"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...

Friday, 31 December 2010

Competition for a Poem on a Medical Subject

This is an annual poetry competition and there are two ways of entering. The open category is for anyone anywhere - it is an international competition - but there is also a separate category for anyone who is or has ever been employed by the UK's National Health Service.
The prizes are pretty impressive.

Open International awards
£5000  1st prize   
£1000  2nd prize  
£ 500  3rd prize
Twenty commended entries - £ 50  

NHS awards
£5000  1st Prize  
£1000  2nd Prize
£ 500  3rd Prize
Twenty commended entries - £ 50  

The 2011 judging panel includes Gwyneth Lewis who is Wales’ first National Poet and Professor Steve Field CBE, Chairman of the Council of the Royal College of General Practitioners from 2007-2010. 

Deadline January 31st  ---  click on the title of this post for more information

Thursday, 30 December 2010

BE SCARED. BE VERY SCARED. Daily Telegraph Ghost Story winner

In early November I reported that the Daily Telegraph were running a free Ghost Story competition. They received nearly 2000 stories and are so pleased with the high quality of the writing that they've decided to publish the short list as an ebook.
 One of the things judge Susan Hill wanted to see was a ghost who had a motive for making an appearance. In fiction everything is connected, she argued. Things happen for a reason in stories while real life is allowed to be a lot more random. 
The winning entry came from Richard Crompton and there is definitely a strong internal logic dominating his contemporary story, set within the world of interactive social media.
Click on the title of this post and you can read the story in full. Here's the opening lines to whet your appetite...

For an unpopular guy, Lake sure had a lot of friends.
Thousands, according to his profile. Intrigued, I sent him a friend request. He declined.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

52 weeks 52 writers = 1 play

Next Best Page is about to produce a highly collaborative and innovative piece of theatre.
On the 3rd January 2011, the first page of the play will be available to view on their website. (Click on the title of this post to go there.) This will be written by a mystery playwright.  Each week throughout 2011 anyone can send in their Next Best Page. At the end of each week, the creative team will read all submissions and decide which entry will join the script. Each writer will take their inspiration from the previous pages and be the inspiration for the next page.
The story could go anywhere....sounds risky, doesn't it? Sounds exciting. The result will be performed in London in 2012 (they are taking bookings now).

More New Year Resolutions

Over on the excellent blog STRICTLY WRITING, Caroline Rance has come up with her own personal writing resolutions.
They include making better use of 'dead' time, writing more in longhand and listening to audio books.
I like her last resolution best - I've given it in full here but you can read them all if you click on the title of this post.

7) Write for writing's own sake
The thought that everything has to be good enough to be published has been holding me back for a long time. So I'm going to have more fun with writing, try out some flash fiction and poetry, and enjoy spending time with the characters in my novel rather than worrying whether I'm really doing justice to the big themes I've stumbled into.

LAUGHING STOCK 2011 - be bold, funny and original

BBC Writersroom and BBC Comedy Commissioning are joining forces in a nationwide competition to find new comedy gold. If you can invent LOL characters, tell stories that keep readers on the edge of our seats, and tease the audience to come back for more, then the BBC want to hear from you.What is on offer is a comedy masterclass and an intensive week away developing your ideas  with BBC comedy producers and established comedy writing talent. You may even get the chance of having your work performed at the Sitcom Showcase in the newly opened Studio in Media City, Salford.
The challenge is to write an original comedy script which has the potential to be a series.
It has to be between 15 – 30 minutes long and you also need to produce a one page outline of how your series would develop.
Cheryl Taylor (Controller, Comedy Commissioning for the BBC)
Kate Rowland (Creative Director of New Writing for the BBC)
Writer, Simon Nye (Men Behaving Badly, Reggie Perrin, Doctor Who)
To enter, send your script and one page outline to:
Laughing Stock
BBC writersroom
Grafton House
379 Euston Road
CLOSING DATE: Monday February 21st 2011
MASTERCLASS: Tuesday 5th April in Manchester 2011
WINNERS ANNOUNCED on or before Tuesday 31st May 2011
RESIDENTIAL WEEK: w/c 6th June 2011
SITCOM FESTIVAL (in Salford): Autumn 2011

PLAIN SONG and eight gramophone records

This song was broadcast on the radio just before Christmas as one of Nick Parks' (of Wallace and Gromit) eight gramophone records on Desert Island Discs. The musician doesn't have a recording contract but PLAIN SONG has notched up thousands of hits on youtube since it was first heard on Radio Four.
I like it. I like the way he uses an ancient form and makes it his own and the way the voice become another instrument. I like the feel of it but I realise it might seem an odd choice because this is a blog about writing and it is hard to catch many of the words. But that doesn't mean they don't matter. The way they sound and work together contribute to the mood...see what you think

I missed the original programme but I've been listening to Desert Island Discs since a child (it's been going since 1942 so I was a late starter). Just the phrase eight gramophone records is enough to send me back to the days of checked school dresses and socks held up with garters made out of elastic...
If it's not already part of your cultural heritage tune into Radio Four and give it a go. The idea is simple. Each week the guest has to choose the eight records they would take with them if shipwrecked on a desert island. They can also take one luxury which is not allowed to aid their escape and one book, in addition to the Bible and the Complete Works of Shakespeare which have already been washed ashore.
One or two guests have chosen all their own records. Maeve Binchey wanted to dance around the island to the sound of The Ride of the Valkyries. Bob Geldof chose a pack of three as his luxury: 'just in case' .

Even though I've been listening so long, I still haven't come up with my eight gramophone records...thinking of seven New Year resolutions is a doddle in comparison...

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Seven New Year Resolutions for Writers

It's that time of year again and here are my top resolutions for writers and emerging writers and anyone who wants to write. 
Don't fool yourself into thinking that weaving stories while you travel to work or peel potatoes or sit watching the world go by is almost the same as being a writer. Writing in your head is only an acceptable substitute for writing on paper when you are thrown into a computer-less, pen-less and paper-less environment against your will. (It has to be against your will because otherwise you'd have brought such basic necessities along, wouldn't you?) Something happens when you put words into the hard concrete of type or the softer clay of pen or pencil. You can start a sentence without knowing where it will end. You can bring unconnected ideas together and make something new. Working with your hand and head, you can discover what it is you want to write and it is always always different to the way it seemed when you were just thinking about it.
You don't always have to be writing a story or working on a big project. How about finding the right combination of words to describe the colour of the carpet or the exact sound the cistern in the bathroom is making. Or use 10 words to describe the smell of a candle just after it's been blown out.
Many professionals live by the thousand words a day rule. It doesn't have to a thousand good words or a thousand words that will some day be published, just a decent wodge of words out of which something like a story, or a half decent idea or a phrase will emerge. Think of it as manufacturing raw material.
But it is important that you don't set yourself up to fail. For most people a thousand words is ambitious. How about 500 words? Or a page of your notebook? Or don't set yourself a word count at all and fix on a set amount of time instead. Ten minutes a day perhaps? Or if that seems too much, make it 10 minutes a week. Just make it something.
If you don't make your personal goal . It doesn't say anything about you as a writer or as a person if you fail to make your word count, just that life got in the way. There's always the next day or the next week...
Unless you also never ever watch television. There's nothing wrong in watching other people's stories but you can't use them as a reason for not writing your own. And there is something wrong about making excuses. You don't have to be a writer, you know...
Read the kind of books you want to write. At least one a month. Read everything else in between. A couple of times a year (this is an absolute minimum) read something that is not "your kind of thing": action thrillers if you enjoy romance, literary fiction if you aspire to writing science fiction. Don't create a reading ghetto for yourself. Venture out now and then and discover new ways of telling stories and creating characters.
Even if you hate poetry - especially if you hate poetry. There's a lot to learn about using language and writing succinctly from a good poem. If you're not sure where to start I suggest Emily Dickinson (19th century American) and Wendy Cope (21st century British). 

HAVE I LEFT OUT SOMETHING VITAL? Do you have a resolution to add? Do let me know if you have any advice to share.

Monday, 27 December 2010

2011 A literary agency will run its own creative writing course

This is a first - Curtis Brown will be running a three month course from its London offices in the summer of 2011. Expect announcements in January meanwhile here's the basics.
Fifteen students will be selected in March on the basis of a synopsis and 3,000 words of a novel in progress. The course will run from May 5th to July 21st.
BUT (there always has to be a but) quality alone won't win you a place at the table. There's a hefty fee to pay: £1,600 for the 12 weeks.
For that successful applicants will get a weekly evening class and a number of extra sessions that will be conducted by "leading writers and other publishing professionals," according to novelist Anna Davis who is running the course.  I've just googled Anna and she is a former Guardian columnist who has written five novels. 
Perhaps the most interesting element is that each student will also receive a critique from a Curtis Brown literary agent at the completion of the course, with stand-out fledgling novelists being offered representation.
So...if Father Christmas has been very very generous this could be a way of grabbing the attention of industry professionals. However,  if he hasn't, look at what is on offer from your local education institute and compare the price. These classes represent incredible value, typically between £60 and £150 for the same length of writing course. And the teaching is rigorously quality controlled and backed by impressive support systems. I'm not knocking the Curtis Brown initiative - it sounds exciting - but your apprenticeship as a writer doesn't have to come with that kind of price tag.
I will post the details of the courses I am running in London and Brighton soon just in case anyone is interested in joining me and this time I will also spell out how much they cost because for a lot of us that makes the difference between doing something and not doing it. But click on the title of this post if you'd like to find out more about what Curtis Brown are planning. 

Friday, 17 December 2010

FREE International Competition (but it probably wouldn't hurt if your writing had a touch of Italian style)

Accenti is a Montreal magazine that 'celebrates Italian influences on North America's cultural and literary heritage' and its been running writing contests since 2003. For the first time you can enter fiction or non fiction on any subject
Deadline: February 18, 2011 by email or post
Prize: First Prize is $1,000 and publication in Accenti. Second and third place winners receive $250 and $100 respectively.
Rules: click on the title of this post to find out more. (And don't forget to obey rules to the letter)

Monday, 6 December 2010

How much for that book? Depends where you live

Reports in newspapers today suggest that how much you pay for a book could depend on where you live. Well, it wasn't just books, it was all kinds of Christmas presents (but you weren't thinking of giving anything else, were you?) And it wasn't referring to proper bookshops but High Street chains like John Lewis, Gap, House of Fraser, Argos, HMV, Boots and WH Smith...
 John Lewis! I thought they were the Mother Teresa of commerce, but they are one of the stores that have put their hands up and said yes, that's what we do...
Others are saying no, not possible with our computerised tills - it must be some mistake.
One of the examples the Daily Telegraph gave was WH Smith selling Nigella: Kitchen Recipes From The Heart of The Home and Jamie's 30 Minute Meals, for £3 more  in London than anywhere else. 
Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised or annoyed that there isn't a national pricing system. Perhaps there is an argument for a Sunderland price for Shakespeare's plays and a Chelsea price. Maybe I'm just being a bit Monday morning-ish. What do you think?

Thursday, 2 December 2010

And ONE reason why you shouldn't join TWITTER

You discover things you don't like about authors you love....

This tweet came a few minutes ago from
Any writers out there thinking of 'banning' our PM from liking their books? Do we know who he reads? Does he read...?
and this was author SUSAN HILL's reply
He reads a lot, or used to. I`ve met him in bookshop and had reading conv.I`ll happily let him read me and he's a good man.
Oh dear. 
(Guess which one I'd rather not have read...)

8 reasons why a Writer should join TWITTER and a helping of Stephen Fry to tempt you...

 1) You exercise your writing and editing skills. The aim is to be pithy and witty in 140 characters
2) You can find out what’s happening in the publishing industry – many (most?) publishing houses, editors, publicists and some agents tweet. Leading London agent Carole Blake (author of From Pitch to Publication) tweets. Authors tweet. You can find a comprehensive list at http://www.highspotinc.com/blog/2009/02/a-directory-of-authors-on-twitter/
3) Feel part of it – I got tweets from a dinner table at this year’s Booker. It was fun to know what everyone was eating or being too nervous to eat (lamb) and who won before it was on the television news.
4) Make contacts and friends
5) Increase your blog readership
6) Promote your writing – but not all the time.  You wouldn’t want to mix with someone who only ever talks about one thing.
7) Get topical ideas from the ‘hot trending’ subjects (what people are tweeting about): journalists do it all the time.
8) Get useful information, advice from other writers like this:
from @mewroh
good links, inspiring people, a chance to home one-liners, and the freedom to completely fabricate a twitter character.

networking, raising profile, marketing, promotion, ideas , social benefits, community

Not convinced? Read Stephen Fry’s three page letter to his two millionth follower (Jonathan from Dundee) at http://www.stephenfry.com/2010/11/30/two-million-reasons-to-be-cheerful/

Here’s a taster:

…I first heard about Twitter a month or so after it had been launched on the world and with my usual perspicacity mentally consigned it to the dustbin of history. ‘What a simultaneously hysterical, banal, footling and useless idea,’ I remember thinking. Be honest Jonathan, you almost certainly thought the same when you first heard of it. Everyone does….

... the majority, the great majority of people are friendly, forgiving and kind…You will be astonished too by the wit. The speediness, elegance and brilliance of some twitterers regularly takes my breath away…mostly Twitter and my two million followers are as good a reason as I know to trust people. To respect people. To believe in people…

and if you want to chat you can follow me @agoodconfession