Thursday 31 October 2013

Time: Where does it go and what do I do with it?

Well it has been over a month since my last confession blog post. I always find it difficult to set aside time for the blog, there is just so much else going on, and most of those other things take a higher priority than scribbling down random thoughts for a few nameless strangers to read online. However, if you are one of those strangers who stumbles across my blog and finds it even a tiny bit interesting, I would love to hear from you. A comment on this blog, or a tweet to me, or a "like" of my Facebook page, makes it all worthwhile and gives me a warm feeling inside. So don't be shy - get in touch and make me a happy man.
So, what have I been busy with? Besides work, which has been quite hectic of late, school has started, with the inevitable barrage of children's activities. I have been fulfilling that duty of many a parent: taxi driver. On top of that are all the usual jobs that a husband and father needs to do (and frequently doesn't do fast enough, or well enough), such as cleaning, cooking, securing the trampoline in the garden before the recent huge storm. You know the kind of thing.
I also sing in a band, and rehearsing and playing gigs takes up a lot of my time. It's a hard life, but someone has to do it!
So, as you can imagine, there is precious little time left for writing, and what time there is, I spend working on my novel, and not on this blog. Therefore, I hope you feel special that I am writing this just for you right now.

And now for the announcement: 
I have completed the rewrites of my novel, "The Serpent Sword"!
This means I have added all the changes that came up from the first batch of test readers, the comments from the editor who read the first few chapters, and my own review of the first draft. I have made a lot of changes. I've added new scenes, reordered scenes, created new chapter breaks, edited lots of POV (for those who are not reading about writing all the time, that means Point Of View), added a lot of dialogue (show, don't tell), brought in new characters, renamed characters and, the most difficult and painful change of all (especially for one character!), I've rewritten the ending.
Now the book is out once again with a few more people to read and feed back on. One of my test readers sent me this lovely picture with the quote: "you are amongst good company my friend". Rubbing shoulders on a Kindle with two of my favourite writers does look good. Maybe one day I'll have my book published and on bookshelves next to theirs.
Forget Cornwell and Child, that Harffy bloke knows how to write!
Hopefully this time the comments I get back from the test readers will be even more positive than the first time (and they weren't bad then). It is now that I sit in that awkward silence, wondering what people will say...
But I have no time to brood. I must prepare my pitch. I am going to the Curtis Brown Creative Discovery Day in a couple of weeks and I don't have anything ready. I can't just get there and wing it, can I? Well, if I don't start working on my pitch soon, that is exactly what I'll be doing, so this weekend I hope to make some progress on it.
The pitch should also feed into my agent query letters that I will be sending out before too long. I've started reading a lot about query letters on Query Shark and I have to admit to feeling a bit daunted. How do I make my 107,800 word historical fiction novel tantalising and attractive enough in a few lines of a letter to entice agents to request the manuscript and read it?
Here is my first attempt at an elevator pitch of sorts. It still needs work, but let me know what you think:
Far from his homeland, with all his family dead, Beobrand sets out to avenge his brother’s murder. In his quest he falls in with a group of warriors, but when his new friends rape and mutilate a young girl, Beobrand questions the path he has taken and endeavors to retrieve his honour, whatever the cost.
I'm not sure if it is perfect yet, but I would be interested in hearing whether you think it sounds interesting or if you can see any major flaws with it.
I know in my last blog, I promised I would continue to describe my trip to Northumbria and I will, but for now, once again time is a precious commodity that I do not have enough of, so I will leave you with a couple of pictures to give you a taste of things to come.
The ramparts of Bamburgh have changed since the 7th century, but they will always be impressive

Flowers after the rain at Gefrin
I hope to see you here again soon, and don't be a stranger! 


  1. Your pitch is intriguing... but
    with all his family dead, Beobrand sets out to avenge his brother’s murder.

    Was his whole family killed at the same time as his brother? If he's only out to avenge the brother's death, I assume they died earlier. I'm not sure you need 'with all his family dead'.

    he falls in with a group of warriors

    Would it be good to name them rather than saying 'a group'?

    Is there more conflict you can add? Isn't is amazing how we can write a novel, but trying to summarize it for a pitch, a synopsis, a query, or cover blurb is just an agonizing task!

    1. Thanks ever so much for your comments and taking the time to read my post.

      All of your points about the pitch are good and are making me think more about what needs to be in (or out) of it. I am going to mull over your notes and see what I come up with this weekend. Perhaps I'll post some more stuff for you and others to comment on in a few days. It's still a couple of weeks till I need to pitch the book in London.

      By the way, my wife works in a library and after I looked at your blog she is interested in knowing what a library in Kansas is like. :-)

    2. I work at a university library, - Kansas State U in Manhattan, KS. What does your wife do at her library? I'll be following your blog and hopefully comment now & then.

    3. My wife works as a library assistant at Wiltshire Libraries and she is currently finishing her Librarianship BSc(Hons) degree.

      I see lots of photos of Bath on your Flickr page. We live only a few minutes away and I work there. I'm actually typing this in Bath (not in the bath!).

      Looking again at my pitch:

      "when his new friends rape and mutilate a young girl"

      I wonder whether that is a bit too explicit and may put people off... It is a catalyst point in the protagonist's journey, but perhaps "raped and murdered", whilst still horrendous, is less off-putting.

      I will think about how to get the larger scale conflict between the Anglo-Saxons and the native Britons into the pitch too.

      I am now following your blog too (and we are on touch on Twitter), so looking forward to chatting with you more in the future.

  2. Fantastic to hear your wife is getting her degree. Best of luck to her. It's an exciting field to work in. I also came up thru the asst. ranks before I received a Masters degree, which is the required degree to work in professional positions in most US libraries. If she ever wants to compare notes on UK & US libraries, let me know. I actually visited a number of UK academic libraries in 2010 to compare tech services (cataloging & acquisitions) operations.

    But back to your pitch! Yeah, I'd agree that your original is pretty explicit, so 'raped and murdered' should work fine. You've got the inciting incident, his goal, and the consequences. I think you only need a few words about the conflict, whether that is more specific to Beobrand's personal conflict or the larger conflict. I do think you want to establish the setting and/or time period. (And listen to my advice with a grain of salt, as I've never attempted anything more than a logline and back cover blurbs, both of which I struggle with!) :)

    1. Oh - Bath! How cool. I was there in July for 2 days (barely) after a week in & around London, and a week in Cornwall!

  3. Lovely photos. I think it's all kinds of awesome that you're an author.

    1. Thank you! I think it is all kinds of awesome for you to post a comment on here. :-)

  4. Hi Matthew,

    I agree wholeheartedly with you about little spare time to write. Responsibilities and life in general often get in the way of that precious time to pen words.

    The Curtis Brown pitching event is coming round fast. I think what you have written is a good first draft. You have included all the pertinent points. It just requires a polish.

    I agree with Char that you needn't mention the loss of his entire family. Revenge against his brother's murder is sufficiently thrilling. What happens to the girl also could be phrased differently with 'murdered' rather than mutilated. My only other point to raise is where you say he "falls in" with a group of warriors: this sounds like a military term and perhaps too modern for the pitch as regards the setting of the novel. It jars with the lovely choice of words such as 'quest' and 'honour'.

    Apart from that I would simply recommend rewriting it and rewriting it until you have it as succinct as possible. Look at each sentence and make it work as hard as it can to say as much as it can in as few words. As an extreme I took my novel down to 3 key words and built a pitch up around those. Maybe that will give you some ideas?

    Good luck. Being in the same position as you I know how hard it is to condense our beautiful works of art into a few choice words. All the very best with the pitch and submissions. I'm certainly intrigued to read more!

    1. Thanks for taking up some of your precious time to post a comment on here. :-)

      Thanks for the ideas about how to pare down the pitch. I have been working non-stop over the last few days on pitch, synopsis and agent query letter and I am quietly going mad!

      Glad to hear you find what I have posted here intriguing already... It is all about knowing what to add and what to leave out.

      I may post some more ideas on here over the next week or so, to get your input on my ideas before I go to the pitching event.

      How is your writing going?