Back in May (or was it April?) my boss approached me, a copy of The Lancet in her hand, and suggested I enter their short story competition.
Huh, I thought. The Lancet is a medical journal isn't it?
But sure enough they were running a short story competition called "From Fact to Fiction" and were asking for short stories of approximately 2,800 words and on the theme of "medical science". The winners would be published in a special end-of-year issue (illustrated with commissioned artwork/photographs) and receive £200 each.
I'm one of the winners!!!
I'm so, so, so pleased. The money is fantastic of course but being published by The Lancet will look fantastic on my writing CV and I can't wait to receive my copy.
The story I entered is called "Monocular Man" and is a story I started last year but abandoned after a couple of paragraphs. After I read about the competition I thought hmmm, I've got the start of a story that fits that theme and dragged the incomplete story out of the 'abandoned openings' folder on my laptop and continued the story. If there's one thing I've learnt from this fantastic news it's - don't ever delete anything you write - you never know when you might be inspired to finish it!
I'm back after five wonderful days in Aberystwyth. We were really lucky with the weather and the sun was out most days. We strolled along the promenade, took the electric railway up Constitution Hill to the biggest Camera Obscura in the world and took the steam train to Devil's Bridge (and missed the last train back by five minutes and had to get an £18 taxi back to Aber - oops!).
Started reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on the train there (all 4 and 3/4 hours of the journey) and finished it a couple of days later. I won't say anything about the book in case people haven't read it yet, but I did enjoy it. I also picked up a few book bargains in the local second hand shops when we wandered round the town including "After Dark" by Haruki Murakami and "Unless" by Carol Shields. It's good to be reading again after so much time spent writing.
No writing news to report apart from a couple of rejections. I've now had three weeks away from the novel and am raring to get starting on the editing. More about that as I get going.
This week is going to be interesting. I'm getting my kitchen done and have had to totally clear it in preparation. The living room is crammed with pieces of the new kitchen and my bedroom is absolutely stuffed with pots, pans, cutlery, crockery and..um...my old fridge/freezer and microwave. To get into bed I have to jump from the door. Hmm - should be fun if I have to go to the loo in the middle of the night!
Just logged onto my email and found out that my story "C is for Cuckoo" received an honorable mention in the Momaya Press short story competition and it's going to be published in their anthology later this year. Am sooooo chuffed as Momaya has a great reputation, arranges a very professional prize giving (with actors reading out the top stories) and produces a fantastic anthology. This is the third year I entered their comp and the first time I got somewhere.
Very, very pleased. The three judges were from The Times, Andrew Nurnberg Associates and Random House.
Congrats too to Sally Quilford whose transformation story (the theme of the anthology) was specially selected for publication.
Check out some of her other articles too - they make for an interesting read. I have to say, though, I disagree with her article on writers and notebooks. I use my notebooks to scribble down ideas for novels and short stories and often sketch out the scenes for a novel if I'm feeling a bit blocked. I also write down random lines that pop into my head - some of which, when read later, spark an idea for a story. If I didn't write everything down in a notebook I'd forget it.
I think the ideal scenario is to keep a notebook AND write stories/a novel. If you only ever write into your notebook you'll never produce a finished, polished piece of work.
I just received an email from Route (ID-Publishing) calling for stories suitable for 'The Route Book at Bedtime' up to 5,000 words for a new anthology (no deadline). They say:
"We are not looking for horror, death, misery, depression or vengeance stories. Neither will it be a book of fairy stories either. We are looking for magical and golden nuggets of story telling. "
They're also looking for stories from writers born in the 1980s (damn, seven years too old!) for another anthology. Deadline 31 October 2007.
They do pay but they don't say how much. In answer to the question "Do you pay?" they say:
"Generally yes, but this is not a guarantee. Route has a policy of paying writers where we can. We usually pay a small fee for stories we select from open submissions and slightly larger ones for stories we commission. "
What I do know is that they have a very good reputation so why not give them a go? I will (if I can think of a story that is magical rather than morose!)
Okay, so I know I wasn't away for long but I'm back now. Had a lovely weekend away (in the country). Also visited my old school for the first time in 15 years which was a very strange experience. I expected to be flooded with memories but, because the school has changed hands since I went there, everything was different and I actually felt quite lost. A few memories dribbled back but I didn't feel the enormous rush of emotions I was expecting and, in a way, I was relieved. I'm not sure I could cope with feeling that angsty and rebellious again!
Oh yes - another short story hit arrived in my email box today and cheered me right up...
To be read aloud are going to publish my story "Slipping Down the Sky" in their next 'To Be Read Aloud' anthology (they pay too - $100!). The company buys/compiles stories that are meant to be read aloud and sells them to people who enter "oral interpretation" (reading) competitions. If you want to submit a story to them it should be no shorter than 600 words and no longer than 1500 words. Also bear in mind that a large proportion of the TBRA readers are schools (although my story was narrated by a woman in her early thirties).
First of all a HUGE thank you to everyone who left me comments or emailed to say congrats on me finishing my novel. I felt really quite overwhelmed by all the support.
Now my head has cleared a bit (and the hangover has finally gone) it's time for a few stats. These are probably only of interest to me but seeing as I've charted the life of my novel, from initial ideal to last word, it seems like a good idea. Also, when I go on to write novel #2 I'll probably find it interesting to look back and compare my progress against novel #1.
23 Feb 2007: scribbled down ideas for novel
15 March 2007: wrote the first words of the first chapter
8 July 2007: wrote "The END"
Total number of words written: 99,535
Time taken to write novel: 3 months and 3 weeks
Number of actual writing days (I didn't write every day for the 3 months and 3 days): 86
Highest number of words written in one day: 6,141 (on the last day!)
Lowest number of words written in one day (other than zero!): 213
Average number of words written per day (dividing total words by 86 writing days) : 1157
Number of pages in Word document (finished novel laid out with wide margins, 12 point, courier new, double-spaced): 481
God - looking at it broken down like that makes me wonder how the hell I managed to do and hold down a 'real job' too!
Part of the reason why I wrote as though my pants were on fire was because I started a children's novel in 2005, took a break to 'think about it' and never wrote another word. With this novel I wanted to prove to myself that I could write and finish a novel but I was still very superstitious - I was worried that if I took a break of more than one or two days I'd stop writing it so I wrote and wrote and wrote.
The other reason why I wrote this novel at speed is because, although we tell ourselves that we'll do things 'tomorrow', sometimes there is no 'tomorrow'. Sometimes our tomorrows run out. I've always wanted to write a novel but month after month, year after year I made excuses about how 'now' wasn't the right time to do it. I'd write a novel, I told myself, when I felt less stressed or less tired or less busy. This year I decided I had to stop procrastinating and go after my dream. When I started this novel my life was as stressful and as tiring and as complicated as ever but my mindset had changed. This time I was going to write a novel and I was going to bloody well finish it. And I have.
I've spent the last couple of days working on the layout of my novel. I know I said I wasn't going to edit it and I haven't (okay, so I've tweaked a few things but I haven't begun editing in earnest). One thing I needed to do before I put the novel in a drawer was to lay it out properly. Because I wrote the novel using YWriter (free novel-writing software) and often pasted in scenes I'd written in Word or whatever when I exported the whole novel into Word was a bit of a mess. Sometimes there were line breaks after paragraphs, sometimes there weren't. Sometimes there was indentation at the beginning of a paragraph, sometimes there wasn't.
What I needed to do was make the whole thing look as professionally laid out as possible so that when I came to read and edit it I wouldn't be distracted by a sloppy layout.
I searched the net for tips on how to layout a novel and the advice I decided to take was from the BBC Writersroom. To view their pdf on how to layout a novel for submission to an agent/publisher click here . I'm not sure if their advice is a little outdated (if it is please let me know!) but it really helped me.
Now all I need to do is print out all 481 pages *gulp* and hide them away in a safe place before I start editing at the beginning of August.
In the meantime I'm reading this book:
And I'll be going back to this one that I started flicking through a few weeks ago (and hugely recommend):
I've only just started reading the 'Self-editing' book and I've realised that editing is going to be a MASSIVE task. If anyone has any hints or tips or would like to share how they approaching editing their novel please do comment (e.g. did you take it in stages and look at plot and time lines first and then characterisation and then do line edits or did you take a more random approach and edit it as you worked from beginning to end). I could do with all the advice I can get!
A week or so ago I mentioned that I had some exciting news about a short story hit at a competition.
Well I've just received the confirmation I was waiting for...
My short story "SuperEd" was awarded joint first prize in the Sedbergh Festival of Books and Drama 2007 short story competition and will be broadcast on BBC Radio Cumbria at the end of August when the festival takes place. The theme for the competition was 'freedom', written in under 1,000 words.
My first radio broadcast! And a BBC radio station no less! I'm so excited.
As I live so far away I won't be able to read out the story myself but it will be read out by a very eloquent man called Stuart Manger. Hopefully I'll be able to listen to the story over t'internet or the 'listen again' function. I'll let you know the details nearer the time if you'd like to listen too.
If you live in or near Cumbria and love books and drama I suggest you immediately go along to the Sedbergh Festival website (linked above) and check out what's on.
Yep...two novel progress updates in one day! After my last post I ended up writing an extra 2,000 words! So, in total, I wrote 3,320 words this afternoon/evening. It's the most I've ever written in one single day (for this novel anyway). Hooray for LiveEarth keeping me company all the way through (how good were the Foo Fighters?)
That's the good news...
The bad news is I think my novel is going to be longer than 95,000 words. And there was me thinking I only had to write 1,700 words tomorrow!
I'm determined to get it finished tomorrow - no matter how many words it takes. I have no other plans for Sunday apart from a bit of food shopping (when I will also buy the champagne for novel-finishing celebrations) so it can and will be done!
Am writing while LiveEarth is on the TV in the background. Some very differing performances (she said nicely) but loved Keane. "Bedshaped" how I love you. Let me count the ways...
Actually I won't. Instead I'll just report that my novel word count is currently 91,457 (96.3% finished). 1,024 words written yesterday and 1,383 words written so far today. My aim is to write another 1,200 by the end of today and then finish the novel by writing solidly through the day tomorrow.
Nearly there...nearly there!
Am wondering if I'll have a JK Rowling moment and cry at the last few scenes I write? Talking of JK, did anyone see her being interviewed on Jonathon Ross last night? The interview got me so excited about the last book coming out on the 21st (yes, I know, it's a book for kids but I've read them all) and also a teeny bit nervous about who she'll kill off. My money's on Hagrid and Snape.
When the book comes out I'm SO not logging onto the internet or reading a newspaper until I've finished reading it in case someone posts a spoiler. Is that sad? Don't care!
To my complete surprise I managed to write 1,400'ish words of the novel tonight. I say to my complete surprise because...well...I wasn't planning on writing any words but I launched YWriter to have a bit of a tinker with what I wrote yesterday and a tinker became a couple of sentences and a couple of sentences became a few paragraphs and, well, I finished the scene I'd been working on and started a new one.
Only 4 scenes (including the one I started) left to write and approximately 6,788 words left to write and then the first draft is DONE! The more observant amongst you will have noticed I've (somewhat begrudingly) moved the word counter up to 95,000 words now - there's just no denying that's how long the novel is going to be.....I hope (please God don't let it get any longer!)
Champagne will be mine by next weekend. It will, it will, it will...
(What's the betting I have some kind of freak accident between now and next Friday that stops me from writing? Knowing my luck...).
I went to see Bright Eyes at the Shepherd's Bush Empire last night (NB: Worth noting now that Bright Eyes is an American indie singer-songwriter not some kind of tribute to Watership Down) and it was very much a mixed experience.
A few things:
1) I felt very old. Choosing the standing section was not a good idea as 95% of the women/girls in the audience were young enough to be my daughter (if I'd been a gym slip mum I hasten to add).
2) Teenaged fashion sucks. Heavy fringes, heavy make-up, tight neon T-shirts and skinny jeans/leggings (muffin top optional) is not a good look and is far too high maintenance in my opinion (besides I did neon and leggings in the 80s and it still makes me cringe. If perms come back too I'm leaving the country). Bring back the DMs, black eyeliners, army trousers, crochet jumpers that hang over the hands and tangled dreads of my teen years I say. For someone as lackadaisical about her appearance as me Grunge ruled.
3) There were a lot of older men (mid 40s) with girls who couldn't have been much older than about 17 or 18. My companion and I spent a lot of time debating about whether or not they were fathers accompanying their daughters or perhaps Bright Eyes is the bond that joins older men to their younger lovers (a thought I didn't want to dwell on for too long for fear of forever tainting my enjoyment of the music).
4) It was another short gig so I felt a little short changed. It started at 9pm and was all over (including the encore) by 10.20pm.
5) When you go to see a singer with such a massive back catalogue the chances are you'll only hear a couple of your favourite songs - and yes, he only played three of my favourites although he did play a storming, high-tempo song, complete with electric guitars and much drum bashing that I hadn't heard before that was excellent and may well become a new favourite.
6) There was a guy standing next to the sound engineer who was creating live 'art' that was projected onto a screen behind the band. I thought this was a fantastic idea at first but, at the end of the gig, realised I'd spent more time watching him scribble with felt tips and and shake trays of brightly coloured discs and/or wiggle coloured wires around than actually watching the band.
Oh dear - what a whinge. Am turning into an old bugger.
Right - I'm off to squeeze into a pair of skinny jeans and display my muffin top to the world.
P.S. I managed to write 1,000 words of the novel before I went out. Only 8,000 words to go. Am going to update my progress bar to 95,000 words now. There's no point kidding myself the novel will be finished at 90,000 words!
Photo at top Bright Eyes 03 July 2007. Photo at bottom "Art guy" at Bright Eyes gig. Both photos copyright me.
1,385 words written tonight (95.2% of 90,000 words or 90.2% of 95,000 words). I wanted to write nearer 3,000 words but totally ran out of steam.
Five and a half scenes still to write. That doesn't sound like much but I think it'll take another 9,000 words to get them written so total word count is definitely looking like 95,000 words now. Am still trying to meet my self-imposed 15 July deadline but my social life is looking quite busy between now and then so I'm not sure how I'm going to manage 666 words a day (14 days left). The alternative, and what I'll probably do, is try and write 1,000 words a day on 9 of those 14 days. I just have to find 9 free days!
I'm definitely going to give myself at least two weeks off from the novel before I start editing it. I'm even thinking about going on holiday and, shock horror, doing no writing at all (but lots of reading. I have a HUGE pile of novels waiting to be read).
Hope you've all had productive/relaxing* weekends.
1) The balcony is so small that even a tiny disposable bbq will take up a lot of space and the two mini deckchairs and pot of mint that already take up all the space on the balcony will have to be moved inside the very tiny flat so they don't catch fire. This will result in:
i) no entry to the bedroom (doorway now filled with deckchairs) ii) mud all over the kitchen floor (the mint pot apparently has a hole in the bottom)
2) Setting light to the disposable bbq will result in leaping flames that suddenly appear very close to a) naked toes and b) highly flammable glossed balcony door
3) Brighton is a windy place. A street at the top of a hill is an even windier place. A balcony above said street is possibly the most windy place in the world. As a result, whenever it looks like the flames have disappeared and the coals are gently smouldering a gust of wind will suddenly ignite them again resulting in a) a sudden jump back into the kitchen to protect naked toes b) fear for the hanging basket directly above disposable bbq
4) After hours and hours of waiting for bbq flames to die down chicken and halumi & veg kebabs are finally placed on bbq. They sizzle nicely. Unfortunately chicken skin fat/dressing and olive oil sprayed onto kebabs drips down onto coals causing flames to leap up and blacken everything in sight.
5) In an attempt to remove foodstuff from flames everything is moved to one side of the bbq. Two things about halumi & veg kebabs i) they roll ii) when they roll off the bbq and onto the slightly muddy balcony floor they get covered in mud.
6) Flames and/or gusts of black bbq smoke cause the bbqer to become aware of neighbours down on the street below twitching their curtains. Is first floor flat on fire? Should they call the police? Bbqer, in an effort to prove that bbq is on fire and not flat, leans ever so casually against bbq door with a forced smile on her face that is supposed to say "I am having a lovely bbq. My flat is not on fire. Please do not call the fire brigade."
7) Five minutes later when the sound of squealing fire engines fills the air previously nervous bbqer reaches new heights of terror. Imagines burly firemen smashing down door to flat with hoses aloft and breathing apparatus fixed to faces to find stupid bbqer trying to dissipate smoke by waving arm whilst proffering burnt chicken wing with other hand.
8) When no firemen turn up bbqer starts to relax but there is a new problem. It is now so dark she can no longer tell if anything is cooked.
9) BBqer looks for torch. Realises only working torch in house is of the wind up variety. Discovers that winding up a torch, whilst prodding a piece of chicken with a fork and stopping halumi and veg kebabs from rolling off bbq is physical impossibility.
9) Carries plates of chicken from bbq into kitchen and turns on light. Prods chicken with fork, realises it is underdone. Returns to bbq. Repeats this process four or five times.
10) When dinner guest shows up bbqer grits teeth and says "I've made a lovely bbq for you." Dinner guest is very impressed. Bbqer shakes all the way through dinner and vows never to bbq on balcony again.