Lessons in novel writing: panning for gold in the rubble of rejection

Image: Pixabay

Writing novels is a strange way to spend your life.

You take months (in my case, years) working alone on a project then there comes a point – if you want your baby to develop, to grow and not remain swaddled to your over-protective breast forever – when you must push what you’ve made into the world and watch from a safe distance to see if it will fall on its face or walk, perhaps even run.

But what if it manages to both face plant and saunter cockily round the block on the same day?

A few weeks ago, I learned I’d come second in a Writing Magazine competition (more on that nearer publication day). My prize was either a modest amount of cash or a critique of 9,000 words.

Now, as I’m a writer with heaps of artistic integrity and a yearning to polish my craft until I can see my squadgy face in it, I opted for a critique of my Urban Fantasy novel opening.

On Tuesday the critique popped up in my inbox and I avoided reading it for three days.

This was my Schrödinger’s cat moment. I left the email unopened for the same reason it takes me weeks to check the numbers on a lottery ticket – if I don’t look, the unread critique/lottery ticket has the potential to be at once a marvellous review of my talent/worth millions and a hideous rip in my self-esteem/a worthless scrap of paper heading for the recycling bin.

Better not to know, right?

Except of course, wrong. I had to know because otherwise what’s the point in any of it? I opened the document …

And read the most delightful feedback I’ve had in a long while. The opening was engaging, the reader said, the characters realistic and sympathetic. My descriptions were good. I create a sense of mystery and the only thing that she truly found disappointing was not being able to read more.

Now, I’m British. Pretty reserved generally.

I tell you, I was dancing round the kitchen in my slippers after reading that. I fist bumped the air and I’ve never fist bumped anything in my life before.

Filled with renewed self-confidence, I sent a (very polite) follow up email to an agent I sent my chapters to back in August and submitted to three new ones. This could be it. If a professional reader at the UK’s bestselling writing magazine thinks my story has promise, it could be the vehicle that sees me become a published novelist, right?

Towards the end of the afternoon, another email popped into my inbox. From the agent I’d sent my (very polite) follow up to.

After apologising for taking so long to get back to me, she took around a page to say:

  • That no publishers want Urban Fantasy just now.
  • That the perspective in the first scene was confusing.
  • That the premise was too well-trodden to grab her interest.
  • Basically, that she didn’t think the story was strong enough to sell.

At this point there was not another euphoric little dance around the kitchen. A professional had now told me my story was unoriginal, not good enough to warrant a read in full.

A black hole, a nobbly Hell especially for writers would surely now open up in the lino and swallow me whole. Tiny demons armed with nothing but sharpened quills, reading extracts from Fifty Shades of Grey would poke my eyeballs for all eternity, whispering, If E.L.James can get published, why can’t you?

Of course, this didn’t happen.

Because she also:

  • Said the mystery at the heart of my story was a strong one.
  • Said I wrote well.
  • Actually gave me a personal response, took time to read my submission carefully and gave me guidance on how to improve. And anyone who’s been down the submission route will know that getting any kind of personal response feels like a small win.

So, what have I taken from yesterday?

That writing is utterly subjective. That what one professional enjoys another will not.

That I need to be more adventurous with my story telling, not just thinking outside the box, but climbing out of the box – hell, I just need to burn the bloody box!

And that I can write. I really can.

And for now, that’s all the speck of gold I need to keep me panning for more.

***

NB For my dear, generous beta readers, Maureen, Chris, Jane, Karen, Sammi, Jane and Lauren, I’m not giving up on finding Caro and Neil a home just yet. And whatever the story’s merits, you’ve helped make it that way. Many thanks again, all of you.

State of Denial: Iain Kelly’s new novel for these ‘Interesting Times’

There’s an old Chinese curse that wishes the unlucky recipient to

Live in interesting times

Now, no one – be they Brexiter, Remainer, environmentalist, climate change denier (Donald Trump, I suspect, might be all of the above, depending on what time of night he’s tweeting and how much cheese he ate before he snuggled up in his jammies) – could say the early 21st century isn’t just that

Interesting.

We have an American President who spills his scrambled brains in public at any time of day or night, who slams a free press and pulls his country back from environmental reforms at a moment of global catastrophe.

We have a British Prime Minister who behaves like a despot, illegally closing parliament when it doesn’t agree with his policies, sacking long time supporters when they do the same, is determined to drag the country towards an economic abyss because his backers have gambled big on a no deal Brexit.

We have a sixteen year old girl with Aspergers talking more sense, being a better leader to a generation than a whole room full of squirming, suited, self-serving politicians …

Interesting times indeed.

Perhaps this is why Iain Kelly’s State novels resonate so deeply.

Set in a world post huge environmental collapse, in an undemocratic state that controls every aspect of peoples lives from what they eat to how they spend their time and what medication they can take.

And yet, even here, revolution smoulders.

State of Denial (the second of Iain’s State Trilogy) is out today.

It is election time in The State, the citizens prepare to vote. A journalist from the Capital City, Maxine Aubert, heads north to report on growing resistance to the powerful ruling Party. Ex-police detective Danny Samson returns to the City he once fled, leaving behind a new found peace in the wilderness. Together Max and Danny become entangled in a burgeoning opposition movement with links to Danny’s past. Soon they learn the ruling Party will do whatever it takes to remain in power, and one life is all it takes to spark a revolution.

A novel for our interesting times.

Here’s a link to Iain’s site.

And if you’d like to read a previous interview I had with Iain on the release of the first State novel – A Justified State – see here.

Call for Urban Fantasy beta readers … tentatively

 

The Shambles, York, Tudor buildings
Image : Pixabay

 

Having finally finished the first draft/second draft/alpha read rewrite of my work in progress – The Restless Dead – I’m now searching for some lovely people who enjoy fantasy fiction to be my beta readers.

If you’re interested in being a beta reader, here are some things you should know … 

The book is Urban Fantasy, not High Fantasy. There are no swords and mages, no orcs or elves. It’s set in the present, in real towns in the UK. Supernatural things occur, and a lot of them, but think more Neil Gaiman or Ben Aaronovitch than JRR Tolkien or George RR Martin.

The book is around 300 pages long.

There will be a questionnaire to fill in. I’m working on it now and will try not to make it too onerous! Though, if you’re used to sending critiques, want to write your own notes and are happy to cover the points I raise, that’s fine too.

Ideally, the process will last no further than Christmas. Though that’s open to discussion, of course – you all have other stuff to do!

This book is based in the UK. One of the main ‘characters’ in the book is the city of York, UK (see above!). The settings are English, the language is ‘English’ English, with English phrases and references.

Now, on to the fun bit …

I loved writing this book! I loved getting to know the characters – good, bad and utterly demonic – and I hope that comes across. I want reading it to be enjoyable too. I want the readers to be caught up in every the running, screaming, drunken, creepy scene.

And if you’re still there, here’s the blurb to give you a flavour of the beast …

Thirty-five-year-old Neil sees ghosts. Or at least the last few minutes of an individual’s life, repeated over and over. Death fills every street he walks along, every home he enters. No wonder he lives a reclusive life alone in his bedsit watching Miss Marple reruns and eating cheese puffs. 
Then one day an old friend – Caro – comes knocking, telling Neil her brother is dead. The police say it’s suicide. She says it isn’t. Luckily, she knows someone who can tell her if she’s right … 
Can Neil solve the mystery, evade Victorian psychopaths, shape shifting demons and save the world from an invasion of the Restless Dead? 

Interested? Want to know more? Then pop me an email. You’ll find the address by clicking the ‘hamburger’ symbol up the top of the screen. My email is in ‘view full profile’ under my terrifying photograph! Look forward to hearing from you.