Q&A ON WRITING
Below are my answers to some of the great questions I've been asked by readers & writers since I started my writing career. Do you have any other questions about the writing and pubishing process? If so, contact me and I’ll post answers on here.
How long does it take you to write a book?
I plan everything out first in my notebook. When that's done, I try to write a minimum of 1,000 words a day. I find if I take a break from writing it can be hard to get back into it, so I try not to miss any days. It’s always difficult to reach my word count target when I begin a story, but as I get to know the characters and story better, I pick up speed. My record is 16,000 in a day. It was a VERY long day!
In general, I spend about 4 months planning and 4 to 5 months writing.
How did you get published?
I sent in my manuscript to twelve agents in London that I picked out from a book called 'Writers & Artists Yearbook'. I chose those 12 because I liked the kind of books they represented. I sent it out to three agents first - ones that I liked but didn't know that much about. They all rejected it and commented on my synopsis not being very good! So I rewrote the synopsis and sent it out to the other nine, and five said yes! As I was driving back from my meeting with my now-agent, I saw this t-shirt in a window - it seemed so timely that I had to pull up on the side of the road and take a picture!
After that, my agent suggested a few changes to my book and, when that was done, she and her co-agent in the US sent the manuscript out to publishers. Simon & Schuster bought the rights a few weeks later (best phone call of my life!).
Where do you write?
The great thing about writing is that you can do it anywhere! I write in cafes, in the park and at the library but mostly here, in my apartment, in front of the fire.
Do you listen to music when you write and, if so, what music do you listen to?
I do! I listen to classical music when I'm writing as I find it relaxing and there are no lyrics to distract me...with one exception! There is a scene in The Ability 2: Mindscape which takes place at a heavy metal concert. To get in the mood, and because it was full of fast action, I played Metallica at full volume while writing - I had to apologize to the neighbors the next day! (one of my favourite questions - thank you Andrew!)
Is it hard to write books for children when you're not a child yourself?
Well, this may say more about me than I'd like but, when I'm writing, I'm not thinking about writing for a younger audience, I'm just trying to write a book that I'd like to read myself!
Saying that, I was a teacher for ten years - teaching mostly boys between the ages of 8 and 14, many of whom had struggled with their behaviour and work at their previous schools. At the start of every year I made it my mission to try to find a way to get every student excited about reading, particularly those who started the year 'hating' books. As a result, I became an expert in finding books that featured boxing, motorbikes, football (soccer), ninjas, war, horses, planes and, for one particularly student, pigeon-racing! I can't help but think of my past students when I'm writing and whether or not they'd relate to whatever it is that I'm working on.
Do you have any writing rituals?
Only two that I can think of:
1) I have to start a new notebook for every book idea. This means that I have quite a few notebooks with only a couple of pages of writing! However, I know one day I might end up going back to the idea, so I like to keep them just in case.
And 2) When I start planning a book, I always call my protagonist (if it's a boy) - Jack. When I first started writing - about twenty years ago - I loved the name Jack but no ideas that I worked on ever seemed good enough to use it! Then, over the years, it became a habit; now I always start with the name Jack and then change it at some point down the line when I think of a good alternative.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Write! It sounds obvious but, since I got my publishing deal, I have met so many people that say they wish they could write a book too - as if it were some crazy idea that's out of the reach of any normal person. That was me! The thing is, writing a whole book can seem like a daunting prospect initially but actually, if you write 500 words - which is probably not far off the length of a standard email - then another 500, and then another, you'll have the book written before you know it! The hardest part is getting started but then the more you do it, the easier it gets.
Also, be honest with yourself and then be brave. If you write something that you know isn't quite right, delete it and try again. Deleting writing that you've invested so much time and effort in is HARD but, in the end, it really is worth it - you'll end up with something that you can really feel proud of. And, to prove that I don't just dish out advice without following it myself - The Ability is approximately 81,000 words long. If I were to include all the sentences/passages & chapters that I deleted (I kept them all in a separate file), the book would be 147,000 words!
Did you think you were going to be a writer when you were younger?
No, not at all. I loved (LOVED!) reading but didn't start writing until I began my teacher training when I was 19. Even then, though I would say that my dream job was be to a writer, I actually only saw writing as a hobby, not as a career option. I think this is because I didn't do particularly well in English at high school - we didn't do any creative writing and I struggled with how to structure and write essays. It was only when I got to university and started to get good grades that I began to gain confidence in my academic abilities, and that's when I started writing stories.