Thursday, 31 December 2015

Newsletter December 2015

Another year almost done, then. 2015 has had its ups and downs for me and my friends and associates but we’re all generally making progress. I’m glad that not too many of my friends have been badly affected by the floods and those that have seem to be well supported.
The Book Case at Hebden Bridge suffered badly. However, it was good to see them so well supported by Blue Moose and Salt publishers and authors Melvin Burgess, Marion Keyes and Ian Rankin.
I expect as the day goes on we’ll all be making our new year’s resolutions and I look forward to reading them all.
My own is along the lines of getting back to my writing routine which has been very disrupted by the day job. It’s beginning to happen anyway.      

       

Bridge House

We had a great celebration event, featuring Snowflakes, The Best of CafeLit 4 and the Shelagh Delaney winners in London, 5 December, at Waxy O’Connors. It was marred somewhat by Debz having her handbag stolen. In her usual cheerful way though she didn’t let that get in the way. This time I did take along some books to sell and I’m glad to say I didn’t have to take any home. However, you’ve got to allow that against the taxi fare.
“Blimey, this is heavy,” said the taxi-driver as he loaded my suitcase into the cab. “What have you got in here? 40 books I should think?” He wasn’t far off. There were 41, in fact.
We did the book swap again. Everyone brought along another of their books or a book they’d enjoyed reading. Oddly, there were several left at the end. My daughter dropped them off at a place she knew on the way home.    
It’s always good to meet people in person. A few people read, though the acoustics weren’t brilliant in that space.
I was very pleased with the video in the end. Take a look here.
We’ve decided on the theme for next year. Baubles. Short, snappy, sparkly stories that brighten up the darker nights like baubles enhance the Christmas tree. We’re not talking about things that give you a good belly laugh nor anything that is overly sentimental. Feel good is fine, yes, but just a light touch. You’ll know it when you think of it. Check out full submission details here.
We seem to have sold quite a few more books than normal this time. For the first time ever we’ve had problems with delivery. So apologies to anyone who has had to wait a long time.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Story time



It’s that time of year again. It’s a time of the year I like a lot. It may be something to do with having a birthday in the few days leading up to Christmas. However there is more to it than that, I think.
This is the great story time. We stay indoors a lot. We hibernate. We fuel our bodies against the cold, we watch the snow coming down and are glad that we don’t have to go out in it. Or maybe there is no snow and it may not even be that cold, but the days are short and the evenings long. We often feel more like staying in that going out.   
So, what do we do? We stay in the warm, we perhaps light a candle and we devour story in all sorts of forms – books, films, video games.  
I also catch up with some writing. The act of creating a story can be even richer than reading one.  
I find too that it’s a time when I sleep more and dream more. I even daydream a lot. I get more ideas. The winter actually prepares for the spring and the summer. It’s all happening there below the surface. The story suggestions bubble away. They take shape and burst forth. It’s all part of the cycle.                

Monday, 2 November 2015

Holiday reads



There are two main points for me on holiday: getting away from the Internet a little and reading.
Reading has always been important for me on holiday. Even as a child I would save my pocket money to buy books to take away with me. What a delight if we happened to find a second-hand bookshop. Of course now I avoid them; I want the writer and publisher to get their full dues. I can forgive them, though. I’ve been introduced to several writers when I first bought their work in a second-hand bookshop. Thereafter I’ve been willing to buy the hardback as soon as it comes out.

It’s partly escapism, I guess. But it’s also partly reassessment, confirmation of life. I always include a few heavier literary texts, some in other languages and some non-fiction.

What was it this year? Some autobiographical work by Alan Bennett, Claire Tomalin’s  biography of  Dickens, a  couple of young adult books featuring vampires, one of them in French, and a handful of Crooked Cat titles. I’m published by the latter and I’m pleased to say that all of the books they publish are engaging. 

Most writers need to read a lot. We sort of “catch” our craft from what we read. So, it’s good being on holiday.  I’m actually “working” even though I’m really indulging in my default activity. 

We’re now approaching what I call the story time of year. Those long evenings and cold days when you want to stay in by the fire. Holidays are coming – half term for some in the UK, and Thanksgiving and Christmas not far behind.  I expect a lot of reading will get done.         

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Newsletter 1 November 2015

At work this month and much of last month I’ve been involved with two colleagues in getting a lot of paperwork ready for a review of our programmes. In my case Drama and Creative Writing and English and Drama. This process is called PPRR – Periodic Programme Review and Reapproval. It’s been a lot of work and I’ve done quite a bit at weekends – that’s the only time I’ve found the brain space.

There have been three really positive sides to this however:
  1. We’ve been able to scrutinize our programmes closely and we’ve brought in several changes as part of the process. Changes that we think will make to our programmes even stronger.
  2. One of our strengths we’ve always believed has been how well our programmes integrate. As we go through this process, we’re become even more convinced.
  3. I’ve been able to work really closely with my two colleagues whose programmes are going through the same process.
The down side of it has been that I’ve got less writing done than usual. Today I get back to it.  But eh oh: look what I’m actually writing about ….       

Friday, 9 October 2015

Positive Thinking for Writers



I always say of writing that “you can do it if you really want to but it’s a big ‘if’.” It can seem a little ludicrous sometimes. You spend hours and days on something that may never be read by someone else. You may never really feel that you earn enough from the writing to justify spending more time on it. Even those who do become rich and famous often have a long hard slog before that happens. So IF we’re to battle on we need to stay positive. Yes, it’s a very big IF.

Friday, 2 October 2015

September 2015 Newsletter

It’s that time of year again. We had our induction week at the university last week. It’s always good to meet the new first years and to welcome back returning second and third years. This year there were very few who didn’t come to the event. Most of them also seem to have logged on to our Virtual Learning Environment, Blackboard, have used their student email and have accessed the library.

I’ve particularly enjoyed teaching my first lecture and my first seminar – on Introduction to Children’s Literature. I really enjoy that interaction with the students and the material.    

Friday, 18 September 2015

Writer’s Retreat


It’s beginning to feel like a lifetime ago but it’s actually only just three weeks since I went on a writer’s retreat at the lovely Retreatsfor You location in Sheepwash, Devon. Host Debs and Rob really make you feel welcome. We were truly pampered. The meals were fabulous, with delicious food and the company and good conversation of other writers, the rooms comfortable and conducive to writing and particularly lovely was the glass of wine delivered at 6.00 p.m. to your desk. It was cosy too, sitting by the log fire. 


Thursday, 17 September 2015

Pushing Boundaries, Flying Higher: writing and reading the young adult novel



9 April, 2013 The University of Salford 
Arguably the young adult novel has always existed as has the young adult though neither were recognised or named until recently. As we moved into the 21st century there was an explosion in the number of young adult novels being read and written. This conference explores the nature of this energetic novel form and asks writers, readers, academics, educationalists, those who work with young people and other interested parties the following questions of the young adult novel:         
Who are its readers?
What is its nature?
Which are its themes?
What does it look like now?
How is it written?
Why does it exist?
Will it endure?  
What will it look like in the future?
What of the New Adult novel?
Proposals for papers, presentations and workshops are invited on any of the above themes and other subjects related to them. Sessions should be twenty to ninety minutes long. Please send proposals as a 200 word abstract and a 50 word bio to g.james1@salford.ac.uk  by 31 January 2016.    
For further information, please contact Gill James on 0161 295 6792 or g.james1@salford.ac.uk

Monday, 31 August 2015

Newsletter August 2015

The view form my window
I’m still buzzing form a writer’s retreat I’ve just come from ate Retreats for You. I was there with two colleagues, the mum of one of them and my very good friend and business partner Debz Hobbs-Wyatt. I shall write a much more detailed account of this later on my blog.
I will say straight away, though, that we were very well looked after. It felt as if our right to write was honoured. Okay, so yes, we have to pay for the visit, but the price was extremely reasonable for what we got.
I’d intended to try to do about four hours a day and then do some other things – like marketing.  In the end, though I did do much more writing: about seven hours a day. I even managed about four hours each way on the journey there and back.  And there was time too to socialise over meals and the six-o-clock glass of wine. There was even time for a few walks in the pretty

surrounding countryside.
Normally, I slow right down after the first couple of hours. This time, though, I managed to go at full strength. I wonder whether it was because I knew four other people were also writing?          

Books and short stories  

I’ve now completed the ninth edit of Girl in a Smart Uniform and have just started the tenth. This means that the very important but relatively easy dialogue edit has been completed. This really helps the novel to come along. It’s beginning to become solid. I’m now culling quite a bit of the description.       
I’m steaming ahead with the chapter on war in my book on children’s literature. Naturally I’ve included Lines in the Sand. Michael Morpurgo and Michael Foreman feature a lot in this chapter as one might imagine. I’ll also be writng about Elizabeth Laird and Beverly Naidoo who both set stories in troubled part soft the world. In writing this chapter I’ve become more aware that there are some children for whom war is a part of normal life. They have never known life without war.     
I’m very pleased to have got two more stories accepted on the Cut a Long Story siteAccess Denied and  Extra Dimensions. This happened the same week as I was sent the proofs of The Best of CafeLit 4 in which I have a short story and a piece of flash memoir.
I’m still I’m getting a lot of visits to my Spooking Facebook page. I still wonder why. Is it affecting sales?       
   

Bridge House

We’ve almost finished editing the stories for the Snowflakes. I’m busy now putting a book trailer together. This is always good fun. We’ve started looking at covers.
Don’t forget we’re already planning the celebration in London. Note for your diary: 5 December. Those writers in the anthology will be given first refusal on tickets. The CafeLit4 people will follow, then other Bridge House and CafeLit writers and finally anyone. We’re hoping to get between 50 and 100 people there. We’re making the event free this time but there will be a cash bar. There will be books on sale, too – Snowflakes and The Best of CafeLit 4. There will also be a few other Bridge House titles on sale.


CafeLit

Remember, we’re always open to submissions. Find out how here. We’ve now put together The Best of CafeLit 4. This is currently being proof read. It will be a slightly slimmer volume than usual; this time we have more pieces of flash fiction. Our 100-worders are in fact very popular.    


Creative Café

We’re always looking for new cafés. I’ve now added some resources for café owners. We’re also continuing to look for reviews of existing cafés. If you visit one of the cafés in the project and would lie to write a review of between 250 and 350 – nice, too to have a couple of pictures – query via the contact form.     

School Visits

As I said last month, I am now limiting my school visit to these associated with The House on Schellberg Street project. I’m still offering visits on this for a donation towards the project. I’ve devised a whole interactive workshop for this. It would be a real asset for any school teaching the Holocaust at Key Stage 3. Even if a school can’t afford a donation, I’d be happy to run the project.
Query for a school visit via the contact form.

The Red Telephone

I’m just finishing what I hope are the final edits on Kathy Dunn’s The Demon Magician. We’ve now set a release date for 31 October. We’re currently looking at covers.   
There will be a new call for submissions once this has gone to print which shouldn’t be too long now.
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 full price will be. Again, we’ll be guided by our current clients. Find out more here.      

Looking Forward

I’ve now booked for the NAWE conference in November, where I’ll be delivering a session on Build a Book in An Hour and a Quarter. This is based on the school workshop that I do on Build a Book in a Day. The emphasis here though will be on kick-starting inspiration for adult writers, coupled with a knowledge that the work will get out there.
Then the following week I’m off the SCBWI –BI conference in Winchester. This will be a little like going home. I did my MA in Writing for Children there. At this conference I’ll just sit back and listen though I shall be looking for copy for Network News in Words and Pictures.         
There’s another conference in November as well. Three weekends running ….! Gulp. Booking hotels and trains is actually quite stressful at times but I’m more and more reluctant to drive these days. I find train journeys good for getting work done.
SCBWI North West has plenty of activity, too. We’re at the Imperial War Museum next Saturday and as well as critiquing, we’ll be looking at self-publishing. Then we have a visit form the Skylark agency at the end of the month.
Being a writer certainly does not mean being lonely.  
 

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Kaffee und Kuchen for Writers



Kaffee und Kuchen – that very delightful late afternoon German habit. Sumptuous cakes or something a little more modest like apple cake or cheese cake and good coffee.  Plus some engaging conversation and a feeling of celebration.  
Cake, anyway, seems to be a leitmotif with me:
·         I love making them
·         When I was a language teacher one of my line managers always used to provide chocolate cake for our department meetings.
·         I often provide cake for my team meetings.  
·         My creative writing colleagues at the university like a good piece of cake and one of our favourite activities is repairing to a nearby cake shop to try out the wares.
·         A choir to which I belong offers good cake as well as good singing to its audiences and serves it up with tea at every rehearsal.     
·         Afternoon tea, including cake, is my favourite form of celebration.
·         Not to forget the Creative Café Project

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Newsletter July 2015

We spent a couple of weeks in Lanzarote and we were without the internet for much of that time. We were supposed to have free WiFi and we did – it’s just that it was rarely connected to the net and when it was, it wasn’t really strong enough to upload and download.  Even the email gave up after a short while. This was all actually rather liberating. One can live without being online all the time – for a short while at least.
As usual, whilst on holiday I did a lot of reading and some writing. I also acquired lots of ideas for new stories.
We visited the house and library of José Saramago. I envied him the house and the library and his daily routine. He would write in his study or in the library, then swim in his pool, finally sitting for a while on his special chair in the garden, looking down to the sea. I want that house. I want that life-style.
The study
The library



People would often call at the house and because the intercom to the door didn’t work properly, he’d invite them into his kitchen where he would make them Portuguese coffee. We were offered this too and were able to sit on his beautiful terrace to enjoy it and the view.
I’ve not yet read any of his work but I intend to soon. It’s just my type of thing and not too dissimilar from my shorts about the near future.
He went on to be a Nobel Prize winner. Hmm. Thinks.

The terrace

 

Books and short stories  

I’ve now completed the sixth edit Girl in a Smart Uniform and am about to start the seventh, where I’ll look at the conflict and tension balance. Yes, there must be tension but I must also allow my readers to relax a little sometimes. The novel is coming along. I’m toying with putting all of the bits about her older brother in one section, as a flash back. I’m not sure, though. I may run this past my critique group and eventual beta readers.       
My second chapter for my non-fiction book proposal is now finished. I’m about to start a third on war in children’s literature. I’m quite looking forward to getting my teeth into this. I’ll be including some classics and looking at the latest offerings.  
I’m continuing to write short stories and flash fiction. I’m not really getting them out there enough but I am a little. I keep a “traffic light” spread sheet of where I’ve submitted.  Green means it’s been accepted. Amber means it can be submitted. Red means it’s out somewhere and we’re waiting. I’m quite pleased to report that half of my works are green and the rest are half red and half amber. Obviously, we really want all green but at least it’s mainly older works (perhaps ones that won’t ever make it?) that are amber. One shouldn’t really have any ambers.  Everything should either be accepted or awaiting approval, so green or amber. I do reedit in between rejections, so I guess there’s always hope.
I’m rather intrigued that I’m getting a lot of visits to my Spooking Facebook page. I wonder why. Will it lead to more sales?        
   

Bridge House

We’re now into editing the stories for the Snowflakes anthology. All of the EDIT 1’s have gone out and handful of people have returned them. I’ve already four stories in FINAL, so I’m feeling quite pleased.
Don’t forget we’re already planning the celebration in London. Note for your diary: 5 December. Those writers in the anthology will be given first refusal on tickets. The CafeLit4 people will follow, then other Bridge House and CafeLit writers and finally anyone. We’re hoping to get between 50 and 100 people there.  
 

CafeLit

Remember, we’re always open to submissions. Find out how here.

 

Creative Café

We’re always looking for new cafés. I’ve now added some resources for café owners.
 

School Visits

I’m actually calling a halt to these for the moment, for reasons that I won’t go into here. I’m hoping to work with schools in a different way shortly. All will become apparent in a few months’ time.
The one exception is The House on Schellberg Street project. I’m still offering visits on this for a donation towards the project. I’ve devised a whole interactive workshop for this. It would be a real asset for any school teaching the Holocaust at Key Stage 3. Even if a school can’t afford a donation, I’d be happy to run the project.
Here’s some further news about the Schellberg project.
Query for a school visit via the contact form on the web site.

 

The Red Telephone

I’ve just finished the edits on Kathy Dunn’s The Demon Magician.
There will be a new call for submissions once this has gone to print which shouldn’t be too long now.

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 full price will be. Again, we’ll be guided by our current clients. Find out more here.      
 

Looking Forward

At the end of this month I’ve booked on to a writing retreat with colleagues Judy Kendall and Ursula Hurley, Ursula’s mum and my good friend and business partner Debz Hobbs-Wyatt. We’re looking forward to being pampered.   
I’ve now booked for the NAWE conference in November, where I’ll be delivering a session on Build a Book in An Hour and a Quarter. This is based on the school workshop that I do on Build a Book in a Day. The emphasis here though will be on kick-starting inspiration for adult writers, coupled with a knowledge that the work will get out there.
Then the following week I’m off the SCBWI –BI conference in Winchester. This will be a little like going home. I did my MA in Writing for Children there. At this conference I’ll just sit back and listen though I shall be looking for copy for Network News in Words and Pictures.         
There’s another conference in November as well. Three weekends running ….! Gulp. Booking hotels and trains is actually quite stressful at times but I’m more and more reluctant to drive these days. I find train journeys good for getting work done.
SCBWI North West has plenty of activity, too.
Who said being a writer meant being lonely?
 

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Narrative balance: brush strokes



I've been talking and writing a a lot recently about what I call 'narrative balance'. This is a balance of the components of prose: description, action, dialogue, other forms (e.g. letter, emails, texts) and exposition. Hopefully there is very little of the latter and prose writers should be able to show their readers, rather than merely describe, the scenes they hold in their heads.
At all times the plot must move forward. Pace and tension must be maintained. Economic writing allows these parts that make up a narrative balance to be multifunctional.
There is no formula nor theory about how these parts can or should balance. It is something that the writer knows instinctively rather in the same way that experienced artists add brushstrokes to their paintings. A touch of dialogue here, a little action there and maybe even the odd bit of telling from time to time. The latter is certainly a very advanced skill; we are told to 'show not tell'.
I've been writing seriously now for 17 years and this is something I've only recently become aware of. Now I look for it in books I read  and in the work of my students. I try to assess it in my own work. I've recently defined it as a creative writing skull.