Monday 30 March 2020

Stage of revision 10: Detail and description should be slipped in small chunks

Why earlier writers included more description

When Dickens wrote his works he had to include far more description than we would normally expect today. His readers were less widely travelled than we are and had less access to visual information. Even the rest of Europe was exotic. The town was different from the country-side. London was different from Manchester. Indeed, Bolton was different from Manchester and even different from Bury. 

The modern reader

These days we can take short cuts. Even people who have never been to New York will get an image when you just use the name. One detail about a row of terraced houses may be enough to give us the whole picture. The mention of dark lino on the floor of the pub indicates almost at once a certain type of establishment whereas chintzy curtains indicate another.

Writing with the sense

When we write with the senses we always write well. When creating a scene we might refer to what we see, hear, smell, taste and feel. This allows reader to experience good writing but when we’re writing a story – flash, short or a full length novel – we need to be sure that we don’t indulge too much in exquisite prose. It may become too rich if it is sustained for too long.

One sense will often carry another.  If we hear the bacon sizzling in the pan we can probably smell it. If we can see the trees blowing in the wind we can hear it howling around the building and we can feel its cold chill on our cheeks.  If we can see the waves on the ocean we can taste the salt in the air. We tend to use the visual. Check that you have a balance of the senses with which you create your description.

Narrative balance

Your overall narrative should in any case be balanced: there should be a mixture of action, dialogue, description, inner monologue, and exposition.  The latter may even be avoided and should only take up a small part of the text at best. Dialogue may be more dominant in popular fiction. Look for the narrative balance in works you expect to be comparable to what you are producing.  Do they have a similar balance to your own text?   

Image by Pexels from Pixabay 

Saturday 21 March 2020

Anne Forrest

I'm pleased to welcome to my blog today Anne Forrest, whom we have published on CafeLit.  Look out for her story on 28 March 2020 set in Bodnant Gardens North Wales.  Anne and I share Bangor University.  For the best part of four years I commuted between Southampton and Bangor as I studied for my PhD. When I reached  Penmaenmawr I knew I was almost at one of my homes. I really cherish my time in North Wales, a place I also loved as a young child when we used to holiday there.  So it's great to have this connection with Anne.  

I love putting words down; arranging, rearranging the syntax and making the text sing. Studying for a Masters in ‘Writing and Publishing Fiction’ at the University of Chester, I write according to our class projects and assignments which include flashes, short stories, and the novel.
Re-writing a 120,000-word novel, I’m using the skills I’ve learned since writing it, to edit and amend; even having the courage to cut out a subplot which I realise didn’t belong (and putting it away for another piece of writing). I used to be comma-happy, now 75% of commas and many exclamation marks have gone. Set in two places, North Wales and Cornwall, and two timescales, the 1960s and present day, I can’t describe how much pleasure I’m getting from re-visiting this novel and the people I’ve created, making it a tighter read.
Being lovingly obsessed with the place in which I grew up (a small quarrying village called Penmaenmawr, in North Wales), I decided to write about my upbringing there; it is identified as a common-folk biography and was published in 2000 by Old Bakehouse in Abertillery. The ‘sense of place’ of my childhood creeps into my writing today. It was written on a typewriter (before cut and paste) and took ten years in all. I thank Old Bakehouse for taking a chance on me; they gave ‘My Whole World, Penmaenmawr’, a second print. So far, this is my most proud achievement.

I’m fortunate enough to have a designated room in which to write but have commandeered the kitchen table with my printer alongside. This is in a kitchen extension. My books and everything else to do with my work is in the old kitchen. My writing-room upstairs is also full of reference books, boxes full of ideas, and files from my MArts course which include notes from my favourite modules, ‘Welsh Writing in English’, and the ‘Gothic’. Happy to stay at home and write I also love writing in a University atmosphere, especially in Bangor where the silent libraries are conducive to work; here I can work for seven hours without getting up to wash a few dishes, make a cup of tea, or look at the dust-covered things in my house.
Having had one book published and some short stories, I still hesitate to call myself a writer; I usually manage to say, ‘I write’, and then expand.
Writing is a lonely occupation, and while my family and friends ask how I’m doing at Uni, I only have one friend who is interested enough to ask to read anything I write. She is supportive and enthusiastic about my progress, which is much appreciated. Also, a fellow student and I exchange work and have built up a trust and confidence to critique each other’s assignments. When we talk about writing we bounce ideas off each other and she never fails to inspire and excite me with her thoughts, sending me straight to my laptop. I feel very blessed to have such a ‘writing buddy’.
I put my eclectic taste in reading down to my childhood love of Enid Blyton (atmosphere by the bucket load) and Cormac McCarthy (where his beautifully written prose transcends the darkest of happenings). The writing of McCarthy inspires me hugely and I can re-read his words over again.
Once I’ve finished editing my (still untitled) novel, I’m sending it out into the world of competitions, submissions, agents and publishers.

Thursday 5 March 2020

Stages of revision 9: dialogue

Consider the following:

It should not be too natural

If you listen to a conversation and transcribe it you’ll soon realise that people often go round in circles, they insert a lot of small talk and sometimes it’s even that two parallel monologues take place rather than an actual conversation. 


It should only say important things

So, you actually need to condense it to what is actually about. It must have a purpose. 


It should differentiate characters' voices

Each speech must be in the voice of the character that is speaking. Always consider: would your character say such things or use words like that? If you printed your section of dialogue and cut it up would you or anybody else be able to work out who says what?


When angry, becomes childish

Oh yes. This happens to the best of us.


It should take 2/3 of popular book

This isn’t of course a hard and fast rule. But it may be a useful tool for checking that you have enough dialogue in your book. It may also help you to identify where you are telling instead of showing. Dialogue is very much part of showing. 


It should convey mood, character, reaction

Look at every single piece of dialogue.  Is it doing all of the things?  


Every speech should give information

Again check to see if your dialogue is doing this.  Is it pushing the plot forward? It’s great also if your dialogue can multitask


Is it set out correctly?

The easiest way to check this is to have a book by reputable author and publisher open at your side. See how they’ve done it.


Take care with how you tag dialogue

Can you actually avoid tagging it at all? Often with an exchange of just two people you don’t need to tag. If you have the voice right for each character you may not need to tag. However, if the dialogue goes on for a page or more, there are more than two speakers, or if you are writing for young readers you may need to remind the reader who is saying what. Hopefully each speaker’s voice will be very clear.  You can add a little body language if you wish. If none of this is effective and you really have to use a tag word use “said”. The readers will hardly notice it. At a push you can use asked, shouted or whispered.      
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Monday 2 March 2020

News 2 March 2020


Culture Champions

I have been volunteering as a culture champion in Bury for the past few months. This is an initiative to involve older people in cultural activities. I am member of U3A (University of the Third Age) and we were invited to become involved with this.  Of course, the very fact that we are members of U3A means that we are people who engage culturally already. 
It was a great surprise and delight when I turned up for the first meeting to find that the facilitator was a former colleague from the University of Salford: Harriet Morgan-Sharni.  Some of you will understand when I say that we just had to reminisce about a certain time-travelling bus that allowed us to work with Performance and Creative Writing students on enabling school children to create stories.
I’ve had some fun on the way: an interesting visit to the East Lancs Railway, several meetings in the Bury museum and a half-day sketching work-shop, also at Bury museum.
Many older people do not want to go out in the evenings and even day-time meetings can be tricky.  We need safe social indoor spaces.  We don’t have the climate in Greater Manchester to be able to sit under Guernica’s tree.
The Culture Champion project then becomes about taking culture out to where people feel safe.
Various groups obtained funding from the Culture Champions project and Culture Champion volunteers often helped out with them.  
I was very privileged to help with three sessions at the Jinnah Centre in Bury .  These were facilitated by Jen, Ferne and Rachel from . It was fascinating watching the women’s confidence grow. In the first session they had said they didn’t want to sing. In the final session last Thursday we actually made a group recording of us all singing.  I’m not sure how I helped exactly but I did enjoy joining in all of the activities. There was such a sense of play. This is something I think we all need. The women explored community, home, family and place.
Sadly the project is coming to an end soon.            

News about my writing

I’m still carrying on much as before.
I’m now about two thirds of the way through the first draft of The Round Robin, the fifth book in the Schellberg Cycle. This may be only a working title.  
I’m also continuing with Not Just Fluffy Bunnies – which is becoming a monster of a book.  I’m really enjoying, though, rereading several texts written for young people. 
Using my own Fair Submissions web site (  ) I’m also challenging myself about once a fortnight to writing specifically for a competition or a call to submission.   
I’m also now submitting something pretty well every day. Yes, that leads to more rejections, - or as one of my cup-half-full writing friends calls them, rewrites, - but it also leads to more acceptances.  This also gives me insight for a section of the online course I’m designing: Submitting Strategy for The Business of Writing.       

The Young Person’s Library

I’ve added new this month:  


The Weirdstone of Brisingamen

This is a classic for fluent readers and concerns fantasy that impinges on everyday life. Read my full comments here:


Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Although the protagonist is only five at the beginning of the story and a young teen at the end this feels like a teen read as he has to take on the world. Read my full report here:


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

This is a fantasy classic for the fluent reader. It is great fun but also has a darker side.  Read my full report here:

The Witch of Turlingham Academy by Ellie Boswell

Not quite Harry Potter nor The Worst Witch but nevertheless this is about a witch at school. The fantasy element makes it suitable for upper primary but the flirting and love interest can also appeal to younger teens.  See the full report here:


Princess BMX by Marie Basting

Marie is a SCBWI friend of mine so it’s great to see that she has produced such a delightful book. It’s quite a thick volume but full of fun for the upper primary reader.  
I’ve also moved across several posts from my blog.  
If you’re interested in children’s literature take a look at the site. There is a search facility on it.  You can also browse it by clicking on Labels and then Show More. Categories are age groups, schools, Key Stages, authors and themes.  Information is also given about the year of publication for each text and when it was first published.  

Current reading recommendation

This month I’m recommending Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver. Find more details here. I borrowed this book as a brand new title form the library. 
This is described as a Gothic novel and certainly there are Gothic tropes in it. Protagonist Maud tells the story of her father who feels threatened by demons. It is not too Gothic, in my opinion, though, and can be enjoyed by readers who are not keen on Gothic texts. We can assign her father’s fears of demons to his failing mental health. Indeed, he is institutionalised.  Throughout the novel he dislikes and distrusts the fens.
Maud, however, loves the fens and manages to stop the one near their home from being drained.
Our protagonist’s life is not happy. She suffers badly from eczema.  She is plain perhaps even  ugly. Her father is mentally cruel to her. He is a misogynist. She falls in love inappropriately.  She is not good at mixing with people.
There is a love interest and there must have been some sex because there are some pregnancies but this is all very much in the background.  The story is somewhere else. This makes a refreshing change.
Michelle Paver’s writing is engaging throughout. She creates a vivid atmosphere. The text borders on the literary.    


Note: these are usually mobi-files to be downloaded to a Kindle.  Occasionally there are PDFs.
This month I’m giving away Prompts 2020. This contains 366 writing prompts, one for each day of 2020. Several of my writing friends have contributed to the book. We’re happy for you to use this just for yourself or with your writing / critique group.  We’re already working on the 2021 book.
You can download it and lots of other free materials here.
Please, please, please review it if you read it.     
Note, that normally my books and the books supplied by the imprints I manage sell for anything from £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 I’m offering these free samples so that you can try before you buy.   


The Schellberg Project

The posts may be helpful for teachers who are familiar with the Schellberg stories or who are teaching about the Holocaust and also for other writers of historical fiction.
This month I’ve added the following:
A post about how I’ve had to invent an invention. I’m including in my novel about the round robin letters the story of the two girls who have to take on their father’s factory after he dies suddenly. They need to invent a new product. You can read the post here.   
A discussion of how one of the recurring themes in the letters is a sense of duty. Did this come about because of some form of indoctrination? Read the psot here. 

School visits

I’m offering another sort of school visit absolutely free of charge: a run through or read through of The House on Schellberg Street play. This would last a couple of hours- though we could make it longer if we wanted some follow up work. It would be suitable for a full Key Stage 4 Drama, English or History class. One of my ambitions for the play is to put it on at a school.       
I’m still promoting my more conventional 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.


Some notes about my newsletters and blogs

They do overlap a little but here is a summary of what they all do.

Bridge House Authors For all those published by Bridge House, CaféLit, Chapeltown or The Red Telephone or interested in being published by us. General news about the imprints. News for writers. Links to book performance. Sign up here.

Chapeltown Books News about our books. Sign up here.

The Creative Café Project News about the project and CaféLit – for the consumer rather than for the producer.  Sign up here.   

Gill’s News: News about my writing, The Schellberg Project, School Visits and Events. Book recommendations and giveaways. Find it here.   

Pushing Boundaries, Flying Higher News about conferences and workshops to do with the young adult novel. (infrequent postings) Sign up here.  

Red Telephone Books News about our books and our authors. Sign up here.

A Publisher’s Perspective Here I blog as a publisher. Access this here.   

The Creative Café Project Listings and reviews of creative cafés. See them here.   

CaféLit Stories Find these here

Gill James Writer All about writing and about my books. View this here.

Gill’s Recommended Reads Find information here about books that have taken me out of my editor’s head and a reminder of the ones I’ve highlighted in this newsletter.    

Gill’s Sample Fiction Read some of my fiction here.

The House on Schellberg Street All about my Schellberg project. Read it here.

Writing Teacher All about teaching creative writing.  Some creative writing exercises. Access this here.     

Books Books Books Weekly offers on our books and news of new books. Find them here. 

The Young Person’s Library I am gradually moving the children’s book catalogue over to this site.  Access it here.

Fair Submissions I am gradually moving the Opportunities List to this site.  Find it 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.  

Happy reading and writing.

Image by stokpic from Pixabay