Step away from your manuscript!

It is impossible to get an objective view of your own writing, of course it is. Even if you came back to something you’d written after a gap of twenty years I doubt you’d be able to see it with the objectivity you bring to reading someone else’s writing.
But a degree of objectivity is a skill a writer has to develop.

When you reach the final words of your novel, naturally, you have a satisfying sense of achievement. The story is told. You know what happens. You know who it happens to and where. You’re entitled to your satisfaction.

But don’t for a moment think this is the end of the work.

The work’s hardly started.

Now is the time to put the book to one side, to gently ease your brain back into the real world or some other piece of writing, so that when you’re ready – I find three months a good amount of time – you can come back to your story and see it for what it is: some material you can work with. And when you’re finally able to be objective enough to see it this way, it’s time to start asking the questions that’ll fill in the holes, cut out the slow parts, make the characters consistent and your intention clear.

IMG_1450 IMG_1455Time is everything. Can’t work out how to get your characters into a hole you’ve dropped them in (or into the hole in the first place)? Don’t sweat it. Make a note of what needs to happen and move on to a part you can fix right now. Chances are the solution will come to you when your mind is semi-occupied with something else. For me, these moments always come either when I’m walking the dogs or when I can’t sleep. What is it about those particular times? Perhaps they’re when my mind is at its most meditative. Perhaps my subconscious is more active than my conscious.

And if that doesn’t work? If no matter how many walks you go on, your characters are still stuck down the volcano? Step away in a different way. Make a game of it. Instead of aiming for the perfect solution, make a list of twenty ways they could get out. Go through the obvious, the unlikely, the crazy, the stupid; really push yourself. The game should take you past the stress of ‘I’ll never fix this’ that’s holding back your creativity and somewhere amongst those twenty wild ideas, you should find you’ve come up with something that’ll help you fix your problem.

So there you go, that’s draft 2 finished. Now you could put it away for another three months before you start draft 3…

But you’ll probably find you can look at it again a little sooner this time. You’ll be in the mindset to fiddle and minutely adjust, or to move around great chunks of the story or delete them or add new stuff. Watch it though. Accept that a manuscript never feels finished to its author. Eventually you need to step away again. It’s time for someone else to see it, someone who’ll be able to be truly objective about it. And when you get our work yback from them with their comments and fixes, you’ll kick yourself for the obvious flaws you couldn’t be objective enough to spot.

(Three guesses what I’m doing at the moment!)

Claire Watts


Claire Watts writes and edits fiction and non-fiction for children and young adults. Her latest YA novel is How Do You Say GOOSEBERRY in French?


Want more YA book stuff?

Every month, the Paisley Piranha YA newsletter Book Bites brings you brand-new author interviews, bookish competitions and other fabulous book stuff.

Posted in Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Recovery Time

I released a new book nearly two weeks ago now. With everything the launch entailed (blogging, Facebooking, organising promos) and then the anxiety of checking my reports and seeing how Rising Tides was faring in the enormous marketplace that is Amazon, stress levels pretty much skyrocketed for a while. (Condition: heliotrope – spot prize to the first person to get that reference; leave your answer in the comments).

That's heliotrope. Pretty close to a "purple alert" I reckon (that's another clue).

That’s heliotrope. Pretty close to a “purple alert” I reckon (that’s another clue). Thanks to colorcombos.com for the picture.

Now the launch is over (it went okay, thanks for asking; selling, being read – loving my KU stats right now – and getting reviews) and I’m moving into maintenance mode, the stress is ebbing, and with it my energy levels. I feel as though I’d like to sleep for a week.

Instead, I’ve got a hectic weekend lined up at the annual RNA conference (Romantic Novelists’ Association) and I CAN’T WAIT.

I’ll get to see friends I haven’t seen since last conference, make new friends and TALK about BOOKS and WRITING from dawn till dusk with people who are in no danger of glazing over.

It’s also the chance for three of the Paisley Piranhas to get together in real life, which only happens now and then as we live at different corners of the country.

They say a change is as good as a rest. Well, a huge proportion of my life is spent either at my desk or away in another world entirely. I’m not in the least out-going and love spending time on my own. But this hectic, sociable weekend with fellow writers is the highlight of my year. This is my chance to unwind with friends and recharge my batteries, ready for everything the crazy world of self-publishing throws at me afterwards.

There’s something very special about spending time with people who “get” what you get. I’ll be too busy to write for 3 days, which is pretty unheard of for me, and all I can say is:

BRING ON #RNAConf16!!!

Download a preview of Katy Haye’s new release Rising Tides – romance, adventure and deceit in a drowned future world.

If you don’t have an answer for the Condition: Heliotrope question, try the giveaway on her website katyhaye.com – you can win a Book Lover’s Survival Kit.

Posted in Reading, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Who are you rooting for?

I don’t like football much. Or at least I thought I didn’t, but these past couple of weeks there’s been the Euro 2016 tournament and somehow I got sucked in to the point that I actually check every day to see what the results are and watch some of the matches.  What the …?!

It all started because my aunt was visiting and she loves football.  As she was my guest, it seemed churlish not to let her watch the games she wanted to see and as hostess, it was sort of my duty to sit with her while she did so.  And then the weird thing happened and I started rooting for certain teams, getting emotionally involved, shouting at the TV and being angry with the referee, just like a real fan … crazy!

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

First, it was Sweden.  I’m half Swedish and they’re a small country so kind of the underdogs.  Who doesn’t love an underdog, right?  But they didn’t do so well and crashed out of the tournament.  No problem though, as I’m also half English and they did a bit better (they’re still in it, as I write this, but we’ll see what happens tonight).  Then another tiny country started doing well – Iceland.  There are only just over 300,000 people on their whole island so for them to get this far was amazing. So of course, I had to cheer for them too!

I also live near the border with Wales, so how could I not root for them?  Quite a dilemma when they played England, but still … (And – minor digression here – Gareth Bale has to have the most beautiful hair I’ve seen on a man in a long time!)

Portugal have a fantastic guy called Ronaldo, but as far as I could see he’s totally in love with himself – not the kind of guy I would admire no matter what his football skills are.  So when he missed a penalty, I was thrilled – it was schadenfreude, pure and simple.  Oh dear, this was getting seriously weird.

What’s this got to do with writing, you’re wondering?  Well, thinking about it, I can see what’s happening here.  It’s like when you read a book – you start off getting to know the characters and little by little, you decide which ones you like and then you root for them.  It’s human nature to want to have favourites.  If you don’t, there’s no point reading the story because you wouldn’t care about the outcome of it.  The underdogs usually fit that category, while the ones who are not so nice, you hope they’ll get their come-uppance.  Put simply – this football tournament is turning into a story for me with heroes and villains!

There have been last-minute goals that saved the day, just like in novels when the hero comes to the rescue at the very last moment.  Unexpected players have emerged as heroes for their countries. There were disappointments too, of course, but then there can only be one winner.  Who will it be?  Well, finding out is the fun part – when reading you race towards the end hoping your chosen hero or heroine will save the day and have their happy-ever-after.  Usually they do, but in sport it’s never quite that certain.  I’m looking forward to seeing who wins this championship and who knows, I might even watch more football in future!?  After all, for an author, there’s a lot of hero material out there on the pitch 🙂

Pia x


Pia Fenton writes contemporary romantic YA stories and her Northbrooke High series features UK heroines clashing with US heroes in an American high school setting.  The fourth in the series – New England Dreams is now available for pre-order on Kindle

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Who should read YA? by Gill-Marie Stewart

A recent article by Anthony McGowan in The Guardian claimed that 80% of readers of Young Adult (YA) fiction are over 25. This was presented as a bad thing. But does it matter? Does what we read have to be defined by our age – or by our taste? Is McGowan right when he suggests ‘real’ young adult readers being crowded out of the market by the taste of adults?

The article claims that ‘most YA fiction is adult fiction in disguise’. The author finds this ‘disturbing’. Why? Because, he claims, given that resources are finite ‘real’ teenage books are being crowded out by the ones that are adult books in disguise. He blames this on the fact that the writers, the editors and the bloggers/reviewers are overwhelmingly adult. But that is true for children’s books and middle grade books (which this article claims no longer exist). He does not explain why this is particularly a problem for YA.

I disagree with many things in the article.

Firstly, despite what McGowan says, there is very clearly still a middle grade/young teen market. There are plenty of books such as Giancarlo Gemin’s Cowgirl or Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books where problems or adventure are the main subject matter as opposed to relationships or coming-of-age issues. Which is great. Readers need these books. I’m really not sure why McGowan thinks they don’t exist.

Secondly, I disagree with the claim that because older people are reading YA books this is stopping YA readers reading them. By definition there are far more people in the over 25 age group than in the 14 – 18 age group, so it’s not that surprising that there are more readers. This doesn’t mean that young people are not reading these books

McGowan claims there are teenage readers out there that current YA books ‘don’t serve’. I’m not sure what he bases this claim on except that he seems to think that if a book is enjoyed by adults then it cannot be enjoyed by teenagers. In my experience, teenagers who read, read both YA and certain adult books. And teenagers who don’t read? I’d like to know exactly what kind of books McGowan is envisaging that will draw them in. He says that ‘real’ teenage books are written in a ‘language to engage and entertain [teenagers], a literature that talks about their lives, their hopes, their fears and their dreams.’ Well, yes, I wouldn’t argue with that. But I would appreciate him explaining what these fears and dreams are, if he feels they are not currently being addressed. If he really does know of some way to encourage reading, bring it on – unfortunately he doesn’t explain how to do so here.

I also disagree with his implication that there is something about current YA that is putting potential readers off ‘good’ writing. (Oh how I hate that term). ‘Good’ writing is so subjective. I read many YA books and they vary in their language from literary to chatty, and in their subject matter from fantasy to dystopia to romance. There are a huge number of books out there – YA and otherwise – and really some are enjoyable and some are not. The last thing we should be doing, in my opinion, is shoe-horning teenagers to read a certain type of book, especially if it is what some adult has decreed is a ‘good’ book. Far from increasing the amount of reading done, this is almost guaranteed to stop it.

The reason many adults read YA books is that they address a time of great change in the characters’ lives and which adults have lived through and remember very clearly. I don’t think YA books should be written FOR adults, but I also don’t think the books should be criticised if they are enjoyed by them. The issue we perhaps should be addressing is why many teenagers read less than they did as children, and less than they will in future as adults. Or maybe we should just accept that adolescence is a busy time and that reading sometimes has to take a back seat to living? And when you’ve got through that living you can go back to the reading, and if you then want to read about the YA years – then why not?

In conclusion, I would point out that YA books are defined by the age of the characters in them, not by the age of the readers. The usual definition of a YA book is one where the main protagonists are in the age-range 14-18 and are facing issues both externally in the world and internally in their lives. As far as I’m aware, there are no rules that say you have to be the same age as the protagonist in a book in order to read and appreciate it. And thank goodness for that!

Posted in Reading, Uncategorized, YA | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Cover Reveal – New England Dreams

NEW COVER_FRONT150dpi_ MEDAt last it’s cover reveal time for book four of my Northbrooke High series – New England Dreams!

I’ve been sitting on this for a while and it was really difficult not to share it instantly as I’m so thrilled with this beautiful cover by award-winning cover artist Berni Stevens – it’s exactly the way I imagined it!

New England Dreams will be published on 25th July and is available for pre-order now (here).  In the meantime, here is the blurb:-

When opposites attract, can dreams come true?

Staying in New England for a few months is just what Sienna Randall needs after all the family problems she’s been dealing with at home in London. The last thing she’s expecting is romance, so it’s a total surprise when she ends up kissing a guy she meets on the flight.

Kyle Everett is Sienna’s complete opposite –  he’s clean-cut and over-polished, she has piercings and pink dreads. But he can’t resist making out with her. He is, after all, Northbrooke High’s number one player. Except Sienna’s different from other girls. He’s definitely expecting to see her again – until they’re separated by irate airline officials before he can get her number.

Then fate throws them together once more, but when Sienna turns up in Kyle’s home room, neither admits to having met before. The chemistry between them is still there though – should they let it have free rein or should the attraction stay in their dreams?

I’ll be bringing paperback copies to this year’s YALC (part of London Film & Comic Con) and hope to see some of you there!

Pia x

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

With my Editor hat on…

After the last two blogs from my fellow Piranhas (from Katy and Pia), I thought it was time I stepped out of the closet with my editor hat on to give the view from the other side.

An editor serves two masters: the author and the reader. My role as editor is to make sure that the story goes direct from the writer’s mind to the reader’s.

The difficulty for an author is getting the perspective of the reader. The author knows the world she is writing about. She knows what she means. She knows the message she is trying to pass on to the reader through her story. Getting enough distance from her own manuscript to see where she has not made these things clear to the reader is tricky. The editor is there to be the eyes of the reader on the author’s behalf, to make sure that the reader is able to stay completely immersed in the story throughout their read. As editor, I want the reader to be absolutely unaware of the mechanics of the storytelling. (Of course, there are books where the mechanics are part of the purpose of the work, but those are not the type of books I edit.)

What does this mean? It means that I am looking for places in the text where something jars: too much, too little, too fast, too slow, too mannered, too unbelievable.

Where I’m getting bored.

Where I’m confused.

Where there’s too much information coming at me.

Where something doesn’t make sense.

Where I find something impossible to believe.

Where something makes no sense.

Where a character behaves in an uncharacteristic way.

Where the dialogue is unrealistic.

Where dialogue goes on too long without indication of who is speaking so that I have to go back and check.

When a character comes in and I have to check back to find out who he is.

When the story has too few or too many peaks and troughs or the scale of them doesn’t vary.

When something in the story serves no purpose.

When the threads fail to tie up in a satisfying way in the end.

When the ends that tie up in the end cannot be traced back right through the book.

When factual information is incorrect.

When the grammar and spelling are incorrect.

When the language doesn’t flow or there is overuse of particular words or turns of phrase or sentence structure.

When the tone of the piece is incoherent.

When something is too obvious or too clichéd or too bland.

 

IMG_3342The difficult part of editing, in my opinion, is remembering that this is NOT my book. It’s not going to be the story I would have written and I’m not looking to make it that either in terms of the plot or of the language. When I make changes to the words themselves, I do it with ‘track changes’ on in Word so that the author can see exactly what I’ve done and if she decides to solve the problem I’m addressing a different way, she can easily do so. When I’m commenting on a plot point, I try to explain why I think it’s a problem. Ideally I try to ask questions that will lead the author to find her own solution or give a couple of possible solutions, though I have to admit that I do fall back on ‘I’d do it this way’ more than I should because I hate to flag up a problem without indicating some way out of it. The author has enough to think about when the edits come back without being given bland ‘this doesn’t work’ statements.

 

And that brings me to the key thing.

Be kind.

IMG_3345The author has spent hours on this piece of work, maybe even days or years. It’s precious to them and they are looking to me to help them show it to the world in its best light. There are occasional moments when an author will find a ‘Bleugh!” all by itself in my comments, but only ever at points where the briefest look will show her that she’s been sloppy or obvious or clichéd. My hope is that my authors – after the initial ‘oh no! Look at all this stuff she wants me to do’ – will look at my comments and changes and see the path from their mind to the reader’s mind more clearly.

 

And now and then, because it’s important, I’ll do this:

IMG_3346Because the number one thing an author needs to know is where they’ve manged to engage the reader utterly.

Claire Watts

Posted in writing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Is a good edit just a matter of taste?

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the process and results of editing. In part this is because I’m perfecting a book ready for release later in the month, which has gone through two rounds of editing and another of proof-reading. I’ve also got my next-after-that book currently away with my brilliant editor while writing the first draft of another, so the difference between edited and not-edited has never been more obvious to me.

The masuscript of a Katy Haye book

Before editing: a big pile of … paper and words (caption edited since this is a family-friendly blog)

I know how invaluable a good edit is because I’ve seen the difference between my books before they’ve been edited, and after that process is complete. It’s one of those odd transformations because the book appears perfectly fine until the editor whips away those rose-tinted glasses and all the errors leap into view.

The cover of Katy Haye's Rising Tides

And after edits: an object of beauty, inside and out…

Poor editing, or grumpy curmudgeon?

I’ve also been thinking about editing a lot because I’m a keen reader and I have a creeping suspicion that book editing is getting poorer in general terms. Now, this could be because I’m learning from my own edits which means I’m now competent to spot errors that would have passed without notice a year or two ago. It might even be because I’m a literary curmudgeon who comes out in a rash when I spot a misplaced apostrophe. However, non-writing reader friends have also expressed the opinion that books aren’t as well edited as they used to be, with errors littering the pages and spoiling their enjoyment.

And yet, a lot of books that I cast aside with a growl of despair have effusive thanks to an editor listed in the acknowledgements, so a professional clearly intervened between author and reader. So why am I (and my friends) still dissatisfied with the book that ends up in our hands?

What does an editor even do?

It’s worth differentiating between different types of edits. A copy edit deals with the specifics of grammar and punctuation. It’s probably what most people think of as an edit – making sure sentences end with full stops, questions with question marks, and that the correct word has been used (through versus threw, for example, or the good old there, their, they’re). What I find even more useful, however, is a structural (also called a substantive) edit. This looks at the story rather than the words, and will pick apart errors in logic and structure and pacing: a character with a fear of heights and water who jumps off a cliff into the sea without a word of protest, for – extreme – example.

A book that hasn’t been copy edited is usually easy to spot because the errors are non-negotiable. The rules of grammar and conventions of spelling mean that if ‘buy’ is correct, ‘by’ won’t be. That’s not a matter of choice or style, unless you’re being very avant-garde, and a novel isn’t usually the place for that kind of experiment. A book that needed a stronger structural edit, though, is harder to spot, because who’s to say whether a story should have gone in one direction or another?

Fact or opinion?

I’m starting to wonder if editing is actually just a matter of opinion. There are a couple of books lately where I’ve ranted about the poor editing which left characters doing stupid things, only to have friends (sane and knowledgeable friends, whose opinions I rate) rave about the very aspects I thought needed changing. I know editing isn’t an exact science, but I’m surprised to have to consider whether it’s entirely an art whose beauty lies purely in the eye of the beholder.

What do you think? Is editing a dying art in the books you read? And does it even matter (please say yes, please say yes, please say yes)?

Katy Haye writes fast-paced fantasy for YA readers. Her new release, Rising Tides, goes live on June 24th (excited, much?!).

If you need something to read before then, try her debut, The Last Gatekeeper, which is on a .99 promo this week only!

Posted in Reading, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment