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So another year and another round of agent submissions. Pretty much at this same time last year I was sending out my first round of submission to literary agents for my first novel ’The Last Englishman and the Bubble’ (now self-published and available for all! See my last post).
Now a year later I am embarking on that same journey with my second novel: ‘An End of Poppies’.
As you can probably tell that first book didn’t manage to climb anywhere near the top of the ’slush-pile’ and most agents probably either recycled the paper it was printed on or simply pressed ’delete’. The cynical part of me thinks that most of them probably didn’t even read it.
I know that one or two did and the feeling was that although they (kind of) liked it they didn’t know how to market it. It was described as “well written” and “obviously intelligent” but they didn’t know what box to out it in. You would think that has made me disheartened, but no it is quite the opposite, somehow I am more determined.
It all brings me back to one of my pet subjects; the misleading marketing tool of ’genre’.
I suppose it is inevitable that I have to grapple with this problem; often when submitting or when publishing online you have to label your work with it’s genre.
‘The Last Englishman…’ is a Sci Fi book, but I know that it is more than that and that the label ’SF’ may well put readers off if they don’t normally read this kind of book. It is also a romance, a drama, a dystopia and a commentary on existence, love and society. The downside of the label ’SF’ is that it means that many agents/publisher won’t touch it with a barge-pole. Surprising how many specifically say that they publish/work with all kinds of books but NOT science fiction or fantasy (the list usually says NO Science fiction, fantasy or poetry! I feel for you poets out there!).
At least this is not a problem for my new novel. It is perhaps an ’alternate history’; but here again I find that description inadequate. It is an epistolary novel, with romance and war, social commentary and feminism. And it is, I hope, a literary novel.
So what conclusion can I come to? Well, none really. I suppose people have to have some way to pigeon hole things. How else would readers find books? That said I still don’t like the idea of ’genre’, and still feel it misleads and constrains. I certainly don’t want to write in a certain genre because it is marketable. I will continue to write what excites and enthrals me, and hope it does the same for others, whatever it eventually becomes labelled as.
So wish me luck in search of that elusive agent who will fight my corner to find that elusive publisher. Maybe then I can leave the job of ’pigeon-holing’ to them?
So…I have finally done it. I have published my first novel; The Last Englishman and the Bubble – self published as an ebook – now available to download online.
This book began its journey as my first foray into ‘NaNoWriMo’ (National Novel Writing Month) in November 2011, where its first fifty thousand words came spilling out of my head. I had no idea then whether I could actually write a full length novel or what it would entail.
Since then this book has been through an editing process which included five or more full revisions/re-writes/additions etc. etc.
Over the last year excerpts of it have landed the slush-piles of myriads of agents, simply to face rejection or worse be completely ignored altogether. It has failed to win at least one major competition (and is still waiting on another one).
You might think that I maybe disheartened at this point and wonder why I have decided to publish it myself as an ‘Indie’ ebook. Well there are a number of reasons but let me say I am far from disheartened. My journey is just beginning (aren’t all journeys just beginning? Right now?). This book proved to me that I could actually write a novel. Since then I have written two more (one is unfinished – one chapter to go, the other is nearly edited!), and these books can now do the rounds of agents and publishers.
I don’t want to get into the ‘Traditional’ publishing versus ‘Indie’ publishing debate but let’s just say that the romantic part of me still wants to see a real hardback book with my name on the spine in a real bookshop. One day…
Anyway I am proud that I have come this far and, without wishing to sound vain, I think this book is actually quite good. So please download, have a read and let me know what you think. Leave a review if you like it…I hope you like it…
You can download my book to your ereader (Kindle, iPad etc.) from HERE. It will soon be available from the iBook store, Amazon and other retailers (I will keep you posted). It costs the princely sum of $2.99!
UPDATE: Now available on Amazon UK HERE and AMAZON US HERE…Happy Reading!
The Last Englishman and the Bubble
Is Kris the last man on Earth? He is an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances. He types his story as he struggles to understand why he has been left alone. Why does he live in a shack on a lonely Norfolk beach? What happened to the love of his life Samantha? How does he survive alone in a desolate England populated by packs of wild dogs? What event caused everyone to disappear? And ultimately, will Kris die alone with no one to read his story?
So…here is an unfinished short story I have been working on. I have some ideas about where it is going, what it is about and what might happen, but I thought it might be fun to post it here and see what people think. If you have any ideas about what should happen in this story or how it should end then please post your comments…enjoy…
I can remember my mother. She had blonde hair and smelt of roses. At least I think that’s what they are called. ’Roses’; it is a word I associate with her. Some kind of flower anyway. I can picture the twitch she had in her fingers and how she would roll her shoulders and twist her neck to try and relax herself. She would shake her long hair into my face. It tickled me and made me giggle. And smile.
Today I went to see the flowers. It is the one place that has a breeze all round the space. I like to stand by the vents and let the mix of warm and cold air buzz over my skin. It gives me goosebumps and my hair floats all around, just like my mother’s. I pull myself up to the sky where the pipes spurt rain on all the curling trees and plants and let the droplets cover my hair and skin. It makes the air damp and the tiny droplets catch in my nostrils.
The flowers don’t seem as bright as they do in my memory. Or perhaps they just seem more vivid when I dream them, because they have a blue sky backdrop and not the more realistic stars and black behind them.
Later I asked Caleb about it in our meeting. He just said the flowers are the same colours that they have always been.
I instigated the daily meetings between us, about two months ago. Now I am not so sure about them. It hasn’t been very helpful. He only seems to know about facts not memories. His smooth artificial face smiles, floating and glowing in the centre of the white room where he resides. I like him but he seems rather unfeeling. It is beginning to make me feel lonely talking to him. I asked him what it meant to be lonely.
He said “Loneliness is the state of being alone in solitary isolation,”
I said, “Really, well…does that describe me?”
He said “Unfortunately yes, you are alone Sara,”
My name sounds like any other word he says. His words all have the same tone.
I remember when he first told me my name. Must have been the first or second day after I woke. That was the first spark that I could remember anything. Anything at all. I remembered my mother whispering it in a singing voice as I went to sleep.
“Sara, go to sleep, my beautiful Sara, go to sleep…”
Caleb said it would take me a while to adjust. That I should take it slowly. One day at a time. That was six months ago. The dates on the clocks tell me that. Not sure what he meant by ’a while…’
At first I felt like I was stupid. That I didn’t know anything. But then it occurred to me, I actually know quite a lot. I know how to speak and write and read. I know the names of things. And silly things, like how to eat and use the toilet. How to dress, though I don’t much bother with that. I haven’t learnt any of that since I woke up. It was already there, inside me.
And I can remember my mother. I remember my toys, and rag dolly Emma and the bright green grass in front of the porch with the sprinkler. Rain from a pipe like I have here in the flower room.
We lived on Rokehampton Drive. That’s what mother said I should say if I ever got lost in a shop or the park or somewhere. So I said it over and over to myself as I skipped down the sidewalk holding her hand,
“We live on Rokehampton Drive, we live on Rokehampton Drive,”
I asked Caleb about the skipping when I remembered that. Why I couldn’t walk or run or skip here? He just said ’sorry’ and that the gravity was broken or some such. Whatever that means. He tries to get me to exercise my legs on the stretch machine every day but I find it boring.
Everyone walks or runs or skips in the films he shows me. And they have the blue sky backdrops. Sometimes they even dance. And sometimes I ask Caleb to play the music loud and I try to dance, but my dancing is clumsy and I bang against the walls. I get bruises on my thighs.
In the films they talk and sing in excited ways and the children always have mothers and fathers. When I saw that I asked Caleb why I couldn’t remember my father. He said he didn’t know.
I remember words. Lots of words. Caleb gave me a book to look them up in. It’s called a ‘dictionary’. I looked up the word delicious today. It said about some things that taste nice. I wondered what that meant so went to ask Caleb. He asked me if I wanted to change my ‘dietary requirements’. Strange that I knew what that meant. Everything the dispenser gives me to eat is nutritious and designed to keep my body at the required state of health.
The funny thing is that none of it seems to be ‘delicious’. I often like the taste but I would never say it was ‘delicious’. So I asked Caleb if the dispenser could give me something ‘delicious’. So he said how about ‘ice cream’? Mmmm…I remember mother giving me ice cream and how much I loved it. That must be what ‘delicious’ is.
So I got the dispenser to give me ice cream. It was vanilla with chocolate sprinkles. It was very cold and made my teeth hurt but the taste was actually ‘delicious’.
It made me wonder more about the words I know. The ones that buzz around in my head. There doesn’t always seem to be a logical connection between the sound they make when I say them out loud and the meaning they have. Either the meaning I think I remember they have or the meaning the dictionary says they have.
I like to watch the shooting stars in the sky. Caleb says they aren’t actually ‘stars’ as such, but I like to think of them as that. Those are the words my mind had for them when I first saw them streaking past the windows above me. And below me. They are everywhere around us, rushing past.
I did ask Caleb if I could go outside and touch them but he said that nothing can live outside, not without a special suit anyway. As soon as I began to ask him I knew the answer he would give. I knew that I couldn’t go outside. I just hadn’t remembered it yet. I don’t know why that is.
So I asked him what was wrong with my memory. I have asked him this before. He sighs and says “All in good time Sara, all in good time,” like he often does.
So again I ask him “what does that mean?”
“It means that you will remember when you are ready, you will understand when you are ready,”
“How will I know if I am ready?” I say,
“I will know…or you will know…who knows?” he says.
Then I am stumped and don’t know what to make of his riddles. He can be so frustrating at times. So I just changed the subject;
“Where is Rokehampton Drive?” I ask,
“Ah,” he says, “Well that is a place that is very far from here. About as far away as you can imagine,”
“So we can’t go there?”
“No, Sara, we can’t go there,”
“Have you ever been there?”
“No, Sara, I haven’t,”
“So you can’t remember it?”
“No, Sara, I can’t,”
I gave up then. Couldn’t think of what to ask next. As ever his answers frustrate. I looked up frustrate in my dictionary. ‘Frustration’ and ‘loneliness’.
- ‘a feeling of dissatisfaction, often accompanied by anxiety or depression, resulting from unfulfilled needs or unresolved problems.’ – that’s what it said about frustration. Kind of summed it up I think. Summed up one of the feelings I have…
So. For the second day running, delightfully, I have a day off. I am a teacher so I am experiencing the joy that is the ‘Snow Day’. I know there will be many who are perhaps jealous and feel that us teachers get an easy ride, what with all those long holidays and finishing at three. I will always counter any of those arguments with the fact most teachers work damn hard, as hard as any one else I would say. I would also counter it with this; why can’t everyone have long holidays and snow days? There is no real reason apart from those at the top who are convinced in the efficacy of the Protestant work ethic, where one is somehow only a virtuous person if you work your socks off. For me, this is a false premise. You only get one life so why should the majority of it be spent in drudgery; where you sell your time to someone else richer than you? Those at the top do not work harder than those at the bottom.
I therefore relish the snow day, as I am sure that anyone would. Apart from savouring that the sky is the deepest blue that you will ever see and the treetops the most magical winter white I can spend a few hours doing something I love. And that, right now, is editing my latest work in progress which is the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo entitled ‘An End of Poppies’.
At the end of November I had hit the magical number of fifty thousand words and it had a full plot with an ending. Now the problem is, as any writer who has done NaNoWriMo will know, fifty thousand words does not a novel make. Most novels are at least twice this length. So I busy myself adding to it, with a vague target of one hundred thousand words. Doubling it if you will.
Now most ‘editors’ advise that you should ‘cut, cut, cut,’ and I am certainly cutting some passages, though I have to say they are small and rare. It sounds odd but there is a certain economy to writing fifty thousand words in thirty days and I seem to be quite good at being concise, making my plot points and not ‘over-writing’ things as it were.
Now though I find myself clarifying descriptions and adding detail, tone and colour. In fact you could argue that I am not ‘editing’ at all, although I do remove typos and change grammar and such. Neither am I ‘re-writing’ because the majority of what I have written I am happy with and find pleasing to read as I go through it. I suppose my version of editing is almost the opposite of what many do and what many would advise. I guess I am adding and polishing.
So, at the end of the day, on this beautiful snow day, I find that I am not editing at all. I am simply writing. How delightful…
So…now I have completed the first draft of my third novel. Hmmm…yes…indeed.
I did this through ‘NaNoWriMo’ (National Novel Writing Month) where you are challenged to write fifty thousand words in one month (November). For the second year running I am a winner and have miraculously completed that many words and my novel has a start, a middle and an end (round of applause please!).
If you had asked me whether I was capable of such a thing a year and a half ago I probably would have laughed at you in the way that we often laugh off things that might challenge us. The kind of laughter born of disbelief and fear.
Of course there is still lots of work to do with editing my novel and rewriting. I now have two novels that require such extended work. Only the novel that I wrote for NaNoWriMo in 2011 is in any kind of finished state.
Despite the work ahead it should still be a gratifying feeling to accomplish such a creative feat, and I do feel proud of myself. In a way…
But then, being the miserable bugger that I can sometimes be, I wonder about what it all means. And, yet again, I find myself wondering why I am doing it? The writing I mean…
The first thing, and this is a hard thing to admit, is that it is a bit self-indulgent. If writers (or artists of any kind) are honest, they are often creating to entertain others, and thereby seeking to gain approval from others. We all want to be adored after all? Don’t we?
Although, I have to admit that there is a certain terror when someone I know actually reads something I have written. This is always a difficult thing. If a friend or family member reads your work then aren’t they obliged to tell you they like it, even if they don’t? So you can’t always trust what they say…
Praise from strangers is better. It is a bit like when I play gigs. Singing to strangers is always easier and less precious than singing to friends.
I guess I am just rambling now. My real question is this. Do I dare now call myself a ‘novelist’ simply because I have written some novels? Am I a novelist if no one has ever read my work?
Franz Kafka never had a novel published in his life. He only ever published short stories in magazines (like ‘Metamorphosis’). He later instructed his friend Max Brod to burn all his manuscripts before he died. We have Brod to thank because he ignored Kafka’s request and published works like ‘The Trial’ and ‘The Castle’ posthumously anyway.
Would we call Kafka a novelist if Brod hadn’t published his work and burnt it instead? If we knew he had written novels but no one had ever read them?
I am not sure what I think about this. I suppose if you write a novel (however good or bad?) that makes you a novelist…even if you aren’t published or make a living from it…
Perhaps I will challenge myself over the Christmas period. Often when we meet new people, perhaps at parties, they ask us “What are you?” to which I sometimes reply “I am a human being, what are you?” Or they ask “What do you do?” to which I sometimes reply “I like to lie on the sofa, what do you do?”
Flippant and silly I know, but maybe, just maybe, this Christmas I will be brave and when somebody asks me one of those questions I will answer “I am a novelist…”
Do you think I will dare?
What do you think?
I have not posted so much this month due to being immersed in NaNoWriMo (google it if you are unsure what this means) for the second year running. As it stands I am about five thousand words from hitting the fifty thousand target and am hopeful I will be a winner again this year.
Again I have amazed myself that I am somehow able to write so much in such a short space of time and am hoping that this year’s novel – entitled ‘An End of Poppies’ – will have a start, middle and end to it, just like last years did. I suppose I like to use NaNoWriMo as some kind of mad plotting technique.
Anyway, as any good writer knows you need to have breaks from all those words, ideas and characters that are continually fighting for space inside your jumbled head.
So this year one of my breaks was to write some music. A theme of sorts, if you will, for my novel. I am not sure that this piece of music entirely encapsulates the feel I was hoping for, or reflects the book, but at the end of the day I will leave you to judge it on its own merits.
And just for fun I am not going to tell you anything about my story. Instead I challenge you to come up with your own ideas of what my book might be about from the music (oh and the clue of the title!).
I hope you enjoy it…let me know…click on the link below…
© 2012 Simon Poore
My latest work in progress is a novel called ‘Cradle Island’. It is a kind of young adult/SciFi adventure with a hint of steampunk for those of you who want to pigeon hole it into some kind of genre. See some of my old posts if you want my opinions about ‘genre’ and how I don’t really follow that kind of thing – I tend to just write what I enjoy, if anyone else enjoys it then that’s a bonus.
This novel has whales and sharks, romance and conflict, questions of how society should or shouldn’t work and of course speculation about the mysteries of human ‘nature’; amongst lots of other things.
Sooner or later I expect I will publish an excerpt chapter on this very blog, but that will have to wait until I am at the editing stage. So far I have completed seven of the planned twelve chapters of the first draft. Currently that means about 60,000 words and I am pleased with its progress.
But now I have hit a problem, a perennial problem I seem to keep coming to with my writing, the problem of time. At my advanced age (email me with guesses, I dare you!) the months and years seem to flash by; the grains of sand dripping ever faster into a bigger pile at the bottom of the glass bubble. My problem is actually having or finding enough time to do the things I love. One of which is of course writing.
There are a number of aspects to this problem. The first and most obvious is what some might call ‘Real Life’. This is a thing that keeps getting in the way. I am not complaining about my job or my social life or all the everyday things that seem to take up so much precious time.
For example I love spending time with my daughter; her delightful five year old imagination inspires more that I could have imagined. I dearly love playing and writing music. And, surprisingly there are times when I actually do enjoy my job (For those who don’t know I am a teacher, and again young people are inspirational great to be around).
My current problem is that I would like to finish the first draft of this current novel by November. November is the month of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) where writers are challenged to write a novel (at least 50,000 words) in thirty days. Last year I amazed myself and wrote the first draft of my first novel – ‘The Last Englishman’ (currently hitting the slush pile of an agent near you!). Anyway I really want to challenge myself and write another book, like I did with that one in November. I enjoyed writing from scratch, with no plan. The problem is that if I don’t finish the first draft of ‘Cradle Island’ by November I feel I might lose momentum with it. And I really want to finish it. This means writing about 50,000 words between now and November.
So, my question is this, is it possible to write 50,000 words over the next month or so and then another 50,000 words in November AND juggle my ‘Real Life’ in between?
And when I think about it I think two things. Firstly this seems likes a tall order, perhaps too tall, I may fail. On the other hand it’s just another challenge; a challenge to be enjoyed; after all I love writing. And if I don’t complete both by the end of November then it’s not the end of the world. I will know that I gave it a good go. My books will get finished…in time…
As someone who is fairly new to writing (I only started about a year and a half ago) I have recently come to a realisation; maybe even a revelation. In the end my ‘Real Life’ isn’t getting in the way, and that’s because writing is part of my real life…
© 2012 Simon Poore
Yesterday I wrote a piece of music so I thought I would share it with you here. This piece is called ‘Sad Film’ – so I thought I would add a bit of a challenge. When you listen to it, what does it evoke? If this were a scene from a film what would be happening? What would the characters be doing or feeling? Click on the link below to hear it. I hope you enjoy. Let me know what you think…
© 2012 Simon Poore
Here is another guest post for you. This time from the interesting writer that is Ashley McCook. If you wish to peruse more of her words see her website and blog, linked below. As always all comments are welcomed. To Ashley, I humbly thank you for your lovely words…
I Love Words…
I love how they taste just before you say them, how some of them have to roll around your mouth for a while before they can be uttered (try saying ‘Stromboli’ ) and how others just explode off the landing pad of your tongue, excited to be leaving your thoughts and heading out into the world (like ‘jet’ or ‘fish’).
I love coming across words that I’ve never heard before – sometimes just hearing them is enough to satisfy my appetite but more often than not I need to get the full effect of them and look up the meaning too. My most recent discoveries are:
‘Dendrophobia’ – a fear of trees. Eeek!
‘Nycthemeron’ – which is the natural amount of time in a day & a night; 24 hours basically.
Will I be able to use them in a sentence anytime soon? Probably not, but I like knowing that I know them…if you know what I mean.
There are some words that you can’t help but ‘feel’ as you say them – try saying ‘soothing’ without feeling calmed; or what about ‘irritable’? You can’t say it without frowning a little. And the best ‘feeling’ word? In my humble opinion it’s ‘whisper’ – the very air around you changes as you say it, it’s hard to say it loudly and you can’t help but glance over your shoulder and pull friends into a confidential huddle as it leaves your mouth.
Words are beautiful to say and hear but they really come into their own when they’re written down – the simple act of marking a page with them is exciting and addicting. Words in all their forms have a certain effectiveness but they are at the height of their Jedi abilities when written down; think about all the important documents out there – contracts, laws, declarations, certificates, receipts – why do we write the words that make them down instead of just saying them to one another? Because writing those words onto paper that can be shown to others makes something ‘real’ and powerful.
I’m not a very ‘scholarly’ writer – by that I mean that I don’t use a lot of those beautiful but complicated words that I love knowing. I’m certainly not as clever with the use of words and language as I’d like to be and I probably use each and every forbidden type of grammar and style known to man (and warned of in lots of ‘How To Be A Proper Writer’ blogs all over the Web) but when I saw the first print copy of my first book, felt the solidity of it and the excitement of each little letter printed on its pages, straining to be read…well, I fell in love with words all over again.
© 2012 Simon Poore