Sunday, 26 July 2015

Narrative balance: brush strokes



I've been talking and writing a a lot recently about what I call 'narrative balance'. This is a balance of the components of prose: description, action, dialogue, other forms (e.g. letter, emails, texts) and exposition. Hopefully there is very little of the latter and prose writers should be able to show their readers, rather than merely describe, the scenes they hold in their heads.
At all times the plot must move forward. Pace and tension must be maintained. Economic writing allows these parts that make up a narrative balance to be multifunctional.
There is no formula nor theory about how these parts can or should balance. It is something that the writer knows instinctively rather in the same way that experienced artists add brushstrokes to their paintings. A touch of dialogue here, a little action there and maybe even the odd bit of telling from time to time. The latter is certainly a very advanced skill; we are told to 'show not tell'.
I've been writing seriously now for 17 years and this is something I've only recently become aware of. Now I look for it in books I read  and in the work of my students. I try to assess it in my own work. I've recently defined it as a creative writing skull.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Pens, notebooks and writing by hand



I have to confess to doing most of my “writing” – like this today, in fact - straight on to the computer. Yet I love writing by hand. I always have a notebook on the go and I always make notes in meetings and at most events. Making notes confirms my understanding. There’s something about the brain, hand and eye coordination. The hand connects with the page and manifests what the mind is thinking.  

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Newsletter June 2015

Summer holidays are coming up and we had an Open Day at the University on what was the hottest day for twelve years. The work doesn’t seem to be reducing – if anything it’s getting even more hectic.

The busyness included our Create Festival. I was very proud of the contribution our drama students made. There were some really pleasing examples of haiku and flash fiction beautifully presented. We even had some short extracts from critical essays.   
Never mind, though. At least work included a few visits to the Manchester Children’s Book Festival. This included a panel event with Julia Churchill, Jon Mayhew and Kate Pankhurst that addressed the question: “When Are You Going to Write for Grown Ups?” If you like, sub-title: “What is the worth of creating for children?  I also helped out on the SCBWI stall at the family fun day. We helped youngsters to make their own masks. I attended the launch of Liz Kessler’s Read me Like a Book. This was introduced by Carol Ann Duffy and hosted in the beautiful Portico Library.
So, “work” is fine. I’ll get some more writing done whilst we’re away. At the end of August I’m going on a writers’ retreat with two colleagues and a friend.    

Friday, 5 June 2015

Self-promotion on social media needs to be moderate



And how to keep it so.


My love of social media

I love social media, I really do. Twitter is my all-time favourite but I also “do” Facebook, Linkedin, Streetlife and just recently, Pinterest. I’m just about on Goodreads, too. They all have slightly different uses, so I use them slightly differently.  I just love the power of Twitter, though. One retweet can take you to all sorts of interesting places.   
I use my social media interaction as punctuation between tasks and as a way of keeping in touch with the world. The latter is really important as because I’m both a writer and an academic I tend to work in an isolated way.

 

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Newsletter May 2015

I’ve just today finished all of my marking for Semester 2. I still have a few units to moderate and literally as I made my final comment on the last script, the doorbell rang and there was the postman with a parcel from Leeds University with the work I have to look at as an external examiner. But yes, I’ve been reading and commenting on a lot of stories and by doing so I enhance my own editing skills.       

Books and short stories  

Girl in a Smart Uniform continues to burble along. It’s shaping up a little better now though it’s a slow process. I’ve almost finished the second draft. I’m getting to know my characters a bit better. I even quite like them. That’s always useful. 
I’m now working on a second chapter for my non-fiction book proposal. I’m discussing Lemony Snicket and Hans Christian Andersen :- in other words, authors who offer no happy ending at all. Next will come a chapter on war. Then I’ll craft the introduction. At that point it will be ready to send out.
I’ve written two more short stories but I’ve not yet sent those out. They’re resting in a drawer at the moment. They’ll be on their way soon, though.
I’ve now also started on my Coffee Talk Selection. These are the stories I’m collecting when I work as a Writer in Residence in one of the Creative Cafés. They can be stories that writers contribute. Or folk just tell me their story and I write it up. The stories change a little. I collected three last time. I’ve written one and almost finished the second. The third will take a little more research.
I’m continuing too with my Tweetpics project. On days when I’m reading and researching more than writing I take the time to produce a 140 word piece of flash fiction, inspired by the first photo I see on my Twitter feed. It’s fun and it also forces a bit of self-discipline. I’m not precious about it, though. Why don’t you have a go? In fact, have a go and send it to me. I might just publish a second collection.     

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Festivals and the writer

Hay
The brochure for the Hay festival came the other day. I enjoyed reading it. I identified about seven events I'd have liked to go to, felt a little nostalgic for the fine food, the green wellies and the deckchairs,  not to  mention  the  books. Perhaps, I thought,  once I've retired I might try to go every year. However, unless I write a bestseller, I probably won't be able to afford it. I can't go this year. I'll be invigilating  exams and marking 112 scripts.
Yes, Hay is fun but I have some serious reservations about it. The main one is that they do not pay their writers.
My experience of Hay
In 2010 we launched a collection of stories about animals, in fact many of them from an animal's point of view, from the festival. We were in the biggest tent, which was almost full, early Friday evening. Richard Adams contributed a story, Virginia McKenna wrote a foreword and was the focal point of the the launch as the book supports Born Free and the book attracted quite bit of media attention at the bothbefore andafter the festival.
We sold exactly 70 books. This is deemed to be a good number. So any argument that a festival might put forward about increased sales for authors isn't all that convincing, even if one allows for unknowns.  We spent a lot in order to be at the festival,  and the book never covered those costs even though we still cherish the experience.
How festivals can pay
Surely anyone who has the organisational skills to bring about a whole festival ought to be able to budget for an author presentation and to cover that author's costs. Even making a profit is acceptable. Might this not even add to the profit already being made by the festival if this is after all about money? Might there be the danger though that this could put the cost up beyond what the public are willing to pay? After all, Hay is relatively cheap. Attending my seven events would not bankrupt me.
Could the publisher throw in a discounted book? They could still make a small profit and they could still pay a pro rata royalty. It would avoid the queue in the bookshop. Itwould be a  guaranteed sale. Win, win, win?
The do it yourself festival
It is possible for an author to organise her own festival appearance at a festival  - particularly at the various fringe events. Buxton and Manchester are good examples. There is a fee to pay, but this is one off and covers all events. The more events you organise, the cheaper this overhead becomes. You can get box office help for a small fee or use something like Eventbrite or Ticket Source. You'll need all of that marketing finesse that you use in promoting you books to get people along so that you cover your costs. At least, however, there would be a chance of getting some payment.
  The truth of the matter
Writers should of course be paid.  They should be paid for their writing. They should be paid for other writerly activities - such as attending  literary festivals. Yes, there is the question of merit. The writer must earn her success. But isn't a festival such as Hay just as much about the writers as the readers and about the sponsors making money?

Friday, 1 May 2015

Newsletter April 2015

The second semester is now drawing to a close. This involves me in giving plenty of formative feedback on students’ writing. In a couple of weeks’ time the assignments will come in and then it will be more summative feedback. However, there’ll still be some suggestions about what to do to improve. Even Level 6 students who are about to graduate will probably carry on writing and we writers continue to develop continuously.
What a day job, eh?  I get to read a lot of stories. All that critiquing and editing enhances my own editing skills. What’s more, they pay me to do it.       

Books and short stories  

Girl in a Smart Uniform continues to burble along. It’s shaping up a little better now though it’s a slow process. I’ve almost finished the second draft. I’m getting to know my characters a bit better. I even quite like them. That’s always useful.  
I’m now working on a second chapter for my non-fiction book proposal. I’m discussing Lemony Snicket and Hans Christian Anderson :- in other words, authors who offer no happy ending at all. Next will come a chapter on war. Then I’ll craft the introduction. At that point it will be ready to send out.
I’ve written two more short stories but I’ve not yet sent those out.  They’re resting in a drawer at the moment. They’ll be on their way soon, though.
 

Bridge House

We’re currently reading for the next anthology.
Debz and I are meeting up next Saturday and we’ll be discussing how we shall be going forward. Bridge House is here to stay, have no fears. It may change the way it looks, however.   

Creative Café

Don’t forget as well we’re always looking for stories for CafeLit.
I’ve now added some pages of resources for writers to the web site. Do look out for those.

School Visits

I continue to offer free school visits, details below.     
These visits are up to 90 minutes long and are focussed on my books.
In addition, many of us from the university are going out and offering presentations on what is on offer on our programmes. I’ll generally throw in a creative writing exercise.   
I’ll reiterate straight away that authors should be paid for school visits, but these free ones are actually part of the work I do at the university.
I offer readings for 14+ of Veiled Dreams, Scum Bag, Spooking, Fibbin’ Archie and The Peace Child Trilogy (The Prophecy, Babel, The Tower) a short question and answer session and a creative writing exercise for your class. For primary children there are Jason’s Crystal, The Lombardy Grotto and Kiters. Read more about my books here. There are of course also my stories in various anthologies. All other visits are at the rates suggested by the Society of Authors. Schools can mix and match these visits. I do ask that travel expenses are covered.   
I’m offering visits and talks specifically about my The House on Schellberg Street project for a donation towards the project. I’ve devised a whole interactive workshop for this. The book is now out and selling steadily. It would be a real asset for any school teaching the Holocaust at Key Stage 3. Even if a school can’t afford a donation, I’d be happy to run the project.
Here’s some further news about the Schellberg project.
Query for a school visit here.

The Red Telephone

I’m working on Kathy Dunn’s The Demon Magician. This has a fast-paced plot and some delightful characters.
There will be a new call for submissions shortly.