Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Wednesday 29 February 2012

the Very Definition of Literary Fiction

The daughter has an A’Level in English Literature, in fact, the daughter got an A, and, for her AS level, she got 100% in the exam, which is nothing short of impressive.

The daughter doesn’t read, however. It’s tough to blame her for that; the husband earns his money writing, and I earned mine reading for a long time, so I can see how she associates books with work and wants to remain as far away from them as humanly possible. Her lack of interest in books isn’t because she’s stupid, either; she got an A in her Philosophy and Ethics A’Level too, so ideas don’t exactly scare her. The daughter does love film, and watches a good deal of it, and she’s happy to read plays, because she’s a drama student; she also loves to be read to, either for real or by audiobook, but actual books, novels, long-form fiction to lose oneself in leave her cold.
She and I, and the husband, were walking through town the other day when I mentioned an idea for a book. The husband and I got quite excited about it, so much so that I’ve decided to make it the next book I write, or, possibly, the one after that. The daughter looked blank, bored even.
“Is that the sort of stuff you like to write?” she asked, having never read anything I’ve ever done.
“What do you mean, ‘sort of stuff’?” I asked. “It’s brilliant!”
“The sort of book where nothing happens and then it ends,” she said.
I turned to look at her. She has a way with words, the daughter, and I wanted her to elaborate. Like most people, she’ll generally do that if I just shut up and wait a moment. Ten or fifteen seconds passed.
“It’s like that Michael Frayn thing... “Spies”, I read for my A’Level,” she said. “I hated that. By the end of the year, we all hated it, including the teacher.”
“That’s exactly the sort of book I want to write,” I said, “especially if it ends up winning the Whitbread prize!”
“Bloody literary fiction,” she said.
So there you have it. It’s not a label I particularly like, and it’s not a label that many of us really understand, but Literary Fiction is here to stay, and, don’t be surprised if I end up writing some. At least now I’ll have a definition for what I’m doing.

Tuesday 28 February 2012

The Shortlist

I was bound to speculate.

The Mslexia competition was all about unpublished work, and I wouldn’t have been able to enter otherwise, but it did mean I speculated about who was writing what, and about what the judging panel might like. I couldn’t know.
I wanted to be able to put my book, “Naming Names” in some sort of context. Was it one of a kind? Was it up against eleven similar books or were they all very different? Was it the content that appealed or the writing? Or both? Was the standard of the competition high enough for me to believe that I really had written a good book?
All of these questions crossed my mind. Then there was the other stuff. Who were these women? Did they have families? Jobs? How educated were they? How old? Did I have anything in common with them on a personal level? And, would I like them?
In pursuit of the answers to some of these questions, I asked the nice people at Mslexia to send out an e-mail inviting the other eleven women to join me in a little group, partly to celebrate our successes, but also to support and encourage, and to get to know one another. To my delight, eight of those eleven women e-mailed me, and it looks like we might do something together.
It is early days, of course, but, so far, all the women who have contacted me are funny, bright, modest and hardworking. They are all serious about their work, but also surprised by their success. They also all seem to have good prospects.
I have always believed that the best way for us to succeed is to make the Mslexia prize a success; the more shortlisted novels are eventually published the more prestigious the prize will become, and the better the chances of future shortlisted novelists finding homes for their books. 
As I suspected, being shortlisted for a prize isn’t the end of the process, it is only the beginning.

Monday 27 February 2012


I had no clue what I was going to write about for my blog this morning until about five minutes ago when I read Jane Alexander’s blog.

Censorship rears its ugly head once again. This time in the form of PayPal, of all things. Apparently this money-moving, money-making company has decided that its users cannot pay for things it considers inappropriate or obscene using its service.
I dislike censorship. You can censor what comes out of a person’s mouth or the end of their pen, but you cannot censor their thoughts, and, frankly, I’d rather know what people are thinking so that I can confront the issues. 
“Naming Names” was censored. It was banned from Authonomy very quickly after I uploaded the first few chapters. I was horrified. My book wasn’t obscene, in fact, its purpose was to uncover an obscenity.
I did the wrong thing, though. I let the ban get to me. I didn’t know what spamming was at the time, but, nevertheless, I’m still embarrassed to say that (even inadvertently) I spammed on the subject. 
To give credit where it’s due, someone from Authonomy got in touch with me, directly, and reinstated the book promptly and without a fuss, and without me losing any of the following that the book had generated. From that time, though, I put a warning on my novel, and I removed the ‘offending’ chapter permanently. Part of me wishes I hadn’t. If I ever get the chance to publish the novel, I will fight long and hard for the inclusion of the more difficult sections of the book. 
Honestly, I think the censorship of “Naming Names” was a knee-jerk reaction on the part of an inexperienced moderator, and I don’t think that it will happen again with this novel. It will, however, always happen. There will always be people and even corporations that believe they are the ultimate arbiters of taste, that their opinions on any subject are the right ones, and that will always lead to censorship.
We can all challenge that.
Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to desist from using PayPal; I’m going to pay directly for the things that I choose to purchase via the internet, or go through an invoicing system. I consider any minor inconvenience to me a very small price to pay for the greater freedoms we should all be able to enjoy. 

Sunday 26 February 2012

Revisions, Revisions, Revisions

I wrote “Naming Names” two years ago. It has only been through one draft, and I am immensely proud of it. When I got it out to send it of to the Mslexia competition, I read it again, but I didn’t tart it up. When it was long-listed, I thought about taking another look at it, but the short-list was still a couple of months away, and I was pretty busy on another project. Besides, I didn’t expect my little book to be short-listed.

Not only was “Naming Names” shortlisted, it was one of the last three books on the table, and things began to happen very quickly. Now, I’m itching to get my hands on it, and I’ve planned several additional scenes that I think will bring a new, better balance to the story. All that remains for me to do is write them, and decide where they belong in the book. It sounds like a no-brainer doesn’t it? But isn’t as simple as you think.
“Naming Names” is currently being read by an agent. I don’t want to do anything until the agent has read and either accepted or rejected the book. Agents know what they’re looking for and they know how they want a writer to develop a book, so it’d be foolish to make changes, if they’re going to be completely different from the changes that the agent wants. There’s no point wasting my time; we all need to work smarter.
I also feel that making the changes I’m thinking about making is inviting rejection, even if they might be useful for the next submissions packet.
So, the only solution, is to make decent notes for the new scenes and get back to work on my current projects. When the jury’s in, I do hope whoever takes on “Naming Names” wants something similar to the additions I’m proposing, because I can’t wait to write them.

Saturday 25 February 2012

Twitter and the Art of Concision

When I set up this blog, I imposed a rule or two upon myself.

I decided that a daily blog entry shouldn’t be longer than 500 words, simply because I wanted a) to give myself achievable goals, and b) I didn’t want to bore you with the whole TLDR (too long, didn’t read) problem. I want you to come back for more, if not every day, then, at the very least, once in a while. I also decided that an excerpt or a piece of flash fiction shouldn’t be longer than 1,000 words, for more or less the same reasons, but also because c) the usual rules for flash fiction stipulate that a piece should be between 500 and 1,000 words long.
When did our attention spans become so short? I blame it on Sesame Street, which worked on the premise that a child’s attention span was about the same length as a TV advert. Yes, I know that makes some sort of sense, given that almost any three year old can sing a range of advert jingles, but isn’t it also a little bit sad?
You see, I’m almost halfway through my word count for the day, and I haven’t even scratched the surface yet, which is a pity, because this blog is actually about Twitter.
When I began the blog, I also opened a Twitter account; you can find me @N_VincentAbnett, if you’re game. Here’s the thing: it turns out that Twitter is actually an artform to those who are good at it. Exploring a thought in 140 characters or fewer, is exciting and can lead to all sorts of interesting repercussions.
Ian Rankin was chatting with me on Twitter the other day. He said this, with reference to JK Rowling and the idea that her first adult novel might be a thriller:
“Might explain why she left the neighbourhood (me, McCall Smith, Atkinson near-neighbours) and moved across town...”
The Guardian had a field day.
On the other hand, when Lavie Tidhar (I know, great name!) asked me to describe my book “Savant”, I came up with this:
“Near-future sci-fi. Earth-shield threatened when 'Active' goes AWOL on maths. It's about parenting, probability and autism.”
It isn’t quite the elevator pitch I was looking for.
So, as with all things, practice makes perfect, and I, for one, am determined to make myself understood in 140 characters or fewer without scrimping on punctuation or using text-speak. Wish me luck.
That all gives me 74 words with which to sign off. I do hope I haven’t bored you, and that you will return, if not daily, then, at the very least soon, and, if you’d rather read less of me, there’s always Twitter.

Friday 24 February 2012

Firm, but, I hope, Fair

Inspiration’s a funny thing.
People are forever asking, “Where do you get your ideas/inspiration from?”
I have no problem with them asking the question, but here’s the thing: this question quite often comes hot on the heels of a statement along the lines of, “I want to be a writer.”
I never say, “So what’s stopping you?” because that would be rude. The truth is, though, that no one is stopping anyone from writing. If you want to be a writer, you can be, all you need do is start writing. When people say they want to be a writer, what they usually mean is, “I want to earn a lot of money/stop going to work/become famous.” 
It’s not the same thing, and, those three things probably aren’t going to happen.
I know some writers. Very few of them write full-time, because most need a job to pay the mortgage. Some are lucky enough to work part-time, but I also know some very hardworking writers, who are being published and praised, who still work 40 hour weeks in shops and offices. Very few of the writers who work full-time are in single-income families; almost all of them have spouses who also work. 
On the other side of that coin, I also know Ian Rankin. Here’s the thing, though, when I first knew Ian he had published four novels in five years and was working full-time on the Hi-Fi magazine that I sold ad-space for. He was only thirty and he was doing well, but he was giving virtually all of his free time over to writing. We all know what happened next, of course, and I can’t think of a nicer man for it to happen to, but for every Ian Rankin there are thousands of wannabes.
Inspiration and ideas count for a very small percentage of what a writer does. The rest is long hours and hard graft.
If you still want to be a writer, do what writers do, tap into your inspiration, pursue your ideas, and then get down to work, because, like it not, succeed or fail, that’s what writing is: work.

Thursday 23 February 2012

Turned Out Nice Again

Some days are just so nice, aren’t they?

Yesterday morning, I was asking the husband when it might be OK to get in touch with Mslexia about the agent they had offered me an introduction to when, lo and behold, an e-mail dropped into my in-box.
I’m going to give a little advice here on patience and professionalism. It goes something like this: WAIT. If someone says they are going to do something they will do it. If someone has said they will do you a favour, they will do it. If an agent’s website says someone will get back to you in four to six weeks, they will do it. If you phone on the first day of the fifth week, they might very well stop and decide they’re not going to do the thing they said they would do, after all. Everybody in the publishing industry seems to be busy. That’s a good thing, because they’re all working to get people’s books out and get them seen, and, one day, you might be one of those people.
When the lovely people at Mslexia e-mailed to tell me that “Naming Names” was one of the last three books on the table, and that they were able to make an introduction to an agent, I was thrilled. I replied with a simple thank you note, and I waited. It took them only a week to answer. They e-mailed for my phone number, and, just as I was warning the husband that if the phone rang it might be for me, the phone did, in fact, ring, and it was Debbie from the Mslexia office.
What a very nice woman.
There followed a little to-ing and fro-ing, but, by the end of the day, I had several new pieces of information, and I had sent a submissions packet directly to an enthusiastic agent!
I have opened a door, and I didn’t even need to take a battering ram to it.
It is days like this that fill me with confidence. 
It might well turn out that this particular agent doesn’t feel this book is right for her. She might want to see re-writes, and we might go through any number of processes before she decides not to represent me.
For now, though, someone’s reading my book, and that is why I wrote it... to be read.

Wednesday 22 February 2012

Fiction and Lies

It has often been said, by writers (and I might even be guilty of having said it myself), that we are paid to tell lies. In fact we are paid to do the opposite. We are paid to find the truth.

If I don’t believe what I’m writing, my reader won’t believe it either. If I am glib or smug or two-faced, my readers, if they stay around to read my work, will end up despising me.
Telling stories and telling lies are not the same thing at all.
I don’t care what I’m writing about. I’ve written tales of elves and space warriors, of mathematicians, of school kids and of victims. To me, all of these characters are real; they show me who they are by talking to me and by acting out in front of me. That is not to say that I always like them, nor that I don’t invent stories and situations for them to interact in, but I think that character is key.
When I get that right, I can’t make a character do anything ‘out-of-character’; they simply won’t let me.
It’s wonderful to love or hate a character that I’m writing, but in the end, every character makes the plot work, and each one contributes to the truth I am searching for
And, when I find that truth, you all know about it.

Tuesday 21 February 2012

Shit or Bust

I’m fascinated by other writers’ processes: how, where, when, what they write. I don’t know that every single writer has a unique way of doing things, after all, what we’re actually doing is sitting at a machine, keying in, and there are, surely, only so many ways to skin a cat.

I’m also fascinated by what makes a successful writer and whether process has anything to do with that. Is it possible to plot a graph that shows the optimum in work-related habits? I doubt it. Writers are people, and creative people, at that, so it’s hard to see where maths has anything to do with it. I wish it did, though. I wish there was a formula for doing well at this game.
“The harder I work, the luckier I get.” - Sam Goldwyn
It has to be true, doesn’t it? I’ve never met a lazy, successful person.
When asked about writing, and it might surprise you to know that I am asked, regularly, about writing, despite my meagre output of published work, to date... When I’m asked about writing, I have a set of answers ready, but they aren’t mine. I give advice that I don’t follow, knowing full-well that it is very sound, logical advice, and that it should work.
I tell people who ask about writing that they should read a lot and write a lot. I tell them that they should try to write something every day. I have never, ever done this. I’ve always been a reader, but since finishing my English degree, I have only ever read intermittently. I can literally go months without reading a book. I can also read half-a-dozen books in a week, when I’m in the mood.
Writing is the same. It took me a long time to begin to write, but once I had begun, I tackled the job relentlessly, but intermittently. I’ve written five books in three years, which is pretty good going, by anybody’s standards, but the actual writing was crammed into a few scant months of that time. 
Part of me wishes that I could write five hundred or a thousand words a day, every day, for three months or six months, and then spend another six months revising. Part of me wishes that I was the sort of person who could happily spend two or three hours a day researching a project over several months before beginning. I just can’t do it.
I wonder if it’s too late to learn to do it. I’d dearly love to make a success of writing; I’m just a little fearful that I’m going about it all the wrong way. Maybe my ‘shit or bust’ instinct just isn’t the way to go. 
Right now, it’s all I have, so I’m going with it. That won’t stop me giving good advice though, especially when it isn’t my own.

Monday 20 February 2012

A Girding of Loins

Now that I’ve decided and declared that I’m a writer (publicly, on this very blog), it behooves me to prove it... Not by writing, but by securing representation for my work.

I’m on the hunt for an agent.
I’ve dissected The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook. I’ve read any number of internet articles by agents, and I’ve consulted my writer friends. I’ve also taken to following several agents on Twitter. (I’m @N_VincentAbnett, in case you’re interested).
This morning, I took delivery of From Pitch to Publication, and I have been ploughing through it for answers to the many questions that boil down to one thing, “How do I impress an agent?”
I could submit to any of a dozen agents that I haven’t submitted to before, and, according to some sources, I could submit to more than one at a time, although I’m still a little wary of doing that. The truth is, though, right now, I want to submit to one person. 
Carole Blake of Blake Friedmann, who wrote “From Pitch to Publication” and who tweets as @caroleagent is going to be hearing from me in the not too distant future. She writes forthright but entertaining answers to the big questions about finding an agent, and she doesn’t generalise; she says what she likes. I respect that. She also twitters, sometimes long into the night, about what she’s doing, and about what’s going on in her industry. She is pithy, engaged and appears to work very long hours; in other words, she’s a woman after my own heart.
If Carole Blake is representative of agents everywhere, I should have no problem finding one with whom I can work productively and happily for a considerable time to come. 
I’m off, right now, to follow her instructions on how to submit to an agent.

Sunday 19 February 2012

What’s in a Name?

I’ve asked myself this question over and over. It’s like time: impossible to truly tie down and fully understand.
I have never liked my name. No... It isn’t even that. I have never felt that my name belonged to me. It’s too eeky, too long, too many syllables. It never shortened neatly. I was Nikki or Nicky for about three months in the early 80s. It didn’t work for me, although, I’m still rather delighted that my mother-in-law uses it occasionally.
My English teacher, whom I adored, thought that I was far too serious a person to abbreviate my name, and rather revelled in Nicola, but it was a tease. I also called her ‘Mum’ once in class, so I guess the joke was always on me.
I have always been Nik with the husband. Our names dove-tail together, making a neat whole, but without him, taken solo, that doesn’t work, either; it’s too masculine. Once or twice, people have been more than a little surprised to find out that I’m a girl, when they’ve known me only by name and reputation before meeting me. Odd, you see?
Among the husband’s brigade, and writing SFF or tie-in fiction, and editing, of course, I’ve been Nik Vincent for all of my working life.
Then Adelie High came along. I bloody love Addy! She wasn’t so much an alter-ego as a heteronym. She began as an Art School project about identity, and existed only on the web, where she made art on a bamboo tablet, and had FB and YouTube accounts. Then she wrote “Naming Names”. She had the cojones that I lacked.
In the end, I couldn’t hide behind my little cousin forever. I didn’t want to. Having decided that I would ‘out’ myself, I had to think about my name again.
I couldn’t decide.
The husband thought I should embrace the name I was given and revert to Nicola: too serious, too old, too something-else to abbreviate. 
It is done.
Now all I have to do is decide on a surname, but that’s a-whole-nother conversation, mostly about gender politics and patriarchy. In the meantime, my father’s name hooked up to the husband’s will suffice, but watch this space.

Saturday 18 February 2012

Competitive Writing

I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the past week.

Competitive writing? Really?
If you think about a competition for writers, if you think about the Man Booker, the Costa, the Orange, you invariably think about Richard and Judy, and Top Ten and bestseller lists; you think about men in suits and women in gowns in hotel ballrooms, of late night channel 4 or BBC 2. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. Publishing is an industry and it likes to celebrate its successes. Why wouldn’t it?
There is, though, something a bit odd about a writing competition for amateurs, or for unpublished writers.
It’s all too unbearably random, too hit-and-miss when you don't know just who your competition is or what they've written. I had no chance to place my novel in any context, because I didn't get to read the other submissions. 

The fine people at Mslexia ran their competition very professionally. On the day that they had nominated for announcing their winner, I received an e-mail telling me that my novel had been one of the final three on the table. Of the 1800 that were submitted for consideration for their inaugural novel prize, I had placed in the top three. I was thrilled, and, at the time, I was also surprised, but, on reflection, I should have expected it. My novel is good. By some standards, it is very good. 
Now, here’s my question. 
That being the case, given that I believe in “Naming Names” as strongly as I do, why would I enter it for an amateur competition when I could, perhaps more usefully, be sending it out to agents?
The answer is, I haven’t got a clue.
I wonder if I needed this little bit of recognition. I wonder if I needed a little bit of reassurance that I did, in fact, know what I was doing when I wrote this novel. On the other hand, if my offering had not found its way onto that table, would I have felt any differently about the book? Honestly, I don’t think I would.
So, to cut to the point, I don’t think I’ll be submitting for another unpublished novel competition. I’ve been there and done that, and it was a useful experience that gave me highs and lows, and swept me along, for a time, in a wave of excitement and anticipation. I enjoyed the process, and I'd recommend it, I just don’t think I want to make a career out of entering competitions. 
I want to make a career out of writing.
I’m going to leave you with a comment that was posted on Authonomy by one Bonalibro (lovely man).

I always thought “Naming Names” was one of the most striking things on here, until it was banned about a year ago for its dramatic content. A little like banning Ulysses or Tropic of Cancer. It ought to add to its credibility that it threatens the sensibilities of a Murdoch owned site. 
It needs to be made a cause celebre around here. So whaddayasay, a les Barricades with Nicola's book.”
Perhaps I should be the first to 'les Barricades', after all, I’ve got the most to gain.

Friday 17 February 2012

You Would, Though, Wouldn't You?

About a week ago, I talked about having an idea, and writing it down. I wrote, “You would, though, wouldn’t you?” but I didn’t make a note of what I meant by that.
I left that little morsel in the back of my head to percolate or ferment, or do whatever it was going to do, and, in a little while, I had a plot for a short story. I was pleased, because that was exactly what I needed for the next writing competition.
Yesterday, I came to write that story down, and, low and behold, something else came out. I like the thing that emerged. It is a tiny little story, or, another poem, if the husband is to be believed. I also think that it’s clever. The husband read it and made a comment, and another half an hour after that, it was done.
I am the type of person who loves a bit of instant gratification, so, to be able to write an entire story in one sitting is a great luxury. It’s why I love short forms.
The down-side, of course, is that, by nature, I’m a novelist. Sadly the same thing applies. I have to get that sucker down on paper as fast as humanly possible. 
Some writers work on all kinds of projects at once; hell, a lot of them work day-jobs and write in their spare time. I write like a maniac while I’m writing. I do long hours and vast word counts, and everything else stops. Hardly a meal gets cooked, the food is all take-out and cheap restaurants, the washing-up is left to the husband,  and the dirty clothes pile up in the laundry baskets. 
When I am writing, I haven’t got the time or energy to do anything else. The first draft of a novel emerges in anything from a month to six weeks. It doesn’t sound like very long, I know, but it’s purgatory for all concerned. Except for me, of course; I love it.  

Thursday 16 February 2012

Striking while the Iron’s Hot

I took the day off, yesterday, to read “Flowers for Algernon”, and to mull over my little bit of success.
I decided that this is no time to rest on my laurels.
I’ve been hitting up agents ever since I wrote “Naming Names”. I’ll need one if I’m going to get any kind of an audience for the three books I’ve already written, and for the two new ones that I’m currently planning.
Since being shortlisted for the Mslexia prize, I’ve had my most recent agent rejection letter, (see blog “Failure on the Heels of Success”), and very encouraged by it I was too. The day I got that rejection, I sent out another begging letter, this time to Greene and Heaton. Mslexia has also offered me an agent introduction, which I plan to pursue, and the wonderful Angela Slatter (go read her short story collections, “The Girl With No Hands” and “Sourdough and other Stories”) is also pursuing a lead for me.
This all sounds good, right? Yes... Yes it does.
Now, here’s the worry.
I do want to make hay while the sun shines, who wouldn’t? On the other hand, I don’t want to become a thorn in anyone’s side, and there are rules about this sort of thing.
It is considered impolite, at the very least, to contact more than one agent at a time. I’d consider it rude if I was an agent. This is a small community of specialists who know each other. If I was to send my book out to a dozen of them at a time, it would be like spamming on the web. Don’t think that agents don’t talk to one another. 
When does being keen and motivated turn into being rude and annoying? Honestly, I’m not entirely sure. 
The Mslexia prize might well be newsworthy several times over the next year or two as books from the shortlist find their ways into the readers’ hands, but today’s newspapers are tomorrows chip-wrappers, and my window of opportunity feels small.
I’m off to read submissions guidelines.
In the meantime, if you’re an agent, do feel free to request samples; I can have them ready for you in no time flat.

Wednesday 15 February 2012

The Results are in...

The winner has been announced.

When I entered the Mslexia novel competition, I did it without a thought to the outcome. When I heard “Naming Names” had been long-listed, I was pretty excited, and there was a good deal of trepidation leading up to the announcement of the short-list.
I was prepared for the worst. I did not expect to be short-listed. I think my book is pretty good, but this was my first competition, and the subject matter is difficult stuff. So, when I was short-listed, I was more than a little bit pleased with myself.
If you’ve been reading this blog for the last couple of weeks, you will have followed me through the ups and downs of waiting for the final outcome of the competition. I did not expect to win. For the reasons that I stated, because of the content of the book, I thought it would be a tough pick for a competition. I didn’t think it would be representative of the sort of thing that other women might have written.
I thought that, today, I’d be happy to have got on the short-list, and even happier that it gave me an opportunity to raise my profile with agents. I could, at the very least, say that I’d been short-listed for the prize.
I also thought, and think, that it’d be nice to get to know the other eleven women on the short-list. I know what they’ve been going through over the past fortnight; I feel we are sisters-in-arms.
I thought this would be a win/lose situation, but it turns out that it is rather more complicated than that.
I did not win this competition. I’m really looking forward to finding out who the winner is, and, I hope, meeting her and reading her work. I do know that she’s an experienced writer, albeit unpublished. I also know that she has had work rejected in the past. She is where I hope to be in a few years time. This is her time, and I wish her nothing but the best of luck. I hope to see her book in print.
I did not win this competition. 
Nor did I lose.
I was informed, in a lovely e-mail, which I’ve saved and will probably never delete from my file, that “Naming Names” was one of the last three novels on the table. I was also told that an agent is sufficiently impressed with it to want to discuss representation with me.
I did not win this competition, but I cannot help thinking that I might prove one of the big winners in the long run.
So, in a few days or weeks, I shall be asking you all to wish me luck, again. Next time, you’ll be keeping your fingers crossed that the prospective agent and I like each other enough to want to work together.

Tuesday 14 February 2012

Valentine's Day

It is T-minus-1 day until Mslexia announces the winner of its inaugural novel prize. 
Thank heavens that it is Valentine’s Day, and that we have visitors and a long list of things to do before tomorrow.
The pressure has been building over the last fortnight, since the short list was announced. I have oscillated between hope and despair, between anticipation and resignation; I have run the gamut of emotions from A to Z, and, some days, back again.
I don’t know if it’s because this is the first competition of this type that I’ve entered, but it all feels like a very big deal. 
I know that my little novel, “Naming Names” is a tough read, and that it won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. I know that I am not a seasoned contender with experience of lots of writing competitions. I know that I am up against eleven other women writers, many of whom will have dedicated more time and energy, and, in some cases, considerable talent to writing the novel that has brought them this far in the Mslexia. And yet... And yet. 
This book means something to me that I can’t explain. A complex set of circumstances conspired to cause me to consign this idea to a batch of document files in a folder on my desktop, circumstances that I could not have foreseen. 
Writing this book changed me. Making these things real broke my heart, and, every time a reader responds to “Naming Names” my heart breaks a little again. And yet... And yet.
I am ready. I have a plan.
If I win the Mslexia, I am buying the husband and my friends lunch at our local ‘good’ restaurant. 
If I lose the Mslexia the husband and my friends are buying me a burger in Lille.

Good enough.

Monday 13 February 2012

Only Two Days to Go!

It is T-minus-2 days and counting until Mslexia announces the winner of its inaugural novel writing competition.
I have stats.
About 1800 novels were entered into the competition, or the beginnings of them anyway. That’s something like 9,000,000 words. There were 100 books on the long list. So maybe another 9,000,000 words. I’m one of the twelve writers to make it onto the short list.
I don’t know how big the average slush-pile gets, but 1800 books amounts to a pretty decent personal library. None of this matters much, I suppose, when you consider that my little novel appears to be in the top 0.0067 percent of those entered for this competition.
I’m rather impressed with myself.
In the end, though, the statistics that matter are the ones that emerge after the competition. This will have been a success for all of the shortlisted writers and for Mslexia if the good word is spread about first-time women writers, if the winning book transcends the norm in some way, if it rises above the slush-pile. If, heaven help us, the winning novel, or any in the top dozen is published then the statistics will really begin to count for something.
The Mslexia needs to build a reputation. If the shortlisted books for the inaugural prize are good and if they prove it by being published, then other women writers will want to take part in this competition in the future. The more good books that are published from the short list, the more successful the writers who emerge from the process, the better it will be for the prize, and the better it will be for future prize winners.
I hope that, when this is all over, I’ll get the chance to speak to all of the other writers. I hope I’ll get the chance to persuade as many of them as I can that we’re a special little band of a dozen women who can make our mark on each other’s personal and writing lives, and maybe even on the world.

Sunday 12 February 2012

Today I am mostly Sanguine

When I entered the Mslexia prize, I honestly thought no more about it. That was way back in the spring of last year, and I had lots on my mind, not least renovating the house. Anyway, when the long list was announced, late in October, I suddenly got quite excited. I even kept the e-mail in my ‘saved’ box so that I could read it again.
I didn’t think for a moment that I’d be on the short list. I didn’t know, then, how many books were on the long list, but I did know that I’d been invited to submit my entire novel. So, I’m sure I can be forgiven for the little ripple of excitement that tickled my spine as I dropped the fat envelope, containing my manuscript, into the post box. 

Then, without actually counting the days, I did become aware of the passage of time, and I waited with keen anticipation for the short list to be announced. I didn't expect "Naming Names" to be on it, but I was thrilled that it was.
Even then, knowing that I'd made it into the final twelve, I  still didn’t think about winning the Mslexia competition, until, that is, I began talking to someone about the experience. He told me, in no uncertain terms, that of course I wanted to win. 
He was right.
And that is when the fear began to set in.
I had been terrified for about a week when the husband gave me a stiff, but kindly, talking-to.
I hope that whoever wins the Mslexia wrote a thoroughly good book. I hope that they are nice, hardworking and talented. I’m sure that they are all of those things.
But here’s the thing. This is, of course, a competition, but if all of the dozen books on the shortlist are worthy of being published, there’s a pretty good chance that all twelve will find their ways onto the shelves of our book shops and libraries.
I might not win the prize, but that’s ok, because I have faith that the practices developed over the years by writers, agents and publishers will work in my favour, and, one day, I will see my work in print, whether it’s this book, or the next, or the one after that.
Sanguine, you see, not fatalistic at all.

Yesterday's bullish blog. It's fine, I'm over it.

This is my first time.

I realise that some of you think of me as a writer, but, the truth is, I’ve never published a novel.
The other thing that I’ve never done is enter a competition.
Here’s the thing. I’m beginning to wonder why I’ve never entered a competition. I’m beginning to wonder why I didn’t actually get around to writing my first novel until a few short years ago.
Yes, I was busy, but isn’t everyone?
Yes, I had something to say. I’ve always had something to say.
I think, in the end, the reason I didn’t do this before is to do with perception. I did not think of myself as a writer. Or, at least, I didn’t think of myself as a writer first... I didn’t think of myself as a writer ahead of being other things: a cook, a bottle-washer, a maker of things.
That’s what I let out of the bag when I began this process of writing and sharing my work. Maybe... Just maybe, it’s as well I didn’t let it out sooner. I am a writer. First and foremost, no matter what else I do. First, and always now, I think, I am a writer.
Bring it on!

Saturday 11 February 2012

I promise...

... I did write a blog today.

It was only about as long as the others. It wasn't more than a couple of hundred words, or so, but... Here's the thing... It was bullish. I mean... Really bullish.

My mother used to tell me, and the husband tells me still, to think before I speak.

In the blog that I wrote, I made a claim. I claimed that I was a writer. Foolish. Yes, that might just have been foolish. It was, most certainly bullish.

I am going to hold fire, and be bullish on another day.

In the meant time, here is the test card.

Friday 10 February 2012

So... Where do you get your ideas?

I think almost any writer will tell you that this is one of the first questions they are ever asked, and different writers have different answers. If you don’t believe me, go take a look at Kaaron Warren’s blog where there is a strand called “Sparks”. Kaaron invited various people, including yours truly, to write specifically about a particular idea for a particular book or story; they are fascinating insights.

With T-minus-5 days until the Mslexia prize is announced, I’ve been thinking quite a lot about what I’d like to do next, what I have ideas for. I’m planning another novel, but I’m also putting together some tales for Mslexia’s short story competition. I wanted to submit three, and already had two in draft form that I’ve been knocking into shape. The third was proving more elusive. So, off I went to flick through my notebooks in search of an idea to work on. 
I don’t know how many times I’ve had an idea and then forgotten it. The ideas seem so good, so vivid, in the  moment, that I’m always convinced I’ll remember them, and I never do. Time and disappointment have taught me to make notes of ideas, so I carry a moleskine around with me for the very purpose of recording them for later use. Sometimes, I just write a word or a sentence, sometimes a little more than that.
So, I picked up one of my dog-eared little books and began to riffle through it. Behold! There I found exactly what I was looking for. I found an idea. It didn’t at first feel like an idea, and I haven’t got a clue what I was thinking when I wrote the note. Having left the kernel in my hindbrain for a day or two, however, I’ve stopped tutting at myself, and I’ve worked up a neat little plot that should make the sort of story I like to tell.
My note read, “You would, though, wouldn’t you?”

Thursday 9 February 2012

Failure on the Heels of Success

With every little bit of success, comes a little failure. It is the natural way of things, the Universe spreading the load. That’s fine with me.
The day after I received notification that I had been shortlisted for the Mslexia prize - I know! Go me! - an e-mail of the other sort dropped into my box.
I have heard and read all sorts of things about how mean agents are, but this has not been my experience at all.
Like all wannabe writers, from time to time, I send out agent begging letters. I tend to send them one at a time, one after another; it’s only polite. So, every so often I get a rejection note. 
Not one of these rejection e-mails has been rude, unkind or in any way terse. Some of them have been straight-forward, matter-of-fact, but they have all had a general tone of, ‘No thank you’. That’s absolutely fine with me. I am a grown-up. I can take a little honest rejection. You didn’t like my book, but someone else might.
I was introduced to one particular agent via e-mail by another writer, and we’d been talking since the autumn. Naturally, I informed the agent of my progress through the Mslexia competition, and, the very day that I was shortlisted, I passed on the news. 
The following day I received the very kindest reply. The agent had clearly given my work proper consideration, and I was much encouraged by the wording of the e-mail. It went something like this:
That is tremendous news and I wish you the very best of luck with the final twelve. 
I have been thinking this over carefully and although a part of me may be kicking myself come February 15th, I'm afraid I don't think NAMING NAMES is right for me and so I am going to bow out gracefully now. I have agonised over this and although I admire your writing and I'm not surprised that the novel has been shortlisted, I'm afraid I just didn't love it enough to say confidently that I was the right agent for it and could place it in the current market. I am sorry not to be more positive but I wish you the very best of luck with your writing, and I really hope you get some recognition in the Mslexia competition.

Thanks again for the opportunity to read your work.

One agent ‘bowing out gracefully’ indeed.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is, write that book, and pass it down the line. Agents want to read your work and they want to love it. They might not love it, of course, but you’ve got to admire them; would you want to spend your days saying no to people? 

Wednesday 8 February 2012

T-minus-7 Days and Counting

It is now exactly one week until Mslexia announces the winner of its novel competition, and you might have gathered, by now, that my little book, “Naming Names” made it onto the shortlist. “No! Really?” I hear you ask.
I’m so happy that there are only fifteen days between the shortlist being announced and the prize being given, any longer and my obsession with this process would begin to look very, very sad.
I have been so caught up in being shortlisted that I had totally forgotten Valentine’s Day! It isn’t a very big deal in our house, but we do usually manage to produce cards for each other, and the husband is always generous with gifts and flowers, and, of course, he’s a fine cook, too. 
When I realised that there is less than a week between now and Valentine’s Day, and needing a humbling distraction from the Mslexia prize, I checked out Valentine’s Day suggestions on the web. I found this at le Creuset. 
Dear reader, I entered this competition. It gave me the opportunity to be pithy - amusing even - and I got the chance to celebrate my feelings for the husband in 500 characters or fewer.
The competition closes on February 14th.
If I could win only one of these competitions, I know which I’d rather it be, but, I suppose, the very pretty le Creuset pans would make for a decent booby prize. 

T-minus-7 days and counting

It is now exactly one week until Mslexia announces the winner of its novel competition, and you might have gathered, by now, that my little book, “Naming Names” made it onto the shortlist. “No! Really?” I hear you ask.
I’m so happy that there are only fifteen days between the shortlist being announced and the prize being given, any longer and my obsession with this process would begin to look very, very sad.
I have been so caught up in being shortlisted that I had totally forgotten Valentine’s Day! It isn’t a very big deal in our house, but we do usually manage to produce cards for each other, and the husband is always generous with gifts and flowers, and, of course, he’s a fine cook, too. 
When I realised that there is less than a week between now and Valentine’s Day, and needing a humbling distraction from the Mslexia prize, I checked out Valentine’s Day suggestions on the web. I found this from leCreuset.
Dear reader, I entered this competition. It gave me the opportunity to be pithy - amusing even - and I got the chance to celebrate my feelings for the husband in 500 characters or fewer.
The competition closes on February 14th.
If I could win only one of these competitions, I know which I’d rather it be, but, I suppose, the very pretty le Creuset pans would make for a decent booby prize.