Sunday, 24 June 2012

Bone up on it.

I'm home! London has never felt better. My coursework has been handed in, my bags have been moved – courtesy of my stepdad, Mike, who heroically ferries me back and forth between Oxford and London every term – and I'm ready for an editing marathon. I'm intending to make this edit a five-day, eight-hour undertaking.  

You asked a lot of questions in my last blog, so I'll answer them without delay.


  • What can you tell us about The Bone Season

    I'm not allowed to release a great deal of information about the novel at the moment, which is frustrating, but I don't want to spoil it for next year. What I can do is direct you to some links that will help you build a picture of what the novel is about: the Bloomsbury press release, an article from The Oxford Times, and my recent radio interview with ABC News. This is pretty much all the information that's been released so far. I'm trying to trickle out little bits of information every time I do an interview.

    The Bone Season
    fits into several different genres. So far it's been called urban fantasy, dystopian, paranormal and just plain old fantasy. It also has elements of steampunk. It's the story of Paige Eva Mahoney, a nineteen year-old clairvoyant who works in the criminal underworld of London in the year 2059. London is controlled by a repressive government party called Scion, which persecutes clairvoyant people. Paige is arrested and taken to what is essentially a dystopian vision of Oxford, where she meets Warden, who is a member of a race called the Rephaim. Warden becomes her "keeper", and a story is born.

    Nearer the time of release there will be a website set up for the purpose of transmitting more information about the novel, so keep an eye out! 

  • Will you be having a new main character in the second book?

    Paige will be a main character and narrator for the whole series. There may be a split in narration from the third book onwards.  

  • Speaking hypothetically, if British and US editors suggested (or even 'required') separate changes to the text, could the two editions of a book end up being significantly different from one another?

    This question was from Cornflower, who has written a small article on this subject. My experience of the US-UK editing process has been very easy, but I imagine other authors have issues with the accessibility of their manuscripts. For example, if I mentioned Sainsbury's in a book, I might need to add "a supermarket" to clarify. If you look at the first Harry Potter book, for example, the title was different in the US. J. K. Rowling said she regretted this change and would have fought it had she been in a "stronger position" at the time. Scholastic wanted to change the title for marketing reasons, as it was thought a child wouldn't pick up a book with the word "philosopher" in the title. I can understand why she'd want to fight this, as "philosopher" has many connotations that were lost in the US title. I suppose it depends how strongly you feel about a particular change, and how much the change will impact the story. I don't imagine the books would be 'significantly' different from one another, as you're trying to convey the same basic plot. I'm aware this doesn't fully answer your question, as it's quite a tricky subject and I think it really depends on the indiviudual manuscript. I will ask Rachel, my US editor, for more on this one.      

  • Would publishers accept writers who want to stay out of the public's eye, as in avoid book signings or interviews or anything like that?

    I asked one of the marketing associates at Bloomsbury about this. She said it depended on the book. If it's an excellent book, then yes, perhaps. Still, if you think about it from the publisher's perspective, they have to be able to market and sell the book. You could have a good manuscript, but no way to market the book. If the author wants to stay out of the public eye, it makes it very difficult to connect with the audience. You'd have to make it clear from the beginning that you wanted to stay out of the public eye. Having said that, many successful authors – Suzanne Collins, for example – rarely do interviews. You could also use a pseudonym, I suppose, and create mystery as a means of marketing – or even insert your 'author' as a character. If you've read, I Am Number Four, you'll see it has an author named 'Pittacus Lore', which is a pseudonym for two writers, James Frey and Jobie Hughes. Pittacus Lore is integrated into the story as a ten thousand year-old Loric Elder. 

    I was initially going to use a pseudonym for The Bone Season, but eventually I chose to write under my birth name. There are lots of ways to play the part of the Author. Personally I think interviews are a good way to talk to people directly, with a human face, as opposed to just communicating through the publishing house, which can be very impersonal. 

  • Do you think literary agencies would accept manuscript submissions from another country? 

    Yes, absolutely. My agent represents many foreign writers, particularly from India. It might make the relationship with the agent a bit more distant, as you won't get to see them very often and most of your correspondence will be by email or phone, but it's perfectly possible.

Do ask more questions if you like. I'm always happy to answer to the best of my ability.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

The last week

It's the end of my second year at uni. That went by in a flash. About 80% of the student population has gone home, or gone travelling. I'm still in Oxford, typing away at my coursework. It's almost done; I just have to face all the nit-picky editorial things like how to include appendices and perfect the footnotes. I'm itching to go back to London for the summer. I'll be home in Ruislip on Friday. 
My book-related schedule for the next few months is already laid out. The first edit of The Bone Season, which I'm working on at the moment, has to be finished by the end of July. I thought this sounded like a long time when Alexa first told me, but looking at the state of the manuscript at the moment fragmented, bits deleted, covered in comments I think I'll be cutting it very fine. Alexandra and Alexa will read the edited manuscript and give me feedback in August. The final manuscript will go to a copy-editor in the first week of September; it will be returned a month later. The manuscript will then go to the production department for typesetting. Typeset pages will be done by mid-November, and the first bound proofs of the novel should be done by the end of 2012. It's such a long process! I had no idea when I gave the manuscript to my agent that it would take over a year to get the novel published. Alexandra told me the manuscript was very 'clean' compared to many she's seen. I can't imagine how much longer it might have taken if there were, say, double the number of edits to do.
I was talking to a friend who attended the Hay Festival this year, and she said that an author there had given a tongue-in-cheek talk about editing. He'd said that when you hand in a novel, it's perfect, and when the editors get their hands on it, it is no longer perfect: they make changes and essentially ruin your work. I was very surprised. I don't know if it's the same at all publishing houses, but Bloomsbury have given me a huge amount of free will to exercise during the editing process. The editorial notes are suggestions, not ultimata. The vast majority of them I agree with; so far the changes I've made have been hugely beneficial. A single change, something as small as a word or a name, can effect the whole tone and flow of the story  for example, changing the fashion sense of one character made her a lot more threatening than she was before. If I don't agree with a suggestion, I'll discuss it with the editorial team and we can compromise.

Surprisingly, my US editor, Rachel, said she found the manuscript very easy to read from an American perspective. Two 'British' words cropped up, which she suspected might cause a double-take: chipolata and naff. As they were superfluous words, I just removed them from the manuscript.       

After reading everyone's comments, I've made myself a summer reading list. To say I'll read them all is probably a bit optimistic, but I'll try. I've already read The Giver by Lois Lowry, winner of the 1994 Newbery Medal. It's a dystopia in which everyone has conformed to "Sameness", which has removed the colour, freedom and emotional depth from their lives. It was a great read 
a little slow at first, but it picked up very quickly. I loved the use of colour in it, and there was a twist that really chilled me. I might give it to my eldest sister to introduce her to dystopian literature, as it's aimed at children. There's even some activities on the last few pages of my version that help introduce children to the genre. Thanks to Ryan Towler for suggesting the book. 

So here's the (optimistic) reading list. These were all such fantastic suggestions thanks so much for letting me know about these books! 

Summer reading list 

  • The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
  • A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. 
  • Ship Breaker by Paulo Bacigalupi
  • The Uninvited by Liz Jensen 
  • The Courier's New Bicycle by Kim Westwood
  • News from Gardenia by Robert Llewellyn 
  • The Sphinx Project by Katherine Hawkings
  • The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
  • Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood 
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood 

I'm going to Bloomsbury's launch of The Uninvited in July. It looks like a fantastic book. I've also got a lot of Emily Dickinson poems to work my way through, and I need to re-read a lot of Jane Austen. I sense this is going to be a very literary summer. Dickinson is my topic for Paper 7 next term, which involves writing an extended essay. 

By the time I post next, my coursework will be over. This is a happy thought.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Counting the days

It's 10 June, and I'm four days into my English Language coursework. Already feeling like I've gone a bit mad. I keep telling myself it only counts for 12.5% of my overall grade, but it's still enough to put me into 'coursework hibernation' until the deadline. I've been in my room for days, like a tortoise in winter, only venturing out for food and coffee. The question is on the communicative opportunities afforded by 'old' and 'new' media. I'm not entirely sure what I'm arguing for in the essay, but it's probably incoherent. Argh.

Back to the world outside my exam nest. We're going into the eighth week of Trinity Term, meaning most people will be off home for the summer this coming weekend. I'm sad to say that most of my American friends, who were visiting for a year, will be leaving Oxford and returning to their colleges in the States. I'm really going to miss them, especially my friend Rian. I ducked out of my room yesterday to go out for a final meal, during which I sampled "angel spaghetti" spaghetti dyed with squid ink. Possibly the strangest culinary experience I've ever had, but it was a lovely evening.

Work on The Bone Season continues  a little slower than usual for exam-related reasons, but it does continue. Itching to sit down and edit properly. I've done most of the little edits now getting rid of adverbs, touching up syntax, that sort of thing  and am now working on larger structural edits that require a lot more concentration. My deadline is the end of July, so I'll have just over a month to get it done. I think I can do it. Think. Optimism. After the edits have been reviewed, the MS will go to a copy-editor, who will smooth out things like tenses and typos. We should have a bound proof by the end of the year. I'm so excited to see what the cover will look like. I understand David Mann, the Art Director at Bloomsbury, is already cooking up some ideas for it. It's kind of nerve-racking for me, as I've never been sure how I'd pictured the cover, but I've seen some of David's previous designs and I trust him to come up with something brilliant.  

Another book-related question from Steven:

  • Did you get anyone to read your work before you sent it off and was it helpful?  

    When I was writing Aurora, I asked one of my mum's friends to take a look at the MS when it was in its early stages. Fran, a short story writer, was incredibly helpful: she made lots of comments on the document and helped me target one of my initial weaknesses, which was sentence structure. I used to write very convoluted sentences and describe simple actions with a lot of words. Fran helped me combat that weakness early, and I'm now much more economical when I choose my words. It can be very helpful to find someone who's willing to look at your work and see how it reads. If you don't feel you can show your friends, there are many professional services you can use.

    With The Bone Season, I didn't show anyone the manuscript originally. I was a lot more secretive about my writing and I felt I'd ironed out a lot of the problems I'd had with Aurora. I only showed it to someone when an opportunity arose at college to have the MS looked at by a published author. I showed it to Ali Smith, who said she thought I should send it to an agent. I didn't have the MS professionally appraised at any point.

    In general, I'd advise you to trust your instinct. If you're uncomfortable about how the manuscript reads, you're probably right. Show it to someone you trust and get them to see how they find it. If you want to take it further, send a few chapters to a professional. However, I'd advise against getting the entire MS appraised. Not only is it very expensive, but most of the general faults can be picked up in the first few pages. Only seek professional appraisal of the whole MS if you feel there's something wrong with the structure. And remember, don't be afraid to start again. Sometimes you just need a clean slate.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Of Oranges: Clockwork and Prize

One of the novels I spoke about in my last blog The Song of Achilles  has won the Orange Prize for Fiction, one of the most respected literary awards in the world. Madeline Miller spent an astonishing ten years writing Achilles, all the time dealing with her uncertainty and guilt that she was writing an adaptation of Homer: something she'd sworn never to do. For more on her story, and how she never meant to write it, you can take a look at her article in the Telegraph.
Sadly, 2012 is the final year of Orange's association with the Prize for Fiction. I do hope they find another sponsor soon; it's such a wonderful boost to talented writers like Ms Miller.  

I have my first 'exam' coming up soon. It's a coursework paper on the English language, the only language-based paper we do at Oxford. The university will release the question on Wednesday, whereupon I'll have two weeks to write an essay and a detailed linguistic commentary. I feel like I've been at uni forever  most people will be leaving the week after next, but I won't be out until 22 June.    

I've been to London twice on book-related business this week. On Wednesday I had lunch in Soho with Alexa. It was still gorgeous weather. I also met Cristina Gilbert from Bloomsbury USA, which was lovely. I'm very excited to work with Bloomsbury's office in New York. I'm afraid I can't yet say what I did on Thursday, as there are lots of things to be sorted first, none of which will be done during the Diamond Jubilee weekend. 

I'm going to copy some of your questions into this entry, as I'd like to expand a little on some of them and I think they were really interesting: 

You say that A Clockwork Orange encouraged you to play around with language. Does your novel go quite over that same cliff of speculative slang? 

It definitely encouraged me to play around with language. Prior to reading A Clockwork Orange, all of my characters spoke fairly standard English, with the sort of slang we speak today. A group of them now use a slang that I primarily based on slang from a particular period of history, mixed with a few quirks of my own. I certainly wouldn't draw a comparison between my novel's slang and that of A Clockwork Orange. It's nowhere near the level of detail that Burgess achieves, and most of it is taken from history. I'm not a linguist and I don't pretend to be. 

I am in awe of Nadsat for its sheer readability, and I never looked at literature the same way after I finished it. I was inspired to develop some kind of street slang for my clairvoyant characters, but it's more individual words and phrases than a whole complex register.

Would publishers still publish a novel if the writer is skint with hardly any money to put into the process?

Absolutely! I certainly couldn't have paid for publication on a student income. The publishing house will pay you what's called a royalty advance; you start earning royalties (a certain percent of earnings) on book sales once the advance is paid off. Self-publishing is where it gets expensive: you have to give money towards the book, do your own publicity and so on. You'd also need to pay a designer if you wanted the book to have a good cover.  

If you have any more questions about publishing or the book, please do ask. For a few more sneaky tidbits about the plot of The Bone Season, check out my recent interview with the Oxford Times.

Thank you very much for all your recommendations for dystopian literature last week: I'm working my way through them! Keep 'em coming.