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Plymouth, Devon, United Kingdom
West Country author, winner of Piatkus Entice award for historical fiction 2012.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Downton Vs Oaklands part 2

Okay, so on Sunday night Lady Sybil, the politically aware and somewhat rebellious daughter of the house, came out with a few lines that were so close to a scene I wrote myself, I sat bolt upright and started mouthing at the TV like a goldfish!

Lady Sybil was talking to one of the housemaids and saying that everything was changing. The housemaid asked if she was talking about the vote, and Sybil said yes, but it wasn't just that, it was everything else too.

Now, here's an excerpt from the scene I wrote last summer - Evie is the the politically aware and somewhat rebellious (!) daughter of Oaklands, and she's talking to her lady's maid:

“Stop repeating what I say, and think about it!” Evie urged. “Don’t you feel a sense of … change? People, women, are thinking less about how many buttons they should wear on their coats, and more about the world and everything in it.”

“I don’t go out in company enough to notice,” I reminded her. “But I’ve heard them in the kitchen talking. Votes and suchlike?”

“Yes, votes. But I’m not just talking about the suffrage movement, Lizzy, I’m talking about all of it; society, the way we live … it’s so foolish the way we carry on, and I can feel, underneath it all, the way we’re clinging on to a way of life that is finally dying.”

Every week I watch this programme wondering if the wonderful Fellowes was hiding under my sofa and peeking every time I went to make coffee!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Downton Abbey Vs Oaklands Grange

Last night saw the first airing of Julian Fellowes's long-awaited Downton Abbey. I've had very mixed feelings about the timing of this, since I finished my book Tainted Legacy earlier this year and have begun querying agents with it over the last couple of months.
This book is something I've wanted to do for years after hearing some of the amazing stories told by my maternal grandmother of her years in domestic service, but it does seem funny that the final push came after watching Gosford Park for the second time -- also a Julian Fellowes classic.

When I was halfway through TL, I started hearing about this new drama penned by Fellowes, due to come out in the Autumn. It's set in 1912 (as is TL) centered on the goings on above and below stairs of a well-to-do Edwardian family (as is TL) who live in a country house called Downton Abbey. (TL's main residence is Oaklands Grange ... come on, that would have just been too mad for words!)

Downton's family is the Crawley family, Oaklands is home to the Creswells. We have a prim-ish Scottish Housekeeper in each, a politically aware daughter of the house, who fights for women's rights, a well-meaning scullery maid (my MC) and at least one scheming and ambitious servant who's likely to be the cause of more conflict than even they're prepared for. These characters might all appear as clichés on the surface, but hopefully my versions have as many quirks and layers as Julian's, lifting them out of that rather shallow character pool.

The urgency to finish, and begin pitching before DA was aired, pushed me on to some extent, but the ease with which Lizzy Parker began to make herself known to me was bordering on spooky. For starters I had never intended to write an entire novel in the 1st person. I've done that with shorts, and with some success, but the thought of writing a novel that way? Nope. I shudder at the thought.
But from the minute I opened up the blank Word document and began typing, Lizzy was there. I've never written anything so fast, that needed so little editing afterwards. Of course I've gone back over it since, and made changes to sentence structure etc, but basically the book now, is the book as I first wrote it. It still astonishes me how it just fell out of my head and onto the screen.

So anyway, I watched Downton Abbey last night, nibbling at my fingernails in case I spotted massive, glaring errors despite my meticulous research, and ended up both hugely relieved, and HUGELY entertained. DA was enjoyable and beautiful to watch right from the beginning (a train features at the very start, and in TL the main character has just disembarked from one, and walks up an avenue flanked by trees - similar to those being gazed at by Bates from his train carriage. Okay, I'll stop now!)

This blog post isn't supposed to be a review of Downton Abbey, it's just a way of setting down my deep pleasure at the beginning of what promises to be both a wonderful way to spend a Sunday night, and a further research tool for any edits I decide to make in my own MS.

What wouldn't I give for the chance to get that MS into Julian's hands, and ask for an endorsement!

You can follow @DowntonAbbey on Twitter.
And me too, of course: @TerriNixon

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Query Minefield

Okay, so here we are once again at the query stage. I've not given up querying The Dust Of Ancients, but I have this shiny new MS that I'm currently a lot happier with - largely because I think it'll be easier to place, genre-wise.

Tainted Legacy is straight historical fiction. There's a romantic element; and a bit of physical tussling sometimes resulting in death; and a stolen diamond; and there's even a ... nope, not giving anything else away here! But basically, yeah, it's historical fiction.

Right, so time to brush up on current thinking regarding that old chestnut; the query. Once again I'm so mired in confusion and conflicting advice/requirements. I read Query Shark religiously, read all the comments; the wins and the fails, the confused, the questions, the agreements, the disagreements ... and I read other agents' sites, where I discover everything I've learned is a huge no-no.

QS requires an immediate hook, the word count etc at the end, and the query to give a strong indication of what the story is about. Other places insist you begin with the info, and that you include a personal bio. QS states no bio unless it's relevant, others say they want to get a feel for the writer.

So, I signed up to this thing called Query Test where you can submit a query to a virtual slushpile, and have other people read it and tell you whether or not your query has their attention. Okay, so I've had 2 'no' replies so far, and both of them give their reason as 'it's not to their personal taste' and it's not a genre they read.

Well, I'm sorry, but is this going to accurately reflect a query's chances? I wouldn't send my query or my MS to an agent who isn't seeking historical fiction, or who doesn't represent it.

I've had a couple of decent e-mailed rejections from (actual) agents, both of whom have complimented it in one way or another, but being told your query is no good because the reader doesn't like historical fiction is like being told you're ugly because the beholder prefers blondes.

Anyway, since there's no method of replying to those Query Test observations, I thought I'd blog about it instead, and vent a little bit here. I'm bloody exhausted with it all, to be honest!
I follow the different requirements as far as they're laid down by different agents, but most of them don't tell you if they're from the school of "less is more" or "gimme everything."

Well, I've bitten the bullet (oh no! a cliché!) and sent my query to QS for ceremonial ripping-to-shreds, and will await the verdict, if I get one.

One final note - The Tooth Fairy = epic win! Except I kept thinking that now, whoever reads my short-story: A Tooth For A Tooth, about the tooth fairy's revenge, is going to think I nicked bits of the film. Ah well.

Oh, and a final-final note: Julian Fellowes is currently writing/filming a series set in a big, Edwardian country house, about life above and below stairs. Hmm, maybe he's copying me!