Tag Archives: novel

The Day Job…

The day job…

A wise writer once said to me that it’s not so much the pram in the hall that’s the impediment to a writing career, but the bills on the door-mat. Money worries are the bane of creativity. And unless independently wealthy, the emerging writer will have to make a living while waiting for that book/film deal (and probably for a while after that fact too). Writers need to work; the question is what kind of jobs are out there?

Many will consider other (more lucrative) forms of writing to bring home the bucks. Journalism is an obvious  choice and is still, probably, the most common second career for many creative writers. Moreover, a journalistic background provides marvelous training re editing and brevity of approach. Copy-writing, particularly website copy, is also a popular income booster for writer but both copy-writing and journalism are less satisfying forms of writing for the creative writer and spending all day writing on the day job can make it difficult to come home and do the same at night.

Teaching English and/or creative writing is another common earner for writers. My TEFL training and experience has given me a sound grip of grammar and the intricacies of the English language – all of which is of great practical use to a writer. A TEFL teacher also (usually) travels and such experiences can feed into your work. Teaching creative writing allows you to deconstruct the tools of creative writing, which may benefit your own writing. However, you usually need a track record of publication before you begin to look for work in this area.

It is not uncommon for writers to work a mundane job such as on a factory line or as a manual laborer. Such tasks sit quite well with a writing career as they give the writer time to think, to let ideas bubble and boil ready to write down after the shift has finished. Also, with a job so utterly removed from writing, you will be fresh and eager to sit at your laptop of an evening. The downside of any brain numbing, repetitive work is that it has no status. This fact should not be important but it is because writers are human, so for a writer to stay in a lowly job, s/he needs determination, focus and confidence in their reason for doing this type of work.

Writers, of course, come from all walks of life and all career backgrounds. For those of you who may be considering giving up your job to write full time, you need to remember that you’ll (most likely) still need to make a living. Maybe the job you have is not glamorous or interesting, but these are often the best complementary jobs for writing. So, if you really want to be a writer, the greatest sacrifice you make may be NOT giving up the day job –  but staying with it.


Gradgrind’s Corner

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Once you’ve had your feedback and have chopped, pruned, rewritten and reshaped your work, you’re ready to go, right? Wrong. Next, you need to don your pernickety gloves and work on grammar, spelling and punctuation.

This type of revision is called a proofread and it is separate from the critique your friends gave re characters, story, POV, tone and structure. A proofread regards layout and correct use of language. A proofread is the final polish.

Never hand in a submission blighted by incorrect or inconsistent punctuation, bad grammar and misspelled words – thinking the story will shine through. They (the slush pile readers) will be turned off by your sloppy copy and will probably never read on into your story, so it won’t get that chance to shine through. If you’ve spent a year writing a novel, respect your work enough to spend another couple of weeks proofreading. It’s only common sense.

As you’ve probably read your own work countless times, you may be blind to copy mistakes. A keen eyed friend is invaluable here. Also you could cut a sentence sized gap in a blank page and place it over your text to check every sentence individually, with the rest of the text blanked out. This may sound painstaking but it is a very good focusing tool.

Many emerging writers are concerned about grammar, unsure of their own knowledge and application. I’ve been an English (as a foreign language) teacher for fifteen years and can recommend the following grammar self-study book (known in the TEFL world as ‘the grammar bible’): Raymond Murphy Grammar in Use. You’ll be able to pick up a cheap copy on Amazon. Spend a night or two doing the exercises, it’ll stand to you.

Also, I could wax lyrical about whether to use double or single quotes for dialogue (or to use any at all) and the difference between US and UK conventions regarding the same. However, I think the best is for you to take ten novels down from your shelf and see how the majority of them format dialogue and then apply the same convention to your work. Whichever you choose, ensure it is then consistent throughout your text.

Finally, here are some of the most common problems:

****Are you using the right “Its”?

“It’s” (with an apostrophe) is short for “it is”.

Its” (no apostrophe) is possessive (ie: the dog lost its bone).

NOTE: somewhat confusingly, when you want to use the possessive elsewhere, you do use an apostrophe: “Mary’s coat”, “John’s golf club”, “the dog’s bone.”

 

****Same sound, different spelling (homophones).

“They’re”, “Their” and “There”.

They’re (they are) sitting the car. They’re listening to their (possessive) music, they’ll be fine there (preposition of place) for a while yet.

 

****Using “done” instead of “did” and vice versa.

“Done” is the past participle of “do” and is normally used with the auxiliary verb “have”.  “Did” is the past simple of “do”.

(And if you have no idea what any of that means, you really do need to order that book).

So, you say either “I have done my homework” or “I did my homework” – and never “I done my homework,” or “he done his homework.”

 

****Saying “could of” rather than “could have” when using the second conditional tense or “could” as a modal verb in the perfect tense (yeah, see that grammar book).

“He could of gone to the shop,” is wrong.

“He could have gone to the shop,” is correct.

And please accept sincerest apologies for sending any of you off into a coma of boredom with this grammary post – believe me, it hurt me more than it hurt you.


New Year Ships’ Log

It’s 2014 – a year that still sounds to me like the title of a Sci-Fi movie. And I’m hoping the spaceships I encounter over the next twelve months will be of the friendly variety .Veterans of this blog will know that when I refer to ‘ships’ I’m talking about all the texts/scripts which I’ve sent out on spec re publication, staging or broadcast etc… I have always liked the idea of my work as ‘ships’ as it somewhat relieves me of responsibility – once launched, they are out there and I can only hope they return to port in some form, preferably laden with a win or publication.

Last year I sent out a total of 59 ships. Some 17 returned to port, 39 never made it. Rejections/disappointments/ non-runs/PFOs are part and parcel with the writer’s lot and learning how to handle them is one of the most important (and difficult) lessons a novice writer faces.

I when I was 22, I wrote seven short stories. They were bad, really pretentious, decorated with adjectives and adverbs and with no theme or character development or point to any of them at all but I thought they were pure genius. I sent them off to every magazine I could find in the bookstore. And waited. And waited. And waited… until I became convinced that they had all been lost in the post. It was the only explanation, surely, as any editor would recognize my genius immediately, no? A couple of months later, I received a single rejection letter. And the truth dawned. No one else even bothered replying. It was 100% rejection. I was floored. I burned the stories I was working on and I didn’t send anything else off for another ten years.

That was very stupid of me. I should have brushed myself off and tried again. I would be in a much better position and be a better writer now if I had. But I wasn’t strong or  mature enough to know that then. Ah, well. During my first year on my MA at UEA  (2009), I sent out another batch of stories. I’d had a few shorts published at this stage and was confident that I’d now win every competition going and it would pay my MA tuition. And, again I got nowhere. I was pretty down but I recalled how I’d let rejection defeat me before and vowed it wouldn’t happen again. I sent out more, and then more and after six months, I had bagged the Mary and Ted O’Regan Award, and then the Annaghmakerrig award and the Molly Keane Award, the HISSAC, the Sussex Playwrights’, the Meridian, the Escalator Award. I’ve now got two broadcast radio plays under my belt (and am working on a third)  as well as signing with an agent and my novel is currently on submission to publishers. My  short stories have been published in seven anthologies/literary publications. I’ve had staged readings of my work in Norfolk, Brighton and Cornwall. I’ve served as writer in residence on the Aran Islands, lead workshops in creative writing in Ireland and the UK and teach writing for a living. These are all ships that came home to mama over the past five years but believe me, many had to sink before I saw the slightest hint of success.

Don’t give up – look at how you can improve your rejected story/script/novel/play and send it out again. Remember, much depends on what the magazine or the competition judge is looking for at that particular time, it may not be a comment on your writing skills. It’s all about not giving up.

The 2013 stats:

Ships sent out: 56

Wins/acceptance/short-listings/publications:17

Ships sunk: 39

The 2014 stats thus far:

Awaiting news on 13 ships launched

Wins/acceptance/short-listings/publications: 1

Ships sunk: 3


A Novel Approach

 

Writers’ Centre Norwich, who oversee the Escalator Scheme of which I am part this year, have uploaded to their website an excerpt from my recently completed novel, ‘The Hole in the Moon’. To access it, please click HERE

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Synopsis: Dan P. Power is a self-loathing Irish dwarf who, as a child, fell from a tree and flattened his younger brother. With a life so luckless, no one should blame Dan P. for snubbing society, employment or for whiling his time away in Dublin’s pubs – least of all his dwarf girlfriend Stella, his parents or his therapists. They should leave him alone. He’ll stop drinking when he meets ‘the one’, everyone does.

And he meets her, Dora, a beautiful Hungarian masseuse who concocts strange herbal brews. Dan P. is so enraptured that he makes a pilgrimage to a mysterious ‘sheila-na-gig’ carving on land his father has acquired on Trafadden Island, to seek help with the conquest of Dora. Dan P. soon learns that Dora has abruptly returned to Hungary, however. Undeterred, he elects to go in pursuit of her, leaving Stella heartbroken. 

Dan P. doesn’t like abroad. It’s too hot, all wrong and Stella isn’t anywhere to help; she won’t even answer her phone. Aid eventually comes via three old eccentric sisters: a flower seller, a beggar and a bee-keeper. The trio lead him to a castle where Dora is being held by the enigmatic guru, Wolfgang Attila, the leader of a strange cult. Thus, gathering all his courage and honing his circus skills, Dan P. sets about rescuing Dora, with a number of unexpected outcomes…

‘The Hole in the Moon’ is a humorous Magic Realist tale which weaves redemption plot and love story.


The Agent Secret

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There’s a crackle in the air this morning, kids are back at school, autumn is here and it’s time to take stock. I’ve had a high gear year so far. Having won the Escalator Award – a professional development scheme for writers – I was determined to use 2013 finish my novel with the encouragement and direction of my Escalator Mentor, the novelist Tobias Hill. And I have.  The time and investment the scheme afforded me has not only resulted in a completed MS of ‘The Hole in the Moon’, but also a screenplay of the same (and the screenplay has now been selected for further development with the Script Hot House scheme).

Next step for the novel is to find an agent. This is not the easiest step. As an Arts Council funded Escalator Prose Artist and a UEA Creative Writing MA graduate, who is also an award winning writer with a long list of short-stories published, plays broadcast and staged – you might think that I’ve automatically acquired the secret handshake that allows entry into the exclusive world of agented writers. This is not the case. My track record makes it likely that my submission will achieve some attention when submitted, ie I might make it to the top of the slush pile that week, but only the quality of my writing will result in an agent contacting me re representation. 

I’ve been researching the subject of agents over the past week and it makes for sobering reading. Most agencies in London will receive an average of 450 manuscripts a month. From this figure, they might contact 3 or 4 regarding representation. And from those, perhaps one will go on to be published. Yes, it’s that competitive so don’t approach an agent lightly and send them you work only when you feel it is perfect. Tips on approaching agents include the following:

1)      Finish your novel before you contact an agent.

2)      Buy the lastest Writers and Artists Yearbook (if in the UK or Ireland) or the US/Can/Aus equivalent and make a list of agencies/agents who might be interested in your work. Think of an author whose work yours resembles and find out who their agent is (usually mentioned in “acknowledgements” page in a novel.) Research – make sure the agent you contact is interested in the type of book you are proposing. Check the “Yearbook”, if the agency states ‘no Romance’ don’t send them your love story. If they say no email submissions, do not submit by email etc… Make a list of twenty suitable agents.

3)      Most agents (but do check first) should be approached with a cover letter of not more than a page in length, outlining your project and a brief bio. Also attach a one page synopsis and the first three chapters (or first fifty pages) – but as I said, do check with the submissions guidelines on their website.

4)      Be polite and business like. Don’t adopt a grovelling/humorous/aggressive or any sort of extreme tone in your cover letter. Don’t send pictures of your cat or try to be cute.

5)      It has now become acceptable to send out multiple submissions to various agents however, if you are doing so, it is only polite and respectful of agent time to let the agents know you are doing this. You might want to limit this send out to three agents at a time.

6)      Some agents will get back to you within three weeks, others might take up to six months. Some you’ll never hear from at all. I feel that if you’ve not heard back after three months, it’s unlikely they’re digging your manuscript. It is acceptable to send a nudge email at this point to clarify but don’t be terribly surprised if you don’t even get a reply then. This happens, don’t take it personally.

7)      If a number are interested in your work, make a list of your specific needs and choose the agent who might best meet them. However, your choice may all come down to chemistry in the end. Do meet them personally.

8)      If you’re turned down across the board (say 20 or 30 rejections) you might want to rethink your project, put it in a drawer and get started on another. Some agents may have been generous enough to give you feedback re why they didn’t feel the book was right for them. Take note and come back to their comments in a few months when the raw disappointment has eased. If it is any consolation, I don’t know a published author who hasn’t got at least one unpublished novel languishing in a drawer. Put it down as part of your training as a writer and get cracking on your sophomore MS.


Try and Try Again

Watching the horizon, Brighton Beach, U.K.

 

I when I was 22, I wrote seven short stories. They were bad, really pretentious, crammed with adjectives and adverbs and with no theme or character development or point to any of them at all but I thought they were pure genius. I sent them off to every magazine I could find in the bookstore. And waited. And waited. And waited… until I became convinced that they had all been lost in the post. It was the only explanation, surely, as any editor would recognize my genius immediately, no? A couple of months later, I received a single rejection letter. And the truth dawned. No one else even bothered replying. It was 100% rejection. I was floored. I burned the stories I was working on and I didn’t send anything else off for another ten years.

That was very stupid of me. I should have brushed myself off and tried again. I would be in a much better position and be a better writer now if I had. But I wasn’t strong or  mature enough to know that then. Ah, well. During my first year on my MA at UEA, I sent out another batch of stories. I’d had a few shorts published at this stage and was confident that I’d now win every competition going and it would pay my MA tuition. And, again I got nowhere. I was pretty down but I recalled how I’d let rejection defeat me before and vowed it wouldn’t happen again. I sent out more stuff, and then more stuff. And after six months, I won the Mary and Ted O’Regan Award, and then the Annaghmakerrig award and the Molly Keane Award, the HISSAC and the Sussex Playwrights’ and this year I’ve been shortlisted for an international award, published in two anthologies and it looks quite likely that a lot is about to bloom on the drama front for me (though I don’t want to jinx that by talking too soon).

Anyway, the moral is don’t give up – look at how you can improve your rejected story and send it out again. Remember, much depends on what the magazine or the competition judge is looking for at that particular time, it may not be a comment on your writing skills. Do a bit of research, try to find a suitable home and try and try again. You will get there in the end.


Acquiring the Craft…

The word “writer” often carries weighty connotations. Some see a “writer” as a genius whose works astonish and awe the world. Others perceive a “writer” as “mad” and “misunderstood” artist who lives on the edge of life, burdened by their aforementioned genius and often turning to drink and drugs for both inspiration and solace.

The truth, at least concerning the vast majority of writers (and all creative artists), is more mundane. Writing is a craft, a skill anyone can acquire through practice. Although writers can be drug addicts and alcoholics just like members of any other profession – they can also be tee-total, health nuts or just very ordinary people living on your street who do regular things like shop at Tesco’s or Walmart and go to the pub/club on Friday night.

In other words, writers are normal people and as different from each other and varied as regular people are. The single trait they all have in common is that they write. By that, I mean they are disciplined and they write on a regular basis. They give time to their craft, acquiring it, polishing it, perfecting it.

I was thinking of this point this week when a friend of mine saw his debut novel published. Apocalypse Cow is a wirk by Glaswegian writer Michael Logan, who served his apprenticeship as a creative writer via a writing group in Budapest (my old home). His novel went on to win the Terry Pratchett prize last yeear. I mention Apocalypse Cow not only as a congratulatory plug for a well deserving author but because it is reassuring to know that a nice, down-to-earth, hard-working, good guy like Michael gets to see his work published by a mainstream publishing house. Very much looking forward to reading my copy (on order).

 

Well done, Michael, you’re an inspiration to all of us!


:)) LOL : )) hahahahahaha : ))))

did you hear the one about....

Jokes! Jokes are a great source of plot ideas. An established writer gave me this tip years ago and it has served me well.

Jokes, you see, are plots in miniature. Stories sealed up and ready to go. You’ve got your beginning, middle, end, your conflict, your characters – flaws and all. All you’ve got to do is flesh it out. Expland on it. Change gender and setting if possible. And no, it doesn’t have to be funny because many jokes (indeed, stories) need an element of tragedy to make comedy (and vice vearsa) and you can just crank up the aspect you want to emphasize.

Here’s a joke that gave me an idea for a short story recently shortlisted for a competition:

“It was Ryan’s funeral and the pallbearers were carrying the casket out from the church. When they bumped into a pillar, one of them heard a moan from inside the coffin. They opened the lid and found Ryan alive. He lived for another ten years before he properly died. Another funeral was held for him and, as the pallbearers were carrying out the coffin, Mrs Ryan shouted “Now, watch out for that pillar!”

OK, it’s the way ya tell ‘em… But the point is that they don’t have to be the funniest jokes – just so long as there is a story in there, a universal truth with which your readers will react and engage. Wordplay/puns won’t work so well, go for the story…

Here’s another one you can chew on for a story idea (it goes down well in the creative writing classes I give in an English prison…)

The defendant knew he didn’t have a prayer of beating the murder rap, so he bribed one of the jurors to find him guilty of manslaughter. The jury was out for days before they finally returned a verdict of manslaughter. Afterward the defendant asked, ‘How come it took you so long?’ the juror said, ‘All the others wanted to acquit’.


Welcome 2012 And Resolution Writing Course

Revellers bring in the New Year, Hungarian style

Here in Budapest, tradition states one must eat a bowl of lentil soup on New Year’s Eve/Day to attract luck and fortune in the year to come. Last year, my friend Joska invited me to lunch on Jan 1st. He’d cooked a barrel load of the stuff and it was so cold outside we rather overdosed on the bean. Lo and behold, 2011 turned out to be a year of great fortune re my writing. I won three awards, was shortlisted for even more, had quite a few shorts published. Moreover, I set up this website and my online writing course – both of which I’m enjoying immensely and I’ve resolved to make the course my focus for the coming year.

My course, ‘Creative Writing: A Toolbox’ is a six week online one-on-one creative writing introduction. With it, I aim to help you realize your dreams of writing creatively, or improve the practice of those already writing. The course regards the tools of the craft and provides online support for your work via feedback and guidance in relation to editing, submission and markets. Each course is adapted to suit the individual needs of the specific student. There is also the option of retaining my services as a mentor/critic/coach after the course ends.

Creative Writing: A Toolbox’ is supported by written material, exercise, assignments and a weekly 45 minute one-on-one online tutorial to guide the student through the six step, six week writing course. This tutorial is usually given via Skype, though some students prefer to use email alone – that is for the student to decide.  Over the six sessions, the student is introduced to the know-how, ‘tricks’ and skills of the writer and can work on their own project, such as a short story or part of a novel – whilst, receiving online coaching, instruction, feedback and guidance from Sue.

Throughout the course,  students will receive a full professional critique of their work from Sue.

All inclusive price: €150 (introductory offer)

For more information, please contact me on : bpapartment at gmail dot com

In the meantime, if you’d like to make your own Hungarian lentil soup check here: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/lentil-soup-2/

Joska eating lentil soup on New Year's Day

Wishing you all the best for 2012 – may your ships come in with your dreams onboard.

Sue xo


What Kind of Beast is This?

What sort of beast is this?

One of the questions most frequently asked in creative writing classes is “how long is a novel/play/short story/screenplay?” And, as is often the case in creative writing, the answer is that there are no rules but… there kind of are.

There is not an official cut off word count for any of the above literary forms but the publishing industry has generally accepted average lengths. Be alive to the fact that just because your word count has hit the “magic number”, it does not follow that you are finished. Apart from the fact you’ll be lobbing off at least a third in edits, you also need be sure that you have brought all the strands of your story to satisfactory conclusion, have made your point and your character has undergone some sort of change / journey / learning arc in the process. Otherwise, to paraphrase Truman Capote, your’re just typing.

What follows is a rough guide/ballpark figure for each literary form:

 Novel

The average commercial novel is 78,000 words in length; this roughly amounts to 300 A4 pages in double spaced twelve-point font. However, a novel can be anything from 45,000 words onwards. A book between 20,000 – 45,000 is usually marketed as a “novella”.

 Short Story

Traditionally, a short story is meant to be read in one sitting. Normally, this narrative form is quite pointed in its message, involves a single setting and few characters. A short story can be anything from 1,000-20,000 words.Writing short stories is a good way of building up your story telling skills, honing your craft as a writer and amassing a writing portfolio. Also, the short story is the literary form favoured by writing competitions. Such competitions usually look for stories in the 2,000-5,000 word bracket.

Flash Fiction

This is the short story’s kid brother. Somewhat akin to the Haiku, a flash fiction story often aims to capture a fleeting moment. It can be any thing between 100-1,000 words. Flash fiction is becoming very popular in competitions these days. Personally, I think this may be to save reading time for judges.

Screenplay

The standard “Hollywood” screenplay is 90 minutes long. Given the rule of thumb that one page equals one minute of movie, you should be aiming for a90-page long screen play. Obviously, this is an approximation.

 TV/Play

Likewise, the page per minute rule applies here too. Bear in mind the slot your are aiming for. commercial TV and radio stations will include advert breaks in their schedule – so a half hour comedy show might in fact be only 22 minutes long etc… If you have a slot in mind, time the duration of the actual show (excluding theme music and commercial breaks.)

 Stageplay

The page per minute rule can roughly be applied to stage plays too. If a stage play were to last an hour and a half, it should be 20,000 words long and span 90 pages.

 Poem

A poem can be as short or as long as you like. A  haiku is traditionally 17 syllables over three line. The Iliad is 25,000 lines long. For the try outs, however, you might aim for two or three verses.