Thursday, August 05, 2010

On The Road To Publishville # 6 - "Course Corrections & New Headings"

# “I’m one of a million pieces fallen on the ground, it’s one of the reasons when we say goodbye, we’ll still come around…” # - Counting Crows


I actually couldn't remember when I last sat down and wrote a new piece in my "On The Road To Publishville" saga, so I thought it was about time I put finger to keyboard and provided an update on my efforts to get my first novel into print, following the route of finding a literary agent. With this latest entry into my occasional series of posts, I want to talk a little about what happens when life outside of writing takes over and "interrupts" your creative pursuits.

As well as rejections from agents, there’s all sorts of stumbling blocks that can get in the way of you sitting down and getting to the practical task of writing. For me, it's been the fact that I was suddenly made redundant from my full-time day job as a TV Subtitler at the end of May and (for around 2 months) suddenly had pressures from all sorts of areas that I just didn't have to worry about before, when I was sailing along, writing regularly in my leisure time. I've already talked here on the blog about how I planned to "fill the silence" with my writing pursuits, but despite my best efforts, and because of the anxiety and need to bring an income in from something other than a non-paying hobby, I found I didn't have as much free time as I thought I might have had going into this strange, other-worldly plane of existence called "redundancy"...




Apart from tinkering on and off with my "Moon Crater: Adventures" series (more on this with an update next post!), these past few months actually marked the second real bout of writer's block that I've encountered in my semi-serious life as a scribbler. The first was around the same time last year (maybe summer is a bad time to write anyway, with the sun shining away outside your study window?) when I was recovering from an operation. But "the show must go on” is a phrase that I've tried to use to push me through these strange periods, yet it's inevitable that the writing momentum does suffer – and this time, it was things like my promises of the Zip Challenge # 4, the continuation of the "Sidebar Stories" series on each of my Featured Fiction pages of my Official Writing site and my attempts at my very first podcast which I intended to get done back in April, but the shock and news of my redundancy from my old day job made them fall temporarily by the wayside.


The important thing I found after identifying this fresh period of writer's block was that no matter how hard it is to sit down and concentrate on your scribbles, you have to struggle to find ways, however small, to move on and get back to your normal routine in amongst periods of such upheaval and disruption. For me, this included "filling the gap" with my "100 Days of Writing" task, as well as getting back to a past passion of mine, of volunteering for a charity. This time it was for the Ouseburn Trust in Newcastle, a charity that manages the development of the Ouseburn Valley which is an important heritage area of the city. My best ideas for fiction come from real life, both past and present, and filling my time helping to catalogue the Trust's archive of photographs as well as being a host in the "Chatter" conversation club for foreign speakers of English was an inspiring experience, as well as a valuable one to help keep my confidence up in the midst of job-loss anxieties. Added to this, whilst I had this enforced time off, I also tried to recall all those interesting things I'd mentally logged but often forget to remember, that can only be done during working hours . One such exciting expedition was to my local arts cinema, the Tyneside Cinema, where each weekday they have a tour of their grand old building... I've wanted to go on this tour for a while and it was definitely worth it - hearing about the days of the old News Theatre, silent movies and tales of reels, (missing or otherwise!) was fascinating to me, as I've long had the urge to become a old-time film projectionist...

This is the first time in my life that I'd been made redundant from a job and I gradually found that no matter how positive you feel doing other things, you still take hits on the morale front, having to deal with the merrygoround of endless job applications which begins to drain any creative spirit you might have by the end of each day. Thankfully, this tale does have a happy ending, because as I write this post I'm beginning a new job which I'm looking forward to training up in and is one that's related to my old media job as a subtitler for television too. I feel lucky to not only have found a new job so quickly but also to stay in a field of work I love (Media Access Services). As a "Tech Op" (it's got a suitably "spacey" sound to it, don't you think?), I'll be working in and out of the television studio on the technical side of things for the local division of ITV in my city, mostly behind the camera, with the added excitement that this blog and my Official Homepage actually might have helped impress at the interview stage, so nice to know all the idle hours I spent on them weren't ill-spent...


Another inspiring aspect of this new job is that part of my web duties in the role will be helping to maintain a fantastic website that promotes children's literature. It's called "Signed Stories" and showcases some brilliant books written for kids with introductions and extracts all signed on screen to help introduce deaf children to the amazing adventures you can have getting lost in a good book. The site's used by hearing children too, and features some great animation and characters to guide readers along the way to choosing new books to read:



I've mentioned this before but strangely I've increasingly found that full-time work (and thus less spare time!) is a much better impetus for me to up my writing output – perhaps it's because of leading a more varied, all-round "fuller day" (and probably me still complaining more that there aren’t enough hours in the day) but I know from experience that I'm the kind of writer who'll be more productive when I’ve got a day job to back up my work – overall it’s a more professional approach to my writing that I know leads to me writing more – treating it like a job too helps… (Plus, some well-meaning friends who read my stories tend to joke, "Don't give up the day job just yet, kid!", so who am I to argue with that?!) On a personal note, too, my new office is on the exact opposite side of the River as the Vickers factory where my grandfather worked during the Second World War, so this new chapter in my life is being book-ended in my mind by some proud family connections each time I look out of our work's kitchen window...

But what of my writing news (if any!) and other web-writing pursuits? Well, after my last "On The Road To Publishville" post I'm happy to report that the "Time Travel" page for my Writing Homepage that I was working on back then is now completed and "live" (clickable via an object that looks like it could take you backwards through time...) and I'm also told that "Jo Glass" is getting ready to put more of her fine photos up onto her Flickr page in the very near future...

As to any news stories that I've promised for 2010 (see the slideshow on the "Time Travel" page over at my Official Homepage), these have unfortunately been another casualty of the redundancy experience, but now I'm gradually getting back into the swing of things, I'll hopefully start loading them up to their various new homes on the "Featured Fiction" pages of my main writing website in the next few months, running up to Christmas... In the meantime, though, to begin to round off this latest post on my "Road To Publishville", I thought I'd give a short "teaser trailer" of sorts to one of those new stories, entitled The Archenemy. I've decided to enter this into the Short Tyne writing competition which is a contest run by my local library service, but however it places, I'm still proud of it and will share it with readers to my blog and writing site by year's end:

Jeepers! Someone’s suddenly shouting for help down the corridor!

‘My baby!’ a woman in the crèche screams.

I unzip my hoodie completely and race down the corridor. The pop art paintings that border my way as I go create fantastic colourful blurs all around me.

‘Wagh!’ The baby cries in the crèche ahead.

I glide into the play area. The crèche looks like a meteor just hit it: a toddler in one of those plastic go-cart cars has collided with a baby in a wheelie-walker.

Among the toys littering the carpet is a squeaky toy bird sitting next to a model plane. I smirk at the fun significance of the scene.

Wait... Too late... A woman, the mother, I assume, is picking up the wheelie-walker, and her “baby” who is naked apart from a nappy, is turning the car upright again, all by himself!

‘Robert? Robert Carden?’ It’s Frost’s voice again.

I jog back down the corridor, panting as I go.

‘Come in, Robert. Sorry for the wait. Take a seat,... please.’

Frost sits down as well.

Silence.

The eerie build-up to a villain’s denouement...

It’s a small cell of an office and there are lots of play-on-words health posters lining the walls.

'I am sorry to have kept you, Robert.’

You already said that, Frost.

‘OK…’ a sigh.

Something’s wrong with Dr Frost’s evil speech. A diabolical mastermind shouldn’t open his monologue with a sigh, should he?



"So, what's all that about, then?" you may ask. Well, I may give a hint or two via my Twitter page once I've entered the story into the Short Tyne writing contest - but you'll just have to wait until it's completed and ready to be read on my "Indie Fiction" page... (probably just before 2011 dawns) - just keep an eagle-eye out on my main writing website via one of the panes on an object that you shouldn't get too "negative" about...

As for the status of my agent submissions (the main reason for me getting onto this "Road To Publishville", after all!), since my last post on this subject back in May this year, I've had a couple of new rejections, a few downright silences (no news is good news, no?!) but I’ve also now switched my approach, refinining and refocusing how my covering letter looks and also taken the decision to now submit not only to agencies who accept email submissions for children's books, so I've widened my search net to the dreaded “hard copy” submissions. This has the "added time" factor which I tried to avoid previously, in that it could take a lot longer for these particular agencies to get back to replying to you, but it also means you get to see your manuscript sample printed out in all its glory (this is helpful to encourage and reassure a shaky wannabe author that you've at least put the hard work in at your end of things!). For these printed submissions, I've decided to include a stamped addressed envelope for the safe return of my sample should the agencies not want to pursue the rest of my book - sensible in this age of Intellectual Property and copyright anxieties, and also helpful to get a printed version of your sample back to potentially use to resend to others! The other important thing I'm trying improve on now with my literary agent submissions is to look more closely at the list of authors and books that these agents represent and I'm constantly attempting to couple my own writing style on my "Moon Crater"TM novel to agents who are "more likely" to want to read it...

Overall, for me Summer 2010 has really turned into a wild adventure (I did label this year an "odyssey" back in February, after all!), having to cope with the uncertainty of changing jobs and all the while trying to adapt my writing routine in the face of such upheaveal. Recently, whilst on a trek to uncover some new research for a future short story, I stumbled across a strange connection to my own writing monicker "CGAllan" from a casualty list of the Sudanese War at the end of the 19th century and it struck me how, just over 100 years after the battle I was reading about took place, another "C. G. Allan" was wounded in a very different way through losing his footing in his professional working life, but the thing that got me back on my feet and terra firma once more is a belief in my creative writing. It's for this reason that I remain committed to getting my "Moon Crater"TM novel published and why I continue to strive to find new and interesting ways to redefine and tease the story of my book out... (At present, "Tweets" are my weapon of choice, if you hadn't noticed!)

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