"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, 16 December 2011

Foxed by synecdoche? Worried about smilies?

Watch one of my all time favourite youtube videos -- proof positive that words can be dangerous.

Is 2012 the year it all changes?

Read today on a technical website that Amazon in America are shipping one million Kindle products a week in the run up to Christmas. Haven't seen the figures for the UK but I bet they are comparable. 
I'm just wondering if our fitted, craftsman-built and amazingly stylish bookshelves (that are still waiting for the first book to grace their elegant proportions - they're thirsty for a third coat of Danish oil apparently) are now hopelessly out dated. 
And yes, I have put a Kindle on my Father Christmas list

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Thinking of joining a creative writing course? Read on...

I was browsing and re-discovered an interview I did last year with a Canadian website (ok, ok, I googled my name. I had a ton of other things to do but somehow I just found my newly French polished nails tripping over the keyboard.)
Anyway....here's an extract especially for anyone thinking of jumping into a creative writing course in the new year. (Get in touch if you want to come to one of mine - London and Brighton. I don't have much to do with the admin side but I gather there has been a flurry of enrollments so sooner rather than later is my advice....)

For the full interview go to The Literary Project

You also work as a creative writing tutor. There is a lot of debate as to whether writing is a natural ability or a skill that you can learn. What’s your opinion on this? Do you think anyone has the potential to be a successful author?

No one thinks it odd that an artist should want to go to Art School. Or questions why a musician thinks lessons would be a good idea…There is a craft to writing that can be taught and natural talent can be nurtured and supported. I don’t believe in the tough love method of teaching. That doesn’t mean I pat everyone on the head and murmur very good, but I do believe in the importance of encouragement.

Not everyone can be a successful writer but nearly everyone can get real pleasure from writing with imagination. In much the same way I love drawing but I will never have an exhibition in Bond Street. I would just like to be good enough to go on a learn-how-to-paint holiday without embarrassment…

I want creative writing to be recognized for what it is: the ultimate vocational skill. There is no job, no area of life, where using language with greater precision, thought and effectiveness is not an asset. And perhaps it really comes into its own when faced with the most daunting blank page of all (the one that comes after the list of past jobs and before the address of a referee) where you have to sell yourself to a could-be, might-be employer. English language classes give you the tools: creative writing show you how to use them.

There are so many different types of writing courses out there; from short, online tasters up to Masters degrees. What should aspiring writers take into consideration when deciding what level and type of study is right / most beneficial for them?

First, I think you need to be realistic about the kind of learner you are – can you work on your own or is the social interaction of a class important to you? There’s a big drop out rate from online and correspondence courses – you have to very committed to keep going but they work very well for some students.

Studying for a Masters was important to me. I left school at 16 with a couple of exams. My first degree (in history) was hard won. I studied part time while working full time and bringing up a family so I getting another qualification meant something. It also opened the door to teaching – a career change that I hadn’t even considered ten years ago.

However, if your priority is writing then I would whole heartily recommend adult education. It’s flexible, has high standards and well qualified tutors. I teach on several adult education classes and I love the mix of students, their energy and ability.

What are the most common mistakes you see in the work of students hoping to be published?
1) Too many words. Everything should be on a need to know basis. Does a reader really need to be aware that a character was popular at school or has blue eyes? The writer might need to know all that (and more) but does the reader?

2) Too few words. Often a story takes places in a vague vacuum. Everything happens somewhere and a couple of sentences may be all that is needed to ground a story in urban America or rural England or where ever, but without a sense of place there can be an unsatisfying detached quality. The aim should be to allow the reader to feel what it is like to be there: wherever there is…

3) Too cardboard. If the characters don’t live for the writer they aren’t going to live for anyone else. I once asked a student to tell me something that their main character wouldn’t what anyone else to know. The reply: that he’s a jerk. That answer told me straight away that the story would be flat, lifeless…. Because a jerk doesn’t think he is a jerk.

And finally, can you sum up a key piece of advice for aspiring writers in one sentence?
Write a lot and read a lot and don’t be defeated when you get it wrong: writing is an art not a science, so accept you’ll never stand back and say hmmm, no one could express that better.

Monday, 21 November 2011

New Writer competition closing soon

This is the 12th year of the Prose and Poetry Prizes sponsored by The New Writer magazine. Prizes are awarded in the following categories:
Essays, Articles, Interviews - covering any writing-related or literary theme in its widest sense up to 2,000 words. 1st prize £150, 2nd £100, 3rd £50.
Short Stories, Micro Fiction - short stories 500 to 5,000 words, micro fiction up to 500 words; on any subject or theme, in any genre (not children's). Previously published work is not eligible. Short Stories: 1st prize £300, 2nd £200, 3rd £100. Micro Fiction: 1st prize £150, 2nd £100, 3rd £50.
Single Poems and Collections - Single Poems up to 40 lines; Collections of between 6 - 10 poems - no restriction on length of poems in the Collection category. Single poem entries must be previously unpublished; previously published poems can be included as part of a Collection. Collection: 1st prize £300, 2nd £200, 3rd £100. Single: 1st prize £100, 2nd £75, 3rd £50.

Closing date November 30th

Entry fees: vary from £5 for two flash fiction stories to £12 for a collection of poetry. Reductions for magazine subscribers. 
Read the rules: follow the rules. It's not rocket science - the administrators will exclude anyone not obeying without even reading the first line...

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Nothing to do with writing...everything to do with just getting by

There's no doubt that we facing Hard Times...but the cuts are not falling on everyone equally.  
Women are being hit in three distinct ways:
- they are losing their jobs
- their benefits and the services they rely on are being slashed
- AND they will be the ones expected to ‘fill the gaps’ as state services are withdrawn and voluntary organisations close down through lack of funding.
The Fawcett Society, backed by more than 20 charities, unions and academics, have produced a report that recommends:
• restoration of support for childcare costs for low-income families to pre-April 2011 levels - this would help ensure paid employment makes financial sense for the many low income women who’ve found they are better off not working.
• Ring fencing of funding for Sure Start children’s centres - this would further protect women’s access to employment and shore up the other vital benefits these centres offer thousands of families. 
• Stopping local authorities from treating violence against women services as a soft touch for cuts to ensure that some of the most vulnerable women in the UK have access to the support they need.
The Fawcett Society has been around since 1866. It's a shame that we can't relegate their work to the history books...

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The website we all need....

Writers and would-be writers and day dreaming writers owe Sally Quilford big time. She contributes a monthly column to Writers Forum magazine but, more importantly, she runs a website that gives writers a reason to get up in the morning and face the cruel blank screen.
She lists writing competitions in order of their closing date. I have no doubt that represents a lot of hard work. Why I think her efforts are worthwhile and she should be recognised for services to the writing community is that we all need a deadline. If someone hasn't given us one we need to manufacture our own...
...I must finish this chapter, novel, short story, poem before Christmas, next pay day, the kids' coming home from school...
OR by the competition deadline because this time I'm actually going to send it off into the wider world and allow it to be read, to be judged.
Careers have been forged by writing competitions: by winning of them of course (poet and novelist Tobias Hill began his career this way and every rejection, every time he wasn't short listed he sent out more on the Hydra principle - every time the serpent's head was cut off she grew two more.) But even if you never win, never see your name among the list of honourably mentioned, you will have written something.
And the only way to learn how to write is to write (and to read obviously).
Writing in the head does not count. It needs the hard finality of paper.

And the Competitions we shouldn't enter...

Sally doesn't list every competition she hears about. Here she explains why she turns down some - and I think what goes for her should go for the rest of us. There are not that many writing scams out there, but they do exist. Follow her guidelines and you should be able to avoid them...

Reasons a competition might not be listed, include (but are not limited to):
a) a comp or event run by an obvious vanity publisher who charges entrants for expensive anthologies or tries to force entrants to spend money on other goods and services.
b) the 'winners' have to spend money in order to claim their prize (e.g. if the prize is a percentage off a writers holiday, or any other writers' service, I don't consider it a prize at all, so won't list the comps),
c) I may refuse to list a comp if I feel that the organiser is only doing it to sell books. For example, I've had self-published writers contact me about their comps, which stipulates that entrants must buy their book in order to enter, either because there's some codeword or because the story must be based on something in the book. I may do it for a bigger publisher, because they generally offer much better prizes.
d) If there is no real prize to speak of, and the prize only involves being published on a website, or publication in a book which the 'winners' have to buy.
e) if I find out that a competition has taken money from entrants but not paid out prizes, or has not played fair with its entrants in other ways.
f) The details have been submitted too late to take into account postal times etc.
g) If I feel the entry fees charged are disproportionate to the prizes on offer. An example is a comp that charges £20 per entry, yet offers prizes totalling less than £100.
h) The competition does not have a proper closing date, only some nebulous idea of when the organiser thinks they've 'got enough entries'. Comps without a closing date will not be listed.

Know a gay bookshop? Love a gay bookshop? Write about it...

Treehouse Press are about to publish an anthology celebrating gay bookshops, past and present. They are looking for submissions now - personal stories and nonfiction preferred. Email first to say which bookshop you would like to cover and why. Make it good - this is your chance to pitch.
Published stories will receive a payment of £25 and two copies of the anthology.
Deadline end of November 2011.
Treehouse are a small independent press that "happily experiments with the chemistry shared between form and image".
They also opt for small print-runs "relieving the writer of the pressure to commercially perform, giving more room to play creatively."

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

IN YER FACE versus SUBTLE SUGGESTION - whose side are you on?

New Writing South are hosting The Monday Night Moot in Brighton next week and we're invited to join in the debate with Billy Budd playwright Martin Lewton and award winning actress, choreographer and director Miranda Henderson 
As audiences walk out of the current RSC production of Marat/Sade (‘Utter filth and depravity‘ said the Daily Mail so that's a recommendation then), Rattigan and Wesker are enjoying revivals.The Monday Night Moot is a monthly creative and intellectual whiz, which invites two speakers to talk passionately for 15 minutes, each presenting an opposing view on a burning issue.  It’s then over to the audience to talk back, participate and give their verdict! 
Date: Monday 14 November 2011 
or call 01273 735353.

French Prize could go to a novel set somehwere in ireland

The PRIX GONCOURT - the tres prestigious French literary prize - goes through four rounds: a longlist, a shortlist, a shorter list (which was announced today) until finally  a winner is declared who must be living on his or her nerves by the time the announcement is made, surviving on a diet of nails (the handy kind that are easy to nibble) and strong drink.
The four books on this year's
short short list are:

  • L'Art français de la guerre by Alexis Jenni
  • La belle amour humaine by Lyonel Trouillot
  • Du Domaine des Murmures by Carole Martinez
  • Retour à Killybegs by Sorj Chalando 
My French is almost non existent I am ashamed to say (I won't bore you with a bag load of excuses) but as I have been to Killybegs, a very pleasant town in Donegal, I wanted to find out more. From what I can gather Sorj is a journalist who knows Ireland well. His story is about three generations of a family involved in nationalist politics and at least one family member is an active member of the IRA. 
 As I was reading websites with my French English dictionary in one hand and my finger poised over the Google translate this now button, I can't tell you much more except that some folk seemed to think that Killybegs is in Northern Ireland.
Given the novel's subject, it's an easy mistake for commentators to make. (I am sure the author didn't make it.) Donegal, however, is in southern Ireland - in the Irish Republic.
It is though the most northerly part of the island of Ireland. There, that's cleared that up.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The Great Book Give Away for 2012 announced - how many have you read?

One million books will be distributed for free – from this list of 25 – for the second World Book Night which is on St George's Day  - April 23rd - 2012
I've read 12 of them (most recently The Road by Cormac McCarthy) and have to confess that there's at least three on the list I've never heard of... 
Anyone heard of all of them? 
Anyone read all of them?
The one I haven't read and must is Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle. So many people have said how good it is - her more famous book is 1001 Dalmatians.
I would recommend The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell to anyone who hasn't read it - a great example of intelligent women's fiction. No, that's wrong. It's a great example of intelligent fiction. Full stop.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (Vintage)
The Player of Games by Iain M Banks (Little, Brown)
Sleepyhead by Mark Billingham (Little, Brown)
Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson (Transworld)
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (Harper Collins)
The Take by Martina Cole (Headline)
Harlequin by Bernard Cornwall (Harper Collins)
Someone Like You by Roald Dahl (Penguin)
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (Penguin)
Room by Emma Donoghue (Pan Macmillan)
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier (Little, Brown)
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber)
Misery by Stephen King (Hodder)
The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella (Transworld)
Small Island by Andrea Levy (Headline)
Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist (Quercus)
The Road by Cormac McCarthy (Pan Macmillan)
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (Vintage)
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell (Headline)
The Damned Utd by David Peace (Faber)
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman (Transworld)
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (Penguin)
Touching the Void by Joe Simpson (Vintage)
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (Vintage)
The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak (Transworld)

Friday, 21 October 2011

Why we read: by the Booker prize winner

Books are where things are explained to you; life is where things aren't. Julian Barnes

Monday, 3 October 2011

Felt in the mood for a poem about October...

...to be reminded what it's supposed to be like and here's one by Robert Frost. I presume he was writing about New England and I love the amethyst/mist rhyme (although I probably wouldn't volunteer to read it aloud).
There's nothing mauve and misty about old England right now. July got lost and ended up here, leaving a metallic taste in the mouth. There is gold in the air from a warm winter sun and bronze on the pavement from fallen leaves: there's even silver in the cash registers from unexpected visitors.

Saturday October 1st was the hottest October day EVER - hotter than Athens, Barcelona or Los Angeles.
It's like a present we didn't know we wanted until we got it. 
October by Robert Frost

O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow's wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes' sake, if the were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost--
For the grapes' sake along the all.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

A Chance to Write for Television

CHANNEL 4 are running a screenwriting course for TV drama from January to June 2012 and are looking for 12 talented, original and diverse writers who currently have no broadcast credit .
The course gives a chance to find out how TV drama, particularly Channel 4 TV drama, works, and to write, over a five month period, your own pilot script for an original series or serial, working with an experienced script editor. 
The course is designed so that writers should be able to take part even if in full-time employment (the only attendance is on two weekends, in January and June 2011, and you get five months to write the required two drafts of a one hour drama script).

PLUS writers will be paid a small fee for attending the course - which is the cherry on top of the icing on the cake
How to apply:
Applicants should submit by email a CV and one writing sample. This can be a screenplay, a stage play or radio play, minimum length 30 minutes (novels, treatments, short stories, unfinished screenplays and "shorts" are not acceptable).  The scripts should be original, not episodes of existing drama series.
Email scripts and CV’s to: 4screenwriting@script-consultant.co.uk
Tuesday November 1st 2011.

No, that never happened to me...

...and I suspect it won't.
A book review written in middle English
Here's a small taste
As þe poete sayde, and richtig:
Þe more strenghþe of ioye myn herte strayneз.
An grete boke: ye most beye yt.
(The sentiments of the last line work in any language)
If you'd like to read more visit the Punkadiddle blog

Monday, 19 September 2011

Write the perfect ghost story

It's that time of year again.
Sainsbury's are stocking pumpkins and this morning I was greeted by a bargain scream mask (plus cloak) in a charity shop. It's the season to be scared or - if you're a writer - to frighten the bejayus out of readers.
I love the definitions that Write Club in Atlanta have come up with for writing - they work so well for the kind of stroy telling I have in mind:
The Tenderest Bloodsport
No-Holds-Barred Brain Wrestling.
A Lit-Punch to the back of the skull. 
So, if you want to grapple with a reader, pin them down until they surrender and read every single word, then I suggest you think about the ghost story genre. I wrote about the essential ingredients last winter and you can find it here
One of the points I made then was that horror  is a test of a writer's ability to create atmosphere.
With no props, no scary noises and no control over how the reader will come face to face with the world you've created (on a kindle on a bus trip to the shops when you're already overdrawn, on a beach with sand working its way into bikini bottoms) you only have one shot at  raising the hairs on the back of the neck. 
A tool that is often over looked is a very, very, very simple one. It's to do with varying the length of sentences and the length of words.
Short chapters, short sentences and one syllable words can give the impression of speed in an action novel. (See how the James Patterson team use that device.) But they are also very effective at conveying tension and high emotion.
Take these two (top of the head and unpolished) examples.
She was seriously ill for several months and passed away yesterday evening.
She was ill for a long time. She died last night. She's gone.
I rest my case....

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Ooops...look I just got back from holiday, ok!

Honour and glory is great.
How did I write that yesterday? How did I read those words several times and allow them to go sailing off into hyperspace together, all naked and vulnerable and wrong?
Mea Culpa*
Mea Culpa
Honour and glory ARE great. There, that's nailed it. I blame jet lag (from Spain....)
As Samuel Beckett said: fail, fail again, fail better (but I suspect he wasn't thinking of basic grammar).
Mea máxima culpa

A translation for those who aren't familiar with the Latin phrase or weren't brought up as a Catholic: Mea Culpa = my fault. Mea máxima culpa = My most grievous fault. Or as an altar boy in Roscommon used to say many years ago: me a cowboy, me a cowboy, me a Mexican cowboy

Monday, 12 September 2011

Shortlist for the BBC National Short Story award

This is the sixth year that the BBC has run its short story competition - only open to authors who have already been published - and throughout this week you can listen to the shortlisted entries.

The winner will be announced on Monday 26 September live on BBC Radio Four's arts programme Front Row and will receive £15,000 which must make it one of the most lucrative - as well as prestigious - short story competitions in the world. Honour and glory is great, but it's even better when it is backed up with some money, especially as there are few paying markets for short stories.
The runner-up gets £3,000 and the other three authors £500 each.
This year's shortlist is:
'Rag Love' by M J Hyland 
Set in Sydney, a magnificent cruise ship is in harbour and all one down-and-out couple want is an hour together in the top suite. Described by the BBC as "eerie".
'The Heart of Denis Noble' by Alison MacLeod
This story is drawn from real life; it shows  Denis Noble, the pioneering systems biologist, awaiting an operation on his heart – the organ that he has spent his whole adult life studying – and looking back to consider the relationship between the heart of love and the heart of science.
'Wires' by Jon McGregor (runner up last year) 
A young woman's life flashes before her eyes as an unusual object flies towards her windscreen on the motorway.
'The Human Circadian Pacemaker' by K J Orr
As an astronaut attempts to re-adjust to life on earth, how will his wife cope and can their relationship ever return to its old rhythm?
'The Dead Roads' by D W Wilson 
An American road trip story where two old school buddies try to win the affections of a free-spirited girl; then a mysterious man enters the picture...

Each of the shortlisted stories will be broadcast daily on BBC Radio 4 at 3.30pm from today Monday 12 September. It's also available as a free podcast available to download for two weeks from www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/nssa.

Margaret Atwood says that writing is an apprenticeship and that we all learn from our masters, some of them are alive and some of them are dead...This short list should offer a real insight into contemporary writing that demands attention. I'll be listening and learning (and probably disagreeing with the judges) 

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Twitter as a post office...twitter as a boomerang...twitter as a waste of time. And what about facebook?

I'm very grateful for the range and quality of comments relating to a guest post that asked questions about social media and the writer. Thought provoking stuff that leads onto to other thought provoking things...such as: are we all creative writers now?
And if the answer is yes: is that a good thing?

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Be Creative in Brighton

I am running a range of creative writing courses in Brighton this autumn at different places and at different times. Each course explores different kinds of writing, but they are all designed to support creative self-expression with ideas that will fire the imagination.
A bit about my style of teaching
I don't believe in tough love. I don't think anyone comes away from a class  more confident and better able to face new challanges after their work has been rubbished. 
I don't believe in giving a (metaphysical) pat on the head and murmuring very good after every contribution made. To move forward you have to become a better reader of your own writing and that means celebrating what works and acknowledging (and revising) what doesn't...I'm here to help in that process.
I do believe creative writing can be taught. There's a craft to learn but the art comes from within. I can't turn you into a Margaret Atwood or a James Patterson...only you can do that...but I can support you on the journey towards becoming the best writer you can be. 
And no one ever wonders why someone who enjoys painting enrolls in art school or a pianist thinks that music lessons might be a good idea...
Here's what past students have to say...

  • Feedback was very encouraging. It made me more productive and not frightened to take risks without fear of ridicule. 
  • I wasn't sure about reading aloud at first but I was made to feel very comfortable in the  group  
  • The interaction between the teacher and class was great. She always made sure everyone understood what was needed from them.  
  • I've done more writing in the last few weeks than since I was seven!  
  • The variety of exercises was inspirational. The tutor had the right amount of input in the classes and was very encouraging.
  • I hadn't been back in the classroom for nearly 30 years and I didn't like it that much first time round. I wasn't sure it was going to my sort of thing but Bridget is very relaxed and I am pleased to say it was exactly my kind of thing.
  • I've been to lots of workshop and classes over the years but for the first time I got the kind of detailed and highly personal feedback (criticism isn't really the right word) that's allowed me to take my writing to the next stage.

Here are details of my Brighton courses - I also teach in London at City Lit the largest adult education centre in Europe.

 Creative Writing for Beginners
A confidence-building journey of imagination that allows you to discover the writer within
 Monday evenings  7pm to 9 pm A ten week course starting on September 26 at Portslade College Chalky Road
The same course also runs on Thursday afternoons 1pm to 3 pm at the Community Centre in South Portslade. It starts on September 29
 We are enrolling now. The advanced course was full up a day after the brochure was published so if you're interested don't delay!
Email comed@pcc-web.com. Call 01273 422632 or go here

Towards Publication
An eight week  practical course for emerging writers who have been writing for some time, or have previously attended a writing class.
Tuesday afternoons 1 pm to 3 pm starting on September 20th at the Friends Centre near Brighton Station (see below for information about how to enroll)

Writing the Biography of your Family
For people who have already researched their family history and want to turn a collection of dates and odd facts into an interesting, readable story that will enthuse the rest of the family (and the general reader)
Wednesday evenings for eight weeks 7 pm-9 pm starting on September 21st
Starts: 21 September for 8 weeks     

Enroll By telephone: Using a credit or debit card – 01273 810210 Online: Please go to: www.friendscentre.org.
(There's a discount if you enroll online)


Monday, 29 August 2011

Quote worth Quoting

In a world where Google can give you thousands of answers, a librarian will always bring you the right one. 
 Neil Gaiman, author and graphic novelist

Read more extracts from the Edinburgh Book Festival interview with Neil Gaiman

Friday, 26 August 2011

Social Media, Writers and fear of the Tweet

I first met Bill Munro at the South East branch of the Society of Authors. Coming from a long line of taxi drivers, he is a writer and a publisher, specialising in transport. He is also interested in anything that supports the life of a writer.
We live in exciting times. (Is that really a Chinese curse?) Change is all about us and Bill is anxious to explore new opportunities that appear to be opening up for authors.
Here he explains his tentative approach towards social media and asks for advice. I've given my response at the end, but if Bill is standing at the brink with a toe in the water, I'm still only paddling around...so if you have any observations, advice, words of encouragement or caution please do jump in.                                                        Photo by Ernst Vikne

Guest post from Bill Munro 
 It took a long time for me for the penny to drop about Twitter: what it’s all about, I mean, not how to make the best use of it. That bit, I’m still struggling with. Anything on a computer that has proved successful over the years has been an adaptation, and often an enhancement of something us of the inkwell generation has used in pen and paper (or telephone or photographic) form for decades. I mean stuff like word processing (i. e. writing), spreadsheets, family tree layouts and more sophisticated stuff like DTP (which is based on the traditional editor’s cut and paste-up) and Photoshop. We all understand them in principle, so adapting our brain to use them digitally has been pretty straightforward.

Twitter, and Facebook for that matter are a quantum leap beyond.

Twitter combines the messages carried by flyers, letters, office memos, phone calls, chats over the garden wall or by the water cooler, handbills and other paper and personal stuff with new-fangled techie stuff like texts and emails. It’s a ‘word in your ear’, a soundbite and an advertising slogan, digitised and condensed. It is an adaptation of what we have done for years, but bundled up and often disguised in a plethora of technicalities and jargon and used at hyper-speed.

Many of us of an older generation have learned to use computers on an ad hoc basis, and haven’t the virtually intuitive way of using them that the younger ones amongst us seem to have. Thus we struggle to grasp the ‘McGuffin’ of social media, at a time when we, as struggling authors are told that it is the way we need to promote ourselves and our work. It leaves us baffled, and sometimes fuming.

When the penny dropped, I opened a Twitter account. But that penny has yet to set the machinery working. I have left it virtually unused because I don’t know the right things to say to whom, and I don’t want to look a twit (I use the word advisedly) by sending irretrievable and possibly self-harming messages into the Twittersphere, and to the wrong people. Does anyone know where I can get advice about this? And does it actually work anyway, or is the mantra ‘use social media to promote your work’ a piece of lazy journalism put about by people who have yet to achieve results but believe, rightly or wrongly, that others have succeeded in growing their writing careers through it? Is it ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, digitised?

Bill Munro

View Earlswood Press ebooks on Smashwords at www.smashwords.com

My response:
Last December I gave eight reasons why I found twitter useful to me as a writer and as a  lecturer in writing and eight months on I pretty much stand by them. I work a lot from home and, wonderful as that is, there's no denying that I miss the water cooler moments. You can't just write, write, write. Y
How to get started?
Relying on the kindness of strangers has always worked for me and writers tend to be generous. They know how to share.
I've found the blog of the Scottish writer Nicola Morgan enormously helpful and she has now put all her advice about twitter into an ebook. It is not only useful, it is also a lesson in on how a writer can build a readership using social media.
You can follow Bill on twitter at @MunroBill 
I'm there too at

Thursday, 25 August 2011

10 best jokes from Edinburgh Festival

Just because it's a cold, grey day in August. Just because I am re-writing and revising and need a break. Just because humour is as important as the serious stuff and often so much harder to write...for all those reasons here are the ten best jokes from the 2011 Edinburgh Festival as decided by Dave - the digital TV channel. 
Scroll down to the bottom and you'll find the worst joke of the festival. 
1) Nick Helm: "I needed a password eight characters long so I picked Snow White and the Seven Dwarves."
2) Tim Vine: "Crime in multi-storey car parks. That is wrong on so many different levels."
3) Hannibal Buress: "People say 'I'm taking it one day at a time'. You know what? So is everybody. That's how time works."
4) Tim Key: "Drive-Thru McDonalds was more expensive than I thought... once you've hired the car..."
5) Matt Kirshen: "I was playing chess with my friend and he said, 'Let's make this interesting'. So we stopped playing chess."
6) Sarah Millican: "My mother told me, you don't have to put anything in your mouth you don't want to. Then she made me eat broccoli, which felt like double standards."
7) Alan Sharp: "I was in a band which we called The Prevention, because we hoped people would say we were better than The Cure."
8) Mark Watson: "Someone asked me recently - what would I rather give up, food or sex. Neither! I'm not falling for that one again, wife."
9) Andrew Lawrence: "I admire these phone hackers. I think they have a lot of patience. I can't even be bothered to check my OWN voicemails."
10) DeAnne Smith: "My friend died doing what he loved ... Heroin."
Veteran entertainer Paul Daniels for: 
"I said to a fella 'Is there a B&Q in Henley?' He said 'No, there's an H, an E, an N an L and a Y'."

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Official: Fiction is good for you

Reading stories makes you a better person. Every reader knew it: now there's proof.
The results of a Canadian university research team led by  British psychologist Keith Oatley reveal that fiction readers   are better at relationships.
"Reading about Darcy and Elizabeth or Hamlet or Harry Potter and the progress of their relationships and dilemmas gets you, the reader, practising how to understand others and how they think and behave."
This is serious stuff. Not only should the research findings bring a glow to every bookworm's pale cheeks (we always knew we were nice people), it may also offer a formula for mending Cameron's Broken Society.
Imagine it. Novels could be on (free) prescription.
Three or four books a month perhaps, taken at will, and the patient could have a completely free choice from a wide selection. 

Oh wait, we have that already - the libraries that are under threat in every corner of the country.

Proffesor Oatley's research is published in Such Stuff as Dreams - The Psychology of Fiction. He also happens to be a novelist himself...what were the chances of that?

If you don't know what copyeditors do...

Or you are about to self publish and think you can't afford a professional copy editor take a look at this video produced by successful self publisher Catherine Ryan Howard.
In Catherine's book (and she's written three) there are only two "acceptable excuses" for not paying a professional copy editor.
Number One
is you are already one yourself (even then I'd suggest you get someone to look over it: your eyes can all too easily see what should be on the page instead of what actually is there). 

Number Two acceptable excuse is that your book has no words in it. 
Everyone else can't afford not to pay for a professional edit.

You can read more about Catherine's adventures in self publishing on her excellent blog at http://catherineryanhoward.com

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Searching on twitter

The founder of FACEBOOK said privacy is dead and this account from Joanna Geary, Web Development Editor at The Times seems to prove it. She describes how she traced an American serviceman and his relatives in nine steps. It started with an innocent tweet and ended with a search across national boundaries and international organisations, all of it legal and all of it done from her desk. The result was potentially security sensitive data and personal details of the hapless target's extended family.
Read the full story and be scared here.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

More about Brighton Digital Festival

Brighton Digital Festival 2011: Flash-lit Fiction: a Slam and other Experiments

Sunday, September 11, 2011 from 7:00 PM to 11:00 PM
Sticky Mike's Frog Club (formerly The Jam)
9-12 Middle Street
More event connected info at:

An evening of short shorts, flash writing and digital technologies
 At the heart of the event is a 300-word flash fiction slam competition and an online Twitter story competition, with competitors battling it out for fame and glory.
The night is brought to you by the makers of Grit Lit (http://www.gritlit.org), Story Studios (http://www.storystudio.co.uk/about.html).
Judging panels  include Richard Hearn from Paragraph Planet (http://www.paragraphplanet.com) and Myriad Editions (http://www.myriadeditions.com/). 

Advance tickets £5:  Tickets on the door: £6

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Spoilers DON'T spoil the story

Intrigued by the report on Alison Flood's blog that research by the University of San Diego's psychology department reveals that spoilers don't spoil a story...
 Even in who-dun-it's it doesn't hurt to know who...
Subjects were given a dozen short stories by a range of famous authors. Some were in their original form while others included a paragraph that gave away the ending or a crucial twist. The result?
"Subjects significantly preferred the spoiled versions of ironic-twist stories, where, for example, it was revealed before reading that a condemned man's daring escape is all a fantasy before the noose snaps tight around his neck..." 
Not such a big surprise really....I don't feel compelled to turn to the last page first, but I am a great re-reader. Reading when you are no longer driven by suspense means you can relax and enjoy the language, the way the characters develop, the light and shade...
I can remember the first book I ever re-read. I got Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass one Christmas. When I finished I just turned it over and went back to the beginning. I was still reading it when we went on our summer holidays...
And there are plenty of stories where the ending is revealed at the start so it's not what happens next that drives the reader to turn the page (or carry on viewing) but wondering how did that happen or why.
And now I've written that I can only think of Columbo or Martin Amis' Time's Arrow....there are others, aren't they?