Archive for November, 2011

Give it up for – Dan Holloway!

Posted: November 18, 2011 in Friday Guest

Let’s Talk About This

Rather like one of those people with jumpers who’ve just discovered a new brand of coffee maker at John Lewis, I’m one of those over bouncy evangelists for the spoken word. So it’s hard to pin down what to talk about. Which means this will probably end up bouncing from one place to another like Ronnie Corbett’s anecdotes.

The thing about reading your work to a live audience is that you are tapping into a direct line that goes right back to the very first time a story was told. And you feel every step of that connection. It takes you to a place I honestly don’t think you can reach if you write only for the page, and you come back changed.

OK, it would be easy to put that down to peyote or something else William Burroughs would proselytize about, but the fact is, save for the occasional pudding wine and a once a year pint, I’m teetotal.

So what is it about the spoken word, and how does it change the way you write?

Well, the main thing I guess is its directness. And I don’t mean people coming up to you after you’ve read something and telling you that you moved them. That’s incredible (utterly, fantabulously incredible). But if you ran into someone who’d read your book at a party and they said the same thing, or you had an e-mail, you’d feel the same way. No, it’s something much more direct than that. Something that has nothing to do with words and everything to do with the primal connection between you and another human mind.

Let me give two examples before you report me to Who Hired the Hippy.

Last year I was lucky enough to read at Literary Death Match, which is sort of part talent show part literary event.

I was reading a short story, The Last Fluffer in La La Land. It’s a story that goes through a mix of dark humour and, let’s face it, plain old filth, until the last hundred words or so when it suddenly goes lights-out black. The lighting on stage was slightly dim (for ambience, dahling) which made reading a little tricky but meant I got to see the audience properly (hmm, it was Shoreditch so they probably correctly figured that the audience would be more beautiful than the performers). Watching their faces as the story took them on an emotional ride is something I won’t forget. From the smiles (nay, giggles) as the, er, ins and outs of the porn industry are pruriently described, to the open jaws as the, um, climax hits them, I have never been so aware of the impact a story can make. We can be told in e-mails, or in reviews, but, to use a cliché, this was being shown. A reminder of what storytelling is all about – taking people with you on a journey and bringing them back changed.

The second point is similar. It’s also about the immediacy, the directness. Nothing can tell you what works and what doesn’t quite so accurately as a live audience. I’ll qualify that, of course. Many forms of poetry only really “work” on the page. Many stories have nuances and cross-referencing that better suits the solitary reader of the written word. But if, say, you’re not sure about a piece of dialogue…you know that thing people say about reading it out loud to see how it sounds? Well, try reading it out loud in front of 40 people who’ve paid to listen! And it’s not just dialogue. You can sense each shift, each fidget, and on the positive side each gasp, each craning of the head to get closer to the action.

Like I say, this isn’t true for all forms of writing, but it’s true for more than you would think. I’d wager that one reading to a crowd will do more for a piece than 10 edits on the page (you might want to get it to a certain level first…). But most of all, nothing is so great a reminder of what storytelling is all about. And no matter how nervous you feel before I bet nothing will give you such a buzz after.

If you fancy giving it a try, many towns have an open mic session on a regular basis. Just look at your local listings site/paper. And if you live in the home counties, bookmark poetrykapow on your computer – they have the most extensive calendar (not exclusively for poetry) I’ve come across.

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Dan Holloway is the author of several novels and a collection of performance pieces, (life:) razorblades included. He runs the literary project eight cuts gallery, whose latest exhibition, What There Is Instead of Rainbows, has just opened and can be viewed on the site. You can catch him live on November 18th at 8pm at The Albion Beatnik Bookstore in Oxford at the launch of Oxford University Poetry Society’s magazine Ash, in which he has an entry; on November 23rd at 7.30 at the Royal Standard of England in Beaconsfield, and on December 13th at 8pm at The Jam Factory, Oxford, where he will be slamming at Hammer and Tongue, the UK’s premier poetry slam.

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A long and winding road

When I was an aspiring novelist the question I asked published authors most was: ‘How did you do it?’ What I meant by this was: ‘How did you get published?’ I was looking for some kind of a recipe. Something I could pilfer or mimic, add a little spice to and push myself to the top of the slushpile. The truth is there is no magic formula, other than tenacity and, of course, talent. And luck. Luck, or timing, can play an important part too. So today I’m going to tell you about my journey to publication.

It’s almost three years since I printed out the first draft of my novel BloodMining. It was written during snatched hours between working full-time and looking after my two little lads, Ginger1 and Ginger2. Although it was ropey I felt I’d achieved something. Like so many people I’d harboured an ambition to write a novel for years. I wasn’t sure I could do it. I’d written non-fiction for much of my adult life, but fiction is SO much harder. But after penning a handful of short stories with moderate success (they seemed manageable with a new born baby – Ginger2 – JK Rowling I’m not) I thought the time had come.

The first draft took twelve months, but it was a complete novel. I spent a further eight months redrafting and editing until it was in a state that I was, if not exactly proud of, not desperately ashamed of. I joined a writers’ group and showed chapters to ‘proper’ authors: people who had MAs in creative writing and even had books of their own published. They were encouraging, and so I entered a debut novel competition. To my surprise I was long-listed. I wrote another draft and sent the first 10,000 words and synopsis to Roz Hart at Real Writers. Her comments blew my socks off. Once I’d finished basking in her praise (thank you, Roz, it meant the world to me, still does) I addressed the concerns she’d raised, those that resonated. When I set off on the journey I did not write with publication in mind, but I started to think maybe, just maybe…

So I wrote to half a dozen agents. Most said no immediately, but two were encouraging and asked to see the entire MS. Whey-hey! In the end they both declined to represent me, but offered enough kind words to make me think it’d be worth battling on. In the meanwhile I entered two other competitions and this time I was short-listed in both. I wrote to a handful of independent publishers. Although the odds are stacked against (independents publish, on average, just six novels a year) independents are more likely to take on unusual books or first time novelists. Again, two came back asking to see the entire MS. And again, both said that although they admired the book they didn’t love it enough to spend a not-inconsiderable sum of money and months of hard labour on it. I heard back from one competition: I had not won.

Pessimism set in. I re-read the book and was dismayed to find all sorts of things I hated about it. Some easily fixable, others more difficult to nail. It’s flawed, complete rubbish, I said. And by now I had almost completed the first draft of novel #2 and was having a whale of a time with it. Putting BloodMining in a virtual back cupboard, and consoling myself with the knowledge that few writers get their first book published, and how much I’d learnt along the way, I forgot all about it (almost).

Then one morning in October 2010 I received a call from Debz Hobbs-Wyatt at Bridge House. I’d won their debut novel competition! They wanted to publish the book! I was at work, in the staff-room, I had to sit down. For days I wandered round in a state of shock. I told few people; I didn’t believe it was real; I expected the ‘Gosh, I’m so, so sorry – we misread the winner’s name, it was Laura Williamson that won, not you,’ call. It never came and slowly, I came round to the idea that it was really going to happen.

And so it has. The paperback was published 13 October; the Kindle edition comes out next week. I still can’t believe my good fortune, and the reviews and responses from readers have been better than I could ever have hoped for. And it’s an incredible feeling, knowing that my story is out there, that people are reading and enjoying it. I feel privileged. Reader, thank you.

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About the book

Primarily set in Bangor in the not-too-distant future, BloodMining is the story of a mother, Megan, whose son is diagnosed with a terminal, hereditary condition. A condition passed down the mother’s line.  To save her son Megan must unearth the truth and reveal buried secrets; she must excavate family history and memory. Enlisting the help of former colleague Jack North, a man with a secret of his own, Megan embarks on a journey of self discovery and into the heart of what it means to be a parent.

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About Laura Wilkinson

Laura grew up in Wales, and now lives in Brighton. She works as a journalist, copywriter and a reader/editor for Cornerstones Literary Consultancy. For her fiction she has been a finalist and shortlisted in a number of competitions including: the New Writer, Cinnamon Press, the Virginia Prize and Brit Writers’ Award 2010. Laura has read her work at Ace Stories, Short Fuse and ABCtales events in London and Brighton, as well as speaking at a Spit Lit(erary) Festival event. She has facilitated creative writing workshops at Spit Lit, The Women’s Library at London Metropolitan University and at the Museum of London in Docklands. She has published short stories in magazines, an anthology and digital media like Ether Books. BloodMining is her first novel. Currently, she’s working on her second.

You can find out more about Laura here or find her on Twitter.

Nik Perring’s Top Editing Tips

Posted: November 4, 2011 in Friday Guest

Hello to all the lovely readers of Susan’s blog, and a big thank you to the lady herself for inviting me over here.

My name’s Nik Perring and I’m a short story writer, author and editor. But I’m not here to talk to you about my work. Well, not specifically. I’m here to talk to you about what’s perhaps the most important part of the writing process (and what an awful lot of writers dread): EDITING. And, hopefully, I’m here to help you with it.

Editing is where the real work is done. Editing’s where the story comes to life, where things get untangled, where a good idea is worked into a great story. And despite it being something that wholly benefits our stories, it’s often the most feared and hated part of the whole process. And I guess there are many, valid reasons for this.

It often isn’t as fun or exciting as belting out that first draft. And it’s often really bloody hard work.

But it doesn’t need to be horrible. It’s something I’ve come to enjoy and embrace. And, in the eight or nine years I’ve been working as a writer and editor, there are a few things I’ve learned that I thought you might like me to share with you.

So, without further ado, here’s my suggested editing process. Of course, do keep in mind that you need to find a way that suits you best – there’s more than one way to skin a cat, as they say. All I’d say is, try this and see if you can take something useful from it.

1 Write your story. I do this with a pen in a notebook, and I think, because it’s slower and less deliberate than typing straight on a keyboard, we become more involved with the words and we think about them more too.

2 Type it up. There’s a little bit of magic here. When we transfer things from notebook to computer we are naturally inclined to change things as we go – to polish, to smooth out, to make things make more sense and to refine. So, in typing your first draft up and onto your computer, you’re actually giving your story a very natural and effortless half-edit as you go.

3 Print it out. It’s always easier to read things on paper. Reading off the screen, in my opinion, as well as being hard on the eyes, also causes us to miss things. So, print it out, read it through, and, as you go, make notes and changes on your hard copy.

4 Type it up again. Type up your corrections and print it out again.

5 Read it aloud. Now, here’s secret weapon. You see, if you read things silently, because it’s YOUR work, you think you know what you’ve written. And this often is not the case. If you read it aloud, you’re forcing yourself to read, and process, every single word on the page – so you should see any mistakes. Reading aloud is also a great test of the story’s rhythm: if it doesn’t sound right, it probably isn’t  right. And once you’ve identified that, you know what to do!

So there you have it – my editing tips. They work for me and I hope you can find something  in them that’ll help you too.

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Nik Perring is a short story writer, author, and editor from the UK. His short stories have been widely published and collected in the book ‘Not So Perfect’ (Roast Books, 2010). ‘Freaks!’ a collection he’s co-written with Caroline Smailes will be published in April 2012 by The Friday Project (HarperCollins). Nik’s also the author of a children’s book, ‘I Met A Roman Last Night, What Did You Do?’ (EPS 2006) and he’s the founder of the editing consultancy The Story Corrective, which specialises in short story help.

He blogs here and he tweets as @nikperring.