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.

***

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.

For The Kids!

So, last Tuesday I did something I’d not done in too long. I ran a workshop for children. That’s the kind of thing I used to do an awful lot of when I wrote for children, but when I changed to short stories (ver much) for adults I stopped. I think I probably thought I wasn’t qualified anymore. But, when I discussed the idea with a nearby library I jumped at the chance. I realised I missed it.

 

And on Tuesday, it happened. It was the first I’d done since 2008, if memory serves, and I loved it. It was great fun, the children who came were great, their stories were great, and everyone ended up leaving after achieving something and with a smile on their faces.

 

And as a result we’re now looking at turning it into a regular thing. An after school club, probably bi-monthly, for over 7’s (though all ages above are welcome) with a view to producing an actual printed book at the end of the term. If you’re in the Macclesfield area and fancy it, or would like more details when they’re available, then drop me a line by using the form on this page. Places are limited because I want to be able to give a decent amount of attention to everyone there. Give me a shout if you think you might be interested!

Five Things About My Next Book

I’ve been busy over the past couple of weeks with edits on my next book, Beautiful Trees, so, now they’re done, it seems the right time to do the 5 Things About Your Next Book thingy that Helen Krionas, Dolly Garland, and Dan Purdue have all tagged me in.

But before I do, there have been other things I’ve been busy with too. Editing has taken up a lot of my time, as has running my flash/short fiction online course (there’s still a space or two if anyone’s interested). I’ve been preparing for tomorrow’s children’s workshop, and I’ve had a birthday (which, thankfully, passed without incident). So, yes busy, but fun.

So, Beautiful Trees…

 

1 It’s the second in the Beautiful trilogy and picks up where the last book left off, continuing Lily, Alexander, and Lucy’s journey only this time, instead of telling it through significant words, it’s told through trees.

 

2 Like Beautiful Words, there are facts in there too. I’ll not reveal too much but one thing I did learn that surprised me, was that some trees can communicate with each other.

 

3 It’s definitely not a write what you know book, which has been a really cool change from what I usually. Researching before I wrote the stories was fun.

 

4 There are a couple of birds in my trees. Well, there would be, wouldn’t there?

 

5 It’s illustrated, like the last one, by Miranda Sofroniou. And the illustrations are, in my humble and biased opinion, stunning. They look a little like this:

cherry

And there you have it. I’ll not tag anyone myself, but if you feel you’d like to share then let me know.

Children’s Writing Workshop

So, on Tuesday 5th August I’m running a writing workshop for children. It’s for children aged 7 and up and will only cost £2. I’m looking forward to it very much. I used to run an awful lot of workshops for children when I wrote for them but since switching to writing things for adults I’ve not really done any (I think the last one was back in 2008). So, yes. I’m looking forward to it. It will be fun. Places are limited so it’s probably best to book early, and you can do so here.

 

workshoppic

Better Late Than Never

So, I’ve been a little quiet on here of late. Mostly because I’ve been busy. But I’ve managed to shift a mountain of work from my desk/computer and now I’m a little freer I’d like to point you in a couple of cool directions.

 

First, the winner and shortlisted mini-flash collections, from the Bookimbo competition I judged, are now available. They’re very lovely indeed and you can check them out here. Watch out for an interview with the winner, right here, very soon.

 

Second, National Flash Fiction Day happened a little while ago and the anthology to celebrate it is available here. There’s a story of mine in it. Doesn’t it look good?

nffd

And that’s about it for now. More soon…

Carys Competition Time!

The lovely and very talented Carys Bray has a new book out. A novel, and it sounds excellent. So, as she’s lovely and talented  I’m thrilled to have her back on the blog to talk about it. And as if that’s not enough, leave a comment and you could get your hands on a signed copy. Over to Carys…

 

 

Nik has invited me to his blog to talk about my debut novel A Song for Issy Bradley which was published on 19th June – thank you, Nik! Here’s a little bit about the book:
This is the story of what happens when Issy Bradley dies. 
It’s the story of Ian – husband, father, maths teacher and Mormon bishop – and his unshakeable belief that everything will turn out all right if he can only endure to the end, like the pioneers did. It’s the story of his wife Claire’s lonely wait for a sign from God and her desperate need for life to pause while she comes to terms with what’s happened.

It’s the story of the agony and hope of Zippy Bradley’s first love. The story of Alma Bradley’s cynicism and reluctant bravery. And it is the story of seven-year-old Jacob. His faith is bigger than a mustard seed, probably bigger than a toffee bonbon and he’s planning to use it to mend his broken family with a miracle.
A Song for Issy Bradley is a novel about family, but it’s also about faith, doubt and miracles – things that have always interested me. I was raised in a Mormon family. As a child I spent many hours in church meetings, listening as the adults told miraculous stories from the scriptures and everyday life. Many of the miracles were decidedly prosaic – the finding of lost car keys and fortuitous encounters in Asda – but others were startling and marvellous. In a particularly memorable tale, a Mormon Elder was said to have commanded a dead man to rise, and the man sat up and explained that the life had come back into him like a blanket unrolling. I loved these stories, they made the world a magical place. And as I wrote the novel as I revisited many of them.

I never expected my little book to find a big publisher. As a result I’ve been very uncool (i.e incredibly excited) at pretty much every stage of the publication process. It was exciting to see the book for the first time – it has a beautiful cover, really lovely end pages and, without its jacket, it is red, my favourite colour. It was exciting to read a blog about how the cover was developed. It was exciting to read lovely blurbs and kind reviews. And it was extremely exciting to see A Song for Issy Bradley posters up at various tube stations when I visited London last week. I wandered around the underground with a slightly inane grin on my face (it’s possible that I’m still wearing the inane grin, a whole week later). It is also exciting to visit Nik’s long-established blog and talk about my very first novel – thank you so much for having me, Nik!
If you’d like a chance to win a signed copy of A Song for Issy Bradley, comment at the end of this post and I’ll pick a winner within a week or two.

Catching Up

I finished the latest draft of the work in progress yesterday (it feels almost done, which is a great situation to be in) so most of my time since has been/will be dedicated to catching up on things I’ve meant to have done already. I’ve a huge pile of emails I need to attend to and there are a few things that need writing, so they’ll be done very soon.

 

In the meantime, here’s what Bookmunch had to say about Beautiful Words.

 

I think this is my favourite line from the review: ‘It’s hard to argue with a book that picks the word ‘fuck’ as its most beautiful F word.’ Indeed. Who am I to argue?

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