In My Wildest Dreams: Adventures in Children's Fiction

Good intentions and inventions.

I haven't quite started back to writing this morning, but I have made a decision about beginning. I have scribbled a note on my mouse mat note pad (a very useful addition to my desktop).
It is the opening scene of the book. I am returning to the bridge where Steve and Pricey took their annual photograph (or failed to) in Badgerman & Bogwitch. The new novel is not a sequel, but I am returning to my roots and the writing I feel most comfortable with, the 10-12 age group.

I am taking another look at a first draft I completed about three years ago, and set aside until I fancied revisiting it. In truth, the ending hadn't quite worked out as I wanted it. Now I know what sort of book it is and where the story should go. It will all happen back in the Ramswold Valley of Badgerman & Bogwitch. After all that is where I live too.

What I shall do with The Reaping, I am not sure. I think I may change the title to The Reckoning. It is an uncomfortable and controversial book. It may become a full blown adult novel, rather than YA. I am surprised by the silence from some agents regarding its submission. It probably just got lost in the email. At some point I shall put it up online, if not as publication, as curation.

The Tall Story of Tobias Small is out there being read by an agent and a publisher (I hope. It is easier to lose an attachment than a paper MS! I should live in London, dye my hair and blag my way into parties!)

And the Key to Finlac, that book I started twenty years ago, that is 90,000 words in length (far too long), that I began to revise? I think it is my great white whale. I am still chasing it. It will be my life's work. It will be completed. I know what form it will take. I just have to finish writing it.

But there is always something new to do. Writing is the thing...

(A postscript to the above: I had an email from the agent in question this afternoon, whilst I was sitting on Cheltenham Promenade drinking coffee in the shade. 'A' took the time to write to me in detail, which is not the norm. She liked 'Tobias Small', but thought the reading level/tone was a little too sophisticated for 10-12 yrs. I am not so sure. It is an interesting debate, which perhaps I shall blog about in the the not too distant future. Still, 'A' was very nice to me and sincere, so that's all right with me!)

Yes, writing is the thing!

Reading between the lines.

Having finished revising The Tall Story of Tobias Small at the end of MarchI find myself in the in between times:

Small things - waiting for the new iMac to arrive in June (my mid-2007 example has slowed to a recalcitrant stumble. Daily, I tug it by its lead.) I am waiting for the wind to turn around from the North - it is holding up bird migration, though a Swift has just been reported over Bristol. It is time to get over my irritation at agents who after five months have still not replied. I shall not chase them. I have a publisher looking at a manuscript. I remain patient. The outcome is uncertain,

Big things - waiting for my father's funeral. He was 90, a D-Day naval veteran at 20. I am an orphan at 62. That's a lucky life.

Small things: I have plenty of inspiration - I know what I have to do. For the time being, I am enjoying the warm April sunshine.

My book is still a few tiles short of a roof.

A small scare this morning. It is always difficult to start writing again on a Monday. Today I was a little distracted, waiting for a roofer to come to look at a couple of missing tiles and perhaps quote for re-felting and battening the whole thing. I am 9,000 words off finishing the first draft of my YA/crossover novel. The work is painstaking even though I know that in a few weeks I shall tear it all apart again.

Lack of concentration. In my efforts to back up my document file to Dropbox, I placed the file in the wrong area and then deleted it. When I opened Scrivener again, I found that my most recent file was gone. How did that happen? Who ever knows how these things happen? Something I did inadvertently obviously. A morning's work lost....

Not quite. If you have set the Preferences correctly in Scrivener, then it will automatically back up the file you are working on with a different file extension so you can't accidentally over right it.


 I retrieved my work and copied it to the correct folder in Dropbox. I have not lost a single file in the past four years, but it was bound to happen eventually.  The file is now secure, ready for me to take apart at my leisure.

Backup is all in the planning.

Step one:  Save as you go. (I hit Save at the end of every paragraph.)

Step Two: Set up automatic back up in preferences.

Step Three: Back up to an external hard drive.

Step Four: Subscribe to a service like DropBox (It's free up to certain limits.)

Writing is like breathing; I am in it for the long term.

A Dear Giles letter - be not disheartened. This is the writing life. One has to think long term. A four and a half month wait for this letter from an agent. They are busy people. Always be patient.

"Dear Giles
Thank you so much for your patience in waiting to hear from us and for sending us your work, we really appreciate this.

We have read this with great interest.  However, after careful consideration we are afraid that we are not able to offer you representation for this.

We enjoyed the concept but we are sorry to say that we haven't fallen quite in love enough with the narrative voice, in the way that we feel that we need to and due to the high volume of submissions that we are receiving we are having to be extremely selective about the work that we choose to represent.

We are sorry for the disappointment and as this is such a subjective industry we would strongly encourage that you contact as many other agencies as possible.

We wish you every success with your writing and please do send us more of your work should you wish to in the future.

Best wishes

(A.N.Other Agency)"

It is a kind of progress! The Tall Story of Tiberius Small is still out there looking for a home. Meanwhile I have three other books in various states of completion.


An ebook is a lost child in a soundproof warehouse run by robots.

20 writer's neuroses in no particular order :) 
  1. Why doesn't anyone under thirty think print books have a future.
  2. Why hasn't my blog views' counter moved in the past four days?
  3. Should I really look at Google Analytics to see how my web page is doing? 
  4. If I lived in London, I would network with other writers & court agents at parties. (Doubt it!)
  5. Should  I read more books by other authors to get a feel of the market? (I am not fourteen, though I once was, so what do I know?)
  6. Should I be writing more than 1000 words a day, and an additional day a week?
  7. Do I bore my Twitter followers?
  8. Do they care enough to be bored?
  9. Should I get into Linkedin, Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest, and......?
  10. Do I have time to make a splash on Goodreads?
  11. How do I stop myself looking at Amazon's Daily Deal?
  12. Why are agents always looking for new writers, not old ones?
  13. Should I give my ebooks away for free?
  14. Everyone else seems to be going to writers' conferences.
  15. How many self-help ebooks does one writer need?
  16. Should I stop buying on Amazon and support my local bookshop?
  17. How can I compete with those who turn out 5+ ebooks a year?
  18. Why am I not interested in zombies, vampires and life after the apocalypse?
  19. Publishing an ebook is like abandoning a small child in a soundproof warehouse run by robots.
  20. Why can't I take myself more seriously?


The magic of the mundane.

The irony of this week is that I have spent more time reading about writing: The Bradbury Chronicles - the life of Ray Bradbury by Sam Weller - than I have working on my own book.

I made a faltering start to writing on Tuesday, having come to a natural break at the end of a chapter on Friday. I needed to push the story forward and it was tricky. 16,000 words into a project; that always seems to be difficult. I didn't come up with much. Then Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday mornings were disrupted by mundane things to do with day to day living that needed my attention. (I can't complain. I don't have a day job to go to). But it is does highlight the importance of routine and just sitting there day after day accumulating words.

Today, Friday, I was at the desk by 8.00 a.m and worked until 10.30. I wrote 820 words, which may not be my best, but it was a restart. Then just before lunch another 200 to round off the 1000.

Now it's the weekend. It will be hard to start again next week and there are more life things to attend to. That is the way it is. But I must never stray from the desk too long. Writing is a rhythm of mornings for me. I don't know any other way to do it.
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Age & the wings of migration.

The changing of the seasons. I know that autumn is rolling around, because I have started writing a new book today. That is my routine; a kind of migration. Summer and Spring in one space, and the rest of the year in another.

I have begun a cross-over novel, which I think means a Young Adult novel (YA), which can be read by adults. Or maybe it is New Adult novel, (NA) that new category for 18-25 year olds about rights of passage. I don't really care about categorisation. Perhaps I am writing a novel for adults which can be equally ready by 14 year olds.

It comes down to telling the story in the best way possible. The end result must be spectacular, better than anything I have written before. I am committed to upping my game for this one. That's how a writer should feel on starting out on a new project. But it is more pertinent than ever, as the publishing business has got so tight.

I am sixty years old. In this up and coming book age is no barrier.

I used to love WordPerfect, but is it the Betamax of word processors?

I have spent a large portion of the day trying to correct formatting issues with the ebook version of Badgerman & Bogwitch. The problem has arisen because I imported the original 1992 WordPerfect file into MSWord, then imported it into Scrivener so I could export it as an Amazon .mobi file format. I have been left with a number of unwanted indents and hard return paragraph anomalies.

I have been going through the Scrivener document line by line, adding and deleting hard returns as necessary. It has driven me slightly mad.

There is no problem with formatting for ebooks if you write straight into Scrivener, as I have been doing for the past three years.

WordPerfect has turned out to be the Betamax of Word processors! :(

What I learned from the wind in the willows.

I have been working this afternoon though you wouldn't think it from looking at me lounged alternately on the sofa in the conservatory and flopped on the bean bag, half in the house and half out in the sun. If my landscape is like The Wind in the Willows, then spring has come late for this particular myopic observer of the world. I have put on my glasses, picked up my broom, set it down again and made space for myself to think. So I have been working. (I could never convince my late mother that lazing on a bean bag constituted hard labour but that's another story, like spending the early nineteen seventies doing my dancing lying down.)

I have made more  decisions about my work in progress:

The Key to Finlac, overlong and in two halves, is like conjoined but not identical twins. I shall risk an attempt at separation in the optimistic belief that they will both survive. After all they both have a head and a heart. I know what future I would like for them both. It is just a question of nurturing them so they both go on to thrive.

As for The Tall Story of Tiberius Small, if I fail to find an agent, I shall publish it myself as an ebook and have no qualms about it. I might even do it under a pseudonym. At least it will be out there rather than in the way, and I had a good time writing it, a few laughs in the process.

I have no excuses then. I know where my four MSS (now that The Key to Finlac has become two) are heading

Time to get my backside off the bean bag, pick up the broom and sniff the air. ... that way more ideas will come.


You can go home again

Nothing in my writing is ever planned. I play around (or work around) until things look right. An ability to recognise shape, patterns and shadows is the the thing. That is where I am intuitive rather than applying rules. I don't plan. I write, then unpick, delete and shuffle what is left. Then add a little more.

Sometimes I have a blind spot. Quite often actually, which is why it is good to let a first draft settle for a long while. The glare of the final sentence blots out the flaws in the four thousand sentences that have come before.

So what was so wrong with the first draft I finished a year ago? It started out as Young Adult (YA) fantasy set in the real world, avoiding as many angst ridden vampire, zombie, dystopian love threads as possible. The story had edge that would cut the skin, if not the carotid artery. But with the story came an ending and a logic that said it was more suited to a younger age group. Maybe I am unskilled in the art of YA or just unwilling to twist the knife?

So fluently reading 10+ it is, with a closing parameter of 14. Not that I really believe that stories can be targeted accurately at age. That has more to do with signposting & marketing.

When my sight returned, I noticed two things that should have been obvious from the outset had I planned, but then writing is the way I construct something. It is a laborious and frustrating way of doing things, but never boring. I recognised a minor character, who by a different name I had written about before in Badgerman & Bogwitch. The second thing of course was the landscape. Much as I had tried to make it different, it was still the Ramswold Valley. I should have recognised the landmarks.

At last the shape is there with the missing pieces and the things I need to change. I have 52,000 words to unpick and rearrange. I know the world of the Ramswold Valley so I should not resist writing about it if there is more to say, another story in its own right.

To help me I shall use what is really a free-form and intuitive planning tool, Scapple, from Literature & Latte. Instead of planning I am using it to unpick and rearrange and add to what I already have. And it is cheap too at a few pence over ten quid. I already write using Scrivener, so it is a natural process to use.

This is my work for the summer.

The Tall Story of Tiberius Small

So it is now May. I went to Australia for much of March and April. I meant to look at my final draft while I was away, but I just let it sit, knowing that it was pretty well finished. On my return I read it though once again and made one or two minor changes, sharpened a few sentences and checked it for continuity.

The Tall Story of Tiberius Small is finished and weighs in at 37,000 words, which I hope is about right.  Nine and ten and eleven year olds should be able to read it as long as they are due to hit Level 4 English and have a sense of humour... and still like books. What do I really know? I enjoyed writing it and I am not embarrassed by any of it... so... time will tell. For the moment I am a success.

Tomorrow? Am I heading for a fall? Whatever, I am thick skinned. It is done. I have pressed the Send button. I am right back where I was when I started this blog about three years ago. I am waiting for the joyous Ping! of acceptance arriving in my Inbox.

House Martin - The Bringer of Stories.

The other day I stopped on the way to my destination and stood stock still for ten minutes. A group of House Martins were feeding over a wild patch of water, bog plants and reeds close to the path. Flying fast at shoulder level they spiralled around me. To them I could have been any inanimate object. For me it was as close to airborne birds as I am ever likely to come. I could have looked them in the eye if they hadn't been moving so fast.

The air is light, the sunshine warm. Following small speeding bodies in flight with only one's eyes, the bright background a wash of colour, is disembodying. Such is the lightness of being. Gone is the weight of the world. And so is time. For a moment. This is close to flying.


How to tell of this? Find the right words and pictures to release something in the imagination. This is why children need to learn to love language and illustration from an early age through picture books, songs, poems and nursery rhymes. It is why children need to read and be told stories, and it is why it is beholden upon us to encourage them to enjoy the written word as they grow older.

Seeing a House Martin is one thing, being able to tell someone about the joy of it is another.


Why I have no appetite for The Hunger Games

Why does The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins vex me so much? Not because it is a huge commercial success or because it is just the first part of a best-selling trilogy. I admire anyone who can do the time and stick at their desk day after day to finish something. I support the work ethic.

But ethics is only one of the issues for me. The violence is comic book and described without attention to detail and nor is much attention paid to the emotional consequences of it. The pages are dotted with splats as if a succession of flies have been squashed. The only death that disturbed me was that of the twelve year old Rue. For two reasons: Apart from Katniss Everdeen, she was the only rounded character in the novel. Secondly her death smacks of exploitation, for shock value, rather than as emblematic of the brutality of the Capitol's regime.

There lies another problem. The dystopian setting of The Hunger Games is never credible. In the past I have said that the Harry Potter books are a triumph of concept, setting and character over content, but in all four of those areas they leave Suzanne Collins' work trailing behind. I believe in Hogwarts, I don't believe in Panem, the Capitol and the 13 Districts. Where is the rest of the world? Considering the Capitol's extermination of District 13, wouldn't you have thought that the people of a Chinese liberal democracy might have made some kind of military intervention? Absurd? Yes. But I think that if you are to write about dystopian worlds, they need a proper context; one which can be discussed, as in Robert C O'Brian's admirable Z for Zachariah.

And why have the twelve districts in servitude all with a separate economic function? Only for the purposes of the Reaping. Given what we learn about the Capitol's ability to terraform the arena and engineer genes to the extent that they can produce the laughable wolverine mutants from the corpses of the fallen Tributes at the end of the novel, clearly the Capitol could produce all the food and resources it requires.

It is the poor plotting (the sudden change of the rules to allow two people from the same district to win), cartoon characters (the stylists and people of the Capitol), lack of challenging themes and paucity of language that really offends me. The book reads like a poorly produced video game. I want to know how those cameras see everything, even in caves - come on explain the technology - how do those parachutes bearing gifts from the sponsors land so accurately?

And teenage romance?  Katniss & Peeta. Where is the intensity? Gale in the background. An interesting love triangle that could provide so much more in the book.

Burgers and fries. Children and young people deserve so much more.

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Where is the key to Finlac?

So who's has the key to Finlac?

It is sixth months since I started writing this blog and this is the 70th entry. So where am I? At the outset, I determined to be up front about the process of being published again: my adventures in children's fiction.

I completed The Key to Finlac back in August 2011, or at least I thought I had. It is a book in two parts and stands at 95,000 words long. Since that time I have been seeking an agent. What have I learned from my enquiries during that time?

  • The premise promises much.
  • The story is worth telling.
  • The characters are interesting.
  • The writing is charming and lyrical in places; I can still put sentences together.
  • The book is too long.

I have decided to revise it, rather than throw up my hands and epublish it as it is...or abandon it. That would be the easy option. Writing is not easy.

I need to lose at least 40,000 words and replace a few. I need to pull it apart and put it back together without losing the essence of the story. This is a process that once I start will take three months. What's more, I shall be revising two books at once. A challenge. I shall enjoy it. Otherwise it is not worth doing.

So who has the Key to Finlac? I have. And eventually, so will you.

Sunshine Stopped Play - Writing is just not Cricket

Lingering. Not malingering - I think -  today. Sunshine has waylaid my plans for writing. No bad thing. Time for reflection and letting the book settle. I could never up sticks to Provence or Tuscany (even if I could afford it.) I would never get anything done, except - perhaps - in the two months either side of Christmas.

I tell myself that I can undertake ebook formatting of Badgerman & Bogwitch and revisions of the new book in the evenings if I feel inclined. After all there is time. I have set a deadline for end of September 2012 to start full-tilt on an entirely new project.

I have been reflecting on the Wind in the Willows, as I do every Spring when it suddenly appears. It is a book I can admire from the perspective of childhood. I indulge it. It is beyond criticism. It is synonymous with sandwiches eaten by ten-thirty a.m., hungry again by twelve, ravenous and pooling small change for wine gums by three.

I have ordered a second-hand edition of Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine (my copy has long gone - and you can't get it on the Kindle.) I want to read the scene again where Douglas Spaulding puts on his new tennis shoes and races off into summer.

And all the while, I have been contemplating The Hunger Games and what it means for childhood. I have not read it yet or seen the movie. So I can only have fears and no opinions. Who knows, The Hunger Games may yet prove to be a metaphor for publishing?