heaven for writers, but not in a ‘you’re dead’ way
author of 22 Britannia Road, talks about writing and cement mixing
World Book Night Special 99 Problems, Including a Bitch
with procrastinating Perry Iles
Festival special with Danny Gillan
Flashmobs, Sit-ins, Privatisation and a Question Mark Over Statutory Provision We bring you the latest on Library Cuts
Plus a very big announcement ... April / May 2011
Scrivener 2.0 for Mac OS X
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“Finally a true word processor for authors has arrived.” - David Hewson, author of the best-selling Nic Costa series of novels
“As a writer’s application, Scrivener is near perfect.” - Neil Cross, best-selling author of Burial and screenwriter for Luther
“The biggest software advance for writers since the word processor.” - Michael Marshall Smith, best-selling author of Spares and The Straw Men
Normally £35.00 (including VAT) 20% discount coupon code: ‘WORDSWITHJAM’ Free 30 day trial available for download
Scrivener for Windows beta available
Contents | 3
Contents Random stuff
6 Force: to hasten the rate of progress or growth of something
21 Writer’s Block
Author of 22 Britannia Road, Amanda Hodgkinson talks about finding time for writing amidst house renovations
8 99 Problems, Including a Bitch
More from Perry Iles in his Feeble Excuses, Procrastination and Displacement Activities column
10 Tales of Cyber Friendship 12 Dear Ed
Letters of the satirical variety
Sorting the bags of truth from the bags of shite
15 World Book Night Special
Featuring articles including ‘A Free Book Anyone’ from Sheila Bugler on being a WBN giver, ‘Trafalgar Square or Bust’ with Catriona Troth reporting from the phenomenal event in London, and ‘Taking Pride in a Colombian Author’. Plus celebrations at the Aye Write Festival ...
18 Glasgow Has a Book Festival? Aye Write!
Sarah Waters, Jo Nesbo, Mark Billingham and Jasper Fforde joined a host of authors appearing at the festival this year
20 When Words Hit the Big Screen
by Matt Shaw
22 60 Seconds with Amanda Hodgkinson and Darren Guest 24 Reality Check
Exploring kicking authors in the bollocks with Derek Duggan
30 Alex’s Arm
by Marlene Brown
Pencilbox/ backpack 37 Question Corner
Lorraine Mace answers your questions on writing
38 Beyond the Bookstore
25 Ten Words that Should be Abolished
40 Writers’ Manuals Distilled
by Susan Jones
34 Comp Corner
13 The Rumour Mill
Film v Story – Never Let me Go - by Gillian Hamer
Winner of last issue’s competition, plus we’re giving away copies of Afrika Reich to the winner of this issue’s competition
52 What We Think of Some Books ...
Reviews of Mut@tus by Joan Barabara Simon, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell, The Cowards, by Joseph Škvorecký, Dark Heart: The Purgatory of Leo Stamp by Darren Guest, and Secret of the Sands by Sara Sheridan
from Shameless Charlatan Druid Keith
Quite Short Stories 26 Storyasault
by Jess Richards
28 Flash 500 Winner
Politically Correct by Veronica Ryder
How to widen your audience with Dan Holloway
Jill Marsh takes a look at Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain
43 Keep-fit for Writers
Work those muscles with Anne Stormont
44 How Do You Do How To?
by Lorraine Mace
46 The British Library Special
Exploring the World’s knowledge with Catriona Troth
50 Flashmobs, Sit-Ins, Privatisation and a Question Mark Over Statutory Provision
The latest on library cuts with Catriona Troth
From the Editor
Sheila Bugler won a place on the 2008 Apprenticeships in Fiction programme. Whilst publishers debate her first novel, she is working on her second novel and spending way too much time indulging her unhealthy interest in synopsiswriting.
We’ve had a busy couple of months here at Words with JAM
Derek Duggan is a graduate of The Samuel Beckett Centre for Theatre Studies at Trinity College Dublin. He lives in Spain with his wife and children and is not a tobogganist. Danny Gillan’s award-winning Will You Love Me Tomorrow was described as one of the best debut novels of 2008. Now, for entirely cash related reasons, Danny’s novel Scratch is available for Kindle readers (‘users’ sounds a bit druggy). It’s so funny it’s made people accidentally wee, apparently. Really, actually wee in their pants. True story.. www.dannygillan.co.uk Gillian Hamer is a full time company director and part time novelist. She divides her time between the industrial Midlands and the wilds of Anglesey, where she spends far too much time dreaming about becoming the next Agatha Christie. Dan Holloway is a founder member of the Year Zero Writer’s collective (www.yearzerowriters.wordpress.com), and organiser of the Free-e-day festival (www.freeeday.wordpress. com). Perry Iles is an old man from Scotland. If he was a dwarf, he’d be grumpy. He lives in a state of semi-permanent apoplectic biliousness, and hates children, puppies, kittens, and periods of unseemly emotion such as Christmas. He pours out vinegary invective via a small writing machine, and thinks it’s a bit like throwing liver at the wall. He tells anyone who’ll listen that this gives him a modicum of gratification. Lorraine Mace is a columnist with Writing Magazine and coauthor, with Maureen Vincent-Northam, of The Writer’s ABC Checklist, has had her work published in five countries. Winner of the Petra Kenney International Poetry Award (comic verse category), she writes fiction for the women’s magazine market and is a writing competition judge. www.lorrainemace.com JJ Marsh - writer, teacher, newt. Matt Shaw - author, cartoonist, photographer, hermit, BillyNo-Mates. www.mattshawpublications.co.uk
Towers. A cup of tea (with the life squeezed out of the bag), plus two slices of toast with butter and jam on, takes a good ten minutes to make. Then I’ve had to boot up my computer and fanny about checking a few emails each morning, replying to you all after I said I would take less time than your average agent, playing about on Facebook for a bit, then perhaps posting on the Words with JAM page (TWO people actually unliked us this week - we’ll be sending someone round, don’t you worry!). In between cups of tea I organised a few of the articles for this issue, too, and even the odd one for June. There’s two months inbetween issues, so no rush, right? None at all! That is until I lost an entire week of my life to an all-expenses-paid (except for food and drink and travel and time and anxiety compensation) holiday courtesy of the NHS - children are such little darlings! Then my computer broke (that’s right, mine, with everything to do with the magazine on it). So now I get to tell you that you should back up your files, just like me [insert smug emoticon]. But this has been a productive couple of months. Very productive indeed. We have a number of new features to bring you, plus all your old favourites, and a special on World Book Night. Courtesy of the incredibly hard-working Catriona Troth we have launched our very own podcast, so now you can listen to articles and stories anywhere (see page 51 for more information). We are also now accepting subscriptions for a printed version of the magazine for anyone who would like a physical paper copy (see page 56) - although we would like to point out that the online version will always remain free. Our First Page Competition will still be open for entries until the end of April, and will be judged by Andrew Crofts. And we have been very kindly given/scrounged some signed copies of Guy Saville’s Afrika Reich to give away to the winner of this issue’s Comp Corner. Oh, and one other thing which I’m sure you’ve already noticed on the adjacent page - that’s right, we managed to bag a WORLD EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH JK ROWLING for our
Anne Stormont - as well as being a writer, is a wife, mother and teacher. She is also a hopeless romantic, who likes happy endings.
June 2011 issue ... Enjoy!
Kat Troth grew up in two countries, uses two names, and has had two different careers. One career she has spent writing technical reports for a non-technical audience. In the other, she attempts to write fiction. She tries always to remember who she is at any one time, but usually finds she has at least two opinions about everything.
JD Smith lives and works in the English Lake District. She uses her publishing house Quinn Publications as a source of procrastination to avoid actually writing.
Exclusive Interview with JK Rowling Rest assured, you read that correctly. Jo Rowling, creator of Harry Potter, will be giving us an exclusive interview for our June 2011 issue, in which she shares her thoughts on writing and motherhood, genre versus literary fiction, guilty pleasures, the Orange Prize, real and fictional heroines, e-books, and the state of her desk.
Words With JAM - making other magazines feel inadequate since 2009
Photograph by J P Masclet
Random Stuff | 6
Force: to hasten the rate of progress or growth of something by Amanda Hodgkinson
to that scenario… ) In fact, I was renovating a ruined old stone farmhouse with my husband in south west France.
I wrote my debut novel in between bouts of cement mixing and stone breaking. And no, I wasn’t in some nineteenth century penal colony wearing a full black skirt and a slightly ripped white blouse, dreaming of escape, doing hard labour for some heinous crime I had never committed. Not at all. (Although I might be warming
For months we lived in one room and walked around with a permanent layer of thick grey dust in our hair and clothes. I told myself I would start writing my novel when I had the time. But the time never came. I was too busy choosing tiles, replacing beams, painting shutters. A builder’s life agreed with me. I had been a bookish person in the UK but here, with the sun and work, I had little time for reading and none at all for writing. I mention this because for most writers, there is always a tension between a lived life and a life of writing. When you have a busy schedule, and most of us do, it is difficult to give over hours of your day to staring out of the window while you wait for that slow slide into writing mode where you can begin to put words on the page. I believed that I could only write if I had silence and undisturbed hours ahead of me. And because I didn’t have that luxury, I put writing to the back of my mind. And then one morning a delivery truck drove into our yard, the driver beeping his horn. My husband grabbed my hand and hurried me outside. He had bought me a
cement mixer. I truly thought I was the luckiest woman on earth. No more mixing cement in a wheelbarrow! But at the same time, I experienced a flutter of panic. How long had it been since I’d written anything? I used to get excited over books and here I was, hugging a bright orange cement mixer and wishing I had a JCB to go with it. That day, as I shovelled sand and cement and watched my new machine churning the mixture round, I decided that if I was serious about novel writing, I had to make time to do it. And that making time had nothing to do with finding time. I needed a strategy. Something that would force my hand a little. I talked to my husband. ‘Money,’ he said. ‘Write a book so we can buy more building materials and finish the house.’ Sadly, the last thing anybody should do if they need money, is write a novel… But still, I had come to France to write a book. And so that’s what I did. In the summer when the weather was too hot to do manual labour after midday, I wrote in the afternoons. In the winter months, I wrote in the mornings, huddled close to the woodburner. By the time another winter had passed and spring arrived along with plans to put in a new bathroom (the old bath had fallen through the ceiling due to an undiscovered water leak that had created a small lake in between the floorboards), I was combining writing chapters with plasterboarding. When I sat down to write, I went straight into writing mode because I had already had
When I sat down to write, I went straight into writing mode because I had already had hours of reflective time standing on a ladder. Sanding plaster joints takes a long time but it is brilliant thinking time.
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hours of reflective time standing on a ladder. Sanding plaster joints takes a long time but it is brilliant thinking time. And if this sounds as if I am suggesting a strong spirit is all one needs to make time to write, then that is not really the case. I had to force my own hand even more. I began to tell everyone I knew that I was writing a novel. In retrospect this was a risky strategy. Perhaps it is better with a first novel (which may or may not ever be published) to keep quiet. Sometimes, I wished I had never told anyone. At times I even thought of selling our lovely old house and moving somewhere where no one would ever suspect I was a writer. But the damage had been done. People knew. And so I had to answer the question every writer dreads. ‘Hey, how’s your novel coming along. You must be nearly finished by now?’ I had put myself in a corner. But that’s where I needed to be. In the same way I like to invite friends for supper because this is the only way I will ever get any housework done. Don’t be fooled by the neatness of my home if I should ever invite you over. Much as I want to see you, I also know that the good hostess in me will force me to finally sweep the floors and do the dishes. And that’s the result I want. Perhaps too, I moved into our wrecked house rather than renting somewhere until it was finished, because living in it, with all the discomfort and mess, meant I really had to concentrate on the renovation work. So if I tell you about my next novel it might not really be because I think you want to know. It might just be a strategy for making myself get on with it...
A heartbreaking novel about wartime secrets every bit as powerful as the worldwide bestseller, Sophie’s Choice. At the end of the Second World War, Silvana and eightyear-old Aurek board the ship that will take them from Poland to England. After living wild in the forests for years, carrying a terrible secret, all Silvana knows is that she and Aurek are survivors. Everything else is lost. Waiting in Ipswich is Silvana’s husband Janusz, who has not seen his wife and son for six years. He has found his family a house and works hard planting a proper English garden to welcome them. But the six years apart have changed them all. To make a real home, Silvana and Janusz will have to come to terms with what happened during the war, accept that each is different and allow their beloved but wild son Aurek to be who he truly is. “A most accomplished first novel—powerful story-telling and entirely convincing in its evocation of post-war England.” - Penelope Lively, author of Family Album.
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Feeble Excuses, 99 Problems, Procrastination and Including a Bitch Displacement Activities Things I do when I should be writing by Perry Iles Puppies.They dribble and shit, then step in it and walk it everywhere. Tell a puppy not to do something and it just carries on doing it until you bring your foot down heavily on its soft little spine and splinter it off to puppy heaven which is all full of Andrex that nobody ever needs because nobody ever shits when they’re at God’s right hand. Have you ever seen a puppy do the Andrex toilet roll trick in real life? I have. All the way down the stairs with a full roll of Charmin unravelling behind it. Cute? Fuck off. In the absence of anything else I had to wipe my arse on the dog’s ear, which was soft and really rather lovely. I used to be a dog person too. I had a perfectly serviceable whippet until the end of last summer, when it took a quixotic tilt at a speeding Vauxhall Vectra and failed to survive the experience. Of course, it was all my fault because I was out walking it at the time and should have had it on the lead. So it’s my fault we now have a sweet and lovable new lurcher bitch, too. So the stains on the carpet are my fault. The bite-marks on the furniture and the
chewed-up TV remote are my fault, as was the raw chicken she stole from the freezer and ate as it defrosted, the resultant salmonella turning the dog a few hours later into a kind of meaty, spinning Catherine wheel of puke and shit that gave the entire lower floor of my house a pebble-dashed look and a certain indefinable odour. What is it about pets and women that put you in My Fault territory when you’ve done absolutely nothing? Even the cat looks at me as if it was all my fault, which of course it is. Poor Vladimir used to sit on the sofa near the radiator and wander through to the kitchen every so often to eat his dinner in a relaxed, agreeable and frankly civilised way. Twice a day he’d take the Times crossword and venture out to the neighbour’s garden in his smoking jacket like Noel Coward taking a shit in The Italian Job. Now I have to feed him on the windowsill because the puppy will eat his tea and the poor cat can’t shit in its
town. A hard frost had settled and it was cold. Seeking warmth, the poor, shivering little pup jumped onto the bed and snuggled her way beneath the bedclothes until she lay between my wife and me, covered in duvet. I promptly blocked her escape routes and did a colossal guff about an inch from her nose. It was one of those post-Guinness-and-baked-bean eggy farts that settled in her coat and stayed there for several hours. And they say a dog’s sense of smell is fifteen times more sensitive than ours. Serves her right. All I have to do now is point my arse at her and she growls and hides behind my wife, who in turn hides behind the sofa. We had to phone the vet the other night. The stupid dog had eaten my cholesterolreduction tablets and I spent a few seconds worrying that she might, you know, die or something. Then I rolled over and went to sleep. My wife is made of more sympathetic stuff, so she called the emergency vet for
If the other end had still been hanging out of her mouth I’d have grabbed it and we could have flossed the entire dog. litter box because the dog whips the turd out afterwards and plays with it right in front of his nose and then eats it. Puppies are just total fuckwits. But I got my own back on her the other day. The nights were chilly and the snows of winter still covered the tops of the hills surrounding the
some advice. The dog was fine, and the vet phoned me back the next day to check. While she was on the phone she asked me if the worming tablets she’d prescribed on our previous visit were working. I was pleased to report that if the carpet full of writhing diarrhoea was anything to go by, yes they
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were, and we both agreed that puppies are a) stupid, and b) gross. Imagine the picture, if you will: it looks like you’ve spilled a plateful of spaghetti and meatballs over your rug and then ingested either a tab of Owsleygrade acid or an entire Welsh hillside’s worth of magic mushrooms. And it doesn’t really smell like spaghetti and meatballs either, and you wouldn’t want to scrape it back onto a plate and then eat it (unless Jackass paid you a million quid, of course). Actually, there’s your definition of selfworth. You’re confronted by a carpet full of wriggling, foamy dogshit and there’s a Dirty Sanchez film crew there and a producer holding out a suitcase full of money and a spoon. How much would it take? A million? Half a million? Your mortgage paid off ? A nice new car? A supermarket sweep once you’d had a wash and brushed your teeth? Your next fix of crack cocaine? Half a lager? A go on Jordan? Come on, here’s your price, here’s your springtime game, here’s the question you use to break the ice at dinner parties. Especially if you’re having a nice Bolognaise. Oh, and here’s Gillian McKeith’s next bush-tucker trial too. At gunpoint please. Anyway, here’s some advice if you’re considering getting a puppy. Don’t. Re-home a greyhound or something. Get a dog that’s had all the hard work done first. Something that just lies around in front of the fire with its lipstick out, as pink as a boiled baby. Something that’s a bit like a puppy only with more of an off-switch and a volume control. Because a puppy will rule your life. We’ve just forced an entire liquidised pomegranate down the little bastard’s neck because my wife read somewhere that it acts as a powerful emetic and worm remover. It’s supposed to go through the dog like castor oil through a short grandmother, so we’re waiting for the poor animal to explode. Every time she twitches I jump to my feet and try to point her arse at the least valuable thing in the living room. My wife aims for the Sonic Youth section in the CD rack and I aim it at her Sex and the City DVD collection. It’s a battle of wills, this, which is a really stupid thing to undertake when women (or indeed bitches) are involved. The problem was that we discovered that the dog had eaten the Christmas decorations out of the box under the bed and we were hoping the pomegranate would help force through the strings of tinsel the stupid bugger had swallowed. It was pink tinsel, so there’s quite a few festive piles of pink-tinged vomit lying around, which would be all
very well if it was still Christmas, but it’s coming up to Easter. Anyway, the last time the dog went out she came running back into the house with a foot of pink string hanging out of her arse. My wife put her rubber gloves on and hauled it out and I’d swear the dog enjoyed the process. If the other end had still been hanging out of her mouth I’d have grabbed it and we could have flossed the entire dog. But the other day I began to feel some sympathy when I realised that dogs teethe the same way that babies do, only much worse given the respective size of their mouths and teeth. Dogs will lose pretty much all their teeth from about three months onwards and replace them with bigger ones. I found that out when my daughter was playing tug-of-war with the dog, which had grabbed her nice new scarf and was trying to eat it. Envisioning no doubt a similar scenario to the tinsel only at a larger scale, my daughter grabbed her scarf and pulled really hard. There were two little clicks and the dog let go, dropping the scarf to the floor with her two curved canine incisors still attached to it. There was some yelping involved too, I
believe. For the last couple of days the dog has mooched about the place avoiding her dinner and sulking on the sofa and lisping when she barks. She sounds like a Welsh pensioner demanding her underwear back from Tom Jones. But a while back hunger overcame pain and she became the first animal I’ve ever known that could eat, howl and bleed at the same time. If only I’d got to my camera quicker I’d have posted it on YouTube. I finally began to feel sorry for her.
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Tales of cyber friendship Co-authors on-line Lorraine Mace
I ‘met’ my writing partner, Maureen online about eight years ago. We formed a solid friendship which led to our co-authoring The Writer’s ABC Checklist via MSN and email. We have only met in real life once, but she is one of my closest friends. I don’t think you have to meet people to know you like them. In most cases the real personality shines through their posts and the way they interact with others. There will always be tossers who screw with that, but then so do the tossers in real life as well.
them. I posted on a review site in the hope that someone, somewhere would get it and form an orderly queue. In the most part, they slated my punctuation, shit all over my grammar and in some cases were appalled at my liberal use of bad language. Then, like a 90th minute winning goal at Celtic Park, Jill’s review arrived. Ever since, I have for the first time had faith in my own writing, but more importantly I have a friend who not only punctuates me, but understands me. She’s a constant support and it doesn’t matter that we haven’t met yet; the most important things can be shared just as easily if not more so via email. We, in reality may be separated by hundreds of miles, but the strength of our friendship is such that I carry her in my heart daily. Virtual friendship? No. This is as real as it gets.
JJ Marsh and SA Jordan Jill Around a year ago, on a peer review writers’ site, I came across a real gem. Here’s part of the critique I wrote. Bloody hell! I felt like I opened a box and a feral cat leapt out. This is visceral, strong, angry writing, with real originality of language and powerful images... You say you hate punctuation. But I hate reading badly punctuated writing. As it is, it’s hard to read. That’s a shame, because this is one of the most electric and alive things I’ve read here. As a result, the writer contacted me and I offered to proof-read her work. From the seeds of commas and colons, a mutual respect for each other’s writing grew and a friendship flourished. As well as giving feedback on plots, characters and pacing, we share book recommendations, recipes, secrets and uncensored opinions on crap telly. We’ve never met, or even talked on the phone, but my friendship with Sharon is much like the jar of Marmite she sent me. It’s powerful, strong and brightens up my day. It’s the real thing. Sharon After years of writing on my own, to have someone finally get my writing was a gift. I have close friends; a vital part of my life, we share everything; but my writing is never discussed or understood. It’s seen as a quirk, a bad habit, something that steals time from
Mutual Attractions Hazel Osmond
I could lie and say I joined a website because I was moved to chat about Mrs Gaskell’s North and South, because the truth is going to make you think a. I am old enough to know better b. I may be a Billy No-Mates in real life c. I should probably be the subject of a restraining order. But hell, here goes: it was indeed Mrs Gaskell’s North and South that sent me to a specific website but it was not exactly her version, nor her deathless prose – it was the actor playing the lead part in the BBC adaptation. Once on the website, I not only discovered hundreds of other women had been struck down with the same affliction, but also that I had stumbled on a place that would encourage me to start writing again and, most importantly, lead me to friends in many parts of the world. About three years down the line I chat regularly to women in New York, Wisconsin, Alabama and Rhode Island, in Dublin and London and Edinburgh. Some I have met, nervously at first as though we were on a first date, and with one of us somewhere during those awkward-ish first minutes mumbling, ‘My family told me to be careful you weren’t
the sort of person who carries body parts around in your car.’ All those I have met have turned out to be the kind of people I would have chosen as friends if I’d bumped into them in a room rather than on a website. I’d go further and say they have become good friends who I can imagine keeping right up until that last moment we all log off. And sure, we still discuss ‘that’ actor, but most of the time we’re talking about all those things ‘normal’ friends chat about. Along the way I’ve helped some of these cyber friends with their writing and a lot more have helped me with mine, making me re-discover that absolute high of entertaining people with the words that come out of your head. For me that has resulted in writing short stories, then a book and now a book deal. Would I like to meet up with everyone on the site? No, over time you learn to read the clues that suggest that you’re not exactly on the same wavelength. Others on the site I might like to meet but geography or money or time will make it impossible. Never mind, they still make me laugh, or provoke me or make me look at things afresh. And that for me is the brilliance of this huge cyber melting pot – access to the kind of mad cross-over brilliance that reminds me of the best days (and long nights of chat) at college. So thanks technology – before you came along, the only way to be part of a support network of female friends like this would have been to join a commune. Or possibly, a harem.
A Writer’s Paradise Tricia Gilbey
I think it’s natural for writers to make strong friendships online; after all, most communication on the internet is currently through a written medium. Perhaps as sound and visuals take over they will drive us reserved writers back into our pages, but for now, it’s a writer’s paradise, full of blogs, forums and chat rooms that let us share ideas, beliefs, motivations, emotions – in short to glimpse others’ minds.
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My first friendship which developed beyond forum posts was with someone I got to know through our shared interest in children’s books. We had long philosophical discussions and laughed a lot. We still keep in touch. My interest in writing deepened just as the internet reached that stage where websites like Authonomy actively encouraged a social community feel. Many members got to know each other well in those early days when it was still relatively small. I valued the times when we laughed together, but also the shared sense of purpose and reflection on life I had with some there. One of these people has gone on to be a very good friend, and although she lives in Europe, and we have not yet met, I am sure we will, and I know we’ll get on very well. We left Authonomy as it grew and changed, and so did many others, and we started keeping in touch on Facebook. When I talk to my ‘real life’ friends they can’t understand what I get from Facebook. They think of their teenagers’ pages when they talk of it. With my writer friends it’s different. It’s not that we talk writing all the time, I go to another site for critiquing where I have met more very supportive new friends. But, as writers, we are all observers of the world and as we are from many countries my life has been enriched with a multitude of new perspectives. We share everyday things, of course, but also personal views of larger world events. And of course, it’s a great place to vent about struggles, ask for advice and celebrate triumphs. People’s experiences have enriched my teaching too. For example, when Obama was elected, I was able to share with the children the personal take of a friend who was in the crowd watching his acceptance speech. One of the writers I met on Facebook has now become a very close friend. We chat or have email conversations almost daily. We talk about things that are often much deeper than some of the things I share with ‘real life’ friends. Again, it’s the nature of written communication that encourages this, and in some respects recalls the classic age of letter writing. I have met this friend in ‘real life’ and love being with her, but I also love communicating with her online, through writing – mind to mind. I am well aware of the negative side of online friendship and have encountered that too, but friendship, of all kinds, is immensely valuable. And overall I feel that my life is richer thanks to the internet.
There really must be something about writers and the internet. As I was preparing this article, I came across A Sweet Obscurity, by Patrick Gale. At the back of the book was a profile of the author, in which he describes how he met his partner (with whom he lives on a Cornish farm) through an email correspondence that followed an interview published in a web magazine. “I say God Bless the internet,” the profile finishes. “Where else are you going to find a gay farmer…?”
2011 28th April–17th May InpartnershipwithQueen’sHall Arts
Come to the 6th annual Hexham Book Festival and enjoy wise, witty and waspish words from some of the UK’s best writers, join one of our writers’ workshops or come to an open mic true storytelling event. For full programme details and booking information visit
www.hexhambookfestival.co.uk Two day writing retreat led by Gillian Allnutt at Shepherds Dene. 16th – 17th May Shepherds Dene is an arts and crafts retreat house set in extensive gardens in the beautiful Tyne Valley. ‘Summer is icumen in’, the earliest and most joyful of English poems is written by Anon. In an age obsessed with identity might anonymity be a pleasure, a way of life worth considering? Work with other writers amongst the nooks, crannies and conversations at this writer’s retreat.
Open mic true storytelling 5th May
Can you spin a good yarn? Come to ‘The Spark’ and bare all on a theme of ‘True Love’ to a word-hungry crowd. Prepare your five minute story beforehand and win love and glory. Writers A L Kennedy and Harry Pearson tell their own true stories then it’s down to you. Box office: 01434 652477
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Letters of the satirical variety Dear Editor, Isn’t Professor Brian Cox absolutely wonderful in his new show – Wonders of the Universe on the BBC. I am so glad that my licence fee is going to good use. I could watch that man for hours. Mind you, I haven’t a fucking notion what he’s talking about or anything. Yours truly, Ms O R Knee Calm down, Ms Knee – let’s try and keep it writing related… Dear Words With Jam, I’ve written a book and so expect I shall be rich and famous soon. I was just wondering if anyone could advise me on how you do that bit. Yours sincerely, C Lou Lez That’s the million dollar question, C. Anyone got any advice for C? Ed Dear WWJ, I read a letter in your wonderful magazine recently concerning a television program. I think you showed great restraint in your response and, indeed, I would have gone quite a bit further. This is, after all, a writing magazine and I think that correspondence to your good self should be confined to this theme. I was just wondering if you could tell me if any books have been written by Professor Brian Cox, and if there are a lot of pictures of him in them, preferably with no shirt on. If not, could you find out why not. Yours sincerely, Miss Dess Pret OK – he’s written – Why Does E=MC2 (And why should we care?) – which, in fairness, I’d say you couldn’t give a shit about. However, there are books that accompany his TV shows and they’re crammed full of photos, or so I’m lead to believe. I hope that answers your
Dear Editor, I recently bought a book called Sister by Rosamund Lupton. It was sold to me as a thriller – indeed it was in the thriller section of the bookshop and there was a quote on the cover saying it was both literary and a thriller. I took it home and duly read it. What I want to know is – can I sue the publisher under the Trade Descriptions Act? Yours etc etc, Mrs Con Ned Dear Words, I saw a letter printed on your pages recently (this issue) about how disappointed Mrs Ned was in a book she had bought that was supposed to be a thriller. I am a thriller fan myself and there is nothing more disappointing than sitting down with a book that promises so much but delivers so little. I would like to recommend a book to her which delivers thrill after thrill – it’s Wonders of the Solar System by Professor Brian Cox. There are some pictures of spaceships and Mars and various other crap in there too, but there’s enough of the Professor to make me ovulate every time I sit down to read it. Yours truly, Mrs D Amp Dear Words With jam, I am writing in response to a letter I read in the April 2011 edition of your fine publication. It was by C Lou Lez and was asking for advice on how to become rich and famous now that they have finished writing their book and as you pointed out, that is the million dollar question. There are many paths to success. You may try to submit your opus over and over to the many publishing houses and hope that it will, with a bit of luck, land on the right person’s desk. There are other routes however. You could take a leaf out of Professor Brian Cox’s book and get yourself noticed by becoming a popstar and then by going on to work at CERN and doing lots of science stuff. Then, when you write a book, everyone will already know who you are and buy it.
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The Rumour Mill Sorting the bags of truth from the bags of shite
I hope this was of some use to you and I hope he does one of those calendars. Yours faithfully, Miss S Talker Thanks for that, Miss Talker. I think we’ve had enough of the Professor now, thank you. Ed Dear Editor, I am writing in response to a remark you made in response to the previous letter. I take great exception to it and would like to point out that I, for one, can never have enough Cox. Good day to you, Good day indeed! Ms V Dertee I can assure you, Ms Dertee, that I had no intention of upsetting you or any other Cox lovers out there. I’d simply like to move on to letters about books. Thank you. Dear the editor of the Words With The Jam, Well said. This is supposed to be a forum where we can air our thoughts on books and the writing process. To that end I would like to ask this question – what do you think Professor Brian Cox likes to read to unwind? Sincerely yours, Miss S Uckerman Oh for fuck sake…
Heard a rumour but you’re not sure if it’s a bag of truth or just a big bag of shite? Send it to us and we’ll get our top investigative journalist Kris Dangle to look into it for you. I overheard some people talking at a bus stop the other day and they said Kerry Katona had pulled out of the celebrity edition of Channel 4’s hit reality show My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. Is this true? So far as I can make out, Ms Katona is currently single and so has no plans to get married, although there is a version of this show already running on ITV 2 called What Katie Did Next in which there is a Big Fat Gypsy Wedding every other week, normally followed in quick succession by a Big Fat Gypsy Divorce. I see there’s an advertisement on the telly at the moment for a camera that’s got a blind chap taking the pictures – is there any truth in the rumour that they are having a deaf bloke advertise mp3 players? I can’t find anything on that, but I have seen the new iphone 4 ad which states – iphone 4 – the phone of choice for Helen Keller. Could it possibly be correct that this rumour is only being put in as a ruse to get the word cunt in print? I am unable to confirm or deny this rumour at present, but it does seem very, very likely. Is it true that the word ‘Gripping’ on the cover of a thriller actually signifies that it is fucking embarrassingly bad? It can do, although there are a few other keywords and phrases you may spot that more often than not are code for a load of shite. These include – Stunning debut – laugh out loud funny – and – truly original talent. Also watch out for the word – voice – hidden away in any number of combos. Basically, if the marketing department couldn’t think of an original thing to say about a book then it really must be very poor indeed. A rumour is going around our library that James Patterson has so many books coming out that he doesn’t write them all himself. This couldn’t possibly be right, could it? This is a common rumour and I’m happy to put it to bed once and for all. He released four hundred and twelve books last year and, while this seems like a lot, it really isn’t when you consider the fact that he’s able to write three at a time – one pen in his right hand, one in his left, and one up his arse. I hope that clears up that rumour for you. Is it true that Madonna is dead? No. She’s just minging. Someone said that Michael Stipe collects shovels and smells of digestives. Is that correct? According to Google, and you can try this yourself if you like, Michael Stipe does not collect shovels or smell of digestives. You do get some hits though if you Google ‘a little bit dull.’
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A Free Book Anyone? by Sheila Bugler
Saturday 5 March was World Book Night (WBN), described by its organisers as ‘the most ambitious and far-reaching celebration of adult books and reading ever attempted in the UK and Ireland.’ One million books would be given away by members of the public, and there would be a series of events across UK the and Ireland in celebration of World Book Night. Twenty-five books were selected, to be given away by 20,000 ‘givers’. The books were chosen by an editorial committee, chaired by James Naughtie. Each giver would get 48 copies of their chosen book to distribute however they wanted. When I heard about this I loved the idea. Especially when I discovered that one of the short-listed books was a long time favourite – A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. To apply to be a giver, I had to register on the WBN website and write a short review of my chosen book, including why I wanted other people to read it. I also had to say how I would distribute my 48 copies if I was lucky
enough to be selected. A few weeks later, I got an email telling me I’d been selected and, on the given day, 48 copies of A Fine Balance would be available for pick up from my local library. Over the next few weeks, I received regular email updates from the WBN organisers, including an invitation to the event in Trafalgar Square on 4 March. I’d love to have gone to that but my parents were visiting that weekend so I couldn’t make it. I had to wait to read Kat’s version of the night to find out how it all went. Finally, Saturday 5 March arrived. Unusually for this time of the year, it was a bright, sunny morning just right for hanging out in the park distributing books. With my (very excited) 4 year-old daughter, Ruby, and my friend, Anna, we drove across to Manor House Library to collect our books. Anna had also been selected as a giver and was there to pick up 48 copies of One Day by Dave Nicholls. We weren’t the only givers there, either. It seemed our little area of South-East London had embraced the idea of free books and, while we were there, we met people popping in to collect their copies of Beloved by Toni Morrison, Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, and Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. While we were there, I also spotted another box of my own book, A Fine Balance, waiting to be distributed by another giver. It was lovely to get my hands on the specially printed books. Each of the one million books had been given a unique identifying number, which allowed the book to be tracked from the first book giver to all subsequent readers of the book. Anna and I had been sent a list of our books’ unique numbers. Our first task was to write the numbers into each book, along with our name (as the book’s first giver). The idea is that each book is given to someone who reads it, gives feedback on the WBN website, then passes the book on to someone else who does the same. And so on forever, I suppose. We sat outside the library, writing the numbers into each book while answering
questions from curious passers-by, most of whom nabbed a free copy of each book after speaking to us. Finally, all books were done. It was time for the park (luckily, this is right beside the library so we didn’t have far to go). We put our books into a shopping trolley we’d brought with us, and off we went. An hour and a half later, all our books were gone, and we’d had great fun along the way. Ruby, especially, embraced the challenge, approaching everyone in sight and asking them if they wanted a free book. A very small number of people refused the offer of a free book (mad, or what?). Most people we spoke to were delighted. Some had already read the books and were keen to talk about them. Almost everyone we spoke to had heard about WBN, although most couldn’t believe they were lucky enough to be handed a free book without having to do anything. The morning was special for so many reasons. Firstly, it was lovely to talk to strangers about a book I love. Then there was the additional pleasure of being able to press that book into people’s hands and urge them to read it. At one point, Anna and I met another giver, who was handing out copies of Stuart, a life backwards, another favourite book of mine. We spent a gushing ten minutes raving about the books we had and sharing them around between us. The best bit, though? Well, it was seeing my little girl’s excitement as she ran around the park handing the book out, telling people they had to read it. I hope this public celebration of books and reading is something she’ll never forget. Of course, what most people wanted to know was why I’d chosen A Fine Balance. Well, the simple answer is I love that book. I read it about seven years ago and it’s one of those books that stays with you long after you’ve turned the final page. It was a real privilege to be able to share my love of this book with others and I can’t wait until people start posting their feedback on the WBN website.
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Trafalgar Square or Bust by Catriona Troth
I have a terrible habit of letting opportunity slip through my fingers. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve kicked myself, hearing or reading, after the event, about another brilliant occasion I managed to miss. So when I heard about the World Book Night Party in Trafalgar Square, I was determined not to let that happen again. With the fervour of a teenager booking for the gig of a lifetime, I was on-line, clicking to register for my tickets, two minutes after
they became available. And if I was not first in the queue at Waterstones Piccadilly to pick up my wrist band, it was a close run thing. Never mind the actual line up. Here were writers being treated like rock stars – and I was going to be there! The 4th of March was a freezing cold night, but I was wrapped up like a fell walker (one hand left bare to operate the camera). As the crowd gathered, music played from the stage. Words from the twenty-five selected books scrolled across the proscenium. A few minutes before the off, eight specially selected World Book Night ‘givers’ were led onto the stage and given comfy seats on sofas to one side of the stage. ‘Don’t hate them,’ Graham Norton, the compère, told us. ‘They’re just warmer than you are.’ But I wondered if that was true. As the evening progressed, one speaker after another joked about the bitter cold. The wind, amplified through the microphones, provided a sound track of rolling thunder as DBC Pierre read the opening lines of Dickens’ Bleak House. (‘Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows. Fog down the river…’) Yet down among the huddled masses, we were quite warm. As the twilight deepened into darkness, the words ‘World Book Night’ appeared, projected in red along Nelson’s Column. Sarah Waters took us to another part of 19th century London with Fingersmith. Monica Ali
took us To the Lighthouse with Virginia Woolf. There was so much pleasure to be had from hearing familiar words (Rupert Everett reading from Travels with My Aunt, Nick Cave giving us the opening passage of Lolita). But for me the most heart-stopping moment of the evening came from a piece I did not know at all. As Edna O’Brien read her short story ‘Plunder’ – about the rape of a young girl caught up in a brutal and pointless war – the whole square grew so still it seemed to hold its breath. The other eye-opener of the evening came, for me, from Mark Haddon. Claiming that he would risk ‘falling into a coma’ if he read from his own book again, he chose instead to read from Stuart, A Life Backwards, by Alexander Masters. By the time he had introduced us to Stuart, the ex-homeless, ex-junkie psychopath, a man even the other homeless avoided, I knew this was a book I had to read. For reasons best known to my chaotic brain, I came to Toni Morrison’s trilogy backwards, starting with Paradise, going on to Jazz and only now beginning to read Beloved. Nevertheless, I’d read enough to know exactly what Tracy Chevalier meant when she described Beloved as ‘a story that had to be told and a story beautifully told.’ Many readers spoke of the absolute importance of books. Margaret Atwood, reading a passage from The Blind Assassin
There was so much pleasure to be had from hearing familiar words (Rupert Everett reading from Travels with My Aunt, Nick Cave giving us the opening passage of Lolita). But for me the most heart-stopping moment of the evening came from a piece I did not know at all. As Edna O’Brien read her short story ‘Plunder’ – about the rape of a young girl caught up in a brutal and pointless war – the whole square grew so still it seemed to hold its breath.
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where a man seduces a woman by telling her stories, smiled slyly at the audience and said, ‘This is why you need to read a lot. Men, so they have plenty of stories to tell, and women so they know when they have heard them before.’ Alan Bennett, finishing reading from A Life Like Other People’s, repeated his battle cry that ‘closing libraries is child abuse’. Suggs spoke of a house full of books from which he’d absorbed a vocabulary he used in his song writing. The 20,000 World Book Night ‘givers’ were repeatedly celebrated. Graham Norton interviewed those on stage and there were cheers as they spoke of where they would give out their books. One man said he would be giving out copies of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at a railway station, telling people ‘if, by the time you get to London, you
don’t believe this is a wonderful book, give it to the person next to you, because they will.’ Books were going to be given out at schools, youth groups, Women’s Refuges. There was plenty of laughter too. David Nicholls read the passage from One Day where a drunken Dex summons Em at the Taj Mahal. (‘On the 5th of August. My 25th birthday in case you’ve forgotten.’ ) Stanley Tucci and Hayley Atwell came on together and gave a sweet, funny spoken rendition of Cole Porter’s ‘Let’s Fall in Love’ that ended with a kiss. Boris Johnson gave a heartfelt rendering of the great literary hangover (‘He resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again…’) from Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim. Some readers gave tour de force performances. Lemn Sissay’s rendering of
Tennyson’s ‘Ulysses’ could have come from the stage of the Globe Theatre. Philip Pullman, reading from Northern Lights, gave us the rumbling voice of the armoured bear, the soft Norfolk burr of Farder Coram. Finally, John le Carré conjured us to imagine that we were no longer in London but in Berlin and that behind us was not the National Gallery but the Brandenburg Gate, before summoning up a fatal crossing from East to West in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. As we filed back out of Trafalgar Square, into the bustle of a Friday evening in London, I was smiling to myself. This time, for once, I would not have to think myself accurse’d I was not there.
Taking Pride in a Colombian Author When Jairo Rojas first found out about World Book Night, the idea appealed to him immediately. But when he realised that one of the twentyfive books to be given away was Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (known as ‘Gabo’ in his native Colombia), that was the cherry on the cake.
“Not only is Gabo a Colombian Nobel Prize winner, but his books are the books I grew up with. His vivid style and unusual way to portray the natural, human and emotional environment transports, our spirits as we read, to these sometimes existing or imaginary places. As a Colombian myself, I can always identify many of the cultural gems of the Caribbean part of Colombia where Gabo was born. His stories are based on what he experienced, or what his elder told him, about an environment where taboo, witchcraft, tales of the imagination and religion always intermingled to create a reality based on the convenient and desirable.” Because so many people applied to be World Book Night ‘givers’, there was no guarantee that Jairo would be picked. So when he learnt that he had been selected, he knew that he had been given a unique opportunity to show his country in a different light. He contacted the Colombian embassy, and they provided him with CDs, postcards, posters and some bracelets made by a famous Colombian designer, Mercedes Salazar, that he could insert in the books to give away.
What is more, thanks to Jairo, the concept of World Book Night may be travelling across the Atlantic to Gabo’s home country. “Ambassador Mauricio Rodriguez Munera accompanied me to the World Book Night party in Trafalgar Square, along with his wife and other attachés, and there the idea was born to speak to the organisers of the event to replicate this brilliant idea in Colombia.” Jairo hopes that World Book Night turns into an annual event. “It is refreshing to know that not every time one is stopped in the streets it is by someone trying to get at your cheque book. Giving away free is the best way to receive.”
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Glasgow Has a Book Festival? Aye, Write! by Danny Gillan
Very old joke
A school teacher is trying to wedge the laws of grammar into the minds of her 9 year-old Glaswegian pupils. Teacher: Although a double-negative can give a positive meaning to a phrase, the opposite is never true. A double-positive can never result in a negative statement. Wee Boaby: Aye, right!
Another issue of WWJ, another book festival report. How you must all envy us with our bohemian lifestyles and complete lack of friends/normal social lives. It’s a shocking indictment of modern life (or maybe just mine) that Glasgow has had its very own shiny book festival for well over five years now (by which I mean six years) and I’ve never been. That all changed this year, though. Armed with our barely credible journalistic credentials, the ED and I felt it was high time we checked out what all the fuss was about. Aye Write! took place over a balmy
nine days in March and based itself in The Mitchell Library in Glasgow’s Charing Cross (yes, we’ve got one too). I’m ashamed to say that the last time I set foot in the magnificent institution that is The Mitchell was when I was 16 years-old and pretending to study for my Highers. I’m also slightly ashamed to say that they haven’t changed the carpets since then, it seems. Bizarre 70’s day-glo floor coverings aside, it’s still a beautiful building and a perfect setting for what is fast becoming one of the most prodigious literary festivals in the world. This year’s programme had more highlights than a first division footballer’s hair. Shirley Williams was there, as was Alexander McCall Smith. Cartoonist Steve Bell appeared, as well as Tariq Ramadan, Barry Cryer, Val McDermid, Manju Kapur, Niall Ferguson, Iain M Banks (he’s definitely following us), Ken McLeod and Alex Bellos. These were just some of the many, many writers we didn’t get to see because we couldn’t scrounge free tickets to their events. I have no doubt they were all very impressive, of course. Instead, we focussed our attention on just three events we felt would best illustrate the overall ambience and intellectual depth of the festival. We didn’t just pick the three we wanted to see most that happened to fall on the days the ED and I could get off from our day jobs, honest. First up was Jasper Fforde, author of the Thursday Next series and the Nursery Crimes tales. He gave a very funny, open and honest interview in which he discussed his writing career as well as the couple of other careers he’d had before the writing took off. Fforde
is one of the few writers who has been able to make a living from writing about the world of writing. His Thursday Next books take place in a world where every character from every book ever written is alive and well and generally up to mischief. If you haven’t had the pleasure I can highly recommend the
Nesbo thought for a moment before explaining – ‘Someone gets killed. Harry tries to find out who killed them.’ series. He manages the tricky feat of being highly literate, bloody clever and extremely funny, much like he seems to be in person, as it turns out. He answered all questions candidly but with humility and great humour, even the one from the guy who seemed to be attempting to accuse Fforde of being a fraud of some sort for being so ‘together’ (no, we didn’t understand what he meant either, nor did Fforde). The main thing we came away from the interview thinking was that Fforde is a man who very clearly views writing as fun. The following afternoon I treated the ED to a tour of The Mitchell Library before our next scheduled event. Unfortunately she seemed to be expecting something along the
This year’s programme had more highlights than a first division footballer’s hair. Shirley Williams was there, as was Alexander McCall Smith. Cartoonist Steve Bell appeared, as well as Tariq Ramadan, Barry Cryer, Val McDermid, Manju Kapur, Niall Ferguson, Iain M Banks (he’s definitely following us), Ken McLeod and Alex Bellos.
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same lines as the US Library of Congress, with its vast marble atriums, domes and balconies and general sense of being the largest, most impressive library in the world. The swirlypatterned orange carpets and functional, square rooms of The Mitchell were a bit of a let-down, then, even after I pointed out I could personally attest some of the graffiti in the lifts had been there for at least 24 years. The place has history. Of course, the majority of the original (and highly impressive) 1911 Mitchell building was out of bounds due to the festival and we were only able to explore the extension built in 1972 (hence the carpets). She cheered up when we found the café (it sells wine). Anyway, back to the festival. The next event we attended was a double act. Jo Nesbo and Mark Billingham are two of the leading crime thriller writers around, and proved to be a very funny pairing as they bantered with the audience and one another. After bemoaning the fact that his Harry Hole books’ humour could often be lost in the translation from their original Norwegian to English, Nesbo proved this isn’t the case when he is speaking English himself after being asked to describe the plot of his latest novel, The Leopard. He thought for a moment before explaining – ‘Someone gets killed. Harry tries to find out who killed them.’ By the way, did you know Jo Nesbo was both a successful professional football player and (still is) a major rock star in Norway before he took up writing? And that he gave a false name when he subbed his first novel to publishers so they wouldn’t just give him a deal because he was already famous? I don’t hate him at all for that, not at all. An animated Mark Billingham was equally entertaining as he openly admitted that the
writers of the recent TV versions of his first two Thorne books regularly came up with far better plot twists than he’d ever thought of (not sure I agree with him there). He went on to marvel at how writers can describe in morbid detail the mind-set and deeds of the most horrific criminals and serial killers and no one they know ever thinks they have firsthand knowledge of such things, but as soon as they write a sex scene their friends, family
valid points about how many of the hard won advances made by, and on behalf of, the working classes after the second world war are being systematically removed or dismantled by our current government in the name of ‘balancing the books.’ She was also warm, funny and accessible and her giddy joy at seeing her work successfully transferred to television was obvious. At events such as these I have one simple test I apply when deciding if I’ll either start or continue to read the work of the writers appearing – would I want to go for a pint with them? I, perhaps stupidly, can’t appreciate the work of anyone I think is a dick, no matter the quality (yes, I mean you, Oasis). In this instance, four out of four writers passed the test easily. I’m sure they’ll all be very relieved to learn this. First round is on them, mind. So, another book festival and another affirmation that writers seem to be a decent lot, all in all. Roll on Edinburgh. Oh, before I go, you may remember I had a ‘comedy God’ moment at Wigtown when I spotted Dylan Moran wandering about the place. Well, I’m delighted to report I had another one at Aye Write! Okay, he was actually appearing at the festival this time, though we didn’t manage to get to his event. We only saw Graeme Garden off The Goodies meandering through The Mitchell, didn’t we? How cool is that!
Waters is intelligent, politically astute and philosophically aware, both as a writer and a human being, and made some frighteningly valid points about how many of the hard won advances made by, and on behalf of, the working classes after the second world war are being systematically removed or dismantled by our current government in the name of ‘balancing the books.’ and parents automatically assume they’re speaking from direct experience and give them funny looks for days if not weeks after reading. By the way, did you know that Mark Billingham got his book deal after subbing only thirty thousand words of the incomplete first Thorne novel? I don’t hate him at all for that, not at all. The final event of our brief Aye Write! sojourn coincided with the much vaunted and justly lauded World Book Night event (of which there is more elsewhere this issue), and featured Fingersmith and Tipping the Velvet author Sarah Waters in discussion with her editor. To celebrate World Book Night, Waters gave away free copies of Fingersmith to everyone attending, which delighted the ED no end (expect them to be appearing as WWJ prizes in the very near future). Waters is intelligent, politically astute and philosophically aware, both as a writer and a human being, and made some frighteningly
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When Words Hit the BIG Screen by Gillian E Hamer
Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro) In this edition we examine the film industry’s attempts to convert a novel short-listed for the Man Booker prize, and also one of the most critically acclaimed novels of the last decade, into a big screen blockbuster. Opinion is widely varied as to its success. Some refuse to believe that the subtle layers that so characterise Ishiguro’s style could ever transfer into film. While others point to the success of Remains of the Day, and believe that cleansing and condensing much of his elaborate prose can only make the story shine and the characters come alive. Continuing in our series of articles investigating how the film industry overlaps with the literary world, what can we take from Ishiguro’s experience of novel writing into screenplay? He handed over the reins to his friend, Alex Garland (famous for his novels The Beach and The Tesseract, and screenplay for 28 Days Later) Did it work or fail? What are the positives and negatives, similarities and differences?
Film v Story Synopsis “My name is Kathy H. I’m thirty-one years old, and I’ve been a carer now for over eleven years.” Refreshingly, this is the opening line of both film and novel. One major positive is that there is no need for a separate synopsis for each version. Happily, the screenplay follows the novel’s plot pretty much each step of the way – albeit with some scenes moved, cut or considerably condensed. The story opens in Hailsham, a seemingly tranquil countryside boarding school where our narrator, Kathy H, and her friends Ruth and Tommy appear to be enjoying a blissful childhood. But it quickly becomes clear that things
are not what they seem at Hailsham. Who are the strange people who come and go? Why the emphasis on artistic ability? Why are the children tagged? Why don’t they dare cross the perimeter fence? When the truth outs and reality begins to sink in (and for the sake of Never Let Me Go ‘virgins’ this won’t be a spoiler piece) we’re taken on an emotional journey of memory, love, friendship, jealousy and betrayal. We see how each character matures and learns to copes with the life they are suddenly presented with, and we watch each person develop, sometimes against their will, into the person they need to be to accept their fate. It teaches us about both the fragility of life and the strength of human spirit. If this all sounds very confusing, then I apologise. But to say more would ruin a reader’s enjoyment of the book. Coming to this novel for the first time without preconceptions is a must.
So, does the transition to film work …? When a writer approaches a novel with these two questions in mind … What does it mean to be a human? What does it mean to have a soul? … is there a way to bring the same huge questions out in film? Yes. I came late to the ranks of the Ishiguro fan club. Having read rapturous reviews and breathless compliments from fellow writers about this book I was eager to see what I’d missed. Hand on heart, I came to the end of the book a little disappointed. I’d expected and wanted more. Yes, I was totally convinced by Ishiguro’s competence as a writer, I never once doubted his characterisation, be it child or woman narrator. I admired the subtle layers, the ways he twisted reality and the admirable skill he had for delving deep into the human psyche. But … I found the pace slow and heavy at
times. I found repetition and over-egging the scene frustrating and cumbersome. I wanted him to trust his numerous skills, and to trust the reader that we got it and move on. I read the novel first and then almost immediately watched the film, and I’m glad I did it in this order. However, had I seen the film first, I think the shock element would have been much stronger. There are fewer clues early on to Hailsham’s dark secrets. In the film, it is portrayed as any normal boarding school and the handling of the truth I think comes across as far more devastating in the film. There are also scenes in the film that I prefer to the book. One example comes late on, when the three school friends meet up on a deserted beach. After a confession from Ruth, the friends seek understanding during an emotional scene among the sand dunes. This for me was far more evocative than the way the same scene was handled in the book during a car journey home. So, yes, I loved the book. But at the same time I think some of the story may have been lost by my appreciation of the author’s style. Ishiguro admits that the screenplay uses one sixth of the number of words that the novel does, and that the compression and paring back has produced sharper, more poignant scenes. If he believes that then is there a lesson to be learned there for us writers? Certainly, towards the end of the film, I really believe this to be true. The actors handle their characters’ reactions to devastating news superbly, and the subtlety shines through in a way that seems to magnify many times over the emotion I got from the same scenes in the book. I cried at the end of the film, whereas the book failed to raise the same level of emotion. Finally, another issue that frustrated me in both the book and the film was why the characters never ran away, why they chose their destiny without rebellion. I wondered if this was an oversight, or hadn’t been handled well by the author. How wrong … In an interview, I found this answer from Ishiguro and for me it sums up the clever
thinking and skill that make him a remarkable writer: “Why don’t the protagonists try to run away? The novel leaves this question provocatively – for some readers annoyingly – unaddressed. Should the film try to supply the answers? Should we have the characters contemplate, even attempt, escape? Neither myself nor Alex was interested in yet another story of slaves and brave rebellions. What fascinated us both was the astonishing extent to which people, throughout history, have not tried to run away, the degree to which they have accepted, sometimes with sad dignity and courage, horrible marriages, demeaning and dangerous jobs, dictatorships, orders to charge toward enemy guns. Most crucially, we agreed the film had to resonate as a metaphor of the basic human condition – the fact that none of us, ultimately, can run away from death, and have a poignantly short time to grapple with such things as love, friendship and forgiveness.” With that level of insight into life, death and human endeavour, how could anyone ever doubt that collaboration between Ishiguro and Garland would ever be anything but a success?
So, my vote. Sorry purists, but … Film 1 - Novel 0 Do you agree or disagree? Let us know. We’d love your thoughts so email us at email@example.com with the subject ‘Book v Film’. If you have any particularly strong opinions on films that have ruined a good book or where films have improved a novel, then please let us have your thoughts (via email submissions@ wordswithjam.co.uk subject ‘Book v Film) and we will include as many as we can in future articles.
I was delighted when I won the last line competition as I'd been wanting to go on a writing retreat for a long time. And not long after winning the competition, I got signed by Lucy luck Associates, who sent off my novel, Snake Ropes. It went to auction and will be published by Sceptre in March 2012. The auction was only about 2 weeks before I was due to go to Ruth Saberton's writers retreat in Cornwall, and by then, I was ready to lose myself in some new writing. I wasn't disappointed. The weekend allowed time to relax, to write and talk to other writers. Ruth was warm and welcoming, and talked of her own experience with agents, publishers and editors. She is planning other writing weekends over the year, some more structured and some more retreat style. Polperro itself is enchanting - narrow streets, rooftops, the sea, and an orchestra of birds in the mornings. Truely a place to relax and enjoy the atmosphere, and a perfect location to write in. Jess Richards - winner of our December 2010 Last Line Competition
‘Writer’s Block’ by Matt Shaw
Random Stuff | 22
60 Second Interviews with Jill Marsh
Each month, we persuade, tempt and coerce (or bully, harass and blackmail) two writers into spilling the contents of their shelves.
A tin with pens in it (it’s a biscuit tin and the lid has the word ‘Poetry’ swirling across some Danish chocolate dipped cookies). I bought it because I like tins filled with pens and papers - interesting things to rummage through. Plus I like biscuits... I also have large amounts of scrap paper beside my computer, for scribbling notes on.
Which writer(s) do you most admire?
Twelve questions on Amanda Hodgkinson Hodgkinson was born in Somerset books and writing. Amanda and grew up in Essex and Suffolk. Plus the Joker – a wild She moved to south west France with her and two daughters in 2002. thirteenth card which husband Amanda works as a freelance journalist and can reveal so much. columnist. Britannia Road is her first novel and was Be honest, what do 22recently picked by Waterstones as one of its you put on YOUR 11 best debut fiction books of 2011. chips? Your intrepid reporter, Jill
Which was your favourite childhood book?
White Fang Call of the Wild by Jack London and Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.
Where do you write? In the spare bedroom.
Which was the book that changed your life?
I don’t think there is a book that has changed my life as such but I have many that I hold dear. If I had to name just one it would be Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy.
What objects are on your desk, and why?
Marilynne Robinson, William Trevor, Toni Morrison, Thomas Hardy, Nabakov, Stern, Colette, Annie Proulx, the list goes on ... and on!
Do you have a word or phrase that you most overuse?
I don’t think so but I do harp on a lot about the power of the metaphor.
Is there a book you were supposed to love but didn’t?
Little Women. I know so many people LOVE it but I just don’t get it.
What have you learned from writing? That you never stop learning.
Which book do you wish you’d written? Tess of the d’Urbervilles.
What will be written on your gravestone?
I don’t intend to have a gravestone. I’d rather someone plant a tree for me instead.
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Are there any books you reread?
I usually read every book I buy at least twice.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m in ‘thinking time’ for my next novel at the moment.
What’s the best cheese in the world?
Roquefort (with some walnuts, fresh bread and a glass of red wine) but I suppose you can never go wrong with a good brie!
Kitchen table, mostly: it’s close to the fridge and the kettle.
Which was the book that changed your life?
Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers – first work of fiction I ever read and have never been without a book since.
What objects are on your desk, and why?
A dictionary, and usually a novel by a writer I admire – just to kick-start the creative juices. King or McCarthy work for me.
Which book should be on the national curriculum? Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.
Do you have a word or phrase that you most overuse? To my wife: “I’ll do it tomorrow”.
Is there a book you were supposed to love but didn’t?
Darren Guest Darren J Guest led a vampiric existence in his youth, spending much of the 80s hidden from sunlight within the crypt-like snooker halls of Essex. But at some point in the mid 90s he buried his professional snooker career and rejoined day-lit society. He now lives and writes in Suffolk, but if you ever catch him at the bar he can be coaxed into chatting about the coffin days, if the beers are cold, and you’re buying. His debut novel Dark Heart: The Purgatory of Leo Stamp, is a psychological urban fantasy and will be published in May 2011 by Snowbooks. http://www.darrenjguest.com/
Which was your favourite childhood book?
I have two actually: Where the Wild Things are and Fungus the Bogeyman.
Where do you write?
George Orwell’s 1984. It always bugged me that Winston Smith’s fear of rats wasn’t foreshadowed.
What have you learned from writing? Never expect to get published, only hope to.
How do you feel about the recent changes to British libraries?
I think they should knock them all down and build academies for wannabe WAGS and prospective game show contestants. The immense pressure that can befall the talentless and fame-fixated has been overlooked by our government. Instead of forewarning our new generation of the long-term psychological trauma that can come from the paparazzi snapping a drunken, nightclub knicker-shot, they throw the taxpayer’s money at supplying made-up stories to people who are too tight to buy Hello magazine.
E-books – nemesis or genesis?
I will always read books, but if the digital format encourages the more tech-minded to embrace literature, I’m all for it.
Which writer deserves to be better known? Richard Bachman.
What are you working on at the moment?
My second supernatural suspense, Through the Eyes of Douglas. If I told you anymore I’d have to kill you.
Why do men spend so long on the toilet?
Reading Hello magazine, of course – okay, it’s more expensive than toilet paper but the satisfaction more than makes up for that.
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Reality Check by Derek Duggan
It’s time to get real. Or is it? Just how far can your suspension of disbelief be stretched before you feel like calling around to an author’s house and punching them in the bollocks? God is in the details, apparently, but how many times do the small things completely ruin a book? I’m not talking about having to believe that there are people living on the Moon or that there are faeries hiding behind the wallpaper or that Da Vinci didn’t have time to build his helicopter because he was too busy hiding secrets about Jesus or anything.
might be able to get away with – secondary things that if you’re clever you may be able to distract your reader enough for them to not notice the big mental elephant of a conceit in the room. Like, it’s easy to worry just how James Bond is going to manage to escape from his predicament while not giving a thought to the bewildering scale of the bad guy’s HQ. I mean, anyone who’s had an extension built will tell you building jobs drag on forever, so what’s the snag list going to be like on a Volcano fitted out with a fucking mono-rail and a barracks for a hundred hench men? How did they get the materials up there without anyone noticing? How come none of the plumbers talked to anyone about where they’d been? Where do you even go to get a quote for building something like that? Is there a listing in the Yellow Pages for secret lair builders? This kind of thing happens all the time – Cormac McCarthy’s book The Road details a world where, after some un-named disaster, all life on the planet except humans has been wiped out (there’s mention of a dog barking early on but the boy makes the man promise if they find it they won’t eat it, despite the fact that this boy has never lived in a world
But I can’t accept the man can control a loaded shopping cart as it freewheels at speed down a tarmac road taking bends like the thing is on rails. It’s hard enough to get the fuckers to go around a supermarket without continuously veering wildly off-line at random moments. When I’m reading fiction I expect there to be things in it that have been made up. By its very nature, that’s what fiction is. But there’s fiction, and then there’s taking the piss. So when does making something up tip over into risking a sharp smack in the nads? Firstly there’s the type of thing that you
where dogs would be anything other than food). OK, I can accept that premise. But I can’t accept the man can control a loaded shopping cart as it freewheels at speed down a tarmac road taking bends like the thing is on rails. It’s hard enough to get the fuckers to go around a supermarket
without continuously veering wildly offline at random moments. And that’s just the start. I haven’t even touched on the lack of bicycles and tents. But even this is Mickey Mouse compared to the rage fuelling blunders that have become endemic in a lot of popular fiction. Look, I’m not after perfection, just something that’s consistent with the world it’s set in – which leads me to this question – why-ohwhy-oh-why-oh-fucking-why are there so many coroners out there in fictionland who spend their time doing the job of homicide detectives? How come they don’t spend most of the book doing autopsies on eighty-six year old Mrs Smith from Croydon who dropped dead suddenly on her way home from Bingo? How come they spend their time doing the work of a psychological profiler? I mean, at that rate, the character may as well just be a part-time coroner who’s taken the job on to supplement their income as a hamster farmer. There could be a whole piece about how they had to cut down the hours they were doing on the hamster farm due to all the back pain they suffered from having to bend down to maintain the little fences. Maybe, if the author was clever, all the mass murders that this coroner solves over the course of a never ending series of increasingly unlikely scenarios could even be hamster related. Victoria pulled back the sheet to expose the body that had been delivered to the morgue overnight. She had hoped this would just be a run of the mill old lady dropping dead on the way home from bingo, but all hopes of having a normal day cutting up regular dead people evaporated as she saw instantly that the cause of death was obviously the hamster that had been jammed into the ocular socket of the body on the table. She grabbed the phone from the wall and hit speed-dial one for Detective Sergeant Jack Copper, hoping that the sub-plot of his turbulent love life with Charlotte the binman/lady wouldn’t mean he was too upset to comprehend fully the enormity of this development. He answered on the third ring.
Random Stuff | 25 “Jack Copper,” he said. “Jack, it’s me, Victoria the Coroner, with a capital C. He’s struck again. But this time it’s worse – he’s using Mesocricetus Brandti, the most deadly of all the hamsters. I think you’d better get down here right away.” Extract from ‘H’ for Hamster by B. Locks-Chops And this kind of thing is no less
believable than popular arse gravy like Sister by Rosamund Lupton in which during a crime re-enactment the ‘sister’ of the missing girl dresses up in something she thinks is fetching from the wardrobe of her sibling instead of what she was actually wearing on the day she disappeared. And don’t get me started on the completely unbelievable way records of massive drug trials are kept and how a surgical mask renders you invisible and
totally unrecognisable to people who work with you every day while you’re wearing a fucking surgical mask. Of course, having a completely ludicrous plot and characters is no barrier to publishing success, so maybe that’s the trick. Maybe I will write up my hamster murder book. It’s got to be worth a shot.
Ten words that should be abolished by Susan Jones
Over time, certain words become overused and not only ‘past their sell by date’ but as useless as mouldy bananas. The first word on my list has to be. ‘Wow.’ Now at one time a few years ago, it was fine to proclaim ‘Wow’ to remark on a building, an item of clothing, someone’s achievement or just to show your interest. Now in 2011 is has had its day. In an interview with Piers Morgan recently, Cheryl Cole sat with a glazed expression and answered almost every question he put to her with ‘Wow’. “People say you’ve had a face lift?” “Wow”. “Have you been walking in a wind tunnel to get slim like Danni Minogue?” “Wow”. The concept of that word didn’t even answer the questions he was asking. She looked like a wounded animal in a great big city. Then at the end, proudly promoted her new c.d. and smiled with a huge sigh. “I’m now ready to move on.” Surprise surprise. In another programme recently, a family had a make-over done on their house. A teenager was asked what he thought of his new room. “Wow” was all he could utter. “Is that a ‘good wow’?” The presenter asked. “There’s only ever a ‘good wow’” the
adolescent responded. Are we so lacking in a range of vocabulary that a word like ‘wow’ covers the lot. For me, this word can be locked up in a huge oak chest, and be buried in the deepest flood of the ‘Amazon’ river. The next word on my list is ‘twist’. Now I didn’t mind the magazine stories with a ‘twist in the tale’ but now we find that word popping up in every single area of the media. A recipe will be given a twist using lemon juice instead of orange. A knock out show will have a ‘twist’ one week, where nobody gets knocked out. How droll. So twist is on the list of words to be banned. Next I get annoyed when journalists overuse the words peppered and littered. They may be saying in an article, the story was peppered with anecdotes. What rubbish they write. Or maybe the woodlands were littered with bluebells. The park can be littered with crisp packets, or the bus station was littered with cigarette ends, but using these words in such awkward places is annoying. The fifth word on my banish list is in-fact a phrase. “D’ya know what?” I find it to be such a waste of words. They are going to tell us what they think anyway, and it sounds so childish, something a three year old would say before speaking. That phrase has to go. Number six most annoying word on my ‘to be abolished list is – Bite size chunks when referring to reading or writing. Journalists in weekend newspapers, or authors’ in ‘how to’ writing exercises tell us to take ‘bite size chunks’ and digest the information. We eat bite size chunks of apple pie. I take bite size chunks
of fresh bread and dip it in my home-made soup. I don’t want bite size chunks of words. This is another one for the trunk in the bottom of the ‘Amazon’. Done and dusted is the next most annoying phrase. My Grandma had ‘done and dusted’ before she had a cup of tea and went off to make an apple pie. Overused in the corporate and business world, it’s trying to be homely and comely when really they’re cut-throat. A trend with politicians is to say, “Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Why don’t they just say? “Let’s not be hasty. The former simply sounds cruel and disgusting. Maybe because that’s what they’ve got planned. ‘It’s no good bolting the stable door after the horse has bolted.’ This is another popular though overused saying emanating from the mouths of politicians and presenters. What an utter waste of words. Why not say, “It’s too late.” For the tenth selection of phrased words that could be banished forever as far as I’m concerned, we have that phrase by Alan Sugar. “I’m a 24/7 man.” We can see that by his face, but would he seriously get up and answer the phone at three a.m. when he’s deep aslumber? Whatever happened to ‘Day and night, every day of the week?’ So, 24/7 is confined to the box. Bio: Susan Jones is 51 years of age, married with 3 grown up children. She enjoys writing and reading and walking in the Warwickshire countryside where she lives. She has had articles published in ‘My Weekly’, ‘Take a Break’ and ‘Bella’ magazine. She blogs on - www.writelink.co.uk/community
Quite Small Stories | 26
Storyasault by Jess Richards
Storyasault was the winner of the December 2010 Comp Corner for best Last Line. I said I was overwhelmed and needed to rest, so now I’m in a trunk at the end of a bed. A wooden trunk made for precious things. It smells of rose perfume. It’s been silent and dark in here for so long. I think of the places I’ve been, people I’ve known, moments I’ve witnessed, the stories I’ve heard. You’ve heard them as well, I’m sure, though you’re not inside this trunk with me, or tangled in these thoughts that grow in my hair. I think about another time in my life, many years ago: I am an eight year old girl with long brown hair who draws pictures in a book full of blank pages. I draw every child one by one in the corner of the playground. And I whisper, ‘you have beautiful eyelashes’ to each of them. I fill the whole book. When I finish, they all want to see. Adam with freckles says ‘I was still for forever.’ ‘It took ages but it disnae look leik me’ grouches Fiona, who has glasses and orange hair. Smelly
mine dis, an’ she telt me I hae beautifae eyelashes.’ ‘No, me. Me she telt that’ insists Wee Maeve with black curls. Someone shoves Wee Maeve and a fight kicks off. I take the book home and put it under my bed. The next day I walk through bluebells
A black kitten dashes past and time changes, years tumble up, the cat, now old, streaks up the hill from the lake, under a sky where clouds scrumple, towards a house in the middle of a field, in the kitchen of the house, an old woman cries as she looks at photographs of her parents and she thinks: This tea towel is sodden from my tears, what a carry on. Here’s a photo of them swinging me between them, ooh, I remember how that felt. Heart in my throat, feet in the air, whoosh! Here’s that cat now. Make yourself at home madam, leaping through the window like that. Hungry, are we? A magpie just flew past the window. You missed out there puss. That one was lunch. The magpie lands on a church spire in the town across the hills. Inside the church, the years topple down and for a whole afternoon, a woman with long red hair kneels in the pew at the front on the right. She whispers into the palms of her hands: ‘This place smells of polish. I should come in here more often. So still. So much space above me. I could fly up there. All that empty space filled with nothing but air and old echoes of songs. Hymns are just songs, I mean music is music, isn’t it. I wish I had wings. I could
This tea towel is sodden from my tears, what a carry on. Here’s a photo of them swinging me between them, ooh, I remember how that felt. Heart in my throat, feet in the air, whoosh! Here’s that cat now. Make yourself at home madam, leaping through the window like that. Hungry, are we? A magpie just flew past the window. You missed out there puss. That one was lunch.
with my dad and brothers. When I see two grown ups on a bench, I scamper away. I hide in a blackthorn bush because now I’m a squirrel. An old man and his grown up daughter sit on the bench. And he thinks:
She’s not talking. Perhaps she’s depressed. I want to cheer her up but don’t know what to say. Poor lass. The morning sun glints all that light from the water on her face. She looks tired, but. A mayfly scoots past and I say to her ‘Mayflies only live for a day.’ The mayflies skitter in the air over the water. We watch for a while. Finally, she says, ‘If you just had one day, just one, to be alive, what would you do with it?’ I smile. Her eyes shine, so I give her a hug.
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just drift up. Not like an angel or anything fancy. Just how I used to fly when I was a child. I flew all the time when I was a baby. I remember how it felt. Light. In my heart. Like laughing too hard for too long. Flying is just like laughing. Laughing is just like singing. I remember what trees sound like from above. Their leaves sing all high and soft, laugh in songs and whispers to one another. When I got bigger I couldn’t fly so high. I tried to jump off the ground but the gales wouldn’t take me up any more. Skinned my knees over and over, just trying. Why can only children fly? Got to go home now. The house won’t clean itself. A self-cleaning house. That would be something to fly about. Or sing. Or laugh. Just a moment more. All that space up there. Wish I had wings.’ A mother walks past the church, down the road to get teabags from the shop with her daughter. And she thinks: She’s as high as my knees. Her first pair of wellies, she can’t take her eyes off them. Her grandma always buys her pink things. This rain is pure silver. No. Mercury. The stuff in thermometers. It’s like that. All these people in huddles under shop doorways. It’s only rain. She’s splashing every puddle. She’s so serious. I’ll wait. OK, we’re walking again. And stopping. Another puddle. The people in the doorways are smiling at her. She’s not looking up. Behind one of the doorways, upstairs in one of the rooms, time stops still as a teenage girl runs a razor blade along her thigh in the bath, lets it bleed, lies back and exhales. Her hair drips down the back of the bathtub. She forgets what happened to her last night before it was today and before she went into the bathroom and knows that she will need to keep forgetting it for a very long time. She tumbles time backwards and remembers when she was a six year old girl who came up with a scheme and followed it through. And she’d thought: My mum has another baby now. It’s a brother. I wanted a sister. I’ve stolen one from school but if I get caught Mum’ll shout. The sister is in my wardrobe. I’ve told her to be quiet. Her name is Alison. I like her hair. They’re coming, I can hear their feet. I’ll hide with her. It smells of dust in here. Shh. At her school, this afternoon, Toby is in detention again and makes Miss Cruikshank laugh till tears run down her face. And she thinks: He tells me these silly names he’s making up for the characters in a story he’s writing. Jim Full Stop and Constantly Wrong. I join in and
we’re laughing and glancing at each other through teary eyes, it sets us off even more. I haven’t laughed that much in years. The Head scrapes open the door and we both go quiet. When the door closes, I let Toby go home early. After work I go and see a film on my own. In the cinema I eat sweet popcorn, a whole tub all to myself. I peek behind me at all the faces staring at the screen and imagine what their names could be. On the screen the film shows twenty years ago in pictures: A woman who wants revenge learns to tightrope walk because the man she wants to kill lives across the other side of the world. Dramatic music surges. She has a knife clenched in her teeth when she starts the journey. Everyone who is watching knows she will see it through. The woman in the front row on the left can’t blink. She sits there in the cinema right now, in this precise moment, while you are reading this, and she thinks: I want to do this oh god I want to so much I’m still watching the film even after it has finished until the cleaner asks me ‘can you please move your feet madam’ so he can sweep away the pieces of popcorn that are scattered over the carpet. I get up and everyone’s gone. I walk outside and the city dazzles me and all the people look like they’re the main character in a film, and I should follow each of them, watch them all. But I can’t because there are far too many of them. So it’s fine, I ignore them, and think about the film instead, and I think, well what would revenge do. What would it feel like afterwards, what could happen next, would that be it then? I walk on the lines on the paving stones. I wonder how hard it would be to learn to tightrope walk. She passes a house with a blue door that has no letterbox, a house she has never noticed before. On the top floor, in just one hour’s time, a woman still lies curled in a trunk at the foot of her bed. It is locked from the inside, is lined with cotton wool and smells of roses. And she whispers: ‘Locked in this trunk, I can look after myself. This is a place where there are no other stories - in here, no one disturbs me, and I can think about whatever I want.’
Random Stuff | 28 | 28 Quite Small Stories
Politically Correct by Veronica Ryder
Politically Correct was the winner of the last quarter’s independent Flash 500 Competition. For more information visit www.flash-500.co.uk
Their relationship is as fresh and unsullied as the white damask tablecloth between them, their conversation sparkles across the cut glass and silver. The waiter stands poised to take their orders. ‘Let me choose for you,’ Daniel suggests. Helen smiles, feeling the quiet desperation of an unattached thirty-something. She needs this to work. Daniel recalls strict instructions from the party hierarchy: find yourself a wife. The electorate prefer a family man. With her shining eyes, glossy hair and easy acquiescence, Helen could be the one. He suggests champagne.
Their fifth wedding anniversary, and a rare meal out - just the two of them - occupying a private booth to avoid unwelcome attention from constituents, or - worse - the scavenging press. Conversation is stilted though there should be plenty to say. Helen is heavily pregnant - at last. She was beginning to fear she’d left it too late. In public, Daniel plays the part of an eager expectant father; in reality, he feels trapped. He despises Helen’s large, cumbersome body, wishes he could spend the evening instead at Westminster with Andrea, his shapely and more-than-willing assistant. Helen sips her mineral water, watches Daniel tossing back the last of the red wine, his face flushed. His mobile phone chatters a message to which he immediately responds. ‘I have to go to London tonight,’ he informs Helen. ‘Can you drop me at the station?’
This evening they are celebrating the election results. Helen is there to support Daniel, as dutiful wife, mother of his two unwanted children now at home eating popcorn with the nanny. He did well, better than predicted, safely returned for another term and assured of a cabinet post. The party faithful have turned out to greet him in spite of the rain, and football on TV. Hands have been shaken, backs slapped, cheeks kissed. Helen watches him working the crowd, doing what comes so naturally to him, his bread and butter, his raison d’être. She knows there is nothing behind the smile except ambition: his route to Downing Street governs his every move, every thought.
But she also knows she has the means to bring him down. He can’t afford a scandal. She helps herself to a profiterole: sweetly tempting on the outside, nothing of substance at the heart of it. Coffee and Mints ‘You can’t leave me,’ he says. ‘I won’t allow it. Imagine what this would do to my career.’ She has travelled to Westminster to break the news; she seldom sees him at home now. His secretary, with shining eyes and glossy hair, brings in coffee - too dark and bitter to be enjoyable. They sit in silence. She waits for him to mention the children. He doesn’t. ‘I suggest you prepare a statement for the Press,’ she says as she leaves. That evening, headlines ambush rush-hour commuters: ‘Minister’s wife killed in tube station accident’. The sympathy vote will do him no harm at all.
Stuff | 29 QuiteRandom Small Stories
Judge’s Comments: Iain Pattison Most people assume that when we talk about flash fiction the expression flash refers simply to the truncated length of the tale. It only takes a few minutes to race through the narrative - it’s over in a jiffy. But I’ve always taken a wider view. For me flash is a sudden and unexpected moment of brilliance, an instant of story-telling magic that blinds with its imagination, verve and technical excellence. So in judging this competition I was looking for stories that sparkled and blazed, twinkling and teasing, bursting with ideas and flair. And I searched for writers who were flash - in the nicest way possible - able to flaunt their originality and talent while they entertained and challenged. The standard here was high. All entries in the shortlist were competent and very readable. But sadly, most lacked that certain something that made them truly memorable, the extra oomph that would have made me think: Gosh, that’s amazing. I wish I’d written that. And a good number fell into the traps outlined by previous judges - of writers producing tableaux or vignettes - mere snapshots or descriptions - instead of fully rounded plots, or producing yarns that relied too heavily on grief and death to provide the dramatic punch. Some simply had endings or paths that were too predictable. Only a handful dazzled and made it through to my final clutch of possibles. (What is the term for a shortlist’s shortlist?) These were: Joe’s Bicycle Too Sweet Politically Correct One Man’s Meat The Imposters Third Time Unlucky
All were strong stories, well crafted, with impact and a powerful sense of mood, but only four could make it to the podium, so I slept on it. Those entries that still burned in my memory the next morning won through. So my choice of victors was:
1st Politically Correct 2nd The Imposters 3rd Third Time Unlucky Highly commended: One Man’s Meat Politically Correct
An outstanding entry that shone brightly. I loved everything about this story - from its clever title and unusual structure, to its emotional intensity and economy of language. A very professional and accomplished narrative from a writer on top of their game. I was particularly impressed by the device of using a restaurant menu format to illustrate the various inevitable and sad episodes or “courses” of the MP’s wife’s brittle and empty life. The clincher was the wonderful ambiguity of the ending - a classic “did she jump or was she pushed?”. A deserving winner.
Oozing truth and authenticity, this amusing yarn of the lack of empathy and understanding between the generations was clever, engaging and insightful. I don’t think anyone reading this couldn’t fail to connect with its sentiment or appreciate the accuracy of its observation of the eternal conflict between parents and teenagers.
Third Time Unlucky
A fun, entertaining romp with a lovely sly twist that took me by surprise. Fluid and effortless reading. Great stuff.
One Man’s Meat
A teasing, wry, wonderfully droll and dark story beautifully merging humour and horror. It made me smile and shiver, but the title rather telegraphed the ending.
Quite Small Stories | 30
Alex’s Arm by Marlene Brown
Alex’s Arm was Shortlisted for the Words with JAM Short Story Competition 2010. Looking back I realize I have lived two lives, even though I feel I have lived only a half-life since my twin brother died. Identical we were: monozygotic is the medical term for it – like two peas in a pod, Mum said. We don’t speak now, Mum and me. She blames me for Alex’s death. Says she can’t bear to have me around; that I’m a painful reminder of what she’s lost, but I don’t think she ever wanted me. I remember when we were little, getting up to mischief, it was always me who got told off or smacked, never Alex. I knew why, of course, but it still seemed so unfair. Back then I just accepted what she said - that I was my brother’s keeper and he was my responsibility. Since Alex died I’ve felt abandoned and lonely. We shared everything when we were young - thoughts and feelings, likes and dislikes, quirks and mannerisms - we were more a composite than separate entities. When we were babies sharing the same cot,
Sometimes he said I had stolen his arm, and sometimes he would complain that I had monopoly of the whole arm and that I wouldn’t share. I think there was a time when I believed that myself. We were born on 29th December 1952. Alex was born first and me a little while later. Not surprisingly, the day came when my brother wanted to know why he didn’t have the same number of fully functioning arms as everyone else. It’s a difficult one, isn’t it? Mum explained to him that most of the ‘stuff ’ inside a mummy’s tummy that goes into making babies had been used up making me, so there wasn’t enough left to finish Alex off properly. That set the scene pretty much for the way my relationship with my brother would be conducted: his ‘deformity’ was an ever-present reminder of my greed and selfishness. When I was around 12 or 13, I overheard talk about Mum wanting to have me adopted during those first few months after the birth because she was finding it difficult to cope with the two of us. Post natal depression they call it now. Obviously she managed because they didn’t give me away. Perhaps Dad put his foot down – I like to think
... I wasn’t surprised by his decision to put some distance between us because I sensed his frustration and irritation whenever people mistook him for me. I think that’s why he stopped wearing his artificial arm – you could see people checking the arm before greeting either one of us. He assumed I felt the same way, but I didn’t. What stifled and suffocated Alex defined and sustained me ... we would suck each other’s fingers and toes, not knowing where one twin began and the other ended. Mum didn’t like that. Said there was something ‘not nice’ about it and made dad build a separate cot for me. ‘No respecter of boundaries’ is what she said I was; still says for all I know. Of course, the bars of a cot didn’t keep us apart. Even though Alex has been dead for almost five years, I still have difficulty in thinking of myself as ‘I’ rather than ‘we’. When we were very young mum used to insist that we wore different coloured jumpers, so that people could tell us apart. I can’t remember how old I was when I realized that there was a more obvious clue as to which twin was which, one that a blind man on a galloping horse could have spotted: Alex had only one arm. Actually, he had one and a quarter arms, but we didn’t count the stump on the right since he couldn’t do much with it. The missing arm was a source of great conflict between Alex and me when we were small.
he spoke up for me, but it’s unlikely since he left when we were two years old, which goes to show he can’t have been that keen on either of us. Mum couldn’t face living in Australia after that and brought us back to England to be near her family, none of whom she got on with. I loved my brother and did my best to protect him from the casual cruelties inflicted by other children and adults who should have known better. I remember dreading our first day at primary school, knowing instinctively the kind of scrutiny and interrogation we would receive. ‘What happened to your Alex’s arm?’ they asked, and we had no answer other than to close ranks and huddle together, communicating in our own private language. Eventually, they lost interest in the missing arm and so, to a certain extent, did my brother. It’s often said what you’ve never had, you never miss and I sometimes secretly thought that having fewer limbs than everyone else gave him a slight advantage in that he got away with a lot more. It gave him, in his own words, an ‘edge’, which was ironic really as that was his name: Alexander Edge.
Quite Small Stories | 31
Marlene Brown lives and writes in Brighton. Her short stories have been published in anthologies and online. She has a BA(Hons) in Psychology from Middlesex University, and an MA in Creative Writing from Sussex University. She is currently working on a novel.
He was good-natured, extrovert and completely fearless, whereas I was quiet and highly-strung. Still am, I suppose. It was during our early twenties that Alex decided to be ‘different’. Said he was fed up with people asking where his ‘other half ’ was when I wasn’t around. Said he objected to being classed as half a person when he was a whole person, unique in his own right. He said Mum agreed with him. Well she would, wouldn’t she? She told me: ‘Alex has spent long enough pandering to your insecurities’. To be honest, I wasn’t surprised by his decision to put some distance between us because I sensed his frustration and irritation whenever people mistook him for me. I think that’s why he stopped wearing his artificial arm – you could see people checking the arm before greeting either one of us. He assumed I felt the same way, but I didn’t. What stifled and suffocated Alex defined and sustained me, so it hurt when he decided to go his own way. Felt like I’d been rejected. Felt like he’d sided with mum over me. Not that I would have tried to stop him, prevent him from abandoning me; us. Once he’d made his mind up there was no altering it. Like I’ve said, and keep on saying - I just accepted it. We hadn’t spent all our time together since our late teens, so proximity was not the defining quality of our relationship. When you’re a twin, especially an identical twin, you have a bond that nothing can break, even death. Did I envy my twin? I was asked that question by a psychiatrist not long after Alex died. What my mother viewed as habitual attentionseeking behaviour, the psychiatrist reckoned was hysterical paralysis brought on by repressed feelings of guilt and jealousy and diagnosed Body Integrity Identity Disorder. That didn’t wash with mum. Not that it matters really. I am left-handed, so when my right arm went dead it didn’t make a lot of difference to the way I function. If anything, it was a relief and a comfort. I took it as a sign from my brother that I was absolved, so it was immaterial what Mum thought, or the psychiatrist, or even the police, for that matter. I moved away after I was discharged. There’s no point in staying where I’m not wanted. If I’d needed further proof of that it came at Alex’s funeral when mum announced that in future she would not acknowledge 29th December as the twins’ birthday - since there were no longer twins, she said, the date was of no consequence. I changed my name six months ago to Alex and that made me feel a lot better, but I am concerned that I am regaining some of the sensation in my right arm. I read somewhere recently of cases where people, becoming trapped in a deserted place with no means of escape or hope of rescue, amputate a limb to free themselves and live to tell the tale. My research has uncovered several such cases, especially amongst mountaineers, and one in particular, who, having cut off his left arm in order to save his life, had his severed limb cremated and later returned to the place he was trapped to scatter its ashes. My advantage over anyone who finds themselves unexpectedly having to amputate a limb, is that I have a rudimentary understanding of the surgical procedure involved:
Ligate the supplying artery and vein to prevent haemorrhage. Transect muscles. Saw through ulna and radius bones. Transpose skin and muscle flaps over the stump. And I have the equipment necessary to carry it out. My only problem is that I will be pushed to fit it in before the anniversary of Alex’s death and be fit enough to join mum on the cliff top where he fell. It’s meant to be a surprise. She goes there every year and keeps a vigil for him, weeping. I know because I watch her. Same as I watched Alex the day his hang gliding equipment failed. The week before he and mum were due to start their new lives in Australia. That was a surprise, too. Even now, I can barely believe they were going to leave without telling me. I wouldn’t have known until after they’d gone if the postman hadn’t mistakenly given me Alex’s post two days earlier. Of course I opened the letter! It was postmarked ‘Australia’ with the return name ‘Albert Edge, Woolagong, Melbourne’. I hadn’t known Alex was in touch with Dad. ‘Do you ever wonder what would have happened if you hadn’t confronted Alex?’ Can’t remember if it was the police or the psychiatrist who asked that question and, of course, I didn’t bother answering, but it’s something I’ve thought about since. Of course, these people always see things in black and white; want to attribute motivation, blame. It wasn’t a confrontation; more an appeal to my brother to recognise the impossibility of a life spent apart from one another. ‘Did what Alex said make you angry?’ My ears are closed; I will not hear. ‘Is that why you pushed him?’ I didn’t push him; I did not! He lost his footing and I grabbed his arm, but it came away in my hands. He mustn’t have attached it properly – he was always doing that. ‘Why do you believe your mother hates you?’ A good question, that one. It’s a pity you can’t precisely recall events from your earliest childhood. Now it’s all jumbled and confused. I seem to remember a serrated click, a rushing sound, like a guillotine and a holding there. A squeezing. And lots of crying. Did I hold the cot side down, with Alex’s arm twisted between the bars, or did she? Click, rush, snap. She only ever wanted one whole, golden boy. I’ve always known that – I believe I sensed it before we were born, in that great dome of her belly that was our home. But why Alex and not me? Perhaps I shall ask her when I surprise her on the cliff top on what would have been our 30th birthday.
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2011 First Page Competition It’s very straight forward. We’re looking for the most captivating first page of a story. Think about those people who only buy books if the first page or two excites them. Entries will be judged anonymously, and it can be the first page (up to 400 words) of a novel – it can be from a novel previously unpublished, a part written novel, or simply a first page written purely for the competition. Prizes 1st Prize - £250 2nd Prize - £100 3rd Prize - £50 Closing Date: 29th April 2011 Results: All three winning entries will be published in the June 2011 issue of Words with JAM. Judge: Andrew Crofts To Enter: Entries can be up to, but not exceeding 400 words, excluding the title. You can submit more than one entry. First entry submitted is £5, £8 for two, or £10 for three. For more information visit www.wordswithjam.co.uk/competition
IMPROVE YOUR WRITING with the Highlands & Islands Short Story Association – open to everyone, everywhere
Aim for the clouds: be the best you can be We can offer you a critical, unbiased opinion of your work, as well as advice on how to improve your writing, and help bring your stories and novels up to competition and publishing standards. The service is subsidised by the fees raised by our Annual Open Short Story Competition, in order to keep prices low, and therefore available to all.
Three short stories (up to 10,000 words in total) £59 Up to 20,000 words of a novel, novella, or non-fiction work £69 A full length work, (fiction, biography etc) up to 100,000 words £99 Your work will be read carefully and thoroughly, and you will be given detailed editorial advice. After this, you will be given time to read through and digest these comments, and have the opportunity to resubmit a second draught for final guidance and critique. It is in all our interests to be as honest and conscientious as possible, our primary aim being to nurture and direct new writers in their chosen field, and give them the confidence to continue writing to the best of their abilities
Are you having a laugh? Best Comedy Scene Competition Coming Soon
Guy Saville has generously gifted a signed hardback and another paperback copy of his novel The Africa Reich for this issue’s Comp Corner
with Danny Gillan
Well, I assumed this one would be easy. Insults, we all do it all the time. Especially writers. About other writers. But, as predicted last issue, they barely trickled in. What, no prize? Did that annoy you? Did it piss you off that we didn’t have another writer’s retreat to give away this time? Well you should have fucking insulted us then! That was the whole point! You people are rubbish. Honestly, I’ve never come across a more lackadaisical, sloth-like bunch of fuckfarting, brain-free, colonoscopy-induced wankfails in my life. And I’ve lived, my friends, I’ve bloody lived! There, see how easy it is? Anyway, luckily a few of you rose to the challenge and I salute every single damn one of you, soldiers of the soul-destroying salutation that you are. In no particular order, my favourite piles of bile are as follow: God spoiled a perfect arsehole when he put teeth in your mouth. He has a face like a pitbull licking pish off of a nettle. Tom McIver Oh, you got that did you? Nothing escapes you, does it? You’re a supermassive fucking black hole. You’re a fucking Mountie. What’s that? You’ve got your finger on the pulse? That may be true my friend, but it’s the pulse of a six week old corpse, discovered only when the stench became too much for the neighbours. You are Sherlock Holmes in a room that has been emptied by Pickfords then cleaned by Kim and Aggie. Not a fucking clue!
Nicky Robinson If my dog had a face like yours, I’d shave his ass and teach him to walk on his front paws. Pete Morin Your participles are dangling into your purple prose and your infinitives are split between cliché and tautology. If you were the last book in the library and I had an eight hour train journey, I still wouldn’t want you with me. Patsy Collins You are impressively capable of extraordinary feats of not noticing. You also have the sickly demeanour of a mangy, bin-rummaging fox that can’t be arsed to chase chickens anymore. And your face looks like it’s been engaging in random acts of violence. Geoff Lowe If you had one more braincell you’d be pond life. I’ve stepped in things with more charisma than you. Paul Callaghan When he sits on the front bench next to the Prime Minister at Question Time , he wriggles uncomfortably as if he`d spent the morning picking up the soap in the showers for his butch pals in the Bullingdom club while his peevish little mouth is pursed as tight as a cat’s arse. Don Nixon You are as sensitive as a public toilet. Mary E Whitsell Take after take came and went. The actress kept looking nervously at her
watch. We kept raising our eyes to the ceiling. After take 27, she said “ Are we going to be much longer, I have to be at the theatre in an hour.” To which a bored lighting technician yawned and said in a loud voice “I wonder what she’s going to see.” Michael Hennessy And my personal favourite, for its succinct but vital imagery: May your next shite be a hedgehog. Nettie Thomson Nettie, I bow to your spiky vision. And so we move on. Oh, we have a prize for this one. That got your attention, didn’t it? Guy Saville has generously gifted a signed hardback and another paperback copy of his novel The Afrika Reich. Yes, it turns out some of these famous writer folk like us. So, in Guy’s honour, the next Comp Corner is devilishly simple. Give me your best ‘What ifs’. I want alternate history scenarios here. Obviously ‘what if Hitler won’ has been done a bit, as has ‘what if the South won the US civil war’. But ‘what if Himmler was born a lesbian’ is less explored. As is ‘what if Moses said, ‘nah, you’re okay’ to God that morning on Mount Sinai’? Or Admiral Nelson took some time off work to deal with his eye injury? You see where I’m going. Give me the ‘what if’. That’s it. If you can’t do that in less than thirty words then hell mend you. Send them to the usual place firstname.lastname@example.org. Body of the email. We like bodies, we don’t like bodily attachments (we’re old fashioned that way).
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by Shameless Charlatan Druid Keith This month I’ll be looking at how you are exactly the same as some famous people who were born under the same sign as you.
Just like cuddly Italian fun time politician Benito Mussolini you should try giving yourself a few catchy nicknames. You could try out Il Duce next time you’re out for a meal and see how it goes. You would be perfectly suited for a job in public transport as you have been born with the ability to make the trains run on time. Avoid Milan as a holiday destination as you’ll probably end up getting executed by Italian Partisans and your body could even end up being hung upside down outside a petrol station which might ruin the experience for you.
You share your love of children with other Virgo-ian’s like insomniac Michael Jackson and Eastern European professional loon Slobodan Milosevic and would be perfectly suited to a career as a children’s party entertainer. You were born to bend balloons and ethnic cleanse so your parties are always going to be Thriller’s. Now would be a good time to put a zoo in your back garden and if the neighbours complain, get cleansing!
You’re a snappy dresser who can really pull off a moustache just like top Sagittarius-ian Joseph Stalin. You love being in charge of things and don’t mind having to occasionally murder your work colleagues (or anyone else for that matter) in order to get ahead. You would make a terrific wedding planner as no one can run a big party like you.
In many ways this is the cruellest sign to be born under, particularly if you came into this world near the start of Capricorn as lots of cheapskates will try and give you just one combined present for your birthday and Christmas. This may trouble you in your youth, but once you’re a bit older you can get your own back by starting up your own religion just like fellow Capricorn-ian’s Joseph Smith Jr (maker up of being a Mormon) and Jesus Christ (maker up of being a Christian) and making people afraid that they’ll go to hell. A good way to get your kids out of the house for the afternoon is to send them to knock on the doors of complete strangers to let them know that they’ll be going to hell too. Everyone will thank you for this and no one will get killed in your name or anything.
You’ve got brilliant eyesight and are able to spot your friends from quite a distance even while they whiz by in a car just like eagle eye champion re-loader Libra-ian Lee Harvey Oswald. You could work in the leisure industry as a lifeguard on the beach as you’d be able to spot drowning people way out among the surf and, if no one was looking, get a few practice shots off.
Being an Aquarius-ian you love the water – you just can’t get enough of it and find it difficult to cope when other people come anywhere near your bit as is demonstrated by the Aquarius-ian who wears Dennis Taylor’s old glasses, Kim Jong-il. This month, why not piss off the neighbours by building a nuclear bomb in your shed and then going around telling everyone to come and have a go if they think they’re hard enough.
You’re big and fat because just like peopleperson and fellow Scorpio-ian Marie Antoinette you love a bit of cake. No matter what the problem you like to think it can be fixed by throwing brioche at it. Be careful not to lose your head in tricky situations.
Your positive outlook makes you believe that you own the whole world and for all round nice guy and fair play merchant Pisces-ian Rupert Murdoch this is very nearly literally true.
You like nothing more than making disparaging remarks about minority groups and then covering it up by saying – It was only a joke – just like balanced Aries-ian funny man Jeremy Clarkson. Anything bad that happens in your life can be directly attributed to gypsies, traffic cones (which are put there in the night by gypsies), or speed cameras (which is a money making scam by gypsies). You should be working in public relations or any other job where you can make up the facts on the spot.
You often feel as if people have misjudged you just like Charlie Chaplin look-alike and champion hand waver Taurus-ian Adolf Hitler. Like Adolf, you spend your whole life with star sign envy and wish that you’d been born an Arian. However, just like Cambodian mad bastard Pol Pot you can always reinvent yourself as an opera singer and go on the telly. This month would be a good time to send off that application for Britain’s Got Mentallers.
Just like newsworthy Gemini-ian North African melty face man Colonel Gaddafi you have no problem putting people in their place. However, there are two sides to your personality, and nowhere are both these sides more clearly on display than in top author Gemini-ian melty face woman Katie Price which also means you’re a bit of a tramp who likes rough blokes with lots of tatts. And you’d probably do it with sailors on the kitchen table.
While you may suffer from discommunicationa-lexia like co-sufferer and fun time war monger Cancer-ian George W Bush, you spend a lot of your time believing the human being and fish can co-exist peacefully. To this end, your perfect job would be Atlantic Ocean swimming man where you could practice what you preach safely out of harms way.
Ruth Saberton’s Courses for Aspiring Writers Held in beautiful Polperro in five star accommodation Ruth Saberton, author of ‘Katy Carter wants a Hero’, has been writing for 10 years. Besides ‘Katy Carter’ Ruth has had novels published under the pen names Jessica Fox. She has also had books published in Germany, Russia, the USA and Canada. Ruth has recently been contracted by Orion for two more books, the second of which will be published in May 2011. She is a columnist for the Western Morning News and this year will speak at the prestigious Daphne du Maurier Literary Festival in Fowey. Ruth has featured in the national press, local and national radio and women’s magazines including Heat magazine who commented that she ”...takes Bridget Jones’s mantle and runs with it”. To find out more about Ruth, visit her website. www.ruthsaberton.co.uk. In these courses Ruth combines her 14 years of experience as a teacher with her expertise as a novelist to deliver a range of informative and creative workshops for aspiring writers. Renowned as one of the most beautiful villages in Cornwall, Polperro is the ideal inspirational location to explore your creative side and develop your craft as a writer. Six workshops are held ranging from plotting and structuring your novel to how to approach agents and publishers. All accommodation is in five star luxury holiday cottages and the price of the course includes all tuition, car parking permit, food at a local inn, drink and accommodation. The next course will be held in early March. This course is a writer’s retreat where writers with novels in progress or novels ready to be submitted to agents and publishers will be able to polish their work and put together tailored proposals. I will spend time individually doing one to one sessions with delegates as well as group sessions aimed at securing the attention of agents and publishers. Best selling novelist Miranda Dickinson will also be present to discuss her writing journey and to critique delegates’ work. A second course will be held in June. This course is a more general package aimed at structuring novels, developing character and plot as well as looking at the road to publication. If you have started writing or are hoping to begin a novel this is the course for you. Another writers’ retreat will be held in August. For more details of dates, venues and a list of prices please look at the web site www.writerscoursescornwall.co.uk or contact the course organizer, Mrs. Sheila Morris by email at sheilamorris email@example.com
Pencilbox/backpack | 37
contract. Jackie from London says: I’ve been offered a publishing deal with a small independent and the contract is pages and pages of legal stuff. I don’t have an agent and I can’t afford a solicitor, but am really worried about signing something I don’t understand. Would you be prepared to read it for me?
Co-author of The Writer’s ABC Checklist, Lorraine Mace, answers your questions ... Scott from Ontario, Canada, asks: Is it really necessary to have an agent? All my writing friends say it’s harder to get an agent than it is to get a publisher, so shouldn’t I just go for it on my own? Scott, there is no rule saying you have to have an agent, but you’ll find it easier to sell your book to a major publisher if you do have one. Many of the top publishing houses are closed to non-agented authors, but even if that were not the case, an agent does far more than simply sell your work. A good agent looks after every aspect of their clients’ needs, from contracts to collecting royalties. If your work is good enough you should be able to attract the attention of an agent. If it isn’t, then it’s a good idea to worry about editing and rewriting at this stage and look for an agent when your book is as good as you can possibly make it.
In contrast to Scott’s letter, our next correspondent could have done with an agent to look over her
The short answer to your question, Jackie, is no. This really is a specialised field. However, fortunately for you, the Society of Authors in the UK has people available to vet contracts. They will suggest changes and/or points to renegotiate. This service is free of charge to all members. If you do not yet have a book published, you can join as an associate member and they will then give the same contract vetting service as they offer to full members. http://www.societyofauthors.org/
Georgia from Durban, South Africa, cries: Help! I am totally defeated by commas. I never know when to use them and spend more time putting them in and taking them again than I do writing. Is there a simple rule to follow?
• Use a comma when there are two sentences that are linked together by a preposition: Mary had the hots for George, but he wasn’t interested in her. • When affirming or negating, you need a comma after the yes or no: no, I don’t like you. Yes, I think your bum looks fat in that dress.
• You need a comma after ‘therefore’, ‘furthermore’, ‘however’ and ‘but’, when those words are used as modifiers.
• When there is an interruption in a sentence, you need commas either side of it to separate it from the rest of the sentence: the music teacher, shorttempered as always, told us to keep quiet. • The same rule applies if you have an additional clause in the sentence: the pianist finished with a Chopin sonata, which my husband loves, and the audience stood as one to applaud. • Use a comma to separate phrases: he knew how I felt, so I tried to avoid him. • If you have a clause that precedes a subject (provided the sentence isn’t very short) you need a comma: when George and Mary get that look on their faces, we all know they are going to start fighting.
Hmm, wouldn’t it be wonderful if uses of the comma could be explained in one simple rule? Unfortunately, that isn’t possible, but maybe the list below will help to make its usage clearer.
• Let’s say you want to show that someone or something is not what has been assumed, you would need a comma then, too: I’m trying to lose weight, not gain it.
• A comma is used to separate items in a list: Mary carried books, pens, files and paper to the desk. (In some countries there will be a comma before the ‘and’ as well as the ones after books and pens, but not in UK usage.)
I hope the above examples make it easier to know what to do with those pesky commas, but you might like to know that you’re in good company. Apparently Oscar Wilde once said: I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.
• It is also used to emphasise a noun: he was a tall, heavy-set man.
have a question?
Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
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Beyond the Bookstore: widening your audience by Dan Holloway
So maybe by now you’ve not only been in to your local bookstore to ask them if they’ll stock your book, but also enquired about a reading, arranged it, rounded up way more suspects than is usual for such things, delivered segments of your masterpiece, and are either: Absolutely buzzing and desperate to do the whole thing all over again. Or Shell-shocked, traumatised, and reaching for your phone to call a lawyer to pursue the idiot who suggested the whole idea in the first place. Well, as the idiot in question, I will simply point out that, in a technical and legal sense, it’s not my fault. It’s not, it’s not, it’s not! Let’s assume that anyone still with me wants to know “Where now?” Well, where you go next will, of course, depend a lot on your book. You may not want to take your account of reed-gathering in 16th century Norfolk to a poetry slam; and you might want to avoid performing your urban masterpiece 69 Swearwords for Skateboarders to your local history society. On the other hand… well, you get my drift. So almost certainly not all of these will be relevant to you (unless your Booker-in-waiting is along the lines of Vampire Erotica for Reed-gathering Skateboarders), but I hope some, or even many, will. Let’s start with those reed-gathering skateboarders…
Clubs and societies
If your book has a particular slant or subject, and you’ve written it with that slant because it fascinates you, then the chances are you will already be involved in some local societies that reflect that interest, or at least know about them. Clubs and societies regularly hold talks, show and tells, and presentations, and are particularly good places for you to approach because there is no question of cold-calling or hard-selling. You have written a book on a subject that interests their members. You want them and they want you! You may have to be flexible in what you are prepared to do – but that’s the key to all marketing. You may be asked to give a talk as well as a reading, or to discuss a particular aspect of your book. This is actually a fantastic opportunity. One of the most frustrating things about being a writer is doing vast amounts of research that readability and good editing demand you leave on the cutting room floor – this is your chance to show off what you’ve learned. There are all sorts of places you can go to find out about local groups who would be interested in you giving a talk/reading. I’m sure Kat will back me up in saying the very best is the local library. The Council website, local newspaper, and museum as well. And don’t forget, unless your book really does have a specifically local angle, there’s no reason to stick to groups in your area. If your talk goes well, ask to be put in touch with similar groups elsewhere.
At the other end of the spectrum, increasingly popular these days are open mic nights. These are evenings when anyone and everyone can pitch up and perform. Once the preserve of teenage guitar bands, increasingly general open mic nights are welcoming the spoken word, and more and more events are popping up devoted to the spoken word. A quick trawl through Oxford’s listings site, Daily Information, regularly reveals 3 or 4 such nights in any one week, and some, like
Catweazle Club and Hammer and Tongue, are so successful they’ve spread beyond their original venue. Giving a good performance at a leading night like Hammer and Tongue is not only a great feather in your cap, but can open lots of doors. The format of most open mic nights is that you turn up a little bit before they start, put your name down on a list, and get assigned a slot to do your thing. As most of them tend to be regular events, it’s a very good idea to go along to the previous staging to get a feel for things, see how it runs, say hello to everyone (really important – the more contacts you get the better, of course, but most of all it’s common courtesy not just to pitch up and then never be heard of again), and possibly most of all get a feel for whether your material is appropriate. You’ll also need to check what the deal is with selling your book. Each night will have its own policies and arrangements. It’s always important to make your performance sing (not literally – well, not necessarily literally), but some nights, especially those advertised as slams, are competitive, and when that’s the case, your performance will be as important as your material. The best place to find out about local open mic nights is a listings site if you have one. If not then Google will help. Another great site is Poetry Kapow (not just poetry), who list events across the whole of the south east of England.
Literary nights can fill any part of the spectrum between a local history society and a poetry slam. Slightly more formal than an open mic session in that they tend to have an official line-up, you will need to approach organisers in advance. Because of the broad spectrum, you can find out about literary nights in your area anywhere from bookstores to Time Out. And for the same reason, it is essential to go along in advance to see what the atmosphere and material is like.
One stage on from clubs and societies is the world of conferences. These can take many forms. Often they will be large get-togethers for all the local interest groups in the country (if you go to speak to such a group, ask them if there is an AGM or conference), and if you’ve already spoken to one of the local groups, that’s a great way to introduce yourself to the organisers. Often overlooked are academic conferences. These aren’t – well, not always; well, sometimes they aren’t – the stuffy black tie and tweed affairs of esotericism you might imagine (don’t worry, some are, so if that’s your market despair not!). They often, especially as the government’s research agenda for higher education increasingly demands engagement with society as a whole and not just within the academic community, welcome presenters whose interest is in the same field as the conference theme, but who approach it from a creative angle (the awful buzzword is “practice-based”). So, for example, I was in clover a couple of years ago, 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when a lot was going on to mark the event. The novel I had just written, Songs from the Other Side of the Wall, centred on a teenage girl born just as the Wall came down, and her struggle to find her identity in the rapidly changing world taking shape in its former lee. I Google-d conferences on the topic and ended up making some fantastic friends (and connections – it was as a result of going along that I ended up having a piece published in the really fantastic XCP street notes) when I went to talk at the conference “Ghosts of the Past” at the University of East London. Conferences are super places for authors, and I would – your subject area pending of course – recommend them above any other place to go and read. There are two reasons for that. First, especially with academic conferences, you are reaching out to an audience that is both interested in what you do, and new to you. And, which is incredibly useful, drawn from far and wide. Second, there will often be space in the registration area for you to make a display with copies of your book. And during breaks you can sit there, grabbing, er, politely talking to passers-by, and selling and signing. There are plenty of other places you can approach. If you write for children, then schools are an obvious choice, and libraries are always worth speaking to. Less likely venues include art galleries, independent music stores, and cafes. If you live near a university, you could see if they hold a ball – these regularly have spoken acts, and will often even pay basic expenses. What I have found most helpful of all in Oxford has been getting to know other people in the arts – the opportunities to do performances with others from across the arts are rife. We have several wonderful groups in Oxford, from networking groups of people within the local arts community to galleries and arts collectives who regularly host shows and are always looking for people in other fields to make their shows stand out.
Bullet points • Find out if your reading is being recorded and uploaded to YouTube. If so, make sure you get the link sent to you so you can embed the film on your blog, e-mail, or just send a link next time you are asking to do a reading. If not, see if you can find someone who’d be prepared to record for you, and start your own YouTube channel • Do as much reconnaissance as possible in advance. It’s polite, but it will also help you to network, and to make sure you read your work in the most appropriate setting • As in so many things, the local library is your best friend – a mine of information as well as a possible venue! • Find out if there is an arts group near you that you can join, and get to know other people in the area who might be interested in working with you.
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Writers’ Manuals Distilled by Jill Marsh
• Correct grammar as fetish. Sometimes Each issue, WwJ reads WRITE rules should be broken for the right you select – who, when, why, where, effect. Do it for the right reasons but stay one of the many manuals Firstly, when, how. within the rules most of the time. – cause to effect, or aimed at the aspiring writer. effectNextbackyouto arrange • Meaning is unclear. If a reader has to read cause? In chronological order a sentence twice to understand what is Reducing it to its essence, or via flashbacks or a frame? happening, you’re in trouble. Then you describe – bring images, we’ll pass on wise advice, tips sounds, tastes, scents and feelings to life with use of words. To achieve vivid use of and tricks, and inspiration. vivid words, your two key tools are nouns and FACTS ABOUT Nouns should be specific, concrete Here we look at the first verbs. and definite, while verbs must be active. FEELINGS what’s good and bad. An event part of Dwight V. Swain’s The verb ‘to be’ is weak because it’s static. Decide Cut ‘to be’ forms every chance you can, happens and the reader must know from the what effect that will have on Techniques of the and avoid the past perfect ‘had been, hadn’t circumstances the characters. Give the reader a compass, done’ wherever possible. Active description allowing them to interpret events via feelings. Selling Writer. can sidestep adverbs and be sparing with
THIS OVERVIEW IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR READING THE REAL THING. WE HOPE IT WHETS YOUR APPETITE TO BUY THE BOOK. (Gender pronouns as in original).
FICTION AND YOU
A writer’s job is to bring forth a feeling from the reader. Find the feeling first, and urge to tell. Then fend off all the voices – inhibition, self-censorship, restraint. Look at rules as signposts from previous travellers, not fences. Dependence on mechanics results in something limp and inert – feeling is at the centre of every story. Be subjective, depend on your own view of the world and when you have your raw, honest version, then you can begin the refining, the winnowing, the edit. Separate creation and critique – they stifle each other. Be willing to be very, very bad. Those ready to make mistakes move forward. Feeling tells us what to say, techniques gives the tools with which to say it. But each person goes about it differently. There’s no one answer to any writing question.
THE WORDS YOU
adjectives. Making a comparison to another image (metaphor or similie) is an excellent device for achieving vividness. Your choice of words depends on denotation (actual meaning) and connotation (implied associations). Thus a horse, depending on what you want to imply, can be a steed, filly, nag, pony, stallion or neddy.
Language problems often fall into six categories: • Sentence structure becomes monotonous. Strive for variety but refrain from stylistic acrobatics which detract from the story. • Subject and verb become separated. Keep a connection between the key elements of actor and action. Interrupting with a string of modifications or explanations is overweighting one sentence. If extra information is vital, give it a sentence of its own. • Adverbs are improperly placed. Put them at the beginning or the end. • Repetition of words or phrases. This is a product of careless copy-reading. If you want repetition for effect, do it three times. Twice looks like an error, more is hammering the point.
Stories are subjective and readers make judgements on the characters’ actions. These judgements are precisely what excites interest and keeps them reading. Story world: for the reader, it’s subjective, it’s sensory, and it’s new. You have to make it real by filling it with recognisable description and comparison interpreted subjectively by your Focal Character (FC). Story = change ... your FC moves from one state to the other. Something shifts and by the end, so has the character’s state of mind. All events must be relevant and contribute to that moment. = cause & effect ... the fact that one thing leads to another, that there’s a reason for everything gives the reader a sense of security, a feeling that he understands. = motivation and reaction. A motivating stimulus occurs, a factor outside your focal character, and causes a reaction from within. These motivation-reaction (MR) units are what carry your story forward. Emotional reactions need to be presented sequentially. Thus, an MR unit goes like this: feeling into action into speech. This pattern of emotion represents an increase of control for the character. Feeling is impulse, action is choice and speech a considered step. One of the stages, if obvious, can be left out on the page. But it’s there in the reader’s mind. The motivating stimulus must be
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per tinent to your story, significant to your character and provoke movement. The reaction retains the same three elements but must also conform to the character, appearing reasonable (for him). You, the writer, decide what effect you hope to achieve from such a reaction – what does it say about your FC?
Writing an MR unit
Write a sentence without your character, followed by a sentence about your character. You can expand either or both to include two or three sentences, but keep stimulus and reaction clearly separated. External stimulus – character reaction – external world’s response – character reaction and we begin to build the chain of interaction.
CONFLICT AND HOW TO BUILD IT
Scene and sequel. A scene is a unit of conflict, lived through by character and reader. A sequel is a unit of transition to link two scenes. A scene should follow a pattern: goal, conflict, disaster. The reader must understand the goal, which needs to be specific, and aware of the forces of opposition, which generates conflict. Within the conflict, you can add more challenges & complexities, upping the stakes and increasing the challenge. Finally, a curveball arrives, throwing your character into a situation where he faces a choice. This is your hook – what will he do now? Scene-writing Dos ...
Do establish time, place, circumstance and viewpoint at the start – confusion infuriates readers. Even if the FC isn’t in this scene, it must have a focal character to orient the reader. Do establish scene goal quickly. It must be specific and achievable within the time frame. Do ensure strong, unified forces of antagonism for power and clarity. Do build to a curtain line. The disaster may not be actually disastrous, but it raises the question - what’s next?
a pleasurable sense of tension, one the writer controls, manipulates and eventually releases. The reader’s empathy with the characters satisfies a need. A plot is a plan of action for manipulating tension. The start creates it, the middles intensifies it and the end climaxes and resolves it. The end must feel right to the reader – character influences outcome, man masters fate. Put your character in danger. Demonstrate if he deserves to win or lose. Fit the story’s outcome to his behaviour and provide poetic justice. The reader lives the story with the FC, shares the tests and convinces himself he would act on principle.
... and Don’ts Don’t write too small. It’s hard to develop a meaningful scene in under a thousand words. Don’t go into flashback. Scenes need forward movement in the present. Flashbacks at moments of conflict are unrealistic, straining the reader’s patience. Don’t summarise. Let the reader live every moment of the tension. A sequel’s function is to translate the previous disaster into a new goal, to telescope reality and to control tempo. Sequels show the FC’s reaction and new direction, based on logic. This takes longer and may lack movement, so summary is essential. In terms of tempo, this is the valley after the peak, a breathing space. Sequel’s structure is reaction, dilemma, decision. These may involve incidents and interactions, but no conflict. Skip the emotionally non-pertinent, use the symbolic fragment to indicate state of mind, create an impressionistic montage to convey the essence. You are dealing with feeling; with thought. The problem of proportion involves how much time you devote to each segment. Use the emotional clock. The more tense the situation, the more time you give it. When a character experiences tension, provoked by an external stimulus, he is faced with a choice as to how to act. This where you need detail. In such scenes, facts and mechanics should be summarised. Scene/sequel balance: if it’s boring, build the scenes. If it’s improbable, build the sequels.
Story elements: character, situation, objective, opponent, disaster. Write two sentences – one statement which establishes character, situation and objective. One closed question which nails opponent and disaster. When humans start growing to twelve-foot high, John Storm wants to find out why. But can he defeat traitors in high places who would kill him and fake an extra- terrestrial plot?
A story is not a thing, it’s something you do to a reader. A reader reads because it creates
BEGINNING, MIDDLE AND END
Get started: use desire, danger and decision. Start with a change – a character in an existing situation is affected by an event, triggering consequences. Begin just before, just as or just after this change, whichever serves your story best. But answer the three reader questions: Where am I? What’s up? Whose skin am I in? Introduce your FC via some act that characterises him through action. Don’t labour backstory; the past hold no suspense. The end of the beginning comes when the FC has committed to action, to answering the story question. Will he? Can he? The reader must care. Develop the middle: don’t stand still. Every unit must build, focused on the story question, taking the FC from frying pan to fire, adding complications and constantly changing. Provide respite in sequels and begin to snip off loose ends as you build to climax. Climax: set up the situation where the FC faces the ultimate dilemma. Make him act on his irrevocable choice and reward/punish him for his decision. Box him in, make principles preclude the easy option, the alternative must spell disaster but the goal remains vital to the FC. Use a gimmick – an object or phenomenon which exerts a powerful emotional pull on the FC. Register this early in the story – the talisman, thunderstorm, sound of a sitar – and bring it back at the
climax, tipping him in the desired direction. Resolution: after the climax, the FC suffers a moment of anguish – did he do the right thing? Reverse the situation with an unexpected development; the obvious won’t do. Give him his reward. The satisfying ending is not the same as the happy one. His original desire may have changed completely, but an emotional need is met. What was behind the FC’s original goal is what you need to fulfil/ deny, depending on whether your ending is positive/negative. Tie up any loose ends and indicate the characters have a future.
PEOPLE IN YOUR STORY
Give a character direction through two elements: lack and compensation. The goal addresses the former and motivates him to the latter – which will put him in control. Thus characters must have history (most of which will never make it onto the pages). From this history emerges a character who fights or flees from the challenges of life. These habitual reactions and behavioural patterns must be shown so the reader draws his own conclusions. Readers identify with characters not just because they share their world view or they want to be like them, but because the contradictions within a character interests them. Villains deserve as much attention as heroes – he is the personification of threat. If the danger is too weak, so is the story. The motivation of the villain must be just as strong as that of the hero to provide true conflict.
Preparation, Planning, Production
Prepare: Focused free association gives you ideas to get excited about, but that’s only one way an idea might arrive. Don’t censor your thinking – a good idea emerges from a host of bad ones. Attempting a superior product at this stage is futile. Make lists whenever you need an idea for a setting, a character, an incident or a title. Even when you think you’ve got it, write a half dozen more. Always search for the unanticipated. Research the facts you need and use the information you already have. Know enough to make it authentic, but don’t drown yourself in unnecessary background. Plan: Don’t plan too rigidly; it denies you the pleasure and privilege of following the impulse and inspiration of the moment. All you need for story outline is a focal character, a situation in which he is involved, the objective he seeks, and opponent and a potential climactic disaster. Back to the story question, basically. Then you fill out, stage by stage, the details that lead you from the original state of affairs to that of the end.
Production: Work regular hours, set up a quota and have a place to work. Remove the critic and allow the creator to write. Once you have a draft, then begins the process of editing. Revision deals with structural changes. Ask yourself three questions. Does the story go in a straight line? (Is the story question clear and established early? Is every incident relevant and the development logical? Does the climax answer the story question through the hero’s act and does the resolution tie up loose ends?) Does the story build through scenes and sequels? Does the reader care what happens to your hero? Polishing deals with language. Here you check your prose for clarity, eradicating clutter, maintaining consistency, ensuring sequencing is logical, increasing impact of word choice and sentence construction, and lastly, watching out for your own personal idiosyncrasies. Every writer finds his own route, but the tips above should save you some heartache and the world some wasted trees.
Theory into Practice – Swain: One WwJ contributor explains what worked for her Sheila Bugler is an Irish crime writer living and working in London.
The world according to Dwight V Swain I was introduced to Swain through a book written by one of his former students, Jack M Bickham. Like his mentor, Bickham was an American author who taught creative writing and wrote his own ‘how to write’ book – Writing and Selling Your Novel. At the time I read Bickham’s book, I was trying to write my first novel. I had never done a creative writing course or given any thought to the techniques of creative writing. In fact, the very idea filled me with horror. Writing, after all, is a creative business, right? Well, yes and no. In between writing pages of drivel, I would pick up Bickham’s book and flick through it. There were two chapters, in particular, that I kept going back to. One on character - Characters Make a Difference - and one which Bickham described as ‘the single most important’ in his book, Scene and Sequel. The techniques outlined in both chapters were attributed to Swain, and once I’d absorbed them, my writing changed
forever. After reading Bickham, I got my own copy of Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer. Some of it was immensely helpful. Other aspects I more or less ignored because they didn’t resonate with me. I didn’t, for example, ‘get’ all that business about motivation-reaction (MR) units, and his advice on language didn’t interest me particularly. However, other things made such sense that I started to apply them to my own writing with almost religious fervour. So what changed? First of all, I took Swain’s advice on separating creation and critique. I put my inner critic to one side and got on with the business of writing, doing my best to keep feeling at the centre of everything I wrote. If I couldn’t feel it, then it wasn’t worth writing. I also thought much more about the purpose of everything I wrote. Before beginning a piece of writing, I would categorise it as scene or sequel, and then further break it down into its component parts. So, at the top of each chapter I would make notes that looked like this:
THIS IS A SCENE GOAL – Clodagh wants Stone to believe she had nothing to do with Dave’s murder. CONFLICT – Stone is determined to charge Clodagh with murder. DISASTER – Stone reveals that Clodagh’s mobile phone was found beside Dave’s body. I would do the same for the next section, typically sequence, which I’d break down into – EMOTION, QUANDRY, DECISION and ACTION. Sounds mad? Possibly. But it worked. At some point, I dropped the habit and don’t do it these days, but that’s probably because the approach is second nature to me now and I don’t need to. The important thing is that when I started out and was learning the tools of my trade, Swain’s approach gave me a focus and a framework which I needed. Without it, I’m sure everything I wrote would have been about as interesting as a bus timetable. As well as Techniques of the Selling Writer, Swain wrote a book called Creating Characters: How to Build Story People. I haven’t read this but in Bickham’s views on character rely heavily on Swain. One thing that really stood out was Swain’s advice on exaggeration. Actual, real-life people translated to paper as literally as possible does not make for good reading, according to Swain/Bickham. Throw caution to the wind and create wildly exaggerated characters just to see what will happen. I tried this. It was fun. Such great fun that I continue to do it in my writing. It doesn’t always work and sometimes I get it very wrong indeed. But other times, running with my imagination in this way produces surprising results.
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Keep-Fit for Writers Work those muscles with Anne Stormont I have been asked to contribute the first item in a new ‘Words with Jam’ feature, which will offer writers, at all stages of their writing careers, some writing exercises and prompts.
I thought I’d start us all off with some short exercises which are suitable for beginners, but may well be useful to folks who are further along the writing career path.
‘I Remember’ Lots of little memories or one big one, or your earliest one. A chance for some sensory exploration here.
Writing exercises serve several purposes. They can be done as a warmup session for writers wanting to ‘get in the zone’ for developing their work-in-progress. They can be done to provide variety to the writing
‘The Place I Love the Most in the World’
experience, or to take a writer out of their comfort zone. Sometimes
Honeymoon island, mountain top, your bed, childhood home…Be as
they serve as useful prompts when an author has got a bit stuck, or to
detailed and vivid as you can.
kick start a sluggish imagination. Exercises can be set up to provide a
training regime in a particular genre or in different ways to approach writing. They can also prove to be valuable sources of inspiration for longer, fully developed pieces of work. But most of all, writing exercises ensure that a writer, who may be
‘My Biggest Challenge’ Explore your feelings of – fear, gratitude, grief, disbelief, anger, achievement…
very busy with ‘real’ life demands, does at least some sort of training
almost every day. They keep the writing muscle healthy – short jogs
Recall an experience of a starry night, of how you felt in relation to
and sprints that prepare you for the marathon that is a short story
collection, a book of poems or a novel. And as with gym or jogging time, it’s a good idea to diary in a time
‘Steal a Sentence’
when you do a burst of writing exercise – first thing in the morning,
Open any book you have to hand. Pick a page number and write
or in your lunch hour, on the train… It doesn’t matter as long as you
down the first complete sentence from that page. Now develop a
make that appointment with your personal muse.
story from that sentence. (Taking the first line of a poem works well too).
You may want to buy a new notebook and pen for your exercises or you may prefer a word processor. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you write. I would recommend giving yourself a set time – ten minutes or
Good luck with your workouts. And remember be direct and write from the heart.
twenty – again whatever suits you - and try to write continuously for
(I’d like to acknowledge Natalie Goldman’s book ‘Writing down the
that time. Also don’t edit or censor – really go with the flow.
Bones’ which has often come to my aid when I’ve needed an authorly workout. Some of the above ideas are adapted from her suggestions).
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How Do You Do How To? by Lorraine Mace
How-to articles open up a wide range of freelance opportunities. Trade, craft, cooking, children’s, gardening, arts and many other markets are crying out for well-written articles which teach their readers new skills, or fresh ways of making use of existing ones. At first glance it might seem the easiest thing in the world to write a how-to, but unless you prepare well, you could find yourself writing in circles. You need to be able to explain the process in such a way that it is easy to duplicate, the instructions must follow a logical sequence and the right terminology be used for the readership. Above all, make sure that both you and your readers have fun. How-to doesn’t have to be boring.
What to write about
The beauty of a how-to article is that you get to write about topics that really interest you. Start by looking at your own hobbies and activities. Have you … • Found an easier way to accomplish something that other enthusiasts could use? • Adapted a recipe? • Discovered a new way of dealing with
plant cuttings? • Built a scale model? • Learned how to sole your own shoes? • Made clothes from scratch – or found an easy way to cut out patterns? As you can see, the range of possible topics is wide. It’s simply a case of writing about what you know – and that is something that is hammered into all of us from the moment we decide to become writers.
This style of article, more than any other, requires you to let the editor know at query stage exactly why you feel qualified to write it. This doesn’t mean trotting out a long list of academic achievements (unless they are relevant) but if every room in your home is littered with matchstick versions of the Eiffel Tower, and your spouse threatens to leave unless you start destroying some of them, then you are most likely an expert on the building of these models and should tell the editor this (but don’t mention the spouse). If illustrations are to be included (see section entitled: Picture this) you should mention this in your query letter.
Step by careful step
You need to tell your readers how to achieve their goal. Break the task down into steps. Make sure each step is easy to follow and that the instructions are not given out of order. Remember, you cannot mention anything that has not yet been covered – your reader could wind up with his corner piece glued to his widget. Choose your words carefully. Don’t suggest things; tell your readers what to do and when to do it. Important words to use are: now, next, when, then and after.
Sticky-back plastic and a toilet roll holder
Anyone who has ever watched Blue Peter will
know about sticky-back plastic and toilet roll holders – for those who don’t know, think of clear adhesive tape and the cardboard inner tubes of toilet rolls, from which the clever people on Blue Peter can make anything from a jumbo jet to the houses of parliament. The reason for mentioning it here is to remind you to make a list of the tools and materials your reader will need. Make sure these are mentioned ahead of step one in your instructions.
Do it yourself
The best way to write a set of how-to instructions is to carry out the task yourself and make notes as you go along. This way you will not forget to mention the size and number of various screws, nor will you omit an important detail such as needing a number nine doodi-wotsit to put on the end terminal thingy. Which brings me neatly to terminology. If unfamiliar terms need to be explained, include a glossary, or make sure the explanation is covered in the text. For example, describing exactly what a number nine doodi-wotsit is (good luck with that one.) By the way, if a required item is only available through specialist shops, don’t forget to mention this important point next to the item on your tools and materials list. From your notes, write up a full and complete set of instructions. Occasionally, you might need to tell your reader what they should have achieved at that point. If a page of html code is supposed to bring up a row of singing daffodils, but either the flowers don’t sing, or they are upside down, it is better for your reader to realise his error and put it right before moving on to the next stage. Additionally, from time to time, you will need to explain why something has to be done. Don’t assume that because it is commonsense, or obvious to you, that a beginner will know. If all the matchsticks need to be beheaded because, with the sulphur left in place, the Eiffel Tower would be a fire hazard – say so. You don’t want someone’s
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house to burn down because they were too lazy to cut the matches and hadn’t realised why the instruction had been given.
Some things are too complex to explain easily in words and would benefit from diagrams, or illustrations of what an item should look like at different stages. When you write your article make side notes of everywhere you battled to find the right words for clarity. Then, when you complete the next part entitled Do it again (see, I’m following my own instructions here) you can take photographs or draw the diagrams required. Your illustrations will need captions. These should be short and to the point. The information may be contained in the main body of the article, but a caption has a twofold purpose. It saves the reader from the
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irritation of having to find the place in the article relating to the illustration and it can also include additional information – such as: hold grenade firmly before removing pin. As already stated (but I’m saying it again for emphasis) if you are going to include graphics of any kind, make sure to mention that point in your query letter.
Do it again
The next step is possibly the most important of all. Follow your own instructions as if you have never carried out the task before. Don’t cut corners, even though you’ve done it a million times and could do it in your sleep – this is to make certain that a complete beginner can achieve a result without blowing up their computer, home or spouse. So, no matter how ridiculous it might feel, follow your own instructions to the letter.
What’s the point of how-to?
At the end of a how-to article your reader should be able to do something new, or something familiar in an innovative way. It doesn’t have to be anything radical, or aweinspiring, but it does have to bring a sense of accomplishment to the person who has acted on your article. If, after following instructions, a reader is able to sit back and say, wow, I did that, then you, as author, can pat yourself on the back and say, well done, me! Not only that, the editor might say, well done! Please send more ideas.
For more articles by Lorraine Mace, take a look at Writing Magazine.
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The British Library: Exploring the World’s Knowledge
Special thanks to the British Library for image usage Copyright © the Trustees of the British Museum
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The British Library: Exploring the World’s Knowledge
After the King’s death, the collection was given to the nation by his son, George IV, on the understanding that it would maintain its separate identity. And keep its identity it certainly has.
By Catriona Troth, The Library Cat
Moving to St Pancras.
When I started work, down the road from the British Museum, in the early eighties, the British Library was still housed alongside the Museum. I’d periodically wander in to look at whichever of their treasures they had on display at the time. I remember writing a story that involved someone repairing the binding on an ancient Bible, and spending ages with a display on the art of the bookbinder. But the part I really wanted to see – the part romanticised for me through countless books – was the famous round Reading Room. This was where writers like Virginia Woolf, Karl Marx and George Bernard Shaw had penned their works, and where characters like David Lodge’s Adam Appleby sweated over recalcitrant theses. But the Reading Room, I found, was strictly off limits. You had to prove yourself as a bona fide author, journalist or student in order to obtain the magic Reader’s Ticket, and I had no credentials that would pass muster. So the first time I walked through those doors – shortly after the British Library moved to its new quarters and the Reading Room was open to the public for the first time since 1857 – I’m afraid I rather disgraced myself. “Mum,” my son asked, an expression of deep disgust on his face, “why are you crying?” I maintain, in my defence, that there is something undeniably impressive about Sydney Smirke’s cast-iron and glass construction. Those numbered green leather desks arranged in concentric ranks. The curved walls that conceal 25 miles of shelving. And that vast domed ceiling, inspired by the Pantheon in Rome. Literary history fills the air like the smell of old books. The British Library per se is a surprisingly recent foundation. It’s role as a National Library – that is, a library specifically established by the government as the paramount repository of information – goes back only to 1973. But the ‘Foundation Collections’ on which the Library is based are much older. Foremost amongst these is the ‘King’s Library’, the collection of books and manuscripts put together, in his lifetime, by George III. It consists of 65,000 volumes of printed books and 19,000 pamphlets, and includes a copy of the Gutenberg Bible and Caxton’s first edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Even its catalogue runs to ten volumes.
The new British Library at St Pancras, designed by the architect Colin St John Wilson, opened to the public in 1998, but I only managed to visit it for the first time a few weeks ago. You arrive from the Euston Road, through wrought iron gates that spell out the word ‘Library’ and lead to a large courtyard dominated by Eduardo Paolozzi’s striking sculpture of Isaac Newton. Red brick library buildings enclose two sides of a pleasant square where, on warmer days than the one I chose, you could sit outside and drink coffee. Inside the main public building, you’re met by tiers of gloss-white galleries. The whole thing has something of the feeling of a ship at sea – a feeling enhanced when I was there by the sails draped over the entrance to an exhibition dedicated to Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner. Rising up through the core of the building, so that they can be seen from almost any point, are the black framed, glass-fronted shelves of the King’s Library. They are lit from inside, so that as you approach you see the colours of the bindings and catch a glint of gold from the lettering. It’s a stunningly beautiful design that places the collection at the very heart of the new library. But it’s not just for show. Look closely and you’ll spot librarians moving among the shelves, retrieving books for readers working in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room.
The lower ground, ground and upper ground floors of the library house public exhibitions – in particular, the permanent exhibition of the library treasures, and a second space housing temporary exhibitions. Many of the treasures (like the Magna Carta and Shakespeare’s First Folio) were familiar from my old visits to the British Museum, but the new building provides space to display far more. And new technology – like touch screen display that allows you to turn the pages of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook – opens up even more for the visitor to explore. When I was there, the temporary exhibition space housed ‘Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices.’ Here you could walk through displays illustrating how English has changed from the time of Beowulf to the present day – as well as how it varies in different parts of the English
speaking world. All fascinating stuff for a writer! Displays of books and other printed material were supplemented with audio material on headphones, as well as images and words projected onto the walls. There were even booths were you could record your own contribution to their audio archives. (By the time this edition of Words with Jam is published, the exhibition will be about to close. But see British Library Online for how you can still participate.)
The upper floors of the library house the new Reading Rooms, specialised now for different topics. There are Reading Rooms for Rare Books and Music, Manuscripts, Maps, Humanities, Social Science, Science, and Asian and African Studies. You no longer need to prove membership of a professional organisation to get a Reader’s Pass. But you do need to demonstrate a need to see specific items from the collections. You can search the online catalogues in advance for items you wish to see and then pre-register for a pass. But you still need to take two forms of identification with you on the day – and persuade someone that your needs cannot be better served elsewhere. Admission to the Reading Rooms is still not to be taken lightly! I couldn’t think of a good enough reason to winkle myself through the doors, so I moved on. Further back, behind the roof terrace, I found the conservation department. Here, just as I remembered all those years ago, was a display on book binding and the care of old books. This time, alongside the tools and examples of the bookbinder’s art, were videos of conservationists at work that would have entranced my younger self. There was also an area where you could try your hand at digital techniques to restore recordings from the sound archives. Over a hundred and fifty years since the first readers consulted books in the old Reading Room, the British Library has continued to reinvent itself as a modern, innovative and fascinating institution. Each year, 5 million items are consulted in its new reading rooms. Its collections grow by 12 kilometres a year. And it continues to provide incomparable access to a huge slice of the world’s knowledge.
Currently, the Reading Room at the British Museum is being used to house a series of special exhibitions. But rumour has it that, in 2012, it will revert to its function as a reference library. And it’s going to be open to the public. I am getting my excuses ready now.
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British Library Online
But if you don’t live anywhere near St Pancras and I can’t think why you would ever use the Reading Rooms – so what use is the British Library to you? Well, you might be surprised at the wealth of information that is available from the British Library Online. One of my challenges, as I was completing my own novel, was capturing the sound of a Coventry accent. Nothing like its Brummie neighbour, subtle but nonetheless distinct, it’s not an easy voice to get right. And having long since moved away, I no longer heard it around me every day. One of the places I found help was ‘Sounds Familiar?’ – an on-line resource from the British Library about how English pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar vary with region, time and class. Do you want to hear the difference, for example between an East Riding accent of the early 20th C and one from the present day? You can listen to recordings and read analyses. And you can take part yourself. In the Your Voices section of the website, you can record yourself reading a set passage or give information about the vocabulary used to describe the playground games of your childhood. Much of what was in the ‘Evolving English’ exhibition I visited in St Pancras is reproduced here. Take a stroll along the Timeline of English. Start with Beowulf and study a page of the original manuscript – click on a button to see a transcript and translation. You can read the first recorded conversation in the English language, learn about medieval surgical practices or dip into the prologue of the Canterbury Tales. Nearer to the present time, you can see Johnson’s Dictionary, look at a wartime brochure on Make Do and Mend or read about the trial of the Miss World demonstrators in 1970. The History section contains essays on topics from different eras, supported by extracts and images from original documents – a treasure trove for the historical novelist. I was drawn especially to a section on Shipwrecks and Smuggling, and another on Slavery and Abolition. And if you wanted to take your research further, the catalogues and original documents would point the way. And this is just skimming the surface of what there is to be explored on the website.
British Library Newspapers are now housed at Colindale in North London. These include extensive collections of 17th, 18th and 19th Century English language newspapers. Many of these have been digitised, and if you hold a UK library card, you are likely to find that some, at least, are available by logging into the on-line resources on your library website. If you have an iPhone or Android phone, you can now explore the British Library via the Treasures App. Over 100 items can be studied in beautiful detail, including the original version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the world’s oldest bible, priceless hand-painted medieval books, Nelson’s battle plan for Trafalgar, sketches by Leonardo, a 1664 plan of New York and ‘The Tyger,’ written in William Blake’s own hand. And if you are the owner of an Amazon Kindle, you may already have spotted that you can download all sorts of 19th Century classic and lesser known works of fiction for free. But you may not know that this is because 65,000 works from the British Library, digitised in partnership with Microsoft Livesearch, were made available to Amazon through a deal signed last year.
Flashmobs, Sit-Ins, Privatisation and a Question Mark Over Statutory Provision The Latest on Library Cuts by Catriona Troth
The day before I visited the British Library, its walls played host to a screening of the Somerset Library C a m p a i g n ’ s wonderful We Love Libraries film, as campaigners including Kate Mosse flashmobbed the building. This proved to be the forerunner of an explosion of protests and actions that took place around the country on Saturday 5th February – declared National Save Our Libraries Day. Yet some councils, at least, seem to have turned a deaf ear to all protest. In Lewisham, where the Save Our Libraries Day culminated in protestors occupying New Cross Library overnight and 20,000 residents signed a petition, the council have
nevertheless confirmed five libraries will close this year. Neighbouring Lambeth is reportedly sacking all its professional library staff. According to the Public Library News blog, which maintains a daily tally, out of 4517 libraries in the UK, there are currently 521 (459 buildings and 62 mobiles) under threat, recently closed or which have left council control. In spite of some high profile reprieves for libraries initially listed for closure, this number has been rising steadily in the past months. All in all, 176 authorities out of 206 in the UK have gone on record regarding their plans for libraries. Of these, 138 are (at least considering) closing libraries or making significant cuts, while 59 will not close any libraries in 2011/12. Many councils are asking communities to take over their libraries and run them with volunteers. But some are considering privatisation. The American company LSSI has been in talks with councils including Oxfordshire and Suffolk with a view to their taking over the running of library services. According to the Independent, LSSI, which currently manages 13 public library contracts across the US, aims to take over libraries in eight UK authorities by the end of the year, and to run 15% of UK libraries by 2015. They say they can run libraries at a fraction of the cost. They want to get rid of the ‘slacks and trainers mentality’ among librarians, and
turn libraries into multifunctional spaces. Meanwhile, legal challenges are being prepared against six councils – Brent, Camden, Somerset, Gloucestershire, Isle of Wight and Lewisham. Writing in 2004, the reputable Library Journal made it clear that their track record was mixed: while LSSI can ramp up libraries that have lagged technologically, a key strategy is to keep down costs by paying lower salaries and benefits, hiring fewer librarians, and choosing less-educated employees. There have also been issues with lack of transparency and with authorities being locked into lengthy contracts. Meanwhile, legal challenges are being prepared against four councils – Brent, Somerset, Gloucestershire and Lewisham. At the same time, the Campaign for the Book has issued a legal challenge to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport for failing to comply with his duties, on the grounds that guidance issued by him to local authorities is inaccurate and misleading. A key basis of all these challenges is councils’ duty under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service. It is somewhat worrying, therefore, that the government has recently launched – with very little fanfare – an informal consultation exercise inviting the public to comment on the (1294) statutory duties placed on councils
Pencilbox/backpack | 51 by central government and “to challenge government on those which you feel are burdensome or no longer needed”. Three of these duties relate to libraries, including the 1964 Act. (Ironically, a year ago, libraries minister Ed Vaizey said it was “outrageous and offensive to everyone who ever cared about books and reading” for Labour’s libraries minister Margaret Hodge to raise the question of whether libraries should remain a statutory service.)
Changes to the statutory provision of libraries should not simply be slipped through while we are looking the other way. If enough people respond to the consultation, from whichever side, at least we may force an open and honest debate on the subject. Please take a few minutes to fill in the government’s questionnaire. You will be asked to refer to reference numbers relating to specific duties and these can be found (with explanation) on the Voices for the Library site. Consultation closes on the 25th April.
Announcing the Words with Jam Podcast! Now you can enjoy Words with Jam on your bike, in the car, in the gym... Already available for you to listen:
Case Study: Becoming a Volunteer Run Library In the last edition of Words with Jam, I interviewed Jim Brooks, the chairman of the Friends of Little Chalfont Community Library. Four years ago, Little Chalfont became one of the first libraries in the country to be entirely run by volunteers. All around the country, councils are putting pressure on communities to follow suit and take over the running of their own libraries, thereby (they hope) saving the councils money. One community that has decided to take up the challenge is Wendover, another Buckinghamshire town only thirteen miles from Little Chalfont. Alan Myers, vice chairman of the parish council and now a member of the committee hoping to take over the library, heard that Wendover library was one of those scheduled for closure when Buckinghamshire County Council launched their consultation. “We all got cross and angry, but then we thought, well that’s the situation, let’s get on with it,” he told me. “I wanted a dozen people to say, okay, we’ll take it forward, and we got that.” With fellow parish councillors, he attended both the County Council’s own workshop (held as part of the consultation exercise) and the briefings run by Jim Brooks, which gave an interesting perspective. “When the four libraries were closed by BCC four years ago, it was, ‘Good bye, we’re closing you, never darken our doors again,’” says Myers. “But this time it is a whole different attitude. It’s ‘we want to see it run as a community library and we’ll help in any way we can.”’ One example of how things have changed is that the building – which has only recently undergone a substantial refurbishment –seems likely to be offered to the community at a peppercorn rent. The details of the council’s proposal have not been spelled out, but Alan Myers is optimistic. “The signs look good. We are going to keep our library.” Their plans are still in the early stages, but over the coming months, I hope to follow the progress in Wendover and report periodically as to how they are getting on. In the meantime, if any other communities would like to get in touch and tell me about how they are responding to the threat to their libraries, I would be happy to follow their stories too. Please email editor@ wordswithjam.co.uk with the subject ‘Save Our Libraries’.
an article from the last edition (‘In Praise of Virtual Friends’ by Catriona Troth), two wonderful short stories (‘Mr Muyila’s Bull’ by Jo Reed and ‘Another Interview with a Vampire’ by JW Hicks) and a special podcast in support of the BBC’s World Book Night. In the coming weeks we will be adding a ‘Six Hundred Second’ Interview with Amanda Hodgkinson, author of 22 Britannia Road, an exciting mixture of stories, articles and interviews – some from editions of the online writers’ magazine, Words with Jam, and some that are recorded specially for our podcast subscribers. You can listen to episodes, download them or subscribe to the podcast either at http:// wordswithjam.podomatic.com/ or on iTunes via http://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/words-withjam/id423101927 - and if you feel like giving us a review or a star rating while you’re there, that’s even better! If you would like to comment on any episode, or suggest ideas for the future, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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What we think of some books ... Floccinaucinihilipilification: the estimation of something as valueless Tacenda: things better left unsaid 5’9”: The average height of a British adult male Deipnosophist: someone skilled in making dinner-table conversation Logodaedalus: one who is cunning in the use of words
Mut@tus by Joan Barbara Simon
Review by Dan Holloway It is impossible to know where to start describing the things that make Joan Barbara Simon’s Mut@tus outstanding, challenging, and uplifting. This is quite simply one of the most extraordinary and brilliant books I have ever read. The prose is rich and honeyed but hidden beneath it are so many sinister, complex, and insightful layers that you could spend a lifetime peeling them away and still be no closer to exhausting this book’s possibilities. And yet, for all devotees of the most literary fiction could enjoy themselves to their heart’s content, there is nothing at all dry about Mut@ tus. Its prose, like its subject matter, leaps to life off the page. Dark, disturbing, and forensically brilliant at dissecting twenty-first century sexuality. It has everything Anais Nin and Bret Easton Ellis have, wrapped up in a much hipper yet more emotionally satisfying package. Laid out in part like a twenty-first century play, in part like a modern epistolary novel, Mut@tus follows the story of art historian Virginia Mendes, Gini, whose life has, at the point we meet her, been lived in the shadows –
creatively, of the artists she studies; personally, of her husband. Then she is commissioned by the confident, open, sophisticated Maurice to look into the provenance of an artwork he is considering buying. They correspond by e-mail. Maurice’s messages quickly become flirtatious, and Gini finds herself responding, opening up, turning her back on the strictures of her past and exploring the possibilities of her body and mind. Mut@tus follows Gini’s relationships with three men, and the role they play in her eventual self-awakening. But this is decidedly not just erotic romance (it IS that, but so much more as well). The structure of the book is remarkable, laid out in five acts that vary in their form from modern epistolary novel told solely in e-mail to classical Greek chorus. This is experimental, but never offputting. Simon perfectly captures the nuances of an electronic relationship without ever falling into affectation or attempting to be cool. And the chorus sections reach the highest level of poetry. In short, what Gini’s existence has hitherto lacked is multidimensionality, a suitable outlet for her imaginary life, and Simon uses the richness of multiple formats to provide the depth that a life in all its glorious fullness deserves, and requires, to be done justice. Mut@tus is a glorious tribute to what the novel, and language itself is capable of doing.
But most of all it is a remarkable portrait of a remarkable woman.
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet – David Mitchell Review by Perry Iles Rating: Logodaedalus and a half
Someone once said that the best writers make a noise. Not so much authorial intrusion, more just the caressing rev of motors that lets you know you’re going on a journey with a confident, professional tale-spinner who will look after you properly and not let you down. Sometimes that noise varies in pitch, from Cormac McCarthy’s overcooked diesel thrum to the frenetic scattergun screech of James Ellroy. It’s called style. The Americans are generally better at it, mostly due to the reticence and inherent politeness of British authors. But in writing there’s little room for manners. The best authors yell “out of the way, asshole, a writer is coming,” and David Mitchell, despite being just about as English as scones and cricket, announces his presence from afar. With Cloud Atlas and Ghostwritten, he didn’t so much break rules of narrative
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structure as grind them into the dust and spit upon their broken corpses. The result was two of the best pieces of literary fiction Britain has produced in recent times. With number9dream, Mitchell out-Murakami-ed Murakami (no mean feat) and his last novel was Black Swan Green, a bucolic, westcountry Cider With Attitude of a book that re-explored comingof-age clichés and gave us Jason Taylor, a three-dimensional Adrian Mole who inspired sympathy and understanding to the extent that Black Swan Green really ought to be a mandatory part of the teacher-training curriculum. So how do you follow that? Luckily, David Mitchell is a writer without a comfort zone, and his imagination knows no bounds. He’s brought us The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, a clumsily-titled work of historical fiction in which an Englishman writes Dutch and Japanese characters in a 200-year-old oriental setting. He writes it in the present tense, occasionally slipping between first and third-person narratives and whilst he doesn’t play quite so fast and loose with the narrative arc, he shatters just about every point-ofview rule by skipping between characters throughout the novel. It shouldn’t work. This tale of nautical derring-do, love, betrayal, ruthless double-dealing and corruption should have been written by Wilbur Smith or a woman with three names. It should be riddled with adverbs and overflowing with purple prose, and populated by square-jawed heroes and swarthy villains. Instead Mitchell gives us Jacob de Zoet, a teenage mutant ninja accountant who finds himself in the seething world of Dejima, a Dutch colony situated on a manmade island in Nagasaki Bay. In the opening chapters the reader is spared no time to breathe. We’re dragged through de Zoet’s new world, which teems with characters from all walks of life. We’re immediately onside with de Zoet, as we share his confusion at the richness, the colour and the overpopulated cast of the cramped and claustrophobic little island. As the novel progresses, de Zoet meets and falls in love with a Japanese midwife, Orito Aibigawa, whose disfigured face has rendered her unsuitable for marriage. We’re not just allowed to picture her in our heads because Mitchell includes a drawing too. Like the view of Dejima Island in the bay, we have a sketch of Orito. So Mitchell breaks another rule. Here’s a work of literary fiction
with pictures in it. Has the man no shame? Do the pictures help the reader? Not especially, but surprisingly they don’t hinder the book’s enjoyment one bit. The pictures are drawn not by Mitchell himself but by members of his family, his “in-house graphic section” which he thanks in his acknowledgements, along with a vast array of academics and historians who made it possible for Mitchell to undertake an extended period of research for the novel’s background. This could be worrying. Research is a two-edged sword. In the old Arthur Hailey days, it cried out “look at me! See what a dedicated author and all round clever-clogs I am!” But not with Mitchell. His research sketches the backgrounds and paints the culture upon which the characters act, and as the book’s plot unfolds the balance is pitchperfect. Set in a world of closely-followed rules, de Zoet’s love for Orito is doomed to fail. In a deeply patriarchal society there should be no strong female characters in the book. But Mitchell subverts his own research and subsumes it into the plot in a way that fascinates yet manages to avoid any possible accusation of cliché or historical fact-bending. And then Mitchell adds his own stylistic grace-notes, which ought to be obtrusive but instead complement the narrative... “Along the canal banks, trees shed leaves like women tearing up letters.” “In the rice paddy beyond the garden, a cacophony of frogs detonates.” “West to east, the sky unrolls and rolls its atlas of clouds.” “Crows smear rumours across a matted, sticky sky.” Mitchell also does his trademark thing of alluding to his other works. We have Boorhaeve, the Prophetess’s bo’sun from Cloud Atlas, whom de Zoet meets at a younger age. He refers to the Miyake clan from number9dream. Such high-pitched squeals of stylistic intervention ought to stand out like pork pies at a barmitzvah, and yet they don’t. They fall in with the ethos of the book and the gravitas of the story. Because, wonder of wonders, here we have a work of literary fiction that’s also a cracking, first-rate story, which is in keeping with Mitchell’s approach to his writing and marks him as one of those few authors for
whom the word genius doesn’t entirely seem unfounded. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is a fine book from one of the best authors alive. There has been no diminution in Mitchell’s incredibly high standards with this, his latest work. Story, style and historical context stand up to the closest scrutiny and Mitchell, after five novels, can now stand with confidence as one of the finest writers in the world.
The Cowards, by Joseph Škvorecký.
Review by Catriona Troth Rating: Logodaedalus
We were all sitting over at the Port Arthur and Benno said, ‘Well, it looks like the revolution’s been postponed for a while.’ ‘Yes,’ I said and stuck the reed in my mouth. ‘For technical reasons, right?’ I happened to have been searching out Czech literature written behind the Iron Curtain recently, which is how I stumbled across The Cowards. Set in the final week of the Second World War, The Cowards tells the story of Danny, saxophonist in the best jazz band in Czechoslovakia. Danny has grown up in the small town of Kostalek, near the border with Germany. For most of the war the town has been under Nazi occupation. But now the occupying forces are on their way out, the SS are retreating from the Eastern Front, the Red Army is advancing and everyone in the town is talking about Revolution. Danny quite fancies the idea of being a revolutionary hero – provided it means he can persuade the elusive Irena to go to bed with him. The reality is something else again. Conscription, tedious military drills, pointless patrols – all this just gets in the way of making music. Throughout the book, Danny fantasises about the girl he will meet in Prague, the one who will make him forget even Irena – something which lends a touching note to Škvorecký’s dedication, “To the Girl I Met in Prague”. The book is a wonderful evocation of what it is like to be a teenager - self-obsessed, image conscious, writhing with hormones
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and muddled ideals. When all that comes hard up against the brutal realities of War, it’s as if Holden Caulfield has walked into the pages of Catch 22. Jeanne Nĕmcova’s translation cleverly captures the way these kids have modelled themselves on the films and music of Britain and America. When the British POW’s leave on the train, Danny is half aware that his hopes are leaving with them – but we know better than he what his future holds. Written in 1948, when Škvorecký was 24, The Cowards was published ten years later, when it was immediately banned by the Communist authorities, who couldn’t tolerate Danny’s irreverent attitude to the sacred concept of Revolution. Škvorecký left Czechoslovakia after the Warsaw Pact invasion in 1968 and settled in Canada. There he set up 68 Publishers, which continued to publish banned Czech and Slovak literature until the Velvet Revolution in 1989. Funny, moving and brutally real, this is a book that deserves to be much better known in the West.
Dark Heart: The Purgatory of Leo Stamp
Review by Heather Reed Rating: Logodaedalus Darren J Guest’s debut novel, Dark Heart: The Purgatory of Leo Stamp, follows the story of Leo Stamp, the ‘Dark Heart’ of the title. Damaged by an abusive father, the death of his mother and the murder of his younger brother, Davey, Leo has grown into a violent, emotionally crippled young man. Goaded by Simian, an old friend of his father’s, Leo lives alone in a converted barn he has inherited, lost in the haze of schizophrenia, talking to his alter ego, who appears in the form of a James Bond poster. Through Leo’s exchanges with Bond, we are cleverly drawn right to the heart of his shattered mind. Bond allows us to witness his father’s cruelty and his guilt at being left alive after his brother’s death at the hands of a serial killer. The conversations are witty, insightful and poignant, immediately pulling the novel above the ordinary, run-of-
the-mill horror tale. Right from the start it is impossible not to feel sympathy for Leo, despite his inability to control his violent behaviour, even towards those he cares about. Leo is not entirely friendless. He has a best friend, John. Unfortunately, John’s girlfriend, Sadie, is the woman Leo loves. Despite his fervent desire to see John and Sadie happy, Leo knows his dark side just isn’t going to let that happen. It is just a matter of time before his desire for Sadie overcomes his love for them both, with tragic, yet unforeseen consequences. As if he didn’t have enough to contend with, two other characters are fighting their own battle, and Leo is about to become a pawn in a much bigger game. Reuben, a strange, unworldly creature, is in possession of a supernatural dagger. His suicide, at the start of the novel, leads to Leo taking possession of it, although he has no idea what it is. But Reuben has an equally powerful adversary, Michael. Michael wants the dagger, and only Leo can help him get it. What follows is a complex, page-turning plot as Leo find himself at the centre of the life, death and afterlife struggle between Reuben and Michael. Plot twists abound as bodies are murdered, resurrected, snatched and switched, while Leo tries desperately to combat his own madness and do the right thing. But just when things couldn’t get any worse, the serial killer who murdered Leo’s brother nineteen years ago is back on the scene, and more children are in danger. Intelligent, complex and wholly satisfying, Dark Heart is a cut above the average horror novel. Humour and pathos, blended with plenty of plot-twisting action will keep its readers guessing right to the very last page.
Secret of the Sands by Sara Sheridan Review by Anne Stormont Rating: Logodaedalus
It’s always a risk, when you really enjoy a book
by a particular author, that you won’t enjoy their next one as much. But in the case of Sara Sheridan’s new book, I found there was no need for such a concern. I thoroughly enjoyed her previous historical novel ‘The Secret Mandarin’. I loved the characters, the exotic setting, the epic journey and the romance. And the same can be said of ‘Secret of the Sands’. It is, however, quite different from its predecessor in some respects. For one thing the setting is the Arabian Peninsula. The epic voyages this time are in the desert. And the two main characters are from very different worlds. Lieutenant James Wellsted is a British naval officer on a rescue mission. He has to find two kidnapped colleagues who were working on mapping the peninsula. Zena is a young Abyssinian woman, sold into slavery, who is bought by James and who is therefore forced to go with him on his mission. Zena longs for home, but is also beguiled by the adventure and by the lieutenant. The two of them face many dangers before the quest comes to an end. The characterisation – both of the main two characters and the supporting cast - is first class. The reader comes to care very much what happens to them all. The setting is described in amazing detail – you will live in the desert with these people. The attention to detail – the historical, geographical and cultural is awesome – as it was in the previous novel. And, as in the previous book, this novel is rooted in fact. James Wellsted actually existed and the research of his life and work is meticulous, although his life is fictionalised for the novel. The characters and the story will stay with you after you’ve finished the book. It’s one of those books you both want to finish but dread doing so – because you know you’ll miss it. There’s the added bonus, at the end of the book, of questions for book groups. Sara Sheridan is on Twitter @sarasheridan and has a website www.sarasheridan.com
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HISSAC ANNUAL OPEN SHORT STORY COMPETITION of the Highlands & Islands Short Story Association
www.hissac.co.uk email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
£400 first prize Closing date 31st July 2011 2,500 word max
Entry fee: £5 per story or £12 for 3 NO CONNECTION TO SCOTLAND REQUIRED, EITHER BY ENTRANT OR THEME
Entries can be posted or submitted on-line
Full details on the website or send SAE to 20 Lochslin, Balintore, Easter Ross IV20 1UP Payment by cheque of Paypal via the website
Competitions Flash 500 is a quarterly open-themed competition with closing dates of 31st March, 30th June, 30th September and 31st December. The results will be announced within six weeks of each closing date and winning entries published on the competition website. www. flash500.com Entry fee: £5 for one story, £8 for two stories. Optional critiques: £10 per story Prizes - First: £250 plus publication in Words with JAM, Second: £100, Third: £50, Highly commended: A copy of The Writers’ ABC Checklist. WritersReign Short Story Competition Closing date 30/6/11. Prizes: £100; £50; £25 + 3 Highly Commended prizes of £10 each. Theme: ‘The Power of Love’. Fee: £3.50 per story. The judges will be looking for an imaginative interpretation of the theme, originality of storyline, and a satisfying outcome. Full details on the entry form obtainable from the web site. 1,000 - 1,500 words. http:// www.writersreign.co.uk/WritersReignCompetition.html
Services Proofreading and manuscript advice. Competitive rates. Full Details www.dwrob.
com, or email Dwrob96@aol.com 1889 Labs is an independent publisher dedicated to producing the best strange fiction conceivable by the human brain. Catering to a specific demographic of men and women between the ages of 3 and 97, we print everything from kids books to serious stories for adults. Our goal is to bring you on an amazing adventure onscreen and off. We hope you’ll take us up on the offer. Check us out at http://1889.ca The Writers’ ABC Checklist. Packed with writing tips no aspiring writer can afford to be without. Regardless of the writers’ ability, there is something extremely daunting about putting together a submission. It doesn’t matter if it is for an article for a magazine, or short story for a competition, a humorous anecdote, a play or TV script, a novel or non-fiction book, The Writers’ ABC Checklist will provide answers to questions you didn’t even know you should ask. Self-publish with confidence. Work in partnership with SilverWood Books to edit and produce a high quality book which can be confidently marketed in bookshops and online. We offer friendly support throughout the publishing process, and if your work isn’t quite ready for publication we can assist with manuscript appraisal
and editorial support. Find out more at www.silverwoodbooks.com The Writing Horse. Writing and Riding in the Sun. Be inspired by desert and sea on a creative writing and horse riding retreat In Andalucia. Quality tutoring in a luxurious location. Writing courses taught by Leaf author Emma Hardy. Next course 27 August 2011, see www.writing-andalucia. com
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Print Issue Subscription Out June 2011
Lots of people have asked us for a printed version of the magazine. And we said, why not? So from the June 2011 issue, you can have your cake with jam and cream. The digital version will remain FREE, but you can also have a printed copy, available worldwide. UK Subscription for 6 issues (1 year) £33.00 European Subscription for 6 issues (1 year) £39.00 Rest of the World Subscription for 6 issues (1 year) £46.00 For information on how to order, visit: www.wordswithjam.co.uk/paperissuesubscription Words with JAM Copyright © 2011 Quinn Publications The contributors assert the moral right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the authors of this work. All Rights reserved. All opinions expressed in Words with JAM are the sole opinion of the contributor and not that of Quinn Publications or Words with JAM as a whole. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the individual contributor and/or Quinn Publications, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser. Distributed from the UK. Not to be resold. Editor: JD Smith email@example.com Deputy Editors: Lorraine Mace firstname.lastname@example.org and Danny Gillan email@example.com