Building Blaggard’s – a guest post by Katherine Wiseman #GangsterSchool

final cover edit 2 v05.pngThis week, I’m delighted to be kicking off the Gangster School blog tour with a guest post from Kate Wiseman. I believe our environment shapes us dramatically, affecting our ever-changing moods and attitudes, and that setting is, therefore, incredibly important in fiction. World building has to be infallible, whatever your genre or theme or intended readership. so I shall hand you over to Kate and her excellent post on Building Blaggard’s, a school for gangsters…  

Writers are always being advised to write about what they know. If you’ve been a police officer, write a crime novel. If you’ve worked in a pet shop, write about working in a pet shop, etc, etc. So when I finally screwed my courage to the sticking place and decided to try to fulfil my lifetime’s ambition of writing a novel, the obvious choice for me was to write something based in a school.

I’d worked in schools for a long time, doing everything from mopping up sick in the kindergarten to helping teenagers with learning difficulties. Of course this isn’t exactly undiscovered territory, so I needed a way of making my school a bit different. Luckily enough the solution to that conundrum wasn’t hard to find, thanks to my son, Harry. As a small boy, he always answered queries regarding his ambitions for when he grew up by saying that he wanted to be an evil genius. He was a strange child. But it planted an idea in my mind – a school for evil geniuses!

I was off to a good start. The name for the school was quite easy to find. I wanted something that conveyed its criminal ethos. I grabbed my trusty thesaurus and looked up synonyms for evildoer. One of the first ones was blackguard, which I thought had the right swash-buckling ring to it. But lots of kids wouldn’t know that blackguard is pronounced blaggard, so I changed the spelling. Blaggard’s School for Tomorrow’s Tyrants was starting to take shape.

I’ve always loved history, especially the gory variety and it seemed important to me to know who had started Blaggard’s, and when, and what had happened to it since. Enter Sir Thomas Blaggard, born in a mud hut in London in Tudor times, eater of stinging nettles because there was nothing else available, bear wrestler and in time, the most successful villain in Tudor London. In my world, he cut off Anne Boleyn’s head and pinched her emerald necklace when the deed was done. Sir Thomas’ first wanted poster has pride of place in Blaggard’s reception. Other famous alumni followed. There’s Sir Bryon de Bohun, the Devilish Dandy and Blaggard’s most infamous ex student. He died when his bullied butler shook up a bottle of champagne and aimed the cork at his heart. His portrait is in Blaggard’s reception too, looking as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. My favourite is Sally Masters, the 18th century highwaywoman. Her nickname is Blunderbuss Sally and she’s the idol of my protagonist, Milly Dillane.

Knowing the school’s history had a big influence in shaping its appearance and layout. In acknowledgement of its Tudor founder, Blaggard’s has a thatched roof (adorned with bear statues, Sir Thomas’ emblem, concealing remote controlled look out cameras) and half-timber walls. It also has a huge, arched front door that Sir Thomas pinched from the Tower of London because he thought it was important to set a bad example. Another example of how the school’s history shaped it can be found in the artefacts on display in the Assembly Hall. My favourite is the badly stuffed body of Sir Bryon de Bohun, a relic of Blaggard’s long-defunct and famously unsuccessful Taxidermy Club. It sits in a glass case and has proved surprisingly vital in several of the stories I’ve written so far.

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The gigantic spectre of Hogwart’s hovers over any attempt to write about school life, and I was keen to differentiate between Harry Potter’s haven and Blaggard’s School for Tomorrow’s Tyrants. One way that I tried to tackle this was by the introduction of numerous high tech touches. As well as the cameras in the swivelling bear heads, there are fingerprint detectors instead of registers and glass shields that spring up in front of the serveries in the dining room, when one of the frequent food-fights kicks off.

OK, I had a school, a rich history, a layout and a location (the sleepy town of Borage Bagpuize, where a stolen wheelbarrow merits a headline in the local paper). Now down to some of the logistical stuff.

For a start, what would the local Dependable (non criminal, to you and me) population think of having a school like Blaggard’s on its doorstep? Obviously they couldn’t know. The school needed a cover identity, so the sign outside Blaggard’s states that the school is Constance Bottomley’s Academy for the Rural Arts, specialising in sheep topiary and corn dolly weaving.

Then the lessons. This was tricky. There was an awful lot that that I couldn’t and didn’t want to include: murder, terrorism, torture, all the dark stuff. But would it be right to leave them out altogether? I consigned these to Blaggard’s rivals – Crumley’s School for Career Criminals, crouching on a hill like a medieval gargoyle. What were the skills that a criminal kingpin would need in order to climb to the top of the felonious tree? They’d need to be very good liars, so I introduced Fabrication (it sounds so much grander than lying). They should be willing to let anyone down at the drop of a hat, so Betrayal was added to the curriculum. They should be nasty and unpleasant so my favourite lesson, Defiance and Discourtesy, became a staple at Blaggard’s, taught by the unfailingly rude Jane Vipond. There are lots of others, of course.

I really feel that all the thought I put into building Blaggard’s was worth it. Knowing my setting came before knowing my characters and it has given rise to much of the madcap action that peppers the Gangster School books. With the introduction of Milly Dillane and Charlie Partridge, two secret Dependables from long established criminal families (to create an immediate problem and sense of their not belonging), I was ready to dive into a world where good is bad, bad is good and where apologising to a teacher lands you in detention.

I love writing about Gangster School. I find it devilishly entertaining and I promise that no useful criminal knowledge is imparted. Or am I Fabricating?

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About Kate Wiseman: Kate is a late developer when it comes to writing. She started writing Gangster School, her first novel, about five years ago. Early incarnations were shortlisted for three national kids’ lit prizes. Her first book deal was with Piper Verlag, Germany, who have published two Gangster School books to date, with two more to come (so far). She is proud to be the very first author chosen for publication by new Manchester-based publisher, ZunTold. The series will also commence publication in Holland in August this year. She is currently working on a new MG series. You can learn more about Kate here

 

 

 

 

 

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Staying Motivated: Writing Across Genres

IMG_4339I’ve always hated labels and I’ve always loved variety; moments in time, new experiences, the unexpected – that’s what makes me tick. Routine makes me feel like I’m trapped in a bog, struggling my way out. It doesn’t work for everyone, but change makes my soul soar.

And that’s why I write like I read – across a variety of age groups and genres, styles and lengths. Although I’ve been coined a children’s author (which, of course, I am!), it is actually only one part of what I do. I also write essays, short stories, story for radio and flash fiction – for both children and adults. Typically, however, when you write a work of longer fiction, i.e. a novel, the other stuff seems to pale in comparison. But if I had to label myself as something, then I think I’d identify with plain old ‘writer’.

BookofRevengecoverDon’t get me wrong; this is not in any way to belittle the fact that I write for children. Ask any children’s writer and they’ll tell you all about the time(s) they were asked the question – when are you going to write a proper book? It’s so common, the wonderful champion of children’s books and authors, Sarah Webb (who writes novels for both children and adults), even created an event for aspiring children’s writers with this as the very title.

So let me start by clarifying: children’s books are proper books, and for anyone rolling their eyes, answer this… How many people come to reading for pleasure as an adult? Not many. Children’s books are at the very core of reading and readers, whatever age you may be, and I cannot stress enough how important they are. How much I love writing them and proud I am to be part of that community. How much it makes my soul soar to be in front of a room of children enthusing over books.

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However, I also love writing other things. Lots of other things. Why? Because I enjoy the challenge. And also, projects and ideas come to me in different forms. Sometimes an idea might require a poem, other times the story might need flash fiction, and other times only an essay can shape the words I want to say. Some of these things will be published and some will not. But that doesn’t remove from the joy – writers write. That’s what we do.

And I’m certainly not alone. Some of the writers that I adore and admire that write across several age groups and/or genres include Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Nuala O’Connor, Roald Dahl Emma Donoghue, E.B White, Stephen King, Zadie Smith and Joyce Carol Oates.

So why do some writers feel the need to keep switching? I can’t speak for any of these prolific and talented writers, but I am pretty confident that every piece they write comes from the heart. You only need to focus on the quality to realise how much each publication meant to them. And remember, for every piece we see, there’ll be reams of stuff hidden in drawers, discarded, that didn’t quite make the grade.

Like I said, writers write. That’s what we do.

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For me, writing a book takes a long time and I have limited capacity for intense focus on a single work in progress – about four hours per day maximum. I find that writing shorter pieces alongside the novels helps to keep me motivated. Instead of taking a break when my concentration on a single piece is up, I switch to something else to keep those writing muscles in full flow. To give you an idea of what I’ve been up to, in the last six months, I’ve had the following published:

There are a few more awaiting decisions, a few more binned for now, and more on their way, all at different stages, edging forward like racehorses until one needs to push ahead to the finish line.

arlenI don’t know why a piece nags at me, demanding to be written, and in a certain way. It’s all about the story is all I can really tell you. But I do know that each piece requires focus, time and dedication, and each carries a little of my soul.

Sometimes a short story can take as long as a novel, if not longer, as I often require more time between edits. I also know that every piece comes with its own challenges and frustrations and sense of achievement as the final words/edits fall into place. Each provides me, in its own (sometimes cruel or meandering) way, with joy.

 And so, if you’re finding it difficult to motivate yourself, or you’ve fallen out of love with your current work in progress (it happens), or you feel like you’re banging your head off a brick wall (that frequently happens), then have you considered writing something fresh and new, in a different genre or style or for a different audience?

It might not work but what have you got to lose? I’d love to know how you get on. 

Dublin launch reminder – The Book of Revenge!

Just a quick reminder that if you’re in Dublin this Thursday (Feb 15th), please join us in Grafton Street Dubray Books at 6.30pm to send The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3 out into the world.

It’ll be helped by an intro from Sinead Gleeson, and Caroline Busher is going to do a quick interrogation interview too!  Everyone welcome! After drinks in Neary’s!

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Publication day: The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3

BookofRevengecoverIt’s official – publication day for The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3 is here! It’s a week earlier than I expected and the nerves have kicked in… let’s hope you all love Ebony Smart’s biggest adventure yet!

So, does publication day feel any different when it’s your fourth book? The answer is no! It’s just as exciting, nerve-wracking, strange, unbelievable, wild and bizarre as every other time. It’s also a whimper, rather than a bang, as all the build-up is towards the launch. But seeing people reading the book, pictures of it on shelves, in hands, on TBR piles is a crazy good feeling. So keep the pictures coming!

I haven’t even seen a copy yet, but hopefully they’ll arrive today! It’s such a great experience, holding your book in your hand for the first time. Until I do, it still feels like an unruly manuscript that has to be kicked into shape!

And so, here’s to the final piece of the Nine Lives Trilogy – off you go, out into the world, The Book of Revenge!

Polish Your Manuscript Ready for Submission

I hope 2018 is off to a great start for you! From the beginning, straight to the end, following on from the last post on motivation, here’s my advice on getting your manuscript ready for submission. This article was originally written for Writers & Artists, but it received such a good response, I thought I’d share it with readers here…

BookofRevengecoverPublishing is one of the most competitive industries in the world, so when you send your manuscript out on submission, you need to make sure it is as polished as possible. You also need to provide an insight into you as an author. A publisher or agent will be looking for talent, but they also need to know that you are professional, that you are dedicated to your writing, and that you will be agreeable to work with. Although the manuscript is ultimately yours, a published book requires collaborative effort and so when an agent or publisher reads your submission, they will be considering all of these aspects. Here are a few practical things to look for before you send out your manuscript, to give it the best possible chance of success.

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You’ve redrafted and redrafted your manuscript and are too close to see any glaring mistakes; here are some common editorial issues to look out for, so you can really polish your manuscript before you hit send.

One Line Pitch

Reducing your manuscript into one line is challenging, but it gives you focus. It also functions in two useful ways; it provides you with a succinct description of your book for your cover letter, and it also serves as a reference point for your own writing. When you reread your manuscript, does it match your one liner? If not, something is wrong – it could be a simple fix or another rewrite, but if alarm bells are ringing, give your manuscript more time.

Read Out Your Dialogue

This sounds obvious but there is no better way to know whether your dialogue is working than to read it aloud. If any dialogue is tricky to say or sounds out of place, it needs more work. This is slow and time consuming, but essential: flabby or unconvincing dialogue pops off the page and can really let a good story down.

Pacing

Look out for sections that slow the action down or cause distraction, such as unnecessary descriptions or information dumping. Are your chapters fluid and do they end in a way that makes you want to read on? The middle section of a manuscript is typically where pace suffers before editorial input – see if you can tighten and prune before hitting send.

Capitalise on Emotion

Every story takes a reader on an emotional journey – so what do you want your readers to feel? Do you want them to be blubbing, splitting their sides laughing or too scared to read on but too hooked not to? Once you have your story, your characters, your redrafted manuscript, reread to see whether you have managed to evoke the desired emotions. If it’s not working for you, it won’t work for your reader either.

Logistics

When you submit your book, it’s not just about your manuscript – you also need to make sure that you are sending desirable material to the right people, in the right way.

Choose Wisely

Is the agent or publisher you are approaching even interested in your genre or the age group you are writing for? This may sound like an obvious question, but despite the wealth of information available online, publishers and agents are constantly bombarded with manuscripts that don’t fit their criteria. It may seem time consuming to check every detail, but submitting work that is not relevant to an agent or publisher will result in instant rejection. Save embarrassment and unnecessary heartache by doing your research.

Presentation is Important

Have you studied and adhered to the submission guidelines requested by the publisher or agent you are approaching? Each will have their own way of working and their own requirements and it is important you follow these exactly. Agents and editors are extremely busy, so they expect to receive manuscripts in the format requested; submissions that do not meet the requirements may go unread. Make sure that you double-check everything on the submissions page of the website before you hit send.

Be Patient

Although it might be tempting to send your manuscript on submission because you’re hungry to get published, sending it out too early will be detrimental to your chances of success. You only have one opportunity to submit your book to a publisher or agent, so don’t send it anywhere until you are completely sure that you have made every improvements possible.

Remember

Literature is subjective and so not every agent or publisher is going to like what you send – they have to be behind it 100% to be able to take you on. So if someone takes time to give you feedback, read their suggestions objectively and see what you can learn. Everyone experiences rejection in the publishing industry, so try not to let it dampen your spirits. I’d love to hear all about your progress – and I guarantee, if you dedicate your time, if you strive to become better at your craft, if you write your stories with heart and keep going, you will make progress.

Keep writing, keep improving and never give up! 

Cover Reveal: The Book of Revenge

So here it is, the cover for The Book of Revenge, out February 2018. It’s the final installment of the Nine Lives Trilogy and out of all my books so far, it was the hardest to write. But the good news is – the manuscript is completed and next time I see it (or anyone sees it for that matter), it’ll be an actual physical book. I’m absolutely thrilled with this design by Sarah O’Flaherty (Mercier Press). I hope you like it too!

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