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Creative writing courses… why bother?

Library BooksI 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

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9 Things You Need To Write A Novel

tobylitt

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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Unheard

The Mechanics' Institute ReviewAs 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.

Why we love a coming-of-age story

http://www.carentan.co.ukComing-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.

Timeless Beauty

Wells StreetWhen 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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Review of The Cuckoo’s Calling

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…

 

A life of crime?

Just received news that I have been selected as one of 9 runners up in a crime writing competition run by Pan Macmillan and the award winning author M. R. Hall, who was nominated twice for the prestigious Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger for best novel of the year and is also a BAFTA-nominated screenwriter and producer, having written more than forty hours of prime time drama for BBC 1 and ITV.

The competition was opened up after completing a fantastic online course where M. R. Hall reveals his Seven Secrets of Successful Crime Writing.

Following the online videos, tips and worksheets has inspired me to complete my first crime novel and provided a much needed structure to a story that I have been struggling with for some time.

Thank you, M. R. Hall and Pan Macmillan for this fantastic opportunity!

The Lost Planet

Kit gets more than she bargained for when her starcruiser is drawn into orbit around the lost planet of Stakis Ventura, where she finally learns the secret behind its mysterious disappearance… (read more)

Vertical Publishing

In this article from Futurebook, Chris McVeigh, digital publishing consultant considers the idea of Vertical Publishing.

Publishing as we know it is rapidly changing and any organisation, be it publisher, bookseller, retailer or writer alike, needs to adjust their business plan to take account of these changes. Read the rest of this entry

Hammer Horror is back!

Long after the lights were turned out, when young impressionable teens should really have been asleep, we used to sneak downstairs, me and my siblings. We raided the fridge for munchies in the middle of the night and settled down in front of the TV for the Hammer Horror double bill.

My own stories straddle the genres of SF/Fantasy and Horror. Until I read this article about Hammer, I had almost forgotten this early influence on my imaginative writing.

Nothing much was produced by Hammer after the 80s, but the company was bought in 2007 and have started producing films again. Most recently, The Woman in Black. Some of their older titles are now being restored for release onto Blu-Ray, like Dracula: Prince of Darkness, Plague of the Zombies, The Mummy.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-16629619

Hammer Books, their publishing imprint will be releasing new novelisations of their classic films, in addition to titles from Graham Masterton, Jeanette Winterson and Helen Dunmore.

Hammer returns… horror creeps back to the forefront.

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