Tag Archive: writing


I have been working hard at playing tourist, as my lovely mother was over for an extended visit. My head spins when I think of all we managed to do & see.

The timing was perfect for me to send the manuscript of my novel to the excellent Debi Alper, who completed a dizzyingly rapid and thorough critique so that now, one day after my mother has gone home, my manuscript sits at my desk ready for me to dig into and revise.  I can’t thank Debi enough for her feedback. She stopped my compass spinning and pointed it North. Time to write.

Book cover

I just finished reading Her Husband: Hughes and Plath: A Marriage, by Diane Middlebrook, and this deserves some comment as well. Though I’ve read some of both Hughes and Plath’s poetry, this is the first book I’ve read about them as a couple and it really blew me away. Though of course the personal aspects of their life are tied to the rest of the story, Middlebrook focuses on the creation of the couple as artists — as writers. The passion, power, struggles, determination, despair, and fierce certainty both Plath and Hughes dealt with are so familiar, yet rendered in the most dramatic, tragic consequences. The book is up for critique, of course, and this review by Andrew Motion probably gives the fairest idea of the strengths and weaknesses of Middlebrook’s approach.

And finally, one of my favourite places in London, the Wellcome Collection, is putting on a Symposium tonight and tomorrow, on…skin:

Nudity is an intimate state, perceived differently across times and cultures. For some it is a taboo, for others something to be celebrated. Join us for this special two-part ‘skin-posium’ to explore nakedness in all its guises.

Friday: Literary reading, 19.00-21.00
Bask in words of literary masterminds Milton, Keats, Tennyson and others. The evening includes a drinks reception so you can get to know your fellow guests.

Saturday: Talks and discussions, 10.30-17.00
Experts from the worlds of history of art, evolutionary science and more will explore how bare skin is understood in different cultures, how nudity makes us feel and how our ancestors evolved to reveal their bare skin in the first place.

Our multidisciplinary speakers include ‘Skin’ curator Javier Moscoso, fashion historian Rebecca Arnold, geneticist Walter Bodmer, historian of art Jill Burke, author of ‘A Brief History of Nakedness’, Philip Carr-Gomm, human geographer Glenn Smith and anthropologist and film-maker Michael Yorke. Friday evening is curated by Steven Connor, author of ‘The Book of Skin’.

Because my next project is on anatomical models, and because I’m beginning to incorporate my work as an artist’s model into my writing, this is of particular interest to me and I’m really looking forward to it!

Ideally I don’t mix my different writing projects: I want to sort out my Caroline Herschel novel before I get too much into the anatomical model writing. But you can’t stop the muse. I’ve got over 10 pages of new poems which are going to be the ‘next project’ after the novel. Seeing as I began writing novels towards the end of working on Darwin’s Microscope, I simply believe my brain wants a break from one genre or the other. Not that I’m at the ‘end’ of the novel, but I’ve been with it for about a year and a half, and my brain is leaping back to poetry, so it can breathe again. I am embracing this productivity and trying to do it justice.

Hooray, my book is in my hands!

It's here & tangible!

It's here & tangible!

I am so, so happy.

My only slight wish is that I had more living creatures to celebrate this moment with than my cat (though I do love my cat).

But no worries. Because my books are here! Copies of Darwin’s Microscope, in my hands! They are all glossy and straight and smell freshly of ink and paper…ow, I think I just papercut my nose…

Just kidding. Kind of. I mean first book euphoria! You really must forgive it.

The books are here in time for the first events on my book tour. On the 11th, I head to Aberdeen for their Cafe Scientifique. This is  held at the Waterstone’s in Aberdeen, and we’ll be talking about Darwin, poetry, zoology, and whatever else the tres scientifique guests wish to discuss…This event is open to the public, so maybe I will see you there!

The following day, on the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin, I’ll be parked in front of the Zoology museum on the Reading Bus. I’ll play host for the day to about 90 schoolchildren in all (ages 11-12,) and we’ll be looking at cool objects from the Zoology Museum, like turtle shells and skulls, a platypus, seashells, beetles, butterflies, and who knows what else!

Book bundles from the printer.

Book bundles from the printer.

I’ll read a few of my poems for them that relate to these objects and then get the students to share some of their poetic ideas with me. I hear there’s going to be a Darwin birthday cake and a release of homing pigeons, one of which used to belong to the Queen!
It’s set to be a great couple of days in Aberdeen. I just hope snow doesn’t change my plans…

Update from the land of networking

Nearly a month has passed since I last posted, and at least my excuses are legit–we moved house, then ran off to Scotland and Wales respectively, with a visit from a friend in between. Somehow I’ve managed to stay in contact with a number of people and plans for the launch of Darwin’s Microscope (coming out in Feb by Flambard Press) are coming together very nicely. While some of the events strike me as fuzzily distant in the future, I know they’ll be upon me next time I look over my shoulder.

One project I’m launching into in the next few months is a two-part paper for the Outreach & Education Committee (OEC) in Cambridge of the British Society for the History of Science (BSHS), describing my personal experiences approaching the public with a history of science-related topic (ie, Darwin). It isn’t meant to be research-y or massively dense; rather something educators might read and take some advice from. This will be a great incentive for me to articulate a lot of what I’ve encountered since the creation of this book, and I think the second part, which I will write after many of the other events (which are to happen in 2009) will be particularly interesting.

The Cambridge Science and Literature Reading Group will be starting up again, and I’m hoping to attend it more fully than last term (which I missed entirely, as I was abroad)! It’s a bit of a trip from London but well worth it. The group posts readings online which members are meant to read before the meeting, and then we meet up and discuss. The selection is always interesting & educational, and the group attracts a variety of experts, from quantum physicists to historians to education experts to writers, so it is a great way to share ideas about literature & science. We also meet in Darwin College; how could I not love that?

Brilliant news for April 2009: my alma mater, Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, (now Randolph College,) is sponsoring me for a week-long visit in April 2008. I’ll be there the week of the 6th, speaking in classes as well as on an alumnae panel, and doing a book reading & signing. Further details are to be arranged, but it looks like I’ll be covering all aspects of my interests by speaking in Creative Writing, Literature, Biology & Environmental Studies courses. It will be my first trip back to campus since graduating in May 2007–nearly two years. I remember deciding not to return until I was published, and so it is. It will be wonderful to see my friends & professors again.

halls of residence

halls of residence

The book proofs for Darwin’s Microscope arrived about a week ago! It looks great. I’ll make a few changes, but nothing major. It really is wonderful to see the manuscript laid out as it will be in book form–making this whole experience seem much more real, somehow, though the idea of holding the book in hand in Feb still makes me grin, and I find it hard to believe. That said, I feel a great pressure from myself to work on the next book, which has been brewing in the back of my mind for awhile now. In fact, I think I’ll go do that…

I’m No Expert, but…

It’s so great to find out that all my book-related blathering in our social circles isn’t scaring everyone away!

(As a side note, yes the photos are totally random. Me with dog.)

One of my friends just sent me an email:

I am wondering if you could give me a few initial pointers on how one goes about ‘finding’ a publisher for a novel?

Of course, I’d be happy to! I was composing the email in reply and thought, hmm, it might be nice to post this, as I went on, and on…so I hope some people find this helpful, and if you want to add any useful tips, please do!
Required Reading:
The Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook should be your Bible. Get a copy from the library as it is printed each year and would be silly to buy. Read much of it (some of it won’t apply to you).

I want to keep it

This puppy is not my agent.

Understand the Food Chain:
There are writers
There are agents (the middlemen)
There are publishers/publishing houses
(The readers): we’ll hopefully get there! I’m on the “agent considering work” rung.

Agents and Publishers only have jobs because of us writers, so you’d think the writer would be in the position of power, right? Not necessarily. You see, big, powerful publishers usually only source new books through Agents– thus, if you want to be a successful writer, it is generally a good idea to seek an Agent. The agent does take a cut of your profits, but he/she is likely to get you a much higher profit than you could do by yourself. Also, big name publishers will look at your stuff if an agent takes you on. Oh, and probably the best thing about an agent is that he/she should be able to deal with international translation rights for your book, maybe movie rights if those come up, and work with you on other books…it can in some cases be a lifetime relationship. Make sure it is a reputable agency and an agent should *never* request money from you unless they are making you money. You have a deal: usually in the UK an agent takes, I believe, 15% of home profits and 20% abroad. That’s if they sell your book to a publisher. Before that, they may suggest revisions on the book. No money should go to them for this, or they aren’t a legit agent.

I should add that you should always meet an agent before signing with them, and don’t take on an agent just to have an agent– you should like her and have a really good working relationship. If one agent wants to take you, others should too. Don’t be desperate- after all, they survive from your work just as you need them to do well! It is symbiotic.

Know Slush:
There is a thing called “The Slush Pile,” which is literally the mountain of unsolicited submissions that publishers get every day. These writers submit without an agent in the hope that someone will discover their work and ta-dah! make a million dollars. This happens kind of like winning the lottery. It does, but don’t count on it. If you get an agent, you are not in the Slush Pile and thus already have a much better chance of a publisher noticing your work.

Use Connections:
If you know someone who knows someone who has a sister who works for a literary agency…get in touch. Seriously, milk any connections, no matter how thin. I spoke to an author signing books and he told me the name of his agency and suggested I send my stuff. He didn’t know me, he’d never read my stuff, but I swear to you that dropping his name in my intro letter got my foot in the door. If my novel had been complete crap after that, the connection would not have mattered, but it helped them notice me and hopefully my work is taking it from there…!

fluffy!

He understands Slush.

Do Your Research:
This is on a lot of websites, etc, and it is so simple I really feel silly saying it, but apparently people make this mistake a lot. Which is a very stupid mistake. Research the publishers you are submitting to (if you are trying to brave it without an agent.) And research the Agencies. Nobody takes on poetry. Some specialize in children’s lit, and that, for certain age groups. Some specialize in crime, thrillers, etc. Some, non-fiction, some cooking, etc etc…and some do a lot of the above.
Don’t send your thriller novel to a cook-book agency. Got it? Good. (Again that’s just so dumb I can’t believe people do it but had to say it, sorry to insult your intelligence.)

Read Blogs:
I’ve been learning a lot from agents, writers, and editor’s blogs. I really think they are an amazing source of information, seeing the “inside” of the publishing world and the out. If you go to the previous blog post, you can click on some links I’ve posted to useful writing-related blogs.

Get it Right:
The Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook and many online sites will give you the layout for how to make a submission, say, to an agent. Follow these directions and also read what the agency requires of you. Listen to directions. This is not the place to be creative– let your creativity shine through in your writing. The basics are:
A cover letter
A synopsis
A sample (usually first 3 chapters or first 50 pages– for example, I sent my first 50 pages as my first three chapters are very short!)

Be Tidy:
eye cann spel good, eye can rite!
Seriously. Grammar, spelling, content. Use friends who have writing degrees (that’s really not a hint by the way)…Use spellcheck. Have competent friends/family critique the m.s. (that’s short for manuscript for beginners out there). I have no patience for people who can’t write. Creativity can only get you so far. Take a writing course. Do what it takes.

What if…?

You know, I’ve read some blogs where writers whine about being rejected for years. I’m not kidding. There is usually the, “keep going, you’ll get published” attitude. That is good up to a point, but why doesn’t anyone just say that if you are rejected again and again, and you revise, and you take a writing course, and you are still rejected — maybe you just can’t write? Maybe you need to go find a different thing to be good at. Seriously. Move on.

Good luck! The writing isn’t the hard part, ironically. Luck, talent, research, the list goes on.

The pics are totally random of me with a dog that isn’t mine (but I think I want one) and they are taken by the friend who wrote the query. Thanks!

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