I have moved the whole blog to a new address. Please join me over there as no new posts are being added here and I have removed key info from this old version ...


When you get there, PLEASE rejoin as a "follower" - changing addresses means I lose my 230 lovely friends!

NB also - all comments are intact on the new version.

Friday, 26 June 2009


Well, here we are: Submission Spotlight time! I did find it rather amusing - and sweet and touching - how nervous you all said you were. Some of you said this was worse than submitting to an agent or publisher. Yes, because it's public ... Sorry about that.

I have picked TWO submissions. One, aimed at adults, is in this post; the second, aimed at younger readers, is in the post above. If yours hasn't been picked, fear not (or perhaps do fear ...) I will pick more another day. And anyone else can still send in submissions.

Please remember that I asked participants to write a short letter (like a query letter) and then give us the first c500 words - so this is NOT a normal submission. If you want to remind yourselves of the task, it's here.

Ground-rules for all commenters:
  • please DO comment - there's no point in this if no one does
  • please imagine that you ARE an agent/editor who accepts this sort of material. In other words, if it's good enough, then it IS up your street
  • be brief - you don't have to write an essay (in fact, please don't). Ideally, you might give one positive and one negative point
  • please be constructive. Although we have to learn to take criticism (which will happen a lot and very publicly when you are published ...), it has to be offered in a considered and careful fashion, in a way that will not overly bruise.
  • try to be specific - for example, don't say "need to tidy up the grammar" without giving some examples
  • please note what type of book the authors claim them to be and judge them accordingly
  • ask yourself some of these questions:
  1. does the idea behind the book grab you (assuming that you would normally go for this genre)? Is it a compelling idea? Exciting, intriguing?
  2. has the author managed to encapsulate the idea in the best way?
  3. does the standard of writing give you confidence that the rest of the work is worth reading?
  4. is there anything that puts you off, and how do you think the author might consider working on it?
  5. are there any habits which, in your opinion, detract from the work?
  6. is this a book that you think could sell? Is this a book that fits easily within an existing successful genre?
  7. how could the work be improved?
Some of you will be commenting as readers; others as agents / editors. It would be helpful if you would start your comment by by indicating which of these applies to you, so that the authors know how to take your comments.

NB - although "Dear Agent" is not normally acceptable, it's fine for this exercise, because it's imaginary.

Finally, please applaud the bravery of these writers! (And the authors can and should respond to comments).

Here goes (and good luck "Yellowstring"!):

Dear Agent,
Please find attached the first five hundred words of my novel, Talking with Kotov, a book on identity and the complexity of truth and fiction. The chapters alternate between two main characters: Ruth, who lives an essentially detached existence, compiling notes on other people, following one woman in particular and documenting her life, and paranoid Melissa (the woman whom Ruth is following) who painted her house with a dead bird, and turned her kitchen into a collage of post-its to try and release her problems into the world. The link between the women is hidden in clues throughout the novel, until revealed two thirds of the way through, however Ruth's narrative is always marred by whatever book she is reading at the time, so much so that the reader is asked to closely engage with what he is reading and decide which parts are true.

When finished, the novel will be between 55,000 and 65,000 words, a literary piece aimed towards an adult audience, especially those who are fans of such authors as Ali Smith or Kate Atkinson. I can send a complete synopsis and further chapters upon request, and look forward to hearing your thoughts on representing my book.

Yours sincerely,


It wasn’t hard to track her down; Ruth etched each of her beelines into the tube map so hard that the whole thing sprang back open as though disemboweled. She'd set her watch three minutes ahead of Big Ben, just to be prepared; she knew never to trust a man with four faces, especially when each of those kept running around in pointless circles, ticking like some sort of bomb. But no, she shouldn't think of bombs.

he, on the other hand, made sure her journey was linear, crossing the town in a perfect square, hopping from bus to bus to avoid the curves, towing the yellow lines right into the groove.She walked the Central line, the red capillary straight, mentally mapping the sixty thousand blood vessels hammering under her own skin: tarmac over live wire. She considered herself a personal navigation system, beeping (internally) with every step she took, honing in with an invisible radar, and her destination overlooked the number seven bus stop, where free newspapers hid worn out faces, and tourists wore rucksacks as fetuses on the outside. They made clothes look like skin, skinny jeans the new answer to anti-wrinkle cream. The handbags gleamed, the oyster cards tapped. Ruth eyed the line-up as she made for the pavement, but each blonde hair was not the right shade.She tried to move quickly, always on the look out for those arty types who liked to freeze in public places, frightened she'd be caught up in the theatrics and then not be able to move.

She had arrived with twenty minutes to spare, but in the mean time there was the bookshop. Ruth thought about those words, ‘mean time,’ and they sounded just right, so she leaned against the window and wrote them down on the back of her tube map. She considered herself a logophile, browsing the market, and she entered the bookshop, heading to the back, for here were the books about everyone’s God. Each day she gave herself a different section, trying to show just how well rounded she was. Religion, romance, and all the way down to history, this was her post. Ruth could sketch the layout in her sleep, and she knew the location of every fire exit; she only ever took calculated risks; she only ever wore flat-soled shoes.

She was very conscious of where everyone else was, who was looking at her, and what they were thinking. The way heads formed question marks if tilted at the right angle. The way the spine would click in irritation. Ruth had long since concluded that the public is a jury, and that each person walks around with a speech bubble balanced precariously on their head, like those women who carry water. They choose their words carefully, so that the bubble doesn't overflow and soak them to the skin: selected, projected thinking. Ruth flinched and thought hard about timetables, focusing on the 'please pay here' sign. It was the only one that wasn't jeering; there was something reassuring about imperatives, the clarity of fullstops; she pretended to roll one on her tongue like a piece of chiseled tobacco. Roll or spit. Roll or spit.