Wannabe a Writer Weâ€™ve Heard of?
by Jane Wenham-Jones
Win a Place on a Residential Writing Course
in Comp Corner
Words with JAM
First Annual Short Story Competition RESULTS Stories, Poems, Guides, Games and Wish-List Suggestions in our
60 Second Interviews with
Dan Abnett and Chris Womersley
First Anniversary Issue www.quinnpublications.co.uk
December 2010/January 2011
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Contents | 3
The Woman Before Me
Random stuff By Ruth Dugdall
6 Wannabe a Writer We’ve ISBN: 9781907461156 Heard Of ? Author One Glass is2010 Never Published: 28thof August
Enough and Wannabe a Writer, Jane Wenham-Jones gives top tips from her new book Wannabe a Writer We’ve Heard Of
12 Dear Ed
Letters of the satirical variety: Grammar Nazis
22 Mind the Gap
13 Getting Ready to be Lucky
Ruth Dugdall on winning the Luke Bitmead Novel Bursary
25 Talk About Funny
**Winner of the CWA Debut Dagger Award** **Winner of the 2009 Luke Bitmead Bursary** 8 Dreams I Have of Dying
On Principles of Punctuation; or: Navigating around a New Country, One Cultural Blunder at a Time by Michelle Elvy
Lorraine Mace talks about her adventures filming videos on writing comedy ...
More from Perry Iles in his Feeble Excuses, Procrastination and Displacement Activities column
from Shameless Charlatan "An enthralling psychological thriller - perfect for Druid Keith fans of Sophie Hannah" Best-selling author Sam Mills
17 Dreams Can Come True Festive Frivolity ‘Dark, disturbing and authentic’ CWA judging Author of Katy Carter Wants a Hero, panel
Ruth Saberton talks about sharing 28 Christmas Poems her knowledge through creative by Magdalena Ball writing courses - See this issue’s They came for me, just like I knew they would. hadtobeen Comp Corner Luke for a chance win a dead for just three days. Rose W residential place on one of her 2011 29 A Christmas In Heaven is shattered when her newborn baby Joel is admitted to intensive care. Alongside her is Emma H courses a quite short story by Natalie who’s just given birth to Luke. Joel dies and Luke is thriving, until tragedy strikes and Flynn Rose is th
31 Christmas Day: A CutOut-And-Keep Guide Now, having spent nearly five years behind bars, Rose is just weeks away from freedom. Her pro Danny Gillan taking the piss officer11 Cate whether Rose is remorseful for Luke’s death, or whether she remains a Thismust Year’sdecide Christmas to society. As Cate is 34 Tastless Games Require Blockbuster ... drawn in, she begins to doubt her own judgement. Gillian Hamer on the man behind Banishment, Tabloids the next Narnia adventure to hit the Where is the line between love and obsession, can justice be served and, ifQuietly so… by what means Murmur 18 60 Second Interviews big screen: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Perry Iles introduces a variety of Jill Marsh interviews award-winning treats to degree occupy us during this time and Ruth in English comicDugdall book writer studied Dan Abnett a BA (Hons) of over-indulgence and Chris of Studies at Womersley, Warwickwinner University, and then an MA is Social Work a the 2008 Ned Kelly Award for Best She as a Probation 36 Officer almost a decade, wo Firstworked Crime Fiction Dear for Santa ... prisons with numerous high-risk criminals. The as Woman Bef Suggestions from Writers to what they’d put on their Christmas (Legend Press, 2010) was informed by her experiences. 20 The Medical War Against this year authenticity and credib professional background gives herlistwriting
Derek Duggan wages, well, war
The Woman Before Me was the winner of the Debut Dagger A 2005. Ruth secured her publishing deal with Legend Pres
The Team | 4
From the Editor Sheila Bugler won a place on the 2008 Apprenticeships in Fiction programme. Whilst publishers debate her first novel, she is working on her second novel and spending way too much time indulging her unhealthy interest in synopsis-writing. 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 [Deputy Editor] 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 [Deputy Editor], a columnist with Writing Magazine and co-author, with Maureen VincentNortham, 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. Anne Stormont - as well as being a writer, is a wife, mother and teacher. She is also a hopeless romantic, who likes happy endings. 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.
Here it is. Our first anniversary issue. I could get all weepy, but to be honest I’d rather just give a bloody great huge thank you to Sheila, Derek, Danny, Gilly, Dan, Perry, Lorraine, Jill, Anne and Kat. They have been here from the start, contributing time, effort and talent. So, thank you, each and every one of you. Thank you also to all our special guests, who kindly made time despite tight deadlines to write articles for us. Thank you, too, dear readers, for supporting us, submitting, participating and generally enjoying (we hope) the magazine. Briefly, this issue I am delighted to announce the winners of our First Annual Short Story Competition. In addition we are giving away a place on a residential writing course in Cornwall courtesy of Ruth Saberton to the person submitting the best last line of a story. I’d tell you what else we’ve got loaded in these pages, but they are just that, loaded, having blown the page count yet again. Instead I thought I’d reflect a little on what the last 12 months have been like being an editor. Well, it’s been fun, I can definitely say that. I’ve been called ‘planny’ more times than I can count. I think people generally mean I’m bossy when it comes to arranging stuff because I want to know where, why, when, and what I should be wearing. The best thing about being an editor is that you get to make all the final decisions, and what the end product looks like lies with you, and I suppose I enjoy that responsibility. The downside is that I now know what it is to say ‘no’. I’ve heard people complain about agents sending them compliment slips with ‘fuck off I’m busy’ written on more times than Jeffrey Archer’s released a book. Many have taken it personally, or think that agents are ignorant - well, the ones using that exact wording are perhaps. But now I can sympathize. I didn’t realise when I put together the first issue of Words with JAM just how popular it would be. Submissions for stories, columns, articles, and general enquiries drop into my inbox like the sound of my son’s breakfast cereal hitting the kitchen floor. So this is it, the first anniversary issue of Words with JAM - enjoy!
JD Smith [Editor] lives and works in the English Lake District. She uses her publishing house Quinn Publications as a source of procrastination to avoid actually writing.
Contents | 5
Contents Continued ... Competitions
54 Can Anybody Hear Me?
16 Comp Corner - Win a Residential Place on a Writing Course - FREE to Enter
56 Writers’ Manuals Distilled
Danny Gillan announces last issue’s finest, and this issue’s new competition.
Reading for a live audience by Dan Holloway
Jill Marsh takes a look at Story by Robert McKee in Part II
59 Just Do It: Plotting
Anne Stormont takes a peek at plotting your novel
60 Typically Topical Topics
26 Flash 500 Results
Judge’s report and results from the independent flash fiction competition
38 Words with JAM First Annual Short Story Competition THE RESULTS
Lorraine Mace provides inspiration on searching for article ideas
77 NEW - Directory
Competitions, Services, Events and more
Libraries 62 Kindling an Interest
Judge’s report, together with the long, short and winners lists, and the winning stories
Catriona Troth looks at the ups and downs of the new Amazon Kindle, and answers some common questions
Pencilbox/ backpack 37 Question Corner
Lorraine Mace answers your questions on writing
52 Getting an Agent
Sheila Bugler’s top tips on getting an agent
65 E Book News
The latest in E book news
68 STOP PRESS
Comprehensive spending review impact on libraries
69 Borrowing a Living Book
Following on from our Library Cat’s article in the last issue, Catriona Troth discusses her own experience borrowing Living Books
Reviews 70 What We Think of Some Books ...
Reviews of A Child of the Blood by Jo Reed, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, The Dead Beat by Cody James, Family Album by Penelope Lively, Lubin Tales by Gerry King, Charcoal by Oli Johns, and Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
Random Stuff | 6
Wannabe a Writer We’ve Heard Of? by Jane Wenham-Jones
When it comes to promoting books, nobody could accuse me of not doing my bit on the publicity front. I’ve been shouted at on Kilroy, chopped broccoli on Ready, Steady, Cook; had my hair dyed on The Salon and smashed a large piece of crystal on the set of The Heaven and Earth Show (this was not in the running order). Once I even stood on a box on Speakers’ Corner which, I can
tell you, is not for the faint-hearted. My motto has always been, in this harsh world of commercial enterprise, that bookselling has become : Say Yes to Everything. Even if that sometimes means travelling all day to appear for three minutes on a little-known satellite channel with six viewers only to find that just as one opens one’s mouth to mention one’s latest book, it is the advert break and the twelveyear old director is thanking one very much and ushering the next sucker in. My inability to say No goes some way to explaining why I’ve written five books in the time most of my writing friends have produced a dozen. But now, at least, all that time spent listening to the sound of
my own voice rather than getting it down on paper has been put to good use. And if you’re reading this, you’ve heard of me now ...
From Wannabe a Writer We’ve Heard Of? by Jane WenhamJones I am frequently amazed by the published authors I meet who shake their heads sadly at the mention of sales figures, yet have never appeared on the radio, or been interviewed in a magazine or given a talk. Why not? I ask myself. Or occasionally, th em. “Nobody’s asked me,” they reply. Or “I’m not very good at that sort of thing.” Or, once: “I don’t have your chutzpah.” But believe me, I didn’t always have it either. Front can be learned and cultivated like anything else. If it helps, remember it’s a two-way process. Magazines have pages to fill, radio stations many hours of airtime. Editors and producers need interesting people who will write and say fascinating things just as much as we need those vehicles to plug us. Nobody’s going to buy a book that they don’t know exists. And nobody is going to call you up and offer you a platform to talk about it from, if they don’t know you do!
Getting out there, getting known In order for a stranger to know who you are, they’ve got to have done one of these
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things: Heard someone else mention you, listened to you on the radio, read about you in a newspaper or magazine, seen a picture of you, watched you on TV, come across you on the internet, seen one of your books in a bookshop or bought one of your books and actually read it. You might think, being a writer, that the last two options were the most obvious routes to fame and fortune but unfortunately, as already mentioned, being piled high in the bookstores is no longer a given. With more and more publishers scrabbling for shelf space for their titles, having your book selected for sale in the supermarkets or on stations and at airports is a cause for celebration rather than to be expected and even if you are stocked in quantity and displayed prominently, the
How To Become
competition for sales is still tough. So there are two routes you can take. You can sit back and hope that at least a few people will get hold of a copy of your work and will be so bowled over that they tell all their friends who in turn tell theirs, that the news will spread like a rash, that internet orders will rocket, shops will be forced to order it in or increase their stock, and you will hit the best-seller lists by that holiest of grails – word of mouth. (If this happens to you, then hurrah and gosh and I can’t tell you how jealous I am.) Or you can hedge your bets and give the whole process a bit of a nudge….
• Be brave: Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you – get out and ask for them. The worst anyone can say is NO. It’s not very nice if they do, but you won’t die from it. • Be imaginative: Doing a signing? Don’t limit yourself to bookshops. I once signed novels on a cross-channel ferry; crime writer Peter James signed his from a coffin… • Be nice: One bookseller admitted he
Extracted from Wannabe a Writer We’ve Heard Of? by Jane Wenham-Jones. Published by Accent Press Ltd in paper back @ £9.99 @copyright Jane Wenham-Jones
A Successful Writer!
As a freelance writer, you can earn very good money in your spare time, writing the stories, articles, books, scripts etc that editors and publishers want. Millions of pounds are paid annually in fees and royalties. Earning your share can be fun, profitable and creatively most fulfilling. To help you become a successful writer we offer you a first-class, home-study course from professional writers – with individual guidance from expert tutors and flexible tuition tailored to your own requirements. You are shown how to make the most of your abilities, where to find ideas, how to turn them into publishable writing and how to sell them. In short, we show you exactly how to become a published writer. If you want writing success – this is the way to start! Whatever your writing ambitions, we can help you to achieve them. For we give you an effective, stimulating and most enjoyable creative writing course… appreciated by students and acclaimed by experts. It’s ideal for beginners. No previous experience or special background is required. You write and study at your own pace – you do not have to rush – as you have four years to complete your course. Many others have been successful this way. If they can do it – why can’t you? We are so confident that we can help you become a published writer that we give you a
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Random Stuff | 8
Feeble Excuses, The Dreams I Procrastination and have of Dying Displacement Activities Things I do when I should be writing by Perry Iles My neighbour went to Blackpool once. She got a cheapie from the Sun, a week in a Haven caravan park for £9.99. “When I got there I found it was Handicap Week,” she said. “The swimming pool was like fuckin’ vegetable soup.” She’s never been back. I should have known better. When we arrived it was raining horizontally, blown in on a westerly Atlantic gale, covering the car with a thin veneer of chip fat and sand so it looked a bit like a large, mobile emery board. Away along the promenade, Blackpool Tower reminded me of Paris, in the same way that a quarter-pounder reminds me of filet mignon because they’re both made of the same basic stuff. Sartre said that hell is other people. He’s obviously never been to Blackpool. Milton, on the other hand, probably has, although in the days before Primark opened its flagship store – four floors expanding upwards like the circles of hell in Paradise Lost, full of abject tat and people in polyester queuing for the lifts so they could search for nylon fleeces with pictures of wolves on. And there we were, my wife and daughter and me. I’d asked my daughter where she wanted to go for her ninth birthday. She said she wanted to go to the Black Bull, our local pub, because they do a nice macaroni cheese. She knows her limitations, my kid, but I’m getting
old and misheard her, which is how we found ourselves on Blackpool promenade in November, sheltering in a tram stop waiting for the rain to ease off. At least we’d booked a room – one of those Travelodge places advertised by Lenny Henry that you can get for £19 a night. It’s a bit like the French Formule 1 chain only much worse because it isn’t French. You have to pay to use the car park, pay to use the breakfast room, pay for breakfast, pay for toiletries. It’s full of salesmen shagging Polish prostitutes and families like mine getting off-season cheap midweek deals because their offspring had the bad grace not to have been born in the summer. Having said that, one of my daughter’s friends was born in August, and her parents took her to Disneyland in a heatwave once. They described four-hour queues and sweaty employees dressed as Snow White crossing the sun-blasted concrete and running up and down the lines with bottles of water and mobile phones so that sunstroke victims could phone for ambulances. Given the choice, Blackpool in November wins, in the same way that root canal treatment with anaesthetic is better than a kick in the nuts when you’ve had an epidural. Imagine Blackpool in monochrome. Imagine it as a pre-apocalyptic urban
all broken. All the dogs have three legs and all the donkeys are dead. It’s full of 24-hour McDonalds branches. Everyone’s died but no one’s got around to going to heaven yet. It’s Eliot’s winding stair through purgatory, this. By the second turning on the fourth stair, the wind howls in from the grey sea, funnelling down sidestreets full of closeddown amusement arcades. The fish and chip shops are empty, the 300-seater Burger King is full. Blackpool has turned its back on modern working class English culture and embraced ephemeral Americana in a last-ditch bid to be like Las Vegas. Of course, it winds up looking desperate in comparison. Imagine the Fat Slags turning up in an episode of Sex and the City and you’ve summarised Blackpool’s position on the international stage. America now seems to epitomise the dreams of the illuminations – the golden arches with “Blackpool! I’m loving it!” next to the McDonalds branches. Glittery flickering Elvises lined up along the promenade in front of palm trees. Hula-girls with coconut breasts dancing on improbable seashores. Blackpool aspires to be somewhere else, and on first glance, so did I. We were there for three days. It rained all the time. Not just some of the time, not just showers. It rained heavily and ceaselessly.
Imagine the Fat Slags turning up in an episode of Sex and the City and you’ve summarised Blackpool’s position on the international stage. landscape full of charity shops, branches of Poundstretcher and Cash Converters, with a hint of Aldi just to raise the tone a little. It’s a world in which something is forever just about to happen but nothing ever does. Blackpool is monumentally ugly, even by English standards. The people are
It rained into the souvenir shops, it blew through the gaps in the masonry and shortcircuited the electrics in the Golden Mile amusement arcade. It rained through the black curtains of Gipsy Rose Lee’s crystal ball booth while she sheltered behind it smoking a roll-up and trying to sell wilting
Random Stuff | 9
s heather sprigs to passers by. It rained across the flapping plastic tarpaulins covering the closed-down market. It rained in through the upstairs window of ShoeLand and ruined the stock on the size four shelf. It rained on Patel’s rock shop (“We sell fag’s”) and on the loan shop opposite (“Cash loan’s from £10 pounds!”). In the window of an off-license was a blu-tacked notice offering human companionship for £10 an hour day or night. It rained on that too, and that was
again I thought, as I looked from parrot to pensioner and back again and found it hard to tell the difference. So what was good about the place? The deep-fried all-day breakfast in the empty café opposite Burger King, served by a fat bloke with skin the colour of used lard. That was so good we went back the next day for another one. The slides in the Sandcastle Water Park too; we spent five hours there, swimming in the wave pool, going time and time again around the Master Blaster slide, where the water is so strong it drives you uphill and the tubes take you outside the pool where you loop and swirl above the street sitting in a rubber ring in your swimming costume. I spent ten minutes in the pool’s sauna, with mentholated steam driving the last residues of year-old nicotine from my lungs, then I plunged my face into crushed ice and felt my pores crackle. The little monorail that took my daughter and me above the crowds inside the Coral Island amusement arcade was fun as well. For £1 a time we rode above the slot machines holding plastic pop-guns that were electronically connected to little flashing targets in the ceiling. We ignored the targets and picked out random members of the public to shoot instead as we sailed above the Van Damme shoot-’em-ups like snipers in a shopping mall. BLAM! Shattered glass and skull fragments in the penny falls. POW! Breed no more, tattooed pram-face in the take-me-doggy-fashion stilettos. SPLAT!
Above the freezers were the novelties ... a gaudy foul-mouthed plastic parrot. POLLY WANTS A BLOWJOB! it yelled in my daughter’s face. FUCK OFF! FUCK OFF! FUCK OFF! It screamed at cackling pensioners, who screamed the same thing back at it. Orwell again I thought, as I looked from parrot to pensioner and back again and found it hard to tell the difference. on the inside. It rained on the just and the unjust alike in an egalitarian sort of grey drabness that Orwell would have loved. If you want a vision of Blackpool, imagine a mobility scooter running over a human foot in an orthopaedic shoe. Forever. In a shabby mall, you could buy frozen food that was advertised as being past its sell-by date. Fish fingers, three packets for a pound. Findus crispy pancakes, offbrand pizzas. Above the freezers were the novelties – rock penises next to the children’s dummies, a gaudy foul-mouthed plastic parrot. POLLY WANTS A BLOWJOB! it yelled in my daughter’s face. FUCK OFF! FUCK OFF! FUCK OFF! It screamed at cackling pensioners, who screamed the same thing back at it. Orwell
Brain tissue like spilled rhubarb and custard down the change machine perspex. Then my daughter shot her mother and we had to stop playing because her mother realised what we’d been doing. So instead we laughed at the poster advertising Ronnie Tussaud’s waxworks. New for 2010! Simon Cowell! Entry £11.99 per adult, £9.99 per child. Thirty quid to see an effigy of an X Factor judge, and you weren’t even allowed to burn it. And of course there were signs up everywhere urging the public to vote for Blackpool’s own Aiden Grimshaw to win the latest X-Factor karaoke talent-fest. I watched him sing Mad World on the show a few weeks ago, and suddenly understood his strangely deranged middle-distance stare and the aptness of the song’s lyrics. It’s the closest I’ve ever got to wanting to buy something that’s been on the programme. Imagine spending your childhood in Blackpool among the malfunctioning inhabitants with their scooters and zimmer frames and you’re close to Grimshaw’s escapist dreams. But as long as the English have aspirations Blackpool will continue to thrive. Welcome to Poundland-On-Sea, the Venice of the North. Welcome to stag night vomiting contests, to hen night groups of girls in porno-nurses’ uniforms. I got so used to that particular phenomenon that when we were walking past McDonalds on the last morning I saw a group of schoolgirls queuing at the takeaway counter and I had to look long and hard before I decided whether they were real or ironic. Then I realised that I’d gone native. I was a mid-fifties fat bastard in a stained t-shirt, jogging bottoms and thrift-store trainers, staring at miniskirted thirteen-year-olds as the wind hoisted veils of blown rain through an urban wasteland. I was crying out for either a restraining order or an Aphex Twin soundtrack. It was time to go home.
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This Year’s Christmas Blockbuster…
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The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by Gillian E Hamer
December 10th this year sees the release of the latest film in the Narnia series, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where we return to the magic and wonder of CS Lewis’ beloved fictional world. In this film, chronologically the fifth of the seven books of the Narnia series, Edmund and Lucy Pevensia, along with their cousin, Eustace, find themselves swallowed into a painting of the Narnia ship, the Dawn Treader. As they embark on an incredible journey of destiny and discovery, they confront obstacles beyond their wildest dreams. Adults and children alike are likely to be fascinated once again by the scope of the author’s imagination. But what is known about the author? Personally, what little I knew about CS Lewis came from research into another Oxford-associated writer, JRR Tolkien, and their apparent friendship within famous literary circles. From delving into the history of CS Lewis, it becomes clear that during his lifetime, his fictional works were one his lesser known sidelines. Charles Staples Lewis was born in Belfast in 1898. His father was a solicitor who had moved from Wales in the midnineteenth century, and his mother was the daughter of an Anglican priest. As a boy, he developed an active imagination by creating, along with his brother, his first fictional world, Boxen. Lewis loved the tales of Beatrix Potter, and similarly his world was inhabited and run by animals. Lewis loved animals with a passion. In fact, at the age of four, so moved was he by the death of his childhood pet, a terrier named Jacksie, he declared he would be
called Jack. And for most of his life, close friends and family knew Lewis as Jack. Lewis’s idyllic childhood was cut short following the death of his mother, and his father’s decision to send both boys to boarding school in England. The culture shock seemed to overload Lewis’s brain, and it was at this time Lewis began to develop as a radical thinker. He later wrote ‘No Englishman will be able to understand my first impressions of England.’ At the age of fifteen, Lewis discarded his Christian faith and declared himself an atheist, becoming interested in mythology and the occult. He later declared at the time that he was ‘very angry with God for not existing.’ It was the first germs of opinionated thought that would eventually lead him onto become one of the country’s most respected theologians. An unwelcome break from academic studies came during WWI when Lewis was commissioned as an officer in the Third Battalion, Somerset Royal Infantry. He arrived at the frontline in the Somme Valley on his nineteenth birthday. After returning from war, Lewis continued with his successful academic studies and moved on to a long and illustrious career teaching as a fellow of Magdelene College, Oxford from 19251954. It was at this time in his life that Lewis became a prolific writer and joined the famous circle of literary friends known as The Inklings. His late-night discussions with other thinkers such as JRR Tolkien and Charles Williams led him to find Christianity again, and he joined the Church of England. When he moved to take up the position of first Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English at the University of Cambridge, Lewis turned to the field of theology, and is still regarded by many as one of the most influential Christian
apologists of his time. His book, Mere Christianity, was voted best book of the twentieth century by Christian Today in 2000. Because Lewis came to the faith as a sceptic and was converted, he has been called ‘The Apostle to the Sceptics’ and although he defended his faith against objections, he was also interested in presenting a reasonable case for the truth of Christianity. Many followers believe his ideals spilled over into his fictional works, and point out that Narnia contains many Christian views and are often called allegory. Late in life, Lewis married Joy Gresham, an American writer and thinker with many similar views. Theirs was an intense but short lived marriage, when Joy died of cancer four years later. When Lewis himself died of renal failure on 22nd November 1963, his passing was somewhat shadowed by the assassination of John F Kennedy on the same day. A number of biographies have been written by some of Lewis’s closest and most trusted friends. The most famous depiction of his life with Joy Gresham was the touching 1993 film, Shadowlands, which starred Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger. For me, it is fascinating that such a talented mind that could craft a novel as original and long-lasting as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and in 2008 still be ranked eleventh in The Times list of fifty greatest British writers since 1945, should be more well-known during his lifetime for his non-fiction academic works. But it is great to see Lewis’s popularity continues to thrive almost half a century after the author’s death. And a trip to see Narnia’s latest adventure will doubtless be on many Christmas lists this year.
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Letters of the satirical variety Dear Editor, I must say it gives me a great feeling of self satisfaction to see how much more literate I am than at least 90% of facebook users. To be honest, it’s the main reason I have an account with them. Sincerely yours, S. Mugg Dear Words, I recently read a letter printed on your pages about the standard of literacy on social networking sites and I would like to add to the debate. I think it’s important to remember that there are many people out there who may suffer from dyslexia and so on and we must be careful not to put them off reading by being ‘grammar Nazis’. Of course, there are also many people who are just dopey fuckers that never bothered to learn to spell properly either. Lazy cunts. Love, Mrs N Courage Dear Editor, I am not a grammar Nazi. I get vaguely annoyed by people who don’t know the difference between there, their, and they’re or your and you’re as anyone in their right mind would, but there’s a much bigger problem out there – most people seem to have huge problems just understanding the basic language in the first place. For example, the other day a ‘friend’ of mine on facebook posted this as her status – At the rugger match today I had Tony Jones on my left and Tony Grimshaw on my right and all I could think was ‘Tony Sandwich!’ LOL! – I mentioned it to my wife but she didn’t understand my fury. So I called a friend and he didn’t see the problem straight away either. It was then I realised that the problem is endemic. Since when have we begun to name sandwiches by what’s on the fucking outside? Isn’t a ham sandwich so called because it has ham on the INSIDE? Isn’t that how the system works? For fucks sake. Pees Ncues
Thanks for pointing that out to us, Pees – are there any more phrase Nazis out there? Ed Dear Words with Jam, I have a confession to make – I’m not a writer. I just pretend to be one so I can have more friends on facebook. However, recently some of my online friends have begun to ask questions about what I’m writing. What should I do? Sincerely, Bill E Nomates Well Readers, Does anyone out there have any advice for Bill? Ed Dear Editor, I recently read with great interest a letter you published (issue six, December 2010, or this issue if you prefer) from someone pretending to be a writer on facebook. I do it too. All you have to do to stop people pestering you about your work is tell them that you’re writing a hilarious book about vampires that don’t die in the sun or anything or say it’s a fantasy epic and people will leave you alone. Make sure you put – 1,250 words today! Now the total is 212,087! – as your status once in a while and nobody will be the wiser. Best of luck Bill, Fay Kerr Dear Words with Jam, Thank god for people like Mr Ncues. It’s about bloody time people stood up against those who don’t understand what sandwiches are. Take my local sandwich shop for example. I mean, you ask them for a bacon, onion and jalapeño sandwich and they smile at you before handing over a big lump of inedible shit. I’m with you, Pees. Good on you, Haff Lissent
Dear Editor, Surely the previous letter should be signed – Haff Wit. Pees Dear Words with Jam, I’d like to point out to Mr Ncues that I was trying to be supportive. I certainly didn’t expect this to turn into sandwich-gate. Sincerely yours, Haff Dear Editor, Sweet suffering Jesus! What does Haff Wit mean by ‘sandwich-gate?’ I assume he’s attempting, like so many other buffoons, to draw some comparison to the Watergate Hotel scandal by adding the word ‘gate’ to the word ‘sandwich’. How does this work within the realms of the English language? If the word ‘gate’ was what indicated a scandal then the original would have been known as ‘Watergate-gate’ for fucks sake. Pees Dear Ed, I was reading an earlier letter in your magazine about ‘grammar Nazis’ and I thought I’d share this little anecdote. One time, in our local hospital, there was a mix up because someone had written ‘You’re in trouble,’ instead of ‘Urine trouble.’ How we all laughed. Except for granddad who died of a urinary infection. God bless, Mrs P Ness
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Getting Ready to Be Lucky by Ruth Dugdall
The thing is: if something happens too easily we just don’t appreciate it. Well, I’m in no danger there then. I’ve waited five years to see The Woman Before Me in print, and it’s been a tricky journey. So I thank my lucky stars and you won’t hear me moaning about being sent to do a book reading to a cow shed in the middle of rural Suffolk, or to a shoebox bookshop in some dead spot off the M25. I will talk to anyone and their dog (even if they only turn up because they thought it was Bingo night), and any person who actually buys my book will forever have my gratitude. No, you won’t hear me complaining… My journey from Purgatorio to Paradiso began ten years ago. I was working (fulltime and happily) and as a hobby penning a novel (part-time and strugglingly). Then in 2002 I went on maternity leave and I filled the time between feeding and nappy changes by writing. My husband was very supportive – he was happy with beans on toast so long as I finished “that bloody book”. So I did. It’s called The James Version, a historical fiction based on the actual murder of Maria Marten at the Red Barn in Suffolk, and during that ‘year off` it won a First Place at Winchester Writer’s Conference. The prize was 60 printed copies…and they sold in a heartbeat. So I did a proper print run and next thing I was a self-published author. The James Version sold well and went on to win the David St John Thomas SelfPublishing Marketing Award in 2006. Lovely jubbly, but writing was still a sideline. I went back to work Giving birth is obviously a creative process for me because in 2005 I had my second child and started my second novel,
The Woman The Woman Before Me, again writing it during my maternity leave. It is the story of a female stalker who murders a child, and explores the consequences of obsessive love. Towards the end of my maternity leave I entered it for the Debut Dagger. And it won! Now, winning that Dagger changed everything. I had agents contact me (one at eight am, telling me how she just had to represent me) and major publishers begging to see the full manuscript. Well, what would anyone do? I handed in my notice. I was going to be a writer! I had made it! It was all going to happen… Except it didn’t. The Woman Before Me fell at the marketing hurdle, was too `cross-genre`, `too dark`. My agent wanted to know what I was writing next so I told her about an idea I had for a new novel. The Sacrificial Man takes the theme of distorted love one stage further: David places an Internet advert, seeking a woman to kill and eat him. The novel focuses on Alice, who replies to the advert, and tells of her journey towards the moment when David is consecrated and consumed. My agent liked the idea. I started writing, finished it then history repeated itself. The Sacrificial Man was deemed too `niche` to be published. Okay, back to the drawing board… I started writing another novel… Years passed. Tumbleweed across my garden. Cold air swept through my piggy bank. Husband, tired of beans, said I should return to work… I took action! I was tired of having my fate decided by a handful of publishers. Taking heed of David Armstrong’s advice (How Not to Write a Novel) that “no one cares about a novel as much as the writer”, I dusted off those forgotten manuscripts (or whatever the computer equivalent is) and entered The Woman Before Me for
the Luke Bitmead Novel Bursary. (This By Ruth was set up by LegendDugdall Press in memory of
Luke Bitmead, a talented writer who sadly killed himself. The aim of the bursary is to ISBN: 9781907461156 publish a new writer each th year.) August 2010 Published: I also sent out28 The Sacrificial Man to a handful of independent publishing houses. Then I waited… I didn’t think I’d won the bursary. I assumed the winner must know in advance, so at the award ceremony I waited to hear my name. I heard them announce tenth, ninth place. Then seventh, sixth… my heart started pounding. My name hadn’t been read. When the second place went to someone else I knew I’d won and started crying. I didn’t stop for about a week – I was finally going to see The Woman Before Me in print. Within the same month I got two offers to publish The Sacrificial Man. (I signed with Solidus Press, largely on the strength came of Helen for Miles’s personality and I kne They me, just like the credentials of the other authors Solidus is shattered when her newborn b have published.) who’s justIn August giventhisbirth toyears Luke. Jo Lucky me! year, five (nearly) after winning the Debut Dagger, suspect. The Woman Before Me was published by Legend Press. It’s now out in the world, Now, having spent nearly being read, getting reviewed. I thank myfive ye lucky stars that it has been so well received. officer Cate must decide whethe The Sacrificial Man will be out next year. to Yes, society. isyou drawn I’ve beenAs very Cate lucky. But, know in, s what? I was really ready to be.
**Winner of the CWA **Winner of the 2009
"An enthralling psycho fans of Sophie Hannah
‘Dark, disturbing and a
Where is the line between love a
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Dreams Can Come True by Ruth Saberton
When I think about the beginning of my writing career I really wish I could borrow the Tardis and zoom back a few years to give myself some advice! If only I’d known then what I know now… I’ve learned so much about the world of writing and publishing since I started my writing journey and most of this knowledge has been discovered the hard way. How to plan a novel so that it’s tightly structured, how to pace and how to approach literary agents are just some of the things I’ve learned along the way. I cringe when I recall how I once sent a top agent my novel in a pink “Groovy Chick” folder. I deserved to be rejected for that alone and when I see her now at publishing events I want to sink through the floor! But I guess the point is that I had no idea how to go about submitting material. It was only through a long and painful process of rejections and by reading countless books on how to get published that I finally began to make sense of the whole process. But I wish I’d been a bit quicker!
Being a writer is wonderful. Nothing beats seeing your book in print for the very first time but on the flip side of this are the heartbreaking rejections, hours of solitary work and the constant fear that your work isn’t good enough. Then there’s the getting to grips with how the industry works, including the details that will get your manuscript noticed, choosing the right agent and later on deciding how to go about marketing and promoting the final product. The writing of the novel is probably the easiest bit! When Katy Carter Wants a Hero was published last year a lot of people approached me for advice and for a while I was inundated with manuscripts and pleas for help. It all felt rather overwhelming but I really wanted to be able to help. I used my website and my workshops at literary festivals to talk to my readers but I had so much to share that brief emails or questions following a talk weren’t always enough. I thought about all the things I’d wished I’d known and how much it would have helped to speak to someone who’d experienced the whole process. The problem was that writers always seemed so busy and inaccessible. If only somebody could teach aspiring writers how to approach the whole process…
At this point I had a “light bulb” moment - why not combine my fourteen years experience of teaching English with my expertise as a writer? And make use of beautiful Polperro where I live? After all, the village had been inspiring artists and writers for centuries! Writers’ Courses Cornwall was born! My writers’ courses are designed to share my knowledge in an in depth way as well as help aspiring writers craft their own work and move a step closer towards publication. To do this I’ve put together a selection of workshops that range from starting out and planning right the way through to approaching agents and then marketing and promoting a novel. I tailor the courses to the people attending and spend time taking each writer through a one to one session and critiquing their writing. I hold the courses in Kirk House, a beautiful sixteenth century converted chapel in the heart of the village, which is a setting that’s as much an inspiration as the ancient harbour and crumbling whitewashed cottages. I also love to use the village as a springboard for writing related tasks – one of which takes place in the local pub! The last course was so much fun and when it came to a close we all felt really
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sad. The weekend had been like a house party and by the Sunday night we’d bonded over our writing, huge meals and of course a few pints of local ale! It wasn’t all fun and games though – I did work my students hard! Two delegates are now in the process of submitting manuscripts and one has a novel being read by a top agent. I have everything crossed for her!
People often ask me what my top tips are for aspiring writers. That’s a tough one! For me, it was something that the prolific Cornish novelist E V Thompson said to me when, in the depths of rejection fueled despair, I approached him at a book signing. His advice was: Write what you love to read Write about what you know Never, ever, ever give up Encouraged I went away, determined not to quit. Writing about what I knew suddenly seemed to be the key and before I knew it I’d begun to write Katy Carter Wants a Hero, the very fictional tale of an English teacher who dreams of being a best selling novelist and runs away to Cornwall. This manuscript attracted the attention of literary agents, Orion bought the book in 2009 and last year I signed a further two book deal. I love working with Orion and I know how lucky I am to be building my career with them. My next novel, Ellie Andrews has Second Thoughts, is out in May 2011 and I’m now working on my third which is set in the world of fashion. So writing dreams can come true – if you’re prepared to work hard, take advice and not give up. Maybe the first step of your journey will be to come to one of my courses? The next Writers’ Course is being held from March 4th -7th and places are still available but limited so please book soon. I’m looking forward to meeting you!
Ruth has kindly offered a place on her residential writing course as a prize for this issue’s Comp Corner. If you would like a chance to win, see the following pages for more information.
Regardless of the writer’s level or ability, there is something extremely daunting about putting together a submission. It doesn’t matter if it is an article for a magazine, or short story for a competition, a humorous anecdote, a play or TV script, a novel or non-fiction book, “The Writer’s ABC Checklist” will provide answers to questions you didn’t even know you should ask. With its A-Z format, references can be found quickly and effortlessly. Unfamiliar terms are explained and bullet points at the end of most sections provide a quick reminder of the main items covered. This unique book is packed with writing tips and is something no aspiring writer can afford to be without.
AVAILABLE FOR JUST £6.99
Click to visit Amazon.co.uk RRP £9.99 ISBN 978-1907016196 Published by Accent Press Ltd
Competitions | 16
Comp Corner with Danny Gillan
Win a Place on a Four Day Residential Writing Course in Cornwall FREE ENTRY To celebrate our first birthday, we’ve decided to give a prize to the overall winner of this December’s Comp Corner competition! I know, how good is that? The prize, generously donated by Orion author Ruth Saberton, is a four day residential place on one of her Writers’ Courses Cornwall (UK) retreats (http:// www.writerscoursescor nwall. co.uk). Included is all tuition, 5 star accommodation in Polperro, food at a local inn, drinks and a car parking permit.
All you have to send us is the last couple of lines of a story. That’s it.
Obviously you have to have written it yourself and not lifted it from some famous piece of work. The lines can be from something you’ve already written or just made up for the competition, we don’t mind. As ever, it can be funny, or clever, or moving, or just bloody good. 40 words max, in the body of an email, and no more than three goes per entrant. Get to it. Entries should be emailed to email@example.com by no later than 14th January 2011. The winner will be announced in the February 2011 issue, where we will print the shortlist of ten, together with the overall winning entry.
About Ruth Ruth is the author of “Katy Carter wants a Hero” and has been writing for ten years. Besides “Katy Carter” Ruth has had novels published under the pen names Jessica Fox and Georgie Carter. 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 first of which will be published next May. She is a columnist for the Western Morning News and this year was invited to speak at the prestigious Daphne du Maurier Literary Festival in Fowey.
About the Course In these courses Ruth combines her 14 years of teaching experience with her expertise as a novelist to deliver a range of informative and creative workshops for aspiring writers. Six workshops are held, ranging from plotting and structuring your novel to how to approach agents and publishers. Renowned as one of the most beautiful villages in Cornwall, Polperro is the ideal inspirational location to explore your creative
Competitions | 17
side and develop your craft as a writer.
Friday afternoon– Arrival. Meet and greet. Explore the village if you wish. Dinner at a local inn, followed by a glass of wine at the house and an informal session with Ruth, to discuss her writing journey and your own aims as a writer. Saturday – 8.30 – 9.30 Breakfast. 10.00 - 11.00 Workshop 1 – Planning a novel and the importance of structure. Break for coffee. 11.30 - 12.30 Workshop 2 - Plot and characterisation. Break for lunch. 2.00 – 3.00 Workshop 3 - Narrative style and description (followed by free time to work on task).
email Ruth Saberton on firstname.lastname@example.org. • Words with JAM are unable to substitute the prize should it be withdrawn by the sponsor. • Closing date 14th January 2011. • Entries should be sent in the body of an email to danny@ wordswithjam.co.uk. Postal entries not accepted.
Simile comp winners We know you’re all too excited about this month’s prize comp to remember about last issue’s similes, but we received some excellent entries as always. Many thanks to everyone who sent in their favourite examples, with special mention going to Kat Marshall for making all wince over our morning coffee. She says she overheard her entry at work, but we reckon she’s just got that sort of mind.
Dinner at Kirk House, followed by informal feedback and discussion. Sunday – 8.30 – 9.30 Breakfast.
• Her makeup was as bright as a child’s crayon scribblings, and just as badly applied.
10.00- 11.00 Workshop 1 - Sharing ideas and critique of writing. Break for coffee.
• He was skinnier than a vegetarian abandoned at sea with nothing but a fishing rod and a box of worms for company.
11.30 – 12.30 Workshop 2 – Opening chapters and synopsis. Break for lunch. 2.00 – 3.00 Workshop 3 - Approaching agents and the route to publication. Dinner at Kirk House, followed by informal feedback and discussion. Monday morning- 8.30 – 9.30 Breakfast and goodbyes Coffee and pastry in village before departure
Rules: • Extracts must be no more than 40 words each. No more than three entries per person. Entry is free. • Entries must be in English. • Entries must be the author’s own work, and must not have been previously published. • No alterations may be made to entries once they have been submitted. • Regular columnists of Words with JAM, and any person assisting in the judging process, are welcome to submit, but will NOT be eligible for the prize. • The prize is non-exchangeable, subject to availability, must be redeemed by the winner only, and cannot be resold. The prize is a residential writing course in Cornwall, United Kingdom for one person and must be redeemed by the end of October 2011 - which is the last course of the year. Accommodation, meals and workshops are included – partners or friends can book for an additional fee. Travel expenses are NOT included. For more information visit http://www.writerscoursescornwall.co.uk or
• The rain lashed against the windowpane like a demented dominatrix.
Rin Simpson • Goodie piloted his Mercedes up the passing lane of Route 3 at an exhilarating speed, one my Saab would not recognize. Horowitz reached a feverish pace to match. “Okay then,” I said, feeling like I was on a carnival ride. • It was like waiting for the subway, deep underground late at night, and there’s a psychotic homeless guy ranting on a nearby bench. You’re concerned he might snap and come at you wielding the lid of a tuna can. • “...for a nice meal or a round of golf, they’d put on fishnet stockings and bark like a dog in the middle of Filene’s Basement.” • “Yeah,” she said, screwing her face up like she smelled bad Chinese food.
Pete Morin • “Burnt him! Course I burnt him, specially his face. Finished up nice and crispy and soft inside just like Jamie Oliver’s crème brulee.”
Lesley Lanir • “We are like the beating heart of this company” “No you’re not. You are like the fucking severed foreskin of this company”
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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.
Gaunt’s Ghosts series, the Eisenhorn and Ravenor trilogies and, with Mike Lee, the Darkblade cycle. His novels Horus Rising and Legion (both for the Black Library) and his Torchwood novel Border Princes (for the BBC) were all bestsellers. His novel Triumff, for Angry Robot, was published in 2009 and nominated for the British Fantasy Society Award for Best Novel. He lives and works in Maidstone, Kent. Follow him on Twitter @VincentAbnett www.danabnett.com
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?
Which was your favourite childhood book?
Is there a book you were supposed to love but didn’t?
Where do you write?
What have you learned from writing?
Your intrepid reporter, Jill
Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury.
Joint winners: The Owl Service by Alan Garner, and The King Of The Copper Mountains by Paul Biegel.
Just below the wrist. Or, in my basement office.
Which was the book that changed your life? What objects are on your desk, and why?
A pen (a-duh), a rolodex (because I’m low tech), a pair of paper scissors (ibid), a toy theatre (for dramatic effect), a figurine of Joan of Arc (for that Saint Sabbat vibe), and a life-size, articulated wooden model of a human (skeletal) hand (because it’s handy).
Dan Abnett is a novelist and award-winning comic book writer. He has written over thirty-five novels, including the acclaimed
Which book should be on the national curriculum?
Anything, ANYTHING decent, but nothing, NOTHING by living authors –
can’t we let anything mature and become established any more? What the hell is wrong with anything that’s more than a few years old? Are Keats and Conrad too ‘hard’ for kids? Tough!
Do you have a word or phrase that you most overuse?
Yes, but it’s not a good out loud one.
Of course. That’s why there are lots of books.
That there’s always more to learn. And that you’ve got to read to write. If you’re a writer who claims not to be an avid reader, then I’ve got a very special word for you, and it’s not a good out loud one either.
Which book do you wish you’d written?
Dandelion Wine, The Owl Service and/or The King Of The Copper Mountains ;)
E-books : nemesis or genesis? Fine by me. And I’m a Luddite.
Which book/writer deserves to be better known? Savant by Adelie High.
Random Stuff | 19 What are you working on at the moment?
The assumption that I’ll be done by tea time. (Actually, my Combat SF novel for Angry Robot, Embedded).
What do you put on your chips?
All my hopes whenever I roll the dice.
Where do you write?
Mostly at the kitchen table, although occasionally at an office nearby that I share with my wife Roslyn. A former convent that has been lovingly transformed into an artist’s compound in beautiful Melbourne.
Which was the book that changed your life?
To Kill a Mockingbird was the first ‘grown-up’ novel I read by myself. I remember reading it when I was about eleven years old on a summer camping trip with my family and being transported to not just another world, but a different moral universe - a new and vital experience for me.
What objects are on your desk, and why?
Bowl of fruit, computer, notebook, pile of papers, a snowdome from Kiama, a town on the NSW south coast. Why? God knows ...
Chris Womersley is an Australian author of novels, short stories and essays. His work has appeared in Granta New Writing 14, Best Australian Short Stories 2006, New Australian Stories, Meanjin and The Monthly. His first novel The Low Road was hailed as a ‘dreamscape with echoes of Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, Samuel Beckett, Horace McCoy, Georges Simenon and Philip K. Dick’ and won the 2008 Ned Kelly Award for Best First Crime Fiction. His second novel, Bereft, a ghost story set in rural Australia during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1919 was released this year to great acclaim.
“This book is thoroughly enjoyable, compelling, moving, warm and completely memorable. I had that very rare experience of wanting to read it again, almost immediately.”
(Angela Meyer on Bereft, in Bookseller + Publisher.) www.chriswomersley.com
Which was your favourite childhood book?
One of my favourite books was Treasure Island - pirates, one-legged blackguards, The Black Spot. Excellent stuff. I just tried to re-read it but my three-year-old son hid it somewhere when I was only a few chapters from the finish. Lucky I know how it ends ...
Short stories or novels – where are you most comfortable?
I love both and they each have their challenges. A novel can often feel rather endless when in the process of writing it, but a short story offers no place to hide; every sentence has to move things forward and further ensnare the reader.
Do you have a word or phrase that you most overuse?
I use the word ‘just’ a lot as a kind of qualifier. A bad habit my agent picked up on. I am also rather guilty of overusing adverbs rather than opting for a more muscular verb to carry the action, which is generally preferable. In ‘Bereft’ I also used the word ‘humid’ too much, until it was pruned.
Is there a book you were supposed to love but didn’t?
Anything by Haruki Murakami boring people being bored, boringly.
What have you learned from writing?
I have learned the benefits of perseverance, of learning to love what you do because that will be transported to the reader. I have
also learned the balance of sticking to your vision without discounting the possibility that others might be able to see things in your work more clearly than you can.
Which book do you wish you’d written?
Underworld, by Don DeLillo feels like a masterpiece to me. The sheer breadth and scale of a novel that seems to encompass the entire second half of the twentieth century always flabbergasts me.
E-books – nemesis or genesis?
I am very happy to have e-book editions of both The Low Road and Bereft. Anything that helps my work find a wider audience is fine with me. I don’t believe that e-books spell the demise of traditional books but will, rather, simply exist in tandem with them. The delivery method does not in any way detract from the content of a book.
Which book/writer deserves to be better known?
I am always surprised that Donna Tartt’s second novel The Little Friend gets such a bad rap. I think it is a superb book, with set pieces to die for. A cobra tossed over a bridge into a soft-top Trans-Am, anyone?
What are you working on at the moment? I am working on a few short stories and starting to think of ideas for a new novel but there is nothing really to say about that except that a couple in the novel might have the name The Cheevers. I like the idea of the woman in the couple saying, rather drolly, “We are the under-Cheevers, darling, The underCheevers.” Although that in itself might not be enough to build a novel around...
What is the best way to eat a boiled egg? With toast soldiers, of course!
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The Medical War Against E Books by Derek Duggan
It’s been rough for the last couple of months, I don’t mind telling you. At first I just had a slight ache which I put down to over zealous training on my bike. It’s not unusual to experience a little discomfort in the groin area when you’ve been doing 140 km a day. But it didn’t go away. In fact, it began to grow. I tried to ignore it, but eventually it grew so severe that I had to go to the doctor and have it looked at. I don’t mind admitting that I was worried. I mean, I’m fit – in both senses of the word – but a sharp and continuing pain in the testicles is enough to bring any man to his knees.
The doctor was helpful, courteous, and very professional and he carried out some exhaustive examinations before telling me that what I had was a condition relatively new to the medical world. This made me worry even more as new conditions often mean treatment can be experimental. He sat back in his chair, placed both hands palm down on the table and fixed me with a caring stare. “I’m afraid what you have,” he said, “is a giant pain in the bollox listening to people going on about e books.” Look, first off, I want to make it totally clear that I’m not a techno-phobe or anything – I’m really not. It’s not the technology that’s causing the tenderness in my wombly janglies. I get it – you can have 3,500 books on your Kindle at any one time – superb. Personally, I can only read one at a go, but maybe that’s just me. I understand that being able to store several books on a device like this when you’re going on holidays to somewhere that doesn’t sell books and while the low price airline you’re flying with is liable to charge you for the air you breathe by the litre any saving on luggage weight is a bonus. How many times have I got on a plane and thought – If only I could have brought 3,500 books with me instead of just three? And if you want to self publish you can get your product to market place extremely cheaply – so no problem there. And I’m not worried that all the book shelf makers in the world are shitting themselves and getting ready to tighten their belts. I doubt if Serge Ikea is currently racking his brains trying to develop a self assembly attractive Kindle shelf that can be taken home and half made up before a domestic argument ensues – My dad wouldn’t have taken this long to do it – Well get your fucking dad to do it then! – You heartless bastard! You know he died when that self assembly multi-media
unit fell on him! – Maybe if he’d taken his time… – etc. No. These aren’t my issues. My problems are more basic. It’s not about the relative merits of reading in either paper or digital format. What’s fuelling the pain in my ball bag is not the technology, but what it could mean if it truly takes off. Before I get stuck in allow me to list the two unquestionable positives of e books – they’re relatively eco friendly – outside of the manufacturing and initial shipping, the rest is pretty green. Secondly, if your eyes aren’t what they used to be, you don’t have to order in large print editions. Let’s forget about the big technical issues like illegal file sharing – there are already plenty of places you can download your books for free. On one site you can download a single 8GB file containing 18,000 complete books. We’ll just have to trust that the boffins will come up with some security measure that every twelve year old in the world won’t be able to get around in ten seconds. Just like those clever computer guys have done with music and films which are completely impossible to file share illegally – well done, boffins. Let’s also not get bogged down in the quagmire that is what you are actually paying for and how many separate devices you can download your purchase to before it becomes a problem, or, how do I go about lending the book to someone? Also, I’m legally entitled to sell on my real books once I’m finished with them (as long as I don’t fuck about with the cover), so how does this work in the e book market? Is there a second hand e book shop anywhere? And wasn’t this right reflected in the original cost? So why don’t e books have this fee knocked off ? And if all my purchases are stored on some website will the provider be able to just decide to withdraw the content after a period of time? What if there’s a
problem with their storage facility and all your stuff is lost? Are you beginning to see where the ache in my trouser brains is coming from? What about the value of your device? To you it’s just worth however much the e-reader is in the shops because you can download all your stuff again – but if someone nicked it and there were 3,500 books on it would this change the nature of the offence as now they have made off with not just a hundred and twenty quid’s worth of electronics, but thirty five grand’s worth of property? – but whose property is it? I still have my property safe and sound on my Amazon account, so who owns the books that the robber is reading beside the pool in Palma when he’s on his holidays? My jizz factories are going to explode if I keep this up. I don’t want to dwell on the fact that 1.8 million books out of copyright (published before 1923 or something, classics etc) are available for free on Amazon for the Kindle. This means that any money a publisher like Penguin, say, used to make from these books and possibly invest in new writing, is gone. But, as I say, I don’t want to dwell on it because my knackers can’t take it. I haven’t even considered that the generation coming up now won’t have the same emotional attachment to paper books that I might have as laptops and the like become more prevalent in the classroom and so on. Like, I don’t see many teenagers bemoaning the loss of cassette tapes. And the art of animating a stickman shagging a stickdog in the margin of a geography book will be lost forever. The agony in my meaty-bites increases. On medical advice, I’ve been warned not to think about what’s going to happen with libraries. I mean, if all your books are on your Kindle anyway you won’t be worried about filling your bookcase and so once an online company like Spotify decide to let you look at stuff for free, even if you can’t keep it, why would you ever buy a book? If I were to think about that my doctor assures me that it would feel like my bangers had been driven into my stomach with an iron bar. Of course, other than these few minor concerns, I think e books are great. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to read an old fashioned paper book to ease the pain in my chestnuts.
I don’t want to dwell on the fact that 1.8 million books out of copyright (published before 1923 or something, classics etc) are available for free on Amazon for the Kindle. This means that any money a publisher like Penguin, say, used to make from these books and possibly invest in new writing, is gone.
WRITER’S DIARY 2011 In collaboration with Virago Press this year we offer 12 unique monthly inspirations in which current Virago authors discuss a favourite Virago Modern Classic author – and how that particular author inspires them.
£12.99 each or two for £24 (UK) ❉ Authors’ reading recommendations ❉ Quotes by writers on writing ❉ Exercises to stimulate creativity ❉ The writing year – competitions, festivals, awards ❉ Need to know – libraries, bookshops, courses ❉ Ten to try – literary magazines, websites, retreats ❉ How to use the internet to boost your creativity ❉ Re-write your life – tips for the new year ❉ Pages for recording writing submissions and books lent and borrowed ❉ Week-to-view, address book section, blank sheets for notes and scribbling
SPECIAL OFFER - £8
£12.99 Save £4.99 on a Diary with a 1-year subscription to Mslexia
(Offer UK only, for new subscribers or gift subscriptions. While stocks last.)
www.mslexia.co.uk +44 (0)191 233 3860
1st prize £2,000 2nd prize £500 3rd prize £250
Judge: Jackie Kay
Women’s Short Story Competition Closing date: 24 January 2011 For full details +44 (0)191 233 3860 or visit www.mslexia.co.uk
Random Stuff | 22
Mind the Gap
On Principles of Punctuation; or: Navigating around a New Country, One Cultural Blunder at a Time by Michelle Elvy
Part One. In which the narrator tries her hand at becoming a New Zealand Writer – and fails I recently joined a local writers’ group in a small Northland town; we meet biweekly. Sometimes we spend too much time on the business end of things – logistics of guest speakers, dates of local events, readings and competitions around New Zealand. Which is all very interesting to me, since I’m the new kid on the block, having just arrived from North America. But last week most of the meeting was dedicated to reading and commenting on our work. There were a few poems, a short story, an excerpt from a novella written for young readers. We discussed phrasing; we argued over the definition of a limerick. We debated the personality traits and motivations of characters. And then it was my turn. I read a flash fiction piece, which was met with silence. Stone-cold silence. Then: You read way too fast. Nods all around, universal agreement. I felt utterly American in that moment, aware that my accent marked me as unique, that even my reading style was different. I tried to read slowly, I really did, but I was sure they were right – I’m a fast talker, even more so in front of a group. Just ask any of my former students. The next comment followed even before the heads stopped nodding. -You’ve got to get rid of those dot-dots. -Huh? (Me, looking perplexed.) -Yeah, too many dot-dots! Now they were nodding even more vigorously. I had no idea what they were talking about.
-What do you mean? What dot-dots? (Ellipsis? I wondered….) -You know, everywhere! All those dot-dots! said the same first critic, as her hand went up, pointing forward in accusation, index and third finger punching the air. -Oh: the colons?! -Yeah, the dot-dots... and those other things, to: the dot and the comma. -You mean the semicolons? -Yes! Those! (More energetic nodding.) At least now I understood which punctuation offended. Call me a traditionalist, but defining terms is important to me. Scanning my page, I muttered a response. -Oh, I see (though I did not). Where do you mean, exactly? -Well, everywhere! You have them everywhere! Too many! -OK, so what do you suggest I do? I mean, what do I replace them with? They all answered at once. -Well, commas. - Or a full stop and make a new sentence. -Or a dash. -Yes, yes – a dash! -Colons and semi-colons are archaic (someone offered helpfully). -OK, I see, I said for the second time, but really I didn’t, especially in the case of turning a colon into a comma: I mean, how could that possibly work? And then, just like that, the critique was over; it was time to move on to other readings. Next, N. read an excerpt from her novella, and I perked up. N. has a way with words, and her voice climbs with excitement and surprise, cascades at moments of calm. She is a natural when it comes to reading aloud, and I love the images she creates in two short pages. But I stumbled in the passage where the boy in her story grows upset at his dad’s
driving and reaches over, lifts the dad’s knee off the pedal, and yells at him to stop riding the clutch! -How does the boy do this? I asked. How does he reach across his dad and lift his leg off the pedal? N. smiled, not unkindly, before offering the obvious answer. -Because in New Zealand he doesn’t have to reach across – the left leg is next to the passenger’s side. It was one of those Aha! moments, and once again, I felt like such an outsider, such an American. I realized in that moment that so much separates me from the people in that room – that they’ve grown up with experiences that I have not, and vice-versa. They learned Maori in school; I learned French. They flocked to the beach for New Year’s, while I sipped cocoa and dreamed of ski slopes. They grew up reading Joy Crowley; my girlhood stories were out on the prairie with Laura Ingalls Wilder. And where they speak a language that shares common ground with Lloyd Jones and Janet Frame, I grew up in a house of Faulkner, Styron, and Twain. We all speak English, but not in the same way. I feel even more of an outsider here than I did when I lived in Germany, where the novels of Thomas Mann and Guenther Grass and Christa Wolf spoke to me about wars and walls that shaped my twentieth-century childhood. Here I am lost as I struggle to play catch-up to my new peers: I am missing vital cultural references that connect these people to each other and keep me at arm’s length.
Part Two: In which the author fails to understand Kiwi men and women
Random Stuff | 23
I felt the gap grow as we came to the next story, which involved a man, his wife, and a weed-eater (that’s weed-whacker to Americans; whipper snipper to Australians). To make a long story short (literally), the episode portrayed the classically oldfashioned gender divide: she gets upset because the damn thing won’t start and curses her spouse for being a lazy goodfor-nothing; he starts the thing smugly with one pull then resumes his navel-gazing. My peers chuckled at the scene which, to me, was an utterly humorless exchange between an arrogant SOB and his whiny (wingy) wife. Against my better judgment, I plunged right in (as I am wont to do): -Why does the woman yell at him in the first place? -Because he’s lazing about on the veranda while she’s doing the yardwork. -But it was her choice, right? I mean, she took on the task herself, so why is she resentful towards the husband? (Self determination seemed a central theme here, and I was determined to pursue it.) -Right, but she’s still mad that he can start it so easily. -Yes, I see that, but why is he the only one who can start it? -He understands its quirks. -But then why doesn’t he just show her, so she knows, too? -Because she never asks! At this point, I recognized that these two characters were as familiar to the nodding heads in the room as they were unfamiliar to me. We were talking across a canyon of miscommunication. I could not accept what everyone else did: she doesn’t want to learn because she’s a woman; he doesn’t want to show her because he’s a man. Not that I haven’t experienced feeling mechanically challenged myself: I live on a boat and my daily existence includes finessing our finicky outboard. But I know how to use the choke on a cold morning, how to open the throttle to get it going when the system’s already flooded. I know how to drain the carburetor when I need to. And I sure as hell know that I need to know these things as much as my man. But I stumbled into rocky terrain here. I asked myself into a corner. Worst of all, I didn’t get the joke. And I felt ridiculous, because I knew they were right when they said, “Aw, Michelle, it’s just the Kiwi humor.” And they all nodded their heads in agreement. Again.
Part Three: In which the author reflects on her own transformation Aware as I am that I do not yet fit in here, I like this transition stage, too. I like knowing that there are new things to discover every single day about the place where my kids will grow up. I imagine a lifetime of becoming Kiwi, and what that means to me. I smile when my five year
old comes home from school talking about her “mates” and recites the new song she’s learned in her Maori class. It’s been a long time since I’ve settled down anywhere – I’ve lived in a new place every couple years since leaving my parents’ house over two decades ago. I’m aware that we’ll always be immigrants here, but the idea of becoming permanent immigrants is new to me. And I find that I like the idea of making myself at home – it’s something I do every day, in small ways. I spend long hours in the library, discovering New Zealand authors, bringing
Random Stuff | 24
them home and staying up late with them. I rent Kiwi movies – recently it’s been Angel at My Table, The Navigator, and Snakeskin – films rich and strange in content and form. For every movie I love, like In My Father’s Den, there’s another that I just don’t get, like Goodbye Porkpie. But that’s OK, because it’s all part of navigating my way through the cultural landscape of all things Kiwi. I pick up slang from the guy in the ice cream shop (though I’ve yet to try out “sweet as” myself – it feels boyish on my tongue). I read the dailies. I follow debates about atheism slogans on buses and the representative nature of the national flag. I even know a thing or two about cricket by now. Not much, mind you, but I’m at least aware that it’s more important than baseball round these parts. And I’m learning how to drive on the left-hand side of the road.
Part Four: In which the author investigates burning questions of punctuation I’ve since researched the use of the colon and semi-colon. I found nothing indicating their imminent demise. I looked in The Listener and The New Zealand Herald, in the non-fiction of Nigel Cox and the short stories of Faith Oxenbridge and Tracey Slaughter: they all use ‘em. I discovered numerous websites devoted to the earnest discussion of punctuation. I perused a site on general punctuation rules. I ran through a tutorial on “Comma, Colon, Semi-colon, or Period?” in which I answered ten questions in 45 seconds and got them all right. You can do it too at: http://www.niu.edu/writingtutorial/ punctuation/quizzes/Comma.htm; I discovered a site called Cracked which discusses changes in punctuation and offers up gems like this: Early Europeans standardized punctuation to make it easier to read the Bible out loud to Native villages they were raping and pillaging. And this: As humans slowly phase out the need for physical activity, punctuation is becoming overlooked by texters and bloggers who see the practice as an archaic exercise for the “mouth talkers.” (But I’m pretty sure my writing group
does not want to do away with the colon and semi-colon because they are texters and bloggers; none of us in the group – and I include myself here – is particularly agile with the latest technological advances in Iphones and Blackberries; we barely manage email.) This same site offers good advice when it comes to prioritizing clarity over trendiness in 21st century texting – when it’s best not to use a colon, for example: While “You have cancer of the :” may be the most efficient way to deliver a diagnosis of colon cancer over Instant Messenger, one should strive for clarity when using punctuation. For instance, the recipient may believe that you were about to enumerate different types of less deadly cancers they have. For this situation, we recommend the clearer and more emphatic, “You have cancer of the colon!” People like a straight shooter. I moved on to another site which looked promising but turned out to be more about archaic language in early Hebrew poetry than archaic punctuation. And then I stumbled onto the Anti Semi-Colon Coalition (ASCC) on Facebook which declares the semi-colon only useful as an emoticon for winking faces. I was admittedly impressed by their tone – I love people who take punctuation seriously, after all – and delighted to find a group so diverse (one which welcomes members “regardless of race, ethnicity, creed, political outlook, religion, or disability”). And even though I don’t agree with their campaign – to “unite to take down the hegemony of this archaic punctuation mark” – their very mission indicates that this winking fellow is in fact still thriving. Offensive to some some, sure, but in no way archaic. As an aside, I should also point out that one can’t help but admire them for quoting Vonnegut to make their point: “Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.” I’m a Vonnegut fan as much as the next gal (saw him drink his way through a presentation in Leipzig once, in which the central thread of his talk seemed to be that Germans had no sense of humor – he had the audience rolling on the floor), but I have a hard time supporting a cause which
relies on an iconic American author but doesn’t proofread its mission statement: Semi-colons are a bane to society, and must opposed (sic). The hegemony must be overthrown, we cannot afford to stand idly by as it grows stronger by the day, eventually its power will be so complete that it will be it will rule for eternity (sic). Do you want your children to grow up fearing the SemiColon’s Reign of Terror? (Oh, the desire to pepper that second sentence a semi-colon or two! Be still, my quivering hand!) And I rejoiced in my next discovery. For, just as Vonnegut himself wisely employs the colon even as he’s denigrating its half-brother, the radical ASCC writes in their section on Privacy: Open: All content is public. Which means, of course, that on the internet, as in print form, there is no threat to the colon. The colon is alive and well. And even if the ASCC declares the semi-colon archaic, I’m not disheartened – because, let’s face it, anyone can declare anything on Facebook.
Conclusion: in which the author looks past punctuation wars to a period of peace Of course, I am itching to share this discovery with my new writing group. I want to say, Look, I’ll endure my kids growing up with your funny accents; I’ll haul the barbie down to the beach at Christmas. I might even try a meat pie one day. But the colon and his winking mate stay: they are important to me. One day, when I feel more settled here, I will declare to Kiwis that I’ll not give up on the dotdot: I will use it even as they refuse it. And everything will be alright, because an immigrant culture is all about embracing change and compromise, isn’t it? So I’ll stick to my punctuation principles but wear a bikini on New Year’s Day.
Random Stuff | 25
Talk About Funny? by Lorraine Mace
What an opportunity, I thought, when I read the email from the Writers Bureau. They wanted me to talk about writing humour articles and give some advice to prospective students. They would supply the questions to which I would compose answers – and then the whole thing would be filmed in Manchester as one of a series of YouTube promotional videos. How hard could that be? Now, tell me honestly, doesn’t that sound like a dream set up for any writer? Um, well, not quite. As I live in France, it meant flying over to the UK. The first intimation I had that things might not go smoothly was when my shoes (I kid you not) set off the security alarms at Charles de Gaulle airport. One moment I was walking
through the surveillance arch and the next I was surrounded by officials demanding to search every nook and cranny. Pat, blush, pat, blush. Eventually, once they’d determined that I didn’t have anything suspicious tucked in my undies, they put my shoes through the scanner and the alarms went wild. I had visions of walking barefoot through the streets of Manchester, but fortunately it was only the metal heels causing the problem and I was allowed to reclaim my rogue footwear before boarding the plane. The next morning I read through my prompt sheet, convinced I could have recited it word for word. I set off for the Writers Bureau offices happy in the knowledge that I was as well prepared as possible. And I was well prepared – honestly I was. At least, that’s how I felt until I sat in front of the camera. “How did you get into writing humorous non-fiction in the first place?” asked the nice young interviewer. I opened my mouth. I closed my mouth. Not only could I not remember the answer I’d written down, but I couldn’t think of anything even remotely sensible to say. The interviewer smiled and said to relax, the cameraman smiled and said to relax, even the lovely lady watching on the monitor smiled and said to relax. To no avail. My brain had turned to mush and I had to confess that not only could I not remember how I’d got into writing humour in the first place, but I had no idea who I was or why I was there and I’d like to go and lie down as I was feeling severely menopausal. Somehow they pulled me through that question in only about twenty-five takes. Before I was asked the next question, the (still charming, but now slightly tense) interviewer gave me my crib sheet to remind me what I’d written. That worked
much better and we managed to get my answers on film in just twenty-four takes! By the time we were halfway through, I’d relaxed enough to remember an answer. In fact, when asked: What tips would you give to someone who wants to start writing this kind of non-fiction? I rattled off the entire response without a pause. Sadly, I’d forgotten to breathe, so was gasping by the end – not quite the right effect. I tried again and this time got the thumbs up from both the lady on the monitor and the interviewer, but not from the soundman! A bus had rattled past and the equipment had picked up the noise. I tried again, forgot my lines and was right back to where I’d started, panic-stricken. The nice people rallied round and eased me through, but I knew there were more questions to come. Heart thumping, skin clammy and hands shaking, I heard myself asking, in a querulous voice that sounded more like a 98-year-old, how many more? If it felt like eternity to me, imagine how it must have seemed to the film crew. The poor interviewer developed a nervous tick asking the same questions over and over. The cameraman’s smile looked as though it had been super-glued into place and I’m sure the lovely lady on the monitor had long since stopped believing in my ability to write my own name, never mind humour articles. Somehow, we reached the end. All the questions were asked and answered and the miracle of editing will, I hope, remove all trace of my idiocy. I haven’t yet seen the final version. I’m not sure I’ll ever be brave enough to watch it, but one thing I now know for certain, it’s easier to write than to speak.
Talk about funny? You must be joking.
Competition | 26
the results An independent competition, Words with JAM are delighted to publish the judge’s report and winning entry of Flash 500.
that she’s the narrator’s daughter but, through the nature of flash fiction, the reader is left, like the narrator, on the brink of discovering what will happen next. I do have a hankering to know ...
First: Lord Stanton’s Horse by Heikki Hietala Second: The Ghost of Christmas Past by Jayne Thickett Third: Fur by Janet Pate Highly Commended: That’s Life by Sheila Alcock
Judge’s Report for the third quarter’s Flash 500 Competition 2010 comes from Sue Moorcroft:
As a writer, creative writing tutor and competition judge, I see a lot of stories. It’s almost a relief to judge a flash fiction competition where, perforce, there’s no room for anything but good solid writing. You’ll notice that each of my picks contains a story. Those from the shortlist that I most easily discarded were the ones that were really only a character sketch or a piece of poetic description, enjoyable in themselves - but short on plot.
1st: Lord Stanton’s Horse
GREAT dialogue! And I was impressed by the emotion that the conversation conveyed. We didn’t get to study the protagonists but I was able to empathise and sympathise with them and was affected by that final line. I’m used to calling this slightly shocking end to a story ‘a killer last line’ - and this one really is. The writing is tight yet flowing and I didn’t feel as if the writer had cut down a longer work, to the story’s detriment, or reached the 500th word and stopped. It’s a fully rounded story.
2nd: The Ghost of Christmas Past
The theme of the story is in the title but this isn’t Dickens’s Ghost of Christmas Past. It’s the past come back to haunt the narrator in the form of a Christmas elf. I like the opening to this story because it brings on stage a conflict - not being able to remember where the teenage girl in elf costume has been encountered before - that proves to be only an introduction to a greater conflict: the girl is the narrator’s daughter who had been ‘given away’. Intriguingly, the girl knows
One thing that flash fiction is particularly good at is the darkedged story. Fur was the most successful of these on the shortlist, providing reader satisfaction when the unlovely Mrs. Harrison gets a taste of her own medicine and ends up as a couple of jackets for a poodle. The story relies on the reader suspending their disbelief but I feel that the writer carries us through that barrier nicely with a characterisation of Mrs. Harrison that makes us all too ready to enjoy her comeuppance.
Highly Commended: That’s Life
I was glad to receive a nice twist-in-the-tale story where the writer could lead me up the garden path successfully, skilfully, in so few words. Maybe it’s because competitions seem to attract so many stories about errant husbands/lovers preparing to move on to a new woman that I wasn’t on my guard and didn’t see the ending coming. I always like to be ‘had’ like this and love to be surprised. The signal that all was not as I assumed was in the scarf that had to be pointing exactly in the middle of the back. It was the ‘signpost’ that alerted me to be prepared for the twist. Then the twist came. Perfectly. It’s a simple tale but twist-enders often are. That’s part of their beauty.
Competition | 27
Lord Stanton’s Horse by Heikki Hietala I leaned back, stirring my tea with the spoon. She leaned forward. “And then?” “We charged. Damned thing it was, uphill again, straight into a copse loaded with the Boche. A ghastly affair. We were a hundred strong when we launched, and by the time the spearhead reached the brambles, thirty had fallen already.” “And Charles was among them?” “No. I was with him in the second group, if you could call it that, a gaggle’s more like it. We made it to the top of the hill all right, but then things started to go wrong. They had four heavy machine guns in that bush, and just as I was about to go in, they hit me right above the elbow. I fell off my horse and was knocked out for a while. I came to with Charles cutting the remaining sinews and applying a tourniquet to the stump.” “Oh! That must have been terrible pain. Was he hit then?” I straightened the shoulder titles, first the left, then the right, touching the brass letters LSH to bring me some solace. Esprit de corps and all that. “No. It was miraculous actually, with all the shrapnel and bullets flying about. Charles made sure I was okay and then he said, ‘I must go and see to Brownie.’ It was absolute hell for the horses. I mean, I lost my first horse, Amethyst, at Ypres, and Nutmeg on the first day of the Somme. Ivory was shot under me at Passchendaele – after that, I didn’t even give them names.”
I had a sip of my cold tea, wincing at the taste. Too much sugar. “But Charles and Brownie went on together right from the start. He always said Brownie was his good luck charm. No horse was ever better seen to than that beautiful gelding. You just can’t understand the bond between them if you’re not a cavalry officer yourself.” She was getting impatient. “Pray tell me: what happened to Charles? Did he suffer? Was it German shrapnel that killed him?” A tear fell on her silk lapel and made a run for it, but was absorbed, disappearing from view. “You have to understand this correctly now, Emily.” Her eyes forced me to continue. “As I lay on the ground, a grenade exploded nearby.” “Oh, my God! He must have suffered terribly!” “No, not at all. Brownie took the brunt of the blast and was ripped open. He fell on the ground, bleeding and whinnying. Charles was unscathed. But he saw that Brownie was beyond help, and there was just one thing for him to do. I watched as he took aim with his revolver, right at the white star under his forelock, but I had to turn away before the shot rang.” “Oh...” she said. “And then there was that other shot.”
Heikki learned to read at four but is still trying to learn to write. He usually writes in English, which somehow feels more natural at the moment, but is considering a synopsis-level novel in Finnish, just to get to use words for twelve different types of snow. Some of his short work is seen at Year Zero Writers (http://yearzerowriters.wordpress.com), and some is at his own website, Sabulo (www.sabulo.com/?cf=9). He has a book out, called Tulagi Hotel, and if you’ve sometimes had your fill of flash fiction, there’s an old-fashioned 134,000 word novel for you at http://www.tulagihotel.com.
Festive Special | 28
Christmas Poems by Magdalena Ball Christmas on the Beach
Christmas day like any other icy tendrils of memory dragging you in and out of consciousness the Atlantic coldsnap breaks your body on the shore naked sand like white snow you, still brown from a summer left on the other side of the world. You want to freeze the beating sympathies of your heart into calm to bury hot toes beneath 100 billion cold grains until the rest of you slides under perfectly still perfectly aligned perfect in your absolute zero beneath the world where jingle bells can’t find you Christmas trees don’t set off a broken glass chain reaction where all the canned laughter in the world can’t ruin your last meal.
Carol to the Universe Take down the tree tinsel trash tidied broken baubles swept garbage bag wrappings discarded through greedhaze glitter snowglobe lights off exhalation into the new year. A carol to the universe held in one breath between motion and inertia kiss of the godless earth mother lump to her quantum creatures evolving beneath every tap of the keyboard a newbie springs forth. No need for leather clad rulebooks ark over flood fatherly edicts no sacrifices in blood here. This is a rational zone still so many years on fertile.
Magdalena Ball runs The Compulsive Reader. She is the author of the poetry book Repulsion Thrust, the novel Sleep Before Evening, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment: How to Review Anything and four other poetry chapbooks Quark Soup, and, in collaboration with Carolyn HowardJohnson, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and the newly released Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks.
On the Dot
Rudolph’s nose warps blue at Doppler shift lightspeed through the Christmas eve sky. Young scientist tosses bedcovers zero dimension the point of stocking fill compression big bang impending while he dreams better physics a future gleamed beyond the promise of tomorrow. Nothing doesn’t always come from nothing. His rapid eye movements trace fibre optic lights around the tree putting a name on 300,000 species living organisms yet to be classified. Neurotransmitters stimulation outweigh the sweet load of Christmas lollies waiting for morning like the discovery of one dimensional symmetry a quantum dot lightning strike jingle bell memory ready for dawn’s wake to face down the overflow producer, consumer hunger false tokens of love with crayons and brushes of fresh wonder make something new.
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A Christmas in Heaven a quite short story by Natalie Flynn
was running across Oxford Street when the taxi hit me and sent me flying across the road. People came to help me. Through my eyes, the world was spinning, a blur of faces and Christmas lights high above their heads and a light white, snow filled sky. My head was heavy. My heart slowed down. Then I was gone. When I woke up, granddad was holding my hand. Which was strange as he’s been dead for four years. We were in the clearing of a forest, the snow was falling in giant chunks towards my eyes. I sat up. ‘Where am I?’ ‘This is Heaven,’ Granddad said. ‘But-‘ I couldn’t have died. My face was wet with tears. I let go of granddad’s hand and stood up. ‘I can’t be dead granddad, Sally’s coming for Christmas. It was a surprise, dad called me to tell me, I was running across the road to get her present before the shops shut when-’ ‘Calm down,’ Granddad said, leaning forward and giving me a gentle kiss on the forehead, the way he used to when I was little. I put my head on his shoulder and let him hold me tight until I stopped crying. Then he pulled me away and looked into my eyes. ‘Now,’ he said, ‘when you were a little girl, and you wanted something for Christmas, who did you have to ask?’ ‘Father Christmas?’ Granddad nodded. ‘You better go and find him then, but you’d better hurry, it’s Christmas eve and he’ll be off soon, to deliver all the goodwill; go down that path,’ he pointed, ‘run, it’s not too late, go quickly.’ I didn’t look back. I ran down the path through the
powdery snow, carefully as I was still in my work heels, but as fast as I could. The sign said I was on the right track; a big glowing sign pointing to ‘Santa’s Grotto’. The bends and twists in the path through the snowy forest made me dizzy, but I had to get back to my sister Sally as fast as I could. The cold wind wrapped itself around my bare cheeks as I picked up the pace. I ran straight into an elf in at the gate of the grotto. He told me Santa wasn’t there. My heart expanded and nearly exploded inside my chest. Was it too late? He pointed me to the direction of the sleigh, and there, in all his shiny red glory was Father Christmas, loading up the last of his presents. I skidded over to him so fast he had to hold his hands out to stop me ploughing straight into Rudolph. ‘Slow down,’ he said. ‘What’s the hurry?’ ‘My sister,’ I said, out of breath. ‘I have to get home to her. My granddad said if I want something really bad for Christmas, I have to come and ask you.’ ‘Hmm.’ He looked me up and down. ‘Now dare I ask if you’ve been a good girl this year?’ He walked over to two tree stumps, wiped the snow off with his leather gloves, sat down on one, and gestured me to sit on the other. I didn’t have time to sit down. I just wanted my sister, but I did as he said. ‘So,’ he asked again, ‘have you?’ The truth was, I hadn’t. I felt the heat rise from my chest, up my neck and into my cheeks, despite the bitter cold blizzard that had just started up. I shook my head. ‘Do you want to tell me about it?’ Father Christmas asked, stroking his smoky grey beard.
He pointed me to the direction of the sleigh, and there, in all his shiny red glory was Father Christmas, loading up the last of his presents. I skidded over to him so fast he had to hold his hands out to stop me ploughing straight into Rudolph.
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A Christmas in Heaven continues ... ‘I was supposed to go and see my sister this summer, in California, where she lives now. But I didn’t make it.’ ‘Because of that man?’ he asked. ‘How do you know about that?’ He laughed straight from his belly. ‘I am Father Christmas, I know everything.’ I felt silly. I told him the rest of my story, how I’d met a man that I couldn’t bear to be apart from him for the three weeks of the trip to my sister’s, so I didn’t go. I stayed with him. Half way through, I caught him seeing someone else. I was shattered. And I’d broken my sister’s heart. ‘What did you learn from it?’ Father Christmas asked me. I didn’t have to think about my answer. I looked him straight in the eye and told him that the man loved me for a moment, where my sister had loved me for a whole life time. She came first. I knew that, especially now. ‘Sounds good enough for me,’ he said, and stood up. He put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a small, white feather. ‘What’s this?’ ‘You run along, find a quiet spot, hold it in your hands and make your wish. Then you’ll get what you came to ask me for.’ As I walked away, I turned around to wave goodbye, but Father Christmas had gone. Standing by the tree stump in his place, was a golden, glowing angel with crisp, white wings, waving back at me. I couldn’t help but smile from the inside out. I woke up in hospital. My sister was sat by my bedside, with her little finger curled around mine. ‘Hey you,’ she smiled, ‘you gave us all a fright.’ ‘I had the strangest dream,’ I told her. ‘Well, you had quite a bump to the head,’ she said, uncurling my fingers to take my hand. ‘What’s this?’ she asked. She picked up the white feather from my hand. My eyes widened in surprise, but then I smiled. ‘That’s your Christmas present, from Heaven,’ I told her, a tear falling down my cheek. She hugged me hard. ‘I love you,’ she said. ‘I love you too, sis. Merry Christmas.’
He laughed straight from his belly. ‘I am Father Christmas, I know everything.’
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A Cut-Out-And-Keep- Guide by Danny Gillan
When it comes to tackling the nightmare of undertakings and expectations December 25 th forces upon us unasked, the biggest weapon in our arsenal is preparation. Just like decorating, job interviews and major crime, laying the ground work before the event can save all sorts of heartache and imprisonment later. Unlike TK Maxx you don’t need to start in April, but by late November, four weeks ahead of the day itself, I’d suggest you take a few preliminary steps, and then work out a program to build on these as the countdown progresses. Below I detail a carefully - scientifically, really - designed process that should solve a lot of your problems (not all of them obviously, I’m not a social worker).
Week One: It’s vitally important that you start attuning
your mind and body for the chaos ahead. There are four main areas where you’re going to need to train yourself up if catastrophe is to be avoided. Let’s take each in turn.
1. Drinking You should start, even at this early stage, to increase your tolerance for alcohol. It’s possibly the single most important part of this entire endeavour. How much you add here depends on your normal consumption levels. As a rough guide, increase your normal daily/weekly intake by at least 20%. If for some strange reason you normally drink no alcohol at all have three glasses of wine, two pints of the lager of your choice and a drambuie. You choose when, but employers always find it hilarious when workers turn up drunk on a Monday.
2. Eating Anyone who goes on a diet in December is an idiot, obviously, but many people try to cut down on the calories in November in anticipation. This is a rookie mistake. What you need to do is go for the slow build. As with the drinking, this too depends on how greedy you are normally. The only way to find this out in any precise way is to do one of those food diary things for the first two-thirds of the year but I don’t recommend that personally, it’s the surest route to depression I’ve ever come across. Instead, just buy every ‘two-for-one’ deal your local supermarket is offering, apart from on fruit and veg. The trick here is to actually eat them all within the week rather than throwing them in the bin when they go out of date.
3. Watching Crap Telly You know it’s going to happen, there’s no point pretending otherwise. Rather than wait until the day itself and risk your brain melting out of your nasal passages, it’s best to take the ‘vaccine’ approach and expose yourself to controlled bursts of the virus so that a natural immunity is created. For this first week I’d suggest taking it slowly. Watch the first ten minutes of The Jeremy Kyle Show on the Tuesday, that’s more than enough for now.
4. Arguing For No Reason This one is the real downfall for many, albeit it’s generally caused by all or some of the above. Again, tolerance is the issue here. Depending on your circumstances you’ll know who you’re most likely to have a barney with. If you’re part of a couple, it’s them (and probably one or both of their parents). If you have kids it’s them and them (and probably one or both of your and their parents). If you’re single it’s whichever member of your family tends to point out that fact most often. If you don’t fall into any of those categories, it’s just that twat you’re related to or are forced to spend time with who annoys the hell out of you. This one has to be handled delicately, but there are things you can do even in week one to pave the path. At this stage it’s all about passive aggression. If, for example, you’re likely to have a major blow-out with your partner on the big day, soften them up now by telling them they’re looking a bit tired these days. That way you’re making them begin to doubt themselves while sounding concerned. If it’s a parent or sibling, I’d suggest that don’t worry about it, I’m fine. You
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just get on with your stuff is a good route to travel at this early juncture. Remember, you’re just laying foundations at this stage. Kids are trickier, especially the younger ones. There are a couple of options here; it’s up to you to decide which works best for your brood. You could attempt the Santa only comes to good children thing, but to be honest that never works - they’ve got the attention span of a republican president, kids, they’re not the brightest. Far better is to start preparing them for disappointment early on. ‘Did you hear, Buzz Lightyear died! Woody’s terribly upset.’ Stuff like that.
Week Two: Now you’ve established the prime concerns it’s simply a case of building on them. It gets easier from this point. Week two is all about edging yourself closer to the monster you’re going to become, so it’s not such a surprise on the day itself when you realise you’ve transformed into a complete dick.
1. Drinking This week, as well as adding to your overall consumption, I’d suggest you pick an evening or afternoon when it will be highly inappropriate for you to be anything less than sober, and get drunk. Nothing too serious at this stage, it’s still early days. A parent teacher night or a foster carer risk assessment meeting would be fine.
2. Eating Fairly straightforward this week. As you do your weekly shopping simply check the nutritional information on each item you pick up and discard anything with a saturated fat level of less than 30%.
3. Watching Crap Telly One episode on the day of your choice of the following: The Jeremy Kyle Show; Trisha; Hollyoaks and anything that starts with The World’s Weirdest/Fattest/ Youngest/Oldest/Most Pathetic … on channel five.
4. Arguing For No Reason
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Partner - Tell them you had a really intense dream where you were gay or straight, whichever is the opposite of what they think you are. Parents - Point out all of the scientific studies that have come to light in recent years that prove they basically abused you as a child by feeding you whatever they fed you (there’s data out there that’ll prove anything). Siblings/Cousins/Friends - Be moody for no reason, and tell them to piss off when they ask what’s wrong. Kids - Inform them, solemnly, that Facebook has had a big argument with Myspace and they’ve both gone offline for a month to think about things. Then unplug the wifi till they go to bed.
Week Three: It’s time to get serious. Next week is going to be a dress rehearsal so this is your last chance to iron out any kinks in your approach.
1. Drinking You’re going to want to add a shot of whisky (or the spirit of your choice) to your morning coffee every day this week. Suggest pub lunches to your colleagues when you can, and drink precisely 2.85 more drinks that you would normally. As much as is possible, eat food cooked in wine every night for dinner. After dinner, drink that crap you brought back from Greece last year. The green stuff.
2. Eating As mentioned above, you’re looking at rich dinners this week (see how the categories are starting to merge?). Whether you go for beef and beer, steak and red wine, chicken and white wine, sausages and Buckfast or beans and vodka (surprisingly good), you’re going to want to have chips with it, and none of this oven chip nonsense. They’re the result of a bloody battle between the producers of deep fat fryers and oven salesmen. It was a hellish melee and there were casualties on both sides. What neither
side want you to know is that it’s perfectly possible to pour some oil into the oven tray and get the best of both worlds. Have anything you like for breakfast and lunch this week, as long as you fry it in clarified butter.
Begin drinking before lunchtime, and encourage all those of legal age in the household to do the same. If they refuse for some reason, simply add brandy to every cup of tea or coffee they have throughout the day.
3. Watching Crap Telly
Tell all children that they are not allowed to go out and meet friends or partake in any social activities, as you think you should have a ‘special’ family day. Then do absolutely nothing to make the day special in any way.
This is going to be difficult, I won’t deny it. Quick but painful is the only way forward here. Repeat what you did in week two but add, and I apologise for this now, anything with the word Celebrity in the title. I know, I’m sorry. It’s for the greater good.
4. Arguing For No Reason Partner - Work this into conversation at some point: ‘I can’t believe where I could have been if I hadn’t met you’. Then elaborate in whatever way best fits your delusions about yourself. Parents - Say this: ‘I know you told me before, but are you sure I’m not adopted?’ Siblings/Cousins/Friends - Just keep being moody. They won’t care much, to be fair. Kids - ‘Santa’s just another way of saying Satan, if you look at it closely.’
Week Four: This is where it all comes together. This is when you get to test out whether your preparations have worked. The day itself is going to be a Perfect Storm of the four areas we’ve been practising and it’s time for a full on rehearsal. Brace yourself (Saturday is best for this): Get up at 6.30 in the morning, for no reason. Make everyone else in the household do the same. This will immediately foster an atmosphere of malice and resentment that will come in handy later. If you have kids, secretly break their favourite toys and remove any and all batteries from the house.
For dinner, order a ridiculously large Indian take away meal and try to time its arrival with the X Factor starting on telly. Make sure the whole family is watching and eating, and drinking. Ensure you have control of the remote, and change channel every time Simon Cowell is about to completely destroy the hopes and dreams of a naïve, talentless innocent. The arguing will take care of itself from this point on, but if you feel the anger levels insufficient, spill curry sauce on everyone’s clothes. And on the sofa, carpet and any other soft furnishings available. I recommend Chasni sauce for this one, as whatever that red stuff they put in it is, it never comes out. If all goes to plan, the entire family will be in massive huffs by 8pm. You and your partner will be flinging ridiculous, entirely irrelevant insults at one another and contemplating separation, any children under nine will be crying, while older kids will have long since stormed to their rooms, only to remember that they still have no access to the internet and so can’t announce on their status bars that their parents are ‘totally unfair’. Ideally, you will have removed the sim cards from their mobile phones too, to ensure they can’t use them for communication with the outside world. As you go to sleep on the sofa/in the bath, you should feel a deep satisfaction at your efforts over the past month. Congratulations, you’re ready for Christmas. Happy holidays.
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TASTELESS GAMES REQUIRE BANISHMENT, TABLOIDS MURMUR QUIETLY with Perry Iles
Back in the 1960s, there was an article in Private Eye about the journalists of a national broadsheet newspaper, who had been playing a game amongst themselves in which they concocted headlines that downplayed the news. Obviously, this is the exact opposite of the normal function of headlines, but the point of the game was to get the headlines past the editor and actually into the paper, so most of their attempts at meiosis were spiked because they weren’t subtle enough. The eventual published winner was SMALL EARTHQUAKE IN CHILE: NOT MANY DEAD. Recently I have become convinced that this little caper has now been revived and is being worked in reverse in those publications that pander to society’s knuckle-scrapers – you know, those magazines whose titles include exclamation marks and which exist for the multiplex hordes whose intellectual abilities prevent them from reading without moving their lips or following the words with their index finger. I was in a newsagents last week, and I saw the cover of HIYA! or DU-UH! and below the title was a strapline that shrieked LOVE! DEATH! PRIZES! I grew quite overcome with merriment, alone in the shop, and had to leave, but not before I’d memorised some of the headlines on the cover, which went...
Mummy, when will my arms grow back? Daddy stabbed Mummy – then one last kiss! Raped! My poor old nan (87)! As I wiped the tears from my eyes, it became obvious that there was a satirical intent there, that the cover designers with their Apple-Macs and their graphic design degrees were secretly taking the piss out of the Lidl classes. So here’s two Christmas games. Firstly, redress this balance by expressing whatever the current Christmas headlines on these magazines are, using understatement. A few years ago for example, you might have rephrased HUNKY BRUCE SLAIN BY WAVE OF DEATH! as AUSTRALIAN SURFER REGRETS OVERSLEEPING TSUNAMI. Secondly, those writers among us could see what we could get away with over the forthcoming year in WWJ (such as getting an adverb or an adjective into a story’s title or a headline – one point for each, three points for both), or WWJ could have a monthly contest in which one such headline is inserted somewhere into the magazine and the first reader to spot it wins a lump of coal or a book deal with the agent of their choice.
A mention of Chile inspires me to play Celebrity Chilean Mineshaft. (Geordie voiceover: “Ramon and Juan are at the coal face. Pedro is in the diary room…”).
Don’t forget that the rescue shaft goes two ways, so let’s think of some Z-listers we’d like to bury so we can watch them go slowly insane. Davina McCall is looking for work too, although you could just use a picture of a raven over the soundtrack of a rookery at dawn if you wanted to save money. Here’s what to do: shove the celebs down there and talk to them for a few weeks until they’re nicely settled. Then one day send them some confused images – people running and screaming, bombs going off, random periods of static – followed by CGI versions of the Apocalypse, terminating in the vision of a broken nuclear landscape seen from the skewed viewpoint of the last functioning CCTV camera, showing a burning city and a dead dog. Then cease all communication and pretend that we’re dead as we snigger up our sleeves at their reaction and watch as they starve to death or eat each other. So who do we want to put down there? I’ll start the ball rolling: 1. Katie Price and every vacuous, parping bollocksack who’s ever shagged her. So at a stroke, you’ve rid the world of Peter André and that cage-fighting chap who stirred Peter Andre’s cold porridge. No, don’t thank me. But talking about breasts, they’re just accumulations of fat, aren’t they? So if you were to pass increasing voltages of electricity through them, would the fat boil or would the skin explode under increasing pressure of liquefied silicon first? Get Katie’s nips out and fetch the jump leads, contestants; you’re looking at this week’s task, which is to fry enough chips to feed yourselves with via the medium of psycho-mastectomy. 2. Louis Walsh. Simon Cowell I can forgive - I find him almost likeable in his transparent greed - but Walsh is living proof that you can’t polish a turd.
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Have you seen him smile? That openmouthed, wide eyed expression that he adopts on The X-Factor as he rocks smoothly back and forth when anyone form his category performs? He’s practised it in front of a mirror in order to minimise his wrinkles on the telly so that he can continue to fuck 16-yearolds until the last of his credibility dribbles out the end of his stumpy little love-pole, because in reality he’s got a face like a dishcloth that’s been dried over a radiator, and a personality to match. He’s TV’s Mr Insincerity. He has to go. 3. Dappy off of NDubz. Just do a Google image search. Is that a human being or a piece of visual satire? Are personal stylists doing the same thing as downmarket magazine cover designers? He’s Kafkaesque. Listen: “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic Dappy off of Ndubz”. Samsa’s predicament, and therefore the whole plot of Metamorphosis is suddenly much clearer. And that’s before the verminous little twat (Dappy, not Kafka) even opens his fucking gobhole, after which he’s just like a visit from the tinnitus-fairy when you’ve got a hangover. And he could get together with Katie Price and we could examine their offspring safe in the knowledge that there’s a two-mile snake of poured concrete between it and the surface. In fact we could force them to earn food by lashing it to a rubber changing mat with yellow ducks on so we can watch it slowly weaken, looking on as its kicks grow increasingly feeble and its wailing dries to a hitching, rasping goaty bleat winding down to a final silence. With a heart monitor attached so we can have a flatline sweepstake (calls cost £1.00 per minute, winner receives a lifetime subscription to BOVINE!). 4. Sir Cliff Richard. Ned Flanders without the charisma. 5. Diva Fever. I mean, some of my best friends are gay. I’ve nothing against gay people… actually fuck it, that pair of lisping pillow-biters got right on my tits. The way they minced around flapping their wrists and singing about Barbra Streisand with their awful haircuts
and their ironic polyester and the sort of exaggerated mannerisms that guarantees all gays an over-developed demographic within the media industry. Put them in a mine without any hair gel or moisturiser along with Robbie (I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-botter) Williams and Alan fucking Carr. There, that feels better… ...and at this point I’ll hand over the game to the rest of the world. I was going to add Pixie Lott for covering a Neil Young song (an offence which would warrant an immediate death sentence if she weren’t such an eminently shaggable tribute to L’Oreal and Photoshop), but then I realised her Broken Arrow was a different song altogether. Put her back down, let her get dressed again and give her back her hair straighteners, boys. So, your nominations and their justifications.
me: when vegans perform oral sex, are they allowed to swallow or do they have to micturate their partner’s bodily jetsam into a receptacle so that it doesn’t taint their special little pink stomach linings? Your penultimate Christmas game is to design this receptacle, or you’ll just have puddles of expectorated yop all over that lovely hand-woven rug you bought when you were on your gap year in Belize, won’t you, you fucking precious ponce? Eat a burger, get a job, suck this. Or fuck off back to Vega.
And on the subject of gay people, here’s a game that might And finally, get you published in ... with all this titled nonsense, here’s a Twatt’s Miscellany knighthood that’ll come before too long: David Beckham. Which of course gives or Berk’s Peerage or Sir us Lady Victoria Beckham (© OxymoronsR-Us, 2011). something. Your last game is to spend Christmas The idea is simple – to come up with an acceptable way to refer to the gay partner of a titled person, because right now there isn’t one. I mean it’s all very well to say “Sir Alan and Lady Sugar” but how do you refer to David Furnish? Do you say “Sir Elton and Lord John”? All the laws of equality indicate that you should do exactly that. They’re married after all, so David Furnish’s rights should be just the same as those of Alan Sugar’s missus. But you can’t refer to the partner of a Sir as a Lord, because Lords are bigger than Sirs, aren’t they? After all, Alan Sugar was promoted from Sir Alan to Lord Sugar. But Ladies aren’t as important as Lords. Ladies are for toilet doors and Lords are for houses and cricket grounds. Where’s the equality there? In any of it? Oh, and no Gaylords.
Here’s something that’s been bugging
imagining what they’d wear to the investiture. Guy-liner? A man-bag? A personalised Versace golden knee-pad with a football boot motif to kneel on? Pink mini-ermine and matching lip-gloss, with accessories by Hermès and an attendant team of nail technicians? Or if you preferred, you could just vote them both down a mineshaft…
So, please send your entries to submissions@ wordswithjam.co.uk, with the possibility that the magazine might publish the best ones.
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Dear Santa ... by JD Smith
With only a few weeks to go until Christmas, we’ve put together a few suggestions that you can buy a writery friend or put on your own Christmas list. Alternatively, leave this page open as a screensaver in the hope your partner and family take the hint. So, after many painstaking hours of research, our official Christmas wish-list for writers 2010 is as follows:
A writers’ retreat
I’d be tempted to enter our December’s Comp Corner for a chance to win a 4 day retreat in Cornwall, just in case you don’t get one for Christmas.
I’d go with laptop here. Then you can hide away.
Perhaps a little pricey for some Christmas Stockings, but a popular request nonetheless. You DO get a voucher in the box with it for a free eBook, so you don’t actually have to buy an eBook voucher to go with it when purchasing for a friend.
A ‘good’ chair
For those who slump whilst writing. Alternatively the cheaper alternative of a ‘good’ cushion.
Amongst those popularly mentioned: The London Review of Books, Granta, Mslexia, and The Poetry Society. If you’re a real Scrooge, send your friends a subscription to Words with JAM (because it’s free, not because it’s shit, obviously!).
Pens, pens, pens
I’d probably opt for a decent pen here, and not a 12p Bic. Or go fancy and ask for a quill or a Space Pen.
Fingerless mittens For writing in the cold.
All writers like to write in their pjs. Although I’ve also heard a few mention they write naked. If so, pyjamas are probably an even worthier investment.
For all those brainwaves you have whilst not at the computer.
Always a safe choice for any writer/book lover.
A ‘TIME OUT’ voucher
Husband/wife, kids, friends, neighbours and even dogs must respect that a TIME OUT cheque means business. And as these seem to be hard to get hold of unless it reads ‘tonight I want my body spread in chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and licked clean’, we have designed some special Words with JAM ‘TIME OUT’ Vouchers for you to print off.
CLICK HERE to download
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her put your query into the tiny ‘maybe’ pile instead of the overloaded rejection tray? What is it about the article you intend to write that would capture her interest and make her want to find out more? Whatever it is, that’s what goes into the intro section of your outline. For the layout of the outline, centre your working title a few lines down from the top of the page, with your byline underneath. Drop down a couple of lines and write your outline. For example:
Co-author of The Writer’s ABC Checklist, Lorraine Mace, answers your questions ... Janice from Milton Keynes sent in the following query: I have some great ideas for articles, so I approached a national magazine. The editor answered saying to submit an outline of the proposed article. Can you tell me what should go in the outline? An outline shows the proposed subject matter and how you intend to deal with it. Before writing an outline, it is essential you know exactly what you are going to write and have done all the necessary research and collating of facts. Make short notes on each aspect of the article and then juggle them around until you have the feel of the piece. One way of doing this is by writing the ideas on pieces of paper or card and shuffling them into order. You can also type them into a word document, then cut and paste until you are satisfied with the way the article is going to be focussed. Before you write the outline, start by imagining the editor. She is sitting at her desk opening perhaps the twentieth query letter of the morning and it is only 10am. Out of all the information you have collected for your article, what would make
Love Me, Love my Article By Great Writer Intro: This is where you put your killer opening. The information used in such a way that the editor cannot fail to be interested. You could use the first few lines of the article as you intend to write it. Or, you could put in some startling and little-known fact. Or ask a question that demands to be answered. Main body: This contains the main points of interest and shows the tone the article is going to take. Ending: Wrap up the ending, so that it ties together all that has gone before into a cohesive whole. It is a good idea to refer back to the intro, if it is feasible to do so. The outline should not take up more than a page, so keep to the point, but make sure the tone of the article comes through. If you intend to use humour, don’t tell the editor that, show her by using humour in your outline.
George from Cape Town, South Africa asks: Is it okay to use bits from someone else’s work in my non-fiction book? I don’t want to find myself in court on charges of plagiarism or breach of copyright. It is not plagiarism or a breach of copyright to quote short passages from someone’s work, as long as you acknowledge the original source. It should be clear that you are citing another author, and appropriate reference given including the title of the work, the year it was published and the publisher.
have a question?
Publishing a work without the author’s permission is a breach of copyright, even if the author is acknowledged. You may be allowed to reprint part of another author’s work by gaining permission from the copyright holder. If it forms part of a book, it is usual to contact the publisher and its use will involve a fee.
Margaret from London is writing a novel set abroad. She asks: What is the best way to show my characters are not native English speakers? Should I put dialogue in a foreign language and then give a translation? If used sparingly, foreign words in dialogue can give a flavour of the character’s origins, but don’t overdo it. When using foreign words, make sure that the meaning is made clear from the text without the reader needing to resort to a foreign/English dictionary – and don’t give translations as that will take the reader out of the story (although you could have one character asking another to translate, but that could get tedious for the reader after a while). Do not be tempted to insert foreign phrases into every aspect of dialogue. Choose one or two phrases or exclamations and use them sparingly. Often changing the word order gives a better sense of someone exotic, and not comfortable in English, than littering the page with foreign words. Any foreign words you use should be written in italics and have the necessary accents in the correct place. Words in common use in English (such as rendezvous, pronto, macho) should not be italicised.
Send an email to email@example.com
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First Annual Short Story Competition the results...
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Winners 1st - George Was Dead by Janet Edwards 2nd – My Final Blog by Karen O’Connor 3rd – Omelette by Annalisa Crawford
Shortlist in random order Bread and Jam by Sarah Knight 13940 by JW Hicks What’s in a Name? What’s in a Face? by Sharon Birch The Price of Betrayal by Norman Kitching Ken Follett, England Manager by Nemone Thornes The Pursuit by Gayle Beveridge The Book Stroker by Sharon Boyle Skin Deep by Susan Howe Postcards From The Departure Lounge by Gavin Broom Tear Analysis by Joanne Fox Alex’s Arm by Marlene Brown The Flat and I by Kasia Szewczyk
In addition, the Longlist in random order Believe Anything by John Glander Round the Moon by Martha Williams Ordinary Janice by Alex Schofield The Ferryman by Stephen Meek Democracity by Dave Clark Sand Sculpture by Mandy K James Beshert by Jaqui Petar A Boston Marriage of Convenience by Hayley N. Jones Past Perfect by Karen Jones
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The Adjudication by Sue Moorcroft
The Key is to Convince I had no idea what to expect when I opened the shortlist for the Words with Jam competition. Maybe I should have remembered that old adage to ‘expect the unexpected’ because so many of the stories plunged me into fresh experiences that I was spoiled for choice. George Was Dead by Janet Edwards I chose as the winner when it impressed me with the plausibility of a world in which corpses - in reasonably good condition and dead no longer than three hours - could become zombies. Now, I haven’t embraced the paranormal genre and am, frankly, scared by the zombies or vampires or shapeshifters that seem to be taking the world of fiction – and the sales charts – by storm. I don’t like dead things. So why did the story win? Because of the effortless way it creates an alternative world. Even I, disbeliever, suspended my disbelief. The story doesn’t rely only on the delights of a speculative world. The hapless George finds himself the victim of all the injustices and contradictions that a member of any minority might suffer – especially a newly created one. That the story possesses a killer (’scuse the pun) punchline, is a huge bonus. I might seem to be instantly contradicting myself when I select My Final Blog by Karen O’Connor for second place as although it, too, depends upon the creation of an entire world, an apocalyptic world set in the reasonably near future of 2036, it opens with mention of an iPad. And, I thought, ‘The iPad still exists in 26 years? Yeah, right …’ But the rest of the story’s so good that I risked ignoring this tiny jarring note. The longevity of a product is scarcely my specialist subject, after all. My Final Blog moves forward with a series of blog entries, depicting a post-nuclear event world in which procuring food and drink is preoccupying. I could feel the quiet desperation,
the subdued panic, the constant taste of fear, rounding out in a twist ending entirely suitable to the story and a comment on what humans will do to survive. In contrast, Omelette by Annalisa Crawford utilises an everyday setting. Its strength is in the emotion it evokes as Josie experiences the pain of losing her best friend but forges a new human connection. We never learn the name of the waitress who so embodies compassion but, as we move into her viewpoint, we still feel we know her. I don’t love shared viewpoint in a short story but, here, the writer gains more than she loses by it, as it allows the readers to share the waitress’s disquiet when Josie doesn’t come into the café for her usual omelette – and we fear the worst. We leave the story on the brink of tragedy, an effective spike of emotion to give the reader food for thought.
1st: George Was Dead by Janet Edwards
When George died, he was prepared for life to change a bit, but a lot of things still took him by surprise. The legal complications to start with. He was taken aback by the letter telling him that Lizzie wasn’t his wife any longer. They had gone through that marriage ceremony eighteen years ago, tied themselves together until death did them part, and now it had. The first successful resurrection process had been carried out a bare fourteen months ago, and legally speaking the issue was a complete mess, with a dozen test cases bouncing through the courts. Untangling it would take years, so as an interim measure the legal system was treating zombies as automatically divorced, and allocated marital assets accordingly. “Well, it’s just a technical detail. We don’t have to let it change
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anything,” said Lizzie, tearing the letter in half and throwing it away. Lizzie had been a tower of strength through the whole terrible business, and George was deeply grateful to her. She kept repeating that same phrase, that they didn’t have to let it change anything, but of course a lot of things about their relationship were different now. They didn’t sleep together any longer, since zombies didn’t sleep. They didn’t eat together any longer, since zombies didn’t eat. They didn’t have sex any longer, because zombies didn’t do that either. In honesty, George didn’t miss a sex life very much. He didn’t admit it to Lizzie of course, but he had something far better now. Twice each day, he locked himself into his study, used the special lead to plug himself into the electrical socket, and the power surged through his body in the most intense and fulfilling of orgasms. He’d quickly given way to temptation, disobeyed the hospital instructions, and tried plugging himself in more often, but found it didn’t have the same effect unless the electricity in his body was at a low level. He was limited to experiencing that matchless thrill twice a day. Despite Lizzie’s brave words, things had definitely changed, but George felt he could hardly complain. It was, after all, a lot
better than staying dead. He had been extremely lucky that his body escaped the car crash without taking enough damage to prevent the resurrection. There were even a few advantages over being alive. Without the need for sleep, he had so much more time. He never got tired either. He finished the multitude of little repair jobs that had been waiting for years, spent hours leafing through his collection of books on steam railways, weeded the garden to perfection point, and put his name down on the waiting list for an allotment. Life, or in his case death, was generally pretty good. It was precisely a month after his return to work, that George was called into Mr Hampden’s office. “George,” said Mr Hampden, leaning back into the cushioned splendour of his executive chair. “I wanted to have a little chat with you. I wondered if you’d had any thoughts about the future. In the circumstances, the firm would be very sympathetic if you wanted to consider early retirement through ill health.” “Early retirement,” said George, in shock. “I’m not even fifty yet. I’m not suffering ill health either.” “You are however, not exactly...” Mr Hampden broke off tactfully. “Alive.” George concluded the sentence bluntly. “You mean,
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you want to get rid of me.” “Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” said Mr Hampden. “It’s true that some of your colleagues are a little uncomfortable around a... However, I’m sure they would adjust given time. When I suggest early retirement, I’m really thinking of you, George. After all, this whole resurrection process is so new. No-one knows how long the effects will last. I’m sure you want to make the most of the time left to you.” George glared at the two faced hypocrite. “Now, no-one is pushing you into anything, George, but it’s really in your best interests to be fully informed. Our pension advisor happens to have a gap in his schedule and will give you a little chat.” George was firmly shuffled off into a meeting room, and a bald man in large glasses talked earnestly at him for an hour. It was, he was told, a golden opportunity. At the moment, resurrected individuals were able to take up their pensions, but at any moment pension companies might change their code of practice to prevent it. “But I’ve paid into the pension fund for twenty six years,” said George indignantly. “I’m entitled to my pension. They can’t take that away.” “It pains me to say it,” said the pension advisor cheerfully, “but you did die. Of course, if the pension companies do act to prevent zomb...., I mean resurrected individuals, taking up their pensions, then they would have to pay your nominated beneficiary the lump sum death in service payment and a widow’s pension. In your case that would be...” “My wife,” said George. “Your ex wife,” the pension advisor corrected him. “You are treated as divorced, remember. That was the last straw. George glared at him. “My fiancé then,” he said, belligerently. “We intend to remarry immediately!” “And the pension? The company has offered to allow you to retire on full pension. It’s a very generous offer, even without the issue of resurrected individuals being prevented from...” “I’ll take it,” snarled George. “If I don’t retire, then I suppose they’ll find another way to get rid of me.” The advisor pushed several papers across the desk towards him. “Please, sign here, here, and here.” George signed, threw the ballpoint pen at the man, and stormed through the door into the main office. He looked around at the suited figures, sitting at regimented lines of desks. “You’ll all be happy to know that I’m leaving!” They looked at him with startled faces, and then hastily turned back to their computer screens and pretended to work. “Just remember though,” added George. “It may happen to you too. Just wait until you’re a zombie, and people don’t treat you as a human being any longer. See how you like it then!” He left the building, remembered he hadn’t cleared his desk of personal items, and decided he would survive without the diary, box of tissues, and twenty five year service award. Lizzie was startled to hear the news. “But... What will you do now that you’re retired?” “We’re getting married again,” said George, “and going on an extended honeymoon. We’ll go out right now and make the arrangements.” “Now?... I’ve got an appointment at the hairdresser at one thirty.”
“You will have your hair done in Paris,” said George, magnificently, and they set off for the registry office. “You want to get married?” The woman with bouffant hair looked at them from behind the desk. “No, I came here to buy a television licence.” George shook his head in exasperation. “What a stupid question. Of course we want to get married!” “Well, you can’t,” said the woman, bluntly. “Our latest guidelines say that we can only perform marriage ceremonies for couples who are both alive or both dead.” “That’s rampant discrimination.” George was incensed. “I’m very sorry, but there’s nothing I can do. Rules are rules.” The woman stood up. “I’m now on my lunch break.” George was prepared to make a scene, but Lizzie towed him firmly out into the street. “There’s no point in making a fuss, George. We can go to Paris anyway, whether we get married or not.” They couldn’t. The travel agent was deeply apologetic. “Since you’re dead, your passport will no longer be valid, and until they sort out some sort of process for reapplying then...” “We’ll go to Edinburgh then,” said Lizzie. “But...” George was speechless at the injustice of it all. “Now, George,” said Lizzie. “There’s no point in getting angry. It doesn’t matter where we go. We should be grateful that we can still do things together. If the accident had been a year ago, or done more damage to your body, then all I’d have left of you would be an urn of ashes.” “I suppose you’re right.” George sighed. So they went to Edinburgh for a week, and it rained solidly. They sat in the hotel room for seven long days, watching Scottish raindrops trickle down the window. By the time they returned home to Wolverhampton, George had made plans to fill the days and nights ahead. He would do an Open University degree. He would write his own book on steam railways. He would take up water colour painting and pottery. He would get his allotment and grow prize winning dahlias. Perhaps Lizzie would like to join him in these new plans, he thought. Lizzie didn’t. She explained that she already had enough to fill her days. She was a volunteer driver for Help the Aged, she had two exercise classes, and she manned the till in the local Oxfam shop on Wednesdays and Fridays. George accepted that, and life settled into a new routine. During the day, he dug, painted, and potted. During the night, he collected credits towards his degree and worked on his book. Each evening, he spent three hours watching television with Lizzie, except on Thursdays when she went to her music society meeting. Digging the allotment was George’s favourite activity. He was untroubled by rain, cold, or fatigue, and found the repetitive labour soothing. He spent two hours every afternoon digging, and when his own patch of land had been dug to perfection, he offered to help the other allotment holders. They had regarded him with suspicion, but as one plot of neglected ground after another was methodically dug into neatness, George found himself not just tolerated but almost welcome. The thanks of the other allotment holders, and the occasional gift of spare plants, were a little embarrassing. He had a secret he could not share with them. The true reason he liked the digging was that the work drained his stored power and made the evening power recharge
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into a moment of ecstasy. George was quietly content with his new life, until the day he came home two hours early from the allotment. He had been offered a small second hand greenhouse, and needed some tools to dismantle and move it from the far end of the allotments to his own plot. George went in through the back gate, took off his muddy boots to leave them on the back doorstep, and saw Lizzie kissing a strange man in the kitchen. Stunned, George picked up his boots, fled back out of the garden, and trudged back to his allotment. He couldn’t believe this. He and Lizzie had always been so... so dependable. It wasn’t Lizzie’s fault, he thought. The problem was that they weren’t allowed to marry. Naturally that left her feeling... The answer to that, and to all of the other frustrations, was suddenly clear to him. If Lizzie was a zombie too, then they would be able to marry. She wouldn’t get tired or need sleep, and she could join him in his night time studies. They could even share the erotic moments of recharging their power together. After Lizzie had experienced the thrill of plugging herself in to the electrical socket, she would no longer want to kiss strange men in the kitchen. He left dealing with the greenhouse to another day, and spent hours digging as he considered ways to kill Lizzie. It had to be something that wouldn’t damage the body too much, and he needed to be able to get her to the hospital within three hours for the resurrection process to work. Drowning seemed relatively painless and could be arranged to look like an accident. Lizzie, of course, would be grateful to join him in death, but he didn’t want to have any silly problems with the police to spoil their happiness. When his plans were complete, he carefully cleaned his spade and went home. “Hello, George,” said Lizzie. “You’re back late today.” She was sitting at the kitchen table, eating dinner. “Hello, Lizzie. I thought I’d spend a few extra hours digging today, because I have some plans for tomorrow.” He smiled at her, confident that she wouldn’t notice anything odd about his manner. Whenever zombies spoke or smiled, it was always a little wooden and stilted. “What sort of plans?” “The weather forecast says it should be nice tomorrow,” he said. “I thought perhaps you could skip your exercise class for once, and we could go for a walk somewhere. By the reservoir perhaps.” “That sounds nice.” She took her empty plate over to put it in the dishwasher. They sat and watched television for the next three hours, and then Lizzie started getting ready for bed, while George went into his study. He locked the door, and felt a thrill of anticipation as he approached the electrical socket. He had spent extra time digging today, and his power was very low. This recharge would be something very special. He opened his desk drawer, to take out the lead and plug himself in, and then frowned. The drawer was empty. He looked round the room in confusion, checked the desk top, the floor by the electrical socket, and the shelves. The lead was nowhere to be seen. He searched further, remembering the time his watch had fallen down the back of the settee, but found nothing except a ten pence coin and a three year old shopping list.
His movements were slowing now, and he could not afford to delay any longer. He would have to face the embarrassment of phoning the hospital, confessing his carelessness, and asking for help. He reached into his jacket pocket for his phone, but his searching fingers found nothing. He didn’t understand how he could have lost that too, but there was no time to worry about it. His power was dangerously low now, and he had to call Lizzie before he went into automatic shut down. He lurched over to unlock the door, but the key was missing. He shook his head in confusion, and turned the door handle, but it wouldn’t open. “Lizzie!” he yelled. “Lizzie! I need you.” “Yes, George.” Her voice was unexpectedly close. She must be just the other side of the door. “Lizzie, call the hospital for help. I can’t find my power lead.” “I’m sorry, George. I’m not planning to do that until the morning.” “What? You have to get help now. More than three hours without power and I’ll really be dead.” “That’s the idea,” said Lizzie. “Since we no longer sleep together, I naturally won’t discover you ran out of power until tomorrow. Everyone will understand.” George swayed in shock. That almost sounded as if... No, he told himself, that couldn’t be right. “Lizzie, you aren’t really... You wouldn’t...” “Yes, George, I would,” she replied calmly. “I’m murdering you. Again!”
2nd: My Final Blog by Karen O’Connor 1st April 2036
I should be typing this on my iPad. My fingers tapping the keypad, before sending out my latest gem of wisdom into the internet ether. Instead, I’m scribbling this on a thin piece of paper, with a pencil stub, praying the page won’t get wet and my final blog vanish. I should be making shrewd comments about the date, hoping the joke won’t be on me. Sad thing is, the joke’s on all of us these days.
15th April 2036
Max thinks we should head into the countryside, more space, less disease. We could start that smallholding we always talked about. I tried to seem enthusiastic, but my daily diet of fizzy drink and tiny portions of tinned food makes my thoughts fuzzy. He talked about planting potatoes, having some chickens,
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making our own bread. My stomach growled in response. I doubted the chickens survived, and I’m not eating anything that’s been grown in the toxic ground. Doesn’t he remember the warnings from the Government, when we had one. Fallout for six months, soil and water toxicity for ten months. Only eat what’s canned or bottled, they said – that’s if you’re lucky enough to find anything. The legions inside my mouth make me think that even that option isn’t safe.
23rd April 2036
It was sunny today. The light had a painful intensity, nipping and reddening any part of my exposed flesh, but it was bright and made me happier. We moved this morning, packed up and off to find our rural idyll. Dorothy and Toto on the yellow brick road to who the hell knows. Max certainly doesn’t.
26th April 2036
I’m like a fashion model. Whip thin, all jutting hip and cheek bones. If I still had my digital scales I’m sure I’d weigh less than seven stone, and there’s not an inch of fat on me. I’ve even lost my boobs, they’re more like shrivelled flesh pocket flaps. If fashion houses still existed, I’d be front and centre, top of their list to hang luxuriant fabrics on, making the rest of the female population jealous as they reach for their diet shakes and fat rejection tablets. Fashion these days gets exciting if I can get a pair of my rancid pants clean.
10th May 2036
All this walking is becoming harder, and every day it takes us longer to reach our goal. Even Max is looking thin, and so old – I thought dating an older guy would be glamorous, but those furrows on his forehead just make me think of my dad. I’d stupidly suggested it would be good to have a car. “I think we’ve seen the last of the car.” He didn’t even try and hide his sarcasm. I wanted to scream at him. I know it’s all our fault, we didn’t listen, we kept buying and polluting and fighting with each other, until it was too late. Instead of screaming, I sat down, and opened one of the few remaining tins of fruit.
18th May 2036
A scary day, our food has gone. We have nothing to eat. I just want to give up. Max made soothing noises at me, but right now, I hate him. He’s supposed to be my provider. Where’s all his big talk about being the breadwinner? This isn’t the most frightening thing. This evening, I felt it move.
19th May 2036
It should never have happened. I’m too thin, no periods, no chance of a baby, right? Wrong. I’m sure it’s in there, fighting for life, taking my energy to keep itself going. I should love it, encourage my child, but instead I fear it and hate it for taking
from me. What kind of monster will it be when it arrives, having sucked in nine months of polluted air and rancid food? Today, I do love Max. He killed a rat and made a fire and we ate meat. It was tough and coarse, but it was food and I adored him for it.
22nd May 2036
I’m losing it, I’m so hungry and angry and today I properly hate Max. Why did he think the countryside would be a good place to go? I’m starving, miserable and all I see is mud, stupid, stunted, dead trees, and fields full of rotting crops. I miss my ready meals, my gym membership, my hybrid car, my vitamin supplements, my isotonic drinks and the internet – that would have solved all our problems, just hit the search button and it did the thinking for you. And, if Max tells me one more time what the crop was and what we could have done if we’d just had some butter and a few herbs I think I’m going to kill him. It moved again tonight.
1st June 2036
We made a friend today. Judy, a pleasant middle aged woman, with beady eyes. We love her, she has food. She asked lots of questions, where we’re heading, who we know, where we sleep. We answered them all, as we filled our tiny stomachs with the best tasting stew ever. I ate until I felt sick, and then ate some more, just in case. “I have a shed you can stay in.” These words were like magic to me. I love Judy even more than Max. The shed is dry, with only a few biting insects, and I know I’m going to sleep all night. No nightmares, no strange noises. I think we’ve found our idyll.
15th June 2036
“What does she want?” This is Max’s favourite saying at the moment. He always worries about what people want from you, he reckons they’re just out for themselves. Well, they used to be. Now it’s different, it has to be. Besides, I love Judy, she can’t be after something. We’ve nothing to give. “Trust her,” I told him. This feels like home, I want it to be perfect. Max blathered on about her eyes and the way she stares at him. I ignored him. If he’s trying to make me jealous he’s failing. If I had to choose, I’d pick Judy over him any day.
26th June 2036
I’ve decided to tell. I trust Judy, she’s like the mother I always wanted, so different from the bulimic, perma-tanned version I vaguely remember. I felt like a child with a dirty secret. I sat at her feet, by hands in my lap. I blurted it out, the word baby stuck in my throat like serrated glass. “A new life, out of the ashes, life always rises,” she said. She’d stroked my hair and told me it would be ok. And that’s all I wanted to hear. Judy’s even had some medical training, which will come in handy, whatever I decide to do.
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1st July 2036
I’m in shock, Max knows about the baby. He was furious, throwing things, shouting. I sat there, seething silently. I didn’t want this, he was just as much to blame as me, yet I’m the one who’s the problem. “Get rid of it.” That was his advice, no debating, he wants it gone. It’s an option I think about every day, but now it’s out in the open the thought chills me. I’d tried to highlight that it was his responsibility too. “We’re leaving,” was his response. Did I ever love this pathetic impersonation of a man?
15th July 2036
Max decided this was his last day with me. I’m glad, thrilled to be free from his whining, pleading, pathetic arguments, and his juvenile fear of our protector. Now I’m free from him, I can see what Judy meant, he’s just jealous, resentful that a woman makes a better provider than him. Good to see sexism is alive and well on this rotten excuse for a planet. An hour after he’s gone, we celebrated girl power by having a blow out feast.
30th July 2036
I look pregnant! This is getting exciting and terrifying. Judy reckons I must be at least eight months gone. It’s so hard to tell, but she’s giving me extra food to help me and the baby grow. My baby, I hope it’s a girl.
13th August 2036
It’s the dead of night, and I’m prepared to admit that I sometimes miss Max. For all his metro sexual ways and his lack of any useful skills – what exactly was a High End Product Placement Advisor anyway - he could be fun and sweet, and would cuddle me when I woke up afraid. I hope he’s safe and happy. I hope he doesn’t miss me, too much.
20th August 2036
I found Judy’s supplies today. She has a stack of salted meat in the back of the cottage she lives in. All chopped up and bagged. No wonder she’s still so plump and so happy to share, there’s enough to feed an army. She caught me looking and told me to choose a joint for tonight.
22nd August 2036
It happened, in the early hours of the morning, I had my baby – it’s a girl. Judy was amazing. It felt like my insides were being pushed out, but it was so worth it. Best of all she seems healthy. Judy weighed her in her kitchen scales and she’s almost six pounds. I’ve decided to be hugely corny and name her Eve – you never know she could be the first woman to solve this horrible mess we’ve created.
25th August 2036
Today I found the shed door locked. And I’m on the inside. I called for Judy and I’m sure I heard her moving away but she didn’t come. I hope she’s not hurt.
26th August 2036
Still trapped inside, and getting hungry now. I tried to pull the door from its hinges, but the wood held. Where’s Judy? I really miss Max. Eve is getting restless, and I’m worried my milk will dry up without regular meals.
27th August 2036
Judy’s back! At least I think she is, food was pushed under the door. I spent ages banging on the door, but she didn’t come out and unlock it.
28th August 2036
I’m so tired, I slept for hours, all through the night and most of today, only managing to feed Eve twice. Maybe I’m getting sick. I got another meal.
29th August 2036
More exhaustion, can barely write a word.
30th August 2036
Judy came in today – she measured me and Eve up – but what for? I’m so tired, I almost don’t care.
1st September 2036
She’s dead, I killed her. She came in and tried to cut me up, like a butcher. I suddenly got the beady eyed bit that Max was always going on about. I think Max might be a bit of that salted meat I saw the other day. I’ve got a cut on my arm from the cleaver, but I’m alive. Judy lost her footing and fell down, I saw my chance and grabbed the cleaver. It went through her skull so easily. I’m too scared to move right now – but I can’t leave Judy on the ground for long, it will bring the foxes and rats, and they love nothing more than a bit of human flesh. It seems they’re not the only one.
3rd September 2036
I’ve done it. Today, I finished cutting Judy up, and covered her in salt. She’s bagged and tagged like the rest of the meat. I felt sick as I began, but it’s not so bad once you don’t think about what you’re slicing into. I actually feel quite proud of myself, I’ve got my baby, my supplies, got rid of my pointless boyfriend and secured my own idyll. Now, if I can just work out how to encourage fresh supplies through the door I’ll be completely self sufficient.
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3rd: Omelette by Annalisa Crawford
The café is quiet today. Just a little further along the road is a sign saying Roadworks starting 11/01/11 and lasting two weeks, so Josie thinks this must be why. Tucked away, down one of the main roads off this one, the hospital rises high over the other buildings. Josie, as she pushes open the door, glances over her shoulder at the grey imposition and shudders. “Hello,” says the waitress behind the counter. “The usual?” Josie has never had a usual before; never had a local pub where the bar staff poured her drink as soon as she walked through the door, never even had a regular newspaper, or a favourite Starbucks coffee. It makes her feel content, but at the same time it means she has been eating here too long as she bides her time between hospital visits. “Yes. Please.” “Just plain?” Josie glances at the menu hanging on the wall. “Yes. Just plain. Thank you.” She walks to the table in the corner, opposite the large window. Her table. She slips her bag from her shoulder and sweeps her eyes across the paintings on the wall, noting the tiny price tags next to them; noticing them for the first time, which means she mustn’t be so distracted today. “These are good. Whose are they?” she asks when the waitress brings the omelette, plain, salad garnish to the side, no chips. “Mine,” the waitress mumbles turning pink. “Do you sell many?” She shakes her head. “No. But I don’t mind. I’d miss them if they weren’t here.” “Hello,” says the waitress. “The usual?” “Yes, please.” She hesitates, wondering whether she should make conversation. She did yesterday. So, is it expected today? Once there’s a connection, are you compelled to continue it? To be truthful, she doesn’t feel like talking; she wants to sink down into her own concerns. There’s an awkward moment, both women unsure what to do next, then they both drift in their separate directions: Josie to her table, the waitress to the kitchen. Josie sits on her hands, feeling the warmth of her thighs bring a tingle to her frozen skin; she’s forgotten her gloves again, perhaps she should have them sewn inside her coat. That was Meg’s suggestion when she gave them to her for Christmas; Meg knows her too well. Josie sets her mobile on the table, so she can answer immediately if it rings. She sits on her hands and waits. The mobile doesn’t ring or beep. Which is good; she doesn’t want it to ring or beep; that would only bring bad news. “Here you are.” The plate is presented – omelette, plain, salad garnish to the side, no chips – an exact copy of yesterday’s lunch, and the one before that, and the several before that.
“Thank you.” She stares at the plate. “Are you all right?” “I’m not hungry.” “Perhaps you’ve just had enough plain omelette?” Josie looks surprised at the idea of another kind of omelette on her plate. She shakes her head. “I’ve been to visit a friend in hospital. She’s getting worse, not better. She was supposed to be coming home today. But she’s not well enough. I was supposed to bring her home today.” She stares down at the mobile, frowns, reaches out for it, then changes her mind. “I don’t want to go home without her.” “How long have you known your friend?” “Forty-three years and four months. We were at primary school together. We were supposed to grow old together.” “You still might?” Josie wipes a tear from her eye and smiles. “We still will,” she says defiantly. She picks up the fork and half-heartedly breaks off the first mouthful of omelette. There’s a space on the wall. Yesterday there was a seascape on the wall opposite her; a beautiful red sunset, a yacht pushing off into the distance. A perfect scene, a perfect sea. Yesterday, Josie stared into the painting and imagined floating. Peacefully floating away. “The painting’s gone,” says Josie, indicating the space, the wall faintly scarred with grime marking out where the frame was. The waitress blushes. “I sold it.” “Congratulations. I liked it. I’ll miss it.” “Thank you. It was the first one I’ve sold.” “Then you should do something special with the money.” “I’ll probably just pay the rent.” Josie looks across the room at the wall. The empty space feels ominous. “How’s your friend?” Josie shakes her head. “Not good.” “Are you hungry today? Would you like your omelette?” Josie pauses. She thinks of her plain omelette; she thinks of Meg not getting better. “You know… maybe… could I have a mushroom one today, please?” “Of course. I’ll bring it over when it’s ready.” “Cheese omelette, please.” “Good choice. That’s my favourite. I’ll throw in some chives, then it’ll be perfect. You seem happier today… your friend?” “Meg’s doing well. Rallying, the doctor said.” “That’s good news. She’s lucky to have you visiting so much. It must be helping her.” Josie shrugs. “She’d do the same for me.” It takes a few moments, sitting down, the smell of omelette wafting from the small kitchen, to realise there’s a new paining on the wall. Two old ladies sitting on a bench, laughing like schoolgirls. “I put it there for you, for your friend.” “You painted it for me?” The waitress looks sheepish. “Well, no. I had it at home. But when you were talking about your friend the other day, I remembered it. I thought it would cheer you up.” “Thank you.” Josie smiles, but it’s a thin, thoughtful smile. “That was such a lovely thing to do.” Her eyes are drawn back to the picture, lost in this world that might never happen. “It’s breast
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cancer, you see, what Meg has. She was in remission. But she’s…” Her voice shakes a little. The waitress is unsure how to react. Hesitantly she reaches out and touches Josie’s arm. She moves away, clearing a table close by, not wanting to leave this poor woman, glancing back at her every so often The café isn’t busy, not since the roadworks started – a few people are dotted here and there, either talking in couples or reading books or newspapers alone. Only Josie looks around, aware of her environment, opening herself up. She looks out of the window and notes the start of another downpour; she glances at the headline of the newspaper left behind by someone else. But her gaze returns to the picture on the wall again and again. There are tears bubbling, but she is smiling as well; a soft smile, a slow sad smile. She leaves the omelette half-eaten. She leaves the café. The waitress watches the clock. At one o’clock she tells herself Josie is running late. At two o’clock she fears Josie’s friend has had a turn for the worse. And at three o’clock she convinces herself that she upset Josie too much by hanging the painting of the two old ladies. The waitress finds herself standing in front of it, imagining being sat on that bench with an old friend, oblivious to the world passing behind them. When she painted it, she had no one in mind. The two friends had just appeared as if by magic, fully formed on the canvass. Now it seems intrinsically linked to Josie and her friend. And yet she wishes she’d never brought it in. She remains in front of her painting, trying to view it subjectively; almost amazed that something which could affect another person so much had come from her hand. At five o’clock, as the waitress turn the OPEN sign to CLOSED, heavy rain is falling, car headlamps glisten off the road and people scurry past under hoods and umbrellas. Today is Saturday. Saturdays are different; routines are different, the vibe is different. Fathers in their weekend disguise with their excited kids; friends meeting before a day’s shopping; lovers recovering from their romantic Friday night dinner. Everyone is light and happy, lingering over an extra coffee and sharing a slice of Death by Chocolate. Josie doesn’t come in on Saturdays, so the waitress knows not to glance hopefully out of the window. A busy day. A nonstop day. The waitress coasts through, oblivious to the different people queuing behind each other, oddly oblivious to their stories. Nothing matters; she has been drained of curiosity. The painting – untitled, but in her head now called Josie and Meg’s Happy Days – still hangs on the wall. She thought about taking it down, but it remains there for now. Why does it matter? Why does this woman, Josie, matter where so many other people who come in daily – and there are many – do not even register? She places two cups of coffee in front of two women with several shopping bags wedged on the chairs next to them, and can’t remember the last time she went shopping – or even had coffee – with a friend. She can’t remember the last time she saw a friend, other than at work, or passing in the street and dashing onwards with hurried promises to call. She never does. Never has time. Time doesn’t last forever, though, does it? Josie doesn’t have time.
She imagines herself lying in a hospital bed, linked up to wires and monitors, and wonders who would visit her.
Monday again. Another week. Another grey and miserable morning. Josie stands in front of the painting, walking straight across to it rather than standing at the counter and ordering. She senses the waitress move across the café and stand next to her. She feels the warmth, the companionship. “Can I buy it?” “Um, Yes. Of course.” “Isn’t it for sale? I thought you said they were all for sale.” “It is… they are. I just… I thought…” Josie turns, curious, concerned. The waitress blushes. “I thought I upset you, putting the picture up.” Josie softens. “No. I love it. Meg’s dying. They’ve only given her a couple of weeks. I wanted to buy the painting for her. I wanted to show her how it will be, in my head.” “I’m so sorry.” The waitress looks away. “It’s a present. Take it.” “I couldn’t. Don’t you have rent to pay?” She gasps a small laugh, then notices the waitress’s earnest gaze. “Thank you.” Josie stares at the board, although none of the options match how she’s feeling today. She wants colour; she wants to be uplifted. Peppers and spinach and tomato: colours of the rainbow filling her plate. She makes her request timidly, unsure whether she is required to adhere to the menu. The waitress smiles. “I’ll see what I can do.” “Meg loved the painting, by the way.” Josie raises her voice slightly, so the waitress can hear her from the kitchen. She glances behind her to make sure the other diners aren’t disturbed by the noise. “We cried a lot.” A head appears around the door. “Oh, I’m sorry.” “No, it was good. We said everything we needed to say. I think she’s ready now… prepared, you know.” Josie’s voice drifts away, her gaze softens. “She never had kids, she got divorced a few years ago and never met anyone else. Just existed alongside everyone else. Makes you wonder why she was here at all, doesn’t it?” Her face drops, horrified that such a thought could have entered her head. “No,” says the waitress quickly. “She was here for you, and for all her other friends. And even for her ex-husband. As soon as you meet someone, you’ve affected them. You and me. We’ve made a difference to each other, even if we don’t realise it yet.” Josie takes a long breath. “Well, I eat different types of omelette now.” The waitress pauses, then smiles. “It’ll be ready in a moment. Take a seat.” Josie plays with her mobile, pressing buttons to watch the screen light up. She waits for the call, hoping it won’t come. She checks to make sure the ringtone is audible. She stares at her reflection in the dark screen. “Do you really believe what you said before, that we make a difference?” she asks when the omelette arrives. “Yes.”
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“How have you made a difference?” “That’s not for me to say.” “But you think you have?” “I know I have. I must have.” The waitress pauses, then sits down opposite Josie and rests her hands flat on the table. “When I was little – eight or nine – I used to scare myself by looking up at the stars. You could see hundreds, thousands. The more you looked, the more you could see. On really clear nights you could see the Milky Way. And the world seemed so small. And if the world was that small, I must be just a speck, smaller than a speck, totally insignificant in a universe I couldn’t even begin to understand. So I chose to believe that I do matter, that everyone matters.” The waitress shakes her head and laughs at herself. “And I do realise it makes absolutely no sense at all, before you say anything.” She stands and smoothes her apron. “Enjoy your meal.” The waitress steps away awkwardly, pausing as though she’s going to say something else. She is rescued by a new customer entering the café. Josie watches her, smiling and laughing easily with this new person is a way she’s never done with Josie. Perhaps Josie encourages melancholy. Not always; she laughs with Meg. Meg forces her to laugh; even now, in agony in a hospital bed, she jokes with the nurses, reminisces with visitors, cheers others up when they are overcome by her imminent departure. That’s the difference Meg has made to Josie. It’s a good difference. Without her humour, without her lightness, Josie fears she would have sunk low and never risen, fears her encompassing gift for worry and fear would have driven her into a deep depression. She fears she will sink low and never rise back up. “Which one today?” asks the waitress, tempering her mood to match Josie’s. “Just plain?” No, not plain; Meg asks her to describe her meals, now that she cannot eat – how could she make a plain omelette sound exciting? “No. Tuna. Please.” “How’s Meg?” Josie looks grim. She smiles weakly, but shakes her head. She cannot talk. She turns away and sits at her table, glancing out of the window briefly. She puts her head in her hands. The air feels heavy around her, pushing her down. She feels sick now; the smell of food cooking is churning her stomach. When the plate is set down in front of her, she simply looks at it. And then, faintly at first, her mobile rings. She stares at the waitress, and the waitress stares back.
From the Editor
As the winners and finalists will be able to confirm, no one but myself and Sue Moorcroft know who the finalists are of this competition until release of this December issue of Words with JAM. I will personally contact each of the winners in the next couple of days, once many have had chance to browse through these pages in excitement to see if they are amongst the talented winners. I would like to personally thank everyone who entered our First Annual Short Story Competition. We had many more entries than originally anticipated, and it was a hard task compiling the long and short lists. Huge appreciation goes to Sue for judging the competition, and I would also like to give a warm congratulations to Janet, Karen, Annalisa, and all the finalists. Happy writing! JD Smith Editor, Words with JAM
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by Shameless Charlatan Druid Keith LEO
This is the ideal star sign to have if you wish to write extremely long books that people will pretend to have read for years to come and this month would be a good time to get cracking on your masterpiece. Never edit out a single word should be your maxim. A famous Leo this has worked for in the past is cuddly Russian scribbler Leo Tolstoy. There may be some slight disappointment on the 25th as I see some wrapping paper and a pair of socks.
Like the founder of this sign, hilarious Mancunian billiard trickster John Virgo, your Astral influence will always be at its best when you’re fiddling about with some big red balls. This month, from the 2nd onwards, playing with your balls (or those of a loved one) will yield great results and could lead to great deal of excitement if handled correctly. There may be many sticky situations as December progresses but, if you are in the right frame of mind, you can turn them into moments of joy.
This is a nervous time for all Librarians with the uncertainty of government cuts hanging over your head. Now is the time to step out from your usual mild mannered star given persona and show everyone that tramps, the elderly, and all other segments of the community at large that smell vaguely of wee, need a place to go to keep warm and quiet in the winter. There may be an embarrassing incident on the 12th at a Christmas get together after work involving half a bottle of Tia Maria and a photocopier. You will be able to avoid much of this embarrassment by wearing your best pants on this day.
Too much Mars in your sign this month
could leave you a massive Moon that could be difficult to shift causing many of your loved ones to lie about how you look in your jeans. Of course, seeing as you believe in horoscopes it is conceivable you believe in magic jeans too, so keep your chins up. I see a romantic tryst on the 27th with a fair stranger who’s not that picky.
Big news for Sagittarians this month – in or around the 14th your curious nature will lead you to find out which religion is right and who’s going to Hell. The information will come to you in the form of a dream and, as all true believers in the Zodiac know, dream revelations are something you should base your whole life on. Make sure you let the rest of us know!
Like the sore footed goat this sign can be associated with, this month will see you hopping from one foot to the other. You will feel the fire of Mercury burning in your loins as the month progresses. Good news on the 18th for you and a loved one when the tests come back and it turns out that it was just a rash and after a couple of applications of the cream everything will go back to normal.
The pull of Saturn will weaken this month and the influence of Uranus will assert itself more strongly as you find yourself drawn into Strictly/X Factor. Keep a sharp eye out on the 11th and you may find out what it is that Cheryl Cole is storing in her cheeks this year.
There may be a rough ride ahead for many of you this month, but don’t fear, Pisceans, as your Zodiacal brothers and sisters, the Librarians, will be working hard to make
sure you have somewhere to go this winter. On the 25th there may be many gifts of soap on a rope – and remember, people are trying to tell you something.
ARIES Since dropping the ‘F’ from the beginning of this sign you may be finding it increasingly difficult to be tolerated living at the end of people’s gardens.
TAURUS You may find many people staring at you in the street on the 14th as you go about your business. It will be because you look like a twat. There’s nothing you can do about it – it’s in the stars.
GEMINI You will be faced with a dilemma on the 14th as your boss will come to work looking like a twat. Don’t be in two minds as to what to say – just lie, otherwise there may be libraries in your future.
CANCER Plenty of sunscreen for you – even in winter.
ZOMBIES The newest member of the Zodiac, you will spend this month sitting on your arse watching Strictly/X Factor and saying things like – Isn’t Mat wonderful? Excitement near the end of the month as you realise that Wagner is, in fact, Ann Widdecombe with some facial hair stuck on and doing an even sillier accent. Message from beyond – F of U, look behind the C in the K and it is there. I am happy here. Don’t forget the O and the F. Love from F.
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The Perilous Path to Publication getting an agent by Sheila Bugler
I have an agent. Yep. A proper literary agent who believes in me enough to spend her precious time giving me feedback, inflating my flagging ego, and, most importantly, finding someone willing to publish me. When I started writing, I learned early on that getting an agent was key. So, I did my research. I attended synopsis-writing workshops, I scoured online writer forums where I learned who the best, and worst, agents were. I read endless advice on how to produce the perfect submission pack. Then I got confused. So much of the advice was conflicting. Besides, what was
rejections. I also got some great feedback
agent’s list of authors and demonstrate
and encouragement as well.
how you would be a positive addition to
Here are some of the things I learned
agent to represent you. I recently attended a
along the way.
All agents are different I know this is obvious but it’s worth saying, anyway. Writers tend to speak about agents in generic terms; we forget they’re people,
workshop where you spoke about current trends in the crime fiction market is probably better than because I’m desperate and can’t believe anyone else would be mad enough .
just like us, with their good and bad points,
Don’t sweat the synopsis
strengths and weaknesses, personal likes
Please. Be calm. Be sensible. You’ve just
written a novel, probably upwards of
They’re not all looking for the same
60,000 words. This means you can write a
thing. You may find one agent who loves
synopsis of between 300 and 1000 words.
your work, another who hates it.
Yes, you’ll encounter agents who are
I was terrified when I started mine.
too busy/disinterested/stressed/lazy to
Convinced I couldn’t do it, I decided to
bother reading your work. You’ll also find
avoid it altogether. Instead, I concentrated
others who will read it, and take time to
on important, synopsis-writing research.
give you feedback even if they decide not
The more I researched, I reasoned, the
to represent you.
easier it would be. Wouldn’t it? Here are some of the tips I picked up:
the point? Everything I read implied I’d
Make it personal
have a better chance of winning the lottery
Everything about your submission pack
than getting an agent. What’s more, these
should be tailored for the specific agent
agents sounded like a ruthless bunch - as
you’re writing to.
likely to send my work back without even
this list. Give your reasons for wanting this
• It should never be longer than a single
page • It must be at least two pages long • It has to cover every plot twist and turn
reading it while, at the same time, advising
requirements. If they have a website, you’ll
• You should give a flavour of your work
me to never, ever give up the day job. And
find the submission guidelines there. If not,
but there’s no need to go into too much
that’s if they bothered to get back to me.
call and ask them. Whatever the guidelines
detail. If you do, the agent won’t read it
Chances were, most of them wouldn’t even
are, follow them. If they want a query letter
first, then that’s what you do. They don’t
• Try to make it similar to the blurb on
When I finally got around to submitting
want children’s literature? Don’t send a
my novel to agents, I expected the worst. In
children’s book. They only want the first
fact, the process wasn’t nearly as painful as
chapter? That’s what you send.
I’d anticipated. Yes, I got my fair share of
Tailor your query letter. Research the
the back of a book • It should bear no resemblance to the blurb on the back of a book • You must include the ending
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• Don’t include the ending Confused? I was. I think I still am. However, I was luckier than most. While writing my first novel, I was accepted onto a one-year mentoring programme. My mentor gave me much-needed guidance on cutting through the crap and getting something that an agent might actually want to read. I spent weeks working on what I thought was a pretty good synopsis. It was one-page long, included the main plot elements, and revealed the ending (something I apparently had to do or no agent would ever read my work and I might as well give up writing there and then). When I was happy with it, I sent it to my mentor. His feedback? Too long, overly complex and boring as hell (he put it more kindly, of course, but that was the general gist). His advice was: • Think of the blurb on the back of the book – use that as your starting point • Sit down with a glass of wine and a blank sheet of paper • Write whatever comes into your head, focussing on the ‘flavour’ of the novel, rather than specific plot twists and turns • Do this for no more than twenty minutes • At the end, you should have the bare bones of your synopsis
Now, I’m not saying this advice works for everyone but I followed it. I ended up with a one-page synopsis that was short and snappy and didn’t reveal the ending. And I got an agent. Remember, if your synopsis is wellwritten and engaging, most agents will want to read the book, regardless of whether or not you’ve followed all the ‘rules’.
Don’t believe everything you hear Two agents I contacted never replied, despite follow-on correspondence. They were the exception. Every other agent got back to me with an answer. They weren’t always quick to reply – one took five months to respond. Several asked to read the complete novel. Of these, most were generous with their feedback, even if they didn’t want to represent me. One even took the time to meet me and discuss the novel, and my writing, in detail. I know other writers who’ve received support, encouragement and advice from agents they’ll probably never work with. All this for nothing.
Don’t take it personally The whole submissions process can be disheartening. You may be lucky –the very first agent you submit to might love your work and want to sign you up on the spot. Just in case that doesn’t happen, though, you should prepare yourself for rejection. Agents receive a lot of submissions
– up to 300 a week in some cases. Only a tiny percentage of these will spark the agent’s interest. Your writing may be good, brilliant even, but if it’s not what that agent is looking for at that particular time, then they won’t be interested.
Don’t give up Writing is a tough business. Getting an agent is probably harder than it’s ever been. Even when you’ve achieved that, you still have to find a publisher. But if writing is what you want to do, then keep with it. You’ll get there eventually. We all will.
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Can Anybody Hear Me?- Reading for a Live Audience by Dan Holloway
With writers expected to do more and more of their own marketing, one of the things that will inevitably crop up at some point is giving a reading from your work. For the exhibitionists amongst us, the increased opportunities to read to a real audience might feel like being in clover, but for many writers it can be the most evil of all the necessary evils attendant upon modern writing. I want to look at two things in this piece. First I want to look briefly at why live readings are asked, even required, of writers, and I want to convince you that, even if you will never wake up and shout out of your window at the rising sun “yippee! Today I’m doing a reading”, they can actually be a good, not a bad thing. Second, I want to offer some practical advice on how to give your best at readings. Next time, when you’re getting used to the idea readings are a good thing, I want to suggest some possibilities that exist to do more readings, and increase your exposure to, and contact with, audiences. Traditionally, reading from your book
means turning up at a bookstore and reading an extract, followed, you hope, by signing and selling copies for the people who’ve enjoyed it. And almost certainly it’s something you’ll find yourself being asked or suggested to do at some stage. And it’s obvious why – if you’re self-published, it’s a great way to get the local press down, get your picture in the paper, get people to know who you are. And if you’re lucky enough to have a publisher, signings are a great way to bump your shop presence from spine-on on the shelf to posters and “signed copy” table. But nowadays it’s not just book signings. There is no end of chances to read your work at literary evenings, or open mic sessions (looking through my local listings rag, Daily Information, I saw three open mic nights in just one week in Oxford alone). Add to that, depending on your genre, local clubs and societies in the subject area, and you could fill yourself quite a nice little diary. I wouldn’t necessarily advocate everyone do everything. But there are two reasons why doing this kind of reading is a great idea. First, and this may be harder to convince you, it’s a fantastic way to get instant feedback. You are a storyteller. The roots of storytelling lie in those round the campfire nights in the ancient world, in people looking and listening in wonder as magical worlds unfolded in front of them. It’s a communal thing. And nothing quite compares to seeing the looks in people’s eyes as you transport them. Second, there is nothing so good for making new fans, people who will not only buy your book but tell their friends about it, as personal contact – we can only do so much online. We can do so much more face to face. OK, so you’ve decided doing a reading is a good thing. Your local bookstore has said yes (more next time), and the initial excitement has worn off. Palms are sticky,
your heart is pounding, and all you want to do is stick your head back under the pillow and wait for it to be over. But you don’t. You make yourself go through with it. YOU love your story. YOU’RE passionate about it. How do you best get that over to your listeners, make them love it too, and begin the word of mouth ball rolling? What has helped me most with reading has been having a wife who’s a musician, and being in a group of writers with a professional actress. Because the key to reading, or any kind of public speaking, is in basic physical technique. It’s once that’s mastered that you can start to inject the elements that make your pieces come to life. So, here’s my guide to preparing for a reading (n.b. I’m going to assume you’re standing – even if it’s a traditional reading, I’d recommend you stand. It opens out your body, gives you confidence, prepares your mindset).
It’s one of those things that sounds really precious, but a good breathing technique is so important. The things it’s easiest to struggle with (and when I’m reading poems, sometimes I could royally slap myself for writing these ridiculous long sentences that look oh so good on the page but come and read them and you’re gasping like a guppy in the Gobi) are losing steam half way through a sentence and ending up gasping and/or sweating through it; and – the number one problem – garbling too quickly and losing all the beautifully-crafted rhythms you spent 27 edits perfecting. Singers are always talking about breathing with your diaphragm rather than your chest. And they’re right. And you almost certainly should get a book/ a voice coach lesson/ even wikipedia rather than listen to me, but what this basically
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involves is breathing from lower down your abdomen. If you put your hands on the side of your stomach, the breath should fill that space and your stomach go out (for a, er, less than little chap like me this also involves swallowing any semblance of pride – also a very good thing). Practice breathing like this, slowly, through your nose, imagining you are filling an airbed. Do this regularly. Not only will it help you complete your sentences, but it will help you maintain an easy pace.
Yes, I sound like my mother telling me to sit up straight, but it’s true. Posture makes a huge difference. Making good straight shapes with your back will help your breathing, as well as making you feel better. And think about your hands. If you don’t have a microphone (reading with a microphone will come next week) and do have a book, you will have a spare hand. You’ll probably fidget with it. If you’re going to fidget then give yourself a fidget that’s not distracting. You can practise Tony Blair hand gestures. Or you can hold your hand firm to the side of your leg. But think about what you do with it, or it’ll have a life of its own.
A lot of speakers fall flat because there’s no rhythm to their speech. They simply read the words in front of them. It is, in fact, why a lot of writing falls flat – which is why it should be easy to learn the lesson. You know writing needs ups and downs, fasts and slows, rhythms and syncopations. It’s the same with the spoken word. If I could give one piece of advice, it would be to watch the very best comedy sketch shows. Comedians are better at this than anyone (sorry, Royal Shakespeare, they are) – because the whole meaning of a joke can depend on a change in tone. Listen to the things they do – especially the pauses, the way they make their voice higher sometimes, the way they stop and then change rhythm with a punchline. Practise reading your piece in this way. My reading style, for all the subject matter is dark and transgressive, is based on two people who are brilliant at conveying meaning through the timing of their delivery – the comedian Alexander Armstrong, and the art critic Matthew
4. Eye Contact
It seems obvious. When we’re holding a conversation, we make eye contact. When we’re on a date we do it. We have whole spoken and unspoken codes around it. And yet so often a writer, holding the most important conversation of all, that with their readers, will never look up from the page. Most often this is to do with nerves, rather than not knowing what comes next. The best cure for that is a combination of practice and the good breathing technique discussed above. It can be very daunting facing a room of strangers. One way to make eye contact seem less daunting is to select one or two members of the audience (if you have friends there, you can choose them), and use them as a point of reference. Once you’ve settled in, try to move your eyes around the room, sweeping over each area in turn. This will also help your reading to be more natural.
5. Slow it down. Even more
Just that. However slowly you think you’re reading, you need to slow it down more. To the point it feels daft. If you can bring yourself to listen to your own voice, try recording yourself practising and you’ll see what I mean.
6. What to read
This isn’t as daft as you may think. Choose something you like, but don’t just choose your best bit for the sake of it. The best readings are between five and seven minutes. That’s not a lot. You need a passage that’s fairly self-contained, one that has ups and downs you can use to keep the audience interested. And try to avoid too much dialogue.
7. What you haven’t thought of yet
There are some things that make life much easier, that you may not think of. If you’re reading somewhere near where you live, go down there beforehand. Get to know the layout, and get to know the staff – the more you can picture things in advance and the less is strange on the day, the better. Make sure you read from something
you can see comfortably without holding it up to your face. If necessary print it out in large font, If you do prefer to read from your book, make some notes in the margin (it’s OK, it’s YOUR book, you’re allowed to write in it!) about your change of tone or pace as cues, and pre-fold the page corners so they’re easy to turn and you don’t fumble.
Next time we’ll look at how to read with a microphone, acting, and how to go about asking people for opportunities to read. In the meantime, there’s no better time to get started. So choose pieces you think would work, and start practising.
Bullet Points • Live readings are a great way to build relationships with an audience, and to get your book promoted in store. • Practise breathing from your diaphragm • Always read slower than you think you need to. Then slow down again. • Always read standing up • Check out the venue in advance
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. He will be reading at Brighton’s Grit Lit on December 3rd.
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Writers’ Manuals Distilled by Jill Marsh
Each issue, WwJ reads one of the many manuals aimed at the aspiring writer. Reducing it to its essence, we’ll pass on wise advice, tips and tricks, and inspiration. This is the second part of Robert McKee’s Story. Although aimed principally at screenwriters, McKee’s assessment of Storytelling can benefit any writer. Last issue, we looked at McKee’s Story Principles. Now for the practical part: The Writer at Work. THIS OVERVIEW IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR READING THE REAL THING. WE HOPE IT WHETS YOUR APPETITE TO BUY THE BOOK. NOT ONLY DOES STORY GIVE EXCELLENT PRACTICAL ADVICE, BUT IT DEFINITELY MAKES YOU WATCH CHINATOWN AGAIN.
Story - Robert McKee (Part 2) (Gender pronouns as in original).
The Writer At Work The Principle of Antagonism
The more powerful and complex the forces opposing our main character(s), the more completely realised character and story become. Yet we have to reach the end of the line. If we start with the primary value of Justice, we have to reach Injustice. But
before making such a leap, stop off at unfairness. From a quest for justice, our hero encounters unfairness, injustice, and to take it to its furthest (the negation of the negative), tyranny. A typical structure might look like this. Act I: Positive to Contrary (Eg, loyalty to split allegiance). Act II: Contrary to Contradictory (split allegiance to betrayal). Act III: The Negation of the Negative (betrayal to self-betrayal), ending tragically, or leaping back to the positive with profound change (betrayal to permanent reconciliation). If you feel your story lacking, work on the negative side, creating that chain reaction. Anything is possible but go as far as you can in your exploration of what ‘the worst that can happen’ might be.
Exposition (or Show, Not Tell)
As the story progresses, the audience absorbs all it needs to know almost unconsciously. Necessary facts are woven into dramatic conflict. Exposition without progress is wasteful. Never include anything the audience can assume happened; only include facts whose absence would confuse. Pace it. Least important facts first, building to those critical facts the characters don’t want known. Turn exposition into ammunition. It’s for this reason Aristotle advises beginning the story ‘in media res’ – in the midst of things. Backstory should be something the author knows, to be used as turning points. Evelyn: She’s my sister AND my daughter. Gittes: He raped you? Evelyn: (shakes her head) – CHINATOWN Likewise flashbacks need their own narrative
drive; inciting incident, progression of events, turning point. Well-done flashbacks can accelerate pace, providing the desire to know has been created.
Problems and Solutions Evoke both Curiosity, the need to know what happens; and Concern, the emotional need for positive values –make us care. We seek the centre of good, which must be located in the protagonist. This doesn’t mean niceness, but the search for a value. Curiosity and concern create three possible ways to connect to characters and story. Mystery excites curiosity: the audience knows less than the characters, facts remain hidden, hints and red herrings abound. Mysteries can be closed – whodunnit? ANGEL HEART. Or open – we know who did it but want to know why. THE USUAL SUSPECTS takes this almost to parody. Suspense excites curiosity and concern: the audience and characters know the same information, and the tension grows for the outcome. FATAL ATTRACTION. Dramatic Irony excites mainly concern: the audience knows more than the characters and the concern comes from how the characters will feel when they find out. SUNSET BOULEVARD. The majority of stories fall into the suspense category, but blends of two or three can enrich the telling. CASABLANCA. Other writers’ conventions should be handled with care. • Surprises can be cheap or true. In some genres, such as horror, the fake scares are part of the convention. But outside this, a cheap surprise by breaking the story world for a quick jolt is shoddy.
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inspiration is often cliché. 90% of what we do is less than our best. Choose the truest to character and world, and no one will see your failures. Unless you add vanity to folly and exhibit them.
Coincidence must be dramatised and earn its place. Bring it in early, build meaning out of it, and never allow it to simply disappear. Never use coincidence to turn an ending – deus ex machina. That went out with the Greeks.
• POV. The telling is enhanced by styling the whole story from the protagonist’s POV. This is the most difficult way to tell a story, but is as much a creative discipline as limited setting, genre convention and controlling idea.
Structure & Setting
How well do you know your story’s period (place in time), duration (span in terms of characters), location (place in space) and level of conflict (place in the hierarchy of human struggle)? Create a limited, knowable world, of which you know every detail. Research your facts; research your imagination, even if most of the detail never makes it into the story; and research your memory, for similar emotional experiences. This background knowledge often gives rise to the writer’s delusion that the characters are taking over. They aren’t. It’s simply hard work paying off. The next stage is story design. The writer needs to make creative choices, shaping events to a meaningful climax. Writers who know their craft sketch five, ten, fifteen versions of a scene because
A character is a work of art, a metaphor for human nature, superior to reality. Character or plot? They are the same thing. A character emerges from the choices they make under pressure. Character design begins with characterisation and true character. The former is the external portraiture of details. The latter is insight and understanding which emerges from the believable choices a character makes, based on his fundamental nature. Story informs character and vice versa. The true character emerges at climax, so at least 25% of your energy should go into finding that satisfying ending. A character comes to life when we understand his desire. What does he want now? Soon? Knowingly? Unknowingly? Don’t reduce characters to psychological case studies – the current cliché in vogue is an episode of child abuse – there are no definitive answers to anyone’s behaviour. But audiences will make up plenty of their own and argue about them later. One clue is the mask, or outward appearance. Another is what the protagonist says about himself. The opinions of the other characters can also give powerful hints. Believe me, you don’t want Hannibal Lecter inside your head – SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. But we never know our character until we see his choices under pressure. • Character Dimension. This means contradiction. Our fascination with Macbeth is not with his ambition but his struggle with his guilt. Inner contradictions, those between characterisation and deep character must be consistent. Dimensions fascinate, contradictions in nature or behaviour rivet the audience’s attention. • Cast design must revolve around
the protagonist like planets in a solar system. A multi-dimensional protagonist needs a cast who delineate such contradictions, to whom he reacts in different ways. But they are more than mere mirrors, and the inner circle of characters should also have more than one dimension, while lesser characters are sufficiently equipped with one. Yet all interactions with the protag bring out their own dimensions while shedding light on his. Love all your characters. If you can’t, don’t write them. You have to imagine yourself in each character’s shoes. Never permit sympathy or antipathy to produce melodrama or stereotype.
Write from the Inside Out
So many make the mistake of writing from the outside in. They have an idea and rush to the keyboard to start creating. They get so far in and get stuck, or ask for feedback, and find they have a problem. This leads to more tinkering and clinging to favourite scenes and they get nowhere. A successful writer does the reverse. Using a set of three by four cards, you create a stack for each act, creating the story’s step-outline. On the front, write two lines about what happens. On the back, write which step the story fulfils. Inciting Incident for First subplot? First Act Climax for Main Plot? Create as many scenes as you can and pick those that excite, that work for your story. Be ruthless. Throw out anything that you know doesn’t basically work. Meanwhile, build your story world, research, make character biographies, note thematic images, even snippets of vocabulary and idiom. Finally, you discover your Story Climax. Now you have your pitch. It should take around ten minutes to explain, and you try it on someone you trust. If the reaction is positive, they’re gripped throughout, start work on your treatment. If it’s not, start again. Next, you expand your scenes, creating subtext, analysing what’s really happening at each point. This is your treatment. Finally, write your dialogue. By this time, it should flow with ease and each voice should be individual. Premature writing of dialogue chokes creativity. Writing dialogue in search of
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scenes, in search of story, is the least creative way to work. Because we fall in love with our words, our characters, and we’re loath to experiment, let go, play with events. Not all your ideas will make it. Do you want to discover that in two months, or two years?
Some writers fear an awareness of what they do will cripple their spontaneity. Robert McKee’s answer is blunt. Study the craft, don’t just take your talent for a walk. Follow your quest for stories told with meaning and beauty, despite the fear of failure. Study thoughtfully but write boldly.
Theory into Practice One WwJ reader tells us how it worked for her. Writer and teacher Patricia Davis lives in a cottage in Suffolk, at the edge of a wood ...
When I first read Words with JAM’s summary of Robert McKee’s Story, I’d reached an impasse with The Thought Shapers, my book for children of 10+. I’d read Story from cover to cover a few years ago, and the ideas resonated with me then, but now I’ve applied them directly to help me move forward with my rewrite. The Thought Shapers is a dystopian tale about the power of story and imagination. It features thirteen-year-old Pandora, who has never heard a story in its true sense. She lives in a world struggling with limited resources, in an enclosed city state, Citereal, dominated by REAL TV. Books and writing are outlawed and continuous reality shows are compulsory viewing. Darius is the evil mastermind who ensures the Authorities’ version of reality is imprinted on the minds of the people. He discovers that Pandora is a thought shaper. Thought Shapers use an ancient form of communication which doesn’t depend on words. Pandora could shape-shift into animal form, and she is a pure thought shaper with the potential to alter physical matter. Darius intends to imprison her for his own ends before she discovers her capabilities. But Pandora
escapes into the world of the Outside where she finds other thought shapers. Their society is based on the telling and retelling of stories. Pandora is not sure where she belongs. She’s convinced the answer lies in finding her ‘real’ parents, who could help her understand herself and her powers. At the beginning of my book, I use a quote which sums up the difference between story in Citereal and the Outside. ‘A story can be true, but not have truth. A story can have truth, but not be true.’ Something I love about McKee’s book is that he shows us why this is and how to use it. When I first read Story, I was struck by McKee’s ideas – how we subconsciously expect certain things from story. In life, he says, ideas and emotion come separately, but the storyteller wraps ideas around an emotional charge. Critiques showed that I’d done this; my premise was a powerful idea. So, I worked on building characters and events, improving my use of language and narrative voice, even changing the person and tense of the book. And yet, I still wasn’t quite there. The feedback was, ‘It’s a great story and well written, but it doesn’t stand alone.’ I wasn’t surprised. As book one of a trilogy, the story arc covered three books, but the publishing climate had changed in the time I’d been writing. I needed a book that could potentially stand alone, and leave people wanting more. To complete the first story arc within one book, I wanted to strengthen Pandora’s role. She was brave and resourceful but because she knew nothing about the Outside, she was sometimes pushed along by events and by others. I wanted her role to be stronger, more active. Words with JAM’s article reminded me of McKee’s ‘Controlling Idea.’ I took his idea of ‘value plus cause’ and tried to isolate the values behind my story. I knew the themes - truth, the nature of reality, control versus self control, trust and the importance of imagination. I knew it was essentially a coming-of-age story, or ‘maturation plot’ as McKee calls it. The key values behind Pandora’s journey were: her taking control of her life, and forming her own version of truth and reality. I looked at the end of my story to find the cause. Pandora has to make a choice - whether to act now, fighting Darius in a final showdown to attempt to restore justice to the world; or whether to
act later, following her own instincts to find her parents and discover how to take full control of her unique powers. It is a choice between trusting Bradan, the thoughtshaper Resistance leader, to know what’s right for her; and trusting herself. My Controlling Idea became: Justice will only prevail when you trust yourself to act on what is real and true for you. But how can an ending like this complete a story arc? Although Pandora confronts the main antagonist, Darius, several times in this book, I needed another character whom she could battle in a different way. She needs guidance and help through her strange new circumstances, but not to be dominated and told what to do. I already knew that the gifts of the thought shapers were so powerful, there was the potential for misuse. Sometimes our friends can do more harm than our enemies. So it is Bradan’s ideas and strength of mind Pandora must overcome in this book. This achievement will mean, I think, that this story has a more effective sense of closure for the reader. I then took my scene list and put in the positive and negative values McKee talks about to see how they oscillated and built towards the climax. And I could see the main value of trust also fitted very well with the subplots. I wrote Bradan’s backstory from his POV to strengthen my characterisation. McKee says, ‘take great care to build the power of both sides.’ This yielded several new plot ideas which I’ve woven into existing events, enabling the more active role I sought for Pandora.
The result, I hope, is a fully realised narrative in this draft of The Thought Shapers. To quote McKee; ‘A great work is a living metaphor that says, ‘life is like this.’’ And that is the power of story.
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Just Do It ... Plotting by Anne Stormont
Right, where were we? We’d got started on the novel – overcome the self-doubt and procrastination. We’d fallen in love with our characters, breathed life into them. So what now? What are you going to have these characters do? What is going to happen to them? How will you introduce them to your readers? What will their journey be? First of all – the thing about plotting is that there is no one correct way to do it. It’s like cooking – everyone has their own take on methods – even where the ingredients and the outcome are similar. My mother and my mother-in-law were both superb bakers – meringues to die for – but they used two quite different procedures to create them. One baked them in an oven – the French way – and the other plopped the beaten egg whites into boiling water – the Italian way. And that’s how it is with plotting – you do what works for you. Below are just three of the ways – you might only ever use one of them, or you may change method depending on the novel, or you may mix and match – or you may do none of them in any conscious way and simply write, improvising as you go. But if cooking without a recipe scares you, you may find what follows useful. First up - you might like a linear layout when planning – one scene heading, followed by the next, and the next and so on. This will work well if you already have a clear idea of how your story is to develop. You might follow the heading with notes
on the action within the scene. It will all run down the page – in portrait layout – beginning, middle and end all sorted. Or you may do the above - but with only a definite start and end point already planned - and fill in the scenes in between as you think it all through. However, it may be that you don’t have scenes as such. It could be that you have fragments – an assortment of images – of experiences and occurrences for your characters. Perhaps then you can storyboard. That is write and/or draw out these images on cards. Then lay them out, swap them round, see where the gaps are, do cards to fill the gaps. As you ponder the gaps you will probably find you begin to ask yourself, and answer, all the why questions about your plot, about what is driving it. You must be able to answer the question as to why a particular scene is there. If you can’t, then discard it. It’s superfluous. You’ll also start to resolve the ‘how’ questions as you move from card to card. Perhaps new characters and ideas will emerge as you work. Perhaps a timeline or natural order may start to emerge. You may well see a sort of clustering, or coming together, of scenes at certain points – these will provide your ‘jumpcuts’ and chapter breaks – and you may well discard some in-between scenes altogether. And then there’s a third way. That is the mind-map, spider diagram or cluster plotting method. Here think landscape rather than portrait. Take a sheet of A4, or even, A3 paper and write your novel’s working title in the middle and draw a box or cloud shape around what you’ve written. Now do several short lines coming off this central box or blob. At the end of these lines write, or indeed, draw the key scenes, images or events you already have in your head. Draw a box around each of these. Then see if you can extend any of these
scene/event boxes with blobs of their own. You can continue branching off as much as you like. It should become obvious which are the meatier scenes, which ones are sparking off possible subplots. The more substantial plot blobs or boxes will be the ones you’ll probably allocate most words to. You may well also see how the scenes should link up and perhaps begin to see an order of events. And as with the other methods you will probably find scenes that are so insubstantial they can be dropped altogether.
Whatever plotting method you use you will need to peg your scenes to a story arc. Your plot must serve as a roadmap for the characters’ actions. It must bring your characters together at just the right moment. You need to decide on your opening scene, on where your telling will begin. The plot will almost certainly begin long before your story does. You will weave in any relevant pre-details as you tell the story. Your start point should be where the characters’ backstories become nowstories. So looking at your plan – linear, storyboard or mind-map, you will need to move those scenes around – number them, arrow them, or change their order in the pile. It doesn’t matter if you open your story
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at the end and tell it as flashback or if you begin at the middle and flashback and move forward – or if you simply drive forward. However there is a classic set of ingredients that the story arc should probably contain and that is: 1. Stasis – once upon a time 2. Trigger – the unpredictable event 3. Quest – the protagonist(s) begins to seek
6. Climax – the consequence of 5
N.B. There is an excellent post and
7. Reversal – change of status
youtube video on cluster plotting at
8. Resolution – acceptance of new state.
But the most important thing of all about the plotting stage is to just go for it. Don’t pause or censor or edit – that will come when you have all your scenes before you. Enjoy this very creative phase of prewriting – rule nothing in or out.
4. Surprise – discovers the unexpected 5. Critical choice – difficult decision
clusterplotting. If you’re a writer who uses twitter, you will almost certainly have heard of Johanna. She is the person behind the #amwriting hashtag and won this year’s inaugural Chris Al-Aswad prize awarded by Eight Cuts.
Typically Topical Topics by Lorraine Mace
Searching for article ideas can seem impossible, but in truth all that’s needed is a pad, a pen and some lateral thinking. There are always new topics to write about, or new ways of dealing with old ideas – but where to find the inspiration? This
article aims to provide you with enough ideas to lead to a torrent of topics. Listen to the news Sound too easy to be worthwhile? The simple ideas are usually the best. The news is a constant stream of information on a variety of subjects ranging from world affairs to new technology, from celebrity gossip to climatic disasters, from fashion to religion. Next time you listen to the news, jot down any item that catches your fancy. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t knowledgeable on the subject – that’s what research is for.
Discuss this and that! Join in forum debates on subjects which interest you. There is nothing like a healthy debate to get your brain cells working. Once again, while on the forums (and there are now forums on every conceivable theme under the sun) keep paper and pen to hand. It might not be the actual subject which sparks an idea, but a word or phrase used by one of the other members.
It’s that time of year Anniversary articles are always in demand – but where to find something to write about? Good starting places to search: http://ideas4writers.wordpress.com
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http://www.hisdates.com http://www.datesinhistory.com http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/ default.stm Do bear in mind that anniversary pieces need a longer lead time than other features, so you need to query at least six months in advance.
Search engine savvy Go on search engine home pages and see which subjects are currently hot. Look back through the archives and try to find a way to link the old information with the new to create a different slant. Editors love new ways of looking at existing ideas.
Famous quotes Just because something has been used a thousand times doesn’t mean it can’t spark an original thought in your mind. A quote doesn’t only become famous because of the person who made it; it can happen because of the thought behind the words. Read some lesser known quotes and allow your mind to wander. You’ll be amazed at how someone else’s words, even from hundreds of years ago, can set you on the path to writing something relevant to today. Visit the sites below: http://www.quotesandsayings.com/ http://www.famousquotes.me.uk/ http://www.brainyquote.com/ http://www.ifamousquotes.com/ http://www.quotationspage.com/
Read articles written by others Read extensively on topics of interest to you. Ideas for new articles will come to you if you study with a questioning mind. Why has the author said this? Why did the interviewee say that? What will be the consequence of his or her actions? Ask
yourself the famous W questions: who, what, where, why and when? If you question what you are reading, you can get a different perspective and be able to use someone else’s ideas to spark articles of your own. Running with someone else’s idea is fine, but never copy their words, not even if you change them to hide the fact, as that is plagiarism.
What would you like to research? Think of a topic about which you know very little (or one you have a passing knowledge of) but about which you’d like to know more. Research the subject, read all you can, and then pass that knowledge on in the form of articles – always looking to find your own way of dealing with the topic.
Subscribe to newsletters Having several newsletters or e-zines dropping into your email inbox is like having your own search team out looking for ideas on your behalf. If you subscribe to newsletters on various subjects, you’ll find yourself with so many new topics you’ll need extra hours in the day to write all the articles.
Something old makes something new Take a classic date, such as Mothering Sunday, and think laterally about how to present a unique article on it. Every year editors are almost inundated with the same tired way of dealing with such themes. Imagine how much greater are your chances of acceptance if you sent in article dealing with how (and when) the day is celebrated in different parts of the world, for example, or a list of the most unusual gifts given to famous mothers.
Lasting lists On the subject of lists, I am a list-o-holic. Every time I make a list I come up with at
least half a dozen article ideas. Why not make a list of: • The problems you’ve encountered recently • How did you solve them? • What makes you angry? • What makes you happy? • Which TV shows do you like and why? • Which ones drive you insane and why? • Who do you know who has overcome adversity and how did they do it? • Reasons to make a living will • Reasons not to make a living will • Who is your least favourite politician and why? • Holiday destinations you’d love to visit – good for travel articles • Funny things you’ve heard people say • Odd coincidences in your life and that of others
Write it down or lose it I never leave home without a pad and a pen. Why? Because I find my mind searches out new ideas when I am not looking for them. If I didn’t make notes at the first available opportunity, I would forget those ideas before I reached home. For example, when at the dentist’s, too terrified to breathe, and in agony with a raging toothache, you wouldn’t think there would be any way I’d get an article out of that. You’d be wrong. As soon as the ordeal was over I sat down and made notes to remind me of my fear and idiotic behaviour – it later translated into a humour article. So where are the ideas to write about? All around you, every day – all you need to do is look, listen and make notes.
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Kindling an Interest by Catriona Troth, the library cat Well, it was inevitable. My gadget-mad other half went and bought a Kindle. In fact, he pre-ordered a Kindle at the end of August, but was just too late to catch the first batch of deliveries, which is why you are reading this now and not in the previous edition. On the plus side, I have now had plenty of time to play with his new toy and give it thorough testing. So here it is:
A Review Of The Kindle From The Point Of View Of A Reasonably-Tech-SavvyB u t - N o t - G a d g e t - Fr e a k Reader And Writer.
The new Kindle comes in two types – WiFi enabled and the more expensive 3G version. The 3G version allows you to download new content wherever you are – great if you are on a round-the-world trek, or constantly away from home. But for most people, if you have a home WiFi network and are able to download content and take it away with you, the extra cost of the 3G version is probably not worth it. We settled for the WiFi version. If you read my previous article on eBooks (WWJ, June 2010), you’ll know that I already own an iPod Touch, which I use as an eReader using Stanza, allowing me to upload documents from my computer, and download content from a number of sites, including free ones such as Gutenberg. I also acquired the Kindle app for the iPod, giving me access to the Kindle Store at Amazon. So why bother with a Kindle (apart from the fact the Other Half said it was a Good Idea)? Well, for one thing, the screen is bigger. It has a 6 inch diagonal screen, giving twice the readable area. Plus the battery life is amazing. We have now had our Kindle for six weeks, during which time I have read Wolf Hall
(400 pages in paperback) and we have only just had to recharge it. The iPod runs out of charge after only a few hours using the screen. I started by exploring some of the free content available from the Kindle Store in the UK. I was immediately attracted to the large library of classics. Books by authors like Dickens are available complete and unabridged – very handy when you think how much shelf space the equivalent paperbacks would require! From requesting a download to it appearing on the Kindle took probably less than thirty seconds on our broadband connection – about as close to instantaneous as one could wish. Once you have bought a book from the Kindle Store, it is automatically made available on up to six devices registered to your Amazon account, and can be read simultaneously on all of them. So largely out of sheer contrariness, I was reading during the day on the Kindle and on the iPod in bed at night. One almost eerily clever facility is the way that the Kindle app synchronises itself between devices. Every time I switched, it would ask me if I wanted to ‘synchronise to last read position’ and
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would automatically find the place I had finished reading on the other device. Great for someone who is forever losing her place in books! Great too, if you are the sort of person that has several books on the go at once and starts to lose track. I found reading a long book like Wolf Hall perfectly comfortable. You only realise when you use an eReading device for yourself how different it is from reading on a computer screen. I think this is because you naturally hold the reader in the same position as you would hold a book. (In theory, the eInk technology used in the Kindle screen is supposed to be much kinder on the eyes than the backlit screen used by the iPod, but personally I have never had a problem with the iPod screen, so I can’t really comment.) Page turning is effectively instantaneous – no annoying wait to snap you out of the ‘dream’ of the book. One frustration was not being able to flick back easily to the beginning of the book, where, in the case of Wolf Hall for example, there was a Dramatis Personae. On the other hand, the search facility was excellent and very quick (much quicker than using the Kindle app on the iPod). Searching for the name of a character, for example, instantly showed me all the occurrences of that name, with a few words of context. And if I wished, I could click on that selection to go to the page from which it came. And, of course, I could ‘sync to last read page’ to go back to where I was reading. I can imagine that this facility might be useful if you were studying a text academically – allowing you, for example, to find the first time that a character appears, or to track the uses of a repetitive phrase or image. (On the other hand, the lack of page numbers for reference could cause problems for students and academics.) The other handy trick (especially with older or more literary books) is that you can highlight a word and see an instant definition. For example, reading Our Mutual Friend, I tripped over the word excogitate, which turned out to mean ‘to think out, plan or devise’. If I had been reading the book in print, I might well have been too lazy to look it up, but there was the answer,
at my fingertips.
compared to the iPod?
Reading Your Own Documents
[Most of the comments I make here about the iPod will apply equally to ebook apps on the iPhone, Android and (screen size apart) the iPad.]
One of the things I love about the iPod is how easily I could upload my own or friends’ documents, for reading at my leisure. Using Stanza, all I needed to do was open the document on my computer and the corresponding app on the iPod would find it and upload it. At first glance, doing the same thing on the Kindle seemed a lot more cumbersome. When you buy a Kindle, a special email address is set up for you at your Amazon account. To transfer the document to your Kindle, you email it to this special address, where it is converted to the Kindle format and made available to your Kindle, the same as any ebook you buy. However, it turned out to be pretty simple. In fact, the converted document appeared
Well, it is all in black and white, for a start. In theory, you can download magazines and newspapers, which is fine for simply reading the text. But the illustrations tend to look like poor quality photocopies and you don’t have the ‘pinch and stretch’ facilities for zooming in and out that make the iPod’s touch screen so amenable to reading web pages. You can change text size and rotate the orientation, but it is a matter of going through menus and selecting options – less fluid and intuitive than the iPod’s touch screen options. One of the pleasures of the iPod for
“I love being able to read the chunky books I gravitate to without risking brain damage when I drop the book on my head.” on my Kindle 70 SECONDS after pressing send on the email. (Unfortunately, these converted documents are NOT shared with my iPod, so I still need to use Stanza if I want them on both devices.) Reading these documents, I often want to make notes as I go along. Both the iPod and the Kindle make this possible, both for your own documents and for any other ebooks you have acquired. It is certainly easier to type on the Kindle’s small QWERTY keyboard than it is on the virtual one provided by the iPod’s touchscreen, though neither compares to typing on a full-sized keyboard. Selecting ‘Review My Notes and Marks’ from the menu presents a screen showing a short extract (about a paragraph each) following the point in the text where I made my note, plus a box at the bottom of the screen showing the content of the note for the extract selected.
Downsides So what are the disadvantages of the Kindle
me is being able to read at night without disturbing anyone. The Kindle’s eInk technology doesn’t allow this. In fact, I have found that I need light at least as good as I would need to read a print book. (On the other hand, the Kindle does allow you to read in full sunlight, not possible with the iPod or other backlit screens.) Because I was used to the iPod, where
“I only realised today how much I tend to project love onto the object which contains such gorgeous, delicate, finely written content. So much today, I was almost caressing the device when picking it up to read again, purring “I LOVE my Kindle”.”
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“I can actually pack clothes and not use the entire suitcase for books (not to mention the excess baggage fines).” you touch the screen on the right to page forward and on the left to page back, it took me a while to get used to the fact that the Kindle has page forward and page back buttons on both sides of the screen. Once you get used to it though, this layout is great for one-handed use and very lefthanded friendly. The Kindle allows sound files but no other type of multi-media. So augmented ebooks which have embedded multimedia (like The Death of Bunny Munro), would not be shown to full advantage. To date, however, this would apply only to a tiny minority of books.
Why an eReader anyway? But why should I bother with an e-Reading device at all? What is wrong with a good, old-fashioned book? Well, first of all I should say that there is nothing at all wrong with paper-based books. Long may they live. You can’t read an ebook in the bath (well, you can, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend it). You can’t keep it on the shelf. You can’t BookCross it! It will never be well-thumbed or dogeared or filled with notes in the margin, as a print book can be. But there is a place for ebooks too.
Here are some of my reasons for liking the Kindle (some comments from other Kindle owners can be found scattered round the article): • I have access to the vast library of free ebook content – books that I would be unlikely to buy but may well dip into when they are so readily available • I can avoid carrying around big heavy books • I can take any number of books ‘on the road’ without worrying about the weight • I can have some of my favourite books with me at all times, not at home on the shelf just when I want to look again at a favourite passage. (The estimated capacity of the latest Kindle is around 1500 non-illustrated books - a lot of shelf space.) • I can decide in the middle of the night that I want to read a book, and have it available in under a minute • I can read long computer documents without eyestrain • I’ve got my fingers crossed that publishers will be encouraged to bring out ebook editions of their backlist, and that lots of hitherto hard-to-obtain books will become available again. If you would like to learn more, here is a fascinating BLOG from LibraryThing on why ebooks just might be poised to take over the world.
Is there a time limit on your right to read it? Can you share it with anyone else? What happens to the books you have already bought if your Kindle is lost, damaged or simply upgraded? You can download files purchased from Amazon to any device registered to your Amazon account (usually up to a limit of 6 devices) - so you can at least easily share with any member of your family. Not so easily with friends. (Though I guess in theory a small group of friends could register their devices with one account - it doesn’t mean handing over passwords and thus purchasing power on the account.) Amazon has recently announced that it will allow ebooks on Kindle to be lent. For more details about this, see ‘eBooks in the News’. You can back up the books you have purchased on your computer, either by WiFi or with a usb to usb connector. You can also redownload books you have already purchased. So if your device dies, or you move onto a new one, you won’t lose your library There is no time limit on the books you have purchased - though if you download an ebook from a library website, it will just disappear after the loan period (usually 14 to 28 days).
What actually happens when you buy an ebook from Amazon?
Are you in love with ebooks? Do you hate the very idea of them? Write and tell us about it before 14th January 2011. As before, we will publish the best entries (up to 500 words) in the next edition.
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eBooks in the News by Catriona Troth, the library cat News on ebooks comes so thick and fast at the moment that it is hard to keep up with it all. If you want to get the very latest news on a daily basis, I can recommend signing up for The Bookseller’s free daily briefing by email. Please click on embedded links within the article for more details and story sources.
From early next year, the New York Times will publish both fiction and non-fiction ebook bestseller lists. Amazon has announced the launch of Kindle Singles: ‘Kindle books that are twice the length of a New Yorker feature or as much as a few chapters of a typical book. Kindle Singles will have their own section in the Kindle Store and be priced much less than a typical book.’ As far as I can see, this is intended to cover short stories, essays, novellas – all sorts of forms that publishers have previously been reluctant to consider. However, there is no word yet on how to submit work for publication. In another announcement, Amazon has said that it is extending to the UK its offer of 70% royalties for ebooks sold on its Digital Text Platform. To be eligible for this royalty option: • The author or publisher-supplied list
price must be between £1.49 and £6.99. • The list price must be at least 20 percent below the lowest list price for the physical book. • The title is made available for sale in all geographies for which the author or publisher has rights. • The title will be included in a broad set of features in the Kindle Store (such as text-to-speech). If you think you should be eligible, make sure you (or your publisher) have ticked the right box requesting it.
Notable eBook Releases
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that the author is such a passionate proponent of social media, Stephen Fry’s latest book has been released simultaneously as hardback, ebook, enhanced ebook, app and audio. Penguin’s marketing of the book has covered online, offline, home and global markets, created events, and made use of social networks. In an overlooked portion of his controversial speech to the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) on 21st October, Faber c.e.o. Stephen Page noted that this ‘created a new benchmark for publishers. It requires new skills. … You need technological know-how and imagination to make digital products beyond the ebook.’ In tandem with the release of the new film of CS Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Harper Collins are bringing out an augmented ebook edition for ‘touch screen’ ereaders, with the original text amplified by full-colour images, audio extracts by Derek Jacobi, embedded video, a map of Narnia, a blueprint for the Dawn Treader and more. The Ian Fleming Estate has bypassed
Penguin (current holders of the print rights for the James Bond books) and released ebook editions of the entire Bond back catalogue in the UK through the family firm, Ian Fleming Publications (as they had already done in the US). The fourteen 007 titles are now available via ebook retailers including Amazon and Waterstones.com. However, the Bookseller notes that the print rights are up for renegotiation in two years time, and that it seems unlikely that they will be sold separately from the digital rights. Jane Friedman’s ebook company Open Road announced at Frankfurt that they would publish a clutch of new titles as ‘e-riginals’. They will publish titles by Jonathon King, Mary Glickman, Alan Dean Foster and Jo Piazza titles as ebooks with original videos for each. Print titles will be made available subsequently through online retailers. However, Open Road has lost out to Simon and Schuster in their bid to publish Catch-22 as an ebook. The publisher, who has already said it is bringing out special 50th anniversary editions of Joseph Heller’s novel, will publish the first ebook edition next year. Finally, Enhanced Editions, who tailormake ebooks for iphones, have announced a partnership with AudioGO, the new owners of BBC Audiobooks, to develop enhanced ebook apps of works from the BBC archive, including full-cast Radio 4 Shakespeare productions.
Customers have reacted angrily on the Amazon website to October’s price rise in many ebooks following the agreement concluded between Amazon and a number of publishers (Hachette, Penguin and HarperCollins) to sell ebooks under the agency model, whereby the publisher sets the price for the book. This could be seen as
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a good move for authors – and I expect the publishers intend it to be so. For example, Tom Weldon, c.e.o. of Penguin, has said in a letter to agents that the model ‘is more likely to provide authors with a just reward for their creative content’ and will ‘protect the long term health of the industry.’ In some cases, however, the price of ebook editions has shot up above that of the hardback edition, which can surely only squeeze the life out of the ebook market. Some high-profile books saw their star ratings on Amazon fall dramatically, as customers have given them zero- or onestar ratings in protest. It seems that even people in the trade think this sort of price differential is nonsense. According to early published results from the FutureBook survey, 75% believe that ebooks should be priced at current street prices or less. Waterstones (who have signed an agency agreement with Harper Collins and are in discussion with Hachette and Penguin) have warned that ‘it’s in everybody’s interest that customers see ebooks as good value for money.’ Nevertheless, more and more e-retailers are falling into line. WH Smiths, which had removed Hachette, Penguin and Harper Collins ebooks from its online shop, reached a deal with Hachette and Penguin in November. ‘Agency’ prices, where they have been agreed, appear consistent across all e-retailers.
eBook Lending – a question of territory
A row blew up in October over ebook lending. At his speech at the CILIP conference, Stephen Page, speaking on behalf of the Publishers Association, set out his vision for a relationship between libraries and the publishing industry. The full text of the speech is worth reading. However, what has sparked the most comment was the section of the speech concerning lending of ebooks. Apparently in response to recent reports that some borrowers from outside the country (notably China) have been able to access ebooks from UK libraries, he set out a baseline of four fundamental restrictions that should apply. • Firstly the fee paid by a library in purchasing a book covers the right to loan one copy, of one book, to one individual, for a fixed short term period.
• Secondly, robust and secure geographical-based membership must be in place for all library services, with permanent members required to demonstrate their residence within the locality. • Thirdly, a downloaded ebook will expire after a predetermined length of time (e.g. two weeks), after which it will cease to be available to read on the library user’s mobile device. • Finally, the system works on a download model, whereby library users come on to the library’s physical premises and download an ebook at a computer terminal onto a mobile device, such as an ereader, laptop or mobile phone. The first three of these restrictions are, I think, broadly agreed to by all parties – they describe the model used by most UK libraries in partnership with Overdrive. The fourth – the requirement that borrowers must be physically present in the library to borrow an ebook – has created an outcry. Many regard this as a massively retrograde step, effectively taking away the right to borrow ebooks from the elderly and disabled, those in remote rural areas like the Scottish Islands and commuters, all of whom may find it difficult to travel to libraries during opening hours (or at all). Richard Mollet, also of the Publishers Association, moved quickly to defuse the row, describing the restrictions proposed by Stephen Page as ‘not a line in the sand’ but rather ‘a stepping-off point’. And when he appeared with Fiona Marriott, principal librarian of Luton Libraries, on the BBC Radio 4’s PM programme on October 26th no mention was made of the need to come into library to borrow ebooks, only the need to ensure that all those using the service were bona fide members of the library, residing locally. Interestingly, one publisher taking a radically different stance is the German academic publisher, Springer Verlag, who since 2006 has sold their books to libraries DRM free. ‘Libraries buy direct from us and they own the content,’ Springer director, George Scotti, said. ‘Once users download content, they can give it out, share, whatever. They own it.’ Into the middle of all this controversy, Amazon announced that – where publishers
allow it – ebook lending on the Kindle will be enabled. Later this year, US users will be able to lend an ebook to another Kindle user (other than the six registered to that account) for a period of 14 days. During those 14 days, the buyer will not be able to read that ebook, but at the end of that period, it will revert to the original purchaser. It is unclear whether the service will be introduced in the UK. Given all the controversy over ebook lending in libraries, I won’t hold my breath. Amazon has also been criticised for inadequate restrictions on buying ebooks in territories where the rights have not been sold. Recently the Bookseller claimed to have cracked Amazon’s territorial controls and to have bought US Kindle editions in the UK. Meanwhile, Waterstones stopped selling ebooks to customers outside of the UK and Ireland to comply with publishers’ legal requirements. The Publishers Association has stressed the importance of territorial rights and said it is ‘keen to discuss arrangements with Amazon and other online retailers.’ Peter Donoughue, Australian academic and former c.e.o. of Wiley Australia, recently suggested that a more effective solution would be to have a single ebook edition available, from day one, to all customers globally, with publishers who have bought the rights for their territories sharing revenues on the basis of customer sales.
Cutting Out The Middle Man
This summer, literary agent Andrew Wylie announced in the Harvard Magazine that he would, ‘take our 700 clients, see what rights are not allocated to publishers, and establish a company on their behalf to license those ebook rights directly to someone like Google, Amazon.com, or Apple.’ Odyssey Editions, an ebook publishing company, was set up in July to publish a selection of Wylie’s clients exclusively in Kindle format. It initially published twenty titles, from authors including Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis, Philip Roth, and John Updike. Random House immediately announced that the group ‘on a worldwide basis will not be entering into any new English-language business agreements
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with the Wylie Agency until this situation is resolved.’ It now regarded the Wylie Agency as ‘our direct competitor’. However, in August Wylie and Random House issued a joint statement, saying they had resolved their differences, and 13 of the 20 titles on Odyssey’s list were removed. For all that Andrew Wylie’s move looks to have proved a storm in a teacup, there are those, such as the Bookseller’s Neill Denny, who question whether all the links in the current chain between author and reader (agent, publisher, bookseller…) can continue to exist in its present form. Speaking in the Independent, Denny speculated, although technology has made it theoretically possible for the author to write online directly to the reader, ‘a more likely possibility is that just one of the three central links will vanish on-line. It could be that Amazon, the retailer, becomes the publisher. Or that the agent becomes the publisher, or the publisher becomes the retailer, and you go to a publisher’s site to buy the book. One of those links will certainly disappear on-line. We just don’t know which.’ Peter Blofeld, of Sheil Land, commenting on the independent publishing of the Bond ebooks, said ‘I know that a lot of literary agencies with big brand names are looking at their backlist and wondering what they can do with it. Agents will always prefer to deal with publishers, but if Amazon or Google offer authors better deals then it is going to be difficult to ignore them.’ Meanwhile, Amazon has been accused of a ‘charm offensive’ – approaching agents at the Frankfurt Book Fair with a view to getting them to bypass publishers and work directly with the e-retailer.
Google Editions – the booksellers’ friend?
I had naively wondered – as an industry outsider - whether one way that independent booksellers might respond to the digital revolution could be to allow customers all the pleasures of browsing in a bookshop, but then offer them the alternative of downloading the books they choose as ebooks rather than buying the print version. I was interested to see that Australian academic Peter Donoughue thinks so too. He believes that the technology that
may make this possible is the long awaited Google Editions. Assuming it ever gets off the ground, Google Editions will use the same ‘cloud’ technology as YouTube and Spotify to host ebooks, allowing them to be read anywhere, on any compatible device (which may or may not include the Kindle - a bit of a law unto itself but would include most other ereaders, tablets, smart phones, laptops etc). It also has a business model that allows for profit sharing between publisher, retailer and Google. Google’s open platform ebook store, previously said to be ready for launch in June or July, will still happen ‘this year’ in the US, and in 2011 elsewhere in the world, according to news from Tools of Change Conference at Frankfurt.
News from France
Over the channel in France, the row over digital rights has rumbled on. Four French publishers followed Random House in suspending negotiations with the Andrew Wylie Agency, and a number of them were due to meet Mr Wylie at the Frankfurt Book Fair to discuss the issue. On 6th October, the French Publishers Association, Le Syndicat National de l’Édition (SNE), published a joint letter, signed by over 150 publishers, warning against putting digital rights in the control of ‘outside parties’, including agents, who it said were ‘liable to endanger the equilibrium within the profession.’ The commercialisation of electronic rights was ‘the natural responsibility of the publisher.’ This statement provoked a furious response from French authors. Le Conseil Permanent des Ecrivains (CPE) said that authors also had rights under French intellectual property law, including earning a percentage of the earnings from their work. There has also been anger among French writers about the level of royalties being offered for both digital and print rights. Nonetheless, SNE and CPE are expected to conclude an agreement over electronic rights before the next Paris Book Fair in March 2011. The French Senate has adopted an amendment to the 2011 draft budget reduce VAT on ebooks from 19.6% to the 5.5% that applies to print books, despite the proposal initially being thrown out by parliament. The reduced rate will apply only to unenhanced digital content. At the same time, the French Senate has voted
to end ebooks’ exemption from the ‘Lang Law’, which stops books from being sold for less than 5% below cover price. It has also banned libraries from lending ebooks as soon as they are released. November saw Hachette Livre doing a ‘ground breaking’ deal with Google to allow about 50,000 lesser-known works of French literature and non-fiction, still under copyright, to be scanned and made available for search and potential sale. This is particularly interesting given French and German resistance to the original Google Books Settlement. It seems to indicate that publishers view the terms being offered with Google Editions as much more favourable, and may pave the way for similar deals in other countries. French authors, however, have greeted the news with caution. The Société des Gens de Lettres (SDGL) said they feared the deal would weaken a more ambitious scheme from the Culture Ministry, announced last year, and pointed out that Hachette could only digitise those books for which it held the electronic rights. Two new digital ereaders are being offered for sale in France in the lead-up to Christmas, the Fnacbook, (linked to fnac. com) and Thalia’s OYO (linked to chapitre. com). And from elsewhere in Europe, it seems that Germany will be the first country apart from the US and the UK to get its own dedicated Amazon Kindle store, giving Amazon customers access for the first time to a broad selection of ebooks in German.
Barnes and Noble have recently announced that they are bringing out a colour version of their own in-house ereader, the Nook, based on Android technology. Perhaps more intriguingly, the Chinese company, Hanvon, has recently demonstrated the first colour eReader using E Ink technology (as opposed to the LCD technology used by the Nook, the iPad etc). This new technology, to be launched commercially in 2011, even allows for a form of video – by paging quickly through a series of colour frames, like a flick book. Currently, the colours are muted and the animation is less smooth than standard 30 frames per second video, but it demonstrates that E Ink is catching up. Could this mean that in a year or so, we
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will be seeing colour versions of the Kindle, capable of supporting the full range of features of enhanced ebooks? And if so, how will the quality and range of features compare to using a tablet?
You’ve just had your ebook published. You’re all set for your first author tour. Only one problem – how do you sign an ebook? Well, according to Edward Nawotka, two solutions already exist. Author Tom Waters has developed a computer app called Autography, which allows someone using a stylus to sign a blank page and then have that
be reported on in this issue. However, some of their survey results are already published. And the Library Cat will report any other The digital conference interesting outcomes in FutureBook 2010 will the next issue. take place on 30th November – too late to signature uploaded, via email, into the title page of almost any ebook. Alternatively, Open Road has enabled people at a signing of one of their e-riginals to have their photograph taken with the author and then upload it directly into their ebooks. Perhaps the future lies in a combination of the two?
Comprehensive Spending Review – Impact on Libraries As expected, the cuts to local government spending announced in the UK’s Comprehensive Spending Review appear to be having an immediate impact on libraries. On the 20th October, the Chancellor, George Osborne, announced that Councils would face a 7.1% cut each year for the next four years – leaving Councils to face some extremely tough choices. Even before this announcement, one hundred local writers and publishers, concerned about Nottinghamshire County Council’s plan to cut back on staff, reduce opening hours and spend less on books, were supporting a campaign to save libraries in Nottinghamshire. Hertfordshire, Cornwall, Lewisham and West Sussex are just of few of the Library Authorities that since announced similar cuts. Even Norfolk – whose Norwich Millennium
Library is once again this year the country’s most visited – is planning to cut library staff numbers and seeking volunteers to work in libraries instead. The Museums and Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) has brought together a wide range of organisations - including The Society of Authors, the Royal Society of Literature, the Campaign for the Book, Public Lending Right, the Booksellers Association, Voices for the Library, The Chartered institute of Library and Information Professionals, The Society of Chief Librarians, The Publishers Association, The Reading Agency, Unison, The Association of Authors’ Agents and The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council – and issued a joint statement to Local Authorities, expressing their strong support for libraries. Echoing the feelings expressed by those who wrote to WWJ, telling us how much libraries have affected their lives, the statement begins:
“Libraries matter to people! Even those who don’t use them regularly care about
what happens to them because they recognise what they stand for; that they exist to ensure that everyone has access to the knowledge, scholarship, books and information they need to help them enjoy and make a success of their lives.” It is likely to be early December before County Councils know the exact level of grant they will receive from Government. It seems inevitable that once that happens, more news of cuts will follow. The Library Cat will try and keep you abreast of developments.
Another new Library blog from Use Libraries and Learn Stuff
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Take Out Living Book Having written about Human Libraries in the August edition of WWJ, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to go and sample one for myself this month. The Human Library works exactly like a normal library – readers come and borrow a ‘book’ for a limited period of time. After reading it they return the Book to the library and – if they want – they can borrow another Book. There is only one difference: the Books in the Human Library are human beings, and the Books and Readers enter into a personal dialogue. I only had a limited amount of time to take out my Living Books’, and there were many books I’d love to have borrowed but didn’t get the chance. Here are the ones I did take out, headed with extracts from the library’s gloriously ironic catalogue entries:
Child Protection Social Worker This book never gets it right. It is a child snatcher preying on innocent families while it misses the real serious cases. It is nosey, judgmental and
I especially wanted to take out this book because my mother was one of the first people trained at a childcare social worker, shortly after the War. I was curious to know how things had changed since the far off days when my mum was expected to wear white gloves to visit slum houses in the Potteries. This edition had had a career as an engineer before she became
a social worker, and she felt that was very important, both because it meant she had some life experience outside of the job, and because she got through the bad days by thinking ‘I don’t have to do this, you know. I have other qualifications.’ We talked about the way the job was inevitably affected by a few high profile cases – how it had swung away from taking children out of the home too soon, after a series of cases where families were wrongly accused of Satanic abuse, and now cases like Baby Peter’s were pushing things back the other way. “But we learn every time,” she told me. “We never swing back the whole way. We’re learning all the time.”
Older Pakistani Immigrant This book is isolated by age, culture, language and choice. It is intolerant and unfriendly. It follows foreign customs and
does not integrate
into British culture…
This edition had been a midwife in Pakistan before coming to join her accountant husband here in the UK. Daunted by the requirement to retrain in the UK, she had worked instead in an electronics component factory. Her English was heavily accented but fluent, and she also spoke Urdu, Punjabi, Arabic and a little Pashtu. (Imagine how we would fete anyone fluent in as many European languages.) Her religion obviously meant a lot to her, and she spoke about it with passion and warmth, but great humility. Recently retired, she had taken on the task of teaching Arabic to children and other women, so that they might understand the Koran rather than simply learning it by rote. I was in the middle of reading Wolf Hall at the time, and I couldn’t help but be drawn to the parallel with the medieval
scholars determined that people should be able to read the Bible in their own language. An inspiring book
Local Councillor This self-opinionated book is supposed to represent the community, but is more interested in its own . It and often breaks promises. Some editions may ‘have a
hand in the till’…
With a twinkle in his eye, this little-read book informed me that he took it as his mission in life to be a thorn in the side of the politicians in the main political parties. I rather suspect he is very good at it. He clearly had a wicked sense of humour and told several stories about deflating particularly pompous types who made assumptions about him. This edition came from a working class background in a coal mining district, became a scholarship boy, went to Oxford to study theology and only became a councillor in retirement. I couldn’t help wondering how easy it would be today for someone from a background like his to find a similar route out of poverty through education.
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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
A Child of the Blood by Jo Reed Review by JJ Marsh Rating: Logodaedalus
The second in the Blood Dancer series, A Child of the Blood follows The Tyranny of the Blood, in which we first encountered this complex world of time-travel, eugenics and the Family. While the story continues from where Tyranny left off, this book stands alone as an adventure in its own right; sometimes thrilling, sometimes horrifying and often touching. The Family has one focus – the purity of the blood. Careful breeding has enhanced the gifts of longevity, telepathy and immense physical and mental power. It has also generated madness, deformity and a ruthless pursuit of perfection. The eponymous child could refer to various characters in the novel. Such as the two brothers: Malim, blessed with the gift of leaping into the future, is dangerous, twisted and insane; or Arghel, who believes he was pushed from the family home in favour of his older brother. The comprehension of the real reasons behind his banishment is one of the most poignant threads in the book. Malim plans to leap to the future and
set up his own dynasty to rival his father, Rendail. However, to further his line, he needs a female of the right blood, with sufficient strength to survive the journey. Only one such exists – Karisse – and she belongs to his brother. Possessed of the power to take her, Malim seems invincible. But he’s forgotten one thing. His sister. Maylie, like Arghel, fled the family home years before. Her son, Alex, has travelled to the future to lie in wait for Malim. He must be destroyed both in the past and the future. Unfortunately for Alex, the modern-day police investigation into the disappearance of a woman from a psychiatric facility unwittingly aids Malim. The police soon find themselves dealing with circumstances, not to mention minds, they cannot possibly understand. A Child of the Blood has tension, romance, agonies of flesh and emotion, love, loyalty, familial bonds and edge-ofyour-seat moments. Much like the previous book. However, here the battle for control of the Family takes on a new disturbing aspect, while retaining a sense of
an eternal struggle. The characters feel genuine, flawed and in Malim’s case, uncomfortably real. As part of a trilogy, the amount of backstory and huge cast can become occasionally overwhelming, so the family tree and introduction is an excellent idea. New readers will find the story fascinating and Tyranny fans will be
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delighted. Dynamic, intelligent and terrifying, Child of the Blood blends fantastic elements of the past and a menacing view of the future to create one hell of a present.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Review by Alberta Ross Rating: Deipnosophist Not a new book, it was first published in this country in 2007, I have had it in the back of my mind to read it, the title alone tempting me – it’s been in my mind but not on my bookshelf. A young friend of mine was raving about it one day and what she was saying tempted me again. I went straightaway to see for myself. The Book Thief is a book in which one makes friends with Death – an extremely likeable entity. Overworked during the period of the book – the 2nd World War – but always caring and gentle, especially to children and Jews, who view the world and its events in colour. Death is the narrator, so we come to know him well. Liesel, the book thief, is the child Death is telling us about. Liesel, adrift just before the War, is fostered by a gentle accordion player and his formidable wife, befriended by a neighbouring child, aided and abetted by the mayor’s sickly wife. For a short period we learn how life for the ordinary German became as difficult as we know it
was for the British and indeed for ordinary folk everywhere in time of war. In the paranoia of Nazi Germany it was maybe more difficult for people of conscience to survive. Liesel’s foster parents are such, indeed Liesel’s parents have ‘disappeared’ for holding views not in accordance with those of the Nazi regime. In a life fraught with increasing poverty and lack of employment life is made even more perilous by the honouring of a promise made decades before in another Great War. Zusak plays with images in a wonderful way; Mein Kampf, the iconic book of Germany’s brutality, becomes a saviour of a Jew on the run, and ‘whitewashed’ with paint, the blank pages become a story of hope written for a child. The snowball fight in the basement another, playful, twist on reality as is the image of the mythical fist fight between Jew and Hitler. Liesel has a child’s perspective on the troubles. She is passionate and loyal and, with all her misdemeanours, she is the one the reader is rooting for. Death we know, for he tells us so, will visit her three times. We are kept guessing as to when her end will come and that of all the other players in the story. The one thing we do know about Death is that he will come for them, he tells us many times throughout his narration. Markus Zusak succeeds so well in engaging the reader with the characters it is heartbreaking when, despite these frequent warnings, those we have learnt to love are truly caught up in the War. I have read that this book was written with older children in mind and that it has crossed to adults as some books will. This would explain, maybe, the innocence of the narration, the bestiality of war is not hammered into one but is apparent.
There are no profound thoughts on the why’s and wherefore’s of war, other authors have done that. It is though, despite that, thought-provoking without leaving the reader crushed. It is no ‘Babi Yar’ by Anatoli or even ‘Cat and Mouse’ by Grasse, and I suspect never set out to be. What it is, is a story written with enormous skill combining the terrible and the good. There are barbarous and saintly acts walking hand in hand, there are stories of magic and hope and there is incredible beauty and heroism.
The Dead Beat by Cody James
Review by Anne Stormont Rating: Logodaedalus
‘The Dead Beat’ by Cody James is due to be published on November 1st 2010 by Eight Cuts Press. It is one of the first two books that the press is publishing. The other one being ‘Charcoal’ by Oli Johns. I must admit to not liking the book at first. It wasn’t the subject matter – Adam, the main character gives a first person recollection of his drug addicted life in San Francisco in 1997 – the year the HaleBopp comet appeared in our sky. He shared a house with three other addicts. Their lives are described in grim detail – shooting up, STDs, cold turkey and loveless, violent, misogynistic sex. All are powerful ingredients with the potential for a cracking (no pun intended) tale. After all they were all there in Irvine Welsh’s book ‘Trainspotting’. And I was never going to be shocked and outraged by a tale of junkies’ lives. I taught for over 25 years in a school in the area where ‘Trainspotting’ was set. I worked with children and families whose lives were blighted by heroin, prostitution and HIV.
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Neither was I shocked by the ‘bad’ language – I don’t believe in the concept – words are words – and I hear all sorts in the playground every day - but if you say ‘fuck’ every other word, it loses its effect and just becomes an irritating tic. However, I was irritated by the characters. I wanted to tell the main character to grow up and the three supporting characters seemed 2D and stereotypical. I was annoyed by the plethora of adverbs – especially the ones attached to almost every dialogue tag –the frantic signalling of emotions, the repetition, the manic use of upper case lettering. There was an awful lot of telling – lecturing almost – a feeling that the reader was being told some home truths. I didn’t think I’d be able to finish it. I put it away at the bottom of the pile. But something about it nagged at me. I had the feeling I was missing something, that if I didn’t get it, it was maybe because I wasn’t trying hard enough. It reminded me of when I first saw the paintings of Salvador Dali way back in the 1970s, when I was a student. I hated them – my reaction was physical – I found them nauseating. But I was also fascinated by them and so went back to take another look, and now consider them utterly incredible and beautiful. The slim little volume at the bottom of the reading heap seemed to exert a similar hold. It kept beckoning – so I went back to it. And something strange happened when I started again. It was like I found the key - or maybe I just stopped being thick and prejudiced. I believe Cody James knew exactly what she was doing when she bravely and brilliantly tore up the writing manual of received wisdom on what makes good literature. How else could she convey this counter-culture. How else could she draw these inarticulate, powerless individuals. Of course her characters are stereotypes, of course they talk in overdramatic, hyper prose, of course they overreact and telegraph their every emotion. Of course their lives are passive, bleak and pointless. They’re JUNKIES – overgrown, overblown, self-obsessed adolescents – exhausted no-hopers - deadbeats. The comet doesn’t prove to be either omen or harbinger. As a symbol of change for Adam and his housemates, it’s as empty as their lives. But as a symbol of their lives it’s powerful – travelling in the dark a
contradictory mix of cold and heat of death and life. I also realised that as a reader I was being 2D – blinded by the junkie label. As I saw the characters as Cody portrays them – really saw them – I began to see their humanity. Adam strives to get clean, to hold down a job, admits his sexual relationships are sick, in every sense. Xavi proves to be a character to care about as do Sean and Lincoln – because, actually, they all care about each other. The scene in the hospital where Adam and Lincoln are tacitly reconciled is beautifully written – the understatedness shows that Adam has changed – grown up a bit – and that the author is perfectly capable of conventional/ subtle when the occasion demands it. And if you still need reassuring that here is a remarkable writer whom a reader can trust – just look at the passage where Adam himself is hospitalised and ‘retching and wretched’ just wants to die. And as for the ending – well if it’s gifted use of symbolism, metaphor and adverbfree writing you’re after, you’ll be well satisfied. So approach with an open mind and a trusting heart - Cody James is a brave and unique writer – and I should have realised that from the start. ‘The Dead Beat’ can be downloaded for $2.99 from http://eightcuts.wordpress. com or bought as a paperback.
Family Album by Penelope Lively
Review by I Tokc-Wilde Rating: deipnosophist
I’m allergic to Penelope Lively. Nasty, itchy rash covers my fingers when, in a bookshop, I accidentally brush against one of her creations. It’s been like this ever since, fifteen years ago, I spent nigh on six months with her Booker-winning Moon Tiger, pulling it to pieces and putting it back together, writing my MA thesis. You know, how when you get so close to something, it loses its magic? Or, worse, you end up with a rash. So why did I pick up Family Album? The blurb at the back of the book wasn’t even that enticing: “Allersmead is a big shabby Victorian suburban house. The perfect place to grow up for elegant Sandra, difficult
Gina, destructive Paul, considerate Katie, clever Roger and flighty Clare. But was it? As adults, the children return to Allersmead one by one. To their homemaking mother and aloof writer father, and a house that for years has played silent witness to a family’s secrets. And one particular devastating secret of which no one speaks.” Did I really want to read about trials and tribulations of another middleclass English family from the 1970’s to the present, and the emotional baggage they’ve been bearing all their lives? No, thank you, I’ve got enough of my own. It was the “aloof writer father” that did it for me - I pounce at anything that promises a glimpse into the mind of a writer, fiction or non-fiction, bring it on. Well, I haven’t learnt much from the writer-father, except perhaps that shagging the Swedish au pair is no cure for writer’s block. But the book drew me in, slowly at first as I tried to get to grips with the narrative lacking any obvious direction, looking for the sense of purpose. At last, I absorbed the climate of Allersmead, a character in its own right, and the idiosyncrasies of each family member as Lively skilfully steered me from one point of view to another. There are but a handful remarkable events. Just like Moon Tiger (and, possibly, just like her other 14 books for adults I had brushed aside?), Family Album is a character driven novel. Economic yet sharp with words, Lively delivers the nine key players in a condensed yet perfectly rounded form. The six children; the writer-father; the enigmatic au pair who never left; and Alison, the mother, an annoying throwback to the 70’s, yet strangely moving with her
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persistent stoking of the ever weakening fire in the family’s hearth. Each of them shaped, and damaged, by the goings-on at Allersmead, each of them contributing to changing family values, until it’s time to let go. Ordinary, human life under a powerful microscope, and a lesson in what to accept and how to adapt in order to heal. No, I haven’t learnt much from the writer-father. But I did learn something about my own emotional baggage. And one can do much worse than trying to learn characterisation from Lively. Oh, yes, the devastating secret of the blurb. I didn’t find it that devastating after all, but then – each to their own. You can judge it for yourself, I guess.
Lubin Tales by Gerry King
Review by Dan Holloway
Every now and again a small, unassuming, seemingly innocuous piece of culture comes along and gets right under your skin. No one else seems to have heard of it, but it’s perfect in every way (for reasons you can’t quite put your finger on). And you want to tell everyone you know about it. Anyone who remembers the five minute afternoon cartoon series Pond Life will know what I mean. That’s exactly how I feel about this small (in all senses – it’s just six and a half by four and a half inches, and 64 pages) hardback that I’d never have picked up had it not fallen through my letterbox by accident after the publishers contacted me
asking if I’d like a review copy. Lubin Tales is the brainchild of Gerry King, artist, writer, and part of the Zero Lubin cultural collective with Louise Burston (responsible for the rather super cover). It is a masterpiece of nostalgic kitsch. In matte hardback and colour-drenched feel it is all over an original Ladybird edition, and it revels in the production values and suburban feel of a world of lasting quality, a world before planned obsolescence. It is a collection of everyday slice of life stories. And yet they are not everyday. Pitching itself somewhere between League of Gentleman and The Mighty Boosh, this is a strange, unsettling world. “Welcome to a world of small town debauchery and intercontinental dubious intent” the tales greet us. It is filled with slightly offcentre aphorisms (which also adorn a set of matching greetings cards you can – and should – buy) like “You were weird at school and your house is filthy…but you’re still my friend”. This isn’t David Lynch. It’s more unsettling than that. And at the same time more homely. Kit is Kitsch with a capital K, a brilliant exploration of life’s shiny surfaces and all the things beneath that the sparkles hide. The stand-out tale is Poodle Faker, a kind of Updike on acid deconstruction of the Marks and Sparks cardiganed caravaneer, who speaks like something from Twin Peaks. “If my thoughts were hand cream, I’d ring more often,” he greets us, elaborating when his interlocutor wants to know wtf “Oh, it’s just a saying I collected from one of my Barbaras.” Brilliant. If you don’t like exquisitely elaborated, brilliantly realised, totally oddball worlds – the worlds of Psychoville and Boosh – this may not be for you. But if you like to be cuddled and disquieted in equal measure; if you like off the cuff remarks that say more about the world than every word of Plato, if you like seeing life through an array of new lenses; or if you just like perfect craftsmanship, and things that succeed completely in everything they set out to do, this is the must have stocking filler to yourself. Lubin Tales is available from www. zerolubion.org for £10
Charcoal by Oli Johns Review by Gillian Hamer Rating: 5’9” and a half
Marmite. That’s the word that springs to mind about this book. You know, the love it or hate it cliché? And it’s true - some readers will love it, many will hate it. But Marmite is where I’m different from most. I like it in small quantities, now and then, and I’d say the same about Charcoal. I found the book original and thought provoking, but I wouldn’t be rushing out to buy the followup in any big hurry. This month I was lucky enough to be offered the chance to read one of the first books to be published by a new venture, Eight Cuts Gallery Press. Charcoal centres around the life of the lead male character (called Oli, so not sure if this is a biographical piece) and his obsession with suicide in all its differing forms. Not the most fun read, to be honest, and not something I’d recommend as a holiday must-have or a book to curl up with on a lonely night. The first half of the book is fairly routine. A self-obsessed, sometimes dull, daily routine of Oli, a teacher who faces a constant battle against the dark grip of obsession, and how he balances the normality of his life (job, housemates, internet sex) against what he learns from philosophy books and the building urge to take his own life. Around the middle of the
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book, he decides to investigate the phenomena of charcoal-assisted suicide. This was new to me, so at least I learned something! When wasn’t clear for me was whether he actually went through with the deed. But the second half of the book shifted dramatically into a fantasy journey across Europe, in search of a fellow suicide enthusiast, a Korean model. There’s lots of sex and internalising along the way, but I was left totally confused. Was this a dream, or death, or what … ? Charcoal is a book that leaves you with more questions than it answers. It’s a deep and insightful read that at times threatens to tie itself up in self-analysis and repetition, and the pace pays for it. At times, I found the story dragged, rolled on in repetitive circles, where more could have been done to propel the story onwards. Also, I’ve never read a whole book where the main narrator remains faceless, ageless, and maybe, timeless. We were given only snippets of his life, not enough for me to build any kind of empathy with the character. There were no descriptions of his world, no images for us to focus on, and while I accept this stark style was what the author set out to achieve, I’m not sure it worked for me. In terms of style, the rhythm of words worked well, with short paragraphs and staccato sentences really mirroring the highs and lows of tension throughout. We were given some wonderful snippets of wit, which seemed to fit the character perfectly, and made me think this was biographical in places. Anyone who can open a novel with a discussion on suicide methods with Michael Portillo deserves an award for originality at the very least.
Freedom by Jonathon Franzen Review by Mark Wallace Rating: Deipnosophist
After “The Corrections” Jonathon Franzen’s next novel was destined to arrive amidst great fanfare, and with a title as evocative and meaningful, if unimaginative, as “Freedom”, the words “great”, “American” and “novel” were always going to be employed. Oprah calls it a masterpiece, and the initial reviews verged on ecstatic,
but dissenting voices have come from influential publications such as “The Washington Post”, which saw “Freedom” as a less engaging rehash of “The Corrections”. Like its predecessor, “Freedom” makes an in-depth examination of an average middle-class American family, in this case the Berglunds. Patriarch of the clan is Walter, a fervent, but practical, conservationist, obsessed with the impending catastrophe of global overpopulation. Franzen has clearly done his homework on overpopulation, and on Walter’s other main environmental concern, preservation of the Cerulean Warbler. In pursuit of this latter goal, Walter finds himself making questionable compromises with the coal industry, and advocating Mountaintop Removal, an environmentally devastating procedure that earns him the ire of more hardline conservationists. The compromises Walter makes in his attempts to work within the American corporate system to promote conservationism finally lead him to question his own role: has he become what he most despised? Is he part of the solution or part of the problem? About one-third of the book is given over to Walter’s wife, dissatisfied stay-athome mom Patty, and her “Autobiography”. We are told she writes at the suggestion of her therapist, and in the third person. This third person device is unfortunately chosen, as Patty’s narrative voice is indistinguishable from Franzen’s omniscient narrator: arch and amusedly distant. Interlinked with the story of Patty and Walter’s interactions with each other, and with their children, we are shown detailed glimpses of their own childhoods, both driven to succeed by a perceived lack of appreciation from their parents, both overcompensating in their relationships with their own children, and both barely keeping their neuroses and dissatisfactions at bay. This is a portrait of an American family, but also intends to be a portrait of America itself. The Berglunds are very much engaged with their society: son Joey, at just 19 years of age, has somehow gotten involved in selling truck parts to the US army in Iraq. Parts which he knows to be faulty, but extracting himself from his commitments is not easy. He has been swallowed by the
machine, just as Walter is in danger of being, and self-extrication requires strength and courage. Joey’s conscience is provided by best friend Jonathon, a conscientious and idealistic young man, and vociferously opposed to the Iraq war – the fact of his sharing his first name with the author is surely not coincidental. While Franzen critiques pretty much all aspects of American life in “Freedom”, he also provides hope, in the shape of its citizens: individually well-meaning, if confused; all that is required to create a saner, more centred world is to forget about the values of capitalism and consumerism, forget the self-gratification we in the western world have been brought up to accept as our birthright; to take a look at the world around us, and ask not what the world can do for us, but what we can do for the world. So “Freedom” sees Franzen take a stronger political stand than “The Corrections”, or at least seem to. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that there’s a didactic element to this book, and to suspect sometimes that his characters’ arcs are subservient to the political elements. Certainly this book has plenty of merits: the wit, the humanity, the style, the wealth of ideas. Ultimately, it may not succeed on all the levels Franzen aims to work on, it may not support the weight of its ambitions, but it’s a thought-provoking and moving read, and, not infrequently, a funny one, too.
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Visit www.mslexia.co.uk for details.
Open Poetry Competition
Lucy Cavendish College Fiction Prize
Enter on Line at www.cafewriters.org.uk or email for entry form. PRIZES: 1ST £1000; 2nd £300; Five Commended Prizes of £50; Funniest Poem not winning another prize £150; Norfolk Prize £100 awarded to the best poem from a permanent Norfolk resident not winning another prize. Entry Fee £4 per poem; or £10 for 3 poems and £2.00 per poem thereafter SOLE JUDGE Michael Symmons Roberts.
Winter Short Story Competition
3,000 words max, any genre/theme, open to new and published authors. £5 entry - prizes £100, £50 & £25 as well as firstwriter.com voucher. Critique service available. www.meridian-writing.co.uk.
Flash 500 is a quarterly open-themed competition with closing dates of 31st March, 30th June, 30th September and 31st December. The results will be announced within six weeks of each closing date and winning entries published on the competition website. www.flash500.com Entry fee: £5 for one story, £8 for two stories. Optional critiques: £10 per story Prizes - First: £250 plus publication in Words with JAM, Second: £100, Third: £50, Highly commended: A copy of The Writers’ ABC Checklist.
Mslexia Women’s Short Story Competition
First Prize £2000, Second Prize £500, Third Prize £250. Closing date 24th January 2011.
For an Unpublished Novel by a Woman. Submit 30 pages and synopsis. See www. lucy-cav.cam.ac.uk (news & events) for full details. prize £1000 and publishing advice and contacts.
Services Proofreading, manuscript advice. Competitive rates. Full Details www.dwrob. com, or email Dwrob96@aol.com
Events Award-winning literary night
3rd December at the Red Roaster, St James St, in Brighton 8pm-10.30. Award-winning literary night featuring seven great writers and the best brownies and cakes in town full details at http://gritlit.wordpress. com/2010/11/04/g rit-lit-4-line-upannounced/
answers to questions you didn’t even know you should ask.
Writers Abroad/National Short Story Week
Online writing group, Writers Abroad, are publishing an anthology of creative writing themed on Expat Life with a preface by Lorraine Mace to coincide with the National Short Story Week (22nd-29th November 2010). Following an appeal for submissions, 29 fictional short stories were selected to make up the anthology, which is available free from http://www. writersabroad.spruz.com/ from November 22nd in eBook format, to be read on either computers or eReaders. Writers Abroad is especially for expat writers to exchange ideas, views and news on writing and to offer support and constructive feedback on each other’s work. Although membership numbers are limited, expat writers can apply for membership if they are able to support the group’s initiatives and aims. Visit their site at http://www.writersabroad.spruz. com. For further information, please contact: Jo Lamb, email: mailto:jolamb@ writingpad.co.uk or Vanessa Couchman, email: mailto:vanessa.couchman@nordnet. fr
Other The Writers’ ABC Checklist
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Words with JAM Copyright © 2010 Quinn Publications The contributors assert the moral right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the authors of this work. All Rights reserved. All opinions expressed in Words with JAM are the sole opinion of the contributor and not that of Quinn Publications or Words with JAM as a whole. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the individual contributor and/or Quinn Publications, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser. Distributed from the UK. Not to be resold. Editor: JD Smith firstname.lastname@example.org Deputy Editors: Lorraine Mace email@example.com and Danny Gillan firstname.lastname@example.org