I whistle a happy tune.

On June 15th I attended a pitching workshop in Newcastle c/o Mslexia and New Writing North. It was a complete writer-to-jelly-making experience. I ran out of spit, my lips turned to unresponsive flabber, and my brain had all the computing power of a Fisher-Price chatter phone. Torture.

But so good. I hope they run more and offer them to the wider writing public.

Thinking well I can’t be any worse than that I set off from The Witterings to the Big Smoke and Foyles last Thursday. My entire system bubbles with nerves – think Mentos and Pepsi here – and I get into a complete muddle on the Underground. I come out at Charing Cross.

Now if you are not hicks-from-the-sticks, you will know this is a good old step from the bookshop. Panic. Cue one helpful policeman. From the North East. There is most definitely a God.

I’d declined the offer of meeting up with the other writers first – which was just as well.

If you’re wondering why, I didn’t mean to be rude but my way of coping is on my own. I can be hideously over-sensitive – I pick up atmosphere like dried seaweed forecasts rain. (I can get drunk on the scent of other people’s prosecco – which makes me a cheap date – but I digress.) I really didn’t want any more nerves doing an Audrey II tentacle thing on me.

Just in time I get there and I go for it.

I have a very loose connection with Ben Illis (BIA) via Imogen Cooper of The Golden Egg Academy He’s the agent for the lovely Lu Hersey, winner of the Mslexia prize and fellow selkie enthusiast. So I wade in and ask if he has space for another selkie story. I am aghast at my own cheek.

Not unexpectedly, I get an utterly charming rejection* – so charming in fact that I stay on to chat (thanks to Lu-the-tolerant). I inhabit the role of confident, enthusiastic writer. I talk anyway. I talk to editors and agents, scouts and fellow authors. It works. I get interest from people I am not self-consciously pitching to.* there are only so many selkie stories a chap can represent.

So if you get chance, say the SCBWI-BI Agents Party, go for it. Just talk honestly about what matters to you. If nothing else results from it, you will have had chance to refine your ideas with industry professionals – who are not there to make you feel a twit.

This doesn’t mean: don’t do your homework, don’t bother working out what is the core of your book and how that will appeal to your readership. Think hard. Listen to pitching advice. Work all that stuff out, hone it and then LEAVE THE SCRIPT BEHIND.

You are not selling double-glazing from a dingy call-centre in down-town Doncaster.

But it is most definitely worth getting over those confidence-draining, saprophytic nerves. In the words of Marni Nixon singing for Deborah Kerr in The King and I:

Make believe you’re brave
And the trick will take you far
You may be as brave
As you make believe you are!


A gorgeous frock must help…


Getting it in perspective

This last weekend I went up to the wonderfully sunny (and cold) Northumberland coast. We had to leave at cough of sparrow and I spent the whole of Friday Saturday and most of Sunday away from the Internet. I sang and talked and ate and walked. Fantastic.

Seahouses Harbour, Northumberland, by Simon Swales

It all kept my mind off the Mslexia Shortlist. I made a conscious decision not to fret or attempt to find out  – my focus would be on the Seahouses weekend. My career/vocation  is important to me – but the results weren’t going to change by me looking.

When I got back, it was a different matter. I checked my emails. Nothing. My focus dissipated and I was left with voices going off in my head.

  • the mopey, whingey one – you’re useless – it was a fluke you were even long-listed
  • the high-pitched, hopelessly optimistic one – it’s an oversight – you’ll get the email on Monday
  • the quiet, sober, realistic one – pick yourself up and carry on

At the bidding of the self-pitying voice I looked on Facebook. I could punish myself seeing who else had been short listed. No one I knew, it seemed.

I went for Twitter. Again, radio silence. Whiny voice: they all knew and I didn’t and who was I to dream? You’ll look a needy idiot if you ask.
Sensible voice: calm down and get on with your writing.

So I did. I wrote about how I felt and after a lot of tears, decided I would not let this stop me.

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
(Kipling, If)

I would keep on writing regardless.

The little child’s voice, the one who hopes for wishes come true, squeaked at me. I told her to shut up. She persisted. I read the Terms & Conditions Yes, I was supposed to hear ‘whether or not’ I’d been short-listed.

With every bit of emotional armour I possessed bolted round my rather giddy heart, I emailed Martha Lane at Mslexia.

She replied. Her previous email had gone to my other account and thence into the ether. I had been short-listed. I am one of twelve and I should hear in mid-to-late February.

I am surprised how much this means to me – and how unreal it still seems. Someone who knows about these things actually likes my story. Gulp.

But I still remember my vow to myself. I shall keep on going, regardless.

All wound up

This will be a short post. I am off to Seahouses, Northumberland at silly o’clock tomorrow morning.

Seahouses Harbour by Simon Swales

As you may remember*, I was long-listed for the Mslexia Children’s Novel Competition back in October.  In theory I should hear tomorrow if I’ve been short-listed – but I will be on a plane. Then I will be singing with the Unthanks – maybe in Bamburgh Castle if I’m lucky.

Bamburgh Castle by David Dawson

It has astonished me how nervy I’ve been about this. Jittery even. I don’t mean the singing  -I’m hoping that might help. Not the best frame of mind when attempting to edit an 86k fantasy. I am all editorial fingers-and-thumbs.

Editing is like sorting these out! (Image by Glenda Sims)

Does everyone else get all jumpy about such things – or is it just me?

*Brownie point if you did.

Good things come in threes, too.

Number One
I’m off to Chi-Scbwi tonight, thanks to a lift from my good friend, Kathryn Evans. Several times a year a bunch of us local writers and artists get together and have a chinwag. It’s great – we are all at different ages and stages – and we support each other as only creative types can! ( make of that what you will)
Number Two
I have finished the first draft of Georgiana and the Municipal Moon (working title) today. 86k all told – a lot of which is piffle – but now I can have my own NaNoEdMo, if you see what I mean.
Number Three
My MA novel,  The Selkies of Scoresby Nab, has been long-listed for the Mslexia Children’s Novel Competition. Hoorah!

It’s not me. Honest.