Monday 29 October 2018

Writing Science Fiction

I’m currently working on Peace Child 4, The House of Clementine. This might be described as young adult, new adult, science fiction or science fantasy, or all of the above, and there’s even a suggestion that it’s really near future set in the distant future.

Write what you know we’re told, so it may be puzzling that any science fiction fantasy, science fantasy, paranormal fiction or even historical fiction gets written. 

The point is, I suppose, that we explore what we don’t yet know with what we do know. We use what we know to answer the “What if?” question. We use the colours we do know to help us invent the colours not yet seen. 

Science Fiction often describes a future situation. The original Peace Child trilogy looked at a world that had stopped communicating. It also found a way to deal with an ageing population. Now I’m looking at a world ravaged by right-wing politics. I wonder where I got that idea from. In a way, I’m using my science fiction to try to understand the world we’re in now. Thrusting it all into a different setting and into the future gives us some objectivity. 

Science fiction actually has not been very good at predicting the future. I can’t recall seeing email or even social media being predicted.  Blake’s 7 did have a crude form of the Internet and it was voice-activated. 1984 was nowhere near as dire as the book of the same name though possibly we’re living in that world now. 

I’m also currently just over half way through reading a book on which I am to write a review.  In this world humans are partly programmed like computers, mainly in order to control disease but disease is getting the upper hand.    

One thing is for sure: you need to plan your world as carefully as your story. The Prophecy, part one of the trilogy, was the novel I wrote for my PhD in Creative and Critical writing. I spent months and months before I started writing working on my world. I had to decide about:
  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Transport
  • Housing
  • Education
  • Political set-up
  • History
  • Geography
  • Entertainment
  • Religion
  • Values
  • Communication
  • Health
  • Birth
  • Death

I often used time spent in cafés making notes. As I started writing other questions arose.
The river may be allowed to flow backwards in fantasy and on different planets but there still has to be an inner logic. It’s quite a trick as well to get this setting over to your reader without resorting to blatant exposition.     

Thursday 18 October 2018

Do we ever actually finish? Are we all not constant editors?

It came up recently on a forum to which I contribute but was part of the debate about sometimes being rejected coming as a relief; it stops you making a fool of yourself. It was also connected with a discussion about hybrid publishers. A big topic, and the rest of it is for another day. 

I did remark that I'll often alter text as I go to read it out. This is after it has been published or self-published i.e. after a publisher has taken a risk with me or I have taken the risk myself, but both scenarios include a thorough editing process. And it isn't only because you need to the text to be a little different if it's to be read aloud. Most of the time it's because I've noticed another way to improve my text. 

I'm not the only one. Another creative writer / academic friend of mine visited my university and read from her debut novel to some of my students. She paused part of the way through the first page. "Gosh," she said. "I've only just realised; I tell my student never to do that." The book had been edited and published by a reputable publisher. 

Reading is no longer the same for me. Many of my students, whether they study English literature or creative writing, find the same thing. An inner voice constantly critiques the text. However, this constantly analysing mind can offer one advantage; you can enjoy a text you wouldn't normally enjoy because deconstructing it and establishing why it doesn't work for you can be an enjoyable task and brings some education.

Eleven years of marking creative writing and twenty years of critiquing it also add to this process, though I find it harder to do the same to my own work unless I leave it alone for several months.                        
I actually keep a blog of recommended reads. These are for texts that take me out of the editor's head. They are rare: I can be totally absorbed in a story and no longer seeing the black marks on the white paper and something will jolt me out of that dreamlike state; it may be some odd formatting, a missing apostrophe or an awkward phrase.
Still, there is no need for despair. This constant editing activity surely leads to better writing.        

Thursday 4 October 2018

Struggling can be good

I've noticed that on the days when the writing seems to fly what I actually produce is often not all that good. On the days when I struggle something better emerges.

Why is this?

Could it be that perpetual editor gets in the way too much and cramps the whole process? That doesn't seem too helpful. That would never allow that all-important first draft to be completed. Have I lost faith in my story? When we first set out to write we have tons of ideas. We gradually use them up or find them less viable than we first thought. 

Are we being too perfectionist? Are we hoping for something really spectacular? Remember, they say it takes 10,000 hours to get to baseline craft level. It can take twenty years to peak. Examples: Louisa May Alcott, David Almond Philip Pullman.

Have we read something spectacular recently? Has it set the bar higher than we can reach? 

Was it something we ate? Or a bad night's sleep? A lack of vitamin B12 or other? 

I'm keeping an eye on my own process though not keeping written records. An example though: yesterday I struggled. I noticed also that my session at the gym went less well. Something was definitely out of kilter, then. I started this article yesterday and couldn't get enthusiastic about it. Today it seems to be working. What has changed? 

Well, I had a good night's sleep. Also I realised that I needed to structure this blog post, not just write what came into my head. I needed to create something that would be useful to the reader. 

But how can this be good? Well, the finished product after the struggle is always better, in my case at least.  

How can we cope with the struggle? 

Listen to the inner editor but also speed ahead with the text. The first draft does get completed and is all the better for the editor's interference. 

If you're rejecting ideas it means you are becoming more discerning. Trust that you'll be able to select the most appropriate stories. Gradually we become more discerning and eliminate some idea before we even get started.

Perfectionism is fine but don’t let it stop your production. Louisa, David and Philip are just people. Don't be jealous. If it happened to them it can happen to you, too. 

We should always be reading good writing anyway. Again, it was a human who produced it. Yours will probably be spectacular in another way, one day, if you keep on working at it. 

Look after your physical well-being. 

And as said so often that it has almost become a cliché: writing is mainly rewriting.      

Monday 1 October 2018

News 1 October 2018

Martin and I have been away for almost a month though you will probably have noticed I've still been doing some work. When the "day job" is what you would do even if you weren't paid you're bound to carry on working aren't you?  We spent most of our time on Nerja, in the south of Spain. That is the place that got me writing in the first place. Again I've come back bursting with ideas. Swimming, walking and relaxing in the sun form part of the deal and really seem to aid my creativity.  
Getting away from television and social media also helps, I think. Naturally I didn't completely give up on the latter but it was certainly limited. Reading a lot is also useful. Today I've just read an article in The Independent with advice from Stephen King. He recommends getting rid of the television and reading a lot. The article is here if you'd like to read it.  
I'm torn a little about television: I do enjoy some of the dramas. However, I watched absolutely none for a whole month and now that I'm home and watching it more again I'm not enjoying it as much as I used to.  I think King has a point.             

News about my writing

I'm glad to say that whist away I picked up three ideas for near future stories. At some point I'll write those. In the meantime I'm carrying on with Peace Child 4, Schellberg 5 and my book about the dark side of children's literature.

Catalogue of books for children

You may remember I started this last month.  It is growing apace.  You can find it here.  

Useful links for writers

My list of links for writers is also growing steadily. Find it  here.  

1940s Group

Just a reminder: this is a Facebook group for all people who write about the 1940s. Fiction and non-fiction, for young and old. Topics might then be: the Holocaust, World War II, Civilian Experience (all sides) and the battle front. We can exchange ideas about research and marketing. We may promote books and stories, - the last day of every month and on launch / release day.
If you feel that is you, do join us:    
Of course, with my Schellberg Cycle I'm constantly in that world.       


I'm pleased to have added Janet Howson as a reviewer. Janet will review any sort of fiction and poetry.   
Find Janet and other members here.    
This is a personal recommendation. Initially I intend to use my Dream Team a lot myself but gradually I would add in people that friends and friends of friends have recommended.

What happens?

You sign up to a mailing list and every time a request comes in we mail it out to you or the enquirer contacts you directly via my web site. The conversation then carries on between you and the person making the request. You may also have a page set up on my blog and you may update that once a year. 
Interested? You may sign up for more than one category. 
Beta readers sign up here.
Reviewers sign up here.
Editors sign up here.
Illustrators sign up here.
Designers sign up here.
Proof-readers sing up here.   


Slush Pile

Yes, we have one. Or at least we are starting one now for all of the imprints. All of the submissions we already have will be read in order and in fact we'll move them as of today into the A Pile. Thereafter, submissions from authors who are published in one of our anthologies, already published in one of our imprints or are published on CafeLit, web site is enough,  will go into the A-list and all others will go into the B List  aka slush pile.   

Bridge House

I've finished editing my twelve stories for Crackers. This went very smoothly and quickly this time. The standard is certainly getting higher.
We’re still getting plenty of interest in our 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. The description for this is now on the web site. We’ve already had some enquiries and we’re currently working on several anthologies. 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 70,000 words.
We have a huge backlog so please be patient. You can always check our progress at:



Stories are now all being posted at 4.00 p,m, Afternoon Teatime,  Kaffee and Kuchen time and it's also when the kids are home from school. Just the right time for a cuppa and a good story.
In September we had stories from: James Bates, Peppy Barlow, Andrew Bramwell, Robert Daley, Megharshri Dalvi Matthew Roy Davey, , Jeanne Davies, Richard C Elder, Robert Ferguson, Laura Gray, A.K. Hata, Janet Howson, Celia Jenkins, Pat Jourdan, Clyde Liffey, Dawn Knox, Roger Noons, Jenny Palmer, Hannah Retallik, Rich Rurshell Kathy Sharp, Allison Symes, Fiona Spreadborough and Dennis Zaslona The most popular post in the last 30 days has been A K Hata's  Words of Change. You can view our stories here.
Some exciting news: thanks to the efforts of Richard Elder. Waterstones Belfast are now really interested in promoting CaféLit. All ideas of how they might help gratefully received.    

Here's a reminder of how we select stories: I open my inbox and I'll often see four or five submissions. I'll select the best of the bunch and schedule it for in a few days' time. I'll let you know. I may reject one or two but ones that are basically sound I'll keep forever or until they’re published.  Consequently if one you've submitted to us has not been rejected, and you find a home for it elsewhere, let us know the name of the story and the date you submitted and we'll remove it from the archive. Try to include the drink each time. Do put CafeLit in the subject line so we can identify your submission. Remember to include your bio (50-100 words including links for longer stories, just links for 100 words or less) each time. I haven't got time to look up an old one and in any case your bio is probably changing all the time.


We're always open to submissions. Find out to submit here. Remember, this gives you some exposure, you can add in a short CV each time, and there's always the chance that your work might be accepted for the annual anthology.    

We have some seasonal opportunities coming up now:
Autumn in general
Guy Fawkes
11 November – end of World War I
New Year
Valentine's Day
So, get writing.
On offer for CaféLit authors is a page on our web site. See examples here.  The list is growing. Click on the names to find out more about the authors and to access their work. If you're a CaféLit author and would like a web page, use the ones there to get ideas. You need to send me between 250 and 350 words about yourself, an attractive image, a list of up to six publications, up to six awards and up to six links. I then also link the page to your stories on CaféLit. Send to gill at cafelit dot co dot uk. 



Our Chapeltown authors continue to be very proactive in promoting their work. They have managed to get their books into shops and libraries. They are also buying lots of author copies and are getting on to blogs – mine included, of course.
Roger Noons has made a short film with A Howard-Smith: Where There's Life. This features a few of his stories from Slimline Tales. A really very well produced DVD. Watch out BBC! Charlie Parker, up your game.
Roger will shortly be selling copies of this with his books.        


Creative Café

I've not managed to add any new cafés this month but do have a few lined up.  
Keep sending suggestions and review them if you can.     
I'm continuing my tour of creative cafés where I collect stories for an anthology. In some cases, writers may offer them and in others customers may tell me their story and I'll write it for them. Do you know of a café that might be interested in this? Let me know if you do.         
Remember you can now buy merchandise for the Creative Café project. The profit on anything you buy here goes to the Creative Café Project. Check this out here.    
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.


The Red Telephone

I have some books now lined up to read. I'm particularly interested in near-futures speculative YA fiction.   


Facebook Group for the Imprints

Scribblers Sans Frontières - Here you can:
·         Discuss all technical issues re our books
·         Exchange marketing ideas
·         Advertise and report on your events
·         Promote any of your titles or successes
·         Share good practice and ideas
·         Get help with writing problems
·         Anything else appropriate
Please come and join us if you're eligible. Or you can ask me to sign you up.  

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.
It is now possible to purchase the kit to work on on your own. Find details here.
Costs for my workshops = 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.       
I also offer a free half day visit, though you pay my travel expenses, if you allow me to promote my books.       
I’m continuously adding materials for schools to the site that are different from the ones I use for the workshops. I’ve recently added in resources and books to do with the topic. See them here:       
Query for a school visit here.
I’m also happy to tailor a visit for your agreed donation. This can be for either a Schellberg Cycle visit or a creative writing workshop. Any monies raised this way will go specifically to a project I have for a non-fiction book about a journey that will follow the footsteps of Clara Lehrs. I’m hoping to do the whole journey by train, including departing via my nearest Metrolink station. It’s important to feel the rails beneath my feet.       
I offer as well standard author visits which include readings from my books, Q & A sessions and creative writing exercises.
Please remember, with these as well, I’m open to negotiation if you can’t afford the full price.

Free listing for our writers

If you are one of our writers and would like to offer school visits, please contact me. I'm offering a free listing on the imprint pages.
State: age groups you are prepared to work with, a definition of your work, distances you are prepared to travel. Appropriate links. Please provide an image.         


Upcoming events

I have four events to mention:

  • I'm hoping to run a workshop on marketing for indie writers / publishers. This will be free of charge but you may make a donation if you wish. This will enable me to put on further events.
  • A Pushing Boundaries, Flying Higher Master Class about writing the young adult novel.

London Event

London event 1 December 2018 Places are free but must be booked:  
This will follow our normal pattern of events.
There will be:
  • general mingling
  • cash bar
  • an opportunity to buy books at an advantageous rate    
  • “speed-dating”  where you get to speak to as many people as possible in the room i.e. promote yourself to readers, swap tips with other writers
  • author readings
  • latest news from me  
  • collection for the Mustard Seed charity
  • big book swap (bring one of your other titles and take something else home – hopefully all will be reviewed. If you bring a non-writing friend they can just bring a book they love)  

Scribblers Celebration Event

YOU DON'T NEED TO BE AVAILBALE ON 23 DECEMBER TO JOIN IN. 23 December 14.00 – 17.00 GMT. Do come even if you can't come at that time. Items will be added to before and after that time.
This is for all those people who cannot attend the event on 1 December; perhaps you live too far away or you have something else on. You can attend outside of those times but it will be live then.    
Take a look at my blog post about cyber events: There is also a chapter about this in my book on marketing:  So Now You're Published, What Next?
This gives you some idea about how this all works.
In addition, I ask that everybody who attends offers a secret Santa. This could be a physical gift that you send to one other attendee. One of your books, a notebook with your book cover   or coffee mug. Or you could offer a one-off service such as a critique of a short story.  Or you may offer a file that I'll put into a dropbox and you could expect multiple downloads. This could be a mobi or PDF of one of your books, an audio file, an excerpt, or a tip sheet.
Would you like to make a short video of you reading?   


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, sign up here.    


Current reading recommendation

As I said, I did a lot of reading whilst I was away - popular fiction, literary criticism, literary fiction but the book that stood out was Daily Rituals by Mason Currey. Its sub-title is: How Great Minds Make Time, Find Inspiration, and Get to Work
It is all about the routines of writers and other creative practitioners. So, so much of it was familiar and I found it very reassuring: my particular routines are similar enough to those of other writers. I also found that many creative practitioners suffer from insomnia. I have this problem a lot less now that I'm "retired" (ha ha) but still occasionally I wake at night and can't get back to sleep.
I thought it might be fun to post some of our routines. Here's mine:
I write for up to four hours in the morning, up to 3000 words, Monday to Friday and not on bank holidays. However, I use up bank holidays, weekends and holidays to catch up on that target.  After lunch, I deal with emails and anything that needs doing for CaféLit. Then it's either working on my own submissions and promotions or on my editing and publishing duties.
I punctuate my work with a little dabble on social media, a coffee while I read a magazine, U3A and NWR meetings, occasional work at the university and visits to the gym.
I read every morning before I get up for about 45 minutes, a little longer at weekends, and before I go to sleep. I switch off the computer at about 9.00 p.m. and watch some good drama on TV.    
Evenings I occasionally go to the theatre or a book launch, choir practice or choir performance.  
Care to send me something along those lines?                     
 Find the book here.    

Calling all writers

I'm running an occasional series of interviews on my blog.
If you would like to be on my blog just answer the questions below and send them with appropriate images to gill dot james at btinternet dot com.
Please feel free to pick and choose which of these to answer. 
1.      What do you write? Why this in particular? 
2.      What got you started on writing in the first place?
3.      Do you have a particular routine? 
4.      Do you have a dedicated working space?
5.      When did you decide you could call yourself a writer? Do you do that in fact?
6.      How supportive are your friends and family? Do they understand what you're doing?
7.      What are you most proud of in your writing?
8.      How do you get on with editing and research?
9.      Do you have any goals for the future?
10.  Which writers have inspired you?
Please write as much or as little as you like for each section and supply as many pictures as you like. Also let me know your latest publication and supply me with a link if it's not on Amazon. 
I 'm also happy to offer you a post whenever you have a new book come out, even if I'm not your publisher. In this case answer the following questions:
  1. Tell me about your book.
  2. Tell us about your research for this book.
  3. What inspired you to write this?
  4. What's next?
  5. How can we get a copy of the book?
  6. Do you have any events planned?
Again write as much or as little as you please. Alter and add to the questions if you wish. Provide as many pictures as you wish.
Send to: gill dot james at btinternet dot com


This month I'm giving away Fibbin' Archie. This is a bit of a writing experiment and there is a pun in the title. Can you guess what the experiment's about? You could also class it as young adult romance. Anyway, it's there for grabs and of course reviews would be welcome.   
You will also find in this dropbox:
·         An extract from Clara’s Story
·         Some seminars for schools about The House on Schellberg Street
·         Some fiction writing exercises
·         The opening chapters from my manual for writing the young adult novel  
Note, that normally my books and the books supplied by the imprints I manage, sell for anything form £0.99 to £10.99, with most on Kindle being about £2.99 and the average price for paperback being £7.00. We have to allow our writers to make a living. But we’re offering these free samples so that you can try before you buy.   
Naturally we welcome reviews.

Happy reading and writing.