Thursday, 11 June 2015

We are delighted to announce to launch of An Earthless Melting Pot, our third volume of prize-winning short stories from the Words with JAM BIGGER Short Story Competition 2014.

The competition draws entries from far and wide, and An Earthless Melting Pot is the result – a collection of winning entries and runners up in each category. 

Judged by Emma Darwin (Bridport Prize winner and author of The Mathematics of Love), Sam Jordison (columnist for The Guardian and founder of Galley Beggar Press) and Debbie Young (reviewer forVine Leaves Literary Journal and Commissioning Editor of the Alliance of Independent Authors’ Self-publishing Advice Blog).

The short story is thriving, and here is a sparkling representation of its varied facets and forms.

Enjoy …

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

We are highly excited to announce to launch of An Earthless Melting Pot, our third volume of prize-winning short stories from the Words with JAM BIGGER Short Story Competition 2014.

The competition draws entries from far and wide, and An Earthless Melting Pot is the result – a collection of winning entries and runners up in each category. 

Judged by Emma Darwin (Bridport Prize winner and author of The Mathematics of Love), Sam Jordison (columnist for The Guardian and founder of Galley Beggar Press) and Debbie Young (reviewer forVine Leaves Literary Journal and Commissioning Editor of the Alliance of Independent Authors’ Self-publishing Advice Blog).

The short story is thriving, and here is a sparkling representation of its varied facets and forms.

Enjoy …

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Louise O'Neill - Winner of The Bookseller's YA Prize

Louise O' Neill is from Clonakilty, in west Cork. After graduating with a BA in English Studies at Trinity College Dublin, she completed a post-grad in Fashion Buying at DIT. After a year in New York working for Kate Lanphear, Senior Style Director of ELLE magazine, she returned home to Ireland to write her first novel. Only Ever Yours won the first Bookseller YA Prize in 2015. From hanging out on set with A-list celebrities to spending most of her days in pyjamas while she writes, Louise has never been happier.
Photo by Paddy Feen

By JJ Marsh

I want to tackle some chunky subjects with Louise, but so as not to overload her and keep this entertaining, I’ll chuck in a random lightener* every now and then. 

Now let's talk to herself.

Congratulations on winning the Bookseller’s YA Prize. Did you set out to write fiction for young adults?

Thank you! I was thrilled to win, especially in its inaugural year.

I first came to YA fiction as a reader in my twenties. The YA market as it exists today wasn’t anywhere near as extensive or as popular when I was a teenager, I went straight from Narnia to reading Margaret Atwood and Jeffrey Eugenides (with a brief detour to the magical land of Sweet Valley). In my final year of university, I took a module in children’s literature – as you can imagine, my parents were delighted at the thought they were funding my efforts to analyse the subtext in picture books – and that was my first real introduction to how powerful and subversive fiction for young adults could be.

That being said, I didn’t necessarily intend to write for young adults. The voice of the main character, Frieda, came to me as a sixteen year old girl’s, and I wrote the story the way I felt it should be written. It was only when I started approaching agents that it became clear that Only Ever Yours was going to be targeted at the Young Adult market. Of course, very often there is a crossover where adults pick up a YA novel, and I have definitely seen that with my novel – so much so that my publisher has decided to re-publish it and re-position it for the adult market. It will be interesting to see how that works out.

By all accounts, this was your third attempt at writing fiction after abandoning two others at the 10K words mark. Why did it work this time?

When I tried writing before there was always something to distract me. University, a boyfriend, trying to build my career. When I left my internship at ELLE in New York in 2011 to return to Ireland, I had made the decision that I was going to take a year out to attempt writing my first novel. A long term relationship had broken up, I was living back at home with my parents, and I had a rather desperate feeling that it was either going to be now or never. I knew I would never have the luxury of this much time and space, unencumbered by responsibilities. I could be, and I was, completely obsessive about this book, giving it 100% of my energy and focus. I’m aware that for other people that this isn’t possible because of children to feed and mortgages to pay. I know how incredibly lucky I was to have the emotional (and fiscal!) support of my parents.

An observer might see elements of your background as affecting your fiction: a Catholic education, an all-girls school, media pressure on teenagers of both genders, competition and cruelty, an eating disorder and working in the New York fashion industry all as formative factors – but in your opinion, is there a dominant authorial experience driving Only Ever Yours?

You’re correct in saying that a myriad of my personal life experiences have affected and shaped this novel. I think the most dominant of these would probably be my experience of the ‘Beauty Myth’, as coined by Naomi Wolf. (The basic premise of The Beauty Myth, as outlined by Wikipedia, is that as women have gained increased social power and prominence, expected adherence to standards of physical beauty has grown stronger for women.)
I was very focussed on my appearance for a long time. When I admit that, I often fear that people will think I’m vain or self-obsessed but I think it’s important to understand that women are often told that our very value as human beings is directly linked to how attractive we are to men. I wanted to be beautiful, I wanted to look like the models I saw in my magazines. I would look at the fashion editorials and want their bodies, their hair, their faces, and of course, their clothes. I felt like a bottomless pit of need – a need for validation and approval from other people, usually connected to whether or not they thought I was attractive. It’s an exhausting way to live.

It was as I got older and read more and began to understand exactly the sort of pressure that this ‘Beauty Myth’ exerts on women, I could more clearly see how our culture constantly reinforces the idea that women have some sort of responsibility to be beautiful. That became a central theme in Only Ever Yours.

*Summer barbecue and you’re in charge of the cocktails. What are we drinking?

Grey Goose vodka and soda water with freshly squeezed lime juice. I try to pretend this is relatively healthy – I am just doing my best to avoid scurvy, one cocktail at a time.

You’re vocal, and very funny, on the subject of feminism. One comment struck me – you call your friends on casual comments which compound gender inequality. Why pick up on all those ‘only a joke, love’ comments?

Photo by Miki Barlok
I know some of my friends roll their eyes at me at times, in a ‘here she goes again’ type of way. But it’s never just a joke. As a feminist living in a first world country, I often hear people tell me that I should be grateful for how much better it is for women here than in other countries, as if I should be sending out thank you cards every time I’m allowed to vote. (Don’t worry, I ask my dad which way I should vote beforehand. My little lady brain can’t handle the pressure otherwise.)

Leaving some of the bigger issues aside, such as the fact that women still don’t earn as much as men for doing the exact same job, casual sexism, mildly sexist jokes, comments such as ‘Don’t be such a girl’, all of these add up to an environment in which being female is seen as inferior, as less than. That is never acceptable. The more you point out sexism, the more others notice it too – and we need as many people as possible to be aware of how inherently patriarchal our world is if we ever want to enact real change.

*If you had the choice of any fictional character, who would you be?

This is so difficult! Jo March from Little Women has always been a role model for any bookish child, Hermione Granger from Harry Potter is a badass, and Susan Pevensie from the Narnia series as I still think it’s incredibly unfair that C.S Lewis dismissed her once she became interested in makeup and fashion.

I found it significant that the ‘designer’ girls in the book have no parents whereas I get the impression your family is extremely important to you. Was that a deliberate decision to leave those girls adrift?

That’s an interesting observation. Yes, my family is extremely important to me as anyone who follows me on Twitter will recognise. They have been an unwavering source of support and understanding, which has anchored me in ways that I will be eternally grateful for. Home, both mine and my grandparents’ house, was a safe haven, in a way that school never was. This is why I set the entire narrative of the book within the confines of the school, I wanted to create a sense of claustrophobia, of being trapped, a sense that the girls couldn’t escape. They didn’t have a family that they could ‘retreat’ to. One of the biggest blessings in family life is a sense that you are loved unconditionally – and those girls have never experienced that.

When I reviewed your book, I compared it to Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. Many differences between the two, but there’s a sense in both that cruelty and competition between young girls will last long into the future. How can we, all of us, change that?

Firstly, thank you so much for comparing my novel to Ishiguro. I can die happy now.

That sense of competition has lessened as I’ve gotten older. Many of my female friendships now are supportive and loving and I cherish that sense of sisterhood. This is the example that we need to set for younger women. If you have a daughter, don’t bitch about other women behind their backs, don’t tear down other women based on their looks, don’t be cruel. Obviously, I’m not going to like every woman that I meet and I may have valid reasons for criticising their behaviour at times, but there are ways to do that which are not toxic. We also need more positive representations of female friendship on TV, in movies, in literature.

 You’ve another book on the way. Can we get a tiny teaser as to what it’s about?

My second novel is called Asking For It and it’s going to be published by Quercus on September the 3rd.
It’s about a girl named Emma, beautiful, manipulative, demanding. She wakes up the morning after a party on her front porch with no memory of how she got there. It’s only when she sees photos on social media that she realises that she’s been assaulted.
The book deals with issues of rape culture, victim blaming, and consent, and has been inciting very strong reactions from all those who have read it so far.
I’m hoping it will start a conversation about the idea of the ‘perfect victim’ and how we as a society actually support rape culture, unknowingly or otherwise.

*A woman’s best friend is:
  • A small dog with a huge personality
  • A great gang of mates
  • A laptop and an idea
I’m lucky enough to have all of the above and I love all of them. However, I think a woman’s best friend should be herself. That sounds trite but women need to learn to treat themselves with as much compassion and understanding as they would their closest friends. You’re stuck with yourself for a lifetime, may as well start liking yourself as soon as you can.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Gillian Hamer In Conversation with Claire Fuller

Claire Fuller
Claire Fuller is a novelist and short fiction writer. For her first degree she studied sculpture at Winchester School of Art, specializing in wood and stone carving. She began writing fiction at the age of 40, after many years working as a co-director of a marketing agency. Claire has a masters in Creative and Critical Writing from The University of Winchester. Claire lives in Winchester with her husband and two children.

Her first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days is published in the UK by Fig Tree / Penguin, by House of Anansi in Canada, Tin House in the US, and will be published in France, Italy, the Netherlands, Taiwan, Israel and Turkey in the coming months.

Welcome to Words with Jam, Claire! What made you choose the content for your first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days?

I set out to write the type of novel I like to read. I like rather dark stories that make the reader work by not laying out all the answers; where you have to read between the lines to discover what has happened. And in fact, where there can be several possible answers. I hope I’ve achieved that with Our Endless Numbered Days.

You're a businesswoman in 'real life' - what fuelled the desire to write? 

I gave up my ‘businesswoman’ life last August to write full-time, but before that I ran a marketing agency for twenty-three years. I’ve always been creative (my first degree was in sculpture) and I suppose writing is another outlet. I stumbled into writing when I was forty. On a whim I decided to do NANOWRIMO one November and wrote just over 50,000 words in that month. From there I started writing short stories and reading them out at a local event, and then I decided to study for an MA in Creative and Critical Writing.

Your debut novel Our Endless Numbered Days (see my review here) was published by Fig Tree Penguin. Can you give us a brief resume of your journey to publication? 

I finished writing Our Endless Numbered Days early in 2013 and sent it out to about twelve literary agents. I had a rejection and then a couple of requests for a full submission, and one of them got back to me very quickly and asked me to go up to London. I met with Jane Finigan from Lutyens & Rubinstein and we just clicked, so I signed with them the next week. Jane and I worked on editing the manuscript for about six weeks, and then she sent it out to twelve editors in publishing houses. She started hearing back from them very quickly, and we received three offers from UK publishers, so the novel went to auction. At the same time, Jane’s colleague sent it out to their foreign associates and offers started to come in from other countries. After about two weeks Jane brought the UK auction to a close, and Fig Tree, an imprint of Penguin won. It was incredibly exciting, and the whole thing totally unexpected. The novel has now been sold in nine territories.

I worked with my editor at Fig Tree on more revisions, as well as her Canadian and US counterparts. And nineteen months after Penguin bought the novel it was published.

Did you always want to be published? Or did you just want to write? 

I didn’t start writing until fairly recently, but I’ve always wanted an audience for my writing, so in that sense I’ve always wanted to be published. But of course at first my audience was literally people listening in a room, or people reading my work on my website or in anthologies.

What are your earliest reading memories? Or the book of your childhood?

Some of my early reading memories are going through my parents’ bookshelves without censorship. My Mum wasn’t a great reader when I was growing up, but I really remember a German book she had about childhood illnesses, and being fascinated by the gruesome photographs. From my Dad’s shelves I read Small Tales of a Scorpion by Spike Milligan, which is a book of poems about mental illness. I also remember somehow being allowed to take out James Herbert’s novels from my local library when I was very young. Perhaps that’s where I got my love of dark literature from.

Are there any other genres you'd like to try?

I’d like to try writing a ghost story. I read a lot of ghost stories when I was much younger and was terrified by them. I’m not sure it works in quite the same way for adults – I’m not so easily scared, but I’d still like to have a go.

What three novels would you take to a desert island?

A good question! Do I take the books I love the best, the books I know I ought to tackle, or those I would get succour from? Perhaps I’ll have one of each:

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. I re-read this often, and still find new things in it.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. This book has been on my ‘to be read’ list forever.

Collected Poems by John Donne. Some of these I remember off by heart from school, and still love. I’d like to learn some more. What better place than on a desert island?

How do you start to develop a new character?

I don’t normally start with just a character. I have a person in a location and with a particular situation happening to them, and then see how they react. Sometimes I have interviewed my characters, by writing them questions and having them answer, but mostly they develop from the situations I put them in. After a while, when I’m in the middle of writing I can tell if I’m making the character do something that wouldn’t come naturally to them and I’ll have to go back and rework some scenes.

How important is location to you in your writing? 

Incredibly important. I need to be able to visualise where my characters are; the space they are living in – right down to details that might not get mentioned, such as the layout of a house, what’s outside, what they keep in the cupboard under the stairs. Knowing all this helps me imagine them living and interacting with their surroundings. It helps with the atmosphere of what I’m writing, with the smells and sounds around them.

What advice would you give to up-and-coming authors?

Keep writing. Even if you don’t like what you’ve written, keep writing. You can’t revise and edit, and improve unless you’ve got something on paper.

Secondly, share your work. Get someone else to read it. Join (or form) a writing group. If want your writing to be published it is going to read, so you might as well start now.

And thirdly, read.

Where did the idea for Peggy Hillcoat and her story (Our Endless Numbered Days) come from?

It came from a news story in 2011. A teenager called Robin van Helsum appeared in Berlin saying that he had been living in the woods with his father for the previous five years and his father had died in an accident. Eight months later it was discovered that Robin had run away from home and had made his story up, but for a long time everyone believed him. It made me think what if he had been living in the forest, how would he have survived, what would have brought him out and what would have taken him there in the first place.

Do you have a new book in the pipeline? If so, can you tell us a little about it?

I’m revising and editing my second novel at the moment. Like Our Endless Numbered Days it’s also about a family in crisis, but a completely different family, in a different place, with a different problem. There is a lot of nature writing in it (which is something I love to read), but this time it’s set by the sea rather than in a forest. My editor hasn’t seen it yet, so I’d better not say any more.

Website/ Twitter links

Monday, 1 June 2015

Editing: Comparing two documents in Microsoft Word

I'm currently editing my latest novel, The Better of Two Men. I have several people who read and edit the manuscript before publication, but somehow I have to combine all the edits and make them on the master file, then send that master file off to my proofreader.

There are two features in Microsoft Word which make the process a little easier.

The first allows you to open two Word documents side by side and as you scroll through one, it scrolls through the other at the same time, so you're always on the same page on both. 

To do this open both documents and click the 'View Side by Side' icon in the View menu. 

The second feature will compare the two documents using the Tracked Changes feature.

Go to the Review menu and click Compare, then select the two documents you wish to compare. This will bring up three panels, two with the documents selected and a third with the two documents combined but with the differences in Track Changes so you can work through accepting, rejecting and making any changes you need. 

And there you go ...

JD Smith, is the author of the Historical Novel Society Indie Book of the Year Award Finalist Tristan and Iseult, The Rise of Zenobia and The Fate of an Emperor, editor of Words with JAM and Bookmuse, and the mother of three mischievous boys.