294 Words at a Time

Regular readers may be aware that a few weeks ago I submitted my work to the United Agents August Open House extravaganza fetival hullabaloo, wherein the absolutely huge agency ignored their usual policy and invited people to submit works in progress.

Suffice to say that excitement ensued, moreso when they pledged to reply to everyone that submitted, meaning that my humble little ramble would eventually end up on someone’s desk. It may have been the desk of the intern that makes tea for one of the junior readers’ assisstants of course. It may not even have been a desk, just an upturned mop bucket glued creatively to the wall of one of the cleaning cupboards to create an ad hoc flat surface. My work may not even have been placed on top of said improv bucketdesk but instead kind of put in a bin next to it. I don’t have any reason to suggest that United Agents were telling porky pies when they told me that absolutely everything would be read, but I do have an inkling of an idea how many works in progress there may be in the country and how long and how many people it might take to read all of them.

A lot. A lot is how many. Now while ‘a lot‘ may not be a particularly scientific measurement, I was not all together surprised when I received what is very obviously a generic rejection e-mail in response. Disheartened? Sure. Had I secretly believed that so blown away by my first three chapters would the tea maker to the junior reader’s assisstant be, that it would be put through the internal mail system from The Hudsucker to the boss’ desk and I would be rewarded the entirely fictitious and equally prestigious Davis Mann award for best intro ever and let into the secret club I’ve always suspected exists where they serve weird fruit smoothies that cure procrastination. Well, maybe a little.

Pictured; my work being sent upstairs, by Tim Robbins of course.

But, never mind. Rejection and more importantly responding to it positively is a huge part of this game, and always has been. So I set about finding some other industry types in whose general direction I could throw my work whilst wearing a waxy expression and consciosly trying to avoid looking desperate and sounding silly only to be told what I knew at the start of this little ramble, which is that no-one is interested in reading unfinished work.
So then, the question became how quickly could I get this bloody thing finished and move on to the next stage? To that end, I worked out how much I’ve got done in the last few weeks (5,000 words, give or take) and how much more I need to write to have a vaguely manuscript sized thing on my hands (25,000 words, give or take).

So, after trying to fit some numbers in my head, I realized that if I continue to average 294 words a day, which I have been for the last month or so, I can have the first draft completed in 85 days which, at the time of working it out, would take us to December the 8th.

So I guess, if there’s something to take away here, its take a sample of your writing speed over a few weeks and see what you realistically accomplish. Everyone knows that a deadline might be a headache, but it’s also a great motivator, so set yourself one and get into it!

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Happy Birthday, Mr Dahl.

Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it
Roald Dahl.

It is far beyond my capability to say anything about the man, his life or his work that hasn’t been said already; but the idea of allowing this day to sail past without marking it in some way didn’t sit quite right with me.

To say this man influenced my writing would be more than a slight understatement. It would be more accurate to say that the entire idea of trying to put words together to try and form something coherent from the odd walks that my mind takes would never have entered my head at all without his work.  Quite apart from that, until fairly recently I found it  difficult to communicate with people my own age, and for about three years when I was a child I didn’t really feel like I had anything to say to anyone, and that the things I did say were the wrong ones. I spent a great deal of that time making medicine with George and hanging out with giant grasshoppers and watching the Twits torture each other. I’ll never be able to repay my debt to Roald Dahl, but my own writing is, in part, an attempt to thank him.

An awful lot of people struggle to externalize what happens within their imaginations and an awful lot more don’t think that their imaginations are worth the effort. Well I’m sure Roald Dahl, and certainly myself, think that the world needs a little more magic so take a leaf out of one of the storyteller-in-chief’s many, many books and have a go.

 

Somehow it feels fitting to share a (very short) extract from my own book, inspired by my time wandering around in Roald Dahl’s head;

“His mind could still reach for the reverie that had lead him to drink the rain and he had found himself retreading the same path more than once in the time since, his journeys through the clouds in particular sustained him during the solitude and he had allowed his mind to wander much further than his body ever would. Exotic lands like Cambodia, so far from the reach of his steam powered legs, were no issue for his imagination. The heights of the Himalayas had been scaled, and he had partaken recklessly in the continued destruction of the Palaces of Montezuma and the city of Pompeii. His limited frame of physical reference created no barrier to Arnold’s mind and as he walked he once again allowed himself to relax and reach towards the clouds that directed him, conversing in a language that made no sound and had no real form and becoming himself weightless once more.”

Please note that the image at the head of this post is the work of an extremely talented artist I’m lucky enough to spend my life with, Jessica Arrowsmith Stanley, (JazzStan)  whose beautiful work is available here.

Stay magic.

Book Review; The Hundred Year Old Man…

I recently dealt with what I really hate to refer to as ‘writer’s block’ for the first time. I really hate that phrase. For me it just conjurs up this kind of beret wearing, nicotine stained Greenwich village tortured-genius-beat-poet image that I really struggle to equate myself with.

That is of course reductive and dismissive but this is my blog and I’ll be insensitive whensoever the mood takes me thank you!

 

Pictured; not me

Pictured; not me

Anyway, it has been suggested by much better minds than mine that one way to make sure that your brain keeps working, and that your words come back to you, is to get stuck into as many books as can hold your attention and in that spirit I recently tracked something down that I’ve been meaning to read for some time now. I have a slight confession to make at the beginning of this, because this will by no means be my last book review.

I buy my books from charity shops. There are several reasons for this, not least that whenever I take it upon myself to support my local book retailers, which everyone with an interest in literature should do, I end up spending far too much money or else limiting myself to one book and inevitably putting too much pressure on it and getting a little disappointed.

I also like the fact that my wildly untamed book habit is in the hands of strangers, and that leads to some real turn ups for the, ah, you see where that’s going. SO, before I lose the run of my thought process entirely I would like to discuss The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson.

First, the obvious. That is one of the best titles you’re likely to come across. People may stand where they wish on the matter of extended titles, and some of them are undeniably horrific.  But, for those of us who are not blessed with that mid 20th century American mastery of the short sentence, of breaking someone’s heart in three words, then why not have fun? There is no attempt to be serious anywhere within this book, which considering it starts with the eponymous 100 year old man stealing from the youngest member of a biker gang and moves swiftly on to recount the death of both of his parents, his incarceration and his state ordered castration, is quite some feat.

The main thing that comes across with this book is how absolutely in love with his own creation the author his, and so he should be. It reads as though Jonas Jonasson was in tears laughing at himself as he found the most ridiculous prism he could think of to look at some of the many and varied political and social conflicts that defined global culture in the 20th century. He sets his stall out early, Allan Karlsson the protagonist doesn’t care about politics, religion, family or idealism of any kind. As a reader we are given motivation for this state of affairs early and succinctly and asked to move on. The author worked as a journalist, and a very successful television producer before living what I would guess is the dream of more than a few of us, selling up and buggering off to some beautiful nowhere to work on his book.

The complete idealistic detachment he allows himself, through the perspective of his main character, means that Jonasson can get right up close to everything from the Spanish Revolution to the Korean War without actually taking a position on anything.

Without wishing to get into the finer details of plot and narrative and make myself sound like a fool I will leave you with a strong recommendation to read this book. As a flight of fancy, an excercise in imagination and, this is the kicker, a thoroughly researched and informative look at recent history even despite its obvious fiction this is probably unique in my own experiences. I wouldn’t suggest there is nothing like this out there, but certainly nothing I’ve read. If the personality and pulp sci-fi touches were stripped from Slaughterhouse 5 then maybe they might be distant cousins but that’s all that comes to mind. Finally, always a bonus in the lives we live, because let’s face it no-one gets enough reading time these days, it’s episodic, picaresque structure means that you can pick it up whenver you get twenty minutes for as long as it takes to get the thing read.

What are you waiting for?

In Conversation With; Isabelle Sudron

Moving forwards, to make sure that this isn’t just a blog full of me blathering about my own work and to provide a wider perspective on the weird and wonderful world of writing I will be pestering various literary types into answering some questions for the delight and betterment of all.

First up; Isabelle Sudron, a young lady that I met at University who, in an apparent contravention of the laws of physics, has a smile bigger than her whole head. Please take the time to check out her undeniably snazzy website HERE or indeed HERE before reading our hard-hitting expose on the life of an aspiring children’s author.

 

Writing Strange Give us a little background on yourself. What was the moment it clicked that you’re a writer and what are your ambitions moving forwards?

Isabelle Sudron I’ve always written stories and poems but I never really considered myself a writer. I felt silly calling myself a writer when I mostly just sit in a room alone, type some words, delete said words, and start again. Then, somewhere along the line, my definition of a ‘good day’ became measured by how much writing I got done. That’s when I thought, ‘I guess I’m a writer now!’
And, in terms of my ambitions, I’d just like to write for a living everyday – that’s the dream!

WS What are you working on at the moment, how far along are you?

IS I recently finished writing my first children’s book, Olive in the Heights, and it’s now in the hands of a number of lovely beta readers. So, right now, I’m waiting in fear for feedback. The next step is making a few final tweaks to my manuscript (I hope) and then harassing literary agents across the land!

WS What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome so far in your career and how did you do it?

IS A few years ago, I quit my job, moved back home and took an unpaid internship to get some experience in storytelling. My employer was a nightmare – think Miss Trunchbull meets administration – and at the end of two months of hard work, she assured me that I wouldn’t make it as a writer. So, I was unemployed, inexperienced and apparently talentless too. I felt pretty low and I spent a long time struggling to decide whether to prove ol’ Trunchbull wrong or throw in the towel. There was lots of soul searching, feeling sorry for myself and comfort eating. But, eventually, I decided I had nothing to lose. I got myself a part-time job and I focused all my spare time on writing a book.
Although that felt like a pretty rough milestone in my career, it’s probably also what kickstarted it. Thank goodness for the real-life Trunchbulls, eh?

WS When and how did you decide to produce work for a younger audience, do you have any particular influences?

IS As a reader, I don’t think I’ve ever really grown out of children’s books. I love the fact that anything and everything can happen, characters can be eccentric and plots can be so random. And as a writer, I love the fact that children are willing to suspend their disbelief for a great story. I feel like that creates so many more possibilities for writing. My main influence has to be Philip Ridley, he is my absolute writing Yoda! His books have eccentric characters and unusual plots, all while being set in average neighbourhoods that lots of kids actually live in. I still read his books when I need a bit of inspiration (and sometimes just for fun too).

WS Is there anything you’ve learned in the course of your efforts that you think of as being particularly useful to people in a similar position?

IS For me, planning is essential. Yes, it can be boring and frustrating, but it shaves so many hours off editing. The most useful resource I’ve found, in terms of story planning, is Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat and his ‘beat sheets’. Although they’re intended for screenwriters, I’ve still found them really useful. Another important thing I’ve learnt is that you don’t necessarily need to be a good writer to be a good storyteller. In the words of Elmore Leonard, “Write the book the way it should be written, then give it to somebody to put in the commas and shit.”

WS And just to be mean, what are your three favourite pieces of writing?

IS That is such a difficult question! I’d have to go for:
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion and
Mighty Fizz Chilla by Philip Ridley.
I like books where you really get to see the characters grow and these three books do just that!

the man who could not smile (iii)

The third and final installment of the man who could not smile, then, in which our hero listens to the news and unexpectedly meets a young lady.

Over the course of the next couple of weeks I’ll be trying to edit this and get it published, so stay tuned for news of any platforms accepting original short-form creative writing and my spirited attempts to badger them into submission.


I mulled these various pieces of information over in my mind as I read an essay about the rapid rise in popularity of courgette ribbons and its effect on various heartlands of the agricultural mediterranean meanwhile miles davis broke down musical barriers in the background and I indulged in a bottle of mencia that a local wineseller assured me was a fantastic expression of a little known grape and which, while I had learned that he spoke on these matters with some authority, tasted to me like a generic dry spanish white wine and was therefore hugely overpriced

at some point I suppose I fell asleep because my watch, which I can no longer enthuse about but which rather charmed me when I initially paid a swiss artisan to hand make it, told me that it was 9:30 am, about two and a half hours before my appointment

the morning news informed me that world was still an astonishingly violent and seemingly irredeemable place as I brushed my teeth.

The weatherman informed me that the weather was unseasonably something or other as I quietly reflected that if the weather was unseasonable all the year round then maybe it was time to sack the weatherman and polished my shoes

the sports report told me of fantastic achievement and of unfathomable heartbreak as I tousled my hair

the watch told me it was time to get into my stylishly understated german saloon car, it being well know that sports cars are the preserve of dickheads and footballers, and leave in order to arrive for my appointment an hour earlier, the better to make the receptionist feel extremely uncomfortable with unnecessarily intense eye contact, a technique that has served me well over the years

after filling in the relevant paperwork I was seated on a wine red leather couch and presented with a passable cortada

I sat forward in my chair, making myself appear as uncomfortable as possible, and tried to lock eyes with the receptionist only to find my view blocked by a woman who was herself filling in paperwork

anatomically correct,
stylistically astute,
personally aloof,
I disliked her instantly.

Moreso when she ordered a double macchiato, a much more on trend caffeinated beverage than my own choice

I said a crude word aloud to myself

She informed me that she hadn’t quite heard me, although I knew she had

I informed her that it wasn’t important

Her disdain was obvious, the same her boredom, she asked me why I was there

I informed her that I could feel no joy

She reminded me that she wasn’t the therapist

I protested that she had asked

She told me she was sick of yp’s bitching about their insecurities

I told her that my position in life allowed me to sample the best of everything and that I didn’t really like any of it

She laughingly informed me that the things I was told to want were made by people like me, whereas she was being sold things by people thought woman was a marketing demographic

I told her that making money to spend on things I didn’t want meant that I only needed more money to buy more things I didn’t want

She told me that, since I was in a position to afford things, I should shut the fuck up about material satisfaction

I told her that the proliferation of impossible ideals meant that I could no longer feel an attraction to a real woman and that pornography had ceased to arouse me years ago

She howled with laughter, and said that because of a lack of seating she had found herself on top of a washing machine as an adolescent and that no man had ever made her feel nearly the same way

at that point I was called into the therapist’s office, wherein I remember nothing other than developing a nosebleed.

The beluga sturgeon is a breed of fish that has existed, relatively unchanged, since dinosaurs inhabited the planet

the fish themselves don’t produce eggs until they have reached maturity, which can take up to twenty years

these eggs are then used to produce Almas Caviar and sold at an astonishing price

I was seated in my customary table in the corner of the restaurant and, having ordered Almas Caviar, asked to speak to the chef

His caviar, I told him, lacked a little flavour

He informed me that his food was so well regarded that he had recently been approached about being the subject of a feature length documentary

I told him that, if you looked for it, you could probably find a documentary about status quo

he asked me why I insisted on disparaging his culinary efforts

I explained to him that as his best friend, it fell upon me to be honest

He assured me that he was better acquainted with several people

Regardless, I said with the disdainful gaze of the woman from the waiting room on my mind, I’d like you to know that I think I may have met someone.

Julian, said the chef, I really don’t care.

A useful contact or two…

As mentioned, I will occasionally be posting news of any agencies, contacts, organizations or competitions that may be of interest or use to fellow aspiring authors. This information will also be in permanent stasis on the ‘Resources’ page of the website to save people digging through the other content on the blog.

For the first installment I’d like to direct you to a few things that have helped me recently.

You’ve probably heard before how useful it can be to attend writers group meetings, to receive informed opinions from like minded people, try out new material, increase confidence and break what can be a monotonous and isolated cycle. As a proud member of Written Inc. I can tell you that I agree wholeheartedly. But obviously its hard to join a writer’s group if you can’t find one. That’s where the National Association of Writer’s Groups, or NAWG for short, comes in. As well a being a source of news and updates from the ever growing network of groups that make up its membership it also has a nifty little search function, here, that shows you where your nearest registered group is. Obviously the system isn’t infallible but it is a well appointed national database, so you could do much worse than having a look.

Aside from that I’ve reached a point now where I think I would benefit from professional literary advice, guidance or feedback which puts me in the realm of literary agencies. Two things to remember when approaching agencies is that they each have subtly different criteria dictating submissions that they will and won’t accept, and that most don’t accept work in progress which is reasonable enough, this isn’t a path that many people get to the end of so one way to weed out people that aren’t genuine about their efforts is to tell them to come back when they finish. Having said that, there are some altruistic souls out there who will, with absolutely no guarantees of a response of course, take a look at your unfinished magnum opuses (opusi?). I’ve  got in touch with the following three agencies in the last week

Conville and Walsh
Eve White
Andrew Lownie

I’ve yet to hear back, and of course its possible that I never will, but do take a look at their sites even if just to get an idea of the format they expect and what kind of genre they’re looking to take on.

Finally, this is quite a big one, United Artists a frankly huge agency are having an open house through a few dates in August.  The full page is here, but for a chance to get your work seen by some of the best in the business get on this!
The deadline is 6pm on each of the following three Mondays, including today, and on each day they will be accepting submission pertaining to the following genres

MONDAY 8TH (TODAY!)-Crime and Thriller
MONDAY 15TH-Commercial Fiction
MONDAY 22ND-Literary Fiction

If you’re not sure which date you need, the writing place website defines the difference between commercial and literary fiction thuslike;

Commercial fiction is the typical Hollywood film in Romance, Sci-fi, thriller genres. Whereas, literary fiction can be compared to independent or experimental film.

Which is a bit vague but if you consider your work to be a little more beguiling (basically a little harder to sell) then go for the 22nd. The site says that they’ll only accept one manuscript per person, so don’t split the difference and submit on both days.

Happy hunting people, and if anyone happens to be a successful applicant, then please do get in touch so I can grill you for details and share your story.

GOOD LUCK

Author Interview; James Rice

One of my several guises is as an arts and culture critic based in Liverpool. It’s a really fascinating context to work in and has lead me into several very cool situations, not the least the opportunity, through the always awesome Double Negative magazine with whom I’ve had the pleasure to work quite a bit, to interview a local author whose debut novel had very recently been published. James Rice’s book, Alice and the Fly had been picked up by Hodder & Staughton and in the midst of a national publicity tour, we sat over a pint of Guinness and talked writing. The main thing I took from the conversation is the conviction that, contrary to what I’d previously thought, the things I’d always dreamed of doing were actually possible rather than some kind of compelling illusion. It may sound a little cheesy but its no exaggeration to say that the conversation we had that night has set me on the path to where I am now. The following is an excerpt of the article, written by yours truly, that was published as a result;


“Writers are just people, they’re not unicorns”: An Evening With James Rice

James Rice

Ahead of the Writing on the Wall launch tonight, Jack Roe meets their Pulp Idol 2010 winner and author James Rice: discussing his dark debut novel Alice and the Fly, new found success and how writers are certainly not unicorns…

Taking my seat in the crowded upstairs of LEAF, Bold Street, I find myself a little confused. I stumbled across the event I am currently attending, a book launch, whilst trawling through the cultural listings for Liverpool in January. What confuses me, for the initial launch of a local author’s debut novel, is the sheer volume of people in the room. Photographs cannot be framed comfortably, drink orders cannot be heard, chairs are at a premium and the trays of hors d’oeuvres being floated by the smiling wait staff are having a terrible time trying to make the rounds. I begin to wonder who exactly it is I’m dealing with. By the end of the evening representatives from Hodder and Stoughton publishing house and the Liverpool based literary organisation Writing on the Wall, as well as the author himself, have gone to some lengths to explain.

James Rice, 27, is a Creative Writing MA graduate from Liverpool John Moore’s University, born and raised in Maghull and currently employed at the Waterstone’s in Southport. This is what I am told. He is also the wide-eyed, humble and beamingly proud author of Alice and the Fly, a book that I will not tell you anything about, except to suggest that you seek it out and read it as a refreshingly dark and hugely entertaining antithesis to the rash of teen-narrated novels and films of the last few years.

“I completely failed to avoid being thoroughly charmed and impressed”

A planned attempt to talk to James on the night, to try and get a better sense of who he is and how the book came to be, was scuppered by a long line of people waiting for a signature and a potential photo, whatever his standing in the wider community, in this time and place James Rice is a bona-fide literary celebrity.

We agreed to meet up at another point where, dictaphone in hand and wearing my most pointedly professional expression, I completely failed to avoid being thoroughly charmed and impressed in my quest to gain some information on what exactly the process of writing and publishing a novel entails.


For the full article, either click the headline up there, or right here, and remember that aside from talent and conviction these things, as I’m learning more and more, take time.

Pulp Idol Firsts 2016

For anyone interested in getting to grips with the kind of thing we’re talking about here, and also to introduce themselves with some fantastic Merseyside authors, you could do worse than to get yourself a copy of Pulp Idol Firsts 2016, which as well as the first chapter of my own novel contains work from the other eleven finalists of last year’s competition.

For those of you that don’t own a kindle, just search for the name of the collection and you should find it in several digital formats.

It Begins…

In the immortal words of Father John Misty, I’m writing a novel. What started as a few paragraphs and a very speculative submission to an original writing competition has turned, 18 months later, into a full-blown labour of love. It has not been without its challenges, from a stolen first draft, to recognizing and resisting the occasional urge to channel much better authors (mostly Vonnegut and Pratchett) to learning, slowly, to take myself and my work seriously and avoid the self deprecation which, while it has its comforts, does absolutely no-one any favours.

The work, Strangetown, is in what you could probably get away with calling its adolescence, with about a third of the projected word count covered. With about 20,000 words, more than a little encouragement from friends and family, and the amazing experience of seeing my words made available in print as one of the runners-up of Pulp Idol 2015; I think I have earned the right, tentatively, to be proud of what I have achieved so far.

Writing Strange then, can probably be viewed as an accompanying scrapbook. This is my attempt to engage with and present the process of writing a novel for the first time, and of trying to get it out there. A strange boy, writing strange things about a strange project. For progress updates, advice and opportunities, and some creative writing that I’ll need to put out there occasionally to stop myself going mad, this is the place to be. If you’re in a similar position, attempting something of your own, or are in any way interested in my story then please do get in touch and say hi.

You never know, we might even get something done.