Last Friday, I attended a fascinating workshop facilitated by Caitriona Fitzsimons, the creative practitioner behind One Fine Morning. The workshop was designed to explore creativity through techniques traditionally used to teach drama that have been adapted for writing. The technique used is called ‘given circumstances’, which is particularly useful for character-driven stories, as it has been adapted from the Russian theatre practitioner, Konstantin Stanislavski, who is well known for his unique system of training actors, often referred to an ‘method acting’. Stanislavski believed that in order to convincingly portray a character, an actor should prepare by immersing themselves in the situation of the person, fictional or otherwise. As a fiction writer, it is also necessary to profile your characters and their circumstances in order to be able to walk in their shoes. During the process of writing, you become the character, and as such your descriptions are richer and more convincing.
The Story Development Workshop enabled its participants to map the process of character development across a story arc from beginning to end, using global themes, thematic statements and ‘given circumstances’ for the characters in the story. It was an immersive process which involved collaboration and interaction between participants that resulted in an agreed final story, told by the participants to each other as a group.
If you are struggling with an idea and are not sure how to structure or develop your story, this workshop will give you some practical tools in order to move your creative thinking forward. I particularly liked the interactive nature of the session, as writing can be quite an isolating endeavour. This approach allows you to explore ideas in a safe environment and often, one comment or observation from another participant can open up your mind to all sorts of possibilities. It also gives you the opportunity to road test the credibility of an idea from a global story perspective, and see how each individual story element fits in to the whole structure. An inspiring experience and highly recommended!
Check out One Fine Morning for future workshop dates.
At the weekend, I joined a lively group of writers in Guildford at the Surrey New Writers Festival at G-Live, organised by the School of Literature and Languages at the University of Surrey. The mix of discussion panels and workshops made for some insightful debates, including; literary start-ups, creating and nurturing a support network, writing for TV and Film, a panel of agents, publishers and editors as well as a lunch time workshop delivered by writing coach and author, Melissa Addey. There was also a poetry stage going on throughout the day with readings from special guest poets.
It was a great opportunity to network with local writers and chat with students and staff from the University, who invited me along to do a reading at the evening launch of the Stag Hill Literary Journal. As a contributor to the inaugural issue, I was honoured to read an extract from my short story, Habitat, an near-future SciFi story, which appears in the journal. You can follow the future of the journal on their facebook page here, where you can get a copy of Issue One, read the online version or send in your own submissions. Thank you to M.E. Rolle and the editorial team for the opportunity to network and share my work with a wider audience.
Of course, any job is a good job for a writer. We like to think we would be happy in isolation, chipping away at our work in progress, but actually any job that brings us into contact with people provides a rich source of inspiration and character ideas. Nevertheless, writers are wordsmiths and happiest when engaged in the written word, so here are twenty jobs for writers that make use of our skill.
A copywriter writes advertising and product descriptions (known collectively as copy) for print and online catalogues, commercial scripts, brochures, direct mail. Can be freelance or working for an agency. http://www.ipa.co.uk/
With the rise of content marketing, an increasing number of companies are paying freelancers to write articles for their blogs. A combination of one-off articles or series of articles – useful to have a specialism. Be prepared to chase work.
A reviewer writes an evaluation of the quality of something eg. books, films, food, art, music, theatre. Can be quite lucrative, often work as freelancers.
An editorial assistant provides administrative support for editors, associate editors and writing/editorial staff. They often perform scheduling, filing, note taking, and other administrative duties. They may or may not perform writing and editing tasks. http://www.bookcareers.com/ Read the rest of this entry →
It has been a while since my last book, The King of Carentan, was published and I realise I have been quiet – various reasons for that; the length of time it takes to write a book, the length of time between writing a book and it being fit for public consumption and… new job notwithstanding… multiple other personal distractions. So I owe my readers a long overdue update on progress.
Yes – you heard right, I am eight months into a new job which comes with its own challenges and priorities. But despite that, I have been busy on the writing front (check out my urban fantasy stories featuring Dryads in London).
Book Three of the Carentan Series is due for release in June 2018 and will resolve some unanswered questions from Book One (no spoilers). If you are now scratching your head and wondering what or whom I am referring to, I have provided links below for you re-read the books and refresh your memory. Or if you are new to the series, the first two books will provide you with a good backdrop to Book Three – although not necessary to enjoy the book in its own right. Indeed, I have been most careful to ensure that each book is a stand-alone story – not dependent on reading the rest of the series.
For you die-hard fans and those who badger me at opportune moments (I am not complaining as it keeps me on my toes!) – you may be pleased to hear that I am getting stuck in to another book in the Carentan Series. Completely independent of the first three books, but explores another character’s story in more detail. I’m saying no more.
So, on that note, I leave you with some links where you can buy the books in the format of your choosing to update or if new to the series prepare for the release of the next instalment in 2018; The Prince and The Assassin.
Comments, complaints, compliments and reviews (good, bad or indifferent), are always welcome and much appreciated.
I was inspired by an article I read in The Conversation about why the teaching of creative writing matters by Simon Holloway, Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Bolton, who says that ‘very few students will earn a living as a writer. But writing is about more than that, and the ability to communicate effectively is a rare and precious thing’.
There is mixed opinion about the benefits of undertaking a course in creative writing; Hanif Kureishi, author of The Buddha of Suburbia, famously said that creative writing courses are a ‘waste of time’.
By coincidence, I was recently invited back to my university to talk to the MA Writing students about my experience of the course and what I have gained. It is only a year since I graduated, so it is still fresh in my mind, but talking it through with a group of engaging peers at various stages of their careers helped me to reflect on and consolidate my own experience.
I thought it might be useful to share some of my reflections in the hope of reaching out to anyone out there who is at a cross roads and trying to decide the best route to take.
It is unfortunately true to say that few creative writing students will earn a living as a writer, but even as I sat in front of this year’s cohort and asked them what they most wanted to learn from me, many said it was how to earn a living from writing. Although I have a full time day job as well as being a writer, this is perhaps one area in which I can add some valuable insight. I work in graduate careers and employability, and much of the advice that I offer students in preparing for the jobs market is transferable to writers preparing their work for publication. In fact this is the one area where my day job and my writing work find a happy coexistence. Here are my top tips for getting a job and/or getting published. Read the rest of this entry →
The first thing you need to write a novel is… Time.
The second thing you need to write a novel is… More Time.
And the third thing you need to write a novel is… Even More Time.
This perhaps seems a bit obvious. But let me explain.
Time, More Time and Even More Time are all necessary.
I’ve divided Time up into three because you need Time for different things.
The first lot of Time is, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, Time to write. Time to sit at the desk with words coming out of you.
The second lot of time, More Time, is… Time not to write. Time to do stuff which doesn’t seem to be writing but which, in the end, turns out to have been writing all along. To the uninitiated, this may appear to be window shopping or people-watching, taking a…
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As writers we strive to engage in sensory description to bring alive our stories for readers. Through sight, sound, touch, smell and taste we can evoke a sense of the familiar and colour our characters with graphic depth. So, I thought I’d mix it up a bit in this story. Synaesthesia is an extraordinary condition where the stimulation of one sense automatically triggers sensations in one of the other five senses. For example, sound triggering a tactile response, music or voices seen as colours. I chose to play about with touch and taste in this case, but I’ll let you, my curious reader, decide for yourself how well you think that worked.
This particular story was also inspired by the deep divisions in our society that are growing ever wider and threaten our unique and inclusive cultural identity. The story takes us into a near future that is already sitting on our doorsteps. As a writer, you can’t help but reflect what you see going on around you. Whether set in our world, a future world or a re-written past, stories give us the opportunity to take a good look at ourselves and wonder what we can do to make the world a better place.
Thank you to The Mechanics’ Institute Review Online for publishing Unheard.
Coming-of-age is a genre that typically has a young protagonist who goes on a journey to find meaning to their life. We follow their moral and psychological growth from youth to adulthood with the expectation that they will face significant barriers along the way. They may make mistakes and face life or death circumstances, but the key factor is that the character learns from their experience and changes as a result.
The genre of Fantasy Fiction loves a coming-of-age story. The story arc takes our young protagonist on a journey that often starts with loss or alienation; think Harry Potter, or The Hunger Games. A common theme is the discovery of magical or special powers; Name of the Wind, A Wizard of Earthsea, and part of the quest is to discover how to use this special gift for good. This opens up the genre to that age-old battle between good and evil, often introducing a dark antagonist; Lord of the Rings, The Belgariad.
My all time favourite is The Thief by Megan Whelan Turner and its sequel The Queen of Attolia, which strictly speaking, you might not class as a coming-of-age story. However, it has all the elements that make it so in my mind; a young protagonist who faces a journey which forces him to make moral and psychological choices, love, loss – both physical and emotional – and circumstances that demand him to take responsibility not only for himself but for his family and his nation. Add to that a dash of supernatural powers, a few good fight scenes and I am sold.
We can all identify with the loss of innocence; right from the moment we discover that it is really our parents who are putting presents under the Christmas tree. As adults, our whole lives are coloured by perspectives that do not limit the imagination of the young. Somehow, we long to rid ourselves of the shackles of rational thought and return once again to that age of innocence, when life was so much simpler. So the coming-of-age story allows us to relive a life less complicated and find the answers to our own adult conundrums through youthful eyes. What’s not to love about that?
So what can I bring to bear from personal experience on this well documented genre? Well, I’m still waiting to come of age, so in the meantime I’ll just carry on writing stories.
When I was a young girl, my parents bought me a sweatshirt with the words ‘Born Beautiful’ adorned across the front in rainbow coloured abandon. The sentiment was heartfelt and intended to build my confidence, so I wore it with pride and consequently exposed myself to ridicule from my peers. In effect, this bold gesture had the complete opposite result and made me want to hide my ugliness away from the world; shelter the naivety that couldn’t cope with the cruelty of children.
There is something about fiction that scratches beneath the surface of the superficiality of the media’s portrayal of modern life, something about the inner light shining through, the untapped beauty that resides in us all. Only the power of storytelling allows us to reach for that light. The enduring quality of classic Fairy Tales continue to inspire writers and entrance readers throughout time. Based on myth, legends and folklore, they gave rise to the fantasy genre and survive in many different forms. One such example that has gained phenomenal popularity of late is Beauty and the Beast. Not always obvious to the reader, who is nevertheless swept along by the classic plot structures and themes; think Twilight and Fifty Shades.
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Three months after the alleged suicide of supermodel, Lula Landry, her brother hires a private detective, Cormoran Strike, to investigate her death. Strike and his ardent temp are then dragged into a world of dysfunctional families and highly strung celebrities in their pursuit of the truth.
A great title, interesting cast of characters and an intriguing mystery which promises much more than it delivers, in my opinion. Would I have picked this up in a bookshop had I not known that the author Robert Galbraith was a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling? Perhaps, given that I have a penchant for the London backdrop and that both the cover and the blurb are highly appealing. On top of that is the endorsement by Val McDermid on the front. However, about a third of the way through I began to wish I had bought one of Val’s books instead.
It is not as well written as the latter Harry Potter books or A Casual Vacancy, which leads me to wonder whether this is an earlier work that has been kicking around in a bottom drawer for a number of years. Characters are up to the usual JKR standard – one of her strengths in my opinion – and the plotting was pretty tight, although a bit predictable in places. There were none of the startling revelations and appallingly nasty characters that have peppered her previous works. When I read The Casual Vacancy, it was clear to me who the author was, despite it being a very different book. Had I not known, I don’t think I would have guessed that The Cuckoo’s Calling was a JKR. Perhaps my expectations were skewed by her previous work, but I kept waiting for that unique JKR twist that just didn’t happen. It is very much a traditional detective novel, which is fine, but I do think that the crime genre has moved on enough to accommodate that ingenuity that has made JKR so universally appealing.
Would I read a second Robert Galbraith novel? Perhaps, but I appeal to the author for more development of the relationships between the characters and less of the detailed detective info dumps.
Just my opinion, of course…