Book Deal News!

Very excited to be able to share this with you all - it's been all hush hush and keeping mum for a bit - but EREN has sold to Constable & Robinson as part of a two book deal.

The news came at a time when I was getting despondent, for the first time, really, about my writing, and I could NOT be happier. My agent has been a complete star through all of this and I owe her a drink when we next meet. The editor at C&R, Sarah Castleton, said lovely things about EREN and it's clear that she really, really gets the book - which is exactly what I needed.

C&R are a fantastic publisher. Way back in the day they published Dracula. Fast forward to today and they publish wonderful books like The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, and A Visit from the Goon Squad.

Being able to build a home there and write more books is, of course, a dream come true, and the whole point of this blog was to encourage me to get out there more.

So, to readers, writers on Twitter and elsewhere, and everyone else who helped me over the years (and put up with me), a big thank you. I will keep you up to date as more news comes through about EREN and, y'know, the fact it's gonna be FREAKING PUBLISHED.

The official Publishers Marketplace announcement:

Simon Clark's EREN, in which a 12-year-old is whisked away to his uncle's country house in the wake of a scandal involving his father, and encounters a captivating creature in the attic whose attention comes at a sinister price, to Sarah Castleton at Constable & Robinson, in a a two-book deal, for publication in Fall 2014, by Molly Ker Hawn at The Bent Agency (World).

I'll write up a longer post some time next week on the path from querying agents to inking the deal. For now, it's celebration time. Boom, baby.

A Letter to Future Simon

Dear Future Simon:

Hi there. You alright? Hope so. Hope you're still alive. It's 2013 right now, and this is me (you!) writing to you (me!). Because who knows what's coming for our stories and your books?

Maybe you've made it - you have books out, in real bookstores, and some nice people even buy them and read them. Maybe you''re still slogging away, putting short stories up here on the blog, editing EREN and crafting and reworking other tales, other books. I hope so. I don't want that to stop any time soon.

Things right now feel like they're on the cusp of something good. That's a feeling you shouldn't forget. How do you feel right now? Because where I am, life is amazing. This blog's been running a bit over a year and you've met funky people, told good stories, and learned so much. You've got The Writers' & Artists' blog post gig. You earn our money ever day writing things. That's not something everyone can say.

Whether you make it (and who knows what 'it' will be) or decide in the end to pull things back, never get bitter, and remember, you berk, how much you enjoyed all this. The words and the edits, hearing from other people, sharing things on your blog, seeing others' videos on Youtube...

Has Twitter taken over the world now? Hail, Overlords! Maybe it hasn't. Either way, don't forget how great Twitter's been for you. Agents and writers and funky people, all saying things and responding to what you say. When else has that been true? When else has that been possible?

Maybe you live in a zombie-strewn wasteland now. Maybe you live in a creepy utopia where Questions May Not Be Asked. Maybe you don't write anymore - that's fine. But I want to remember how cool this all is right here, right now, being a writer on the web in the twenty first century.

Your pal,


P.S. I'm gonna leave some basic supplies bricked up in the wall of the bedroom. You know. Just in case. Zombies and stuff.


What's going on and what am I writing?

Hullo, hullo. Time for another catch up.

The first blog in my new series for Writer & Artists is now up, to be followed every Monday by a new topic. You can see all posts by me by going here - and do check out the rest of the site while you're there. For writers, there are few other places with such good resources.

This month's Absolute Write story chain is going strong. In just a few more days I'll be posting a new story on this blog as part of it. The piece is called HIS STORY and I'm quite pleased with it, all in all. What with St Pat's being last Saturday, the theme of the chain is 'What the leprechaun said', and I'll leave it up to you to ponder what I did with that.

I also sent off an entry to the Bath Short Story Award, a new international competition with good writing at its heart and good people at its helm. The deadline's not till the 30th, so why not give it a go? Entry is £5, you can pay and enter online or through hard copy, and it's being judged by Cornerstone. Rules and details are all on the site.

What else, then? A few more stories in the works. I'll let you know of any news.  Yesterday I finished up Colin Mulhern's CLASH, and I have to say, I'm pretty impressed. The ending is a stunner and there were a few scenes that had me flipping through the pages, ready to be genuinely annoyed if things didn't work out. The whole plot, really, was easy to follow but impossible to predict - a perfect balance. And, on a more physical side, the book's alternating chapters, with alternating characters, used different fonts, which was brilliantly effective. I don't want to give away any more, now - if you want the book, buy it.



Life's been busy lately, both on and off the web, and a rather cool anniversary completely passed me by.

This blog was one year old!

Photo by gotbrimmed
March 1st 2012 saw this post about 'The Shame of Writing', in which I laid out some thoughts about what it was to be a writer and what I hoped the blog would become. It may be two weeks overdue, but it still made me happy to realise I'd kept this up for a good  calendar year. I don't actually mean the blogging itself, though that's been a laugh. I mean, really, being public and open about writing. I really do think there's a tendency in writers to be furtive.

To be embarrassed.

To be be secretive.

You lose so much if you don't share your writing. Is fear of being judged keeping you back? The judgement's never going to go away. If you put work out there - especially as a professional, for people to buy - then it's only going to be judged.

Is some sense of false humility making you hesitant? Screw humility. You're a writer. You're an artist. If you care this much, you probably have some talent. Show it to people. Accept genuine praise.

What other reasons are there that stop people trying to make it as a writer?

Cost? No. Don't pay agents without getting sales. Don't pay publishers. It shouldn't cost you anything if you're doing it right. (N.B. Yes, of course, it will a bit - envelopes and computers and writing programs and paper and pens cost money. But that's not the same as thinking you need to pay for all those things to be a good writer).

Time? Tricky one. Modern life is busy. But everyone else's life is busy too, and plenty of people write books. The idea that someone with a good idea and a lot of skill would put off their book because they think they can't commit makes me sad. Don't watch that movie. Say no to that coffee with a friend. Make time. Writing is important. Don't feel like you're choosing a hobby over real people.

Age? Sex? Location? Pah. If you're reading this blog you know those don't matter. Add in race, identification, or anything at all besides 'can write down words.'

How about this one, then - that it's hard. I have a lot of sympathy and empathy and a few more 'pathies for this. 'Daunting' is a good word to describe the feeling of staring at a blank page - which might as well represent the entire publishing industry and all the people in the world - and feeling like you have to overcome it all if you're going to get a book out there. It is hard, is the truth. I guess the thing to remember is that it's hard for everyone. It was hard for JK and Neil Gaiman and Stephen King and Jacqueline Wilson and David Almond and Jane Austin. They just chose to do it anyway.

Turned out OK right them, didn't it?

So that's the motto for my blog's second year. DO IT ANYWAY.

Maybe one day I'll make t-shirts. Let me know if you want one when I do.


On Blurbs and Pithy Summations

Howdy all. Friday's here and the world is (in NJ, at least) a sunny, if cold, place.

I've been thinking about blurbs recently, and how tricky they can be. A blurb is the few lines on the back of a book that's meant to act as a teaser to get your attention and (hopefully) make you want to buy the book. They're also meant to give you as much information, in as short a time as possible, without ruining the ending. Readers needs and expect to know things like genre, protagonist, theme and style before they're willing to purchase.

It might seem odd, but in the digital and Internet age, I would argue that blurbs are more important than ever. Online retailers can offer a lot of information, but the physical process of buying a book is one that allows you to flip through the pages and read as leisure. Buying online, this is often not the case, and so it falls to the blurb (and user reviews, of course) to really make the sale.

And yes, I know that shops like Amazon are increasingly offering a few samples pages and 'See Inside!' features, but this is neither universal nor within limitations. While a bookshop gives you the chance to read chapters, flip to the end, or even check out the font if that's yo' thing, Internet sales - for all their great aspects - have restrictions.


Short or long, they pack a lot of stuff into not many words. Let's look at a couple from some of the biggest books of recent years.

Harry Potter thinks he is an ordinary boy - until he is rescued by an owl, taken to Hogwarts school for witchcraft and wizardry, learns to play Quidditch and does battle in a deadly duel. The reason........ HARRY POTTER IS A WIZARD!

I like this one. You can't say it doesn't get the point across, and it's a definite draw for kids. The collection of images makes the story seem epic even if it doesn't give you a specific plot for this book. This blurb goes in the Good Blurb box.

Coraline is not the kind of girl to be put off by a sign of danger read in some tea-leaves or indeed a message sent to her by some very talented mice! No, she is the kind of girl who faces a challenge with bravery, intelligence and a lot of determination. Which is just as well because she is going to need all those skills and more, in this wonderful, spooky tale of a girl caught on the wrong side of a door, with counterfeit parents who have buttons for eyes and who clearly do not intend to set her free. Read it if you dare!

Much more information here, at first glance - but, of course 'the wrong side of a door' is wonderfully ambiguous. Personally not a fan of the final line - seems a bit cheesy? - but the whole thing seems to work for me. It draws you in but gives you a rough idea of the book. The button for eyes is a good clue that it's mild horror - something it's important to communicate in children's books. Good Blurb.

What makes a bad blurb, then? What's to be avoided?

  • Ambiguity ('Charles has adventures and learns a lot of things')
  • Inaccuracy ('Harry Potter might be an angel!')
  • Too much revelation ('But, with the help of a talking cat, Coraline is able to defeat the Other Mother by trapping her hand in a well')
  • Too little revelation ('Harry Potter is special. Read it now')
  • Unsubstantiated boasts ('This book will make any child love reading and any atheist into a believer')


You'll also see this called an 'elevator pitch', the idea being that in as short amount of time as possible you should be able to sell your book - give a gripping, intriguing account without giving away too much. That way, editors / agents / readers will Want It Now.

Tricky, right? Summing up your book needs thought before you tr to do it. What's the angle you want? What is the one focus - and remember you just can't have two or three. A sentence about the plot needs to give a rough idea without you then needing to explain more and more.

EREN is about a boy who finds a monster in his attic, but the monster eats stories. Well, actually, it's about how the boy's father seems to be in trouble, but no one will tell him why, so he turns to the monster - that's Eren - instead, and agrees to tell him stories. But the thing is Eren is kind of like a vampire, I guess? So when the boy - he's called Oli - tells him all these things it acts like it's making Eren stronger and Oli gets weaker. That's kind of what it's about.

Not so good, eh? Babble, really. Feeling the need to explain more is the biggest indication that the short summary has gone off the tracks and into La La Land.

In the end, I'd go for something more like this:

My children's book, EREN, is for eleven to thirteen year olds, and is about a boy who finds a monster in his uncle's attic - a monster who needs to hear stories to live. Slowly, the boy agrees to share his life with it, but as he tells his tales, the monster only grows stronger and begins to demand more and more.

And blurb-wise:

People are keeping secrets from Oli - about where his father is, and why he hasn't come to join them at his uncle's house in the country.
But Oli has secrets too.
He knows what lives in the attic. Eren - part monster, part dream, part myth. Eren who always seems so interested, who always wants to hear more about Oli's life. Eren, who needs to hear stories to live, and will take them from Oli, no matter the cost.
One for saying, one for reading. Perfect? No. Feel free to tell me if you think they don't give enough, or if the focus seems off. Please, do! But it's important, at least, to think about these things before the moment comes about when you're asked, on the spot, to share or explain your story. After all, it's your story, and no one's going to sell it apart from you, in the end.


Wednesday's Inspiring Book

Yup. Another Wednesday, another return of the Inspiring Books series.

All writers love books, and we all have ones that changed us. Whether it's because we wanted to write them, wanted to meet the author, learned a few tricks, stole a few words, or even took some warnings for things we did not like, the books we've read make the books we write.

It's been a fun list so far - at some point I'll do a recap - and there's no real shortage of books that helped make me who I am today (and, of course, continue to do so. Never stop reading.)

Today's book - well, today's books, really - is THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA

I think it says a lot that I could just have easily dropped a few hints - lamppost, lion, witch, Father Christmas - and most of you would have guessed it. Like LOTR and Harry Potter, Narnia has become a cultural icon and a brand all by itself. C. S. Lewis' stories, Christian allegories done in a way the never wanted to hide the meaning, are also just good old fashioned yarns, sword-and-dagger adventures with magic very firmly rooted at their heart. 

The seven books are all very different. People think, quite rightly, of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe when they think of Narnia, but it's the smaller stories - The Silver Chair for one - that really brought home to me how epic the series is. The children and their followers come in and out of Narnia, but Narnia itself (and I almost wrote 'herself' there) steals the show. That's storytelling magic at its best.

Of course any children's author will have opinions on Narnia. Neil Gaiman has admitted he has issues with the morals, and wrote The Problem of Susan to express some of those. You don't have to believe in Christianity or even like the conclusion of these books to get that they're darn good reads, though. Lewis' imagination is stunning and his ability to bring it all down to personal and individual levels sets him apart, I think, from a lot of other writers. 

So, there you have it. Today's book that inspired and helped make me a better writer. Nothing I could emulate, but something I can aspire to.

C.S. Lewis - he is awesome.


How to be an Awesome Modern Reader

There's a lot of talk out there about how to be a good writer. A lot. And writing tips are great for other writers, and they give decent insight into how a particular author works and thinks.

But what about the other end of the book? Readers arguably make 99% of the publishing process and, y'know, about 100% of the readership. In the modern world of changing business models and wide spread Internet access, what sets you apart as an all round funky reader? A reader among reader. A meta-reader, if you will.

Let's have a go.

1. Buy the book. 

Legally, that is. Or get it from a library it. Or borrow it off a friend. Just don't pirate it. Don't be that guy. Don't complain about the cost before you know how much went into reading it (around a year is a good guess), editing and approving it for publication (another year) and finally distributing and selling it. It's not an author along in their room. It's agents and editors and cover designers and printers and a lot more people than you'd normally be OK complaining to about something that costs £6.99.

And what if it's a self-published ebook? Then it's a labour of love for one or two people max and you should feel even less inclined to nick it.

2. Share it.

Do you blog? Give it a shout out. Despite modern marketing and its dark power, word-of-mouth remains the most effective and most sought after way to give books great press. If you don't blog, you can still tell people. This is where being a passive reader separates from being an awesome reading advocate. You can recommend local libraries purchase books, you know. Ditto school libraries. You can buy copies and set them free with programs like BookCrossing (http://www.bookcrossing.com/), which is a fun thing to do either way.

3. Tell the author.

Do they blog? Leave a comment. Are they on Twitter? Give 'em a tweet. Will they see it? Probably. Will they respond? Maybe. Depends how busy they are writing books. But telling an author you loved what they wrote is a Good Thing and worth more to them than you might realise. And you can still write actual letters if you fancy - sent them to the publisher with the author's name and they'll get forwarded.

4. Tell the editor. 

Not something a lot of people think of - but believe me, you'll make a friend. Editors work for months - sometimes years - on a book and they're just as invested as the author. The growth of Twitter especially has broken down the walls between readers and publishing professionals. Publishing companies' websites will have the information of who worked on which books. Sent them a tweet. This makes you an awesome reader like few other things.

5. Review it.

GoodReaders (http://www.goodreads.com/), Amazon.co.uk/com, Yahoo ... the number of dedicated review sites or retailers that allow public reviews is growing, and people do read them. Even if this book wasn't what you wanted, review it. Share why you didn't like it - was it  sold as something it wasn't? Was their content you thought was a bit off? But stick to the content. Don't attack the author and don't be vindictive in your criticism. Just be a person.

Finally, are there things you shouldn't do? I'll say.


...leave reviews and negative feedback if you haven't read the whole book. Come on, now.
...use the cover image, of the paper quality, of the font, as a reason to hate it. Buy the digital edition, or the UK / U.S. edition. Yes, those things matters, but don't confuse quality of writing with quality of production. Not everything's in the author's control.

...bombard someone with multiple comments and posts and then get annoyed if you don't get insta-responses.Twitter and blogs are public, yes, but they can be treated the same way as a town hall discussion.  Writers are people too and honestly, sometimes they don't have time for your nonsense.

...try to break into their life. A writer / agent / editor's personal Facebook or LinkedIn account is just that. Adding them is creepy and won't work. A public Facebook page, absolutely. Anything else? Probably not.

And so...

What's a good final rule to sum up all of this?

Read books for fun, and don't be a dick.

Seems like a pretty good motto for life, actually.

Happy reading, all.


March Update

Good Thursday to you all.

Many things going on at the moment, so time for a catch up.

Firstly, it's March now, and I'm taking part in what will be my fifth Absolute Write Blog Chain. The prompt - the one thing which will unite all the participants' stories - is : What the leprechaun said. It's in honour of St Paddy's Day, and I've actually been practically uber-productive and finished mine well in advance. Edits aside, it's good to go up here. Can't wait to share it with you - it's a fun, odd little story.

Speaking of stories, the final proofs for THE STORYTELLER'S JIG came, got my blessing, and went - along with the bio page and contents page. Now that's all official, I've nothing more to do until publication. A strange feeling, having a story out in the world being cared for by someone else. I've published on this blog, of course, and shared stories in various formats over the years, but having one fly out and really, truly be public is a thrill I hope to get more and more as time goes on. Counting down till publication day in May.

Speaking of thrills and expectations, later this month - around the 18th - the first in a series of blog posts I'm doing for The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook will go up. All the information will be available there shortly, but I'm really looking forward to this : the Yearbook was a big part of my becoming an author (as I wrote about here) and to now e collaborating with them is a real dream come true. Shows you what can change in a few years, I suppose. Not even sure the had a website when I first bought my first copy (in a bookshop which is now, I'm sad to say, gone. So many independent bookshops are nowadays.)

Anything else? My second novel, THE STORY BOY, is with my agent, and when I have her input back I'm sure there'll be Things To Do. And in all this, the seeds of a new book entirely are growing. It's an idea I've discussed briefly with a couple of people, and I think it might have some potential. It will be good to get back into a full book again.

So, yes. Busy March - but a busy-in-a-nice-way-so-I'm-not-complaining kind of a feeling. How about you - what writing are you up to this month? Let me know in comments!

Picture credit: Daffodils 2 by zebble


The Things On My Walls

Where a writer writes can be a big deal. In a writing shed? A special home office? A coffee shop, a park, in bed?

Some artists carve out spaces that are theirs. They have one room, one desk, one book, one pen, and one process to work the magic. Some go out into The World and use that as their inspiration, their lifeline, as a useful anchor to stop them drowning in their own head.

I can do both, depending on my mood. I tend to need silence, so coffee shops are out, but I also go stir crazy if I don't see some sky every now and then.

I write in my home, but I write in many rooms.

This needs some clarification. My home only has four rooms, really. Five if you count living and dining as separate. When I write, I move around, depending on the time of day and the time of year. We have many tables, many views, many places to sit.

I thought I would share with you all some of the things I write surrounded by - specifically, the things we have on our walls. Can it say a lot? Maybe. Probably. Not sure. But it's fun, isn't it? Yes, it is. And so,

The Things On My Walls Where I Live

In our kitchen we have a cork board, and on that cork board, postcards from many places. Many of these we've sent ourselves - a habit started on honeymoon that's stayed strong so far. More people should try it. We write the main points and quirks of a trip on the back, and send it back home to wait for us / be a surprise when it turns up 3 months later. The result - a big ol' board of fun memories, and also one rather cross looking boob-woman.

Now, the living room's a good one, The walls have swords. Not just any swords, either, but practically literary ones. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is a big love of my wife's, and the swords from the movies - and this is full size, rather sharp, dangerous in the wrong hands ones - hang from our walls. Seen here is Sting, my latest birthday present to her. Shiny.

Between our bookcases is a Christmas gift from my sisters - Tang Yau Hoong's Little Red Riding Hood. I love his stuff, and this one really says a lot about books and what they have inside them. Between the bookshelves is a good place for it.

Above our dining room table is this spiffy map. It's of the Caribbean - bought while I was there - and it's part memento, part reminder that I intend to have a map room with many maps inside it at some point in the future. It's also a good reminder to travel, to see the world, and that Bermuda is totally not in the Caribbean. Who knew?

A lot of writing is done here. A lot of dreaming, too.

Beside the dining table is a shelf, and on that shelf - beside books - is the Incredulous Owl. I bought this for my (then) fiancee while we were living in Japan. Firstly, I like this piece. It's good art. Second, it's damn funny, and you can probably tell from the title what it is that makes us laugh. Good art can be funny art, too, if you're with the right people, and in the right mood.

We're in the bathroom now. This Celtic cross was a spur of the moment buy many years ago when I was in Wales on a family holiday. Celtic art has a lot going for it, and this piece - in truth, not real slate but mocked up to look like it - caught my eye. It's peaceful and strong and eternal. It's made it to the U.S. now, and I don't see why a house can't be decorated in a Japanese / Celtic / Elvish theme, really.

We've made it to the bedroom. On my side, another of Tang Yau Hoong's pieces. Why? Cause I like it. What more does art need? I even have it on a t-shirt now, thanks to my last birthday and some canny friends.

And on my wife's side of the bed ...

Hanging Japanese calligraphy. I had this made up by one of my students there, as a special birthday gift. The Japanese reads hajime ni kotoba ga atta and translates as 'In the beginning was the word', the first words of John's Gospel. We were missionaries over there, and it's a good soundbite for even the hardest heart.

Above the bedroom desk, where a lot of my writing gets done, is a print of a photo by a good friend / good brother-in-law, Brandon Rechten. He shoots a lot of abandoned buildings / urban exploration, so these torn pages and crumpled pages aren't a set up, they're just forgotten.  For some reason it always makes my desk look suddenly so much neater...

Of course, there are other things in our apartment, on our walls, in our lives. Not everything is for sharing. These things were, though, and I hope you liked them. What do you write surrounded by? What's your favorite piece or art to own, or to dream of owning? Let me know in the comments.


Reality in Fiction : Eatin' and Poopin'

Morning all. Surprisingly sunny March morning here in NJ - the kind where birds are singing and the window is open and sunlight's hitting the blinds in a lovely yellow-y way and I'm extremely suspicious it's all just a trick and winter isn't done with us yet.

 But it's sunny for now, and I'm warm, and happy.

Wanted to talk a bit about reality in fiction, if that makes any sense. Specifically, children's books, and the importance of knowing what is believable and what is dull.

Hogwarts' bathrooms matter because of what
happens in them. Ahem.
The average day in real life contains plenty of exciting and fit-for-fiction things. It also contains plenty of filler - the bathrooms breaks, meals, staring idly into space, watching TV, etc. The important distinction when you're writing a character is that things that stick out should be included, but you can rely on a reader assuming certain things will happen anyway. Why don't characters in fiction ever have to stop to pee? Because unless it's relevant to the story - it means something, relates to something, will cause the chain of events to alter - it means nothing and is wasted time. It doesn't destroy the suspension of disbelief that in a book set over two months we're never told someone farts. We don't need to be told they yawn or blink or breath or scratch an itch, because if they're written well, then we get that they're human. Unnecessary action distracts from the focus, making a story drag, destroying pacing, and losing readers. If a scene leaves someone thinking 'why is this in here?' then there's a problem, right? So characters do a lot of things we're not told about, because we're happy letting those things sit in the background, where the can build atmosphere and depth in the book, but keep the focus on a darn good story.

Eating meals is a different kettle of fish, it seems. While waking up and looking in the mirror has become a trite way to start a book - again, because it doesn't really mean anything at this point - it seems that meals have something more to them, and to miss them out is to take something away from a kid's experience with a book. Think of Harry Potter and all that flippin' food. The Hobbit and LOTR make a big deal out of food and making sure it's being stored and eaten well. Hunger as a motivation is something we can all understand - it becomes a literary tool rather than a simple recounting of what a person did before they left the house.

In fact today The Guardian has a tongue in cheek article dissecting different literary breakfasts and what they might all mean. Good to see second breakfast gets a mention.

So why eating and no poopin'? Because we can say things with food, its preparation, characters preferences, what happens if the get it wrong, or get hungry - and, especially for children, hunger is a relatable, driving force behind a lot of things.

Not every meal has to come up, but ones that impact the plot and the characters would be silly to overlook.

So what else should character do and not do? Do kids care if we're never told that the shower or brush their teeth? I'd say no, right up to the point where it becomes a part of the story - where it's commented upon, or it leads to an argument, or the tooth fairy comes, or the shower monster attacks, etc.

Porpoise. Not purpose.
I suppose the line, when writing, is to ask yourself: is this special? If these were taken out by and editor, would anyone notice, or care? Would anything else change because of it? If no to all those things ... well then, maybe you should dump it.

There are some great children's books with fantastic toilet humour and no meals - don't get me wrong. But they're there for a reason. The writer could justify and defend those scenes. And that's the clincher : purpose.  Things with purpose stay in stories. Things without it - well, ask yourself., why would you read something with no purpose at all?