Wednesday 30 September 2009

Writing for Teens

I gave a workshop on writing for teens this week. I still argue that you can break the stage beyond fluent readers into two parts:
Young Adult
Teens are still struggling with puberty, they are leaving childhood behind and they still retain an idealised view of adulthood. They like to see children having the power of adults. They will often read up about people a couple of years older than them.
Young Adults are post-puberty but still struggling with hormones. They are sexually enabled but may or may not be sexually active. They still have problems because their brain is still growing. They can suffer mood-swings, and tend to judge with their emotions. They often lack sleep. They are risk takers, because of the excess dopamine in their brain.
In their reading they seek books where the protagonists and other significant characters look like them. They need fast pace and emotional closeness, and this often leaves the writer at odds; these require two different writing styles. Often the author can combine both by making the stakes extremely high.
It is often difficult to place a YA novel in a genre; it is frequently multi-genre and multi-themed. The unifying factor is that it is a Biludungsroman, usually taking one adolescent theme and more often than not it is identity.
Also, this reader likes to have a substantial amount of control over the text.
The group on Saturday did get quite deep into this. It was most interesting.

Friday 25 September 2009

Trouble Shooting

A lot of writing is about trouble-shooting.
Your characters won’t behave, so you pin them down or listen to them and pin yourself down.
You don’t like your work when you reread it x weeks on, so you change it to please the writer that you have now become.
You become published and that means dealing with an editor and a copy-editor. They are there to make the work as good as it can be. But they can also make you feel totally inadequate. You have to hang on to the fact that they basically like your work. Very much in fact in these days of cut backs, which make it even harder to get published. Copy editors can be infuriating. But they are often right and when they’re wrong you might find you are as well and you have to find a third way. The third way, incidentally can be far better than either the first or the second. We’re not talking compromise. We’re talking about something far bigger.
The book is out there. What will the reviewers and the critics think? What will your personal friends think? They say they enjoyed listening to you read at the book launch. A week later they don’t even remember going to your book launch. Were they just being polite?
You agree, actually. That book that has just come out was finished probably at least a year ago.
You aim is just to write perfectly. Every time you miss that particular mark you have to trouble shoot. In the end, writing is mainly rewriting.

Thursday 24 September 2009

Submitting to an Agent

I’ve done that today for the first time in ages. I’ve lost a publisher recently. So we go back to that. I actually feel cool enough to submit to one agent at a time and not worry. Just get on with the writing in the meantime.
It took a long time to get the submission ready. First of all I had to have a good look at their web site and see what they were really after. Then I had to write the query letter and the synopsis just the way they seemed to be asking for it. Of course, though, what took the longest was reediting the text. Spooked was completed a year ago. I’ve moved on since then. I can’t leave it alone. Does this mean that the first thirty pages are going to be absolutely polished and the rest, should it ever be accepted, be out of kilter? Maybe every time I get a rejection, I’d better rewrite the whole lot, then. Plenty of work, then.
Sadly, I’ve noticed on my travels that some agents are not accepting unsolicited submissions. Does this mean that you have to get agents’ agents?
All a little worrying.

Wednesday 23 September 2009

New Semester

They say that everywhere student numbers are up. It is to do with the recession, the credit crunch, call it what you may. Young people are putting off the evil day by going into Higher Education. Yesterday we met with our MA students. We could hardly fit in the room. This time last year we all managed to fit around a table.
As we move about the campus at the moment – well we can’t actually move – there are queues everywhere. It is really the busiest time of the year. But I don’t remember it being quite this hectic last year. I presume it will die down a little. However, next week we get our other students back.
Another couple of signs:
- I had to arrive late on Monday and although we only have one year group in, the car park was full.
- The mail room, usually full of boxes of reams of paper is down to two boxes.
We have 69 students enrolled for English and Creative Writing. The numbers are still swelling. Good recruitment, but what will happen when it comes to retention?

Monday 21 September 2009

Our Chocolate Workshp

I have to admit to this being absolutely fabulous. I think we gave out good information. Certainly, the delegates furiously wrote down notes. I hope there was the right balance of instructions / discussion / hands on having a go at writing.
I covered:
The Bridge House style
Our marketing officer talked about some marketing ploys.
The venue was good, with the only slight disadvantage that we had to eat in the same room as we had our sessions. We suffered from Rainy City weather and all we could really do to stretch our legs at lunch time was wander around the chocolate shop. That was a feast for our eyes and noses, and certainly got the taste buds tingling.
But goodness, Slattery’s did us proud. We had excellent tea and coffee with lovely biscuits- mainly chocolate though not all of them. Then the lunch was brilliant - scrumptious sandwiches and delicious pies and pasties. Lovely salads including the most gorgeous tomato one. Cakes. They seem to have calculated two per person. Of course we couldn’t manage all of them, event though we carried on eating them with our afternoon tea. They did give us boxes so that we could take some home.
Could chocolate be a muse factor for the short story writer?

Friday 18 September 2009

Multi-tasking Authors

Approaching Alzheimer’s? Senior moments? And the rest?
Or is it just the sheer number of different things a writer has to do?
Yesterday, I forgot to take my two memory sticks to work with me. When I came home from work, I forgot to bring my manuscript that I’m editing with me.
Well, I am the wrong side of fifty.
But I think it’s something else. Currently, I have these particular balls in the air:
- Arranging my book launch – this evening. Definitely related to my writing.
- Arranging my workshop tomorrow. Definitely related to my writing and publishing activities.
- Arranging a family party to celebrate the life of my late father who died on 14th August this year. Not writing related, but so similar to those things I do in relation to my writing that I can hardly distinguish it.
-Arranging a workshop next weekend.
-Completing a bigger project to do with my father’s art work. Not writing related but involving applying for an Arts Council grant – something that’s part of my day job.
-Juggling timetables at the university. I’m employed by the university because I am a writer and I have a Ph D in Creative Writing.
Not to mention the actual writing.

Wednesday 16 September 2009

A New University Year Apporaches

It’s that time of year again. We have Induction Week next week. All the new students come along. We have all sorts of different contexts in which we meet – once over bacon butties and once more formally. And in preparation for that we have all sorts of meetings and panics before that happens. We’ve been in meetings from 10.00 until 2.00 today, though admittedly the last hour was informal and over lunch.
We have a new GTA this year. She is doing a Ph D and will be teaching on a couple of modules I’m convening this year. It’s so good to have fresh blood. One of my meetings was with her, so quite pleasurable.
In many ways, though, it will be a relief to teach. While you’re teaching, you can’t be doing anything else.
And with my new module, Introduction to Children’s Literature, there is something to look forward to.

Tuesday 15 September 2009

Levels of Critquing

Levels of Critiquing
I’ve just been talking to one of my students about critique groups. They are good to go to, even for our students over and above our own workshops. But there are so many possibilities. Here are a few:
Tea party. It makes you feel nice. “I really like the way you talk about the trees bending in the wind.” It’s good to have that once in a while. But is it actually productive?
Harsh. Every conceivable problem with the piece is discussed. Nothing good is acknowledged. There is even discussion about how publishable the text might be. It can make you want to give up sometimes.
Balanced. The good points and the bad points are mentioned and you can come out of that feeling okay. However, you can never be sure what the balance actually is.
Genre specific. This can be useful, as you can concentrate on the particular requirements of your field. However, cross-fertilisation is also good.
My brand: I say what is good. I say what works less well. I give advice about how the piece might be improved. I summarise what I’ve said – emphasising the positives. It’s a nice method, but doesn’t paint the whole picture. I use this also with my students in workshops and always try to pick the comments the most useful to them.
What is the most important thing that they are doing right?
Which fault is pulling the work down the most?
Which is the most effective step they can now take to improve their work?
Maybe there is an argument about going to a variety of critique groups:
One that makes you feel good.
One that tells you how it is.
One that is genre-specific.
One that is balanced.
I also argue that there is much to be gained by showing a finished piece to someone who has never seen it before. Critiquers can lose objectivity if they see a piece several times.

Monday 14 September 2009

The Books Have Come

They’ve arrived! My lovely creamy, yellowy copies of The Prophecy. I did worry a little that they may not come in time. They have and they all look good.
Over thirty books out and I still get quite a kick out of seeing their glossy covers. However, I don’t like opening them. I find sentences I want to change. It’s odd as well – I don’t quite recognise them. I’m so used to seeing my books as double-spaced A4 sheets. They don’t look quite as if they belong to me when they’re in the form of books on the shelf. Who is this Gill James anyway?
I’m going to have to pick the bits I want to read soon and practise. That’s enjoyable, though. I think we’ve got a fair audience. Perhaps the free chocolate cake and the free carrot cake is attracting them….
Is text enhanced by performance? Or should the text speak for itself? I know often in critique groups, one tends to underread. I did have a friend, though, who could make the direst texts come to life. At readings anyway one has to actually perform. Practise I must, therefore.

Friday 11 September 2009

Book Launch Imminent

I’m getting so excited. My book "The Prophecy" launches on 18th September. It actually comes out, of course on 14th September. We’re holding it at the Nexus Art Café in Dale Street, Northern Quarter, M1 1JW. Fans, if you want to come along, you’re most welcome, but do RSVP to Carrot cake and chocolate cake free on a first come first served basis. Books for sale, obviously, and I’ll be doing a few short readings.
It’s a great venue and very appropriate. I’m hoping to get them into the Creative Café network. They’re actually a really good example of the Creative Café. The epitomise it – and they’re still pushing it further.
It was good yesterday, having the excuse to go and visit to pay the deposit. I just had to try a piece of the chocolate cake ….

Thursday 10 September 2009

Sonya Sones’ “What My Mother Doesn’t Know”

This book is a little bit different. It is a poetry novel. I found it extremely readable and the verse form did not put me off at all. If anything, it enhanced the emotional involvement. That’s good news for the teen reader as well. Emotional involvement is always important. Poetry novels also have the advantage that they are quicker to read – even though they stay with you longer. An efficient process, therefore.
If this hadn’t been a poetry novel, because of its content, it would be “chicklet-lit”. Chicklet-lit is like chick-lit but for the next generation down – for the young adult. It already has a little more gravitas than the Bridget Jones style novels. In this form, though it really takes off. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as close to a protagonist as I do to Sophie in this novel.
Is it something I’d like to have a go at myself? I certainly think so. It is definitely something I’d recommend to my students. It would be fantastic for their Final Portfolio, an important final year module.

Monday 7 September 2009

Writers do a lot more than write

I’ve just had three weeks’ leave from my post at the University of Salford. I thought during that time I’d have some time to write. I did very little in the end – partly because my father died, partly because my daughter got married and partly because I was ill. But that wasn’t all the time – some of the time my husband and I were having a holiday at home and even without those three life events I may not have got an awful lot done. In between day trips and a weekend away for the wedding, and admittedly lounging around doing nothing because I felt so ill, I also had to deal with some urgent domestic business and work on some publicity for an upcoming book launch. I even did a short radio interview.
It’s almost easier when I’m at work. In fact I’m writing this at work – and I do it without feeling guilty. Fortunately my employers expect me to write – what a fantastic day job, but they do also give me plenty of admin, plenty of marking and plenty of meetings to attend, but in the end they’re all to do with writing so it feels good.
But I’m lucky if I can squeeze in two hours a day / 2000 words. I used to manage that even I when I worked full time in a school as a Head of Department, though admittedly then I wouldn’t have been able do the talks and school visits and all the marketing and presence creating that I now do.
Many writers, especially those who have become renowned do complain of this. They become public figures and are in demand. They have to become used to writing in hotel rooms or on the train.
Then there is writer’s research – which can be a good procrastination tool anyway. That research can also just be a matter of sitting back and observing life.
In addition, there is a very positive upside. Reading is an activity that is essential for writers. It happens also to be my default activity. I don’t have to feel guilty, then, if I’m indulging myself in a good book. It’s part of my work!
What a wonderful life-style!

Thursday 3 September 2009

Kotuku (Deborah Savage)

Deborha Savage’s Kotuku is an interesting read. There is some mystery and Savage is very clever in the way she gradually reveals how Wim’s best friend Jilly actually died. Wim is extremely well drawn also. She is a true young adult with all the uncertainties that go with that age and a fair amount of self-absorption. A believable real person is revealed from time to time through the trappings of adolescence.
Yet at times, although the novel is well-written, the narrative can be a little too introspective for even an adult reader. It may irritate a young adult who needs fast pace and high drama. There is risk taking – Wim is very brave in the way she handles her demented great aunt – but it does not go quite far enough. In addition Savage is a little too insistent on the reality of a fantasy thread. It would be much wiser to leave the decisions about this to the imagination of the reader.
This book doesn’t quite have the impact of some other similar more literary Young Adult novels. However, it is very readable and it’s conclusion is reasonably satisfying. The question of course is, how does she attain this style and what is preventing her from perfecting it?