Monday, May 31, 2010

Monday Miscellany

1. Tis Bank Holiday Monday on this fair isle, which makes me all kinds of happy.

2. RSI is still ouchy, which means I haven't been able to keep up with my blog-reading. This makes me UNhappy. If you've come across any blog posts I really REALLY shouldn't miss, please let me know.

3. I read Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O'Brien and discovered (much to my surprise) that he also wrote Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (awesome book I read in primary school). I also discovered tht Z was completed by O'Brien's wife and daughter after his death. Not sure how I'd feel about my family completing a book of mine. May have to start keeping detailed notes, just in case. But what if they get it WRONG?! I'll be most upset, albeit dead. Anyhoo, if you haven't read Z for Zachariah, check it out - Mr O'Brien et al did a very fine job indeed.

4. I did my first ever writing-in-a-cafe session this weekend. I wasn't convinced it would be for me, but I am a total convert. I LOVED it. There was ginger beer and fairy cakes and decent music and people to watch and a window to look out of. And, oh, nearly forgot, the flippin' Children's Laureate, Anthony Browne. Now that has to be some kind of sign, right?

5. I'm reading The Ask and the Answer  by Patrick Ness. I have no words to describe how good it is. No words. Suffice to say, he makes me feel things that other writers just... don't.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Interview with Nicola Morgan

Today is WASTED day. Don't worry, I haven't had too much to drink, I promise. Nope, Nicola Morgan has dropped in to say hello, as part of her blog tour for her YA book WASTED.

Here's a little synopsis from Amazon:

Jack worships luck and decides his actions by the flip of a coin. No risk is too great if the coin demands it. Luck brings him Jess, a beautiful singer who will change his life. But Jack’s luck is running out, and soon the stakes are high. As chance and choice unravel, the risks of Jack’s game become terrifyingly clear. An evening of heady recklessness, and suddenly a life hangs in the balance, decided by the toss of a coin. In the end, it is the reader who must choose whether to spin that coin and determine: life or death.

Here's my interview with Nicola. Enjoy!

First of all, let me say that I LOVED everything about Wasted, especially (but by no means limited to!) the themes, the characters and the voice. The voice is very special, and I found it weirdly unsettling. Could you tell us a little bit about it, and how you chose to tell the story from that particular angle?
The voice is unsettling, isn’t it? It was the biggest risk I took in the book, because an unusual voice can fall flat on its face. I don’t know if other authors are the same, but I don’t exactly “choose” the voice – it’s the bit that just comes. Once I’ve written a couple of pages and get a feel for the voice, then I can control it, but if the voice isn’t right I can’t get stuck into the story at all. So, on the one hand for me voice is absolutely crucial, but on the other hand it starts by being outside my control. It feels as though that’s the inspiration but also the bit where I have to get “into the zone”. The choice that I made was to tell the story through a risky third-person, present tense, omniscient narrator. I needed it to be a godlike being looking down and being cynical and dispassionate about events on earth. If anyone thinks it’s a patronising voice, that’s deliberate in a way because the godlike narrator IS patronising to all of us mere mortals.

I don't mind admitting that WASTED has made me a little bit obsessed with the idea of chance, and why things happen, and how easily they could have NOT happened if things had been even slightly different. Is this an idea you've had for a long time? Is it something you think about a lot in your own life?
Yes and yes! I have been thinking like this for about 15 years, noticing things that easily might not have happened and things that could have been so much worse. We’ve all had incidents in our lives which very very easily might not have happened – for example our own births and conception – and these things fascinate me. Actually, because so many people are telling me that reading Wasted has started to make them obsess about such thoughts, I’m thinking about it even more. The book has changed me.

Now, the pigeon incident! As soon as I read that scene, I thought 'This MUST have happened to Nicola in real life!' It's just too weird. Without giving anything away, could you tell us about that scene and whether it was inspired by real life?
Yes again! Twice within a few months, a pigeon has smashed right through my study window while I’ve been in the room. I can tell you that it is VERY shocking – for a moment you think there’s been an explosion. Anyway, the second time was rather extraordinary because I was sitting there trying to think of something that could happen in Wasted which would make one of the characters be in a certain place a few minutes earlier or later. It needed to be a completely random, unpredictable event. And at that moment the pigeon smashed through the window. Well, I couldn’t not use it, could I?!

The ending is very clever indeed - I wish I'd thought of it! Did you plan to end the story that way all along? Or was it a flash of genius at the end there?
Thank you! I always knew there’d be the coin-flip ending. And I knew that someone’s life would be in the balance. I knew part of the situation. But I didn’t know who it would be or what would have put him/her in that situation. And what I really didn’t know until I wrote it, was exactly what difference the two endings would make to the various characters. What I really like about how it turns out is that although one is life and one is death, it’s much more complicated and subtle than that. The endings taught me a lot about life and grief and happiness, actually.

Did you usually plot your books before you start writing? Or are you more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants sort of gal?
Definitely the latter! I can’t plot in advance for the life of me. I tend to have a few scenes strongly envisaged, and to know what I want the book to feel like; then it’s a matter of seeing where the characters take me. It’s more fun that way! (But scary…)

Jack and Jess are musical bods. Did you listen to any particular music when you were writing WASTED?
Each of my novels is written to a different small set of soundtracks, which I tend to play over and over. For Wasted, it was the Kaiser Chiefs, Counting Crows and Coldplay’s Viva La Vida. Oh and Mark Knopfler’s Get Lucky. The Passionflower Massacre (which I recommend to anyone who likes Wasted) was written to REM.

There's an awesome cat in WASTED (big up to Spike!)... Are you a cat person or a dog person, or (gasp!) BOTH?!
Both! We have a dog – soft yellow Labrador – at the moment, but I’ve had four cats, all black like Spike. I like cats and dogs equally and for different reasons. I love Spike, really love him. He’s warm and toasty, independent and has no hang-ups. I love how many people have noticed him and like him. He’s running a close second to Jess in the poll of favourite characters on my Wasted blog!

I have black cats too! They rule.
How much chance or luck do you think is involved in getting published?
The luck comes in two ways only: having the talent in the first place and stumbling upon a great idea for a story. If you “get lucky” by having a chance meeting that catapults you to publication more quickly than it would have done, this is not, in my view, simple luck. First, if your book isn’t good enough, no amount of lucky meetings will help; second, that sort of “luck” comes about through you making good decisions about behaviour, putting yourself in the right place, creating opportunities. So, actually, you don’t need any luck at all. Talent and hard work are all you need. And the right idea for a book. Put it this way, if you throw dice often enough you’ll get a double six – that’s not luck: it’s mechanics.

Lastly, and I'm scared to even ask this question... chocolate or cheese? *covers head with hands and runs away*
Hmm, tricky one, surprisingly! I am a big cheese lover – the stinkier the better, although actually I hate that one called Stinking Bishop. Gorgonzola is fab, mmm, all oozy and creamy. Would I completely destroy my reputation if I said that, if I HAD to live without one, chocolate would be the one that would have to go? I can’t believe I said that!!

Oh my God! I can't believe it! A renowned chocolate-lover choosing CHEESE! This has made me so happy. Thanks for answering my questions, Nicola. Dear readers, please go and buy WASTED immediately. You won't regret it.
GREAT questions, Cat - thank you!!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Interruption to normal blogging service

Apologies for not posting at the weekend. I have a really good excuse though: I was on a very strict, self-imposed computer ban. Unfortunately the dreaded RSI has reared its ugly head once more, so I'm going to have to be very careful with my computer use for the foreseeable future.

The pain came on about three weeks ago, but I ignored it (NB if this happens to you, PLEASE don't ignore it. This is what idiots do). Last week it got worse and worse until I reached breaking point on Friday. I didn't actually break, but I spent Friday moping round the office, unable to sit at my desk for more then ten minutes without wanting to cry from the pain. I bailed on my fun Friday night plans and went home and moped some more.

So what I'm saying is, if I don't blog regularly in the coming weeks, don't worry! I'm recuperating (hopefully!). I've already got a post scheduled for Thursday for Nicola Morgan's blog tour, so please do stop by.

Hope you're all fine and dandy out there.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Last chance saloon

For the past week or so I have been deep in Proofreading Purgatory. The page proofs for Entangled arrived. This means the manuscript has been typeset and is now laid out like a real, live (OK, not technically 'live') book. It's very cool to see your words looking so book-like, and definitely makes the whole Oh-my-God-I'm-getting-a-book-published thing seem more real.

Reading Entangled for the thousandth time was an interesting experience. And by 'interesting', I mean 'anxiety-inducing'. This was my last chance to spot mistakes, woeful word choices, unnecessary sentences. My red pen was put to good use, and I started off putting little post-its at the top of each page where I wanted something changed. By the time I'd reached the end of the book, I'd run out of post-its (three times), and realized it would have perhaps been more sensible to post-it the pages I DIDN'T want changed. Ho hum.

The experience caused the following facial expressions/actions:

1. Appreciative nodding (on reading a few of my favourite bits)
2. Wincing (A LOT of wincing. This was when the red pen did its finest work)
3. Full-on cringing (only a couple of times, but WHY DIDN'T I NOTICE THESE BITS BEFORE?! WHY DID NO-ONE TELL ME?! Maybe they were too embarrassed)
4. Eyebrow-raising (for no particular reason. It's just something I do)
5. Crying a little bit (there are sad bits in my book. They still make me cry, which is a good thing, right?)

All in all, a pretty draining experience. I have no doubt that if I started reading it again today, the red pen would be itching to do its thing. I don't think I will ever be able to read this book without wanting to change something. Other writers tell me this is 100% normal, so that's a relief. I suppose that's partly why we keep writing - to make the next book better than the last one.

Next stage: bound proofs/ARCs...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Bloggers go wild in Waterstone's

Yesterday I met up with lots of lovely YA book bloggers in Waterstone's Piccadilly. This little gathering was arranged by Jo at Once Upon a Bookcase. It was heaps of fun - man, I love talking to booky people. They're my very favourite kind of people. I got to meet some peeps I've been talking to online for a while, and some new folk who I'll no doubt be talking to a lot in future.

I bought some books even though I was under a strict book-buying ban. I just couldn't help myself... the excitement was infectious. The depth of YA knowledge in the group was IMPRESSIVE. Like some kind of YA dream team.

I left Waterstone's with renewed enthusiasm for books and writing and everything. I didn't even mind that I was going home to face The Neverending Proofread of Entangled.

So the moral of this story is... booky people RULE. Non-booky people: you have a lot to live up to.

Right... back to the proofread (and deleting yet more rogue 'justs').

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Interview with my agent!

A stellar addition to my occasional interview series this week. It's Marvellous Victoria (aka Victoria Birkett of the Miles Stott Children's Literary Agency). My agent! Yay!

So how did you get into this agenting business? An exciting opportunity to join a unique agency:  who'd say no?  Miles Stott Children's Literary Agency is expanding, constantly on the look out for the most talented authors.  I'm delighted to join the search, bringing over 20 years' experience of working in children's publishing.

What’s the best thing about your job? The joy of reading a submission and finding myself thinking 'This is good, this is very good'.

d the worst? Telling a first time author that it is a near miss. Top three children’s books of all time?   Three I had confiscated for reading them under the desk at school:  The Silver Sword, Carrie's War and Charlotte Sometimes.  Certainly three which made an impact on me as a young reader.  Best of all time? We should each have our own.  

What are some of the most common slushpile mistakes you see?
Many authors come to us through the submission route, so it is important to us.  We use our website to offer advice about writing and preparing to submit a project. We ask for background information about the author, the first three chapters and a synopsis. Writers sometimes include what they think are the best, most action-filled chapters.  We receive a high number of submissions so have little time to try to make sense of chapters 5, 12 and 19.  And I've taken against the word 'atop'... 'atop the mountain', 'atop the table'. It suggests an author is trying too hard.

(Note to self: delete all instances of 'atop' from current manuscript.) If you could give aspiring writers one piece of advice, what would it be? Read. Read and understand what children love to read.  Read, not to copy, to see yourself in context.  At the very least it will help aspiring authors to understand our response to their work.

Are you looking for anything in particular at the moment? We are always looking for talented authors across the whole children's age-range, though we don't represent authors of non-fiction or poetry.  Publishers are looking particularly for fiction for 8 - 12 year olds but I would not limit my search and there are very enthusiastic YA editors with greats lists to sustain.

Any predictions for the Next Big Thing? No!!  The joy of being an agent is that we're looking for authors with careers to launch or nurture.  It is very important that we know what is happening in the market, and of course we use that information in our work with authors, but I'm looking for storytellers with a unique voice, whatever the genre.

Um... I’m curious to know exactly what it was you saw in ENTANGLED that led to me becoming your client? In Entangled and in you, Cat Clarke...  In Entangled, a voice.  A voice which your publisher summed up so well: 'I found ENTANGLED compelling and was very impressed with Cat’s fresh, direct voice that I think speaks so well to teenage girls.’ Quercus.  Also, a plot which makes us turn the page. Plus a second novel at concept stage and sounding great.  In you, Cat Clarke... a lover of YA fiction who'll make a mark in that world alongside the authors you read, signing sessions you attend, blogs you follow and Twitters you tweet.    

 Aw, thanks! *blushes* And finally, the biggest question of all: chocolate or cheese? After a weekend of children's birthday parties and 3 chocolate cakes, it has to be cheese. 

Yes! Cheese wins yet again. All is well in the world. Thanks Marvellous Victoria!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Crappy week ends on a high

This week has been RUBBISH and ACK and BOBBINS. But I'll say one thing for it - it ended well. Two things happened within the space of 24 hours that did much to wash away the bobbinsness (bobbinity?) of the previous days:

1. I met Michael Rosen. And talked to him and everything! The man is a legend, pure and simple. Oh, and he's also a genius. Scarily clever.

So that was good, hanging with a former Children's Laureate. And then Friday happened. And an email appeared in my inbox. The email had an attachment, and the attachment was...

2. MY BOOK COVER! Well, an early version of my book cover. There will be more versions to see - there are almost always more verions to see. But this version is... beautiful! Can't say much more at the mo (sorry!), but I'm loving the way it's going. Yay Quercus!

I feel I must confess that I was very, very, VERY nervous about seeing the cover. Not because I thought that Quercus wouldn't do a good job, but because I know me. Not only am I picky when it comes to covers anyway, but in my day job I am an editor. This means that I spend a good deal of time looking at cover designs and commenting on them. And when I say 'commenting on them', this can mean 'trying to find a nice way of saying "Go back to the drawingboard"'. Of course the designers I work with are exceptionally talented, so this is a rare occurence. But still, it happens (sometimes due to a poor briefing from the editor... ahem).

I can't tell you how relieved I am that opening up that email attachment caused me to nod in appreciation and smile (then get a little bit shaky and emotional), rather than make me get all editorial and super-critical.

Seeing your name on a book cover (even though it's not final) is very, very special. I can't even begin to imagine how I'll feel when I have the actual, real book in my hands. In fact, I've come over all peculiar just thinking about it. Must go and have a cuppa.

Happy Saturday to you all!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Cry me a river

Yesterday was a slowwwwww writing day. I thought I would NEVER finish writing a certain scene, and it wasn't even a particularly interesting scene either. But I persevered, and little by little, I got there. And my characters started talking about something I hadn't expected them to talk about - not yet anyway. And the opening notes of a song came on my playlist and I CRIED! 

Was it the song? Was it the scene? Was it a combination of the two? (I strongly suspect the latter.) Whatever it was, it reinvigorated me. It made me want to keep writing. So I listened to the song again. And again. And again. I can be obsessive like that. And the words started to flow... at last.

'What's the song?' I hear you cry. My Heart Will Go On, by Celine Dion, perhaps?
Nope. It's this song, recommended to me by musical guru Jenny at Wondrous Reads. Please enjoy.

Now I'm officially on the lookout for songs that make people cry. Recommendations please!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

I love rain

It's completely tipping it down this morning, and I couldn't be happier about it. Bank Holiday weekend usually means rain, but I had a horrible feeling that this time there would be SUN and WARMTH and LOUD PEOPLE IN THE GARDEN. But not today! Thank you, Mother Nature! You knew I had to write today, didn't you? And you've probably heard me bitching and moaning about being stuck indoors for the past few weekends, while everyone else in the world (my noisy neighbours in particular) were outside enjoying themselves.

I am in such a good mood that I sang as I prepared my breakfast (Nina Simone, in case you're interested). Tra la la!

Better get writing pronto, cos I've only got until 3.30. That's when Real People arrive to kill zombies and stuff.

What are you doing today? Writing? Procrastinating? Living your life?