Sunday, 28 February 2010

And talking of short stories

My short story, A Fair Deal, appears in the Sunday Express Magazine today, ahead of the publication of the paperback of A Very Persistent Illusion next week. There's still time to dash out and get a copy of the Express ....

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Who's on Twitter?

Since there are a few of us tweeting now, I thought it'd be worth us sharing our Twitter links on here so we can all follow each other and whatnot. If you're on Twitter, comment with your details so we know where you can be found.

I'm @fayelbooth.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

A bit of do, and a bit of a proposal

As promised, here are the photos from the Monday get together:

It was fantastic to meet everyone last week, and goes to show that this is one imprint where there is a definite sense of community and shared experience. There are one or two conversations during the afternoon that I’ll develop later into blog entries, such as expectations of publishing from a debut’s point of view and on the growing recession in publishing and how it’s affecting us all, but for the time being, I’d like to mention a conversation I didn’t have…

In a twittered exchange between myself and Ms Whiteley, we agreed that it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to publish an anthology of Macmillan New Writers based on the fact that many of us congregating here write the short form as well as the long. I was going to approach everyone on Monday with this suggestion but forgot, so I’m doing so now.

The brief is simple: any short story, any length, any subject… as long as were not infringing copyrights (i.e. already sold to another magazine/publisher), and unless there’s anyone here with a burning desire to take on the editing of the collection, then all the short stories must be edited by the writers themselves – their responsibility. I will then approach an e-book publisher after having a chat with our e-book guru, Neil Ayres, and the aim will be to e-publish the collection for free via somewhere like Stanza. So there will be no payments here, folks. It will, in effect, be a sampler to publicise our books/works (each short story will be prefaced by an author biog and short paragraph on the writer’s thoughts on being published under Macmillan New Writing and the community, including a mug-shot if you want). You can also submit two short stories if you wish – after all we’re talking e-books here, so there are no constraints on length or overheads due to the number of pages being printed.

So what do you think? Is this do-able?
What timescales should we look at if it is?
And who here would submit some fiction?

Help for new MNWers

Following on from discussions at our lunch, I wonder whether it might be a helpful if we could produce a kind of e-leaflet for new MNWers. It seems that there is no longer a launch party for new novels, and some writers at least feel they could do with a little more advice about how to publicise their books. This seems to vary from writer to writer, but one author at least felt rather left in the lurch. If we could collect comments, then perhaps someone who is clever at this kind of thing (NOT me!) could do something ingenious with them so that they would be accessible to new writers.

To kick off, things I have found useful have been: local radio (excellent), book signings (obviously), website, business cards with my name and the titles of my books, talks to reading groups, making sure I always have copies of my books to hand (well, that's the theory) and generally being much more pushy than would normally come naturally (I find this comes with practice...). What does anyone else think? And do you have other ideas? And do any new MNWers think this would be helpful?

Thursday, 18 February 2010

A big thank-you

Thanks to those who prompted and organised the lunch on Monday. It was fun!

For a bunch of writers I thought we were worryingly well-behaved. Well, that chair did fall over once or twice but it seemed to do that whether or not we were anywhere near it. And I knocked that blackboard over but that was just bad luck and mispositioning of my handbag.

It was great to meet Deborah and Ciara! Deborah (Dee) certainly won the prize for the biggest effort, coming all the way from the Lake District.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

this just in

Mr. Atkins sent this to me yesterday --- the cover design for the paperback edition of Thin Blue Smoke, to be released in June:

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

One-page short stories

You may already know this, but for those of us who enjoy writing short stories, there are currently two national competitions for one-page short stories. One is a new competition run by the prestigious Bridport Prize, and is a competition for stories of 250 words or less (first prize £1000). Fish Publishing run a similar competition. They ask for stories of up to 300 words, with a first prize of 1000 Euros, and publication in their anthology for the best ten.

I love writing these very short stories. The discipline and the challenge is exciting (and they make a nice change from the WIP...)

Monday, 8 February 2010

Featured Novel for February

February opens with Ciara Hegarty's debut novel, The Road to the Sea. Ciara answered a few questions for us right after pub date.

A heartbreaking debut by a striking new voice in Irish fiction.

It is the late 1940s in rural Ireland, and Kathleen Steele has been prematurely thrust into adulthood by the death of her twin sister, Nuala. Debilitated by grief, their mother has descended into a state of near-catatonia, and it is left to Kathleen to care for her younger siblings, and her taciturn father.

When a traumatised young man, Joseph Foley, mysteriously appears in the small farming community, a tentative love affair develops. But as Mrs Steele’s illness deepens, Kathleen’s relationship with her father grows ever more disturbing. When Kathleen agrees to marry Joseph, her mother begins to regain her health. But by then it has become clear that the events of the intervening years will cast a dark shadow over the new generation.

Tender and unblinking, The Road to the Sea is a novel about faith and fidelity, about the heart’s ability to break, and to heal. A paean to the lost landscapes and communities of Ireland, and a meditation on the responsibilities of parents, this is an exquisite debut from a young novelist of great promise.

Hi, Ciara. Tell us a little about your novel, The Road to the Sea.

Hi...Well, it’s set in rural Ireland in the 1940s and is centred around the character Kathleen. It’s mainly from her point of view, but other characters’ voices also help tell the story. The story is concerned with Kathleen’s relationship with her father, which is defined to a major extent by the death of her twin sister a few years before – an event which has affected the whole family. It is about the effect this relationship has on the story of Kathleen’s life and, of course, those surrounding it.

How did you and Macmillan New Writing meet?

I had only decided to try getting the novel published after I’d written it, despite having always wanted to be a writer, and had heard of MNW through a friend and thought I’d give it a go. I was totally amazed (still am!) that Will rang up saying they’d be interested in publishing it. I remember it very clearly as it was a rare snow day (too warm in Dorset for much snow, much to my children’s dismay!) and, living closest to the village school (which had closed early), I had a house full of children camping out till their parents could pick them little boy called Will kept running in and out causing mischief while I was trying to talk to Big Will lol! And I was trying to have a grown up conversation with him while whispering ‘Not now, Will...go downstairs for a minute – Will, don’t touch that!!’ etc. Hehe.

It’s always interesting to hear how an author settles on the milieu for a novel. Yours begins in rural Ireland in the 1940s. What drew you to this setting?

I have strong links with Ireland, both familial and...I guess spiritual, at the risk of sounding really naff. It’s my second home. Although I grew up in London, I think I consider myself more Irish than English - long, happy summers were spent in Cork, deep in the countryside, with no phone or telly, the only toys a beat-up Irish version of Monopoly and lots of badminton rackets (recalling this, I’m wondering why my badminton skills are so abysmal!) I guess it was only natural for Ireland to seep into my writing. Not sure where the 1940s bit came from...I suppose I am quite preoccupied with the past in general, and there was a simplicity that I fell for, of bygone ways to our holidays there, which I have carried with me to adulthood, which I suppose tends to infiltrate my writing.

What is your typical writing day?

I am not generally an organized person, but I’ve found I’ve fallen into a natural pattern with my writing – I tend to do a good couple of hours in the morning in one of my favourite cafes/studies! For some reason I just can’t concentrate at home in the morning. And I find late at night (rather annoyingly) bags are the curse of nocturnal scribblers!

Do you compose by pen or by keyboard, or what...and why?

Pen. Or most usually pencil, in various’s a bit of a jigsaw fitting everything together at the end. I try not to type anything onto the pc until it’s done because if I do I start to fret and lose my train of thought. I haven’t got a very good relationship with technology!

Which authors do you feel have had the most influence on you as a writer? And which do you most enjoy reading? (Not always the same thing, of course.)

Hmm...tricky question. I don’t know I can answer the first part...I guess any influence would be subliminal. I do adore reading, especially in bed at night, but I find reading while I’m writing too distracting...or it makes me feel guilty that I’m not spending that time writing my own! So, to be honest, I don’t read all that much (a shocking admission for a writer?!) but when I do pick up a book I can’t put it down and I think to myself, This really is the Best thing in the world...

What question would you like to be asked that I haven’t asked here—and what would you answer?

Q: Would you like me to magically give you several more hours in the day?
A: Yes please!!

Can we please have the traditional Four Random Facts about Ciara Hegarty?

I have broken the same toe on my left foot twice – the first time by dropping a plate on it...the second by dropping a jar of Branston’s pickle on it :( Poor toe. I think it is safe to say I am rather accident prone.

There is only one thing I miss about my old London life – Ceroc...if you haven’t tried it, go – it’ll be the most fun you’ve had in ages! (Unless of course any of your toes have recently had an encounter with a jar of Branston’s pickle, in which case you might want to wait a while.)

When I’m not writing (or looking after children/dog/rabbit) I paint.

I am secretly a bit of a geek – (I’m not saying anything else!! Except that if you know what I’m on about our user name is Otti_Toto_Acorn.)
Thanks, Ciara, and best of luck with The Road to the Sea, which arrived in on bookshelves on February 5th.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Writer… Ready? Gatekeeper… Ready?

I don't often signpost other blogs here but I thought this one would engage the Macmillan New Writers. Jane Smith - purveyor of straight-talking on all-things-publishing - has just posted a balanced blog-entry on “How Publishing Really Works” on the roles of gatekeepers in publishing. In other words, literary agents.

While some of us now have agents, most were first published without one, and it's interesting to read the arguments for and against agents, both as readers and writers.

Personally, I think agents are a blessing and a curse. There is no doubt many literary agents can be blamed for the escalation of advances, though publishers are also to blame for caving into them. And literary agents don't always get things right, just as publishers don't. Agents are just part of that filtering process and are quite fallible. An agent needs to make a living as well, and whenever one listens to the pocket rather than instinct, mistakes get made.

That's why the Macmillan New Writing model works so well. And let's face it, while we haven't yet had a bestseller from the imprint, with all the nominations for high-profile awards there's enough evidence to suggest that it's a model that succeeds without that gatekeeper process. Though that's not to say it would work anywhere but Macmillan. Maybe Macmillan have the aptitude for spotting talent where agents fail? Who knows?

Agents do serve a purpose. They nurture young writers and provide good advice. True, there are cowboys in the business and I'm one such writer who has fallen foul of a dodgy agent in the past, but generally agents will look after the welfare of their authors - it's in their best interest to do so. And as Jane says, they do filter out the dross from hitting the desks of editors which is a good thing (there are plenty of deluded writers out there, probably as many as deluded X-factor contestants).

But I still can't shake the feeling that the current process of writer - gatekeeper - publisher does not work that well. There are too many stories of novelists failing at the first hurdle only to be taken on later by a publisher, becoming a best-selling sensation soon after. It occurs too many times for me to be comfortable with it.

But as Jane puts it, these are tough times for publishers and many editors have lost their jobs. With more work being piled onto the surviving editors, there is no easy solution.

Looks like the gatekeeper-situation is here to stay then... At least until the digital revolution occurs and it becomes a publishing free-for-all, that is.