The Writer’s Plan Step 3: What’s Stopping You?

Think of your writing place as a ‘portable shelter’ a kind of pop-up tent or den that you build using the resources to hand. This way we can write when we can, where we can.

Hello Writers and welcome to Step 3. How did you get on unearthing your Writerly Desires? I hope it was fun. So now you know what you want let’s think about what’s stopping you from getting there?

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The Writer’s Plan: Step 1

A route-map for underrepresented writers

#thewplan A Route-map for Under-represented first published @The Bookseller 12th February 2019

Carmen Marcus

It’s just over a year since I heard Kit de Waal on Radio 4 asking Where Are All The Working Class Writers? The show so precisely laid bare the two big blocks to working class writers getting their stories told: the internal problem of shame and their invisibility to an elite metropolitan industry. After crying at the radio I got it together enough to float the idea of a working class writers’ collective on Twitter. There was a big electric YES pattering from keyboards across the country and the thing we most talked about was ‘What can we do right now?’ but it’s taken me a year to find the answer:

Make a Plan.

Continue reading “The Writer’s Plan: Step 1”

The Writer’s Plan: Step 2 Where Do I Want to Be?

As soon as we say ‘I want’ we’re not just starting to identify our goals as a writer, we’re initiating a battle between the Dreamer and the Doubter inside ourselves.

Hopefully you’ve celebrated packing your bag of skills for Step 1 and are all set for the trip. But we’re not heading out yet. Step 2 is all about where you want your writing journey to take you. At this stage it is all about dreaming big. This should be easy for us writers, shouldn’t it? The slight problem is that maybe the act of dreaming up worlds for imaginary people was a way of escaping the limitations of our reality. So how do we dream big for ourselves?

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Interview with Lorraine Gregory Part 2

In this second instalment middle grade author Lorraine Gregory tells us about the catalyst moment that propelled her into the industry, the journey to getting an agent; how she found her voice and genre and who championed her along the way.

Tell me how important the Golden Egg experience was to your development?

After several years of writing and two manuscripts submitted to agents with good feedback but no deal it seemed like I was getting close but I couldn’t seem to get to the next level with my writing. I thought my latest MS (Mold and the Poison Plot) was good but I wanted professional eyes on it in the hope they could tell me what I was missing. I heard about Golden Egg through Twitter and at the time they were just starting out and offering one to one’s with an editor at a rate I could afford.

It made such a huge difference to my work…Maurice Lyon was my mentor and he showed me what I needed to do to push my writing up a level. Then Imogen Cooper, who set up Golden Egg after working at Chicken House, opened my eyes to the structure of writing and helped me hone my editing abilities before I sent out my reworked MS to Kate Shaw at the Viney-Shaw agency who signed me up as a client a month or so later.

I was very lucky to be able to access Golden Egg on the small budget that I had, to me it felt like a worthwhile investment in something that was very important to me and I’m so glad I did. It was a huge learning experience and also enabled me to meet some of my very best friends through their social events.

I think I could have got to the same stage on my own eventually but it would have taken me much longer and probably been less fun!

If you don’t have the budget for something like Golden Egg then I do recommend getting some chapters critiqued with The Children’s Book Circle – who offer events at reasonable prices with professional editors – also conferences, SCBWI and other writer events often have the opportunity for one to one’s and many of them have scholarships or assisted places. And there’s always the option of using a crit group or partner to help you hone your words. And read, there are some brilliant books out there on writing and masses of stuff on the internet…plus social media is your friend..opportunities, competitions and special offers are often listed on twitter.

You can find out more about The Golden Egg Academy here –

https://www.goldeneggacademy.co.uk

Story

Which writers inspire you? How did you decide to write for middle grade? How do you decide which ideas to grow into a story?What do you do to develop your characters?Tell me about Mold and the Poison Plot and what made you tell this tale?Who have been your champions and what difference did they make?

I’m inspired by Frances Hardinge, Katherine Rundell, Laini Taylor, Leigh Bardugo, Cressida Cowell, Jonathan Stroud and so many more because their books are brim full of imagination and transport me to other worlds that feel entirely real and solid.

I didn’t really DECIDE to write for MG – as I said, I started writing for my son who was around 9 or 10 at the time and I realised it was the PERFECT place for me. That age group is a delight to write for, anything is possible and the stories are full of adventure and heart and while they can be dark there’s usually a positive and uplifting aspect too. Previously I’d always tried to write for teens or adults but they always felt stilted and awkward but writing for children was a natural fit so I’m really glad I found my place there!

It’s not easy deciding which ideas to pursue, often I’ll have a few ideas playing around at the same time and I’ll drift between them making notes and thinking. Usually the thing that will start me writing one particular idea is when I find the voice that works. Some projects do shout louder than others but mostly I think ideas are just waiting their turn…my next book is a fresh version of one of the first manuscripts I wrote…the idea was always good, it just needed to wait for a while before it was ready!

I do quite a lot of work on characters – usually I find I have to draft it out once so the characters can reveal themselves a little on the page, then I’ll dig down into their motivations and make sure they hold their own within the story.

I’ve been known to sketch my characters but I’m a terrible artist so I’d never show them to anyone.

I also often do timelines and histories for my world and how my characters fit into it. I think it’s really worth investing time into characters because nothing works without them – the best plot in the world means nothing if your characters don’t inspire and engage the reader.

The idea for Mold came all of a sudden when I was editing another manuscript and demanded my attention. I plotted it out in a day and drafted it in three months and it was huge fun to write.

There is much of me and my own issues in this book.

Some of which were subconscious – eg Mold lives in the Dregs – a close but deprived community of misfits looked down upon by their richer more privileged neighbours – is a barely disguised reference to the council estate where I grew up.

Some of the issues were conscious though – eg Mold has a big nose as do I. Having been teased and self conscious about it most of my life I realised that the media has always portrayed villains as having big noses, while the heroes, most especially the Disney princesses for example have tiny, perfect little noses. I decided to make Mold’s nose special and give him an amazing sense of smell which he must use to help save his guardian Aggy from the hangman’s noose and discover the truth behind the Poison Plot. To make all heroes handsome and villains ugly or disfigured is lazy, dangerous stereotyping and I think children need to see better from us.

There is also a strong theme of diversity and tolerance in the history of Pellegarno and the different people that lived there – I didn’t plan it necessarily but my own feelings seeped through and it soon became an intrinsic part of the story and Mold himself.

Certain elements snuck in and only after it was written did I realise that Mold feeling different to everyone, out of place, looked down upon and not fitting in was actually how it felt for me growing up as a mixed race girl from a council estate. It made me realise that despite leaving the council estate behind when I was 18, I’d never fully left behind those feelings of inferiority.

My champions have been Imogen Cooper at the Golden Egg Academy who first made me feel that I was good enough to be a published writer and then my agent Kate Shaw whose faith in me and my work has given me the confidence to push on past rejections and setbacks and keep writing regardless.

I’m also hugely lucky to have wonderful writer friends who make me laugh, keep me sane when the strangeness of the publishing world threatens to overwhelm me, and bolster my shaky self confidence as necessary.

I just want to say a huge thank you to Lorraine for sharing her story, for her honesty and the hope she inspires for future writers. Also a big thank you to Em Lynas for introducing us.

Lorraine Gregory is the author of “Mold and the Poison Plot” (OUP 2017) – which won the S.C.B.W.I Crystal Kite award for UK and Ireland in 2018 – and the forthcoming “The Maker of Monsters” (OUP May 2019). She co runs the popular, bi monthly #UKMGCHAT on twitter as @authorontheedge and can often be found procrastinating on there about books, toast and cats! You can find out more at https://www.lorrainegregoryauthor.co.uk

An Interview with Lorraine Gregory Part 1

Lorraine Gregory is the author of Mold and the Poison Plot, a middle-grade novel about being a misfit and finding true friendship. Lorraine is the daughter of an Indian father and an Austrian mother. Raised on an East London Council Estate her local library fed her love of books and though becoming a ‘proper’ author seemed like an impossible dream she started scribbling stories for her son and those tales found their way off the page and into the world.

Continue reading “An Interview with Lorraine Gregory Part 1”

Two Places and No Places by Nicolas Obregon

When my mum was 18 she went on a student exchange. Spain was still living under Franco’s shadow and its newfound democracy hung in the balance but my mum had simply made friends with a Spanish girl the summer before, my aunt. Now, a year later, she was waiting for her at the airport. But that was the day of the car crash. My aunt survived but it fell to my father to pick my mum up.

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The Story’s Story – Publicity

The most important stories to tell are the ones that aren’t told enough.

An Interview with Louise Court

Carmen Marcus

A book needs publicity, it needs an introduction to its readers and this is an art and craft in its own right beyond the skill of writing. That said, many writers have to plan and implement their own publicity or if they are lucky enough to have a publicist they have to tell the story of their book in a way that’s quite alien to the writing process. To a new writer like me, with no knowledge of publishing processes, the purpose and practice of publicity was an intimidating mystery. I was very fortunate to be guided through this process by Louise Court, my publicist. So I’ve asked her all of the questions I wish I’d had the courage to ask her during our first meeting to demystify what publicity really is and how it works. I hope this will help you be ready to work effectively with your publicist and / or be more confident and tooled-up to tell the story of your story.

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Libraries Gave Us Power by Alan Devey

When the need to create becomes impossible to suppress a writer will do whatever it takes to satisfy the compulsion

To believe you could build some kind of career in the arts, growing up working class in England during the 80s and 90s, you may as well have aspired to become an astronaut or Chancellor of the Exchequer. Such careers weren’t so much unlikely, as not even possible to imagine. There were teenage kids around my neighbourhood who tried to form a band, one girl in class who could draw better than the rest of us, but without any examples of artistic success or the right kind of encouragement, this was generally where the dabbling ended, all creative pursuits abandoned amid looming financial prerogatives. When all your adult role models are van drivers, army lifers or work at the local Asda (my home town’s biggest employer), making any kind of living from the written word feels about as likely as discovering a cure for cancer.

But the urge to create was always there, and I was fortunate in many ways.

My parents encouraged my reading habit, my mother taking me to the town’s well-stocked library every Saturday where I soon became engrossed in the adventures of Asterix and Obelix and the fiction of Roald Dahl.

From a young age I escaped into invented worlds while my coming of age coincided with the tail end of student maintenance grants. My family situation back then meant I was eligible for the full amount which, back in the mid-90s, was around £2000 per annum; sufficient to cover my basic living expenses.

Being lucky enough to get the funding for an arts degree was key, not so much because of what I learned on it, but because this course gave me three years to work out what I wanted to do with my life. By undertaking part-time and holiday work, I managed to graduate without debt, something that’s drilled into people like us as vital.

The spectre of money owed prevents many working class youngsters from pursuing higher education these days, and without familial or state support debt can become a matter of crisis; of bailiffs and evictions.

I had the opportunity to understand writing fiction was something I could do, even if it took me a long time to become accomplished at it.

That’s what I’ve been engaged in over the last twenty years, funding my endeavours through temporary clerical work. I would write through my spare time or save up enough to immerse myself in a first draft for a few months. In terms of maximising my income, this was the worst choice I could have made, but when the need to create becomes impossible to suppress a writer will do whatever it takes to satisfy the compulsion. Nothing would make me miserable like having an idea I was unable to follow through, simply because I didn’t have the time.

But the legacy of our working class upbringing lingers for writers who put the work out there, who attempt to gain recognition. A lack of entitlement and social capital hurts us, the absence of connections dispirits and it’s impossible to get noticed when all an agent’s clients come by personal referral. This isn’t unique to publishing of course; rather it’s indicative of a general failing within the collective culture. Ordinary people will never harness the confidence that propels Eton-educated boys into positions of wealth and success, whether the privileged are qualified or not. Nowadays the working class are taught a sense of their own powerlessness early on. The world owes us nothing and, however hard we work, we’ll never bend the establishment to our will. I’ve been trying to interest the literary world in my work for two decades and I must be up to a thousand rejections by now, ever since I sent out samples from my first book, back in 1998.

But that’s the thing about the working classes, we’re stubborn. From day one we had to develop thick hides, to deal with the bullying and chaotic home lives and constant threats to our physical well-being, from others on our estate and elsewhere; those people who would rather our voices weren’t heard. One way to escape the endless cycle of write-submit-reject is to embrace print on demand and digital publishing so that’s what I did, putting out my debut and other works, most recently a collection of short stories inspired by the experiences of individuals around Austerity Britain called ‘Outside The Comfort Zone’, more details of which can be found on my blog.

Self-publishing gave me a readership, however small, and the kind of validation I was never going to receive from the literary industry, as an outsider looking in. I could sell the work to people directly, market it online, show my dear mother this wasn’t all talk; there was something behind the ten thousand hours I had put into developing my craft.

By the time she died in 2015, I think mum was at ease with who I was. She no longer wanted me to follow her advice, to get on the ground floor of a corporation then work my way up. I couldn’t suppress my creative self like that: I was a writer, and a writer writes, even when the gatekeepers of the industry aren’t willing to listen. The joy was in the creativity and the results would have to be enough. It took a while for me to save up and self-finance a Masters in Creative Writing at the London Met but, since completing this course in 2015, I’ve been up to a hundred submissions a year and I’ll continue to seek out rejection. These knock-backs don’t penetrate my carapace any more, I’m beyond that. Besides, I have other outlets for my work, places where it will be appreciated.

That’s my advice to writers from humble backgrounds: don’t stop working towards the goal, but try to understand there are levels of success apart from the conventional ones. Like the man says: when you feel like you can’t go on, keep going.

Castles vs Council Estates: Where do writers come from? By E.R. Murray

Finding a writing tribe, made up of people at the same level as me, as passionate and determined as I was, proved the ultimate breakthrough.

Writers were rich and lived in castles and could never, ever, come from anywhere like the council estate I grew up in. This was what I believed as a child. I was an avid bookworm in a house without books and I had never met an author. But I had dreamed of being a writer; from a young age I loved poetry and when anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would say a teacher or a poet. And then, my audience would laugh.

Looking back, why wouldn’t they? It was hilarious that a kid in Thatcher’s Britain, queuing up at the food bank for free slabs of butter and cheese wearing hand-me-downs, would dare to hope for such a thing. People were out of work and fighting to get by; they weren’t meant to dream or aspire. ‘Put up and shut up,’ was an everyday motto. But it was never a mindset I could comprehend.

There is always room for daring, even when others are trying to stamp it out of you.

I soon learned that if I wanted to break free from poverty, education was my way out. That became my sole focus. I wanted the freedom that an education could provide. I was the first in my family to get GCSEs, and then A-Levels. I continued to love books and poetry and to write. I even got a poem published but was too poor to buy the anthology and had to beg the college bursary for funds to get a copy. Writing wasn’t an option if I wanted to improve my life.

I went on to study Classics, working full time while studying full time, and then I became a teacher.

I talked to pupils about dreaming big and reaching for those dreams – I didn’t want them to be laughed at for their aspirations – but at the same time, I was ignoring my own.

As working life and financial worries took over – trying to pay back student loans while keeping on top of bills – I stopped writing altogether, but I never stopped reading. And oh the places those books could still transport me to.

Many years later, in my late twenties and onto my third career, I was made redundant. Suddenly I was in a reasonably stable financial situation with time on my hands to figure out what to do next. Unexpectedly, I began to write. Badly, and in secret, but it brought me joy that I hadn’t experienced for many, many years. I hadn’t felt that kind of freedom and satisfaction since penning murders, mysteries and modern myths as a kid. Plus, all the other life lessons – both good and bad – fed into my work and gave it grit and sparks.

But something else had happened that made writing more accessible: the internet.

I was living in Spain at this point and the internet becoming a normal, household entity opened up many opportunities that previously hadn’t existed. I could read about and listen to other writers, contact them with questions, devour journals from all over the world. I could interact with writing and writers in a way that had never been possible before. This led to setting up a blog and, as my writing improved, I began to send it out.

Over time, short fiction, haiku and poems were accepted. And I began to make friends with other aspiring writers.

Finding a writing tribe, made up of people at the same level as me, as passionate and determined as I was, proved the ultimate breakthrough.

When I returned to work, writing had become a habit and part of daily life, so this time, it didn’t slip away. Entering competitions and submitting to journals was met with increasing success, and writing gripped my heart stronger than ever. I thought about how much books had always meant to me, and on a whim, I tried the NanoWrimo challenge of writing a first draft of 50,000 words in 30 days.

It was difficult and tormenting and exhilarating and I was hooked.

But when work took me to Ireland, that’s when things really took off.

In Ireland, the writing world opened up to me completely. Firstly, when I opened my mouth, my accent did not position me as part of Thatcher’s ‘underclass’, so there were no preconceived ideas or a lack of expectation. I was now financially secure – in a job I hated –and there was a huge community of real, flesh and blood writers; the first I’d ever met. These writers were friendly and encouraging and not just dreaming – they were writing.

I remember the day I realised that I could be a writer. I was standing in Grafton Street, staring into the window of Dubray books as one of the staff changed the book display. And I thought, imagine that, having a book published.

And then it hit me – why imagine? Why stay in a job I hated when I could be using it to fund a (potential) future career as a writer? So that’s exactly what I did.

I attended workshops, launches, talks, readings, and I saved. I immersed myself in the writing world, writing draft after draft, while building up money in the bank to sustain me for a while if I was ever brave enough to take the leap and focus on the one thing I really wanted to do. I was in my early thirties and my dedication produced a book that was good enough to secure an agent.

So I finally leapt and the writing world swept me up. It all took off from there.

It was a calculated risk, and it paid off. I now have four books on the shelves and some awards and shortlists under my belt. I workshop with children, teens and adults and also teach online. I provide reader reports and travel to interesting places on residencies to write. But I still attend workshops too. I continue to listen and learn. And all the while, I work while I write. And I see this as a gift, because it means I am not reliant on my books for a living and there’s a certain freedom to that.

And guess what? Having a tougher upbringing prepared me for the pitfalls of the writing life and helped me stay strong. Life had taught me to:

• handle rejection

• manage on a small budget

• expect not to win first time

• multi-task efficiently

• keep going when things get tough

• trust in hard work.

They say there’s no such thing as an overnight success and I agree. Behind every writer there are many years of hard work and grind, learning and losing and picking up the pieces when rejected time and again.

The strength to choose to do what you love can only come from inside you, and no matter your circumstances, it’s up to you to find that strength and direct it towards what really matters in your heart and soul.

It took a long time for me to find a way to support myself to write, but I believe that if you want it badly enough, if you trust in yourself enough and work for it, you’ll make it happen.

Writers might live in castles and they might be rich. But writers can also come from council estates and cul-de-sacs, caravans and inner city high rises, and more than ever, I think we need to hear these voices – so why shouldn’t one of those voices be yours?

Bio:

Elizabeth Rose Murray lives is from Southbank, Middlesbrough and now lives in West Cork, Ireland. She writes short fiction, essays and novels for children and young adults. The first book in her Nine Lives Trilogy, The Book of Learning, was the 2016 Dublin UNESCO Citywide Read for Children. The second, The Book of Shadows, was shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards and the Irish Children’s Literacy Association. The third, The Book of Revenge is published on Feb 14th 2018. Her young adult book Caramel Hearts was published in 2016 to critical acclaim. She has been published in multiple anthologies and journals in Europe and Australia, and recent short story publications include The Elysian: Creative Responses (New Binary Press) and Reading the Future (Arlen House).