Archive for the ‘crows’ Category




crows, always the crows

Filed under: crows, Dear Thing

Super Editor has my book. Super Editor is reading my book. Soon, Super Editor will send me edits for my book.

Any author who tells you this is not shit-scary: they are LYING.





revising (or, making a mess)

Filed under: crows, Dear Thing, writing

I’m revising my book. On the upside, I love revising. It’s the chance to take my POS (Piece of Shit) manuscript and make it into a real, coherent, reasonably well-written story. The right-brain process of creation becomes the left-brain process of analysis. And I LOVE analysis.

On the down side, if I’ve started revising a book, that means I have to give it in soon. Which means I’ll be leaving this wonderful world and people that I’ve invented behind. It also means that for the first time, this poor little story, my waking dream, is going to be subjected to the keen eyes of my agent, my editor, and the entire team at my publisher. To say nothing of the keen and critical eyes of readers. This particular manuscript is the first one for my new publisher, Transworld, and it’s a new direction for me—not a romance, but more a relationship story between two mothers and a child. It also has quite a quick turnaround time ahead of it—I’m due to give it in next month, and it’s scheduled to come out in hardback in April. Six months is a very short amount of time in publishing.

So revision, in this case at least, involves quite a bit of The Fear.

However, one of the glorious things about revision is that I get to make an enormous mess, guilt-free. Here are some photos of my process thus far:


This is my manuscript. I wrapped it up in rubber bands and cling film to transport it from the US (where I had it printed out at The Maine Press because my parents’ printer is slooooooooooow). This was a good idea, because it meant that the ms wasn’t damaged in my suitcase. But it was a bad idea, because it is very very tempting not to unwrap such a tightly-packaged thing at all. But I did.

Going through ms and changing it

This requires certain aids.

Notes, chocolate wrappers and tea

When I’ve finished entering my changes into the computer, I chuck the pages on the floor. This gives me a great feeling of accomplishment.

That's about 230 pages revised.

And I also like to spread the mess around the house. BECAUSE I CAN! THIS IS WORK!

Not far to go now.





suckage point

Filed under: crows


Well, I did have a good week last week. Unfortunately, so far, this week SUCKS.

Because my book sucks.

It’s rubbish, it’s awful, it’s boring, it stinks, and yes it really does, and no I don’t care if I’ve always said this during every single book I’ve written and it turns out okay in the end, this one doesn’t just suck, it sucks BIG DONKEY DICKS and I hate it.


And I’m really glad that the RNA conference is this weekend, because at least I know that in four days I will be inspired and encouraged and educated. I can really use it.






Filed under: crows, Nina Jones and the Temple of Gloom, The Bad Twin, writing

The absolutely gorgeous but also rather evil Anna Louise Lucia said to me today on the phone, “You know, one reason I love being friends with you is that I just get to say ‘I told you so’ so many times.”

If you’ve read my blog at all for the past eighteen months or so, I’ve had a little bit of, er, trouble writing my last two books. In that, I thought they were utterly crap, pretty much until I got 60% of the way through the first draft, and just slightly less crap for the remaining 40% or so. There were usually one or two scenes that I liked, but that was it. Otherwise, I SUCKED, I was AWFUL, I was GOING TO LOSE MY CAREER and BE MOCKED MIGHTILY BY REVIEWERS AND READERS, to say nothing of my agent and editor. I moped and complained and moped some more and was generally not pleasant to be with.

“Don’t worry,” my then-editor said. “If you’re having trouble it’s because you’re stretching yourself as a writer.” I nodded, but did I believe her?

Not a fart’s chance in hell.

Revising the books made me like them more. I could see the whole thing, I could begin to pull them together and shape them into something more like how I wanted them to be. But still, I wasn’t so certain.

Even when my agent and my editor loved Nina Jones and said it was their favourite of all my books so far, there was a bit of my brain that didn’t really believe them. That thought they were just being nice (never mind that they’d never minced words in the past). Humouring the insane author, whilst edging away towards the nearest exit.

You know what, though? I’m reading the proofs for Nina Jones and the Temple of Gloom. And after all that agonising, all that self-flagellation, all that moping and complaining, I LIKE IT. I actually like it quite a bit. I actually kind of love it. I’ve stayed up late to read more, even though I know what’s going to happen. I almost sort of feel that it’s nearly the book I wanted it to be from the start.

And then of course there’s my current book, The Bad Twin, which I (thoroughly sick of every word) delivered to my agent last week and which she said she wouldn’t get a chance to read properly until Friday. Thank God, I thought, seven days of reprieve before I have to face up to the massive revisions she’s sure to give me. She was the first and only person to have the entire draft; others have read little bits, but not the whole thing.

She rang me today, two days before Friday mind you, having read all 146,000 words in two sittings, and said she loves it. And then proceeded to give me a detailed and enthusiastic list about all the things she loves about it—things that, actually, now that she mentions it, I love too.

Is it perspective? Is it time? Is it the opinion of professionals whom I trust? Is it just that I’m really stupid?

I really don’t know. But I’m really, really relieved.

And drinking wine.





The Courage to Write

Filed under: crows, reading, writing

I’m reading a book called The Courage to Write by Ralph Keyes. I picked it up because, let’s face it, I have The Fear. There are crows permanently camped outside my window, telling ghost stories and making s’mores and having a grand old time. So I thought this book might have a little magic formula for making me more fearless.

It doesn’t. It talks about why writers are afraid to write—for example, fear of failure, fear of success, fear of exposure as a fraud, fear of exposing too much of their faults and inner feelings, fear of what writing can do to one’s family and life. It mentions why fear can be a good thing for your writing—how it’s a sign that you’re being truthful and challenging yourself, how you can use the intense emotion of fear and channel it into your writing. And it talks about how writers write despite their fear—by following rituals, by making a dirty draft, by having deadlines, by developing friendships with other writers.

the courage to writeNone of it is particularly new stuff. In fact, I found myself nodding in recognition when I read a lot of it. But it’s one of the best books on writing I’ve ever read, and I’ll recommend it to others, precisely because it is familiar. Because it gives me this message:

Fear is normal. Keyes says, and in italics, too: “If you’re not scared, you’re not writing.”

To me, that’s liberating. In a sort of annoying way, of course, because fear is not something you want to voluntarily put yourself through, it’s actually pretty damn awful, and I am not a pleasant person to be with when my only thoughts, running over and over through my brain, are This book is crap, I can’t write, the story is the same as my last book, my editor will hate it, I suck, nobody’s going to buy it, what if I’ve got too much in there what if I haven’t got enough, it’s crap, how do I fix it… Ad infinitum.

Keyes’s message is that courage isn’t the absence of fear; it’s carrying on despite fear. Maybe even because of fear.

He teaches creative writing and he says, quite interestingly, that the main purpose of creative writing courses isn’t to teach skills, so much as to give the students courage. That’s something I’ll be thinking about when I lead the Cornerstones women’s fiction writing course next month.

He talks about how writers can be nightmares to live with—grouchy, surly, selfish, full of anxiety. When I was reading that chapter, I turned to my husband and said, “You should read this book—he says all writers are miserable like me, I’m normal!”

“It’s supposed to comfort me that there are more like you?” he grumbled.

I’ll try to find time to post some of the interesting examples from the book of how writers cope with fear. Meanwhile…are you a nightmare to live with, too? And have your crows actually started singing “Kumbya” outside that damn window yet?





feel the fear

Filed under: crows, writing

On Saturday I had a whale of a time at Kingston University, giving my “Writing Sex Scenes” workshop to people doing MAs in creative writing and publishing. It was an absolutely brilliant group, sparky and intelligent and in all ways a joy to work with.

Anyway, one of the pieces of advice I gave to the participants is “You can’t write from a position of fear. You will make too-conservative choices, you’ll self-edit to death, you won’t give the work everything it deserves.”

I do truly believe that advice. And I do try to follow it.

So, with that in mind, let me clarify my previous post. I think it came out a little whiney, a little bit “Oh no, my career is going well and I can’t handle it!” A little bit like something I’d want to kick myself around in a gutter for awhile for writing.

The truth is, I’ve been having some trouble with my writing process. I think that’s a very common thing. And I was trying to explore some of my reasons for my trouble. First, to give myself a handle on how to overcome my fears. This blog has always been a really useful place for me to articulate my thoughts about my own writing process, and I’ve always tried to be honest about it, even though PR-wise, I should probably project an image of being wonderfully confident and competent and glamorous every single minute of the day. Well, I’m not. I spend an awful lot of time wandering around in porridge-covered sweatpants telling myself that I suck. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, and I hope it doesn’t poison your enjoyment of my fiction forever after, but it is true.

Second, I wanted share my feelings with other writers and enjoy a bit of a moan together, because really, lots of us are quite similar and sometimes it feels good to be reminded of that (I loved Cali’s post on her blog about The Godlike Neil Gaiman wallowing in crows of doubt).

Third, to pick up any useful advice anyone else might have. And there’s been some great stuff. Thank you.

If it sounded like it was also a plea for a bit of head-patting and “poor Julie”ing…well, doh! My fault. Please don’t pat my head. I’d rather you kicked my arse around in the gutter for awhile. I’m lucky. Believe me, I know it. I count my blessings every day that I’ve got the job I do, and I get to write the kind of stories I love.

Reading the comments in the post, though, did clarify some stuff for me. I mean, these people commenting on my blog (and my Facebook page too) are successful and talented and experienced writers. And they are also feeling fear. It’s so blatantly obvious to me that their fears are ill-founded. So then, therefore, my fears are…

…oh, yeah. Ahem.

The thing I wanted to get across, and I’m not sure if I did, is that there’s a pattern to these things. There are reasons for doubt. Sometimes they are even very positive reasons. And that as a writer, your job is to identify them, deal with them, and overcome them in any way that works for you.

And then do the best job you can, and let the work speak for itself.

Tomorrow I really will blog about some of the lessons I’ve learned about storytelling, from my recent difficulties.





thirteenth book syndrome

Filed under: crows, writing

As I said, I had a major writing epiphany or two the other day.

I might have mentioned a few million times that I’ve had difficulty starting my last book and this book I’m writing now. I’ve got tangled up in plot and character and made several false starts. In both books I had to change my heroine’s job. In both I’ve got sidetracked into secondary characters’ stories which overly complicated the main story. I also started both books too late in the story, and had to go back and start several months earlier.

I was quite panicky about all these problems with Nina Jones and the Temple of Gloom, because it was my twelfth book written for publication, and I’d never really had those issues before. It made me very cranky and very frightened and it meant that the first few months of writing were really a struggle. With this book (my thirteenth), I’m not so frightened about it (though I may be just as cranky). I know I got through it last time and that when I finally found my way, it became much easier. I’m also buoyed up by the knowledge that both my agent and my editor loved Nina Jones (yay!) and so I’m fairly confident that even though the writing may be painful, I can come through it to the other side. However, I’m having the same sorts of issues.

I know why I’ve had these problems. It’s totally psychological, and it all has to do with my signing my current contract, which is for bigger stand-alone women’s fiction novels with Headline Review. I had the contract offer this summer, which was when I was writing Nina Jones, and Nina Jones was a stepping-stone book for these bigger books—it’s nearly 110,000 words, which is pretty much as long as my contract stipulates for the Review books. And it has a different sort of storyline from my more romance-focused books, in that it concentrates much more on the heroine’s journey, her childhood and her family, and actually includes three (THREE!!!) love interests.

I know these beginning-something-new issues are common with writers. One of the writers’ loops I belong to has recently had a very interesting discussion about “second book syndrome”, which happens when an author has had her first book accepted for publication, and sits down to write the second book in the contract. You’d think, logically, that this would be a great time to write—for the first time maybe, she’s got validation that her writing is good, she’s got editorial support, she’s being paid to sit in that chair. But in reality, the second book is very scary to write. You have a standard to live up to now. You have more to lose if you fail. You just know that everyone is about to find out that the first book was a fluke, that you’re an imposter and that you don’t really deserve to be published.

I don’t think this syndrome is just for second books. I think it can come at any time in an author’s career, and for me, it’s coming at the career change moments. I’ve gone from writing 60,000 word category romances for M&B, to 90,000 word single title romances for Little Black Dress, to 120,000 word commercial women’s fiction for Review, in the space of about two years, and every step has been fraught with doubts. I struggled with writing All Work and No Play…, knowing it was my last book in my Mills & Boon contract. I didn’t struggle with One Night Stand, which was my first in my line of books written for Little Black Dress, but that was because I was hugely pregnant and then dealing with a newborn, and I wrote most of that book when I was quite literally insane with baby brain.

But Nina Jones is my last book for my Little Black Dress contract, and this current book is the first in my Review contract. They mark an ending, and a beginning. No wonder I’m frightened of writing them. And that fear, for me, has translated into making lots of false starts.

My editor and agent tell me that I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. I’m already doing what they want me to to do; that’s why I got the contract. I don’t suddenly need to become a different writer with different stories because I’m being printed with another imprint.

But The Fear (aka The Crows) tells me that’s not true, that Everything Is New, that I’m A Fraud, and that I Need To Do Everything Different.

I don’t know how to get rid of those crows, but I feel better having identified their names and where they’ve come from, and linked it to the normal crows that most every writer gets. Part of being a writer is learning how to ignore the cawing.

Anyway, tomorrow I’ll blog about the realisation I’ve come to about structure and plotting, and that if I want to move forward, I really need to go back to the beginning.

Have you hit stumbling blocks at significant career moments? What did you do to get past them?





cake, dinosaurs and effortless Janes

Filed under: crows, parenthood, reading

Well, we’re on the fourth day of Fecklet not being well. He’s got some sort of tummy bug, and though he’s over the fever now and he’s having some cheerful moments, his appetite isn’t good and he’ll suddenly turn from cheerful to crying and needing cuddles. I’ve definitely noticed a pattern, in that he feels much better after eating something and then has a dip, so I’m trying to make him eat little and often.

Anyway, this morning we baked a cake to prolong a cheerful moment. He loves dumping ingredients in a bowl and mixing. We made an eggless cocoa cake, and then after we’d licked the bowl we decided the pan was too big for the cake so we made half an invented recipe of eggless orange cake and marbled it through. The batter tasted wonderful and it smelled great in the oven. The finished cake is pretty lopsided (I think the orange batter rose more as the OJ reacted with the baking soda) but I’ll slap some frosting on it and it will do wonders to cheer us up this afternoon, I’m sure.

And I also just had a brainstorm and remembered the carrier bag full of plastic dinosaurs I bought from the charity shop and was saving for a rainy day. Fecklet is now obsessed with dinosaurs, and I do believe that even though it’s sunny outside, this might be a metaphorical rainy day.

All of this means I’ve had very little time to write, though I did finish a chapter last night and now have to find out what happens next. I’ve just read Getting Rid of Matthew by Jane Fallon and am now reading The Beach House by Jane Green (I obviously had a subconscious thing about Janes when I visited the library) and the thing that gets me is how effortless their stories feel when you’re reading them. Like the Janes never had to rack their brains to find out what’s going to happen next in their books in between changing really disgusting nappies, doing endless laundry and calming down a red-faced two-year-old. Obviously for the Janes, the stories flow beautifully from their fingers, with nary a crow or a moment of grossness to deter them, and immediately become best-sellers.

Or maybe, just maybe, they have to scrape it and work it and shoo away crows as much as I do, and it just comes out seeming effortless because it’s taken so much effort. (And possibly cake and dinosaurs too.)


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