28 October, 2011

A Guardian Masterclass

Some friends of mine have presented me with a supplement that came with The Guardian last weekend: How to Write Fiction - A Guardian Masterclass. It is wonderful. I haven't read it all yet, but the articles - written by various professional writers - are giving me all the inspiration I need in these last few days before NaNoWriMo begins.

I was particularly pleased to read that Zoe Heller, author of the highly-acclaimed Notes on a Scandal, wasn't an overnight hit. That's not the sadist in me, it's just encouraging that she has found such success after being told that "With a lot of work this could be a quite interesting book - but only quite." Ouch.

I also really enjoyed the article by Jill Dawson about just getting on with writing - very apt for National Novel Writing Month!

"I can, of course, see the temptation of not beginning. Chiefly, not beginning sustains the belief that you are gifted, that the novel - when you one day get round to writing it - will surpass all others [...] Not beginning protects you from the disappointment - no, the shame - of reading what you have written and finding it rubbish. It also prevents you from an equally disturbing possibility: discovering that you can write."

This week I have been finishing a short story for the Ruth Rendell competition. It was a 1000 word limit which I found quite awkward - too long for flash fiction, but very short for a full story. I almost had the guts to try a second-person narrative. But not quite. I had written-off this story after a few drafts but when I read it again on Monday I decided to give it another shot and have ended up with one of my favourite bits of writing. Don't you just love that?

The view from my desk.
I love writing altogether this week. This week - sitting in a patch of sunlight at my desk, looking out at the hills, finishing a piece of work I am pleased with and scribbling notes in my novel-planning book - I love being a writer. It's odd because the Ruth Rendell competition is one that I am so very unlikely to win even if my story is the best thing I've ever written (big number of entries, was won by a professional writer last time and there's only one prize I think!) and I have received two rejections for my children's novel within the last three days, but all of that seems sort of alright at the moment. It's a nice way to feel at the start of a new novel. I'm excited.

What is it that makes you glad to be a writer or to do your day-job?

I'll  see you all in NaNovember and I'll leave you with another article quote, this time from Andrew Miller, about spending all our time creating fictional characters to answer the big questions of life:

"An odd use of time! An odd use of life. But there's a courage to it. Even, perhaps, a type of beauty."

17 October, 2011


As I may have mentioned in a previous post, this year I am planning to take part in NaNoWriMo - also known by it's less snappy title, "National Novel Writing Month". At this time of year there are plenty of bloggers posting about what this month entails and there is an official website if you are interested in knowing more, so I'll keep this short: by taking part in NaNoWriMo, you are aiming to write a novel - or at least the first 50 000 words of a novel - between the 1st and 30th of November.

There are many people out there who say they want to write a novel, but the huge majority never get round to trying. So the idea behind NaNoWriMo is to get people just to get on with it. What started off as less than 20 people in the San Francisco area has grown to over 200 000 participants in the last dozen years or so. The organisers confess that what you produce is likely to be terrible - but that's not the point. Everyone who completes 50 000 words is a winner and who knows, you might just produce something terrible that has the potential to be turned into something better.

The novel I am planning to write is an amalgamation of ideas from previous short stories of mine that never quite worked as short fiction for various reasons. I'm excited about it, but I sort of feel that I don't know how to write a novel. That may sound a little strange coming from someone who has just written onel, but I look at The Crosser of the Worlds and wonder how on earth I ever managed to work out such a complex plot with the characters and structure to match. It seems like an impossible task to me, even in hindsight! However, I really want to try writing a novel for adults that isn't genre-specific and this seems like a good way to go about it.

In other news, I am currently working on one short story that I hope to finish by the end of the month. A week ago, I also received my first rejection for my novel. I sent it to The Greenhouse Agency on Friday evening and got rejected on Monday morning. Brutal! I'm working on the prinicpal of submitting to three agents at once. Every time I get rejected I submit to one more and in the mean time try to forget I ever wrote a novel in order to preserve my sanity. At least I'm not alone... I'm sure anyone who has been or is going through the submission process for a book will appreciate this light-hearted post about the process.

And finally, the news you've all been waiting for. Using my prize from the last short story competition I won, I have got round to buying a new coat so I can actually keep dry while wandering the high moor in fog and rain. As I said at the time of winning... it's a glamourous life this writing business, isn't it?

09 October, 2011

Starting As We Went On?

Many writers say that to be a good writer - or indeed any sort of writer - you need to do a lot of reading. In a previous post, I asked you what your earliest memories of reading were. The definitive answer seemed to be Roger Red Hat. Anyway, it is my humble opinion that to be a good writer, you probably need to do a lot of writing too.

So here's a question: what memories of writing do you have as a child? This one's not just for writers - we all had to write about our weekend on a Monday morning at school in order to give the teacher time to drink their tea. Tell me something you were really proud of - or really embarrassed by. Then we can all laugh at you.

I have so many memories I want to write about. But to keep this post short(er), I'll stick to just one. Every year, my primary school ran a creative writing competition which would be judged by members of the Burma Star organisation (Veterans who fought in Burma during World War Two). It alternated between stories and poetry. I won one year with a story called 'The Pendulum'. (I know, I know. Give me a break, I was nine.) But the previous year, in a shamless attempt to woo the judges, I wrote a poem called 'My Grandpa Fought In Burma'. In my defence, my grandpa did actually fight in Burma.

Well, it worked because I won the prize and my poem was published in a children's anthology. My friend Robert had a poem in the anthology too, which he wrote it from the point of view of being a bubble. There was a line in it about how all the children tried to pop him except for me, because I was nice and gentle. I imagine he wrote it on a day when it was our turn to be best friends or something - I remember being pretty chuffed at the time. Mildly embarrassing for both of us.

Anyway, in a bid to get the ball of shame rolling on this topic. I will now reproduce my earliest published work for you. Please remember I was eight. Eight.

My Grandpa Fought in Burma

My Grandpa fought in Burma, he was very brave.
He fought on and on because he had England to save.
There was lots of fighting and lots of blood
Worse than a fire, worse than a flood.
He must have been relieved when the war had ended
And lots of wounded people had to be tended.
But the main thing is, and it's added to my pride -
He's my grandpa, and he's alive.

Yeah baby. Autographs later. (Did I mention that I was eight years old?)

Sadly, those last few words are no longer true. But I like to think that Grandpa can be part of my journey as a writer by being my muse for my early successes. (Eight years old. Don't judge me.)
Over to you again now...

03 October, 2011

A Deadly Sin

As I can't think of a suitable picture for this post, here is one taken near our home on Dartmoor. I like living here.

Three months ago I was told that I had won a short story competition but that I wasn't allowed to tell anyone which competition it was until October. Well, happy October everybody! Please indulge me in the sin of pride for a few moments...

The competition was run by the Association of Christian Writers but it wasn't to write a Christian story, but a story on the theme of '40' to coincide with their 40th anniversary. On Saturday, Paul and I travelled to Wimbledon to attend their Writer's Day and pick up my prize. The few other times I've won things I haven't gone to collect my prize personally as it would cost more money than I was winning. But we decided to just go along for the adventure this time and it only cost about half of the money I won, so that was a bonus! I'll be able to get a new raincoat now. It's a glamourous life...

Really, my husband wanted us to go because it was a day hosted by Adrian Plass. Paul grew up reading Adrian's books and wanted to meet him. It was a little bit daunting as I had been asked to read my story during the day and therefore I was the only person, other than Adrian -with his years of writing and public speaking experience - to be speaking. But actually it was really fun. The best bit of course was hearing the judges' report...

Whenever I've done well in a writing competition, I've always had the nagging feeling that there were only 10 entries and seven of them broke the rules or something. So it was reassuring to hear that there were 150 entries into this competition - not massive but a decent number - and that both the judges independently chose my story as the winner, right from the start. I still feel like there was a bit of luck involved - one of the judges spoke about what they were looking for in the stories and I found myself thinking, "Gosh, what a coincidence that my story had those elements in it. That's pretty lucky." But maybe that's like winning the London Marathon and thinking, "Gosh, it's jolly lucky I ran fast." I don't know. Anyway, they were very charming about my entry and after I had read it, everyone was very nice about it so it has given me a new burst of confidence that maybe I have some idea what I am doing. Well, sometimes at least...

Apparently, one of the plus-points of my '40' story was the original interpretation of the theme. I think they had a lot of stories about birthdays and anniversaries! I love themed competitions because I'm just not one of those writers who is bubbling over with ideas and so a theme gives me parameters to work in. It also means that everyone is trying to do the same thing with their writing which makes it more competitive but - on the down side - easier to appear unoriginal or to be compared unfavourably with other entries. What do you prefer when you enter competitions - themes or open entries?

Lots of people have said they will look out for my name in future so I suppose I'd better do something about getting my name visible now! This month I hope to crack on with a few assignments on my writing course and maybe write one bit of short fiction before November comes and I attempt to write a whole novel in those 30 days as part of NaNoWriMo. But as this post is rather long already, more on that another time...

Thanks for indulging me.