Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Novel Racer - Caroline Smailes

Now most of was have been In Search of Adam impatiently waiting until publication date on the 15th June 2007, but poor Novel Racer Caroline,, has been tearing her hair out. However with all the pre-publication stress she has managed to come up trumps on her profile:

"I’ve always written (diaries, stories and poems), but I never had the confidence to do anything about my dream to be published. I was quite precious about my work when I was younger. Then as I became an adult I still wanted to write, but my life seemed to be circling around being a mum and an academic. I guess that I began to take my writing seriously when I started my MA in Creative Writing in September 2005.

I finished the final draft of In Search of Adam during a holiday in France in August 2006. I had no idea what to do next. My husband designed a website for me and I put on extracts from the novel. I felt that I needed something more interactive and a friend suggested that I started a blog. I launched the blog and the website on August 20th 2006.

I had been blogging for about three weeks and had left a comment on another blog about a book called 'e-luv' by Dave Roberts. He was a Friday Project author. Clare Christian came to my blog and then to my website from my comment on e-luv. She emailed to say she’d read the extract from my novel and wanted to read the full manuscript. It was a Saturday night. On the Sunday morning I emailed the full manuscript to her and by the Monday evening she had offered me a contract. Since then I have had an eight month roller coaster ride with a number of highs along the way. In Search of Adam will be launched in hardback in three weeks time.

As part of the Novel Race I am writing a novel, Black Boxes, which is a story in two parts - box one and box two. It is based on the idea of the black boxes that are extracted from a plane wreck. The reader is to unravel the story to find the cause of the 'crash.' The voices are of a mother and a daughter, focusing on sounds and lost words, but there is an added visual twist thrown in. It's another dark novel and I really hope that it’ll be finished as a second draft by the time ISoA comes out. But part of me is holding back and full of fear as to how ISoA will be received.

I still can’t believe that all of this has happened. I followed a dream when I started my MA and last week I held my novel for the first time. That is a feeling that will stay with me. I dread waking from this dream."

Now as my saga goes on my huge debt to the Romantic Novelist Association will become clear. At their summer party last year in the beautiful library at the Society of Mechanical Engineers on Birdcage Walk. It was a brilliant evening but extra special since my friend Fiona Harper won the New Writers' Award for her first book, Blind Date Marriage. I was so excited it was almost like I had won. So in celebratory mood I drank a touch too much. Soon the crowd had thinned down and I was able to find the food. It was reaching for something to sop up the alcohol that I met the lovely Lucie Whitehouse, then of Darley Anderson. We started chatting and to be honest it was the alcohol talking. We spoke of love lives- hers that is and other ramblings of the alcoholically infused and then she asked me what I wrote. I mumbled about Cornwall and the Helford River. She loves the area and asked me to send it to her. I floated out of the building with Biddy Coady to a pub. Finally when that closed on us she pored me into a taxi home. The next morning with large head I composed a simple cover letter and posted her the 19 pages and synopsis.

Now, I didn't expect an immediate response and I needed to send the whole manuscript off to the New Writers' Scheme of the RNA. I went off to the conference in Penrin quite buoyant. The first to come back was the report from the New Writers' Scheme. My heart sank. When the letter begins, " I enjoyed reading August Rock, Elizabeth. There is much that is good here." I thought, "Oh, shit this had gone to an agent and an editor and it's utter crap." I then took a step back and looked at the good points and the many bad points and consoled myself it wasn't a write off. The reader ended with this:

"In short, Elizabeth, I did think that August Rock showed great promise. What I feel you need to do is have a rethink about a) your characters and b) the main thread of Tristan and Judith's story (especially Tristan's) Bring the romance up to date and avoid cliches..........It's a feat in itself to write a novel of this length and as I said, there is a lot here that is good. Toby's story is excellent - very touching and convincing. If you can achieve the same with Tristan and Judith, you'll have have a very strong story on your hands."

So having read and digested all the bits. I knew my writing style was heavy. I was telling not showing yet I didn't know what to do about it. It's a phrase that is bandied about all the time but I thought having had that criticism for the script the before, First Love Second Chance, I had learnt my lesson. Clearly I hadn't.

Now I didn't want to hear from Lucie. It was the end of August and not a word. I just knew it was such crap that she couldn't be bothered to respond and would avoid me like the plague at all future RNA functions. I knew I was still too close to August Rock to begin a rewrite plus I didn't know where to begin. However the seeds for A Cornish House were growing daily.

I was in Cornwall when the letter arrived in London. Bravely, I think I asked the dh to open it and read it to me. I was shaking waiting for dire words. Her delay had nothing to do with my crap writing but her own success at the same. Her first book, The House at Midnight was coming out in Germany. (It comes out here in January 2008)

So here' what she had to say.......

....plot is i think is very strong indeed...........a strong heroine, a damaged man, tragic deaths, a mystery, a supernatural short, I think the plot is just right. (my comment here - this is off 19 pages and the synopsis)

Now for the bad........

....your writing is over explanatory and damages the pace and your ability to keep the reader's interest................(Here she took one sentence as I had written it and showed me how to make it stronger - light bulb moment) There are several idea repeated here and they make the writing feel very flat.

Then she pointed me to the direction to fix my writing style.....Sol Steins' Solutions for Writers and as a bonus said if I did a substantial rewrite she would be happy to look at it again!

I was straight to Amazon and was heart broken when it would a month before I could get this book in my hands. In the interim I mind mapped A Cornish House. When it arrived I was glued to it and fired up. Finally I could see what the reader had spoken of and what Lucie meant. I went on to slash and burn my way through August Rock which was brilliant fun!

Tomorrow I will tell you how it went and some examples of of it improved my work.


Phillipa said...

Hi Liz ...your agent/RNA story is inspirational. In fact, You've inspired me to put a brief note about how the RNA helped me on my blog.

The only thing I wanted to add was that your addictive novel racers series has has put me in mind of authors, Jess and Jude, as 'Baby Racers!'Both are due any time now - but who will win?

liz fenwick said...

The RNA is so brilliant. I never would have had the opportunities to meet with agents and publishers and authors without it.....

Don't know who will rpoduce first!!!

NoviceNovelist said...

Thanks for your tale here Liz - hanging on for the next installment!

liz fenwick said...

Thanks Isabelle :-)

CTaylor said...

Riveting stuff Liz ...but scary too! Reading your description of your husband opening the agent's feedback made me feel all nervy about that part of the process (and I haven't even finished writing my novel yet!).

I have Stein's book. Must re-read it before I start editing my novel.

liz fenwick said...

I've read Steins' book twice so far. There is some much information to absorb and apply. After this plot rewrite that is happening now I will do a Stein slash and burn again :-)

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Sol Stein is fab, Caroline's profile is fascinating, and you, Liz, are blogging like a babe! So nice to know there are agents and editors out there who can be so constructively helpful to unpublished writers.

liz fenwick said...

yes, Zinnia I don't know what's come over me....verbal diarrhea perhaps! Sol Stein is a god!

Loved Caroline's profile and can't wait for my book to arrive :-)

Lucy Diamond said...

I'm really enjoying reading about all of this, Liz - thanks. Your blog is addictive at the moment!

liz fenwick said...

Thanks Lucy, so is your book. Just back from the hair dressers where they were very cross with as I wasn't chatting but reading!!! On tenderhooks at the moment but the school run calls!

hesitant scribe said...

Have tagged you!

liz fenwick said...

Will go check it out now :-)