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.


Old Kitty said...

I love that Sue stuck to keeping the fairytale element to her novel!! I remember the first time I sent out my current wip to be critiqued and a published author who read said, "take out the paranormal stuff". My gut instinct told me not too - but I did thinking this person is published and knows better but oh the ms read dreadfully - so false and contrived!! My heart was so not in it! Now I'm slowly trickling the paranormal stuff I snipped out originally and my gut instincts are more than happy! LOL!

Thank you Joanne and Sue for a fab post. I love too that there's an actual someone called Fable!! Great name! Good luck with Fable's Fortune! Take care

Teresa Ashby said...

I love how you came upon Fable's name! Fable's Fortune does sound a great read (and the non fiction book sounds interesting too).
How awful, the agent that buried your manuscript and forgot about it! After all your hard work that must have felt like a kick in the teeth!
Thank you Sue and Joanne for this lovely post. I'm going to visit Sue's website now!

joanne fox said...

Your gut instincts are there for a reason Kitty! Fable is a lovely name isn't it, and I think the book cover is beautiful.

joanne fox said...

Teresa I think writers have to be made of strong stuff to cope with the casual or negative attitudes of some individuals, such as that agent. But we always see that persistence wins out in the end!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Great post and I love the title of the book, and the girl's name! Good for you, Sue, sticking to what you believed in. All the best with your novel.

joanne fox said...

Thanks for visiting, Rosemary. x

Patsy said...

What a great way to get a character name.

joanne fox said...

Yes Patsy, it's a good idea isn't it.

Keith Havers said...

Sounds like it was quite a journey.
Fantastic pieces of advice at the end.

joanne fox said...

Keith, some stories seem to take a particularly long time to develop don't they, but I suppose it's all the more satisfying when they finally achieve success.

Suzanne Ross Jones said...

Terrific post. And I really like the sound of that novel writing book - going on my Christmas list straight away.


joanne fox said...

Mine too Suzanne!

MorningAJ said...

A quick note (with apologies to Sue because it's completely irrelevant to her post!)
You can find more about the Belper poetry trail and a link to the route map on my other blog here.

Amanda said...

What a great cover and title, how lovely! said...

Ooh I'm intrigued by the estranged father who is a vicar who abducts her. :O)