The bittersweet taste of traditional publishing

book-436507_640One of the many reasons I have been more than usually absent from this blog in recent months is a rather large side project – a non fiction book. Now that we are in the final stages of reviewing the contract with the publisher, I think it may be worth adding my two-bobs worth to the discussion about self publishing vs. traditional publishing.

The new book, which will be about playspaces, came about in the most unlikely of ways. A chance in a million. On a whim, back in the dim dark days at the start of the year, I entered a competition on Goodreads. Remarkably, I won it, and some time later received a lovely hardback edition of a landscape design history book. Finding it hard to maintain the CPD points I need to maintain my qualification with a bub, I inquired of our professional magazine if they would like a review of the book, to which they agreed.

Now comes the remarkable part. I wrote to the publisher, asking for some of the images from the book to accompany the review. They forwarded these, and then came back asking if I would be interested in writing a book on playspaces. It’s a little eerie to know that you’ve been googled.

Joining forces with a friend of mine, we spent the next three or four months nutting out the exact contents of each section – chasing contributors from around the globe, and writing the first chapter. My other books have been much more ‘pantzer’ enterprises – they have been organic, growing during the process of writing. This one is firmly a ‘planner’, which is a real novelty for me. It remains to be seen if it will remain so, or if the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ shoot us into uncharted territory.

After that, it was all bundled off to the publisher, and went into limbo while it was reviewed by them and independent experts. All very rigorous, and very serious. Then suddenly, after a little back and forth, we have been offered a contract. Hardback and paperback, worldwide distribution. Hooray!

But wait…

The contract, as far as we can tell, if quite standard for the industry. It is, as a friend said, “no crapper than anyone else’s”. However, after getting used to the idea of 70% royalties in the self-publishing world, 6% on received royalties seems, frankly, more than a little exploitative. We worked out that on the first run, assuming all copies are sold, we won’t make enough to cover our communication, let alone any of the hard labour in writing the thing.

The other major difference of course is that we will have little or no control over the appearance of the book, where it is sold, or the marketing of the text (which may be a bit of a relief!). My other books – ‘The Artemis Effect’ and ‘The Milk of Female Kindness’, I have complete control over, and it may not be easy to let that go. I chose to self publish them for exactly that reason.

So – nearly a year down the track we are faced with a hard decision. Should we go ahead, on what is basically a pro-bono basis? There is the intellectual challenge, the kudos, and maybe the hope of improving playspaces around the world. One the other is a serious time and mental commitment when I have a small child, work, and have other things I would like to be writing. My co-author is trying to run her own business.

It looks like I may end up writing in every genre after all: Science Fiction and Parenting – done. Speculative Short stories and Poetry – underway. Non-fiction – pending.

I suspect we will go ahead, but I’d be interested to hear about your experiences and thoughts…

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Transitions

One of the greatest challenges I seem to face as a writer is managing transitions. As I work and have a toddler, my ‘spare’ time is intensely, painfully precious, and the pressure to use it fruitfully is keen. However, my frustration is that my creativity doesn’t seem to want to work like that. It is a lazy beast, and doesn’t respond well to whipping. In fact, it flips its top lip and sneers at the concept. It needs time to lumber thoughtfully into it’s stride, and I just don’t have that luxury. We need to go from 0 to 60 in under an hour.

My beast may look a little like this, but he is elusive… Image by Sargon the Dark at DeviantArt

I feel like when those opportunities to write do come along, I should be sitting down and pounding out as many hundred words as I can, but somehow mundane things keep getting in the way.
Following a terrific suggestion from readers of this blog, I carry a little notebook with me at all times, and that has been wonderful for poetry and jotting down ideas as they occur. That little notebook is like the slice of ‘me’ that remains just ‘me’, without any other hats heavy with responsibility. However, ideas are building up in there without the time to bring them to their full dreadful glory.
Any other suggestions as to how to manage these transitions better? To go from ‘worker’ to ‘Mum’ to ‘Writer’ in the blink of en eye?

Some possibly useful links I’ve found:
You may not be able to force creativity, but you can certainly invite it.

You cannot force creativity. You must force creativity.

The Power of Forced Creativity

Guest Kasia James on The Milk of Female Kindness

Today, I’m Guest Posting over at the fabulously named “Peanut Butter on the Keyboard”. It’s a blog close to my heart in that it’s run by a group of great women who also manage to juggle writing with motherhood.

So please – pop on over to visit them.  🙂

Guest Kasia James on The Milk of Female Kindness.

 

More morning poetry

As I have mentioned previously on this blog, some mornings I leave ridiculously early to go work on the train, and for some reason this seems to result in little haikus popping into my head. Maybe it’s having an empty stomach, or just seeing the sun come up over the city, but I think I’m coming to quite enjoy these relatively quiet moments in a busy day.

Here’s a few more for you to take or leave as you will.

Faces downturned

A seething speeding capsule

Passions on their laps

 

Balloons in the dawn

Pinned improbably still

Hanging like dark stars

 

Cold sky fire

Charcoals graceful branches

Before speeding train

 

Possum on the wire

Racing electricity

Towards morning star

 

Blur of morning fog

Jealously hoards the light

A soft eraser

 

New colour and form

Scribbles bloom on railway walls

Illegible fame

The Empathy Library

Have you heard of The Empathy Library?

Founded by School of Life member Roman Krznaric, it’s a fabulous new on-line resource to help us to walk in mile in someone elses shoes. It seems an idea very much in the footsteps of what the School of Life has been pioneering: a new and more considered way of thinking about the big issues of life, free from the traditional ways of teaching. If you’ve read any of the books by the philosophers and writers involved, you’ll know just what I mean. In an increasingly ‘blip-vert’ society (extra points if you get the reference! 🙂 ), their work is refreshingly well considered.

The Library contains more than just philosophical works though. As they say:

“What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The Library takes you on journeys to these unknown worlds.

The Library is founded on the belief that empathy can transform both our own lives, and the societies we live in.”

Beyond my personal interest in trying to understand other people, which is always a challenge, I think that the Empathy Library could also be a terrific resource for writers. I want my characters to be believable, and ring true. My imagination, although pretty broad, probably can’t extend to all walks of life without a little guidance, and so I’m looking forward to browsing its shelves. Maybe you should too.

‘The Milk of Female Kindness – an Anthology of Honest Motherhood’ is listed in the Empathy Library, in the hope of helping people understand what the experience of being a mother is really like for a range of women around the world.

 

What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The library takes you on these journeys into unknown worlds. – See more at: http://empathylibrary.com/about-the-library#sthash.EGbLUl45.dpuf
What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The library takes you on these journeys into unknown worlds. – See more at: http://empathylibrary.com/about-the-library#sthash.EGbLUl45.dpuf
What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The library takes you on these journeys into unknown worlds. – See more at: http://empathylibrary.com/about-the-library#sthash.EGbLUl45.dpu
What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The library takes you on these journeys into unknown worlds. – See more at: http://empathylibrary.com/about-the-library#sthash.EGbLUl45.dpuf
What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The library takes you on these journeys into unknown worlds. – See more at: http://empathylibrary.com/about-the-library#sthash.EGbLUl45.dpuf
What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The library takes you on these journeys into unknown worlds. – See more at: http://empathylibrary.com/about-the-library#sthash.EGbLUl45.dpuf
What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The library takes you on these journeys into unknown worlds. – See more at: http://empathylibrary.com/about-the-library#sthash.EGbLUl45.dpuf
What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The library takes you on these journeys into unknown worlds. – See more at: http://empathylibrary.com/about-the-library#sthash.EGbLUl45.dpuf

Early morning haiku

I’ve been getting up ridiculously early to get to work lately. Here are some of the words which have spilled out of my addled brain in those dark hours.

 

Black dawn silhouettes

The hoot of a waiting train

Square of lilac sky

.

Glimpsed from a rocking train

Balloons hang improbably

Fire shines within

.

Indigo morning

Cold light pools at the station

Runner shuffles past

.

Hard white stars greet me

the air cools my sandalled feet

Hurrying to work

.

Musselshell sky

Fleeting shadow puppets

Birds in bare branches

 

Book Launch!

On Sunday the 23rd of March, we had a joyful celebration of the Launch of ‘The Milk of Female Kindness – an Anthology of Honest Motherhood.’

Somewhat ironically, the launch was held at Abbottsford Convent, which still seems to have the aura of nun’s ghosts floating down the corridors. Despite this, it really was a fantastic way to finish a project, if you can ever call a project like this finished. The energy of having all those supportive people in one place – estimates say that we had about a hundred attendees – really can’t be beaten. I was on a high all day. 🙂

I confess that I did umm and ahh about whether or not to have a launch, as it’s a lot of extra time, effort and cash to organise. I don’t think I would have done it if the fabulous Dr. Carla Pascoe (who has a bub even smaller than mine – and mine is only 17 months) hadn’t stepped in to give me a hand, especially as I am a book launch virgin.

Our Book launch was perhaps a little unusual. Bearing in mind that many of those attending would have small children, we thought it best not to have a boozy affair at a sleek bookshop, although that would have been fun. Instead, our venue opened out on to a green courtyard, and we were blessed to have Judy McKinty facilitating play, and the talented Richard Morden helping with Colouring-in. There was even fairy bread, although how much was consumed by adults on the quiet I cannot say.

The Milk of Female Kindness: An Anthology of Honest MotherhoodHeather Harris, one of the contributors to the book, and also a midwife with Medecins Sans Frontiers, spoke eloquently about how the cover of the book represented women form around the world spitting the dummy, and refusing to be silenced about our experiences, despite the societal pressure to fit us into neat little molds. I also wittered on about something or other – its’ all a bit of a blur…

 

Anyway, thank you to everyone who came along, and to all the wonderful people who helped out along the way!

A once in a lifetime experience.

 

Welsh cakes

March 1st is St David’s Day – the patron saint of Wales. I am perhaps a little late, but being Welsh-born I celebrated today by making Welsh Cakes for the first time.

In my memory, my mother always made Welsh Cakes on St. David’s Day, and on various other days, although this is probably the gilding of time. However, I can tell you that I loved them, and ate them in gluttonous quantities, for they are what my partner describes as ‘very more-ish’. For those of you know don’t know – they are small flat cakes – perhaps more like pikelets – full of currants, which are cooked on a griddle.

Mine don’t look quite like this…these must be the caucasian version.

Making them proved rather more time consuming than when I recall my mother doing it, which I suppose is true of a lot of the things in childhood. However, it made me happy for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, it was nice to be doing something for relaxation – it’s been rather busy of late, as evidenced by my atrocious lack of attention to my blog lately.

Also, we don’t have a lot in the way of family traditions, but I like the idea of passing along the enjoyment of Welsh cakes to my lad, who has a Welsh name. I can report that he likes them just as gluttonously as I.

Finally, as I rubbed in the butter and rolled out the dough, I found the words from that great Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, trickling through my mind.

Evans the Death, the undertaker,
laughs high and aloud in his sleep and curls up his toes as
he sees, upon waking fifty years ago, snow lie deep on the
goosefield behind the sleeping house ; and he runs out into
the field where his mother is making welsh-cakes in the
snow, and steals a fistful of snowflakes and currants and
climbs back to bed to eat them cold and sweet under the
warm, white clothes while his mother dances in the snow
kitchen crying out for her lost currants.

I’m sure I’ll be making them again in the future. They are delicious, even if mine did come out just like my mother used to bake – slightly burnt!

What are your family traditions? Do any of them have links to literature? Would love to hear about them. 🙂

Valentine

Image

I gave my love a poem
on Valentine’s Day
Ignoring the prescriptions
of roses and bears
to write my own
prescription

I wrote it on red paper
Black ink bleeding
My soul laid vulnerable
and exposed
Hoping for his protection
Cradled

I cut a heart in the corner
The scalpel scraping fibres
two voluptuous arcs
The paper tears a little
And I think
How apt.

Practical advice for the beginning novelist

Today, I’m delighted to be able to host a Guest post by the talented Cheri Roman, fellow blogger at The Brass Rag, and author of ‘Descent’.  A lady who understands how hard it is to fulfil that dream…

“How do you come up with all that cool stuff in your novels? Your characters and settings are awesome. When I’m reading your novel, it feels like I’m right there. And your villains…” (shudders delicately) “…super evil.”

This is a portion of the fantasy conversation I’d love to have with a reader someday. It ends with the fan asking for my autograph and assuring me that I deserve a Pulitzer. For writing fantasy genre fiction. Hey, if you’re going to dream, go big or go home, I always say.

My fantasy also includes a secluded writing spot; four clean, white walls and a huge bay window through which I can see little forest creatures cavorting on a wide, green lawn ringed by ancient redwoods. No phone, TV, or (gasp) Facebook. Best of all – hours upon hours of uninterrupted writing time.

But the operative word here is “fantasy.” These are rare scenarios, unless, of course, you are Dean Koontz or Nora Roberts. (Seriously, have you seen their houses?) For many authors, the writing life looks more like this:

Get up at five a.m., go to your day job. Work all day, constantly distracted by story ideas, terrified that they will escape before you can capture them. You steal the odd moment and write on whatever is handy: file folders, notepads, the desk calendar, napkins. Frustration sets in because you end up accidentally filing, covering, losing or throwing the notes away. You consider getting a notes app on your phone, but you worry that your boss will accuse you of making personal calls on company time.

The work day is over; you hurry home. Ideas are still buzzing between your ears as you maneuver through traffic. You arrive home and the kids/spouse/pets need your attention, so you feed and brush everyone and then, finally, the house is quiet and you hurry to your writing space and….your mind goes blank. You fear you’ve used all your creativity just to get through the day. But you power through. You pull out the crumpled napkin, power-gulp an energy drink and you write. Sometime around four a.m. you stumble into bed where your spouse gives you a sleepy side-eye but you are too tired to notice. You fall into the bed, already unconscious. The alarm goes off at five. Time to start over.

Alternately, you save your writing energy for the weekend and your spouse complains that they never see you, because you spend Saturdays and Sundays behind a closed door with this sign on it:

Warning.pdf-page-001

The writing life is challenging whether you work a day job or not. Business, family and writing pull you in opposing directions. Plus, you have to sleep sometime. But for authors, giving up isn’t an option. Not writing causes mental and emotional agita. So you steal the moments and write the words that torment you until you put them on paper. It isn’t easy, but it’s necessary. So do it.

That’s my best advice. Create the space in your life for the passionate art of writing well. Surround yourself with like-minded people who support your efforts and dreams. Explain to your significant other how important writing is. Ask for their support. Be courageous enough to say, “no,” in order to guard your writing time. And write. Every chance you get, consistently, creatively, bravely. Write.