29 April, 2014

Chudleigh Phoenix Short Story Results

A few people have asked for me to let you know when the prize-winning stories were available to read on the Chudleigh Phoenix website. They are now! You can find them by clicking here.

I was fortunate enough to win third prize and the local prize as well. The stories are about 1500 words each - so a 5-10 minute read. I'm especially pleased to read that there were quite a lot of entries this year and that the three judges independently selected the same top three stories. I'd love to know what you think of them all!

Telling Porkies

Last September The Guardian reported on a survey revealing which books people most often lie about having read. The number one most lied-about book is 1984 by George Orwell, followed by War and Peace and Great Expectations.

Have you ever lied about having read a book? I can't see many people lying about this sort of thing in a social situation. After all, there are so many books in the world I would never be particularly horrified by anyone not having read any one particular book. But perhaps the lying occurs in more formal situations. I know one of my school friends said he'd read War and Peace on his univeristy application form, when he hadn't. A risky strategy! I'm also sure that many people did not strictly read all our GCSE English texts from cover to cover. However, perhaps there are other reasons people feel the need to say they've read a certain book that I've failed to think of. Can you think of a good reason?

For the record I have actually read nine of the 10 most lied-about books - only A Passage to India has so far eluded me. It's up to you to decide whether or not I'm telling the truth... Take a look at the news article and tell me (truthfully!) how many you've read.

25 April, 2014

Quotable Friday (30)

This week's quotable book is one I know will have fond memories for many people. It actually started out as a radio play, and only became a book later. That didn't stop it being voted Britain's fourth best-loved book in the 2003 Big Read Poll. It is the brilliant Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

When I read it, I gave it 9/10 for enjoyment and it's a joy to bring it to you today as part of my top-ten Big Read countdown of quotations. As with the other books in the list, there are just so many fabulous lines to quote and many famous passages - most notably, perhaps, the conversation with Deep Thought about the answer it has calculated to Life, The Universe and Everything. So I thought we could have a little quiz this week instead. Here are a few quotations - you have to name the character!

"It must be Thursday [...] I never could get the hang of Thursdays."

"I think you ought to know, I'm feeling very depressed."

"If there is anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now."

"Don't Panic."

And if you're not familiar with Douglas Adams, here is a quotation that won't seem so obscure!

"For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons."

23 April, 2014

Publishing Proofs

A couple of weeks ago I received the publishing proofs of my novel, The Art of Letting Go, to check through one final time. Due to a change in my personal circumstances, I have been unable to tackle this task with as much speed and concentration as I might have wished, but it's still very exciting to see my novel typeset and (almost) ready to go.

Life has been so busy over the last few weeks, I haven't had much to time to think about reaching this point. Correcting this final manuscript is a job I do when I can snatch half an hour to myself. Just occasionally though, I find myself coming to the sudden realisation that this is actually happening. This is my novel. And it's about to be published.

I chose to accept a not-quite-traditional publishing deal because I wanted this year to be the year I stopped procrastinating or worrying about whether every decision was the perfect one, and where I started moving forward - thoughtfully, but not hesitantly. I'm increasingly glad that I did accept it. I'm still terrified it won't sell or the reviews will be terrible. Every paragraph seems to me now to be in need of repair even though I know I've re-written the whole thing about six times, read and/or edited it countless more times, been signed to an agency and had loads of positive feedback from editors. But it's time to let go of The Art of Letting Go and allow it to make its own way in the world.

Worryingly, I have found a couple of typos in the first half of the book, despite the months of work and sharp eyes of a few different people. I hope I'm catching the last remaining errors, but with the number of errors in even traditionally-published books I've come across, I fear a perfect manuscript may need a miracle. I can try!

Now I'm just waiting for a front cover and a final date...

18 April, 2014

Quotable Friday (29)

I've been using my Quotable Friday series to introduce the top 10 books from the BBC Big Read public vote taken in 2003. I finished reading the top 100 last year, but thought I'd spare you numbers 11 to 90 (for now!). This week is number five - Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling. I don't know if I was in a bad mood when I rated this, but I gave it 6/10 for enjoyment when I first read it. I remember it better than that! (Although I do prefer several of the other Harry Potter books).

Being the fourth book in a seven-part series, there are perhaps less profound quotations to be found, but that doesn't mean they're not there. This might not be an entirely original thought, but it's a good one...

"If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals."

15 April, 2014

Learning to Talk - Short Story Prize

I was delighted to receive a phone call recently telling me I've won third prize in the Chudleigh Phoenix Short Story Competition. As I live in Devon I also win the prize for the best local entry as well, so that's a bonus!

My story, Learning to Talk, was one I wrote for a different competition last year. It was the kind of competition which gets tonnes of entries but I was hopeful of getting somewhere with it. I didn't. And, of course, when I looked at my story again I could see a dozen small ways in which it could have been so much better and kicked myself for sending it out too soon. So I spent a little time re-writing and editing my manuscript until I had something I was much happier with - and this is the result. I'm especially pleased because I've written extremely few short stories in the last 18 months and am out of practice to say the least. This was a real struggle for me, but something I felt as if I had to do - partly to stop myself forgetting how to do it completely, and partly just to stay sane in the midst of novel writing!

Learning to Talk is a story about Sarah, whose abuse at the hands of someone more powerful than her brings back difficult memories of childhood secrets. Can she slay both demons at once, or is it too late to ever be anything other than a victim? You can see the full results on the competition website, where you'll also be able to read the winning entries sometime later this month - I'll let you know when!

13 April, 2014

Infinite Drafts - The Writing Process Blog Tour

Writing isn't a grand form of high art that some people can pluck from thin air. It is a process, a discipline, a labour of love.

I've been nominated to take part in The Writing Process Blog Tour - discussing how I go about writing my novels and short stories - by Simon P Clark. Simon is a British writer currently undercover in the USA. His first children's novel, Eren, is out later this year. Now is a great time to get into his fabulous blog as all the exciting stuff is starting to happen - cover designs and all sorts. Check him out there or on Twitter.

So, here are my answers to the Tour questions. At the end I nominate another writer to take the baton from me. Make sure you check out her answers next week!

What am I working on?
Officially I am working on my second novel (well, about my fourth or fifth novel, but the novel I hope will become my second published one!). However, I got about 20% of the way through the first draft and then I went and had a baby, so I'm doing very little writing right now. Once we get past this first crazy month, I hope to ease back into writing - probably with some flash fiction or editing some old stuff first, then back to the novel. I will also shortly be promoting my first novel as it is published.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?
I don't easily fit into a genre, which might not be a good thing. I don't write "genre fiction" certainly. I describe my work as Contemporary Commercial and I'm sure it will get lumped into Women's Fiction at some point, but I've been told my writing stands out for its emphasis on the psychological portraits of the main characters - thoughtful fiction rather than high-octane drama.

Why do I write what I do?
I wish I knew! I love to try writing all sorts of things. Before I found my feet (and an agent) I'd had some good feedback on a children's novel and been shortlisted in a novel-writing prize for a flippant fantasy novel. I've also won a few short story and flash fiction prizes. But I think I like contemporary adult fiction for now. I love getting under the skin of a character - the drama and madness of each individual life, put under the quiet microscope of a book.

How does my writing process work?
Again, I wish I knew. I've called this post Infinite Drafts because my best work always seems to take so many drafts - though the variation from piece to piece is huge. I'm amazed when somebody writes one draft and then edits that one straight-off. I usually end up re-writing the whole thing - short story or novel - from scratch at least twice after that first draft before I can get on to the multiple passes of editing that I need. In particular it often takes me a couple of drafts to decide on person (first, second or third) and tense (past, present or future). With short stories it sometimes even takes me ages to decide which character needs to tell the tale!

I am a planner at heart. I do like to know where a story is going when I start it, though I'm difficult and also don't like to know exactly how I'm going to get there; I want to feel secure but not bored. I tend to plan events in my work before I start, but I don't like to plan characters in the detail some writers do. I prefer to have a broad idea of their personalities and then find out what they're like when I write that first draft, otherwise they feel too contrived to me.

So, I don't think I have one process for all my work. Once I have an idea I might be able to run with (the hardest part for me, certainly), I tend to jot some handwritten notes then start typing and see what happens. I actually think I prefer the later stages - editing each sentence, trying to find a new way of describing something eternal, attempting to bring the people and places alive. I find greater satisfaction in a paragraph that seems to fit exactly what I wanted to say, than in a rough draft of a whole novel. But each stage has its own joys. The one thing I try to be strict on in the whole process is giving myself time between drafts. You just can't be objective about work you've only recently finished. Head-space and variety are the keys to keeping any writer's work alive. This writer, anyway!


And now on to my nominee...

Suzi Retlaff
Suzi started writing as a kid. Unfortunately, she took a huge break until a few years ago when the voices in her head wouldn’t be quiet. She started writing, and since then hasn’t stopped. Contemporary is her favourite, young adult and adult, and she’s still working on her goal of becoming published. You can find her on her blog or on Twitter.

11 April, 2014

Quotable Friday (28)

We have reached number six, in our countdown of quotations from the top 10 most popular books in the UK (according to the BBC Big Read 2003). The sixth most voted-for book was To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This was one of three books in the top ten I gave 10/10 for enjoyment when I read it. It is also the book that appears most often on "must-read" lists.

There is tonnes in this book about justice and injustice, fighting, winning, courage and morality. But I quite like this little observation...

"There are just some kind of men who - who're so busy worrying about the next world they've never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results."

04 April, 2014

Quotable Friday (27)

In 2003, the  BBC Big Read created a list of the 100 most popular books of the time, voted for by the British public. As part of my wider Quotable Friday series, I'm counting down the top 10 from that list. This week is number seven - Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne, first published in 1926.

I'm sure it would take a lot of effort to find a quotation from this gorgeous children's book that most people haven't already heard (British people anyway - did Winnie the Pooh make it abroad?). So I haven't tried. I can only ask that you go and read the entire book if you haven't already. It all needs quoting! There are so many sweet passages between Pooh and Piglet, any of them are worth a few seconds of anybody's Friday morning. Here's one sweet one and one to make you smile. If anybody has got this far in life without meeting Pooh, the second quotation gives great insight into his character.

"Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. 'Pooh?' he whispered.
'Yes, Piglet?'
'Nothing,' said Piglet, taking Pooh's hand. 'I just wanted to be sure of you.' "

" 'When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?'
'What's for breakfast?' said Pooh. 'What do you say, Piglet?'
"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. 'It's the same thing,' he said."

02 April, 2014

Novel-Writing Podcast with Steve Dunne

Musician Steve Dunne is creating a series of podcasts looking at the nuts and bolts of different forms of art. In each one he'll chat to somebody who uses a different medium to communicate, then he'll write a piece of music to reflect that medium. I'm honoured and excited to be his first guest. You can find our discussion about novel-writing by clicking here.

The podcast is about 45 minutes - ideal for a commute or when making dinner. We discuss novel structure, anti-heroes, Fifty Shades of Grey, definitions of successful novels, twist endings and much else besides. At the beginning I also give a short synopsis of my novel, so if you're interested in that, here's your chance to find out more. It felt as if we'd barely scratched the surface of the whole topic, so I'd love to know what you think, what you'd add to the discussion and whether or not I made it sound as if I knew what I was talking about.

I think my voice sounds ridiculous on recordings, so it is a testament to Steve that I still think you should listen! You can find out more about Steve and his brilliant music here.

[The podcast does contain spoilers for the first Hunger Games book by Suzanne Collins. But I do warn you when I'm about to spoil it so you can skip that bit if you haven't read/watched it yet!]