A Worthy Winner!

After 140 Likes, 107 Retweets, 25 pitches, 4 short-listed entries, and 1 very tough decision, I have a winner!

I am very pleased to announce that I will be mentoring Nikki Smith, author of Falling Apart.

I loved Nikki's pitch, and when I read the synopsis and her first chapter I was blown away. 

Nikki writes domestic noir in First Person POV, so I think we're a great fit. I can't wait to start working with her. Her concept is unique, and I love her writing style. Watch this space!

Thanks again to all of you who took part: pitching, 'liking', or retweeting to spread the word.

Many congratulations also to those short-listed, the quality of submissions was very high, and I hope you are all encouraged by your short-list selection.

And thanks also to my wonderful agent, Sarah Williams at Sophie Hicks Agency who has agreed to place the winning entry at the top of her 'to-read' pile once it's ready for submission. A wonderful gesture, and an excellent opportunity.

If any other authors are considering mentoring an unpublished writer, I would urge you do so. It's been amazing to receive all the lovely emails thanking me for this opportunity, but it has also made me realise how many writers out there are waiting for a bit of guidance and encouragement to spur them on.

So let's pay it forward!

 

Mentoring - Short List

Some of the best things I've done have happened because I took a chance. So, last week, feeling a bit down-in-the-dumps, I thought I'd cheer myself up by hopefully cheering up someone else. 

IMG_0156.JPG

The response blew me away, not only the amount of people who responded, but also the quality of the pitches. The burden of choosing fell heavily on me as I had no idea I would receive so many fantastic submissions. BUT...I can only choose one person to mentor; time and commitment involved on both sides. 

I have now read all the submissions, and here is my short list of four from which I shall choose just ONE. Well done to everyone who took part, and please don't be disheartened if you're not on the short list, purely my subjective opinion based on my taste, and whether I think I'm the best fit to be your mentor. I'll announce my final choice from the shortlist in the coming days.

 

In no particular order...my shortlist

Somewhere In The Universe - Lia Louis

The Waves Crashed Down Upon Them - Lori Inglis Hall

Falling Apart - Nikki Smith

The Spaces Between Lies - Valerie Whelan

 

Well done to my final four, I am so impressed!

I'll be reading the above submissions in more detail in the coming days to decide on a winner. The prize will be an in-depth critique/ongoing mentoring partnership to help produce a submission package to send out to agents/publishers. 

 

Three Pics To Pub #2 - Lara Dearman The Devil's Claw

In the second in my occasional series, #3pics2pub, Lara Dearman, debut author of The Devil's Claw, shares  three pictures from her journey to publication.

Lara, like Will Dean (the first #3pics2pub author), currently lives outside the UK, in New York!  

It's fascinating to see how she found her agent and publisher whilst living overseas.

1. The Capitol, DC I finished my MA in Creative Writing at St Mary’s University in the spring of 2015. It was an amazing experience, but a tough one. I had three small kids (one not yet at school), we were renovating our house and then, halfway through the course, my husband came home, nonchalantly wondering if we might all like to move to the USA? I can’t quite remember how that conversation went, only that I didn’t get to do much writing for a while and a few months later, we found ourselves living in a leafy suburb of Westchester, New York. I was three quarters of the way through The Devil’s Claw at this point, and while I was proud of it, I had little hope of finding an agent, let alone a publisher - it would have been difficult enough in the UK, but in a new country, where I had not the first idea about the industry, it was surely impossible. I kept working on the book though - one of the great things about the MA was that it had pushed me past the point where, with less support, I might have given up - and a few months later I had a life-changing call from my tutor. An agent had read the first three chapters. She loved it and had asked if I could send the rest. By the summer of 2016, a little less than a year after we moved to the States, I had a UK publishing deal. This is me, in front of the Capitol in Washington DC soon after I found out that The Devil’s Claw had sold in the US too! 

1. The Capitol, DC

I finished my MA in Creative Writing at St Mary’s University in the spring of 2015. It was an amazing experience, but a tough one. I had three small kids (one not yet at school), we were renovating our house and then, halfway through the course, my husband came home, nonchalantly wondering if we might all like to move to the USA? I can’t quite remember how that conversation went, only that I didn’t get to do much writing for a while and a few months later, we found ourselves living in a leafy suburb of Westchester, New York. I was three quarters of the way through The Devil’s Claw at this point, and while I was proud of it, I had little hope of finding an agent, let alone a publisher - it would have been difficult enough in the UK, but in a new country, where I had not the first idea about the industry, it was surely impossible. I kept working on the book though - one of the great things about the MA was that it had pushed me past the point where, with less support, I might have given up - and a few months later I had a life-changing call from my tutor. An agent had read the first three chapters. She loved it and had asked if I could send the rest. By the summer of 2016, a little less than a year after we moved to the States, I had a UK publishing deal. This is me, in front of the Capitol in Washington DC soon after I found out that The Devil’s Claw had sold in the US too! 

2. First Time in Print After several years spent as a stay at home mum, to suddenly find myself thrown into the world of publishing was quite surreal. There were contract negotiations, talk about industry announcements and 'popping back' to the UK for this event or that, foreign rights conversations (foreign rights! How did I find myself deciding which German publisher was the best ‘home’ for The Devil’s Claw?) I think I received more emails in one month than I had in the previous five years. Possibly the best part was when my editor, Sam Eades at Trapeze, was contributing to a piece in the Guardian about female crime writers and asked me for a quote. I could not believe that only a few weeks after selling the book, I was going to be quoted in a national newspaper. As it happens, I wasn’t. My quote was cut (a good lesson in not getting too big for your boots!) But my name made it in - the first time ever in print, and right next to a picture of the lovely Ruth Ware. A proud moment indeed! 

2. First Time in Print

After several years spent as a stay at home mum, to suddenly find myself thrown into the world of publishing was quite surreal. There were contract negotiations, talk about industry announcements and 'popping back' to the UK for this event or that, foreign rights conversations (foreign rights! How did I find myself deciding which German publisher was the best ‘home’ for The Devil’s Claw?) I think I received more emails in one month than I had in the previous five years. Possibly the best part was when my editor, Sam Eades at Trapeze, was contributing to a piece in the Guardian about female crime writers and asked me for a quote. I could not believe that only a few weeks after selling the book, I was going to be quoted in a national newspaper. As it happens, I wasn’t. My quote was cut (a good lesson in not getting too big for your boots!) But my name made it in - the first time ever in print, and right next to a picture of the lovely Ruth Ware. A proud moment indeed! 

3. The Devil’s Claw Comes Home The Devil’s Claw is set on Guernsey, the island where I was born and raised. I left in 2000 to go to University on ’the mainland' never expecting that over the following seventeen years I would live in London, Paris, Singapore and New York. I love to travel, and to experience new places, but will always be a Guernsey girl at heart. When I started to write, I had no set idea as to genre, or plot, but the location was always going to be Guernsey. And it is the perfect setting for a crime thriller - breathtaking scenery, a unique culture, an abundance of legends and folktales and a complicated history, including five years spent under Nazi Occupation during the Second World War - all of which I have tried to capture in The Devil’s Claw. I went back this summer (as I have every year since I left) armed with proof copies of the book and really felt like it was bringing it home. Here it is, in the shadows on my favourite beach, Petit Bot.

3. The Devil’s Claw Comes Home

The Devil’s Claw is set on Guernsey, the island where I was born and raised. I left in 2000 to go to University on ’the mainland' never expecting that over the following seventeen years I would live in London, Paris, Singapore and New York. I love to travel, and to experience new places, but will always be a Guernsey girl at heart. When I started to write, I had no set idea as to genre, or plot, but the location was always going to be Guernsey. And it is the perfect setting for a crime thriller - breathtaking scenery, a unique culture, an abundance of legends and folktales and a complicated history, including five years spent under Nazi Occupation during the Second World War - all of which I have tried to capture in The Devil’s Claw. I went back this summer (as I have every year since I left) armed with proof copies of the book and really felt like it was bringing it home. Here it is, in the shadows on my favourite beach, Petit Bot.

Many thanks to Lara for sharing her three pics to publication. 

The Devil's Claw is published by Trapeze in the UK

'An atmospheric crime series set in the Channel Islands, that will appeal to fans of Ann Cleeves, Peter May and Elly Griffiths.'

 

First Drafts

'The First draft of anything is shit', as Hemingway told us many moons ago.
Hemingway.jpg

In the month when many of you will be writing 1,666 words a day for NaNoWriMo I thought it would be good to consider that most troublesome of beasts, the first draft.

I'm not a great planner, although I've tried - chapter plans, story and character arcs, even an unwieldy grid which involved multiple spreadsheets and lots of sellotape - but I've now accepted that I do have a process, and it works for me... 

 

A Strict Word Count

A thousand words a day for three months.

That means every day, weekends too, regardless of where I am or what's happening. For the last two books that has been a concentrated effort in the early months of the year, which fits well with my editing deadlines. I tend to get up very early, and I've learnt to be less precious about where and how I work: on trains, in snatches of time, even when the house is full.

Train working.jpg

 

Editing-as-I-Go

I write every day, not only to build my word count, but also to keep everything in my head. Psychological suspense relies on a careful balance of reveal/conceal and I need to be aware of what goes where, even on a first draft, although all can be changed. So I begin by reading over the previous day's words, editing lightly or making notes, before I continue.

 

Notes

Although I don't have a definite plan, I will have a notebook beside me, and probably a rough synopsis, as well as lots of stuff held in my head from months of thinking-time. I also do lots of research before I start writing, so that's in my notes too. Any ideas, thoughts, dates, chronology issues, get jotted down as I write, so I can revisit them later. 

 

Tips (or how not to get in the kind of mess I do!)

Give every character a name and date of birth, saves so much time checking later.

Print out a calendar and keep a record of what happens when - including the weather.

Keep it simple - the simpler the better- actions not feelings.

 

The Finish is Only the Start

At the end of three months, roughly, I will have my 80-90K first draft.

But...all is not well. Far from it. What began as a shiny possibility, is now becoming a reality, and there will inevitably be a dissonance between initial expectation and results, and that's where doubts begin to creep in.

Three months ago, my ideas were unsullied by exposition. In my imagination, they were full of possibility, to be anything I wanted. To be...perfect. That's a hard act to follow. But first attempts are never about perfection.

As Terry Pratchett said, 'First drafts are about you telling yourself the story'.

What I do have at the end of those first three months is the bones of my story, with characters, and events; something I can work with. How else, for example, would I have discovered what happens on page three hundred, or even on page two? How would I have seen the opportunities to seed later events in earlier passages, and how would I have known that my characters would act as they did unless I placed them in those situations?

My next job is to sort the good from the bad, to polish what works, to eliminate sections that don't, and now I have a whole story, to decide on structure and points of view. Everything is still up for debate, even the ending. 

I suppose, now I come to think of it, my first draft is an elaboarate plan, so maybe...I do plan after all! If you're participating in NaNoWriMo, good luck! 

CLOSE TO ME my debut psychological suspense is out now in UK and available to pre-order in US for December. Please review if you enjoy - many thanks!

Cheltenham Literature Festival

In the twenty-five years I've lived in Cheltenham, October and the literature festival have become synonymous for me. I always attend as many events as I can, the town transformed for the ten day festival, huge tents taking over the formal gardens, lights strung overhead, autumn colours in the trees, and rustling under foot. There's a buzz about the town, celebs spotted in coffee shops, Prosecco sipped between events, the focus...books, books, and more books.  It's all very lovely, very Cheltenham.

Can you imagine my excitement therefore, when I was invited to take part?  

IMG_0022.JPG

The audience were great, asking questions and listening intently to my readings from CLOSE TO ME, and despite my concerns that half an hour was a very long time on my own on stage, it flew by. I then signed books in the Waterstones' book tent, until they sold out of all copies! 

IMG_0004.JPG
IMG_0023.JPG

It was an amazing experience, and I'd like to thank the festival organisers, particularly Becca Di Francesco, Literature Festival Programme Co-ordinator, for inviting me to take part in 'Cheltenham Writes!' an initiative championing local writers. 

Travels with Close To Me - New York

Last month, I was in New York with my son and husband for a week-long holiday, as well as a bit of work...if you can call swanning into Manhattan skyscrapers work?!

What can I say about NYC that you don't already know? The skyline, the people, the food, the yellow cabs...everything about it is iconic and I love it. It was warm whilst we were there, 27 degrees most days, and we had a fantastic time.

A glimpse of the Empire State building on a sunny day in New York.

A glimpse of the Empire State building on a sunny day in New York.

Five years ago, on my first ever visit to the Big Apple, I stared up at the impossibly tall office buildings wondering who might be inside, reading manuscripts, but I never imagined, even in my wildest dreams, that the next time I returned to the city I would be meeting not one, but two publishing houses to discuss the forthcoming release of my book in the US. 

First, I met with the team at Quercus US who are publishing CLOSE TO ME on December the 5th in hardcover. I was taken for a fantastic New York lunch with a deep fried Oreo for dessert, which Nathaniel, publisher, assured me were delicious, and he was right! It was a good chance to also meet with my US editor, Amelia, the Marketer, Elyse, and Publicist, Amanda. We've been introduced via email, and worked together a lot on the book, but only remotely, so it was great to meet them all face-to-face. 

Next I was off to Penguin Random House Audio, for a meeting with the team there. I learned lots about the massive expansion in the audio market and I was invited to write a blog piece for the PRH website. I'm really excited about the audio release on December 5th. It was surreal going into marble foyers filled with books and lifts and people, but I was made so welcome and immediately put at my ease.

Once my meetings were over, we stuffed our days with more fun, as well as bookish pursuits for me, with more than one visit to Barnes & Noble in Union Square, as well as a pilgrimage to the New York public library to wander through the hushed reading room and wish I had time to stay and write.  Hopefully, we will be back soon.

Outside the New York Public Library - where I would write my next book if I lived in NYC.

Outside the New York Public Library - where I would write my next book if I lived in NYC.

Travels with Close To Me - Milan

Can't believe it's already October. September flew by in a whirl of flights, interviews, meetings and of course, writing! Book Two edits continued, and I was also travelling - a lot. 

Back in 2016, when my agent rang me with news of the first foreign rights sale, I decided I would make the most of every opportunity that came my way via Close To me. So last month I went to Milan to meet my wonderful Italian publisher, Corbaccio. They published under the title L'anno Che e Passato (The Year Gone By) on 31st of August.

It was a very brief visit, but in the one full day I had with them, Valentina the press officer, had organised back-to-back interviews with national newspapers, glossy magazines, review websites and a blogger event. It was all new to me, especially as I have no Italian, but my wonderful interpreter, Rafaella, made sure my words and meaning were translated seamlessly. It was hard work, but also great fun.

I love the way the Italian readers have responded to the book, particularly the themes of empty-nest syndrome, and starting-over to reassess life after a trauma. 

Here I am outside Hoepli in Milan, where Cecilia, my wonderful host at Corbaccio, surprised me with this amazing window display. I signed about forty books inside, and had a tour of the five floors - what a beautiful bookstore.

Here I am outside Hoepli in Milan, where Cecilia, my wonderful host at Corbaccio, surprised me with this amazing window display. I signed about forty books inside, and had a tour of the five floors - what a beautiful bookstore.

Milan is a stunning city - the Duomo looked glorious in the Italian sunshine.

Milan is a stunning city - the Duomo looked glorious in the Italian sunshine.

Will Dean - Dark Pines

In an occasional series, I will be featuring some of my fellow debut authors on my blog. The writing community has been very supportive of me and CLOSE TO ME, so it's great to be able to spread the word about some amazing books and their brilliant authors.

There's so much written on the endlessly fascinating theme of 'journey to publication' so I thought it might be fun to break that down into three captioned photos. To kick things off in very fine style, Will Dean, author of Dark Pines, shares his three photos. I think he's going to be a tough act of follow! Many thanks to Will for these great pictures.

Dark Pines is released in January 2018 by Oneworld Publications

THE FIRST DRAFT I thought the first draft of Dark Pines would take around six months. In fact, it took four weeks. That's because the voice of my protagonist, Tuva Moodyson, came through so clearly from page one. I'd written a novel before (awful, now locked securely in a drawer) and Dark Pines felt different. This was natural. It was fun. For four weeks I was fully immersed in the story and the small town world. I wrote the first draft in my son's naps (two naps a day equated to two chapters - thank god he slept well back then). It was an intense, trance-like experience and after I typed 'The End' I was exhausted.

THE FIRST DRAFT

I thought the first draft of Dark Pines would take around six months. In fact, it took four weeks. That's because the voice of my protagonist, Tuva Moodyson, came through so clearly from page one. I'd written a novel before (awful, now locked securely in a drawer) and Dark Pines felt different. This was natural. It was fun. For four weeks I was fully immersed in the story and the small town world. I wrote the first draft in my son's naps (two naps a day equated to two chapters - thank god he slept well back then). It was an intense, trance-like experience and after I typed 'The End' I was exhausted.

THE FIRE Because I wrote the first draft so quickly it was an ugly, misshapen monster. So once the buzz of that intense creative period was over the hard work began. I rewrote and rewrote and rewrote. My first draft had the mood and the characters and the place and the general story arc, but very little plot. It was through rewriting that I discovered my characters' secrets and lies. I didn't have enough space to keep paper copies of every draft so I burned them in my forest clearing (it's a boggy swamp so there's no risk of forest fire!) and cooked sausages over the burning words.  

THE FIRE

Because I wrote the first draft so quickly it was an ugly, misshapen monster. So once the buzz of that intense creative period was over the hard work began. I rewrote and rewrote and rewrote. My first draft had the mood and the characters and the place and the general story arc, but very little plot. It was through rewriting that I discovered my characters' secrets and lies. I didn't have enough space to keep paper copies of every draft so I burned them in my forest clearing (it's a boggy swamp so there's no risk of forest fire!) and cooked sausages over the burning words.

 

THE PROOFS This photo captures a very special day. My first proof copy. I walked through the woods to reach my mailbox (a 2km round trip) and found a Jiffy bag stuffed inside. It was from Oneworld. It said 'Air Mail'. I ran back home to my clearing like a little kid. To take a breath and open the package and hold my book for the first time was a moving experience. It was beautiful. And when I look at it now I see all the hours of work, the fugue state first draft, all the rewriting and reading out loud, the missed dinners, all the red ink, the unsolicited submissions, the rejections, the heartache, the agents who liked it, the offers, the daunting meetings, the signing, being on submission, the deal, the further edits, the cover design process, the comments from generous first readers. My agent, Kate Burke, and my editor, Jenny Parrott, helped me so much. I wouldn't have had a Jiffy bag to open if it wasn't for them. I wrote the story, but it took a team to make the book.    

THE PROOFS

This photo captures a very special day. My first proof copy. I walked through the woods to reach my mailbox (a 2km round trip) and found a Jiffy bag stuffed inside. It was from Oneworld. It said 'Air Mail'. I ran back home to my clearing like a little kid. To take a breath and open the package and hold my book for the first time was a moving experience. It was beautiful. And when I look at it now I see all the hours of work, the fugue state first draft, all the rewriting and reading out loud, the missed dinners, all the red ink, the unsolicited submissions, the rejections, the heartache, the agents who liked it, the offers, the daunting meetings, the signing, being on submission, the deal, the further edits, the cover design process, the comments from generous first readers. My agent, Kate Burke, and my editor, Jenny Parrott, helped me so much. I wouldn't have had a Jiffy bag to open if it wasn't for them. I wrote the story, but it took a team to make the book.

 

 

Many thanks to Will for these great pictures.

Dark Pines is released in January 2018 by Oneworld Publications

The Slush Pile

There's been a lot of discussion on Twitter this week about routes to publication, and whether it's an open and fair system. I guess it's always good to pause and consider, to make sure that writers of quality can be found, even in less accessible places. It should be talent that wins out, but often it's combined with a great deal of hard work and determination, and of course, rejection. Tenacity is key, because very few authors have found an easy path to publication. CLOSE TO ME wasn't my first book, or even my second. It took me years to get an agent, because the books I submitted weren't good enough - simple as that.

My own story is, I hope, of some comfort, especially if you don't know anyone in publishing, or even much about the machinations of turning your idea into a published book. I was found via the Slush Pile, the rather unfortunate term for the teetering pile of submissions every literary agent must wade through, most often in their own time. My agent, Sarah Williams, was not the first agent I had approached, but she was my first choice. I didn't hesitate when she offered me representation, and it has proved to be a very good decision. An agent is key, they protect you, nurture you, ask the questions you may not have thought of, or want to ask! They keep the faith when it's sometimes hard to. They help you see what's working, and what isn't. They tell you things your friends and family won't. 

Once you have an agent, you may well work with them editorially to get your manuscript into the best possible shape before it is submitted to publishers. That's what happened to me, so initially Sarah was my only point of contact. I knew no one and nothing much about the world I was desperate to join, but she knew it all, guiding me and managing my expectations. When she sent out CLOSE TO ME it sold very quickly, a planned auction then replaced by a pre-empt from Wildfire at Headline. All those years of trying and then it happened so fast - surreal!

Once I had a publishing deal, I begin to realise just how many people it takes to bring a book to the point of publication, and beyond. 

For CLOSE TO ME, I first worked with my editor at Headline, another round of edits completed almost straight away, to get the book ready for type-setting so proofs could go out to early readers and reviewers. It's vital to build as much buzz as possible in the months before publication, so I was also invited by my publisher to a blogger night, and then a crime writers' party. At both events my book was one of the titles introduced for the following year, proofs given out and signed - another first.

Behind the scenes, the cover was being finalised, and Headline's publicity, marketing and sales teams were gearing up for publication, first an eBook, then paperback. There was also an audio version produced in the UK, and the sub-rights were sold at auction to Penguin Random House for a US audio version . 

For the US version of the book, out in hardback in December, I had another editor, who emailed me as we worked through the cultural and language changes needed. A different cover design was sent to me for approval, from Quercus US, who have already pulled off an amazing cover reveal with an Instagram-er who has a huge following. 

In Italy, the book has a translator, and another beautiful cover, and I assume the same will be true in the other terrorises where CLOSE TO ME has sold.

Via my agent, I also have contact with my foreign rights agent, and a TV and Film agent as there's a script in development.

It's hard when you are facing rejection, just you and those you choose to tell invested in your work, but with each rejection I edged closer to my dream. I was learning my craft and earning my place. It's impossible to imagine the huge network of individuals, teams, and whole organisations who will back you when your book is contracted for publication. The tendrils extend far and wide, the effort on your behalf humbling. It then seems even more impossible that it has happened - but it did, via that slush pile!

Not every book can succeed, not every book will be loved, or bought, or reviewed. I've been so lucky with the response to CLOSE TO ME, I know that, but it's still a white-knuckle ride at times, filled with huge highs and lows. Not that I want to get off, it's been my dream for a long while, longer than I care to say, but there are still days, weeks even, when it's just me and that fragile faith in the fact I can write another book, appear at a literature festival, conquer the imposter syndrome that still washes over me if I allow it to.

And now I've met other authors, who are friends, and our stories are not so dissimilar. Regardless of who you know, or which course you may be able to afford to attend, the slush pile exists for a good reason, because it contains those manuscripts which will be read, and loved, and nurtured to publication. 

If you are a female writer with a manuscript ready for submission to agents, please take a look at my WoMentoring profile - it's free, why not apply?

Amanda x