Monday, 31 March 2014

End of March Update...

It's strange having an update without a word count. But it's been a busy month and there's been a lot happening, so I wanted to maintain the end of the month progress reports. After finishing the first draft of 'Grey Sister' at the start of the month, I've been busy with proof reading and editing.

I've completely re-written the first two chapters (kill the darlings!), which was the biggest revision I wanted to get done. An author once told me that the first 50,000 words is just about the author finding their voice and that was definitely true about my first attempts at writing! I was a little worried, when I started to read through, to see how rough that first section was. Thankfully it didn't take the whole 50k for my voice to come out and about half way through Chapter 3 I was able to convince myself that, 'it's all right, I'm not so bad at this after all'. Surprisingly the Prologue, which was the very first thing I wrote, didn't seem so bad. I was actually surprised by how much I still liked it. Maybe it's just the emotional tie I have to that first piece of the book. Perhaps an impartial eye would see it differently. I'll just have to wait and see.

I've been working through the rest of the book as well to make the big and small amendments that came up in the read through. Reading through the book as a whole first definitely helped and I can see now how easy it is to get tunnel vision during proof reading. Because I viewed it at a wider scale, I could pick out missing pieces of information, flaws in characters' relationships and inconsistencies in tone and pace. But when it came time to focus in again, I was getting so lost in sentence-to-sentence level details that it would have been impossible to see those problems I could see during the read through. Thankfully I made plenty of notes.

My next deadline is the 29th April, my birthday, by which point I want to submit the manuscript of 'Grey Sister' to at least one agency (wheeeeeze). It's terrifying, but I'm so excited to be finally reaching the point of submission. I have an endless list of jobs to do before then, most important of which is going back over the Prologue and first two chapters to get them to the point of perfection, since those are the ones that go out to agencies before the full MS (though some agencies may ask for the complete work straight away). Then it'll be a matter of writing up a decent cover letter.

Lots of work to do! Busy month ahead.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Review: The Bone Season

'The Bone Season' is the début novel by British author Samantha Shannon

Synopsis (from The Bone Season Website)
Nineteen-year-old Paige Mahoney works in the criminal underworld of Scion London. Her job is to scout for information by breaking into people’s minds. For Paige is a dreamwalker, a clairvoyant and, in the world of Scion, she commits treason simply by breathing…

'The Bone Season' is another offering to the ever-hungry Gods of The Dystopian. But Shannon really does an excellent job of expanding the genre and giving it a new stage to play on. For the first time, at least in my limited experience, we see clairvoyance, communication with the dead, used as a central magical element. Like Brandon Sanderson's 'Mistborn' trilogy (see my review here), Shannon really works hard to give the reader a new magic to wrap their heads around. And, as with Mistborn, there is plenty to learn! The huge lists of clairvoyant powers and their dissidents at the start of the book intimidated me to begin with and I must admit that even by the end I've still not quite wrapped my brain round all the limits and scope of it. 

While 'The Bone Season' is set in the year 2058, the course of history as we know it is distorted by the take over of Scion at the end of the 19th Century. This gives the setting a bizarre mix of pocket watches and ipads, which I just loved. I mean, who wouldn't want to watch TV on the tube while wearing a waistcoat and lace up boots? Its also nice to have a dystopian future set in the UK. It makes my little English heart happy.

Paige Mahoney, the main character, comes to us as a fully-formed member of the criminal underworld, which is an interesting divergence from the everyday-girl-turned-warrior you often see. It sets up for an brilliant back story and I like the fact that the reader knows this person has already had plenty of experiences even before the start of the story.

I had some struggles trying to actually buy 'The Bone Season'. Primarily because I couldn't find it! I had expected it to be in the YA section, or at the very least with Fantasy, but it was placed with the general fiction. I'm not sure if this is a positive or a negative. It's wonderful to see a book like this included in the bigger collection, but perhaps not highlighting its fantasy genre could turn potential readers away? It's an interesting question and is one that, as someone looking to promote a book to agents, a potentially very important one.

I've been excited to read 'The Bone Season' for months, ever since I first saw it. It had a huge impact on me even before I'd read it. Because, truth be told, it was what made me write 'Grey Sister'. (Beware: hopeless fangirling approaching. Please keep your arms inside the ride at all times.) Because of the author. 

(Isn't she a cutie?)
Samantha Shannon wrote, completed and published 'The Bone Season' at the age of 21, while she was at Oxford completing her degree! During my final year I barely had time to eat, never mind write a book! That someone younger than me had already come so far was a huge inspiration to me and gave me the hope that I could actually try to chase my own dream. The fact that she had written something in my preferred genre helped to. If I hadn't read her bio on the back page of 'The Bone Season', I may never have started writing. So, thank goodness for her! 

'The Bone Season' is the first in a seven-part series (oh dear, we're in for a long haul). The second book, 'The Mime Order' is out 21st October.

I'm going to give 'The Bone Season' 8 out of 10, for being such inspiration and such a fascinating introduction to the story. 

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Book Cover Dreaming...

One of my favourite ways to procrastinate is to fantasise about what kind of cover I would give 'Grey Sister' should it ever get to have one. 

I love the style of "classic" book covers, like the iconic re-designs from Penguin:

Or how about a real classic?

There's lots of newer books that also have some serious cover-appeal. The mockingjay design on the 'Hunger Games' series is a particular favourite. I'm not a fan of photographs on covers (I think they remind me a little too much of Mills and Boon paperbacks!). I much prefer typography and elegant design. These are a few favourites... 

Howls Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Though any thought of cover design is a looong way away yet, it'd still fun to play around with some ideas. I wonder what my choices say about the kind of book 'Grey Sister' is...?

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Chapter length...

One of the unique problems in writing a novel is deciding on chapter layout.

It's one of those defining elements of writing that really doesn't have any rules. Chapters can be as long or short as the author wants. But how do you decide what works best?

If you look at my monthly word count updates, you'll see I finished the draft of 'Grey Sister' with 23 chapters (plus a prologue). Having just finished the read through of the book, I've now juggled around with the chapter lengths, so that now I have 34!

That's a huge difference, especially as I haven't touched the word count at all. I ended up splitting a lot of the chapters into two because I felt they were just too long. So, how did there end up being such a big change needed?

While I was writing, I tended to form chapters around what I considered to be one major event, trying to fit one important plot point into every chapter. Reading through, I realised I have often ended up with two or three events in one chapter (or else the single event had stretched itself into such a large word count that I decided it needed to take up multiple chapters on its own). Part of the problem also comes from my inexplicable conviction that my writing is secretly very short. Even with a word count of well over a hundred thousand, I've struggled to convince myself that 'Grey Sister' was long enough. Perhaps that's why I ended up trying to cram so much into every chapter.

So, how long should a chapter actually be?

From Stephenie Myers single word chapters in 'New Moon', to Terry Pratchett's tendency to avoid chapters all together, the choices for chapter lengths is endless.

For the most part, chapters are determined by the story itself, focusing on events in the plot that round nicely into sections. Or, you can ignore the plot entirely and place chapter markers at indeterminate points to create tension or emphasise the narrative or even just to unsettle the reader.

On average, just as novels tend to be between 85-90,000 words, chapters tend to settle around the 2000-3000 word mark. Many of my chapters were already this length, but a lot were much longer. So I've used the 2/3000 standard as a starting point and found a nice fluidity in it. That being said, there's plenty of variation and a few chapters still stretch into the 5000 region. But I feel happier with having a higher number of chapters, not only because it convinces me that my book is definitely not short, but also because I think it gives the story a better flow.

Where do you stand on chapter length? Do you like them short and snappy, or long and lovely?

Friday, 14 March 2014

What comes next...

So, with the first draft of 'Grey Sister' all done, it's time to look towards the next step.

First, I need to get the manuscript all polished and shiney and lovely and not full of terrible clichés and bad grammar and oh-goodness-so-much-else. I've done a quick once-over check of the whole book, clearing away a little of the more obvious little problems (spelling, grammar, repetition etc). I'm about half way into a read through of the whole book, which should give me some perspective on any bigger issues in the book. So far, it's fairly apparent that I need to consider cutting the chapters up into smaller chunks. It's also clear that the first two chapters need a SERIOUS re-write (oh, goodness, I can't believe I started writing like that. Uuurgh.). But let's face it, eight months after writing something, there's bound to be things to change. 

Once I finished the read through, I'll start the BIG EDITING STAGE. I'm expecting this to take quite a few weeks, if not months, while I try and get 'Grey Sister' as good as I want it to be. This will include the re-writing previously mentioned as well as smaller things like grammar-checking and general polishing.

Then... (deep breath)... it'll be time to approach agents. I'm still so clueless about the whole process, but I've started to collect some idea of how to go about it and my copy of 'The Writers and Artists Yearbook 2014' is at the ready. 

So, to recap:
  1. Read through
  2. Edit
  3. Send to agents
  4. Get published
  5. Take over the world
Seems easy enough. 

Sunday, 9 March 2014


I... Oh gods, give me a moment. *Deep breath*

Ok, I'm alright. I'm good.

Right, OK, so.... I'm finished. Done. Complete.

I just wrote the final chapter of 'Grey Sister'.

For the past eight months, this has been my whole goal. Everything I've been working towards. A whole book, written from start to finish. And I've done it. I actually made it. I didn't give up half way or forget about it or move on to something else. I actually finished. And you know what?

It was easy. 

Don't get me wrong. It was hard. REALLY hard. Its been hours and hours, day after day, of work. I've not stopped thinking about writing for more than twenty minutes at a time. It's constantly on my mind, constantly wanting my attention. I've sacrificed a lot of hours that I could have been spending with friends or family or my boyfriend for it. I've put aside books I've wanted to read, stopped watching TV shows I loved, I've even cut down on my long, lovely soaks in the bath because The Book Always Comes First. I've kept working in a shop and put aside my career plans aside, passing up on job opportunities because I so wanted to do my best and try to achieve this one, stupid, outlandish dream.

The writing itself has been a huge learning curve, figuring out all the rules from scratch and working my way through plot holes and poor grammar and my constant desire to repeat the same basic writing techniques again and again (and again. See? There I go again with the triplication!)

But it's been fun. So fun. The best fun (Triplication again, dammit). Even though it was tough, writing has never actually felt like "work". I've never sat down to write and wished I could be doing something else. Even when I struggled to find the words or got stuck in a scene, I've constantly enjoyed the simple pleasure of writing.

While it has been a long time, it never really daunted me how far I still had to go. If it had been an university assignment, the idea that I would be working on it for the next who-knows how many months would have made me want to run and hide. But the only thing that's ever really scared me about writing has been finishing. Because next is the really hard bit and I'm equal parts excited and terrified to enter the publishing game.

I'm so happy that I've finally made it. I keep insisting that getting published is the main aim of all this, but actually writing a whole book has always been the biggest goal. If nothing else, even if 'Grey Sister' never comes to anything more than a series of files on my computer, I'm so glad I've done this.

So then, for one last time.

The word count, as of 9th March, 2014 is:

135, 917.
Eight months since starting. Prologue and twenty three chapters. 

Now, where's my champagne? 

Sunday, 2 March 2014

End of February Wordcount...


Prologue, twenty chapters and a quarter.
Seven + months since starting.

Only a few days late! Oops. There's been a lot going on story-wise this month and there's been some scenes I've been looking forward to writing for months and months, which has really helped speed me up. I'm someone who definitely likes to write chronologically, so its exciting to start reaching the end. 

There was one chapter in particular I had real struggles with this month and it bogged me down for quite a while. It was a scene I felt was important for the characters, but not very interesting for the reader so I had some difficulty trying to get over that and just get it written so I could move on. Hopefully when I go back to it I'll be able to see it a little clearer and hopefully get it polished up better. 

Not much more to go now. March may be my very last progress update! Eeek!