Monday, 30 November 2009

First and Third

I’ve just finished reading ‘When the Wind Blows’ by James Patterson. A good read, pacy and interesting. But I’m not planning to post a review of it here. I want to talk about something else.

Some time ago, over on Litopia, someone posted a piece of work that had two POV characters, both written in the first person. Now several people pointed out that this didn’t really work, so the author asked whether it would be reasonable to write one POV character in the first person and one in the third person.

The overwhelming response was No.

But this is exactly what Patterson has done, both here and in his Maximum Ride books that my daughter has been devouring. And you know what – it works.

But how has he managed it? Why has he pulled it off? Well, obviously with a great deal of skill. But it’s worth noting that the main story is told through the 1st person POV character and the 3rd person perspectives are all secondary characters, and the periods we spend in their heads are much shorter. Maybe this is the key.

I wonder what everyone else thinks?

Sunday, 22 November 2009


Another stormy weekend and a good time for writing, although all my writing seems to be dominated by rewrites. I’ve just finished the bulk of the rewrite of the ‘novel formerly known as Myth Making’ – all the main structural elements are now in place, the new themes added and blended it. So it’s time to set it aside for a few weeks before I give it its final read through.

But I’ve also had a rewrite request for one of my short story submissions. The editor makes a valid point, so I’ll be revisiting this over the next few weeks – should make a refreshing change while said novel gestates.

Meanwhile I’ve just heard from the editor of Arkam Tales that the latest issue is to be their last and all stories yet to be published have been released back to the authors. This, of course, includes one of mine. So it’s back into circulation for that one – but I’ve sold it once – I’m sure I’ll find a home for it again. This is the second story of mine this has happened to – I had one released when Dark Wisdom folded. It just goes to show how fragile the short fiction market can be.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Story Acceptance

This is the sort of e-mail I like to get first thing on a Monday morning. Bodes well for the week ahead!! (I hope)

Thank you for submitting your story for our consideration. I am pleased to inform you that “Symbionts" has been accepted and will appear in the February 16, 2010 issue of The Absent Willow Review. Please continue submitting and thank you for sharing your work with us!

Monday, 9 November 2009

Guest: Joanna Swainson Slush Reader for a literary agency

Please welcome Joanna Swainson, reader with a literary agency, who has agreed to answer a few questions on this blog.

Please could you tell us a little about your job?

I read a lot! We get hundreds of manuscripts every week across the different genres. I read the women's and general fiction that comes in - so anything that isn't non-fiction, crime/thriller or childrens/YA comes to me. If there is something I think the boss will like, I pull it out of the pile and leave it for him to look at with a brief summary of why I think it's good. If he likes it we will request the full. If he really likes it, we will ring the author straight away.

Are you given a specific steer by the Agent of what he is looking for?
The agent is very, very clear about what he is looking for. He told me in no uncertain terms when I joined the agency and he repeats his mantra on a regular basis. For him, a great character(s) is the single most important thing. Next it's story and plot. The writing comes third because he's prepared to work with an author to fix that.
It's quite strange really - I am not reading for myself, so have had to reject things that I liked, knowing they weren't going to be suitable for the agency. These tended to be things that were more in the way of literary fiction which is not what the agency covers - we are out and out commercial. Luckily I love commercial fiction too!

We hear stories of how bad the quality of the slushpile is. In your experience is this true?

I heard those stories, too, so was surprised by how competent the slushpile is. It's not dire, no. That said, in order to get picked out a manuscript has to have something pretty sparkly about it and I'm afraid that's pretty rare. I can understand why the slushpile gets such a bad press - agents have so much to do - but since my job is to read and only to read I can look on it quite kindly. If it wasn't for the slushpile I wouldn't have such a great job!

What depresses you?
Manuscripts imbued with cynicism, arrogant characters that have no wit or verve or anything else going for them, and authors who for some reason don't like the characters they have created.
Sometimes the ideas can get a bit repetitive. The number of manuscripts I've read about internet dating, for example, which are the thinly disguised experiences of the author - but that's not so much depressing as... here we go again!

What gets you really excited?

When you 'hear' that elusive voice and you just know you've got something special. Then when others in the agency read it and we all love it. I've had really buzzy days in the office like that.

Have you made any ‘discoveries’?

Two of my 'finds' have been signed so far. That's two out of hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of manuscripts I've read, so it just goes to show. That said, sometimes I pick things out where the agent has thought it's not quite right for us, but we encourage the author to send us their next thing.
In the time that I've worked there, other authors have been signed, but they haven't come via the slushpile. They come through recommendations from existing authors or writers' conferences and such like. One recent author handed one of our staff a manuscript at a party. It turned out to be absolutely brilliant. So there are other ways.

Apart from reading the slush, what else do you do with the agency?

Sometimes an agent will ask me for a second opinion on something so I'll have a read of their manuscripts. I do readers reports and give editorial notes. I had some web designing skills from previous work I'd done, so I redid our whole website and I help keep it up to date.

Do you get to meet any celebrities or go to any fancy parties?

From what I can gather, big parties are a thing of the past but they do happen every so often. I did go to a glamorous book launch the other night where there were lots of recognisable faces. Our writers are writers proper, though, and we don't have 'celebs' on our books so it's perhaps not so relevant to our agency.

What advice would you give to the aspiring writer?

My advice would be pretty mundane: write and write and write, read authors who you want to write like and really study them. Above all be rigorous and ruthless with yourself.
If you can delight in the process of writing that's a bonus because I think that always comes across in the good manuscripts that I read.

Thank you Joanna.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Stormy Seas

Yesterday was a day of wild westerlies. We took the coast path round Portland Bill and watched the swell roll in and crash onto the rocks. Salt spray was in my hair and on my lips. I love it when it’s wild and windy like this.

Today the copies of our Writers Group anthology – The Hangman Inn arrived. This was a lot quicker than I expected and I think the group are going to be pleased. I took the proof along to show them on Thursday. Quite few people are going to be giving them as Christmas presents.

I’m not sure I’m going to take on editing something like this again in a hurry though. It was hard work – especially when people sent me files in weird formats or didn’t wrap their text!! I’ve got an awful lot more respect for the editors of all those short story anthologies and magazines out there as a result of this little exercise.

And as for the rewrite? It’s chugging along. Life seems to be getting in the way a bit though – what with Halloween just gone and Guy Fawkes night to come – not to mention Christmas looming on the horizon!
I must keep on reminding myself – make time to write!