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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BADPOET; Arbitrary

BADPOET is a project I started playing around with about a year ago now, the basic idea is, that while I have the utmost respect for poetry as a medium and even more so for the practitioners that can use it to express themselves, I am and always have been a pretty bad poet. This then, is my way of embracing my undoubted and inescapable flaws as a writer. I generally use these as short detours when my mind is wondering away from Strangetown. After all, I am of the firm belief that if your mind wants to wander then you should always let it, you never know what it might bring back. Anyway, this is the first in my collection of bad poems.

*ahem*

Arbitrary

In an attempt to write
bad poetry
Is it possible to
Stumble upon something
to be enjoyed?

Although I feel I have
A grasp of stanzas
I have sometimes suspected
in hands such as mine
that the customary
breaks in the line
are somewhat
arbitrary.

Earnin’ and Learnin’

Every now and again you come across something on the web that makes you think;

“WHY THE BLOODY HELL DO I HEAR ABOUT IT THREE DIFFERENT WAYS EVERY TIME ANY OF THE KARDASHIANS SNEEZES BUT I’M ONLY JUST HEARING ABOUT THIS!?”

Well, this was one of those moments. Y’see it won’t have escaped anyone’s notice that ‘knowledge is power’ is not just a cute quote that is vaguely connected to ol’ Franny Bacon, but is also an inescapable fact. Knowing more stuff than a given person will give you an advantage, personally, creatively, professionally. But we’re always hearing about cuts in education budgets and rising tuition fees and even for those of us in a position to commit to full time education its still a massive risk. I, for example, could regale you at length about Baudrillard‘s distinctly dim views about Disneyland but, and this is the clincher, no-one has ever expressed even the slightest inclination that they might want me to do that. The point I’m dancing around is that long-form vocational education is being made more and more impractical. So what’s the answer?

Well, at least part of it is provided by FutureLearn. This is an astonishing online service providing free, that’s free, short courses, most of the ones I’ve seen ask for around 16-20 hours of your time over four weeks, and you can do anything on there. I’ve signed up for two digital marketing courses that are starting in a few weeks and in the attached forum areas, one 40 year old mother of two has spent her summer learning Spanish and Forensic Psychology. For free. I really can’t say that bit enough. A few of the courses also offer official accreditation and certification to allow you to throw some paperwork around if the situation calls for it. This site is, I really and truly cannot stress enough, free of charge.

Elsewhere and a bit closer to home for the writers among us there are a few more sites that I’ve turned up that are more that a little bit useful.

-First up Aerogramme Writer’s Studio, a site dedicated to promoting news, writing tips and resources of all shapes and sizes, including fairly regular round-ups of magazines, journals and sites that are accepting submissions. If you’re looking to get your name around and gain a bit of exposure, make this one of your first ports of call!

Christopher Fielden, along the same lines, with a more personal touch, I have to admit to knowing very little about the man himself and have only used his site sparingly, but there has been a wealth of relevant information, his short story submission database in particular is a really breathtaking piece of work. I can only imagine the hours he may have put into something that complete. More power to him.

The Manchester Review, this, and the name may be a slight giveaway here, is a literary journal currently accepting submissions both fiction and non-fiction. The main thing to be said about it is that is very, very cool and in that respect getting your name seen by this crowd and furthermore their subscribers and followers will do you absolutely no harm.

Educate yourself citizens, it’s jungle out there.

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!

Mo Money Less Problems

Sorry, Mr Smalls, but I think being honest with ourselves us creative types like to gets paid. Its taken around 6 years to get to a point where I can dedicate even half of my time to my craft, and the rest of the time I’m a barman. A lot of people have a lot to say about the service industry and I am no different but at my more lucid moments I am able to remind myself that it pays the bills, its a good way of meeting incredible people and its a good way of learning about all sorts of things.

If, like me, you need things like food and somewhere to live in order to crack on with whatever world changing ideas are floating around your cranium, then you’ll need to earn some moolah somehow. In that spirit, you may well have spent some time in some of the many, many freelancing databases online and if you haven’t allow me to save you some time. Don’t. Unless you’re able to survive on earning $8 a pop to write erotica novels.

No, allow me to direct you towards two services that may well be able to hook you up with some short form copy/content production jobs that probably won’t pay you amazingly, but they will allow you to say, without exaggeration, that you are a professional writer. It does wonders when you’re cleaning out ashtrays at one o’clock in the morning, believe me.

Upwork, I’ve only just come across this myself so I’m not sure how legit the service is but I’ve learned over time that when it comes to the web, you should absolutely judge a book by its cover. If a website is well designed, chances are higher that the links, info, etc on there will be more reliable.

Copify, I’ve actually failed in my application to join the team here in the past, my second attempt is being reviewed at the time of writing, but it looks an excellent opportunity and the application process is extensive enough to ensure quality but no so huge as to be daunting.

Anyway that’s me for today, good luck chasing that paper and remember, if you buy a bartender a drink, you’ll have a friend for life.

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.