The one where I talk about the RNA’s conference

In my last blog post, I said I was heading off to the RNA’s conference and would report back ‘next week’. That should have been last week and I’ve just realised that, although I shared some photos on Facebook, I never did a blog post so here I am catching up.

The conference was at Harper Adams University which is for agricultural studies near Telford, Shropshire. It’s a small campus and ideal for an event such as this as there’s not too far to walk between the accommodation and lecture rooms. We were staying in the student halls and ours was the one covered in ivy on the right.

It was my fourth conference and by far my favourite, mainly because I felt much better about myself as a writer than I had the previous three times. I knew what to expect format-wise and I’d finally learned to the pressure off myself by not booking onto an event for every slot on the timetable, allowing some breathing and thinking space.

There were four out of the ten of us from my writing support group, The Write Romantics, in attendance, and there were quite a few Boldwood authors, some of whom I hadn’t met before so it was lovely to be able to say hello to them.

Write Romantics – Me, Jackie Ladbury & Sharon Booth (joined by Rachael Thomas on the bottom right)

I also had a chance to catch up with some of the delegates from my March workshop. I’d been really looking forward to sitting down and having a proper chat to them all, finding out how their writing journeys had been since the workshop, but the timetable just didn’t allow it. I’d been invited to join them at lunchtime on Saturday but my pre-lunch session ran over slightly and, by the time I made it to the back of the food queue, there weren’t many spaces left in the dining room and I knew there was no way they could save me a seat at their table. I could also see that several of them had already eaten so it just didn’t happen.

I did get the opportunity to speak to several of the group, albeit briefly in some cases, but I swear time goes into a vortex and I left thinking about so many people I’d spotted but just didn’t get a chance to say hello to properly.

On the Sunday morning, we had about twenty minutes before a session started and I looked around the coffee room but realised I’d hit a wall and was probably incapable of having a coherent conversation. Doing a job where I spend most of my time completely on my own, it can be intense and overwhelming being surrounded by people. My since apologies, therefore, to anyone I didn’t get a chance to talk to.

I did get to talk to my idol, Jill Mansell, though! We’ve spoken several times on social media and met before and it’s ridiculous that I get shy about these things but I do. I actually find it hard to approach anyone already in a conversation so add in one of my writing heroes and that escalates. My Boldwood buddy took a photo of me with Jill in the background and then took me over for a proper hello which was very special.

I met loads of other amazing authors across the weekend but took a distinct lack of photos so I’ll leave the blog post here. Thank you to everyone involved in the organising, who ran sessions, or who chatted to me. I’m already looking forward to the next one.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

Back to the start again

A week or so ago, I was given the launch day for my debut novel, ‘Searching for Steven’. I knew it was going to be June but I’d got it into my head it would probably be late June. It’s Wednesday June 3rd! Eek! That’s only just over four months away!

PhotoFunia-6aa56c2Things are starting to happen. I’ve had my marketing plan from my lovely publishers, So Vain Books, and I’ve had a first draft of my book cover to check I like the concept. Either late next week or early the week after, I should receive my line edits. I have no idea what this will entail. I’ve been very lucky because my structural edits which I received in October last year required very little work. I was asked to address two points in the book where it seemed like the action didn’t quite end. This required an additional sentence in each case so very easy. I was also asked to tone down a chapter where a character was a bit under the influence. When I re-read it, I could see it was a bit over the top and my publishers suggested a slight tweak that I was able to run with. I think the chapter is much better as a result. The challenging part was the start. I thought I’d already blogged about this but I’ve looked back over my posts and I can’t see one. Please forgive me if I have covered this already and am just not seeing it!

Going back and re-writing the start of ‘Steven’ was my worst nightmare because it has been my nemesis in the decade I’ve been working on the book. I am not exaggerating when I say there have been about 40-50 different starts. In ‘Steven’, my protagonist Sarah moves back to her seaside hometown of Whitsborough Bay in North Yorkshire to take over her Auntie Kay’s florist shop. In early versions of the book, this was because Auntie Kay had died and Sarah had inherited the shop. I therefore had the book starting at a funeral, a will-reading, sitting in a cafe with her best friend reflecting on the loss, getting a phone call at home with the news of the death and about six or seven other variations around this theme. Then a writing friend read one of the variations and cried, ‘No! You can’t kill Auntie Kay!’ And I suddenly realised she was right. Although Auntie Kay was dead in my book, she’d become a real character in my head and I’d grown to really like her. But why else would Sarah move back home and take over the florists if her Auntie hadn’t died. Then it struck me: she could decide to retire and travel the world. Perfect. Auntie Kay was very happy to receive this news instead of a death certificate! Great news for her but not so great for me. How would I start the book now?

The answer was pretty much anywhere. I had Sarah at work missing out on a promotion, at home ending a rubbish relationship, travelling home to Whitsborough Bay after she’d split up with the boyfriend, or being in Auntie Kay’s shop and being told the news that she wanted to give the shop to Sarah to name just a few. I started the story when she was in primary school. I started the story when she was in senior school. I started the story in so many different guises that my head was spinning!

In summer 2013, I attended the RNA’s annual conference and pitched the book to two publishers. They both loved the premise and my voice which was incredibly flattering. They also both wanted to see the full manuscript. At this point, it started with Sarah travelling home to see Auntie Kay and getting the news about the shop. The MS had been way too long so I’d cut out a lot of what went before around ending a rubbish relationship in order to get on with the main story. One editor liked it but wanted to see a bit more action e.g. splitting up with the boyfriend (the chapter I’d cut) before going home. The other wanted more of a motivation as to why she was so keen to meet The One (it is a romance story, after all). Both their comments triggered a lightbulb moment and I came up with a start to the book that got the action and the motivation. Yippee!

PhotoFunia-6aa69bcProblem was, although So Vain Books loved it, they were concerned that it might set the wrong tone for the book with anyone dipping into the first chapter before buying. They were absolutely right. The book is fairly light-hearted and the beginning wasn’t.

I emailed them to say I’d be delighted to make a change to the start but HELP!!!!! I explained my million variations. At one point, I’d written a chapter that I did really love and I still had it. I felt it might be what they were looking for. I edited it a bit as some of the points made in it were no longer relevant to the rest of the story and sent it over. They loved it. Phew!

So now I wait to see what the final editing stage will bring. In the meantime, I’ve pretty much written the first draft of book 3. It needs a lot of editing as I’ve made a major change to it which I’ll talk about in another post but it’s been really timely because, as a result of finishing the trilogy, I know there are some minor tweaks I want to make to ‘Steven’. I want to change the job of a minor character in book 1 who’s a major character in book 3. I want to change the name of a village because I’ve really gone off my original choice of name. I need to change someone’s age. Little things like that. The great thing is that I have the opportunity to still do that. But there will hit a point when I can no longer tinker. Very scary!

I’m now really pleased with the start of ‘Steven’. It’s been a very painful process but I’ve got there. Funnily enough, the start to the two sequels has caused me no problems at all. I tinkered a bit with book 2 and book 3 hasn’t changed at all. Whether I planned it better because I didn’t want to go through the pain of book 1 again or whether it was easier to know where to start when the book’s a sequel, I’m not sure. Whatever the reason, I’m glad I don’t have to go through it again. Unless, of course, my publisher doesn’t like the start of either book. But we’ll cross that bridge if we come to it.

Happy reading and writing 🙂 xx