Have some patience!

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The other day someone asked me a question that stuck in my mind – they asked, ‘how long did it take you to write your book?’ I found it really difficult to answer, as it all really depends on what you mean by ‘write your book’, and it made me realise that writing a book does need quite a lot of patience.

I’m not always the most patient person, but the dog is even less so, although he does have a ten minute rule. I’ll explain. Sometimes, as a treat, we go to the pub for a meal and take the dog with us. He is always terribly excited about this, as the pub is his very most favourite place in the whole world (when he first went there, someone gave him a roast potato, and he has never forgotten it). We go in, the dog pulling frantically on the lead to get in faster, chose a table, sit down and order some food. The dog licks his lips. ‘Right’, he says to himself, as he nods and smiles at the regulars, ‘they’ll need to cook that now.’ He sets his invisible stopwatch and settles down to wait… As soon as ten minutes have passed, he leaps to his feet, looks at the door to the pub kitchen and lets loose a volley of barks. ‘Oi!’, he shouts at the top of his voice. ‘You’ve had long enough – where’s my food!’ We try to drag the dog back under the table while smiling in an embarrassed way at the waitress, and crossing our fingers that the food will come soon. It’s the same anywhere that serves food – or at least, anywhere that is thick-skinned enough to let the dog in.

But I’ve come to realise that you do need to be patient for longer than ten minutes to write a children’s book, and for me, at least, it’s been a long process.

I think it started about eighteen years ago, when I first decided that I’d like to write a children’s book that was set in a nursing home, and which would be about a mysterious, magical lady who would become friends with the child who was the book’s main character. I remember having a go at writing the first chapter at this stage, but it was awful, and I don’t think I ever made it past the end of page one. Then, about eighteen months ago, I decided that there was no excuse for not giving it another go.

Actually sitting down to write the first draft of the book, which was well over a year ago now, took me about three weeks. After that, I spent another three weeks going through it, re-drafting it, changing it about, taking bits out, adding bits in and polishing it all up. Then I went back and spent another two weeks editing it for spelling and grammar. At this point I looked at the amount of words that spell-check was still underlining for me, and realised that using a professional editor might be a good idea. It took me a week or so to find one, and then about six weeks went by while they worked on the manuscript, before I got their edited version back.

After this, I decided that I should have a front cover illustration. I looked into all the options and finally chose an illustrator. I then needed to send him some segments from the book, so that he knew what the picture should be about, and then again, I needed to wait a few weeks, while he worked on the picture.

I then started the process of looking into publication. This took a while as there are so many options, but when I’d finally chosen to go with Matador, I went through the whole manuscript again, just to be on the safe side. Then it all needed to be proof-set. After this stage, it was time for proof-reading. As well as having it proof-read professionally, I also went through it yet again, as this was my final chance to spot any mistakes.

Finally – it was ready to go to the printers!

So, how long did it take me to write my book? I’m not sure, but it might be somewhere between three weeks and eighteen years. Now, I need to go and give the dog his tea – I promised him I’d get it ready eight minutes ago, so I’ve only got two minutes left!

‘i’ before ‘e’

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One of my hobbies is collecting old books; the older the better, and I have a few eighteenth and nineteenth century books, with a couple of seventeenth century books amongst them. One thing I’ve noticed about old books is that there’s very little regard paid to spelling, and the older the book, the truer this seems to be.

I’ve read, via the wonders of Wikipedia, that that in the sixteenth century Shakespeare spelt his own name in several different ways throughout his life, and that, over the years since then, other people have spelt it in even more different ways, until the spelling of his name finally became more fixed in the last hundred years or so. The same seems to apply to most words in written English.

What I like about old books and manuscripts, apart from the fact that it feels like you are touching and reading an actual piece of history, is that as far as spelling went, the writers just didn’t care. They happily spelt words in different ways, even on the same page. It was of no concern to them, or to their readers come to that, how the words were spelt, as long as everyone could tell what word it was supposed to be and get the general meaning of the sentence.

I find this carefree lack of concern about spelling really refreshing, and most likely this is because I was so shockingly bad at spelling at school. I’d wait apprehensively at my desk as the marked spelling tests and essays were handed out, covered in red ink, and often with the terrifying comment, ‘See me’, emblazoned across the top corner. Did it really matter if I’d got my ‘i’s and ‘e’s the wrong way round? Was putting only one ‘t’ instead of two, such a terrible crime? Was there ever a time when the word I was aiming for wasn’t obvious to the teacher? Probably not.

The dog can’t spell, and does it bother him? Not at all! Whether it says ‘dog fude’ or ‘dog fud’, or even ‘dog food’, on the packets in the kitchen cupboard, doesn’t bother him at all. He’s happy, so long as we can read it well enough to understand what the contents are when we’re shopping. And he’ll stay happy, so long as the contents of the packets get put into his bowl at breakfast time and tea time (he definitely can tell the time, by the way, and in fact, takes time-keeping very seriously, but that’s another story, for a different day).

So I have a lot of liking for those long-gone authors who were so happy-go-lucky about what letters should go where, even when it came to their own names. Well done them for not caring about it, and what a shame for those of us in these modern times, who have to get it right. Still, it could be worse – at least these days we have spell-check to do some of the work for us!

Goodreads Giveaway!

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Now that my book release date is here, I’m celebrating by offering UK readers the chance to win one of two free copies of ‘The Secret of the Wooden Chest’, on Goodreads.

If you are a member of Goodreads, please enter the giveaway – it runs from 10th to 28th July. Good luck!

 

 

What If…

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So, my book is now out! There are quite a few pre-orders on Amazon, I’ve spoken to all the book shops that are within a few miles of where I live, and I’ve contacted local libraries. What’s more, I’ve got a box of books waiting in my cupboard, ready to take to primary schools in September. The publisher has contacted long lists of people and organisations as well, so as far as the marketing goes, it’s all good! Will they all sell? Who knows, we’ll just have to wait and see.

But the next thing coming up will be the stage where people who have bought the book, start to give me feedback. What will they think? Will they like it? And if they don’t, will they tell me the truth? And if they tell me the truth, will I like what they’ve got to say?! Hmm!

Worrying about what people will or won’t say about the book when they’ve read it (assuming they buy it in the first place!), makes me think how much many of us worry about things, over which we have no control. I like to think of myself as an optimist, but I still spend a good amount of time worrying, probably like most other people. A lot of us are constantly thinking about what could go wrong in the future, rather than focusing on what could go right, or even trying to relax and not think about the future at all.

As I mentioned in my last post, the dog always looks on the bright side, and it would never occur to him to think that something might not go well. But, more than that, not only does he not think about bad things happening in the future, he doesn’t really think about the future at all – he lives entirely in the moment, enjoying what he’s doing at the time, with complete concentration and with no thought to tomorrow. If he’s enjoying chewing a bone, that is enough for him, and he will just get on with enjoying it. When he’s had enough of it, he’ll move on to something else and put all his concentration into the new activity – even if the new activity involves stealing clothes out of the laundry basket, and tearing them into tiny pieces in a quiet corner of the kitchen.

I know that being human beings with complex lives, we do need to think about and plan for the future. However, as far as I can, I will certainly try to be more like the dog – at the moment, my book is published and much of the marketing work has been done – I’ll just enjoy the moment!

Roll up, roll up…

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Well, it has to be said that we all, including the dog of course, really enjoyed ‘Little Christmas’, and I would definitely recommend it! If you haven’t read my last blog post you will doubtless now be feeling confused, but have a look at the ‘Little Christmas’ post, and all will become clear.

Now that Little Christmas is over everything has gone back to normal, and the very exciting news is that my book is now actually published! This being the case, I’m thinking more and more about how to go about selling it. I’ve never been a very good saleswoman, despite spending some time in the marketing department of the organisation I worked for in America, years ago. Still, promoting other people’s products and services is one thing, but the idea of having to promote something I’ve made myself, goes against all my better feelings. Surely that’s just showing off?

The publishers are doing a lot of the marketing for me, but I need to get involved as well, and I’m now at the stage of working with them to promote and market the book. This involves a lot of online work, but also, horror of horrors, taking paper copies of my Advance Information sheet into bookshops, and talking to real people in buying departments about why they should order copies of my book!

If someone asks me if my book is any good, my natural response is, ‘Well, I think so, so hopefully you might like it too.’ However, in the wonderful world of marketing, apparently the right response is actually, ‘Yes, it’s brilliant, so order twenty copies at once and give them to all your friends for Christmas!’ The appropriate follow-up is then, ‘You should order them today as well, otherwise they’ll probably all be sold out, and you’ll kick yourself for missing out on the chance to get a first edition!’

I’m sat next to the dog as I write this, and I’m struck by the fact that he has no such problems with shameless self-promotion. For example, if a visitor tickles the dog’s ear and remarks that he’s a lovely boy, he does not respond by saying, ‘Oh, am I? I’m sure I’m not, but how very kind of you to say so!’ In fact, he leaps on the opportunity to chat to someone who agrees with his own high opinion of himself, and immediately congratulates the visitor on their good taste and their keen observational skills. He’ll then go on to suggest that they might like to expand on which aspects of him they think are the most outstanding.

It’s also interesting to see how he responds when a visitor arrives who is less fond of dogs. Does he sit quietly in the corner, wondering why they haven’t come over to admire him, and worrying about whether he isn’t actually a very good dog, after all? No – he assumes that, by some oversight, they haven’t yet noticed him. How awful it would be, he thinks, if this person missed the opportunity to stroke his soft ears, and view his beautiful fur from closer range. Then he launches himself across the kitchen, tail wagging wildly and paw confidently extended.

Once again I’m finding myself learning from the dog – instead of hoping people might like my book, and worrying about whether they won’t, clearly I should be assuming that they’ll love it, and worrying instead about the fact that some people might miss out on the opportunity to read it, if I don’t push it right under their noses.

So here we go – my book is now available to buy, earlier than expected (I think the printers must have worked through their tea breaks!), so don’t forget to order a copy of this brilliant new children’s book, ‘The Secret of the Wooden Chest’, either from Amazon (where it’ll be available as soon as they receive their stock) , your local book shop or direct from the publishers at http://www.troubador.co.uk/book_info.asp?bookid=4532

Happy reading, and please consider leaving reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, both of which will accept reviews regardless of where your copy was bought!

In my next post, I’ll talk a bit more about the process of marketing the book…

Little Christmas

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In my last blog I talked about my recent experience of trying to write while having builders in the house. One of the things I’d found myself thinking about, while the rubble was crashing around me, was how nice it had been at Christmas; the house had been all tidy and cosy and the tree looked so pretty. I couldn’t wait until next Christmas, by which time I hoped the house would be all tidy and cosy again. Then it occurred to me that it was barely spring and Christmas was, sadly, a very long time away.

I looked down at the dog and thought about what a shame it was that he had so long to wait for his next Christmas – he loved all celebrations and at Christmas he firmly believed that all the presents under the tree were for him. He was thrilled when he was given a present to open, but then immediately outraged that other people were daring to open some of the (presumably his!) other presents. But it was easy to placate him with a screwed-up piece of wrapping paper, which, if he was lucky, would have a dog treat hidden inside it.

As I picked bits of plaster out of my hair, it occurred to me that it would be great if Christmas, or at least the non-religious aspects of it, such as the presents, the tree and the Christmas dinner, really did come more than once a year. But then I thought – why shouldn’t it? We could have another Christmas; a ‘Little Christmas’, if you will, once the builders had finished and the house was back to normal – probably the end of June would be the best time for it!

I explained the concept to the dog, who immediately agreed that it was a great idea, as long as presents were involved. I set to work, ordering crackers from EBay, putting in a shopping order for the Christmas dinner ingredients, and buying everyone in the house a small, ‘ten pounds or less’, present.

‘Little Christmas’ is now getting closer, and I can’t wait, and neither can the dog. You never know, if the weather is nice we might even be able to have Christmas dinner in the garden, Australian style!

In my next post, I’ll be thinking about the trials of marketing my book, as well as letting you know how ‘Little Christmas’ went. But in the meantime – a very happy Little Christmas!

A little less noise, please!

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We’ve recently had some building work done in our house, and apart from the huge sense of relief now I’ve finally got the house back to myself again, I’m finding myself constantly checking for marks on the newly painted walls. Now everything is looking nice, I’m also more vigilant about keeping the dog off forbidden furniture.

It tends to go a bit like this –

Dog – ‘I’m going to sit on this sofa.’

Me – ‘No, that’s the good sofa – go on the chair, you’re allowed on that.’

Dog – ‘I prefer the sofa – I can stretch out there. That’s where I’m going.’

Me – ‘No, get off – you’ll damage the fabric!’

Dog – ‘Fair enough, I’ll go on the coffee table instead – there’s no fabric there.’

Me – ‘No – what are you thinking?! That’s for cups, not dogs!’

Dog – ‘Okay, I’ll go on the chair now, and then I’ll move to either the sofa or the coffee table when you’re out of the room.’

Me – ‘Fine!’

But having builders in the house for months on end, certainly taught me how to concentrate. When I first started trying to write a children’s book, I thought I had to have everything just so, before I could start.

I needed –

a lovely clear kitchen table with nothing apart from a new note-book, a pencil and a laptop on it,

a cup of coffee behind me (not on the table; I might spill it on the keyboard!),

the window open to let in some fresh air, but only if there were no car engines or lawnmowers roaring nearby,

and, most important of all, no other noise or people in the house at all – except for the dog of course, and only then if he had promised to sleep quietly and not snore.

After the builders had been working for a week or two, and the entire downstairs of the house had been taken over by piles of wood, rubble, dust, and radios permanently tuned into Smooth FM, my ideas about what made a good working environment changed. It seemed that I didn’t actually need such a quiet and tidy house after all. I could still write, while perched on a child’s stool in a corner of my bedroom, the kettle plugged in dangerously close to my left foot and the dog’s lead tied to my ankle, to prevent him leaving the house through the permanently-open front door. I didn’t lose the thread of what I was writing, even when I had to stop work every half an hour or so, to answer queries about where the towel-rail should go, or whether I needed to order either a new front door or some more teabags.

Now I’ve got the quiet and tidy house back again, the dog and I can resume our argument about what furniture he can sit on. I’m grateful to the builders for making the house look nice – but even more pleased that I’ve learnt that I can work in any environment – and with any noise level – even if I do have to stop work every few minutes, to get the dog off either the sofa or the coffee table!

Next time I’ll talk about how I’m planning to celebrate having the house back to normal!

Once Upon a (more grown-up) Time…

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In my last blog, I wrote about my favourite children’s books, and I had a great response with plenty of people letting me know which their own favourite children’s books were. It’s really nice to hear about books that I’ve either forgotten about or never heard of, and then go and have a look at them.

Now I’ve moved on to books for grown-ups (not that grown-ups shouldn’t read children’s books as well, of course; they definitely should!). The dog asked whether any of the books I’ve chosen feature either food or dogs, and I was able to reassure him that the second book features both! Here goes with the first one…

‘Something Fresh’ by P. G. Wodehouse (first published in the UK by Methuen and Co, 1915) – this was one of the first ‘grown-up’ books that I read, and is the first of the Wodehouse books in the Blandings Castle Saga. It features the castle and its occupants; Lord Emsworth, his family and friends and of course his beloved pig, The Empress of Blandings. I’d never heard of P. G. Wodehouse until one evening in the 1980s when I was helping my dad to paint a bedroom, and we had the radio on in the background. A dramatization of one of the Blandings stories was on Radio 4 at the time, and it was so hilarious that the next day I went straight off to the library to see what Wodehouse books they had. Ever since then, if I need cheering up at a time when the dog isn’t available, I turn to a Wodehouse book.

‘Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)’ by Jerome K. Jerome (first published by J. W. Arrowsmith in 1889) – the most complete book I’ve ever read, having a little sad bit and comments on society as well as being really funny nearly all the way through, and certainly the only book I’ve had to put down for a full five minutes while I laughed properly, before I was fit to carry on reading. This was at the bit where they try to open a tin of pineapple – if you haven’t read this book, it’s worth reading it just for this section alone. Incidentally, the dog has asked me to point out that Montmorency (the dog in the book), is one of the best characters – he may be right.

‘Walden’ by Henry David Thoreau (first published by Ticknor and Fields, Boston, 1854) – I first came across this book when I was living in New York in the early 1990s. I’d never heard of the book or the author, but for a while it seemed that every time I went into a bookshop (which was quite often!), it was the first book that I noticed on the shelves. After it had caught my eye about three times, I bought a copy, and it was a life-changer. It’s the story of the author’s experience of trying to live a simple, almost-self-sufficient life, living in a small, wooden house in the woods. Reading this book in my mid-twenties didn’t make me want to become self-sufficient, but it did change my sense of what’s important in life.

‘The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold’ by Evelyn Waugh (first published by Chapman and Hall, 1957) – I’d never heard of this book until a friend gave me a copy as a birthday present. It was the first Evelyn Waugh book I’d read, and it’s a fascinating and partly-autobiographical account of a time when Waugh suffered from hallucinations, brought on by some medication he’d been taking. The book tells the story of a man who starts to hear voices while on a sea voyage. As it’s written very much from the main character’s point of view, it’s hard to tell, at least until the end of the book, which voices are real and which aren’t. This book made me realise how incredibly skilled authors like Waugh are, at weaving a convincing story from the main character’s perspective.

The sharp-eyed reader might have noticed that I had more favourite children’s books in my last blog, than I have favourite grown-up books in this one. What can I say? Children’s books must be the best books – and a furry friend, who’s been waiting (almost) patiently for his walk, has just reminded me that this is especially the case if the books in question feature dogs!

Please, please tell me if you have a favourite grown-up book that isn’t on this list, and I’d also love to hear if any of my favourites are also yours.

Next time I’ll talk about my experience of what it’s like trying to write, while the house is full of builders!

Once Upon a Time…

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What children’s books have influenced you the most? I was thinking about this the other day, when I was reading a story to the dog (yes, he is terribly indulged!). I was reading ‘The Magic Porridge Pot’, from the 1970’s Ladybird ‘Well-loved Tales’ series. When I was a toddler it was one of my favourite books, my kids also loved it when they were younger, and it’s nice to see that now (I like to think!) the dog enjoys it equally. Whether it’s the idea of limitless supplies of porridge that appeals to him, or whether he just likes listening to the rhythm of the spoken words as he falls asleep, who can say?

It made me think about which books I would put on my list of favourite children’s books, so here they are –

‘The Magic Porridge Pot’ by Vera Southgate (first published by Ladybird Books Ltd, 1971) – This is a great story for toddlers (and dogs!), all about a pot that supplies a never-ending supply of porridge. It features lots of repetitive phrases and, in the original version at least, some lovely pictures.

‘Paddington Abroad’ by Michael Bond (first published by Collins, 1961) – always my favourite of all the Paddington books as, unusually for the Paddington novels, it has a continuous story (about the Brown family’s holiday to France), running throughout. As a result of this hysterically funny book, the first French word I knew the meaning of was ‘escargot’. If you’ve read the book, you’ll know that the chapter featuring ‘escargot’, is one of the best bits. I can remember sitting up in bed looking at the cover when I was about five years old, and thinking that I couldn’t wait until I could read, so that I wouldn’t have to wait for an adult to read the rest of it to me.

‘Five Children and It’ by E. Nesbit (first published by Unwin, 1902) – When I was about seven, I went to the school fete and noticed this book on the tombola stall. It looked interesting and I was determined to win it. When the stall-holder told me that I had a winning ticket, I reached out happily to pick up the book, but was firmly told that I had won a bar of soap instead, and should be pleased that I had won anything at all. I was very disappointed, but within a year or so I’d managed to somehow get hold of a copy, which became one of my most-read books for the next few years. I loved the idea of normal, down-to-earth children who somehow got involved in magic, and this was in the back of my mind when I had a go at writing my own children’s book.

‘The Magician’s Nephew’ by C. S. Lewis (first published by Bodley Head, 1955) – another book featuring normal children who get involved in magic, but this time a whole, magical world. Although this is officially the first book in the ‘Narnia’ series, I think that it is a shame that it often gets overlooked or even completely forgotten, in favour of the second book, ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’. In my opinion, ‘The Magician’s Nephew’ is the best one in the series.

‘Jennings goes to School’ by Anthony Buckeridge (first published by Collins, 1950) – this is the first in a series of twenty-three books, all about an eleven year old boy called Jennings and his best friend Darbishire, who go to boarding school. The whole series is hilarious, and I read these books over and over again as a child, buying most of my copies from jumble sales and second-hand shops. Since I’ve become a grown-up, I’ve been able to extend my collection via the wonder of Ebay (although I still don’t have them all), and I still think they are brilliant, side-splitting books.

‘The Sword in the Stone’ by T. H. White (first published by Collins, 1938) – the first long-ish book I bought and read as a child, mainly as a result of stubbornness. I was in a bookshop with my mum, and, glancing round the shelves, I picked this book up. The bookseller looked at me with raised eyebrows. ‘You don’t want to buy that one,’ he said, in a smug, knowledgeable way. ‘It’s far too old for you.’ There was nothing he could have said, that would have made me more determined to buy and read that book. It’s an excellent story, all about the fictional childhood of the legendary King Arthur (known as ‘Wart’ in the story), and as well as excitement and adventure, has some great funny bits as well.

If you’ve got a favourite children’s book that isn’t on my list, let me know.

Typing away for this long about my favourite books has inspired me to go and dig through the bookshelves to see what else I’ve got. Next time, I’ll write something about my favourite fiction for grown-ups. In the mean-time I need to go and read the dog his bedtime story…