Thursday, 23 October 2014

A Night to Remember…

21st October 2014 saw the culmination of year's work as we gathered downstairs in The Exchange Bar in Leicester for the launch of our anthology 'Phoenix Square'. It was a great night, a credit to the hard work and dedication of all the members of the group. Well done us.

Phoenix Writer, Mayapee Chowdhury, opening the proceedings to…
…an appreciative audience.
Mr John Nowell from Derbyshire, Leicestershire & Rutland Air Ambulance,
(our chosen charity) speaks about the work they do.
Wayne Kelly and Maya handing over a cheque for £300 which we've raised so far
from the sale of our anthology.
The highlight of the evening were readings of three stories from the anthology by local actors.
The stories were chosen by a blind vote.
Kieron Atwood reading 'Baptism of Fire' by Tom Everley.
Neil May reading 'A gentleman's Agreement' by Daniel Ribot.
Peter Glover reading 'Two Coats' by Liz Chell.
A short interlude while Leah Osbourne gets ready for the raffle – a chance to win a bespoke story
in the genre of choice to be written by one of the members. More money for Air Ambulance.
And the drawing of the raffle. Phoenix Writer, Krys Wysocki
will now be writing a children's story for the winner.
And many thanks to Maria Smith, who set the ball rolling
on this project all those months ago.

And many thanks to the actors:

Peter Glover - @Pierre0305

Leicester based professional Actor and Director. 30 years experience of stage, TV and film. Newly appointed Director of Theatre at KLiCActing.

Kieron Atwood - @kieronattwood
Kieron is a Leicester based actor currently up to his eyeballs in corporate training with the good people of Jaguar Land Rover. Other recent work includes the the ACE funded 'Statistics Unavailable' touring the Midlands until November, the original radio comedy 'Exorcism' and feature film 'A Dozen Summers'. In his spare time Kieron enjoys perfecting his gurning for the forthcoming panto season. Finally as a failed cinema projectionist who managed, during a public showing, to burn through the final reel of the Matthew Broderick travesty that was 'Godzilla' Kieron is viewing this story as a 'getting back on the horse' of sorts. Hopefully no head wound and apology to a full auditorium tonight.

Neil May - @NeilMay1
Neil is a Leicestershire actor who's recent work includes Till The Boys Come Home (Chorus Theatre), BOOM! and Numbers (The 14/48 Festival), What Legacy? and On His Wedding Day (Original Ink), and Follow The Lady and The King's Dove Keeper (Off The Fence) which were performed at Curve.Neil is very much involved in the development of new work and is currently working on A Quarter Full (Theatre Collective @TheWorkshop) in Birmingham. Neil is also an Associate Artist of KLiC, the resident performance company at The Y Theatre, who will be presenting their next production 5 Minutes in Leicester in January 2015.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Hot off the press…

Here at Phoenix Writers we haven't been paying much attention to our blog of late but that's because we've been too busy putting together an anthology of our work instead. Below Daniel Ribot interviews the movers and shakers behind the project.

I am standing not far from Phoenix Square in Leicester with a gaggle of my favourite fellow writers who have just put together the Phoenix Writer's first ever anthology. It's a good-looking book, packed with excellent stories and my task is to bring you the story behind this remarkable little publication. Around me, in an elliptical formation, are Sally Knight, Wayne Kelly, Leah Osbourne and Maria Smith (who is the driving force behind this project). If I may, I will start by asking Maria some questions and you can chip in where appropriate. OK?

(murmurs of partial acquiescence follow) 

Right, let's get on then!

1. How did the idea for the Phoenix Square anthology come about?

Maria: About twelve months ago, I glanced out of the window during one of our critique sessions and to be honest the idea came to me fully formed. It was one of those rare moments writers get when an idea forms in the mind. I just thought wouldn’t it be a good if we all wrote a short story about a character that, either lived, worked or was somehow connected with Phoenix Square. And wouldn’t it be great if we could put all the stories into an anthology, which we could then sell to raise money for a local charity. It was a simple plan.

 2. Why did you decide on Phoenix Square as the name and theme?

Maria: It seemed fitting to call the anthology Phoenix Square because of the content, and I’m a big believer in keeping things simple.

Why I decided on the theme? Honestly, it just popped into my head. Once it came, it snowballed, and I put the idea to the group the following week. I wasn’t sure how they would react, as we had never collaborated or done anything like it before. I suggested that when our stories were written we should publish them in an anthology, which we could, if the group wanted to, sell, and ALL profits would go to a charity chosen by the group.

The response was overwhelming, and without exception, everyone wanted to take part and contribute to the project. They also fully supported the idea of donating the proceeds from sales to a local charity.

3. How were the contributing stories chosen?

Maria: I gave everyone the guidelines, which were simply, to write a 1000 word, or less, short story, about a character who lived, worked or was in someway connected with Phoenix Square. Enthusiasm for this project has been amazing, in fact its been infectious. I set a deadline that everyone had to have their story the best they could make it by January 2014.

Within a week of explaining the idea, and getting a decision on the spot from my fellow scribes, stories were presented the following week for critique! Everyone was on board from the start, and got on with writing the story they wanted to tell. Each writer had their own idea, on what they wanted to write, and that was fine by me as long as the story met the brief. Our critique sessions were full on as everyone wanted to contribute their best work, and everyone wanted to help each other to that end.

As the deadline approached we all knuckled down to get our manuscripts ready for the next stage. All stories were sent to the ‘Grammar Police’, better known as Leah, Mary and Tom, who advised any corrections. After that, the stories went out to a professional editor.

Sally: I’d previously worked as a graphic designer and volunteered my services as typesetter. I was asked for costings and set about getting quotes from printers. At that initial stage I had no idea how many pages the book would make but since all the stories were going to be a thousand words I was able to make reasonable estimate.

Once the stories had been sent out for editing the book was typeset and members were given proofs of their stories to check. I also did a couple of cover designs, one of which was accepted by the group. When the books finally went off to print I had a nerve racking few days waiting to see what they looked like but in the end they didn’t look too bad even though I do say so myself.

4. What has been the best thing about putting this anthology together?

Maria: I can answer that easily. The enthusiasm and passion of the members of Phoenix Writers, who generously, between them, wrote the stories, designed the cover, and put the anthology together. They also donated the cash to buy the print run, so that ALL the monies from the sales of the books could be donated to Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Rutland Air Ambulance, the charity chosen by the group.

5. And the worst?

Maria: Keeping all the balls in the air. Making sure things were moving forward. At times it seemed like nothing was happening, but I can tell you, behind the scenes there has always been something going on to further the project. We are all busy people, with commitments outside of the group, and everyone has been eager to get the anthologies in our hands so that we can raise some funds, and have a party to celebrate!

6. Any plans for future Phoenix Writers Projects?

Maria: There has been talk of running a writing competition...

Me: Ah, yes. That was Wayne's idea wasn't it?

Wayne: Was it? Ok – I was taught to never turn down credit when it’s offered. Yes, it seems like the logical next step for our little group, and a great way to raise our profile and connect with other talented scribes.

Another idea currently being mooted is the creation of our own ebook imprint to release more anthologies as well as individual stories and any other exciting project that stokes our creative fires.

Maria: People enjoyed collaborating on this project, I can see us getting something else going in 2015.

7. Where can I get hold of a copy?

Maria: Print and digital copies will be available on the launch evening.

Wayne: The launch evening takes place on the evening of October 21st, in the atmospheric surroundings of the cellar room at Exchange Bar in Leicester [] three professional actors will perform a selection of the stories, books will be available to purchase and it will be the perfect opportunity for other like-minded creatives to meet for a chat in the heart of Leicester’s Cultural Quarter.

So come and meet the authors and enjoy an evening of storytelling!

Maria: Also Leah is in charge of the digital version.

Leah: I have contacts from my own self-publishing projects and figured it would be crazy not to take advantage of them. Especially since e-books are such a vast part of the market, why not utilize the digital magic out there and create something that people could enjoy on an e-reader? Karen Perkins of LionheART Galleries was wonderful enough not only to proofread our anthology and donate her fee to Air Ambulance, but to do the same with the fee for formatting the file reading for uploading to Amazon. She's kindly donated £60 to our charity, enabling us to reach a global audience through taking advantage of Amazon’s distribution channels. Rock on.

Maria: Summing up – None of this would have been possible, without the hugely talented Phoenix Writers. Apart from the writing, the creativeness of the group is amazing. We may come form diverse backgrounds, but everyone has pitched in and bought their skills to the project. Its been a fun!

Me: Well, there it is. Have to go now. The wind is getting high and we need to get back indoors. Just got to mention that you're all invited to the launch of 'Phoenix Square.' See you 7.30 at the Exchange Bar Rutland Street on October 21st. It's £3 per copy and all proceeds to charity. See you there!!

Friday, 1 November 2013

Leah - Remember, Remember To Write In November

Oh boy. 

I've got my thinking horns on...
When I realised I’d put my name down for November’s blog entry, my first thought was; ‘Yey, NaNoWriMo post!’ However… now that November is here and my plans are solidifying, I’d actually like to talk to you about something else.

Those of you familiar with my blog will have probably heard me talk about Silk Over Razor Blades. This is the novel that I was working on when I joined the Phoenix Writers and have been, in some form, since 15 years old (I’m 29 now, by the way).

Each time I looked at it, I thought the piece was done. I was proud and happy with my accomplishments. I was also willing (and eager) to send it out into the big, wide world. Yet, each time I did, the opening chapters and synopsis came back with a list of depressing form rejections as long as my arm. I now have a folder full of the damn things, some from as far back as 1999.

Was novel poorly written? Was the story just not marketable? Were my characters boring and wooden? Was my dialogue fluffy and far-fetched? Did the plot resemble Swiss cheese? In truth, it could have been any of those things, and previous incarnations of the book certainly ticked some, if not all, of those boxes. However, the last draft suffered one big problem and now for the first time, I can see it.

I was bored of the story when I wrote it. I can’t articulate exactly how, but I know it’s there because it shows. Stiffening the characters. Stifling the plot. Clogging up the pace. Nothing spells death for a novel as well as the author being sick of it.

When you’ve worked on a novel (or anything) for such a long time, it’s inevitable that the initial spark, the joy that kick-started everything, will fade. In some cases, it will die completely. Hopefully you can finish your project before this point, but in some cases that’s just not possible. Sometimes, instead, you have to cut your losses and let go. Wrap it up. Put it away. Maybe not forever (things change, after all), but for now. Move on. Do fresh things.

I had to make myself do this. Fortunately for me the task was made somewhat easier by the birth of my sons since I had no time to write or query. As time progressed and gaps to write opened once more, I focused on non-fiction (I’ve got to earn money somehow!), flash fiction and short stories. The result of all this is a few extra pennies in the bank, a self-published ebook available on Amazon and Smashwords and, more importantly, a better understanding of plot, character, pacing and my own self.

This means that there is no time better than now to try again!

In a neat and totally deliberate way (honest!), this brings me all the way back to where I started. NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month; the crazy thirty days in which thousands of people all over the world race to write a 50,000 word novel.

I will be taking part in NaNoWriMo this year. I had planned to anyway, but this year I’ll be working on Silk Over Razor Blades and starting again
A daunting task, but I know so much more than I did before: I know now that I was bored of the story because I kept trying to hold onto all the ideas rumbling around in my head. Some of them from more than 10 years old. I was also bored because I wanted to ‘write something that would sell.’ While sales would be lovely, it’s boring. So, so boring!

If I’m going to write anything, it has to be for me. I’m the one that has to write it, I’m the one that has to edit it and I’m the one that has to believe it in strongly enough to convince an agent they want to represent it. If I can’t do that, then I still need to convince other people to part with their hard earned cash should I decide to self-publish.

So… wish me luck! I’ll be charting progress on my blog and using the NaNoWriMo’s dashboard to record words and keep up to date with how everyone else is doing.
Please do look me up if you fancy company; I’ll stick all my contact deets at the bottom for you. I’d love to know how you’re getting on.


NaNoWriMo Profile:
Twitter: @ileandrayoung 

Friday, 4 October 2013


Where do you write? Why? Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials) writes in his shed; Will Self in a small room bashing away on an old Remington typewriter. Apparently, the perpetrator of the Harry Potter stories started writing them in a café, now you can hardly pass a café without spotting someone tapping on a tablet device, a Skinny Latté cooling at their side.

Of course to some extent it depends what you are using to writeyour Opus on. Many famous writers favour long hand on paper, with a pencil; here clearly a desk is required. Barbara Cartland said she had her best ideas in bed, don’t we all. Personally, I know you are dieing to know, prefer to use my laptop, sitting at the comfy end of my large couch. The other end is less comfy as my dear, dear dog used to lie there, indeed he died there. So I often glance over at the now derelict end of my couch, regretting I gave him the less comfy side of the couch, convincing myself that it did not contribute to his sad demise. I digress. I place my laptop on a giant World Atlas, which I place on my lap; this gives me ample space to also operate my mouse. (Not the animal, in case you were getting confused with the animal content so far) I have never been able to successfully operate the internal mouse of my MacBook. So there I am sitting comfortably. Atlas on lap, laptop on top of that, clicking away, only occasionally glancing over to the other end of the couch wondering; what if I’d chosen the other end?


Sunday, 1 September 2013

Going For A Song – Why Writing Is Music To My Ears

For as long as I can remember I've always loved stories – reading them and writing them. I bewildered my primary school teacher with tales of evil Barbie dolls, navel-gazing my way through my teens, before settling on song-writing into my twenties and thirties – writing and performing with various local bands.

Last year I found NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month [link is], scribbling more than 50,000 words of a first draft during November. Words began to flow, short stories and flash fiction followed and I was fortunate enough to find an excellent critique group, becoming a member of Phoenix Writers in March of this year.

Does that mean I have forsaken my musical background and joined the Monastery of Prose? Absolutely not. I love all forms of writing and penning songs has taught me a number of valuable writing lessons.

The Hook
In these multi-tasking times of minuscule attention spans, listeners are ruthless. If you can't grab their attention in the opening seconds, they will have skipped away before you can say "Des O'Connor's Greatest Hits"

Today's readership is choice-rich and time-poor. Don't give them an excuse to stop reading. The first few sentences of your short story or novel must have that same hook - something that grabs them by the ears and doesn't let go.

Great songwriters know that how you structure or arrange a song is key to its success. They know the rules and aren't afraid to break them when necessary. Many songs follow a simple verse-chorus-verse structure. Lennon and McCartney frequently played with this traditional approach and subverted it on songs such as Can't Buy Me Love, the track starting with that jubilant chorus.

As writers, we need to pay close attention to the way we structure our pieces. Follow the example set by The Beatles – find the right place to start your story and don't waste your words or the reader's time. No story should be 'all verse'  – unless it's a poem, of course!

Keep Building – use all your tricks
So, you've given them a hook, you've blown off their socks with that chorus… now what?

Sticking with our previous Beatles example, it's a bold move to unleash the catchiest part of their song in the opening seconds of the track and yet they are confident in doing so, knowing that they still have a few tricks up their sleeve - one of which is that superb George Harrison guitar solo after the second chorus. They just keep building, piling layer upon layer of musical brilliance until the listener is left breathless and stunned, desperate to hear it again.

Is that a tall order for your writing? Yes, without question, but pull it off and your readers will return to your work time and again. It doesn't matter if your genre is Romance or Sci-Fi, focus on increasing the tension and layering your story. Sharpen your dialogue and vary the length of your sentences to keep your audience entertained and engaged with the narrative. Knowing when to end is just as important as knowing where to begin, so tell your story and get out of there.

I could go on to talk about Voice, Rhythm and Tempo, but perhaps I'll save it for a future post. As any performer will tell you… "Always leave them wanting more."

Speaking of which, you can find more examples of my writing, including tips and advice, flash fiction and even a few of my songs on my blog, Kelly's Eye. 

Wayne Kelly

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Going public

Putting your work out to scrutiny can be a daunting experience. Believe me I know. Part of me doesn’t want to show my writing to anyone in case they think it’s rubbish but my more rational side knows that writing stuff just to hide it away on the computer is pointless (unless you really are writing for yourself alone which is fine). It’s like training to be an actor but refusing to come out of the dressing room in case you get a bad review.

Joining a writing group can be a good first step. It’s the rehearsal room, not the first night. It’s the place where you read aloud the story that you’ve been struggling with for weeks. The one you know isn’t quite working but you’re not quite sure why. The one that’ll end up in the bottom drawer like all the others if you don’t do something about it soon.

Praise is lovely, we all need it and there’s always something amongst the muddle of words worthy of encouragement but it’s the well considered criticism of the other members that moves your writing to the next level. It helps too to listen to other people’s work, to think about what’s good and what’s not so good about their writing and above all to comment. You’ll soon find yourself thinking, yes, I do that. I tell don’t show, get the point of view wrong, confuse my tenses and a dozen other literary sins.

But mostly you’ll be thinking, perhaps I’m not so bad after all.