Wednesday 26 May 2021

Jobbing writers


Louisa May Alcott plodded along making a reasonable living as a writer and then wrote Little Women  - somewhat reluctantly, actually.  She made so much money form that book, and then quite a bit more as well from its sequels, that she was able to invest and be generous enough not to foreclose on a mortgage when the people living in the mortgaged property could not afford to pay her.

Philip Pullman, David Almond, and Stephen King worked for years at their craft before they became rich and famous. 

Charles Dickens was his own editor for many years and several of his works appeared as serials in a journal he edited. He had to work hard to meet tough deadlines in order to keep the cash flowing. There was quite a bit of the business man about him as there was with our friend William Shakespeare. It neither case was it just about being a good writer.  

There are many writers who get by on low earnings from writing, plus some other activities, writerly or not, that help them to pay the rent or mortgage and keep themselves and their families fed and clothed. They work gladly this way because it enables them to send much of their time writing.

In fact, we don’t want more than “nourishment, shelter and companionship” and we like to create “stories (that) are the thing we need most in the world.”  (Quote from Philip Pullman)

And my own story?

Well, I’ve retired from the day job now though I still do a little work for my last employer, the University of Salford. Whilst there I was very involved with writing, so this was in effect “jobbing writing”. I taught creative writing to undergraduate and post-graduate students.  My “research” was more of my own writing and some examination of that process which manifested as academic papers and talks at conferences.

I now have a pension made up of my teaching pension, my university pension (which is not bad as I became a senior lecturer on which my final salary pension was based, though the last six months was average salary) and the state pension. I also work as an editor and publisher, though I probably spend more money on the latter than I earn as I’m always keen that the writers and our freelance editors and designers get a reasonable payment.

In a way then, I’m free to write what I want and don’t have to worry about my writing being commercial enough. I still want it to be the best that it can be and I still want the recognition.

Getting there? Plodding my way through jobbing writing? I’m selling a few books through my own imprints and ones I have with other imprints. I’m getting some pleasing reviews but I’d like a few more.  I still get tons of rejections but also a respectable number of acceptances, shortlistings and longlistings.  

 I’m finding more and more that when I submit to competitions and calls for submission that have themes I’m getting at least longlisted. So, perhaps I’m working towards a trend after all. But there are lots of themes to choose from.  

I have reason to believe that my writing is getting better because each time it’s rejected I find a way to improve it before I submit the next time.  This isn’t sloppiness; the work is always the best it can be at the time I submit. It’s just that I’ve got better in the meantime.  Hooray!

So, we plod on. We jobbing writers.   

Friday 7 May 2021

Plotter or panster – and is it ever really than simple?


 I’m probably right in the middle on this one. I do plan – in detail. I’m a fan of McKee’s story theory:

  • Hook / inciting incident
  • Growing complexities
  • Crisis point
  • Climax
  • Resolution

I’m also aware of the three act structure and that sometimes elusive mid-point. I take suggestions from Christopher Vogler’s The Writers Journey and Jospeh Campbell’s A Hero with a Thousand Faces. I usually know which of Christophe Booker’s seven basic stories I’m dealing with. For my current work in progress, I’ve even mapped out all my subplots and which chapter deals with which one. And I know to make sure there is a cliff-hanger at the end of each chapter.  

People ask should a story be plot or character driven. I think it has to be both. Indeed the plot comes out of the tension between the characters. Before I start writing, even before I start planning, I spend a long time with my main characters. What are they like physically? Intellectually? Emotionally? What is their personality like? What is their greatest fear and what is their greatest wish? What do they want and what do they need? I also give some thought to the setting which I find as important as characters and plot. All of this I do when I sit in a café on my own. Ah, will those days be with us again soon?  And when all of this is complete, still in that café situation, I being to shape the plot. When I start to write, it’s all there ready. I don’t have to stop to think too much.

Even when I edit I look back to these ideas of Booker, Campbell, McKee and Vogler, to see if something needs sharpening. If something’s not working it’s often because one of the patterns isn’t established. I guess we have to use those patterns because everyone is familiar with them. Not that it has to be too exact.  It always works a lot better if it’s skewed a little.

And yet.  In my current a work, as early as the third chapter, in walks a character I’d never thought of. Despite all of the planning, huge sections of the story come from nowhere and characters don’t always do what I’d expect them to.

I suspect planners temper their work with some panstering and pansters do a little planning despite themselves.

In the end, though, what really matters is a good story.     

Image by free stock photos from from Pixabay 



Monday 3 May 2021

Newsletter April 2021


Making a minor character into a major one

I’ve now returned to writing science fiction for young adults. I’m continuing with the Peace Child series.  I don’t have a title for this one yet, so for the moment I’m just calling it Peace Child 5.

This time I’m using a minor character form book four, The House of Clementine (not yet published). I’ve worked on Petri Malkendy for months before I started this latest novel.  Malkendy: yes, between this book and the previous one she has been adopted by Kaleem. When we were still allowed to sit inside in cafes I’ve made notes about her in one of my nice note-books as I’ve sipped my Americano. I’ve even put her as a background figure in a short story.  She has a friend Catbo, who is what I’m calling an “animus-machine”. Basically he’s a robotic cat but one that has a little bit of real cat inside him.  He’s a talking animal. People from my critic group have described him as a mixture of K-9 form Dr Who and a daemon from Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials. I’m glad my SCBWI friends saw him that way; that is exactly as I intended him to be. The short story is about him and his previous owner and about how he came to be given to Petri.

It was only as I discussed my work with my critique group that I realised where her name came from. She is Petri as in petri dish. In her world, humans no longer give birth but babies are “grown”. However, her father had a slightly warped sense of humour. She has a debilitating skin disease that makes being in sunlight difficult for her.  This should have been picked up at “conception” and she should not have been allowed to develop beyond the petri dish stage.     

I’m on chapter eleven of a planned 33 chapters though I think the first rewrites may well produce a few more chapters.

And in other writing news I have now finished my book about the dark side of children’s  literature. I’ve also had another Creative Writing article published on Talking About My generation:


The Young Person’s Library

This month I’ve added:

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe  

A classic suitable for the fluent upper primary reader.


The Magician’s Nephew

Another Narnia book, also a classic suitable for the fluent upper primary reader.


 Current reading recommendation

This month I’m recommending Katie Mack’s The End of Everything .

I actually bought this book, with another one, for my husband’s birthday.  It’s an academic book, so not all that cheap but a quick look at Amazon today shows that you can buy it at a reasonable price. He suggested I should read it.  I was a little hesitant at first because it is    book about science. I love science but I don’t always understand it. I needn’t have worried. This book is very readable.

Here we have an overview of how the world might end.  We’re used to the Big Bang.  Now we’re looking at the other end.  Don’t worry, though, it’s billions of years off yet.

Katie Mack covers the five most important issues being discussed in physics today about how it all might end: The Big Crunch, Heat Death, the Big Rip, Vacuum Decay and Bounce. She also explains the Big Bang in detail. She takes us by the hand and leads us gently but firmly through the intricacies of a complex science. And also with a wonderful sense of humour.

Yes, The End of Everything, Astrophysically Speaking, a well-researched, scientific, academic book but written with the lay person in mind, is worth a read. Katie Mack is witty and clear in her explanations.

Grab your copy here.     



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

This month I’m giving away Citizens of Nowhere

Theresa May sparked a powerful debate when she announced that global citizens were citizens of nowhere. She also gave us a marvellous title and a great theme for a book. Is a global citizen really a citizen of nowhere?

Aliens visit our planet in search of hope.  But do they find it? A young girl is sent to start a new life. Will it work out?  There is a boarding house where lessons have to be learnt before people can move on. Will the guests progress? A white woman who doesn’t understand her black neighbours is saved in more ways than one by the wedding next door. These global citizens are certainly citizens of somewhere.  Did Theresa May really mean that global citizens are citizens of now and here? Was it a slip of the tongue?

We approached several writers who we knew cared about these matters and who also write beautifully. Other stories just fell into our laps – they had been submitted to other anthologies and seemed to suit this one.

Citizens of Nowhere is an anthology of literary short stories with a message by multiple authors. Download your copy here.    

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 and also for other writers and readers of historical fiction.

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

There were four posts in April:

I’ve brought some more attention to Clara Lehrs:

I’ve been sending out books for review and have also sent my play out again: Getting Clara Out There and a Direct Approach.  In More Thoughts About Clara Lehrs I ask again whether her story is a tragedy or a story of hope.

I explain about a curious marketing action in Marketing a Bear.

Invisible Ink is a review of the book of the same name by Martha Leigh. It is a biographical account of Martha Leigh’s family. Her mother was a displaced Jewess. Her father was a homosexual who loved his wife in a different sort of way. An interesting account.        


School visits

I’ve suspended these until further notice. I’m now starting work on a series of on-line materials.  

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.  We’re building up our inventory, so please bear with us. 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 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. 

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay