"A word after a word after a word is power" - Margaret Atwood


A blog for readers and writers

A blog about the stories we tell each other and how we tell them...

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Take the Biscuit

This is an interesting international short story competition - the winner can choose the prize.
  • £1500  OR
  • A novella (guess that's around 50,000 words) or collection of short stories published PLUS £500
The organisors are Biscuit. They have been in the publishing industry for over 10 years and most of their authors seem to come from their competition winners. It's an ingenious way of supporting and discovering new writers.
Their website gives the kind of information that you don't normally see - apparently the competition usually attracts around 400 - 500 entries and the organisors estimate that the vast majority are of a high standard.  
Entry fee: £10
Closing date: April 14 2010
Click on the title of this post to go to the website.
(There is a Second Prize of £300 and a Third Prize of £150. Seven runners-up receive £25 each. The top ten stories will be published in an anthology, and each author will receive three copies.)

Monday, 29 March 2010

Novelist Norma Curtis - guest author on TOWARDS PUBLICATION

My new fiction course at the Friends Centre in Brighton starts after Easter on Monday afternoons and I want it to be a little different...
It is aimed at students who have either already attended a writing course - any time, any place - or who have been writing on their own and now want to share their work.
There will be imaginative class exercises of course, and assignments set, and plenty of opportunity to share work but I also want to look at the nitty gritty of getting published - the practical how-to stuff that maps the journey from dog earned notebook to the printed page.
While I can (and will) talk about my own experiences this was the perfect opportunity to invite guests authors along and I am delighted that Norma Curtis has said yes.
She is keen to talk about what publishers are looking for and she should know - not only is she the author of three novels, she is also vice chair of the Romantic Novelists Association

Saturday, 27 March 2010

The Poet Laureate on Beckham

From Carole Anne Duffy's

But when Odysseus came, with an
athlete's build, a sword and a shield,
he followed him to the battlefield,
the crowd's roar, 

And it was sport, not war,
his charmed foot on the ball ...
But then his heel, his heel, his heel ... 

"the best Laureate poem in 340 years"  - Ros Barber

click on the title of this post to read the full poem

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Book Reviews on TV

According to an article in Today's Guardian audiences for TV Book Club (Channel 4/More4) have averaged around the 200,000 mark far less than Richard and Judy attracted.
I caught Book Club once and there was so little energy or enthusiasm I wasn't tempted back. At least with Richard and Judy you felt that they cared AND that they had read the books being discussed (or had been very well briefed)...a minimum requirement you'd have thought.
Apparently a recent guest on Book Club the actor Denis Lawson admitted that he hardly read anything.
The host (Gok of Look Good Naked fame) later confessed that he hadn't finished reading the book of the week.
Many years ago I saw Monty Python's Terry Jones head a book review programme. In many ways he was a hopeless presenter: his usual rapid fire speech was speeded up and his timing was out but his in-depth knowledge and passion for the - mainly history - books under discussion was infectious.
The programme was about to end when he realized that he hadn't mentioned one book on his list. He put it in front of his face so the camera couldn't miss it, shouting: it's brilliant! Buy it! Buy it! 
Now that's what I call a review...and it made for great television...

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Brighton Writers Workshop

I am very excited about the new Writers Workshop that will run on Tuesday evenings after Easter for eight weeks. The location is the Friends Centre in their new eco friendly premises near Brighton Station.
The very first writing class I ever attended was a workshop in London run by the American playwright Bernard Miller. I can still remember some of the things he said: get sex out of the head. Get it back in the bed where it belongs...
I'm not sure what he was referring to - I don't remember my writing or anyone's else going anywhere near such subjects. There was some debate but mostly we just listened to him comment on our offerings.  He was tough, praise was a rare commodity, but he was also inspirational.
The next workshop I attended - after a gap of X years and two children - was at City University in Islington.
It was inspirational in a different way - a mixed group of writers entered into detailed, pertinent discussion under the thoughtful and reflective ear of Alison Burns. It was a productive experience where trust was earned and equality respected. I am still close to several of the writers I met there and my novel grew out of those sessions.
What's the Brighton workshop going to be like? Well, the second workshop will be my model - I am no Bernard Miller - and I am very clear about the kind of atmosphere I want to create. Supportive. Collaborative.
It's not a competition. It's about getting the best possible text. It's about becoming a better reader of your own writing because you are better at reading other people's...

Writers have always needed workshops -- they might have taken the form of a smokey Fleet Street pub in the 1890s (I am thinking of Yeats at the Cheshire Cheese)  or in a church hall or a smart new classroom in one of the most sustainable buildings in the world (hint, hint). We need to share our work with others who understand the challenges before we let it go out to the wider world of family, friends and reading public...

You can find out more about the workshop (and how to enrol!) by clicking on the title of this post or ringing 01273 810210 Monday - Friday, 9.30am-3.00pm.

Monday, 22 March 2010

New Irish Children's Publishers

I've just heard about Little Island, a new Irish publisher of children and teenage fiction which is accepting unsolicited manuscripts from Irish authors. They are keen to see fiction aimed at 9+ age group and teenagers. An added bonus is that they are willing to accept submissions by email - full details on the website. Click on the title of this post to go there.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Flash Fiction

Click on the the title of this post to go to writer's Vanessa Gebbie's blog to read how this year's judge of the Sean O' Faolain short story competition loves flash fiction.
Food for thought and a reminder that when you enter a competition you don't have to write up to the maximum word limit. Be dictated by the idea - some stories need room to breath, others are better told in tight prose that forces the reader to do most of the work.
What is flash fiction?
No standard word count - here is how the Bridport Writing Competition describes it. http://www.bridportprize.org.uk/flashfiction.htm
This year for the first time there is a special category for Flash Fiction
Flash Fiction is fiction of extreme brevity. The number of words can vary widely - for our competition it will be a maximum of 250. Other names for flash fiction include sudden fiction, microfiction, micro-story, postcard fiction, prosetry and short short story. Flash fiction work contains the classic story elements: protagonist, conflict, obstacles or complications and resolution. However unlike the case with a traditional short story, the word length often forces some of these elements to remain unwritten: hinted at or implied in the written storyline.
(Digression...Sean O' Faolain was a major figure in 20th century Irish literature. He wrote 80+ short stories that reveal the concerns of ordinary people and in themselves chart a changing social and political landscape. Well worth reading if you are grabbed by fiction where character dominates...
Digression number two...Whelan is an anglicised version of O' Faolain. (Phelan is another) Sean O' Faolain was born John Whelan in Cork around 1900 and his mother was Bridget Whelan...just thought I'd mention it)

One night only...and it's tonight in Brighton

Tonight  (Sunday March 21st) Grace of The Gamblers will be launched in Brighton with a staged reading by Sister Ignatius Loyala, Sister Sinead, and Sister Philomena  - aka Naomi Foyle, Bernadette Cremin and Bridget Whelan . Yes, that's me as Sr Phil. For one night only I'm adopting a kind of hearty nun persona -- an out of step, out of tune, narrator of one of the most exciting periods of Irish history. 
Grace of the Gamblers is a ballad pamphlet performance poet Naomi has developed as part of her PhD thesis. It tells the story of Grace O'Malley, a pirate queen who lived off the Mayo coast at the time of Queen Elizabeth the First. The two queens met and are supposed to have liked each other. Or at least Elizabeth saw the promotional opportunities of being associated with a woman who was a legend in her own life time. 

Here is a taster....
      O come to the convent, young ladies of Mayo,
     We'll arm you with needles and thread.
     Outside in the trenches, a summer of spuds
     Is rotting away like the dead...
                                                 in their beds...
    Is rotting away like the dead

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

And the winner is....LOVE STORY 2010

Had a wonderful day yesterday as a guest of the Romantic Novelists Association. This is their 50th anniversary and they organised a splendid lunch and awards ceremony.  I was there as judge of the Love Story of 2010.  
Someone once said that if you don’t read you’re stuck with just one life: but if you do read you can live a thousand lives.
 Our task as judges was to go live six new lives. We hung out in a millionaire’s pad, the editorial department of a top magazine, a cake shop, an animal sanctuary, a regency theatre and we also went to the races. We met intelligent heroines, bright eyed and confident; we met intelligent heroines, bright eyed and absolutely convinced no man would give them a second glance. And the heroes? They weren’t all tall, dark and handsome (although some certainly were) but they did have one characteristic in common: they were all men you remembered after the story ended. 
 ALWAYS THE BRIDESMAID is a gentle love story. The heroine is a believable mix of contradictions: brave and shy, positive and indecisive, sexy and full of self doubt. And the cakes she bakes in her one woman business are as tempting as the handsome hero who captures her heart. Author: Nina Harrington
 In contrast, CLAIMED FOR THE ITALIAN’S REVENGE is a story brimming with passion rather than love.  Marco sweeps the heroine off her feet. He thinks it’s lust; he thinks it’s payback for something that happened in the past, but the reality is he has found the only woman he could ever love. Author: Natalie Rivers
 A host of characters from a dyslexic wedding planner, to a teenager in a coma  and a fifty something ex wife come together in THE WEDDING PARTY. This is an intriguing tale of love and loss that has many layers, all of them absorbing and all of them revolving around a second chance romance. Author: Sophie King
 ANIMAL INSTINCTS is also a contemporary story. An animal sanctuary is on the brink of bankruptcy and a dashing property magnet shows a keen interest. But is it love or is it land that sets his pulse racing? A foul-mouthed parrot adds a running commentary to the on/off romance. Author Nell Dixon
 The intelligent, compelling hero of THE NOTORIOUS MR HURST -- is matched by an equally intelligent, compelling heroine. In this Regency love story it is society and class prejudice that threatens to keep them apart and keeps the reader turning the page.  Author Louise Allen
 FAIR DECEPTION is also set in the Regency period but this time we go inside the world of touring theatre and meet a real villain. He’s not the kind you boo off the stage. He’s the kind you fear. The air of violence that surrounds everything the would-be seducer does brings real tension to a touching love story. Author: Jan Jones
 And we had to choose the winner. It was a tough decision but the panel not only fell in love with the hero and heroine but also with the cast of characters: especially the celebrity-with-a-heart (and-a-drink-problem) and a parrot that just will not keep its beak shut.  --- the Love Story of 2010 is Nell Dixon for ANIMAL INSTINCT


Happy St Patrick's Day

I'll be in The Foundry tonight listening to The Celtic Ti-grrs. I saw them at Fontwell Racecourse the year they supported The Saw Doctors. I love this - even though I count myself as second generation Kerry.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Inspiration from Google

My last post was about finding inspiration from the news. 
Here's how to find the spark that ignites a new work of fiction on Google. Or more precisely Google searches. 
Click on the title of this post to go to writer Tim Challies' blog where he reconstructs a sad story from one surfer's search. If you're inspired, you don't need access to confidential information from AOL; not when you can imagine it... 

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Finding Inspiration

In class this morning I talked about my first boss. Jack Walsh was a news editor who was rumoured to have set type (the old hot metal stuff) before he was old enough to go to school. I was 16 when he told me that any true newspaper man - this was the 70s - only had to go to the bottom of the road to get a story.  It was out there:  we shouldn't wait for it to land on our desk.
Fiction writers don't even have to open the front door. 
Today's exercise was about finding inspiration from a newspaper. Each group had to select three or four items from Friday's Evening Standard. Then individually each student wove these elements into a coherent story and it is was wonderful to hear the magic that came out: small details from adverts were the trigger for well rounded, fully formed characters, a one paragraph business report was part of a surprising twist, a feature article provided the nuts and bolts of a who-dun-it.  

Saturday, 6 March 2010

March 5th 1667 Let the world go hang

But, Lord! to see to what a poor content any acquaintance among these people, or the people of the world, as they now-adays go, is worth; for my part I and my wife will keep to one another and let the world go hang, for there is nothing but falseness in it. So home to supper and hear my wife and girle sing a little, and then to bed with much content of mind.
If you want more from Mr Pepys you will find his blog by scrolling down the right hand column

Friday, 5 March 2010

Judging a book by its...(2)

Same book...different country, different cover...and presumably different expectations provoked...
US version on top.

Judging a book by its...(1)

Top is the UK cover for Hilary Mantel's Booker prize winning novel. Beneath is the US cover.  This is a good example of why two versions can be necessary. While I much prefer the UK cover, I can see why it wouldn't work in America. The Tudor Rose must be one of the most successful brand  logos in history but we can't expect the same bone deep familiarity with it across the Atlantic. And while I'm not keen on the peek-a-boo affect on the American version, I can see what's going...but sometimes the changes seem baffling
Join the debate and find other recent UK/US book covers by clicking the title of this post

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Dream Bookcase

Love this chair. Want this chair. Vote for your favourite bookcase on the Huffington Post (click on the title to go straight there)

A new way of funding the arts...

Click on the title of this post to go to Kickstart, an American website that encourages visitors to contribute toward the funding of an arts project in a Dragons' Den kind of way.

Every project has a funding goal (any dollar amount) and a time limit (from 1 - 90 days) set by the project creator. When the deadline is reached, there are either of two results:
Funding Successful: If a project has met or surpassed its funding goal, all backers' credit cards are instantly charged and funds go directly to the project creator. Project creators are then responsible for completing the project and delivering rewards as promised.
Funding Unsuccessful: If a project has NOT met its funding goal, all pledges are canceled. That's it.
Pledges can come from anywhere in the world but projects have to be US based

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Making History

I'm delighted to be part of a new two year project that will record the history of a forgotten part of Brighton,  thanks to a  £49,700 grant by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). Tarner, the area around Carlton Hill, is in the heart of the city. Everyone knows it – if only because of the landmark American Express Building – and because it is a short, steep, walk from the Pavilion. Somehow though it has always been on the margins, but it is rich in working class history. Part of Brighton Rock was set in these streets and Graham Greene must have known the area well on his visits to Brighton. 
I will be Writer in Residence at Brighton Unemployed Centre - an inspirational community place that is run by the unemployed for the unemployed. It is already a hub of creative education running a range of exciting free and low cost educational classes from computer skills and belly dancing to Japanese for beginners. The Centre will train volunteers to gather the stories of ‘old Tarner’ by creating oral history recordings, photographs and artwork evoking the past. But we will also focus on what is happening in Tarner right now - a book and an exhibition will come out of the project and lots of other creative things...

Australia: a nation of readers

A major survey undertaken for the Australia Council for the Arts reveals that 85% of the people questioned described themselves as avid poetry and literature readers. I am going to search for similar surveys of the UK and US but that figure would surely be hard to beat...

Monday, 1 March 2010

You're right. Life is unfair

A wonderful performance from Brighton poet Yvo Luna