Monday, 17 August 2015

First Page Competition 2015 - THE RESULTS!


1st Prize Winner
A Piece of Broken Sky by Claudia Cruttwell

2nd Prize Winner
The Little Black Pig by Sharon Bennett

3rd Prize Winner
The Taste of Cider by Catherine Edmunds


Nathan Kane by Rebecca Kemp
The Book of Mercies by Barbara Weeks
Linger and Die/Port Phillip Dreaming by Neil Brooka
The Red File by Alison Morton
The Penitent by J. J. White
Bigglesdyke by James Robinson
Blues After Hours by Mo Foster
Mother Runs by Natalie Newman
Golden Tesserae by Elizabeth Willcox
The Anatomy of a Hat Pin by Vanessa Matthews
Dead Branches by Benjamin Langley
Deep Feelings by Alan Coley
Delivery by Angi Holden
A Bow Full-drawn by Don Wells

Judge's Report by Guy Saville

The moment I sat down to start going through the shortlist, I was struck by the difficulty of the task that lay ahead. There was such a wide variety of subjects and styles that I didn’t know where to start. In the end, my decisions were instinctive – and so entirely subjective. If you’re not one of the winners, do not see this as any judgement on you or your writing. Just as with the real world of publishing, a book can be rejected by one editor, then be picked up by the next and become a bestseller.

A couple of general observations. There was a lot of sex and illness in the entries! What this says about WWJ readers I’m not sure. Perhaps you’re fans of Freud… or Woody Allen. On a more serious note, if I had one piece of advice after reading so many first pages it’s this: be wary of overloading on information. A number of entries were weighed down with too many characters, and too much scene-setting. Try not to make too many demands on a reader when they first start your book; let them settle in. Keep your first page intriguing, but also focused and simple.

Here are my winners:

1st Place – A PIECE OF BROKEN SKY by Claudia Cruttwell
I liked the title of my winner, and titles are something never to underestimate. They are the first words any agent, editor or reader will encounter. Make them count. The first paragraph sets the scene, implying the heat of the night with the open window and cicadas. But instead of the usual chirrup from the insects, they are ‘lamenting’. This unexpected word drew me in. A few paragraphs later, there’s another unexpected moment: a roasted pig’s head which the narrator illicitly snacks on. This combination of striking imagery and simple, evocative prose is why I chose this as my winner.

2nd Place – THE LITTLE BLACK PIG by Sharon Bennett
I was intrigued by this entry. A man finds a message in a bottle washed up on the beach. I’m sure it’s something we’ve all imagined. The message begins with a confession of petty shoplifting, and ends with something much more ominous: talk of a gun. It’s a great narrative hook and suggests a plot of mystery and danger. I’d certainly want to find out more.

3rd Place – THE TASTE OF CIDER by Catherine Edmunds
I promise there will be no pigs in this choice! There are, however, ewes… and some great writing. I thought lines such as grass ‘aching where sheep have trampled’ were wonderfully evocative. It’s not all in the language though. There’s also a hint of conflict and jealousy between the narrator, Patrick and his wife.

Winning Entries

1st Prize Winner
A Piece of Broken Sky by Claudia Cruttwell

It is late at night. The window is open and the cicadas are lamenting the newly clipped lawn. I step out of bed in my nightdress and shy away from the mirror. I do not wish to encounter myself. The moon picks out the room’s simple furnishings, selected by my husband who has made an exhibit of my childhood home. I leave him to sleep. His seed lies in a fine crust on my thigh.

I mount the stairs to the living room. Here, the window lets in, not just the moonlight, but also the distant lights of the town. The town where I was once a chambermaid. The town which, according to Papa in his craziness, was never there before. The town which lay unseen behind a stone wall. It seems to be saying to me, ‘You were never hidden from view. Nothing that you did, or that others did to you, went un-noticed. There has always been a window on you.’

A centipede scuttles up the wall: a thin line of silver with legs stuck out straight on either side like an ariel mast. Its many legs carry it quickly to a crack in the wall through which it disappears as if it has been sucked in by a straw.

I am hungry. I go to the kitchen and open the door to the fridge. Manila has put away the remnants of the feast in uncovered bowls. There is nothing but hardened vegetables and wilted salads. I close the door and see, there on the dining table, the roasted pig’s head.

The skin of its face is dark, the eyes shrivelled and glazed. I take a knife from the drawer and stab an eyeball, drawing it out whole with ease. Yes, I cannot resist. A little nugget of juicy fat, easy and pleasant to chew.

I tear off a piece of the crispy skin and suck on its sweetness. I take the knife to the right ear and eat this also. It is salty and crunchy. Grease dribbles over my hand.

I continue to explore with my knife and fingers. The meat at the temples, just above the eyes, yields a particularly tender and juicy delight. There are little sealed pockets, fatty cavities, all over, which I break open to find the meat inside still warm, even though it is many hours since it was cooked.

2nd Prize Winner
The Little Black Pig by Sharon Bennett

Robert picked his way over the rock pools, zigzagging towards a discarded bottle at the base of the grassy cliff. The carelessness of holidaymakers irritated him and he was keen to add this piece of rubbish to the black sack swinging by this side. The cork was still wedged in the top of the bottle, but it felt light. He took a closer look. There was a note inside. A prank surely. Straightening up, he looked around to see if anyone was watching, but there were only a few people left on the beach, mostly locals, and nobody was interested in Robert’s activities as a voluntary litter collector.

Once back on the firmer ground, Robert leaned against the breakwater and took another look at his find. The bottle was still warm from the day’s sun and freckled with damp sand. He worked at the cork until it released its grip from the bottleneck, and then tipped it upside down, giving the bottom a pat. This made the paper inside expand and cling to the sides, so he tried reaching in with his middle finger, pressing the paper against the glass and rotating the bottle.

The A5 paper came out dry. The writing on the page was neat, written in biro and with wide margins. A little black pig had been drawn in the top right hand corner. Not a doodle, but a carefully drawn black pig with a little curly tail.

I have two confessions, he read. The first is that this bottle, selected from a supermarket near my house, has not been paid for. This is my one and only experience of shoplifting. If I had ever made it home that day, I would have realised my mistake and gone back to the shop to pay for it. But I didn’t make it home. This bottle has stayed in my bag since that day and travelled with me, unopened, for three months. Today I opened it, sitting on a beach miles away from home. I poured myself enough to fill a white plastic cup and tipped the rest away. Then I buried the gun in the sand. That’s my second confession.

Robert paused to take another look around before studying the drawing of the pig again. Something nagged at the back of his mind. He continued to read. 

3rd Prize Winner
The Taste of Cider by Catherine Edmunds

Patrick keeps a small flock of sheep on the fellside beyond the last bridge, grows turnips and leeks the other side of the wall. He’s part of this land; it’s grown him. I imagine God finding him drinking cider one day, high in the dales and saying, “Yes, he’ll do.”

Early March, cold, and I’m helping with the lambing. We work the rhythm of the ewes in labour, wipe the birthing muck off the newborns, the last few; too cold out on the fells this year so we’re in the byre.

Edna comes in, says hello; Patrick answers. I don’t. I’m busy, have to be busy. She watches us together. I wish she’d go. She ought to be making tea, pretending she’s the farmer’s wife.

Go on. Get out of here. Leave me alone with Patrick and the lambs. I need this time.

Patrick’s hair is red and his beard is red and when he takes a lamb in his broad hands it’s safe; its mother trusts; and when he wipes it down with straw, the sweet smell overpowers me and I look at the ewe and the ewe looks at Patrick and he looks at the lamb, and outside the wind lifts the heather and roams away across the fells.

Listen! No, listen! Forget that distant bell, forget the twilit chapel in the village below. This is what matters: this grass, aching where the sheep have trampled—it’s coming back, it’s growing again now I’m home. Me and Patrick, we don’t have to do or say anything, just wait for me to get stronger, and then we can drink cider together, and yes, I know I’m lying somewhere in this, but it’s truthful too.

Has the silly woman fetched the tea yet? Yes, she’s back with a tray and she says something to Patrick and he smiles at her, so I jump up and Edna, she calls after me—“Ros,” she says—“Ros, wait!” But I say something about fresh air and stretching my legs and I’m gone, running up the fell, jumping from tussock to tussock, flying, landing when I know the flat stones lie just below the surface. I don’t want her tea. I don’t want the way Patrick smiles at her when she says hello. She’s not the farmer’s wife, she’s nobody, she’s Mrs Mop, she’s the help, she’s nobody.

Congratulations to all the winners!

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Snapshots from... Barcelona!

By JJ Marsh

In our regular series, international writers share some snapshots from their part of the world. This issue, Kevin Booth shares some perspectives on Barcelona and Catalonia.

What’s so great about Barcelona?

The Mediterranean climate, reasonable cost of living, one’s awareness of history on every corner, the constant clash and parry of Catalan, Castilian, Arabic, Pakistani and other cultures, the politics, the corruption … a sense that however bad it gets, it’ll all keep going on.
And if it gets too much, or things are looking like they might boil over into a revolution, you can always go to the beach and contemplate that particular shade of indigo that the horizon takes on at sunset.

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

The biggest mistake people make when they come here is to assume they are coming to Spain. Catalonia has a unique cultural and linguistic identity:

“Once upon a time there were two kingdoms who fell in love and got married. After several centuries, one found that her identity and sense of self was being swamped (if not stamped on) by her partner, so she started thinking about divorce …”

Independence is the buzzword of the moment. The upcoming elections on 27 September are being touted as a plebiscite for independence. After that we shall see. Politics is ingrained here, into every nook and cranny of people’s DNA. When I went back to New Zealand, it was the politics I missed about this place – though the UK is also wonderfully and fervently vociferous in its politics.

What’s hot? What are people reading?

The bookshops stock the same bestsellers in translation you’ll find worldwide.

However, Lluís Llach, one of the country’s staunchest singer-songwriter-poets, a man you might describe as Catalonia’s Bob Dylan – though with a touch more Marxist conviction, humanist ideals and minus the religious confusion – has recently turned his hand to novel-writing, with wonderful results. His first book Memòria d’uns ulls pintats (Memory of Eyes Made-Up) is a touching story of four adolescents growing up in the Second Spanish Republic and ensuing Civil War, their education in the non-religious, humanist “modern schools” of the time, and the consequent tragic outcome of the Fascist victory in Spain. His latest novel Les dones del Principal (Women of the Principal), describes three generations of women surviving and thriving in the patriarchal culture of twentieth-century rural Catalonia.

Can you recommend any books set in the city or the region of Catalonia?

Mercé Rodoreda’s La Plaça del Diamant (The Time of Doves) takes place in the neighbourhood of Gràcia, Barcelona, before, during and after the Spanish Civil War. The novel follows the story of Colometa (“little dove”), an initially simple neighbourhood girl and young mother who develops through her hardship from a scared, passive soul into a survivor. Rodoreda’s Mirall Trencat is also brilliant, depicting the Barcelona bourgeoisie from the age of Modernisme till the post-Civil War period.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s La sombra del viento (The Shadow of the Wind) is a noir novel set in a post-war Barcelona where it is always raining. You can follow the novel’s twists and turns through the city streets.

And of course my own Celia’s Room, a novel of interlaced narratives where two young men in Barcelona in 1990 struggle to find themselves, their identities and their art in a city that is also changing its skin, shedding a dull, Francoist past to embrace its Olympic future as a designer city set beside the sea.

Who are the best known local writers?

Vázquez Montalbán, whose Pepe Carvalho detective series set in and around Barcelona have been made into a series of films and TV programmes; Terrenci Moix, a gay writer with a passion for Egypt; Pere Calders, a fabulous poet; Joan Brossa, an amazing visual poet; Mercé Rodoreda (mentioned above), Manuel de Pedrolo (his Typescript of a Second Beginning is a cult YA novel); Miquel Martí i Pol, another magnificent poet.

Is the location an inspiration or distraction for you?

Very much an inspiration, but also a terrible distraction. I live in the neighbourhood of Poble Sec (hence the name of my press, Poble Sec Books). While none of my characters in Celia’s Room have lived here, they do pass through the “barrio” (neighbourhood). It’s a formerly working-class district that has recently come into fashion for its mix of ethnicities, restaurants, bars and, of course, for the Poble Sec Festival, when we spend two weeks dancing and drinking every July. So, yes, that is rather distracting!

Barcelona is, for me, a fluently trilingual environment, which I love. I speak Catalan, Spanish and English daily. I’ve been told that my work explores a strong subtext of collective identity expressed through linguistic signs, and “us” versus “the other”, with a tendency to celebrate the outsider or loner. I find it curious that while a few years in London was enough to qualify me as a “Londoner” (though I’m sure some would scoff), I arrived in Barcelona over twenty-five years ago, but the facet of “foreigner” still infuses a major part of my Barcelona identity.

What are you writing?

Having just published the third instalment in my contemporary eco-fantasy series, Lake of Stone, I’m now focussing on my second more literary work, Tomorrow Belongs to Me, about a group of high school students who stage a production of the musical Cabaret. The protagonist is a Moroccan-born Spanish student, and it’s very much a coming-of-age tale set in Barcelona in the year 2002, when the right-wing government of the time used a negligible diplomatic spate with Morocco as a mini-Falklands campaign to further its own populist agenda. The novel explores ideas of race, religion, hatred and sexuality within the context of modern-day Spain as a melting pot of cultures.

I also write the blog which focuses on art you can see for free in Barcelona.

Sum up life in Barcelona in three words.

Chaotic, fluid, sublime.

Kevin Booth is a bit of a nomad mainly based in Barcelona who writes contemporary fiction under his own name and speculative fiction as K. Eastkott. All of his works are available at along with a list of retailers. Go to for suggestions on art you can see for free in Barcelona, follow Kevin Booth on Twitter or “like” him on Facebook for updates and free stuff.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Angie Marsons in Conversation with Gillian Hamer

Angela Marsons lives in the Black Country with her partner, their bouncy Labrador and a swearing parrot.

After years of writing relationship based stories (My Name Is and The Middle Child) Angela turned to crime, fictionally speaking of course, and developed a character that refused to go away.

She is signed to in an 8 book deal. The first book in the Kim Stone series, Silent Scream, was released in February. The second instalment Evil Games was released 29th May 2015.

Hello, Angie, Welcome to WWJ. Tell us a little about you and your writing? 

Thank you so much for asking me. I’ve been writing and submitting for many years. I began writing character based relationship books with stories that were burning inside me. I have always read crime fiction and psychological thrillers and a character had been chirping away in my head for years. I ignored her for a long time as I knew she was not the most likeable character but eventually broke free and she is now Detective Inspector Kim Stone.

Why did you settle on crime fiction?

I’ve always been an avid reader of crime fiction but thought I could never actually plot a crime book myself. To prove my point I had to give it a try and found that I didn’t have to know every answer before starting. As I wrote Silent Scream a great deal of the plot grew organically and one idea led to another. It was something that had never happened to me before.

For writers interested in the whole nuts and bolts process, can you give us a potted-history of your route to publication? 

Over the years I have been represented by an agent twice but it has not worked out for me. Luckily, an editor I worked with in the past never quite forgot about Kim Stone and submitted Silent Scream to the young and dynamic publisher Bookouture. I didn’t even know she had. Thankfully they felt as passionate about Kim Stone and her stories as I did and asked me to sign with them for four Kim books which has now been increased by a further four books.

Why did you decide to set your novels in an ‘unglamorous’ location like the Black Country?

For many years I wrote books with an editor on my shoulder. I constantly thought about likeable main characters and glamorous locations that I didn’t know. When I decided to write Silent Scream it was originally just to see if I could so I went with the character that had been in my head for years and based it in my local area. I could never have guessed that both the character and the location would be received so positively.

How do you handle the research required for police procedural?

In my previous job I worked quite closely with the police and learned a lot. I have the PACE book (full version) on my bookshelf for reference and anything I’m not sure about I read the most up to date versions for clarification.

What’s the best thing about being a full time author?

The absolute best thing for me is being able to do what I have loved since I was a child and have the privilege of calling it my job. I am thankful every single day that I have been given the opportunity to fulfil that lifelong dream.

And the worst?

Trying to make a routine. I’ve always written around a full time job like most people and somehow you manage to make the time. Because of that ethos I want to be at my desk all the time. I still view the working day as available time before I have to go to my real job so it takes a while to get used to forming a working day.

What do you know now as a writer that you’ve learned since the publication of your first novel, SILENT SCREAM?

I have learned that not everyone is going to like your book or your character and that it isn’t personal. As writers we pour a little of ourselves into every book we write so harsh comments can be hurtful in the early days. I have learned to accept the negative comments but not dwell on them and to focus on the good ones.

DI Kim Stone is a formidable character, is there any elements of you in there?

I did work as a Security Manager for many years. Working with a large, diverse group of people you have to learn to communicate with a certain level of directness. But, I do like to think I have better social skills than Kim Stone. I’ve never rode a proper motorbike but I did have a moped for a number of years. I’m not sure that counts, though!

Would you like to write a book in another genre? If so what would it be and why?

I think I am now well and truly addicted to crime. If I tried to write anything else I’d constantly be thinking about crime scenes and forensic details. I’d probably like to try and write a romantic comedy as my humour is not always appropriate

What book has most impressed you over the past year?

The Stolen Child by Renita D’Silva. It is a story of friendship so beautifully told that once I started it I couldn’t stop reading and the characters stayed with me until long after I’d finished the book.

What are you top 3 favourite crime novels of all time?

Wire in the Blood – Val McDermid

The Surgeon – Tess Gerritsen

Faithless – Karin Slaughter

Following publication of your second novel, EVIL GAMES, what are your future writing plans?

More from Kim Stone and her team. I am contracted to write 8 Kim Stone books altogether so that’s me busy for the foreseeable future.

Top 3 tips for up-and-coming authors?

1. Don’t stop writing. Whether you are submitting or not, being rejected or not. Keep writing and always remember what inspired you in the first place.

2. Leave the internal editor, publisher and critic out of the first draft. Write what you want. That’s your time and your playground. Bring the others out for draft two.

3. Trust your gut. Don’t make changes that don’t feel right. Everyone will have an opinion but stay true to what you believe.


Diversity Pt 1: Come on guys: you've had 200 years of misrepresenting us!

By Catriona Troth

Following the publication this May of a new report on diversity in publishing, commissioned by
Spread the Word, diversity in publishing is once again a hot topic. The report, Writing the Future: Black and Asian Writers and Publishers in the UK Market Place, paints a bleak and depressing picture. It shows that the profound changes the publishing industry has undergone in the past ten years has resulted in an industry that is less, not more, diverse.

Inevitably, and despite what are no doubt some good intentions, lack of diversity in the industry means lack of diversity in books. And in our increasingly multi-ethnic societies, that is damaging.

Middle-class, straight, white, able-bodied children and adults see their lives and experiences reflected back at them wherever they look, in books, films and television. Others – whether indigenous, BAME, LGBT, with a disability – must search a lot harder to find any images they can identify with – and when they find them, they are often distorted, stereotypical, or filtered through a narrow mainstream idea of what constitutes ‘authenticity.’

So this month, I am talking to two people, one from either side of the Atlantic, who are both campaigning passionately for greater diversity in literature and publishing:

Here I talk to Debbie Reese, who runs the widely respected blog ‘American Indians in Children’s Literature’ 

In Part 2, I talk to Farhana Shaikh, MD of Dahlia Publishing, based in Leicester, which champions diverse and regional writing in the UK.

Come on guys: you've had 200 years of misrepresenting us!

Interview with Debbie Reese.

Debbie Reese runs the widely respected blog American Indians in Children’s Literature. A former Assistant Professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Illinois, she is tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo in northern New Mexico.

Hi Debbie. Can you start by telling us why you believe it’s important that there should be authentic portrayals of indigenous people in children’s literature?

White children see images of themselves in nearly every book they pick up. It’s their norm. It’s the air they breathe. Native children see stereotypes of themselves in books. They rarely see themselves accurately portrayed. The damage that that does to your existence is significant. Native children drop out of school in alarming numbers.. Native suicide is sky high. Native scholars argue that a factor in the high drop out rate is that children become disengaged in school and that is tied to a lack of accurate representation of Native cultures in text books and literature.

Take an ‘American classic’ like Little House on the Prairie, which contains the phrase, ‘The only good Indian is a dead Indian’ – I challenge people to try reading that aloud with a picture of my daughter looking at them. It takes you out of the abstract, into the real, and should make the person uncomfortable and deter them from using it—with any child, Native or not.

How did your blog come about?

When I started graduate school in the 1990s, my goal was to look at family literacy – the interaction between parents and children during story time. But U of Illinois at the time was one of the universities that had an Indian mascot - Chief Illiniwek. I was shocked by depth of ignorance and the lack of awareness of the demeaning nature of stereotypes.

That led me to look explicitly at stereotypical imagery in children’s literature – and there was a lot. I began writing about it on email listservs, but I wanted to engage more efficiently with the wider community about these issues. So in May 2006, I launched American Indians in Children’s Literature, where I try to connect what I see in children’s books with research in history, education, and psychology.

For example, research has shown [Stephanie Fryberg, 2002] how exposure to stereotypical imagery (such as Indian ‘mascots’) has a negative impact, for indigenous students, on measures of self-esteem and self-efficacy (i.e. the belief that you can change the world), while having a positive impact on non-Native students. In other words, they engender feelings of inferiority in one group and superiority in another. Mascots fire you up, yes – but not in a good way!

You are often highly critical of work by non-Native writers. Does that make people uncomfortable?
Yes. Writers are afraid of me. And they should be! I say that not from a mean space. But, come on guys, you’ve had two hundred years of misrepresenting who we are, and our kids are in crisis. I am going to talk about the things you get wrong – even if it is just one phrase in a 300 page book. That one phrase is a drop in a sea of phrases and images that Native kids have to contend with. Fear that paralyses is not good, but fear that inspires writers to do better is good.

Stepping away from misrepresentations, let’s consider topic. When you look at books by contemporary Native writers, they are writing primarily about Native life today, and bringing their experiences and values to that book. In contrast, Non-Native writers are so often writing historical fiction, or retelling traditional stories, which they, erroneously, view as similar to folk and fairy tales rather than stories equivalent to those from other world religions. I, and many Native people, don’t want people to fixate on traditional stories – we want people to know what we are dealing with now! That we’re still here! We have lost so much, but we persevere and thrive. We are fighting so hard to keep what we have. Those are the stories we want people to read.

Trawling Reese’s website highlights some of the traps writers still fall into, often without intending to be racist or derogatory:

  • Painting indigenous people existing only ‘long ago and far away.’
  • Implicitly equating Native people with animals or mythical creatures: ( ‘A is for Aardvark ... I is for Indian ... M is for Mermaid’)
  • Failing to differentiate the rich diversity of Native American culture (e.g. feathered headdresses used as a universal signifier)
  • Using loaded or misunderstood words (squaw, brave, papoose, tipi, savage...) Even the use of the word Indian glosses over 500 federally recognised tribes and multiple languages.
  • Distortion of history – like rose-tinting the horrific experiences of residential schools. Even superficially sympathetic stories can be patronising, such as when a white person is cast as the hero or rescuer of Native people.
Is it ever possible for a writer not from an indigenous background to write authentically (or at least well) about indigenous people? Should they even try?

Yes, I think it is possible, but at this point in time, I do not encourage it because I want all kids to come to know Native people by way of Native writers. Non-Native writers mean well, but here’s some things to consider.

First of all, caring about Native people is not a condition for getting it right. If you don’t know someone personally, what you hold in your head and heart is more of an abstract than a reality. In the 1990s, illustrator James Ransom was asked why he had not illustrated any books about Native people. His reply was, “because I have not held their babies.” That’s a beautiful metaphor for the relationship of trust you have to have in place before you can do justice to someone’s stories. Once you move from the abstract into the real, you pause to consider what you are going to write or teach.

So caring about Native people and our ‘plight’ – a word that makes most of us bristle, because it puts us over in that abstract space – is not enough.

Second, even if you do have that relationship, you have to be very mindful of the research that you do. A lot of writers will go to sources that are written by non-Natives, like the stories that were collected by the Bureau of Ethnology in the 1800s. A lot of children’s authors think these are authoritative sources, but there was a lot of bias in the original recording process. Using them means that you have biased material from the get-go, and then in re-writing the stories for today’s audience, you insert your own bias. Then, likely, you are writing without a Native audience in mind, and that creates its own problems.

Another thing to consider is this. Some authors will spend time on reservations, make friends, write their book, and then ask those people, many of whom are young, to be their beta readers. In the abstract, it sounds good; on the ground – utter failure. In the first place, Native youth are taught to be respectful to adults. This respect inadvertently functions as a barrier to honest feedback. In the second place, those beta readers are not trained to look critically at children’s literature, and to spot subtle and explicit ways in which Native people are misrepresented.

Finally, when it comes to doing research, there are protections in place from research institutions [Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects, or 'Common Rule'] which protect vulnerable populations, including indigenous groups. Tribes themselves also have research protocols, which may require that research proposals be agreed to by the tribe, and/or the finished manuscript be reviewed by the tribe before publication. There is a lot of political engagement going on over who has authority over Native stories. We are sovereign nations, and are protective of stories that are our intellectual property.

Is there a danger that, even when they do it well, writers from the dominant culture writing about indigenous communities will drown out authentic indigenous voices?

Yes. People object to my featuring or prioritising Native voices. They accuse me of being discriminatory. But my response is that I am working within a framework that seeks to provide Native youth with models that they can follow – the idea that they can be writers, for instance.

There’s a benefit, too, for youth who are not Native. When you hold up a book by a contemporary Native author and talk about the author and people in the story in the present tense, it immediately pushes against the idea that Indians are all ‘dead and gone and vanished.’ You can place them within a specific Native nation and pull up their nation’s website, which shows that Native people use technology, just like anyone else. Using books by Native writers expands the possibilities for learning in a way you can’t with non-Native writers.

What changes would you most like to see in schools, libraries etc that would enable more authentic indigenous voices to be heard?

I’d like to see schools using books by Native writers. There are way more books by non-Native writers than there are by Native writers, and the majority of what you find in those books is problematic. The content of those books masquerades as ‘knowledge’. Trying to interrupt that body of misinformation is really hard. So I would like to see a lot more activism about that in schools, with teachers using books by Native writers, and walking students through critical analysis of popular books with problematic content.

In short, I’d like to see a lot more education about stereotyping and what that looks like. I’d like to see teachers boldly using critical literacy with those books.

For example, a colleague suggests breaking the class into groups, each of which studies one chapter of a book, analysing the language that is used to describe Native and non-Native characters and comparing it. Breaking it up that way is important. The problem with reading books like Little House on the Prairie from cover-to-cover in order to deconstruct stereotypical images in it, is that children begin to identify and empathise with characters in the book, and that can affect their ability to think critically about point of view and language or content that is biased.

And what about the publishing industry? What changes would you like to see there? Have you observed any positive shifts?

Right now, there is a new emphasis on big and bold steps in terms of diversity. It’s not the first time this has happened, but it’s there, and with the help of social media, I’m optimistic that it will lead to change.

A while back, Native parents in Alaska challenged four supplemental books from McGraw Hill, on the grounds that they misrepresented Native people and Native history. Eventually the books were returned to McGraw Hill, and the parents undertook to write books for the children in those communities to replace them. I wrote about this on my site. A few weeks ago, McGraw Hill wrote to me, asking me to introduce them to some Native writers because they wanted to do better. That is a huge plus.

Because of my blog and my activism, I can introduce emerging writers to editors at publishing houses. One of the books I facilitated in this way was Eric Gansworth’s If I Ever Get Out of Here.

But we need to get a more diverse range of people sitting at the table in publishing houses, making decisions. There is a group called We Need Diverse Books who are promoting this through an internship program that provides grants to students from diverse, underrepresented backgrounds who wish to pursue a career in children’s publishing.

We also need people in the industry to talk about these issues, openly, in big meetings. For example, there is a book called Curious George Learns the Alphabet, first published in 1963. It has a page: ‘T is for Tomahawk,’ which used to show George dressed up as a stereotypical Indian with a feathered headdress. There has been a change made to the latest edition, so that now the picture is just of the tomahawk. But it was done on the quiet. Nobody talked about why it was being done.

And publishers need to be looking in different places for writers and to understand the issues we care about. There are Native conferences in education, in law, in Native studies generally, and there are Native writers’ conferences, where editors can attend, listen, and learn.

Just get out of your offices and go where those conversations are happening!

Thank you, Debbie.
If this has whetted your appetite, here’s small sample of books from authors highly recommended by Debbie Reese. To find more, why not explore her blog?

Eric Gansworth: If I Ever Get Out of Here (Gansworth is an enrolled member of the Onondaga Nation)

Cynthia Leitich Smith: Rain Is Not My Indian Name (Smith is a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.)

Joseph Bruchac: The Way (Bruchac is of mixed Abenaki, Slovak and English heritage)

Debby Dahl Edwardson: My Name is Not Easy (Edwardson is non-Native, but her husband is Iñupiaq, and the book is based on his and his brothers’ experiences at Alaskan residential schools.)

Look out for more of my reviews of these books on BookMuse in the coming weeks.

Diversity Pt 2: If We Aren't Opening Up Discussion, We're Limiting Ourselves to a Tunnel Vision

By Catriona Troth

In Part 1 of my discussion this month of diversity, I talked to Debbie Reese, who runs the widely respected blog ‘American Indians in Children’s Literature’.

In this second part I talk to Farhana Shaikh, MD of Dahlia Publishing, based in Leicester, which champions diverse and regional writing in the UK.

 To recap, May this year saw the publication of a new report on diversity in publishing, commissioned by
Spread the Word, diversity in publishing is once again a hot topic. The report, Writing the Future: Black and Asian Writers and Publishers in the UK Market Place, paints a bleak and depressing picture. It shows that the profound changes the publishing industry has undergone in the past ten years has resulted in an industry that is less, not more, diverse.

Like Debbie Reese, Farhana Shaikh campaigns. passionately for greater diversity in literature and publishing

If We Aren't Opening Up Discussion, We're Limiting Ourselves to a Tunnel Vision

Interview with Farhana Shaikh

Farhana Shaikh is the founder of Dahlia Publishing, the Asian Writer and Leicester Writes.

Hi, Farhana. Can you tell us a bit about your journey in publishing, and the relationship between these three elements of your work?

My love for books started from a young age, and I always knew I wanted to be a writer. Publishing was my chance to work with books and earn a living (or so I thought at the time!) and so I went off to study Publishing with English at university. I wrote while starting a family, and later decided to start a blog about raising the profile of Asian writers. Most of my work has been an organic process, and I didn't have a set plan when I started out. 

After three years of growing The Asian Writer, I set myself a new challenge to publish regional and diverse writing. I had the publishing background and confidence to dip my toe in the water - and never looked back. This year, I really wanted to focus on local writers and celebrate Leicester writers in particular and that's how I came round to organising an entire festival around new writing. There's definitely a relationship between all my respective work and it's building writing communities and developing new writing.

Writing the Future has highlighted the lack of diversity in the publishing industry in Britain today. How does that impact on opportunities for BME writers?

I think the report was damning in that it highlighted just how terrible the situation - in fact it stated that in terms of a diverse workforce it's worse than it was a decade ago - which is a real eye-opener. The opportunities for BME writers are scarce and we need to do more to build a more diverse workforce to ensure that BME writers aren't outsiders, that is, they aren't seen as different to any other writer and that their work isn't judged by levels of 'authenticity' but on the writing alone.

What role do you feel that Dahlia Publishing (etc) can play in countering this?

Dahlia Publishing counters this in its own small way. We have an open submissions policy and focus on publishing regional and diverse writing - so diversity isn't something we think about or talk about, it's just something we do. We're inclusive and want to attract the best writers and publish the best books. Through Dahlia Publishing and The Asian Writer we've encouraged submissions from new writers and set up competitions to find the best emerging talents. These often give new writers trying to break through a huge confidence boost and set them off on greater paths. We also ran a 12 month-long development scheme for British Asian women to develop their writing last year.

On an industry level, we're signed up to the Equalities Charter and since our inception have helped undergraduates develop publishing skills. For many years I mentored students from Loughborough University - 2nd year BME students - and that presented them with a fantastic opportunity to gain an insight in to the workplace and gain employability skills. More recently, we've had the chance to work with University of Leicester to offer e-placements to their final year students to give them an insight into the small press, and gain valuable hands on experience. 

Our WWJ colleague, Dan Holloway, was recently quoted in the Bookseller as saying, "What are [publishers] doing to get in touch with street artists and aspiring rappers, and out into the poorest schools and after school clubs to ensure that those kids whose parent(s) don't have a room of their own, let alone a space for their kid to do homework in, will be inspired, encouraged and enabled to convert the angers and passions and hopes of their experience into the great literature of 10 years' time? Because unless they are actively doing that, any pretence to be really interested in what's new and exciting is like dangling a bit of string over the side of a rowing boat in the Med and saying 'Hey, I'd love to catch a deep sea Humboldt squid." 

Do you agree with that, and what other places would you encourage publishers to be venturing into to find new talent?

Absolutely, I think the way we've been hearing about discussions around diversity in publishing tend to show how publishers aren't getting it and Dan illustrates this perfectly. 

If we aren't opening up discussions with the right people we're limiting ourselves to a tunnel vision of what publishing should look like and what literature is all about. It's strange because people read books because they want to explore new worlds - we need to start looking at ways to opening up doors for those who might not otherwise be represented - auditing the workforce is just the start. 

As for other places - it's not difficult. Diversity is all around us and I don't buy into this notion that diverse communities are 'hard to reach'.
Do you think BME writers get trapped into writing about certain subjects, because that is what publishers expect?

I don't know if that's entirely true. I think BME writers have varying experiences of publishers and it's important to recognise that. But, I think what happens is that the early career writer especially might feel swayed to write about a certain subject if they feel that is what sells, or is told to by their agent to write a certain thing. I've heard from writers who have asked me whether they should write about something (even if they don't want to) simply because their agent believes they can sell it. Writers want to be read - and that means some are willing to write what their told or what they believe is expected of them.

You have written about the issue of self-censorship. Can you tell me more about that?

Again - I think this happens when the writers themselves have fixed ideas of what publishing is about
and also in that early career when writers are still trying to find their voice - so they start off avoiding certain subjects, and sticking to a safe few. We need to give writers the right support so they know that they want to write about is important and meaningful. If everyone is always chasing to write something that's 'commercially viable' purely for that benefit then that's a depressing state of affairs. I would hope we can instill the sort of confidence in our writers to write something they truly believe in, that also happens to be commercially viable!

The question of whether writers can - or should ever attempt to - create characters from an ethnic minority they don't belong to is one that raises strong feelings and widely different opinions. Do you believe it is ever possible for white writers to write authentically (or at least well) from the point of view BME characters?

I don't see why not. And yes, it can be done well the other way around too. That's more of a question of the writer's ability to do it well enough so it's believable, than anything else.

Is there a danger that, even when they do it well, writers from the dominant culture writing about BME characters will drown out authentic voices, simply because they have easier access to agents, publishers etc?

When I read Beauty by Raphael Selbourne, I absolutely loved it - and as long as the experiences of BME communities is represented in literature I think that's more important than the question of who is writing it. Also I'm not sure how we qualify the authenticity - if we live in multicultural cities than surely our experiences are shared and therefore overlapping?

What changes would you most like to see in the world of publishing that would enable more diverse voices to be heard?

  •  more peer to peer mentoring perhaps between the 'diverse' small presses and the big six.
  •  editorial opening specifically for BME candidates
  •  diversity training for publishers
  •  commitment to publish BME writers 

To end on a positive note – can you point to any highlights in terms of recent good practice, strong BME voices etc?

There's been plenty of debate around diversity which in itself is a good thing. There's more awareness than say last year, with more articles, tweets, reports and events on the subject. This is all a step in the right direction.

Thank you, Farhana.

If this has whetted your appetite, here’s small sample of books from Dahlia Publishing. To find more, why not explore their website?

When Ali Met Honour  by Ruth Ahmed

Bombay Baby by Leela Soma

Finding Takri by Palo Stickland

You could also check these books by great BME authors you may not know. (Links are to my reviews on BookMuse. )

Londonstani by Gautam Malkani

Brenton Brown by Alex Wheatle

Psychoraag by Suhayl Saadi

Finding Arun by Marisha Pink

Dear Infidel by Tamim Sadikali.

And if you are interested in creating characters from backgrounds different to your own, then you can read my article on Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward's excellent book Writing the Other in the Triskele Toolbox.


The Villainess

The villainess is femininity gone feral – Sue Turnbull
Sugar and spice and all things nice?
Or scary, psychotic and all your nightmares come true?

Femme fatale, wicked witch, bad girl, seductress, Eve, succubus, wizened crone, Medusa, naughty minx, ingénue, Cleopatra, lusty saucepot, not-really-bad-at-all once salvaged by a good man... stereotypical perspectives of women endure over centuries and seep into the cultural wallpaper. All part of the fun.

Then there is The Villainess.

Whether real or fictional, a truly bad woman is no fun at all.
Their names are synonymous with the shadows cast by barren trees, things under the bed and why a wardrobe door swings open just before you go to sleep.
Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.
Lizzie Borden was tried and acquitted of the murders of her parents, but the image of a woman committing a double axe murder in 1892 excited the public imagination and became legend.
Real-life lawless ladies like Bonnie Parker, Aileen Wuornos, Ruth Ellis, Ulrike Meinhof and Patty Hearst have enduring dramatic appeal on page, stage or screen.

In fiction, a true ‘bad guy’ female embodies the opposite of conventional perceptions of women. Hard, not soft. Cruel, not kind. An abuser of power. A killer. An avenger.
Writers have created many terrifying bogeywomen but few wield an axe. These ladies use a sharper tool – the mind.

Medea, Lady Macbeth, The White Witch, Mrs Danvers and even Annie Wilkes are all manipulators of power in circumstances where women have very little. To paraphrase Jack Crawford on my favourite bad guy Hannibal Lecter – you don’t want them inside your head.

Here’s my own personal dirty half a dozen of feminine villainesses in a roughly chronological order of awareness:

Cruella de Vil – 101 Dalmatians

Black-and-white animated evil with unspeakable urges. A would-be puppy killer. Her demonic pursuit of warm furry things to destroy for personal gratification against the anthropomorphic Disney creature-people makes her a Baddie in the blackest of hats. No matter what age you are, everyone cheers when she falls in the shit.

Why is she so scary? A predator on the cute and defenceless.

Tamora – Titus Andronicus

Queen of the Goths, Tamora shocked Elizabethan audiences. From another race and moral code, strong in warfare, politics and sexual allure, she turns her captor into a victim and wreaks the bloodiest revenge in Shakespearean history. One of her vilest crimes is encouraging her sons to rape and mutilate the innocent Lavinia.

Why is she so scary? Insatiable, cruel and without conscience.

Cathy Ames – East of Eden

A sexual manipulator with a calculating patience, Cathy’s physical beauty and intelligence are underpinned by a determination to use everyone for her own ends. She plays men and can only learn to feign emotion, as she feels no sympathy. Even in the face of generosity, she schemes to take advantage. A human hurricane, she destroys everything close to her, bringing nothing but pain and loss.

Why is she so scary? Innocent on the outside, pure poison within.

Nurse Ratched – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

The immovable object against an unstoppable force. Her determination to retain control over her patients and McMurphy in particular is a battle only a bully can win. The extraordinary cold steel at the heart of Kesey’s creation evokes the same frustrations and loathing in the reader as she does the characters. And worst of all, her weapon of choice is medicine.

Why is she so scary? Ego supersedes empathy in authority.

Marquise de Merteuil – Les Liaisons Dangeureses

The devil makes work for idle hands. Using people as playthings, the Marquise plays a vicious theatrical game of lies and seduction, preying on the vulnerable and gambling on her nerve. The repercussions of her Machiavellian plotting with the Vicomte de Valmont ruin lives and leave scars. Ruthless, but not quite shameless, the vision of herself in others' eyes is her ultimate humiliation.

Why is she so scary? Arch manipulator with no loyalties.

Josephine Hurst – Mother, Mother

Not a misery memoir, but far more chilling fiction. The Hursts maintain a perfect facade, engineered by the matriarch. The psychological damage she inflicts on her family is haunting, especially when the escape routes seem worse. The author shifts perspectives, leaving the reader as lost and uncertain as the characters, until we gradually piece together the monstrous truth behind Zailckas’s creation.

Why is she so scary? Because she knows your head better than you do.

Bad guys come in all gals and guises, including that nice lady next door.
Hello, would you like a cookie?

By JJ Marsh 
Images courtesy of Creative Commons

Whoopee, we’re All Gonna Die

Procrastinating with Perry Iles

Lions are bastards, it’s a well-known fact. They are colossal bell-ends. If lions were men they’d be those big, brash, dick-swinging fools who bang on about the transfer window and watch old re-runs of Top Gear on the Dave channel. They’d have tattoos and swig twenty pints of Wifebeater on a Saturday night and they’d always want their dinner on the table by five when they come in from work. Lions fight like drunk English twats in Magaluf, roaring and shouting and swinging wild punches until one of them lies bleeding and defeated on the gravel in a pile of his own vomit, at which point the one still standing rushes off to have a gritty shag on the beach with the loser’s girlfriend. But lions are even worse than people, and that takes some doing. In order to show his domination over a new pride, the winning male will slaughter all the cubs from the lioness’s previous marriage while she looks on. This, presumably, is intended to give her a wide-on for the new lion, and pave the way for more cubs. So after he’s killed her kids (“sorry, son, you know how it is…”), the lion will shag her all night long, and when she’s had enough he’ll shag her friends right there under the trees in front of her like some weird bestial dogging video off of XHamster. And the next morning finds the amoral bastard lying under a tree while the lionesses get together to go hunting. They’ll maybe spend a whole day out there dragging some antelope into the dirt, at which point the lion will wake up and chase them off. Then he’ll eat the best bits and leave the bones and crappy parts for his wives and whatever children he hasn’t killed yet and he’ll shake his mane like someone who was in Led Zeppelin once (let’s face it, lions even look like dickheads, they’re so seventies) and fuck off back to the shade of his tree.

Eat, sleep, rave, repeat…

So it’s about time some feminist icon came to save the day, some suave knight in shining armour, or maybe a smiling Robin Hood with perfect teeth and a big bow and arrow…

By now you can probably tell where I’m going with this. But the point I’m trying to make is that, as Elvis Presley once said, “There is no truth, there is only perception”. Any good divorce lawyer will nod sagely at a statement like that as he laughs all the way to the bank. Villainy is in the eye of the beholder. And so we turn our attention to the bad guys, to villains, the ones we love to hate. Do they wake up in the morning and think “I know! I’ll be really bad today! I’ll do something outrageously horrid so that people will hate me even more!” No, they probably don’t. They probably don’t even consider themselves as bad. I mean, just because you’re called Dr Evil doesn’t mean you can’t have a perfectly successful career in childcare and crèche management. But I doubt Margaret Thatcher led Great Britain with the intention of ruining it. I don’t suppose Tony Blair wanted to destroy the Labour party until all that was left was vapid diet-Tories swilling Prosecco in some place run by Jamie Oliver. I doubt even that bankers sought to ruin the economy, any more than tapeworms seek to destroy the stomachs that give them such first-class nourishment. All the banks really want to do now is chew the last few dollars of our putrid carcases before fucking off to China to do it all over again on a much bigger scale. But they’re cunts, as any fule kno. Thatcher, Blair, the bankers who got knighthoods for services to money while desperate people gassed themselves and their families in their garages because they couldn’t face life without a satellite dish. Cunts, the lot of them. The debt companies, the Quick Quid loan sharks who offer you temporary absolution at 4,000% APR so you can buy your kid something for Christmas and pay it up four times over by the following summer. They’re the worst bad guys. They’re hiding amongst us in plain sight as their puppets in government encourage us to hate the oppressed, rather than the oppressors.

And what of the people we choose to hate instead? The immigrants in our neo-racist society, those who have spent their childhoods eating coal somewhere east of Gdansk, those poor exploited women who’ve spent their best years giving truckers blowjobs in laybys outside Krakow? They’ve given their last few euros and most of their dignity to Russians in sharp suits that didn’t come from Matalan in order to get to the Channel Tunnel and are now doing whatever they can to try to come here to find work. Immigrants earned the UK a surplus of £8 billion last year. They earned £8billion more than they claimed in benefits. They staff our NHS and pick our peas in the summer. They do the shit we won’t do, because they’ve got a better idea of what the alternatives are, of what will happen to them if they don’t.

And we, in return, hate them for it, because we’re brainless fools who lap up what the Daily Mail tells us. Do you know what that makes us? Yes, you’re right, it makes us the bad guys. But it’s OK, because our government and media provide us with even worse guys to hate. They give us people who fit the bill–swarthy, bearded villains, ruffians from the Middle East who they set up as targets for our hate—village idiots who are promoted to villain status so we can concentrate our xenophobia and bigotry in a certain sanitised direction while all the pseudo-politically correct institutions say: “No, it’s fine, it’s OK to hate them because they’re nasty.” Of course, the upshot is that we now hate anyone with a turban, anyone who bows to face Mecca of an evening, anyone who lives in our social housing but doesn’t speak our language, anyone who takes the jobs we wouldn’t want anyway. We want to be lions, we’d love to kill all of their children and shag some sense into their womenfolk, but everyone’s making us behave like cats. But we all know what we’d do if government crumbled, don’t we? Hurricane Katrina proved that we live six days from anarchy. If law and order crumbled, we’d be lynching Moslems before bedtime. We’d be lions.

Because we’re the bad guys. Not Saddam Hussein and his horrid unsmiling sons, not Osama Bin Laden (whose family seem to want to continue to drive planes into stuff, if last week’s car auction mess is anything to go by), not what’s his name off of Syria or that Colonel Whatsit Libyan bloke in a drainpipe whose name I never could spell—all these people are just puppets, put there for us to hate until some beautiful Orwellian dictum comes along saying “We’re not at war with Iraq, we’re at war with Iran now. We’ve always been at war with Iran, and Iraq are our friends so we’re going to start selling them weapons again, OK?” And we nod in bovine acceptance and go back to watching All-Star Celebrity Masterchef.

So what’s to be done? How can we come to recognise the bad guys before history tells us who they were? Let’s look at Adolf Hitler. Most people agree that he was a bad guy, and from the looks of it he probably was. But like I said earlier, did he wake up in the morning and decide to be bad? Or was he doing his best to pull Germany out of the slough of despond we had condemned it to with the Treaty of Versailles? Hitler said, in effect, “Let’s be proud of ourselves again, guys! Let’s build! Let’s have some tanks and guns so that we can show our oppressors what we’re made of! Let’s create a republic that’ll last a thousand years! Let’s create a master race! And would you like a Volkswagen?” Hitler was voted in by something like 98% of the German population. The 2% were pessimistic intellectual philosophers who probably knew a thing about human nature and who hastily packed their bags and fucked off before the lions started killing the cubs again. But did Hitler manage to break Europe on his own? Of course not. You don’t kill six million Jews without a little practical assistance. Someone must have built Auschwitz and Dachau and Ravensbruck. Builders must have gone in, railway engineers must have built the tracks and gas fitters must have put the pipes in. Barbed wire manufacturers must have wondered where all the new orders were coming in from, but they just kept making more anyway. Did none of them wonder what it was all for? Did nobody say “hey, hang on a minute…”, did none of the train drivers wonder why the cattle trucks were so full on the way in and so empty on the way out? The crematorium staff, the burial squads with the diggers, the guards, the administration offices that recorded the deaths. What were they doing? They were doing what the bankers do now. They were going home to their wives for tea, reading bedtime stories to their beautiful children, walking the dog and doing the shopping. Their wives probably made them sandwiches and kissed them on the cheek as they left after breakfast and said: “Have a nice day, dear.”

And all the while Hitler and Goebbels and what’s his name, the fat one? Goering, that’s him, the Laurel to Goebbels’s Hardy while Hitler played the Charlie Chaplin clown in a uniform and everyone said what a good chap he was because he’d given Germany a bit of pride in themselves again. So there’s a pattern. These Second World War cartoon villains and the swarthy, bearded baddies of modern times, they’re a put up job, in place so that people can carry on with hating bad guys whilst otherwise remaining inert. As Elvis Presley said “All that is necessary for evil to survive is that good men do nothing.” Humanity has been doing nothing for millennia now. Two thousand years ago they were popping off down the arena for the games because the lions are eating some tasty Christians tonight, now they’re staying home because Holly Willoughby is on Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway and she’s really fit. Same meat, different gravy. We haven’t evolved very much. In fact we haven’t evolved at all, because human evolution is as slow as geology, while human abilities race ahead of themselves so that rather than just stabbing some Christians with bits of pointy metal, we can now nuke a raghead with pinpoint accuracy from outer space.

The lies are just the same, as are the martyrs. The industrialisation of hatred is now a major industry, a twenty-first century conveyor belt of prejudice, shame and knee-jerk reactions, all run by the financiers, the arms dealers, the politicians and the media—and perpetrated by you and me. Because the villains are just the same too. If you want to see a bad guy, just look into any convenient reflective surface next time you’re passing...

Monday, 3 August 2015

Writing Exercise - Character Interview

Writing exercises can be useful to give you greater knowledge and understanding of your story, as well as stimulating your creativity. It's the little kick some of us need to push ourselves or reboot our writery brain when our words have dried up.

At Triskele Books we spend a lot of time marketing, networking, discussing various publishing methods and retail avenues. A few weeks ago JJ Marsh suggested we go back to basics and as a team work our way through various exercises in order to focus on the writing as well as the marketing. 

This is the first of a series of exercises I found particularly useful. Developed by JJ Marsh and Sheila Bugler, with a few additions from myself, you're to answer the following questions as one of your characters ...

JD Smith

1. Are you typically (insert nationality)?

2. What makes you easy/hard to get along with?

3. Describe your earliest memory.

4. Where do you get your information from? Be specific – TV? Which channel? Gossip? Whose word do you trust?

5. Who or what is the love of your life and why?

6. Who is your hero?

7. Can you be trusted?

9. In what ways are you like your parents?

10. If you were an animal, what would you be?

11. Give an example of one of your rituals.

12. What are you most afraid of and why?

13. What is the last thing you do before you go to sleep?

14. Are you normal?

15. Describe yourself in 5 words.

16. What would you change about your appearance?

17. When was the last time you indulged yourself? How?

18. What prejudices do you have, if any?

19. What makes you laugh?

20. Do you have any scars? Where did they come from?

21. What is your most precious possession?

22. What keeps you awake?

23. Why do you/don’t you have children?

24. Who is your best friend?

25. When did you last lose your temper? Why?

26. Which items do you always carry with you?

27. What is your idea of a perfect evening?

28. What is your greatest regret?

29. Which characteristics do you look for in a friend?

30. Describe your greatest achievement.

31. Where do you call home?

Developed by JJ Marsh and Sheila Bugler