Gollancz/Rivers of London BAME SFF Award Shorlist

It’s been a while since I posted here. I’ve been pretty rubbish at writing blog posts. This return hopefully means that I will rectify that. We’ll see.

When you try to be a professional writer and start sending things out in the world, one of the best ways to cope with rejections is to send things out and forget about them – because let’s face it, rejections outnumber acceptances in the publishing industry, especially when you are not an established author.

In January, I submitted the first few chapters of my novel, Kali’s Call to Gollancz’s contest for BAME SFF writers, which is supported by Ben Aaronovitch and NaNoWriMo. I didn’t exactly forget about it, but I didn’t obsess about it either.

Then in May, I first received an email saying the short-list date was pushed back due to current situations. So then the shortlist and the nervous anticipation was back in my mind. And about a week later, I received another email that included words “I’m thrilled…” and I just stared at it for a few moments.

BAME AWard

Gollancz is a pretty solid name in Science Fiction and Fantasy, and so is Ben Aaronovitch. So the fact that my novel, Kali’s Call, was included in the shortlist is nothing short of astounding.

The first few chapters of Kali’s Call were actually workshopped at my first Milford in 2017, and the feedback I received from everyone there was immensely useful. My intention to finish that novel soon after Milford didn’t work out, and the book has actually progressed a lot slower than I’d planned. In fact, I ended up not touching it for over a year. Lots of reasons behind it, including non-writing reasons. But sometimes books just take you on a weird journey. I wrote other things in between, but this book just sat there.

When I first started writing this book, it was with a complete pantser approach, because I just wanted to see where the story would take me. Shivani, one of the main characters in the story, came to me first when I wrote a short story for Fight Like a Girl anthology. In this book, Shivani’s journey continues. But it was Avantika, who came to me solid as a character, and it was her story I started to write.

The pantser approach was great, until the story took me to the middle, and just left me there. So when I returned to it, I wanted to be a little more methodical. I have plotted novels before, and this was an experiment in just going with the flow. If there is anything I should have known about my general personality is that I am totally not the sort who goes with the flow. People telling me to relax stresses me out more than whatever actual stress I might be experiencing. The same thing happened with this book. There is a room for free form exploring the story, but I think for something as big as a novel, I have now learned my lesson that I like to know where I am going.

As Isaac Asimov said, “Knowing the beginning and the end of the story before you start writing it.” So I figured out my exact end, and got bit of a handle on how the characters were going to get there. I don’t have all the details yet, and some parts are still really frustrating, but I have a general direction.

The final results of the Gollancz contest will be out any time now. Of course, I am nervous. I have no doubt that other shortlisted writers are very talented, and I know one of them personally from a London writing group. But I am certainly keeping my fingers crossed for me.

However, one good thing that has already come out of this, is it’s given me my writing mojo back. I was struggling to write when the lockdown started. Like a lot of us have been. There is an illusion of more time, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a sudden creative outburst. But once this result came out, it really inspired me. I thought if others can see the potential of this book, then I owe it to myself to finish it. So I promised myself that I will finish the first draft of this story by the time the results come out in July, and since then I’ve been sticking to it.

It’s certainly not easy, and sometimes it is like pulling teeth. I am also currently doing a very busy day job, so that means I am writing in the evenings, trying to meet my daily quota. I know, there are people who write under far more challenging circumstances, but like anything, it’s relative. But getting back into daily writing, meeting my self-imposed word counts, and seeing that progress bar is giving me all sorts of productive feel. But more importantly, I am finally seeing this story shape take on paper (or screen) as I had seen it in my head, and that is the most important thing.

I don’t like leaving stories incomplete. Whatever ends up on the page never quite measures up to what is in one’s head, but you can’t edit the blank page.

So I’m really thankful to Milford for seeing the potential of this story in the first place, and to Gollancz for seeing that now. Now I better get back to that word count.

 

Live blogging from Milford writing retreat

It’s my first time at Milford’s writing retreat, but second time attending Milford altogether. My first was in 2017 when I won a bursary to attend the Milford conference. That experience was so productive and energizing that I was determined to come back.

When Milford started doing these writing retreats from 2018, I was immediately interested. But 2018 was one in freezing February so I chickened out and signed up for much milder May 2019 retreat instead.

I’ve been here a day and already I feel the writer in me taking the centre stage as rest of the life, chores, to-do lists fades away into the background.

My plan for this week is to edit (basically re-write) a short story and edit my novel. There is, of course, reading involved, because when you are done writing, you want to be inspired by good words. Hanging out with fellow Milfordians is awesome as ever. It’s amazing how close you feel to people you barely see when brought together in a right (write) setting.

It also happens to be my birthday today, and of course, whatever you do on your birthday is what you will do for the rest of the year. So this seems like a good day to be productive as a writer.

 

Milford Writers Conference – journey so far…

I am currently in gorgeous Nantlle Valley in North Wales. It’s a week of utter privilege as I am here to attend Milford Writers Workshop for one week, for which I won a bursary. It’s not just the bursary that makes it a privilege, but also the sheer luxury of being able to spend one week thinking about nothing but writing. For this one week, I have given myself permission to park all the other areas and problems and priorities of life aside. 

So here I am. Really excited and happy to be here. I arrived here on Saturday morning, with a fellow Milford participant Susan Oke who kindly gave me a lift from North London. We took the time to settle down on Saturday, met one another. It’s 15 of us in total. Some people I knew before, others I only knew online, and yet others that I didn’t know at all. But by Saturday night we were all at least acquainted, or getting better acquainted.

My room is a charming single room on the first floor of the Plas (the main house). From my window, I can see the grounds of Trigonos centre, the lake, and the mountains. It’s both “A room of my own” and “A room with a view.” 

One of the best things about being here is not having to worry about mundane life stuff. Food is served at fixed times. 8 am is breakfast, 1 pm is lunch,  4 pm is cake’o clock and 7 pm is dinner. You can have tea and coffee all day long, and there is also a fruit bowl if you do somehow manage to be hungry despite all those meal times. You turn up, and you eat what’s there. Major dietary restrictions have already been noted and catered for in advance. 

From 2 to 6, or rather for however long it takes to get through the day’s schedule, we critique each other’s work. This is why we are here. To have other writers critique our work, and to offer our opinions for their work. Submissions are all high quality. I have now attended critique sessions for 3 days, and together we have critiqued 16 stories – and not counting 2 of my own – all 14 have been worthy contenders. There are great ideas, great executions, great characters. Of course, all of our stories need work. That is also why we are here. But no one’s work is utterly basic, or terrible. It is a group of professional, supportive people. Critiques are done very professionally and in a very encouraging manner. 

Liz Williams and Jacey Bedford who organise everything take great care to ensure that Milford remains supportive and inclusive environment. Trigonos is a beautiful venue that helps soothe the spirit and offer a recharge of creative energy. It is just the perfect place for this retreat. 

Many of my fellow attendees are returnees to Milford. They too are extremely supportive and encouraging. They also share their wisdom and experience both about the work itself, as well as the local area. At meal times discussions around the table range across the spectrum of humanity from serious to totally hilarious. When we are at meals, there is suddenly this loud hubbub, where everyone is talking, and the excitement and enthusiasm are being shared. We are all happy to be here. We are all pleased and appreciate that we are fortunate to be in this position to take our writing seriously enough that we can do this. 

The range of writing experience is also extremely diverse, and it’s a great thing because we all learn different things from one another. Listening to other people’s critiques is a valuable experience because it teaches me many different perspectives, and many different ways of doing a thing – not just writing, but also critiquing. It expands my mind about ideas and makes me interested in topics that I may never have thought about before. 

Outside of writing, as I get to speak to my fellow attendees more and more, I learn things about them that brings out even more of their interesting personalities. They are a curious mix, and each in their own way, uniquely interesting. 

All four days here have been interesting, but today has been my favourite so far. First because today I finally got to visit Mordor. Seriously! It’s been raining pretty much the whole week, which does make going out and about in the country a bit tricky. All day’s incessant rain stopped just for a bit to let me tour Mordor with the expert human ranger, Vaughan Stanger. (Elves were busy.) Mordor is a slate quarry, which was christened thus by this lunatic bunch of SFF writers who attended Milford in 2005. Apparently for its often gloomy, ominous feel. What’s fun is how casually this reference is now made, not just by returnees to Milford, but also us newbies. It was muddy, and a lot of puddles to navigate, but I really enjoyed it. Great views from the top, and just nice to stretch my legs a bit and explore the area.

Writing retreat is great, but I do spend most of my time reading, critiquing, writing or eating. So the body needed some movement. The morning hike woke me up and made me feel great. 

Today, we had a more intensive critique session, as we did six critiques. Again, the quality was amazing and made me feel glad to be in this company.

Work was followed by a fabulous dinner, where I did end up taking food from Val Nolan’s plate. But hey, a girl’s gotta eat onion rings. Then the post-dinner conversation which led me to put Tiffani Angus and Liz Williams in my “Kick-ass women I admire” category. 

I may have temporarily crushed Philip Suggars’ spirits by implying I was calling him boring – which wasn’t true – I was calling other people boring, while I happened to be looking at him. He, on the other hand, is really quite good fun.

And Matt Colborn has agreed to lead a workout session tomorrow morning – so I am really looking forward to that (though during the session I expect to swear at him because he has plans for Planks and Burpees). 

So after yet another full and fun day, I have retired to my room to write this blog post, and do more readings for critique and also hopefully some writing. Time is flying too fast, and I know already that this is a place I would like to return to. I know why these people come back. It’s not just the place. It’s not just the people. It’s the perfect combination of both that makes this productive and enjoyable for all of us. And it gives us that spirit of community, which as writers is nice to feel. Not just for camaraderie, but also on a professional level. To know that there are many of us who take this seriously, want to do as well as we can, and are willing to learn and grow. It is this atmosphere of growth that Milford fosters well.