So… I got a book deal!

After a few agonisingly long weeks of waiting, the news is out – I have a book deal! In fact, I have a two book deal! My novel, the one I’ve been banging on about on here for the last few years, is called The Girl Who… and it’s an emotional thriller for young adults (YA), focusing on two seventeen-year-old girls.

I’ve written a real actual book!

There’s Ellie – lively, outgoing and desperate for fame. And then there’s her new stepsister Leah, who actually is famous but for the most horrific reason: as a child she witnessed a notorious crime, the stabbing of her mother and sister.

In the aftermath her father set up a charity to campaign against street violence and she has become a heroine, a poster child for bravery and forgiveness. It seems like the whole world knows what she’s been through but can’t bear to say it. They just call her “the girl who… you know…”

As Leah struggles to grow up, in the limelight but plagued with dark and terrible thoughts, Ellie is the only one who can see that something is very wrong.

The deal is with Atom which is great as they specialise exclusively in YA stories, so I know I’m in good, experienced hands. Just before the news came out I met met my editor (I have an editor!) Olivia Hutchings and publicist Stephanie Melrose as well as my brilliant agent Lina Langlee, who got me the deal. It’s the weirdest sensation, after writing away in my “spare” time over the years and barely showing anyone my story I now have a whole team of people who like it and who are committed to getting out into the world.

Atom editor Olivia Hutchings, author Andreina Cordani and publicist Stephanie Melrose
Me standing between Olivia and Stephanie after a lovely lunch talking about the book. Must learn to flash my teeth when I smile…

I know a lot of writers have a problem with letting go of their work and who knows, I might find it hard when Olivia’s first edit comes back to me. But after years of second-guessing and staring at the words thinking: Is this too much? Or too little? it’s wonderful to be able to talk to people about it and work on the story to make it the best it can be.

The weirdest thing of all is when I realised that other people around Atom and its parent company Hachette had also been reading the book and talking about it. There was talk of people being “up all night” and saying “just one more chapter.” When I met Olivia and Stephanie we were joking about the characters as if they were people we all knew and liked. It’s almost as if I’ve written a real, actual book. Hang on… I’VE WRITTEN A REAL ACTUAL BOOK!

Two days after I signed the deal I discovered there was already a placeholder for pre-orders on Amazon. And when the publishing trade journal, The Bookseller wrote about the deal calling me “Cordani,” I felt like a proper author. I also had so many lovely messages from people saying congratulations. So many that I ran out of excited gifs and emojis to respond with. It was like having a baby, but without the “I haven’t slept in days and my boobs are about to explode” part.

So this is it, a new step on the road for me. I’m still in the process of taking it all in at the moment, which is why there aren’t oodles of details in this post. I feel like I’ve got so much to learn before spouting any opinions.

There will still be lots of journalism and book reviewing in my life – I’ve no plans to give that up – but I’m also looking forward to sharing more of my novel-publishing experience as I go along. I can’t wait for next September when it finally hits the shelves!

Read my previous rant on publishing here

Looking for a twisty YA thriller with heart? Try this one

NaNoWri…WOAH

It is a truth universally acknowledged that people doing NaNoWriMo should not post a blog, two weeks in, saying how brilliantly well it’s going.

Because almost exactly half an hour after posting my previous entry I wrote a paragraph which suddenly laid bare an enormous plot hole. Which then led me to spot another, and another until my happy playground of a work-in-progress had transformed into a lunar landscape of epic plot craters.

Oh, that was a fun afternoon. And then of course there was the inevitable day of work lost due to kiddy illness – and I’m sure there’s more of those who follow. This is another reason why the timing of NaNoWrMo sucks – it’s the start of cold and flu season and if you’re a parent you’re often permanently up to your neck in snotty tissues and Calpol between Halloween and March.

This year, though, I was incredibly strict with myself and on days I couldn’t work I would drag myself into the office/dungeon after bedtime and blearily crank out a couple of paragraphs of sheer nonsense to keep my head above water. I’m definitely not heading for 50,000 words but every little helps, I guess. Current word count so far is 20,421 which to a feature writer like me still seems like a lot of words.

Anyway, no learning experiences or amazing insight here but if you’re in the same boat, please do let me know and share any wisdom you may have. In the meantime, I’m off to bang my head repeatedly on the keyboard and include the results in my word count…

Tweet encouraging things to me here (please!)

Read about my previous NaNo mid-month hiccup

Or chill out with a lovely book review

I’m doing NaNoWriMo! Again.

National Novel writing month logo a shield with crossed pens, a laptop and a cup of coffee on it with a viking helmet on top for some reason

If you’re a freelance journalist the timing of National Novel Writing Month sucks. The ideas of putting aside all paid work THE MONTH BEFORE CHRISTMAS to work on a novel which may or may not get published is something I’ve struggled to get over year after year.

In fact, when I logged on and looked at my profile at the end of October, I found three versions of the same novel with three different now-discarded titles and dismal word counts for each. It was a fascinating glimpse back in time but also kind of depressing.

This year, though, was going to be different. Previous novel is finished, edited and re-titled, and I now had a fresh new idea I was itching to try out. Plus a small posse of online buddies who were doing it with me. Bring it on.

I’m half-way through it now, and here’s what I’ve learned so far:

1: It doesn’t matter if you write a pile of crap.
The sanctimonious little chart on my profile tells me that I should have written 25,000 words by now. It also says that to make the classic NaNoWriMo target of 50,000 words I need to write 2,250 words today. Well, that ain’t happening.

I have all my best ideas while writing crap


I’ve often thought the emphasis on words can be a unhealthy – you write a load of old rubbish just to bump your word count and end up having to go back and unstitch it later. But now I’ve got the first novel under my belt I realise I have my best ideas while writing crap (and also while in the shower for some reason.) Also, the unstitching is actually an unavoidable part of writing a novel. I have a trifling 13,993 words under my belt so far and half of those are utter crap but, like the weirdo I am, I’m actually looking forward to going back and changing it. I like seeding in all the good ideas I had while I was writing terrible stuff.

2: Buddies really do help
I’m lucky enough to be friends with a few unpublished writers online, and we’ve been bolstering each other up with word counts and pep talks. This wasn’t the case for the first few years and it’s made such a difference knowing I’m going to report back to people about it rather than just sitting here writing into the abyss. I spent my whole journalistic career with editors breathing down my neck, and I now can’t work without deadlines and pressure – or with the mutual support of colleagues.

3: Once a Brownie, always a Brownie
Back when I was in the Brownies, I loved getting a badge and being part of a tribe but I have to admit I find the whole tribal thing a bit cringy these days. And I’ve always thought the badges on the NaNoWriMo site were a bit patronising. You get a badge on your profile for writing two days straight, one for a week… etc. Pathetic, right? So why was it that last Saturday I wrote for 15 minutes between 11.40 and 11.55 so I could log a word count on the site and get my “Updated My Word Count Seven Days In A Row” badge? God I’m sad. But if it works, it works.

LOOK! LOOK AT MY SHINY SHINY BADGES!!! I mean… not that I care obviously.

Some of my friends also prepped beforehand – putting together a day-to-day (or even a scene-by-scene) plan of what they were going to write, reading the pep talks on the NaNo website, going to write-ins. I’m not that way inclined, being more of a “splurge the words onto the page” kind of a writer, but it’s nice to know those resources are there if I should ever have a personality transplant.

All I know is that at the beginning of November I had the stub-end of a novel and, if I continue writing on the same track, by the end of November I’ll be well into the second half – even if a large part of it is drivel. So, cautiously and with a due sense of trepdiation, I’m calling NaNo 2019 a win.

Read more about my first attempt here

And more about how crazy deadlines can be motivating here

Fancy reading a book review of Unfollow by Megan Phelps-Roper instead?

Tweet me to chat about NaNo…

Why anyone who publishes a book is amazing

It’s easy to slag books off. I do it all the time – as a reviewer I see lots of not-very-good books: novels which are cynical imitations of another title which did quite well a few years ago, novels written to a formula, novels cranked out when the writer had a deadline but was struggling for inspiration. And everyone’s favourite punching bag, Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s fun to slag off books and as a wannabe author it’s encouraging – if this load of old twaddle can get published, so can I. So yes, I do it, I’m only human.

But it’s also deeply wrong and unfair, because every non-celeb person who has ever had a book published deserves huge respect for beating the odds. They have been through at least a dozen agonising and increasingly Hunger Games-esque stages to get there…

To get your book published takes faith determination and a rhino-like skin1: They had a Very Good Idea. You know, just like the one that’s floating round your head at the moment that would be an absolute best seller if only you could find the time to write it all down.

2: They had a Second Very Good Idea which gave the initial Very Good Idea wings. Boy goes to wizard school has potential, but Orphaned boy goes to wizard school where he discovers a dark link between himself and the powerful wizard who murdered his parents is the start of a seven-book series.

3: They found the time to write it down. Hours. Days. Months. In the middle of the night, getting out of bed at 5am, punching it out with their thumbs on their iPhone on a commute. Or even giving up their jobs. Despite all the crap going on in their lives, they found the time.

4: They didn’t give up when they got 30,000 words in and realised that the Second Very Good Idea actually doesn’t work at all unless they go back and unpick everything that happened after Chapter Two. Instead, they went back and unpicked. Or they replaced the duff Second Idea with a shiny new Third Very Good Idea which made it even better.

5: They wrote 60,000 to 150,000 words about Very Good Ideas One and Two (or Three.) It might not be in a genre you like, it might be too light and fluffy or too flabby and pretentious but they wrote the words down. A story now exists where there was none before.

6: Then they edited, going through the whole thing until they were sick of the sight of it, rejigging it, taking bits out, regretting it, putting them back in. They cut things they loved, sliced out whole characters and wrote entirely new scenes instead, all the while not truly knowing whether they were making the thing better or worse.

7: They then sent it to agents. Dozens of ‘em. They received rejection email after rejection email until they wondered whether the Very Good Idea was actually Utter Tripe Idea in disguise. Maybe they took too long writing it and nobody wants dystopian YA stories any more, or a major plot point has been wiped out by the invention of Google Maps. Or maybe they just wasted an immense amount of their time and passion on something nobody wants to read. This could happen, and does – all the time. But if it doesn’t…

More bashing into shape ensues

8: An agent actually picks it out of their slush pile of hundreds, is moved by the words, blown away by VGIs One and Two, and signs them up. More editing ensues. Author and agent eventually agree that book is in good shape. Hooray!

9: Said agent believes in the book enough to haul it all around town to different publishers, or even take it to a book fair and say: “Buy my client’s book, it’s great and it will make money for you.”

10: In order to get a book deal, the author then has to cage fight JK Rowling using only a copy of The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook as a weapon. Oh wait, no, that’s just a weird dream I had.

10: A publisher sees the book, likes it and thinks that this is a Very Good Idea, which will possibly make money for them.

11: The publisher then introduces an editor into the mix who undertakes more Bashing Into Shape along with the author who is probably feeling pretty bashed themself by now. Once they’re happy, they haul it around town to the booksellers and supermarkets, convincing them that the author has had a Very Good Idea and that they, too could make money from it.

12: It has been years since the author had the Very Good Idea but it’s stood the test of time, it’s on the shelves. Now the author, the publisher and booksellers all join forces to convince us – the reading public – that the Very Good Idea is worth spending the price of a cup of coffee on.

What a way to make a living!

Seriously, it’s ridiculous, but that’s the way it works in traditional publishing. So to get your book onto shelves and into people’s hands takes an astonishing amount of faith in yourself and your idea, extraordinary discipline and commitment plus a rhino-like skin to deal with all those rejections and edits along the way. So anyone who has ever, ever had anything published is an utter hero. I salute you. And one day, glutton for punishment that I am, I hope to join you.

I wrote a book in three weeks and it changed everything

A few months ago, I wrote a book in the space of a few weeks. It wasn’t a particularly long one – just 12,000 words and it wasn’t a masterwork of fiction poured from my heart through the filter of my amazing literary talent.

In fact if I had to define it, Everything You Need To Know: Kings And Queens Through The Ages is one of those fun books you give to people at Christmas and then spot in their downstairs loo months later. But hey – a book is a book.

A friend put me in touch with a new publishing company which was planning to roll out a whole Everything You Need To Know series and needed writers. I fancied a new challenge and after a couple of enthusiastic emails I had myself a tasty commission. There was one small problem – they wanted the book in three and a half weeks.

All it took was a punishing deadline and the will to ignore my family

And so I was off, researching up a storm. I spent hours in my local library scouring biographies for light-hearted trivia, trawled Wikipedia for leads then disappeared down a wondrous rabbit hole of historical blogs and academic papers. In the process I became an expert on things I’d never been remotely interested in before. I found myself watching The Crown saying things like “Of course Princess Margaret’s been on a bus” or “ooh look, it’s the Poltimore Tiara!”

And as I worked, the words just came – lining up gleefully on the page as I discovered each treasure trove of trivia. It was tons of fun. Of course when this happens it’s usually a sign that the work will need some serious editing later on but the fact remains: at the beginning of the month there was no book – three and a half weeks later, there was one.

By then I was knackered – I’d been doing all my regular freelance work alongside it so had been working until 2am for weeks – but also kind of exhilarated. Because after spending years in limbo with my own novel, tapping out the odd paragraph between commissions, I realised I could write something long-form (well long-ish), and write it fast. All it took was a punishing deadline and the will to ignore my family for set periods of time.

And so, in the weeks that followed I came to a decision. For years I’d been struggling to fit my fiction writing around the demands of a fast-turnaround freelance job, plus the needs of two small children and a raggedy, untidy house. As a result my novel has inched along slowly, sometimes lying neglected in my Dropbox for weeks. It’s time to make a change, to take a run at it like I did with Kings & Queens.

And so from the end of last year that’s what I started to do.  I dropped all freelance work except book reviews – I could never give up book reviews. And while it was incredibly painful it was also a huge relief because for the first time in years I was prioritising the career I wanted.

Having time to concentrate made all the difference

A few months later, I have finished editing the manuscript of my YA crime novel, The Girl Who, and have started sending it to agents. Having the time to concentrate on this project has made all the difference. I know I’m privileged to be able to do it, that I have a husband in work who is able to shoulder the financial burden for a while – many others don’t have that luxury. It’s no wonder the world of writing is so inaccessible for so many – there’ll be a blog on this in the near future as I have a lot to say about this.

Sadly, things did not end well for poor old Kings & Queens. Despite the punishing deadline it’s now languishing in publishing no-man’s-land, like an ageing heir awaiting an abdication, as booksellers didn’t pick it up. But still, it could be the most important book I ever wrote, as it gave me the confidence to carry on.

How to edit your novel on Kindle

It’s been two months since I typed The End on my manuscript. I thought it would feel exciting and wonderful, but actually I felt kind of flat. Because although I was pleased to get to the end of my first draft – SIX FLAMING YEARS after starting it – I also knew there was tougher work to come. I dreaded the process of picking apart my hard-woven words, taking out all those flowery bits which seemed so beautiful at the time and crunching the plot.

Yup, I was dreading the editing process.

There’s just something about scrolling through a Word document which bogs me down. I pick apart sentences and shift words around but it’s impossible to step back and look at the broader flow of the story or check the pacing. Reading on-screen or even in an A4 printout doesn’t feel the same as reading a book.

I had the chance to read my book as the average reader would

Before Christmas I sent the manuscript to a kind, generous and straight-talking author friend for feedback and she asked me to send it to her in ebook form so she could read it on her Kindle. After an initial technophobic panic, I downloaded an app called Calibre which allows you to convert Word documents to .mobi or .epub files so they can work on an e-reader. Self published authors will know this process well, but it was new to me.

It suddenly dawned on me that I had the chance to read my book as a reader would. On a Kindle while sitting on the bus, lying in bed or brushing my teeth (Just me? Probably.)

It didn’t take long to convert the latest version of my MS (instructions are below if you haven’t done it before) and I got a genuine kick out of seeing my words on the Kindle screen. It felt more like an actual book than it ever had before.

Reading in that format prevented me from stopping every few minutes to perform major (probably unnecessary) surgery on an actually-probably-OK paragraph but I could still use the highlight and note features to jot things down as I went along.

It’s been a completely refreshing, new way to look at the book and definitely worth doing if you’re in a slump. Once I’ve finished, I’m planning to keep the ebook in front of me as I make changes which makes me feel one step ahead on the brutal editing process – and one step closer to getting my book off the ground.

How to turn your MS into an e-book (for editing, not self-publishing purposes)

This might be a completely bleeding obvious process for some people, but super handy for others, like me, who are new to this malarkey.

screenshot of calibre app open on a desktop

The Calibre window open on my desktop

1: Download Calibre online. My computer runs on Linux rather than Windows, which is probably why the screen grabs look a bit weird – but Windows versions are available. I used a dummy Masterpiece for the screen grabs – that obviously isn’t the title of my book. I did this because I STILL CAN’T FLIPPING THINK OF A GOOD TITLE FOR MY WIP DAMMIT.

2: Open Calibre and go to Add Books to import your document.

click on Output Format at top left to convert to .mobi

Add a cover then click on Output Format at top left to convert to .mobi

3: Then select your book and click on Convert Books. Go to Output Format and select .mobi for a Kindle. Other readers can run .epub documents. I added a random photo of an Elvis impersonator as a cover, just to see if it worked. It showed up in the actual document but, disappointingly, not on my Kindle homepage.

4: Hook up your Kindle to your computer and drag-and-drop your mobi into the documents folder with your other ebooks. You can obviously try to email it using your Kindle email address but I’ve had patchy results with this.

If you decide to try this too – or have used it lots before – let me know how you get on!

All about being stuck in the middle of a novel with no end in sight

How writers need networks

I’m doing NaNoWriMo!

Last year I attempted to do National Novel Writing Month properly for the first time. I cleared my schedule, I did some preliminary work on plotting. I told my friends and family and any bugger who wanted to hear about it on Facebook. As November approached, I was ready.

NaNo-2015-Participant-Badge-Large-SquareThen on 31st October my little boy got ill. And we were in hospital for three weeks. It was a terrifying, horrible time which involved sleeping on a camp bed next to his cot, listening to machines beeping. Some people would find it helpful to have something else – a novel – to focus on. I found it impossible. I just couldn’t concentrate – all the emotional highs and lows has been drained out of me by the time he’d gone to sleep. A few times I stayed up using the glow of my screen as the only source of light and I wrote. But I can’t say I produced anything amazing. By the end of the month I’d written about 3,000 words.

This year I had no intention of doing it. I had too much on. Money to earn, commissions to chase. What if the nipper got sick again? Let’s face it, producing 50,000 words in a month wasn’t realistic.

And then on the afternoon of 1st November I got a message from a friend to say she was doing it and I thought, sod it. Life is always going to be busy. There’s always going to be money to earn, commissions to chase (I hope) and kids are always going to get poorly – although hopefully never that sick again.

I thought, sod it. Life is always going to be busy

I had made no preparations, my characters were floundering, the storyline petered out. I had lost the plot. In fact I wasn’t even sure I wanted to finish the book. It felt like a meal that I’d been pushing around on the plate so long that it was no longer appetising.

Still, I sent my friend a message to say I was in. I set myself a new goal – 1,000 words a day should be quite enough for a YA novel as I was already 26,000 words in anyway.

Now I’m seven days in and results are mixed. On the minus side, I’m waaay short of my target. Because guess what, the little dude was ill for one of those days and a massive handful for two more of them. But on the other hand I’ve found a missing link which I think will give one of my characters the storyline she needs. And I feel like I’m back into it. I’m doing good things.

So I’m going to check in every week throughout the month, let you know how I’m doing. But only quickly, because I’m writing.

The importance of being tenacious

Two years ago, when I set up this blog all bright eyed and full of enthusiasm, I wrote about the Arvon course I attended and how great it was to meet like-minded writers, discuss our characters, plot and story arcs etc. But while we were having all these lovely big chats there was one guy who ducked out of most of our sessions, who didn’t want to join in with our dialogue workshops and storyline exercises. You’d stumble on him tucked in one or other cosy corner of the beautiful Lumb Bank Centre, hunched over his laptop hammering the keys. “Can’t talk now, I’m writing…”

Unlike most of us he was near the end of his project and you could almost see the waves of determination coming off him. I wasn’t surprised to hear that he’d landed one of the top agents in the biz, that there had been a bidding war for his first manuscript. The guy was called James Law and last week I went to the launch of his first novel, Tenacity. The name really couldn’t have been more appropriate.

you could almost see the waves of determination coming off him

It’s a dark, claustrophobic crime novel set on a submarine – James spent years on subs, so there’s lots of naval detail. It follows the story of a lone female investigator trapped with a hostile all-male crew, one of whom might just be a killer…

image10

At Arvon James waxed lyrical about the addictive action of the Millennium trilogy. And while I’m not a fan of Stieg Larsson’s waffly prose and the graphic violence against women James has dodged both of those Larsson traits while piling on the tension, suspense and secrets. I’m only about half way through so I don’t know the end yet, but as Tenacity is the first in a series I’m guessing that naval investigator Danielle “Dan” Lewis makes it through.

Unsurprisingly, the wine flowed

The launch was fabulously nautical – at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport. There were speeches, readings and a genuine vintage sub to explore. I went crazy taking close-up pictures of pipes, taps and dials – it was like some kind of steampunk nightmare, hard to imagine that dozens of sailors lived amidst all this for months at a time. And you know what? Even though it was decommissioned years ago it was still a bit whiffy. The crowd was an interesting mix of writers, journalists and James’ naval buddies. Unsurprisingly, the wine flowed.

I came away with a signed copy, which I hope will be the first in my collection of Arvon alumni publications. I also felt fired up for the first time in ages. James finished his book, which is achievement enough, but then he had enough confidence in it to shout about it and grab the publishing world’s attention. Instead of emailing his MS off into the abyss and crossing his fingers he created a military-style plan of attack with the clear objective of getting the publishing deal he wanted – and it worked.

This business is all about talent and hard work but without confidence it all just sits there mouldering away on your Dropbox.

Time to start shouting, I think.

sub-images

Writers need people too!

Writing a novel is a solitary business, especially when you are unpublished and there is no agent or editor screaming for the manuscript; when you have no idea whether that genius plot twist you’re so proud of is actually agonisingly contrived and when there is no guarantee anyone will actually ever read this thing that you’re pouring your heart and soul into at every spare moment.

After a few years, and three drafts, my first novel had warped into something like an old magic-eye image. I’d stared at it so long I could see the outlines of the plot but not the original detail, or the point I was going for originally. Was each new draft making it better or was I actually making it worse? I couldn’t actually stand to look at it any more.

For years I thought to be a proper novelist you had to work in a secret garret somewhere…

Then I met Diana Bretherick, who won Good Housekeeping’s Novel Competition in 2012, and whose wonderfully dark crime novel, City of Devils, is out this summer. Diana had done a Masters and PhD in Creative Writing and, while the skills she’d learned on the course were useful, the real strength she’d found was sharing her problems with her classmates. That support network had kept her going – thanks to them she’d finished two books, one of which had won the competition.

That’s when I realised I needed to go on an Arvon course. I’d first heard about them years ago and they sounded amazing – residential courses in stunning countryside locations. No internet, no contact with the outside world. Just you and a bunch of like-minded people, plus two established authors who would look at your work and give you individual feedback.

My course was at the Lumb Bank centre in gorgeous Yorkshire, and my tutors were Patrick Gale and Stella Duffy – two fabulous writers who turned out to be great teachers too. There were workshops on plot, character and a slightly toe curling one on sex scenes, which were all hugely helpful.

But best of all was the chance to sit around with a dozen or so other writers and ask questions like “Is my dialogue convincing?” or “I like my character too much to kill him off” without feeling like a pretentious fool. By the end of the week all of us – even those who hated the idea of speaking in public – had read some of our writing out to the others. The criticism wasn’t half as painful as our nerves beforehand!

For years I thought that to be a proper novelist you had to work in a secret garret for years and emerge with your Completed Work – perfectly formed and beautiful. But I know better now. Writing is a messy, emotional, playful, agonising business and, like most of the fun things in life, is best done with like-minded friends.