Friday, 2 October 2015

Advice for New Writers Part 2: I've Completed the First Draft - What Now?

Last time in this series of posts about what to do if you have an idea for a book, I talked about reading in your genre and writing as much as possible. Today, I'm going to talk about what to do when you've finished the first draft.

What to Do When You've Completed the First Draft?

When you've completed a manuscript, the first thing you need to do is CELEBRATE!

Well done, you've written a novel!

But the next day, you need to get down to work again, and start editing. This is my least favourite task of the whole writing process, but we are all different, and this might be something that you particularly enjoy. It is, after all, easier to make something of something that already exists, rather than create the words and stories out of thin air. That work is now done.

Remember, the first draft is just that - a draft. You need to use all your powers of objectivity, and check that the plot, characters, dialogue, and back story work. You need to fact check, make sure all the place and character names etc. are used consistently throughout the novel. You need to make sure that the style of the novel is right for its genre, and of course, you need to check for spelling, grammar and point of view. The more of this work you do now, the less of it is left to your editor. (If you want to employ a professional editor, that is - see below)

There are a lots of editing help online, start by checking out the ALLi blog and site here.

How Many Drafts?

Unless you are a very skilled at self-editing while you write, the first draft will be one of several drafts. I think all of my books went over the ten draft limit - one of them, The Red King of Helsinki, I completely re-wrote on the advice of an agent. I basically wrote two novels on the same subject!  Coffee and Vodka was part of my MA in Creative Writing course work, and this novel too went through many versions - it even had a different title for a while. The Englishman, my third novel, was born out of a series of blog posts, written in first person. For the novel version I changed the POV from first to third, and added a little more back story. So, anything goes as long as you remember what Hemingway said...

Who Should Read Your Manuscript First?

Once you've edited your book, around three or more drafts later, it's time to show your book to some-one else. I tend to show my early drafts to my husband - he does the first corrections, and also tells me if the book is any good or not. This, as you may imagine isn't the happiest of solutions, but it works for us (and we are still married after three novels and many, many drafts). 

But, apart from a very critical and honest partner, I would strongly advise you not to show your work to family and friends for evaluation. They will not give you an unbiased opinion, simply because they love you. Even unwittingly, they'll think the novel better and funnier (if you wish it to be), or tragic (if that's what you're after) than it is.

Instead, try to show your work to some-one who doesn't know you and who will give you a brutally independent opinion. Because, when it comes to sending your baby out into the world, it will be bruised, or rather the criticism will bruise your ego, so why not begin with constructive criticism from just a few people? Criticism, which you can follow or not, according to what you yourself think. It's your book after all!

It's quite easy to find people you don't personally know, but whose opinion you value, online. (I'll be talking about the importance of networking in a later post). Because my first published novel, The Englishman, began as a series of posts on this blog, I was lucky to have several people who'd already read bits of the book and were willing to read a draft, and give their honest opinions on it.

So, just go ahead and ask. The worst reply you can have is a 'no'.

I asked about ten people to read The Englishman manuscript, and three of them actually read it. Some didn't reply, some said they would read it, but didn't come back to me. This is just something you have to accept. Reading and critiquing your work is a huge favour, so be nice about it, even if the response is negative or there's no response at all. As an author, you are always under scrutiny, especially online, so be polite, and don't take rejection personally. Developing a thick skin is one of the most valuable skills you can learn. I'm still working on that one....

Editor or No Editor?

After you've shown your work to as many people as you can,  (but remember it will take time for people to read your manuscript, so if you're in a hurry to get it published, think about who to ask well in advance), and you've made the necessary corrections and edits, it's time to have an experienced editor to have a look at it. 

Even if you consider going the traditional publishing route, i.e. finding an agent, who will find you a publisher with an editor, I'd recommend using a professional independent editor to look at your manuscript before you approach an agent. Professional editors can make a good manuscript into a brilliant one, so they're worth their weight in gold.

How to Find an Editor?

There is a list of editors on the Alliance of Independent Authors site - this will cost you money, but is well worth it. If you don't use one on that list, beware. The rise of the independent author/publisher has created a whole industry wanting to take advantage of an ambitious would-be author, so make sure that the editor you choose comes with proven credentials.

Can I Self-Edit?

Having said all of the above, there are ways in which you can make the final edits yourself. There are several websites and books written on the subject. If you don't have the funds to invest in a good editor, I think this is a viable route. Personally, I find it difficult to see some of my own spelling mistakes, or even plot issues in a manuscript which I've written and rewritten over and over, but this is just me. Many indie authors edit their own work very successfully, so it's more than possible to do it yourself.

I hope you've enjoyed my advice for new writers so far. If you missed Part 1, you can read it here

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Next month, I'm going to be talking about how long it usually takes to write and publish a novel. This post should be up on Friday 6th November. In the meantime, if you have any questions, please comment below, I'd love to hear your stories and how you are getting on with your writing!

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Which Famous Finn from History Are You?

I know this quiz has probably done the rounds a few times already, but I'd not seen it before, so I thought I'd share it with you for a bit of Thursday morning fun.

I got Tove Jansson, the famous creator of the Moomintrolls; a perfect fit for me! Which famous person from Finland's history did you get?

Friday, 25 September 2015

Sequel to The Englishman Name Reveal!

Most of you know by now that I am busily writing the long-awaited sequel to The Englishman. (At last you may say!). The first draft of the manuscript is now done, and I am working on my first edit. It's going well, although this stage of writing a novel is my least favourite one, because it's where you have to be strict with yourself. It's mostly fact-checking and making sure all dates, time-lines and characterisations make sense. And of course the plot itself has to be exciting, but also believable.

Yesterday I had a bit of low moment, realising I had to cut a whole section of the book, but today here in London the sun is shining and I can see that the novel will be a much better one without those few chapters. Luckily the word count of the first draft is generous, so I don't have add too much to the story. It's all about, 'Killing your darlings,' as William Faulkner famously said.

But, for those of you who are not fellow authors, all the above must be boring, boring, so let's get down to the reason for this blog post, and the title of my next novel. (Drumroll please...)

The sequel to The Englishman will be called:

The Navy Wife

I hope you like this title - it's simple, but I think it certainly says what it is on the tin...

I'm also delighted to announce that I'll be working with a wonderful, talented, Finnish designer for the cover of The Navy Wife. I cannot wait to see how she interprets the story.

In the next two weeks I'm running a competition related to the cover. Sign up to get my updates on the right, so that you don't miss it!  

If you'd like to see the pictures I've been using as a mood board for the novel, you can pop over to my Pinterest page here. And of course if you haven't read The Englishman, a Nordic tale of long-distance love, now is the perfect time to get it here!

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Good news for Finnish translated fiction

Many people ask me for recommendations on Finnish translated fiction. Since the explosion of the Nordic Noir genre, readers are particularly interested in similar books to Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy, or the Norwegian Detective Harry Hole series by Jo Nesbo, or even something like the Swedish Wallander series.

Naturally there are several books I could recommend, but the problem is that many of my favourite authors are not translated into English. Alternatively, the translations take so long that the novels seem out of date when they're published into English. In the crime genre, in particular, the police procedures etc. change very quickly, making the Finnish novels seem out of touch and old-fashioned when they finally come out in English.

Traditionally Finnish fiction is first translated into Swedish, and some of the other Nordic and Baltic languages, and then into German. English-language versions have to wait for years, or are never published. This has always seemed perverse to me; after all the English-language market is huge, and with the surge in interest in Nordic fiction, to me it would seem natural that this market would be a prime focus for Finnish publishers.

But, now it seems there's good news. This is from the press release of the Finnish Literature Exchange, FILI. FILI has the job of promoting Finnish literature around the world.

FILI focuses on exporting literature to the English-speaking world

A giant leap for translation rights sales figures took place during the preparations for the Frankfurt Book Fair, at which Finland was the Guest of Honour. The German markets have functioned as a gateway to other language areas, and interest is a particular challenge in the English-language markets, on which FILI is focusing its next three-year major project. 
In the United States and the United Kingdom we are focusing on local publishers, the training of new translators, and the promotion of published translations in conjunction with our local partners.
FILI continues to function as a mediator of professional contacts: we take part in trade fairs and invite foreign publishers to Finland to acquaint them with Finnish literature. We also act as a home base for Finnish literary translators, and one of our more important tasks is to find more translators in the various language areas.
Let's hope this new push to increase exports of Finnish literature to the English-speaking world will increase titles of my favourite authors from Finland in the future.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler - 2015 Booker shortlisted novel

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Anne Tyler’s books are never predictable – she creates characters that you love to love, but also those that you love to hate and those you cannot get any grip on at all. In A Spool of Blue Thread, among the Whitshanks, there are very few characters that you could even begin to love.

The family of Whitshanks (or Shitwanks as one of the sons' friends rename them) live in a large house in Baltimore, with wooden steps and a wooden porch, lovingly built by their grandfather, the talented carpenter. They think they are special, but as Tyler writes, ‘There was nothing remarkable about the Whitshanks.’ A statement such as this, quite early on in a novel, about the subject matter of your book, is brave. No author usually wishes to tell her audience that the characters are unremarkable. But then Tyler has a strong career behind her, so she can afford be brave.

Tyler is also correct, there is nothing special about the Whitshank family. The long-suffering Abby, who as the family matriarch do-gooder puts up with her husband, Red’s stubbornness and her children’s selfishness is an annoyingly scatty-brained character. As well as looking after her four children, she fills her life with ‘misfits, loners and unfortunates’ for whom she holds what the family have dubbed, ‘orphan dinners’. But much like her family, these loners too, soon take advantage of her generosity.

There are four children, Amanda, Jeannie and the troubled Denny, plus Stem, the latecomer. When Red, who runs the family construction company falls ill, the grown-up children with families in tow all arrive at Abby and Red's side, and although on the surface they seem concerned about their ageing parents, their old sibling rivalries soon begin to show.

Perhaps the characters were just too true to life, but I had difficulty in identifying with any of them. There are many funny moments in the book, and at the end, I felt great sadness, but I still don’t think this novel, which has just made the Booker short list, is Ann Tyler’s best work.

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