Saturday, 31 December 2011

Tea For Date...Or Not

The Helston sisters had their own code of prescribed actions aimed at mastering the pitfalls of life. 

As the cold was slowly creeping up Lyra’s fingers, winding around her arms and inevitably reaching for her heart, she knew that one of the sibling rules would come to her rescue. Heaving a shuddering sigh, she sadly watched her breath plume in a white cloud. Around her the world continued turning, people rushing by under the Christmas lights softly bobbling above. She had been stood up. Feeling the prick of tears at the corner of her eyes, Lyra bit her dry lips, drew in her shoulders and resolutely settled her mind back on the code. Beyond the rejection, beyond the hurt, beyond the yet faint anger at Greg Miller bubbling in her stomach.
Helston Code # 7: Tea For Date
In the event of a no-show or a miserable first date search out the next Bubble Tea Bar and buy yourself a cupful of balm for the soul. This also counts for the eventuality that Bubble Tea is already involved before, although in that case failure is practically impossible.
Noted Exception: The Tea Tragedy ’04.

A chuckle gurgled up from the frozen depths of Lyra’s chest as she recalled her sister’s disgusted grimace. Fallon had nearly sworn off the code after Billy Klein’s unsophisticated attempt to chuck the whole cup plus tapioca pearls in one draw. It had ended in a Heimlich manoeuvre and an unbecomingly runny nose. Yet Fallon had prevailed thanks to their intervention, but the amendment had been added as a warning that there was always an exception to the rule, even if it involved the holy drink for date disasters.

Feeling the corners of her mouth tuck up into a smile, Lyra clumsily fished for her mobile. Maybe she had been lucky today. Who knew Greg could have turned out as another Billy Klein? Chuckling on a shudder, she quickly dialled Fallon’s number.

“Fabulous Fallon at your service. What’s up, sis?”, her sister’s chipper voice answered on the second ring, making Lyra laugh. Her bad mood was already fading. Heaving another sigh, she launched into her own witty repartee.

“I’ve been stood up, Fa. Greg’s an idiot. So, Bubble Tea Delivery, here. Please, place your orders now?”
“Oooh, you collected another one. What’s the tally? And I’ll take a Cocoloco with mango. I want something exotic.”

Rolling her eyes, Lyra mentally noted the order and walked in the direction of the subway. The next Bubble Tea Bar was two stops away. “3:4. You are still one miserable date in the lead.”

“Well, ain’t I lucky? Hurry up, sis. I already have the cookies and Jack and Rose ready.”

“I’m flying, Jack”, Lyra replied sarcastically, hanging up before Fallon could get another word in. With a big grin she rushed down the subway stairs, a warm gust of air colouring her pale cheeks a rosy colour. The Helston code had triumphed once again and who needed an unreliable guy, anyway.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Query Letters – A Writer’s Business Card

Facing the at times twisted road towards publication, I had a battalion of questions marching through my head when I started out. Some of the first recruits were: Who did I need to address with my manuscript? How should I address them?

Lieutenant Google helped me perform a thorough search of the Austrian and international publishing industry’s inner workings. 

Our informed conclusions: 

1)      When approaching American or UK publishing houses agents are indispensable allies.
2)      One of the possibilities of attracting an agent, besides chancing upon them at certain events, is by sending out query letters. 

What is a query letter? Simply put, a query letter is a writer’s business card. They serve as an introduction and give the agent a first impression of you and the manuscript you wish to sell.  Your query letter needs to draw in the agent in order to get him to actually take a look at your manuscript. It has to stand out from the flood of letters or mails an agent receives on a normal work day while still adhering to certain formal criteria. That dichotomy of uniqueness and style restrictions makes composing a query letter a tricky business.

But what is a query letter supposed to look like? Once again scouring the internet, trusty Lieutenant Google and I happened upon a number of forums which function as a wonderful sounding board to writers just starting out in their querying process. After checking out a number of sites, I finally settled on as my helpmate. The website features a very thorough list of “dos and don’ts” concerning the composition of a query letter as well as a forum where you can get feedback on your own query letter before sending it out into the world. Following the “instructions” and the impression I won from reading the query letters of other authors, I composed my own. I am currently on version five and ready to post it in the Critique Corner at While hoping for constructive feedback from the community, I plan to comb through the database of agents which can be found on the same website: Multitasking in order to slowly chip away at the questions still lurking in the trenches of my path to publication seems the best way to get a hold of the situation.

After all, beside the fact that my query letter should be concise and to the point, I also need to find an agent that suits the type of manuscript I produced, but that is a story for another post…

I would love to hear your thoughts on contacting agents. Any unique ideas?

Sunday, 25 December 2011

The Holiday – Steak, Family and a Turtle

Christmas in my family always starts with buying a great fir tree and miserably failing at decorating it in any shape or form that might approach a coordinated theme. It’s a free-for-all with all our favourite baubles finding their way on the branches. On Christmas Eve my family huddles together in our kitchen to cook steak and fries - my sister and mother doing most of the cooking while the rest of us are occasionally commissioned to hold a plate. During dinner we somehow always manage to listen to a list of solemn Christmas songs which inevitably makes us change the CD about halfway through. This year we actually lasted until the end! Next stage at our family extravaganza is lighting the candles and sparklers on the tree, talking about the year and wishing each other Merry Christmas. 

Basking in the atmosphere of Christmas usually triggers a silly debate in my family. This year: Which animal would be most suited to delivering the presents from under the tree to us? Prominent nominees were a parrot, a donkey and a turtle. Don’t ask me how that last one turned up…I have no clue and in the end, my sisters and I once again got the glamorous job! In short succession, the presents were opened and my family staged a Christmas Wii dance-a-thon…one of the presents which had innocently bated its time under the tree. The day ended with our traditional after Christmas movie night. This year "The Holiday" beat out "Love…Actually". Nancy Meyer’s dialogues as well as the characters and score are just a perfect combination for sophisticated hilarity.
I love the holidays and I hope you have a great time.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Monday, 19 December 2011

Stormy Sea

Stormy Sea
Land and ocean clashed as thunder rolled over the land. Pale, delicate fists clenched in anger and desperation. Nails dug into pals, mercilessly drawing blood as Aiden stared angrily into the raging tide. Lightning singed the plane upon the foreboding, black cliffs. White swords of sea foam shattered upon the ragged stones. The sea was alive, the waves attacking the cliffs like mercenaries. In the depth below, darkness coiled in despair at the storm raging above. Facing the tempest of the elements, Aiden swore vengeance, her cry of rage consumed by the howling gale tearing at her sodden tunic.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Copyright 101 or Battling Paragraphs

Pen vs. Paragraph
So, I said that I'll write about my travails on my journey towards publication. This is going to be the first entry going in that direction. I guess everything really started in October, when I finally completed the fourth edit of my book and I decided that it was time to stop stalling. I needed to crawl out of my shell, straighten my antennae and tackle the literary world. 

Thinking about the task before me, I could practically hear crickets chirping in my mind. I had no clue where to start. My bookish nature and thirst for knowledge came to my rescue - well, that and Google – while my naturally cross-eyed attitude concerning legal paragraphs settled me on my first battle. I needed to figure out the legalities concerning copyright. So I had finished a book, but how could I defend my copyright to it? Did I even automatically have copyright? Did I need to register my literary work first?

One confusing charge through legal texts, a question to my sister who studies Communication and a Google search later, I was happy to know that in Austria copyright was automatically assigned to every completed literary work. Checking further, Wikipedia educated me on the copyright situation in the UK and America – for details check out these links: Copyright UK and Copyright USA.

Of course, knowing the pitfalls of information presented on Wikipedia and wanting to appease my slight paranoia, I double checked with the Intellectual Property Office in the UK and the U.S. Copyright Office. It turns out that all three countries signed the Berne Convention which assures instant copyright to authors of literary work, meaning that literary works don’t need to be registered in order to be copyrighted. Nevertheless, you still have to be able to prove that you were the one who produced the work first. 

The paragraphs geared up for a second attack…What precautions did I have to take in order to be able to prove my claim on being the original author in case of infringement? This time the Austrian Authors’ Association came to my rescue: I was advised to send a printed version of my finished manuscript to myself via registered mail and to store it. In case of a court case, I should then take the unopened envelope directly to my lawyer. Another possibility in Austria is registering the work (Werkregistrierung) with the Literar-Mechana association for a small fee. I really recommend getting in touch with your country's writers’ guild or a recognised writers’ association in order to clear up any more uncertainties concerning legalities and your right to your work.

In the end, my first copyright battle 101 was fought and won. My bounty? A safely-stored envelope collecting dust on my shelf until the next paragraph battle beckons.  

Useful links for UK and US authors:
·         Writer’s Guild of Great Britain:
·         Writer’s Guild of America, West:

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Dresden - 20th Century Baroque

"Canaletto"-View of Dresden
I took my first night train to explore Dresden over the weekend. As my family and I strolled along the Elbe River, we admired the baroque skyline of Dresden in the first rays of daylight. 

The beautiful baroque-style buildings were cast into breath-taking relief as the glass dome of the Academy for Visual Arts and the impressive Frauenkirche reached into the sky. However, not all buildings are actually as old as their architecture suggests. A bombing by the Allied Forces in March 1945 destroyed great parts of Dresden, killing 35.000 people in a matter of hours. For days the city was on fire, firestorms of up to 1000°C razing through the streets. Rebuilding efforts after the war were slow as people were undecided on whether to restore the former baroque character of the city or to replace the ruins with modern buildings. Thankfully, the preservation committee won out and the baroque monuments were rebuilt or renovated.

Consequently, Dresden boasts such architectural jewels as the Augustus Bridge, the Frauenkirche, the Taschenbergpalais, the Semper Opera House and the Residenzschloss. Each of these buildings holds its own unique history reminding visitors of Dresden’s glory times under Friedrich August I (1694-1733), Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, instead of the horrors of World War II. Nevertheless, the fire of 1945 will never be forgotten. 

Baroque Skyline at Sunset
Being a bit of a history geek, old cities make my writer heart beat faster as I can catch a glimpse of times long past while walking the twisted streets. Dresden let me spy on former mistresses traversing the baroque bridge connecting the Residenzpalast and the Taschenberg Palais. I heard the distant echo of horse shoes upon the cobbled Theaterplatz. Mingling with tourists, the spectres of powdered, wig-adorned aristocrats in extravagant evening frocks alighted from transparent carriages to attend an evening at the Semper Opera House. Street rats and pickpockets rushed through the blended crowd of modern travellers and the upper crust of 18th century society looking for the coins to pay their evening meal. 

Old cities are a blending of worlds, imagination, atmosphere and reality coalescing to conjure a fascinating illusion of now and then. Dresden blurs the lines, invoking the glory days of Friedrich August I. History glints off the baroque buildings rebuilt in the 20th century.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Fresh Eyre

©Focus Features
Finally, the newest adaptation of Jane Eyre arrived in our cinemas. Compared to the English audience, we had to wait until Christmas time to see Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska’s take on the governess and the brooding master of Thornfield Hall. Full of anticipation I purchased a ticket at the box office, only to be somewhat disappointed in the next 120 minutes. 

While the movie was beautifully picturesque in terms of photography and location choice and Fassbender delivered a rather authentic Mr. Rochester, I felt that Mia Wasikowska’s Jane fell flat. I missed the moments when Jane’s essentially passionate nature breaks through her reserve which Ruth Wilson captured so much more vividly in her portrayal of Jane Eyre in the 2006 BBC miniseries. Nevertheless, for a movie adaptation of the material it was very well done, even though in the end the book will always win out for me. I just adore Charlotte Brontë’s beautifully descriptive way of writing. 

What else is new? I sent out my first query this week! I finally hit upon a version of my query letter that I could live with and didn’t waste any time in sending my first query out. I am really excited. This is a huge step for me. I am nearly thankful that it is probably going to take up to two months before I hear back. That gives me enough time to enjoy Christmas with my family. Of course, I will try to send out a few more e-mail packages before the end of the year. Slacking is not an option. However, first, I will board my first night train tonight to enjoy a weekend in Dresden with my family. I’ve never been there before…I can’t wait! I’m ready to catch some fresh air while doing some sightseeing.

P.S.: I will probably post my query letter next week for all of you who are interested in what they usually contain. We’ll see in the next months, if it is formulated in the right way to attract agents. Keep your fingers crossed for me and enjoy your weekend!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Ideas to you copy?

Some weeks my mind resembles a theme park of ideas with rides just randomly popping out of the ether. New ideas are always thrilling, but they last no more than a moment, if I don’t capture them on paper. When I initially started writing original stories, I was always afraid of putting my ideas into words because I didn’t want them to lose their flavour or I was scared of not doing them justice on paper. However, like with all new things in life you can only get started, experience and learn if you take the first step. Over the years I learned, that in writing your first draft is bound to turn out wrong in certain places. That is what editing is for and I can assure you, a first draft is seldom the text you present to the world. Over the last decade, I learned that there isn’t ever going to come a time when I am going to go with my first draft, yet after realising that I have lost my fear of taking the first step. Getting it ‘wrong’ the first few times I learned what aspects are important to a story or text style and I developed my own, unique process when writing. It’s that familiar approach that gives me safety in bringing my ideas to paper. Are there any methods of going about writing? Sure! 

Now, if you prefer a structured approach, I would suggest writing an outline of your plot and sketching your characters first before starting with composing actual scenes. If you are a “seat of the pants”-writer you will get right into the thick of it and start writing. Things will start to make sense at some point along the way and your first edit will shape your story in terms of introducing a clear plot-line. There is no wrong or right in how you approach writing…as long as you approach it and put the ideas running around in your head into words. Writing is very personal, the process unique to the author and the kind of text you wish to produce.

As I told you, I usually have a lot of ideas hopping around in my head. Some come together in the end, some are just passersby, some add to story ideas I had months ago and others end up as mere notes in my idea folder. However, every idea I have I try to get on paper and safe. They are great for times when I’m stuck. My own writing style is a combination of “seat of the pants” and a structured approach. An idea for a book usually starts with the image of a character or a scene popping in to my head. Those sparks of inspiration are usually so vivid, that I simply need to write them down in order to capture the feeling. The result is a either a scene or chapter which expands upon the initial impression. Since I am most active at night, I have to get some shut eye at some point and that’s when my penchant for planning normally kicks in. From then on it’s outlining and writing back to back…well, depending how much time I can find in a week. Otherwise I will just blaster my trusty notebook with notes or scenes, no matter where I am…the train, grocery shopping, nearly asleep,…

Writing for me starts with putting my ideas, impressions and feelings on paper. You can’t go wrong with capturing your ideas in words. So, sit down and let your pen talk ;)

Ideas to Paper…do you copy? 

P.S.: I would love to hear about your way of approaching writing?