So listen. We’ve made it to Hump Day, Week 1 of 2015. Or, as I like to call it, £9.5m Rollover Wednesday. If you got past Monday lunchtime with any NYNY resolutions still intact, I salute you, you over achieving smug monkey. If, however, like me, you waited till Sunday night to even bother to make any, and then broke both of them before elevenses on Monday, then… you know what? Thems the breaks. Every New Years Eve for the past 30 odd, I’ve made a handful of plans to make the following year The One, and I’ve not stuck to one cotton picking one of them. I can’t speak French. I don’t moisturize every morning. I have a VERY loose grip on politics/current affairs/history/geography/mindfulness. I don’t even own a pair of heels, let alone know how to walk in them. And I’m never going to go carb free. Not EVER. Nope. You can’t make me!
But what I CAN do is make a mean Vicky Sponge. I know nail varnish and mascara. I can hold my own in a room full of strangers with my witty repartee. I can quote Friends and SATC at the drop of a hat. I am well, and widely read in my chosen genre. I give good hugs. I laugh. I have a job I love. And a husband who isn’t repulsed, yet, by the look of me. It’s all good.
But, I think it’s safe to say, it could be better.
Based on an I-can’t-believe-it’s-scientific-in-any-possible-way Risk Assessment form I completed online, my chosen lifestyle has reduced my life expectancy by 17 years, so instead of popping my clogs at 82, I’m going to meet my maker aged 65.
And yet, I’ve already ‘survived’ the Broadwater Farm riots at 15, the King’s Cross Station fire at 17, a pulmonary embolism at 26 and the loss of my Dad at 32, so it’s going to take more than the best medical minds of the World Wide Web to bring me down.
But just in case they’re right, I’ve decided I’m going to crack on with this last 20 years of my life malarkey.
Starting with upping the Culture stakes. So (finally getting to the point of my first column of the year!) here are the Cultural Highlights for the first half of 2015 that I’m most looking forward to nailing.
January - BalletBoyz at Sadler’s Wells - The World Premiere of a new full-length production from the award winning all male dance company, it’s going to be a cracker!
February - Ballet Black at Linbury Studio Theatre - Perfect for Valentine’s Day, this is a new mixed programme by the 14 year old company.
March-July - Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at the V&A - When Savage Beauty was exhibited at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2011 it was a sell-out success, and resulted in record attendance for the museum. Spanning Alexander McQueen’s career – from his graduate collection of 1992 to his unfinished Autumn/Winter collection of 2010, this will be the first and largest retrospective of his work to ever be presented in Europe. I can’t wait.
May - Breakin’ Convention at Sadler’s Wells - This will be the 12th annual festival of hip hop dance theatre and culture – as ever, hosted by Jonzi D – with performances by the very best international and UK poppers, lockers, house dancers, b-boys and girls. There is a packed programme of events including graffiti and dance workshops, freestyle sessions and live aerosol art. Word.
May - Sylvie Guillem at Sadler’s Wells - Life in Progress is the title of this, Sylvie Guillems final ever dance programme, following a career spanning 35 years, and includes 2 new works – a solo performance choreographed by Akram Khan and a pas de deux with Emanuela Montanari from La Scala, choreographed by Russell Maliphant. I’m taking extra tissues for the inevitable tears.
DIGITAL ORIGINALS NEWS – HEIDI SWAIN
Roll up, roll up! Another day, another DigitalOriginals acquisition to announce… and it’s gonna be big. HUGE! Here’s Clare Hey with all the news….
“Much like buses, you wait for one Books and the City Digital Originals announcement and then several come along at once. Still giddy from announcing that we’re publishing Holly Hepburn’s Star and Sixpence series (and many thanks to those women with taste at Novelicious for picking it as one of their top ten books for 2015!), we’re delighted to announce another brand new author to Books and the City. So, drumroll please… we’re delighted to welcome Heidi Swain and her brilliant novel The Cherry Tree Café to Books and the City! It’s a beautiful story about Lizzie Dixon whose life feels as though it’s fallen apart: instead of the marriage proposal she was hoping for from her boyfriend, she is unceremoniously dumped, and her job is about to go the same way. So, there’s only one option: to go back home to the village she grew up in and to try to start again. Her best friend Jemma is delighted Lizzie has come back home. She has just bought a little cafe and needs help in getting it ready for the grand opening and Lizzie’s sewing skills are just what she needs. So, with a new venture and a new home, things are looking much brighter for Lizzie. But can she get over her broken heart, and will an old flame reignite a love from long ago…? If you love the Great British Bake-Off or the Great British Sewing Bee, then The Cherry Tree Café is for you!
Books and the City will be publishing at the beginning of August 2015. Keep your eyes peeled for updates, news, posts from Heidi, and follow Heidi on twitter @HeidiJoSwain or visit her blog h-writersblog.blogspot.com.
We can’t wait for you to read The Cherry Tree Café. Roll on 2015 – Team BATC is ready for you!”
DIGITAL ORIGINALS NEWS – HOLLY HEPBURN
I can’t BEGIN to tell you how excited we are here at Books and the City HQ to announce our second acquisition under the DigitalOriginals banner!
Here is an update from Clare Hey, and more news will follow soon!
‘Here at S&S we’re always looking for great new writers and brilliant books for you to enjoy. And so I am delighted to announce a new addition to our Books and the City DigitalOriginals programme which I know you’re going to love! It’s a series of ebook novellas set around a lovely little village pub called The Star and Sixpence, which two sisters inherit only to discover that it’s not quite the idyllic dream they thought it might be… and moving to the countryside is not quite what they imagined either. Between nosy neighbours, a pub that’s seen better days, and their pasts coming back to bite them, life at The Star and Sixpence isn’t going to be a walk in the park. The author is the very talented Holly Hepburn – you can follow her on twitter @HollyH_author. She’s busily putting the finishing touches to the first instalment, called Snowdrops at The Star and Sixpence, coming out in winter 2015. A long time to wait, but it will be worth it! There will be lots of news and updates from Holly here and we know you’re going to love her.’
CREATIVE WRITING MASTERCLASS
On Saturday 15th November we held our very first (but hopefully not our last!) Creative Writing Masterclass here at Books and the City HQ, aimed specifically at writers of commercial women’s fiction. The day was split into two, with morning one-to-one sessions with editors Jo Dickinson and Clare Hey and afternoon panels for a wider audience with uber literary agent Lizzy Kremer, bestselling author Milly Johnson, Peter Saxton (Publisher Liaison Manager at Waterstones Head Office), Isabelle Broom (Book Reviewer at Heat Magazine) and Lindsey Mooney (Content Lead UK & Ireland from Kobo).
We all had a fabulous time, our Panel Sessions were brilliant – with some cracking hints, tips and advice from the very best in the business, all topped off with fizz and cake at the end of the day. Perfect. Here are just a few of my favourite snaps from the day…
As a very special treat, our VIP Guest Milly Johnson has kindly jotted down her Top 20 Tips for aspiring authors…
- Don’t procrastinate. Dive into that book and make a start on it. Feel the fear and do it. The first 2000 words of a book are easy, the next 98,000 are harder but every word you write is one nearer to that 100,000 target.
- It doesn’t matter what routine you have writing a book; just make sure you have one. Find a system that works for you. There is no right or wrong way.
- Every chapter should progress a plot. There should be no ‘treading water’ just to make up the word count.
- Never start your book with a description – your reader will be comatose before line 10.
- Regional dialect can be really annoying. If you need to use it, sprinkle odd words through the dialogue as if you are seasoning a soup with sage. You don’t need much of it to know it’s there.
- Beware of sloppy research. If you don’t know something find it out and don’t guess it – you will alienate readers.
- If you don’t respect your writing time, no one else will. If you are working, your friends and family should treat you as if you are in an external office. Get them used to thinking like that.
- Make sure that when you are writing dialogue, your characters listen to each other and react to what is being said as they would in real life.
- Always carry a notepad to record interesting words or plots or thoughts or observations. Memories are unreliable and distort.
- Writer’s block? Don’t do a crossword or listen to your iPad or anything that engages your brain. Do some ironing, go for a walk – something that frees up your brain and lets it roam, not occupies it.
- Read. Always have time to read. Read for pleasure and sometimes read analytically. You’ll pick up so much vocabulary and style without even noticing.
- Beware that sometimes characters develop a mind of their own and however much you try to write them doing something, they rebel and say ‘I wouldn’t do this.’ It sounds bonkers but it happens. Listen to the monsters you have created.
- Sometimes big chunks of your work has to be cut out because it doesn’t fit anymore. Better that than have to force it to fit because it won’t read right. Nothing is ever wasted when you’re a writer – it will come in elsewhere. The phrase is called ‘Killing your darlings.’
- Write what you want to write and not what you think will sell. Chances are if a new craze comes along, by the time your book is done, the hype will have died down about it. And don’t pander to foreign markets either by doing things like forcing a transatlantic romance when your heart isn’t really in it. If you’re bored writing, it reads that way. If your home market sales are strong, that is the best way for the foreign markets to show interest. They like success stories.
- If you are writing to an agent – keep your introductory letter relevant. If you won a regional prize for writing – that’s relevant. Telling an agent that you are a middle-aged housewife who loves doing jigsaws is not. Don’t even bother saying that you want a book deal more than you want to breathe – that’s always taken as standard.
- And if you read that an agent should be initially approached with an introductory letter, don’t send them a full manuscript. They won’t think you are an admirable maverick, they’ll think you’re an arrogant idiot who can’t follow a simple instruction!
- Try to make your book fit nicely into a genre box for marketing purposes. A woman who travels through time and has an Edwardian vampire lover whom she accidentally murders with a poisonous mushroom stroganoff… well is that sci-fi, romance, crime, historical or romcom? That will cause everyone a headache, from the booksellers trying to place it on a shelf to the people trying to find it in shops.
- If you get a publishing deal, network network network. Join the RNA, meet other authors, tweet, facebook – get your name out there. Write articles for the local newspaper for free (you have to do everything for free in the beginning). Get in touch with local WI people – they are always looking for speakers. They pay you, feed you scones and buy your books – and spread the word to other WIs.
- If you are published, register as soon as you know what your ISBN number is for PLR, Irish PLR and ALCS (authors licensing and collecting service). It can be a nice chunk of bonus money arriving in your bank account every year.
- Do not go into this job expecting to be an overnight success. It is very hard work, mad, underpaid for years and you are always under pressure to be better than your last book. And if you thrive on that kind of challenge – you’ll never want to do anything else because this is the best job in the world.
DIGITAL ORIGINALS NEWS – ANDY JONES
So. Remember we announced our Digitals Originals project a few months ago? And how we were looking for brilliant new novels that we would publish in eBook first?
Well. We are delighted to be able to announce that the first novel we will publish as part of this project is…. wait for it…. drum roll please…. The Two of Us, by Andy Jones, in Spring 2015 – first in eBook and then in paperback a few months later.
And, trust me. You are going to LOVE IT.
The Two of Us tells the story of Fisher and Ivy and is about falling in love and what happens next. It’s a heartbreaking emotional story of love, life and everything in between and manages to be both funny and warm… it’s captivated everyone here at Books and the City Towers, and we just can’t wait for you to read it, and fall in love with Fisher and Ivy.
Stay tuned, follow Andy on twitter and look out for the #TheTwoOfUs news alerts.
DIGITAL ORIGINALS NEWS
On 15th July my inbox went into meltdown as #digitaloriginal submissions aplenty pinged through at a rate of knots. If there was a Reading Challenge associated with our #oneday initiative to find the next eBook star of the commercial women’s fiction world, Clare Hey and I would be up on the podium holding aloft a well-deserved Gold medal, as we probably read more novels in the space of six weeks than many people read in a year.
It has to be said, we had to make some difficult decisions regarding the number of novels we’re in a position to acquire as part of this project, as we were completely overwhelmed with entries, but we’ve now responded to everyone who took the time to send us their novel.
Many of the novels we read showed potential, but weren’t quite what we are looking for at this time. Many had an interesting hook and a good cast of characters but didn’t quite fit into the genre. We read a handful of novels by authors with a strong and unique voice, but ultimately the story didn’t grab us in the way we want to be grabbed. We sincerely wish those authors the very best of luck for the future, and we will be keeping a beady eye out to watch their careers flourish!
Some made us both chuckle, or reach for a Kleenex – so we have emailed all of the authors of those novels with, what we hope will be, some useful and constructive feedback.
And a handful of novels blew us both away. They were shared with the wider team and we invited those authors in to @TeamBATC HQ for a chat over a cup of tea and a biscuit.
So thank you to everyone who submitted their novels. And watch this space for some brilliant new authors for you to fall in love with over the next few months.
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