Tuesday 23 December 2008

I want to wish all the bloggers who comment on my blog a VERY HAPPY CHRISTMAS. I hope you all find 2009 brings you what you wish for.

I've put my disappointments of 2008 behind me and am busy writing my current book. It's turning into a dual-purpose MS. I hope my publisher gets their act together and this current MS becomes Book 2 in the Geraldine Steel series. If the problems of 2008 persist throughout 2009, I may start again with this current MS featuring a different detective.

Now that I've stopped devoting time to promoting Cut Short, I've more time for writing again, which is great. I might even dust down two more MS I wrote last year and even consider what to do with them . . . although I'll probably think twice before approaching any more publishers!

Wednesday 10 December 2008

My publisher has come up with a new date. Hopefully we'll be going ahead, although sadly with a different editor (I can only guess at the reason for that.)

I'll post an update about CUT SHORT when I know more, probably in a couple of months.

In the meantime, I'm forgetting all about this confusing episode and writing another book!

Monday 8 December 2008

I'm resigned to the prospect of a further delay in publication. The problem seems to be that the editor is too busy to have time for my insignificant little MS. She tells me she can't say when she'll have time to look at it, but she can't begin work on it for at least another month.

I wonder why was I put under pressure to rush the changes I was asked for?

At least people who suffer rejection can take comfort from knowing that being accepted for publication really isn't that great either! I suspect I'll be drowning my sorrows rather than partying on the publication date that appears on the publisher's website. . .

Sunday 23 November 2008

Creative chaos

I'm still waiting for the final edits.
Now the end is in sight, I've learned more than I ever anticipated. While I find "writing" simple, converting my ramblings into a book has proved anything but easy. It takes months and months of working and reworking. Editing is so much more than spotting typos.
Reviewing my experience so far, I can see that my difficulties began when I first put pen to paper, writing purely to satisfy my creative urge. I didn't consider that my writing might ever be published and submitted it to only three publishers in a fairly frivolous mood. My reasoning was no better thought out than "I've written something that I think is rather good, so why not send it off?" I was seriously surprised to be offered a publishing deal within two weeks.
I've promised my publisher that my second book will take credible characters through a logical plot, in polished prose that works within a certain genre. Am I worried I can't deliver such a MS? Not in the slightest. After all, by the time I finish working on my second book, I'll be a published author. (Are you sensing a slight insecurity here? Or have I succeeed in convincing you that I'm feeling confident? Have I convinced myself?)

Thursday 6 November 2008


I've just been struggling to write a hurried synopsis of my book. What to leave in? What to leave out?

I was asked to write a "full synopsis" that was "concise and punchy", explained "how it ends" but left the the reader "wanting more".

The good news is I had to write something for Crime Time so when my school magazine asked for an article urgently, I had one ready made. (I wonder if it was suitable?)

Why is everything urgent these days?

Thursday 30 October 2008


I had a brilliant meeting with my editor, well worth waiting for. We talked for hours - about my book! I didn't agree with all of her suggestions, but most, as usual, were spot on. It came down to restraining my tendency to spin off from the main storyline to pursue different characters up alluring byways and cul-de-sacs. (Note I refrained from calling them dead ends . . . my self control is becoming alarming!)

Then it was back home and onto the keyboard to snip and reshape - I felt like a hairdresser.

The whole has now gone back to the editor who will subject it to microscopic examination for typos etc. It's frightening how easy it is to miss glaring blunders, as the MS inevitably alters through the writing process. So a character might finish lunch and then begin their morning's work, for example. I think my worst (which thankfully I spotted) was when I first sent the MS to my publisher, hoping to impress. Skimming quickly through it the night before, I noticed my detective reading through her notes on a meeting which took place 5 chapters later . . .

Changing names is another potential pitfall. Of course you can use the find and replace function, but you have to be careful to search for whole words only. In one of many now discarded extraneous subplots, I had a character named Ron. As I knew someone of that name, I decided to change it to Rob. The MS was peppered with words like wrobg, and strobg, crobe and drobe. All in a day's work!

Wednesday 15 October 2008

Hi there, blog buddies. Go to http://www.noexit.co.uk/ and click on the 3rd item on the left hand menu - Forthcoming Titles. Scroll down and check out the 3rd title... and click on the title itself. Ha! Only you (and I, and my publisher and editor, and my family) know that the author is still working on editing the MS (as we in the trade call the manuscript.) Yes, I'm beginning to dare to feel a tiny bit pleased with myself... !

Friday 3 October 2008

The oracle has spoken

My universe has shifted on its axis... not spinning smoothly yet. I've heard back from The Editor, she who has a hotline to The Publisher... so far the signs from the oracle seem positive, but I'm not skilled in reading the signs and won't relax until the MS has definitely been given the green light. In the meantime, my internal universe is beginning to dust itself down and dare to entertain the hope that this time... this time... no, I can't even think it, let alone write the words.

What a marathon producing a book is! Or am I inordinately impatient? (Yes to both, I fear.)

I can only compare the experience to being young and in love, waiting for the phone to ring...

Tuesday 30 September 2008

Serious question

Why is so much of life spent waiting ?

Any tips for developing that quality of patience that seems to have passed me by?

I could elaborate, but I don't want to wait a moment longer for your replies.

Sunday 14 September 2008

What drives the narrative?

A simple question: where to begin? I'll narrow it down. I'm thinking about plot and character. Which leads the writing?
In my own writing, I need a starting point which is generally an action - usually a body, in my case! That leads me to dart (or shamble?) off in different directions: the identity of the corpse, the killer, his/her motive and then the unravelling. How is the murderer discovered? The answers take some thought and planning in order to devise a coherent plot.
But - (always listen out for the "but" - one of the most significant words in the English language) - my characters take on a life of their own and pull my ideas in directions of their own. That can lead to mayhem. The characters don't care if the plot is too obvious or completely obscure, if it's logical or blatantly absurd. They just want to be fleshed out. This is where the whole narrative can degenerate into chaos.
On the other hand, to use a character to carry out an action that he or she would never do blows the whole illusion out of the water. So there's a constant tension between where the story needs to go, and what the characters would credibly do.
When I think about it, the whole thing sounds so complicated, I wonder why I ever embarked on this writing lark at all. Like so much in life. Do we overcomplicate the straightforward? That's a question for another post.
Is crime fiction more restricting than other types of fiction, in the sense that there has to be a crime which must be resolved?
Does character or plot drive our writing? How do fellow writers approach the task? Are readers more interested in what happens or who it is happening to? Or is this an impossible distinction to make? What do you think?

Sunday 7 September 2008

I'm going through a crisis of confidence! I've never read other authors for ideas or resorted to scouring the newspapers for incidents. Without wishing to sound pretentious, I find life itself is inspiring enough. Places, chance encounters, unexpected twists in the weather, someone who doesn't answer the phone... I find anything can set off a 'what if' train of thought. For a while I was absorbed in writing. I've taken to reading avidly again and reading successful authors is a humbling experience. I'm at least as skilled as some I've read, but many authors write so well, and their plots are so damn clever, I feel my excitement at being published peeling away. I know my books will never be classed as timeless great literature (I'm not arrogant) but I do want to be really really good, at least. It's so hard to see beyond the veil of satisfaction at producing a story and tell if it's actually any good. Two questions.
1. I've asked this before but make no apology for repeating myself. I'll probably never stop asking this question. Is it possible to judge one's own work?
2. Is this all just about my ego?

Thursday 21 August 2008

I'm told the reading public don't like "coincidences" in plots. Life isn't as critical. My hard drive gave up on the very day I'd promised to send my MS to the editor. Only Thomas Hardy could get away with such a dire coincidence. My obsessive backups (see previous posts) came into their own, and I think I've retained a tenuous hold on sanity. The MS has gone and a new hard drive has been installed. So I'm waiting to hear from the editor again.

Publication date is moving closer... My book has moved up the list on my publisher's website. Since sending the MS back to the editor, I've been busy distracting myself. When that fails, I check my emails half a dozen times a day (understatement).

A friend at work is in the early stages of a relationship. As she wonders volubly if he will phone, I'm wondering when my editor will contact me. Our situations are not dissimilar. It's frightening how our life experience is transformed by the actions of strangers - a job interview, a random act of violence, a publisher's decision. And the other side of the coin is how our own actions can affect others' lives.

So I'm back on the blog, not prevaricating, but as a distraction. The best way I know of doing that, is to dive into another world. So I should be working on book 2. It's well on the way. But first, I think I'll visit a few blogs...

How do other writers cope with the waiting when they've sent their MS off? Any helpful hints gratefully received. Reading them will help pass the time...

Wednesday 16 July 2008

just a little drivel

Is it really 3 weeks since I last wrote here? I can't believe how fast the time has flown. I've been working on the final final edits of Cut Short. I should have kept a copy of all the versions... no, on second thoughts, that might have been an environmental disaster. What a difference computers make! I still like to print out and correct on hard copy once in a while, but most of the work takes place on my trusty computer. Today, I stored all my documents on a CD for the first time, so I now have 3 memory sticks (plus 2 more in reserve) and a CD for back up. 21st century, here I come!
In between editing, I've been writing some short stories. It's very different to writing a whole novel. I might try my hand at a play script one day. So far, I've restricted my efforts largely to crime stories, because that's what I do, but I might try a different genre, just for the fun of it. Perhaps the pressure of having to produce for my publisher has made me appreciate writing for myself again. (But I'll let you know if I ever manage to get any of my short stories published...)

I fluctuate between feeling amazingly brilliant, and thinking that my writing is absolute rubbish. Is that a common ambivalence among writers? How do other people feel about their writing? Can you judge your own work?

Tuesday 24 June 2008

Writing - art or craft? (as a pig in a poke I'm partial to old chestnuts)

It seems like a long time since I first began scribbling. It was actually eighteen months ago, no time at all; not long even as a proportion of my life. I believe I've blogged before about how I started writing because I found myself with time on my hands when my children left home and I relinquished a position of responsibility at work, although not my job iself. So, in a moment of boredom, I picked up a pencil and discovered I can write. I wrote compulsively for a few months and actually thought it was easy. I still find writing easy; producing a book is another matter altogether. Back to the confession... where was I? (OK I'll stop prevaricating) I completed a 'story' and thought, "this is rather good." So, in the spirit of having nothing to lose, and without having shown a word I'd written to another soul (talk about fools rushing in!) I typed up my 'work' and sent my MS off to 3 publishers who specialise in crime fiction.

Within 2 weeks (I kid you not) I had a phone call from a publisher who was interested. She asked me to send her the rest of the book. This is where it all began to unravel. In my ignorance - may I call it naivete? - I'd submitted what I thought was a book in its entirety, all 25,000 words of it. Discovering that a real book is a minimum of 80,000 words, I (oh the embarrassment!) cobbled together four stories I'd written (remember I'd been scribbling compulsively for about 4 months by now, 2,000 words a day every day, over 1/4 million words now if not more) and submitted that as my 'book'. Sensing a cornucopia of plots, my publisher promptly signed me up for 3 books, and brought in a brilliant editor to sort me out. Said editor read my work and immediately commented that it read like a collection of stories cobbled together. I was busted!

My publisher (whom I adore not only because she spotted potential in my (very) raw talent and gave me an opportunity to develop as a writer, but also because she is a genuinely lovely woman) and my editor (who could hone in on a splinter in a forest) have allowed me time to sort my ramblings into a coherent narrative. So I feel it's only fair to come clean and admit that the delay in publication hasn't been entirely down to 'other people'. It was me all along!!! I can only add that the past year has been the most amazing experience for me. Most writers work for years before finding a publisher. I've done it the other way round, finding a publisher and an editor and subsequently putting in the work. I've been incredibly lucky to have benefited from their advice. I only hope the book sells after all this and that my publisher feels it was worth the punt, speaking as a pig in a poke.

All of which raises the question: can writing succeed as a creative outburst, or is it a craft requiring thoughtful planning and careful refining?

I've been well and truly tagged

This is a new departure for me, as I've been 'tagged' which means I have to answer a series of questions - I think that's it. So here goes. It won't be very exciting as my life's about as ordinary as it gets. Perhaps that's why I spin off into "gripping psychological fiction"...

1. What was I doing 10 years ago?
Running a large department in a school with a team of eight teachers, and raising teenage daughters. A busy but enjoyable time of life. Ten years on, I look back and think, "How did I manage to do so much?" and "Why?" I couldn't do all that now. I watch younger, energetic colleagues running themselves into the ground and feel an overwhelming relief that I've stepped back to become a mere foot soldier. Although I have to admit, the only reason I'm sitting here answering these questions is because I'm off work with no voice (not conducive to teaching) while they're all busy working.

2. 5 things to do today
Unusual as I'm off sick. I must remember to take my antibiotics. Also my cough medicine and hay fever tablets. I'm going to be rubbish when I'm old with lots of pills to pop. And it won't be any good giving me those tablets with the days of the week on them, because I won'd know what day of the week it is. And all this from someone who hates all forms of medication and has a healthy distrust of doctors, having been brought up by one. Seriously, I think it's quite amazing what the medical practitioners achieve, the problem being that we all expect them to work miracles when they're just people doing their best within the confines of their limited knowledge.
What was the question?

3. What would I do if I was a billionaire?
I always have problems with questions like this. I can't think bigger than fixing the bit of damp on the ceiling, and the loose slat on the garden fence and a rack for the newspapers that always seem to lie around our house. Not exactly billionaire stuff? And then there are the hospital wards closing for lack of funds. I think I'd want to put enough by so that I'd never have to worry about paying the bills, and then quietly siphon the rest away into a worthy cause. I like to sleep at nights. And I wouldn't forget my children, of course.

4. 3 bad habits
talk too much, can't cook won't cook, hate shopping - are these habits? I'm not divulging anything personal!

5. snacks I enjoy
not got a sweet tooth apart from pastries (yum!), kettle chips, pretzels - those little salty ones.

6. Last 5 books I've read
Lynda La Plante, Simon Beckett, Jeffery Deaver, Ian Rankin, Val McDermid. This bears some relation to my last post... I've been doing some homework.

7. 5 jobs I've had
working in a burger bar, tomato picker, factory sticking metal components in something or other person, taking classified ads on a newspaper, and teacher.

8. 5 places I've lived
Ealing, Canterbury, Whitstable, Herne Bay, St Albans - all over 20 years ago.

That was surprisingly quite fun. I'm off to check my instructions as I believe I now have to 'tag' someone else.

Sunday 22 June 2008

confession time!

I seem to have put the image in the centre of the page this time. Probably a Freudian slip in the hope that anyone dropping by won't get as far down the page as reading what I'm about to confess... but in fairness to my publisher, I think it's time I came clean. (deep breath) I've been ever so slightly economical with the truth. (Is that allowed, in someone who admits to writing fiction?) The truth is, (dare I go on?)... the reason for the delay in publication of Cut Short has not been entirely nothing to do with me. It's a long story... I'll tell you next time. (sounds of a yellow chicken dropping white feathers)

Wednesday 21 May 2008

Did I mention that CUT SHORT has reappeared on my publisher's website? Eagle eyed readers of my blog may notice a subtle change in the cover reflecting a change in Geraldine Steel's status. I wonder if other books change as much from conception to the finished article? And CUT SHORT is not done yet. The MS is still with the editor so there may be further tweaking before it is finally published. I'll be quite sad when it's all over, really. It will be the end of an era for me. On the plus side, I will (all being well) (fingers crossed) be a published author! What will I blog about then? I suppose I'll be climbing the next mountain... "sold another copy today!"

Sunday 18 May 2008

I love my new room with my spacious new desk and absence of distraction so much that I've written another book since my last post. I'm in the process of self editing it and have even passed the MS on to my trusted readers (3 members of my family). Is that a good enough reason for not blogging for a while? One of the advantages of my new room is that my laptop has no internet access BUT the new cable is now in place and my desktop will shortly be moved up there. I wonder if I'll be as prolific once I can access my email and ... my BLOG! or will the temptation prove too great?

Other news is that CUT SHORT has reappeared on my publisher's website with a new publication date of March 2009. By this time next year, all being well, I will (finally) be a published author! I know I shouldn't be feeling this excited after such a protracted wait - and I have been in this position before - but I'm really excited. Let's hope it all goes ahead this time.

Although the book is still a way off, you can read about the book, by googling CUT SHORT Leigh Russell and clicking on No Exit Press Stock List and finding it there.

Tuesday 22 April 2008

I am very excited because my new desk has arrived. I ordered it from a catalogue and somehow got the measurements wrong - it's HUGE! I'm really pleased that it's larger than I expected. I'll have room to spread out. I can't wait to finish sorting everything out so I can get settled. (I'm resolutely ignoring the little voice in my head saying I'm procrastinating...)

Is location important? If I was really inspired, I'd be able to write anywhere. When I first discovered my passion for writing, I scribbled whenever and wherever. Now, after a year of incessant and obsessive creativity, I've slowed down to take stock. Will my new desk herald the start of a new burst of creativity? I plan to be very disciplined...

Today's question is linked to the last post about the need for silence or bustle - how important is it where you are when you write?

Thursday 17 April 2008

I wonder if other writers prefer silence or background bustle when they write? I used to think I needed absolute silence to concentrate but I find I often put the radio on when I'm writing. I can even write in front of the television (shocking admission!) Music distracts me, but people talking on the radio seems to help me to think. I have also enjoyed bursts of creativity sitting in Starbucks. Isaac Asimov wrote that he found the buzz of a busy venue (like an airport) energising. I think I'm the same sometimes. At other times I prefer quiet.
I have been writing at home in a small room in the middle of the house. I like the fact that it's small but hate being in the centre of the house. My study is, effectively, a corridor that people walk through as it is a short cut from the front door to the kitchen. This is where I am going to make a confession...
One of the reasons I enjoy writing is because it sometimes gives me a feeling that I have some control over something in my life. The decisions I make about my writing may not be completely 'free'. I often reject an idea I would love to keep because it does not work. My characters frequently run away with my words and seem to write their own stories. But it is between me and the words on the page. No one else can dictate to me (until the MS reaches the editor, of course! But I'm still enough of a novice to find even the idea of having an editor incredibly exciting.)
I was going on to say that it annoys me when people walk through my 'space' when I'm writing because I am such a control freak. But that's not it.
To create an imaginary world, like all writers I lose myself in that other place, the world that springs from my imagination. And it's vexing to be distracted from that other, imaginary, place.
So... I'm moving upstairs to an empty bedroom. Not only that, I've bought a NEW DESK! It should be delivered soon. All that remains will be to arrange for my computer to move upstairs with internet access (will that require cables? I've no idea.)
I'm looking forward to having a private space of my own, where I won't be disturbed. I wonder if I'll feel lonely and fret for the irritating interruptions I now grumble about? I have a sneaking suspicion I'll be continually trotting down the stairs to seek out distractions... or blogging. Or will I be incredibly self disciplined and focus on my writing...

Tuesday 1 April 2008

What if...

When I first started writing, I painstakingly wrote in neat long hand. I would only use pencil so I could make corrections without spoiling the appearance of my writing. When I was satisfied, I typed it up. I always kept a hard copy of everything I wrote, just in case my computer failed.
Gradually as my confidence in my writing grew, I became less dependent on my rituals. Now I find I can "create" in long hand or on the keyboard with equal facility. I prefer the keyboard as my typing is faster (and neater) than my handwriting. Despite the increased speed, I still tend to produce about 2,000 words in a day. More than that seems to exhaust my brain!
I no longer feel compelled to print out everything I write. This has probably saved a small forest. It has also saved on print cartridges, not to mention the time I (still) spend shredding discarded versions of my MS.
There is still one ritual... I weaned myself off the hard copies by using a memory stick. One day someone warned me that these are not 100% reliable. My work is now saved on not one, not two, not three, but four memory sticks. Neurotic or logical? If one m/stick could fail, why not the second? The odds must be the same each time... Are four enough? I know it's bonkers, but what if I used only one memory stick and it failed just as my computer died on me? After all, without my "What if" imagination, would I be writing crime fiction in the first place?
It is not true that I spend longer saving my work than writing it.

Sunday 30 March 2008


It's been a while since I last wrote on this blog. I've been busy writing. My publisher has postponed the publication of my first book, CUT SHORT. We missed the 2008 Spring date. I have since learned that such delays are common in this business. My publisher did not want to bring the book out over the Summer as this would clash with festivals in which they are interested, after which everything is focused on Christmas. So we've rescheduled, as the Americans say, until early 2009.
I now understand why producing a book is likened to producing a child. After the fun of the creative process, it's a long, long wait...

I'm more excited about the book itself than the publication. When I was waiting to hear about the deal with my publisher, a friend said to me the nightmare would be that in the end no one would publish my writing. But that's not it. For me the nightmare would be that I stopped writing. It has been an amazing thrill to find a publisher, but that's not what this is about for me. It's all about the writing. I love it.
CUT SHORT is listed on Amazon as due out next month. On my publisher's website it's March 2009. Like Hamlet, I don't know when it will be, but I know it will happen. And whenever it is, I'm ready! In the meantime, I'm writing.