Wednesday 31 March 2010

Dragon’s Den for Wannabe Authors

Last week I practically read my whole book out loud. Yep, (almost) all of the 95,000 words. It was illuminating. People always say you should read your work out loud and boy, does it show up those howlers. It felt a bit weird at first, sitting in my little study, in the empty house, feigning a cockney accent and moving quickly back to one from Northumberland. But after a while I was gesticulating with the best of them, get me a stage and I’d have cheerfully paced every inch of it, throwing my hands into the air in an alternating show of dismay and elation.

My reason for this? I needed to find the best 300-500 words to read out at the York Writers’ Festival during the weekend of 9 April. It took me to chapter twenty one to find a section which I felt had all the requirements: energy, dialogue and a hook to pull the audience into wanting more. A few more runs through on my stage and I was happy. I cut and pasted the extract, reworked my single paragraph synopsis, composed my two sentences to set the scene and emailed them all post-haste to the festival organisers.

Nervous? Terrified! If I get chosen to participate I will be given one of about fifteen, five minute slots on the first evening of the festival, to pitch my book to an audience of a few hundred fellow wannabe authors (happily drinking) interspersed with those magical beings: agents. They say it’s just a bit of fun. But who doesn’t harbour the smatterings of a dream that an agent pricks up his/ her ears and secretly scribbles down the name, away from other eyes because they don’t want you, this sure thing, to be stolen from them?

But human beings are funny creatures. I had mixed feelings about entering. I batted around the question for a few days. After all, this has the potential to give my book that bump up the ladder of writing that it sorely needs. Read badly, choose badly, and I could do myself more harm than good.

But as soon as I found out that I might not be chosen to read, I wanted to be on that stage more than anything. Isn’t the best way to find out whether you really want something, to take it away? It is in my case, if I don’t get chosen, I’ll always wonder. If I do get chosen and make an idiot of myself on stage, I’ll simply have to use a pseudonym, have a face transplant and emigrate to America.

Monday 22 March 2010

Excessive Attention to Document Posting

It appears I am not alone in my neuroses which is very reassuring. Thanks for your many and varied examples of obsessive attention to detail which have come through in comments, email and even phone messages – clearly there is a need to share. Any more? Feel free to divulge here. Sympathy and support await all responses...

When I was writing my earlier post, I was comforted with the memory of my friend, Helen, also falling afoul of Excessive Attention to Document Posting. This time it involved her secondary school preference form for her eldest born.

After handing the envelope to the post master for placement in the grey, sorting bag, she quickly asked to have it back to check that she had included the form itself. She had. Excellent.

When she re-folded the seal however, she was concerned that it might not be quite as secure as the original fastening. But not wishing to bother the postmaster when there was a queue forming behind her, she smiled meekly and left.

Outside the post office she turned on her heel and re-entered, joining the back of the queue. Her long-suffering children, incidentally, stood quietly with her, a little perplexed. Eventually, she reached the counter again and explained her predicament to the post master who replied with a smile that it wouldn’t be the first time in his thirty year history that somebody had asked him to empty the sorting bag.

It was near collection time. The bag was full but no matter. The postmaster would have to look through himself, however, on his side of the counter, to respect other people’s privacy. Contents upended, he apologised to the new queue forming behind Helen while he rifled through the letters and parcels spilled on the floor to retrieve her package. It wasn’t a particularly easy job, with many of the other parents’ secondary school submission forms making up the bulk of the post bag, as they were in their identical pre-printed envelopes. Helen could only point helpfully through the glass.

She apologised a lot. The postmaster apologised a lot. People tutted. And coughed. Between them, my friend and the postmaster located her envelope. The seal, incidentally, was stuck like super-glue.

Could he, Helen wondered before finally leaving the counter, just to be triply sure, possibly place a piece of sellotape over the seal?

Tuesday 16 March 2010

Queen’s Head on an Angle

I sent two submissions to agents today. Off I toddled to the post office, two squidgy A4 envelopes in hand. The first was weighed, stamped and placed inside the large, grey posting bag without incident.

I placed the second envelope on the scales. The package was identical, costing 90 pence, but with the addition of an SAE or rather, an AE; it needed the stamp.

I leaned over to retrieve the Addressed Envelope and affix said stamp but before I could whisper, ‘No, let me goddamnit,’ the post office manager behind the counter had taken the envelope from my fingertips. Without a word, in front of my rapidly widening eyes, she helpfully stuck on the stamp, with ultra efficiency, in the right hand corner. The Queen’s head, however, was tilted slightly to the right.

Oh dear.

Humming an indiscernible tune, the lady roughly folded the now SAE in half and with the sides not quite meeting, and thus rendering it slightly too wide, wrestled the SAE into the main envelope. There it lay, slightly dishevelled in front of my otherwise pristine submission.

It’s a small thing, but I always put the SAE to the back. I prefer the expectant agent’s first point of reference with me not to be the SAE for notification of unsuccessful applications.

By the time the lady came to seal the envelope I could only stand and pray. Please God, I asked, let the seal be flat. I watched with horror as two creases appeared. I smiled to the lady, she was only trying to help, of course, and at least the envelope was secure.

Maybe it’s the Virgo in me, being forty, a middle child thing. Or maybe it’s OCD. But I’d have put the Queen’s head on straight. I’d have folded the SAE perfectly in half and laid it behind my submission, managing to slide it in without so much as a flutter of the piece of paper above. I’d have adjusted the envelope flap to ensure all sides touched equally, before pressing the seal shut.

It’s packaging, I told myself, once the envelope had been tossed into the grey sack, alongside my first submission. I fumbled in my purse for change. I agreed that it was indeed getting a bit warmer and with the evenings getting lighter, everyone seemed a bit happier. Even though a dark cloud was firmly ensconced around me.

An envelope does not make or break your career, now does it?

But I couldn’t reconcile the fact that on the presentation front, the submission was no longer perfect. And with the content ever far from any state of perfection, I was rather relying on it to be so.

But I like to think the glass is always half full. I like to think that soon I'll be laughing at the irony that the first time (to my knowledge) I send a submission with sub-standard presentation, it gets picked up.

I think you have to think like this, when you're trying to get published...

Wednesday 3 March 2010

Life as a Pac-Man Evader

I have decided that my life bears a striking resemblance to a Pac-Man game. There I am attempting to advance, trying to forge a way through to a finished short story, a satisfying piece of editing, a start on my new book and a submission... but these odd shaped, seemingly inconsequential lumps of frustrating to-do-ness keep hurling themselves at me.

It isn't the mundane, every day tasks which have to be done to somewhat justify my existence in this family as the other potential bread winner who doesn't earn any bread. But it's those annoying little extras. Weren't they red or blue blobs called 'ghosts' which came hurtling towards you to prevent you from gobbling up any more dots? Well, my ghosts come in the form of: taking the car in, taking the car in again because they couldn't get all the parts, mums asked to help at school, mums going to extra little assemblies at school, (I know, I know, they are lovely really, just limiting them to once per term would make them even more special), moppping up the flooded kitchen where the tap left on was exacerbated by a pan covering the plug hole, extra cleaning of the fridge because the forgotten from last month cream leaked, 'cleaning' up the computer because it's running slowly, kicking the computer because it's...I could go on.

Still, when the writing forges out in front, it does make it all the sweeter.

Tuesday 2 March 2010

A ‘Great Rejection’, is that an oxymoron?

Picture the scene: I log on, the emails flood in. I can buy oil cheaper if I wait five weeks until everyone in the village also needs some. The organic company invite me to view the suggested contents of this week’s vegetable boxes (but pray, they’re the same as last week’s aren’t they? And weren’t they the same as the week before?) Fly (dodgy) Cheap would like me to book our family holiday flights with them. There are no guarantees they’ll fly on the given date of course, or even that the airline will stay in business long enough to bring us home, but nonetheless they’d like me to take a look at their website.

School have sent through some forms for consent to take photos of my babies, for confirmation of their non-allergy to life, for permission to watch a PG rated DVD in school time (ask me if they have my permission to watch a DVD at all in school time and they might get a different answer). They’d also like to know if I can bring in some of those delicious home-made (by the Farm Shop) scones for the fundraising and social cake bake event.

Next, I need to read my meter or I will be thrown off the discounted rate for on-line electricity. Somebody on Facebook is recommending I befriend a friend of theirs and I’ve got the date wrong for the karate grading, it’s actually on Mother’s Day (bang goes that cup of tea in bed, pah!)

But then, as my eyes scan, I flit back to see a name for which I’ve searched, oh, at least every five minutes. It’s Lucy Luck in the sender column. I remember that name anywhere, and you can see why I felt compelled to submit to an agent with a name like that. And yet I don’t open it. Instead I find myself searching for a different un-read email which is bound to warrant my urgent attention. I scribble down names of the people I must reply to in my to-do list and then I make myself a cup of tea. I guess while you don’t know, you can still hope.

However procrastination devices exhausted, I eventually click and there I see the words in lights, right in the middle of the email, ‘...but I’m afraid that I have decided against taking things further,’ she says.

Oh dear.

Then I read on. Lucy has ‘spent some time considering [Glass Houses].’ I start to open the one, half-closed eye again. It’s ‘a difficult decision,’ she says, but she isn’t ‘passionate enough about the book to feel confident in representing it.’ My heart lurches a little again at this point, what’s to say every agent isn’t going to feel this way? But then I read that there’s, ‘much to recommend’ in my writing and I’m back on the edge of my seat.

In that brief moment before printing out the letter and filing it neatly under ‘binned’, I believe that a ‘Great Rejection' is not an oxymoron for it’s a description making perfect sense. There are nice ways and not so nice ways to have your career stalled once again before it’s even in first gear and this was definitely the former. A rejection which leaves me positive and desperate to get straight back onto the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook to seek out where to send my next submission, has to be a Great Rejection.

So onto other situations in life where we find ourselves rejected and yet we still feel great. Are there any? It doesn’t feel nice in relationships and there’s nothing to commend being rejected in the work place. It never felt good at school and even in my forties I still don’t like the idea of everybody being invited out except me. The bank manager does it, even the cash point turns its back sometimes and there’s nothing to be savoured about running out of money. No, I think that a Great Rejection is a non-sensical oxymoron in every other walk of life to that of getting your book published.

But maybe I've missed something? Feel free to correct me if you can ...