Up until this point, writing my first short story had been completely in my control. Other than talking through the concept with my editor it’s been up to me how I structured the story, how the characters developed and how it ended. It’s only now that I’ve shared it with my agent and editor, that it becomes more of a collaboration and in some ways this is the most nerve-wracking time as I wait for feedback and get the first response to the story that I hope to share with my readers one day soon. The insecure part of me is always asking, is it good enough and more importantly, am I good enough to take onboard any comments, unravel the plot and remake the story if I have to?
The detailed edits will come from Kim Young my editor but right now I’m happy, happy, happy to have a response from my agent Luigi Bonomi who is one of the most respected literary agents in the UK and as people keep telling me, I’m lucky to have him. He says, and I quote, ‘I’ve just finished Less than Perfect and thought it was gripping – I particularly loved the way you handled Charlie. It struck me as just the kind of story your fans would love.’
It’ll come as no surprise that I have a big cheesy grin as I write this and I can only hope it holds out until I get word back from Kim.
What happened next
I’m finally at the point where I can write those magical words, ‘THE END,’ and mean it, for now at least. I have to be honest, after writing the story and then going through it twice again, all in the space of a month has turned my brain to mush! As I’m reading it through, I can’t be sure if I’m recognising text because it’s repeated or simply because I’ve read it for the nth time.
That’s not to say that the last run through hasn’t been useful. One amendment that did make me smile was a character name I’d used. Elle’s parents are called Ann and Harry but for some reason I’d been calling Elle’s mum Pat in sections of the first draft, so in the second draft I corrected the references and thought no more about it. It was only in the third draft that I realised I’d also given her parents the surname Summers…yes, Elle’s mum is none other than the famous purveyor of lingerie and ‘toys.’ So it was goodbye Ann Summers and hello Anne O’Brien!
So at the end of it all I’ve produced a short story with a word count of just over 22k and rather than the eight sections I’d started with, I now have 12 chapters. My last job was a quick spell check which is good for picking up the obvious spelling errors and grammatical gaffs but some of the suggested corrections from Microsoft leave me scratching my head. No, Mr Gates, I don’t want to change ‘worse for wear,’ for ‘worse for wears,’ and I’m getting a little fed up of seeing ‘fragment (consider revising)’ on nearly every piece of dialogue; and don’t get me started on how many semicolons you want to put into the manuscript! I’m by no means an expert on grammar (I’m sure someone’s already picking out errors as they read this!!) but as long as I’ve picked out the obvious and it doesn’t distract the reader (i.e. my agent and my editor) then it’s good enough for now. There are many, many blessings in having a publishing contract and one of them is the amazing support from a team of people including expert copywriters who will go through it with a fine tooth comb later on.
Speaking of my agent and my editor, that’s where the story is heading next. Once I’ve emailed it to Luigi and Kim then I really will be stepping away from the computer because I won’t touch it again until their comments have come back. OK, that’s not quite true. I won’t touch the manuscript but there’s so much else to do on my computer. I think I have a summer of writing Book 4 to look forward to so it’s goodbye Elle and hello Jo.
What happened next
Remember all of those empty pages? Well not any more. I’m now on day three and I’ve already completed nine pages.
As I mentioned, I’ve broken the story up into eight sections, allowing 2000 words per section which gives me a little bit of wriggle room if I need to extend some sections. Amazingly I’m on track and have finished the first section. The hardest thing has been to switch my mind from the characters in my third book (which was originally The Bench but now has a more imaginative working title of The Lonely Swan). In The Lonely Swan, my main character Maggie is blind so I’ve spent months describing surroundings and situations in a completely different way, concentrating on sounds and smells rather than visual descriptions. It’s a hard habit to break but the more I’m writing, the more I feel like I’m getting under Elle’s skin.
I can’t wait to carry on with the story but tomorrow there will be no time to write as I’m at the Albert Dock in Liverpool for an author event with Jane Costello and Erica James (Blue Bar 6pm – 8pm). Drop in and say hello if you’re nearby!
What happened next
My short story is still in the ‘planning phase,’ but not for much longer. I have the synopsis I sketched out a while ago and I’ve now split it into eight sections. That way I have a bit more of an idea of how to pace the story…it’s not a full length novel I keep telling myself! One of the hardest decisions I find at the start of writing a new project is picking names for my characters. I always seem to fall into the trap of plucking them out of thin air, thinking that I’ll revisit them later on only to find that I’ve become so attached to the character that I couldn’t possibly consider rechristening them. I have a feeling I’ve fallen into that same trap again…
Along with names for my characters, I’ve been trying to picture them in my head and I’ve listened in on little snatches of their conversations. There’s Elle who is thirty five and married to Rick and they have a six year old son called Charlie. So far it’s the conversations with Elle and Charlie that are capturing my imagination so that’s where I’m going to start the story. I already know how I want the very first scene to play out and what they’ll say to each other. Now I just need to start writing before I forget everything!
By my estimation, if I’m aiming for a story length of 20,000 words then that’s 80 pages…80 so far blank pages. Gulp!
Well they’re not getting filled while I’m messing about with this blog, are they? Bye for now!
What happened next…
I’ve been tasked with writing a short story and I’ll have to admit it’s a bit of a challenge. Apologies if you’ve opened this post expecting me to tell you how to do it…I’m afraid the title of the blog is more of a question than a statement!
If I’m honest, I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d read a short story when I was asked to write one myself but despite my initial reservations, I’m actually starting to come around to the idea. By short, were’ talking about one fifth the size of a full length novel. It’s not exactly something I can whip up in a couple of days but still, it’s not the mammoth task of starting a novel and it won’t need to be as complex. I don’t have to think about sub-plots or develop lots of different characters and when it comes to the inevitable rewrite and restructuring once my editor’s seen it then surely it’s going to be easier to deconstruct and put back together. There, I’ve talked myself into it!
I’ve already gone through some story ideas with my editor Kim Young at HarperCollins and we’ve agreed on one that I’d developed a while ago as a future project which she thinks would make a good short story. It’s about a married woman who has spent the last ten years trying to emulate her parents’ marriage but is failing miserably. The story begins shortly after her dad’s funeral. He died of a broken heart, unable to deal with the loss of his wife a couple of years earlier. As well as leaving my heroine feeling alone, it has also emphasised how devoted her parents were to each other. But there’s the issue of her dad’s pocket watch and the little bronze key hanging from the chain. It might open up a door to the past or a can of worms…or both.
So with the storyline agreed, Kim and I had to negotiate the word length. I had it in my mind that 10,000 words had been the original idea, Kim thought it was 30,000. When we checked the contract, it was slap bang in the middle at 15-20,000 but given that it’s going to be an e-book, I think she’s happy for me to make it longer if necessary.
So why am I telling you all of this? Well, ready or not I’m about to start writing it and I’m going to post regular blogs over the next few weeks to track my voyage of discovery. There, I’ve committed to doing it now and there’s no going back!
What happened next?