I Can Haz Writing Skillz?

Just over 2 weeks until the winner of the Cargo Publishing and Dundee Libraries Great War Children’s Book Prize is announced. And things are getting worse and worse!

I’ve been peaking and troughing as regards my optimism/pessimism about the result, and right now my confidence is rock-bottom. To be honest, I think at this stage of the game I’d rather it stayed there! (And to be equally as honest, it probably will!)

It doesn’t stop me from having the occasional moment of “What If”-ness… Such as knowing I would have to have the name of the pub “Nicholl’s” changed to “Nicoll’s” because I think MSWord may have auto corrected the name in the MSS…
(But maybe it was just my fault, as it hasn’t changed it in the above!)

I’ve also had a nice little idea for a wee publicity ‘give-away’ for the first few books… but that would obviously rely on me winning, or at least being published, so I won’t go into in case it jinxes anything!

SIGH! ( Geçmiş olsun!)

On the writing front, things have actually been rather productive.

    I have completed my second children’s book!

It’s a bit of a departure from The God of all Small Boys and was specifically written for another competition (I know, I never learn!). This one is for “ Floris Books’ Kelpies Prize”.

I think the difference in tone is easily illustrated by its title… “HELP! The Professor is a Chicken!” It is left open for a direct sequel, which will be called “HELP! The Professor is a Robot!”

This contest is a bit more open, as there is only one award given across three different age ranges. So, that basically means a lot more entries for only one prize!

There’s an odd correlation between this award and the Cargo Publishing one, insofar as Lindsay Littleson (one of the other ‘Great War’ shortlist-ers) won the Kelpies award last year, and John Fulton (the other shortlist-er) has also entered the Kelpies this year!

That said, I really hope I don’t fall into the mind-set of, “Well, I’ve been shortlisted once, so why wouldn’t I be again?”
(If only it were that easy!)

Also… (enormous update today!)
The cutting-to-the-bone of SKALD is finally complete!

I don’t know why (I really don’t) but, for some reason, I hadn’t put together two facts of which I was actually perfectly aware. Those being;
a) Outside Dundee/Various Historical Theatrical Events, I am basically an unknown author, and
b) Agents will rarely look at manuscripts by unknown authors which are over 90,000 words.

Now, even though I knew these two facts, I kept wondering why I was receiving really good feedback about having a “good voice” and my submissions “standing out from the others received”, but then ultimately ending with “I just don’t know what to do with it” etc…

And then I realised… SKALD is 137,000 words long.
And then I had a bit of an epiphany…

I knew that SKALD had to lose 47,000+ words (more than half of a regular first novel’s maximum…) and I was dreading looking at it as, on the face of it, it was a huge task.

I was plagued with questions:
Should I totally re-write? Should I just break it into two books? Was it possible to tell the same tale in so few words?

Then I realised I had a whole sub-plot which (although I like it a LOT) was not actually required to move the story along – so, out came all of the narrated sections regarding the flip-side of the story (King Eadred, Lord Daigh, Dominic the Burned Monk etc) in one fell swoop… That took me down to about 97,500!

From there, it was a case of judicious editing and removing any references to things which happened in the cut scenes. At the end of last week, and in the last chapter of the book, I got the word count down to 89,990 exactly! Now, of course, I have to read through it all again to make sure it doesn’t have any random names or events still in place… but other than that, I think it’s good to go.
(And I have 47,000 words I can use in the first sequel… which is about a third written already, so maths says it should be almost done! 🙂 !)

As regards what happens with SKALD now; well… I think I’ll initially send query letters to the agents who have previously given me the best feedback, and explain to them what I have done with the book, and ask if they would maybe like to read the samples again…

The worst they could do would be to say no, which they already have, so… 🙂

I am also, (I know, I know) going to holding off from sending these queries until after the 25th March…

Reason being… for as much as being shortlisted for the Great War Book Prize is an amazing achievement for me (it is the nearest thing to ‘validation’ that I feel I have had as a writer of literary fiction—as opposed to Theatrical/Historical fiction – because my plays etc which were mostly commissioned) and, undeniably, it would be brilliant to be able add ‘Shortlisted author for the Dundee Great War Book Prize’ to my introductory letters…

…there is something which I think would read a little bit better than that…


These next two weeks are gonna be torturous! But at least I know I’m not suffering alone…

Hi Lindsay! Hi John!) 🙂

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2 Responses to I Can Haz Writing Skillz?

  1. John Fulton says:

    Hi Joe! I know what you mean about peaks and troughs of confidence. My confidence has troughs of “absolutely no chance whatsoever” and peaks of “maybe just the tiniest possibility”.

    You should consider your feedback about “good voice” very, very encouraging indeed – it’s one of the most nebulous of requirements from agents, and impossible to fake. A strong and distinctive voice is the best asset you can have.

    I’ll look forward to meeting you and Lindsay in just over two weeks. Then at least one way or another this strange limbo will be over.

    All the best with your writing,


  2. admin says:

    Cheers John… it’s nerve-racking stuff isn’t it?

    Whatever comes of the contest, I’d love to read both your and Lindsay’s books!

    Maybe we should drag her in here and all promise to pass out our MSSs, regardless of who gets the prize! 🙂

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