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.
I received very good news recently. I applied for study leave next year to get my Masters in Creative writing. My study leave application was successful and so next year, I’ll be out of a classroom filled with little people and back into the classroom filled with big people. To say that I’m excited is an understatement. This is a significant step in my writing journey. By completing this course, I will (hopefully) become a better writer and as an extension to this, become better able to teach it.
It’s only recently that I considered myself a proper author which is a little sad – especially after 50 chapter books and 7 novels. As such, I think I need some of the trappings of a proper author. That’s when I decided I needed a business card. One that says ‘author’ somewhere on it.
So I did a little research. Here in New Zealand, two of my writer friends suggested a good place. It’s called Vista Print.
I got 250 business cards for $30 which I considered a bargain.
A couple of friends in the states recommended this place. Printing Peach. They do business cards as well as booklets and a whole lot else.
Of course, now I have to hand out my business cards. Not really sure of the etiquette of this. I don’t even know 250 people. Gotta start somewhere I suppose.
I'm one of the 120 authors from around the world participating in the YA scavenger hunt:
The YA Scavenger Hunt is a biannual online event that promotes collaboration between YA authors from different publishing houses, offering fans an opportunity to see the latest and greatest in young adult literature. During the hunt, we showcase exclusive bonus material, give readers access to top secret insider information, and offer fabulous prizes and giveaways for zealous YA fans.
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Got this email out of the blue a few days ago from a student I taught around six years ago. As a teacher and writer, this made my day.
"...continued my fascination with writing, which you encouraged me in from the get go. I won a few competitions and met some pretty amazing people thanks to you.
And guess what thanks to you I'm gonna be a teacher, yep you inspired me. I would really love to keep in contact since you have become such an extraordinary writer. It really gives me some hope that my little ideas which you loved so much all those years ago, might be good enough for people to read too.
I just wanted to say a massive thank you to you. Because you really did make me believe I could do things. These really are 'the best years of my life'."
At the time of writing this, I have just completed my seventh novel. This is on top of the fifty odd chapter books I have had published.
Most of my novels fall between 70k to 110k words. This is a lot of words. Even if you typed ‘and’ 70,000 times, you’d find that it would take you a while.
Writing a novel is a serious undertaking. It involves a great deal of commitment in terms of time and energy – time and energy that many people simply do not have. I read a recent blog that stated that 97% of writers never finish their novel. I understand why.
Whilst I may have written several novels, it’s not to say that I’m an accomplished novelist. In fact, I still think that in many ways I am still at the prologue of my career. Not all of my novels were successful. In fact, not all of my novels were that good (I think five of the seven were, but that’s just me).
Saying that, I have become better with practice. Not only that, I have become better at planning – or not – but I will explain further in a moment. Coming up with ideas is the most important, however.
This is where my top tips come in. The idea or premise is crucial. Your agent (if you have one) won’t be pitching your amazing writing. What they will pitch is the idea. Without a good premise, who cares about your writing (not entirely true, but I’m trying to make a point here). Sure, it’s going to come under scrutiny later, but you have to intrigue people first with your idea.
A good idea can be summarized into a couple of sentences. If it’s good, it will immediately get people’s attention. It’s like being hit by lightning. Perhaps you’ve taken an idea that’s been done before and put a twist on it, perhaps it’s something completely fresh and different (unlikely – as Bono said ‘every artist is a thief’) – it doesn’t matter, it just needs to be good. You’ll know it when you hear it or read it. I often lie in bed at night just thinking of ideas, taking any situation and imagining ‘what if.’ I know straight away when I’ve got a good idea. I feel it in my bones.
Without a good idea, you really don’t have a novel. Your writing might be exceptional but without it being scaffolded around an excellent idea, it won’t matter much. Most people read a book because they like the story idea. If the writing is terrible, they will probably not read any other books by the same author, but at least you hooked them for a moment. Besides, a writer might have shockingly clumsy sentence structure for one or two novels, but after that, it should improve. Being a good writer takes time and practice. In spite of any internal or external limitations, it will get better.
Planning is also vitally important. I’ve heard that some authors don’t plan at all. I think that’s bollocks. If they’ve come up with an idea, that’s planning right there.
I’ve recently discovered a new word for writers who write by the seat of their pants with little or no planning. They’re called ‘Pantsers’. Even pantsers have planned to some degree. They have a premise and an idea where the story might go. They have to have a central protagonist. See? More planning.
I consider myself a combination of both a planner and a pantser. Once I come up with a premise, I think how the story will end. So I’ve got an idea, a beginning and an end. I just have to fill in the gaps from point A to point B in the most entertaining and interesting way possible. Sometimes, I write chapter breakdowns but these are just a guide – sign posts if you will, noting events that I think are important in the development of the story. Most of the time I ignore them. Once I’m into a novel, it tends to take on a life of its own and write itself. Often, things will happen that even I didn’t foresee.
What I’m saying is be flexible. Give the story freedom to move. Give it some air. Don’t restrict it by over planning. If the story goes off on a tangent, it might be a good thing. Just keep your ending in mind. Even if you get sidetracked, it might still be moving the story forward, inexorably heading towards the final scene that you envisaged when you first came up with the story idea.
But that’s me. That’s how I work. It works for me, it might not work for you. It’s up to you to find a method that suits your style. Your goal is to produce a novel – hopefully a good one – and you need to put measures in place that will help you reach your goal.
You don’t want to be one of those writers that starts a novel and never finishes it. When all is said and done, you don’t want to be on your deathbed thinking ‘I wish I’d finished that novel.’
Just finished new novel. Argos, the story of Odysseus' dog who waited twenty years for his master's return. Told through the eyes of the dog. Been playing around with cover ideas (for my own benefit) before I send it to my agent. And of course there will be proofreading, editing and then more proofreading.
Phillip W. Simpson
Phillip W. Simpson is an author of YA and children's books.