It’s been a funny old year. I last posted on 1st January and my aim for 2018 was to waste less time on social media (which I achieved) so that I’d have more time for the important things. And that kind of worked.
There were some pretty huge distractions going on for most of the year. Things that sucked up a huge amount of time, money and energy and my health and personal objectives took a hit. I’ll spare you the details but as a result I will be very glad to see the back of 2018.
However, it was also a year when great things happened.
I continued writing features and websites and took on some part time work for a charity which I love.
I’ve long dreamed of setting up a reading group at the local primary school but was never very sure there would be much take up for it. How wrong I was. The club has been running for three terms now and it is oversubscribed going into 2019 with a waiting list for the following term.
We’ve read three brilliant books: The Last Wild by Piers Torday, Dream Snatcher by Abi Elphinstone and Flight by Vanessa Harbour and I’m looking forward to introducing the children to the quirky world of beetles in M G Leonard’s book Beetle Boy in January.
I’ve also redrafted my novel twice and am getting closer to the moment where I will feel happy to start subbing it out to agents. Still a few months of editing and tweaking to go but the end is in sight.
And the best bit? I entered it into the Bath Children’s Novel Award in December and out of nearly 800 entries mine was one of the longlisted books.
Right now as I’m writing this, one of the junior judges could be reading my novel as part of the shortlisting process.
It’s an awesome feeling to think that the story I’ve laboured over is being read by its intended audience and I can’t wait for the 15th of January when the shortlist will be announced.
Even if I don’t make it on it, I’m still super proud of the achievement and feel even more enthused to get it finished and out into the big wide world.
So as I bid farewell to 2018 I am looking forward to carrying on with all my projects during 2019 and hoping to nudge the book a bit further towards publication.
This month’s author chat is with a psychological thriller writer who started off self-publishing before she got a publishing contract based on the success of her novels.
I particularly loved what she had to say about first drafts – it resonated with me and I can tick off every one of the items she mentioned! In fact I might just print out her final comments and stick them somewhere to keep reminding me that all the problems in my draft are fixable.
I hope her story and advice give you a bit of encouragement to carry on whatever draft you’re on.
How long had you wanted to write for before you began?
I’d spent almost twenty years working as a journalist, so had always earned a living through my writing. But it didn’t enter my head to try to write a book until I got an idea that simply wouldn’t go away.
Over a period of about two years, it developed into a storyline, but I didn’t honestly think I’d ever get round to writing a book as I was too busy in my job until one weekend I bought a laptop, and started writing my book during snatched lunchbreaks, and on my commute on the train. It still wasn’t about writing a book, though, it was more about doing something I loved, and that stubborn idea for a book seemed as good a thing as any to work on.
Within six months, though, I’d written enough to know I really wanted to finish the story. I still didn’t know if I could, as I’d never produced such a large body of work before, but the desire to type The End became all-consuming
What was your first published novel?
The novel I had been working on during lunch breaks and on my commute started to become more and more important to me. Eventually, it became my first published novel, Invisible, which became a bestselling psychological thriller in the UK and US.
Writing it had been hard work, but so much fun. First, I’d written a very simple outline of the plot. I’d also picked the title early on – choosing Invisible because it helped consolidate in my own head what the theme of the book would be: the twisted journey of a woman who starts out feeling ignored and unnoticed in her own marriage and friendships, and later becomes one of the most hated women in Britain. She is the invisible victim of a series of horrific crimes; someone everyone sees but no one cares about.
After eighteen long months, I finally finished it. It had gone through various drafts and revisions. After years of being able to write features that were published in national magazines unchanged, it was a culture shock to suddenly have to go over and over and over (and over) my work to get it right. I didn’t bother with writing forums. I know this may draw shocked gasps, but I was so certain of my idea that, right or wrong, I felt other people’s input would simply confuse me.
Then I contacted agent after agent. Though rejected by them all, the vast majority went to the trouble of saying they had enjoyed Invisible; that it was well-written, different, imaginative…it just didn’t fit in with what they were looking for at that time. I could have got hung up on the rejection but instead I took it as a great sign. The experts liked it, I liked it – if I published, hopefully others would like it…
I’d read about self-publishing from magazine articles. I chose Amazon as it cost nothing and has global reach. My partner is a professional artist, and I’d spent years working on magazine covers, so together we created the striking image for the book’s jacket.
Invisible wasn’t an overnight success, but after a few months it hit the charts. I built on its success by writing a second novel, Flowers For The Dead. This second psychological thriller was also a genre bestseller here and in the US.
How did you find your agent? Was that an easy process?
The success of my self-published novels had been noticed by a publisher, Bookouture. They expressed interest in seeing the next manuscript I completed. When my third novel was finished, I sent it to them and a few other publishers, and a handful of agents.
Several got back to me. But I loved Bookouture’s innovative, modern approach and its friendly persona. I’d read and enjoyed a lot of their authors’ works, and knew it was where I wanted to be.
At the same time that I signed with them, I was taken on by my agent, Jane Gregory, of Gregory and Co. Jane has an incredible reputation, particularly in the crime genre, as she helped found Harrogate Crime Writing Festival, and represents the likes of Sarah Hilary, Belinda Bauer, and Val McDermid. As soon as I met Jane, we clicked.
Once you had an agent/publisher what did you learn through the editing process?
I had employed an editor for my previous books, so I’d already learned an awful lot about pacing, structure, characterization, etc. But my new editor at Bookouture, Keshini Naidoo, is brilliant. It’s so important to have a good relationship, and trust your editor, so the two of you can work together to make the book even better. She’s always so upbeat, positive and energized that her suggestions never feel like criticisms.
What advice would you give to any aspiring novelist?
The thing I probably hear most when people are writing their first book is that they get disheartened because it’s a mess, so they give up. Or they spend ages going back over that beginning, rewriting it, honing it, but never doing anything else.
My advice? Don’t worry about editing as you go, just push forward and get the plot down.
The first draft will be a mess. There will be bits that make no sense, characters who change name halfway through because you decided you didn’t like their original moniker (or forgot it), and plot holes big enough to drive a bus through. That can all be fixed – but at least you will have a story entire to fix. If you keep polishing those first few chapters you’re unlikely to ever get to the end of your book.
USA Today bestseller Barbara Copperthwaite is the author of psychological thrillers INVISIBLE, FLOWERS FOR THE DEAD, and THE DARKEST LIES. Her latest book, HER LAST SECRET, was published on 13th October.
With over twenty years’ experience as a national newspaper and magazine journalist, she’s interviewed the real victims of crime – and also those who have carried them out. That’s why her novels are dark, realistic and tackle not just the crime but its repercussions.
When not writing feverishly, she is often found hiding behind a camera, taking wildlife photographs.
I’ve just recovered from a weekend at the University of Winchester attending their annual writer’s festival. And what a weekend that was. it’s not often – read that as never – that I get to spend that much time focused on my fiction and it lived up to my every expectation.
Lemn Sissay was the keynote speaker – powerful, vibrant, funny and profound. He talked about how although we write individually, tucked away in our oneness, that writing is a team sport. And that’s the feeling I came away with from this weekend. Everybody supported each other. The speakers wanted us to do well – particular thanks to Adrienne Dines and Helen Dennis for brilliant workshops. I met up with friends and made new ones. And we cheered for those who had requests from agents for full manuscripts.
I think it was Helen Fields in her after dinner speech who said that Winchester Festival changes you. It sounded like one of those throw away comments which sounds good at the time washed down with a glass of pinot grigio. But you know, when the swirling blizzard of thoughts and ideas finally settled some time over the 48 hours since coming home, then I can say now that actually yes it does.
I have a new found confidence and I’m brimming with ideas and enthusiasm to take to my writing. I’ve already made some decisions that were just not in my consciousness prior to the weekend. My agent meetings went well – and they play a large part in the confidence I’m beginning to feel in myself – thank you to Felicity Trew and Ella Kahn for cheeriness and professionalism at the end of a very hot Saturday. But it was also the enthusiasm of all the speakers and delegates rolled into one that grows into something bigger than the sum of its individual parts.
I’m already looking forward to whatever package of speakers and events the organisers will be pulling together for next year and eagerly awaiting the email so that I can book it all over again.
Today I’m going to copy a post from fellow journalist Ellie Levenson which gives a fairly simple, balanced overview to the referendum for kids. Ellie wrote this to help promote her new children’s book – The Election – see the link at the bottom for more information. (I wish there was an adult equivalent. It would be more helpful than all the half-truths and smears bandied around over the last few weeks).
On Thursday grown ups in our country, the United Kingdom, are allowed to vote on whether we stay in the European Union (EU) or not. This type of voting is called a referendum.
The European Union is like a club. All the countries that are members agree to do some things the same. For example, let people live in any of the countries also in the club, sell each other things without paying extra money, and have some of the same laws.
There are four main areas people are thinking about when deciding whether to remain a member or leave.
1) The Economy
People who want to remain think that our country will have more money if we stay in the European Union. People who want to leave think that our country will have more money if we leave the European Union. If the country has more money then we can have better services such as more doctors, nurses, libraries and schools, and there will be more jobs so people will also have more money to spend.
People from countries in the EU are allowed to live and work in any other country in the EU. When people come to live in a new country it is called immigration. People who want to leave the EU think that we should only allow some people to come and live here because they don’t think we have enough space or houses or jobs for everyone and they worry it stops the United Kingdom from feeling British. People who want to stay in the EU think that anyone from the EU should have the opportunity to live in any other country and that having people from lots of countries living here makes our country more exciting because we get to share different types of food and music and art and because those people help do jobs in our country and think of ways to make life better for everyone. They also think it is the right thing to do because anyone who wants to have the opportunity to get a good job and to give their family a nice life should be allowed to. People who want to leave the EU worry that that people from countries who are not part of the EU club will come into other countries in the EU and then find it easy to get to this country. People who want to stay in the EU mainly think that if someone is unhappy in their country, either because there is war or not enough food or no jobs or because they can’t live their life the way they want to, then they should be allowed to live here while we work with other countries to make their country a safe place for people to live.
3) Workers’ Rights
Many of the laws that help people at work are because we are a member of the EU and have to have the same laws as the other countries in the EU. An example is if your mummy was allowed to have some time not working when you were a baby but still got paid, or if your parents can have holidays from work while being paid, and people not being able to work so many hours that they are too tired. People who want to leave the EU either think these laws are not important or that we don’t need the EU to help us make these laws.
A long time ago, probably when your grandparents’ own mummies and daddies and grandmas and grandpas were alive, there were wars in Europe and our country was involved. War is when countries fight each other. When we are in the same club like the EU it means that if countries have an argument with each other then they are more likely to sort it out by talking than by fighting. This is very important because when countries fight they use guns and bombs and people get hurt and can die. People who want to stay in the EU think that there is less chance of our country fighting other countries if we are in the same club.
Whichever way the country votes, you don’t need to worry about it. Grown ups vote for a government and it is their job to sort things out so that you are safe and can have a happy life. But it is important to understand what the grown ups are talking about and voting for, so that when you are a grown up you can have a say and make the world better for everyone.
Like this? Please share it. And if you want to explain General Elections to your child do buy our book The Election by Eleanor Levenson and Marek Jagucki, a non partisan story book for 3-8 year olds that explains about voting, elections and democracy.
Beckham might be feeling slighted for being skipped over in the New Year’s Honours list but in my own personal list it’s all about health and fitness.
So bypassing the normal rules for who gets a gong here’s my top five rundown of who deserves more than just a pat on the back for inspiring others to change their life for the better.
1. Kathleen Desmaisons. Never heard of her? Well, she’s an American who sold her house to fund a Phd study of how certain foods, namely sugar, can be addictive and what effects this can cause certain people including depression and low self esteem to name just two. Her book Potatoes not Prozac and her support groups have helped thousands of people all over the world turn their lives around from one of addiction to one of radiance. It was reading her book in 2011 that finally got me off the sugar roller coaster which puts her at the top of my list.
2. James Duigan – an Australian. Founder of the Clean and Lean approach to eating ie eating everything in its most natural state and so avoiding processed foods. He’s also a fitness trainer and founder of the Bodyism gym and so his books are a mixture of healthy recipes and simple exercises. What I like about him is that it is all common sense and he embodies the lifestyle that he recommends.
3. Julia Buckley. We’re back in the UK now and Julia is a Staffordshire lass like myself. She’s also the author of the soon to be released Fat Burn Revolution programme. A 12 week fitness plan with healthy eating guidelines which as many of you know I have just completed. It’s an intense programme with daily workouts of between 20 and 60 minutes and it is brilliant. I went from a size 12 to a 10 and feel stronger and more energised than I have in a long time. More importantly I finally feel like I’ve got back to being the healthy person who enjoys exercise that I was before I had children.
4. Michael Mosley – he gets my vote for his documentaries into fasting and exercise which have gone on to be published as The Fast Diet and Fast Exercise. I don’t follow the Fast Diet (also known as 5:2) but I know plenty of people who do who have had very good results with it. I am fascinated by the science behind it and the health benefits that it seems to bring so I’m keeping my eye on it. What interests me the most though is the more recent Fast Exercise book that he wrote with journalist Peta Bee. It’s all about short bouts of high intensity exercise – a few minutes of hard work a week could make a big difference to a lot of people. I recommend this book to absolutely everyone. If you want to make only one change to your life then this is the one.
5. Jamie Oliver. I know he’s not a typical health and fitness kind of person but he is all about food and cooking from scratch and if more people did that then there would be less health and weight problems in this country than there are now. He’s done a lot to improve food in schools and his books, particularly an earlier book, Ministry of Food, have encouraged people who haven’t been confident to cook before to give it a try. All he needs to do now is set up a national cookery programme to be added to the school curriculum so that the next generation are equipped to cook healthy food for themselves and I’ll be happy. Go on Jamie, you can do it.
Whatever your health and fitness wishes are for the new year maybe one of the above will help or inspire you and I hope you have a healthy and happy 2014.
Writing features for nationals and press releases, web copy and blogs for businesses in Hants, Surrey and Sussex