The York Effect: Angry Robot Deal

Short and sweet, this one. In case anyone missed the news earlier this week: I have a 2-book deal with Angry Robot Books who’ll be publishing my debut fantasy novel The Waterborne Blade in October this year.

The York Effect? I met both editor and agent through one-to-one pitch sessions at the Writers’ Workshop Festival of Writing in York. The event offers a wide selection of workshops and the opportunity for feedback on your work. Well worth attending if you have the opportunity.

Short. Sweet. Scary (in a good way).

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Writers’ Workshop Festival of Writing, York, 2013

This weekend I spent 52 hours immersed in discussion of the technical (and human) aspects of writing. The Writers’ Workshop team provided an excellent selection of workshops at York, as well as opportunities to discuss a sample of your work with agents and book doctors. This year I attended sessions presented by Allie Spencer, Jeremy Sheldon, Julie Cohen, and Jo Unwin. If you get a chance to hear any of them speaking, seize it.

Packing so many thought-provoking exchanges into the weekend was head-spinning. On the Sunday a few of us who’d met at York in 2012 were discussing whether we could justify returning the next year. It was that point in the weekend where the rigours of the student lifestyle were biting, hard. We’d managed to catch the workshops we’d missed last year. We might get stuck in a loop of diminishing returns. The weather this year was cold. Our time might be better spent just getting on with the writing and taking our chances with the slushpile. For some reason we were all busy ignoring the elephant in the room at that point: preparing for the one-to-ones gives you an external deadline to work to if you’re writing on spec. One you can’t rearrange if you have a slow week.

Anyway, the elephant shuffled off to commune with the geese* while we trailed in to the very last workshop. There were all sorts of ideas being batted round the room about which POV to use for a story. My sleep-deprived backbrain was noodling away on an issue readers had raised concerning one of my characters. And someone near the back of the room asked a question about a character’s hidden flaw. Cue the light-bulb moment to end all light-bulb moments. Only bigger. Think lightning strike on a dark night: the kind that illuminates every contour of the landscape, refracts off mist in the hollows and outlines trees on the horizon. Think celestial choirs … Well, no. It was more of a head/desk interface moment. An issue I’d never quite pinned down because I’d been so busy staring at it but not seeing it. Moments of clarity like that are priceless.

The thing is, after being off-colour and getting stuck in an editing rut where I felt I was making everything worse, I so nearly bottled out of going to York at all this year. If it had rained on Friday morning that would have been all the excuse I needed. I’m so glad it didn’t, or I’d have missed an exhilarating weekend. Props to the team at Writers’ Workshop for all the work they put into organising the event.

* The fabric of space and time would be damaged beyond repair if the geese at York university campus didn’t get a look in.

So, that was 2012

2012. The year it rained. And my first year without formal study since 2006. I’d like to claim I threw all my energy into writing amazing things, but in reality I lurched between writing projects and long overdue decorating tasks. Every time I went rabbit-in-headlights with the writing another wall was painted, or another chunk of the garden was weeded and mulched.

During one of my rabbit-in-headlights phases I signed up for the online course Self-editing Your Novel run by The Writers’ Workshop and that turned out to be one of my better decisions. Workshopping for six weeks with a group of enthusiastic writers was a real game-changer and I learned loads, coming away with new techniques for tackling the work-in-progress.

Buoyed up by the course I entered the Bristol Short Story Prize and was bowled over when my science fiction story made the longlist. It was round about then The Fear clambered up onto my shoulder and began whispering: Why would they do that? That’s a rubbish line. Cliché. You cannot be serious … Trouble is, The Fear has a habit of being right on some level.

Since then The Fear and I have filleted the novel, thrown away the rubbish ending, brought one character back into play, refined another character. One of my aims for 2012 was to finish redrafting the novel: I haven’t. But I’ve learned a lot this year, it’s taken time to internalise new approaches. The novel I finish in 2013 will be stronger as a result.

The Writers’ Workshop Festival of Writing in York in early September was one of the high points of 2012. It was a luxury to spend a whole weekend immersed in all things writing-related, and great to meet so many online contacts who turned out to be every bit as lovely in the real world.

Goals for 2013? Finish more stuff and submit more stuff. Starting with that novel.