Monday, 25 June 2012

Such a tease...

After a request for more information about my book (from @ChickLitterEve) I realised that I’ve been all caught up in the nuts and bolts of writing and editing and haven’t shared anything with you about the plot or characters of my book. So I put pen to paper and here you go: the first teaser copy for my novel, which I’ve nicknamed Hollywood for now…

Abby Richards is waiting out her life serving burgers in a grimy LA diner. She’s succumbed to a life as a Hollywood cliché  actress-slash-waitress – though she has been trying hard to keep the ‘actress’ part of her life hidden from those around her.

When movie producer Ethan Walker walks into her diner, she’s terrified. There’s nothing she wants more than to run and hide, but Ethan is determined to drag her, and her secret, out into the open. 

I hope you like the sound of my story – let me know what you think!

Ellie x

Monday, 18 June 2012

Research, or Googling Hot Guys and their Houses

Research is one of my favourite things about writing, and not just because it involves googling pictures of hot guys. OK, it is mainly because it involves googling hot guys, but there are other great things about it too.

My most recent research enterprise has been adding details about my hero's, Ethan’s, home. I could see his house (a ridiculously beautiful mansion in the hills of Los Angeles, in case you were wondering) really clearly in my mind, but when I tried to describe it, all that came out on the page were wishy-washy generalities. It was really classic… the furnishings were beautiful but uncomfortable-looking... it was tasteful but soulless…. blah, blah, blah… What I really needed to help me to describe the pictures in my head was a real-life picture. The images in my mind aren’t photographs: sometimes they’re blurry, sometimes they’re made up more of feelings, emotions and swathes of colour rather than the specifics of soft furnishings and ornamental vases. I needed something physical, tangible, to zoom in on.

Which is where google comes into it. I have spent hours and hours trawling real estate websites looking for Ethan’s house. In the process, I’ve got to see that there are some seriously huge, seriously expensive and seriously 'interesting' (read 'ugly') houses out there. But eventually I found a mishmash of rooms that I felt matched the pictures I had in my mind. And, refreshingly, with these pictures, when I tried to see how many cushions were arranged on the sofa, or what type of fresh flowers the interior designer had arranged on a sideboard – they were right there.

And along the way, I got a real insight into my character. I knew instinctively which houses were right for Ethan and which he would have scoffed at. So I learnt that he doesn’t live in the most expensive house that he could afford, because something a little more modest suits him better, and this tells me about more than just real estate. When you sit back and think, ‘Could he really live with that marble flooring?’ you’re not really talking interior design. You’re asking what his values are. And any questions that give you cause to sit and think about your characters’ core principles, what drives them, what makes them tick, is going to make your story stronger.

So, house research done, I feel like the picture I have of Ethan’s six-pack is going a bit blurry, maybe I’ll just have a wee google. For research purposes, of course…

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Can I get a second opinion?

After weeks of planning, writing the first draft of my book, and then several more months editing it into reasonable shape, I started to look at it and despair. It could have been written in another language for all the sense it made to me. Every word was so familiar and so ingrained in my brain that I couldn’t see a way to change it. The only way to move forward from this point was to get a second opinion. What I wanted out of an early review, or beta read, was to know in broad terms which parts of the story, and which bits of my writing, were working and which weren’t.

When you’re looking for someone to review your manuscript, you have several options. There’s friends and family, of course, but be sure that whoever you ask is prepared to give you constructive criticism when it’s needed. Absolutely the most important thing in a reviewer is that they’re able to be honest with you - a review is no use if it doesn’t help you improve your book. If you don’t like the idea of asking a friend, then you have a couple of options. You could ask a professional editor to appraise your manuscript and make suggestions, or you can take to Twitter, blogs and forums to find beta readers or a crit partner. Chat with people who read and write in your genre, find someone you have a connection with, and ask! If possible, make yourself available to other writers who want beta readers – you learn so much about the craft by finding what works and what doesn’t in other peoples’ writing.

I’m very fortunate to have a brilliant friend, who also happens to be a brilliant editor (@SarahLou_Long – follow her real-life romance here:, agree to read my manuscript. We read and write in similar genres and I knew that her editorial instincts would be too strong not to suggest improvements wherever she could. I’d have been happy to have comments on just a few chapters, but, as I said, she is brilliant and agreed to read the whole thing.

When it actually came to reading this honest feedback and (plenty of) constructive criticism, I felt a bit ill. I’d not had anyone comment objectively on my writing since school, and had major attacks of the doubt crows (my current favourite phrase, courtesy of Maisey Yates). Mostly though, once I got into it, I found reading the suggestions for improvement more frustrating than painful, because once it was pointed out, every mistake seemed so obvious! Not only that, but a lot of the comments were requests for more information – often about the finer details of setting or subtext – that I had already thought about and written into my notes. It was absolutely crystal clear in my mind, but I’d somehow forgotten to get the words on the page.  By this point I knew my characters and my scenes so well that my brain was filling in gaps. But at least this meant that the negative comments were easy to tackle, and even the littlest positive ones (‘Love this J’ or ‘I love this whole page!’) made me do a little happy dance.

Of course, the reasonable part of my brain knows this isn’t the purpose of positive comments. What I need to do is pick apart these good bits, trying to work out what I’d said, or not said, that made Sarah smile, or gasp, or hate me (my favourite of the bunch was this one: ‘What? Don’t stop!! OMG, I have to get back to work now and I want to keep reading – you’re such a bl**dy tease!!’). And I will absolutely do this. Right after the happy dancing. 

But by far my favourite thing to come from this process is the homework – so far, I’ve been instructed to reread Marian Keyes, spend some quality time thinking about Jonny Jefferson, watch Entourage and listen to Matthew McConaughey’s voice. With advice like that, who am I to argue?

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Life after THE END

So, you type those two magic words, THE END, hit save and close the file. You’ve officially written a novel. Now what??

Once the first draft is finished, you have three options. One: Self-publish or submit the finished file to publishers exactly as it is, typos and all (I cannot think of any situation where this is a good idea). Two: Close the file, pretend it never existed and ignore it for all eternity. Or three, turn back to page one and start editing. This is where I found myself back in December of last year, having written a novel for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and I’ve spent the intervening time rewriting, editing, shaping and *deep breath* deleting.

Throughout the last stages of writing my first draft, I was really starting to look forward to the editing part. I’m an editor by trade, so surely editing my own book would be easy. I wish! I have had so much fun editing and rewriting, but easy isn’t the word I would use.

NaNoWriMo is a great writing program, and I love taking part (2011 was my third year), but when I looked back at what I’d written, I could see all the places where my novel read like it had been written in a month. There were vast areas of repetition, particularly within internal monologues, long periods of stasis and then huge leaps in characterisation (usually after I’d had a late-night brain-wave into a character’s development), and the same grammatical tricks and vocabulary used over and over again.

A second draft ironed out these problems and left me with what I’d like to think a first draft might look like if I spent longer than a month writing it. More importantly, I now know an awful lot more about my bad-writerly habits, which I’m hoping will make my next first draft a lot cleaner than the last. So my advice to anyone who’s just finished a first draft is edit, edit, edit.  And then once you’re happy with your second, third, fourth or even fifth draft, it’s time for the scary part.

Next up, beta readers and feedback. Who to ask, what to send, and what to do with positive and negative comments…