30 July, 2013

Calling Writers, Poets and Bloggers

You know what this blog needs more of? Creative writing. Not posts about creative writing - the actual writing. It needs flash fiction and mini-essays and poems. And you know who's good at writing those things? You. I'm asking you, dear sweet readers, to join the party.

Get inspired by the stars...
What are you talking about?
I was thinking the other day how I would like to do a series of flash fiction on this blog - 10 or 12 mini-stories tenuously linked together. Then, I thought it would be much better if I didn't write them all. How much more interesting would the collection be if each one was written by somebody different? This is where you come in.

So, what's the big idea?
My idea is to do a series of short writing - a piece of flash fiction, a poem or a non-fiction piece - linked by the signs of the zodiac and written by different people. The zodiac is fairly arbitrary here, I just picked something which came in a neat group and had about the right number of items in it! The writing wouldn't be about the zodiac or starsigns or fate/superstition/horology etc. Each piece would just use one of the signs as a starting point. For example, if you're into crime writing, Sagittarius (the archer) might inspire you to set a murder mystery at an archery club, or maybe Cancer (the crab) will inspire you to write-up those hilarious anecdotes from your seaside holidays as a child (or parent).

What's in it for me?
One of the other things I like to do on this blog is to promote other writers and their work. Along with your piece of writing, I'd post a little biography and photo of you (although you can be anonymous if you'd rather) and links to your own blog, twitter or website, books you might have on sale, or other pieces of work published on the internet. You might be an experienced writer with an anthology or competition to promote, or a complete newbie who wants a few more visitors to your blog. You might just want to see a poem or story of yours on the web. If fiction isn't your thing, use your post to tell us about something that IS your thing - music, morris dancing, mud-wrestling...

Who can take part?
Anybody! You don't have to be a fiction writer, you can be a poet or blogger of any age or experience. First-time fiction writers are welcome - why not make this your first piece of flash fiction? It'd be great to have a mix of experiences as well as genres.

This all sounds very anything-goes, are there no guidelines?
Let's keep things shortish, say 100-500 words for prose (though if it's 50 or 600 or 700 I'm probably not going to throw my toys out of the pram - soft word count limit!). Poems can be any reasonable length. You can tell me when you think it'll be ready - I won't chase you for your work for a good few months, though the sooner you can get it to me, the better. I won't start posting until I've got a few ready to go. It's meant to be fun and not take up hours of your writing time - think of it as an experiment and/or promotional tool. Copyright obviously remains with you and you can do what you want with what you produce afterwards.

OK, if it'll shut you up, I'll give it a go.
Brilliant! Below is a list of the signs of the zodiac and their symbols. Feel free to look up any other information about that sign for your writing. Don't spend ages thinking of an idea, scan the list and see what pops out (or choose your own starsign) and lay claim to it in the comments below. Brainstorm later! You can tell me what type of writing you're going to do and when you're going to do it at a later date. I'll claim whichever one is left until last!

  • Aries (the ram) [Taken; Iain]
  • Taurus (the bull) [Taken; Alicia M]
  • Gemini (the twins) [Taken; Dan]
  • Cancer (the crab) [Taken; Simon]
  • Leo (the lion) [Taken; Martyn]
  • Virgo (the virgin) [Taken; Alicia R]
  • Libra (the scales) [Taken; Anna]
  • Scorpio (the scorpion) [Taken; Derek]
  • Sagittarius (the archer) [Taken; Helen]
  • Capricorn (the goat) [Taken; Jenny]
  • Aquarius (the water carrier) [Taken; Kirsten]
  • Pisces (the fish) [Taken; Joe]

The more I think about this, the more cheeky it seem to ask people to give this a go, but I'd be really grateful to anyone who helps me out by taking part, or who tells their friends about the project and encourages them to take part. You don't have to be a regular reader of this blog already!

I appreciate a lot of you are busy, busy people, but I hope some of you might find time over the next few weeks to give this a shot. As I say, it doesn't have to be a brilliant piece of literature (brilliant pieces of literature welcome), just a calling card to bring people to your blog, or a fun way to exercise those creative muscles. If it works, maybe I'll do another series in a few months. There could be anthologies, Hollywood deals, foreign translation rights, modelling contracts... Who knows?!

26 July, 2013

Quotable Friday (14)

I love reading quotations. Whether they’re funny, wise or poignant, I love those snapshots into the human mind; I love the beauty of language. There aren’t always easy ways to crowbar great passages from novels or thoughtful quotations into ordinary blog posts, so on Fridays I’m letting them speak for themselves.

Every single time I do one of these posts I could make it about CS Lewis. I adore his writing - his theological works are wonderful, but his fiction is the best. Here are a selection of my favourite quotations from my favourite Narnia book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

"Ah, you've come over the water. Powerful wet stuff, ain't it?"

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.

“In our world," said Eustace, "a star is a huge ball of flaming gas." "Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of.”  

“A dragon has just flown over the tree-tops and lighted on the beach. Yes, I am afraid it is between us and the ship. And arrows are no use against dragons. And they're not at all afraid of fire."
"With your Majesty's leave-" began Reepicheep.
"No, Reepicheep," said the King very firmly, "you are not to attempt a single combat with it.”  

22 July, 2013

Fiction From Other Cultures - Why Bother?

Do you ever read books written by authors from another culture? 

I suppose many of us read both British and American books, which you could say were two different cultures. And some people enjoy historical fiction, which can be culturally alien to us. How about fiction originally written in a different language though? Or from a country that is very different from the typical "Western World"?

I've been thinking a lot about this ever since the death was announced of Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. I haven't read any of his books and it got me wondering whether I've ever read any African literature at all. Does the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith count?

I may not have read  much African literature, but I haven't stuck entirely to British/American books either. I've read a couple of translated books by Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a few books set in India, several Russian works in translation, and a couple of books translated from German. Most of these books however, I read because they were on the BBC Big Read Top 100 books which I finished reading earlier this year. Would I have chosen them myself? I am ashamed to say I often view books set in another culture as being a bit too much like hard work - not enough escapism for me - but then when I do read something like A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth I find myself fascinated and never regret it. I've learned quite a bit about these cultures and languages through fiction that I probably would never have learned otherwise.

I was mulling all of this over when my eldest sibling sent me a link to an article about Ann Morgan, who spent 2012 reading something from every one of the 196 official countries in the world (plus one book from an unofficial country or region as voted for by her blog readers - a literary memoir of a journalist from Kurdistan). She was aware that her reading was very anglocentric and wanted to change that. Thus ensued a year of trying to find a story from places like Sao Tome and Principe and Honduras. If you're interested, or want to see the full list of books, take a look at her website - it's very interesting. Trying to find even a short story from some countries sounds like it was quite a task - especially those with a mostly oral tradition of storytelling!

Have you read anything by Chinua Achebe? Have you read a translated novel or short story set somewhere completely alien to you that you can recommend?

Here my top five books I've read in translation and/or that are set in a culture I knew nothing about:
  • Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Russian)
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Spanish)
  • Perfume - Patrick Suskind (German)
  • A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth (English; set in India just after partition)
  • All Quiet on the Western Front - Erich Maria Remarque (German)

19 July, 2013

Quotable Friday (13)

I love reading quotations. Whether they’re funny, wise or poignant, I love those snapshots into the human mind; I love the beauty of language. There aren’t always easy ways to crowbar great passages from novels or thoughtful quotations into ordinary blog posts, so on Fridays I’m letting them speak for themselves.

I was planning on finding a suitable quotation for today, when I discovered that Buzzfeed had done my job for me. So instead of hanging out here, go and take a look at this collection of quotations about life, taken from famous children's books.

My favourite one from the list is from Peter Pan by JM Barrie:

"The moment where you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever being able to do so."
I love reading quotations. Whether they’re funny, wise or poignant, I love those snapshots into the human mind; I love the beauty of language. There aren’t always easy ways to crowbar great passages from novels or thoughtful quotations into ordinary blog posts, so on Fridays I’m letting them speak for themselves. - See more at: http://www.madebythepotter.blogspot.co.uk/#sthash.SO4XIK1z.dpuf

16 July, 2013

What's in a Pseudonym?

You can get your own copy here.
In May, I wrote a post about author names - which authors I'd appear next to in a bookshop, and whether it's ever a good idea to write under a pseudonym. I gave Richard Bachman as a good example of why some famous authors - in this case Stephen King - might want to write under another name. Well, in the last week we've discovered that one of the most famous authors of the last century has done a Richard Bachman on us. JK Rowling released a crime novel, The Cuckoo's Calling, under the name Robert Galbraith.

The Cuckoo's Calling sold 1500 copies before JK Rowling was outed by the Sunday Times, after which it shot to the top of the Amazon Bestseller list with a rise in sales of 507000%. This does rather prove her point that people buy any book with her name on it, regardless of the quality. But she can at least take comfort in the fact that her pseudonym was discovered because people were amazed at how mature and "scintillating" this book was for a debut author, and started investigating the man behind the title. (Although, at least one publisher (Orion) has admitted to rejecting the book when it was offered to them.)

After the rise in sales Waterstone's on Oxford Street tweeted: "SPECIAL OFFER: For today only, ALL of our books were written by JK Rowling!" Brilliant.

So how much do you know about other author pseudonyms? Who do these pen names belong to? Answers at the bottom so no peeking ahead!

  1. Barbara Vine
  2. Boz
  3. Clive Hamilton
  4. Ellis Bell
  5. Mary Westmacott

How about this lot? With these authors, their pen names are more famous than their real names. Here are the real ones - can you guess the names we know them by?

  1. Theodore Seuss Geisel
  2. Mary Ann Evans
  3. Eric Arthur Blair (I'm probably the only person who didn't know this already, but I had no idea this guy wasn't really called by the name he wrote his books under!)
  4. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson
  5. Daniel Handler

I didn't know all these before writing this post. Of the ten I knew four of them, and could probably have guessed another two. How did you do?

What do you think of JK's decision to write under a pseudonym? Will you be buying A Cuckoo's Calling now you know it's written by her?


Barbara Vine - Ruth Rendell; Boz - Charles Dickens; Clive Hamilton - CS Lewis; Ellis Bell - Emily Bronte (her sister Charlotte, more famously wrote under the name Currer Bell); Mary Westmacott - Agatha Christie.
Theodore Seuss Geisel - Dr. Seuss; Mary Ann Evans - George Eliot; Eric Arthur Blair - George Orwell; Charles Lutwidge Dodgson - Lewis Carroll; Daniel Handler - Lemony Snickett

09 July, 2013

An Interview with... Martin Willoughby

I have somebody to introduce you to. Meet Martin Willoughby, a.k.a. Willaby. In his own words, Martin is an author of some repute and a legend in his own lunchtime. When not writing he fixes computers, raises teenage children and acts in an amateur theatre group where he’s always cast as the baddy. He’s won many awards in his lifetime, including an Oscar for best actor which he received from his mother as a Christmas present many years ago. Tempers Fugit is his first book. His second, Apollo The Thirteenth, will be released later this year to even more fanfare and approval. You can stalk him on twitter or via his blog, From Sand to Glass.

Martin has long been a blogging friend of mine and his Friday posts full of fun pictures and links to interesting things have become a staple of my week. Martin has just re-released the aforementioned first book, Tempers Fugit, which you can buy here. He started off by telling me a little about the unusual title...

M: Tempers Fugit is some confused Latin. The actual Latin is Tempus Fugit meaning time flies. I've adulterated it so it reads as Tempers Fly, which they certainly do in the book. It was suggested by a friend of mine and worked better than any other idea I had. The original title of the book, A Stitch In Time, was only ever meant to be a working title, but it stuck (and sucked) as no one could think of a better one back then. 

C: You decided to go down the self-publishing route with it originally. Why was this? 
M: Having tried the publishing route to no avail, unless you include those companies that wanted to charge a few thousand pounds for the privilege, I decide to go it almost alone. The original launch was done in concert with a few author friends and we launched three books in November 2011, followed by four more in November 2012. Unfortunately internal differences meant we went our separate ways. Having learnt a lot from the previous two launches and watching what other people did with success I knew more about what I was doing. Ultimately it came down to how long I wanted to wait before getting published. As forever was not an option I opted to self-publish again. Partly out of necessity, partly because it's fun designing my own covers and getting involved with a lot of other people in the process, wonderful people such as yourself. Thing is, I've never actually met any of the people I converse with via blogs, email etc, though I've not found that a problem. It's a bit like the old penpal system from my youth, just much easier. 

C: What lessons have you learned/ advice would you give to anybody thinking of self-publishing?
M: Plan it in advance. Chances are that things will go wrong, such as your router packing up three days before the book launch or your ISP doing unscheduled maintenance on the line the day after that, but at least with a plan you have something to deviate from. It doesn't matter if the plan is incomplete or has holes in it. Knowing where the holes are tells you what you need to fill. Ask questions. Listen to the answers and decide if you could do that. Not everyone likes or uses twitter, facebook or blogs. but you do need some way to build up an audience over time, and if you are going to self-publish, then you need to think about reaching people long before you publish the book. A stunning example of what can happen comes from the Commonwealth Sentinel in the 1970s. The editor of the newspaper spent weeks getting the stories and arranging the printing, but forgot about distribution. He had no customers and five thousand copies of the newspaper. 

C: What's the best bit about being self-published?
M: Being in charge. No boss, my own deadlines and the ability to make corrections right up to the last minute. 

C: How many other books have you published? 
M: This book is a re-release of A Stitch In Time, but with changes and corrections that I knew needed to be made, while the second novel will be re-released later this year. In addition to those two, I released a collection of short stories and flash fiction in March 2011 so I could test the water and try out the Amazon self-publishing process. So far it's those three books, but I've also had several short stories published since 2007, articles and columns, including a column on electronic publishing that's been running for 18 months now. 

C: What made you decide to re-release your book now?
M: I have the time, the knowledge and the inclination. I've been able to go through the book, change what I was unhappy with and re-issue it to my own deadline. 

C: What are you working on now?
M: Several things. The re-issue of my second book, Apollo the Thirteenth, a play I'm writing, a third novel, a fourth novel, transforming a short story into a one act play, though it may end up as longer than that, as well as researching the possibility of recording the novels as audio books.

C: What are your long-term ambitions for your writing career?
M: I would like to make writing my career and earn my sole living from it. That's the plan anyway. 

C: Who are your own favourite authors?
M: Tom Holt, Douglas Adams, Jim Butcher, Stephen King, John Keegan, Antony Beevor, JK Rowling, Gail Carriger, Isaac Asimov, Alastair Reynolds, Stepohen Hunt, Terry Pratchett and Rob Grant. 

So that's a brief introduction to Martin. If you like to get in on new fiction before the rush and/or books that make you laugh. Why not check out Tempers Fugit or leave a question for Martin in the comments?

To finish, here's an extract from the blurb to Tempers Fugit - it's definitely got me intrigued! 

Carla has had problems with her temper since the inquisition removed a piece of her brain, but she's beginning to realise that being alone is not such a good idea after all. Mae is a straight talking, simple girl who was born six months ago and is now nineteen, and has a cute little robot for a pet...if your definition of cute is the ability to incinerate a T-Rex. Alan is a successful author who has written about the future all his adult life, mainly because he was sent there when he was fourteen and got involved in a space battle.

Will Mae's parents get married? Will Harold fulfil his destiny? Will Igor protect Mae? When will God drop in for tea?

05 July, 2013

Quotable Friday (12)

I love reading quotations. Whether they’re funny, wise or poignant, I love those snapshots into the human mind; I love the beauty of language. There aren’t always easy ways to crowbar great passages from novels or thoughtful quotations into ordinary blog posts, so on Fridays I’m letting them speak for themselves. - See more at: http://madebythepotter.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/quotable-friday-11.html?showComment=1371491921793#c981660885711428646
I love reading quotations. Whether they’re funny, wise or poignant, I love those snapshots into the human mind; I love the beauty of language. There aren’t always easy ways to crowbar great passages from novels or thoughtful quotations into ordinary blog posts, so on Fridays I’m letting them speak for themselves.

This week I am gritting my teeth and quoting from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitgerald. With the arrival of the new film, the world appears to have gone mad for Gatsby. I first read the book in my mid-teens and really disliked it. So many people told me I must've been mistaken, last month I read it again. I still didn't like it. However, I now admit the writing is superb. There were one or two lines I had to read over again just to take in their sheer understated brilliance and sharp insight into the human mind. Here are a few gems...

"Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of  the few honest people that I have ever known."

"His count of enchanted things had diminished by one."

"So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning-fork that had been struck upon a star."

"I was reminded of something-an elusive rhythm, a fragment of lost words, that I heard somewhere a long time ago. For a moment a phrase tried to take shape in my mouth and my lips parted like a dumb man's, as though there was more struggling upon them than a wisp of startled air. But they made no sound and what I had almost remembered was uncommunicable forever.”