More Details and a Beach

I’m actually just sitting down to write this at half two in the morning, because I’m busy and life is hard sometimes, and because there really aren’t enough hours in the day. And because it feels like it’s been a little while since I’ve actually said anything on here and I wanted to change that.

So lots of stuff has been happening. I’m being asked to do lots of stuff and things and I’ll be mentioning the details of where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing when I can. Lots of exciting stuff on the horizon though.

Most importantly is the NEW BOOK. A Book of Beautiful Trees which is officially published on November 5th. Remember, remember…

I know I was always going to say this but I really am very proud of it. It continues Alexander’s story (from Beautiful Words), along with Lily and Lucy. Things have moved on from the last book and this one charts a relationship (or two) and tells a story through trees – with a few bits of what I’d like to think are interesting facts and things in the same weird Nik Perring adult picture book way. And it’s only £9.99.

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As with all the books Roastbooks have published of mine – it’s a very beautiful book. The illustrations (I was always going to say this too, of course) are stunning thanks to Miranda Sofroniou and I can’t wait for it to be out there. If anyone would like to help me spread the word – which I’d appreciate so much, then do give me a shout.

For now it’s only available to pre-order from here, but that’ll all change soon enough and when it does you’ll be the first to know.

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So, what else can I talk about? Thinking about it, not actually all that much just yet. So maybe I’ll just babble for a while.

I can tell you though that on Saturday at noon I’ll be at Sheffield Central Children’s Library, presenting the books we produced of the brilliant stories that were written during the week I was there a little while ago. I’m sure you’ll be hearing all about it when it’s done because the stories and the young writers I worked with are all very, very brilliant and so were the library staff and I loved the whole thing very, very much.

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On a slightly more personal note… I actually went to the seaside a little while ago. See!

It had been too long since I’d seen the sea (I think it was back in 2009 when I’d had my last holiday) so it was long, long
overdue. And I enjoyed it. In fact I enjoyed it so much I gave it a kiss. It exorcised things in a way because for too long I’d simply not been able to get there through one thing and another. So that was good. I am glad I went and did a little something for me. And thank you, Andrew, for lending me your house there.

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There has been much editing happening too. Much, much editing. And between it all I’ve been writing too. Short stories. Longer short stories. Very short, short stories. And, a few of them, I’m really pleased with. I think that being published (or just being in my situation) can be a bit of an odd one in that a) you can fall into the trap of thinking that everything you write should be of a certain standard and getting really pissed off when it’s not, and b) you just don’t have the time. Both of those, of course, are easily(ish)ly dealt with and, well, a little self-absorbed because we’re all in the same boat with lives and other things to do.

And that’s probably about it for now. Stay tuned for updates on appearances (I know, I’m breaking the habit of a lifetime) and for other exciting news (which won’t all be about me, don’t worry). Don’t touch that dial…

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Jodi Cleghorn: For The Asking

I’m handing the blog over today, until next I post, to the very lovely and talented Jodi Cleghorn who’s not only here to tell you all what she’d done and does (read: cool stuff – she published me once which clearly means that I’ll love her forever), but also about an exciting little course she’s running. Deadline for applications is THIS SUNDAY so if it’s something you fancy then you’d best get your skates on! Apologies for the briefness of my appearance here – I am, quite literally, busy doing everything. Over to you, Jodi…

 

Mentor: An Accidental Destination

I’ve never considered publishing and author development as mutually exclusive to each other. However, I never considered myself a mentor even though I was a publisher! As a destination, it has come about as an organic, hit-and-miss, lead where my heart follows kind of journey. Like a road trip where sometimes you decide where you want to go and other times roll a dice. This is latest detour and pit stop on the ‘path less trod’ as a publisher, editor and writer.

eMerging

When Paul Anderson and I set up eMergent Publishing in late 2008, we were interested in working with new and emerging authors as a first priority. Not because we had an altruistic imperative, but because we felt the collaborative ideas and the projects we planned on rolling out lent themselves better to writers who were still honing their craft. Writers who might be more willing to have others tinker with the characters and plots lines of their stories.

Additionally, I was pretty firm in the idea that you grow your business outward with like-minded people for the best results. At the inception of eMergent, Paul and I were still very much emerging writers ourselves, and it was from our peer cohort we filled the spaces on the first Chinese Whispering’s project.

Chinese Whisperings

REDBOOKChinese Whisperings are collaborative storytelling anthologies. The Red Book published early 2010 is circular in design. The writers were given simple guidelines. Their story must contain:

• at least three characters
• have a link to an event/the main character in the preceding story
• stand alone as a story in its own right

Together we worked alongside each other, as editors and writers, to develop stories and then connect them.

The success of one crazy idea, lead to a second one – a mated anthology set in parallel European airports exploring the repercussions of a stolen painting falling into the hands of the receivers of a fictional airline. We upped the ante from 10 stories to 22 and paired writers with each other, but let them work out what they did with that pairing. Ten months later we launched The Yin and Yang Book.

Working this way, in close partnership with writers, lay pretty strong foundations for how I wanted to work as an editor and the future direction for the business.

Literary Mix Tapes

I joked in 2010, what does an editor do on her vacation: start a new imprint!

Literary Mix Tapes began as a Christmas filler project. I offered nine places on a web-based anthology then expanded it to 19 (one of those places was for me!). The stories used the lyrics of the carol ‘Deck the Halls’ as prompts.

There was no way I was going to be able to develop stories the way I had with Chinese Whisperings on such a tight turn around though. It was the holidays, and I was meant to be on holiday, and the deadline was absolutely nutes (less than three weeks from start to finish) so I set up a Facebook group and asked if the writers could all help each other out with beta reading (by that time I was a passionate advocate of beta reading and had taught my first workshop on it). People stepped up and helped each other out. I did fleeting edits and two weeks later, on Christmas Eve, the first of eMergent Publishing’s music inspired stories were released into the wild.

What began as a stop-gap, save-my-arse measure, became one of the defining characteristics of Literary Mix Tapes. Why writers signed up to be part of it. They enjoyed working together in this way. Tom Dullemond dubbed it ‘collective submission’. It also solidified something for me as a publisher and editor. I wasn’t interested in reading slush from open submissions and curating an anthology from the best 10 or 20 stories. What I wanted to do was work directly with a group of 25 writers to help them write the best story possible. That’s really what made my heart sing. So we kept on with the way we’d done it in the past. I’d release the idea for an anthology, ask who of my existing authors were interested in being a part of it and then open the rest of the places to anyone who was quick enough to put their names down when the call for nominations opened. The last anthology, From Stage Door Shadows, filled 16 places in 12 minutes!

There are currently four volumes of Literary Mix Tapes: a revised and extended Deck the Halls (which the rather talented Nik Perring appears in with his story ‘Weather Boy’), Nothing But Flowers, Eighty Nine and From Stage Door Shadows. I hope that sometime in the future, there’ll be more.

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Supporting Grass Roots

It seemed to me, the experience and skills I’d gained over the years, paired with the structures we had set up through eP, were a potential base to assist other online publications and grass roots groups in achieving a print publication. I wanted to be able to assist them in gaining the skills, structures and confidence necessary to create publications to show case the work they were doing with new writers.

BOFFOver the years I’ve been lucky enough to work alongside Vine Leaves Literary Journal with the power-house of an editor and author Jessica Bell, the Friday Flash community alongside the founding patron
of the #fridayflash hashtag Jon (J.M.) Strother and the In Fabula-divino mentoring project founded by the multi-talented, multi-published, Nicole Murphy.

In 2012 I was invited to sit on a mentoring panel at the Australian Science Fiction convention. At the time I had no idea why on earth they’d ask me. It took my lovely friend, Jo Anderton, to point out I ran an entire business based on mentoring writers. It was so embedded in everything I did, everything the business did, I didn’t see it at ‘mentoring’. It was just how we did business.

Some Things Change, Some Stay the Same

In all the editing, publishing and supporting of new writing talent, I neglected the one thing I loved more than anything: my writing. I knew that I needed to nurture myself as I had nurtured others and I dialled down my project output, focused on finishing off what I had started and set about falling in love with writing again. Dispensing the same pearls of wisdom to myself, as I did the writers I worked with. Physician, heal thyself!

As the Universe is wont to do, it turned my world upside down late 2012, just as I was completing the last of the Literary Mix Tapes volumes, finalising the details on the partnership with Jessica Bell and waiting for my first novella, Elyora, to go to print.

Just when I thought I might have everything together, my son stopped going to school. He pretty much hasn’t been back to school since then and I pretty much haven’t edited or published anything since.

While I don’t miss the mental deadlines or the stress of getting contracts in, edits finalised, books to press. And I don’t miss the dynamics of working on 25 odd stories with 25 odd authors and all the vagaries (good and bad) inherent in that model, I do however miss the spark of the new. I miss the possibility in the unknown, of chasing down ideas with people and watching stories bloom. And most of all, I miss working closely with writers to see all that happen.

When my husband was made redundant at the start of last month it bought home something I’ve known for a bloody long time, but been willing to ignore, ‘cos I could: my family’s budget can’t sustain the status of ‘patron of the arts’. Gratefully my husband found a new job fairly quickly but our budget has absolutely no fat on it any more. If I want to publish future anthologies, it has to be via an income I’ve crafted.

And I don’t want to freelance edit if I don’t absolutely have to (I am still very much aware the give and take that underlines the polarities of being a writer and an editor). And I was lukewarm, but okay, with freelancing book design. But the passion burned hot, when the idea expectantly presented itself, to mentor writers.

FOR THE ASKING

That’s how For the Asking came about. It’s not really a creative writing program and it’s not really a mentoring program. And it’s not creative recovery. Yet it has elements of all of that in it.

I’m offering four places on a 12-week course where I’ll curate a space to:

• hone existing skills
• help writers find their voice
• deepen their understanding of themselves as creative individuals
• understand their processes better
• spark writing and creative adventures
• work one-on-one (with me) to complete a nominated project

And like everything I have done in the past, it’s part group work, part individual work and part in-partnership-work. I’m looking specifically to work with new and emerging writers. It’s something I am equally terrified and excited about. The very same feeling I used to have before launching a new publishing project!

The course is by application only and the form can be found here. Applications close this Sunday, 6th September and the course begins the following week on Sunday, 13th September. For more information people can email: mentor(at)jodicleghorn(dot)com

The philosopher Plutarch said: the mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting. My matches are lined up and waiting. This journey is due some bonfires!

JODI CLEGHORN (@jodicleghorn) is a writer, poet, editor and small press owner with a penchant for the dark vein of humanity. Known for big ideas that get her and others into trouble, she’s currently on a 105-day social media sabbatical, learning to walk the slower, quieter analogue path.

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The Next Book

A Book of Beautiful Trees.

Coming Thursday November 5th, 2015.

Click to pre-order.

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Kate Long’s Back

I’m always very happy to have the very lovely Kate Long here. One, because she’s unquestionably one of the nicest people I know in writing (her post on loving words is brilliant) and, second, because it usually means she has another book out – and that is always a good thing because her books are brilliant.

 

 

A little while ago she published Something Only We Know and I thought that the perfect opportunity to invite her back to talk about how it came across and the themes it deals with. It sounds good, as you’ll see…

 

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“Researching a serious illness is always a challenge. I knew from accounts I’d read in the past that anorexia nervosa is a complex and painful condition which can last for years and, in extreme cases, prove fatal. But I also knew that a lot of sufferers recover – to a degree. The grip of the condition loosens, even if it never slackens off entirely, and life shifts into better balance once again.

Much has been written about teenagers experiencing the fiercest phase of an eating disorder. There’s less, though, about what happens later on in life, when those teens become adults with wider responsibilities and a different range of pressures. It so happened that, during a writing course, I met a woman whose daughter had been through just such an experience, and she was keen to tell me what had happened. She spoke with great frankness and courage about how hard it is to watch someone you love suffer in that way, and what kind of questions you ask yourself as a parent. Are you to blame? Was it the way you brought her up? If she loved you, surely she’d eat? If you loved her enough, shouldn’t you be able to cure her? A few months later she introduced me to her daughter, now a mum herself, who bravely explained to me what the illness had been like ‘from the inside’.

And so began the idea for my novel Something Only We Know. Helen, aged 30 and a recovered anorexic, is not the narrator. The story’s told from the point of view of her 23-year-old sister Jen, who describes what it’s like for the family to have to work around Hel’s domestic rituals. Their mother watches nervously, in case the illness seems to be taking hold again, and Jen sometimes feels she herself might as well be invisible. But at the same time she loves her sister, despite the frustrations. Aren’t all sister-relationships complex and contradictory, to some degree?

‘What would you say was the main thing you discovered about anorexia from writing the book?’ a fellow author asked me a few days ago. I told him: ‘That it’s no one’s fault.’ And it seems to me, it’s a crucial message. Towards the end of the novel, where Helen’s mother admits she always secretly believed Hel could control her condition, Helen tells her, “Anorexia’s a full-blown mental health disorder, not an exercise in family-hating bloody-mindedness. Don’t think it had anything to do with you.” That final understanding between them allows Helen to step away from her parents, and in turn allows them to let her go.

I never set out to write an “issues” novel. The characters came to me themselves, with their pasts and baggage in place. But I owe a debt of gratitude to the real-life friends who generously let me into their own experiences, and helped me shape my story.”

Something Only We Know is published by Simon and Schuster and is out now.

Paul McVeigh Talks

And today I’m delighted to welcome the brilliant and multi-talented Paul McVeigh to the blog to talk about, well, his multi-talents. And his new book. So without further a do, here’s Paul.

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Paul! Welcome to the blog, finally. I know we’ve been talking about doing this for far too long and that we’ve not is mostly my fault. But we’re both busy, right? How’ve you been? What have you been busy with?

Howdy, Mr Cool! I’ve been good. Been a busy year so far. The second London Short Story Festival not long over. A trip to Mexico with the British Council a few weeks back and promoting the novel. Getting shortlisted for The Guardian’s ‘Not The Booker’ Prize was pretty amazing.

You have a book out. What is it? Who’s it for? What’s it about?

The Good Son is a coming-of-age tale set during the Troubles in Northern Ireland in 1980. It’s about a 10 year old boy during the summer holidays between the primary school he loved and secondary school he’s dreading. It’s about just how far we are prepared to go to protect the ones we love. It’s for anyone who likes their stories told with pace and humour, who likes to see how people are shaped in the most extraordinary circumstances and what it means to be human, in all its complexities.

How long was it in the writing?

On and off over 10 years. I lost the finished novel once when my hard drive got corrupted. Gutted, I left it for a long time and had to start again from my notes. I left it again when I gave up writing for a while, finally pulling it out of drawer about 3 years ago and doing a final major rewrite. That’s the version that got published.

As well as being a writer you’re also the director of the London Short Story Festival (I really must get down for that one day!) and associate director over at Word Factory. Could you tell us all a little bit about those.

Word Factory is pretty special. Founded by Cathy Galvin, co-founder of The Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award, it brings together the best short story writers in the country to read their work every month. There’s always a fascinating discussion with authors on the craft of writing and a masterclass to learn from the best.

The London Short Story Festival has quickly established itself as an important date in the literary calendar and has gone from strength to strength. Gathering authors from around the world for a weekend of celebrations on the short story form the audiences have come from as far as Australia this year.

I’m curious – how does being involved in projects like those affect your writing? Are you able to keep them all separate, or are they a little more linked than that?

I had a very honest conversation with myself earlier this year. I love building platforms for writers, programming and creating things from nothing BUT it turns out this impulse comes from the same well and my writing. I’ve realised that if I’m to write another novel or finish this collection I’ve been tinkering with, I’m going to have to make big changes. I think I’ve already begun.

Your one piece of advice you’d give to anyone wanting to write a good story would be…

Read a lot. It’s important to learn from the masters but also the new voices. Try writers outside your culture and comfort zone too.

What’s next for you?

I’ve taken August to read. I’m enjoying picking up books that aren’t for work. In September I’m off to Cork International Short Story Festival and Wroclaw Short Story Festival in October. But the big thing is to start writing again after such a long break. Scary stuff.

Anything you’d like to add?

Thanks for the invite.

Paul McVeigh(Photo by Roelof Bakker)

Paul McVeigh was born in Belfast where he began his writing career in theatre. He moved to London where he wrote comedy shows, some of which appeared in Londons West End. Since turning to prose, his short fiction has been published in journals and anthologies, been commissioned by BBC Radio 4 and read on BBC Radio 5. Paul is co-founder of London Short Story Festival and Associate Director at Word Factory, the UK’s leading short story salon.

His debut novel The Good Son was published in April 2015 and has been called Outstanding by Toby Litt and A work of genus by Pulitzer Prize-winner Robert Olen Butler. It has just been shortlisted for The Guardian’s ‘Not The Booker’ Prize. 

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Two Pieces of Killer Writing Advice From People Who Aren’t Me That Never Get Old

Short Story and Flash Fiction Tips

When I first put these up, a few years ago now, they went down very well. So here they are again – a few tips on writing good short fiction.

 

Short Story and Flash Fiction Tipss

Here are my tips for anyone wanting to write a good short story or piece of flash fiction:

Start where the story starts, not before. If I was telling you about a fantastic hotel room I’d stayed in I wouldn’t start by telling you about booking the tickets to get there (unless the story was about booking the tickets and ended in the room).

Take out everything, every word, every sentence, every character that isn’t absolutely necessary.

Similarly, only use the right words. Sometimes people do just ’sit’. Or ‘run’.
Make sure your characters are believable. What they do, or the situations they find themselves in, may be unlikely and fantastical but the way they react to them has to be something that readers will believe.

Be suspicious of anything you think is clever. The story comes first, the story’s what people should notice, not the writer.

Write for you, but spare a thought for the reader too.
Don’t overdo it. Big words are fine if they’re the right ones. Same with descriptions.

Say what you want to say in the simplest, and most effective, way possible. In other words: get to the point.

Aim to be brilliant.

Don’t expect it to be easy. Or quick. Be prepared to work hard.

Don’t be afraid of rewriting. In fact, embrace it; it will make your stories better.

Don’t expect to get it right the first time. You have total control of what can be changed. (I often find also that if a story wants or needs to be changed, then it’ll let you know.)

Trust your instincts. If you suspect something’s not working then it probably isn’ t.
Don’t be afraid of putting a story away for a while. Sometimes stories, and your head, need space.

Don’t be afraid of failure. Nothing’s wasted. It’s better to try something new and fail (and perhaps learn something) than to play safe all the time.

Most importantly: BE BRAVE. You have an imagination, use it. Write the story you want to write, write what you think’s good and interesting, even if that means not sticking with the norm. Different, if done well, can be brilliant.

 

And read the greats. See how they do things. See why they’re the greats. Even if you don’t like them you might find something in them that’s very useful.

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Some Thoughts on Being a Writer and Process

 

Over the past couple of days I’ve ended up doing a lot of waiting. Over two hours in a train station on Sunday and in a hospital all afternoon yesterday (don’t worry, I’m fine). And, being as I usually have no time to think about much at all I used that time, waiting, to think.

At some point I was thinking about what it means to be writer. What people might think that means Vs what it is. I said on Facebook, almost in passing:

Writing advice: be a writer because there are stories you need to tell, not because you want to be a writer. Stories come first, always. Especially before us.

Writing is pretty simple when you look at it for what it is. You make stuff up and write it down and wing it and work hard at making it into something worthwhile. And then, if you’re lucky, someone else enjoys it or buys it or publishes what you’ve written.

You will only ever be a writer if you let stories, or poems, or whatever it is you write come first. It is not about you. Not about you being ‘a writer’. And even if it was wouldn’t you rather be known as that person who wrote the brilliant BOOK than Bob the Writer.

I never did this job for admiration or to look cool or interesting or bohemian or clever or anything like that. Fortunate really because I don’t think I could carry any one of those things off. I like stories. I like telling stories. They are important  – they’re culture, they’re identity, they’re education and freedom and escape. They’re fantasy, they’re comfort. They’re microscopes, flies on walls, excuses – they’re things to talk about at work. They’re anything you want them to be. And I love that I’m lucky enough to be playing my own small part in all of that.

So the motivation for writing (in my very humble opinion) should be story. Maybe it’s one that’s inside us and is dying to burst out. Maybe it’s something we want to explore. Maybe it’s answering a question or maybe it’s asking one. Maybe it’s because we love to make characters up, to hear their voices, to see something new. It doesn’t matter. What matters, over and over and over is story – and that desire and that respect to appreciate it and to get it out in the best way we can and not being egotistical enough to let us stand in its way. It shouldn’t be because we want to use ‘writer’ as a tag. (And I do meet those.)

Back to being a writer then. Here’s the thing. Sometimes, it’s the best damned job in the world. We get paid to make stuff up and we get to have our names on book covers and sign them and read from them and feel important at events and seem interesting at parties (not that I’m ever invited to any). We are lucky.

For me, one of the genuinely best things in the history of anything is when I hear I’ve made a stranger cry through my stories (and hopefully not because they’re shit). That I’ve been able to affect anyone that much through something as simple as through a bunch of well-ordered words is a brilliant feeling. It means I’m doing my job well.

But that is only such a tiny little part of the job – sometimes it’s a bit pants and tiring and frustrating and poorly paid and really, really hard. Those good bits only come once we’ve been lucky enough to have written something good – and I worry, sometimes, that that’s the bit that gets overlooked.

I can get a bit suspicious of people who want to be a writer because they think it sounds interesting (or will make them sound interesting). Often it is interesting. Often I’m not though. Often I’m a bit boring. And that’s not a criticism. I think I spend more time doing dishes than writing some days.

What’s interesting, for me at least, is looking at how the process of writing doesn’t really change. For me, it’s pretty much as fun as it was when I first started out, and just as difficult too. I think I worry more about my stories now when I’m shaping them and I’m not sure if that’s because my standards are higher or because I’ve had more experience or, most likely, because I’m still terrified that, one day, I’ll be found out as someone who makes stuff up and writes it down and wings it as best he can – because that’s all that writing is, really. But that process is still the same – and it’s the same for me, ten or eleven years on from first being published to anyone just starting out.

No magic.

No glamour.

If you want to get into this game you only need a few things. You need good ideas, your own good ideas. You need to be able to make them into good stories. You need tenacity and a thick skin because not everyone will like what you do and you need to remember that that’s fine because you don’t like everything everyone else does and it’s nothing personal. Integrity and passion are good things to have too. You need to be professional. And you need to remember that there are people like me (and many far better people) waiting to champion you and to help because WE CAN NEVER, EVER, HAVE TOO MUCH GOOD STUFF TO CHOOSE FROM. Believe me, if it’s good there’s room for it. It’s not a competition. Don’t ever think that just because mine’s published yours won’t be. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise (if they do they either don’t know or they’re trying to be clever).

So there you have my rambling, tumbling thoughts on things. And stuff.

So some advice again, from someone who works hard winging it and pretending to know what he’s doing and who you should probably never listen to even if your life depended on it…

Basically: write for your stories, not for yourself. And mean it. Really mean it. The rest will come.

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Sheffield Summer Children’s Writing

Just a quick post today.The week after next, starting August 11th, I’m running a four day long project for younger writers (8-11) at Sheffield Central Children’s Library and there are two places left and I’d love it if they got filled. So do spread the word if you can.

Here’s the flier.

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The following week I’ll be doing the same at Bollington Library and there are, as far as I know, a place or possibly two still available (we’ve had a holiday cancellation) and it’d be fab if we had a full house there too.

And after that I’ll have a couple of months to write and to teach and to appear at places (more on that soon) before Beautiful Trees is released. I’m excited about that. An awful lot. And I’ll be able to confirm the release date very soon. Watch this space.

Finishing Things

I finished a couple of things last week. The first was the final proofs for A Book of Beautiful Trees, due out later this year. I’ve said it a few times already on here but I am genuinely so proud of it and with 100% bias I can happily say that it is stunning. I am excited about it (and terrified that I’m the only one who’ll like it) and, really, I’m just looking forward to it being out there so people can make their own minds up.

After I proofed I was proud.

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And then exhausted.

 

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And I birthdayed too because the other thing I finished was my 33rd year.

I got a card.

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There was cake.

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And, later, sushi.

IMG_2926-2And lovely presents too.

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And I had a lot of birthday messages. And I mean a LOT. Thanks, so much, to everyone who was nice to me and to everyone who spent it with me. I’m just glad it’s out the way for another year because, believe it or not, I can get a little grumpy when it comes to getting older (as those close may tell you – I must be very lucky that they put up with me).

And now I’m firmly back in work mode. There are books children have written to be produced and books that adults have written that need editing and I am all over it.

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