Wednesday 27 February 2008


I’ve had two lots of proofs arrive. In some ways, it’s thrilling. It means the book’s are on their way.

On the other hand, it can be quite irritating. First of all, you’re mad at yourself because of the typos you didn’t spot, and the misspelled words, and the clumsy sentences. The worst is your own computer which constantly flits between curly and straight inverted commas. Then you start to argue with the copy editor: Dad, for instance, is spelt with a capital letter when it’s used as a name, but not when it’s a generic word for a relation. Or you really did want that comma, because it’s there for a reason.

Sometimes the other edits beg different questions. Do you really need this character? Do you really need this paragraph?

There’s something even worse for me - the constant editor. If I was writing this book today, I’d write it even better. You move on all the time. Once books are out, I barely look at them. Because I know I’ll see things I want to alter.

Friday 22 February 2008

Voice Recognition

I have had great fun recently with some interesting voice recognition software. I’ve put it on my computer because sometimes, just sometimes, not often, I writ in longhand and I actually find it quite tedious to type up what I’ve written in longhand.
You do actually havoc to train it, and that is quite tedious. It takes a while before it becomes able to understand you accurately. I t ahs to get used to the way you say words. It also has to get sued to your style. You can have it trail through all of your documents and teach itself your style. That actually feels a bit spooky
The more you use it, the more it gets used to you.
In the mean time, it does some very strange things. They recommend, especially at first, that you correct each paragraph as you go along. If you do as I do – forget to turn off the mike, it’ll pick up anything – even the news in next door’s flat that you can’t actually hear. Edited or unedited, you then have a really interesting mixture.
For example:
“Lead his I to acquire more are her life manages to trip of my there should hit trip so that the he and they then threw them all more or they want them sure that the law failed to get through a second can receptions and tea in strong mark their it clear that for a prompt 5th of war had to have the troops to unleash the cost of the house looks a wave large teaching hospital named after them or they have an of the did clubs which looks on the one on the fact is that her loss and suave PAC's one of the old renovated at come to this can have Nestle's five-a-side the lively and opposite is that some of the week Shriven everywhere. Major evolved unusual at the they want and what will Von Luck s the was for her if for “
Always, when it guesses, it takes soemhting from the news – “the law failed to get through a second” of football “Nestle’s five-a-side”.

Sunday 17 February 2008


There has been quite a bit of debate about this on Wordpool recently. Or was it SCBWI? Well, many of the same people on both. I’ve actually been on several courses, and had almost as many different versions of what makes a good synopsis.
I do struggle with them myself. I often feel that I’ve not go everything into them that the potential editor or agent needs to know. It isn’t just a matter of telling the plot. You have to get something of the atmosphere, the characters and the form of the novel across.
Only twice do I think I have got it absolutely right. Once was for “Nick’s Gallery”. The other was the Harry Bowling competition that I am entering. The latter needed 500 words and I wrote 480. The former was two sides of A4, double-spaced.
Some writers and editors will ask for specific things. But if you’re on your own, and you want to second guess what the potential editor wants to know, this is what I recommend.
First, you must get your story into one sentence, not more than two lines long – though you can have several clauses if you must. You should use this in your query letter anyway. I always find it a useful tool in keeping me on track as I write anyway. More often than not, the premise is hidden in that sentence as well.
One writer who talked to me about writing synopses suggested that you keep a chapter by chapter one as you write. You’ll have to edit down later, but it will remind you of what happens. And just a few publishers and agents do want a chapter by chapter account.
Always use the present tense. This is not a blurb. You do need to tell your reader what happens. Make sure what you describe has the right emphasis and the full story arc is revealed.
Remember also to mention something about the atmosphere you create and the personalities and motivations of the characters. Include also who you see as the reader and give a rough idea of word count.

Wednesday 13 February 2008

Schools TourContinued

Schools Tour Continued
I have now done six visits and it is getting amazing. Apparently, my publisher was contacted last week by the mother of one of the children who’d heard me speaking. This lady runs the Holloway Arts Festival and wants to book me for that.
The kids are great in all of the schools and the teachers are mostly nice, though there have been some oddities. I drove over 150 miles to one school. I arrived at 9.45 for a 10.00 start. I was greeted with “Oh, I wasn’t expecting her until 10.00.” Well, what did they want? Did they want me to risk being fifteen minutes late instead?
Sometimes the staff seem to have their own agenda. At another school I kept being interrupted so that the teacher could tell the children how well they were doing. It seemed to be more about whether the children could behave well rather than what I had to say. They were well behaved and the odd one or two who lost concentration were not disruptive. More disruption was caused by the teachers trying to discipline them. On one occasion, I was left to find my own way out of the building. Thank goodness my own teaching experience made me confident about what to do.
But these are the exceptions, and on the whole, the teachers are lovely, too. The interaction with the kids has been amazing, and do I now have a title for “The Veiled Princess”? Veiled Dreams? Courtesy of Brookfield House School, where I was yesterday.
All of the children have been well behaved, though I have seen one or two examples of boredom. Time to up the game, I guess. I think I need to teach all the primaries how to make a Lombardy knot.

Thursday 7 February 2008

Schools Tour

Well, I’ve done three school visits this week. The children listened attentively, mainly, as I read form The Lombardy Grotto to them. They asked lots of questions. They didn’t ask that question – the one all writers dread – “Where do you get your ideas from?” That may be because I pre-empted that and asked them what they thought the question was that most writers get asked and dread answering and then I asked them where they got their ideas from for their stories.
The strangest question was “Is your study a mess, because you work in Southampton and Salford?” I’d mentioned living in two places when one of them asked me what I was working on at the time – I work on Peace Child in Southampton and Potatoes in Spring when I’m in Salford. I do that so I can leave my bits and pieces on the appropriate desk.
I did tell them a lot about how The Lombardy Grotto came to me, almost packaged as a whole, when I visited the Cider Press Centre and Totnes, Devon. How when we got back from the Riverside Walk, it was so very quiet, and we wondered, what if everyone had gone away?
I asked the children in all three schools to tell me what Sparky looked like, how old they thought Jayne was, how old they thought Michael and Toby were, why Old Fuzzy Locks was called Old Fuzzy Locks and how they would describe chocolate to someone who had never tried it before. The responses were good.
Some children asked me for my autograph. I think I’m going to get some postcards made, which I can sign for them. They will show images of my books and have details of my web site, where they can buy signed copes, or link to Amazon.

Saturday 2 February 2008

The Creative Café

I used to have the following on my web site, but it was deleted when I decided to blog via blogger instead of my own site. The “Spring Forward” was 2007
“During the Spring Forward night I did not sleep, but I did have a dream. My mind raced.
The hunters have hunted and the gatherers have gathered and it is time to be around the camp-fire and drum, tell stories, sing, dance, make music and pictures.
Every town – at least every university town and cathedral city - should have a Creative Café. They would be good at airports too. Ideally, everyone in the world should be within an hour of a Creative Café.
These are cafes where anyone can go to drink coffee, eat cakes and other such, a little in the way that the Viennese coffee houses used to operate. These locations would also be licensed. There people can meet to discuss creative ideas or just soak up the creative ideas of others. Typically, writers would meet to share writing and experiences. Artists may display their work as the café area doubles us as a gallery. A shop may be present to sell creatively produced items, items produced by the famous and the less-well known as appropriate to each location.
Less conventional forms of creativity should be made welcome, and the visitors should not just be those actively engaged in creative activities. Yet the atmosphere in the places should foster creative activity. This already exists in some places I know already: Costa (Dylan’s) Upper Bangor, Dylan’s, Main Arts Building, University of Wales, Bangor, The Belle Vue, Bangor, Papillon, Bangor, Starbucks across the globe, the Sherlock Holmes Hotel, Baker St, London, the IBM Club, Hursley, the Café Parisien, Portsmouth, the Poetry Café, London, Butler’s Chocolate Café, Dublin Airport and the various locations of the Intermind Group, the University of Wales, Bangor.
But the location is important. Where Creative Cafés are found in a university town, they must be available for town and gown, and not out of sight of the public, hidden on a university campus. Some will be cafés that are already there. Others will be purpose made and typically, they will be in converted chapels, old barns, converted mills or state of the art modern buildings. Conversions will be tastefully done, in an environmentally friendly way. Getting it right will be more important than money, though no one’s business should suffer because of it, and may even benefit indirectly finacially because of added value. There will not be a formula – each one will suit its location. They will all be stamped with the Creative Café logo – if that is what we choose to call it. Even the catering should be local and creatively in-keeping.
Events may take place there – poetry readings, book launches, viewings of art and sculpture, soap-boxing of creative solutions, theatre performances, film screenings, recitals, exhibitions, concerts, conventional or less conventional – at any time of the day, but from 8.00 a.m until 11.00 p.m, or similar times in keeping with local cultures. As well as any event taking place, there will be free access for like-minded people who wish to meet together. Some events will be free, some events will make a charge to cover costs, and some will aim to make a profit – for a particular cause to further promote the work of Creative Cafes. Some events will have a fixed-price charge. Some will ask for a donation.
Arts councils and states may support the cafés, but they will not control them. They belong to the people, but the people are entrepreneurial and move towards the highest high, rather than sinking to the lowest low. The aim is the celebration of creativity. They should outshine the French “Maison de la Culture” and be less eccentric than the French “salon”.
Whoever manages the cafes, at local, national or international level, will have good business skills. Their main brief will be to keep the cafés vibrant and running effectively. This will include taking account of finances, but not to make huge profits, unless, for an individual café, it seem appropriate to support some cause or help other cafes to get up and running, or needing itself major refurbishments or expansion. They will probably be hugely underwritten by those who have financial creativity.
I could not get this initiative off the ground on my own. I can’t quite work out the logistics, even for one café, nor find the time to do it all, let alone have the financial resources. There are probably people out there who could. What I can do, is uphold the vision.
The Creative Cafe can also operate in cyber space, and this could be a starting point anyway.
We are all just six handshakes away from the rest of the world. We all know 250 people who know 250 people. Amongst those people will be the ones who can bring this into reality. If you’re with me on this, pass this message on.”
I am actually now taking steps towards starting a pilot scheme, so I’ll keep you all posted.
I’d also like to add to any café managers or owners out there, that of course I would still expect you to run your café in a commercial way. It is the artistic events which should by underwritten if they need to be. I have a feeling in any case that if this all works according to the dream, it could all produce financial as well as creative abundance.
Also, I think these can exist on university campuses, but should invite the public in , and certainly shouldn’t be confined to the campus. I strongly hope also that they will exist in towns – and maybe even villages – which have niether cathedrals nor universities.
And, would anyone care to join me?