heaven for writers, but not in a ‘you’re dead’ way
by author of The Afrika Reich, Guy Saville
Return to Syrupville
On the Wigtown Book Festival 2010
A look at the graphic novel and its creators
Last Line Comp Results NEW First Page Competition 60 Second Interviews with
Robyn Young and Emma Donoghue Library Closures
As hundreds of libraries face closure, we explore the methods used to try and save them
February / March 2011
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Scrivener for Windows beta available
Contents | 3
Contents Random stuff 6 Rewriting History
Author of The Afrika Reich, Guy Saville talks about delving into the past, and how rewriting history doesn’t mean changing it entirely
13 Dear Ed
Letters of the satirical variety
14 Return to Syrupville
An issue late, but here it is - Danny Gillan on The Wigtown Book Festival 2010
16 What are you up to at the moment? I #amwriting
Dan Holloway interviews Johanna Harness on the #amwriting Twitter community
18 When Words Hit the Big Screen
8 The Yuletide Red Mist in the Mind
More from Perry Iles in his Feeble Excuses, Procrastination and Displacement Activities column
11 Love Your Ebook
by Derin Attwood
A look at the graphic novel and its creators, with Andrew Ramsay
Reader letters on why they do or don’t Love their ebook
Catriona Troth looks at the world of virtual friendships
52 What We Think of Some Books ...
20 Getting Graphic NEW
By Matt Shaw
26 In Praise of Virtual Friends
19 Oh, Do Write a Synopsis
The truth about some line, twitch and a wardrobe, by Derek Duggan
25 Inspiration NEW
Film v Story – Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad, by Gillian Hamer
Reviews of Moths in a Jar by Abigail Wyatt, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, 22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson, The Winter Ghosts by Kate Moss, On Writing by Stephen King, and The Ho Ho Ho Mystery by Bob Burke
12 The Rumour Mill NEW
24 Genre My Bollocks
Sorting the bags of truth from the bags of shite
from Shameless Charlatan Druid Keith
Quite Short Stories 22 60 Seconds with Emma Donoghue and Robyn Young
Jill Marsh once again presents two amazing writers: authors of Room and Brethren
28 Keys and Locks and Open Doors
by JW Hicks
30 Decorated Hands
by Susan Howe
The Team | 4
The Team “Oick! I feel guilty as hell but I’m laughing my head off and I haven’t even opened the mag yet just nipping out to put the “Don’t Even Think About Disturbing Me” sign on the door and I’ll be right with you ...” “... you are really the best, the icing on the cake, not just the jam in the trifle! Words with Jam remains my favourite ezine.” “I am dumbfounded. The team you put together, the professionalism, the great articles, the superb look and feel of it, everything about it is top notch ... My admiration is boundless.” “This is a fantastic magazine for writers and for those who love books, poetry and all things literary. Topical, intelligent and cheeky to boot, it’s one of the best online magazines around at the moment.”
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. 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. He finds pretending to be a writer far less tiring than pretending to be a musician, as he did in his youth, though the fringe benefits don’t always compare favourably. 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
Anne Stormont - as well as being a writer, is a wife, mother and teacher. She is also a hopeless romantic, who likes happy endings. Words with JAM is FREE to online subscribers. We provide an original collection of interviews, ramblings, funnies, advice, competitions, reviews and more each bimonthly issue. Our next issue will be out early April 2011 For general enquiries: email@example.com For all submissions: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
Competitions 32 Words with JAM 2011 First Page Competition NEW
To be judged by Andrew Crofts
35 Comp Corner - Last Line
The winner of the Last Line Competition, to win a place on a residential writing retreat, is revealed, and this month’s competition announced
Pencilbox/ backpack 39 Question Corner
Lorraine Mace answers your questions on writing
40 Take the Plunge
Dan Holloway tells how and where to fix up your first reading
42 Writers’ Manuals Distilled
Jill Marsh takes a look at The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri
45 Just Do It: Setting
By Anne Stormont
46 Months Ahead of the Game
Making the most of an editorial calendar with Lorraine Mace
48 Who Should Run Our Libraries
Catriona Troth explores the potential closure of hundreds of libraries, how communities are combating the threat, and why community libraries aren’t for everyone
From the Editor It feels a bit late saying ‘Happy New Year’ come the end of January, so I’ll say instead: Welcome to our first issue of 2011. We have planned (yes, we do actually plan occasionally) some of the best articles, interviews and general shenanigans yet. There’s other things planned; mainly more stuff to distract me from writing, but it’s better than resorting to washing dishes. Our December Comp Corner competition, to submit the best last line of a story, was a huge success, with over 800 entries. Thanks go to everyone who entered, but especially Ruth Saberton for the generous prize of a residential writing course in Cornwall. I have the feeling words will be had, however, over the amount of people who entered this time, compared to previous issues ... This month we launch our First Page competition, and I am delighted to have Andrew Crofts as our judge. Andrew has been ghostwriting for the past 40 years, and his book Ghostwriting was quoted extensively in Robert Harris’ The Ghost. A big welcome to two new members of our team: comic book geek Andrew Ramsay will be covering the genre from time to time, and cartoonist Matt Shaw will be providing us with humorous sketches. We are privileged to have with us Guy Saville, whose novel The Afrika Reich was bought by Hodder and Stoughton, and will be giving us an
insight into rewriting history. And there’s 60 Seconds with authors Emma Donoghue and, a personal favourite of mine, Robyn Young. One article which is particularly interesting for all the contributors, and struck me as being very true to my own experience, is In Praise of Virtual Friends. Words with JAM was created by a group of people who met in various online writing forums (I think). I’ve met up with a few of them over the last couple of years, and the rest I hope to soon. The fact is they are all a bit weird, so you’d best take time to read the Be Safe, Not Paranoid note at the end of the article. As you’ve already read the contents by the time you reach my rambling introduction, it’s probably a little pointless in my telling you what else we have lined up. So I’ll shut up and let you enjoy!
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.
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Africa, 1952. The swastika flies from the Sahara to the Indian Ocean. Britain and a victorious Nazi Germany have divided the continent. The SS has crushed the native populations and forced them into labour. Gleaming autobahns bisect the jungle. For almost a decade an uneasy peace has ensued. Now, however, the plans of Walter Hochburg, messianic racist and architect of Nazi Africa, threaten Britain’s ailing colonies. Sent to curb his ambitions is Burton Cole: a one-time assassin torn between the woman he loves and settling an old score with Hochburg. If he fails unimaginable horrors will be unleashed on the continent. No one – black or white – will be spared. But when his mission turns to disaster, Burton must flee for his life. It is a flight that will take him from the unholy ground of Kongo to the slave camps of Rhodesia to war-torn Angola – and finally a conspiracy that leads to the dark heart of THE AFRIKA REICH itself.
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Rewriting History by Guy Saville
It’s impossible to say exactly what publishers are looking for in a book. If we knew we’d all be writing international bestsellers. But a good starting place is a concept, something that can be summed up in a few words. Ideally it will be a new twist on something successful. So it was with my book, The Afrika Reich, which is in the tradition of Len Deighton’s SS-GB and Robert Harris’s Fatherland. All three books are thrillers set in an alternate history where the Nazis have won the war. The twist in mine is that I moved the action to Africa. Alternate history is a genre with an ancient pedigree. The first example was by the Roman historian Livy, who contemplated the what-if ? scenario of Alexander the Great heading west instead of east. Since then many a writer has indulged in its possibilities, from Churchill (the Confederacy wins the American Civil War) to Nabokov (the US becomes part of Tsarist Russia). But exactly
how do you go about rewriting history? For me, the starting point was to ask myself where history would change – the ‘divergence point’ as it’s known in genre parlance. Dunkirk seemed an interesting, and uncomfortable, choice. It is part of our culture; people still talk about the ‘Dunkirk miracle’ and what it says about the British character, our pluck and defiance. But what if it hadn’t been a miracle? What if – as in my book – it had been a disaster? Thousands slaughtered on the beaches of France, many times more taken as prisoners. Would we have sued for peace with Germany? We can never know for certain but the answer is quite possibly yes. In the seventy years since Hitler was defeated, the ‘finest hour’ myth has taken such a hold on the public imagination that it’s almost impossible to imagine a different outcome. But at the time things were far less certain. In Afrika Reich Churchill is forced to resign after the ‘Dunkirk fiasco’ and his successor, Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax, signs a peace treaty with the Führer. Once I had altered history, a chain reaction of different events quickly followed. With Britain out of the war, Germany is able to defeat the Soviet Union and neutralise the United States thus creating a new world order. From this I was able to ask the question that forms the core of my book. What would have been the fate of Africa? To answer this I had to do research. Lots of research! More than I’ve ever done before on a novel: reading obscure PhD theses and trawling the archives. It soon became clear that not only did the Nazis want to conquer Africa, but they also had detailed plans on how to rule it. Which brings me to perhaps the most important issue when rewriting the past. Keeping it realistic. The more whimsical end of the alternate history genre can nudge fantasy. However, I think the novels that work best are those rooted in documented fact. This is what we expect of our historical novelists, why should an alternative version of the past be any different? So I employed
all the skills a novelist writing about, say, the Spanish Civil War would have done. My version of Nazi Africa is based on a secret memorandum written in 1940 that saw the continent divided into six colonies and the SS running the economy: everything from mineral extraction in Congo to Schnapps distilleries in Cameroon. Beyond the big picture, everything is in the details. Readers will glimpse brands of SS soft drinks, an assault rifle designed for the jungles of Africa, vast banana plantations to keep the citizens of Berlin in tropical fruit. I even mention the camber on the African autobahn system which is of the thickness Hitler prescribed (25cm for those as obsessed by the minutiae as me!) Another stratagem for verisimilitude was to include genuine historical figures. The temptation would have been scenes with Churchill or Himmler – but in my opinion that never works. Much better to use the bitpart players of history, so I chose people like Roland Freisler, a notorious Nazi judge and Field Marshall Arnim, commander of the Afrika Korps after Rommel stepped down. With all the research and writing it took me more than two years to complete my novel – but I must have done something right because it was eventually bought at auction by Hodder & Stoughton. My editor said that one of the things that drew him to the book was the meticulous research and how convincing my alternate reality was. I ended up getting a two book deal. And what am I writing next? A followup to The Afrika Reich. And so once again I’m delving into the archives. Once again I’m rewriting history. The Afrika Reich will be published on 17th February 2011. Guy Saville was born in England in 1973. He has lived in South America and North Africa and is currently based in the UK. THE AFRIKA REICH is his first novel. www.afrikareich.com
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Feeble Excuses, The Yuletide Procrastination and Red Mist in the Mind Displacement Activities Things I do when I should be writing by Perry Iles A while back I worked in IT. This is not something I’m proud of. The IT section, like all IT sections everywhere, was populated almost exclusively by wankers and I felt myself slipping downhill into wankerdom myself. I’d go to conferences and courses, the hardest aspect of which was staying awake in the afternoons, and there I’d exchange tedious urban myths about people spraying their hard-drives with WD40 to make them faster and having to drive to Newcastle to show someone where the ANY key was. I suspect that nowadays people in IT refer to non-IT workers as “civilians” or “muggles”. One Friday the systems manager started telling me off about the length of my lunch breaks which he’d been secretly timing. In the face of such a mindset I went home that night and never went back. This kind of approach to one’s employment is fine if you’re in a McJob in the service industry but after ten years in a civil service quango it took them months to replace me during which time the systems manager had to do my job as well as his own. This afforded me a great deal of profound personal satisfaction I’m afraid. Anyway, a few years in the IT industry has left me with a lifetime loathing of anything technological. I suppose I could use a Mac instead, which is just a Fisher-Price Activity Centre for adults and thus doesn’t count as technology, but I will never be able to afford one. So for me the lead-in to Christmas this year took the form of Valium and alcohol, queasy dreams and sweaty palms. Because not
only had I bought my daughter a Nintendo Wii, but I’d also bought my wife a little pink netbook from Argos, and of course all this equipment would need to be set up and configured. Computer engineers may be geniuses, but fuck they’re stupid, so I knew that following their instructions would be a fraught process littered with obscenities and random acts of violence. I remembered buying broadband from BT a few years ago. I was doing quite well and not swearing very much, setting it up from the disc after plugging all the right leads into all the right sockets. Then the setup process asked me for my password. I searched through the paperwork and dug the boxes out of the dustbin in case it was in one of them. Eventually I gave up and phoned a helpline in Managua. “Your password was emailed to you under separate cover sir.” “But I can’t access my email until I’m on the internet, and you won’t let me onto the internet without a password.” I pointed out. “This is our normal practice sir.” “Have you ever read Catch-22? Did you in fact write it?” “I’m sorry sir, our catches only go up to fifteen.” “OK then, could you open your copy of the email you sent me and tell me my password please?” “I’m very sorry sir but I am unable to do that.” “Why the fuck not?” “The Data Protection Act sir which is Catch Twelve and please do not use offensive language sir.” “Will you send me my password in the post then?” “This will take seven to ten working days sir.” “For one little word? Fuck’s sake.” “I am terminating this conversation now sir.” “No don’t go.” “……………………………..” So this year as Christmas approached I grew
more and more apprehensive. Then on Christmas morning I opened my presents and discovered that my dear sweet lovely wife had bought me a Kindle which would need configuring too. I began to weep and started to consider a career in heavy drinking. She had bought me a dozen e-books as well which were sitting online in my Amazon account waiting to be downloaded. She loves me very much, does my wife, and gently prised the Kindle from my sweating hands. “All you have to do is turn on the wireless connection and the books transfer automatically,” she said. Now, I’ve had during my career a very large number of technology-based conversations that started with the words ‘all you have to do…’, so I let out a high-pitched shriek, put a thumb in my mouth and began to rock gently back and forth. My wife turned the Kindle on and gave it back to me. It was a fabulous thing. The design on the front which I had thought was a peeloff logo flickered into a welcome screen and gave me a choice of four wireless networks. Two had little padlock icons against them so I presumed they were unavailable to this machine. I selected one of the others and was told it would cost me three pounds an hour to go online and could they have my credit card details please. So it was going to cost three quid every time I wanted to download a book, was it? Hah! This is how they make their money, the bastards. There they were, a dozen or more books all waiting for me and there I was, utterly unable to read them because all my credit cards had been maxed. I remembered an old Kliban cartoon. It showed a man in swimming trunks grimacing as he pushed at an invisible forcefield that stood between him and the sea. “George lived by an ocean that proved inaccessible” the tagline read. I could identify with that in terms of literature now, thanks to technology, because it had stolen reading from me. Even my wife was taken aback at the pure undiluted capitalism of it all. “There must be a way,” she said. “Hang on, connect the Kindle’s USB to the home
Random Stuff | 9
computer and download it through there.” This was almost a foreign language to me, but I understood enough to realise that the Kindle must have some kind of PC connection. Did it? Did it fuck. There was just a charger with a plug on the end. “They must have thought of that,” I said, “so there isn’t a USB lead.” “Is it Bluetooth-compatible?” “Unnnh?” “Never mind, let me look.” After an hour or so’s fiddling, somewhere in the background my daughter spoke… “Daddy will you please play with me? Mummy I’m a bit hungry.” We ignored her and carried on because we’d had a breakthrough. I suddenly discovered when I threw the plug at the wall that the Kindle’s USB connection was hidden in the end of the plug, but there was nothing in the manual to suggest this. So we stuck it into the back of the computer and went on to the Amazon website to download the books. PLEASE SELECT FILE FORMAT Fuck off. I did what I always do in circumstances like these and hit the ENTER key a little harder. UNABLE TO FIND COMPATIBLE FILE FORMAT “Open it in Word,” My wife suggested. Blue screen. Eventually I discovered that if I made a new folder on the desktop I could download
I got all the programmes and the operating system going, set the games folder for my wife’s favourites and prepared to go online for her. UNABLE TO LOCATE WIRELESS NETWORK. I pressed the search button again and was eventually faced with the same thing as the Kindle. I could get my wife online for three pounds an hour. This was robbery. I’d read somewhere that BT had two million hotspots in Britain from which wireless networks could be accessed free of charge. Obviously none was here in Scotland. Scotland just had to be fucking different. In Scotland the internet is made of brass and wood and every morning a man in Glasgow gets out a large key and winds it up, and he was on a day off because it was Christmas and he was drunk anyway because he was from Glasgow. I swore some more. The neighbour heard me through the wall and popped round to see if my wife was unharmed because where we live when a man shouts there are usually broken women and ambulances involved. The neighbour brought with her a large bottle of Blue Wicked and her own computer advice. “Gie Kirsty a phone,” she said to me. “I’m sorry?” “Ma neice. She got one ay they thingabys fer Christmas like. She kens whit tae dae wi’ it. Gie her a phone.”
protectit thingaby. That’s yir ain hame-hub thing fae BT. Stick yir password in there.” I thanked her and hung up. Evidently the padlock icon meant that the network was your own protected home network, which they’d symbolised by giving me the impression it was inaccessible. IT logic was at work again. All I had to do was work out what the password was. Remembering the email from Managua from all those years ago, I silently praised myself for never ever tidying my email’s inbox and sifted backward through seven and a half thousand messages until I found the right password. INVALID PASSWORD I entered it again INVALID PASSWORD I typed it carefully a third time INVALID PASSWORD “Daddy will you play with me?” “Not now for fuck’s sake.” “Please tell Mummy I’m still hungry.” Mummy had finished the Blue Wicked and was now on the neighbour’s Lambrini. This is alcohol, not a motor scooter. “Tell her yourself.” INVALID PASSWORD I phoned Kirsty back. “What?” “My email password’s invalid, I’m afraid.” “It’s no yir fuckin email password it’s wanting, ya bam, it’s yir fuckin hub password offay the back ay the cunt.”
I’d read somewhere that BT had two million hotspots in Britain from which wireless networks could be accessed free of charge. Obviously none was here in Scotland. Scotland just had to be fucking different. In Scotland the internet is made of brass and wood and every morning a man in Glasgow gets out a large key and winds it up, and he was on a day off because it was Christmas and he was drunk anyway because he was from Glasgow. the unopened books to it in Kindle format. Then if I made another new folder in the Kindle space I could transfer the files into there and open it up on the Kindle screen and actually read the books. It took about two hours, by which time my daughter had learned some new words, the dinner was burned and the puppy had shat on the carpet again. After dinner I decided that flushed with the success of transferring my Kindle files I would get my wife’s little pink netbook working. I’d done laptops before. I’d just have to watch as the system set itself up for first use and tap the ENTER key every so often. I remembered this from work days. It was all about looking serious and not falling asleep.
I got the neighbour to phone because it was Christmas and the niece would be drunk by now because she was already thirteen. “Ah dinnae fuckin ken,” the neighbour yelled down the phone. “Aye he’s a dippit cunt. He’s a fuckin numpty. Speak tae um yirsel.” And she passed the phone to me. In the background I heard a cigarette being ground out and a baby screaming. I was getting IT support from a drunk teenage mother on Christmas Day. Could it get any better than this? “See the thingaby on the screen wi a lock on it?” The niece was almost as unintelligible as the Managuan IT support desk. “The protected network I can’t get into?” “Aye that’s the fucker bit it isnae a
“Thanks, I’ll try that,” I said, grateful at least for IT support that didn’t shy from foul language. There was of course no password on the back of the hub, just something called a Product Key. I went to the kitchen and woke my wife who was slumped at the table with her face in a small pool of drool next to the empty bottle of tart fuel. She suggested that I fucked off. Then more sensibly she suggested that a password and a product key might be the same thing and then she woke the neighbour who suggested switching to Carlsberg Special Brew. She was right. I was finally on the internet. So why, why for fucking arse’s sake why does the instruction not say PLEASE
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ENTER YOUR PASSWORD. YOU’LL FIND THIS IN THE FORM OF A PRODUCT KEY ON THE BACK OF YOUR HOME HUB. Why do these IT bastards have to be so impenetrably fucking elusive? Because they like it that way. They like a good snigger. Then a little light went on in my head with a ping that was almost audible. I could enter the same product key number into my lovely new Kindle at the network with a padlock icon and get my books free and wirelessly. And it worked. It worked wonderfully. All my books tumbled across from my Amazon Kindle account in lovely readable and easily portable format. I could take them all on holiday with me, except I probably wouldn’t be allowed to read them on the plane because my wireless connection would make us all crash and die. I was feeling very smug. “Daddy will you play with me now?” my daughter asked “Of course sweetheart. What shall we play?” “I want to play on my Nintendo. Will you set it up for me because Mummy’s drunk in the kitchen again?” “Oh no, dear. I’ll wake Mummy up. Just you see if I don’t.” So I went into the kitchen and whispered in my wife’s ear and that of the neighbour that I’d slipped Rohypnol into their Lambrini, so they both snapped to attention, ordered me to make them Turkish-strength espressos, and disappeared into the sitting room with expressions of wide-eyed suspicion. We’d bought a fit-board for the Wii, and as soon as my wife and the neighbour and her phone-support niece had done the donkey-work of setting it up, I jumped onto it and started putting in my personal details. YOU ARE MORBIDLY OBESE. PLEASE SELECT A TRAINER. With too many memories of Welsh gym teachers from school I chose a female trainer, a virtual woman who, to use a phrase of Bret Easton Ellis in American Psycho, could only be described as a “hardbody”. I looked for the tits control so I could set it to MAX but there wasn’t one, and any thoughts I had about fancying her quickly vanished when she made me try the hula hoop. THREE SPINS. 0.72 SECONDS. BEGINNER STATUS. TRY HARDER. YOU ARE STILL MORBIDLY OBESE. YOU WILL DIE SOON. I remembered some of the tortures from American Psycho and fantasised visiting them upon my personal trainer as I tried the downhill slalom YOU MISSED <TEN FLAGS> OUT OF <TEN FLAGS>. TIME THREE MINUTES FIFTEEN SECONDS. PLUS TEN PENALTY POINTS. AMATUER STATUS. TRY HARDER. The message was accompanied by a little recurring film of my own morbidly obese and disconsolate icon, shoulders slumped, head down and staring at the floor. Sad and frustrated, I turned myself off and let my daughter play. Three days later I turned myself on again, in the sad realisation that this phrase didn’t mean the same as it did when I was a child of the sixties. WELCOME BACK PERRY. I HAVEN’T SEEN YOU FOR A FEW DAYS. YOU ARE STILL MORBIDLY OBESE. YOU WILL STILL DIE SOON. TRY HARDER. And standing there in front of my television I realised finally what I had done. I’d turned into Winston Smith off of 1984. I’d gone all smiling into Argos and spent £250 buying myself a telescreen so I could be electronically badgered for being a fat bastard. The IT section that really runs the world had not only succeeded in producing unintelligible computer manuals written in newspeak and distributed via the Ministry of Fluffy Bunnies (MiniFlufBun), it had also succeeded in its ultimate act of brainwashing by making us want them and buy them because it was better politics and more profitable than simply installing them itself. I turned the Nintendo off and navigated my television back to Sky Gold, which was showing highlights of Jade Goody’s last outing on reality television. I cut myself a big slice of Christmas cake, sat back and watched it over the swell of my stomach and realised I had finally come to love Big Brother.
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Love your ebook? Kindling by David Rowland This is already a less than brand new century and among the things I still don’t know are such questions as What exactly is a Kindle? and What does one do with it? So I go Google and suddenly I am lost in tomorrow’s world of E Ink pearl technologies in sixteen shades of grey and discovering such joys as ‘remote content removal’, which sounds somewhat ominous and surely cannot mean what I think it means? But it does. You have got to be joking. It must be a publicity scam. No-one is that crass. Water under the, and no use crying over, but do I want to buy one? I don’t think so, not today. I mean, why would I? This remote deletion thing is a problem. Well it is to me. I’m not disputing the possibilities but I have read 1984. A long time ago admittedly but, even so, it was, and still is, a bit scary. Surely things are Orwellian enough already? Now we are at war with Terror; just as we have always been, and always will be at war with Oceania. My spellcheck does not recognise the term ‘Luddite’. It may still come to that but I hope not. There are two sides to any story. eBooks are so much more convenient than vast libraries full of dusty books. But some people like books; how they feel, how they smell. Some people need to handle books,
just as some people need to handle Kindles but, ultimately, the problems of our self obsessed, sleepwalking lifestyle go far beyond the relative merits or possible perils of the latest technology. All this ‘how we live now’ has to slow down one day soon or we will all go even more insane than we already are, possibly beyond redemption. Now is as good a time as any to decide what we are prepared to lose; what we need and what we don’t. Do we need the Kindle? If we decide we do not, can we stop the future? Opinions differ. People differ. It’s what they do. The Kindle might make social control through the manipulation of information a little simpler than it is already but it is we who must decide if the benefits outweigh the risks. In order to do so with any confidence, we need reliable information; by which I mean information we can trust, information that cannot be retrospectively, or remotely, ‘adjusted’ by either side of the great divide. I am talking about ‘truth’. Maybe cyberspace will save us and maybe it won’t, but it is not the Kindle or what we do with it that is the problem. We can close the museums, we can flood the libraries, we can choose technophilia or technophobia, it does not matter. What matters is our awareness, our compassion, our ‘truth’. Not how, or what we read, but what we know is ‘the truth’ and how we choose to respond to that knowledge. There is always hope.
“There are two sides to any story. eBooks are so much more convenient than vast libraries full of dusty books. But some people like books; how they feel, how they smell. Some people need to handle books, just as some people need to handle Kindles but, ultimately, the problems of our self obsessed, sleepwalking lifestyle go far beyond the relative merits or possible perils of the latest technology.”
Pre-Kindle (PK), things were different, by JJ Marsh My life has changed. Frequently, when reading the paper or talking to friends, I hear about a book that interests me. I used to scribble it down somewhere and find it months later, wondering what on earth ‘In the Shape of a Boar’ might mean. Now, I download it the same day. This, naturally, has led to an enormous backlog. Proof you can have too much of a good thing. It’s also led to a perverse urge for delays. PK, I’d to seethe with impatience at overrunning dentists, tardy students, delayed public transport. Now they feel like a gift. Some precious moments for me and my Kindle. My eyes are rejoicing. The glare from my screen while critting others’ work made it a challenge, PK. But now I can Kindlise entire books and curl up wherever I fancy. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again - I love my Kindle.
The Whiff of New Paper, by Geves Lafosse To Kindle owners:
When you switch your Kindle on, do you catch a whiff of new paper and ink? Does it yield to your touch in an organic way? Does the first sight of a new, unread e-book make your heart ever so slightly race, recalling the excitement of an unbroken spine and pages yet to be turned as a child? Can you hold it in your hand and feel the weight of the story? Does a file of e-books approximate the colours and shapes of old friends lined up on a shelf, a choir in pause, individuals waiting patiently for their moment to
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sing solo? When, sighing, you finish a good book and put it down, does your Kindle also make a sound that resonates with satisfaction and yet also, loss? Yes? Then I need a Kindle too.
This Year, Next Year by Tricia Gilbey I have followed the debate about e readers and their impact on the market avidly, and yet I have no great desire to buy one just yet. I have followed it closely because I have a gut feeling my book might go down well with readers who use Kindles etc, and I think this is the future for the books YA are going to read. I know quite a few authors now who have a steady income from their e books, and this seems a much better outcome than their books languishing as MSS in drawers. I have no illusions about how hard it is to get a print publishing deal nowadays - how fantastic to have an alternative, easy method of getting your book published. Getting it read will, of course, be another matter, but I rather like the idea of word of mouth - I tend to rely heavily on customer reviews for all sorts of products I buy online, including books, and I would always rather read something based on reader recommendation, rather than advertising blurb. I tend to read mostly on screen nowadays - I do still read books but to be honest, I find screens easier to read, though my eyes are rapidly deteriorating (possibly because of too much screen reading but more likely to do with age). I know Kindles are easier on the eye, but haven’t bought one yet because, well, to me it looks so boring! Of course, it’s the content that’s important, but there are so many possibilities with ebooks, and I suspect they’ll evolve pretty rapidly. Nathan Bransford recently blogged about the explosion of tablets - multiplatform devices, able to show films etc as well as being e readers. Much more colourful and attractive. However, I’m not sure how good they are for the eyes. Finally, I do love to see real bookshelves groaning with much-loved books. I’m holding back, too, because I don’t want to hasten the end of that era. There is something wonderful about a ‘real’ book – see, I want to call them ‘real’! It has a status, a cultural value that somehow downloads don’t. On the other hand, my bookshelves are full to bursting and I have piles of books sitting next to them too now, and can’t bear to part with a lot of my favourites, so I suspect the simple fact of storage will be a factor that pushes me towards ebooks. So, in summary, I will buy one in a year or two. Maybe sooner.
The Rumour Mill Sorting the bags of truth from the bags of shite
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. Can anyone tell me if there’s any truth in the rumour that people will be liable for a big kick up the arse for pointing at the snow and ice and using it as proof that global warming is not happening and thereby displaying an ignorance of the difference between climate and weather? It’s an interesting question, and although this system for dealing with halfwits has been trialled for six months at a secret location in Wales with actors playing a mixture of the general public and celebrities, it was terminated after the person playing famous cuddly fuckwit Jeremy Clarkson suffered a prolapsed rectum. So, fear not – for the time being you are free to express climate ignorance to your heart’s content. Could it possibly be true that the word ‘Ho’ is considered a swear word in America? Sadly, yes. In fact, recently Sarah Palin called for the death of a fat man with a white beard who was dressed in a red suit and apparently continually shouted the word at hapless passers by in the street. I heard a rumour down the pub that American politician Sarah Palin is related to our very own national treasure Michael Palin – that couldn’t be right, could it? If you were simply to look at their shared surname then it might be possible that Mr Palin is related to her on the human side of her ancestry. However, if you take into account the other rumour doing the rounds that her granddad actually changed the family name by deed poll from Stalin, then it begins to look a little less likely. Is it true that the only thing that can be seen from the Great Wall of China is the moon? It’s true that the moon can be viewed from that vantage point, but also visible is China, so, only half right with that one. I heard a rumour that the reason bankers are paid such high bonuses is because without such a large fiscal reward we wouldn’t get the best people to go into banking – is this true? Of course it’s true – what we all forget in the current financial climate is that we were lucky to have such brilliant people working in the banking sector – can you imagine how bad it could have been if there had been people in charge who hadn’t been lured to the job by their own personal greed? Is it right that there are going to be some actual celebrities in Dancing On Ice this year? No. No it’s not.
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Letters of the satirical variety Dear Authors of books that come in a series, Would it be too much trouble to print what number the book is on the fucking cover? Or the spine at the very least. Seriously. Yours etc, Anne Noyd Dea Words with Jam, I don’t know if you noticed but I left an ‘r’ out of that first line. Oh, if only Harry Hill was handing out two hundred and fifty quid for that sort of thing I’d be a millionaire. Yours chortlingly, Mrs D Point Thanks for that Mrs Point – has anyone else out there got an amusing spelling error story? Jesus Christ, is thi what it has come to? Ed Dear Editor, It was with great pleasure that I read the previous letter from Mrs Point. How delightful. I can’t tell you how much I chuckled over that one. It kept coming back to me all day and every time it did I laughed again. In fact, I laughed so heartily at one point that they threw me out of the funeral. God Bless, Fr John Priester
Dear WWJ, I for one am not, and I can’t stress this strongly enough, not at all amused by people misspelling things and then thinking it’s funny. My good friend Patrick Hunt has endured a lifetime of ridicule at the hands of misspellers and has had to bear up under the weight of being constantly referred to as Patri. Leave him alone. Yours truly, Eulich Magee Dear Editor, I’m fairly new to this writing lark and I only took it up to give me something to take my mind off my recent divorce. I accept that we have to move with the times and use all the fabulous new gizmos and computers and so on, but wherever possible I like to use the traditional tools of the trade. Every day I go through a little ritual before settling down to write. I line up my pencils, two HB’s for the normal stuff, a 3H for italics, and a 5B for bold. However, I’ve run into a slight problem that your readers might be able to help me with. You see, after only two days I have no room left on the screen – how do I make it scroll up? Sorry to sound like a bit of a ninny and I’m sure
it’s something extremely obvious. Thanks in advance, Penny Cill Dear Penny, I think I know what the problem is – you are just too stupid to own a computer. Ed Dear Editor, I am a nineteen year old man in my first year of college. My friends say I’m handsome and I have an athletic build. It’s my first year living away from home and I’m still getting used to it. I’d heard stories about what goes on at campus but I thought they were all just tall tales. Well, imagine my amazement when my pizza was delivered the other night by two of the hottest twins you’ve ever seen, both with long blond hair and wearing only the skimpiest lingerie. I invited them in and – hang on, I’ve just realised that I’m writing this to the wrong magazine. Sorry about that. Yours truly, Stu Dent Yes, Stu, I think you are. Ed Dear Words With Jam, I have an amusing story to tell involving a spelling mistake. Last year while writing an anniversary card for my wife I meant to put – Happy Anniversary, Darling – but due to some careless spelling it ended up reading – You life sucking bitch you’ve ruined my life. How I laughed when I realised my mistake. She didn’t see the funny side though. Yours sincerely, D Vorsey Dear Ed, I may just be speaking for myself here, but I’d really like to hear a bit more of Stu’s story. Cheers, Juan Kerr Dear Juan, Really? I mean, really? Please ask someone you know to punch you in the face from me. Ed
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Return to Syrupville by Danny Gillan
*this article was scheduled to appear in the last issue of WWJ and we’d like to apologise for the delay. This was caused by Danny’s hard drive committing suicide in November, and his continued inability to grasp the concept of backing up files.
As has now become a tradition, nay institution, the boss and I made a triumphant, wine-fuelled return to the Wigtown Book Festival late last year. For those who haven’t been paying attention, Wigtown is a wee place in Dumfries and Galloway that has the distinction of being officially hailed as Scotland’s Book Town, thanks to the ridiculously high proportion of book shops there. And they’re all second hand book shops, at that. Heaven. In 2009 we were there as book fans but this time was different - this time we were sort of journalists. The difference? We got some free tickets for stuff (thank you, Adrian) and so were able to attend a few more events than our negligible funds allowed last year. To be honest we were kind of hoping for backstage passes to behind the scenes parties with the drugs and the strippers etc, but it turns out book festivals aren’t quite the same as Jedward gigs, or at least they didn’t invite us if they are. No matter, maybe they’re waiting for us to prove ourselves and we’ll get to venture further behind the veil next time. The festival began in 1998 and has steadily built itself into one of the premier literary events in the country, attracting big names from all corners of the writing world. This year was no exception, and numbered among those writers we didn’t see were Ian Rankin, Michael Foley, Margo McDonald, Val McDermid, James Robertson, Alasdair
Gray, Alex Bellos, Fiona Watson, Matt Haig, Kathryn Schultz and Martin Berners Lee, to name but a, eh, eleven. I’m sure they were all superb and their books wonderful but I didn’t see them and haven’t read them so can’t really comment (got a few on the pile, mind). Those writers we did see, however, were uniformly excellent. I can only assume Iain M Banks heard we were turning up again this year and so decided he, too, would make it a tradition to talk about his latest book at Wigtown. Proudly sporting his middle initial as well as some natty slacks he unveiled Surface Detail, the latest in his series of Culture novels. And I do mean unveiled. The book was not yet available in the shops and those of us in attendance were literally the first people able get our hands on a copy. The highlight of his, first ever, reading from the novel was the moment he spotted a typo on page two. The delight he felt on realising that many thousands of copies had now been printed and there was nothing he
acknowledged that it wasn’t unusual to have your best ideas when you’re young, but that you get better at using them as you age. Then he dived into the crowd and punched the fool. Incidentally, after having read only a few chapters of Surface Detail, I can attest that he is about as far from running out of ideas as I am from the Man Booker. The event we’d hoped to see that night had sold out before Adrian could squirrel away a couple of tickets. Undeterred, we went anyway. Des Dillon is an award-winning Glaswegian (okay, Coatbridge) author and television writer with seven novels, several successful screenplays and a number of acclaimed stage plays to his credit. He’s also skint, which is a bit scary for the rest of us, and so has turned his hand to stand up comedy to pay the gas bill (look him up, check out his credits, then ask yourself if you really want to be a writer). We arrived early and the boss managed to sweet talk the lady on the door into giving us
The highlight of his, first ever, reading from the novel was the moment he spotted a typo on page two. The delight he felt on realising that many thousands of copies had now been printed and there was nothing he could do about it was clear to see. could do about it was clear to see. It was possibly funnier for us than for him, to be fair. As ever, he made for an excellent interviewee after the reading as he discussed with Stuart Kelly (hey, I remembered his name this year!) his writing career and answered questions from the audience. One slightly annoying person stated that he felt Banks seemed to be running out of ideas in his more recent ‘M’ books. Instead of diving into the crowd and punching the fool as would have been his right, Banks graciously
a couple of ‘spare’ tickets, cash in hand (then handbag - do not pass go, do not go anywhere near the cash tin). The venue - the gorgeous, whisky-soaked Bladnoch Distillery - quickly filled to capacity. Just before Dillon hit the stage a small argument erupted at the door. A couple of people were remonstrating with the door staff, waving around what they clearly felt were genuine tickets for the event in an unhappy manner as they surveyed the hall and its lack of available seats. They made far more fuss than was appropriate - they were allowed to stand at the back, for goodness sake. The
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one on crutches was the most annoying as she muttered and blasphemed under her breath for the rest of the evening, though her mate with the guide dog wasn’t too happy either. Some people. Although clearly a bit nervous, Des (I feel I can use his first name, given our shared heritage of Glasgow Catholic guilt) was very, very funny. I can only imagine that his rapidfire delivery and thick Glaswegian accent may have left a few in the audience bemused at times, but I thought he was a triumph of foulmouthed brilliance as he explained how ‘cunt’ is just another word for ‘person’ in most parts of Scotland and that dogs with epilepsy need love too. A fine night’s entertainment was had by all. Even the blind nun at the back laughed. Despite my prayers that everything would be worthy of a piss-take, it turned out there was some serious stuff happening. Martin Bell, he of the white suit and sore leg, discussed his book A Very British Revolution, in which he confirms that MPs are, with a couple of exceptions, a bunch of greedy, self-serving borderline criminals. While that is no surprise, he also spoke at length about his work both as a foreign correspondent and an ambassador for UNICEF, particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the horrors both innocent civilians and our own armed forces are faced with daily as a result of politicians trying to score electoral points. Kevin Ivison was there to discuss his book Red One, a true account of his time as a bomb disposal expert in Iraq, and the disgraceful way he was treated by the Ministry of Defence after being injured, and very nearly killed, in the line of duty. His moving account of the actual circumstances of his injury and the death of his friends was humbling, but the shocking failure of the MOD to recognise the psychological trauma he suffered afterwards was frankly disgusting. If you want to learn some real truths about both our political system and the atrocities of war carried out in our name, I suggest you pick up both these books and don’t just believe what you see on the news.
Anyway, enough of the heaviness. Probably the highlight of the whole festival for me was seeing one of my comic heroes, Dylan Moran. He wasn’t speaking or anything, I just spotted him browsing in one of the book shops, but it was still cool. Unfortunately I couldn’t think of a single catchphrase to shout at him and so left him alone. Annelise Freisenbruch gave an entertaining presentation on her book The First Ladies of Rome, in which she explores the often forgotten wives, mothers and sisters of the Ceasars and explained how, even back then, the tabloid press was only too happy to spread lies and gossip about the celebrities of the day, albeit with more limited printing facilities. We also attended the Unpublished Writers’ Jam (no relation), in which a few brave souls gave live readings of their work and were judged by a panel of worthies (think X-Factor without the budget or the evilness). To our ears all of the work read was of a decent standard and the advice given sound. It did amuse me to hear the judges repeat those phrases all unpublished writers dread– cut out the adjectives and show don’t tell. Either they’re actually useful bits of advice or the judges had just come off a session on the YouWriteOn forum. Our budget and livers exhausted, we had time for one last event. John Byrne, a
fine Scottish writer and artist, probably best known for his TV series Tutti Frutti (recently released on DVD for the first time), arrived late and a little bedraggled thanks to the foul weather. Fortunately he’s a man who is at his most entertaining when he’s in a bit of a bad mood, and he was soon raging wearily at the Americanisation of our culture. He despaired that we in the UK seem to be in thrall of all things US related and spoke of his admiration for the French’s ability to hold on fiercely to their own national identity in the face of everencroaching American cultural dominance. He then paused, muttering – ‘Right enough, they’ve got Disneyland Paris. How the fuck did that happen?’ It was a great way to end our visit to Wigtown, and it’s personally gratifying to know that curmudgeonly old Glaswegians still have a place in this world. Wigtown remains a wonderful town to visit at any time of the year and I would urge all book fans to add it to their itinerary. If you can make it to the festival itself, so much the better. We’ll see you there this Autumn. A final thought: given that it’s a small town and all the book shops are exclusively second hand, do you think there’s essentially just one big stock of books in the town that gets rotated in a cycle as they are bought in one shop, read, and then sold on to another? I like the idea of a self-sustaining book population, it feels right, somehow.
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What are you up to at the moment? I #amwriting by Dan Holloway
There are lots of writers’ sites out there. Most of the ones I’ve brushed past do something really well, be that showcasing work to agents, providing forums for heated debate, or critiquing your work up to scratch in the company of editing experts. But one site is a little bit different. It does all these things. And it does more. It’s a genuine community of equals, a place that’s ego free, considerate, creative, helpful. It also appeals to me as a writer about social media, because it all started, and still has its heart, on twitter. Amwriting is the brainchild of the wonderful Johanna Harness, not only a
brilliant author of young adult novels (check out http://www.clairemorgane.com), but a tireless and selfless supporter of other writers. After a moment of serendipity explained in the interview below, Johanna started using the phrase #amwriting to connect with other writers (putting the # sign before a word or phrase is a way to make things easily findable in twitter – I’ve written about this use of the “hashtag” in my social media column for Words With Jam). More and more people started putting #amwriting in their tweets, and soon a community had built up (in any one week, now, around 2000 people use it). Whatever time of day it is, wherever in the world you are, you’ll find a sympathetic ear just by looking for someone who is #amwriting. And then came the website. http:// amwriting.org/ is an internet hub for people who use the hashtag on twitter. And with profiles of over 200 writers, forums, and spotlights, it’s a fantastic place to be seen as well as a great place to meet and chat. One of the incredible things about the #amwriting community is its positivity. There aren’t the squabbles and ego fights you find at so many sites. And that, in large part, is down to the sheer wonderfulness and generosity of Johanna. It’s also, like twitter in general, a great leveller. There’s no pecking order. Published author, total newbie, editor or agent, people who use the #amwriting hashtag are just themselves, and are usually happy to talk and help. It was a genuine honour to be able to award Johanna the first Chris Al-Aswad Prize for outstanding contribution to breaking down barriers in the arts. The prize, held in honour of a remarkable young man who started a remarkable community of his own at www.escapeintolife.com before his tragic death at the age of 31, couldn’t have gone to a more fitting and deserving person. Whilst researching the longlist and shortlist for the award, I spoke to many many people who have met Johanna through #amwriting. All of them had something to say about how Johanna had affected their writing, and often their personal, lives for the better.
If you’re on twitter and don’t already, try taking part in the #amwriting community. And if you’re new to twitter, or thinking about it, make it your first port of call, and settle into the new place with some great new neighbours. It was my great pleasure to ask Johanna a few questions about #amwriting and herself. Thank you so much to Johanna
DH: Everyone I speak to about the #amwriting community has anecdotes about wonderful things that have happened to them. What are your favourites? JH: The little things always stand out in my mind more than the big things—those magical pockets of time when creative minds join together in the enjoyment of writing. I remember one writer killing off her bad guy in new ways every day and the rest of us would wait for her morning arrival with suggestions for new dreadful possibilities. We wrote each other into our scenes for a few months—just bit characters, but fun as hell. I remember how freaked out we were to discover, without mentioning to each other, that there were about a dozen of us using the same unusual name in our books. And now it’s great to see those same writers with their books in print—both indie and traditional—and our schedules are busier, but so many are helping newer writers learn the ropes. And those with more experience continue to help those of us with less. It’s amazing to me to see the inperson relationships develop too— and the various writing circles come
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together and diverge again. Community is dynamic and each day is different than the previous day. That’s not really an anecdote about a wonderful thing, but it is wondrous all the same. DH: How did #amwriting come about? JH: I was hashtag invisible. It was a twitter bug. I’d go to chats online and talk to people and I just thought I was terrifically unpopular because no one would talk to me. When I found out that my tweets didn’t actually appear in the chat stream, I filed a bug report, but it took twitter forever to respond. So meanwhile, I started doing these shout-outs with my own twitter stream. I’d ask people if they were writing and, at any given time, I’d get back 10-12 responses. It was so cool, but then I’d get caught up in tweeting and not writing and that’s not really what I wanted to do either. I really wanted a drop-in kind of place where people could talk and then go back to writing. And I didn’t want to be the centre of every conversation. I wanted people to talk to each other. The day twitter fixed my invisibility problem, I started #amwriting. A lot of people were already familiar with my callouts and we had 20-30 people tweeting in that first hour. Over the next few months it grew to be a non-stop chat. It just keeps growing. DH: What’s the most important part of the community to you? JH: The key for me is acceptance and
respect. Writers pour out their souls on a regular basis and we get rejections and revision notes and always we can be better than we are. And really, I’m obsessed with the challenge of making my writing ever better. But, in that process, we need a place where others understand what we’re doing and how difficult it is—and how crazy it is—and we need those other people to laugh with us and cry with us—and also to inspire us to keep working. We need to see our own passion for writing reflected in the work of others and, in doing so, we need to see the possibilities for ourselves if we keep growing and keep writing.
the community in ways I cannot even imagine. I want the walls to be flexible and moveable and I want the participants to change the furniture and the lighting. I want those quiet ah-ha writerly moments to find a mirrored ah-ha halfway around the globe and I want #amwriting to support that in whatever way it can. I want the twitter feed and the website to be inclusive enough to support genius— and even those moments that seem like genius before we awaken in a gaping plot hole, laughing ourselves silly. I want #amwriting to be full of humanity and ever becoming. I don’t see an end point or a destination.
DH: Is #amwriting a showcase to the outside world or a community for its members?
DH: How has #amwriting changed your life?
JH: Both. The two are really closely linked. When people write together, they want to read each other as well. As #amwriting grows, I’m seeing a lot more announcement type tweets. I picture these as notes stuck on the bulletin board around the water cooler where writers talk. We can ignore them or comment on them—whatever we like—but it doesn’t change the interaction between writers. And really, when one of the participating writers has an announcement, the enthusiasm is so much different than what we show for the background posts. It’s amazing. DH: What would you like #amwriting to become? JH: I want it to keep becoming. I want it to keep adapting to the needs of
JH: #Amwriting has allowed me to surround myself with the smartest, mostcreative people imaginable. It doesn’t get better than that. DH: Tell me about your own writing JH: I write young adult and middle grade novels set in the Western United States. Setting is enormously important to me and character interaction with setting drives a lot of what I write. I label my young adult novels fantasy, but really they’re a blend of paranormal, fantasy, and fairytale, set in a future dystopian world. I enjoy telling stories of desperation with warmth and humor and hope. The website for my young adult character is http://www.clairemorgane. com. Thanks, Dan!
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When Words Hit the BIG Screen by Gillian E Hamer
As writers, it must surely be one of our ultimate ambitions to see our novel adapted into film. I’ll admit I have spent many happy hours day-dreaming about who might star as my central character or my latest baddie, or imagining some of the landscape descriptions in my head actually coming to life. And when I was lucky enough to sign an agency agreement with my agent, I did get a frisson of excitement reading the line …sole and exclusive right and licence to represent you in relation to the said works, including negotiations on your behalf of the disposal of rights in and to such works, including film and dramatic rights, and the modification of such arrangements … On the other hand, I’m aware of some purists who think that adapting their work for the silver screen would be a fate little worse than death. A travesty in fact. They blanch at the idea of turning over their lovingly-crafted babies to Hollywood. How could they ever stand back and allow an editor, producer, script-writer or researcher to meddle with their work? And don’t get me started on actors. Yuk. And here is where the main differences lie. If you’re a writer yourself, you will most probably fall into one category or the other. It’s a topic of huge debate. As is the … which is better … book or film debate. How many times have you argued that such-and-such book is so much better than the film? Or how a film took a weak novel to another level? This year, in our series of articles investigating how the film industry overlaps with the literary world, I’m going to be looking at head to head reviews of books versus films. What are the positives? Negatives? Similarities and differences. If you have any particularly strong opinions on films that have ruined a good book or where films have improved a tepid
novel, then please let us have your thoughts (via email at submissions@wordswithjam. co.uk with the subject ‘Film Section’) and we will include as many as we can in future articles. For this month, I’m going to go head to head on one of my favourite all time ghost stories, Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad by MR James.
Film v Story – Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad. It was with eager anticipation I settled down on Christmas Eve to watch the latest film adaptation of this Edwardian ghost story. I was delighted John Hurt was playing the central role, in my head already imagining him as a perfect Professor Parkin. But then, it started ...
Story Synopsis MR James’ original work takes us on a voyage of terror and discovery with the confessed disbeliever of all things paranormal, Professor Parkin, during what should have been an unremarkable golfing holiday in a remote East Coast resort. When a fellow professor asks him to take a look at a recently discovered Templar archaeology site while in the area, his holiday begins to take an unusual turn when he finds a small whistle, with a Latin engraving, in a cavity below what he believes to be the ruins of a church altar. His nights at the Globe Inn are awash with nightmares, strange noises and bed sheets taking on a life of their own, culminating when these phenomenon try to kill Parkin. He is saved by his golfing partner, Colonel Wilson, and the said whistle disposed of by flinging it far out to sea.
Film Synopsis – Whistle and I’ll Come to You James Parkin faces the tough decision to leave his wife (who it appears suffers from Alzheimer’s or similar) in a nursing home. Whispering in her ear – whistle and I’ll come to you – as he makes his goodbye. Encouraged by nursing staff at the home, he takes an emotional journey to one of his wife’s favourite rambling destinations, and while there sees a vision on a deserted beach. That night, he hears noises in his room at the hotel, which increase in regularity each night, until he believes someone is trying to get into his room. Days later, after more ghostly visions and nightmares, he is found dead in his bed – a look of terror on his face. The film also includes a twist at the end, returning to his wife in the care home to see a look of lucidity – and victory? – cross her face before she disappears.
Summary After watching the film, I looked online to get details of the film and discovered the ideas behind the adaptation (and I use this word very loosely) were – ‘delving into themes of ageing, hubris and the supernatural with a horrifying psychological twist in the tale.’ Right. Had I read this previously, I may not have been so abjectly disappointed that other than a character named Parkin, a deserted beach and the whispered mention of whistling, this version paid no homage whatsoever to the MR James’ original. Where was the archaeology of the Templars? Where was Colonel Wilson? What happened to the terrifying bed sheets? It may be that some Edwardian tales cannot be modernised. Just because Sherlock Holmes has been reinvented time and again, does not mean that every classic can so easily transfer to this millennium. In my opinion, this version did not work. For me, it lost its
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soul and its ability through subtle suggestion to create a chilling story and unsettling atmosphere. In fact, I wasn’t spooked once. I found the pace laboriously slow and the tone overly dramatic and clichéd. Yes, it should have worked. There were many of the right ingredients. Atmospheric settings, deserted hotels, strange staff and confusing dialogue. But why include a disabled spouse, and end with the viewer (well, me at least) having no idea if she did some how murder her husband through some
telepathic power. And if so, why? Revenge? What message did I miss? And where did she disappear to? And why? Questions and more questions. As you can see, there were more negatives than positives in this film version for me. But I’m aware these types of dramas are subjective and that people take different things away from them. If I had to choose my favourite thing about the film – it would be that John Hurt filled Parkin’s shoes well, and I thought the
acting was superb, carrying just enough weight of suggestion and confusion. I particularly liked the nightmare/haunting scenes. And my least favourite? That would have to be the ending. Confusing and not needed for a story that could so easily have stuck more to the original tale and had so much more impact. So, in summary. Book v Film? On this occasion? Book, book, book, book, book!
Oh, Do Write a Synopsis by Derin Attwood
Do write a synopsis, the form said. Blithely said. Everything I look at tells me that synopses are formidable, frightening. But they require it. I have no choice. Of course editors have different requirements for synopses. Some want eight pages, some want two. This one wants, oh let me look ... two hundred. Not pages, not paragraphs, words. What sort of idiotic editor wants 200 words? The title and, ‘please read my book, it’s the best,’ takes up most of that. To the dictionary. Synopsis, three dictionary results. Number three gives the best instruction, ‘a brief summary of a novel, etc’. Brief summary? Me do brief ? Not likely. Impossible in fact. That’s why I do novels. The thought of writing a 90,000 word novel gives me fewer worries than a synopsis. It took me that many words to make the novel exciting. How do they expect excitement? Nail-biting drama, sit on edge of your seat exhilarating thrill, with only two hundred
words? It sucks the life from the story. If a synopsis was exciting, we wouldn’t need to write novels. We’d just write synopses. Synopses. What an ugly word. Surely the plural of synopsis should be synopsi? Octopus, octopi, synopsis, synopsi. That makes such sense to me. Mind you, I was never great at spelling, that’s why I write on a computer. It has spellcheck, and even then I can get it wrong. Though I think the red underlining of misspelt words happens quite arbitrarily ... sometime after I’ve checked it through. The synopsis. I know I’m putting it off. I just don’t want to do it. And yet I know I have to. So get started, keep thinking, ‘brief ’. Just the highlights. Add in the end. Publishers want to know the end. That spoils a great story: read it all the way through. That’s why I wrote the whole thing. Well, I did a quick check and I have at least fifteen high points in the book. That’s about thirteen words per highlight. Impossible. I also have to introduce the characters and explain their relationships. I had trouble fitting that in 80,000 words. That’s why I added a sequel, book two with book three pending. Oh well, this is just putting off the inevitable. Let’s get started. Keep it short. Try to put in just the highest of the highlights. Cut some bits out, tighten a few sentences. There, that really wasn’t as hard as I thought. Well it was, but I did it. But, oh dear, that is 600 words. Now I
have to edit again. Oh good, that’s shorter. Well it is, but not short enough, 400 words. Cut some more. Get rid of the odd ‘really important’ highlight. It hurts, but a lot has gone, 350 words. Deep sigh. Do I have to mention the war? The deathbed scene? The flood? Well yes I do, but I can’t. Be brutal! This is going to take me longer to write than the book. Okay, let’s do a count, 250 words. Maybe I can do some creative punctuation. Ah, yes. Cut out a few ‘ands’ and ‘buts’. Add commas and semi-colons; does that sound more dramatic? Yes it does!! Another count. Yes, 200 words. Well no, 205. Will they notice? Probably. Trawl through, cut some more. ‘She is’ can become ‘she’s’, oh and there is a ‘he is’. Or should that be ‘there’s a he is’. Semantics, but I’m getting it down. At last, there are 200 words. I’ve done it. But I do think it’s boring. The lowest highlights are gone. My heart torn from my body, my baby molested and broken. Nevertheless, print it out and get it into the package. I’ve sweated blood, but it’s on file and I’ll never need to do it again. Till the next time. By the way, this took 636 words. Oh grief, they want a bio as well.
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by Andrew Ramsay Have you heard of Frank Miller? Neil Gaiman? Have you heard of Mark Millar? Of course you have. Miller wrote 300 and Sin City! Gaiman wrote Coraline, Stardust, The Graveyard Book and loads more novels. He’s a well-respected author, so he is! And Millar wrote Kick Ass and Wanted! In case you didn’t know, they all wrote many comics, too. What about Alan Moore?...oh wait, not sure I can do him. EVERYONE knows he wrote comics. I’ll say that again, EVERYONE! Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Constantine – Moore has probably had more of his creations adapted for film than any other comic writer. He also carries the distinction of insisting his name be removed from every single one of them (not really surprising if you’ve ever seen the shambles that is The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). He, correctly in the main (Watchmen was pretty good), feels not a single one has done justice to his work, or treated it with the respect accorded to other, more accepted works of literature (ie the ones without pictures). These people, among many others, have made reading comics as legitimate an
endeavour as reading ‘real’ books. Unfortunately not everyone seems to be aware of this fact. A friend of mine recently, wholly innocently but highly insultingly, referred to all comics/graphic novels as ‘cartoons’. (Frank Miller was asked recently if he had ever written any proper novels. He replied, “Many. They have pictures in them, too.”) I started reading comics when I was young, maybe about 10? My dad bought me a couple of comics from a book peddler; he bought me an issue of The Flash and one of Jonah Hex. The Flash was particularly good. A superhero who could run at incredible speeds. He was colourful, he was creative, he was fighting a talking, super intelligent gorilla. Fantastic! What more could a young boy want? I continued to badger my dad into buying me more comics until I was old enough to pick them up myself. By now I was buying as many as my meagre allowance would let me. The Flash continued to be my favourite, along with Spider-man, The Elementals, Jonah Hex, Captain Britain and 2000 AD. And then, in the mid-eighties, two graphic novels were published that changed everything. Watchmen, by Alan Moore, and The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller. In Watchmen, Moore imagined a world where people really did dress up in silly costumes and fight crime, and what the ramifications might mean for the rest of us. In doing so he deconstructs the entire superhero genre, exposing its flaws and its genius, the dubious morality of vigilantism and the terrifying prospect of true ‘power’, while also delivering a gigantic alien super squid that destroys New York City. In Dark Knight (yes, that’s where Christopher Nolan got the title) Miller presents us with an ageing, long retired Bruce Wayne/Batman drinking himself half to death as Gotham City descends into chaos and anarchy. This is Batman as fascist, as Wayne decides to get the old costume out for one last campaign of scaring/beating the crap out of anyone who doesn’t toe the
line. He also kicks the shit out of Superman, and Miller makes us love him for it. There is absolutely nothing in either of these novels that could be described as ‘for kids’ and together they heralded a more mature, literary comic age. At around the same time, Britain began to showcase some amazingly talented creators, both writers and artists. Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison to name a few, dubbed The British Invasion by US comic fans, they, along with Frank Miller and many others cemented the change in comics’ reputation. One of the large American comic companies DC, started a new imprint called ‘Vertigo’ and all their mature content comics were published from there. Jamie Delano started to write a comic called Hellblazer. The darkly supernatural and magical character John Constantine running around solving equally darkly supernatural and magical problems around England, whilst pissing everyone off with his ‘Fuck You’ attitude and two fingered salute. John Constantine immediately became my new hero (and looked nothing like fucking Keanu Reeves). Neil Gaiman introduced us to Morpheus, Lord of the Dream, along with the other six characters of the ‘Seven’ – Death, Delirium, Desire, Destiny, Despair and the prodigal son, Destruction in his Sandman series. The imagery conjured up by Gaiman’s storytelling ability is something that I’ve yet to experience within any ‘normal’ novel. Gaiman’s ability to create characters not of this world with such a humanly alive feeling to them left me feeling haunted with teenage passion and emotion that I could never wait for pocket money Friday for my next fix! (well, my older brother’s pocket money Friday as I just read his copy!) Grant Morrison delivered his sublime Doom Patrol and Animal Man. In the latter, he broke the ‘fourth wall’ in that he introduced himself to the story as ‘the writer’ and spoke with the title character. He explains to Animal Man that he is a comic book character and
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everything he had done recently had been dictated by Morrison. Animal Man becomes angry, shouting that he will kill ‘the writer’ if he doesn’t return his ‘life’. Morrison replies that he is making him say that even now. For a few years Vertigo titles and those from other publishing companies bore a warning on the cover that they held ‘mature content’ within their pages. Although this was an excellent marketing ploy to ensure every young boy out there would immediately purchase such issues, as time has gone on the need for such a ‘warning’ has diminished. Even the more traditional titles (Batman, Superman etc) have grown up over the last couple of decades, and it could genuinely be said of almost all comics these days that the writing, themes and plotting have become more ‘adult’ (not in a porn way, though some of Alan Moore’s recent work gets pretty close). Through British writers and artists becoming more prominent within the field, Britain in turn began importing some of the more obscure American comics, most without a pair of tights in sight. We were offered the delights of the Mexican/ American lovers Margarita Luisa Chascarillo and Esperanza Leticia Glass (or Maggie and Hopey as they’re better known) and also Luba, Chelo and Tonantzin within the pages of Love and Rockets. Written and drawn by Los Bros Hernandez. With Jaime’s beautifully drawn punks and Gilbert’s fully formed characters a must for any serious reader.
And, of course, thrown an insight into the world of uncomfortable madness by Daniel Clowes in Ghost World. If you’ve ever watched the film Blue Velvet or Eraserhead and remember how horrible parts were and how you just couldn’t look away? Well that’s what this comic made me feel like every time I picked it up. Comics today have enjoyed an increase in sales. Film adaptations have brought new readers to the world of comic geekdom. Some will remain when it, once again, ceases to be for the cool kids. There have been some good adaptations and some, well let’s be polite and say not so good. I think their main failing is, and this might be true for not just comics but all books alike, that once an actor has been cast in the role of the leading hero or favourite character, you take away the reader’s right to have their voice as that character’s. You take away their right to save the day, their chance to get the girl. All reading is escapism. Escapism into our private world. So although millions of people have read The Flash comics, only I have him with my voice, so I retain ownership of my definition of that hero. When it gets changed into a film and an actor, lets say Nicholas Cage, is cast as The Flash (and I could sit with you over a few pints and spend countless hours explaining why that just would not work. Remember, I am a geek!) he becomes
Comics today have enjoyed an increase in sales. Film adaptations have brought new readers to the world of comic geekdom. Some will remain when it, once again, ceases to be for the cool kids.
someone who is nowhere near the character I had in my head. Even those who wouldn’t know a comic if it gave them a thousand paper cuts could probably guess that Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, Iron Man etc started life in the funny books. But I wonder if they’d be surprised, dismayed or mystified to learn of some other recent adaptations. Road to Perdition, directed by Sam Mendes and starring Paul Newman and Tom Hanks, anyone? How about A History of Violence, directed by David Cronenberg and starring Viggo Mortensen? The aforementioned Ghost World? American Splendour? Oldboy? No? Surely they’d know that the magnificent The Walking Dead started as, and continues to be, just as magnificent a comic series? Maybe one day I’ll tell you about some more comic book theories or just sit down with my half broken PC and vent spleen about something else. Remember - comics aren’t just for kids. They’re for you lot, too.
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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. Twelve questions on books and writing. Plus the Joker – a wild thirteenth card which can reveal so much. Be honest, what do you put on YOUR chips? Your intrepid reporter, Jill
Which was your favourite childhood book? The Narnia cycle.
Where do you write? Anywhere I happen to be.
Emma Donoghue Born in Dublin in 1969, Emma studied English and French at University College, Dublin. She moved to England in 1990 and went on to gain a PhD from Cambridge University. She became a writer at the age of 23. Her novels include the award-winning Hood (1995); Slammerkin (2000), a historical novel; Life Mask (2004), which tells the true story of three famous Londoners in the late eighteenth century; and The Sealed Letter (2008), joint winner of the 2009 Lambda Literary Award (Lesbian Fiction). Her short story collections include Kissing the Witch (1997), a collection of re-imagined fairytales; The Woman who Gave Birth to Rabbits (2002); and Touchy Subjects (2006), stories about taboos. Her non-fiction includes Passions Between Women: British Lesbian Culture 1668-1801 (1993), a survey of printed texts on lesbian themes published between the Restoration and the end of the eighteenth century. She is also the editor of What Sappho Would Have Said: Four Centuries of Love Poems Between Women (1997); and The Mammoth Book of Lesbian Short Stories (1999). Her most recent novel is Room (2010), shortlisted for the 2010 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. She now lives in Canada, with Chris, Finn and Una. www.emmadonoghue.com
Which was the book that changed your life?
Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion taught me what should have been obvious, that I could be an out lesbian and a great writer at the same time.
What objects are on your desk, and why?
Every bloody thing I’m trying to keep out of my small kids’ mouths or am meaning to file away... plus some beautiful wooden bowls I can’t see because everything else obscures them.
Short stories or novels which is more you?
Can’t choose, won’t choose, and that goes for plays and nonfiction too.
Do you have a word or phrase that you most overuse? Hilarious.
Is there a book you were supposed to love but didn’t?
Many - the chemistry is most mysterious couldn’t stand The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, for instance.
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What have you learned from writing?
We’re here on earth to let out the stories in our heads that no one else can tell.
Which book do you wish you’d written?
Today? Neal Stephenson’s The Baroque Cycle.
E-books - nemesis or genesis?
Haven’t read one yet but all in favour.
Which book/writer deserves to be better known?
Catherine Austen, Walking Backwards.
What are you working on at the moment?
Wading through email up to my eyeballs ... but also a novel about a murder in 1870s San Francisco.
Which nostalgic snack do you wish they still made?
Acid drops like I remember them from Ireland circa 1975
fantasy. Robyn acknowledges this creative outpouring, ‘vomiting it felt like’, was due to her loathing of the whole corporate world, business initiatives, gold stars and politics. She quit and studied Creative Writing at Sussex University. Brethren had now become a trilogy, and after 13 rejections, an agent signed her the day before graduation. After an initial round of publisher rejections, Robyn quit her teaching job and rewrote the novel, knowing it was her last chance. After a heated auction, the Brethren Trilogy found a wonderful home at Hodder & Stoughton. Robyn lives and writes in Brighton.
Which was your favourite childhood book?
Always a tough one, but I’ll go with The Lion the Witch & the Wardrobe.
Where do you write?
In my study, straight on to the computer.
Which was the book that changed your life?
The Trial of the Templars, by historian Malcolm Barber. It was the book that inspired the Brethren Trilogy and that made me realise what a treasure chest of stories history is.
What objects are on your desk, and why?
Other than my computer, just a book of postit notes to help me keep track of things when I write and a coaster for my thousand cups of tea.
Which book should be on the national curriculum?
Any well-written history of the British Isles something that was totally lacking in my own schooling.
Robyn Young Born in Oxford with the blood of a Welsh/ Irish mother and English/Scottish father, Robyn’s own discovery of the magic of storytelling came first through her grandfather. At 22, while working as a financial consultant, she began writing a novel. After six months, she had 350,000 words of a
Do you have a word or phrase that you most overuse?
If you’re talking the spoken rather than the written word then I go through phases. At the moment I’m afraid it’s WTF?!
Is there a book you were supposed to love but didn’t?
James Joyce’s Ulysses.
What have you learned from writing? How to make sense of the world.
Which book do you wish you’d written?
I don’t think I have one - only books that I want to write in future. I guess I’d be pretty chuffed though if I’d come up with the first season of 24.
E-books - nemesis or genesis?
At the moment I feel nemesis - but with the possibility for genesis. We’re all going to have to wait and see.
Which book/writer deserves to be better known?
Ros Barber - a truly talented poet who can also deliver compelling performances of her own work, a rare skill.
What are you working on at the moment?
Book 2 of the Insurrection Trilogy, based on the life of Robert Bruce.
What do you put on your toast?
I don’t often eat it - but when I do, it has to be Marmite!
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Genre My Bollocks - The Truth about some Line and Twitch and Wardrobe by Derek Duggan
and know your audience. there say they won’t deal with Science Fiction It’s the golden rule. genreIt seems pretty simple and straightforward, and if you haven’t already been short listed It’s of paramount doesn’t it? Not quite as straightforward as not for the Booker twenty five times how do you importance. It is interfering with yourself while dangling by convince them in the first instance that it’s neck from the clothes rail, but clear-cut anything else? Especially when the premise something that you your none the less. And yet, it’s not, is it? is so similar to the movie The Island which should never forget. Obviously most books will have some was released in January 2006 and is positively sort of crossover between genres – A Science Fiction. Never ever have a historical novel may also have a mystery in it, So now you’re stuck – if you give it to or some romance, or a serial killer, or auto someone who deals primarily with breaking wank while hanging asphyxiation, and that’s fine. But what new writers into the Science Fiction market, yourself in the erotic if you’ve got one of the divisive genres mixed how will you reach all those people in wardrobe – no matter in there? the Religious and Inspirational Fiction How many people say they don’t read demographic? And what happens when how much of a good Science Fiction or Fantasy but then can’t wait your second book doesn’t involve clones idea it seems at the to tell you how good The Handmaid’s Tale by but is instead a heart wrenching tale about a time. I’m telling you, Margaret Atwood is? Or Nineteen Eighty repressed butler who fancies Nanny McPhee? The Road? What are your SF agent and publisher going it will only end in Four?Let’sOr take Never Let Me Go by Kazuo to do with that? And this is exactly the sort of tears. And possible Ishiguro as an example. It made it onto the tension which could lead to your judgement death. But surely Man Booker Prize short list in 2005, a fact that becoming so impaired that before you know if things went a bit what happens when your second book doesn’t involve wrong the rail would clones but is instead a heart wrenching tale about a break, you might repressed butler who fancies Nanny McPhee? think. Well, they know how to build their is proudly emblazoned on the cover, but that’s it you’re heading off to the wardrobe with a open to all genres so it doesn’t tell us much. It in one hand and a bottle of Baby Oil in wardrobes strong in was also short listed for the Arthur C Clarke belt the other while thinking – If it was good enough Bangkok as seventies Award in 2006, a fact that is not on the cover, for Grasshopper… has to be Science Fiction to qualify for But this is nothing compared to the TV favourite David sothat,it right? Well, it depends on who you talk other half of the rule – Know your audience. Carradine found out to. I have found it listed as General Fiction, The obvious answer to this is simply – Do to his expense in 2009. Literary Fiction, Religious and Inspirational you like it? Honestly? Would you have picked But there’s another rule - one that’s supposed to be almost as important, a tenet that you ignore at your peril. Know your
Fiction and Modern Fiction. So here’s the problem – let’s say you’re a debut novelist and you’ve written this book – who do you send it to? A lot of people out
it up from the new releases shelf in your bookshop and bought it? If you would, and you’re a regular book buyer, then that’s that, isn’t it? I mean, you can’t know your audience
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any better than that, can you? As an annoying
say things like – Oh crumbs! – or – Crikey!
scenes of violence (which there isn’t, really)
little animated gerbil might say – Simples!
– when they find themselves in a sticky
but there’s no similar notice on the back of Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Or
But wait! What if the protagonist of your
situation exactly like they do in hit YA TV
book is a person between the age of fourteen
shows like The Inbetweeners or Skins. Or you
and twenty-one (roughly)? If that’s the case,
could be asked to tone down or take out any
now your novel isn’t just a novel any more
violence because teenagers never ever stab
– now it could very well be a Young Adult
each other or anything – oh, and don’t forget
novel. Now, even though you’ve written it as
to take out any sex, because teenagers don’t
a book you would like to buy and read, you’re
do that either.
not the target audience any more and as such
Or you might not – the whole thing is
you might come under a bit of pressure to
pretty random. For example, on the back of
take out any swear words you’ve got in there
Charlie Higson’s YA book The Enemy it says –
on the grounds that young adults normally
WARNING – Contains strong language and
Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh. So where does that leave us? Well, it looks like you’ve inadvertently written a Science Fiction novel for Young Adults where no one swears and everyone is nice to each other. Holy fucking shit, Batman, is this really the novel you set out to write? How inviting does the wardrobe look now?
Little did he know, inspiration was about to hit him. ‘Inspiration’ by Matt Shaw
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In Praise of Virtual Friends by Catriona Troth
Shortly after the last edition of WWJ was published, I met three friends for lunch in Sarastro’s, possibly London’s most eccentric restaurant. Right from the start it was exactly what you would want from a lunch with girlfriends – giggly, happy, intimate and flowing with chat. Nothing unusual in that, except that none of the four of us would ever have met if it had not been for an on-line writers’ group. I had met two of the other women before but not the third, and none of the others had ever met in the flesh at all. Yet we all knew each other in a way that perhaps even our nearest and dearest never would – as writers. I have grown increasingly tired, over the past few years, of the periodic flare up – as predictable as flu – of pundits falling over each other to tell us how Facebook has devalued the entire notion of friendship - as if we are too stupid to distinguish between some anonymous individual pinging us on a website, and someone with whom we have
a meaningful and lasting exchange of ideas and feelings. Like Harry meeting Sally, these pundits insist: there can be no real friendship in cyberspace. Well, I think they are wrong, and this is why. I made my first Internet friend way back in 1997. We had just got our first proper computer and were newly connected to the Internet. I was mildly obsessed at the time with a certain television programme, and my husband introduced me to the joys of alt.tv newsgroups. (For those of you too young to remember, these were what you made do with before Facebook groups were invented.) One thing led to another and before I knew it, I had a created a webpage dedicated to (ahem) a certain Welshman with a very nice bedside manner… And that was when Aly came on the scene. Aly is a Russian living in California, who happened to share my obsession. Trouble was, her computer at the time was an aging Mac and certain aspects of my website just weren’t working for her. She contacted me to try and work out why, and in the course of a long weekend (during which we signally failed to solve her technical difficulties) we began to chat. And we discovered that we had all sorts of other things in common (not least a taste in books, which is always a good start). We went on chatting online for about six months. Then Aly announced that she was coming to London and would I like to meet? Well, even back then I understood the risks well enough. So I suggested that we met at my office and went for lunch somewhere nice and public. I can still remember walking down the stairs to meet her, and seeing this woman with a mass of hair tied back with a black velvet ribbon, wearing the most beautiful smile. As I reached the bottom of the stairs, we gave each other a huge hug and went off talking, as though carrying straight on from our last email. For a period of about three years, Aly came through London regularly. We went to the theatre. She came to my home and met my family. And, critically, we talked about
writing. Then her reasons for coming to London fizzled out. Twelve years on and we rarely see each other. But now we have that wonderful bit of technology called Skype to keep us in touch. And given the chance, we will still talk half the night – much like some of my old university friends. Since then I have met at least ten other people with whom my first encounter was on the web. And the experience has been overwhelmingly positive. That’s all very well, you might say. But aren’t you undermining your own argument? These are people you’ve met. So technically, they aren’t virtual friends any more, are they? But that misses the point. With all these people, the essence of the friendship was already there, firmly established back there in cyberspace. Meeting in the flesh was lovely – but not a prerequisite of friendship. And that gives me confidence that the friendship I feel with others that I haven’t yet met is just as real. So what do I think is a prerequisite of friendship? Well, a shared common interest is a good start. I’m sure the same principles would work in other fields, but this is a writers’ magazine, so let’s talk about on-line writers’ groups. All of us who show our work to other people know that it can be an incredibly intimate act. Showing it to a stranger is often easier than showing it to our nearest and dearest – safer, certainly less embarrassing. Nonetheless, by the time you have exchanged critiques of your work with someone else a few times, you start to know rather a lot about them – even before you know their real names or what country they live in. You get an idea of someone from the way they write. Even more so, you get an idea of them from the way they offer criticism. I think you very quickly get a sense of the people you trust with your work (and they are not the people who sycophantically praise your every word, whatever transient pleasure that may provide). The people you learn to trust are the ones who take a scalpel to your work and, wielding it delicately, make it better. When you read their crits, you think, ‘Shit,
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why didn’t I see that?’ and rush off to start editing. I have learnt more, and my writing has improved more, in the three years I have been part of an on-line writing community than in decades of slogging on my own. But anonymous crits on their own do not a friendship make. You start by reaching out beyond that. Sharing a joke, or a book recommendation. A moan about work. The fact that your child has a stinking cold and that looking after them is ruining your writing time (anyone else would secretly think you a selfish bugger, but a fellow writer understands!) And gradually, the net of things you have in common grows wider. Until something like the real you emerges from behind your cyber-self. An oft-quoted criterion for ‘real’ friendship is ‘the person that you phone up at three in the morning when you need a shoulder to cry on’. Well, on that basis, I don’t think I’ve ever had a friend in my life. (Three o’clock in the morning? Are you kidding me? Don’t these people have jobs to go to? Children to care for?) But I do have people that I will email at three o’clock in the morning – and know that if they are not online then, they will be in a few hours and will get back to me with words of support and encouragement. I can remember thinking, when I first met Aly, that this was someone that, under no possible circumstances, would I have met in the real world. I had just spent ten years commuting back and forth to London, living in an area where I had no roots, my friends from my previous life scattered to the four winds. Now I had two small children and was stuck in that inevitable rut where every conversation revolves around children. Aly made me feel connected with the world again. My parents’ generation were the first that moved in large numbers away from their family roots. Typically, husbands travelled to find jobs and wives went with them, to new towns, new countries – even, like my mother, to new continents. My grandmother’s generation, for the most part, had a network of mothers, sisters, aunts and cousins who supported each other, helped out in times of need, and provided a dependable social circle to ward off isolation. My mother’s generation lost all that. So have we, most of us. But we have gained the ability to create our own social networks, beyond the boundaries of geography. And I for one am immeasurably grateful.
So, was I your first Internet friendship too? I think so. Though around about the same
time, I had a young woman from the same group come and stay with me. She was a student from Texas and she was coming to California to take a summer course. Her mother was completely horrified, not because she had met me via the Internet, but because I was Russian. I think she imagined I was a spy who would try and turn her daughter into a Soviet mole.
What made you brave enough to suggest that you and I meet up?
I don’t think it ever occurred to me that I was being brave. Maybe because I had already moved countries several times and had to find friends among complete strangers. I never thought that you might turn out to be an assassin or a mass murderer. I thought the worst that could happen was that we might bore each other a little. By that time, though, we had exchanged views about so much: love, honour, values, adventure, culture, difficult choices, losses, fun, the love of writing, Mac vs PC! How could we possibly be bored with each other? You know, we live in a time when the model for what makes for friendship is changing and of course that could make some people uncomfortable. Friendship is not any more about just the people we grew up with or the people we live near, with whom we are in the habit of feeling safe. After all how much do we really know about the people we see every day? Every time someone, God forbid, goes on a shooting spree, his neighbours say, ‘but he was such a nice, quiet man.’ But when you e-talk about something that really matters to you, and at length, as we did, you reveal a lot about your real self.
Exactly. I think that, with all the friendships I have made on-line, there has been that intellectual connection first. A meeting of minds. That’s important to both of us, I think?
Yes! And you’re not necessarily going to find it simply among the people you happen share geography with. You have to widen the net a bit. If what you are seeking is an intellectual connection first, and a shared interest and a take on things, then Internet can connect you with people you might never have found otherwise.
In my case, the other Internet group I am involved with revolves around the love of books by one particular author. It is an international group, all of whom knew each other first on line. But we also made the effort to meet in person. For instance a group of us Californians met up, and three of us got on so well that now we have lunch together once every two months. We even went to Paris together! What you learn, I think, is that on the whole most people are very nice. And that friends can be found in all kinds of ways. And if technology makes that easier, that is a good thing.
Do you have a story about cyber-friendship you’d like to share? Do write and tell us. The best entries (500 words or less) submitted by March 14th will be published in the April edition of Words with Jam.
Be Safe, Not Paranoid
As the mother of teenagers who are as at home on the Internet as fish are in the sea, I am well aware of the dangers inherent in making contacts over the web. But there are ways of keeping yourself safe: You can hide your identity behind words, but it is much more difficult to practice deception when you can see someone’s face. Video calls on Skype (or equivalent) give you the chance to talk to someone face to face, and without giving out phone numbers. If you are going to meet someone, make sure it is in a public place. Ensure someone else knows who you are going to meet, where and for how long. Be expected somewhere afterwards. Anyone vulnerable should always take someone responsible with them the first time they meet anyone new. And remember, predators are patient. The above advice applies equally the first time you agree to go anywhere private with someone!
Quite Small Stories | 28
Keys and Locks and Open Doors by JW Hicks
‘Quiet the dog, house the pony and bar the doors against the dark.’ Each night we heard and obeyed Pa’s telling and each morning we woke safe, forgetting the terrors of the night in the new sun’s warm shine and our breakfast bread. Then Ma sickened bad and Pa carted her to Biddy Makepeace’s for a laying on of hands. ‘Remember,’ he instructed Rory, ‘Be sure and lock up tight come nightfall.’ ‘I promise faithful Pa,’ I heard my older brother say. But come the dark he was out sparking Lucy Lovedance and Sim was left in charge. And Sim paid no heed to tellings. ‘Waste of time, locking every door, sister. Sick of pissing in pee-pots, me. And double sick of cleaning them each morn.’ I begged him do as our father said, but he only laughed, did Sim. So I took the bairns to bed with me, making certain sure my door was locked and the shutters firmly barred. And in the morning on rising to oven the bread I found the outer door wide open and no sight nor sign of Sim. When Rory rolled in lazy-eyed and rough, I told him all and he went in search. Was still out when Pa ‘rived home at noon. I recounted Pa the tale and he heard me out grim faced, but shook his head when I asked if he’d go hunting for our Sim. ‘No point, girl,’ he said. ‘Now get the dinner served.’ Rory came back as we were finishing the stew. Pa cuffed him hard about the head and wouldn’t let him speak or eat the portion I’d kept by. Then Pa coughed and cleared his throat, and when we looked at him he told us Ma had died with the sinking of the day. Padre Filton had her resting in the church, he said, to be dug in on the morrow. Then he handed me the ring of household keys. Rory watched all squint eyed and pinched, knowing that by
rights as eldest they should have passed to him. I held to the keys, my two hands fighting the cold weight threatening to drag them to the beaten earth. And as I clutched them so I studied them, seeing each key large or small was welded firmly to the iron circlet. Now I held in my hands the keys to every chest and every door within Pa’s holding. My responsibility till he relieved me of the charge. I was the guardian, he said, seeing as I had a mind to keep the young ’uns safe and obey his words full strength, unlike some who should know better. At first light Pa stowed the spades and lifted the girls into the cart. May took charge of the reins while me and Pa and Rory walked holding to the sides. When we reached the graveyard me and Pa and Rory took turns to open up the flinty ground while the bairns ranged about for pretties to place inside the grave. Pa and Padre placed her in, and Padre said the binding words, my three sisters mewling and moaning and dropping in daisy buds onto the muslin shroud. Then us young ones sang the binding hymn, though my sisters mumbled through the words. Rory and me, we filled back the gritty soil and watched as Pa and Padre Filton laid the blessed ironstone slab athwart her lying place to keep her safe. And when it was done and Pa had paid the burial toll we set out straight for home. This time Eve and Silence held the reins and all else walked to save the aging mule. Once home I warmed the stew pot and we ate. After food Pa and Rory worked the land while I, with my sisters’ help, cleaned and sewed and baked. At day’s end Pa watched to see how I locked the doors and shutters against the coming of the night and nodded satisfied when I had it done. And that night with the keys hard beneath my thin flock pillow, I heard the voices clearly for the first time. They sounded loud and plain outside my shuttered window abegging me to open
And that night with the keys hard beneath my thin flock pillow, I heard the voices clearly for the first time. They sounded loud and plain outside my shuttered window abegging me to open up and come to them. And one of the voices was my brother Sim’s. Another sounded lighter, like my Ma’s. But mindful of my father’s words I held to the keys and kept the shutters barred. And gradually the voices drifted quiet and sleep took me down.
Quite Small Stories | 29
As an ex-teacher, story telling was and is Jane’s favourite pastime. Her stories let the reader walk the strange worlds that inhabit her mind.
up and come to them. And one of the voices was my brother Sim’s. Another sounded lighter, like my Ma’s. But mindful of my father’s words I held to the keys and kept the shutters barred. And gradually the voices drifted quiet and sleep took me down. Ever after, it was as if Ma and Sim had never been. Pa never spoke of them, turning aside all questions and he never spoke again to Rory save for yes and no. After a month of this silence Rory left to marry Lucy Lovedance and spend his strength in her father’s flour mill, taking the swollen-hocked pony as his due and leaving us the mule. I watched Pa’s face set harder, carven lines of wrinkles digging valleys in his leathered skin and I went outside all day to take my brother’s work-share then cooked and baked all eve. My sister May took duty for the house and twins all day. From the very time that Rory left our home Pa shifted all his custom to Marlin’s mill. Though being over the hills and deep into the next valley it was a longer trek and the mule far from strong. For me, most nights, the voices came; the voices Pa said were only in my head. He gave me quintain boiled in honey to make me sleep but the taste was harsh and cast a dullness over me the following day. I pretended to drink to keep from causing strife. My questions grew, filling my brain to bursting point till at last I took my thoughts to Padre Filton in the secrecy of Disclosing Hour. He refused to look me in the eye and talked of devils and temptations. Then he broke the holy pact and betrayed the questions to my Pa. And Pa bound my mouth with garlic cloth, beat me till my skin was bruised and split, and snatched back the keys till I could walk again. And with the keys in Pa’s hands I found that I slept quiet, nights. I heard no sounds, quested not for dimly recognised voices, but only slept soft sleep. When I was fit again he gave me back my guardianship of the keys and the first night I slept upon their bulk I heard scratching at my wooden shutters and the moaning of what might have been the wind. At first light, on going to the running spring to cleanse my chamber pot I walked the long way round, past my bedroom window and saw the marks. I put my hand to them and felt score marks bitten deep into the ebony-wood shutters, fresh marks with splinter edges and smelling of new wood. The chill of night came on me despite the warming of the sun. But I kept my counsel and Pa had replaced the wood by noon. That night I kept the dog inside my room, putting him at the foot of my bed. And though
I heard a lone voice keening and crying out my name the dog he didn’t stir. The weeks turned and I learned to sleep with stopping in my ears. May and the bairns cast off their childhood with frightening speed and Pa rarely spoke outside the meeting house and took to reading sermon books. But I would not go to meetings anymore and Pa ignored my backsliding. As long as I did my work and kept safety on my mind he seemed satisfied. Then Widow Range took sick. She and her daughter lived a scant two fields from us. Tildy asked my help to nurse her and Pa said I was to go. So I gave him back the keys and went to sit with Tildy. But like my Ma the widow sank fast and died swift as the sun did sink. Tildy begged for me to go to church with her and stand vigil till the morn. I went with her and Padre Filton into the church as night fell down upon us. That long night passed in dull-dead numbing coldness. I heard no outside sounds, no moans and no skirl of wind but only the praying padre thanking his god for the ironwood and ironstone that kept us safe from harm. We buried Widow Range, like Ma, soon as the sun rose above the mountains. Me and Tildy did the digging but it took all three of us to drag the heavy holding stone across the grave. Padre wore his leather gauntlets but me and Tildy had to do without, and sore rough bleeding work it was. But still he took the full toll into his strong-gloved hands when the burial was done. He took us in his wagon and dropped us to our homes as he went on his praying rounds. And that night with the keys once again beneath my head I heard voices calling in the dark and the loudest one sounded like the Widow Range. I took care to go to Meeting with Pa and the bairns the next meeting morn but left the service before time, pleading my bowels. I walked then to Widow Range’s grave and saw her capping stone was out of line. I’d helped lay it and knew full well it did not sit the same. And now, tonight, I sit and wait the voices. My shutters are open wide, my bedroom door unlocked, my binding keys thrown deep within the spring. The house is open to what may come and I am also ready. I will heed this call. I will leave the confines of my father’s house and join that which waits outside. And as I go I call to the bairns, my sisters, to come and join the free.
Quite Small Stories | 30
Decorated Hands by Susan Howe
It was the longest train journey I had ever made without my husband
“Excuse me,” I said.
and I was bored. I’d dozed, looked at the scenery, had breakfast, read
She raised her eyebrows.
my book, had lunch and studied the other passengers, particularly the
“I couldn’t help noticing your hands.”
family in the forward seats who were playing Monopoly as though their future depended it. Lucy was scheming and avaricious, Ben played fast and loose, Father’s pension hinged on the outcome and Mother tried to keep the peace at the expense of her own game. It was the world in microcosm; predictable and depressing. Eight stops punctuated the tedium; brief oases in a blurred landscape. At the fifth I spotted an elegant, middle-aged woman on the platform. She was slim with impeccable taste in natural fibres and muted earth colours, had short grey hair and a discreet, natural tan.
She held them up, palms upwards, and I stared at them with a mixture of fascination and revulsion. “Amazing, aren’t they?” she said. “Each section of pattern represents a different charm or skill.” “Is it permanent?” I winced, sensing the needle, pulsing in and out. She was amused by my obvious discomfort. “No, not quite. I have it redrawn from time to time, when it starts to fade.” “But what made you have it done in the first place?”
Travelling light with one small hemp bag, she entered my carriage. She
“It helps me with my work,” she replied, extending her palms across
stopped at the seat facing mine, its back to the shrieking family, and
the table. “See - this pattern confers speed,” her polished fingernail
inquired in a soft, cultured accent whether it was free.
traced the maze of lines and symbols, “and this one, dexterity.”
As she settled down, retrieving a thick paperback titled ‘Illusion as Art’ from her bag, I caught a glimpse of the palms of her hands. In
She changed hands. “This one gives me precision and this, strength and purpose.”
that fleeting moment I got the impression they were covered in tattoos
I added the information together but failed to draw a conclusion.
and my sinews tightened at the very idea. She glanced up, caught my
“So what kind of work do you do?”
eye and smiled. The refreshment trolley rattled towards us between the seats and eventually drew alongside. My companion chose and paid for her
“I’m a magician,” she said, laughing again at my astonishment. Her hands fluttered together in front of me, twisting and curling up and away, into the ether. “I make things disappear!”
drink and I used the opportunity to get a better look at her hands.
I sat back in my seat, lost for words.
They were extraordinary; a dense pattern of red-brown marks from
“Would you like to see?”
her wrist to the tips of her fingers, seeming at odds with the subtlety
I nodded eagerly. Things were looking up.
of her general appearance. I was intrigued. For the next ten minutes I struggled to keep my eyes on my book,
Over the next half hour or so, my new friend entertained me with
but curiosity finally got the better of me and, when she finished her
her repertoire of magic and illusions. Her hands stroked and carved
coffee and replaced the lid, I leaned forward.
the air, weaving shadows that mesmerised and convinced me of the
“It helps me with my work,” she replied, extending her palms across the table. “See - this pattern confers speed,” her polished fingernail traced the maze of lines and symbols, “and this one, dexterity.” She changed hands. “This one gives me precision and this, strength and purpose.”
Quite Small Stories | 31
Susan Howe is a semi-retired graphic designer living in rural Herefordshire. She has been writing short stories for several years and intends to include many of them in a three-author anthology, Triclops. She enjoys entering competitions and writing flash and micro fiction, with minor successes. Some of her stories can be found on her blog: https://howesue. wordpress.com.
powers held within the intricate patterns. The family’s squabbling over acquisitions and penalties faded to a background murmur until we were the only two, cocooned within our perfect circle. At last she began to tire and, with a final flourish, put her props away. I thanked her for the entertainment, adding that she’d held me spellbound in a way I hadn’t experienced since childhood, and she smiled modestly.
I groped in my memory for an image and found a haze of shifting shapes that refused to stay still long enough for me to catch them.
round in panic. “Excuse me,” said the mother, “but is everything all right?” “Yes - I mean no,” I said. “No, it’s not. Some of my things are missing. Did you see anything?” “Like what, dear?” “Like the woman opposite stealing my bag and jewellery!” She frowned. “No dear. I”m sorry. It’s all been quiet.” She glanced at her family for confirmation and they shrugged. “But she was here. She got on at the last stop.” I was almost shouting. The boy sniggered. Now they were all staring at me as if I’d gone completely mad. I looked round at other passengers for support, but received none. They turned away, embarrassed.
“Time for a nap,” she said, folding her hands together and closing her eyes. I agreed. I felt drowsy, my body sluggish and begging for sleep; the sustained level of concentration had left me exhausted. I settled down in the corner of the seat, my bag comfortably arranged under my arm, and drifted off with decks of cards fanning out into the distance. I don’t know what woke me; perhaps a variation in the rhythm of the train or an announcement from the Guard. My eyelids were unusually heavy and I forced them open, aware of a change. As I straightened, I saw the seat opposite was empty, all evidence of its occupant gone. We were no longer moving and the family in front were asleep, reading, plugged into an ipod or furiously exercising their thumbs on an electronic game pad. I shifted around with an odd sense that something was missing, but gave myself a shake and got up to stretch my legs. Daylight was fading and my hand went automatically to my wrist for the time, but found it bare. Puzzled, I stepped out of my seat to search the floor below. Nothing there either. Then, with a pounding heart, I saw my bag had vanished. My hand flew to my throat in alarm, only to discover that my only valuable piece of jewellery, a heavy antique gold chain, had gone too. My neighbours looked at me with curiosity as I spun round and
Mother laid a soothing hand on my arm. “What did she look like?” I groped in my memory for an image and found a haze of shifting shapes that refused to stay still long enough for me to catch them. Confused, I gave up the chase and scanned the floor, hoping for an answer. A tiny sliver of red caught my eye, sticking out from under my foot. It looked like the rounded corner of a card. I bent down and peeled it off the sole of my shoe as my unfocused gaze wandered to the stationary train across the platform. Through the window I saw a young man leaning forward, apparently examining the hands of the woman opposite. As I watched, she turned towards me and smiled. It was warm, friendly, familiar. I flipped the card over in my hand, expecting a playful instruction to go to jail or back three spaces, but it was an ordinary playing card the Queen of Diamonds. I closed my eyes and something swirled and sharpened at the edge of my mind as our train glided from the station. “She had decorated hands,” I said. My legs buckled and I slumped back into my seat. “She did magic.” Realisation gripped me by the throat and choked the words as they formed. “She made things disappear...”
Short Stories | 32
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.
1st Prize - £250 2nd Prize - £100 3rd Prize - £50
Closing Date 29th April 2011
All three winning entries will be published in the June 2011 issue of Words with JAM.
Competitions | 33
Judge: Andrew Crofts We are delighted to have the talented Andrew Crofts as our judge for this competition. Andrew has been a full time author, (fiction and non-fiction), and ghostwriter for forty years. He is the author of The Freelance Writer’s Handbook, (Piatkus Books), and Ghostwriting, (A&C Black). Ghostwriting was quoted extensively by Robert Harris in his recent bestseller The Ghost, now a major film by Roman Polanski starring Ewan McGregor as the ghostwriter. Andrew has ghosted around eighty titles, many of which have been international best sellers, including Sold by Zana Muhsen (Sphere). www.andrewcrofts.com
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. • Please do not put your name anywhere on your prose as it will be judged anonymously. • Please download and complete the entry form at www. wordswithjam.co.uk/entry.
To submit online • Pay via Paypal and add the Paypal payment reference number to the top of the first page of your entry, above the title, and on the entry form. • Attach entry form and entry as a Word Document to an email with the subject ‘First Page Competition 2011’ and send to email@example.com
To submit via Snail Mail • Write out a cheque made payable to ‘J Smith’ for the correct amount in Sterling. • Stick the cheque and a copy of your entry form in an envelope and post it (with a stamp on!) to 'First Page Competition 2011’, Quinn Publications, 2 Malt Kiln Road, Newbiggin, Ulverston, Cumbria, LA12 0TU, United Kingdom • Attach entry form and entry as a Word Document to an email with the subject ‘First Page Competition 2011’ and send to firstname.lastname@example.org. • If you really want to submit the actual entry via Snail Mail, print it off on A4 paper, 1.5 line space in either Times or Arial and stick it in the envelope too, but it’s preferable if you email it so we have a digital copy. • Postal entries need to be postmarked 29th April 2011 to meet the deadline criteria
A Few Rules
It is vital that you read the competition rules before submitting. There aren't many! • We will not return or keep entries after the winners have been announced. Please keep your own copy. • Entries must be in English. • Stories must be previously unpublished either online or in print, and must not have been accepted for publication elsewhere. We do, however, accept stories that have been on critique forums or are currently submitted to another competition. • Online entries will be acknowledged within 48 hours, when we have had chance to give them a reference on our system. If you require acknowledgement of receipt of postal entries, please enclose an SASE. • No alterations may be made to an entry once it has been submitted. • Copyright remains with the author. However, Words with JAM retain the right to publish the winning entries in its magazine and on its website, and for general PR for a period not exceeding 18 months. • Entries from regular columnists of Words with JAM, or any person assisting in the judging process, will not be accepted. • Prizes will be paid within 30 days of publication of the winning entries either by bank transfer, cheque or Paypal.
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
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
Random Stuff | 35
Shortlist: Do not judge me and do not feel sorry for me. Instead, look deep into my eyes and be surprised by what you see. For I am happy. Now that I am not you. Helen Williams
with Danny Gillan
Outside the cameras still peer down on us but their lenses are cracked and dirty. I order the curtains to close. Soon we will escape and drive beyond these dim streets, across hills and rivers, never to be seen again.
Okay, I see. It’s like that, is it? There I was, an innocuous little competition minding my own business, with maybe twenty or thirty of you entering me every issue (that doesn’t sound right). I was a happy competition back then, I was able to manage my time well, maintain a healthy diet, hang out with my buddies over in the astrology pages. Yes, maybe I wished I was a bit more popular, but I had come to terms with my niche-ness and was content with my not-a-lot.
And then, since it was our birthday last December, I thought I’d be kind to my regulars and offer a wee prize last issue. You know, just to say thanks for being there.
Well, fuck me. One whiff of a prize and you all scutter out of the writing recesses, don’t you? Now you love me. Now you all want to be my friend. Nearly 800 entries. 800! Do you have any clue how exhausting it is to be entered 800 times in less than two months? There are bits of me I don’t care to name publicly that are in serious danger of falling off. Actually falling off! Obviously I assume you’ll all be back for my next competition. You know, when it’s just for fun again, without the prize. Yeah, of course you will. Bloody fair-weather bunch of bastards. Anyway, last issue I asked for your best final lines to a story and, as you may have gathered, we had a prize to give away. A quite magnificent prize, as it turned out. The ridiculously generous Ruth Saberton donated a place on one of her much sought-after four day writing retreats, in the gorgeous environs of Polperro in deepest Cornwall. And it seems you kind of liked that idea. To the tune of 800 literal pains in my… (that’s enough of that. ED). Not only did Ruth throw in the course itself, but she included accommodation, food and drink. If you bunch of ingrates had failed to be so bloody talented I might have got to keep it for myself. But no, you had to get all clever, and witty, and literate, and interesting, didn’t you? I may actually hate you. I managed to whittle you down to a long list of thirty-five, from which Ruth herself picked the short-list of ten, listed below, and ultimately the winner. So, congratulations go, in no particular, to …
By three o`clock, she had packed the parrot in a crate and sent it back to the Amazon jungle. Watching Brian making her pancakes, she realised that he`d never believe her. But there would be other Wednesdays.
I nodded once to myself, then opened my eyes and walked on. No-one was there, but I could still feel his hand in mine. I left my flip-flops in the middle of the ruin as my offering. Calum Kerr When I got to five hundred and seventy six blinks, Dad got in the car with me and started the engine. I couldn’t hear violins any more. Jess Richards The chippy was round the corner. Just a few minutes away. What could go wrong with that journey? People cross continents in balloons, they swim oceans. Mum’s journey was to a shop so close that I could hear her scream. Ruth Dugdall I would not all allow our future to be determined by a man who had never eaten risotto at my dinner table. For this was not Mussolini’s Italy, and I was not leaving. Giselle Minoli There is no music, but the two men embrace one another and begin to dance the waltz, Jimmy leading as they swirl about the room soundlessly, a silence broken only by the echo of a clumping thud deepening in the emptiness. John M Tyson-Capper
Random Stuff | 36
Fish Poetry Prize
For poems up to 200 words. The best ten poems will be published in the Annual Fish Anthology. Entries must not have been published before. Entry online €14 or €16 by post. Judge Brian Turner. Deadline 30 March. Results 30 April.
First Prize €1,000
Fish One-Page Prize
Flash Fiction of up to 300 words. The ten best stories will be published in the Annual Fish Anthology. Judge Chris Stewart. Entry €14 online or €16 by post. Deadline 20 March 2010. Results 30 April.
First Prize €1,000 Read full details www.fishpublishing.com email@example.com Durrus, Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland.
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And now, the winning entry (can you hear a drum-roll? I can definitely hear a drum-roll):
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. Jess Richards
Huge congratulations to all of our listed entries, and to Jess Richards for getting two of her entries into the final ten and nabbing the top prize. Here’s Ruth explaining her choices: ‘Wow, I enjoyed reading these! They were so diverse! In the end after agonising for ages, I chose my shortlist of ten. The overall winner was chosen because I was really intrigued and I wished I could have read the whole story. I wanted to know more about the speaker and why they were in a trunk! Were they a toy? A dead person? Bluebeard’s wife? I liked the mysterious tone of the piece. This entry also stayed with me the longest.’ Ruth Saberton.
Jess, congratulations again, and we’ll be in touch presently to get you in touch with Ruth to organise your retreat. Now stop jumping up and down and squealing like a tweeny, it’s not very becoming at all. We’ll be inviting Jess to write an article about her experiences in Polperro, to be published in a future issue. Everyone else, both short-listed, long-listed or sadly not listed this time round, thank you for ruining my Christmas with your sometimes funny, often sad and always surprising entries. Given that I realise you all hate Jess right now, I thought I’d give you the chance to vent a little with this issue comp corner challenge. This time, I want your best insults. Simple as that. Swearing is permitted, but swearing alone won’t win you anything. I want inventive invective, I want nastiness, I want intelligence and I want sarcasm. I want the most withering, souldestroying, ego-shattering horrors you can come up with. Must be your own work, as ever, and the ten best will be published in our April issue. Stick them in the body of an email (attachments will be fed to the spam monster) to firstname.lastname@example.org by the 14th March. Right, I’m going to bed. Via the hospital. Then the off licence. And maybe the curry shop.
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
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Co-author of The Writer’s ABC Checklist, Lorraine Mace, answers your questions ... Janice from Blackburn sent in a question that seems to be coming up more frequently recently – and it’s a worrying trend. She writes: I have subscribed to a freelance site where we have to bid for writing jobs. Many of these jobs specify quite low rates of pay, which I ignore, but there are others where the pay rate seems fair, but in the bid we are asked to supply a newly written sample article on the subject stated in the job offer, for which the bidder will not get paid. Do you think this is a scam, even though the lucky writer who gets taken on will (presumably) receive a fair payment for future work? Janice, I’ve seen such job offers on numerous sites and very often the job is never awarded to anyone – and why would it be when the so-called employer has collected enough free work to use for a long time to come? Usually the brief says the sample article has to be able to pass Copyscape to prove it’s not been
copied, which sounds fair until you think about it a bit more. I’ve noticed that these jobs sometimes get over a hundred bids, which means the person asking for samples has received that number of free (freshly written) articles. Assuming the articles are used in a print publication somewhere on the other side of the world, or even on a website, the chances of the writer being able to claim payment for their work are not high. Don’t reply to such job offers. If the person seeking a writer asks for samples of your work, send them something that has already been published, for which you have been paid, and state where and when it appeared. No reputable employer would ask for newly written samples, but would be only too happy to look at your previous writing clips to judge your ability to undertake the task.
such as Times New Roman or Arial and keep it to one page, if at all possible. Write PRESS RELEASE in capitals and centre it at the top of the page. Below this, indicate when the release can be used. This will be the date when your book is available; if that is straight away, write ‘for immediate use’. Under this comes the all-important headline which should describe the content of the press release in a nutshell. Sharp, concise, and amusing headlines are the most attention-grabbing. Type it in bold and centre it on the page. The first paragraph contains a brief summary of what the press release is
Geoff from Carlisle says: I have self-published a novel and want to arrange some publicity. I got in touch with the local paper and the editor said to send in a press release. This is great, but I have no idea how to go about it.
about and this is followed by more detail in
A press release is an extremely effective way of garnering some free publicity. The main function of a press release, from the newspaper’s point of view, is slightly different to yours. You want it to promote your book; the newspaper is looking for newsworthy, interesting and pertinent information of benefit to its readers. So your press release won’t find favour if it comes across as a straightforward blatant advertisement for your book. With a bit of luck, the editor will use your press release as the basis for a longer or shorter feature of their own. However, you need to bear in mind that it might get run as it is – word for word. Because of this, you have to write your story as you would like to see it published. This means keeping it concise, pithy, but, above all, error-free. Write in the third person, present it in double line spacing, use an acceptable font,
and/or email address, so that you can be
have a question?
consecutive paragraphs. Explain the book’s theme in a few words, what inspired you to write it, and your interests and experience in the field. Enliven the release by including a piece of information as a direct quote. At the bottom of the page, write your contact details including a phone number contacted immediately if the editor needs further information. Include a picture of the book cover and a head and shoulders shot of yourself. Write a caption for each, and submit with the editorial. It’s important to consider the timing of your press release. Magazines may not have space to include your editorial for several weeks, or longer, if it’s a monthly publication. Local press, on the other hand, might be persuaded to run the story to coincide with a book signing, an appearance on local radio, or a talk or demonstration held locally.
Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
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Taking the Plunge: How and Where to Fix up Your First Reading by Dan Holloway
So, you’re now convinced that giving as many live readings as you can from your masterpiece is not actually one step lower than having root canal from a drunk dentist with a blunt Stanley knife. You are, in fact, itching to get out and declaim your work to an expectant world. Only. Hmm, weird isn’t it? For years people say “do a reading” and you make squeakish apologetic noises as you back out of the door. Now you’ve decided you want to do it, all of a sudden no one’s asking you. What I want to do is offer some suggestions for how to approach people and places about reading, where to look, and just what kind of opportunities are out there. Then a few more tips for what to do when
your big moment comes. The first thing to say is that not all of the suggestions will apply to everyone. Just as there are different agents for people who write different kinds of book, so there are different places more or less suitable to read your book. You probably wouldn’t want to trial your latest piece of erotica at the local primary school. And maybe the local tattoo parlour wouldn’t be so interested in your historical melodrama. But whatever you write, there are more places to look than your local bookstore. That said, they are an obvious place to start.
Bookstores The first time I went into a bookstore to ask if they’d be prepared to let me do a reading, I was more terrified than I would have been heading to the headmaster’s office with the guilty chalkmarks still on my fingers. Like agents, I imagined they were approached constantly, had prepared speeches and stern glances ready and waiting to use to bat away interfering upstart authors. At the very least I thought I’d have to find another store to do my regular browsing because I’d be sure to end up on a pasted under the counter barred list. As it turned out, the guy who owns Oxford’s Albion Beatnik Bookstore is just a guy who loves books, and quite likes selling them too. OK, it’s time to rewind briefly. There are two important points in that last sentence. First, there are lots of bookshops in Oxford. There’s even one of the most famous in the world, the original Blackwell’s. But I write slightly off-beat stuff with lots of musical references whose natural readership is the kind of person who’d go to a rock gig on a Saturday night, or hang out in a seedy jazz café. The Albion Beatnik specialises in
books about music, and by and about the Beat Poets. It’s also a fantastic live music and culture venue, with a book café that plays jazz and is regularly open past midnight. So it’s an obvious choice if I want to reach my readers. Second, and at the risk of sounding like Alan Sugar (because candidates make the same mistake without fail every series), speak to the person who makes the decision. It’s lovely to have a long chat with someone who’s enthusiastic about what you’re doing, but you also need an answer. So you need politely to enquire to whom you should speak about events, and if they’re not there, politely ask when would be a good time to go back. Another good indicator that you’re on the right track is taking a look around to see if they’re the kind of place that does regular events. If there are lots of posters for coming events that’s a good sign. So, you’ve identified your mark, er, decided where you want to hold your first reading. You’re lucky enough to have a great bookshop close by. How do you go about asking? Well, the first rule is that if you use the shop regularly you probably know that better than I do – you know if the manager has their little quirks and eccentricities, or will do anything for a cream egg. If you don’t, it would be an idea getting to know the store a little, and getting known by them. There are, however, some general rules. All of which are worth learning, but all of which can be overridden at a moment’s notice by the only real golden rule of selling of any kind – play it by ear. Go in and ask to sign up to their mailing list. This will tell you two things. First, if they don’t have one you’ll have realistic expectations about publicity. Second, you’ll see how much promotion they give to author events in their mailings (and how regular these are – and when – if they come the 1st of each month you’ll know not to go in on
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the 2nd and ask for a reading the same month – as a general rule, I like to organise things 2-3 months ahead of time). If the store has a coming event, go to it. Aside from anything else, it’ll tell you a lot about what to expect. By all means approach the manager on the night to say what a great time you’re having so she recognises your face. But don’t start pitching your reading to her. I’ve organised a lot of events and, aside from the time behind the microphone, I don’t remember a lot about them. They’re chaotic. Lots of things go wrong. And the organiser’s first priority is (one would hope – if not, think twice about doing something there) making sure speakers feel fantastic. I’ve made lots of friends at events I’ve run, but by and large these are people who’ve said hi briefly, swapped e-mails, and I’ve then got to know after. Go in the next day, say how much you enjoyed the event, ask if the store does that kind of thing often, and if they’d consider doing something similar for you.
have a copy of my book. On one occasion I was performing at an arts café and a guy came bounding towards me afterwards and asked if he could buy a copy and I had to inform him that, er, I didn’t have one with me but he could buy it from the bookstore up the road the next day. Which he almost certainly didn’t. Going to scope out a reading at a store, it’s even more important still to have a book with you. And be prepared to leave a copy with the manager for them to look at when they have more time. Leave something official looking, easy to store and memorable, with your name and contact details on it. OK, that’s a very prolix way of saying have a business card. Only for writers it’s not necessarily a business card you want. A bookmark is the most obvious thing (hint: to make it even harder to forget, tuck bookmarks/cards into all your books the moment they arrive. Of course, make sure you ALWAYS have some in your wallet/bag/ pocket too for those chance encounters) for
if you start on the “oi mate, what’s in it for me” line, but not if you’re polite as ever). It’s professional – and you want to show them you’re professional about things. Stores vary hugely in how they support events. And they will offer some events more support than others – if you raise the issue, that’ll show you’ll be looking out for their coverage – which is perfectly reasonable of you. OK, so now you have your first bookstore reading set up. Next time I’ll look at how you can go about organising your own event, at some more, and less, obvious venues.
Bullet points • choose the bookstore that is the most suitable for your book • when you approach the bookstore to ask them for a reading, make sure you have a copy of your book with you, speak to the manager, and be polite and professional
So, you’ve identified your mark, er, decided where you want to hold your first reading. You’re lucky enough to have a great bookshop close by. How do you go about asking? Well, the first rule is that if you use the shop regularly you probably know that better than I do – you know if the manager has their little quirks and eccentricities, or will do anything for a cream egg. When you go in the store to approach them for a reading that first time, you are effectively a salesperson, a travelling salesperson no less. I spent several very happy years managing a luxury flooring showroom. It was super because I got to sell, in a very gentle way, amazingly beautiful things. I also saw a LOT of salespeople, and the ones I liked to keep dealing with best all did the same things right (I should add be presentable – I never even noticed what salespeople were wearing unless it was a shiny suit – I have a pathological fear of neatness, but many people like it. Local knowledge is key here). The main thing is to go prepared. It’s obvious, and a bit generic. But true. What the generality means in practice is: Take your book with you. This sounds really obvious, but it’s amazing how often I’ve been to read at a show even and forgotten to
a writer. They are very easy to format, even using Word, and you can print a sheet of 8 on a single piece of A4 card. They should contain the following essential information: your name, your book title, your e-mail, your web addresses Explain why you think your book would be good for the store. This is where it pays to have done some research in the store, but should be straightforward. Explain what you can offer in terms of publicity. Do you have a blog (of course you do) where you can write a post about the event that gives publicity to the store, for example? We’ll come to this more next time, but I combine my readings with a performance by a local musician, who will bring their fans. This is the really tricky thing: Don’t be afraid to ask what the store will do. It sounds pushy, but it’s not (OK, it could be
• gently and politely make sure you ask the store what they will do for you in terms of publicity • on the day, make sure you bring something to give to everyone, so even if they don’t buy your book there, it will be in their head (and handbag) • carry business cards or bookmarks with you everywhere
Bio Dan Holloway won the premiere literary event Literary Death Match in London on October 13th. He comperes a monthly literary evening at Oxford’s O3 Gallery, at which readers are always welcome.
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Writers’ Manuals Distilled by Jill Marsh
Each issue, WwJ will read one of the many manuals aimed at the aspiring writer. Reducing it to its essence, we’ll pass on wise advice, tips, tricks, and inspiration. This issue looks at Lajos Egri’s The Art of Dramatic Writing. Egri is a playwright and teaches writing at his own school in New York. His book uses plays as his examples, but his principles are just as valid for novelists. THIS OVERVIEW IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR READING THE REAL THING. WE HOPE IT WHETS YOUR APPETITE TO BUY THE BOOK.
The Art of Dramatic Writing – Lajos Egri
(Its basis in the creative interpretation of human motives) (Gender pronouns as in original)
Lajos Egri breaks down his ideas into three main areas: Premise, Character and Conflict.
A premise should be formulated from the outset. No idea or situation was ever strong enough to carry you through to its logical conclusion without a clear-cut premise. Every good premise is composed of three parts: the first suggests character, ‘Ruthless ambition’; the second suggests conflict, ‘leads to’ and the third suggests the end, ‘destruction’. ‘Ruthless ambition leads to destruction’ – Macbeth ‘Great love defies even death’ – Romeo & Juliet ‘The sins of the fathers are visited on the
children’ – Ghosts ‘He who digs a pit for others falls into it himself ’ - Tartuffe ‘Shiftlessness leads to ruin’ – Juno & the Paycock A premise must be active; one situation must change into another. Stasis is boring. Thus a premise can never be ‘Life sucks’ or ‘It’s good here’. The premise is never mentioned but the reader closes the book in full knowledge of what it is. And the writer must believe it because he has to prove it. Anyone with a strong conviction is a mine of premises. Your premise may not be a universal truth, but for this story, it is. Without a premise, dialogue, action, plot and setting are meaningless. The reader wants to know why. If your story deviates from the premise, look back and make a decision. Either change your premise, or change your story. No one can build a house on two premises, nor a house on two foundations.
Character Structure -
Objects have three dimensions: depth, height and width. People have three more: physiology, sociology and psychology. Physical make-up influences our outlook and it is the first filter through which we are judged. Eg; Cyrano de Bergerac. Sociology works as a characterisation exercise; who your parents are, what books you read, what beliefs you hold, etc. Psychology is the third pillar, one the author knows but the reader can only guess at. Yet every character’s (re)action must seem natural and explicable by virtue of his make-up.
A character reacts to changes in his environment. Each alteration in the prevailing circumstances exerts pressure on the character, and therefore he must act and react, adapt and grow, prevail or fail. Think of your character as a plant. A 30-inch thistle needs 10,000 inches of root system. When a character acts,
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Character and movement
i t must come from the writer’s deep knowledge of that character (precious little is there on the page) but the reader could not imagine it any other way. Romeo, for example. Impetuous, passionate and driven, he rushes towards a fate a character such as Hamlet would avoid.
Strength of will
In order to have conflict and dramatic tension, the main characters need to put up a fight for their convictions. When two characters have opposing desires, there will inevitably be a clash. When a single character embodies conflicting desires, we have contradiction, the essence of conflict. Every character has the strength of will to fight under the right circumstances. The author needs to find the moment, to arrange the circumstances in which the character is not only ready but eager to fight. This is the Point of Attack.
Plot or character
Aristotle said ‘character is subsidiary to action’. He was wrong. Character is what drives the plot. Writers who rely purely on instinct for creating characters are limiting themselves and could add to their work by studying the craft of characterisation. Just a builder understands his materials, so too should a writer know how his materials – characters – support his construction. Situations are inherent in the character. The actions of the character are natural to him and truthful to his personality.
Whether as protagonist or antagonist, a pivotal character has a desire. Something is at stake and inner or outer necessity forces him to act. Thus he is the driving force. Other characters should be orchestrated around this pivot. If you have too many of the same type, such as bullies, it will be like an orchestra of nothing but drums. Orchestration demands well-defined and uncompromising characters, moving from one pole to another through conflict. Like any well-orchestrated piece, in every big movement (or act) there are smaller movements. If the two transitional poles are Love to Hate, the author must take us through the stages
Unity of opposites
This does not refer to any old clash of contradictory desires. A real unity of opposites is where compromise is impossible. Something has to give. A real unity of opposites can be broken only if a dominant trait or quality in one or more characters is fundamentally changed. For example, at the end of A Doll’s House, Nora’s submission has changed. Her desire for active knowledge clashes with Helmer’s desire for a passive, obedient wife. The only possible way it can end is for her to leave him.
Every human being has some sort of ambition. But only 1% will have the perfect combination of circumstances, strength of will and character to achieve it. Thus conflict grows from character – the gap between desire and situation which the character attempts to bridge – this is where story is created.
Point of attack, or where to begin the story
Many stories begin with a long sequence of exposition. But writing devoted solely to mood, atmosphere and setting is often static. A character exposes himself through conflict, so his environment and back story should be visible in their effects on the character and the choices he makes. (This is why the writer of
science or historical fiction needs to know the character’s world intimately; customs, morals, philosophy, language, etc). Better to start at a point where a conflict will lead to a crisis, or where a character reaches a turning point, or when something vital is at stake. Here we examine four kinds of conflict, two bad, two good.
Created by characters who cannot make a decision. Inertia sets in for both character and reader. But even static conflict has movement of some kind, even if it is only resistance. The writer must ensure that every scene moves the story on in some way.
When motivation for action is absent, or when the author forces characters to leap from one pole to another with insufficient stepping-stones. The transition, or character development is missing. This often leads to melodrama, constant emotional peaks and one-dimensional characterisation.
Comes from a clear-cut premise, threedimensional characters, good orchestration and a unity of opposites, in a steady movement of transitional stages from one pole to another. An achievement much easier for the novelist, who has access to inner monologues, shifting points of view, flashbacks et al. It is a far greater challenge to show a character’s thoughts via dialogue and action for the playwright.
The author’s planting a seed of tension which the reader knows will grow and come to fruition. The fulfilment of a promise. And the obligatory scene, the final showdown which audience or reader expects must be provided. However, each subsidiary scene which leads to this ‘point of concentration’ is equally important. There must be no moment that does not grow from the one before it. Each act must contain the three elements: Crisis, Climax, Resolution. The crisis is when things could go either way; climax is the making of a choice; and resolution, the result of the choice your character made under pressure. And thus the whole is dedicated to proving the premise, through character.
Theory into Practice – Lajos Egri One WwJ reader tells worked for him. Martin Wyler is a psychologist and a writer who dreams of that.
us how it full-time part-time reversing
I’m writing a comic action spy story, full of adventure, sex and sharp one-liners. Influenced by Bond, but not a spoof or rip-off, I like to think of it as an homage to Fleming, Charteris, Forsyth and Ludlum. My hero, Zed Rondell, is rugged, cynical and sensitive. Like Bond, he’s pursuing megalomaniac masterminds who want to take over the world. Unlike Bond, he’s looking for love. The comic scenes worked, or at least they made me laugh. But the set-pieces and gags were held together by weak, even limp, links. I tried everything I could think of to make it hang together but it just didn’t. I moaned to a mate from university days, who reminded me of a book we used to unblock our imaginations as drama students – Impro by Keith Johnstone. She suggested I try reading The Art of Dramatic Writing as it might have a similar effect on my writing. So I did. She was right. I swallowed Lajos Egri’s three key principles whole and they acted like a laxative.
I didn’t have one. Pathetic. So what did I want to show through Zed Rondell, soft-centred hard man? That real strength has nothing to do with arm-wrestling. The strongest man is unafraid to show weakness. Yes! Getting there. Half a day later and I had it. ‘Demonstrating weakness reveals true strength.’ Now how do I show that?
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I was happy with Zed Rondell and felt I knew him pretty well. I had a physical image, I knew his background, his tastes, everything down to the colour of his keks. And the psychology was rock solid. But he still seemed to have as much animation as the cardboard cut-out Robert Pattinson which stands in the window of our video shop. (You know, I could have just ended that sentence after Pattinson.) Egri talks about the pivotal character. Your pivotal character could be your protagonist or an antagonist. No wonder my good guy was blander than James Blunt when the bad guys were 2D caricatures. So I wrote the backstory for Doc Shogot, built up his motivation for control and refusal to compromise. He had to be Self, through and through. Unlike Rondell, who can sacrifice his own needs for others. My orchestration of characters necessarily deepened. The love triangle became less clichéd. I gave more sympathy to Chi - vicious little tough girl – she’s only fighting for what she wants. So that when Rondell makes his choice – reluctant, defensive Tia – it is actually painful for him, Chi and the reader.
By now, the story was writing itself and I knew exactly where we were going. At each stage, Doc ups the stakes, forcing Rondell into more and more dangerous circumstances. He is determined to prove himself more of a man than Rondell, convinced that when he lays down the ultimate challenge – the Sicilian Showdown - Rondell cannot refuse. But Rondell can and does. His identity is not defined by his machismo. So Doc’s final, flamboyant display of power fails spectacularly and he perishes. Zed Rondell didn’t have to lift a finger. Premise proved. After that, I was only left with one dilemma - the resolution. Bringing Chi back for a Neapolitan threesome would be tacky, right?
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Just Do It ... Setting by Anne Stormont
Welcome to the fourth and final part of this series on novel writing for beginners, by a beginner with a bit of experience. So where were we? We’d overcome fear and procrastination. We’d got to know some likely characters. We’d developed a story idea into a plot. Now we need to consider setting. And there are a few things to consider when deciding when and where to situate the story. Obviously if it’s a historical novel, then when, and most likely where, will be implicit in your story content. And the same will be true, at least to some extent, with any type of genre fiction. Science fiction is likely to be away from planet Earth, crime novels will involve a police station and so on. However even with genre, there will still be decisions that you have to make. Is your Victorian thriller set in the homes of the aristocracy, the middle classes or amongst the poor on the streets? Is your tale of the Roman occupation told from the emperor’s court or the subjugated settlement? With contemporary and literary fiction, the choice of setting is wide. Is the story centred around a family home, village, city, workplace, or in the midst of a ritual such as a wedding or a funeral? Sometimes the setting is almost a character in its own right. It may dominate and determine the plot. It may evolve and change as the story develops. For example if your story is one about survival on a remote mountain top, vast desert, or alien planet, the nature of the environment that the characters are in is crucial to the events and outcomes. Once you have decided on your setting
you, of course, need to bring it to life. It’s exciting - there might be houses to furnish, landscapes to form and plant, cities and worlds to create from scratch. Then again you might set it somewhere real and just tweak the details. Whatever you do, make the setting consistent and coherent. I draw floor-plans of the houses in my novels – so that I don’t inadvertently move the kitchen from the back to the front of the house, or shift a staircase from one side of the building to the other. Similarly with fictional villages and towns – drawing a map is a good idea. Think about what the characters see when they look out of the window, walk down the street, enter their workplace, fly their spaceship, approach the battlefield, sit in their kitchen... Make sure the setting is believable and has integrity. Even when, or rather, especially when, creating a non-Earthly world. Even
it. Trust your reader to remember. Also, trust your reader to fill in the gaps – as you would do with the characters’ physical appearance. Good writers give just enough detail to set the reader on their own imaginary path. Just think how annoying it can be when a book you love is dramatised for television and the characters’ physical appearances and the look of their homes and villages are dictated by the casting director and the set designer. So creating your novel’s setting should be fun, but keep it authentic and credible. Give enough of a map that the reader can find their way in and orientate themselves, but leave them enough room to explore and make sense of your created world for themselves. And that just about wraps up this ‘Just Do It’ series. The intention was to get those of you who are aspiring writers to take the
trust your reader to fill in the gaps – as you would do with the characters’ physical appearance. Good writers give just enough detail to set the reader on their own imaginary path. if a planet or parallel world is completely manufactured by you, it should still obey its own integral rules of physics. Give enough detail – using all the senses – so that the reader can begin to inhabit the world of your book. But don’t put in long chunks of bulk description. Feed in the details as you would with character traits. ‘Show don’t tell’ is just as applicable with setting. There’s also no need to repeat these details. Once your reader knows that the main character has a cream leather sofa, don’t go on about
plunge and become actual writers and to give first timers some basic tips on the foundations of novel writing. There are further aspects such as use and quality of tone, atmosphere and style and the all-important voice which are also necessary to novel writing. But let’s keep these for another time, further down the line. For now get the characters, plot and setting assembled and set off. Go on, just do it!
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Months Ahead of the Game by Lorraine Mace
Do you know how to find out what editors from hundreds of publications will want throughout the year? Think of the forward planning you could do. Just imagine targeting several magazines, knowing the subject matter is exactly what each editor has in mind for a particular month. That information is available in an editorial calendar. What is an editorial calendar?
It is a schedule of the topics a magazine plans to feature during the year. Its primary function is to alert advertisers of product placement opportunities. For example, if a magazine’s theme in June is swimwear, you can guess how interesting that knowledge would be to swimwear manufacturers. It should also be of interest to freelance writers because of the opportunity to pitch ideas on similar topics, such as: • Changes in swimwear styles since the war • The history and use of bathing boxes for reasons of modesty
• Styles for lifestyles – modern swimwear for: pregnancy, post-mastectomy, beauty pageant wear, suits for serious swimmers The possibilities are endless and, the best of it is, you’ll know the editor will be looking for swimwear-related features for June’s issue. Other valuable information you can garner from the calendar is which countries will feature and when. If, for example, you find out in January that the August issue of a general interest magazine will focus on Spain as their travel destination, this gives you plenty of thinking time. You may never have been to Spain, and so cannot supply a travel feature in the conventional sense, but there is nothing to stop you from researching and suggesting a piece on ‘20 little-known facts about Spain’, or ‘Essential Spanish Phrases for the Travelling Family’. The public library and the Internet will supply the information, all you need to do is study the editorial calendar and come up with something which fits both the magazine’s style and the theme for the month in question.
Where and how can you get the calendar?
Many magazines have their editorial calendar accessible on their websites, often in the media kit available to advertisers. If this isn’t the case, write to (or email) the advertising department and ask for a copy. If possible, download the full media pack as this contains lots of other information of value to the freelance writer, such as: Circulation, gender split, readership age group, lifestyle trends, economic situation of average reader, the magazine’s ethos and many other facts which will enable you to target your feature to the magazine’s core readership, thus giving you a better chance of success with the editor. One final, but vital, aspect of the media pack and editorial calendar is that they often give the lead time required. Some give editorial and advertising deadlines, but others only have the advertising dates. In the
case of the latter, work on the assumption that the editorial deadline will be at least two weeks, and possibly a month, ahead of the advertising deadline. This is the date by which the finished article must be with the editor; obviously you will need to allocate sufficient time for the query to be accepted, the commission given, and the piece written, when you plan ahead in this way.
But which magazine?
The short answer to that is as many as possible. By working with several editorial calendars simultaneously you should be able to plan your year so that you are pitching ideas every month. Let’s say you have researched a subject for magazine A, knowing that magazine B is going to have a similar theme a month or two later means you can use your research twice. But do make sure the two articles tackle the subject from differing angles. Articles that you have already had published can be reworked to suit new markets. For example, if you’d had an article published on celebrating St Patrick’s Day in New York’s Irish pubs, you might find two or three magazines that intend to use St Patrick’s Day as the theme for their March issues. Clearly you cannot submit the previously published article, but you could use the information from it to make two new pieces. One could be on how and why Irish pubs have appeared all over the world, from Périgueux in France, to Cape Town in South Africa (both places do, in fact, have Irish pubs). The other could be on Irish traditions and how important they are to the expatriate Irish. • Editorial calendars will tell you which magazines to approach with the ideas and which month’s (or week’s) issues to target • Other information in the media pack will assist you in deciding how to deal with the topic
Finding New Markets
Searching for editorial calendars online
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can lead to many new markets. If you type ‘Editorial Calendars’ into a search engine, literally thousands of pages come up. Of course, most of these will not be of any use to the average freelance writer, but if you refine your search to include your particular areas of expertise and/or interests, then the search becomes much more interesting. I write, amongst other things, travel features. Using Yahoo’s search engine and putting in ‘Editorial Calendar’ returned a total of 1,470,000 pages. When I refined the search by using quote marks “Editorial Calendar” and adding ‘travel’ (outside the quote marks) this brought the number down to 2,510 – much more accessible. But I decided to refine the search still more by adding countries that I feel confident I can write about. ‘“Editorial Calendar” travel France’ produced 341 pages, substituting ‘Spain’ 248, ‘South Africa’ 91 and ‘Canada’ 491. From this list I may only find four or five calendars I can use, but the initial research took less than fifteen minutes and I found magazines I hadn’t known existed.
or organisation. Their individual subject
Read the Magazines
of advertisers is that often the same themes
matter is almost as wide and varied as entries in a dictionary, but they all have one thing in common – the editors need content for the magazines. If you have some expertise, or can gain the necessary knowledge on the subject, studying the editorial calendars could provide openings for you. To find trade magazines, search online using the ‘“Editorial Calendar” plus topic’ approach outlined above. There are plenty of trade publications crying out for good storylines which fit their calendar.
Think Laterally Even though you will be ahead of the game by pitching features with an issue in mind, you still need to come up with ideas that are fresh and new. One of the drawbacks of the editorial calendar being there for the benefit
You cannot get sufficient information from the editorial calendar and media pack to successfully pitch an idea. You still need to read back copies and/or articles on the magazine’s website to get a full picture of what the editor is looking for in terms of content and style. You should also request contributors’ guidelines. But, with the additional information provided in the calendar and media pack, you stand a much better chance of having your idea accepted because you will be able to aim at particular issues, knowing the editor is actively looking for content on a particular theme.
reappear year after year in order to keep
Editors like working with writers they know
There are literally thousands of trade publications which don’t appear on the shelves of the local newsagent or bookstore. These magazines are sold by subscription only to people with an interest in the topic, or are given free to members of an industry
advertising revenue. This means that the same old ideas keep doing the rounds. To succeed, and make the editor want to use your work again and again, you need to come up with unusual ways of dealing with tired topics.
Success Breeds Success Once you’ve been successful with a magazine, go back to the calendar again and again. will provide good material, keep to deadlines, and come up with unusual ways of dealing with the perennial topics. Use the calendar to make the breakthrough and, possibly, forge a long-term relationship with the editor.
Some thoughts to get you started: • All year round – a theme you can split into the four seasons, or turn seasons upside down. Skiing resorts in summer or coastal resorts offering winter attractions • How-to – do almost anything. Find the theme that suits you in the calendar and offer a how-to article • Make the national into a local event. If something nationwide is happening, offer a feature on how that impacts in your locale • Food, travel, family, hobbies – all of these have been written about so many times, it’s hard to find new ways to tackle them, but all are perennial topics on editorial calendars. Why not mix and match? Fitting a family holiday around a hobby; travelling to sample the most unusual foods a region has to offer; recipes for families too preoccupied with their hobbies to come to the table.
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Who Should Run Our Libraries? by Catriona Troth, the library cat From then on, every afternoon, as soon as her mother left for bingo, Matilda would toddle down to the library. The walk took only ten minutes and this allowed her two glorious hours sitting quietly by herself in a cosy corner devouring one book after another. From Matilda, by Roald Dahl
If the library Roald Dahl had in mind was in the village where he lived and worked, then soon young Matilda could have rather more than a ten minute walk to find her books. Great Missenden library is one of more than 400 in the UK that are under threat. According to the latest data from CILIP, that’s 9% of all libraries in the UK. However, in a significant number of counties, fifty percent or more of libraries are being closed or offered to the voluntary sector. Dorset, the sole council to receive an increase in funding for the coming year, is threatening to close up to 20 out of 34 libraries, Suffolk is considering closing 29
out of 44, and the Isle of Wight 9 out of 11. Conwy may close 7 out of 12, North Yorkshire 24 out of 42, Doncaster 12 out of 26, Oxfordshire 20 out of 43. One third of all public libraries in London (130 out of 383) are under threat. Gloucestershire is proposing a complicated hierarchy of service levels that would leave 9 libraries providing full service, 9 with limited opening hours and limited stock, 7 self-service points that would remain open only if a commercial partner can be found and 11 that are being offered to the communities to run. This threat to library services has ignited a protest movement that, at a local level at least, transcends party politics, uniting left and right. As Boyd Tonkin, writing in the Independent, commented:
What’s so fascinating is that local action for libraries has given the “Big Society” rhetoric its first major reality-check … The Coalition will learn that a culture of voluntarism breeds troublesome active citizens, not just do-gooding drones. Raising five thousand signatures on a petition – as was done in Gloucestershire – forces a Council to debate the issue again – though that is no guarantee that minds will be changed. Protestors at Stony Stratford library in Milton Keynes captured the imagination of the world when they started a campaign for local residents to remove every single book from the library’s shelves. News of this imaginative protest spread across the world, and it was even reported in the New Yorker. The idea has now been copied in the largest library on the Isle of Wight , where the crime section
For a comprehensive list of all planned closures to date, see: http:// publiclibrariesnews. blogspot.com/
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was emptied in protest at these ‘cultural crimes’. The Campaign for the Book has led calls for a ‘carnival of resistance’ on February 5th. Supporters plan to join coordinated ‘read-ins’ in forty libraries from the Isle of Wight to North Yorkshire. Many protestors have raised the question of whether such drastic closures would leave counties in breach of their statutory obligation (under the 1964 Libraries and Museums Act) to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service. In a reply to an open letter of protest from children’s author and library campaigner Alan Gibbons, signed by an impressive array of authors, librarians, teachers and other professionals, Libraries Minister Ed Vaizey said, “I want to emphasise that the closure of libraries does not automatically signify a breach of the 1964 Act.” In his letter of advice to councils, Vaizey suggested they might look at, “transferring control of some library services to communities to run, merging services provided by two different authorities into one cross-boundary authority and locating library services in retail stores.”
The reasons why a comprehensive library is so vitally important can hardly be better stated than in author Philip Pullman’s impassioned speech given in Oxford Town Hall on 20th January. However, this raises the question of how realistic it is to transform large numbers of council-run libraries into voluntary enterprises or commercial partnerships.
The Reality of Running a Community Library What does running a community library really mean? I was lucky enough to be able to talk to Jim Brooks, Chairman of the Friends of Little Chalfont Community Library, in Buckinghamshire. Four years ago, Buckinghamshire County Council closed eight of its libraries. Two of these, including Little Chalfont, have kept going as volunteer-run community libraries, offering a comprehensive library service. Last November, a further 14 were told that they must become community libraries or face closure, leaving only 9 council-run libraries in the county. Now LCCL is being held up around the country as the model of the future of our libraries, which places Brooks at the eye of the storm. Librarians from all over the country are beating a path to his door, wanting to know how this small community managed to save their library. And there is no doubt that their achievement is very impressive. They took a small village library that was under threat of closure and turned it into a vibrant community service, providing everything that the public library previously did, and more.
When you walk into LCCL, two things strike you. First, that the space is filled with books. And second, how colourful it is. According to Brooks, this has been achieved in two simple ways. They don’t hold any adult DVDs (thus at one stroke
both avoiding the minefield of age classification and freeing up more space for books). And they don’t bother putting plastic covers on the books. ‘It’s not worth it. By the time the books wear out, the stock needs renewing anyway. We wanted the place to feel more like a bookshop.” But be under no illusion. This was not simply a matter of a few volunteers taking over the jobs previously done by professional library staff. The original terms from Bucks County Council were that the library had to be provided at NO COST to the Council. The community had to raise enough money to pay for the rent of the existing building, charges for IT equipment, supplies such as bar codes, and a management fee to the Council. They also had to choose whether to pay the council an annual fee (£7k) to rent existing stock, or to create their own stock from scratch through donations. (They chose the latter path.) In all, their running costs amount to some £20k pa – money which is raised from a mixture of public donations, grants, library revenues (i.e. fines), and letting out the building to other community groups. The volunteer staff, between them, have to provide not only basic librarian skills but Financial Management, Health and Safety, Staff Management, Stock Procurement, Building Maintenance, Data Protection, and a host of other managerial functions. Bucks has learnt something from these pioneering Community Libraries. The new terms being offered are somewhat more favourable and the council is promising a more cooperative approach. But some other councils, keen to rush through the concept,
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Books By Post The blog Farm Lane Books proposed the idea, piloted in some States in the US, of ‘Books by Post’, as a way of countering reductions in library opening hours and the closing of smaller branch libraries. Under this scheme, delivery of the books is paid for by the library, while the return postage is paid by the borrower. I put the idea to a few UK librarians I know, and they pointed up the following difficulties: • Single paperbacks may come through the letterbox, but larger books will not. Having to collect undelivered books from the post office may be no more convenient than going to the library. • The same applies to returning books that cannot simply be slipped in an envelope and dropped in the post box. • Most libraries no longer have ‘book return slots’ – what happens when the postman tries to deliver returned books when the library is closed (e.g. on a Monday)? • Who would be responsible for valuable books ‘lost in the post’? • When people wait a long time for a reserved book, they will often give up and go elsewhere. Will they be willing to pay the return postage for books no longer wanted? If you have views about whether this service could work in your area, send your comments to Farm Lane Books
appear to be ignoring these lessons. Like Bucks four years ago, they expect Community Libraries to be able to go it alone, ignoring the fact that these two communities happened to have what were probably the ideal conditions for this experiment to succeed. Both Little Chalfont and Bucks’ other community library in Chalfont St Giles are in highly prosperous areas at the edge of the London commuter belt. The surrounding communities are both willing and comparatively able to raise the cash for a service they wish to maintain. What’s more, there is a large pool of people (retired, at home with children etc) who have the professional, managerial and business experience to carry out all the functions necessary to run a library. The same thing simply could not work on, say, a sink estate where many of the residents are second generation unemployed, or a scattered farming community where a majority are working 18 hours a day just to survive.
catchment area large enough to sustain a viable library • Demonstrable capacity to raise adequate finances from donations, grants and library revenue • Volunteers willing and able, in terms of skills and time, to carry out the work of managing the library • A suitable building with appropriate fittings and furniture • Appropriate stock, to include standard books for adults and children, large print books and audio books • A Library Management Computer System and IT, which must be linked to the Council’s system • Training and guidance from professional staff • An appropriate organisation (preferably with charitable status)
Yet in Somerset and Gloucestershire, for example, the areas targeted for community libraries are among the poorest and most rural in the country.
“Where communities meet these criteria, we are happy to give them all the help we can. But where they don’t, councils must understand, it’s a non-starter.”
Jim Brooks is angry that Councils are holding LCCL up as the blueprint to be used, willy nilly, elsewhere. He strongly believes that a check list of key criteria must be met in order for a community library such as theirs to be viable. These include: • Substantial community support, and a
Jim Brooks believes it is essential for community libraries to have the services of a professional librarian
for at least the first six months, in order to support the transition. Volunteers (who might only work in the library one or two hours a week) will inevitably need help to get to grips with new computer systems etc. And management teams need to learn their new responsibilities. Councils cannot simply assume that professional librarians, already stretched to the limit in most places, will go on supporting community libraries at the same time as doing their own jobs.
Libraries as Social Enterprise Another model for a community library is that being proposed in Lewisham – a very
Let Words with JAM know what is happening to libraries in your area. We will continue to update the story as it unfolds.
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different environment to Little Chalfont. There, businessman Darren Taylor has put in a bid to take over up to four libraries the council intends to close. He spoke to me on the phone from the offices of his business, Eco Computer Systems. Several years ago, Taylor left an IT job in the city to set up a not-for-profit social enterprise dedicated to computer recycling and the provision of IT training for those without computer access. When the company moved into the Pepys Resource Centre in Deptford and Taylor discovered that the building was a former library, he decided to restore its former function. Starting with a stock of one thousand books donated by Lewisham council, and another fifteen hundred donated by the local community, he set up a small library and computer resource centre. Taylor’s aunt was a librarian in Lewisham. He’s dyslexic and taught himself to read in libraries. He is clearly passionate about providing universal access to books, ebooks and IT – particularly to those with learning difficulties. The Pepys Resource Centre provides specialised hardware and software for the disabled and those with learning difficulties, something he hopes to replicate in other libraries. He plans to set up a charity, Ecolibraries, to run four much larger libraries. Lewisham council currently opens these libraries three and a half days a week. He aim would be to keep them open six days a week. As at the Resource Centre, he hopes to work with other groups to provide a café, IT training, after-school coaching in Maths and English and other services. The libraries would be fully linked to Lewisham Council Library Systems and the Council would provide some services free of charge, including installing self-service tills and employing a full-time community liaison librarian whose job it is to support to the community libraries. Taylor’s ‘multi-function’ approach means that he can obtain financial support from a variety of different sources. The provision of IT training attracts grants from the local Housing Association, and by turning the libraries into Heritage Centres for the local community, he hopes to get Lottery funding that will help to pay for the restoration of the library buildings.
But not every community has a social benefactor like Darren Taylor.
On one point both Darren Taylor and Jim Brooks are clear: they are not doing this because they think they are better placed to run libraries than the Councils. Faced with losing the libraries in their local communities, they found themselves in a position to bring together the skills and resources to rescue the service going, and they acted. But neither believes they have found a panacea. It seems inevitable that some local libraries will become simply book repositories, unconnected with the main public library service, probably sharing premises with community groups and small businesses. Though the precious heart of the library service (access to free books) will be preserved, much of what libraries currently provide will be lost. Many others will surely close.
One WWJ reader, now in her eighties, recalls the voluntary library in her village when she was growing up. The nearest County Library was only three miles away, but in those days only rate payers in the town were eligible to use it. In the countryside and villages in between, people were dependent on tiny book stocks manned by volunteers. ‘It was open one afternoon a fortnight, in the Village Institute. We were allowed to take out just one book at a time.’ The limited stock left the library’s young subscribers with some odd gaps in their reading. ‘I grew up loving Milly Molly Mandy, but I’d never heard of Winnie the Pooh.’
Time Running Out: Whichever model a community decides is appropriate, they have only a matter of weeks to produce viable business plans with which to save their libraries, or those libraries will face closure. Most councils have been asking for business plans to be presented by mid February. If no solution is found, some libraries could close as early as this March. For many reasons, the process can be divisive. Those with friends and neighbours facing redundancy from their jobs at the library may be deeply ambivalent about volunteering to run a community library – wanting to keep the service running but nonetheless feeling as if they are taking someone else’s job from them. At the same time, protestors are caught in a double bind. Those choosing to stand up and fight against the principle of library closures may forfeit the chance to put forward a business plan to save them by any other means. But if public libraries close – and especially if they are not replaced by community libraries or social enterprises – it calls into question whether indeed councils will be in breach of their legal obligation to provide a ‘comprehensive service’. This is the view taken by protestors in Somerset, who have called for a national public inquiry into library services. Somerset Council recently reprieved 9 of the 20 libraries previously threatened with closure, as a direct result of campaigning by local people. But as William Bloom, from Friends of Glastonbury Library , told me a couple of weeks ago, “It is not enough to save one or two libraries here and there.” In that spirit, FoGL have put forward their own proposal , which aims to save all Somerset’s libraries. Legal challenges to library service cuts are also being considered by campaigners in Doncaster, Oxfordshire and Lewisham.
Whatever your views on how best to run library services, there can be little doubt: now is the time to act. What happens over the next few weeks is likely to determine the nature and extent of our library services for decades to come.
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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
Moths in a Jar by Abigail Wyatt
Review by Amanda Hodgkinson Rating: deipnosophist Abigail Wyatt’s new collection of poetry Moths in a Jar journeys through the uncertain geographies of life and relationships, offering us a sharp-eyed vision of the shifting boundaries and upheavals of our emotional landscapes. These poems, rich in natural imagery, ebb and flow between land and sea and examine in their wake the fluidity and complexities involved in identities and gender, love and loss. The first poem in the collection is the Song of the Crab, which muses on the crab’s instinctive knowledge of a world where she finds herself between land and ocean. The crab ‘dances sideways for her life/And snaps her claws at what she must.’ With her knowledge of tides and shifting sands, she is capable of defence and doubt but also passion. This poem, reads like an arcane rule book of survival tactics for women and is a starting place for a collection that delights in watery metaphors and seashore imagery. In La Historia de Una Reina Loca, a virginal young woman’s ‘maiden voyage’ is taken on a strange sea where it is ‘forever dusk.’ Even in this odd half-light, the girl feels exposed and aware of her newly recognised, sexual
identity. ‘Neither wife, nor yet /Translated queen/I was exiled even then/my principality a border too far.’ In the next poem in the collection, Wrecked, the poem’s narrator is equally lost at sea. ‘Islanded she is/a mile offshore.’ In Ensign, the narrator launches herself into a watery unknown - ‘I cast off now/ in fear of the edge’. In Prose Box, a poem containing the beginnings of the narrator’s creative memories, it is the box itself that is ‘all at sea.’ Even Rapunzel doesn’t escape Wyatt’s littoral - the man calling for her is a pirate ready to plunder ‘her hold.’ Throughout the collection, recurrent motifs of eyes serve to suggest that watching is a way of dealing with uncertainty and the dangers inherent in the undertow of life. ‘Salt stung eyes’ lift starwards, ‘The eye of heaven/ squeezes a tear’. Eyes are darting, sharp, quick, pebbled and everywhere. In The Moon, the narrator sings to the far ocean, ‘where the narrow nets slice deep’ but her home is the foreshore. This is where she is ‘the clear-eyed crab whose great claw calls the stars where she commands.’ The most successful poem for this reader is Act of Remembrance, a poem filled with the numbness of loss. Here the rain itself comes sideways and the narrator can only watch and wait. But she is not passive. She bears her role of grieving religiously, as she does the driving rain, ‘she has no choice/this is something she knows how to do.’ She waits on in the wind and the rain, her own determined vigil forming an act of remembrance long after the
planes carrying the dead have come home. There is throughout the collection a repeated examination of the danger inherent in our emotional lives, a danger which is not resolved but instead accepted and taken on as a necessary task or as a destiny. The crab knows what the world is about and indeed, Wyatt’s poetry shines strongest in her careful dissecting of female experience, culminating in My Sweet Child. Here a litany of fairy tale images stitch together the birth and raising of a child. The narrator’s heart is ‘wound down/ to a scarlet thread’ and the child is both a ‘night-time terror’ and an ‘iridescent angel.’ The narrator’s devotional nature carries us through the poem and is never more apparent than in its last lines. Today, if you will, you may Cut out my heart My terrible my holy child. As in so many of these poems, there is a sense of clear determination and an almost devout belief in facing life and seeking out its riches along with its doubts and risks. It is no surprise then, that the collection ends with a celebration of the fastidious nature of moths, whose ‘frantic wings beat at the pane/ because the light shines there.’
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Review/Rant by Perry Illes
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Rating: Floccinaucinihilipilification Or: tonight Matthew I’ll be mostly writing in the style of a writers’ peer review website newcomer. Oh, and I’ll be writing like a girl, too! The throw-the-fucking-thing-at-the-wall moment came for me around page 180 – “Tommy’s socks peeked over the top of his Wellingtons. ‘I’m sorry if my feet poo a bit,’ he said.” Duzzums little tootsies poo-poo then. Oooh, cute little peeky socks. Fuck off. But I didn’t throw the book away, because I’d already reached page 180 so I read on to the end in the hope that the characters might raise the gumption to escape and maybe there’d be a car chase or something. And then I thought this book has far too many fucking commas in it. Now I’m fairly certain Ishiguro is a good writer. He’s won lots of prizes and sold lots of books and movie rights and got an OBE and everything and he’s probably fabulously wellto-do now. So I’m fairly certain the writing in NLMG is a start-to-finish stylistic affectation based upon the cloistered existence of an intelligent yet naïve and unimaginative clonefemale. But there’s a basic mistake here, surely, which is to confuse voice with style. A better writer, or a better book, would have told the story and shown the characters interacting with their background, rather than give the voice and the style to someone who couldn’t tell a story properly in the first place. Maybe narration in the third person might have worked better. Ah fuck, what do I know? Twenty-three copies of a self-published memoir and not a sniff from Hollywood.
Bitter, moi? But even when you get beyond the style, the story is unoriginal and the plot has holes you could drive a bus through. We have an alternative Britain (does this mean the Germans won the war, by the way, and have filled our green and pleasant land with Mengele-style experimental death-camps that produced a race of untermenschen?). But we still have television and newspapers and telephones and advertising. We’ve even got Volvos and hatchbacks. But things like computers, the internet and mobile phones have been airbrushed out because they’d get in the way of the rumour-machine that oils the plot. Can you get deferrals? Dunno, let’s check on deferrals.com. Oops. It’s a lumpy piece of convenience (set even more conveniently in the nineties to avoid most of this – but we still had that technology then.) And it makes huge psychological mistakes with human nature – cloning would have been outsourced to the third world where we didn’t have to look at them. Letting clones wander around Norfolk? That’s so naïve it’s laughable. They’d have been drugged up and kept in wards marked “kidney” or “heart” where they’d have been pumped full of drugs to benefit just that organ, like poultry in a paté factory. And any authoritarian attempts at art-based soul-searching would have been stamped out immediately. The whole industry would have been privatised to benefit the rich, and there’d have been a lot of blind clones stumbling about (“Daddy, I said greeny-grey. These are greeny-blue. Get me a new pair now!”). Clones would disappear abruptly during their childhoods because not everyone gets conveniently ill in their early adulthood. And the abuse-levels would have made the catholic priesthood look like saints, especially if clones really did look like Keira
Knightley. Having said that, I bet the film is better than the book was. This book has GCSE English Literature stamped all over it. “Compare and contrast Never Let Me Go with Brave New World. (1000 words max).” Actually, maybe it was written for teenagers or by Stephanie Meyer under a pseudonym given the language or maybe there’s a walloping great ALLEGORY screaming at me and I’m too stupid to have spotted it. (Norfolk/ Heaven; clones/vegan polemic; art-aswindow-to-the-soul? Hmmm.) There has to be something I’m missing here because I’m not sure how I can be expected to care about such a trio of limp and vapid and two-dimensional characters who accept their fate like sheep. Jesus, they’re just so fucking British. I want Bruce Willis to come and save them with lots of explosions, except he probably couldn’t be arsed. Either, way, if you want to see this story done properly, read An Orison of Son-mi 451 in David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. Does the job infinitely better. I’m off to get Remains of the Day now, because Ishiguro’s got to be joking with NLMG, right?
22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson Review by JD Smith Rating: Logodaedalus
22 Britannia Road begins at the end of the Second World War. Silvana and her son, Aurek, make the journey from a broken Poland, where they have been hiding in the forest since Warsaw fell, to England. Both have seen too much war – more, perhaps, than any soldier. In Ipswich, England, Silvana’s husband Janusz awaits their arrival. He hasn’t seen his wife or son in six years after fleeing Poland and becoming a deserter. He prepares for their arrival by securing employment, finding a house, and making it a family home.
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When Janusz first meets Silvana and Aurek it is obvious right from the start that the war has changed them all. Six years may as well be sixty as they awkwardly attempt to put their family back together. Aurek has become so close to his mother he mistrusts anyone else, especially Janusz whom he believes is taking his mother from him, and labels him ‘enemy’. The truth of where these three people started out before the war, what they have suffered, and how much they have changed is realised in the flashbacks interspersed between the present day narrative. The comparison makes for an extremely moving read. We see the beginning of Silvana and Janusz’ relationship as young lovers, we watch as Janusz leaves and the consequences his family face when he has gone. We witness the love Silvana has for her child, the guilt she carries, the choices she makes, and the terrible secrets she hides. Just as we follow Janusz’ path as he becomes a deserter, and we learn of his secret lover, Helene. As the story progresses Aurek becomes closer to his father, whilst Silvana more distant. The irony of the relationships so smoothly written it is difficult to say where one emotion might change into another. It is a testimony to Amanda Hodgkinson’s skill that the seamlessness of the narrative never once disturbs the reader’s enjoyment, despite the varying point of view and timeframe. What makes 22 Britannia Road so utterly compelling is the reality. Amanda Hodgkinson never once shies away from the brutality of war, nor the difficulties faced by her characters. What makes it most interesting is where the story begins … It starts with what would conventionally be seen as a happy ever after: a reunion at the end of a long war, exploring the idea that for many, it’s rarely that simple. To be released on the 28th April 2011 by Penguin imprint Fig Tree, I wouldn’t be surprised to see 22 Britannia Road on many an award short list. A definite must read.
The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse
Review by Gillian Hamer Rating: Tacenda and a half “Do you believe in ghosts?” asks the tag line on the back of the book. Well, I’m not sure. I’m what you’d call open-minded. But having come to the end of the story, I’m no nearer drawing any conclusion. I like Kate Mosse. I have done since hearing an interview on Radio 4 where she
brushed off the fact that Dan Brown had stolen her story, and her success, when The Da Vinci Code catapulted to the top of the best seller charts. I love both her books, Labyrinth and Sepulchre, but here, in Winter Ghosts, for me there was some element missing that stopped me being totally engrossed by the story. So, what’s missing? It has most of the prerequisite contents needed for a successful spooky tale. Evocative setting, haunting history, troubled narrator. Yes, all boxes ticked. Even my personal favourite, real life history weaved into the tale. But still, getting to the end of the book was more of a chore than a pleasure, and that’s not something I happily admit. I took this book with me on a preChristmas shopping trip to France, thinking that reading it in a cosy French coffee house while sipping Vin Chaud would add to the atmosphere. But unfortunately, it didn’t. Every time I tried to get into the story, I found myself bogged down with personal issues and long, detailed back story of the narrator, Freddie Watson, which led him to where we start the tale, a book shop in Toulouse. We then travel back five years to the series of events that led to Freddie’s meeting with the legendary Winter Ghosts. But still along the way, I feel we are hammered to within an inch of our lives about why Freddie is scarred, detail after detail about Freddie’s missing-in-action brother, George, and the reasons why Freddie is so willing to accept the course of events that swallow him up during an unplanned visit to the tiny village of Nulle. I wanted to scream out to the author that we got it. We understand where Freddie is coming from, what he’s looking for and where you want the book to take him. I felt that the
p a c e laboured under the microscopic examination of the character. Also, and this may be a personal choice, I find ghost stories much more frightening if I can relate to the characters, or I can accept the world where they live as believable. Then, when something paranormal does happen, it seems to double the effect on me. Here, although the author touches on life in France in 1928, there wasn’t enough for it to feel like real-life for me. And so, when haunting voices from the mountains or the odd flash of blue against the snow did happen, it kind of lacked any effect. Yes, there was some wonderful scene descriptions, and as ever, some subtle scenes with wonderful dialogue. But there was none of the edge-of-the-seat anticipation or eager page turning that I believe makes a perfect ghostly tale. I wasn’t spooked, never chilled, and not once did I check out of the window into the dark night to ensure no one was staring back in at me. That for me is what makes a good ghost story. One day, I’d like to sit down and try my hand at a ghost novel and maybe I will reread this book then and take elements from it to create my fictional world. I agree with the author’s words in the back of the book that great inspiration can come from landscape and the spirit of the land. I think Kate Mosse captures that perfectly in this book – but I also think she misses quite a few other vital ingredients along the way.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King Review by I Tokc-Wilde
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In King’s own words, On Writing is ‘an attempt to put down, briefly and simply, how I came to the craft, what I know about it now, and how it’s done.’ Part autobiography and part collection of tips for the aspiring writer, it won’t teach you everything you think you need to know about writing. But it will tell you how one writer was formed and what, according to King, is ‘good writing’. As it says on the tin, the first section of the book is King’s memoir, from childhood to his struggle with alcoholism and drug abuse later in life, from his first scribbling attempts to his eventual global success. Don’t skip these first 100 pages though, even if you’re impatient to get to the nitty-gritty of the craft. King’s account of his journey to stardom is fascinating, peppered with inspirational and uplifting anecdotes, albeit it also illustrates what we all know – it’s a long and winding road. His bio out of the way, King talks about ‘good writing’ – writing that is above competent, readable and publishable rather than literary masterpieces or prize winners (there’s a surprise...). He believes it’s impossible to turn a bad writer into a competent one, or a good writer into a great one, but that ‘it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.’ It’s a damn hard slog though: ‘Read and write four to six hours a day. If you cannot find the time for that, you can’t expect to become a good writer.’ Bad news for those of us who can only ‘do’ evenings and weekends, eh? To write well, in King’s view, we must have good grasp of three essential writing tools. Vocabulary sits at the top of his writing Toolbox (but ‘don’t make any conscious effort to improve it’ - this happens on the subconscious level, when you read a lot), the second layer is grammar, and, finally, style. Much of this is rehashing of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, which King openly admits is the best book on the fundamentals of writing. So much so that, when first reading On Writing, I felt compelled to put it down and picked up The Elements instead. When you can read and learn from the original, why would you make do with second best? On with the story, though. To weave a good one - and authors do not create stories, but unearth them - King emphasizes the need to learn the basics elements – narration, description and dialogue (Hmm...? Where have I read this before?). The writer should also consider symbolism and theme but only in the second draft, once the basic storytelling is done. And how long should the first draft take? A piece of string comes to mind but
King advocates about three months. Then leave it for six weeks. Then revise. Make sure you cut it short by 10% and, hey, presto! All in, it’s like baking a cake – it’ll work out just fine, with the right ingredients, some heat, and provided that you turn the telly off for the duration and close the door on your family and other distractions. Also provided that you treat it like any other full time job and don’t forget to sprinkle in a few drops of talent. No, you can’t do without, says King. You can’t do without the support of your family either, assuming they aren’t too pissed off with you for closing that door. In the final chapters, King recalls the near-fatal accident in 1999, when he was hit by a van while walking along a country road near his home in Maine. The initial outlook was pretty grim, yet King’s wife urged him to start writing again only five weeks later, understanding this was exactly what King needed. He wrote a little at first but, soon, it was business as usual. By far, these final pages are the most compelling, proving that writing is, at least for some, a life support mechanism and that we cannot – and shouldn’t - do without it. Because it’s not like he had to get back to writing to earn even more money, right? So, what makes this book different from other books on writing? First and foremost, it’s an absorbing story, expertly told. Look at it this way: the writing tips are thrown in as a bonus.
The Ho Ho Ho Mystery by Bob Burke Review by Lorraine Mace Rating: Deipnosophist
Told from the point of view of Harry Pigg (the last remaining pig of the three little pigs – the bright one who made his house out of bricks) the owner of the The Third Pig Detective Agency based in Grimmtown, The Ho Ho Ho Mystery takes readers on a wonderfully amusing journey through the land of fairy tales, where things are quite definitely not what they seem. When a tearful (and very damp) Mrs Claus begs Harry to find her husband in time
for the Christmas rush, Harry thinks it should be an easy case. After all, Santa Claus isn’t exactly the type of character to go unnoticed. However, it soon becomes clear that Santa has been kidnapped and Harry has to find him before it’s too late. Getting in the way of Harry tracking down the missing Mr Claus is the extremely threatening Ali Baba, who has been framed for mass robbery. Needless to say, Ali thinks his needs come first, but the weepy Clarissa Claus had other ideas. Dealing with a stroppy Rudolph, who believes his fame should entitle him to star treatment, and some very bad-tempered elves, Harry has to rely on his ingenuity, a head not built for heights and trotters not designed for climbing as he balances in midair trying to break into the sleigh of the Fiddlers Three. Fortunately for Harry (or maybe not) he has assistance in the form of a flatulent ex-genie and Jack Horner. The book is written for children, but adults will love the humour as many of the gags are aimed at parents reading the book, rather than the children themselves. The novel does require a complete suspension of belief (I caught myself questioning how trotters could hang on when Harry needs to stop himself from falling, for example) but this is a minor gripe and doesn’t get in the way of enjoying a thoroughly original and fun read.
by Shameless Charlatan Druid Keith LEO
Unfortunately I have a bit of bad news for Leos this month. I’m afraid the ship you’ll be travelling on is going to hit an ice berg and sink and the girl you meet on board is going to hog the only bit of driftwood for miles around and let you freeze to death in the icy Atlantic. Sorry about that, but it’s in the stars so it must be true.
As Venus enters your celestial house this month, some time around the 5th, you will find yourself wondering if you are happy to stay with this star sign. You may feel that you have been a Virgin long enough and maybe it’s time to try something new. But beware! Do you really want to let fellow Virgins cuddly Camp Rock funsters The Jonas Brothers down? Consider that carefully before committing to a new sign. If you are unsure of how to proceed and are a lady aged between 20 and 25 you may benefit from a private consultation with me as I always have time for Virgins.
Mars is entering your house this month but don’t despair – it will just be a funsize version. This turn of events will lead you to ponder the eternal question – what’s fun about it? Beware of eating too much pizza on the 29th as it may lead to some serious consternation (if that’s the word) on the 30th which can probably be relieved by the ingestion of any of a number of over-the-counter stool softening products. As a wise man once said to me - Look after your stools, Librans, and the sofas and armchairs will look after themselves.
Like the football chant that lent its name to this sign, when funtime priest and stigmata man Padre Pio was playing as a forward for Millwall FC in the seventies, this will be your month to score. From the 5th onwards keep
your eyes peeled for anyone born under the Virgo sign and you may be able to help in their defection to a new sign. They’re mad for it.
You will be so gullible this month that you will think this is an accurate prediction of how gullible you are. Through my amazing powers of remote viewing (which you also are gullible enough to believe in) I can see you sitting there nodding your head. People may try to mock you for this but stand firm in your commitment to believe in shit like this. I, for one, am very grateful for your continuing belief in all things supernatural as I’d be out of a job otherwise.
ARIES This month you may be approached by other Arians who want to take a petition to the Olympics Committee to reintroduce the Arian Race by London 2012. It might seem a bit of a laugh at the time, but try to remember how it turned out the last time for sports loving German pranksters The Nazis back in the forties. Best to steer well clear of that. Watch out for a woman/man/goat in shoes on the 9th as this encounter could lead to lasting romance.
TAURUS Good times are ahead for you this month as
Pluto will come crashing into your sign this month and shake things up. Don’t despair – some things need shaking up from time to time so just welcome this visitor. I see a windfall in the shape of a cash reward on the 15th as Mickey will be happy to pay for the safe return of Pluto.
the recent cold spell will see a boom in the
envelope with ‘Good News’ written on it on
With Mercury’s arrival on the 9th now would be a good time to set up those water shops you’ve been dreaming about, although you may want to take a leaf out of defunct star sign Toysarius and change the spelling to Aqua’r’us. Don’t let those around you sneer at your dream – remember, as the planets teach us, It’s perfectly OK to dream big, so long as you’re prepared to put up with the drudgery of real life while you’re awake.
With the arrival of Neptune this month you will find that thoughts of spring cleaning begin to cross your mind. This won’t be directly because that heavenly body has entered your celestial house, but more because it’s almost spring and your house needs a good cleaning.
Taurus industry. You may run into some difficulties with your bargain winter sun offer to Tunisia and Brisbane, and some Leos may look for a refund from their cruise holiday. Good news will come in the shape of an the 22nd.
GEMINI Now that you’re over Christmas and the New Year celebrations, don’t be tempted to enter yourself for the Eurovision again. It will only end in tears. Again.
CANCER The spotlight will be on you this month as jolly joker and light entertainer Frankie Boyle will be telling some jokes about you on the telly. Don’t worry – it’s Frankie, so it will all be in the best possible taste.
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