Thursday, 25 June 2009

The Agent Hunter

The book is out to be reviewed by an individual who will be my fiercest critic - my daughter. She also happens to represent my target market, i.e. someone who loves reading, particularly literary fiction, which I define as a book that requires the reader to engage intellectually with the content one way or another.

It has already passed one critic, who approved it with minor revisions. Once through my daughter's hands, it will be passed to a friend, who taught English for years, primarily for him to scrutinise my punctuation and grammar.

I have found it difficult to settle on the genre of my book. I have been told magic realism might be it from those who have some inkling of the plot. Reviewer number three will know.

In the meantime, I have started the hunt for an agent. I spent an hour in the library going through the The Writer's Handbook, made a long list and checked them out on the internet.

The latter was an interesting exercise; one agent who I liked the sound of had a site which was up and running except for the list of authors they represented - it was still 'under construction' (it would be one of the first pages I would construct were I they). Another hadn't updated their site since 2007. Another just had a single home page stating they were literary agents. And one I really warmed to has no web presence.

Given the importance of network marketing these days, it is a concern.

Monday, 15 June 2009

When Cyclists Give You the Willies.

Yesterday, while wrestling with the edit of my last chapter, I was disturbed by the sounds of whistles, merry cheering and the sounds of people having fun. Out on my balcony, I looked down to discover a sea of bottoms.

It was the Brighton Naked Bike Ride, one of a series of similar events that take place in cities around the world in June to alert motorists to the fragility of the human body and the vulnerability of cyclists.

A poignant and timely reminder as a colleague at work was very nearly killed a few weeks ago when he was knocked from his bike by a lorry at a roundabout and the rear wheels ran over him.

He has had several operations on his legs, his left in particular, and the consultant is hopeful that it will be capable of 'load bearing', in other words he will be able to walk but how well remains to be seen.

I used to cycle to work regularly when I worked in London - it is the quickest way to commute - and on most journeys there was a near incident of one kind or another, cars pulling across in front of you to turn left with no warning, people in parked cars throwing open their doors without looking - that kind of thing. It seems unnecessary to say cyclists need to keep their wits about them; however, the number of people I see on bikes wearing headphones is frightening. How can they concentrate on what is going on around them if they are listening to music. Hearing is a key sense when cycling, it acts as a form of rear view mirror in alerting you of any unusual activity behind you.

I hope my colleague makes a full recovery. No one from work has been allowed to see him as yet but it is hoped someone will be able to do so soon.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Don't Write: Read

My advice to anyone who intends writing a novel is don’t start. For the sake of your family, your friends and your sanity, don’t even think about it. Take up something more life enhancing, like a five-year period of solitary confinement in a dungeon.

I have spent the interval since my last post editing my first draft. My head has been in a very dark place with no light to illuminate the way, and no glimmer that might tell me if I am in tunnel or a cave. So overwhelming has been my obssession, I don’t believe I’ve heard a single word anyone has said to me during the intervening period. I have found it very difficult to switch off. Even as I write this, I am thinking about two small holes that need plugging.

Still, it is finished all bar the last chapter, the most difficult of all, and I am taking the briefest of breaks to come to it refreshed.

Editing has been an interesting exercise, very different from drafting the original MS, more technical, in terms of pace, structure, use of language, et cetera. I wrote the first very sparsely – at times it reads more like a film script than a novel –with few adjectives or adverbs. It was intentional; I concentrated on developing the character of the protagonists purely through their voice. My motto: show, don’t tell.

There is another reason for the leanness of my first draft – it concerns my ambition for the novel. I will not clarify here because, if it ever is published, I want readers to decide without my explanation.

Much of my editing has concentrated on giving the reader a sense of time and place, and to create a soundtrack for the novel through language.

I found this article by Tim Clare, How to get a book deal, via Lynn Price, via Sally Zigmond (welcome back, Sally). Tim’s journey to write his book was more fraught than mine. He ends the body of the article with five points on What not to do; A beginner’s guide, the first of which is; ‘Don't believe you dilute your vision by reading others' work.’

When I was editing, I scanned pages of three authors whose tone of voice was closest to the one I wanted to achieve. These I had to hand, so every time I became stuck on a technical issue, I would look at their work and analyse how they resolved a similar problem. For those who fear reading other people’s writing will prove more contagious than swine flue and infect their own style, think of it in terms of painting.

All artists, or those who paint in oil, study other artists to learn technique, style, structure and so on. They will go so far as to directly copy others’ art to get closer to the experience of the individual they are emulating. When it comes to the creation of their own work, they have a wider range of tools available to realise their personal vision.

The same is true for authors. The more technical facility you have, the better and more individual an author you will be.