11 Ways Not To Start Your Novel – No. 11

At the Wrong Time

At the Darley Anderson Agency we ask that any writers who wish to submit their work to us should provide the first three chapters of their novel as a sample of their writing. This is, as I understand it, standard practice in the industry.

However, at least once a week I hear from someone who takes issue with this.

Here are a few examples of the submission queries that we who work in literary agencies hear all the time:

  • “The first three chapters don’t really give an impression of what the whole novel is about. Could I send more?”
  • “My plot doesn’t really get going until about Chapter 14. I’ll send you Chapter 14 instead.”
  • “Those first chapters aren’t my best. I’m including Chapters Eight, 26 and 31 in their place. Those are the chapters I’m really proud of.”

Putting aside the fact that I really wouldn’t recommend quibbling about the harmless submission guidelines of your chosen literary agency unless there’s absolutely zero ways around it, this is worrying in an even bigger way. Saying something like this is akin to holding up a large neon sign above your head which reads:

“I’M NOT THINKING ABOUT MY READER!”

Because, really, as a reader if you get to the end of Chapter Three and the plot still hasn’t got going yet are you likely to want to keep reading? If the first chapters of a new book aren’t that strong isn’t it just a huge struggle to carry on with it? And, let’s be honest, no one ever picked up a book and started reading from Chapter 14 onwards.

Readers start reading from page one. Publishers are the same. Literary Agents are the same. That’s how stories work. You start at the very beginning (a very good place to start).

My response to those three queries would be thus:

  • Well, they should
  • Well, it should
  • Well, you should be fiercely proud of your opening chapters too

If you don’t feel confident that your opening chapters are your best work then rewrite them. If your first chapters aren’t really capturing the essence of your overall novel then change them so that they do. If your plot doesn’t really get going until Chapter 14 cut out chapters 1 through 13. Open with whatever active, plot-developing scene it is that makes Chapter 14 so great.

You could always move that genius 31st chapter to the beginning of the manuscript as a flash-forward glimpse of what is to come, if you like. You can create a completely new character or obliterate an established one. You can move the events forwards in time or change the timeline to suit your whim.

You are the god of that page, time bows to your will. Take advantage of it. Own it. Be god.

The writers who make these queries have definitely done one excellent thing – they have recognised a problem in their manuscript. The real issue is that they’re complacent about it. Like it’s someone else’s problem. Specifically, it’s their reader’s problem.

When editing, I occasionally find myself suggesting some pretty drastic changes to some authors’ plots and their sequence of events. And, when I do this, I find that a lot of writers have a very understandable inclination to stick to the original plan. The phrase, “but that’s not how it happens,” is often uttered.

This is because good writers believe in what they’re writing. They can see each scene unfold like memories. Their characters are real people to them. And with real people you can’t just go back into their memories and say, “actually, you didn’t move house when you were 12, you moved when you were 15. And you only have one aunt, not two. And your hair’s blue now.” But with made-up characters you can, and sometimes you must.

This is why I think good writers often really struggle when making big plot changes. It’s all real to them. They’ve forgotten that they’re god.

In this respect, the space between being a good writer and a great writer is being able to step back and remember your godlike powers, remember that you are in charge. You can start your story whenever you want.

Choose the most opportune moment.

Wibbly wobbly timey wimey.

By Vicki Le Feuvre

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8 Pictures of Kerry Fisher’s Début THE SCHOOL GATE SURVIVAL GUIDE Going from Paper Roll to Publication

To celebrate the publication of Kerry Fisher’s brilliant new novel THE SCHOOL GATE SURVIVAL GUIDE Clare Wallace took a trip with editor, Helen Bolton, the author’s father and the author herself to Clay’s Ltd in Suffolk to see the paperbacks coming to life.

Ever wanted to see how a book is actually made? Here are 8 pictures that show just that.

1. These fat rolls of paper will soon turn into Kerry’s début novel
1. Once upon a time...

2. First, the words are printed onto the reams of paper
2. The very first printed pages

3. Here the freshly printed covers wait on the pallet to receive their pages
3. Covers waiting on their pallet for pages

4. The books are printed out in pairs, still attached end to end…
4. Cleverly printed in pairs

5. … and chopped down the middle to make two separate books
5. Here they come...

6. Here come the freshly baked books straight out of the press
6. Freshly baked books straight out of the oven

7. One very proud dad hugs his newly published daughter as the books journey on behind
7. One very proud father as the books journey on behind

8. And the whole happy team hold up the finished copies
8. The whole happy team

So now you know how it’s done.

After the eye-opening trip Kerry Fisher said, “Watching 
THE SCHOOL GATE SURVIVAL GUIDE coming off the presses was very special indeed. Everywhere I looked there were little red books zooming round the factory in various stages of completion.

“It really was that ‘WOW’ moment, when getting published suddenly felt so real. I was also very privileged that I was able to take my dad with me – he loved it and so did I.”

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THE SCHOOL GATE SURVIVAL GUIDE, a hilarious, straight-talking read for fans of Fiona Neill and Gill Hornby’s The Hive, is out today!

Visit Kerry Fisher’s website and follow her on twitter for further updates.

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An Interview with Beth Reekles

Beth Reekles is the teen sensation behind THE KISSING BOOTH, officially one of the world’s most influential teenagers and the newest author to join the Darley Anderson Children’s Book Agency, agented by Clare Wallace.

Beth Reekles - teen sensation

Beth Reekles – teen sensation

At fifteen, Beth began uploading her debut novel THE KISSING BOOTH to story-sharing platform Wattpad, where it quickly accumulated over 19 million reads. She was picked up by Random House UK at the age of seventeen while she was still doing her A Levels.

Now studying Physics at Exeter University, Beth has already had THE KISSING BOOTH, ROLLING DICE, and OUT OF TUNE all published with Random House along with being shortlisted for multiple awards, receiving the Scout Birthday Honours Writing Badge and having been named one of Time magazine’s 16 Most Influential Teenagers in 2013 she has just been listed at No.6 on The Times’ Top 20 Under 25 list.

The Times August 2014 close up USE

Here’s a picture of the article irl, just in case you’re not subscribed…

In celebration of Beth joining the agency, Emma Winter was able to grab a moment with Beth to discuss the realities of being a published author, where she gets her inspiration and what she’s reading this summer!

Emma Winter: When did you tell your parents that you were contributing to WattPad? Were they surprised by your success?

Beth Reekles: I told them about three months into posting my first story on Wattpad that I was posting a book I was writing online and it had maybe twenty thousand reads at that point. They didn’t really know what to say – and had nothing to compare the number of reads to, so didn’t think much of it.

When The Kissing Booth started getting 400,000, then 900,000, then two million, then five million, reads, they started to take more notice. They were certainly surprised when I revealed I’d been writing avidly since they gave me a laptop when I was twelve, and I hadn’t told them all that time!

EW: Has being a published author been anything like you expected?

BR: It’s been a complete whirlwind, and it’s all happened very quickly! I don’t really know what I was expecting from being a published author, but it’s certainly been very exciting – meeting other authors, being on TV to talk about my books… and I still go looking for my book every time I go into a Waterstones!

EW: Where did you, or where do you, get your inspiration from?

BR: I’ve always written the kind of books I like to read. When I was younger, I wrote more fantasy, but the last few years I’ve preferred teen romance. I look to teen movies, YA books, and movie and TV soundtracks when I need inspiration. And, I’ve always admired JK Rowling, and find her a huge source of inspiration.

JK Rowling - inspiring generations

JK Rowling – inspiring generations

EW: Do you ever find inspiration hard to come by? If so, what do you do when this happens?

BR: Sometimes if I get stuck on a book, I try watching movies or reading books in the same genre as I’m writing, but if that doesn’t work, I’ll put on some soundtracks to something like Game of Thrones, Doctor Who, or Pirates of the Caribbean – usually they’re exciting and motivational enough in themselves to get me writing, but they also make for great background music.

EW: What were your favourite bits to write in your novels?

BR: I love writing dramatic scenes – when everything seems to be going wrong for the protagonist, it’s always the most fun to write.

EW: What was the hardest bit?

BR: The hardest bit is almost always the start. I’ll come up with the ideas for the novel, and have an idea of where I want it to go, but I always find it hard to figure out the best way to start the book. I must’ve had a dozen different first chapters for The Kissing Booth before I found one I could work with.

EW: Where’s your writing space and what’s your writing process like?

BR: I usually write in my bedroom. When I was in school, I couldn’t write in the daytime, so I used to write later on in the evening and at night. And as for my writing process, I’ve never been able to plot stories – I always end up with a two totally different stories! I tend to come up with a blurb for the story and my characters first, and work from there.

EW: What would your top three YA romance films be?

BR: John Tucker Must Die, 10 Things I Hate About You, and Easy A.

Author-approved films by Beth Reekles

Author-approved films by Beth Reekles

EW: How did you feel when you were listed on Time’s ‘Most Influential Teen’ list of 2013?

BR: It was incredible! I had no idea about it beforehand, so when I saw it online I ran around my flat at uni waking people up to tell them. It was brilliant to be on the same list as people like Malia Obama, Malala, and Lorde.

EW: What are you reading this summer?

BR: I’ve read 23 books this summer already, and I’ve still got a huge pile left I’d like to get through! At the top of my to-be-read pile is Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder, Solitaire by Alice Oseman, and A Dance With Dragons by George RR Martin.

Wow, that's a lot of books. Better write faster, George.

Wow, that’s a lot of books. Better write faster, George.

EW: Tell us one thing most people don’t know about you

BR: I do a lot of knitting in my spare time. My grandmother taught me when I was little and I took it up again about two years ago. It’s really relaxing, and I’m working on a massive cable-stitch blanket.

EW: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

BR: Write, write, write! They say practice makes perfect, and if you want to write, just write. Even if you never show it to anyone, it’ll be such a great feeling when you finish your first book. I’d also recommend posting some of your work up to a site like Wattpad. It’s really encouraging to see people reading and enjoying your work, and the communities are really supportive.

EW: And one last bonus question – Can you pitch each of your novels in a tweet?

BR: What would you do if you fell for your best friend’s brother? That’s what happens to Elle – but can her friendship with bestie Lee survive? (The Kissing Booth)

The Kissing Booth

Starting a new school is the perfect time to reinvent yourself. But does Madison stay with the cool kids at school or stand by the nerd? (Rolling Dice)

Rolling Dice

Ashley’s life is perfect on paper, but new boy-next-door Todd is going to make her realise that none of her life is as it seems… (Out of Tune)

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THE KISSING BOOTH, ROLLING DICE and OUT OF TUNE are available to buy now. Get your copies today and follow Beth on twitter for all the latest updates.

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16 Photos You Mustn’t Miss from the Launch of Polly Ho-Yen’s Debut Novel BOY IN THE TOWER

1. This photo of two very familiar looking towers which we spied from the train on our way to the launch

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2. This picture of the horticulturally appropriate display in the window of the Peckham Review

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3. And this one of all the sparkling new copies of Boy in the Tower

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4. This photo of the author herself, Polly Ho-Yen, next to some very suspicious, Blucher blue flowers…

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5. This one of Polly chatting with fans and supporters

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6. And this one of the book signing getting on the way

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7. Here Darley’s Angels Emma Winter, Clare Wallace and Mary Darby pose in front of the display

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8. And the display starts to rapidly diminish…

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9. …as the line for signed books grows

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10. You mustn’t miss this picture of a plastic pigeon sitting on a cake

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11. Or this one of our own Vicki Le Feuvre pretending to feed a plastic pigeon sitting on a cake.

11 If you want to understand the prevalence of pigeons at the launch you best read Polly’s fantastic novel.

12. This photo of everyone gathering inside the Peckham Review to hear Polly read an extract from Boy in the Tower.

13 Notice that the crowds have demolished the display of books even faster than a Blucher could take down a building.

13. This one of Polly Ho-Yen reading an extract from Boy in the Tower

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14. And this one of Polly reading a particularly funny extract from Boy in the Tower

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15. You can’t go without seeing Clare and Mary laughing with Polly Ho-Yen as she signs Mary’s copy of Boy in the Tower either

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16. And finally, you need a proper close-up look at the amazing hardback edition of Polly Ho-Yen’s Boy in the Tower with cover art by her own husband, Dan

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BOY IN THE TOWER is on sale now at all good bookshops. Get your copy today and get reading to find our what all the plant, pigeon and Blucher references were about in this post.

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14 Pictures You Need to See from the Launch of Kim Slater’s Debut Novel SMART

1. This picture of all these beautiful copies of Smart at Waterstones in Nottingham:

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2. This picture of our own Mary Darby and Clare Wallace (respectively) marveling at the brilliant turnout:

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3. And this one of the live music performed by Jake:

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4. This fantastic reader recommendation from the staff of Waterstones:

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5. This picture of Kim’s editor Rachel Kellehar of Macmillan Children’s Books introducing her:

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6. Especially this picture of Kim Slater taking the stage:

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7. This one of Kim reading an extract from her debut novel Smart:

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8. And this one of her taking questions from the crowd:

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9. This picture of Clare queuing to get our copies signed by the author herself:

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10. This fan telling Kim he liked the opening line of Smart so much that he’d like her to include it with her autograph:

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11. Kim making good use of the perfect space left for her signature amongst the illustrations on the title page of Smart:

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12. These fans excitedly clutching their signed copies:

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13. This photograph of a debut author and her agent:

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14. And finally this picture of Kim Slater and her Darley’s Angels – Vicki Le Feuvre, Mary Darby and Clare Wallace:

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SMART is on sale now at all good bookshops. To find out more about Kim Slater and her tips for new writers read our interview with her here.

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An Interview with Kim Slater

Kim Slater is the debut author of SMART, an uplifting young adult novel about an extraordinary boy’s struggle to be understood.

In celebration of SMART’s publication day Kim has stopped by the Darley Anderson Blog to talk to Vicki Le Feuvre about everything from finding her agent (that’s our own Clare Wallace) to SMART’s book launch (that’s tonight).

Kim Slater - debut author of SMART

Kim Slater – debut author of SMART

Vicki Le Feuvre: First of all, your debut novel SMART is out now and getting great reviews. How has your week of publication gone so far?

Kim Slater: It’s been so exciting! I’ve been overwhelmed by the reviews that have been coming in from both children and adult book reviewers. I’ve been busy doing interviews with local press, a blog tour and making preparations for my book launch party at Waterstones, Nottingham.

VLF: Knowing how prolific you are on Twitter, we wondered if you would be able to summarise the plot of Smart in the form of a tweet for us?

KS: When brilliant artist Kieran finds a dead body in the river, he vows to uncover the truth but reveals well-kept secrets much closer to home. 140 characters

VLF: Kieran is such a great character with an utterly compelling and unique voice, I know I fell in love with him the moment I picked up your submission. How did you create his character? Was there any sort of process to this or did you find his voice came naturally to you?

KS: Kieran’s voice literally jumped in my head and within a few days, his character felt almost fully formed. Within days I could tell you how he would react to certain things, what he would say in certain situations. It felt like a gift as a debut author!

VLF: A lot of the reviews have already compared Smart to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon and have commented favourably on how you never force Kieran into any particular category or label the specific learning difficulties which require him to have a personal teaching assistant at school. Was this a conscious choice for you? Did you not want to pigeonhole Kieran’s character by giving him a label?

KS: I’m very flattered by comparisons to Curious Incident but I never set out to label Kieran in any way. I just knew that he thought in a different way to most boys his age and that he was on the Spectrum – as I personally think many of us are!

I didn’t want to define him in terms of that, the only thing I felt quite strongly was that he was high-functioning and that his particular way of thinking was going to be an advantage in investigating the mystery and also holding a mirror up to the reader in terms of human behaviour through Kieran’s eyes.

VLF: I have heard this rumour going round the agency for a while now and I wanted to ask – is it true that you wrote the first draft of Smart in eleven days?

KS: Yes, this IS true. Initially, I sent Smart out to three agencies who all asked for the full manuscript. The trouble was, I had only written about eight-thousand words of it . . . I know, I know, agents HATE it when writers submit like that!

Thankfully it was half-term and I was off work so I just buckled down and wrote the remainder of the manuscript, averaging 4-5k words a day. I would not recommend this, it was very stressful! But because of Kieran’s character being so well-rounded in my head, the book really did almost write itself.

VLF: Do you have any particular writing habits or requirements? Do you write in any one particular place, for example? On computer or by hand?

KS: I do nearly all my writing sat on the bed and I’m very fortunate to have a lovely view of the River Trent, where Kieran found a dead body.

Pictured: Kim's favourite writing spot

Pictured: Kim’s favourite writing spot

I can touch-type so using a laptop is definitely the most efficient way for me to get words down.

I am self-employed and work full-time in schools managing budgets, so I set the alarm each morning and write between 6-8 am. On weekends I write Saturday and Sunday mornings until lunchtime.

As you might have guessed, I have discovered that mornings are my best creative time!

VLF: Smart is an excellently challenging read for young adults which engages with a lot of real-world issues. It’s definitely a book that I would have devoured at Kieran’s age. I wondered what sort of books you read at that age and whether these had any influence on you when it came to writing Smart?

KS: I have always been a prolific reader even as a child and I read far and wide from Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and C S Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia to Roald Dahl and his Tales of the Unexpected. I think I was definitely influenced by these amazing authors because it taught me the value of great characters and a strong storyline.

VLF: Saying that, I did actually devour Smart as an adult, I think that Kieran’s story works brilliantly as a crossover novel. Was this something that you had in mind while you were writing? Did you have any particular reader in mind?

KS: Smart began life as a short story for my Creative Writing assignment. One of my specialist modules was Writing for Children & Young Adults, so I did intend it to be read by a YA audience. But as the book grew, I sensed adults would also enjoy reading it, too because Kieran’s observations about the world seem to ring true to people of all ages.

VLF: For the budding authors who frequent our blog I wondered if you could give us your top three pieces of advice for new writers?

KS:

  1. Spend some time getting to know yourself as a writer.
    Identify your best time for working and carve out some time around it. Do you work best writing from a rough plan or without one? Are you more productive writing in one particular place? These things are important because when you get them right – and everybody is different – you’re giving yourself the best chance to get down to writing without distraction.
  2. Learn what you write best.
    If you’re not sure, experiment. Try writing lots of different pieces with different points of views and in different genres. I’m still using ideas I developed for MA assignments – writing courses of all descriptions are great for building a base of ideas/short pieces. Your first instincts are often a good indication to what comes naturally – nine times out of ten my character voices come to me in first person.
  3. Make good beginnings.
    Agents, publishers, readers all like an exciting, grabbing beginning to any story. Below, I talk about how I redrafted Smart a new beginning following independent edit advice. There’s no need to get hung up about this during the first draft, you can always come back to it any time, in fact sometimes it’s easier to have a better overview of what it needs once you’ve reached the end of your novel.

VLF: And how did you go about getting an agent yourself?

KS: The three agencies I mentioned earlier all passed on Smart when I sent in the full manuscript. Of course, I was very disappointed but still, I really believed I had something with this book. I had sent submissions out before embarking on my degree and MA and never moved from the slush pile, so to get three requests for the full manuscript was a big step.

I’d finished my MA module by then so I decided to pay for an independent edit. Sometimes, when you’ve worked really closely and intensely with a manuscript, it’s difficult to stand back and evaluate what you need to do in order to improve it.

I would say the two most important developments that came from this redraft was that, on the editor’s advice, I cut the first three chapters so Smart began in a more exciting place and I lightened up a little on some of the difficult scenes and issues so the book was not too bleak for its intended YA audience.

The editor believed in Smart so much she recommended it to several agencies she worked with. Amazingly, I got five offers of agency representation – of which the Darley Anderson Literary Agency was one!

VLF: Kieran is an avid fan of L S Lowry’s paintings which is mirrored beautifully in the fantastic cover art by Helen Crawford-White. What was it about Lowry that made you choose his work in particular as the object of Kieran’s adoration?

KS: I agree, the illustrator Helen Crawford-White and the Pan Macmillan art department have done such a fantastic job with the cover, I still can hardly believe how apt and beautiful it is when I hold the book in my hands.

Helen Crawford-White's cover art for SMART

Helen Crawford-White’s cover art for SMART

I had just started to develop Smart the short story into Smart the YA novel when my fiancé Mac and I went to a Lowry exhibition one weekend, at the Lakeside Art Centre in Nottingham where we live. Mac already really liked Lowry’s art and although I wasn’t massively fussed, I was happy to go along as I’d seen his matchstick people and dogs and thought it all looked quite pleasant.

The exhibition was organised into time periods of Lowry’s life and I was knocked off my feet when we got to the paintings he’d done after the death of his mother. All the people and animals were gone, the paintings were bleak and lonesome and they touched me deeply. The fact it was so unexpected made it even more poignant for me.

That influence translated directly into the Smart manuscript when I got home. Suddenly, Kieran was given a lifeline in his troubles; Lowry’s art inspired and helped him cope.

My great hope is that some of Smart’s young readers might seek out one or two of the paintings online that I’ve named in the book and see how they feel about them.

The exhibition at Nottingham was temporary but I’d absolutely encourage anyone to pay a visit to the permanent Lowry art gallery at Salford, Manchester, it really is excellent.

VLF: And finally, if you had to pick, what would you say was your favourite Lowry artwork?

I have two Lowry framed prints (sadly, not originals!) in our apartment. One is Coming From the Mill, 1930, which depicts hoards of mill workers leaving at the end of a long, hard day.

L S Lowry's Coming From the Mill

L S Lowry’s Coming From the Mill

The other is At the Seaside – people and of course, dogs having fun on the beach – impressively, Lowry still manages to include a smoking chimney in the background!

L S Lowry's At the Seaside

L S Lowry’s At the Seaside

It’s a personal ambition of mine to own a Lowry original. Who knows – maybe one day!

Kim’s stunning debut novel, SMART published by Macmillan Children’s Books, is out today and you can follow her on twitter: @Kimslater01 for more updates.

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An Interview with Dave Rudden

Dave Rudden, agented by our own Clare Wallace, is the debut author of The Borrowed Dark trilogy which has recently been snapped up by Puffin Editorial Director Ben Horslen in a significant pre-emptive deal. The translation rights have already been sold in France and Germany in a six-figure pre-empt and the film rights are currently being hotly fought over.

Vicki Le Feuvre was able to grab a moment with Dave between all his recent radio interviews to discuss everything that has changed for him since he brought his brilliant protagonist, Denizen Hardwick, into the wider world.

Dave Rudden, debut author of The Borrowed Dark

Dave Rudden, debut author of The Borrowed Dark

Vicki Le Feuvre: So, to get this ball rolling I wanted to first of all ask: on a scale of one to ten how psyched are you? Because I think we’re levelling off at about a constant 52 at this point.

Dave Rudden: My feet honestly haven’t touched ground since I got that first phone call (on the morning of my twenty-sixth birthday, if you can believe it).

VLF: Where were you when you got the call from Clare Wallace telling you about the six-figure deal she’d made with Puffin Editorial Director Ben Horslen for World English rights of your trilogy?

DR: I was in a Pound World on George’s Street in Dublin, counting the change in my pocket and dubiously eyeing 50p packets of soup. Needless to say, it was a very welcome phone call.

VLF: What has changed in your life since that day or are we still in the calm before the storm, do you think?

DR: I’ve received a lot of lovely congratulations messages but overall I think it’s still the calm before the storm, which I’m actually really pleased about. I’m currently working on the sequel to The Borrowed Dark and I’m hoping the Spring 2016 release date means I’ll have all three books finished and ready to go by the time the first one comes out. That means I can relax and enjoy it! (or start the next book to be honest, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I wasn’t writing).

VLF: The German and the French translation rights for The Borrowed Dark have already been sold. Do you speak either of these languages or do you have any plans to get Rosetta Stone-ing so you can read your translations?

DR: I am hilariously awful at languages, much to the disappointment of every Irish teacher I’ve ever had. There’s a French character in the book and the Knights of Borrowed Darkness [important figures in the trilogy] use a lot of Latin so there are phrases in other languages littered throughout the book. Luckily I have a few French and one Medievalist scholar friend (doesn’t everyone?) and they do some translating for me, which I promptly mangle in the service of good prose.

VLF: Let’s talk about The Borrowed Dark – because everyone else is now. Could you summarise the heart of your story in tweet form?

DR: Denizen Hardwick believes heroism should be optional but he’s just been thrust into an ancient war between iron-handed Knights and horrors from the dark end of creation and it’s proving rather hard to find anyone to agree with him.

VLF: We’ve all fallen for your brilliant protagonist, Denizen Hardwick. So we wanted to know how he came to be. Did he spring to life fully formed, perhaps frowning over a pile of books? Or was there more of a process to his creation?

DR: Denizen came from a lot of places. I wanted to write a character who wasn’t a natural hero, a teenager who questioned things. Denizen Hardwick has read far too many books at this stage of his life. It has always bothered him that when people find out there’s a magical world beside their own they immediately sign up without inquiring about dark lords, giant lizards, ancient curses or inconvenient prophecies.

He has absolutely no illusions about how long he would last in a world like that, which is of course why I decided to pitch him into one. The fun part is watching him learn that it’s that scepticism that actually makes him perfect for the role of hero. The really fun part is watching him fight that realisation for as long as possible.

I owe his name to the fantastically talented Dee Sullivan, writer of the Prim series of YA novels. We meet for writing sessions every few weeks and after a long and strange conversation she basically dropped the name ‘Denizen Hardwick’ in my lap.

VLF: We’re almost at the end of our 11 Ways Not To Start Your Novel series on here. If I can gush for a moment, your first line of The Borrowed Dark was what immediately sold me, personally, on your writing. One sentence in and I was already convinced. Do you have any tips on how to write a gripping first line?

DR: ‘Looking back, it had been a mistake to fill the orphanage with books.’

Your first line is your introduction. It’s your handshake. Your first shared smile. Put yourself in the mind of the reader and decide what reaction you want from them in that first moment.

They don’t know how deep your prose is or how exciting you’ve made the end of Chapter 3 – they’re standing in Waterstones and they’ve opened your book out of idle curiosity. You need to hook them from the first line.

I wanted to sum up the tone of the novel as much as possible in my opening, to let them know that this is a novel with a dark smile, a jaunty wave and absolutely no regard for the safety of children.

VLF: If you had to pick, what would you say is your favourite first line of all time?

DR: It’s very difficult to choose but there’s something so simple, eerie and wonderful about the first line of 1984.

'It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.'

‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.’

In just a few short words we’re made uneasy – the day is bright, but cold, the clocks are striking an unfamiliar bell – and we know that this world is like our own but wrong in all the little, important ways.

VLF: We always like to ask authors a little bit about their writing process when they come on here. Where do you write? And do you have any particular rituals or requirements?

DR: During the week, I have a pretty strict regime of a thousand words a day. I’m not one of those writers that can keep a whole novel’s possibilities in his head – I need to write it out, try different things, block the scenes and then go back later and fix them up.

I’ll write anywhere, but I get the most work done when I manage to drag myself to a café that does not have Internet access. The Internet is a wild and wonderful place, and unfortunately I am as distractible as a puppy.

VLF: When you’re not writing what are your favourite things to do? (Aside from sleeping and eating to facilitate more writing, of course.)

DR: I perform regularly as a poet and storyteller on Dublin’s art scene, as well as working on the committees of iBbY (The International Board of Books for Young People) and IrishPEN. I also organise fundraisers for literary and theatre concerns, and act as part of the Risky Proximity Players, a theatre company that adapts the work of horror writer Graham Tugwell. Basically anything that allows me to swan about being loud and theatrical.

VLF: One of the things we love most about Denizen’s character is his appetite for books. When you were his age what was your favourite book?

Terry Pratchett. Anything by Terry Pratchett.

Pictured: Anything by Terry Pratchett

Pictured: Anything by Terry Pratchett

VLF: This question comes from our Rights Executive, Mary Darby, who wants to know if you were ever afraid of the dark as a child and that’s why you created a whole order of knights to protect us from it?

DR: Any time I was outside at night I was firmly convinced that the dark was full of monsters but that as long as I didn’t run or didn’t turn around I was safe. That might have something to do with the creation of the tenebrous – they’re undefined in the dark and only take shape when they come into the light.

VLF: A lot of aspiring writers visit our blog. What would your top five tips be to new writers just going into the submission process, as someone who has come out the other side a success?

DR:

  1. Farm out your manuscript to people so you get another set of eyes. Join a writers’ group, harass your friends (as I did) and make sure you’ve looked at your novel from every angle before you send it out.
  2. READ THE AGENTS’ REQUIREMENTS. They will be very clear in their preferred format and you want them on your side from the get-go.
  3. Choose the agent you contact carefully. Do your research on each agency and make sure that your crime novel is going to the agent that deals with crime, or YA to their YA representative. Check their client lists and make sure your manuscript is going to someone as passionate about the genre as you are.
  4. Be patient. You’ll get rejections – not because the manuscript is bad, but because it mightn’t be what they’re looking for, or they’re already representing someone who’s doing something similar, or any one of a thousand reasons you’re not privy to. Keep the rejections that offer constructive feedback, forget the rest.
  5. Read this blog. Little bit of shameful self-promotion, but I wrote a blog for the Dublin Writers’ Festival about the process I went through where I go into detail about cover letters and synopses. I hope it helps!

VLF: Before you go, what was it about the Darley Anderson Children’s Book Agency that made you think – these guys are the ones for me? (Feel free to be as complimentary as you like, we don’t mind.)

DR: I did a lot of research on agencies before sending The Borrowed Dark out and there are a lot of very complimentary forum articles about Darley Anderson out there, not just from writers who’ve been signed but even from people who didn’t make it all the way through the submission process. The general consensus is that DA are lovely people as well as being terribly efficient and I’m glad to say that’s something I can attest to myself!

VLF: And finally, the question I’m sure you get asked constantly. Who would win in a fight – Denizen or Superman?

DR: I’m cruel to Denizen sometimes, but I’m not that cruel.

Puffin will be publishing The Borrowed Dark, the first instalment in Dave Rudden’s gripping trilogy, in Spring 2016. Until then you can follow him on Twitter: @dreadfulnotion.

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