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.


Tuesday, 4 June 2013


We have all made interesting journeys to reach this point but I didn’t intend becoming a writer. It happened by default when I fell down a black hole and found a job with the village council.

I took my first innocent steps in creative writing when I had to learn to take the minutes of council and committee meetings. Nowadays, minutes consist of just a heading and the statement, “RESOLVED. Do/spend/object ...whatever...” but when I started, Council minutes were more of a social history and told a story.

I quickly discovered there was no point trying to write what people actually said; dialogue is disjointed. It rambles. It repeats itself. It makes no sense whatsoever. And as for reasoned debate, it doesn’t exist. So I wrote what they meant to say. Not everyone gets to write history!

It was all a matter of knowing the characters and it was a rare meeting that didn’t turn into the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. The characters were easily identifiable.

The dormouse was a nocturnal creature and was often seen walking round the village after midnight. “Photographing owls,” he said. Old and tired, he fell asleep during every meeting. He had a thick white beard and side whiskers. Unoriginally, we called him Santa. He was one of nature’s innocents who bumbled around the world losing umbrellas, cameras and raincoats.

We had the Red Queen. She was sad, bad and mad and her behaviour even made the papers. I lost count of the number of good people she wounded when their backs were turned.

The twins, Tweedledee and Tweedledum were contained in the persona of one two-faced councillor. He was the Uriah Heep of the local government scene and turned hand-wring into an art form that would impress even Simon Cowell.

One of my councillors never stopped smiling. He loved the limelight and having his photo taken. His smile has faded like that of the Cheshire Cat however. We buried him last month. Poignant but that fact will later play a part in this blog.

The Mad Hatter? That was the plumber, the maverick, the one who voted in opposition to everyone one else on the council. When push came to shove though, he was usually right. He was often the only one who knew what was happening.

My life with the council was so bizarre I was often the White Rabbit, caught in the headlights.
I learnt a great deal about dialogue, character and setting but I never wanted to write the book; the Vicar of Dibley got there first and J K Rowling has followed up with her book, Casual Vacancy. Although I had no book, I was writing: articles, poems, short stories.

But despite being a member of this group for about 18 months, I haven’t overcome my main problem. I still lack the focus to stay with one form, one genre, one anything.

I’ve been quite prolific – it’s better than doing housework – and like Dr Who crossing his own time-line, I sometimes turn round and trip over something I’ve left laying around. To my embarrassment, on the internet there are some of my old poems and stories and that matter of the Red Queen that made the newspapers? I put her there and that piece of writing is on the net too.

For several years I’ve written a monthly, 1000 word article for the Courier, the community newspaper, concerning events that happened during the past of the three villages covered by the paper. I do my research in local archives, at the Records Office and on Yahoo. One article concerned the Puritan son of the Lord of Blaby Manor who sailed to the New World in 1633. The article ended up on the website of a Heritage Group in Connecticut. Occasionally in my wanderings over the internet I find myself being directed to that site. It’s great, I’ve become a source!

I’ll try my hand at writing anything. When my friend and ex-colleague, the Mad Hatter died recently, I wrote his obituary for the Courier. Then the widow of the Cheshire Cat asked me to write his. I have no wish to make it a hat-trick.

The question is, do I continue with my butterfly approach to writing, or do I get serious, write the book and refuse all other commissions?

I’m skipping over the surface of writing like a flat stone skimmed across a lake. Can I find the dedication that other members of this group have? Or will I sink to the dark, cold depths and drown if I stop bouncing?

Glenise Lee

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

The A to B of travel

I’m an infrequent rail traveller, but when I do I find it difficult to read or take pleasure in unravelling a crossword puzzle. No, it isn’t a paper-versus-electronics argument, it’s simply that I can’t bear to miss anything. OK, I’m nosey! In my defence, it’s a researching sort of nosey.

Last week, for instance, I survived the boarding scrum and, as any forward-thinking commuter, sought out my reservation. Of the four seats across a table one – mine – was occupied by a holdall spilling out various items of toiletries and food. I smiled, indicated the holdall and waved my reservation with every intention of forcing a showdown.

To state a fact without being too personal the young lady was of immense size, her flesh spilling in rolls over the armrests and table which she had commandeered for her laptop and papers.
“This train is always so full,” she moaned.

Only then did I realise that of the two seats opposite, one carried her giant suitcase. So that’s three seats for the price of one ticket! Talk about heckles rising! Had we not pulled into our fist stop to dislodge passengers my tongue would have released a lashing on rude and inconsiderate behaviour.

Across the aisle, a thirty-something male had wires dangling from his ears as he constantly checked his mobile while watching Merlin Series Two on a tablet. Multi-tasking par excellence!

Farther down an inspector, complete with ticket machine slung menacingly over one shoulder, shouted a cheery ‘let me squeeze past, please, ladies and gents!’ as he came upon the standing-in-the aisles brigade. His undeveloped sense of humour was not lost on the general public: the results of his obvious love of ale hung heavily over his belt. A woman two minutes from giving birth couldn’t match such a girth!

When I get home I play the ‘what if?’ game:

what if the giant suitcase made human sounds?
what if the owner’s punishment was never to be freed from her seat?
what if the ticket inspector disappeared as we entered a tunnel and the standing passengers   congratulated themselves on a job well done?
what if the Merlin-watching man was a murderer?
what if I had unleashed my tongue?

No, travel is not for getting from A to B, travel is for ideas.

Krys Wysocki

Monday, 1 April 2013

Chapters with Flavour

Life is a series of chapters, and each one has a different flavour. Paul McCartney once said that being a member of the Beatles felt as if it belonged to a previous life, or words to that effect. I’ve lived long enough to relate to that expression. During my twenties, I travelled the world with the Royal Navy, and that is an experience I find difficult to relate to in my present circumstances. Each chapter in life is broken into clear experiences, but the chapters in our novels ought to be very different.

My Experience of Writing a Crime Novel
I began to create my fictional world several years before I began writing it down. I believe I created a realistic industrial town for my characters to carry out their roles, with an authentic history of its own. The trouble is that nobody wants that information stuffed down their throat, especially in the first chapter.

I changed that opening chapter seven or eight times until very little of my fine old town had any space at all – just a hint of its character here and there. Action takes pride of place, with a few hints detailing the promise of the story, and a hook.

I’d written perhaps a third of the novel before presenting parts of it to a writing group, the precursor to Phoenix Writers which I now frequent. At that time, each chapter began with too much description before the vocabulary kicked off.

“Begin there,” a colleague always said. “We don’t want all that pre-amble. Just feed in a little of that information alongside the clues relating to the crime.”

But what about my town?

The Wisdom of Experience
A published writer explained the problem in a more effective way.  If I were to construct a graph for my chapters with emotion as the perpendicular axis, the line would take the shape of a hill – suggesting all the action would be taking shape in the middle of the chapter. 

The graph should display emotion in the shape of a valley, with hooks at the start and end of the chapter. Every chapter.

His point being that I had my emotional cycle the wrong way round.

Why do we have chapters in a novel?
As an author, we really need the reader to put the book down, as most people have to at some point or other, at a point when they are desperate to know what will happen next.  If the reader breaks off from the novel in the middle of a long period of information and explanation, he or she may never return to the book.

Most people prefer to break off at the end of a chapter or at a page break, so these places have to be soaked in drama.  It doesn’t have to be action packed, just a simple observation such as, “The Gestapo surrounded my house,” or, “she didn’t look back,” will do the trick.  Plenty of white space at the beginning of the next chapter will make it more inviting for the reader.

What must a chapter do?
The reader begins a chapter with certain expectation of where it will end. It is the writer’s responsibility to insert a number of twists. Maybe one of the characters has a personality trait that is unexpected, or the villain does something the protagonist, or the reader, isn’t expecting. In any event, questions should be asked and the story should have changed in some way.

My Outcome
Eventually I finished the novel, but it became part of a learning process rather than a publishable work. As a crime novel, it lacks realistic clues for the reader to get their teeth into. Also, I have written it with too many points of view so it is difficult for the reader to empathise with any particular character and follow them on their journey.

I’m now embarking on an adventure novel which, if I’m honest, is more my kind of read. The protagonist is from the indigenous population of Bolivia, a country I visited on holiday. The endeavour of these people is fascinating. I want to show the horrendous way they have been treated by outsiders, and the sense of community that keeps the peasants alive against all odds. New chapters are being faced by rural settlements and villagers are forced into paid employment in unfavourable conditions by the changing weather patterns – and their self-sufficiency is threatened. I didn’t write this kind of novel in the first place because I thought it would be harder to research; and so it turned out. Not knowing the cultural history in sufficient detail makes it hard to create rounded characters, but more rewarding with each tiny success.

Pete Kings