Threads 3 – we have a cover!

Well, it’s pinky purple, it’s backed with lace and sprinkled with buttons and it’s here.

Ta DAH. The cover of Threads: Sequins, Stars and Spotlights has landed.

Things I like about this cover:

  • The title. It took us AGES to find a title we all agreed on. One that reflected the story, matched the other titles, looked good in print and went with the design that Steve had in mind for the cover. I think we got there. Happy author. When I think of some of the other things we considered …
  • The dress. I suggested it. Yay! Go me! It’s the dress that won the fashion competition in January, and it’s designed by Jewel Simpfendorfer, then aged 11, kindly made by Tammy and featured in the June issue of Bliss. I didn’t choose it for any of those reasons, though. I chose it because we looked at hundreds of dresses to inspire us – in stores and online – and this was the one that best fitted the title and the air of romance we wanted for the book. Don’t you just love that corsage of flowers and the sequin detail on the bodice? I’m just very glad that Jewel agreed to lend it to us for the shoot.
  • The lace and button theme along the bottom of the book. I loved the India theme last time, for Beads, Boys & Bangles. This one’s just as good.
  • That little lace flower Steve’s used for the ‘i’ of Sequins. Cute!
  • The hanger. I have to admit, I wasn’t a total fan of the hangers on books 1 and 2. I’m not a padded hanger girl. They mean you can’t fit enough stuff in your wardrobe, I find. But this one is good.

The person in charge of covers at Chicken House is Rachel, so thank you, Rachel, for giving me something gorgeous to look forward to in 2011, when it hits the shelves.

A few fans have already been asking me about the title. What do the Stars refer to? Are they stars in the sky, or film stars? Or stars on the American flag? Or something else entirely?

This, to me, means it’s a good title. It’s already got people thinking. And, you know? I’m not going to tell you the answer. Read the book! It’s all in there, promise.

I have another cover I’m dying to share, but I can’t do it yet. As soon as I get the nod, I’ll put it up here. Meanwhile, check out Wie Zuckerwatte mit Silberfaden on amazon.de, if you want to see another interesting design. It’s Threads in German and I’ve learned how to write it now without having to check any spellings. I’m so proud of myself. And I know what it means! (Which is ‘Candyfloss with Silver Threads’. Actually, I still don’t know what the ‘Wie’ part means, but I’m nearly there.) It’s just come out in Germany and they’re running a competition on the Chicken House Germany website – where the winner gets to go to Berlin Fashion Week! And meet the author! Which I guess means I get to go to Berlin Fashion Week too! Phantastisch!

Have I ever mentioned I love my job? I do, oh yes I do.

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Ten reasons why It’s Complicated is very slightly … meh

As you may know, as well as writing for children, one of my not-so-secret dreams is to be a Hollywood romcom guru. Done well, romcoms are one of my favourite art forms. Funny, insightful, beautiful to watch, romantic …. The problem is, right now they’re not being done well. Witness anything with Katherine Heigl in since Knocked Up (which was surprisingly touching), or Jenifer Aniston, or Kate Hudson. There’s a cynical, formulaic ring to them. The comedy is slapstick. The girls are no fun to be around. The guys are obnoxious. It’s depressing.

Right now, Julia Roberts is doing her best in Eat Pray Love. I haven’t seen it yet, but all the reviews I’ve read have told me the following: Javier Bardem is GORGEOUS; the scenery is GORGEOUS; the book is GORGEOUS; Julia, to look at, is GORGEOUS; but the plot is just as superficial and formulaic as usual, missing all the spirituality of the book. Aaauggh!

I thought maybe Hollywood had cracked it again when it made It’s Complicated. A rom-com with a twist! Older people! Not that it hasn’t done it before, but it hasn’t done it for a while. And divorced people! With each other! But more to the point, fantastically good comic performers, who, surely, couldn’t mess it up? The trailer was brilliant. The banter was funny and honest and insightful. All the stuff I love.

So I watched it with bated breath and, d’you know what, to borrow a phrase from Caitlin Moran on Twitter, it was all just a bit … meh. I thought about it, and here are 10 reasons why.

  1. Meryl Streep’s house is too incredible. Anyone who lives in a house like that and isn’t on the brink of being thrown out of it can’t have any serious problems worth investing an hour and 55 minutes of my life in
  2. Steve Martin is too creepy. If Meryl had fancied the seriously fanciable soon-to-be son-in-law instead of Steve’s could-be-a-serial-killer architect, we’d have had a much more interesting love triangle going on there
  3. Alec Baldwin’s Porsche (I think it’s a Porsche) is too ew. As soon as she saw it, Meryl should have known
  4. She flirts at work too much, in her girly voice, and the people who have to put up with it actually seem to like it. This is wrong
  5. There’s a bit when one of her girlfriends has to explain the whole Alec Baldwin he-left-you-for-that-scumbag-and-she-had-a-kid-with-someone-else-and-then-they-got-married backstory in one sentence. As you do to your best friend, who you’ve known for years and is kind of familiar with the whole scenario. Work harder, people! Show, don’t tell. Honestly.
  6. The children are more grounded, scarred and interesting than the main character
  7. She gets to work out all the potential pitfalls in the Alec Baldwin scenario with her shrink. Again – work harder, people. Either show us this stuff, or let us work it out for ourselves
  8. The opening scene is only brilliant if you don’t know what the movie’s about. Which, after all the pre-publicity, we kind of do
  9. Can’t think of anything else
  10. The rest of the movie was GREAT. Love Meryl. Love Alec. Love hunky soon-to-be-son-in-law. Nancy Meyers is, in general, brilliant. (We haven’t sold the film rights yet, Nancy. Ignore points one to eight and call me.)

So what is line editing, exactly?

One of my favourite words (after ‘semi-autobiographical’, ‘unputdownable’ and ‘wibbling’) is ‘palimpsest’. It refers to a manuscript whose surface has been written on and scraped away and written over many times, revealing odd fragments of old text underneath the latest one.

You can use it for other things too: ‘her face was a palimpsest of tragic experiences’. Not flattering, I admit, but she is a fictional character and she’s not going to read it. ‘His desk was chaotic, revealing a palimpsest of abandoned projects’. Type of thing.

How does this explain line editing, you ask? Well, I shall tell you.

The line editor hits her stride once the text is more or less OK. You’ve done the original draft and taken on board your editor’s list of ‘suggestions’ (roughly translated as hair-tearing ‘oh my god if she goes with that we’ll never be able to hold our heads up in publishing again’ moments). You’ve done the rewrite. You have, potentially, done the re-rewrite and the re-re-rewrite. The voice is there. The story is there. The characters are there. Your editor (who assured you she LOVED the first version, but just had a few ‘tweaks’ to propose) is THRILLED. In fact, you think you’re done.

But after several rewrites, the text of a novel becomes a palimpsest. Each time I do a rewrite I try to make it self-contained, but to a careful reader glimpses of previous drafts peek through. Sentences  are suddenly out of context. Repetitions appear in unexpected places. Characters’  motivations have disappeared, or  (as I’ve just found) they accidentally get motivated twice , because you’ve moved things around.

The line edit is the bit before the copy edit (be prepared – they keep sending the damn thing back to you for MONTHS), where a careful reader points out inconsistencies and annoying stylistic tics. She could be your original editor, or someone who specialises in this sort of thing. She works on the text you sent her and sends it back with track changes switched on.

Have you ever had an English essay back with red pen all over it and comments in the margins? Well, line editing is like that. Some changes are obvious: ‘him’ when you meant ‘her’. Some are interesting. I used ‘jigsaw’ as an analogy twice in book 3. Some are easy to fix. Some are VERY depressing. Two of my favourite scenes were cut to nearly nothing because they were slowing down the plot. (My editor had suggested I lose them in the last rewrite, but I’d ignored her. Hah! Comes back to bite you in the end.) You don’t have to agree with everything, but you have to justify yourself if you don’t. Sometimes the line editor points out an issue and leaves you to fix it in your own special way.

I follow the advice of Nathan Bransford (who is hotter than he sounds, by the way – check out his photo) and sit on a line edit for a few days before working on it. Otherwise you find yourself shouting at your computer screen a bit too often. Then I run through it, only looking at the changes, and accept all the obvious ones. I park all the tricky ones, or the ones I don’t agree with, then I go back and read through the text again, because some changes can only be made in context.

In book 3, there was an element of the plot that had bugged me from the start and I took the opportunity to rewrite it, which meant my track changes had even more changes and comments in than the version the line editor sent to me. This is good because it will make the book better, but bad because it means we have to do another line edit and go through the process again.

Then will come the copy edit. Spelling and punctuation. Line spacing. Simple stuff like that. With the original Threads, I enjoyed the main edit because I liked the challenge of rewriting, but I hated the copy edit, because I became very passionate about the use of the hyphen. I hope that by now, the copy edit will be a formality. Mind you, that’s what I think every time …

Avoiding stereotypes (and how to do a Rubik’s cube)

The lovely Sarah Webb writes about writing, and about writers. She also writes actual books – e.g. the Amy Green Teen Agony Queen series. I’m going on tour with her and Judi Curtin in Ireland in October. Have I mentioned this before? I think maybe I have. More news soon …

Anyway, the lovely Sarah also blogs about writing and writers. I recommend following her. She gives such an insight into a very busy writer’s life. In a recent post Sarah recommends a site called kidlit.com run by an American agent called Mary Kole. Mary has posted up a 9 minute vlog (yes vlog – like video blog, you know?) about how to avoid writing stereotypical characters.

If you’re a writer and you don’t mind the odd supportive suggestion from someone in the business, I recommend the first 8 and a half minutes. If on the other hand, you are more of an eighties toy fanatic, I recommend the last 30 seconds, where Mary does a Rubik’s cube WITHOUT LOOKING AT IT.

I used to be able to do that when I was fifteen, and was supposed to be revising for O-levels. There was a trick to it. You had to make an L, then an H, then a T …. Can’t remember any of it now. But Mary can. She rocks. I bet she’s pretty good at assessing children’s books too.

What I did on my holidays

We’ve been away. Not very far. But still, a world away from south London. First, to Cornwall, where we stayed with friends in the house where we had our wedding reception. They live a short walk from the sea- across fields full of cows, then down beside the stream. It looks like this.

There were LOTS of children. There was camping (although not by me; I have camped but I am not currently a camper. I’m more of a comfy bed girl right now.). There were boats. There were crabs in a bucket, card games and French cricket on the lawn. Before we went, the web forecast was incessant rain and probable thunderstorms. Which made the endless blue skies even more delicious.

I’d just handed in the line edits for book 3, which means it really really is nearly done now. So I could spend time reading Skulduggery Pleasant to catch up with my 9 year-old (it’s FANTASTIC!), admiring my new US cover on my laptop (which I can’t show you yet because it’s not official, but is also FANTASTIC), and getting more ideas for book 4. Oh, and actually being on holiday. Sometimes the laptop stayed shut for several hours at a stretch.

Then we visited grandparents in Somerset and Sussex. There were more blue skies, more beaches and a very complicated jigsaw, which we finished on our second day.

Now we’re back. Was it the sort of holiday I could write about one day? Probably not. Book-friendly holidays require angst and narrative tension. When the beginning, middle and end are all happy, there’s little to tell. But if in one of my books one day there’s a boat, and a picnic, and a sheltered pebbled cove, and if a hoard of children had to tramp across a lush green landscape to get there, you’ll know I stole them from this summer.

Signing dos and don’ts

Have you ever had a book signed by your favourite author? If you haven’t, I suggest you do. It’s the most amazing feeling. Even after I’d signed lots of books for other people (which I ADORE doing, don’t get me wrong), I still didn’t get why they were asking, until Cathy Cassidy signed a book for me. It was a copy of Angel Cake and she drew me my very own cupcake in her very own shiny pen.

IT WAS SO EXCITING!

So from now on, I’m one of those stand-in-line, write-my-name-on-a-piece-of-paper people.

If you go to an event where an author is signing books, it seems pretty straightforward to get your book signed, and mostly it is, but Meg Cabot has kindly offered some tips on how to do it THE BEST.

Also, she has kindly offered some tips for authors on how to behave at mega-signing events, and these too look useful. If the day ever comes when you write the sort of books in the sort of quantities that get you to mega-signing events where you’re sitting behind the table, not standing in front of it with your piece of paper.

Talking of which, I have a tip of my own – which is that some writers (OK, possibly only one – ie me – but at least one) have brains that turn to mush with excitement whenever they sign their books, which means that even if they already know you, THEY CANNOT REMEMBER HOW TO SPELL YOUR NAME, OR EVEN, WITH CERTAINTY, WHAT YOU ARE CALLED. Even if they’ve known you for years. Even if they see you most days. Their mind has suddenly gone blank. You’ll notice the slight look of panic behind their eyes. Put them out of their misery by spelling it out for them. ‘J-A-N-E’. Or better still, write it down. It saves much embarrassment and scribbling out.

My favourite tip of Meg’s – for authors – is not to gossip anywhere where you might be overheard, which is basically anywhere. People listen. People blog. People know the people you are gossiping about and they report back. Be warned.

Perhaps her most useful tip for fans is not to expect an author to sign ALL of her books if you’ve brought along the full set. Quite understandable if she is Meg. If she is me, this consists so far of 2 copies. I’ll sign them both, I promise. And if you tell/remind me how to spell your name, I’ll sign them both with a smile.

'Now, how do I spell Bennett again?'