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Guest author: Nicky Clifford on Self-Publishing – A Journey in Itself

November 30, 2016
Welcome to Nicky Clifford today, who I met online through a Facebook book club and then met in person when we discovered we were in the same town. Nicky self-published her debut novel in October 2016 so I asked her to share her experience for all of the writers who are wondering if it’s what they would like to do. So over to Nicky… From an early age, I penned poems, short stories, letters and articles. Due to a lack of confidence, my dream of publishing a novel took a little longer to be realised. But at the age of 50, I self-published my debut novel, Never Again, and there was nothing like holding my very own book in my hands for the very first time. But it took a long time to get to that stage. After what felt like 50 rewrites and edits, but was probably more like 15, I breathed a sigh of relief at having finally reached ‘The End’; I had no idea then that I was, in fact, at another beginning entirely. I spent a considerable amount of time and effort researching and submitting my novel to carefully selected literary agents with, several months on, nothing but a pile of rejections to show for it. Once the crushing disappointment had faded, I dusted myself down and threw myself into self-publishing my novel. Self-Publishing via Amazon When you self-publish through Amazon there are two options: Ebook via KDP Publishing and Paperback via CreateSpace (Amazon’s ‘Print on Demand’ sister company). There are three things that I wish I had known at the start of this process: Scrivener, the magic writing software, allows you to format your novel for Kindle at the press of one button, or so I’m told – can you hear my strangled scream of wishful thinking echoing around the room? To format my Word document for Kindle before I started writing. If you decide to offer a paperback of your book through CreateSpace, you can also, at the push of a button, transform your book into Kindle format – hindsight is a wonderful thing! As I hadn’t, however, done any of the above, I made use of Kindle’s how to formatting sheet. Whilst it was user-friendly, the time it took me to complete this process had me practically tearing out my hair with frustration! A lesson learned! You are bombarded with options once you start to work through the Kindle publishing process, including: royalties, pricing, loaning, protecting and many others; there were times when I thought my head would explode into a thousand different shattered pieces. However, one baby step at a time, I managed to work my way through it. As my artistic ability comes nowhere near quality book cover design, I had the following options: A bespoke book cover – this proved too expensive as writing is, effectively my hobby, not that you would know it given the number of hours it consumes! Choose a book cover ‘off the peg’ from somewhere like: Self

Literary agent interview: Laura Williams at PFD

November 28, 2016
Great to have Laura Williams here today revealing what she’s looking for in the fiction submissions she receives. Laura is a literary agent at Peters Fraser and Dunlop and the judge for the 2017 First Chapter Competition. She is actively building a fiction list and is looking for literary fiction, edgy commercial fiction, psychological thrillers and high-concept contemporary young adult. Laura, when you receive a 3 chapter submission, what gets you excited enough to then ask for the full MS? I think it has to be a combination of things – a good initial covering letter and instantly intriguing pitch, which is then followed through on with a compelling and well written opening chapters. As with all things, it’s impossible to say exactly what will grab my attention – the projects I call in are never quite what I expect! But they’re normally something a bit different, that are both pitched and written well. Writers repeatedly hear from agents they submit to that you like it but you didn’t love it enough, how does a MS make you love it when you have requested and read the whole thing? Again, this is such a hard question. For starters, if I’ve actually read the whole thing having called it in, that’s a good sign – there’s so much on all our reading piles that making it the whole way through a submission means that we’re invested enough in the story to want to see how it plays out. There are moments when I find I’ve read a whole manuscript in an afternoon and I haven’t noticed the time going by – when you read for a living, that’s when you know it’s something a bit special. When reading the shortlisted first chapters what’s going to make a story stand out for you? The first paragraph is crucial. I want to be instantly gripped by the character or situation introduced, and I want to have an instant sense that the author is in control of their writing, and knows how to put a sentence together. The best feeling in the world is being swept away by a first chapter and thinking, yes, I want to read more, because it doesn’t happen every day! What types of writers and novels are you looking for to build your list? I’m mostly looking for literary fiction, as well as contemporary reading group or crossover fiction. I don’t really do anything too commercial, but you just never know – the first book I sold was a really boysy thriller that I didn’t see coming for my list at all, so never say never. I’m also building a list of some non-fiction and YA as well. When you’re reading for pleasure not work, who are your favourite authors? All time favourites: Chabon, Updike, Atwood, Patchett, Salinger, Carver, Hammett, King, Jackson. My favourite books of this year so far: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, Jakob’s Colours by Lindsay Hawdon, The Girls by Emma Cline, Moonstone by Sjon, Thin Air by Michelle

Winner of the January 2017 Novel Course

November 25, 2016
Many thanks to all the writers who entered to win a place on the 8 Month Novel Course starting in January 2017. I really wish that I could give you all a free place. Once again I dithered and have spent the week re-reading all of the entries over and over again. So once again there are two winners! Congratulations to Lynsey Summers and Catherine Mark – you both really impressed me with your story ideas and commitment to your writing. I’m looking forward to helping you get those novels written. If you’d like to join them to get started on a new novel in the new year than as of today there are 3 more spaces available on the course. Get all the info on it here.

Year of Indie Debuts: Glass Houses by Jackie Buxton

November 23, 2016
Welcome back to Jackie Buxton today, who visited the blog earlier this year on the launch of her memoir, Tea and Chemo, and is now here again to chat about her debut novel, Glass Houses, which came out in June 2016. It’s a modern day morality tale that opens with a car accident that one of the main characters, Tori, has apparently caused by texting while driving on the motorway. Jackie, I found the exploration of blame and judgement, and what to me felt like a modern day witch hunt, fascinating. Can you tell us what made you want to explore this side of human nature? I’ve always been interested in the human psyche, particularly when it comes to our foibles and hypocrisies. We jump a red light because we’re late, for example, but conveniently forget about this as we rant at the tale of somebody committing a similar traffic violation which has more serious consequences. Years before I wrote the first words of Glass Houses, a couple of, ‘wrong place, wrong time’ articles in the news where press and public had demonised the perpetrator of a foolish but not malicious act, had really got my mind buzzing with the contradictions of human behaviour. I found myself asking: if there are no unfortunate repercussions from our ‘crime’, if we escape without incident, are we any less guilty than the person whose ‘crime’ does have consequences and whose life is thrust into a desperately dark place? In a caring, cohesive society, what should the appropriate punishment be for somebody who has done something stupid but not through malice or cold-blooded evil? And I couldn’t help thinking that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones… The effects of the accident that the book opens with ripple out into many lives for a long time, yet the main character Tori, refuses to let it ruin her life. Where did the inspiration for Tori come from? I guess the inspiration came from lots of different behaviours and personality traits I admire and from the role I needed Tori to perform in the story. I needed a feisty, strong but flawed character. I wanted the type of person who when they hit rock bottom, manages to find a strength to fight which they might not have known they had. I see this time and time again in my contemporaries, community and beyond: people who appear to ‘have no luck’ but emerge battered and bruised, but smiling and appreciative. This impresses me much more than riches or rank ever could. Tori needed a big dollop of this. I wanted her to be an ordinary person who when pushed to the brink, could be quite inspiring – a little like any of us, I hope. In trying to forge a new life she has the very best of intentions but – hey – she’s never done this before and so her actions don’t always give her the outcome she anticipates. If people were to read the novel as I hope,

Author interview: Sonja Price

November 16, 2016
I first met today’s author, Sonja Price, when we both had a story published in the Stories for Homes anthology that is still for sale and raising much needed funds for the housing and homelessness charity, Shelter. So it was a happy coincidence that we both then had our debut novels published within a few weeks of each other this year. Sonja’s novel, The Giants Look Down, is a sweeping story of love, politics, culture and religion played out against the stunning landscapes of Kashmir and Scotland. Sonja, it’s often said that a writer’s first novel is autobiographical in some way but yours is told mainly through the voice of an Indian girl then woman as we follow her from childhood to adulthood. Can you tell us what inspired you to tell this story? I was listening to a report on the car radio about the devastating 2005 earthquake in Kashmir, which killed 86,000 people. Tragic though it was, it contained an evocative description of the Himalayas and the string of lakes stretching through the Vale of Kashmir. I could immediately visualize it even though natural disasters and political tensions have blighted the area. I started to imagine the life of a girl who wanted to follow in the footsteps of her father and become a doctor. As the native population is predominantly Muslim, I made my protagonist Hindu for the Vale is now part of India with three wars fought over it. I asked myself, what problems would Jaya and her family encounter in such circumstances, and what would happen if an earthquake were to shatter Jaya’s dream of a career in medicine? As well as being a love story, this is a book about feminism and a Kashmiri girl overcoming the gender biases of her cultural background to achieve her dream of being a doctor. Do you think she would still have achieved it if she hadn’t ended up in Scotland after the earthquake? That’s a hard one to answer given that she is such a resilient and resourceful character. But I don’t know how else she would have escaped the arranged marriage to a Punjabi farmer, which would have denied her any chance of further education – the fate, unfortunately, of so many girls in India. Your landscape and setting descriptions of the valley in Kashmir completely transported me there – have you spent time there or did you write purely from imagination? Can you give any insights into the research you did about the area, its customs, and political situation? Ok I’ll come clean. It’s pure fantasy. Authors can write about life on Mars so why not about exotic places they have never set foot in? Basically, I let my imagination fly, although I did have a picture book with breathtaking images of the mountains and lakes open besides my laptop. In between I got hold of travel books and read up on the history of the conflicts there. But it was really only after I