I am delighted to welcome Gill as she is the person who really made me first believe in my writing.
A few years ago, and still reeling from Lee’s death I was trying to get my life back on track. I had finished a second novel and knew I really needed feedback on it. I contacted Bangor University — in fact I remember sending the email from work (desperate to get out of that place) and eventually I had an email from Gill who was studying for her PhD in Creative Writing at the time, and she offered to mentor me and look at my novel. That was Colourblind, one I still plan to rework. While she was really encouraging and helpful she introduced me to the Writing Group in Bangor (that I later ran!) and to the book club and all the friends that were to have such and still have such an influence on me. Later Gill not only accepted my first short story for publication (the beginning of many thankfully by several publishers) but she also introduced me to publishing and we became business partners. She has taught me so much and is still the person I email when I have writing queries … so thanks so much for being on my Blog Gill …
So over to you …
My name is Gill James. I write mainly fiction for children and young adults but also shorter fiction, including flash fiction, for adults. I lecture in English and Creative Writing at the University of Salford and have an MA in Writing for Children and a P D in Creative and Critical Writing. I’m also a partner in Bridge House Publishing and run a couple of other small imprints.
Have you always wanted to be a published writer? Tell us something about your path to having your first novel published. Have you had other things published first?
I think I’ve always wanted to be a published author but spent a lot of time thinking it was not possible. Some chance odd happenings on a holiday got me writing an adventure story for children. This won a prize of a short-run of books. This was a bit of a fluke because it took me a while to get the next novel out The Lombardy Grotto with a small publisher, Butterfly. In the meantime I had several educational books published – the first in 2000 and I’m still earning a little money each year from those titles.
Do you have an agent? If not did you try to get one? Any advice about that?
I don’t have an agent though I still try to get one – and then often, in the end, I’m glad I didn’t. I seem to have more luck with finding the exactly right small publisher and they tend to work better without agents. I once met an agent who had only taken on a book because I’d written it a good review. She hadn’t even read the book. But I will carry on trying to get one because they are really good at negotiating with the big publishers. Should I get a deal off my own bat with one of the big publishers, I might seek out an agent but I think I’d be a little resentful that they were only taking me one once I’d got a contract in the offing. I usually ask the Society of Authors to vet contracts – they’re very good at this. We base Bridge House contracts on what we’ve learnt from the Society of Authors.
Do you belong to a writing group? Crit group? Have you had someone professionally critique your novel before submitting or publishing? How was that? Would you do it again?
I run one critique group in Chester and I occasionally go to another in Manchester. After I finished my MA we carried on meeting once a month for four years in Winchester. One or two more people joined us. I also used to meet an SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) critique group in the back room of the Sherlock Holmes Hotel, Baker Street London. The London and Winchester groups were quite serious. I’ve now learnt to keep my own counsel quite a lot more.
I also learn a lot from running workshops with my students – usually about three a week – and marking their work.
I’ve not had a professional critique except for a short passage as part of a Cornerstones course. It was excellent but very expensive.
Did you have your book accepted by a traditional publisher or choose self-publishing?
I’m published by big houses, small press and I’ve self-published three items. These days I tell my Twitter, Facebook and SCBWI friends. Family and close friends are now a little blasé. My husband now reasonably proudly tells people I’m a writer – but they then expect free books or free advice or tell me they’re going to write a novel one day.
Can you tell of your experience with editors with publishing houses?
One editor was an absolute nightmare. A writing friend working with the same editor refused to have her name on the book and brought in the Society of Authors to arbitrate. My husband said “Who was that who left such a rude message on the phone?”
Another editor simply remarked I could do with a few more higher institutions listed in the back of light-hearted non-fiction book.
I’ve had overzealous copy-editors – particularly those wanting to change my plain German German into flowery Austrian German.
The best all-rounder must be Laurence Patterson at Crooked Cat. He gave a light but professional touch.
Often I find I don’t agree with editorial suggestions though I do agree that what I’ve written doesn’t work. Then we have to find a third way. That can make the work so much stronger that you have to go back and re-edit the rest to bring it up to the same standard. And so it goes.
All the work I’ve had accepted I’ve submitted electronically and have worked electronically with editors. I suspect a theme.
How much marketing have you had to do and how have book sales been?
Book sales have been totally unpredictable. I’m not rich but have so many steady trickles, including PLR and ACLS, that I could live from that income IF I wrote a bit more to increase the number of trickles. I enjoy my work at the university, though, and I think it helps to make my writing better though not necessarily more commercial.
I’ve been on local radio, local television, in local papers and had one book event in a national paper, all mainly arranged by the publisher. Twelve people turned up to the event that made it into the Guardian. I think there is no correlation between one marketing event and sales of the related book. It’s rather that it’s streams flowing to the river.
The small publishers give a limited amount of time and the big ones a limited amount of money (which pays for someone’s time or posters, leaflets or wine at launches) to marketing and then it’s down to the writer.
Marketing is hard work. I do as much as I can but in the end I’d rather spend my time on more writing or working with my students. I do a lot of school visits. Again, these don’t lead to direct sales always but they raise awareness.
One of my books was made free on Kindle recently. It was downloaded 157 times and ten people bought it. It’s unusual to sell ten on one day other than when it’s first launched.
Tell us about one of your novels …
My latest not self-published one is Spooking. It’s a light-hearted and gentle paranormal romance. I wrote it mainly when I was on holiday in Tenerife. Available at: LINK
What next? Tell us about work in progress and aspirations. Where do you see yourself in ten years time?
I’m currently working on an adult book – but one that would be readable by teens and young adults. It’s called The House on Schellberg Street and is the biography of my husband’s great-grandmother, a holocaust victim but own who saved the lives of some severely disabled and mentally ill children. It’s really a prequel to Potatoes in Spring, which is my mother-in-law’s story – she was a Holocaust survivor. Potatoes in Spring is doing the rounds with publishers / agents at the moment. There is some interest but nothing definite yet. I have a blog associated with Potatoes in Spring http://potatoesinspring.blogspot.co.uk/ and am about to start one for The House on Schellberg Street.
In ten years? Living off my writing and earning the right to spend my time writing. I sort of do already if you count my day job. Just more presence, really. I want to be invited to festivals rather than promote myself to them.
Any advice for writers who are trying to get their work published?
Keep at it. Don’t give up. If you want this you can have it but it is an enormous IF. Network like mad. Look for opportunities but above all put the writing first. I try to spend the first two hours of every day writing. Not always possible in teaching weeks but otherwise I pretty much achieve that.
Tell us something random about you for the pure hell of it
What do you do when what used to be your hobby is your day job? Well, I sing tenor in a choir. Love it. Here I’m working with others instead of in isolation. Singing lifts the spirits. And they all support me in my writing one way or another.
Finally: can we post an extract of your novel?
I’m sending a little from Potatoes in Spring to whet the appetite …
Renate touched the water-colour of the Christmas rose she had made the evening before. It was meant for the inside cover of the exercise book. Was it dry enough yet to be stuck in yet? It was so clever of Anika to think of this Rundbrief. Now that their school had to close, each girl was going to write a letter in the book and post it on to the next girl on the list. That way they could stay in touch. Renate had volunteered to start it off and had chosen a pretty little note book yesterday.
The painting was dry but she wasn’t too happy about the stem on the flower. She opened her paint box, dipped her brush into the jam jar of water on her desk and then into the green paint, and added a little more to her picture. There. That was better.
She opened the window and placed the painting on the sill, weighting it down with the candlestick she always kept there. The sun was just about rising. She stared out at the garden and the woods beyond. They still looked black. One of the dark days before Christmas, she supposed.
She reread the letter while she waited for the paint to dry.
22 December 1938
This is such an exciting idea! I’m really glad you asked me to be the first. I had thought of waiting a week or two, until I’d got something to report about the Christmas holiday and the new school. But in the end I couldn’t wait. The sooner I send it on to Anika, the sooner it will go round to the rest of you. And the sooner I’ll get it back to read all of your news.
It’s going to be a glorious Christmas this year, anyway. Two weeks of snow, in Stuttgart, they say. We are off to stay there with Oma for Christmas as usual. I’m looking forward to those walks through the hills again – it’ll be such fun in the snow. And I’ll be seeing my cousins and my friend Hanna.
We lit the Adventskranz at coffee time yesterday afternoon. Wilma had made a really lovely one with fir branches and nice fat white candles. Mother had baked one of her famous Apfelkuchen. She makes them so nice with big chunks of apple and lots of cinnamon. My favourite.
I love this time of year. Even father seemed in a brighter mood than usual. Both he and mother have been so serious-looking recently. There’s something wrong, I think, and they won’t tell me what. Do you remember all that fuss mother made about me going to Mostviel last summer? Well, it’s gradually got worse. Father looking more and more worried, and mother cancelling dinner-parties and refusing to go to the opera. I hope they’re not falling out or anything.
But yesterday they got into a bit of the Christmas mood. I almost choked, though, when the telegraph boy came round.
“Heil Hitler!” he said.
And my father replied “Heil Edler!” Thank goodness the boy didn’t notice. But I was going redder and redder with trying not to giggle. After he had gone I almost spat the whole mouthful of Apfelkuchen out.
That scene repeated itself at dinner. Father knows very well that I hate spinach. And that I just hide it in my mouth until I can get rid of it later. He kept trying to make me laugh. Then it happened. A great explosion of green all over the white table cloth. Mother made a terrible fuss and muttered something about young ladies in her day. Wilma was trying not to laugh, I could tell! Father just roared.
It’ll be funny in January, all being in different places. I’ll see you some of you at the Gymnasium, next autumn. I’m looking forward to hearing all about what the rest of you do at your new schools and about your Christmases.
So I’ll finish now and get this in the post!
Love to you all,
Yes, it was going to be a lovely Christmas. She smiled when she thought of Hani! She would have appreciated the Apfelkuchen. She liked her cake – and it showed. Renate looked down at her own thin arms and tutted. She looked so bony! If only she could curve a bit, like Hani. Oh it was going to be such fun staying with her for the few days before Christmas.
The picture was dry now. Renate carefully glued it into the little exercise book. This was exciting. She placed the book into the brown envelope and neatly wrote Anika’s address. Then she made her way down to the kitchen.
Wilma was there, preparing the breakfast.
“Are there any stamps?” asked Renate.
“On the shelf in the hall. Why don’t you leave that, and Johann can take it when he calls?”
“Oh no!” replied Renate. “I have to take this myself. It’s special.”
“Well, don’t be long. Your mother says you have to pack. And wrap up warm. It’s bitter out there.”
“I’ve done my packing,” replied Renate. She’d decided to wear most of what she was taking. Layers that she could peel off. The train was always so cold at first, and then, usually when they were almost there, it would get unbearably hot and stuffy because by then it would be absolutely packed with people.
She walked quickly to the postbox at the end of the street. It was such a promising day. The sun was getting higher in the sky now. Something ran in front of her, into the nearby woods. It was much too quick for her to see what it was.
So some of you aren’t hibernating, then, she thought.
She felt like skipping but thought that perhaps she was a bit too old. Nothing could spoil this day, though. Not even the huge swastika on the fence opposite.
The house was oddly quiet when she got back. No wireless. Her father was not arguing loudly with the newspaper like he usually did and Wilma was not singing in the kitchen. She could hear her mother and father talking softly but urgently in the dining room. The usual smell of strong black coffee and warm bread greeted her as she went into the room. But the coffee cups were empty and the rolls were still in the basket. Both of them jumped when they saw her. They stared at her, then looked at each other and then back at her. Her mother looked straight into her eyes and opened her mouth to say something. Her father looked away. Her mother’s lip wobbled and tears formed in her already red eyes.
© Gill James 2013 Reproduced with kind permission of the author
Not sure yet who will be in the spotlight next week as still waiting to hear from some writers … so watch this space.
If you have a novel and want to tell us all about it, then please do email me!
Have a great writing day everyone
Keep Believing …