In My Wildest Dreams: Adventures in Children's Fiction






Back to the future; no time like the present in the post-Trump world!

It's over a year since I last posted to this blog, so long ago that I have been fishing around on the screen looking for the 'New Post' button. The format of Blogger has changed during this period of absence. The world has changed - Brexit, Trump, I am older. Less optimistic? Never!

But I haven't written a word of a book in twelve months. I left my current project for 10+ two thirds of the way through, not because I don't know what is going to happen - well, I do so far as I can foretell the future - but because life just got in the way: things as exciting as family visits from abroad, visits to France & Canada, and other events as mundane as decorating, a new roof, a new garage... Christmas to Christmas in a flash. Writing was squeezed out.

Or was I just exhausted after five and a half years, four books and countless rejections from agents and my old publisher? Time for a rethink.

What have I decided to do with the life I have left? It does come down to that. I am a finisher and a starter. I shall complete the book for 10+, because I have to. I shall trawl back through my list of agents to see whether I have missed any from my submissions list and see if any new faces have appeared on the scene. Concurrently, I shall begin a novel for adults.

I haven't written an adult novel since I completed one when I was 23 years old. It was rejected once and I put it in a drawer. I have learned a lot since I pounded that one out on an Olivetti Lettera 32.
Most of all I have learned not to give up, that writing is a necessary part of me, and  that I probably should have developed a brand in order to be successful commercially, rather than telling the story that discovers me at the time.

Rather than self-publish the books I have written, I shall find someway of conserving them and curating them; i.e putting them up on the web, perhaps with notes, for free.

Time will tell.

So for now, I am winding up this blog. Thanks all of you who have taken time read bits and pieces of it. Rest assured, I #amwriting.




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Not necessarily what you want to hear!

It's always very nice... and reassuring to have a second opinion. Finding an agent is a very funny business. Well, you have to laugh to keep your spirits up and maintain a healthy perspective on life.

Today, my YA novel, The Reaping, was rejected for the second time by the same literary agency, but by a different agent within, both of them very nice and polite. Not my mistake! I hadn't chanced my arm and tried two agents in the firm, hoping they wouldn't talk to each other. It was their mistake. Overloaded with submissions, mine clearly surfaced twice like a drowning man before he sinks altogether.

I submitted the synopsis on 17 November 2014. It was first rejected five months later in March 2015. Over a year later - today, 22 December 2015 - it was rejected again.

I pointed out the error in a cheerful email, which was received with equal good heart. No one has been hurt, just a little time wasted.

What have I learned? Submitting has a funny side. Agents eventually read everything, sometimes twice!
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Diggle's Dilemma (again...)

Diggle’s Dilemma: to write or market? Increasingly, I don’t think I can do both. Find an agent you say? I know that is a good idea… in theory… but let’s not be diverted by that question.

In the past four years I have written four novels for children/young people. I am presently re-writing the second one of these. The other free remain in finished form, but have proved to be unplaceable to date. I think that they are there or thereabouts, certainly interesting, one amusing and another uncomfortable and challenging, verging on the adult.

That is Diggle’s Dilemma. Do I concentrated on finding a home for three or crack on re-writing the second one I started… or start something completely new? Unfortunately, I am a finisher, tenacious by nature and nurture.

Why the dilemma? Time and energy. I’d rather be a writer than a marketing man. Today, you have to be both.

Should I spend time putting my work in order or crack on with the new, even make a change of direction – write for adults – NOW!? I think I may have said before that curation might be the answer. Just put my work up on the web and see how it goes. That seems like a half-way house and doesn’t really resolve anything.


Time will tell, but I can no longer sit here doing nothing. One must dismount with purpose rather than just wait to fall off the horns of a dilemma.
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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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An odd case of mistaken identity.

After two months off, I have started writing again. This week I started reworking my book for 9-12s, The Tall Story of Tiberius Small. This was the one which was politely declined by a eleven agents in 2013.  (Four never replied). I received one very kind 'near miss' amongst the correspondence.

Now that I have abandoned the idea of changing my name to Jackie Durango, 35 year old mother of two from Chiswick and dismissed all notions of there being ageism in children's publishing as a sad delusion, I feel ready to start work again.

I have begun by modifying the title. My book has become The Tall Story of Tobias Small. I think this is better, but time will tell. Thank goodness for global find and replace. I shall be changing more names, but this is less important than developing character, narrative voice comedy, place and other things.

Why am I doing this? Because I believe the heart of the book is sound. I have the faith of ten Ray Bradbury's. I am working without the benefit of an editor in a world where, for an old hand like me who has been published three times and remaindered, a book has to be tuned and polished before it will be taken seriously by anyone who wants to make money out of it. There is no leeway for someone who has been there before.

I am taking the book apart and putting it back together anew. In motoring parlance, I am pimping my ride. Street legal or not, I want it to shine
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Four years on: indefatigable and still uncategorizable

It's two months since I've blogged. Meanwhile I have been to Alberta, Canada for a month over Christmas. I have done no writing since finishing The Reaping, but have been collecting my thoughts. On my return from Canada I went down with a debilitating cough - transatlantic air travel - but I am better now. I have shovelled out my my study and reoriented my desk at right angles to the window. New beginnings. Ha!

Agents? I have heard from 11 out of 21. Ten pro-forma negatives and one more personal, but still a negative reply. I am beginning to think I am uncategorizable in that I don't write genre fiction, I flit between age groups, and am not intent on producing a series or recognisable brand. I write about what interests me. No complaints. I write well enough. Some might say unprofessional. Ha!

In the past four years I have written four novels for children & young people, a total of a quarter of a million words, more if you include all the redrafting. Three of these I sent off to agents, unsuccessfully, one I didn't feel was ready.

What's next then? I have choices:

  1. Rework the four novels I have written? The stories are worth telling.
  2. Develop two of the above into a series?
  3. Settle on writing for 9-12's?
  4. Begin a new children's novel? I have two ideas.
  5. Write an adult novel?

I still have some thinking time. I tend to think it will be a year of consolidation, travel in the camper van, and then come October the beginning of a new story. Self-publication is still a maybe.

Ha!
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A little euphoria goes a long way.

It's a happy day when you finish the first draft of a book, and hopefully an auspicious one when you complete it on 1 March with the sun shining and Spring in the air. It is the same feeling as you get when you finish your Finals at University. Job done.... for now! Ahead lies some stolen and golden time, before the reality intrudes. A holiday! Time off! Release.

Not that it has been unbearable. I have enjoyed working on the project more than I have on any other one. Not that I am complacent. I am looking forward to the redrafting and making this story work. At the moment I don't give a damn about trying to sell it. I just want the story to be good. The writing of a synopsis, my pitch and emails can wait. Right now I am inclined to forget that reality and just enjoy the moment.

It is always good to have an idea in hand though, just in case,  and I have many. The road to being published again is an uncertain one, but their are many good views to be had and people to meet along the way. There'll always be something to work on. But right now, I'm going birding, I'm going to take a few days off.

Start again with a clear head.
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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.


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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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Lucky 13: Premises that underpin my writing.


  1. It is not a competition. The only person who can defeat you is yourself.
  2. Success is not measured in money; or by being traditionally published.
  3. Don’t expect to make a living out of it; the world doesn't owe you one.
  4. Have a story to tell.
  5. You don’t have to enjoy writing, but it helps if the balance is at least 60/40 in favour of happiness.
  6. Social media is not writing; turn it off when you are working.
  7. Every blank page has a story to tell. Write and it will speak to you.
  8. Read widely and often.
  9. What you have written is your legacy.
  10. A writer who doesn’t write is lazy.
  11. Keep a notebook; you can work on more than one project at a time.
  12. Like food & exercise, little and often is best.
  13. REMEMBER: Everything you write will burn up one day in one sun or another.

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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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