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!


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.


Please send your stories to

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!

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.
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