I have almost finished my Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Auckland. In other words, deadlines are looming, my thesis is due.
This is generally a time to panic.
My thesis is in the form of a novel. Now, for all intents and purposes, the novel is complete. ‘Complete’ and ‘Finished’ are two entirely different concepts however. I am still in what authors call the rewrite and editing phase.
Some authors like doing this. Some view it as the ‘fun part’. I don’t. I would rather create something new than remould something old. Frankly, I would prefer to be in Hell having my nose hairs plucked. But it’s part of the creative process and has to be done.
Writing a novel is a tiring, exhilarating, soul-destroying, emotional roller coaster ride, especially when you are currently working on version No. 6.
In order to deal with it (and especially rewrites), an author uses a variety of strategies. Foremost amongst them is procrastination. Some would call it work avoidance.
Procrastination takes many forms. The interweb is an enabler. Procrastination and the interweb are very good friends. My lecturer, Paula Morris, tells me that she does not let herself on the interweb until after 3pm. I am not so strong. Before I start a day’s writing, I check a variety of on-line distractions. First, I check my bank balance in the forlorn hope that some mysterious benefactor has deposited a large amount of money. Sometimes I hope that one of my royalty cheques will be large enough to write full-time. I’m still holding out for that day.
Then, I read my emails. In particular, I’m usually looking for something from my agent that is linked to the paragraph above.
Next, I check facebook. This can take some time. I closely examine my author page and see if I have any more likes. Then I check to see if any other authors I know have had any likes. Then I click on links to see if there’s anything interesting. There usually is. This is what I like to call ‘research.’
Then I check twitter. This also takes some time. I often toy with the idea of tweeting, even going so far as to write one. Then I find that it’s not very interesting or funny and delete it. I find it much more enjoyable to read other author’s tweets, authors who all seem to be far more funny and interesting than me.
Then there’s goodreads. I call it the black hole of Calcutta. There’s reviews to read (of my books and those of my peers), other books to find, other authors to check out, links to their webpages. All very interesting.
Actual words written so far: 0
After that, I go onto Amazon’s author central to see how many sales I’ve made the previous night. Often, I think about tweaking my author profile before discarding the idea as blatantly stupid. There’s really nothing I can say about myself that will make me darkly mysterious or even vaguely cool.
Finally, I crack my knuckles, lean forward, fingers poised above the keyboard as though I’m about to play a challenging piece by Mozart, and begin typing, praying that it is not today that my Muse abandons me.
If she does, it’s not the end of the world. That’s a whole different genre.
Phillip W. Simpson’s latest YA novel, Minotaur, is out with Month9books on September 29th.
Welcome to this week’s M9B Friday Reveal!
This week, we are sharing the
Month9Books Fall Books Preview!
Check out these amazing titles coming from Month9Books this Fall!.
They look amazing!
Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!
Amazon | B&N | BAM | Chapters | Kobo | TBD | Mysterious Galaxy (make sure to enter her pre-order giveaway if you purchase from Mysterious Galaxy!)
"Jenkins brings edge-of-your-seat adventure to this intriguing new world. I can’t wait to read more!”~ New York Times bestselling author Jessica Day George
"Wow....WOW, WOW, WOW! I have no words to describe how much I love this book. Jenkins writes characters who are just so easy to love, and when you love a character it makes the book so much better. And I loved all the characters. Zo, Tess, Joshua and Gryphon. Gryphon is definitely my favorite - but who wouldn't love Gryphon? Of course I do have a soft spot for our heroine, Zo." ~Bri, Blogger @ Once Upon A Twilight
"Nameless destroyed me in the best way possible. The romance was subtle, but written beautifully. The plot was very intriguing and the pacing was spot on. I loved the entire cast of characters, every single one of them added to the story. Trust me when I say you should preorder it, add it to your TBR, request it from your library, do whatever you have to do to get this book in your hands because if you are a YA fantasy fan like me you need this book in your life!" ~Bridget, Blogger @ Dark Faerie Tales
"NAMELESS is epic storytelling at its best. My mind is still reeling from the world that I have just been immersed in and I don't want to leave it. Can I please have the sequel NOW? Because I need to know what happens next but in the meantime I'm just going to re-read it again and again. Is it that good, you may ask? Hell yes!!! And you will think so too. Trust me." Nancy, Blogger @ Tales of A Ravenous Reader
"To say that I love this book is an understatement. It completely blew me away! I am so happy that I took a chance on it. NAMELESS is one book that you can re-read over and over again and it will still feel fresh! I cannot wait for the world to read it and fall under the NAMELESS spell. Because that’s what I feel like I am under, a spell that has me trapped in Zo's world and won’t let me out! I don’t want out!"~Damaris, Blogger @ Good Choice Reading
“Lovers of mythology will enjoy this coming-of-age adventure and be surprised by the believable, "true story" of the Minotaur.”~ School Library Journal
The School Library Journal, the U.S based biggest reviewer of children's and YA literature in the world, reviewed Minotaur, out with Month9books in September. It's a huge honour and I'm very lucky. Few books (out of the ones submitted) get reviewed. Schools in the states use these reviews to decide which books they should buy so the SLJ is very influential. This review is not officially out yet (comes out in July) but it's all over my twitter feed and it's on Amazon, so why not?
Here you go:
From School Library Journal Gr 7 Up—In this retelling of the Minotaur story, readers journey through Greek and Roman mythology. Ovid, having recently completed his Metamorphoses, decides to set sail and see some of the places he's written about. He begins in Crete at the palace at Knossos where he meets Asterian. As Ast guides the writer through the palace ruins, standing over the infamous Labyrinth, Ovid questions some of the facts Ast is claiming. Thus begins the story of Ast: his questionable birth, his exploits as a young boy, and his survival of King Minos, his alleged father. While the grammar and sentence structure are at a higher level than Rick Riordan's books, lovers of the "Percy Jackson" series (Disney-Hyperion) looking for meatier fare will enjoy this fast-paced story featuring gods, goddesses, and a youth faced with perilous choices at every turn. Asterian's tale will captivate readers. Teens will appreciate his candor ("I, on the other hand, was a mess, riddled with jealousy and petty insecurities. A sixteen-year-old boy in other words.") as well as the relationships he has with his many siblings. Ovid is himself a 50-year-old, wine-drinking poet, but that fact will not dissuade teens; his role diminishes after the first few chapters as the action increases with Asterian's tale. VERDICT Lovers of mythology will enjoy this coming-of-age adventure and be surprised by the believable, "true story" of the Minotaur.—Cathleen Ash, Manor High School Library, TX
Ben Okri ran a masterclass on writing for my MCW last week. Ben, in case you don’t know, won the Booker prize for his novel, the Famished road, back in 1991. He’s one of the most well-known and respected writers around and I can see why.
He was here, in Auckland, for the writers festival and Paula Morris was lucky enough to collar him and twist his arm so he would come and lend us some of his genius.
He cuts a fine figure, does Ben Okri. Dabber black beret, black suit, crisp white shirt, a glint in his eye. He was filled to bursting with energy, wit and charm.
He came armed with an agenda. He wanted to talk about suggestiveness—in other words, to say without saying, to imply and give the reader scope to invest his words with more meaning than even he anticipated. Chekhovian, I guess. Ben's been influenced by Anton Chekhov, of course. (On a side note, I love Chekhov's famous quote: "Medicine is my lawful wife and literature is my mistress." That could apply to me, replacing medicine with teaching or education)
I found it fascinating.
The gist of what Ben was saying is that less can be more. As writers, he wants us to stretch ourselves and to use words that we wouldn’t normally use, to avoid direct words and use more indirect language. By doing so, he said, you will send the mind of the reader off on an unexpected journey. Much like Bilbo Baggins in the Hobbit, I suspect (my words, not his).
Ben also taught me an important lesson in grace. I had to hurry off afterwards to pick up my son from daycare so I sidled up to him and presented one of his books (Arcadia) to sign. He took the time to ask me what I wrote, what I was interested in (historical/mythological YA, theology) and then used it to write a personalised inscription.
This incident reminded me that it doesn’t matter how successful or famous a writer is, what matters most is that they connect with their readers. That they show an interest in their readers. Without readers, writers may as well not bother. The purpose of writing is to be read. To be read and (hopefully) enjoyed.
I found it quite humbling that this great writer actually took the time to get to know me a little and find out what interested me. One day, perhaps, I might be a semi-famous author and I hope I remember this lesson.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Ben that so enamoured me that I underlined it three times.
‘The world is rich with possibilities’
Welcome to this week’s M9B Friday Reveal!
This week, we are revealing the cover for
Minotaur by Phillip W. Simpson
presented by Month9Books!
Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!
Minotaur by Phillip W. Simpson
Publication Date: September 29, 2015
Complete the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win!
Title will be sent upon its release.
When people (mostly my wife) ask me how the new novel is going, I say ‘well, it’s going.’ I’m not sure where but it’s going. The first 5k words or so got critiqued by my lecturer (Paula Morris) and fellow students in the MCW. They confirmed my suspicions. Basically, I was trying a bit too hard to be ‘clever’ or ‘complicated’ or something. I don’t know really. I was just trying to do something different, to stretch myself, to be better. My agent tells me that I have the skills now to challenge myself and I like to think that’s what I’ve been doing but, I have to admit, I’ve felt a little bit at sea with my current W.I.P.
It’s young adult of course. Historical. Of course. This will be my third YA historical novel. My eighth novel overall, actually. Without giving too much away, I have three main characters. All teenagers. My plan was to use first person POV and present tense. Alternate each character from chapter to chapter. I soon realised this was too complicated and confusing and changed it to only two of the characters. I wrote the prologue and the first two chapters. Wasn’t entirely happy with it.
I sent it to my agent. She really liked it.
Then it got critiqued by the other students. The pointed out that I use too many adverbs which I didn’t realise. I also say ‘suddenly’ quite a lot. I changed it.
Suddenly (see what I did there?), it’s now 3rd person, past tense. Mostly one person’s perspective but quite a bit of a second with occasional other characters thrown in for good measure. I think it’s better. I hope it’s better. It better bloody well be better.
I sent this second draft to my agent. She liked the POV better but I’d lost something in the pacing by trying to weave too much bloody plot in too early. Back to the drawing board.
It’s my third draft and I’m getting sick of reading the same sentences. Have done almost 30k now. Almost half way. My agent has it.
Now, I know I promised to give regular updates on the course but I lied. There’s no other way of saying it. The bottom line is that I am learning, I am taking on board other’s criticisms and advice and adapting my writing accordingly. I’m reading more widely which is great. I’m much more analytical when I read. I feel like this has taken a little enjoyment out of reading but I guess that’s life.
This course will make me a better writer. That or it will kill me. Pick one.
So, this week I was back at the University of Auckland to start my Masters in Creative Writing. It’s been a long time since I was a full time student and over twenty years since I’d set foot on UoA’s city campus. Lots of things have changed. Some things have remained the same. It is a bit surreal. I feel like I’m old and over-dressed. I sense the young students looking at me warily, sizing me up, probably assuming by my age that I must be a lecturer. Sadly, no. That position is filled by the formidable Paula Morris whom I am slightly in awe of.
I think it’s going to be a good year. Paula has a dry wit and is a little irreverent and silly which I can definitely relate to. Silly is good. I have been and always will be the class clown. At one workplace in the UK, I was voted second most silly person in the office (first place went to the brother of the boss). On one occasion, the brother and I were at lunch when we were suddenly and unexpectantly joined by the boss. We proceeded to go on a bender and never made it back to work. The next day, both myself and the brother received a letter of warning from the Personnel Manager telling us our behaviour was unacceptable (fair enough – I believe it’s common practise for people to go back to work after lunch. It’s universally frowned upon when you get drunk instead). Anyway, the brother and I then decided it would be hilarious to write the Personnel Manager a warning letter in return. He didn’t find it as funny as we did.
Anywho, I digress. Back to the course. It’s going to be a challenge to keep my mouth shut this year. I have a tendency to speak before thinking, to open my mouth and let the words spill out before I’ve engaged my brain. I have been officially diagnosed with verbal diarrhoea. I say irrelevant things. I say irreverent things. I say inappropriate and controversial things. I say down right stupid and silly things. I sense a telling off is on the cards.
I like to swear but I’m going to have to rein that in. Unfortunately. I don’t get to play with adults very often so it’s extremely tempting. I can’t swear in front of my impressionable and sponge-like 3 year old son, I can’t swear (obviously) in front of the children I teach. I write educational books and YA novels and haven’t sworn in these either. I do enjoy a good swear. My first novel, Overdrive, which still makes me cringe, has more swearing in it than In Bruges which has the dubious honour of being history’s most sweary movie.
Good grief. Not really staying on topic today. The course. Yes. The other students on the course are pretty much what I imagined: undeniably talented and filled with life experience. Like me, many of them have pursued other callings before this point.
I love the fact that it’s practical and hands on. We have workshops and seminars. In the workshops each week, three students (there’s only 12 of us) hand in 5,000 words which we have to discuss, critique and provide formative feedback on. The author of each piece of work is not allowed to speak until the others have finished giving their feedback. This is going to be a challenge for me. When it’s my turn to be critiqued, it might be wise to seal my mouth with masking tape.
The seminars are fun and challenging. We have to closely read exemplars of great prose, deconstructing each word, each sentence and each paragraph, turning the text this way and that in order to examine it properly. This will be good for me. I don’t really take my time with reading any more. I have a tendency to skim, probably because I’m time poor and always in a hurry. Not so this year. I’m also going to read things I might normally not. I usually read a lot of sci-fi and fantasy, YA and the occasional book my wife throws my way. This will be good to get me out of my comfort zone.
We also have writing ‘exercises’ i.e. to describe an object or experience. This is extremely practical but also a little confronting. In addition, I’m paying close attention to pedagogy because I rather like Paula’s approach and I could easily adapt it when I work with younger students. This course will make me a better writer and as an extension of that, better able to teach writing. I still have a great deal to learn - not only about writing, but teaching as well.
I have one fear: to start doubting myself. Every time I start thinking this way, I recall Frank Herbert’s Dune:
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I am and will be exposed to great writing and this, of course, can evoke feelings of unworthiness. Generally, I am a ‘pantser’ i.e. I write by the seat of my pants without much forethought or planning. I’m not going to dramatically change my M.O. at this stage. I’m going to write and write and write and then agonise over it later. Otherwise I feel that I may freeze up with self-doubt and indecision.
On another note altogether, I am meeting up with my agent, Vicki Marsdon, this afternoon. The owner of Wordlink literary agency, Dan Myers, is over from the States and he’s having a little soirée for authors and staff. I’m probably going to get drunk. It’s one thing I do well. Hope I don’t make too much of a tit of myself. I think I should take my own advice and keep my stupid mouth shut. The big fish authors will hopefully be there. Authors I admire like Ben Sanders, Donna Malane, Ella West and Keith Butler. Writing minnows like myself should be seen and not heard.
I trust getting drunk and falling into the swimming pool doesn’t count.
Well, the Christmas season is almost over and my stomach is about to let out a great sigh of relief. I’ve eaten too much, I’ve drunk too much. Proportionally, I’ve probably gained the same amount of weight of ham I consumed (a lot).
I spent Christmas Eve at my parents which was lovely. My three year old son, Jack, spent most of the afternoon jumping on my Dad every five minutes to wake him up. Christmas was spent at my brother-in-laws with my wife’s family. One of my nieces is an avid reader. I noticed a copy of Rachael Craw’s excellent debut novel, SPARK, on her bookcase. I think my niece was vaguely impressed when I told her I knew Rachael and that we were facebook friends. I asked where one of my novels was (RAPTURE). She said (somewhat mysteriously) that it was with a friend. Okay. Fine. At least it’s getting read even though it won’t translate to sales.
Speaking of which, a friend who works as an attorney in Oklahoma (Hi, Micah), dropped in to get me to sign a copy of APOCALYPSE (RAPTURE TRILOGY, #3) for a teenage relative. He tells me that my books are doing the rounds at the local high school. Very flattering. I’m all for book sharing but it would still be nice to sell a few copies.
I donated ten copies of RAPTURE to my local library a few months back. I went into the system to check that they had been added and I couldn’t find them so I asked the librarian. I was informed that they might have been sold. To say I was shocked was an understatement. At no point did they mention that that was a possibility. I thought I was doing something positive for my local community and I feel a little stung by the betrayal. I met with the head librarian who is very nice. She apologised profusely and has promised me that this will never happen again. I think there was a misunderstanding with the librarian who initially accepted the books. I don’t think she quite understood that I was a local author and that several of my books are already in the library system. Once the pain eases a little, I might consider donating some other books.
I have written absolutely nothing which has been good for my sanity but not so much my self-esteem. When I don’t write, I feel I’ve been lazy, even though it is the holiday season. I am wracked with guilt and guilt of all emotions, is one I don’t deal with very well. Next week, I will wedge my writer’s hat firmly on my head, put fingers to the keys and see what I can come up with. I hope it’s good.
I have a few writing jobs on my list. Foremost amongst them is to sort out the RAPTURE graphic novel. My UK collaborator, the talented artist Mat Dawson, have been working on this project for some time. Being both relatively new to producing a graphic novel, we have tried a somewhat odd approach. Mat draws the pictures and I add the text after the fact. This seemed to be working fine for a while but now we’ve reached the point where I have to take the bull by the horns. In other words, I’m going to have to write a script for Mat to follow. There’s simply too much material for Mat to illustrate otherwise. This could prove challenging.
Mat’s computer also died recently so we agreed that he would give the graphic novel a rest for a while (I have more than enough images to work with), and he has turned his attention to a picture book that I wrote some time ago. It has been with my agent for a while so Mat is illustrating it and we are going to self-publish. I’ve never self-published a picture book before so that could be a challenge.
I’ve got a few educational contracts starting (or continuing) in the New Year. In other words, writing fiction/non-fiction texts for the education market. Plus teacher notes. It’s always a bit of a juggle between these and my YA writing but I’ve become reasonably adept at managing my time over the years. Not only that, but I only have to be at my school for the first and last few weeks of the year. The rest of the time will be dedicated to my thesis and educational writing. It will basically mean that I don’t have to work weekends anymore (which my wife is very pleased about) and donate more time to my son.
I’ve also got to prepare the synopsis for my new novel which is (once again) based on Greek myth. This is for my course next year (Masters in Creative Writing). My agent (the fantastic Vicki Marsdon) and I have agreed on a basic outline and now I just have to put pen to paper. Or fingers to the keyboard. Whatever. You know what I mean.
Speaking of my agent, the agency had some meetings in New York just before Christmas. They got my RAPTURE TRILOGY and my latest novel, ARGOS, on the desks of a number of NY editors which is exciting. Most offices close down there until the 5th January so I’m trying not to think about it in the meantime. Fingers crossed.
My U.S publisher (Month9books) for my YA novel, MINOTAUR, announced a release date of September 29th, 2015. This is very exciting although I was hoping it might be a little later (or sooner) so I might be able to travel to the States to do some promotion. As it stands, this date is right in the middle of lectures. It is what it is and so I'll have to roll with it.
Overall, it’s shaping up to be a fantastic year. Just writing this has inspired me. I think it’s knuckle cracking, fingers to the grind stone, churn out lots of words time. You never know – they might actually be good.
Last term, I was the writing intervention teacher for a group of year 6 children at my school. The writing intervention program is a Ministry of Education initiative designed to lift writing achievement.
Every day, the group would meet with the intervention teacher and write, talk about writing, and write some more. The term was ten weeks long.
The objective of this program was to find pedagogy or teaching practices that work and then implement them in a wider manner.
Eight year 6 students were selected for the program. Selection was based on need and those who would benefit from close instruction.
This group was 'student centered' - in other words, it was all about them and what they wanted to achieve. Topics to write about were chosen by the students. The text type and purpose were chosen by the students. Students were given the opportunity to give feedback to other students and suggest ‘next steps.’
It was about ‘doing something different.’ To that end, students wrote every day on laptops. This overcame certain obstacles, especially those concerning surface features like punctuation and spelling. When writing with traditional resources (i.e. pen and paper), some of the students would lose heart and stop writing when they encountered problems with surface features. The laptops (using word with spellchecking), helped the students focus on the story and not get hung up on features that could be corrected during the editing process.
Each student had a ‘mentor’ – a teacher they chose to provide more specific feedback on their writing.
The Writing Warriors had their own website where they would post their writing every week. Each student had their own page. Teachers, family and friends could post comments on these pages.
This program was also about purpose. The purpose of writing is to be read. The students were motivated to write because they knew that their writing was going to be published in a professional manner at the end of the course.
‘Ten Weeks’ is the product of their labour. The student’s work was collated and printed in a book created using Amazon's Createspace. Almost thirty thousand words in ten weeks. That is a remarkable achievement for what were considered ‘reluctant writers.’
To that end, I would like to congratulate the Writing Warriors themselves. They have worked extremely hard on their writing this term. I am proud of every single one of them. All of them have shown improvement in their writing during the course of this program. Not only that, but their attitude towards writing has changed. They have looked forward to coming to the class every day and actually writing.
Many people say that they can write a book. What separates them from actual authors is the doing part. The Writing Warriors have done that. They have written a book and it is something tangible and real that they can always reflect upon.
Something they can always be proud of. Well done, Writing Warriors. You can now consider yourselves published authors.
Click here to view the book on Amazon
I live a double life (or perhaps even a triple one). I write novels as well as educational resources for many different publishers. As well as a writer, I am also a primary (elementary) school teacher. This term, we are studying science, with a focus on chemistry.
Like most teachers, I spend hours on the internet looking for relevant activities and resources. In particular, I look for ‘experts’ to come into the school to do hands-on activities with the children. To my dismay, I could only find one here in NZ. This is science in a van.
These guys are great. Unfortunately, we’ve had them in for the last two years and the children have seen most of their activities.
So then I went off on a tangent and found sites more relevant to the living world. This, I confess, was motivated by my three year old son’s keen interest in animals. A few weekends ago, we took him to a ‘farm’ where children get to pet animals, ride on horses and tractors and feed pigs, cows, donkeys and goats. A few weekends ago, he went to a birthday party where they had a petting zoo which included reptiles (turtles and snakes), rabbits, rats, mice and even a chinchilla. He loved it. Here in NZ, there doesn’t seem to be many people who offer these types of interactive activities. If you go offshore, you can find more.
Canada seems to offer more. This place in particular:
They even offer reptile themed birthdays which I know my son would love. Pity they’re so far away otherwise we’d be there in a flash.
phillip w. simpson
Phillip W. Simpson is an author of YA and children's books.