"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...

Thursday, 30 September 2010

The Cult of Celebrity Georgian style

Interesting post in The Spectator's arts blog about about how the Georgians did celebrity.  Emma Hamilton could take on anyone....click on the title of this post to go there

More about the Sussex Novel competition

I'm getting very excited about this competition because it seems so well thought out and I love the fact that you can enter even if you haven't completed the manuscript.
This is how the judging will be done.
As mentioned in my previous post, the closing date is December 1st. For that you need the best synopsis you've ever written and 1500 words taken from anywhere in the novel.
(My advice: do NOT wait until the last possible minute to enter. I know writers thrive on the pressure of deadlines but there is something to be said for giving judges time to appreciate the lasting qualities of your work).  The organisers plan to whittle entries down to 18 strong shortlist by about the 12th of December and their names will be published in the January edition of Sussex Life. They will then be invited to submit more of their novel. How much more is up to each short listed entrant - it can be the whole thing or just part.  I'm told that an entire novel has no greater chance of winning than a part manuscript.
John Parsons, ex M.D. of Harper Collins publishers, will head the judging panel, and has stressed that the judges are looking for potential...

What you learn from Daytime TV (1)

It's all about the Benjamin means it's all about the money. (Benjamin Franklin appears on the $100 bill).
This translation of hip street talk was on Pointless quiz yesterday afternoon. Honest, I don't usually indulge (I am usually teaching or traveling or writing) but it was a small celebration....just sent 201 page manuscript to agent, so a small hiatus seem called for...

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The classroom in the frontline ADULT EDUCATION IN DANGER

There's an odd mix of feelings at the start of a new college year. The summer-can't-be-over-there-must-be-some-mistake fog combines nicely with a fission of excitement: new classes, new students, new writing - it's show time!
Saying hello for the first time to students at Portslade Community College in East Sussex as I take over a well established and well regarded introductory courses on Monday evening and Thursday morning. Hello too to students on Towards Publication which runs on Friday mornings at The Friends Centre in Brighton and City Lit students in London studying Ways into Creative Writing and How to Write A Family Biography. Just completed my first all day workshop on memoir writing and every other Saturday I am running Tarner Drama as part of a writer-in-residence project.
Next week I am back at university.
There are some classes I've given up - my regular Monday morning at Brighton Unemployed Centre, for example. It  has been part of my life since February 2005 and was my first taste of teaching.  I also said goodbye to my Saturday morning class at City Lit in the summer. I miss it. I miss the students that came term in and term out and the new ones who weren't at all sure that giving up a Saturday lie-in was such a good idea (until they discovered it was a brilliant idea). I miss their humour and tolerance and outstanding ability. Some passages of writing produced in Room 507 will stay with me always.
And that reminds me just how important adult education is - and I say that not just as a tutor but also as a consumer - I am a lifelong student. If we stop learning, stop wanting to learn, doesn't something else stop inside...?
This term starts under the shadow of cuts that are predicted to be fierce and terrible. There is a very real risk that adult education colleges will be in the front line. That matters. For example, at present nearly half of City Lit's income comes from the Government. A major reduction would mean very large fee increases and could jeopardise the Centre's future.
I suppose it is difficult to argue for no cuts, but adult education can't be seen as an expendable add-on, nice to have but not really essential. It is so much more than that and every MP should be told so in no uncertain terms. By the way, you can find yours at http://findyourmp.parliament.uk/ Think of it as your first bit of (non fiction) creative writing for the new term. Homework.

Brilliant competition for would be novelists

...and you can enter even if you haven't finished. The judges are looking for potential, not perfection.
They want to see a synopsis and 1500 words which can come from any part of the novel.
The First Prize is a Trophy and a contract with top London literary agent. As the organisors make clear "...nothing in the real world of publishing is guaranteed" so they can't promise your masterpiece will ever be published but the winner will be getting a kind of first class ticket to the heart of the publishing industry and the kind of cache that money can't buy. 
The judges are prestigious: Kate Mosse of Labyrinth fame (she also helped set up The Orange Prize), Peter James, author of 23 best selling crime novels - many set in Brighton - and Louise Rennison, queen of teen fiction.  
The entry fee is a hefty £15 but every penny goes to a community adult education service and the closing date is December 1st so there's time to save up and polish those 1500 words.
I should mention one tiny drawback...you have to live under a big Sussex sky to enter. Or, as the rules specify, "entrants must reside within the county of Sussex or reside at a Sussex based university."
Could be worth moving.
Find out more by clicking on the title of this post

Monday, 27 September 2010

If you ever thought about blogging....

have a look at 
why you should blog to build your writing career even if you don’t think you need to (by clicking on the title of this post) a post in American writer's Justine Musk's blog. Intelligent and well reasoned, it's also encouraged thought provoking comments...here is a snippet that made me sit up..."the best marketing is grassroots...Barak Obama proved it."

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Banned Books in America and the Quiet Librarian

Following on from my posts about the UK library celebration of books that have fallen foul of the censors - from Harper Lee's To Kill a Mocking Bird to The Wizard of Oz - I have just discovered that this week is the 28th Banned Book Week in the US. It began when Reagan was in the White House and Thatcher was at Number 10 - and it is as well to remember the mindset of those days. It was the time of the Falklands War, the women peace protests at Greenham Common in Britain, and the failure of the Equal Rights Amendment Bill in America. That's the backdrop to the stand taken by Judith Kruger and others, and I imagine Judith as being the kind of librarian who walked and talked softly and remembered the books you took out. She wasn't just campaigning for the books she loved and believed with a passion should be read, but also the ones she hated such as Hitler's Mein Kampf and The Blue Book of the ultra right wing John Birch Society.*
She said in interviews that her own unshakable belief in the right of people to make up their own mind stemmed from the sensible way she was brought and remembered being discovered under the bedclothes, aged twelve, with a sex education book. Her mother told her not to be so silly and switch on the light, otherwise she might strain her eyes reading....
The New York Times have a useful 10-ways-to-celebrate guide on its website - go there by clicking on the title of this post. 
* Apparently, The Blue Book is a transcript of a two-day monologue by Robert Welch at the founding meeting of the society in 1958. TWO DAYS!That says an awful lot about Mr W doesn't it...?

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Publish your poem

Want to find a home for that well crafted poem - the one that went down so well in workshops? Entering a competition is one option but you could also consider submitting for publication in a literary magazine....such as The View From Here
It has both a print and on-line existance and publishes author interviews, book reviews and original fiction and poetry.  Although it is British based, it is edited by an international team and - this is the really interesting bit - it
has a close working relationship with some big names in publishing such as Random House. There's no money in appearing in The View From Here but it's a damn fine writing credential and it could get you noticed.
Read the magazine (click on the title of this post o go to the website), do your research and polish your best work until it shines.  This is what The View From Here are looking for in the next six months....
November: “Regret For Dinner”
December: “Empty Rooms”
January 2011: “Absent Light”
February: “Sweet Nothings”
March: “Forget About It”
April: “Fools”

Sunday, 19 September 2010

For writers who should know better...

I should have known. I should have resisted temptation.
But when I came across a website that promised to analyse writing and compare it to the work of the greats well, I just had to have a go. It was easy: paste and click.
I've been working on my second novel all summer. I averaged eight hours a day when I was on retreat in Suffolk and took it on holiday, getting up at 7 am to get in a few hours before the real day began. I've lived it, I breathed it and I've nearly finished the third - but not necessarily final - draft.
I pasted in the first few paragraphs. It's a stark, gritty opening describing the story's central event that touches and torments the lives of three families.
Paste. click. The answer popped up.
Serves me right. But I couldn't leave it there...I hate The Da Vinci Code with a passion.
I pasted in the next three paragraphs. This is where the story gets moving at a wedding in a small Irish town.
Paste. Click.
Brown and Wilde...it's gotta to be a winner, hasn't it?
If you are tempted to have a go, click on the tile of this post. I'd love to hear how you get on.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Behind the Wizard of Oz

Fascinating comment from Dr Stuart Bramhall, author and child psychiatrist in New Zealand, about my post on banned books. She sees all the Oz books (I think there was 13 in all but Braum was a prolific writer and wrote many books for children) as having a strong socialist message. 
The whole Emerald City set up could be seen as a critique on capitalism - that it is an elaborate confidence trick which requires everyone to view it through, not rose tinted glasses, but green - a colour with a strong association with money in America (greenback = dollar). 
And when thinking of that image the phrase sub prime mortgages comes to mind.
Other commentators have read other political philosophies into Baum's work. But one of the things that's striking to me about the book is that the lead character is female. Dorothy is the one who does things, who refuses to accept and has the insight to really see and not just look.
I read that one of the author's aims was to write in the same tradition as Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm but without the violence. If nothing else, The Wizard of OZ shows the enduring power of fairy tale and its ability to force us to reflect. 
Anyone seen Wicked, the musical or read the book it's based on? Does that have the same resonance? It must have something - it's been a runaway success - and there may be a lesson there for writers lost for a plot:think about a new take on an old fairy tale.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Free to enter competition for poets and short story writers

The Literateur the online literary magazine is running a competition with The Literary Consultancy.
TLC (I don't think the initials are a coincidence) is a leading manuscript assessment service, recommended by The Arts Council and many major publishing houses.
SHORT STORIES max - 5000 words
POEMS  No more than 50 lines in total. 
The submitted works must be previously unpublished. The competition is open to any one writing in English of any age, who has not had a book of poetry, or novel of over 50, 000 words, published commercially. From the magazines website it looks as though international entries are welcome.
Email your entries to competition@literateur.com
DEADLINE:  Monday 27th September.
PRIZE Three shortlisted entrants in each category will read their work at an awards ceremony at the Free Word Centre in London in November, alongside the competition judges, novelists Joanna Briscoe and Rebecca Abrams, and the poet Sarah Hesketh.
The two overall winners will be announced on the night, and their work will be published in The Literateur. The winners will also receive an hour’s specialist consultation with The Literary Consultancy.
Click on the title of this post for more information - especially about what constitutes previous publication

Banned Books

British libraries are launching a range of events to celebrate brilliant books that have been banned.
The list of 50 makes surprising reading. Included is:
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. 
Apparently it was no.37 on the American Library Association's 100 most frequently challenged books 1990 - 2000. Some claimed it was anti Christian and pornographic. I remember being reluctant to read anything else by Margaret Atwood after this, scared that she couldn't possibly equal it.
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou
Banned by some American libraries and schools because of its violent and sexual content. Ye Gods! That's one way of silencing survivors of  violence... 
A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
An extraordinary book of great heart and intelligence. John Irving has a distinctive voice, no one else writes quite like him. 
It's been banned in some US states because of its criticism of the  Vietnam War and Iran-Contra, so that's another reason to go buy it.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - L Frank Baum
This one really surprised me. It has been banned by many libraries in different American states for different reasons - in the South because of witches being referred to as 'good' and in the 1950s in a wave of anti Communist hysteria because it was thought to have socialist values. It's a long time since I read it but the left wing flavour passed me by unless anything intelligent that explores the human condition and doesn't talk down to children has to come under the heading of socialism.

But America doesn't have the monopoly on bad decisions.
Until quite recently any Irish author worth reading was banned in their own country. It's no surprise to find Edna O'Brien on  this list because her unsentimental look at life as it was lived in the 1960s was just too much to take. But the fact that John McGahern lost his job as a teacher because of The Dark is even more revealing of a time and a way of thinking. His crime was that his beautifully written novel suggested that some priests sexually abused children...
But the one that really gave me pause for thought was The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
Of course it shouldn't be on this list, or indeed any list of books worth reading, but I didn't realise that Christian leaders in the Lebanon went so far as to ban it. Sadly, not on the grounds of good taste.
 click on the title of this post to look at all 50 books

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Fanfare! Trumpets! Announcing new blog title

I'm thrilled by the response to this competition - not only by the number of responses, but also the many thoughtful and reflective suggestions made and the few that made me laugh out loud. There were also a few I didn't 'get' and I can't help feeling, dear reader, that the fault was in me. 
In true competition tradition, I'll give you the ones that didn't make it, but deserve an honourable mention.

UNDERTOW - suggested by Elizabeth who was inspired by a line in a Seamus Heaney poem. It's good, isn't it?  An undertow is a strong current that flows  away from the shore, going literally against the tide - something that writers have to be prepared to do. In the end though it didn't make it because, although it works as a title, as a blog title it wouldn't attract casual readers interested in writing.

THE FIVE RULES OF WRITING - suggested by Maria. I'd read a blog called that. I might not agree with it, but I would definitely read it. I haven't chosen it because I don't know what the five rules are...

THE INFINITE MONKEY THEOREM- suggested by Jill. She also supplied this helpful illustrative quote is from Wikipedia

Mr Burns states: "This is a thousand monkeys working at a thousand typewriters. Soon they'll have written the greatest novel known to man. Let's see. (reading) 'It was the best of times, it was the "blurst" of times'? You stupid monkey!"
Why didn't I choose it? It's good, it's very good but it's not quite me. Jill, you can have it back on one condition: use for the title for your own writing blog -  I'll be the first to follow.

THE WRITER'S BLOCK - suggested by Chuqua. Almost went with this - the only reason I didn't was because I found a very good and active blog with that title. (Difficult this title business, isn't it?) 

FRIPPERY - suggested by Stephen because "Frippery is a word that is just not being used these days but I hope it conveys the ephemeral nature of blogging...".
He's right, frippery and blogging go together and it is a word that deserves to be part of our vocabulary.  Still, it doesn't have that immediate writerly quality.... so reluctantly no...

INVENTING THE WHELAN - suggested by Heather. Love it. Love it. May use it (or a variation) somehow someway soon.

There were a lot of very good ones that nearly made. THE DIGITAL INKWELL from Maggi, WRITING BY-WAYS and WORDS TO WRITERS from Vic, WRITE UP YOUR STREET from Alice and no less than 11 from Jazz including WORD CATCHER, ADDICTED TO THE WORD and FOR THE LOVE OF THE WORD.

But finally I've made up my mind....no more flaphing around...

Da-da! Da-dum!I've gone for Eileen's CONNECTING THE POETRY AND PROSE....

-- because I've loved E.M.Forester's Howard's End since I studied it for A level 
-- because I'm a prose writer who enjoys poetry, (when you're writing a novel read poetry - you don't want to get immersed in someone else's story but you do want to surround yourself with rich language used with precision...)
-- because I think it works. Hope you do too.
Although I said there would be no second prize, Jazz offered so many good ideas - all of them workable - that I really feel she deserves a reward. So if she emails me her address I'll send a copy of A GOOD CONFESSION to her too....


Sunday, 12 September 2010

Tonight in Brighton...there's only one place to be....

Poetry, prose and LOL comedy. 7.30 pm Iambic Arts Theatre in Regent Street in the North Laines. You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll have a drink. You'll be in good company and you'll be supporting a great cause...

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Choosing a new name for this blog

is hard. Even with 40 suggestions - thank you everyone for joining in the competition - had many more good ideas to consider than I expected.
Do I go for the funny or the accurate?
The intelligent or lyrical...?
Hmmm. Will announce the winner on Monday. Not to prolong it unnecessarily but...
a) because tomorrow will be taken up with Sunday lunch which for once will be roughly at lunch time and preparing for A SPORTING CHANCE tomorrow night (not only reading, but also compering....wish me luck)
b) will run a few of the contenders by the family at said lunch. Completely unbiased as they've never read blog and unlikely to do so in the future. Come to think of it, only one of them has read my novel and the one that did said, and I quote, that it was 'surprisingly good'.  (Excellent example of why adverbs should be avoided.)

Friday, 10 September 2010

Another word for the person you're with...

...discussions centred on the topic at celebrations to mark a soon-to-be-awarded doctorate in poetry and with a gathering of wordsmiths you'd think we'd be able to come up with something, if not original than at least strange and memorable, but we came a bit unstuck. 
There was a general consensus against partner and in favour of the Anglo Saxon simplicity of: this is my man; this is my woman. But it needs a certain aplomb to carry it off and it's not suitable for all occasions.  
I'm fond of the Irish equivalents: Himself and Herself (as in the phrase Himself says he's watching the football tonight but I've hidden the remote.) I can't think of anything to beat John Mortimer's she who must be obeyed (taken in turn from Rider Haggard's She) but there must be a phrase more redolent of the times in which we live...even if it is only suitable for the pages of fiction and can't be used when  making introductions at the office Christmas party. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

The next big thing in Romance Fiction: THE BONNETT

According to USA Today, Amish romance is going to replace Vampire Romance. I wonder what the equivalent this side of the Atlantic could be...click on the title of this post to read USA Today's article.

Booker Shortlist offers

The short list was announced yesterday and the news is that it's a feel good list for these dark, depressing days.  So if you always said you'd read them all before the winner is announced (October 12th) maybe this is the year to do it. Here they are

Peter Carey Parrot and Olivier in America
Emma Donoghue Room
Damon Galgut In a Strange Room 
Howard Jacobson The Finkler Question
Andrea Levy The Long Song
Tom McCarthy C

If you live in an Apple house (and gradually our's is becoming more Apple inclined after years of resistance - current tally one big glossy computer, one less glossy Macbook and a very precious iPod)  The Man Booker Prize App is now free to download from the App Store to an Apple iPhone or iPod Touch and is the UK's first app for a literary prize. I'm not sure what you do with it - my technical understanding is way behind the gadgets lying around - but I am guessing that you get extracts and other goodies. 
READ IRELAND (a kind of Irish Amazon but more cuddly) has a special offer. Order three shortlisted books and they will send them anywhere in the world free of charge.  Order them all and you also get  10% discount. And because it's READ IRELAND and not Amazon and you get the feeling that they've read the books they're selling and like them, you are allowed to substitute one or more of the books left languishing on the long list. (It's happened to me and I know how it feels: you get invited to the party but no one remembers who you are...early night.) Click on the title of this post to go to READ IRELAND'S website. I haven't any connection with them - just bought a few books over the years and like their reviews on the regular email newsletter.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Brighton Charity Performance this Sunday

SPORTING CHANCE is an evening of poetry and prose, comedy and music...all on the theme of sport from penalty shoot out highs to please-sir-the-dog-ate-my-PE-kit lows.
Sunday Sept 12 7.30 pm Iambic Arts Theatre in Regent Street, North Laines, Brighton Tickets £5/4
Featuring: John O' Donoghue - winner of MIND book of 201...
Outstanding performance poet Naomi Foyle
LOL funny Yvo Luna
Bernadette Cremin - who can hush a room with one word
Biographer Derek Watts
Novelist Bridget Whelan
and many more....all telling sporty tales of one kind or another.
It is a fundraiser in aid of Dan Field's trip to Rwanda for Cricket Without Boundaries - a charity that empowers local communities while spreading AIDS awareness.
Dan is 22 years old and registered blind. A passionate believer in the merits of running, falling down and getting up again he has been capped 27 times for his country and is now regarded as probably the best blind wicket keeper in the world...He's also my nephew and I am very, very proud of him.  

Monday, 6 September 2010

Saturday, 4 September 2010

More reflections on twitter

Just found the Scottish author Sara Sheridan on twitter (correction she found me) and just a brief scan of her recent tweets revealed how valuable a resource this is for writers.
For example she directed readers to:
Go there if you are interested in writing history - fiction or non fiction. Go there for ideas. Go there to prove that twitter is ot a waste of a writer's time...

Friday, 3 September 2010

Twitter up date

Early days but so far it's fun and I've certainly learned from the experience. Tried before but this time is much more rewarding -- I am even beginning to see the point of it. The key is to link up with like minded people from the start - for me that's readers and writers anywhere .

Romance writers

Mills & Boon are running a New Voices competition that will give one budding author the chance to get published. All writers have to do is to visit the website and submit the first chapter of their own Mills & Boon. (Click on the title of this post to go there.)
Deadline September 22nd. 
The top ten writers will have their work showcased on the website and each will be given a mentor in the form of an established Mills & Boon author. Then the public will vote for their favourite of the ten and the winner will crowned in November.
If you want to enter remember that cynicism shows on the page as clearly as a spelling mistake. And  read a Mills and Boon. Better still read several. Research. Do your homework. And then do your best work. There's no other way with competitions...

Everything but still no cigar?

You've written a novel that you love. You've found an agent that has fallen in love with it? Lots of people have said nice things about it but still no publishing contract? The To Hell with Publishing: Award was made for you.
It was set up to support debut fiction.  It is a unique prize aimed at authors who have a UK literary agent but are not yet published. First prize is £5,000 (more than many publishers would even consider as an advance in these hard times) and the hope is that this will help the winner’s chances of securing a publishing deal. All first works of fiction written by a UK resident will be eligible but the author must be represented by a UK literary agency and must be unpublished up until the point of the longlist announcement in December. 
Deadline November 4th 2010.

Got a Camera? Got 330 words?

Of course you have!  Just combine the two and submit to this short fiction website. (Click on the title of this post to go there) Poets love the freedom that rules can give and it's good for prose writers too. I always think the worst thing you can say to a writer is that you can write about anything, for as long as you like and there's no deadline. Here the picture you take is your subject - go anywhere you want with it within that restricted word limit. There's no deadline so give yourself one: submit before the kids go back to school, by next Friday, by October....

Looking for Scottish writers

New Writing Scotland publishes works by writers resident in Scotland or Scots by birth, upbringing or inclination. (I love that last one....who do they mean? I am guessing people with Scottish roots for whom Scotland is an important part of their mental make up but in the end it must be a self defining category.) They are looking for all forms of unpublished writing: autobiography and memoirs; creative responses to events and experiences; drama; graphic artwork (monochrome only); poetry; political and cultural commentary and satire; short fiction; travel writing or any other creative prose may be submitted, but not full-length plays or novels, though self-contained extracts are acceptable. 
Submission deadline September 30 2010:
Click on the title to go to New Writing Scotland find out more.

When one person speaks

Just come across The Good Ear Review US based website dedicated to publishing original monologues that show "quality writing".Worth reading and worth submitting to as well. If you haven't written one already look at a secondary character in a short story you're working on or novel-in-progress and give them a voice. You will unearth new depths to that character and perhaps a new story.
A good monologue (in my very fallible opinion) should have
  1. A distinctive voice
  2. Give a sense of time and place
  3. Drip feed information
  4. Sound like a real person
    It seems to me that writing a succesful monologue you have to navigate two major challenges -- FIRST: making it feel natural even though it may not be clear who the character is addressing or why and SECOND: providing information that the reader needs to have but that the character would not realistically tell her or himself. We don't look in the bathroom mirror thinking: I am a 34 year old  advertising copywriter worried about my current relationship and still jealous of my younger brother who...We look in the bathroom mirror and think: bad hair job and is that a spot? At my age?!
    Click on the title of this post to go to The Good Ear Review