We are delighted to announce the winner of our short story competition.
In the third place was Coalescence by Julia Dalby.
In second place was In the Attic by M Wilkinson.
And the winner is My burglar by Carys Bray.
Many congralutation to Carys. A quick search on the internet reveals that Carys was born in Southport in 1975. She has a BA in Literature from the Open University and an MA in Creative Writing from Edge Hill. She is currently immersed in preliminary PhD research. She writes short fiction, but hopes to stretch her attention span and plotting skills into novel dimensions during the coming months. She has four children between the ages of seven and thirteen.
If Carys would like to send an email to Strictly Writing, we would be delighted to arrange the payment of your prize. We would also like to invite you to do a guest post for us here.
On the one hand I can see that if it were me I wouldn't want the details of my sex life splattered over the red tops. On the other hand, I really can't see why it was necessary.
Footballer Has Affair...is hardly so shocking that the man in question could consider himself in threat of excommunication or losing his free-weekly-boots contract.
To be honest, I'm really not mithered about what anyone gets up to between the sheets but what really did grip me was the way that the law was circumvented by the virtual world. The creativity and humour on display was, for me a writer, quite awe inspiring.
One corker worth mentioning here was on Mumsnet: a thread entitled 'Isn't It A Huge Coincidence How Much Imogen Thomas Looks Like Ryan Giggs' Wife?'
Hundreds of people posted replies, almost, but not quite, breaking the terms of the injunction.
Then, on Twitter, tweeters actually started to break the injunction and like the nasties escaping Pandora's Box, there really wasn't any putting them back in. It felt like a rear guard action, defending freedom of speech. I was almsot sorry when John Hemming MP ended it all by using parliamentary privilege to name the footballer in question. When the grown ups got involved, somehow all the fun was taken out of it. By the time the BBC had dared entered the arena everyone had lost interest.
Like I say, I found the whole thing fascinating and as I don't actually think that Ryan Giggs' rep will be shattered by the 'revelation' that he's been shagging an attractive brunette...I just enjoyed the ride. But there is of course a serious point to all this - how far should we the public seek protect our right to freedom of speech?
As a writer, I'm instinctively against any attempts to keep me in check. I react badly to gagging orders and bans and the like. The State is just a bunch of people we voted in to run our hospitals and wotnot...its job isn't to tell me what to think or what I am or am not entitled to know.
Clearly 70,000 people on Twitter felt the same.
Then again, if we are entitled to free speech, surely we also have a responsibilty to use it wisely?
I feel I should be allowed to say exactly what I want in my books without fear of supression...but then again, there are some things I wouldn't say, wouldn't feel it was right to say. While I will depict, for instance rape in my books, I won't write it in any way that might be sexually stimulating. There are, I think, lines that one wouldn't want to cross.
I had a dilemma in book four, Blood Rush, in the scenes depicting the manufacture of crystal meth and also the scenes depicting gang violence. I decided it was right to make them graphic, but I was aware that others may find these scenes upsetting. It took me a long time to find a balance I was happy with. Certainly not an overnight decision. I wonder whether any of the tweeters gave much thought to their own expressions of freedom of speech. I hope so.
Or I hope they would if the information at stake was something more important.
Someone's illness perhaps? Or a story about a child?
I guess the question is whether we should each look to our moral compasses or whether the powers that be should do it for us...
As the Chinese say 'May you live in interesting times.'
Who has the right to write? All of us, I guess. But when the cult of celebrity takes over and breaks into the popular fiction market, there are many writers among us who get the hackles up at this brazen move.
I’m referring to the ever-growing list of A to Z list slebs who feel the need to pen some kind of popular fiction novel. I absolutely love The Hills for light entertainment, but now that the show’s reality star Lauren Conrad has penned a novel or three, it’s made me somewhat queasy. I read an excerpt from her book and I’m not even going to share my views on its merits or lack of. Put it like this – if I was an agent’s assistant, it would be straight into the recycling basket. But readers who have ploughed their way through the first in the series, 'LA Candy' have eagerly reviewed it on websites including Amazon. “OMG, this is brilliant!!” said one. Another reviewer thought it was (alarmingly) ‘well-written.’ Apparently Lauren has stressed that she has written them all on her own without a ghost writer in sight. And I would believe that. Reading an excerpt is not good for your health as you may end up with an IQ lower than plankton. It's like...a bit like the dialogue on The Hills...like.
Another so-called ‘writer’ (cough, splutter) is Katie Price. Why bother putting your name to trashy tat which you didn’t write in the first place? I can’t understand that, apart from the financial aspect of course. No shame Katie! Granted not everyone is blessed with a good command of English, but why not do something you’re good at. Stick to modelling/taking your clothes off, or acting. It’s like me claiming to have painted the Mona Lisa when in reality I can only draw stick men. Sorry, but I’ll stick to a hobby I’m genuinely interested in, and one in which I can invest time and effort. According to reports, Katie Price hasn’t even read her own autobiography.
While these sorts of books lack literary merit (don’t clear your mantelpiece for an award love) are we justified in criticising the ‘authors’ for their fluffy tales of romance and adventure which pull in millions of readers? A sort of modern day Enid Blyton (my primary school teacher blew his lid when he caught us reading Enid!) Perhaps they are aimed at readers who otherwise wouldn’t open a book to experience escapism or to enhance grammar and spelling. Co-incidentally, Jamie Oliver and Victoria Beckham claim to never have read a book in their lives. What kind of example does this set to the computer-gaming generation? If you haven’t read a book don’t boast about it! Shut up.
And a final word - please don’t buy me any of this reading material for Christmas. I’m predicting Cheryl Cole will be the next sleb to start penning novels. Let’s see…the story will be about a reality television star who marries a premiership footballer who ends up cheating on her. You read it on Strictly first! I don’t know whether to laugh, cry or scream with jealousy. Seeing these books on shelves may well persuade any hard working author to hang up his or her quill and start stripping instead.
This morning, I’ve been chatting to myself, often aloud, the sort of conversation that one has with oneself when collecting the washing, unloading the dishwasher whatever. Telling myself, in fact more warning myself, that I’ve got to sit down today during the allocated time to finish the WIP as planned. Nothing – absolutely nothing - short of a natural disaster outside my front door, is to stop me.
My allocated time to write today is quite generous. There’s a three hour window between 3-6pm and I know exactly what I have to do. I appear to be back on track, though I take nothing for granted. I have a feeling in my tummy that’s more excitement than anxious knawing, so I’m hopeful the words will flow. It’s been a good morning, one where ideas and scenes have been germinating. But past experience has also taught me that come three o’clock, I may chew my nails, look out the window, wonder where the hoover is, or like I’m expecting to, crack my knuckles and formulate actual words from the morning’s seeds.
I love this feeling. That frisson of excitement when time has been put aside for doing something I’m passionate about. It’s like the early stages of a love affair. You sort of know what to expect, or at least know what you’re hoping for, but at the same time, there lurking at the back of your mind is the possibility that all may not go well.
Today’s post is a short one. I have figured over the years that I have only so many words to write per day, so I’m selfishly saving most of them for later. Wish me well between 3 and 6pm. I’m either going to be enjoying the love affair, looking forward to a happy future with my chapters, or wondering if that last colour wash is ready yet.
Being the daughter of a full-time modern mother is very confusing. She comments on my Facebook wall posts, takes the Mickey out of my pictures, and generally embarrasses me. She is on the computer more than I am and I’m seventeen – uh, hello? Who’s the teenager here? She gets excited when she gets new Facebook friends or new Blogger followers. She’s constantly looking at her blogs viewing figures and then screeching when she beats her last average. She is fanatic about her books and her reading – reading books when she’s in bed, on the toilet, and when we’re supposed to be watching TV. But then again, she tweets when she’s doing those things too.
Being the daughter of a writer is another thing. She moans when she has no inspiration, even though she’s constantly coming up with new and inventive things to write about. It does get me down when she gets sad about not finding an agent and then seeing others get published. I think it makes her feel like she’s getting pushed down, like she’s not good enough. But she is, and I just wish my mum’s dream could come true – I hope that one day it will.
Because my mum writes, it used to inspire me to write, although I was never very good at it – my stories were dull, and a little bit short. I could never find the write kind of stuff to fill up a whole book! I used to write about talking animals – thanks to the Warrior Cats series – and I loved getting immersed into my own world. The only problem with this was that I couldn’t quite get the words onto the page; I think I was about 9 when I wrote them, so the stories were best kept in my head. I then wanted to become an author myself, before discovering my love for cameras and photography, and then my love for moving image rather than photographs!
Being an English Literature student I have had to read two novels and two selections of poetry (and blogged about it here) but I hate being forced to read something. If I want to read it, I will choose to read it, don’t force it on me! Sadly, I have another year of having to read books pushed in my direction, but hopefully they’ll be more interesting than these last ones. Though because of this course I have realised that Auden was a great poet and that Browning was a little bit messed up – I never thought I’d be able to appreciate poetry the way I do now. Speaking of which… I should probably be revising them now!
So my mother, my wonderful, beautiful, inspirational mother has way more talent than any agent has managed to read into her books so far, and hopefully she’ll be picked up sooner rather than later. I know she deserves it. Followers and viewings make her seem appreciated – so keep it up! Make my mum feel like the special person she is!
NB: No bribes were passed before, during OR after the writing of this, although a tear may have been shed following the reading of it. I *heart* my girl!
Even if you hate Doctor Who, or Neil Gaiman [although I can't quite imagine that's possible], hang on for the bit of writing advice at the end. You may have heard it before, but it's still the most important tip you'll ever hear...
Thank you to everyone who voted for a winning story for our competition. The voting is now closed and we are at the count. We are also waiting for one or two votes from the Strictly Writing team (you know who you are!).
We will announce the winner and runners-up on Friday 27 May. Don't forget to check in here on that day. Join us for a virtual glass of Champagne as we toast the winner.
- Reading it aloud – all right, all right, I know it's a crappy cliché of interweb writing advice, but it really is useful for finding out whether dialogue sounds like something a real live person would say. Reading aloud is easier said than done – it can be a bit of an eye-opener as to how little privacy is ever available – but if I get the opportunity, I don't just read aloud but record it too. The microphone becomes an 'audience' that means I have to persevere through the cringeworthy bits rather than keep breaking off to groan, weep etc.
- Listening to the recording after a few days and pretending it's a proper audiobook. Humiliating and illuminating in the same go.
- Changing the font, preferably to something you’d find in a published book, but you could use Comic Sans or Papyrus if you want to make the whole experience even more disheartening.
- Changing the background colour of the page – I'm told this is good for reducing glare while writing too.
- Changing the page setup to A5 and printing two pages to one sheet so it's closer to the size and layout of a published book.
- Converting the file to PDF. This is such a simple change and yet I find it has a great distancing effect.
- Printing it off on Lulu – I’d want to be sure the book was pretty much ready to go before shelling out for this, but seeing a story in book form can expose whether it could really compete with whatever's next to it in Waterstones. (I tend to get shelved next to Ayn Rand... thanks a bunch, alphabet.)
(UPDATE: Sorry this post disappeared for a few days - a combination of Blogger problems and me not having web access to fix it. Thank you very much to those who had left comments - unfortunately I haven't been able to retrieve them.)
Tonight, myself and Danny Miller will be hosting and author event at Hainault library 7.15pm - 9pm.
We haven't yet finalised what we'll talk about but as we're both crime writers I suspect it'll involve plenty of blood and guts.
We'll probably touch on how we go about forming our plots, the process of actually writing a book and getting published.
Danny's a hoot and I'd go just to listen to him. Actually I might just listen to him.
Then on Friday 13th May our very own Caroline Green will be appearing at Fullwell Cross library from 6pm - 7.30pm to talk about Dark Ride and writing for young adults.
Check out the website - there really is a lot of good stuff going on and if you're in the area tonight or on Friday, we'd love to meet you.
'So what do you want for Christmas?' I asked last year, expecting the usual muttered prevarications.
'A Kindle,' he replied, as quick as you like.
'Are you sure?'
'Yes. I've researched it.'
So there it was. Another dedicated reader opting into the cyber-zone. Only thing is, this was my father doing the opting. And he's eighty-four years old.
Those clever Amazonian geeks came up with a Cunning Plan when they named the Kindle. The word is redolent with the homespun, the hand made. I'm sure it's no coincidence that it rhymes with spindle, conjuring up visions of calm, Vermeer women spinning cloth, or weatherbeaten peasants gathering kindling for a welcoming fire. The word kind implies a certain benevolence, along with the diminution of kin. This little gadget will be good to your eyes, gentle on your pocket and will feel like part of the family. The adverts show dogs licking them, for heaven's sake.
My father loves his new Kindle. It's light and portable. He can adjust the font size, slip it into a pocket, browse and download from Amazon, try out books for free.
'Don't you miss having a real book to hold? Turning the pages? The smell of paper?'
I can see his point. And I accept that this is the way publishing's heading. Already, only 60% or so of books are 'real', so in a relatively short time, books as we've known them will be a rarity. I foresee a time when clandestine meetings will be held at which participants handle, sniff and read Real Books. With a motto such as Hug A Hardback. Like the Campaign for Real Ale, and just as intoxicating. Though beards and sandals won't be mandatory.
Call me a Luddite, but I will be sad at the passing of the traditional book. Not just because of the fifty-odd years I've spent collecting, reading and, latterly, writing them, but for the following reasons:
A cover is the face of a book. The thing that attracts you to it, before you've had a chance to browse inside. It's what makes a book an individual, a character, marks it out from the rest. Real Books have covers with images and colours and, in the case of hardbacks, more colour lurking beneath the jacket like secret underwear. Remember Mazo de la Roche's Jalna series, with their odd, peachy covers? And the Swallows and Amazons series (sludge green)?
- Weight and size. The big, solid, bruiser of a hardback, willing and able to sit in your bookshelf for decades. The jam-it-in-your-pocket-and-to-hell-with-the-consequences paperback. How many Kindles do you see propping up recalcitrant table-legs?
- Accessories. I've a huge collection of bookmarks, so useful for showing me just how far I've got in a book, and how much there is to go. And remember bookplates? Those little sticky labels, often with gorgeous designs, that you could stick in the front of your book - your book - and carefully inscribe with your name, marking it out as your own.
- Sensuality. I love the feel of pristine books on shelves, all innocent and virginal and untouched. I love the feel of a page - that slightly rough, slightly- reluctant-to-open feel. And (shut your eyes here, all purists) I love to mark my books. My non-fiction titles are full of underlinings and scribbled notes. I like old, well-thumbed books, the corners of their pages bent, frayed with use, stained with coffee and chocolate and who-knows-what. The way they fall open to favourite passages. There's something friendly about a Real Book. Something comforting.
Real Books appeal to brain and body, synapses and senses. A Real Book is a miniature world of the imagination, gained through a physical portal. Like the Narnian wardrobe with its musty coats and creaking doors, a Real Book keeps us, the readers, anchored in the world, even as it encourages our imaginations to fly.
I would go further. Every Real Book is a potential relationship, with a body you can touch, stroke, smell and hold. Anything less is akin (geddit?) to a vibrator.
Cyber-sex is all very well at a pinch, but when it comes to reading, I'd rather have The Real Thing.
Luisa Plaja author of Split by a Kiss and several other teen novels, reports on her new writing project.
From Friday, 6th May 2011, I’ll be working on a novel for Fiction Express , a new project launched by a children’s book packager called Discovery Books where e-books will be published in weekly instalments.
Each week, young readers can vote for the direction they’d like the story to go in. Authors then have a couple of days to write the next chapter… and so on, for eleven weeks. There’s reader interaction all the way through, and there should even be opportunities for readers themselves to be written into the stories.
When I was approached to be one of authors involved in the project, my first thought was, “Ooh, fun! And not a million miles away from the way I write anyway!” Perhaps I should point out that, up until now, I have never asked teenagers to vote on the course of my plot. What I mean is that I rarely plan my stories in advance. I am a ‘pantser’ of the highest order (by decree of the Association of Pantsers, which formed spontaneously from a random group of aimlessly meandering synopsis-dodgers). As a three-time NaNoWriMo ‘winner’, the ‘no plot, no problem’ approach to first-draft writing usually suits me down to the ground. I am just not a planner.
Of course, it soon occurred to me that a project like this isn’t entirely about pantsing skills. For starters, I won’t be able to use my usual method of finishing a first draft and then going back to the beginning and editing so much that barely a single line remains from the original. Once my chapters go live – cue spooky music and dry ice – there will be no going back. There is only an unknown path forwards, decided on by readers. Eeek! And yet, I think it will be amazing to have this type of interaction with readers.
It’s going to be a challenge. But I think it will be a thrilling one. *small voice* Wish me luck?
Fiction Express is launching with four titles in different genres: Diary of a Mall Girl by Luisa Plaja, The Soterion Mission by Stewart Ross, Soul Shadows by Alex Woolf and The Last Symbol by Rebecca Morton.
You can read free first chapters, sign up and join in with Fiction Express at http://www.fictionexpress.co.uk from 6th May 2011 onwards, and keep up with news about the project on its Facebook page:
To me, it’s a very special book. It’s not because of the cover, lovely though it is. But no one else will feel the need to coo and stroke the gold embossed bits as I have today. It has a delicious new smell but then, don’t all new books have that?
It joins the millions of other novels that are on sale. It could end up on a remainder pile or it could do really well. Who knows? It has to take its chances, along with all the rest.
But whatever happens, opening the package that contained it today was a moment pretty much up there with saying ‘I do’ and hearing ‘It’s a boy!’ for the first time. Because it’s my book.
It’s not even the first one that I’ve had published, but it’s the first novel and the only one that wasn’t written as a work commission. Instead it was a true labour of love.
I just want to thank all of you – you know who you are – for propping me up and cheering me on during this whole rollercoaster of getting published.
I’m told by more experienced writers that the first time will always be the most special.
So I’m going to take a little time just to enjoy this moment and feel thankful. Maybe I’ll stroke the gold embossing again and give it another little sniff.
There’s always tomorrow to start obsessing about Amazon rankings....
Dark Ride by Caroline Green, published by Piccadilly Press
Watch a trailer here