In My Wildest Dreams: Adventures in Children's Fiction






Back where I belong?

I am happy to have spent the morning deep in the  Ramswold Valley! Good to be back where I belong. A new book to write. Batteries recharged.



Mind, you I nearly started writing another thing entirely. Time will tell whether I chose wisely! No more elation until I finish.
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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!
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A manuscript is a duplicitous beguiling thing

This is where I'm at!

 (Not that I ever really know, but it's a happy sentence if you're an optimist; dark if you are not.)

I have completed the 2nd draft of The Reaping and read the whole thing again. In my head I have sent it off to an editor. Euphoria.

 It is useful to role-play the situation and I have been on the receiving end of tough love about a book before. And now in my head, the book has been returned and the comments are more devastating than I thought.

Misery. Kick the wall. Throw a bottle out of the window and hope it hasn't hurt anyone as it shatters. Regret. Go for a long walk. Have a drink. The first half of the book works, the second half does not quite so well.

I have written myself a stiff and unambiguous note about the problem areas. Time to set another deadline. 2nd draft was due 1st July - I managed that. The next? I haven't decided yet. Summer beckons.

I have to get this book right. I know I shall. It's just going to take a little longer than I thought. There is absolutely no point sending it to an agent before it is ready. I am more than halfway there, but there are some big issues to resolve. I may change the narrative voice. I may not. That is the whole point of a third draft. Some huge decisions to be made.

The RAG rated revisions plan:


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Almost home.

3000 words to go until I finish the first draft of The Reaping. Another thousand words tomorrow, then a five day break. I should be finished by the end of next week. Pleasingly, I shall be well inside my schedule.

I shall then take a break and begin working on the second draft at the beginning of the second week in April and hope to complete the final draft by the beginning of September. The book will have taken 12 months. Time goes quickly when you are writing a book, although paradoxically the process seems slow. Deadlines come around faster than Christmas. So far, so good.

Meanwhile, the world turns as normal.
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Getting there!


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On time and perspective

55 days to go to my deadline for finishing the first draft of my YA/crossover novel.  11,231 words remaining to complete the 60K. 11 working days. Sounds like plenty of time.

How's it going? I am approaching the final scenes. I have been writing in chronological order, working out the story as I go (my usual working method) and making notes for changes, using Scrivener's Document Notes along the way. I am optimistic, but the book will require extensive rewriting. It has taken this long (I began mid-August 2013) to discover relationships and motivations. I have been sketching. I need to layer some colour & texture, bring light and shade to the piece.

I have stopped fretting about agents and what other writers are doing. I am not sure it ever bothered me that much. When I look at Twitter now, it is mostly to see what visual artists are up to - an ever changing gallery to look at before I begin work each morning. Visual artists know all about perspective. Then there's the bird world and the weather....
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You know what happens to lines drawn in the sand.

Deadlines. Important, particularly when self-imposed. I have 82 days left to finish the first draft of my current project. (YA/cross-over). I am back into it today, back to writing a 1000 words after three+ weeks off over Christmas. I have accumulated 42,084 words to date out of 60,000. I hadn't realised so much time had slipped by while I was enjoying the season of good will and good intentions. Think how much I could have achieved in those few weeks? I could be 5,000 words, 5 days from finishing. Now 82 days doesn't sound very long, especially when you knock out the weekends.

It is 9 January 2014 and this is my first attempt to practise my New Year's resolution to write the blog more often; after all that is why I have bought a wireless keyboard for my iPad. (That is my story and I'm sticking to it). I thought if I wrote the blog downstairs and did some social networking in the evenings at the dining room table (whilst being sociable) I might keep that side of things current. Hmm. I'll make a start on that on Monday night; after all tomorrow is Friday.

Time will tell. Meanwhile I have abandoned all thoughts of agents. Three still haven't replied about The Tall Story of Tiberius Small. Finishing the current book is the priority and to support that, I have even relegated birding to the afternoons...

Mostly.
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Diggle's Dilemma.


So which blue sky to choose?

This is Diggle's Dilemma. A clear blue sky is so rare in autumn in my part of the Northern Hemisphere, it is tempting to just shelve the writing and spend time outside. The alternative is to pull the blind and just get on with it.

But then when lunchtime comes and the sky has clouded over - particularly if the work has not gone well - there is regret to be dealt with.

As it happens, today I had made a start - 265 words to be precise and some simple revisions - I lost an hour because I overslept (I hate it when that occurs.)

Now it is 12.30 p.m. & cloudy. But I did go out for a coffee. No regrets. 735 words to write this afternoon.

P.S. Best of both worlds. I wrote 761 words in the afternoon. And it is grey & cloudy outside :)
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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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The remedy for rejection.

I am in that happy place - 20% into the first draft of a new book, which in this case translates to about thirteen thousand words - telling a tale to myself, finding out who inhabits it already and who else is to be met along the way. This is just as well, because of the ten agents to whom I have sent The Tall Story of Tiberius Small, seven have said no, albeit one was a near miss. I have three left in the mix, before I have to start thinking about buying a monochrome laser printer and sending out submissions on paper to the diminishing number of agents who still accept such things. An inkjet just won't cut it as far as printing text is concerned. I look forward to the time when all agents accept electronic submissions only.

Writing is the only remedy for rejection. Self-publishing doesn't quite do the trick. It is an aspirin; not quite as good as meditation as a way of clearing the head. And that's what writing is, when it is going well: a meditative state. It's only when the self-editing begins, that stresses come into play as you wrestle with the nuts and bolts of the construction that is creaking and wobbling and tilting in front of you.

So life is good. The story, the discovery of it and the writing remains the thing.
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Blue! The best and worst of colours.

Probably the most terrifying, but enticing expanse of blue a writer will ever look at.


8.30 a.m. I am about to write the first words of the first sentence on the first page of the first chapter of a new novel.

8.35 a.m. I look at all my favourite web pages and vow not to look at Twitter while I'm writing.

9.00 a.m. I am still taking furtive glances at Twitter.

9.10 a.m. I promise myself I shall not reply to any Tweets today.

9.25 a.m. I have replied to a Tweet.

10.00 a.m. My screen is still blank. I look at my notes on Scapple.

10.15 a.m. I make coffee and bring it upstairs with two slices of toast to my study.

10.20 a.m. I set Project Targets in the Scrivener drop down menu.
                  Deadline for finishing: 1 April 2014.
                 (ha ha that seems a long way off! But realistic)
                  Manuscript target: 60,000 words.
                  Session target: 1000 words.

10.45 a.m. I begin writing.

12.15 p.m. I break for lunch. I have written 349 words (and replied to another Tweet - Bad writer!)

13.45 p.m. I begin again.

14.05 p.m. I finish. 1,160 words (and no looking at Social Media.)


Tomorrow is another day. 59,000 words to go. I fancy April 2014 is nearer than I think.


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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.
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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.
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Did I really write that?

A brave thing to go back to the first draft of a book after a year's absence? It's loaded onto the Kindle, ready, but I have just put it down to write this, prompted by the first section heading: Nightshade. I don't even remember writing that word. This may be a good omen, indicating that I shall be able to stand outside the story and see it afresh as others might view it.

On the other hand. like places and things in childhood the story may turn out to be smaller and less wondrous. Like favourite holiday destinations it may have suffered over the time and be almost unrecognisable. These are the risks that come with committing a chunk of one's life to writing something you hope will be enduring.

It is not an exciting prospect, but hopefully after the examination there will be exhilaration. Then relief.

It will be short lived. Doubt will creep back in on taking a third look at the book. So I shall revise it a fourth time until I reach the point where I think it is time to let it go. Hopefully.


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More threads than fingers.

I have been busy. On 3 October, I started writing a new book (That's three now in various stages.) I've been feeding my 1000 words a day habit and am 10,000 words from finishing this first draft.

As I knew I would eventually, I have stumbled this morning and only managed 300 words, which is why I guess I have turned to this blog again. I have spent the last six weeks or so (at least  for 3 hours a day) seeing the world through the eyes of my ten year old self. I have managed to amuse myself, so I hope my book might entertain others. A 10 year old is a 12 year old is an 8 year old is a 10 year old. I don't really believe one generation of children is much different from another when you scratch the surface.

Now with just 10,000 words to go (Ten days - that is the way I measure things, like small children counting 'sleeps') I have to pull all the threads together and leave no loose ends, except maybe one or two that  I can pick up in another book.

My hands are full. My fingers are busy. Can't afford to drop anything now :)                
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Burning the rainbow at both ends

Funnily enough I photographed another rainbow today. It was one of those complete ones, where you could see both ends, but is impossible to photograph without a super-wide angle lens. (Which is why we have an imagination and a memory.)  It boded good weather for birding... and as it turned out for writing too.

I have been making notes for a number of days - off and on - but just before lunch I began to write the new book. I have spent three hours writing 250 words. That seems like a long time spend with little to show for it, but I have been working carefully to find the narrative voice and set the tone. I think I have  gone some way towards finding them.

I have set the two main characters up and now I shall let them run and see where they lead me.
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Monarch of the Pen: The Flight of Fancy.

No longer so perplexed about revisions today. In the early hours of the morning came a moment of clarity. What brought it on? Our upcoming flight to Croatia had been changed from a civilised 12.55 p.m. to an unthinkable 6.25 a.m. I was furious. I shall never fly with Monarch again. It prevented me from sleeping. I had to switch off and change the subject.

Out of bad comes good. At 1.00 a.m. I worked out exactly what I have to do with my book. Not the new one, but The Key to Finlac, which I "finished" in August. I now know how to reduce the MS by 40,000 words whilst retaining the heart of the story. That's the theory anyway. I began making notes this morning.

As for the recent book? Can I really revise both stories at once? The human brain is an unfathomable thing.
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Truth can't be revised but it can be found through revision.

How do I feel now I've finished re-reading the first draft of my new book? A little perplexed and looking for kind words to deliver myself a difficult message. My then editor Christopher Reid found the words to describe one of my early drafts of Badgerman & Bogwitch:

"I'm afraid, though, I am still quite a long way from being satisfied. The whole thing still gives me the impression of muddled improvisation, and it has grown to an unwieldy size in the process....One of your weaknesses here and elsewhere, may have been the very fertility of your imagination."

And this is true of the new book. Rein in the imagination, find the truth of the characters, discover the real story and set it out in clear terms.

Back in 1990 when Christopher Reid wrote me that letter, I went for a stomp round the woods to vent my anger & despair. Now I am wiser. I keep the letter close by and listen to what it tells me.

You can rewrite a book; it is foolhardy to rewrite history.
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Revision and the Taming of Two Horses

I always look forward to the task of revision, then immediately long for the carefree days of tapping the keys, meeting the characters listening to their story. But revise I must.

Sometimes it feels like raking up leaves in a high wind or chasing a lottery ticket along the seafront. Other times it seems like the plot is almost there, but it cannot quite be recalled, like waking from a vivid dream the details of which are suddenly lost.

Then inevitably halfway through the first read comes the loss of confidence and the realisation that you are going to have to write much of the novel over again, and that is like straddling pair of wild horses who want to pull in different directions, whilst juggling three flaming torches. It's an unnerving journey.

So I try to proceed methodically:

  • A read through, spotting immediate faults with the plotting and characterisation.
  • Listing the key things that need to be changed.
  • Producing a good plot outline (scene by scene).
  • Re-writing and/or deleting scenes and introducing new characters as necessary.
  • Re-reading and sharpening the plot.
  • Sharpening the prose and checking for typos.
Right now though I am staring at two wild horses.
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It's a 1st draft - 373 Words that make all the difference!

An eight o'clock start is always a good sign. Forty-Five minutes and three hundred and seventy-three words later I had finished the first draft of the new book.

I stood up from my desk with the same joyous abandonment as finishing the last paper of my Finals. At that time I took two weeks off to laze around and read. (Why would I do that when I'd been reading five books a week for three years?)

What shall I do now? Well, I won't start my revisions immediately. I shall leave it for a week or two and potter about with a new idea. Maybe start a third book.

As for the first draft being finished, I simply reached the point where I could safely leave it. For now it will do, like an electrician making the wiring safe for the weekend, but needing to come back to do a permanent job on the Monday.

So it weighed in at 53,626 words. Numbers are important. I want the MS to be 48,000. In revising I reckon to lose 25%-30% of the words simply by writing better sentences, which would leave me about 8,000 words short of my target. This difference will be made up by the writing of new scenes and the deletion or revision and development of others.

It may take another two or three drafts - three months' work. But I shall get there in the end.
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