Monthly Archives: March 2013

Nostalgia, books, puffins and even a competition

According to second-hand booksellers our appetite to revisit the books we read as children is as strong as ever.  However, we want the same edition we read first time around.  If we read  Stig of the Dump in 1973 we want the puffin edition that was out then, we do not want to read the very same book in the 1980 cover.  How, ridiculous.  But is it really?

I have kept many of my childhood books, but by no means all of them.  I live in a huge house but even we would have had problems if we had to find homes for every book I had ever owned. During the seventies I lived in Notting Hill Gate, and on the corner of Hillgate Street and Uxbridge Street there was a cavernous second-hand book shop.  It was more of a second-hand book shed but I loved it.  Last time I looked it was a trendy delicatessen.  I preferred it as a book shed.

The chap who owned it bought and sold books by the yard.  I would pile up all my 2/6 (later 12 1/2 p) Puffin books, he’d give me a price and then I’d spend it buying  more books from him or from a stall in the back of one of the covered   markets halfway down the Portabello.  Over the years I must have bought and sold several miles of books.

I kept a lot of childhood books, but every now and then I have a yen for one that slipped through the net.  The Family from One End Street (plus the subsequent Further Adventures of … and The Holiday at Dew Drop Inn) by Eve Garnett and A Vicarage Family by Noel Streatfield were recent examples.  I can buy all three books in their most recent incarnations, but I want the editions I read as a child.

This one

one end streetand this one

vicarage family  So I completely understand why people won’t just buy the current edition off the shelf.  It’s not just a book, it’s part of your history.

As part of my leaving gift to the school I am leaving I have bought some books for the newly refurbished library.  I asked for  suggestions and had a fun morning with Eileen at The Bookcase choosing modern fiction for teenagers.  Then I got home and thought over the books that were my go to books when I was young.  There was not much in the way of books for teenagers in those days, we tended to leap from Noel Streatfield to John Wyndham and Morris West in one leap.  As my father bought hundreds of books I just started on his library when I outgrew mine.

The more I flicked through Google, the more I realised how these books had shaped me, shaped my own preferred writing style.  Some of them I still read.  So, in addition to those above, here are a few of my childhood favorites.  What are yours?

Princess-and-the-Goblin and all the subsequent books

heidiand Heidi Grows up and Heidi’s children.  I wanted to marry Peter.


the entire series of


Not for reading – but this was a well-thumbed book as a child – and with my own children.


and finally

blackbeard  There are so many more, just a taste of my favorites.

I had two of these too:

BADGThe white one and a black one for being a member of the Puffin Club for four years.  I still have them both.

SNIFFUP! (I’ll send a prize, I’ve no idea what, to the first person to respond correctly to that!)



Agent Hunger

The title is not a typo, it is the feeling you get when you finally hit “save” (or put down your pen).  Relief that the novel is finally finished is tempered by the realisation that the job is not over yet, there is still a synopsis and a covering letter to compose.  But whilst these are fiendish little obstacles they are not insurmountable.  (For advice on both you can do no better than seek the advice of the Crabbit Old Bat)

What does, however, often appear insurmountable is the acquisition of an agent.  Consequently there are books and directories littering the floors and laptops of every new writer.  Highlighter pens and notes are essential tools.  Whether you scatter them liberally over your desk, have them ordered in a top of the range Filofax or catalogued in an extensive database, you will have them.   You will read biographies and author lists.  The latter are both encouraging and terrifying.

Do you want to be represented by the same agent as Julian Barnes? Yes please, but then would an agent with an illustrious client base even look at my covering letter and what if I bumped into Julian Barnes in the corridor? Perhaps I would be better with somebody new, looking to bolster their list.  But would they know what they are doing?  I certainly don’t.  Endless questions, which lead to more questions and by then the notes pile is attracting the attention of the planning department.

This brings us neatly to Agent Hunter, which is a pretty good treatment for chronic and acute Agent Hunger.  Created by The Writers’ Workshop it is one of the most comprehensive agent databases I have seen and I have crawled through quite a few.

Nice straightforward layout.  No digging around to find the search button.


I’m looking for an agent interested in writing for children and YA.    Eek 100 agents.


At this stage you can start to filter by experience, client list size and so forth.  But in all honesty I’m not sure this works for me.  Some of the agents I have approached have been from big agencies but are young agents, some have been established agents working alone.  It’s down to the person rather than their circumstances.  So I had to find another filter.

Client List Status  is a bit deceptive and can be rather a good filter.  The status is automatically set to “open to new clients” if the agent did not respond to the question.  Filtering out all but “Keen to build new client list” halved my list of agents and made it far more manageable and guaranteed that anybody I sent my MS was actively interested in recruiting new clients.

However 53 agents is still quite a lot.  So I took a punt and put “Time Travel” in the  Agent Likes”  filter.  One agent only.  But the more I read the more I thought this is the one.

In this case the agent had answered all the questions fully, with plenty of information about what she was and was not looking for.  To be fair, not all agents have done this and some have clearly responded with standard information which has had to be extrapolated in order to answer the standard questions.  However, most have entered into the spirit of the exercise.  After all it is in their interests not to be swamped with work, however wonderful, that is outwith their area.

So what do you get when you finally narrow it down to the agent information.  Quite a lot:

  • Agency (with option to toggle to Agency info page for agent selected)
  • Number of years as an agent
  • Biography
  • Client List status
  • Number of clients
  • Authors and books liked
  • Other loves and passions
  • How to make a submission
  • Advice and Dislikes
  • Where you can meet this agent (Writers conferences etc.)
  • Blog?
  • Twitter profile
  • Interesting links
  • Full client list
  • Email address

And best of all – a photograph.  It may seem silly, but to have a picture of the person you are approaching does make them less scary!

I was provided with free registration in return for a review.  However, at £12 per annum I think it is excellent value for money and an essential screwdriver in any writer’s toolbox.

Hey ho, hey ho, it’s off from work we go ….

For the past 7 years I have worked part time as the Registrar for a small choir school.  It was never meant to be forever and the plan had been that I would leave two years ago.  However, for a variety of reasons I was persuaded to stay and it is only now that I have finally managed to successfully hand in my resignation.  The plan is to concentrate on writing whilst scraping a living with our translation business.

It all seemed perfectly sensible to me, but clearly not to everyone else.  Now is the time, as I speak to colleagues in other schools and so forth to explain that I will be leaving at the end of this term and to introduce them to my replacement.  The responses have been interesting.

The first question is, understandably, to enquire where I am going.  I am tempted to reply, “the kitchen table” but have held my tongue and instead I explain I am going to concentrate on writing.  This is where the responses diverge.

The first group ask if I know what I am going to write.  Once again I rein in the urge to be facetious and do not say “I was thinking a book might be fun.”  Rather I explain that I have already completed one book and am now researching the background material for the second.  At this point interest usually flags and I am relieved to move on and tell them how wonderful my replacement is (she is) and how she will be so much better than me to work with (I am sure she will be).

The second group are far more scary, they are genuinely interested and want to know what the book is about, who my characters are,  how long it took to write, what my influences were and how long it is.  Answering these questions requires an openness and vulnerability. In my responses I am exposing myself to potential ridicule.

The easiest group to deal with are those who ask if I have sent it to a publisher.  Few non-writers have grasped the concept of a literary agent.  It is still a commonly held belief that once the manuscript is done and dusted it passes straight to Publisher, does not pass Agent and does not give Agent £200.  To these a quick explanation of the author, agent, and publisher polyamoric relationship is quite sufficient.

Finally there is me.  What is my response to the idea that I am giving up an, albeit not particularly well paid, 2 day a week job to write at my kitchen table?  For years I have longed for this, for many years beforehand I have been a stay at home / work at home mother.  I am not unfamiliar with the need for strict self-control and an off switch for the internet.  However, the last time I gave up work I did so to look after three children under three.  I didn’t have a lot of time to wonder what I was going to do next.  This time my children are getting ready to fly the nest.  This year the Office Christmas Party will be me, three dogs, five cats and an ill-tempered parrot and a bloody good party it will be too.

Oh and one person  asked if I was retiring.  As they have never met me in person I am prepared to forgive this social slip.  However, I am now somewhat concerned that my voice is not as young as its owner.

on being bereft and displacement activity

Not having yet sent my children off into the big wide world I cannot put my hand on my heart and say it is the same thing but I imagine there are similarities.  I have sent Timesmudger to two agents and I feel a little bereft.

Of course, TS will no doubt be back soon waving a rejection letter as she approaches, but for the moment, she has gone.

I have sent her off before but she was very ill-prepared, this time she has had a rigorous training, has shed some unnecessary flab and added some decent muscle structure where she needed it most.  This time I am older and wiser, and this time I am more nervous.  This time I know what to expect.

However, the biggest difference is that this time I am struggling to get on with training up her younger sister.  The first time I sent TS off to some agents, I hit send on the laptop, made a cup of tea, and opened up TS2 (makes her sound a bit like an ill prepared transport project).

This time I hit send on the laptop and opened up the file of displacement activity.  I began by creating a new journal.  The logic behind this was that the little Filofax I had been using was too small.  This rather lovely (thank you EBay) A5 Finsbury has a journaling section, and sections for TS2 plot notes, Agent research, timetable of submissions and replies, plot notes for The Dorothy Summer, and a couple of other sections as yet unallocated.  I don’t do pretty, pretty, but I did spend some time hacking notepads and journals to get the right quality paper (I always write in fountain pen), covering the dividers and inserting some postcards throughout to pep me up.  This took precisely one afternoon.


(Isn’t it beautiful?)

Then, in no particular order I

Did the filing

Cleaned the Oven

Picked up the dog poo from the garden

Tidied the laundry room

Caught up with a shedload of paperwork

Wrote this blog post

I did not start writing.  I can’t, it feels wrong to be taking my characters off in new directions when I don’t know where they are at the moment or how they are being treated.

I am hoping this is a passing phase.  Like sending children off into the world and wandering into their bedrooms and noticing how unnaturally tidy they are and longing for the mess to come back.  Then, finally enjoying the full fridge and the tidy kitchen.

So each morning I turn up and wait for my characters to come out of hiding.  I turn up every day, for I don’t want them to come out, find me absent and disappear for good.