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LIFE Writing life

Me, on the internet

Happy 2019! It’s been so long since I blogged that I’ve come to WordPress only to find the CMS has completely changed. Hopefully this will work out alright…

So, since I last posted, quite a lot has happened. Most significantly, of course, is the fact that my book was finally published. It is officially out there. And the experience has been mildly debilitating, euphoric and plain weird all at once. I am so grateful that it’s been pretty well-received. The reviews have been, on the whole, really lovely. It’s not a conventional thriller (it’s not really a thriller at all, but I’ve ranted about that before), so it’s been really heartening to see most readers have enjoyed it and been surprised by it.

I’m currently knee-deep in book 3, which has been such a different experience from book 2. Book 2, by the way, will be out later this year! It has a title now: Unfollow Me, and you can find out more about it on my website. I really really enjoyed writing Unfollow Me – it was one of those rare experiences when the plot came to me pretty much fully formed, so I just had to write it all down. Book 3, on the other hand, has been a nightmare from the very first paragraph. But I had a break from actual writing (or typing, anyway) over Christmas and spent a long time thinking about it, and I’m hoping that I can wrestle it into some kind of shape in the second draft.

But I digress. The point of this post was really to do a little round up of places I’ve been featured on t’internet since The Rival was published, in case you want to find out a little bit more about it/me/my writing journey. So, without further waffle, here we go:

Why I wrote my debut novel The Rival – The Early Hour

My top 5 books about rivalry – The Big Issue

Best thrillers roundup – The Guardian

My journey to publication – Women Writers

Dark undercurrents of everyday life with Charlotte Duckworth – BritLit Podcast

How the Faber Academy course helped renew my faith in writing – We Heart Writing

How I lost and found myself after having a baby – Female First

Three Pics to Publication – Amanda Reynolds blog

Phew! I am sure I have missed some but that will do for now. Before I go though, could I just ask a tiny favour? If you have read The Rival and didn’t hate it, please would you pop a review on Amazon for me? It doesn’t have to be long, but all ratings are so helpful, and I’d really appreciate it. If you have read it and didn’t enjoy it however, I’d really appreciate you, er, not writing one. Cheers. 😉

You can find out more about THE RIVAL on my website, and order here if you want to make my day.

LIFE Writing life

What it really feels like to get a bad review

Goodreads, where writers’ egos go to die

 

It’s happened! I have popped my bad-review cherry. Ugh, I apologise. That’s the worst analogy/metpahor/whatever of all time. But anyway, I have had my first (and second) bad review. They weren’t even that bad, but even so, it was a discombobulating experience. So discombobulating in fact that I thought I might blog about it and share my findings. Because being a writer, writing about stuff helps me deal with it. Obvious but true.

I consider myself relatively thick-skinned – but there is nothing quite like the sensation of someone you’ve never met before telling the world that something you’ve worked really hard on disappointed them. It hurts! It’s also really weird. It feels a little like you’re going along with your day, living your life, and then suddenly a stranger springs out of the bushes and slaps you round the face, and then disappears, leaving you with a sore cheek and a confused frown. It’s a bit like an ambush.

After that first sense of shock and the stinging aftermath, comes your own sense of pride, riding out on a horse called Anger. Your pride then tells you that this person is an idiot, that they’re wrong, that they know nothing etc etc. Your fingers twitch with desperation to type some clever, well-thought-out retort to show them who’s boss. You want to ask them how many books they’ve bloody well written. You want to tell them that the twist was not a twist it was a sodding REVEAL so who cares if they guessed it – they were meant to and it was meant to be satisfying. You want to say that it wasn’t meant to be highbrow literature, so if the prose was workaday then that’s because it’s commercial not literary fiction, and don’t they know anything about the publishing market and genre-expectations?

You would also REALLY like to point out that you wrote and FINISHED your book before The Replacement aired on TV and that you were majorly pissed off when you saw the trailer and realised that if the book got published everyone would think you had nicked the idea.

Then you realise that would make you look like a dick.

(Well, maybe not that last bit about The Replacement. That last bit I would quite like to add to my writing bio. But I will resist and take comfort in this rant instead.)

So you decide to rise above it and get on with your day. But every now and then those choice phrases of criticism (my current favourite is ‘the prose is merely workmanlike’ – how bloody insulting to workmen) creep into your head and slap you round the face again. And you feel a bit sad.

You resolve never to look at your reviews again.

But then… your editor congratulates you on a new 5 star one. So of course you have to go and look. So you do. And you read their lovely feedback and it’s like a warm drink heating you up from inside. And you wish you could reach out through your computer screen and hug the person who loved your book, and tell them how much their kind words mean to you.

And then you remember what your wise novelist friend told you. That a bad review just means the book wasn’t for them. You imagine yourself whispering it to this faceless username who took such great offence at your work that they felt the need to warn others off it.

‘It wasn’t for you and that’s OK. There are plenty of other books out there for you and plenty of other readers out there for me.’

And you go away and write this blog post. And that helps a bit too.

And then when the next bad review comes through, you read it with a better understanding. It still hurts, but a little less.

It wasn’t for you. And that’s OK.

If you’re a fan of ‘workmanlike prose’ you can find out more about THE RIVAL on my website, and pre-order here if you want to make my day.

LIFE Writing life

The joy of limbo

A bit of a weird post, this one, but please bear with me!

I wanted to write a post as a kind of virtual ‘bookmark’ to myself. To remind myself of this stage of my ‘story’ (sorry, terrible bookish puns will dry up eventually). It’s struck me lately that this period in my life – the run up to the publication of my first novel – is quite unlike any other time, and is possibly going to be the best bit of the whole thing. I wonder if other authors feel like this?

Allow me to explain, in case you think I’m bonkers. At the moment, The Rival has been signed off editorially, which means it requires no more work from me. Now I’m very proud of the book, but I’m also a bit sick to death of it, having read it approximately 8000 times, and worked on it for the best part of a year. All that hard slog is over now, and it’s ready to be ‘born’. It’s been edited and preened and pruned to perfection, and now all I have to do is wait for it to be unleashed on the world. And in that respect, I’m kind of in limbo.

But it’s the best type of limbo, as I’ve signed a contract, received some actual money for it (which by the way is no less of a thrill than I had hoped it’d be – someone paying you cold hard cash for something you created from nothing is absolutely awesome) and I know it will be published, which has given me a wonderful sense of validation I’ve never had before. But – and this is the critical bit – I’ve yet to bear the agony of a reviewer telling me it’s shit, or reading a GoodReads review that tells me the reader couldn’t be bothered to finish it, or find out that no one outside my family has bought a single copy.

Hopefully none of those things will happen. Or at least not all of them. But they are all possible, and have happened to much greater and more talented writers than me.

I am terrified of reviews. I wish I had the self-discipline not to read them, but of course I will. I’ll be checking every damn morning as soon as I wake up. Writing a book is so bloody achingly personal, and there’s something so painful in people telling you that something that you poured your soul into is a load of old crap. Or that your characters are unlikeable when you love them. Or that they guessed the twist (oh how reviewers love to tell you that they’ve guessed the twists! Clever old you!). I am DREADING it.

I’ve had my fair share of rejections – after all, getting a book deal is 99% about overcoming rejection and I like to think I have a pretty thick skin. As a journalist I’ve had my work edited until it’s unrecognisable and brushed off the bruises. But even though reviews are just rejections too, they’re so public, it’s somehow a different kettle of fish entirely. I am currently trying to develop tactics to stay sane when I read my first one-star review. I hope I won’t fall to pieces.

As for the book being a total flop, that’s another legitimate and massive fear. And as a control freak, it’s so hard to deal with the fact that the book’s success is not within my control at all. It’s about so many factors – timing, the market, whether or not particular retail buyers want to stock it, how the PR/marketing campaigns go…

A lot of authors have said that having your first book published can really impact your ability to write another one – as it’s so distracting and all-consuming, and confidence-knocking when you hear people tell you what you’ve written is crap. I suspect huge success is equally distracting – that immense pressure to live up to expectations with your next book. I was so conscious of this that I was determined to finish my second book before the first was published, and I have done, thankfully. But now I’m wondering if there’s time to squeeze out a third? Or how about I just push my publication date further and further into the future? Or how about it just never gets published at all, but someone just pays me to sit at home and write books? Would that be OK?

I hope this doesn’t sound too negative. It’s not meant to. I’m actually just celebrating the present moment, which really is a time of pure joy. My book is being published. I’ve achieved something I have wanted to do since I first learnt to read. And I haven’t had to deal with any of the hard stuff yet. I want to always remember how this feels – the pride of seeing my proof looking like a real book, the excitement of knowing a team of people love it and are 100% behind it. It’s a magical time, this joyful limbo. It feels a bit like being at the top of a rollercoaster, that split-second of peace before you hurtle downwards (and hopefully back up again!).

You can find out more about THE RIVAL on my website, and pre-order here if you want to make my day.

Writing life

Thoughts on a cover

Check me out – nothing for months and then two posts in one week! Can you tell I’m sitting on my hands at the moment, waiting to hear what my agent thinks of my latest manuscript?!

I heard from my publisher today that the proofs for THE RIVAL are at their offices, and soon to be sent to other authors, press and bloggers in the hope that they will enjoy it and write about it (and on that note, if you are one of the aforementioned crowd and would like one, please let me know!).

So I thought it was high time I officially shared my cover! I put the cover on my main website a while ago, but it was done without any fanfare so I wanted to give it a little bit of appreciation. Especially as I genuinely love it.

What many readers might not know is that the author has nothing to do with the process of designing the cover. In fact, I hadn’t heard a word about it until my editor randomly sent me their proposed cover out of the blue last year. My heart was properly thundering as I clicked on the attachment in her email, and I’m happy to say that it was love at first sight. I actually got goosebumps when I first looked at it, and I remember being both surprised and pleased at what the cover designer had come up with.

So without further ado…. here it is:

My first thought was that it was quite filmic, or even Netflixy, and that this was a Good Thing as I think it’s targeted at a similar demographic. I was also so pleased that they’d used two distinct faces on the cover, rather than anything more oblique. Psych suspense/thriller covers often have close-ups of things like crushed rose petals on their covers and I was keen that my book would stand out a bit from that crowd. The expressions on the women’s faces are absolutely perfect – it’s really creepy and draws you in I think!

I was surprised by the black and red – I’d never thought about those colours being on my book, as it’s a book about women and I guess (somewhat stupidly) I expected something a little softer. But I love how much it stands out, and I also love the blueish tint to the women’s skin, which makes the whole thing look really dark and mysterious.

The strapline is bloody genius too, and I only wish I could claim credit for it, but, like the title, it was all the work of the clever team at Quercus.

Can you tell I love it?! I hope you like it too.

You can find out more about THE RIVAL on my website, and pre-order here if you want to make my day.

Writing life

How I got my book deal

Hello, is there anyone still out there!? Long time, no blog I know. I’ve been quiet because I’ve been sitting on the most exciting news for the past six months or so (yes really, and anyone who knows me will know that patience is not my forte). But finally, it’s out there, my little news piece went live in The Bookseller recently, telling the world that Quercus will be publishing my novel, THE RIVAL, later this year.

When I was on submission, I pored over blog posts like this one. I don’t know why, it’s not like they were magic 8 balls that would reveal what would happen to my novel (ahem, I may have also asked a magic 8 ball what the outcome would be…). But somehow it made me feel less alone in the tortuous hell of a process that is being on submission and waiting for news.

My agent sent my book out to a select group of editors on a Thursday last year. And so of course on the Friday I was hoping that all ten editors would have fallen in love with it overnight and phoned her at 7am offering millions of pounds for it. That didn’t happen. In fact, nothing happened on that Friday. There was No News.

The weekend was fun. But by Monday we had some ‘positive noises’, which actually mean nothing I don’t think, but were like little gulps of oxygen on which I could try to stay alive. I’m exaggerating here for effect of course, but at times I did feel like I was running out of air. I don’t think anything can prepare you for it – it’s like waiting for your A level results but about a million times more amplified.

Then on the Tuesday, we had our first ‘turn down’ (my agent doesn’t call them rejections, which is both euphemistic and considerate of her!). It wasn’t bad news though – only that two editors in the same publishing house had read the novel, and one had decided it was better suited to the other, who was still reading. I was OK with that turn down, because it was a really positive one. I think I might have had another rejection that day too, but I didn’t really mind because my agent was feeling very positive that the other editor at the first house was likely to offer.

Wednesday rolled around, which was also the Faber Academy reading day. You can read my previous post for more details on this, but it was quite surreal as I was basically pitching my book (and myself) to a load of agents, while knowing that I was already ‘taken’ as it were, and that the extract I was reading out loud was no longer even in the book (it hadn’t survived my agent’s edit).

After the readings, the editor who had rejected me in favour of her colleague came up and introduced herself, which was surreal (I had no idea she was going to be there!). It was a crazy day, full of excitement and nerves – reading your work aloud to a lot of literary professionals is as terrifying as it sounds – and I remember looking down at my phone at one point to see a notification from Twitter that someone new had followed me.

I’m not sure what it was about her name, but I had a weird feeling she might be important. I looked, and she was the PR director for Quercus. I knew Quercus was one of the publishers reading my book and I thought somehow that might be significant – if the PR director knew about me, presumably the editor there had mentioned me to her? It was all so overwhelming!

I’m not sure when, either that day or the next, my agent emailed me to tell me that the Quercus editor was very keen and was sharing it with her colleagues. Meanwhile, we had a similar update from the other editor at the first house. I was really hoping by the end of that week I’d have a concrete offer, and was beginning to dare to dream that I really might end up with a book deal.

Alas, the next few days brought silence, but then on the Tuesday my agent told me the Quercus editor (lovely Cassie Browne) was taking the book to her acquisitions meeting. This is the Big Meeting where editors have to convince all the other departments (like sales and marketing) that they should buy the book. It was a good sign, but it wasn’t a foregone conclusion. I remember my agent saying that we should hear the outcome of the meeting later that day, but there was nothing. Suffice to say, I didn’t sleep well that night.

Thankfully however, the next morning, my agent rang while I was walking home from the playground, my nearly-two-year-old in tow, to tell me that Cassie had made an offer – and that it was a pre-empt (which is an offer that expires within 24 hours and is a way of avoiding a book going to auction). It was a really exciting moment – one of those life-changing phone calls that you’ll never forget. I think my overwhelming emotion was relief – relief that I hadn’t been kidding myself all these years, that I was actually capable of writing something publishable. And not just something publishable but also something commercial, that readers would hopefully (touch wood!) want.

Later that day, I also had an offer from the other editor who was interested. It was like having my lottery numbers come up twice in a row. It was interesting to see how each editor had a different ‘vision’ for the way they would publish the book and after much deliberation (honestly, there was a huge amount of agony involved and backwards-and-forwards with my poor agent), I decided to accept Quercus’s offer.

Both editors who offered were amazing, and I would have been thrilled to have been published by either of them (that’s not lip service either) but for various reasons my heart was telling me Quercus were the right fit. Also, and this is stupid, I know (my agent would roll her eyes at me for admitting this swung me a bit, but it did), I have a picture in my dining room – a print I bought a while ago, and at the bottom it says Quercus & Co. I don’t think it bears any relation to Quercus the publisher but for some reason it felt auspicious, especially as I stare at it every day.

Anyway this post reads like a long not-so-humblebrag, I know. Don’t worry – I am still pinching myself. I know how lucky I was – especially to hear back so quickly. I was only on submission for just under two weeks in the end, which is really short and merciful. I do count my blessings, especially as I’ve known of friends who’ve been on submission for weeks.

However, before everyone reading this hates me and thinks I had it far too easy, I’d like to add that this is the third book I’ve had on submission with my agent, so trust me when I say I’ve been through the agony of being repeatedly rejected! Third time lucky – there’s definitely something in it!

You can find out more about THE RIVAL on my website, and pre-order here if you want to make my day.