Christmas Twitter Giveaway!

99 Red Balloons Christmas

Items included in the giveaway:

  • A *signed* copy of 99 RED BALLOONS
  • A 99 RED BALLOONS mug
  • Baileys and Lindor Chocolate gift set
  • Radox Bubble Bath
  • Apple and Cinnamon candle
  • Raffaello chocolates (40g)
  • Box of Maltesers (120g)
  • Swizzels Sweet Treats tube (108g)
  • A little robin tree decoration (tweet tweet!)

Perfect for a cold winter’s evening!

Simply retweet the pinned giveaway post on my Twitter page to be in with a chance of winning! Closes at midday (UK time) 14th December 2017, when one winner will be chosen.

Good luck!

Guest Post: My writing day by Caroline England

Thanks for inviting me onto your blog, Libby. At least I think so – I have just spent the last twenty minutes tidying my study for the photograph! Hm, still doesn’t look very tidy, but it’s certainly the place where I’m most focused and productive!

Caroline England Work Space.JPG

Caroline’s Writing Space

So, my writing day… I’ve hardly done anything at all over the summer as I’ve been happily distracted by having my three daughters at home. No more excuses, though; my eldest has now moved to London, my middle is back at university and my youngest at school, so my plan is to get back into the writing zone!

Typically I start the day waving Emily off to school. Then I feed the pesky cats and make a huge cup of Yorkshire tea. I head to the study, sit at my desk (which looks messy, but is actually very ordered) and fire up the laptop. I reach for the first letter in my in-tray, then look at the top item on my to-do list. I read an email next, then go back to the tray. I bet you wish you hadn’t asked! I play these silly games to make admin more interesting. Or maybe I’m just odd!

Of course most items on the to-do list are crossed off and put on a new list (that counts as DONE, doesn’t it?) but when I’ve finally cleared the admin decks, I open the latest manuscript and start work. Though what is ‘work’ exactly? It isn’t necessarily ‘writing’. In recent months it’s been more editing, amending and polishing than creating new sentences. And when I do go back to new writing, I have to spend far too much time reading the novel-so-far to remind myself what it’s about! Then, of course there’s thinking moments, or minutes or hours. The bath, a run or the car seem to be the best for that, but when I’m in the study I gaze at my bookcase. Top shelf, books to be read and photos of those I’ve loved and lost. Next two are mainly poetry collections interspersed with lovely cards and recently read novels I haven’t yet squirrelled away in other rooms. I do love this bookcase, not only because it gives me inspiration for character’s names, but because my own novel is on it, a dream finally come true! Coincidentally it’s sitting on top of three other books by fabulous Avon HarperCollins authors, including you!

So back to the zone. Ah yes! Plenty more Yorkshire tea, an early lunch (a toasted chicken and gherkin wrap is the current sandwich de jour), then back to the laptop for another couple of hours until Emily comes home. Then I continue to work fitfully until I realise it’s my job to make dinner. So I peer in the veg basket and gaze in the fridge, hoping my creative endeavours will extend to cooking…

Thank you, Caroline, for sharing your writing day with us. Beneath the Skin, Caroline’s debut novel is available here.

 

 

 

Is it ‘who you know’, or ‘what you know’? Does having industry contacts help a writer get a book deal?

Before I began writing novels, this was a question I often asked myself. I thought novelists belonged to a special kind of club only accessible if you knew someone already in it. I had only written short stories up until then and I wrote alone – I thought that was how it should be done. I also believed that writing a whole book required a unique knowledge – that it just came to the author like an epiphany. It all seemed so out of reach to me.

My thinking changed when my partner, Dom, brought home a copy of Writing Magazine. He wanted to start writing. But, before he had a chance to read it, I had a flick through. There was a whole world of writers out there: writing groups, conventions and festivals. It felt like coming home! But there was still that burning question: did it help a writer to know people in the industry? How did writers get their books published – would attending writing events and festivals help?

After working on my first novel for a few months (oh how naïve was I?), I entered it into a national writing competition. Of course, I wasn’t shortlisted, but I met several other entrants online who were all in the same boat. We formed an online writing group.

This gave me the confidence to go to the York Festival of Writing. I’d been working on my first manuscript for nearly two years; I felt I was nearly there.

It was another revelation. There were loads more writers out there, just like me; writing and hoping that one day we’d be just like those authors who hosted the workshops we attended. Our day will come.

As part of this festival, I paid to have a one-to-one with a literary agent who would critique a few pages of my first ever ‘masterpiece’.

The agent said the writing was good, but was I really going to keep working on this story? ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I believe in it.’ The agent put his head in his hands. Literally.

As I talked to other writers, there were rumours that some ‘lucky’ writers had been asked for full requests after their one-to-ones. It was a brilliant day, though I left York thinking, It’s not my time. Yet I took with me hope that one day it would be. But it wouldn’t be with the book I had spent so much time working on.

The next event I went to – a year later – was Getting Published, organised by literary agency Janklow & Nesbitt in conjunction with Mumsnet. We, the audience, listened with piqued interest, as established authors told us about their paths to publication. We heard anecdotes from respected agents and editors. Then came the pitching session. I had never done one of these before. At York festival, the agent had read my work, but now I had to actually speak. I ended up reading from a sheet of paper, my mouth dry with nerves. The agent couldn’t have been more lovely – she was a normal person! ‘When it’s ready,’ she said, ‘send it to me.’

I sent her the fourth manuscript I’d been working on (I’d completed two NaNo’s in this time, but these will never see daylight!). Surely – after writing four whole books, this would be the one! I could mention in my cover letter that I’d actually met the agent. It took only minutes for the agent to respond to my initial submission – she wanted to see the rest of the manuscript!

Other agents requested this book, too, and it was longlisted in several well-known writing competitions. But ultimately it wasn’t the one for the agent I met – nor any of the others.

Whilst submitting my fourth book, I’d begun another called 99 Red Balloons. I was determined never to give up – I’d come so far. I’d also thought of another idea if this one didn’t ‘work’. I was a few weeks off finishing 99 Red Balloons when I registered for the Curtis Brown Discovery Day.

There were hundreds of writers there, queuing along the bannisters of three floors inside Foyles book shop in London, clutching their first pages that a Curtis Brown agent would read. My legs were shaking, my hands were sweating. When I sat down in front of the agent, my mind went blank. I babbled a bit about what I’d written in the past and was so relieved when she started to read my page. ‘Send it to us when you’ve finished,’ she said. I’d heard that before, but I had confidence in this novel. (Yeah, okay – I’d felt that about the others.)

When I completed my manuscript, I submitted to Curtis Brown. It wasn’t for them, but I had also sent it to a handful of other agents (that I’d never met) who’d expressed interest in my previous work. Several of them liked it enough to offer me representation.

Attending these events was brilliant for meeting other writers and seeing that agents and editors are ordinary people in search of a great book. They aren’t scary gate-keepers to a secret society. There are no rules; there are no special clubs. Even if you have an agent as a best friend, they’ll not represent you if she or he doesn’t like your book.

What it came down to, for me, was to write and write until you’ve written the best book you can at that moment in time, even if you won’t know if it’s the ‘right’ book until you send it out there. The more you write, the better you get.

I heard this phrase once, several years ago, and it’s stuck with me ever since: The harder I work, the luckier I get. I think it’s true.

99 Red Balloons is available here

 

Guest post: My Writing Day by Sam Carrington

This is the first of what I hope will be a series of posts, where I take a peek into the writing life of published authors. Today, I welcome the lovely Sam Carrington, who talks us through a typical writing day. Over to you, Sam.

I feel privileged to be able to write full time – it’s something I could only have imagined a few years ago.

But, I should really add in a disclaimer here. Full time writer? That implies I spend around eight hours a day, at least five days a week writing, doesn’t it?

Er … *coughs to clear throat*

The reality is, I do not actually spend all those hours, every day, writing.

When I left my full-time employment, I suddenly found I had all this time. And when you think you have all that time, something weird happens. So many other things need doing. Cleaning the house, walking the dog, watching box sets on Netflix, Twitter, Facebook … you get the picture.

The hours spent fingers-to-keyboard tend to be more like two hours a day, not eight! But the other things can be as important. I do trawl Twitter and Facebook a lot. That’s because it’s where I can connect to readers and other authors – it’s networking. Therefore, it’s work.

I might spend time outside walking the dogs, I might watch TV – but I’ll be thinking about my novel, my plot and characters. They are forever in my head waiting to become words on the screen. Again, that means it’s work.

I don’t stress anymore that I’m ‘wasting time’ if I’m not writing. All the other things that I used to think of as distractions, are the things that allow my creative process to do its thing.

For the last few days, though, I’ve altered my routine slightly. Whereas the first thing I’d do every morning at 7 a.m. would be to check Twitter and Facebook, respond to comments, messages, and check in with what’s been going on (which could take a few hours), instead, I’ve been opening my manuscript first. Once I’ve hit my word count goal – which is 1000 words, then I open social media. It’s worked pretty well so far.

Of course, where I write also impacts on my productivity. I don’t have ‘my space’ yet, hopefully that is coming later this year. Currently I am sitting at the dining room table with my laptop and notebooks to write book three.

Sam Carrington Where I Write

Sam Carrington’s writing place – what a wonderful view!

I love having the view of rolling fields and Dartmoor beyond, it’s peaceful and inspirational. Looking out of the window gives me thinking time. Despite this, I do need a designated area that’s just mine. The fact that I’m so visible and in the middle of the lounge/diner, means I am forever getting disturbed and side-tracked by the kids or husband. The noise of the TV is annoying – and these things definitely prevent me writing as much as I could.

Only time will tell if the new room (without my fab view ☹) does have a positive impact on how productive I am!

For now, I’m off to write a thousand words…

Good luck, Sam! Thank you so much for giving us a snapshot of your day! Sam’s book Saving Sophie is available here, and her second novel Bad Sister will be out 30 November 2017 and is available for pre-order here.

 

How I Got My Literary Agent (Part two)

If you haven’t read my last post about my experiences of submitting manuscripts to literary agents, click here to read the back story.

If you have (and thank you!) then you might recall I’d written another manuscript (The Boy at the Window) based on a family who never left the house. This was from the point of view of an eight-year-old boy. The style was totally different to my previous work. I entered it into a few novel competitions, and I was longlisted for three of them! After writing three manuscripts, subbing one to death (if you’ve read it – you’ll see the irony), this was an amazing turnaround. This was something I could put in my covering letter! At last, I had something useful to say to agents when I submitted it!

The agent stats for this MS (The Boy at the Window) are:

  • Total submissions:                 16
  • Form Rejections:                     2
  • Personalised rejections:     3
  • Full MS Requests:                  7
  • No reply:                                      4

The full manuscript requests for this book, unfortunately, didn’t lead to representation; most said it needed work, but good luck in finding another agent.

To everyone who has ever entered competitions and not been placed, it says nothing about your talent as a writer. And don’t ever think that because an agent doesn’t respond within hours, days, weeks, months, after an initial submission that they’re not interested. One of my full requests was after three months. It’s a good sign that the agent is prioritising her clients, but also that she has a lot of submissions.

But, after all of these rejections, I had a new category:

Would see other work: 3

By the time one of these lovely agents replied asking for a full request, I had almost finished another manuscript that I’d been working on (they say when subbing one – begin another). I was within weeks of putting the final touches to 99 Red Balloons (after re-writing/editing it about twenty times, printing it off and editing, sending it to beta readers, then editing again, and printing the MS for a second time for rogue typos – it’s a long slog!).

Although this agent enjoyed The Boy at the Window, there was a lot of work to be done. She said to send over my next manuscript when it was finished. I replied that I had another that would soon be ready.

Of course, as a subbing writer, you’ve already done your research about the agents you are sending it to, but I checked her profile again. This was my dream agent. It was why I subbed to her in the first place.

In case she didn’t like it – a thought still ingrained from years of submissions to agents – I subbed to a few others too.

I received several nice personalised rejections, but seven full manuscript requests that led to FOUR offers of representation! It was such a surreal time.

One of these was from Caroline Hardman, my dream agent. Caroline had come back to me quickly after reading half of my book and said she’d love to represent me. I felt awful having to turn down the other agents who were great, but I knew Caroline was The One. Her and Joanna’s agency is so highly respected, plus Caroline’s originally from Manchester (I know that sounds strange, but it’s LOCAL to me!). Caroline ‘got’ my characters and the book.

So in June last year, I signed on the dotted line …

My debut novel 99 RED BALLOONS will be published 24th August 2017 (Avon HarperCollins) and is available for pre-order here.

How I Got My Literary Agent (Part one)

Apologies in advance for this long post. If you’re a writer seeking an agent, then you’ll understand that it’s a long ‘journey’ (sorry – that’s so X Factor). I’ve put this in two parts, so as not to lose your interest. And, actually, in some ways, it is a bit like X Factor.

In June 2016, I was lucky enough to be signed with a literary agency. I say lucky, but it took years of writing and rewriting several manuscripts to get that ‘lucky’ (one of my favourite quotes is: ‘The harder I work, the luckier I am’). If you’re reading this and have just started out writing, or have been writing for years getting nowhere, my message to you is DON’T GIVE UP!

I’d written short stories off and on since the late 1990s, and had enrolled on online writing course (which I still need to finish…). But life got in the way, as it always tends to do, until 2012 when I began writing A Novel. I’d had an idea for years, and managed to write about 65,000 words. I never thought I’d be able to write that many in the first place, so that was a huge personal achievement.

Meanwhile, part of an assignment for the writing course was to look up literary agencies. I had only a vague idea what these were. Previously, I had assumed a writer would simply send their manuscript to a publisher and wait The Long Wait for the postman to return it. But thankfully, it was easier (and cheaper) than that – no postage involved: it was sent to literary agents via email.

It was now 2014 and I made a list of a few agents who I thought might like my novel, sending them the first three chapters, or however many pages they wanted (some of them vary greatly), along with a cover letter. I’d researched online what to write in said cover letter – and was anxious about the tiniest things (kind regards or yours sincerelyMs, Miss, or Mrs?)

So I sent off my submission package and waited. And waited. And … yes, you guessed it … waited.

Zilch.

Tumbleweed. Lots of it.

They must be really busy, these agents, I thought. I’ll just send out some more batches.

A few batches later there was an email from one of Them. This is what it said:

 Thank you very much for your enquiry regarding your work.  We take on new clients very sparingly and in order to do so we have to feel that something is very special indeed.  Having considered your enquiry we’re afraid we are not confident we could find you a publisher so we regret that we’re unable to take the matter further.  We wish you the best of luck elsewhere.

It was my first rejection and it really hurt. I’d spent nearly two years writing this manuscript and they thought it wasn’t ‘special’. I soon learned that this agency wasn’t the only one to think that. The rejections just kept rolling in:

We’ve now had a chance to consider your work and I’m afraid we don’t feel that we are the right agency to represent it.

Thank you for sharing it with us though and we wish you the best of luck in finding representation elsewhere.

I learned from my writing group that these were ‘form rejections’. Agents are busy people. As well as ‘agenting’, they receive hundreds of manuscripts a WEEK. They don’t have time to tell us why they don’t connect with our work.

I kept re-writing The Book – changing the first few chapters, the ending, the middle – someone, somewhere just might like it.

But no, no they didn’t. The stats for this book are as follows:

  • Total submissions sent out: 27
  • Form rejections:                      16
  • Personal rejections (where the agent will give a few words why it wasn’t for them): 1
  • No reply:                                    10

I’d also entered it into several competitions – there was nothing going on there either. I had to face up to the fact that this book wasn’t going to be The One. But I loved writing. While looking after my children and working, it was something just for me.

In 2014 and 2015 I’d written two manuscripts as part of NaNoWriMo – where for thirty days in November, writers across the world unite in attempting to write 50,000 words in thirty days. I won’t lie – it was a hard slog. I came home from work one day with a migraine yet still typed three thousand words because the next day was the last and I couldn’t let myself down.

So I knew I could write more words. These two manuscripts, however, were shocking. Well, they might be okay, but I’m not going to read them for a long time as I’ve a feeling they’re really bad.

Between writing these, however, I’d written another book. I’d read an article about a family in New York who’d been kept from the outside world by their father. This wasn’t the one to hook an agent, but it was the one that had a unique-enough hook to get my foot in the door…

More in part two.

My debut novel 99 RED BALLOONS will be published 24th August 2017 (Avon HarperCollins) and is available for pre-order here.

 

As One Would

My good friend Lydia and I went to see the amazing Margaret Atwood last week.

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Margaret Atwood reading from Hag Seed. (Apologies for the terrible quality of this photo. It was taken on my phone and we were up in the stalls!)

She talked about her recent novel Hag Seed, which is based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Lydia and I celebrated (writers celebrate EVERYTHING!) with these:

margaret-atwood-2

So, although I did make some notes, they are largely jibberish and a shorthand of a different time and place. But I did come away with some quotes:

Margaret’s favourite book is A Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy

‘It is impossible to write a novel that isn’t a social commentary.’

‘Novels allow a reader to imagine they’re someone else. They foster empathy.’

margaret-atwood-1