Sunday, 29 July 2012

A fresh start

We're all moved in! I'm sitting here in my new study, 51 pages into the The Bone Season's first sequel. I have a new desk, my new wrist supports and my computer, and I'm surrounded by shelves of books. It's small, but it's my little piece of heaven. The new house is wonderful. Mum's thrilled with it. I wasn't sure how I'd feel about living so close to water, but I'm already in love, albeit terrified of the angry swans that stake out the canal.   

This will be quite a short post, as we've entered into quite a stagnant phase of the publishing process. There are 410 days to go, still well over a year, until The Bone Season hits UK shelves. Alexandra is away at the moment, so I won't have her feedback on the edit until after she returns. Alexa, however, has almost finished reading it, and she's very pleased with some of the new scenes. I'm hoping I'll be introduced to my copy-editor soon, and to have a cover design. I have to close my eyes and calm down whenever I think of the cover design. What will it look like? Will there be colours, or will it be B&W? What kind of font will they use for the title? Argh. Must stop thinking about it. Impatience overload.

In other literary news, my agent has published his very first book, Breaking 80, and my Renaissance tutor has been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize with his debut, Communion Town. I'm excited to read both, although I don't know the first thing about golf, so reading David's should be an interesting experience. 

I'm working through my reading list at a snail's pace. The Sphinx Project by Kate Hawkings is the first self-published novel I've ever read, and I have to hand it to the author for doing so well on an SP project. The cover design is extremely professional, and the book is very well-presented in all quarters. I recommend it if you're a fan of the Maximum Ride books. I also finally got round to reading The Woman in Black, written by the lovely Susan Hill. It was a much thinner book than I'd expected, but in 160 pages it reduced me to a quivering five year-old.  

Thanks to sm Varner for some questions for me to answer this week!
 
Do you write every day? 

Always. Writing is as much a part of my routine as eating and sleeping. My day is usually structured around writing and broken up by meals and short breaks.  

Do you shoot for a certain number of words, or a certain number of hours, or do you just sit down when you feel like it? 

I've never set myself a daily limit, though now I have deadlines I might have to start. How much I do per day depends on whether or not I'm at uni. During the holidays I treat it as a job, so I work 6-8 hours a day. During term time I have a lot of essays to write, so my writing time is severely restricted, but I make a point to write every evening if possible, even if it's just for an hour or two.

Do you work better early in the morning or late at night? 

I'm definitely a night owl, but I think I'm a bookend person in that I also work very well in the early morning (as long as I've had 2-3 cups of coffee). In the middle of the day it goes up and down: I could suddenly get a burst of inspiration, or I could just sit there staring at the screen and drumming my fingers. At that point I decide it's time for a break. At uni I tend to work through the night, as I need to be alert during the day so I don't produce essays that make no sense.    

How close is that writing routine to the routine that you would ideally like to have?

Ideally I'd like to write through the night and sleep during the day, but it's just not possible! However, now I have my own study, which is downstairs, I can stay up much later without disturbing the rest of the house.


The Olympics opening ceremony gave me a huge rush of inspiration, so I'm intending to spend all tonight writing while listening to this music. Wish me luck.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Aurora: Rejection is a challenge

It's creeping closer to the end of July. The busiest week ever has ended. The next busiest week ever is about to begin. It's quite daunting to think that I'll be leaving the house I've lived in for the last 12 years, but I'm ready for a fresh start.

Our new house is by a canal, and Mike is already bubbling over with enthusiasm about the canoe he's going to buy. I suggested he call it Magic Mike, to which he naïvely agreed, but I think I'll explain to him what it really refers to before he paints that name on his brand-new boat. There are some really beautiful lakes beyond the canal. I'm a city girl by nature, but it's a lovely retreat, and for now, a lovely home.



As promised, this week's post will be all about my first attempt at getting a novel published. I've been very open about the existence of my rejected first novel, but I've never really told the whole story. I've been surprised by the amount of interest people have shown in Aurora, even asking if I can self-publish it as an eBook. I hope this post will explain why I don't want to do that.   

This is not a sob story. I'm not telling it so publishers will take pity on Aurora. I don't want it to be published, and if given the opportunity I would refuse it. I'm telling this story to show that being rejected does not signal the death of your literary dreams. Aurora's rejection made me much stronger as a person and as a writer. It also made me appreciate it all the more when The Bone Season was accepted by an agent. I look back on it not as a waste of four years, but as a stepping stone. It gave me a handful of strong concepts for The Bone Season, and when it didn't work out, it helped me rethink my direction as a writer and gave me the confidence to try something new.

I got the first spark for Aurora when I was about fifteen years old. My passion at the time was for sci-fi: Isaac Asimov, H. G. Wells, John Wyndham and so on. I was struck my how much leeway for creativity it offered. New worlds, new theories, new ideas. I was also bored of the vampire craze and wanted to write something different. With near-unbreakable optimism, I took on the task of writing a "romantic sci-fi epic". The trilogy I designed was written for a YA audience, and was intended to make sci-fi more attractive to young people, particularly young women. It followed an eighteen year-old female protagonist, who happens upon a wounded but devilishly-attractive alien and goes on a quest with him to find his eight lost companions. There are various different versions in my computer, the last few being attempts to make the novel darker; the first was much more light-hearted. The protagonist of the first version was insanely world-weary for her age (my beta reader for Aurora, Fran, said she thought she was in her thirties when they first started reading), while the second version was much more fragile and dependent on her love interest. Looking back, I really don't like either of them.

In 2007 I was preparing for my GCSEs. I got to work on the planning the novel during that year. I planned it between classes in my notebook. Many of my friends knew I was writing it. I loved that they were interested maybe writing was something I could do and soon set about creating characters who resembled them. I wanted to create an adventure we could all share. I filled a notebook with draft scenes and character profiles. I remember opening a Word document a few months later and staring at the blank page, with my notes in my hands and a head full of ideas, and wondering how I was ever going to express it all. The story started with the words "A tale lusts on the tip of my tongue". I would never write those words now, but that's really how I felt. The story was lusting to come out. 

Aurora was told in third person from four different perspectives. I was trying to write a romance that was 'completely different' to Twilight, but now I've read back on the MS, I can't work out why I thought it was different. Still, I thought it was great. I loved it; why shouldn't everybody else? So I typed. I typed every day, as soon as I was home from school, sometimes before I left in the morning. I typed all through the night. I only went out rarely, and that was with a lot of coercion. I'd discovered my passion for writing stories, a fire that wouldn't go out. You know the drill after that; I've spoken about it in previous blogs. I was exhausted, I was ill, my mum was beside herself with worry. Writing it was still a bitty process, broken up by school, homework, my weekend job and so on, but a day didn't go by when I didn't do some work on it, whether it was planning it or writing out a chapter.   

But I had a vision. I was going to publish. I looked up the proper way to present a manuscript  font size, margin width, everything was perfect  and printed off several copies of the first three chapters. I wrote up a synopsis and drafted a series of letters to agencies around London. I went out on foot and delivered the first few manuscripts by hand, hoping to impress the agents with my dedication and drive. I was surprised when the agents didn't reply straight away. I sent queries. I sent more manuscripts out, this time in A4 brown paper envelopes. I spent a small fortune on stamps, envelopes, paper clips and white labels. I spent £45 printing off the entire MS in case an agent wanted to see the whole thing.  

And then the rejections started to roll in. Cold, standard rejections. Not right for our books, not quite what we're looking for, etc. I wasn't put off. "The Help was rejected 45 times," I would snarl when people asked, "and now that's being made into a film". I didn't get 45 rejections in the end, because I didn't send out 45 queries. But I started to get worried after I'd sent out about 20. I racked up a total of 10 standard rejection letters. The others got no reply.

That was when I saw a light: David Godwin. A real live breathing agent was going to look at my manuscript and give me some feedback – human feedback, not just a slip of paper. I emailed him the manuscript and zipped up to London in a puff of smoke. That was my first time in Seven Dials. I was ready to spout all my plans to David, all my designs for the sequels, all my thoughts about marketing the worksDavid was lovely about the manuscript; he said he'd read the novel and enjoyed it. He promised he'd pass it onto Kirsty, the YA representative at DGA. I was walking on sunshine all the way home. It wasn't a "yes", but it wasn't a "no". There was possibility.  

I got the red card from David a few days later. He couldn't represent Aurora. He thought the writing had potential, but he was unfamiliar with the genre and felt he wasn't the right person to properly critique it. When I checked DGA's website, I noticed something I'd missed before. DGA didn't represent science fiction. My chance for proper feedback had slipped through my fingers. It was back to the drawing board – and, for Aurora, back to the bottom of the slush pile. Desperate, I leafed through the pages of the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook, determined to find an agency that specialised in science fiction. By this point, however, my morale was low. I was making myself sick with nerves every time I sent out a new query, knowing I was going to be stonewalled.

I remember the exact day I realised Aurora had to be shelved for good. My flame for the book had long since started to die out, but I couldn't bring myself to let go of it. In February 2011, however, the teen sci-fi novel I Am Number Four was made into a film. The teaser trailer was released in September 2010. I hadn't heard of the novel before the trailer appeared, and although Aurora didn't have the most original plotline, I was devastated to hear that somebody had published a story so similar to mine (the similarities were unnerving: nine exiled aliens, the alien-human love story). I was already distraught, and on that night, I came to the conclusion that Aurora had been a failed project. I'd wasted years of my life writing a novel that no-one wanted. I burst into tears. I carried on for a few weeks, but my passion for the book was gone. I packed away the manuscript I'd printed, all £45 of it, and shoved it into a cardboard box. It was only self-control that stopped me blasting all evidence of it. I just wanted to pretend it hadn't happened. Now everyone would know that I'd been rejected, that I'd failed. I packed the box away and buried the files in my computer, out of sight. 

A few months passed. I'd been used to writing every night; there was an empty space in my evenings. I returned to some old writing projects and entered a few short story competitions, but my enthusiasm had taken a beating. I wasn't sure I was brave enough to try another novel. Early in 2011, though, I started playing with a vague plan for a brand-new story called Luna Moth, which would explore a topic I'd become interested in: dreams, prompted by reading an Old English dream-vision. I'd read The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood and fallen in love with it, and I thought it might be interesting to try out a dystopia that incorporated dream theory. I roughed a few chapters with a first-person narrator, a dissident in an Oxford controlled by a supernatural race, but something felt wrong. I had something, but the fantasy elements weren't quite clicking with the setting. My ideas were all over the place, not quite taking form, and my progress, consequently, was slow. I turned my focus to my Prelims, the exams I'd have to pass to stay at uni for another two years. I did my internship that summer. I thought about self-publishing Aurora a few times, given that I still had the manuscript, but that route didn't appeal to me. My passion for Aurora was stone-cold dead. But after working in DGA for a while, I realised how much I loved Seven Dials, the junction in London where the agency was based, and I wondered if I could do something with it. I'd always been a London girl, but discovering that junction was like finding buried treasure. It gave me a burst of confidence and inspiration. 

And then, while I was working, it hit me: a vivid image of a clairvoyant girl, in another Seven Dials, in the not-too-distant future. Paige Mahoney. The unifying fantasy element, the kernel I needed to create the world, was that single word that came to me: clairvoyance. I saw Scion in my mind. I saw Monmouth Street with blue lights, humming with colour. I couldn't help but start scribbling notes for what would soon become the draft chapters of The Bone Season. And, as you all know, I eventually succumbed. I wrote the whole book – this time as an intensely personal, private project, letting my imagination run wild in its own playground. It is, to this day, the best decision I've ever made.    

So that's the story of Aurora. Although its rejection was devastating to my younger self, I'm now very glad that it was never picked up by a publisher. It wasn't a particularly unique story and it had far too many external influences. I've thought about the mistakes I made, and I've come up with a short list of things that killed it. Remember, these apply only to me  other authors may have done these things and been perfectly successful but they're worth thinking about. 



1. I wrote in response to a popular genre. In other words, I was trying too hard. I knew paranormal romance was popular, so I wrote one. I tried to squeeze my story into the parameters of a popular genre, complete with a broody hero and a girl that falls in love with him in the blink of an eye, despite the obvious risks (and, naturally, a hero that tries to push her away for her own safety)    

2. The characters resembled people I knew. It's fine to use characters in your novel that are inspired by people in real life. You might even do it subconsciously, using their quirks or flaws to create a realistic individual. But after writing Aurora for a while, I realised that the other characters, many of whom were modelled on real people, were starting to interact with the protagonist the way my friends interacted with me. This steadily turned the heroine into a parallel version of myself. G. K. Chesterton said some golden words on the subject: "A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author"

3. I used purple prose. And boy, did I use a lot of it. I was certain that being a good writer meant I had to use lots of flowery description, convoluted sentences and interesting metaphors. The novel was stuffed full of them. Every sunset had to be described in at least 20 words. Every small movement made by a character, like turning round or sitting up in bed, was worthy of a few sentences. I've since learned that the modern style favoured by most writers is much more economical. I should write what happens and convey it. I should leave the rest to the reader's imagination, because that's what reading is all about: imagination.

4. I wrote from too many perspectives. Some authors can do this very well. A Song of Ice and Fire is full of changes in perspective, which gives the story its incredible breadth. But for me, the third-person multi-perspective style just didn't work. I couldn't properly balance the four characters and make each of their voices unique. I needed to write in first-person to create symbiosis with my narrator.  The only way for me to connect with Paige, my new protagonist, was to speak with her voice. 

I really hope this post has been helpful, and that it's satisfied any curiosity you might have had about Aurora. Questions welcome for next week. 

PS: If you want to see me looking a bit like a Star Wars character, check today's You magazine with the Mail on Sunday. The 'Go for Gold' Olympic special. Page 26. My own grandmother didn't recognise me. 

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Foreign Rights

Just a quick mid-week update: I'm incredibly excited to announce that The Bone Season has been sold to the following foreign publishers:





Needless to say I'm over the moon that non-English speaking readers from all four countries will be able to read The Bone Season in their own language. There are several more sales being discussed at the moment; I'll update you when they're finalised.

Stay tuned on Sunday for a blog post on Aurora.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Reading and Rephaim

The first edit is done! Hooray. Three weeks early. My back is now shot to pieces but it's been worth it. I've now moved onto a side project, related to The Bone Season, which should be done today if I stick to my schedule (although the sun has come out at last, so I probably won't). I won't tell you anything about that yet as there's no guarantee it will ever see the light of day.

Life has turned into a waiting game now. Waiting for the edit to be read, waiting to move house. I spent most of yesterday packing more of my possessions into boxes with my family, and throwing a lot of old clothes away. I didn't realise how much junk I've hoarded over the years. We went to the landfill three times. I feel sick to my stomach when I see how much rubbish piles up at those places, and most of it isn't even broken. I managed to get about half my rubbish into recycling bins, including a tonne of paperwork, but I've promised myself never to buy unnecessary junk again. If I've got one tiny souvenir from a beach I visited ten years ago, I've got twenty. It's insane.   

On the study front – which I'm trying not to think about – I just finished a biography called Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and her Family's Feuds by Lyndall Gordon. I'm not typically a fan of biography but it was so gripping I could hardly put it down. I've started reading a collection of Dickinson's poetry, but there are so many poems, I can't imagine reading the whole thing. I've also got to work up the determination to write a 4000-word Shakespeare essay at some point. And read six novels. And start studying for Finals. After reading this article I'm now breaking a cold sweat at the mere thought of Finals.

How did the story of The Bone Season come to your mind? Did something special happen or did you suddenly have the idea? 

Lots of things brought on the idea for The Bone Season. One was my experience working in Seven Dials. That gave me a strong idea for the setting. I'd also been inspired by my first year at Oxford, and wanted to do something interesting with the place. Then I needed a plot. I love literature about the afterlife and the macabre – John Donne, Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allan Poe are a few of my favourites – and I'd been interested in OBE and parapsychology for a few years. That started to come together in the form of a world populated by clairvoyants, with a 'spirit trade' and a criminal network.

I also wanted to push the limits of genre and audience a little with The Bone Season. Many people seem to think it's a YA (Young Adult) novel. It's wasn't written as YA, and won't be marketed as such, although I hope very much it will appeal to YA as well as adult readers. The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) of America defines a young adult as someone between the ages of 12 and 18, and my narrator, Paige, is 19. I'm 21 this year, and I wanted to reach out to readers of my age, who are usually faced with a protagonist who is 16-18 years old. And there are too many numbers in this paragraph.       

What gives you inspiration?

Tricky one. Lots of things. I'm a night owl; darkness and moonlight tend to give me inspiration. I would love to be able to stick to my natural rhythm, and start working around 9PM. Alas, society doesn't favour the night owl, and I have to stick to my circadian rhythm on most days. I'm also inspired by wandering through London, by colours, and very occasionally by nightmares, which tend to stick in my head more than dreams. I've never dreamed an entire scene, but sometimes the fear or panic induced by a nightmare, even if I don't remember what happened, will make me want to write something.      

Can you tell us about the race of Rephaim?

I can't tell you too much, as I don't want to spoil it, but if you type Rephaim into Google I can promise useful results. The Rephaim are a race that feature in the Hebrew Bible, and their basic description inspired me to create a brand-new supernatural creature. I didn't want to write about vampires and werewolves, as I think there's already plenty of literature out there about that. You won't be able to find out exactly what the Rephaim are in my world until the release of The Bone Season, but you'll be able to start forming an idea.  

Do you have an email address set up for questions about your writing, or are you only answering questions through the comments section on this blog?

I don't have an email address set up at the moment, no, but a website for The Bone Season will be set up next year, and I'm going to see if there can be a forum for questions. For the time being, do continue to ask questions on here or through Twitter.   



Next week I'll be talking about how my experience with my rejected first novel, Aurora, helped me work out how to approach The Bone Season.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

On worlds and slush piles

I think I could just finish the first edit today. Two more chapters to go. My back is killing me, I definitely need to see a doctor about the RSI in my hands, and I need Vitamin D. I must have finished off about 400 cups of coffee in the last month.

My mum, who has barely seen me except for dinner, has observed that when I do emerge from my room, I talk non-stop and laugh like a drain. I put this down to lack of social interaction, being embroiled in the world of Paige Mahoney from dusk till dawn. There's also a massive pile of books I need to read before I go back to uni in October. Despite these things, I'm still having a huge amount of fun, and I'm not allowing myself to become as exhausted as I did with Aurora. I think I'll even be disappointed when this first lot of edits is finished, though very excited for the Bloomsbury team to read the new version.

There are also only two weeks left until the move. I've thrown out eight recycling bags of stuff I've hoarded over the years. I found some of my original notebooks for novel planning, and I discovered a whole novel about dragons I wrote when I was about twelve. It was called Inferno an apt, if unimaginative title. But onward to questions: 

What is Seven Dials? 

My favourite place in London. It's a road junction in Covent Garden, where seven roads meet. I did my internship there, at the agency that now represents me, and it's the place that inspired me to write The Bone Season. You can find out more here and here.

Can you tell us about back story? Did you write back stories for your characters?

This is a great question. I think the important thing with back stories is making sure you don't throw your character's entire life story out there in the first few sentences of the book.

Unless you want your character to be particularly enigmatic, or completely uninterested in their own life, it's important to know what has happened to your character (especially your protagonist or narrator) up until the story starts. You don't have to know every minute detail of their existence, but have some main events that might have shaped their personality. Did something happen to him/her that made them develop a phobia of water? That's great, but don't tell us straight away. Wait until he or she encounters water, and then bring it up. Make it as relevant as possible to the plot. You can use devices like flashback to tell the story, but again, make sure they're relevant. Don't just have the narrator flash back to when they were five years old and knocked over their Lego castle and cried for hours over the ruins. If you do, make sure the Lego castle memory is relevant to the plot.

I don't think you need to know the back story for each and every character. I have at least a rough idea of what happened to most of my characters, but you don't have to sit there and slave away over a detailed character plan for characters that barely appear. I know Paige's back story very well; I know the important things about Warden's life; I know one key event that will twist Jaxon's entire personality (I use these three characters because theirs are the only names I can release). At present, that's all I need to know. So my one rule for back stories would be "need-to-know basis only".

Can you explain the process of world building?

Wow. This is a tricky one. World building can be an incredibly complicated, or fairly easy process. It depends on the kind of world you're trying to build.

If you're writing a high fantasy novel – which I have never attempted – your world will need to be very detailed, because it's completely unlike our world. I'm no expert in this, but I'd assume you need to familiarise your reader quite quickly so they understand the key rules of the world. In urban and 'low' fantasy (which are two of the categories that The Bone Season can be squeezed into), it's a little different. 

During the editing process, my editors told me that they wanted to hear more about the linked but very different worlds that Paige encounters: Scion-occupied London and Oxford. I'm quite an economic writer and I don't like bogging myself down with description, so originally I just threw Paige out there in media res and thought the reader could just work things out for themselves. I don't like stating things outright. Alexandra and Alexa, however, wanted to hear more about the laws and limits of both worlds, so I extended the first chapter to explain Paige's life in Scion a little. I ended up having a huge amount of fun with it, creating my own currency, slang, technology and criminal network. Then I had even more fun when I moved onto creating the world of Oxford, though a lot of that involved trying to steer clear of Philip Pullman's depiction of the city in His Dark Materials. Difficult, as I've never read any of his books, but I hope I succeeded (while basing my knowledge solely on their Wikipedia pages). 

I think it's hard to build the entire world before you start writing. Test a chapter out. Throw your protagonist into some kind of world and see what happens. I've changed Scion London several times during the editing process – I only created the currency yesterday. Lay the foundations and keep adding blocks. 

 
You mentioned being on slush pile duty. I'd love to know if you found that to be a learning experience for your own writing or somewhat traumatizing. (Lacey)

Both! The great thing about slush pile duty was seeing how many interesting novels are out there (although at the time this was a bit disheartening, as I was an unpublished writer and I couldn't see how I'd ever get published with so many manuscripts in circulation). The guy who submitted a photo of his face as a covering letter was definitely traumatic, but most of them were great fun to read.

I read one fantastically traumatic 'lad-lit' novel. The author caught my attention immediately by emailing the office and offering me a packet of digestive biscuits if I'd read his MS. I was happy to accept. It was a hilarious, ghastly, wonderful novel about a young man who has the worst day ever. The author had a great proclivity for putting his poor narrator in awkward sexual situations, and describing them in lurid detail. Since reading the MS I have never been able to eat mayonnaise again. David said he wasn't able to represent it, but I sent an email strongly encouraging the author to look elsewhere. He emailed me a few days later to say the novel had been picked up in the States. I was so thrilled, as he had so much talent. I'm sure he went on to do very well over the pond.

I also remember two manuscripts that really touched me. One was from a fifteen year-old girl who reminded me of myself when I wrote Aurora. She'd written a beautiful little novel about a romance in a backwater American town, and the first chapter was incredibly well-written. I left my internship before I could reply to her, but having thought about it for a long time, I think an agent might be wary of taking on someone so young (though I would have strongly disagreed when I was fifteen). You have to do a lot of promotion you publish, and as the girl was still at school, it would have been an awful lot of pressure on her. There was also an MS from a gentleman who'd written a very long novel about farming in Wales. His covering letter was world-weary. He said he was astonished that the publishing world was so harsh, and that one thing writing the novel had made him realise was how impossible it is for new authors to be published. I went home that day feeling downright miserable, knowing exactly how he felt, after so many rejections for Aurora.

So if you take anything away from reading this blog, remember: never give up. Try again. Rewrite. Send your manuscript everywhere. The deals are out there. All you have to do is find them.

Samantha  

Sunday, 1 July 2012

The Home Stretch

So a few days ago, my mum told me that after three years of searching for a new house, she'd finally found one. Contracts have been exchanged. We're not moving too far away from our house in Ruislip, and fortunately it's still within the boundaries of Greater London, though I have a feeling I'm going to be trekking quite a long way to the nearest train station. We're moving in on 26th July. I'm excited and relieved, as Mum loves the house and it's in a lovely location, and there were a few initial difficulties to overcome. Now, however, we're boxing up and getting ready to go. The new house has a small study, which will be mostly mine. I can't wait to have a proper writing space.

I'm still feverishly editing The Bone Season. As I've said in previous posts, the first edit is due at the end of July. It's now July 1st, so I've gone into panic mode. I hope I can get it done before the 26th, as I don't think I'll have time for a few days after that — I'll be busy moving boxes and putting things on shelves. We're in the home stretch! 

I did a photoshoot with You magazine last week, which was pretty crazy. I was dressed up in gold, as it's an Olympic issue, and had a kind of sci-fi hairstyle. I was also given a spray-painted gold book to hold. I normally wander around in plaid shirts and jeans, so being put in a gold dress with a gold poncho on top was terrifying. It's twice as terrifying not knowing what the photos look like. Apparently I looked like a 'techno-geisha'. So that's good. I hope. I think. The issue is out on July 22nd.  

I've ended up doing an overhaul of the novel, as I wanted to make it darker to heighten the danger to the protagonist. Tonal differences require you to touch up almost every scene so it's consistent across the narrative. It's been tough, but I'm really pleased with the edited MS so far. The relationships between the characters are stronger, and I think there's more of a sense of urgency and danger, which is what I intended from the beginning. 

Questions this week:


Can you explain what is a synopsis and how long should it be? 

I'm going to use this question as an excuse to talk about agents a bit. A synopsis is one of the things that agents will ask for, and should make up part of your 'agent package' when you send off your manuscript. Generally they'll ask for the first three chapters, a covering letter and a synopsis (sometimes only one chapter is required). Agents receive a lot of manuscripts every day, so you need to make your package stand out. Most likely it will be tossed onto the slush pile until someone in the office has time to look through it. I was on 'slush pile duty' a few times while I was working at DGA, and it's funny how some people think they should present themselves in the package — one man sent a full-page picture of his own face as his covering letter. That instantly put me on edge. The agent doesn't particularly want to see your face yet; they want to see your manuscript. 

A synopsis is a summary of what happens in the novel: key points, key characters, the structure of the narrative — basically something to give the agent an idea of who you are, what your novel is about, and why they should represent it. I wrote lots of different synopses when I was trying to get Aurora published, but was fortunate enough to be represented by the first agent I enquired with for The Bone Season.

Agencies differ on how long the synopsis should be. It's usually between one and three pages. Check the agent's requirements before you send the manuscript. The vast majority of synopses will be one A4 page long. It's quite a daunting task to cram your 120,000+ word novel into one page, but it's possible. Cut out anything unnecessary and work out the pivotal points of the story. Here's a simple example: Pride and Prejudice as a synopsis. Make sure the synopsis sounds exciting. The agent must want to read the full manuscript, even if they know exactly what happens.

Do you have a name for the book series yet or will it be called The Bone Season series?

I had a long talk with Bloomsbury about this. Provisionally the series has no name, but in my head I call it the Seven Dials series. That may or may not become official. 


Thank you so much for everyone for your continued comments and support. I'm thrilled that so many people are looking forward to The Bone Season

Samantha