Paper Talk

One of my lovely neighbours caught me in the entrance hall yesterday to tell me I’d been mentioned in the local paper. The article’s not really about me at all of course, it’s about Jenny Martin, a writer I’ve taught for a little while now. More importantly it’s about her brilliant collection of war poems, Aftermath (click here to buy) with a foreword by the magic Dame Vera Lynn. And here’s the article. Apologies for the poor quality.

JennyMaccExpress

Teaching And Stuff

Yesterday was the last session of the children’s writing course I’ve been running. Six children, eight weeks, lots of fun and lots of hard work and, at the end, six brilliant stories that I’m now going to be turning into six little books. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it, mostly I think, because I had a great bunch. There’s a chance I’ll be putting them up online so, if you’re interested, watch this space.

And I’ll be doing it all again, starting January 20th, half past four until five. If anyone’s interested then give either me a shout, or get in touch with Bollington library.

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There are also a few spaces free for my online short fiction course. And, because I’m a generous kind of chap, from now until the end of December, it’ll only cost you £89. Give me a shout if you’re interested.

And don’t forget, I’m still here to edit short stories from £20. Let me know if you need any help.

October

It’s been a while since I’ve been on here, and I’m sorry about that. I’ve been busy (as you’ll see) in a good way and I’ve not really had much to say and I think that when that’s the case it’s better not to try to pad things out. Same as writing.

So autumn’s definitely settled in. And the clocks have gone back. And that’s all reminded me why this is my favourite time of the year. It always feels slightly more magical when there are leaves on the ground, all different colours and crisp, and just asking to be kicked up. With (occasional) bright, cool days. Before the wet and the sleet of the winter arrive. And, of course there’s Halloween. I actually think that I should make Halloween my Christmas. There’s an awful lot less stress, it’s fun and a bit magic, and the decorations, I think, are far better. Pumpkins and skulls and cobwebs and trick or treaters beat tinsel hands down in my book. I’m even going to shun my usual grumpiness and go to a Halloween party, with costumes and everything, for the first time in my life. I think I’m going through a period of transition.

And on the subject of Halloween…

Last week I judged the Poised Pen’s Halloween Flash Fiction competition. And things like that are, despite the hard work and time demanded, always fun. You can see the short list here.

Huge congratulations to the winner, Jacki Donnellan, whose brilliant Jack’s True Story, took first prize. And an excellent story it was too. And it contained at least one pumpkin.

Congratulations too, to C Connolly and to David Shakes, whose stories, The Lament of Eva Keena, and Ferryman, took second and third prize respectively.

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And yesterday I was at the local radio station, Canalside, with someone who’s been both a friend and a student of mine for a good few years. Jenny’s collection of poems aftermathand short stories, Aftermath, is available now (with all proceeds going to the Poppy Appeal). The station recorded me reading some of the poems from the book for Jenny to be played in the run-up to Remembrance Sunday and, if I can, I’ll see if I can get hold of the files and pop them up here. They really are very good.

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And, with it being half term, this is the first time in, I think, five weeks, where I’ll not be running my children’s writing group. It’s been hard but it’s been tons of fun too. It’s  a lovely and heartening thing to see people not only genuinely excited by writing, but able to produce some really great stuff too. I’m glad I’m doing it.

So, yeah. Busy in a good way.

And that’s about it, I think, for now.

Merry Halloween!

This Week

This week’s been pretty good. Busy, but good. Far more people than I’d expected liked what I had to say on here on Tuesday – thanks so much for all the lovely comments and shares. It’s cool to be able to help.

On Tuesday I taught, as usual. But before the usual writing class I held the first after school writing group for children. And it was an awful lot of fun and reminded me, again, how much I’ve missed working with children. It’s good. And they’re a really good bunch, which helps a lot.

Between sessions, as I disappeared for some fresh air, I thought I’d discovered a hummingbird. In Cheshire. It was this little chap, and it turns out that it wasn’t, in fax, a hummingbird (which is a shame – I could have been famous) but a hummingbird moth. It’s one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a long time. (There’s a video, in case you’re interested, over on my Facebook page but it’s too big for here.)

moth

And yesterday, I baked. Not done that in a few months but a good cause in the Macmillan Coffee Morning brought me out of my baking semi-retirement.

Here’s proof.

baking

And here’s the result.

muffins

Things I’ve Learned

Next Monday my first book will have been out for eight years. That means that I’ll have been an official, published, author for that length of time. Which will also mean that I’m getting old. It’s also over eight years since I ran my first writing workshop – that happened in the May of 2006. I’m not usually one to give unsolicited advice and I’m certainly not famous or super-successful, but I thought that, being as I’ve been doing this a while (eight years, a whole bunch of short stories published in some very fine places, as well as four books out with another two to come in the coming months) that I’d share a bit about what I’ve learned.

1 Don’t take all the advice you read as gospel. I’ve seen plenty of advice, in magazines and on the internet, and I’d say probably 80% isn’t worth listening to. Not that it’s bad. Whoever’s written it (no matter their qualifications or publication history) will, no doubt, mean it. And it’s stuff that works for them. But there’s your problem, folks. They’re not you. You need to find what works for you. Experiment. Try different methods. Lose the ones that don’t give you results and keep the ones that do. It’s product that matters, not process.

2 Don’t rush. Unless you’re on deadline or doing something for a themed competition there’s absolutely no rush. Agents, editors, and publishers have enough to read (and publish et al) so it won’t bother them when the next Harry Potter reaches them. And you can, and should, use that to your advantage. Take your time. Give your stories time to cook. Give your ideas (the ingredients to your story recipe) time to ripen. Make them the best they can be. Spend time editing. A lot. Trust your stories and your own judgement. And then give them the best next Harry Potter they could have dreamed of.

3 Don’t take rejection to heart. It’s NOT personal. Here’s a fact (and I know this because I’ve judged competitions and edited for mags): GOOD STORIES, PUBLISHABLE STORIES, GET REJECTED. And for a whole bunch of reasons. Often, it’s simply because an editor will have slightly preferred something else or have already chosen or recently published something similar. If you’re rejected, go through it again, see if it can be improved, and send it back out. Or not. Because…

4 Some stories are shit. Some stories simply don’t work. Some wonderful ideas don’t make good stories, for some reason – we don’t know why. I may have been published in some great places, had collections out etc, but I know that I still write some stinkers. It’s okay. So do most people. Don’t forget that nothing’s wasted. Sometimes you try and you fail. Sometimes that thing you were going to write doesn’t work but turns into something better. Sometimes that good idea will be percolating while we’re writing something that won’t work. And who’s to say that you can’t go back to it later? Your story, you’re in control.

5 Being published does not make you a better writer. Sure, it can give you credibility, and money. And it certainly acts as a confidence booster that someone’s prepared to invest their money in your work, and, if you’re lucky, that people buy it and enjoy it. But here’s the thing: the stories in, say, Not So Perfect were all written before they NSPcovercroppedcame out in that book. Them being in a book doesn’t make them, or me, better. That next Booker winner may be being edited as we speak by someone who’s never had anything published in their life, which is why it’s important, if you are lucky enough to be in print, to not look down on those who aren’t. That’s arrogance, and that doesn’t look good on many people.

6 That said, with being published comes scrutiny. Accept that not everyone will like what you write. Accept that people might not be interested in what you choose to do as a job. Also accept, because this kind of a job isn’t particularly a typical one, that people will want to ask you questions about it, so don’t moan when they do. Especially if they ask you if you’ve had anything published, or if you’re famous. Oh yeah, and just because they ask, don’t expect them to want to buy your book.

7 Please don’t ever tell anyone how they should interpret your work. You have no control over what they think. They’re their minds. All you can do is write the best story you can and leave it to them. Trust them. People are clever.

8 Be nice to people. Be humble. Don’t patronise. One, because writing and publishing is a pretty small circle – if you’re a dick to someone there’s a good chance you’ll come across them again. And two, because bad news travels fast. A silly reaction to a bad review or of someone taking an age to get back to you might make you look a bit silly. And unprofessional. And don’t forget, folks, that this is a profession. (It could, of course, also ruin your career. Be careful. Be professional.)

9 Write YOUR stories YOUR way. Because what makes them special is YOU. That’s what sets them apart from the rest. That’s what makes them different. Experiment. Have fun. Enjoy the process (even when it gets difficult, which it often will, and should). Be yourself. That’s how you find your voice.

10 Take it seriously. I’ve already touched on this but you should really treat it as a job. That means doing the admin, when necessary. Being careful what you say on social media etc. That means BACKING UP.

11 But not TOO seriously. For me, for example, forcing myself to write every day just doesn’t work. While I accept that it works splendidly for loads of others, I don’t like to have that pressure and, more importantly, I dislike the idea of writing for the sake of it. When you’ve got something to write work damned hard on it, sure. But, for me, the best stuff’s the stuff that isn’t forced. Also – don’t let writing consume you. There are other important things in life. Family, lovers, friends, walks, cake. Often, the best ideas hit you when you’re not expecting them.

12 Never forget that it’s the writing that’s the most important thing. And by that I mean it shouldn’t matter where you live or who you know. Publishers and magazines want good writing because that’s what the public want and what they buy. The writing should speak for itself. I’m not denying that moving to London, for example, will give you the chance to network and mingle, to go to events and to share your work at readings etc, but living somewhere else ain’t the end of the world.

13 Read!

14 And I think that’s about it for now. There are probably loads of things I’ve missed out or forgotten. I may add to this list if something else pops into my head. In the meantime – keep writing. Keep believing. Don’t give up. And have fun.

15 Lastly – see number 1.

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And, as an aside, my online short fiction course is still, until the end of the month, only £89. Click for the details.

Things and A Special Offer

So, it’s been a little while since I blogged. And, mostly, it’s because I’ve been busy with things that aren’t all that interesting. Editing mostly. Working on Beautiful Trees (which’ll be out pretty soon). That kind of thing.

This week, for the first time in I don’t know how long, I’ve been able to have a few consecutive days writing. My stuff. And it’s been good. Hard work, but good and it’s feeling like progress has been made. I actually finished a first draft of the thing after the next things so I’m feeling a little bit smug.

And amongst all of that I was at Bollington library on Tuesday to present the awards to the children who’d completed the Summer Reading Challenge (six books over the summer holidays) which was great. It’s a brilliant idea and it works. To have over 140 in a place that’s not all that big is tremendous and encouraging.

And talking of children… I’ve agreed to run an after school children’s writing group, starting in a couple of weeks – if you want any details get in touch by using the form here.

And talking of forms and that page – a reminder that I’m still doing short story editing work (from £20).

And, last, as it’s beck to school time I thought it might be cool to have a little special offer. For the rest of the month, if you sign up for my online short fiction course, you can have it for £89. You’re welcome.

And that, I think, is about that.

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