29 April, 2011

Smoke and Mirrors

Now they have announced the results on their website, I am very pleased to say that I have been awarded first prize in the short story competition run by Write Now! The theme was Smoke and Mirrors and my entry was called The Last Illusion.

I'm really pleased with this - not just because I can finally afford new running shoes now, but also because I had real trouble with this short story for a while. It was the last thing I wrote before going back to my novel and I had to write so many drafts before I felt like it worked. I tried writing it in the first person and third person, from the female character's point of view and goodness knows what else before I finally found the right tense and voice. The key breakthrough was when I suddenly found myself humming the old wartime tune, We'll Meet Again, and realised I could use those lyrics to pull the whole thing together. Phew! It was apparently worth it in the end.

The last time Write Now! ran a competition it was one of the first things I entered and, although I didn't get one of the top three prizes, I was a runner-up which encouraged me to keep writing in those early stages when I was only just discovering how disheartening it could be! It's a very well run competition and I was pleased to be able to support it again and even more pleased to find that my writing hasn't gone downhill since last time!

Writing has been going quite well for me over the last few months, but with my novel currently being pulled apart by the Writer's Workshop, I'm not sure I'll be feeling so clever in a few weeks.... Happy Royal Wedding Day everyone!

26 April, 2011

Back to School

I feel like the time has come for me to have just a little bit of formal writing training. It is undoubtedly the case that you can't make a bad writer into a great one through education - there needs to be some spark of talent - but I think you can take an adequate writer and make them a good one. After all, even the best musician needs a little help to become a virtuoso! Therefore, I am planning to sign up for the Writer's Bureau comprehensive creating writing course which covers everything except poetry. This course is the biggest writing correspondance course in the country but I am aware that it is far from perfect. I am sure I would get a better class of education at the Open University or Open College of the Arts, but for me the Writer's Bureau has one or two advantages. Firstly, although still a good chunk of money, the whole thing costs as much as a single module at a more prestigious institute does. Secondly, its emphasis is on becoming a commerical writer. I am not interested in gaining a qualification - I have a degree, I don't need another. My main motivation for taking a course like this is just to have a regular amount of feedback and a little more structure to my writing, rather than to become an academic, and this course will hopefully provide that.

Opinions on the course are somewhat mixed, but I think if you go into it without thinking it's going to make you rich and without hoping for more than you are paying for, then you have a better chance of being satisfied. A lot of people have said that they have been unable to finish the course because of the amount of work set, but it is designed to be flexible so you only have to do the bits of the course you want to do. This suits me very well as I can work around whatever projects I have on and you are allowed to take several years over the course if you need to. I think I could just continue writing and reading as that approach is gradually making me improve anyway, but I am aware that getting that one bit of feedback on the opening to my novel at the end of last year taught me more in 15 minutes than I had taught myself in months. If I am serious about writing then I need to be serious about letting my work be criticised by people who know what it takes.

In other news, I have been working on a short story the last couple of weeks. I was moderately pleased with it, but something wasn't quite right and then yesterday I had a flash of inspiration and tried writing it in a mixture of tenses and so far I like the results. Hopefully I will get it finished today or tomorrow and entered into the ACW competition. I have also had some very good news from other quarters in the last week, but I am waiting for it to be made official before I indulge in a smug, self-congratulatory post! At the moment however, the lure of writing is competing with the lure of the great outdoors. Husband and I spent a wonderful day on the moor on Saturday with just the ponies, wild violets and a particularly persistent cuckoo for company - it's wonderful to be spending our first spring in such a beautiful place. Writing may be about life, but I strongly suspect life is about walking in the sunshine.

06 April, 2011

To Edit or Not to Edit...

...that is the question. Having received most of my reader reports now, I have started to analyse what they had to say about my novel, The Crosser of the Worlds. The first thing I've learned is that different people interpret questions differently! To some a "favourite character" is the one they liked most, to others it is the one they thought written the best. To some the lowest point for the main character, Kit, is when he is acting most stupidly, to others it is the point where they felt most sympathy for him. But these different interpretations have actually been really helpful as they have highlighted things which I might never have noticed.

Perhaps my biggest revelation is that it is always worth getting more than one or two people to read your drafts! This helps weed out personal taste from actual issues that need addressing. One reader found the young girl in the book a bit irritating, but she was the favourite character of two of my readers. At least one reader didn't particular like the swashbuckling sword-fighters on one of my worlds, again, another absolutely loved them. Some readers focussed on the practical ("how could a deep wound have healed enough to have formed a scar in only two weeks?"), others were more emotional ("it brought actual tears to my eyes"). One small scene that one reader wanted me to change back to how it was written in the original draft, was the one scene that another reader (who had also read the original draft) didn't want me to touch at all.

You might think that all this would make editing a bit of a nightmare. But actually, this way I get the best of both worlds: I won't end up changing something that doesn't need changing just because it happens to not be to the taste of one person, but also I know that if two or more people mention the same thing then it really is an issue I can't sweep under the carpet. Every reader so far has caused me to add something to my list of potential edits and every one has also mentioned something different that they liked about the book that gives me the confidence to carry on with it. Sure, I could be hurt that my favourite character is nobody else's, but actually it's great that nearly every "goody" is somebody's favourite as it means I must have got something right about them!

So I now have before me an ever-growing list of edits to make before I send this draft off to the Writer's Workshop for some professional advice. But, having made six other people read the book in the last month, the first thing I should probably do is read it myself...