Wednesday 31 October 2012

NaNoWriMo OhYes!

November is nearly upon us, and there are thousands of people all over this planet who have decided to dedicate 30 days of their autumn to writing 50,000 for NaNoWriMo (that's National Novel Writing Month to those of us who don't like tongue twisters).  It's been something that I've wanted to do for a while, but always talked myself out of it.  There's no way anyone can possibly write a whole novel in a month.  And yet I managed to do a lot more than that earlier this year.  I hadn't intended to write a novel in a month, but once I started writing, I couldn't stop, and after 37 days I had 120,000 words under my belt.  So what is stopping me from doing something similar in November?  Nothing.

Over the past couple of weeks or so, people have been posting up advice on Twitter (and various other places around t'internet) on how to get through the next month, and I'd like to pass on my own pearls of wisdom.

  1. Set yourself realistic targets - In order to write 50,000 words in 30 days, you need to scribble down an average of 1,667 words per day.  This might seem scary, so take baby steps.  Bite size chunks are easier to digest.  And you'll normally write more if your targets are low to start with.  If you set yourself to write 10 words, you'll find that easy and write 100 words.  So start off small, build your confidence, and work up to 1,667 words per day.  After the first few days, your targets will increase and you'll start to find reaching these targets easier.  When I was writing my first book I set myself a target of 1,000 words per day, and it got to the point where I was writing up to 4,000.
  2. Clear your workspace - Wherever you write; be it a desk, the kitchen table, the bathroom floor, the boot of your car, make sure it's uncluttered.  As a writer, you will also be a procrastinator, so you don't need unnecessary distractions from, well, anything.
  3. Invest in post-it notes - If you're sitting at your computer, typing a scene at the beginning of your story, you'll no doubt get ideas for things that will happen later on in the book.  If you're anything like me, you'll have to get your snippets of inspiration down on paper as soon as possible, but you won't want to lose them in your typed text.  Get all of your spur of the moment thoughts down on post-it notes, stick them around the edge of your computer screen, and throw them away once you've typed them up in the appropriate place.
  4. Take breaks - Get up and move away from your computer at various points throughout your writing day.  Don't take a break by browsing facebook, or watching videos on YouTube.  Leave your computer and forget about it for a while.  Go for a walk, get the heart beating and the blood pumping, breathe in some fresh air.  You'll feel refreshed and ready to attack the keyboard again.  When I was writing, I'd always take a break at 12:30 to take my dog for a walk.  Sometimes it would be frustrating as I'd be in 'the zone' and wouldn't want to stop writing.  But I did always feel better after the walk.  I know November isn't the most pleasant of times to go walking, with the rain and wind attacking, so perhaps go to the gym or go swimming or go for a drive or do some housework.  Do anything that will give your eyes and your mind a rest.  
  5. Drink water - I know this isn't advice for running a marathon, but even though you aren't giving your body a workout, you are giving your mind a workout.  Avoid coffee or generic energy drinks made from the juice found in bull's testicles.  You'll get a perk and feel like you could write forever, then you'll drop, so you'll drink some more caffeine which will perk you up, and then you'll drop, and this vicious circle will keep going until you feel absolutely shattered.  Instead, keep yourself hydrated with water or juice, and get your energy perks from snack foods, such as fruit (apples, bananas, blueberries, strawberries), raw vegetables (carrots, celery, cucumber, red peppers), and nuts (almonds, cashews, pecans).  You can chow down on these snacks while you're typing away.
  6. Don't compete - I understand that this is a challenge undertaken by thousands of people, and there are forums to join on the NaNoWriMo website where you can chat to other writers and get support.  If you happen to notice someone on 2nd November saying that they've already written 10,000 words, don't let it get you down or make you feel inadequate.  We set our own targets for our own lifestyle.  Just because someone has written a lot, doesn't mean that they're better than you or that they're going to finish.  Concentrate on your own words.   
  7. Sleep - This probably sounds silly, as we all need to sleep, regardless of what we're doing, but it's important to get a sufficient amount of rest to keep our minds active.  If, for whatever reason, you've been unable to reach your word count target for the day, don't sit up until 4am staring at your computer in the hope that the words will come.  When you have to get up at 7am to get the kids ready for school or to take the dog for a walk or to get yourself to work, you'll wish that you'd gone to bed earlier.  If you really don't feel like you can write any more, close it down and leave it be.  You can't force words if words won't come.  There's always tomorrow to get more words down (unless it's 30th November!).
  8. Save, save, save - I have got into the habit of saving anything I write after I've typed a few words.  An easy way to do this is to hold down the control ('ctrl') key on your keyboard and then press the 's' key.  This may sound a bit extreme, but I don't ever want to lose anything, even if it is only a few words.  Normally I save my work to my hard drive first.  When I've come to the end of my writing day, I'll save my work to my memory stick, and I'll also e-mail the work to myself.  You're going to be working so hard at getting this done, you don't want to lose anything because of a freak power cut or the dreaded blue screen of death.
  9. Don't give up - It may seem like you're climbing a mountain with no view of the top in which to plant your flag, but you will get there.  And the feeling of having a completed manuscript is amazing.  Holding those pages of paper is physical proof that you've written a book.  It won't be a brilliant book.  It will need a lot of editing.  But it will be a book, and you can feel  pleased that you've done it.  So even when you get to the middle of the month and you feel like giving up, don't.  Plod at it.  If you feel your story is getting boring, add a few plot twists, or bring in a crazy character.  It's your book.  You can do whatever you want with it, so whatever you do do, keep doing it, and only give up once your story is finished.
  10. Enjoy yourself - Either you write as a hobby or you write professionally.  No-one is forcing you to be a writer, so you've chosen this art form because you like doing it.  Don't let it seem like work.  It's just a longer version of your writing group homework, or a writing prompt that has taken on a life of its own.  If you find that you're not enjoying it, perhaps writing isn't for you.
There are probably hundreds of other pieces of advice that could be given with regards to writing a novel, so I won't pretend that this is an exhaustive list.  I just hope it gives you a little bit of light at the end of a long tunnel.

LLBG October

This month we have been reading The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde.  Although this is a book that everyone 'should' have read, it was one of the many books on my 'to read' list, and I've finally read it.  Before I delve into the opinions of myself and the book group, I just want to point out some notable quotations that stood out for me.  I know there are hundreds of books already in print which contain lists of Wilde's famous words, but they are the quotations that other people deem important.  The following lines are the ones that I deem important.

The Preface 
The artist is the creator of beautiful things.
To reveal art and conceal the artist is art's aim.
The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.
The highest, as the lowest, form of criticism is a mode of autobiography.
Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming.  This is a fault.
Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are cultivated.  For these there is hope.
They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only beauty.
There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book.  Books are well written, or badly written.  That is all.
The nineteenth century dislike of Realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.
The nineteenth century dislike of Romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass.  The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium.  No artist desires to prove anything.  Even things that are true can be proved.
No artist has ethical sympathies.  An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style.
No artist is ever morbid.  The artist can express everything.
Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art.
Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art.
From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the musician.  From the point of view of feeling, the actor's craft is the type.
All art is at once surface and symbol.
Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.
Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.
It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.
Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital.
When critics disagree, the artist is in accord with himself.
We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it.  The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.
All art is quite useless.
…for there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.
You know more than you think you know, just as you know less than you want to know. 
He played with the idea, and grew wilful; tossed it into the air and transformed it; let it escape and recaptured it; made it iridescent with fancy, and winged it with paradox.
I’m too fond of reading books to care to write them, Mr. Erskine.  I should like to write a novel certainly; a novel that would be as lovely as a Persian carpet, and as unreal.  But there is no literary public in England for anything except newspapers, primers, and encyclopædias.  Of all people in the world the English have the least sense of the beauty of literature. 
She was a curious woman, whose dresses always looked as if they had been designed in a rage and put on in a tempest.
The only artists I have ever known who are personally delightful are bad artists.  Good artists exist simply in what they make, and consequently are perfectly uninteresting in what they are.  A great poet, a really great poet, is the most unpoetical of all creatures.  But inferior poets are absolutely fascinating.  The worse their rhymes are, the more picturesque they look.  The mere fact of having published a book of second-rate sonnets makes a man quite irresistible.  He lives the poetry that he cannot write.  The others write the poetry that they dare not realise.
But then the only things that one can use in fiction are the things that one has ceased to use in fact.
I love acting.  It is so much more real than life.
Love is a more wonderful thing than Art.
They are both simply forms of imitation. 
There are only two kinds of people who are really fascinating - people who know absolutely everything, and people who know absolutely nothing.
And, certainly, to him, Life itself was the first, the greatest of the arts, and for it all the other arts seemed to be but a preparation.
One's days were too brief to take the burden of another's errors on one's shoulders.  Each man lived his own life and paid his own price for living it.  The only pity was one had to pay so often for a single fault.  One had to pay over and over again, indeed.  In her dealings with man, Destiny closed her accounts.

Most people enjoyed the book, but found it very wordy.  Wilde does have a fantastic way with language, and his vocabulary is superb, but sometimes he does go on and on and on and on with his description and it can get quite boring.  I almost feel a bit bad about saying negative things about Oscar Wilde, because he is one of the greats, but this book didn't meet my expectations.  I've read two of his plays; Salomé and The Importance of Being Earnest, which were strange and funny, and I had hoped for the same from this book.

One member of the group made an interesting comment.  She said that a lot of the original story had been omitted from the published version as it was too risqué for the time.  Apparently, Wilde had written about homosexuality and opium dens in much more detail, and more frequently, than was actually published, as well as other example of debauchery.  This makes sense, as the story did feel disjointed in parts, and there were hints towards the terrible things that Dorian had done during his life, but no actual details. 

This book was Wilde's only novel, and many people at the group said that it probably would have scanned better had it been a play.  I don't know if I agree or disagree with this, but I do feel that it was lacking a lot of the story.  Although this is a well known story, I won't give away the ending.  All I will say is that the ending was a surprise, but it was too sudden considering the wordiness of the book.

I'm not going to tell you that you shouldn't read this book.  However, I will tell you not to expect too much from it.  And don't let it put you off reading Wilde's plays.  They're brilliant.

Next month we will be discussing The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad.

Writer - Tracey Dawson

I'd like to welcome you to my interview with writer, Tracey Dawson.  Enjoy.

Tracey Dawson

Hello Tracey.  Can you introduce yourself?
I'm Tracey Dawson from South Cambs.
How long have you been writing?
I finished my first 'novel' at the age of five.
What first got you interested in writing?
Always have been.
Do you attend a writing group?
Letchworth writers’ group from the age of 15 to 36/7.  I was the secretary for quite a few years.  We moved about 15 miles away and I started my own group 4 years ago.
Why do you attend a writing group?
To get the support and encouragement of other writers, and to feel that I’m not alone in what I’m doing.
What's the most valuable thing you've taken away from your writing group?
Not to give up! 
What genre(s) do you write?  What drew you to this/these genre(s)?
I’ve done fantasy and romance, but mostly write black humour.  I like weird + humour... it’s just how my brain works.
That's how my brain works too!  Are there any genres that you don't enjoy writing?
I can only write stuff that interests me, so could never write e.g. commercial, mainstream chicklit.  It would bore me rigid.
What types of things do you write?
I’ve written four novels and am currently working concurrently on five and six which are completely different.  I’ve written quite a few short stories.

Have you ever had anything published?
Lots of short stories have won comps and been published in anthologies.  All four novels are available on Amazon as paper copes and on Kindle.  I would like to become more successful but am not sure how to go about it. 
I think you just have to take your own advice, and not give up!  Have you sent your writing to agents/publishers?  Have you received any rejections?
Yes, loads.  Yes, loads!  Although for each of my first three novels, an agent wanted to see the rest.
Who/what influences your writing?  Where do you get your inspiration from?
I just bang ideas together til something sparks.  The old people puppets from the Winga advert inspired novel number five.  I looked at them and suddenly thought, they’re retired superheroes.  And started a novel about them the next day.
How do you come up with your characters' names and personalities?
Novel number six – I know Max and Chris inside out as they’ve been in lots of short stories.  Novel number five – I wrote down names and characteristics i.e. basic likes and dislikes.  Then I write about them, and they take on their own characteristics. 
Do you have a writing routine?
I write at lunchtimes, and I have learned to switch it on and off.  I can switch on when I get some spare time.
That's impressive.  I wish I had that ability.  Do you start out with a complete idea for your stories, or do you just start writing and hope for the best?
I’ve done both.  I prefer to plan short stories.  Novels – I have a vague idea where I’m going, and just get on with it.
Do you have an editing process?
I tried reading aloud to see if I wanted to do it at the pub thing next week and felt very stupid.  I skim through what I wrote the day before and correct any errors, which gets me into the mindset for continuing.
Have you ever entered any writing competitions?  Have you ever won?
Yes, loads.  Yes, loads.  Latest win was ‘first chapter’ comp in August 2012 for writers’ billboard comp.  One Summer is currently on their website. 

Have you ever attended an open mic event for spoken word performers?
No, but I’m going to one next week to publicise the group.
How important is it for you to share your writing?
Varies.  I want to earn some money and sometimes I want approval, but sometimes I know myself if something is any good.  I found that sharing with the L’worth group was actually demotivating as they were all so wet. 
What do you enjoy the most/least about writing?
Most – intellectually satisfying.  Least – hard work, no idea if I’m ever going to be successful, sometimes feel that everything I write is rubbish.
We are our own worst critic.  What's the best piece of writing advice you've ever been given?
It’s just words on paper. If it isn’t fun, then don’t do it.
Don’t give up. 
What advice could you give to a new writer?
Go to a writing group and keep writing.
Apart from writing, what are your other hobbies/interests?
Showjumping, dressage, piano, drums, martial arts.

What types of things do you read?  Do you think your writing reflects your book tastes?
 My writing is different from anything I’ve ever read.  I usually read whatever’s on the kindle charts, although I have faves like Ladies No 1 detective agency that I always get asap.
If you could have written anything, what do you wish that could have been?
Terry Pratchett’s discworld stuff.
What are you working on at the moment?
Two novels and a plain English diploma assignment.
Do you have a website/blog/Twitter/Facebook dedicated to your writing? (I am catembi on there...i.e. the only one who ever posts anything) and

Would you be able to provide a short piece of your work?
Taken from the first chapter of One Summer.
One way or another, it turned out to be a pretty awesome summer. I’m not really sure, even now, if it was the best summer of my whole life or the worst one, but it wasn’t the kind of summer that you ever forget. Life- changing doesn’t even come into it. I mean, everything’s potentially life changing, if you think about it. If you rush off in the morning in too much of a hurry and leave the milk out, then come home at the end of the day to find you can’t have the cup of tea you’ve been craving because your milk smells like something you’d rather not smell, that could be life changing because you could never ever leave your milk out again for the rest of your life. Unless you’re me, of course, in which case you’re always in such a scramble to catch up with yourself that things a lot more important than a quarter bottle of milk get continually ignored.

It was more than life changing, and it had affected a lot more people than just the three of us by the time it was all over. It changed me more than I could possibly ever have imagined, in a way that went far beyond the mental and physical scars that I picked up along the way, but I’m getting ahead of myself. 
It all started when the new guy arrived in the office on that bright Monday morning. It wasn’t that bright a morning from my point of view because obviously it was a Monday- another five whole days to go till the weekend- but the day was clear and already hot. Hot enough that if I hadn’t been stuck in the office, I’d have spent the day reading in the garden. 
© Tracey Dawson 
Thank you Tracey.

Monday 29 October 2012

Redwell Writers

I'd like to welcome you to my interview with David Viner, from Redwell Writers.


Hello David.  Can you tell us a bit about your writing group?
Redwell Writers, meets fortnightly at member's houses. It was established in 2006 by a local author though it is now run by its members. The name comes from the fact that the original meeting place was just off Redwell Street in Norwich.

How many members, on average, does your group have?
Usually around 8 to 10 – we wouldn't expand much on this as that size gives everyone a chance for input.
Who are you and what is your role within the group?
My name is David Viner.  I took over the running of the group (and also built the web site) once the original person who started the group had to stop running it.
How are your sessions structured?
Sometimes they are themed but mostly they are general discussion plus read and review. We do the occasional writing exercise.
What types of things do you cover in your group?
All aspects of writing: themes, genres, styles, plotting, POV, narrative, characterisation, opportunities for getting published etc. – basically, anything to do with writing!
What have been some of your most popular/successful activities?
The regular read and review sessions are the most popular as it gives us the opportunity to hear what each other is doing and help each other where we spot problems.
What genres do the members of your group write?
Anything goes – we've had romantic, horror, crime, Sci-Fi, slipstream, autobiography, script writing, observational, comedy, general journalistic articles etc.
Have you ever written collectively as a group, such as producing an anthology?
It is something we are currently looking into.
What kind of support does your writing group provide for its writers?
The regular read and review sessions encourage the development of individual writers.
Do you have guest speakers at your group?
Yes, we've had published authors and also had along someone who writes critiques, whose advice was taken on board. 
Do members of the group get a chance to run/lead a session or part of a session?
Yes, anyone can run a session – we've used this in the past for themed meetings. Each person would investigate a particular theme such as plotting, characterisation, editing etc and present information about it. Usually the rest of the group would bring along a short piece to read out that illustrated that theme. 
What's the best piece of writing advice you've been given?
Writers write!  i.e. don't talk about writing unless you are writing yourself, write something every day - no, I don't tend to manage this personally! 
What is the best piece of writing advice you give?
As above!
Does your writing group have a website/blog/Twitter/Facebook?
How would someone go about joining your writing group?
Contact us via the website.
Thank you David.

Friday 26 October 2012

Writer - David Viner

Welcome to my interview with writer, David Viner.  Enjoy.

David Viner

Hello David.  Can you introduce yourself?
I'm David Viner from Norwich.
How long have you been writing?
Dabbled in the 1970/80s.  Became more serious in the past 10 years. 
What first got you interested in writing?
Reading and thinking "I could do this."
Positive thinking!  Do you attend a writing group?
Redwell Writers.  One of the original members in 2006.
Why do you attend a writing group?
Mutual encouragement.  Get feedback on my own writing.  Interesting to hear what others are writing and how they are progressing. 
What is the most valuable thing you've taken away from your writing group?
What genre(s) do you write?  What drew you to this/these genre(s)?
Sci-Fi, slipstream, anything that takes my fancy!  Have always read Sci-Fi since childhood.
Are there any genres that you don't enjoy writing?
No, I won't preclude any style or genre for which I get an idea.
What types of things do you write?
Short stories mainly though there are a couple of novels under the proverbial bed! (aren't there always?)
Indeed there are.  Have you ever had anything published?
Yes, 3 short stories: 

  • Eight Excerpts from a Secret Inter-dimensional War  - published in The Hub magazine (now defunct) 2007 – a science fiction story told in eight unconnected flash fiction sections. 
  • Home For Christmas – a story of one man's struggle to return to the city of his birth after the onset of a new ice age. Published in "Angles, an anthology of Speculative Fiction featuring authors/stories based in East Anglia, edited by Ian J C Millsted" 
  • No Accident – a tongue in cheek murder mystery set in the 1960s - published in First Edition magazine (also now defunct). 
Have you sent your writing to agents/publishers?  Have you received any rejections?
Yes and yes!
Would you consider self-publishing/e-publishing?
Yes, the anthology that we are considering doing for the writing group would be self published. It is no longer looked down upon – the "vanity publishing" aspect has almost disappeared now. Personally I prefer the feel of a proper paper–made book in my hand.
I agree about the paper made books; that's what makes it a book and not a computer screen!  Who/what influences your writing?  Where do you get your inspiration from?
Inspiration can come from anything: a chance comment, an article in a magazine, an idea seemingly from out of nowhere. I often start writing with no idea of what I am writing about – the Eight Excerpts story started like that as did the story I read out at the writing group a couple of evenings ago. 
How do you come up with your characters' names and personalities?
It depends on the setting of the story – Zartok Krackskull is obviously not the sort of name I'd use for a story with a modern day domestic setting whilst Elsie Thompson wouldn't sound right for an evil Galactic Overlord! J The personalities tend to grow with the writing.
Unless Elsie was Zartok in disguise, to lead his/her enemies into a false sense of security...  Do you start out with a complete idea for your stories, or do you just start writing and hope for the best?
Either will do. 
Do you have a writing routine?
No routine whatsoever!
Do you have an editing process?
The read and review sessions at the writing group are good for identifying problems that I haven't spotted.
Have you ever entered any writing competitions?  Have you ever won?
Yes and no.
Have you ever attended an open mic event for spoken word performers?
Yes, though I didn't get the chance to read anything and wouldn't have wanted to at the time as it was first (and only) time there.
How important is it for you to share your writing?
Quite important as it gives the feedback I need to improve.
What do you enjoy the most/least about writing?
A feeling of achievement when it goes right.  Getting started can often be hard.
What is the best piece of writing advice you've ever been given?
Writers write.
What advice could you give to a new writer?
As above but also to believe in yourself – usually, it can only get better! 
Apart from writing, what are your other hobbies/interests?
Music (I play guitar in a folk/ceilidh band).  Computers (I build web sites for a living).
What types of things do you read?  Do you think your writing reflects your book tastes?
Sci-Fi, comedy, technical, scientific.  Yes!
Do you have any favourite lines from novels/plays/poetry/songs, or any favourite literary quotations?
"It's the same old story.  Boy finds girl, boy loses girl, girl finds boy, boy forgets girl, boy remembers girl, girl dies in a tragic blimp accident over the Orange Bowl on New Year's Day."  Actually, that's from a film – but it shows up my wacky sense of humour.  Google it – it's not hard to find. 
If you could have written anything, what do you wish that could have been?
Day of the Triffids – my favourite book. 
Do you have a website/blog/Twitter/Facebook dedicated to your writing?
I have my own website though it is used for much more than my writing –
Would you be able to provide a short piece of your work?
This is from the 7th excerpt of Eight Excerpts and is a soldier's view of the start of an encounter with the "other dimension": 
The view screen in front of him is blank and white, a wall awaiting a door. He gulps, swallowing the excess saliva. It’s not real, he tells himself. 
And, indeed, it isn’t. The screen is not a window; it is a camera projecting an image into his cubicle as similar cameras are projecting similar images onto the screens of those in the cubicles around him. The white wall is miles away and he is safe in the bunker. 
“Ten seconds,” says a dispassionate voice through his headpiece. He swallows again. 
The ten seconds is gone in five and the wall starts to dissipate, to melt from white to Between grey and finally to streaked yellow. 
He looks into another world. 
He has seen the images before but, then, they had just been recordings and there had been other men and women at the controls. His turn now. 
© David Viner
Thank you David. 

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Writer - Antony N Britt

I'd like to welcome you to my interview with writer, Antony N Britt.  Enjoy.

Antony N Britt

Hello Antony.  Can you introduce yourself?
I am Antony N Britt and I'm based in Walsall.
How long have you been writing?
I wrote a lot as a kid but stopped for near 20 years during a marriage, now put down to being a very bad dream. I started again in 2005 while in the full throws of a breakdown.  I'm not sure if writing aided the recovery process but it makes sense of it now, looking back.  I blogged online for a few years until trying to be a bit more serious and get stuff published about two years ago.
Writing is extremely cathartic, and a way of organising thoughts and feelings, as well as being an excellent form of escapism.  What first got you interested in writing?
It was the love of writing my own comics and books as a kid then in recent years, the realisation that it was something I still enjoyed and could be quite good at.
Do you attend a writing group?
Every month I attend the Walsall Writers' Circle which I have been going to for about 18 months. I have also recently started taking part in another monthly local group – Walsall Adult Writers.
Why do you attend a writing group?
It was to network with other writers, originally, then I enjoyed the workshops, talks, etc. And they're also an awfully nice bunch, anyway.
Well that's always a bonus!  What is the most valuable thing you've taken away from your writing group?
Networking, feedback and simply talking with like-minded folk.  In fact, at the writing groups, there often isn't the time for socialising as you are often engaged in a talk or workshop.  Therefore, it's nice to get together on a more casual basis and just talk writing or whatever else comes to mind without the fear you're boring the pants off somebody going on about plots all night.
What genre(s) do you write?  What drew you to this/these genre(s)?
I tend to go towards the dark.  Not out-and-out horror but stuff that could happen to anybody.  I much prefer to bring the terror to the living room as opposed to the stereotype image of dark forests and crumbling mansions.  Having said that, I spend much time writing humour as I like the idea of the fine line between light and dark.  I like to be scared but also enjoy a laugh.
Are there any genres that you don't enjoy writing?
It's unlikely you'd see me shooting off into space in Science Fiction. Strange as my favourite TV show is Doctor Who and I like Star Trek, but it's not something I'm comfortable writing as even when I watch those genres, I tend to skip past the techobabble.
I'm with you on that one!  What types of things do you write?
I've had most success with short stories though my articles are taking off.  Less of them but higher success rate in a shorter space of time.  I do have one fully finished novel about to pester agents and publishers with and a second ready to undergo its first edit.  My poetry is a strange one.  I don't get most poetry.  In one ear and out the other.  I like poetry with something to say and as in all the things I write, I try to make them accessible to all.  One thing I hate is certain members of the writing community who try to make writing a minority interest – almost an exclusive clique with them all smug that they are in the know and nobody else is.  It's not what it's about. It should be about entertaining the reader.
Have you ever had anything published?
I've had several pieces all within the past two years. A short story in an anthology, two in magazines and a further one in Writing Magazine when I won the monthly competition. I've also had articles published in anthologies and two in a current edition of a local magazine.  I have had one poem published and was shortlisted in a prestigious competition recently.
Have you sent your writing to agents/publishers?
I sent my novel to six agents a year ago but in hindsight, the book wasn't good enough at the time. It is now after another two edits/rewrites with fresh eyes after a long gap. I send my short stories out all the time to magazines with some success.
Would you consider self-publishing/e-publishing?
I love the feel of a book.  Cliché, I know, but I do.  As for publishing via that medium,  I am sticking with the plan of agents, publishers and see how I go.  I don't think you can undersell yourself.  I have to believe my book is good enough to be a best seller.  Therefore, I shall start at the biggest publisher and work my way from there.  If nobody wants it, then I can consider self-publishing or an e-book, but doing it the traditional route, at least I've tried and I know.
I feel the same.  I'd like to exhaust all traditional channels first.  You mentioned earlier that you won a competition in Writing Magazine.  Have you entered any other writing competitions?
Yes, I won Writing Magazine's and have been shortlisted on another three occasions there. I have also been shortlisted in other fiction, poetry and non-fiction competitions. I also won the Walsall Writers' Circle Non-Fiction Competition, recently.  And I've just received news that I won a major short story competition, and that will be published in the next edition of the magazine.
Congratulations.  Who/what influences your writing?  Where do you get your inspiration from?
Former partner and author, Clare Hill got me writing again after my previous marriage hiatus and her honesty made me a better writer.  I take a lot of inspiration from authors, Mark Billingham, Martyn Waites and Neil Cross and have always loved the dark of Stephen  King, James Herbert and Richard Laymon.  However, I get general inspiration from the weirdest things.  A comment, somebody tripping up, an abandoned item in the road.  All are beginnings and once you start on the trail, anything can happen.
Influences on the poetry front are without doubt, John Cooper Clarke and Attila the Stockbroker.  Give me those two above one hundred stuffy playing the art game, poet bores, any day. 
I really like John Cooper Clarke too.  How do you come up with your characters' names and personalities/
Hard to answer that one, it just happens. I've never had to sit and agonise over names or personalities, they are just there. I get a basis of a character in my mind and once I start to write that character, they take on a life of their own.
What is your writing routine?
As I've spent the last 18 months as full-time carer to my son, I've had more time.  I like to go to a nice little coffee bar and get away from the house.  Generally, I write when I feel like it. 
Do you start out with a complete idea for your stories, or do you just start writing and hope for the best?
A bit of both.  It depends on the piece.  Some, I've had the complete idea in my head, others were born from a single image and the story led to reaching that image.  The second novel which I am about to start editing, I had planned out about two-thirds.  I sort of knew the conclusion but that last third to get there, the story wrote itself. 
Do you have an editing process?
I edit numerous times.  It's the most important thing to do.  I'll do a couple of edits until I'm happy then several more including reading out loud.  I do like somebody else to read for things I have overlooked and errors I can't see. 
It's always good to have a fresh eye look over our work.  As writers, we are too close to what we write and we often miss things that other people will pick up.  Have you ever attended an open mic event for spoken word performers?
I plan to. However as poetry is the medium I am least confident in, I've yet to do so. I did perform a piece at the Coventry Mysteries Festival and it went okay. Having said that, I did have to contend with a drumming band in the background. Poetry to music? I suppose it never did John Cooper Clarke any harm.
How important is it for you to share your writing?
I want to share it all. No point writing to hide it in a drawer. Whether in a group or online or finally, in print. Get it read and heard.
I'm sure there must be some things you've written that you want kept hidden in a drawer.  I know I have.  What do you enjoy the most/least about writing?
I enjoy the entire writing process but there is nothing like punching the air when you get an acceptance.  The thing I like least is writing snobbery.  Those who want to create an elite and think themselves as only they can write great poetry and prose when in fact, all they write at times is self-indulgent dirge.  I attended an all night workshop a year ago in a museum.  We were sent off to gain inspiration from a collection of over 100,000 artefacts and one guy returned with his piece on an empty cabinet, based on the potential of what it could have displayed.  Everybody else in the group were fawning and clapping saying, 'how brilliant,' when all I wanted to scream was 'Get lost!' 
Okay, it may have been another word for “get” and yet another for “lost,” but you get my despair. 
Ha! That sounds like it could be a basis for one of your own humorous stories!  Or maybe even something a bit darker!  What is the best piece of writing advice you've ever been given?
Get a writing buddy.  Somebody to read your work and give feedback objectively.  I can edit a dozen times and still miss the obvious.  With your own work, you know how it's supposed to read, then don't always see when it doesn't.
What advice could you give to a new writer?
Edit, edit and edit again.  Never think a piece is finished and can't be improved on.  Your best piece of work is the last one you wrote.  You improve with each new piece so there is always room to improve a piece of work.  The only time I stop editing is when it's in print and I can say goodbye to it. 
Even then it must be tempting to keep editing!  Apart from writing, what are your other hobbies/interests?
I've never had time for hobbies as the writing takes up so much spare time.  In addition, much of my recent years have been spent caring for my heavily autistic son who lived with me.  I do have an interest in ghost hunting.  I have had many experiences but remain a sceptical believer.  I try to explain it all and am delighted when I can't.
What types of things do you read?  Do you think your writing reflects your book tastes?
I read a lot of crime fiction: Mark Billingham, Val McDermid, Martyn Waites, Peter James.  However, I like a bit of humour with authors like Mil Millington and Sophie Kinsella.  I don't read as much dark stuff as I used to and maybe that's because I write more of it myself.

If you could have written anything, what do you wish that could have been?
Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving.  Some novels are almost poetry, and this is one. Life is a fairytale.
Do you have any favourite lines from novels/plays/poetry/songs, or any favourite literary quotations?
From Hotel New Hampshire - “Keep passing the open windows.”  Drove an ex-partner barmy for years, me keep saying it. 
What are you working on at the moment?
Just finished the definite final edit on novel number one.  Well, final edit until the next time unless it's published.  I'm working on some short pieces then about to start the major first edit of novel number two. 
Do you have a website/blog/Twitter/Facebook dedicated to your writing?
Yes, I can be found at where I blog regularly and post the occasional poem and piece on autism. The regular thing I do is my Sunday Roast column. Once I week, I take a sideways swipe at life and things in the news. The intent is to make serious comment but honestly, it's a lot more fun when it degenerates into taking the pee with the thing full of nob jokes.
I am also on Twitter @nickb1963. 
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Yes. Any potential agents and publishers reading this, I'm awfully nice, can produce the goods and worth the investment. 
Oi, get in line, behind me!  Would you be able to provide a short piece of your writing?


Summer of '85.
A home meant for people in poor mental health.
I called it an institution.
Somewhere to put the unwanted.
Hide the embarrassment.
“There is no place in polite company
for people such as these.”
So spoke the message of the day.

spelled dead to society
along with unmarried mothers,
labelled insane
then shut away.
Their children
torn from the breast.
Unruly youngsters,
removed from circulation.

I remember one such a man,
Albert, we'll call him
because after all this time,
I'm not even sure of his name.
Incarcerated at twelve,
too difficult to handle.
Then, seventy-five,
a gentle old soul.
He spoke about cricket
and the big wartime bands.
Always a cheery smile,
a precursor to the request.
Could I check if there was a letter?
One from his mum and dad.
“It's been such a long time,” he sighed.
There was never any mail.

An uncaring world, back then;
maybe it is now.
I'm ashamed I do not remember his name
and I always wonder
if his family ever did?

© Antony N Britt

Thank you very much, Antony.

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Betwixt The Cup and The Lip #3

Here is my third installment of excerpts from Betwixt The Cup and The Lip; my lipogrammatic* novel in 26 parts.  The first installment can be found here, and the second can be found here.  Please feel free to make comments or suggestions; I'm open to any ideas you might have.  And if you're a publisher and you would like to publish this collection, please don't hesitate to get in touch with me.  You can find my contact details here.

* A lipogram is a piece of text that contains 25 letters of the alphabet by omitting one.

Warning: This book is not suitable for anyone under 18 years old.  The excerpts that I publish on here are family friendly (ok, they're probably PG if I'm being honest), but some of the completed stories contain graphic scenes unsuitable for children.

I’m not racist or nothing, but I just think that people shouldn’t leave their mother land.  People go on and on and on about pride for their skin colour and heritage and all that.  I’m proud to be Indian.  I’m proud to be Chinese.  I’m proud to be African.  If these people were so proud, we wouldn’t be infested with them.  These ‘proud’ people would be in their own countries being proud there.  But no.  These foreigners insist on being proud in England and expect us to change our lives to accommodate them.  I’m Muslim.  I want a mosque.  I’m Buddhist.  I want a temple.  I’m Sikh.  I want a gurdwara.  What would Jesus think?  Huh?  He was a good old English Christian.  I’m sure he wouldn’t have been pleased with all of these weird looking worship buildings popping up all over the place.

I can’t even go shopping without falling over Polish shops and Chinese shops and West Indian shops.  Isn’t our food good enough or something?  If these people want to eat their own foodstuffs then being in England isn’t the best thing.  But I wonder where these people could go.  Hmmm.  Ah, that’s it.  Back to their own  countries.

In England.  Eat English food.  Never did me no harm.

I will die this evening.

It’s a fact.  But I’m pretty much already dead.  I’m just waiting.  The queue is a bit lengthy and I’ve never been great at being early.  I’ll just make myself snug here and wait until it’s my turn.  I’ll wrap myself up in blankets as it’s always a bit chilly in here.  It’s a miracle we aren’t dead already.  With all this cash that keeps getting hurled at these infirmaries and care residences, I deliberate why they keep the temperature at freezing during the winter.  But I’ve heard death is an icy place at the start; maybe they’re just preparing us. 

I am 100% sure that it’s happening, that I will die this evening.  I’m relaxed.  I’m calm.  I’m ready.  It’s like déjà-vu.  I have that feeling all the time.  I am sure that I’ve been in a certain place but can’t remember when, but everything is familiar and the reminiscences feel real.  I feel like that at this very minute.  Maybe it's preja-vu.  I’m sure that I will be visiting a certain place that I haven’t visited yet, and it feels as real as if I had already been there.

It’s made me realise that we can’t just trudge and meander in life.  I’m sure they’ll all say that I’ve had a great innings, which I have, it’s true.  I’ve reached a ripe age, 89, and it’s finally time.  But we can never be certain that we will live until the weekend, and we definitely can’t ever be certain that we will live until we’re 89.  Life isn’t certain.

There’s more to me than what you can see but it takes someone special to look further than the surface.  It didn’t take me too long to learn that, considering what I used to look like.  But then most of us went through a bit of an ugly stage during our teenage years.  Unfortunately for me, mine was more of an ugly couple of decades.  And no I’m not wallowing in self-pity.  I’m happy now and that’s all that matters.  I am actually quite glad that I had those ugly decades.  It makes me appreciate the good things that are a part of my life now.

I look the way I look because I chose to.  We don’t get many choices in life.  We can’t choose who our parents are or where we grow up or what our first words are or how tall we are.  And to an extent we can’t choose what our face or body look like; that is, until we reach 18 years old.  I grew up with an awkward body and an unfortunate face.  No one noticed me except to make my life hell.  I was always the last picked for teams in P.E. lessons and no one wanted to be my partner for drama class.  I was pushed out of the way and I was tripped up and I was ignored and I was sworn at and I had things thrown at me and I was laughed at and I was made to feel worthless.  And no matter how many times your parents tell you how wonderful you are and that the other kids are jealous, it doesn’t make life any easier.  My mother would tell me that I was good-looking as she wiped away my tears, but at school I was ugly and no matter how much you try to ignore those comments, they do stick with you for your entire life.   If 100 people tell you you’re ugly, you truly think you are ugly.  And that’s when I made my decision to look like this.  I feel gorgeous on the inside and I definitely look gorgeous on the outside.  People look at me for all the right reasons, and that makes me feel good; better than good.

My birth parents didn’t want me.  They got rid of me when I was a baby.  I really don’t want to meet them.  I am unable to bear children so I don’t know what it’s like to be pregnant, but from what I can imagine it’s an incredible feeling.  A human being is right there inside you.  You are its protector.  It relies on you for food and company and affection.  There is a special bond, an incredible connection between you and the baby that you know nothing about and yet at the same time, know all there is to know about it.  Nature is amazing, isn't it? 

She called me Dothan when I was born.  What kind of name is Dothan?!  Apparently she stuck a pin in an atlas and that was the name she found.  Clearly not too smart, my birth mother.  What was she thinking, if she was actually thinking at all?  Hmm, I’d like my son to be called something unusual, something different, something that will make him stand out from the crowd.  He will be unique and his name will reflect that.  I know.  Dothan is a perfect name.  He will not get beaten up at school because of his name.  He will not be treated as an outcast because of his name.  He will not be teased or tormented or tortured because of his name.  He will be well liked and well respected and people will want to be his friend because he has such an unusual name.  It will make him interesting; therefore people will be interested in him.  Dothan will be popular and intelligent and sporty and deep and will 100% not get his face kicked in year after year after year because of his name.  Girls will think he’s mysterious and charming and will always want to be around him because of his name.  They won’t laugh at him or ignore him because of his name.  They’ll be begging him to go out with them on dates because he’ll possess something the other boys won’t; that je ne sais quoi, that X factor, and all of this will be because of his name.

Yeah, thanks so much birth mother.  You really knew what you were doing when you chose my name.  As soon as I had the chance, I changed it and now go by the name of Charlie.  Apparently it means ‘free man’ which is kind of ironic but it’s how I feel now.  Once I shed my skin and got rid of Dothan, I felt freer and more confident. 

My dog; is that a pin sticking in a map of your past actions?  My dog, my charming young pup, my baby boy, Bruno, wasn’t in his puppy mansion six days ago at 4pm, that hour at which I got back from work.  Bruno is normally sunbathing on his patio at 4pm.  I did sit and wait for him.  I thought it silly to call Scotland Yard straight away.  Bruno had possibly had a brainstorm to go for a short walk on his own although Bruno knows to wait for his Mummy.  A tasty aroma could always attract him away from his mansion, and possibly Bruno got a whiff of a yummy bit of food coming from a building abutting ours, and thought it was a good plan to sniff around for a snack.  I didn’t worry too much as I know Bruno is a smart dog and would walk back to his Mummy as soon as starvation struck.

I sat by my patio window, waiting for Bruno, and at 5pm Bruno strolls back into our backyard, slightly limping, almost zigzagging across our yard.  I ran out to him but Bruno was a tad anxious and timid.  Bruno was not my normal Bruno.  Normally Bruno is so happy if his Mummy is around.  Normally his tail wags and his mouth forms a grin, but that night Bruno was sad and forlorn.  I brought him his food but Bruno had got into his napping sack on his twin dog divan, and was off in his napping fantasy land so quickly.

Bruno didn’t suitably nap that night.  I got up at about midnight to a sound of Bruno crying.  It was a kind of high pitch howl with a bit of sobbing.  I saw him moving around in his napping sack, his tiny paws running away from I don’t know what.  I sat with him and sang to him and soon Bruno was back in his happy fantasy land.  But this conduct was awfully unusual for him.  Bruno would normally nap straight through, from sun-down to sun-up.  Not a sound would sally forth from his lips.

By morning I was hoping that Bruno would show total signs of normality but this was not so.  Bruno was lying on his back with his limbs akimbo.  I took his bowl indoors, hoping that Bruno would follow.  Bruno would walk thousands of yards for food but on this occasion Bruno did not shift.  I hit his bowl with a spoon, hoping that would stir him, but Bruno still did not shift from his twin dog divan.  I put my hand on his body and Bruno was cold.  Bruno had no pounding in his ribs or drool around his mouth.

No, I don’t believe that I have committed a crime.  Please, oh wise policeman, tell me what exactly it is that I’ve done wrong.

Breaking and entering?  Ok, I may have entered these people’s homes, per se, but never did I break anything while I was in the houses.  I didn’t even break in.  The doors were always unlocked.

I checked.  I waited until they’d gone out and tried the doors.  It was normally the back doors that weren’t locked.  But I’m not a vandal.  I’m not going to smash up someone’s windows and doors just to get in.  There are so many houses with unlocked doors that I don’t need to waste my time breaking prior to entering.

It was simple really.  I’m a people watcher, see?  I watch them closely and intently. 

No I am not a pervert.  I watch their actions and their movements and listen to what they say.  People are so busy these days that they don’t pay attention to anything that doesn’t directly play a role in their lives.  Even then they sometimes don’t pay attention to that.  I’ve seen parents ignoring their children so that they can talk to work colleagues on their mobile phones, leaving those poor little things to dunk their chips in their ketchup and stare out the window, dreaming about stimulating conversation.  And it is these children who are being ignored that turn into the attention seeking criminals that you should be out hunting.  Go and arrest these parents, adopt these children into loving homes and watch the crime rate diminish over the next ten or so years.

I watch people barge other people out the way because they need to get somewhere 20 minutes ago and they’re not going to let anyone get in their way.  I’ve seen them knock over old ladies carrying heavy shopping bags and people on crutches and little children that have done nothing wrong.

Yes, I know that knocking into people isn’t a crime, but when someone shoves someone else out the way because they are too arrogant and wrapped up in their own world to even care, then it should be a crime.  These people are all Me! Me! Me! that they don’t notice when they hurt someone else.  I have never hurt anyone during the last two years.  I have been quiet and inconspicuous and have even helped out on occasions.  When I wasn’t in the houses, I’d carry old lady’s shopping and give up my seats on the bus so they could sit down.

I’m not trying to balance out my bad deeds with good ones.  I don’t believe in Karma.  And I also don’t believe I’ve done anything wrong.

Trespass?  Well, yes I did go into other people’s property without permission but I never did anything to show that I’d been there so it was as though I hadn’t been there so I wasn’t actually there.

Yes, I know I was discovered in one house and so I was most certainly there and that’s why I’m here, but the others had no inkling that I was there so was I really there?

Yes, I know I’ve admitted to it but without my admission I could say that I wasn’t there and your case would mean nothing.

Stealing?  I did not steal a thing while I was in these people’s houses. 

Yes, I took things but I did not take them out the house.  Everything I took was used inside the house.  I’m sure that stealing means that you have to take something away, and I didn’t take away.  I took in.

Oh, it means taking without permission?

I could hardly ask permission, could I?  Then they would have known that I was there and that would have been silly, on my part.


Stay tuned for more stories.