Guest post: Author Crispina Kemp

Crispina Kemp has many talents. As well as an accomplished writer, prehistorian and photographer, she can now add self-published author to her resume, having just made her five book fantasy series – The Spinner’s Game – available for pre-order on Kindle.

Today, in the first in a series of posts, she tells of the series’ journey from initial draft to it’s published form.

To whet your appetite, I’ve included a summary of the first book, The Spinner’s Child.

Kerrid, a fraudulent seer born of a fisher-hunter clan, holds two beliefs. That in her psychic abilities and exuded light she is unique, and as Voice of the Lady she’s exempt from an arranged marriage. Both convictions are shattered when nine boats arrive from the east carrying the ancient Chief Uissinir who wants her for his wife, and five of his sons who emit similar lights and share tricks like her own. Forced to make an unwise judgement, a trail of death follows.

Questions plague her. Why does she dream of babies dying? Why does a voice in her head taunt her: Suffer the loss, suffer the pain? And what is she that no matter how lethal the wound, she does not die?

***

From First Draft to Amazon Kindle: How did I do it?

My first answer is… not quickly. But then, what began as the first draft of In the Beginning with 150,000 words ended as the five books of The Spinner’s Game with 550,000 words. But how was it done?

Determination and persistence, self-discipline and self-belief… bolstered by the invaluable support of fellow-bloggers, particularly those who, over the past seven years have become my firm friends. 

The most significant move was on 25th November 2017 when I announced my intention to publish Feast Fables (the evolved and swollen form of In the Beginning) as an e-book (See post). In the same way, participants of NaNoWriMo, in stating their plans to their cabin-mates, are more inclined to strive. I now had gone public; I had to keep to my word. Thus, began the monthly updates. 

From In the Beginning to the Feast Fables trilogy to The Spinner’s Game’s Five Books

For three years, starting December 2012, I posted weekly instalments of the Feast Fables trilogy on my Feast Fables site. Meanwhile, reading Jonathan Gottschall’s The Storytelling Animal, and John Yorke’s Into the Woods (A Five Act Journey into Story) had called into question my use of the three-act structure. When I applied the five-act structure to (what was still called) Feast Fables, lo! It all fell into place.

Although internally everything else hit the mark, the restructure, from three- to five-acts, required me to look again at the opening chapters and the endings. Once happy with that, the five books went out for critique and to my fantastic team of beta-readers. 

What’s in a Name?

In the Beginning had morphed to Feast Fables, and in the restructuring process Feast Fables became Asaric Tales (because protagonist Kerrid and her companions call themselves Asars, from asa, to burn). Now Asaric Tales became The Spinner’s Game, a name suggested by my critique-partner Lauren and two of my betas. It fits. It’s right. And it opens up the potential for many a play on words. Love it!

The Vital Role of the Critique-partner and Beta-readers

Writers when writing, have their focus on the story, and the crafting of it. Their attention is far less on the reader – except to ask does each chapter and scene begin with a hook, does each end with a tension unresolved? To put the book out to beta-readers can deliver a bit of a shock: how others see your precious baby! 

In my case, I soon learned that I’d taken the oft-given advice to “start late and end early” to the extreme. Many of the rewrites were because of this. And with each additional rewrite, the wordcount swelled.

Then there were the several occasions when I thought I had clarified a situation, a decision, a character’s action. But apparently not. More words, more rewrites. As I remember, only once was I told a scene was exposition-heavy. 

Yes, betas and critiquers are crucial in helping to perfect the told story.

And the rest of the story, as they say, is history; every step of the way recorded on my monthly updates. 

The Spinner Enters Amazon’s Web

The process wasn’t glitch-free. It took two days – full days – to upload the five e-books and five paperbacks with their covers, and to check them, and amend and upload again. And then to wait for the books to go live. 

The e-books – The Spinner’s Child, Lake of Dreams, The Pole That Threads, Lady of First Making, and The Spinner’s Sin – are available on Pre-Order. But Pre-Order isn’t available on paperbacks; those become available shortly after the publication date of Saturday 21st March. The easiest way to access is through my Author’s Page on Amazon.com. From there, a click on a book will take you to whatever your usual version of Amazon. Alternatively, crispinakemp.com/books has all the book descriptions and the Amazon links.

As a gift for those who Pre-Order, I’m offering a full-sized, full-colour map of Lake of Skulls (see image below). Just send me proof of pre-order (a screenshot would be ideal) via my Contact Me page and a copy will wing its way to you.

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Lessons in Novel Writing: Sat Nav or breadcrumbs?

When I was at school, pretty much my favourite thing was creative writing. Back then I wrote dark stories with plenty of ghosts, fairies, wicked stepmothers, vampires, monsters and ordinary kids like me being caught up in fantastical situations. Only my protagonist’s use of a magic amulet/sword/potion (supplied by a mysterious stranger, of course) or their own untapped abilities would win the day.

Many of those stories finished along the lines of

And they were never heard of again…

My endings have (hopefully) improved, but otherwise I pretty much write about the same things. Love a ghost story, would write vampires but they’re a bit ‘done’ and though I might not employ magic potions, I still recognise that my heroes and heroines – even if they aren’t a magical Chosen One – should find qualities within themselves to achieve their goals.

One major thing that has changed is my ability to plan.

When I wrote those childhood stories, and even when I began writing novels, my enthusiasm for an idea would have me rushing to my exercise book/keyboard, hammering out scenes in the order they appeared in my head, plucking characters from the air, smushing the whole thing together like play dough, hoping it would stick together.

That worked when I was a kid. Or at least I was happy enough with the results. As an adult? Not so much.

With my first book (my first three in fact, all unpublished) I returned to the same, tried and tested method of sitting in front of a screen and emptying my brains. The result had some pleasing moments… and flat, aimless characters, meandering plots and an end product as loose as Nana’s knitting.

Then I began to write for a women’s magazine and funnily enough, the editors required rather more than

Well, there’s this girl and I’m thinking maybe she falls in love and does some other stuff – probably to do with horses or goats – then she argues with the guy cos he does something stupid, but then he kisses her…

No. Editors want the first part of a proposed serial, they want character bios. Most of all, they want a synopsis.

Now, if you’re like me, just the mention of the S word will have you scuttling into the corner with a blanket over your head.

But once I’d dragged my inner writer kicking and weeping to the task, I actually found something interesting. A synopsis makes me focus on the shape of the story, its highs, its lows, the start, the resolution. It helps me know whether the idea is going to hang together and whether I can tell the story I want in the required word count.

It’s a cliche, but a synopsis is like having a Sat Nav in your car. You might take a different turning here and there, but if you have one – a good one – it makes it a heck of a lot harder to get lost.

So on my current journey through the realms of Novel (fifth go and yes, still unpublished), I’m taking a Sat Nav with me and not just relying on a trail of breadcrumbs to get me home.

How about you? Do you plan before you write or just go boldly where your creativity takes you?

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.

Older writer? Smile, your time may yet come

 

When I read those author interviews, you know the ones,

the ones where the successful writer claims they ‘always knew they were going to write’, that they wrote their first word before they were out of nappies, their first short story before their first spoken word, their first novel before leaving junior school – those interviews – I read them with a mixture of resentment and admiration.

Admiration because anyone who is together enough to have a life plan at a young age is truly blessed and resentment because I … didn’t.

I drifted through school, got kicked out of college, fell into retail (hairdressing, measuring old ladies for corsets, selling extra strong cider in an off licence, waiting tables in a cafe that closed a week after I started) … I was hopeless.

When asked what I wanted to do when I grew up I shrugged. Drift, drift, drift …

Floristry came along and was a reliable way to earn a little money, but it was only after I put myself through a degree and the studying was over that a hole opened in my life that needed to be filled.

And I filled it with an old love – writing. And I realised – I had found it. I’d found my one, true love. 

Nine years and a LOT of writing later, I’m starting to feel vaguely competent. I’m not sure if I’ve completed Malcolm Gladwell’s fabled 10,000 hours yet, but I don’t think I’m that far off and there are days when I feel I’m at a publishable standard.

But at 48, have I left it too late for a career in writing?

If you’re an older writer like me take heart from this article in Author’s Publish Magazine.

There maybe some hope for us yet.