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 I got to read and comment on the unpublished draft of Write to Be Published by Nicola Morgan, before it hits the shelves in June 2011.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!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Inkspill Magazine Update & Advice from Lord Sugar


Inkspill Magazine issue 3 has been on hold for a while, due to my MA and freelancing taking up a lot of time. But I'm nearly there with the third issue now. I have all the content commissioned (and what a great load of content it is!), and I've drafted it all up in InDesign. I've drafted the cover, and am just awaiting confirmation from the photographer that she likes what I've done with her image. I'm hoping that I can finish everything before January, and send off for a proof copy, ready to start selling in early January.

Running the publication has taken a lot more time and effort than I had originally anticipated. And since my Masters degree and my freelancing work takes priority, sometimes I let things slip a little. I have been on the verge of giving up on it for some time... But in my heart I don't really want to.

I was watching 'The Apprentice' the other day, and someone on it said something along the lines of: If your business is failing, you don't give up on it, you adapt it. You have to constantly evolve it.

Well, Inkspill isn't exactly failing, but it could be better. Issue one and two were printed by differing companies, in an attempt to keep costs low and quality high. But the main problem is the distribution. I have been buying in bulk, and sending out printed copies to contributors across the globe. This leaves me massively in the red. And now that I'm not working full time, I can't afford to be in the red. So once again, I am having to re-think my strategy. And the solution is going to be print-on-demand.

I have always been against print-on-demand because one-off printing means higher costs. So I'm also working on changing the format to keep the price down. I want Inkspill to be an affordable publication. The set postage costs by the print-on-demand company are the biggest worry, though.

And contributor copies... I started off sending a print copy to every contributor, even if they lived in America or Russia. For this issue, I am only sending print copies to those in the UK and Europe, and those outside this area will receive a PDF version. For future issues, I'm considering only sending PDF copies to contributors, BUT having a £10 'prize' for the best piece in the issue. Just some ideas at the moment.

Talking of PDFs, I'm also considering perhaps making the PDF version free. At the moment, I'm charging £1.50, and get quite a lot of people buying them. Yet I wonder, if I make it free, it should reach a much larger audience, and I could hopefully secure some advertising to generate the finances. Again, this is something I'm unsure of, and might have to experiment with...

I'm also going to be changing how I receive submissions. I get hundreds of email submissions, and it's a nightmare to keep them organised. For the new issues, I'm looking forward to finally using SubMishMash.

A while ago I advertised for the help of some guest poetry editors. Again, I have let things slip, and have yet to go through the submissions and select some guest editors, but this is something I am intending to do, to help with issue 4 and 5. I'm hoping SubMishMash will make it very easy for me to share the workload of submissions.

I'm also considering overhauling the website. Many days of work went into creating the current site, but I'm considering changing to a blog platform, simply because I need something that is much easier to change, adapt and move around. Once again, this isn't set in stone.

One last thing. I intended for the magazine to be published quarterly. Yet this year, I have only managed 2 issues. And so I'm considering making it bi-annual. But again, I'm not sure on this point yet.

Any thoughts and opinions on all this greatly welcome. After all, this magazine isn't for me - it's for you! Anyone with a creative spirit. So suggestions and opinions welcome.

Inkspill Magazine issue 3 will be available to buy January 2011.

(With thanks to Captain Cat for the wonderful promo shots)

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Panic

The first semester of my MA in Creative Writing is over. It's gone so quickly. Though there are three semesters in the year, only two of them are teaching semesters, so I've already had half of my teaching - a daunting thought!

Over the Christmas break I'm writing a 3-4k theory based essay. I've never had to do an academic essay to do with Creative Writing before. The essay side of Creative Writing at undergraduate level was about self-responses. Likewise, I've not had much experience of inventing my own title - about anything. Again, this is quite daunting. If I chose a bad title, my whole essay could fall through.

Luckily our first assignments are marked twice, and we have a chance to re-write them before the final submission. So that's quite comforting.

We also have to submit the first 5k words of our novels. I am going to go over all the parts I have been workshopping, and spruce them up a bit. I'm not too worried about getting this work done. But I'm very apprehensive of having it marked.

Now that a third of the academic year has gone, I'm also starting to panic about what I'm going to do in the future. Should I go back into the publishing industry? Can I expand my freelancing? Could I become an English teacher? ... I just have no idea.

Ideally, I think I need a job I can do part time, and one where I have a balance between working alone and interacting with people. Above all, though, it needs to be something I enjoy. That has always been my number one goal when it comes to a permanent job.

I know I have time to figure this all out. But sometimes time has a nasty habit of speeding up.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Student Riots - Punks Down on Their Luck

"You've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya, punk?"

Personally, yeah, I do. When I first went to university, just four years ago, I felt pretty unlucky. I was the first generation to have to pay £3k per year instead of £1k per year for my education. Now, students are facing £9k per year.

At the moment, I'm shouldering about £20k's worth of debt for my undergraduate degree (including living cost). I can imagine that with these new student fees, many students will be facing around £35-40k of debt. It's outrageous.

I'm unsure how post graduate degrees will be affected, but I'm also feeling lucky that I went for mine when I did. The cost was already on the cusp of an absurd amount to me. If it had been any higher, I would not be a student again right now.

MPs are saying that £9k a year is still a small price to pay for a degree, considering that students are given loans and won't have to pay anything back until they are earning £20k+. But degrees seem to be decreasing in value, since so many people have them, and there is already a lack of jobs. Graduate enemployment is at an all-time high, so how can it be justified that a degree is worth £40k in the end? It is not a guarantee for a higher paid job, or even a job at all.

If this price increase discourages people to go to university, the value of a degree will increase. But the people whole are dissuaded will be those from working and lower-middle-class backgrounds, for whom £35-40k of debt is actually a significant figure.

The BBC's top story today seems to be about a few protesters kicking Prince Charles' car. Because that's obviously the most important thing here.

I watched around three hours of news coverage of the riots last night, with mixed emotion. Students are rightly protesting. The minority are (in my opinion) wrongly protesting using violence.



Many people are saying that the decision is undemocratic. News reporters retaliated saying that the MPs making this decision were democratically elected. To which protesters responded that when they voted, these student fee increases were not in the parties' policies. Liberal Democrats said they would fight to abolish student fees, and the Conservatives said they would not increase student fees. Many people are angry because the voting system seems to be nothing more than a fa├žade.

I'm still in a state of disbelief. It's simply unsustainable, ridiculous, and outrageous.

Friday, 26 November 2010

'Soulless' by Gail Carriger - Humorous Supernatural Victorian Steampunk Erotica Romance... etc...

[CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS]

Soulless by Gail Carriger fearlessly spans many genres. The book doesn't take itself too seriously, and because of this it is quite a fun read. There are many dark and solemn supernatural or steampunk tales out there. The humour in Soulless is quite refreshing in comparison. However, I fear that it's array of genres ultimately dilutes this book.

Blurb from Amazon.co.uk:

Alexia Tarabotti is labouring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she's a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette. Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire - and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate. With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London's high society? Or will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart? SOULLESS is a comedy of manners set in Victorian London: full of werewolves, vampires, dirigibles, and tea-drinking.

At first, I found the main character, Alexia, slightly annoying. Unused to reading humour, it took me a while to relax into the tone of the book. Alexia first appeared as prissy, but as I began to see the world she lived in, and as I began to uncover more about her character, I started to warm to her. By the end of the novel, though, she had began to irk me a little again.

The book deals with Victorian high society. And to be honest, it's this kind of corset-wearing, tea-drinking, party-going superficial pointlessness that I find least appealing about this era in history. I'm really not bothered about the colour and trim of a dress, or how many parasols or hats one person can own... This isn't a criticism of the writing, but I think it all adds to the slightly irritating prudishness of the book. One reviewer on Amazon said they found the writing 'smug', and I think some people might well read it that way, mostly because of the high society that the book deals with, blended with the richly sarcastic tone. Some may view this as a flaw, but others I'm sure will view it as a strength. This aspect of the novel, I feel, is very much down to personal preference.

This aside, my favourite characters by far were the werewolves. In Carriger's world, supernaturals are integrated into society, and are even part of the government. Lord Maccon (alpha werewolf and head of the Bureau of Unnatural Registry) is gruff and rude; his beta Professor Lyall is intelligent, loyal and well respected. I thought both their characters were very well painted.

Lord Maccon quickly becomes the story's main love interest, and Carriger has perfected the art of teasing us with this sub-plot, and doesn't give us what we want until the very end - as it should be with all good love stories. By the end of the novel, however, the story did start to boarder on Mills and Boons. The slightly more graphic Epilogue cheapened the eroticism and romance that was so well executed throughout the rest of the book.

The steampunk elements of this book seemed fairly tacked-on. In one of the early chapters, Alexia and her even more annoying friend Ivy are taking a walk. They come across some airships tethered in Hyde Park. Alexia makes some fleeting comments about how amazing they are, and then they never crop up again.

Steampunk comes more into play at the end of the novel, when were are faced with revolutionary and horrific cog-filled torture machines. These were fascinating, yet their darkness contrasted almost unnaturally with the light-hearted tone of the rest of the book.

An automaton also becomes integral to the plot. Carriger describes this mechanical man with appropriate horror (the unyielding strength, the dead skin, the carved forehead...). The mystery around this character really drives the novel forward, but once we find out what it is, so much suspense is lost, and from that point, the automaton loses much of its original character and falls very much into the background. The revelation about the carving in its forehead was a disappointment to me, too. The word was 'VIXI' and I thought it would represent Roman numerals, perhaps suggesting there are many more of these monsters, but instead it turns out it is part of some magic spell, and all that is needed to defeat the automaton is essentially a face wash.

In all, the book is well structured and the characters are rich. Though the main themes have been done many times before, Carriger brings a freshness to them with some original thought. The amalgamation of genres makes this a difficult book to place in the market, and I feel the light tone and the supernatural romance elements are the strongest. The steampunk elements are mostly aesthetic, and I feel that Carriger is more enchanted by high society Victorian England mixed with supernatural creatures than anything more technological.

Rating: **1/2 (Two and a half stars out of five)

Thursday, 25 November 2010

'Boneshaker' by Cherie Priest - All Steam and No Punk

Boneshaker seeks to combine the steampunk genre with zombie horror. Published by Tor in 2009, it was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2010, though public reviews are mixed and varied.

Blurb from Amazon.co.uk:

At the start of the Civil War, a Russian mining company commissions a great machine to pave the way from Seattle to Alaska and speed up the gold rush that is beating a path to the frozen north. Inventor Leviticus Blue creates the machine, but on its first test run it malfunctions, decimating Seattle s banking district and uncovering a vein of Blight Gas that turns everyone who breathes it into the living dead. Sixteen years later Briar, Blue's widow, lives in the poor neighbourhood outside the wall that s been built around the uninhabitable city. Life is tough with a ruined reputation, but she and her teenage son Ezekiel are surviving until Zeke impetuously decides that he must reclaim his father s name from the clutches of history.


And surprisingly, I'm not giving away too much of the plot, as much of that background info is crammed into the first couple of pages. It is presented as an extract from a historical novel, which one of the characters is writing.

This character, Hale Quarter, is one of the first people we come across in chapter one. We see the world from a mixture of his and Briar's point-of-view. Then, Quarter disappears, and doesn't reappear again in the novel. Not a particularly smooth introduction to the story.

The novel is structured with two dominant view points: Briar and Zeke. Each have their own chapters. Briar's chapters are illustrated with a pair of goggles at the beginning, and Zeke's chapters with a gas lamp. A nice touch.

I felt Priest painted Briar's character quite well. Her history, her flaws, made her more human. However, she boarded on the stereotypical 'mother who will stop at nothing' to save her child.

Zeke, on the other hand, was an incredibly annoying character. He is meant to be an older teenager, but acts more like a ten or eleven year old. He lacks a sense of maturity, and his thoughts are simple. Often, he comes across as rather dumb, and I felt almost completely unsympathetic towards him.

Whereas Briar has a much more active stance in moving the plot forward, Zeke is lead around by others, making him passive and quite boring.

All four-hundred pages of the book take place within a few days. And this slow pace often takes its toll. The action scenes are well executed and exciting, but the spaces between them are often bogged down with unnecessary description, bantering, and time-fillers. It seems to me that there is no real control over the contours of action and suspense.

I commend Priest's original zombie ideas. The term 'rotter' is both apt and phonetically pleasing, and I liked the idea that these zombies were created by a poisonous gas. However, there is no attempt to explain why this 'blight' created the undead, or why or how it was being formed beneath the city. The characters don't even wonder about this, which I found strange. The role of the zombies in the plot is quite unoriginal. They are just there to loom, chase and destroy.

The steampunk elements are largely aesthetic. There are copious amounts of goggles, airships, weird weapons and strange devices. Nothing seems superficial in the sense that all the steampunk objects are important to the narrative. However, there is no real sense of rebellion in this text, no real sense of the 'punk'. This book doesn't really try to hold up a mirror to anything, to reveal any ugly truth.

The book itself bears a sepia text (as opposed to traditional black) which I personally found a little hard on the eyes. However, I adore the cover art and design.

Overall, I did enjoy reading Boneshaker, despite its flaws. Priest's imagined world is rich and dark. Perhaps with a little more editing and fine tuning, this book could have been even better.

Rating: *** (3/5 stars)

Friday, 19 November 2010

Belief

In my last post, I talked about creative doubt. Last night, I went to see Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story which was showing at my local cinema. The most interesting part of the documentary, to me, was about Izzard's beginnings. His sheer determination. To try new things. To keep going even when everyone told him he was terrible. His belief in himself.

"You've got to believe you can be a stand-up before you can be a stand-up. You have to believe you can act before you can act. You have to believe you can be an astronaut before you can be an astronaut. You've got to believe."


And it's true. Because if you don't believe in yourself, then you're setting yourself up for a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. As Izzard says in the documentary, it's a mind game. It's psychological.

And yet, you still have to question yourself, otherwise you 'could be lying in a ditch, at the end of your career' when you thought you were on top of the world. You have to believe in yourself, but not to the point of self-delusion. It's a careful balancing act.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Doubt

Am I a writer? Do I want to be a writer? I’ve invested all of my worldly savings into my Masters course. A brave move? Or a stupid one? Am I buying the time to write? Or am I using it to justify myself as a writer? In which case, surely I’m not really one.

The thought of having to sit down and write isn’t pleasant to me. It seems like a chore. I’m crippled with self-doubt before I even start. It’s only once I’ve written something, I feel good. It’s only once I have a chunk of text down, and edited it, I’m sometimes quite pleased with what I’ve written. I feel like a writer.

And then if I don’t write, I feel guilty. I feel terrible.

Last night I had a strange experience. I was getting ready to have my bath. I usually read in the bath, and I was looking round my bedroom for a book to take with me. I had an urge to read a certain story, to find out what happens, and then I realised after a few seconds that the story I was thinking of was my work-in-progress. I guess that’s quite a good sign (for my writing – a bad sign for my sanity).

I’ve written nearly 10,000 words of my novel. My most sustained project yet. But it’s taken me over two months to write it. About an average of 150 words a day. Terrible, since I’ve quit my full time job to do this.

Why do I write? I don’t know. I yearn to see my writing in print, to hold my novel in my hands, printed by a respectable publisher. But that thought also fills me with fear. I have thin skin. I see premonitions of my novel being rated ‘one out of five stars’ on Amazon. Of scathing reviews. Worst, of being accused of ripping off others’ ideas. That my work is horribly unoriginal.

And if I find writing so hard, and it takes me so long, how on earth could I write more than one book? How awfully un-author-like that is. I should be biting at the bit to get to my keyboard, to furiously exorcise the stories in my head. And yet I’m not. I’m lounging around in my dressing gown, watching day-time telly, refreshing Facebook.

Would I be damning myself if I publish this post? Would I be admitting something terrible? Or am I just going through a phase? A phase that’s hard to shake. I’m hoping things will get easier.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Weird Writing


I came across this great article today over at Uncanny Valley. 'Workshopping the Weird Kid' talks about the difficulties of giving group feedback to those writers who produce strange and unsettling work.

"It's simply inappropriate to suggest to someone who's written a story with a unicorn that the unicorn be taken out because it's weird. Because it's not relevant, because it's not effective, because it's not putting tension on any part of the story, sure. But its weirdness is conditional to its existence. If it wasn't weird, it would be a horse."

"It can be really difficult... to examine the weirdness present in a story for its utility instead of for the effects it was intended to produce--confusion, disgust, shock, alienation. These are valid effects for fiction, but like any other writing decision, they must be made to do work on the level of story and not just the level of reader reaction. Saying 'I wanted the reader to feel confused', ... does not in itself justify confusion."


Tracy Bowling really gets to the heart of this issue in her article. And it's something I come across when reading submissions for Inkspill Magazine. I want to publish highly creative work, including things that are considered 'weird'. But just submitting a weird story won't cut it. As Bowling points out in the quotes above, the weirdness needs to be intrinsic to the work.

Friday, 22 October 2010

An Evening with Booker Prize Winner Howard Jacobson

Last night, I had the privilege to attend a talk from this year's Man Booker Prize winner, Howard Jacobson. I luckily obtained a free ticket via the university (though tickets were only £10 anyway). It was my first venture into the British Library(!) which, as it turns out, is a very impressive and welcoming place.

I haven't read anything by Jacobson... I must admit, I hadn't actually heard of him until the event, and I hadn't been following the Man Booker Prize... Prizes don't particularly interest me, because of their subjectivity and exclusivity. I'm no where near the stage when I can start to dream of nominations and wins...!

But he was a fantastic public speaker. Very insightful, and very funny. I liked his views on literary prizes: they're not the driving force of writing, but once you know they are out there, you think it would be nice to have one!



Howard Jacobson's writing insights:

- Don't give your characters boring names. 'I don't want to read about Paul and Jane!' Some of Jacobson's character's names include: Sefton Goldberg, Julian Treslove, Sam Finkler...

- Plot is boring. 'I don't read a book to find out "who dunnit"' - for Jacobson, the best novels are character driven. A fan of Dickens, he said Great Expectations is a great novel, because even though it is driven by plot, the revelation at the end changes the character of Pip, and so it is more about character growth than anything else.

- Don't plan. Otherwise it sounds too much like plot, and you end up forcing the novel to direct it towards your pre-planned scenes.

- Know your characters by writing them. Jacobson says he doesn't know anything about his characters until he starts writing about them, and the novel then shapes around them.

- Edit as you go. This doesn't work for everyone, but I have heard this technique from many authors. Don't write a first draft and then go back and edit it, but edit each sentence as you write them. Jacobson says on a bad day, he will write one sentence.

- Write what you know. Now, Jacobson didn't directly say this, but it was implied. He said the only novels he had to abandon (after only writing a few pages), were the ones in which he tried to be like James Joyce or the like. Instead, he found himself writing about things that were much closer to his current situation. Sometimes so much so that he had to move after a novel was published because too many of his colleagues would recognise themselves in the story!


Of course, what works for Howard Jacobson won't work for everyone. But it was incredibly interesting being able to have a little insight into the way the Booker Prize winner writes.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Creative Writing MA: The Workshop


I can't believe I'm fast approaching the fifth week of my Creative Writing MA, and it will soon be Reading Week! (The university equivalent of half term... but with lots of reading to do.)

This first term is divided into two units: the workshop, and supplementary discourse.

Both these units are taught on the same day. Three hours for the workshop, a half hour break (across the road to the nice Italian cafe), and then one and a half hours for the supplementary discourse unit. The lessons end at seven o'clock in the evening, and then we usually head to the pub for a quick drink.


The Workshop


This is very much like the workshops I experienced as a third-year undergraduate, though the amount of work we submit is much greater. We take it in turns to submit 10-15 pages of double-spaced work, which we then have a week to read and comment on, before coming into class. The work can be anything we want feedback on.

People's projects are all at varying stages, depending on how much they have written, and how much they know about their own story. I feel sort of 'in the middle', as I haven't written a great deal, but I feel like I know quite a lot about the world I'm creating and its back story, even if I'm not entirely confident about the plot at the moment.

By now, everyone has had at least one piece workshopped. Things we have discussed have included wider topics such as point of view, how much information to use as 'hooks' and how much to withhold, tone, expectations and predictions from what we have first been presented with, and smaller details such as limiting dialogue tags, using layout to its full potential, and where and how to end sentences and paragraphs for the greatest impact.

We discuss the work, one piece per hour, and the writer is encouraged to remain quiet.

After talking to a few people from the other group (there are two Prose MA groups), it seems they have the opposite approach. The writers spend 10-15 minutes introducing their work, explaining what they were trying to achieve etc. However, it seems that the other group would prefer to adopt our workshop structure, as they feel that the introduction too greatly effects the type of feedback they receive.

I have to agree, I think the 'silent author' technique is the best way to go about workshopping.

Once the discussion is over, we all hand our annotated manuscripts back to the author.

I've found it to be a very constructive experience. Not only is it great to receive feedback, but it's also great fun discussing everyone's work, bouncing ideas of each other and looking at things in different ways.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Rising University Student Fees

It's currently in the news that student fees are to rise, yet again - rumour has it, up to £10,000 per year, and this time with interest on the loan. This would, of course, mean that only the more privileged people will be able to afford to go to university, or those who would be happy to leave with tens of thousands of pounds of debt hanging over them.

Though I believe in free education for all, I think a line has to be drawn when it comes to university education. The recent systems just aren't sustainable for our country.

When my elder sister went to university, her fees were just £1200 per year. By the time it was my turn, they had risen to £3150 per year. My younger sister has just deferred her place, and she might be facing £6-10,000 per year. It's criminal.

Yet I think the current university system is all wrong. Simply put: there are too many universities.

Back in the day, it was actually impressive to have been to university. Now, people see it as their right. Whereas only a few college students would go on to study at university in the past, it seems that most do now days. And guess what? It's devalued the degree.

It still seems that degrees from some universities are worth more than degrees from other universities, but sometimes it is hard to tell. There are the league tables, and then there are the league tables by subject... And it all gets a little blurry.

I say, cut the number of universities. Cut the number of places on offer to college students in the UK. Make students work their asses off to get into university, instead of just getting average grades and deciding to go to uni on a whim because they'd rather not get a job just yet.

Then the universities will be nurturing the best minds with the right attitudes. Just like the good ol' days.

The government can pour all of the funding into those few universities, and bam, tuition fees go down. People can afford to go to university, and degrees are worth something again. The trick is getting the balance of places right, and keeping all opportunities equal.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Writers Write

I'm always plagued by the same thought: how can I be a writer when I find it so hard to get the words out? Now, when I do get the words out, they usually aren't too bad (I hope). I quite like editing. I know about grammar and punctuation, and layout convention etc. I understand much of literary theory. But it's getting the words out in the first place that I struggle with the most.

When I see how much the other writers on my course produce, it makes me wonder why I seem to find it so difficult. Other writers I connect with online seem to punch out several thousand words a day.

I've only got about 3500 words down (and that's not even properly edited) for my novel, and I've been working on it for several weeks. I don't even have a full time job as an excuse any more.

I need to just let go and splurge. But I think there is an element of fear that stops me doing that. I need to get over this, or else how can I call myself a writer?

(Image by Shannon Runquist)

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Creative Writing MA: The Induction

Well, it's been a couple of weeks. I promised to keep everyone updated on the MA and share the experience, and I feel a little guilty that I've had so much to say and no time to say it! (Seems like a reoccurring theme in my life...)

I'll start at the beginning.

On Thursday 23rd September, I had my Induction. For this, I had to travel to the Royal Holloway University campus, which is in Egham. Quite far from my house. I was rather apprehensive about having to get there for 9am.

To make matters infinitely worse, despite having not been ill for the whole of 2010, the day before my induction I came down with a truly rotten, stinking cold. I could go into details - but I'll try to keep a dignified silence.

So, my face swollen to the point that my teeth hurt in my jaw, and the apprehension of knowing I had to get up at 5am and navigate my way through unknown train lines, I barely slept a wink.

I was so close to not going. But I forced myself up at 4.45am (I was awake before my alarm, since I barely slept at all), and pumped myself full of medicine and phoned the taxi. No going back.

Too tired and too ill to eat, I waited for my taxi in the dark. It was late. I just about caught my train. I had a bitch of a journey. The university was a 20 min walk away from Egham station (according to Google maps), but they hadn't accounted for the campus being up a huge hill, the fact that I was coughing up my own lung, and I hadn't had any food. And that it was raining.

So I barely made it to the introductory lecture - which started 20 mins late anyway!

Turned out, the lecture really had nothing to do with Creative Writing. Waste of time.

With four hours to kill before the Creative Writing meeting, it then became apparent that I was meant to register. Where and how, no-one seemed to know!

After being sent on several circular journeys, and realising that I (as well as many of the other Creative Writing students) hadn't been sent any information about registration and therefore didn't have the right documents with me, I finally got it all sorted, but not before seriously considering yelling 'Screw your damn MA!' and going home.

I'm a grumpy, impatient (and at that moment, self-pityingly ill) person. I can't help it.

BUT, the Creative Writing talk reignited my faith. It sounded good, it sounded fun. Everyone on the course seemed really nice. There was a 'welcome party' in one of the conference rooms with wine and nibbles, where I chatted to some people in my group. It was all good, apart from the fact I was losing my voice and sounded rather like a teenage boy whose voice was breaking. Good first impressions, I think.

We then had a (pretty pointless) computer session. I was invited out for coffee afterwards, which I would have gladly gone to, but by that point I could barely whisper, and had a 3-hour journey home ahead of me, and was ready to fall to the floor, so I made my way hurriedly home.

The following Monday, we had our first seminar. Of course, I got lost on the way to the central London-based building, but got there in the end. The building is rather shabby (the campus was much, much nicer!), but one of my classmates commented on how typical it was for a University of London building...! Fair enough!

We have two seminars each Monday. My tutor is Susanna Jones (author of The Earthquake Bird among other novels), for both the workshop and the Supplementary Discourse modules. There was some confusion about which group was getting what tutor for what module due to conflicting paperwork, but the tutors seemed oblivious to this! Susanna seems like a great tutor. I'm happy.

My group is 8-strong, though we have been 1 short for the past few weeks. A good size, I think.

The first Monday was quite introductory, but we had our first 'real' seminars this week. But I'll leave that for another post...

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Misses, Short Lists, and an Advance Copy

I don't submit much and I don't submit often, but recently I've been unable to break a string of rejections. I submitted to Shock Totem and was rejected. I submitted to the 50 Stories for Pakistan, but didn't make the cut (quite gutted as there was a 1 in 5 chance of publication with that one, and I really wanted to be included in such a great project). I have one more submission 'out there'... keeping my fingers crossed.

Already feeling very down about my ability as a writer, these rejections really didn't help. I know I have to have a tough skin... It's something I'm still working on.

But in this morning's post I received quite an awesome rejection. Though I hadn't made the final cut, one of my poems, 'The Hiding Place', had been short listed in the annual Mslexia Poetry Competition. I was chuffed. I entered last year and didn't hear anything back. So this year I got one step closer. Quite encouraging.

In other news, the Hint Fiction Anthology has nearly reached its publication date. On November 1st, you'll be able to get your hands on a copy. I received an email this morning saying my contributor copy will be in the post shortly. I'm very excited about seeing it, and my huge 25 word story!


Here's Robert Swartwood opening the box of advance copies.


And here's tortoise Franklin having a read. I think the brevity of the stories is keeping him pretty engaged.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

MA Preperation

It's my first week since I left my job. I haven't been lazing around in bed (too much). Set my alarm for my usual 7.30am workday schedule, but ended getting up at 8.30am. Not too bad. Doesn't bode well for my bright idea of getting up at the crack of dawn and writing 1000 words before breakfast. My intentions to adhere to that schedule are always strongest at night. Then I can't get myself up in the morning. Will try harder once the course starts...

I've been to the library today. Only for a couple of hours. I have been researching Victorian Britain... in the Children's Reference section. Because, well, let's face it, Horrible Histories and books with lots of pictures are much more fun. If I find anything I want more detail on, I'll delve into the 'grown ups' section (which I doubt is very extensive) or have a look online. In a couple of hours, I had several pages of notes on dates and things I found interesting.

I have a strong idea of what I want to do for the beginning of my novel - the fist couple of chapters perhaps - but then my MC gets literally thrown out of an airship. All I could see was her standing in the middle of empty countryside. But after this little bit of research, my imagination has been populated with a variety of rich settings I could place her in...

So I've made a bit of progress, though research doesn't really feel like progress. And it bores me a little. I was only in the library for two hours, at least half an hour of which was spent browsing.

I also finally finished reading How Fiction Works by James Wood. I'll try to get round to writing a full review later, but it was a cracking read. Very interesting and insightful.

This week, via the power of email, I found out which group I'll be in for my Creative Writing MA. There are two groups of 10, and I'm in Group B. The course website says there are only three members of staff, but on the title table there is actually six. My tutors will be:

Susanna Jones, author of The Earthquake Bird, Waterlily and The Missing Person's Guide to Love, all published by Picador between 2001-2007.

Kate Williams - Though I'm unsure who exactly this is. There isn't any information about her on the university's website. I have found a Random House author of this name, and also a recent graduate of the Royal Holloway MA who has secured a huge book deal, so I'm wondering if it is her. That would be quite interesting, to be taught by such a successful veteran of the course. Furthermore, her novel is set in the Victorian era, too, which would be quite handy to talk about.

Giles Foden - Author of (most famously) The Last King of Scotland. I had no idea Giles Foden would be teaching on this course. He was my dissertation tutor at UEA in 2009. I'm not sure if he would remember me.


I received an email today (I've had numerous emails from Royal Holloway, but zilch paperwork through the post!). The email was from Susanna Jones, who will by my workshop leader. She asked for volunteers for the first workshop on Monday, for which 10-15 pages of double spaced writing needs to be presented. No way could I do that for Monday!

It gave me a jolt of fear. I knew I'd have to write a lot for this course. And that's my biggest weakness as a writer: my fear prevents me from even beginning. Big word counts scare me. So far in my writing life, I've been a short story/flash fiction writer. But that's the reason I took on this course. I need those deadlines and that expectation to jolt me into action. I want to write a novel. No excuses.

I've heard that you shouldn't be the first (or even second) to submit work to a writing group. The group needs time to settle and understand each other before people are comfortable giving feedback. If I can, I'd like to submit in week 3, but if that's not possible, I'll try to get something written for the second week. We'll see how eager my fellow classmates are to volunteer. They probably all feel the same as me!

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Full Time Student, Part Time Freelancer


Well, on Friday I left my job. I have been working full time for the world' leading publisher for nearly a year. It was a very surreal day. The desk that I had sat at for literally hundreds of hours. The faces I saw every day. The routine. All ended!

I had a lovely send-off. My colleagues all signed a card with some really nice messages, and gave me a £30 Amazon gift voucher (which is going to be extremely handy for getting books for my course!). My girl gang (all the other editorial assistants, assistant editors, and associate editors) also got me a card, and a £10 HMV voucher (which I'm going to buy The Proposition with - they know I love films!) and some gorgeous earrings.

I've learned an awful lot over the past year, and the people I have worked with have all been brilliant. But I'm not going to miss the stress. With so many of our team members leaving recently, and it taking so long for their roles to be filled again, things became quite difficult for many of us. Though I had a lot of support, it was still a difficult time.

I had an exit interview on Friday in which I raised a few concerns. My interviewer said that the interview could either be kept confidentially on file, or that it could be shared with my managers. I thought, what's the point in doing the interview if it's just going to be put in a filing cabinet and not read? So I agreed for my managers to read it. My main concerns were about the big gaps between people leaving and their positions being filled again, and the potential for promotion. It seemed that for an assistant at my entry level, it was very possible to be promoted to assistant editor and then to associate editor, within about three years, but it also seemed that all this meant was taking on more and more responsibilities and a bigger work load, while still effectively remaining on the bottom rung of the 'team' ladder. It would have made more sense to get more assistants in once someone had reach the status of associate editor.

Furthermore, it seemed that quite a few people had to leave the company because once they got to that level, there just wasn't anywhere higher they could get to, unless an editor left. I'm sure it's the same in most publishing houses, though.

Of course, my main reason for leaving was so I could go back into education. I think it is more than likely that when I come back to work again in a year's time, I will go back into publishing. However, I think I will definitely try to get into fiction publishing instead of educational publishing. I have heard they are very different roles.

It is very, very scary knowing that I won't be getting a pay package every month. I have one more month's pay to come to me, and that will be it. Which is why I'm going to use the contacts I've made over the past year to hopefully get some freelance work. Pearson have already offered me several freelance projects, some to be completed by the end of the year, and some ongoing for 2011. I'm extremely happy about this. I know exactly how to do this work, as it is a task I often did while working there, and the money is better than if I'd been working in-house (though only marginally).

I also have a few ideas for e-courses. I want to set up some passive income streams, so I'm going to have my work cut out for me setting those up. I want to make them really, really good quality and great value for money, but very simple to orchestrate.

I had a bit of a nightmare with my university enrollment recently. It seemed that though I had been accepted by the English department, they hadn't passed my application onto the applications office, so I didn't have an official place for a while. I found this out after contacting the uni expressing my concern that I hadn't had any paperwork though. Thankfully, it was resolved and I still had my place. But I had missed the early payment discount for paying the fees, which I was quite angry about. After a few more days of waiting, I found out that because it was the university's mistake and not mine, I could still pay the discounted fee. So I have already paid my full £4300 (£200 discount for paying early). And that's all my money at the moment. My bank account now echos.

So the stresses of work have been replaced with the stresses of money. I have to keep reminding myself that 'it's only money' and that I'll be okay, but I still have a lot of major doubts about whether I'm doing the right thing. I could have gone travelling with that money, or moved out. My dream of holding my first publishing novel in my hands is what keeps me going. Doing the MA gives me a legitimate excuse not to be working full time. It gives me deadlines and people to help and encourage me. It gives me that creative mindset and environment. I'm just hoping it's enough.

I'm aiming to make at least £200 per month to pay my rent and travel fees. Hopefully I can make a little more than that. I would like to be able to have £1000 saved up by the time I finish my course so that I can move out or go travelling. Not sure how realistic that target is. I want to focus as much as possible on my course. I have taken it full time so that I don't have to be a burden on the family home for more than another year. But I still need to support myself financially and save for my future. A tricky balancing act.

Relating to that, I need to have a big think about the future of Inkspill Magazine. I want to keep the project going, but with the current structure, I'm loosing around £80-£100 per issue. Which was do-able when I was working full time, but I can't do that on a student budget. I do want to keep it as a printed publication, but I have a feeling it might have to go to print-on-demand. Which would be a real shame as this means the price will inevitably go up, which I really don't want to do. Like I say, I need to have a big think about this, and come up with a way that I can publish it without making a loss, and keeping it good value for the reader. Issue 3 is delayed for these reasons, and because I have been terribly busy recently with work and setting up for university.

Well, that's it for now. It's Sunday afternoon and I don't have those 'Sunday blues' today, knowing that for the first time in a year I don't have to go into work tomorrow. I have my induction day on campus on Thursday (getting up at 5am to get the 6am train is not going to be fun), and I believe my course officially starts in central London the following Monday. I'm very excited.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

50 Stories for Pakistan

From the man who created 100 Stories for Haiti...

Pakistan … The United Nations estimates that twenty million people have lost their homes as a result of the flooding that started last July. Add to this the thousands who have already lost their lives, and the thousands who will lose their lives because of famine and disease … And well, it is once again time to do something!

100 Stories for Haiti has raised about £4000 for the Red Cross Haiti Earthquake Appeal. I am honoured and proud of the effort put in by writers and readers in supporting the project … So, let’s do it again!

Stories for Pakistan.

Let’s put together a book of 50 stories, each no more than 500 words in length. Any subject or genre is acceptable, however, no stories with any violence, death, or mass destruction.

Let me repeat that and add some extra rules just to be clear … Blimey! Anyone would think I’d done this before!

* 500 WORDS MAXIMUM.
* ANY SUBJECT OR GENRE.
* NO STORIES WITH ANY VIOLENCE, DEATH, OR DESTRUCTION.
* NO MULTIPLE SUBMISSIONS.
* NO EMAIL ATTACHMENTS!

Please cut & paste your story into the body of an email, include your name, postal address, email address, and (if you have one) website. Include a short bio if you have one. Short, as in, one or two paragraphs.

ANY SUBMISSIONS FAILING TO FOLLOW THESE SIMPLE RULES WILL BE INSTANTLY REJECTED.

Please send your stories to storiesforpakistan@gmail.com

Stories for Pakistan will go out as an ebook and paperback published by Big Bad Media. We will also look to producing an audiobook version, as well as a version packaged as an iPhone app.

Proceeds will go to the Red Cross Pakistan Floods Appeal.

Writers, come on, it’s time to make a difference!

storiesforpakistan@gmail.com

Oh, deadline! SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 19.

– Greg McQueen


Visit the 50 Stories for Pakistan website.

I've submitted my story, and will be buying a copy of the anthology as soon as it's out. Please help spread the word about this wonderful project.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Do You Know What's in Your Character's Fridge?

Stumbled across this great photography project: You Are What You Eat.

It is a selection of photographs of people's fridges. The captions tell us about the owners. You can tell quite a bit about lifestyles from these photographs.




For example, this is the contents of a 1-person household. The owner was a World War II prisoner of war. He has a well-stocked fridge, which even includes cans of food. Make me wonder if he now has a fear of hunger, and makes sure his food supply is always well-stocked with long-lasting products in case of emergency.




The caption for this photo is: "Short Order Cook | Marathon,TX | 2-Person Household | She can bench press over 300lbs. | 2007". I'm mostly wondering why the hell there is a snake in her freezer (top right).

Anyway, food for thought. How well do you know your characters? What would they have in their fridge?

Monday, 16 August 2010

New-Fangled eReaders: The Growing Appeal

This is the age of technology. Didn't you get the memo? Paper is so last decade.

But despite my general excitement about most advances in technology (usually paired with a subconscious sense of impending doom - I've seen enough sci-fi movies to know that technology can be scary stuff), I've not really jumped on the eReader bandwagon. Mostly because of the emotional attachment I feel with worn, well-loved paperbacks that I can read in a hot bath. I can't imagine using an eReader in the bath. The screen would steam up, it would slip out of my wet hands and plop into the water and I'd electrocute myself to death. (Note: I have yet to drop a book in the bath.)

Not only that, but they are bloody expensive.

However, I have been watching the developments with interest. This month, Amazon released a UK beta version of the Kindle. Despite the drab grey colour, it looks more compact and you can get it with free wi-fi or swanky 3G for a little extra dosh. At £109 for the wi-fi only version, it is much more affordable than the beautiful looking Apple iPad, which is not a steal at £429 - thought the iPad does a lot more than host eBooks, of course.

Following Amazon's new Kindle release, Waterstone's slashed the price of its Sony pocket eReader to £99, and announced today that a new Sony eReader is on the way.

There is much debate about whether or not eBooks should be cheaper than printed books. When it comes down to it, the only cost saving is on the paper, which costs the publisher pennies. So technically, no, eBooks shouldn't be cheaper. However, since the reader will have to cough up for an expensive (though now declining in price) eReader, paired with the expectation that eBooks should be cheaper, eBooks do indeed seem to be a lot cheaper than paper books at the moment. Perhaps this is why Amazon recently reported that digital sales outstripped hardbacks for the first time. Good going, I'd say, especially since I still don't think everyone has heard of eReaders yet. My sister, an avid reader, asked me yesterday: 'What's a Kindle?'.

Perhaps the 'green' issue will help lift sales. eReaders have been labelled more 'green' than traditional paper books. After all, think of how many forests are cut down for the tonnes of paper needed to print the latest Dan Brown novel? However, eReaders run on electricity and end up in landfills when they are thrown away - surely that can't be that green? This recent article explains that eReaders are indeed more environmentally friendly, that the little electricity it takes to run them outweighs the carbon footprint of the paper book, and that Kindles are completely recyclable. Interesting.

So, eReaders are coming down in price. eBooks are cheaper. And an eReader is more eco-friendly than paper books.

I'm starting to see the appeal.

Other reasons I'd love an eReader include:
- So many up-and-coming authors provide awesome free e-content.
- Many eReaders support the use of PDF, and I'd love to try Inkspill Magazine out on them.
- Saving space on my bookshelf appeals to me.

So what about you? Do you have an eReader? What do you think of it? Do you want an eReader?

Friday, 13 August 2010

No Time To Say Hello! Goodbye!


Things are hectic as usual, and there are some big changes happening. Recently, I was accepted onto the Creative Writing MA at Royal Holloway, University of London. (Woo hoo! - Looks like Hogwarts, don't it?). Last week, I handed in my notice at work.

Many, many people think I have a screw loose. Leaving paid employment at a big publishing house, in a national economical crisis, to go back to being a broke student, and to study such a flopsy subject like 'creative writing'?

Yes, I can see how that sounds crazy.

But it is something I have been considering for a long time. It is my dream to be a published author, and if I don't try to achieve that dream, I'll regret it. I would rather fail knowing that I've tried than not try at all.

But an MA won't make you into a published author, I hear you cry. Indeed. I know that. I know the pros and cons, and I know the risk. (And boy do I know the financial risk!) But the way I see it, I'm investing in time to write, and legitimacy to write (somehow I don't think my mum would approve if I just quit my job to write - at least at the end of this I will have another qualification). And hopefully, I'm also investing in a creative, supportive environment. I felt I got a lot out of my BA, so I'm hoping I will suit being in the MA environment.

Now is the right time for me. Firstly, I want to get in quick before the fees go up. Secondly, I squared it with my lovely mother so that I could live at home for another year (paying a bit of rent), which means my living costs will be minimal. I shall commute into London. Thirdly, I have a good year's publishing experience under my belt now, which will hopefully help me get another job after I complete the MA. Fourthly, I have a few contacts now, who I believe I can draw on for some freelance work so that I can keep a bit of cash coming in.

So fingers crossed that I'll get what I'm looking for out of this.

Funnily enough, I have published an article in the second issue of Inkspill Magazine called 'Creative Writing Courses: What are they good for?' by Charles Christian, which has some less up-beat views about creative writing courses than my hopeful post here.

The PDF eVersion of Inkspill Magazine is available now. As some of you may know, I have been experiencing some trouble getting the printed copies of this issue, but thankfully that is nearly sorted and they should be on their way soon. Issue 1 is on sale at the moment to compensate the delay of issue 2! Please buy it. I am soon to be a very broke student!

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Nick Cave to remake The Crow


I love The Crow. I love the 1994 film (but not the terrible sequels), and I loved James O'Barr's graphic novel even more. Usually when I hear of a remake, I despair. But after hearing Nick Cave is to rewrite the original script, making it closer to the original graphic novel, I became quite excited.

I've not listened to much of Nick Cave's music beyond the soundtrack for The Proposition - which, coincidentally, is my preferred music to write to at the moment. Not only did Cave write the music for this film, he also wrote the screenplay. The Proposition is set during the colonisation of Australia and follows the story of an outlaw facing a difficult decision. The desolate shots of landscape, the minimalistic music and use of dialogue make this a beautiful yet unsettling piece of cinema.

I am very interested to see what Cave can bring to The Crow franchise. Will it be darker than the original? Can a serious film ever be made about a man dressed as a crow and out for revenge (a criticism of the new Batman films)? What will Cave bring to the soundtrack?

I, for one, am intrigued.

(I'd love to see Cillian Murphy in the lead role... But that's just me. I love that guy.)

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Submission Managers for Indie Publishers

I recently came across this online submissions manager for independent publishers. Submishmash (submishmash.com) is a free service and has a lot of useful-looking features such as defaul letter-drafting and statatistical analysis. However, the biggest turn-off for me is that a writer will have to sign up to submit. Another hope to jump through. I wonder if this would put writers off. On the other hand, they will be able to track their submission through the website, as well as their submissions with other publishers who use Submishmash.

HTMLGIANT reviewed the service well. I noticed that PANK magazine has recently started using this system, as do Word Riot.

I wonder if writers are more likely to jump through an extra hoop to submit to established 'zines. I wonder if a start-up 'zine would suffer if they chose this method.

On the other hand, this may filter out the half-assed submissions from people who don't bother to read the guidelines. In the age of the internet, people are looking for quick, free, easy ways to get published - not all people, but a lot of people. Will signing up to a site such as Submishmash filter out some of these types of submission? Is that a good or a bad thing?

Just some general thoughts here.

Writers and publishers - what do you think?

As a writer, would such a system put you off? Why/why not?

As a publisher, if you've used submissions managers, what was your experience? If you haven't used them, would you consider it?

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Planning and Writing a Novel: from Sticky Labels, How-To Books, and Computer Software

It's becoming increasingly difficult to keep this blog up to date. Not because I don't want to update it, but because free time is becoming a rarity! Inkspill Magazine is closing to submissions for Issue 2 tomorrow and I've got a lot of subs to read. Work has been hectic, with one of the editors I work for changing roles in the company. I'm off to Portugal next Sunday for a few days to attend a business conference. At the moment I'm still a little deaf from my trip into London to see The Frayed Laces. And on top of all that, I'm flat-hunting with my other half.

I've not managed to write another word of my novel over the past few weeks. BUT I have been making progress. I have been brainstorming and outlining like crazy. I've been trying to figure out how to weave all the history and past events of my novel's foundation into the present, without having to do lots of flashbacks. That's quite a challenge, but I'm getting there. It's hard to 'let go' of so much work, but I've realised that an awful lot of the foundations I've created are for my head only, and not necessarily for the readers' eyes.

I've been dipping in and out of a few books on novel writing, as I've never completed a novel before. An online friend, Bob Jacobs, recommended these books when he started writing his own novel. (I even won a signed copy of the third book through his blog!) The three I've been using are:

1. First Draft in 30 Days, by Karen S. Wiesner - This is a step-by-step walk through of how to build up a complete draft from scratch using worksheets in the back of the text. Interesting and relevant, but a bit too 'hand-holding' for me in parts. I feel like I can get lost in planning TOO much detail. Though the plot-building sections are the most useful.


2. Novel Writing, 16 Steps to Success by Evan Marshall - I've only skimmed about the first third of this, but it looks a bit too basic for me so far. It looks like it has a few interesting sections later on in the book, to do with submitting to publishers. Has some interesting ideas on 'sections', which brings me nicely to...



3. Make a Scene, Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time, by Jordan E. Rosenfeld - This has been a very handy book. I'm still working my way through it, but it has helped me understand the foundations of a good plot is created through building a story scene by scene. It describes how different scenes work and how they fit together... This type of theory is what I've been finding most useful from the other two books, too.

Today I've been planning my plot further by thinking up scenes and writing them on sticky notes and sticking them on a big piece of cardboard. Very old-school. Then I remembered recently reading a blog post by Sandra Patterson about a piece of novel-writing software called Scrivener. It looked pretty damn cool, but I was gutted to learn it was just for Macs (I'm increasingly regretting buying another PC laptop instead of spending an extra £500 on a MacBook).

So I had a little hunt round the internet for alternatives. There are an awful lot. So many of them looked pretty crap, though. Then I stumbled across Liquid Story Binder XE by Black Obelisk Software, which looked pretty swanky. I've downloaded the 30-day free trial ($45 dollars for an access code if you want to keep it permanently) and I'm having a play around. Will let you know how I get on with it.

How do you go about planning and writing your novels? Have you ready any 'how-to' books that have really helped? What works best for you?

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Inkspill Magazine Issue 1


Well, the first issue has been out for a little while now and has sold quite a few copies. Bob Jacobs, a writer I've know over the inter-web for a number of years now, has written a review of the issue here: Inkspill Magazine's Debut Issue.

Inkspill Magazine is A5 in size, with 64-jam-packed pages of fiction, poetry, art and articles. It has a glossy full-colour cover and a creative black and white internal design. The text is laid out in two columns which is interjected with quotes from the text and illustrative photographs in order to look more like a magazine and less like a book full of chunks of text.

Contributors are from across the globe, from the UK to the US, Denmark, Russia and Germany. Previously published or unpublished, Inkspill Magazine commissions work based on merit, not the reputation of the writer.

Articles include insights into performance poetry with tips for beginners, the analysis of a famous tale and the mediums it has been told in, and the editor of 100 Stories for Haiti tells us about the project's conception.

Short stories include tales of conjoined twins, blood-thirsty trees, invisible girls, imaginary friends, babies for sale and personal revelation.

Poetry ranges from the surreal to the humorous, from prose-poetry to visual poetry.

Art punctuates the text, with full pages dedicated to mixed media pieces, abstract paintings, and beautiful photographs.

All this for just £3.50 + P&P. PDF download will be available soon for just £1.50.

Website: www.inkspillmagazine.com
Email: hello@inkspillmagazine.com

Currently open to submissions for Issue 2 until the end of May. Please read the submission guidelines before submitting.



TABLE OF CONTENTS

Articles:
100 Stories for Haiti: The Editor Speaks - by Greg McQueen
Thoughts from a Performance Poet - by Ray Morgan
Book vs Film: Watership Down - by Lindsay Oberst

Short Stories:
The Art of Invisibility - by Angela Readman
Before Helping Others - by Kat Hausler
Kevin - Bernard Brachya Cohen
The Carver's Son - Django Gold
Jasper's Betrayal - Jessica Patient
The Pump Twin - K. R. Sands

Poetry:
A Woodchip Fell from the Sky - William Doreski
The Course of Empire - Gardner Mounce
Red Door - Neila Mezynski
Speaking of Mayer - Lee Minh Sloca
Any Dope Can Write a Ditty - Russell Bittner
Pedro - Ray Morgan

Art:
Swell - Gardner Mounce
Steps Leading Up to Lookout Hill - Russell Bittner
Attack of the Furies - Jim Fuess
A young Midwestern girl looking bored, lace curtains in window light and the silhouette of a flightless bird - Todd R. Behrendt

Cover Art:
Alexander Gordeev

Monday, 10 May 2010

The No-One Prince of Nowhere

Now... I could bang on about how excited I am that I finally received my batch of Inkspill Magazine from the printers today... and that it is available to buy from the website for merely a few quid...

OR, I could share with you my crummy poetry. No contest, really, is it?



The No-One Prince of Nowhere


The No-One Prince of Nowhere
sat on his throne and stared.
Hand on chin, elbow on knee
in his ancient royal chair

which was nowhere to be marked
on any map or any chart.
It’s where my kingdom used to be,
The No-One Prince remarked.

The field was empty, bare and dead,
The grass all shrivelled, the earth all red.
And though alone, the Prince would see
battles play inside his head.

Slash! Clash! Clank-Clank!
Sounds of war, the smells so rank,
lived on inside his memory,
though his face was always blank.

The men all fell, one by one,
And it was clear that none had won.
Now No-One lived and all were free,
because the Prince was dead and gone.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Coming Out of the Closet...


No, not like that. I found my old YA fantasy novel I was writing when I was about fifteen or sixteen. I thought I may have lost it after two computer transfers and throwing away all my hand-written notes. (Note to self: don't throw away writing notes, no matter how crap they seem at the time.)

I'm really happy I found it, along with some notes I'd typed up. I can't believe how much I had written (nearly 10,000 words - the longest piece of fiction I've ever written), and it wasn't half as bad as I expected it to be.

I spent about an hour cleaning up the first 4,000 words last night. I'm going to outline the rest of the story. I had a bit of a brain-wave in the pub at the weekend that fixed one of the problems I was facing with the plot.

I recon I could get at least 100,000-150,000 words out of this huge plot and history I'm making up in my head. I'm considering trying to plan a trilogy of 50,000 words each. Apparently 50,000 words is about 175-200 pages of a standard book. Does that sound right?

And I'm also going to try and illustrate it. I haven't done much art since A-Level, where I began developing my skills with pen and ink, finding it a comfortable and versatile medium to work with.

I adore John Tenniel's illustrations in Alice in Wonderland, and I think I'll aim for something similar (though I'm slightly more sketchy than Tenniel).

If anyone can recommend some good YA fantasy novels, please do. I think I need to read some more. I'm hoping that my story has some originality to it, but I think I should read more of what is out there already to get a better idea.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Cars, Books and Finding the Time

My old banger of a car has been slowly deteriorating. It is currently down my dad's workshop, and will probably need the clutch replacing. I only live a few miles from work. I walked home yesterday and it took me nearly an hour. I walked to the train station today, which took me about twenty-five minutes, and then got the train. In total, nearly an hour from door to door again.

It's made me realise that I'm terribly unfit (I knew that anyway). It's a bit of a pain having to walk, but perhaps if I do it all this week, I might start to feel a bit fitter. Nice to get a bit of air and exercise instead of driving to work, sitting at a desk all day, driving back and sitting in front of the TV/laptop all evening.

Which brings me onto my next point. I'm always complaining that I don't have time to write, or that I'm too tired after work to write. I'm going to try and change that.

A little while ago, I posted on here that I was going to try to write a novel. Well, after my idea had gone round my head a few times, I concluded that it was boring.

When I was about sixteen, a group of us wrote a short fantasy story for an English assignment. I tried to turn it into a novel, but didn't get very far. Recently, I've been thinking about that story again. I went to dig out my folder of notes for it... but I must have thrown them away when I 'sorted out' my room. I'm very annoyed at myself.

I think I have what I wrote on a disk somewhere. This week I'm going to dig it out and see how bad it is. I'm going to flesh out an outline, and start writing. I might have a go at writing in my lunch hour at work - though I usually like to get away from my desk for a bit. Might try writing in the evening, and... possibly... the morning. I'm incredibly lazy, though, and not a morning person. But I feel like I should try, and see what slots suit me best.

I know of lots of writers who have full time jobs and a family to look after. I don't have the family stuff, and I don't have a very long commute (usually - bar the car trouble), so I know that I don't really have an excuse.

Small, gradual changes are needed, I think.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Little Children, by Tom Perrotta - book review



Little Children is based in suburban America and follows the story of former-feminist and housewife Sarah, who hates the life she has fallen into, and her affair with 'The Prom King' Todd, while the whole town is disrupted by the arrival of a convicted sex-offender.

The characters are well developed and the pace hardly ever lags in Perrotta's intelligent and witty black comedy drama. We don't see Ronnie commit any of his offenses (apart from one unpleasant exposure) but instead hear only speculation and witness the town's reaction towards him, which makes for interesting reading.

The ending of the film has one major difference to the ending of the book. (Read the book first, by the way.) The film has a more dramatic ending, whereas the book has a more subtle ending that evokes a sense of empty epiphany. On first reactions, film ending seemed more satisfying as it was more climatic. But on further reflection, the ending of the novel was far more realistic and in tune with the characters.

Royal College of Nursing Congress - where I met some student nurses and Nick Clegg


Well, I'm really not updating the blog as much as I'd like. I've been completely run off my feet lately with work and Inkspill Magazine.

On Tuesday I was at the RCN Congress Student Day in Bournemouth for work (I am an editorial assistant on the Nursing list for Pearson Education). It took a while for me to get there on the train (3.5 hour there, 3.5 hours back!), but it was a good day. I was there with the commissioning editor and the marketing manager. We had our own book stall with a nice selection of our titles. Sold quite a few, and collected quite a few questionnaires for some research we are doing.

I had a wander around, and there were tonnes of stalls from health care recruitment to NHS stalls, army recruitment to food and beauty stalls. Lots of freebies (though I didn't take many). There was also a stall giving out free massages, but I didn't think that would have been quite appropriate while I was meant to be working!

The most exciting part of the day was the unexpected arrival of Nick Clegg. I jokingly said we should get him to sign one of our books, and the editor dared me to do it. So I did! He signed a nice copy of 'Becoming a Nurse' for us, which we then put back on the book stand to be sold.

It was a very long day, but it is nice to get out of the office every now and then, and to get chatting to the students we sell our books to.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Publishing is a Business

In my whole life, did I ever picture myself as a business woman? The answer is no. If I were able to go back in time and tell my 15-year-old self, 'Hey, you get to work in the book industry when you're older!' I would have said 'Cool!'. If I'd said 'Hey, you have a 9-5 desk job in a huge business office when you're older,' I would have raise my eyebrows (I can't just raise the one) and said 'You're kidding, right?'

On Thursday, I had a particularly business-like day. I was dressed smart, armed with paperwork full of computer-generated statistics and some preparatory notes, and I had my first commissioning meeting.

I'd been to commissioning meetings before, with the editors I work for. This is when we get together lots of stats, facts and figures and convince the big cheeses of the company that a book is worth publishing. Then we get them to sign the paperwork, that includes the budget and the schedule of the project, and off we trot.

On Thursday, I lead my first meeting. I had never felt more like a business woman in my life. Talking about the statistics of previous sales in the series, and budgets for the expanding series, and reasons why the book would sell. I was pretty damn nervous. Everyone I had to present to were very nice, and I'd gotten to know most of them over my six months at the company, but I really do hate having to do presentations. My editor didn't leave me high and dry, though. He knew a lot more about the book and the series than I did, and was there to back me up when people asked questions I wasn't sure how to answer.

With one amendment to the finance stats, they agreed to commission the book. So I had to re-print all the paperwork and find all the right people to sign it the next day. (I still need three signatures.)

The editor I work for bought me a bottle of wine, which was unexpected and incredibly sweet. He wants me to take over the series in the future, and it's a really good feeling knowing that he's eager to support me advance my career.

I'm still readjusting to this image of myself as a business woman. All my life I've been interested in the creative arts. And I kinda miss it.

(The Director of Salt Publishing talks about the business of publishing in an interview over at Ink, Sweat & Tears.)

Thursday, 1 April 2010

How Not to Promote Your Novel

Let me tell you a story.

Sophie and Paul walk into Waterstones. Before having a chance to shake off the rain, a man approaches with a tray-- 'Would you like a chocolate?!'

Automatically, Sophie's mouth says 'Yes' before her brain processes suspicious motives.

'My book has just been published! Look! Please, read the blurb. Have a look. No pressure, of course. If you want.' Author rocks back on forth on his heels, tight smile on face, watching Sophie politely read the blurb while munching on the chocolate (that tastes bitter now that it is tainted with deception -- she should have known chocolate always comes at a price). Sophie can't focus on what the blurb says because she is acutely aware of an expectant author's stare.

Paul eats chocolate and lets Sophie deal with the situation.

'Thanks,' Sophie mutters and she and Paul quickly scurry away as far into the depths of the bookshop as possible.

'Well that was awkward,' Paul observes.

True story.
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