Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Young Muslim Writers' Awards 2017

by Catriona Troth

This December saw the 7th presentation ceremony for the Young Muslim Writers' Awards, and the second time I have been privileged to attend the event.

The Young Muslim Writers' Awards was founded by the Muslim Hands charity, and for the last five years has been supported of the Yusuf Islam Foundation. As organiser, Zainub Chohan, told us at the opening of the ceremony, the award seeks not only to raise child literacy in the British Muslim community, but to help every child realise that any career path is open to them – including that of being a best-selling author.

How important this is was underlined this week by an article in the Guardian (“Diversity in publishing – still hideously middle-class and white?”)

As one of the judges, poet Mohamed Mohamed said, of discovering the Young Muslim Writers’ Awards: “Oh my gosh, this actually exists!” 
Shortlisted authors, judges and sponsors at YMWA 2017

Awards are given in nine categories – for short stories and poetry in each of Key Stages 1-4, and additionally in Key Stage 3 (11-14 year olds) an award for journalism. This year all the short listed poems, short stories and essays were included in a beautiful anthology, which enabled everyone to share and appreciate the depth and breadth of writing the young people are producing.


Poetry ranged from six year old Umar Ibrahim’s hilarious and imaginative, Roald Dahl inspired Oggletrog, to Hanniya Kamran’s thoughtful and thought-provoking Am I? – which Tim Robinson of the Royal Society of Literature described has ‘having a complexity that challenges and undoes stereotypes.’

Themes for the stories were no less wide-ranging – with one taking place inside a refugee camp while another was about a super-strawberry who feared being turned into jam!

The KS3 Journalism prize, presented by journalist and lecturer Nabida Ramdani, covered topics from Women’s Rights, Child Soldiers, Acid Attacks and Grenfell Tower. The maturity of the work produced by these writers (aged 11-14 years) was humbling. The winner was Zaina Kahn for an essay on child soldiers, but the piece that sucker-punched me was Ameerah Abika Kola-Olukotun’s ‘We Must Take Action’ which sensitively recalled a visit to Nigeria. The shrewd observations of contrast between rich and poor and the ever-present fear of abduction by Boko Haram reminded me of Olumide Popoola’s When We Speak of Nothing.

The afternoon included entertainment too, provided by master storyteller Alia Alzougbi and beatbox poet DreadlockAlien (aka Richard Grant).

Patrice Lawrence, author of the wonderful Orangeboy and judge in the KS4 short story award, spoke with inspirational passion of growing up in Brighton with a Trinidadian mother and an Italian step-dad, “always knowing I had other stories to tell.”

Last year’s Writer of the Year, Lamees Mohamed offered advice to her fellow young writers (‘I’m only 14 years old – it’s just what I’ve picked up so far): to read widely, to look at the world around you, to listen, look and care.

This year, the overall award for Writer of the Year for 2017 went to 6 year old Umar Ibrahim, who won not only the KS1 poetry award, but the short story award too, for The Tree Kings, “the custodians of the secrets and scripts of the ancient library of Baghdad,” which opens: “It was night-time. The six moons washed the land in a gentle light."

Judging by Umar’s two entries, if his imagination continues to flourish and grown, we can look forward to a very special talent indeed bursting upon the literary scene in a few years.

Finally, the ceremony closed with the presentation of the Special Recognition Award. Two years ago, when I last attended, the award was given to Malala Yousafzai. This year, it was given to another survivor of an attack upon education. Muhammed Ibrahim Khan is a survivor of the 2014 Peshawar school attack. Muhammad Ibrahim was shot four times whilst trying to help his friends, after helping four other school children to safety. Initially expected to be paralysed for life, he has regained the ability to walk and is now studying for his GCSEs in Britain.

Here is just a flavour of some of the depth and breadth of writing on display:

“Raindrops hit the window and slide down like tears, tiny glass-like droplets through which I watch the sky churn up all the world’s pain and anger.”
Nada El-Hamoud, The Game, winner KS4 short story

“Their hearts shattered by the grief of losing their eldest daughters, they trudged through the village, ghost of what they once were.”
 Ameerah Abika Kola-Olukotun, We Need to Take Action, KS3 journalism

Every day, a large rumbling machine would come, with its four wheels running down the straight tracks either side of super strawberry. He could see two thick legs and heavy boots resting on the machine and between them would be a large, sharp knife that would cut the stems of the fruit.

The Adventures of the Super Strawberry, Haadi Siddiqui, winner, KS2 short story.

My fantastical name is Oggletrog
I live in a cave next to a bog
Each morning I munch-nibble a frog,
Each evening I munch-nobble a hog

Umar Ibrahim, winner, KS1 Poetry


Entries are now open for the 2018 awards, which so if you are eligible, or you know someone who is – tell them to get writing! Can’t wait to see what the next year brings.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Research for Fiction: Pleasures and Pitfalls


By Annemarie Neary


Samuel Johnson said that a (wo)man ‘’will turn over half a library to make one book.”

Before you spend half a lifetime haunting Google, consider what kind of research will contribute most. One thing is self-evident, whatever the genre — you need to be able to convince the reader that you know what you’re talking about. That’s as much about imaginative absorption in your fictional world as it is about the accumulation of facts.

Research, in the broadest sense of ‘reading yourself in’, will give you the requisite depth of awareness. No one wants to fall into the trap of ascribing 21st century views to a 2nd century Greek astronomer or to create a framework that is simply not credible.

Patricia Highsmith put it this way “A reader likes to feel that the writer is quite in command of his material and has strength to spare.” So, first of all — and probably before you write a word — you need to be able to write by heart.

In some genres — fantasy and sci-fi for instance — you can make the rules up as you go along; what you are aiming for is internal consistency. But in most fiction, especially genres like historical fiction that purport to offer an insight into a particular world, you will need to supplement imagination with the kind of authority that can only come from general research. This is the type of wide reading that gives you a ‘feel’ rather than a set of undigested facts. This is what will feed your imagination and allow instinct to take over during the writing process.

But when to stop reading?
If you’re working to a deadline, there are the little problems of distraction, time soak, stalled impetus. What are the most useful sources? A rule of thumb — if in doubt, look for the firsthand account. If you’re working on an historical project, are there diaries or letters you can read? If you are writing about a specific contemporary world, are there blogs? Photographs are also useful because they import a degree of objectivity. Often, the most interesting details are the photographer took for granted or didn’t realize she was capturing.

So, find your expert.
In my first novel, one of my characters was a Luftwaffe ‘lamplighter’ – a member of one of the crews who set fires in order to ‘light’ the targets for the bombers following behind. I needed to know about what it felt like to be up there – was he freezing, terrified, bored? I searched online for a primary source, and eventually found someone in Melbourne, Australia whose elderly neighbor, a former Luftwaffe conscript, was willing to interviewed. I emailed my questions and got an audiotape back. The interviewee turned out to be quite a different character from my fictional Oskar, but he taught me about particular aspects of his experience that I’d have struggled to find in a history book — recreational fishing trips, the reality of being a hated occupier in a small Breton town, techniques for removing hornets nests, the iron grip of male comradeship.

At the moment I’m talking to several people about the fabric of everyday life in Algiers — What do you serve someone if they come to your house? What do you do on your day off? How do you celebrate a wedding? Do your friends have sex outside marriage/drink/break other taboos? What is the gossip about politicians? Where are the new cafes opening? What is the attitude to Chinese, Syrian, sub-Saharan migrants? For contemporary settings, online newspapers are also useful — particularly the Lifestyle pages.

Once you’ve felt your way in, it’s best to confine detailed research to the things you really need to know. Even If you are writing a contemporary book, history is very important. You need to understand what has shaped a society or a set of characters, but be careful not to get bogged down in endless detail that just gets shoehorned in. That way madness, eternal procrastination, and clumsy writing lie. And try not to write about places you haven’t visited. Yes, I know you can find out the colour of the tablecloths in Venice’s Taverna La Fenice by simply looking online. But it’s very easy to miss things, too. For the ineffable essence of a place, there’s no substitute for stepping off a plane.

In terms of psychological or medical research, scientific verisimilitude is necessary if you’re claiming your character suffers from this or that syndrome. Otherwise, I wouldn’t worry too much. People are infinitely variable and if you avoid labels and imagine yourself into a particular mind and body you can generally get away without too much by way of research.

Once you have a ‘feel’ for time, place, character, nothing succeeds quite like a well-placed detail for bringing a scene to life — think Hilary Mantel’s moth hole in that famous sleeve. If your character is a singer, for example, then I do think you need to understand the unique type of neuroses that tend to afflict such people — their terror of colds, of damage to the vocal chords — and the technical difficulties involved in a singing a particular type of music. Yet again, you can pick up a lot from firsthand accounts.

One telling detail will do much more work for you than acres of downloaded research. For example, if you are writing about a nineteenth century seamstress, have her use the right kind of materials, wear typical clothing, sit in the right kind of chair, and then simply employ a bit of Method writing to bring the scene to life. Spend an evening, or even an hour or two, sitting in a cold room bent over your work in dim lighting, and you should be able to extrapolate enough from that experience combined with your research in order to create a convincing seamstress.

So there we have it — imaginative engagement complemented by targeted research. Wear your character’s shoes, and you won’t go too far wrong.



Annemarie Neary was born in Northern Ireland. She studied literature at Trinity College Dublin, and qualified as a barrister at King's Inns.

Her novel The Orphans is out now in Kindle and hardcover from Hutchinson (Penguin Random House UK). A Windmill Books paperback is forthcoming in April 2018. Siren was published by Hutchinson in 2016, with a Windmill paperback out earlier this year, and A Parachute in the Lime Tree was published by The History Press Ireland in 2012. She is currently working on a fourth novel.

She holds a Masters in Venetian Renaissance art from the Courtauld Insitute, and Venice — its locations, historical events, and artworks — has inspired a number of short stories.
http://www.annemarieneary.co.uk/


Wednesday, 29 November 2017

60 Seconds with Carol Lovekin

By Gillian Hamer

(c) Janey Stevens
Carol is a writer, feminist & flâneuse based in west Wales. She writes contemporary fiction threaded with ghosts, Welsh Gothic and magic.

SNOW SISTERS, was published on 21 September, 2017 by Honno, the Welsh Women's Press. It has been chosen by the Welsh Books Council as their October Book of the Month.

GHOSTBIRD, her first novel, was published in March 2016. The book was chosen as Waterstones Wales and Welsh Independent Bookshops 'Book Of The Month' for April 2016. It was longlisted for the Guardian 'Not the Booker' prize 2016 and nominated for the Guardian Readers' Book of the Year 2016.
Welcome, Carol, tell us a little about you and your writing. 

I live in west Wales in a small flat overlooking the hills which, more often than not, are shrouded in mist. I’m a feminist and something of a flâneuse. My stories are rooted in Wales and concern the nature of family relationships, in particular those between sisters, and mothers and daughters. I lace them with birds, secrets, old houses and a touch of Welsh Gothic.

What’s the best thing about being a writer?

Waking up each day knowing exactly what the plan is. And being published – twice – is a lovely bonus!
And the worst?

There is no worst! I enjoy every aspect of writing.

Do you have a special writing place?

I’m fortunate to have a spare bedroom which I use as a study.

Which writers to you most admire and why?

I have a particular fondness for Virginia Woolf and never grow tired of reading her diaries and letters. I admire the stylishness of these writers in particular: Edna O’Brien, Daphne du Maurier, A S Byatt, Eimear McBride, Amy Sackville, Alice Hoffman and Harper Lee. So many writers to admire – far too many to list.

If you could choose a different genre to write in for just one book – what would it be?

Having found my niche as a writer, I have no inclination to write in a different genre. I’ve played with stories for children but it’s a unique discipline; I don’t think I have the patience.

What was your inspiration behind your latest novel, Snow Sisters?

Initially, a hankering to write snow scenes! One of the main protagonists in the story – the younger sister, Meredith – was a left-over character from a novel I was never meant to write. I knew I wasn’t done with her and when the notion of a Victorian ghost came (from wherever these ideas do) I knew Meredith, with her insatiable curiosity and courage, was the key to unlocking the ghost’s voice.

What three tips would you offer up-and-coming authors?

Read everything: widely, critically and insatiably. Write every day – even if it’s only a note on the back of your hand – and never, ever use the word ‘aspiring’ about yourself. If you are writing, published or not, you are a writer. 

You can follow Carol here:

Twitter: twitter.com/carollovekin
Website: carollovekinauthor.com
Facebook: tinyurl.com/y79ezaxd

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

How Reading Can Help You Become A Successful Teen Fiction Writer by Jane Sandwood



Children’s literature and young adult fiction books are enjoying massive popularity nowadays. Apart from JK Rowling, young adult and children’s literature authors and their publishers are raking in the profits as it was reported that John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars” earned Penguin UK more than £4 million, and in 2014, the Children’s Category earned £336.5m. And it’s not only secondary schoolers who are fans of these books—a study revealed that 55% of YA fiction readers are adults. If you’ve got an idea for a great YA novel or series, you may want to dive into the worlds created by Rowling, Green, Suzanne Collins, Rick Riordan, and others to prepare to write your novel. Having a good read can benefit your writing in so many ways, and here’s how reading can help you become a successful teen and YA fiction writer.

It helps you get in touch with your teen self

There’s a reason why so many adults love reading YA books—it reminds older readers of their childhoods and teen years, making these books the perfect escape from their busy adult lives. One of the benefits associated with reading YA is that it helps you get in touch with your teen self, which can be incredibly useful once you begin to write your novel. The more you read, the more you develop an authentic teenage or young adult voice. This makes your book more convincing and relatable to readers who are fans of this genre.

You get to immerse yourself in popular teen culture

Reading YA books set at the present time allows you to immerse yourself in popular teen culture, especially if you need to get caught up in current British teen slang or Millennial slang. If your novel is set in the 2000s, you may need to know how to use “bae” in a sentence, why something or someone is perceived as “goals,” why being “thirsty” has nothing to do with needing a beverage and why “throwing shade” is considered to be rude behaviour. Moreover, reading helps you learn about the latest in teen culture, and a little pop culture reference in your novel can go a long way.

You get to take a productive break

If you’re experiencing a raging case of writer’s block, you might as well re-read “The Hunger Games,” “The Giver,” “The Chronicles of Narnia,” or your favourite YA book of the moment. Reading allows you to take a productive break and manage stress while you’re writing your novel, and taking the time to read may give you some ideas on how your story should continue.

When choosing YA books to read or re-read, pick ones that you think you’ll learn from and enjoy. Remember that everything that you learned while reading will be somehow reflected in the way you write. Pick up a YA or teen fiction book today and see how it can benefit your writing.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

The Joy and Pain of Publishing


Sometimes it's interesting for readers to discover the background of books and the origins of storylines. One of the questions writers are most often asked is about their imagination - 'where did that story come from or how did you think of that?' they ask in amazement. Here we discover the truth behind the fiction.

In our guest post this week, North Wales based author JAN RUTH reveals the close-to-home story behind her upcoming Christmas novella.


Away for Christmas is a novella about the joy and pain of fractured relationships, the joy and pain of Christmas itself – because the festive period is not always fun for everyone – and the joy and pain of publishing books! But perhaps most of all, this is a story about staying true to oneself and looking for the real Christmas spirit beyond the baubles and the glitter. 

Regular readers will know that my characters tend not to be in the first flush of youth, and that the joy and pain of relationships are often par for the course. Christmas is very much a family time and can unearth a multitude of unwelcome emotions and in the case of my character, present plenty of troublesome hurdles before the festivities can be enjoyed. His ex-wife doesn't always make life easy, but Jonathan is determined to be a better dad, against all the odds.

And finally, the joy and pain of publishing books. There are some great publishers out there, ones who achieve results, look after their authors and understand the industry from the ground up. This story isn’t based on them.

It’s no secret that I’ve been round the houses and back again with regard to writing and publishing. Thirty years ago I used to believe that a good book would always be snapped up by a publisher regardless of genre, style, and content. In the real, commercial world, this just isn’t true. After several years of agents and self-publishing, a turning point came for me when a small press offered a contract for Silver Rain. This is it, I thought. This is the change of direction I need… but be careful what you wish for! Don’t get me wrong in that I had huge delusional ideas at this stage. I was simply seeking greater visibility and some respite from the nuts and bolts of self-publishing.

And all the outward signs were good: they took five back-catalogue titles and one new title, to make six contracts. This material represented several years of my life, several thousand pounds’ worth of investment in terms of editorial advisory, editing, proofreading, designing, formatting for ebooks and paperbacks, advertising… I could go on. Producing a quality product and promoting it to its best advantage doesn’t happen by accident. If you don’t have these skills yourself, then one needs to employ freelance professionals, as I’ve reiterated many times. Of course, we know there are a lot of ‘home-made’ books out there which don’t quite cut it, but this is certainly not the case for all self-produced work. What is slightly disconcerting is that I discovered (and so does my poor character Jonathan Jones) that this isn’t necessarily the case for traditionally produced work, either!

The process of trade publishing has less to do with the quality of material than you might presume, but it has a lot to do with what is or isn’t marketable at any one time. This isn’t bad business, it’s about making money to stay afloat. Small publishers are in exactly the same boat as the independents, but with far more overheads and problems with staff. Some of these staff may be inexperienced or learning ‘on the job.’ These small companies are up against the same fast-moving on-line industry as any independent but perhaps without the resources to manage it effectively, let alone build a lively following on Twitter; a following which has the power to engage. Traditional publishing, by its very nature, is painfully slow and this produces a massive clash with the shifting sands of on-line business. We perhaps don’t realise how fine-tuned independents have become in this respect.

Worryingly, new authors are often excited by offers from vanity publishers, or those who operate under the guise of assisted publishing, not realising the implications until it’s perhaps too late. Even contracts from those real publishers with seemingly no pitfalls or upfront costs, can dissolve into a horribly disappointing experience. Of course, my poor character thinks he’s landed lucky when a small publisher offers him a three-book deal. What could go wrong? If you’ve ever dreamed of writing a book or maybe you’ve just typed THE END to your manuscript, you might think twice about your next step…

Away for Christmas is set over three Christmastimes, and because I feel sure you’ll be looking for a few hours of warm and cosy escapism at this time of the year, I can assure you that there’s a happy ending by the time Jonathan makes it to 2017.

Friday, 10 November 2017

One Woman's Struggle in Iran - a memoir from Nasrin Parvaz

by Catriona Troth
Many Prisoners in One Room by Nasrin Parvaz

In 1979, Nasrin Parvaz returned from England, where she had been studying, and became a member of a socialist party in Iran fighting for a non-Islamic state in which women had the same rights as men. Three years later, at the age of 23, she was betrayed by a comrade and arrested by the regime’s secret police.

Nasrin spent the next eight years in Iran’s prison system. She was systematically tortured, threatened with execution, starved and forced to live in appalling, horribly overcrowded conditions. One Woman’s Struggle is both an account of what happened to her during those eight years, and evidence that her spirit was never broken.

In 1990 she was released and in 1993 she fled to England, where she has been a client of Freedom From Torture. She has given talks on the violation of human rights in Iran, both in Farsi and in English, in a number of countries. She has spoken at Southbank Centre (2015 and 2016), Bare Lit Festival (2016 and 2017), and for organizations such as Amnesty International, Cambridge PEN and Freedom From Torture.

Nasrin’s prison memoir was published in Farsi in 2002, and in Italian in 2006. The English edition is now seeking support on the crowd-funded publishing site, Unbound.

One Woman’s Struggle is not an easy book to read. The opening chapters, which detail her interrogation under torture, are devastating. This is the reality of which dystopian depictions of totalitarianism, like V for Vendetta, merely skim the surface. Small wonder that many break under torture. Far more extraordinary are those who find within themselves the strength to endure.

Once the interrogations end, the hardships and degradations of daily prison life begin. The dirtiest trick of totalitarianism is to persuade its followers that those who it oppresses are no longer entirely human. The regime in Iran played this trick with brutal effectiveness. But Nasrin’s memoir also shows how the humanity of the women in prison nonetheless survived. It is a story of friendship and mutual support, of how the women drew strength from one another and found endless small ways to show kindness and even find tiny specks of joy.

The book begins and ends with fleeting encounter, when Nasrin recognises one of her tormentors in a London supermarket. The guard is terrified, but Nasrin turns and walks out into the spring sunshine.

Some things in Iran have changed since Nasrin was released. The interrogation centre where she was first held has been turned into a museum. School children are taken there on tours, but they are told that it was only used in the Shah’s time. Other things remain. In an echo of an incident described in the book, when international ambassadors visited Evin Prison earlier this year, political prisoners were hidden away where they could not be seen.

This book, however, is not simply about the prison system in Iran. It is about oppression – and especially the oppression of women – wherever it takes place. It deserves to stand with Primo Levi’s If This Is A Man as an indictment of cruelty, brutality and the dehumanising of fellow human beings.

Here Nasrin talks to Catriona Troth about her hopes for the book, for Iran and for women the world over.



Prison by Nasrin Parvaz


When you started writing One Woman’s Struggle, did you imagine it would be published one day, or was it initially something you did for yourself, as part of the healing process?


I started writing it to publish it. Publishing was my only aim as my prime aim was to communicate. My personal experience is not just personal but is part of the universal history of oppression and struggle.


How did Freedom from Torture and the Write to Life group help you?

I received therapy from FFT for a few years and my therapist was really kind and helpful. She helped me in other areas of life, as well as in the therapy room. For example, I wanted to study psychology and she helped me to find a bursary, so I only had to pay half the price of the course. Things like this that I wasn’t aware of!

When Sonja Linden started the Write to Life group, I was one of her first clients and I must say, if it wasn’t for Sonja, and later on, Hubert Moore who was my mentor, I might have not continued writing! English was not my first language and I was trying to learn it by exchanging one-to-one lessons with people who wanted to learn Farsi.

The Write to Life group helped me in many different ways – including learning how to put my prison experience into words and how to write a story.


The book has already been published in Farsi. Why is it important for you that it is published in English as well?

Actually I first started to write it in English, but half way into it I realised it wasn’t good enough, so I began to write it in Farsi. I want to tell the world what is happening in Iran and to tell them that the government is carrying out crimes such as imprisoning and executing people for what they believe in – or what they don’t believe in.

Because of my personal experience when I started to write my book, I could only see that torture and execution were happening in Iran; but now I can see that this is happening everywhere. Some might say it’s not happening in western countries, then I’ll tell them that I see it whenever I walk down the road. Yes, the homeless people living in the streets of London and other cities of the world are subject to physical and mental torture. I no longer see that torture - as a means of crushing people - is something that happens only in prison, but as something that is part of the world’s system. Witnessing something so dehumanising is psychological torture for passers-by: it is for me. Every time I see a homeless person, the same feelings of frustration and helplessness I experienced in prison when I was being tortured or my cellmates were being beaten come over me and I feel depressed. 
 

As much as the book is an indictment of oppression, it is a celebration of the strength of women and women’s friendship. How do you think that spirit survives when everything in the system is designed to crush it?

The strength of women and our friendship was one of the ways in which prisoners put up resistance to that system. The Iranian women’s resistance started in 1979, when only a few days after Khomeini arrived in Iran, he announced women should wear the chador – which is like a burqa, except that the woman’s face is uncovered. The next day, on the 8th of March women poured into the streets of Tehran and many other towns. It’s true that the regime eventually forced women to cover their hair; but it took three years till they made it a law and they couldn’t put women into sacks; head scarves became compulsory and nowadays, women are arrested if they don’t observe this law.

Unfortunately so many men have not supported women’s struggle against this sexual apartheid and actively benefit from it.


How optimistic are you for the future of Iran, and particularly for the role of women in the country?

I can’t separate Iran from the rest of the world. We all are in the same boat that is running fast with the current towards a future full of more misery, unless we do something about it. In Iran – the same as in the rest of the world - we need a just system that safeguards freedom and equality.

Regarding the women of Iran, I must say that they haven’t given up their struggle for freedom and equality with men. Since marriage gives all the rights such as divorce and custody to men, for many years it has been common practice for some women to ask their husbands to sign papers giving both parties equal rights. Many of the new generation don’t even bother with marriage and simply live together, even though this is illegal.


What is the most important message you would like people to derive from the book?

That we need to struggle for a just world: a world without torture and execution.

Thank you, Nasrin. I hope many people will support your book and enable it to be published! It deserves to be widely read.

To pledge support for Nasrin's book, please visit the Unbound site here, where you can also watch a video interview with Nasrin.

You can follow Nasrin on Twitter at @NasrinParvaz


Wednesday, 1 November 2017

The Long Road to Publication #2

By Andy Smith

Since last time I’ve been trying to figure out how to get my novel into readers’ hands. For the moment I’ve been sticking with the ‘submitting to agents’ route. (Other routes into publication are available, but you’ve got to try sending a submission letter which includes “and I won the First Page competition”, haven’t you?) I said I’d tell you how I was getting on. I also promised to tell you a bit more about how I’ve got a comic fantasy novel which mixes a few other things together. So let’s do them both at once, shall we?

Breaking the Lore is a fantasy comedy which follows the events of a very strange police investigation. In modern-day Britain, a policeman discovers the body of a crucified fairy. There’s an army of demons on the way, but before he can stop them the policeman must overcome one major problem: he doesn’t actually believe in magic. Unfortunately for him, this is a detective story with elves, dwarves, mystical beings, cigarettes, alcohol and lots of jokes. Think Inspector Morse, as written by Tolkien – after several plates of magic mushrooms.


Because it’s a comedy, you can get away with things that you couldn’t otherwise; and you can mix things up. So there are sci-fi references, which are thrown in as comedy pastiches. There’s love interest, which is there to give Inspector Paris a bit more character, and to make him uncomfortable for comedy purposes. There’s explanations of the world I’ve created so the reader knows that everything does hang together. (Because fantasy fans – me included – are big on coherent world building, even silly worlds. And the explanations are usually deflated with some more comedy anyway.) The detective story is what enables events to move along and provides a plot around which everything else takes place. But, basically, it’s a comedy, which just happens to involve lots of fantasy elements.

Also because it’s a comedy, you can sneak in things under the radar. Things like how people who are different from yourself are not necessarily bad, and can actually make a valuable contribution. I don’t beat anyone over the head with it, but that’s the underlying theme of the story really; something which I think is a very important message for the times we’re living in.


Now that’s how I see it. That’s how everyone who has read the whole story sees it too, and they’ve all enjoyed it. (Including Alison Morton, judge of the First Page competition, and a proper author with actual published books!) A few months ago I was a finalist in the Writing on the Wall ‘Pulp Idol’ competition, where I had to read out the first chapter to the judges and audience. Afterwards, I received feedback from numerous members of the audience who said “I’d buy that book.” They were people of both sexes, all ages, and readers of various genres. Recently I took part in the Sheffield Novel Slam, similarly involving reading out to the audience and getting their feedback, and I received a similar reaction: people telling me they liked it and wanted to hear more.

But, when I send it off to agents – slightly different response.

Like most people who try to get something published, I’ve got a growing pile of rejection emails. I’ve found that most of the time you either get no reply at all, or you get a variant on the “thanks but no thanks” message. I’m building a fair sized collection of a different type of rejection; one which basically says “your writing’s good, the story’s great, but I can’t sell it.” AARRGGHH!


Deep breath.

Conceivably I’ve got too many things going on in the book. Maybe I’m being too ambitious. However, I’ve got people telling me they want to buy my novel. I know for a fact that I’ve got a potential audience out there. I just need an agent who can help me to reach them. So if there are any of you reading this blog and want to be that one – please get in touch! My potential readers are waiting for you!