Monday 23 January 2012

Life's Too Short?

Last week, my mum sent up some cuttings from the weekend papers, as is her wont. We don't really have papers in the house, not having time to read them. She had earmarked a feature in the Telegraph Review for my attention. It's all about the place of short stories in the modern literary landscape - they're apparently enjoying "a remarkable renaissance" due to their wide availability, often for free, on ezines, blogs and so on.

They can certainly be a great way for new authors to showcase their wares, particularly if they haven't yet got a novel ready, as anyone can obviously release a single short story or a collection on Kindle. Traditional publishers wouldn't touch a book of shorts by an unknown writer with a bargepole. And it's much easier for writers to hone their skills with the help of the internet. I cut my teeth on the great free site ABC Tales, where writers give critiques on each others' work. Some of those I polished on the site were later published.

If you want a shot at something nice to put on your CV, I think you could do worse than have a look at the Telegraph's Short Story Club. Each month this year, you can submit a short story of up to 2000 words - anything you like, there are no themes. There are weekly columns discussing technique and offering writing exercises. One winner is chosen every month to appear online, and at the end of the year all 12 winners will be invited to a grand lunch in London with bigwigs from the paper and a top agent and publisher. Sounds exciting. Obviously, this will favour UK writers more - there's no mention of covering international airfares. Then one overall winner will be chosen, presumably over some tasteful canapes, to receive £500 and publication in the Telegraph.

Sound like something you'd be interested in? Anyone know of any other good short story-based initiatives, maybe on a more international basis? And what's your view on where the short story is at in the business right now?

Thursday 19 January 2012

Versatile Blogger Award

Don't normally post on a Thursday, but I just wanted to say thanks to Sara Bulla at the excellent Live to Write...Edit when Necessary for passing on this award. I'm surprised and honoured! Thank you for thinking of little me, Sara.

There's a few rules going along with the award, as follows:

1. In a post on your blog, nominate 15 fellow bloggers for the Versatile Blogger Award.(or 5 like me - you will not be smited.)
2. In the same post, add the Versatile Blogger Award.
3. In the same post, thank the blogger who nominated you in a post with a link back to their blog.
4. In the same post, share 7 completely random pieces of information about yourself.
5. In the same post, include this set of rules.
6. Inform each nominated blogger of their nomination by posting a comment on each of their blogs.

So without further ado, here's seven things about me you'll wish you'd never known...

1. At age two, I almost died due to severe asthma.

2. In the early to mid nineties, I was a member of the official Red Dwarf Fan Club and had several letters printed in their magazine. If you're not familiar with the genius of the Dwarf, check out the link. Yes, I was proud to be a smeghead... after all, better smeg than dead.

3. When I was about eight, my parents called the police because I went missing. I'd wandered far from home in search of a copy of the Beano, which wasn't at my local newsagents or any other shop I tried. Turned out, it was a day late that week.

4. I was quite into drama when I was younger, starting to write plays at age ten. At High School, I was in the Drama Club and we put on shows every Christmas, Easter and summer, which we wrote, directed, performed in and made costumes for. I also formed a comedy duo with a friend and we devised a sketch show.

5. When I was six, a stag beetle landed on my neck. Might not sound dramatic, but these mothers are gigantic, especially to a small child, with very intimidating horns (hence the name). I thought an alien was trying to eat me, and just stood and screamed until my dad got rid of it. (I don't know what he did with it).

6. In Australia, when I was 21, I was spending the night on a beach (don't remember where) when I was propositioned by a man. I managed to politely rebuff his advances before things went any further. Possibly slightly more scary than the stag beetle.

7. My Grandpa played the flute on the soundtrack to the hit musical Oliver!, among many other movies.

Now that I've got those out there, it's time to nominate some other cool bloggers to receive the award. Some of these will already have it, but it seems to be commonplace for people to get the award more than once, so I'm just going to nominate those I think deserve a shout.

1. Nicola Morgan @ Help! I Need a Publisher!

2. Trisha @ WORD + STUFF

3. DRC @ WTF's Writing Thrilling Fiction

4. Martin Willoughby @ From Sand to Glass

5. Lynda R Young @ W.I.P. It

6. Amanda Borenstadt @ A Fortnight of Mustard

7. Chantele Sedgwick @ My Writing Bug

8. Ro Goodman @ Ro-alwaysinspired

9. Justine Dell

10. Laura Louise Cox @ In This Box of Goodies

11. Nancy S Thompson

12. Mark Noce @ Mark Noce Stories

13. Elizabeth Poole @ Myself, Without the Shell

14. Jayne Ferst @ A Novice Novelist

15. Melissa Ann Goodwin @ Writer on the Road

So there you go! Congrats to all. I'll be round to comment on all your blogs as soon as. Cheers! :o)

Sunday 15 January 2012

Back to Work

Well, this week I got back to work on my WIP. I know Christmas seems like a long time ago now, but the kids didn't go back to school until Monday. To be honest, I hadn't thought that much about the story during the break. I know when writing a novel that it's usually ticking over in our heads all the time, but I find when away from the actual physical writing for even a week, I tend to disengage somewhat. Instead, I've been coming up with completely unrelated ideas. That's all well and good, but how to reacquaint myself with my novel?

Well, I'm going to share what I did, and what I could have done differently and more effectively, in the hope that this will help anyone else with the same problem.

I was very impatient to get back on with it, feeling I should make up for lost time, and only gave the last few hundred words a brief scan before ploughing back in. Well, that was obviously a mistake, but as I'm still writing very last thing at night I just wanted to get something done and get to sleep. It was counterproductive as I actually got little done (1000 words for the week, and not the best I've done).

If you're meeting up with old friends after a long time apart, you obviously have to spend a bit of time catching up first before moving on to other matters. This is what I failed to do. If you give your manuscript a good read through after a break (preferably with a red pen on hand), you will probably pick up on nuances that will guide you in the way forward, even re-absorb information that you might have forgotten. My WIP was only 14000 words when I left it, but there's still quite a lot contained there. Often we hear advice to live through your characters, see what they see, hear what they hear, smell what they smell. So you need to become immersed again in their world. It must have been a combination of impatience and arrogance that made me think I could just pick up where I left off. I never did this after the numerous breaks that happened when writing my first novel, but at that point I really had no idea if my writing was any good as no one had read it. Since then, I have had a few compliments. Lessons learned - mustn't let ego get too big!

Here's another approach that may work if in this situation. Real people's lives don't have a break, so you've essentially put your characters in limbo while you're away from the book. As you read through what you've written so far, imagine that the protagonist is telling the story directly to you, and when you reach the end of what's printed on the screen, just let them carry on, taking notes as they do. If their story is compelling and dramatic enough, they'll be eager to tell you more. You can try this with more than one character, to get different perspectives.

OK, I know my advice is untested, but I'll soon have more time to devote to writing, as our three-year-old starts nursery for five mornings a week as of Thursday, so I'll put time into these strategies. I'm not saying I can't wait to get rid of her - I worry like any parent would - but there's probably no need to, based on the progress she's made at the playgroup she's been attending on her own. And I truly believe it will benefit the entire household, as I'll be less grumpy due to getting a proper night's sleep!

So do you have any tips for getting back into a WIP after time away? Or even any ideas for stealing a bit of writing time during busy holidays, so you stay in touch?

Monday 9 January 2012

The Real Reason Why You Shouldn't Give Up the Day Job and A-Z Challenge

Greetings. Sorry about the long-winded title, all will become clear. Quite a significant day for me today as I'll be going back to work on my novel with renewed vigour. It feels like months since I've worked on it, although I know it's only been about three weeks. The main reason for the break was the kids being off school, therefore they stay up late, and I can't get quiet time. (Fussy, I know.)

I don't want this to be a moan - new year, new beginnings, etc - so I turned the situation around to come up with the topic for this post. I know I don't have a full-time job (as in, having to leave the house and deal with the vagaries of public transport in this country, or drive any further than the primary school). But many of you will and I've been there myself while writing my first novel. I know how it feels when you feel like you're wasting those precious hours that should be spent writing, but did you ever stop to think about all the things you do at work and people you talk to and how much inspiration they provide? Even if you hate them. Hate can be a driving force in stories and you can't write anything successful without conflict.

I moved to Glasgow from Brighton to study journalism at 22, when I was still trying to work out what I wanted to do. I didn't think I could make it as a fiction writer, so at least journalism meant I would be writing for a living. After finishing I got a three month temporary contract at my local paper, and that was as far as I ever got. But I got more great ideas during that three months than the whole two years at college, despite the fact that I live in a fairly quiet, semi-rural town surrounded by cows and sheep.

That was because real people and their stories are interesting. One story I dealt with at that time inspired a flash fiction piece that was published five years later. Others are still kicking around in my grey matter and I know they would make for good pieces if I got round to them.

I know that most jobs don't involve people ringing you up and telling you what's happened to them, but the principle applies to any job, however seemingly mundane. Say you're a binman for example (or to be politically correct, refuse collection agent). The things people throw away can be amazing. Maybe you see a smashed photo frame and you come up with a story about the people or things in the photo and how it came to be thrown away. Now I'm a stay at home dad, and again, the kids are a great source of inspiration. I've got a whole heap of ideas just based on offhand things they've said that would make some great children's books.

So, I'm trying to say that being free to write all day can be a blessing and a curse. The next time you're heading into work, instead of grumbling about it, just think of all the possibilities and ideas that day could offer. If you're sitting by yourself most of the time, then what you have to write about is going to get reduced, isn't it?

Onto my news. As you might have guessed, I'm pleased to announce that I'll be taking part in April's A-Z Challenge this year. (Thanks to Alex J Cavanaugh for giving me the heads up on this last week - check out his blog, or the official A-Z Challenge blog, for loads more details.) It is quite daunting, but I think I've come up with a theme for my posts, which I will reveal shortly (it may change). I'm hoping to finalise it soon, though, and get most if not all of my posts done beforehand, so when the time comes I can just enjoy getting to know as many new people as I can.

So, who else is doing the challenge? And, is your job a great source of inspiration for your writing? Tell me all!

Monday 2 January 2012

Happy New Year!!!

I know I've been near-silent over the last three weeks. This wasn't quite the plan, but our holiday schedule has been rather full. The week before Christmas, we had body fluids flying in all directions from three out of four bug-stricken children (apologies if you're eating breakfast/lunch/dinner), as well as my wife's birthday on the 21st, not to mention the usual last-minute preparations. I took my stepchildren to their dad's house after Christmas dinner (Santa's doubly busy in their case), then we flew from Glasgow to Gatwick on Boxing Day to stay with my parents in Brighton 'til Friday. The plane was delayed by an hour and a half due to... a broken windscreen wiper. And the solution was to wait until it stopped raining before taking off. Not very confidence-inspiring!

Then back home for Hogmanay (only hindered by a broken light bulb on the plane home). I trust everyone managed to have a (relatively) peaceful time with loved ones. Our holidays are still going on as the kids aren't back to school til next Monday, but I'm attempting to shake off the stupor induced by too much cake and chocolate and get back into a writing frame of mind. I have had a few new ideas, but not to do with the work in progress.

As many others have done, I'm going to set down my goals for this year and try not to fall too far short of them. Bullet points ahoy:
  • Finish the first draft of my WIP (and second, third etc as required)
  • Send out to agents and smaller publishers that accept unagented submissions (I haven't tried these before)
  • Write more short stories, try to publish some, start work on next book
  • E-publish a collection of short stories on Kindle (nerveracking, but definitely want to do this this year)
And in regards to the blog:
  • Get involved in more stuff (eg bloghops, blogfests, groups, contests)
  • Overhaul the design (got ideas for this, but not got round to it yet, and need to figure out what the flip I'm doing!)
  • I'd also like to bring my journalistic skills to the fore and do a series of interviews, probably on a monthly basis, with newer blogs or those with under 50 followers. The rationale is I'd like to help others in a similar boat to myself. I'll be approaching candidates, but feel free to mention in comments if this would interest you!
I'd also like to read a lot more - I've always been horrendously slow, as I like to take time to absorb everything in a book, but I'm trying to absorb faster. I'm hoping the lovely new Kindle of which I am the proud owner will help in this. I like the facility to know how far you are through the book. My first download is Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, which seems to be quite short. I'm reading this concurrently with the new Terry Pratchett (it's a signed hardback, and I don't want to take it out and about - it's already got quite bashed taking it down to Brighton. So I'll have the Kindle when I'm going places). I won't set a target for how many books I'm going to read, though - but I will keep a tally on here.

I'm probably boring you now, so I'll just say I hope everyone has a great year and you make excellent progress in all your endeavours. I know you've probably listed your goals on your blog, so I'll ask: what was the best present you gave/received at Christmas, in relation to reading or writing?