Thank you, Janet Edwards, for tagging me in the Next Big Thing meme. If you don’t know what this is, it’s simply an opportunity to tell the world about your current writing project. And when you’ve finished answering the ten questions below you get to tag other people, who do the same, thus spreading karmic loveliness all over the place. First, some words about Janet, author of the Young Adult novel, EARTH GIRL, published by Harper Voyager. I met Janet a number of years ago when she sat next to me at a creative writing workshop in Birmingham and it was clear from the off that she was destined for greatness. Janet is busy working on the next two books in her trilogy: EARTH STAR and EARTH FLIGHT. Please check out Janet and her work here.
So, Fiona, what’s your Next Big Thing?
I have a number of projects on the go. I’ve just finished a commissioned short story for the West Midlands Readers’ Network, as well as doing a reading tour for my latest book BEATRICE. However, for this blog post I decided it would be interesting to shed some light on a little-known area of my professional writing: English as a Foreign Language graded readers. Graded readers are stories written specifically for the needs of English language learners; the intention is to provide literature that can be enjoyed by students of different proficiency levels from beginners through to advanced. They are shorter, and the language (grammar and vocabulary) is controlled and graded according to a particular level – hence the term graded readers. Historically, English Language publishers adapted classics, like A Tale of Two Cities or Rebecca. Nowadays, however, the trend is to commission writers to produce original and engaging stories for this audience.
1) What is the working title of your book?
LET THE BAND PLAY ON is the working title, but on the advice of the editorial team it’s now probably going to be called A NEW SONG FOR NINA. I’m used to my publisher changing my titles, so I no longer cry when this happens.
2) Where did the idea come from for the book?
The book is part of a series of original language learner fiction titles for adults called Page Turners (at Levels 1-12, i.e. from Beginners up to High Intermediate) and there are a number of different authors. My previous book in the series, OSCAR’S JOURNEY, was aimed at level 12 and a historical novel. When it came to this commission, my editor said they had a few gaps in the series around level 7, and also quite a lot of action/thriller stories but not much by way of romance! So basically she wanted me to think about a romance for level 6 or 7. I was up for the challenge.
3) What genre does your book fall under?
See above. A NEW SONG FOR NINA is a light-hearted romance.
4) Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Ha, great question, because it’s actually very helpful to have a clear idea of what your characters look like. Graded readers often have hand-drawn illustrations to support readers with the text, so as well as writing the manuscript you also have to provide an art brief. Here’s an example from A NEW SONG FOR NINA:
Nina, 25, a pretty woman with long dark hair, waits outside a live music club. Poster on the wall shows name of band playing – Breakdown. Her friend is late so she’s looking crossly at her phone.
I can’t think of any actors at the moment – there are too many to choose from – but I may come back and re-edit.
5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Live music blogger, Nina Cross, gets her dream job scouting for talented bands to perform at a music festival; when she spots her ex-boyfriend playing drums in an up-and-coming band she sees a chance to help him to stardom (and rekindle their relationship), but then the festival hits a huge snag …
6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Neither. This book will be published by Heinle Cengage, as was the previous graded reader I mentioned, OSCAR’S JOURNEY. I’m one of a new breed of hard-to-categorise authors, sometimes called ‘hybrid’ authors: I publish through my own imprint, Foxwell Press; I have an agent who represents me for subsidiary rights for those works (the lovely Jennifer Custer at AM Heath); and I’m also open to tempting offers and commissions from other publishers.
7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
A few months. It took a month or so to agree on the synopsis and about three months to complete the first draft. You don’t worry too much about the language level at the first draft stage. It’s imperative that the story works first. Only once you have the story nailed can you then go on to check and modify the language so it’s at the right level. This painstaking process involves the use of the publisher’s prescribed Word Lists and extensive guidelines on allowable grammatical structures. Personally I really enjoy the grading process; others are not so keen.
8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Think Bridget Jones (as in the diary), or maybe Pride and Prejudice but with loud music and muddier fields.
9) Who or What inspired you to write this book?
This story was inspired by personal experience, to an extent. I’m one of the organisers of a local festival so I know something about the headaches of putting on a huge event. Poor old Nina has quite a few problems to overcome if the festival is to go ahead …
10) What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
EFL graded readers are similar to the wonderful Quick Reads scheme in the UK.
Quick Reads are bite sized books by big name authors and celebrities. They are perfect to engage people with reading as they are short and use clear language but still have fast-paced, brilliant storylines.
Mind you, not all authors enjoy this sort of writing. I read once that Ruth Rendell hated doing hers and vowed never to write one again!