Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The Industry View - Alison Baverstock

Associate Professor Alison Baverstock, interviewed by JJ Marsh

What do you see as the three key changes in publishing since 2010?

The first must be the rise on rise of digital, which has both revolutionised the speed and reach with which content can be made available.

The second is the rise on rise of self-publishing, which far from being a mark of shame is now a badge of proactivity.

The third is the breaking down of publishing structures and the launch of so many new ones – new companies, new services and new formats. It fascinates me to see how many different ways in which content can be shared, supported and commented upon.

And what are the impacts of those?

For publishers, agents and readers, the impact of self-publishing is a vast increase in the amount of content available. The reader is having to make more effort to decide how to spend their time, and we are seeing a real shift in how people access material they want to read.

While the speed with which material can be made available is mind boggling, the same principles for sharing apply – don’t press publish until you are ready to be judged by what you have written. You really can only make a first impression once.

Words with JAM is all about writers, but I imagine the shifting landscape has affected many other areas of the industry.

Yes absolutely. For example, I have just done a large piece of research on how self-publishing is affecting the lives of freelance editors. It’s fascinating. It seems the traditional assumption that the difference between a published and self-published book was the involvement of an editor, is regularly not true. Rather, self-publishers are now becoming a regular source of income to freelance editors. The impact of self-publishing on independent editors is a wider market for their work, a broader acknowledgement of their role - and possibly increased rates of pay.

As an author who’s had a great deal of success via traditional publishing, you seem to have a positive view of self-published authors. Why so?

I decided to investigate the growing significance of self-publishing and researched and wrote a book for Bloomsbury called The Naked Author. I was really surprised to find such a contented group of people – all really pleased to have finalised content that mattered to them. I also like the atmosphere between self-publishing authors. They tend to be mutually affirming and encouraging - and very good at sharing access to suppliers they have found it good to work with.

You offer much wise marketing advice for writers, who often find that the least enjoyable part of publication. How do you, as a writer, engage with readers?

I enjoy connecting with writers on Twitter (@alisonbav) and often find myself picking up recommendations of what to read next there. I have a website although I confess I don’t update it very often www.alisonbaverstock.com My favourite method of engaging with writers is giving talks at literary festivals – I love the question and answer sessions. I also like being asked to write blogs and responses to questions online – so thank you for this invitation, which followed our meeting at a conference organised by Bloomsbury. Sometimes pieces I have written get rediscovered and that’s lovely – for example an article on creative careers several years ago now keeps popping up on Twitter. http://ccskills.org.uk/careers/advice/article/10-tips-for-a-creative-career

Can we talk about the Kingston University MA in Publishing – what do students learn? And what do they go on to do?

I co-founded the MA Publishing at Kingston nearly ten years ago now – and still teach on it. In fact I’m proud to announce (for the first time here!) that in the next academic year we will be launching a module on self-publishing within the degree. I think this shows how far the industry has come. We offer our students a blend of academic thinking and professional practice, and they are now embedded throughout the publishing industry and beyond (there are lots of organisations that need to know how to present information effectively). It really pleases me that our alumni stay in touch with the course and are really supportive of their successors, regularly offering to come and speak or assist by hosting placements.

What makes the UK publishing scene different?

I think our long tradition of publishing is something really special. I have a colleague at Kingston, Judith Watts, who has a passion for Publishing history – and I love listening to her stories of how previous generations of publishers solved problems. Nothing is new.

The digital surge seems to have encouraged a print comeback. Which format do you prefer?

Personally I love a well-produced hardback (with a good reading light, an open fire and a glass of wine). But I am very nerdy about the condition of my books, so always take off the dust jacket while reading. I am ashamed to say I never lend my books, although I regularly buy additional copies for people who ask if they can borrow something.

Would you ever consider writing fiction?

I have had a go, but it did not get published. I have written a memoir, which I will think about whether to publish sometime in the future – for now I am just glad it exists – and children’s fiction, based on my eldest son’s love of dinosaurs. I will maybe dust that down and think about revising it when I eventually have some grandchildren. So no rush…

Will you leave us with a top tip? Best book of last year?

I just loved Stoner. I can’t think how I had missed knowing about it for so long, but having got around to reading it, I found it completely engrossing – and very relevant given that I now work in a university. I also reread Paddington, having seen the film. The book and film were quite different but I enjoyed both. Paddington is the first fiction I can remember owning – my father bought me a boxed set of four Paddington titles with a book token he had received for his birthday, and I vividly remember him reading it to me. I can also remember questioning the books as objects as well as thinking about the stories – and wondering why none of the covers had any red in them. I was clearly a would-be publisher at an early age!

Alison Baverstock and Gill Hines, co-authors of Later!

Special offer from Alison

The fifth edition of How to market books is just out. Words with JAM readers are welcome to benefit from a special offer! Look on the Routledge website http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415727587/ and gain the discount by inserting the code SRK92 at checkout. You also get free postage and packing.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Snapshots from... Sydney

In our regular series, international writers share some snapshots from their part of the world.
This issue, Morgan Bell tells us about the writing life in Sydney.
By JJ Marsh

What’s so great about Sydney?

Sydney attracts a lot of international artists and entertainers with world class venues that are easily accessible for local people. It is a cultural hub for local theatre, dance, music, film, and authors. There is a thriving gay and lesbian scene and a lot of ethnic diversity, which leads to a rich dining palette at pubs and clubs and restaurants. It is a city of villages with significant urban sprawl and close proximity to the Central Coast, Newcastle (where my family is), Port Stephens, and the Hunter Valley wine region, so there is a broad cross-section of people working, living, and visiting in the city at any one time.

Tell us a bit about the cultural life of the place.

For authors and readers we have the annual Sydney Writers Festival in May, held down at the piers near Circular Quay, The Rocks (Sydney Harbour). Newcastle Writers Festival has been held in March-April the last two years and has been a thriving success. The month of February is the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras cultural celebration, with theatre and film and art, and then culminating in the gay pride parade. We have the short film festival Tropfest in December in Centennial Park Sydney, and the Spiegeltent season of burlesque and vaudeville in January in Hyde Park Sydney. During our summer we have daylight savings hours so it’s a big time for home barbeques and outdoor dining at cafes and restaurants.

What’s hot? What are people reading?

All The Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld, Already Dead by Jaye Ford, and recent hit novels by Claire North, Gillian Flynn, and Michael Faber. Speculative fiction is really popular. Fantasy by Neil Gaiman, Elizabeth Haydon, Lauren Beukes, Terry Brooks, Robin Hobb, and Margaret Atwood, is being consumed at a high rate. The Divergent series has been popular, as has the Game of Thrones series. We read a lot of local talent within speculative fiction, and everyone kind of knows each other, in a six degrees of separation kind of way: Kate Forsyth, Margo Lanagan, Garth Nix, Janeen Webb, Thoraiya Dyer, Jack Dann etc

Can you recommend any books set in or around Sydney?

Candy by Luke Davies (film version stars Heath Ledger and Abby Cornish) is a based on real life story of romance and heroin addiction. He Died With A Felafel In His Hand by John Birmingham (film version stars Noah Taylor) is a based on real life story of a man living with ninety-odd different people in share-houses in major cities in Australia, including Sydney. Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta and Puberty Blues by Gabrielle Carey and Kathy Lette are a couple of classic coming of age novels set in Sydney, the former in the 1990s and the latter in the 1970s.

The Harp in the South by Ruth Park, and its sequel Poor Man’s Orange were set in Surry Hills, Sydney in the 1940s. They were family dramas about an Irish Catholic family living in the slums of the time.

Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey (film version stars Cate Blanchett and Ralph Fiennes) is set in 19thC Sydney and involves a pair of eccentric gamblers attempting to transport a glass church to the north coast.

Tim by Colleen McCullough (film version stars a young Mel Gibson and Piper Laurie) is about an unconventional love between a beautiful builder’s labourer with a learning disability and an emotionally brittle lonely “spinster” (she’s 43, but it was the 1970s) in a rich part of Sydney. The Vivisector by Patrick White is often viewed as a veiled autobiography. It is set in Sydney, and was published in 1970. It posed the question as to whether it was possible to be a human being and an artist at the same time via shrewd analysis of the lifelong struggles for truth, and creative journey of an uncouth fictional painter.

Who are the best known local writers?

Kate Forsyth, Margo Lanagan, Garth Nix, Jaye Ford, Wendy James, Greg Bastian, Pamela Freeman, Kirstyn McDermott, and Kaz Delaney are all big local names in Young Adult and Genre Fiction.

Some of our national treasures include David Malouf, Andrew McGahan, Tim Winton, Peter Carey, and Patrick White.

Is the location an inspiration or distraction for you?

In Sydney the main roads are gridlock during peak hour, so I catch the train into work in the CBD. The trains are packed full of commuters, and I’m a fairly anxious person, so my friend put me on to listening to audiobooks on the Audible app on my phone using headphones. I get to focus on a good story and shut out all the hustle-bustle. Sometimes now I just put the headphones in and don’t play anything, I just think about my own stories.

It has been a bit of a distraction being disconnected from my Newcastle/Hunter writers scene now that I live and work in Sydney City, but I am branching out and attending more write-ins and groups and workshops, and I can still make most Newcastle/Hunter things that are held on weekends. Its funny when I lived in Newcastle I always thought I was missing out on things in Sydney.

What are you writing?

My debut collection of short fiction was Sniggerless Boundulations (2014), which I am working on the audiobook for now, with voice artist Jon Severity. I am currently writing the last couple of short stories for inclusion in my second collection, Laissez Faire, which will be out this year. I just finished a speculative fiction short story for the Novascapes (Volume 2) anthology. I am also very slowly plotting a speculative fiction novel called Daughters of Mallory, a trippy feminist dystopia with a pile of literary, fairy tale, and folklore references.

Sum up life in Sydney in three words.

Hectic, degenerate, opportunity.

Morgan Bell is a traffic engineer, technical writer, and linguist. She was born in Melbourne Australia in 1981, currently resides in Sydney, but calls Newcastle home. She is a member of Hunter Writers Centre, Newcastle Writers Group, and Newcastle Speculative Fiction Group. Sniggerless Boundulations is her debut collection of short fiction. Her companion collection, Laissez Faire, is due to be released in 2015. Her story “It Had To Be Done” was first published in the Newcastle Writers Group Anthology 2012. Her story “Midnight Daisy” was published by YWCA Newcastle in 2013 as part of the She: True Stories project, being awarded a Story Commendation at the exhibit launch, with live readings on ABC 1233 radio and a Newcastle Writers Festival panel in 2014. Her story “Don’t Pay The Ferryman”, an anti-travel piece, was shortlisted for the Hunter Writer’s Centre Travel Writing Prize 2014. Her short story “The Switch” was published in Novascapes, a speculative fiction anthology from the Hunter Region of Australia, in 2014.

Social media
 Sniggerless Boundulations
Novascapes (Volume 1)

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Marking Time by Anne Stormont

Writers as travellers in time.

How do you like your history? Do you prefer it linear or layered?

As writers we get to move freely through time. We can set our fiction in the past, present or future and our characters can even move from one time period to another as we allow time to shift or slip around them. If we write non-fiction, it can be a personal record of the past by way of a biography or memoir, or an analytical record of past events; it can involve speculation about the future by extrapolation form where we are now, or  it can chronicle the present as, for example, so many bloggers do.

Then there's creative non-fiction. Writers in this genre can really blur the timelines. Some blur them beautifully as they muse on past and present - H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald and On the Shorelines of Knowledge by Chris Arthur - being two fine examples. My current personal favourite is Robert Macfarlane who just writes so beautifully about the etching of time on our landscape, in its high places and in the rocks beneath our feet.

As I say elsewhere in this issue, I studied history as part of my MA degree. My other subject was psychology. So I suppose it's not surprising that I'm fascinated by the nature of time, by how we humans measure it and perceive it. And I've also noticed as both parent and grandparent, and of course as a teacher, how children often perceive time in a more intense way than adults, but also in a more fluid way. The year between a seventh and eighth birthday is much longer than the year between a fifty-seventh and a fifty-eighth one. Last week is as far away as a decade ago. It's no accident that so much of children's fiction involves flexibility in the laws of time and space.

On the subject of time and space, I was equal parts enthralled and bewildered by Professor Brian Cox's BBC television series on quantum physics and its relation to time. But what the programme did confirm for me was that there's more to history than the linear approach.

When considering history whether in terms of personal, national or world events, we tend to think in terms of a timeline. Even when going very far back to pre-history and the beginnings of human life, we still tend to view all that has happened in a one-event-after-another sort of way. Days in history in one long line.

In each twenty-four hour period things happen, have always happened. Some of these things are considered important enough to be noted down. Long ago they may have been recorded as cave paintings, chiselled onto stone tablets or scribed on parchment scrolls. More recently they'd be published in newspapers, journals and books, and of, course on the internet.  And those recorded events provide reference points on the timeline. They're there to be read, understood and interpreted. They're there to give structure and meaning and a bit of an underpinning to our lives.

I find it fascinating, in a weird sort of way, that there's a date every year that will become the anniversary of my own death. Yes, I'm at an age where I'm aware of time passing, of my own mortality and the end to my own personal timeline. It's not something that scares me exactly, but I don't want it to come around just yet.

I try to make each day count, I try not to waste time and I try to be mindful of this day in my own history. I strive to enjoy the gift of the present and to leave my own tiny, but positive, marks in time.

This day in history, its moments, its joys and disasters, it's all we ever truly possess. However, we can be so pressed for time that we often experience our days as fleeting. We wish we could fit more in, wish we had more leisure and more time for our loved ones. On the other hand, on some days the hours pass too slowly, filled with yearning for days gone by, or perhaps with impatience for days still to come. 

So, what of all those other days? Days of past and future history. Are they truly inaccessible; the past behind us and the future further on up the line? What if we imagine history as layered rather than linear? So instead of looking back, or even forward at a particular day in history, we look down and through.

Time for some lateral thinking.

We live on a small but beautiful, very old planet that spins in an ancient and vast universe. Contemplating history and the passage of time on a planetary or universal scale is truly mind-bending.

Astrophysicists view time as a fourth dimension. They suggest not only that time can bend, but that it flows at different rates depending on location. They posit that its rate of flow is relative to the other dimensions of space and to the amount of gravity that is present.

The everyday, human version of time is just a construct. A useful construct, and one that facilitates the organisation of our lives, but a construct nevertheless. Our clocks and calendars measure something that is relative and is organised in neat lines and circles by a shared understanding and agreement. But it's not fixed and it's not absolute.

Supposing I left the Earth today and travelled on out of our solar system and our galaxy. Suppose I went through a wormhole - a bend in time and space that would let me travel hundreds of thousands of light years in a blink, perhaps even to another of the possibly many universes - I would be far away, not just in spatial terms, but in terms of time as well. And then, after maybe a couple of years holidaying on a far away world, I return to Earth. I would be two years older but it's theoretically possible that fifty, a hundred, maybe five hundred years would have passed here. My days in history would be very different from, and totally  out of step with, those of you who remained earthbound .

I don't fully understand the astro-physical concept of time and space, but I like the idea of it. I find it comforting that time isn't fixed and that the atoms that make up our bodies have existed since time began, and will always exist in some form as long as time continues to be.

I love that when I walk the Earth's surface my footfalls connect me with all the layers of life and time on our wee blue planet. Layers of geology, topography, ancestry, experience and time. Layers not limited by days, months and lifespans.

I love the possibility that all my days could exist simultaneously and forever, all of them layered up, down and through the planet's physical layers and throughout all the multiverses. I love that I might magically get a glimpse of these other days. I love that, even if it's just in theory, there could be places in time and space where my days in history have other and infinite possibilities.

I love that time is immeasurable, and I love that the marks we make on it are immeasurably small.

I love that as writers we can, at least for a short while, make time do our bidding.

Anne Stormont is an author-publisher. She can be a subversive old bat but maintains a kind heart. As well as writing for this fine organ, she writes fiction for adults – mainly of the female-of-a-certain-age persuasion – and for children. She blogs at http://putitinwriting.me  – where you can find out lots more about her.   

Monday, 23 March 2015

Comparing Notes by Susanna Clayson

My dear wife, (left on the fridge door)

You know it’s true I value you
but now I fear you’ve aged my dear   
You’re fifty-four and can no more
Excite desire or light my fire

I’ve needs and must indulge my lust
I’ll spend tonight if it’s alright
Naked, in bed with a young redhead
Here’s hoping she’ll satisfy me

She fancies me apparently.
If plied with drink, I’m led to think
She’s eighteen, fit and up for ‘it’
Don’t be upset and don’t forget

I’ll be home late…
… so please don’t wait.
My Dear husband, (found on the kitchen table)

You’ll understand I too have planned
To go away today to stay
With young Matt Roach, my fitness coach
He’s eighteen too and six foot two

You are far more than fifty-four
And so before I shut the door
I felt I ought to leave this thought
Same boat we’re in but for one thing…  

…simple maths shows that 18 goes
in fifty-four so many more
times than fifty-four (or a few more)         
goes in eighteen. Know what I mean?!

Therefore we’ll speak…
…sometime next week.

Winner of Flash 500 Humour Verse Competition

Blood Bond by Marie Gethins

She wore red shoes to his funeral. The last to arrive, she strode to the empty first pew. Tap, tap, tap, heels striking slate. We watched – a cardinal streak, each step a pulse. Red against black tights, scarlet on grey stone. Glossy and bright. We saw the shoes, smouldering in the muted light. Neck encircled in black fur, eyes dry, face static, crimson lips still. Our whispers sparked, echoing off the hallowed walls.


“Sucking away at his savings already.”

“If he were alive, he’d have put her in her place.”

The priest held out his arms, waving us into silence. A congregation of eyes focused on her stiff back. She didn’t flinch. During the eulogy, her foot began to swing. Forward, back, forward, back. “A pillar of the community,” the priest said. “His deep bond with his daughter evident to all.” We heard her exhale with a hiss. A vein throbbed in her neck.

Sitting in the front row throughout primary school, we watched her neck tense during art class. She drew the same picture: a little girl with large eyes, no mouth. A man stood behind her, gripping the girl’s shoulder. The sky a solid grey. The rest of us created children playing in sunshine: fluffy clouds, bright smiles, stick arms waving “hello.”  Miss pinned up our pictures on the classroom wall, but hers went into a locked desk drawer.

Now she stood as her father’s coffin coasted by; a clatter of rollers and it slid into the obsidian hearse. Her limousine followed to the graveyard. Sole occupant, he would’ve roared at the expense. She led us across the dewy grass. Red crushing green, heels piercing the sward. Crows circled and cawed overhead.

The priest nodded. She pulled off her tight black glove, crimson nails against pale skin. A fistful of dirt and gravel hit the mahogany box; stones denting and scraping polished wood. Scarred it descended, darkness swallowing it whole, soon to be covered by a muddy mound. We watched her brush the dirt off her palm and smile. She turned. Her red shoes glowed, becoming blood spots on the horizon.

Winner of Flash 500 Competition

Cornerstones Mini Masterclass

with Ayisha Malik, Managing Editor at Cornerstones Literary Consultancy.

Each issue, Cornerstones Literary Consultancy explore and critique a reader's opening page. If you would like to participate in their Opening Page Mini Masterclass, send your opening page (400 approx words) as a Word Document attachment to submissions@wordswithjam.co.uk with the subject ‘Cornerstones Masterclass’. Pieces for critique are chosen at random from those submitted to Words with JAM.

The Silence by Katy Eachus

On those rare occasions when Abby allowed herself to think about her cousin Philippa, she always saw her as a girl of fourteen who was very much alive. A girl who could burp the National Anthem (well, the first couple of lines), hurl herself off rocks, catch scorpions in her bare hands, hold her breath until she fainted and who always slept with one arm straight up in the air. A girl who pulled faces behind people's back, rolled her eyes, did impressions and spurted her drink over everyone when she laughed. Being with Philippa meant laughing until you were sick, sharing your deepest, most thrilling secrets, keeping each other awake with disgusting jokes and gut-wrenching stories. And of course planning the perfect murder.

She never thought of Philippa as she had last seen her. How could she have done that and carried on a normal life? How could she have finished school, got a degree, gone to work, married, done all the things normal people did? So much easier to think it had never happened.

After all, it was impossible to imagine now, just as it was impossible to recapture the blinding heat, the scorching dust clouds that peppered your legs and the incessant nagging of the cicadas that drilled into your skull. Impossible to think of the place existing without them. Of life going on just as it had before they had arrived. But it must. People drinking in the bars below the villa or lazing in deckchairs around the swimming pool must look up into those forested hills hundreds of times in a day and have no idea what they concealed.

Brambles as thick as Abby's arm must have grown up by now over the place where she last saw Philippa, spreading their fingers around the stones. Acacias with their dagger-like thorns would have muscled in to form a second line of defence. Landslips would have showered down mud and rocks on top - erasing it, erasing Philippa, erasing everything.

“If you keep lying about something it becomes the truth,” Philippa had said.

So perhaps it really hadn’t happened. Because if it had surely by now someone would have broken through the woods, clawed back the brambles, pulled apart the stones, and they’d have found her wouldn’t they?

A girl without a face.

Critique by Ayisha Malik

This is a promising opening page, with some evocative writing and good use of descriptive language. The author has a strong foundation for a potentially gripping read, but there are some issues – particularly relating to Point of View and Show Don’t Tell, which are affecting Characterisation, along with some more minor observations ­­– that could be developed to make this an even more engaging read.

Essentially the opening page is telling the reader two things:
1. Something terrible, involving a murder, has happened.
2. The protagonist is trying to forget about it.

We expect that the novel will be fraught with emotional conflict for Abby, while the mystery as to what actually happened unravels, providing a tense interplay between the narrative arc and character arc. As it stands, the tone and style, to begin with, feels rather chatty for the story that’s being told. However, Philippa’s character comes across strongly, helping us to invest in the emotional dynamic set up between the protagonist (presumably Abby) and Philippa. The line, ‘And of course planning the perfect murder’, is both sinister and intriguing: whose murder? Why? What happened?

In some ways Philippa overshadows Abby – the opening has resonances of Rebecca: the way a character, long dead, impacts upon the characters who are trying to escape their ghost. Because Philippa is already coming across so well, I’d suggest that we have a better sense of Abby – after all, we assume it will be her struggle that we engage with throughout the story. In order to do this the author could ground us more firmly in Abby’s perspective, and also implement more Show Don’t Tell. I’d recommend employing a closer third person narrative. This is a good way of allowing the reader to experience events as Abby does, but also allows for another viewpoint in the story, should it be needed. However, any authorial perspective should be avoided as it can jar for the reader, forcing them out of the story.

It is fine to have Abby as a rather benign figure, overpowered by Philippa – this also provides the author with plenty of opportunity for Abby to grow as a character as the story progresses. However, the author does need to pepper the opening with some sense of who Abby is, even if the things she says or does are rather prosaic, because we know, after all, that she will be anything but.

A more ‘in-scene’ setting could help with this and should also prevent too much Telling. We learn that Abby has gone on to have a ‘normal’ life post-Philippa, but can we witness Abby’s interaction with her husband/family? This should Show us Abby’s family situation, adding colour to her character to create a stronger emotional arc and raising the stakes for our protagonist. We could get a far better sense of how Abby is battling to believe that whatever has happened didn’t actually happen – going about her daily activity, pushing back thoughts of her cousin to heighten her sense of denial.

There is some lovely descriptive writing: the ‘blinding heat’ and brambles ‘spreading their fingers around the stone’, portray a feeling of claustrophobia that Abby must be experiencing. However, it feels rather authorial at the moment and I wonder why it’s impossible for Abby to ‘recapture the blinding heat’? It would be more effective if we witnessed her experiencing the past in a more visceral way, thereby increasing the tension and conflict.

There are some issues of clarity. A stronger sense of setting and where we are in time should help distinguish the past from the present. For example, it says, ‘Impossible to think of the place existing without them’. What place is the author talking about? Is it separate to the one where Abby is now? Does she still live near the forest? The contrasting dark imagery with the deckchairs and swimming pools works well, but a closer character POV here would help. For example, is Abby looking at this idyllic scene – if so, then this could be made clearer. Also, who’s ‘them’? This feels authorial and, again, if we were grounded firmly in Abby’s POV, it should prevent any confusion.

Because the mystery being set up and the descriptive language is already very evocative, the author should avoid any tendency to overwrite. For example:

‘Brambles as thick as Abby's arm must have grown up by now over the place where she last saw Philippa, spreading their fingers around the stones. Acacias with their dagger-like thorns would have muscled in to form a second line of defence. Landslips would have showered down mud and rocks on top.’

The last line could be edited out, as the preceding images are already effective in denoting a sense of foreboding. On another quite minor note: the second paragraph is repetitive as well as Telling. We already know how Abby thinks of Philippa so we don’t need to be told, ‘She never thought of Philippa as she had last seen her.’

We aren’t given much dialogue, and when we are, it’s very effective, giving us further insight into Philippa’s character:

‘If you keep lying about something it becomes the truth,’ Philippa had said.

But I wonder, using a closer perspective, if we could have a stronger sense of Abby remembering this, and its effect on her?

The final paragraph and line is particularly evocative. The reader is left to imagine a resurrection of some sort, fighting its way through the brambles and stones. Here, again, we could be more grounded in Abby’s POV. The author could really heighten the tension and sense of Abby’s past creeping up on her by immersing us in her perspective: a battle between remembering and forgetting, the past and the present, the living and the dead.

In conclusion, this is a strong piece of writing, and I’d urge the author to consider using a closer character POV and implementing more Show Don’t Tell in order for us to get a stronger sense of Abby’s character, and more clarity in terms of setting and time period.

I wish the author the best of luck with developing this promising piece.

Question Corner

Lorraine Mace answers readers’ queries.

I received this plea for layout/punctuation clarification: Please could you clarify punctuation rules for dialogue by e-mail, which separates it from any spoken dialogue in the same piece? I would prefer this question not to be posted in your magazine, unless my contact details are suppressed. You may not need all of the sample, as the problem is really defined in the last paragraph, but I leave that to you.

This is the sample which accompanied the query:

Just then Joe’s phone rang.
‘We need to get together this afternoon,’ Sandra said. ‘Can you come over?’
‘Yes, sure,’ Joe answered. ‘What time?’
‘Three suit you?’
‘OK, see you then!’ Joe hung up, swore, and returned to his e-mail to Mike: “I have to see Megabrain at 4.30pm. She loves making me work late. I’ll get to Mario’s as soon as I can.”

There isn’t a definitive way of showing this, as it could be done in a few different styles. However, the main point to bear in mind is that the reader has to instantly realise what is spoken and what is written, without intrusive explanations.

As convention dictates that only the spoken word requires quote marks, I would advise against using them for the email exchange. It has been made clear Joe is communicating with Mike via email, so you could simply remove the quote marks.

Joe hung up, swore, and returned to his e-mail to Mike: I have to see Megabrain at 4.30pm. She loves making me work late. I’ll get to Mario’s as soon as I can.

If you wished, for added clarity, you could use italics.

Joe hung up, swore, and returned to his e-mail to Mike: I have to see Megabrain at 4.30pm. She loves making me work late. I’ll get to Mario’s as soon as I can.

Whichever style you choose, the two Cs should be in the forefront of your mind: clarity and consistency. Make sure it’s clear to the reader and be consistent in your usage. If you use italics for the email exchanges on one page, but not on another, the reader will get confused (and irritated).

Margaret from Exeter is having trouble with the pluperfect (even if she may not realise that’s where the problem lies): I’ve been told my flashbacks are clunky to read because I use too many hads, but if I’m already using the past tense for the main story, how else am I going to show that I’ve gone even further back? Is there another way to show that other than using had?

Let’s look at the definition of pluperfect in English: It denotes an action completed prior to some past point of time specified or implied, formed by using had and the past participle, as in he had wanted to meet her, but she had already left.

As a flashback shows action completed prior to the time she is writing about using the past tense, this definitely qualifies as a reason to use the pluperfect. So, Margaret is absolutely right in using it, but her friends are also right: overuse can be clunky and distancing to read.

 If we look at this short passage, you’ll see what I mean.

Michael had wanted to see for himself that Janet was meeting another man. He had sat at a corner table of the pub where he had been certain he could not be seen and had waited for over an hour before Janet had appeared. She had been alone when she came in. She had gone straight to the bar. As she had sipped her drink, a man had come in and had stood next to her.

When going into flashback it is important to signal it so that the reader is aware of what is happening, so using the pluperfect in the opening sentence is fine. However, to avoid the clunky feel, you should switch to the simple past tense as soon as possible.

Michael had wanted to see for himself that Janet was meeting another man. He sat at a corner table where he couldn’t be seen and waited for over an hour before Janet appeared. She was alone when she came in and went straight to the bar. As she sipped her drink, a man came in and stood next to her.

Lorraine Mace is the humour columnist for Writing Magazine and head competition judge for Writers’ Forum. She is a former tutor for the Writers Bureau, and is the author of the Writers Bureau course, Marketing Your Book. She is also co-author, with Maureen Vincent-Northam of The Writer’s ABC Checklist (Accent Press). Lorraine runs a private critique service for writers (link below). She is the founder of the Flash 500 competitions covering flash fiction, humour verse and novel openings.

Her debut novel for children, Vlad the Inhaler, was published in the USA on 2nd April 2014.

Writing as Frances di Plino, she is the author of the crime/thriller novels featuring Detective Inspector Paolo Storey: Bad Moon Rising, Someday Never Comes and Call It Pretending
The fourth in the series, Looking for a Reason, was recently released by Crooked Cat Publishing.

Words with (Jam) History by Anne Stormont

It's not only authors writing  on historical themes who mine the past, all writers do it

I know a bit about history. Both ancient and modern history made up a fair proportion of my university degree, and my days at university could now actually be classed as ancient history themselves. Looking back at my days at St Andrews, reading the earnest essays and tutorial notes, the latter complete with doodles in the margin, or looking at the photos full of seventies hairdos­­­–– feather-cut anyone–– and bell-bottom jeans is akin to going on an archaeological dig. The past is brought instantly to life when I look at those artefacts. What future, actual archaeologists would make of them, I'm not sure. They'd probably decide there was no such thing as a hairdresser in the period 1974-77 and that there was a world surplus of denim which was adopted as the material for the making of uniforms for all students.

When thinking about what to write for this history themed issue, I was struck by how closely related, history and its sister discipline of archaeology are to the art of writing. All writers in whatever genre and no matter how 'out there' the nature of their work, must mine their own experiences in order to come up with their content. Our lives and those of the people who went before us, the life of our planet and its incredible journey through time and space provide layer upon layer of material to explore. And we then reflect and surmise, speculate and extrapolate and finally imagine and create. And it doesn't matter whether we're writing fiction or non-fiction, literary or genre, poetry or drama, we all have to go back to a source. It also doesn't matter if our fiction writing is contemporary, set in times past, or times still to come. Our sources pre-date us no matter what.

All writers extract the story from the history. 

Anne Stormont is an author-publisher. She can be a subversive old bat but maintains a kind heart. As well as writing for this fine organ, she writes fiction for adults – mainly of the female-of-a-certain-age persuasion – and for children. She blogs at http://putitinwriting.me  – where you can find out lots more about her.   

Of Poissons and Proton Packs

Musings Inspired by an Amazon Reviewer by Sarah Bower

The other day, I made a rare foray on to my own books page on Amazon and looked at the reviews. It’s not often an Amazon review poses an argument that gets me thinking, but this one did. Writing about my novel, The Book of Love, nearly all of whose principal characters are, in fact, real historical figures, the reviewer posed the following:

‘There is a difference between a historical novel and a novel set in a specific historical era. The first is a fictionalised account of a historical person and the events in that person's life, and the other is just a fiction set in a particular time or place. It is a fine but important difference. Without the real event history it really is just a novel.’

The phrasing could be better, but in what I believe to be the spirit of the reviewer’s remarks, I have quoted it verbatim rather than cleaning it up. So, what is an historical novel? If it is authentically period specific but includes only or mainly fictional characters, is it not, then, historical? My first novel, The Needle in the Blood, included very few real historical figures because it is set in a period (the Norman Conquest) which is poorly documented and whose history is dominated by Norman propaganda. In order to grasp at what, to my mind, came closer to a balanced historical truth than the propaganda, I created a set of fictional characters to represent the less-told sides of the story. This is the privilege of the novelist – to imagine, to extrapolate from the known facts and arrive at that which we revere as fictional truth. We can do this, as I do, by creating fiction grounded in historical reality (as best we can know it), or we can create fantasies and alternate histories such as Game of Thrones or D. J. Taylor’s The Windsor Faction, or A Kill in the Morning by first time novelist, Graeme Shimmin, which is a bizarre and not entirely successful combination of both. Is William Boyd’s Any Human Heart less of a historical novel because it inserts a fictional narrator right into the heart of actual twentieth century history? By contrast, does Philippa Gregory forfeit the right to define The Other Boleyn Girl as historical fiction because she uses a largely discredited belief in Anne Boleyn’s exercise of witchcraft as a major plot driver? The people are real, their actions imagined.

I have no idea of the answer to any of these questions. I’m sure I could manufacture plausible definitions if I wanted to – I am, after all, a wordsmith by trade. But I have no desire to clip the wings of novels and put them in cages. All novelists know that categorisation can be limiting and misleading to a degree. Let me tell you a story. The Book of Love, to which I referred at the beginning of this essay, is a novel set during the Italian Renaissance whose main theme is family dynamics, most particularly the relationships between mothers and sons. The book alluded to in the title is a book of recipes. However, the family under examination is the Borgias, and, at the time the book was due to be published in America, Showtime was about to launch its ill-fated TV series about these notorious ‘precursors of the Mafia’. My US publisher was therefore keen to include the name Borgia in the book’s title, admittedly for sound marketing reasons. They came up with Sins of the House of Borgia and I was quite unable to persuade them that such a title would set up all the wrong expectations in readers’ minds and lead inevitably to disappointment. It did, and some of them were, though obviously not all because the book has, I’m happy to say, fared rather better than the TV series. However, I feel quite unable to claim it as mine under a title imposed on it by someone else for reasons which have nothing to do with summarising its theme and adding to its meaning. That title is not part of the book the way the one I gave it is. Names, as anyone who has pored over baby name books or poked around graveyards looking for inspiring nomenclature will know, are totemic and deeply aspirational.

Marketing. The dreaded M word. As all of us who write full-length fiction know, in mainstream publishing, the decision whether or not to accept a book for publication nowadays lies squarely with the marketing department. While the increasing ease of self-publishing and the proliferation of small presses made possible by declining costs of book production have served in many, mainly good ways, to reunite the producer of fiction with the means of production, they have also caused mainstream publishers’ marketing folk to become ever more conservative and entrenched in positions they know – or think they know – will sell. Marketing departments are mainly responsible for categorisation. They are the ones who make the decisions about where a book will appear on bookshop shelves, how it will be packaged (pink glittery romances, black and silver boys’ thrillers, figures with their backs to the reader on almost everything else, and anything published by Bloomsbury an honourable and elegant exception), what key-words Amazon can pounce on with its if-you-enjoyed-that-you-might-like-this claws fully extended. You can’t blame them. Year on year, there is more and more fiction being published in English. Even if you are the kind of reader who confines herself to a single genre, choosing what to read is a truly Sisyphean task. If you buy for your Kindle, you are probably even more of a marketing nightmare because Kindle readers are apt to be both careless and non-conformist. Kindle readers are the builders’ mates with a serious Mills and Boone habit, the porn-gobbling yummy mummies, the promiscuous impulse buyers who want to try everything but never finish anything. Bookselling in all its guises is a horrible knife-edge, a teetering between derision and bestsellerdom, art and commerce, intellectual rigour and total lunacy.

But let us not be tempted to look back nostalgically on the history of the novel. Even Cervantes, widely seen as the father of the modern novel, wrote Don Quixote as a mockery of the Romance, also a species of novel. The history of the novel is as convoluted and murky as that of homo sapiens and will probably prove harder to untangle. In the early years of the circulating libraries, young women who borrowed from them the works of Henry Fielding or George Eliot (and the criticism was always directed at women rather than men because novel reading was, and still is, perceived as a predominantly feminine pursuit) were condemned as frivolous and racy, filling their heads with dangerous and subversive notions. Dickens made writing fiction just about respectable because he was so successful, yet the model of his success and accompanying celebrity may well lie partly at the root of the messy commercial scramble that is modern fiction publishing.

Even today, when some authors make very good livings indeed out of their fiction and are respected public figures who make praiseworthy use of their money and their fame (and here, J. K. Rowling and the late Sir Terry Pratchett spring to mind, not to mention Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose public championing of miscarriages of justice led directly to the founding of the Criminal Court of Appeal), many hide behind pen names and are chary of telling people what they do. There is still something not quite respectable about writing fiction for a living. However strenuously academics and marketing people try to crate us up, we keep escaping, like ectoplasm from the Ghostbusters’ proton packs, to challenge and shape-shift, to spread chaos and mayhem.

This is as it should be. I was recently privileged to hear Jeanette Winterson in conversation with Helen Macdonald about writing. In a fabulous, bold and unruly segue from the joys and agonies of dog-owning, she spoke of the book in progress as a thing with too many legs, occupying unpredictable and uncomfortable spaces in the house. A book, she suggested, not only has a life of its own, but a life that isn’t human. We keep books in our houses at our peril, knowing we will never quite understand them, their lifespans will not match our own, they will break our hearts.

I wonder if that Amazon reviewer had any idea what her review would trigger? Probably not. Words are wild and mainly untameable. Words, to quote a phrase David Bowie once used to describe himself, are ‘a queer kettle of poissons’.

Sarah Bower has owned several dogs and also, at various times, a fish and a model Ghostbusters fire station. The covers of all her novels feature figures with their backs turned to the reader, except for The Book of Love which sports a mask.

Knocking One Out

How to Write Drama for British Television Part 37b of 83 by Derek Duggan

It’s becoming ever more difficult to make money out of writing books. If there is one thing that we’ve learned from the self-publishing revolution it’s that there are a lot of people out there who feel the need to justify the expense of buying a laptop by writing a novel and slapping it onto Amazon. In fact, according to recent market research carried out by the University of Market Research most new laptops come with a fucking terrible novel pre-installed, with a one click to publish option. This leaves the serious writer with a very simple problem which is this – How are people going to notice your not-shit novel among all the other shit novels? And is there enough of a shit novel audience to go around anyway? Probably not, is the sad but realistic answer to that. And that means many of you will be kissing your hard earned £130 a year from Amazon goodbye. So, how are you going to pay the mortgage?

Fear not. There is a solution – television drama. It might seem daunting, but really it’s the exact same as writing a book except that you don’t have to do all the boring description bits about how the characters are feeling as that’s what actors get paid to make up. And that’s one of the best parts – if your drama is shit you can just blame the cast and the director. Anyway, as with every type of writing there are a few basic rules and once you follow these you’ll be laughing all the way to the BAFTAs.

1. The very first thing you have to do, even before you write a single word, is to decide what part Olivia Coleman is going to play. According to statistics obtained under the Freedom of Information Act a staggering 73% of all scripts are rejected instantly because there is no obvious role for Ms Coleman and so almost no chance of the program winning an award as she is going to win it for something.

2. Don’t spend ages worrying about coming up with an original idea – that’s what Scandinavian writers are for. All you have to do is watch stuff with subtitles on BBC 3 and then change it into English and set it in Bournemouth and you’ll be onto a winner. Of course, you’ll have to make it a bit gritty, but a lot of this is easy to achieve as many British actors are naturally quite ugly – or what they call in the business ‘Character Actors’ – so everything seems that much more grim to begin with. This can be accentuated by getting an actor like the good looking Doctor Who to be in it too and have him look sad a lot and be upset about things which he can articulate by showing his bottom teeth and squinting his eyes a bit. Remember to put that into the stage directions –



Then you just need to throw in a modest amount of swearing and you’re sorted.

3. Another option to consider is reworking a classic. You have two options here. The first is where you can modernise something like in that one where Alan Turing and Bilbo Baggins solve crimes with the occasional help of Aunt Sally. That show has changed from the original classic mostly by being set in the modern era instead of ancient London. These updates have been so cleverly woven into the very fabric of the show that they are never directly referenced by the lines the characters speak. Instead, the writer has used costume.



And you can see how easily the era was set there.

The second option is where you rework an old swashbuckling classic and have actors wear flouncy shirts while standing outside a castle in former Czechoslovakia and pretend that they’re not freezing their bangers off while they lock horns with Old Man Doctor Who.

4. You could also try your hand at a period piece. The main drawback with this is that you will have to do some research. For example, all the people in olden days were quite boring which is why the average life expectancy was so much shorter in the past as many people actually died of boredom and why a one hour drama about them feels like it’s been going on for fifteen fucking years. That’s the kind of painstaking detail you’ll have to include if you don’t want history pedants writing in to complain about the inaccuracy of your show.

So what are you waiting for? Get writing.

Glad I could help.