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Bookish. Publisher at Louise Walters Books. Reader, writer, and editor. Working class gal.

Monday, 19 December 2016

New look blog and brand new website!

Over the weekend I set up a website for myself, http://www.louisewaltersbooks.co.uk/

I would love some feedback if anybody has the time... a week before Christmas! Perhaps when it's all over!?

I've updated my blog to co-ordinate with the website. I hear so much about author "branding"... I'm not sure about that, but I do think it's important to have a unified look online. It was a very busy but sedentary weekend!

Merry Christmas to you all and let's hope 2017 brings all the good things.

In the meantime, here's a coffee with cream. Enjoy!

Friday, 9 December 2016

Book Bingo - end of year reading round-up

I can't believe it's December again already. This time last year my family and I were preparing to move house. We moved on Friday 18th December (after getting the call that morning!) To be honest, we didn't have much of a Christmas last year, so this one will be our proper first Christmas in our new home. Looking forward to it!

I saw this wonderful "Book Bingo" feature on Cleo Bannister's blog. Many thanks to Cleo for agreeing to me doing something similar on here!

I don't quite have a full house... I haven't read a book with more than 500 pages! Nor did I read a book with a number in the title, or a book from the bottom of my TBR pile. 

Here are some of the books I can tick off  the book bingo reading year...

The second book in a series: Marking Time by Elizabeth Jane Howard (second of The Cazalet chronicles). I also read the first one, The Light Years, and I'm looking forward to completing the series, hopefully in 2017. 

A book written by someone under 30: The Girls by Emma Cline - slick and stark, beautiful and horrifying, The Girls is an impressive (if imperfect) debut novel. 

A book of short stories: The Gingerbread Wife by Sarah Vincent. Chilling, mysterious, atmospheric, with a smattering of magic realism. Fabulous collection, and another amazing cover by the talented Jennie Rawlings

A book with a one word title: Damage by Josephine Hart. Beautifully written, and delightfully short (my favourite kind of novel)! Not one wasted word (including the title) in this chilling, outstanding story. 

A book published this year: Midwinter by Fiona Melrose. Unique and lyrical, a wonderful winter read, and another impressive debut. 

A book set on a different continent: Beneath a Burning Sky by Jenny Ashcroft, which is set in Egypt. I could feel the heat in this tense, engaging and beautifully written novel. 

A funny novel: A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. Funny, fresh and fantastic. I loved it. 

A book by a female author: I'm going to invert this to a book by a male author. Only one male-authored novel for me this year: Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household. Another short, quick, smart, exciting story. The opening is well worth re-reading as a perfect lesson in how to plunge your reader straight into the (considerable) action. 

All the 46 or so books I've read this year are on my Goodreads page, if you'd like to see my full reading year. 

I acquired a new-to-me Kindle this year (thanks to my talented friend Isabel Costello) and of course my first read on it was Isabel's wonderful Paris Mon Amour. This is a novel I hope gets the attention it deserves in 2017. 

Last but not least, I had the great pleasure of reading Louise Jensen's debut The Sister. 

(This is the cake version)

Louise was my first mentee via the fabulous WoMentoring Project, and it's wonderful to see her success with The Sister.

Thank you to everybody for reading my blog this year, for chatting with me on Twitter, and for following my self-publishing adventures. I am so looking forward to March, when A Life Between Us will be published.

I hope Father Christmas brings everybody some wonderful bookish presents. 

Merry Christmas! 


Saturday, 22 October 2016

ARCs have landed!

On Thursday afternoon three boxes of books were delivered to my home. I was almost trembling as I opened up the first box. I knew what was in it... but I was worried about so many things: would they be printed properly? Would the cover "work" on an actual physical book?  Would there be a massive glaring typo on the first page?

Thankfully, all is well. The books are fine. The cover looks fantastic, and so far I haven't found a typo (but I just know they're there, somewhere!)

Here is a photo of a relieved author:

Then other fears set in: OK, I ordered 60 review copies of my book and I need to find recipients for them all. Many are already ear-marked for various newspapers and magazines ( I know, probably a bit naive of me, but really, what's the point in not trying?), and of course all those wonderful book bloggers.

My next fear: what if people hate it? Worse, what if people don't read it? Worst, what if it's universally ignored? (The reality for most books, of course)

Then I realised, if my book is ignored, and that is pretty much the worst case scenario, I have nothing to fear. I'll be a few quid down. I'll be disappointed. But disappointment and being a bit out of pocket are truly small prices to pay in exchange for the experience of bringing out my own book. All that work, all those hours, all the fretting - it's taught me so much about writing and publishing and how a book comes together. That I've been the driving force behind that is something I'm proud of. Really proud.

Here's a photo of a proud author:

It's not the best novel ever written. It's not the worst. But it's mine, it's the best I'm capable of at this point in my career. I've given it 100%, and I have not one single regret about embarking on this self-publishing venture. In fact I think more authors should give it a go, if they have the means and the curiosity, even just for one of their books. It's (not a great word, but will have to do), empowering.

Sometimes we writers can feel like a cog in a corporate machine. Sometimes we feel we are the least important person involved in the production of our books. Sometimes we hate the cover, or we don't like our editor's ideas. We can feel steered in a direction we don't actually want to go in. Our publication date can be disadvantageous. And we have no control over any of this. The lack of control can be frustrating, and even a little bit frightening*

It's been fabulous to let go of all these issues. It's been eye-opening to take back the control. It's not been perfect, but it's been GOOD.

Thanks for reading XX

*I finally understand the implications of my INFJ personality!

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

A Life Between Us cover reveal!

I am delighted to share with you the cover for my forthcoming second novel, A Life Between Us. I've worked with the amazing Jennie Rawlings who has done an incredible job. She has captured the essence of the novel and has managed to draw together so many of its elements in one arresting image. Knowing the novel as I do, there is much to discover and, I hope, intrigue in this design.

I loved being involved with this. Jennie asked me for my thoughts, and I sent her a brief, and she read the novel. This is the first concept she came up with and I loved it. I didn't think we needed to try anything else as this one seems so perfect for the book.

I do hope you like it as much as I do....

Please let me know what you think in the comments, or on Twitter (#ALifeBetweenUs) or on my Facebook writer's page. 

A Life Between Us will be published in paperback and e-book on 28th March 2017.

A limited number of advanced review copies (proofs) will be available from October.


Sunday, 21 August 2016

Letters and business cards

In September I'm heading off to the London Screenwriters Festival. I am so excited... I only have one screenplay to hawk about (my adaptation of Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase), but it is dear to my heart and I'm so looking forward to getting help and advice to move the project forward. Apparently business cards are essential at the festival, so I organised some this week:

Bit of a Mrs S theme to these... couldn't resist popping a photo of Mrs Sinclair's foreign editions on the back! 

Getting back to my novel writing, I thought I'd share more of my forthcoming novel A Life Between Us. It's a story told in three strands, and one of those is a series of childhood letters written by my protagonist, Tina, as a child in the 1970s. The letters are all written to her cousin Elizabeth, who Tina has never met, and who doesn't appear in the novel. I don't know about you, but I love epistolary novels, and although mine isn't told entirely in letters, they do play a major part. Here is the first of the letters that Tina writes. It appears after the prologue (please see my previous post!) and before chapter one.

Wednesday 29th October 1975
Dear Elizabeth
Thank you, thank you for being my pen pal. I have wanted a pen pal for a long time. Its handy that your dad is my Uncle Robert but its funny because I have never met him. He went to live in New Zeeland in 1963 my dad said, a long time ago but he lives in America now which you will know because thats where you live. You and me are cusins which is nice. My name is Tina Thornton (we have the same last name you see?) and I am 8 years old in 3 days, on the first of November, don’t forget my birthday please but I know its too late for this year and can you tell me when is yours? I have a twin sister her name is Meg. She is one day older than me. Meg is bossy and sumetimes I don’t like her but most of the time I do like her. Do you have any sisters or bruthers? My proper name is Christina and Megs is Marghuerite but we dont like our real names much. We get teased about them. Other kids say they are posh names la-di-da. We live with our mummy and daddy. In our village we also have our granny and grampys house and our Aunty Lucia lives there too. She is your dads sister! My dad is your dads yungest brother! We have another granny and grampy but we dont see them much. Please write back, I am excited to get your next letter and now I will finish,
Love from Tina Thornton nearly aged 8
PS my hobbies are writing letters. I love reading too. My Uncle Edward says I am a bookworm like him. I like playing with my dolls.

If you would like an early read of A Life Between Us and you could review it, please let me know and I can send you an ARC in October. The novel will also be on Netgalley from December. The publication date is 28 February 2017.

Thanks so much for reading. I hope to have cover news to share soon...

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

A Life Between Us

I'm thrilled to say I'm kicking off my publicity campaign for my forthcoming novel, A Life Between Us. Today I'm excited (and a little lot nervous) to share with you the prologue.

Quick heads up: A Life Between Us will be published by Matador in February 2017. However, if you fancy an early read, I am arranging for Advanced Review Copies to be printed in September/October. I'm currently putting together a list of readers who would like an ARC, in return for a review. It doesn't have to be a long or beautifully crafted review (although that would be brilliant). On Amazon or Goodreads, just one sentence or even one word will suffice. On Goodreads, simply leaving a star rating is enormously helpful to authors. I'd also be thrilled to do interviews and Q&As on blogs. I'm open to ideas! This novel has been on quite a journey, and there is a story behind the story, I think. I'm always up for talking about my self-publishing decision, and the experience of self-publishing after being traditionally published.

Proofed and good to go...

Please do get in touch on here, on Twitter @LouiseWalters12, or on my Facebook writer's page if you are interested in a review copy. What I won't be doing is sending out unsolicited ARCs... well, maybe one or two... I am mindful that book bloggers and authors tend to get bombarded by books. But please accept this blog post as an invitation. I'd be happy to add you to the list.

A Life Between Us will also be available to request on Netgalley, from around December.

OK,  here's the prologue in full. I do hope you enjoy it.

July 2014
Lucia wandered from room to empty room. The house whispered to her, echoing with the sounds and colours of days gone by. The removal men hovered outside. The taxi she’d booked had arrived, and the driver tapped his steering wheel, looking hopefully at the house, the engine of his car ticking over. They could all wait. In the small bedroom at the back of the house she gazed for the last time at the green fields, the clouds gathering in the distance, the summer hedges in full flow. The cows grazed as they had always grazed, the sun shone over the fields like it had always shone and always would. She crept into the room that had once been her parents’, then her mother’s, then for many years her brother’s. It was a particularly barren room, scarred by the removal of its furniture. The wallpaper had faded to a forgettable off-white, where it had once been a rich cream scattered with tiny rosebuds. This was a house that breathed its history; it sighed and whispered of its tragedies, of which there had been two. Unforgivable events that could not be undone, like all tragedies. But Lucia hoped they could now, at last, be forgotten.  
            In her bedroom, the sullen emptiness was hard to bear. She stood reluctantly at the window and heard once more, as she always would hear, those plaintive cries: No! Please! Stop! Forgive me! She looked down at the floor beneath the window and there was still the pale pink stain on the floorboards. She’d not managed to clean it completely, despite scrubbing and scrubbing, again and again. No matter. The house wasn’t hers anymore. 
            She slowly struggled down the steep narrow staircase, her gait awkward. Her leg had not been right for weeks. Since the day Edward— But she would not think of that. She would not think of him again, her handsome brother; the monster he had become, the monster he had in fact always been. She would never see him again. Her mind was set. Never. She would not see any of them: not Simone ‒ especially not Simone ‒ not even Tina. Despite everything, Lucia supposed she was indebted to her niece, and in her dark heart there lurked somewhere a solitary beat of gratitude.
            Downstairs, she made sure to leave all the interior doors open. The house could do with an airing. The new owners would no doubt tear the place apart, rip up the carpets downstairs, put in new flooring. There had been talk of an extension and a conservatory. In need of modernisation. There had been a suggestion that all those overgrown plum trees at the top of the garden would need to come out. They blocked the afternoon light. The laurel hedge too, so thick and overgrown… She wondered at the destruction to be wrought upon this, the only home she’d ever known – Lane’s End House. Many years ago her father had proudly chosen the name. Would that also have to be changed?
            She pulled the front door to behind her and took her time in locking it. She made her way down the three front steps and walked across the lawn to the gate. She closed it behind her, taking care not to let it clang shut. That would be too much.  
            She opened the door to her taxi and slowly settled herself into the passenger seat. The removal men climbed into their cab, one of them throwing away the remains of his cigarette with obvious relief. The van’s engine started, loud and raucous. Miss Lucia Thornton fastened her seatbelt and stared resolutely ahead. The van pulled away, the taxi followed, and she did not look back.

Monday, 1 August 2016

The Sister book launch

I recently had the great pleasure of attending the launch party for Louise Jensen's debut novel, The Sister. On a warm July evening, my daughter and I drove to Kettering and found the venue, Not Just Words Bookshop, with its wonderful staircase...

Then we entered the delightfully relaxed and quirky second hand bookshop and spotted this lovely cake...

The shop is full of not only books, but musical instruments and squashy sofas. A talented pianist serenaded the guests. We were greeted by Louise, who looked beautiful in her stylish jumpsuit...

Here she is, signing copies of The Sister.

Louise and I got to know each other through the Womentoring Project, and I worked with Louise over a few weeks during the (very) early stages of her work on the story that was to become The Sister. Louise was brilliant to work with, and I think we both learned a lot from our Womentoring experience.

I'm so pleased for Louise and the huge success she is enjoying with her first novel, and I'm proud to have helped out, even though it was in a small way... Louise has oodles of talent and I know she would have become published with or without Womentoring.

I was so moved to open up my copy of the book and see my mention in the acknowledgements. I wasn't expecting that! (Well, maybe I hoped...!) Always exciting to find your name in somebody else's book ;-)

It was a truly lovely launch party, full of warmth (literally and metaphorically!), family and friends. The pride in the room was palpable. Louise's publicist from Bookoutre rightfully enthused about The Sister in her speech, and Louise's own speech was fantastic... if she was nervous it certainly didn't show.

Me, Kim Nash (from Bookoutre), Louise Jensen and fellow Northamptonshire author Jane Isaac.

I drove home on a high. It really was a special evening (and my daughter came away with a pile of interesting books! I resisted...)

Many congratulations to Louise. Can't wait for the next novel!


Thursday, 21 July 2016

(Proof) reading & (screen play) writing

Seven weeks since my last update! Those weeks have flown. I've been busy though.

The first proof read of A Life Between Us has been completed and returned to Matador. It felt like there were TONS of errors, but really there wasn't a huge amount, and no major changes were needed. Lots of typos, a few words in the wrong place, quite a lot of punctuation errors... it took an age to collate my proof read with the professional proof reader's copy, but I steadily worked through it. Now I'm looking forward to reading the corrected MS. This is the stage in the publishing process that is 100% necessary... but a teeny bit tedious...

I made the decision in June to hire a book cover designer. Some time around late August I should get my first glimpse of the possible cover design. I've sent my brief to the lovely designer, Jennie Rawlings. That was interesting, as I really had to think about "my reader"... who is s/he? What does s/he do for a living? Does s/he have kids? What kind of books does s/he generally read? What kind of films do they watch? It was clarifying to think about all of that, and I can't wait to see what Jennie comes up with...

I've also been working on my screenplay for Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase. This has been such an amazing experience: my chance to tell the story all over again. I'm off to the London Screenwriters Festival in September, armed with my pitch. It's going to be... terrifying! But I am looking forward to all the workshops and presentations, and meeting lots of fellow writers. I've loved working on this screenplay, but I've no idea if it's got any promise, or not. Hopefully I'll find out more at the festival.

That's all my news for now, hope everyone is enjoying the summer now that it's finally arrived xx

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

The Proof of the Pudding...

My fully typeset novel was sent through last week. Cue some frenetic printing, panic, cold sweating and anxious reading. This is pretty much my novel, exactly as it will appear in the book. Too late for major changes or re-writes.

And it's OK. I've gone through it once, sticking in numerous Post-its, but the changes are minimal (despite appearances). I've spotted a few repetitions that didn't show up in the Word doc... a few of my word choices weren't great and I've thought of better ones... a few type-setting typos. I'm doing my fair share of obsessive checking and checking again that I've only used song titles and not lyrics... checking my usage of brand names and changing a couple to generic names just in case. But essentially, this novel is good to go. I'm impressed by the standard of the typesetting which has made the proof reading job that much easier.

Next step: I'm waiting for a professional proof reader to send me their marked up hard copy. Then I need to collate all the mistakes spotted and changes needed and send one copy back to my publisher Matador. The changes will be made, then that corrected copy will be returned to me for a second proof-read. I'm at that stage of the publishing process that feels never-ending, but it is essential to ensure my book will appear exactly as I want it to appear. Nervous times, but fun times.

I subscribe to The Bookseller and an article in last week's edition caught my eye. It talked about the effect self-published e-books are having on traditional publishers. Only it used the word "threat" rather than effect, and I find this quite astonishing and rather sad. Traditional publishing seems to want to take the moral high ground, playing their part in the creation of the "them and us" attitude, which is unhealthy and divisive. It doesn't need to be like this, really it doesn't. Especially when you consider most readers don't check, care or know who the publishers are of the books they buy or borrow. Many readers aren't certain who pays for publishing a book; and guess what? They don't care about that either. Before I became a published author none of these considerations crossed my mind.

Elsewhere in The Bookseller there is talk of the role traditional publishers play in curating books. Well, OK. But this kind of assumes that trad publishers bring out only the finest work by the finest writers... which is not always the case, as we all know (although very often it is). It also assumes that self-publishers don't somehow "curate" their own work. Doubtless this is true of many, but not all. I'm taking a great deal of care and pride in bringing out my self-published novel and I've worked my arse off on it, and will continue to for months to come. The broad stroke dismissal of self-publishing as non-curated garbage "threatening" traditional publishing needs to cease. I get mightily fed up of the bad feeling and endless carping between trad and self-publishing. There is so much disrespect on both "sides" and there shouldn't be. In fact, I think it's damaging to all of publishing and probably needs to stop forthwith.

One day traditional and self-publishing will team up, or at least shuffle along the bench and make room for each other. Can that be soon, please?

I've heard a rumour that my mocked up cover will be ready for me to see very soon. Actually there will be three, as I'm having problems deciding which image will work best. There is so much to consider...

Until next time xx

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Almost a book!

Last week I had style proofs sent through to me. The first twenty pages of my novel, typeset. Such an exciting moment. And how different typeset words look from Word doc words.

 My Word version...

... and the typeset version...

Seeing your work typeset is an amazing moment. It means you are another step closer to your novel being turned into a book. Also, it is amazing how different the words look when laid out as they will appear on the pages. All sorts of issues become apparent that just aren't visible in Word. Proof reading is going to be an adventure...!

Slowly getting closer to February and my nerves are jangling already... well, they have been pretty much continuously since I decided to self publish. It's hard to know how to overcome the sinking feeling. I'm trying to remain positive and I'm looking forward to all the exciting things to come.

I've had a few ideas for marketing and publicity... I invested in some stationery this week...

Letters feature strongly in the novel so I've decided they can figure in the marketing too. Hopefully it will be something a little bit different... I have to do this my way and I know this book isn't going to be The Girl on the Train, but I'm going to throw myself into marketing with every inch of enthusiasm and attention to detail I can muster. It certainly helps with the nerves when I concentrate my energies on the things that will happen, rather than the things that might happen!

More soon...

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Inbetween days...

I'm in that strange eye of the storm moment in the publishing process: copy edit work done. In fact all edits done. I'm waiting for the book to be typeset, then of course I'll be labouring away on proof reading. Essentially though the writing of A Life Between Us is done. So here I am twiddling my thumbs wondering what to do with myself (metaphorically. I have 101 things to do). 

I'd been thinking of attempting a screenplay of Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase for some time. The completion of the novel edits coincided with a bout of tendonitis... I've been more or less laid up for the last couple of weeks. So I got out my index cards, fiddled with scenes, and started writing. Just over a week after starting, I typed "Fade out" and voila - screenplay written. 

Well, all right, a first draft written. A very rough first draft by a complete amateur who doesn't understand film anywhere near enough. But it doesn't matter. I loved doing it. It was good to re-visit the story and characters. It was fun deciding which characters and events could be dispensed with... and actually, those decisions were made quickly and easily as it seemed obvious. It was fun to write new dialogue and new scenes. It was fun to use dialogue from the novel too.

I don't fully understand the conventions of a screenplay and I typed it in Word, replicating as best I could the screenplay formatting. I'm not worried about these things right now. I just wanted to concentrate on the writing at this stage and get that first draft down. Now I've lots of material (108 pages) to work on and shape into something that looks vaguely professional.

Now I've started I'm going to keep at it and maybe workshop the script or get it critiqued (once it's ready). While I love writing novels, it is exhilarating to try something else. Screenplays are a challenge to a novelist because there is no introspection... everything a character feels has to be conveyed through action and dialogue. There are no internal monologues or long passages of thoughts. It's a whole different ballgame. I actually think it's a useful exercise - looking at our story and characters in a new light, having to approach the writing in a purely visual way. If nothing else it's given me a new dimension, a new way of looking at my stories. I'd recommend it as an exercise especially if your project is ailing and in need of a fresh approach. I think you'll be thrilled with what is revealed and what you can do with it. 

I also entered a short story competition, polishing up a story I wrote last year. No hope of getting anywhere, but again it was good to craft at this story and see where I could go with it. I think it's the best I've written so far. I'm not very good at shorts but I do want to learn. I love the brevity. 

Hopefully there will be more A Life Between Us news soon!


Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Copy edits and, er, cabinets

I'm still in the thick of copy edits. I love this part of the writing/editing/publishing experience. Although, it can be tedious when you're trying to concentrate after a busy day with the home educated kids, the school runs for the school educated kid, laundry, cooking, etc. I confess to only managing an hour or so of useful editing before my eyes glaze over. I am so glad I made the decision not to rush to bring out A Life Between Us...

Author Ros Barber caused a bit of a stir this week with her Guardian piece in which she explained why she would not self-publish her literary work. Self-publishers took serious umbrage! And I don't entirely blame them (us). At the same time I think Ros made some valid points. I won't bang on about it here, as others have voiced their feelings far more eloquently than I ever could, such as Jane Davis's response on her blog yesterday.

I do want to briefly discuss Ros's analogy of a cabinet. She rightly says that you wouldn't just have a go at making a cabinet and then expect to sell it. No, you wouldn't. But a cabinet is a cabinet. Skilled joinery is universally recognisable. It's a specific skill. Bad joinery is as obvious as good joinery. In other words, it's objective.

Writing is subjective. Once you get past the nuts and bolts (sorry!) of spelling, grammar, punctuation, syntax and the ability to tell a story, all that's left is taste. You only have to look at any book listed on Amazon or Goodreads to see the variety of reviews, the diversity of responses to any given novel. The serious self-publisher (there is such a thing) engages with their inner critic, and gets help with their writing. They craft their work, as does the serious cabinet maker, and they won't unleash on the world anything that is below standard. I know that's not how all self-published authors operate, but I think it's true of many. Novels are not cabinets.

My books in my cabinet. A rather cheap, mass-produced piece of furniture, but it does the job, and lots of people love this kind of cabinet. 

Let's also remember some of the stuff that traditional publishers present to the world... among loads of fantastic books (this week I read My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout and oh my goodness, how good is that...) there are some truly awful novels and self-publishers can't be blamed for those, that's for sure. Some of these books are hyped on Twitter and elsewhere, sometimes to an irritating level. It seems if a book publicist is constantly banging on about a book, that's OK, but if a self-publisher does the same, it's unprofessional. I would argue it is, but then isn't the pushy publicist also being unprofessional? Or just doing her job?

I don't know. I'm just doing what I do, to the best of my ability. I really don't enjoy the "them and us" attitude that seems to prevail in discussions about trad "versus" self-publishing. There are many hybrid authors around, and I'm proud to say I'm one of them. To me it's an adventure - all of it, writing, editing, publishing (trad, assisted or self) - and I try not to take it all so seriously. It's a plural world, and that's a good thing.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Cover images and copy edits

Last week my copy edit for A Life Between Us arrived. It was an exciting moment, but also a terrifying one. I felt nervous opening up the document and looking at those first changes. My finger has been hitting the Accept button like there's no tomorrow... and also the Reject button a few times. I'm up to page 153 and I've discovered a few tics in my writing. I mix up tenses. I get spellings wrong (not too often though). I construct some pretty clumsy sentences. My hard working copy editor has done a great job of going through the MS and pointing out all these infelicities. Before getting stuck into the copy edited MS, I anxiously read through the copy editor's notes page and was delighted that there weren't any major mistakes to fix. I was also hoping, to be perfectly honest, to find a line or two of praise, and I did! That has given me a real boost, which links in to the whole validation issue I wrote about last time. It felt great to read the copy editor's opinion of A Life Between Us and to hear that he enjoyed working on it... phew! It's a start.

I've also been busy choosing a cover image. No easy task when you're not a designer, and you don't work in publishing! The word "amateur" keeps popping into my mind... I want to get the cover, like everything else, right: so I read a few articles about covers and the task they need to perform. I tried to keep in mind that the cover is the first thing readers will see and therefore it needs to attract. It doesn't necessarily have to reflect the story, although most covers seem to, I find, in one way or another. The thing to remember I think is that the cover only really makes sense after the novel has been read. That felt important to me and I was then able to focus on seeking out a suitable image. I knew from the start that I wanted a photographic image and I wanted something striking! Exciting! Different... then I calmed down a bit and popped on my business woman hat for a minute or two. I slowed down, and spent time looking at book covers in my genre. I'm not 100% sure of my genre but I've gone with Literary/Commercial Crossover, or, Serious "women's" fiction, or, Lit Lite.

This is the export edition of my first novel Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase. Letters feature in the novel and this cover clearly reflects that. I think this cover is mysterious and feminine, and understated. Also, a little cliched... but that's OK because the cover is fulfilling its expectations and it reflects the nature of the novel. The story inside "does what it says on the tin (cover)" and I think it's beautifully designed. 

I realise that in order to attract readers I need to go with a cover they might expect... it sounds a bit same ol, same ol, but from a business POV it makes sense. I want to sell my novel and I need the cover to help me do that. I decided if things go well I could always re-issue the book at a later date with a truly off-the-wall cover. But for its first outing it needs to "fit". I was delighted to read an article in The Bookseller this week (about the Academy of British Cover Design) which discusses that very thing. It's a timely corroboration of my thoughts. Phew again...

I won't of course be designing my cover, I'm leaving that to the designers at Matador Books. I can't wait to see how they incorporate the image I've chosen. It's going to be a huge moment... and of course all will be revealed in due course...

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Don't look down...

Last week I wrote about my tussle with vanity while deciding whether to self-publish my second novel. I've kind of got over worrying about vanity now... well, all right, I'm still a little worried about it. And the reason is, I have nobody backing me up with this project. With my first novel, while most publishers weren't falling over themselves to buy it, one of them in the end did, and it felt absolutely amazing. The publisher, although I wasn't truly aware of it at the time, provided a huge safety net. There was that oh-so-important validation from a publisher willing to take a chance on the book and pay to publish it. It's the one thing that scares me about self-publishing more than anything else. With a commercial publisher the writer gets that first seal of approval: we like this novel, hell, we love it. We believe in it. We are going to stump up the cash to publish it and what's more, we are going to pay you the author an advance and royalties.

As a self-publisher, it's just you and nothing much beneath you but solid ground. I can forgive myself the odd spell of dizziness, nausea and weak-kneed terror.

Don't look down...

Once A Life Between Us is out there, I'm prepared for the reviews citing my work as a self-published vanity project. I know that accusation is going to be thrown at me, and I'm prepared for it. It won't be nice, but it will be expected. In one sense it matters not a jot... every book ever published gets one star reviews from readers who, for a myriad of reasons, just didn't enjoy it. OK, our first one star review is bewildering, hurtful... even a little bit soul-destroying. Actually, all our one star reviews hurt, but I've learned not to take them personally. I also remind myself that I don't write my novels for those particular readers. I write for the readers who enjoy my writing and who sometimes kindly leave 4 or 5 stars, or even 3.

I've also learned to tell the difference between a genuine one star review - somebody who reads but doesn't enjoy the book - from a fake one star review: those "readers" who would give it one star regardless, those who in all probability haven't even read the book, the plain trolling one starrers... they exist, sadly. My first novel received a two star rating before the proofs had even been printed, let alone sent out.

Yet, commercially published authors have a sense of refuge. Our publisher brought out the book, not us. We can blame the publisher if sales and reviews are poor - they didn't market the book properly; they didn't market the book at all; they didn't work hard enough on the editing; they picked an awful cover. Whatever. There is somebody else there, often the might of a Big Five publisher, and the burden of responsibility is shared, or even lifted completely. Not so when you go it alone. Even with assisted self-publishing, there is little validation. OK, assisted publishing firms don't take on every single manuscript that comes their way, but nor do they have acquisition meetings where an editor fights tooth and nail for a novel they love and believe in.

So what to do about this lack of validation? I think all I can do is ensure I bring out the very best novel I'm capable of. Nobody can ask for more. Some readers will enjoy it and that will be the most valuable validation of all. It's all about the readers in the end; they are who we write for.

Next week I'll talk about my experiences of the self-publishing process so far, including my favourite task to date... helping to choose the cover image (but no reveal just yet...)

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Mirror, mirror on the wall...

Thank you for all the responses to last week's post. It got far more attention than I'd anticipated!

This week I'm going to be slightly less controversial (maybe!) and talk about vanity, an issue that is inevitably tied up with self-publishing.

One of the issues I wrestled with while considering self-publishing was my own vanity. I have it in bucket loads. I honestly believe there isn't one writer who isn't vain about their work (if nothing else)! And the reason is, we have to be - whether trad published, self-published (assisted or truly going it alone), or if hoping/planning to be published by any of these routes. If we weren't vain we would never send our work out to agents, or upload it onto Kindle. When we submit our work to agents and editors, or to beta readers or to our partners or to critiquing forums - anywhere at all, we are saying to the world:

Here's something I've written. I think it's pretty good. In fact, I think it might be wonderful.

We know we are vain because if the response is even lukewarm, let alone negative or an outright rejection, we bristle with hurt pride, we leap to our writing's defence (even if only in private), and yes, we are shocked that the reader didn't love our offering.

(One of my caffeine-fuelled writing sessions. Also, nail polish. I told you authors are vain!)  

But in the sensible writer, the true writer who understands that writing is a craft, something else kicks in. I think it's an ability to see our own work as others see it, coupled with the genuine desire to learn and develop. It's also the wisdom to realise that our vanity, while necessary, is almost always false.

The problem with writing is that just about everybody thinks they can do it. We can read, we can write, we can punctuate and spell to one degree or another... we are literate. It's not like being able to paint, or play a musical instrument. Those are rarefied skills that most of us freely admit to not possessing.

Image courtesy of Pete Tuffrey Artist 

But writing? Easy peasy. Many a time I've told people I'm a novelist and the reply is, "Oh, I would write a novel if I had the time", or, "My great uncle Ebenezer had an amazing life, you could write about that". Or that old chestnut, Everyone's got a novel in them. (They haven't though.)

Many would-be novelists are actually in love with the idea of "being a writer". It tends to top those lists of most desirable occupations time and again. But "being a writer" is a fantasy, a romanticised, Harry Potter-fuelled lie. This notion of "being a writer", coupled with vanity and ego is enough to convince some people that they "should" be published. It's not wildly different to the people who audition for The X Factor. "I really, really want this," they say, regardless of their talent. But if I wanted to "be" a great clarinetist, I wouldn't just buy a clarinet and climb up on stage and try to play it. I'd look like a compete fool. What I would do is buy a clarinet and take lessons. I would practice for hours, days, years. Realistically, I would probably accept somewhere along the line that I would never be good enough to perform to an audience other than my mother. But writing is more subtle than that, it's far murkier. What we produce looks like writing. And these days we can turn it, more or less by ourselves, into something that looks like a book.

I asked myself over and over, isn't that what I would be doing? Is self-publishing this novel nothing but a vanity project? And other thoughts - so what if my debut got a book deal? This isn't that novel. It's a different novel and it may not be as interesting, or as commercial, or as whatever. There must be a reason it didn't get a trad deal, I tell myself, and it's true. I'm risking making an almighty fool of myself, making all those horrible noises on my metaphorical clarinet.

I still wrestle with those doubts and fears. I think I'm going to throughout this project. But I hold on to the fact that I can write fairly well, I know my current limitations, and I'll always strive to exceed them. I hope I understand the craft of writing, that truly it's not much to do with the ability to put words onto paper (although that is a start). It's little to do with imagination either - everybody has imagination. It's all about responsibility to our readers. If we are vain enough to present our work to the world in whatever capacity, that's fine to a point, as long as we remember to forget about ourselves, and get inside our reader's experience, and be considerate of them at all times. A good novel is a crafted performance and as long as we hang onto that thought, I think it's fair to publish our work in any way we can or in any way we choose, and see what the world has to say about it.

Next week I'm going to talk about validation. See you then!

Disclosure: Pete Tuffrey is my brother and he's a brilliant artist, do check out his work.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Why self-publish?

Last week I told the world (my small bookish corner of it anyway) that I was intending to self-publish my second novel.

But why self-publish? I've had to think about this at length. Goodness knows I thought about taking the plunge for an awful long time... several weeks stretching into months of "Shall I?" "Should I?" "Won't it be cheating?" "Will I lose all credibility?" "Do I have any credibility to lose?" These and other equally ponderous and uncomfortable questions kept me awake at night.

The simple truth is, I'm going to self-publish A Life Between Us because I want to. Now that I've committed to the project I can stop worrying about what other people think and just get on with the job in hand, which is writing, editing and marketing A Life Between Us to the best of my ability.

Writing is a kind of magic, and getting a book deal is too. When Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase got its deal it was incredible. I enjoyed every moment of the process - getting the news, meeting the team at Hodder, working through all the edits, seeing the cover for the first time, receiving my proof copies, then the beautiful finished copies, spotting my book in shops... it was a rapturous, crazy time that I will never forget. But of course, being the slightly megalomaniac person I am (all writers have to be?) I want to do it all over again. And again... and again.

But my second novel, submitted in 2014, wasn't picked up by Hodder. It was a blow, but after a few weeks I gathered myself and I worked hard on editing. I changed much of the plot, I changed character names, I changed the title. I still believed in it. My agent sent it out again...

All right, "Because I want to" isn't really an answer, so here are some of the reasons I want to. Warning: I'm going to be honest.

A Life Between Us didn't get a traditional book deal. I would have taken a trad deal and in fact I came tantalisingly close in 2015 to getting one. I was invited to a meeting with an independent publisher. They told me how much they enjoyed my novel and how interested they were in publishing it: all very positive and exciting. A week later they changed their mind. As you can imagine, that was crushing. And the reason? I think it's because my novels or ideas for novels are all so different, it would be hard to "market" me as an author. I don't know. Perhaps there were other reasons. My husband wasn't best pleased. He took a day of annual leave so I could go to London for that meeting. I spent £34 on a train ticket. I'm still considering sending the publisher an invoice for my expenses.

I believe a good book is a good book. Possibly I'm hopelessly naive and romantic (and a little bit conceited) but honestly, you don't get asked to drag yourself down to London by a publisher to discuss your book if that book is not publishable. No publisher is going to waste their time if the story is no good (and by "good" I simply mean publishable). They just aren't. So, funnily enough, the disappointment of that strangely inexplicable experience has given me more belief in this novel. I'm indebted to the publisher for that - if nothing else. OK, decision made: I won't send them an invoice.

I've worked out, rather painfully, that the publishing industry (in very general terms of course and not including agents) is...(whispers) not quite as loyal as it could be to its authors - without whom there would be no industry. I probably don't need to say anything further, but I'm going to.

It seems that in order to be feted or encouraged or even appreciated by the publishing industry you must be a very well established author (and that is well and good and as it should be), or a debut author. Which strikes me as a real shame, because who, seriously, produces their best work at their first, or second, or even third attempt?

Can I be really honest? If I hear the words "sparkling debut" or "stunning debut" one more time, I'm going to vomit. What's wrong with "sparkling third novel"? Many writers are not given the time and support to prove themselves as the writers they are capable of being. They are brushed aside too readily, to make way for yet another "stunning debut", which, most of the time, is anything but - Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase included. I know that's not my best work. Nor is A Life Between Us. But they are both, I hope, readable, publishable, and perfectly serviceable and necessary stepping stones on the way to my best work.

It's great to publish and showcase debut authors, of course it is. We all are debut authors. But only ONCE. After that we have to build on that first novel, and write the second novel, perhaps not getting it quite right at our first attempt. Ideally we do this with support and guidance from a trusted editor who knows our potential. For too many of us, that just doesn't happen. If writers are dumped too readily, I believe readers miss out, and in the long run the publisher misses out too. Writing is a long haul. Publishers, as well as authors, need vision.

I don't hate the publishing industry, I really don't. Where on earth would we be without it? But I am frustrated and disillusioned, which in turn has led to my decision to commit to myself, to be loyal to myself, to be my own caretaker and gatekeeper to my own career, at least for now.

More next week. I'm going to address the thorny, muddled issue of vanity...

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Sistah is doin' it for herself!

I am delighted, excited and absolutely terrified to announce that  my second novel is going to be published in February 2017 and the publisher is... ME... with a lot of help (an awful lot of help!) from those lovely people at Matador.

The novel will be published in paperback and e-book and will be called A Life Between Us.

Over the coming months I'll be updating progress here on on my blog and on my Facebook writer's page, and on Twitter.

Advance review copies should be available in the autumn, so do please let me know if you'd like one and I'll start drawing up a list now. I'll also be running a giveaway before publication, and over the coming year I'll be revealing the cover, and posting up the opening chapter here on my blog. I'm also planning a series of blog posts about the self-publishing process, and an article (or two, or three) about my decision to self-publish.

In the meantime, here's a photo of Mrs Sinclair's latest foreign edition. This one is Bulgarian. Mrs S is now published in 14 languages, which is beyond exciting.

Do keep in touch, it will be lovely to have you on board! More news soon...

Louise xx


Sunday, 3 January 2016

My Reading Year 2015

A bit late, but here's the list of the books I've read in the past year. Last December I wrote a post about the books I'd read in 2014. That year I read 32 books, which I thought was quite a lot. This year I managed 39 which I'm astounded by. It's been a busy year for the whole family. Since August we've been going through the process of buying and selling our house. Just before Christmas we moved and now we are busy decorating, drilling holes, putting down carpets... you name it! I've found a gorgeous corner in our living room for some of my books (ignore the pile of Mrs Sinclair foreign editions on the floor!):

Here's what I read in 2015, all fiction unless otherwise stated:

The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse
The Small Hand by Susan Hill
The Dead Wife's Handbook by Hannah Beckerman
Letters to the Lost by Iona Grey
The Eye in the Door by Pat Barker
The Night Watch by Sarah Waters
Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively (a wonderful re-read!)
The Betrayal by Helen Dunmore
The Restoration of Otto Laird by Nigel Packer
The Followers by Rebecca Wait
Rumer Godden: A Storyteller's Life by Anne Chisholm (biography)
How to Make a Friend by Fleur Smethwick
Kingfishers Catch Fire by Rumer Godden
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

Song of the Seamaid by Rebecca Mascull
Academy Street by Mary Costello
Ammonites and Leaping Fish by Penelope Lively (memoir)
Because it is Bitter and Because it is My Heart by Joyce Carol Oates
Passing On by Penelope Lively
The Black Madonna of Derby by Joanna Czechowska
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (another wonderful re-read)
Close Range by Annie Proulx (short stories)
The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler (about writing)
Summertime by Vanessa Lafaye
The Art of Baking Blind by Sarah Vaughan
Dear Life by Alice Munro (short stories)
Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder (about writing)
Story by Robert McKee (about writing)
The Other Me by Saskia Sarginson
The Definitive Guide to Screen Writing by Syd Field (about writing)
Into the Woods by John Yorke (about writing)
Four Screenplays by Syd Field (about writing)
The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy (the third re-read this year)
The Summer of Secrets by Sarah Jasmon
In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden
Honeydew by Edith Pearlman (short stories)
Under the Ivy: The Life and Music of Kate Bush by Graeme Thomson (biography)
Heat Lightning by Helen Hull

That's 39 books, 7 more than last year, I have no idea how I managed it! Perhaps it's because I haven't been writing as much this year... or I've read in bed far too late far too many nights. Once again I've read many more women writers than men.

I've also been working on this all year, finally finishing it in October;

It's a quilt for my daughter. When she opened it on Christmas Day we both cried. Some of the fabrics were from her childhood frocks and some of the patches were made in the 1970s by my grandmother, but never worked by her into a project. It was a pleasure to use them in this quilt.

Wishing everybody a happy year of reading in 2016