Tuesday, 11 September 2012

York. So good I blogged about it twice.

Okay.  This is getting a bit wearing.

For the second day in a row, Ben has woken me up at 5.30 and promptly gone back to sleep, leaving me wide awake.  But this morning didn’t even have the saving grace of the hour of quiet time that I managed yesterday.  This morning Thomas thought that since I was up at 6am, he might as well join me.  When urged to return to bed, he turned into a screaming, yelling, yawning mess and promptly woke Ben up.

Thomas then went back to sleep.

This left me to persuade Ben to go back to sleep.  Which I had just about achieved when Thomas decided to get up again and complain about the noise.

So the entire household was up before 6.30am and I didn’t even achieve anything.

It is at times like this that I find myself reverting to my best Geordie parlance.  Is there nee peace?

The problem with such a ridiculously early start is that there are three hours before you can even go to a playgroup.  Which means that Ben has time to squeeze an extra nap in, and Thomas has time to get tired.  Their naps are now out of synch.  The day is doomed.

It’s not even as though playgroup was fun.  Thomas managed to run into another child in a large, plastic ride-in car three times.  And of course it had to be the same child every time.  Ben rolled off my legs and bumped his head on the floor in the middle of the sing-song at the end, ie in front of everyone.  And then a small child fell down the stairs in front of me and her mother started telling me not to worry and that it was an accident, while I stood on the stairs stuttering “But I wasn’t anywhere near her.  She just fell” in what appears to have been a slightly unconvincing way, judging from the look I got. 

And in the middle of it all, a lady came over and tried to give me a leaflet about parenting classes.  I really, really hope it was a generic sales pitch and not a tailored approach, based on her observations of my parenting skills.  I really should have stayed home and watched Thomas and Ben play pirates and sea-monsters. 
Well Thomas plays pirates and sea-monsters.  Ben just drags himself around the floor unaware that he is playing the part of the Kraken to Thomas's aspiring Captain Jack Sparrow.

I have, however, managed to overlap Thomas and Ben’s naps, even if there is no hope of co-ordinating them.  I calculate that this will probably give me about fifteen minutes of peace.

If I’m lucky.  Ben is in that state of light sleep that can be broken by the slightest creak of a floorboard.  And we have unpredictable floorboards.  It isn’t always the same one that creaks.  It should be like that scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where he jumps from flagstone to flagstone, neatly avoiding the dangerous ones.  Instead it is more like that weird 1980s children’s program, The Adventure Game, where the participants had to move across a grid while avoiding a strange, pulsating CGI thingy called the Vortex.  Which they helpfully couldn’t see.

Anyway, since I’m not going to get anything remotely important done in the remaining twelve and a half minutes, I might as well put down a few more thoughts I had about the York festival.

I’ve been thinking about some very important people I missed off the thank you list in my last post.  Last year I met Kathryn Price of the Cornerstones literary consultancy, who was there to give editorial advice on manuscripts in one of the popular “book doctor” sessions.  She gave me some spectacularly useful feedback which was, helpfully, consistent with the comments of an agent.  It wasn’t particularly welcome advice as it involved massacring my precious first chapter, a piece of airy-fairy, essay-like ramblings of which I was inordinately proud.

But it was the right advice.  After a bit more work I eventually went back to Kathryn and had a formal report done on the manuscript by one of the Cornerstones editors.  It was, quite simply, the best thing I have ever done in terms of my writing.

From talking to people at the festival this year, I think the faint suspicion about consultancy reports is finally dissipating.  The accepted wisdom is that when you are dealing with agents and publishers, any request for a “reading fee” or a contribution towards publishing costs is a huge red light.  Debi Alper (or it could have been Harry Bingham!) said at the weekend that any money should always flow in one direction – towards the author.

It is to the credit of whichever one of them said it that they didn’t immediately add “except where literary consultancies are concerned” since Debi carries out freelance editing for a literary consultancy and Harry runs one!

But it certainly is the exception to that rule.  If anyone out there has been considering it, but has been put off by that faint, nagging suspicion that literary consultancies are simply thriving by encouraging the hopeless dreams of writers who have no chance of ever succeeding, please do reconsider.  The report I received was far more detailed and insightful than I could possibly have hoped for.  The editor in question also helpfully sent me back my manuscript with her handwritten notes in the margins.  It contained advice that confirmed things I already knew but was hoping to avoid doing anything about, and it contained brand new suggestions that led to some huge lightbulb moments.

One of the things I found incredibly reassuring when I was deciding whether or not to invest in an editorial report, was the fact that Cornerstones are effectively in competition with the Writers’ Workshop who organise the festival, and yet they were invited to the 2011 festival to give workshops and one-to-one advice.  Maybe I have slightly fluffy ideas about how business works, but this would tend to suggest to me that both consultancies have a genuine passion for making sure that aspiring writers reach their potential, that goes beyond mere financial interests.

I met a handful of people at the festival who had used the Writers’ Workshop and they were all extremely happy with their reports.  I was certainly more than happy with the help I received from Cornerstones, and I would certainly recommend either consultancy to anyone who wanted a little bit of extra help.

And I don’t think it is just those trying to go down the traditional publishing route who should think about it.  There are an increasing number of people considering self-publishing, and with the rise of e-books, it has never been easier to get your work out there.  I am actually feeling rather stunned and pleased with myself for resisting the urge to hurl one of the early drafts of my novel out there to take its chances.  It’s not as though I am the most patient person after all.

But with self-publishing there is no gatekeeper, no quality control and, unfortunately, there is a lot of poor quality work out there.  Some of it is, quite simply, bad.  But some of it could just have done with a bit of a polish and a tweak.  If you are considering self-publishing, a literary consultancy could be the difference between uploading something that will gradually draw in readers and receive positive reviews, and something that might have a permanent and detrimental effect on any career you might try to build in the future.

Stuart MacBride, who gave the closing address at the festival, said that he was very glad e-publishing wasn’t available when he wrote his first novel as he might have been tempted to put it out there.  Although I have to say I would actually really like to read about the bumbling hitmen on a roadtrip round Scotland while under pursuit by angry Inland Revenue officers in a big white van.

Anyway, one of the things I took away from this festival was actually that the decision I made after the last festival, the decision to get help with my manuscript, was the right one.  Had it not been for that decision I would imagine that I would have had a very different experience at the 2012 festival.  It would almost certainly have been fun and informative (if probably a little more drunken) but I would still have been at a much earlier stage in my writer’s journey.

Wow.  They are both still asleep.  That’s been at least eighteen minutes….


  1. Aah, your experiences at playgroup are so like my own! Will never forget the time I was informed by a lady that Aisling had (at not even 2 years old) "stolen" raisins from her bag and she really hoped she wasn't allergic as she had eaten the whole box - yes, thanks for that...

    1. Weird. You would think she would have mentioned it at around the halfway mark. And is anyone allergic to raisins?!

  2. It was probably both Harry and moi who said that ££ should always flow to the author - apart from when seeking a critique. Another great post which I've linked to on my blog.

  3. Great post Anne...

    I have to add though that self publishing is the hardest thing I have ever done, and I think if all of us were meant to be bestsellers then it would be a good idea to hold back. But, there are an awful lot of writers out there whose only way to publish is to it themselves. I have met an awful lot of self published authors who are amazing...

    Yes, I agree, there is crap out there. But, would that writing have stood a chance even after a review? Probably not - harsh but true...

    I have learnt more by self publishing than by doing anything else, and it is only now that I know I can write and finish a book that I think more seriously about getting editorial advice.

    I hope this adds to the discussion...
    Vanessa xx

    p.s. I am so glad I am past the stage of kids not going to sleep...phew! It does pass and things do get easier.

    p.p.s. Good luck with getting an agent... even though I have chosen to self publish I do wish you all the best going the traditional route :)