The lovely Carolyn from Book Chick City asked me to write a post for her to promote UK Publisher’s Month. This was really fun as I got to dissect an average day in my life as an editor for HarperVoyager. There’s also a super fun international giveaway of five Sacrificial Magic by Stacia Kane and five Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey, so don’t miss out!
Wow. I’ve now completed the Edinburgh Marathon, the culmination of over 8 months of training and more focused exercise than I’ve ever done in my life. Looking back at my Nike+ training shows the last 8 weeks (minus two Sundays while I was in Egypt/Jordan) featured at least one 10 mile+ run, the last 6 weeks all being half-marathon length or longer. Just the thought of doing that kind of training a year ago was nausea-inducing – ten years ago, it would have been nigh on inconceivable. I find it a bit surreal to see how far I’ve come since my colleagues at John Blake convinced me to sign up for the Royal Parks Half Marathon in Oct 2009.
I have to say, Edinburgh looked absolutely gorgeous when we landed on Saturday afternoon. The temperature was perfect and sunlight bathed the famous castle in a gentle golden glow. The atmosphere was enchanting, full of people sitting out on restaurant terraces having a good time, and I immediately regretted not being able to stay for longer. It was probably in our best marathon interests that we didn’t arrive any earlier than we did – otherwise I would have used up all my energy just wandering around the city.
We checked in at Budget Backpackers, which was the perfect place to stay, really. Cheap, cheerful, and having forked out for a private room (it was still cheap!) we had all the facilities we needed. Getting down from the bunk bed the morning after the marathon was interesting though!
In terms of fuelling my body for the marathon… I didn’t overdo the carb-loading, but my diet before the race consisted of:
Friday night – Spag bol with wholewheat pasta & garlic bread
Saturday breakfast – pain au chocolat (that surely counts as carbs!)
Saturday lunch – leftover spag bol & a bit more garlic bread
Saturday dinner – Jambalaya Risotto from Giraffe at the airport, banana, Twirl bar while watching Eurovision
Sunday breakfast – Espresso, toasted bagel & cream cheese, banana
I also drank a lite Lucozade energy drink on Saturday and tried to maintain my hydration throughout the week (especially considering how hot it has been in London). The hostel really came into its own on Sunday – having our own cooking facilities was amazing as I could prepare breakfast exactly as I would have done if I’d been at home, plus they had a cafe downstairs so I could get a shot of espresso. I didn’t want to have to stop during the race so the espresso was to make sure the digestive system kept on moving!
The weather actually looked slightly overcast as we left the hostel at 8.30am for the race start, but it quickly burned away and was replaced by glorious sunshine. We dropped off Tania’s bag at the big luggage trucks (all very easy and well-organized), then headed up to the corrals. Tania was technically supposed to be two corrals ahead of me, but as her training had been scuppered by an injured ITB band (hip-area), she hadn’t done nearly the amount of training she wanted, so she decided to start with me, horray! One quick pitstop at the portaloos and we were ready to rock. In my pockets were: mandatory packet of wine-gums for energy (only allowed after mile 14 – I’m strict with myself!), tissues in case hay fever got the best of me, my iPhone with motivational running tracks, and bottle of full-strength orange Lucozade in hand. My Lucozade acts as a security blanket over those first 10 miles – I’ve always run with one in training and so can’t imagine starting a race without it.
The atmosphere at the start was brilliant, and I was glad that we could actually hear the race announcements as normally I’m so far back the loud speakers don’t reach me. We all joined in the countdown to the starting gun, although we didn’t move for at least a minute after it went off. When we did finally start to run though, it was a great feeling!
The course itself was stunning – downhill from the starting line and out towards Arthur’s Seat, then along a beautiful stretch of boardwalk-running by the beach. The benefit there, of course, was the sea breezes! Really enjoyed those as it was hot hot hot. For me, the goal was to do 10-minute miles, and I did that pretty well right up to the half-marathon point which I completed at 2hr15.
Strangely, mile 15 was my fastest mile of the race. The elite runners had just gone past and cheering them on gave me a bit of a boost. My favourite running track (‘A Matter of Time’ by Foo Fighters) came onto the iPod and I was feeling good. At mile 16 I picked up an energy gel from the station which was a calculated risk on my part – I’d never used them before but I’d heard good things. The taste was pretty disgusting, in my opinion, but I didn’t have any problems digesting it. Others, including my running pal Tania, weren’t so lucky – but more on that later.
After mile 17 came ‘the turn’. I’ve been reading on several running forums that many people found this the hardest part of the race, and I was no exception! The course turns back in on itself and heads slightly inland at this point – away from the breezes, away from the crowds, away from the water stations. I was in pretty dire shape by the time 18 miles came around, barely able to pick up my feet. Even the prettiness of Gosford House couldn’t distract me from the pain! We then started running through a farm, and thankfully the farm had set up an unofficial water station – which became the first station I walked through. It was only a break of a few seconds but it was enough to make sure I got proper hydration and a boost to keep going. Also it was a bit pongy out in the fields, and the terrain was pretty slippery which required concentration I didn’t have!
Hitting 19 made me feel better again and I wasn’t prepared for the boost I’d get at mile 20. I’d never run further than 19 miles in training and 20 really felt like a massive accomplishment. I was in the “2″-s! Horray! Everyone around me was dying for water and energy by the time we reached the next station at 22. I was also in countdown mode at this point, so 4 miles to go meant all I had left to do was my run to work! Easy, right?
The crowds here were unbelievably helpful at this point. At every mile marker I had done a little jig and cheer, and everyone cheered with me. To anyone who turned on their sprinklers or hoses or even waterguns – bless you! Running through a sprinkler a) released the child within me for a second and b) provided instant relief from the heat. Another thanks to mum & dad who reminded me to take extra water to throw over myself as well as drink! The only downside was I inevitably washed off all the sunscreen on my back, so my shoulders are a little burnt as a result. I also have to shout out to the girls handing out orange slices (so yum) and the man handing out Jaffa cakes at mile 24 – you are a legend as I’d finished all my winegums at that point and was bored of jelly babies!
Mile 22 was also greatly improved by the fact that Lofty’s podcast came on over my iPhone speakers. For my first ever half marathon three years ago, Lofty had made me a radio-style countdown playlist and hearing a friendly voice made things so much better! It also was another reminder of how far I’d come in training and I became all emotional while running. I’m sure that didn’t have anything to do with feeling completely spent and still having miles to run!
The sight of the mile 25 marker was bliss, the crowds were really buzzing at this point. I picked up my pace considerably, finding energy out of nowhere, but that 26 mile marker took FOREVER to appear. Literally forever. I think I was lucky to not start swearing at the crowd as much as I was swearing in my head – Where the *&^% is the end? Even when 26 FINALLY came, I still couldn’t see the finish line. Wasn’t it just 0.2 miles until I was done? What was going on?
Then I rounded the corner into the racecourse and the terrain changed from road to a black rubber, slightly-bouncy surface lined with spectators that made me feel like I was at the Olympics. The finish line loomed large and I only glanced at the time quickly to see that I was still in the 4hour-zone – that’s all I wanted! I sprinted across the line with a huge smile on my face, hands in the air… what a feeling!
I changed into my finisher’s T-shirt straight away, and within minutes of crossing the line I had a text message with my provisional time. Very good service I was a bit disappointed with the goody bag – I really could have done with some kind of protein drink at the end, but the medal is lovely. I sat and stretched in the park while waiting for my fellow runner to finish. I’d left her after the first mile as I was aiming for a slightly faster time – and obviously, I had had the benefit of proper training while she had been injured! It turned out that she had suffered a bad reaction to the energy gels at mile 16, and in combination with the heat and lack of hydration she felt really nauseous and had to walk the final 9 miles. She still completed in a remarkable 5hrs 39mins, pushing right on through to the finish. What a champ.
The half-hour walk to the buses back to Edinburgh was aggravating but probably did us both some good as it is always tempting to do absolutely nothing post-run! It meant I was a little less stiff this morning when we had to get up at 4.30am to catch the plane back to London. I wore my medal all day at work – hey, it’s not very often that I get to wear a medal, okay?
Here were my official split times:
Race Number: 9787
Full Time: 04:42:59
10k split: 01:04:01
Half marathon: 02:15:49
30k split: 03:15:45
Overall finish position: 5461
Obviously dropped off a bit between 30K and 42K but having averaged 10.48min/mile over the whole race, I’m very happy. I think I could get sub-4hr30 though… oh god, is this me accepting I’m going to put my body through all this again one day?
In all seriousness, I know I will. Pushing myself to that limit actually proves to me that there aren’t many limits. And now that I have nothing to train for, I feel strangely empty. I’m going to need another goal, another challenge, and pronto Although my running watch said I did 27.1 miles – how much weaving and swerving did I do?!
And so for now, I’m just going to allow myself to enjoy the moment. I’m officially a marathon runner!
I’m over at The Lucky 13s blog today, talking about art that inspired The Oathbreaker’s Shadow. I thought the easiest way to showcase some of the main photos was to create a Pinterest board, so I encourage you to take a look at that too!
“Art and photography have always inspired my writing, in a multitude of ways. In 2006, when The Oathbreaker’s Shadow was just an idea floating around in my head, I headed down to an achingly hip part of Toronto known as The Distillery District, a pedestrian-only zone lined with the converted Victorian industrial buildings of the old Gooderham and Worts distillery. It’s packed with art galleries and amazing coffee shops (head to Balzacs immediately if you’re searching for good coffee in Toronto), and a fabulous place to spend an afternoon. Read more ->“
Ooh, notice anything different about the blog? My beautiful and talented sister Sophie (hi, sis!) designed a brand new header, inspired by The Oathbreaker’s Shadow. She’s also involved in a really cool project that I’m pretty sure makes me unique amongst authors – although that’s not quite confirmed – and I’m looking forward to telling you all about it soon. Hint hint, it has to do with the blog header and also my parent’s business in Ottawa, Canada – Canadian Rug Traders.
Also today, I’m featured on Laura Lam’s blog writing a guest post. I wrote about balancing my double life as an author and editor and how it can be both challenging and rewarding!
I’m lucky to be blessed with the smartest, most tenacious and definitely best-dressed agent in the biz… the wonderful Juliet Mushens. She is the newest agent at PFD, one of the oldest literary agencies in London, and she reps a really eclectic and fun list (head over to the PFD website to find out more). Juliet has done a few interviews lately about being an agent, so I thought I’d ask a few different questions for my interview. Hope you enjoy!
Everyone knows roughly what editors are looking for: be it crime, women’s fiction, reading group fiction or YA. But above and beyond that there are so many permutations so I think it’s key to meet as many editors as possible. It’s just like with agents – everyone knows the rough genres I’m looking for but above and beyond that I have a passion for books with unreliable narrators, UST, and more than a smattering of black humour. It’s when you meet an editor and find out their favourite books, books they’ve commissioned recently, books they wish they had commissioned, that you get the best sense of where it should go. I knew when Lauren Buckland at RHCB said she had a passion for epic fantasy that she would be a good bet for The Oathbreaker’s Shadow.
What are some of the recent trends in YA literature/submissions you’ve seen?
I get sent a lot of dystopian fiction, and a lot of urban fantasy. It comes in waves: I used to get lots and lots of vampire novels, but that seems to have died down now.
Can you describe a typical day in the life of Juliet Mushens: Literary Agent?
Each day is totally different! I normally check my emails as soon as I wake up and deal with any urgent ones on my blackberry on my way into work. Once I’m in (and have a coffee) I spend a fair amount of time going through my emails and dealing with authors and editors. These can be things as simple as ‘when will my money come through?’ or as complex as ‘the legal read has flagged up ninety-seven problems with the manuscript and the book needs to go to print next week’. Sometimes my authors are stuck with a tricky plot point and want to talk it through; sometimes my ghost-writers just want to talk to an actual person. I normally have at least one manuscript open in the background of my computer and I try and dip in and out of edits as well, sometimes for a prospective client I’m meeting, or for one of my contracted authors. Some books can go through several drafts before they go out to a publisher, or a publisher can request changes before considering the manuscript again, or an author has delivered and I need to go through it and make my comments too. During the day my phone rings a lot. I hate getting phone-calls from people who have submitted: it puts me on the spot and it’s a real no-no for me. But I spend sometimes long periods of the day on the phone to authors, or editors, discussing various queries. I will normally also be working on at least one contract which requires complete quiet, so it can be difficult to get those done in the office! And then there’s the hours I set aside to make calls to publishers before submitting, chasing up foreign rights submissions, chasing up publicity or marketing queries. Oh, and trying to actually read new manuscripts! (Edited to add: Check out Laura Lam’s interview with Juliet for an even more in-depth ‘Day in the Life’)
One for all those aspiring authors out there… what makes a query letter stand out for you?
I think it’s my marketing background that makes me a sucker for a good or clever blurb. Cover letters should be like going into a bookshop and turning the book over – why would I read it? Make it simple and intriguing. Don’t tell me ‘and then… and then… and then…’ tell me that it’s shot through with black humour, rogues with hearts of gold, and a terrifying villain who’ll give me nightmares. That’ll make me read it quicker.
Another one for the newbies – what are a few different ways to meet an agent other than just cold-querying, and when is it definitely NOT okay to pitch an agent?
Workshops and conferences are great ways to meet agents and I’ll have my ‘agent-brain’ on so be much more approachable. I also don’t mind the occasional twitter-pitch if it’s smart and savvy. Things I hate: trapping me in a corner at a room, cold-calling me, trying to pitch at me at London Book Fair… etc. Just be nice, and normal, and friendly and I’m sure we’ll get on.
Any last words of wisdom or advice?
Agents are people too – sometimes we seem like terrifying gate-keepers to a publishing deal but all we’re looking for is that new book which makes us stay up all night. That’s what keeps us working hard!
Well, the first set of foreign rights to sell aren’t so foreign after all… I’m so pleased to say that Canadian rights to The Oathbreaker’s Shadow have sold to Amy Black at Doubleday Canada – which means that my mum and dad will definitely be able to go into their local Chapters on Rideau Street in Ottawa and find the book, and that is what means the most to me I had the privilege of meeting Kristin Cochcrane (the Doubleday Canada publisher) and Brad Martin (President & CEO of Doubleday CA) a couple of weeks back at drinks to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the imprint, and I’m so thrilled to be working with such an amazing team. Coincidentally, they are also the publisher’s of my boss Jane Johnson’s books, (The Sultan’s Wife being her latest) and she has nothing but rave reviews for their publishing. I can’t wait to work with them!
This news came on top of a fantastic Oathbreaker-themed day. I managed to use the morning to write a thousand words of the sequel, and then I headed off to Ealing to meet my editor Lauren, the RHCP editorial assistant Pete (who is also going to help on the edit), and my publicist Emily for a lovely long lunch. It was great to catch up and talk bookish things (like covers! edits! videos!), genre things (conventions! Game of Thrones!) and all sorts of stuff that had absolutely nothing to do with books or publishing. I found out that my ‘Spring 2013′ pub date can be narrowed down to either April/May of next year, so potentially I am now less than a year away from officially seeing Oathbreaker in print, which is amazing.
After Ealing I headed back into town to meet with my agent Juliet, for a quick coffee and to sign my Canadian contracts… which meant that I could officially announce the deal. Woohoo!
So it’s a few days after the Bracknell Half Marathon now (the race was on Sunday 29 April), and my legs have officially recovered. Phew!
It was one of the mornings when you didn’t want to get out from under the covers, let alone put on your running gear and go outside. Heavy rain, buffeting winds, dark grey cloud cover – even hints of a severe storm warning – could I really race on a day like that? Every other race I’ve done has been held on a day of glorious sunshine, so it was safe to say I was not used to it. For my friend Tania, it was to be her first ever race. She obviously looked out of her own window that day and had the same thoughts as me, as a text came through from her: “Are we doing this?”
By then, though, I was already up, having prepped all my gear the night before, and I’d had a shot of espresso and a peanut butter bagel. The adrenaline was pumping and I texted back: “Yes!” There was going to be no bailing now.
The atmosphere at the start of the race was… well, I think subdued is fair to say. Luckily we could warm up inside the South Hill Park Arts Centre before the race, and because of the size of the race (under a 1000 runners in this one, compared to 12,000 for Bath) I didn’t have to start in a timed corral. Horray!
There were also plenty of clothing decisions to make owing to the weather. Running jacket or no jacket? Number pinned outside or inside? Hat or no hat? Gloves? Black plastic rubbish bag? In the end I went without the bin bag and gloves, which I think was the right choice as by the time we lined up for the start, the rain had let up a little and moods started to lift. I’m fairly certain adrenaline is addictive. And there was time for a quick photo before the race began!
I was determined once again to set off too quickly, but Tania and her trusty running watch really helped me pull back to a 9.05min mile (quite right too!). Soon we settled into a rhythm, only occasionally broken by having to duck out of the way of large puddles on some of the lower pathways.
The Bracknell half marathon route is fairly undulating because of the frequent underpasses, but I appreciated the mini-downhills as much as the tough up-hills. There was one tough section between miles 8-9 where we battled through headwinds on a looong incline, but somehow we managed to make up any lost pace on a gentle downslope. Miles 10 and 11 were probably the best I’ve ever felt at that point in any run – I felt like I was literally flying down the road. I also must give credit to the Foo Fighters and their song “A Matter of Time”, which is definitely my running ‘power’ song du jour.
My watch showed me getting steadily faster all the way up until about 12.5 miles, so I must’ve been doing something right! I started to really feel the pain at 12.5, with the finish line in sight, but around an achingly long bend. Still I looked down at my sportsband (less high tech than Tania’s, but still functional!) and was elated to see that I had at least 8 minutes to make that last 1/2 mile within two hours, giving me that last burst of adrenaline to get through to the finish.
And after all the agony of not managing to complete it at Bath this year, I’m so happy to say that I finally burst through that 2 hour barrier, completing the Bracknell Half Marathon at 1:58:04!! Yay!! Tania picked up even more speed at the end than me, and managed to finish in 1:57.45 - for her first ever race this is absolutely ASTOUNDING (not to mention her injuries that prevented her from really training).
She is coming with me to run the Edinburgh marathon, so all I can say now is: Bring it on!