Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Reminder: The Blog Has Moved

I've launched a 'proper' website:

The new blog is at:


Sunday, 20 February 2011


I've launched a 'proper' website:

The new blog is at:


I <3 you all, so don't get left behind :)

Friday, 4 February 2011

Interview with Creator of

Advancements in technology and social networking have created a system in which readers are more interactive, and where writers are taking publishing into their own hands. Online platforms for writers are on the rise. is a new website that aims to give power to readers and writers through an online critiquing community. I caught up with one of the creators to ask for more details.

Q: What makes different from other online writing workshops?

A: is first and foremost a website for unpublished writers to upload free of charge, sell, and receive constructive feedback from other writers/readers who love to find new voices and stories. We're about helping writers improve and prove their writing to a broader audience than they would otherwise have access to. Our website will be a place where readers can find new works and ideas, and become part of the writing process and experience, a new dynamic in the relationship between writers and readers of all kinds.

As an unpublished writer myself I understand the trials, tribulations, and disappointments of sending your hard work off to agents and not getting any feedback. Our website is about building a constructive community where unpublished writers can develop and find a market for their work; I'm convinced that in today's internet connected age that most writers will find an enthusiastic audience for their work, it's just a matter of reaching them. Fundamentally the idea comes directly from my experience trying to get feedback on my own writing but being unsuccessful due to the large number of MS the industry professionals receive. I'm never going to know if I've got something interesting - or eloquent - to say if other people don't have the ability to read and rate it.

For us, as unpublished writers, our website is all about utilising technology to help other writers like us - whatever stage of their writing journey they're presently at. We've thought long and hard about what features will be beneficial and have tried to pack as many of our ideas into the site from day one. We sincerely hope that other writers will also see the site as a great way to get feedback and to be active members of the rating community.

We think they're loads of reasons to use, and each person who joins will likely find particular area's that are of most interest to them. We're also hoping that as well as all the features we're packing into the site that the social element will also be something that gives writers an additional support that they didn't have before. The only way for each individual writer or reader to find out what makes us different is to join and give us a try!

Q: What incentives are there for readers to rate work and provide feedback?

A: We'll be running a points system from the site launch. The more you rate, the more points you'll earn. There will be a number of levels that our members can achieve through getting involved and rating others work. We're about building a constructive and interactive community, so rating something when you've read it is very much an integral part to the experience of utilising our website.

Q: How would a writer use to sell their work?

A: It's simple, once you've self-edited and got to a stage that you're happy to put your work out there, you just login (or register!) and follow the process to upload the document, a cover picture, set the price and away you go.

Our writers will receive 60% of a Cover Price that they set themselves from a number of options in £GBP, $US, Euros, or $AUS.

Q: Would a writer have to sell their work on the site, and would the reader have to buy it before feedback is given?

A: No, writers potentially don't have to charge for their work (depending upon total word count) and they can receive ratings even if they haven't had anyone download their work yet. Also, readers will be able to feedback in several ways before they have to decide whether to purchase the full length work - more detail on this below.

There will be five document size bands on the site - XS/S/M/L/XL - and this will determine the pricing options available for a writer to choose from. XS and S documents will have a FREE option, if this is the writers wish. The size bands will be based upon the total word count of each document. Also, just to mention, uploading any sized document will always be completely free for the writer, and they'll have a short Bio to sell their individual passion alongside their hard work.

In terms of feedback there will be three different levels at which a reader will rate any work - Synopsis, Preview, and Full - from the start there will be a rating system for the synopsis & preview, and an expanded rating system as well as a free-text review for the full document. We're considering opening up a free-text review for the preview as well (this didn't make it into the initial site build but is something we're keen to add as soon as we can).

We think that readers will be willing to pay a reasonable price to download the full work from new writers, as long as it has been judiciously self-edited and the work is of sufficient quality.

We're aiming to give readers the same level of information before choosing to download as they would have if they picked up a paperback in a bookstore - it will be free to view the synopsis and a short preview of the story so they can make an informed choice as to whether it is for them, and they will also be able to rate at all stages of this decision process.

Q: How would a reader know if a work has been 'judiciously self-edited' before they purchase it, if there are no 'gatekeepers' as such? And do you think readers will be willing to pay for the opportunity to critique someone else's work?

A: It's very much a subjective decision made by the reader based upon the impression that our writers have made with their Bio, Synopsis and Preview - all of which are free for a reader to view. We all know that when we're in a bookstore, we pick up a paperback, read the blurb on the back and if we like the sounds of it we might open it to read the first few pages, before making the decision to buy it - it's exactly the same principle on our website.

We hope that there will be a mix of writers at different stages of their development on our site so it will be down to the community to decide what it is that they consider a well written, well edited, and worth paying for to read the full work. The nature of the rating system will mean that the 'best' work is more easily accessible and visible on the site, but you'll also be able to search by genre to drill down to find more works that are of particular interest to you as a reader. As a caveat on this, what our individual members consider 'best' or 'judiciously self-edited' will likely differ from person to person. The rating system will be designed to flatten out the averages, as a guide to what they should investigate further. For me personally I often find books that aren't necessarily highly publicised or rated that I find well written and inspiring - hopefully this will also happen on the website.

I don't think it's a matter of readers paying for an opportunity to critique someone's work: I think it's about them accessing new writers and paying for a good read, the feedback element is about building a community around helping each other - altruistic I know, but then I'm an idealist at heart. I think there are undoubtedly a lot of diamonds out there which, for whatever reason, haven't had any luck through the traditional channels. I absolutely do think that readers will be willing to pay for unpublished work, and the writers should polish what they have as much as they can, to ensure they have the best opportunity for positive ratings.

However, I don't think that uploads which have spelling or grammatical mistakes (or don't flow) will be very popular at all, so it's important that writers do their best to self-edit if they want to get positive feedback and ultimately have their work downloaded. So whilst the site doesn't have any official 'gatekeepers' the community will decide what is highly rated and what requires some further work to get it up to an appropriate standard.

We interviewed a Literary Consultant in January - Helen Corner from Cornerstones - about tips for new writers and posted her answers on our blog. We'll also be posting a basic self-editing process that I follow on our blog during February and looking to post more about this in the future. You can take a look at these and other articles at:

Q: In the FAQs on your site, you say that you believe it is every writer's dream to be published in the traditional manner using the publishing industry, and that by selling work on a writer can ‘show the industry your success’. However, by selling their work on, a writer has self-published, which means a large publishing house is unlikely to pick up the work. What are your thoughts on this?

A: Yes, I truly believe it is every writers dream to be published in the traditional manner. However, writers already submit pretty long extracts all over the place in an effort to get feedback and support from their peers and the reading community, as the industry generally is not able to give them it. We just see our site as an extension of this. We don't really see what we're doing as self-publishing - we're just providing a central platform for writers to sell their passion, their work, and get valuable feedback which is often difficult to find. If a writer wants to take down their work, for whatever reason, then they can do so at any time.

If the work is good enough it would be self-destructive for a publisher not to publish it to the mass market just because it's been on our site. In the end the industry needs to embrace new technology - the change is happening all around us - and our website is ultimately there to help writers on their journey. Publishers shouldn't be afraid of this, they should embrace it. We think our site has the potential in improve the quality of submissions they receive and potentially illustrate that there is a market for a particular story, which I'm sure they'll be happy with. They should be expecting that writers need this type of support and encouragement in the very competitive environment of new fiction. Also, they should expect to see it more that motivated, pro-active, aspiring authors are searching out ways of improving their writing and should see this as an extremely positive step in the evolution of writing and publishing.

We'll be uploading our work from the beginning, so we're putting our money where our mouth is on this; however it still remains our dream to be published in the traditional manner. Once the site is live we'll be trying our best, as it says in the FAQ's section of our website, to forge strong links with industry professionals. We think that the benefits of our website significantly outweigh any old-fashioned concerns that it may raise.

Q: Though the company is new, what are your visions for the future of

A: We're just taking it one step at a time at the minute. I've had this idea bouncing around my head for several years, and the seed is finally about to germinate thanks to the team, so just loving every minute of it. When the site is live it'll be down to our members to make it bloom, as we've basically built it with them at the forefront of everything, and then we'll see where it takes us from there.

That being said we're constantly coming up with new idea's for the site and people we think we should approach to join up with. It will undoubtedly evolve over time, but at the minute we're really focused on the short term - getting the site ready for Pre-Launch uploads and then the Full Launch.

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. I wish you the best of luck with your venture.

You can register now to be given pre-launch access, enter into a competition to win an eReader, and receive a monthly newsletter by visiting:

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Syntax - Crafting a Powerful Sentence

Syntax changes everything. It's not just about what we put in a sentence - the words we choose, the punctuation - but how we put that sentence together. A well-crafted sentence can make all the difference to a reader. It can convey the writer's message more clearly, more effectively. Careful syntax is the difference between a messy, meandering piece of writing, and a crisp, powerful piece of writing.

This is something we discussed briefly last week in our creative writing class. It's something that writers don't (and shouldn't) pay attention to in the first drafts of their writing. Though you may find a lot of your sentences are constructed efficiently first time around, this instinct for good syntax comes with practice and knowledge. It is definitely something a writer should think about when it comes to editing their work.

Things to think about:

Is this sentence clear in meaning?
Though you might want to use ambiguity as an effect, more often than not it appears in work by accident. Sometimes, when an idea is clear in your own head, you might not be able to recognise that it could be confusing for the reader. This is occasionally due to word choice (e.g. 'The witch stared at him. He became petrified.' - Does this mean she turned him to stone, or that he was frightened?). Other times, confusion arises due to incorrect or absent punctuation. The famous example that the panda 'eats, shoots, and leaves' comes to mind.

Is this sentence repetitious?

Have you said the same thing twice in your sentence, but in a different way? For example, 'Jimmy was only a toddler, so he had to reach up to the table because he was so small.' Here, 'because he was so small' is redundant, because we already know that from the use of the word 'toddler'. We often over-write in this way in our first drafts, as we're eager to purge the information. Yet when we read our work back, we can hopefully see where repetitious words and phrases can be cut, as we view the work from a reader's perspective.

Does this sentence end on the right word?
We're more aware of this device in poetry: using certain words at the end of lines or stanzas for impact. It's the same for prose. For example, 'In a rage, Mike threw the soap that he'd washed the blood from his hands with.' Ending the sentence with the word 'with' creates no sense of impact. Instead, try: 'Mike washed the blood from his hands, and threw the soap in a rage.'

Does this paragraph end with the right sentence?
Syntax is more than just looking at isolated sentences. You have to look at the writing as a whole, building it up piece by piece. Ending with emphasis doesn't just apply to sentences, but also to paragraphs. A paragraph should contain one idea or encapsulate one part of the action. The sentences should build up this idea, beginning with its seed and finishing in a blossom. This is something we think about when writing academic work, but it also applies to fiction.

Is this sentence passive? Passivity in writing is dull. It suggests to the reader that the writer is unsure of themselves, and also gives the impression that the action is happening at arm's length (although, this can sometimes be a deliberate device). The passive voice is initiated when an object becomes the focus of the sentence, instead of the force that is acting upon the object. For example 'The cake was eaten by Sophie' is passive, because 'The cake was eaten' becomes the main clause, excluding the greedy perpetrator from the action. 'Sophie ate the cake' is in the active voice, and is much more immediate. Nom.

Does this sentence create the effect I want?
There are many syntactical techniques a writer can use to invoke a response in the reader. For example. To create a sense of fear. Or foreboding. Or tension. The writer can use short, fragmented sentences. Or they could create long and winding sentences, with many sub-clauses, such as this sub-clause here, or the one before, in order to create a sense of confusion, or drawn-out pace, or similar. Or perhaps a comma here, and here, and here, creates a sense of rhythm. You get the idea. It's a matter of making sure the syntax matches the idea behind the sentence.

Our tutor, Jo Shapcott, suggested that we all become more aware of syntax when we read. Studying published work in this way will hopefully make us more aware of syntax as writers.

A fellow student suggested copying out passages from books (purely as an exercise, of course), to really get a feel for the way an author writes. This would probably work best for people who learn by practice, rather than by theory.

A really useful little book that is full of tips on style, punctuation, grammar, and general 'do's and 'don't's of effective writing is The Elements of Style by Stunk & White. You can find a link to a free electronic copy to this book in the sidebar of my blog. (Scroll down to Writers' Resources.)

What about you? Is syntax something you think about in your writing? Editing? What are your tips? How do you craft the perfect sentence?

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

My Tutor, Jo Shapcott, Wins the Costa Book of the Year!

Jo Shapcott is currently teaching our workshop group on the Creative Writing MA. I was thrilled to hear her poetry collection, Of Mutability, won the Costa book of the year. I even saw her on BBC Breakfast this morning. She excepted the award with humility, and 'on behalf of the genre of poetry'. The total prize money for the award was £35,000 - ah, what a dream! We plan to celebrate with cake in our next workshop :)

Friday, 7 January 2011

For the Love of Dystopia

It recently occurred to me that I absolutely love dystopian film and fiction. I seem to be constantly drawn to writing dystopian fiction, and writing about it in my critical essays. So what is it that appeals to me?

In its simplest term, dystopias are utopias that have gone wrong. Usually a force comes into power, or a technology or advancement emerges, which seemingly aids to create the perfect society. Either the power is corruptive, or the vision of perfection is skewed.

Generally, dystopian worlds are set in the future, or occasionally on an alternative plane of reality. Because of this, they often contain elements of science-fiction, though not always. I suppose they would fit nicely into the genre of speculative fiction, as they deal with the premise of 'what if...?'. For example: The Matrix - what if machines took over the world and used humans as their power source? Or 1984 - what if the government constantly watched and monitored all human activity? Or Logan's Run - what if people were executed as soon as they reached the age of thirty, to keep the population youthful?

This website has managed to break down the dystopian genre into a further fourteen sub-genres. Most (if not all) dystopian fiction will fall into at least one of these categories, and quite possibly multiple categories. The fourteen sub-genres are: Totalitarian, bureaucratic, cyberpunk, tech noir, off-world, crime, overpopulation, leisure, apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, alien, surreal, uchronian (alternative history), machine, pseudo-utopian, feminist, time-travel, and capitalistic. Visit the website for definitions and examples of each.

I love the broadness of dystopian fiction. The scope for imagination. The main purpose of dystopian fiction is to hold a mirror up to our own society, or our own perception of the human experience. They show us possible alternatives to our current state of existence, and break down the mental misconceptions we have about ourselves. And often this mirror shows a fascinatingly dark and ugly world.

Here's a list of the 'Top 50 Dystopian Movies of All Time'.

Personal recommendations:
Gattaca - set in a world where genetically enhanced people are superior.
Battle Royale - School children have become out of control, so every year a different class is sent to an island and told to fight to the death until only one is left as a bid to control youth through fear.
The Matrix - Typical 'brain in the vat' premise.
28 Days Later - More horror than dystopian, but I would argue the latter half set in the army camp has strong elements of dystopia, as well as the premise of the 'Rage' virus.

And 'The 16 Best Dystopian Books of All Time'.

Personal recommendations:
The Island of Doctor Moreau by H. G. Wells - Looks at the experimentation of human and animal genetics.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess - Though it is unclear in the film, this novel is actually set in the near future, where youths are running riot. Follows the story of a boy who is psychologically conditioned, and looks at the philosophy of free will.
I am Legend by Richard Matheson - One man is left alone in a world infected with a vampiric disease. (Way, way better than the film.)
The Road by Cormac McCarthy - Incredibly dark and bleak. An unexplained apocalypse has left the world a barren wasteland. The few remaining humans wander the planes, either as solitary nomads or gangs of cannibals.

Here are a few slightly obscure dystopian films you might want to watch:

THX 1138 (1971) - The ideas in this film are interesting, but I feel many of them have been implemented into more modern fictions, so they're not quite as original as they would have been when this film was first released. This film has a dream-like quality to it that creates a horrible sense of unease. Surreal, but slow paced in places.

The City of Lost Children (1995) - Extremely surreal and sometimes a little hard to follow (unless that's just me...). Wonderful visuals, such a beautifully ugly film. The first film that made me respect Ron Perlman as an actor!

Dystopian fiction is so versatile. It's recently become quite popular in the Young Adult sector, and I'm looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of The Hunger Games when I have the time. And dystopias don't always have to be horrific or bleak.

I by no means have exhausted dystopian recommendations in this post. I still have a lot more iconic films to see and books to read. What are your recommendations?

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Highlights of 2010

This is my 100th post! According to my counter, I've had over 10,000 visits to my blog. And according to Google Analytics, I've had over 2,000 individual visitors this year. And I have 50 blogger followers at the moment. Those are some nice stats :)

Anyhoo. It's nearly the end of 2010. Once again I shall be moaning about how quickly time flies, and moaning even more that I can't get used to writing '11' instead of '10' in dates. Inevitably, the end of the year is a time for reflection.

Last year I set myself one goal for 2010: write at least 500 words a week. Unfortunately, I quickly forgot about my goal. I didn't record any word counts. But considering I've written 10k of a novel, and a bunch of short stories and poems, I think it's possible I may have nearly reached the target. Who knows!

Here are the highlights of 2010:

  • APR. I published the first issue of Inkspill Magazine.
  • MAY. I travelled to Greece.
  • JUN. I got to travel to Portugal for the EurOMA conference, and stay in a 5 star hotel - all in the name of work!
  • JUL. I got to read and comment on the unpublished draft of Write to Be Published by Nicola Morgan, before it hits the shelves in June 2011.
  • AUG. I was accepted onto Royal Holloway's Creative Writing MA.
  • SEP. I racked up 1 year's experience in the publishing industry.
  • OCT. I was short listed in Mslexia's poetry competition.
  • NOV. I was published in the highly successful Hint Fiction anthology.
  • NOV. I was whisked away to Venice for my birthday.
  • DEC. I managed to reach the first 10k of a novel - the most I've ever written for a single project.

Strangely, looks like the first quarter of my year was pretty uneventful. I think I was just focusing on work, and spending my free time creating the first issue of Inkspill Magazine. Either that, or I can't remember that far back.

Fingers crossed for an even better 2011!
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