Friday, 26 February 2021

Themed Writing

 

Image by fancycrave1 from Pixabay

How we get ideas is a bit of a mystery. We dread being asked that question when we give talks.  Because the ideas just come, don’t they? In my case they come when I’m cooking, driving, swimming, walking or doing the ironing. They don’t usually come when I’m sitting at my computer. An odd overheard conversation, a chance encounter or something I see will spark off an idea for a story.

A lot of writers have been unable to work during lockdown. Is it perhaps because they’re tucked away from life and have nothing to write about? Or is it just the anxiety?

Can you force the creativity?

 Ironically, in looking for prompts for my prompt book, I’ve used other prompts to give me ideas. So, for example, the prompt I’ve just read said: “Write a scene or story that includes a character eating cereal. What does a character's favourite cereal say about their personality? Do they carefully pick the marshmallows out of their Lucky Charms, or do they eat Aldi bagged cereal by the handful straight out of the container? Or, perhaps your character prefers healthy oatmeal with no added sugar.” https://www.writersdigest.com/be-inspired/characters-in-a-crunch I’ve turned this into “Write a story about a character shopping in a supermarket.  Every item they pick creates a thought. Weave those thoughts together to make a story.”

I’ve now written two books of prompts like this. Each contains a prompt for every day of the year. Other writers have contributed. I’m working on a third and then I’m going to put all three together so that you have a choice each day. I use these myself to inspire short stories, pieces of flash fiction, memoir or articles that I complete between major edits of my main projects. It’s good to get away from editing and back to something more creative. 

I’ve recently had some success in competitions; I’ve had three pieces listed and they’ll all appear in anthologies. In all three cases I was writing to a particular theme.

On my Fair Submissions web site I have a section called “Themed” where you can find calls for submission and competitions that have a particular theme. Look in the labels and find “Themed.” 

So, yes, I think you can force creativity a little and you don’t have to wait for inspiration to kick in. 

 

 

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Ludic Reading and Getting Lost in a Book

 


Yes, I do mean ludic and not lucid. I was once accused of having a typo in an academic paper because I’d used this expression.  The reader had thought I meant lucid.  No, ludic is the word.

Stops seeing the marks 

It literally means playful. Ludic reading means reading has become a game, a source of entertainment and recreation, rather than just a task.  And this happens, in my opinion, when you stop seeing the little marks on the page, when you stop turning those into words and you cut to the chase. You just see a film in your head. The question for you as a writer is can you create the same film in your reader’s head? Is this not the ultimate test of whether your writing is working or not?

 

Not everyone can do this

It isn’t that straight forward, though, for not everyone has this experience. Some people do not like reading fiction and quite is possibly because they cannot get into the state. I once shared a table at our local film club with a lady who had an MSc and so was a competent reader. She enjoyed films so she had no problem with story.  She just couldn’t pick up story by reading a book.  

I spent over twenty-five years teaching in comprehensive schools in the UK. I met plenty of students who could read competently enough but didn’t enjoy reading.  They never had this experience either.

 

The lucky ones

Those of us who can get “lost in a book” are the lucky ones. We can be transported to other worlds.  This is especially useful in these days of “lockdowns”. I can experience this as well when I’m writing my own works or editing other people’s.

I’ve talked to my university students about this.  They all study English, Drama or Creative Writing. They all have this experience too.  They probably have to, in order to be interested in those subjects.

Shall we take it to extremes and become like Mo in Corneila Funke’s Inkheart series, able to make characters become real and walk out of books? Or, even more sinisterly as he did to his own wife, put a character into a story? Ah but isn’t that what we writers are supposed to do anyway?     

 

Image by Leandro De Carvalho from Pixabay     

Monday, 1 February 2021

News 1 February 2021

 


 

So, there are signs of spring in the garden, the days are getting longer and the vaccine is being rolled out. Are we turning a corner?  

News about my writing and other creative projects

The Class Letter, the fifth book in the Schellberg Cycle is now almost completely edited. I have finished the first draft of Not Just Fluffy Bunnies, and I’m still working on The Business of Writing.   I’m interspersing this with short stories and flash fiction.

This month I was a winner in one of the competitions I’ve entered and this means I’ll have two short stories published in an anthology which will be produced as a paperback and an e-book.  In another competition I didn’t win the grand prize but the work was good enough for them to include it in the anthology they’re producing. More news about these when they’re out.   

I continue to write for Talking about My Generation:

https://talkingaboutmygeneration.co.uk/creative-writing-adventures-in-lockdown/

This is going to be a series and is very similar to the exercises I provided for the Bury Art Museum. Readers are invited to send in their work. I’ve provided six of these and they’re publishing one a week.      

https://talkingaboutmygeneration.co.uk/oh-i-do-like-to-be-beside-the-seaside-memories-of-colwyn-bay-north-wales/  

We’ve now started a series on memories of childhood holidays. Colwyn Bay was always the benchmark seaside place for me and everywhere I’ve been since has bene compared with it. It’s not such a grand place now, but the beach is still lovely and there’s a rather nice coffee shop / ice cream parlour within walking distance that was there then and still does well now. Well it did.  Let’s hope it can carry on when we have the virus under control.   

 

The Young Person’s Library

This month I’ve added:

Fairfield Amish Romance: 15 Story Amish Romance by Diane Burkholder, Elanor Miller, Susan Vail and Isabell Weaver  These are fifteen gentle romances, suitable for lower secondary school students. They could have been edited a little more sharply but nevertheless they are a good escape read and they give some insight into the Amish way of life.

 

The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis A classic of course.  Worth a read if you don’t know it. However, I have to confess to not enjoying it as much as I remember doing so the first time I met it. Am I getting more critical or are people writing better these days?  And probably fluent readers, upper primary will still enjoy it.

 

Current reading recommendation

I have to recommend this month A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. I’ve always liked Bill Bryson’s style anyway. He always writes as if he’s sitting in your lounge and talking to you. He has a very controlled and effective voice.

This book is packed with facts and information.  I doubt there is any fake news. Every fact is verifiable. And there is at least one fact on every line. It’s a long read, coming in at 672 pages in the paperback. So, a heck of a lot of facts, then.  

Bryson’s research has been thorough.  It isn’t just regurgitated knowledge. He has visited places and talked to people as well.  

There’s quite a bit to be worried about: will Yellowstone Park blow any minute – it’s long overdue? How many more animals will become extinct? The rate at which that happens, and to plants as well, is alarming.  And will we be one of the victims?  What’s going to happen to the climate? Are we actually coming to the end of an ice age and will the planet get too warm for us?  

He covers so many topics: space, the ocean, genetics, evolution, particle physics, and many, many more.

Very pertinent of course was the chapter on diseases and viruses and he all but predicted what is happening now.

In many ways it’s a terrifying read. There is so much that can go wrong and there was so much chance involved in life being able to form. Yet there is nothing here that would challenge or reinforce any religious belief.

It is also awe-inspiring. This life, fragile as it is, is worth celebrating.

You have to admire the amount of work Bryson has put into this. There is so much there I think I may have to read this book again.              

 

Giveaway

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

The time I’m offering The Best of CafeLit 5 which contains stories by me and by other writers I’ve got to know. Every year we publish in paperback and an e-book the best of the stories we’ve had on the CafeLit e-zine. Often we ask readers or writers to help us to select. I’m offering here the mobi-file for your Kindle.  

Stories on CafeLit vary a lot. Some are very short. Others can be up to 3,000 words long. Some are funny.  Some are dark.  Some are written by regular contributors.  Sometimes a new writer comes along – and we hope they’ll stay with us. The variety is pleasing, and they all go well in any case with a cuppa around four o’clock. They all suggest a drink. You can even look for a drink you fancy, on the site and in the books, and read a story that suits that.    

Please, please, please write a review when you’ve read the book.

You can download it and lots of other free materials here.

Note, that 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 three posts in January:

The Unwelcome Angel by Chrissie Bradshaw

 I actually won this book in a raffle at a Christmas party I “attended” via Zoom. It is a novella set in the 1940s about the diphtheria outbreak.  It is a useful reminder that there were other challenges in the 1940s apart from World War II and the Holocaust.

 

An alternative point of view

This was really a response to a comment by someone who had read Clara’s Story. It hadn’t actually occurred to her that ordinary German citizens had a story to tell about this time.  

 

Hush Hush

The Holocaust was not talked about much by ordinary people during the years immediately after World War II. Now, of course, it is on the school curriculum – Key Stage 3, year 9, when student are 13-14 years old.     

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

Tuesday, 19 January 2021

My New Reviewing Policy

 


I have a lot of books to read.  There are three waiting on my bookshelf and about 600 on my Kindle. So, I’ve stopped accepting review copies. This may seem at odds with my requests for people to review my book and books I publish for other people.

On the other hand I have resolved to review every single book I read. And so far so good. I know how important reviews are for writers. Reviews don’t have to be long. Two or three sentences are enough. I post them on Amazon, Goodreads, Storygraph and Discovery.  Amazon, Storygrpah and Discovery are technical reads so I’m giving a type of intellectual analysis of them. On Goodreads I’m recommending to reading and writing friends. The latter is more about personal taste than me recognising the merits of some writing - or not. The words in the reviews may be the same or similar but sometimes I give a different star rating on Goodreads.

What if I read a book written by a friend and it’s terrible? So far, so good. That hasn’t happened.  In fact, overall I’ve not had to give lower than three stars but this is in part because I’m only buying the sort of books I’m likely to like. So, I often don’t even mention to a friend that I’ve bought their book because it may take me a while to get round to reading it. And actually, I’ve bought the book. So she has the cash anyway.

I am honest in my reviews. I will give a one star or two star if I have to. By writing a lot of reviews I’m building my reputation as a reviewer. Hopefully people are seeing me as reliable. 

I am fortunate.  I can buy as many books as I like. This is partly to do with being comfortably off. But it’s also to do with having very few wants or needs. Other people are less fortunate so I’m happy to give them books in exchange for an honest review. Of course, it’s great when people buy books and review them. 

I also review for Armadillo Magazine and IBBY. These are longer reviews and I am given a free book for these – sometimes an e-book sometimes a hard copy.

I have also created my own catalogue of books for young people – The Young Persons Library. The reviews here are very neutral. They provide information for teachers, school librarians, scholars, parents and other adults who like reading children’s books.

Finally there is my recommended reads blog where I post each month the book that has impressed me the most.

This is all another addition to how I spend my time in a very enjoyable way.    

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay    

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

An interview with Steve Wade

 We recently published Steve's book In Fields of Butterfly Flames, a collection of short stories, so I've invited him on to my blog today to talk about his writing and this book in particular.     


 


1.      What do you write? Why this in particular?

I write literary fiction, in particular short stories, many of which are centred round characters within dysfunctional families. I also write anthropomorphic stories and fairy tales.

 

Most of my favourite writers employ literary fiction, so, naturally, I too am drawn to this genre. My interest in using anthropomorphism comes from my love of stories by Richard Adams, Rudyard Kipling and others. Limited as the market seems to be towards short fantasy stories, I especially enjoy getting lost in the creation of characters borrowed from the canon of Irish and world mythologies.  

 

2.      What got you started in writing in the first place?

I have always been creative, whether sketching and painting the birds I kept in aviaries as a teenager, or building the enclosures in which the foreign finches and parakeets were housed. Not until I went to college and compiled theses on the works of  the playwrights George Bernard Shaw and Sam Shepard did I discover the pleasure to be gained by creating characters and imagining them into predicaments from which I must help them escape or allow them to succumb. This drive to create, to produce something new is summed up perfectly in a quote by Arthur Miller speaking about his own writing. It’s the drive ‘to cast a new shadow upon the earth.’

 

3.      Do you have a particular routine?

In a perfect world, I would write first thing in the morning after breakfast. This is the period in which my mind is at its most creative. Alas, like most of mankind, there is the need to keep the proverbial wolfpack from prey-rushing me when I open the front door. Ironically, this awful pandemic, which has altered how we live and work, has given me the opportunity during lockdown to indulge my perfect writing routine, on and off, for a few months.

 

4.      Do you have a dedicated writing space?

There are two places in my home in which I do most of my writing: in my bedroom at a desk, or in the living room on the couch, with my pc  perched upon a laptop desk.

 

5.      When did you decide to call yourself a writer? Do you do that in fact?

At the age of twenty-five, I had the dubious success of being awarded First Prize in the first writing competition I ever entered. I say ‘dubious’ because I imagined this would lead to instant publication and further successive wins. Of course, this isn’t how things went. But with quite a few years gone over since then, and with them more than fifty short stories included in periodicals, magazines and anthologies, along with a collection of twenty-two short stories published by Bridge House Publishing, I think I can give myself the title ‘writer’ without inwardly cringing.

 

6.      How supportive are your friends and family? Do they understand what you’re doing?

To be candid, some members of my family, just like some of my friends, are more supportive than others. In the world in which we now live, a world where technology and handheld devices have, for many, replaced books, not everyone gets the idea of reading the printed page, let alone the dedication of those who aspire to write those pages. But I must give a special mention to my sister, Nessa, who set up my website, and who spends a lot of time improving it and updating it whenever I have a publication or a placement in a competition that needs to be add to it.

7.      What are you must proud of in your writing?               

Naturally, none of us writes in a bubble. That my work is read by others brings enormous personal satisfaction. But when I get feedback through comments or reviews, it makes all the hours of effort even more worthwhile. And then there is the socio-political aspect to a work of art. All art, even if its creator claims to be apolitical, is in some way socio-political. In this way some of the themes I explore and interrogate in my work allows me to understand better my own viewpoint or stance on a given matter.

 

Some themes, even when not being explored overtly are implicit in the way we tackle them. To take as an example a fairy tale I wrote called ‘The Land of the Ever Young’. In this story a fairy mother returns to a family a year on from the time when she stole their beautiful new-born child and left in its place a changeling. The changeling has brought destitute and death to the family with its insatiable appetite. This is the surface of the story, but what I’m really exploring here is the starving Irish families of nineteenth century Ireland. An Ireland where the impoverished farmer, beset by famine, could not afford to rear a child not born fully abled and therefore unable to help out on the small holding. And so came about the superstition that gave them freedom to effectively end the child’s life, fully convinced that their real child had been stolen and replaced with a demon fairy child.

 

At first, when I read the question about what I’m most ‘proud’ of about my work, I wasn’t sure if ‘pride’ was the correct emotion, but then I recalled a review of ‘The Land of the Ever Young’ from some years back, and I looked up the following by Mel Ulm on his blog:. He Writes: ‘I found his short story “The Land of the Ever Young” fully qualified to stand with the great occult fairy tales of Sheridan Le Fanu or Andrew Lang.’ Yes, as I reread this now, I’m smiling, and my chest is swelled.

 

8.      How do you get on with editing and research?

For me, the best part of writing is the rewriting. I’m with Hemingway who said first drafts are excrement. Over the years I’ve followed all the advice that tells us to leave a finished piece of writing for a few days before reading over it a number of times to pick up on any inconsistencies, typos, spelling and grammatical errors. Of course, it helps a lot more if you have someone reliable to read the piece too. As we can’t always home in on everything in our own writing.

 

As for research, most of my work doesn’t call for any in-depth research, other than checking sources relating to specific places, the time of year when named plants are in flower and so on.

 

9.      Do you have any goals for the future?

Naturally, goals about getting works published depend on the decisions of publishers to whom I submit my writing. I have written a few novels and have enough completed  short stories for another three publications. As for specific goals, there are a number of literary competitions in which I’ve been placed before but would be very happy to be the outright winner – what writer wouldn’t?

 

10.  Which writers have inspired you?

The writers who I feel most indebted to are Hemingway, James Joyce, Jack London, John Steinbeck, and Cormac McCarthy. And, when it comes to writing fantasy, Hans Christian Andersen, the Brothers Grimm and Oscar Wilde would be at the top of the list.

 


My book: In Fields of Butterfly Flames

1.      Tell us about your book

‘In Fields of Butterfly Flames’ is a collection of twenty-two short stories. Most of the stories first appeared in anthologies and periodicals. Some of them have won prizes or have been placed in literary competitions. Many of the stories explore the theme of familial dysfunctionalism. Other themes deal with the search for identity and the need for purpose. What the characters in every story have in common is that they are in some way broken or fractured, in search of meaning if not healing.

 


2.      Tell us about your research for this book.

As mentioned above, because it is a collection of short stories, there was no direct research necessary when writing. The indirect research that could be said to have gone into the stories is life and living itself, the experiences I’ve had or have read about others having; the books I’ve read, the places I’ve visited, the movies I’ve watched. All of it has been grist to my mill.

 

3.      What inspired you to write this?

Writing is what I do. It’s what I think about when I’m not writing and not distracted by something else. Characters, their plights, their status, where they live, their jobs and background take shape in my head when I’m taking my daily walk on the seafront, standing in the queue in Tesco or lying in bed waiting for sleep to come. Collating the stories into a collection seemed the obvious thing to do.

4.      What’s next?

Currently, I’m working on my third novel. The previous two have not yet been published, apart from one of them being awarded First Prize in a writing competition and subsequently being released as an e-book. The novel I’m writing now is an extension of one of the title short stories from my collection. Apart from the novel, I’m also collating three other  collections of short stories. One of literary fiction, a second of anthropomorphic tales, and a third of Christmas stories.

1.      How can we get a copy of the book?

‘In Fields of Butterfly Flames’ can be ordered directly from the publisher, Bridge House Publishing, or it can be ordered through Amazon.

 

2.      Do you have any events planned?  Due to the current pandemic, any ideas I had for a book launch have been put on hold.