Saturday, 29 December 2007

Beverley Birch’s “Rift” – A cracking Good read

I do read as much YA literature as I can. I heard Beverley Birch speaking just over a year ago at the SCBWI Writer’s day at the University of Winchester. Beverley is an interesting writer in that she also works as an editor, but in the end opted to have her work published by a different house from the one she works for. She edits for Hodder, but is published by Egmont.
“Rift” is extremely well written. It tells the story of five young people who go missing near the Chomlaya rocks in Africa. It is told mainly from the point of view of Ella, the younger sister of Charly, a journalist who accompanied a school expedition. Charly is one of the people who are missing.
The action takes place over three days and is charged with mystery. We do also have some passages with the point of view of the police inspector and of Joe, one of the boys who had been missing but who has inexplicably reappeared in the wrong place. We also have excerpts from the police log and from Charly’s notes, found somewhere near where she disappeared.
The author keeps us guessing all the time. It could be something supernatural, or a crime, or a tragic accident. I’ll not mention the outcome. I’ll just say that it is completely convincing. If anything, the suspense is such that you tend not to read it properly. You want to rush to the end.
I actually feel that now I might like to reread it, but a little slower this time.Anyway, I shall certainly be holding on to my copy: Beverley Birch has signed i

Monday, 24 December 2007


I have a big editing job to do at the moment, and a smaller one. The smaller one is bugging me …. Or maybe I’m using it as an excuse not to move on to the bigger one. With the smaller one, I’ve quickly agreed the changes the editor wants, taken out a couple of sections he suggested, then in one case, made the surrounding text run more smoothly. There are some slight alterations he has suggested, though not demanded and I tend to agree with him, though the reason those items weren’t there in the first place is because they are beyond the realms of my knowledge and I don’t have the time to do the research at the moment- especially as we are now into the Christmas period.
But all of this seems trivial compared with the bigger edit I have been putting off for months. This is a YA novel, over 100,000 words long. What has been suggested is very similar to what an editor might suggest after you’ve got the text as perfect as you can.
I see there being three basic levels of editing:
1. Major structural change.
2. Strengthening of weaker parts and getting the balance right. This will involve sharpening up characters and removing parts that don’t need to be there.
3. Checking flow and copy-editing.
I need to do something in all three areas.
Oh, well, best get down to it, I guess.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

What are the choices after a Creative Writing degree?

What are the choices after a creative Writing degree?
I’m working quite intensely now with Level 3 Students of Creative Writing who will be available shortly for the job market. What are their choices after graduation?
1. Become a best-selling, or at least moderately successful writer, who can manage to live from writing the sort of thing they enjoy writing.
2. Write for a living. This may often involve writing material they find boring, but at least they can say that they are living from writing. They should be careful, though, that they do not leave themselves without the time to write what is their passion.
3. Find a job which uses some of their transferable skills; being able to work to deadline, editing skills, negotiating skills, collaborative working, critical judgement, other creative skills
4. Take an ordinary, undemanding job which doesn’t call for much creativity so that creative energy is reserved for the Big Work.
5. Take an ordinary job that brings them closer to what they want to write about. They could work behind a bar if they want to write about human life, for instance.
6. Delve deeper into the subject and carry on to post-graduate study.
Any other ideas?

Friday, 14 December 2007

Working with Students

I had a lovely time with the four Level 2 students who turned for their class at 4.00 p.m. yesterday. It is very near to the end of term and they have already given in their assignments so in this class we talk about publishing possibilities. I myself am editing three books this year: anthologies, one about Salford, an Advent Calendar of stories and other short pieces and the Twelve Days of Christmas, slightly longer pieces.
We ate chocolates and discussed the vagaries of the publishing world and methods of critiquing work.
I guess I’ve got a pretty good day job. My favourite occupation is, of course, writing and my second favourite is talking to other writers about writing. I’m sure I learn as much from them as they learn from me.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

A New Template

It just goes to show that I often learn as much form my students, if not more so, than they do from me.
I’ve noticed that some of their pieces of work, and my own as well, lack a firm structure, though there is a structure there and the pieces are often well written. One of the first edits, anyway, has to be making sure the shape of the piece is sound.
Having faced this problem quite often now with my students, I am convinced that one can be quite mathematical with this. There has to be that inciting incident, growing complications – three main ones regardless of size of text, a crisis, a climax, a poke just as it looks as if the resolution is about to be reached, and all of these have a precise position in the text. I am going to create a spreadsheet to use against all future stories and novels.
This may be a step towards finding the golden section in writing.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Potatoes in Spring

I’m not sure whether this is going to be the final title. This is my current projects and is based on a fantastic resource I have: a photocopy of a circular letter sent during the Second World War between he classmates of my mother-in-law. She was a German Jewess, who did not even know about her Jewish background until a few days before she came to England at the beginning of 1939. Three stories are told in the book:
· That of my mother-in-law getting used to her strange new life in Britain – and worrying about he mother being bombed by the Germans in London and her father being bombed by the allies in Germany
· The ordinary life of ordinary Germans during that time, including the rather innocent experience of these thirteen to fourteen year old girls
· The activities of the family in Stuttgart who saved the Jewish orphanage helped the Jews in the ghetto.
I think the unusual angle here is the taking a look at ordinary lives. We know about the Holocaust. We know about many acts of bravery and defiance. But what we lack is knowledge of the ordinary, and perhaps some clue as to how this could have happened when ordinary people were around. At least I have some good documentation here. However, I don’t have everything I need and I’m actually looking forward to doing some of the research.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Workshop at Padgate High School, Warrington

I did enjoy this yesterday. This was part of the Masterclass series we offer from the University of Salford. I did a two hour gig with Year 13. I started off with a couple of warm-up sessions. The first was the “Angels / Gargoyles” exercise. This gets the students using language in perhaps a surprising way. They then moved on to do their own “opposite” word storm. Next was a mind-map of words and phrases about themselves, of which they then had to replace any one containing an ‘e’ with words or phrases without ‘e’. This gets rid of the clichés and stretches the imagination.
We then moved on to three ways of getting in to a story:
· The Stephen King method – take a scene and go from there. We examined that scene with our senses. This always leads to good writing in my opinion.
· Story theory – inciting incident, ratchet, crisis, climax, resolution – hints of golden segment
· Characters – hero, friend, enemy, mentor (who always steps out of the way at the right moment).
Finally, we did my character magic exercise – with fingers crossed behind my back again – and it did work. I actually worked with the teacher on that one.
I think they all enjoyed it. And you could have heard a pin drop whilst they wrote their little scene, having created their two characters. Lots of questions at the end. That felt good.
Yes, very satisfying.