Thursday, 14 May 2009


I could beat myself up about how long it is since my last post, or I could gloat about having spent some days in Paris and the north of Scotland, (all in the course of authory duty, naturally).

Or I could do neither and just tell you something useful.

In my usual kindly way, I will tell you something useful and then I will make a comment or three prompted by an inappropriate and unwelcome sight on my train journey home from Aberdeen this afternoon. (You will need to brace yourselves.)

The useful thing
A wonderful website (which is apparently about to be updated, but I'm struggling to see how it could be better - maybe some vouchers for free chocolate or shoes? You know where I am) by UK literary agent Andrew Lownie. It is not enough for Andrew to have a stable of talented authors (including one of my all-time favourites, Daniel Tammet): he has also taken a lot of time to provide a huge bank of info which will help you muchly, whether you are published or not, and agented or not.

Inside the useful thing ...
... are many pages which, if they are not of interest to you, damn well should be. Like Andrew's submission guidelines - although these will inevitably differ from those of some other agents, they provide a paradigm of the sort of rules you will be asked to follow. And hey - he IS looking for new and unpublished wonderful authors. (Trade secret: agents always are.)

And the FAQ page will also tell you a great deal of stuff which I've said before myself, and which other similar blogs and sites will tell you, but nicely set out in one place, instead of hurled at you in dollops in a shouty way, as I tend to do in my crabbit moods. Andrew is absolutely not crabbit. (Well, he may be, but he doesn't seem so on his site.)

When an agent takes the time to explain everything so clearly, the least we can do is read it.

Trouble is, he doesn't tell you the most important thing - how to write the right book brilliantly in the first place. But that's not his job. It's mine ... and one day I will get back to it. (Meanwhile, if you're new to my blog, go and check out the posts with "right book" labels.)

Meanwhile, the inappropriate thing:
Please bear in mind that this was a gorgeous evening in Scotland and I should have expected to see something like this:

Or, this (please excuse the flies on the window):

Or, for those of you who appreciate the wonderful engineering of the Forth Rail Bridge, this:

Clearly, I did see those things, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to photograph them. However, it was difficult to see or focus on those views because of this:

These are the feet of a tourist who I think had been doing a lot of walking. (The clue was the blisters, which you can't see.) The feet are not pleasant, nor are they appropriate things to put on a seat which I might one day have to sit on. They did not enhance my journey at all. They served only the pure self-indulgence of their owner. If you could have seen them as closely as I did, you would have noticed many unpleasant details about them.

Now, I have a reputation for making my many negative travelling experiences tell a story or make a point of vague relevance to this blog. This is no exception. In fact, I have four points to make, to fill in the gap in Andrew Lownie's education of you (the gap being, if you remember, the all-important advice about writing the right book).
  1. Whereas that woman entirely failed to consider what those around her wanted to see, you should, when writing, think of the reader at all times. If the reader would not appreciate something, leave it out. (Or in the case of feet, don't get them out at all.)
  2. Do not be self-indulgent as a writer: that woman was thinking only of her feet and her own comfort. You do not have that luxury. You have a job to do, and that includes attracting and then keeping your reader.
  3. Be appropriate. This does not mean that your book may not contain horrible / gruesome / outrageous things, only that they should only be there when they should be there. That woman was perfectly entitled to remove her shoes, just not there and not then. The art of the writer is to know exactly what word or what detail to reveal and to know how and when.
  4. When you include something inappropriate or ill-considered in your writing, you detract from the surrounding beauty of your language. You wreck the view. Don't do it.
I had actually almost prepared a very topical and important (naturally) post about writing in a recession, but the recession can now wait till tomorrow, or more likely Saturday.

Unfortunately, I cannot tell you the really really annoying thing that happened to me today. Suffice it to say that someone is going to find themselves appearing in one of my books very very soon and coming to one of the most appropriately nasty ends that I can imagine. And I can imagine a few.


Donna Hosie said...

Are those feet green?! Eww.

I will check out Mr. Lownie's site forthwith - thanks for the link and good to have you back.

Elen Caldecott said...

Oh Nicola, some warning, please!
'This blog contains images which some readers may find disturbing; while others may need to be coaxed down from the ceiling where they cling by their fingernails in terror.' Something like that. In colours.
(I hate feet.)

Weronika said...

Thanks for the great link, and what a picture. That is epic. :)


Ebony McKenna. said...

I like feet, but only my own.

Once, on an aeroplane, the person behind us took his shoes off and shoved his feet waaaaay under my husband's seat.

We thought there was something dead stuck in the chair. We called the attendant and he found us some new seats.


Thank you. I feel a strange sense of calm now...

Sarah said...


I wore several nice blisters into my feet yesterday. I understand the desire to get out of the offending shoes and prop up your feet. If it had been a long train ride, I'd have been tempted to do the same thing.

Still, I would have loosely wrapped them in a coat or something first!!! (How would that figure into the foot flashing/ writing metaphor, I wonder?)

Glad to hear your trip was gloat-worthy, Nicola. It's good to have you back.

Sally Zigmond said...

I hope you said something. I would have. I can hear myself now. 'You may think your feet are beautiful and we are all agog with their beauty and radiance. But let me tell you; they are ugly, disgusting and are probably even now depositing all manner of fungal spores and bacteria for some unsuspecting future traveller to catch.'

Then again, if she was bigger than me I might have just scuttled away into the next carriage. Or taken the coward's way out and told the guard--sorry, train manager.

But I definitely know what I will do. I'm going to write a story about it.

Nicola Morgan said...

Sally - at last: I am inspirational! (Or was it just the feet ...?)

Helena Halme said...

I too hate feet, particularly bare ones belonging to a stranger.

Regarding the lesson of today, how to write a good MS, isn't it true what some-one once said about killing your babies? Take out all bits that you are particularly proud of, sentences you've slaved over and think will win you the next Booker Prize. They’re bound to be the skanky bits of your body no-one wants to see.

Jean said...

Feet on a seat comes high in my list of pet hates. It happens a lot on local bus journeys. I'm sick to death of seeing people with their feet up on the seat and they're often wearing muddy shoes. People have to sit there when they've gone. Oh, don't get me started... It infuriates me.

Joel said...

I'm in the process of writing my first book (niche non-fiction), and could really use some advice. The unusual thing about my book is that every copy has to have 1-2 pages of unique text. (Similar to kiddie books in which the child's name is inserted.) I need a professional looking end product, at a cost that allows me some room for profit at a $15-ish retail price.

Have contacted MANY resources; places like xlibris & lulu; authors of kiddie books, literary agents. No luck. Can anyone here help? How DO they print those customized kiddie books? If I have to go down the "print-it-myself" route, does anyone know of suitable programs, laser printers or binding solutions?

Thanks in advance!
Joel Heumann