"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, 29 July 2011

Three hits for Independant pubishers

Three of the novels on the Booker long list of 13 come from independent publishers. Jane Rogers, a lecturer on the MA in Creative Writing at Sheffield Hallam University,  had The Testament of Jessie Lamb turned down by a number of mainstream publishers despite the fact it is her eighth novel AND and she has been long listed in the past for the Booker, so hardly a real out-on-a-limb-the-branch-is-nearly-breaking risk. 
It has now been published by a small Scottish independent, Sandstone Press. 
Thoughts that occur to me
  1. Never give up
  2. Even when you think you've arrived, you haven't
  3. Never give up

Short Story and Poetry Competition

Hurry along to to the Ilkley Literature festival website at http://www.ilkleyliteraturefestival.org.uk if you have a short story (maximum 3000 words) or a poem (30 lines or less) that is polished and ready to go - closing date is Monday

First Prize is £200 and all winners and runners up will have the opportunity to read at the Festival in October.
Entry fee: £4 per story or poem

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Oxymorons - love 'em or hate 'em

I was a bit sniffy about oxymorons in my last post but they can be a very precise shorthand and phrases like eloquent silence and expensive economy are a pretty neat way of summing up complex situations. I just hate the knee jerk clash of opposites as in - groan - forgotten memories.
I've done a little research (as a way of avoiding more pressing duties i.e. revising a manuscript) and come up with these very satisfying gems....anyone got others they would like to share?

I do here make humbly bold to present them with a short account of themselves and their art. . . .   Jonathan Swift
The bookful blockhead, ignorantly read,
With loads of learned lumber in his head
Alexander Pope
He was now sufficiently composed to order a funeral of modest magnificence...
Samuel Johnson
I burn and freeze like ice -- a description of hell in Milton’s Paradise Lost

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

It was a dark and stormy night...

...the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.
The opening of a best selling novel  written in 1830 by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, a philandering British politician, has been voted one of the top 100 opening lines of all times, but it is more usual to associate the sentence with OTT literature: bad, bad writing.
The English Department of San Jose State University in California have been running the Bulwer-Lytton for 29 years. The task is  to compose an opening to the worst of all possible novels. The prize – according to the official rules - is  a pittance or $250
The 2011 winner managed to beat off the competition with just 26 words. Here it is in all it's succinct glory.
Cheryl's mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell on to a growing pile of forgotten memories.
The combination of a grisly visual image with a vague abstract concept makes it a winner, especially as it ends with an unsatisfying oxymoron. 
Edward married a famous Irish beauty but couldn't be faithful to her. When he stood as a MP she proclaimed his infidelity during the election and later wrote about it. Revenge has no fury etc etc but he had her committed to a mental asylum as punishment. She only got out because of a public outcry. Even so, it doesn't seem to have harmed his political career...
As a writer he came up with two other
familiar phrases: the great unwashed and the pen is mightier than the sword...

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

A very Brighton moment...

As I was writing the last post, a bang, bang BANG at my front door. (I don't have a doorbell)
Outside was Yvo Luna, one of the best and most original performance poets in the city, and in her hand a white plastic bag. Did I want two mackerel she had caught that morning while swimming? 
(Being a kind, considerate and multi-talented poet she had already taken the trouble to gut them before bringing them around.) 
Ok, that's supper sorted.

New Directory for Writing and Reading Groups

Just mentioned PARAGRAPH PLANET in my last post and another very good reason to visit popped up in my email messages this morning...
The website now has a directory for writing groups, reading groups and book clubs...if you belong to one make sure yours is listed by using this form.
Students at the City Lit summer school I ran two weeks ago were asking for just this kind of information. Many were keen to find a local writing group and I think this directory could be a very useful resource. Seems to me that PARAGRAPH PLANET have spotted a gap and decided to fill it - so spread the word. 

Friday, 22 July 2011

Great writing - one paragraph at a time....

Paragraph Planet is a really interesting writerly (and readerly) activity and it's just been revamped so now is a good time to visit. http://www.paragraphplanet.com
The authors' section has been updated (this is not a personal plug - haven't got around to submitting although it is 
on my to-do list) and a new interview feature has been added. The first writers to be interviewed are Kate Morris, Judy Astley 
and Julie Corbin who all discuss the writing process and their 
new books.
And in another new feature it is now possible to submit a 
sequel to any paragraph on the site, not just the current one. 
A paragraph...go on! You've got time for a paragraph. I've got 
time for a paragraph...a slinky, seductive paragraph; a scary 
paragraph to make the nerve endings tingle, a...I'll stop there. 
I should be writing, not writing about the writing I would 
do if I only got around to it...

Monday, 11 July 2011

Monday Quote for Writers

"Before you can be an actor, you have to think yourself an actor. Before you can be anything, you have to think yourself being that thing..."
From Believe the BBC4 documentary on Eddie Izzard that knits interviews with Eddie, his family, friends and colleagues with childhood home movies and early stand up shows.
Ok, so not 'I want to be a writer' but I am a writer...

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Next Year's Great Book Give Away

A million books were given away on World Book Night on March 5 and a million more will be given away next year. (In 2012 the date will fall on St George's Day and Shakespeare's birthday - April 23rd)

Do you have strong views on what books should in the next free-for-all? If so, you can vote for  from now until the end of August. Click on the title of this post to go to the website.
At the moment, more than 1,500 people have nominated 3,000 titles. Once the ballot has ended a panel will select 25 books out of the top 100.

So far the most popular include:
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
American Gods by Neil Gaiman

The Lord of Rings by J R R Tolkien 

Do you have strong views about the great give-away? Does it make non-readers connect with books....?

Monday, 4 July 2011

Mslexia's how-to poetry guide

To coincide with the MSLEXIA poetry competition (closing date July 14) the writing magazine have published an excellent guide to writing poems.
The last instalment is all about preparing your work for submission.
Summing up the advice in one sentence it goes something like...if you think it is ready to send off, don't...until you've answered the following questions:
Hold out the poem and scan it - does it look right on the page?
Does the poem fit the magazine or competition you’re targeting?
If it is free verse, what were your reasons for choosing to break the line there? (Clue: you really should have a reason...)
Does the poem feel abrupt? 
Is it too wordy?
Lots more advice (and answers) on the website - click the title of this post to go there

Monday morning quote for writers

On Independence Day here's a quote from a contemporary American writer.
Joy Williams is from Massachusetts and her last novel was The Quick and the Dead.

Good writing never soothes or comforts. It is no prescription, neither is it diversionary, although it can and should enchant while it explodes in the reader's face. Whenever the writer writes, it's always three or four or five o'clock in the morning in his head. Those horrid hours are the writer's days and nights when he is writing.

What do you think - do you mentally occupy those lonely early morning hours when you face the computer screen or the intrimidating snow of blank paper? Or is it a warmer, softer experience for you?
I love the idea of words exploding in the face of the reader. That's something to aim for: not all the time of course, but a series of explosions....

Sunday, 3 July 2011

What I think of CUCKOO by Julia Crouch

Most thrillers are heavy on action and light on character. It’s when an author can combine the two and throws in a satisfyingly complex plot that something special happens on the page. CUCKOO by Julia Crouch does all that.
A lot of horror stories take an ordinary anxiety – spiders, slugs, getting lost – and then magnify that fear. Here the concern is about the best friend, the absent controlling, manipulative best friend, who is absent no more.
Rose, the central character, is living the dream. Home is a beautiful old house in the English countryside where the village school is still open and at least one mainstream author is on the PTA. Family are two gorgeous daughters: a smart maternal five year old (and girls can be very maternal at that age) and a baby happily reaching all her milestones at the right time. Husband is not only an artist but one who manages to sell his work and keep his integrity. So far so House and Gardens but by the end of page one it is clear that the foundations of this life are about to rattle loose. As the story progresses we learn that the foundations weren’t all that strong in the first place.
Of course, I’m not going to give away the plot, but I will say it addresses a woman’s primal fears about herself and those she loves. Did I believe it? Yes, because I believed in the characters – especially the women and the children. Or more accurately, I pretty soon stopped wondering if this or that twist was feasible. It was much more a case of Oh no, look out! And occasionally: Don’t!
This is a page turner that you don’t have to be ashamed of reading – the quality of the writing is high. I read quite a few thrillers while I was convalescing earlier in the year. After promising starts, I mostly stopped caring about the MDF characters by chapter three and all tension was gone by the fifth gory description. CUCKOO is genuinely thrilling. Not every aspect of the story is neatly resolved at the end - you just know things are going to go on happening to Rose and her family after the last page just as they did before the first chapter opened and that makes it all the more chilling.