Tag Archives: thought

Taking The Punches & Fighting For The Books

Part of my job, after I’ve bought all of the books, is to work out what cover we want on them. Gotta wrap the text in a nice package that tells you something about the book and makes you want to pick it up, yes?

And this week, trying to do that has just knocked me flat.

I’m lucky that Rebellion has quite a chilled-out covers process; we basically just figure out some directions, have a chat, email around, have another chat, find an artist…. and fucking hell is it hard work. I feel like for every punch I’ve stood up from, another’s come and knocked me straight back on my butt!

The problem with book covers is that there’s usually multiple directions they could go in. What’s popular generally? What’s hot in the genre? What’s going to be hot in a year’s time? What do readers expect? What does the US like, versus the UK? What’s going to suit the book? What looks good, great, fabulous? What’s going to make people buy this?

You’re also doing that within time and budget constraints, of course. Nothing new there.

Every time I thought I’d got something figured out, someone hit me with a new idea or a new direction. For every decision I made, I encountered another point of view. Every time I tried to get out of the rabbit hole, another four passages opened up…

And it was hard: stressful, anxiety-inducing and plain discouraging. I’m doing my best, and I keep getting told I’m not good enough.

But actually, that’s not true.

I’ve got to remind myself that I am fighting for my books.

A mediocre cover won’t do. A “meh” cover won’t do. I am not letting these books that I bought and I love out there in the world with a cover that doesn’t represent them. I want people to read these. I need people to read these.

And every alternative suggestion, every “not good enough”, every critique – it’s not aimed at me. It’s going into making the cover the best damn cover it can be.

That said, I still have to filter and refine and work out which suggestions are worth listening to, and which are Michael Rowley being bloody irritating. (I do adore him, but Michael can talk for England. Keeping him on track and away from pirates/chocolate/new book ideas can sometimes be very hard.)

And I need to take the knocks – because they’re not aimed at me. They’re aimed at my books: I am championing something bigger than me. And I am damn well going to make sure everyone knows that they need to read these ones.

A Thought About Voice – The Start

I had a piece of writing recently that I was editing, and it started with;

“Finally,” the young woman said-

What voice do you read that spoken word in? What tone?

Is it “FINALLY we have gotten round to THIS THING!” or “So, um, finally I get to say something?” or “Fiiiiiiinally in my very long list of shit…” or something else entirely?

It turned out, half a sentence later, to be a tremulous tone.

And so I did what editors do, and I crossed it out.

It’s too uncertain an opening. It’s a single word with too many different tones and meanings and phrases, and it brought in too much of an about-face in the reader if they read it the wrong way (“well FINALLY we’ve got to this point! HUMPH!”) and then suddenly had to switch to tremulous.

One of my core principles is that the reader shouldn’t have to re-read unless it’s a deliberate choice. If you’re pulling an abrupt switch or a big reveal, then a re-read is great! (One of my favourite parts of Skin Games by Jim Butcher comes after the reveal three-quarters of the way through, and you end up gleefully skipping back through entire conversations to get a hidden meaning.) But if you’re using dialogue and you’ve got a long conversation, I shouldn’t have to track back four lines to check who is saying what. I don’t want to have to return to the start of a paragraph to check when they actually moved location/opened the window/did the action. And I shouldn’t have to realise halfway through a sentence that my tone is completely (and I mean completely) wrong.

As an addendum to that; slightly wrong, I think, goes with the territory. No reader will read the characters in the same way that the writer hears them, and that’s fine. But you should be able to at least convey the general tone of the conversation: and that’s why “Finally” got a red line through it. There were other ways of conveying the hesitation and tremulous tone; in fact, all I actually ended up doing was suggesting the second half of the sentence went first, which conveyed the tone far better.

That said… you know this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, right? Maybe just a general suggestion to have a read of your openings, and check if there might be another way they could be read.

Imposter Syndrome, with added Imposter

I’m buying books.

Who let me get at the department’s budget?! I mean, I have to convince my boss first (which usually consists of me being enthusiastic at him, and not using the words “steampunk” or “fairy”)-

-which, on a side note, feels like an even worse method of buying things than anything else: I like it, therefore we need it-

I mean, who am I fooling? I should be doing Serious Market Research and throwing TCM figures around and looking at Amazon stats. Instead, I’m going “well, I really liked it and therefore I want to throw it out into the world in the hope that other people like it too.”

Ok, maybe that isn’t such a bad method of choosing books.

But then I have to negotiate for books. And then hopefully buy them.

I mean, that feels like an even worse method of doing anything. Someone’s letting me loose with a whole bunch of money and I’ve got to go ask an agent how much I have to give them to let me publish a really really good story all over the place, or maybe just in one or two places. I want to print pretty books, anyhow.

And then there’s a whole bunch of tedious detail, but I can’t have everything my way.

I just feel like…I need more experience. Or age. Or knowledge. Or just… it shouldn’t be ME.

Who let me do this?!

But I bought a really good book! It’s Jane Austen with magic (ok, there’s a lot more detail than that but you’re going to have to wait for it to come out, because it’s just so much fun) and eeeeeeeeeeh!

(Also, seriously looking forward to Chimera coming out. It gets more and more fun every time I read it!)

And I’m currently pondering another.

It’s terrifying, exhilarating, and I am both feeling major Imposter Syndrome and absolutely loving it. I still don’t know who let me adult, though…

If anyone needs me this evening, I’ll be in my blanket fort.

Thinking About (Not) Having Children

Disclaimer: a personal post, not about writing or books! This is something that I’ve been mulling over for a year or so (or longer) now, and I felt like it’s a subject that maybe doesn’t get discussed as much as it could. So… post.

I always just accepted that having children was something I was going to do… because I didn’t have a reason to not do it. It was part of the accepted course – grow up, go to Uni, find a career, meet someone, get married and have a big wedding, get a house, have children. And I had no reason to deviate from that: it was’t that I necessarily wanted to do it all, but I didn’t have a desire to not do any of those things.

It wasn’t that I never had a choice, either. I’ve got wonderful role models for having children and for being child-free in my family: we’ve had divorces and remarriage and children and step-children and no children, and everyone has always been very accepting of every choice and path. (Also, thank fuck no one in my family has ever been the “so when are you having children?” type. I don’t respond well to that.)

But I never really thought about it. I never had a concrete reason to not go down down any of the expected paths, so it was just… what I’d be doing. It always felt like to not pick any of them, I needed a reason; and there’s plenty of good valid reasons out there, but I just didn’t have any of them. So… I was doing the things. I did Uni, I did “meet someone”, I did A Wedding (which, incidentally, I hated; it still ranks as the two most stressful days of my life) and I did Buy A House (with an additional side of DIY, which I love.)

And then having children didn’t work and my marriage failed, and I moved to Oxford, and I… actually started thinking.

And not having children became a real, heart-breaking, soul-healing CHOICE.

Sushi Go gameThe idea that I could not have children hurts. I wanted them: it was frustrating and heart-breaking to get close and then not know what went wrong, to not know why my body won’t carry longer than 12 weeks. It’s been heart-breaking and lovely and sweet over the past few years, too, seeing friends have children: I get to cuddle a friend’s baby, play with a toddler, teach a five-year old Dumb Ways To Die, play Sushi Go with an eight-year old, pick stickers for a ten-year-old. I get to see what I’m missing out on. I get to see the life I could have had.

And I also get to see the downsides. I get to see the sleepless nights and tantrums about pigtails. I get to wonder what hauling a buggy and toddler back from town would be like when I’m already tired. I look at the school run chaos, the chatter and gossip, and feel grateful that I don’t have to be social. I get to see the stresses and the strains as well as the smiles.

And I think that had been the deciding factor. I have mental health problems, and by now it’s obvious to me that I always will. My depression is mild, but it is always lurking. Even my good weeks have the occasional bad day. My anxiety is always someplace around, too. I live with both and cope with both, but…

There’s also the wider world; it scares me a lot, both with the politics and the climate. Is it fair to add to an already-burdened system? Do I want my children to grow up to a world that seems quite so horrific? I am sincerely hoping that we can change it, but currently, it’s pretty bleak. And that adds another layer onto something that feels like a solid choice.

Do I want to bring a child into this situation? Would I be able to provide the best care and home that I’d want?

And I would. I could. If I had a child, now, then I’d provide the most loving and bestest home that I am able to. But if I don’t have to; if I have a choice – then the better choice, for both me and the child, is to not.

It hurts. But it’s a decision, and it’s one that everyone should be making – for themselves, and their own circumstances.

Stages of Happiness

I know there are seven stages of grief, but are there equivalent stages of happiness?

Fog on the Thames, september 2018When I first moved to Oxford, it felt like golden bubbles rising in my chest; a happiness that swallowed everything when it exploded, and I could always feel it simmering.

Then an Autumn; partly being on some medication that made everything dark, but partly also everything settling – the knowledge that yes, I was here, and I hadn’t screwed it up immediately – so everything could grow, and settle; but I was also aware of how shallow my roots were, and how small my branches. I was growing, but not yet rooted.

And now?

I feel grey. Disassociated. Not caring, unable to process; I’m putting down roots, seeing just how far they are spreading, but the earth over them feels so shallow. It’s all going to be taken away again, and I’m just waiting for that to happen. Waiting for the hand to lift me out and tell me that I have to start again somewhere else; waiting for the earth around me to scorch. Waiting for another start and another set of memories to live with.

I feel resigned to loss, although I’m not sure anyone ever gets totally used to it; so many things have moved or changed or gone in the last few years that I think it’s all caught up, and I don’t have any expectation of longevity.

But then I don’t think anyone really can, either; everything always changes. So it also seems normal.


I hope there is a next stage of happiness – acceptance? The blending of sheer joy with the cut that says everything does end, and move on, and change. The sweet scent and bitter taste of a memory, because it will only happen once. The knowledge that this is only a life lived once, and we can only live the best one we can.