In My Wildest Dreams: Adventures in Children's Fiction






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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Calm but not becalmed

I am little behind schedule, which is most unlike me. That's not a bad thing though; I have been taking my time to get The Reaping right. When I last blogged it was June. I worked through most of the summer. As autumn arrives I have just completed the 5th draft, five minutes ago in fact. No euphoria yet; I have exported my MS from Scrivener in Kindle format, so I can see how it looks from the ereader's point of view. Reviewing it it will mean more note-taking and hopefully only fine tuning of the text. I thought that was what I was going to be doing in this last draft, but I ended up cutting out whole scenes which had slowed the pace of the story and rewriting others.

Am I pleased? I am not sure. The last of the September sunshine beckons. I have not been birding in an age. I shall go to Slimbridge on Friday afternoon, a reward for sitting here and sweating it out between now and then. That is the only way to do it. I shall not finish this project prematurely. My news deadline is the beginning of December.

Nine weeks is not much time.
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I must not go a wandering...


I have not posted anything on the blog for a while, simply because I have been working on revisions to my manuscript, currently standing at 61k words. I have used Scapple to develop a revisions map, and as you can see I am working through it (whilst listening to piano music) and RAG (Red Amber Green) rating my progress.

I started with small details that could easily be changed, but have now moved on to writing new scenes and revising others. Then I shall play around with the structure of the story. Finally I shall look at fleshing out some of the character descriptions (physical) before I re-read the whole thing and begin polishing the text.

So far so good... but I would say that wouldn't I? The sunshine makes working more difficult, but I am sticking at it and hope to finish by end of June 2014








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Reaping the rewards of hard work.

Still ahead of schedule, I have begun my revisions of my YA novel, working title, The Reaping. I have read the whole thing through, looking at structure and continuity, but also picking up irritating typos along the way. I now have a list of scenes I need to add and develop, and descriptions I need to check to make sure I have been consistent throughout. When I have done that, any scenes I need to delete will probably become apparent.

Once the structure is in place, I shall return to character. I certainly need to add one and flesh out the others, then I shall turn my attention to place and atmosphere, not that the book is just sitting there in skeletal form like a boat waiting for planking and fittings.

Am I optimistic? I always am at this stage. Or am I on a fool's errand? I am confident that I am not. My basic premise works. It now has to become something that is real. Unforgettable.

How long will it take? Well, I am in Italy next week. I guess I shall be finished completely, by the end of June. But I have some travelling to do in between.



The tools of the revision business:











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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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When a miss is as good as a smile.

The smiling villains are in politics. I don't think of literary agents as people like that (though I imagine  those in that line of business could probably come up with a name or two). It's not been my experience anyway. Like most people they are doing a difficult job in trying and ever changing circumstances. This is my Wind in the Willows view of the world.

The smile then. Well, yes, an actual personal email from a well-known agent. Alas: "There is an awful lot I like about it." (The book) ....  "I’m sorry that it’s been a near miss for me."

Well, that's not bad, is it?


a) It's not a pro-forma rejection - death by a thousand cuts.
b) The book is along the right lines - it may be publishable but not in these dark competitive times. It is not a slam-dunk, it is the basketball spinning around the rim of the net.


What would Tiberius Small do? Well he is tall enough to slam-dunk every time & if by some fluke he did miss, I guess he'd use one of his many connections to make sure he stayed on the first team and took all the plaudits in the school newspaper, if not the Sunday Times. But that's another story?


 Me?  I'll go on submitting, (but not in the passive sense) until I find the right fit, either with The Tall Story of Tiberius Small or another book..







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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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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.
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Why writing is all Snakes & Ladders.

I am pleased to say I have just finished adding the final touches to my new book (Title remains a secret). I can now have a break. In just over a month's time I shall have one last look at it and then send it off to agents.

I shall then have to go back and look at the first draft of a book I finished this time last year. (Title remains a secret) When I'll look again at The Key to Finlac, I am not quite sure. I have a long version, and most of a shorter version ready.

Why do titles remain a secret? I guess because until I send a book off, I have not quite settled on it and don't want to give too much away.

So how do I feel about my progress towards being published again? Sanguine I guess. I have written at least 40,000 words a year for the past three, so something might happen in the end. I know I am a good writer. So much depends on the market... and getting past the intern at the door!

In October, I shall start a new project. I know exactly what it is. At least for the moment, I am at the top of another ladder!
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Tupperware tells its own story

Does not posting a blog recently mean I have been focusing hard on the book? Mostly.

Writing the first draft of a book is like being a child again, running down the beach on the first day of the holidays to stamp my feet in the water. It's all shrieks and hollering. The second draft is shivering back up from the shore line, feet stabbed by stones. The final draft is being rubbed hard with a sandy towel. Warming, but unpleasantly abrasive.

But there will be a time when the sun breaks through, and I'll sip scalding sweet tea from a Tupperware cup, hot sand between my toes. And I'll dream that dream of never going back to school again.


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When Less is More...More or Less...

This is my morning. Still working on the revisions to The Key to Finlac. Still trying to reduce the first 45,000 words to no more than 10,000. It's a tough call, but I'm, getting there. The question to be asked all the time is: What is essential to the story? If it doesn't move the narrative forward, leave it out.

But it is also important to remember that 35,000 words have not been wasted. They have not been expunged. Not so much evaporation as distillation.

I write this, so I have the heart to go back to the book again tomorrow. It's a reminder to myself as well as a glimpse into the writing process.



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Forensics: Getting to the Truth of the Story

Forensic has popped into my head this morning. Slow, methodical, painstaking work to analyse what has happened. What exactly is the truth of the story I have written? As another person, I have to go back to the scene and find out what really occurred there. What is still to be discovered?

I have begun re-writing, The Key to Finlac, opening the book with an entirely new episode involving a character I knew little about before. And as I'm discovering, I had not properly explored and explained the world she inhabits. I have been looking for clues - trace evidence - and putting a credible scenario together to present to the reader.

It is delicate work, tricky in that I have to tread carefully so as not to destroy or contaminate that which needs to be preserved.

Without all the pieces, those already logged and those freshly seen, the story cannot be rightly told.
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Bulldozing and Landscaping the Novel

The restructuring of The Key to Finlac continues:

  • I have killed off a brother even before the story begins.
  • I have abandoned a set of parents.
  • I have demolished two houses, a factory, and a school.
  • I have remodelled a significant landscape.
  • I have scrapped a motley collection of old vehicles.
  • I have put a property developer out of business.
  • I have buried a pensioner-gardener
  • I have removed one mystery and replaced it with another.
  • I have added a new character and developed others.
  • I have written a more engaging back story for my other main protagonist.
  • I have done away with 500 years of history.
  • I have mislaid a brew bin.

I shall begin writing again tomorrow, having rewritten history today.
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Revising the Novel: to slash or burn?

Not so much slash and burn as letting light into the wood.  I have chopped and cut, cleared away the underbrush and stacked the timber. Sunshine is streaming through the new leaves. A Wood Warbler sings. The coppice is ready for new growth

By painstakingly listing the scenes in each chapter of the first 45,000 words of the book, I have found a way of losing at least 30,000 words, whilst retaining the heart of the story. It already looks better.

The remaining half of the plantation looks healthier, but it could still do with some more light and colour. I shall tackle that tomorrow.

Then the rewriting begins.
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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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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.
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