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“If the book is good enough, it will always find an agent and a publisher.”

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My mother reading a bedtime story to my little brothers

I spoke yesterday with a friend who had just attended a lunch with a literary agent. He was looking forward to this lunch – expecting an enlightening insight into the world of books and writing that he so loves. He emerged from the lunch utterly disillusioned. ‘Arrogant’, ‘pretentious’, ‘condescending’, were just a few of the adjectives involved. But it was that one sentence that stuck in his mind.

“If the book is good enough, it will always find an agent and a publisher.”

I read something similar recently, online ; a comment by a published author of little renown (and even less talent, judging by the ‘look inside’ portion of one of his books on Amazon), who was lucky enough to have been trying to break into writing back in the early 1990s, in the days before Amazon, Kindle, and the collapse of traditional publishing. His sneering, supercilious attitude didn’t stop there. People are apparently wasting their time and money self publishing, and are all deluded fools, like those tone deaf, talentless hopefuls on shows like the X factor, “My Gran says I sound just like Elvis.”
I bit my typing finger to stop myself responding. There was no point.

Fortunately for my friend, there were other writers at the lunch, one of whom reassured him afterwards, “Don’t worry. It’s always like this. You get used to it, and learn to just ignore it.”

Why do I say fortunately? Surely it’s better for someone to know that they’re deluded, and for them to stop wasting time writing drivel. Not to mention that about half of self published writers earn less than $500 a year and a quarter of books fail even to cover the cost of production. Add to that the fact that apparently 81% of Americans feel that they ‘have a book in them’ (though only 15% regularly read books), and you have a recipe for certain disappointment, don’t you?

Well…

Consider this.  In the US, publishers have stated that they are already publishing too much. The biggest put all their resources into approximately 20 top sellers each year. The rest have to sink or swim on their own. Publishers are running scared. Taking on a new name is a risk, so safer to stay with the tried and tested. (This is why so many of the books today, apparently written by authors such as James Patterson are actually ghosted.)

Meanwhile, in the UK, very few (any?) mainstream publishers now accept submissions from anyone but agents.

So, back to the agent. The leading UK literary agents take on a couple of new authors each year. They receive thousands of manuscripts. This works out as a ‘success rate’ of less than 0.1%…

With no money to be made from selling books any longer, both publishers and agents have had to look to alternatives. Ah ha! The mugs who actually write them!
“Come! Pay me gold for my editing services!” cry the agents. “Then you will have a more pristine package to present for rejection.”

“Come! Pay me gold for my creative writing course!” cry the publishers. “Then we will send you a personalised rejection letter.”

Creative writing course… It is certainly true that many people have no idea how to write. But I know unpublished writers who have won international writing and journalism prizes, people with 1st class degrees in English from top universities, people who do know how to write. For a few pounds they can buy a book on the nuts and bolts of novel writing. To refuse to even look at their submissions until they have handed over money (which they may not have) and attended an ‘in house’ course, takes arrogance and short-sightedness to a whole new level.

What’s more, if you can’t write, a ‘one size fits all’, writing by numbers, correspondence course is not suddenly going to turn you into the next Shakespeare (how on earth did he write those plays before Creative Writing 101?)

Bad luck for today’s aspiring new authors…but is that all?

No.

Because, however bad it is in the adult book world, not only is it worse with children’s books, but the implications of what is happening are far more profound and grave.

Last weekend, there was an article in the Sunday Times entitled ‘Celebrity writers of children’s books edge out talent.’ The article spelt out how ‘thousands’ of gifted children’s writers were struggling to get into print because publishers and bookshops wanted books by celebrities such as Frank Lampard, Katie Price and Holly Willoughby, even though these were ‘the literary equivalent of lift music’. Everything is geared towards big ad campaigns and TV shows.
The author GP Taylor (Shadowmancer, Mariah Mundi) has his first big feature film coming out in October, but has turned his back on children’s writing, “I don’t stand a cat in hell’s chance of getting published any more. I have three big films coming out and no children’s publishing deal.”

Random House, meanwhile, defend their publication of books by Katie Price on the grounds that “If they introduce some children to the enjoyment of reading, then this can only be a positive thing.”

Really?….So it isn’t what you read so much as the fact that you are reading that is important. Imagine if a junk food manufacturer justified squeezing out all the producers of healthy, natural food on the grounds, “If it introduces children to the enjoyment of eating, then this can only be a positive thing.”

This may sound alarmist. After all, hasn’t the internet brought the world of books into every home? Children don’t have to read condescending, dumbed down pulp, written by people who assume that all children are stupid, interested only in celebrities and vapid pop culture. They could choose to download the same books we read as children. Except… many of these are now out of print. They certainly don’t appear on the shelves of bookshops – too old-fashioned, and not enough room anyway, amongst all those Top Gear annuals, and ‘Barbie’s Sparkly Vampire Pop Star Lover’ series.

Publishers think they know their market. So sure are they about this that they make such declarations as “There is a gap in the market for character driven fiction in the 7-9 year old boys’ segment.” But perhaps they don’t know it as well as they think they do. Children, after all, are reading less and less.

A National Literacy Trust study conducted last year showed only 3 out of 10 children and teenagers reading daily, down from 4 out of 10 in 2005. 17% said that they would be embarrassed if a friend saw them with a book, and even magazine and comic reading has dropped significantly. Perhaps some of those wonderful new books being written by unpublished authors might hold the keys needed to unlock the treasure chest of reading for a whole generation of children.

Would Harry Potter be published today? It’s not ‘original’. In fact it’s a series that follows a classic model… just the sort of thing that today’s achingly trendy media-bots would disdain. What’s more, even 16 years ago, when the publishing industry was far more open to new authors, JK Rowling struggled to find anyone to take it on and received numerous rejections (how well the publishers knew their market!)

Which brings me back to the issue of self-publishing.

I self-published my first book. I had dreamt a whole series of five books one night, and had written the first one with an almost constant smile on my face. I loved it. It was a book I knew that the child me would have loved too; one of those books where closing the cover on the final word is only the beginning of the adventure. It wasn’t about money, or recognition; it was about writing the story that was pouring out of my pen, about passing on the magic.

Eagerly, I sent off submissions to agents and publishers. I imagined children transported into the world of my book; a world of nature magic, Tree Spirits, wonder and intrigue… And then the rejection letters arrived. I felt utterly crushed and demoralised. Was my beautiful book so ugly? I read it through again and again, edited, re-edited, re-wrote huge chunks… and re-submitted. “Not for us”, “Not taking on new clients”, etc. At this point, I nearly did what that agent at the lunch, and the supercilious, mediocre author would have had me do. Forget it.

But I couldn’t. That story felt to me like a gift that I had been given. To just forget it, would have been to throw it back in the face of the ‘Story Spirits’. Besides which, no matter how crushed I felt, deep down I believed in it. So I self-published, and in so doing, finally got my book ‘out there’ to the people it was written for – not the agents or publishers, or adults…or me, but children.

Very soon, I got my first feedback… from a young girl whose grandparents had given her the book, and who loved it ‘sooooooooooo’ much that she had convinced her teacher to read it to her class in school. More followed. Emails demanding to know when the next instalment would be out; a message from a mother whose daughter had chosen ‘The Spirit of the Greenwood’ as her favourite ever book (supplanting ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’ -hurray! ); a teenage brother and sister who had nearly come to blows over who got to read a sequel first, when they received it for Christmas…
But best of all, I received one email, which on its own, was reason enough to self-publish a book – A  girl in rural New Zealand, having read the whole series, had decided to enter an international young writer contest, and to become a writer.

Remember that statistic, ‘81% of Americans ‘have a book in them’? In the article in which it’s quoted, the implication is that most people are deluded in thinking that they should write a book. “Stick to the day job” is the sub-text. What surprises me, is that ONLY 81% think that they have a book in them. Everyone has stories waiting to be told and the world of the imagination is boundless.

If the gift of that special story comes to you, write it! If just one other person reads it and enjoys it, or is touched by it, it’s worth it. I recently read a short story written nearly a century ago by my grandfather. Quite possibly, it has lain unread all this time. Yet now, long after his death, his words, his thoughts crystallised on paper, have come alive for his grand-daughter.

And if people don’t write for fear of failure? Or if they listen to the nay sayers, and believe that because an agent or publisher says “not for us”, then it’s not good enough… how many thousands of wonderful, precious and unique stories will never get written?

How dare these condescending snobs try to steal the stories from the world!

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Annie helping me write

Apparently, it was Mark Twain who said « Write what you know ».

He also said « I have never let my schooling interfere with my education »,« It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt. » and « If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first. »

I think I would have liked Mark Twain.

And I think he was right about writing what you know, which is I why I wrote about elemental spirits, dragons, alchemists, magic, trees and animals.

What you know isn’t just the day to day mundane minutiae of your life, it’s all the worlds and lives you’ve conjured up in your imagination. People so often dismiss the imagination, « It’s not real ». Real? REAL? A myth written down, or passed down orally, or a story that resonates, can touch a person centuries later. The world formed in Tolkein’s imagination, is more powerful and alive today than the day that he put the final full stop to Lord of the Rings. He’s dead. The so-called ‘real’ stuff, like what he ate for breakfast on a certain day, a painful tooth, the love he felt for his wife… all just momentary, transient things. The creations of his imagination, however, live on. So, which is actually the more real?

Anyway…back to writing.
When I’m writing a book, I live inside it. This works on two levels.

Tell me more!


The first, is simply that I enact scenes in my books. You know those deranged looking people who walk along the street talking to themselves? That’s me. It’s fine normally. I live in the middle of nowhere, and my dogs are non-judgemental. I talk through scenes as I walk them in the morning, playing all characters, trying out different versions of the same scene until it sounds right. If a stranger, lost in the forest, were to stumble upon these morning walks and hear me, especially the bits where I laugh out loud in the manner of e.g. a cackling hedge hag, then he might jump to wrong conclusions. But it doesn’t happen. No strangers venture this far into the wilds!

I do, however, occasionally have to venture into the land of humans…which is something I find very difficult. In order to cope with the horror of a supermarket -the hideous strip lights, buzzing aircon, chemically smell, nasty piped music and row after row of garishly packaged poison that no one actually needs- I retreat into my books.

So…I’m walking along the coffee aisle. My basic survival instinct guides me to the coffee that I want. But my self-protection mechanism has sent me off to the Arivala Isles in Bryah, where on a beach of rainbow coloured sand, Arin is offering the Scorpion child a song in exchange for his freedom. I speak the words…My face betrays the fear felt by Arin…and then the haughty entitlement of the Scorpion child. I begin to sing Arin’s song………..

The second level, is that I immerse myself in the world I’m writing about. So, for example, for the fourth book, I needed to live as much as possible with the Air element. I read and researched like never before (air element…thinking, mental acuity…), I played with sylphs, got to know the Fool card of the Tarot, (those of you who’ve read ‘The Wakening of the Sword’ will have seen the Fool in there), surrounded myself with airy things: lavender, feathers, yellows and sky blues, strengthened my friendship with the Birch Tree, and since the guide in that book was a bee and bees played a vital rôle, I plunged into bee-dom. I ate pollen pellets, honey, propolis, royal jelly, drank mead, and followed the bees from flower to flower, danced the bee dance…dreamt of bees…dreamt I was a bee…

The Fool from the Tarot of the Sidhe

So, when my hero was saved by a bee in the Garden of the Seed, where the bees dance the dance of new life, I wrote what I knew.

« …The boy opened his eyes slowly. Around him all was dark. He waited, calmly, unafraid. This wasn’t the darkness of a nightmare. It was a warm, safe darkness. He could hear a deep, low humming, a humming that seemed to begin inside his head and then spread out in ripples into the darkness beyond. Then gradually he became aware of light. Very slowly, as the humming spiralled down through him, the darkness took on a deep amber glow. He couldn’t move, but it didn’t actually feel to him at that moment as though he had a body to move anyway. Later, when he tried to explain to his friends what had happened, he skipped over this bit. There weren’t words in his vocabulary to describe the sensation. The closest he could come was that the golden, amber light that rippled with rhythmic waves of humming, was now inside him. As though instead of looking out through his eyes at it, he was looking in. » ~The Wakening of the Sword.

Coming soon… The Mousefather: A terrifying tail. (sic)

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My first blog post! Here goes……….

This blog will be about my books. And about writing. And about being a writer… or rather, my experience of being a writer. So…it’s actually about being a forest dwelling, Pan-loving, hermit-alchemist writer.
There will be dragons, and nature Spirits…Hedge hags and undines…Magic, spells, potions, fairytales, animals (lots of animals), trees (lots of trees)…and green/eco things, the deer rut, golden orioles, ley lines, stars…and more dragons…….

This is me. ↓

I was born in England in 1967. After graduating from Oxford University with a degree in Oriental Studies, I worked for a while in Europe and Asia, in noisy, crowded, bellicose cities, turning gold into more gold….Concrete and electromagnetic white noise instead of trees and the hum of bees…Striplights and chemical air freshener instead of sunlight and the scent of herbs…

I escaped!

I now live in the middle of the ancient and magical Armorican Forest in France, weaving stories, herding words, rescuing animals, growing giant vegetables, hunting the Green Lion and whispering to Dragons.

This is where I write…↓

These are some of my assistants…↓

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