The Writing Life – Feb 2014

Busy with all kinds of writerly activities this week. Yesterday a writing workshop at Art Central in Barry, courtesy of the Women’s Arts Association and their exhibition for International Women’s Day. Events conspired against us, with a few apologies from people who couldn’t make it due to illness (it’s been a bad winter for bugs of all kinds) and other problems, but those happy few who braved the possibility of winter weather were rewarded with a lovely clear day and a lot of fun at the event.

Arriving at the venue in plenty of time, we were unable to drive in as the bollards hadn’t been lowered, but I spotted a lady getting out of the passenger seat of another car and striding purposefully towards the Hall. On a hunch, I suggested we drive round the block and try again – which paid off as a charming man had unlocked the bollards to allow our access. Inside, I barely had time to glimpse the art exhibition as I was shown to the room I’d be presenting in. We rearranged the furniture and unpacked my props and stock. A writing buddy had arrived at the same time and helped set things up and we chatted about our current projects – my books and the script she’s working on.

The organisers (Gwyneth and Eve) had secured funding literally at the final hurdle – they’d only been informed of the final decision the previous afternoon, so they’d decided to make the event a free one, rather than charge participants as we’d agreed to do. It makes a nice change in these austere times to have some last-minute good news about funding!

Other participants arrived in ones and twos, chatting about the weather, their writing and everybody’s health problems. Some things never change. Apparently a local block of flats had been evacuated in the small hours when part of the roof blew off, so there was good reason to talk about the Welsh weather! http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-26199300

The workshop went really well – I love it when everybody jumps in with both feet, giving the exercises a good try, even when they protest that my prompts won’t work for their story. I’m a firm believer in the idea that adding elements at a tangent to the story you think you’re writing is a great way to add depth and twists the reader won’t anticipate. Apologies if that sounds like a mixed metaphor – it makes sense if you’ve ever been at one of my slightly anarchic workshops, honest! They were a fabulous bunch and we all had a great time. They left with freebies from me, a partially-constructed story each and several of them were planning to start a local writers’ group.

I still didn’t get time to browse the exhibition after the workshop, as so many people wanted to talk – both workshop participants and those who hadn’t made it for one reason or another. A really friendly town! I chatted with a lovely young lady about the ongoing story she’s writing at school (sounds like she’s got a great teacher) and a few people who asked about disability and told me related issues they had themselves. A few people bought copies of books from me and I even found time to eat a few of the yummy cakes laid on by the WAA ladies. (Loved the cupcake topped with fruit!) Then it was official opening time with the Lady Mayor. I was invited to say a few words about how I became a writer and I encouraged people to have a go at something creative, regardless of their age or life situation. More chat and we left. I was ready to collapse by the time we got back to the car.

A tiring day, but it was well worth it.

A couple of other bits of writerly news. I’ve guest-blogged on the Bristol Book Blog, giving Ten Tips for New Writers. You can read it (and other great entries, too) here: http://brsbkblog.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/this-week-ive-been-chatting-with-author.html#more

I’m also participating in the #mywritingprocess blog chain. My episode will be posted tomorrow morning, complete with an explanation!

In case I wasn’t busy enough, tomorrow (Monday) is Launch Day for my new book – even though a few people already have their copies and have been giving me some great feedback. It’s a pocket guide for writers, especially those starting out and unsure of how to take their writing to the next level. It’s called Just Add Writing and can be ordered through all the usual retailers as well as myself: http://www.jaywalkerwriting.co.uk

There is a Facebook event for the launch – drop in and say hello if you can. There will be a party on there, with virtual drinks, nibbles and probably some shenanigans behind the virtual bikeshed I’ve had installed specially. There will also be the chance to win some non-virtual prizes. You can find us at: https://www.facebook.com/events/606496329431142/

So today I’m taking things easy, recovering from yesterday and getting stuff ready for tomorrow. Hope to see you at the party.

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Beginning to Write

“How do I start to write?” The commonest question any writer gets asked when presenting an event. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who bites back a sarcastic answer of, “Just pick up a pen.”

But it’s not just sarcasm. If you want to be a writer, you have to write. There’s no magic recipe, no simple shortcut to producing a bestseller. Most writers only become successful after years of scribbling in the wee small hours, before they shower and dress for the day job that pays the bills. Yes, we’ve all heard about the lucky writer who turns their fan-fic blog into a huge bestseller – with sequels if they’re really lucky. But flash-in-the-pan success doesn’t last. The biggest selling book one year becomes an obscure trivia question three years later. We live in a world where success is truly fleeting and the way to make a career from writing is to hone your writing.

I blogged a lot in September and October 2013 as a warm-up to NaNoWriMo in November, with a series of articles related to writing a novel. The feedback convinced me there is an appetite for this – that people know they could write a novel but aren’t sure they could structure their work, or don’t know how to make their characters interesting. Or any number of other aspects. So I try to help with tips I’ve learned the hard way over the years.

One beginner didn’t have time to read my blog and told me I had to summarise “just the important bits” for him – I didn’t even bother to reply. Another writer complained he’d signed up for an online course in writing and they kept making him write “boring stuff” instead of the novel he feels he’s got inside him. I don’t agree – I replied that it’s a writer’s job to make the boring stuff interesting and even the worst writing exercise in the world is good practice. Writing courses can be really helpful, every book on writing has something to offer if the reader looks out for the tips that are useful to them. But books take time to read, time you could spend writing. Be wary of reading every book about writing and never putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

Or worse still, buying all the books on writing and arranging them neatly on the shelf to gather dust.

All good writers are readers. Read everything you can get your hands on, especially in the genre you want to write. There are more good books out there than you’ll ever read. Reading in the simplest and most enjoyable way of learning grammar and sentence structure. Forget all the rules you half-remember from school and soak up the rhythms of language from books already published. Learn to read with a critical eye: make a mental note of a phrase that just says something perfectly; stop and reread any sentence that doesn’t quite work – what’s wrong with it? Can you see a better way to say the same thing? Copy out the whole paragraph and have a go…

How does a beginner become a writer? Simple – read everything, write every day and practice editing work to make it better.

Yes, it’s always possible that your blog or self-published ebook will happen to tap into the Zeitgeist – the spirit of our times. But don’t sit around waiting for that miracle:

Read … Write … Edit

If you’re in the Barry area this Saturday (15th Feb), or fancy a day out to visit this lovely town in the Vale of Glamorgan, you may like to come to a writing workshop I’m presenting at Art Central. It’ll be lively and fun, with exercises to encourage you to write. It’s aimed at beginners, but there’ll be plenty to enjoy, even if you’ve been writing for years. £4 a ticket, including freebies, cuppas and cake afterwards. I’ll be selling my books at a discount to participants, but there’s no pressure to buy. Promise! (I’ll never be any good as a salesperson!) Starts at 1:30 pm, or get there early for a chat. More details on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/events/1416150005295798/ ) or message me. Hope to see you there. 

Giveaway! Just Add Writing

My new book will be out in February – it’s a small volume of writing tips to lift a writer onto the next level.

Front JAW
Just Add Writing. 150cm x 15cm, 100 pages

I run writing workshops for groups of writers and several other organisations. I’m guest lecturer at our local University and have been NaNoWriMo ML for Wales for a decade. And I get asked the same questions time and time again. So I thought I’d put my answers into a book that people can take away with them.

Many writers find it hard to scale up their work – they can handle short fiction, but it’s too big a step to write a coherent novel. It’s not just a case of producing more words – it’s a very different animal to write. A short story may only have one dimension, a timeline with little or no character development. More usually it has breadth as well, a second dimension in which characters can move at right angles to the main plot, generating interest for the reader. But a novel needs depth, too – the third dimension which keeps the reader turning pages right till the end.

Okay, that might be pushing an analogy too far, but it’s one way to visualise the step change between the different media. I’ve read novels that were really just short stories padded out in the first two dimensions, lacking in any depth. A novel like this will only succeed if it has something extra, something that captures people’s imagination and taps into the zeitgeist. In other words, it takes luck – and that’s not a good thing for a writer to rely on.

There are also writers who produce a novel-length manuscript and don’t know how to make it “work”. They don’t know how to turn a draft into a completed novel. In this day of free e-publishing and print-on-demand paperbacks, all too many of these get released into the big, wide world without proper consideration.

And so, my little book. Just Add Writing is designed to help those writers to write a novel that people will want to read. To focus on the aspects that keep readers turning the pages, bring them back for the next book. We live in a world of free ebooks and throwaway fiction, and this is a guide to making you novel stand above the swamp of the mediocre.

No, I’m not promising you’ll write a bestseller – only that I’ll help you write the best novel that YOU can. There are ways to maximise the return from the time you can spend on writing – many of them learnt the hard way by your humble writer. (Me!) There are tips I can give you to improve your writing, but the hard work is down to you.

Hence the title.

Enough waffle. Just Add Writing will be published on 17th February and available through all good booksellers, online and even in the real world!
You will soon be able to pre-order a limited edition pack with a few extras.

Watch this space.

Meanwhile, to win a copy (including worldwide P&P), simply post a picture of yourself reading one of my books and tag me in the picture. If you have an ebook, show the cover of my book on your ereader’s screen and point that towards the camera. 🙂 Closing date 10th Feb, 2014. The three best pictures will each receive a signed copy of Just Add Writing.

(I’m also presenting a workshop in Barry on 15th Feb. See you there?)

It’s been a Funny Sort of Month!

Oops, I’ve been neglecting this blog. Apologies to those who’ve been checking in. I will explain.

Things have been rather hectic, with launching the novel and all of the events surrounding that, as well as a few other little details like normal life.

The launch went really well. Waterstone’s staff were wonderful, looking after me and making sure everything went smoothly. I have to admit, I was a little overawed at the thought of being “The Author” at my own event and I appreciated their thoughtfulness. We presented the event as an interview of myself by Andy Roberts from BBC Wales in Cardiff. He asked questions and I did my best to answer. Then I read a little from the book (it was only a little ‘cos my voice started playing up) and then I took questions from the audience. Lots of people bought copies of Chrystal Heart and even a few of The MonSter and the Rainbow and I signed them.

Then we adjourned to The Old Library Bar where I’d arranged for a buffet and a few drinks – with the bar being open for people to keep drinking. I’d been good and stuck to water while I was “on stage”, but now I could relax and enjoy the Cava. Until Andy suggested he buy me a brandy and Chloe suggested mixing it with the Cava and a little brown sugar. I’d never had this drink before and I did enjoy it. Very tasty. And extremely alcoholic! You guys are a bad influence. But that’s what friends are for. Thanks!

On Saturday, I was part of the writing group presenting a day of Creative Writing Workshops here in Chepstow. We had a wonderful day. Sixteen attendees, which may not sound like many, but it meant we could focus a fair amount of attention on each person. And we made a profit! The workshops seemed to go down well, the competition was great fun (congrats again to our winners) and everyone left with a smile on their face and a writing itch in their fingers. We’re hoping to make this an annual event, so get in touch if you want to be kept informed.

And so it’s been a busy few weeks. I’ve been running writing workshops in different parts of the country (including a Steampunk event at Camber Sands Holiday Park, which was great fun). There are more events in the pipeline. The trouble is, I end up putting so much energy into organising these and doing them, I don’t have the time left to update this blog or the various lists which should be kept up to date with my activities. Mea Culpa as the Romans would say, or My Bad as the Americans say. I’ll try and get everything sorted this week. No promises, though.

Planning a Book Launch

 

Chrystal Heart will be my fifth published book, but the first time I’ve actually had a proper launch. For various reasons, it’s just never happened.

But this will be my first published novel and I’m determined to launch it proper.

So – where to hold a launch? It’s got to be somewhere suitably booky. A bookshop, perhaps? So why not the biggest chain of booksellers in the UK? It’s taken some arranging, but I have reached agreement with the largest branch of Waterstones in Wales – in The Hayes, Cardiff. It’ll be on Wednesday 13th March, starting at 18:30 – after the store has closed. Drinks and nibbles will be provided and I look forward to seeing you all there! Free tickets will be available through Waterstones sometime early in 2013.

Chrystal Heart is about a Victorian lady who’s still alive in the 21st Century due to some enhancements she was given after being attacked in 1851. And she’s got an interesting approach to modern technology, since the archaic aetheric devices she’s been using for more than a century work just as well. Her companion Sam (Samantha) is a modern girl, who always thought Steampunk was a bit of fun. She never used to take it seriously. But now…

And there will be quite a few of us in Steampunk attire on the night. If you’re coming along, feel free to join in.

What is This “Steampunk”?

Steampunk is a rapidly-growing genre which combines science fiction with nostalgia for a past that never was. Set in worlds where history diverged from our own during the Victorian era (the Steam Age), it usually includes some original gadgets and semi-feasible engineering or scientific principles.

Steampunk culture is beginning to invade the mainstream media. As well as books in the genre, clockwork robots spar with Dr Who. Steam engines, airships and Victorian characters appear in films from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen via The Golden Compass to the Aardman Pirates! extravaganza. Certain classic novels are now regarded as beginning the Steampunk oeuvre, such as Jules Verne’s fantastic tales and H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine – which features an imagined technology based in a 19th Century framework.

If you’re thinking about putting together your first Steampunk outfit, think Victorian meets sci-fi and apply your own interpretation. Engineers, Lords and Ladies may rub shoulders with Explorers, Pirates and Mad Scientists at a Steampunk meet. Ladies of loose morals could strike up a conversation with a Vampire Hunter and a Priest in period costume. Have a look online for inspiration and let your imagination run wild. (Not compulsory, by the way. You can turn up to the launch in jeans and a t-shirt and no-one will mind!)

What Happens at a Book Launch?

Well, it varies. I’m afraid I’ll be doing most of the talking. I’ll be reading an extract from the new book, answering questions and then signing copies of the book. There will be drinks and nibbles for all and hopefully we’ll have lots of fun. There will also be a few little details that I’m not talking about in advance. Though I may drop a few hints on here.  😉

So, if you’re free on March 13th and fancy coming along to Cardiff and sharing an hour with the author of a new Steampunk novel, watch this blog for more info.

 

I’m odd.

– or at least a little unusual. To be polite, you might say “interesting”. Whether it’s my writing, voluntary work, disability or unusual hobbies, I’m accustomed to being approached by journalists and their ilk with media requests.

This can be very flattering – I’m being interviewed on BBC Radio Wales at the end of this month about my volunteering in connection with creative writing and NaNoWriMo.

Sometimes it’s not actually about me. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t assume the world revolves around me, but if a reporter says they want to interview me, I at least expect them to ask questions that show they know who I am and then show some interest in my response.

I’ve had a rash of requests recently from non-professionals contacting me for information without being entirely honest about themselves. Or thinking properly about their questions.

To make things a little easier for such people, here is a template you can use for such emails.

________________________________________________________

Dear [insert name]

I am a [schoolchild / student / wannabe writer] and I [have been given an assignment to investigate / need some padding for a free magazine on / think I can sell an article about] [insert topic].

My [teacher / lecturer / editor] is too stupid to realise that all I’ve done is to ask [weirdos / experts / other writers] like yourself to do my work for me. So if you’d just tell me [what it’s all about / what your life is like / everything about your subject], then I can copy and paste this into my own assignment.

Of course, you are too stupid to realise that that’s what I’m doing, either, or maybe you are just flattered that a normal person is condescending to ask you about yourself. So you will send me a nice long reply, which I can cut to fit the 250-word limit I’m meant to be writing.

You must realise I am paying you a great compliment by asking for your input, so you should not expect me to [thank you / give you any credit / learn anything from this exercise].

And when I’m famous for being an [investigative journalist / radical film director / television reporter], you’ll be able to tell people you knew me just before I hit the big time. But don’t expect me to remember you – I meet so many little people.

________________________________________________________

Not that I’m bitter or anything – but I wish so-called journalists would at least be honest about who they are, ask specific questions and explain why they’re asking. Oh, and say “thank you” for the response.

Is that so much to ask?

 

Steampunk Novel: Interview and Crowdfunding

My main writing project at the moment is a Steampunk novel about a Victorian lady who’s still alive in the 21st Century by virtue of having a Chrystal Heart. I will be self-publishing in March, 2013.

I’ve written a short story featuring the same character. The Collector has already been published in an anthology http://www.amazon.co.uk/Lost-Souls-Asylum-Steampunk-Compilation/dp/0956674429/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1350134066&sr=8-4 and will be featured in the inaugural issue of eSteampunk magazine – due out imminently. The magazine have also posted an interview with me, which can be read here: http://www.efictionmag.com/steampunk/

Secondly I’m crowdfunding to raise money for printing this book – and also for a launch party which will be in Cardiff, Wales next March. If you’re interested and would like to know more (including a sneak preview of the novel), see here:

http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/investment/chrystal-heart-1255

You don’t have to purchase, the sneak preview is free to read. 🙂