Tuesday 27 October 2009


So much of the submission process is about first impressions and page one is the foot-in-the-door... the rest has to back it up with more than a good opening pitch but ...
I'm at home; it's the holidays: I work on chapter one ;-)
I want page one to tell you everything you need to know - does it do that?
CH 1
A few small differences

Dad parked in front of the white, stone entrance. Even there I could see that things had changed. On the new school crest there was a beast standing on two legs. It had sharp teeth, raised claws and it glared down at visitors to school.

I scanned the familiar, red brick building as I walked around the front of the car to join Dad, “That’s different.”

He put his hand on my shoulder as we stepped into the reception area. He pressed both the buzzer, and my arm, while we waited. The secretary wove between the desks towards us; her expression did not match the “Welcome to Woodford College” banner on the wall.

“Good Morning. I’m Simon Trainer, and this is my daughter, Jess. We’re here to see the Headteacher.”

She picked up a pen and tapped it on the diary date, “Mr McIntyre is in his office. I’ll let him know you’ve arrived. Please push the green button and I’ll let you in.”

We walked into the brown, tiled corridor and sat beside the office. I smoothed the fabric of my trousers over my knees. I tried to make sure that my toe tapping was invisible inside the shoes I forced to remain still.

“Mr McIntyre will see you now,” called the assistant as she approached.

Glancing at Dad, I caught the moment he narrowed his eyes and straightened his shoulders. His preparation for battle didn’t match his, "It’ll be fine."

We followed the secretary into the room dominated by a long, curved desk. Our view of the new Headteacher was limited to a glimpse of his mid-brown hair, and the jacket of a charcoal suit, as Mr McIntyre turned to reach into a low drawer in the filing cabinet behind his chair. He paused, drew a deep breath, before he swivelled back around.

National Novel Writing Month planning

To say that my plan for namowrimo is sketchy is grossly exaggerating the faint scrappings on my page. I have names, chapter titles and a concept.

I also have fifteen pages of notes for the novel I've decided not to write - plus a board full of images and a wordy opening paragraph; why would I want to write that project?

I don't even know if I'm writing MG or YA.

I can't quite pin down the genre - although action is the driver so, maybe, that would do.

No worries, then? 50,000 words in a month about some-thing-or-the-other? That sounds about right.

Today I entered some kind of regional word war... not quite sure if it is with, or against, the Irish fraternity across the water. I hope it is with them - against our trans-atlantic cousins, because, as my writing name suggests, I have strong Gaelic connections. It's going to be like when England play Eire at football... but without the fence to sit on!

Tuesday 20 October 2009

National Novel Writing Month - Aleanbh's writing the next one

Oh! No! Now, I've been-and-gone-and-done-it!

Swamped with work, to the point where I was having trouble remembering where my home computer was, I spent September producing absolutely nothing. This being the case I, obviously, decided to celebrate feeling that I had a little free time by deciding to enter the NaNo Challenge. I should have paid closer attention to the title: "Nah no" ... followed by... 'way' rather than "Wri Mo."

To celebrate this piece of lunacy, and the fact that some YA author has dibbed the name Smith and painted it all over my genre, I did a little psycho-analysis: I looked deep to find my alter ego and sent her forth to enter in my stead.

My earliest memories are of my father and cowboy movies. ( Now I come to think of it, perhaps both of these facts are linked!) Twice a day he would comb a wicked wave into his hair, and sing, whilst shaving. I was tiny, but I vividly remember him picking me up, from where I was jumping on the toilet seat (wise move) and sitting me on the cistern (less wise,) and singing to me. He had a beautiful tenor voice. He always sang the song "Eileen Aleanbh". It was my name... in full... to me.

I've had Dad on my mind a lot, recently.

I'm dedicating my writing month to his memory.

Dad wrote poetry five times a year: for my Mum's Birthday card, Christmas card, Valentine's card, Easter card and for their Wedding Anniversary card, too. He said that the rhymes he found in the shop-bought card never, quite, said what he wanted to say. He wrote his own poetry - with help from his little, then not so little, helpers. He'd gather us around the table and get us chip in rhymes or ideas if he was having trouble with his verse. Writing was a joy.

The cards stopped, just before St Patrick's Day, quite a while ago but Dad's love of learning (and poetry), which he instilled in me, certainly didn't.

I'm writing my November novel for PJD.

Sunday 18 October 2009

What to read?

This week I read two of Trudi Canavan's Black Magician Trilogy: which I loved.

The main character, Sonea, was intensely likeable; the city and its dwellers were absorbing.

Book One flew by and I started Book Two about half a minute after I'd finished the first - this is not normal behaviour for me. I normally read everything at least twice before I move onto the next... a habit learned when I couldn't afford to have several in the queue waiting to be read .
I know that all the threads are being woven into a rich tapestry for book three but I have a guilty secret to confess here: I have to admit to turning past description to get to story - only in the sub-plot - sorry - the irony of this is not lost on me!

These books were passed on by a friend who thought I'd enjoy them - he wasn't wrong. I do feel guilty about not actually handing money over to the shop keeper and the author - perhaps I should send a donation of, say, £10 to Trudi, directly? It's more than she's getting from her contract.

I bought the first two in the Gladiator Boy series (David Grimstone) from Asda - at £7 for two - I'm not doing well on 'the money into the hands of hardworking authors and publishers'. However, my WIP is aimed this young. I haven't got to 100 MG books (8-12): the recommended number for anyone writing for this level! I also hoped these books might interest a Y6 reluctant reader I'm battling with over reading (this equals stickers, lots of praise, catching him reading and checking his Reading Diary at least twice a week - my TA sees it daily). Perhaps, setting him the same kind of trialls that Decimus has to face might also get through his resistance to deciphering the written word, and getting a parental signature at least three times each week?!

Also, when I was minding my own business (lol), in Borders - checking which books had been allocated in, out, up, down and window space in the local book emporia (I've started thinking in terms of the Hokey Kokey) - Orson Scott Card's book Ender's Shadow walked off the shelf and into my shopping basket. I wish it hadn't - really and truly - because, now I'm doomed to waste time and money on Amazon tracking down anything else in the series. This is the third way I'll avoid paying the RRP for books this weekend :(

I refused to buy The Lost Symbol at Asda for £9 - I'll wait for its release in paperback then divvy up the money legitimately.

THIS IS SUCH A RELIEF: when writing romance I kept my reading firmly in this genre - I feel free to read anything at the moment. I think a large part of my reluctance to narrow down the four / two books I'm actively writing is because I don't want to read only one genre.

I've got two by Darren Shan (Books Two and Three), Brisinger, The Reader and On Chisel Beach lined up. So, with that, and quite possibly, Orson Scott Card's entire back catalogue, to get through I'm glad there is only one week to half term.

We hired a plumber too - hot water and heating? Maybe... I'll believe it, when I feel it.

The submission e-mailed on 04/10 is still out there - keeping the number to less than three is killing me - I'm about to resort to snail mail and blanketing the world with Near Edgware. I can't think of a nicer cover.

Over on Nathan Bransford's Blog the Competition is winding down - just the voting and counting to go. I was torn between Jackie Brown's entry and Travis Erwin's. I went with Jackie's because it sounded so painful and tortuous. Good Luck to all the finalists.

Time to get organised for school - and the dreaded Parents' Consultation Evenings!

Thursday 15 October 2009

What to write?

Friday - the day that comes after Thursday - approaches.

Post revolution, the class were debating what we should write in our long writing session. Before the evolution of the curriculum, that has taken place in one corner of our school, there would have been no debate: we would be writing Harvest poetry as we have each day this week. But the discussion was unanimous: they all want to write stories - novelists to the core. I tried to make poetry seem like a great idea - I love poetry - the rules ruled and free-form versions - but no - Y6 were dead keen to write their story arc. I set them the thrilling task of including farming and harvest and it still didn't make poetry seem like a good alternative. I guess they feel secure in inventing their own characters and giving them life - God-like. It feels easier than trying to capture the essence of the season and harvest in a form restricted by syllables or rhyme.

Roni asked, on her blog, what our character's motto might be. What a thought provoking question... so thought provoking that I passed the task to Jess and Caleb Near Edgware. Normally, it's Flower that I take out - oldest child syndrome? But I wanted to know what Jess and Caleb would answer. They weren't keen to give their thoughts at first.

With Jess she hates injustice and loves things in life to be simple. She went with: "Judge people as you find them."
Caleb started well: "Principals and Honour - the truth should follow"

He wanted to put all three with equal value but I just wouldn't let him away with that - not when he tends to be economical with the truth.

Wednesday 14 October 2009

You've got to like life, it is never predictable

Harvest, schmarvest ... "it'll happen" seems to be the thinking, rather than work hard and practise. We've had one run through of the songs and attempts at several poetical styles of writing. There has to be three half decent poems out there for me to use; I hope. One more run through, on Thursday afternoon, then it's: "Hello Friday morning!" and the small matter of the audience of parents. Relaxed, seems to sum it up.

On the up-side:
  • Tomorrow I'm going to the Cinema with the school - 3-D glasses necessary, apparently.
  • I've been offered a free trip to Budapest, in term time - gotta love the Comenius Project. I'm putting this down to the power of positive thinking - daydreaming and all from the other day :)
  • I should still be on for Cyprus in term 3 as well :))

With Nathan's competition in mind I looked at the original, and the slim-line, story openings for Near Edgware. Writing is an evolutionary process.

Monday 12 October 2009

Nathan and me - it's like a psychic connection

So, on the first day I felt I was, something like, in control of the screaming hordes I drove home thinking I'd celebrate by going to the Writer's Circle: park setting, custard creams and a visiting tutor offering to help us make our characters truly 3-D. But Nathan, knowing that I had time to WRITE for the first time in a month, pitched in with a competition to provide the incentive to blow off the Park Crew.

Like, technically, it is two paragraphs but hey ... poetic license?

by Elaine AM Smith

The first time he had peered through the gates of the overgrown garden, to the pile of bricks cemented together by vines, it had reminded Tom of some sleeping princess’s forgotten castle. He had tried to decide which was worse: the fact that he had been talked into coming over to Chelsea for a bit of wilful destruction or that he was standing outside a rotting building thinking about damsels in distress. Tom rubbed his head against the metalwork until it crumbled in protest. Rust clung to his damp forehead and his shaking hands, “You dragged me north of the river for this?”

My year group partner was away from work today. I missed her. It's no fun revolting on your own.

Sunday 11 October 2009

But then there's the reading. I always get to the bitter end - eventually

Finished the biography of Emma: The Twice Crowned Queen - sooooo, wishing she'd been amongst the Danes culled.

It was very like reading Sir Frank Stenton's Anglo Saxon England - which I have (the only person on my A-level course to bother) - only with a much narrower field of vision. It had the same tone, too.

Emma would make an excellent character to write a novel about; it appears that someone else thought so too: a speedy Amazon confirmed. That would be a book to track down. Or, maybe not - the book I found doesn't begin at the beginning of Emma's life nor end at the end - umm - that wouldn't be at all ....

Emma would never have won the Mother of the Age or, indeed, the Wife of the Late Anglo Saxon Era, but she sure learned to bend with the winds of mis-fortune.

More than a feeling - but not in a good way

Did you ever get the feeling that something much greater than you really has it in for you?

I'm not talking about the playground bully, although that would be bad too. I am talking about an omniscient being, the one who knows the moment you don't think anything else could go wrong. That's when he swoops in; just in time to show you how, very, wrong you were.

1 Our neighbours applied to add an extension - extra room above the garage.
2 Our boiler died.

The neighbour's extension extends over our roof... ? Not by a lot, but ... ? That was a worry.

Next, our son - see autobiographical details - wants to help the plumbers when they come to offer estimates. This is a problem when you want them to work when you are at work.

Next the water from our washing machine in the Utility Room (garage) that should go down the drain in our back garden decided that it no longer needed to do that thing - see neighbour's builders for the explanation to that one. They are, theoretically, on the case with sorting that little problem out -- um. A soapy water stream going to the other drain, aren't you envious?

School thinks this is an ideal time for me to organise and run an educational revolution - obviously, perfect timing for that - no pressure.

Bub, the hub, is running to keep up.

Babe, the ... yep that one, is far too devoted to texting her, already-at-University, boyfriend to remember to do the odd bit of work.


That's what I thought, but ...

Today, the "I'm not finished with you, yet: Harbinger of all things that could possibly make Elaine's life more complicated, added a new twist. Apparently, water need no longer leave the dishwasher or sink in the kitchen - see neighbour's grand expansion plan complication above.

We didn't begin to wash up until it was good and dark. Imagine the scene - windup torch and rubber gloves and crawling around the two drains outside - such fun! If it was earlier than 10:30 pm I'd have gone around there today. I walked to the door, and circled back, at least three times trying to make myself go there tonight - it's a British thing right?

I'm going around there tomorrow - any words of advice?

You know I can't help thinking that being a full-time writer - writing from home - would be the answer to lots of these problems.

Or, leaving them all to it while I flog the book and let the carers do the daily caring ... ooh! That's a thought too! It is revolutionary season, after all!

I feel soooooooo much better now. Long vent - little daydream.

Now I need my sleep; I have a battle to wage tomorrow.

Thursday 8 October 2009

Harvest time in school brings on melody and rhyme and an educational revolution. This must make me Citizen Smith.

The educational revolution is taking me back to the future.

Sir says I have permission to plan anything, in any format I want, to take my learners in any direction I think would engage and motivate.

That space represents the distance my jaw dropped.

It is a fraction of the sickly feelings of disorientation that went with his announcement.

Of course, there was also the spinning vortex playing havoc with my inner ear as I saw a link form to bridge a gap between the years when it was me that sat at the little desk doing topics, and projects, and writing stories in note books (well, I never said that much changed in my life) and the present that has been straight jacketed by the National Curriculum mark I, II, III and however many more incarnations there have been of it.

I was the voice of reason suggesting that we really out to build up and out of the key targets. Planning two weeks of Maths and Literacy took two hours not an hour a lesson.

I'll teach Maths and PE on a timetable. Then I'll do conferencing in blocks while the children keep time logs and work toward the expected outcomes for each week. We have additional adults to make practical elements possible. The children will get to plan, do, review, improve and present - wow. I'm fighting the need to "Steiner" because the SATs will still be looming large in May. I'll be looking at the principals though and adapting them, where possible, into the educational revolution.

Science - Microbes - not due until after half term - steps up and has real-life context as we will make a traditional bread wheatsheaf for the Harvest. I told the class if they wanted to do their non-fiction Recount on the History of Tractors they were to go for it. Of course, there may still be Florence and Fred hoping to achieve as little as possible under a desk but, I predict, few will be hoping to join them.

This weekend, marking notwithstanding, I'm going to have time to write. This will be the first block of free time long enough to work on more than editing.


Near Edgware' s Beta Readers suggested a minor modification in Ch 8 that I love - it really works well. They made a good scene even better. The alterations that I've already made to the ending pre-empting the other main discussion.

The only highlight of my week, last week, was that after their positive comments I did the first submission with the re-worked letter (that has been re-worked again already).

It felt good to be doing something for Jess and Caleb... as good as taking part in the revolution!

I'm looking forward to creating JJ's world and a section for FOUND'ER.

Do many author's deliberately write two books at the same time?