Last week Anne Wan, local children’s author, talked about why writing for children is fun and what she learned from writing her debut novel, Secrets of the Snow Globe: Vanishing Voices. In Part 2 she shares her three top tips for writers and what she loves and loathes about editing. There will be a lot of common ground here for writers in all genres!
What are your three top tips for writers?
1. Find a good editor! However great you think your story is, a fresh person reading your work will always be able to spot gaps, inconsistencies and areas for improvement which, as the writer, we cannot see.
2. Know your goals as a writer then persevere!
3. Keep reading and enjoying stories, it’s at the heart of what we do!
Advice on Promoting
I was advised to promote locally well and then slowly build outwards. Finding time to write the next book can be hard as you have to balance that with marketing the current one.
Shared Golden Rule from Anne and Allison
Never ever show anyone your first draft.
(And take comfort from the fact Shakespeare’s first drafts would have been in need of a lot of work to improve them. It is the nature of writing!).
My bugbear is overusing the word “as” especially in action scenes. It is only when reading back through you realise how often you use pet words like this.
They nearly always slow the pace too.
Allison: Importance of Getting the Book Cover Right
A good book cover will be attractive but also show people something of what the story is about by its design. Anne’s covers, front and back, work well here. A book cover has to make a good impact.
Who are your favourite writers and why, Anne?
As a child I didn’t enjoy reading until I discovered 101 Dalmatians. It scared and excited me in equal measure! Enid Blyton then formed a large part of my childhood reading (especially The Famous Five and Malory Towers). I love a good mystery!
I have always enjoyed history and so as a young adult I mainly read the classics (Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Bronte sisters, and Dickens).
Now, I mostly read picture books! One of my favourite authors is Karma Wilson (The Bear Snores On). There is a real charm about her characters and her use of language is beautiful.
Have you always wanted to write or was it something that you “fell into” almost accidentally?
I asked Anne this as I needed 2 major life events – turning 30 and the birth of my son – to make me turn my love of stories into writing some.
As a child I had liked writing down lots of ideas. I didn’t know how to structure stories or anything like that. I was always an avid reader. Later when I was helping my middle son recover from illness, we made a book together based on “The Long World” (almost like a Mr Men story. There was Mr Long who lived in Long World etc etc and I loved the idea so much I thought I had to write this down. I’ve not looked back since!). I was a farm girl and wanted to be outside all the time so the idea of writing for a living didn’t occur to me. I discovered though that I liked teaching (I started by teaching riding) and I ended up teaching literacy.
Do you enjoy editing?
Yes and No!
I had to follow that up…
Okay, Anne, why “yes” then?
It is satisfying when work can be improved. You spot something missing, for example, and get to put that right. Also I’ve learned to leave gaps in the story where I perhaps don’t know the solution straight away and go on to write the rest of the story. I can come back to these gaps later and often the solution to my problem comes up as I am writing something else. It is having the confidence to know you can come back.
Totally agree here. I think of the editing of a story is a bit like a sculptor taking a chisel to a block of stone. You know the sculptor isn’t going to create the finished piece all in one go. Sometimes big “blocks of editing” are needed, other times a more delicate touch to fine tune what you have. You have to develop confidence in your ability to do this and to accept your subconscious needs time to “brew ideas”. That is why so often the solution to a story problem will occur when you are actively working on something else.
Okay, Anne, what about the “no” then?
You can read your story so many times you become tired of it and really feel you can’t possibly face it again! Also checking the fine details such as typos, grammar, layout etc “can be on the boring side”.
– I would like to stress that is a joint quote from Anne and myself. This technical editing can be very boring indeed (but of course is necessary!).
You can get to a point where you never really stop editing a piece of work and you have to make yourself let go of it. I tend to do my creative edits first and the technical last.
I always feel a certain amount of relief when I’ve got a story down on paper/on screen as I know I’ve got something to work with then. I tend to go through what I’ve got and get a lot of the boring technical editing done. I then do the creative side of editing before going through the whole thing again, looking for anything I may have missed. I would want to go through the whole story at least three times in any case, with sufficient gaps in between, so I come to it with “fresh eyes”. I always pick up on something on each edit.
Anne, how long did it take you to write your book from start to finish?
When I first had the idea, I tried out different formats for it before putting it aside. I suppose I spent about a year thinking and working things out, especially the proper format for my story. When ready, I spent six weeks writing the actual story and then another year was needed to carry out all the edits. I have planned much more for my second book (I’ve planned out each chapter). I’ve found this has sped up the actual writing of it. I also found I needed to change some of my characters. My book started off with two sisters as the main characters. I’ve changed that to a brother and sister as this would have more appeal to boy and girl readers.
This tells me you’re learning from how you wrote the first book and that experience gained from writing that is showing! I also think you do learn how to write better with each book/story. You do have to face up to when a character is not quite working properly and either fix that or ditch them!
How did you meet Barbara Large, your editor? (I met Barbara years ago at the Winchester Festival. Marvellous lady!).
I met her when I joined her Creative Writing class at Eastleigh College. I was on this course for a couple of years.
All writers need to market their own works now. How do you find that aspect of things (given most of us frankly would rather concentrate on writing!)?
Yes, I would definitely prefer to be writing than marketing! This has been the most challenging aspect of publishing independently.
What is the one thing about the publishing world you would change if you could and why?
I have 2!
For an author/ independent publisher, marketing is hard, but even with a traditional publisher the author is expected to do much of their own publicity. In an ideal world, it would be wonderful for authors to hand these reins to the professionals!
Some years ago publishers agreed to allow retailers to sell the books at any price where before they had to charge the price printed on the book. This has hit publishers and authors hard. I feel sad when I see amazing books worth £8.99 sold for £4 or even two for £7. The chain from author to finished product on the shelf is long and everyone takes their cut. At the end of the chain an author somewhere is losing out.
What writing festivals/workshops have you found the most useful and why?
Winchester Writers’ Conference, London Book Fair. I found it exciting as a very new writer to enter the world of agents and publishers and finding out from them firsthand what their requirements were.
The other huge advantage is if you can’t get to meet an agent or publisher at a “one-to-one” meeting, which the conferences usually put on, you can still write to people you’ve heard give talks at these and refer to that in your letter. It makes a good opening and shows who you’re writing to that you are at least committed enough to go to conferences such as Winchester. They’ve still got to really like your story and think they can sell it to take it on though! Also the courses you pick on conferences such as this change as you develop. I’m now looking at talks on publicising your book rather than the basics of fiction writing, which is where I started with Winchester.
How would you define a “good” read?
Something that grabs my attention from the outset, has enough intrigue to keep me guessing, moves me emotionally and gives me characters that I really care about. Recently, I lost sleep over Harry Potter! I felt so anxious for him as the final stages of his epic showdown with Voldemort approached that I kept waking early in the morning, my heart pounding!
Sympathise here. I cried at Snape’s death but was relieved he turned out to be the way he was in the novels. I’d have felt let down if Snape’s ending had revealed him to be a two dimensional character after all.
Do you outline your stories? (I do! I also outline my flash fiction pieces as, even with those, it is easy to go off at a tangent that doesn’t help the story!).
Yes. I do lots of brain storming looking at all the possible events which could happen. I find it easier to plan with pen and paper. I tend to visualise the story mountain as I work out the plot and order the sequence of events.
I often know the beginning and end of the story quite quickly. The middle takes more work!
Do you see or hear your characters as you write? I tend to hear mine first, the visual comes later.
I know what the person is like and have a loose picture of them. Their voice comes afterwards. Sometimes I can visualise but generally I have a “sense” of what that character would be like. So much can depend on the character here. I do always “sense” motivation/weaknesses in the character. I find my characters emerge over time.
And future books?
My Secrets of the Snow Globe is going to be a series of three books so with book 2 (on which I am currently doing the final edits), I have had to ensure it is a story in itself so it makes sense for those who haven’t read Book 1. I have written a brief overview early on in Book 2 and have put in enough so it is clear what is going on. I am also currently planning out Book 3. I am hoping to write other series and would love to see if I can do something with my picture books. I have sent several off to publishers. I would also like to write a series about horses and also about themes, such as technology, that might appeal to boys.
My big news though is:-
I will be launching Secrets of the Snow Globe: Shooting Star (book 2 in my series) at Waterstones in West Quay, Southampton on Friday 29th September from 6.30 pm to 8 pm.
Anne, many thanks for a great interview and best of luck with the book launch later in the year. One thing that does unite all fiction writers, regardless of who we write for, is we want to encourage reading in all age ranges. And a book is a relatively cheap form of entertainment. You do get to keep it for ever if you wish.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.