Sunday, 31 July 2011

Guest post by Sue Johnson

Tomorrow will see the launch of 'Fable's Fortune', the first published novel by writer and tutor Sue Johnson.

I have been lucky enough to attend two of Sue's writing workshops, and was delighted to hear of her latest success.

I asked Sue if she could tell us about the process of writing 'Fable's Fortune', about her own favourite authors, and if she could give any advice to newer writers. So now it's over to Sue...

'Fable's Fortune' is a modern romance built on a fairytale structure. The back cover blurb reads:

"Fable Mitchell is born under a roof of stars in a Kentish plum orchard, and her early childhood is spent in a house called Starlight where she lives with her mother Jasmine and Gangan the Wise Woman.

However, her life is not destined to remain like a fairytale.

When she is ten, she is abducted by her estranged father Derek, now a vicar, and taken to live in his austere vicarage at Isbourne on the banks of the River Avon. Fable is unable to escape.

When she is sixteen, she falls in love with Tobias Latimer but he dies in mysterious circumstances and Fable's happiness is once again snatched away from her.

She tries to rebuild her life and marries Tony Lucas because she thinks the omens are right. Fable soon realises he is abusive and controlling, but is trapped because she fears losing contact with her daughter.

Nearing her 40th birthday, Fable hears Gangan the Wise Woman's voice telling her to 'be ready - magic happens'.

That is certainly true, but does Fable have the necessary courage to finally seize her chance of lasting happiness?"

The story (originally called 'Star Dragon') began life in 1998 following my own marriage break-up and divorce. I didn't do any planning and completed 85,000 words in less than two months. It was extremely therapeutic and helped me get through a stressful time without needing tranquilisers or taking to drink!

Having finished what was a very scrappy first draft (I didn't really know what I was doing!) I put it on one side for several years while I went back to University to do a creative writing course. During that time I wrote a lot of poetry and short stories - many of which were published in women's magazines. I was taken on by the agency Midland Exposure who sold short fiction to women's magazines.

When I eventually went back to the novel (in about 2002) my ideas about the story and characters had moved on. The story had never left me in all the time I'd been away from it - bits kept playing like a film inside my head. Helped by a severe attack of vertigo, I reworked the story (now called 'Cloak of Stars'.)

By 2005, having written three more novels and failed to find a publisher, I joined the Romantic Novelists' Association New Writers' Scheme. I submitted 'Cloak of Stars' for a critique and was advised to take out the fairytale element.

I felt a bit despondent - but decided to have one more re-write. It was at that stage that my heroine, originally called Rose, decided that she didn't like her name! I searched through all the children's name books I could find, plus various Internet sites, but found nothing.

In the end, I put my jacket on and walked into town, deciding to stop for a coffee at the first cafe I came to and the first woman's name that I heard would be the one I went for. Two women wearing fur coats and carrying wicker baskets came in. As they took their coats off one of them said, "Of course, my daughter Fable..." I paid my bill and hurried back to my computer.

One thing I learned in the process of writing this book was that I needed to be persistent and ignore the negative things some people said. I wish I'd concentrated on finding a publisher rather than wasting my time trying to get an agent - especially after one admitted, when I contacted her after a long time of being fobbed off by her assistant, that she'd 'buried my manuscript under a pile of other stuff and forgotten about it'. The first publisher that I sent the manuscript to after that episode was Ronnie Goodyer at Indigo Dreams Publishing - and he said yes!

I think it must be true that success breeds success as I've now got a non-fiction book on novel writing coming out in October this year. ('Creative Alchemy: 12 Steps from Inspiration to Finished Novel', published by HotHive Books.) I'm also keeping my fingers crossed for two further novel manuscripts that I've submitted.

My favourite authors are Joanne Harris, Clare Jay, Helen Dunmore and Michele Roberts.

My advice to new writers is:

1. Write every day even if you only manage five minutes.
2. Get as much work in circulation as possible.
3. Create a writing C.V. - a publisher or agent may ask for one.
4. Reward yourself for the effort you put in.
5. Don't stop until you've achieved your writing ambitions.

Sue's website can be found here. The book will be available from Indigo Dreams here, Amazon, and all good bookshops, as they say. Thank you Sue for taking the time to tell us about 'Fable's Fortune'. It sounds a wonderful read and I hope it does really well for you.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Chainsaws at dawn

Well, O.K., not exactly at dawn, since dawn breaks early in July. But with builders renovating the house next door we're having a noisy summer here. The cement mixer churns and there's a brickie effing and blinding his way through building a wall at the front. At the back someone insistently taps paving slabs with a hammer to get the new patio laid flat. Through an open upstairs window comes the sound of the plasterer singing along to Adele songs. Sand arrives and skips are collected. Half the county's building trade seems involved in the house next door.

It's put a temporary blot on pottering about in my dressing gown, watering my plants and enjoying my first coffee of the day. In fact, after six weeks it's all getting wearysome, especially as escaping anywhere in the car involves navigating through the white vans parked beside our kerb.

Then again, every cloud of brick dust has a silver lining. I've submitted four stories during July. It's unusual for me to submit much in the summer as I'm normally in the garden more. I have no excuse not to complete my tax form too, while I am stuck indoors anyway. Gosh I hate having to do a tax form for my small writing income. I'm a bit rubbish with numbers. It always takes at least three phone calls to the tax office to check which figure goes where. But then I know I am lucky to have any writing income, with paying markets seeming to grow ever more competitive.

Well, that's my little moan over. Next weekend I have a guest blogging here at Zigzag Road. Watch this space, and I hope you all have a peaceful week.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Reaping what we sow

In spring I pushed sweet peas into the damp earth and fed them with bright adjectives. I layered a stem of nouns to root among the mints, dotting an odd gerund below the lavender. Rain spattered them with pronouns. Squirrels buried verbs. There were some adverbs from last year's cuttings, but magpies stole them, stealthily.

Now I dig for stories, as the dog sniffs out windfalls. Our garden feeds us, always.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Redwings Horse Sanctuary

I may not have had my writing head on much lately, but I've had some lovely trips out and about. I can always justify a day out on the grounds that it's research for a story I haven't decided to write yet.

Yesterday I took a friend to visit the Warwickshire branch of Redwings, a charity which does fantastic work in rescuing and rehoming horses that have been abandoned, neglected or abused. It was wonderful to see so many horses contentedly grazing...

and chomping... and while some clearly think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, it's obvious that Redwings is a great place to be.

You could just cry when you think of how much ill treatment horses have suffered at the hands of humans, but it's really heartening to see that even horses who have suffered can go on to enjoy happier lives with the right care and attention.

I think we'll visit again, and hopefully not get quite as lost as we did on the way home!