I'm covered in flour - it would take too long to explain...

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Stupidly happy!

I have won a competition! I don't think I have come first in anything since I won a watch through the unicorn theater when I was nine. I had to draw a picture of when Asterix the Gaul met a unicorn, and trust me, back then a digital watch was a pretty big deal, this was when a sony walkman cost the equivalent of £300.

Anyway, I think I am just as amazingly pleased now to have won a prize thanks to my pal Rachael (mother of Ruben, which I write like this as it sounds so wonderfully Old Testament) who saw it advertised on Mumsnet. To level with you, I was not totally clear what the prize was, but the challenge was to write a 150 word pitch for an unpublished novel, and the winning pitch was going to be chosen by two editors at Bloomsbury, so frankly had the prize been to make their tea I would have done it!

So - here is my, and oh how I love saying this - winning pitch -

Grigory Dankovich and his family escape Soviet Russia in 1968. After an early marriage and life as a boxer, he is drawn into the underworld. Gradually sickened by what he has become, he tries to escape but instead looses his family and goes to prison for a murder he doesn’t commit, to save a naive boy.
Twenty-six years later British artist Saskia Cooper comes to New York and scratches a living as an interior artist. Marriage, motherhood and a divorce later, she feels her life has run aground, until she meets ‘Danko’ when she’s commissioned to paint murals in a strip club. They embark on a passionate affair, which offers him a second chance at a family life and sets her creativity free at last. Her jealous ex-husband and a misguided but vengeful gangster from Danko’s past threaten their future together. To save her, must he loose her forever?

And here's the most joyful email I have read this week - 

Congratulations! You are the First Prize winner of our competition held in collaboration with Mumsnet. Your entry was chosen from 120 entries and was judged by Helen Garnons-Williams- Commissioning Editor at Bloomsbury Publishing, Ele Fountain-Senior Commissioning Editor at Bloomsbury Publishing and Alysoun Owen-Editor of Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook.

We will be featuring your winning book idea and the editors’ comments on our website from tomorrow, but in advance, here is the review written for your entry:

This pithy, fast-paced description hints at a story full of thrills, intrigue and passion. It has all the ingredients for a rollercoaster of a ride through the murkier parts of the protagonists’ pasts and presents. I defy you not to be caught up by the drama that has been so concisely but dramatically evoked. Will Danko and Saskia get to live happily ever after?

As First Prize winner, we are also pleased to offer you a free How Strong is Your Book Idea? review (RRP £119.99) from an established Editor and top Literary Agent. I will send a further email tomorrow with details on claiming your prize. In the meantime, here is a link for further information on the How Strong is Your Book Idea? review service.

I will of course keep you all posted and for now, continue to dance round my front room in the sort of happy bubble unencumbered by a digital watch! 

(Thanks to Marcus for my photo btw, probably not book jacket material but hey, you never know! And also thanks to Gary at Bubblecow who's e-course on pitch writing has clearly been worth it.)

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Scribbler: So, how's the research going then?

Scribbler: So, how's the research going then?: (Or - haven't you finished that book yet?) If you do keep an eye on my scribbling, you may remember that I had a big sulk at the start of...

So, how's the research going then?

(Or - haven't you finished that book yet?)

If you do keep an eye on my scribbling, you may remember that I had a big sulk at the start of the year about needing research for my book, ‘At night all cats are grey.’ This was mostly the product of soul shattering self-doubt that inflicts us all from time to time, and me once a week, but it’s never a bad thing.
            So, I hit the internet and the library  and netted a few books on a variety of subjects related to the environment in which my book is set – namely New York gang culture, the seventies art and ,music scene and the Russian Mafia. I have to confess my reading list from the libruary caused a few raised eyebrows – Alpha city tales from the heroine infested slums of New York, next to a book on chocolate wedding cakes (although the later is not for my novel as such.)
            Having never really done research about anything, or rather, having never researched for a book before, I wasn’t sure how to start – but the process seemed to break down into a few remarkably easy to follow stages.

1)     Read the first few pages of everything. Mood swings from pleasure at finding exactly what you feel you need, and desperation that there is no way you will ever be able to convince in this genre, what the hell were you ever thinking, you don’t know this world and you must look like a tight tit for even trying.
2)     Sulk.
3)     Refuse to give in to sulk, and read some more. Start under lining things in the books you actually own, stick paper tags into the library books. This at least feels like you are doing something, like when you did ‘A’ levels.
4)     Find something, which really climes with your book, which you thought you’d made up, but is apparently exactly how it was – feel elated and a little spooked – because it’s so exactly like you’ve written it must be a sign from some collective unconsciousness your tapping into.
5)     Write five chapters in a hurry retelling the events described in the research material as if you’d thought of them.
6)     Feel smug: feel sure you’re talking like a native.
7)     Read them back. Hate them, feel you sound like a tit.
8)     Edit the five chapters ruthlessly until only one line remains.
9)     Realize that line is crucial, that it gives that elusive hint of reality without over powering your narrative, and that you would never have written it without the five preceding chapters of stuff now languishing in the bin.
10)  Return the books to the library, three of them un-read – and wait until the next cycle of self-doubt sends you back there to check them out again.

And I presume I should add ‘and repeat’ after that lot.

I can say that, after research, my book is shorter but better and I know what happened to all the characters and why, but the reader doesn’t need to. It is very tempting to write footnotes along side every subtle detail – (the reason why character a is wearing a Thai silk shirt is that the Crime boss smuggles conflict diamonds from Africa to Thailand where they are used to buy heroin, which is then brought to America inside consignments of TV’s) but in fact, this is not what the book is about, it’s the foundation the research has allowed me to build the novel on. As it’s not actually about heroin dealing at all, it’s only important to me that I’ve worked it out. Oh, and the character likes the feeling of silk on his skin, but to work that out took a whole lot of other research….