Saturday, 11 December 2010

Every Little Helps

I haven't blogged here for a few weeks. I've been trying to leave a few inane comments around just to let you know I haven't died, emigrated or been arrested.

There are several reasons for this. First of all I haven't had anything interesting to say (nothing unusual there). Also, both of the writers' groups I'm in have broken up until the new year so nothing to report on that. In addition I've actually had some proper work to do. We had a training day at the college where I work part-time as an exam invigilator. The resits are coming up in January so there will be a few days work there. I've also managed to get a job at the local Tesco, stacking shelves on the night shift. This is just a few nights per week up until the new year. I've worked nights before when I was an engineer so no problem there. We're kept busy so the time goes quickly. It's a new experience so I'm hoping that I can pick up a few ideas for characters and plots.

I've also been busy writing. I've a few pieces out at agents and magazines and, thanks to all you bloggers out there who keep us up to date, a few competition entries have been posted out. So please continue posting news about courses, competitions and other opportunities. And any advice is always welcome. I need all the help I can get.

Friday, 19 November 2010

The Darkness Came

For those of you interested in reading the winning entry of the Nottingham Writers' Club Manuscript of the Year competition, the author has posted it on his own blog here:
http://davidabowman.blogspot.com

Monday, 8 November 2010

And The Loser Is...

Last week Nottingham Writers' Club held their Manuscript of the Year evening which I attended for the first time. It sounds grand but it is actually a fun affair where members can take along a piece of prose, written under a pseudonym. The entries are read out by a team of volunteers and then we all vote for our favourite, the votes are counted and the winner is announced. Maximum length is 250 words and this year's theme was 'The Darkness Came'.

The winner was a slightly racy story written from the viewpoint of a woman. It was a big surprise therefore when the big bearded chap sitting next to me revealed himself as the author.

Out of nineteen entries I didn't even make the top three but I know I didn't come last because one piece was disqualified for being a poem. That shows I can at least read the entry rules!

Anyway, as my effort will probably never see the light of day again, I thought I'd show it here:

Cold Steel

They say that if they told you what it would be like you would never go. But no-one could describe this. Not in words nor pictures. This hell-on-earth would stretch the combined imaginations of Brooke, Owen and Sassoon at their most eloquent. Where would they start? The noise? The mud? The threatening sky illuminated by exploding shells? You cannot describe terror. Only experience it.

A lone young soldier, disoriented by the smoke and commotion, is separated from his battalion. Stumbling into a bomb crater he confronts an enemy infantryman in an equally confused state. They both point their rifles but pause with fingers on triggers. He looks into the lad's face. Even younger than himself. Reminds him of his cousin, killed at Passchendaele. He tilts his Lee-Enfield down and fires. A splintering crack, a cry of pain and blood mixes with clay as the lad's knee shatters. The German goes down, dropping his own rifle.

He steps forward and leans over the figure. Not knowing whether the youth can understand he says. “You'll be o.k. Soon be home.”

And then he feels the hot, searing pain. Whoever coined the phrase 'cold steel' has never had a blade pierce his stomach. The last thought he has before sweet oblivion overwhelms him is his sergeant's voice.

“Look out for the bayonet, boys. If it isn't fixed to his rifle it's still on his belt.”

He never made a sound but his eyes cried for his mother. Then the darkness came.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

And The Winner Is...


  1. Wow.
    Teresa Ashby at A Likely Story has kindly passed on this Sweet Friends award which I'm happy to accept. I don't think anyone has described me as 'sweet' before but there's a first time for everything. Anyway, in the true spirit of the award I'm supposed to tell you six things about my writing.

    1. I've always liked writing. Although I'm basically a technical person with a degree in engineering I've always put a lot of effort into the documentation side of the job. Whether it's reports, test routines or specifications I've tried to be accurate, clear and unambiguous. And when it comes to compiling a justification for spending lots of money on lab equipment it pays to be creative. So that's probably where my discipline comes from.

    2. At the moment I'm trying my hand at different kinds of writing and hoping I'll meet with some success somewhere. I've written four short novels, about 80,000 to 90,000 words, and these are currently doing the rounds with various agents.

    3. I've written loads of short stories for competitions and magazines with limited success so far. A few of them have had favourable reviews by other authors so... fingers crossed.

    4. I've written a few scripts intended for stage and TV. Again, I've had some encouraging feedback and constructive critscism by people who have worked in the business.

    5. I'm not very good with the descriptive stuff. My novels are basically adventures where things are happening all the time and so I tend to keep details about people and locations down to the bare minimum. I do try and convey things like atmosphere and emotions so that the reader feels part of the story.

    6. I have put together a little booklet with stories and articles drawn from my experience as a cyclist. It has the catchy title 'Mummy, Why Does Daddy Shave His Legs?' and my wife has managed to sell a few when she's out at her craft fairs.

    And now I'm supposed to hand out the award to six other people but, as I have a very short list of people that I follow, I shall pass it on to just three who have inspired me with their blogs. I apologise if any of them have already received one. They are:

    Jarmara Falconer at A Mission Impossible for the Dark Fantasy Nightwriter
    Olivia Ryan at olivia's oracle
    Kath at womagwriter's blog

Monday, 11 October 2010

Never The Bride

Yesterday was the Trowell Writers' Trust annual awards day. I had an entry in the short story section and I thought I knew exactly where it would come. I've had so many second places over the last few years that I knew it would be runner-up. I could predict this with the same certainty that within one hour of switching the telly on tonight I'll see either a meerkat, a fat tenor or both.

This post was going to tell you how the result was a foregone conclusion because of the many second places I've had in this very same competition over the last few years. You were also going to be informed about my second place in Writers' News last year and the same result in the National Association of Writers' Groups the year before. To top it all off I've been narrowly pipped to the post for two job opportunities recently so excuse me if I'm feeling like the perennial bridesmaid.

I sat there listening to them read out the commended authors followed by highly commended and then honours and still my name hadn't been called out. Then it came to the top three and, maybe it was the excitement of the moment, but I suddenly felt optimistic. Why should I come second again just because it's happened so many times before. It doesn't always follow does it? After all, aren't I always going on about being persistent and never giving up? So I crossed my fingers and guess what? I came third.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Writing Exercise

The postings of the last few days started off as an exercise at a writers' group meeting. The title was 'The Milestones Of Life'.
I didn't know what to do with it so I thought I'd just put it on here for a bit of fun.
So, to answer Jarmara's questions:
No. It wasn't a dream. Just a bit of (creative?) writing.
My plumbing is in excellent working order now. Thanks to Nottingham City Hospital.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Journey's End

You Have Reached Your Destination

And what has life taught me?

Just this:

You're born

You die.

You just have to fill up the bit in the middle as best you can.

Friday, 17 September 2010

In Case Of Breakdown - Use Hard Shoulder

Roadworks Ahead
Delays Possible


Just when I've got more time on my hands and I'm beginning to wonder how I'm going to fill the hours, life decides for me. I start visiting the men's room more often and spend more and more time in there. What's happening? The damned thing used to work alright. But don't worry. Help is at hand. I ring the breakdown service and the good old NHS arrives to put everything right.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Tiredness Kills - Take A Break

Then I realised. It's not a milestone. It's a brick wall and in gigantic letters:

DEATH
From Now Till Eternity
No U Turns


I wasn't too concerned. It looked a long way off. If I kept it in my line of sight then it couldn't suddenly loom up in front of me could it? Will I never learn? They tell you not to rely exclusively on your SatNav don't they? Well, mine took me off the main road, down an embankment and into the icy waters. As I thrashed around trying to keep my ahead above water I noticed a sign on the river bank...

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Road Liable To Subsidence

I was getting the hang of it by now and decided to keep my eye on the ground for any other hazards along the way. Unfortunately this meant that I cracked my skull on the overhanging sign that said:

Recession Round The Corner
Keep Your Head Down


Well, my head rolled, along with a few thousand others. Still, not to worry. I'd learned a lot from my mistakes.
I had my wits about me now. Pushing sixty. Surely nothing could surprise me at this stage? A SatNav-like voice in my head told me not to worry and just keep cruising. Then I spotted something on the horizon. It looked like a huge milestone. Nobody could miss that...

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Danger - Hazard

The third milestone says:

Family Life
Screaming Baby to Stroppy Adult
30 years
Rough Road Ahead


I couldn't have been paying attention when I stubbed my toe on this one. The birth of my son came as a big surprise to me. I'm still not sure what caused it. My wife tried explaining it to me but it sounded so far fetched that I didn't really believe her. But, to be on the safe side, we never did that again!

Monday, 13 September 2010

Slow Ahead

The second marker must have said:

Marriage
Honeymoon to Domestic Tedium
7 years
Turn Left


I must have still been groggy from stumbling into the first when I went sprawling over this one. So, it's not all lovey-dovey, a bed of roses and sweet kisses all day every day. How was I to know? Nobody told me about money worries, mortgages, arguments over whose turn it is to wash up, decorating, in-laws etc. etc. They should put up a big neon sign to warn you of the danger ahead.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Life's Milestones

Milestones?

Can't say that I've seen that many on my journey along life's rocky road. My time on this earth so far has been one mad headlong dash down a steep mountain track with hairpin bends and blind corners. The milestones must have been those things I tripped over sending me flat on my face in the dirt.

The first one, I suppose, probably said:

Education
Infant School to University
16 years
Straight Ahead


It was a big shock to find that not all kids were the same as me. That some liked different TV programmes, some couldn't tie their own shoelaces or recite the alphabet. Some didn't even talk the same as me. Then there were the others, bigger and stronger, who would steal your Kit-Kat, push you around and generally make your life a misery. And the boys were just as bad. Getting to university was no different. For Kit-Kat, substitute girlfriend.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Let's Applaud The Writer

My last post called into question the abilities of some of our most successful sitcom writers. This wasn't really the intention. It was just a talking point. So now I thought I would turn the argument on its head and defend the scriptwriter.

This time I'm talking about live performance. It has always irked me when people are only interested in going to the theatre when there is somebody famous in the cast. They go along to see a play with a perfectly good plot and excellent dialogue but only because so-and-so off Emmerdale is in it or what's-his-name who used to be in Casualty plays the lead. It's particularly upsetting when the 'star' of the show pulls out for one reason or another, audiences go into decline and the rest of the cast and crew are out of a job.

Here in Nottingham the Theatre Royal puts on a Classic Thriller Season every August. It is the same company every year and they put on a different play every week for four weeks. Members of the cast have served their time in various bits of TV, radio and theatre so they are no mugs. The point is – the actors are not household names but the playwrights are. They put on plays by the likes of Agatha Christie, Brian Clemens, J.B. Priestley etc. and it is excellent entertainment. They wouldn't keep getting invited back every year if it wasn't would they?

Each Spring the Nottingham Playhouse puts on a musical by a local operatic group. I went to see The Producers one year and was blown away. The brilliant acting, the flawless musical numbers and the slick scene changes proved that, although their status was amateur, the production standards were professional and no TV star could have enhanced the performance.

I suppose all this is just an extension of the celebrity culture we have nowadays. People are famous for being famous and seem to attract the attention of the masses. So what do I expect to be done about this? Just for people to think more about the entertainment that's on offer and less about the performers.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Are You Having A Laugh?

I recently wrote a pilot episode for a sitcom and had someone take a look at it. The guy has worked on several television programmes and once had his own series back in the early nineties so he knows what he's talking about. He filled four pages of A4 with his comments telling me that the basic idea was good and it was funny but that it needed a lot of work. I've almost finished the rework and it got me thinking about classic comedies. Was the writing as good as we think?

Now I'm not going to question the undisputable talent of the likes of Galton and Simpson, Croft and Perry, Eric Chappell etc. But would their shows have enjoyed the longevity without the comic geniuses that starred in them?

My particular favourites are Dad's Army and Rising Damp and they still make me laugh. But when I watch them now for the millionth time I begin to wonder whether the script is really all that funny. Is it just the brilliant comedy actors that are turning poor jokes into pants-wetting crackers? In other words – is it the way they tell 'em? And just because someone has had a successful series are they allowed to get away with substandard stuff the next time? Because there have been a few turkeys on the telly lately.

I personally think Leonard Rossiter was in a league of his own and could probably make the telephone directory sound funny. So where does that leave us budding John Sullivans? We can't approach the BBC and say 'I know this script is crap but get David Jason and Julie Walters in it and it'll be a BAFTA winner'. For us unknowns I suppose we just have to try and make the first few pages catch the attention of the reader so that they are encouraged to read on and give us a chance. Just one chance... just a little bit of encouragement... please... the blokes down the pub think I'm funny... my mum says I was always making people laugh...

Monday, 30 August 2010

Man At Work

Isn't creative writing wonderful?

Whether you think of it as a profession, a hobby or an occasional pastime you can always claim to be working. Are you like me, either planning the next phase of your WIP or thinking up future new plots? Ernest Hemingway once said that writing is long periods of thinking and short periods of writing and that's good enough for me. I can do it lying in bed while waiting to fall asleep or when I wake up before I get up. I can do it while shopping, out on a bike ride or listening to Test Match Special.

So, as a writer, how many hours a week do you think you work? I know that many scribblers claim to always have a notepad handy so they can jot down ideas that spring to mind. Some even have them by their bed at night. Now, as a former shift worker, I know that counts as triple time.

Unfortunately my wife also claims I can do it while, hoovering, ironing or decorating. So it's not all good news.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

There's Always Tomorrow

I gave Jarmara Falconer some advice the other day. Advice that I could do with following myself. It was about procrastination. Or rather about avoiding it. This is how my day goes:

Switch on computer. Log in. Wait for it to warm up, rub the sleep out of its circuits, stretch its peripherals. (It's quite ancient). Go on t'internet. Check e-mails. Go on BBC site. Check weather report. Go on my blog. Any comments to answer? Go on the blogs I follow. Anything worth commenting on? Go on Google Talk. Is my Chinese friend online? If so – type 'xia wu hao'. Have a bit of a chat.

Now I can get down to some serious writing. Go downstairs and make a cup of tea first. Come back. Maybe my friends have woken up by now so check e-mails again. Check blogs. Come on now, Keith. Get to work. O.k. What shall I do today? Novel, short story or sitcom? Oops! What did Ruth say she wanted for tea? Lamb chops. Go downstairs and take chops out of freezer. Go into garden and pick some beans. Peel some potatoes and slice the beans. Back upstairs – tea has gone cold. Go and get a fresh cup. Now then. Where was I? Ah yes. Open up writing folder.

Was that the front door? Hard to tell from the back bedroom. Go and check. No. Just the neighbours slamming their car door. While I'm here, how are the chops doing? Ah, defrosting nicely. Back upstairs. Any e-mails yet? No. Anything interesting on the news? Go on Daily Mail website. They're usually good for getting me irate about immigration or MPs' expenses or something. See a headline about Katie Price and immediately realise where this is leading. Get off t'internet and open up Microsoft Word.

Getting a bit hungry now. Is it dinnertime yet? Go and make a sandwich. More tea. Ooh! I see the sun is shining now. Seems a shame to waste the opportunity. Never know when it might show itself again. I know – I'll go outside for half-an-hour and read. They say you should still keep up with your reading, even when you're writing, don't they? So this can be classed as work really, can't it? Ah, this is nice. I'll just close my eyes for a couple of minutes. Maybe a brilliant idea for a plotline will come to me. Zzzzzzz...

Good grief! Is that the time? Ruth will be back from work soon. Better get the tea on. I promise I'll start chapter fifty six tomorrow – after I've thought about what to write for next week's blog post.

PS
It can be worse if there is a Test Match on. It can be even worse if Nottinghamshire are playing. If the Tour de France is taking place then forget it for the first three weeks in July.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Hang On A Minute, Lads – I've Got A Great Idea

I had an idea for a story today. I thought what if...? But I don't want to talk about the idea. I want to talk about where it came from.

Can all stories be got from a 'what if?' question? Is that where creativity comes from? I don't know. Did Picasso think 'what if everything looked like a set of cubes?' or did Dali wonder 'what if I melted some watches and spread them on a landscape?' Should modern art be appreciated as an example of original thought in its own right or is it just inspiration for the more practically minded?

As a development engineer I was always interested in how thing got invented. Do you remember the old-style kettles? They had a broad base so that they could absorb as much heat from the hob as possible with a handle at the top away from the heat. When the electric version came out, all they did was put an electric element inside, a socket on the back, some rubber feet and 'hey presto!' - a modern marvel. Then someone must have said 'hey, it doesn't have to be like this'. They made a smaller base so that it took less room on the worktop, made it taller, fashioned it from plastic and stuck the handle on the side. Being a technologist, I could never see the point of art, let alone surrealist stuff. But now I wonder if the person had been looking at a Picasso when the kettle idea came to them.

I'm still no closer to finding the source of my ideas. It's probably not important. Maybe the important thing is to stop worrying where it originates from and just look after it when turns up. I picked up this link from Frances Garrood's blog. It's a 20 minute presentation by a guy who is really funny and seems to know what he's talking about. It's well worth a look.
www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html

And if you recognised the quote in the title – Michael Caine, The Italian Job. Now that film WAS inspirational.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Thanks, Dad

Olivia Ryan has recently had a post about the relationship between mothers and daughters and it got me thinking about fathers and sons.

Not the same is it? My dad only ever gave me one piece of advice. He was never very eloquent or demonstrative and preferred just to get on with life without analysing things too much. I'm fairly sure he was proud of me but he never actually said so. Dads didn't in those days. That was left to your mum. But he would do anything for anybody. Me and my brother were in the Boys' Brigade and, when it came to needing volunteers to transport us into the countryside for a camping weekend, he was first in line. Similarly, when I did a sponsored walk he put himself forward for marshalling duty. And this myth about modern dads being more 'hands-on' with the kids is complete nonsense. I remember him changing my brother's nappy (born 1956) and cooking our tea when he was home after shiftwork.

He died in 1989 aged 66 but he's staring at me now from a photo frame just below my PC screen. He's supposed to be egging me on with my writing but he doesn't. He's looking at me wondering why I'm wasting my time.

And the singular piece of advice? Bear in mind he came from Norfolk and had a rustic sense of humour. It was - “Never mind your arse, mind your head, boy.”
I think I know what he meant.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Teamwork

Following on from the subject of community I began to wonder about the principle of teamwork. You see I've always thought of myself as a team person. I emphasise this in any interviews I attend – “I'm a team player, I'll do anything anything for the team”. I have no inflated ego and I've always loved any activity that involves working together with other people and it's as a team member rather than a community-minded person that I see myself. But then I began to wonder what the difference is. I suppose teamwork always invokes a youthful, sporting image whereas working for the community sounds like digging some pensioner's garden or litter picking.

Then I realised that is how I view writing – as a sport. You need things like determination, persistence and stamina for both. Like sport - I write because I enjoy it. Like sport – I'm not brilliant at it but I've won a bit of money. Like sport – it's a great topic of conversation. The list goes on. The idea of writing in an unfamiliar genre is similar to runners doing a bit of cycling or cyclists going for a swim – it makes a change and gets you out of your comfort zone.

You all probably have alternative ways of looking at your writing. Maybe as a collection of recipes with different styles relating to various flavours. Perhaps you look on your stories as babies – you give birth to them, nurture them and you have your favourites. It could be that this is happening in your subconscious and you need to think about how you view your craft. It might be that you have a more interesting slant on this. If so, you're probably a better writer than I am.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Community Spirit

I accompanied my wife to a craft fair a few days ago. I trudged round behind her, my arms getting longer as she loaded me with bag after bag of paper, card and other paraphernalia which she needs to make her greetings cards. Was I fed up? Not at all as it gave me the chance to observe everything that was going on. I found myself drawn to other men who were performing a similar role to mine – carrying an ever-increasing load while trying to find space among the crowds so as not to cause an obstruction. We gathered around pillars, in recesses, behind corners and under stairs as we tried to avoid being jostled by eager crafters. We were like wildebeest at the watering hole - avoiding eye-contact with each other while staying alert for any predators i.e. the females who would come along to hang yet more plastic bags on our straining fingers.

There must be some sort of social chemistry going on here that would merit a scientific study and it got me thinking about communities. Not in the normal residential sense of the word but communities of people with like-minded interests. These women had gathered here from all over the place to learn skills and buy materials for their craft. Now, for some it is a hobby but for others it is a part-time occupation and they earn money at local fêtes and markets. These women could well be competing with each other for business at some Christmas fair but they still swap ideas, give advice to each other and generally help out with problems.

Then I thought back to a few years ago when I was a bit more athletic than I am now. I used to compete in Triathlon (swim/cycle/run) and entered races all over the country. When you do enough of these races you get to recognise familiar faces, strike up friendships and swap anecdotes. Again, although we were rivals during the race, there was always someone to give a hand before the start – help with a puncture, the lend of a swim cap or advice about the race route. Even during the race we would help each other from the water or shout encouragement during the bike section.

And that brought me back to my current pursuit – writing. We're all scrambling to get an agent, have a short story accepted by a magazine or persuade the BBC that our sitcom idea is the best thing since Dad's Army. Yet we have womagwriter helping us approach the likes of T-a-B and PF, plus other published authors and scriptwriters giving up their wisdom and acquired experienced to haul us lesser mortals up to their standard.

I've always been cynical about the qualities of the human race but maybe I should promise to stop reading all those stories about overpaid footballers, greedy bankers and talentless celebrities. I'll probably break that promise but at least I'll remind myself that these people are in the minority and the rest of us are decent, caring people.

Another promise I've made to myself is that the next time my wife takes me to a craft fair I'm going to take a wheelbarrow.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Garbage He Wrote - latest trials of being an aspiring writer

Ideas He Thought Of (Or Nicked)

A colleague at the writers' club showed me her idea which I eventually copied. She enjoyed writing children's stories and had put a collection together, printed them out with a few illustrations and bound them between thin card with slidebinders. She had managed to sell a few at the annual prizegiving.

I bought one of these booklets out of interest but thought no more of it until I was wondering what to do with a few cycling anecdotes I had gathered over the years. I had been a member of a triathlon club for a few years and some of my training and racing experiences had not been without incident. I had already narrated a couple during our writers' meeting nights and they had been received with some interest and amusement. I had written them in first person although not all of them were based on personal experience. Some of them had been passed on to me by other cycling mates. I could bind them together as my friend had done with her fairy tales, put in a few articles based on my own opinions, add some pictures downloaded from the net, a few jokes maybe and I had twenty five pages of material. I know it's not a proper book but it's nice to see what your words might look like should they eventually get published.

This led me on to other ideas for anthologies. I had been thinking of putting together a set of stories on the theme of the miracle of Christmas. Maybe I could sell a few of these during the season. Then a similar thing for Easter. Could be a way of getting noticed.

Another source of feedback I have found to be good for morale is a website called writing.com. Opening an account is free of charge. You can put your own stories on the site for others to read and comment on or you can read stories from around the world and give your own ratings. I actually received one e-mail from the Philippines telling me how funny and brilliant they thought one of my stories was. It was written in broken English and really enthused about how amusing and thought-provoking my tale was. Of course, it wasn't all that good. Even I know that. But it's nice to know you've given someone a few moments of joy, even from halfway around the world.

Joining Trowell Writers' Trust was the best thing I did as far as my writing is concerned. We meet every fortnight (usually about ten of us) and the evening kicks off with people reading out anything they have done in the preceding two weeks. It can be prose, poetry or even something that has caught your eye in a newspaper or magazine. I generally use this opportunity to try out an idea I have had. If it gets a good reaction I can then take it away and work on it to produce a competition entry or a magazine proposal. I get my ideas from all kinds of sources: my own experiences, something I have seen in the paper or on TV, something my wife has said. I like the challenge of coming up with a story out of some mundane happening or comment. A while ago I had to spend a night in hospital for a routine operation. I wrote about my time there, added an eccentric character, a few ancient jokes and it received a few laughs from my fellow club members. I have already mentioned my cycling stories. Tales of falling off, meeting local characters, the strange clothes we wear all provide material for amusing subject matter or challenging articles.

After those who want to have read out their pieces our leader sets us an exercise. Sometimes she gives us a subject about which to write. Other times she brings out her list of racehorses names out of which we each draw out one and use it as inspiration for a story or poem. Another time we might draw from a list of headlines and a collection of pictures and then combine the words and images to create a story or article. At first I wasn't too keen on these drills. I was writing about stuff I wouldn't normally consider, sometimes in a style alien to my own. But eventually I realised the benefit of taking part in this. Being out of your comfort zone for a while is good for the soul. Doing stuff that is foreign to your natural tendency forces you to think hard and broadens your outlook. I now look forward to these sessions. I think of it as akin to a professional footballer playing golf in his spare time. It is still healthy exercise but a relaxation at the same time. It is both therapy and mental exercise. It makes a change from crosswords and sudoku.

Why do I write? It would be nice to be able to earn a living at it. Or at least part-fund my existence. Failing that, it is a powerful thing to be able to make people laugh. It is also exhilarating to make people cry (a much more difficult feat in my opinion). You can shock them, frighten them, make them think, make them feel ashamed. In fact, if you have the right skills, you can make them go through a whole spectrum of emotions within a few lines. Perhaps the old maxim is true; that the pen is mightier than the sword. Now there's an idea for an article.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Ten Things

Olivia Ryan posted this link http://withinkfromthepinkpen.blogspot.com where you are supposed to divulge ten things about yourself. It doesn't say they have to be interesting facts so...

1. I'm in love with Carol Vorderman.
2. My first name is not Keith.
3. I'm in love with Joanna Lumley.
4. I've fallen off my bicycle so many times and in so many different ways I've written a book about it.
5. I'm in love with Cherie Lunghi.
6. My all time favourite film of all time is Ice Cold In Alex.
7. I'm in love with Felicity Kendal.
8. I don't know how to use a mobile phone.
9. I'm in love with Babs off Pan's People.
10. I have great difficulty taking anything seriously.

If you think I shouldn't have bothered, I agree with you.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Roy Bainton - Writing your Non-fiction Book or Novel

Yesterday was the third and last of Nottingham Writers' Club's summer workshops. Although not a household name, Roy earns his living as a writer. Whatever the job, Roy will tackle it. He has written history books, magazine and radio articles, TV scripts and has recently completed his first novel. He also writes for the music trade with work such as biographies and concert brochures. He is also a very funny man.
The day was packed with discussions on the various aspects of writing fiction and non-fiction, each section being accompanied by a 10 or 15 minute exercise. Very few notes were required to be taken as Roy is very generous with his handouts.
At the end of the day Roy announced a competition for all attendees to send him a 1000 word synopsis of our intended novels, with Amazon vouchers as prizes for the best three.
This was another day well spent. My thanks to Roy and NWC.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Editing Is Hard Work

Well, I did it. Having received some excellent encouragement from womagwriter and Jarmara Falconer I edited my piece for New Love Stories and sent it back. Thanks for that.
My problem was that since I first submitted the story a year ago they have reduced their wordcount requirements. So not only did I have to add some element to the story, I had to cut down 4700 words to 3800. The editing was harder than the original writing and now my brain hurts.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Out of The Blue

Just had an e-mail out of the blue from New Love Stories Magazine in New York. I sent them two stories a year ago and had almost forgotten about them. Now their editor tells me that one of them, in its present state, is not exactly what they are looking for but suggests that I might like to revise and resubmit.
It just goes to show. You send stuff out and think it has gone down a black hole and then it reappears giving you fresh hope.
Is it worth my while trying to rejig it to their requirements or am I better off starting from scratch and sending them something new? Does anyone else out there have any insight into this type of dilemma?

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Steve Wetton - Writing for Television

This was the second of the summer workshops organised by Nottingham Writers' Club. It took place yesterday and, once more, was very good value for money.
Steve is an experienced scriptwriter who has had his own TV series and has lectured at university on the subject. His tutoring style is relaxed and everyone was made to feel at ease. There were no problems in encouraging people to join in the interactive exercises. The advice that he passed on is essential for anyone thinking of submitting material for TV.
Steve has also very generously offered to review one 30 minute script from each of the attendees if e-mailed to him over the next few months.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Garbage He Wrote - even more trials of being an aspiring writer

Scripts He Wrote

My interest in the BBC as a possible target market developed from their 2004 End Of Story competition. I didn't get anywhere in it but it made me think about other things I could throw at them.

What else could I try? How different would it be to write a script rather than prose? I decided to give it a try. I know! I would write an episode of Dr Who. I would base it on a story featuring Isaac Newton (my interest in history coming to the fore again). I came up with what I thought was a clever little episode which involved some reference to actual events and which required a few special effects. Had I been aware of the BBC Writers' Room website at the time I would have known that they do not accept, or even bother to read, unsolicited scripts for existing programmes. Something to do with legal reasons and potential copyright problems. I did receive a nice letter from a member of the drama team explaining this.

On the face of it, this would appear to have been a complete waste of time but I don't regard any writing exercise as entirely fruitless. There is always some benefit to be gained. I look on it as an exercise in creativity combined with mental therapy.

As it happens, around about this time, I made friends with another aspiring writer. She had just written a murder mystery and was in the process of producing it with a local amateur drama group. I went along to watch the performance and was at once hooked. I already had a couple of ideas and immediately set about digging out my notes and preparing the script. On to the Writers' Room site for the BBC guidelines and address and off it went in the post. The thing about sending stuff to the Beeb is that within a few days you get a little postcard from them informing you that they have received your work. It even has the title of the piece typed on the address label so at least you know they've taken it out of the envelope and someone has taken the time to look at the top sheet. I bet Galton and Simpson didn't have to go through this but it makes you think that maybe there is a glimmer of hope there somewhere. Or is that just me being pathetic? There are probably hundreds of people doing exactly the same and getting their little postcards through the letterbox. After the excitement of the postcard it is actually several months before the rejection letter comes through the post. I was already prepared for this and immediately whisked off my next attempt.

Both of these first efforts were hour-long single dramas but for my third try I decided to have a go at a sitcom. I had just been made redundant from a local factory and had come across several interesting characters in my five years of working there. Their attributes ranged from humorous, bizarre, grotesque, eccentric, crusty, cynical and dim. I pitched my synopsis as breaking away from the standard domestic comedy and focussing on both the conflict and collaboration of management and workers in a working environment. Sound impressive huh? Apparently not according to Auntie Beeb. My postcard collection grows.

Not to be disheartened, I discovered on the internet a competition run by a renowned amateur theatre company. The requirement was for a one-act play lasting 20 to 30 minutes. Inspired by various TV ads, I soon came up with a little piece set around a supermarket checkout till. Intended to be a comedy drama, the action was based on the shooting of one of these advertisements and involved dialogue between the actors playing staff and customers as well as those playing the television production team. The plot incorporated a little twist at the end, delivered in the final line of the play. I called it Supermarket Creep, as a witty parody of the old Dale Winton programme, Supermarket Sweep (how do I think them up?). Over one hundred entries were received apparently from all over the world. I didn't make the top five but I still have the script on file, ready for any other similar competition. Nothing is ever wasted.

Another example of how things can develop is when I heard of a competition for a ten minute play. I came up with what I thought was a witty little thing, with a cast of two, about Hitler in a shop. But when I read it back it was barely three minutes long. Undaunted I thought it might make a decent comedy sketch so I tweaked it a little bit. Then I thought maybe it could be done with just one actor. Eventually I had ambitions for it to be done on radio, a bit like those one half of a conversation routines that Bob Newhart used to perform in the 1960s. It is still on file waiting till I have enough for a half-hour show.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Getting Involved

I spent some time last week doing research for a local project. I was helping an arts organisation who specialise in community theatre events and create performances about the local history. Last year we did a couple of plays. First about how a housing estate had been built in the 1950s and how the community had developed over the years. Later we performed at a school which was closing down to become an academy. We showed how the school culture had changed over the years. It was interesting to see how information from interviews with residents, pupils and staff was used to create totally fictitious stories while still getting the information across to the audience. These plays were both informative and entertaining.
It is worth getting involved with things like this when the opportunity arises. I learnt from professionals how these productions are put together and how to weave a story around a set of facts.
Grab these opportunities when you can.
And today's quote is:
Creativity comes from a conflict of ideas.
Donatella Versace

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Garbage He Wrote - more trials of being an aspiring writer

Short Stories He Wrote

In the middle of writing what was intended to be my début novel I began to have self doubts. Not an unusual human condition I don't suppose but I wondered if there was anything I could do to suppress my uncertainty. The cavalry arrived in the shape of Trowell Writers' Trust, a group based just a mile down the road from me. The first year I entered their 2000 word short story competition with a tale set during the Indian Mutiny and based upon a newsreel I remembered seeing on Blue Peter during the nineteen sixties. It appealed to my interest in history and was awarded third place. The next year I got first for a story about a race between two milkmen. Encouraging stuff!

2008 was a bumper year, getting a second at Trowell and another second in the National Association of Writers' Groups (NAWG) short story competition. Towards the end of that year I also wrote a story which ended up with second place in the Writing Magazine short story competition. Three seconds in one year. Surely the big breakthrough cannot be far away? Buoyed up by this moderate success I pressed on with my novel but continued to build up a collection of short stories and looked around for possible outlets for them.

Some competitions give a critique to all entrants. Others offer feedback for those that pay an extra entry fee. It is worth looking out for these if you require professional advice. The amount of information you get back is limited but you can get some useful pointers from this source. And if the comments are favourable, the boost to your self-esteem is incalculable.

Apart from competitions, the obvious market appeared to be women's magazines. In recent years a few of these publications have reduced or completely abandoned their fiction content but there are still quite a few out there to pitch for, especially if you extend your scope worldwide. The essential course of action here is to actually read a few of your target issues and gauge the sort of thing they are looking for. Most of them will supply you with a copy of their guidelines. I am my own severest critic but I'm sure my tales are just as good, if not better, than most of those that appear in these publications. Yet the rejection letters continue to fall on my doormat as regular as double glazing flyers. Is it because I'm a man? Ooh! How could I think such bitter thoughts?

A friend I had met on a language course was also an aspiring writer and she had a few other friends who had similar ambitions. She had the bright idea of getting away for a few days to some secluded place so we could be creative with no outside distractions. So we ended up, six of us, in a remote cottage in Derbyshire armed with notepads and laptops. For my part it was a productive week. I managed to complete a 4000 word ghost story (which is still seeking an outlet unfortunately) and do some work on a couple of scripts I had in mind. My friend, who had already had one of her plays performed by an amateur group, was working on another script. Halfway through the week she roped us all in to do a read-through. It was an interesting exercise for me and a source of constructive feedback for her. Having other like-minded people around meant that there were plenty of sources of advice and criticism. All-in-all it was a week well spent and I would recommend it to anyone.

Blogs are another source of advice and assistance. Many authors who have been successful in the feel-good fiction field freely offer their invaluable advice. I find this quite moving. These people (mostly women I think) are actually volunteering the benefit of their knowledge and experience to potential rivals. Again, the necessity of persistence is raised. Tales of stories being revamped more than ten times in order to make them suitable for various publications are related. My collection of rejection letters grows by the month.

Overseas markets seemed to be worth a look. A few British magazines have foreign equivalents, the main areas appearing to be Australia, South Africa and the U.S.A. And remember, the Irish Republic, English speaking and not so far away, is also a foreign land. Fortunately some of these are now accepting e-mail submissions which makes life easier (and cheaper). An American site I found is asking for stories of up to 5000 words so I managed to run up a couple of yarns in a week. A few weeks later I got an e-mail back informing me they have been read and considered but at the moment space is at a premium. Is this good news? The normal reply is 'unfortunately this is not quite suitable for our requirements'. I'm willing to clutch at any straw of encouragement.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Bead Roberts – Writing for Women's Magazines

I attended one of Bead Roberts' workshops at the weekend courtesy of Nottingham Writers' Club. This was excellent value for money and I would thoroughly recommend it for anyone intending to submit to a women's magazine. Bead has extensive experience in this field as well as writing for other types of publication and radio.
She covered characterisation, setting, plots, pace, dialogue, editing, presentation, markets as well as having time to answer all questions. Her tutoring style is excellent and everyone benefited from the course. This was a day well spent.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Garbage He Wrote - the trials of being an aspiring writer

Novels He Wrote

It is July 2003 and I have taken voluntary redundancy from my job as an engineer at Marconi. Two days a week down the library using their Internet connection to search for jobs, a few hours at the learn-as-you-go IT workshop to brush up my skills and the rest of the time is my own. How to fill it?

Didn't I start writing a novel a while ago on my son's computer? Let's have a look. Ah yes! Here it is. A medieval novel. I've always liked history. The story of a 13th century friar becoming an unwilling participant in the struggle between Henry III and the English barons and being pursued all over southern England. A sort of cross between Cadfael and The Thirty Nine Steps (one of my favourite books). I smile at my clever comparison. A pity no-one else is around to appreciate my wit.

I resume writing in earnest, using every available hour to advance the plot. When the words are flowing my two-fingered typing is almost a blur. But the story doesn't always run easily and I hit mental blocks. Then questions arise. Should I have planned this better? Would it make it clearer if I drew a flow chart of the plot? Would it help to map out my hero's escape route? Do I need more characterisation? How do proper writers do it?

I start reading writing magazines and find books in the library which offer invaluable advice to the aspiring novelist. The more I read, the more I realise there is no wrong way or right way to write. Some published writers claim to plan everything out to the last detail so that when they write they know exactly what will end up on the page. Others admit to having the barest inkling of an idea which means that, when they begin writing, they haven't a clue how the story will end. I decide that my way is somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of literary creativity and am thus encouraged.

It no longer bothers me that I don't write my chapters in a straight sequence. Some days I want to pick up a dramatic scene towards the tail end of my story. I go back later and fill in the gaps. I worry no more that I am modifying the plot as I go along.

While all this literary energy is being expended I find local help is at hand and join the Trowell Writers' Trust. I am back in full time employment by now and cannot attend the meetings but I enter their annual short story competition and achieve third place. So someone is of the opinion that I can write a bit! The next year I come first and am thus encouraged to try other competitions and women's magazines. I also extend my repertoire to scripts for stage and television.

At last it is finished! But is it long enough to be called a novel? I do a count – 77,000 words. How long should it be? I do some comparisons. Some of these 2-inch thick blockbusters are obviously a heck of a lot more. But what about some of the classics? I get out my trusty Thirty Nine Steps and notice it is only about 100 pages. What's that? Barely 50,000 words? I remember I read it in an afternoon. Not bad for a book that has spurned three films and a television adaptation. (None of which has been true to John Buchan by the way – maybe there's another article there).

Now what to do? Back to the magazines and the overwhelming consensus of opinion appears to advocate going down the agency route. So it's back to the library and trawling through Writers' and Artists' Yearbook. I end up with half-a-dozen likely candidates and eagerly post the first three chapters and a covering letter to the first one. A few weeks later back comes the standard rejection letter. To be honest I didn't expect any other outcome. From what I can gather it takes several attempts to get accepted. A friend gives me encouragement (?) by informing me that the script for Four Weddings And A Funeral was rejected over ninety times. It seems I may have a long way to go.

Five more rejections without a word of feedback and I'm beginning to wonder if there is much call for straightforward historical adventure stories these days so I decide to do a bit of research. It is almost time for our annual holiday and my wife has stocked up on her poolside reading. I pick up a Corgi paperback and peruse the front cover. The words 'romp', 'racy' and 'fun' on the front cover blurb offer a clue as to the artistic content but I am not prepared for what two characters are doing to each other in the bedroom before I've reached the bottom of page four. Is this what it takes to sell books these days? What the hell. It's not what I ever intended to write but I decide to give it a go. I soon come up with a vague plot and begin to type. I continue my contemporary novel with pen and paper while on holiday and transfer it all to computer on my return. I find that the raunchy parts come to mind surprisingly easily. Being a qualified engineer with a logical mind I create a list of euphemisms for male body parts and a female equivalent list. I then just select different ones to use in different circumstances. A sort of pick-and-mix human anatomy.

Within a few months I have 86,000 words (I'm unemployed again by now). I still have doubts inasmuch as I have written what I think the market wants and not what particularly interests me. Nevertheless, it's complete, I enjoyed creating it and I go back to the Yearbook. One rejection later I'm still waiting to hear from my second targeted agent.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Yet another rejection letter lands in my lap. That's two this week. Still, another two have gone out to redress the balance. Done my Writers' Club homework so I'm more-or-less up to date with my writing.
It is better to have enough ideas for some of them to be wrong, than to be always right by having no ideas at all.
Edward de Bono

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Another rejection letter lands in my postbox.
Time for another morale-boosting quote.
Don't be discouraged by a failure. It can be a positive experience. Failure is, in a sense, the highway to success, inasmuch as every discovery of what is false leads us to seek earnestly after what is true, and every fresh experience points out some form of error which we shall afterwards carefully avoid.
John Keats

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Quote of the day:
You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you're working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success – but only if you persist.
Isaac Asimov

Friday, 12 March 2010

I'm now well on the way to finishing the two stories based on my sister-in-law's recollections. Thanks to womagwriter for giving me the kick to get them down on paper. Also finished my Writers' Club homework. I can get on with my novel now. Plus all the other ideas for scripts, sketches, musicals etc. No shortage of ideas - just time.
Quote of the day:
Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.
Sir Winston Churchill

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Thanks to womagwriter for encouraging me to get on and write that story anyway. My sister-in-law actually told me some other stuff which happened about fifty years ago. I ought to get that down as well before someone beats me to it!
Writers' Club last night. We are currently in the middle of a 'follow that story' project. This is where we each compile the first paragraph of a story and then pass it on to the next member to continue the plot for the next meeting. Eventually each story gets back to the originator who has to finish it off. My homework this week is to continue a story about a couple having a baby which the man knows might not be his. They also have to contend with his disapproving parents.
Plenty to do - I'd better get on with it!

Monday, 8 March 2010

Opportunity

A news item today claims that German cycling tours of Britain in the years before WWII were actually covers for spying operations by Hitler Youth. My sister-in-law told me this story a while ago. She says they came to Tamworth in Staffordshire which is where I grew up.
I had intended to use this as the basis for a short story but, now that it is in the public domain, it won't have the same originality and impact.
Damn!
Just goes to show - you should grab your opportunities when you can.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

My Profile

Building up my profile bit by bit. Don't really like talking about myself. Prefer to let my work speak for itself.
Hoping to post some good ideas and interesting bits and pieces on here.
The title of my blog is taken from a Walt Disney quote. 'If you can dream it, you can do it'.
I like quotes. Might feature a quote of the day on here. How's that for a good idea?