Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Everyone's a Critic

I've just had a very unprofessional micro-argument with my wife over my last post. She wanted to know where on earth those horrible drawings came from, and made it clear that she could hardly even believe I had drawn them. Of course, I can't see the problem and thought they were rather good little samples of illustrative line-work.

According to the most fundamental advice doled out to budding writers, partners are not best placed to comment on your artistic doings. They are supposedly as incapable of objective observation as mothers, being entirely preoccupied with the need to live a harmonious home life, protect your feelings, earn breakfast-in-bed privileges, etc.

So how come mine missed the memo?

But, you know, I'm glad she did, because there is one very good reason why those closest to us are actually important as beta readers/test audiences/drawing slagger-offers: they have to live with the fallout if we get it wrong. This could be financial or professional, but perhaps most serious are the psychological consequences of seeing a loved one lose perspective, head off down a dead end and then come off the rails in a sticky heap of depression and self-depreciation (cof). It's surely worth a little short-term ornament throwing (sorry) if it forces another look at even those things we think we're getting right.

My wife doesn't know much about children's publishing. I'm trying to develop an illustration style that appeals to twelve-year-olds, and frankly she doesn't have a clue how to do that. However, she's quite right to make me look again, because perhaps I don't either.

Thank you, you:)

Friday, 16 April 2010

Home Again

I'm back from my farewell tour of the south of France, and very lovely it was too. In a few months time I will once again, after seven years away, be living in the UK -- and dealing with the very mixed feelings that this change will involve – so this spring trip was especially welcome. I read Theresa Breslin's excellent Nostradamus Prophecy to help get a historical sense of place, as well as keep up my 'kid-lit' reading.

Naturally I also took a pocket sketchbook with me. This time a particularly fine leather bound affair with gold-lined pages, no less! Okay, it was a present. Normally I wouldn't be seen dead with such a Sunday painter's posing pad, but it's just too nice not to use. I deliberately roughed up the first pages a bit and once I'd found my way into it, it's a great little book, with square pages that fold into a very useful double page landscape spread. Thank you Julie and Philip (and congratulations again!).

I'm still not sketching as much as I'd like, despite anything I might have said about these things before. I'm longing to go off on a dedicated drawing trip (Julian, are you there?), but it'll have to wait.

I managed to receive a thoughtful rejection of my novel whilst away. But, despite being positive in tone...

'The Ghost Effect is an intriguing novel, and a fascinating premise, but after much thought, I have decided not to make an offer for it. ...There is a part of me itching to work with the author to make this into a super first novel, but the realistic part of me has to admit that, at the moment, I just don't have the time.'

… a no is still a no. Ah well. Every olive has a stone in it, but is no less delicious for that.

Anyway, I'm back in the driving seat again, with lots on, not to mention a house full of stuff to pack. Oh, and lots and lots of blog-reading to catch up on.

As ever, click for a closer look at the sketches

Friday, 2 April 2010

Slush, My Darling

I'm off to the south of France for Easter (I know – please don't hate me), but I'm leaving Smiley to guard my blog while I'm away. Make no sudden movements. I'm also going to leave you an interesting site that is rumoured by some to give a close approximation of what it's like to wade through the fabled, dreaded, soul-devouring slush pile.

For those who don't know, the slush pile is the heap of unpublished material that sloshes around publisher's back rooms and threatens to swamp them completely. It is so named (so the story goes) because the piles of paper that were once pushed through editor's doors while they were away, closely resembled heaps of banked up snow once the door had been opened and closed again. These piles of slush, whether virtual or physical, are still where your manuscript goes if you send it in unsolicited. This is also where the most junior staff members are exiled, just in case the next Dan Brown is in there. Somewhere. The internet is full of horror stories about slush, from supplicant writers who never hear back to editorial staff pulling their hair out and shredding armfuls of material unread.

These days, with the numbers of people writing a novel going ever upwards, the slush pile has become so scary to many publishers that they have stopped accepting unsolicited manuscripts, adopting an 'agented only' policy instead (according to Random House, the last time they found something publishable in the slush pile was 1991!). This means that literary agents are now the gate-keepers to publishing, and it's their offices that are being swamped, since the acquisition of an agent is the first sensible goal of most writers today (agented stuff still goes into a slush pile though, just a much smaller one).

But what must it be like to sort through a slush pile? Well, try this site to find out. In a nutshell, writers are invited (for a small initial fee) to submit the first page of their novel for rating by members. And by members, I mean just about anyone since joining at a basic level is very simple. If enough people rate your writing highly, it's 'elevated' to level two: the chance to submit a whole chapter. Get through that, and you can submit 50 pages in level three. Score highly there too and your manuscript will be reviewed by a real live literary agent, a prize that will ensure a healthy submission rate, I'm sure.

What do you think of this? I must admit to being put off by the fee, though at least it ensures that only people with a certain level of commitment to their writing will submit. Or is this just too much of an obvious money spinner for your taste? I don't plan to submit anything myself, but I have found the rating process (completely free) strangely addictive, and interestingly my ratings have largely followed those of others (revealed afterwards), which suggests a useful level of objectivity. And it's fascinating to see what others are writing, and yes, some of it is pretty good. It would be interesting to hear from anyone who uses this site. I can't help feeling that approval from an anonymous cross-section of readers would be a huge spur for anyone caught in the grip of writerly self-doubt.

Happy Easter!