Hello again Fearless ones!

We’ve missed you, dear reader.

Apologies, we haven’t been around for a while! But it has all been in aid of that wonderful thing called writing. After loads of planning and deliberation, we’ve written a little book for parents to help them teach their children to read. It’s called The New Reader’s Toolkit and it’s out tomorrow on Kindle. We are very excited as you can imagine!

Anyway, as that project is now (hopefully) taking care of itself we’ll try and stop by more often again and chat about all things writing!

Watch this space.

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The two Cs of story writing

Have you ever read something you’ve written and ended up scratching your head.
‘What on earth does that mean?’ you ask.

For some reason, not even known to my subconscious, most bits of writing I produce at the moment turn out plain wrong. Vexing, it is.

So I talked to my co-blogger, Fran, trying to pick apart what was going wrong. Two things recurred: clarity and conflict.

Stories need to be clear for the reader. But it also needs to be clear for the writer, hopefully before writing begins. This has been sadly lacking with my writing process of late. Instead, I’ve been adopting the ‘scattergun of ideas’ approach. I don’t recommend it. Although I’m easily confused at the best of times, this way of working doesn’t help.

Conflict is another essential. Without it there is no story. My stories weren’t without the called for obstacle but the solution to the conflict often wasn’t strong enough. The writing just drifted and with it my attention. Nothing should be easy to solve, not even your own stories!

So my new mantra is: be clear what you mean and avoid the muddles. And make the conflict a real obstacle.

In other words, people, make war with your words!

In the spirit of Dickens

I’ve been thinking of writing ode to my boiler – along the lines of ‘oh my boiler who doesn’t work’ or something like that.

There’s definitely something different about sitting down to write, shivering from cold. Perhaps wrapping a blanket round the shoulders, a warming drink.

A sharp cough into my tissue, my throat raw from a virus (yes, I’m a trooper, I know ;-0). And then summoning the spirits of Dickens and the like – You know, the ones who would have shivered for inspiration – I begin to write. As I sit in my bleak house (see what I did there?) my writing begins to take shape. Plus the process proves effective for warming the very tips of the fingers.

Hard times, indeed.

What I’ve produced has very little to do with great literature. But it was work done in chilly circumstances, so that seems a bonus. So I have great expectations for the next time I write. Hopefully with our mutual friends central heating and hot water.

Now back to that ode…

Sitting on it

Now Richard III’s disappearance may well have been the most successful hide and seek ever (ok, so you’ve heard them all, there are no new Richard III jokes now), but the disappearance of my stories, once written, comes a close second.

And I don’t mean into an editor’s black hole of an inbox. 

I mean their disappearance into the file that should read ‘finished stories that I can’t bear to part with’.

Because that’s what I do.  I write them.  Send them to a trusted group of readers – you know who you are – edit them, make a careful note of word count, intended market, title etc.  Well I tell my husband I make a careful note.  I scribble in a notebook.  And then I sit on them.  Not literally, obviously, if I were doing that my hair would be brushing against the ceiling. 

But I’m a shocker for not sending them out.  There’s a few ‘out there’s’ out there at the moment, but a fraction of what is ready to go out there – headers and footers all in place, title page tidy, cover letter written.

And I don’t know quite why.  Confidence?  Don’t think so.  Can cope with the rejections – you quickly develop a tough skin in the writing world.  Can equally cope with the acceptances – there’s been enough of them to tell me that if I try hard, put my mind to it, and focus on a market I can do it.  Although I’m never complacent.  And it’s not true to say I can’t bear to part with them either.  I write for publication, not to please myself, although I enjoy the cathartic, creative and sometimes vengeful process.  It’s the best job in the world.

And it’s not as though I’m the world’s best editor – like I’m sitting on a story waiting for an idea to fall from the sky which will transform it from good to great.  Or that I revise and re-phrase again and again.  One edit and a cursory glance through, and then I’m bored.

I think I like knowing that I have stories there that I could send out, if I wanted to.  That I have a safety net should my typing fingers not function for a while (they could go a good while – there’s loads of them).  And I think that although I love the process of writing, and I like being published too – not least because the cash comes in mighty handy, I don’t like the admin that surrounds it.  That bit, quite frankly, I find Boring.   

So I think what I need is some kind of target.  I had one for January.  That slipped by unnoticed.  I am going to be tougher on myself in February.  I will sacrifice some writing time and spend it sending them out.

Let’s hope the editors’ inboxes don’t resemble a car park somewhere deep in Leicestershire.

My dark side

To paraphrase Tim Minchin – and it’s always worth doing that – I can have a dark side too. Like everyone. I would say that if you haven’t, you’re in denial – even if it’s only a teensy tiny dark spot. I like writing comic stuff – though there’s a distinct art to that. Something I’ll consider in a future post. But the ideas that have bubbling to the surface lately have been of a distinctly darker, twisted nature. They will wend their way to writing competitions rather than the editors of magazines.

And these ideas have forced me to consider not only where they have come from, why they are surfacing now, but also what is acceptable to commit to paper. Does anything go? What’s fermenting in my subconsious and breaking through into my writing? And can I pull off the darkly comic – I’d love to do that.

I’m currently planning a story based in Birmingham, almost my home town, about a woman with religious faith, superficially at least, whose life hasn’t played out how she would have wished. And, having some power over others, at work at least, she does her best to spoil the lives of others. And spoil them she does, in a bloody, vengeful way. I want it to get very dark at the end – don’t want to give it away, but she will be faced with the realisation that to have had faith is not enough. Actions matter too.

I’ve always wanted to write about Birmingham and I’ve always wanted to get the phrase ‘Back of Rackhams’ into a story.

I hope my ‘dark side’ inspired stories will thought provoke and chill any readers they may reach (if any). And if not I can always drink white wine in the sun.

So, back to Mr Minchin. Next time I use him for inspiration I think I’ll go for the lyrically expansive Pope Song. Can’t hurt, can it?

Fit for purpose

I write lots and lots of stories. And I send many of them out. Some get bought and published.  But if they do get ‘overlooked’ by an editor I’m not too good at re-jigging and re-sending.  They certainly don’t fall through my letterbox and get whisked out in a brand, spanking new envelope in the next post.  They may wait, say, about a year.  Or more.

So, what’s stopping me trying them elsewhere?  Sometimes it’s simply the dreaded need for a bit of an edit to suit a slightly different word count.

Sometimes it’s more drastic than that.  It’s having the confidence in a story that’s been overlooked.  Thinking it will sell elsewhere.  It’s the knowledge that it needs a little bit more of a tweak to suit the editor’s requirments (I do shy away from the editing process somewhat).

But, often it’s worth it.  I’ve sold several stories that have done the rounds in, say, the UK and then get snapped up in South Africa, or Australia.

One recent malingering ‘naughty’ one has been toned down – very toned down – for publication in the spring.

So I guess I shouldn’t open up the laptop each morning and start typing something new and fresh.  Sometimes I should reach into the cobweb encrusted nether regions of mylaptop’s memory, pull back the white sheeting and get to work on the dried parchment that lies beneath.  I may need to skim off 100 words, I may need to sanitize it or spice it up.  I may merely need to re-address the covering letter (important this – forgot to do once – strangely editors appear to be addressed by their correct name, and the for the name of the mag to be right too….).

And I might uncove a hidden treasure.  A story that will sell.

My top YA recommendation – The City of Bones

City of Bones, and the subsequent books in The Mortal Instruments series, is written by Cassandra Clare.

The books tell the story of Shadow-hunters, half human, half angel. Okay, so it’s fantasy. Not everyone’s cup of tea, I know. But they are well written, with characters you can’t help but love, and action that keeps on coming. Most of all, the humour within the books makes them worth visiting and revisiting.

So why am I telling you this now? Well, later this year (23rd August) City of Bones is released as a film. Whether it will be as good as the books remains to be seen, but either way, I much prefer reading the book first. Don’t you?

Oh, Cassandra Clare has also written The Infernal Devices series. Well worth a look too. Great story telling always is!

Go out and sneak a perk. Then let me know what you think.