Guest blog: Crossing the finish line – three writing hacks (Michael Mann)

In our latest guest blog post, Undiscovered Voices finalist Michael Mann (UV2020) reveals three of his favourite pre-submission writing hacks, which were tried and tested on his forthcoming debut novel Ghostcloud.

Crossing the finish line – three writing hacks for the submission sprint

The UV2022 submission window is open! You are (hopefully) almost there, fine-tuning your piece, or perhaps (more my style) sprinting madly to the finish line.

Fear not. Both methods work. And now, as I cheer you on from the sidelines, I will not share deep, wise words (Annaliese and Anna stole mine anyway) but a few tried and tested hacks I used on Ghostcloud ahead of submission (which worked, I think, as it’s coming out in October!).

1. Shake it like a polaroid picture (aka Robot Voice)

In the film Clueless, Alicia Silverstone’s character Cher states ‘I don’t rely on mirrors’, explaining she takes a polaroid of her outfit each day. Why? Because polaroids are less flattering than mirrors. If she looks good on a polaroid, she knows she looks good.

Reading your work aloud is like looking in the mirror. You round up. You hear what you want to hear. The good news is that an (unflattering) polaroid lies just around the corner: the robotic voice of your Mac/PC. It’ll read it horribly, butcher it even, but that’s what you need. If it still sounds good in robot voice, then it’s ready.

In a Mac, you just highlight the text, and press Option+Esc. I’m sure there’s a shortcut on PCs too. I use it all the time – it helps so much with rhythm, pace, typo spotting – and is a great way to give your eyes a screen break.

2. Cut out the ‘wases’ (and ‘weres’ and ‘ises’…)

When my friend Louise gave me this tip, I was angry. How ridiculous! I mean, the novel was in the past tense, how could I avoid was?

But after I cooled down, reworked the passage and sent it round, most preferred the ‘was-less’ version. They just said it was tighter. Here’s a before and after, when my protagonist, Luke, enters the haunted corridors of the East Wing.

Before: It wasn’t just the length that made him feel dizzy. The lights were flickering, the dark paint was peeling, and the black and white floor tiles were zigging and zagging.  

After: The corridor stretched into the darkness. Lights flickered dimly, flakes of dark paint hung from the walls and black-and-white tiles zigged and zagged underfoot.

In fact, I still like the original, and sometimes a ‘was’ is what you need… but so often, when I check my ‘wases’, I find stronger verb or more concise expression. In kids’ books, every word has to earn its place, so this is usually a good thing.

3. Make it smelly. (Or touchy. Or tasty.)

I know we all know this, but I still forget daily, so I want to remind you because the UV2022 finish line is so close! You can practically see the white ribbon. You can hear the crowds cheering.

But can you smell it?

I doubt it. A smelly crowd would be slightly off-putting. And usually ribbons don’t smell at all. I’d go as far to say that people avoid smells, both in life and writing. But I dare you to stick in a smell in your extract. I’ll raise that, why not try the first page or two?

A simple one will do. For our sprint, maybe cut grass, old trainers or cheap deodorant. Or if it really doesn’t fit, at least try some touch (a chafing sports t-shirt, a powdery start line) or taste too (salty-sweat, minty lip balm). Suddenly that finish line feels so much closer.

Mark Haddon (I think) said he tries to get all five senses in each chapter. And he’s wiser than me. 

Now, stop reading this blog and start editing! I’ll be cheering loudly (in cheap deodorant) from the metaphorical sidelines.

Good luck!

Michael Mann is a teacher by day, dad by night, and mostly writes when he should be sleeping. He was a UV2020 finalist and a 2019 London Writers Award winner.

His debut middle grade novel, Ghostcloud, is a thrilling, magical adventure that will be published by Hachette in October 2021 with a sequel the year after. He owes the idea for the story to his coal-mining grandad and a lifelong love of cloudspotting.

He lives in London with his (patient) partner and their (less patient) toddler, and can be found playing board games when he’s not busy losing his wallet.

Guest blog: Nine things I now know (Annaliese Avery)

As recent Undiscovered Voices finalist Annaliese Avery (UV2020) celebrates her debut novel, she reveals the lessons learnt from a simple, but career-changing piece of advice in our latest guest blog post.

Nine things I now know

A few years ago, I was chatting with SF Said about the road to publication and he said to me, and I’m paraphrasing here, that “publication should not be the reason that you write. Your aim is not to be a published writer, your aim is to enjoy what you write, it’s all about the journey”.

At the time, I nodded and agreed. But in my head, I thought to myself, “that’s alright for you to say, you’re SF Said! You wrote Phoenix and Varjak Paw!”

However, I thought about what he said on the way home. And that night. And the next day. And the day after that, too. After a week or so, I sent him a message to let him know that I finally got it and I really did.

Whether you’re just starting to think about entering Undiscovered Voices or in the final stages of polishing your extract, here are a few things that I learnt about writing while thinking about what SF said – and a few things since.

1. You can only move within your power

Sometimes, when it comes to trying to get our stories out into the world, we feel powerless, we are waiting for a yes. Waiting for someone outside of us, an agent, a publisher, an editor, to tell us that we can. We forget that there is a huge part of the process that we have ultimate control over and that part is the story.

You have power on the page. You are in command of the words you write and how you write them and when or even if you write them. You put in the work. You learn your craft. You shape your story. And, here’s the key, you get to make it the best story that you can possibly write. Our power as writers lies in creating as few opportunities as possible for someone to say no.

2. Keep your why close

Why do you write? And more importantly, why are you writing this story? Take time to think about this. Keep checking in as sometimes your why changes. Mine did after talking to SF, my Why went from being “to be published” to “to write the best story that I can”.

Once you have your why, take it everywhere and use it when things happen that challenge either the why of your story or the why of your overall writing endeavours. When this happens go back to your why – it will keep you on the right path.

3. Write towards the joy

Write the story that brings you joy. Write the characters that capture your interest. Write the themes that make you mad and the ones that make you hopeful. Write the stories that sing to you. Write the ones that make your palms itch for a pen.

Whether you get published or not, it’s important to enjoy writing. And, when the day comes and you’re asked for another book – it will feel like too much of an adventure to be work.

4. Learn your craft

Invest in yourself, invest in your skills. Never stop doing this. You will never learn all that there is to writing because some things are beyond knowing, they are innate and mysterious.

However, you can give yourself the best shot at success by learning about the craft of writing: how to tell an engaging story, how to connect with the reader, and how to write realistic characters. All of these things you can learn how to do, and put it all into action in a way that’s uniquely yours.

5. Time worries not

Photo by Kevin Ku on Unsplash

The time will pass, as time does, second by second, weeks, months, and years so write in the times that you have. Be precious about your time whether you have minutes or hours to dedicate to your writing, guard them like a bear does her cubs.

We are all given an unknown and finite amount of time to do all the things we need to do. If writing is a thing that brings you joy, a thing that you want and need and love, then give the time to it and give it with dedication, purpose, and power.

6. The journey is yours

It’s called your writing journey for a reason! There is a map … somewhere, and no two maps are the same. It’s different for everyone. There are often route markers, but they’re written in a language that you only almost understand.

Write your story in the best way for you. My advice is to keep finding joy in your journey – look for the light and move towards it. Seek assistance when you are lost. Most of all trust your internal compass – you know the true north of your story is, so believe in yourself.

7. This too will pass

There will be times when you don’t feel like writing and times when you do. Neither stays. When you experience them, embrace them or let them go – whichever works best at the time.

8. Do not ignore your doubts and fears

The doubts will be there whether you talk to them or not. If you ignore them, I’ve found, they will do the same as all things that are ignored they will brood and grow.

Take time to listen. Whether they’re fears of success, failure, or simply writing the story, step back from them and share your why with them. They won’t be as frightening as they once were.

9. The road is lonely but it need not be

Writing is often solitary, but that doesn’t mean lonely. SCBWI offers you an opportunity to connect with other writers.

Find your people. Find those who will support you and guide in a way that makes you feel valid, heard, and included. I have found no greater source of encouragement, support, and nurturing than among my fellow writers.

That’s alright for me to say

So, these are the things I know that have helped me on my writing journey. I hope they can help you, but it’s okay if you just nod and agree while thinking, “that’s okay for her to say, she just had a book published”.

Some advice, like some stories, takes longer to do their thing – words that seep into you and get you thinking. I still think SF is right and we should aim to enjoy what you write.

If you are entering Undiscovered Voices 2022 I wish you good fortune. Make your submission the best that you can and then let it go, the next bit is outside of your power but what you do with the time that is in front of you, how that shapes your journey, that’s all on you.

Annaliese Avery has spent most of her life surrounded by stories, both in her work as a library manager and at home writing them.

She holds an MA in Creative Writing and is a Program Leader and Editor for The Golden Egg Academy.

In January 2020, Annaliese was shortlisted for the SCBWI Undiscovered Voices 2020 anthology. The Nightsilver Promise is her debut middle-grade novel, and the first in a thrilling, new fantasy trilogy to be published by Scholastic.

Getting Ready for UV2018 – Guest Blog with Georgia Bowers

In the second of a series of guest blog by past finalists, Georgia Bowers, an author featured in the UV2016 anthology, talks about her UV experience.

The 7th of December 2015 was a big day for me. I was leaving work early for the  twelve week scan of my first baby and as I was packing up, I noticed I’d had a missed call on my mobile. I listened to the voicemail and it was a message about my other baby – my novel, Clopwyck River.

I’d tried not to think about making the Undiscovered Voices longlist since I’d had the email a couple of weeks before, but hearing Sara Grant’s voice asking me to call her back, hope and a little bit of doubt came flooding over me. Sara wasn’t calling people to tell them they hadn’t made it, was she?

She wasn’t. Clopwyck River had been chosen for the UV anthology!

At this point I had queried thirty-seven agents, with only one requesting the full manuscript. In the fortnight after the shortlist was announced I had four requests for the full manuscript, including one from an agent in the US, and met with an agent to talk about the possibility of representation. I submitted to a few more agents following the launch and received four requests for the full MS almost immediately. Being part of the anthology also meant that I attended the launch party where I met agents and publishing representatives, and I spoke to a few of the UV judges who said lovely things about my writing, one of them asking me to send him my WIP. I may not have an agent, but being a finalist has got me within touching distance of my dream.

Write what’s in your heart.

My advice for anyone thinking about entering UV would be:

  • Get your 4000 words up to scratch, have a break from them, get them up to scratch for a second time, hold your breath….and enter!
  • Give the rest of your novel the same attention. If there are scenes that you’re not keen on, re-write them or get rid, don’t leave them in and hope that an agent won’t notice them.
  • Write what’s in your heart. An agent asked me to write a version of Clopwyck River without the paranormal storyline. I did it, but the agent didn’t go for it, probably because it wasn’t really what I wanted to write so it had lost my voice and my heart.
  • Learn from every rejection. My re-written version may not have had my heart, but it had my blood, sweat, and tears as I managed to finish writing when I was eight months pregnant! Although the agent didn’t go for it, they did say that it was much more streamlined and successful as a novel. I now know that I’m capable of producing good work if I put a little pressure on myself.
  • Finally, if you make the anthology, network your ass off at the launch party, even if you’re considering signing with an agent already. Keep the momentum going, be proactive and don’t wait for people to come to you; go to them and shout from the rooftops because being included in the UV anthology is an amazing thing.

It’s been a year since the UV launch, and I’ve gained so much.

It’s been a year since the UV launch, and I’ve gained so much. I’m part of a network of writers and illustrators who I feel so proud of when I read about their successes. I have feedback on the first three chapters of Clopwyck River from people with so much experience and insight into the publishing world, I could have only dreamt of it before. I’ve learned that when agents say that the publishing industry is subjective they really do mean it, and it’s not just something they say to fob you off. I have a handful of agents who, although they didn’t go for Clopwyck River, have asked to see anything I write in the future. I’ve had a taste of what it could be like to be a published author and I’m even more driven to achieve it.

 

Oh, and I have a beautiful baby girl, who thinks that every story I tell her is a best seller.

 


Georgia is a librarian by day and Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan by night. She has written a number of articles for Hodderscape including Stranger Things vs. The OA, What Would Buffy Do, and Films To Watch at Halloween if You’re a Big Scaredy-cat. She is currently working on a new YA project, a mix of The Breakfast Club and Lost, where six teenagers take a journey with a bus driving dog and a cross-dressing conductor. Her spirit book character is Mildred Hubble.
Twitter: @georgia_bowers
Tumbler: bookbewitched.tumblr.com
Hodderscape: www.hodderscape.co.uk

Tips and Advice for Writers: Escape into Your Story

We’re proud to share an edited video of the best bits from our writing judging panel during the Undiscovered Voices 2016 competition launch on May 14th 2015.

The writing judges talk about the getting straight into a story and leaving exposition to be delivered as the story progresses. There’s plenty of insight into what the judges are looking for and what sort of pitfalls you might come across when you think you’re ready to submit. Keep an eye out for Jon Appleton sage advice on narrative confidence, in other words making sure you can convince the reader you’ve chosen the best story and that you’re the person to deliver it.

We’d like to thank Mike Perks for recording and editing this video and thanks Foyles for hosting the event!