Tuesday 31 March 2009

A Sense of Excitement as a New Deadline Looms

Being a writer is exciting. Being a publisher is even more exciting at times. Two submission deadlines have been reached today. I suppose I mean midnight today really, and is that Greenwich Mean Time or British Summer Time? But I feel this great curiosity to get looking. The deadline for horror stories is up as is the one for ghost stories. The one for Two Side to Every Story also looms ahead.
Will there be that story which takes your breath away? That is perfect and helps to define Bridge House?
We are making progress as a publishing company. We have a good web site now. We have professional sounding email addresses.
One person who has submitted seems impressed with the number of titles we are producing. All in the name of getting out there.
I actually can’t wait to get going on the new books.

Saturday 28 March 2009

Steve Hartley at SCBWI North Meeting

We spent a very pleasant afternoon at the Friends Meeting House in Manchester, listening to Steve Hartley talking about four basic behaviour types – processors, controllers, enthusiasts and supporters. We then looked at some video clips of news items and interviews from the previous week’s television. It was easy to spot all four types, now that we are in the know.

I do feel, though, that there is more to character than this. We probably also need to know where within each quartile our character sits. Then there are all the other thoughts about what they look like, how they think, what presses their buttons and what the problems are in a particular story.

I don’t actually sit for hours thinking these things about my character, though it is useful to now and then spend a little quality time with one’s character. I sometimes do that if I can’t sleep or when I’m driving or racing up and down the swimming pool.

I suppose actually I should count myself lucky that I’ve managed to work twice this week on my characters.

Friday 27 March 2009

Judy Waite Visiting University of Salford Part II

Judy’s talk and workshop was excellent. All the more disappointing, therefore, that is was so poorly attended.
And yet…. I actually prefer it when there are just a few people in a workshop.
I guess there were several factors. Some people do have lectures and seminars at that time. It was essay week. Many of our students have employment commitments. They work out of genuine need, not greed. The weather was appalling. Once in a building it was tempting to stay there. And the Arts Unit had moved the venue. Even I had to read the email several times before I realised that we had been transferred to another building from our usual one.
No matter. The Council Chamber of the Old Fire Station is a lovely place for a workshop – even if it is under the beady eyes of former Vice-Chancellors and Prince Philip.
Judy gave us lots of information about how her teaching career took off and plenty of advice about our attitude to getting published. A good reason for being careful about which publishers we approach is that if we keep approaching the wrong ones we’ll just get rejected over and over and become demoralised. At least of we approach someone who seems to want the sort of thing we’re producing, rejection is genuine feedback and we may even get more of an explanation.
Judy’s research is incredibly and admirably thorough. She has talked to gypsies, got herself locked in a police cell, done herself up as a seventeen-year old and auditioned for a boy band (yes, it’s true) and paid Amsterdam prostitutes the going rate in order to interview them about their working lives.
Later, we did some intensive work on our characters. This involved the lighting of candles, writing with our non-dominant hand, and talking to them. This may seem a little New Age, but in fact it was a way of gaining a much better understanding of our characters. We live in such a busy, jangly world that we often don’t have the brain space to think deeply enough. I was pleased to see my protagonist become much more likeable and much more assertive but still retaining some of his humility. Just as well – I have to finish the current novel and another one by the end of the year. I was also delighted to see two of our students make astonishing progress in an afternoon.
Because we were such a small intimate group we were able to discuss our work in detail. That was a real opportunity. We had the value of each other’s attention and Judy’s input. We actually ran over time because we were so absorbed we hadn’t noticed.
Judy also gives very professional and very honest talks. She came armed with a suitcase full of her books and information and realia from her writing life.

Thursday 26 March 2009

Judy Waite Visiting University of Salford

We’re all set up for a visit later today from Judy. She’ll be making an appearance on M TV (our local television channel), giving an hour’s talk and then a two hour workshop. Fingers crossed we get a good turn out.
Judy and I go back a long way. We both write for the same readers. We also did our MAs together in 2000 (Writing for Children, Winchester). She was full time and I was in my second year of part time.
She arrived yesterday, early evening and we had dinner together. I took her to Istanbul, Bridge St, Manchester. It’s a good restaurant. They do reasonably plain food well.
You can imagine we had quite a bit to talk about. Interesting, though. Sure we have a lot in common, yet we have totally different experiences of both our writing lives and of the universities where we teach.
And we are both fascinated by other writers’ routines.
Today should be good. Judy has a very respectable writing CV. She is also an excellent speaker.

Tuesday 24 March 2009

Writing to Perfection

The bottom line, I think, for me, in all my writerly activities is writing as near to perfection as I can. Yes, publication is desired, yes I want to make money from my writing, either directly by earning money on my sales, or indirectly through workshops, my own publishing ventures, and the work I do at the university.
How, though, do we describe perfection? Must a really good piece be tightly written? Making a good moral point? Engaging the reader? Be a delight to read in its linguistic perfection? Make us famous?
I just want to write well and be known for that.

Monday 23 March 2009

Publisher's Progress

Two of the partners of our newly formed publishing partnership, Bridge House Publishing, met up in a rather nice hotel in Chester on Saturday. We were there for three hours, therefore two coffees and lunch.
There was a lot to discuss, and it was a pity the third partner and our administrator could not be there because of illness.
I think all three of us are really clear on what the bottom line is. We want a quality product and we want a good return on our labours. The other two want to give up their day jobs to work full time on this. I don’t want to, as I already have a day job which fits in well with and acknowledges my writing. In many ways the editorial work I am doing for the “company” is part of my day job.
There were lot of other items to discuss as well – prices, discounts, whether to use an accountant, how often to pay ourselves, whether to join the Independent Publisher’s Guild, where the lines are between the administrator and the publicist, what we should do about a Christmas celebration, how many titles a year we should produce.
It was exciting and scary at the same time.
But I’m glad we’re doing it.

Lytham St Anne’s Technology and Performing Arts College

It was good to be near the sea again today. I didn’t actually see it, but I could smell and feel it in the air. I’m really missing the sea. It’s really a pleasant approach to this school as well – seaside or not.
I worked with two groups of Y9. One group learnt French, the other German. All bright students, as it was the “Gifted and Talented” budget that paid for me.
As usual when working with Creative Writing in other languages, I tried to get them focussed on what they did know rather than have them worrying about what they didn’t know. And because they’re bright, they did tend to rather worry about what they didn’t know.
However, we got going, and worked our way through a succession of “Hello / Goodbye” poems, acrostic poems, haikus on topics and haikus with colours, grammatical rhythm poems, changing and build up sentences.
The students worked delightfully hard. They managed to word process and perform their work well.
Aha! Well, they are a Technology and Performing Arts College!
You forget sometimes, though, how tiring a day in school can be. It pays well, but then you have to give value for money. A really nice school, however, and I was really well looked after. I have no right to complain

Tuesday 17 March 2009

Editing, editing and more editing

I edit my own work. I edit the work of my students. I edit the work that comes my way for the small publishing company I co-own. Can you be all edited out?
I think I was yesterday. There was no more I could say about anybody’s work. Not even my own. Maybe there needs to be a limitation on how much one edits a day as well as on how much one writes.
What is it that one edits? The spelling and the grammar? Ah, that’s the easy bit. Then does this have a story arc? Is there structure? Is the voice right? Is the voice consistent? Would this be better shown instead of told? Is this a darling which needs killing? Does this dialogue work? Is all of the text either pushing the story forward or showing characters, and is it preferably doing both at once?
Simply put, is it good enough, is it fit for purpose?
Is it a case of keeping first things first?
The first thing, the urgent and important thing, is to be a writer.

Monday 16 March 2009

Workshop on Writing for Children, Stoke, 14 March 2009

I met with thirteen enthusiastic students last Saturday – including one of the librarians from the library that had organised the event and the town’s writer in residence. It was good to meet Nick Corder at last. We’ve been in email contact for just over twelve months. Some of the other participants were some of his OU students. There were about three people who had not done much writing before and there were a couple of secondary school teachers who were looking for something they could take back to the classroom. Each member of the group brought some useful experience to it, and all shared a love of reading and writing.
I started off giving them a few facts about the child we were concentrating on – upper junior school. Of course, that child has his / her actual age, their physical age, their reading age, their mental age and their emotional age – so we definitely mean generalisations here. I introduced them to Laura Berk and Piaget.
The first writing exercise was about finding voice. This is as much to do with the perceived reader as with how the writer speaks. They must be addressing the child.
We then went on to look at plot, and how to maintain a balanced structure in a story. We looked also at character. Over lunch they completed my Character Magic exercise, where they answer 32 questions about two characters, then forget their answers and write a short scene between two of the characters. Whoever reads the scene can usually get most of the answers about the characters correct.
We also talked for a short while about narrative forms and the advantages / disadvantages of each one and also how you can mix and match them.
We then played consequences to force them into a story. That was something they could go and work on later.
Finally we talked about editing processes and publishing opportunities.
I think I gave them loads of information and some opportunity for writing.
I enjoyed myself too. I’d happily run such a workshop again.

Friday 13 March 2009

A Chat with My Editor

I had a sudden instinct to contact my editor the other day. After all, I do have a few books out soon. This is a small independent publisher we are talking about. They are always a delight to work with. Everything is much more human and friendlier. The down side is that they don’t wield the power of the bigger houses. Our printing is done almost as a favour, and fitted around other jobs the printer has to do. Ironically, they do a lot of printing for an academic press. And I thought that academic books were only done in small numbers!
However, we are on track for Scum Bag coming out in two weeks time. Fingers crossed.
I caught my editor in a good mood. The sun was shining in Cambridge, apparently. In Salford it was dull and dark. Never mind. It was the editor we needed in a good mood, not me. Her good mood improved my own anyway.
It was nice to perceive her excitement being similar to me own. The end of March those books should be out. We talked joyously about the marketing campaign. She’s just read it again, she said. I wonder why? It’s flattering, though.
I’ve ordered some more copies of The Lombardy Grotto. It’s about time I did a bit more pushing myself.

Wednesday 11 March 2009

Moving from one project to another

It’s a good feeling when you complete a manuscript a week early. That is what has happened to a manuscript I’ve just posted to Continuum. Then it gets scary, as you wait for editorial comment.
It is a good book. I know that. It does something a bit unusual. I just hope it won’t be too unusual for the general public. It is my accumulated wisdom of over twenty years of language teaching. It is also, perhaps, a way of saying goodbye. I don’t really want to write another book like that. Eight years ago, I’d thought of combining that with writing my fiction. Now, I want mainly to write my fiction. I do have to do academic as well. I don’t mind that so much. However, I do pity my voice recognition software as it trawls my computer trying to work out what my style is. It meets my writing for children, writing for young adults, academic writing, writing letters to the bank and practical logistical documents. What might the common recognisable style be that it finds? I guess there isn’t one.
So, I’m now back to the fiction. I have to reread it first. Then I shall start writing again. I’ve not worked on this one for almost two years. It shows. I’ve moved on, and it is very much a first draft anyway.

Monday 2 March 2009

More Creative Cafes

I visited the Ordsall Community Café today. It’s a sweet place with cheery yellow curtains up at the windows which fill the place with sunshine. They do a range of simple dishes and they’re very good value for money. They’re open 10.00 until 5.00 weekdays except Friday and Saturday from 11.00 until 3.00. You can actually hire the whole café for £20.00 an hour. They have an IT room which can be hired and also a meeting room. They even have a hairdresser’s salon which you can hire. You do your own hairdressing and pay 20% of the profit. They even have a little garden project going.
I’d say they are already a Creative Café. I’m thinking of a book launch for Kiters there.