Saturday, 13 April 2019

Combining Writing with a Day Job

Most of us have had to do that and even if we now work as full time writers we have done that in the past.    

When I first started writing seriously I held down a job as a head of Modern Languages, wrote several novels one after the other, entered every appropriate writing competition I could find and started a Masters in Writing for Children. I’m not sure how. It makes me feel tired just thinking about it now. Oh, and the children were still at home then. 

Eventually I gave up the day job but still did a lot of supply teaching and one-to-one tuition. This gave me more brain space even though not necessarily more time. 

It’s a necessity for many of us. We have to pay the rent, feed and clothe ourselves and keep warm.  
One Masters and PhD later I managed to secure a dream job – that of university lecturer in Creative Writing.  A promotion to senior lecturer bumped up my income nicely and now that I am retired my pension leaves me comfortably off – and I still do a little work for the University of Salford. Does that count as earning money from my writing? I like to think so, and in fact nobody would have frowned when I was working full time if I’d sat in my office writing my novel. I have done that occasionally but working in the academy also has its demands. Still most of the writing was completed in my “spare” time. 

I was glad to retire. More time for my writing, I thought. Maybe. But I’m busy and slightly behind on my writing targets. U3A – I’m off to French conversation in a few moments. The gym. National Women’s Register.  My choir. Supporting Guide Dogs for the Blind. My publishing activities. I’ve given myself a timetable.

It isn’t all about needing the money, though. In fact, many people who have to fit something else around their day job, such as their writing, getting a new qualification or acquiring a new skill often work in a very focussed way when they do get some time and are as productive if not more so than if they had all day every day to get to where they wish to be. 

With writing in particular I suspect there is another factor. Seriously: if you’re locked away from the world all day on your garret, what have you got to write about? 

Recently I’ve been taking the bus into town.  I come back with at least one idea for a short story each time. 

Some people manage to become full time writers by taking on any sort of writing. That isn’t for me. I’d rather have a bit of fun working in a bar, picking fruit or doing a post round that write a report that doesn’t thrill me or write to please a commercial market that compromises what I want to say. Some solitary activates such as ironing, driving or walking the dog give you thinking time. I really also believe that writers need to interact with other people.

That is perhaps why I have created my retirement timetable.                 

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

The Monster Café by Sean Leahy and Mihaly Orodan

2019, pre-school, ages 0-4,  

This delightful picture book is published by innovative publisher Unbound. This works a little like crowd-funding.  Would-be readers pledge a certain amount and receive an appropriate award. More often than not this is a special edition of the book. Obviously friends and family may vote with their cash, hopefully so will fans and followers. There could be some dangers there. Thankfully most books make it to funding because they have merit.    

Indeed, this has many of the usual characteristics of a picture book that a young child who has not yet learned to read would share with a caring adult: it has quirky, stylized pictures that tell more of the story, a limited amount of text, a sophisticated font and reasonably complex language. 

The story might be scary – is the café cooking people? Indeed, the final dish to arrive is “Baby food”. “Oh,” thinks our protagonist. We pause for a moment. That might just be food for the baby or it might be food made from the baby. We just need to reflect a little. We’ve seen “Mummygatwany soup”  “father beans” and “nana split” and Mum, Dad and Nana are alive and well.         
This is a very attractive book with great attention to detail; even the end papers are amusing.    

Phoenix Burning by Bryony Pearce

2016, Key Stage 3, ages 10-13, lower secondary, teen 

Toby and Ayla seek inverters for their ship. They have to infiltrate a sect of sun-worshippers to obtain them.  They don’t and can’t quite trust each other. Their relationship is complex but they must work together.    

Bryony Pearce presents us with a world that seems something of fantasy, is somewhat dystopian but has some elements with which we are familiar.  We have black bin bags, mentions of the Catholic religion and a real place is named: Gozo. The sect of the sun-worshippers seems viable. Is there something too of the near future? Something has happened that has made the sea too salty and you really shouldn’t swim in it.        
The stakes are high, the relationships complex, and there is possibly a budding romance.  Toby finds his mother but she is also to some extent the enemy. The novel is bordering on being suitable of the young adult reader.  

The story is certainly fast-paced.

Note that the text is blocked, uses a sophisticated font but is also double-spaced. Chapters are of average length.   

Monday, 8 April 2019

News 8 April 2019

Welcome to the new slimmed down newsletter. Here I am just telling you news about my writing though I still include a few tips for writers. At the end you of this newsletter you will find out how to stay in touch with what the imprints are doing.
I’ve recently started a U3A Creative Writing Group. This works like some of the other groups you may know – such as Final Portfolio and Writers’ Workshop at the University of Salford, WC2 in Winchester and SCBWI- North West. Some of you may know me in one of those contexts.
Basically, we email work about a week in advance and then we critique each other. We don’t have a rota -  U3A members are often very flexible with their time – holidays, grandparent duties and illnesses. It just seems to work out right. And if we have too many submissions, we just discuss which we’ll hold over until the next session. We also do a creative writing exercise each time we meet which is the second Thursday in the month. Members take it in turns offering the creative writing exercise.    
We meet in the Athenaeum - sounds good, doesn’t it? This is right in the middle of Bury, two minutes’ walk from the Metrolink and bus station. We pay £1.50 and that includes tea or coffee. Fabulous.   

News about my writing

I’m actually not doing a lot of writing at the moment. Preparing for the house move is still taking some time. I’ve also been doing some marking for Salford University and I can only find time for both of these activities if I cut down on my writing. I’m pleased to be getting back to it over the next few days.       

Catalogue of books for children

I’ve added several titles to this over the last month. It continues to grow. You can find it here.  Do take a look if you’re into children’s books. This month I’ve included Nasty by Michael Rosen, Malkin Child: a story of the Pendle witches by Livi Michael, Maximum Ride by James Patterson, and both volumes of Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls by Francesca Cavallo and Elena Favilli.     


Current reading recommendation

This month I had a clear winner: Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson. I picked this up whilst we were on holiday last year. My Kindle had run out of juice and I couldn’t plug it in anywhere near where I could sit comfortably to read.  There was a drawer and a cupboard full of books, however, but unfortunately most of them were utter rubbish. This one stood out. It had a picture from the TV series on the cover.  Yes, that would do! I’d enjoyed the TV series.
I’d had a close encounter with it earlier. Had I repeated my A-levels I would have had to read that for English Literature. I didn’t repeat A-levels for two reasons; I’d already done the very best I could. For English Literature, French and German the syllabus changes every year so you would be starting from scratch. I got three unconditional offers from Russell Group universities as it was. 
I’ve heard that this novel – if it can be called a novel - is autobiographical. Is Laura really Flora? Did she work for the Post Office? And then go and live in West Cliff, Bournemouth? It appears to be a factual account of a hamlet, a nearby town, and a quite populated and civilized village. One can see where they got the ideas from for the stories in the TV series and I would say there is actually room for even more. There are short anecdotes about life in the locations, particularly the hamlet, and Laura’s story emerges, particularly towards the end. 
Thompson’s prose is smooth and engaging. I find her so much more readable than some more modern writers. That may be surprising!    
Find it here.      


This month I’m giving away The Bets of CafeLit 5 in which I have a story.
Access it and lots of other freebies here.
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.   
Naturally I welcome reviews.


The Schellberg Project

As I’ve not been writing so much, I’ve also not been posting here. However, I was in Rome  the weekend of 29 March to 1 April and we came across a house in the Jewish Quarter that had three Stolpersteine outside it.  As I explained to my friends what these signify - that they are cobblestones that are meant to trip you up and make you look – a man came out of the house. He explained that he was a Holocaust survivor and that the three stones are there for his parents and his uncle.      


Working with Schools

I had a delightful time at Manchester Grammar School on 28 March. I attended their Parents’ and Boys’ Reading Group. This happens once a term and takes place in their beautiful library.    
I talked to them about my journey as a writer:
·         How I loved telling and reading stories when I was at primary school
·         How Grammar School almost killed that instinct – there was so much to learn and so much reading to be done as part of the curriculum.  But there was one teacher, an English teacher, who was also the school librarian, who provided creative writing sessions. 
·         How that holiday in Nerja crystallised for me why I really wanted to write and how I started writing for middle grade. 
·         How I have gradually progressed to writing for teens and young adults – this really made sense as I taught 11-16 year olds for twenty-five years.
·         How now I’m gradually going over to writing about feisty women – who often first appear in the stories as young adults.
·         I did talk about my MA and PhD and how that led to me working at Salford University, so I was able to fit in a little about what we do there.        
Next I read some extracts from the first book in my Peace Child trilogy (soon to become four books) The Prophecy    . This was followed by a question and answer session.
We then looked together at Kurt Vonnegut jr’s Harrison Bergeron. I’d read it ahead of the session and I read it as writer.  I noted:
·         It is a near future story
·         There is a solid narrative balance
·         In places it reads almost like a script – we learn the story through the dialogue. 
·         The scene with the dancers is almost surreal.
·         It was interesting to see how the writer created the world – we are introduced very gradually to the Handicapper. 

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.


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, CafeLit, Chapletown or The Red Telephone or interested in being published by us. General news about the imprint. News for writers. Link to book performance. Sign up here.

Chapeltown Books News about our books and our authors. 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. Find it here.   

Opportunities List 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.  

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.   

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. 

Happy reading and writing.