Monday, 31 March 2014

Karen Jones writes a letter to herself

I'm delighted to welcome Karen Jones to the blog, here to celebrate the launch of her first collection, Upside Down Jesus and other stories. These stories have made it to the top in loads of big-name big-deal writing prizes - the title itself is from a Mslexia prize winner. (Tracy Chevalier loved it). 

I asked Karen if she'd like to write a letter to her younger self, just like Vanessa Gebbie, Kerry Hudson and Andrew David Barker have done for us in the past. You're in for a treat. A double treat, in fact - because there's a copy of Upside Down Jesus and other stories for one lucky reader - all you have to do is leave a comment on this post and your name will go into a hat (I'll take photos, it'll be amazing) and if I pick you Karen will mail the book out your way. 

Over to Karen now, writing to Karen then.

A letter to me in 2001

Hello You,

It’s 2001 and for some reason your fashion choice for hair and clothes is ‘looks like she’s from the future or Star Trek’. There you are, in a holiday apartment in Blackpool with the two most important people in your life, and in a way it’s thanks to them that you’ll start to take the idea of writing more seriously. You’re watching Cartoon Network because it’s a British seaside family summer holiday, so the wind and rain is keeping you indoors. That advert between cartoons for the writing course, cleverly placed to attract all those stay-at-home-feeling-slightly-trapped mums like you, it’ll catch your attention.
          You’ve already written a novel – and I hate to be the one to tell you this, but it’s truly awful. It’s possibly the worst novel ever written. If anyone ever wants to give an example of how not to write a novel, of why all tell and no show is so relentlessly dull, they could use your first novel as a perfect example – but you’ve never had the courage to let anyone see your work. You think this course might be the thing to help, to give you a push, to give you confidence. (Incidentally, that there was ‘the rule of three’. You haven’t learnt about that yet but when you do it will become something of a feature in your writing – as will these pesky dashes.)

           Your youngest son will start school next year, you don’t work since becoming Mum’s carer after she had the stroke in 1991, so you know you’ll have the time to dedicate to the course, the time to really make a go of this writing thing. When you get back from holiday you’ll contact the course organisers. You’ll have to send samples of your writing so they can decide if you have any talent worth nurturing. Later you’ll realise that this is nothing more than an exercise in massaging your ego – they’re not going to turn away anyone who’s willing to pay for the course. They’ll accept you, praise your writing abilities, you’ll believe them.

The course will turn out to be a bit of a letdown and your tutor’s comments are often unhelpful and vague but it will give you that confidence and willingness to share your work.  In 2002 you’ll send out a couple of stories to writing competitions. You’ll win one and come third in the other earning £750 from your first two efforts. Sounds great, eh? Ah, well, not so great. You see, after these two immediate successes, you’ll think that’s it, you’ve done it – you’re a writer now. The crushing blow of rejection is yet to come.

And there will be rejections – a lot of rejections – but you’ll be surprised at how quickly they stop hurting (well, okay, the pain will lessen and having a self-pitying tantrum on the living room floor will eventually become a thing of the past).

You’ll join a fantastic creative writing site run by the BBC called Get Writing and this is where you will really start to learn, by reading and reviewing other people’s stories, by paying heed to their reviews and by reading the free advice posted by published writers and creative writing tutors. You’ll also discover that the internet is a terrifying place and that people are often not what they seem or claim to be. The internet will remain a terrifying but incredibly useful place.

When the BBC closes the site down you’ll move to another, More Writing, and there you’ll join a small critiquing group. This is where your writing will move to a different level. These seven or eight writers will rip apart every aspect of your stories, will catch every error, home in on every detail. By then you will have the confidence to do the same for them. With their help you will garner more success, winning or being placed in competitions, gathering publishing credits in places like Mslexia, The New Writer, Writers Forum and Flash 500.

You’ll start to meet up with your writing group once or twice a year at a cottage in the Yorkshire Dales for writing weekends. You’re reading this and thinking, “Spend a weekend in a cottage with people I’ve never met before? Are you mental?” Don’t panic, thankfully they’ll all turn out to be just as they are online – clever, funny, helpful and encouraging. Each time you meet you’ll come home with a story that has been so improved by their critiques, it will go on to be published or win a competition. You’ll also have a stinking hangover, have gained 3lbs of mainly cake-based fat and have a hankering to play Articulate every night after dinner.

Between 2004 and 2008, you’ll write another novel and it will be better than that first effort because now you’ll actually know how to plan, how to create interesting characters and give those characters authentic dialogue. You’ll still stint on description – that hasn’t changed here in 2014 – but you won’t bore the backside off people with tell, tell, tell any more. That novel won’t see the light of day either. At heart you’ll always feel that you’re a short story writer and this is where you will continue to have success. Don’t beat yourself up about mainly writing short stories – it’s okay. An idea will be what it’s supposed to be, and if it’s supposed to be micro or flash or short or long, just let it end when it should. And, believe it or not, you’ll even write poetry now and then. What’s even more unbelievable is that it’ll get published. No, I’m not joking.

In 2014 you’ll decide to gather some of your favourite stories into an anthology and publish them. Like many people, your attitude to self-publishing has changed but you’ll still be apprehensive. Don’t worry – it’ll all go okay and people will be very supportive.

Oh, and you’ll also be about half way through writing another thing – a long thing – a thing you refuse to call a novel in case the word scares it away.

You’ll never be a millionaire, you’ll probably never even make a proper wage from writing, but you will love it and you will get better at it and you will always find time to do it, no matter how many other things are deemed more important.

Remember that when those first rejections hit the doormat. When those envelopes scrawled with your own handwriting tell you all you need to know before you even tear open the flap. When you read competition winning stories and think, “What? Seriously? This won?” Remember that you do this because you love it and because you can. That’s all that matters in the end. Though money is always lovely.

With love,

Me. x


Thanks so much for sharing your journey to here with us, Karen. I know the anthology is already selling well - may it continue to - and may your 'thing' get its other half writ soon.

Oh and I love how the Karen from now is looking up at the Karen from Star Trek like she's about to get beamed-up.

So, to WIN a copy of Upside-down Jesus and other stories, all you have to do is:

- comment on the end of this post
- or retweet the daily tweet I'll do on Twitter saying something like "RT this to be put into the draw to win Upside-Down Jesus.." only (maybe) more well written
- do either of these (or both!*) before 5pm next Monday (6th April) and you'll go into the hat 

*each person will only go into the draw once, but we appreciate all your comments, RTs and sharing of information.

About the collection:

A child struggles to overcome her fear of the upside-down Jesus, a man dons his 'egg-stealing coat' once a week, a teenager becomes obsessed with the colour purple, an old man keeps his wife closer than others would like, a psychiatrist considers the folly of his patients, and a little girl watches her neighbour slowly disappear.

Click -

To buy from Lulu

To buy from Amazon

To follow Karen on Twitter

To get to Karen's blog

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Hello so and on Monday

Hello so...

This past month I've been

- sending short stories out to writing competitions remarkably early, sometimes 6 weeks before the deadline (which makes me think the results should be out already, even though some, like BATH are still open). I've got stories at the BBC, Bath and Mslexia.

- sending short stories to publications, well - one. PANK is a magazine I've had my eye for a while, so I thought I'd try my luck and send them a story. This got a 'Not this story, thanks, but send us another, we like your style' kind of rejection. So I did - and that one got a 'Not this story, thanks, and please don't send anything else for at least a month'. Haha. Ok.

- stepping further into my role as 'Maid of Honour' for my best friend's wedding, which isn't until August but things have to be worked out in advance, like what I'm wearing (a lovely blue dress), what she's wearing (an amazing white dress), what we're doing for the hen weekend (FUN) and what I'm reading at the service (a poem, not set in stone yet).

- keeping my notebook with me so I can keep my novel going wherever I am - usually this is just a few scribbles here and there, a note of something to look out for, a thought to follow up, questions about plot points etc. But it helps to, well - keep it going, though I haven't got much content written for a few weeks. So I'd like to get some momentum with the word count in the next few weeks.

-and you know, working, walking, eating, drinking wine.

On Monday...

Karen Jones will be here with a brilliant addition to the 'Letters to my younger self' guest blogs I have from time to time. Karen's short story collection 'The Upside-Down Jesus and other stories' has just come out - and lucky lucky lucky for us - she is kindly going to give one copy away to one of you lucky lucky lucky* readers! Come back on Monday to read Karen's letter and be in with a chance of winning.

* too much Kylie lately, I think.