Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Short fiction isn't dead.

I used to write short stories - lots of them. Most of them were in the relationship/romance genre because in the UK (way before the internet age) there wasn't much of a market for my preferred stories, which were crime/thrillers.

Thankfully, I found a niche selling my stories to women's magazine in the UK and overseas, and did so successfully for a number of years. Actually, although crime stories weren't usually sought after back then (in fact 'nothing below the chin' was the unwritten rule, which included any violence or bad language), I did manage to slip the occasional cosy crime past the editors. This was all while trying to get a book deal.. which I finally managed to do.
                                                                                                            
But I've never lost sight of writing short fiction, because that was my apprenticeship, the learning curve of writing to a market, a word-count and - certainly for the magazines - a style.

Like I said, nothing below the chin.

BUT... I did manage to put out some darker stuff, to assuage my desire to get down to the gritty. And one of these stories came back to me just a few days ago, when, thanks to J. Kingston Pierce's RAP SHEET - required reading for every crime and thriller fan - I learned that a US e-zine I'd sold a story a few years ago is still alive and kicking.

Plots With Guns, it's called, and it does what it says on the tin. Don't expect kittens and cosies because that isn't their style. You can find my story in the archives from March 2010, called 'Shooting Fish'. And it features a spear-gun. Chowk!

I'm sure PWG won't mind me passing on the link so you can read this story. They deserve some attention, so if you like your fiction on the darker side of gritty, this is the place to go (although my story isn't really that dark. But be warned, PWG doesn't take prisoners).

With kind thanks to Rap Sheet and PWG for the use of their material.

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Saturday, 22 October 2016

Writing for Beginners (21)

So what have you done today…?

(Taken from my book 'Write On! - the Writer's Help Book' - Accent Press - p/b and ebook)


This may unnerve some writers, but I have to confess to a secret: I don’t write every single day. Well, I have a life to lead, too, and it has a habit of getting in the way sometimes. Take last week, for instance, when I put my foot through the ceiling while insulating the loft. Or maybe that’s best forgotten…

But, while I might not be actually writing, you won’t know what I’m thinking about. As my wife can testify, repeated calls from Earth to Planet Adrian often fail to penetrate the muggy wool of creative thought, no matter what I’m up to.

It’s said, Grasshopper, that every journey begins with the first step. Unfortunately, some journeys - in a writing sense, at least - never take place. Why? Because many writers never actually get round to doing what they’re dreaming of, which is writing.

‘If only I had time … ’ is one of the most repeated complaints one hears from would-be writers (and readers, sadly, which is quite scary). And nobody is doubting the relentless pull of work, family, relationships, DIY, chat-room, mobile phone, holidays and so on.
But who said you had to write a whole book in one sitting? Do you eat a whole year’s supply of food in one go? Do you paint the entire house in one day (especially when having to extricate your foot from the ceiling)?

I know setting goals can be boring, and I wouldn’t suggest anyone regiments their life to the extent that they constantly have their eyes on some kind of daily writing routine if it doesn't suit them. That can stifle creativity faster than a dose of migraine, and we all have enough routines to choke an elephant. But looking at a way of getting round that flurry of everyday activity which kills off any attempt at writing, it can be done realistically, if you have the willpower and desire.

A gentleman recently told me with absolute conviction: ‘I never have a minute to write – I only wish I did.’ He then went on to list all the things he had to do every day, which kept him on his feet and unable to pursue his love of writing. My suggestion was to use his time in the bathroom to greater effect.

I’m not sure he was too impressed by this. But if he really was as hectically busy as he implied, surely he owed it to himself to snatch at least a few minutes with a notepad – no matter where? If a man’s home really is his castle, then his bathroom must be not only the smallest, but the most private room in the house.

Conversely, a lady in a bookshop had a completely different attitude. She told me that whenever she managed to write something, no matter how brief, she felt a huge sense of achievement, even pride. She was also very busy, but managed to find and use little pockets in her day to good effect, even if it meant writing just the first line of a new story or sketching out a fresh scene which had suddenly occurred to her.

She was doing it rather than merely thinking about it.

Foot through ceilings notwithstanding, even when I’m working on other projects, I jot down ideas, take snatches of dialogue which sound appealing, and constantly think about what I’m currently working on or would like to work on next. In fact, if I were to check my IDEAS folder, I’d find stuff which will probably take me years to get round to… or maybe just a couple of days, because in there might be something that will fit in with a project I’m currently writing.

I liken it to chipping away at a large chunk of wood; eventually, I’ll have something recognisable which I can work on more fully and with more energy and focus, because the desire to do it will push me to get on with it.

And that’s the key: if you want to do something enough, you will manage it somehow. If you have that inner burn to write, that itch that won’t go away, especially when you pick up a good book or a short story and think you could do just as well, you will find a way. It may be a sentence here or a short piece of dialogue there; it might even be thinking of a name for a character, or a description. But those small, even minute achievements are not to be dismissed lightly. Because they will add up, and they will grow, as will your determination to make something of them, no matter how busy. And that’s a greater achievement. 

TOP TIPS

·        Snatch those pockets in your life (travelling, queuing, waiting – and yes, in the bathroom) to write something.
·        Got a scene in mind? Sketch it out in six words – you can flesh it out later.
·        Get a buzz from starting something – but don’t let it stop there.
·        Say ‘I’m writing’ - and mean it.
·        Go to sleep with a sense of achievement.

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Saturday, 1 October 2016

Latest articles in Writing Magazine

October's issue of Writing Magazine brings two pieces from me; one the usual Beginners page - 'Read Your Own Book' - the other a New Author profile.

As writers, reading our own work usually comes in the edit process, when we're looking for typos, bloopers or plain clunky writing that should never see the light of somebody else's day.

But how often do we read what we've written as a reader; that is to say without the editorial portion of our brain?

The main reason for doing this is to get a sense of how the book flows, where the peaks and troughs of action and emotion versus descriptive narrative are... effectively, what does the story feel like to an outsider.

You're doing this not for a sense of self-satisfaction, but to put yourself in place of an agent or editor (and ultimately, of course, a reader or few). It is they who will judge your writing, and you need to get an impression of how others will see it.

It's the acid test of all tests, and if you feel you can pass that, you'll be on your way to submitting your work with a lot more confidence.

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New Author profile - Mark Hardie

A writer who didn't allow a serious problem to stand in the way of his dreams of getting published is Mark Hardie, author of 'Burned and Broken' (Sphere - June 2016).

Most of us couldn't begin to imagine trying to write without being able to see. It's simply too huge. But not Mark. After losing his sight in 2002, he took a creative writing course... and the rest is history. But it wasn't that simple and reading the piece will give a tiny hint how he manages.

'Burned and Broken' is a crime thriller which uncovers the death of a policeman investigated by two colleagues. The force doesn't want anything revealed that will reflect badly in it, but the two cops involved have other ideas. Then they find that their dead colleague wasn't everything he was cracked up to be.

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