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START FRESH Build your confidence. Fix your bad habits. Make 2017 YOUR year!

Writing across boundaries



INCLUDING 20 PACKED PAGES OF • WIN £63,980 in writing prizes • Opportunities to get published • Insider know-how and more…

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E D I TO R ’ S L E T T E R






START FRESH Build your confidence. Fix your bad habits. Make 2017 YOUR year!

Happy new year, and welcome to your first Writing Magazine of 2017.

Writing across boundaries

We’re helping you get off to a flyer this year with some informative




02 9 770964 916259

Dear Reader


articles helping you make a fresh start and hopefully stick to your writing

• WIN £63,980 in writing prizes • Opportunities to get published • Insider know-how and more…

resolutions. There’s advice on building, or rebuilding, your confidence,

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Published by Warners Group Publications plc, 5th Floor, 31-32 Park Row, Leeds, LS1 5JD, UK Main office: 0113 200 2929 Fax: 0113 200 2928 Subscriptions: 01778 392 482 Advertising: 01354 818012 Editorial: 0113 200 2919 Marketing: 0113 200 2916 Creative Writing Courses: 0113 200 2917 Website: Publisher: Janet Davison Email: Editor: Jonathan Telfer Email: Assistant editor: Tina Jackson Email:

fixing some of those bad habits you might have got into, understanding the creative trajectory of a writer from apprentice to master, and an entertaining account from Alison Carter on how she fared in her first year after ‘giving up the day job’ and relying on writing for her income.


Many of you, I’m sure, will have your sights set on publication this year, so make sure you follow Megan Palmer’s advice on researching agents – an essential first step which many writers overlook in the rush to start submitting, and end up disappointed by rejections from the ‘wrong’ agents.


And of course, we’ve got all our usual competitions and opportunities to get into print, so whatever your writing resolution, there’s something to help you achieve it this year. Now all you have to do is get down to the writing! Good luck and we hope 2017 is the year all your writing dreams come true! Do let us know how you get on.

Jonathan Telfer Editor

Senior designer: Nathan Ward Email: Editorial designer: Mary Ward Email: Editorial designer: Laura Tordoff Email: Marketing: Lauren Beharrell Advertising sales: Sarah Ng Email: Tel: 01354 818012 Advertising copy email: Subscriptions: Collette Smith Creative Writing Courses: Competitions: Competitions Department, Warners Group Publications plc, 5th Floor, 31-32 Park Row, Leeds, LS1 5JD, UK Typeset by: Warners Group Publications plc, 5th Floor, 31-32 Park Row, Leeds LS1 5JD Printed by: Warners (Midlands) plc, The Maltings, Manor Lane, Bourne, Lincs PE10 9PH Distribution to the news trade by: Warners Group Publications plc, West Street, Bourne, Lincs PE10 9PH

When you have finished with this magazine please recycle it Cover image ©Riccardo De Luca/Writer Pictures

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has been writing for both businesses and magazines for over a decade, alongside a varied career in book publishing. She has been published in BBC History, The Telegraph and Heritage magazine, among others. She currently works at a well-known literary agency in Oxford where it is her great pleasure to help talented writers achieve publishing success.

was born and raised in Manchester. She began her working life as a BBC studio manager in radio drama and comedy. After fifteen happy years there, chiefly making sound effects, she spent ten years as a college librarian before becoming a full-time freelance writer in 2015. She mainly produces fiction for women’s magazines, but also teaches writing skills in Sussex (where she now lives) and in London.

is a regular contributor to Writing Magazine, and a tutor for Writing Magazine Creative Writing Courses. She has sold almost 500 stories to women’s magazines. She also writes articles, ghost-writes and has had three how-to books published. Lynne says she will tackle any writing project apart from poetry or pornography.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of Warners Group Publications plc. No responsibility can be taken for artwork and photographs in postage. Whilst every care is taken of material submitted to the editor for publication, no responsibility can be accepted for loss or damage. Email submissions preferred. All mss must be typewritten and accompanied by a sae for return. © Copyright Warners Group Publications plc. ISSN 0964-9166 Warners Group Publications plc are not able to investigate the products or services provided by the advertisers in Writing Magazine nor to make recommendations about them. Readers should make sensible enquiries themselves before sending money or incurring substantial costs in sending manuscripts or other material. Take particular care when responding to advertisers offering to publish manuscripts. While few conventional publishers seek a financial contribution from authors, many such advertisers do seek a payment (sometimes thousands of pounds) and readers should remember there can be no guarantees such publishing arrangements will prove profitable. There have been cases in which subsidy publishers have provided unduly optimistic reports on manuscripts to encourage authors to commit themselves to financial contribution. Readers should be aware of this and should not allow their judgement to be blurred by optimism. Manuscript advisory services do normally charge for their time, but agents normally do not (although some agents do quote a reading fee). While Warners Group Publications plc cannot act as a licensing or accreditation authority, they will investigate complaints against advertisers. Complainants must, however, send complete documentation and be willing for their names to be disclosed.



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BATTLE OF BRITAI N COMPETITION Write your way into the history books



16 ON THE COVER ELIF SHAFAK: Writer without frontiers The complexities of human life and experience run through the international bestseller’s thoughts and work

88 Your essential monthly roundup

of competitions, paying markets, opportunities to get into print and publishing industry news



28 On writing: Simon Armitage

10 Grumpy Old Bookman: What happens after happy ever after Getting the golden ticket can be a mixed blessing for writers who hit paydirt

33 How I got published: Crime writer James Mogford

26 ON THE COVER Agents unmasked Fully understand agents’ needs to increase your chances of being accepted

36 Beat the bestsellers The style and technique of Anthony Burgess 44 Shelf life: Sophie Hannah The poet and crime writer reveals her favourite reads 52 Subscriber spotlight WM subscribers share their writing success stories 58 Circles’ roundup Writing groups highlight their interests and activities

28 From the other side of the desk Be wary of trying to second guess the market, cautions agent Piers Blofeld 78 Technology for writers: A good type Awareness of font and typography is fundamental to all good book design. We help you get to grips with the essentials

74 Crime file: Alison Gaylin Insider insight informs her new Hollywood suspense story 86 New author profile: Linda McLaughlan The debut chicklit author juggled childcare time and wrote in her work’s carpark 108 My writing day: Cathryn Constable The children’s author likes to shut herself away and concentrate



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FICTION 29 Ask a literary consultant Helen Corner-Bryant answers your queries about writing and publishing 40 & 62 Competition winners Read our short story competition winners 48 Under the microscope James McCreet subjects a reader’s first 300 words to a forensic micro-critique

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50 Fiction focus: Killer appeal Where you do you draw the line between appealing and appalling when it comes to creating irresistible villains in your fiction? 68 Short story masterclass: Super structures Experiment with unusual structure in your short fiction, with guidance from classics

NON-FICTION 72 Features desk: How to write a ‘how to’ Have you got knowledge that could be passed on to readers in the form of a how-to-article? 85 Research tips: Museums Get up close and personal with your research topic 82 Going to market

70 Writing for children: Every word counts Make each word count in your picture book text by following this advice

103 Travel writing know-how

76 Fantastic realms: Monstrum obscura Has the time come to go beyond the ‘classic’ horror monsters? We consider the alternatives


POETRY 64 Poetry workshop: Now – or then? Writing in the moment gives a poem a very different feel to writing from memory 65 Poetry in practice Writing poems for children requires careful thought

11 Away from your desk Forthcoming events to inspire your writing life

66 Poetry from A to Z An alphabetic guide through the language of poetry

12 ON THE COVER Confidence tricks Scared to submit your work? Rejection got you down? (Re)build your confidence with our advice and encouragement

67 Poetry competition: Haiku moments Advice on crafting the best haiku for our competition


14 ON THE COVER Apprentice, artisan, master Author and lecturer James McCreet considers some stages of the writing life

32 Train your brain: Red editing pen

20 ON THE COVER Old habits, new habits Fix your bad habits and cultivate good ones to prime yourself for success in 2017

39 & 61 Win cash prizes and publication Our latest short story competitions 59 Circles’ roundup: New use for old ideas Recycling old material can invigorate your writing group

22 ON THE COVER A year of living dangerously Could 2017 be the year you take the risky, but rewarding, decision to make writing your primary income source? One writer shares her experience of her first year as a freelance

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31 Beginners: The variety show There are advantages to being a hybrid writer 42 Talk it over: Radio gaga Stay calm, remember why you’re there and interviews should be enjoyable


Miscellany Letters Editorial calendar Writers’ web watch Computer clinic Helpline: Your writing problems solved Going to market

43 Novel ideas 46 The business of writing: Taxing deadlines Don’t be taxed by the upcoming 31 January selfassessment deadline, with our business advice 110 Notes from the margin: Right piece, wrong editors Editors are... lovely people, says our columnist through gritted teeth

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61 FEBRUARY 2017


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WRITING Trawling for roots, clutching at straws, hedging bets, changing faces and exchanging graces... all in the wide world of writing

Heroes of 2017’s literary milestones VisitEngland declared that 2017 will be the Year of Literary Heroes in recognition of the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, the twenty years since the first Harry Potter book and many other milestones of the literary world. Following 2016’s Year of the Garden, which commemorated the tercentenary of landscape designer, Capability Brown, the Year of Literary Heroes will celebrate some of the publishing phenomena that have helped put England on the map. These events include: • 50th anniversary of the death of Arthur Ransome, Suffolk • 75th anniversary of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five • 100th anniversary of poet, Edward Thomas’s death, Hampshire • 125th anniversary of the first publication of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes • 125th anniversary of the death of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Lincolnshire • 150th anniversary of the birth of Arnold Bennett, Stoke-on-Trent

Figures of speech

Publishing’s big league ‘hedge their bets’ Israeli-American fiction writer and reviewer Ilana Masad made a controversial point in the Guardian about risk taking in the publishing world: ‘As more authors jump to prominence from small presses, and as conversations around them become louder – publishers such as And Other Stories and Civil Coping Mechanisms Press – a question that may be worth asking is: are big publishers unwilling to take risks any more?’ She also said: ‘Increasingly, “risky” authors, those who’ve been rejected over and over again by traditional publishers or dozens of agents, are being picked up by small presses whose modus operandi is to take risks on literature that is exciting, innovative, or that they deem important either stylistically or politically. Then the big publishers swoop in and profit from the hard work and risk-taking of the small presses. ‘That is a good thing, in a way, because it means everyone makes more money from the art and a wider audience is reached. But it does seem like big publishers are hedging their bets more and more often, operating as if they are not too big to fail. It is a shame that the heavy lifting is being left to those who are only big in ambition.’

‘DIS’ IS OLDER THAN YOU THINK Speaking ‘for fans of English at its rawest’, Mark Peters, writing in the Boston Globe, hailed the arrival of the online version of Green’s Dictionary of Slang. ‘British lexicographer and author Jonathon Green’s GDoS is the largest slang dictionary in the world, collecting terms from the United States, England, Australia, and everywhere else English is the dominant language.’ Jonathan Green, who has published numerous books about language and been working on GDoS since 1993, cites the increased availability of newspaper databases as the biggest transformation of his research in the past five years. We’re told that lexicographers are constantly learning that words are older than they thought. For example the Boston Globe writer, the author of Bull[expletive]: A Lexicon, said Jonathan Green ‘had assumed the term “dis” originated among African-Americans in the 1980s’. However, that theory was disproved by an example located in the Perth Sun Times, Australia in 1905: ‘When a journalistic rival tries to “dis” {in the sense of disparage} you / And to prejudice you in the public’s eyes.’ He added: ‘Oddly, Australia is also the home of another surprising earliest use: “Selfie” was spotted there in an Australian message board in 2002, well before it became a ubiquitous part of the lexicon of narcissism.’

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Darling, it’s simply not good enough A prime minister and his A-list of friends of the Edwardian period, and just after it, made much of the word ‘darling’ in their intimate correspondence, Bee Wilson explains in an approving critique in the London Review of Books. Bee (latest book First Bite: How We Learn to Eat) obviously relished the references in My Darling Mr Asquith: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Venetia Stanley by Stefan Buczacki (Cato and Clarke). The Venetia in question was the young mistress of Herbert Asquith, Liberal prime minister from 1908-1916. Bee says that one of its main themes ‘is the complex gradation of affection that could be expressed by different salutations at the start of letters between very posh associates in Edwardian and post-Edwardian times’. ‘Stefan Buczacki parses it, plain “darling” was so commonly used as to be “fairly meaningless” and so if you wanted to show that you truly had feelings for the person you were addressing the ante had to be upped. Adding a possessive was one way of making “darling” more meaningful: “My darling” carried a slightly different connotation, and “My own darling” a different one again. Another way was to go for the superlative: ‘“darlingest”, or “my darlingest”, were particularly affectionate, if ungrammatical,’ Buczacki notes.’

Perfect putdown for political pretenders WM favourite Will Self ’s encounter with Nigel Farage on BBC Question Time last December proved that his unsurpassed way with words goes with a killer instinct for the perfect putdown. Debating whether Donald Trump was a worthy recipient of Time Magazine’s ‘Person of the Year,’ Award, the US President-elect’s bosom buddy, former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who was also nominated, fawned: ‘Oh yes. Oh yes.’ Presenter David Dimbleby said that this award had also been given to Hitler, and Stalin. ‘And Churchill,’ Farage helpfully pointed out. And then it was over to Mr Self. ‘Trump? Nigel? This is not Hitler, Churchill and Stalin – thank God. These are not great statesmen, or people. They’re grubby little opportunists who are riding the coat-tails of history.’

Authors face a lower profile? Martin Amis made a forecast that the day was coming when authors should not expect fame, when he was interviewed for Mint, an Indian daily business newspaper. ‘Zadie Smith said to me years ago, “Everything we think of as literary culture will be gone in a generation and a half.” She said, “It will last your time, but it won’t last mine.” I don’t think it will ever disappear, but it will shrink. It will go back to what it was when I started out, which is a minority interest sphere, which some people happen to be very interested in. ‘What happened as I see it is that the newspapers got bigger and bigger, and they were casting about for people to write about, and they ran out of people until they found themselves writing about writers – the people they

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© Russell G Sneddon/Writer Pictures

hate most, certainly in England. And then suddenly, writers were much more famous than they used to be. ‘When I started out, you wrote your novel, you sent it in, it was published, it got reviewed. But none of the other stuff. No interviews, no tours, no readings, no panels, no photographs, no TV, no radio, all that came with this higher profile, higher visibility. I think it will go back to something like what it was.’



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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR We want to hear your news and views on the writing world, your advice for fellow writers – and don’t forget to tell us what you would like to see featured in a future issue... Write to: Letters to the editor, Writing Magazine, Warners Group Publications plc, 5th Floor, 31-32 Park Row, Leeds LS1 5JD; email: (Include your name and address when emailing letters. Ensure all


New rules


Image © Dan Callister/Writer


As my partner’s a A fan of Lee Child’s H ER O books I asked O F O UR him if he wanted TIME to read your interview (WM, Jan) and was surprised when T he was less than enthusiastic. He went on to inform me that Lee Child is alright but only writes one book a year. I think most readers will share my disbelief at that summary of such an accomplished writer’s career and I very strongly put him right. What’s even worse, though, is the knowledge that the person I’d hoped would be ecstatic and proud should I ever have even one book published has expectations that I will obviously never, ever reach. So, thank you for a very interesting article even though it sparked one more knock to my writing confidence. ANN JOHNSON Runcorn, Cheshire Like his irrepressible man-mounta in hero, Lee Child just keeps coming back strong. He tells Tina Jackson about keeping it fresh and piling on the thrills

om Cruise may not look exactly as you imagine the towering Jack Reacher, but in the minds of his millions of readers, his creator Lee Child certainly does. Lee’s the Clint Eastwood of the writing world: the lone desperado; the lean, laconic author with the 1,000-yard stare whose hero faces down a series of antagonists with a killer blend of brains and superior physique. You can almost hear the strains of an Ennio Morricone soundtrack whistling down the phoneline from New York as the world’s most famous thriller writer settles down to tell WM how he goes about making a hero for our times. Lee’s Reacher books have accrued him sales of more than 70 million copies worldwide and the second Reacher film – Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, with Tom Cruise as the eponymous hero – was released last month. Lee’s new Reacher novel, Night School, came out at the beginning of November. It’s his 21st – and at one point Lee said he was going to write 21 Reacher novels and then kill him off. Instead, he’s written a prequel that takes ex-military cop Reacher back to his army days. Is this a cop-out? Has the rock-steady Lee flinched at the thought of terminating such an iconic character?



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The star letter each month earns a copy of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook 2017, courtesy of Bloomsbury,



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letters, a maximum of 250 words, are exclusive to Writing Magazine. Letters may be edited.) When referring to previous articles/letters, please state month of publication and page number.

It is always great fun digging through Writing Magazine for nuggets of good advice and the January 2017 edition had plenty to ponder. Particularly interesting to see Lee Child and Michael Koryta both refer to their readers’ desire for closure at the end of the book. But one of them says it’s vital to honour that need while the other has published a very successful book doing the opposite… which just goes to show, in the end you find your own way. ANTONY CROSSLEY Chobham, Surrey I enjoyed Helen M Walters’ piece about unreliable narrators (WM, Jan); it made me think. Surely, to some extent, all narrators are unreliable? The joy of creating – and reading about – interesting characters lies in their take on the world. Whatever POV we write from, we’re channelling that particular character’s unique opinion. Probably easiest in first or close third person, but even a good omniscient narrator has a distinctive voice with its own angle (a brilliant example is Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White). The same incident might be relayed in wildly differing ways by witnesses (or gossips) according to their personal bias, thus making them all unreliable to some degree, and it’s this slant to people’s thoughts that makes for great fiction. I guess the maxim is: trust no one... LUCY BROOKE Hedon, East Yorkshire

PICK YOUR WORDS I was interested in Lora Bishop’s take on swearing (WM, Jan) because I have a couple of expletives in the book I am writing. I agree that, like salt, gratuitous swearing (or sex or violence for that matter) can be off-putting, but I was surprised that there was no mention of contextual appropriateness in the article. If I were writing a children’s or YA book, I would amend my language accordingly. As it is, I am writing for adults. Now, whilst that doesn’t mean there has to be swearing, for my characters, their age, background and societal norms mean that when the doodoo hits the fan, they don’t turn in to Enid Blyton caricatures and say ‘oh my jolly goodness’ – they swear. The language is appropriate to the character. I would argue that the same is true of Wolf of Wall Street. That is the world those characters live in, and whilst it may not appeal to everyone, to censor or change the language of the film would have clanged with falseness. Perhaps the best measure for whether or not to include swearing is to ask your characters to tone their language down. Do they blush and profusely apologise or tell you to go forth and multiply? JO EMMERSON Finsbury Park, London

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Cutting words Michael Malone has misunderstood the perceived advice to cut out superfluous words (Soul Cuts, Letters, January 2017) and if I now discuss the medical problems of my budgerigar it will become clear what superfluous words are and aren’t. Look at what they aren’t for a moment; This is from a letter by Polly Devlin just published in the London Review of Books: ‘I wanted to be like these mythical people, whose only qualifications for being in “the papers” were that they were the daughters of baronets or cousins of viscounts or the thirteenth son of an Earl and often had names that wound on and on like old serpents, dragging the testimony of centuries of intermarriage through the great houses of England in their wake – Lady Victoria Gettehout Bayne Allstrop WyndbagButtingforth Smythe-Scott.’

Not an unnecessary word in sight; every one a sharp dart going right to the heart of the subject, snobbery. Now look at The Sellout, by Paul Beatty – this year’s Booker Prize winner. On two occasions he uses a phrase (I’ve marked the passages, but now I can’t find them) something like, ‘It hurt like hell.’ This means it hurt a lot; ‘hell’ is superfluous because it is weak and hackneyed and almost meaningless in this context. Take it out Mr Beatty. But suppose he had written: ‘It hurt as if my hand had been slammed in a car door.’ Take one word out of that sentence and it falls down. There are no superfluous words

The right read Every year as Christmas approaches, I find myself desperately looking for present ideas. So I welcomed Writing Magazine’s favourite reads (WM, Dec 2016) as much-needed inspiration. As they say, in every writer, there is a reader inside. I even recognised many titles, including The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge. I had bought the book after the fascinating interview with her in a previous WM (May 2016). Yet the more I read, the less I engaged with the main character, Faith. Worse, I found her irritating. I never finished the book. Was it the writing style? Was it Jane Eyre’s shadow over the story? All I knew was that I found myself abandoning a book that hundreds of readers have cherished and praised. This triggered a disturbing thought. A line from a bad romance jumped to mind: ‘It’s not you, it’s me.’ Perhaps I was a less skilled reader for not sticking with the book? What worried me most was that I couldn’t think of any writer who would have a bad reader inside. So for Christmas, I have decided to train my mind to stories and styles that I wouldn’t normally read. I have selected from the WM list books that seem appropriate and I am hoping to stretch out my mind. After all, a flexible mind can easily cross the gap between wishing for a good story and writing it. Besides, it’s time that I finish The Lie Tree! CELINE DOMENECH Kidderminster, Worcestershire

Lynn-spired What an inspiring item in your Subscribers’ Spotlight section (WM, Dec) by Lynn Trowbridge, still writing at 93 – a marvellous story of determination and courage. As she says, you are never too old to write. This is one of the great perks of being a writer. You don’t have to retire, your brain does not rot and you can still contribute to whatever you want, by your creativity. We need more inspiring stories like that of the talented Lynn Trowbridge. MOLLY SHAW Crawley, West Sussex

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there. Although it is longer than the original it fulfils the purpose of describing something painful. I admit Beatty won the Booker Prize and I didn’t (and never could for that matter) but all the more reason for expecting something better from him. Descriptions do not have to be truncated or details omitted in any story, if they add to narrative. ‘The women stood in the water out to their calves, slapping the clothes against smooth stones and rinsing them and drying them.’ Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier. Not a single one is superfluous. Anyway, about my budgie... FABIAN ACKER London SE22

CARPE DIEM I’ve often read quotes from authors featured in Writing Magazine about how ‘timing’ can be an important factor in a book’s success. This has certainly proved to be the case for me. When I started writing my debut novel, The Husband Who Refused to Die, people were intrigued by its unusual cryonics premise but assumed it must be sci-fi. Many hadn’t heard of cryo-preservation. I understood it was a risk tackling the concept in realistic, contemporary fiction. However, I’d done my research, interviewed many people signed up to be frozen after death in the hope of being ‘revived’, knew it was increasing in popularity – and decided to stick with it. With several agents interested, but nothing definite, I ignored advice to keep submitting. I’m not a patient person, and also felt that with recent reports of scientific breakthroughs in stem cell research, nanotechnology and life extension – even talk of the first head transplant – the time was right to get it out there. I decided to give assisted publishing a go. Three days before my book’s publication with Matador, I woke to the heart-breaking headlines about the girl who won an historic legal fight shortly before she died to have her body frozen. The media interest in my book and research was overwhelming. I was interviewed on BBC Radio Gloucestershire, asked to appear on a BBC1 debate show and approached by many newspapers. So my advice to others is don’t delay – now could be the right time. ANDREA DARBY Alderton, Gloucestershire



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What happens after happily ever after

Getting the golden ticket can be a mixed blessing for authors. Michael Allen investigates what happened next for some writers who hit paydirt


or many years I have kept a file of press cuttings about the success (or otherwise) enjoyed by writers. Every so often I have a look through this file to see if there any useful lessons to be learnt from these snippets; and on my latest trawl through, two reports in particular caught my eye. On 10 November 1997, the journalist Libby Purves published an interview in The Times with a man whom she knew slightly from waiting at the same school gate. His name was Robert Mawson. Mawson was a writer, though largely unknown. His first published novel had sunk without trace, but he was ambitious and hard-working, and in November 1997 he was about to become famous. He had recently posted to his agent the manuscript of a new novel, The Lazarus Child; and within a week of his agent showing it to various publishers, Mawson had been offered more than £2 million for various rights. So – success! Big-time! Hoorah! You may wonder, as I did, how Mawson has got on in the years since 1997. Well, The Lazarus Child was about a family coping with a child in a coma, which is not everyone’s cup of tea; but it sold over a million copies worldwide, was translated into twenty languages, and was made into a film. And, inevitably, the author came under enormous pressure to write the same book again. Only different. And better. Problem: he couldn’t do it. Which is not unusual with big-time successes. Compare, for instance, the careers of Ross Lockridge and Thomas Heggen, both of whom committed suicide when in the same stressful situation. Mawson made a fresh start. He changed his writing name to Robert Radcliffe and wrote a story about the US air force in Suffolk in World War II. The publisher issued this as Under an English Heaven. They also wanted 10

JULY 2015

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it to be the first part of a trilogy, which was okay, except that when it was finished they didn’t like the third book: ‘Too grim!’ So, not everything over the past few years has gone as smoothly for Robert Mawson as he might have expected in 1997. Another cutting from my file of ‘success stories’ is an article about the playwright Sir Arnold Wesker, who died on 12 April 2016. Wesker was born in 1932. His family were working class and Jewish, descended from recent immigrants. After a failed attempt to write a novel, Wesker began to write for the stage, where he was soon successful. In the 1950s there was a strong feeling among many playwrights and producers that the theatre should offer more than just a few effete young men in blazers coming in through the French windows and enquiring, ‘I say there – anyone for tennis?’ Oh no. No, the new playwrights were not having that. What the English theatre needed, they believed, was plays about the working class, ‘real life’, and left-wing politics. These writers, whether novelists or playwrights, became known as the Angry Young Men. The most famous of them was John Osborne, and his first big success was Look Back in Anger. And for a while Arnold Wesker found both popular and critical success by writing in this genre for that kind of audience. He often used his own family as source material for plot and characters. The success did not last. He once wrote a play called The Journalists. This was set on a Sunday newspaper, required thirty actors, and went into rehearsal at the Royal Shakespeare


Company. But the actors refused to perform it. Wesker sued the RSC, and although he won a small sum in damages he made no friends in the world of theatre. Wesker wrote more plays, but if they were produced at all they seldom enhanced his reputation or his bank account. His best chance of a big hit came in 1977, when he wrote The Merchant, a play about Shakespeare’s character Shylock; this was due to open on Broadway, starring Zero Mostel. Now for my money, Mostel was perhaps the greatest stage actor of the twentieth century (in 1958 I saw him play Leopold Bloom in Ulysses in Nighttown). But unfortunately Mostel died suddenly during the Philadelphia try-out, and that was that. On 13 April 2016, Jasper Rees wrote an unusual obituary of Arnold Wesker on After outlining the disastrous failure of The Merchant, Rees tells us that, ‘Having lived off an overdraft for the first twenty years of his career, [Wesker would] now live off one for at least the next twenty.’ My own conclusion from this brief account of two writers’ careers is that, even in the best of circumstances, there are likely to be good years and bad years. In year one you may be offered, literally, millions of pounds for your work, and in year two there may be a total lack of interest. It will probably be a bumpy ride, both financially and otherwise: John Osborne, mentioned in passing above, had five wives and died heavily in debt. It may be, dear Reader, that your sole ambition is to be able to give up the day job and concentrate on writing full-time. But be careful what you wish for.

The author came under enormous pressure to write the same book again. Only different. And better.

20/12/2016 09:11

Away from your desk

Get out of your garret for some upcoming activities and places to visit

Back soon!

Creative insights

Explore the process of creativity with Royal Academy curator of works on paper Annette Wickham in Behind the scenes: exploring the creative process at the Royal Academy on 17 January. Website: Image: © Sarah Simblet, Study after Anthony van Dyck’s ‘The Brazen Serpent’ (cropped), 1994

My life in translation

, one of the Ngugi wa Thiong’o ture, will be greats of world litera his writing life at giving a talk about tre, University of George Wood Thea uary. London, on 21 Jan Website: http://wr n mylifeintranslatio

Orange Tree and Lemn


Performance poet Lemn Sissay brings Something Dark, his one-man play about his upbringing and search for his family and true identity, to the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond on 29 January. Website: somethingdark

Neil Gaiman will be discussing his new book Norse Mythology and the Norse myths that have inspired his own work on 15 February at the Royal Festival Hall. Website:

Decadence, darlings!

Indulge your interest in the transgressive writers and artists of the late 19th century, including Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley, at Decadence, a night of decadent authors and cocktails at the British Library on 27 January. Website:

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Write away Get far away from the madding crowds and focus your attention on your work in Moniack Mhor’s January Retreat between 23 and 28 January. Website: uk/courses/january-retreat/

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Scared to share or submit your work? Rejection got you down? (Re)build your confidence with advice and encouragement from Lynne Hackles


our story is done. Ready to go. You put it into an envelope and set off for the Post Office. Or maybe you’ve attached it to an email and your finger is hovering over Send. Then nerves kick in. You lose confidence. Is your story good enough? Will the editor laugh at your pathetic efforts? Are you wasting your time? Are you wasting their time? Are you going to send your story out into the big, scary world or keep it safely at home? You worry about being rejected, being told you’re not good enough. Join the club! Nearly all published writers have gone through this stage. It happened to me when I started out. My first story was halfway through the slot of the postbox and had been pulled back several times. Then I gave myself a good talking-to, telling myself that the editor didn’t know me, didn’t have my photo so he couldn’t show everyone and say, ‘Want to see the worst writer ever?’ Finally I kissed the envelope for good luck and rammed it into the box before the self-doubt, that lack of confidence, could start screaming at me again. That story sold and so did the next. I’d found the formula for success. In no time at all I’d knocked out a third story. This was easy. The first draft went into the post. Six weeks later my story was rejected. Talk about the depths of despair. And then I took another look at it and could see the ending was contrived, there were typos, some 12


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punctuation was missing. I’d been over-confident in my abilities and been given a wake-up call.

Confidence can be learned The dictionary definition of confidence is ‘a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers being sufficient, or of reliance on one’s circumstances’. So, if you’ve done something well for years you will have gained confidence in your ability to do it. You’ve been driving since you were eighteen and never had an accident. You are a confident driver. You’ve been working for the same company for ten years, had several promotions and know you do your job well. You are confident in your ability to carry on doing it well. Think back to when you had your first driving lesson. You were nervous. You didn’t know how to drive, what to do. But you learned. You passed your test. The more you drove the more confident you became. The first day at work was scary but you went back the next day and the next. Time passed and with time and practice the confidence in your ability to do the job grew and grew. This means that with time and practice you can gain confidence in any aspect of your life. But what about writing? The same applies. The more you write the more confident you will get. But take care. Don’t do as I did and think you’ve found the secret to success. Make sure what you send out into the world is the best it can possibly be. There are times when

our work may be right but the timing may not. Try it again in a year or so. You’ve completed the first draft of a novel, read it through and lost all confidence in it. Rest it and look again in a few weeks’ time. Give it to a writing friend to read. Also give it to a non-writing friend who enjoys reading. Take on board suggestions but don’t feel obliged to. Trust your instincts. You believed in it enough to write it so don’t lose confidence now. You know what you have to do. Check your market, the length and style, all the things that you’ve been taught via this magazine. Don’t think, ‘That will do’ because it won’t. When you say, ‘That’s the best I can do,’ then it’s okay.

Sharing your work You join a writing group. It’s your turn to read your work. This is something you’ve never done before. You’ve given your work to family and friends to read but never read aloud

Mark Haysom: “You have to be able to bounce back quickly and keep going.”

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to strangers. This is another step towards gaining confidence. Take a deep breath and begin. Don’t expect it to be easy. Your voice may shake, as well as your hands, but think – everyone there has been through this. They’ve all had to read for the first time. I promise you it will get easier. ‘It’s foolish to be destroyed by nerves, because it takes away much of the fun,’ is a quote from Lynda Lee-Potter (1935-2005), a columnist for the Daily Mail. These few words changed my life.

Learn from the knocks It’s bound to happen. Someone in the writing group gives harsh criticism and upsets you. Did the others agree? Take note of the good and bad comments. Write them down as they are given and look at them later when you’ve composed yourself. Don’t let one bad comment destroy you. The best story you’ve ever written gets rejected. You feel like giving up. This writing lark is all a waste of time. No, it isn’t. You can learn from rejections. The story may be perfectly fine but the editor already accepted something similar. Or it may not be fine and if you leave it for a while, or give it to a writing friend to read, then you may discover what’s wrong with it. Mark Haysom, author of Love, Love Me Do and Imagine says: ‘You’re putting your work out there to be judged and you may not like the judgements you receive. To begin with, you’re almost certainly going to get rejections. Of course, this is going to lead to moments of self-doubt but you have to have a fundamental belief and confidence in your ability. You have to be able to bounce back quickly and keep going.’

What are you scared of? It’ll be one of two things. You’re either scared of rejection or afraid of success. Let’s consider rejection. You feel you’re not good enough to be a published writer. But how will you know if you’re good enough or not if you don’t submit your work? You’ve almost certainly heard of ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’. Believe it because if you don’t put yourself out there you’ll never know how good you are. Fear of success sounds strange. Most writers dream of being

successful so what’s scary about achieving your dream? Life changes. That’s what most of us fear. You have put a favourite writer on a pedestal and their latest book lets them down. You criticise them, are disappointed in them, then realise that this might happen to you if you land on someone else’s pedestal. Life can change if you’re a success. What if your book became an international bestseller and you had to go on television and do a world tour? It’s rather like the lottery winners. You’re not likely to win but if you do your life will be transformed. What matters is your happiness. If you were happy before your win/success then you’ll still be happy after it. You’re a success but you don’t have to change as a person.

Be realistic It’s strange how we can recognise confidence in others but don’t be fooled. I know one writer who exudes confidence when giving talks. The audience would find it difficult to believe that beforehand this writer feels physically sick and compares walking into the room where they are about to speak to approaching the guillotine. I’ve been to readings where the writer who shook the most read out the best work, and the most confident one was truly awful and should have taken up knitting.

Trick yourself – the ‘As If’ method Have you tried the ‘As If ’ method? There are lots of books and YouTube clips about this but the basics boil down to acting as if… You want to be tall? You stand tall and act as if you are tall. You want to be happy? You act as if you already are. You want to be confident? You act as if you are. This is how it works for me. It will work for you too. For example: • I sit at my desk, ready to write a story. Realising it’s not going to work, my shoulders slump and I decide to have a cup of tea instead. • I sit at my desk, ready to write a story. I sit up straight, smile and look forward to knowing what the end is going to be. I act as if I am a successful writer.

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Jill McDonald-Constable, “I may never write an epic best seller, and I don’t make millions, but that’s fine, as each book published gives my confidence another boost.” • I’m about to give a talk. Care has been taken over my appearance. I know exactly what I’m going to talk about. Whilst waiting to begin my hands become clammy, my throat feels dry, the audience looks unfriendly. I start to shake. • As before until – Whilst waiting to begin… and then things change. Whilst waiting to begin I relax, take some deep breaths and smile at the audience. I act as if I am confident, as if they are all going to love me, as if my talk will be so good that they’ll ask me back and recommend me to other groups. Deep inside there is a little worm of self-doubt but it’s crushed by my smile and my confidence. I act as if that worm’s not there.

Remind yourself of your confidence If you’ve had one success then there’s no reason why you can’t have plenty more. Don’t hide your successes. Have them on show. Jill McDonald-Constable, aka Amos Carr and Gil McDonald, author of Westerns and Western romances, says: ‘When I doubt my ability, I look at the shelf where my published books are. I’m now confident enough to say I am a proper writer. Okay, I may never write an epic bestseller, and I don’t make millions, but that’s fine, as each book published gives my confidence another boost, which helps me keep on writing.’ And remember – you can always fake it. FEBRUARY 2017


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Fresh -2017-

Apprentice, Artisan, Master


Author and lecturer James McCreet considers some stages of the writing life.

ne of the curious features of experience is that we ‘overwrite’ memories as new knowledge supersedes it. The brain deletes elementary or erroneous information in order to maintain only the most relevant and effective database of skills. This is why many great writers make so-so teachers – they simply can’t remember how it feels to struggle with issues they solved long ago. They’ve automated their critical decisions to such a degree they couldn’t tell you how they do it, even if they wanted to. As a lecturer and as a writer, I’ve noticed that the evolution of writing proficiency tends to come in a strange combination of gradual and sudden learning. The most important lessons arrive suddenly and dramatically, as 14


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epiphanies that immediately change one’s entire understanding. I’ve seen it happen, and I’ve experienced it myself. It’s like when you see a magic trick but can’t guess how it’s done. When you find out, there’s no more magic – only a trick. You can never see the performance in the same way again. The process never stops. We all begin by producing flawed writing, but hard work, practice and good feedback can carry us through to the highest levels of proficiency and beyond to mastery. Here are three stages I’ve been thinking about recently.

The apprentice The apprentice knows what good work looks like. He enjoys it and has probably studied it. Perhaps he’s familiar with many of the tools

required, but using them is a different matter. It’s one thing to watch a master use narrative perspective, but something else to attempt it. Masters makes things look effortless – that’s why they’re masters. The challenge for the apprentice is to understand which tools are used for which jobs, but also to understand that you shouldn’t use all the tools all the time. Simplicity is key, though the urge to run is powerful. First, you learn the basic techniques of dialogue, description, narrative (how a scene unfolds), good punctuation and how sentences combine into paragraphs. Too many writers skip this essential stage. Next, you learn about tone, pace and rhythm – how to make your reader feel what they’re supposed to feel, when they’re supposed to feel it. At this stage, we’re not even thinking about

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complete short stories, let alone novels. It’s just a case of expressing a scene. The challenges of structure come later. Reading naturally plays a massive part in this stage. Just as the art student sits cross-legged before the old masters in a gallery, so the apprentice writer must become familiar with what’s gone before. Vocabulary must be accrued. Punctuation must be studied. Why is Terry Pratchett funny? Why does Ernest Hemingway use such short sentences? There are a million mysteries to be solved. The toughest skill for the apprentice – and the one on which ascension hinges – is the grasp of narrative perspective. This is nothing less than understanding that prose is not a description or roll call of events but a framework for reader engagement. The writer gathers a complex series of prompts and codes into a text. The reader then decodes the text and feels something, understands something, wonders something, expects something. We call it ‘showing and telling’ at the most basic level, but it’s more advanced than that. It requires a deeper understanding of prose as a mechanism to draw a response, and it’s one of those epiphanies that – once you’ve got it – you forget how you previously wrote. Now you’re a writer.

The artisan The apprenticeship was the rudimentary stuff: learning the tools and techniques that equate with ‘being able to write.’ Once you’ve grasped these, you’re ready to start producing actual pieces of writing for a genuine paying reader. Arguably, you no longer need to show your work to others for critical feedback (although, more on this momentarily). Many people can write, but not all writers can produce successful stories or novels. This requires the next level of skill: understanding how structure functions in longer works. You can have all the tools in the world but get nowhere if you can’t hold a reader’s attention for an entire story or for 20,000+ words. Therefore, it’s necessary to learn about arcs, threads, themes, storytelling, pace and engagement techniques (suspense, conflict, tension etc). They don’t come as a package with ‘writing’ – they’re separate skills.

Some people have a natural ability for this. Probably, they’ve absorbed it through their wide and prolific reading. However, it has to be married to a solid apprenticeship because the deal works both ways. A great story is a bad novel if poorly told. Thus, the artisan is still constantly learning through trial and error and experimentation. Indeed, the sign of a good artisan is that they’re never satisfied with mere proficiency. They want to learn more, be better, push themselves harder. More techniques can be learned. More than anything else, the artisan becomes better by taking risks. Risk is the gateway to the next level. By risk, we mean attempting stories and styles that previously felt beyond our grasp. It means trying new sentence structures and forms of punctuation. It means extending vocabulary, or cutting it dramatically. Until this point, being an artisan has been about being a functional writer. The next step is being a writer nobody else can be. You have to find your voice and your style by being bold and straying ever further from the security of what you’ve known. Now you’re on your own. There’s nobody left who can critique your work because you’re better than everyone you know (unless you meet a much better writer than yourself). How do you manage on your own? You have to trust in your apprenticeship and in your unceasing reading. By this stage, you’re probably being paid to write, either in full-time work or via magazine submissions and web writing. Publication in the form of a novel or collection may be further down the road, but you’re capable of it. In other words, your critical feedback is the fact that people see you and treat you (and pay you) as a writer. Take seriously any feedback they give you because it’s the feedback of a paying reader. Above all, accept that your own standards are the highest anyone can hold you to.

Become a successful writer with a WM Creative Writing course TAP HERE!

The master Okay, few people ever rise to the level of master. Those who do are typically famous names, lauded through history or on the bestseller lists. They’ve passed through a long apprenticeship and possible decades as artisans before they make their breakthroughs. Sometimes,

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admittedly, they’re just freakish geniuses born with a brain to write. Even so, masters may have to work before they produce their greatest work. They have to continue taking risks. Lolita was Vladimir Nabokov’s thirteenth novel and only his third written in English. He was so uncertain about its incendiary subject matter that he tried to burn an early draft on his barbecue. It’s how masters are made. Though not everyone becomes a master, mastery is worth aspiring to for every writer. It means aiming for an ever more perfect prose style, better storytelling, more personality and greater bravery in what we choose to reveal about ourselves. A masterly book is likely to be one you dare not show to a soul because it’s a raw pound of flesh sliced from your authorial sensitivities. You may worry whether it’s any good, even if you’ve been published many times before. The master is also an acute critic of his own work. He can tell you why he chose a semi-colon instead of a dash. He can tell you why a phrase has a particular number of syllables or alliteration instead of assonance – because such things are critically important. He can also tell you everything wrong with a page: a list of minor quibbles that no reader would ever have spotted. I’m no master and never will be. It’s not only about technique, but also about personality. Great minds make great writers. Unique people have unique styles. But I try to aim ever higher with each book I write because otherwise... what’s the point? Without the goal of mastery, we’re just cranking the sausage machine or stamping out cookies. Going through the motions. I look at things I wrote ten years ago and I’m embarrassed by them. Perhaps I’m only five per cent better now, but that’s still better. It’s exciting. A sharper brutality to the editing, a more precise eye for vocabulary, a better ear for punctuation – all make the style truer and the writing better, even if it’s only five per cent. And beyond mastery? Perhaps madness lies that way. After Ulysses came Finnegan’s Wake. After Moby Dick, Pierre. It’s not a problem most of us will have to face. In the meantime, we grab hold of the tools and keep chipping away. FEBRUARY 2017


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Writer without frontiers

The complexities of human life and experience run through international bestseller Elif Shafak’s thoughts and work, she tells Tina Jackson

I BONUS CONTENT Elif explains more about her philosophies and reasons for writing.


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nternational bestseller Elif Shafak is a truly global author: a writer without boundaries. The Turkish novelist, academic and journalist was born in France, raised in Spain and for the last nine years has lived mostly in England. Nine novels, written in her third language (English), including 2010’s number one bestseller Forty Rules of Love, blend love, mysticism, faith, politics, history and social injustice into fluid, immersive multi-layered narratives that are readable and full of warmth. She has 1.74 million Twitter followers, is translated into forty languages and uses her celebrity to speak out on behalf of people whose voices may not be heard. Her newest novel, Three Daughters of Eve, will be published in the UK at the beginning of February and if there is such a thing as a novel for our times, it is this one. ‘It’s what women are talking about in different parts of the world, and particularly the Muslim world,’ says Elif. It features three women: Shirin, Mona and Peri, each caught up in a dilemma of belief and identity. Elif labels them the Sinner, the Believer and the Confused. ‘Shirin is an atheist. Mona wears a headscarf and is a practicing Muslim, and Peri has a lot of questions.’ At Oxford University, the three young women – from Iran, Egypt and Turkey – are brought together and share a house, and Peri and Shirin in particular are drawn into the orbit of the charismatic, iconoclastic Professor Azur, whose seminars question the very nature of God. ‘My starting point was the concept of sisterhood – when women are divided into categories, the only thing that benefits is the patriarchy. I’ve always defied that, and believe in whatever brings together women around shared values.’

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Three Daughters of Eve brings together many of the themes that Elif has written about in previous books. ‘It has been accumulating inside of me for such a long time,’ she smiles. She is funny, friendly and open, with a fierce underlying intensity. ‘So many of my day-to-day occupations and pre-occupations about identity, sexuality, freedom, women – so much of that has seeped into the novel. I think I’ve been writing this for a long time.’ The three ‘daughters of Eve’ are drawn from real life. ‘I have met many women like Peri, especially in Turkey. Shirin, coming from an Iranian background, is an exile. Women like Mona, girls who are wearing headscarves, coming from conservative families, are trying to carve out a freedom and individuality for themselves. I’m not religious or even a believer but I am a feminist and these girls should not be ignored. We can’t just see them all as victims or treat them like that – that doesn’t help at all.’ Rather than isolating her characters into stereotypes based round a single identity, Elif creates unity in diversity. ‘My starting point was the concept of sisterhood – when women are divided into categories, the only thing that benefits is the patriarchy. I’ve always defied that, and believe in whatever brings together women around shared values.’ Elif is a writer who systematically examines ideas and perceptions, and via her work, questions what’s going on. She’s looking for real understanding in a world which can seem increasingly divisive and dangerous. ‘I’m someone who is very critical of identity and identity politics, and in a post-Trump and post-Brexit world it’s more important than ever to think about what these ideas can mean.

Extremist ideologies all hate complexity and try to reduce it to simplicity. Extreme Islam, the far right, they all say that you can’t be multiple things at the same time.’ Her writing emphasises the complexity of each human life. ‘In our own lives, we’re made of water, we’re more than one person. From when I was living in Boston [where she taught at the university] I have a legacy of Afro-American feminism; people like Audre Lorde, who described herself as “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet”. The idea of multiple belongings is being lost and I’m very critical of that.’ Elif is outspoken where she sees injustice. She has proclaimed her solidarity with the Turkish journalists who have been imprisoned and detained, accused of publishing stories that legitimised the coup that took place in Istanbul in July last year. ‘I have friends, colleagues, people I don’t know personally, who have been detained, investigated and imprisoned. It’s very hard, and I think it’s unacceptable. I’m very alarmed that my motherland is sliding backwards at an alarming speed, and there’s barely any time to stop and analyse it. It’s important to speak up, which I don’t find easy because I’m an introvert who wants to be in my world of books, but writers need to speak up.’ She herself has been persecuted by the state for words she has written. In 2006 charges were brought against her of ‘insulting Turkishness’ in her best-known novel, The Bastard of Istanbul, perhaps the first Turkish novel to deal with the Armenian genocide that took place in the last years of Ottoman rule between 1915 and


It matters to me that people who might not talk to each other are reading the same book. It’s important for me not to lose that diversity.

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1917. Elif faced a three-year prison sentence. ‘I was imprisoned and on trial for writing The Bastard of Istanbul. I had to live with bodyguards. For writing a work of fiction. It was very unnerving. I saw people burning my book, spitting at my photograph.’ She was acquitted after a high-profile trial. Readers from all walks of life – people she had never met, but who had read her books and loved them – spoke up for her. ‘I was overwhelmed by the love and support I received. That was a very big lesson for me. I’ve never been an elitist writer. It matters to me that people who might not talk to each other are reading the same book. It’s important for me not to lose that diversity.’ As a writer, the most important element for her is opening up a space where a hidden story can come to life. ‘One thing is very crucial for me – primarily I see myself as a storyteller. Of course I have political inclinations. I like asking difficult questions about taboos, sexual and political. But I leave the answers to the reader. I don’t think writers should try to teach anything to their readers. It’s the writer’s job to open up a space for discussion, to look at taboos, silences, secrets, things we don’t see because it’s not appropriate or allowed.’ In Three Daughters of Eve, the most realised character is Peri, who like Elif is a seeker, looking for the answers to life’s biggest, and most difficult, questions. Is she a reflection of her creator? ‘Peri and Shirin both have echoes of me to be honest,’ she laughs. ‘But here’s a secret, I like to hide myself in my male characters, so there’s more of me in Professor Azur. He’s flawed but he’s a catalyst: he tries to build bridges.’ Istanbul is a location she returns to over and over in her fiction, as if she’s trying to unpeel its accumulated layers of culture and history through her novels. ‘When you want to see a painting better, you take a step back,’ she says. ‘You try to put a distance between yourself and what you’re looking at.’ She writes in English, also to help her see more clearly what she is writing about. ‘Writing in English gives me some cognitive distance – I can see Turkey more clearly, and feel a bit more light and free. When I’m writing in English I’m not carrying that cultural baggage. I feel more free, more daring.’ When Elif has completed a draft in English, her work is translated into Turkish before coming back to her. It’s a laborious process. ‘When it’s finished I give it to my English editor and Turkish translator, and then rewrite it in my own rhythm. I love the commute between languages, but it’s almost you have to work twice as much. Multi-lingualism has a big impact on me – thinking, reading and writing in different languages. Our faces change when we speak different languages. Our ideas change. Languages have their own energy, and they guide us. I feel very attracted to the English language – it’s my third language, my second is Spanish. There’s always a gap between the mind and the tongue – but precisely because of that, I pay more attention to nuances. Things that can���t be translated.’


There’s always a part of me that wants to transcend myself and go beyond. When I write fiction what I like is not being myself, the act of being someone else. Going on their journey.

LISTEN TAP HERE to listen to an extract from Honour

TAP HERE to buy the book from Audible

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22/12/2016 11:24


Her lifelong nomadic existence, moving from country to country, has had a great impact on her writing. ‘The nomadic life from one place to another taught me a lot. I see myself as a nomad in thought and mind, and I think if we’re going to learn in life, it’s from people who are different from us. Diversity is a treasure.’ Wherever she has lived, there has never been anywhere when she has entirely fitted in, apart from in the process of writing. ‘I was raised by a single mother and a grandmother, so not a typical patriarchal Turkish family. As I was growing up, I always felt like “the other”, and because of my own journeys I felt like an insider/outsider,’ she admits. ‘I really think it’s possible to have more than one home. I love London. I came here almost without knowing anyone. I’m a Londoner, a Balkanite, a European by choice. All of these at the same time. There’s always a part of me that wants to transcend myself and go beyond. When I write fiction what I like is not being myself, the act of being someone else. Going on their journey. I mean intellectual and spiritual journeys as well as physical ones.’ The process of writing a book, for Elif, is like setting out on a journey to an unknown destination – without a map. ‘I think the subjects of my books choose me. Sometimes you don’t really know why you are writing that particular story, you don’t really know what you’re writing, if you’re not the sort of writer who plots and plans everything.’ She begins by responding to an internal voice. ‘I start with my instincts – it’s a rough process. I start with images and I don’t know what will happen ten pages on. I like it when the story surprises me, but I’ve got an academic background, so there’s that discipline too, and I take my research – my homework! – very seriously, and read everything. But afterwards, I fly. I let my imagination run free.’ When she writes, it’s an all-encompassing experience, though she still has to accommodate family life, which involves yet more travelling. She has two children, who live with her in London; her husband, Turkish journalist Eyüp Can, is largely based in Istanbul.

‘When I’m writing, when I’m inside a book, it becomes the main thing in my life. I can write day or night. Male writers can structure their time, but women writers who are mothers have to carve out a space, so I write day or night.’ What matters is that she should write every day, and in an elemental atmosphere. ‘I don’t like silence – there has to be noise, music… I’m usually a calm person but I listen to music with a lot of rage and energy. I listen to horrible music, over and over, on repeat. I’ve always liked punk music and underground cultures.’ She writes exclusively on-screen. ‘I purely write with my laptop. I can’t write more than three sentences in longhand. I get tired and bored. I was lefthanded at birth and converted to my right hand and I still find it difficult.’ The books take as long as they need. ‘Three Daughters of Eve had been accumulating for such a long time that writing it was like a flood of emotion. But usually it takes a year, a year and a half, with the research. It depends on the story. I’m fluid.’ There is no specific reader in mind. ‘Every reader’s reading is as unique as their fingerprints. A mother and daughter might both read the same book, but not the same story. When I’m writing I try to stay in my imaginary world.’ What matters most to Elif is to let the story take over. ‘I really think my love for the act of storytelling is so big. When I was a child, I didn’t know it was possible to be a novelist. I just knew I loved telling stories. It’s only when I finish a book and hand it over that the mundane anxieties come, like whether people will like it. When I’m inside a novel, I try not to think about who might read it.’ Her advice for other writers is to guard, and cultivate, an imaginative space. ‘There’s an inner space inside us, and it’s important to keep it, and cultivate it,’ she says fiercely. ‘We’re all constantly rushing from one place to another, but art and creativity, compassion and love, can only come from that inner space. So keep that garden alive. And colourful.’

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Fresh -2017-

Fix your bad habits and cultivate good ones to prime yourself for success in 2017, with advice from Patrick Forsyth


f there are worse procrastinators than writers I have yet to encounter them. As a breed we also tend to say ‘I really must…’ pretty often; but then often not get round to doing whatever we resolved to do. So in an edition of Writing Magazine where it is not too late to think of making resolutions and a fresh start, let’s see what might make that achievable. One answer is, in a word, habit. Or rather, it’s the right habits. To instil the right habits and make them stick you need to be motivated. Sometimes it’s easy. As I start this article, I have a commission. I’ll get paid if I write it satisfactorily so that spurs me on; so too does the thought that if it is late or doesn’t meet the brief then, at worst, it’s unlikely I will be asked to do anything else for the magazine. But if you are writing, say, a novel, a long-term project you have to fit into a busy life, then it’s more difficult. However keen you are to complete it, such projects can easily be put off. So too can certain aspects of selling your work: if your last four suggestions have been ignored or turned down by one particular editor, how easy is it to pitch to them again? Whatever you do you must persuade yourself that it is worthwhile 20


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and satisfying and this is easier if the right habits aim you reliably at the right activity.

Managing your time This can be difficult in a way that can make people give up on it, saying, I’ll never get it sorted. It is the classic example of something found difficult and therefore not systematically tried. Yet at base managing time is essentially pragmatic. Schedule time to do the things you categorise as priorities, avoid things you know distract you and monitor how it goes – regularly. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good: say you resolve to write 1,000 words a day. Most days it may prove impossible. But having set a time for it? If relating to that systematically means you write 500 words every other day that could still see you produce a novel in a year. This approach is radically different to saying I’ll write as often as possible. That’s unspecific, difficult to monitor and, worse, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. You can always claim to have ‘done it’ but you will certainly achieve less. Of course, the way different writers do this differs. For some, writing is a job (or a part-time job). For others the only time you can plan and juggle with it is late in

the evening when the children have gone to bed. But planning what you aim to do in a specific way, even if the plan needs some fine tuning, can have you actually achieving more – and success can spur you on further. A good tip here is to have a written plan. This works well, especially if you have various activities that must proceed in parallel. Thus you might plan sharing time between writing that novel, tackling one-off commissions (like an article), pitching new ideas and entering an occasional competition. Try to define the specific times and the amount of time when you can schedule things, even if that only averages a few hours a week. Be realistic about priorities. You may be bursting with ideas, but you can only do one thing at a time and you need to be clear about what you do and in what order. Anything, like this article, that comes with a deadline must be scheduled so that you are certain to be able to hit it (so a little contingency may be necessary). Such scheduling will be more likely to get you working further ahead rather than leaving everything until the last minute – remember that scrabbling to hit a deadline at the last minute can jeopardise quality. With some thought, a written plan in the form of a to-do list and a diary,

20/12/2016 09:20


and regular monitoring, you will find that you are setting up a process that can become a habit. You will start to like the few minutes it takes to update your plan, and you will certainly like it when the planning pays off and you find yourself more regularly hitting deadlines without panic and achieving more on other projects too.

Bad habits First, consider bad habits that may creep into your writing style. For many of us bad habits can show up, and persist, all too easily, as is the case for instance with grammar or writing style. Unless I am careful, I have a problem with ‘it’. I find that I write ‘it’ then realise that, whatever that ‘it’ refers to is too far back for the sense to be easy to follow. I like to think I have cracked this through substituting a good habit: when I write ‘it’ I now automatically think to check that this error is avoided. With any bad habit you can usually insert an action that will effect change. For example, you may find it difficult to follow up pitches, either to new potential editors, or even to those you know and have written for regularly. It is easy to leave something, think of it eventually and then think, ‘better leave it a while’. Habit again: whenever you send out a query make a decision and a firm note in your diary or follow-up system – this is when I will chase. Even something this simple makes a difference. A moment’s honest thought and acceptance of any bad habits is the first step to changing them.

Targets Think of the things you must do regularly as a writer. Some important ones are: • Come up with ideas • Write • Pitch ideas • Follow up pitches. About all of these you may find that you do less than you would like and address matters irregularly. Thinking about these tasks is one thing. Setting a specific intention is another; one that will take you further and get more done. Saying that you will write 500 words a day, come up with so many ideas in a week or send out a set number of pitches in a predefined period all helps. If you link intentions to systems, at its simplest a note in

your diary, then you may well see an improvement in achievement. Of course, life is unpredictable and you may fail to hit your targets. They cannot all guarantee results. But their existence allows a process of monitoring that will help keep you broadly on track. Say you are laid up with flu for a few days, then you will likely write less, but perhaps knowing you are a specific amount of words behind will help you work out a way to catch up if that is possible. If not, the target will go on helping in the next week or month. Targets relate to objectives. If you don’t know, and know pretty specifically, where you are going, then any route will seem valid. If you have a firm objective – finish an article three days before the deadline, complete that novel by the end of the year – then it is easier to organise your time towards achieving just that. Again this implies something of a systematic

If you have a firm objective it is easier to organise your time approach, and that is made easier by good habits. What you write is relevant here. If you have a single writing project, let’s say a novel, then that is all you need to work towards. But looking at its length, the (likely) number of chapters and so on, work can still be organised progressively across a long period to keep you firmly on track. Breaking tasks down like this gives you a series of bite-sized pieces that are individually more manageable to work through than one huge, daunting and long one. If you have shorter pieces to write, ie articles, and a number of them must be on the go in parallel, then some more complex planning is no doubt necessary.

Creativity Let me acknowledge here that all writing is dependent on a certain amount of creativity. The degree varies: some factual writing needs mostly preparation and research, with a smidgeon of creativity; fiction may well be the reverse. Creativity too is subject to habit. Ideas may come

p20 Bad habits.indd 21

to you seemingly at random, but often they come following some rumination – maybe a series of ruminations. Some analysis may remind you of how this works for you. Then you can plan accordingly. For example, always carrying a notebook (and perhaps a few notes or pages) on a commuter journey may prompt you to use that time more constructively and lead to you achieving more. If what you are trying to prompt ideas about is at the forefront of your mind, then – given a little preparation – such time may produce more, and more that is relevant. And even a little more may help. Incidentally, thinking of travel, I recently read some 250 pages of proofs on an eleven-hour long-haul flight. Time well spent, but it was only possible because I always aim the get projects to an appropriate stage ahead of any such journey; another useful habit.

If you read your Writing Magazine promptly, and surely you do, then you will be reading this in January; classic resolution time. But the fact is that the approach commended in this article can be put to work at any time. If you are stuck, locked into excessive procrastination (perhaps we should all set a maximum time for staring out of the window!) or otherwise conscious that there is currently more activity than achievement in your writing life, it pays to have what one might call a habit review. Make a new start and monitor your progress in a new way. It was Peter De Vries who said: ‘I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I am inspired at nine o’clock every morning.’ That surely implies some planning and organisation. For those needing or wanting to write regularly, whether for fun or profit, his statement makes a pretty good maxim. And there is no doubt that cultivating the right habits can see you achieving more. Now, what’s next on my list? FEBRUARY 2017


20/12/2016 09:20

A year of living


Could 2017 be the year you take the, risky, but rewarding, decision to make writing your primary income source? Alison Carter shares her experience of her first year as a freelance

Fresh -2017-


n the autumn of 2015 I was working two and a half days a week as a college librarian, and not enjoying my job. During the rest of my week I was writing magazine fiction, an additional but minor income stream that had been growing steadily since humble beginnings a decade before. Slaving over my tax return one day, I spotted that my writing earnings had outstripped my library earnings for the first time. I had built good relationships with three women’s magazines who liked my fiction and accepted between 25% and 90% of what I submitted, and that year I had had the good fortune to be asked by The People’s Friend to co-deliver their fiction workshops in London. I’d also taught a couple of day courses at my local theatre. In addition, BBC Radio still called on me occasionally to do sound effects work. I stared at my Mac wondering if I would ever dare to go freelance, and when I made the suggestion of it to my husband it was barely more than a joke. But he reminded me of our joint vow – never to stay in a job that made us unhappy. It seemed so unlikely, that I could scratch a living from something that seemed merely a supplement to ‘real’ work. But the idea grew, until in late October 2015 I quit my job and sat, shaking gently, at my desk on a Monday morning. My working life appeared to me as a line of rejection emails stretching to the horizon. 22


p22 Living Dangerously.indd 22

At about the same I mentioned my decision to go freelance to Writing Magazine’s editor. I was probably seeking reassurance from anyone who’d listen! He felt that his readers might be interested to see how I’d get on…

Branch out Firstly I needed to think about income streams beyond magazine fiction (which is a fickle game with no guarantees). This was partly for my own peace of mind because I’m prone to panic. I began planning a local course – a six-weekly session to be delivered from early February onwards. I designed a flyer and poster, and composed Tweets and Facebook posts. I beavered away at a smart electronic calendar that would remind me shrilly to post on social media and to update my website. I enjoy self-promotion about as much as I enjoy taking out my eyes with a spoon, but I was assured that it was all in the marketing, so I gritted my teeth. As an afterthought, I taped to the window of our front room – which happens to look onto a historic village high street – a mini version of the ad. With hundreds of flyers in a rucksack, and a map of the area surrounding the course venue in my hand, I set off to post flyers through doors. I love to walk. I felt this was going to be terrifically successful. This was early December and bitterly cold, so I moved fast. After half an hour’s striding, my

walking boot caught on an uneven driveway and I flew ten feet in the air and landed with a crash. Extensive bruising, bloody grazes and a hand X-ray later, and I was ready to start again. My hand is almost completely mended now, but I will never get back my favourite pair of jeans, the only ones that really fitted, which had been cruelly shredded in the fall. I set off again the following week, grumbling to myself about the various and annoying designs of the British letterbox. The double springs, the unbending brushes, the downright inaccessibility, they were all starting to drive me crazy (and giving me a new respect for postal staff). At an especially forbidding front door I wheedled my fingers into a narrow slot… and was bitten by a dog. It was over in a fraction of a second – the vicious snarl, the shooting pain, the outpouring of my life’s blood. This time I was instructed to get a tetanus jab and something for the swelling. As far as I know, every participant of that February course of mine, and a subsequent one in May, signed up as a result of the ad in my front room window. It was word-of-mouth that did the trick. They saw the ad, mentioned it to a friend, had a look at my stories… I think the writing world – perhaps the whole modern world – tries to persuade us that frenetic marketing and networking are the sine qua non, that if you fiddle with your Twitter feed, redesign your website and blanket your local area with

20/12/2016 09:22


paper, you will succeed. It isn’t necessarily true. I spend less and less time in self-promotion. As a publisher friend tells me repeatedly, ‘content is king’. I feel that if I keep writing and teaching someone, somewhere, will hire me again. In the summer, for instance, I travelled to Essex and spent an enjoyable day at the Havering Writer’s Circle, delivering their annual workshop. A writer who attended a People’s Friend workshop had decided I could do it, and asked me along.

Write on Alongside the trauma of planning a course, I simply wrote, and for hours. My acceptances from the magazines increased as the winter wore on, and I felt pretty good. I made a proper contribution to the household income, and a trickle of people signed up to my course. But something new crept in, a kind of ‘brake’ on my writing that seemed to be caused by the obligation to produce and to earn. This still happens now, and it’s a downside to full-time writing, I think. At least, it is for me. When one writes as an ‘extra’, it’s fun; when one needs to, it can dry up the juices. But it’s my job now, so I have to release that brake. I get a mug of tea, tell myself how fortunate I am to be able to write for a living, and buckle down. January brought acceptance of my first magazine serial, and the satisfaction of an assured (if small) income. I began the process of finalising and sending off seven instalments, one after the other. The serial was intended as a four or five-parter, but it kept expanding naturally as I wrote. Later, I tried to expand a different serial ‘artificially’, as a means to make extra cash. It didn’t work and (as a side note to all writers) it never will: padding is obvious to any decent editor. Content is king, and padding isn’t content. Also in January, I agreed to work a half day in a teashop opposite my house. The pay is low, but the psychological benefit of a guaranteed payslip is beneficial, and I have written two stories already based on the extraordinary exchanges between ‘ladies who lunch’ in a well-heeled Sussex village. January was a good earnings month. Since I suspect you’ll be wanting raw data, here is a proper number: in January 2016 I grossed £2,800. Obviously my freelance earnings rise and fall, and I was very pleased with that month, but I name that figure here to assure you that you can make a living at this game.

Find repeat earnings Meanwhile small sums trickled in from Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, via which I have selfpublished two collections of short stories. I have recently vowed to select, edit, format, cost and upload another collection, but Amazon KDP

is not an instant money spinner, and you must navigate the copyright strictures imposed by the magazines you write for. But each month a tiny bit of hard cash arrives in my bank account, so I will repeat the exercise. February saw the start of my fiction course, and it was a lot harder than I’d expected. I can talk hind legs off any animal, but I encountered a snag: I had decided (wisely, on the whole) to teach what I know, so I led the group in the techniques of creating commercial fiction for actual submission. The sessions turned relatively quickly into critiques of individual stories. I found myself doing all the work, including a great deal of between-session reading and annotation. I had asked modest fees in order to attract participants, and so my hourly rate plummeted. But, I reminded myself, these days I had all the time in the world to earn my living. The BBC called in March, and several days of intense and exhausting work with Julius Caesar and Lenny Henry (not in the same show!) halted fiction for a week or two. And it was oddly difficult to slide back into writing. However, a long commute to Broadcasting House, seeing old friends and wandering Oxford Street, provided a couple of great story ‘sparks’. Lesson: sitting on your bottom at your desk will not provide all the ideas you need. Then one of my course participants asked for individual mentoring for a few weeks. Every little, as they say, helps. The ALCS paid out in March. If you write, and have not signed up to this admirable body, do so now. The Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society gathers and distributes what are essentially royalties for use of your words, and they paid me £1,900. The majority of ALCS Members (91%) apparently receive between £10 and £500 a year, and so I felt that my hard work in keeping my input high was bearing fruit. It sounds bald, but you have to produce in order to earn. Tweaking your novel does not pay the gas bill; you must achieve volume. March saw me also delivering another People’s Friend workshop. I was grateful for the work, impressed at the enthusiasm of the 25+ participants, and really really tired!

Handling the wobbles Then out of the blue, my father died in April. The immediate and devastating hiatus it caused in my work was a shock. Grief was a new experience for me, and even more difficult was the total immersion of looking after my distraught mother. If you can keep writing – commercially, positively – through that, you are indeed a professional. It took three months for a space to clear in my head, and after that I still wrote some rubbish. It was like learning to ride a bike again, wobbling before getting the hang of

p22 Living Dangerously.indd 23

it. I had believed that magazine fiction resembled copywriting, that is was laying down a certain number of words to a brief – but I was wrong. It uses your soul, too, and mine was distracted. A midsummer holiday in the sunshine, with a breathtaking view, really helped, and I have a serial and a story currently on my system, awaiting completion. So, in conclusion, I can tell you that I am earning a kind of a living. Each person’s perception of what that means is different, and I must be honest and tell you that I am married to a person who works full-time and brings in enough to pay our basic bills. But I am happy to say that I supply the rest – our student son’s maintenance money, our other son’s allowance, mobile bills, holidays, contact lens contracts, charitable donations and a dozen other ‘extras’. Apart from blips, my acceptance rate is rising. Where to go next is a puzzle. The need to produce bread-and-butter work means that I cannot give up a month or two to write the novel I may (or may not) have in my heart, but I know I need to move on and develop. Watch this space, and keep writing.

Top tips Don’t put all your eggs in one basket Consider multiple ways to generate income, so if one fails, you have others to fall back on Put the hours in Going freelance doesn’t mean long lunches and an extended break for Loose Women. You need dedication and discipline to make it work. Find repeat income – it all adds up Look for ways to get guaranteed income each month, such as serials or regular columns, or slow-trickle sources like ebooks on Amazon. It’s tempting as a freelance just to chase the big commissions, but it’s actually the less dramatic regular earnings that will keep you afloat month to month. Collect what’s owed Make sure you register for ALCS and PLR, and are paid promptly for completed work.



20/12/2016 09:22

Editorial calendar

Strong forward planning will greatly improve your chances with freelance submissions. Here are some themes to consider for the coming months.

3 May

80 years ago, in 1937, Gone With the Wind won the Pulitzer prize for fiction

Hatches and despatches US President John F Kennedy was years ago, on 29 May 1917. Country singer Tammy Wynette been 75 on 5 May.

12 May

ng George The coronation of Ki C’s first Vl in 1937 was the BB broadcast official outdoor TV ) and the first (transmitted 14 May oadcast Van use of an Outside Br

13 May

The first apparition of Our Lady of Fatima was reported in Portugal 100 years ago

born 100

would have

years Punk icon Sid Vicious was born 60 /new punk and ), 1979 (died May 10 ago on wave singer Ian Dury was born 75 years ago on 12 May (died 2000). It’s also forty n. years since the release of God Save the Quee

20-21 May

American aviator Ch arles Lindbergh made th e first transatlantic fight 90 years ago

25 May

The first Star Wars retitled film (later officially eased in A New Hope) was rel ago ars ye the USA forty

23-27 May

28 May

ichester Francis Ch to first person because the d n u ro andedly sail single-h to t es w om the globe fr ears ago y 0 5 st ea

London will be blooming lovely for the annual Chelsea Flower Show

Looking ahead In 2019, England and Wales will host the Cricket World Cup between 30 May and 15 July. Sports writers planning long-form non-fiction will need to get pitching to give themselves the chance of a good innings.

p24 Editorial calendar.indd 22

20/12/2016 09:24

SKYROS Inspiration



“Number 1 of the World's Five Best Writing Holidays” THE GUARDIAN


25 T:FEBRUARY 01983 2017 865566

19/12/2016 14:27



Fresh -2017-


Fully understand agents’ needs to increase your chances of being accepted, says writer and publishing insider Megan Palmer


efore you submit to publishers and agents, do your research.’ Writers are frequently given this (excellent) advice. But what does it actually mean? Many new writers are unfamiliar with the publishing world and run the risk of wasting their time (and, if posting submissions, money) sending their work to the wrong people. From my experience as both a writer and someone who works for literary agents, I believe many writers would benefit from a little guidance on what exactly they should be researching, and how.

Inappropriate submissions At our agency, I’ve seen submissions with real potential that are simply inappropriate for our agents’ interests and specialisms. Yes, we have an agent who represents children’s authors, but we don’t deal with picture books. Yes, we represent adult fiction, but not certain genres that require particular knowledge of a specialist market, like science fiction and fantasy. We’re not alone: every agency I’ve spoken to has examples of inappropriate material arriving in the submissions inbox. This could have been avoided if the author had researched the agency more carefully. This isn’t a criticism of those genres or authors – it’s just not within the professional sphere or personal taste of the agent in question. If an agent doesn’t represent fiction at all, it doesn’t matter if they receive the next Harry 26


p26 Research agent.indd 26

Potter – they’ll reject it because they’re not in the position to sell it to publishers around the world. It is frustrating seeing work turned down for these avoidable reasons. More focused pre-submission research will save a lot of writers time, money and heartache. The good news is that it has never been easier to research agents and to find out who they represent. Every agency has a website with author lists and information about each agent, usually with a manuscript wish-list for genres or stories the agent is particularly seeking. Most agents are highly engaged with social media, too – if an agent is a regular Twitter user, for example, you can follow them and see what they’re selling and what they’re excited about in real time. As the Madeleine Milburn Agency puts it, ‘find agents on social media and look at all pages on their website to know their tastes, personality and way of working.’

An agent’s niche Knowing where your writing sits in the literary world is crucial. It’s not as simple as ‘fiction’ or ‘non-fiction’. Within the world of non-fiction there are agents who specialise in specific fields, whether it is celebrity memoirs, cookery books or global politics. These specialisms develop over a whole career of personal reading interests, professional relationships with commissioning editors, and from being deeply immersed in the commercial goings-on of their field. Not sure how

to classify your book? Literary agency Watson, Little suggest you ask a trusted reader where they’d expect to find your work in a bookshop. This will give you a good idea of how a publisher would define it. Consider antiques as a comparison. You’ve probably seen on television that there are experts on a wide range of antiques – perhaps silverware, eighteenth century furniture, or toy cars. Agents are similar – they have incredibly in-depth knowledge of certain parts of publishing, but not usually all. So the agent who represents a cosy crime writer may not be the best placed to sell an erotic romance. This specialisation impacts on how they work with authors and publishers. There isn’t space here to go into great detail, but in brief: agents sell books to editors. Each editor will have a specific purchasing remit at their respective publishers. They may work for a literary or romance imprint, for example. Agents build long-standing professional relationships in order to know what publishers are looking for and who will be likely to bid for your book. The better you understand the agent’s role, the easier it will be to identify appropriate agents for you. Search online for explanations of what agents do, or read up on those chapters in the Writers & Artists Yearbook, to learn more.

The extra mile There are great resources out there and the best chance of success a writer

20/12/2016 11:51


has is to target submissions smartly and to understand what each agent is actually looking for. For example, the Writers & Artists Yearbook is a fantastic starting point (most libraries stock it), but in these tough times it isn’t enough. Always consult the agent’s website before submitting: if they ask for email submissions only, they won’t appreciate receiving postal submissions. Similarly, calling the agency will not make them consider you in a better light. Neither does visiting the agency in person. Follow their instructions and make sure you amend your submission for each agency if you’re applying to more than one and they have different guidelines. You’re also more likely to be successful if you submit to an agent who is actively taking on clients (for example a new, recently-promoted agent). Don’t send your book to someone who isn’t taking on clients, or who doesn’t express or show an interest in your kind of book.

Agent provocateur Meeting agents at writing events is helpful for gauging their interest and for presenting yourself as a serious writer. There are many public events around the country – some of which are free to attend – where agents run workshops with potential authors. Agents are happy to go to these and meet new people because they’re always on the lookout for great new authors. Follow up with your submission afterwards while you’re still fresh in their minds. Curtis Brown (and their co-company Conville & Walsh) have run a free ‘discovery day’ in London for several years, in which writers have a brief meeting with one of their agents to pitch their idea and get useful feedback. If you can attend one of these, take a card with your contact details (or better still, a synopsis and three chapters for them to take away). Many literary festivals have similar events – the Festival of Writing in York and the Winchester Literary Festivals have meet-the-agent events. Check Writing Magazine every month and regularly, and keep your eyes peeled. Social media is a valuable source of information about events agents are attending and on authors they represent. You might be surprised by

what you can learn from e-newsletters offered by agencies and publishers, too. The Madeleine Milburn agency also recommends reading news items in industry publications like The Bookseller and Publishers Weekly (some libraries stock these, and some stories can be read for free online), for news on book deals struck by agents, to build your industry knowledge and give you a sense of what each agent is selling, and what recent successes they’ve enjoyed. Overall, try to get a feel for the tone of the agency to make sure they’re the right fit for you personally as well as in business. Do you want an agency with one main agent, or an agency where your agent is one of many, or do you want a more bespoke style of client care from an agent with a small or up-andcoming list? This will come across on their website and social media.

Not always straightforward

So why research? Put simply, agents are human! They have personal tastes which they combine with their industry knowledge to champion new writers. When asked what they’re looking for, most agents say they need to love the writing. It’s reasonable to suppose that an agent who represents lots of grisly, fast-paced crime novels is unlikely to also represent a quiet, introspective literary work – that’s quite a shift in taste. Taste goes further than just genre, too. If you write in an informal, comic firstperson voice, for example, take a look at the agent’s client list. Does your writing style look at home with the rest of their titles? Or are most of their clients’ novels written in a serious, thirdperson narrative? Prioritise submitting to agents whose authors’ styles are closely aligned to yours. It might look like a lot of extra work doing this research, but if you’ve put in all that hard work writing a book in the first place, it’s reasonable to put some work into finding it the right home. Also, if you mention in your covering letter that your book complements their author list they’ll see that you’re approaching them with a professional and well-researched manner. With a bit of clever thinking and pre-submission research you’ll vastly improve your chances of getting your book published and hopefully skip the dozen or so rejection letters that we writers dread.

Agents are human! They have personal tastes which they combine with their industry knowledge to champion new writers.

Research isn’t always plain sailing. At older agencies, new agents often acquire long-standing or historic clients, such as a writer’s estate, which can confuse research. If in doubt, pay more attention to the newer clients who might only have one or two books to their name. It is less likely they will be ‘inherited’ and so are better measures of what the agent is attracted to. Nowadays larger agencies sometimes discourage submissions to specific agents, and instead have a centralised submissions portal from which a pool of readers work. In these cases the best you can do is address your covering letter to the agent you think is best suited to your work. One potential problem, too, is over-saturation. Watson, Little caution against pitching work to an agent who represents something too similar to your work, as it would be in direct competition with their existing author. In fiction this is less likely to occur but an example might be in current affairs, such as too many titles commemorating an historic event or in

p26 Research agent.indd 27

response to a recent political crisis. Agents don’t always make it easy for writers. Sometimes agents give seemingly vague or subjective tips on what they’re looking for, and with good reason. ‘I’m just looking for something I love,’ is an example. This is because no agent wants to miss out on the Next Big Thing, and they’ll know it when they read it. But the reality is that from a day-to-day perspective, agents have a niche that they work within, and so the best way to find yourself an agent is to track down the person best suited to represent your work.



20/12/2016 09:28



On writing

From the


Tony Rossiter explores great words from great writers

Be wary trying to second guess the market, cautions agent Piers Blofeld © Gary Doak/Writer Pictures


The only skill any writer needs is the ability to see his or her work from the other side. That is, to put him or herself in the position of the reader.



t’s difficult to be objective about your own work. Putting yourself in the shoes of the reader is a pretty good principle for any kind of writing. It’s not easy, getting inside the reader’s head, but that’s what a writer needs to do. Try to put some distance – and time – between the writing and the reading-over of what you have written. That usually makes it easier to step back and take a look at your work from the other side – from the reader’s perspective. If, for example, you’re writing for young children, try to remember what it was like to be young yourself. Times change, but the way children think and react has probably changed little over the years. Market-test what you have written on some real children. Show it or read it to your own children or grandchildren or your friends’ children. You might be able to go a step further and set up an organised reading in your local school or library. Chances are, if children find your stuff baffling or boring, they’ll tell you! They are more likely than adults to give you an honest opinion. Whatever you write, it’s worthwhile testing it out on some real readers. There are several ways of doing this. Trying it out on friends or relatives probably won’t cut the mustard. Joining a writing group is a better alternative, especially if it’s a group whose members read a lot and are prepared to give honest and constructive feedback – even better, if some of them read the kind of stuff you write. Social media is another alternative. Many online writing groups provide opportunities to give and receive feedback. Perhaps you’re aiming at the huge magazine market? Most editors take pride in knowing their readers’ likes, dislikes and expectations. They will look at any submission they receive through their readers’ eyes. If you’re lucky enough to get a reaction (good or bad), take it on board and bend over backwards to meet the editor’s requirements. Whatever you write, try to put yourself in the position of a reader who is seeing it for the first time. That’s the key.



s I write this, just before Christmas, an agents thoughts turn, perhaps with worrying ease, to alcoholic beverages and one of the great truisms about publishing that it is, to a very great extent, all about putting old wine into new bottles. Truly original books are incredibly rare. One of the first questions agents get asked by aspiring authors is ‘what’s the new hot genre?’ It’s true, publishing loves a fad and over recent years there have been a fair few of them, from ‘adult romance’ (aka erotica) to psychological thriller, the Tudors to colouring in books, vampires to clean eating. One of the interesting things about 2016 is that there hasn’t been a major new bandwagon for everyone to pile on board and to be honest I think everyone is rather grateful for it. It certainly makes authors lives a bit easier. I always dread being asked by authors what the new trend is because I live in fear of people coming back to me two years later saying ‘remember how you told me to write an XXX novel, well here it is’ and my heart sinks because I know that train has well and truly left the station. The fact is that it is very hard indeed to know how long a trend will last – publishers generally do their best to kill the goose that lays the golden egg by all piling into the same area and massively over publishing it and that’s certainly what happened to the post 50 Shades adult romance boom. Other areas have proved surprisingly resilient. I don’t think any publisher foresaw quite how long lasting the domestic noir/psychological thriller market would be – I know that a year ago people thought that it was beginning to tail off, but then along came Girl on a Train and smashed every record. The Tudors are another surprisingly long lasting genre which shows little sign of fading away. But the reality is that it does all tend to go in cycles. Chick lit, which ten or fifteen years ago was dominating the charts, has in recent years faded right back – but it will have its day again. Funnily enough, talking about things that never truly die, it is vampires who are perhaps the clearest example of this truth. Ever since Bram Stoker they have waxed and waned in popularity, with each new generation finding a way of reinventing them in ways which seem relevant and fresh. So, authors who are on the lookout for the new hot area that publishers are keen to publish into have two choices. They either need to be fantastically quick at spotting a trend and get in there early or take a more considered look at the types of thing that work perennially and think long and hard about how to make that feel fresh and original. The first approach can yield terrific short-term results – often those big splashy advances that hit the news are for those sorts of books. The drawback is that when publishers overpay their expectations can be unrealistic and it is rare for those kinds of advances to lead to long careers. The second approach is liable to be more of a slog, but can result in a greater chance of turning one’s writing into a proper career.


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20/12/2016 09:24

? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?? ?? ? ? ? ? ?? ? ? ?? Ask a Literary Consultant ? ? ? ?? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?? ? ? ? ?? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?

Literary consultant Helen Corner-Bryant explains a structure exercise to help your story soar... and potentially sell



freedom to explore anything that comes to mind; if you do this with a friend who writes things down as you speak, together you may start to see a shape and whether you can sustain it within a novel. Once you have your cauldron of a story the next thing is to apply some structure and for this we favour the three-act graph. This is a two-part question: A-B, act one, tips your character into last month I covered what it the story with their emotional goal or means to be a published writer problem and is about set-up and setting. and this month I’ll take you through B-C, act two, is the mid-section the three-act graph that will allow you u If yo y er u with at least three rising tension to explore an idea or to use as a q a e av h , lp peaks that tests the character and diagnostic tool on a completed story. he to re he We’re n about moves the plot along. Without a When you have an idea on any questio d publishing the writing an compelling mid-section – which percolating or a voice that delivers : ail em se process. Plea is the bulk of your story – your that first line, have a go at mind er rit w r@ lfe jte e ritingmagazin book may fall flat. C-F, act three: mapping everything within it: your or tweet @w lt su on with #askalitc high point where the character’s character(s) and their emotional #wmcorner achieved everything and then you take conflict, set-up, setting, tiny details to everything away so they’re forced to add flavour and bold themes to explore, confront the climax on their own, and and lastly what happens within the story. a satisfying resolution that shows how a Don’t worry about sequential events or character has changed with plot threads cause and effect or even the full picture at tied up. Sound formulaic? Why not take this point, the main thing is to have the any story or film and see if you can see this rough shape in place. And once you know the rules you can play around with them. For instance, fantasy may take half the book with Act 1, a thriller may start with part of the climax, and so on. This exercise can take minutes and acts as a springboard for your idea, or you can apply it to your completed novel to see if there are any holes. You may even find that your minor character should take centre stage or much of the book is actually backstory and therefore should start in a different place. One of my favourite stories of this

I’ve given myself a year to get published so I can’t afford to waste time developing something that’s never going to get anywhere. I have many stories but how do I know which of my stories will sell?


working effectively is Sarwat Chadda, who came to Cornerstones with three ideas which we combined using the above exercise, into what became Devil’s Kiss. This simple structure exercise allowed him the freedom to explore his story from the outset, and then his talent as a writer, to make it exceptional. He wrote 500,000 words, crunched it down to 60,000, and then sold it for significant figures in the US and UK. How do I know if my story will sell? Aside from the given character conflict it should have at least some of these ingredients: high concept, driving plot, unique voice, stunning style... Take Things We Have In Common by Tasha Kavanagh, whose character will do anything to get a friend and then anything to keep one. Driving plot – Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity series or The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell. Something ‘other’ – The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge. Beautiful writing style, heart and romance, I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith. A twist on the genre, Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik – a Muslim Bridget Jones. All of these have a distinct structure underpinning it – an invisible cord that gives events, characters, and plot, a cause and effect and a sense of satisfaction and thrill to the reader. Structure is one of the hardest things to change once the story is written. Whether it’s a rough idea before you write or an ongoing structure as you write don’t forget your three-act graph friend to fill in those holes and map the story that is destined to fly.

The UK’s leading literary consultancy Want to know if your manuscript is good enough to attract an agent? Has your plot come to a standstill and you need a professional editor’s opinion? Looking to publish and want to make your manuscript print-ready?

Cornerstones has been invaluable in providing a clear, no holds barred critique which encouraged me to stretch myself as a writer. Their feedback helped me gain an agent and a book deal.

Amanda Addison, Laura’s Handmade Life, Little Brown

Structural editing, copyediting and proofreading Scouts for literary agents Listed by the Society of Authors

Call Helen Corner-Bryant 01308 897374 • FEBRUARY 2017 Cornerstones 1/4 landscape.indd 1 p29 Helen Cornerstones.indd 29


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0113 200 2917 Code: WM/CWC/Feb17 14/12/2016 11:56

The variety show There are advantages to being a hybrid writer, argues Adrian Magson


discovered a while back, courtesy of a friend who likes to put labels on people, that I’m a hybrid. Not, as my wife suggested wryly, a failed experiment in genetic engineering, of a clumsy scientist dropping a petri dish, nor of simply possessing a short attention span (okay, which I do). Instead, I’m a writer who is published in both paper and ebook formats, selfpublished and ‘traditionally’ published. Once I’d got over the initial few seconds picturing myself as the next Muscly Masked Man in a Marvel action movie: WritorMan – you have to say in a deep voice for it to work; or maybe Supernib. Perhaps not… Anyway, I realised I’d been a hybrid in the real sense ever since I began writing, which was a long time ago. I started out with short fiction, a lot of it in women’s magazines. There wasn’t much crime, which is my preferred focus, but it was interspersed with attempts at full-length thrillers, along with numerous features, a brief and sad attempt at poetry, a play and some radio comedy writing. Oh, and greeting cards, T-shirts and beer mats for a while. Like I said, short attention span. However, all that variation and experimentation has been no bad thing, something I’ve always recommended to writers looking to gain a foothold in this ever-shifting industry. TOS (try other stuff ). The simple fact, to me at least, is that a hybrid author is one who makes the most of all available options. Whether that means writing across more than one genre, mixing fiction with features or paper with digital, a lot of authors do it and enjoy the freedom. There are several reasons for pursuing the hybrid approach, most of them to do with the physical writing itself, and how it can impact on your day.

Variety We all need more than one way of filling our day. Relaxing or working, there comes a time when you look for something different to do, whether it’s turning over a TV channel or tackling something at work that promises to be a bit more challenging than the usual allotted task. In writing, it’s easy to become stale without knowing it, which is usually when your output is exceeded only by your deletions.

Spontaneity Sometimes you develop this nagging desire to write something completely off-the-cuff. Most of the time reason will overcome adventure because you’re keen to get a particular project finished. But why not consider, one day, just writing that mad idea and seeing where it leads? Will it really bring Armageddon if you abandon your usual output of romantic fiction and write a chiller-thriller instead? If your chuck off your creative corset – steady guys – and go for broke even if you’ve never tried it before? Spontaneity is a good thing, and if an idea has been lurking beneath the surface for a while, and seems to have legs, then it’s worth giving it a chance to flourish in the open air and see where it goes.

Interest Few people talk about writing being interesting – by that I mean of interest to a writer while grinding out the words. As I learned many years ago, if you’re interested in your job, you’ll usually become more successful at it than if you can’t wait for the day to end. I look for interest in every angle, whether it’s the research, the editing, the buzz of developing characters… even the idea of coming up with something different.

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Find your strengths... We are each of us better at doing some things than others. Personally, I’m good when it comes to making stuff, but not so hot at gardening. Apparently it’s something to do with not knowing the difference between flowers and weeds, which probably explains why my occasional suggestions for a weed gun (aka – flamethrower) are met with silence and a curled lip. In writing terms, as in all things, it’s better – and more satisfying in the long run – to play to your strengths. But unless you hit the ground running from day one and have no reservations, you have to experiment to find out what those strengths are. Find your preferred genre, the one you enjoy rather than simply endure, and you’re in with a chance of success because it will lift you and that alone will show in your writing.

…or weaknesses Boredom, conversely, shows up like a bad smell. And this is where you need to be ruthless with yourself. Recognise that something isn’t working, maybe for the umpteenth time of trying, and take a serious look at your output. If something sucks, and you can’t find a way of lifting it, then maybe it’s not meant to work.

No rules The main distinction in hybrid writing is currently focused on those following the self-epublishing and the ‘traditional’ route. This is where the world really is your oyster. There are no rules to say you can’t do both, and if anyone says there are, I would politely disagree. If you want writing to provide your income, the more you do, the wider you try, the better your chances are of making it happen.

top tips •D  on’t be frightened of trying something different. There are no rules to stop you. • Analyse what you’re doing and be honest with yourself: can I make this work?  ake the most of all available options. If you •M don’t try, you can’t know. • Writing is to be enjoyed, not suffered. Garrets and starving are not absolute musts for writers.



20/12/2016 10:24


Red Editing Pen Each month, we give you a few sentences which would all benefit from some careful use of your red editing pen. As writers, and regular readers of Writing Magazine, you should not find any of these too difficult. But if you would welcome a little help, you can always check out Richard Bell’s suggested solutions below. Here are this month’s examples:


Clive paid a generous complement to his editor when he apologised for presenting her with such a torturous manuscript on a badly worn hard disc.


Although Cynthia had tried to martial her thoughts before the meeting, she was fortuitous to avoid too much questioning about her off shore investments


As much as Roger wanted to refute adverse comments about his writing style, he recognised that his use of long sentences partially invited the criticism.



In the first sentence we repeat a very common mistake with the use of compliment. To compliment someone (or something) is to say nice things about them. On the other hand complement is to go well together with another person or thing and to contribute to its completeness; so we could say that ‘the curtains complemented the furnishings’, but we do pay compliments. We also need to be careful, later in the sentence, with the use of torturous – which has to do with inflicting pain. It is tortuous that means very lengthy and complex, or full of twists and turns – and which would be more appropriate in this context. At the end of the sentence we refer to a hard disc. While disc with a c is acceptable spelling, in the context of computers and technology we should use the k spelling and have disk.


Our first problem in sentence two is the use of martial – a word that has to do with military – while it is marshal that is concerned with organising things in the right order that we should be using here. Moving on to the word fortuitous, this is also a problem; things are fortuitous when they occur by accident or chance – if they occur simply as a result of good fortune we should opt for the word fortunate. Finally, let us look at the term off shore investments. 32


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Have these words reach the stage by which they should be hyphenated, to give off-shore? Or even merged to give the single word offshore? The latter word, offshore, is now the accepted spelling and should be used in this sentence.


It is always a good idea to get rid of any superfluous words that may find their way into our writing, and the opening words in our sentence three are good example. In the expression as much as we can certainly omit the first as to leave us with much as Roger wanted which would work perfectly well. Later in the same sentence we use the word refute when we should perhaps simply use the word deny. When we deny anything we just state that it is untrue. If we want to progress further than a straightforward denial and produce data or other evidence to demonstrate that something is untrue, then it can be said that we are refuting it. Toward the end of the sentence we refer to something that partially invited criticism. However, we should really use partially in the sense of being incomplete (as in his novel was partially completed) or to a limited extent (as in his writing efforts were only partially successful) When we want to convey the meaning of ‘in part’ we should use partly and the end of this sentence should therefore read: partly invited the criticism.

20/12/2016 09:31


How I got published Crime writer Thomas Mogford tells Dolores Gordon Smith that he had to learn plotting, precision and persistence to achieve his goal of publication


ongratulations on your debut,” people would say when my first book was published in 2012. I would nod appreciatively, not wanting to bore them with the fact that Shadow of the Rock was technically my fifth book, and that ten years had elapsed since I’d finished my first. So how did the breakthrough happen? ‘I put it down to the three Ps. First, plotting. I was always clear on how my book would start, but I was so keen to get cracking that I didn’t give much thought to how it would end. It’ll work itself out, I told myself. It didn’t. The first three chapters often seemed to grab an agent’s interest, but pretty soon they would discover that the rest of the book seemed to fizzle out. Even when I was signed up by an agent who encouraged me to write a new book, the same damp squib ensued. I needed to find the discipline to plot my books out to the end. So I invested the time to work out a detailed synopsis, and persuaded my wife to read it – and point out the holes. It was a fairly lengthy (and painful) process – Shadow of the Rock’s synopsis went through at least twenty iterations until the denouement finally clicked. Only then did I start to write – and this time it worked. ‘Precision. As the rejection letters mounted, I noticed that many shared a common denominator – concern that my writing “fell between two stools”. I felt like a drunk barfly, so often did I hear the phrase. The “stools”, in my case, were literary and crime fiction. Pick a stool, was the advice. Be precise. So I gorged myself on crime fiction and set about writing a book that fitted into the genre. ‘Persistence. Don’t feel that time spent writing stuff that doesn’t get published is wasted. One, you get better the more you write, so do it as often and as well as you can. Two, as time passes and you keep going, you’ll get to know more people in publishing – and the more senior they will become. It was a friend who worked in publishing who recommended Nicola Barr at Greene and Heaton. A few weeks later, she’d managed to place Shadow of the Rock with Bloomsbury and secure a two-book deal. Being persistent improves your chances of that lucky break.’ Website:

TOP TIPS: • Keep an ear open for new agencies starting up. My first agent was a publisher who’d switched jobs. He was actively seeking clients and had fewer submissions because he was less established.

Nicola Barr of Greene & Heaton, Thomas’s agents, says: ‘When Thomas asked if I’d say something about what first drew me to his novel, Shadow of the Rock, he self-effacingly added, “if you remember”. It made me realise it was over five years ago now that I first read his lovely debut novel and the first in his Spike Sanguinetti crime series of which there are now five. And of course the truth is I remembered exactly what drew me, and exactly how I felt on reading it. ‘It’s true that Thomas had, all by himself, figured out that literary crime would allow his own particular talents to shine, and the plotting of Shadow of the Rock is very fine indeed, and there wasn’t ever much that changed. But the thing with first reading Thomas is how at ease you feel as a reader. ‘Simply put, he writes sentences, his characters speak like real people speak, they are three-dimensional and fully formed. You never for a second think of the person toiling away behind, creating them. There is a delightful quotidian nature to how his characters’ act. His kitchen table scenes, as I call them, where the characters’ personalities emerge as they go about their domestic duties, are what I recall most vividly, looking back. ‘The story starts one humid summer night in Gibraltar, when lawyer Spike Sanguinetti arrives home to find an old friend, Solomon Hassan, waiting on his doorstep. Solomon is on the run, accused of a brutal murder in Tangiers. He has managed to skip across the Straits but the Moroccan authorities want him back. Spike finds himself drawn into a dangerous game of secrets, corruption and murderous lies. ‘Over the five books, Thomas’s lawyer, Spike, has been through many scrapes, professional and personal, but I still see him most clearly when I think about the opening chapters of Shadow of the Rock. And knew that here was a character that was going to be loved by many readers.’

• Study the books you admire. Some of my early work faltered because I kept switching characters’ perspectives in a single chapter. By looking closely at how other authors did it, I was able to hone my craft.

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JULY 2015


20/12/2016 09:34

BIG tion i t e p Com


Write a short story featuring two World War II pilots to be featured at the Battle of Britain National Memorial


his month we are launching a special competition that gives readers the chance to create characters for two men who played leading roles at a turning point in British history. At Capel-le-Ferne, on the cliffs between Folkestone and Dover, stands the National Memorial to ‘The Few’, commemorating the Allied airmen who defied the German Luftwaffe in 1940. With invasion of Britain a distinct possibility, it was the aircrew of the Royal Air Force’s Fighter Command who were at the forefront of a national effort to resist Hitler’s plans, in what Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister, called ‘The Battle of Britain’. Mr Churchill also created the legend of ‘The Few’, declaring in a speech to the House of Commons on 20 August 1940 that, ‘Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.’ Fewer than 3,000 pilots and other aircrew, who flew with Fighter Command between 10 July and 31 October 1940, qualified for the award, announced in 1945, of a Battle of Britain Clasp to be worn on the 1939-1945 Star. They are listed on the Christopher Foxley-Norris Memorial Wall at Capel-le-Ferne, the names hinting at the wide variety of nationalities which came to fight for the United Kingdom. Alongside the British were airmen from countries including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Newfoundland, South Africa, France, Belgium, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Ireland and the United States. More than 500 died during the fighting. In the autumn of 2016 the number of survivors was only just into double figures, the youngest of them aged 94. At the forefront of the fighting were single seat Hurricanes and Spitfires, but multi-crewed aircraft also took part. The National Memorial was the brainchild of one of The Few, Wing Commander Geoffrey Page, who had been shot down and terribly burned as a Hurricane pilot. His dream came true in 1993 when Her Late Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother 34


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unveiled the memorial. It consists of a seated airman sitting staring out to sea, apparently waiting for the next call to action. He is wearing an Irvin jacket, so we cannot tell his rank, nationality or whether or not he is a pilot. Over the years there has been development at the memorial site, though the ability to contemplate quietly the heroism shown in 1940 is still a major feature. In 2015 a new visitor centre, The Wing, was completed and, in March that year, crowds of people defied heavy rain to see the centre opened by Her Majesty the Queen, accompanied by His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. The Wing includes the Geoffrey Page Centre, where parties of schoolchildren come to learn about the Battle of Britain, a database of all the Allied airmen who took part and the Cockpit Cafe, offering spectacular views to France on a clear day. However, the most spectacular part of The Wing is the Scramble Experience, in which visitors can immerse themselves in information, much of it interactive, about the aerial fighting. A film, running regularly, depicts a few hours in the lives of Hurricane pilots in August 1940. They are shown, wearing their ‘Mae West’ life jackets, chatting and trying to relax as they wait for the next ring of the telephone. Many pilots who lived through the Battle of Britain would say that, even in old age, the ringing of their phone at home, could make them jump, even leap up, as memories of those dispersal points on airfields in 1940 came storming back. Often the ringing phone at the airfield could be to announce a mundane matter, such as the imminent arrival of the NAAFI van bringing refreshments. In the film, after one such false alarm, a pilot rushes out of the hut where he had been sitting and vomits. Eventually there would be the shout of ‘Scramble!’ meaning, ‘Take off immediately, the enemy is coming!’ One pilot who fought in the Battle of Britain stood in the Scramble Experience and watched the film several times. He became

20/12/2016 09:36

SOME OF THE CONVERSATION BETW EEN BERNARD AND TOM BERNARD (Pulling a silk scarf from his neck and putting it in his pocket) A nice I cup of tea I think… Tea for you?

(No response from Tom)

TOM No thank you

NAAFI tea, nothing slipped into it – scout’s honour! Biscuit?

BERNARD (sensing that Tom is troubled) But it’s Darjeeling. The champagne of tea!

TOM Thanks but I have letters to write.

(No response) BERNARD (still trying to raise Tom’s spirits)

(Sounding like a waiter) Perhaps sir would care for Assam – rich dark... malty?

And after the distresse d

BERNARD Some of the guys he re are very experienc ed, some have a natural talen t for aerial combat and some, like me, are just luc ky, but we can all th row up. Here have my lucky scarf – probably mor e useful to you – you’ve only had ten hours on H urries! (pulling scarf from po cket)

BERNARD Cheers (drinks tea) Remember, old chap, Popeye wasn’t strong till he had his spinach.

emotional and said: ‘It’s the closest I’ve seen to the real thing.’ Perhaps the ‘stars’ of the film are two pilots talking on and off in the hut. One is a Sergeant, known only as ‘Tom’, who is clearly very inexperienced. He may have merely been with the squadron for a day or two. The other is ‘Bernard’, a more senior Flying Officer, who talks in a world-weary way about his experiences. Bernard has seen plenty of action, but experience and world weariness came quickly in 1940. Perhaps he had only been in the fighting for a couple of weeks. At the height of the Battle of Britain, flying from stations such as Biggin Hill, Croydon, Kenley and Tangmere, pilots like Bernard and Tom lived in a world where there might be several scrambles a day. Death was constantly with them. Comrades came and went. Some lasted less than a week. One Hurricane pilot was killed on his first day with a squadron, his car still parked outside the officers’ mess with his luggage. Yet there was a great contrast. Evenings might be spent in country pubs, or perhaps in London clubs. Some were even able to go home to their wives, knowing that a few hours later, unless the weather was bad, they would be fighting for their lives again. That is how men like Tom and Bernard lived in 1940. However, we are asking readers to write 1,500-1,700 words telling us how they arrived at that point in their lives. Where did Tom and Bernard come from? What was their family life or education like? Why did they join the RAF? What sort of men were they? Before you start writing, see the brief script extract above and watch an extract from the ‘Tom and Bernard’ film at:

TOM (Smiling) You can’t give away your lucky scarf. BERNARD (Laughing) I’ve got another on e. (pulling another scarf from pocket) A gift from a lady.

TAP HERE TO ENTER Send us a story, 1,500-1,700 words, filling in some of the background to the stories of Tom and Bernard, by 15 March. For details of how to submit, see p107 or tap here to visit our website.

Good luck! If you have the opportunity to visit the National Memorial to the Few ( you will be able to gain access to the memorial itself on foot at any time. The Wing is normally open every day, apart from a period over Christmas and the New Year

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pilot runs outside



22/12/2016 11:26

The style and technique of



On the centenary of his birth, Tony Rossiter examines a writer who produced one of the twentieth century’s most original and controversial novels


wish people would think of me as a musician who writes novels, instead of a novelist who writes music on the side,’ he once said. His fondest dream was recognition as a composer – an ambition realised posthumously with his inclusion in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Anthony Burgess was almost forty when he wrote his first novel, but once he got going there was no stopping him. His prolific output included more than thirty novels, 25 works of non-fiction and two volumes of autobiography. He was also a respected and prolific critic, as well as a playwright, screenwriter, essayist, travel writer and translator (to say nothing of his substantial output as a composer). But he’s remembered, above all, for his dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange (1962).

How he began John Anthony Burgess Wilson was born into a Catholic family in Manchester. He wanted to study music, but his application to the music department of the Victoria University of Manchester was turned down because of poor grades in physics. Instead, he studied English language and literature. In 1942 he joined the Army Education Corps. Stationed in Gibraltar, he was a lecturer in speech and drama – work which he continued when he left the Army in 1946. He then taught for four years at Banbury Grammar School before joining the Colonial Service as an education officer and teacher. Posted to Malaya in 1954, he began to devote 36


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some of his free time to creative writing. This resulted in the publication of his first novels, Time for a Tiger (1956), The Enemy in the Blanket (1958) and Beds in the East (1959). These became known as the Malayan Trilogy and were later published in one volume as The Long Day Wanes. Burgess’s life was always one of the main sources of his fiction.   He was invalided home in 1959, diagnosed with a brain tumour and given only a year to live. Cushioned financially by savings during his time in the East and by a sum of money his wife had inherited, he decided to become a full-time writer. Talking about this years later, he said: ‘I got on with the task of turning myself into a professional writer… it meant then, as it still does, the pursuit of a trade or calling to the end of paying the rent and buying liquor. I leave the myth of inspiration and agonised creative inaction to the amateurs. The practice of a profession entails discipline, which for me meant the production of two thousand words of fair copy every day, weekends included. Two thousand words a day means a yearly total of 730,000.’ During that ‘terminal year’, he wrote – believe it or not – five and a half novels. ‘It was just a matter of working hard every day,’ he said. ‘Working very hard every day – and all day – including the evenings.’ The diagnosis of a brain tumour proved to be mistaken, as Burgess had suspected. However, the habit of hard work, acquired when he was determined to make the most of whatever time he had left, remained with him for the rest of his life.

A Clockwork Orange Inspiration for Burgess’s best-known novel came from several sources. In London during the Second World War his wife Lynne was assaulted and raped during the black-out by four deserters from the US Army. In Gibraltar, Burgess found himself working alongside a language teacher who had a strong communist ideology. When he returned to Britain after his time in the Far East, he was struck – and dismayed – by the youth culture of coffee bars, pop music and teenage gangs. The immediate stimulus for the novel was a visit he made in 1961 to Leningrad, where he experienced the repressive atmosphere of a centrallycontrolled state. One night he was eating dinner at a restaurant when a gang of bizarrely dressed teenagers pounded on the door. Burgess thought they were targeting him as a westerner, but they stepped aside when he left. A Clockwork Orange was written in Hove after he returned from Leningrad. He later described it as ‘a jeu d’esprit knocked off for money in three weeks’. The novel is the first-person account of a juvenile delinquent, Alex, who has a passion for classical music and a love of violence. He and his three friends commit random acts of brutality, including rape and murder. When he is caught, he undergoes state-controlled aversion therapy – psychological rehabilitation which conditions him to find acts of violence repellent. This seems to cure his aberrant behaviour, but it removes both his capacity to enjoy classical music and his ability to act freely – to choose between good and evil. To that extent,

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the novel is in the tradition of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four, in which people are conditioned by state-imposed fear, and Huxley’s Brave New World, where they are conditioned by state-imposed drugs. A Clockwork Orange is Burgess’s most original, as well as his most widely read, novel – thanks in part to the invented teenage slang, Nadsat, based largely on Russian. The book’s opening sentences give the flavour: What’s it going to be then, eh?’ There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up rassoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry. The Korova Milkbar was a milk-plus mesto, and you may, O my brothers, have forgotten what these mestos were like, things changing so skorry these days, and everybody very quick to forget, newspapers not being read much neither. Here Burgess seamlessly incorporates several Russian words, and the reader is unlikely to have much difficulty understanding droog (friend), rassoodock (mind), mesto (place) and skorry (quickly). With its negative portrayal of a government that seeks to solve social problems by removing freedom of choice, A Clockwork Orange has been seen in part as an attack on communism. But the dystopian world of the novel owes just as much to those elements of British and American society (such as pop music) that Burgess detested.  In the final chapter of the book Alex grows up and realises that ultraviolence is a bit of a bore, and it’s time he had a wife and a malenky googoogooing malchickiwick (little goo-gooing baby boy). However, this last chapter was cut from the American edition of the book – and it was this which was adapted into the controversial 1971 film made by Stanley Kubrick. Burgess agreed to the omission of the final chapter because, with his agent reluctant to promote it, he thought the publisher was ‘being charitable in accepting the work at all,’ and he wanted to make some money out of the book. A good many critics found the final, twenty-first chapter of the book anticlimactic. They preferred the American version, and Burgess came to think that perhaps they knew best. But in 1985 he wrote: ‘The book I am best known for, or only known for, is a novel I am prepared to repudiate:

it became known as the raw material for a film which seemed to glorify sex and violence. The film made it easy for readers of the book to misunderstand what it was about, and the misunderstanding will pursue me until I die.’ The American version of the novel became a cult classic among college students, and Burgess acknowledged that it was Kubrick’s film that made the book a bestseller: ‘Films help the novels they’re based on, which I both resent and am grateful for. My Clockwork Orange paperback has sold over a million in America, thanks to dear Stanley.’ 

Other writing Working in the tradition of Kipling in India, Conrad and Maugham in Southeast Asia and Orwell in Burma, it was Burgess’s ambition to become ‘the true fictional expert on Malaya.’ He followed his Malayan Trilogy with Devil of a State (1961) set in a fictionalised version of Brunei. Of his numerous other novels, perhaps the most noteworthy are his comic Enderby Quartet, begun in 1964 with Inside Mr Enderby (1964), and Earthly Powers (1980). Earthly Powers was shortlisted for the Booker prize and is regarded by many critics as Burgess’s best novel. It’s a parody of a blockbuster novel – a panoramic saga of 20th-century life as told by an 81-year-old man (believed to have been based loosely on Somerset Maugham). According to Malcolm Bradbury, it ‘summed up the literary, social and moral history of the century with comic richness as well as encyclopaedic knowingness’. Burgess’s two acclaimed volumes of memoirs, Little Wilson and Big God (1987) and You’ve Had Your Time (1990), were described by one critic as ‘his best novels, his masterpieces’. In these it’s not easy to distinguish fact from fiction – to work out where real life ends and art takes over. Some of the people (former teachers, Army colleagues) depicted in these volumes were put out by Burgess’s fictional embellishments. He wrote critical studies of Joyce, Shakespeare, Hemingway and Lawrence. Last but by no means least, Burgess was a prodigious and highly regarded literary journalist, writing more than 400 reviews and other pieces for the Guardian and the Observer, and reviewing more than 350 novels in a two-year spell for the Yorkshire Post.

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How he wrote For over thirty years Anthony Burgess wrote 2,000 words every day. He was driven by a need to put as many words down on paper as his lifetime would allow; he did not believe in wasting time. He would often write more than one book at a time and then compose music in the evenings to relax. In Malaya he acquired the habit of writing in the afternoon, after he had finished work. Once he was a fulltime writer he worked both morning and afternoon. He believed that the morning was a writer’s conscious time, but that in the afternoon, when the body was quiescent, the unconscious mind could assert itself. As a literary critic he was renowned for his speed and punctuality in submitting copy. ‘Good journalistic manners tend to lead to a kind of self-discipline in creative work,’ he said in an interview for the Paris Review. ‘It’s important that a novel be approached with some urgency. Spend too long on it, or have great gaps between writing sessions, and the unity of the work tends to be lost.’ Although he charted each novel a little in advance, often with a synopsis and a list of names, he believed over-planning was fatal to creativity. He considered that his unconscious mind and the act of writing itself were the indispensable props. He liked to run through a scene in his mind before writing it down, seeing everything happen and hearing some of the dialogue. His method of writing was to get one page finished to his complete satisfaction before moving on to the next. He revised and corrected as he went along: ‘I don’t write drafts,’ he said. ‘I do page one many, many times and move on to page two. I pile up sheet after sheet, each in its final state, and at length I have a novel that doesn’t – in my view – need any revision.’ He did a great deal of reviewing. ‘It’s good for a writer to review books he is not supposed to know anything about or be interested in,’ he said. ‘Doing reviewing for magazines like Country Life… means doing a fine heterogeneous batch, which often does open up areas of some value in one’s creative work. Reviewing LéviStrauss’s little lecture on anthropology (which nobody else wanted to review) was the beginning of the process which led me to write the novel MF. I had to review books on stable management, embroidery, car engines – very useful solid stuff, the very stuff of novels.’ FEBRUARY 2017


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Hilary Johnson July UPDATED.indd 1

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HUMOUR SHORT STORY COMPETITION A short story is the perfect vehicle for humour writing, but it’s rare for WM writers to enter funny stories in our regular monthly competitions, so we want something different this month. Whether with wry satire or outright farce, all you have to do is make us laugh.

£250 TO BE WON

Your story should be the usual 1,500-1,700 words and the closing date is 15 March. The winner will receive £200, with £50 for the runner-up, and both stories will be published in Writing Magazine. See p107 for entry details, full rules and entry forms.


£25B0 E TO WON

STILL TIME TO ENTER With its closing date of 15 February, there’s still time to enter last month’s Dialogue-only Short Story Competition, for which your story must contain nothing but dialogue. Just let the characters do the talking. Length and prizes are as above. See p107 for more details.

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1 , 0 0 0 - WO R D S H O R T S TO RY C O M P E T I T I O N

Draw what

you see by Andrea Sarginson

Love r y to short setition comp

r Winne


he is good at portraits. Always has been. Drawing has been her real talent, especially of the human body. It is the talent that forms who she is, what she has done. She understands structures beneath a soft surface. Can judge weight, density, knows how emotion alters flesh. Her pencil draws a tentative outline. She loves the sweep of curves. The feeling in her wrist. She thinks of her husband. Today’s model is elderly, wrinkled. A pensioner. Finding something to do in retirement. He’s bald. Almost completely. A rounded head, shiny but bruised and battered from bumps on low lintels. A few white hairs straggle into his neck meeting the whiskery stubble around his jaw. He wears his own clothes. They’re only doing heads today but even if they aren’t shown, clothes are part of a portrait: indicative of character, part of who a person is. The grey collar is crumpled. She can see tiny threads sticking up from the fold marking it as worn, even threadbare. The dark red jumper over his shirt has little bobbles on the sleeve and over the chest where his car seat belt rubs. Lumpy hands relax, one on top of the other, on trousers that are old, fixed with creases from hours of sitting. His dull dusty shoes fasten with hook tape. 40


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Andrea is a late beginner at serious creative writing, starting only five years ago in retirement when she took an Open University course. She belongs to a creative writing group in Rochdale and contributed prose and poetry to a booklet of selected writings published by Rochdale Co-operative to mark the centenary of the battle of Gallipoli. Her writing is largely inspired by her past careers and is generally based on medicine, art history (especially war and medieval art) and spiritualty.

Old men’s shoes. Comfy. To the face now. She sees how the lines have been formed from smiles, anguish, and she notices how they have quickly settled into repose with a model’s slickness, allowing him to drift away to inhabit his own thoughts. His eyes gaze fixedly, practised, up to where the corner of the wall meets the ceiling above and behind her. Brown irises. Can she make out the creamy rim of age around the edge of them as they swim in a pale yellow sea under heavy lids? Only draw what is there, not what you think is there. Yes, she can see the blurred outline of the iris – just. His nose is strong, rather Roman with a small bump near the tip like a little wart. The aquiline honesty of the nose reminds her of her father. He had once bought her the book that had wakened her interests. They had been in a second hand book shop when he was searching for a novel to read over ‘Wakes Week’, his holiday from the factory. She had left him engrossed in the ‘Wild West’ and wandered alone, with a child’s curiosity, around the mysterious labyrinthine musty shelves and found a section labelled

‘Medical’. At her low eye level she had been attracted to a hard covered, dark blue book with leaden gold lettering on the spine, ‘The Anatomy of Illness and Injury. 1903 edition’. Inside the hard cover, yellowed pages pressed together for nearly one hundred and fifty years were squashed into a thickness of one inch. They rustled delicately and flapped like the wings of a butterfly. Every smooth surface had held a magic world of drawings. Drawings of wounds, deformities, insides of bodies. Lines accurately drawn, uncompromising. Showing everything except the secret places unless absolutely necessary. Empty triangles over breasts and genitals. The facts. Bare facts. She had copied the drawings endlessly. Most of those around her are starting out in art. She hears their sighs of despair and their frantic erasings as they contemplate the contour map of wrinkles. But she knows wrinkles. She had known every one on her husband’s face. Had seen how they became less deep in death with the soft light reflecting off the cream satin of the coffin lining. Rejuvenating light. Her husband had died suddenly.

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Little explanation had been given. His heart had given out. Her medical knowledge of so long ago was old fashioned and doctors treated her as if she knew nothing about the body. But oh, she knew so much. It had been her job and also… when you draw people, you seek what lies underneath but also that which you cannot see or touch. You seek that which is the essence of a person. She thinks of the faces in her old book. Only years later had she learned that the drawings hadn’t given the whole story. Ageless, they had been devoid of emotion. Not portraits, just blank staring faces. No character. No pain. Much later, she had discovered the work of an artist who painted the faces of the wounded soldiers of World War One. Seen torture in their eyes, slavering lips, the exploded inside out of their fleshy, young good looks. Paintings so unlike the book that had originally inspired her. Funny how something can inspire then be tossed aside when new knowledge, new inspiration renders it obsolete. She remembers the operating theatre where she had been a nurse, handing over gleaming instruments to a surgeon whose job it was to right wrongs. The body open and revealing everything. Nothing held back. How it worked. Intriguing. Shiny delicate insides. The inner workings, loose, floppy. Understood how the bones formed a framework and held the muscles and tendons. Enclosing. Holding what a person really was. She carries on scrutinising the face before her. In the spotlight. The shadow below the nose. The one under his top lip... wait a moment… the lines of the shadows are broken. His upper lip is slightly twisted. The light is just catching… a scar, hardly visible. Whiskers grow ever so slightly askance around it, over it. Maybe she’s the only person in the class who sees it. Recognises it. A face made good out of foetal misconstruction. Knows such a thing from her nursing days. A repaired hare lip. Re-modelled in childhood.

She remembers a medical student. That day in the operating theatre. His first day helping his consultant. Rubber-gloved hands trembling. Didn’t quite know what to do. He was shy. She was the scrub nurse and had said ‘Hello’. He had smiled back and she had noticed the fault in his sensuous upper lip. He was worried he would faint… and she had fallen in love. But she was shy of love. Didn’t recognise that love could be fleeting and required boldness to carry it through and make it stick. She could have asked him to the hospital ball just two weeks away but she reasoned that he would be going with someone else. He was handsome, desirable, a future doctor, and she was… well. So she didn’t ask. Didn’t think he might be as shy as she and afraid to ask anyone. She believed that love would find a way if it was meant to be. The hospital ball came and went. She saw him once after that, yards away walking from the labs. Her heart had leapt. She felt it in her neck. Then he was gone to another training hospital. But the love simmered within her and his face was imprinted on her artistic mind. She drew him on a piece of A4 cartridge paper. A soft 4B pencil formed the flesh and revealed the soul she saw behind it. Hair, blonde, almost lost against the light, unruly, fashionable, fell over his brow. Beneath, shadowed lines softened his eyes. Clear eyes… and his faulty lip melded gently into a smile meant EXPERT only for her. A crisp collar line of analysis sterile operating gown ended the TAP HERE portrait abruptly. re to ad the judge’s She had kept the portrait in her comments purse for years. Folded tight. A hard little rectangle. Then had put it to one side when she married. By then the drawing was smeared, the paper brown and tattered at the folded edges. Love had taken a long time to visit her again. Her marriage had been happy. Yes it had. Really happy. All she could have

Runner-up in the Love Story Competition, whose story is published on is Joanna Barnard, Rochdale, Lancashire. Also shortlisted were: Daren Carpal, Smethwick, West Midlands; Gladys Gregg, Londonderry, Northern Ireland; Patricia Jack-Graham, Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex; Peter Newton, Penarth, South Wales; Shelagh O’Grady, Poole, Dorset; Annie Percik, Enfield, Middlesex.

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wished for. It had been traumatic in the early days because he was separated from his wife and there were children but by then she had learned to fight for love. To labour at making it stick through the thick of it. She had been without her husband for a year now. This drawing class was a way to revive her talents, revisit the person she once was: perceptive. She had found the drawing a little while ago when clearing the old wardrobe, her wardrobe where her husband had laughingly said he would not venture because it held too many women’s things. Things he didn’t want to know about – knickers, bras, tights and remnants of their secret times saved to remember nights long gone. It was in an envelope. She had carefully unwrapped the tightly folded paper. Slowly. Butterflies’ wings. Laid it on the bed. The student’s face gazed up at her through the grid of disintegrating folds. His lip just a little twisted; almost undetectable but she had caught it with her pencil. Perfect art. So long a memory. Deep, deep inside her. She reflects that she had lived happily with her husband but had had this secret love tucked away dormant for years and it had affected nothing except popping up as a yearning every now and then. For it was a perfect love. A spiritual love. A love that could not exist in real life. A love yearned for. Funny how more than one love can exist side by side with neither demeaned. Love is not a single thing. It cannot be confined to one person. She looks more closely at the old face in front of her. She must capture the slight imperfection of the lip. It’s part of him. Draw what you see, not what you think you see. But the memories keep coming back. It’s hot in the room. She is the oldest here. Feels a migraine coming on. Must take a little break. Scrabbles in her bag for paracetamol. Finds her wrinkled purse. Opens it. Ah, there’s the packet… and next to it, old folded paper. Oh, memories, memories. Draw what you see, not what you think you see. But all she can see is a young face with a faulty smile.



22/12/2016 11:36


Radioa g ag Stay calm, remember why you’re there, and interviews should be enjoyable, says Jane Wenham-Jones


efore I was published I used to think it would be wonderful to be invited to talk about my book but I recently gave my first radio interview and I still haven’t recovered. I was so nervous the whole thing was a blur but it was a regional station with a listen-again facility and when I stupidly did that, I was mortified. I sounded very hesitant and dull and as if I didn’t know much about my own novel. The questions weren’t at all what I expected and I simply didn’t know how to answer some of them. Now I have been asked to attend a small literary festival in the spring and I am already having nightmares about doing this all over again in front of a live audience. Especially as I have been told there will be questions from the floor! I don’t want to upset my publisher by refusing but I am seriously dreading it. Can I ask for a list of all the questions beforehand so I can prepare for it? Or will that just annoy everyone? Please help! Shrinking Violet, Shropshire


isten-again is a very useful tool when it comes to catching up on The Archers but is sometimes best avoided if revisiting one’s own performance. Most people cringe the first time they hear themselves played back – I sounded 42


p42 Talk it over /novel ideas.indd 42

like Pollyanna on speed in my first radio interview, with a ridiculous high-pitched laugh that made my stomach turn over when I listened to the tape – but one learns as one goes on, and I’m quite sure that you were much better than you fear. Even if you were a little hesitant

it is important you don’t let this initial experience stop you accepting promotional opportunities in the future. Especially literary festivals, which are great fun and hugely enjoyable. And quite a different animal from an interview on air. For a start, the audience will be made up of avid readers who are there because they genuinely care about books and are really interested in what you have to say. So they will be on your side and when it is their turn to do so, will ask questions you will be able to answer. Remember that you do know all about your novel – you are an expert on it – and if the interviewer is worth his or her salt, he or she will pretty much be too. Radio show hosts, unless it is a dedicated book review show, may not have time to read the whole book – they have to interview lots of different guests on all sorts

20/12/2016 09:42


of different topics for only a few minutes each, so they are often working from the press release, AI sheet or back cover blurb only, which is maybe why the questions were a little off the wall. At a literary festival you can rest assured that your presenter will have read your work thoroughly and will be asking about that content. I would be amazed if you were asked anything you didn’t feel capable of expounding on in some form or other. I’d like you to hold onto that thought, because as far as the main part of the event is concerned, I’m not sure it is practical to demand all the questions beforehand. When I interview authors I tend to make it an organic process, responding as I go along to what they tell me – and I think this makes for a more interesting exchange than if one merely ploughs through a list. However, you can certainly ask to be in touch with the host earlier, by email perhaps, and find out in general what areas and topics they are planning to cover. There will be an opportunity to talk to the interviewer before the event begins too, and he or she should then be able to put you at your ease and chat to you about the way they see the conversation going. Having said all that, the best piece of advice I was ever given on the interviewee front was to think of Ann Widdecombe! What my advisor meant was that when interviewed, Ms Widdecombe was very adept – as are most politicians – at saying what she wanted to say rather than

bothering with the minor detail of what the question was. So think about what you would like to talk about. Have some anecdotes ready – how you became a writer, why you chose this particular theme for your book, any part of it that is based on a real experience, how you did your research etc. And if you don’t feel inspired by the way the discussion is going, take it in your own direction. I always encourage anyone I am on stage with to feel free to raise any question they want and am always pleased when they do. Many authors have a favourite story which makes for an entertaining session. If it will give you confidence, rehearse some tales or observations to yourself or a good friend, or ask the same friend to ask you all the questions they can think of about your book and your life as a writer – and practise your replies. These events are usually billed as an ‘in conversation’ so think of it as just that. Not simply as a series of questions you must answer, but the sort of dialogue you might have if you went out for coffee with someone who had read your book and become a fan. And if someone does by any chance ask you something that throws you, don’t panic. Simply give them and the rest of the audience a huge and charming smile and say: ‘Gosh I’ve never been asked that before! I’m not sure I can answer it – but I do always think…’ and smoothly change the subject to something you do know about. The greater the fund of material you’ve thought about before and have at your disposal, the easier this will be. Above all, try to relax. It is the presenter’s job to keep the chat flowing and all you have to do is follow along. You were right in your first assessment. It IS wonderful to be invited to talk about your book. So enjoy yourself. And good luck.

p42 Talk it over /novel ideas.indd 43

Novel Ideas


How many words should we write in how much time? Lynne Hackles has found the answer


hen I began writing short stories I was working four days a week, had two young children, was renovating a house and cycling around 200 miles a week. Weekends were for family. Wednesdays were my day off. Wednesdays were my writing days. I’d sit and write from when the kids went to school until they came home. Some Wednesdays I could squeeze out 3,000 words. When I injured my spine I had to give up work. Weekdays were empty. Suddenly there were at least thirty hours to spend writing. Guess how many words I turned out in those thirty hours? 3,000! Without work, going out, meeting people, having fun, I had nothing to write about. Short story plots dried up. Recently, I’ve been complaining that my life is so busy that finding time to write was becoming more difficult, yet I managed my regular columns and marked the work my Writing Magazine students sent in to me. ‘Tomorrow I’ll attempt a short story,’ I’d tell myself, and we all know tomorrow never comes. Then an email arrived from short story and serial writer Helen Yendall and it ended with words that gave me one of those light-bulb moments. Those words were in Helen’s final sentence. I scribbled them down on a piece of paper and stuck it on the wall above my desk. ‘Hope all’s well with you and you’re writing as much as you’d like.’ And herein lies the lesson for this month. Wannabe writers complain about not having time. Full-time writers have all the time in the world but they still procrastinate. The reality is that, whether you are a professional writer, an enthusiastic amateur, or a complete beginner, you can find the time if you want to write. If you don’t find enough time, or you find an abundance of it then, surely, you are writing ‘as much as you like’. FEBRUARY JANUARY 2017


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riter Pictures © David Sandison/W

Shelf life:

The poet and crime writer shares her five favourite reads with Judith Spelman


ophie Hannah is a poet but she is also an author of compelling psychological thrillers that have won her prizes and acclaim worldwide. Her poetry led her to being named as one of The Poetry Society’s Next Generation Poets and her work is studied at GCSE, A-Level and degree level. She has published five collections of poetry and if you haven’t read them, you should. They are warm and often funny, with a twist at the end. They make the reader think. She is a former Fellow Commoner in Creative Arts at Trinity College, Cambridge and junior research fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford. In 2014 Mathew Prichard, the grandson of Agatha Christie, who oversees her literary estate, agreed that Sophie, who admits to being a huge Christie addict, should write a ‘continuation’ of the Poirot novels. Her first Poirot book, The Monogram Murders, was well received by the book trade and a second, Closed Casket, was published in 2016.

THE POWER OF NOW Eckhart Tolle ‘My first choice is The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. It sounds very new age when you describe it. The subtitle is A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. Despite being quite new age and hippy-ish it’s been an absolutely huge global bestseller and it was one of the few spiritual books that really broke out into the mainstream. Everybody bought it and loved it and it made a huge impression. It’s probably the book that paves the way for all these mindfulness books that are now so successful. It’s called A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment but really it’s just a kind of guide to how to live in a less frustrating way than most people currently live. It’s very simple: it suggests that if you always focus on the present moment instead of regretting the past or worrying about the future then your life will be infinitely happier. The argument is the past doesn’t exist; it’s just your memory of the past in the present moment that exists and the future doesn’t exist, it’s just your thoughts about the future in the present moment that exists. By the time the future comes around and you have to deal with it, it will be the present. It’s a really simple idea. He obviously goes into more detail than that but it’s just a brilliant and enlightened way of looking at life and a sort of guide of how to get through life without suffering or causing suffering to others.’



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THE COLLECTED SONNETS OF EDNA ST VINCENT MILLAY ‘Then I have chosen The Collected Sonnets of Edna St Vincent Millay. She was the poet that I discovered when I was doing English Lit at University. One day I was in the university library feeling as depressed as anything – couldn’t bear the thought of reading all those essays by Eliot and Pound – and I stumbled by chance on this book of collected sonnets and I thought I’d have a look at it. There were all these incredibly witty, sharp, romantic, sad, happy, amazing poems by this woman written in the early 20th century. They felt so contemporary even though the language, in a way, was quite old-fashioned. There is the odd thee and thou but she basically writes about the men she’s in love with, the men who have disappointed her and she is almost like a previous generation version of Wendy Cope but American. I just fell in love with her poems and have read them avidly ever since.’

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THREE ACT TRAGEDY Agatha Christie ‘I had to choose an Agatha Christie, obviously, so I will choose Three Act Tragedy. One of the things I love about Agatha Christie is that she always tries to further extend the boundaries of what crime fiction is capable of containing. In Three Act Tragedy, which is a Poirot mystery, there are obviously three murders and the middle murder, the second murder, has a fairly conventional motive but the first murder and the third murder are done for such unusual reasons that had never been done before in crime fiction at that point. I think Three Act Tragedy is a really brave, genre-expanding, crime novel.’

THE BLACK PRINCE Iris Murdoch ‘My fourth book would be The Black Prince by Iris Murdoch. She is one of my all-time favourite writers. I think she is an absolute genius and The Black Prince is her best novel. It’s one of those novels that is everything at the same time because it seems to encompass every possible important part of life. It’s a love story, a story about frustrated ambition and professional rivalry, it’s a story about whether or not we can trust our closest friends, it’s a detective story and it’s really intriguingly ambiguous at the end. You really invest in trying to solve the mystery yourself. It’s possibly the best novel I’ve ever read – that or Wuthering Heights.’

COMING FROM BEHIND Howard Jacobson ‘Howard Jacobson’s first novel, Coming from Behind, is without doubt the funniest book I have ever read. It’s about a junior lecturer in a really grim polytechnic in the West Midlands. This chap has been to Cambridge and been given great expectations by being one of the young Cambridge graduate elite. The only job he can get on graduating is a job in this kind of third-tier polytechnic in the West Midlands. It is kind of a book of dashed hopes and how you have your hopes built up if you’re clever and then you have to adjust to the fact that actually you are working in a grotty, fairly ordinary place where everything you experience in your everyday life is a massive let-down. It’s written with such brilliant, sharp humour and perceptiveness that it’s just wonderful. Every sentence is funny. It really is a work of genius in my opinion and still his best novel even though he has written many more books.’

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write poetry at a much slower rate these days. I always read poetry as a child. I had a book called The Mother Goose Treasury which was full of rhyming verses and I had all the Dr Seuss books so from a very young age I was writing poetry and mystery stories and those are the two things I ended up writing. Writing a Poirot ‘continuation’ mystery happened by sheer coincidence. Just when the people who run Agatha Christie’s literary estate were starting to think that it was time to consider a continuation novel, it just so happened that my agent was having a meeting with an editor at HarperCollins and he said, out of the blue, that they should really think about getting Sophie Hannah to write a continuation Christie novel. That editor, the very next day, was having his meeting with the Christie people who said they were starting to think now would be the time... It was sheer coincidence of timing that brought us together and since we got together we all got on brilliantly and got quite excited about the subject. ‘It was a huge honour to be asked. But I wasn’t any more nervous about writing it than I am when I begin any book. Writing any book is hard and all my books matter to me. I also have a built in layer of security: both I and the Prichards wouldn’t have let the book see the light of day unless it was good enough. I am quite good at being critical of my own work and if I had written a book that I thought it was in any way substandard for Poirot and Christie I would have just said I was sorry I hadn’t been able to do it. ‘I don’t know how I manage to do so many things. I seem to do more than anyone else I know and I am constantly dashing about doing events and interviews. I try and say yes to anything I’m asked to do and now I’m writing Poirots and psychological thrillers and I’m not really sure how I do it all. ‘I am just putting the last finishing touches to my book that will be coming out in August 2017 which will either be called Did You See Melody? or The Favourite Child. I’m waiting to hear back from my UK and US editors on which title they prefer.’



20/12/2016 09:43



eadlines. As writers, we either love them or hate them. Yet one deadline all writers can’t fail to hit is 31 January. That’s the cut-off date for submitting our online self-assessment tax returns, and paying the tax due on the profits from our writing business from the previous financial year. Procrastination can be costly, because failing to meet this deadline incurs a £100 fine. In the UK, the Government’s tax year runs from 6 April to the following 5 April. So the tax due by 31 January 2017 is for the profits we earned during the last financial year (6 April 2015 to 5 April 2016). If we use the HMRC’s (Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs) online self-assessment service, we have almost ten months to calculate and pay the tax we owe on our writing business. (Writers who prefer completing a paper tax return and want HMRC to calculate their tax liability have to submit completed returns by 31 October – too late now for the 2015/2016 tax year). But don’t treat this tax deadline like a writing one and leave everything to the last minute. With some simple administrative systems in place, filing a self-assessment return and calculating our tax liability needn’t be a stressful event. 46


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Don’t be taxed by the upcoming 31 January self-assessment deadline, with business advice from Simon Whaley Which writers are liable for self-assessment? Writers who are employed by a newspaper or a magazine pay their tax through the PAYE (Pay As You Earn) system, like all other employees. However, most freelance writers fall under the self-employment category, because we’re working for ourselves, selling our words to our customers. It doesn’t matter whether we’ve sold one article, ten thousand short stories, or selfpublished a novel in Kindle format, once we sell our words we’re in business. We are traders of words. Our writing business also exists whether we write full-time or part-time. As far as HMRC is concerned, if we are successfully selling words then we are operating a writing business. We must declare our earnings and pay any tax due on our profits. Many writers are employed and self-employed at the same time, so even if you pay tax through PAYE via your employer, if you write in your spare time and sell your words you still need to tell HMRC that you are also running a writing business. Most writers operate as sole traders, which makes accounting and completing tax forms much easier, thankfully.

Do I need an accountant? An accountant probably isn’t necessary at first, and many writers find they don’t need one many years later. For the 2015-2016 tax year, if our total business turnover was less than £82,000 we can use HMRC’s short self-assessment supplementary pages. Our business turnover is the total sales (income) we’ve made from our writing during the financial year. So as long as our writing business generated less than £82,000 of sales in 2015-2016, all we need to complete are two supplementary selfemployment pages in addition to the standard tax return. These supplementary pages collect the following information: • Our turnover (total sales for the last financial year) • Any other business income not included in our turnover • Legitimate business expenses (such as travel expenses, office costs, stationery, professional fees etc) • Capital costs (purchases of equipment, such as computers for your writing business) These figures enable us to determine our profit (or loss) for the year. Our profit is the difference between our turnover

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(writing income) and the total business expenditure we incurred. If our total writing income was £10,000, and our business expenditure was £2,000, then the profit generated from our writing is £8,000. We only pay tax on our profits, so our tax liability is on this £8,000 profit figure, not the £10,000 sales figure.

What’s a legitimate business expense? Legitimate business expenditure can help us reduce the total amount of tax we have to pay, because we’re only taxed on our profits, not our total income. To count as legitimate, the expenditure incurred must arise wholly and exclusively for the purposes of our writing business. This means many of our basic office equipment and stationery items can be claimed, such as pens, notebooks, postage, envelopes, etc. We can also claim relevant travel costs and entry fees. If you were writing a history book and needed to travel to another part of the country to view a specialist museum’s records, then your train or bus fare would be a legitimate expense. Likewise, if visiting a tourist attraction for research purposes, then your admission fee would be tax deductible too. When I tackle a walking route for Country Walking magazine, I often have to buy a pay and display ticket to park my car. This is a legitimate expense, because I’ve incurred that cost purely as a result of going there to do the route for the magazine. Other eligible business-related expenditure includes subscriptions to magazines (including Writing Magazine) and professional organisations like the Society of Authors. If you’ve selfpublished a book and bought print copies to sell at talks and events, then the cost of buying the books is a legitimate business expense, as is any marketing and advertising expenditure. However, there are also costs we incur that aren’t solely for the use of our business. They may have a personal element too. As writers we tend to work from home and have the heating on, especially at this time of year. We can’t claim our entire £800 heating bill, because some of that was incurred when we weren’t working. The HMRC recognises this and operates a simplified expenses system that sole traders can use when calculating these costs. They’re calculated on a flat rate per month,

depending upon how many hours a month we work, so it’s vital to record your working hours, if you’re going to use this system. This simplified expenses system also operates for business mileage too, when using your own car for business purposes. We can claim a flat rate (currently 45p a mile) which is much easier than apportioning wear and tear on the car, fuel, insurance and servicing costs. Make sure you have a system to record your business mileage. I keep a notebook in the car and record the date, a brief description of the journey and why I’m doing it, and then I record the figure from my car’s odometer at the end of my journey.

Keeping documentary evidence Get into the habit of asking for receipts and keeping any paperwork related to your business. It’s not that arduous. I use two folders: one for filing remittance slips when I get paid money from magazines and publishers, and one for keeping all of my receipts in. Not only does this make it easier when completing a tax return, but should HMRC decide to investigate my return I’ll have all the evidence to demonstrate how I arrived at my figures. Use a simple spreadsheet to keep track of all of your income and expenditure, and record information as soon as it is practical. Five minutes once a week can save you hours of frustration come deadline time. I give each receipt and remittance slip a reference number, comprising the tax year and then a sequential number (161701, 161702, etc) and write this on the document and record it on my spreadsheet. That way I know I have the documentary evidence to back up my figures.

National Insurance Not only are HMRC collecting income tax from our writing business, they’re also taking our National Insurance contributions too. Self-employed people are liable for Class 2 National Insurance contributions, as well as Class 4 contributions (which are based on how much profit we make). Previously, Class 2 contributions were collected separately, usually by direct debit on a monthly basis. If our writing profit was less than a specific figure (approx £5,965) then we weren’t liable for Class 2 contributions and we could apply for an exemption certificate. But the haphazard way we

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earn our money makes it difficult to determine whether we’ll cross this threshold or not. However, this all changed recently when HMRC opted to collect Class 2 contributions via the self-assessment system, which is much easier, in my opinion. Class 2 contributions go towards our state pension and other benefits. You should be aware that even if your profits from your writing business are not large enough to make you liable for income tax or Class 4 National Insurance contributions, if your profits are higher than £5,965 you will still need to pay Class 2 contributions, which are currently £2.80 per week. Everybody also has a personal allowance, a figure that can be earned before we have to pay any income tax, which is taken into account when calculating our tax liability, along with any other employment or savings income we may have. This might mean you don’t owe any income tax on your profits. Alternatively, if you have additional income, your writing income could take you into the higher tax bracket threshold. Everybody’s circumstances are different. So as soon as you start earning from your writing, register with HMRC as a self-employed writer and set up systems to keep track of your paperwork. It makes completing your tax return much easier. You might not love the 31 January deadline, but hopefully you won’t dread it too much either. Some writers treat a tax bill as a sign of success. After all, if we owe tax then we’re successfully selling our words.

Business Directory HMRC has lots of information online: Register as a sole trader: Register for self-assessment: hmrcself When registering to complete your tax return online you’ll need to apply for a Government Gateway ID. Allow twenty working days for this to come through by post. Short self-assessment supplementary pages: Eligible expenses if you’re self-employed: Simplified expenses for sole traders: FEBRUARY 2017


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Under the


Author and lecturer James McCreet puts a reader’s first 300 words under the forensic lens of his criticism

Rebecca Richardson is a librarian, mother and sometime writer from Manchester. She is currently working on her first novel, salvaged from a messy NaNoWriMo. She enjoys science fiction, comic books and cartoons. Project Icarus is a science fiction novel for teenagers, about a girl trying to discover the truth about her mother’s murder while dealing with her own emerging psychic powers and a government conspiracy that changes her whole life.

Project Icarus ‘I’m sorry about your mother.’1 The man’s2 voice shattered the silence like a gunshot.3 Charlotte4 closed her eyes and tried not to scream.5 She could hear the man pacing around the sitting room;6 the creak of the floorboards, the occasional scrape of furniture being dragged along the wooden floor as he searched for her.7 Charlotte knew this cubby hole behind the bookshelf couldn’t be seen from the front,8 you had to know it was there,9 and Mum had told her that only the two of them knew.10 But then, Mum had told her that this time they would be safe and now she was bleeding all over the brand new cream rug.11 ‘Charlotte?’12 Her heart lurched painfully13 – he was standing on the other side of the bookshelf, inches away.14 Charlotte drew her knees up to her chest and hugged them tightly, lowering her face and trying not to breathe.15 ‘I didn’t want to hurt her Charlotte, that’s not why I came here.’16 The floorboards creaked.17 ‘You have to understand, we couldn’t let her get away again.’18 Charlotte gritted her teeth.19 Leave the room, she begged silently, go and search downstairs.20 The window was still wide open.21 It would only take a few seconds to crawl out of the cupboard, climb onto the windowsill and jump into the big oak tree outside.22 Then she could climb down and… well… she hadn’t thought that far ahead,23 but anything was better than waiting here to be discovered by the man with the gun.24 What she wanted to do25 was run to her mother, to shake her awake and promise that help was on its way, that she’d be just fine once an ambulance arrived.26 But there was no help, no ambulance27 - no one but Charlotte, and she wasn’t stupid.28 She knew no one was fine after a gunshot to the head.29



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A good start. It could mean anything at this early stage, which is the whole point.


Not giving him a name creates mystery. The anonymity could be heightened by shortening it to ‘His’.

If the narrative perspective is Charlotte’s, it can be reinforced by using ‘she’ – there is no other active female character. Only now is it becoming clear that Charlotte might be a child – something else we could have known earlier.






Overstatement. Apart from this being a cliché, his initial words seemed calm and measured – nothing like a gunshot.

We assume that the narration is from Charlotte’s perspective, in which case a new paragraph would be better in terms of pace and focus.


It’s not clear at this point why Charlotte closes her eyes, or why this might be connected with trying not to scream (see point 7).


Therefore, this seems vaguely absurd. We assume she can hear him (rather than see him) because she’s closed her eyes. Why not just open them? The semi-colon is wrong. Use a dash or a colon.


Ah, she’s hiding! Now it makes sense. We’d have been able to process the scene more effectively if we’d perceived this earlier. Would he literally drag furniture around the room? Or would he just move it aside and lift it?

The comma before ‘you’ is wrong. Try a semi-colon, a pair of dashes either side, or a full stop.

The phrasing makes clear that this is Charlotte’s perspective. However, this is a long, discursive sentence in what’s supposed to be a scene of breathless tension. Rhythm and pace need to match the mood.


The new cream rug is a nice touch, and mum’s body on it raises the sense of threat. Though once again, the tone seems too calm.


This is beautifully timed and judged. Its brevity is wonderfully sinister.


Until now, we’ve assumed this is all from Charlotte’s point of view, but I wonder if this painful lurching is something she’d describe. How old is she? The vocabulary seems more authorial and breaks the spell.

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A narrative issue here. If she’s behind the bookshelf, she doesn’t know that’s he’s inches away – that’s an omniscient authorial detail. An adult might assume as much, but do we credit the child Charlotte with this all-seeing power, especially when her head is down and she’s terrified?


Again, using ‘she’ rather than ‘Charlotte’ emphasises perspective. Also, it’s another long and measured sentence. Where’s the sense of panic?


Once more, the dialogue is well judged and comes as a punctuating element in the flow. Its calmness is sinister. Very good. But the comma is wrong. Use a semicolon, a dash or a full stop.


Really love this. It’s terse, tense and allusive. This is the kind of thing we were missing a few lines earlier.


And the dialogue is well suited. The threat mounts. Though that comma disturbs me. I’d go for a dash, a colon or even ellipsis.


This is also good and the ellipsis works well. On the other hand, it’s another instance of the narrative perspective wavering between Charlotte and author.


Wait – there’s a gun? Had we known that at the outset, the tension and the stakes might have been even higher. Once more, this sentence is too long and discursive to adequately reflect the tension. There are a couple of choices really: short and staccato, or long and incoherent to express breathless tension. This is neither.


Narrative perspective again. This distances us from Charlotte and makes her situation unremarkable. We need to be more inside her thoughts, more nervous, more immediate.


This is more like it in terms of breathless tension. But it’s also another instance of ambiguity about how old Charlotte is. Is this how she’d think?


I like this. The italics do make clear that these are her thoughts, though it’s debatable whether they’re strictly necessary. Again, the comma after ‘silently’ is wrong. A full stop would have most impact.

The phrasing is good and suitably fatalistic. There’s a slight conflict, though, in terms of Charlotte’s perspective. She recognises the hopelessness of the situation, but she would have told her mother the opposite if she could. It seems a sophisticated way of thinking for a child, but that depends on how old she is. There’s too much interference for us to get a grip on that.



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Cliché. And is this the kind of language she’d use?

This is good in terms of her thoughts. A pedant might wonder how she knows this for sure if she’s still behind the bookshelf.


The thought process is rational, but expressed too rationally for her fear. Also, there’s now some confusion about her exact location. Are we to understand that there’s a cupboard behind the bookshelf and she’s in it?

The repetition of ‘no’ is good. Again, however, we’ll have to take the author’s word for it that Charlotte isn’t stupid. It would be better to be convinced by a consistent narrative perspective. The hyphen here should be a dash – an inadvertent typo, I’m sure.


Okay, so this is some measure of her intelligence. It’s also a really good line to end the extract.

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to read James McCreet’s suggested rewrite of this extract

IN SUMMARY There are flashes of really good writing in this. It’s a gripping opening scene. What’s needed is a little extra honing to make it into a truly terrifying experience. Something I’ve come to realise more and more with my own writing is the power of simple techniques. Paragraphing, punctuation and sentence rhythm can completely change a passage even if the words stay the same. Of these, punctuation is the most powerful. It turns prose into music and allows sentences to take on the veracity of human thoughts. Get it right and the reader is inside the scene. Get it wrong, and the reader ends up looking at the action through a salad of words. The most heinous crime I’m currently seeing a lot is the misused comma. It’s misused as a full stop, misused as a semi-colon and misused as a dash. Often it’s used where no comma is necessary. A comma is not a form of decoration. Of all punctuation marks, it should be the most invisible. Failure to use it correctly is a failure to write correctly. The other issues here (though not huge ones) include rhythm and perspective. As noted, the calm prose undermines the terror we should be feeling as readers, especially if we’re seeing the action from a child’s point of view. It needs to reflect and emphasise the mood. As for perspective, the reader needs to be clear who’s telling the story. It needs to be convincing and consistent. If perspective switches from character to author, these transitions should be as seamless as possible.

• If you would like to submit an extract of your work in progress, send it by email, with synopsis and a brief biog, to:



22/12/2016 11:29



Where do you draw the line between appealing and appalling when it comes to creating irresistible villains in your fiction? Novelist Margaret James has the answers


s writers, readers and listeners, we’ve been attracted to – or at least intrigued by – fictional killers and other life-wreckers ever since the dawn of fiction. But what is their appeal, and how murderous or otherwise malevolent do these people need to be before we decide there is no way we can engage with them and will be happy to hate them instead, even if they still exert a certain fascination? Crime and other kinds of fiction are full of appealing characters who kill. James Bond, of course, is famously licensed to kill. So bumping people off is clearly part of his job description and to most readers this appears to be morally acceptable. We cheer on musketeer



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swordsmen who polish off any bad guys in a fair fight. Soldiers are obviously expected to kill their enemies, whoever their enemies might be, and Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe has plenty of male and female fans. But we’ve never had much sympathy for female killers, even those on the side of what is supposedly right. So gender equality has some catching up to do there. I can’t think of a single female killer who has a big fan base, or indeed any kind of fan base. I wonder if anyone has ever written a novel in which the heroine is a soldier while the hero is a nurse? Or the hero is a house-husband while the heroine is a spy on active service rather than a spook working behind the scenes?

While justified killing seems to be okay with most readers, you’d imagine the average serial killer who murders for the sheer pleasure of it – simply because it’s fun – probably wouldn’t and indeed shouldn’t have many admirers. But the classic serial killer Hannibal Lecter seems to have quite a fan club: Perhaps it’s because he’s clever and most of us seem to find cleverness engaging? We find good looks engaging too, and are often willing to be captivated by physical beauty, completely forgetting the old adage handsome is as handsome does. What about characters who don’t actually take lives but who can certainly ruin them, such as adulterers and thieves? Why do we sometimes find it easy to like them? It depends on why they are committing adultery or are thieving. Among ‘ordinary’ people, divorce has not been respectable for very long. It’s probably less than fifty years since most divorcees were looked down on by the majority of their fellow citizens and tutted about behind their backs. So falling for someone to whom you weren’t married quite often resulted in quietly forgetting you were already part of a team and in starting an adulterous relationship that eventually produced children and all sorts of interesting complications – a gift for the average novelist. As for thieving: sometimes it’s

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“HOW MURDEROUS OR OTHERWISE MALEVOLENT DO THESE PEOPLE NEED TO BE BEFORE WE DECIDE THERE IS NO WAY WE CAN ENGAGE WITH THEM AND WILL BE HAPPY TO HATE THEM INSTEAD?” necessary to hide things away or move them to a different location merely to keep them safe. Or so we tell ourselves. We regularly play that card both in private and in public life. Actually, we say, we are doing someone else or even the whole world a favour. After all, it doesn’t look as if those friezes from the Acropolis are going back to Greece any time soon, and various museums throughout the world are full of other wonderful treasures apparently being kept there for their own safety. Unless you resort to making your bad guys both stupid and physically hideous, given to unattractive habits like belching, never changing their socks or being unacquainted with deodorant, how are you going to keep your reader on the side of the angels, which is where most readers both want and ought to be? You could make your good guys even smarter and considerably more attractive. But they don’t need to be saints. They can certainly have plenty of forgiveable or at least understandable flaws like forgetting their children’s birthdays or falling in love with two people and being unable to choose between them. The good guys can and probably should suffer because this will help us to care about them. They should be generous, but in an unobtrusive way, doing good by stealth rather than

showily or ostentatiously and, if they kill or do anything else that’s morally dubious, they should usually be obliged to do so by circumstances way beyond their control, and they should definitely not enjoy it.

What makes a potentially bad guy attractive? Female readers seem to warm to men who do them favours, but who don’t call in those favours or expect immediate rewards, or indeed any rewards. Male readers tend to like women who make them laugh, but who don’t put them down. So maybe you could let your heroes and heroines share these traits, rather than squander them on your bad guys? Attractive characters often have a degree of self-doubt in their makeup and, even when things are going well, these people don’t usually assume they’re infallible. But genuinely bad guys sometimes tend to get just that little bit too self-confident, and we all know what pride goes before, don’t we? Nobody in fiction should get away with any kind of murder, literal or metaphorical. It’s very easy to be seduced by a handsome, clever villain. But we shouldn’t be so dazzled that we forget he isn’t on the side of right. He needs to be taught some hard lessons – and who could be better than his creator to teach him?

NOW Try this You’ve dreamed up your bad guy and nowadays you quite like him, which is something of a danger sign. But you’re also aware he’s getting a bit too sure of himself. How and when will he mess up?

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I wish I’d known… Novelists tell us what they wished they’d known right at the start of their careers. with

Elizabeth Ducie


ix years ago, I wish I’d known how the publishing world would evolve – and how quickly. It would have saved me much timewasting and soul-searching. Back in 2011, a friend and I had both amassed a file of short stories. These stories weren’t classic women’s magazine fiction, but we wanted them to be visible. So we brought out our own collection. I found the technical side of production fascinating and, after an initial period of fear, I actually enjoyed marketing. Yet, all along, I was apologising for taking the selfpublishing route. ‘This is building my platform for when I submit my novel,’ I would say. ‘No one will publish collections of short stories, so we decided to do it ourselves.’ In 2013, I finished writing my first novel and sent it out to a few agents, getting some pleasant but negative responses. One asked to see the whole thing before saying thanks, but no thanks. At the back of my mind, a little voice was always nagging at me. ‘Why are you doing this?’ it asked. By then, I had published several books. I had twentyplus years of experience running my own company. I understood about taking responsibility, maintaining control and managing risk. Why would I hand these over to someone else? So, in 2014, I published Gorgito’s Ice Rink and it was runner-up in Writing Magazine’s 2015 Self-Published Book of the Year Awards. I still get occasional sympathetic looks when I tell people I am independent. I still find myself trying too hard to convince them it’s a matter of choice, not necessity. But it’s mainly other writers who worry about who publishes what. Most readers don’t care, as long as the book is well-written, properly edited and produced to a good standard. In July 2016, I published my second novel, Counterfeit! – and this time around I never paused for one second before going it alone. FEBRUARY JANUARY 2017


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Share your writing success stories. If you subscribe to Writing Magazine and would like to feature here, email Tina Jackson,

Criminal endeavour pays off ‘After the covert crime dramas By Their Rules and A New Menace were published I thought I would try something new, in the more traditional detective genre, but with some sneaky-beaky stuff still thrown in,’ writes subscriber Roger A Price. ‘Nemesis is the first in the new Badge and the Pen series, which brings together maverick DI Vinnie Palmer and TV news reporter Christine Jones. They are chasing escaped psychotic prisoner Daniel Moxley, but from a different agenda. As an ex-detective, I know how fractured the relationship between the police and press can become and wanted to explore this in my writing. I’ve also had a long-held fascination in the workings of the criminal mind, so was keen to explore the psychoses which drive the main antagonist, Daniel Moxley. Although he committed the crimes he was incarcerated for, the evidence against him was skewed, so he is seeking retribution. ‘For this new series I was seeking a new publisher, and having two novels in print, I thought it might be a tad easier this time. Fast forward after twelve months of rejections and I received two offers in the same week! It really was the toss of a coin; but I chose heads when I should have gone for tails. The first publisher was a new imprint which after signing with, was dropped. I approached the other which is the excellent Endeavour Press – which I know has been featured a couple of times in Writers’ News – and they stood by their original offer. I was amazed and pleased in equal measures. Not only are they the UK’s leading independent digital publisher, they also offered me a paperback option with Nemesis. Which is all I initially wanted. Apart from anything else, I do a lot of author talks to libraries and private groups and love to take some print copies with me.’ Website:



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A series of smugglers ‘I’ve added a third title to my popular Smugglers’ Town Mysteries series of books for children,’ writes subscriber Julie Ratcliffe. ‘The Moonrakers of Avon is another fast-paced adventure set in 1780s Hampshire. In this tale, two men from Christchurch are arrested and charged with coining – forging and passing counterfeit coins, which was treason and a capital offence. ‘I’ve been thrilled with how popular the books are and I know fans have been keen for another story. As with the first two books, besides being an exciting adventure story, the context of the book is historically correct and I hope that readers learn a thing or two about life in the late eighteenth century. ‘During my research I was surprised at one thing I discovered. The book begins with arrests and a serious charge, so the suspects are taken to Winchester Gaol. I found a copy of prison reformer John Howard’s 1777 report into prisons and Winchester was a lot cleaner and prisoners provided for far better than most prisons of the age. The John Howard League for Penal Reform is a charity still working with prisons to this day. ‘The first two books in the series are The Thirteenth Box, which was runner-up in the 2012 Writing Magazine Self-Published Book of the Year Awards, and The Face of Sam, a story inspired by a carving in Christchurch Priory Church. ‘I’m now planning my next book, which will focus on one of one of the characters between the first and second books. It will mean a visit to Boston USA and the themes will include the revolutionary war and the slave trade. I’m not sure about self-publishing this title, as my house is getting to capacity as a book warehouse having had to reprint the first book. Time will tell.’ Websites: and

Make your own fortune ‘“Never give up! Never surrender!” I would recommend that rallying cry (from the film Galaxy Quest) to all writers,’ writes subscriber Kim Gravell. ‘When my short story, Mistress of Fortune, was rejected by one editor, earlier this year, I searched the market section of Writing Magazine for an alternative home for it. Spotting the 2016 Luna Press writing competition I submitted the story and am delighted to say it was shortlisted! It will now appear in their anthology, Beyond Realities, Volume II, to be published in December. ‘Mistress of Fortune is a fantasy adventure set against an unspecified rural landscape, similar to medieval Britain. It tells what happens when a travelling theatre troupe are joined by a fortune

teller who claims she can be of use to them on the next leg of their journey. Their new companion has a surprising role to play when the troupe encounter trouble on the road. ‘Mistress of Fortune adds to my publishing tally of two paranormal fantasy novels (The Demon’s Call and Child of the Covenant) and a winning entry in the 2013 Writing Magazine “Start talking” short story competition. I’ll continue to keep a close eye on Writing Magazine for further outlets for my work.’ Website:

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Cartoon satire

Bright ideas ‘Don’t read this… unless you’re prepared to sit on the bus and possibly, just possibly, be so engrossed in one of my stories, that you miss your stop. No, please don’t utter a word! There’s no law against dreaming,’ writes subscriber Veronica Bright. ‘In 2005 I won the Woman and Home short story competition, with Out of the Apple Tree. The theme was ‘the gift’, and as it turned out, this competition was a gift to me. Since that happy day, I’ve won more than forty writing prizes, including eighteen firsts. I’ve had my stories published in anthologies and online, and also in Writing Magazine Competition Specials (twice), and Writers’ News, when I won the humorous competition in 2012. ‘For several months I’d been thinking about publishing a collection of my prizewinning short stories. I was advised that a large collection would be difficult to sell. Nobody buys short stories from relatively unknown authors, they said, trying to be kind. Why don’t you go for two shorter ones? they said. Lower cost per book and all that. It made sense. And so Cloud Paintings and A Gift from the Horse Chestnut Tree moved from possibility to reality. ‘My husband and I had fun taking photos for the covers, especially for Cloud Paintings, so much so that I now have a vast collection of pictures of nimbus and cirrus and cumulus, and as for images of sunset skies... But I love clouds, and I love trees, so it wasn’t a hardship at all to spend so much time gazing upwards, or treewards. ‘What I love about writing is that there is always something new to learn. I’ve been a subscriber to Writing Magazine for many years, and was delighted when Jonathan Telfer accepted and published my feature on the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School in May 2016.’ Website:

‘Sensationalist news reports on the telly, and now in independent online news and the borders with conspiracy theory, are a bit of an obsession of mine,’ writes subscriber Andy Luke. ‘The area informed my debut novel when I wondered, what would it be like to live with one of those news anchors? Do they take their families for fast food, whip out a microphone, and proceed to reproach staff about links between burger bars and deforestation? ‘It started as a single joke, a three-panel comic strip in 2011 that grew into a collection and then a prose novel. I invented a new word for it: a sitcom-spiracy. Axel America and the US Election Race draws a lot from Trump’s (Presidential) campaign. Re-drafting with my editor at AG Publishings was a live process, and Trump’s cartoon politics became increasingly difficult to satirise. Adding to the brew, his grass-root support from libertarians became eerily similar to my story, and I felt at times I was making a documentary. I’ve tried to keep it live by giving the protagonist his own Twitter feeds, @TheAxelAmerica and @TruthLive_TV ‘I live in Belfast and have never visited America, although I’ve seen it on television. Street-view helped me map out scenes, which added a lot to the final text. The bulk of my creative work has been in making autobiographical comics, pieces like Gran and Absence: a comic about epilepsy, which won a 2011 UnLtd Award. I’ve found making comics to be more labour intensive than prose so enjoyed spreading my wings with the novel, and being relatively receptive to “conspiracy theories” there’s an abundance of similar terrain for flights of fantasy, which let me put my characters in increasingly surreal situations. I take them to a park inside a skyscraper, a cave inside a house and even stranger mindscapes. ‘Writing a comedy definitely made a difference. The final six months on Axel were painful but I’d burst out laughing like a loon in public, regularly, as I snatched an absurdity from idea-space. My proofer and editor, Andrew Gallagher, would do the same too, and his enthusiasm for the work kept me positive. We’ve published in digital and short print runs and there was a signing and reading at Belfast’s TitanCon event on 1 October.’ Website:

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A life, confessed ‘I’m not sure when or why I decided to write my autobiography but I guess it was when I became more involved with raising awareness of mental health issues as these have played a significant part in my life,’ writes subscriber James Bridgwater. ‘It was not called Confessions of an Emotional Shipwreck until it was about three quarters written. This title is regularly and continuously praised. I got a criminal record for life after a psychiatric breakdown when I was under pressure to do well in my A levels. As to why tell my story, I think it’s because it seems so unique and unlike any other I’ve heard. It always reminds me of the expression “fact is stranger than fiction”. ‘It is the second book I’ve written, having previously self-published a novel,

Masterstroke. They are both about 80,000 words long and I find it takes about a year to write a book and a year to organise the printing and publishing. I chose Austin Macauley Publishers as they were the first people to answer showing an interest, having sent the synopsis and first three chapters to a number of people interested in publishing autobiographies and memoirs. ‘I was also interested in using a notso-established, independent company due to having lived such an independent unorthodox life. It was hard to believe it was actually happening but I suppose the thing that really convinced me it was happening was when I visited their office in Canary Wharf and met the production co-ordinator Walter Stephenson. However not until I received my box of ten free hardback copies to distribute amongst my friends and family was I convinced it was true. This was despite having received ISBN for hardback or paperback copies and having done the paperwork for royalties.’ Website:

Teacher training ‘On retiring in 1999, I did not want to give up the chance to influence how people thought,’ writes subscriber Julie C Round. ‘Once it had been helping children to read, then it was through community politics in Kent, but, eventually, when people stopped listening, I turned to writing fiction. ‘My first five books were set in Sussex and written to entertain the more mature readers. Deceptively gentle family novels, they had elements of the domestic thriller and dealt with society’s attitudes to the disabled (The Lane trilogy) and the way childhood experiences influence adult behaviour (Never Run Away and Never Pretend) ‘Readers enjoyed identifying local landmarks and, although I had to publish them myself, I was encouraged by the response. ‘However, the romantic novel was fashionable and I wanted to give it a go. ‘Instead of setting it in modern times I set A Lesson for the Teacher in the 1960s, when I could remember what it was like to be young and in love. ‘Three teachers, innocent Meg, adventurous Tamsin and ambitious Georgie, leave college for the world of work. ‘It is Meg who first finds the man of her dreams but they each have a lot to learn about men – and it isn’t all “hearts and flowers”. ‘Set in Outer London, Kent, Sussex and the West Country, this is a celebration of the era, when nobody thought twice about hitch-hiking alone, there were many more holiday camps and if you couldn’t afford a car you rode a Vespa! ‘Now a member of the Sea Scribes writing group and a public speaker for the WI on my life and latest venture, recording for a talking newspaper, I hope I can continue to amuse and influence for some time to come.’ Website:



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The heart remembers

‘My latest book Where Lies My Heart, winner of the Ian Govan Award, 2015, (an adult book) is now published on Amazon and CreateSpace,’ writes subscriber Kathy Rollinson. ‘The Ian Govan Award is running annually until the end of 2017. It is in memory of Ian Govan, one of the co-founders of the group Writers’ Forum, Costa Blanca, Spain. ‘I’ve got a five-star review on the ebook version, on, even though I haven’t publicised it because I recently had two cerebral aneurysms. ‘Michael Barton, publisher at WordPlay, freelance writer, and author, formatted the book for me for free, as part of my prize for winning the Ian Govan Award 2015, together with €250. I made a feeble attempt at formatting the book myself to assist Michael, who has a very heavy workload, and I said he could change “published by K J Rollinson” to his name, but generously, he allowed my name to stay. I do not think I would have published the book by myself, and I wish to give my grateful thanks to Michael for his invaluable assistance. I’ve designed the cover myself. Again, thanks to Michael Barton who printed the title, and commented on the bottom of the synopsis. Here are his comments: ‘“A worthy winner of the Ian Govan Award, Where Lies My Heart takes the reader through the whole gamut of emotions while begging him or her to question the fabric of societies and lives the author explores.” ‘I have dedicated Where Lies My Heart to Ian Govan, author. I would hasten to add that, although the main character in the book is called Ian, he bears no resemblance to Ian Govan, with the exception that the real Ian supported Birmingham City Football Club, and had distinct social views. ‘This is a faction book, fiction based on fact. Some of the characters are people who exist, or existed, or resemble them closely, but this is not the case with the Cornwell family. The family described in the book bears no resemblance, to my knowledge, to Ian Govan’s family.’

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Way out West Wing

Refugee tale finds a home

‘I wrote prolifically in my childhood and teens, but it wasn’t until I watched The West Wing in my thirties that I reconnected with my love of language,’ writes subscriber Claire Handscombe. ‘The programme inspired me to write my first novel, read widely, and eventually move from Europe to Washington, DC, to study for an MFA in creative writing and learn and experience as much as I could of American politics. ‘I’m far from the only one whose life has been changed by The West Wing. ‘I set out to find others with stories to tell. At first, it was an assignment for my literary journalism class, then I expanded the project into a short book. I put out a call for submissions, chose and edited the best essays, and spent several happy hours interviewing superfans and choosing salient quotes from those interviews. I released the book on 14th May 2016, the tenth anniversary of the last episode. ‘Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives is a collection of essays and quotes by, for, and about fans of the show. They range in age from 20 to 70 and come from six different countries, including and importantly the UK. The short anthology has been greeted with enthusiasm and earned a “hot new release” badge from Amazon on the day the paperback came out. It’s available on every major platform.’

‘Earlier this year I wrote a short story to fit in with the theme of ageing for the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook short story competition,’ writes subscriber Katharine Blessan. ‘Inspired by a conversation I had with my husband about a real-life teenage refugee boy who pushed his grandmother in a wheelchair across Europe I wrote a story from this grandmother’s perspective, ran it past my writing group, edited it and submitted it to the competition. Not getting anywhere with the Writers & Artists competition, I had a think about where else I could submit my short story. A few months ago, I read in Writing Magazine about Patrician Press’s competition on the theme of Refugees and Peace Keepers. It was an even more apt theme than ageing for my story. I had nothing to lose by submitting it. ‘At the end of June, I then received an exciting email to say that my short story Travels by Wheelchair was one of six shortlisted stories, which would be published in the Patrician Press Anthology of Poems and Short Stories. Having forgotten about this competition entry I was even more delighted to find out about my success! The anthology will be published in February 2017 with a contribution of all proceeds going towards the charity Help Refugees.’


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20/12/2016 09:50


Managing meltdowns ‘I had been working in a special needs school as a children’s counsellor for some time when I got the idea for Help! I’ve Got an Alarm Bell Going Off in My Head!,’ writes subscribe KL Aspden. ‘In my work I observed many children having “melt-downs” and experiencing unmanageable feelings and behaviours. Often they were unable to discuss this afterwards and sometimes felt very ashamed. I searched for resources to explain to them that “it wasn’t their fault”; such reactions are a product of the fight/flight/freeze response which is in everyone. I also wanted to teach them how to calm the reaction down for themselves. I couldn’t find anything suitable. ‘I decided to write something to fill the gap! I asked a colleague to illustrate it with some light-hearted cartoons to give humour to a potentially difficult subject. As it was effective and well received when I tried it out on the children, I sent the manuscript to Jessica Kingsley Publishers who specialise in educational and therapeutic books. They were the only publishers I submitted my work to; I chose them because after considerable research I felt the book was appropriate for their market. It took me much longer to carefully prepare my submission than to actually write the content! I submitted it in January 2015 and in April, to my joy and surprise I received the offer of a contract. ‘In the months preceding publication, my father (who gave me my love of words) became seriously ill. Last September I travelled many miles to Lincolnshire to spend some time with him. The day before I set off I received the final proof of my book from Jessica Kingsley; he was able to read and absorb every word. He died a few weeks later with the knowledge that his daughter was an author! ‘By November 2015 the book was in my hand. The publication date was the day before my birthday – a cause for double celebration! It was a very poignant year.’ Website:

Triumph of the Underwood After years of rejections for my historical murder mysteries The Underwood Mysteries, I decided to put them on Kindle as it seemed the best place to showcase them,’ writes subscriber Suzanne Downes. ‘Underwood is an ex-classics master from Cambridge University who solves mysteries as an academic exercise and his late-Regency world is peopled by the inhabitants of a Pennine Spa town. ‘In spite of being told that my books were not commercially viable, I never lost faith in the stories – I knew they were entertaining, carefully researched and, dare I say it, well-written. ‘I’ve been proved right as the books are now keeping me! They have proven to be



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Stories that wanted to be written ‘My foray into local history happened almost by accident’ writes subscriber Hannah Spencer. ‘The memories, stories and scandals of my childhood village in Warwickshire, told by those people who have lived there for a lifetime, have always fascinated me. “This all wants writing up,” people would say. ‘“Here – you’re a writer...” ‘True, but my focus is paranormal fiction. But on the other hand, I’ve always loved history, so I started to write the village story from the Roman period to present day. ‘A lot of the information was happily supplied by local historians. (“You’re right, it all wants writing up,” they’d say as they presented me with multiple box files of unsorted research.) I spoke to as many past and present residents as I could. I’m a shy person so ringing strangers asking to interview them was right out of my comfort zone, but everyone I spoke to – some of them over ninety – were thrilled to talk about their childhood memories. ‘History certainly has its challenges – for example I’ve never had to write a fictional story about seven characters, all named John Smith – but it was certainly worth it. I’ve learned so much about the area and its past, met some wonderful people and created a lasting record of a rural story. Preston on Stour: A Two Thousand Year History is now published by Matador.’ Website:

particularly popular in America and I am building a fan base there – apparently they love Underwood almost as much as I do! ‘Two years ago I was able to give up work and recently I also ceased to do my evening job as a creative writing tutor at Aquinas College. Even the taxman agrees that I am a ‘self-employed’ writer! I have all my stories on Kindle and couldn’t be more delighted not only with the money (which is useful) but with the vindication that only readers can bring. ‘Nice messages from fans to my Facebook author page – Suzanne Downes Writer – make every single bitter rejection worthwhile. ‘If anything my story illustrates that you should never give up! It took me twenty years to be published, and even then it was with a small, independent publisher and not one of the “big boys” – and I have to say, that if the offer came in now, I’d be very reluctant to give

up the control that self-publishing gives me. ‘I think I was rejected because I wrote what I wanted to write and took no account of trends and fads and markets, but I always wrote because I loved it and refused to spoil my enjoyment by writing what I thought other people wanted – turns out I was right and the major publishers were wrong – Underwood is commercially viable, thank you very much!’

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Dangerous drugs

Age unconcerned ‘I self-published my debut thriller Closure late last year via CreateSpace where it joined the hordes of similar novels on Amazon’s sales platform,’ writes subscriber David Magee. ‘The resulting early reviews (all five star) convinced me to present my book to Waterstones Books for their consideration. And surprise, surprise, I was rewarded with a promise that they would happily take Closure into stock as soon as it could be arranged. ‘Well done you might say, but there’s always a catch – isn’t there? ‘Mine came when Waterstones approached Amazon to place an order and were refused

access to my book, an issue that I found extremely irritating, so irritating in fact that I immediately removed my books from Amazon, closed my account with them, and went off in search of a local publisher. ‘Having accomplished this little mission Waterstones immediately placed an order as they had promised. A stroke of good fortune that led to me and my book being featured in The Belfast Telegraph, The Coleraine Chronicle, The Ballymoney Chronicle, and even earned me a live interview on Q Radio 107. ‘Waterstones have now taken my second novel, Jokerman, which has just been released, and have agreed to take my third novel, To Square the Circle, as soon as I have it

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A British military operative turned private investigator the crossfire when gets caught in a missing person case takes him deep into Republican heartl the and of North Belfas t. A slow boil that expert ly land where he reside paints a private detective and the war-torn s. Magee crafts a rivetin g tale that will keep readers guessing until the very end. Kirkus Review You will want to read Closure is the first

this until the very end and then you will want more. of three novels by this Northern Irish writer. The Ulster Folk


‘Eighteen months ago my life nearly ended due to a suppressed immune system, along with an adverse reaction to prescribed antibiotics, to treat bronchial pneumonia,’ writes subscriber Rita Cheminais. ‘Fortunately, thanks to the kind actions of two good friends, one of whom took me to a nursing home for two weeks’ respite and recovery, I literally lived to tell the tale. ‘Upon my return home following recuperation, I was determined to live life to the full. I reviewed my retirement bucket list, which had four goals for the year: go on a cruise; apply to become a film/TV extra; learn to paint and draw; and write and publish a fiction book. ‘During my 37 years working in education, I had been fortunate to have published 21 best-selling academic books on special educational needs and children’s well-being. Changing from an academic to a more creative writing style was an immense challenge, as different skills were required. ‘I joined a creative writing group in Liverpool, where an inspirational tutor, and other talented group members, encouraged me to write a number of short stories, in the crime thriller genre. On the advice of friends, I sent six of my stories off to Troubador publishers, and within a week, a contract had been signed to write and publish my debut contemporary crime thriller short story collection Twelve Thrilling Tales. ‘Making the move from academic to fiction writing wasn’t easy initially. My advice to other independent authors wishing to make a similar transition is to join a local creative writing group, or alternatively, undertake an online course, or attend a masterclass or workshop in your chosen genre of writing. Access writing magazines to get ideas for stories. Read prolifically in your chosen genre. Acquire one or two basic books on how to write in your chosen genre, and purchase a dictionary and a thesaurus. Try to write something at least once a week, but don’t get bogged down with the technicalities of the writing, just write. Keep a notebook by the side of your bed, for jotting down those inspirational ideas, which often occur at the most ungodly hours. Immerse yourself in your chosen writing genre once a year, by attending an annual literary festival. For your debut work of fiction, write what you know and enjoy.’ Website:

‘I helped improve the safety of medicines during my time working in Africa,’ writes subscriber Elizabeth Ducie. ‘Now I’ve converted my experiences into a new book, which won a prize even before publication. ‘When I flew to Southern Africa back in 2004, I found all was far from well with the supply of drugs out there. Standards in the factory were low; regulations and enforcement were weak; and the resources to put things right were just not there. And as a result, the counterfeit merchants were having a field day. ‘Now, more than a decade later, I have used my experiences as the basis of my new novel. Counterfeit! is a thriller, the first in a series introducing drugs regulator Suzanne Jones. It is a work of fiction and I am definitely not Suzanne Jones! But some of the conversations in the book are real ones that I had during my time in Zambia and Swaziland. ‘I am a strong believer in the importance of competitions as a method of publicity (my debut novel Gorgito’s Ice Rink was runner-up in Writing Magazine’s Self-Published Book of the Year Awards) and I was therefore delighted when Counterfeit! came third in the 2015 Literature Works First Page Writing Prize. ‘In the novel, Suzanne’s mission to stop counterfeiting in Africa becomes personal when a friend buys a bottle of fake cough syrup with tragic consequences. But her investigations bring danger ever closer. In Uganda a factory burns down; another friend goes missing; and in Zambia and Swaziland, children die. Who is supplying the fake drugs? What is the Eastern European connection? Can Suzanne stop the counterfeiters before more people die? ‘Counterfeit! was published in July 2016 and is currently available exclusively on Amazon as an ebook and for print on demand; or as a paperback directly from the publisher. From October, it will also be available on other platforms.’ Website:


david MAGEE

Dicing with death prompts thriller

David magee completed. They also informed me that some of my first time readers requested to be notified as soon as my second novel arrived in stock. ‘No doubt many of your readers will have experienced a similar level of success, and thankfully so, but I imagine not too many of them did so at the ripe old age of 77. ‘I remain age unconcerned.’ S.P.



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If your writing group would like to feature here, whether you need new members, have an event to publicise or to suggest tips for other groups, email Tina Jackson, ASA


Sherborne Scribblers ‘We held our first Sherborne Literary Festival some four years ago which included a workshop on writing given by Lorna V,’ writes Bridgett Wilson. ‘Three of us attended and so enjoyed it, we decided to set up a writing group of our own. We called it the Scribblers’ Writing Group, chaired by one of the three founder members. In a few months we had gathered together fifteen like-minded writers. One resigned as she moved location. We are now a group of seven men and seven women, all with diverse backgrounds and ages. Our members’ previous lives include two journalists, a wine writer, a Shell executive, a fashion designer, an interior designer, a harpist, two farmers, a policeman in Africa, a headmistress, a parliamentary administrator and borough councillor, a member of the nursing profession, and one who had connections with antique auctions etc. ‘We meet once a month from 6pm-8pm in a tin-roofed hall which the amateur dramatic society uses as a rehearsal room and costume store. We have a glass of wine and some snacks and write on a given subject each month – anything from 350-1,000 words and more. We read these out and ask for critique. ‘We write on diverse subjects as befits our life experience on stories of humour, ghosts, children, crime, book and hotel reviews, ageing, happiness and many more, and are attempting to write a play. We have standards for punctuation, setting out our work and grammar. We have a website where those that have published books can advertise them, or any other writing we feel should be publicised. Sometimes we choose the best essay of the month to be included in The Sherborne Times. Several of us are now writing a book, one with illustrations. We write a little poetry. ‘Quite a few of us subscribe to Writing Magazine, which is full of inspiration, and we are keen for any of your circle writers to let us know of different things we could do, or write on, to progress our knowledge. ‘We hold a Christmas party every year when our writers’ other halves attend. The group is now a very special unit of warm and empathetic friends who socialise and are willing to help and inspire each other with their writing.’ Website:



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Message from Raven Writing Raven Creative Writing Group, together with Great Boughton Library in Chester, held a Message in a Bottle afternoon to celebrate National Poetry Day on Thursday 6 October, writes Lesley Howard. The writing group encouraged people to write a poem on the theme ‘messages’, then pop into the bottle or submit online. All verses will appear on the Rhyme Traveller Facebook page: We welcome new members at our meetings held the first Wednesday of the month at 7.30pm. We are trying out a new venue at The Cheshire Cat, Whitchurch Rd, Christleton, where we have a nice little quiet area to ourselves. Website:

Right up our street Following its short story competition, on the theme of Our Street, Bridgend Writers’ Circle held a Presentation Evening on 7 July at Carnegie House Arts Centre. Judge Joanne Derrick presented Dianne Bown-Wilson, first prize winner, with a cheque for £200 for her story Edna and Goliath. Dianne and her husband came from Exeter and enjoyed their Welsh weekend. Website:

20/12/2016 10:27


NEW USE FOR OLD IDEAS Recyling old material can invigorate your writing group, says Julie Phillips


very writer has one. Come on. Admit it; a drawer or box or file, hidden away from prying eyes, containing all of your longabandoned projects. You put them away with the best of intentions, assuring yourself that you’ll get back to them soon, but soon turned into never. There they still are, gathering dust, glaring at you accusingly every time you open the drawer/box/file. It’s like most people’s garages. They are no longer used to house a car but layers and layers of obsolete household items that you swear blind you’ll sort out and take to the tip one day. It never happens unless you fill it so high that you can no longer get through the door and you’re forced to take action. You know full well that your secret drawer, already fit to burst, won’t be able to close soon and you know that its contents are only going to end up in the recycling box. So why not recycle it in another way? This is where you can do your writing group a favour. For this workshop ask the group to bring in a paragraph or two, or a title, notes, anything from one of their previous works in progress that have been languishing in the bottom of their drawers since time began and that they know, hand on heart, they are never going to resurrect themselves. You are then going to ask the group members to swap their words with someone else in the group. It doesn’t matter who and it can be done anonymously if you prefer. They then read what they have been given and take a few minutes to expand on the idea or take from the paragraphs/notes key words or phrases that interest them and that they think

start your writing again. We all see the world they could work into something else. differently and we all interpret the world But what about copyright, I hear your from a different viewpoint so taking on group cry. For the purposes of this workshop someone else’s ideas and notes will see us you need to sit down and discuss with the injecting our unique life experiences and group how you want to play it. Because knowledge into them. No-one else has, can, you are potentially only using ideas here or ever will write quite like you. If several and a few key words at most from the other writers were to be given the same prompts person’s work there shouldn’t be any issues. what they write as a result would be totally There is no copyright in ideas or titles. As different from each other. long as people are not writing the other Sometimes, when we become too close group members’ words verbatim into to a project we can’t see in which their own re-worked version it direction to take it for the best. should be fine as long as Similarly, keeping something you all decide and agree under wraps for too long on the rules. can mean we lose interest On receipt of the Passing on your in it and nothing will swapped work, group unused ideas to ignite the fire again. members could note Recycling is the only down their initial someone else could responsible thing you impressions and give them a new can do as a last act of what they might do kindness for it. with it. Ask them to lease of life This workshop has the think about their ideas potential to run over a couple and what it inspires them of meetings as the group could to do. They could then read work on their recycled piece between out what they were given and tell meetings and bring them to the next to report each other what they intend to do with it, on their progress. How successful were they? with other group members also passing on Did the words they were given inspire them their suggestions. or not? Where do they see their recycled piece Nothing in your writing should ever be going? Were there any drawbacks to using wasted and passing on your unused ideas or someone else’s words? notes that no longer motivate or inspire you Recycling doesn’t have to be a boring to someone else could give them a new lease chore and you don’t have to sit staring at of life and a form that you could never have your bulging drawer full of unfinished work, even dreamed of, let alone put into action. feeling disinterested and demotivated any Other people see your words with fresh longer. Pass it on to someone else and do eyes and will lend a new perspective to them. some good for your writing environment, Similarly, the words you receive in return your writing and your group. could be just the thing you need to kick-


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20/12/2016 10:27

NJ 297 x 210 2016 new quotes_Layout 1 15/12/2016 11:53 Page 1

Writing – A Job with All Sorts of Opportunities for All Kinds of People by Phil Busby

Well then, writing might be just up your street. People have some funny ideas about writing. As a profession, it’s not just for ‘special’ folk. Anyone can do it. If you love words, and stories, and you’re not afraid of hard work, that’s all you need. For the last 27 years “My tutor was lovely, The Writers Bureau encouraging and has been helping offered me great new writers get constructive criticism.” started in the business. Writers like Louise Kennedy, who struck gold when she started blogging about her life on a boat from the viewpoint of ... her cat. Baily Boat Cat was picked up by a major publisher and turned into a book which now

sells world wide. “The Writers Bureau has given me the confidence to follow my dreams,” Louise says. “My tutor was lovely, encouraging and offered me great constructive criticism.” Another WB student, Martin Read, wanted to keep active in his retirement and his writing led to a great little bonus. “As a result of my cricket articles, I have been elected into The Cricket Writers Club – an organisation that counts experienced journalists among its members. One of the perks of this membership is a press card that gives me entry into all of England’s cricket stadium press boxes.” And there are not many that get in there. Then there’s Jacqueline Jaynes, who just loves to travel: “The Writers Bureau course has done everything I hoped it would and more. There was a clear progression through chapters so that my writing skills and confidence grew steadily with feedback from my tutor. The market research activities were invaluable for

Why Not Be A Writer?

As a freelance writer, you can earn very good money in your spare time, writing the stories, articles, books, scripts etc that editors and publishers want. Millions of pounds are paid annually in fees and royalties. Earning your share can be fun, profitable and creatively most fulfilling.

To  help  you  become  a  successful  writer  we offer you a first-class, home-study course from professional writers – with individual guidance from expert tutors and flexible tuition tailored to your own require ments. You are shown how to make the most of your abilities, where to find ideas, how to turn them into publishable writing  and  how  to  sell  them.  In  short,  we show you exactly how to become a published writer. If you want writing success – this is the way to start! Whatever your writing ambitions, we can help you  to  achieve  them.  For  we  give  you  an effective,  stimulating  and  most  enjoyable creative  writing  course…  appreciated  by students and acclaimed by experts. It’s ideal for beginners. No previous experience or special back ground is required. You write

and study at your own pace – you do not have to  rush. Many others have been successful this way. If they can do it – why can’t you?

We  are  so  confident  that  we  can  help  you become a published writer that we give you a full refund guarantee. If you have not earned your course fees from published writing by the time you finish the course, we will refund them in full. If you want to be a writer start by requesting a free  copy  of  our  prospectus  ‘Write  and  be Published’. Please call our freephone number or visit our website NOW! • • • • • • • • • • •



Quote: EE117

0800 856 2008



p112_wmagfeb17.indd 112

Martin Read

opening up potential new avenues for publication.” Those new avenues led to a travel website where Jacqueline started writing short articles. Soon she was asked to join the team, and now she and her husband get expenses paid trips all over the world in exchange for reviews! These are just some of the many inspirational true stories from Writers Bureau students. And there’s no reason why you shouldn’t join them. Who knows, this time next year I could be writing about your success. With a 15-day trial and money back guarantee, there’s nothing to lose and potentially a whole new life to gain. So why not visit the website at or call Freephone 0800 856 2008 for more information? Rachael Dove “I won the 2015 Flirty Fiction Prima Magazine and Mills and Boon competition. The prize was £500, a three page feature in the magazine and the chance to work with Mills and Boon on my book. “Also I have three stories in three anthologies with other authors – we’ve raised almost £2,000 for cancer charities”

George Stewart “I am delighted to tell everyone that the course is everything it says on the tin, excellent! I have wanted to write for years, and this course took me by the hand and helped me turn my scribblings into something much more professional. I am delighted that my writing is being published and I am actually being paid. All thanks to the Comprehensive Creative Writing course.” Katherine Kavanagh “I have been publishing my own niche website for circus critique. This work has led to recognition in my field, with work offers ranging from writing book reviews for scholarly journals to running master classes for young people. I have had two paid writing residencies at festivals this year and have been employed to write tweets. Payments total £2575, plus expenses for travel, tickets to events and payments in kind in the form of review copy books.” YES! Please send me free details on how to become a successful freelance writer. NAME ........................................................................................................................................ ADDRESS ................................................................................................................................... ................................................................................................................................................... POST CODE ................................................................................................................................................... EMAIL ........................................................................................................................................


The Writers Bureau Dept EE117 Manchester, M3 1LE Writers

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Do you fancy a challenge? What about the chance to make some money, get VIP access to major sporting and cultural events, or free holidays abroad? How would you like to look in the mirror and say, “Yeah – I did it!”

Jacqueline Jaynes

Louise Kennedy


Years of Success

Members of BILD and ABCC

19/12/2016 16:45

! N I W rt Story First Line Sho


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onth oard for this m ns on b g n ri p s e th That’s strictio here are no re t first line. T . n o ti ti e p m a co e other than th form or them -1,70 0 e usual 1,50 0 rch. th is it m li rd 15 Ma Your wo closing date is e th d n a s rd wo 0 ill receive £10 The winner w riting Magazine, n in W and publicatio d publication on with £25 an www.writers up. for the runnerentry details, See p107 for ntry forms e full rules and




£125 TO BE WON

STILL TIME TO ENTER With its closing date of 15 February, there’s still time to enter last month’s competition for stories in epistolary format. Length and prize details are as above. See p107 for more details

£12B5 E TO WON



p61 subs comps.indd 61

22/12/2016 11:28

Tight Situationr y short stoion competit


Love and Lambrini

by Ryla Roberts


keep playing it over and over in my head. Since that night, all I’ve done is either question myself or be questioned by others. I can’t remember what it feels like to spend a day without thinking about the police. I can’t even remember what it was like to be able to think clearly or trust my own mind. They keep asking me to go over what happened, as if increasing the number of times I tell the story will give them the answers they want. Isn’t that Einstein’s definition of insanity? Doing the same thing again and again, expecting a different result? They should be the ones going insane, not me. Sometimes, it all comes clearly. I know what I saw, I know it. He didn’t stumble and fall, there was no gust of wind. He jumped. Took one great step towards the edge of the cliff and before I even knew what he was doing, he was gone. I know I couldn’t speak after it happened, but that doesn’t mean I was hiding something. It wasn’t like I led him up there myself, we were all there. I don’t know whose idea it was to celebrate the end of exams by going up the cliff and drinking ten bottles of Lambrini, but it wasn’t mine. I only had one 62


p62 comp winner.indd 62

Ryla Roberts is a psychology undergraduate living in Berkshire. She is fascinated by the human condition and passionate about engaging with people through writing. She is currently working on her second young adult novel while seeking representation for her first book. This is her first competition win and she hopes to enter many more. You can find her on Twitter @RylaRoberts

thing I wanted to do that night and now I’ll never get a chance. Not that it matters now anyway. Maybe I’m obsessing over the details of the investigation so much because I can’t bear to face what I feel. It’s easier to be angry at them for insinuating that I pushed him than remember his soft lips on mine just seconds before he left my life forever. It’s easier to relentlessly question my memory than to ask myself what his girlfriend is going to think when I tell her what happened. I don’t know why I suggested it in the first place – logically it makes no sense. But I saw her in the midst of the flashing blue lights and shocked faces, and I just knew she was the only person who cared about him the way I did. We used to be best friends, Lisa and I. Five or six years ago, we were inseparable. It wasn’t like it ended

badly, we just found different things to focus on and lost each other along the way. I never understood her pull to popularity and I don’t blame her for not getting my love for completely bizarre art. I’ve envisioned a thousand things that might bring us together over the years, but I never imagined it might be this. It’s twisted really, that we’re in this together. I shouldn’t have been anywhere near that poor excuse for a party, but Robbie insisted. I somehow loved and hated that about him; the way he’d just completely ignore social boundaries. He made it look breezy and spontaneous but I think it was intentional, like some residual impulse from knowing what it was like on the other side. When he was just mine, he was nerdy and adorable and no one even noticed his existence. But then puberty hit

20/12/2016 09:54


like a bombshell and suddenly he was good enough for the attention. Good enough for Lisa. Even though it’s half an hour before we agreed to meet, I stare at my watch as if she’s late. I suggested we meet in our old place and I’m just hoping she remembers where that is. My eyes grow dull after staring for too long, so I finally look up to take in my surroundings. It looks the same as it always did, just overgrown. Branches sway in the moonlight, making the trees look like they’re slow dancing. I go to lie right in the middle of the open patch of grass and stare up at the stars. I’ve always loved the vast, ever-changing canvas of the night sky, but tonight it feels wrong that the stars could shine so brightly when everything down here is such a mess. I hear the leaves rustle and for the split second that I think it’s her, my heart leaps into my throat. That sound, that suggestion, it’s made this all real. What the hell was I thinking? She’s not going to understand – who would? Why did I think it was a good idea to ask her to come here, so I could tell her something that doesn’t even matter now anyway? I think about leaving, weighing up how annoyed she’d be if I stood her up against how much I need to stop the rising panic in my chest. I could stay and not tell her, I could just be a friend. But... I can’t. I can’t listen to her talk about him, I can’t hear how much she misses him. My body stays frozen, rigid with indecision, while my mind races with all the possibilities, birthing and discarding them by the millisecond. In the corner of my eye, I see the swish of blonde hair as she arrives, but I don’t move a muscle. She sits down next to me, a concerned look on her flawless face. I feel her hand make contact with my forehead, smoothing my dark curls away from my eyes. It’s an intimate touch considering how estranged I’ve felt from her, but it’s soothing. It makes me remember why I needed to do this. I don’t have many friends; after Lisa and I grew apart, Robbie was the only one I truly considered a companion. I have no one to confide in, no other soul to share my burden. God knows I need a friend right now. “Hey Maria,” she says, her voice

somehow strained and light at the same time. As if that luxurious feminine tone she’s spent months perfecting has had a hard day and wants to give up for the night. I’m not sure I’m ready to look her in the eye, but I sit up anyway. I want to greet her back but the fear that my voice will tremble keeps me silent. The quiet of the night is only interrupted by the whispers of the trees as we take each other in. Like our surroundings, we look pretty much the same, but her face seems so unfamiliar after this long. But instead of stretching us further apart, the silence brings us closer together. “I know you liked each other,” she says quietly. More stillness on my part, even though the statement ripples through me in little waves of electric nervousness. I watch her pixie features crumple ever so slightly before she continues. “God I’m so sorry, M. I didn’t know at the beginning, I swear. And then it was just complicated... with Mark and everything.” Her burly ex-boyfriend flashes into my mind. Mark? Seeing my confusion, she takes a deep breath before elaborating. “He wasn’t... good. He never did anything really serious, nothing I could report... But I wanted to get out of it. And Robbie, he was just so... safe. You know? I knew he wouldn’t hurt me. And then I saw the way you looked at him. He looked at you like that too... he always did it when you couldn’t see. I kept waiting for Mark to back off so you could be together. I’m so so sorry...” She trails off, her voice trembling EXPERT into nothingness. I see the analysis tears roll down her cheeks as she turns away from me, her TAP HERE golden hair forming a curtain to read the judge’s between us. She wipes her eyes comments and with a broken breath, she tells me something I never would have imagined. “I was going to break up with him that night. Even though Mark was still a problem, I thought

Runner-up in the Tight Situation Short Story Competition, whose story is published on, was Carole Hare, York. Also shortlisted were: Ros Collins, Felixstowe, Suffolk; John Gough, Coventry, West Midlands; Molly Greenshields, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire; Hayley Kelsall, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire; Geraldine Marsh, London SE12; MM Martin, Arnold, Nottinghamshire; Andrew Preskey, Newport, Isle of Wight; N Sian Southern, Newton Abbot, Devon; David Woodfine, Sherburn-in-Elmet, West Yorkshire

p62 comp winner.indd 63

it was time. I’d just have to last the summer and then I’d be miles away, somewhere he couldn’t get to me...” I want so badly to say something but the sentences refuse to take form. Instead I reach out to her and wrap my arms around her shoulders, feeling her whole body shake as she sobs into me. It means so much that she was willing to put herself in danger like that. Over the years, I’ve wondered if she’s still felt those hints of friendship in the brief moments we’ve had together, but now I don’t doubt it in the slightest. “Do you think that’s why he did it? Was it my fault for waiting so long?” Even muffled, the panic in her voice is clear. Suddenly forming perfect speech doesn’t matter anymore. I can’t let her blame herself for what happened, not even for a second. I pull away and look her squarely in the eye. “Of course not, Lisa. Don’t even think that way. I’m not sure why he thought it was the only way, but I doubt it had anything to do with you or me. Robbie wouldn’t think like that, I know it. It had to be something else. The police are taking their time finding anything out, but I’m certain there’s an explanation. I can’t be the only thing they’re looking into.” She nods. I wasn’t sure if she knew that I was the only one with Robbie when it happened, the only one they’re still questioning, but she gives nothing away. “I’ll tell them I was there, that I saw him jump.” “But you weren’t...” I appreciate her offer but I won’t let her lie for me. She’s already proved that our friendship meant something, she doesn’t need to get involved in this. But then, as she wipes away her tears and takes a deep, bracing breath, she gives me a look so serious that it makes me wonder if it’s because she’s totally committed to a lie or if she’s about to make the most truthful confession she’ll ever make. “I was.”



22/12/2016 11:37

Now – or then?

Writing in the moment gives a poem a very different feel to writing from memory, says Alison Chisholm


n the preface to the second edition of his collaborative work with Coleridge – Lyrical Ballads – Wordsworth tells us that poetry takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity. When we have had a dramatic or emotionally charged experience, this suggests that it’s a good idea to allow the situation and emotions that surround it to ‘settle’ for a period of time before we can write a balanced poem about it. There is, however, another poem that might come from the experience, usually a less balanced one, but more intensely emotionally charged. This one happens when you start to write in the thick of the event or immediately after it. Poet Patricia M Osborne of West Sussex demonstrates how differently the two poems can turn out in Operation Bucharest and Broken Bone in Bucuresti. She gives this factual account of the experience: ‘On 7 March, 2015 after misplacing a step on the stairs in a Bucharest Metro, I was rushed to hospital in an ambulance. I was in Romania on a stage-play scriptwriting, weekend course, with fellow MA creative writing students. Operation Bucharest began its life during my operation to mend the broken bone. Because I was given a spinal anaesthetic, it meant I was awake and able to capture my thoughts in a poem to take my mind off what was going on around me. ‘I was left alone and terrified in a strange country for more than 24 hours as my peers and tutors returned to the UK. My husband flew over the following day, arriving at the hospital ward just minutes before I was taken to the operating theatre.’ It was a momentous week for Patricia. Her operation took place two days after the accident. She celebrated a special wedding anniversary on 11 March and a special birthday four days later. The first draft of the poem was written down on 13 March, after her return home. 64


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Operation Bucharest Flick of a cold flannel, rough on bare flesh. Red-lipped mannequin spears a straight blade, moves low to swing. I’m dressed in my T-shirt, a disposable nappy. Where’s the scrubbed skin, traditional robe, mop hat, normal routine? Hauled onto a trolley, along dazed corridors where patients wait in chairs. Wheeled into a lift, parked beside rubbish, nearby a cleaner puffs pungent smoke rings. Steered into a museum, a pillion hangs down, circled by retro lights. Green gowns heave me up, settle me on the saddle, strap my feet into sandals. I’m suspended in space. Step by step, cover by cover, a sheet draped, a frame to hide my legs and feet. Headlights sweep closer, alien voices prattle, mobile phones bleep. Scissors prick my chest. I am the table – I am – the operation. Nearly seventeen months elapsed before the poet returned to the experience to produce a recollected account. She points out that this is a lot less alarming

than the original version as ‘I tried to make light of the situation giving an overall “alien fun theme”.’ Broken Bone in Bucuresti Racing to catch a Nicolae Grigorescu, Metro train, I stumble down a stair: I hear the snap— throbs screech in my groin, my voice is alien. Heads fold around me, I turn away to avoid their stare, my eyes clench. I throw up. Someone presses my wrist, someone else holds my hand. Jabbering in code, little green men ease me onto a stretcher, elevate me, feet first, towards cold blue sky— fists scrunch, heart skips double-unders— The bone cutter roars, splinters scatter, rivets groan, screws tighten. Six days lost in a strange land: frail attempts at iPad translation cue howls of laughter. I hobble flamingo style, sticks at my side, into a mad-driver’s

20/12/2016 10:27


bubble on an endless, terror ride. On board the plane at last, I reclaim my breath— feast on a cheese roll and white wine— Let the healing begin. As you read through these poems for the first time, one is likely to be preferred over the other. They are different poems. The most obvious difference is the period covered by the piece. The instant response starts in the hospital and ends while the operation is in progress. The delayed response gives a balanced overview of the location and the accident itself, hospitalisation and the operation, recovery and return home. The first starts in a worrying but anonymous place. It could almost be a torture situation. Only the title gives a clue as to what is actually happening, and it isn’t until the mention of patients in the third stanza that we can be certain. The second tells a tale chronologically, with the reason for the operation shown in specific detail at the start, and the setting precise.

Part of the first is grammatically clumsy, with sentences without subjects, and/or lacking main verbs. The second is more structured and grammatical. The shape on the page is different, with the first poem following a more traditional pattern, while the second uses white space in different ways. The awkward angles of the fall are reflected at the beginning, and during the operation there’s a thin, grim list – almost a mantra that the conscious patient could be reciting. The lengths are similar, with 35 and 39 lines respectively. Both poems demonstrate precision of word choice and imagery, using sensory descriptions to flesh out the scene, with the feel of the Flick of a cold flannel, smell of pungent smoke rings and sounds of alien voices and mobile phones in the first; while the second shows the taste of the cheese roll and white wine and visual image of I hobble flamingo style. The clarity of these images really brings scenes to life for the reader. There may still be another poem to come. The poet concludes her account by fleshing out the information at the end of the second poem, saying: ‘After my husband managed to get me onto a

plane, which was no easy task, the cheese roll and glass of wine featured was like tasting Heaven having barely eaten for almost a week. My taste buds exploded with delicacy at the first bite and sip. This was the moment that turned the corner, therefore the start of a new phase in the experience. Cue for the next poem?’ It would be interesting for the reader to put this magazine aside for a few days, and then return to the two poems and re-read them. Do you see more in either or both? Are you more or less affected by what you read? Is your preference the same as at the first reading, or has it changed? Think of your own life experiences, and how you might respond to them in poetry in the immediate and in the longer term. When do you feel it’s best to start the writing process? Will your story provide two or more poems? Before the experience described in her poems, Patricia had been planning to celebrate her big birthday with a barn dance. Her accident modified these plans to a small gathering at home. Let’s hope she manages the barn dance for a subsequent birthday: that could give rise to another pair of poems equally well worth reading.

Poetry in practice


Writing poems for children requires careful thought, advises Doris Corti

riting poems for children is not easy. A careful reading through any of the children’s anthologies to be found in bookshops or your local library will show that careful thought has been given to both language and structure. Whatever age you are gearing your poetry towards there are some specifics to consider. a) A good story b) A thumping rhythm (if it helps the storyline) c) Tight rhyming pattern (on occasions). All sorts of subject matter can be used including humour, horror, surprise. Alliteration and repetition in lines and phrases can highlight certain areas of your poems. For young children short lines and a bouncy rhythm will delight them, as in the following: Are you happy? Are you snappy?

Do you smile all the day? Or do you sulk in corners And not join with friends in play? A nonsense poem will be enjoyed by most ages. Limericks are popular. These have a rhyming pattern of five lines, a a b b a. The third and fourth lines are often shorter than the others. Because the rhyme falls on each line ending a fast pace is created – it has a thumping ending as the stress falls on the final syllable. Edward Lear is well known for the limericks he created, as in There was an old man of Bray/Who sang through the whole of the day/To his ducks and his pigs/whom he fed upon figs,/that valuable person of Bray. Children enjoy poems that contain humour, but they also like poems with a thoughtful subject matter. Use the cinquain form, it can deliver a direct observation (five lines with 2/4/6/8/2 respectively). For example,: Listen / With faint dry sound / Like steps of passing ghosts / The leaves, frost-crisped, break from the trees / And fall.

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Bring suspense into lines of poetry especially in some opening lines, for example: What’s that I hear at night? It makes a roaring sound. Is it a dog that howls or a ghost prowling round? It sounds like a shriek in the lane and rattles the window pane. Build the atmosphere up through fairly short lines and a regular rhyme, then deliver a punchline that explains it is the wind. Remember to give a title that intrigues. Children like all sorts of poems that relate to their worlds, this can be family/pets/school/ games/food/friends. These are all themes for you to write about. Exercise 1: Put an ending on the example poem about ‘The Wind’. Exercise 2: Write a limerick about an animal. FEBRUARY 2017


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Poetry from




Poet Alison Chisholm guides you through the language of poetry, with an extended explanation of metre For some poets, METRE is the sticking-point in writing formal poetry. It shouldn’t be. Metre is simply one of the tools in the poet’s kit, a device to help construct poetry by regulating the pattern of beats. For metrical purposes, the line is divided into a number of measures or feet, and most feet consist of either two or three syllables. The syllables are either unstressed or stressed, depending on the natural pronunciation of the language. If in doubt about whether a syllable is stressed or not, simply speak it aloud and let your voice decide. The phrase that begins this paragraph, for example, would be spoken aloud as: for METrical PURposes where lower case letters form unstressed syllables, and upper case stressed ones. The sentence continues: the LINE is diVIDed into a NUMber of MEAsures and the random scattering of the stressed and unstressed syllables is typical of prose writing and conversation. In poetry, a regular pattern recurs to produce the persistent beat that allows the ear to separate poetry from prose. This metre is described in two-word terms, the first showing the required pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables, and the second the number of feet in a line. A foot may be a single word, part of a word, or spread across two or more words. The key patterns are: iamb/iambus/iambic 1 unstressed 1 stressed syllable to be, discuss trochee/trochaic1 stressed 1 unstressed syllable loving, hope to spondee/spondaic 2 stressed syllables seesaw, fly free pyrrhus/pyrrhic 2 unstressed syllables of a, diameter (last 2) dactyl/dactyllic 1 stressed 2 unstressed syllables daffodil, peppery anapaest/anapaestic 2 unstressed 1 stressed syllables on a train, in a play bacchius/bacchic 1 unstressed 2 stressed syllables on long days, a full plate antibacchius/antibacchic 2 stressed 1 unstressed syllables hot weather, new partner amphimacer/cretic 1 stressed 1 unstressed 1 stressed syllables year ago, drinking tea amphibrach/amphibrachic 1 unstressed 1 stressed 1 unstressed syllables department, renewing molossus/molossic 3 stressed syllables tell no lies, long dark lane tribrach/tribrachic 3 unstressed syllables if it is, vicariously (last 3) The line lengths are: monometer one foot per line dimeter two feet 66


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trimeter three feet tetrameter four feet pentameter five feet hexameter six feet heptameter seven feet octameter eight feet So a line of trochaic hexameter has six trochees, divided by /, such as: WHEN the / SUNbeams / SCAtter / LIQuid / GOLD on / ROSEbuds a line of spondaic dimeter has two spondees: BELLS TOLL / DAY’S END anapaestic trimeter has three anapaests: on a BANK / by a RIV / er she STRAYED Some forms of poetry use the same pattern in every line, while others introduce variety by adjusting line lengths and patterns of stresses. The foot most commonly used in English language poetry is the iambus, which works easily and fluently alongside the pronunciation of the language. Many set forms feature iambic pentameters, with five iambi to the line. These lines of rhymed iambic pentameters are taken from a sonnet based on the Icarus myth; but the same pattern is used in the terza rima, villanelle, sestina, rondeau, Sicilian tercet, and many other forms. I bless my father, for he gave me wings, and now I am to launch myself to sky, to soar, unfettered by dull earthly things, to emulate the gulls, and learn to fly. The villanelle and rondeau can also use iambic tetrameters, as do the kyrielle and dizain, and this shorter line keeps the rhythm of the pentameter while altering the ‘feel’ of the poem. These lines are the opening rubai in a parody of Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods … Whose fence this is I do not know – I’m skidding fast towards it though. I thought my brakes would work quite well, took no account of sleet or snow. Unrhymed iambic pentameters are widely used in longer works and known as blank verse. This is the key form used in Shakespeare’s plays, Wordsworth’s The Prelude and Tennyson’s Ulysses. Poets tend to break up long sections of blank verse by adding variants to make the reading more interesting. Two of the most popular of these are initial trochaic substitution and the feminine ending. The first twists the opening foot of a line into the iamb’s mirror image, the trochee. The second adds an extra unstressed syllable to the complete metrical line.

EXERCISE: Practise writing a few lines in various combinations of length and foot pattern. Which works best for you? Which produces the most pleasing sound? Extend it (initially) into a poem of 10-12 lines.

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Haiku moments Haiku may be short but that doesn’t make them easy to write. Alison Chisholm offers advice on crafting the best possible haiku for our competition.


uestion at a poetry workshop: What’s so difficult about haikus? You only have to count to seventeen, I can write ten in half an hour. Answer from bemused workshop leader: There’s a bit more to it than counting the syllables… That exchange was not a one-off. It takes place with depressing frequency, and poets who are asked the question need to think carefully before they answer. For how do you explain that the haiku is more than words communicating a pretty picture? If it’s a good one, a fragment of the writer’s essence breathes from the page and it can be absorbed and felt by the reader. The problem is that the attainment of this excitement, this special haiku moment, is difficult enough to define and it’s almost impossible to explain how it can be achieved. To compound the problem, it’s not only shrouded in mystique, but surrounded by all sorts of rather precious material propounded by genuine experts – and would-be experts – in the craft of constructing the haiku. The best advice to offer to anyone planning to write a haiku is to read some – in fact, to read as many as you can. This is not only an enjoyable pursuit, but puts you into the mindset of the haiku, allows its ‘feel’ to permeate your thoughts, and so enables you to start the task on the right wavelength. The more you read, the more you will encounter the controversies surrounding the form. There is debate about whether the haiku must respond to personal experience or may be imaginative. Even the mechanics of the form are disputed, particularly with regard to the number of syllables used. Owing to the different natures of the English and Japanese languages – the form originated in


Japan – the precise syllabic structure is called into question. For the purposes of this competition, the haiku should be unrhymed, and written in three lines with five syllables in the first and third lines, and seven in the second. It should involve some reference to the natural world, and a time reference to imply a season. It should not be titled, but by tradition headed with the name of its form. An added refinement would be a turn in the poem, a tiny shift of emphasis between the second line and the third to introduce a new thought or extra insight. The turn is illustrated in this example: HAIKU A single rose clings to its stem, defies first frost: exhales summer’s breath. The nature and season references are obvious. The turn carries the reader back from the defiance of the last blooming flower to the recollection and personification of the summer that’s passed. It is said that the haiku looks into the nature of the universe. Its sister form, known as the senryu, looks into the nature of man, as this example shows: HAIKU Shortest day over, Christmas offers warmth and friends, fills us with promise.

TAP HERE TO ENTER! Haiku Competition

To enter, submit haiku on any theme up to 17 syllables. First prize is £100, with £50 for second. The closing date is 15 March. See p107 for details.

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Again the season is implicit, and the concept of shortest day suggests a nature reference to the early setting sun. Here, though, the message relates to the human needs for warmth and friendship. The turn moves on from the reference to a brief holiday time, to look into the future in a positive way. It is easy enough to check the syllable count and look for the references and turn. It’s far more difficult to be sure about the ‘haiku moment’. This is something readers need to decide for themselves; for each individual, it works or it doesn’t – a frustrating point, but nobody said it was easy… except the poet who asked that question in the workshop. When you have drafted your haiku for the competition, the advice is the same as for any other form of poetry. It needs to be revised with care and thoroughness. Read it to yourself repeatedly, both silently and aloud. Listen for any awkwardness of expression, anything that jangles on the ear. It may be a problem. Remember that the brevity of a haiku means that there is no room for a wasted syllable. While this is true of all poetry, it is an essential consideration in the haiku when you have so very few words to play with. Each of the seventeen syllables should be a gem woven into the fabric of this tiny, elegant form. Ask yourself whether your message is imbued with that elusive element, the haiku moment. Ask yourself whether the piece is memorable and resonant for the reader. Only when you know that your haiku is working on every level will you be ready to submit your competition entry; but at least you’ll be able to send it in with every confidence. Good luck.



22/12/2016 11:29

Super Structures

Experiment with unusual structure in your short fiction, with Helen M Walters as your guide through some classics


f you want to make sure your short story stands out from the rest, one thing you can do is give it an unusual structure. Throw aside the confines of continuous narrative and be creative in the way you choose to tell your tale. It might be just what you need to make your story catch the eye of a magazine editor or competition judge. Some classic short story writers have blazed a trail when it comes to unusual structures for their stories, and this month we are going to look at The Horla from Guy de Maupassant, The Story Of A Disappearance and An Appearance by MR James and The Index by JG Ballard. As usual, spoilers follow, and you’ll get the most out of the article if you read the stories yourself first, at:

Maupassant’s Diary

The Horla by Guy de Maupassant is written in the form of diary entries. This is a type of fiction that, along with stories written in the form of letters (which we will come to next) is sometimes referred to as epistolary. One advantage of a story in the form of the main character’s diary entries is that it has a sense of immediacy about it. There is also a degree of intimacy as we, the reader, feel like we are being let directly into the person’s thoughts. Finally, it lends a sense of authenticity, a feeling that what we are reading is someone’s actual recounted experiences. The story of The Horla is essentially that of a man descending into madness and self-destruction. 68


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TAP HERE to read the selected stories

The diary format works well because it allows de Maupassant to trace the increasing hysteria of the main character. Note how he starts out being perfectly fine. The words of the first diary entry make this explicit. By the end he is a broken man and, through the diary entries, the reader can follow this character development at first hand. Because a lot of the story is going on in the main character’s head, we don’t want or need narrative input from anyone else. The use of diary entries helps accentuate the claustrophobic nature of the experience he is going through. They are a perfect way of capturing the anxiety, isolation and paranoia of someone going through the experiences being described. The Horla is a story with some ambiguities in it. Is the main character being haunted or possessed, or is he undergoing a psychological trauma? The diary format also helps sustain this uncertainty. Because we only have the word of the diarist to go on, there is no external corroboration of what he is telling us. The diary entries are also a good way of the writer controlling pace and marking the passing of time in the story. Some of the diary entries are very short – almost as though the main character can bear to say no more than he has. Others are longer and give much more detail about what is going on. Using a diary format can be a good way of glossing over periods in a story where not much is happening. But also note the series of entries starting

on August 9. The main character states that nothing is happening in a series of short sharp diary entries, but the very nothingness ratchets up the tension as the reader wonders what is coming next. If you choose to use a diary form, don’t forget that your story will still need a satisfying plot with a proper conclusion. Also don’t forget that the way in which someone shares their thoughts with a diary might not be the same as the continuous narrative you would get in a more traditionally structured story. To keep it authentic, try to reflect why the character is committing their thoughts to paper.

James’ letters

The other main type of epistolary structure is that using letters. The Story Of A Disappearance And An Appearance, a ghost story by MR James, which is told as a series of letters from a character only identified as WR to his brother Robert, is a good example. Notice that the collection of letters is prefaced by an introduction by an unnamed narrator, who claims the letters were sent to him as a result of his particular interest in ghosts. This allows the narrator to assure the reader of their authenticity which is, of course, one of the reasons for using the device of letters to tell a story. Note also that some things about the letters are very precise – the date and place from which they were sent, for example. But we are told that other details such as the exact address of the recipient and the full names of the correspondents are not

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known. This allows an element of mystery to creep in, to balance out the supposed certainty regarding the status of the letters. The first letter in the series takes us right into the action of the story as WH explains that their Uncle Henry has gone missing and that he must go and join the search for him. WH has in turn received this information in a letter from his uncle’s housekeeper, so the plot already hinges on the exchange of letters. There are some interesting aspects about the way in which letters are used to tell this story. Firstly we only have WR’s letters to Robert. We can assume there were replies since we see WR telling Robert where to address such correspondence in the first letter. What happened to Robert’s replies and what would they tell us if we could read them as well? Note that in the second letter WH explains why he is writing letters that are so full of detail about the disappearance of his uncle, other than to keep Robert informed. He wishes to occupy his mind, as he doesn’t have access to his usual business affairs, and he wants to clarify things in his own mind. This helps to explain why he is including so much detail in the letters, something which might otherwise seem unnatural. In this story the device of the letters works well as it means the reader stays fully immersed in the world of the correspondence with no external distractions. There is also an added nod to authenticity as the writer refers to the physicality of writing, describing how he lays down his pen when he is interrupted, and how he seals the envelope to send the letter. This adds to the feeling that the reader is there with him. The open ending to the story is interesting. A concession perhaps that not everything can be told in a letter, and a good trick on the part of the author to keep the reader thinking about the story long after it is finished and filling in the gaps for themselves. Short stories, and indeed novels, in the form of written documents like diaries and letters are popular, but modern technology has opened up a whole range of other possibilities for the contemporary writer. Why not think about a story made up of emails,

or texts? Or maybe a series of Twitter exchanges or Facebook posts? The possibilities are endless. Before we leave the subject of forms of communication, I just want to make a brief mention of the use of telephone calls in story telling. In a previous article (Let’s Twist Again, WM, December 2015) we looked at the way JD Salinger uses a telephone conversation to tell part of a story in A Perfect Day For Bananafish. We looked at how this story starts with a woman on the telephone to her mother. The two women talk over each other, cut each other off and generally fail to communicate properly. This sets the tone for a story that is full of ambiguity and misunderstanding. Salinger uses the phone to good effect again in Pretty Mouth And Green My Eyes. This time he has two male characters, Lee and Arthur, on the phone to each other while a female character, in the room with Lee, listens in. The conversation between the two men is broken up by silent interactions between Lee and the woman, layering up the intensity of the story. The fact that the two men are talking on the telephone is crucial, because it means the identity of the woman is unknown to the man who makes the call. As the story unfolds, a second phone call throws a further twist into the story. The lies and deception that power the story are only possible because the conversations between the two men are taking place on the phone. How could you use telephone conversations in your short stories? Think about the possibilities of conversations you can only hear one side of, conversations that are interrupted, or eavesdropped on, by another person in the room, or conversations that are mysteriously cut off when the line goes dead for no reason.

Ballard’s Index

The final example of a classic short story with an unusual structure that I want to look at is The Index by JG Ballard, and this is a very unusual structure indeed. As the title suggests, the story is written in the form of an index such as might be found at the back of a book. A brief ‘Editor’s note’ begins the story, explaining that the text

comprising the rest of the story is the only surviving part of an autobiography of a certain Henry Rhodes Hamilton. Nothing else is publicly known about the man and it is possible that the full work was suppressed, the editor explains. Notice how this opening passage, like the opening passage to the MR James story, acts as an endorsement of the supposed authenticity of the document. The editor also draws the reader’s attention to the role of the indexer – who has included himself in the index. It’s all a bit meta, but again serves to reinforce the feeling of authenticity in the context of the fiction. The editor then plays with the reader by suggesting that the whole thing might just have been a figment of the lexicographer’s imagination. Moving on to the index itself, the reader will note that Henry Rhodes Hamilton certainly had an interesting life. Many of the most famous names and events of the 20th century are itemised along with Hamilton’s personal involvement in them. Notice how linked entries such as those for Kennedy, John F and Oswald, Lee Harvey tell a story – a story we are familiar with from history, but with the fictional addition of Henry Rhodes Hamilton. The entries under Z refer to the indexer, and take the story full circle. This story is certainly clever and very inventive. I wouldn’t necessarily suggest you should attempt something similar in your own writing as it would be in danger of being too derivative. But it is a great example of how a story can be told in a completely unexpected and unorthodox way and still work tremendously well. Let it, and the other stories we have looked at this month, spur you on to be creative in the ways you structure your stories and present your narrative. Not only will this make your story more appealing to Enter now! editors, but it will also add an extra dimension and interest to the Our subscriberfor n process of writing. tio eti mp co only Finally, don’t forget to think ry ola stories in epist about what the unusual structure form is still open. you have chosen adds to your story. TAP HERE! Don’t be experimental for the sake of it, but always keep one purpose in mind – to make your story as good as it possibly can be.

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JG Ballard image © British Library Board



22/12/2016 11:38

Every word counts


Make each word work in your picture book text by following this advice from author Amy Sparkes

icture books are great fun to write. A brilliant picture book needs original characters, a page-turning plot and excellent writing. To help improve your picture book writing skills, try these exercises.

Word count Picture books are usually under 1,000 words. Most traditional picture books are about 600800 words long, sometimes shorter. Publishers sometimes specify wordcount on their submission guidelines. If your story is becoming too wordy, look for ways to cut the length.

Cut chunks Ask yourself if you really need that rhyming couplet? Or that page? Does it reveal more about your characters? Or keep the plot moving? Is it an exceptional piece of writing (eg a particularly funny moment or engaging text)? If the answer’s no, it can probably go. If it’s a bit you particularly like, cut it out but keep it in a file of ‘lovely bits of writing’ and maybe use it another time. Use one excellent word instead of three good ones. Can you swap words or phrases? As well as reducing your word count, it will also improve your writing. For example, ‘The cat walked quietly across the garden fence’ could be reworded: ‘Tip-toe went the cat’. As well as being more concise, the writing is rhythmically more satisfying. You can also use onomatopoeic words (like ‘splash’, or ‘pop’) to convey what is happening without going into detail.

Cut description Unless you need to describe something, try cutting it out. This keeps the pace up and the story flowing. The illustrations will handle description.

Get to the point Keeping your focus will help the word count. Think about what you need to achieve for each page of your story: what actually needs to happen in the story? 70


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Now try this

The opening spread below is currently 44 words long. Edit down to about 20-25 words. Try this exercise with a friend, without conferring. Then discuss what you edited and why. Example: Oops-A-Daisy Spread 1. Daisy the Duck was a very clumsy duck. Everything she did turned into a big, BIG disaster. She was always walking into things with a CRASH! Knocking things with a BANG! Falling over things with a SPLAT! Or breaking things with an almighty SMASH!

Study published picture books and see how each spread ends. Sometimes dramatic pauses can be used, ie: ‘until she found…’ with the punchline revealed on the following spread. In my picture book, The Mouse Who Sailed The Seas, illustrated by Nick East, I use this technique a lot. The book is about a mouse on the quest for cheese, and explores all the crazy things (such as goats with very hairy knees!) that he discovers on the way. The wacky discoveries are all the more enjoyable due to the suspense built up on each spread: A mouse he went to sail the seas / He sailed the seas to look for cheese / but all he found were…. and then the (rhyming) reveal appears on the following spread.

Now try this

Spread it out

Example: The Pants Chase Split the following text into four spreads. Remember you can split lines for added effect.

Picture books usually have a set number of pages: twelve or occasionally fourteen spreads (double pages). Check the way your story unfolds by planning text for each spread. Look at published picture books for an idea of pacing. As a general rule, you can use the first two spreads to set the scene and introduce characters. By spread three, it’s helpful if the ‘problem’ is identified or there’s a turning point of some kind. This keeps the story moving – an important requirement for little listeners. After the first three spreads of scene-setting and problem-posing, you have several spreads to play with the action. During these spreads, we see our main character working through the problem of the story. How many spreads it takes to achieve their goal and how exactly this plays out will obviously depend on your story. You can also work backwards from the end. As a guide, in a twelve-spread story, Spread 12 might be a humorous twist in the tale, or perhaps a wordless illustration. Spread 11 will be the conclusion. So by Spread 10, your main character probably needs to be solving the problem. This means you roughly have between Spread 3 and Spread 9 for trying (and maybe failing) to sort the problem before the goal is achieved.

It was a windy day when it all happened. ‘Granny’s pants are so big!’ Charlie giggled. ‘They are huge!’ said Sophie. ‘They are big and huge,’ said Charlie. ‘They are gigantic as a giant!’ ‘Humongous as a mountain!’ But then with a whoosh and a whisk, the wind whipped Granny’s pants out of Charlie’s hands! ‘Oh no!’ cried Charlie, as Granny’s Big, Huge Pants floated, fluttered and flew off to explore the world. And so the Great Big, Huge Pants Chase began. Charlie and Sophie chased them for miles and miles… Up the hill… through the forest… into the jungle… Until they saw them muddy and gooey and lying in the swamp. Squelch! Squish! Charlie was about to snatch them from the crocodile’s jaws when an elephant sent them flying through the air!

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Get with the beat Writing excellent rhyming books is harder than it seems! Avoid contrived rhymes. Rhyming text should reflect everyday speech but contrived rhymes often re-order the words in a sentence to complete a rhyming couplet, for example: Into the sea a dog dipped his toe To decide if he should for a paddle go. Normally we’d say, ‘to decide if he should go for a paddle’, so the odd sentence structure shouts ‘contrived rhyme!’ Another example of contrived rhyme is a completely random or unexpected second line, purely to satisfy rhyme, for example: So Emily quickly put on her pyjamas Right after she finished her bedtime banana. Sorry, her what? Unless the story is about a girl who eats too many bananas, this couplet doesn’t really make sense. Also, ‘pyjamas’ and ‘bananas’ are a half-rhyme, which is best avoided whenever possible. Full rhymes (for example here, it could be ‘pyjamas’ and ‘llamas’) create a much smoother read and demonstrate a higher writing ability.

Emphasis Having the same number of syllables in each line can sometimes help create a smooth rhythm. However, it’s also important to note where emphasis lies. In the Emily-bananapyjama example, each line does have twelve syllables. However, the second line could have just eleven syllables and say, After she finished her bedtime banana because you can miss that first syllable and still read it smoothly. However, both lines could have twelve syllables and not scan, such as: Next Emily got dressed in her best pyjamas But first she had to eat her bedtime banana. Compare this couplet to the original. The smooth rhythm has gone, yet both lines still have twelve syllables. This is because the emphasis is wrong. You could read the first line above in different ways, which can kill the author’s intended rhythm. Do you read it (emphasis in bold) like this: ‘Next Emily got dressed in….’ and then the rhythm falls apart. Or gabble ‘Emily’? ‘Next Emily got dressed in her best pyjamas…’ or: ‘Next Emily got dressed in her best pyjamas…’ This has rhythm enough to get you to the end of the line. The problem? It doesn’t reflect natural speech. We would very rarely say, ‘Emily got dressed.’ We would say ‘Emily got dressed’. Similarly, we wouldn’t say ‘her best pyjamas’ unless we were comparing it to someone else’s best pyjamas. We’d say, ‘her best pyjamas’ or ‘her best pyjamas’, depending on context.

Look at where the emphasis attempts to lie in the second line above: ‘But first she had to eat her bedtime banana.’ We don’t emphasise the word ‘to’ like that. It sticks out. So an equal number of syllables in each line isn’t enough by itself.

Keep rhythm consistent Finally, broadly speaking, rhyming texts are either a march or a waltz. My Alien’s Crazy Christmas book is a march. You can read it, marching on the spot: left, right, left, right (and why wouldn’t you?!): An alien came down to earth one snowy Christmas day, It looked so fun and jolly he was sad to come away. Whereas the banana-pyjama example is a 1-2-3, 1-2-3 waltz, (often favoured by Julia Donaldson). The first syllable of a group of three is emphasised: 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3. (You can ignore the ‘So’ at the beginning of the line because this word and also ‘Right’ are borrowed syllables: the rhythm flows on from the previous line so your ‘1,2,3’ is actually ‘-jamas right after’, and so on). So Emily quickly put on her pyjamas Right after she finished her bedtime banana.

Now try this

Rewrite these spreads, watching for syllable emphasis, rhythm consistency (march or waltz?) and contrived rhymes. Example: Catch That Frog Spread 1 One day there was a funny noise I heard it was coming down there from my toys Something bounced, it jumped and it hopped Then a frog on top of Mum’s head did drop! Spread 2 And then the frog licked the cakes and it slurped up my drink, I’m sure I saw it grin and wink How Mum yelled when it reached the sink, What to do we couldn’t think!

Writing excellent picture books isn’t easy, but like all things, it improves with practice. Find someone to read your book aloud and listen carefully to how it sounds. Keep reading other authors’ books, and keep writing your own. Then your picture books will go from strength to strength.

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20/12/2016 10:31

‘how to’ 4 I L How to write a

Have you got useful, practical knowledge that could be passed on to readers in the form of a how-to article? Follow Clive Brooks’ step-by-step guide

f you know how to do something useful or unusual and you’ve also noticed that it’s something that friends, family and colleagues find helpful, then it could very well form the basis of a saleable ‘how to’ article. The magazine world presents myriad opportunities for such contributions, many of which are well paid. You may, for example, have become an expert at pruning fruit trees, making a picture frame, growing tomatoes, making homemade wine, creating unusual recipes, know the best way to paint a ceiling or have some unique country walk routes you could share – the list is endless. And because you already have all the knowledge in your head, writing a useful ‘how to’ article about these pursuits – in contrast to other nonfiction pieces – doesn’t demand a great deal of research. However, for such pieces to stand the best chance of publication, they need to be written – and illustrated – in a structured, easy-to-follow format. My aim here is to provide a straightforward guide encouraging you to do ‘how to’. I’ll cover both the writing and the photography, and outline the best way to present it to the editor of a magazine.

Idea generation

Every ‘how to’ starts with an idea. But where do they come from? Well, you may find it useful to start by thinking about your job, your hobbies and perhaps your home and garden – things you know a lot about. Within these spheres, there will often be areas that you’ve become expert in. These are the things to 72


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focus on initially. To have the best chance of selling your ‘how to’ article, avoid picking broad, obvious topics – these will have been published and written about many times before. Instead, try to select unusual facets of your skill-set that are lesser-known within the subject, but still have useful and wide appeal to the target readership of the magazine that you’re aiming at (more about this later). For example, an article on how to care for a lawn, however well-written, will have been covered many times before, and thus will probably be considered uninteresting and mundane by an editor. On the other hand, a well-illustrated piece about how you managed to create a unique preparation of seaweed and lemon juice (or whatever) to eradicate a specific nuisance weed that every lawn gets troubled with each spring, is much more likely to sell.

Clarity and logic

My editor required me to be quite specific and detail the walk like this:


As an expert, although you may be able to complete your ‘how to’ task almost without thinking, and perhaps consider it as one straightforward, simple process, it probably isn’t. Here’s an example of section from a walking piece that I wrote for a magazine recently. It’s tempting (especially if you know the route) to write: Go along the cliff top and then down along the river to the tea room bit, and then up behind the houses and back down the other side to the town. However, being clear and unambiguous meant I had to break my activity down into small stages.




1 Walk across the headland and descend via steps next to the Marine Training Centre. 2 Take the path towards the River Stour through Wick Hams. On reaching the first houses, keep right. 3 Go through the old wooden gate and along the gravel path for fifty yards. Turn left at next gate and walk along the riverside past Wick Ferry to Tuckton Tea Garden. And so on. The same principal applies to all step-by-step ‘how to’ pieces. It’s important to emphasise clarity and logic over cleverness and artistic style. This is not the place to be showing off your command of language or going for gold in literary gymnastics. It’s far better to use short sentences and simple words to explain each stage. Your reader will appreciate clarity over cleverness. Once you’ve completed your article, taken photographs and added captions (more on all this next), test it on someone. Can they carry out the procedure, or at least fully understand the process and believe that they could? If not, be prepared to act on their feedback and edit your work.


More than any other type of article, the ‘how to’ needs supporting photographs. Thankfully, the task is easy these days – you can even take acceptable photographs using the latest smartphones. Notwithstanding this, I recommend a dedicated camera if you intend to make a paying hobby

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out of your ‘how to’ writing. This is because, with a ‘real’ camera, you have more control over things like focusing, aperture, depth of field, high ISO for low light performance, and other useful settings that help to create good, publishable images. Before you start taking any photographs to accompany your ‘how to’ article, buy some sample copies

exist that can ‘rescue’ a photograph through editing and manipulation, the most famous being Adobe Photoshop. Nowadays, however, there are a wide range of alternatives, most of which are much simpler and cheaper. Remember, you are a writer, so don’t get too bogged down with all the technicalities of photography. If you’d like to understand a little

Try to select unusual facets of your skill-set that are lesser-known within the subject, but still have useful and wide appeal to the target readership of the magazine you’re aiming at. of the target magazines you’d like to try to write for and study the pictures that are being used for similar pieces. This will give you a good starting point for the content and quality you need to aim for. In most cases, when you’re taking a photograph for a ‘how to’ article, your only thought should be to show the subject big, crisp and clear. Just as with the words, the aim is to keep it simple, and avoid trying to be artistic. Your readers will use the photographs to help them understand what you are explaining in your text. So, get as close as you can to ensure that the subject fills the frame and that there’s no unnecessary space around it. Switch on autofocus and ensure that the camera locks on to the part of the image that you’re interested in. Check that your subject is in good light and stands out from its background. If it doesn’t, then you may need to use a flash. I try to avoid flash where I can because it tends to give very harsh results. If at all possible – and especially if you’re working with small items – take them outside on a bright but cloudy day when there are no shadows, and photograph them on or against a suitable plain background, such as a piece of large white card. Although beyond the scope of this article, many software applications

more, then I recommend regular contributor Simon Whaley’s very useful book Photography for Writers. It will tell you all you need to know, and do it in a uniquely writer-focused manner. All photos need to be captioned. I append a caption list to the end of each article I write. I start with the number of the photograph that the camera generates – it will be something like IMG002345.jpg – and then compose a descriptive caption for it. Because photos are large files, when I submit the article to the magazine, I upload all the photographs to a folder on my Dropbox account (which is free) and provide the editor with a link to that. They can quickly view the photographs as an online gallery and download the ones that they want for the article at full resolution. Always supply the very highest-quality jpg format images that you can. Wherever practical, take an upright and a horizontal photograph. Editors will appreciate the choice when fitting your photographs into their page layouts. Upright shots are often easier for them to place into pages.


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Submitting for publication


My advice is to read several copies of your target magazines, and then email a query letter to the editor. Most prefer this to being sent finished

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articles. Explain your idea, state how many words you think the piece will run to and, if you can, try to think of a snappy title for it. Continue with a paragraph explaining what your proposed article will cover, then state when you could reliably deliver the finished piece by and whether you will be supplying photographs. I’ve always found that it’s a good idea to provide a ‘contact sheet’ as a pdf or jpg attachment to the query email, which is essentially a single A4 page with up to twelve small lowresolution example photographs on it. This gives the editor an idea of the sort of images he or she can expect from you, and shows that you are capable of producing them. Conclude your query letter by explaining why you are the best person to write this particular ‘how to’ piece, and enquire what the fee would be if accepted. Your best chance of ongoing success is to keep generating interesting and unusual ideas, whilst diligently researching the current magazine market for opportunities, and to regularly be sending off lots of queries to editors. A modern way to do market research is to visit magazine subscription sites such as www. to locate magazines in your area of interest, and then head to their websites to learn more. Often, sample articles can be found there, which will give you an idea of the sort of thing they publish and the magazine’s overall style and tone. It’s usually possible to find the editor’s name and email contact information on the website too. You may also be able to download some useful contributor guidelines. It’s important to get to know the magazines that you are hoping to write for well. You’ll be taken more seriously by the editor if it’s obvious that you have properly studied the magazine first and tried to aim your contribution at the right section. It’s a fact of writing life that many of your ideas will be rejected. However, if you persevere, then as long as your ideas and the resultant articles are interesting, timely, wellwritten, clear, and logical and are supplied with appropriate supporting photographs, then over time, you are very likely to achieve a measure of success — and have a lot of fun doing it! FEBRUARY 2017


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CRIME FILE Alison Gaylin’s latest standalone is a Hollywood suspense story steeped in insider insight, she tells Chris High


f you’re going to write a novel set in Hollywood then you’re going to be have to be pretty clued up on its ins and out. Fortunately, AL Gaylin has a vast knowledge of the area and what secrets it holds. She reveals some of it in her latest novel What Remains of Me (Arrow). ‘I’ve always been interested in pop culture,’ says Alison. ‘I’d graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in theatre, with an emphasis on playwriting and, knowing I was going to I’ve always been move back to Los Angeles, where I grew up, I earlier. But then her interested in characters thought it would be great father-in-law gets shot who don’t quite fit in, to get a day job in the in the same way as John movie business working McFadden and the public and as far as the plot in script development. and the police seem to of this book goes, it’s Unfortunately, there was an think that Kelly is the one extended writers’ strike going behind the murder. essential. on at the time, so I moved on In the novel, Kelly is a very to the next option, which was lonely kid who gets in with the entertainment journalism. wrong crowd. ‘I’ve always been ‘I started freelancing for a few interested in characters who don’t newspapers doing theatre reviews and quite fit in, and as far as the plot of arts pieces, and got a few assignments this book goes, it’s essential,’ says from trades like Shoot and the Alison. ‘As the book starts, Kelly is Hollywood Reporter. I also worked really alone in the world. She lives briefly in publicity. When I saw that with a remote, rather cold mother Star was advertising for reporters, I and is still mourning the loss of her thought: “Hey, that sounds like fun… beloved twin sister. As she meets and why not?” So I applied for a job there becomes involved with this group and got it. And yes, it was a real eyeof fast, rich kids, she finds a type of opener as to how the other half lives. “family,” which is what she continues A lot of the job involved infiltrating to look for throughout her life – and that world – whether it was posing it’s what motivates her to do almost as an extra on movie sets, crashing everything she does. What I wanted weddings, staking out celebrity homes to create was a character for whom or going out to fancy clubs and finding somewhere to belong is restaurants and chatting up the staff everything, but also elusive.’ and regulars. The job really steeped Many readers will recognize AL me in that atmosphere and fuelled my Gaylin as being Alison Gaylin, fascination with Hollywood.’ author of the acclaimed Brenna In What Remains of Me, Kelly Spector series of novels. Why the Michelle Lund shot and killed name change this time around? ‘My director John McFadden at a party new UK publisher decided that, in thirty years before the novel starts, order to differentiate my standalones when she was seventeen. When the from the Brenna Spector series, they book opens, Kelly is living with would publish those books under my her husband, Shane Marshall, after first two initials. I think in the States, being released from prison five years some people thought What Remains




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of Me was the fourth Brenna book, so this is another way to set it apart. My middle name is Lori, so it’s still me.’ In the acknowledgements for What Remains of Me Alison gives a mention to a particular ally in her writing career: The Golden Notebook store. ‘I love independent bookstores – The Golden Notebook of course, but so many others. I feel like, after the initial rise of online marketers, these independent bookstores are enjoying success in the US once again because they fill a specific niche. There’s just something about speaking to a knowledgeable, enthusiastic bookseller that can’t be replicated online. I mean, I appreciate the convenience of online sellers, but if I want to buy a book for my mom’s birthday, a conversation with the right bookseller is going to get me a lot further than some site that keeps showing me listings for epoxy because I accidentally clicked on it once.’ With What Remains of Me receiving much acclaim, what’s next? ‘I’m currently finishing up another standalone called If I Die Tonight. It takes place in a fictional town in the Hudson Valley, and it’s about a hitand-run that becomes national news – all the lives it effects and destroys.’ Website:

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The 5th Self-Publishing

Conference Saturday April 22nd, 2017, 9am-6pm • University of Leicester

This conference offers a unique opportunity to meet and interact with influential individuals and companies working within the self-publishing sector. It is the perfect day for authors thinking about, or already involved in, self-publishing their work. Whether you are going it alone or using a self-publishing company, this conference offers multiple sessions on a wide variety of topics. This year’s event is sponsored by Writing Magazine, Nielsen Book, Writers&Artists, Matador, The Book Guild, TJ International Printers and others. The keynote speaker is Angus Phillips (Director, Oxford International Centre for Publishing), with sessions on topics as wide-ranging as copyright, audio books, cover design, marketing to retailers and media, the author’s ‘digital profile’... and much more. A full programme and registration details are available on the conference website. Registration is £65 per person; this includes a delegate’s pack, morning coffee, buffet lunch, afternoon tea, a drinks reception and a choice from more than sixteen sessions on different aspects of self-publishing. “

I cannot think of very much wrong with the event and can recommend it to aspiring writers and indie/self publishers. Richard Denning I just wanted to thank you for the excellent Conference I attended on Sunday. It was well organised, well presented, full of helpful, friendly people and a joy to attend. Sandra Smith That was an absolutely first rate conference - from the speakers to the catering and the venue. A great overal atmosphere and so many nuggets of info and ideas they wouldn't all fit onto the notepads you kindly provided! Tony Boullemier

‘The course demonstrates the structures of different writing forms, then helps students use that knowledge to build their individual creative and critical skills.’ Peter la Trobe-Bateman

Open College of the Arts


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ror sic’ hor s la ‘c e h nd t ives go beyo rs the alternat o t e m o e time c consid Has the s? Alex Davis r mons t e

f movie fans will forgive the pun, there is a very ‘universal’ pantheon of monsters that are commonly used in horror and seem to retain their popularity, almost regardless of how many titles come out featuring them. I’m sure you all know what I’m talking about – that triumvirate of werewolves, vampires and zombies. True, there also remains a very healthy market for tales inspired by HP Lovecraft’s cthulhu mythos, but that seems to mainly be the case in short stories rather than novels, and has never truly filtered through to the horror movie consciousness on a large scale either. And let’s not crab the stories featuring these oft-used creatures – we have had a lot of great takes on them, and some of the ultimate horror classics that leap to the minds of laymen and experts alike – Dracula or Frankenstein, anyone? – but are we coming to a point where, after decades of fiction bringing these old-school monsters, we perhaps need to look a little deeper? Mythology, legend and religion alike are loaded with beings to strike fear into the human heart – so why are there so many monsters simply unable to get a look in?

FEAR IS THE MINDKILLER For me, there is a fundamental question of whether these monsters have simply become too safe, whether you’re a horror reader or a horror viewer. I struggle immensely to come up with something in any media featuring a vampire that has really left me uneasy. The same goes for zombies, who maraud in such huge numbers but risk becoming hackneyed (it’s good to gradually see alternative takes – such as my very favourite Pontypool) and for werewolves it’s been equally difficult to find something genuinely frightening for many years. Of course there would have been a time when these tropes-to-be would have been all but unknown to horror fans, and as such been genuinely startling. I don’t think it’s hard to make an argument that this unholy trinity have simply lost the fear factor – which makes many of the stories featuring them perhaps more action-oriented, or dramatic tales of human transformation. But once that fear factor goes, it’s hugely hard to get back – I wonder if these tropes have become safe ground, almost cosy and comforting to come back to rather than being an area approached with any twinge of trepidation. And that, for me, is why horror authors need to delve further into the pantheon of monstrosities and nightmares imbued in the human consciousness. So let’s explore some of the options, shall we – and perhaps we can find the next big monster to make the breakthrough? 76


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THE WITCH If you’re familiar with wicca, the idea of a witch will certainly be something far different from the object of fear it is renowned by many as. However, as we’re writing about horror, let’s stick with that better-known dark fiction concept. Probably the one ‘monster’ we have seen threatening to make a strong re-emergence – Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy is a prime example of recent times, not to mention the much-lauded horror film The Witch. One of the things that is so potentially horrifying about any story about witches is the air of paranoia and misunderstanding that typically surrounds it, brilliantly captured in the non-horror play The Crucible. How scary would it be not only to encounter a witch, and all of the magics and concoctions associated with that, but also to be under suspicion and endure the fear of death at the hands of a baying mob of people with little true knowledge or understanding, armed only with fear, mistrust and ignorance? In that, stories about witches have both a classic creature element and potentially terrifying human aspect too.

THE GOLEM Of course, when you hear the term, it’s hard not to think of the classic 1936 movie, but this is a creature that to me is well worth a revisit. One of the things that can be so frightening about horror is the idea of inevitability – that concept that whatever is out to get you is relentless, and no matter how far you run or how much to you try and hide, the end is not going to be good

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for you. What could better epitomise that than the golem – a mighty, soulless, heartless being imbued only with the will of its master, unrelenting and unresting until that will is carried out. There’s nothing even vaguely human about these creatures; they are simply manifestations of what their creator wants. And dare I say – given the current feeling in the political climate – is the thought of an empty being following a dangerous, power-crazed leader not somehow apt?

THE MUMMY While the mummy has been given a few treatments before – I have to confess to a soft spot for Abbott and Costello’s take from my childhood – we’ve not seen anything hugely significant for a while. Could the time be right for a revival in the undead abomination of Egyptian mythology? You could argue that case that a mummy is simply another form of zombie, but I feel there are enough differences to pull the two apart. If there is something that might hold the mummy back from a comeback in fiction, it might be that inescapable link to Egyptian mythology – a vampire, zombie or werewolf is generally fairly easy to transport to a setting to suit you and your story. Pulling apart a mummy from its Egyptian roots may be a great deal more difficult. However, that is a time and place in history that does hold a certain fascination, so I wouldn’t like to cross out the possibility of a resurgence some time soon.

THE BANSHEE Folk horror is something that we will be exploring in a future article, and if a single creature were the perfect epitome of that subgenre it would have to be the banshee. The screaming horror – in fact a part of the fairy kingdom in common folklore – is often perceived to be an inhabitant of the woods or the countryside. It also shares that great aspect of inevitability – its hideous, keening wail is said to foreshadow the death of a family member. How effective could that be in a horror tale – which family member, and how? And could it be possible to avoid the destiny predicted by the banshee’s cry? And further, could the banshee be talked to, bargained with, persuaded in some way to redact its prediction of death? With folk horror experiencing a solid revival, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this Scottish and Irish myth being seen again a few times.

THE INCUBUS AND THE SUCCUBUS I think it’s fair to say that these days we live in a highly sexualised age, so it surprises me that these two demonic creatures haven’t made at least something of a return to fiction or film in recent times. For those unfamiliar with these beings, an incubus is a male demon who draws in women to have sex with and – often – impregnate them with hell-spawned children. A succubus is a female demon who basically drains the energy, lifeforce and ultimately soul from a man with her rapacious sexual appetite – which her victim is unable to resist. These specific forms of demons could surely fit into a story in 2017? This is another form of creature I would half-expect to be seeing more of in the coming years – it’s not hard to imagine a few potentially very effective storylines based in modern society.

THE MONSTER MASH In this article we’ve explored some of the classic horror monsters – and why some of them may be a little overdone in the current writing climate – and just some of the alternatives that might be due for a revival or a second look. Of course any literary trends are hard to predict, but I have certainly done my best to look into the crystal ball... Horror is very much a genre that moves with the times, and new trends very often follow current events – which as we know are extremely hard to predict. Put simply, the times will dictate the fear of people within the society, and that in turn should inform the writing of the best horror authors around. Look at the world, familiarise yourself with what is going on within it and see if there is a way to blend that with a monster of your choice. Creatures can certainly be scary, but oftentimes there is nothing scarier than reality.

THE SIREN Now here’s an interesting one – a favourite of Greek mythology, luring sailors to their death with their powerful, alluring song and beautiful appearance. It surprises me in a way that this hasn’t been explored rather more in horror fiction – the concept of a creature that looks glorious to the human eye but has a darker, more malevolent exterior should certainly be something of interest for those wanting to craft something a bit more psychological. Who could – would – resist the song, and what could the motive of this devious creature be? There’s certainly scope for some great creativity here in taking the siren from its ancient roots and putting it into the modern world – how would such an entrapping beauty fit into the world of 2017, of instant gratification and affairs and indiscretion? There may be room to give this stunning but deadly being an outing or two in horror fiction.

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Awareness of font and typography is fundamental to all good book design. Get to grips with the essentials with Chris Glithero


ypography is the part of graphic design that covers the words actually on the page, and is an essential concern for any author thinking of self-publishing their book. Before we take a look at the key things you need to know and the tools that you can use to make your book look attractive and professional, let’s quickly dip into the origin of typography.

From handwritten books to a print revolution The history of publishing is the story of the democratisation of the written word and the ability to spread ideas through this medium. Prior to the invention of the printing press in the 15th century, the only way to produce a copy of a book was to literally and painstakingly copy it out by hand. This meant that few books were actually published, and these were generally not made available to the masses. Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in 1440 changed all that, by allowing the mass production of books and later newspapers. The printing press used movable metal letters, or type, which could be arranged in order, coated in ink and then pressed onto paper using a screw press. From this point the production of books accelerated substantially, becoming more economical and accessible. Of course, to ensure that books were readable, important decisions needed to be made regarding those small metal letters and their placement – how far apart would they be, and how much space should be allowed between lines? And just how big should they be anyway? Soon after the introduction of 78


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this new printing method, people also began designing new fonts and typefaces which would dramatically alter the look of the text on the page. More choices to be made. The people responsible for making these design choices became known as typographers, and while in the digital age this remains a skilled profession, it is now within anyone’s grasp to undertake the typesetting needed to produce professional results. In fact if you’re planning on taking control over every aspect of the self-publishing process you’ll need to know at least the basics. If this all seems a little daunting, don’t worry, you’ve already done it, to some degree. Every time you open a new Word document and choose the font and font size to use, or make certain words bold, you’re making typographic choices. But if you’re going to publish a book, whether in print or as an ebook, you’re going to need to skill-up to ensure that it looks as attractive as can be.

What tools will I need? The best tool for tackling your typesetting challenge is a desktop publishing software package, which will allow you to accurately place the text on the page, and control every aspect of how it appears. There are a great many to choose from, with Adobe’s InDesign being popular and an industry standard. Other options include: QuarkXpress Adobe Framemaker Scribus (free) PageStream Once you’ve chosen the software tool that best suits your needs and budget,

the best way to get started is to paste in a few pages of text from your book and simply experiment with some of the typographical features we’ll now cover. In InDesign you’ll find most of these settings in the ‘control’ window, or in the ‘type’ menu on the ribbon across the top of the screen. In other software simply refer to your manual from the manufacturer to identify how to alter these options if you are unable to find them.

Key concepts of typography FONT Fonts are no doubt the part of typography that you’re most familiar with, and there are today literally thousands of different fonts available to choose from, from traditional favourites like Arial and Times New Roman, to the many custom-designed fonts that can be downloaded from the internet for free or for a small fee. ‘Typeface’ is a related term that you may come across, and this refers to a particular family of fonts.

Recommendation When choosing a font for your book, you should aim for one which suits its purpose and tone, paying attention at all times to how easily legible it is. You will of course, for example, use a very different font in creating a technical manual than if you are typesetting your latest children’s picture book. Whether the font is ‘serif ’ or ‘sansserif ’ is of particular significance. Serif fonts are those which have additional ornamental strokes at the end of some letters, while sansserif fonts do not. The former are generally thought of as being easier

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to read as they assist the flow of the eye from one word to the next, while sans-serif fonts are considered more modern and straightforward. Most print books use serif fonts, though some contend that this has as much to do with tradition as actual readability.

SIZE The size of your text is also important for readability, and is typically measured in points (pts). It is obviously important to achieve a balance between readability and fitting a decent number of words on each page for cost-effectiveness.

Recommendation The standard font size for most books is between 10-12 points, but when creating a book for children you will generally want to use a larger font, of between 14-18 points.

LEADING This is similar but not identical to the ‘line spacing’ feature of word processing software which you’re probably familiar with. The term originates from the strips of lead that used to be inserted between lines of moveable type to create vertical space for enhanced legibility.

Recommendation As the legibility of each font will differ, the best approach here is to simply adjust the leading a point at a time, paying close attention to the amount of space between letters that hang lower, such as lowercase ‘g’s.

ALIGNMENT Text can be aligned left, right, centre or justified, with a few other settings available in some DTP software.

Recommendation As a general rule, novels and nonfiction books should always be justified – text is aligned to both the left and the right margins of the page – as this creates a cleaner, neater look. Be aware though that this does automatically adjust the amount of space between words, and if the effects of this are not always desirable, you may wish to use the two features below to manually adjust further…


the long run). Either way, be sure to stick with that choice throughout. Hyphenation is another feature which you will need to make a decision on – whether or not your lines will always end on a full word, or if words will be allowed to be spread over two lines via a hyphen. There are two thoughts on this – one which says that hyphenating the ends of lines where necessary avoids awkward unsightly spaces appearing between words due to justified alignment, and the other which feels that hyphenation looks a little messy. When deciding which school you want to subscribe to, try out each method on your manuscript using the ‘hyphenate’ tool within the paragraph settings. You might also want to browse through the books on your shelf to see the final outcomes of each approach.

Kerning is used to adjust the amount of space between specific individual letters. This may be utilised to tidy up text where necessary and to make it more aesthetically pleasing. Tracking, meanwhile, refers to the spacing between groups of letters, and hence the overall density of a word.

Recommendation Tracking can be particularly useful if you need to adjust the placement of particular words to prevent them from going onto a new page or line. However, take care when doing so, as if you increase or decrease the tracking too much or too frequently, it can actually impede the legibility of the text.

MEASURE The measure of a text is how long the lines are in a paragraph. This is important because you don’t want it to be so long that the reader loses his or her thread, or so short that they have to constantly shift from one line to the next.

Banish the widows and orphans

Recommendation For text covering the whole page, such as in a novel, a measure of around 50-70 characters is recommended, while if you’re using multiple columns you might aim for shorter lengths of between 30-50 for each column.

Paragraphs, hyphenation and other typographical beasts to tame Your text is as ever made up paragraphs, lots and lots of paragraphs, so be sure to get these right. In digital communications it is commonplace for all lines in a paragraph to start level with each other, but in the more traditional world of print publishing, the first line is usually indented (just like you probably did when handwriting essays at school). An indented first line of around 4-8mm should do the trick, and you can set this to remain the same for each paragraph using the ‘paragraph’ settings dialogue in your software package. You may or may not choose to include a line space in-between paragraphs (the latter is more common in traditionally published books, and has the benefit of using less pages in

Further reading The Elements of Typographic Style, Robert Bringhurst Just my Type, Simon Garfield

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Why Fonts Matter, Sarah Hyndman

Widows and orphans are not the name of the world’s most depressing soap opera. They are instead the names given to single words on their own on the final line of a paragraph (widows), and to the last line of a paragraph which starts a new column or page (orphans). The problem with them is that they create a lot of unnecessary white space and hinder readability, so you’ll need to take steps to eliminate them. You can do this by using the tracking and kerning features discussed earlier, and even line breaks where necessary. Whichever typographical choices you make, be sure to make them consistent throughout your book. Few things look less professional and visually appealing than a text whose style and features are chopping and changing from page to page or chapter to chapter.

Final words As you learn more about the art and skill of typography, it’s also important to bear in mind the most vital element to the practice – your own eye and intuition. You can follow all the recommendations you like, but if you look at your text and you feel it doesn’t look quite right, it’s a good idea to adjust further. And if you’re planning on committing to a print run, make sure you get some additional eyes on your pages beforehand, whether they belong to friends and family members or a professional editor. FEBRUARY 2017


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WRITERSʼ WEB WATCH WM’s resident webcrawler highlights online resources for children’s writers


f you are a children’s writer, in 2017 it’s a pretty safe bet that you’ll spend as much working time online as you do off. And because you’re a writer, with an inquisitive brain, doubtless you enjoy exploring the available resources to find what you’re looking for, whether that’s industry know-how or writing advice and inspiration. But sometimes, rather than getting lost in the forest, it’s useful to know the shortcuts. Why not start with the website of Writers & Artists, publishers of the essential directory for writers and its specialist companion for children’s writers? On www.writersandartists. there’s a section dedicated to advice aimed specifically at writers for children ( wawritingforchildren). Reading charity Booktrust (www. is dedicated to information about books for children, and whilst its primary purpose is to provide resources and information to get children interested in books and excited by reading, any children’s writer worth the name will use it to get insights into what works best for their target readership. The Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) has a must-visit site for anyone seriously interested in writing for children ( Befitting a professional organisation, the SCBWI site has information about awards, grants, regional chapters etc, and also a resource library section where SCBWI members can, amongst 80


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publishers and services. other things, download (or order a Sometimes you can find useful print copy of) The Book: The Essential information in places you might not Guide to Publishing for Children. think to look because they’ve been KidLit411 ( around for a while and might not look is a lovely, lively site, packed very modern and whizzy. It doesn’t with up-date information on mean they’re not repositories anything and everything of useful stuff – rather like of interest to writers for old books, treasure troves children. It’s intended Writers must check where you nonetheless to be a one-stop shop need to be aware that what for children’s writers and everything for themselves they contain is relevant to illustrators, and it may well and not rely on any the time in which it was be if you are a US writer written, and might need or aiming at that market, source as gospel. updating for today’s use. Take but any writer wanting to, keep up with industry trends linked to The Wordpool (www. and developments and get Both sites look like date advice will be rewarded by an relics from the early days of the internet in-depth trawl. Writers who join the but contain directories of useful, usable closed Facebook manuscript swap group links to individuals, organisations can find beta readers and critique buddies and events. In much the same way, if it’s time to get that manuscript you’ve Resources for Childrens’ Writers (http:// slaved over to some fresh eyes. Inky Girl ( is is an award-winning blog run by US another lovely US site – this time from author Rachelle Berk. It’s been going writer-illustrator Debbie Ridpath-Ohi. since 2009, which in blog terms means Debbie has generously posted content it’s getting on, and may well contain including a series on creating picture outdated information, but given the books that’s aimed as much at getting usual proviso that writers must check young writers to be engaged with the everything for themselves and never rely creative process as it is at encouraging on any information from any source as adult writers for children to understand gospel (not even this one!), it’s got links the reading requirements of their very to some good, useful information about young target audience. writing and publishing a children’s The Golden Egg Academy novel. On which note, we’ll leave you to ( get on with yours, and hope that 2017 offers specialist tuition for children’s will be a year where your children’s writers. The links and resources section writing really shines. offers a nice curated directory of prizes,


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WORD IS OUT Alternatives to Microsoft’s cumbersome word processing behemoth, selected by Greta Powell


or some reason recently the inbox has been inundated with questions regarding alternative and free word processors to the ever-present Microsoft Word. So, instead of individual queries this month the column looks at some of the other options and which are the most useful and viable alternatives to Word. Once upon a time most of these would have to be downloaded, installed, and then run from the computer, but with the online version generally you simply log on and start typing. None of them really has all of Word’s full features so it is a matter of choosing the one that’s right for you. However if it’s quick, easy online access you want with the added bonus of a being a freebie, then maybe it is time to see what an online word processor can do for you.

ZOHO WRITER Ideal for anyone travelling or collaborating on projects is Zoho Writer, which for something that costs absolutely nothing, contains most features currently found in Word. It is ideal for those working together on joint writing projects because it also contains handy features such as Zoho Chat and a wonderful Version History that makes for a smooth workflow. If you install Zoho’s additional Word plugin then you can work with Word files which then can be saved in Zoho. It is intuitive and easy to write in with a very similar tabbed interface that looks and feels like Microsoft Word. Add that to the fact that it lets you work smoothly with odt, docx and html files and you have a very slick free word processor indeed. You can create a personal account then log in at to give it a whirl or you can log on using Twitter, Facebook or Google accounts.

SHUTTERBORG Probably the most basic of all online word processors, Shutterborg has one toolbar for access to all its features. It is probably comparable with Wordpad, which is the mini word processor contained in Windows. There is no log in or account creation to worry about. The website provides three options: to create a new document, to open a document from the web, or from disc. Once the choice is made you enter the word processing window and simply start to type or edit the document. Unlike other word processors looked at in this column Shutterborg does not provide any file sharing or collaboration features. Shutterborg does fall down in that you can’t save files online and have to save or download to the computer but if you don’t need to collaborate with others and want a simple no-fuss online text editor which saves to your hard drive then this is ideal. It supports most common file formats including doc and pdf. Go to and simply select the required task from the three options provided and start to work.

GET CONNECTED! If you have a technical query for Greta, please email:, or contact her via

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Never one to miss a trick, Microsoft also provides an online version of Word. It could be described as Office online, as you also have access to spreadsheets and presentations. Word Online is free and any Word user will be instantly familiar with its interface and features as it is virtually the same as the Office 365 version. Although stripped of many features it still has the same basic but important elements as its paid-for older brother. It supports headers /footers, inserting images and and creating tables but it does tend to be lacking the more advanced features such as Indexing and TOCs. It is worth bearing in mind that some documents have to be opened from within a OneNote account. As with most of these word processors you access the software via the browser by logging in using a Microsoft account. Take a look at this review from PC World to see exactly what is available for free within the online Office suite at http://writ. rs/onlineword or visit to create an account.

ONLYOFFICE If you have to do any type of document storage or document organisation, OnlyOffice is another great resource. Until quite recently this software was free to use for all and although there is a free option available the company has decided to go down the route of subscription charging. It is impressive and worth more than a cursory look. For more information you can visit for a full review or to create an account go to


Last but by no means least is Google Docs, which cannot be ignored. It brings together most of the features of the previously mentioned word processors and is probably the one most similar to Word. Accessed via your Google account, for something that is free it has the features of a full-blown word processor – which is probably why it is used by many small businesses as their main text tool. It is perfect for creating and editing documents online and Word documents can be uploaded directly from the computer or opened from the One Drive. Docs allows you to work with page layout, sizes and margins and supports a large amount of document file formats. If necessary, you can even use voice input to type as you speak using your computer microphone: Its sharing /collaboration feature is second to none, allowing you to work together editing documents in real time and, like Zoho Chat, provides a chat facility for instant conversation in the document itself. Simply use your Gmail or Google account to log in and get started at Of all the word processors Google Docs gets my vote because it does exactly what it says on the can, with the added bonus of costing absolutely nothing.



20/12/2016 11:22



Your writing problems solved with advice from Diana Cambridge

Email your queries to Diana (please include home-town details) at: or send them to: Helpline, Writing Magazine, Warners Group Publications plc, 5th Floor, 31-32 Park Row, Leeds LS1 5JD. She will answer as many letters as she can on the page, but regrets that she cannot enter into individual correspondence. Publication of answers may take several months. Helpline cannot personally answer queries such as where to offer work, or comment on manuscripts, which you are asked not to send.


November’s Writing Magazine contained an article about trying out different types of writing, and another about a successful author who writes both romantic comedies and gritty crime thrillers. However, isn’t there a danger in trying to get wildly different types of writing published? I have a Georgian-set epistolary novella that I’d love to submit for publication, or perhaps self-publish, but the novel I’m working on is contemporary speculative fiction of a very different style. If I go for it with the novella, might success then railroad me down a track of publishers/readers expecting more of the same? Or might failure prevent me from getting a look-in with my novel from agents who have already dismissed me? I’d love to keep some variety in my writing, but I also want as much of my work as possible to see the light of day.  What should I do? ANNIE PERCIK, Enfield, Greater London


Don’t run before you can walk! You are wasting your energy on these thoughts – concentrate on getting published first! That in itself is difficult enough without worrying about what ‘success’ might or might not do to you. It’s really your choice as to the types of writing you do. It’s certainly not harmful in any way to work on different genres, and many writers find it refreshes them to change gear. If you already have a completed novel then get it out there in some way – and continue to work on your contemporary novel. Build up a portfolio of work. Don’t worry about some hypothetical reaction to ‘success’. You are not the only writer who has these kind of thoughts, but I urge you to dismiss them. Remember – publishers and agents like to see a body of work, not just one example.


Will short story competitions let you know ahead if you are on their short list – or do you have to wait until the awards ceremony when they announce the results, and go to it? If you live far away, then it’s hardly worth attending the awards ceremony unless you know you are on the short or long list. I am unclear on the protocol here. CAMILLA BENNETT, Sudbury, Suffolk


This varies a lot. A few competitions accept your entry fee, and then you never hear from them again – they may not even acknowledge your entry. You would have to keep looking at their website to find out results. Some competitions still ask you to send a self-addressed postcard to register they’ve received your entry. Others are vigilant in acknowledgements. I think, if you were anxious and the journey would be a long one, it might be worth calling them just to ask if it would be worth it for you to make the trip. I think most organisers would be tactful and understand your dilemma. Others might insist on staying tight-lipped. This really does vary so much – all depends on how organised, professional and thoughtful the competition organises are. There’s no hard and fast rule here.


If I submit my novel to various publishers and maybe an agent, should I mention that I paid for help in having it edited professionally? PATRICIA GREENE, Wood Street, Liverpool


I don’t see why you should have to. Even full-time writers have their work professionally edited. Some may pay for proof reading, and help with structure. It’s all in the content – if you have an original idea, a credible plot and some vital spark of real ‘readability’ than that’s what will engage a publisher.


A few years ago Writing Magazine ran an article about the submission of novel manuscripts as ideas for films, and cited an American website where such submissions were considered. Regrettably I no longer have the details and have been unable to find such a site on the internet. I wonder if you know of the organisation in question. I should be very grateful if you could help with this matter. PETER BLAMIRES, Hythe, Kent


I think the site is which covers many competitions in the USA and in the UK – all calling for film and script submissions. Once you join, your inbox will never be empty! What’s more, it’s free to join. You usually have to pay to enter your script, and some give you feedback. You can use novel manuscripts to inspire your film ideas; usually they’d want the project written as a script, but not always. It’s an excellent site. I submitted a script through Withoutabox to Bath Film Society, and to my surprise received an unexpected free critique from their script surgeon, who had worked with leading global film companies.



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20/12/2016 11:23



In 1947 I received for my birthday a fairy story book called Lamplighter Joe by Isobel St Vincent. The illustrations are exquisitely drawn and painted by Gertrude Mittlemann. I have always wanted to write a fairy story and get it published with the same type of illustrations. The story is finished. I have found, to illustrate these type of pictures is extremely expensive. This is the first book of three in a series of fairy stories. I have only my single old-age pension, so these prices are way out of my price range. After all this time could I use the illustrations from this book, or is there an organisation with information about the authors and illustrator relatives, that I need to ask for their permission to use.  By the way Gertrude Mittlemann was more famous for her concert recitals for piano in America. SHIRLEY BOATWRIGHT, Wickham Market, Suffolk


Copyright for illustrations usually lasts for seventy years after the author’s death. But this isn’t an easy question! It will require a fair bit of timeconsuming detective work which you may feel it’s not worth it to embark on. There could be easier ways to illustrate your own book. You just may find details of the copyrights in the book you have, and the publisher details should certainly be there. Even if the publisher has closed or been taken over, you might be able to trace that route via the internet. There are many references to Isobel St Vincent on the web – and a Wiki entry for Gertrude Mittlemann, though this does not mention her illustrations. It might be easier for you to buy the latest edition of Lamplighter Joe and check who published it, and what the position might be if reproducing an illustration. I doubt that this would be easy. If you are able to refer to the Lamplighter Joe book then the publisher might consider this as a little bit of useful marketing, but there is no guarantee of that. You may be better off seeing if there is an art student at a local college who would actually enjoy doing these illustrations for you, in the style you want – maybe as a bit of work experience. Often it’s part of the teaching practice to encourage students to draw in the style of a former artist. It’s not ‘copying’ but is a practical exercise. You could find some excellent results that will please you. This means contacting art departments of local colleges. There is a number you can call to ask about copyright for older works – 0300 300 2000 or email You could give them a try!


By entering a writing competition, say if I won and I became published, will this hamper my chances of becoming published as a major author should I decide at the age of forty to become published? How are writing competitions useful for a young author like me and how can I benefit from them? My only clear goal is that I feel I am not that good in writing technique, but I intend to improve myself so by around forty I can go and publish. Is this a risky move or how should I do it? I don’t have much knowledge about the publishing world and one can feel nervous when you enter it for the first time. Your advice would be most helpful as it has always helped me in the past. NEIL SHARMA, London


I’d say – have a go! Being successful can never hamper your future chances and career. It can only enhance. I believe all writing competitions are useful and the only hurdle – which many writers I talk to face – is of submitting! There’s nothing to fear. I would like you to take the plunge. There’s nothing to lose. If you don’t win, you’re still building up a body of work. Enter, and take credit for having launched yourself on that first step. I have no doubt that your work is better than you think it is.

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Get it written Patrick Forsyth offers festive advice to get your writing off to a great start this New Year


n January, with thoughts of resolutions and actually finishing the piece you have promised yourself you will finish for far too long uppermost in your mind, it is time to actually get it done and get it published. There are editors out there waiting. So, to start the year, here is an infallible formula to get that special piece off your ‘to do’ list and out into the world. It’s in ten straightforward steps: 1: Pour yourself a glass of wine 2: Open a new Word document 3: Top up your wine 4: Give the document a title 5: Take a break before writing – have another glass of wine Step 6: Drite a first wraft Step 7: Wine again glass get Step 8: Tead the rext Step 9: Another wass of gline poooor Step 10: Edit, dite and tinalise fext And don’t forget, final step: send it to the editor. Happy New Year! Step Step Step Step Step

Actually, please don’t take these steps too seriously, though it is a time for resolutions in writing as in so much else. To end on a more useful note, key resolution steps should be first to identify projects to complete during the year (even just one). Secondly, to schedule activity specifically and realistically over a period, specifying when you will complete what, and thirdly to monitor – and stick to – this during the year. Knowing exactly what you want to achieve is surely a useful preliminary to getting it done. Now, what have you got half done that can be given the New Year treatment? NOVEMBER 2016


20/12/2016 11:23

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19/12/2016 14:50



Getting up close and personal with your research topic in a museum adds an extra dimension to your work, says research expert Tarja Moles


n our digital age and amidst our busy lives, it’s tempting to just do research online and not engage in research that requires more time and effort. However, museums provide a wonderful opportunity to observe and get close to artefacts and other objects that are often only seen in books, television or the internet. Seeing something concretely makes it more real and the experience of that object is totally different when you observe it with your own eyes than when relying on a representation of a second-hand source. We are very lucky to have so many excellent, even world-renowned, museums in the UK. They hold an absolutely enormous body of information that is waiting to be accessed and used. Even if your research topic is not that historical, you may benefit from exploring what museums have to offer.

Finding museums When you want to research museum collections, it’s important to start with finding the right museum(s) for your project. Although the large and famous museums, such as the British Museum (, Imperial War Museums (, the Natural History Museum (www. and the V&A (www., may first come to mind, there are so many others to explore in addition to, or instead of, these. Smaller museums tend to have a narrower focus, whether it’s local history, a particular historical era or a specific subject. Their strength lies in the depth of information that they hold about their respective areas of expertise. For example, if you’re interested in medical history, the Wellcome Collection (https:// is a wonderful place to explore medical artefacts and original artworks. If you’d like to narrow your focus further and, say, see an early 19th-century operating theatre, you could head straight to the Old

Operating Theatre and Museum (http:// Or if you’d like to explore the history of dentistry, a visit to the British Association Dental Museum ( would be enlightening. Whatever your chosen topic, be sure to map out the different museums you could visit, remembering that there are different levels of specificity and they all might be able to offer something useful. You can browse a list of museums on museumslist or, alternately, do an online search by coupling the keyword of your research topic with the term(s) ‘museum’, ‘exhibition’ or ‘collection’.

Museum collections Before you go to a museum, it’s worth checking out its website. This will tell you more about its collection(s) and any special exhibitions that might be taking place. Take a little while to study the information so you can be prepared and plan your visit effectively. If the museum organises guided tours, take advantage of them. You are more likely to get the most out of the collections if you have a knowledgeable person guiding you. Although you may not have time to look at everything during a tour, you can ask questions from the guide and be better equipped when you come back later to go through the collection(s) at your own pace.

Museum-based research centres Many museums have libraries, archives and/or research centres that the public can use. The museum websites will have all the details. Please note that access to the research centres can be limited to certain times or it may be granted by advance arrangement only. For instance, the National Media Museum (www. in Bradford asks visitors to make an appointment to explore its Collections and Research Centre.

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Even if you don’t have to book an appointment, it’s worth contacting the staff beforehand to let them know what you’re researching and when you’re planning to visit. You could also ask for their advice regarding the material that interests you. If you’re able to establish and cultivate a relationship with them, you are very likely to find their expertise of invaluable help.

Talks and workshops These days many museums organise talks, workshops and other events. For example, National Museums Scotland ( has a wide range of events listed on its calendar. Each museum tends to advertise its events on its website, so follow the announcements there or, if possible, subscribe to the museum’s newsletter to get notified of any new events. Museum talks and events are excellent opportunities not only to learn, but also to network and seek advice from the speakers and other attendees. The more people you know who are interested in the same topic as you, the more support you have during your research process.

Virtual collections An increasing number of museums are digitising their collections and you may be able to view them, or parts of them, online. Although this is not the same as seeing the exhibits for real, it’s an option if you can’t travel to the museum. There are lots of weird and wonderful museums around the country, such as the Dog Collar Museum at Leeds Castle (http://, the British Lawnmower Museum (www. and the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising (www.museumofbrands. com). Even if you’re not that interested in a particular topic, visiting a quirky museum might be fun and spark off some creative writing ideas! FEBRUARY 2017


20/12/2016 10:58


LINDA MCLAUGHLAN The debut chicklit author juggled childcare time and wrote in her work’s carpark, she tells Adrian Magson


t’s not often you hear of an author getting ‘their best idea ever’ during the sleep-deprived haze of a new-born baby. But Linda McLaughlan did, which led happily to the eventual publication of her novel Chasing Charlie by Black & White Publishing in April last year. Described as a comedy of errors, it features slapdash Sam who chases her posh but roguish ex-boyfriend around London, trying to win back his heart. Her friends, who have their own problems, aren’t so keen, especially the quietly handsome Ed, who has always held a candle for her. ‘I didn’t begin with the idea,’ explains Linda, originally from Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, who recently moved back there after seven years in Hampshire. ‘I started with the characters. I always wanted to write novels, but spent years too daunted to start, and all the ideas I had felt like they belonged to someone else. Then I had that best idea ever, which was to work out who I wanted to write about, and that they would tell me what the story was going to be.’ Written part-time over a couple of years (Linda works as a production manager/producer for film and television), the book was edited sporadically in bursts. ‘I did the bulk of the writing when my children were very small, at nursery, or in a few hours of precious childcare a week. However, once I started back at work I had to juggle my writing with the office job. My solution was to write in my car, poking the nose of the Polo into the quietest spot I could find,


as early as I could. It wasn’t always ideal, but I became very fond of my little mobile office. I’d think about what I would be writing as I drove to work, then crack on with it when I got there.’ ‘I’ve always mucked around writing short stories, and I’ve always written long letters which turned into emails, especially when travelling around Asia.’ (She met her husband in Laos, building a mud brick community library.) ‘However, this is my first published work. My mother is an enthusiastic reader (and wonderful letter writer), and books were a central part of my sister’s and my life. I loved creating stories at school, and was told rather forcefully by a teacher when I was sixteen that I could write! But I’ve known probably from about the age of ten that I would always do it.’ ‘Almost everything else that has happened in my life has been a bit of a happy (or otherwise) accident, but I always knew writing was a certainty. Not that I was convinced I would become a published writer – not in this competitive world – but I knew I would always try.’ The book was eventually sent out to agents, with a few positive responses but no bites. ‘I submitted

I had that best idea ever, which was to work out who I wanted to write about, and that they would tell me what their story was going to be.



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to about 65 in all, which took about eighteen months. Most got back to me, with a few “no response, not interested”. Finally, Black and White Publishing expressed an interest in reading the whole manuscript, which was followed a few months later with an offer.’ Linda is currently working on her next novel, which includes a bolshy teenage girl and her mother, and is also working on a children’s series set in Hampshire.

LINDA’S TOP TIPS • Make time to write, even if only ten minutes, for at least four days a week. • Writing is personal, and takes what time it takes. Don’t become disheartened by those around you. • Ignore the negative voice in your head that tells you your work is rubbish – and keep at it. • Always record your thoughts and ideas, whether on paper, phone or dictaphone.

20/12/2016 10:32

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19/12/2016 14:49


Your essential monthly round-up of competitions, paying markets, opportunities to get into print and publishing industry news.

Get your story white

Spread the word about this new life writing prize

The White Review Short Story Prize 2017 is open for entries. For the first time, the prize is running as two contests, one for short stories from unpublished writers in Britain and Ireland, and the US & Canada Prize for stories from writers in North America. The UK and Ireland prize is £2,500 and the US & Canada Prize is $3,000 Submissions are invited in all literary genres. The White Review Short Story Prize rewards ambitious, innovative and imaginative creative writing, and short stories that expand the possibilities of the form are encouraged. Both winning stories will be published in the print edition of the quarterly White Review. The competition is for original, unpublished short stories between 2,000 and 7,000 words by writers who do not have a publishing contract (entrants may have published stories in magazines and journals, or have published books of non-fiction). Writers must be residents of the territory pertaining to the prize they wish to enter. Writers may enter one story only. Enter via the online submission system, uploading the story as a single file including a front page with the story title and wordcount. Stories may be doc, docx, rtf, pdf or txt files with numbered pages. There is an entry fee of £15 per story, payable via The White Review’s online shop. The closing date is 1 March. Website:

Spread the word has announced a new writing award, the Spread the Word Life Writing Prize The prize, launched in association with Goldsmiths Writers’ Centre, is open to new and emerging writers, and is intended to celebrate and develop life writing in the UK. It’s a five-year scheme designed to boost literary opportunities for life writers. The winner will receive £1,500, an Arvon course, two years’ membership to the Royal Society of Literature and a meeting with an agent or editor. Two runners-up will each get £500 and a meeting with an agent or editor. The competition is for original, unpublished life writing up to 5,000 words by new and emerging writers. Entries may be self-contained, or an extract from a longer piece of work. Writers entering the competition may be unpublished, or may have up to six professional publishing credits in fiction, life writing or poetry. This year’s judges are author Blake Morrison, writer and researcher Katy Massey and Margaret Stead, publishing director of Atlantic Books. The Spread the Word Life Writing Prize has been funded by a donation from Joanna Munro, and this year is free to enter. Upload entry files via the online system, typed in black and double spaced. The writer’s name must not appear on the manuscript. The closing date is 5 February. Website:


Be the best at Bath time The Bath Novel Award is open for entries to the 2017 competition. The competition is for novels by unpublished or independently published authors. The winner will receive £2,000 and there is a shortlist prize of a £500 voucher from Cornerstones Literary Consultancy. The winner and runner up will also have the opportunity for agent introductions. The competition will be judged by Laura Williams, a literary agent from Peters, Fraser & Dunlop, who represents the inaugural Bath Novel Award winner, Catherine Barter. 88


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Novels may be in any genre for adult or young adult readers. All entries must be original and unpublished. Submitting writers may be unpublished, independently published or selfpublished, but must never have been traditionally published (ie accepted an offer of publication which includes an advance). To enter, submit the first 5,000 words of the novel and a synopsis. The novel extract should be double spaced in 12pt font. The synopsis should be single spaced in 12pt font. The writer’s name must not appear on either document. Email entrants should send the novel and synopsis in a single doc, docx or pdf file titled with the title of

the novel, which should also be the email subject line. Include full contact details, novel title, genre, extract and approximate full manuscript word counts and payment method. Postal entrants should include this information in a cover sheet. Longlisted writers will be asked to submit a completed novel of at least 50,000 words in May 2017. There is an entry fee of £25 per novel, which may be paid by bank transfer, credit or debit card, PayPal or cheques payable to Bath Novel Award. The closing date is 24 April. Details: The Bath Novel Award, PO Box 5223, Bath BA1 0UR; email:; website:

20/12/2016 10:03




JAN/FEB 2017

New year, new you

Meet student nurse Steph


Loving life 2 sizes smaller



Healthy new year

Fab opportunity for BAME writers The FAB Prize is a new award from Faber & Faber and the Andlyn Literary Agency to find unpublished children’s writers and illustrators from BAME backgrounds. The winning author and illustrator will each be provided with a year-long mentoring scheme. They will each also get £500. The judges are Leah Thaxton (Faber Children’s publisher), Davinia Andrew-Lynch (Andlyn literary agent), Donna Payne (Faber creative director) and Emma Eldridge (Faber Children’s art director). The winners and runners up will be offered consultations with members of the judging panel. Entrants must be unpublished writers of black, Asian or minority ethnic background from the UK and Ireland. All entries must be text and artwork for children (1-18 years). Text submissions should consist of a maximum 5,000 words of text. There is no minimum word count. The text can be

a short story or a sample of a short story. If the text is for a picture book, send the complete text. Send entries by post, or by email as doc or pdf files with ‘Text Submission’ in the email subject line. Illustration submissions should be either a maximum of ten A4 pages of illustrations or the full layouts and illustrations for a 32-page picture book. Send illustrations as pdfs. Entries may include text, but it is not a requirement for the illustration contest. If sending by email, put ‘Art Submission’ in the subject line. Entry is free. The closing date is 6 April. Details: TEXT SUBMISSION/ ILLUSTRATION SUBMISSION, FAB PRIZE, Faber & Faber, 74-77 Great Russell Street, London WC1H 3DA; email:; website:

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Slimming World Food Optimising eating plan; psychology and practical features to help with weight loss; health features and get-going fitness and fashion and beauty. ‘Our real-life stories explore the varied ways that weight loss changes Slimming World members’ lives: improved health, greater confidence, better relationships – and how they got there,’ said Sara. ‘Our practical features set out success strategies that fit in with readers’ lives: how to stay on plan on a summer holiday, at work or at Christmas, encouraging friends and family to support you, etc. Our emotional/psychological features take a kind and compassionate look at the thought processes and habits that can sometimes get in the way of weight loss – for example, emotional eating and self-sabotage, and offer practical, realistic advice for overcoming these challenges.’ Sara prioritises ensuring Slimming World is engaging, entertaining, informative and inspirational. ‘Buying the magazine on the newsstand can be the very first step on someone’s weight-loss journey – a journey that enables them to feel happier, healthier and more confident. So my job is to ensure that every single feature leaves readers inspired and motivated.’ Feature content is friendly, accurate and accessible. ‘Our features are scientifically sound and fit with the principles of our eating plan. We take care to keep our tone friendly, positive, light and respectful. Real life is written in first person in a variety of formats, such as written through and written with cross heads.’


Slimming World is the magazine of the UK’s leading weight loss organisation. ‘Slimming World magazine supports Slimming World members to achieve their weight loss dreams,’ said editor Sara Ward. Readers are anyone who wants to get into shape. ‘You don’t have to be a Slimming World member to enjoy the magazine,’ said Sara. ‘We’re aimed at anyone who would love to improve their health and lose weight. The magazine is sold on the newsstand as well as in Slimming World’s 16,000 groups across the UK and Ireland and we have readers of all ages, male as well as female.’ Readers come from all walks of life. ‘We simply appeal to anyone who’d love to lose weight – everyone’s invited!’ said Sara. ‘Our readers want weight loss to fit in with their busy lives, not dominate it, and they want to enjoy the journey. They might be looking to fit weight loss around family, friends, social life, work. Above all, they see their magazine as a friend and as an indulgence – a bit of ‘me time’ – and they want to come away from it feeling great about themselves.’ The magazine’s feature content involves inspirational real-life stories from people who have lost weight with Slimming World; recipes and food ideas which help people to follow the




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with our magnificent menʼs section

Sara welcomes approaches from skilled truelife journalists who understand the Slimming World culture and approach. ‘We provide the case studies from our membership and we look for writers who can represent our warm and friendly brand by interviewing sensitively, crafting compelling true-life copy with a light touch, handling weight loss with compassion and originality. We also welcome writers with experience of psychology features, who feel confident with a warm, friendly and non-judgemental tone. Plus, we’d also love to hear from health and fitness writers and, for our dedicated men’s section, writers who are great at connecting with a male audience. Knowledge of Slimming World and Food Optimising is a real bonus, though we do provide resources.’ Inventive treatment ideas are welcomed, too. Word count varies but starts from around 1,200 words. In the first instance, email the features editor, Rachel Callen, with relevant samples of work. Payment varies. Details: email: Rachel.callen@slimmingworld.; website:

One giant flash One Giant Read 2016 Flash Fiction Competition invites writers to send in flash fiction on the theme of space exploration to win Star Trek box sets. One Giant Read began life as a project to celebrate Tim Peake and the Principia Mission. Its 2016 Flash Fiction Competition, which is free to enter, is for flash fiction up to 500 words, on the theme of space exploration. The winner will get a Star Trek 50 Blu-ray box set and a Star Trek Beyond Blu-ray box set. All entries must be original and unpublished. Send entries via the online entry form. Writers may enter as many times as they like. The competition is free to enter. The closing date is 1 March. Details: http://onegiantread.literatureworks.



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FLASHES Ride the Star Wind: Cthulhu, Space Opera and the Cosmic Weird is a new rather specialist anthology for stories combining space opera with HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, to be published by Broken Eyes Books in the US. It pays a full professional rate of 8¢ per word. Stories should be 3,0006,000 words, or sub1,000-word flash. Website: www.brokeneye submissions.html Transworld Publishers acquired three new novels by Cathy Bramley, who has now sold over 500,000 copies since the publication of Ivy Lane in 2014. New monthly magazine Vegan Living, edited by Flic Everett, ‘offers interviews with vegan celebrities, chefs and entrepreneurs, reviews, recipes and ethical fashion and beauty tips on a monthly basis without preaching’, Press Gazette reported. The Wolfson Foundation announced changes to its History Prize. The winning author will now receive £40,000 – an increase from £30,000 in 2016 – with the five remaining shortlisted writers being awarded £4,000 each. ‘I’m going to be eighty in February. I’d like to write more books but I just thought I’d better not get too excited.’ Jilly Cooper, telling Clare Balding she had ‘only got time for one more novel’.



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Guillemot Press is a new small press that launched in Cornwall in spring 2016. ‘We publish small books – pamphlets of poetry and prose – with a preference for the quiet and meditative and an interest in place,’ said editor Luke Thompson. ‘We quite like pairing up writers and artists and we’re looking forward to developing our events series, with exhibitions and readings side by side. We also enjoy putting these books together – the material production of books – playing with papers, forms, and so on, as well as with methods of printing. We have used digital, litho and letterpress so far – whatever seems best for each book.’ Guillemot Press has a grassroots, artisan feel. ‘We use a small family-run printer in the village. So we have a good community feel, although in terms of writers and artists we’re getting work from some exciting national and international figures.’ Luke co-founded The Clearing magazine and has had poetry, fiction and non-fiction published by small presses. ‘I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some great small presses and editors, in various capacities. I like reading new work, I know writing and editing to some extent, I love books and I have ideas about the sorts of books I want to see. Setting up Guillemot has given me space to develop these writers and this writing, these ideas, and to play with books and materials.’ One of the projects Luke’s proudest of is the Sister Mary Agnes title Harvest. ‘Agnes was a beautiful poet who gave up publishing in the 1970s after a breakdown, but she continued to write. Shying away from the limelight so completely, she has been forgotten. After

she died, a couple of years ago, Agnes’s relatives showed me manuscripts of her unpublished writing, and so much of it was just lovely. I was eager to see it published with appropriate care and space. I paired her work with the extraordinary images of Garry Fabian Miller, and I’m very pleased with the outcome.’ Guillemot is currently averaging a new project each month, and has some ambitious plans for future works and developing the techniques and formats to publish them. ‘Next year, we have a few further pamphlets lined up, as well as some larger projects, including a series of triptychs made on this lovely 1928 letterpress. There will be twelve triptychs, but they will be very small limited edition publications. Worth keeping an eye on Guillemot for this series; there are some fantastic writers getting involved. I’m not sure whether to count them as one publication or twelve.’ Luke is also keen to put on more Guillemot events, and take books on tour. Luke is happy to hear from writers. ‘Right now, I’m in the mood for crisp, clean, meditative poetry. I’ve got a taste for minimalism at the moment, space and absence. I’d also like to see some interesting short stories coming in.’ Guillemot publishing formats and terms are dependent on the project. Prospective authors should get in touch by email first, ‘letting us know what you do and what you’ve got in mind’, said Luke. Details: email: editorguillemotpress.; website: http://guillemotpress.

Time passes, get writing Hourglass Literary Magazine is inviting entries for its second international competitions for Best Short Story, Best Poem and Best essay. The competition is open to authors writing in English or any of the BCSM (Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian and Montenegrin) languages. There are prizes of $1,000 in each category and a Jury Award of $500 may also be awarded in each category. There are also special prizes: the Scrivener Award of Scrivener writing software and $250, and the Literary Encyclopedia Award,

which consists of one two-year and two one-year subscriptions to the online Literary Encyclopedia. All winners will be published in the second issue of Hourglass. There are no theme or genre limitations. Short stories may be between 700 and 7,000 words. Poets may submit up to three poems in one entry. Essays should be between 1,000 and 9,000 words. All entries must be original and unpublished. Writers may compete in more than one category. Send entries as doc, docx, ort, odt or pdf files in not more than 12pt font size. The

writer’s name must not appear on the manuscript. All personal details should be included in the cover letter of the submission tool. All entries must be made online. There is a fee of $15 per entry, or up to three short stories or essays for $25, payable as part of the online submission process. The closing date is 30 April. Details: email:; website: http://hourglassonline. org/contest/

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It’s a Funny Old World

Open door at Tor BY GARY DALKIN

Leading US speculative fiction publisher is holding an open reading period for fantasy novellas, but you’ll need to get in quick: it might close as early as 12 January. Editors Lee Harris and Carl EngleLaird will consider novellas between 20,000 and 40,000 words that fit the epic fantasy, sword and sorcery, high fantasy, or quest fantasy genres, whether set on Earth or on an original fantasy world. Note that the setting must not be modelled on a European culture. Harris and Engle-Laird are seeking worlds that take their influences from African, Asian, indigenous American, or Pacific cultures, or any diasporic culture from one of those sources. To qualify, novellas should centre the experiences of characters from non-European-inspired cultures. They say ‘we believe that good science fiction and fantasy reflects the incredible diversity and potential of the human species, and hope our catalogue will reflect that.’ The editors add that ‘if you have a novella you want to submit that doesn’t fit these parameters, don’t give up hope. Our plan is to rotate which genre we’re soliciting periodically, so check... our submissions guideline page regularly.’ The period may end on 12 January, with the possibility of being extended depending on the submissions received by that time. No reprints, no multiple submissions. Simultaneous submissions are reluctantly accepted, but notify immediately if your novella is accepted elsewhere. Payment is at full US professional rates. Follow the full guidelines at

Go west for a big win The Bristol Short Story Prize 2017 is open for entries for the 2017 competition. The annual Bristol Short Story Prize is open to all writers worldwide, whether published or unpublished. The competition is for original, unpublished stories up to 4,000 words. There is a first prize of £1,000, a second prize of £700 and a third prize of £400. Seventeen further shortlisted writers will each win £100. The twenty prize-winning stories will be published in Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology Volume 10. Entries may be on any theme or subject, and in any style including graphic or verse. All stories must be original and unpublished/unbroadcast in any format, whether print or online. Send all entries as doc or pdf attachments. There are no specific formatting requirements. The author’s name must not appear on the manuscript. Enter online or by post. Postal entrants should downloads and complete an entry form. Writers may enter as many stories as they like. There is an entry fee of £8 per story, payable by credit or debit card or by cheques made out to Bristol Short Story Prize Ltd. The closing date is 3 May. Details: Bristol Short Story Prize, Unit 5.16, Paintworks, Bath Road, Bristol BS4 3EH; email:; website:


An Erotic History of Diplomacy by Nicolas Mietton (Une histoire érotique de la diplomatie), is all about hanky panky in French ambassadorial and political circles. Who’d have thought it? Obviously Casanova is given a mention, and there are other tales about Gallic history being affected by liaisons between the sheets. One anecdote concerns a French foreign minister in the Fourth Republic (1946-1958) who frequently ‘had his withered senses revived by the company of young women’. His aides devised an expenses scam to pay for his sensual forays when in foreign parts, describing them in the budgets as ‘the minister’s pillow’. • Times columnist Patrick Kidd, ‘a fan of esoteric books’, recalled how much he enjoyed No Milk Today by Andrew Ward, which included ‘eccentric notes left by customers’. These included: ‘Leave two pints today – please ring if note blows away’, and ‘Please do not leave milk at No 14 as he is dead until further notice’. • The story of a surgeon with a passion for natural history and an interest in fare not usually on the Victorian menu, is the subject of The Man Who Ate The Zoo by Richard Girling (1832-1890), which relates the exploits of one Frank Buckland, ‘the forgotten hero of natural history’. The book describes how, with gastronomy on the far side in mind, he volunteered to work as a surgeon at London Zoo, at the same time as he ran a society with members dedicated to consuming exotic grub, a hobby which caused him to partake of giraffe, panther, elephant, boa constrictor, rhino, wombat, and kangaroo. We’ve heard of gastronomes eating their way through a menu, but eating through a zoo…? • Goodreads website carried this anecdote about rejection and (mild) revenge when an editor rejected an Isaac Asimov story, calling it ‘meretricious’, from the Latin ‘meretrix’, meaning ‘prostitute’, suggesting that Asimov was writing a bad story that would get by on his name, as he was too lazy to write a good one. Swallowing his annoyance, Asimov said mildly, ‘What was that word you used?’ Obviously proud at knowing a word he felt Asimov didn’t know, the editor enunciated carefully, ‘Meretricious!’ Asimov replied, ‘And a Happy New Year to you.’ • There’s been a break on this column’s partiality for puns… Time to get back to business – brace yourself. • Did you hear about the cross eyed teacher who lost her job because she couldn’t control her pupils? • Velcro – what a rip off! • Cartoonist found dead in home. Details are sketchy. • Venison for dinner? Oh deer! • Be kind to your dentist. He has fillings, too. • I stayed up all night to see where the sun went. Then it dawned on me.

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FLASHES Hamish Ross edits Sea Breezes monthly shipping magazine, which was established in 1919. Illustrated factual articles up to 4,000 words on aspects of ships and the sea are welcomed. Payment is by arrangement. Details: The Editor, Sea Breezes, Media House, Cronkbourne, Douglas, Isle of Man IM4 4SB; website: www. The 2016 Swiss book prize, worth 30,000 Swiss francs goes to Christian Kracht for the novel Die Toten (Kiepenheuer & Witsch Verlag). Why are we seeing such a large decline in ebook sales in the United Kingdom this year? asked Goodereader. ‘The trend first started two years ago when major publishers started to control the price of an ebook. This dramatically increased the average cost per title by over 30%.’ The Eastern Daily Press launched Up and Under magazine, described as the ‘ultimate guide to Norfolk rugby’, covering twenty rugby clubs, and professional players connected to the county. Canada will be Guest of Honour at the 2020 Frankfurt Book Fair (October 14-18). ‘Try to be patient if you haven’t heard from the publisher after you’ve sent your beloved manuscript.’ Slushpile advice from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation website



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Billing itself as ‘the magazine for creative minds at play’ the US based Games World of Puzzles includes puzzles, crosswords, brain teasers and ‘other diversions’, plus feature articles, reviews of new board and electronic games and news from the world of games and puzzles. Feature articles can cover a variety of game or puzzle related events or people to mystery, word play, humour and ‘human ingenuity in all its guises’. Examples of past articles include features on the magic of Penn and Teller, practical jokes, ingenious art forgeries, England’s Dangerous Sports Club and wacky swimming pools. The readership of the magazine is of an average 34 years of age. There are some difficult puzzles and advanced reading material but also two pages of ‘Kid Stuff ’ puzzles for children over the age of eight years and visual and easy word puzzles which can be attempted by children. You can submit completed articles, 2,000-2,500 words, but queries are preferred. Payments are $500-$1,000 for accepted work, for all rights. Puzzles, tests, quizzes, etc, can be of any length

from 1/12 of a page to a two-page spread. Payment rates vary. ‘We look for fresh, lively ideas which are fully worked out for solvability,’ say guidelines. ‘Visual appeal, a sense of humour and the incorporation of pictures/objects from popular culture and everyday life are big pluses. ‘Novelty is essential.’ For visual puzzles a rough drawing or written description of photos/pictures will be enough as art or photography can be assigned as necessary. Queries and manuscripts can be sent by post or email: Website:

Centenary competition The Edward Thomas Fellowship celebrates the poet, essayist and country writer, who died 100 years ago in 1917. Most of his poetry was written in the last few years of his life, before he died at the Battle of Arras in WW1. He never

saw his works in print, but since his death, his significance as a poet has grown. The Edward Thomas Fellowship Poetry Competition is for poems of any length on any subject. There are prizes of £100 and £20. Entry costs £3 per poem, or £10 for four, payable

Top prize for ‘golden age’ crime The CWA is inviting entries for the Margery Allingham Short Story Competition, which is given for unpublished stories on any theme that fit golden age author Margery Allingham’s definition: ‘The Mystery remains box-shaped, at once a prison and a refuge. Its four walls are, roughly, a Crime, a Mystery, and Enquiry and a Conclusion with an Element of Satisfaction in it.’ The competition is for short stories of up to 3,500 words, which may be entered by published and unpublished writers. The winner will receive £500 and a package of Margery Allingham books. Submit stories via the online submission system. Type documents in 12pt Arial, double-spaced, with hard returns between paragraphs (no indentations, no page numbers). The author’s name must not appear on the manuscript. Include the story title and word count in a header in every page. Entries may be submitted by authors, publishers and agents. There is a £12 entry fee per story, payable via PayPal as part of the online submission system. The closing date is 1 March. Website:

by cheques made out to Edward Thomas Fellowship. The judge will be Jenny Lewis. Send poems by post before the closing date of 12 February. Details: Margaret Keeping, 66 Fairacres Road, Oxford OX4 1TG; website:

Crichton resurrected Being dead has rarely been a barrier to publication, as long as the author in question is sufficiently famous. Consequently, out in May is Dragon’s Teeth, a new dinosaur novel by Michael – Jurassic Park – Crichton, found by his wife Sherri among his files. The book isn’t, however, a return to the world of genetically reconstructed dinosaurs, but a historical novel based on the real life rivalry between dinosaur fossil hunters Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh in 19th-century America. Dragon’s Teeth will be published by Harper, a division of HarperCollins, on 23 May.

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GLOBAL CRIME MARKET Keep the temperature rising BY TINA JACKSON

Fahrenheit Press publishes crime fiction and thrillers. ‘Within that we cast a pretty wide net though, we’ve got books about terrorists, ghost dogs, carnival freaks, serial killers, strippers and pretty much everything in between – we’ve even got a bit of sci-fi dystopian noir in there just to keep things interesting,’ said publisher Chris McVeigh. ‘Basically if we like the book and we think it’s gripping we’ll shoe-horn it into one of our categories. Our bestselling T-shirt this year was “It’s Noir If I Say It’s ****ing Noir…” which should give you a good idea of our commissioning policy.’ Fahrenheit published its first book in September 2015 and a year on published its fiftieth title. ‘It’s been quite a year,’ said Chris. Chris’s 25-year publishing career included working as a consultant for Constable & Robinson’s ebook business 2011. ‘We went from a standing start to build an ebook business turning over £3 million a year by the time it was sold to Hachette in 2014. One of the authors I had worked with at C&R is the crime writer James Craig whose Inspector Carlyle series has sold hundreds of thousands of copies around the world. James had an idea for a new series but he was reluctant to publish it with his existing publisher. He took me out for lunch, got me a bit drunk and persuaded me to help him self-publish.

That was pretty much that. The idea was we’d publish the new series, have some fun and split the cash down the middle. Fahrenheit Press grew out of that lunch.’ When people heard that Chris was getting back into the industry he started to be approached by authors who knew his reputation for success and wanted to get involved. ‘Almost before we knew what was happening we had a whole roster of new and established authors on our hands so I decided to roll with it and do the whole thing properly.’ Chris decided Fahrenheit should play to his strengths. ‘We’ve adopted a straight-talking, rebellious, we’re-not-like-other-publishers stance. Obviously if we had no idea what we’re doing, this approach would fall flat on its face, but we get away with it because we’ve been around a bit and we really do know what we’re doing. All we’ve really done is layer our whole punk ethos on top to make a great, commercially successful business: think Alan McGee at Creation Records or James Watt at Brewdog – we’ve shamelessly stolen ideas from both of those.’ Fahrenheit is already scheduled to publish 70+ titles in 2017. ‘We know that number will increase as we find more nuggets of gold in our submissions pile. As long as we keep finding great authors and our readers like the books we’re publishing the sky really is the limit for us.’

Bath time for short story writers Now in its fifth year, the Bath Short Story Award is open for entries to the 2017 competition. There is a first prize of £1,000, a second prize of £200, and a third prize of £50. There are further prizes of £50 for the best local writer, and the £50 Acorn Award for the best story by an unpublished writer. Winning and shortlisted stories will be published in an anthology. The competition is for short stories up to 2,200 words, in any style and on any subject, for adult or young adult readers. All entries must be original and unpublished. Type stories in 12pt font in 1.5 or double spacing on numbered pages. The writer’s name must not appear on the manuscript. Enter by post or online. Email entrants should send their story as an attachment with the story tile as the filename. Postal entrants should staple the pages of their entry together and type their contact details on a separate sheet. The entry fee is £8 per story, payable by PayPal or cheques made out to Bath Short Story Award. The closing date is 1 May. Details: Bath Short Story Award, 20 Penn Lea Road, Bath BA1 3RA; email:; website:

Gain feedback and publication A bi-annual online literary arts journal founded in January 2016, Lady Blue has a mission to ‘encourage creativity within the digital landscape’ and is run by a team of ‘quirky, creative writers and Editors’ based in Pennsylvania. The journal publishes poetry, fiction, drama, artwork and non fiction and with all submissions you have the option of receiving personal feedback from one of the editors. ‘We know writing takes courage,’ say the editors, ‘That’s why we’re here to help you along the way.’ Constructive criticism can be given within three weeks of submission but more time may be needed for feedback on novellas. Written submissions should be no more than ten pages long but you can fit as many pieces as you like into those pages and there are no page restrictions for novellas. Audio and video submissions should be no longer than fifteen minutes. On formatting, use a 12pt sans-serif font and one inch margins in a doc or docx document. Use double spacing for written submissions and unless a visual presentation will aid your poetry, use single spacing. Submit photographs and artwork as jpg, png or pdf files. Submissions may be made at any time and there is detailed information on acceptable submissions and formatting on the website. Email with Submission, Category (eg poetry, fiction) plus your surname in the subject line to: Website:

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Chris is looking for submissions of compelling, well-written stories that he believes will sell from writers who get the Fahrenheit mindset. ‘I’d say we get between 30-40 submissions every day and I’d estimate that 90% of them are essentially delusional,’ said Chris. ‘It makes me really sad sometimes when someone has devoted so much time and energy to writing 90,000 words of near un-readable tosh. The biggest lie that was ever told was that “everyone has a book inside them” – they really don’t. That said, when we do stumble across the real deal it makes up for everything. Even after all these years I’ve never gotten over the thrill of finding an author who can write like a dream. It’s absolutely the best part of my job.’ Fahrenheit publishes in print and ebook formats, publishes internationally and pays royalties. Send Chris submissions by email. Details: email:; website:



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FLASHES Jackie Harris edits Woman Alive, a monthly Christian women’s magazine. Illustrated articles between 750 and 1,000 words are paid between £75 and £125. Details: email: womenalive@; website: www.womanalive. Journalist John Fuller, who runs the Cricket Yorkshire website, received the JM Kilburn Cricket Writer of the Year award from the Wombwell Cricket Lovers’ Society, named after a former Yorkshire Post cricket correspondent and awarded annually to a UK-based cricket writer. Winning a Channel 4 Playwrights’ Scheme Bursary allowed young writer Charley Miles to become the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s new Writer in Residence for 2017. She has been supported by the Playhouse since 2015. Blog Preston, a community news website founded in 2009, has launched a weekly print edition with 20,000 copies being distributed free to homes across the Lancashire city. ‘Poems arrive. They hide in feelings and images, in weeds and delivery vans, daring us to notice and give them form with our words. They take us to an invisible world where light and dark, inside and outside meet.’ Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge



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Red Sun Magazine is a new US speculative fiction magazine (issue 2 came out in November) available both in print and electronically. Editor Ben Richards is looking for sciencefiction, fantasy, and horror fiction of 3,000-17,000 words, although 3,000-5,000 is preferred. He will also consider serials up to 80,000 words, though these must be complete at time of submission. Red Sun Magazine is published three times a year, in March, July and November, and is open to submissions all year round. Richards wants quality entertainment and says stories can be dark, violent, gory, humorous, weird, political. They can be populated with any culture, any religion, with LGBT people and people of any ethnicity. Of particular interest is war-themed science fiction, especially if written by veterans. What all submissions must have is a strong element of speculative fiction. No reprints, multiple or simultaneous submissions. Payment is $100 per story, $150 for works over 15,000 words, $300 for serials. He also pays $35 for art, $100 for cover art. This is for first world English rights and first electronic rights for six months. Use standard manuscript format and submit your story online in rtf or docx format, labelled with the appropriate genre. Follow the full guidelines at:

Big winners Alex Wheatle won the 50th Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. He received the award, which comes with a cash prize of £1,500, for his novel Crongton Knights, his second book of a planned trilogy set on a fictional London estate. SF Said commented: ‘Wheatle’s writing is poetic, rhythmic and unique, remaking the English language with tremendous verve. Though Crongton is his invention, it resonates with many urban situations, not only in Britain but around the world. Crongton Knights is a major novel from a major voice in British children’s literature.’ • The World Fantasy Awards winners are: Best Novel, Anna Smaill, The Chimes; Long Fiction, Kelly Barnhill, The Unlicensed Magician; Short Fiction, Alyssa Wong, Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers; Anthology, Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Excellence for Exeter Exeter Writers Short Story Competition 2017 is open for entries. The competition is for all writers, published and unpublished, writing in any genre except children’s. There is a first prize of £500, a second prize of £250 and a third prize of £100. There is also a £100 prize for the best entry by a Devon writer. Enter original, unpublished short stories up to 3,000 words. Writers may enter by post or by email. Email entrants should send their stories as doc or pdf files, double or 1.5 spaced, with a clear font and the story title and page number at the top of each page. The submission email should include details of name, address, phone number, email address, how you found out about the competition, story title and word count and PayPal reference number. The subject line should read SSC – your story name – your name – your payment reference number. Postal entrants should format their stories as above, and staple the pages together. Pay the entry fee by cheques made out to Exeter Writers. The entry fee is £6 per story. The closing date is 28 February. Details: Exeter Writers Short Story Competition, 202 Manstone Avenue, Sidmouth EX10 9TL; email:; website:

and Paula R Stiles, eds, She Walks in Shadows; Collection, CSE Cooney, Bone Swans. • The 11th Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards were awarded in Dublin. Winners: Best Irish Book, The Glass Shore, ed Sinéad Gleeson; Non-Fiction Book, I Read The News Today, Oh Boy, Paul Howard; Newcomer, Red Dirt, EM Reapy; Novel of the Year, Solar Bones, Mike McCormack; RTÉ Radio Listeners’ Choice Award, Lying In Wait, Liz Nugent; Popular Fiction, Holding, Graham Norton; Popular NonFiction, Making It Up As I Go Along, Marian Keyes; Crime, The Trespasser, Tana French; Short Story, The Visit, Orla McAlinden. • Jennifer Moore has won the British Czech and Slovak Society’s annual short story competition with Mrs Bernhardt’s Brexit. The runner up was Jack Mullin with The Pig, the Cupboard and the Reichsprotektor.

• The Writers’ Guild will announce its 2016 Award winners on 23 January at a ceremony at the Royal College of Physicians. You can see the shortlists on • The Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award went to Erri de Luca for The Day Before Happiness. Other nominees were: A Doubter’s Almanac, Ethan Canin; Men Like Air, Tom Connolly; The Butcher’s Hook, Janet Ellis; Leave Me, Gayle Forman; The Tobacconist, Robert Seethaler.

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And another thing...


Portable Stories is run by a group of audio industry experts who ‘celebrate storytelling and highlight social issues that deserve greater visibility’. This audio market runs three competitions a year as a way to support its favourite charities and get great stories professionally recorded and available. The editorial team posts a theme, the winning author receives a cash prize as well as the professional audio recording of the winning story, and a PR profile on the website. Read the details at the website. The top prize is a professional production of the winning story, valued at $5,500, and $250 or 75% of the proceeds generated from submission fees, whichever is greater. The next competition details are due up at the website at the end of the month. The usual rules are for a themed short story, 2,000-4,000 words, as a double-spaced manuscript. Website: • The Drum is a US audio market which pays. Its ten annual issues are marked by tags which allow the listener to choose the length and type of story, essay, poem or dispatches, which are travel pieces recorded at the site. Submit prose, under 5,000 words. Fiction should ‘pay close attention to language while never losing sight of the narrative drive’. Essays must ‘engage in the complexity of an idea’. Poems should have a ‘voice, vision and music’ which surprise. Submit no more than three, in a single file. Dispatches are ‘observations of place and atmosphere’ a sort of travelogue, ideally ‘recorded right there, on the spot, on location, with background noise included’. Record the piece, up to seven minutes long, and send it as an mp3 file. Postal submissions are free, but there is a $3 fee to submit online. Response time is ‘reasonable’. Payment is $50. Details: The Drum, 4, Dinsmore Court, Cambridge, MA 02138 USA; website:

A great getaway prize The Limnisa Short Story Competition 2017 is open for entries. The competition, which is free to enter, offers a first prize of a week-long writing retreat at Limnisa in Greece, comprising full board, seven nights’ accommodation, optional daily yoga sessions and use of all the Limnisa facilities. An alternative first prize is five online sessions of personal tutoring. The second prize is a 50% discount on a writing retreat or workshop at Limnisa or one session of personal tutoring or feedback. The third prize is a 25% discount on a Limnisa retreat or workshop. The competition is for original, unpublished short stories on any theme up to 3,000 words. Send entries as doc or pdf files, typed in Times New Roman or Arial. Writers may send one story only. The title only should appear on the front page. In the submission email only, include the author’s name and address and the story title. Entry is free as long as writers like the Limnisa Facebook page or follow Limnisa on Twitter, and share the competition on social media. The closing date is 15 March. Details: email:; website:

‘According to Ray Bradbury (science fiction maestro), writing is like going to a cliff, jumping off and hoping for wings before you splat. ‘(Jeffrey) Archer, we’re told, needs help with punctuation. Salmon Rushdie deliberately inserts errors of fact into his novels. Chekhov believed the first rule was to “cut, cut, cut” – take the shears to your breathless prose. ‘One is reminded of Dr Johnson’s severe instruction; if anything pleases you in your writing, cross it out. ‘Gertrude Stein, who taught Ernest Hemingway to write, liked to look at cows in the intervals of her writing. The author of Death in the Afternoon preferred looking at bulls being killed. Very Bloodily.’ John Sutherland, reviewing How to Write Like Tolstoy, A journey into the Minds of Our Greatest Writers by Richard Cohen, for The Times ‘Reading usually precedes writing. And the impulse to write is almost always fired by reading. Reading, the love of reading, is what makes you dream of becoming a writer. And long after you’ve become a writer, reading books others write – and rereading the beloved books of the past – constitutes an irresistible distraction from writing. Distraction. Consolation. Torment. And, yes, inspiration. ‘Of course, not all writers will admit this.’ Susan Sontag, in The New York Times ‘One of the most challenging aspects of reporting local government is having to decipher the often bizarre language council officers are inclined to use. ‘Council reports are full of words and phrases such as “benchmarking”, “framework agreements” and “strategic synergy” – words that normal, sane people simply would not use in their everyday life. And don’t get me started on officers’ penchant for TLAs (three letter acronyms).’ Phil Corrigan, council reporter at Stoke daily The Sentinel, calling on councillors to demand council officers’ reports are written in ‘plain English’, and not ‘opaque gobbledook’. ‘Regionals across the land are using ever more content written by amateurs to fill newspapers left chronically understaffed by rounds of job losses. ‘Fewer journalists, fewer scoops, fewer hard questions, less topicality and weaker attribution. It all contributes to the falling credibility of Britain’s regional papers. ‘The idea of a critical or rational press cannot, surely, be consistent with editorial policy that counts generating clickbait as part of its schedule. And so, we see more listicles, more usergenerated content and more stories without any recognisable news value. Sadly, given the state of revenues in the news industry, we can expect more lookalike listicles appearing in the regional press…’ Sean Dodson, postgraduate leader in journalism at Leeds Beckett University, in a piece published on The Conversation

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FLASHES The List magazine is a monthly events guide for Edinburgh and Glasgow. Editor Gail Tolley considers unsolicited material. Payment is £20 for 200-word articles and £60 for 800-word features. Details: email:; website: www.list. The Carol Blake Open Doors Project was launched by Blake Friedman literary agency in honour of publishing legend and agency cofounder Carole Blake,who died in October 2016. The scheme is to encourage candidates from diverse backgrounds to enter the publishing industry. The programme will run twice a year. Website: http://blakefried A tweet by Stephen King on 21 October revealed... ‘My newest horror story: Once upon a time there was a man named Donald Trump, and he ran for president. Some people wanted him to win.’ ‘Old-fashioned language and quaint illustrations are part of the ageless appeal of a classic children’s book, so stop modernising them: this is a growing plea from the parents of young readers – and it seems publishers are beginning to listen.’ Vanessa Thorpe, the Observer



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Published by Avalon Media in San Francisco, Curve Magazine is a bestselling lesbian magazine and aims to ‘spotlight all that is fresh, funny, exciting, controversial and cutting edge’. Celebrity interviews, news, politics, pop culture, style, travel, social issues and entertainment are the content plus profiles of women who are making a difference, controversial issues, trends and although they’re mostly developed and produced in-house, visual essays. Fiction, poetry, unsolicited first-person anecdotes, explicit sexual material or reviews of stories, books, music or websites are not wanted. See website for further details. Freelance feature article submissions are welcome and in the first instance a story pitch is preferred to a completed manuscript. Submissions should be emailed as an attached doc file, with images or large files supplied through an internet file sharing programme such as Dropbox or YouSendIt in high-res 300dpi with full description and credits. Payment is on publication. Send all submissions, queries, etc, to editor in chief Merryn Johns by email: Website:

Wild things

The Curlew is a new quarterly literary magazine, edited by writer, editor and ecologist Lynn Parr and dedicated to thoughtful writing about the natural world. Profits from The Curlew will go to wildlife and conservation charities. The Curlew publishes poetry, short fiction and creative non-fiction (not interviews or journalism). Submissions are invited of poems up to 100 lines and prose up to 4,000 words. All submissions must have some relation to the natural world and should ideally reflect their writers’ feelings. Previously published work may be submitted as long as the writer retains all the rights. Send submissions by email and include a paragraph about yourself. There is no payment for contributors. Details: email:; website:

Break in to theatre writing Oldham Coliseum Theatre is, ‘committed to developing the work of emerging artists and companies from across the region to explore the stories and issues that affect and reflect the local communities’. To this end the First Break Writing Competition is offering four early to mid-career playwrights the opportunity to take their work to the next level, beginning with a rehearsed reading of their work before a supportive audience during the First Break festival which will

run 22 June-1 July 2017. The support of a professional director, dramaturgical support, professional actors and access to tech and studio support will all be available as will networking opportunities with other writers and industry contacts. To begin this journey you will need to submit a play on the theme of ‘Futurist: Noun. A person who studies the future and make predictions about it based on current trends’. To inspire you the website has a further paragraph on

Judging books by their covers Brian Kenji Iwana and Seiichi Uchida, two researchers at Kyushu University in Japan, have trained a ‘deep neural network’ to analyse book covers to see if a computer can identify the genre of a book by its cover art and design. The network proved accurate 20% of the time, with the system doing well with books about computers and technology due to their generally similar layouts used. Cookbooks were also among the most easily identified, but only if the cover featured photos of food. If the image was of a chef the neural network tended to give ‘entirely ambiguous’ results.

the theme. The closing date for submissions is 17 February and plays should be no more than fifteen minutes and have a maximum of four characters. Email with your name, age, email address, contact number and location and include ‘First Break 2017’ in the subject line: Website:

Cormoran coming The BBC and HBO are jointly producing TV adaptations of JK Rowling’s three Robert Galbraith novels about detective Cormoran Strike. The series, to be called The Strike, will adapt The Cuckoo’s Calling, The Silkworm and Career of Evil. Tom Burke (right) has been cast as Cormoran Strike, with Holliday Grainger as Robin Ellacott. Filming began in November, with The Cuckoo’s Calling to be shown as three one-hour episodes and the second and third books to be divided into two parts each. The writers are Ben Richards and Tom Edge.

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INTRODUCTIONS Writing Magazine presents a selection of poetry publications currently accepting contributions. We strongly recommend that you familiarise yourself with their guidelines before submitting and check websites, where given, for submission details.

The Rialto, edited by Michael Mackmin, is a poetry journal published three times a year that is committed to featuring poetry that is diverse and inclusive. Each issue features fifty or more new poems, and The Rialto welcomes submissions of work from new and emerging poets. Send up to six poems, which must be previously unpublished, as a single Word document with each poem on a new page. Submit by post or through the online submission system. Email submissions are not accepted. The payment for each accepted poem is £20 on publication. Details: The Editor, The Rialto, PO Box 309, Aylsham, Norwich NR11 6LN; website: Acumen is a longrunning, Arts Councilsupported journal of poetry, prose and reviews, edited by Patricia Oxley since she founded it in 1985. It appears three times a year and welcomes submissions of new and unpublished work. Send up to four poems in a single word doc or docx (no pdfs) as an email attachment with SUBMISSION in the subject line. Submissions of articles on poetry and poetry-related subjects are also considered. Payment is either in cash (£10 per page) or in kind (subscriptions, free copies). Details: email: patriciaoxley6@gmail. com; website:

Southword Journal is published twice a year by Munster Literature Centre in Cork. It accepts submissions of original, unpublished poetry and pays €30 per published poem (poets based outside Ireland are paid by PayPal). Poems in English and Irish are considered between 15 January and 15 March for the summer issue, and 15 July-15 September for the winter issue. Send all submissions through the online Submittable system. Website: New Welsh Review has been a key journal for the Welsh literary scene for more than 25 years, and has published work by great writers and thinkers from Wales and beyond. It accepts submissions of new unpublished work. Send up to six poems typed on single sides of A4. Number the pages and include the poet’s name and email address on each page. Include the words ‘submission’ and ‘poetry’ in the subject line if submitting by email. Submissions received in the first half of 2017 will also be considered for New Welsh Review’s annual poetry showcase video. Payment is £28 per poem on publication. Details: email:; website: Poetry Ireland Review, currently edited by Vona Groarke, is published three times each year and welcomes poetry submissions from poets from Ireland and abroad, in English


Fiction Silicon Valley is a the collective name for a group of monthly and quarterly free zines featuring fiction and poetry by emerging and established writers. Submit only once per month for each category, but reprints

Poetry London is an arts charity and international poetry magazine published three times each year, that features new voices alongside major names in contemporary poetry. Poetry London’s remit is to publish the best and most exciting poetry being written now, and poetry editor Ahren Warner, and co-editor Martha Capos, are always interested in hearing from unpublished poets as well as those with a track record of publication. Poems are paid, and rates are discussed with poets individually. Send all submissions as hard copies by post. Email submissions are not accepted. Send up to six poems and an SAE for reply. Details: Ahren Warner, Poetry London, The Albany, Douglas Way, Deptford, London SE8 4AG; website:

and sim subs are allowed. Editor-in-chief Steve DeWinter wants short stories, 2,500-20,000 words, in any genre, flash fiction, 2-2,499 words, or up to five poems. In addition, Fiction Silicon Valley has launched an anthology series of themed volumes. See submission dates and themes at the website. Payment is 6¢ per word up to $100 maximum. Website:

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or Irish. There are no restrictions on style or content but guidelines note that sexist and racist work is strongly disliked. Send up to six original, unpublished poems with a cover note including contact details and publication credits if relevant. Send as hard copies, with an email address for correspondence. Email submissions are not accepted. Payment is €40 per published poem. Details: Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry Ireland, 11 Parnell Square East, Dublin 1, DO1 ND60, Ireland; website:



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FLASHES David Emery edits The Hockey Paper, a new weekly publication from Greenways Publishing. Ideas for illustrated features on hockey are welcomed. Details: email: david.emery@ greenways; website: www.thehockey Mark Ward edits Nature’s Home, the quarterly RSPB magazine. He welcomes letters, wildlife stories, nature photographs and gardening tips. There are prizes for star letter writers. Details: email: natureshome@; website: www. DeadLights Magazine is inspired by the history of horror fiction, taking its inspiration not necessarily from the modern blockbuster novel familiar from the likes of Stephen King, Peter Straub, and Shirley Jackson, but shorter fiction, poetry and flash. Website: www. deadlights Lorraine Candy succeeds Jackie Annesley as editor in chief of The Sunday Times Style Magazine. She has also been appointed luxury content director. Website: www. magazine/style ‘Every journalist has a novel inside him, which is an excellent place for it.’ Russell Lynes, US art historian (1910-1991), quoted in the Observer (from The Week)



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Third Flatiron Publishing is a specialist small press based in both Boulder, Colorado, and Ayr, Scotland, producing digital and print science fiction and fantasy anthologies. Each quarterly anthology is themed, but all require short stories, 1,500-3,000 words, of science fiction, fantasy or anthropological fiction. Their preference is for ‘tightly plotted tales in out-of-theordinary scenarios’. Some light horror is acceptable. Stories should ‘revolve around age-old questions and have something illuminating to tell us as human beings’

and writers who can give ‘fantastical situations and creatures, exciting dialog, irony, mild horror, and wry humour’ will go to the top of the list. The anthologies also publish one or two ‘very short humour pieces’, around 600 words. The brief is open to first-person perspective, or mini-essays, or explaining why something is like it is, but all done humorously. Sim and multiple submissions are okay, reprints are not. Submit by email as a doc, rtf or txt file with flatsubmit:title_of_story in the subject line. Add a brief bio plus a one- or two-sentence synopsis in the body of the email. Response time is ‘about eight weeks’. Payment is 6¢ per word for ‘first publication rights to the story for six months after publication’. Details: email:; website:

Open door for poetry entries Open House 2017, The Interpreter’s House Poetry Competition, is inviting entries. The Interpreter’s House is a literary journal, published three times a year, containing poetry and short stories. Proceeds from the annual competition ensure that it doesn’t go over the price of £5 for a single issue. The competition is for original, unpublished poems up to fifty lines. There is a first prize of £500, a second prize of £150 and a third prize of £100. Seven further poems will be highly commended.

All poems must be original and unpublished. Type poems on single sides of A4 in 12pt Times or Arial. Poems must be titled. The author’s name must not appear on the manuscript. An entry form, covering letter or email containing the name and contact details of the poet should accompany each entry. Email entrants should send their poem/ poems as a single file and include the poem titles and PayPal reference number for their entry fees in the submission email. Postal entrants should download and complete an

entry form, and pay the entry fees by cheques made out to The Interpreter’s House. The entry fee is £4 for one poem and £10 for three. The closing date is 31 January. Details: The Competition Administrator, Open House 2016, The Interpreter’s House Poetry Competition, 26 The Wern, Lechlade GL7 3FF; email: tihopenhouse2015@; website: www.

Blow this horn

Ver poem’s ver thing

A South London-based theatre company with ‘a passion for intimate new comedies which delve into the humour and pathos of unexplored occupations and unexamined lives’, Velvet Trumpet has a rolling submissions policy and puts on regular ‘Soggy Brass’ nights of new comedy at Southwark Theatre. Each writer whose work is selected will receive £50. ‘If you are a writer with an original comic voice, we want to hear from you,’ says artistic director Nikolai Ribnikov. Submissions, which must not have been performed in London within the last three months, should have a running time of 10-15 minutes and must work as a standalone theatre piece as the company is not looking for sketches. Although it is preferred you have a cast and director attached, assistance in finding creative counterparts can be provided. Website:

The Ver Poets Open Competition 2017 welcomes entries. The competition, which will be judged by Tamar Yoseloff, has a first prize of £600, a second prize of £300 and a third prize of £100. Selected poems will be published in Ver Prize 2017 competition anthology. The competition is for original, unpublished poems, which may be in any style and on any subject, up to thirty lines. Type each poem on a separate sheet of A4 and send two copies. The poet’s name must not appear on the manuscript. Include a completed entry form, which may be downloaded from the website, with each entry. There is an entry fee of £4 per poem, or £10 for three, and any subsequent poems are £2 each. Pay this with cheques made out to Ver Poets. The closing date is 30 April. Details: Competitions Secretary, 181 Sandridge Road, St Albans, Herts AL1 4AH; website:

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Crown House Publishing is a small award-winning independent publisher, based in West Wales. ‘We publish an extensive range of classroom resources and professional development books for teachers and school leaders,’ said managing director David Bowman. ‘Our list also includes books on health and well-being, NLP, hypnosis, counselling, psychotherapy and coaching.’ Crown House Publishing was born out of The Anglo American Book Company, founded in 1992, which originally imported and distributed NLP and hypnosis books from the USA to meet demand in the UK. David joined the business in 1994 and started to add education books to its portfolio, mostly in the areas of brain-based learning and accelerated learning. The company founded the Accelerated Learning Centre to serve educational buyers in 1996 and in the same year, The Anglo American Book Company took its first steps into publishing. ‘The first successful book we published was The New Encyclopedia of Stage Hypnotism by Ormond McGill which still sells very well today,’ said David. ‘As the list started to grow we founded Crown House Publishing in 1998, first as an imprint and then as a separate company. We were still publishing books on NLP, hypnosis and health and well-being then but as our education network grew we were able to publish more in this area. Our landmark book was The Teacher’s Toolkit by Paul Ginnis, who sadly died last year. We sold our 100,000th copy this year.’ Education now dominates Crown House Publishing’s list but David is looking at other areas for growth. ‘This year we’re publishing a series of children’s books and have moved into the textbook market in association with the WJEC examination board, as well as expanding our list in our traditional area of health and well being.’ The Crown House target is to publish around forty titles per annum, ‘although this year we are already up to 58!’ David is happy to receive submissions. ‘We review all submissions linked to these genres but we will look at anything if we think we can make it successful. If you are interested in us publishing your book or have a proposal for us please describe your book/idea in no more than 300 words.’ A good Crown House title is: ‘An idea that isn’t just new or different but demonstrably so,’ said David. ‘The market is very crowded and it’s increasingly difficult to get attention. The other submissions that we look favourably on are those by active authors, particularly those who are on the conference circuit or training in schools and other organisations. We want people who have something different to say. We are our author’s voice in print.’ Crown House publishes in print and ebook and negotiates royalty-based contracts with authors. Details: email:; website:

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A learning curve The Word Factory is inviting applications from emerging writers based anywhere in the UK and Northern Ireland for its Apprenticeship Awards. The four writers will be individually mentored by one of the following: Alexei Sayle, Zoe Gilbert, Nikesh Shukla and Jarred McGinnis. The chosen Apprentices will have access to all Word Factory events and classes, support from writing agencies and access to a leading agent. The award is for writers on their way to a first collection of stories or beginning to send out work for publication. Writers with no access to literary mentorship and from communities that are often excluded are encouraged to apply. At least one place per year is held open for BAME writers. Writers with novels or collections already published are not eligible, but self-published writers may apply. To apply, send a 2,000 word story or part of a story and 500 words explaining how the scheme would benefit you and the skills you could bring to Word Factory. Include information about where you live and whether you have a BAME background. There is an application fee of £20. Apply though the website. The closing date is 22 January. Website:

Dive into Crystal Lake Leading US horror indie Crystal Lake Publishing is preparing volume 4 in the successful anthology series Tales From Crystal Lake. There is no theme but submissions must be original in all senses (no reprints), and feature believable threedimension characters, as editor Ben Eads says, ‘as real as your friends and neighbours’. Submissions should be modern, unique and imaginative. If you use traditional elements like vampires, werewolves or ghosts you must bring an original vision to your tale. Stories about zombies have been done to death and will be a very hard sell. Serial killers are now too clichéd to even consider. Graphic violence is acceptable but must be integral to the story. Stories which are just gore and nothing more will not be accepted. The previous three volumes in the series have featured Jack Ketchum, Ramsey Campbell, Rena Mason, Graham Masterton, Lisa Morton, Tim Lebbon, and Tim Waggoner. In other words, aim very high. Deadline is 1 February. Maximum word count is 7,000, but 4,000 is preferred. Submit an rtf or doc attachment by email: with the word SUBMISSION in the subject line Payment is 3¢ per word. Website:



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FLASHES New Scientist weekly science and technology magazine is edited by Sumit Paul-Choudhury. The features desk will consider material but send a synopsis of no more than 400 words in the first instance. Details: email: customerhelp@; website: www. Debut, the new bimonthly lifestyle and career magazine for women in the creative industries, is inviting contributions. Contact via Instagram. Website: https://debut As part of Book Week Scotland 2016 the Scottish Book Trust gave a Bookbug bag to every Prime 1 child in Scotland. The titles were by Scottish authors or illustrators, and included There’s a Bear on My Chair by Ross Collins, Hare and Tortoise by Alison Murray and Shark in the Park on a Windy Day by Nick Sharratt. A first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone with a typo on the cover (Philospher’s, on the rear cover) has sold at auction for £43,750. ‘I found myself wandering in a graveyard in the tropics for one book – that sort of experience isn’t available in most jobs.’ Louis de Bernieres



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GLOBAL EROTICA MARKET Commit yourself to something sinful BY TINA JACKSON

Sinful Press specialises in high-quality erotic literature. ‘We don’t limit ourselves to specific sub-genres, preferring instead to assess each manuscript on its own merits,’ said publisher Lisa Jenkins. ‘And while we are constantly looking for those elusive bestsellers that sit firmly within the genre, we are also willing to take chances on cross-genres and controversial storylines.’ Sinful Press will not publish anything with child abuse or paedophilia, bestiality, or the glorification of rape. Sinful Press came into being in December 2014 as a partnership between short story writer and professional editor Lisa Jenkins, and author and owner of Horrific Tales Publishing, Graeme Reynolds, but creative differences prompted an amicable split with Lisa taking over Sinful Press a few weeks later. ‘We wanted to make a name for ourselves as an approachable yet professional press with consistently high publishing standards, and in June of 2015 we released our first novel, Peeper, which went on to garner rave reviews for its uniqueness,’ said Lisa. ‘Now, two years after our conception, we are living up to that reputation with professional editing, proofreading, cover design, formatting, and a growing list of beautifully crafted novels and novellas in a range of sub-genres.’ For Lisa, and Sinful, good erotica should have all the qualities of any other good fiction, and her goal is to be one of the most reputable small presses in the industry, with a reputation for producing high-quality erotic literature. ‘For us it is a combination of characters and storyline that draws us in and leave us breathless. Great erotica has to be, first and foremost, a great novel, where sex is an integral part of the storyline rather than the only focus.’ Sinful Press will publish a maximum of six novels and twelve novellas a year. ‘We also have an anthology planned for 2017 which will be open for submissions from now to 31 March.’ Anthology guidelines will be posted in January. Lisa is looking for polished manuscripts rather than first drafts, tightly woven storylines, and strong, believable characters. ‘We do prefer female protagonists, and we like to feel a part of the story so please show rather than tell. Sex scenes must be interesting, emotional and highly descriptive. All sub-genres and cross-genres are accepted, and we love originality.’ Send the first few chapters (5-10k) as a doc or odt file (12pt Times New Roman) along with a synopsis and cover email with biography. Novels should be at least 60,000 words, and are published in print and digital formats. Short novels and novellas are between 10,000 and 60,000 words and are digital only. Sinful offers an advance of $300 for novels, plus royalties. Short stories, when accepted, are usually paid a set amount up front. Details: email: submissions@sinfukpress.; website:

Where genre meets lit Educe Press is a new US small press founded in 2014. Its goal is to publish ‘writing that combines the aesthetics of literary language with the pulse of genre movements’. The editorial team is young, and with a distinct attitude. Submissions of prose should be ‘booklength… literary fiction and nonfiction,’ although short story and essay collections are welcomed too. Start with a query which ‘addresses the scope of the work’, and include an attachment of the first chapter – no more than fifty pages – or two stories or essays. Poetry submissions may be book-length, and the poetry may be in any style. When submitting poetry collections include a cover letter and attach the full manuscript. Response time is ‘within three to six months’.​Payment and rights are discussed at contract time. Details: email:; website:

Slip into Black Ice Magazine Black Ice Magazine is a zine using Kickstarter fundraising to establish itself. The editor, John K Webb, is ready to create the first issue of the zine. He seeks ‘works of speculative fiction’, including cyberpunk. He wants ‘character driven fiction, with a clear plot, that extrapolates today’s technological and social landscape into tomorrow.’ The editor favours ‘near-future, centred on Earth, a bold picture of what is to come’. Volume one is due to be published in late February/early March, 2017. There will be interviews, fifteen stories and artwork. Submit speculative fiction short stories, 1,000-6,000 words formatted according to the website guidelines. Response time is 2-8 weeks. Payment is $5 for 1,000-3,000 words, $10 for 3,000-6,000 words, for non-exclusive first world rights. Details: email: betterfuturespress@; website: https:// blackicemagazine/

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INTERNATIONAL ZINE SCENE Change Seven is an online literary journal, published three times year, with a yen for ‘gritty realism’, anything ‘edgy, experimental, or surreal’. It needs fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and visual art with ‘a bite’. Submit all year round, online, as an rtf or doc file. Sim subs are okay but reprints and multiples are not. Send: short stories or creative nonfiction, up to 5,000 words; flash, up to 1,200 words; or up to five poems. Response time is ‘around four months’. Payment is in copies for first North American rights. Website: Petite Hound Press publishes pieces of writing paired with works of visual art. The art and the prose are not created by the same person or deliberately intended for each other. The editors enjoy selecting and putting pieces together. Submit by email, no more than three short poems, preferred length seven lines long or, ‘if you’re a prose poet or flash-fiction writer, 28 words’. Payment for publication is two complimentary petite prints, or $5 dollars via Paypal. Details: email:; website: www.

The online version of Bartleby Snopes publishes two stories each week, of anything up to 3,000 words, with a monthly Story of the Month competition. Response time is usually 3-5 days. Payment is $25 for the monthly competition winner. Website:

Eyedrum Periodically is an unusual zine, the online home of Eyedrum Art and Music Gallery, Atlanta, Georgia. It publishes ‘traditional, literary, genre and experimental pieces’, but also looks for ‘work that defies categorisation, straddles genres, exercises boundaries and limitations, but is aware of or reactive to the larger cultural milieu’. Issues are themed, so check guidelines for upcoming themes. Submit fiction and essays, up to 3,000 words, 1-3 poems of no more than five pages each, one-act plays, sound, film, or visual art, by email: Website:

Submit up to 4,500 words, or 3-5 poems, through the website, in doc or rtf format. Response time is ‘at least five months’. Details: email:; website:

Lunch Ticket is the zine published by the MFA community of Antioch University of Los Angeles with an aim of showcasing the best literary writing, ‘regardless of subject matter or theme’. Its student editors try to ‘balance cutting edge literary and visual art with conversations about social justice and community activism’. It publishes author interviews, book reviews and personal essays alongside fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, young adult lit, literary translation, and visual art. The zine is biannual so a selection of writing is published online each Monday. Submissions open on 1 February, until 30 April, then 1 August-31 October, each year, when guidelines become available on the website. Website:

Litbreak is a monthly online literary journal which launched in October 2015. It publishes fiction, book reviews and essays, 500-5,000 words, and poetry. Submit online. Response time is ‘within three months’. Payment is $100 for short stories or novel excerpts, otherwise $25-$50. Website:

Devil’s Lake is an online journal of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, visual arts, interviews, and reviews published by the graduate creative writing program at the University of WisconsinMadison. It publishes fiction and nonfiction, and visual art, especially when it tells a story.

Harvest festival For the Binstead Arts Poetry Competition 2017, poems are invited on the theme of ‘harvest’. There are prizes of £150, £100 and £50, and a reading of the winning and commended entries will take place as part of Binstead Art Festival on 10 June, with commentaries from judge Clare Best. All poems must be original and unpublished. Poems may be in any style, and should be no longer than forty lines. Type poems in

Black Denim Lit publishes literary and genre fiction, from ‘thoughtful writers’. Submit fiction, 500-7,500 words of ‘lasting merit’ regardless of its style. Poetry is not wanted, along with a list of other ‘do nots’ in the guidelines. Response time is ‘based on recent activity’. There is no payment at present. Website:

Awoqi is a brand new zine just for teenage writers. Playing on the ‘adults never listen or understand us’ theme, the editorial team offers space for ‘what we (teens) have to say, draw, do, and create’. Do not submit unless you are seventeen or younger. It needs creative non-fiction, editorials, articles, fiction, or poetry, all under 3,000 words. Indicate if the work has been previously published anywhere, including personal blogs. Submit by email with your genre, title and name in the subject line. Response time is within thirty days. Details: email:; website:

12pt Times New Roman, single spaced. Send two typed copies of each poem entered, on separate sheets. The poet’s name must not appear on the manuscript. Include a completed entry form, which can be downloaded from the website. The entry fee, of £5 for the first poem and £3 for any subsequent poems, should be paid by cheques made out to Binstead Arts. The closing date is 20 March. Details: Competition Secretary, Shirley Park, Yapton Lane, Walberton, Arundel BN18 0AN; website:

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FLASHES Dominic Mitchell edits Birdwatch monthly magazine and welcomes wellillustrated features between 1,000 and 1,200 words on relevant topics. Send a synopsis first. Contact him through the website. Website: www. The Wantage and Grove Review is a fortnightly eightpage review of local events, news and a recipe. Details: email: wantageand grove@btconnect. com; website: http://wantage andgrovereview. The Lancashire Authors Association, founded in 1909, is for writers and lovers of the county’s literature and history. Its publication, The Record, comes out three times a year. Membership is £15 per annum. Contact through the website. Website: www. lancashireauthors Keith Redbourn edits the New Milton Advertiser weekly paper and welcomes readers’ letters up to 500 words. The news editor is Andy Sherwood and Dee Flanagan is sports editor. Details: email: news@adt. press; website: www.advertiser ‘Let us intoxicate ourselves with ink, since we lack the nectar of the gods.’ Gustave Flaubert (1881-1880), author of Madame Bovary, quoted in The Spectator



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If you have written a full-length 50,000-90,000 word romantic novel or a 30,000-50,000 romantic novella then you may be able to see it published with ebook publisher Crimson Romance. Authors with ‘fresh, vibrant, unique voices’ are especially sought and anything that is a little offbeat or is something other publishers are not interested in will be welcome. The publisher is open to submissions in five subgenres: romantic suspense, contemporary, paranormal, historical and spicy and a recent call has been for submissions of LGBTQIA+ romances featuring a ‘strong emotional/ romantic journey between two partners. M/M romances especially welcome’. The essential with all submissions is that they have not been previously published in whole or part in any media and that there is an emotional journey towards love for consenting adults with either a happy-ever-after or happy-for-now ending. ‘We believe variety is the spice of life,’ say guidelines. ‘We’re happy to consider a wide variety of plot lines and

characters but we’re especially looking for smart, savvy, confident heroines with strong goals, heroes of all varieties, alpha, beta, anything in between, and new twists on favourite themes.’ Check the website for any specific submissions calls and previous calls which are still open. You can also find out more about the kind of romances published by signing up via the website for a weekly newsletter which includes free chapters, sneak previews, news, and updates. Submit your finished novel/novella with a detailed 1-2 page synopsis stating clearly the goals, motivations and conflict for your character together with a query letter saying what makes your book distinctive. If you have an online presence and an interest in marketing and promoting your work, this will be a bonus so might be worth mentioning. Send to editor Tara Gelsomino by email: Website:

GLOBAL SPECFIC MARKET Happy birthday Canada

For women, by women Not to be confused with the UK magazine of the same name, Lady online literary magazine, based in Atlanta, USA, has a content of all kinds of fiction plus creative non-fiction and poetry written for women, by women. ‘Our goal is to showcase the work of the female writer who, perhaps, has never been given the opportunity to share her voice,’ says editor Wendi Nunnery. ‘It’s a place to welcome any woman who has something to say about her world. It doesn’t have to be pretty or happy or fun. It certainly can be. But it doesn’t have to be. It just has to be yours.’ Original unpublished work that is strong and multi-layered is what is wanted. There are no restrictions on the kind of poetry wanted but selection for publication will be based on strength of voice and complexity. The magazine can be read for free online. Fiction, young adult fiction and creative non-fiction should be a maximum 5,000 words and flash fiction no more than 1,000 words. There is no maximum word limit on poetry. Email to: Website:


49th Parallels: Alternative Canadian Histories and Futures is a new anthology to be published by Bundoran Press Publishing House in October 2017 to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. The anthology will be edited by Hayden Trenholm, who has twice won the Aurora Award, Canada’s most prestigious honour for speculative fiction. Stories can be submitted by anyone, of any nationality, but must be set in Canada or involve Canada and Canadians in some central way while featuring some kind of alternative history or even alternative future. Stories may be historical (back to 1867) or futuristic, but whatever creates the alternative past or possible future must take place prior to 2017. The causal factor may be scientific, technological or as a result of major political or social change. No supernatural or fantasy stories, though steam- and diesel-punk will be considered. Payment will be at professional rates for first world rights (print and digital) for original English language stories. Submissions should be 1,500-7,000 words. Deadline is 14 February. Submit an rtf, doc or docx attachment by email:, with ‘SUBMISSION 49th: Title of your story’ in the subject field. Include a brief cover letter in the body of your email, with title, word length and any relevant writing credits. Website: pages/submissions/

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PDR LINDSAY-SALMON The University of Iowa Press is a wellestablished literary press with a fine history of prizewinning books and authors. They welcome new authors and are open to submissions provided the author has carefully checked the guidelines and knows that their work is a good fit for the Press. It publishes non-fiction in many forms, but fiction and poetry only through two annual competitions. The Press also helps to produce the literary journal The Iowa Review, which is edited by the University English department and published three times a year with poetry, fiction, and literary non-fiction. A small number of pieces from each issue are available online as well. The Press and Review are now combining to publish two innovative novels per year beginning in 2018. Called The Iowa Review Series in Fiction, it needs ‘highquality literary fiction in a wide range of styles and genres’. Submissions should be by a first contact of ‘a brief, 300-word description of the novel and an author biography’, online, before 1 March. Response time is ‘slow’ and payment and rights are discussed at contract time. Website:

Blog about your travels Freelance travel writers with a knowledge of several destinations or an entire region are wanted to join the writers database for Viator Travel Blog and to contribute to a network of Things To Do blogs on an ongoing basis. ‘ is a place where we can discuss travel, discuss what’s new on the site, answer your questions, and generally post and discuss news, features, wishlists and more about the world we live in,’ says Travel Blog editor Katie Hammel. ‘At Viator we believe that travel has the power to make the world a better place. This is our place on the web to share our passion and inspire all of us to make that next trip.’ If you decide to contribute to

the blog you will be responsible for writing and publishing around 2-5 posts per month per destination. If you have five destinations, this will mean 10-25 posts per month. WordPress should be used and you will need to source photographs and add links, tags and categories. With your input you will be assigned posts from a content plan and these will range from travel tips, eg how to get around in a certain city, great things to do with kids in a destination or information, to news on current events, festivals, dining, and things to do. Posts should be 300-500 words long and payment is $45 per post. See website for full details and application form:

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Get into Iowa O W-H O

A way ahead Patrick Forsyth finds a novel way of fuelling research and gaining information en route. n encounter with a particularly quirky tour guide recently gave me more than a thousand words. This was mainly fuelled by observation (and note taking), but sometimes more interaction is necessary. And sometimes this is difficult and, at worst, embarrassment and hesitation see opportunities stillborn. I don’t remember where it originated, but there used to be an old saying ‘Get ahead, get a hat’. It must have been a while ago as nowadays a man does not even have to wear a tie to be considered appropriately dressed in formal situations. I have never had a bowler hat, but I do have a travel hat. My willingness to wear a hat of some sort came slowly as my hair became, let us say, a little less evident, and I became prone to getting a sunburnt head. My wife then presented me with a Tilley hat. From Canadian company Tilley Endurables, these have long surely been the Rolls Royce of hats. They come with an owners’ manual, they will not shrink, are waterproof, they even float should you drop one overboard on a water-borne trip. They are not just functional, but both special and distinctive and, it should be said, somewhat expensive. That is not to say that they are not good value – mine has been on and off my head and in and out of the washing machine for more than twenty years. As you may discern, Tilley hat wearers can be a tiny bit obsessive about them. And – and here finally is the link to this column – they notice them on others. Greeting a stranger with something like ‘Ah, another Tilley wearer’ is very likely to break the ice and can lead easily into a conversation; indeed my experience is that this happens regularly. And on a journey or visit you aim to write about such may be valuable: an exchange of views about headwear rapidly giving way to some information-gathering or exchange – about how to get to places, about where the best place is to eat and a whole lot more. Now any non-British readers may claim this is not so, but the British at any rate seem to find striking up ad hoc conversations difficult if not impossible; it does happen on trains sometimes (on longer routes) and occasionally on planes too – though a too chatty neighbour may not be what you want next to you on a long-haul flight. So, maybe as well as a notebook, perhaps a camera, and any other kit that goes with the writing territory, the writer wanting to interact with others should invest in a Tilley hat. Who knows what it might lead you to (maybe a feature about hiking gear for a start); indeed, one person I chatted to in this way had met his future wife through such a conversation! That’s something else to write about. However you do it – get talking.




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FLASHES Executive PA magazine’s UK edition is edited by Cora Lydon. She accepts pitches for business-related features between 700 and 1,000 words relevant to her readership of executive assistants. Payment by negotiation. Details: email: Cora@; website: www. Publishers Weekly noted recently that in the third quarter of 2016 overall sales were up compared to the first half of the year. Simon & Schuster did best, with increased revenue of 11.3%. Meanwhile rising sales in digitally downloaded audiobooks did not quite offset falls in ebook sales, with the digital market now accounting for 23% of the publishing market, compared to 25% a year ago. Helena Lang, editor of Sainsbury’s Magazine, welcomes readers’ snaps of a dish cooked from the mag. The best one wins a £50 voucher. There are also prizes for star letter writers. Details: email: feedback@ sainsburys; website: www. sainsburys ‘A woman once told me I was her favourite author, then gave me a book to sign by Jeffrey Archer, so I signed it as Jeffrey.’ Writer Frederick Forsyth, quoted in The Yorkshire Post



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Rocking Horse Publishing is a bustling US small press publishing in print and ebook formats. Submission periods open and close according to the number of submissions currently being dealt with. When the team are accepting submissions, send a full manuscript, of more than 70,000 words. The editors enjoy all fiction genres and sub-genres. Non-fiction must be queried with a proposal. Please attach the manuscript and put all details plus the cover letter in the body of the email. Make sure the manuscript is in a standard publishing format in a doc file. Check the guidelines for further requirements, in particular no headers or footers. Response time is ‘reasonable’ and rights and payment are discussed at contract time. Details: email:; website:

Win Wordfest prizes for words The Evesham Festival of Words Short Story Competition is open for entries in adult and junior categories. There is a first prize in the adult category of £150. In the junior category, prizes of £30 will be awarded to the 8-11 winner and the 12-16 winner. The winner and shortlisted entries will be published in an anthology. The competition is for original, unpublished stories on any theme or subject. Entries in the adult category may be up to 2,500 words. Junior entries may be up to 1,000 words. Send entries by email as doc, docx, rtf or pdf files, doubleline spaced in 12pt Times New Roman or Arial. The writer’s name must not appear on the manuscript. Include the story title as a header on each page. The filename of the entry email should be the story title. Writers may enter as many stories as they like. Entry in the junior category is free. In the adult category, there is an entry fee of £5 per story, payable by PayPal. The closing date is 24 March. Details: email:; website:

Laureates 4 libraries Chris Riddell, the Children’s laureate, together with all of the eight previous holders of the position, has sent an open letter to Justine Greening, secretary of state for education. Ridell noted that the work of school libraries ‘is not fully appreciated and, worse, is being undermined through lack of economic and intellectual investment’. He voiced concern that over the last ten years the School Library Association has lost around 1,000 members, former school librarians who have been made redundant, and he spoke out against the recent closure of the entire school library systems of Berkshire and Dorset. The Children’s laureate asked Greening ‘to set out clear standards for library provision that will end this disadvantageous school library lottery that limits many children’s life chances. I am asking you to fund this from the education budget so that every school has a library service it can be proud of: books to borrow and wherever possible a school librarian to help children choose’.

Book Talk BY JOHN JENSEN I told our literary group I was thinking of writing something along the lines of Mrs Dalloway or James Joyce’s Ulysses: one whole day in the life of... Of me, probably! ‘I suppose domesticity still holds a few surprises,’ said our only published member in his usual superior manner. Surprising nobody has hit him yet. We all hope to wheedle out of him the name of his agent. So far, his lips are sealed. Water-boarding might help. Unfortunately, he’s a good novelist. What he’s doing among us is showing off. Preening! He claims he wants to help us write. We can all take advantage of his experience. In a pig’s ear, darling. All he wants to do is criticise. Really and truly the man’s an absolute sadist. Actually, come to think of it, my book is now likely to be about a female dominatrix stalking her pompous little prey, an author growing increasingly fearful as he slowly realises there is not one, not two, but a dozen dominatrixes, leather dressed with canes in hand – all after him. An ending is beginning to take shape – I pretend my tinnitus is him screaming!

20/12/2016 10:12


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UK MAGAZINE MARKET A recipe for success


The Northern Writers’ Awards 2017, which offer £40,000-worth of support, are open to applications. The Northern Writers’ Awards are produced by New Writing North and supported by Northumbria University and Arts Council England. Fiction submissions, unless otherwise specified, are between 3,000 and 6,000 words or three short stories up to 2,000 words each. • Northern Writers’ Awards for Fiction and Narrative Non-Fiction. Between £500 and £5,000 to develop work in progress and complete manuscripts. Open to emerging and established writers. Submit prose and a synopsis. • Northern Writers’ Awards for Poetry. Between £500 and £5,000 to develop work in progress and complete collections. Open to emerging and established poets. Submit up to thirty poems and a commentary. • Northern Writers’ Awards for Children’s and Young Adult Fiction: Between £500 and £5,000 to develop work in progress and complete manuscripts. Open to emerging and established writers. Send prose and a synopsis.

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knowledge and an understanding of the magazine and its readers. They need to be aware of food news and changing trends. ‘A strong angle is key,’ she noted. ‘In food, inevitably the same topics come up every year (Christmas, Easter, barbecues, etc), so we want freelancers who can approach these familiar topics in a fresh and unexpected way. Again, imagery is also key, so it has to be a topic that we can illustrate easily. Ideally a freelancer would understand the kind of image that works in print and be able to provide photography for us to use.’ Send her detailed, fleshed-out feature outlines in the first instance. ‘Why the topic is timely and who they would be likely to speak to etc. Freelancers frequently pitch ideas to us, and the ones that grab the attention usually have a very strong, fresh angle and are clearly written in a way that shows the writer has a good writing style and personality. Just a general feature on British baking or meat, for instance, wouldn’t be very appealing – there would have to be much more to it than that. We rarely run company/individual chef profiles either as they comes across as overly promotional. We’d expect a writer to speak to a few people/ companies in a feature to get a more balanced and varied view.’ Payment is £200 for 1,200 words and imagery. Details: email:; website:

• TLC New Fiction Reads: Five new novelists get an editorial report on their work from The Literary Consultancy worth £300. Open to emerging and established writers. Send prose and a synopsis. • Poetry School New North Poets Mentoring Scheme: Five new poets will be offered development and mentoring. Open to emerging and established poets. Submit up to thirty poems and a commentary. • Andrea Badenoch Fiction Award: £2,000 for a first-time female writer over 42. • Arvon Award: A prose writer (adult or children’s fiction) will be offered the chance to undertake an Arvon course. • Northumbria University Student and Alumni Award: £2,000 to a final year student or recent graduate from Northumbria University. Submit prose or up to thirty poems. • Clare Swift Short Story Award: £1,000 for the best unpublished short story up to 2,000 words submitted by a writer living in the north-east of England. • Northumbria University/Channel 4 Writing for Television Awards Serial Drama: Two bursaries each worth £3,000 to work with Lime Pictures on a placement on Hollyoaks. Submit ten pages of script, an

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Great British Food, edited by Natasha Lovell-Smith, is aimed at food lovers with an educated palate and an interest in all aspects of food – cooking as well as farming and production. The content is about 60% recipes, with the rest being made up of expert columns, celebrity interviews, products, reviews and longer food reads. ‘We try to cover every aspect of British food, keeping it current while avoiding “fads” that are unlikely to have longevity. Popular topics range from home brewing, smoking and preserving to street food, unusual producers and farming stories,’ said Natasha. ‘Baking and ways to make everyday cooking exciting and easy are always really popular too. We also have a regional focus on each issue, where we celebrate the local food in a different county/region each month.’ Great British Food emphasises the visual appeal of its subject. ‘Being a glossy magazine, high-quality photography and visuals are tremendously important to us for both recipes and more general features,’ said Natasha. ‘Even if a feature is brilliantly written, if the design and visuals aren’t good enough then we’d be unlikely to run it. The bulk of GBF’s content is recipe features across various seasonal themes. ‘We source most of them from recipe books but commission our own covers.’ Written features include travel guides, more specific masterclasses (on bread or patisserie for example), celebrity columns and interviews, taste tests and more general features. Readers are of all ages but the majority are older, affluent women and the magazine reflects a comfortable lifestyle where cooking and eating are seen as pleasures. Natasha likes to keep the subject matter fresh and current, and have a strong, specific angle. The tone is informative, but also easy to read and entertaining. ‘As editor, my focus is great photography and visuals, interesting and unusual angles and sharp, tightly written copy with a decent amount of humour.’ Natasha is happy to hear from freelances with good food





Look North

Great British Fo

original storyline for Hollyoaks (up to 600 words) and a personal statement. • Northumbria University /Channel 4 Writing for Television Awards – TV Drama: One bursary worth £3,000 to work on a mentoring placement with Bonafide Films. Submit ten pages of script, a synopsis, an original storyline for a new TV drama (600 words) and a personal statement. • Cuckoo Young Writers’ Award: £200 for a young writer (14-18). Submit up to 2,000 words of prose or up to ten poems. • Matthew Hale Award: Support worth £500 for a young writer, nominated by parents, teachers or other adults. To enter, all writers must live and work in the North of England (the areas covered by ACE in Yorkshire, the North East and North West). The awards support new work in progress, and work entered must be current WIP. Work does not need to have a northern flavour or northern theme. All entries must be original. Writers may enter one award only, and be available for the awards ceremony on 29 June. Enter through the online application system. The closing date is 2 February. Website:



20/12/2016 10:13


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Competition rules and forms

Enter online at or by post, with the ref code in the address, to: Sally Bridgewater (Ref Code xxxxx), Writing Magazine, Warners Group Publications, 31-32 Park Row, Leeds LS1 5JD. Remember to add a front sheet with full contact details (see Rule 3)

To enter:

• Battle of Britain Memorial Trust competition (see p34) For short stories, 1,500-1,700 words, filling in the backstories of Tom and Bernard (see p34); entry fee £5; £3 for subscribers; closing date, 15 March. Ref Code: Feb17/BattleBrit • Humour Short Story Competition (see p39) For humorous short stories, 1,500-1,700 words; entry fee £5, £3 for subscribers; closing date, 15 March; Ref Code: Feb17/Humour • Dialogue-only Short Story Competition (see p39) For short stories, 1,500-1,700 words, told entirely through dialogue; entry fee £5, £3 for subscribers; closing date, 15 February; Ref Code: Jan17/Dialogue • Haiku Competition (see p67) No theme, seventeen-syllable limit; entry fee £5, £3 for subscribers; closing date, 15 March; Ref Code: Feb17/Haiku • Subscriber-only First Line Competition (see p61) Short stories, any theme, starting with the line ‘Is that what you meant to do?’; 1,500-1,700 words; free entry, subscribers only; closing date, 15 March; Ref Code: Feb17/firstline • Subscriber-only Epistolary Story Competition (see p61) For short stories, 1,500-1,700 words, in epistolary format; free entry; subscribers only; closing date, 15 February; Ref Code: Jan17/Epistolary

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20/12/2016 10:13


Writing CATHRYN My



The children’s author likes to shut herself away and concentrate, she tells Lynne Hackles


athryn Constable, author of The Wolf Princess and The White Tower, says: ‘I’m lucky to write full time but even full time doesn’t feel like you ever have enough time. Life always intrudes.’ Cathryn likes to be in her own room with the door closed. ‘It doesn’t stop the interruptions, but I feel happier.’ ‘At the moment, I’m planning the next book and loving the fact that I can read instead of feeling that other books are a source of temptation. When writing full-tilt, I allow myself a quick peek at one particular Tumblr for about ten minutes. Often there are images that lend themselves to what I’m writing and so they go in various files on my computer or get printed and put on the pin board that’s a visual reference for my book. ‘When writing I put on headphones on and put the music on shuffle. It helps get me out of the everyday and means I’m not paying attention to what is going on in the house. As my husband is home at present, he’ll answer the door, the phone etc. I like my writing day to start and finish without interruption. ‘To start, I print out and read work from the day before. It’s a good way to trick myself into being back in the book. There are days when my imagined world feels quite close, and others when I feel locked out so reading over what I’ve done is an effective way to find a way back in. I’ll then take in any corrections and write on, printing things out every few pages and refining. I keep the pages next to the computer and these have to be as perfect as possible. If I even add a comma, I’ll print that page out again. ‘I like to stay in my room and 108


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often won’t leave until nearly 4pm when I start to think about supper and the domestic stuff. Those things are left until later because if I start doing laundry before getting to my desk, I’m sunk. ‘My desk’s been converted to a standing desk because, at the end of the day, I’d get off my chair and scarcely be able to move. I’ve never thought there was time to go for long walks that everyone says are so good for the imagination. They’d take a fair chunk of the day that’s available for writing. ‘The White Tower took a long time because it was written several times. Even when I thought I’d got the point of the book, it would dissolve on me and I would have to find another way through. The kernel took a long time to emerge. It was time consuming and painful and often left me in despair. That good idea I began with turned to straw in my hands, like an antiRumpelstiltskin. But I kept going, wanting to know what would happen to this child that I had put at the top of a tower. Why was she there? How could she move through the air so lightly? I think this can be one of the problems about over-planning – you don’t get the happy accidents. ‘I believe there are stages of imaginative development and that point between childhood and teendom can be extraordinary – trying to understand who you are, separating a little from your family and learning about friendships. Everything is up in the air. And that’s what The White Tower explores. It’s hard to write about eternity and infinity, but if you put a child on a roof, trying to make sense of their

LISTEN TAP HERE to listen to an extract from The Wolf Princess TAP HERE to buy the book from Audible

world, that imagined child will most likely walk you through what you need to think about. Early on, I got into a massive panic because it seemed all completely nuts and nonsense and it spooked me. It took a long time to settle. Also, there’s a view nowadays that books should be produced at a breakneck speed. Plenty of fantastic writers manage that but I put a lot of pressure on myself and then got into a panic about the plot and how to work the historical backstory in. I felt I simply had no aptitude for what I was trying to do when I was really panicking about surface details instead of just going deeper into the story. But I will have to find a better way of writing a novel this time around because I can’t put myself, or anyone else, through that nonsense again.’ Website:

MY WRITING PLACE ‘I write in the first floor, back room of our tall narrow house in London. My books are in alphabetical order on floor-to-ceiling shelves. There’s a selection of children’s fiction, Penguin paperbacks from childhood and as many contemporary writers as I can cram on. I derive childish pleasure from climbing my library ladder. A large pinboard holds images suggesting settings for my book. On my desk, I keep pens in old glass vases or coffee cans. My daughter recently introduced me to some very pretty Japanese pens. I’m going to need another vase. My desk is a constant mess, no matter how often it gets tidied.’

22/12/2016 11:32




The importance of investing in your writing career, emotionally and financially


• Maintain your novel-writing momentum to reach, and pass, that difficult midway point

STAR INTERVIEW with bestselling author of The Long Firm and The Devil’s Paintbrush, JAKE ARNOTT

© Graham Jepson2006


• HOW FAR WOULD YOU GO FOR RESEARCH? Extreme research ideas and advice from author LA LARKIN

• How much should you charge as a freelance?



• Get to know romcom author TRISHA ASHLEY • The ‘Yorkshire Shepherdess’, AMANDA OWEN, shares how she fits in writing around her daily routine • The techniques and style of PATRICIA CORNWELL

How to understand publisher payments



Call 01778 392482 or visit April 2016 - Writing Magazine

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20/12/2016 10:19



Editors are... lovely people, says Lorraine Mace through gritted teeth


’m going to whisper this so that Jonathan doesn’t hear. It’s a closely guarded secret they don’t want anyone to know, but editors are not always right. Eeek! I can’t believe I was brave enough to write that when youknow-who might be reading. There is a reason for my outrageous opening. You see, I had an article that refused to accept rejection. I think every writer probably has at least one. You know the type of thing I mean: if you followed the rule of killing your darlings it would be deleted, but you cannot bring yourself to do it. This is the piece that made you feel not only that you could write, but that you were (funny, clever, wise, sophisticated, intelligent–insert word of choice). My article (the first one I felt proud to have written) was created nearly a decade ago, as an assignment for the Writers Bureau Course that I was then partway through. The brief was to write an amusing piece about everyday life. I lived in France at the time, so it seemed natural to write a humorous article on the difficulties of conversing in a foreign tongue with a London accent that simply couldn’t bend itself to French vowels. I had a wealth of anecdotes to choose from, as well as those of friends and acquaintances; the difficulty was in deciding what to leave out, rather than searching for material to put in. My husband loved it, but then he was always my biggest (only) fan, so I awaited the 110


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tutor’s verdict before submitting it. Genuinely funny was his response: send it off immediately. Not only have you written a superb article but you have targeted the right publication. With words of encouragement like his, how could I fail? I duly submitted, and waited. Three months passed before I plucked up the courage to enquire whether the editor was interested. Another month went by without a reply to that letter (this was back in the snail mail days). Almost four months later the response finally arrived (snail mail again – how times have changed). It was a thanks, but no thanks. Apparently it didn’t tickle her funny bone. Fortunately there were other publications to try, but my confidence had been dented. I read it again, trying to be objective. I still found it amusing, but not as much as before. I submitted it to another magazine, another rejection. And yet another magazine, and yet another rejection. By this stage I couldn’t read the article without loathing every word. It wasn’t amusing – it was boring. There wasn’t a funny bone-tickling line in it! How could I expect an editor to love it when I hated it so passionately? Embarrassed, I decided it was never again going to see the light of day and put the file out of sight and out of mind. A few months back I was cleaning out redundant files from my computer and saw the title. I shuddered at the

memories. That article had run the gamut from most loved to most detested. I was about to hit delete when a little voice in my head said to give it one more try. Come on, the voice whispered. You know you want to. This is the age of instant communication. It won’t even cost postage. And there’ll be no need to queue at the Post Office for those ridiculous International Reply Coupons. I read it, made a few minor changes, and decided I had nothing to lose by submitting to an American Francethemed magazine. As I clicked send, I decided to give the editor at least three months before following up. If I even bothered at all. It was most probably a waste of my time and hers. Less than an hour later I received her response. ‘What a wonderful article,’ she wrote. ‘We are going to use it in our Parlez-vous section in the September issue. It had everyone in the office laughing out loud. Thank you for sending it.’ What was it that made this editor love the piece, when so many years earlier it had been rejected countless times? Who knows and, quite frankly, who cares? If you have work you love, that deep inside you know is one of the best things you have written, then don’t give up. Out there somewhere is an editor who will appreciate your pride and joy. Okay, Jonathan, it’s safe to come back now. Editors are lovely people.

20/12/2016 10:19

Writing Magazine – February 2017