Monday 12 June 2023

Most common pitfalls in submissions


We’ve recently made our selection for our Gifted collection and we wish we could accept all of them. Unfortunately we can only publish twenty-four of the stories submitted. Some stories came very close to being accepted. What were the little things that got in the way?


No story or at least no end

The biggest fault was that there was no story. We came across some submissions that had been really well written and we got very excited that this was going to be one that we would accept and then the end let it down very badly. 

In which way do endings not work?

  • Sometimes nothing much happens – it’s just a damp squib
  • Then at times it can be just too melodramatic
  • And writers can also rely on a deus ex machina – a powerful person or event that swoops in and saves the day.  Just like a god that is pulled on to the stage in a sophisticated piece of flying equipment.


It doesn’t match the theme

It’s very rare that something you have already written will suit a specific call.  And this one is very specific and a little tricky. Normally for competitions and specific calls like this it’s better to write something brand new. There are lots of other competitions and calls for submission where there is no theme. If you’re not successful with our call, you can always try one of the others.  


The quality of the writing

Everybody is at a different stage in the writing career. The less experienced writer will tell too much when they could show. They may change point of view frequently. They may mix up tenses.  There may be grammar and spelling mistakes in the text, alongside typos. They may not have the right voice for the piece.

Much can be gained by joining a critique group. Other members may spot some of these items for you. And very usefully they may be able to tell you what they’ve understood from what you’ve written; do they get the same picture in their head that you had to start with?



Have they followed the guidelines? Have they set out dialogue correctly? Is the text formatted to industry standard?

We won’t necessarily reject because some of this is out of kilter. But if everything else is equal between two writers we’ll pick the one who has been the most professional: they’re more likely to be able to respond to editorial comment in a timely and effective way.


Even so it’s still hard, rejecting these texts, or even just “declining” them.                    

Thursday 8 June 2023

Talking to Alicia Rouverol about her writing and her newly published novel, Dry River


What started you off as a writer? 


I was eight years old, and living on the island of Corsica. I didn’t know the language, I didn’t know the culture, and half my family was across the globe. So I was very much on ‘the outside’ (a place I often still inhabit). My aunt, also a writer, sent me a massive box of books. I still remember opening them! So I read. And I wrote plays (my grandmother’s plays were also in that box)—but mine were awful. And that was the start. Writing for me was both a way in and a way out.


Do you have a writing routine?  A dedicated space for your writing? 


Routine for me as a writer comes and goes. I try to do #100daysofwriting when I can or the ‘cheat’ version, #50daysofwriting. I’m part of two writing groups—one international and digital, the Fiction Forge; the other local, ‘Sixers’, which I co-founded whilst on the Manchester MA at Centre for New Writing. These help keep me honest. When I’m ‘writing’, though, anything ‘counts’—stories I’m on, my current novel, or an academic article. I get to count marketing too, things like this…


I don’t have a dedicated space—my office is in the corner of my room. I take my laptop to where I most feel I can work that day.


You have a day job as an academic. How does your writing dovetail with that? 


I do! It is tough securing an academic job as a writer. I teach Creative Writing at the University of Salford, where I’ve worked since 2019, two years after completing my PhD. I take nothing for granted. Writing whilst teaching is not an easy game. I try to write when I know I can produce, and then I try to give my students everything else I can. In the classroom, it’s not about me—it’s about them.


Could you tell us a little about Creative Writing in the academy? 


I suppose you could say it may not always be the most commercial brand of writing that we teach in the academy. I can say that as I worked for a top literary magazine in the US and they wouldn’t publish, it’s fair to say, many students producing work in a university setting. Some editors say that writing can’t be taught. I’m not sure I fully agree. I think the practice of writing can be taught and craft can be taught—and I’m very committed to sharing that kind of approach to my students. Focusing on reading is something I’m pretty committed to as well. If you want to write well, you have to read! A lot.


Tell us more about the range of your writing. 


I write fiction, non-fiction, hybrid prose and poetry. I also write academic articles. My projects vary based on what I’m next trying to ‘get out’. I work on some things for an age. That included Dry River!


And now about Dry River. What sparked the basic idea for that? 


I was sweeping my kitchen one day—a very domestic task—whilst my kids were still young, and I realized no one had written a contemporary version of Wallace Stegner’s The Angle of Repose, published in 1971. I had read the novel literally as we moved across country to California. During the 2008 global crash, as I watched neighbours lose homes to foreclosure, I knew I had a story to tell. I suppose too my (co-authored) non-fiction book considered the profound effects of deindustrialisation through the lens of one woman worker. So I was very interested in the effects of economic change on people’s lives. I definitely sensed a zeitgeist moment when I first wrote the novel. The dryness of California’s landscape, as well as its economy, helped me to shape the novel’s sense of place.


Can you tell us something about your writing process for this novel? 


I wrote the first draft of Dry River in something like 24 days on a dare from a friend. It was November 2008 and we were doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I got down the bare bones. An Elizabeth George Foundation grant enabled me to work on some pages with editor Tom Jenks. That’s when I realised how much work there was yet to do!


We came to the UK figuring I would ‘knock out’ the revision in a year on the MA. No such luck! I was able to work on it for my dissertation. And in summer of 2013, I was lakeside, with my kids in Camp, and did the ‘Michigan rewrite’, day and night for three weeks. Then I put it on the shelf for the PhD.


In 2016, I asked a good friend and editor, Olga Zilberbourg, to read it for me. I asked her if I should shelve it permanently. She said, ‘No!’—and that it was ‘New York-agent worthy’.


As an inaugural Artist in Residence in 2019 at John Rylands Research Institute, I started sending out the novel, this time seriously. Two years later, it still wasn’t picked up. Editor Kitty Walker helped me re-think its structure. Bridge House Publishing took it on and then you helped me take it over the line: your feedback enabled me to correct imbalances that had been in the novel for quite some time!


I suppose, crucially, I never stopped believing in the book. Jeanette Winterson at Manchester posed that question to me in 2013, ten years ago. And I kind of knew then that I couldn’t let the book go.


It’s been out now for a few days.  Have you had any feedback yet? 


A few days after the soft release, I got an Instagram message from extended family in the States. She told me she’d gotten both the Kindle and the paperback on order and that she couldn’t put it down. The time stamp was some ungodly hour. So I knew it was having an impact on readers.


Without giving any spoilers can you tell us something about your main character? 


As a public defender, Sara Greystone is committed to fairness; but in some ways, she struggles with it in her own life. Her imperfection and that of her husband (and fellow protagonist), Tye Bradshaw, are some of what make the novel work. They are just ‘muddling through’, as we’d say here in Britain, in an awful economy. And their struggle, I think, is something many readers can relate too, especially in our current economy. Novelist Ian McGuire—who kindly endorsed the novel—captures this when he said that the novel explores ‘the complex forces, both private and public, that bind people together and pull them apart’. Economies can do that, and other factors too. I won’t say more!


How do you think it suits the Feisty Women imprint?


Sara is definitely a ‘feisty woman’! So I was thrilled when Bridge House Publishing picked up the novel. It seemed a clear match. I only learned the night of the launch at the Burgess Foundation (2 June 2023) that mine was the first novel in the series (after, of course, your Schellberg Cycle)!




Watch the video

Monday 5 June 2023

News 5 June 2023

Great book event 

I was very pleased with my book event at The Met in Bury. We used the Stanley Bar, which is quite attractive. I sold a load of books and was able to give people more information about the cycle and the process of writing. People’s interest was so encouraging.    

A few friends helped out.

I hired catering from Automatic, the restaurant attached to The Met. They did us proud.  

The online event held the week before also produced some thought-provoking questions. Well, that always was partly the intention so this was a welcome outcome.

You can watch the online event here.   

I have a few books left over and these are on offer, while stocks last.  Pick up the order form here.    


Writing news          

You can now buy Spooking form my online Ko-Fi shop. You pay what you like. Find out more here:

Let’s Get Writing is a manual for people who run Creative Writing sessions.  This is also available from Ko-Fi. See the trailer here:  

On Talking About My Generation I’ve added a review of The Book of Will at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton:  


On My Blog

I’m afraid I’ve been a little remiss this month. There is nothing new on the blog. Slapped wrist. However, I have at least one other author interview coming up soon.  Watch this space.


The Young Person’s Library

Here I have been busy and have again added three new books.

Torn Apart The Partition of India by Swapna Haddow

Torn Apart - The Partition of India, 1947

This is for fluent readers though the issues are quite challenging and may also suit teens.

Ning and the Night Spirts by Adriena Fong

Ning and the Night Spirits 

A glorious picture book that deals with xenophobia and otherness.

Always There For You by Miriam Halahmy


A story for teens about internet safety. A warning for the young teen. I have a connection to both the author and the publisher and was pleased to see this book in our local library.   


Recommended read

This month I’m recommending Still Alice by Lisa Genova.   


Alice has early onset Alzheimer’s.

We watch her life deteriorate.  It starts with her not recognising a name on a to do list.  Then she forgets to go to a conference.  One day whilst out running she cannot figure out where she is. We follow her downward spiral. It’s terrifying. Do we recognise the symptoms? Unusually we are seeing the point of view of the sufferer rather than that of the carers.    

Lisa Genova has completed an impressive amount of research here.  In some ways this makes the text if anything reassuring about Alzheimer’s.

I confess to not having seen the film but I’ve come across good reviews of it.  

I really was totally absorbed in the book. Lisa Genova’s thorough examination of what an Alzehimer sufferer may go though is very convincing.      


Note: these are usually mobi-files to be downloaded to a Kindle.  Occasionally there are PDFs. This month I’m offering a Kindle file and a PDF of Babel, the second story in the Peace Child series.  

Kaleem has found his father and soon finds the love of his life, Rozia Laurence, but he is still not comfortable with his role as Peace Child. He also has to face some of the less palatable truths about his home planet: it is blighted by the existence of the Z Zone, a place where poorer people live outside of society, and by switch-off, compulsory euthanasia for a healthy but aging population, including his mentor, Razjosh.
He has his work cut out for him and is helped by the love of his life, Rozia. However, her life is also put into danger.
Meanwhile, the mystery of the Babel Tower persists. Is the prophecy something mystical or just something convenient for everyone to hang ideas onto?
The Peace Child trilogy is a young adult coming of age story set in a dystopian future where good old fashioned magic and modern artificial intelligence make even more complex the social issues that Kaleem faces as he reaches out to those others call aliens. Each story within the trilogy has its own arc but a bigger story forms as you read all three. A fourth is on its way. See below.

Find out more. Grab your copy and lots of other freebies:

Note, you may have to copy and paste the link.   

And please, please, please leave a review, perhaps on Amazon, Good Reads and / or Story Graph, when you’ve finished.    

Note: Normally my books and the books supplied by the imprints I manage sell for anything from £0.99 to £10.99.  Most on Kindle are about £2.99 and the average price for paperback is £7.00. Writers have 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.  They may also be interesting for other readers of historical fiction.

Sometimes I also write about what might be useful to other writers.

Check it out here:

In What is this cycle, actually? I discuss how the books work together as a cycle.   



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.


The Bridgetown  Café Bookshop where you can buy my book and books published by Bridge House Publishing, CafeLit, Chapeltown Books and The Red Telephone.  Visit us 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 and some other editors 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.  I also invite other writers to provide prompts and work for critique.     


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


The Young Person’s Library The children’s book catalogue. Access it here.


Fair Submissions  Find it here.   

Opportunities for writers are added several times a day. Roughly once a month I send it out to a list. If you would like to be on that list, sign up here.  

Happy reading and writing.