Wednesday, 22 November 2017

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



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

It helps you get in touch with your teen self

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

You get to immerse yourself in popular teen culture

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

You get to take a productive break

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

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

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

The Joy and Pain of Publishing


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 10 November 2017

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

by Catriona Troth
Many Prisoners in One Room by Nasrin Parvaz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Prison by Nasrin Parvaz


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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

You can follow Nasrin on Twitter at @NasrinParvaz


Wednesday, 1 November 2017

The Long Road to Publication #2

By Andy Smith

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


Deep breath.

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