Thursday, 6 September 2018

Giving and Receiving Critique: A few Dos and Don’ts

Eventually you will reach a point in your writing journey where you expose your words to the world. Perhaps you have joined a writers group or online critique club. Either way, giving and receiving feedback is essential if you wish to continue to learn and improve. So here are a few tips for anyone about to take this step.

Giving Critique: 

Critiquing other people’s work is one of the best ways to learn the craft. When you start to see issues in other’s work and the possible solutions it becomes easier to spot the same problems in your own work.

It may feel daunting, you may not feel qualified, but all insights can be helpful to an author. So don’t be afraid and here are a few tips to help you on your way.

Do

  • Do try to find something positive to say, even if the writing is awful there will be something good that you can point out. 
  • Do give examples to clarify what you mean. For example if your feel something is overwritten give an example of what you understand by overwritten.
  • Be honest about what doesn’t work for you. Don’t just say nice things because you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. This rather defeats the point of a critique.
  • Do make suggestions if you can see how something might be improved.
  • Do point out what doesn’t work for you, even if you can’t quite put your finger on why. 


Don’t

  • Don’t make it personal. Keep your critique purely to the writing.
  • Don’t try to rewrite. Leave that to the author.
  • Don’t be overly negative or discouraging. Remember that authors are sensitive creatures.
  • Don’t concentrate solely on the minutiae. The big picture stuff is often more important.
  • Don’t get drawn into an argument if the author gets defensive.
  • Don’t expect the author to act on your suggestions. It’s their work after all.
  • Don’t criticise or argue with other critiques. Remember that all feedback is subjective and what one person loves another may hate.


Receiving Critique: 

Receiving critique can terrifying at first. It’s easy to take it personally. It’s easy to get upset. So here are a few dos and don’ts to help you keep your cool the first time you hear that your writing is maybe not as perfect as you hoped.

Do

  • Do thank them for taking the time and trouble to critique your work.
  • Take some time to think about the feedback, even if initially you don’t agree with it. This is particularly true if more than one person raises the same point.
  • Do keep your earlier drafts. You may decide that what has been suggested doesn’t work and wish to return to your earlier version
  • Do keep an open mind. 
  • Do get feedback from more than one person. Look as where the feedback differs as well as where it agrees. 


Don’t

  • Don’t take it personally. The critiquer is commenting on your writing. Not you.
  • Don’t argue with your critiquer, even if it’s obvious they’ve completely misunderstood what you are trying to say. Instead try to think about why they might have misinterpreted your words.
  • Don’t make every change suggested. It’s your work. Only act on the feedback that resonates with you and you feel makes your work stronger.
  • Don’t completely ignore negative feedback simply because it’s not what you want to hear. It may be what you need to hear.


Happy Critiquing.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

A Few Thrilling Reviews.

I’ve been reading quite a few thrillers recently and here is a roundup of some of the more memorable ones. I’m always looking for more so please leave your recommendations in the comments below.

Out of the Ice by Ann Turner

Environmental scientist Laura is sent to a remote Antarctic island to carry out an assessment of an abandoned whaling station. The abandoned village is in an exclusion zone, but Laura soon starts to suspect that someone else has been here. Something is badly amiss – or is a long tour of duty in Antarctica starting to get to her?

I was drawn to this book by the setting – having spent time in the Arctic myself I was intrigued to read something set on the ice at the other end of the Earth. This certainly was the best thing about this book. The descriptions of the abandoned whaling station and the Antarctic wildlife were so vivid that I could have been there myself. There was plenty of suspense building and I was as curious as Laura for some answers. However I did feel that this rather lost its way when the action moved on from Antarctica and overall left me feeling disappointed.

Out of the Ice at Amazon UK


The Last One by Alexandra Olivia

Zoo is at a crossroads in her life, looking for a bit of escapism. So she agrees to take part in a reality TV show called “In The Dark”. She, and eleven other contestants take on a series of survival tasks, deep in the forest. But soon the game takes a sinister turn. What is real and what is staged? Zoo really might be “In the dark”.

I really enjoyed this book. It was very different from a lot of the thrillers I have read recently. Zoo is a strong character – she has to be considering the circumstances, and as the story unfolds it becomes increasingly clear to the reader that things are not quite what Zoo thinks they are. Here the unreliable narrator is handled well, whilst the suspense never lets up. Psychological drama at its best. I’ll be looking out for more from this author.

The Last One at Amazon UK


The One by John Marrs

A simple mouth swab and a DNA test will reveal the one person you are genetically matched with. It sounds so easy – and a bit too perfect. Millions have taken the test, but the results are not always what you expect and the consequences can be life changing, as five more people discover in this clever high concept thriller.

I liked this book for its sheer originality. It was perhaps a little predictable in places, but all in all a thoroughly enjoyable read. It raises some serious questions about relationships? Is there such a thing as ‘The One’ or is love what we make of it? And of course, with anything like this comes power, and that can be open to abuse. Great suff!

The One at Amazon UK


Why Did You Lie by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Three seemingly disconnected stories – a journalist on the trail of a cold suicide case, a family returning home to find their house in disarray and four strangers stranded on a windswept rock in the middle of the ocean. And yet these stories have one thing in common – they all lied.

This is the intriguing premise of this cleverly structured novel, you know that these different setups must somehow be connected and half the fun is in trying to second guess the author and work out exactly what this connection might be. I can’t say any more because I don’t want to give anything away. Why did you Lie was my first foray into Icelandic Noir. I’ll definitely be looking out for more.

Why Did You Lie at Amazon UK


The Other Twin by L V Hay

Poppy returns home to Brighton when her sister India falls to her death unexpectedly. Was it suicide? Poppy thinks not. But as she delves deeper into India’s life she also has to face the ghosts of her own past.

I was drawn to this book as much by the setting as by the premise. I don’t really know Brighton but in the pages of this book it came alive for me. The characters are interesting and their interrelationships well drawn. Poppy is flawed and although I didn’t really relate to her I found her compelling. There were lots of unexpected twists and turns. It certainly kept me guessing.

The Other Twin at Amazon UK

Friday, 1 June 2018

Shortlisting!

Very excited that my latest novel, an adult thriller, has been shorlisted for the Deviant Minds Writing Prize run by Corvus Books and AM Heath. I don't expect to win but I'm thrilled to have got this far.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Writers as Readers

Most writers are also avid readers, and we all tend to write in the genres we love to read. There are a number of clear advantages for reading widely in the genre you are writing and I’ve outlines a few of these below:

1. Understanding the market. It is good to get a feel for what is selling and what your potential audience enjoys reading. This will give you confidence that you are on the right track.

2. Knowing what’s gone before. If you’ve read widely in a genre you’re far less likely to end up rehashing something that came out ten or twenty years before. You will have a better sense of what makes your own work unique, as well as being able to recognise your influences.

3. Getting the tone and pace right. For children’s books this is particularly important, the complexity of language required differs depending on the age of your reader, but for all genres it is important to have an idea of how the books are paced and structured. If there are particular conventions then it’s a good idea to adhere to them as far as possible.

4. Studying the craft. It is always useful to see how other authors handle different aspects of the craft. How they refine their descriptions, how they bring in the back story etc. There is always something to be learned.

5. Market positioning. This is useful for when you come to pitch your book – which recent titles would it sit next to on the bookshop shelves? Which books would share a common readership with your own?

So now that I’m writing thrillers I’ve been reading thrillers, for all the reasons outlined above. Some I’ve really enjoyed. Others not so much. I’ll shortly be posting a few reviews, so watch this space.

Friday, 27 April 2018

Guest: Children's Author Cherry Cobb

Today's guest is Cherry Cobb. Her debut children's novel, Will's War, has just been published by Candy Jar.


Will is an ordinary boy who likes to build Lego models, and play with his dog Rollo. But after a stupid row with his mum he ends up at his grandad’s house, where he discovers an old air raid shelter. Will steps inside to investigate, but when he comes out he is not in his grandad’s garden but in Second World War London.
How will he get back?

Hello Cherry, Welcome to the Scribbling Sea Serpent and congratulations on publication of your debut children's novel, Wills War. 

It’s lovely to be here, thank you for inviting me and giving me the opportunity to talk about my book.

To start, please tell us a bit about your new book.

Will is an 11 year old boy who finds an air raid shelter at the bottom of his granddad’s garden, he goes inside to investigate and is transported to WWII London in the middle of an air raid. His mission is to get back home, but before he can he finds himself evacuated to the country.

Tell us a bit more about the abandoned village that inspired Will’s story.

I have always been interested in WW2 and living close to Dorset I was able to visit Tyneham Village. It is a ghost village abandoned in 1943 during the Second World War. The church and the schoolroom are still standing. It feels like the place time forgot, a great place for imagination and inspiration. I have also been to various museums where you can go into an Anderson shelter. Where families spent many hours together often during the night. You get a feeling of just how hard life was during the war. Both places inspired me to put pen to paper, I just started thinking What if?



Being transported back in time must have been quite a shock. Can you give us some examples of the things Will found it hardest to relate to?

There was lots of things Will found difficult, from the devastation in the streets to the blackouts and having to take a gas mask everywhere. He also hated the air raids and was amazed to find that people could sleep through them. Will was also astonished by the lack of common appliances in homes such as a toaster or a television.

Setting a story during WW2 must have involved a lot of research. What was the most unusual or surprising thing you discovered? 

I really enjoyed the research and learnt a lot. As a mother myself I was drawn to the information around Operation Pied Piper on the 1st of September 1939 when the Government decided to evacuate civilians from the cities. At London’s main stations a train left for the country every 9 minutes for 9 hours. In total 1 .5 million people were evacuated in 3 days.

If I suddenly found myself transported back in time into the middle of an air raid what advice would you give me? 

Well firstly to take cover as quickly as possible, and wait for the all clear. Secondly, to join in with an activity such as a singsong, to boost morale and keep fear at bay. During the raids people would play cards or other games, or read if the light was good enough. People suffered air raids for many years and had to find ways of combating boredom and anxiety on a daily basis.

What was your journey to publication like?

I bought a copy of the Children’s Writers and Artists yearbook and sent off the first three chapters and a synopsis of Will’s War to various publishers that I thought might be interested in the book. I then waited as you do, for quite some time, just as I was beginning to think I might have to send out a second round I received a reply from Candy Jar Books saying that they liked the concept and would like to see more.  That was the beginning of my journey to becoming a published author. I’m still doing the happy dance and in between pinching myself to make sure it’s real.

Will we be meeting Will again or do you have something different in the pipeline?

I have been working on a new book, but I am drawn to write another adventure for Will. Watch this space!

Thank you Cherry for answering my questions and I wish you all the best with Will's War which can be purchased from Amazon UK and from all good bookshops.

Cherry Cobb lives in Somerset with her family and two cats. As a former lecturer she appreciates the importance and value of children’s literature. She has won several poetry competitions blaming the success on her wild and vivid imagination. The idea for Will’s War came about one day when she visited a ghost village evacuated in 1943 during WWII. She is never without a notepad and pen and a head full of ideas.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Ten years of Blogging

It is now ten years since I started this blog. I initially set it up to chart my journey to publication, as well as procrastinating about other issues surrounding the world of writing. Over the years the blogging scene has changed, and I guess the nature of this blog has changed, as well as my place in the world of publishing. So it seems sensible to look at these changes in a bit more detail.

1. My publication journey

When I started this blog, back in 2008, I had a total of five short story sales to my name, with four already published and one pending. Since then this figure has risen to 20. I have also had one novel and a short story collection published as well as number of competition long-listings and short-listings culminating in me winning the Yeovil Prize in 2016. I also managed to find representation along the way.

So in ten years I would say I’ve achieved a fair bit. But the journey isn’t over. It won’t be as long as I can put pen to paper. So who knows what the next ten years will bring!

2. The nature of blogging and rise of social media

Blogging has definitely changed over the past ten years. Back at the start it was fairly new and there was a lot more interaction between bloggers; people commented on one another’s posts and connections were forged. But over the years blogging has tailed off. Many people have abandoned their blogs and those that do keep them going blog much less frequently. I certainly fall into this category.

This is probably partly due to the rise of social media. The way people connect has changed. Blogging has become tired.

3. A role for the future

So what role does a blog play these days and what is the point? Well for me this blog is my online author presence and is now set up more as a website than the simple journal it was in the beginning. The blog part is updated less regularly and I try to keep it much more writing focussed than I did in the past.

But for an author a web presence is important. I’ve received several event bookings through my contacts page. For that reason don’t expect to see this blog disappear any time soon, although I dare say it’s function will continue to evolve.

So I wonder - what will the next ten years bring?

Thursday, 8 March 2018

A Change of Direction

So far all my published work has been under the name Kate Kelly. These are my SF and weird fiction short stories, my short story collection, and of course my YA thriller Red Rock, the peak of my writing career so far.

But I’ve been reviewing my current work and I can’t help feeling that, without really thinking, I’ve taken a change of direction.

I’ve looked at the various novels written over the years and the ideas I’ve been running with recently and there are four projects which I feel have legs.

Novel 1. A thriller with a speculative twist – currently seeking representation.

Novel 2. This is the YA SF thriller I wrote after Red Rock which my publisher declined. But looking at it now I think it deserves more. So my plan is to age it up, restructure the plot and give it a major rewrite.

Novel 3. Another SF thriller that I was trying to make work as a YA novel. Only it doesn’t want to be. Rewrite and complete.

Novel 4. A thriller with a speculative twist about 20% written.

Looking at these I think I can see my ‘brand’ emerging - speculative thrillers. These are the novels I’m going to be running with. And I plan to change my by-line – ever so slightly, to reflect this.

I’ll keep you updated.