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Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Lurking and Hopeful

I am sorry I have neglected my blog. I have been writing non-stop, but have become so immersed in it that a great many other things have fallen by the wayside. I haven't read as many books as I would have liked, although I have loved Instructions For A Heatwave by Maggie O'Farrell, The Fault In Our Stars by John Green, The Friday Gospels by Jenn Ashworth, The Pre-War House by Alison Moore, One Day by David Nicholls and an old favourite, After Julius by Elizabeth Jane Howard. That is quite a few, but covers the last three months.
And when it comes to sorting out our garden, which resembles Passchendaele at the moment, I have been burying my head in the sand, or in the wasteland to be more precise.
It is in dire need of some tender loving care. In fact, it is in need of total rescue. We were keeping chickens, but sadly a fox came one night and managed to wrench the catch off the coop. We have decided not to keep chickens anymore. We had already replaced several of them and made the coop more secure. But it is impossible to outsmart this fox. His lurking presence (I have come face to face with him at dawn) and his arrogance - digging a lair under our neighbour's tree where he calmly washed himself after his midnight banquet - make him too much of a threat. And our cats are terrified of him so it makes no sense to present him with an open invitation to a chicken-dinner.
Our chickens were free-range and uprooted every single blade of grass, leaving us with a huge sea of mud. In this quagmire we have some quite beautiful tall and elegant flowering things that my husband calls weeds. And the bane of our life - trillions of baby ash-trees. As soon as we pull one out, another thirty grow in its place.
However, I have not picked up a rake or a hoe yet. I have ignored the problem and stayed indoors writing instead. I have been writing novels and one is making its way around agents at the moment. I have had some encouraging comments, but no takers yet. One agent asked to see the full MS and was very excited about it. You can imagine how overjoyed I was. But she decided in the end that it was not right for her list. However, she did say she was sure she would see it on the shelves of the bookshops and would be looking forward to that day. That was massively exciting for me, one of those really helpful sorts of rejection that gives you a ray of hope despite the fact that you're being told no.
Another agent liked it, but did say it read like a threaded-together collection of short stories. And that was helpful advice too, because I could see exactly what she meant. It really is the hardest aspect of novel-writing to get right for me. I need to establish a stronger narrative drive that thrusts through the entire book, rather than treat each chapter as a separate story. I don't believe I've got the hang of it yet, but I'm trying my best.
In the meantime, I have won the local prize in the Bath Short Story Award, which was a huge surprise and a lovely reward for the hard-working story I submitted. It had already been rejected several times, but I couldn't quite lay it to rest. It was lying on the ground, battered and bruised, but with its legs still kicking in the air. So it went to Bath and that was the result. There's always hope for everything. If it hadn't done well there, I would have continued picking it up, dusting it down and giving it another push out of the door.
I was also overjoyed to achieve both a second place and also a runner-up place in the William Trevor/Elizabeth Bowen International Short Story Competition. William Trevor is my favourite author, so I couldn't resist it. Once again, one of those stories was a perennial wallflower that someone has finally asked to dance.
Two of my very short pieces are included in Scraps, an anthology of flash fiction masterminded by Calum Kerr. His book, Lost Property is a wonderful collection of eighty-three stories and he will be my guest on this blog on 27th July.
I have temporarily called a halt to writing my long short stories for Woman's Weekly Fiction Special. I have truly loved writing those. Seeing them in print with those gorgeous illustrations they always provide has been the most wonderful experience and also a dream come true. From the moment I started reading  my mother's magazines when I was still very young, I was burning to write a story and see it published in those pages. Sometimes I can't quite believe I have managed to achieve it. But each one takes quite a long time to create and edit. I lose my way with the novel if I break off for a couple of weeks to write short stories again. But I really do miss writing them and hopefully I'll go back to them soon.
I have finished a novella which is currently in a competition and I'm keeping my fingers crossed for it. And I'm now halfway through a new novel. But it's reached a stage where I can see flaws appearing. I thought I'd avoided them, but they are coming back to haunt me, like those stains on the carpet that you think you've rubbed out, but you've actually rubbed them in. And they work their way back up through the pile. You walk into the room and there they are again. They have just been in hiding, lurking there all the time. Rather like that fox, expectant and patient. Or those stubborn little ash trees in the garden.
And as for me, I'm not at all patient and I'm not really all that expectant. I am just hopeful. x

23 comments:

  1. I sounds like you have been working really hard! Very encouraging comments about your novel - good luck with that and with the one you are writing at the moment. I feel your pain about the ash trees - mine is bindweed... how I hate the stuff.

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  2. Thank you so much, Wendy. Oh, bindweed, that deserves a blog post all of its own! Very tenacious stuff. We have a lot of that too.x

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  3. What a shame about the demise of the chickens. Maybe you could persuade your hubbie to get somebody in to do the heavy work in the garden! It's not so bad when you can see it taking shape, and you can just focus on the nice, creative bits. We have ongoing problems with badgers breaking through the fence, but I never see them (because I love my bed too much!)

    Fantastic news on your prize stories, and also encouraging noises about the novel(s). I think a lot of people underestimate the time it takes to write a Woman's Weekly story. It can be hard to juggle magazine stories alongside other kinds of writing. It's frustrating sometimes, having to make that choice, but I guess you have to decide which is the project that you have most passion for.

    I look forward to Calum Kerr's post here at the end of the month. He does such interesting things in the world of flash!

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    1. Thank you very much, Joanne. I think you're right about the garden. If it could just be cleared and re-turfed, we could then enjoy the rest. I think that's definitely the best way forward.
      It really does take a long time, sometimes three weeks, for me to complete a WWFS story. Much as I love doing them, I can't shake off the temptation to write a novel and also to put together a collection of the other kind of short stories, the ones that go to the comps, if there'e enough time.

      Calum is such a hard worker and a great support to the world of flash fiction. I'm looking forward to his post too.
      Many thanks, Joanne xxx

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  4. Great to hear of such fantastic progress on the novel/novel 2/novella fronts and I've been happy to see your name popping up all over in comps and mags. (I know how hard you work!)
    I showed my husband your tug-of-war story in WW as I wanted him to see the beautiful pictures they did, which went so well with the lovely story.

    I shall look forward to seeing your name in bookshops very soon (inevitable), but am sorry the stories will be taking a bit of a hiatus as I really enjoy reading them. Bx

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    1. Thank you, Bernadette, you're so kind. I really loved the picture that went with the tug-of-war story. It took my breath away. I thought they surpassed themselves with the lovely colours and all the little details from the story added in.

      It's lovely that you have enjoyed the WW stories. I still make notes for them so that hopefully I shall have a new set of ideas for the future when I start writing them again.

      Thanks so much, Bernadette.xx

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  5. Welcome back, Joaanna! And very good luck with the novel.

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  6. Congratulations on the novel and the Bath story prize. It sounds like your hard work has paid off. It's very reassuring to hear that stories previously rejected made it. In the end, many rejections aren't about it being a poor story or because of inadequate writing skill, but simply not being in the right place at the right time. Thanks for giving us heart!

    Sorry to hear about your hens! Hope the bad news is balanced by good news on the novella.

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    1. Thank you very much, Lindsay. I agree with you about being in the right place at the right time. Although it can be hard to keep going at times - I look at some of my stories and wonder if I'm trying to flog a dead horse - I've found that perseverance often pays off, or at least often enough to make it worthwhile. xx

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  7. I'm so sorry about your hens, Joanna. It must have been very distressing.
    But such good news about the Bath prize and the wonderful comments about your novel - I too am sure we will see it on the shelves one day. I certainly hope so as I love your short stories and have always thought you had a very special talent. I will miss your WW stories xx

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    1. Thank you so much,Teresa, for your very kind thoughts. I miss writing the stories for WW very much. I agonised over that decision, but I probably just need to get the novel-writing dream out of my system and then I'll be able to see which way I'm going. I look forward to reaching the point where I put the first draft away for a while and give myself a stretch of time to go back to short stories again. I really appreciate your lovely comments, Teresa. Thank you. xx

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  8. Great to read you news, Joanna. That's a shame about the chickens but I'm glad the fox won't get any more free meals from you. How fantastic to get such feedback on your novel - I'm sure it's only a matter of time. I've always loved your short stories (any type) so I'm not surprised you've had such success - well done! Really looking forward to reading that novel one day.

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    1. Thank you, Rosemary, so much for your kindness. It means so much to know that writers I admire so much have enjoyed my stories too. I really hope the novel works out and it's support like this that gives me the confidence to try. xx

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  9. I wouldn't worry about neglecting your blog,Joanna...it sounds as if you've had quite enough to keep you busy! Well done on your successes -all very encouraging and I'm sure your hard work will lead to publication of your novel.

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    1. Thank you so much, Myra. I really hope it all pays off one day. Sometimes I wonder if it's all worth it and then a small success happens to remind me that it probably is!
      Kind and encouraging comments like yours are massively helpful too - thank you. xx

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  10. What a wonderfully inspiring blog, Jo! You paint such vivid pictures of your life that I am right there. Our garden is in a similar state, but it's not ash trees in our case, but bindweed! I'm so glad to hear you're working on another novel and that you have one with agents. I'm sure we'll see both in print very soon! It's wonderful to hear you're still immersing yourself in the words. I must try harder!! xx

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    1. Thank you so much, Jo, for all your lovely comments. The novel writing is so much harder than short stories. By the time I've worked out where I've gone wrong, it always seems too late to put it right without changing all kinds of other details too! But persevering is so much easier with kind and encouraging words like yours - I really appreciate it. xx

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  11. Oh wow you have been busy. Congratulations on all your wonderful successes. You live in Bath. I used to live there too from 1972 to 1990's. So pleased to see your lovely news. x

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    1. Thank you so much, Madeleine. You're very kind and I do appreiciate your comments.
      Although I love Bath, I live in a village not far from Stroud in Gloucestershire. I was able to win the local award because I lived within the designated post-code area. It's such a lovely city - it must have been fabulous to live there. I like village life very much, but if I lived in a city, I would love it to be Bath. xx

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  12. Hi Joanna, It's been a while since I've been on blogger too so just catching up on this post just now. Very well done with all of your successes and with getting such positive feedback from agents. After listening to and speaking to agents last year at the York writers festival it made me realise how subjective the whole process can be, so don't give up! I'm sure it won't be long before your book is on the shelves, with the help of an agent or not. Good luck!

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    1. Many thanks, Vikki. Your comment is timely because I had another rejection yesterday and you've reminded me how vital it is to keep going. The next agent I try may be the one who finally says yes and I plan to spend this morning sending the novel off again. Fingers crossed! Thank you very much for such supportive thoughts that came just at the right moment. xx

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