Monday, 27 September 2010


I have always wanted to

1. Go to Italy. Rome, Venice, Florence. Take a boat down the canals and see the sights and eat Italian pasta and pizza in Italy.

2. Create a male character who mourns the loss of a nipple hair so deeply, he holds a funeral for it. Sadly, he never quite fits into any of my stories, no matter where I try to squeeze him in.

3. Go to France and visit a patisserie. And eat cakes, obviously. And drink wine at an outdoor French cafe. It just sounds so cosmopolitan, don't you think? (And okay, so I don't actually drink wine, but hey. It's a fantasy. In reality, I could just substitute wine with, I don't know, baguettes. Mmm. Warm French bread.)

4. Walk into a bookshop and see one of my books on the shelves. I can't imagine this would be anything less than amazing. Not to mention surreal.

5. Become an archaeologist and, ya know, find cool artifacts and learn how to use a bullwhip. If my writing career fails, you know where to find me.

6. Cook delicious and extremely complicated things. And take photographs of them so that they make other people's mouths water. Unfortunately, I usually just don't have the time or inclination to spend more than an hour, tops, on cooking. Buuut my cousin has started a food blog, and it always makes me hungry, so I'm settling for that vicarious pleasure.

7. Be one of those people who can say outrageous things on Twitter like 'Well-balanced exercise today. Writing for my mind and sex for my bod' and totally get away with it. (Yes, this was a real tweet I happened to stumble across)

What have you always wanted to do?

Thursday, 23 September 2010


Okay, so I am going to be very uncool and unprofessional and shriek a lot. And faint. And jump around.


*jumps around*


*wakes and jumps around some more*

*returns to chair*

Right, sorry. Where was I?

I HAVE AN AGENT! I think it warrants hitting caps lock. I also think it warrants, nay, demands, a bottle of whatever your favourite beverage is, some Malteser-filled cupcakes, and balloons. Why not? You're never too old for balloons. Especially not WHEN YOU HAVE AN AGENT.

I'll stop. I'm sorry. I'm just excited. I announced it on Twitter last night, but the thrill's not quite gone away.

So how did this happen?

Warning: long(ish) story ahead.

Well, most of you know I've been querying and sending out ECHOES since about March. I was happy with it at the time, and thought it was ready, but as you might have also noticed, I kept tweaking and working on it. Guess I wasn't so happy with it after all. Anyway, towards the end of April, an agent named Holly Root read my query and first ten pages and requested a partial (50 pages). She read those and requested the full.

Fast forward to roughly four weeks ago. I had a couple of other requests in this time, several query and partial rejections, and was generally swamped with Real Life stuff too. Then four weeks ago Holly got back to me to say she was going to pass on ECHOES.

I was disappointed, as I always am when I get a rejection (I'm only human!) but she wrote me such a lovely email. She said she thought I had something there, but it just wasn't quite right for her. She referred me to her friend and fellow agent Melissa Sarver.

So me being the busy little bee I am, rattled off my query to Melissa straight away, letting her know Holly referred me. Twelve minutes later, she replied to request the manuscript. I had to do some quick formatting on the ms, so it was seventeen minutes after that that I sent it off to her.

And then I forgot all about it.

Okay, that's a lie. I sort of put it halfway out of my head because, as I've noticed, if I compulsively think about and worry about queries and submissions, I end up fretting a lot. It's much more sensible (and kinder to your sanity) to just try and put these things out of your head. And, you know, not check your email every ten minutes. I managed to reduce my email-checking to once per hour. Given I spend most of my time during at the day at this laptop, that isn't an awful lot of checking.

Well, much to my amazement, Melissa emailed me back six days later. I saw her name pop up in my inbox and thought 'oh, sweet Heathcliff, she hated it and couldn't finish it! It's a rejection!’

Nope, turns out she's a really fast reader. Melissa said she wanted to talk to me about the manuscript. I panicked. I forgot to eat my dinner, ran around the room, and Steve sat patiently by and soothed me long enough to remind me that I needed to reply to her email. So I did, and she rang me the next day (this was three Wednesdays ago). We talked about the book. Like, for forty-five minutes. I expected to be stammer-y and scared, but weirdly enough, the moment I answered the phone and she said hello, my nerves just went away.

The conversation amounted to this: Melissa thought I had a great concept and a great book, but it needed work. She made suggestions. We talked about them. I explained why a certain suggestion might not work, but overall found that she made a lot of sense. She really, really hit the hail on the nead.

(See how excited I am? I am losing the power of words!)

So I went away and worked on those revisions. Like crazy. I had to pop into my job at the care home a couple of times, because although I wasn't due to officially start yet, there was paperwork to fill out. But I had plenty of time to write, which was awesome. I sent the revisions back to her last week, and she got back to me this past Monday to - get this - offer me representation. She also made a couple more suggestions for edits.

I've just sent the revised manuscript back again. And yesterday, I signed with Melissa Sarver of the Elizabeth Kaplan Literary Agency.

Once the manuscript is ready, Melissa plans to send it out to editors. She even asked me to write a short author bio a couple days ago. Needless to say, it sucked. I do way, way better at writing fiction.

Some reactions from friends and family-

STEVE: See? I told you you were amazing.


And my mother, who wins the prize-

MUM: Oh my God! Hooray! You know this is because I lit a candle to St Jude, right?

ME (bewildered because my mother is the most sensible person I know and does not usually light candles for many reasons): Why St. Jude?

MUM: You know. The patron saint of lost causes.

ME: *speechless*

She has a funny sense of humour, my mother. Unless, of course, she was being serious, in which case I probably should be offended.

And that's the tale of How I Got My Agent. It's early days yet, but Melissa (whom I will henceforth refer to on this blog as 'Agent Melissa' because it makes her sound like a mysterious and deadly super-spy) is awesome and I'm really looking forward to working with her. 

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Fiction Pet Peeves

I've been reading an awful lot of books lately, largely courtesy of the fact that I've just become a member of the local library. Hooray! Anyway, as it happens, a large number of these books have been great - and some have reminded me of my fiction pet peeves. As most of us are readers here, I expect you all know what I mean. Those tropes or tics that drive you crazy.

So here are three of mine.

1. Stupid characters

It's worth noting here that by 'stupid', I don't mean characters who are daft, or silly, or intellectually challenged, or just plain ordinary-in-terms-of-intelligence. These can all be charming and wonderful characters. I mean characters who are stupid. You know? The kind of stupid that makes you want to shake them and scream HOW CAN YOU BE SO STUPID?! in a non-endearing and non-fun way.

Example: in a book I recently started (which will go nameless because I'm not being entirely positive about it), the narrator actually put me off reading any more of the book. He was stupid in a bad way. He was specifically told, by a character we know to be sensible and good, not to do a certain thing and he was also told why. Five pages later? He does that very thing, and puts up only a token resistance. I'm sure this was a plot device, but it did nothing for the character's appeal. It just made me think 'I'm going to end up reading 400 pages of this guy doing stupid things like this, so no thank you'. Which was a shame, because the book was intriguing, quirky and unusual in premise - all things I love!

2. Ridiculous misunderstandings

Now I know the Misunderstanding is a feature of fiction as old as time, Greek myths and, you know, dinosaurs. I'm okay with misunderstandings. I even enjoy them when they're done right - in Harry Potter, for example, we frequently see characters tricked into believing something that isn't true.

What makes me grind my teeth and throw a book at the wall is the Ridiculous Misunderstanding. The one that is so far-fetched, or could so easily have been avoided, that it just leaves you feeling disgusted. Romeo and Juliet being a case in point. Or, worse, a book I recently read that I loved apart from the section with the Ridiculous Misunderstanding.

Boy sleeps with Girl. Both have been in love with each other for ages now. They're happy. Girl goes home to tell her fiance she can't be with him. Boy sends Girl a lovely necklace to show her how much she means to him. Girl receives necklace and thinks 'wtf? This means he's casting me off with a farewell trinket!' and is heartbroken. Does Girl bother to ask Boy what the necklace means? Does she even talk to him about it? No, of course not, because Misunderstandings are Cool. To make things worse, Girl then sends a message to Boy, through a friend, to say 'I am sailing to America with my fiance now, goodbye' and Boy thinks 'I've been used'. Does he chase after her to find out what the hell is going on? No, of course he doesn't, because Misunderstandings, dear readers, are Cool.

I could have broken something, I kid you not.

3. Deus ex machina

Latin for 'God out of a machine'. In other words, when all seems lost, an implausible and amazing coincidence or plot device appears to save the day. As a writer, I know that sometimes these are hard to avoid. Sometimes you really do need an amazing coincidence or a startling plot twist. But when an entire Final Battle is punctuated with them (I'm looking at you, JK Rowling, though I do love you apart from this tiny thing), it gets a bit much.

What annoys you in fiction? Do you share my pet peeves or do you disagree?

Monday, 20 September 2010

All the better to dance you off your feet, my dear

A moment in our house, last night-

SANGU, daring and slightly loony writer, waltzes back and forth across the living room. By herself. Arms outstretched, feet tapping to the rhythm, spin, spin, you know.

Slightly bemused, STEVE stops in the doorway and observes this spectacle for a few minutes. Eventually SANGU realizes she's being watched and stops. A charming (she hopes) blush creeps over her face.

SANGU: I was trying to put myself in a scene.

STEVE: Oh. So you weren't just pretending to be a leprechaun?

SANGU acknowledges that yes, her version of the waltz might have involved more speed and Irish bobbing than most ordinary waltzes do, and yes, she does generally request that STEVE be honest when critiquing her various creative efforts, but really. Does her Beloved have to stretch this honesty quite so far?

The reason for this solo waltz/lunacy?

The short version is Iron Maiden's 'Dance of Death'.

The long version is that a few days ago, I happened to be listening to a couple of Iron Maiden songs that my brother and I loved when we were both wee teenagers and still living together. He's still a wee teenager in my opinion, but I thought I'd grown out of my screaming-men phase. I'm not really a big heavy metal fan, but there's something about the angst and melodies in certain Iron Maiden and Metallica songs that really work for my writing.

All of which is to tell you that I listened to 'Dance of Death' for the first time in a while. My feelings for the song weren't new: every time I've heard it, I've always loved the solo bits, they always make me want to get up and do a high-speed waltz. I felt the same thing this time, only there was also something different.

Instead of me wanting to get up and dance, I had this spooky, haunting, amazing vision (in a non-crazy way, I hope) of my protagonists from ECHOES being cornered in a room by confused, lost, misshapen guards. And one of the guards reached out and said a single word:


The reason this haunted me so much was twofold. First, these guards have been soulless, lost, lonely creatures for so long - and they've suddenly discovered that they can feel alive, through music. And second, it's essentially about my characters having to dance for their very lives.

I kind of fell head over heels for the tension and emotion that vision conjured up for me. I mean, crazy-loony-solo-waltz-through-the-room head over heels.

But I haven't written the scene down yet. Why not? Because it's so gorgeous and lovely in my head, I'm terrified of not being able to do it justice. Of ruining it with a couple of careless words.

So I'll let it stew, and I'll do my solo waltz, until it's ready.

Happy Monday, everyone!

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Character Genesis: Echo

Another post for my Character Geneses Series

This one focuses on Echo, the protagonist and narrator of ECHOES. And quite frankly, I'm struggling. Matthew, for all his ambiguity, was an easy character to chart the origins of. I understand Echo much better. I have to put myself in her shoes to write her story, so I have to understand her. I get her. I absolutely adore her, even if she does pipe up in my head at the most inconvenient times.

But to tell you where she came from is a different kettle of fish altogether. And they're not the nice, easy, friendly kind of fish either. It's a kettle full of the kinds of fish that bite your fingers if you try to reach for them, which, if you ask me, makes it very difficult to learn anything.

When the idea for ECHOES first bounced around my head, gradually developing and evolving and generally making a nuisance of itself, the idea of a female teenage protagonist was also there. The two ideas were essentially one. If I was going to write this story, I was going to write it as her.

I remember once asking Steve, during an early draft, whether he thought the story would work better with a male narrator. He didn't think so. He thought a key part of the story was Echo's vulnerability and grit, and he didn't think she would translate well into a male counterpart.

So, it had to be her.

She's a spirited character, warm and loving and uncomfortable around people she doesn't know. She has a quick temper. She's stubborn, she's reckless and she is, inherently, lonely. It's a kind of curse of being what she is, because so many people hate her kind. She's an echo, one of Matthew's, in fact. Matthew often tells her he made a mistake when he put 'too much fire in her'. These things became obvious as soon as I started writing her. But what I still don't really know is where she came from in the first place.

I do have an idea, though. In asking myself ‘Is she inspired by another character I've loved?’, I’ve sort of hit on an answer. I don't think Echo was born that way, at least not in that sense. But there are a few deliberate parallels between her character and that of Frankenstein's Creature in Frankenstein. So maybe that's where she was first born. Given that it was thinking about Frankenstein that got me onto the idea of ECHOES, is it so unreasonable to assume that maybe Echo herself sprang fully born, like Athena, from the question 'how did the Creature feel about what happened?'

That's the only source I can think of, and it's not a complete or satisfactory one. But maybe that's what we have to accept as writers. That sometimes our characters appear and we don't fully know where they came from or how. Maybe that's what makes this process so amazing.

I'd love to hear any thoughts or similar stories!

Review: After You by Julie Buxbaum

I'd better start by saying this: Julie Buxbaum's After You is not an easy read. It's a story of grief, loss, trauma and struggling to cope with the things you and other people have been hiding from. Quite simply, it's about protagonist Ellie's attempts to deal with life after her best friend is murdered - and that includes coping with Lucy's suddenly silent daughter, and her grieving, withdrawing husband. This makes for quite a gritty novel, in some places even downright depressing.

I didn't find the characters particularly memorable or original. They are distinct from one another, but not particularly different from most generic characters usually found in this sort of novel. But it's the story and themes here that really pull this book through. 

My favourite part of the novel is The Secret Garden, which Ellie uses to help Lucy's daughter Sophie recover. The author draws on the similar themes of loss, loneliness and discovery, and plays on them beautifully. The best scenes here, I thought, involved Ellie, Sophie and The Secret Garden. To anyone who loved that book as a child (or now), you'll love those scenes too.

I'd definitely pick this one up. It's a tough, gritty, emotional read, but it's worth it.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Selling Yourself

As most of you know, I'm a writer. And a lot of my blogger-friends are writers too. I know all of us love blogging now, love meeting new people and making friends through this fantastic medium. But I've been wondering: why did you start a blog in the first place? Because you thought it'd be fun? Or because you thought it was the way to start building up a readership for your writing career?

I started this blog because I read countless bits of advice for new authors telling me I should have some sort of web presence. I thought I'd like blogging, so I picked this form of web presence. I didn't expect to love it as much as I do, so much so that these days it's more about the posts and the interaction than it is about selling myself.

So my question for you is, is this why you blog? To sort of market yourself? I don't have a book due out, but if and when I do, having a few blog followers and a few people already interested in your work is going to prove helpful.

Do you think it's ever too early to start selling yourself and your work?

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Me, You and the Blogosphere

This post is supposed to tell you a few things. One of them is to say that I've changed my blog background. This time, it's something I made myself and spent about three hours trying to upload (and then decided it's not that spectacular anyway, but I'm fond of it so it's staying for now), so be nice about it. Okay, you can be horrible about it, but that means I'll just cry a lot and ruin that perfectly nice cup of coffee sitting there. Not to mention those unblemished Post-It notes, just waiting for stunning insights.

Another thing I wanted to say was: I have been a fairly crappy blogger of late. I don't post as often as I'd like. I want to blame it totally on the new round of revisions I've been working on, but it's also the fact that I just can't spend as much time on the laptop as I used to. It's been giving me the worst headaches lately, so when I do come on here, I tend to write, revise and, if I'm lucky, flash quickly to a few of my favourite blogs and throw in a tweet or two. 

I intend this to change soon soon, hopefully when these revisions are done, and I hope to be able to blog every weekday. (The Character Geneses series is still going on, this is just one of my rambling interruptions.)

And I also wanted to talk about you. Yes, you, my much-loved blogging friends. There's so much going on in the blogosphere right now and I thought I'd highlight a few of my favourite things, like Julie Andrews.

Talli Roland has a blogsplash scheduled for December, and she's looking for a thousand bloggers to join in. It has to do with her book, The Hating Game, which sounds way fun in my opinion, so do go on over and check it out! Alex, Jen and Elana have been posting about blogging this week, so have a peek at their blogs because I expect you'll stumble upon one of their excellent posts on the subject. V. R. Barkowski just got an agent - I know, how awesome is that?! Alesa is writing a complex fairytale and I'm really enjoying it! And have I ever pointed you to the blog of the one and only Vintage Vixen, whose daily posts about her incredible and creative outfits always cheer me right up?

Oh, and on a bloggy note: how the heck do I change the size of my font? I can't access the old template format, and the new template designer doesn't have size options. I think. This irks me because I want a bigger font size for my posts!

So that's the world today, dear readers. Now I must force my aching head back to my revisions. 

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Character Genesis: Sir Matthew

This is my first post in the Character Geneses series, where I explore (and sometimes just try to work out) how some of my characters were born.

Today I thought I'd write about Sir Matthew Mercer, one of the most important characters in ECHOES.

(If I had to cast him, I'd probably pick Jeremy Irons. Maybe Johnny Depp in ten years. Imagine Jeremy's smile a shade more mocking in that photo. Matthew certainly has That Voice. *swoons a little, then hastily recovers dignity*)

If you read my interview with Matthew a couple months ago, he'll already be quite familiar to you. He's a Weaver, one of the creators of echoes, and an extremely ambiguous antagonist.

He's also maddening as hell. Really. He very rarely does what I want him to do. Usually I have no choice but to let him go off and do what he does, and then I try to understand what he's been doing when I edit. It drives me mad, but it's also extraordinarily interesting.

But for all this, Matthew Mercer's genesis is quite clear. He was first born about two years ago, as a time traveller in an entirely different story. His profession and actions in the story were different, but his character was essentially the same. He appeared because I needed somebody to be the protagonists' somewhat dubious ally, an older person with experience, extremely clever and not entirely trustworthy. So I thought I'd create someone like this.

Then, lo and behold, he snatched the reins from me and began to flesh himself out without my even trying! The first time I wrote him into the story, he didn't say a single bit of dialogue I'd planned. Everything he said came out right there, on the spot, entirely his own. And a lot of it was funny.

I loved him.

I loved him so much, I found a way to work him into every single story I tried writing after that. But it never felt quite right. Then I began ECHOES, without consciously thinking of him, and there he was. This time he was in the incarnation of a Weaver, and it's the role that suits him best. He gets to pull the strings, make the puppets dance. He gets to be special. He gets to show off his brilliance and wit and his entirely untrustworthy nature. He gets to be obscure and ambiguous and frightening.

Over two years, he's turned from a character I created for a specific purpose, to one who does exactly what he wants, when he wants, and how he wants. And believe me, the 'how' is rarely pretty.

To me, the most remarkable thing about him is the fact that his character is tied completely up with his name. I once tried writing a scene with him in which I called him Sir Leonard instead. Nothing. He was gone, poof, like a puff of smoke. Without the name Matthew, he won't exist, he can't exist, and I find that so fascinating because it illustrates to me just how important names can be to characters and people. A rose by any other name may not smell as sweet.

And that charts the birth of Sir Matthew. As complicated as he is, his birth is one of the clearest to me, and the one I can pick apart easiest.

Has this ever happened to you?

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Character Geneses Series

I'm immersed in revisions on ECHOES right now, which means that not only am I prone to shoot off to Twitter or Blogger to procrastinate at the strangest times, but I am also eating, sleeping and behaving erratically and am making a rather poor fiancee. Steve has been neglected the last few days. But it's okay really, because he's busy reading Jeffrey Archer's A Prisoner of Birth (great book, by the way).

This lot of revisions, however, have got me thinking about characters. Specifically, how they're born. Sometimes characters just appear fully fledged in my head and demand to be written. Like, now. As in, 'Erm, Sangu? Get cracking on it, I've got so many witty and excellent things to say!' Familiar with that type?

Other times, I know I need a character for a specific reason or in a specific situation and I have to painstakingly create them. This is obviously more difficult because it means they take actual work to flesh out, but it's also easier in the sense that they might actually do what you want. At the start, anyway. Then they take on a life of their own and... sigh. They've taken over the story.

And then there are characters that are born in other ways, whether by accident or because they've been inspired by something, etc etc.

So I thought I'd explore this. That over the next couple of weeks, every couple of days or so, I will write up a series of posts when I can find the time, explaining and exploring the genesis of several of my characters. 

These will offer up a lot to anyone who's interested in the characters, but will also hopefully explore the topic in general. I'm doing this because I'm terribly curious about the general idea of how we create fictional characters.

Sound like fun?

If it does, great! Because I need you too, it'll be a lot less fun if it's just me going on about it. I'd love for people to spread the word and chime in in the comments! Give me stories of your own characters' geneses! Tell me how you imagine a famous writer came up with a favourite classic character! Feel free to write up your own blog posts about your characters' births and link me to them!

As of now, I imagine writing about six or seven posts in total, but that might change depending on whether or not people actually enjoy reading them. If you guys hate them, let me know and I'll stop and do this exploring and explaining to myself (and to Steve, who has to bear with this whether he likes it or not, poor lad).

Happy weekend, everyone!

Friday, 3 September 2010

This Week I Love...

...Angel slices. These are soft, sweet, moist little sponge cakes and they are amazing. If you haven't tried them and can get your hands on them, grab them instantly! If they don't take your fancy, feel free to send me the rest of the box!

...Revisions. Yep, they're incredibly hard work, but it's also so amazingly satisfying to work on your book and tweak and cut and change, and see it grow stronger as you do. I've been doing a lot of these this week, so I'm feeling particularly drained yet satisfied.

...Spooks. British TV show about spies working for MI5. Steve and I are pretty much addicted to this, we watched the first three series in about two weeks. The only downside is the repeated departures and deaths of beloved characters. Ye-ouch. But Adam Carter? Oh, boy. Sexy much?

...The music from Love Never Dies, the sequel to The Phantom of the Opera. I'm a bit of a musical junkie. I'd go to the theatre every single day if I could.

...Conversations on Twitter.

...Suzanne Collins' Mockingjay, sequel to The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. Okay, so I know everybody's talking about Mockingjay and most of you are probably sick of hearing about it. But it was a great book. I had some serious quibbles with it, but I loved it anyway. My recommendation? Read The Hunger Games trilogy.

...Steve. But this holds true for every week. God, I'm a sap. But really, look at that facial expression. Isn't it just priceless?

...The Wii Fit Plus and the balance board that comes with it. Oh. My. Heathcliff. Not only is this addictive, but it's actually good for you! Every game does something useful to your body, like help improve your balance, or build up certain muscles. You can yoga it up, or do some aerobics, or have a snowball fight which is just incredible fun. No, it's probably not as good for you as going for a run in the woods. But if it's raining (as it often is in this charming land) and it's cold and you just want to burn off some energy indoors, this is a perfect way to burn those calories and work off that energy.

What do you love this week?