Nice Things Agents Have Said to Me

A number of people have read my first, so far unpublished novel (Full Term) at this point. Friends and beta-readers, mostly, but in the process of submitting it various places at various times, some agents have read it too. In the video above is a small selection of their thoughts, from when I pitched Full Term at last year’s SCBWI conference. And below are snippets of feedback I got when submitting traditionally.

All such lovely, wonderful comments that made my heart happy.

You might wonder why, if they liked it so much, I still don’t have an agent, so for context, I will also put in their reason for turning it down, too. As is often the way of things, it’s usually not an actual fault with the book. Marketing reasons. Timing reasons. All things out of my (and their!) control.

I just thought it would be interesting to collect the comments and decisions here, in one place. So have a look – and then read right to the very end, where I have an announcement.

Here’s the very first one I got, containing both praise and reason for rejection succinctly in one sentence:

I really like your writing and found this very engaging, but I’m afraid in the current YA market I’m not confident of being able to place it with a publisher.

Side Note: I thought about putting names beside each of these quotes, but then thought it might be considered bad form. If you’re really interested in who said what, you could turn it into a very difficult guessing game (that I’ll never admit the answers to).

Agent Two:

The writing is pretty good, pretty strong. You’re a good writer but with the YA market not as strong as it was and the amount of competition out there….

Agent Three – a matter of personal preference: (This one read and requested the full manuscript)

I think you have a really gripping premise and setting here, and that you are a very talented writer. Despite this, I am sad to say that I am going to pass on this. I appreciate that Mya’s experience is realistic of a vulnerable young person but it is simply a bit too dark for me.

One agent read my submission and was really positive about it, but told me the subject matter hit too close to home. Which is fair.

Here’s another one: Continue reading

Malorie Blackman

A feature on my favourite author.

World Book Day 2003, at age 14, I picked up my very first Malorie Blackman book. It was An Eye for An Eye, a short story from Malorie’s Noughts and Crosses Series.

I had not read Noughts and Crosses at that point. I hadn’t actually heard of it or Malorie herself before. In fact, that day in Easons bookstore in Bloomfields Bangor, I wanted to pick up an entirely different book.

I’ve said before that, prior to going to university, I was not really a reader. I likely would have been, because I was in love with the idea of books, but it was not encouraged.

That day in the bookstore, I had picked up a novel I wanted to use my £1 book token towards but my parents refused to buy it. They would not add money to my token, so if I wanted to use it, I had to pick one of the £1 short reads produced specifically for the day.

A somewhat unlikely beginning, but I got that short story, read it, and loved it. And when I finally had a little freedom and some of my own money, I walked into Waterstones in Lincoln, aged 18, and came out with my very own copy of Noughts and Crosses.

The short story had stayed with me that long. My curiosity about the rest of the series had been piqued for four years. And so, not long after I devoured book one, I worked my way through the rest. At that point, Knife Edge and Check Mate (books two and three) were out and Double Cross (book four) was in the pipeline. I was one of the first people to preorder it, and I actually have a clear memory of the day I picked it up. Continue reading

The Numbers Game

I think about submissions a lot. Not just figuring out what I will send where next, but bigger picture stuff like how many submissions is “normal” or “enough.” How many acceptances equals success. Torturous questions like that, that don’t really have a real (i.e. definitive) answer. I adore definitive answers. Objective feedback. Hard and fast rules that tell me when things have worked and when they haven’t. With such a mindset, it’s hard to know why and how I ended up writing for a living – where I’m not sure certainty ever happens – but, you know, such is life.

Further to thinking about submissions a lot, I have this one particular friend (hi, Elizabeth!) I talk about submissions with a lot. She’ll come over for tea and a chat, and that chat will almost always turn to which journals are open, who has a good reputation for replying fast (or at all), and whose guidelines are completely incomprehensible.

Even further to this, it has not been unknown for me to start making notes during these chats or periods of intense thought. I will often look up my submission folder in my email inbox, or pull up one of my many spreadsheets. But in all this, I wondered, has anyone else perhaps looked into the submission process more thoroughly? Has anyone ever sat down and researched the stats behind this seemingly mysterious process of firing your word babies out into the void, hoping one of them will land somewhere and… I’m not honestly sure where I was going with this metaphor, ‘word babies’ is maybe one of the worst phrases I’ve ever written and I apologise, but I’m sure you catch my meaning.

It’s all well and good to torture yourself, wondering if the five submissions you made yesterday were “enough,” or if that one you spent two weeks on a month ago was “worth it.” I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be much more effective to torture yourself by the cruel and unusual means of comparison? Continue reading

Refocusing

It is Monday morning. A new day, a fresh week. I am, as the title of this post suggests, refocusing.

I had been thinking I would write a post today titled ‘On Disappointment and Uncertainty,’ because that’s the one I had planned. It’s what I wanted to write last month but didn’t have the brainpower for. Because disappointed and uncertain was where my head was at for pretty much all of August.

I’ve already said I found August particularly hard, and that part of that was moving, but that doesn’t really paint a full picture of everything that was going on.

Before we got to the huge physical strain that moving was, there was applying for houses. And that was the emotional strain, because it seemed no one wanted to accept our application.

Waiting for landlord decisions is tough, in and of itself (especially when the answer comes back as no and you have to start all over again), but what that waiting coincided with for me was also waiting for responses from agents and publishers, waiting for a funding decision, and waiting for my A Level result. (I feel like there was something else in that list, too, but I’ve lost track of whatever it was at this point.)

If you’ve been following the UK news over the past month, you’ll know that results day was a clusterfuck. And if you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know I was relying on a good result to, hopefully, kickstart my re-entry to formal education.

Well, I got an okay result. A grade C. Not exactly what I wanted, but not awful. And we found a house and moved in. There are some loose ends still to tie up the end of the moving process, but for the most part that is done. Huge, huge relief!

I found the uncertainty over these things legitimately debilitating. Hence my hiatus from writing. And reading. And posting here.

I’m still waiting on the funding decision – it ended up being pushed back until October – and I haven’t heard from the majority of agents and publishers I submitted to, but I’m not particularly stressing about that. Why? Because I have a plan. I almost always have not just one single plan, but a main plan and lots of smaller, sub-plans. I think that’s what made all the uncertainty hardest for me – all of the things being out of my hands. But going forward – recentering my focus on the future – not everything seems so dire.

I’ve had a poem accepted that I think is being published next month, in October. I have a short story due to be published in November. November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and I plan to be finishing the third book in my trilogy. As of this past weekend, I am writing again. I am reading again. I have an active list of reading and writing things to work through that is A. not crushing me under the weight of it, and B. not a list of physical tasks I must complete before even considering taking to my computer for words.

In under two weeks, I am handing back the keys to the old house. By that time, the minor work that needs done there will be wrapped up. It will have been cleaned within an inch of its life (several times over). I will have finished updating our address everywhere. Puzzle pieces will have slotted together and our payments will be all in order.

Things are coming together.

Huzzah!

Coming Back?

The organised chaos of my new workspace

*taps microphone* Is this thing on?

I think this is me, coming back from my little hiatus. I feel a little ridiculous for how weird it feels. Coming back, I mean, but also having been away in the first place. It’s only been a month, (only, she says!) but it feels so much longer. I feel rusty. Right now, I’m supposed to be taking part in a writing sprint but I’m weirdly hesitant. Gun shy, I suppose.

I’ve spent all of August and what we’ve had of September so far orchestrating a full-house move and it’s been… a lot. A lot of stress. Physical and emotional strain. I’ve moved before, a number of times, but specify ‘full-house’ move here because switching between student accommodation or transitioning from a single room in my parent’s house to having my own place is different from this. It didn’t have a patch on this.

It has taken all of my time and energy and it’s not 100% done, but mostly there, and now I’m back, here again. I got so excited by the prospect of being able to write again. I set up my new workspace and literally clapped my hands with glee. And I’m sat here… stalling. Scared? Maybe. Why am I scared? I don’t know. Like I said, I feel ridiculous for it. But I don’t think I’m alone in that. I think this is one of those things most if not all writers go through. I’m not sure if it’s burnout, but probably. Burnout sucks.

The ‘library’ area of my new house

But I guess the important thing is not attaching a label to my weird absence of words and focus on going forward. I am typing here, so that’s progress. I endeavour to come back here next week and write another post. And another one the week after that. I’m not entirely sure what those posts will be, but I’ll give it a shot. Because what’s my other option? Not write at all? Ha! No. That’s a truly ridiculous idea.

I’ve come back, so I trust the words will, too.

…in reading back over this before I hit ‘publish’ I’m tempted to say my apprehension makes sense, because writing can very much be like opening yourself up and bleeding. And I think my scabs from before are all hard, but that sounds incredibly melodramatic.

Also in re-reading, I’m concerned that I’m not saying anything new or different from my last post, but it’s an accurate representation of where I’m at right now, so… *shrugs*

It’s possible I’m overthinking this. Honestly, I’ll be fine.

Stay tuned!

Thinking

I’ve been thinking again about my past projects (pictured above), now have a bit of distance from them. They haven’t been out in the world for a while – I unpublished them over a year ago – and, in fact, one of them never even made it out to begin with. I killed my micro-poetry project before it ever really saw the light of day.

But anyway, I’m thinking about it because… because I’m kind of itching to start something new.

And I’m nervous.

I don’t know if anyone has been able to tell, but I’ve been finding it hard to blog, recently. Hard to motivate myself to do it. The words you’re reading now are the first ones I’ve written this month. Maybe I’ve lost momentum. Maybe I’m burned out. Maybe both?

Either way, I think I need a break. Which is funny, actually, because I’m not sure if I know what one looks like. A lot of the time, a break for me just means switching gears to do something else rather than stopping entirely. And it’s kind of the same here. I don’t want to stop entirely so much as I… well. This might sound weird, but I want to draw.

I’m not actually good at drawing, but I want to learn. I want to try.

I actually think I want to try Inktober, and I’m itching to put together a somewhat rough and ready zine from what I create.

…reading back over that last sentence, I am relieved that I still want to create. Maybe it means everything isn’t so bad as it feels right now.

I’m just tired.

I don’t know when I’ll blog again, but words will most certainly return in some way at some point. Maybe it’ll be in a month. Maybe it’ll be a few hours and I’ll then feel silly for having written this. Regardless, I’m gonna doodle in the meantime.

A zine is a fun idea, but I’m playing with it as just that; not committing myself to anything just yet.

I have mixed feelings about putting another thing out into the world, because of the aforementioned past projects. They all took so much time and energy (some more so than others) but, ultimately, I was unsatisfied with them. My standards kept rising and the books kept falling short.

No wonder I’m a little gun-shy.

…I’m not really sure where I’m going with all this. Maybe that’s my point.

I’m just thinking. Musing. Having a little doodle.

I’ll be back.

A Little More on Comorbidities

In my most recent health update, I included a bullet-pointed list of most, if not all, of my issues and talked a little about ‘comorbidities,’ which is a big word that just means having multiple conditions going on simultaneously (at the same time) that can also be, in some ways, overlapped (in terms of causes and/or symptoms).

In my list, I grouped a few of the items together, but I didn’t really explain the overlaps. That’s what I want to do today, and what I have tried to represent in the diagram above.

Before I get into it: it should go without saying that I am not a doctor and this post is purely based on my own experience, and my own limited understanding of that experience. But, you know, I’m gonna say it anyway: I’m not a doctor. Do not use this post as a guide to diagnose yourself.

Probably the biggest thing to note is how Fibromyalgia is right at the centre of the diagram and, also, at the heart of many of my issues. This is mostly because it’s an umbrella condition that has many different things rolled up in it. (Yes, that’s a mixed metaphor, but I’m sure you know what I mean.)

The main symptoms I have from fibro are chronic pain, chronic fatigue, problems with my joints (which can, in turn, make me more exhausted and my body more painful more quickly), Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), depression, and anxiety (and fibro fog! Can’t forget that!! Though I incidentally did, in my first draft of this post. Plus points for irony!). You can have each of these things on their own, or even a few of them, without having fibro, but when you have all of them, it’s a pretty big indication that there’s something bigger at play.

For me, fibromyalgia is a big deal and the diagnosis made a lot of puzzle pieces click into place. But there are things in my diagram (and on my original list) that are not fibro related. Asthma, for example, has no link to fibro. Except, in my case, it’s triggered by allergies and my allergic response often then triggers my sinusitis and/or IBS symptoms.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome has no direct link to fibro (at least that I’m aware of), but they both cause me abdominal pain. My IBS also causes me abdominal pain; depression and anxiety often go hand-in-hand even in people without fibro; and I have a sleep disorder that has nothing to do with fibro, but it does double-down on the fatigue I get as part of my fibro. I’m not exactly sure my costochondritis (inflammation of the cartilage that joins the ribs and breastbone) is linked to my more general joint and muscle problems, but it seems fairly reasonable to me that it is.

Moving on from this, in the bottom right of my diagram, you will see a triangle of what I’ve labelled ‘specific learning disabilities.’ These are dyslexia (problems with words*), dyscalculia (problems with numbers*), and dyspraxia (problems with motor skills and judging distances*). All three of these are different and can occur on their own, but they can also often present themselves in the same person, and I am one of those lucky people to have hit the trifecta.

Bottom left of the diagram you will see I’ve listed my hearing problems, which I haven’t linked to anything. That’s because, as far as I understand, it’s a separate issue from all the rest. I don’t know what caused it and I’m still looking for a solution, but medical science is discovering new things all the time so who knows what I might find out in the future regarding it. Maybe it is somehow linked to my patchwork of other conditions and symptoms, or maybe it really is there all on its own.

I mostly wrote this post and made the diagram above for my own benefit, to help myself better understand how I do (and don’t) work, but what I want you to take away from all this is that it can all get pretty complicated.

It’s only in the past year or two that I’ve come to identify myself with the label ‘disabled,’ and it’s a big label with big implications. The diagram above might make it look fairly organised – simple, or logical, even – but the day-to-day reality is that I am really tired and sore pretty much all of the time.

Hopefully my explanation has been clear, but if you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comment section below.


*I just want to note that the explanations of dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dyspraxia I have given are super simplistic and in no way represent the full symptoms or definitions of those conditions.

On Friendship

This is, in part, a follow up to my blog post ‘On Adulthood.’ I’ve just reread it in preparation to write this and, wow, what a difference a couple of months can make.

On the first of March I said, and I quote, “My mental health is the best it’s maybe ever been… for right now, I’m okay.”

And then, of course, the world fell apart. Not just my world, but THE world. And I, like many others, am not okay. Far bloody from it.

But what has this got to do with friendship, you ask? Well, in that first post I talked a little about ‘Friends’ the TV show, and how I was relating that to my life.

I now want to do that again, because I’ve had some follow up thoughts. On both the show and reality.

I finished binge-watching episodes maybe two weeks ago. And where it had started out as a fun pastime, it kind of ended up as just another thing I wanted to power through and finish. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was taxing, in the end, but I definitely kept hitting up against some problems again and again (and again).

For example, despite being set in the extremely multicultural city of New York, did you know that Friends didn’t start consistently having black background characters until season seven? It took the show SEVEN years to make the token gesture of putting one or two people of colour in the background of each episode.

What’s more, there is so much anti-LGBT sentiment. By the end, there wasn’t a single episode that didn’t have being gay (or trans) as a punchline. And there were so many fat jokes for a show where every single character is skinny!

You might wonder why I even bothered to finish it if these things were bothering me so much, and here is the crux of the matter: you can both love and be bothered by the same thing at the same time.

Our experiences of things are rarely binary, where we either entirely adore it or cannot find a single thing to like. With everything, there is nuance. And that can be okay – because it is the intrinsic nature of things, it has to be okay – for the most part, but you need to draw the line for when it’s not okay. For when the bad outweighs the good and it’s time to give up and walk away.

If Friends had still been airing when I was making my way through the seasons, I may well have stopped watching. But since it had ended, and the end was a definitive thing that I was not far off, I decided to stick with it.

Recently, however, I decided I could no longer stick with a real-life friendship. Like the show, and like all of us, this person had good points and bad points. But my breaking point came when those bad things – like their sharing of harmful conspiracies and racist lies – became frequent enough that I couldn’t put up with it anymore. I challenged my friend, but they wouldn’t listen. They’d been poisoned by the same kind of crap they were sharing.

So, I broke it off. I unfriended them. And I walked away.

Sometimes things change – people change – and sometimes that’s for the better and sometimes it’s not, but sooner or later you will come to a line in the sand, and you gotta decide which side of it you want to be on.

It can be sad letting people go, but what’s the point continuing to share my life with people if I can’t live with myself?

Black Books on my TBR

I said I was going to read more books by black authors, and I love a good list, so here are some specific books on my TBR (to be read) pile I plan to get to soon:

Poetry

Novels

Non-Fiction 

I generally like to consume my non-fiction on audiobook, so I have my upcoming Audible credits earmarked for both of these.

Other

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy my other recent blog post about ten books by black authors I’ve already read and loved, which you can find linked here.

Summer Writing Update

My last writing update was in March. Before lockdown. Before George Floyd was murdered and the Black Lives Matter movement took to the streets again. Before so many things, most of them stressful and traumatic (and some of them both).

The world has changed in some ways, stayed frustratingly the same in others, and we all are struggling on. So, let’s catch up.

I’m going to be talking about my reading and writing for the first half of the year in this post, but I recently shared a health and fertility update here, if you’re interested. And if you want to read about my response to the BLM movement, see here and here.

Reading

Sadly, because of the aforementioned global shitstorm, there is not a lot to report here. I am currently four books behind in my reading target for the year – 28 books read so far out of 65 (43%) – but am confident I can and will catch up.

Writing

Shockingly, I have been writing more than ever. I genuinely don’t understand how or why this has happened, because I’ve lost count of the number of times in the past three months where I’ve been close to tearing my hair out with frustration at my supposed lack of words. (As my long-suffering husband can attest.)

Here is a little breakdown in stats:

  • January – 9,000 words
  • February – 29,000 words
  • March – 24,000 words
  • April – 28,000 words
  • May – 32,000 words
  • June – 22,000 words

Overall, that’s 144,000 for the year.

Obviously the numbers are a little rounded, but compare them to last year when I wrote a total of 166,000 words over the course of the full twelve months, and 2018 when I wrote 146,000. It makes me wonder what word count I’d be sitting with right now if the world wasn’t on fire.

But what I will note is that, despite the steep rise in my word count, the projects I’ve been working on are not what I had intended right at the start of the year. For the most part, I haven’t really had the brainpower to work on “original” fiction, instead sticking well inside my comfort zone of fanfic.

Going forward, I have some plans, uh… planned. July is Camp NaNoWriMo, for which I have set my monthly goal to 30,000, but outside of that I’m keeping my writing goals for the rest of 2020 fairly quiet. Things are going on in the background, but it’s too early to talk about them yet. By the time my end of year update comes out, all will be revealed, so stay tuned! And please let me know how your writing is going.

‘Till next time!