The first National Flash Fiction Day will be taking place on May 16th 2012 and if you want to be part of it you need to get your thinking caps on now.
There is a list of specially organised competitions listed here. Some are specific to certain parts of the country (this narrows down the field of entrants, so if you are lucky enough to live in any of the chosen areas – get writing!). Many are FREE to enter and there’s a variety of closing dates (but they’re mostly in April so don’t delay).
If you fancy getting involved in person, take a look at this list of planned events organised geographically. Unfortunately there’s none near me in the West Midlands but Derby ‘s doing well with 2 workshops going on.
So if you like your writing short, sharp and to the point – what are you waiting for?
Whenever a group of writers meet together tongues never stop wagging, a good time is had by all and, most
importantly, everyone goes away fired up with renewed enthusiasm!
This was the case on Saturday at the first 2012 quarterly meeting of the Birmingham Chapter of the Romantic Novelists Association. Nine of us had lunch at the Edwardian Tea Rooms in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.
Jean Fullerton, winner of the 2006 Harry Bowling Prize, was our special guest. As well as writing historical novels based in the East End of London and giving regular talks to Women’s Institutes and other organisations, she continues to work full-time as a district nurse – so there’s no excuse for the rest of us not finding time to write!
Jean was generous with her advice and, amongst other things, emphasised that in romance novels, the author must be in love with the hero she’s created – otherwise why on earth should the reader fall for him? Also protagonists must remain ‘in character’ and not be shoe-horned into doing something not in their nature just for the sake of the plot. And in answer to a question, Jean said that there’s no need to get hung up on what is the ‘right’ chapter length or worry about making them all equal – if necessary this can be sorted with the help of an editor later.
Elsewhere around the table we discussed the pros and cons of basing characters on real people, emailing manuscripts to our Kindles in order to see them with fresh eyes and spot mistakes missed on the computer screen plus we caught up with how everyone had been doing over the last few months.
Writing can be a lonely and frustrating business, so if you get the chance to go to a workshop, class or other gathering of writers – grab it with both hands!
‘Write often, to a deadline and with an audience in mind. Have something of the marketer about you.’
This was the advice of writer and broadcaster, Stuart Maconie (pictured), in his keynote address at The Writers’ Toolkit 2011, held in Birmingham last week. He went on to tell us that the mastery of words is power and we should be proud to say ‘I am a writer’.
It was a full day of panel discussions and chances to chat to other writers. I found the session on ‘Networking as a Writer’ the most interesting and I came away with several scribbled notes about how to do this (both on-line and in real life):
- Be generous – help those who can’t possibly help you. It will be remembered and what goes around comes around. Share things that might benefit others – don’t see them as your rivals.
- If it feels like networking then you’re doing it wrong or trying too hard. It should feel like a conversation, not a sales pitch.
- Don’t vent your feelings online no matter how badly you feel you’ve been treated – cyberspace is a big place and you never know who might be reading.
- Become part of the real and virtual community. Join or start reading/writing groups and classes. Do book reviews on your blog & approach other writers to ask if they’d like you to review their book.
- Don’t limit yourself to writing events – attend other types of conferences and look at different types of blogs.
- Leave intelligent comments on the blogs of others to make people curious enough to have a look at you.
- Listen to what others have to say – don’t just sell yourself all the time.
- Be genuine and approachable
The event was organised by Writing West Midlands.
My daughter’s school was offering a ‘community’ lecture on Tragedy by Professor David Robert of the English department at Birmingham City University. I haven’t studied English Literature since my O’ level in 1979 (Julius Caesar, Lord of the Flies & Keats’ poetry – you never forget those books do you!) so I thought it was about time to broaden my horizons.
Wikipedia tells us that tragedy is ‘a form of art based on human suffering that offers its audience pleasure’. This definition seems to make anyone that has ever enjoyed Hamlet or Macbeth heartless and cruel! But David explained that watching a tragedy is a catharsis because we see someone in a worse situation than ourselves. The hero who suffers a tragic end can be seen as scapegoat. His demise makes us feel good because we didn’t suffer such a terrible end – he does the suffering for the rest of us.
David took us on a whistle-stop tour of famous tragedies through the ages from ‘Oedipus Rex’ to ‘Death of a Salesman’. Then he gave a mention to the current popularity of disaster movies such as ‘The Day After Tomorrow’, which can also be seen as tragedies.
Tragedies are mostly written by men and this could be because there is a more certain self-destruct pessimism about the world within the male psyche (and they call us the moody ones!).
So where is all this taking us in the context of our writing? Well, I’m not sure really unless you’re a playwright since tragedies seem to be generally written for performance rather than as a narrative. I had hoped that learning about the greats of English Literature might inform my own writing but I can’t see People’s Friend or My Weekly falling over themselves to buy a tragedy!
But it wasn’t a waste of time because it broadened my horizons and I got a certificate of attendance!
By the way if there are any English scholars out there do correct me if I’ve got anything wrong here.
Do you fancy enticing people who don’t read for pleasure to open a novel and give it a try?
Applications are now open for those who would like to be a ‘giver’ on World Book Night 2012.
This entails distributing 24 copies of your chosen book (selected from a list of 25) to people who read very little. 20,000 givers are needed on April 23rd 2012. Givers must be over 16 and able to collect the 24 books from their local library/bookshop. The closing date for applications is December 31st 2011.
To apply click here. You must state where, to whom and why you want to give the books away.
A wide range of books are available to give, including Pride and Prejudice, The Book Thief and The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic. The full list is here.
I would choose to give The Book Thief but I’m still thinking about where I would hand them out. I’d want to be sure of finding people who don’t currently read much but who would appreciate the book and at least give it a proper try.
Encouraging more people to read books has to be a good thing for the publishing industry and thus, in turn, a good thing for all us writers who would like to see our work in print.
On Saturday I went to Morley in Yorkshire to collect my certificate for the Friends of Morley Literature Festival Short Story Competition. It was a lovely evening which featured Andrew McMillan (not sure if he’s any relation to Ian) reading poetry that had been written for a special project undertaken in conjunction with the Literature Festival.
Four families in the area chose paintings from Leeds Art Gallery to hang in their homes for 3 months. Andrew went out to visit these families and talk to them about how they felt about the art works. He then used these conversations as triggers for poems. Three local schools also chose pictures to hang in their classrooms for a similar project but this time the children wrote the poems with Andrew acting as their mentor.
Andrew has a wonderful way of performing poetry and he brought the children’s colourful language & unusual ideas to life with his gestures, timing and strong regional accent. Similarly, hearing him read his own poems made them so much more vivid (for a non-poet like me) than simply reading words on a page.
So, to be a successful poet do you have to be able to perform with panache and carry the audience with your words? Or can you succeed as a shrinking violet? I imagine that few people buy books of poetry these days and therefore a confident performance is essential to build a following.
The evening continued with a gig by the comedian Arthur Smith (of Grumpy Old Men). He was brilliant but surprised me by including poems (which he knew off by heart) in his act. My favourite was The Mower by Philip Larkin, which is a rather sad tale about a hedgehog.
Also – until midnight on Friday (14th October 2011) I am donating £1 to the RNIB for each new subscriber to this blog. Simply enter your email address in the box on the right – it’s free and you can unsubscribe at any time. More information is here.
If you fancy a visit to Bath next April, have a go at one (or both) of these annual competitions run by the West Country Writers’ Association:
- Short story competition – the winner will receive £50 in cash and will also be invited to spend one day at the 2012 West Country Writers’ Annual Congress in Bath (20th to 22nd April). Entries must not exceed 1200 words and can be on any theme but must include the words JANE AUSTEN. Entry fee is £5 and the competition is only open to writers who have had no more than 2 short stories professionally published or read on the radio. Closing date 12th December 2011.
- West Country Writers’ Bursary - all aspiring authors are invited to apply for this annual award. The bursary pays for an individual to attend the annual congress, including accommodation for two nights, all meals, which include the annual luncheon, and entry to the AGM and all talks by well-known writers, or others associated with publishing. To apply write a letter outlining your literary achievements so far, your hopes for future success, and a brief explanation of why you would like to attend the congress. No closing date on the website for this so I’d get your entries in early. It is a fantastic prize and all you have to do is write a letter!
Those of you that read this blog regularly will know that I was awarded the West Country Writers’ Association bursary last year and enjoyed a wonderful weekend in a lovely hotel near Plymouth in April. It was a great chance to chat with other writers and learn from their experiences. There is more about my experience here.
Full details of this year’s competitions, including where to send your entries, is here.
There’s an opportunity to ‘Meet the Authors’ tomorrow night (apologies for the short notice) in Birmingham’s Library Theatre. Lesley Pearse, Sam Hayes and Barbara Nadel are going to provide an evening of mystery, suspense and emotion. It is a free event but you need to book a place. Full details are here.
Looking further ahead, now would be a good time to get yourself on the Birmingham Book Festival mailing list to ensure that you receive your program for the event. It runs from the 6th to 16th October 2011 and usually offers a cornucopia of author talks and writing workshops (last year’s Find Your Blogging Voice workshop run by Jo Ind gave me the kick-start to get this blog off the ground). Volunteers are also needed to help the whole thing run smoothly.
Another date worth putting in your diary is the Writers’ Toolkit held in Birmingham City Centre on November 19th. This is an annual event of panel discussions on various subjects to do with the business of writing – tax, digital media, getting published, higher education opportunities etc. It attracts both established and new writers from a wide area and is great for getting to chat to other writers (take your business cards).
If the East Midlands is more accessible for you, the libraries around Derby offer a large number of events. In particular I’ll be attending The Novel Writing Booster Kit with Martin Davies at Mackworth Library. Other events are listed here.
Apologies to those of you outside the area – but why not have a root around your own council or libraries websites and see if there’s anything going on near you? Writing can be frustrating and lonely but an afternoon listening to an author speak or chatting with like-minded people will do wonders for your enthusiasm!
The weekend before last I attended the West Country Writers’ Association 60th Congress in Plymouth as the winner of their 2011 bursary.
It was a great luxury to be away from all the domestic disturbances for the weekend and to be able to completely immerse myself in chat about writing, publishing and related topics. It helped that the Congress was held at the lovely Elfordleigh Hotel which has a pool, sauna and steam room!
The weekend started on a high with the presentation of my certificate by Angela Rippon. She also gave an extremely interesting and enthusiastic talk about her career to date and revealed that, amongst other things, she is the author of a series of children’s books featuring the character Victoria Plum.
During the weekend I talked to writers of romantic fiction who were able to give me some advice about the world of My Weekly Pocket Novels:
- Include some adventure
- Try an exotic setting
- Have a foreign love interest
I was also told not to forget the possibilities of publication as a large print book too. The two main players are Chivers and Ulverscroft – the first of these pays royalties and the second pays a fee. And apparently there’s always the US market as well…
I also managed a few words with agent Dorothy Lumleyand asked her about writing the dreaded synopsis. She told me that writers always stress about this unnecessarily. She said that she always reads the first 3 chapters before the synopsis and it was imperative to grab the reader within the first page or two of these chapters. The best way of doing this is to open with a character that the reader immediately cares about. The reader must want to turn the page to find out what happens to this character. Dorothy added that the synopsis should always include the ending of the novel otherwise it is little more than an extended blurb – which will make you look unprofessional.
And one final titbit to put you off writing forever. I spoke to one novelist with a string of published titles to her name and she told me that she once calculated that she was writing for 40p an hour!