Friday, 4 September 2009


Time to celebrate. House-warming for my new address and a big thank you to all those of you who have stuck by me. Oh, and lovely follower Brenda has an agent! See comments after this post.

So, a competition, don't you think? Because parties must have prizes and games and all manner of fun. I'm providing chocolate and sparkly wine. Well, I'm consuming it anyway, and you're welcome to join me if you can find a clean glass. Jane Smith is going to make a cake if there's enough wind in Yorkshire to power her electricity or enough peat in the bogs for her aga and Lynn's beagle is getting the blender ready for the margharitas.

The competition is called: YOU MUST BE JOKING!

Here's how it works. I extract some bits from real covering letters that I've seen. (None written by any of you, I hope.) And amongst the real extracts I insert TWO made up examples. Your task is to guess which two I made up. And, in case of more than one correct answer, there's a tie-breaker.

Because one of the most important things a writer can do is read and be inspired by books currently being published within the relevant genre, your task is to pick a book you admire and recommend in your writerly genre and say why it's so wonderful / paradigmatic / inspirational for you. Your answer should begin:
I recommend writers of ... [YA / literary fiction / crime / whatever]... to read ............ by ............... because ...[no more than 15 words here]
(Secret: we won't actually need a tie-breaker because I predict that no-one will get the answer. Thing is, a whole load of wrong answers is going to be very amusing for me but teach us nothing. Whereas, you writers all sharing your knowledge and love of books will be useful all round. Sneaky? Me?)

Here are the extracts. So, which did I make up? Should be so simple .... Just give the two numbers and your tie-breaker in the comments box below.
  1. I feel, that to only send some some sample chapters, for which you ask for in your guidelines would not truthfully convey the full impact of my work.
  2. My story is aimed at children of all ages, including adults.
  3. Dear Ms [name redacted] or Sir or Madam,
  4. I recommend that you also try to sell Animation Film Rights as I feel that my story has real potential in that area. I am happy to offer these rights to you for your use, subject to an agreement between us, which I am confident will be forthcoming.
  5. I have put my properties in approximate order of commerciality, I hope this is as convenient as your stated preference
  6. I know you ask for a synopsis but I've found that such a thing rather defeats the purpose of sending sample chapters and tends to be an unwelcome exercise for all concerned.
  7. I have a Dream, it's different than others.
  8. I'm Irish.
  9. I would appreciate you take on my work by criticising the structure.
  10. It's an "Idea," Weather you belief or not.
  11. I have had interest in my stories from professionals in the Literary World.
  12. The children's market is as much writing for adults as it is for children and I believe my writing satisfies both.
  13. A little about me: I believe that coolness is emotional constipation.
  14. I feel with a little investment by an agent could really have an impact on the Children's writing world.
  15. (sorry, can't include this one - just too ridiculous ... please ignore number 15. There is no number 15. Honestly. My health is at stake here. I have gone quite mad. It gets worse ...)
  16. All pages are included but will probably need some alterations for the Publishing stage. This will be your prerogrative to advise.
  17. It is with great pleasure I include my synopsis's below as a small portion of the many manuscripts I have written.
  18. I have printed a copy of the book, complete with 289 illustrations, from my Toshiba Satellite with Windows Vista with an Hewlett Packard all-in-one printer (jpeg prints).
  19. I have not enclosed any synopsis but I will say that my work does not include any monsters or magic or cruel adults, unlike all the other children's books you see nowadays.
  20. My writing activates pure imagination and fun and I have tested them on some children and they have really loved them. A few adults have too.
  21. Here is my first synopsis'.
  22. (And here is one of the synopses:) The Extremely Envious Elf: Ernie is an Elf. Even though he has lots of possessions, he's always envious of everyone. One day, he meets a Pixie, (Percy) who is crying and Ernie learns that actually he's a very lucky Elf and he stops being envious. This is, I feel, a lesson which children do need to learn these days. Also, I have chosen names for the characters which will help children learn the sounds of letters, thus helping them improve their reading. For example, Envious Ernie and Percy the Pixie. There are others.
  23. Many professionals have called my stories "quite delightful" and "show lots of potential".
  24. If you don't agree, no problem!
  25. I also have another style of writing entirely and I would be happy to show it to you if you don't like it.
Answers in the comment box. One entry per person.

And now, I need something stronger than coffee.


Fia said...

6 and 25?

I haven't a clue but may I have some chocolate please? I've missed breakfast to read this.

DOT said...

Oh no, I hate competitions. I am so damned competitive, I throw tantrums if I don't win.

Have to go to work now - will think about it and enter later.

Clare said...

Any of these could be real. But... 13 and 18.

I recommend writers of horror and fantasy read The Haunter of the Ring and Other Stories by Robert E. Howard because it will remind you what fun you can have with a rollocking, ripping yarn.

Elen Caldecott said...

Nicola...I think my eyes are broken.

I vote for 2 and 7.

And, readers of children's fiction had better read Holes by Louis Sachar. It sets the bar. More quality than a Christmas selection tin.

Keren David said...

Laughing so much...they could all be made up. Or all true. I'll vote for 6 and 18.

I recommend Autumn Term by Antonia Forest, for masterful characterisation and dialogue and everything really.

HelenMHunt said...

I'm going to go for 6 and 23. It's impossible to know though, because they should ALL be made up, but we know they could all just as well be real. Sigh.

I recommend writers of crime to read anything by Agatha Christie, because her books will make you want to write the perfect crime novel.

Book Maven said...

If you made up any two of these, I salute you as a genius. They all seem equally barmy but I'd love to know what 15 was!

And happy house-warming. I have brought champagne and pains au chocolat.

graywave said...

Amazing. It seems as though English is a second or third language for many of the people who query you. Numbers 6 and 10 are my choices.

I recommend writers of science fiction to read The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. le Guin because this intelligent and beautiful love story shows the heights to which this genre can rise.

Lexi said...

Maybe 6 and definitely 22 - Envious Ernie and Percy the Pixie, indeed; this is you being funny.

I recommend writers of thrillers to read Risk by Dick Francis, because it's a masterclass in how to keep your reader turning the pages.

Catherine Hughes said...

A shot in the dark, here; 12 and 17 are made up.

-- I recommend writers of young adult science fiction and fantasy to read the Dragonback series by Timothy Zahn (SF) or the Abhorsen Series by Garth Nix (F) because they are perfectly pitched at young adults yet are enthralling for adults alike. --

I can feel an Amazon order coming on... Somebody stop me before I end up in the divorce courts!

Rik said...

6 (too obvious, and grammatical) and 22 (too identifiable)

I recommend writers of any novel to read Hyperion, and The Fall of Hyperion, by Dan Simmons because he demonstrates how to interweave different POVs, tense and story threads - making it look easy.

Tim said...

Well 15 (obviously) ... that's you isn't it? Two others? #1 and #10 (unbelievable!)

I recommend writers of crime fiction to read anything by Lee Child or James Patterson because you know you can do better :-)

No? OK ...

I recommend writers of crime fiction to read "Detective Inspector Huss" by Helene Tursten because detectives don't have be angry and have drink problems.

Fia said...

Sorry, should have added that I recommend reading One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson for her humour and ability to cross genres.

Speaking as one who can't manage writing in any genre yet.

Clare said...

I'm going for 6 (reads as if it is written by a writer) and 8 (for sheer randomness)

I recommend beginner writers in all genres to read "Snoopy's Guide to The Writing Life" (Conrad and Schultz) because whatever writing problem you come up against, Snoopy has already encountered and overcome it.

Anonymous said...

11 and 21.

I know you asked for a tie-breaker recommendation but I've found that such a thing tends to be an unwelcome exercise for all concerned and would not truthfully convey the full impact of my choices and liverwurst.

The Proe

D said...

I'll say 18 and 22, though they're all very appealing, and for a recommendation I'd also like to pick HOLES (if that's okay...).

I recommend writers of children's novels read HOLES by Louis Sachar because it's suspenseful and significant, has Dahl-like dash, humour and warmth, and is fresh and original.

DanielB said...

Oh, all right, I'll play! I think 11 (as it is something I know a lot of agents and editors see time and time again, so I think it's a sufficiently "well-known" howler for you to include your own version of) and 22 (as I hope Percy the Pixie and Ernie the Elf come from your warped imagination).

I recommend writers of older children's sci-fi to read "The H-Bomb Girl" by Stephen Baxter, because it goes from counterfactual to nuclear horror to Doctor Who pastiche, while remaining wonderful throughout.

Marion Gropen said...

15 and 22.

I'm not a writer, but I enjoy your take on things a great deal. Given that I help new and smaller presses fix their problems:

I recommend that anyone who considers founding a publishing company read an entire shelf of books on publishing including:
Tom Woll's Publishing for Profit,
Pete Masterson's Book Design and Production, and
Fern Reiss' Publishing Game: Bestseller in 30 Days.
Each of these introduces you to a major part of your operation.

(For that matter, authors are usually able to integrate better with their publishers' plans if they understand "how the sausage is made." But like sausage, it may take a strong stomach. You've been warned.)

Anonymous said...

Since the beagle is being pressed into service, I'll refrain from joining in. Rather, I'll make a quick trip across the pond to help Jane with her electricity problems. I'll strap up the beagle and have her run 'round the mulberry bush - or however Jane gets her power...

Sue Hyams said...

You only made up two? Well, I'm going for 6 and 18.

I recommend writers of children's fiction read Heaven Eyes by David Almond because it shows you how to bring together realism, fantasy and deep-seated emotion in one beautifully crafted story.

Suzie F. said...

Oh dear.
My guesses are 6 and 12.

I recommend writers of middle grade fiction to read Savvy by Ingrid Law because it's a whimsical adventure of one adolescent girl and her unexpected companions as she discovers her "special something."

Flixton Mum said...

I could believe that all of them have been sent in to a publisher or agent, but...I'm going to go for 8 because I think it's brilliant and 22 because there is no way that Ernie is an elf and I don't believe elves care that much about pixies to be envious or cure their envy.

Writers of YA fiction should read Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray for its characterisation, dialogue, scene setting and complete readability.

PS: What's the prize? Is it some boots?

Melinda Szymanik said...

6 and 8 because they were well written and made sense so were obviously fake.

I recommend the writer of number 19 read my picture book The Were-Nana because it has monsters, magic and seemingly cruel parents :)

Can i please have salt on the rim of my margherita glass?

catdownunder said...

My cat hair will go on 11 and 22 - random guesses at best.
"Don't blame me blame my brain" by Nicola Morgan. It is an excellent reminder of what it was like to be a teenager. Miaou!

Pippa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pippa said...

#15 is yours, of course. Does it count? I choose #15 and #3.

I recommend writers read 'Bird by Bird', by Anne Lamott because it's soul restoring to laugh loud and long about this crazy compunction to write.

Thomas Taylor said...

18 & 22 look suspicious to me.

I recommend writers of picture books to read Penguin by Polly Dunbar because even the quietest penguin can say it all.

David Griffin said...

"Envious Ernie and Percy the Pixie. There are others." Quick, run!

I'll have a go at 18 and 23. Good game, good game!

Lacer said...

1 and 22

I recommend writers of children's / YA fiction to read The Enemy by Charlie Higson because it's interesting how he's removed the safety net yet his main characters are relatively young

Nicola Morgan said...

I've been away but have enjoyed all your answers! I realise I didn't set a deadline but I'll randomly do the judging in the next day or two. No one has both sentences correct but I've really enjoyed your attempts at unpicking my devious mind!

quine_online said...

9 and 18.

I recommend writers of crime fiction read Donna Leon for her humanity, intelligence, humour, sense of place and consistent high quality.

D said...

*faints* You mean NOBODY GOT BOTH RIGHT? So... *mutters weakly, thinking up evil sore loser suggestion* How about giving us all a second chance, then???? :-) So *castes around desperately* our 1 - 25 second guess could be a booby prize?

Anyway - great competition! Thanks!

Katherine Langrish said...

I was going to leave a comment but then got interrupted and never hit send. So here goes again. I'm guessing 18 and 23.