Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Creativity – what is it?

When the National Curriculum was first introduced I was a teacher of Modern Foreign Languages.  A strand about creativity and doing things “creatively” was included.  However, nobody could define what that meant so it was taken out again.
I have since developed a sense of what creative language learning and creative writing in other languages are but that is all for another day and possibly for another blog; I intend to write about it soon on my Writing Teacher blog.


I’m a creative practitioner so it must be my business to be creative

Yes and no. I write for four hours a day and I’m spending some of today’s four hours writing this blog. Yet I don’t think I’m at my most creative at this time. As well as a few inspired ideas- and yes, arguably I’m creating something and when my work is eventually read I’ll be creating something in the reader – I’m using a lot of craft, knowledge, experience and art. 
I often perceive myself to be more creative when:
·         I plan events.
·         I plan lessons / lectures/ seminars.
·         I make a meal on Boxing Day from Christmas Day leftovers.
·         I look in the fridge / around the market and create a decent supper (very Nigel Slater).


Creative energy

I think we only have a certain amount of that. I’m most creative first thing so I do most of my writing and other creating in the morning. Admin and marketing are more passive so I do those later.
I tell my students that though teaching is a good option given their qualifications – they are ideally suited to teach children to both read and write - they should not expect to do much of their own writing in the first few years except perhaps in the summer holidays. All of their creative energy will be taken up with lesson preparation and problem-solving. Much of their passive energy will be taken up with marking and assessment. These can nevertheless be very rewarding.

Some possible definitions 

Solving a problem. (Nylon replacing scarce silk in parachutes)
Achieving something though circumstances are limiting. (Writing for children? My son making up more games with a limited set of toys whilst on holiday rather than playing the same game with loads of toys whilst at home)
Finding a new way of doing something (Tea and eyeliner instead of seamed stockings)
Making something happen. (Building a wall or pulling down a wall)
Turning something intangible into something tangible (Ideas in head into book in someone else’s hand)
Creating empathy in someone else

Some necessary ingredients

A need or problem
A willingness to address this
Attempts and failures
Small successes
A eureka moment
Thus writing a short email inviting colleagues to a meeting can be just as creative as producing a masterpiece for a top gallery.
I had a eureka moment recently on some workshops I’m producing for schools based on my Schellberg project. It all suddenly fell into place. I now have something that is exciting, professionally produced and raring to make changes. It was like putting in the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle.    


Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Which is more important, good writing or a good story?

I have read two books recently that both came with a good pedigree but actually they couldn’t be more different. Both of them are published by the Big Five.

Good story but poor writing 

I borrowed this one from the library. It was in the new books section. I always check this first as I’m keen to read the latest. This also looked like a nice easy read and it was set in era in which I’m currently writing. Yet this book was a disappointment. Had it actually been edited? I was astounded too that the writer was formally a journalist. How could this person get it so wrong? There was far too much telling. In fact this book would be very good for showing creative writing students what is meant by telling instead of showing. The dialogue didn’t seem natural. The speeches were stilted and went on for far too long. There was often an awkward change of point of view, even mid-paragraph.     
Oh and the book cover didn’t really relate to the story. Plus it included a photograph, so spoilt the picture in my head. 
Nevertheless, I liked the main character. The novel gave me many more insights into the 1940s. The story arc was quite firm though a little disappointing at the end. An important person dived out of character and the story was left on a downbeat annoying cliff hanger. Was this a cunning marketing ploy?  


Great writing, annoying story

This one was also the recommendation of my reading group and one I’d had my eye for a while. I couldn’t fault the writing. It kept me engaged. The author totally had the voices of the characters. There was plenty of pace and tension.
In fact, I took it to the dentist. As usual he was running a bit late, and I was actually a bit disappointed when I was called in as my Kindle told me I only fifteen more minutes to read.
“Take it easy when you get home,” said the dentist. “This is major work you’ve had done.” I couldn’t watch TV as we’d just had a new one delivered and my husband was setting it up. The book was getting gripping I was only too glad to carry on reading it.
But oh dear. What a disappointing group of human beings: three inadequate women and two abusive men. I’m getting a little tired of reading about women who drift into alcoholism. I’ve read far too many books like that recently. I actually want to read about powerful, successful women and find out how they do it. Not these ne’er do wells. Plus the plot became at once predictable and unlikely. I, perhaps as a writer who can normally suss out these things, began to see who had committed the crime. But really? Would even a man like him do that?
I enjoyed reading the novel. I was gripped by it in fact, but ended up being irritated by it.

Who  is the winner?

Reluctantly I have to admit that I was irritated slightly less by the second one. In this case, good writing has won over good story.


Yes, as an editor, publisher and creative wring teacher I can confirm that poor writing can always be fixed – if you have enough time and patience, which in-house editors at big publishing houses rarely have. So, the story has to be right first. As the busy in-house editor hasn’t got time to fix, she will check the writing first. If that’s fine, she’ll look to see if the story works.

The rub

If either of these books had been submitted to me I would have rejected them. Oops. The former is by a writer who sells well and the latter is a best-seller.   

Sunday, 1 January 2017

2016 ends – 2017 begins Newsletter December 2016

What a year it’s been in the world though in my world of writing, editing, teaching and publishing life has gone on pretty much as usual. The weak pound has made our books cheaper worldwide but printing costs have gone up. On a personal level I’ve had my usual mixture of acceptances and rejections. Since the end of September and giving up the day job I’ve been getting more writing and marketing done. That had always been the plan and it seems to be working.      


Bridge House

Bridge House got out its annual anthology, called Baubles this year. You can read a few extracts here. We also managed to get out the Shelagh Delany collection Salford Stories just in time for Shelagh Delaney Day 2017.

Our new annual anthology for 2107 will be Gliterary Tales. So, glittery stories that have a touch of literature about them. I wonder what that will add to the debate about the difference between literary and popular fictions? Debz Hobbs Wyatt will be getting the call for submissions out soon.

Remember we’re also offering to publish single-author collections. These are for authors we’ve published before and they may include stories we’ve already published, ones they’ve had published elsewhere and new ones. We’ll be putting a description out about this soon but we’ve already had some enquiries. You may recycle stories we’ve already included in another anthology, and you may reedit these if you wish. You may also add in new stories. We’re aiming at a total word count of between 30,000 and 80,000 words. 
If you’re interested in this, contact me here.    

We’re being a bit cheeky and getting a little political. Are we are in danger of getting our books burnt? Well, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. We’re doing an extra anthology, Citizens of Nowhere, with the theme of the global citizen. Oh, I hope we don’t upset Ms May. We’re commissioning just over half of the work from known authors but there is room for a few open submissions. Stories can be “one you prepared earlier” or a brand new one, with a cut-off date of 31 January, though this may very well be extended. Stories between 1,000 and 4,000 words. Submit to editor at bridgehousepublishing dot co dot uk. 


Remember, we’re always open to submissions. Find out how here.  I’ve been encouraging my students to submit. I’m beginning to see some of their work appearing.

The Best of CaféLit 5 is now available. There are some lovely stories in this. I’m very pleased that I have a story in this collection. Order your copy here.      



We’re currently looking for collections of Flash Fiction. See our submissions page here. We have two writers signed up already and I’ll be putting out one of my collections as well soon. I’m also currently reading a third. I have one waiting in the wings also. Take a look here.  

Chapeltown is also excited to be publishing Colin Wyatt’s Who will be my friend? – a delightful picture book about friendship and accepting others. Yes, Colin is Debz’s dad. He is a Disney licensed illustrator and his latest publication is The Jet Set. We feel very honoured to be publishing him.


Creative Café

We’re always looking for new cafés.  If you visit one of the cafés in the project and would like to write a review of between 250 and 350 words – nice, too, to have a couple of pictures – send it to me here. Do the same if you find a new café.
I’m now going to send out a welcome letter to each new café that’s added. This will also offer them the opportunity to join the mailing list.  
I’m also now proactively encouraging cafes to stock The Best of CafeLit. Do you know anyone who might like to stock it? We can offer a 35% discount to retailers. Query gill at cafelit dot co dot uk.     


The Red Telephone

We are currently open for submissions. Hoorah! We’re looking for the next great YA novel. Check out the details here.  We’re particularly open to speculative fiction but we’ll also like anything that is well written and well-targeted.  I’m currently reading a couple of full submissions. I welcome others but send sample chapters and synopsis first. The full details are on the site.   

I’d like to remind you of our new enterprise - something between a mentoring system and an online course. Though publication is not guaranteed, we will at least look at your full book if you’ve attended one of the courses. We’re offering it for free to a few people at first. We’ll refine as we go along based on feedback from our clients. We’ll then continue to offer it at a discount for a while before going to full price when we’re completely happy with it. We’re not sure what the full price will be. Again, we’ll be guided by our current clients. Find out more here.  Four people have now signed up. Room for one more. We’re running out of space so if you’re hesitating, now is the time to make your mind up.  We look forward to hearing from you.       

Book tours

If you’re a Bridge House / Red Telephone / CaféLit / Chapeltown author and you want to get serious about book tours, consider our author’s kit. We provide twenty books you take to the bookshop and the bookshop can put these through the till. We then invoice the bookshop, with a 35% discount for any sold and top up your supply to twenty. A the end of the tour you can either pay for the remaining books at cost + 10% or keep them until you’ve sold them and then pay the normal price of 75% of RRP. The latter can in any case be set against royalties. You need to allow at least ten days between events. Contact me here if you’re interested in this.           


School Visits

I’m proactively promoting my school visits associated with The House on Schellberg Street project. I’ve now developed a whole workshop for this. It starts off with a board game, includes some role play and creative writing and ends with a discussion. I’m offering this half price to schools that apply in January 2017 and schools that apply in February 2017 can book two for the price of one.  Contact me here.     
I’m now adding in materials for schools. See them here:       
Query for a school visit here.
I am also happy to do standard author visits which include readings from my books, Q & A sessions and creative writing exercises.
Costs= travel expenses plus £400 for a full day and £200 for a half day. This includes all materials and some freebies. Two schools near to each other might consider splitting the day and halving the travel expenses and fees. This is open to negotiation in any case.        


Books and short stories

I continue to make good progress on Shooting Hitler.
Clara’s Story is being serialised. The cover makes this theme quite clear. The novel is can now be found on Channillo. You may read it here.    
Clara’s Story is the second in the Schellberg circle. All five stories cover roughly the same period and are very much happening in and associated with Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. They can be read in any order. The stories overlap to some extent but where they repeat we see the happening form another point of view. For instance The House on Schellberg Street is mainly about a young girl, Renate, who comes to England on the Kindertranpsort. Clara’s Story is about her grandmother. Girl in a Smart Uniform explains how at least one German girl associated with the story became a Nazi – and then gave it all up. Shooting Hitler is Renate’s mother’s version of events. In The Round Robin we learn about what happens to Renate’s friends.  

Past events

CaféLit and Baubles writers, along with their friends and family and other writers and connections of Bridge House, CaféLit, Chapeltown, The Red Telephone and their associates met for a celebration on 3 December at the Princess of Wales pub, Primrose Hill. This seems to be the ideal venue but we’re probably about to outgrow it. Tickets were free but we “sold out”. In any case, we’ve already booked for next year.

Upcoming events

Coming soon: a read through of J K Rowling’s The Cursed Child. Watch this space and social media for details. 
I’m also planning a celebratory event in Manchester for all of the imprints. Again, watch this space.  



This month I’m giving away a copy of Fibbin’ Archie. This is only available as either a mobi-file (for Kindle) or a PDF.  However, this time it’s available for anyone who wants it.  Contact me on gill dot james at btinternet dot com and sya whtehr you’d prefer mobi or PDF. Fibbin’ Archie is a bit of a ya rom com and a writing experiment at the same time.      


Writing opportunities

Remember I keep a full list of vetted opportunities on my writing blog. See them here. New ones are added several times a day. Roughly once a month I go through it and take out all of the out of date ones. At that point I send it out to a list. If you would like to be on that list, sing up here.    
Happy reading and writing. And all the best for 2017