We are delighted to have as our Guest Author C J Condie
Poetry, Songs and Whirl of the Wheel
Catherine CondieBorn in Cambridge, UK, Catherine trained as a business linguist at Anglia Ruskin University. Her first job was in corporate communications and public relations, where she progressed as an in-house writer and magazine editor in the science community, and later took on a role as a communications advisor for a European electronics training programme. In her spare time, she is a singer/songwriter and guitarist with a catalogue of ballads and folk-pop, which she first performed at the Cambridge Folk Festival at the age of 19.
I am eight years old. I see my forearms lodged over the slope of my lift-up wooden desk. My pencil is in my hand and I glance over at the classroom wall with its multi-coloured paper mounts, catching sight of my handwriting struggling to stay neat over the lines of my poem. But the poem is there, with its sentiment, neatly accompanied by my attempt at illustration.
I remember this burst of excitement and pride, as I know all writers, musicians or artists will at seeing their work when it has reached display, is performed or as it is published. It is a feeling that, along with any encouragement we have ever received, is both lasting and wonderfully motivating.
It recurred when I performed my first three-verse song of basic chords on my new guitar to my parents. The burst of pride lifted me with new dreams and ambitions.
I have to say I still try to be poetic in my songs and in my writing. It is the feeling a pattern of sentences or collection of words evokes that interests me most, and I try hard to present my stories and songs in similar creative fashion.
At this point I will spare you my musical history, of how I could have learned to read music and therefore allowed myself a chance of superstardom (!), and of my life history where I forwent university for various good reasons at the time. I will also put off a splurge on my happy and successful career, which keeps the writing thread attached. But I will note very briefly the early days of my song writing, as they contain an important link to the context of Whirl of the Wheel, my first novel, thirty years later.
I have a folder of over 100 songs and many more beginnings of songs I have written with my guitar. I like vocal or instrumental harmonies in music. Inspired primarily by the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel and the harmonised groups of the sixties, by musicals on TV, and later by the Cambridge Folk Festival and artists such as Kirsty McColl and Kate & Anna McGarrigle, my song writing began with basic ballads, and when I reached secondary school I began to perform to the public. I teamed up with my best friend Hilary and we would sing and play to a large group of elderly visitors in the school youth club, or later at school reviews. Needless to say, our harmonies were our forté and the song writing began to roll.
Whirl of the WheelWhirl of the Wheel, although it is my book and not a song at all. Why did I write it? What is it about?
I wrote it because I would try for many years to come up with a mystery story in my head. I’d been an avid Agatha Christie reader and I believe I must have coupled the excitement of these mysteries with the stories of Daphne du Maurier, Victoria Holt etc. and bound with these the experiences of my even younger reading days with Enid Blyton. The seeds had been sown, and my songs with their verses, middle eights, instrumentals, and verse repeats gave me patterns of structure I understood and could transfer in some way to my writing. Of course there have since been many more creative influences that have nurtured the book and which include, I am proud to say, the strong writing skills of my parents.
I played with writing the book for quite a few years without it seriously becoming anything at all. Then after a steep learning curve, which I will tell you about in a moment, where I changed person and finally concentrated on the construction of my story and its underlying plot, I finishedWhirl of the Wheel early this year.
It is a traditional adventure into World War II for children and young adults, with a mystery and a bit of a twist. But more than anything it’s a story led by a normal girl who happens to be in a wheelchair . . . Connie is modelled on my best friend Hilary’s daughter, Katie.
I have attempted to make Whirl of the Wheel a fun book and Connie and her brother Charlie-Mouse make that happen. But the story brings with it a certain reality of war in a way that may educate. And for me, ‘living the experiences’ of each of the characters and writing letters from the evacuees, Kit and Bert, were the most enjoyable parts of all.
. . . and Publishing!
Now for the publishing part. The bit where I could hurry towards that burst of excitement and pride again.
I began submitting the manuscript to agents and publishers far too early. Too keen, I think, to really think what I was doing. After a number of polite rejections, I decided to submit it to Cornerstones for a proper review.
And for me this was the best thing I could have done. It helped me to focus on the plot lines, to sort out what I had and hadn't divulged (when it was all in my head and not on paper), and to give me the further encouragement I needed.
My younger readers including my own children were all enthusiastic of course but the next step was to try it out in a much wider market.
I found out about Authonomy through my mother, and promptly launched my book on the site within the week. This was the second best thing I could have done because, although I had completed the story, I felt the start of the book was not as focused as it could be. During the time I used the site (July 2009 until December 2009) writers and readers were, by and large, concentrating on these first few chapters so I was grateful to say the least for the direction of a number of very helpful individuals. Authonomy introduced me to like-minded authors who became great friends.
Authonomy also introduced me to e-publishing and through writers including Dan Holloway and Shayne Parkinson I became motivated by the opportunities held by self-publishing.
I printed out and read cover-to-cover Mark Coker's Smashwords Style Guide (and later his Marketing Guide) and published Whirl of the Wheel as a free download on the Smashwords site on Boxing Day 2009, supported by a stream of press releases, which I wrote and distributed via PRlog.org.
Within it seemed, only a matter of weeks, Whirl of the Wheel was making its way quickly up the charts for children's books. It is currently still top rated in this chart and sits in the Top 100 most downloaded books of all genres. I have also since published independently of Smashwords on the Amazon Kindle Store site, and produced a paperback via Lulu.com. (It is also available at Amazon and all the major online book stores.)
No sign of an agent?
Since I found the drive to launch Whirl of the Wheel worldwide as a free download by a so-called 'indie author' I haven't really given it much thought. What means more to me at present is that the book can be seen and read. It's out there and the thousands of downloads give me real encouragement to continue. Moreover, there are so many helpful and friendly people in the world of e-publishing that following the traditional route has almost slipped my mind. And in the same way that I had written, played and performed that first song at the age of nine . . . Yes, I could do it all myself!
(Maybe secretly I would say it would still be fabulous to be discovered!)
Discovered or not, this book has been a great adventure . . . one of my projects, yes, but the one that has given me the greatest challenges and most focus. It has taken me willingly from factual editor all the way back to my poetry beginnings at primary school and taught me that it’s okay to write for pleasure and to be proud of what can be achieved in the free markets of self-publishing.
My writing challenges are growing along with my children too. I am moving my target age group accordingly. For my next project I am getting to grips with a young adult thriller and both will be old enough to enjoy it by the time the book is finished. A whodunnit? Not quite, a bit more Bourne Identity to music I think.
Links for Whirl of the Wheel
In paperback at Amazon.com
At the Kindle Store
Special thanks to Lorraine Holloway-White.