Friday, 25 November 2016

Latest Articles in Writing Magazine

AS we're now heading scarily fast towards December (and next month's issue of Writing Magazine is already available on bookstands and online), I might as well give a heads-up in case I forget later.

First, my latest Beginners piece, 'Turn to the Dark Side', deals with giving your characters some rough edges. That means your heroes, not merely the villains.

You often hear actors say that slightly dubious or downright bad characters are the most fun to play. Well, the same is true when writing them; you need to get some fun out of your writing, and giving them that little extra to make them stand out can help you do that.

It helps to make sure your characters on either side of the fence are not unremittingly the same all the way through. A little moral looseness - even vulnerability - helps them become real, as does an occasional touch of humour, especially the dark kind.

'Good' characters with a bit of 'rough' about them can be exciting to write, too, because you can play with this extra facet and make them far more than one-dimensional.


My New Author profile this month is Jules Grant, whose debut 'We Go Around in the Night and are Consumed by Fire' was published by Myriad Editions in April.

Depicting the lives of an all-female street gang in Manchester, and written by a former barrister who knows the area well, it was, in Jules' own words, 'great fun to write', reflecting what I said in the Beginners article above.

Available on Amazon here.


Monday, 21 November 2016

Writing for Beginners (22)

Believe in YOU.

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

It’s not unusual for people meeting famous writers they admire to say afterwards something like, ‘He/ she was so ordinary!’

Now, whether there was a suspicion beforehand that said famed author might have a spare head tucked under their arm, or a silicon chip in place of a brain, I’m never sure. Ten to one it means the author was found to be surprisingly genial and down-to-earth, rather than so far up themselves light couldn’t penetrate the surrounding darkness.

Ego – or lack of one – aside, it helps to reflect that successful writers (and how you measure success depends on you) are, for the most part, ordinary people. They breath the same as everyone else, they survive the same daily rigours of life and,  as my sainted old dad used to say about VIPs, they have to get out of the bath for a pee, the same as the rest of us.

So what’s so special, then, that gets these other people published?

Let’s ignore for the sake of our blood pressure, the celebrity writer. It’s a fact of modern life, and pointless getting too worked up about people cashing in – or being shown how to cash in on their supposed fame by a smart agent/PR expert. It’s like saying, ‘If only I’d been born taller/thinner/blonder/smarter/faster than I am.’ (tick whichever is applicable).

It didn’t happen, so suck it up.

(Actually, if I may confess a childhood wish here, I always wanted to be 6’2” tall. Don’t ask me why – well, okay, I’ll tell you why: my fictional hero, Simon ‘The Saint’ Templar was that height, so I figured, why not? Of course it was nonsense; but when you’re only eight years old and 3’ 6” on a bucket, it’s allowed. Did I hang like a bat from doorways in the vain hope that I’d stretch a bit? I tried it once, but succeeded in ripping the beading off the doorframe. The resultant lecture from my father convinced me that there are only certain things you can change. And ruining a perfectly good doorframe wasn’t going to work.

In other words, you have to make the most of what you’ve got.

In writing, success in getting published is usually down to luck, hard work, persistence and producing what the market wants. But it also needs a hefty measure of self-belief.

I know a couple of people who will never drive a car as long as there are spots in front of their eyes. It’s not because they’re dim-witted or have the coordination of a mud puddle; it’s because they simply don’t believe they can do it. Yet those same two people do all manner of other things in life without a second thought, purely because in their subconscious, they think – or assume – they can. No doubts, no lingering fears – they get on with it.

Looking up at successful authors and thinking ‘I couldn’t do that’, can prove a real problem for some people. Lump on top of that all the other fears and self-doubts we’re prone to from time to time, and it might become almost insurmountable.

But there are certain things you can do to put yourself in the right ballpark.

Write for the market. Recognising that there are things you can write which will probably never be published is one thing. In other words, produce what the market wants, thereby getting your foot on the ladder and building a track record. If, once you’re there, you want to take a punt on writing something outside the mainstream, that’s your choice. But you have to get your foot in the door first.

Be professional in your attitude and approach. Mavericks who write in green ink on both sides of the paper, then insist on phoning an editor the day after posting the manuscript to see if they’ve syndicated the idea around the English-speaking world without telling the author, are prone to disappointment. And yes, they do exist. Freelance writing is like any other job: treat it seriously and professionally, and the approach will usually be reciprocated. It still doesn’t guarantee publication, but at least you’ll be closer than otherwise. The alternative is like turning up for the office party wearing a creepy smile and a suit made of cling-film; it won’t get you asked back.

Be prepared to write to order. Most writers try all manner of things along the way, be it poetry, short fiction, articles, comedy material or books. Much of it is to find out what they can or cannot do; others do it because they like to vary their output.

Don’t be precious. Be prepared to accept criticism. Yes, it’s your baby and you’ve spilled blood getting every creative word on paper. But if an editor says they want changes, be prepared to consider it and, if reasonable, do it. It might be the only chance you get.

Keep writing. Writing one story and sitting back to wait for results is a sure-fire way of getting old and disappointed. Write another, then another. Submit them and if they come back, review them and send them out to someone else. Activity breeds results and inspires more ideas.

Assume that everything is possible. Don’t even give a moment’s thought to doubt – or doubters. Nobody can guarantee you success, no more than added height, brains or beauty. But neither should you promote obstacles for yourself by thinking ‘I can’t do that.’


·       Be professional – turn in the best work you can.
·       Don’t try to cut corners.
·       Don’t be precious about your work - be prepared to make changes if asked.
·       Study the market and follow any guidelines.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Latest Article in Writing Magazine

November's issue of Writing Magazine is called 'Burning up with Ideas'. That's less to do with feverish brain activity on the part of the writer (although there is that), but more to do with stumbling on some renewed ideas while having a clear-out.

Not normally one to throw any of my past writing efforts away, in the hope that something old and near-forgotten may strike a fresh spark of brilliance, I decided to do just that with a hefty mound of manuscripts and a couple of matches. Not one to do things by half, I also reached for a bottle of fire-starter liquid.

No, I didn't suffer any degree of burns - nice of you to worry - but I did pause occasionally to read some of the stuff I was dumping in the flames. In fact what should have been a quick burn-up became a lengthy process alternating between wincing at some of my more pedestrian efforts and wondering how I'd managed to write something I was pleased with. (In fact some of the manuscripts have been published, so it wasn't all failure).

The upshot was, seeing snatches of the unpublished paragraphs in passing, I found some of them stuck, even found their way into my pocket for future reading. And that's the way of writing: all you need is a brief prompt and you're away on the chase for a new story.

One practical thing I did learn (mainly a timing thing brought about by the sound of a police siren approaching the area where I live), is the time it takes to burn a pile of A4 paper. Forget about a quick flash and a pile of ashes; paper doesn't burn that easily. So if you have a character anxious to dispose of some damning evidence before the cops arrive, get them to plan ahead or get caught in the process.

Happy writing!