Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Coming home


I've been away for the last three and a half weeks, visiting South Africa. It was odd not to have any internet access - they do have it there, of course, but we never seemed to be in the right place at the right time. Also odd not to read a single book in that time - I took a stack but the moment never came. I suppose I was too much in the present for once to be transported away by a story, or the internet.

So, it's nice to see you again, and fun to catch up on reading Strictly posts, especially the excellent story shortlisted this month.

I came home to the news that two of my poems have been bought for an anthology to be published in October. There's something about the fact that I will be paid for it that is special. Pounds for poems, I can't quite believe it. And it's the first time I've ever submitted a poem for publication.

Before that, my most successful line of verse was: You can stick your vuvuzela up your arse. Not a pretty sentiment, I know, but as it was chanted by thousands in Port Elizabeth at the Slovenia game, it must count as some form of publication. The oral tradition persists. So that's the name of the little chant I've posted below. It's dedicated to our new friends, Dave and Steve, who won't see it here, but whom we met at the USA match and arranged to meet again for the Algeria game in Cape Town and finally in Port Elizabeth. The photo shows my girlfriend, Jess, painting the cross of St George onto Dave's head. He quaffed three pints of Guinness immediately after breakfast and went on to deal with another twenty or so during the day. He steadfastly refused to go on any safaris; when I said he must see some animals while in Africa he said, 'I'm looking at one now.' This chant is a summary of what he and Steve might have seen if they had ventured away from the bars.


You can stick your vuvuzela up your arse

Did you ever dart a rhino from the air?
Have you seen her stagger out into the bush?
Did you hold her by the horn,
feel the softness of her ear?
Did you ever dart a rhino from the air?

Did you drive a thousand miles every week
from Cape Town to Rustenburg and back again?
Did you cross the wide Karoo?
Did you do the Garden Route?
Did you put 5,000K on your hire car?

Did the desert spread before you like a map,
with a disc of blue arched over and beyond?
Did the mountains suck your breath out
as the highway stretched the distance
without a single motor on the road?

Did you load a buffalo onto a truck?
Did you strain until your back was fit to break?
When the farmer said five minutes
until the beast is dead
did it make you pull until your muscles tore?

Did you ever walk alone into the bush,
find a roan antelope beside the path,
did you sense the touch of nature
when you looked him in the eye
and the sadness as he slowly backed away?

Did you eat a kudu steak while you were there?
And a warthog sausage sandwich for your lunch?
Did you taste the huntsman’s quarry
and the olive groves of Beaufort,
did you sip a pinotage in Stellenbosch?

Did you see the whales breaching in Plett Bay
or mistake it for explosions in the sea?
Did you stare another hour
for a glimpse of fountain shower,
did it thrill you just to know that they were there?

Did you see the shacks of corrugated iron?
Did you central lock your doors as you drove by?
Did you see the people walking?
Did you watch their fires burning?
Did you thank the gods that you were not born black?

Monday, 28 June 2010

You gotta have a system...


Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear...
I've just spent the better part of this afternoon watching England being knocked out of the World Cup and listened to every pundit in the land comment upon how they never stood a chance because of the structure of the team chosen by Capello.
To be fair, structure is something that takes up an inordinate amount of my little grey cells. Not the footie, you understand, but structures in writing. It's fair to say I'm a geek and I sometimes worry about the things that might have had to make room in my brain for my mini obsession.
Would I have been able to read a map? Or remember my Wedding Anniversary?
You see, where a footie fan watches a match and immediately disects the teams' systems, I disect every book I read.
No matter the beauty of the prose, I just can't help myself.
In my view, structure is what will make or break a story every time. A bit like putting John Terry on the wrong side. Doesn't matter how good he is. The structure just won't work.
Whenever a writer tells me about a new project, the first question I'll ask will be what structure they've chosen. The next will be why.
If a blank look follows, I know the writer either has an instinctive talent for structure, choosing the right methos for the story without too much brain ache...or it will end up as a stream of consciousness, which might have some interesting ideas, but won't hang together.
So what then is structure?
Well, let me tell you what it's not. It's not a set of writing rules that have to be obeyed. It's not a formula. It's not a template.
I've often read blogs and writing forums where writers set out the actual structure that they believe a successful story must have.
There is they tell me, a winning system. Follow it and you have a blue print for a best seller. I find it depressing to imagine the legions of would be writers going along with this rubbish, all chained to their system.
Step one: introduce your MC.
Step two: the inciting incident.
Yadda, yadda.
Look, one thing I know about this game, is that trying to shoehorn a story into this system won't work any better than Rooney on a bad day.
True, most stories have a familair pattern. It's the one we humans have in our DNA. Most writers know it without giving it any thought.
Take it as given, that if you like books and have spent any time reading them, you already get it.
You don't need to think 'aha, this is where I need my inciting incident,' you're already thinking about introducing your old lover/dead body/long lost relative, at the right point cos...well you are.
So why then do I bang on about structure's importance?
Her's the thing. The steps and systems aren't it. They're not the decisions that we, as writers need t make.
What I'm getting at are the fundemental questions that need to be asked at the beginning of any piece of work.
How will this work best?
A multiple POV?
A collection of letter?
How about two narratives running alongside and meeting deliciously at the end?
An unrelaible narrator?
Go to any book you like and check the structure. Then ask yourself what would have changed if anyother structure had been chosen?
Trust me it becomes addictive. Apply it to all your own work.
Soon, you won't remember your Mother in Law's birthday and you'll have joined the ranks of the obsessed. But at least you won't have just lost 4-1 to Germany.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Hex Love by Phil Latham (June's Strictly Writing Award competition shortlisted story)

Sixteen women, 16 lovers. One life.

My first sexual experience terrified me, but then I was alone.

Melanie ravished me when I was 17. She taught me female anatomy and foreplay. I taught her how teenage boys are selfish specimens ruled by their testicles. Melanie was the first woman I loved yet we were together for just one week. My next relationship lasted even longer.

Each of my lovers gave me emotional or physical fulfilment. One gave me volcanic love I had never before experienced. Two gave me chlamydia.

Three of the 16 were black and proud. A further two were black and should have been.
One woman wore her school uniform to bed and demanded impish detention. A second whispered how she was an imaginative Piscean who wished to float away to a world of dreamy consciousness. I suggested chloroform. A third restrained me and shouted she was a sex-strong Scorpio determined to use my ‘pathetic flesh’ until I begged her to stop. And she did. And I did. Then I passed out.

Five fancied themselves as models. Two fancied themselves. One fancied Florida the last time I suggested we made love.

Four women announced their bisexuality, yet I’m not sure why. Did they seek a scorecard or expect me to help them double their chances on a Saturday night? I never asked. They never told.

One lover clucked like a pair of mad chickens whenever an orgasm flooded her twitching body. I suspect several others faked them (the orgasms, not the mad chickens).

None was married. None was disabled.

One was ginger. Three boasted natural blonde hair and five were bottle-fed. None was bald (on top).

Nine blinked their blue eyes at me in the bedroom. Two wept hidden eyes into my pillow after sunset. Four of the 16 timeshared the same green-eyed monster as a pet, so I tried not to feed it anything other than oversized portions of love and trust.

Six of the women vowed they were church-going Christians. Two defined themselves as ‘orthodox Jewish’. Four claimed to be lapsed Catholics. One was a fellow atheist who described God as a ‘sadistic little bastard’. I don’t think she’s still alive.

Three of the 16 were left-handed. I didn’t notice the difference.

Each woman carried emotional baggage. Some stored it in their TARDIS purse, others in matching six-piece luggage. Some felt so burdensome I left it behind. And them. I sometimes still feel like that selfish teenage boy.

On our wedding day the sunshine drips across the sky, the speeches sound entertaining and no other woman wears the same dress as Louise.

It’s five past three on a September afternoon. I’m late. I march through the graveyard and try not to visualise hundreds of sunbathing skeletons. Inside, the church breathes damp expectation.

Louise is the one who wants a church wedding so I acquiesce. I’ve polished my shoes so much they reflect everything, including hypocrisy and temptation.

My shoes clatter down the stone aisle and people turn around and smile. One man sticks out his sleeve and taps his watch. I install myself in the front pew in a top hat, tails and bottle-green waistcoat.

Best man Dave lurks next to me, but with his beard, shoulder-length hair and silver ring etched with a skull, he looks less like a best man and more like a roadie. In a top hat, tails and bottle-green waistcoat.

I ask to see the ring.

He shrugs.

My body re-routes moisture from my tongue to my armpits.

Old women with false teeth and wet rot materialise at the back of the church as if they’ve forged a day-pass to our galaxy. Others blink beneath hats shaped like pylons.

I pull up my socks. My shoes still function as mirrors.

Dave digs out a scrap of paper containing a grid of nine squares. He draws a circle in one of the squares and hands me the paper. I am seconds away from being married on the most important day of my life and all Dave can contemplate is a game of noughts and crosses. I snatch his pencil and strike through the grid to show my anger. He nods. Then below my cross draws a nought.

I adjust my collar. I straighten my waistcoat for the seventh time. I breathe on my palm.
An organ in one corner floods the church with the ‘Wedding March’.

People turn and stare.

My bride stands in the entrance.

I smile. I ask Dave for the ring.

Dave fishes out a POLO. Is he joking or does he really expect me to play noughts and crosses with confectionery?

I gulp and my tongue turns to gravel. I ask Dave for the ring again. If he doesn’t show me the ring I will punch his beard off his chin.

Dave shows me the ring.

I don’t punch his beard off his chin.

Mirror shoes, check. Waistcoat straightened for the eighth time, check. Collar readjusted, check. Paranoia there’s one item I haven’t checked pulses through my body.

My bride strolls up the aisle with her father.

I clamber out from the pew. Louise is veiled in white as a snow queen in the fog.
Dave stands beside me, my ring in standby mode.

A vicar older than dust reads the vows and ‘till death us do part’ swirls across the altar.

I say, ‘I will.’

What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

We sign the register and face the congregation as husband and wife. I beam at everyone until the onset of lockjaw. The congregation beams back elation and hope and false teeth. We navigate down the aisle through shaking hands. Small children point. Women kiss me with the fervour of my dreams. A hat pylon almost prises out my eyeball.

The man who tapped his watch jabs a finger at my flies. Open. Curse that one item.
I zip myself up at the end of the aisle, before leaving the church. Even God must have a sense of humour.

I meander past gravestones crooked with moss and memories. The church bells ring. Our guests wave as camera flashes explode the horizon. I stand with Louise and our photographer coordinates the poses pre- and post-confetti until my ability to smile matches the skeleton’s.

We scamper into the back of our chauffeur-driven car.

We kiss.

I am so tall I tickle the clouds.

At the reception, the evening slot passes without major incident, excluding the accidental swallowing of two mysteriously cake-shaped disposable cameras. Louise’s choice of a 1980s retro theme satisfies: the DJ’s speakers shudder beside rows of pulsating rainbow lights while ‘Agadoo’, ‘YMCA’ and ‘The Birdie Song’ never sound so fresh (for the intoxicated). Little children slide across the wooden disco floor on their knees. Big in-laws drink too much and become outlaws for the night. The man who tapped his watch is one of Louise’s cousins and he ends the night with his face buried in the toilet bowl.
I begin to doubt my atheism.

My wife and I fly to America for our honeymoon. We land in Las Vegas on a 9/11 anniversary and security frisks my bride. Louise isn’t a terrorist, she just enjoys it. We spend one night sauntering along the Strip where giant domino hotels pierce the sky. People wander past in shorts and shirts as an electronic billboard reveals 11.45pm and 85ºF. Vegas by night offers a carnival of neon yet a drab mediocrity cloaks the city by day.

We hire the obligatory gas blazing V8 and scratch west through the grit of Death Valley: yee - and indeed - haw. Yosemite National Park presents a wilderness of granite and waterfalls. San Francisco wafts an ambience of European relaxation. I enjoy the tourist clichés of Chinatown and the cable cars, though the rusting prison on Alcatraz Island stinks like a can of sardines. We lasso Monterey, Hollywood, Lake Havasu and the Hoover Dam. I love the Grand Canyon the most. So does Louise. My bride says it is huge and almost too vast to take in, which I think is a terrific compliment on a honeymoon night.

Five of my lovers acted like rabid Conservatives. Nine declared themselves as conservatives with a small ‘C’. Several behaved as the rude word beginning with ‘C’. One drowned at sea. She wasn’t the atheist.

All 16 women suffered the twenty-first-century disease of insisting they were overweight. None was physically. At least three were obese from their intake of scarred memories, yet who isn’t?

Six women loved cooking. One detested my gastronomic attempts and hovered in the kitchen to criticise. I once asked where I could be of most use and she said Pluto.
Eleven adored milk chocolate. Five preferred their chocolate dark. Like their men, I later discovered from Facebook.

Only one never dieted. The others despised her whenever I mentioned her name (Sienna).
Three lovers were lawyers. Two were doctors. One was a nurse. Several more nursed nothing but grievances. Each day I hope they are healing.

Five of the women told me they loved me. One evening it hurt so much I wanted to cry, so instead I suggested the much less painful missionary position.
Ten of my 16 adored wearing lingerie in the bedroom. I wore nothing other than a smile and my birthday suit. And handcuffs, thanks to the sex-strong Scorpio.

One of our marathon love-making sessions lasted a whole nine minutes, though that included the time it took to butter the toast.

Two lovers scored me eight point five out of 10 for my bedroom antics. I often contemplate if the half point was personal. One lover even awarded me a minus score for my sexual prowess. A couple demanded their money back. One woman’s camcorder failed under warranty and she submitted an insurance claim of ‘mechanical failure owing to the ingress of chocolate sauce’.

Only one lover asked me to reveal my favourite sex games. At midnight - after a bottle of Chilean red - she insisted she’d try anything to please me and kept asking me what games I liked. I said Scrabble.

No one suggested using sheep in our love-making. Was I the animal in the bedroom?
Five lovers wanted children with me. One lover wanted five children with me. I wanted the exit.

All 16 insisted they were honest and conviction-free. I believed them. As far as I know none were psychopaths or mentally deranged.

One was Welsh. One woman was Swedish. I did notice the difference. Two of my lovers were Italian, two were French. One boasted she was from Brazil. Another boasted how she had a Brazilian. She showed me and I was so shocked I fell over my tripod. One lover was born in San Francisco, though she insisted she wasn’t conceived in Nob Hill.
Six drank tea. Eight drank coffee. The other two just drank.

Three adored watching waves bubble along a deserted beach. Two adored watching hailstones jitter against tarmac. The sex-strong Scorpio adored watching me do naked press-ups over a candle.

Only one lover was a twin, which was surprising.

I hungered to marry four of them, though not all at once. One cracked soul did agree to my proposal, yet kept the engagement ring. And vanished. She wasn’t the atheist.
How many wished I’d never been born?

Amy, Carrie (not a Stephen King fan), Claire, Davina, Emmanuelle, Florence (I preferred the city), Giovanna, Luxana, Melanie, Michelle (two of them), Penny, Roberta, Samantha, Sienna (the non-dieter) and Sophia (the multiple chicken clucker).

Each lover taught me about life, about the magnificence of women. I now realise how to make a woman laugh. And cry. I now understand the female erogenous zones are nowhere near Gibraltar.
We shared memories and sweat and toothbrushes. Should I have grappled with my conscience or just the handcuffs?

How we love is not important. It matters only that we do.

Sixteen women, 16 lovers. One ex-wife.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

The End

As I write ‘The End’, I’ve noticed I get the same feelings as I do when I read those words at the end of a good book.

I’ve recently finished writing my second teenage book, ‘Let’s Go Round Again’ (in case there’re any Agents out there who might be interested *waves*) which is about a 16 year old girl who finds herself transported to 1979 and has to try and live with her own teenaged mother whilst she finds a way back to 2010. And it’s been an absolute pleasure to write… well, the middle was a bit testing, but then at my age, I’m getting used to feeling a bit saggy around my mid-parts.

And you can’t write a book without forming relationships with the characters you’re writing about. You just love them. To bits. Even the bad guys. In fact you kind of love them even more because you made them that way – and you know why they’re that way. Their nastiness emanates from your imagination after all, so it’s not their fault. You’re their Parent; the Creator. And it’s natural you’re going to miss them. You gave life to them, you’ve been with them through the lows, the highs, the lights, the darks and every shade in between – they’re your baby chicks. And even though the voyage isn’t always smooth (in fact the more arduous it is, the more memorable) you’re going to worry that those events which helped shape the outcome were definitely there for the greater good and not just squeezed in for pleasant distraction - a.k.a. word count.

So, writing ‘the end’, for me anyway, is such a painful pleasure. Half of me doesn’t want to let go, the other is giddy with delight that the journey has finally reached its conclusion and that now everyone has their happy ending. Or at least an end.

And it’s the same with a good book. After I’d put down ‘The Help’ by Kathryn Stockett - the first Good Book I read this year - I felt almost bereft with grief when I felt those two final words creeping up. In fact at three quarters of the way through, I’d started to ration my reading so that it would prolong the agony of reaching the end, and yet I still felt the familiar slug to the stomach; as if I was about to lose an intrinsically important part of my life. I was going to miss all those people who’d become such a bit part of my life. And when they weren’t there anymore, living their lives before me – with me - I felt a kind of bereavement.

So after the euphoria of finishing writing my own book, I now feel the same way. Following the familiar 24 hours of buzzing with elation at having penned another ‘whole book’, the adrenaline has started to wear off and the knowledge that these people I’ve breathed life into have ended their particular journey with me, let the curtain down on the dizzy extravaganza that I’ve sat and cheered and snarled and cried in turns through. I feel like some friends I’d made (up) have just… gone.
And if that sounds a tad over-sentimental, then I can’t apologise because that’s precisely how I feel when it comes to
the end
But of course, the re-writes and the edits mean I’ll be popping in to improve their journey and, who knows, I’ve heard sequels and prequels are pretty hot these days too…so it might never really be
the end
at all.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

It just takes one




I’ve been thinking about the extraordinarily random luck involved in getting published. I subbed my children’s novel to a good many agents and had a strong strike rate, with seven agents calling in the full thing. But each heart-breaking, heart-stopping time, the ultimate answer was no.


The reasons varied, but very often I would hear the words ‘just such a difficult market’ and ‘just so hard to convince editors these days.’ I decided my book was simply too ‘quiet’ to make its way in these difficult times and set about writing something in-yer-face and full-on High Concept with sci-fi bells and whistles. But before I did that, I sent my book to one of the few publishers who take direct submissions, the independent children’s publisher Piccadilly Press. And then forgot about it. Well, sort of. I never really believed anything would come of it anyway and had mentally moved on.

But, incredibly, something has come of it.

First, there was an email asking for the full. Then an email asking if I was willing to make some revisions, and then a few nerve wracking back and forths later, an offer. I’m still not quite able to believe it and think if I talk about it too much [much less blab on the internet....oops] then the whole thing will turn out to have been a dream or a cruel joke.

But I’ve got several very talented friends [you know who you are] whose work is equally deserving but haven’t managed to hop up that last step yet.
I want to say to everyone out there who is feeling down about the bruising, painful business of submitting their work...

IT JUST TAKES ONE.

One person to read your work and really connect with it. Okay so if we’re being picky, agents still have to convince a publisher and commissioning editors still have to convince their sales team. But if you have someone batting for you, you’re a whole lot closer to your dream coming true.

If you really believe in that novel, have revised it, got a professional opinion, revised it again and believe it is the best it can be, then don’t give up.

Send out another handful of submissions and then get on with the next story while you wait.

Remember, it just takes one.

Monday, 21 June 2010

A WALK ON THE WILD SIDE



In my ‘other’ life as an artist, I make collages. I cut words and images from magazines and arrange them into tiny worlds on a card backing. Many have an inherent narrative, and each has its own atmosphere. An Olympic swimmer balances on the back of a skeleton horse, serenaded by a fat man blowing a giant horn. A child gazes out from her nest of open-tongued lilies, while black hounds bark 'This Is Now'.

When I first began making them, I’d work diligently within the card frame. But gradually, it became important to allow images to ‘break out’ of the frame. In one of this week’s collages, a pair of turtles swim outwards, their flippers sweeping air; a swallow hovers above and a sheaf of wheat grows through the frame and out. For me, these are messages from my creative self: it's time to return to the wild.

Writers and artists – indeed, anyone in the act of creating – are not domestic creatures, even though we may spend vast tracts of time in the domestic arena, hunched over the laptop or the canvas. We are not made to live within the confines of society's expectations of us. We are made to live free, in the wilds of the imagination; we pad through the brush of the eccentric, the idiosyncratic. We are the outsiders looking in.

We begin life as unfettered creatures, our ideas and inspirations running free. Full of life, full of our ideas and full of ourselves in the very best sense.
Then we begin to learn. And the process of learning, whilst necessary for improvement, may also run the risk of becoming a process of domestication, or, more precisely, institutionalisation. As we learn ‘how’ to write, we become - quite rightly - aware of the parameters set by the industry we’re aiming to write for. We learn that adjectives and adverbs are anathema, that we must Show rather than Tell. We learn that Publisher X only looks at novellas and that Agent Y will only take a synopsis of at least five pages. We learn that Paranormal is the new black, and that Angels are the new Vampires. All good information. However, too much focus on such parameters can cause them to mutate into walls, then bars - and these can, over time, cause us to shrink, to wither into something a little less than we are. We begin to become careful, too aware of what ‘they’ out there require of us. Our writerly eyes become dull with the effort of ‘fitting in’, of doing it right. Our roars become muted. Our coats become dry and matted as the rejections drop through the letterbox.

And our writing becomes good, but bland. Unfaultable, yet somehow without life. We have become tame.

Rules may well help to shape us into better writers, but they are a process to pass through rather than an end to be attained. We would be foolish to commit to them for life. There's a time to move beyond the rules, to break back out into the wild, to find that unique voice or concept or whatever-it-is that defines us as an individual in spite of the accepted norm.

The irony is it’s these flashes of wildness in us that are what can propel a book into the stratosphere. It’s the wild books that win the Booker – or which crash, like Icarus, into the sea of rejection. That’s the risk.

Back in my thirties, I read Women Who Run With The Wolves by storyteller Clarissa Pinkola Estes, and again and again since - it's now almost fallen to pieces. It's a remarkable book about creativity, and I heartily recommend it to anyone seeking out her (or his) wild, forgotten side. One line stands out for me:

"I love my creative life more than I love cooperating with my own oppression.'

Because, surely, that's what it's about, this thing called creativity. Yes, we must learn. Yes, we must be aware and mature. But please may we never forget the unique, who-gives-a-fuck side of ourselves who will otherwise call to us forever from whatever wild place it inhabits, longing for our return.

As poet David Whyte puts it:

"In a sense, at crucial and difficult thresholds in our life, the part of us that is most at home is the part of us that for most the time has no home at all. The part of us that lives outside normal rules. We have a gleam in the eye; we look to the edges of things; no-one really knows what we are up to; we see with the eyes of those who do not quite belong. We are dangerous again, and glad to be so."

Friday, 18 June 2010

Team sports


I love doing readings or Q&As at writing groups and libraries. They're my absolutely best gigs.
Worst, in case you're wondering, are book signings in book shops...Lord, how bloody dreadful they are. No one buys a book or speaks to you. Hours go by, until the staff take pity and start making you cuppas.
Anyways, as I say, I love a good writer's group. I'm not sure how good for business they are in the long run, but yapping about writing with other writers is the most fun you can have outside a hotel room.
Yes, the same stuff comes up again and again. But I don't mind that because there's always something new to challenge and inspire. I rarely leave without my mind working over time.
The last one I did was no exception. I'd been invited in the Winter, when book three came out. But it snowed, then the kids got ill, then the volcanic blinking ash cloud kept me in Bangkok. So I finally got there this week.
They were a great bunch. Lively and incredibly creative. One of the members read out a short story that was feckin' brilliant.
What really surprised me on this occasion, though, was when the subject of literary agents raised its ugly head. This is a regular feature of course, and generally takes the form of an interogation into how I secured mine. And some pushy bugger will sometimes ask if I can recommend his WIP.
This time, though, things took a different turn.
After the initial question of whether I have an agent, I was then asked, point blank, why I bothered.
Why couldn't I just sub my work directly to a publisher? Why would I pay someone 15% to do a job I could do myself. Writers are, I was told, the best champions of their own work.
Before I had a chance to catch my breath another writer asked me why any artist would want to impair their creative freedoms by having an agent? They insisted on revisions didn't they? And what gave them the right? Who set them up as the gatekeepers of fiction?
The discussion went on until the end of the session and then continued in the pub.
And I've been thinking about it ever since. Trying to settle my own views. I mean, I don't jump with joy when I see my agent's cut from my advances and royalties so why pay it?
Being honest here, the main reason is of course, that my agent has been successful. He has sold all my books to date. I don't have anything unpublished under my bed and I'm contracted for another three. He did all that. I wouldn't have known where to start.
I guess, I could have looked up the various publishers, and sent my subs in, but I won't fool myself into thinking that this would have opened as many doors as a simple phone call from someone who has been in the biz for years. It's all about contacts.
Wrong? Maybe. But I'd rather deal with the reality of any situation and turn it to my advantage than try to fight it.
In this respect, I am, I'm afraid, not my best advocate. Perhaps I'm just too British. Either way, the thought of going out and flogging gives me the shivers.
As for foreign deals. Well, come on, I have A level French. How could I possibly?
Telly rights? C'mon. This is me, not Richard Curtis. I'm just some northern bird who needs her roots doing. I'd be laughed out of court.
So ultimately, I have an agent because he can sell...maybe other writers could do this. But not me.
But it's more than that, even.
When things go wrong, and they do, he is my bad cop. Horrid covers? Arguments over edits? Disagreements over money? He da man.
I like a warm, trusting relationship with my editor, and most certainly do not want to end up bickering over my next title. Let my agent do all that. Behind the scenes.
Again, I'm sure there are more forthright types than me who can battle it out. I'm a wimp. Guilty as charged.
Anything else? Defintely.
Writing can be a funny old business. The worry worm can hit at any time. Or even a full blown attack from The Fear. Then there are the rejections, the bum reviews, the poor sales. But with an agent, you're never alone. He's on my side. He cheers me on. We're a team.
I've often heard it said, that diamonds are a girl's best friend. But I'm sticking with an agent.
Should others? Well that's a personal choice. But it's one that should, I feel, be taken in full knowledge of what it is they actually do.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Quickfire Questions with best selling author Amanda Craig


Which 3 writers, living or dead, would you invite to dinner?

Shakespeare, Dickens and Keats. Shakespeare because it would be like meeting God; Dickens because he's the Shakespeare of novelists and would be tremendous company, and Keats is my third great hero not least for struggling on up Parnassus despite the most dreadful disappointments and ill-health, and because he would have so loved to meet Shakespeare.

What's your favourite writing snack?

I wish I could say it is something recherche like quails eggs but it's Divine chocolate.

Longhand or computer?
Longhand for my diary, which I keep every day for planning, notes and interviews for novels, computer for actual writing. It helps get over the terror of the blank page.

Tabloid or broadsheet?
There's little difference these days, but broadsheet (The Telegraph). It's been stimulating to read the paper that was in opposition to the existing Government, but it also has the best news coverage. But I also read The Times and The Indepdendent on other days, and the Guardian online.

Independent bookshop or Amazon?

Both. My favourite bookshop is Primrose Hill, which has always been fantastically supportive, but I get quite a lot from Amazon and the Book Depository, and also from second-hand bookshops in small West Country towns.

Hacker or adder?

Both. That stage is fun - you've got something to shape and play with. It's the raw material that feels like ripping your guts out.

Plotter or panter?

Both, at different stages. I always know the general shape of a story, but I'm often as much in the dark about how my characters get there as anyone else. Eventually, I make a list of old-fashioned chapter headings with what happens in each very briefly - I find the Edwardian method, which I learnt from PG Wodehouse's notes, very helpful. I also listen to a lot of classical music, particularly by Bach. I like music that is rigorous and shapely.

You really must read…

As much as you can that's good. There are no other rules. Read for pleasure and enlightenment, and if a book is still boring you after 80 pages, give up.

I wish I had written….

At the moment, Elizabeth Jenkins's The Tortoise and the Hare, recently re-published by Virago. It's a stunningly good novel about a woman powerless before her husband's affair with a neighbour, written in searing prose; and it actually has an unexpectedly uplifting ending.

I get most excited by…Living.

If I wasn’t a writer I would be…

A doctor. I wanted to be a doctor originally but wasn't good enough at maths. But I love the stories about people that doctors pass on to me.

An author should never…
See other authors as rivals. We are all in the gutter looking up at the stars.


Nice questions! Thanks for asking...

Amanda is the author of six novels. Her latest is Hearts and Minds

She is also the book critic for The Times. Amanda blogs here

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Happy Bloomsday!



Bloomsday is an event celebrated annually to commemorate the life of the great Irish writer James Joyce, one of the most influential of the twentieth century. And visitors to Dublin today (June 16) can relive the exciting events of his epic novel Ulysees, and follow in the footsteps of the one and only Leopold Bloom.

The Bloomsday celebrations offer a wide range of cultural activities including readings from Ulysees as well as dramatisations featuring people in full dress and pub visits. Apparently hardline Joyceans have been known to hold readings of the entire novel, often lasting up to two days.

It is very much a tradition in Dublin to dress up and go out for the day, visiting the locations of the book and enjoying the excerpts, walks and other activities associated with Ulysees.

The partying has been going on all week, but an event running today (Wednesday) is worth flagging up. If you happen to be in Ireland, go along and take part in the Bloomsday Walk which runs all day (check times). It will pass some of the most important Northside locations, taking in Belvedere College, Eccles Street, Leopold and Molly Bloom’s house, and a number of other Joycean locations around Parnell Square and O'Connell Street.

Also today (Wednesday) running from 11am to 4pm at Meeting House Square in the Temple Bar district is an afternoon of readings and songs from Ulysses. Audience participation is a major part so bring along your copy and read your favourite excerpt. There will also be musical performances from Ulysees featuring Deirdre Masterson, pianist, Dearbhla Brosnan and other guest soloists. It is free and open to all ages. The film 'Bloom' will also be screened today at Cineworld in Parnell Square. This is Sean Walsh's adaptation of Joyce's love story of Molly and Leopold Bloom.

And it's not just in the Irish republic where people go mad for James Joyce. The Syracuse James Joyce Club holds an annual Bloomsday celebration in New York where participants read excerpts from the book and dramatise parts of it. You can also party on down Joycean-style in the Norwegian capital Oslo, or in Philadelphia, Sydney or Melbourne. The list goes on....

If you haven't read Ulysees, you really should make the effort because it's a legendary book. It's much easier than War and Peace if that puts your mind at ease. Happy Bloomsday to you all. And remember - no matter where you are today, pay tribute to the great James Joyce.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywsgRH_qPXE&feature=related

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Not Everybody's Cup of Tea

I've become a bit fussy in my old age. And I've also found that once you hit a certain age, you actually  worry less about being seen to be fussy.  Case in point has to be a Nice Cup of Tea/Coffee.
I'm sure I never used to care much about the qualities of a cuppa.  If someone asked "d'you want one" I'd nod and drink whatever was placed in front of me - but then  in my youth there wasn't a great deal of Tea consumption going on - there were other beverages far more enjoyable around, weren't there?
So nowadays I don't fret that there might be raised eyebrows from the Tea Provider when I pipe up with "can I put my own milk in please... I'm a bit fussy" - because, seriously, what CAN you say to that? I know what I like and I know how I like it, thanks.  No apologies necessary.  We can't all like the same things, otherwise where would the queue for Russell Brand end...? although even he could do with (in my opinion) being cross-bred with Johnny Depp for optimum effect - but then that's just me.
So what does my Frankensteinian musing of a Brand/Depp combo have to do with writing I hear you ask?
Well,  it struck me that the fussiness over how my tea should taste, equates to precisely the same in terms of how I like my books to 'taste' - both in reading and writing.
In my youth, I would never have hurled a book across the room at warp speed and punch the air victoriously as it landed in the only place I considered fit for consumption (WPB).  Nope, I would slog on through, determined to read every last word because after all, if it was deemed worthy of publication, there must surely be something wrong with ME if I didn't like it.  I was clearly literately sub-normal if I wasn't enjoying it.  Even though I drew absolutely no pleasure from it whatsoever.  The Muppetry of youth (mine I mean - you were probably far better balanced as a child).
Of course the 'slogging on through' mentality was probably a throwback from schooldays and English Lit lessons, where you HAD to read to the end of the book/play/mind-numbingly dreary stanzas because that's what you were there to do.  Throwing Henry IV Part I into the bin for it's laborious qualities would surely have resulted in a fate far worse that the wrath of the teacher.  But I digress.
For these days I have no such concerns.  If a book doesn't quite give me the 'taste' my literary buds are hankering for, then I have to place it on a 3-Step Programme (for it's own good, of course).
1.  It is allowed to 'rest' for a while, whilst it considers it's options. During which time I might take up another book in an attempt to rid myself of the sour taste the other has left behind.
2.  Then it is given a second chance, whereby I will try to overlook dreary, convoluted, un-credible sections which irritated me in the first place and skip to the meaty stuff.  But if this skipping becomes too cardio-vascular and to the detriment of the story, causing me to lose the plot....
3.  Then it's a one way-ticket to the File in the corner of the room I'm afraid.
Same with the Work-in-Progress.  If it's boring me, not getting the taste buds salivating, making me yearn for a spot of hoovering or (very bad sign) dusting, then it's abandoned.  Forget the crash trolley, it's too late.  The WIP becomes an RIP.
Blame it on my age but I know what I like.
And life's too short to put up with a less than lip-smacking brew, don't you think?

Monday, 14 June 2010

Greetings from Rooney the Rhino!

Strictly Writing's very own Rod Vincent has sent us this picture from his World Cup adventure in South Africa!

The rhino, nicknamed Rooney, had to be moved from one part of Mattanu Game Reserve to another, so vet Johan Kriek darted it from a helicopter and there was a chance for a quick photo opportunity.

It sounds like Rod is having a brilliant time - let's hope he has some great stories to tell about England victories on his return!


Photo © Jess Baker

Friday, 11 June 2010

A Few of My Favourite Things

Recently, I was trying to find a pressie for a writer friend of mine which prompted the idea for this post. There are SO many fabulous things out there; some practical, some shiny, some useful, some useless but funny (UBF) but all are worth having! Prices range from cheap as chips to pricey - there's something for every pocket. Alas, I haven't been able to post pictures of them but please do follow the links...So, here are a few of my favourite writerly things:


1.Practical selection of mugs:
She is too fond of books....” mug
"Writers block" mug
"Easy reading is damned hard writing" mug

2. Shiny and beautiful colour coffee machine


3. Practical selection of bags:


5. Practical and Funny Careful or you'll end up in my novel Tee Shirt


7. Practical and gorgeous Moleskin notebook


8. Yummy, practical Bed desk


11. UBF I am a Writer stickers


12. A massage – no website link for obvious reasons...


13. Pricey but amazing digital pen – wow!


14. Shiny and fabulous "Writing Rules" poster!


15. Shiny Writers remedy jar of words

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

OH, BROTHER


MARCUS BENTLEY VOICE-OVER:
Seven twenty-one pm.
Susie is in the study.
She appears to be busy writing a novel.
In fact, she has been given a Secret Task.
She is writing a post for Strictly…


Here it comes again – for possibly the final time. Tonight, seventy-nine crazy, egotistical and desperate wannabes will fight to win the (apparent) privilege of entering the Big Brother house. Among the would-be housemates are a neuroscientist, an ex Royal servant and a one-legged author. By midnight, the chosen few will be ensconced, their every flaunt, bitch and bicker recorded, edited and transmitted to the viewing public. Of whom (of which?) I’ll be one.

Big Brother is the Marmite of television. It’s fashionable for journalists to view it with contempt, to describe it as the lowest common denominator of entertainment whilst writing about it with great glee: it is, after all, the bread and Brother of their trade. Even the curmudgeonly John Humphrys writes a scathing article about the way reality television has lowered the tone of television, whilst omitting to mention that he’s taken part in just such a show himself - Art School - from which he did not emerge particularly well.

So what’s Big Brother got to do with writing, you may well ask? Apart from, in my case, being yet another excuse for procrastination?

It’s the psychology, see. A strange alchemy occurs when you place a Baker’s Dozen of people into the oven that is the Big Brother house for three months, and stir well. Tempers – and passions – are liable to heat up and rise. Alliances will form and break, enemies will be made, secrets will be extracted. And while this particular process is more likely to create lead than gold, the whole watching experience can be treasure indeed for the writer.

What an opportunity. To observe what happens. To try to predict what will happen next. Character, plot, dialogue, conflict – it’s all there on a plate. Indeed, it could be said that the BB producers have to manage the series just as a writer would a novel. The characters must be eccentric, intriguing or attractive. The opening scenes must be gripping. There must be plenty of rising tension, often resulting in out-and-out conflict, interspersed with a fair bit of comic release. A love interest - or preferably more than one - is necessary, and this too must follow an obstacle-strewn path towards either a passionate resolution or a terrifying burnout. Oh, and a baddie is always a Good Thing (who can forget Nasty Nick Bateman?) Like a Whodunnit, at least one character must bite the dust each week. And the end must be satisfying, as the winner emerges in a shower of fireworks and stumbles ecstatically into Davina’s waiting arms.

One of the greatest flaws of the Big Brother concept is its beginning. Too many characters are introduced too quickly. And they’re too busy creating and maintaining the facades of their ‘personalities’. Little do they realise that it’s these very facades which create an impenetrable barrier between themselves and the readers…er, viewing public. Things only begin to become fascinating as those facades disintegrate and fall away, revealing truer drives and motivations. These people must be seen to be fighting for their lives. To stay in the house, they must form alliances. To stay in the house, they must be individual. To stay in the house, they must be endearing. Yet it’s likely that they will, in time, forget the cameras and revert to acting out the patterns they experienced in their own families as children.

And the similarity to the challenges of novel-writing doesn't end here. There’s always the danger of the viewers losing interest half way through. A doughy middle is death to a tv series, as it is to a novel (or, indeed, a novelist). When the housemates are reduced to sitting around the pool with slices of pizza and talking about the weather, it’s time for the producers to wake them up and notch up the tension.

And of course, the last chapter must be gripping. Who can forget Nikki and Pete’s final reconciliation, or Nadia’s tearful exit? The very best series leave the viewers longing for more – preferably a sequel. Knowing that this is the last brings a missing-you-already nostalgia to the story that’s about to unfold.

MARCUS BENTLEY VOICE-OVER:
Eight-fifty-nine pm.
Susie is in the kitchen in front of the telly with a large bar of Green & Black.
Susie’s novel is alone in the study…


That’s why, in spite of all the invective, raised eyebrows and contempt, Big Brother, I’ll be Watching You tonight.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

What kind of reader are you?




I’ve been thinking about reading habits and whether you can you make judgements about a person based on the way they behave around books. I think the answer is probably 'Hell, yes!'
Take this quiz and find out whether you are a biblio-star or a biblio-slut.


Answer this question. ‘I keep my books...’
a) ‘Alphabetically arranged or by author. It’s important that my shelves are neat.’
b) ‘Not in any particular order but I usually know where things are.’
c) ‘I have to negotiate my way round the teetering piles in order to locate the washbasket and find my clean pants.’

You ask to borrow a novel from a friend. What best sums up his/her inner reaction?
a) ‘Oh, it’s always a pleasure lending a book to you. You always look after them so well.’
b) ‘No problem. I know I’ll get it back some time.’
c) ‘Oh God, maybe I can change the subject and distract her. Hmm...maybe I will lend it but insist she keeps it in a plastic bag. I’ve seen the inside of her handbag and no book of mine is going in there without protection.’

When you’re reading a book do you:
a) Take care not to open the pages too much, so you can ensure the spine remains unbroken.
b) Stay pretty relaxed about it, but prefer to keep your books in good condition.
c) Like to get comfy when you’re reading. Your idea of bliss is to have a book flat on the table so you can read and eat at the same time. You can always get the ketchup off if you’re quick enough.

You’re reading something you’re not enjoying that much. Do you:
a) Soldier on. Once you’ve started something, you will see it through to the end.
b) Force yourself to read 100 pages before you make a decision. If you’re still not enjoying it, you’ll put it to one side.
c) Think ‘bugger this for a game of soldiers, life’s too short’. The book’s going in the Oxfam pile if it hasn’t grabbed you by page 30.

Where do you read?
a) In bed at night. Your current book is on my bedside table [this also holds some tissues in a chrome case and one of those nice blue bottles of spring water].
b) On the way to work and in bed mainly.
c) Everywhere. Bus queues, bank queues, on the toilet, in the bath. In bed. The bath is your favourite place, even though you often drop your reading material and have to dry it on a radiator afterwards.


Mostly As
To say you’re anally retentive would be an understatement. You probably have a special duster for your books and take more pleasure in keeping them nice than you do in reading them. Live dangerously...go and put something back in the wrong place just to see if you can bear it.

Mostly Bs
Congratulations. You’re a very normal, balanced person. Award yourself a Biblio Star. Just don’t bore yourself to death first.

Mostly Cs
Face it – you’re a Biblio Slut. You’re probably the kind of person who bends pages back or uses old bus tickets as bookmarks. Hey, you know when you ask to borrow a book from a friend and they say, ‘Oh I think I’ve just given that to someone else? Here’s a newsflash...they’re lying. Your punishment is to go and live with the Mostly A person for a week until one of you murders the other.

[*Sadly this example comes from real life.]

Monday, 7 June 2010

Workshop opportunity for writers

Innovative indie publisher Legend Press is giving writers the chance to meet and present their work to three top authors.

The event will take place on Saturday 10 July at King's College, London, from 12 noon – 4pm and will give you the opportunity to get feedback on your own work from:

Bonnie Greer
Bonnie is an author, playright and political commentator, who has become a regular on our TV screens, and one of the most high profile writers of the last year. She has also acted as a judge for the Orange Prize for Fiction and her latest book, OBAMA MUSIC, was included in Blackwell’s Paperbacks of the Year.

Zoë Jenny
Zoë’s first novel, THE POLLEN ROOM, sold into 27 languages and made her the highest-selling Swiss debut novelist in history. She has since written a number of hit novels and, in June 2010, THE SKY IS CHANGING launches, her first novel written in English as she looks to become one of the first bestselling novelists writing in more than one language.

Nick Griffiths
Nick has had five books published across three publishers, witnessing the full range of what large and small publishers can offer. His books include acclaimed Doctor Who titles, DALEK I LOVED YOU and WHO GOES THERE, and IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF HARRISON DEXTROSE, which has been described as the new HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY.

The cost is £100 plus VAT. There are only 30 places available, so if you're interested, don't delay!

To book or to find out more, email
conference@legend-paperbooks.co.uk quoting WORKSHOP.


Strictly Writing is not involved with organising this event, so if you have any queries, please contact Legend Press directly on the email address above.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Into The Pink?


Sometimes I feel a little left out. You see, I want to fit in with the crowd, but I don't read contemporary women's fiction, despite being female. And I hate telling people I don't read it. So I never mention it publicly. Until now of course.

Part of me thinks I should feign an interest in this genre? Should I educate myself on Maeve Binchy and ......um.....my mind goes blank when I try to recall another women's fiction author? Uh...Cecilia Ahern?

Oh dear. Sometimes I feel like an oddity. When browsing in Waterstones, I make pfaffing noises at the plethora of pink covers which often take up a full shelf. I take on board the point that chick lit books are often good character studies and they leave you smiling at the end, which I supposes is what the majority of readers seek in escapist fiction.

Sometimes I feel I need to fit in. When someone asks me 'oh you like reading?' and I say 'yes, yes I do' they then ask me if I have read the new one from Cecilia Ahern. Actually I've heard of Cecilia. But I have to say 'no, actually I prefer *awkward cough* literary type stuff, you know. Stuff with a bit of depth to it.' They give me weird looks, then ask me what it is and I try to explain.

'Misery memoirs?' they ask.
'Um, yes, sort of, but honestly, they're not that depressing. You really should read some. I usually take two to three to read on holiday.'
'So you don't read Cecilia Ahern?'
'No.'

I have no interest in reading about shoes, dating or relationships. I assume this is what women's commercial fiction is about. I apologise for this ignorance but I simply give the books a wide berth. Just like any genre, I suppose, you have your good and your bad. And I can't really shoot down books I haven't read, can I? That would be grossly unfair.

I admit I have read a few chick lit type books, although you could count them on one hand. A few summers ago when I had booked annual leave for a holiday to Nowhere, I spent two weeks lying on the bed listening to the rain while reading some chick-lit. Yes, chick lit. And I laughed at Getting Rid of Matthew. What a funny book, so I browsed around and found a few authors I thought I'd like. I made a mental note of them.

So after I finish writing this blog, I'm popping over to my Amazon wish list and adding some light chick lit for summer reading. Yes, chick lit. Why not? That's where I need your help. I need some suggestions, perhaps one or two you think I'd like.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

The River In Egypt

I’ve successfully avoided writing (apart from my last post) now for about...well, lots of days. How many, I’m not sure but I’d stab a guess at about twenty four. Twenty Four! I hear you all exclaim. That’s not days, that’s almost four weeks! But up until this moment in time, I haven’t wanted to face that. I’ve been happily ignoring the passage of time on that river in Egypt. ‘De Nile’ as they called it in the Dublin I grew up in.


Denial, I have learned since my Irish childhood, is a wonderful thing. I like to think of it as the mind’s way of telling you it’s alright to delay facing the truth. Especially when the truth means admitting I’m lost. Yes, lost. And it looks nothing like that exotic island that Sawyer lived on (yum, yum, but I digress...) It looks more like empty greyness and feels a little scary.

So, in deciding this morning that I’ve got to face facts and get back to my writing, I’ve also had to confront what happened? There are reasons and excuses, of course. I was away for one week of those twenty four days, on holiday – always a laptop free zone. But all those other days, well I wasn’t packing and unpacking for seventeen days, was I?

I know it’s okay to take a break from writing, but in the past its something I’ve done consciously. When I’ve needed time out from the process, I’ve given myself permission to do just that, enjoyed it and then went back as soon as it felt right. But this is different. Right now, I WANT to be writing. I NEED to be writing. I have lots of things I want to write; characters, scenes, all screaming to be heard like naughty children refusing to behave. So why have I done nothing with them, ignored their pleas, stuck my fingers firmly in my ears and chosen to iron shirts, phone my mother, or watch Jeremy Kyle? (yes, I admit it – the lure of the telly was strong that morning) And why having done all that, have I pretended I didn’t?
Part of the reason is because I haven’t yet decided on the exact project I want to concentrate on. Lots of things are begging to be written but there’s no coherence yet. To date, I’ve written two novels. And though I’ve dabbled in other things whilst writing them over the last three years, they have been the main events. And since finishing and submitting book two (Er, okay...Here’s where I admit that I haven’t finished submitting book two. Shit. This is turning into a therapy session...)

Where was I? Yes, since finishing book two, I’ve started and dismissed three versions of two possible novels. And nothing feels right. The fact that I’m not speeding ahead splurging a first draft like has happened before, more than likely means that none of these novel ideas are the right one to pursue – which means back to the drawing board – which means...AAARRRRGGGHHH!

See this is why denial, though grey and scary when confronted, has a certain attraction when ignored.

Facing facts, I know I’ve been in denial because it’s just damned hard sometimes. I just don’t have a clear vision of book three yet. And I feel I should have and I’m scared. What if all these ideas still roaming around my head remain just that? Roaming, silly ideas – none good enough to form the hooky basis of a plot with exciting vibrant characters... What if I can’t write a book three? And what if I do and I end up filing it away with book one and two?

All scary stuff.
But I have now confronted the monster.
And in clearing my head, allowed some space for coherence.
At least, that’s the theory. Watch this space for the practise...

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Clumsy, vulgar and unspeakably idiotic


Those of you who read my history blog, The Quack Doctor, (shameless plug!) will know that I have an interest in 18th- and 19th-century medical advertising. My research for the blog involves looking at a lot of old newspapers, periodicals and pamphlets, and I often find snippets that aren't relevant to what I'm working on but that nevertheless deserve to see the light of day. The following are all genuine Victorian (mainly 1890s) jokes about writing. They come from newspaper humour columns, and show that some things never change:
.

Editor (to aspiring writer): You should write so that the most ignorant understand what you mean.
Aspirant: Well, what part of my paragraph don't you understand, sir?

*********************************

The Poet: Did she think my sonnet was good?
Friend: She must have – she didn't believe you wrote it.

*********************************

'Has the editor read my poem?' asked the long-haired young man.
'I don't know for sure,' replied the office boy. 'He was taken away in a strait-waistcoat this morning.'

*********************************

'You wish to join our staff as proof-reader?'
Applicant: 'Yes, sir.'
'Do you understand the requirement of that responsible position?'
'Perfectly, sir. Whenever you make any mistakes in the paper, just blame 'em on me, and I'll never say a word.'

*********************************

Critic: I have sent up a two-column criticism of the new play, and I'll be back about midnight to look at the proofs.
Editor: Where are you going now?
Critic: To see the play.

*********************************

Advice to writers:
1. Write plainly on one side of the sheet.
2. Now read it and admire.
3. Now add this phrase: 'Declined with thanks.'
4. Now chuck it in the fire.

*********************************

'Would it be a betrayal of an office secret to tell me how you select your poems?'
Magazine Editor: 'I don't see any harm in telling you. We first submit them to the commissionaire, and from him they are passed on up through the various grades of employee till they reach the editor-in-chief. If the poem is of such a character that any one of the censors understands it, it is rejected.'

*********************************

Amateur Poet (loftily): Aw! Here is a little thing I wrote in five minutes last evening.
Editor (astonished): You did? Why, man alive! Anyone who can write that in five minutes ought to make his living by his pen!
Poet (much flattered): Oh, thanks!
Editor: Yes. You can get eighteenpence a thousand for addressing envelopes.

*********************************

'Your poem used? I should say not,' answered the editor.
'Would you give me a candid criticism of it?'
'Certainly. It's clumsy and vulgar, and unspeakably idiotic.'
'Good.'
'Good?'
'Yes; set to music it will become a popular song.'

*********************************

She was a literary lass
And edited a cultured journal;
And, oh, I loved her with a love
That lives and lasts for time eternal.

And so to win her maiden heart
I wrote a simple, soulful sonnet,
With careful rhythm and studied phrase,
And staked my wealth of love upon it.

I sent it her; my mind could see
Her quaint and queerly wise expression
Change, as with blushes deep she read
My heart's first thought, my 'Love's Confession.'

Her answer came; but who would think
That she could cut so cute a caper?
She wrote: 'Your manuscript returned;
Don't write on both sides of the paper.'