Friday, 15 February 2013
Thursday, 8 September 2011
I am so sorry I haven't been here to update for the longest time.
Basically the real world got in the way. I have been fortunate enough to secure my dream job as a the Director of Library Services for a small town in Alberta called Chestermere. It is a beautiful, vibrant community that I am happy and proud to serve.
As many of you know, I am actually from the UK, so taking up this job meant packing up the family and moving to the otherside of the world on short notice. It meant wading through the soup of immigration and culture shocks (we still are). It was a small price to pay for the chance to live in my dream place and do my dream job, but it also meant I had to let a couple of things slide - including the Project.
I will get back to the Project, although it is looking as though it will be in the New Year. Yes I know that is forever away, but my goal is to get this right, rather than doing a half-job at it.
In the meantime feel free to drop me some emails if you have people you would like me to approach for interview. I'll get on with next year's list and I promise to get this site back off the ground.
Hugs to all,
Friday, 6 May 2011
The Women's Magazine Market
Helen M Hunt
Gemma has asked me to share some thoughts about the women's magazine short story market and give some advice to anyone hoping to break into it.
First, a bit about me. I write short stories, book reviews and features for magazines. My short stories have appeared in Woman's Weekly, My Weekly, The Weekly News and Take A Break Fiction Feast in the UK, and That's Life Fast Fiction in Australia. I have also had real life stories published by My Weekly, This England and Evergreen magazine, and articles in Writers' Forum and The New Writer magazine. You can find my writing blog at http://fictionisstrangerthanfact.blogspot.comand my book review blog at http://bookersatz.blogspot.com.
One of the first things that you need to be aware of is that, sadly, the women's magazine market for short stories has shrunk over the last few years. Many magazines which used to take fiction, such as Woman and Woman's Own, no longer do so.
Add to this the fact that there are a large numbers of writers trying to break through, and it makes for a challenging and competitive market. Having said that, it would be wrong to assume that it's impossible to break into it. I have read comments in various places that suggest that women's magazines are a bit of a 'closed shop' and only established writers can get published. Happily this isn't the case.
When you look at the magazines you will find the same names coming up on lots of short stories, but that is because those are the writers who are consistently sending out a high volume of good quality stories carefully targeted to their chosen publications, not because there is an embargo on new writers.
If I can do it, then anyone can, but patience is the key. I went on a short story writing course at my local adult education college in September 2005 and wrote my first ever short story. I carried on writing and eventually my story 'Shredding The Label' was published by Momaya Press in 2007 – my first fiction publication. My first commercial publication wasn't until the beginning of 2009 when Woman's Weekly published my story 'Dandelion Clocks'.
Since that first publication, I have continued to write short stories and I have been fortunate to be published quite a bit by My Weekly, Woman's Weekly, and The Weekly News and have also had stories accepted by Take A Break Fiction Feast, People's Friend and a couple of non-UK magazines.
So for those who do want to write for this market, where do you start?
I'm not going to go into a lot of detail here about submission guidelines for specific magazines. Instead I will direct you to Womagwriter's Blog. (http://womagwriter.blogspot.com/) This blog has all the guidelines and contact details for the relevant magazines with regular updates and also blog posts discussing various aspects of writing for this market. If you don't already follow Womagwriter I strongly recommend that you should.
My main advice to anyone who wants to start sending short stories to magazines is to initially concentrate on targeting one or two of them. All magazines have different requirements and like slightly different types of story so it's more manageable if you look at a limited number of magazines in great depth at a time. Always remember that magazines are looking for stories that are similar in style and tone to the ones they are currently using, but at the same time they need to be different enough to catch an editor's eye.
The key markets in the UK at the moment are:
Woman's Weekly – they take two stories and a serial every week in the magazine and also have regular fiction specials containing twenty or so stories. They are a good strong market that likes unusual stories and they are lovely to write for.
Take A Break Fiction Feast – this is a monthly fiction special which carries about fifteen stories each time. They like a variety of stories and take anything from romance to crime in a variety of word lengths.
The Weekly News – this is a newspaper rather than a magazine but also carries two or three short stories every week. Because the publication is aimed equally at men and women they like stories with male characters, are strong on crime and mystery and not keen on romance.
The People's Friend – this magazine is very much focussed on fiction, and carries six or seven stories and also a couple of serials each week. They like a gentle upbeat type of story and steer clear of anything too depressing or contentious.
My Weekly publishes fiction regularly in the weekly magazine and occasional specials. However, at the moment they aren't taking stories from people they haven't published before so they're not currently one for beginners to target.
Other magazines such as Candis and Yours take a limited amount of fiction, and there are a few overseas markets. All have their own particular requirements, and full details can be found on the Womagwriter blog.
So, choose a market and immerse yourself in it. It's probably best initially to go for the publication which carries the stories which most strongly appeal to you as a reader. Really study the stories carefully and concentrate on why they work and what it is about them that made the editor say yes. And don't give up!
For further information and advice, as well as Womagwriter's blog, I highly recommend Teresa Ashby's blog (http://teresaashby.blogspot.com/) and Della Galton's website (http://www.dellagalton.co.uk/).
I am intending to run some short courses and workshops on breaking into the women's magazine market later this year, so if you're interested please feel free to email me at helen-hunt1(at) sky.com. I'll add you to a mailing list to be sent details of the courses once they are up and running.
Thanks very much to Gemma for inviting me to do this guest post, and do feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions.
Helen M Hunt
Friday, 29 April 2011
photograph (c) Chris Clarke
Of course, it isn’t just the Sharpe books, based around the Napoleonic Wars, that Mr. Cornwell is famous for. The Starbuck Chronicles are set in the American Civil War, the Winter King Trilogy tell the tale of King Arthur, and his latest offering, The Burning Land, is book five of the Viking Saga, which are based in the times of Alfred the Great. Then there are his stand alone novels, like Gallows Thief and Azincourt. In terms of historical fiction, Bernard Cornwell writes incredibly well in a diverse range of periods.
Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions. You are widely regarded as the greatest writer of historical adventure books of our time; how do you feel about this label? Did you set out to be the “best”?
I don't believe it! There's Robert Harris writing his trilogy on Cicero, C J Sanson's wonderful books about Matthew Shardlake, and let's not forget Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall! Wow, I'm way down the list. I simply set out to write entertaining books!
Most people know that they want to write long before they actually start; was this the case for you? What made you put pen to paper and begin writing?
I wanted to write from way back, probably from when I was a teenager (oh god, so long ago). I'm not sure I ever would have taken the plunge - I had a perfectly respectable job with BBC TV, but then I met an American blonde and she couldn't live in Britain for family reasons, and I had no strong ties so decided to emigrate. The US Government, in its wisdom, denied me a Green Card (work permit), so I airily told her I'd write a book. Which I did, and thirty years later I'm still writing books and, much more important, still married to the blonde.
Out of all the books you have written, do you have a favourite? If so, what makes that one stand out above the others?
This feels rather like being asked 'do you have a favourite child', a question which probably has the answer 'yes', but everyone denies anyway. My favourites are the three Arthurian books - starting with The Winter King. They were simply a joy to write . . . at the time it felt as though they were writing themselves. I've enjoyed writing most of the books (why do it if it isn't enjoyable?), but those three stand out.
Your latest book, The Burning Land, has just been published and is the latest in the Alfred Series. How does writing in this period differ from the Sharpe books? What period is your favourite to research / write in?
I suppose the main difference is that the real history is so obscure. We have an enormous amount of material on the Napoleonic era, and know a vast amount about what really happened, but the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle can be maddeningly obscure . . . events are mentioned, but without any details. So I'm freer to use imagination (good), but more likely to get things wrong (bad).
What are you working on now?
A book set in the summer of 1779, during the American Revolution, when the British established an outpost on the coast of what is now Maine and the State of Massachusetts sent a large fleet and a militia force to dislodge them. The campaign is very little known, but curiously features two men who became very famous. On the British side a very young John Moore fought his first action, while Paul Revere was in charge of the American artillery. It's a fascinating tale, and you'll have to wait to find out more.
How long into your career was it before you could effectively write full time? What advice do you have for anyone who aspires to be a full time writer?
I started writing full time the moment I emigrated to the States - I really had no choice! Advice? Just do it! I do have a real mistrust of writing groups, which a lot of people join thinking, maybe, they'll find encouragement. The only opinion that matters in the first place is your own, and then that of an agent or publisher, and finally the reader, but writing is a solitary vice, so my recommendation is to sit down, shut the door, threaten the kids with blue murder if they interrupt you, and get on with it.
Historical fiction is a popular genre but, as with everything, is subject to changes and trends in the market. What advice would you give to someone trying to break into the historical fiction market?
I'd tell them to ignore the trends and write what they want to read themselves!
By refusing to see it as a problem. My job is to be a story-teller. I'm not an historian. If someone wants to know about the Peninsular War, then I'd recommend Professor Charles Esdaile's brilliant book, but I'd venture to suggest that his book doesn't have the same suspense as, say, Sharpe's Company? I do try to get the history right, but if there's a conflict between history and story, story always wins.
I guess that's up to the author? I like doing it, but I can quite imagine that some people don't, and their first job is to write the books. Nothing is really important beyond that!
Agents tend to be regarded with mixed feelings by new writers. What are your experiences of literary agents? Do you think that they are worth having?
If a new writer can understand the complexities of a publishing contract and negotiate like a junkyard dog, then of course they don't need an agent. But I do, and I like mine and I'd recommend that every writer has an agent. I don't understand 'mixed feelings'. The agent is on your side!
Many thanks to Mr. Cornwell for getting the Literary Project’s new year off to a fantastic start! Bernard Cornwell’s website can be accessed here, and for those of you obsessed by all things Sharpe, there is a great fansite accessible at this address. Bernard Cornwell’s newest novel, The Burning Land, is out now.
Just after I’ve gone and phoned my dad.
Friday, 22 April 2011
An Interview with David Hewson
photo by Mark Bothwell
David Hewson is good with words. He started out in journalism, working his way up from a local paper in Scarborough up to the big London broadsheets. He has also penned over sixteen novels, including the fabulous Nic Costa modern crime series, all set in the atmospheric city of Rome. Even his tweets are well constructed, which makes error-prone amateurs like myself sigh and think, "I wish I could write like that." I am impressed by the way he paints Rome, a city and culture he is not actively part of, yet constructs like a native. It is a writing benchmark that I am aiming for, so naturally I could not resist asking David to answer a few questions for me here at the Literary Project.
Hello David! Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I always wanted to write because it seemed the one thing I was half good at. But the only writing job I could find at seventeen was working on a tiny local newspaper in Yorkshire. So I took it. It seemed better than school, even at £5 a week back in 1970.
How do you think your background in journalism influences your writing? Do you think it has been a help or a hindrance?
Helps and hinders. Journalism teaches you research, editing and not to be too precious with your words. But it also relies absolutely on fact, which fiction doesn't. There's an Italian expression, 'Better a beautiful lie than an ugly truth'. Fiction is about telling beautiful lies, and to do that properly a journalist has to kill the reporter inside him.
Do I write crime? Yes, the stories involve cops and crimes. But I don't think I fall into the usual procedural template. My stories tend to be about justice, about relationships, about living in a fractured society. All narratives need a problem. Crime stories simply use a crime as the starting point of that problem. I don't really do whodunits. More whydunits and they've been around for ages, in all sorts of forms.
Writing novels based in a different country and culture to your own must be difficult – how do you go about getting the "feel" right?
I'm not a fan of the idea that you should write about what you know. Writing about what you don't know makes you work harder. You have to create that world from scratch which renders it more vivid and 'real'. I did it the only way I could. I moved to Rome, studied Italian, invested in myself and my ideas. Luckily it's paid off so far.
How did you get your agent? Any advice for aspiring writers looking for representation?
Everyone asks that and there's no secret answer. It really is the way it tells you in the Writers' Handbook. Go through the motions, send out the letters, keep your fingers crossed. No short cuts I'm afraid. My principal advice in this area is: for pity's sake read the submission guidelines and follow them to the letter. Be professional, not a jerk. Accept rejection and learn from it.
What is your proudest moment to date, writing-wise?
Seeing all eleven of my Italian books bought for TV movies in one swoop -- and from an Italian-based production outfit, Bavaria's Rome arm (though they will be made in English).
If you could change one thing about the publishing industry, what would it be?
The gap between delivering a book and seeing it on the shelf. It's sometimes nearly two years for me and that's just too long
Can you tell us about The Fallen Angel?
The Fallen Angel comes from a real-life tragedy from 16th century Rome, the case of a young noblewoman Beatrice Cenci. She and her family were convicted of the murder of her father who was reputedly abusing her. They were savagely executed in front of the Ponte Sant'Angelo. Beatrice became in icon for the virtuous criminal, defending her own virtue. In the book we find a young Englishwoman facing what appears to be a rerun of the Cenci case. Is this coincidence or a deliberate echo? So my Roman cops set out to find the awkward truth.
What are you working on right now?
A standalone book set in Florence in 1986. I felt the need to write something that didn't have the constrictions of the 21st century. No DNA, no science, no internet, no mobile phones. Makes for a very interesting environment in which to set a narrative.
And finally, if you could sum up a key piece of writing advice for aspiring crime writers in one sentence, what would it be?
Read lots of books and try to understand what makes the ones that work for you pull of that trick.
Friday, 15 April 2011
Lesley Cookman Takes Over The Literary Project
Gemma has very kindly invited me to contribute a guest blog for The Literary Project, which is a great honour when I see the other prolific and august authors who have preceded me, and whom she has interviewed.
Thinking about what might be of use to pre-published writers, whether novelists, short story or non-fiction writers, my first piece of advice would be, as it always was when I was teaching creative writing, to READ. It's amazing how many people say "Oh, I'm definitely going to write a book, but I simply haven't got time to read." Well, if everyone was like them, there would be a lot of books out there with no-one to read them. And the industry would grind to a halt.
So - READ. Particularly in your own genre. It tells you what the public wants, or at least, what the publishers and editors think the public want. And that isn't always the same. For instance, my "cosy" crime series is the direct descendent of the Golden Age detective fiction and the large publishing houses don't think there is a public for them. However, the smaller independent publishers know a thing or two about what the public really want, and my own, Accent Press (long may they rule) took a punt on the Libby Sarjeant series and here we are, eight books in and with two more on the stocks.
Anyway, back to the advice. Read to find out how to write. How to write dialogue, to see how things look on the page (not too many long paragraphs, for instance) and how to plot. There are many, many books out there that will tell you how to do this, but you can't do better than to read and compare other people's books and work out why they work - or don't, more importantly. This is not to say you must slavishly copy the style of your favourite author or journalist but to learn what has got them published.
Write what you know - well, not necessarily. SF, fantasy, horror and crime - most of us haven't experienced them, have we? I haven't murdered anyone yet, although give me time, neither have I investigated a crime, other than trying to discover which of my four children perpetrated the latest domestic incident. Your imagination provides everything you need to start, and with the enormous resources of the internet research is available to confirm any detail of which you aren't sure.
Network. Yes, a rather naff late 20th/21st century term, but very necessary. When I started as a features writer with Which Computer some time before Adam got his fig leaf, we didn't, strangely, have the internet or social networking sites, and we had to Go Out And Talk To People. Most of us who worked in that kind of environment latched on to the internet very early on, but as so few others did, it didn't do us a lot of good. I began going to events such as the RNA (Romantic Novelists' Association) meetings and got to know a few people in the industry. Nowadays, you can connect with your favourite authors, make friends with agents - only don't pitch to them on Twitter! - and research opportunities easier than ever before. And still go to the real life events, too, if there are any appropriate to your particular fancy and if you can afford to.
Have I said anything helpful? I'm probably only reiterating what many others have said before. There are many how to sites and blogs out there, and I expect Gemma knows all of them. One thing we will all say, though, is to repeat the old adage: 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration. It's hard work, but persistence and dogged stubbornness will win the coconut. (Mostly.)
All the best,
All the best,
The latest Libby Sarjeant novel, Murder to Music, is out now and can be ordered here.
The latest Libby Sarjeant novel, Murder to Music, is out now and can be ordered here.
Friday, 8 April 2011
All the Fun of the Fair
An Interview with Russ Litten
I am not a native of Hull, and didn't move here until was in my mid twenties. As such, my first trip to Hull Fair – the largest travelling fair in Europe – was a memorable experience. Every year in mid October, Walton Street is taken over by old style fairground games; hair-raising, ultra-modern rides and more sweet & food stalls thank you can shake a plastic light sabre at. By the time night falls your senses are assaulted with neon lights, screams of laughter and blaring music. I remember thinking, "this is an amazing location for a novel," just before I took out a load of my aggression on the Whack-a-frog stall.
It turns out, however, that I was right. Russ Litten's debut novel, Scream If You Want To Go Faster, is based around the weekend of Hull Fair, just after the floods that caused havoc in the city back in 2007. Russ took some time out of his busy schedule to chat to the project about his debut novel, and his experiences of the writing and publishing industry.
Hello Russ! Have you always wanted to be a writer? What stopped you dreaming about it and actually put pen to paper?
I think my desire to be a writer stemmed from having a short story published in The Yorkshire Post when I was seven. The paper asked local school children to write something about Christmas and I wrote a short thing about an angel losing his halo and Santa finding it for him.
After seeing my story in print that was it for me, there was nothing else that I wanted to do. Which was fortunate really, because as I made my way through school it became very apparent that writing was my only real talent. I was useless at maths and couldn't kick a football, so putting words together was my only option. As I got into my teens I started reading about the Beats and that seemed like the very life for me - running around and having mad adventures and avoiding any form of responsibility. So when I was sixteen I joined a rock and roll band and volunteered for the job of lyric writer. That was when I started to really become conscious of my writing and tried to shape it for maximum effect.
You've worked a range of writing gigs prior to completing your debut novel, can you tell us a bit about those?
The first real writing job I had was in commercial radio. I used to write the adverts. At the time there was a concerted effort by people in the industry to raise the bar, both in terms of writing and production values. It was a good time to get involved and I got the chance to travel around a bit and meet some inspiring people. After that I became a freelance writer. I did stuff for magazines and newspapers, web-sites and other bits and bobs, including music festival brochures and cable TV publications. I used to write those things you saw in WH Smith where you buy the first issue and get issue two free, "The World's Most Famous Murderers" and stuff like that. It was all good practice for writing fiction because it equipped me with valuable editing techniques. And I was writing constantly on a wide variety of subjects. Somewhere along the line I got introduced to a film director and I went down to London to write film scripts.
So why the decision to write a novel?
My novel started off as a short film about a lad who got talked out of a suicide attempt by a taxi driver. I was told this story by the actual taxi driver in question. I thought it was a brilliant tale, and set about writing the dialogue and searching out people to put it together on film. I quickly found this to be logistically tricky, so I decided to re-write it as a short story. Impatience, really. And then I started wondering why the lad in this story would want to end his own life. So I put together another short piece along these lines. My original intention was to write a short story collection around a central theme, but I wasn't sure what the theme would be. Then I met up with my brother in law around the Christmas holidays and he told me his neighbour was a writer and if I was agreeable he'd show this fellow my stories. A couple of weeks later I got a phone call from this writer and he told me that in his opinion I was good enough to get published. And he also told me that I should write a novel, not a short story collection, the former being notoriously hard to sell for a first time writer. That was when I started to think of my stuff in terms of a thematic whole and started looking at ways of spinning all the stories together.
What type of writer are you?
I try to do at least two thousand words a day. I find the best routine for me is to get on the keyboard very early in the morning and just keep at it until mid afternoon. I have a rough outline of where it's going, but am always prepared to be led up various side streets and detours. Which is actually part of the joy of the process for me. I find I often think in terms of scenes rather than chapters. That helps me break it down into more manageable chunks. If I get stuck or stymied in any way I tend to go for a run in the park. That usually helps. And I like to write to music, although it's usually instrumental or ambient stuff. Lyrics get in the way. Or lyrics sung in discernible English, at any rate.
How long between starting your novel and seeing it hit the shelves?
I started the novel in the summer of 2008 and it came out in the January of this year. So that's about two and a half years. Although it seemed like several lifetimes longer.
Do you have an agent?
Yes, my agent is Jon Elek at AP Watt, and he's a thoroughly splendid fellow. I got an agent because I was told I needed one, basically. Your chances of having your manuscript read by a publishing house escalate noticeably if you are represented by someone with credibility and contacts. It's a simple matter of maths. They get flooded with stuff, so a recommendation from a trusted source tends to jump the queue.
Tell us a bit about Scream if you want to go faster
It's ten intertwining tales set in and around Hull Fair, in the aftermath of the floods that struck Hull in 2007. It's about ordinary people living under extraordinary circumstances and pressures. A lot of it is semi-autobiograpical. It's been described as "gritty", which is usually applied to most stuff that comes out of the North of England. But that's fair enough. I tried to give it a real human heart, because it's essentially a book about people and how they interact with each other. It is written in the present tense and the action all takes place over a single weekend. I had the idea that it would be rather like the police helicopter that flies over the city, picking out people below in the spotlight then swooping over to the next situation. I wanted it to be an accessible book and I wanted it to be very vivid and cinematic.
Has anything about the publishing industry surprised you? Is there anything you know now that you wish someone had told you right at the start?
I was initially surprised at the slow pace at which everything operates. I was used to fast moving commercial environments. But I've come to appreciate this way of working, because it's all about making sure every single detail is right, as painstaking as that can be sometimes. And I was very pleasantly surprised at how thoroughly decent and ego-free the vast majority of people I've met in publishing are. One thing that has surprised me is the lack of heavy marketing or publicity they do. I suppose this is because I'm a first time author. But I quite like this aspect as well. I'm all for letting things grow organically and I think at the end of the day a book will always find its natural audience.
What are you working on right now?
I'm on with my second novel as well as messing about with the odd short story and stage script. I also work in a prison two days a week helping people with their creative writing. The novel is the main event though. It's about two men who confess to the same murder. They're both unreliable narrators. One of them is an eighteen year old kid off an estate in Hackney. The other is a seventy year old ex-sailor who likes to gamble on horses and get drunk. The working title is Captain Jack & The Rocksteady Kid.
Have you got a long term writing goal that you're willing to share with us?
I'd like to write a novel every year and make enough money to keep going, feed the kids etc. And to help people feel less alone. That's the only ambition, really.
And finally, can you sum up a key piece of advice for aspiring writers in one sentence?
Don't think of yourself as an aspiring writer. Just be a writer. With the emphasis on be.
Thanks to Russ for talking to us about his debut novel. For those of you who have not experienced the heady insanity that is Hull Fair, Russ explains some of the draw over here, and you can read some of his articles over here. Scream If You Want to Go Faster is available now from Amazon.