Gone Editin'

It's funny how writing can be so time consuming, so tiring even when it's fun. The hours / weeks / months spent on a new story, a new project, can be a bit overwhelming at times, but then you end up with a book, and that's a form of magic, I suppose.

Eren is a complex story, a story about stories, and what they mean. It's set in a town, and it's about a boy - Oli - but it's also partly my attempt to understand what myths and tales are. It's not an easy question, that.

I spent some time today on the phone to my editor in London (I have one now. Flippin' heck) talking about her view of Eren, what the book is, what it needs to be, and what work might need still to be done; in her words, what needs 'teasing out'. It was a good phone call, a strange mixture of nervousness and happiness that she got Eren so much. We spoke about things like covers and illustrations and other oh-my-goodness-this-is-real things that seem, even now, distant and hard to imagine.

I'm going to be diving back into Eren now, working on the story so it matches Sarah and my vision of what the final book should be. That means a lot of writing, of course - and less time spent here. For now, I'm going to be putting off writing more blog posts. It is not a termination, at all. It's a hiatus, or possibly just a gentle application of the brakes. I need to focus on Eren, more than other things. I want the book to be as good as it can be, and as near to finished as a book ever gets.

I cannot wait for you guys to see what we make, though. I think it'll be something special.

I'll still be around on twitter- @araenvo - and a few other places, mind. Can't get rid of me that easily.

I think this is going to be good.

Much-in-Little, soon to be Eren's home


AgentHunter.co.uk - A Review

I was recently given the chance to review a new agent database / website, Agent Hunter. Full disclosure - they were nice enough to offer me a year's subscription in return for this - but I promise, it's an entirely honest and unedited critique. The first they'll see of this post is when I publish it. I also already have an agent - the incomparable Molly Ker Hawn (Hi, Molly!) - but hey, it's the thought that counts.

It came as something of a relief to me that Agent Hunter is actually really good. It makes this post easier and makes things a whole lot easier for querying writers. And so...

Agent Hunter (www.agenthunter.co.uk) is a new project from The Writers' Workshop, overseen by Harry Bingham. The Writers' Workshop offers a lot - critiques, info on publishing, an annual Festival of Writing in York - and it's a natural step, really, to agency listings. Agent listings already exist, though, on sites like QueryTracker and Writers' & Artists' - so what's Agent Hunter got that's so brand spanking new?

AH's real strength, and the thing that had me explaining excitedly to my wife why it was quite so interesting, is the search feature for UK agents and agencies. The parameters you can choose from are useful, creative, and give you a solid, usable list of agents who fit your book. You can narrow down the list by searching for such things as
  • Genre
  • Agent Experience
  • Client List
  • Opportunities to meet
  • Twitter
  • Blog
  • Agency Size
  • AAA membership
  • E-mail submissions

and more. The fact Twitter's on there tells you a lot. The lists seems up to date and easily personalised. You can save searches, and search by agents' 'likes' and 'dislikes' by adding keywords. One small quibble I found while playing around with that: keywords need to be more than three letters, so 'fairy' was fine, but searching for agents on the lookout for books about 'war' was a no-go.

Searching for 'Children's fiction' and selecting agents on Twitter, with a blog, from a small agency quickly led me to a list that, sure enough, included plenty of names I recognized that fit the bill. There are plenty of genre options to search from, making it less likely agents will get clumped together under such broad terms as 'Kids books' - a real bonus.

Agents' profiles - often with accompanying photo - seem pretty standard, bringing together publicly available knowledge for convenience. That includes links to social media and blogs, as well as clients, submission requirements, and likes and dislikes - and that last one is AH's unique info, sought from agents and not found elsewhere. Having it all in one place is definitely good for writers. There's also additional info that's not strictly professional but that querying writers might love, such as 'Other loves and passions' (apparently Molly likes memoirs by clever people and cheese, so there you go).

The site charges an annual subscription of £12 - hardly a princely sum, but enough that writers will want to see it justified. Is AH worth the cost? Well, that's up to individuals, but I honestly think it might be. I've never seen agent listings with such an impressive search tool, and the content is clearly up to date, both on an agency and an agent level. There's room for improvement, I'm sure - perhaps a message board for writers to share information on their submission status, or more direct links to articles on how to write covering letters and other aspects of querying (currently in the FAQ section, via The Writers' Workshop).

I love writer community, and I love seeing it made easier for agents and writers to come together. So, Agent Hunter gets my vote - and I'll inevitably play around with it some more (I have a year, don't I?). Look out for an update if and when. For now, if you're a writer looking for an agent - good luck!


We Are One Four and Other Shenanigans

I have been a busy bee lately, and the blog's been somewhat ignored. Woops.

Let's just jump right into the most exciting news: We Are One Four!

We Are One Four is a new group of authors, all with debuts coming out in 2014. We're a mixed bunch, but all of our books are either young adult or middle grade. There's romance, horror, and everything in between, and the group will be growing over the next year as more writers come and build it with us. The whole thing's organized through http://www.weareonefour.com/, and you can find us on Twitter as @WeAreOnefour. The idea is to keep readers up-to-date with the latest news and goings on, and help to build a great community of people who love books, love new books, and want to get to know us writers. 

You can find out more about the other writers here: http://www.weareonefour.com/authors.

On the topic of other writers (and, in fact, fellow WAOF'ers), a very interesting video went up on YouTube today. Kelsey Macke (who has an interview on this very blog) is an artists / musician / writer / YouTuber / all round good egg, and her book deal was announced with much fanfare because she's writing and producing an album to go with it

That's talent, right? Well, not enough for Kelsey.

Turns out her book, Damsel Distressed (coming October 2014 from Spencer Hill Contemporary) will be illustrated, and those illustrations will have QR codes that lead to pages on the book's website with music and other content. 

How cool is that?

Not cool enough for Kelsey, who announced today that a new competition is being launched to design Damsel Distressed's cover.

She's mental.

If I had design skills, I might be tempted - but as it is, I'm very good at drawing clouds and porridge, and beyond that it all gets a bit ... uncomfortable. But do check out the competition site linked above - seeing a book become such a community project is inspiring and daunting, and though I haven't asked Kelsey yet, I'm sure she's at least a little nervous letting other people play with her story.

Books - they are evolving, eh?

Further updates on my own stories to come. Happy Friday, guys. 


Too Hard And Too Real: Bowdlerizing And Condescension In Children’s Books

From Wikipedia:  Thomas Bowdler (11 July 1754 – 24 February 1825) was an English physician and philanthropist, best known for publishing The Family Shakspeare, an expurgated edition of William Shakespeare's work, edited by his sister Henrietta Maria Bowdler, intended to be more appropriate for 19th century women and children than the original.

When children read books, is it a good thing?

Books are a bit of a two-way street. Writers put their thoughts down and send them out into the world, but readers put things into books, too – time, effort, and a lot more. People can pour their hearts into books and be shaped by what they find. You can form opinions, feel emotions, and change your life because of stories. Stories are the nuggets of old things that get hidden, just enough, that they survive to come back again and again.

The answer to that question above seems obvious, doesn't it? Yes, children should read books! Of course! Hooray!

But books have their opponents – or, more specifically, certain books have opponents.  There are big, important, confusing topics in this world that make a lot of adults nervous, and when those things get put in children’s books, some adults get very annoyed. They see it as trickery, as an attempt to slip in nasty things by hiding them in something that’s supposed to be nice. Because shouldn't books be nice, and happy?


Stories are mad and wild, and the things you can say in the best stories – that life is good, but painful, that bad things exist and need fighting, that death is a real, big thing – make uncomfortable reading for the best of us. It can be tempting to pretend – after all, aren't books just pretend? – and hide things from children and younger readers. It can be tempting to use easier words, easier stories, and happier endings to make books into entertainment alone.

But ...

Where entertainment and truth meet – that’s where the best books are, in my opinion. And talking down to children, making assumptions and excuses and sanitizing everything – doesn't end well for anyone.
There have been some truly fantastic children’s books come out lately that looked Bad Things right in the face and said, as only a child really could, ‘Hah!’

Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls refused to lie, even when the adults in the story wanted to. In YA, John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars annoyed The Daily Mail by telling people that cancer was real and terrible. Heck, Harry Potter was complicated and detailed and faced death and loss head-on. I just finished Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean At The End Of The Lane (not a children’s book, by the way) and one of the main conflicts in that story is that a protagonist, a seven year old, knows exactly what’s going on, and none of the adults believe him.

In my books, before story and plot and dialogue and words, I have one focus – one bull’s-eye to aim for. Will children read this story and think ‘Yes. That’s right, isn't it?’ I never want to patronize or lie, but that isn't the same as cutting out all the goodness and joy from a tale. Maybe The Daily Mail was worried that books can only come in extremes – everything’s nice, or we’re all going to die. That’s not life though, is it? Life is messy and mixed up. Children’s books can do that, and I think they should.

As a writer, I want to work hard to realize exactly when - because it will happen, again and again - I'm making a decision on behalf of children because of my own assumptions or fears or worries. Yes, some things should be kept out of books for young children - sex scene is a pretty good example - but keeping out content still isn't the same as condescending. Do adults dismiss kids too quickly? It's likely. Things can be too complicated for kids, we say. It's too wordy. It's hard to follow. 

Is it, though? Really? Or is it just making our job harder, so we can't be bothered?

Anyway - those are my thoughts. Kids deserve good books - let's make sure they have 'em.


Why Being A Writer Means Being A Waiter

File:EnglishMastiffSleeping.jpegWaiting. Oh, waiting.

It's part of a writer's life like you wouldn't believe.

Not the tables-and-tips kind - though I'm sure there are plenty of writers who also work as waiters, and plenty of waiters who also work as writers.

No, the other kind - the-less fun kind. The P word, actually.


The kind of person who will sit down and pour their mind out into pages and pages of words, and then share those words with other people, tends to be a little ... off. There's always an arrogance about art, especially when you want other people to read what you've written, and at some point - whether it's the hours late at night spent typing away, the years of research in libraries, or the stolen moments alone with your thoughts - you have to realise; writing is a very 'me, me, me' thing to do.

Being published, though, takes so much patience. That's what I want to talk about today, because while I'm no expert, I have been doing this for a bit and there's one big, common problem I see again and again. I read message boards, chat to people who are querying, spend (too much) time on Twitter, and it always comes back to this: I want to nudge the person reading my stuff.


When an agent has your pages, they will get back to you (or, if they have a policy of not responding, they won't, but after the cutoff point you'll know what that means).

If an editor has your book, they will respond.

If a reader has your book, they will read it, eventually.

That 'eventually' can be heart-wrenching. Look! you want to say, Look! I spent SO MUCH TIME on this and it is MY HEART. Why are you eating and working when this is MORE IMPORTANT?

Be patient.

Now, that's not the same as sitting still and doing nothing. Write more. Read more. Go on adventures. Fall in love. Buy a crab. Learn to speak Japanese. Find out where Lichtenstein is.

If you really want to, write e-mails reminding people that they have your stuff and that, y'know, it's probably the most important thing they have to do. Just don't send them.  Don't be that writer - the one with no perspective.

I know - I know! - how tempting it is. And I do know, by the way, that nudging agents is perfectly fine if they've set parameters and have said they don't mind. Sometimes things slip and get lost. Sometimes. Not most of the time, though.

I suppose my point is: unless you have a genuine reason to contact someone who has your work, and there's a genuine time-issue ... then don't. Things move slowly, but they move. Book get read. Art gets loved. Dreams form and things grow.

Be patient, and be professional. Those things do go together.

Here's to the waiters, eh?

Photo Credit: Mmatthias