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!

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!

 

 

Show not tell

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When I sent off the manuscript for my children’s book to a copy editor (as recommended by Matador, the self-publishing company I use), I rather thought that the editor would be impressed by how few corrections were needed. I was firmly under the impression that my grammar, punctuation and general layout were pretty good, and having gone through it countless times myself, I couldn’t really see any areas for improvement. I imagined the editor looking at my book on their screen, and raising their eyebrows as they nodded with approval. Surely, I suggested to the dog, the editor would probably decide not to charge me, on the basis that my manuscript needed no further work? The dog agreed. After all, as far as he was concerned, the fact I could even hold a pen was an astounding achievement.

I was in for a shock when the manuscript came back – incredibly, considering how many times I had gone through it myself, there were quite a few basic mistakes that had been identified – words in the wrong place, missing words, extra words, too many spaces between words, not to mention spelling mistakes and too many commas. Thank goodness I’d decided to have the copy edit done – it was obvious to me now that going through the book, over and over again, didn’t necessarily identify all the errors; clearly a fresh eye was needed, to pick out the remaining mistakes.

The copy editor also recommended that I give some thought to something called ‘show not tell’ – the idea of letting your reader see the thoughts, actions and emotions of your character, rather than describing them, in order to prevent your own, ‘authorial’ voice from getting between the character and the reader. For example, instead of saying that ‘Hannah felt nervous’, I might say, ‘Hannah’s heart began to race’.

I struggled with this concept a bit, but as I looked at the dog, sleeping peacefully on his chair, it occurred to me that he was the perfect example of ‘showing not telling’. Although he was very bright and understood a huge amount of spoken English, there was no denying that being unable to speak, could have left him in a predicament when it came to communicating his needs and thoughts. What should he do, when he wanted to tell me that his water bowl was empty and he was thirsty? But being an expert at ‘showing not telling’, for him it was simple – all he needed to do was pick up his empty water bowl and throw it at my feet. What about when he was bored, and wanted to play? Easy – just grab a chewy bone and whack me smartly on the ankle with it. How should he respond when I made a derogatory comment about the state of his fur? A loud snort always got his message across.

Clearly, I needed to see the world more from his perspective, if I was to get the hang of ‘showing not telling’ properly. I hadn’t realised when I started the writing process that I would have so much to learn, and I certainly hadn’t realised that the dog would be up there amongst my teachers… I’d have to start treating him with more respect!

(Many thanks to Sarah from Cornerstones Literary Consultancy!)