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Thursday, 31 March 2011

Agent seeks Historical Fiction Pitches - contest

Irene Goodman is seeking pitches from historical novelists. Anyone got a manuscript ready?

"Irene Goodman is looking for brilliant new historical fiction, and is holding a pitch contest to find those hidden pearls. Irene currently represents historical fiction authors Diane Haeger, Carrie Bebris, Amanda Elyot, newcomers Anne Barnhill and Juliet Grey, and many other New York Times bestselling authors.
The event will start with pitches only. A pitch should consist of 3-4 single-spaced paragraphs. It should include a brief plot description, the major characters, and the time period and setting. The final word count of the novel should be indicated."

What is interesting is that her list of criteria gives a fair idea of the sort of fiction she thinks she can sell, so worth looking at even if you are not ready to send anything. Her website has full details.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Tuesday Tip - Location, Location, Location

I've just moved house so I have suddenly become only too aware of the importance of location.

I read so many books where the important scenes happen in the obvious places - domestic arguments in the kitchen or the bedroom for instance. But perhaps these scenes could be more vivid in another place.

When a scene is not working, consider just changing the location.

An argument can be much more vibrant if one person is chasing another down a busy street, or if the disagreement takes place in a library where people are supposed to be quiet.

When revising your work, why not list three alternative locations for your scene? At first I was reluctant to do this, worrying about "how will they get there?" but for important scenes, the "where" of the scene outweighs the smaller consideration of the backstage transitions from one place to the next. And a change of location breathes new texture into your work.

An excellent book on location and how it can be both background canvas or foreground character is "Description and Setting" by Ron Rozelle in the series "Write Great Fiction."

And now - I'd better get on with unpacking those books.....

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The Tuesday Tip - One sentence

Scent and smoke hit the taste buds with a thwack at three o'clock in the morning. (first version)
Scent and smoke and sweat can suddenly combine together and hit the taste buds with an acid shock at three o'clock in the morning. (second attempt)
The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three o'clock in the morning.
Opening sentence of Ian Fleming's first James Bond Novel, Casino Royale.
Tuesday Tip - One sentence can be the key to your whole book.

This anecdote from "Writing Your Way" by Manjusvara.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Calling unpublished novelists:Virginia Prize for Fiction 2011

Call for entries open Jan to July 2011
The Prize is open to any woman over 18 who has written an unpublished novel in English. The shortlist will be compiled in August 2011 and the £1000 prize will be awarded in November as part of Richmond’s Literary Festival.
The Prize: In 2009, to celebrate 20 years of success as a small independent publishing house, Aurora Metro launched a new competition to encourage and promote new writing by women. Heartened by the quality and depth of the response to this, Aurora Metro is pleased to announce the second Virginia Prize for Fiction, in 2011, named in honour of the inspirational author Virginia Woolf.

Aurora Metro are also open for year-round submissions, see their website for details.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Where do I buy books?

I live in a small village but nevertheless it has plenty of places for me to indulge my passion for books.

The first is the ubiquitous chain store. This is a photo of the shop window of my local branch which is full of garish posters of the TV Book Club books and Mother's Day special promotions. It is certainly attention-grabbing, as it focuses on cut-price offers and doesn't display the actual books except stacked one on top of the other so you have to crane your neck and peer sideways down through the window to get a glimpse of the stock they are selling. It seems vaguely insulting to just stack them this way. The least they could do is stand the top one up! As a book buyer it doesn't tempt me to stop in front of the window. A fair percentage of these piles in the window are celebrity hardbacks. I mostly use this shop to buy magazines, the local paper, and guide books to holiday destinations. Last week I bought some files and envelopes here.

The second is the Fireside Bookshop which displays rare and collectible second hand books in its bay window. The window often features highly visual books on Arts, Antiques or lost cultures, and the display shifts and changes regularly. Inside it is like a cosy parlour with a real fire burning, and second-hand books on every subject all neatly shelved and labelled. In here I have found a lovely old copy of "Mayhew's London" and quite a few other non-fiction gems about my favourite period, the 17th century. When I go in, I inevitably come out with a parcel under my arm. Part of it is the attraction of it having a varied stock, not just the ones on the TV book club lists. Mostly I buy non-ficion here, though it does have a good selection of novels.

The third is my local charity shop. Actually there are three, all within a half mile of my house. This morning I bought Emma Donohue's "Room" from this one for £2. Not bad for a hardback. I asked the woman at the counter if I could take this picture and she apologised for the state of the shelves. Actually the untidy and random nature of it is part of its charm, I think. As you can see I could have come away with a bedside lamp or any amount of bric-a-brac as well, so I think I have been quite restrained.

None of these bookshops stock my book - the chain won't stock it till it's out in paperback, and even then, might not - "it depends on central office". And the second-hand ones haven't yet hit the charity shop shelves!

And of course, like most people, I buy books (too many books!) online.

Where do you buy books? What sort of bookshop do you like best?

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Amazon Reviews, do you read them?

In the last few days I have read a number of posts about Amazon Reviews and whether people refer to them when buying a book. I know that the person who selected the books for our book group chose only ones with four or five star reviews. But then another friend said they thought it suspicious if books had not got a spread of opinion - "looks like their relations have written them" she said.

Just yesterday I received an invitation to join Amazon Vine and get free books to review. Well who can turn down free books? But then again, I'm only too aware of the resposibility of reviewing someone's just-out novel, and thereby affecting (or not) its sales. A writer friend of mine had the most grim review ever for her excellent debut novel from an Amazon Vine member, and it ruined what should have been a celebratory moment of achievement. On the other hand an honest review from an informed reader who reads similar fiction cannot be a bad thing.

I myself pay less attention now to Amazon reviews than I did. Being an "insider" in the world of books changes your attitude towards everything to do with their sales - from discovering that publishers pay to have books on 2 for 1 tables, to the fact that the top ten in Tesco have not earned their place by outselling the books at 11 and below. From the whole business of fake reviews written by the authors themselves to whether your book is placed spine or front out in a shop - not to mention the extraordinary lengths some people will go to in order to sell you their book. I have to confess I am no longer that naive book buyer I was a couple of years ago who takes it all at face value.

Most of my books are bought because either someone has recommended the title, or I like the look and sound of it in the bookshop. I accept that readers even of the same type of fiction can have vastly different opinions and that the net is as good a place as any to air them, as it is a faceless place where class or racial barriers effectively cease to exist.

If you are in any doubt about the usefulness of Amazon reviews why not try as someone suggests, looking at the reviews for The Bible, of which there are quite a few- here's a quote from my favourite  :)

34 of 54 people found the following review helpful:

5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent work by a world renowned author, 17 April 2007

By EhFiist "joebeard" (Alabama, Texas) - See all my reviewsThis review is from: Holy Bible [NKJV] (Hardcover)

This book is a must read for anybody interested in How the World Was Made. It chronicles in excellent detail the creation of our World, our Universe and Everything. The characters depicted in the book truly come to life in ways one couldn't possibly imagine.........etc etc
If you would like to follow up the theme of online reviews, here are links from the recent Guardian posts The Guardian and Comment

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Tuesday Tip - 3 Ways I Read for Editing

Reading your own book is something novelists must do over and over. After the first draft is written, here are the three ways I read to edit. I find a method whilst I am re-reading helps me to focus.

1. Character Viewpoint. Go through the text from each of the character's points of view. This might mean three or four different reads. In a long novel you can read each part that features that character; this will reveal inconsistencies or conundrums that you will need to look at, and make you work out what the character is doing between scenes in a bit more depth.

2.Theme. This focuses on the main theme. Read it again looking for ways to highlight or emphasise the theme. I also look to see if the theme is expanding naturally through the book.

3. "Person who knows nothing about it" read. This is the most important because you have to imagine you are a reader who knows nothing at all about the book or the subject. It helps me if I imagine another person reading it. Yes, you've got it - create another character in your head as dissimilar to yourself as possible and then imagine her/him reading the book.

Suggestions anybody?

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Re-organising the bookcase

Talking of the Physicality of Books - Kim from She-Writes has sent me this link to an Animation entitled Re-organising the Bookcase. I'm a big Rodrigo Y Gabriela fan too, so I loved the music.
Here's the link - Thank you Kim! Why not check out Kim's writing website too?

Thursday, 3 March 2011

The Physicality of Books

Welcome to She-Writes members on the Blog Hop. Sorry if you are not from the UK and the TV programmes I mention in this post are a mystery to you.....

I was un-surprised to hear Claire Balding say on My Life in Books on BBC2 that the physical presence of a book really matters to her. She held up an old gold-tooled tome of "The Myths of Greece and Rome" and asked her fellow guest to sniff it, which he duly did.

And in another episode of the programme Giles Coren talked about how he read from his father's edition of "The Great Gatsby" at his funeral and clearly the fact that it was that particular edition was very important to him.

For me the books that matter to me are inseparable from their covers because I pick up and put down that book umpteen times whilst reading it. I have the opportunity each time I handle it for the cover to go into my subconscious mind, and become indelibly associated with the story.

Each time someone mentions "Jane Eyre" I have a very specific edition in mind - the one my grandma gave me which was in a blue leather binding with a red sewn-in silk bookmark. It was a birthday gift and I treasured it. And if you were to say "Wolf Hall" then it's the black version, not the white.

When I go on review sites such as Goodreads I get irritated if I can't find the right edition of the book I want to review. Which probably explains why, now that I have a Kindle, I have mostly ignored it and gone out and bought the real book instead. I am still more attracted by the actual book itself in a shop than the virtual book, even though the latter may be cheaper.

You would think that now I am moving house I would have learnt my lesson and be a grand supporter of the virtual revolution - here are about half the boxes which are packed with my books ready to move house. And I'm afraid there are more boxes upstairs. And some books I can't bear to pack until the last minute, because I might need them for the research I'm doing at the moment. (By the way, the blur at bottom right is the cat running to escape being boxed with everything else.)

For me books are furniture as well as entertainment. They are my chosen wall-ornament, and I enjoy looking at the nice row of colourful spines and interesting typefaces. For me a room is unfurnished unless it has at least one bookcase. Someone told me it was a rather pompous way of displaying your education and ridiculously middle-class. But putting my Kindle on the coffee table just won't do.

And I'm so glad that I was able to give my daughter the hardback of my first novel - and hope in time it will be an heirloom of some curiosity value. In fact people are predicting that first edition hardbacks will be a very good investment in the future when digital books are the norm.

At Christmas I still wrapped books for my sister even though she has an e-reader. You can't unwrap a digital book and it does not have the same concrete presence. There is just something about the physicality of books.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

The Tuesday Tip

On Tuesdays I post a tip for writers.

Today - Repetition.
Remember trawling through your manuscript trying to spot the repetitions, such as "Who's calling," he called.

Or perhaps, "He eyed the maid with interest. "Aye," he said, looking her in the eye, "I'm Iron Jack, the ironmonger, and I've come to collect Eileen's ironing."

I know, none of your writing is as bad as that. But if you laughed guiltily at the first example, here is the answer. A neat little downloadable gadget that will scan your manuscript for you and do all the hard work.

Here's the link.