Happy Christmas to All

Safely ensconced in England, I will be blogging only sporadically over the next few days as I take some time to relax, write, and watch Doctor Who.

Being British still has to mean something, after all.

Joy and peace to all this Christmas. Take care!



#PubTip - Great Things for Writers to Know

Howdy, all.

I've mentioned a few times on here that Twitter / social media are becoming ever more important for writers. Not simply because you can market your writing and increase your reach, but because of the community aspect; the shared knowledge and experience from professionals and colleagues alike. Never before has there been such ease of access to editors, authors, and publishers, all with fantastic things to say and, yes, years of experience under their belts.

Perhaps the best hashtag to follow is #PubTip - a sure fire way to get timely, insightful and - most importantly - practical advice from agents and editors. It's a constantly moving conversation, and you can jump in at any time. I spent a few minutes searching through, to bring just some of the posts to you. Enjoy!

I'm not going to reject you solely for formatting issues. Promise. No need to resubmit your query. 

When you contact an agent, you try to convince them you can be a professional writer. A professional and a writer. At the same time.

Wannabe writers might hold off sending query letters to agents and publishers until the New Year. We'll be ever more receptive. 

Authors (esp. kid's authors), you may be tempted to write a funny/ridiculous bio, but I need a REAL bio to sell your foreign rights

When replying to a manuscript request, it is VERY helpful to reply directly to the request email to keep the thread together! 

The only thing worse than underexplaining is overexplaining. It can really slow down a story. 

Remember, when you are working on your bio, that it should pertain to your project! Dogs and x-wives need not be mentioned 

Yes, it is totally my loss if I pass on your work & you end up a huge best seller. Pointing that out will not make me reconsider. 

It's been said a million times before, but needs another mention I think: a LOT in publishing is down to personal preference. 

If you're going to query for a series, it needs to be for the first book. I can't pick up mid-series, esp self-pubbed. 

There are plenty more - hundreds - over on Twitter. Check them out. As you can see, there are plenty of topics covered, some no-brainers, some things you might not have thought of. At the end of the day, it's just inspiring to see people who care about books spending time sharing their tips without ever actually having to. It's voluntary, useful, and free. What more could you want? Take care, all. 



Writers' and Artists' Yearbook Blog / Competition

This is my 100th post on this blog! A fun, if arbitrary, milestone. A lot's happened since I first set out, but it seems a fitting sign of how it's grown that I have some fun news to share ...

A previous post from this blog is being featured today on the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook website (Main page here, my post here). I've posted before about my own history with the Yearbook - it's a great resource for writers both professional and aspiring, and I'd recommend it to anyone looking for information, advice and inspiration -- which is handy, because I happen to have two copies to give away.

The kind people over at Writers' and Artists' have given me one copy of the Yearbook, and one copy of the Children's Yearbook to celebrate the blog post. All you have to do is leave a comment on here or share my Twitter post about it for a chance to get one. On Tuesday I'll pick two names at random and - bingo.


That's about it. Hope Christmas plans are coming along for everyone. A week today I'll be in England - huzzah.



AW December Blog Chain - The End of the World

The End of the World

I'm running. I'm free. The world is below me - look, it's so weird, so fuzzy, so wobbly. Where shall I run? I can go anywhere. I'm in a pine forest. The smell is of earth and time and seeds. The ground is soft. Everything's so green - soft green - like a  ... like an I don't know what. The light is green, dripping down from the trees. I'm miles - years! - from anywhere, from anyone. It's so quiet. Oh, it's so quiet.

Bored now. I'm moving on. Look - where is this? Greece? Yes. Everything's blue and white. The air tastes like salt and lemon and crackling fish. The houses have rough white walls and rough white doors, blasted by wind and sea. Oh, the sea! Roaring, growling, foaming, brimey, rough, grey, blue, green, deep.

So deep. I could dive down there. 

I want to. I will. I will dive.


She looked at him and her face was too calm, too blank, to be anything real. Only people trying too hard looked like that. He'd seen it before, but not for this long. She always looked like this. She never let it out. It couldn't be healthy, could it?
'I'm sorry,' he said. He had to. He'd be a monster not to. He still hated doing it.
Anyway, the words hung limp in the air.
'There's ... not a lot more to do. He's retreating further in. He's not responding as we'd hoped. I want to be honest with you. I want to be. You may have to prepare yourself for this being –'
He stopped, because it was pointless to continue. 
Her face was blank and she nodded, once. A strand of her hair fell onto her shoulder and for a single moment, he wanted to reach for it, and brush it back. 
She probably wouldn't have noticed.
'I'm sorry,' he said, and he sighed, deep and long and oddly heartbroken.


I'm flying! I'm flying! The stars are like little chalk dots in the sky, which is deep blue really, and not black. Not black at all. I tumble and dance and laugh and shout. I whoop and scream. No. The air screams, as it rushed past - rush, rush, rush - and the sound deafens me, 'cause I'm flying so fast.

That gets dull, though. It gets dull, doesn't it? So now ... I'm in a desert. Oh, it's burning. Dry and cracked and full of tiny, tiny grains of sand. They're everywhere. They're eternal, infinite, hot and burning and dry, dry, dry. Yellow, orange, brown, white. I'm going blind from the heat and the sun that burns and scorches and screams down its hate. Time to get out of here. Back to the forest…


'I thought the new treatment would help?' she said.
'We had hoped, but it was never certain. He just retreats further into himself. He's ... he's gone, essentially.'

The sound of the clock was wrong, she thought; almost unbearably wrong, because it was clinical – so clinical! – which was something that time shouldn't be. She hated coming here. She hated it so much she thought she might burn for it.
‘So, you can’t suggest anything more to focus him?’
‘I said earlier that the medicine he’s on now, at such a high dosage, is already unusual. There’s little more medical intervention to be had.’
She clicked her tongue at that, was silent, and spoke.
‘And, I guess… it progresses, doesn't it. If he’s not paying attention to us now, we’re standing right here but he isn't, then later, later he just won’t know anyone is anywhere.’
‘These cases are always unique, each minds to itself. Days will be better, days will be … worse.’
‘He looks different.’
What was there to say to that? This boy was changing as they watched. His mind was imploding onto nothingness and coming out with vibrancy. Endless, at least.
‘Linda,' he said.
Her face twisted so subtly it seemed to suggest contempt for something. 
‘Linda, he can go home. He probably should. Home environments often trigger –’
‘Environments are where animals live. Triggers pull guns shoot bullets kill tigers.’

The clock has such a medical tick, she thought. It’s a clock, seconds are supposed to always be the same, but it’s clinical in here. Tick, tick, your life is slipping away, tock, tock, the end of another day is coming.  Tick, tock. My son. He’s leaving here, I can see it even if they’re determined to make me carry him back to home. He’s leaving all of this, he’s leaving everything. He’s going into himself. Is he running away? Tick tock. 

She would break soon, anyway, with grief and hunger and everything else, and hers wouldn't be the only world to end.


Other writers in the chain:

orion_mk3: http://nonexistentbooks.wordpress.com (link to post)
dolores haze - http://dianedooley.wordpress.com/ (link to post)
randi.lee - http://emotionalnovel.blogspot.com/ (link to post)
writingismypassion - http://charityfaye.blogspot.com/ (link to post)
bmadsen - http://hospitaloflife.wordpress.com/ (link to post)
Ralph Pines - http://ralfast.wordpress.com/ (link to post)
AllieKat - http://roelke.livejournal.com/ (link to post)
MsLaylaCakes - http://www.taraquan.com/ (link to post)
katci13 - http://www.krystalsquared.net/ (link to post)
Angyl78 - http://jelyzabeth.wordpress.com/ (link to post)
pyrosama - http://matrix-hole.blogspot.com/ (link to post)
Araenvo - http://www.simonpclark.com/ (You are here)
CJ Michaels - http://www.christinajmichaels.blogspot.com/ (link to post)
SuzanneSeese - http://www.viewofsue.blogspot.com/ (link to post)
BBBurke - http://awritersprogression.blogspot.com/ (link to post)
gell214 - http://gelliswriting.blogspot.com/ (link to post)


An Interview with literary agent Molly Ker Hawn

I had a lot of fun interviewing fellow writer Kelsey the other week - so now it's time to turn the whole thing around, and get some insight into publishing from the other side. Those of you following along will already know that my books are represented by The Bent Agency - specifically by Molly Ker Hawn, who has a pretty snazzy resume. In her own words:

My time in the children's publishing industry has been varied, including editorial roles at Chronicle Books and Dial Books for Young Readers, early social media development for a major teen magazine, and serving as National Programs Director at the Children's Book Council, the trade association of American children's book publishers. I've also been a bookseller, and I'm a past board member of the United States Board on Books for Young People.

In her current incarnation, though, she's my kick ass agent, and she's kindly agreed to answer a few questions about life, books, and how it's all going. So, here we go!

SPC: An obvious one to start with: what kind of stuff are you on the look out for at the moment? Or, perhaps better, what are you open to beyond what it already says on your agency's website?

MKH: I'm especially interested in middlegrade fiction right now -- funny, smart novels that ask interesting questions and don't condescend to the reader. I'm also cautiously interested in New Adult, but anything with paranormal romance elements isn't really for me. (Thanks for reminding me that I need to do a blog post about my 2013 wishlist)

SPC: If there's one thing to avoid when contacting agents - and when contacting you -  what is it?

MKH: Querying before your manuscript is ready. And by "ready" I mean "revised, critiqued by honest readers with experience or at least avid interest in the YA/MG market, revised again, polished, put away for a few days, and then determined to be absolutely the very best it can be."

SPC: There's a lot of change going on in publishing, with ebooks and self publishing taking off like never before. Worried?

MKH: Worried? No. Watching the landscape like a hawk? Absolutely.

SPC: You're an active Twitter user. Should writers commit time to building a presence online before they even have an agent?

MKH: Only if they feel they can do it authentically and really engage with other people online. A broadcast-only Twitter account is aggressively boring; generic blogs about the writing process are a dime a dozen. Viewing social media as a way to meet other writers and publishing professionals is a better way to approach it; then you'll have a built-in a audience you genuinely connect with when you're ready to start telling the world about your book launch.

SPC: You work in the UK for an agency based in the U.S. Is there much difference between the two? Should U.S. based authors feel free to submit to you?

MKH: There are some differences. One key thing to remember is that if you live in a country where your agency doesn't have an office, there can be tax implications for the payments it remits to you. But in terms of your relationship with your agent, being separated by an ocean doesn't mean you can't forge a productive connection. Realistically, even if you live in the U.S., you might live 3000 miles from your U.S.-based agent. I represent authors in the U.S. and the U.K. and am happy to receive submissions from any author, regardless of where they live.

SPC: Less boring question: What's the last book you read and loved?

MKH: LOVED loved? CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein. Masterfully plotted, incredible historical detail, and a voice that grabs you and doesn't let go. My favorite book of 2012.

SPC: Favourite book when you were a kid?

MKH: Oh, I had tons. ANNE OF GREEN GABLES (actually, the later books in Montgomery's series were my real favorites). Susan Cooper's DARK IS RISING sequence. Lloyd Alexander's CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN. The Newbery-winning JACOB HAVE I LOVED by Katherine Paterson. THE TWENTY-ONE BALLOONS by William Pene Du Bois.

SPC: You've said before you're a pretty hands on, editorial agent. In general how much input do you like having in clients' books?

MKH: It's not about how much input I like having; it's a question of whether and how I think I can help the book be even stronger. Some clients' projects need more development than others. I do enjoy the editorial process, but not for the sake of getting my hands on something -- it has to be necessary for the work.

SPC: Winter is here! You're snowed in the house and the kids are sitting quietly, requiring nothing. The power's out, so no computer for you - which books would you hunker down with?

MKH: WINTER'S TALE by Mark Helprin. A magnificent novel, made even more magical when it's snowing outside.

SPC: Anything else you'd like to share? Bribery requests? Opinions to expound upon? The floor is yours.

MKH: I was reading queries this morning, and so many of them were good, but just not quite right for me -- and I felt, as I often do, so regretful that I couldn't respond personally to each one to explain why I was turning it down. Authors put so much work into their queries and their manuscripts; I see that and I appreciate it. It's such a leap of faith, sending your work out into the world, and I'm grateful that so many writers are brave enough to do it. (Especially you!)


Thanks to Molly for taking the time to answer these! You can follow her on Twitter as @mollykh - and if you're querying her, remember to check out her Querytracker page (found here).for up to date information on response times. 


My new books and MY NEW BOOK

It's been a good few days. My 27th birthday brought a whole new load of books into my life, which can never, really, be a bad thing. Some new, some old, some entirely unexpected - but all very much appreciated.

First, my 2013 copy of WRITERS' AND ARTISTS' YEARBOOK. I've posted about this great book / company / experience before, and having a physical copy of the newest edition is always a good moment. Highlighter and sticky notes are already at the ready.

Second, a fancy pants new edition of Neil Gaiman's STARDUST, complete with new illustrations. One of those books I own, and then want to own again, in other versions. I've done this in the past with, among others, LIFE OF PI, FRANKENSTEIN, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, and HARRY POTTER.

Now it gets interesting - the completely unexpected books. THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY, by Rachel Joyce, and a signed - yes, signed - copy of MONKEYS WITH TYPEWRITERS, by Scarlett Thomas. Joyce's book, which I had not even heard of, was bought by my sister, who previously bought me THE COLLECTED WORKS OF T. S. SPIVET, and knew it was my sort of thing. The Scarlett Thomas book - subtitle How to write fiction and unlock the secret power of stories - was from my other sister, and looks incredibly interesting. I've read THE END OF MR Y, but never any of her non-fiction. It can only be a good thing.

See that? That's me, that is.

On top of all that, I bought myself a copy of CODE NAME VERITY, since it seems to come up an awful lot on Twitter. So far, so good.

It might surprise you to hear that I had time for anything else in among all this reading, but I have also been writing, I promise. In fact, I've finally had the epiphany I was thus far lacking, and have found the title for my new book. It's been unusually tricky, naming this one. Other books have kept their working titles, or had something slip in half way through. But my newest book? It's been downright stubborn. Nothing was working. Nothing felt good, or made sense, or wasn't just someone else's title cunningly rehashed...

But that was then, and this is now:

So yes. There is is. THE STORY BOY. At least it will be until agent / future editor / publishing overlord / minion decides that it really shouldn't be, and then we're back to square one.

What can I tell you about it? It's about a boy - Peter - who meets another boy - Jack - and from there, a lot of things get a bit weird. It's about old myths that are really only sleeping - dreams you can fall into - and stories that want to come back to life, even if it means taking someone else's. I think it's quite a fun story, but then, I would say that, wouldn't I?

It's about what happens to old gods and stories, and what happens when two boys meddle in things they oughtn't. And it's about friendship, and loneliness, I suppose. Aren't so many kids' books?



Things That Don't Matter

Writers can be an odd bunch. Though it might seem the type of profession which, by its very nature, attracts a certain sort of off person, there's still rather a lot of unexplained behavior in the writing world.

Specifically, unpublished / undiscovered / new to it writers.  Writers who are querying, or just finishing their first / second book.

It's not oddness that comes out in every day life - the sort of madness that would inspire you to move to Kent, or put on a hat - but instead, a strange, overworked anxiety about trivial matters.

Matters like worrying, very publicly, about including one hundred and two pages when an agent requests one hundred alone. Matters like fretting over chapter titles or dedication wording before even having written the book. Or maybe spending so much time quantifying and researching the very best query letter there is, that you end up with a drab and lifeless information dump.

Essentially, writers who are looking for agent representation or publishing contracts can - and sometimes do - lose sight of what they're trying to do. Yes, writing is a business, and a professional approach is key. But agents are people, and so are most editors. They're not miserly gate keepers. They're, for the most part, creative, nice people who want to find great books, and they're not going to leap upon a technicality to screw you over.

Imagine it:

The Agent, her Machiavellian schemes beautiful in their simplicity, horrendous in their scope, sits at the center of her empire - her web -, stroking her chin with a perfectly chiseled nail. She sips from her martini, one eyebrow raised in amused contempt as another query is placed upon her ebony desk by this week's trembling intern. 'That will be all,' she said. The intern bows and backs away. The Agent makes a note to have him fired - and possibly killed - by the end of the week. She returns her gaze - icy and intense - to the new batch of letters. She sips again, and sighs.

Dear Agent, please find enclosed the first 49 pages of my

Aha! Agent cackles with cruel mirth and throws her glass into the roaring fire - itself fed on copies of the Bible and first editions of Harry Potter. 'I require fifty pages, my sweet,' she purrs. 'I fear - it's the trash for you! Haha'

Dramatic? Perhaps (Okay, definitely). But the point stands. Agents might seem a barrier to be overcome, but you're supposed to do it hand-in-hand with them. Not so much a barrier as - um - a bridge?

Basically, they're nice people. I think the competition of today's market encourages writers to be overly worried and anxious that small mistakes will screw you. But you know what? There are three rules that still overcome most things.

  1. In the end, it's about the writing.
  2. The writing is probably most important
  3. Mistakes can be overlooked if the writing is good enough
Disagree with me? You're welcome to - I'd love to hear thoughts - but it's something I think is true in most cases. 

So what's the message for today? Remember why you want to be a writer - because of the stories themselves - and focus on that most of the time. 



The Appreciated Bane: Editing (and Writing, and SipSwap Blog Adventure)

Well, December is here, and everything that means. In my case, a busy work period, a trip to England (and Wales) - and, of course, edits on the New Book.

And also Bryant Park, NYC. 

Ah, editing. It's often spoken about in the same way students refer to revision. It's something to be withstood, trudged through, and put up with, but with the grudging acceptance that it does at least help in the end.

I don't mean typos and spelling mistakes and obvious factual errors ("It was another English summer. She loved December...") - anyone with a grammar book and the Internet could catch those if they had to. No, editing in its best literary sense encompasses a whole range of things: tightening up of prose, naturalization of dialogue, making sure the plot is both evenly paced and (within the confines of the novel) makes sense, and everything in between and beyond. It works on a sentence by sentence basis, getting rid of clunk and clutter and repetition, and it works on a broader basis: does this book read well? Is it rushed? Why? Is it too slow? Do the characters grow / change / seem like real people by the end, at least?

You're in good company if editing is a bane that you appreciate:
"Read your own compositions, and when you meet a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out." - Samuel Johnson
In fact, just check out this link to Quotations Book for plenty more where that came from.

All professions have their unpopular part. Actors learn their lines, teachers have to lesson plan, and I imagine even ninja have to spend some time putting in the grunt work required to be so damn awesome.

So yes, I'm editing, but I'm hopeful the book will be so much better for it. I'm also trying to flip my mental attitude to that I don't see editing as some sort of inverse, reverse writing, detached but important. I'm trying to see it as still the writing itself. Perhaps even more so than the writing-things-down part of writing. I'm sure there's a quotation I'm missing here: something about editing being where real writers make their money. If you know one, let me know.

In other news, the December Absolute Write blog chain is now ACTIVE, and it's The End Of The World. Huzzah. Watch this space for my own contribution.

And finally - my SipSwap mug arrived! You can read all about this blog adventure over on Kelsey Is Writing, read about the one I sent out over on Laura Hughes' Writing the Bad Things Out Of My Head, and see the one I received... well, here.

It's a beautiful, good sized mug. You'd be amazed how many are too small for a decent cup of tea. I am happy to say this one is up to standards. So, thank you, person who sent it!

And on that high note, I think we're done.



What has writing taught me?

My first children's novel, EREN - a dark middle grade story about a boy who meets a monster who eats stories - is being read by editors in the UK and the U.S. right now, submitted by my agent.

My second children's book, which is about two boys who mess with dreams and old gods, is now, officially, finished. Well, the first draft is. Much more to come on that one (including the title; a quick brainstorm with some Twitter-friends the other day has whittled it down to either THE NOUN THAT VERB, or THE NOUN OF NOUN AND NOUN, but I don't know if my agent will go for that...)

If you ever wondered what it takes to write more than one book...

Two books. I'm proud of that. It's taken a few years. I must have learned something, right?

Well, yes. Except that I haven't written two books. I've written five and two halves, over more than ten years. These last two are just the only ones good enough to make it.

There was the first book I ever wrote - which has since been destroyed, save one copy - which suffered so many problems I'm amazed the agents I sent it to even replied. But they did. And you know what? They said nice things. Encouraging, helpful things. I guess I was a pretty cute 13 year old wannabe.

There were a couple more after that - one that I think does have promise, and one that I think will probably never come to much. I submitted both of those to agents, too. I was an optimistic child, if nothing else.

The two halves are more interesting. One failed. One is just on ice, but with many plans for the future.

My point? That no writer just writes a book and stops. Practice makes ... well, not perfect. But better. Yes. Practice makes better.

What else? First drafts are exactly that. Those naive, if incredibly cute, first attempts to find people in the industry who liked my stuff were just premature. Books need work, and a hell of a lot of editing.

I've also learned about professionalism and encouragement. Great Zeus, but publishing is a fantastic industry. Creative, inspiring, and filled with people who care so, so much about what they do. That encouraging letter to my 13 year old self really did keep me on the path to where I am now. I still have it, too. Maybe one day I'll meet the agent who wrote it. She's still around.

The Jupiter de Smyrne, discovered in Smyrna in 1680[1]
Great Zeus
The time I've been writing - over a decade, which sounds a lot more grown up - has taught me something, too. Publishing changes, but good stories don't. Neither do kids. Not really. Kindles? E-books? Self publishing? New Adult? What does all that really mean to the readers? At the end of the day - and I know some will disagree - I rather imagine it doesn't mean a lot to the kids out there who just want to open a book, jump in, and dream. Don't spend time fretting about changes and the impact it might have on your career before you actually have readers. And don't try to write for what you think the market will be, if that's the only reason you're doing it. Believe in your books, writer! You have to be the first one who does. God knows no one else will, to begin with.

Rubbish Zeus
So. What else have two (or five and two halves)books taught me? That 'said' really is the best dialogue tag in roughly 98% of cases. That adverbs can be used well, but lots of people still hate on them. That 50,000, or 40,000, or 30,000 words sounds like such an easy thing to do, right up until you find yourself in the early hours of a Sunday morning, bottle in hand, drinking to forget, cursing the world and yourself.

That community matters more than probably anything else when you're an aspiring writer.

That people care about you doing well, and want to help you get there.

That writing isn't an easy life, but for some, it's the only life there is.

Am I sounding trite? Well, how about this, then: I've learned about agency contracts and publishing agreements, royalty cheques and advance payments. I know what the AAR is and how to query in two different countries. I can use the world 'slushpile' without batting an eyelid and can format a ms., correct margins and font size and spacing and all, like it's no one's business. Synopsis? Easy. Name five top editors and agents they've done business with in the last year? Piece of cake. I joined the SCBWI, too. I made this blog, and my Twitter account.

My point? I've worked at things beyond the writing itself. It's that professionalism thing again. Writing is my passion. Of course it is. But if I want people to pay me for it, I recognise the need to play by at least some of the rules.

And lastly - what has writing taught me?

That I really don't know very much. I have so much more to learn. From other writers, from my frankly astounding agent and her colleagues, from editors, from strangers, from family and friends, from books, and from readers. It's a learning curve, isn't it? Getting better and smarter and more savvy. But hey - know what? I wouldn't give it up. Not for a second. Not for anything.

Onward, comrades.



Wednesday's Inspiring Books

Morning, one and all.

Christmas in New York is a pretty awesome time - the decorations come out, markets open up, and shops go out of their way to outdo one another. Last night I, my wife and a friend dropped in to Union Square Holiday Market, filed with the usual tempting but slightly too-expensive-to-buy art, treats and gifts.

Photo: Christmas in #NYC. The market in Union Square.
And also, famous landmarks

On top of this, I'll be in England in 23 days, and Wales for New Year. So much to be done.

Today's Inspiring Book is one I have been back to time and time again, dipping in when I remember lines, double checking, wanting to show others. 

It's also not really meant to be a book. 

It is, instead, the collected letters of J. R. R. Tolkien: 

It might seem strange that this is on my list of inspiring books. After all, I admitted on this blog that I haven't read Lord of the Rings. That might seem especially odd when you realise my family, and my wife, are all huge Tolkien fans. Huge.

I read Tolkien's letters out of mild interest. I studied Old English at university, and a bit even before then. That Tolkien was a scholar before be was an author made him far more interesting to me, and his philological work and knowledge of world  mythology remains just as interesting as his published fiction. The Monsters and the Critics, his academic essays on Beowulf and other matters, changed Anglo-Saxon scholarship forever.

The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien are fascinating. They start when he was a single, unknown undergraduate at Oxford, and end right before his death. This man was extraordinary, but seeing his ordinary life - his struggles, worries, thoughts on local characters (including C. S. Lewis, of course), on Oxford, and on LOTR as he wrote it, got it published, and then experienced its huge popularity - is something special. It's satisfying to know how it all turns out, as well. When Tolkien writes about his new project, and you realise what it is, you can't help but smile.

His letters to his children, often serving abroad in the war, are also touching and filled with a very keen Christian insight. His letters to his first readers, explaining points of plot or linguistic confusion are also immensely satisfying - Tolkien's grasp of the world he created probably remains the bar against which all other fantasies will be compared. 

A good, great man
So, inspiring stuff indeed. If my writing, and my mind, are half as good as Tolkien's, for even half of my life, I'll have it made. In the age of e-mail, it's less and less likely we'll be able to read writers' correspondence in this way. We can, though, at least look back at this man, and appreciate even more of who he was.

Go on, be inspired for a bit.



THE DRAFT IS DONE, and other news.

Good morning to you all.

A busy few days here, with the four day weekend from Thanksgiving through to Sunday meaning a lot more time sitting around, eating with friends. Thankfully, it did also mean more time writing. So much so, in fact, that I was able to share in an impromptu Twitter celebration on Saturday after announcing I had finished the first draft of the next book.

Kindle avec New Book
No title, still. It's proving a tricky one, but I'm sure we'll get there in the end. For now I'm calling it The Story of Peter in lieu of anything more concrete.

With this draft finished, next comes the cooling off period. I'll keep busy for a couple of weeks, on other projects and Christmas prep., and then come back to it with fresher eyes. There's work to be done; plot to be tightened, dialogue to be tidied up, loopholes to be closed. Even typos and spelling errors, and inconsistencies in naming, can be ignored if you're too familiar with the text. So, for a while, I'll let it steep.

I'm really pleased with it, I have to say. Think it'll be a strange book, and the ending isn't necessarily happy, even if it is a bit more resolved that EREN. This book has been many months in the making and many years in the planning. Funnily, I remember the exact moment the seed of the idea came to me. I was in Osaka, Japan, in Universal Studios with my sister. Perhaps it was the music, or the crowds, or nothing from there at all, but I had an image, and one line of dialogue. That was - what? - three years ago? Well, here's the book. I'm speedy, me.

It's the most magical place in the ... no, wait ... 
In other news, today I send off the contract to Indigo Ink Press for THE STORYTELLER'S JIG. I am most excited. More news as it comes. Also been enjoying the latest SCBWI magazine, and, of course, decorating for Christmas. And so the world turns...



Wednesday's Inspiring Books - CLOCKWORK

Happy Wednesday, one and all.

So, what's going on here? The WIP grows every more, and is now well over the 26,000 word hump and heading into the home straight. You can read a post I made here to see why 26,00 is almost 40,000, really. Almost.

The mug I'm sending on as part of the SipSwap blog celebration arrived yesterday. I won't tell you what it is in case its intended recipient is reading this, but I promise you, it's a goodun. Kinda want to keep it for myself. Hm.

Also started batting around a few ideas on a new project - something different to my previous and current stuff, which is exciting, challenging, and scary all at once. That probably makes it a good thing. Also signed up for December's AW Blog Chain - The End of the World! Which will be great.

But enough of me. It's Wednesday morning And that means one thing.

Wednesday's Inspiring Books returns.

Today, Philip Pullman's CLOCKWORK, OR ALL WOUND UP.

Philip Pullman is a marvelous writers, one of the pioneers of children's writing living today. His HIS DARK MATERIALS series, no matter what you think of the theology, is remarkable - broad and profound in a way few children's books are. His mastery of language and craft are beautiful to watch and when this combines with the sheer effort he puts into his books, you get Good Things.

CLOCKWORK is an odd little book. Odd because it's so simple, in many ways, so focused on a few simple tales and the art of storytelling itself. Little because - well, because it is. It's a short story, really. Maybe a children's novella?

I first read this book when I was in France. I'd taken a few books with me on a family holiday, should I need some entertainment beyond the Gallic landscape. I left it untouched for a while. I'm not even sure why I'd bought it. Finally, one day - perhaps it was raining - I sat down and jumped in. And wow. The ending of this book - which I won't spoil, but I will say is technically astonishing and very satisfying - shocked me. Writers could do that? They could have all the streams of a story just come together like that? I'd never seen it coming. I wanted to do that.

The title comes from one of the main stories - a broken clock, and a clockwork figure made for the position. It also comes from Pullman's understanding of good story telling - that you wind up all the factors, all the characters and plots and scenes, and then they go, and they keep going, and eventually it's not you who's driving the story. It's a good understanding of the best stories. In the end, it's not always the writers who decides what the end is. 

I'm not going to say much more. You should read this book if you want to know what I'm talking about. Go on. Read it. You won't be sorry. Time's running out, y'know.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Tick ...


NYC Waterfront Recovery and Staten Island

A piece I wrote for work - found here - which I thought would be good to share around, still. I was back on Staten Island this Saturday. Inspiring, grim, and surprising, all at once.


Citywide Waterfront Recovery - Staten Island Still Matters
Photo by T L Miles

Like many this past weekend, I left the comfort of my own home – with its restored power and heat, and my thankfully untouched belongings – and traveled to Staten Island, to begin the slow, dirty job of cleaning up after Superstorm Sandy. The work to be done there is unpleasant and at times depressing. The people, however, are warm, welcoming and endlessly inspiring. It’s not often that Americans living on the affluent East Coast – especially near New York City – find themselves faced with the destruction of their lifetime possessions. This, though, is the reality for thousands in the wake of the “storm of the century.”

More than two weeks after Superstorm Sandy brought devastation to much of the East Coast, the recovery is well underway – but the final cost and impact of the storm is only just becoming clear. The latest figures related to loss of property, revenue, life, and government cleanup, suggest a figure between $83 and $87 billion. The final cost, in the years to come, may well surpass $100 billion. How does the local and state economy recover from such a hit? And what is the future of the affected waterfront areas?


The cost of the September 11th World Trade Center Attacks ($83 billion, according to The Partnership for New York City) and how the city has recovered from that tragedy offer some insight into the resolve of New Yorkers and the NYC economy’s ability to recover. Though the effects of the storm will be felt in the city over the coming months and years, stability and financial recovery are guaranteed. However, the issue of physical recovery  is more complicated. The site of the Freedom Tower was flooded by Sandy making it worth noting that even more than a decade after the Twin Towers fell, rebuilding has not yet finished. Cleanup and rebuilding take time.

New York City’s waterfront has only two viable options: abandonment, or a sustained, long-term commitment to rebuilding, fortifying, and investing. Of these, only the latter is truly a possibility.

That NYC’s 520 miles of waterfront are some of the most attractive development sites in an already crowded city and have attracted attention of developers and investors adds an extra urgency and tragedy to its current state. After this disaster, will the waterfront still become a place where people want to work, live, and invest?

The full scale of the damage to much of the New York City shore is yet to become apparent. Beyond the obvious physical destruction – the houses, cars, businesses and lives – already covered by the media, the ongoing recovery efforts are facing increasingly insurmountable difficulties. Delicate electrical systems in basements and subway stations are easily damaged by salt water – we now can see how probable such a situation is as the water from Superstorm Sandy so successfully flooded such large areas of the city. The contamination from sewage, chemical-tainted waters, and mold, along with the overwhelming amount of debris still to be cleared, has rendered many areas uninhabitable, and the damage to essential infrastructure is yet to be fully understood.

The economic toll of Sandy is complicated to define. The loss of power to downtown Manhattan forced many businesses to close, relocate, or simply improvise for days. For certain areas of flooded downtown, the wait may extend to weeks. At the same time, New York City has recovered before, and the nature of the startup and entrepreneur industries – defined by their flexibility and energy – means that for many, working from home will do little to damage output. The influx of donations and government aid, and the simple fact that in a city of such limited space, rebuilding is a necessity, will no doubt result in an invigorated waterfront, complete – one hopes – with an infrastructure and flood defenses capable of withstanding any repeat of Superstorm Sandy.


Still, it may be too soon to look to the future and hope. The day to day reality for thousands is one of grim work and uncertain prospects. Staten Island, especially, has been hit hard by the storm, and the understandable habit of economists to focus on Manhattan must give way to pragmatism and a city-wide focus on recovery. Staten Island has sometimes been called "the forgotten borough" he recent controversy over the ING New York Marathon divided SI from Manhattan like never before, and Mayor Bloomberg’s final decision may well have prevented full scale riots in the borough.

For the last two weekends I have visited Staten Island alongside thousands of other volunteers to work with those who have lost their homes and begin the cleanup operation. It is not hyperbole to say that many have lost everything. Houses still standing may nevertheless be destroyed, the contents lost to the flood waters, and the buildings condemned by the Department of Buildings. It is not only basements that were underwater. In Oakwood and New Dorp Beach, blocks of houses have been left uninhabitable and full of the broken and still sodden belongings of the families who once lived there. The real needs of those on Staten Island have not been fixed by returning power to Manhattan. Investment in waterfront development for business and investor use must go hand in hand with a firm commitment to restore normalcy to these communities. Staten Island is New York City, and the genuine anger felt by some there towards the marathon, and the perceived resource drain, is understandable once you’ve witnessed and comprehended just how much they have lost. Far from a “them and us” mentality being allowed to develop, however, the city must unite, focus on its citizens, and then look to the future.

Crain’s New York Business on Tuesday suggested that plans for the waterfront’s future must include traffic congestion control, telecom protection, and a willingness to move certain essential features out of nature’s way. Superstorm Sandy has, perhaps, given NYC one gift: an awareness of the dangers of its current situation, and a focus, driven by real grief and renewed vigor, on what needs to be done to ensure Staten Island, and the entire city, is saved from similar future calamity.

For now, though, every day, every weekend, and every evening, we will see volunteers – often from out of state, sometimes from out of country – slowly but surely help put back together the lives that the storm tore apart.


It's Good to Know: A Glossary of Writing and Publishing Terms

Making it as a writer has become increasingly complicated, yet increasingly possible, with the advent of the digital age. Gone are the days of a lone author spending hours by candle light pouring his heart out, bundling the pages together, and sending it into the ether. Heck, even since I started sending stuff out in the late 1990s, the whole scene has changed. Facebook didn't exist then. The Internet was still widely distrusted. Printed out, real-world, read-them-in-the-bath copies of your book were the norm if you wanted to submit to an agent.

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Not everything in the 90s was quite so amazing. Photo by Tomasz Sienicki

Nowadays we have Kindles, self-publishing, writers' forums, Twitter, e-mail, and heck, even smartphones that do pretty much everything.

There's language to go with all of this. Interviewing Kelsey Macke the other day on her path to getting published, I realised something. For those of us already active in the online literary world, talking the talk is easy. But we've been doing it for years. Those starting out - as we all did, once - are faced with an ever growing list of terms, acronyms and slang that can act as a barrier.

Barriers are bad. Barriers keep people out. That's not what writing has ever been about.

Take this paragraph from Kelsey's interview, quoted here with her permission:

Currently, I write stories for "young people." I refuse to say that I only write YA (even though the only completed manuscript I have is YA) because I also plan on writing MG stories, and trying my hand at the new and oft debated NA category.

YA? MG? NA? They all make sense, as long as you know what they mean (Young Adult, Middle Grade, and New Adult, by the way - all classifications of books by age-range for use in-house and in-store).

Wait. In-house? It can be hard to avoid buzz words. So, let's try to clear a few up, at least.

Book Stuff:

  • PB: Picture Book (also, sometimes, Paperback). Books with lovely pictures. Young kids.
  • MG: Middle Grade. Book for kids aged approx. 9 - 13.
  • YA: Young Adult. Think The Hunger Games. Ages 14 - 18.
  • NA: New Adult. You'll see this more and more, but it's not gospel yet. Essentially, college ages. 18 - 21.
  • pp. : Pages. As in, how many.

Writing Stuff:

  • CP: Crit Partner. Someone you team up with to read each others' work and offer criticism and advice.
  • Beta: Beta-reader. Someone you get to read your book once it's done to offer feedback.
  • MC: Main Character. Pretty self-explanatory.
  • WIP: Work In Progress. The book you're working on at the moment.
  • NaNoWriMo. You'll see this one a lot at the moment, since it stands for National Novel Writing Month, a yearly event that runs through November. The aim is 50,000 words, start to finish.

Agent Stuff:

  • ms. /  mss: Manuscript / Manuscripts. The full copy of your book. Can be physical, or digital.
  • Sub / On Sub: On Submission. You submit your finished book to agents. Thus, you're on submission.
  • R&R: Revise and Resubmit. If the agent likes your book, but sees flaws, they may ask you to make some changes and then send it again. Not an offer, but a great thing.
  • Exclusive: Agents ask for exclusives if they want to make sure no one else is reading your ms. at the same time. You can say no, if you want. There's no real benefit to the writer.
  • Rep: Representation. An agent represents your book to publishers.
  • AAR: Association of Authors' Representatives. Professional organization in the U.S. for literary agents, with a code of ethics and conduct.
  • AAA: Association of Authors' Agents. Professional organization in the U.K for literary agents.
  • Slushpile: The pile (sometimes physical, sometimes not) of mss. waiting to be read. Normally unsolicited.

Publisher Stuff

  • Big Six: A catch-all term for the largest publishing houses - Hachette, Georg von Holtzbrinck Publishing Group/Macmillan, Penguin Group, HarperCollins, Random House, and Simon & Schuster. Though Penguin and Random are going to merge soon, which makes it the Big Five, I guess.
  • ARC: Advance Readers Copy. Before the official publication date of a book, copies are sent out for reviews and to generate interest. ARCs are not meant to be sold, though they can be traded, won, and given away.

Let me know if there are more to add. Have I left out some obvious ones? Or have you come across some new terms that need defining? Feel free to let me know in comments below. 



Awesome Writer Interviews: An Interview with Kelsey Macke

As part of a new series here on the blog, I'm thrilled to bring you the first ever Awesome Writer Interview, featuring the inimitable, the original, and the surprisingly turtle-esque Kelsey Macke. Kelsey's a gal with her finger on the pulse of what it is to be an up-and-coming writer, and was brilliant enough to answer a few of my questions. Check out her blog (which also has her interviewing me on it. Crazy!), dig her funky Twitter, and see what she has to say about life as a writer ... well, right here:

Awesome Writer Interviews: An Interview with Kelsey Macke

SPC: So, what kind of stuff do you write? And what led you to that genre?

KM: Currently, I write stories for "young people." I refuse to say that I only write YA (even though the only completed manuscript I have is YA) because I also plan on writing MG [middle grade] stories, and trying my hand at the new and oft debated NA [new adult] category.

SPC: Inspiration-wise, which books, and which authors, have had the biggest impact on you?

KM: I began writing my manuscript, DAMSEL DISTRESSED only a few months after reading John Green's THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. That book wrecked me. After reading it, I found myself hungry for the chance to tell a story that is even stocked in the same bookstore as that one.

I also love JK Rowling, of course. I'm a lover of much kids lit, including books by Matthew Kirby, Darren Shan, Stephanie Perkins, and Suzanne Collins.

One of these people is not John Green

SPC: Let's talk social media. You blog! You Tweet (you Twit?)! Have you found it helpful? Would you advise writers just starting out to get involved online?

KM: I have been an Internet addict for at least 8 years. (I've been blogging for over TEN!) You can look up your twitter user number which lists members according to when they joined. My number is 5,418,192. The site passed 500 million this summer.

I LOVE social networking, and I have accounts all over the wide spanning web. I think that social networking is KEY for authors who have been published. I think it is important to a lesser extent to aspiring authors because it's so easy to waste time "networking" instead of, oh, let's say... ACTUALLY WRITING.

So, yes, if you can manage your time well, and want to begin the incredible process of networking, I'd recommend twitter to all of those aspiring artists.

SPC: Three writing tips. Go!

KM: Hmmm. So silly because I'm certainly not an expert. :)

First, don't force it. Words that come naturally are often the most important ones.

Second, follow your instincts. I don't do everything the way I'm SUPPOSED to, but I'm true to myself and that has resulted in plenty of awesome coming my way.

Lastly, don't write on an island. UNLESS YOU CAN ACTUALLY GO TO A TROPICAL ISLAND IN WHICH CASE WHY ARE YOU STILL READING THIS--GO TO THE ISLAND! But seriously, connect with other writers and share your experiences. Going it alone is awfully hard, and wouldn't ever work for me personally. Find CPs [crit partners] and betas [people to read your book] and friends and share the journey together.

SPC: You had a great post on your blog a while ago about making your own writers retreat. Got any other habits to share? How do you tend to write? [The post, by the way, can be found here]

KM: I write in bursts. Sometimes I can only squeak out a few hundred words and other times I lock myself up for 3 days straight and write ten thousand. I try to always be patient and flexible with myself.

SPC: I know you're knee-deep in revisions and edits right now. How's that going?

KM: They're OFF! I finished requested revisions and sent them to their respective destinations. I blogged just a couple of days ago about how HORRIBLE it is to wait for responses. But I hope that the feedback is positive and helps me get to the next step.

SPC: What's the last book you loved?

KM: The last book I LOVED (other than the manuscripts of some of my stupidly talented pre-pub friends) was DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE by Laini Taylor. I can't wait to dig into the sequel, DAYS OF BLOOD AND STARLIGHT.

SPC: I have to ask - there are some wonderful pictures going round right now of you dressed as a TMNT. Just for kicks?

KM: I teach middle school! 6th - 8th grade! This means we have lots of school activities that are silly and exciting for the kids! It was "twin day" and since my pals and I can't follow directions, we decided to go as a foursome instead, hence the ninja turtle costume. I was Raphael. Obviously. Cause he's awesome.

Awesome is certainly the word ...

SPC: Submitting your stuff to agents, what have you learned that you'd love to share with others?

KM: I've learned that you'll always have to wait... at least a little bit. I've also learned that agents really are just people. You click with some... you don't with others. You need them as much as they need you, and you shouldn't settle for just anyone. Ideally you'll be working together for much of your career. Choose wisely.

SPC: Open question! Anything you wanna say - cute kitten pictures to share, political platforms to expound?

KM: I'll just leave you with a thank you for the interview and the friendship, Simon! You've been such an inspiration and I'm so happy the interwebs landed us in the same boat!

Also, CHIN UP, writers! Keep fighting the good fight! :)

Thanks, Kelsey, for being such a good sport. What did you think, guys? Here's hoping it's not too long before her book is adorning shelves worldwide. Kelsey's interview of me can be found over on her blog, and if you want to get involved being / getting interviews, just get in touch. SPC.


Publication, Competition, Participation

Normality returns, slowly, to the east coast - though it's not here yet. Not by a long shot. I spent yesterday working on Staten Island, doing a tiny, tiny percentage of the clean up work that's left to be done.

On that topic, it's important I announce here that the competition I ran the other week - the book giveaway - is not going ahead. Instead, the money I would have spent has gone to Sandy relief. I feel OK doing this since nobody who entered had to put themselves out; it was retweets and blog comments to enter. If you want to discuss the morals of this, get in touch. Otherwise, no 'winner' when so many have lost so much.


News to be shared: My short story, THE STORYTELLER'S JIG, is going to be published. Coming from Indigo Ink Press next May, Modern Grimmoire is an anthology of modern fairy tales in the style of the Brothers Grimm. I'm very pleased to have my story included. It's a strange little piece, but I'm proud of it, and having others read it only makes me even happier. A full list of the other contributors can be found here.

A small change to the blog, too. There's now a Short Stories page, just to the left of this. Wanting to make more of my writing available, and to collect the various blog chain pieces I have. Feel free to read the stories.

I'm also taking part in Kelsey Is Writing's #SipSwap funpalooza - a great bloggy adventure (blogventure?) where you give a mug to get a mug from various kooky and quirky people around the U.S. Already have a great idea for the mug I'll be sharing - what will I be getting in return? Do check out her blog - she's a writer with real passion and a great handle on how it works in a community. Go, read.

So, much on at the moment, and the WIP progresses nicely, too. Still no title. Hmm.



This Morning

The Sound of Trees

I wonder about the trees.
Why do we wish to bear
Forever the noise of these
More than another noise
So close to our dwelling place?
We suffer them by the day
Till we lose all measure of pace,
And fixity in our joys,
And acquire a listening air.
They are that that talks of going
But never gets away;
And that talks no less for knowing,
As it grows wiser and older,
That now it means to stay.
My feet tug at the floor
And my head sways to my shoulder
Sometimes when I watch trees sway,
From the window or the door.
I shall set forth for somewhere,
I shall make the reckless choice
Some day when they are in voice
And tossing so as to scare
The white clouds over them on.
I shall have less to say,
But I shall be gone.

Robert Frost


Always Keep Going

My usual blogging schedule has been off for a few days. After Sandy took out our power I was without my laptop - and even once it was returned, there's been much to do. The coast around here - areas called Union Beach and Keyport especially - and Staten Island in NYC have been devastated. That's not too strong a word to use. I've visited those three areas in person, and will be going back this weekend.

Naturally, I encourage anyone reading this to either donate financially, or through giving the most needed food and goods. I leave it up to you to work out what that means, and which charities, if any, you feel comfortable getting behind.

NaNoWriMo is in full swing, now! But not for me. It might sound like a cop out excuse, but the lack of power at the beginning, and the sudden pressure on my time, means I'm not really in a state to do it.

But I wanted to offer a small encouragement to those who are.

Two years ago, living in Japan, I did NaNoWriMo. It was a book I'd had the idea for for a long time, but it had just sat there, gaining dust and slowly growing. NaNo gave me the impetus to get down to it, and the community to drive me forward.

That book is now agented and on submission, right now, to publishers in the U.S. and the UK. So what's my point?


It can happen. The frustration and the edits are worth it. Ditto the late nights and the moments when you're convinced that no one - in all history - has written such a piece of trash, that this plot couldn't ever have made sense - what were you thinking? - and that you might as well quit.

Don't quit. Don't.

Write, write, write. Write because you can, and because if no one else in the entire world believes in this book, you should. You're the one to write it. And you never know what the future holds.

Heck, I live in the U.S. now. I lived through the March 2011 earthquake in Japan and now I lived through Superstorm Sandy in New Jersey. Who knows what's yet to come?

Believe. Write. Live.

I don't want this to sound like a load of trite pick me ups and meaningless platitudes. But I know how frustrating writing can be, and I know that sometimes we need others to point out what we're aiming for. Your book can happen, if only you write it. So go on. Do it. Write!


Hurricane Sandy's A-Comin'

Hello all!

Well, NJ and the rest of the Eastern Seaboard is braced for Frankenstorm. Thankfully where I live is far enough from the coast to avoid the storm surge and high enough to avoid flooding. The quite likely loss of power, though, is a more interesting problem.

Our bookshelves now play host to a (temporary) indoor garden. I think it looks rather fetching, actually.

At first the thought of being stuck inside for a couple of days with no power seemed almost romantic. Of course I realise the realities of power failures - hospitals, the elderly, shops, etc., will all suffer. But with so much of my day job requiring the use of computers, an instant, catch-all excuse to get off work and stay home does seem like the perfect excuse to spend more time writing.

Writing by candlelight in an old journal? There's something to be said for it, certainly. But already - before any power cuts are even a reality, before I write a word - I start dreading what comes after.

Typing up my hand written notes.

I know I speak for myself, and not others, when I say this, but ... one of the reasons I avoid writing by hand so much is because I find transferring all of that to the computer so frustratingly slow.

I know it can act as an initial edit.
I know that my style changes when I write with a pen / pencil.
I even know that computers are making us worse spellers.

Mostly, though, I know how annoying I find it to do.

Still, the hurricane is here, and already outside is looking pretty grim. Prayers for all those in its path. Stay safe, help each other out, and (for those writers out there) if you take this chance to write without our computer, I hope you fare better than me.


Book Giveaway Competition: EXTENDED

The other day I made the rash announcement on Twitter that 400 followers would be enough to prompt a book giveaway. Now, it’s never been about the numbers for me, but at the same time it’s fun to mark writerly milestones.

It’s even more fun to share some of my favourite writers and their books. In fact, that’s probably the best part of all.

Well, turns out I should be careful what I say. With a few retweets from fellow writers, the target was met. And I’m thrilled! Interacting with more readers, writers, and generally fun, creative people is an enormous pleasure. I’m sure the numbers on Twitter will go up and down a bit more, and at the time of you reading this I might have only 4 followers, who are all my mum. 

But hey – BOOKS!

I’m a man of my word, me. Well, a man of many words (Hur hur. See, ‘cause I’m a writer. See? Heh).

So, let’s give some books away.

It only seemed right to me to give out SKELLIG, by David Almond, the first time I did this. It’s probably the one book that’s had the largest impact on my writing life. Almond’s style is simply beautiful; stunning and minimalist and haunting, and his tales are phenomenal. If I can introduce anyone to this book, I've done my job. 

To contrast this – this book I read years ago, and have spent years loving – it seemed fun to also give away the last book I read and loved. That’s Lev Grossman’s THE MAGICIANS. Think Harry Potter meets Narnia, for adults. And, honestly, that’s pretty much it. I read this and its sequel one after the other and I already wish there were a third.

So, easy competition! They'll be new, paperback editions. Whether you're in the UK, the U.S., or any other country, it doesn't matter to me. 

1st Prize - Both these amazing books
2nd Prize - Skellig
3rd Prize - The Magicians

Just leave a comment on this post to enter

I’ll leave it open until 23.59 EST, Thursday 25th October Friday 26th and then I’ll be all old fashioned and put the names in a hat. Share this competition on Twitter and I’ll put your name in twice – what larks. Use the hashtag #BooksFromSimon so I can follow along.

Nothing too serious or complicated. It’s mostly being done as a ‘thank you’ to the community and, as I said, as a convenient way to shove my favourite books into other people’s lives.

Good luck!


The New Book and How I'll Write It

I've reached something of a milestone with the new book - the 20,000 word mark. Since I normally aim for roughly 40,000, I've hit the halfway point. The crux, if you will. Or possibly the pivot. By any calculation, the middle.

Thinking of it as a middle is nice. It makes it seem like I'm into the home straight. It's all downhill from here. As good old Treebeard would say (or possibly not), the second half of a book, like travelling south, always feels like going downhill.
Treebeard as illustrated by Inger Edelfeldt
The action has happened / is happening. There's a problem and it need fixin'. There's a world for it to take place in and an end, eventually, in sight. I'm feeling good about this book.

In fact, the way I work, there's probably only about 10,000 words left until Untitled Draft One is finished.

But Simon, 20,000 + 10,000 is only 30,000. Silly.

For a while this has been how I work. My first draft is way short of the final length. The first run through, for me, is a chance to get the plot points in place. Think of it as a bare bones outline - the wire beneath what will eventually become the float - that I can use to check everything works. 'Beginning, middle, and end' may well be a cliched and ridiculed approach to what is in reality a complex and involved process, but having a decent pace and knowing that everything fits is important. I'll write the book, and it'll be short. 10,000 words short - or more - if it has to be.

Then I'll set it aside. A lot's been written about setting aside a first draft to 'cool', and all of it, probably, is true. In my case, it's also a good time to mull over the general feel of the thing.

I'll eventually read the whole thing again, and this is where the new words will come in. Sentences will need extra words; paragraphs, extra sentences; chapters, extra paragraphs. Adding 10,000 words by adding small clumps here and there? Easy. Fill the balloon with helium, then see how big it is.

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Once that's done we're moving towards a workable book. Let is sit and cool again, and then attack with fresh vigour. This time, edits. Cut words down. Trim the fat and kill your darlings, kind of thing. Hand in hand with this is a broader check. Does it still make sense? Is it interesting every chapter? Do the characters' voices remain consistent? 

The introduction will almost certainly need redoing. After spending months with the characters, I can write them more naturally, and so rewriting the first few lines now makes it much more convincing. The first baby-deer-trying-to-walk attempt will be replaced.

But ... all that's still to come. For now I have 20,000 words, and hopefully some of them are good.