Monday, 29 June 2015

Flash Fiction success

Best piece of news for a long time. I have had a 75 word flash fiction 'story' published today on Paragraph Planet. So surprised and obviously very excited! This is actually part of a scene from what I am currently writing. Little things like this give me hope.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Poetry & Diaries

Booking a poetry workshop so close after the Winchester Writers' Festival was probably a mistake, yet things come when they come. The 'Dear Diary' workshop (poetry & diaries) was originally due to be held at The Billingsgate Institute with a chance to look at the collection there. I was quite excited by this - the idea of looking at the diaries of ordinary people not normally available (well, you can actually go and look at them). However, due to the Institute being told they had to make money, the hire fee became too steep for The Poetry School to afford, so we met at the School's usual venue in Lambeth Walk.

We were asked to take along a published diary, and me being short of time ended up with the 'Lost Diaries of Adrian Mole' (which I didn't end up using but am having a good laugh reading it!). One the table was a collection of diaries in book form belonging to Julia Bird from The Poetry School (I never knew there were so many of them). Laura, who is working on the Diary Project at the Billingsgate Institute, brought along books from there carefully wrapped in tissue paper and boxes or in cellophane sleeves. We were allowed to handle these wonderful works of art. Wafting through the room was that wonderful smell of old books.

The earliest diary was from the 1700's written by a preacher visiting churches around the country, and one of the most weird was by a man who drew his face every day and made notes around it on the weather or about what he was doing. There was also a group of photos of items collected and kept in an attic room - everything from flattened Kodak film boxes to toothbrushes and brown medicine bottles. Everything was recorded in tiny writing.

These diaries gave an idea of the life these people led - from school children who kept dairies from aged eight to single women in wartime. Some were very funny, others stark. I have to say that I was far more fascinated by the books than the act of writing poetry from them. The first exercise was writing from the point of view of a teenager and I just couldn't get into that. We also tried an exercise using some part of a diary entry and putting ourselves into it. I couldn't get into that one either because I wasn't sure what I was supposed to be doing. I began looking at Virginia Woolf's diary for ideas but I really can't relate to her as a person and I remember giving up on her book 'To The Lighthouse' very early on - too much waffle for me. So by the end of the morning session I'd written nothing and spent the time reading extracts from some of the diaries.

Doodling instead of writing!
I do think that I really wasn't in the right frame of mind for this workshop (the writing aspect) but thankfully after lunch I finally managed to write one piece which I shared before I again drifted off and ended up doodling on my notebook! The subject matter was fascinating and that's what drew me and if I'm honest I'd really rather have spent the day looking at the diaries in more detail and discussing them. I can see they might be very useful as a resource for poetry but I would need more time to read and get a feel for them for that to work for me.

There is one diary I think I will have to read by Joan Wyndham ('Love Letters') described on Wikipedia as 'a latterday Pepys in camiknickers.' Her writing is funny. One entry (from 1939) describes how when her mother and Sid (not quite sure who he is) go to church, she gets drunk for the very first time on rum. She says that..... 'it was a very nice experience indeed. I no longer cared a damn what happened to anybody.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Submission guides - how to beat the slush pile

Having finally 'come down' from the Winchester Writers' Festival I am gradually thinking through some of things I leaned, not only about writing, but the writing business side - agents, publishers, what they look for and so on.

Today I thought I'd tackle guidelines. I'm pretty sure I've discussed this subject in the past when talking about submitting poetry and if you want to stand any chance of an agent or publisher reading your work, you must adhere to them. I am amazed at the people who still flout the simple stuff, do their own thing (because that's the way they work) and ignore what is required. If a guideline asks for two chapters, don't send them three, if it states they want the first 5,000 words, don't send them 6,000. Stick to the rules. Some other pointers:

  • If you have any queries, ring and ask. This is much better than assuming.
  • Make sure you have a completed manuscript. Don't just send what you've written so far.
  • Wait until your manuscript is the best it can be. Check the spelling, the punctuation and look for inconsistencies. Get someone to proof read for you.
  • If the guidelines specify that your submission should be in 12pt Times New Roman and double spaced send it that way. There may be other guidelines. Stick to them.

It was interesting to hear agents walk about submitting a synopsis. Some agents don't even read them, just the cover letter then go straight to the first line of the manuscript. However, if they ask for a synopsis, send one (and stick to the guidelines on this too). If you have never written one, as I hadn't, research them online. It is confusing though, because you get lots of information which often conflicts. The agent Scott Pack said he didn't want to be told the genre or which age group it was written for because he would make that choice! That is different advice to what I found online..

Likewise, with covering letters, don't say things like 'I've tried everyone else and now I'm trying you', Keep it business like, say a bit about yourself, mention who on their list you like and read, so they know you have done some research. Again, research it and don't waffle!

If after all this your manuscript survives that initial process the agent will look at you first line. And that can still make or break you. Without a great first line your manuscript may well be binned without any other words being read.

It's heartbreaking. It's brutal. But it's true. You've spent a year, two years, or more on a piece of writing and it may never get more than a cursory glance. You have to do everything in your power to make your writing stand out. In the workshop I attended on 'Planning for your Success' with the excellent Simon Hall, we did a whole section on first lines alone. Look at other books, how they start. Practice a few one liners yourself. In the workshop we all had a go at writing them. Mine was 'If only I'd met you on the first day.' There were great ones written by others. All made you want to read on. That's what you have to aim for.

Finally, there is the bit you have no control over and that includes (don't laugh), the mood the agent is in on that day - known as timing! If your manuscript arrives just as he or she is packing up to go home they may not want to bother. If they've had a rough day, likewise. And there is also the fact that they may have just signed someone with a similar idea to yours. However brilliant your work may be they are not going to sign you.

If you receive feedback (and not all do give it), read it, learn from it and carry on.

After all this you may be thinking you will never get published. However, if you stick to the guidelines, do a good covering letter and synopsis and have a brilliant first line, you have done all you can to improve your chances. After all the writing you will have done on your novel, don't blow it by ignoring the guidelines, and do pick an agent who fits your genre. (Look at The Artist & Writers Year Book). One suggestion is to go for a smaller publisher. Those with big names on their list are less likely to pick you up unless you are brilliant.

Now go write and submit!

Monday, 22 June 2015

Final day........Planning for Success

Festival programme
I've been a very good girl and gone back into my last post and added all the links I should have done the first time round (tiredness is my excuse).

I am now home, still tired, and it will take me a while to digest everything I learned at Winchester Writers' Festival.

The final masterclass was with Simon Hall entitled Planning go Success which left me wondering afterwards whether I should just re-draft my novel after all he said! Seriously, it was brilliant. He went through everything a writer should do to get published, what he calls the Six P's - Premiering, Place, People, Plot, Professionalism and Persistence, all of which add up to the Big P - Publication. Simon had us doing little written exercises and then at one point he had us all close our eyes. None of us knew what he would be doing which created suspense (which is what he wanted). He kicked a chair over, he sprayed (over our heads) his cologne and deodorant and breathed on the back of some heads. Wow! He told us he once got a friend to tie him up and put him in the boot of his car and drive him around so he could see what it felt like -- what he could hear etc. (What would have happened if the friend had been pulled over by the Police, I wonder - 'Yes, sir, and you say he asked you to do it? Of course, sir!)

The session was very interactive and Simon was great at creating those 'tension spots' by starting or saying something that he would go back to later, so it leaves everyone wondering. He does write thrillers, so he's good at this. Simon went into great detail about each 'P' and I think the whole class got tons out of it. Before any break time he'd set a little puzzle. Most were lateral thinking, which I am hopeless at. The logical ones I'm better at - it's the way my mind works.

So, it may be a few days before I get back to my writing. The novel will sit for a bit longer yet. I think some deep mulling is required to take in everything I have learned before I go and edit again. I need to catch up on sleep first because my brain will not work on short rations! A great, if exhausting, weekend and I'm so proud of myself for actually plucking up the courage to go.

My purchases

Saturday, 20 June 2015

It's nearly all over....Winchester Writers' Festival

My room for the weekend
I am recovering after a very grueling day at The Winchester Writers' Festival. This should have been the easier day but somehow it ended with me feeling washed out and a headache borne out of lack of sleep over the days, information overload and two one-to-ones. But don't misunderstand me - I am exhausted but happy!

I arrived on a beautiful warm sunny Thursday and dragged my suitcase from the station to Winchester University and checked in somewhere around 3pm. Anyone who has been to Winchester Uni will know when I say that the accommodation is up a steep hill and through various parts of the General Hospital! There was no shuttle bus for Thursday arrivals so it was a walking job. Tough. A student also here for the weekend was trailing her case up the hill so we joined forces, ended up in the wrong building and some kind lady told us where our accommodation was.

I have to say, though basic, I love my room. I have a desk by the window - bliss - and I brought a few home comforts - kettle, tea bags, treats! After unpacking I headed off down into the City and to my favourite cafe, Eighteen 71, and had a cream tea. Then I went for a short walk along the river Itchen and sat for half an hour listening to it flow past. Second bliss of the day!

There was no dinner laid on that night but I had some food with me, so no problem. I headed over to the pub opposite where 'Thursday arrivals' were apparently meeting for networking. When I arrived I couldn't see anyone with badges. Then I spotted them all outside. There were no seats left and I'm afraid that out of my comfort zone (entering a pub on my own) I did a runner! I later found out I wasn't the only one to do that.

Friday was the masterclass I had chosen 'Polishing and Perfecting Your Finished Work' with Lizzie Enfield. Thank goodness I made notes because already I'm having difficulty remembering what we did! We looked at structure and plot, frameworks, viewpoint, themes, getting feedback, literary consultants and the final edit. We did some exercises including writing a bio about us and our novel in 50 words and writing two or three 'book club' questions about our novel. I learned a lot from it, while also confirming that some of the things I'm doing are right.

There were plenty of breaks for coffee and time to look at the book fair and all day one-to-ones were running. My first one-to-one came just after lunch. I was seeing Liz Bonsor from the Blair Partnership. Sitting outside the room where all the agents were was like sitting in the waiting room at the dentist. You could feel the tension! I thought I'd clam up and not be able to speak but Liz put me at my ease and I was amazed that she liked my writing. She suggested a couple of things and said when I was ready to send it out to agents to include her agency. I was on cloud nine and floated out of there. That alone made my weekend.

After dinner, where I met another great bunch of people, I went off to hear Julian Stannard read from his latest poetry collection The Street of Perfect Love (which I bought from the book fair) and Carole Burns from her book The Missing Woman.

Today was another early start with a nine o'clock keynote speech from Sebastian Faulks who was brilliant, amusing and informative. He pitched his talk so well for us writers and fledgling writers. After that there were a series of talks to attend. My first one was 'Do I Need A Literary Agent' with David Headley. It was interesting to hear what an agent actually did and how his agency works with writers to get the best deal. I should say that all the talks lasted about an hour. My next choice was 'Why I Won't Read Past The First Page of Your Manuscript' with Scott Peck. He was so funny but very informative, though many I think felt quite despondent afterwards! He was honest. Simple things like keeping to guidelines to me are obvious, but not to some it seems. Why make things even more difficult for yourself? It's bad enough without ruling yourself out from the start.

After lunch I had my one-to-one with Julian Stannard. I was more nervous about this than I expected. I'd hardly considered my poetry at the time because I was so keyed up about my novel. At first I wasn't altogether sure I really agreed with what he said. At times I felt he was trying to make me write they way he does, but there were other aspects I understood. He was quite radical and I wondered why no one had said these things before. I found his one-to-one more stressful and more personal, yet I felt I was really getting something here if I allowed myself to 'get over myself'! My first thought was I need to write differently, I need to 'massacre my babies'! It was all quite daunting and I left feeling I been through some traumatic experience. In fact my next talk was his, entitled 'Cut. Cut, Cut'. He knew I was coming! Disappointingly there were only five of us. Three then left to go to one-to-ones and the other person booked the talk thinking it was on editing fiction. I was the only poet there! Talk about stressful. Even so, it was good to do. Leaving there I got to my final talk 'Means to an End' with Adrienne Dines' on how you get from start to finish in a novel. I was struggling and longed to just come back to my accommodation and sleep! It was a good session though, well worth attending.

I wasn't longlisted in the poetry competition and as I hadn't opted for the big festival meal I took the shuttle bus back to my room and went to bed to recover! Not that I slept. I needed to think a few things through and get ready for tomorrow.

The masterclass tomorrow is 'Novel Writing: Planning for Success' with Simon Hall but I need some serious sleep, My brain won't switch off at night! However, I am so glad  I took the plunge and came here. I've met some lovely people and had a chance to discuss writing with like minded people which is so good. The authors and agents giving talks are so supportive.

I am wondering if when I get home (I leave straight after the masterclass tomorrow) I will even feel like writing for a while! However, I have started a complete re-draft of the poem Julian gave me feedback on. It was hard to cut all those lines!

Here are a few pictures of my time here:

Cream tea at Eighteen 71

Winchester University

River Itchen, Winchester

View from my window

My accommodation

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Countdown to the Winchester Writers' Festival and the agonies of indecision

My welcome pack from the Winchester Writers' Festival
It's countdown time to the Winchester Writers' Festival and I'm thinking - shall I take a case or a rucksack? Do I need the battery for my laptop (I always use it on the mains and the battery is in the attic, though according the techie son it should be in the fridge, or is it the freezer, to preserve it). I also went through the agonies of whether it would be easier to buy a tablet or ipad, which would be lighter to carry, but got totally confused and then realised how expensive they are. I actually like the Surface Pro 3 but don't want to spend all that money. So I have been in a quandary. In the end I've decided to take my laptop, probably minus the battery (when would I use it, in lectures?). I don't think I'll have time to use my laptop only in my room (ensuite in the student accommodation). The programme is so full I can't see me even using it!

Having never been to anything like this, I have no idea what to expect. The whole thing is a learning curve. My welcome pack arrived last week and I devoured it several times. The advice for the one-to-one appointments is 'be prepared' (very Boy Scoutish). Am I prepared? Hell, no! I don't know what to ask. What will I be asked? I sent my manuscript off some weeks ago, along with my poem (which I've hardly given a thought to because I'm freaked out by meeting a Literary Agent). Of course I have my own copy of the first chapter, letter and synopsis (the full thing is on my laptop) which I will take with me to the meeting. I suppose I should prepare somehow but I have no idea how to do that. Anyone with any advice, now it the time leave a comment. I'm in dire need of reassurance and anything else you consider to throw at me!

As I hadn't really asked for birthday presents as such (it my 60th last week) I then suggested that I could do with a laptop case if I wasn't buying a tablet etc., so I now have a nice purple one with carrying handles, strap and a couple of compartments, yet it is light to carry.

I'm getting my hair cut on Monday in honour - well it needs it, otherwise I'll end up hacking chunks off the fringe. Then there is the wardrobe. I haven't booked for the award prize night meal, though I understand there are still tickets available. I haven't yet decided whether to purchase one. The total expense of the weekend was a shock and I have to consider it an investment to justify it.

Away from the anxieties of the forthcoming festival I have been writing like mad on my latest project and am edging towards the half way mark. I have fallen in love with some of my characters, strangely the 'not so nice ones'. They are so much more fun to write, or is that just me? Some days I've slogged out my words and others it's just all fallen into place. This morning I sat down and roughed out by hand some forthcoming scenes and feel reasonably happy with them. They will be filled out and added to when I type them up.

Poetry really has taken a back seat. I only have one set of poems out there. I've heard nothing and actually wonder if I should just think them rejected. The results of all the competitions I entered have been announced and I wasn't there, even in the long list. I've also taken a look at my poetry and wonder whether I am actually good enough. Maybe I'm kidding myself if I think I'll ever get a pamphlet published or a poem published in a good, well known magazine. I feel rather fed up with it all, but because I am writing fiction I've not really thought too much about it. I've just decided to leave it alone for now. When I do write poetry it's now often humorous and I share it with my Facebook friends. I did write a couple using my 'random word' method and shared one with the OU Poets on Facebook and another with  Facebook friends. The OU poets thought the idea of random words was great.

The last thing I've been thinking about is trialing Scrivener. It looks like a great programme, if you can get your head around it. I think I might give it go once I've recovered from my weekend away. It might help me organise my writing better. Too many decisions....I never was good with decisions and all I can agree on right now is the decision not to make a decision yet about anything!

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

A little light poetry

What a strange morning. My brother is coming to see me today. He's already on the train from Sussex and I'm sitting here in my PJ's writing silly poetry. I'm in rhyming mood, and listening to my daily dose of music got the creative juices flowing. Considering I've not written any poetry in  a while I'm happy to be writing some humorous stuff which will probably never get published but is fun to write nevertheless. So, I thought I'd share these two 'hot of the press' poems before I go and get dressed. Enjoy!


When I die there had better be music in the heavenly sky,
angels with harps are all very fine but rock needs to be sharp
and raging, bull like, full throttle loud, a pounding fuel
of rhythmic beat, something to generate heat, to move my feet,
to make me dance; oh Lord, say there’s a chance of trance
to plug into, don’t take the rug from underneath this bug
of a dream, this obsession where I lean into a guitar scream,
a riff, gliding strings, a gift of ear shattering sound, a hanging cliff
of expectation, tumbling through clouds of melodic sensation,
tensing the body, ripping the soul, muscles sensing every menacing
return to chorus, every bridge and reverb to the sky god Horus.

God give me a sign, that it will be fine up there, and music will be mine!

Styles (or a journey around Word)

Tool bar, oh tool bar on my home page
your defaults are set and this is your stage,
from here I select my fonts and my spacing,
my paragraph style and then I am racing,
typing my words, line upon line
so fast that my head is away in time,
and my fingers stumble over the keys
but inside my mind my words are a breeze.
I choose an alignment, bold type to highlight,
black is the colour and italics that lean to the right.
’Headers and Footers’ are for numbers
and important things, it certainly encumbers -
lots of alternatives for writers like me,
but there are still things I don’t understand, you see.
My research tools are found in ‘Review’,
the spelling, the grammar, and I bet you knew
that the Thesaurus is here, though I prefer Collins
the fount of all knowledge and he always wins!
‘References’ is a language unfamiliar to me
though I used ‘footnotes’ on essays because you see
they not included in the word count when I submit,
so you can footnote until your heart’s content.
‘Insert’ has all manner of flashy things
like Word Art, text box and drop caps with wings,
tables for formatting exciting presentations,
page breaks and clip art beyond expectations,
‘Mailings’ are a thing of the past – complicated -
mind blowing tabs I no longer use and still much hated,
but in page layout you can alter margins and orientation,
that’s nothing sexual just a tool at your work station,
a flipping turner from the artists world
and then there are columns to be unfurled,
‘View’ is a tab I don’t use a lot
never found a use, really, but I’m sure it’s got
a lot to say for itself if I try to understand
but there’s so much already, strand after strand.
So you see there is so much your Word programme can do,
now the rest, my friends, is up to you!