Sunday 22 April 2012

The Literary Cat

The lovely @thequietscribe in Twitter posed a photo of the next book in her reading list.

The author loved it - and @thequietscribe took another! Yippee for literary cats.

Wednesday 18 April 2012

West Meon Literary Festival

Books, cakes, readers - what more can a girl ask for?
The West Meon Festival is a small, informal celebration of literature in the rural community and a chance to share the enjoyment of village amenities with an interested audience from across the region.
I’m delighted to be taking 'The Coward’s Tale' to the popular West Meon WI tea on Saturday 7th July! Yay!  I am hoping the ladies will make Welsh cakes, bara brith - oh all sorts. Here is the programme for the day. Check out the two other days to see what other writers are appearing - including a visit from Tania Tershman - and yes! A flash fiction workshop!
This festival is in its third year - and is the brainchild of local indie bookshop One Tree Books, who were 2011 Bookseller of the Year. Must say I don’t know what I am looking forward to more - the WI tea, or mooching round this bookshop...or maybe both.

Monday 16 April 2012

Last stop, at Lauri's!

Well, it may be a relief for you - it certainly is for me. I have never had to answer so many questions, in such a short time.   Much enjoyed this bloggy tour, thanks to my smashing writing friends! And today, we wind up at Lauri Kubuitsile's all the way over in Botswana.

Lauri has lived for years in Botswana, where she is married to the nicest headmaster in the world, known to me and facebook as Mr K.  Lauri is the author of no fewer than seventeen books, ranging from non fiction to adult novels and short stories, through younger people's stories and novels.  She writes across a wide range -  romance and crime fiction among others. A  real power-house and an inspiration to me.  Fiercely honest, focussed,  and an incredibly hard working writer, utterly charming, feisty, great fun and tough as anything. A brilliant combination for a writer!

Sunday 15 April 2012

At Sally's (pleased she's better!)

Today, too, Sally Zigmond has published the post that was going to go up on April 1st - all Fool's day. Here it is, on her blog Elephant in the Writing Room.  No! Not more about The Coward? Well, only a bit, the post is mostly to do with writing sex. And how we have to allow ourselves to feel a bit foolish now and again when we write.  Poor Sally was taken ill  - and that's why this piece is up today - who cares? I'm just glad she is feeling better, and blogging again!

I first 'met' Sally back in 2004 when I sent her a submission for the literary short story magazine Quality Women's Fiction, where she was commissioning editor. She read, liked, and sent it on to Jo Derrick (then Jo Good) who also liked - and that was my very first print publication. I was so proud. And eternally grateful! Sally is author of a novella called Chasing Angels, and a novel, 'Hope on Hope' (Myrmidon), which was longlisted for the 2011 Romantic Novel of the year.

Sophie Playle and Inkspill critiquing service

You can pop over to Sophie Playle's today to read the penultimate in the blog tour natters.

I thought it would be good idea to reciprocate, with something a bit different - Sophie founded and edits Inkspill magazine - and has started a critiquing service... she has a degree in Creative Writing from UEA to back it up, too. So I asked her some questions about this - and it sounds rather good. 

  • What are Inkspill’s strengths when it comes to evaluating and giving feedback on a piece of work?
Inkspill Critiques provides a writer with an objective and informed view of their work. Unlike a lot of other editing services, Inkspill Critiques provides a dual approach to feedback: a holistic report, which looks at the wider issues of structure, characterisation, pacing, writing 'tics' etc; and detailed line edits within the text, providing more specific suggestions and proofreading. The service is flexible and aims to fit around the individual needs of the writer.
  • Can you describe Inkspill’s process? ie: How do you approach a critique? How do you ensure it is being as helpful as possible to the writer?
The first thing I do is read through the piece. It is important to experience the work as a whole, as a reader and not an editor, in the first instance in order to gain the most useful perspective. Then I set it aside for a while and let my thoughts about it brew. I think about my reactions as a reader, what the writer is trying to achieve with their piece, and the extent that these two aspects correlate. 
I read through the piece again, adding the line edits using the 'comments' feature of Microsoft Word – 'track changes' are not used because, as with all recommendations, the author must make the final judgement. Finally, I write up the report in a separate document, breaking down each major issue.
When I email the critique to the writer, I always emphasise that such comments can only ever be personal opinion, but that I have endeavoured to back up my comments with logical reasoning and evidence. The writer must decide to what extent they will follow my suggestions. I also let the writer know that they are free to query any suggestion or criticism that they don't quite understand, if further explanation is helpful.
  • How has your own experience of being critiqued helped you put together this service for writers? Have you had particularly good feedback, or particularly bad, in the past? 
In my teenage years I joined an online critiquing forum for writers. This introduced me to the concept and practice of critiquing a person's work, and I learned a lot from the other writers in the forum. It was a useful experience as it provided major access to beginner writers and their works-in-progress – very different to the literary analysis of published work I would do for my GCSEs and A-Levels. Unfortunately, the forum closed down and the writers went their separate ways, though many of us are still in touch online.
I learned that I had a knack for providing critical feedback. I'd always been good at reading into a piece of writing in an academic sense – I got 100% on my English A-Level coursework, for example. I'm also quite an empathetic person, and as a writer myself, I can approach creative criticism with a level of understanding and sensitivity. 
I went on to study English Literature with Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. Our final year focused on workshopping each other's work and, in a private tutorial, my tutor said that I was one of the best students at providing feedback and that I should seek a career in editing. That was quite a buzz! My goal has always been to work in a job that I enjoy, and I enjoy nothing more than working with creative writing.
After spending a year in the publishing industry, I went on to do a Creative Writing MA at Royal Holloway, University of London. The MA was heavily workshop based. I found the level of honest constructive criticism incredibly useful and inspiring. We were all very quickly emotionally comfortable with each other to delve into heavy constructive criticism, knowing that that's what we were all craving. At first, I am always very unsure of everything I write, and the positive feedback I received was incredibly motivating. The negative feedback I received was always backed up with reasoning, which made it invaluable at helping me improve my work and my craft. Often, opinion would be divided and you had to go with your gut.
I remember workshopping some opening chapters of a new science fiction novel I was toying with – the class was completely divided. Some loved it, others strongly disliked it. In a way, I was quite pleased that I'd evoked such strong and divided opinions. Hopefully, that was a sign that I was pushing my boundaries as a writer.
Overall, my own experience of being critiqued has always been useful, and it is this that I hope to offer to other writers through Inkspill Critiques.
  • I like your focus on the writer being the one who must put the work right, not Inkspill. Can you explain this a little? Why do you take this line? 
Writing is an incredibly personal experience. The writer pours their thoughts, creativity, time and effort into their writing, and only they know what they truly want to achieve with it, what its purpose is. I approach the critique from the perspective of a reader and a writer, but always as an outsider to the work – the author's perspective is unique. 
The writing is always their creation. If an editor offers more than grammatical correction or creative suggestion, then they become more like a collaborator. I also think if an editor takes over the work, it is dishonest. If you submit a novel to an agent, for example, that has been substantially re-written by an editor, they will get a skewed perspective of your abilities as a writer. By keeping the writer in the driving seat, so to speak, they remain in creative control and the work remains completely their own. 
  • What is the most difficult thing about offering critiques?
Remaining objective and sensitive to the writer's vision. I have to be careful not to impose my personal preferences into a critique, and make sure I can back up my suggestions with objective reasoning and literary analysis. I have knowledge and understanding of the 'rules' of writing, but I have to keep in mind that all rules can be broken if the rule-break serves a purpose and is done effectively. Whenever I come across something in writing that I instinctively don't like – sudden switches in point of view, for example – I have to take a step back from the writing and consider what this effect is trying to do and to what extent it has been successful.
  • What are the most usual errors you’ve seen, made by newer writers? 
Very broadly: overwriting, inconsistent use of point of view, inconsistent use of tenses, too much telling and not enough showing, too much waffle and weak story concepts. Mostly, this is down to a lack of personal editing skills or general lack of experience as a writer. Everybody gets these points wrong at some point. There is so much to think about when writing, and freedom of creativity should be the first thing a writer focuses on. The rest can be tackled over time, until the writing becomes naturally smoother.
  • How does it feel to know you’ve helped a writer progress? 
I get a real thrill from working with a piece of writing that I know is fantastic, or could be fantastic, and knowing that I can help the writer bring it up to the next level. I also love working with beginners and knowing that I can give them some advice that will really affect the development of their craft. 
Even at this stage in my writing life, I sometimes get comments on my own work that are really eye-opening – the simplest comment can sometimes have a strong effect my writing. I hope that I can provide that level of usefulness to the writers I work with. I want to be as helpful to the writer as I can possibly be, so it is really nice to get a positive response to a critique. 
Thanks for having me on your blog, Vanessa! If anyone wants to find out more about my critiquing service, you can visit my personal website or the official Inkspill Magazine website. 

Friday 13 April 2012

At Chelsey's

Today if you wish, get over to Chelsey Flood’s blog  - and if you are by now completely fed up with the me me me of a blog tour (sorry about that, it sort of goes with the territory) take a look at some of the rather great articles on there. ‘How I got an agent’  and there is one about how she got her daily wordcount up from 700 to 3000 - with a link to an article about getting it up to 10,000... my goodness - thats a draft written in two weeks. With no fingers left at the end.
Chelsey’s debut YA novel ‘Infinite Sky’ comes out next year. It was called ‘Silverweed’ for ages, which means that now whenever I see those little silver leaves on the ground, I think of this book, which I know little about apart from this blurb on Goodreads:
INFINITE SKY is fourteen year old Iris Dancy’s story, spanning a single summer holiday. It is the summer that her mum runs away to North Africa; the summer that a family of bare-knuckle fighting Irish Travellers set up camp in the Dancy's abandoned paddock; the summer her beloved brother seems determined to fall out of reach. 
Sounds good to me!

But anyway - the natter with Chelsey covers scams, how to survive doing readings, and all sorts of useful stuff. Here you go. 

Thursday 12 April 2012

David Hebblethwaite and Tom Vowler

Today, a double visit. First to David Hebblethwaite, who blogs about books, and whose in-depth reviews can be widely found. I first saw David last year at Bristol Storyville, where he was participating in a panel discussion, and we bumped into each other again at the National Short Story Award event in London. He kindly agreed to host a stop on the paperback tour, and sent me some questions about place... so I nattered about turning memories of Merthyr into the town of the novel. 

And then I am off to Tom Vowler’s. Tom is a fantastic writer. His collection The Method and Other Stories won both The Scott Prize at Salt, and the reader’s prize at Edgehill. It wasn’t long before he was snapped up by an agent, naturally, and his first novel from a two book deal comes out from Headline next year. 
Tom asked me to write about how I create characters... 

Wednesday 11 April 2012

At Charles Lambert's, celebrating human happiness...

Today I am delighted to spend a little time at Charles Lambert’s. Hot on the heels of wishing him and Giuseppe every happiness, following their civil partnership clebrations, I decided to natter a bit in defence of same-sex relationships, as one of my characters - an old guy called Judah Jones, might have a happier life than the one he has to lead in The Coward’s Tale if... 

but you’ll have to get over there to read what I wrote!  

Charles is English, and has been living in central Italy since 1980. His début novel 'Little Monsters' was published by Picador in 2008.  A collection of short fiction, entitled 'The Scent of Cinnamon and Other Stories',  is available from Salt Publishing - the title story was  selected as one of the O. Henry Prize Stories 2007.  

Here's a few flowers and champers for Charles and his partner Giuseppe....why? Get over there and read!

Tuesday 10 April 2012

At Elizabeth Baines's

Today the party moves on after an Easter break during which the paperback Coward ate far too many chocolate eggs, to Elizabeth Baines blog.

I first met Elizabeth thanks to being published with Salt Modern Fiction, when I read her terrific short story collection ‘Balancing on the Edge of the World’, then her novel ‘Too Many Magpies’ - which has one of the loveliest covers... here it is, just because it is gorgeous. The book is rather good too! 

Elizabeth's  iconic feminist novel ‘The Birth Machine’ - first published by The Women’s Press in 1983, was reissued by Salt. You can read a review of ‘The Birth Machine’ on Bookmunch - which includes the rather nice quote: “a rock-hard satire and a very, very, very good read”

I am much enjoying my whiz round my mates' places!


Saturday 7 April 2012

Video interlude

Here is a new video, featuring meself and a rather smart Bloomsbury down-pipe...
in which I natter for a few minutes about where The Coward's Tale came from, then read you the opening. Enjoy!
If you visit, leave a message - it would be lovely if you have read the book, too - let me and the other viewer know what you thought...

Friday 6 April 2012

at Jen's

And today we are having a party at Jen Campbell's -
 she of the amazing '100 Poems in a Weekend' for a charity dear to her heart, she of the forthcoming poetry pamphlet 'The Hungry Ghost Festival' with Rialto - and, the reason for her being here today - the even more amazing 'Weird Things Customers say in Bookshops',  out soon! 

And, lucky people, I have a copy to give away -  
         But me, moi and myself, I am lucky enough to have a copy for me!  'Weird Things' really is a scream. It is a lovely hardback, perfect for pressies, guaranteed to raise a giggle - and I am stocking up - perfect to take with you to friends, instead of (or as well as) a bottle of plonk. Go on - you know you want to! See end of post for a giveaway offer. 
       Jen and I decided to swap parties - Jen is here celebrating 'Weird Things...' and I am there, celebrating paperback Cowards. 
       We both whizzed questions across - and had a  natter. She is here, and I am there - see?

Vanessa - Hi Jen - I'd imagine you have a nice answer for most odd queries - but has a customer at your bookshop ever said anything that has left you really gobsmacked?

phone rings
Me: Hello, Ripping Yarns bookshop. 
Customer: Hi, if I order a book and pay for it over the phone, could you bring it over to me? I just live round the corner. 
Me: Are you unable to leave your house?
Customer: Well, no... but it's raining. 
Customer: What's your name?
Me: Jen. 
Customer: I don't like that name. Can I call you something else?

V: No! What did you say? Er - don't answer that! Tell me -what is it that leads readers to remember say the colour of a cover, but not the title or the writer's name? (as in 'I saw a book the other day, it was blue. have you got it... etc) Is there something the publishers or indeed the writers could do to help this?

Jen: Well, that tends to happen to me the most in the antiquarian bookshop where I work – so I guess that's more understandable as people are looking for books they read decades ago. Though expecting us to find it on a colour alone is another matter!
In the world-of-now [as well as back then!] covers are extremely important [I'll love Greg forever for the cover of 'Weird Things...']. People say 'don't judge a book...', but we do. If we're in a bookshop and we don't know what we're looking for, and we don't recognise the author's name when we spy a particular book, then the cover [or a catchy title] is what makes us pick it up to read the blurb. Publishers and writers already know this, but some customers probably need to realise that booksellers are unlikely to remember the title of a blue book that was sitting in the window two and a half years ago. 
V: Are you concerned that a customer might recognise themselves in the book?!
Jen: I don't think it's the kind of situation where you would recognise yourself. There are also no names or identifying features in the book. I doubt many of the people quoted go into bookshops regularly, especially if they think we sell bread, screwdrivers, ipod chargers, and if they themselves either hate the smell of books, or simply want to see if we have a secret drug stash hidden in the storeroom. [We don't, by the way, in case you were wondering!]
V: If money was no object, and if you could have funds for a year only, what kind of bookshop would you invent? And where would it be?
Jen: I would open a bookshop right slap bang in the middle of Hampstead Heath. It would sell all manner of books, and we'd have a cafe outside selling plenty of cakes, and people could buy books and sit on the heath and read and it would be wonderful [ theory ;)]. And, at least then, the person in 'Weird Things...' who stuck her head round the bookshop door and said 'Is this Hampstead Heath?' would be spot on!
 V: Would you ever have an online bookshop? If so why? If not, why?
Jen: At Ripping Yarns we sell some of our antiquarian stock online, because we can't rely on north London wanting to collect old children's books, but we do that through necessity. We do it so that we can keep the shop open. The only way I could see us having an online only bookshop is if we had to close, and sell off the rest of our stock [*sob!*], and that would just be a short term thing. I wouldn't ever open a bookshop that was only online. For me, bookselling is all about the bookshop. I love the interaction with the customers [yes, all of them ;)]; I like hand-selling books, helping children buy books from month to month and so getting to know the kind of things they like to read. It's great!
V: You recently did an amazing challenge, to write 100 poems in a weekend. I loved that, by the way - and the poems too! would you do this again? And what do you draw from the experience that will help you in your writing? Have you got any books left to sell - if so give me details.
Jen: Thank you! All the pamphlets sold, so I don't have any left I'm afraid, but all of the poems are ONLINE, over here.  I'd definitely do a writer-type charity event in the future to raise for the EEC International, though. The poem writing weekend was a lot tougher than I thought it would be, especially the first 50 poems [I went to bed on the Saturday night having only written 42, and panicking quite a lot], but it was also great fun. As for it helping with my writing, I have used some of the ideas I unearthed and let them grow into different things. A couple of the rewrites have been published and placed in competitions. 
My first poetry collection, 'The Hungry Ghost Festival' is going to be published by The Rialto this summer, and I'm rather excited about that. 
V: Brilliant. Thanks Jen - great to natter, and loads of good luck with the book - I hear it will have a US edition - that's fab. Lets hope it catches on - there are a lot of countries on this planet of ours, a lot of bookshops, a lot of nutty customers!

GIVEAWAY: Now, lucky people - if you would like a copy of this hilarious hardback, just leave us a comment here. And I will put names in a hat, and send.  Yay! (UK/Ireland only, sorry!)

and Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops has its own facebook page here

Thursday 5 April 2012

At Teresa's

Today, we are over at Teresa Stenson's with one of the best themes of the whole tour (sorry chaps!)
Teresa's short fiction has been published in various anthologies, including The Bridport Prize 2009 and The Willesden Herald Short Story Prize 2011. Most recently she was a runner up in The Guardian Summer Reads competition. She works at a University as a notetaker and in a cinema bar to keep the money coming in. She's 30.

Well, if I can get over the jealously that she is HALF my age, and has a lifetime of brilliant writing ahead of her - I shall continue...

Teresa asked me to write a letter to myself just before I started writing. Isn't that just a stunning idea?!  It happened to be 2002 when I first saw the light - so it's a neat ten years... my goodness.

But there you are - a very honest letter to me 2002 version, from me 2012 version! 

Huge thanks to Teresa for being such a sport - we've met a couple of times, and if this lady isn't going places as a writer I will eat my headgear. 

But please don't take my word for it - take a look at last year's Guardian , their Guardian Summer Reads Competition, where she was runner up with 'Things Which Are Not True'. 
The judge, Jon McGregor said, "The voice here - funny, sad, true - is a very strong one."

Here is 'Things Which Are Not True' - enjoy.  

Wednesday 4 April 2012

At Nuala's

Today, we’re off to Ireland on the paperback tour, and are partying on Nuala ni Chonchuir’s blog. 
Nuala has yet another book on the chocks, she must be the most prolific writer I know, -she is a well published poet in both English and Irish,  a published novelist and short story writer - the next book is another collection of short fiction, Mother America, with New Island - but it is so hot there is no cover image yet - they are obviously keeping it under wraps!

So please revisit the following - I nattered to her here on  my blogs several times -  on this one about The Juno Charm, her poetry collection , on my old one, about The Red Car, her previous poetry collection,  and  Nude, her short story collection .

I also chose Nuala to write one of the chapters in Short Circuit -as did Sarah Salway, of the previous post , and other tour hosts Tania Hershman,  and Elizabeth Baines - here I am nattering about the project, back in 2009! 

Watch this space for Nuala's new book. It will be worth the wait.

Tuesday 3 April 2012

At Sarah's

Today, the paperback party drops in at Sarah Salway’s where many things are revealed. Including my beginnings as a long lost child of the queen, my early writing career with an as-yet-undiscovered newspaper in the 1950s, and my hankering after saxophones...
But I am very pleased to be able to tell you about this lovely lady’s latest - You Do Not Need Another Self Help Book. Already a very gifted novelist, short story writer, lover of interesting sheds and benches, and this years Canterbury Laureate among many other things - Sarah has published her first poetry collection with Pindrop Press. It is heart-stopping stuff. 
Her work leaves me slightly breathless, in the best way possible - breathless with the shock of recognition, as well as admiration. But don’t listen to me - what do I know? Here’s Philip Gross’s glowing endorsement:
‘Subtly angled glimpses of love, sex, marriage, which reveal them as they really are: matters of life and death. There’s a quiet sizzling underneath the surface of these poems, which can make you smile and wince at the same time.’
Here is one of my favourite poems, reproduced with permission. I defy any writer who is also a mother, not to be shaken gently - or not so gently - by this:
The Interruption
For Lia
When I tell my daughter I’m working
she nods, pulls her chair right up 
to mine, elbows out, breath hot
with cheese and onion crisps.
She chooses a red pencil, starts 
chewing, sighs over her blank paper, 
tells me to shush. She draws us, stick
mother holding stick daughter’s hand.
Look, she says. I try to concentrate
on my work but she’s learnt
from me too well. Really look.
Clumsy fingers twist my hair 
until we fight. I say she has to go now,
to let me get on with Mummy’s work.
Outside she sits so close to the door,
I hear every rustle, every sigh so loud
that the note pushed under my door
comes like a white flag. Dear Mummy,
my daughter writes. This is me.
You Do Not Need Another Self Help Book can be bought from the usual suspects - but it might be nice to buy it from the publisher: Pindrop Press

Sunday 1 April 2012

Rules for writing novels.

Rules for writing novels - I found this wonderful list on Claire King’s blog  - and as it is so good, am reproducing it here, with my own notes to help the unwary. This is all based on real views, of mine. Thank you I hope they are helpful.

(Added: and you might like to check out the date of posting before getting too irate...(!))
  1. Never write using a first person point of view. (Never. Always make sure you have other characters hanging around so you can refer to them collectively. Readers prefer a choice.)
  2. Never write in present tense. (Actually, this rule ought to be ‘never wrote in the present tense’. By the time you’ve written your novel, it is in the past. Stick to that. No reader will believe the novel if you say it is happening now. It isn’t. Obviously.)
3. Don’t tell. Show. (This is a complex rule with great depth. Books have been written on this one. Basically, don’t tell a story. Not in words, anyway. Show it. This is one of the reasons for the rise in popularity of graphic novels.)
4. Don’t write dialogue in dialect. (It is impossible. Words on the page have no accent, and the reader won’t know what you are on about. The only dialect that is understandadble is pirate-speak as in ‘Oo-aaar’, but use sparingly.) 
5. Clichés are old hat. (Unless you are describing old hats.)
6. You never write in second person POV. Dear God, I mean, not ever. (Quite right. The reader is the second person in the equation. If you are trying to address them directly, you can’t know who they are, so it won’t work. For example, how do you know they are even reading your novel? You don’t. Second person leads to all sorts of trouble.)
7. Don’t use adverbs. Or, if you must, use them sparingly. But never use ‘suddenly’ no matter what. (Adverbs are an indication of bad writing. Allegedly. But I read somewhere that you can use three in a novel of 300 pages. Try that and perhaps no one will notice.)
8. Don’t use prologues. (Unless the prologue is part of the story. Actually, you can. Only don’t show it to your agent. Slip it in just before the book goes to press.)
9. Never use a word other than ‘said’ to carry dialogue. Even ‘says’. If you find you have used ‘says’ as a dialogue tag then you are writing in present tense. See (2). (Never use dialogue, is the best rule. It is so hard to get right, most writers give up.)
10. Don’t write what you know. No do. No don’t. Um. It depends what you know really. (If you know you don’t know much, then you can write about that. Football, mostly. That goes down OK. And handbags. Apart from football and handbags, make it up. But always base your fictitious handbags on real ones.They are far too important to just make up. Leave that to the designers. Where football is concerned, you must not write about football unless you have been to a least 100 matches and can accurately define the offside rule.)
11. Using the passive voice is not recommended. (Obviously. keep your prose alive and kicking. Passive voice (which is anything with ‘had’ in it), is unsypmpathetic.
12. If using the third person POV, which obviously you are, avoid use of the omniscient narrator. (Omniscient narrators are old hat. And anyway, no one can be everywhere, unless they are god. So unless you are writing a novel from the point of view of god, don’t try to be omniscient. He wont like it, and will make sure it gets bad reviews.)
13. Make sure you read widely. Also, focus on reading books similar to your own. (Exactly. If you read stuff you wont write like, it is wasting your time and that of the writers. Only ever read stuff like what you are going to do yourself. Then it isnt so lonely.)
14. Network like crazy and build your platform. (IKEA have good platform kits. Also remember, when you have met a lot of writers, on your platform, they will all want to buy your book. So never talk about anything else.)
15. Don’t procrastinate. Shut up and write. (And buy a dictionary, if you dont know what pro - pre - per crusti -thing  means.)