Sunday, July 29, 2012

Birthright rewrites - finished

Love the poetry in the title of this post. Love the feeling right now that I've handed over the manuscript to my fab editor and I'm going to stop thinking about the book now.

I wrote the end. I re-wrote the end. I re-wrote the re-written ending until I had satisfied my IR (what Stephen King called the Ideal Reader), my 20 year old daughter, Mackenna. She has moved out of home to another city to study being a vet so I emailed her the final chapters this afternoon and later we talked for half an hour on the phone and she told me that I was being too G-rating in my ending.

'But, I don't write sex scenes,' I cried.

'Mum, they're not having sex in the street - it's just a kiss,' she said (or something like that or maybe I thought she said that or maybe I made it up but it certainly would be something she would say.)

I then read her the raunched up sizzling end (after being reminded by said 20 year old all the shit and hell my hero has been through the past years) and got the thumbs up.

She gave some excellent specific advice and lots of 'well done, Mum' comments and so I'm satisfied I've provided you, dear reader, with a thrilling climatic final book in the trilogy.

Synopsis written:23/08/2009
First chapter finished:15/07/2010
Word count:115,000
Publication month: April 2013

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Feedback - writer's nectar (warning: long post)

I get asked for advice a lot and I give advice a lot especially in my role as an English teacher. As I write this, my senior students are finishing off their writing internals (these are writing tasks assessed against a nationally assessed standard which, here in New Zealand, is called NCEA)

During the day, I watch my students beaver away at their writing and they come to me for feedback - most of the time I can't give them what the really really want to hear: what mark would you give this (without me officially submitting it for assessment)? what do I need to do to get an Excellence (the top mark one can get)? Is this enough to pass? Is it any good?

I can't answer most of those questions because the conditions of assessment restrict what I can say. I can usually answer the last one and I love it when I can say: I really liked/enjoyed what you wrote.

Mostly, I can comment generally about the structure of the piece ("Your start really grabbed me/I found the start confusing" or "It ends too suddenly/I didn't understand what happened at the end/I LOVED the way you tied it all up!") or about the ideas ("I think you need to clarify what it is exactly you want to say" or "I would like to know more about some of the things you say in the second paragraph") and/or the mechanics ("Watch tone/use of commas/apostrophes/spelling...").

Almost always, I can tell my feedback is unsatisfying.
Yesterday, I was able to hand back one class's writing internal marks. Many were pleased just to have passed; a number were philosophical about their marks - understanding that they could have gained a higher grade if they had taken more care with the mechanics. One student blushed when I told her the result:

"You got an Excellence," I said. "It was a very effective and convincing piece."

"I've never got an Excellence in English before," she said.

I then gave some more specific feedback about how much I like the strong sense of personal voice, the way she used imagery to describe the farm and the sensitive and reflective touches which really lifted the piece.

I swear she walked out of the classroom two feet off the ground.

During the evening and on weekends, like my students during the day, I beaver away on the re-writes for Birthright.

This morning I received a couple of emails from my agent. They were feedback from two sections I'd sent of my rewrite and I hope he doesn't mind me repeating them here on this blog:
I'm done with the first set of chaps and reading the second. I think it's awfully good. Couple of things, but I'll give you more info when I am done later today.

...I'm around 15 pages from the end. I think you've done an absolutely marvelous
job to this point, particularly the first section you sent to us. In the second, I think Flea and Blair spend a little too long getting to Philip's feels a little meandering. Your short spicy chapters in the first bit were very effective, though.

I'll finish this afternoon if traffic out to New Jersey doesn't get me...and will email you tomorrow night. The upshot, though, is that I am generally very happy with
what you've done.

A few things I want to say about how valuable this feedback is:
Firstly, it made me feel FANTASTIC because it was confirmation that I wasn't wasting my time on the re-write.

Secondly,it confirmed my belief in my editor and that her brilliant suggestions were spot on and she was right and I was right to follow them.

Thirdly, the comment about 'spend[ing] a little too long' has made me take stock of the section I'm working on right now and is a reminder that this story is mostly an adventure/action story. I am very much inclined to spend time writing deep philosophy which is all very well but not so good for what I'm doing.

Getting feedback is like having a coach as you run a marathon; it's like someone handing you a cup of cool nectar; without it, I think I would shrivel up and not finish the race.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

I'm having a writing affair...

In 2005 I was awarded a writing grant from Creative NZ and the 2006 Children's Writer in Residence at Dunedin's College of Education to complete a YA novel entitled G-Force about three girls who meet at a hotel in Hawaii. Each girl is from a different country but are there, under protest, with their fathers. And then I blow them up.

It was a fun story to write and I love the characters and, though I completed it in 2006, it's undergone some rewriting. Then I shelved it when a publisher turned it down and the idea for the Banquo's Son trilogy came along.

I'm in the final throes of finishing the rewrites to Birthright but I 'met up' with my other book (G-Force) a couple of months back and I keep running away to 'catch up' (which is author speak for opening the file and reading bits and fiddling here and there and sharing parts to members of the family and students in my writing tutorials). The adrenaline of first love still lingers and I feel really sad that I neglected that book for so long while I was enamored with Fleance and Rosie and Rachel.

But, just like a good friend, time does not diminish quality. I did promise one of my publishers that I will give this book its due attention, spruce it up and present it to her before the end of the year and I do like to keep my promises. It's something I'm looking forward to and I believe the things I have learned while writing the trilogy will only make me a better (re) writer when tweaking it.

It takes real will-power to stay faithful to a story which has had its ups and downs - distractions via family demands and work commitments; the need to re-write and then re-write again (books 2 and 3). I could continue to wring the life out of the 'writing a novel is like a marriage' metaphor but I won't. I will leave that to your imagination.

I have had to give myself a good talking to and tell G-Force that I cannot meet for another few weeks. By then, the re-writes will be done my end, they will go back to the fantastic Katie and I will take a break from Scotland (and take a holiday to Hawaii with my three (fictional) teenagers) before plunging back into 11th C with the next lot of edits in the September/October school holidays.

There: I've made a public renewing of my vows to the Banquo's Son Trilogy. Back to finish the very last section: it's a Rosie kicking butt scene - very cool.