Saturday, February 27, 2010

YA book bloggers London meet-up

Hi chaps and chapesses,

Just a quick post to let you know about a potential YA book bloggers meet-up in London sometime soon. Please head over to visit Jo at Once Upon a Bookcase for details. It's looking like YA authors might be allowed in on the act too - yay!

Ooh, also... this week I went to the fabulous Tamsyn Murray's launch party for My So-Called Afterlife, which was loads of fun. I got a teensy bit lost on the way there, so arrived a bit flustered, only to be warmly welcomed by Tamsyn, her agent, and a glass of pink fizzy stuff. Perfect!

I was lucky enough to meet a bunch of Twitter and blogging buddies IN THE FLESH! They were real and everything, which was somewhat reassuring. Anyhoo, there was much writerly chat to be had, and I left the party in a stellar mood, with a couple of signed books in my bag. Thanks Tamysn!

(Almost forgot to mention that the Glee soundtrack was playing for most of the evening. Couldn't have chosen better myself!)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Interview with a real live commissioning editor bod!

Today I have a special treat for you. It's a new interview feature I like to call 'Interesting folk who work in Publishing'. Today's guest is the fabulous Non Pratt, Commissioning Editor at Catnip Publishing. In the interests of full disclosure, I should perhaps mention that Non happens to be my best mate. But that didn't stop me from asking the questions the people need to know!

                                              This is Non, posing with the Catnip logo.

Tell us what Catnip is all about then.

We’re an independent publishing house bringing out a wide range of children’s books from picture books to YA. We look for books that are out of print but really shouldn’t be, such as Berlie Doherty’s Granny was a Buffer Girl, which won the Carnegie, and we look for quality fiction from overseas – there are some brilliant Australian writers out there, Lili Wilkinson and Marianne Musgrove to name but two. This year we’ve really expanded our publication of original fiction from new authors like J.D. Irwin to established ones such as Joan Lingard and Lesley Howarth. I like to think you’d never guess our size from the quality and range of fiction we publish.

Which Catnip title would you suggest I read?

Paradise Barn by Victor Watson. Victor has a wonderful economy of style which breathes new life into an established genre. His book is about three children solving a mystery during the Second World War – the narrative is well-paced, but not breakneck and his approach to writing is considered and yet effortless, drawing you in and leading you on. It’s tidy and satisfying and there’s plenty in there to get you thinking about good, bad and that grey area in between. I’m not playing favourites, but I think it’s a good one for any writer to read.

Do you get bucketloads of unsolicited manuscripts?

I currently have a picnic hamper overflowing with submissions received since Christmas. So, not bucketloads so much as hamperfuls…
What’s the most common mistake in the unsolicited mss you read?
In the submissions the most common mistake is a poor covering letter – consider your submission the same way as you would a job application and keep it professional. Relevant
writing credentials do not include making up bedtime stories for your own children, working with children or just really wanting to be a writer. In the mss themselves the most common mistake is not re-reading your submission before you send it – I see a lot of patchy punctuation, bad spelling and grammar, and unusual layouts.

Is there any particular genre/type of manuscript you wish would land on your doorstep right now?

Horror. Creepy hold-your-breath, wipe-your-clammy-palms writing that you can barely bring yourself to read in the house at night. For teenagers, not seven-year-olds, obviously – I’m not sadistic. I’d like some humour for the younger audience. Although I’d consider anything with a great voice no matter what the genre or age range.

Glad to hear you're not a sadist. That is reassuring for all of us. 
What advice would you give to someone looking to get a book published?

Get resilient. Get an agent. In that order. Agented manuscripts get priority on my pile and a good agent will get you the best deal possible with the right publisher.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The Big Edit. I love thinking of ways to tighten up the weave of the story and seeing opportunities within a manuscript that the writer may have missed because they’re so close to it. I try to go through this with each author in person so they can see my own enthusiasm for the work instead of feeling relentlessly criticised – even the most constructive criticism can seem depressing if you’re left in a vacuum. My suggestions might not work as they are, but they’re designed to prompt the writer into questioning whether they could think of something better. All editors ever want is to enable a writer to produce the best book possible.

And least?

Saying no to anything (manuscripts, advertising space, a cover that won’t work, my cats when they asks for their dinner an hour too early). Although I’m pretty good at it – ask the Panda and Tiger, they never get dinner before 7pm.

I thought you said you weren't a sadist, eh? Not feeding your cats before 7pm is MEAN. 
What are your top three children’s books?

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness The Oaken Throne by Robin Jarvis The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
I like a book where I don’t feel safe.
I also like
Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Elrbruch, but I don’t want to sub out any of the others… can I just add this one anyway? Go on, Cat… (Oh, OK then... but only 'cos I'm feeling exceptionally generous today.)

Which book do you wish you’d published?

The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness, published by Walker. There is nothing about this book that I don’t admire in every single way as an editor. The package is perfect and the attention to detail at every level is stunning, from the use of embossing, foiling and spot UV on the cover, the coloured ends, the choice of fonts in the narrative... I could go on. And I think the story is executed perfectly. I could go on about that too, but then I might give something away and I’d prefer everyone reading this to go out there and buy it (from an independent bookseller) and read it. After reading The Knife of Never Letting Go.

Finally, the most important question of all: chocolate or cheese?

Cheese (port salut, I love you). Although I do like dipping lumps of cheese in a chocolate fondue, so I guess that’s something I’d have to kiss goodbye.

Thank God you went for cheese, otherwise our friendship would be OVER. Thanks Non, for answering all my questions. 
Thanks for asking me to do an interview on your super-fab blog! I feel very honoured. Can't wait to see your book on the shelves in 2011...

If anyone would like to ask Non a question, she's kindly offered to answer them in the Comments section below. Ask her ANYTHING (within reason...).

Sunday, February 21, 2010


...was a VERY good writing day for me. I invited my best friend round specifically for a day of writing. After a delicious lunch (BLTs crafted by moi), we settled down to write. Bestie was in my spare room on my PC, I was in the living room on the laptop. The overly long playlist I created for my WIP was on the stereo. It was perfect.

I wasn't tempted to stop and see what was happening on Twitter/Facebook/Hotmail/(insert distraction of your choice here). I wasn't tempted to read the paper (I'd already devoured The Guardian's Ten Rules for Writers), or watch Top Chef or read a book. I. Had. To. Write. That was the whole point of the day. And there was someone there to call me on it if I didn't.

The sound of Bestie typing at superhuman speed spurred me on. I was at a tricky stage of the WIP, so for me there was a lot of stopping and thinking and staring into space. But where I might have normally given up and gone and done something easier instead, I carried on. Because there was no other option. And I was enjoying myself - really, REALLY enjoying myself.

We stopped halfway through the afternoon for a cuppa and a biccie and a bit of 'How's it going?' chat. Bestie assuaged my doubts about the WIP - she's really very good at this. I should think about hiring her out to other stressed writers (for a hefty fee of course). Then we went back to work. Tap tap tappity tap. Or in her case, imagine more of a machine-gun sound (only more soothing).

When I reached a good point to stop, I did. This happened to be just after writing a section that gave me butterflies. All of a sudden I could see the possibilities ahead, and it was EXCITING again. I can't wait to get back to it. Not today though, as today is my Sunday of Doing Nothing.

So yesterday basically rocked. I think I'm going to try and incorporate this 'writing together' thing into my schedule on a regular basis. I may need to find some other writers to join in though, as Bestie actually has other things to do sometimes.

What do you think? Does the idea of writing together completely horrify you? Is writing a solitary pursuit as far as you're concerned? Is it lame that I sometimes need someone to hold my hand when I write? (Actually, don't answer that. And it would be really hard to type with someone actually holding my hand.)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Is it Friday yet?

I'm in the middle of a crazy busy week of work, so any coherent and interesting thoughts have vanished from my brain. I apologize in advance for this rather lame post. If you come back at the weekend I'll be much more interesting, I promise.

I've just finished reading If I Stay, by Gayle Forman. All I can say the moment is 'Wow.' Yes, that's about all I'm capable of. (Oh, OK then, I thought the opening pages were among the most MAGNIFICENT I've read in a long time.)

I've just started reading My So-Called Afterlife, by Tamsyn Murray. I do love a brilliant first line, and this book definitely has one.

At work tomorrow I get to do a little presentation thingy on a book - specifically a book I wished we'd published. That book is... The Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness. Should be fun. I'll try to come up with something better than 'It's dead good'. All ideas gratefully received.

So, what are you reading at the moment? YA? Or (gasp!) a grown-up book?

Monday, February 15, 2010

There's something wrong with me

This weekend I realized that I suffer from a terrible disorder. It’s very serious, and I wasn’t sure whether to reveal it here or not. But here goes...

I suffer from Only-feel-like-writing-when-I’ve-GOT-to-leave-the-house-in-less-than-an-hour-itis. There. I feel better now that I’ve shared. On Saturday, the whole day stretched ahead of me like an incredibly long stretchy thing. I could have written
War and Peace in that time. (Well, not quite, but you get my point, yes? Good.) But did I do any writing at all? Well, yes actually, I did. But only very late that night when I was completely exhausted from all the sitting and lounging and mooching.

And then yesterday morning, I was struck by The Urge. I started writing super-early. I didn’t even let a couple of phone calls distract me. (If you ever call me when I’m writing, pretty much all you’ll get out of me is a ‘Whaaa...? I can’t think right now. Sorry.’) And the clock was tick-tick-ticking and I had to leave the house in fifteen minutes, but I had so much stuff in my head that I hadn’t managed to get down yet. I was trying to write this tricky scene where I had to replicate the way people talk on TV (and no, I’m not going to tell you which people) and I couldn’t quite get it right. And still the clock ticked on. Finally, with one minute to spare I jotted down some random words at the end of the WIP – words that would hopefully remind me of what I was intending to do with that scene. Alas, looking back at them today I have no idea what the heck I was on about. Hey ho.

Does anyone else suffer from this? Perhaps we could form some kind of support group?

Awesome YA book you really should read:
The Giver, by Lois Lowry (which contains one of the most upsetting scenes I’ve read in a long time)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Website is go!

So, I pushed the big red button on my website. It's now out there for everyone to see, in all its non-singing, non-dancing, non-techie glory. You can check it out here if you like. I'd love to know what you think. I'll be adding more content sometime soon - hopefully a playlist or two. But in the meantime I plan to have a cup of tea as a reward for FINALLY getting it done.

In Entangled news, my lovely editor has given the go-ahead on the text, which means next stop Planet Copyedit. I bet it's only a matter of time before I start thinking 'Hmm, maybe that character would have worked better as a girl... perhaps that scene is totally unnecessary... and those aliens at the end are lame as anything.' In order to ward off such thoughts, I am going to spend the weekend not thinking about Entangled, I'm going to think about Exciting New Project instead. Details are on the website!

P.S. There are no aliens at the end of my book. But maybe there should be...?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Joyful things

These are the things that are making me happy right now:

1. Don't Stop Believin', by Journey. I wonder how many times I can listen to this song before I start to hate it. I'm guessing I'm on about 134 as of today.

2. My cats. They're being particularly cute today. Much headbutting of my hands while I'm trying to type.

3. The fact that my book has a title that people seem to like. 

4. Twitter. There are so many lovely, interesting people out there. I was a total Twitter sceptic, but now I have seen the light I am a true believer.

5. My weekend spent with my mum was particularly awesome.

6. This video from Ukraine's Got Talent. It's truly incredible.

Aargh, that's six things! I was going for five. Oh well, one extra joyful thing can't be bad, can it? So, what's bringing you joy at the moment? Please share!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

So what is Entangled all about then?

Grace meets enigmatic Ethan the night she’s planning to kill herself. The next morning she wakes up in a strange room with a table, chair, pens and paper. There’s nothing to do but write, and as she writes, Grace remembers the things she’s tried so hard to forget.

The hazy memories lead Grace into a dark place where friendship, heartbreak and betrayal tangle together...

My sympathy goes out to all writers who have to sum up their book in a couple of sentences. It's harder than it looks... I need to go and lie down now.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The name game

Thank you lovely people for your comments on the title. None of you said 'Entangled?Pah! Lamest title EVER!' And for that I am deeply grateful. I'm loving the new name, although trying not to get too attached (remembering that book titles can and do change right up until the last minute).

The naming process was a bit of a saga, involving many emails and a phone call or two between me and my editor. Potential titles were run past Sales & Marketing, Publicity etc, but none of them were quite hitting the spot - or they were hitting the spot with one person, but not with someone else. It's a very subjective business, this title malarkey.

While I was writing the book I had a working title that I knew was never ever going to stay the course. I'm too embarrassed to record it here, so I won't. The title I came up with when I was trying to snag an agent was Broken, which I talked about in vague terms here. We kept that title when the book went out on submission to publishers, but I was never really happy with it. It was okaaaaaay, but nothing special. And it was vaguely depressing. Entangled is much more intriguing and mysterious. And I like the way it sounds when I say it.

Now I'm off to dream about book covers. I spent Thursday and Friday looking for photos as reference for three of my characters. Now THAT was fun.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

My book has a title!

So, without further ado, here it is:


Eek. There it is. Written down. I really hope you like it! I do. Thoughts on a postcard please, but only if they're nice ones!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

No news is good news

Nothing much to report, except for the following:

1. I got up super-early on Monday morning and did some writing. In bed! This experiment was interesting, and may be repeated (sans cats). I only wrote a couple of paras, but they were decent ones. And it was more than I'd managed to do in the preceding 48 hours... oh the shame.

2. On Monday night I was treated to some spectacular baked cheese - camembert brought back from Paris, courtesy of my friend JNT. My, that was some good cheese. The calvados and cider jelly was pretty delish too.

3. I have been switching back and forth between my editor and writer hats rather a lot recently. I wish I could make one big hat that would work for both, so I don't get so confused. I keep forgetting if my sympathies are supposed to lie with the hard-done-by, drowning-in-work editors, or the hard-done-by, fragile (possibly slightly needy) writers. Being able to see both sides is supposed to be a good thing, right? PAH! Being reasonable is HARD.

4. I read Living Dead Girl, by Elizabeth Scott. Everyone should read it. You won't enjoy it, but you should read it anyway. Very disturbing.

5. I started reading Pretty Bad Things, by C.J. Skuse. I laughed out loud twice in the first two pages. Definitely a good sign.