a quiet spare minute.  I realised that there really is no need to feel like I’m a workaholic who can’t stop, because writing doesn’t feel like work to me.  It’s what I do.  If I never sold another book again I’d still do it.  Where others go off and play tennis, I get as much fun out of telling a story.  I may be less able to find the time this week to do as much as I normally would, but I’m not going to feel guilty about wanting to sneak the odd 500 words in here and there.  The hours I spend every week at the laptop may be long, and at times and I may get frustrated, but it’s only in the same way that my daughter will sit for hours trying to complete a level on Temple Run.

So, I’m off to tap out a thousand words on a very close to being finished WIP before I hit the cider and one epic game of Trivial Pursuits begins.

The next big thing… take two!

You may have a distinct feeling of deja vu when you read this post, but I promise you that although I have done this blog hop before, I’m now covering a different book!  I was tagged by the lovely Lindsay Leggett, author of Flight, to answer questions on my current WIP so I thought I’d dive in and have another go anyway.  This is not the only WIP I have on the go, but the other biggie is a little more top secret and slightly less certain to go to plan!  So I’m sharing the safer bet with you!

What is the working title of your next book?

At the moment it’s called Storm Child. But that’s an old title and it may change.

Where did the idea for your book come from?

As usual, I’m pretty vague about the original spark, but I seem to remember having a simple idea of a baby left for someone to find, and what would happen if that baby was found by another child. The rest of it sprang from that central premise.

What genre does your book fall under?

It’s YA fantasy, but also a bit steampunk and perhaps could fall very loosely into historical fiction territory.

Which actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I have absolutely no idea! I think Skandar Keynes might make a brilliant Isaac. That’s about as far as I’ve thought about it!Keynes_Skandar_03

What is a one sentence synopsis of your book?

Two worlds collide when poverty-stricken street urchins are thrown into an unlikely alliance with a wide-eyed country girl with one aim – to save a lost baby from a horrible death.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agent?

I don’t actually know, although, I haven’t managed to con an agent into taking me on yet!

How long did it take to write the first draft of the manuscript?

About 2 years so far! I started it and got stuck at 15k words. I’ve only just picked it back up, having had a brainwave about where it was going.

What other books would you compare this story to within the genre?

That’s a tough one. It’s a bit Wolves of Willoughby Chase, only with older kids.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My brain!

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Its characters inhabit a strange, pseudo-Victorian world where magic exists and wolves stalk the English countryside.  And one of the characters looks like Skandar Keynes.

I’m tagging onto another lovely blogger, Octavia Grey.  Look out for her Q&A shortly…