Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Two-book deal with Harper Collins Children's Books

I am absolutely thrilled that Publishers Weekly today announced that Alice Jerman at Harper Collins Children’s Books has bought two Young Adult novels from me, with first refusal on a third. All three novels will be historical fiction, and the first – WAIT FOR ME - will be published in the USA in early 2017.
Here’s the full version of official announcement made today in Publishers Weekly.

WAIT FOR ME is set on a farm in eastern Scotland in the closing months of World War Two just as Paul, an injured German prisoner-of-war, is sent to the farm to work. Lorna, the farmer’s teenage daughter, soon discovers that in wartime, your family and your allies might not actually be your friends, and your enemy might turn out to be the love of your life. Lorna’s friendship with Paul, and their developing love for each other, is challenged by Lorna’s own prejudices and by the intolerance of her soldier brother and her friends in the village. Ultimately, will the events which bring peace to Europe tear Lorna and Paul apart?

The second book, as yet untitled, is planned for publication in 2018.

This story started out as a NaNoWriMo book in 2010 – that is, I wrote the first 50,000 words of it in just one month as part of National Novel Writing Month (yes, that’s 1,663 every day!). How appropriate then that the announcement that WAIT FOR ME is headed for bookshelves and e-readers comes during November, the month for NaNoWriMo 2015.

I am currently revising the WAIT FOR ME manuscript, under Alice’s insightful and intelligent direction, and it’s just staggering to think that in a little over a year, you might be reading the words that I have been writing/rewriting/playing with/deleting/adding in again this morning.

Thank you, Alice, for your enthusiasm and kindness.

And I also send enormous thanks to my spectacular agents, Danielle Barthel and Suzie Townsend at New Leaf Literary & Media Inc., for guiding me into and around the first turn in the maze that is the publishing industry. I think we might have some fun with this!
I’d love to keep you in touch with developments in the life of WAIT FOR ME and my other books, so if you’d like to follow this blog, use the Follow box to the right of this page, or I’d love to hear from you via the Contact box that’s over there too.

I’d love to have you along with me for the ride. #excitingday


Monday, October 19, 2015

Wartime rationing sucked!

When you're writing a historical novel - my work-in-progress is set in Scotland during World War Two - you do have to trawl through a whole pile of research material, a lot of which is quite dry and sometimes even dull. But then you find a wonderful treasure of detail which not only makes you laugh when you find it, but keeps you chuckling every time you think about it! 

And here's my favorite so far. We all think we know about the deprivations of wartime rationing in Britain, but this takes the cake... erm, the carrot!

I mean, what kid needs an ICE CREAM when they can have a CARROT ON A STICK?!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Looking inside myself for the stubborn little bulldog

I was lucky enough to attend a reading this week by the celebrated Texan memoirist, Mary Karr, to promote her latest book, The Art of Memoir. She joined a packed and rapt audience at Christ Church Cathedral, brought together by Inprint, the fabulous Houston reading and writing organization (and I’m talking about “reading and writing” in LITERARY terms here, not LITERACY).

When I heard the word memoirist, my mind immediately went to names of dusty old chaps like Samuel Pepys and Winston Churchill, but Mary Karr is something else entirely. She is knowledgeable, witty, and self-deprecating, and she swears like the best of them. I’m really trying to describe her without commenting on her short skirt and her amazing red patent platform heels, but really, I think my eyes rested on those shoes as much as they did her face. They were, as I said, amazing!

Mary Karr read from The Art of Memoir and talked about her work with Mimi Schwartz, the executive editor of Texas Monthly, before talking questions from the audience.  But throughout all that, there was one passage about revising which really sang to me, given that I am currently struggling through major revisions on my YA novel manuscript.

In the final chapter of The Art of Memoir, Karr writes about how lucky writers are because we can go back to a previous draft, unlike a painter or a live performer, and that you should not look on the marks your editor makes on our manuscript as pointing out your mistakes. Instead, you should: 

Remind yourself that revising proves your care for the reader and of the nature of your ambition.

Writing. . . means celebrating beauty in an often ugly world. And you do that by fighting for elegance and beauty, redoing or cutting the flabby disordered parts.

Mary Karr with Texas Monthly's Mimi Schwartz
So as I battle through my scrawled-upon manuscript trying to find the elegance and beauty amid all the flabby disordered parts, it is reassuring to hear that a writer as celebrated and successful as Mary Karr has been here before. After all, she has told me: 

For me, the last 20 percent of a book’s improvement takes 95 percent of the effort – all in the editing.  I can honestly say not one page I’ve ever published appears anywhere close to how it came out in first draft. . .  I am not much of a writer, but I am a stubborn little bulldog of a reviser.

So let me raise a glass (okay, it’s a paper cup of earl grey tea) to finding elegance and beauty in my manuscript, and to finding the stubborn little bulldog of a reviser in myself.

The Art of Memoir is out now, published by Harper Collins. To buy a copy or to find out more about her memoirs The Liar’s Club, Cherry and Lit, or her books of poetry, visit her website.

For more information about Inprint and the other brilliant writers coming to Houston soon as part of the Inprint Reading Series, visit the Inprint website.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Let me introduce you to my literary agent!

I am absolutely thrilled to announce that I am now represented as an author by Danielle Barthel and Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc. in New York.

New Leaf is a major force particularly in the Young Adult arena, representing lots of amazing authors including Veronica Roth, who wrote the Divergent Trilogy, and Victoria Aveyard whose debut novel, Red Queen, went straight to No. 1 on the New York Times YA bestsellers list the week it was published in February.

Danielle Barthel and Suzie Townsend

Every author has a story to tell about his or her own distinct path to representation and eventually to publication, and one of these days, I’ll tell you where I am on my path. But in the meantime, my enormous and heartfelt thanks go to Danielle and Suzie at New Leaf for responding almost immediately to my plaintive submission email, for reading my WW2 love story over a sunny weekend when they could have been out enjoying themselves, and then for welcoming me into the New Leaf Literary family with such open and encouraging arms.  

Every un-agented writer harbors a suspicion that agents are all mean people who get a thrill out of saying “No!” to hard-working writers who just want a break. Well, from Danielle and Suzie at New Leaf, I got a whole bunch of "Yes!”.

Nikki Loftin
photo by Rae Dollard
I must also send a huge thank you to the wonderful Nikki Loftin for being so generous in putting in a good word for me with Suzie at New Leaf, who also represents her.  Nikki is an active member of the Austin chapter of Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She not only gave me my first ever SCBWI conference critique, back in 2012, later in the day when she also saw me standing alone at a reception, she immediately took my arm and started introducing me to other writers she knew. Some wonderful friendships began with that kind gesture and first introduction, but I could never have guessed that years later, Nikki would make yet another crucially important introduction for me. Thank you, Nikki – I still owe you that cocktail with the pink umbrella.

I can’t wait to tell you more about this roller-coaster journey towards publication, as it all plays out, but for the time being, I’ll try to contain my excitement at having Danielle and Suzie on my team, and try to work out how to round off this post without resorting to some clichéd comment about me turning over a New Leaf…

Darn it!

To see the other amazing authors and illustrators represented by New Leaf Literary & Media, visit www.newleafliterary.com.

Nikki Loftin is the author of three gorgeous middle grade novels, The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy, Nightingale’s Nest and Wish Girl. You can find Nikki at www.nikkiloftin.com.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Go get a critique group, I couldn't live without mine!

Tobey Forney, Mimi Vance, Chris Cander, me, Penny Linsenmayer and Andrea White 

I am so lucky to be part of a writers' critique group with five fantastic and inspiring women writers. 

My great author friend, Andrea White, suggested a couple of years ago that I might like to meet another friend of hers, Chris Cander. "Chris has one book out already and another heading towards publication," said Andrea, "and I know you'll get on." .

Talk about an understatement! We could have talked for hours, and by the time we met for the second time we were up to five writers, with a sixth added soon after. And although at first we did swap manuscripts around and comment on each other's work, it became apparent that we are all so swamped with our own work, as well as family life etc, that this wasn't really working for us all.  So we decided instead to meet for lunch every couple of months to share our stories, our ideas, our hopes and our panics. I now wonder how I ever wrote anything without them.

When we meet, we go round the table to catch up on what everyone is working on - writing, researching, selling or promoting.  It is wonderful to have friends who are proud to be your cheerleading team, who love to celebrate the triumphs and talk through the disappointments. We build each other up  so we will be better able withstand the next stomach-lurching loop of the roller-coaster career we have chosen for ourselves, and we cheer the loudest when one of us succeeds. We all write such different things, but we all share the joy of telling stories and reaching new people. 

Over the next few months, I would love to introduce you to my critique group friends one by one, but today I wanted simply to share a photo, taken at our lunch today, showing six women writers, some published, some almost-but-not-quite-published, looking happy, relaxed and, if you look deep in their eyes, inspired by each other.

Andrea White, Chris Cander, Tobey Forney, Penny Linsenmayer and Mimi Vance - thank you, thank you, thank you.

And to you, dear reader, if you also like to write (even if you don't yet have the bottle to call yourself a writer - yes, we've all been there), go find yourself a critique group (or one friend who has a friend, who has a friend, etc., so you can form your own group), and even if you never critique each other's work, it's a great excuse for some lunch and some laughs.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Smelling the seaweed on Google Earth

The RSPB reserve at Aberlady Bay

In case you didn't know it already, Google Earth is a fabulous thing.

What an amazing gift Google has given to writers everywhere. We can cruise down the Champs Elysées, The Strand or Broadway. We can study doorways of burger joints and pizza parlors in Melbourne or Naples, look at statues on courthouses in Buenos Aires, posters on theaters in Rome and read neon signs in shopping malls in Flagstaff AZ if we want to. We can check the color of the central bulb-roof on the Kremlin, check the height of the royal balcony on the front of Buckingham Palace and even (I’ve just been astonished to discover) find out how many steps, slopes and passages you have to negotiate to walk the Great Wall of China.

Cromarty Harbor
My Google wanderings have been rather smaller in scale though. Over the last few years, I have spent hours wandering around two small Scottish seaside towns – Cromarty, up in the north on the Black Isle, and Aberlady in East Lothian, near Edinburgh – to get vital information about life in those towns for the two novels I have been writing. In the past, writers could only pore over maps to see how far their character’s house was from the police station or the school in a distant town. I had the indulgence of being able to do that walk myself, all while sitting in a café in Houston, Texas.

When I began to write my first novel, With Cowries at her Throat, I had never been to Cromarty. I had driven up the A9 through Inverness en route to the north coast, but had never taken the right turn just past the Kessock Bridge which would have taken me across the Black Isle. I had visited Aberlady a few times as a child as it was much closer to home, but once I decided to set my second novel there, I realized I could remember very little of the village. Hence the hours I spent wandering (or is it scrolling) around the villages, stopped by Google Earth only when I wanted to trespass onto private land.

So it was a strange experience a week or so ago, when I was back in Scotland on a family vacation, to drive through Aberlady for the first time in perhaps thirty years and feel like I had been there only last month. The streets were so familiar that it was almost like I was in my own book. I knew where the church was, the school, the grocery store and the hotel. I could point out to my kids the wide green where I had set my VE Day picnic, and which of the white-washed cottages on Sea Wynd belonged to Mrs Murray, the teacher.

The same had happened to me when we visited Cromarty a couple of years ago. I knew the town so well that I could walk from the harbor straight to Fergus’s house, and when we got there, I really had to control myself not to ring the doorbell so I could say hello to him and his Grandma. Gladly, sense prevailed and we walked away. I doubt the people living in that particularly beautiful house would have taken kindly to me knocking.

The Hundred Steps in Cromarty
However, there was one huge difference between my virtual Cromarty and Aberlady wanderings and my real ones, and that was the sensory overload I got from being in the real place.  My virtual towns looked just like they do in real life, but all I could smell was coffee and cheese paninis, and feel a chill from an overactive air-conditioning system. The real Cromarty smelled of fishing boats, seaweed and fresh baking bread . And as I walked the Hundred Steps up the South Sutor, the scents changed to those of the wild garlic, the rich loam of decaying logs and of the dank moisture trapped under bowing branches.

In the real Aberlady, I could feel the pale warmth of the early sun on my face, all the while fighting to keep my chilled fingers moving so I could adjust the settings on my camera and binoculars (and yes, it was that cold in mid-July). By the time we had walked through the churchyard, the Sea Green, the RSPB bird reserve and over the golf courses at Craigielaw and Kilspindie (which sit on the piece of land I have purloined for Jock Anderson’s farm), the movement in the air had grown from a breeze to a positive bluster, making me pull my hair out of my eyes and back into a ponytail in order to see anything at all, not something I have had to do sitting in Barnes & Noble café very often.

The grass around the golf courses was luscious and soft under my feet, but Coffin Lane was stony and narrow. I also learned that when you walk, as my characters Lorna and Iris do, at low tide alongside the Peffer Burn as it threads its shimmering way across Aberlady Bay and out into the Firth of Forth, you are not walking on sandy gravel with pebbles strewn around, but on sucking mud flats, dotted with worm casts and shells. Good to know. Better go and change that bit right now.

The Peffer Burn early one morning

As we walked, I could suddenly taste the salt on the air in a way that I never could in my virtual Aberlady, though I must say, the millionaire’s shortbread and tablet from the Gosford Bothy Farm Shop tasted every bit as sweet and delicious as my drooling mouth told me it would be when I saw the shop’s sign as I cruised down Google's version of the A198 out of Aberlady.

So while I cannot recommend Google Earth enough to you other writers who need to research fine details of distant places for their books, I would also remind you that discovering a place by sight is only part of your research. Discovering it by smell, touch, taste and sound is a whole different matter entirely.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Want to read Margaret Atwood’s new book? You’ll have to wait… for 100 years

If you want to read Margaret Atwood’s latest piece of writing, Scribbler Moon, you will have to wait a while, say, for about ninety nine years.

Artist Katie Paterson accepts the first Future Library
manuscript from Margaret Atwood
Photo (c) Kristin Von Hirsch 2016
Atwood is the first contributing author to the Future Library project, for which Scottish artist Katie Paterson and The City of Oslo have planted a thousand trees in a forest just outside the city. As I said in my blog post last October when the project was launched, the trees will be looked after for one hundred years, until 2114.  In each of those hundred years, one author will be commissioned to write a manuscript of some sort and that piece of writing will be placed, unpublished, in a secure and specially designed room in the new public library being built in Oslo. They will all remain unread until the collection of one hundred manuscripts is complete. Then in 2114, the trees will be cut down and the wood will be used to supply paper for a special anthology of books in which 100 years of writing will be published.

The Canadian author delivered her manuscript to Katie Paterson this week, deep in the heart of the Future Library itself, in the Nordmarka forest just outside the Oslo, but it remains a secret as to whether it is a poem, short story, novel or memoir. No one else will know until 2114.

"There’s something magical about it," Atwood said as she handed over her work. "It’s like Sleeping Beauty. The texts are going to slumber for 100 years and then they’ll wake up, come to life again. It’s a fairytale length of time. She slept for 100 years.

"I am sending a manuscript into time. Will any human beings be waiting there to receive it? Will there be a ‘Norway’? Will there be a ‘forest’? Will there be a ‘library’? How strange it is to think of my own voice – silent by then for a long time – suddenly being awakened, after 100 years."

David Mitchell
The next contributor to Future Library will be David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks

He said, "Imagine if the Future Library had been conceived in 1914 and 100 authors from all over the world had written 100 volumes between then and today, unseen until now. What a human highway through time to be a part of. Contributing and belonging to a narrative arc longer than your own lifespan is good for your soul."

Katie Paterson created the image below to symbolize the Future Library. A tree trunk with a tiny blue "2014" at its center, 100 growth rings expand until, at the top right outside edge, there is another tiny blue date, 2114.

Katie Paterson's Future Library icon

As the hundred years pass, future contributors will be announced year by year. Some will be familiar to us now, though it is startling to realize that many will not even have been born yet.

For more information, visit Future Library here.

Friday, May 29, 2015

I've joined the Inprint blogging team with a celebration of young writers

One of Houston's most important literary resources is Inprint, the fabulous literary non-profit organization that supports and engages Houston's readers and writers. I am delighted to have just joined the team contributing to the Inprint blog - An Open Book

My first contribution was posted today and is a celebration of the first graduating class of Creative Writers at the High School for the Visual and Performing Arts and you can read my article on An Open Book.

The HSPVA Creative Writing Class of 2015

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Writer’s Voice – Never Met, Never Parted

I am thrilled to have won a place in The Writer’s Voice. Thanks to Brenda Drake, Mónica Bustamante Wagner, Elizabeth Briggs, and Krista Van Dolzer for hosting the competition and for giving so many of us the chance to take another step towards literary representation and publication.

My Query

In the spring of 1945, a severely burned German prisoner-of-war is delivered to a Scottish farm to work. Lorna, the farmer’s teenage daughter, soon discovers that in wartime, your family and your allies might not actually be your friends, and your enemy might turn out to be the love of your life. Lorna’s friendship with Paul, and their developing love for each other, is challenged by Lorna’s own prejudices and by the intolerance of her soldier brother and her friends in the village. Ultimately, the events which bring peace to Europe will tear Lorna and Paul apart.

Never Met, Never Parted is a YA Historical novel of 107,000 words. The first book in a pair, it ends as Paul is taken away with the other POWs from Lorna’s village. The second book will follow Lorna across war-ravaged Europe as she tries to find him again.

I am a Scottish writer now living in Houston, Texas. I am an active member of SCBWI, and in 2014 won the SCBWI Joan Lowery Nixon Award for this story. As my prize, I have had the honor of a year's mentoring from Newbery Winner, Kathi Appelt. I am the mother of three teenage readers and writers.

Never Met, Never Parted - First 250 words

Lorna was ankle-deep in cow-shit and milk when she first saw the boy with the steel-gray eyes and only half a face.
Only dimly aware of the rumble of a truck lurching up the lane, Lorna tried to push Caddy and Canny away from the reeking, steaming mess with the broom. The dogs, however, dodged around her and continued to lick up the milk from where it had puddled in the deep crevices between the cobbles, a rare treat for them. Like the dogs, Lorna kept her head down. Her father was raging at Nellie, which made a nice change since it meant that, for once, Jock Anderson’s ire wasn’t directed at Lorna.
“What in the Devil’s name did you think you were doing, you glaikit girl? Can you not even carry a bucket without dropping the damn thing?”
The great farmer’s bulk cast a threatening shadow over Nellie who looked so petite, even in her Land Army uniform of baggy fawn breeches and thick green sweater. Lorna felt a little guilty about not sticking up for her, but Lorna knew Nellie was made of stronger stuff, so she carried on sweeping.
“But Mr. Anderson,” Nellie began, “it was an accident, I—”
“If you’d been concentrating on the matter in hand, lassie, you wouldn’t have all these accidents. Particularly when the matter in your hand is a big bucket of my cows’ milk. This is not an accident, let me tell you, it’s a tragic waste.”

Monday, May 18, 2015

Happiness for Beginners - and having tea and cake with the author is a good start

Katherine Center
Photo credit: Karen Walrond
 What more could a writer and book-lover like me ask for on a sunny Saturday afternoon but the chance to spend a couple of hours sitting at a table covered in sandwiches, cakes and tea, listening to an author tell us about her new book? Not much more, I can tell you.
I was delighted to be included this weekend in what, I suppose, might have once been called a literary salon. Houston author, Katherine Center, gave a group of book-loving women the chance to hear about her new book, Happiness for Beginners, and about her approach to her work
She told us about how she had written her first novel when she was in 6th grade – a blockbuster about how all the members of Duran Duran had fallen in love with her when their car had suffered a flat tire right outside her home. Though it occurred to me that some of the younger women at the table might never even have heard of Duran Duran, there were certainly several more like me who nodded vigorously, no doubt having shared similar fantasies themselves round about 1983 or ’84.
Katherine also admitted to becoming a closet Romance novel fan in recent years, and she talked about the profound effect that had on her own writing in general and on her approach to Happiness is for Beginners in particular. 

“I like the feeling of being happy when I read a book,” she told us, “and that is something I got from reading Romance novels. I started thinking about it with regard to my own writing. Though I don’t write actual “Romance” novels, I do always have a nice juicy, highly delicious love story in anything I write, because frankly I like that stuff. I’m interested that magical connection than can happen between people, because there’s something very special about those moments, so I started trying to harness that goodness in my own books.”
“I realized that in a lot of the books that I’ve read in my life, the thing that has pulled me through the book is worry. Writing teachers will actually tell you to do that, to make your character worry or make your readers worry about the character. But when I became a mom, I discovered that I don’t like to worry. I do a ton of worrying now that I have kids, living with that constant churning in my stomach, and I don’t like it.  What I like about those Romance novels is that what pulls you through them is not worry, but a delicious sense of anticipation, and the knowledge that you are moving towards something good. Even if the hero and heroine have been thrown into a dungeon by pirates, you know it’s going to be okay in the end. Bad things might happen, but you do have this overwhelming feeling that you are moving towards something good.  Though I suppose it’s the bad stuff that gives the good stuff its meaning.”
But how did this epiphany made a difference to Katherine’s approach to her new novel?
“Happiness for Beginners is the first book I have created as a writer since having that realization as a reader. Writing a story is really something you do to a reader. You are making them have feelings so that they invest in your characters, and you lead them through a simulated experience. You are in charge of what you want your readers to feel. I want my readers to feel hope and happiness, and perhaps get a little misty-eyed, but I want them to come out of it feeling grateful and inspired.”
“I try to give people hope, to make them happy, and to make them laugh. And perhaps I can offer them a way to look at the worst situations and see the best way through them.  When I was reading as a kid, it was all about trying to have something to look forward to, and that’s what I’m now trying to give to the world now. If I’m doing it right, I am putting out the kind of books that a reader just can’t stop reading once they’ve started, but also ones that will offer them a new perspective on their own life too.”

Katherine Center’s new novel, Happiness for Beginners, is published by St. Martin’s Press and is her fifth book. Her previous novels are The Bright Side of Disaster, Get Lucky, Everyone is Beautiful and her 2013 novel, The Lost Husband, which is recently been optioned by a movie production company.

For more information about Katherine and all her novels, please visit her website at www.katherinecenter.com

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Inspiring Houston Women - Dorothy Gibbons of The Rose

I am delighted to have posted another interview on my other blog, Inspiring Houston Women.

Dorothy Gibbons is co-founder of The Rose, a non-profit that provides high quality breast healthcare to women regardless of their ability to pay.  

“For every three insured women who come through our doors for a mammogram we can take care of one uninsured woman. We could do more free screenings, if one diagnostic exam was all that was needed, but by the time they come to us, many of these uninsured women are also certain to need ultrasound and biopsy too. I always tell my staff that until we don't see women with late stage cancer anymore, our job isn't done.”

To read my interview with Dorothy, visit the Inspiring Houston Women blog 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Inspiring Houston Women - Chris Cander

I am delighted to have posted another interview on my other blog, Inspiring Houston Women.

Author, Chris Cander, has just published her second novel, Whisper Hollow. She is the mother of two children and also teaches creative writing to elementary school children through Writers in the Schools. Being with children, she says, has brought new insight to her writing: “I have loved looking at the world again through a child's eyes. What we writers do is observe and talk about our observations, so for me to be able to slow down and see things stripped of my prejudices and my knowledge and my experiences has been wonderful.”

To read more from Chris, visit the Inspiring Houston Women blog.