BPA First Novel Award, PitchWars, and More

Photo by John-Mark Smith on Unsplash

Hello! It’s past time for another horribly belated blog post. Sense a theme on this blog? But I actually do have various updates to share. Spoiler: I’m not even going to share all of the updates in one blog post, because this is overly long as is. Please visit again for more news.

Right, so onto the promised updates. Let’s start with the freshest news – the BPA First Novel Award 2020, which is an international competition for unpublished novels through the Blue Pencil Agency based out of London, UK. On a lark, I entered two manuscripts and I was thrilled to see that my most recent novel, ‘The Curation of Eamon O’Reilly’, made the longlist in July, one of twenty novels from nearly a thousand entries. I remember waking up in the middle of the night (benefits of being a natural insomniac) and checking the announcement. I had to read it twice to make sure it was real. I was excited to come so far with my latest manuscript.

I figured that was it, and I was lucky to get onto the longlist, but to my ongoing shock, it made the shortlist too, which definitely exceeded expectations. And then came the most exciting news of all — the novel came in as the Runner-Up in the BPA First Novel Award! Even though it’s been just over two weeks since that announcement, I can’t believe it. I’m thrilled to have this work recognised as one of the winners in the competition.

I feel very encouraged to keep going with this manuscript. It’s a contemporary literary novel about a seventeen-year-old genderfluid main character, Eamon O’Reilly, who runs away from home so he can live away from his alcoholic da, and be free to wear the beautiful dresses the he dreams of. As a trans person myself, interested in gender and its expression, it’s important to me to see more trans representation in adult fiction. It’s meant a lot to me to write this story. I’m still going down research rabbit holes, and I would love to be able to travel again after the pandemic to revisit places in the story, where I’ve visited or lived in the past.

Photo by Eugenio Mazzone on Unsplash

And a PitchWars update!

Well, as you’ve probably figured out, I’ve survived the angst of the PitchWars showcase last February, and the months that followed querying that novel. As it is so often in publishing, I send things out into the world. And wait. Unfortunately, much as I love this story, I haven’t received any representation for it so far. That said, I’ve gained a lot of other important things in the process.

Again, a shout-out to my amazing mentor Gwynne Jackson, who went above and beyond in mentoring me through two editing rounds in PitchWars and read and re-read additional scenes, and provided no end of support during the querying. I also gained a fabulous community in my PitchWars 2019 class, who are a great group of talented and engaging people. For anyone considering a mentorship program, I recommend it (others include Write Team Mentorship Program, WriteNow, Author Mentor Match, Madeleine Milburn Mentorship, and more) to gain insights into editing and the publishing industry. There’s also various novel writing courses available through Curtis Brown Creative and Faber Academy, etc.

I came in totally green without any creative writing courses. Some others were savvy to publishing already, or had MFAs. I think even the process of applying to a mentorship scheme is a valuable practice for querying, pulling together a tight submission package, polishing pages, and a query/cover letter, and most of all, finding a way to keep calm during the wait.

Another spoiler: publishing is a hurry-up-and-wait for 99% of us. Plus, there’s no guarantees.

There’s a lot of hard work and some luck too. Of the hundred-plus mentees from my group, some have found agents, and some are still seeking representation. Some are on submission to publishers, and are once again waiting. There’s people who have been agented before, and people who are looking for an agent for the first time on their first manuscript. Previous writing experience ranged a lot in our class, with the majority of people having written at least a couple of novel-length manuscripts. For me, the manuscript that made it into PitchWars (and on the 2019 Bath Novel Award longlist), is my fourth novel. Two are in a drawer, and one is in-progress. And the fifth is Eamon’s story, and I’m still writing.

If you’re still reading this blog post, I’m very impressed. Things I’ve learned out of all of this is that it’s important to have some kind of self-care during PitchWars and in publishing generally. It’s best to make a plan early — a plan that works for you.

There’s so many things that are out of your control in publishing: getting into a mentorship programme, placing in a contest, finding an agent, finding a publisher. The only bottom line is to keep on trying, keep on going. Sure, you need some ability, but more than anything, you need perseverance to keep going. And the discipline to learn, edit, and keep trying. That’s it. Sometimes, it’s fine to step out for a bit, take a breather. In fact, I need to do other creative things to fill the well, so to speak. Once, travel would be a way do do that too, and hopefully one day again before too long I can do that again.

For me, my big confession is that I write first for myself. I don’t do it for the external recognition of an agent or publisher (though great), because that’s outside of my control, and it’s a fiercely competitive industry.

I write because I love it, anything from poems to novel-length works and others in-between. I will always continue to write, because that’s how I relax, and how I feel most myself. I do want readers… but I also wrote fiction in secret for over twenty years, till a health challenge made me rethink things a few years ago, and I started workshopping my fiction. Yes, there’s hard days. Yes, there’s really, really hard days. But I love disappearing into fictional worlds, meeting new characters, and I hope one day I can share them with you.

Thanks for stopping by — happy writing!

PitchWars Update

Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash

I don’t know how we’ve reached February already, but it’s nearly PitchWars showcase eve, and I thought to do a well overdue blog update. I’d like to say I’ve been channeling those wordlings into revising my manuscript under Gwynne Jackson’s fantastic mentoring. The last three months have flown since the announcements were made in early November.

Gwynne’s been amazing to work with and I feel so lucky to have her as my mentor. She’s been so insightful, kind, and hilarious, which is an awesome combo. She’s guided me through PitchWars homework and a great edit letter and two rounds of revisions.

My Life in Highlighters: The Autobiography. Photo by Hugh Blackthorne.

As of 31 January, all of my materials are in for the showcase, polished to a shine. I’m so pleased with the revisions to the manuscript, expanding on certain points and tightening up in other places. I’ve loved writing this novel–and editing it with Gwynne’s guidance.

There’s been early mornings and late nights. Cats have helpfully edited by osmosis to earn their keep, lying on top of a manuscript print-out and taking pencils away.

One of the cool things about PitchWars is the great community amid the mentees. Everyone’s keen to cheer each other on. We’ve loved hearing about each other’s stories. And like I saw another mentee mention, I’m looking forward to the showcase on 5 Feb as a celebration of everything that we’ve accomplished in the last three months. I’ve definitely learned skills I’ll be taking on to my next project–and made writing friends who understand the journey.

Now, I’m excited to see what’s ahead for all of us.

PitchWars!

pwlogo-homeLots of things have been happening in all directions this autumn, including PitchWars! On November 3rd, 2019, the 2019 PitchWars mentees were announced. I am over the moon to have been selected by Gwynne Jackson as my mentor. It’s pretty much taken me the month of November to get over the shock and nagging imposter syndrome.

I chose Gwynne because not only is she incredibly positive and encouraging, but she was keen on adult fiction LGBTQ stories and a romance writer. She was open to a variety of genres to mentor. So much in her wishlist resonated with me. I wanted her help with building up the strong romantic subplot in my novel, which is at it’s core about found family. The premise: When an archaeology student loses his family, he looks to the ancient world to find a way to live again.

For the next couple of months, I’m head down on edits on my novel ‘How to Bury the Living’ to polish it up for an agent showcase in February. Which, I have to say, is pretty cool. But the coolest part of all for me is working with Gwynne, who is fantastic, and getting mentored in how to approach edits and to meet schedules on said edits. We were interviewed recently for PitchWars and you can find out more about us and my novel here.

Gwynne’s feedback has been amazing, along with her encouragement. And she’s fun on Twitter too. Together, we’re #TeamRebelCats because between us, apparently we have a lot of house lions.

Last but not least, the great PitchWars community is a huge too. There’s lots of encouragement and support behind the scenes as we tackle our revisions in a short window of time. Writing’s tough and isolating at times, so it’s great to have support all around from other writers. That’s the real win.

 

Surrey International Writers’ Conference

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Taking the ferry to the mainland for the conference.

I have some exciting news to share. I found out this autumn that I was lucky enough to receive the Diversity Scholarship to attend the Surrey International Writers’ Conference in October 2019, held in Surrey, BC. For those who don’t know the conference, it’s a three-day event that brings together writers, including everyone from emerging writers to best-selling authors. It’s a very welcoming and inclusive conference.

When I went to the registration day on the first morning to check-in, I just about fell over when I picked up the program and found myself in it with a terrific bio. I don’t know why, but I was sure the questions they’d asked me would end up on their blog instead. At any rate, it was a great surprise. It was also an icebreaker all weekend meeting people who had seen me in the program. I’ll definitely admit to some imposter syndrome, but I had some excellent conversations with people I met over the weekend.

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All weekend I attended fabulous sessions, from panels to Q&A sessions to craft topics, and much more. One of my favourite panels had to be one by several authors on plotting. Spoiler alert: all of the panelists were pantsers. I felt immediately cheered, because I’m mostly a write-on-the-fly sort myself. There was great discussion. Other great moments included talking to Kevin Hearne about including nonbinary characters in fiction.

I attended an agent pitch session for my novel, which went well. It was the first time for me pitching in person. Luckily, there was so much going on over the weekend I didn’t have time to get too nervous. I also attended a Blue Pencil critique session on my current novel manuscript and had some very encouraging feedback from Denise Mina, plus a bonus laugh over how amazing London Drugs is, a Canadian shop that sells just about everything under one compact roof. Her keynote speech at dinner on Saturday night was inspiring and hilarious–and a fair warning about eating too much ham on a book tour that all writers should heed.

Despite being more introvert than extrovert, I came away from the conference feelingย  inspired and energised about my own writing. I loved how approachable and friendly everyone was at the conference. There’s something very special about this conference. I definitely recommend attending if you haven’t been before. It was cool to hear authors who have attended many other conferences saying that there’s a special energy at SiWC.

I want to send out a very big thanks to the scholarship committee for selecting me. I’m definitely going away with a lot of ideas to inspire my work and a community of writers. I’ll do another post soon about some of the great sessions I attended.

CBC Nonfiction Prize

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Ruins in Chania, Crete, Greece.

I’m very pleased to share that my piece Original Copy has been longlisted for the 2019 CBC Nonfiction Prize with 31 other writers from across Canada. For the non-Canadians, the CBC is our national broadcaster. They have three literary prizes each year: nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. It’s really exciting to know that my story resonated with the prize readers.

The story is about visiting my father in Greece after being estranged for many years, while also navigating my trans identity. It was a challenging trip in a lot of ways, including a 40 C + heatwave that lasted for days during a garbage strike. Amid all of this, on Crete, I found strength in private moments. And I spent plenty of time wondering over both ancient and more recent ruins, and considering reclamation and regrowth.

2019 Update

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If only this was my top secret writing lair. Let’s pretend it is.

Admittedly, I’m well behind on updating my blog. But it’s not all bad news… instead, I’ve been working away on various writing projects in a top secret location.

2019 has brought some exciting things for writing amid the chaos.

I’ve had three poems published this past spring. The first piece is unravelling at PS I Love You (February 2019). The second piece is we regret to inform you, at Anti-Heroin Chic (March 2019). The third piece is The Curation of Ghosts at Impossible Archetype (March 2019). I’ve also learned that apparently intermission at the ballet is a great time for me to write poetry. Soo, more ballet next season?

On the fiction front, even more exciting news: my latest (unpublished) novel has been longlisted for the 2019 Bath Novel Award. Since judging is blind, I can’t reveal the title yet, but I’m amazed to have been included in such good company. It’s been great fun following updates on Twitter, including teasers about the novels ahead of the longlist and shortlist. Stay tuned.

There’s other cool things ahead this autumn that I can’t speak about yet, but eventually I will have some more updates from September.

Snowpocalypse

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Snow in Victoria? What treachery is this?

Here on the west coast of Canada, we don’t do winter well. Especially in Victoria, which is a safehouse for Canadians fleeing winter across the land. But this year, we’ve had a full on winter with real snow and black ice and snow shoveling and all the rest. I even sprained my wrist after a spill on said black ice. But I’ve had the luxury of a fireplace to sit by, and a view to peer at from my new place in Victoria. I can even glimpse Craigdarroch Castle, a Scottish baronial mansion, which is perfectly fitting for the Scots theme running through much of my writing.

The benefit of real winter, though, is that things slow down, and it’s much better for getting writerly things done.ย  So aside from keeping the supply of hot toddies at the ready, I’ve been at work revising A Modern Education, and I’m quite pleased about that. At last sighting, the novelette weighed in at about 13,000 words. And now that I’m thinking of a couple more scenes at least, it’s going tip into baby novella territory at this rate.

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Beautiful, but the tracks careening off to the left suggests that Victoria drivers may have a little trouble aiming for the road.

I’m also hatching a plan about revising the novel draft and picking up on writing the first draft of the second novel in the Professor Justin Fintry series. It’s hard to imagine that it’s only been a year since I’ve started writing this series. It’s been a lot of fun and I’m keen to get things out soon for folks to read and enjoy. I’m still weighing publication routes to pursue for this series.

Part of the fun of this series for me is the combination of archaeology and magic, and the chance to root it all in history. For the series, I’ve been researching early 1960s East Africa, and for the novelette, I’ve been taken to the early 1990s in Cambridge and London, as well as the Highlands. I’m excited to dip back into historical research for revisions on the novel draft. My goal would be to get to the UK later this year for some research, but we’ll see what’s in the cards for me this year.

Right now, it’s a long weekend in the winter, and I better get back to some editing. ๐Ÿ™‚

2017 Brings New (Writing) Adventures

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Impressionist winter dawn through the Gulf Islands.

Happy New Year! Best wishes to everyone for a great 2017 and plenty of writing and reading time too.

For me, 2017 is a big year starting with all kinds of new things, after a tough 2016. First thing for me in January is moving to a different city, and starting a new job, which I’m very excited about. Victoria is beautiful, and I’ve lived there before and enjoyed it. By some miracle, I’ve found a great place to live in 0.2% vacancy. My sacrifice to the Apartment / Flat Hunting Gods was only one (epic) spill on black ice. Vancouver, by the way, has descended into the next Ice Age this winter, and a surging glacier has taken the suburbs and is bearing on downtown. Watch out for woolly mammoths!

And with this move, I’m getting my own space again, and at last room for all my books. Many of my books have been shuffled about and in storage for quite a few of the last ten years. I’m planning on fulfilling my dream of enough shelving, after a big sort and cull. I’m sure it’ll be a voyage of rediscovery.

What I’m really looking forward to, though, is having a place to read and write.

This has been a long time in coming.

But highlights of 2016 included writing the first draft of my novel, first in a series, and my writing group. I had one short work published, and another story received an honourable mention in a contest. I discovered the main character I never expected to have, and started developing a whole world the series. So 2016 did have a silver lining for me.

My main writing goal for 2017 is to finish the draft, through a couple more rounds of edits and revisions, and get going on book two.

And at long last, reading time! I have a reading mountain, rather than a pile to get caught up with, slowly but surely. If you’re curious, you can track my reading adventures on Goodreads.

Happy writing in 2017! ๐Ÿ™‚

The Galloping Consumption + NaNoWriMo 2016

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My outlining set-up, with all the colours. I like to go analogue and start scratching out notes on index cards. Behold at the top of the screen, outlining in progress for book 2.

I had the best of intentions for NaNoWriMo this year:

I had the outline ready for book 2 for my Professor Justin Fintry series, plus most of my background prep in order.

After a very busy summer of physio and such things, I was more than ready to set into some first draft writing.

What better motivation than NaNoWriMo?

I participated in NaNoWriMo last year, and won. I wrote the first version of book 1 in my series from November through to the end of January. And then I started in fairly quickly on the new and improved book 1 from February to May. I had all kinds of plans of writerly things to do this past summer, but physio and active rehab took over.

So, right. I was motivated. And ready. I’d been psyching myself up for NaNoWriMo for months.

And then I got the damned galloping consumption (read: bronchitis, not tuberculosis) at the start of November.

My plans went out the window fairly quickly, but I flailed about for the first week of November, trying to write. I lost my voice entirely for a week and then squeaked for another. You’d think being quiet would be good for writing, but nope. Days of fever, foggy brain, etc. And that cough.

I’m kind of scared to go back and see what I wrote.

BUT…

I did write over 16,000 words, including two more chapters for that book 1 draft, and two starting chapters for book 2. So that’s definitely better than nothing, but it would take some manner of Christmas miracle to get my 50K words in before midnight on the 30th.

Which brings me nicely to December.

I figured: Hey self, since we’re all geared up for NaNo, and prepared, and now at least in the final stages of the whooping cough (apparently I enjoy being overly dramatic), why not write in December? Christmas tends to be low key around here, so why not?

Now the odds are looking good that I may be moving cities next month on fairly short notice, but I don’t know for certain yet. Because who doesn’t enjoy that sort of thing at the last minute? ๐Ÿ™‚ Think of it as the ultimate in writerly procrastination.

Now I need to go wash some walls and wheeze quietly in a corner.

Did you participate in NaNoWriMo 2016? How did you fare?

 

 

Skeleton Key and Other Autumn 2016 News

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Despite being convinced that I have the galloping consumption, I’ve been busy behind the scenes working on various projects. So here’s the round up for the last little while:

My flash fiction story Skeleton Key (1,500 words) was published by the Scottish Book Trust over the summer. I’m still very pleased about that.

My novelette A Modern Education (13,500 words) received an Honourable Mention in the Writers’ of the Future Contest (Vol. 33, Q.4).ย  I’m now working on some more updates on the story. It’s a backstory with Professor Fintry set in the early 1990s with his wayward nine-year-old son. Spiderman and the Fae may be involved.

I’m still in the throes of revisions on the first novel of the Professor Fintry series. I started the second novel for NaNoWriMo, but I think that the chest infection is winning for now, so I may take a break and get back to this next month. Perhaps some more reading time for me lies ahead…

I also solemnly do vow to update this blog more regularly. Bad, bad writer. ๐Ÿ™‚