Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Novel: From scribbles to words

Just thought I'd add a note about the novel progress (more for myself than anything else really - which is probably just as well since I think this blog only has one reader other than me!).

Anyway, I've scribbled loads of bits and bobs in my notebook about the novel. I've changed my mind several times about certain elements, then gone back and decided to include them again, then changed my mind (you get the picture). The beginning is very clear in my mind (in fact I've already written 900 words) and so is the end. It's just that tricky little section called the middle that I'm in a bit of a muddle about. I know what should happen but I don't know the specifics (ie. the scenes). Now maybe this isn't such a big deal as, from what I've read, you should let your characters make their own decisions and, frequently, even if you do plot what your characters should do they often go 'nah, I'm doing this instead' (which is apparently a good thing because it means that your characters have become real in your subconscious rather than just a tool of the author). So, I'm not too worried (yet, probably will be when I reach that part).

Am re-reading a fantastic book

How to Write a Damn Good Novel: A Step-By-Step No Nonsense Guide to Dramatic Storytelling

that may appear (by its title) to be a bit of fluff and fun but is actually very detailed and very, very good. In fact my brain is throbbing with new knowledge (most of which I'm sure I'll forget in about 10 seconds time but I'm hoping I've absorbed at least some of it). Anyway, it's really, really useful and is helping me clarify a few issues (she said vaguely).

I am also using this free software:

yWriter

which is helping me to lay out the chapters and scenes and, hopefully, not get too much into a muddle if I need to chop and change bits later (unlike when you write a novel straight into Word and end up horribly lost).

Right - so that's that. I've written part of the synopsis (the beginning at least) and need to spend some time this lunchtime putting in the rest and filling in the gaps. Hopefully that should give me some structure to follow. I also need to fill out some character sheets for my characters (at the moment they're more of a feeling rather than real). Now my brain is starting to ache.

A hit at Chick Flicks Ezine

Hooray - a hit!

Just got a lovely email from the editor at Chick Flicks ezine to let me know that they've accepted my story (just under 1,000 words) "Black Dogs and Veils". Despite the name of the ezine it's not a site for light, fluffy womag writing.

What's great is that it says on the CF website not to send them suicide stories (as they get too many) unless you have something original to say. I thought my flash DID have something original to say so I sent it off with a cover note. The feedback from the editor said "You brought a fresh approach to a common subject, just what we look for " and made my day!

The piece they accepted is a flash I wrote during the Children in Need writeathon last year and it's good to have found a home for one of the stories I wrote then (I've subbed most of the others too and am waiting for feedback).

Anyway, my flash will appear in the next Issue (Issue 10 I think) . The ezine is here:

http://www.chickflicksezine.com/

Thursday, 22 February 2007

The conception of a novel


So, I'm starting to think about a novel. More specifically I'm starting to think about actually writing a novel (another one, two previous unfinished attempts exist) and god is it hard.

I wasn't planning on writing a novel for another year or two (until I'd got some v. good short story achievements under my belt) but, after reading about the Cosmopolitan/Waterstones chick lit competition on Sally's blog (http://www.sallyquilford.co.uk) I decided to give it a go. I've read a LOT of chick lit in my time (in addition to all the great works of literature I've also read, of course) and it's something I've beent thinking about doing for a long time. I even had a partially formed idea for it. All I need to enter the comp is a synopsis and 3,000 words. Easy peasy, right?

Wrong.

For a start the protagonist in my story was male. That's a big no-no in chick lit for a start. Secondly I had 3 female characters and I wanted to tell all of their stories too. POV hell. I've ummed and ahhed about it for days now. I've spent my lunch breaks in one of London's parks, sitting outside a cafe, nursing a cup of coffee, mulling it over and over in my head. At the end of every hour I'd have an 'Aha!' moment and think I'd got it. Then, after a bit more reflection, I realised I hadn't. I was thisclose to pulling my hair out and then a very kind soul on MySpace replied to my comment about 'how did you write your synopsis?' and reminded me of the various stages of 'The Heroes Journey' which is the basis of many an old tale (and often the basis of many a new one). It is:

The ordinary world
Call to adventure
Refuse the call
Meeting with the mentor
Cross the first threshold
Test, enemies, allies
Approach the innermost cave
Oreal and reward
The journey back
Resurrection
Return with the elixir

As I said, it's the basis of some very old stories (e.g. Greek Myths) but, for example, if you look at the Star Wars films you'll see that Luke Skywalker follows this exact path. You don't have to be 100% true to it - you can play with it to a certain extent and you you shouldn't stick rigorously to plot when writing a novel (rather you should let your characters make their own decisions) but it's a great starting point. Anyway, it really helped clarify my story in my head and I suddenly realised that if I twisted things round a bit, made the protagonist female rather than male, dropped the story of one of the women and changed the part of the male character (yes, this is getting complicated) I had a story that might actually work.

I also found this site which nicely summarises the structure of a novel:

http://www.musik-therapie.at/PederHill/Structure&Plot.htm

and now I'm slowly starting to pull the threads together. I still need to do a hell of a lot of work and, by the end of this my notebook is going to be full of mad scribbles but, all of a sudden, I feel enthused and excited. This might just work. Of course it may also fall flat on its face but I need to give it a go. The closing date for the comp is 31 May so I've got plenty of time (she said foolishly). Now I just need to decide whether I can do this AND the short story commitments I've set myself.

Anyway, it's nice to feel busy.
Photo: Ducks, outside a pub somewhere in Sussex. Copyright me.

Monday, 19 February 2007

The Last Eurofiction Story!



I sent in my final story a couple of hours ago so that's it *wipes imaginary dust from hands*

My last score, by the way, was a particularly unimpressive '9' so I slipped back down to 15th place (out of 48). I actually thought 9 was quite generous, considering. It really wasn't one of my best stories. Then again the story the week before got 9 too and I thought that would have scored much higher. But there you go, you never can tell what will resonate with the judges and what won't. It all goes to prove how subjective competition judging can be.

I'm quite pleased with the story I sent it this week. It was inspired by a documentary I watched on TV. There was something about the expression on one woman's face that spoke volumes, particularly when she was obviously trying to repress her emotions. That's when I started to play mindreader - just exactly what was she feeling? And so the germ of a story was laid. Anyway, I noted it down in my notebook (what would I do without it. My memory is appauling) and promptly forgot about it (told you my memory was bad).

Anyway, when the last series of prompts were published for Eurofiction I had a complete and utter blank. No ideas - not a single one. In desperation I flicked through my notebook to see if anything fitted - and that idea did. I think I may have strayed a little too far from the prompt for the judge's liking (we'll see when the scores are published) but, whatever the outcome, I like the story. It's not perfect by any means but I felt emotional while I was writing the ending and that's a good thing. All the stories that have received reasonable critiques in my main writing group (not Slingink) and have placed in competitions are the ones that produced an emotional reaction in me when I was writing them. I think that's the key. If I'm bored when I'm writing the reader will be bored, if I feel blah about the characters and the situation the reader will too. It's finding the stories and the characters that do resonate that's the hard thing. It's easy (well, not that easy) to just write a story but to write a story where you genuinely care about the MC, that's tough (and, for me anyway, it doesn't happen often enough for my liking).

Having said all that I still read through the story and felt slightly frustrated that it wasn't quite as good as I'd imagined. It's an okay story but it's not great. It's not brilliant - it's just okay. I guess that's why we all keep writing - we want to get better, we want to be better writers, we want to write stories that touch people. I'm a long, long way from being where I want to be but sometimes, like today, you feel that tiniest bit more optimistic about getting there (one day).

p.s. Have decided to start adding a few photos to some of my entries. This one was taken in Bruges last year. Copyright me.

Monday, 12 February 2007

"Blood and Water" published in Slingink anthology

My short story "Blood and Water", which was shortlisted in the Slingink Short Story Competition 2006 (final 19 out of 300 entries) , has now been published in their nicely produced anthology "The Book of Possible Loves" (named after the winning story).

I'm particularly pleased that this story has finally been published. It's one that I wrote back in 2005 when I first decided to get 'serious' about short story writing. And, in a way, it's an homage to my late Grandmother.

If you'd like to check out the kind of stories that get short listed in short story competitions you could do worse than buy this anthology (and you'll get to read my story as well):

Slingink Shop

Or, if you're looking for a friendly, free UK-based writers' community check out Slingink itself:


Slingink

Saturday, 10 February 2007

What's worse...

....than moving around your entire kitchen so you can drag your oven out of the flat, down the stairs and into the rainy street (because you've arranged to replace it with a free one found on www.freecycle.org?)

a) Tipping half a pot of white paint over half your kitchen
b) Finding out that the replacement oven is older and crappier looking than the one you're about to dispose of

And the correct answer is...

a) and b).

My flat looks like a whitewashed bombsite AND I'm ovenless.

Ho hum.

p.s. Freecycle is a great site - I'm just stupid for not asking for a photo of the replacement oven before I chucked mine away.

Thursday, 8 February 2007

Apparently it snowed today...


It seems everyone else in (UK based) blog-land has been posting photos of the snow so here's my (rather poor) effort (taken with my camera phone on the train).
Not much writing news to report. Feel a bit brain dead when it comes to writing at the moment but I've got 18 subs out so far this month so at least that's one thing I'm doing right.

Congratulations to Fleur!

Many congrats to Fleur (who's a member of one of the online writing groups I'm a member of). She's the winner of the Guardian/Virgin Trains 500 word 'Time' themed competition. Her prize is £1,000. Nice!

You can read her story here:

http://books.guardian.co.uk/virginshortstories/story/0,,2006886,00.html

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

"Blank Pages" at Espresso Fiction

Last year (I think) I mentioned that Espresso Fiction had taken two of my stories. The first "The Faceless" was published in November 2006 and the second "Blank Pages" (which is a reprint) has just been published. Hopefully $30 (£15) will soon be winging its way into my PayPal account. Woohoo! The first money made from writing this year.

You need to be an Espresso Fiction subscriber to read the story but it's well worth a look for writers looking to publish (and be paid for) their work.

www.espressofiction.com

Monday, 5 February 2007

The end is in sight

For Eurofiction I mean. I've just sent off my entry for B4. Only one more and it's over. I thought that Eurofiction would get me writing more and, in many ways, it has but whether or not I've written quality stories is another question. Some of them aren't bad - and I've even subbed a couple - but a handful of them will probably just remain on my hard drive and never see the published light of day.

In many ways it's been a good experience. HAVING to write a story every two weeks has forced me to write but, on the other hand, it seems to have drained me and I haven't written much else (two short stories on the train - neither of which were particularly successful in my critting group). I'm looking forward to it finishing so that I can concentrate on writing stories that really matter to me, rather than just writing for the sake of writing.

I've been subbing quite a lot recently. Trawling through my writing folders I've found a few flashes that I'm really quite fond of so they've gone out. Sometimes you stumble across bits of your writing that make you think "did I really write that?" (and in a good way sometimes).

I've got a new challenge ahead of me - to write in a genre that I haven't really written in before - but, if I'm successful, it'll mean they're published AND I'll get paid. With this week's Eurofiction out of the way I can finally start dreaming up some ideas and studying the genre in more detail.

Thursday, 1 February 2007

A Mini Hit (literally)

Le Meridian (Starwood hotels and resorts) asked writers to submit stories of exactly 50 words to be handed out with their cups of coffee (made with fifty beans).

They took one of my stories "Talking Vegetables"

Probably my shortest 'story' published EVER!

Give it a go - www.fiftybeans.com or scroll through the authors until you get to my name.