Friday, 31 December 2010

another writer looks back at the year and also ahead to the new one


I've started this post about 5 times, deleting and re-doing it, unsure of how to really talk about my writing year. Thing is, it's impossible to do it without mentionning Mum. I veer away from blogging / facebooking about Mum, or about anything really personal - it's all part of my love / hate relationship with the idea that we have 'digital doubles' - the side of ourselves we choose to show online. And that I don't think I can get the words right, they will be too dramatic, or too casual, or not natural. But in leaving it out I feel guilty, and dishonest.

Overall I can't judge the 2 things together, only to say that I can't judge them apart. I can't say 'this happened/didn't happen' because of what I was going through. Even for an analytical person it's hard to detach enough to know how you've reacted to such a loss when it's still close by, and when really - you're still in it. But I do feel changed. And thankful.

And I feel hopeful.

I have high hopes and good feelings for 2011.

2011: my writing goals (don't like that word, or resolutions, or aims... can't think of a better one now though. Suggestions?)

- to write and publish something other than short stories. Although I will keep writing and publishing short stories, but I want to stretch myself and write some non-fiction. I have a few ideas for articles and places that might take them, nothing big - I'm new to it and will start small - but I've wanted to dabble in article writing for a while and it's time to add another string, I feel.

- to make good use of my agent contact. One of the most out-of-the-blue and lovely things to happen in 2010 was the offer to send some of my work to a literary agent. This is the kind of thing that you dream of happening - and although I'm not being rose-tinted about it - I know it doesn't mean that when I send something along the agent will love it and want to sign me and that will be the start of something - I am aware of how infrequently you get a chance to converse with someone in the publishing world, and I don't want to let that chance slip away. (If the agent in question reads this, please know that when I say 'make good use of' I just mean 'seize', in a very professional and normal way.)

- be less distracted by the internet. Always something I battle with, any time of year. Not much to be said about it - it's simple - get offline and write.

- and when I suddenly get a good idea, or have a breakthrough moment - don't decide NOW is the time to put the washing in, make a cup of tea, phone a friend, have a bath... odd, this one, only something I've become aware of recently - I can have a really good feeling about something, then just swan off. This is weird, Teresa: stop it.

- make progress with the 3 main projects you are working on right now. 2 books and 1 short story are edging forwards at a very slow speed. Let's speed it up.

I think that's all. It has taken me 3 hours to write this post, I've been doing things in between, but still... It's a hard thing to do though, looking back and looking forward.

I'd like to champion the present too - it never gets enough attention.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

bits of christmas

So it's that weird time between Christmas and New Year. I quite like it actually. I've always liked New Year: possibilities, ideas, reflections and goals.

I thought I'd share a few images from the last week. Christmas was okay - different without Mum, sadder, more emotional. I didn't feel Christmassy, but I had some nice experiences with Mario's family and my own.

There was also one traumatic experience; we went for a walk on Christmas Day and saw a man jump off a bridge into the (mainly frozen) river. The five minutes it took for the emergency services to get there were awful, frightening and surreal. He was okay, saved. Thankfully. It took a while to get over the feelings it conjured in a such a short space of time, made more intense because Mario wanted to jump in and help him, and I had to hold him back. There were other families around too, and maybe the oddest part of it was the silence, at first, no one spoke, apart from to call 999, I guess we were in shock. But he is out, and saved, and getting help and attention. The rescue response was amazing, how lucky we are to able to dial a number and help comes as fast as it can.

I'll write a post in the next few days that is writing-orientated, I imagine they'll be a list of resolutions and maybe some reflecting on the writing year that's passed. For now, I'll share a few photos.

East meets west:
not really, but this photo epitomises the cultural leanings of the Teresa/Mario household - my contribution: pickled onions and sausages on sticks. Mario brings dolmades (stuffed vineleaves). I love both.

Our mini disco tree, looks good with sausages and pickles a-top.

The lights and the star are up all year round, but they take on a Christmas vibe at Christmas.

I had some lovely presents, but I can't stop admiring my new slipper boots sent from Australia from Mario's sister. Now you can too.

Friday, 17 December 2010

another day

another submission.

Finally heard back from Mslexia and although my story got shortlisted for the next issue, it didn't get selected. A small exhale of curses. And move on...

So I've just edited it very slightly and sent it right back out again to here - Notes from the Underground - a free magazine with a huge readership that's distributed all around London, including on the underground. I've wanted to send something to this magazine before, I like that it's free and that it reaches people easily. Cross things for me. Ta.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

flick of a switch

I just made my first short story submission in 3 months - maybe the longest I've ever gone without entering some kind of competition or writing prize. My focus has been on my novel and a few other longer stories, so it feels amazing to have actually sent something away for consideration.

The end-of-year feeling looms, and it looms in a darker and more significant way as the anniversary of my Mum's death comes with it. This has been the hardest year of my life, and I can feel parts of me falling away, changing. I feel more protective of myself, strangely. In a short time I lost many of the things that held me together, and only recently am I realising that this new scaffolding is coming up around me. It's not like becoming hardened, I'm not that at all. But you do learn things when you go through something like this, about yourself and the people around you. Everyone deals with a bereaved person differently, and some won't deal with you at all. There have been some surprises; thankfully the good outweigh the bad.

I realised this year how much I turn to writing, and not just in the obvious way like writing how I'm feeling in my diary. If I've had a tough day, or I've been thinking over some hard or painful stuff, I'll consciously switch myself to 'writer' mode, and often it's as explicit as saying out loud: 'Okay - to writing now'. Or I'll write those words down after a journal entry, like I'm flicking a switch and going into another world.

It's not always about creating something, it can be about doing something practical, like researching places to sub to, or filing something, or sending some work out to an editor. It's probably to do with identity, and control, which I guess are two things I've been trying to keep hold of all year.

Friday, 10 December 2010

come to me, ideas

spark and light up a bulb
like ta-da!
you keep tapping me on the shoulder
and then running away

you're an idea of an idea
a whisker, a wave
from too far away

I'm walking towards you
I'm doing my bit.

That's just a bit of nonsense I wrote this week in my notebook as I worked on developing some ideas for a novel. You know that feeling when you're trying to get a plot point sorted, or you're struggling with some aspect or another, and it feels like it's there just somewhere out of reach... it was a bit like that.

Monday, 29 November 2010

this week

Hello, wowsers - the weather outside is frightful...

So this week I've been busy with the work I do for money and the writing I do for eventual international acclaim. I've been productive and disciplined. Most of the time.

I also caught up with an old friend, someone I haven't seen for 5 years, and had a day full of laughter. This was great, good for the soul. It's heartening to meet up with someone from your long-ago past and still find you can make each other laugh.

I read 'The Road' very quickly, too quickly perhaps - have never been more tempted to read the last page of any book as much I was with this one. I waited, and I thought it was brilliant.

I'm working every spare minute I have on a story to send to the Fish Short Story Prize - I have very little time in my schedule today and tomorrow but I'm doing it anyway.

It's snowing - a lot - a whole lot - where I live. I learned that my walking boots aren't that good at gripping or treading in sludge and ice. I'm walking very slowly. Shuffling, you might say.

Now, I'm off to meet a friend for coffee before work (I might have lied when I said I'm writing 'every spare minute'. But it is essential to have breaks.)

I have to shuffle to get there, best set off early. Here's a view of the snow from my window, when it first started falling a few nights ago

Friday, 19 November 2010

Writing Weekend

So, I'm back from the writing weekend - which was both productive and fun. I stayed in a cottage in the Yorkshire Dales with 6 other writers, none of whom I'd met before. I've been in contact with a few online, including Dan Purdue, for about 3 or 4 years. We've been in a closed (as in not public) writing forum for that time, reading and critiquing each other's work and having as closer to banter as you can get in a virtual world. I was, naturally, nervous about going along and meeting everyone, but it was fantastic - a challenge, yes - but rewarding, and confidence boosting in many ways.

Aside people being as normal as I hoped (yes! didn't get killed!) they were as interesting, funny and useful as they are online too. 'Useful' - couldn't think of another way to put it, but I mean it in relation to the feedback I got during the review circle. (I think it's called a review circle?) We each took a piece of work, finished or in progress, and took it in turns to read it aloud. As the person read their work out, everyone else followed on a hard copy of the work, noting bits they liked, bits they thought needed work. The writer then had to sit and receive the feedback without saying anything - just listening, until each person had given their thoughts. This is good - the writer isn't jumping in going 'Oh well I did that because...' It's useful to just listen, take in the feedback, then respond.

We also generated new work by doing some writing exercises, including a few 'creative visualisations' - a process I'm new to, but got a lot out of. The idea is that one person leads the group, asking everyone to close their eyes and relax. They then read out something a little like a guided meditation - it only lasts for a few minutes, but the idea is that you are invited to use your senses as much as possible, to imagine seeing certain things, being in a certain environment. You then have 30 minutes to just write whatever comes into your head - without worrying about how good it is - just write, just see what comes out.

I had a really interesting but fairly emotional experience with the first one - which can happen (actually happened to everyone taking part) - and I had been warned that it could go that way, so I was semi prepared. Because I was free-writing, I wasn't considering the words before I wrote them, but I knew I was writing on a theme - one of loss, of death, of losing someone. I stopped writing, pulled myself back a little. I didn't want to go too far in.

From each free-write I have several lines that work, that jump out and have a rhythm and maybe in the future a life and legs of their own to walk into, or inspire, a new piece of writing.

We ate together every night, and drank wine and chatted into the early hours. And we ventured out of the cottage just once all weekend. Here's what we saw.

So, a successful experience that we will no doubt repeat in the future. It was so nice to be 'cut off' - no internet, no phone, no TV. Though I loved coming back to all that, of course. And I have a lot to be thankful to the internet for - I wouldn't have met those writers if I hadn't started posting my work in an online writing group.

Also, the agent who contacted me last week wouldn't have found me without this blog. Embrace the internet! (Not that much...)

Thursday, 11 November 2010

relief, excitement

Ah. This is a sound of relief.

EE! This is a sound of excitement.

I'm relieved because after a difficult month things have picked up and taken on a new life, almost out of the blue. 'Out of the blue' - appropriate. I've had a tough month or so, all part of the grieving process I'm told, but I have regained my strength and feel more in control of how I feel now.

And a few things have happened this week that make you look upwards, downwards or outwards (whatever you believe) and say 'Thank you'.

I've been very focused and able to write which is the best feeling ever. Well, one of. I'm going on a writing holiday this weekend, staying in a cottage in the Yorkshire Dales with 6 people I've never met in real life. I feel like I know a few of them though, we've been part of the same online writing group for about 4 years so I'm really looking forward to actually meeting them. We're taking stories for workshopping and after an initial panic at the start of the week where I hated all my WIPs, I have since calmed and reworked a short story I've been stuck on for a while. This feels good.

And a few days ago a really lovely and exciting and unexpected thing happened. An agent who read one of my stories in an anthology emailed me and said that if or when I'm in a position where I'd like agent feedback she'd be pleased to read more of my work.

After going through an excited-suspicious-reassured (through Google) cycle I rested with a positive feeling, not expecting anything, thrilled to have been 'sought out' and to be able to have a dialogue with an agent, and even more boosted up about writing.

Out of the bad comes good.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Dear Friend

Only when you have nothing, can you become something.

At least that's what I've come to believe. Just one short year ago I thought I had it all - well paid job, organised wife, sabbatical coming up, Paul Weller concert tickets for the O2 Arena.

November 5th 2009: The day I lost it all, but gained so much more.

Looking back, I accept fully that it had to happen. I had to sink so I could realize I could swim. It was a wake up call.

But from whom? you ask.

Well, the universe.

Looking back, I can't believe the man I was.

But now I know I just wasn't ready to ride the path to enlightment just yet.

But, how do you know when you're ready?

Well, the truth is, most people will never be lucky enough to learn the things I've learnt, because they'll never truly be ready to receive the gifts of the universe.

I mean, how often does a man (or woman) lose EVERYTHING in the space of an hour?

I did.


(It is most likely that the universe will be annoyed at you if you do.)

SO, here's the deal:

For just $49, you can download my free e-book RIGHT NOW and read all about my journey to the bottom of the barrel of existence, including:

- how my wife hitched a ride home from the 02 Arena with another man and left me there, moving in with him shortly after

- how I lost my job THAT SAME NIGHT

- how my children seem to have lost all respect for me BUT how I'm planning on getting it back

- all the secrets of existence

ORDER NOW and receive 2 free special supplementary e-books:

- foraging for food in East Anglia
- home haircutting tips

Thank you and best wishes.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Happy Ha'llo'w'een

I like Halloween. It's got atmosphere and calls for half lights and warm drinks and spooky films and snacks. Or it does this year, in our flat. A quieter Halloween than previous years for me and Mario - part of the reason I like Halloween is down to Mario - it's his birthday tomorrow and because he loves horror and pumpkins and the whole thing we embrace it as part of his birthday-ness.

Here's the obligatory pumpkin-looks-like-it's-your-head photo of me from this year:

This is Mario doing the same last year

And from Halloweens past

Me, in the centre, with the luverly Patricia and Kathy

The year I was Regan from Exorcist - complete with pea-soup stained nightie and chewing gum stuck on my face for demonic scratch marks....

Mario went as (deep breath) A drag queen who had been killed by another drag queen while getting ready for a show... easier to make sense of in this photo

please note the stiletto-through-the-heart method of death.

Me and this year's pumpkin wish you a Happy Halloween

Friday, 29 October 2010

Confused it for love

He got her ready to fly, to float up and away from him. When her feet lifted she gasped. He said she’d be okay. He had found the sky for her, lifted her head and showed her the stars. She caught a breeze and billowed a little, afraid at first, then laughed. He cheered; she moved her arms like wings. He imagined the tingle in her insides, thought of her heart filling, expanding, leaving no room for him.

Friday, 22 October 2010

got woken up at 4am

by these words, spoken by my boyfriend (of nearly 9 years), who was propped up on his elbow and looking right at me:

"Hello, who are you? Hi - who are you? Who are you?"

He might as well have shone a torch into my eyes. But he accepted my answer of 'Teresa!' quite quickly, and, as usual when he sleep talks, he went straight back to sleep and has no recollection of it.


Today I'm working on some short stories / characters who are being fuelled by how I'm feeling at the moment - which is a bit unsettled, a bit at sea. (Not because of the interrogation, but it is quite fitting...)

Friday, 15 October 2010

this post is a bit business-like

First - I'd like to recommend a short story, Susan, by Alex Thornber. If you have a few minutes and you'd like to read something hip, but with depth (hard to pull off), click here. It's up at Metazen.

Alex is also the editor of Tomlit, a quarterly lit mag which took a hiatus over the summer. Now it's all open again, and so is the website - take a look here for an interview with Nik Perring, and here for a non-fiction piece by Tania Hershman. At the end of last year and earlier this year I helped out as the fiction advisor, but I'm now the assistant editor (check me, I have 2 new jobs!) and so...

we're looking for an intern of sorts to help out as Tomlit grows. This is a 'virtual' position - something that you'd do in your spare time from your own home, and mostly by email, most likely between yourself and Alex. You need to like reading short fiction and feel confident about giving constructive feedback to writers, even well known ones.

You have to not mind working for free.
Tomlit is totally non-profit, and is concerned only with promoting and celebrating new writing and art. Maybe you're a writer yourself - and you'd like to help generate ideas, maybe even write an article or story for the magazine.

If you're interested, send an email to alex.notebook [@]

And - The Tomlit Magazine is having a relaunch and so is open for submissions again. We'd love some of your fiction - go here for the guidelines and send us your best work.


Here's this month's (ish) round up of prizes and competition closing soon (with some of my thoughts on some of the prizes in italics...)

Dana Awards
Send: 5 poems, the first 50 pages of your novel, or a short story up to 10,000 words
1st prize: $1000 in each category
Entry fee: $15 per 5 poems, $15 per story, $15 per novel
Closes: 31st October

Huge wordcount for a short story. Postal entries only. Interestingly - simultaneous submissions are okay, as long as your work is unpublished at the time of entry. Dana very rarely publish the prize winning stories, so you would still be able to win a monetary award here and have your story published elsewhere, as long as you let the Dana Awards folks know.

Cinnamon Press Writing Awards
Send: up to 10,000 words of a novel/novella; 10 poems of up to 40 lines; 2-4000 words of a short story
1st prize: £400 for novel/novella & publishing contract, £100 & publication for poetry collection and short story
Entry fee: all categories £16
Closes: 30th November

I think £16 is way too steep for the short story category, especially as you can only enter one. It might sound harsh but £100 first prize isn't good enough, in my opinion, to spend £16 to enter. Cinnamon Press are well established, however, so it would be a good competition to be placed in.

The New Writer Prose and Poetry Prizes
Send: short stories up to 4000 words; novellas up to 20,000; single poems of up to 40 lines; poetry collections of 6-10 poems; essays and articles up to 2000 words.
1st prize: various for each category - 1st placed short story wins £300.
Entry fee: again, it varies, but it's £5 per story
Closes: 30th November

Leaf Books Memoir Competition
Actually - Leaf have quite a few competition deadlines coming up - take a look at their website. Here's the info for this one:
Send: an essay about your own life of up to 1000 words
1st prize: £150
Entry fee: £4 per sub or £10 for 3
Closes: 30th November

£10 for 3 entries is interesting in this competition - would that be 3 different lives you've led, 3 versions of the same life, 3 stages of your life..

Fish Short Story Prize
Send: stories up yp 5000 words
Prizes: 1st prize - 3000 euros; 2nd - a week at Anam Cara Artists' and Writers' Retreat + 300 euros travelling expenses; 3rd - 300 euros. The 10 winning stories published in an anthology.
Entry fee: 20 euros per story
Closes: 30th November

Also a high entry fee - BUT - in my opinion, Fish award amazing 1st and 2nd prizes that make it very appealing to enter.


There are a lot of competitions closing at the end of November - and as ever this is not an exhaustive list, just the ones that have caught my eye. Writer Dan Purdue has started to compile a list of competitions and prizes over at his blog - go see.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

my week

is really divided.

OK - thing is, I have a new routine because I got a new job. I've been doing the new job with the new routine for almost 2 weeks now. This is the 2nd week of the new Divided Week(s).

Previously I'd have a few days off scattered around, and the nature of my bar job would mean I'd sometimes do a day shift and sometimes a night and sometimes an all-day-and-night shift. Each week would vary. Not erratically, but I'd work some days, have a day off, work some more days, have a day off. Etc.

But now - I work for a University as a notetaker (I go to lectures with students who, for whatever reason, can't take their own notes) and all of my sessions are on a Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. I still do my other job, the bar job, Monday daytime and Saturday morning.

I'm free all day Thursday, Friday, most of Saturday and all day Sunday.

So really - all I'm saying is, I'm not actually working any less hours than I was a few weeks ago, but it's split up in this way that should be good - because I can dedicate Thursday, Friday, Sunday to writing. But for whatever reason, the split freaked me out last week and I didn't write a thing.

This is one of those posts that as I write it, I just think - who gives a sh*t? How indulgent is this, telling everyone what my days off are. There are men being hauled up from the ground right now. BBC News 24 is addictive today. Repetitive as always, but I can't help but watch each man come up - thinking about what he might be thinking, seeing the reunions with mothers/wives/children - knowing that somewhere in the world, a script has already been written. Probably been cast too.

It's an amazing story.

Sunday, 10 October 2010


watch tv programmes about the Booker Prize shortlisted novels and then open your latest WIP. All you will hear is Germaine Greer's voice reading your words and saying 'What a load of shit'.

watch this 20 second video.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Bridport 2010 and the Rejection Section

First up I just want to say for all those writers who are finding be by Googling things like 'Have Bridport announced the winners yet?' and such:

Bridport haven't announced anything but they have contacted at least the shortlisted poets, maybe the short story writers too. I only know this because Jonathan Pinnock has blogged about it.

I know how the need to know can get you - you Google Google Google it, refresh your emails, all that jazz - I do it myself, and it's often frustrating when you just want to know - have the winners been notified so I can move on with that particular piece of work. And maybe feel a little sad at not making it.

I'm in a bit of a Rejection Section (nice) at the moment - check out this list from the back of my notebook where I keep track of where my stories are. This is from May til now:

I haven't had a hit since... 100 Stories for Haiti in January. Wowsers. Okay. It's no biggie. It will be a fine day when the trend is broken (see, optimistic).

I've been working on The Book too, in bits and bobs. I'm a bit of a faddy writer. That makes it sound bad and I don't think it is. I just have different moods, different projects, and it's good - for me anyway - to go to each thing when I want to. I have several short stories at various stages of development right now, and The Book is always lurking. It means it can be more difficult to complete something in a short space of time, but that a story has space to grow (stale?) .

Along with this tendency to leap around I also believe that You Have To Show up and put yourself in front of your notebook, desk, PC, whatever, and Meet The Boat. (On reading over this post I realise these capitilzings look like titles of self-help books...)

So here's the thing I really want to tell you about. A few days ago I sat in my favourite coffee shop for writing. I was actually writing about writing. I'd taken a look at my Rejection Section and I sat thinking about how small my output can be at times, beating myself up a little really - giving myself the 'How do you expect to get a book published if you don't write it?' talk. Fair point.

Then I balanced it out by acknowledging that I do Show Up - I go to the coffee shop with my notebook and pen and no newspaper (mostly) and I sit and think about writing and sometimes I actually write things. Not always, but I go and put myself in that position and mindset and I believe it's useful in my busy working (not writing work) week to give myself that time.

I've mentionned before that I have a 'deal' with my friend Miles that we email each other a chapter of our WIPs at the end of each month. Well, with only 2 days to the end of September I had NOTHING to send to Miles. (Miles, who is actually a film maker primarily, is a bloody annoyingly productive writer who emailed me his chapter around the 20th September. )

There are various reasons why this month my book has taken a backseat but the over riding one is because I have been trying to write this book for ages, and after a certain point I hit a wall because the structure becomes a problem.

I really wanted to send Miles something, 'Even if it's only electronic pissvomit'.

So, back at home after the coffee shop I sat at my desk and forced myself to write up a list of reasons why the various structures and incarnations The Book has taken have worked or not worked.

I should mention, I have done this before - loads of times. BUT. SOMETHING HAPPENED.

It's as close to a 'Eureka' moment as I have ever had: I realised how to structure the book. I shouted some words out like, 'Yes! That's it!'. I felt like I had loads of energy in my belly that I couldn't get out.

I drew this

And really, it feels like it was always there - this idea, this way to do it, just below the surface. An enamel surface; a thin ice surface too.

This is a long post. I try not to do long posts. Really, it's just about how this week I have really felt the ups and downs of writing, but I kept doing the the constant stuff, like going to the coffee shop, like putting myself at the desk.

Friday, 24 September 2010

you know it's time to step away from the laptop when

it's your first day off in a while, and although you really want to write, you're actually just watching wedding dances on youtube.

It's not like you even want to get married or anything. You just followed a link to a fairly good one (here) and from there you couldn't stop clicking all the other links like 'BEST FIRST DANCE EVER!' which, in comparison to the fairly good one, are really crap.

Suddenly you come to your senses, but you're not sure how long you were 'out'. You feel a bit sick.

You ask, Where has the day gone?

You curse the internet. And yourself.

You blog about it. You still feel a bit woozy.

You have a kiwi fruit to try to undo the badness.

Friday, 17 September 2010

how long does it take

Despite being really busy and only having one day off this week (today) I've managed to be pretty productive with writing. Have you heard that saying, something like, 'If you have something to do, ask a busy person to do it'? It's most likely snappier than that, but you get the idea.

Things get even busier next week when I start my new job - I'm doing some Education Support work at university. I'm a 'Study Buddy' to start with and will probably do some note taking, library support etc soon as well. I'm pretty excited because one of the students I'm working with is studying Creative Writing - hm, might have to hold back when I accompany them to lectures... don't get involved, Teresa, it's not about you...

So today I've been working on my story for the Asham Award competition. Not the story I was working on last week, oh no, a new one. I have about 2 weeks to have it ready, but I'm being relaxed about it. If it's not ready or isn't happnin then that's okay. I don't have to enter, I just really really want to.

Incidentally, how long do you take to write a short story? A friend told me that Alice Munro takes 6-8 months. I think that's fantastic. I'm heartened by that. When I started writing a few years ago I'd fire them out, and probably needed to seeing as many of them were crap. Less are crap now. Because I don't write as many.

Or it takes me longer. Ideas come and are batted about in my head, my notebook, my head etc, then I might leave them for ages, months and months. Sometimes they become a story, or get worked into a story.

It's hard to really know how long it takes, or how many I write a year. I remember reading, again, in the (my) early days, that Neil Gaiman writes 1-2 stories per year. Back then I was astonished at his pitiful output. Now I think, yeah, similar to me, if I count complete stories that I feel are finished.

What about you?

Saturday, 11 September 2010

closing and opening

A couple of established and interesting places to send your work to:

Biscuit Flash Fiction Competition
Stories between 250-750 words
£1000 1st prize, and an anthology of the best 10 stories
£9 to enter
Closes 14th September

These 2 are just for female writers (sorry boyz)

Mslexia New Writing
Stories and poems on the theme 'Departures'
Free to enter
Prize: Publication in the magazine
Deadline 17th September

Asham Award 2010
Stories under 4000 words on the theme 'Ghost or Gothic'
Entry fee £15
First prize £1000, 12 selected stories published in an anthology alongside especially commissioned writers
Closes 30th September (postal entries only)

For me, The Asham Award has been on my list of Places I'd Love To Be Published for quite a few years now. The competition only comes around every 2 years, and the anthologies published by Bloomsbury are gorgeous.

But I can't lie and say I'm not put off by the theme (it's the first time there's been a theme, it's usually open) but this week I have worked myself into and around it, wading past all the Very Bad Ideas I got when I first brainstormed 'Ghost or Gothic'.

I think it's fair to say that a themed comp has the potential to attract a lot of entries with similar plots, so the further past your first 50 or so ideas you get you have more of a chance of presenting something original to the judges. I wonder if the Asham theme will put off some short story writers who are a bit snobbish (I was) about writing to a theme they don't usually dabble in?

But I really wanted to enter. Like I said, it's one of my Writing Ambitions. And I want to see if I can create something I believe in from such a challenging starting point.

So, after some delving and note taking I have found a story, which I didn't expect to. It's maybe more suspenseful than ghostly. It's certainly not Gothic-y. But it's proving interesting to put together, and feels refreshing enough. I'm excited to be writing something brand new.

Other news:
Tomlit is back - check out the new look, and an a non-fiction piece by Tania Hershman.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

He draws me in for a hug

Me: Watch my hair, I don't want to have to do it again today.

He: It's done?

Why I oughtta!

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

This week-

  • A Big Spider ran at me. Well, not at me, towards me. In my general direction. I was on the sofa, IT was scampering across the floor. I screamed, Mario 'got' it without killing it and sent it outside. It's maybe the 4th Big Spider we've ever seen in our flat in the 5 years we've lived here but I will be constantly looking over my shoulder now for perhaps the next 3 days until the trauma has worn off.

  • I didn't enter any of the writing competitions I'd earmarked because I didn't have any stories that were good enough. There are some interesting competitions closing soon which I will enter and share the details about them with you here (what a charming and well written sentence).

  • I'm working on The Book Thing and will have the first chapter ready to send to writer friend Miles by Friday (with whom I have struck a 'Let's get off our asses and write our books' incentive deal thing.)

  • I'm wowed that it's September and feel a mix of relief: Busy Summer Holidays are over (working in customer service gets you like that), excitement: September is an exiting month, in a New Start Back To School kind of way (I'm not at school, but I have a new job based at the University and I do get excited around academic institutions) and sadness: the start of another new season without Mum, and the slow dread of Christmas, a tough time for me anyway, tougher still without her here. But right now, the sun is out.

Thursday, 26 August 2010


to see if I can upload video from my camera

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

when your phone number is similar to the local vet's

"Hello love, sorry to bother you, it's Joyce Marvin here, that's M-A-R-V-I-N, and I just wondered how the little hedgehog we brought in on Friday afternoon is doing, is he alright?"

Friday, 20 August 2010


"And it was the 2 things she couldn't bear: wounds and phlegmy chests, wasn't it?"

"Yeah. And I was always all right with the gangrenous feet."

Thursday, 19 August 2010

If you and your manuscript were fictional characters, which ones would you be and why?

Wowsers - nearly 2 weeks since my last post. Just a brief one to say hello, to assure you I'm still here.

The 500 words on each day off thing isn't really happening as easily as I'd like, but words are being written, just not so many for The Book as I thought. I fall in and out of love with this project very easily, and the 500-words were meant to encourage me to consistently work on it, along with my usual stash of short stories.

But a new incentive presented itself when my filmmaker friend Miles told me he's working on a novel and he'd like me to read the first chapter - Sure, I said, and hey - I'll send you the first section of my book too, and - let's have a deadline - howzabout 31st August? Sorted.

So in 10 days or so I'll send him the rough and very first-drafty draft of the beginning of The Book. I might even tell you what the fook The Book is (not a novel, not exactly non fiction, seriously not a memoir) instead of all the smoke and mirrors. It's the way I said I fall in and out of love with it - writing about it here is like commitment. I'm like Nick in Coronation Street (I realise that might be relevant to less than 1% of anyone reading) afraid of committing to Natasha. I'm such a user.


If you and your manuscript were fictional characters, which ones would you be and why?

Friday, 6 August 2010

Ha, so, anyway, but. Sigh.

HA, well. Yesterday was s'posed to be the first day of writing 500 words of The Book. I did everything else on my list of things to do, apart from write the 500 words.

SO, not the best start. But I did go to the hairdresser's, and having my hair cut is always a traumatic experience. Not that I'm precious about my hair, I just hate being in the hairdresser's. There is something about being sat in front of myself that makes me act like an idiot. It's intimidating, and weird, and I try to over compensate for this by talking too much and acting like I don't find it intimidating or weird. One of my earliest published stories (2006, called The Closest Thing, in this anthology) was set in the chair at the hairdresser's.

ANYWAY. After the hair thing (good cut, by the way) I did all kinds of essential stuff like wash the sofa throw, make a rice salad, finish reading a book... Good book, actually, so not my fault. One Day by David Nicholls - great, absorbing, funny... nice premise too: each chapter is set on July 15th over 20 years - 1988 to 2008, following the almost-relationship and friendship of the two lead characters, Emma and Dexter. I'm certain it'll be made into a film and ruined some time in the next couple of years. *See comments*

BUT. Today. Today was better. Today I did it. 557 words of The Book exist that did not exist 2 hours ago. It still took me a while to get there. First I had to go for coffee, do some food shopping, do laundry, read blogs, check emails, check the websites of prizes I've entered, check emails, read blogs, check emails. But I did it with that Grayson Perry quote 'Creativity is failure' firmly in my mind.

SIGH. Pat on back. Sip of wine.


And now - a couple of useful or interesting things for your writer's eyes:

Competitions Closing Soon

Wells Festival of Literature
Stories between 1800-2000 words
£500 first prize
£4 entry
Closes August 31st
(Festival takes place in early October, which means there's probably a quick turnaround for the results with this one.)

Aesthetica Annual Creative Works Competition
Send 1 or 2 stories of up to 2000 words each
£500 first prize
£10 entry
Closes August 31st
(I think 2 stories for the £10 entry fee is pretty good)

Ilkley Literature Festival
Stories of up to 3000 words
£200 first prize
£4 entry
Closes September 1st
(Like the Wells Competition, the festival takes place in October so there's probably a quick turnaround for results again.)

And 2 blog posts I've enjoyed this week

Editorial Ass on the different types of publishing we can choose to pursue - a really direct, useful and balanced post from someone who works in the industry.

Creepy Queery Girl's inspired metaphorical post entitled 'I feel like a sperm'. Read why here.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Best intentions

Hm. I haven't blogged much this past month, and the few posts I've written have been about other things: pointing you to more useful blogs, or to competitions, or to photos of Kestrels wearing plaster casts. I've been out-sourcing a bit. 'Skirting around' a bit. And that pretty much mirrors where I've been with actual writing too.

I've had a few rejections, been unsuccessful in some competitions I'd thought too much about being successful in. That happens anyway, but coupled with not-writing much, I've been feeling a bit jaded, a bit lacking in direction.

And, we all know that when that feeling is identified, a list of THINGS TO DO must be made. Direction must be found, goals and targets written in list form. A great sense of excitement and promise occurs in this stage of the writing process: anything is possible. I have the tools, I often have the time, I just need the kick up the ass every now and again.

I've learned in the past few years that there are times when I need to not write, or not write much, and that can go on for a few weeks, but when the angst rears its head, it's time to make a list. Preferably with a new way of measuring progress. This time it's word count. I've never really done that before, even though it's the obvious one.

So, on my days off I will write 500 words of The Book I Want To Write. (It's not a novel, and it's not non-fiction either. I'll just call it The Book from now on. When I get into my stride a little, I will tell you more about it.)

I might get one of those gadgets for marking my word-count progress on the side of the blog.

500 words isn't much really, is it? I bet you're reading this and thinking - 'Pah! I write 1000 before dawn!' or something equally intimidating. I did read that Kate Mosse gets up at 4am everyday to write. 4am! Reading that kind of thing can be seriously damaging to the insecure-about-my-writing-routine-writer. I'm not like that now, I think I used to be. I might still be a bit. But not much.

Along with the 500 words on days off (I have 3 days off a week) I'll also be working on short stories, and keeping an eye out for the prizes and competitions I really want to send my stories to.

And when I enter something I'll send the story away and let it go - and keep writing, keep writing.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

possible freedom

How do you follow such a political hard-hitting blog post as my last one? Ce n'est pas possible.

Instead of even attempting to write a post of my own tonight, I'd like instead to direct you to Jessica Patient's recent post on creativity and imagination - based on notes Jessica took as she listened to the artist Grayson Perry interviewed on Radio 4. It's very useful, and will maybe strike a chord or two in you - take a look.

I love the fact that Perry has a concrete beam in his studio, engraved with 'Creativity is mistakes'. The freedom you can give yourself by believing that must be awesome. I want to get there.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

more than a LITTLE off topic


following on from the comments box in my previous post...

I need you need to participate physically in a small and useless experiment.

You know how Elvis lifts up one side of his lip in a 'uh huh huh' kinda way?

Well - can you do that?

If yes - which side, left or right?

And - can you do it both sides, ambidextrous-stylee?

Please share.

Or ignore and do something useful like write a story.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Closing soon, twitch

Here's the round up I promised of places you could send stories to this month.

Closing soon:

Wasafiri New Writing Prize
Up to 3000 words
£300 first prize
£5 entry
Closes 30th July

Hay-on-Wye Short Story Contest
up to 2000 words
£400 first prize
£6 entry
Closes 31st July

Narrative Magazine Short Story Contest
Up to 15000 words (that's right, big word count)
$3250 first prize (that's right, big first prize - generous 2nd and 3rd prizes too)
Entry $20
Closes 31st July
(I'm quite intrigued by this one - the prize fund is huge, the magazine looks good, and the results are announced September 1st - a tres short turnaround.)

HISSAC Open Short Story Competition
Up to 2500 words
£400 first prize
£5 entry
Closes 31st July
(I like this, from the website: "All stories on any theme are welcome, the more interesting and unusual the better")

Sean O' Faolain Story Competition
Up to 3000 words
First prize 1500 euros
15 euros entry fee
Closes 31st July
(This one is being solely judged by Tania Hershman, and she has, very generously, posted a blog about what she looks for when reading short stories, and another on judging competitions.)

I'd like to enter all these competitions but realistically might just manage one or two. Good luck if you go for any of them.

Other news - I woke up at 4am this morning with a twitch on the left side (my left) of my upper lip. You know one of those involuntary twitches that you usually get in your eye? My lip's doing that. It still is, sporadically, 12 hours later. It's quite subtle but if you look closely I look like I'm trying to snarl. That's all.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

off topic

It's a little off topic, but I do enjoy this photo
Kevin the kestrel

Thursday, 8 July 2010

U-turn, and oh dear

Yep, did a total U-turn with the Quotes from my teenage diary blog. I've taken it down for a mixture of reasons, none too dramatic.

I got cold feet basically, thought about what I wanted from it, suddenly felt unsure. It's not that the content was too personal, not really, but it's an odd thing to look back and share in such a way. Especially because certain things in my life now are so different to my life back then. It may get resurrected, I just thought whilever (not a word, but I like it) I'm having second thoughts I'd take it down.

Having a nice couple of days, reading and relaxing. Some writing, but I'm definitely going through a thinking/gestating period after the very business like end to June with all the editing and subbing. I can feel myself gearing up again, certain project ideas forming, taking shape.

I just sang to a bottle of wine. I reached into the fridge and sang as I took a bottle of wine out, my first drink in a while (well, 3 days) which I was looking forward to, using as a reward - 'Finish this, this, this and this - then have a glass of wine...' and when our eyes met I heard myself sing out loud:
Hello, is it me you're looking for?
oh dear. oh dear. oh dear.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

bit rejected, bit exposed, pretty proud

The Ash gig was ace. Energetic and awesome. Better cos I found a bench to stand on - otherwise I would have seen nowt. Seeing what's going on on stage is often a problem for me, being just 5 feet tall. Depends on the venue. I think, if I ever own a venue, I'll ensure the audience arrange themselves in height order. Like a school assembly.

After checking the Frome Festival website periodically to see if they've contacted/announced the winners of their short story competition I've learnt today that they have actually contacted the winners. So that's one less website to obsessively look at. No I need to find a new place to send that rejected story. I'll do a post soon with a round up of interesting places that are accepting fiction.

Really pleased that my pals who made the new Brit flick Crimefighters are doing well - the film premiered at Edinburgh last week and has had reviews and mentions in such places like Time Out and Empire Magazine online. Miles Watts, the director, wrote a guest post for me a little while ago. He also makes the ace cult (oh, and popular) web series Zomblogalypse with Crimefighters editor Tony Hipwell. We all worked at the same place until Miles left about a month ago. It's just very heartening to see your creative friends getting there. I'm tres proud.

Exposed: I've just put up the 2nd post on my new blog venture, Quotes from my teenage diary. Take a look, say hello maybe...

* addition: my 'Quotes from' blog is having a temporary rest - I'm not 100% sure if and how I want to share my diary stuff, I guess that word 'exposed' is accurate... I need a little think on this one.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

nostalgia and a new thing

I'm getting ready to go and see Ash tonight. Ash were my *favourites* when I was a teenager. I loved Tim Wheeler. I loved their music. I went to see them when I was 15, and it was a Big Deal, that whole gig. I ended up "meeting" one or 2 members, and that just fuelled my adoration for another 3 years or so.

I kinda dropped off following them so much when I got into my 20s, but their music means a lot. The music of your teenage years does, right? When I heard they were playing right here where I live now, I had to get tickets.

So tonight I can't help but think back to me at 15, back in 1996, getting myself ready to go see Ash. I actually feng-shui-ed my room before I went, using an article in Just 17 as my direction. After the gig, after "meeting" the band, I wrote to Just 17 and told them about my pre-gig Feng Shui, certain it was down to the red ribbon I tied on my door that brought me the good fortune. Just 17 published that letter : my first piece of published writing.

See, see how nostalgic going to see them is for me? See how I'm inevitably making comparisons between 15 year old Teresa and 29 year old year old Teresa?

I just reached for my box of diaries and found the entry from 19th May 1996. The gig was "best gig ever!" and "I moshed!" and "It was ideal!"

And I've just read over other dates around 19th May 1996 and found myself, as I usally do, in a mix of laughter and embarassment and sadness and elation at the stuff I wrote in my diaries.

I've toyed with this idea for a while but actually have started it tonight. It seems fitting. I now have another blog, Quotes from my teenage diary, which I'll use as a place to house stuff from my teenage diaries. It's all quite new, it's all a bit hazy, but it's begun, and if you'd like to pop over and follow, I'd love to see you there.

Now, here's the song that made me fall:

Thursday, 1 July 2010

darn it! Bug it

In all my ultra-organised writing and sending work out phase, I forgot to blog about Bugged - a tres interesting writing project devised by Jo Bell and David Calcutt.

If you want to take part: today you need to tune yourself into the world around you, listen and take note (discreetly) of a conversation or the snatches of a conversation you overhear.

Then write something inspired by that little nuggety gem, and send it to the Bugged project by August 15th.

So plenty of time to create something, but just today to find your inspiration.

Though, if you send it before August 15th the best work will be published on the Bugged blog.

The very best pieces of writing will be published in an anthology. Aces.

Check out the website for the full details.

Don't get punched. Be discreet. Try not to react if you hear something juicy. Just snigger inwardly and jot it all down. Change names. Don't get anyone in trouble. Unless you think they should be in trouble. I'll stop now.

Good luck!

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

oh blogger

why you so slow? Anyone else having Blogger Bother?

Anyway -

more and more people are finding me by Googling Bridport related stuff so I just want to send a massive wave of positivity to everyone sat at their computers desperately finishing a story ready to submit by midnight tomorrow (Weds), everyone who's reading over the story they thought last week was HOT and now it just reads cold cold cold... to everyone who wants and needs a break - just go for it, send your best story, and let it go and do its thing.

Nicola Morgan wrote a great post on luck today - and the word that really stands out in there for being ultra useful is persevere - I entered Bridport 3 times before I won a prize, and I've been rejected/not made it in loads of prizes before and since. You just have to do it, keep doing it, keep learning, keep writing.

Monday, 28 June 2010

What is it with me and 1400 words?

I just got back from a weekend in London where I stayed with my best friend, Claire. The main purpose of the trip was just to spend time with Claire really - we've been friends for about 11 years after meeting in our first year at Uni. We shared a house and a sense of humour, and that's kept us together ever since.

She moved down to London last year so it was really cool to see the life she's carved out for herself there, and catch up over pasta and gin and wine. We spent Saturday at Hampstead Heath, took a swim in the Ladies lake - a totally new experience for me, and once I got over the fact that my feet didn't touch the bottom I quite enjoyed it.

And, I got to meet Claire's new boyfriend, Luigi. Now - here's something brilliant - my boyfriend of over 8 years is called Mario. When I spoke to Claire a couple of months ago and she said she had a date with a guy called Luigi, neither of us 'clicked' for a while, but when we did, it was awesome.

So, I'm feeling totally blissed out after my weekend actually. I think I really needed the break, and the friend-time. I deliberately didn't take any writing to work on while I was there, but continued on with stuff I'm working on today. I really wanted to send something to VS Pritchett Memorial Prize, but the story I thought I'd send isn't ready enough, and won't be by tomorrow (closes Wednesday, but postal entries only).

What I've found unusual about the rules of this comp is that stories must be at least 2000 words, and maybe that's been part of the problem for me. A lot of my stories end around 1400. I don't want to pad something out that works fine at 1400, and, as I mentioned, the new piece is just too much of a first draft right now. I have a good amount of stories out being judged (check out the list in the sidebar) so I'm okay letting this one go.

I've just done something I didn't think I was going to do until a few days ago. I've sent something to this year's Bridport Prize, but to the Flash Fiction Prize rather than the Short Story. I remember at the prize giving last year quite a few of the readers I met asked if I'd enter the 2010 comp and I said I didn't think so, but I accidentally wrote a brand new flash that I liked so I thought 'Why not'. You still have 2 days until all the Bridport deadlines, good luck to anyone entering.

And Bridport related news is that part of the perk of being a prize winner from last year means that my story In a Seaside Cafe has been entered into the BBC National Short Story Award on my behalf, by the publishers of the anthology. That's really cool, and exciting.

I think that's all.

Out of interest, do any of you have a word count that most of your stories hover around, or is it just me?

Monday, 21 June 2010

less a to-do list

The writing streak continues. Breath is held. Only it's not really - I'm just appreciative and happy that I'm 'on it' as the Americans say. I think that's an American thing to say?

I reckon there are some contributing factors to me getting more done, and maybe one of them will help another writer/creative (if I only help one other writer...) so I'll share.

Reasons I think I'm writing more:

- I got rid of Facebook. So, generalising this advice I'll say eliminate unnecessary distractions.

- I made a list of competitions, with cash prizes, that are closing soon. I shared them here. I would really like a holiday this year, and if I can fund it with writing that would be brillo. I know it's not all about the money, otherwise we wouldn't do it, but the incentive helps. I decided to enter all four of the competitions I found, and already I've entered two - a week before the closing dates! So - have an incentive.

- I'm busy the weekend before the closing dates. I know I just said I'd like a holiday, so it will sound like a contradiction when I say I'm going to London this weekend, but as it's just 2 days to visit my friend and won't involve much relaxing it doesn't count. But the point is that time is limited before the comp closing dates - so there's a little pressure, and I work well under pressure. So - apply pressure.

- I learnt a new thing. Well, someone told me about a thing that they do and I've started it too. This links to the title of this blog post and is most appropriate if you like making lists, which I really do. Ok - rather than making a 'to-do' list, make a 'prediction list'. Predict what you think you'll get done that day/week/writing session - whatever works best for you. Tick things off as you go, as you would anyway. If, at the end of the time you've given yourself - day/week/writing session - you have stuff left on the list - you should think about your predictions, your expectations of yourself, rather than the negative of Not Doing Everything On The List. Maybe you were unrealistic in your goal-setting. It makes you consider the time you have, and prioritise what you need to do. I'm not sure if this would work for everyone. It would be helpful to people who put unrealistic expectations on their time. I don't do that, I just like a new way of listing. So - get a new gimmick. Or, a new way of writing and ticking off your achievements.

Think that's it.

Oh - it's my blog's birthday today! Happy birthday blog. You are one. You are like a little baby owl, unafraid, by the side of a majestic lioness.

Best photo ever? I think so.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

just had

a really good writing session. Same happened yesterday too. In a few snatched hours I've reworked and redrafted 3 'already written almost forgotten about' stories and added some words onto a WIP I'm pretty excited about.

This hardly ever happens to me. This level of productivity feels about right. I never feel 'about right' (with writing). I even sang a weird medley of celebration songs just now.

The medley included the theme tune to this ace TV show I used to watch with my Nana and Grandad when I stayed at their house on Friday nights when I was about 8. I recommend everyone finishes off a good writing session by singing this song.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

this is new

I clicked on 'design' on the Blogger dashboard and started changin' stuff. You can't go back. This panicked me at first; I missed my old design. But I'm embracing the change now.

Just wanted to share some interesting writing competitions that I've spotted, and hope to enter myself:

Sentinel Literary Quarterly Short Story Competition
1500 words maximum
£150 first prize
£5 to enter
Deadline 25th June

Royal Society of Literature V.S Pritchett Memorial Prize
2000 - 5000 words
£1000 first prize
£5 to enter
Deadline 30th June

Spilling Ink Review Microfiction Competition

300 words maximum
£100 first prize
£5 to enter
Deadline 30th June

Writers' Bureau Short Story Competition
2000 words maximum
£1000 first prize
£5 to enter
Deadline 30th June

Good luck if you enter any of these. I'm working on something new for at least one of them, and might polish up some drafts for the other 3. I want to get more work 'out there', it makes me feel good and productive, even if it ends in rejection.

I had a rejection last week from an online magazine, felt quite put out by it for a moment or two, then let it go.
It was for a very short flash piece that I've had trouble placing for a while. I'm thinking now that it might not work so well as a stand-alone piece, but there are a couple of images in it I like. I should think about adding it to something else perhaps.

Or not think about adding it, that might be too self-conscious. I think I'm always balancing on that line - trying, but not trying too hard. Being disciplined, but relaxed.

What line do you find yourself balancing on, in terms of writing/creating?

Friday, 11 June 2010

well being; all being well will lead to more writing

Here's what's been happening with me lately, told in list form and in annoying third person wherein I refer to myself as 'Writer'

- Writing output has decreased, writer notices, tries to improve output by drawing blocks of time devoted to writing (see here)

- Blocks of time don't work in the way writer wants them to. Instead, writer is overly aware how little she is doing.

- Writer doesn't give up. She keeps putting time aside to write, but words aren't coming.

- She is tired. She isn't sleeping too well.

- She has a particularly bad day at work and spontaneously applies for a new job, 2 weeks later she gets an interview, and is offered the job. This lifts her spirits. Around this time, writer enters 2 short story competitions, with 2 old stories.

- Another act of spontaneity: writer buys a second hand bike from a friend. She hasn't been on a bike for years. Maybe 9 or 10 years. She is scared at first and cries, "The seat is too high!" but then she has another go and she's okay, she rides shakily down the street (on the pavement, of course)

- Writer still isn't writing. She's not even reading much. When people ask, 'How's the writing going?' she tells the truth. But she finds herself saying things like, "This happens from time to time, I'm probably just needing some time to do other things."

- Other things, when not working, are prominently making odd coloured fruit juices and bike riding. Some cooking and being with people she loves.

- Writer remembers how much she got out of yoga for about 3 months a few years ago. She's never really forgot how much she got out of it, she just lost the enthusiasm/confidence to do it.

- Writer finds a yoga class and goes to it. Writer 'deactivates' her Facebook account, because it steals her time. She goes to the library and takes out a yoga book.

- Writer goes to her favourite coffee shop and doesn't write. Oh, but she does write a list of what she wants to do that day.

- The word 'create' is one of the words on the list. The writer comes home from the coffee shop and opens a file on her computer of an unfinished story. She types! New words! She types!

- Later that day, she blogs in list form, and annoying third person.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

How you write - Part 9 - Miles Watts

This 'Tell me how you write' is a little different to the previous guest posts. First off, Miles Watts is a filmmaker, and we haven't had one of them before. Secondly, Miles and I are friends in real real life, we worked together until very recently - Miles left our 'day job' for a very cool reason - his latest film Crimefighters has been accepted into The Edinburgh International Film Festival. I'm ultra proud of him. And I heartily recommend you check out his web series Zomblogalypse, which has a huge online following.

Writing is probably my favourite part of making films. It’s the part where anything is possible and there are no limits but your imagination. One of my childhood heroes, George Lucas, says he absolutely hates writing scripts, whereas Alfred Hitchcock said it was the best part of the process and that making the film was the tedious part because it was already all in his head.

I’m kind of halfway between those two opinions in terms of love for the process; I enjoy the script stage but I also enjoy the practicalities of turning the script into something real. A screenplay is just a blueprint after all, not a finished piece of work like a novel.

It’s a scary and exciting moment, sitting down to write a screenplay because all the flimsy ideas you’ve had now have to get put down in actual words, but before that moment I’ve usually sketched out the idea on copious amounts of paper. Ideas for films have always come to me while doing something else like cycling, being at work or in the pub, so very often the film has been scribbled out on the back of a receipt or napkin by the time I sit down to write.

I’m a big fan of visual aids and I always have a chart or diagram of some kind that lays out the film. That way you can tackle one scene at a time while having an idea of the way everything fits together. Index cards are useful for scribbling individual scenes on, a trick I learned from Syd Field’s book Screenplay. I’ll transfer these to my computer so when I start I can see a list of all the scenes in the film, then fill in the scenes as I go, but most of the time things are scribbled in a notebook or scrap of paper that I can pin up and refer to.

On the rare occasions I write on paper it ends up being a complete illegible mess, so I always write at my computer unless I’m not in front of it so I can make quick changes. I bash out the dialogue really quickly, my fingers moving almost as fast as an actual conversation. That way I can be sure I’m letting my characters talk to me rather than putting words in their mouths, and that’s the most satisfying part of the whole process. I go into a kind of frantic meditative state where I’m just a receptor for these lines coming out of the ether. I literally write the first thing that comes into my head so that the characters are talking to each other. It’s not until later that I’ll tweak and make changes so that the dialogue comes from the characters and doesn’t just serve the plot.

One thing I learned that is very helpful is to take the draft of a script and turn to any page at random. If I can’t find several points or lines of dialogue relevant to character or plot, they get changed. I do this until I can turn to any page of the script and be confident that every page advances the plot and stays true to character. Sometimes I’ll see a line of dialogue and think, ‘He/she wouldn’t say that’ so I give it someone else.

The point of the first draft for me is always to finish the screenplay and get closure before I move onto further drafts. A screenplay is never finished after one draft, rarely after three or four unless you’re some kind of genius. Even then, a screenplay is never set in stone all the way through filming, and should be constantly tweaked and changed all the way to the final edit. The only exceptions I can think of offhand are the Coen Brothers and David Mamet, where you clearly wouldn’t want to change a single word.

Just because you had some good ideas during the writing process doesn’t mean all of them will work for the film; sometimes actors will suggest line changes and the shot will dictate what you can/can’t film. A director has to remain flexible and confident of the overall vision that he/she is comfortable to make changes all the way until the end, so the whole process is an incredibly liberating and exciting creative challenge.

Infected with the film bug at the age of 8 after seeing E.T. in 1982, Miles’ first film was an 8mm, 5 minute epic in which his Indiana Jones went to find some ‘sacred treasure’. Moving to York to study a degree in English Literature in 1995, Miles began writing scripts with a mind to making one of them into a film one day.

Miles honed his writing and editing until in 2006 he wrote, produced, directed and edited his first feature film, The BandWagons, made with no budget, which sold out the local cinema when it premiered. In 2008 Miles wrote his second feature CrimeFighters which he directed in 2009, and began the cult zombie web series Zomblogalypse. CrimeFighters has just been accepted into this year's Edinburgh International Film Festival and picked up for cinema release by the Picturehouses chain, while Zomblogalypse continues to gain fans around the world, with plans for a feature.