Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Which is more important, good writing or a good story?

I have read two books recently that both came with a good pedigree but actually they couldn’t be more different. Both of them are published by the Big Five.

Good story but poor writing 

I borrowed this one from the library. It was in the new books section. I always check this first as I’m keen to read the latest. This also looked like a nice easy read and it was set in era in which I’m currently writing. Yet this book was a disappointment. Had it actually been edited? I was astounded too that the writer was formally a journalist. How could this person get it so wrong? There was far too much telling. In fact this book would be very good for showing creative writing students what is meant by telling instead of showing. The dialogue didn’t seem natural. The speeches were stilted and went on for far too long. There was often an awkward change of point of view, even mid-paragraph.     
Oh and the book cover didn’t really relate to the story. Plus it included a photograph, so spoilt the picture in my head. 
Nevertheless, I liked the main character. The novel gave me many more insights into the 1940s. The story arc was quite firm though a little disappointing at the end. An important person dived out of character and the story was left on a downbeat annoying cliff hanger. Was this a cunning marketing ploy?  


Great writing, annoying story

This one was also the recommendation of my reading group and one I’d had my eye for a while. I couldn’t fault the writing. It kept me engaged. The author totally had the voices of the characters. There was plenty of pace and tension.
In fact, I took it to the dentist. As usual he was running a bit late, and I was actually a bit disappointed when I was called in as my Kindle told me I only fifteen more minutes to read.
“Take it easy when you get home,” said the dentist. “This is major work you’ve had done.” I couldn’t watch TV as we’d just had a new one delivered and my husband was setting it up. The book was getting gripping I was only too glad to carry on reading it.
But oh dear. What a disappointing group of human beings: three inadequate women and two abusive men. I’m getting a little tired of reading about women who drift into alcoholism. I’ve read far too many books like that recently. I actually want to read about powerful, successful women and find out how they do it. Not these ne’er do wells. Plus the plot became at once predictable and unlikely. I, perhaps as a writer who can normally suss out these things, began to see who had committed the crime. But really? Would even a man like him do that?
I enjoyed reading the novel. I was gripped by it in fact, but ended up being irritated by it.

Who  is the winner?

Reluctantly I have to admit that I was irritated slightly less by the second one. In this case, good writing has won over good story.


Yes, as an editor, publisher and creative wring teacher I can confirm that poor writing can always be fixed – if you have enough time and patience, which in-house editors at big publishing houses rarely have. So, the story has to be right first. As the busy in-house editor hasn’t got time to fix, she will check the writing first. If that’s fine, she’ll look to see if the story works.

The rub

If either of these books had been submitted to me I would have rejected them. Oops. The former is by a writer who sells well and the latter is a best-seller.   

Sunday, 1 January 2017

2016 ends – 2017 begins Newsletter December 2016

What a year it’s been in the world though in my world of writing, editing, teaching and publishing life has gone on pretty much as usual. The weak pound has made our books cheaper worldwide but printing costs have gone up. On a personal level I’ve had my usual mixture of acceptances and rejections. Since the end of September and giving up the day job I’ve been getting more writing and marketing done. That had always been the plan and it seems to be working.      


Bridge House

Bridge House got out its annual anthology, called Baubles this year. You can read a few extracts here. We also managed to get out the Shelagh Delany collection Salford Stories just in time for Shelagh Delaney Day 2017.

Our new annual anthology for 2107 will be Gliterary Tales. So, glittery stories that have a touch of literature about them. I wonder what that will add to the debate about the difference between literary and popular fictions? Debz Hobbs Wyatt will be getting the call for submissions out soon.

Remember we’re also offering to publish single-author collections. These are for authors we’ve published before and they may include stories we’ve already published, ones they’ve had published elsewhere and new ones. We’ll be putting a description out about this soon but we’ve already had some enquiries. You may recycle stories we’ve already included in another anthology, and you may reedit these if you wish. You may also add in new stories. We’re aiming at a total word count of between 30,000 and 80,000 words. 
If you’re interested in this, contact me here.    

We’re being a bit cheeky and getting a little political. Are we are in danger of getting our books burnt? Well, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. We’re doing an extra anthology, Citizens of Nowhere, with the theme of the global citizen. Oh, I hope we don’t upset Ms May. We’re commissioning just over half of the work from known authors but there is room for a few open submissions. Stories can be “one you prepared earlier” or a brand new one, with a cut-off date of 31 January, though this may very well be extended. Stories between 1,000 and 4,000 words. Submit to editor at bridgehousepublishing dot co dot uk. 


Remember, we’re always open to submissions. Find out how here.  I’ve been encouraging my students to submit. I’m beginning to see some of their work appearing.

The Best of CaféLit 5 is now available. There are some lovely stories in this. I’m very pleased that I have a story in this collection. Order your copy here.      



We’re currently looking for collections of Flash Fiction. See our submissions page here. We have two writers signed up already and I’ll be putting out one of my collections as well soon. I’m also currently reading a third. I have one waiting in the wings also. Take a look here.  

Chapeltown is also excited to be publishing Colin Wyatt’s Who will be my friend? – a delightful picture book about friendship and accepting others. Yes, Colin is Debz’s dad. He is a Disney licensed illustrator and his latest publication is The Jet Set. We feel very honoured to be publishing him.


Creative Café

We’re always looking for new cafés.  If you visit one of the cafés in the project and would like to write a review of between 250 and 350 words – nice, too, to have a couple of pictures – send it to me here. Do the same if you find a new café.
I’m now going to send out a welcome letter to each new café that’s added. This will also offer them the opportunity to join the mailing list.  
I’m also now proactively encouraging cafes to stock The Best of CafeLit. Do you know anyone who might like to stock it? We can offer a 35% discount to retailers. Query gill at cafelit dot co dot uk.     


The Red Telephone

We are currently open for submissions. Hoorah! We’re looking for the next great YA novel. Check out the details here.  We’re particularly open to speculative fiction but we’ll also like anything that is well written and well-targeted.  I’m currently reading a couple of full submissions. I welcome others but send sample chapters and synopsis first. The full details are on the site.   

I’d like to remind you of our new enterprise - something between a mentoring system and an online course. Though publication is not guaranteed, we will at least look at your full book if you’ve attended one of the courses. We’re offering it for free to a few people at first. We’ll refine as we go along based on feedback from our clients. We’ll then continue to offer it at a discount for a while before going to full price when we’re completely happy with it. We’re not sure what the full price will be. Again, we’ll be guided by our current clients. Find out more here.  Four people have now signed up. Room for one more. We’re running out of space so if you’re hesitating, now is the time to make your mind up.  We look forward to hearing from you.       

Book tours

If you’re a Bridge House / Red Telephone / CaféLit / Chapeltown author and you want to get serious about book tours, consider our author’s kit. We provide twenty books you take to the bookshop and the bookshop can put these through the till. We then invoice the bookshop, with a 35% discount for any sold and top up your supply to twenty. A the end of the tour you can either pay for the remaining books at cost + 10% or keep them until you’ve sold them and then pay the normal price of 75% of RRP. The latter can in any case be set against royalties. You need to allow at least ten days between events. Contact me here if you’re interested in this.           


School Visits

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. I’m offering this half price to schools that apply in January 2017 and schools that apply in February 2017 can book two for the price of one.  Contact me here.     
I’m now adding in materials for schools. See them here:       
Query for a school visit here.
I am also happy to do standard author visits which include readings from my books, Q & A sessions and creative writing exercises.
Costs= 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.        


Books and short stories

I continue to make good progress on Shooting Hitler.
Clara’s Story is being serialised. The cover makes this theme quite clear. The novel is can now be found on Channillo. You may read it here.    
Clara’s Story is the second in the Schellberg circle. All five stories cover roughly the same period and are very much happening in and associated with Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. They can be read in any order. The stories overlap to some extent but where they repeat we see the happening form another point of view. For instance The House on Schellberg Street is mainly about a young girl, Renate, who comes to England on the Kindertranpsort. Clara’s Story is about her grandmother. Girl in a Smart Uniform explains how at least one German girl associated with the story became a Nazi – and then gave it all up. Shooting Hitler is Renate’s mother’s version of events. In The Round Robin we learn about what happens to Renate’s friends.  

Past events

CaféLit and Baubles writers, along with their friends and family and other writers and connections of Bridge House, CaféLit, Chapeltown, The Red Telephone and their associates met for a celebration on 3 December at the Princess of Wales pub, Primrose Hill. This seems to be the ideal venue but we’re probably about to outgrow it. Tickets were free but we “sold out”. In any case, we’ve already booked for next year.

Upcoming events

Coming soon: a read through of J K Rowling’s The Cursed Child. Watch this space and social media for details. 
I’m also planning a celebratory event in Manchester for all of the imprints. Again, watch this space.  



This month I’m giving away a copy of Fibbin’ Archie. This is only available as either a mobi-file (for Kindle) or a PDF.  However, this time it’s available for anyone who wants it.  Contact me on gill dot james at btinternet dot com and sya whtehr you’d prefer mobi or PDF. Fibbin’ Archie is a bit of a ya rom com and a writing experiment at the same time.      


Writing opportunities

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, sing up here.    
Happy reading and writing. And all the best for 2017

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Writers and money

The Society of Authors recently conducted a survey amongst members and established that the average amount earned by authors was £12,000  per anum.  That’s not really enough to live on these days. So most of us do other things as well. Sometimes they’re things we want to do and sometimes it’s just work. Occasionally, other work may be more attractive than mere jobbing writing: e.g. doing shift at the pub to pay your rent and for food, then spend all of your creative energy on the writing you’re really interested in.
Even the great and good didn’t necessarily have it easy.
Here are a few examples:



Yes, his plays were good and he was a risk-taker. Instead of just taking the royalties paid for the scripts, he actually also invested in the theatres and the theatre companies until he built his own. He was a business man as well as a creative practitioner.
Note, however, when Walter Scott invested in his publisher and printer, the firm became bankrupt, almost taking him with it.     


He actually only lived at Dove Cottage for eight years. That was a really romantic time, however. He could really spend time writing and also enjoying family life. Financially he only managed to do that because he got a sponsor. He received a legacy of £900 from Raisley Calvert to pursue a career in literature. Someone believed in his work and paid for him to live. Whilst at Dove Cottage he worked on the Lyrical Ballads. At the time, these did not sell all that well. In 1842 he received a government pension and a year later became Poet Laureate. He wrote no poetry whilst he was in the role, however. In his youth he had a day job which gave him financial security. 

Dylan Thomas

He was mainly poor whilst alive though in May 1949 Thomas and his family moved to his final home, the Boat House at Laugharne purchased for him at a cost of £2,500 in April 1949 by Margaret Taylor. Again, someone had faith in his writing and thought he was worth sponsoring.

Louisa May Alcott

Alcott had other means which were just about adequate.  She wrote mainly to supplement these.  She wrote well and professionally for about twenty years and then wrote Little Women followed by the other books in the series. Little Women alone earned her over $5000 which was a fortune in those days. She invested this money wisely in the railways and became a rich woman.  She was so rich that when someone could not afford to pay the mortgage she had set up with them she simply waved her hand and dismissed it.

J K Rowling

Yes. Okay she has done well. Very well indeed.  She has become very rich though has given a lot away to charity. She had a difficult time whilst writing the first Harry Potter book. Chances are anyway that if she had put that amount of good creative energy into any other industry she would have made even more money. Not that it matters- where else would she want to put her energy?

As for me?

I’m not rich or famous but I am comfortably off and known. My big dream isn’t about being published by the Big Five or having a super-duper agent. I wouldn’t turn down a best seller, however. I have yet to find my Little Women. I am mainly where I am because I’ve worked for nine years as a lecturer in creative writing, three of them as a senior lecturer. I’m retired from the day job now but never from writing. My various pensions, my little income from writing and some investment in property make for a nice life style.
The bottom line for me is that I want people to pay for my work so that I feel justified in writing.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Some thoughts on two important past tenses

The imperfect
This sort of describes itself. It’s used for an incomplete action. In French it is expressed by in endings on a certain part of the verb or “je travaillais” or “il allait”. These two can mean three different things in English: I would work, I used to work, or I was working and he would go, he used to go or he was going. All are incomplete, continuous and / or repeated actions.
Don’t say “She was sitting”, say “She sat” say some of the gurus. However, I’d argue that these two phrases carry subtle but important different meanings. “She was sitting” implies an interrupted action. It also slows the pace somewhat and makes the action part of the setting. “She would sit” implies a repeated action with a sense of approval from the subject whereas “used to” implies a repeated action that may not be continued.
“’She was sitting’” is too passive,” say some of the gurus. I don’t agree. It has nothing to do with activity or passivity. It has to do with exact meaning.
I was very pleased that a colleague from a rival institution to the one where I used to teach recommended to a critique group friend of mine in her Masters class that she should consider using this tense.  
This tense exists in some form or other in all languages. Let’s make sure we use it to pinpoint our meaning.

The pluperfect

The “plus” perfect if you like. It means you go back one further stage in the past. The word “had” is important here. Here’s an example: “He had been to market earlier. There hadn’t been as many people there as usual so he was able to get back by ten. Now he was sitting in the garden enjoying the sun. The phone rang. Darn. He’d better answer it.”
Again the gurus will recommend avoiding this tense. I’m afraid I do tend to obey this time though I do the recommended trick of using it once or twice to show that we’re that one stage further back in the past and then using the normal past tense, so that we get something like this:
“He had been to the market earlier and Jed had recommended the Kelly Bronze turkeys.  He’d agreed to buy one and whistled to himself as he gave Jed his week’s salary. He hoped Marge would be pleased with his purchase. He set off home, daydreaming about Christmas dinner.
As he approached the house he began to feel sick. “Here goes,” he thought as he slid his key into the lock.””
Again, this exists in all grammars though sometimes a language may have an idiomatic way of expressing it.
In pre-wordprocessing days my father-in-law paid a young woman in the village to type up his thesis. Every time he’d written “had” as part of a pluperfect, she’d typed “has” or “have.”
“I don’t think they have a pluperfect in Welsh,” said my father-in-law.
Ah but they do, sort of. You may often hear Welsh people saying something like “He was after having cooked his supper.” A little word they use with a verb is very similar to the word for “after” in Welsh. So, the pluperfect is simple: “He was after having …. “

Universal grammar?

It seems we need all of these nuances of meaning and a grammatical form for them in each language allows them to exist. Let’s make the most of our language to make our meaning crystal clear, even if it means ignoring some of the current trends.