"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, 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?