Book Two is on its way!

I’ve had a busy couple of months since signing with my agent.

I have recently signed a book deal for my second psychological thriller, provisionally called The Wedding Guest. If all goes to plan, book two will be published by One More Chapter in April 2022.

Local journalist Libby is a plus-one at a celebrity wedding at a grand manor house in rural North Yorkshire. She’s the guest of her boyfriend, Matthew, who used to be in a Britpop band in the 90s. It’s the first time the band members have been reunited since the band split up and she quickly discovers that they have something to hide…

I’m really looking forward to launching Libby into the world! This book was a lot of fun to research and write.

At the moment I am doing my structural edits. These are big changes that the editor suggests in order to make sure the story works. They’re a little tricky, as you have to check that when you change something in chapter 20, it doesn’t impact on something in chapter 47. There is a lot of ‘find and replace’ going on! The plan is to complete these edits by the end of May.

I have also been working on a follow-up to this book. It’s early days and I have just done an outline, a bit of preliminary research and written about 3,000 words. This means I have put aside the other novel I was working on for the time being. At some point I am hoping to pick it back up and work on them both simultaneously but I’m not sure if my brain can handle that…

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

The road to publication: signing with a literary agent

It has taken seven years, five manuscripts and one book deal to get to this point, but I have finally signed with a literary agent. And I couldn’t be happier!

I am now represented by Camilla Shestopal from Shesto Literary.

The first time I spoke to a literary agent was at Jericho Writers’ Festival of Writing in 2014. As part of the weekend package, you could book two one-to-one sessions with literary agents to get some feedback on your work. I was so nervous, but the agents were both lovely and asked to see more of my manuscript.

Over the ensuing years, I have sent probably close to 100 submissions to literary agents and done several one-to-one meetings. Most agents want a submission package of the first three chapters, a covering letter and a synopsis. If you want any advice on writing a synopsis, I recommend Write a Great Synopsis by Nicola Morgan.

There is a lot of waiting involved with submitting to agents. Some don’t get back to you at all; sometimes you will receive a ‘form rejection’, which is a standard response without any specific feedback on your work or, if you are lucky, you might get a personal rejection explaining what they liked or didn’t like about your book.

Rejections are part of the writing life. They’re rarely personal. My way of dealing with them is to put them in a folder and never look at them again! (Unless they contain some helpful feedback of course.)

Or…you might get a full manuscript request. If you get one of those, you should definitely celebrate! Literary agents get thousands of submissions per year, so your work has stood out.

I’ve had a few near misses in the past. Literary agents who were interested in my work, but not enough to take me on.

Camilla Shestopal was the first agent to respond with a ‘revise and resubmit’ which was a full page of editorial notes about how she thought I could improve the book. I agreed with almost all of the changes, so I was happy to implement them and write another draft.

I worked on the book, with Camilla’s suggestions, for several months before she finally asked to meet me. Due to lockdown restrictions, this took place on Zoom.

To prepare for the meeting, I read two books that were very helpful:

Getting Published by Harry Bingham

Getting Published is Just the Beginning by Rhoda S Baxter

This helped me to prepare some questions and know what to expect from the meeting. Although I was nervous, it went very well, and she offered me representation! We chatted about the book, and what would happen next, and a few hours later she sent me a contract to sign.

I couldn’t be happier to have an agent. I got my first book deal without one, but I feel much more confident going into the process with my second book with an agent by my side.

The Road to Publication: Remember, the first draft is always sh*t

Wouldn’t it be lovely if you could just start writing and everything that came out of your head arrived in beautiful prose? That the ideas just kept flowing, and it all made perfect sense? How do other writers find it so easy?

The answer is they don’t. Most of the work to produce a novel comes after the first draft, in the seemingly endless rounds of edits.

The best piece of advice I ever received about writing was from a tweet by Caitlin Moran describing her first draft as ‘word vomit’. The idea that a first draft is always sh*t is quite reassuring.

The problem is that you are probably comparing your first draft to a published book which will have gone through several drafts and editorial stages. The finished product on the shelves looks very, very different from the first draft on your computer.

So, let your characters change age, name and gender half-way through. Relax when your setting changes from the South of France to Southport, when your plot veers in strange directions and hangs on unlikely coincidences, when you’re convinced that what you’re writing makes no sense whatsoever and never will.

In your first draft you can leave out scenes altogether and skip to the more interesting parts. You can add backstory that you know you will end up cutting. You can type XXX when you need to do some research. You can bring characters back to life if you killed them off too early. You just have to keep going!

I am nearing the end of the first draft of book three. I hope to have it completed by the end of January. And it is very much ‘word vomit’. It’s not something I would ever let anyone read.

But it’s easier to edit 80,000 of word vomit than it is to edit a blank page.

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

The road to publication: hitting ‘the wall’

After a month away from book three to concentrate on editing book two, I returned to it at the start of November raring to go!

I considered using NaNoWriMo to catch up with the time I had missed but decided against it. In case you have never heard of it, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and is a writing challenge to write 50,000 words in November. The idea behind it is to write quickly, not worrying too much about the quality, and then you have something to edit by the end. 50,000 words is not really long enough to be a novel but it’s a very good start.  

Some of the benefits of NaNoWriMo are the companionship of others taking part in the challenge, word sprints where you aim to reach a certain number of words in a short space of time, and writing prompts on social media. I know a lot of people who use NaNoWriMo successfully, but I have only tried it once and it wasn’t for me.

I like to plod along, adding to my word count slowly and steadily. I decided instead to aim to write 1,000 words a day for three days then have the fourth day for planning and research so completing around 5,000 – 6,000 words a week. This was considerably more than I was writing in October.

At first it went well but then my lack of planning meant I ground to a halt. I literally did not know what happened next in the plot. My characters were in a dilemma but then they were kind of stuck there and nothing was happening. I knew the ending, but I didn’t know how I was going to get them there.

I took a few days off, brainstormed a few ideas, and then carried on writing. I asked myself what was the worst thing that could happen to my characters now, and what was the best thing? What were they hoping for? What did they fear? Nothing was off the table. I told myself it would be OK to include an alien invasion if that’s what needed to happen to move the plot along. I came up with a few scenes. I wrote some more words.

And then nothing. I have never really experienced writer’s block, and I’m not sure this even counts, but I just couldn’t find any enthusiasm to write. My story was stupid, no-one would want to read it, why was I bothering? I had hit ‘the wall’.

I took the weekend off. I gave myself permission to give up writing altogether or start something new if I wanted to. I felt miserable and tired. I rested. And then this morning, at 3am (thanks insomnia!) I woke up fuelled with ideas. The words started flowing again. I have a feeling it’s going to be a rocky road ahead but at least that word count is heading in the right direction.

What do you do to keep going if you hit a wall? Any tips?

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Inspiration behind The Trip: Stainforth Force

Without wishing to post any spoilers in case you haven’t read it yet, water plays an important role in my debut novel, The Trip.

Rivers are an intrinsic part of the Yorkshire Dales scenery, from small becks to magnificent waterfalls.

Stainforth Force, just North of Settle, is a great example of a Yorkshire Dales river which is both beautiful but deadly.

The River Ribble seems to meander quite peacefully under the old stone packhorse bridge until it reaches the waterfall where it swirls and crashes against the limestone rocks.

The ancient pack horse bridge at Stainforth Force, which dates back to 1675.
The beautiful waterfall at Stainforth Force

In October, you can see salmon travelling upriver to spawn. Incredibly they manage to resist the force of the water to leap up the rocks. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any this year.

For more information about visiting Stainforth Force, visit https://www.yorkshiredales.org.uk/places/stainforth_force/

The Road to Publication: Editing Book Two

So, at the start of September I was writing the first draft of Book Three and aiming to write 3,000 words a week. This was going quite well, and I had just passed the 30,000 words mark when I received a positive response from a literary agent for Book Two!

It wasn’t an offer of representation but some positive feedback about how I could improve the novel. After months of silence from agents, it felt brilliant to have someone come back with an enthusiastic response.

I had a lot of feedback from beta readers and some thoughts of my own to add to the feedback from the agent so I decided to put Book Three on hold and embark on the fifth draft of my second book, provisionally and unimaginatively, called THE WEDDING.  

Thanks to Jericho Writers, I had been introduced to Rachael Herron’s method for revising a book and I decided to give it a go. You can find out more at her website: https://rachaelherron.com/

I wrote down all the feedback from the agent and beta readers on post-it notes and then read through the manuscript making more post-it notes as I went along. By the time I had finished, I had nearly 120 post-it notes.

I then created an Excel spreadsheet with a line for every chapter and columns for the following: Chapter Number; what happens; point of view; time and location; revisions that need to be made; research and character arc. I then inputted all the post-it notes into the relevant columns.

This took a few days but by the end I had a comprehensive editing plan. I can now see at one glance how much work each chapter needs and where the major changes are.

I am aiming to finish draft five by early November using this method and then resubmit to the agent. In the first two weeks I have managed to edit about 25% of the novel so it’s going well.

What methods do you use for editing?

Photo by Colton Sturgeon on Unsplash

The Road to Publication: Writing a first draft

I am currently writing the first draft of Book Three, as yet untitled.

Every writer is different, but I usually take around six to eight months to write my first draft. I aim to write 3,000 words a week for around 30 weeks, but life sometimes gets in the way.

I started writing my first draft on 1 July and so far, I have written 24,000 words so I am about on target to finish by the end of January / early February.

I will then take a break for around six weeks while I do some research before tackling my second draft. It’s usually after the third draft that I feel comfortable showing it to anyone.

You may have heard of ‘pantsers’ and ‘planners’ but I’m neither. I like to have an outline to work to, but I don’t plan my books too much before I start. Otherwise I feel like I have already written it and I quickly lose passion for the story. Likewise, I can’t just start writing with no idea where I’m heading so pantsing doesn’t work for me either.

I like the snowflake method of writing. If you haven’t heard of it, there is a very good ebook available which explains the method. You basically alternate between developing character and plot and work from the very essence of the novel outwards, writing and plotting as you go.

I have also recently read Save the Cat, so I am trying to structure my book according to the 15 story beats. A lot of writers struggle with a ‘flabby middle’ (where nothing really happens in the book), so I think it’s important to have a good midpoint twist. I’m quite excited about mine!

I’ll keep you posted how I get on!

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Places that inspired ‘The Trip’

In October 2017, my husband and I embarked on a backpacking trip around South-East Asia. It was a place we had visited a few times before but always on holiday. We sold our house, gave up our jobs and spent seven months exploring Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Singapore.

In my backpack was the first draft of a novel, which was then called The Pact. A psychological thriller about a student who goes backpacking with her friends after leaving university and is involved in a tragic death. Five years later, she receives a photo that proves she lied about what really happened that night…

The story (and the title) had changed quite a bit by the time my novel was finally published in February 2020, but I hope these photographs give you a flavour of how our travels inspired the novel.

If you want to read more about my adventures, please visit my travel blog: www.diaryofamiddleagedbackpacker.com

Cambodia

The characters visit the ancient temple of Angkor Wat
Holly and George go out in Pub Street in Siem Reap. The bar that features in the novel is fictional.

Vietnam

The characters take a boat trip around Halong Bay. We didn’t visit this area on our backpacking trip but we took the same boat trip in 2015.
The Temple of Literature in Hanoi
Hoi An in Vietnam – another significant scene in the book. Holly and George take a trip along the river in one of these canoes.

Thailand

The Beach in the novel is fictional but I imagine it to look a bit like this.

Yorkshire Dales

Holly lives in the Yorkshire Dales. The village in the book is fictional.