Tuesday, 12 October 2021

Escapism or rationalisation of our current reality?


Lost, Hell, Limbo, Night, Dark, Forest, Alone, Lamp

What are we writers wont to produce? I’ve just asked that question on Twitter and I ought to give my own answer.  If I examine what I’m writing, I have to say, a bit of both.

Peace Child 5, my YS SF, is set in a distant future. Yet the problems it deals with are very familiar: otherness, difficult trade negotiations, political disagreement. Incidentally, when the first novel in the series was finished in 2005 I’d included a personal communicator that could do all sorts of amazing things. It’s actually only a little more sophisticated than our smart phones and I think that technology is going to overtake the Peace Child’s soon.

My other writing is of a not too distant past – when there shortages were common, when the government was corrupt and racism was rife, particularly anti-Semitism. Not such a good place to escape to.

I also write short stories and flash fiction, much of which are set in the current time. Rarely is the issue the pandemic or political unease but they’re usually there in the background.  Can you really write anything set in 2019-2021 without some reference to the pandemic or the shortages of food and fuel?

How do I see this as a reader? I’ve always been an avid reader. Currently I’m reading some of Dickens’ early sketches.  He’s brilliant at characterisation and in terms of place it’s like time travelling – I’m really taken back to that world, so escapism in that sense. Yet many of the social ills that Dickens introduces us to are still there. 

As a child I loved Enid Blyton.  The Famous Five lived a middle class life that I aspired to. Life at boarding school seemed fun when I later read her books set in schools.

I moved on to Anne of Green Gables and was introduced to a world totally different from my own.  I come from a medium-sized industrial town in the Midlands. Anne’s life in contrast seemed idyllic.

Later, it would be Jackie and Petticoat where I constantly looked for stories about girls who were going through similar experiences to my own.

Fantasy, science fiction and historical fiction came high up on the list when I became an adult. I also read the Harry Potter and Dark Materials books as an adult. Yet I also enjoy works tending towards the literary that are grounded in our current reality.

Isn’t it true anyway that even as we read fantasy, science fiction and historical fiction we feel gratified when we see the character experiencing something that is familiar to us?

Hence, I go back to my opening statement: writers offer us both escapism and a rationalisation of our current reality, sometimes achieving both at the same time.        

Image by ambroo from Pixabay           

Saturday, 2 October 2021

News 2 October 2021


An extraordinary meeting

I’ve written a couple of prompt books for writers and I actually use them myself. Between each stage of editing I have a go at a short story. And I use my own prompt book to give me the idea of what to write about.

The prompt for 30 September 2021 was:

Talk to your characters

Write a conversation with one of your characters. What do you talk about? Do they challenge what you have written? Do you find out something about yourself?”

So, I had Kaleem from my Peace Child  series turn up in the back garden. I invited him in for a beer. And we got talking: about his life in the caves, his relationship with Rozia and about what is going to happen to him in book six. I won’t give any details of that here – book four isn’t even out yet. I’m in the process of editing book five where although he is still a main character he is no longer the protagonist. That privilege goes to his adopted daughter Petri.

I’m actually finding that I love him a little more because of this exercise.

It reminds me of when Judy Waite came to the University of Salford where I used to teach a course on writing the Young Adult novel. She delivered an excellent workshop. She invited  us to think deeply about our characters, even lighting a candle to them and then writing about them or to them with our non-dominant hand. At that time Kaleem was irritating me a bit because he was always winging and doubting himself. I began to think of him more kindly.

I’m now excited about the story I’m now writing about him.  Will it ever be published? Not for a long time, though when there are no more dangers of spoilers I’ll perhaps put it on my sample fiction site.            


Current writing

I’m now on the sixth draft of my fifth Peace Child novel, The Glastonbury Specification.   

I’ve almost finished the final draft of my latest non-fiction work as well.

I’ve had several articles published on Talking about My Generation:

https://talkingaboutmygeneration.co.uk/creative-writing-adventures-writing-the-countryside/  - a creative writing exercise inspired by time out in the countryside

https://talkingaboutmygeneration.co.uk/happy-festival-bury/  - a review of the Happy Festival at the Bury Art Museum. This celebrated the work of Victoria Wood 

https://talkingaboutmygeneration.co.uk/roller-boots-coloured-sands-and-john-lennons-doppelganger-holidays-at-southse  one of my series of nostalgic accounts of seaside holidays – taken in the UK before the word staycation was invented.   


The Young Person’s Library

I’ve added one book this month:

The Monster Belt by Ruth Estevez This is a long YA book, possibly also suitable for younger teens. It’s a long read but keeps us guessing so we stay with it.        


Current reading recommendation

And indeed I’m recommending The Monster Belt by Ruth Estevez.

Both Harris White and Dee Winter encounter monsters and drownings in their early lives.  Harris loses his friend ten-year old Jonty to the Mediterranean from the island of Formentera, just off Ibiza.  Twenty-four children have drowned in the lake at Thorpemere.  Both Harris and Dee are there when the twenty-fifth, Jordan King, is taken by the mere. Dee as a little girl has met monsters, or so she believes, and Harris thinks a monster took his friend. The year Jordan drowns the convention about monsters, held at the hotel where Dee works, is closed early. The following year, Harris is about to offer an explanation about what really happened to his friend.  Was it, according to the dictionary definition, really the act of a monster? The attendees do not get the chance to find out.  Time and place are taken over by an event that is probably to do with climate change.

Both Harris and Dee grow and this is to some extent a bildungsroman for each of them. We are with Dee most of the time though occasionally the point of view passes to another, more often than not to Harris. 

Are the monsters real? Do they and the Monster Belt really exist?   We are kept guessing until the end and throughout more important is what is happening to Dee and Harris.

 Get your copy here.     



Note: these are usually mobi-files to be downloaded to a Kindle.  Occasionally there are PDFs.

This month I’m offering my short story collection: Our Daily Bread.

Many of these stories have appeared elsewhere and they are now collected together for your convenience. I hope you will enjoy them.       

Find out and grab your copy and lots of other freebies here .

And please, please, please leave a review when you’ve finished.    

Note: Normally my books and the books supplied by the imprints I manage sell for anything from £0.99 to £10.99.  Most on Kindle are about £2.99 and the average price for paperback is £7.00. Writers have to make a living. But I’m offering these free samples so that you can try before you buy.


The Schellberg Project

The posts may be helpful for teachers who are familiar with the Schellberg stories or who are teaching about the Holocaust.  They may also be interesting for other readers of historical fiction.

Sometimes I also write about what might be of interest to other writers.

I’ve added two posts this month.

Reich Citizenship Law and Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour  discusses again the 1935 Nuremberg laws. Understanding those and what they implied are fundamental to our understanding of what became known as the Holocaust. They ought also to be a warning to us.

Also on a serious note, I discuss the ethics of writing abut the past in Ethical considerations, sensitivity reading, and cancel culture  We must preserve the past and represent it accurately.  How can the writer best do this and know that they are being ethical?     



Some notes about my newsletters and blogs

They do overlap a little but here is a summary of what they all do.


Bridge House Authors For all those published by Bridge House, CaféLit, Chapeltown or The Red Telephone or interested in being published by us. General news about the imprints. News for writers. Links to book performance. Sign up here.


The Bridgetown  Café Bookshop where you can buy my book and books published by Bridge House Publishing, CafeLit, Chapeltown Books and The Red Telephone.  Visit us here.     


Chapeltown Books News about our books. Sign up here.


The Creative Café Project News about the project and CaféLit – for the consumer rather than for the producer.  Sign up here.   


Gill’s News: News about my writing, The Schellberg Project, School Visits and Events. Book recommendations and giveaways. Find it here.   


Pushing Boundaries, Flying Higher News about conferences and workshops to do with the young adult novel. (infrequent postings) Sign up here.  


Red Telephone Books News about our books and our authors. Sign up here.


A Publisher’s Perspective Here I and some other editors blog as a publisher. Access this here.   


The Creative Café Project Listings and reviews of creative cafés. See them here.   


CaféLit Stories Find these here


Gill James Writer All about writing and about my books. View this here.


Gill’s Recommended Reads Find information here about books that have taken me out of my editor’s head and a reminder of the ones I’ve highlighted in this newsletter.    


Gill’s Sample Fiction Read some of my fiction here.


The House on Schellberg Street All about my Schellberg project. Read it here.


Writing Teacher All about teaching creative writing.  Some creative writing exercises. Access this here.     


Books Books Books Weekly offers on our books and news of new books. Find them here. 


The Young Person’s Library The children’s book catalogue. Access it here.


Fair Submissions  Find it here.   

Opportunities for writers are added several times a day. Roughly once a month I send it out to a list. If you would like to be on that list, sign up here.  

Happy reading and writing.

Thursday, 30 September 2021

Writing is definitely rewriting

 Mistakes, Editing, School, Red Ink

This is so true it has almost become a cliché.

I submitted a novel for consideration to a publisher yesterday.  On the online form I had to say whether it had been edited. Unashamedly I picked “yes” from the drop down list. I’ve been through it at least eighteen times. And I always check each section three times as I write. I always think that what you don’t spot in three readings at one sitting you’re not going to spot until you get some distance from the work.

It can seem daunting that when you’ve done all of this work an editor will still find something else to comment on. But the cleaner the text, the more effective the editor’s input will be and the more the text will shine afterwards.

I always concentrate on one aspect of the work each time I edit, though I will pick up other matters as well as I go through on every check.

Here is my checklist for editing my YA books:

1.      Is the overall structure sound?  - hook, inciting incident, increasing complexities, crisis, climax –

2.      Is the resolution satisfying?

3.      Overall time scale

4.      Check format and length against target market / reader

1)      Mixed genre

2)      Emotional closeness

3)      Leaving reader to decide

4)      Pushing boundaries

5)      Fast paced / high stakes

6)      Characters resemble young adults

7)      Bildungsroman

5.      Characters. Are they consistent? Do they develop? Do you know everything about them that you should?

6.      Is it convincing? Is there cause and effect?

7.      Is there conflict and tension? Are there peaks and troughs?

8.      Does the pace vary?

9.      Dialogue

1.      It should not be too natural

2.      It should only say important things

3.      It should differentiate characters' voices

4.      When angry, becomes childish

5.      Should take 2/3 of popular book

6.      Should convey mood, character and reaction

7.      Every speech should give information

10.  Detail and description should be slipped in small chunks.

11.  Point of View – is it consistent and if it “zooms” does it do so in a reasonable way? 

12.  Show, don’t tell.

13.  Kill off your darlings.

14.  Get rid of clichés

15.  Overall flow (read out loud)

16.  Copy edit

Saturday, 18 September 2021

Email and the Writer

 Wordpress, Blogging, Blogger, Editor

One writer’s perspective.

I get about 200 emails a day. They will bring a mixture of good news, bad news, news that makes me disgruntled, news that brings me great joy, bills, orders for books and interesting articles. It's a great procrastination tool but not necessarily a welcome one. It’s easy to get bogged down. So, for this reason, I don’t look at my emails until after lunch.  

My routine 

·         I’ll file all the sent ones for the day before

·         I’ll go through the spam filters – to see if anything interesting is lurking and to see what I can permanently delete.  

·         I’ll spend half an hour going through them – the oldest to the newest looking at anything that is interesting.

·         Then I’ll just carry on and only answer the important ones.

·         As I work I’ll file or delete.

·         I’ll then leave my inbox open on until about 9 p.m. and will deal with anything urgent even after that first sweep. 

·         I aim to answer emails within 48 hours.  I usually manage this.  

Some dislikes

·         I can’t stand emails that start “Gill,”. They rather remind me of when my mother was about to tell me off. Though, she called me “Gillian” then.  

·         Emails without any form of salutation just sound downright rude. I’m almost minded to say I won’t even look at them. However, it is more reasonable if it’s a reply or a reply to a reply.

·         Several emails coming one after another, adding a little more information each time. It’s confusing and somewhat unprofessional. Any email should be as carefully thought out as a letter.       

·         People who expect an instant response – and then keep nagging when they don’t get it.  I refuse to be at the beck and call of my inbox 24/7. If I give in to that, nothing else will be done.

The tyranny of email

If we’re not careful, email can overwhelm us.  It is a very useful tool. We should remember that it is there to serve us not rule us.