"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...

Monday, 30 May 2011

Be part of Guardian Weekend Summer Fiction Special

Wanted: an unpublished short story on the theme of journeys
Length: maximum 2000 words. .
Deadline: Mon 13 Jun 2011 
Reward: honour and glory
Every year, in August, the Guardian's Weekend magazine publishes a selection of original fiction by some of the best authors writing today. Last year's fiction special featured stories by Hilary Mantel, Roddy Doyle, David Mitchell and Barbara Trapido, among others, and this summer they will be unveiling another line-up of stellar names. Yours could be among them.
Top novelists judge the entries, and they will be looking for the most original, gripping and well-crafted pieces of writing. Their favourite story will be published in the magazine, while the five runners-up will have their stories published online.
Send your story to Short Stories, Guardian Weekend, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU, or email it to short.story@guardian.co.uk (no attachments). Include a daytime phone number with your entry.

JOURNEYS - the theme of the Guardian Short Story competition

running with the seagulls by eschipul
running with the seagulls, a photo by eschipul on Flickr.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Dream job...British Library Writer in Residence

If you are working on a book - non fiction or fiction - that requires substantial research on Canada and/or USA read on. The rest of us can just dream on...
Applications are invited for the Eccles British Library Writer in Residence Award. The award of £20,000, sponsored by the David and Mary Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library, is open to writers resident in the United Kingdom. Writers should be working on a non-fiction or fiction full-length book, written in the English language, the research for which requires that they make substantial use of the British Library’s collections relating to North America (the USA and/or Canada).

The Writer in Residence will have privileged access to the curatorial expertise of the British Library, will be able to use the Writers and Scholars’ Room and will be entitled to use some BL staff facilities. On publication of the book every effort will be made by the Eccles Centre to host a launch event at the British Library.
Deadline: 31 Aug 2011
The award holder will take up post January 1st
click on the title of this post for more details

Saturday, 28 May 2011

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Taking REJECTION on the chin

Just come across this quote from George Bernard Shaw (1856 - 1950)
“I finished my first book seventy-six years ago.
I offered it to every publisher on the English-

speaking earth I had ever heard of. Their

refusals were unanimous:  and it did not get into

print until, fifty years later, publishers would

publish anything that had my name on it…”

At first take it may read it as another example of the publishing industry getting it wrong. I found it in an advice article for new writers and it was included to boost confidence. The implication was that you shouldn't be deterred by rejection because even the greats of English literature had to endure it. Shaw's plays and essays are important to me. I love his reviews and prefaces and speeches. And there's no doubt that he is one of the all time great letter writers...  but has anyone read a GBS novel?  And wouldn't it have been a shame if he had ignored the rejections and stuck with novel writing instead of turning to the theatre?   I know that every night there are agents who go to bed  knowing that they once had the manuscript of Harry Potter in their hands and let it go, but if there is a consensus of opinion in a writers' group or in the publishing industry there's a chance they may just have a point.
A creative commons photograph by Peter Beens from Niagara Falls, Canada

Thursday, 26 May 2011

The art of not knowing

Philosophers, historians, sociologists, even theologians have precise tools available to them. But we makers of poems and stories and essays wouldn’t trade with them. Wielding the mighty instrument of speculation – to try to know what we can’t really know – is the most thrilling experience available to an artist.
David Huddle writing in the May 2011 edition of Brevity, the online journal of concise creative nonfiction.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

International Travel Writing Competition - fiction and non fiction

It might mean writing over the weekend but here's a competition aimed at budding travel writers as well as those who have already established themselves in this field.  It is the first ever Travel Writing Contest organised by Rossgill Media  - they may run more if they like the response.
First prize is  £100 AND feedback from two published travel writers - judges Paul Gogarty and Bill Corbett.  The deadline is midnight May 31, 2011 and the entry fee is £3. They are looking for writing between 1000 and 3000 words long
The special element is the very wide interpretation of what constitutes travel writing. Here's what the organizers say: 
We'd love to see how travel has changed your perception of the world and your sense of self (or your characters, if you're submitting fiction). If you are submitting fiction, are you or your characters able to appreciate the ways of the inhabitants? Can you share their time and space, interact, and become a part of the experience? Or do you feel very much on the outside, looking in?
 Alternatively, your piece could be about an inner journey or, say, an experience far from home. For example, a man travels to meet his biological father after learning that he will soon become a father himself. A woman returns home to take care of an aging mother.
Check out all the rules (and follow them to the letter) by clicking on the title of this post

A Chance to write for children's TV

BBC writersroom has teamed up with the BAFTA winning channel to launch a brand new competition, GET A SQUIGGLE ON! It will give new writers from different backgrounds and experiences an opportunity to develop their professional skills working with the CBeebies team. 
The competition aims to inspire writers to be as creative and imaginative as they like in order to write a 20-minute live action script that will captivate young minds. It can be in any contemporary genre, including Drama, Comedy, Music, Dance, Puppets, Educational (with a light touch) or a combination of more than one.
A shortlist of 20-25 writers will be invited to a masterclass, where they will hear from experienced writers and CBeebies experts, and get an invaluable opportunity to hone their writing skills. The lucky final 8-10 shortlisted writers will spend an intensive residential week developing their work, bolstering their writer’s ‘toolbox’ and craft, and working with the CBeebies team. 

A selection of tailored learning resources are available on the BBC writersroom website to help get people inspired and guide them through the competition process.  Click on the title of this post to go straight there
The closing date for entries is Thursday 14th July

Your library book is counting down...10, 9, 8

 Amazon have found a way of getting ebooks into libraries. Apparently they have developed a library version that can be checked out like any other book, downloaded and read through the Kindle or any of Amazon's free Kindle apps. Then - and this is the clever part - the book will auto-delete on the due date unless it has been renewed.
Suddenly have a vision of the credits to the old Mission Impossible TV series when the tape self destructed after the message was delivered. It would be nice of if library ebooks could be as dramatic....

Monday, 23 May 2011

Writer's Block and how to find a way out of it

Philip Pullman doesn't believe in it. "Carpenters don't get carpentry block." He argues that we shouldn't be so precious about what we do. Instead we should just treat writing like a job of work and get on with it.
James Kelman's advice boils down to the same thing. He says that the only way to defeat the blank page is to write even when it's the last thing you feel you are capable of doing. Even when all you can write is - I don't know what to write. The mind hates a vacuum and something will come out of it...not a very good something perhaps, but something all the same and writing always has to be better than not writing. Remember the wise words of the great short story writer Katherine Mansfield.

Far better to write twaddle or anything, anything, than nothing at all. 

And inspiration only strikes when you are already at the keyboard or have a pen in your hand.Jonathan Franzen has a different take on the subject. In a question and answer session at the famous New York creative hub, Gotham City Workshop, he says that it could be a sign that you're writing the wrong thing.
It happens when I'm trying to write something that I'm not ready to write, or that I don't really 'want' to write. And there's no way to discover my unreadiness or unwillingness except to try and fail.
I would certainly endorse that trying and failing bit. You can't write in your head. It only counts when paper is involved at some stage. All the thinking about a story won't tell you if it works: only putting one word after another can do that.
But I think perhaps we do need to give ourselves permission to have a break from a story that is being particularly difficult. If it is stuck then staying around may make the the mud thicker and stickier....but it has to be a real break: not writing doesn't count. You have to take the writer part of yourself off to a different world and a different story. Only then will you be able to see if you need a holiday or a divorce.

Click on the title of this post to read all of Franzen's Q&A session

Boldly go....to the British Library

A new free exhibition on until September 25
Out of this World: Science Fiction but not as you know it

The British Library reveals in its press release that 'SF is not only a popular literary genre but a way of looking at today's world and presenting alternatives: radical ideas about science, politics, society, the future... and the nature of reality itself.' Click the title of this post to find out more and watch a rather snappy video.
I'm not a big fan, although I can appreciate the  imagination of writers like Philip K.Dick. But I do get irritated by the wooden characters that only exist to act out a new theory. Breakthrough ideas are fine, but I still want story and I still want characters that live and breath on the page because in the end there's nothing as interesting as people.
Having said all that, one of the finest short stories I have ever read is classic science fiction. I recommend I have no mouth but I must scream by Harlan Ellison. (One of the best titles of all time too - perfect example of how the title only makes complete sense when you've finished reading the story.) And yes, it's all about people. Even if not all of them are human...