Sunday, 23 December 2018

The Long Road to Publication: Part 7

by Andy Smith

SO: I’ve recovered from the shock of getting a publishing contract. What happens next? Two things.

Photo by Alex Loup on Unsplash
First, my completed novel ‘Breaking the Lore’ disappears into the publisher’s offices for copy editing, proof reading and various other processes. What these are, I don’t know. There seems to be lot involved in turning “finished manuscript” into “book ready for publication”, and I have no idea what mysterious practices go on to make that happen. (I’m sure the WWJ folks could explain it, if they wanted a suggestion for another article?) Anyway, all I know is it seems to take longer than you would imagine!

Now, being sensible and fair, I know there’s more to it than that. My book is just one of many being published by Canelo, and it has to be fitted into a suitable slot in the overall schedule. The time of the proofreaders, editors, cover designers, etc. has to be allocated to work on lots of different titles. I do know that, and I do appreciate that there are a lot of things which have to be done – but I still want to see it available! Unfortunately, I’ve got to wait until April.

Second, I need something to keep me occupied until then. As I said last time, I’ve signed a two-book contract with Canelo. The idea is that book 2 (with working title very subtly not mentioned) will be out next summer. Before that, however, I’ve got to write it. So I’m working what feels like 24X7 on doing so. I’d started on a sequel some time back, although very slowly. At the time I was more concerned with getting somebody to take on the first one. Now that they have done, I’ve got no more excuses. Crack on.
Photo by Wadi Lissa on Unsplash

So far it’s going reasonably well (I think), but the next few months will probably be a bit hectic. If I had to give myself some advice I would say: work on the assumption that the first book will (eventually) be taken on, and get moving on the second one earlier than I have done.

Fingers crossed that both books do well (I’ll hopefully confirm publication dates next time.) However, if they do, then book 3 will probably need to be written 25X7! For now though it’s time to have a break for Christmas.

Until next time, Merry Humbug.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Young Muslim Writers Awards 2018

by Catriona Troth

On the first of December this year, I had the pleasure of once again attending the annual Young Muslim Writers Awards, organised by the Muslim Hands charity. This event has been showcasing young talent since 2010. One of the early winners, Mina B Mohammad, went on to turn her short story into a novel which she published at the age of just 16. So the event, held this year in Senate House, University of London, is one I always look forward to.

In addition to the awards for writers in different age groups, YMWA also gives out a Special Award to a young person who has made an exceptional contribution to the education and empowerment of young people. In the first year I attended, three years ago, the award went to Malala. This year it was given to the children of Grenfell. The award was accepted by a group of eight children of all backgrounds who were all members of Kids on the Green – an organisation that is helping the young people to come to terms with the trauma they have suffered through music, art and drama. The group spoke movingly about dealing with panic attacks and flashback, of losing their homes and having to live in overcrowded hotel accommodation. Then they asked the audience to stand and hold a minutes silence in honour of the 72 Grenfell residents who lost their lives.

Once again, those presenting the awards reiterated the importance of hearing stories from the voices of all our communities.

Zainub Chohan, the awards’ organiser, reminded us of the words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on the danger of the single story.

Irfan Master, author of Out of Heart, spoke of giving a writing workshop in a school where many of the children were of Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage. When he invited them to begin by creating a character, they all started with character with white British names. When he challenged them, they told him, “No one wants to read stories about us.”

Tim Robinson from the Anne Frank Trust pointed out that he was standing on the stage where – in the recent BBC television drama, Bodyguard – the Home Secretary was blown up by a bomb. Many viewers followed the gripping series, only to be disappointed that the showrunners fell back in the end on the tired trope of a Muslim terrorist. These stereotypes need to be challenged, he said, and it is the voices of young Muslims that will do it.

As always, it was the children’s own words that spoke most powerfully. Robinson quoted from a Instruments of Harmony by Amiera, shortlisted in the KS4 poetry category.

We will catch the lost voices of the bold, 
And let their stories be passionately told. 
Finally the instruments of harmony will be played, 
And our voices will sing in unity - no longer afraid.

Ameerah, winner of the KS 3 journalism award for Daggers Drawn, her piece examining knife crime in London described a woman who has just lost her son.

She sits across the table from me, clothed in a light Nigerian robe. Her hair is pulled pack in a neat bun; her face is perfectly made up. The only sign of trauma is in her eyes. Eyes that wander with no fixed point, glistening with tears. Eyes that do not seem to acknowledge there is another person in the room.

But these young writers also showed that they would not be pigeonholed into writing only about ‘Muslim issues.’

Umar who was shortlisted last year for his poem Oggletrog, won the KS1 poetry category this year for his poem Gluttbuts and Trumpalots that again channelled the linguistic playfulness of Edward Lear and Roald Dahl – but this time demonstrated an edge of political satire with its swipe at greed and excess consumption.

Gofradump Gluttbutt, greedy and sly,
Suited and booted in his dotty red tie
Pie factory owner and Chief Taster
Eats like a pig and a horrid food waster

Fatema, winner of the KS2 poetry award held the room spellbound reading her poem, Awakening: the wonderous journey from seed to flower.’

we lie
swathed in robes
of cimmerian

Winner of the KS2 short story award, Numa’s story A Feathery Tale, praised for the judges for its accomplished storytelling and elegant use of language, was a fantasy whose central character was a bird.

Lulu was a hoopoe, with a majestic crown of black-tipped feather that constantly opened and closed like an elaborate book. It was the closing of the day, the blood-shot sun bleeding into the sunset and diamonds encrusted the sky.

Finally, the Writer of the Year was chosen – winner of the KS4 short story award, Sabir Hussain Miah for his story The Worst Plan Ever. Caught on the hop – until he received the news that he’d been shortlisted he had forgotten he had even submitted his story to the event, and certainly didn’t expect to win! – he nonetheless spoke movingly about being inspired by his own experience of bullying to write his story about overcoming prejudice and finding the strength to come out of darkness.

This year, Muslim Hands had announced that was giving the Writer of the Year and someone from their family the chance to visit one of the schools that they have built around around the world. I hope the trip inspires Sabir to yet more amazing writing!

It is always such a pleasure to attend this event. The 2019 event is already open to submission – so parents and teachers, if you have a talented young Muslim writer in your midst, please do encourage them to submit!

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Asian Writer Festival 2018

by Catriona Troth

Having missed last year’s inaugural Asian Writer Festival, I was delighted to find I could make it to the 2018 Festival – particularly as it coincided with the tenth anniversary of Asian Writer magazine.

Asian Writer is produced by Farhana Sheikh, who is also the brains and energy behind Dahlia Publishing. She has been a tireless champion of Asian voices, and for the Festival she had assembled an impressive array of talent from across a range of genres. If you haven’t already discovered these authors, then treat this as an introduction to your next list of must-reads. 

Call Me A Writer

The day opened with a keynote address from Vaseem Khan, author of the Baby Ganesh series of detective novels set in modern day Bombay. In Call Me a Writer, he addressed the perennial reluctance to own that label. Put the cart before the horse, he exhorted his audience – think ‘I am an author’ (not ‘One day I will be...’). In his Commandments of Khan, he also addressed some of the dilemmas peculiar to authors from a non-mainstream background. Put diversity in perspective, he told his audience. Lend your voice to change, but don’t get wrapped up in it.

Write What You Know?

The first panel of the day addressed the validity of the perennial advice given to novice writers – should you write what you know? Both Winnie M Li and Gautam Malkani have followed that advice to an extent. Li’s novel Dark Chapter, which won the 2017 Not the Booker Prize, is closely based on her own experience of being raped by a stranger while out hiking. And Malkani’s second novel, Distortion, was inspired by his own experience as a young carer. But both have stretched their work well beyond the boundaries of their own experience. Li also wrote through the eyes of her 17 year old rapist – or someone very like him - imagining what could have led him to carry out the attack. On the other hand Malkani drew on the experiences of a much wider pool of young carers to create his character Dhilan, while Anappara used what she learnt as a journalist to create her cast of young street beggars, allowing their funny, cheeky side to emerge in a way that wasn’t possible in journalism.

The Asian Writer Anthology 

In honour of the Asian Writer’s tenth birthday, the festival also saw the launch of a new Asian Writer Anthology, featuring writers they have worked with over those ten years. Emma Smith-Barton read an extract from her novel The Million Pieces of Nina Gill which explores a young woman’s anxiety disorder following the disappearance of her brother disappears. Mona Dash read Formations, a short story which explores food as a basis for relationships and identity. And CG Menon’s read her lyrical short story Seascapes was also one of my favourite stories from her anthology Subjunctive Moods (reviewed here).

Menon also talked about how submitting a story to the Leicester Writes Prize had changed her writing life, and urged the audience not be afraid to get their stories out there. “It’s empowering. Every time you are listed, it’s a candle propped up against the howling darkness.”

The Only Way is Commercial 

It has often been particularly difficult for writers from a minority background to break into commercial fiction. As Vaseem Khan discussed in his opening address, too often there is pressure from those within the publishing industry to stick to writing about (as they see it) ‘minority issues’. But after lunch, we heard from two authors who have managed to bust out of those restrictions: Ayisha Malik and Amer Anwar.

I loved Malik’s first novel, Sofia Khan is Not Obliged, a romantic comedy with I described in my review as Bridget Jones with real heart. The sequel, The Other Half Of Happiness is now out and moves on from the minefield of dating to the complexities of marriage. Amer Anwar is an author I had not read before, though I’d heard a lot about him. His debut novel, Blood Brothers, is set in and around West London’s Sikh and Muslim dominated communities of Southall and Hounslow and follows Zaq, a young ex-prisoner manipulated into helping his boss track down his runaway daughter.

SI Leeds Literary Prize 

The final treat of the day was to hear from the all the finalists of the SI Leeds Literary Prize, the results of which had been announced just days before. This is a prize awarded biennially for a work of unpublished fiction by UK-based Black and Asian women, aged 18 and above. Previous finalists have included Kit de Waal and Winnie M Li. This year’s finalists were:
  • Mona Dash, the opening paragraph of whose Let Us Look Elsewhere might serve as a mission statement for the Asian Writer Festival. 
I imagine you come here with expectations. You want to hear tales, of the sari, of the mango, of cow hooves kicking up a dry dust you will want to wipe off with a scented handkerchief. You want to hear of lavender, of turmeric, of jasmine soothing the hot summer evening in a distant tropical country. You expect to be told stories of a certain woman, a certain man in a certain way. You want to feel, but nothing beyond the ordinary, nothing you cannot stomach along with a thick steak, the knife a tad bloody from the rare meat.
  • Yoanna Pak, whose novel Wolnam looks at trans-generational trauma through the eyes of a Korean father and a Canadian daughter. 
  • Khavita Bhanot whose novel Baba ji on Boulton Road, about a young guru in Handsworth was awarded Third Prize. 
  • Yvonne Singh, whose One Man’s Revolution - set during the aftershocks of the financial crisis and which follows a young man drawn into religious sect that declares capitalism the enemy - took 2nd prize. 
  • Omega Douglas, who won the Readers’ Choice award for her novel Hibiscus Rose Jacaranda which captured the shattered sense of belonging of a new resident in London in the face of the government’s ‘hostile environment.’ 

And the overall winner was Shereen Tadros. Her novel Say Goodbye To Her is set in Egypt in the 1950s and addresses the tension between tradition and modernity through the voice of a child narrator. The stunning passage she read broached difficult subject of female genital mutilation with empathy and tenderness. If this does not find a publisher very soon so that I can read the rest, I shall be bitterly disappointed!

You can read extracts of all the shortlisted novels here.

All in all, this was a wonderful event, seamlessly organised. I look forward to next year!

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

The Staunch Prize - Shortlist

In February this year,we interviewed Bridget Lawless on the new Staunch Prize. The shortlist is out now! Congrats to all the authors and we look forward to reading your work.

The Staunch Book Prize team are delighted to announce that the six original novels shortlisted for the inaugural award are, in no particular order:
  • The Appraisal by Anna Porter
  • East of Hounslow by Kurrum Rhamen
  • If I Die Tonight by A L Gaylin
  • On the Java Ridge by Jock Serong
  • Cops and Queens by Joyce Thompson
  • The Kennedy Moment by Peter Adamson

To qualify for the shortlist, entries to the Staunch Book Prize had to fulfill the criteria of being a thriller novel in which no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered.
The Prize was launched in response to the prevalence of violence against women depicted in fiction and the need for this subject to be taken more seriously, especially in the wake of #MeToo.

In an impassioned speech at Variety's Power of Women event earlier this month, Natalie Portman called for "A year off from violence against women", challenging her audience to "Tell a new story".

Bridget Lawless - Photo by Clare Park
Bridget Lawless, writer and founder of the Staunch Book Prize, says,
"In a climate where women are fighting to be heard and believed about real incidents of violence and sexual assault, more and more people are saying they are weary of depictions of women as victims and prey being presented as entertainment. The quality and originality of the entries we have received for the inaugural Staunch Book Prize has shown that there are some very talented thriller authors ready to shake up the genre. We can't wait to introduce audiences to our six shortlisted novels."

The Staunch Book Prize has received worldwide media coverage due to its timely and somewhat controversial theme. Despite criticism from some members of the crime writing community, the prize has been warmly welcomed by supporters, including readers, writers and those campaigning for an end to violence against women.

The winner will be announced on Monday 26th November, following the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
Author biographies and interviews, plus an extract of each shortlisted novel, can be found on the Shortlist page of the prize website from Thursday 1st November.


Wednesday, 19 September 2018

The Long Road to Publication - Part 6

By Andy Smith

By Gum, it’s been a while since we had one of these, isn’t it? The good folks at WWJ have been running their creative writing workshops over the summer, so they asked me to hold off doing any more Long Road stuff until they’d finished. And I did. So what’s been happening since last time? Well, quite a lot actually…

Let’s rewind a bit. Back in April I was getting nowhere, with lots of letters out to agents and publishers and lots of ‘no thanks’ in reply. I was, to be honest, getting close to chucking the whole thing in. I’d also gone through the process of trying to work out if my entire submission was wrong, and had asked the WWJ Clinic to dissect my cover letter and synopsis. I got some great feedback from the Clinic (as discussed in LRTP part 5 in May.) I started looking at re-writing the cover letter and synopsis, based on this feedback. 

Then, out of the blue, I had three replies which weren’t ‘no thanks’. An agent and two independent publishers all said they’d enjoyed my submission and asked me to send the full manuscript. Next thing you know, I’m in discussions about who to sign up with. In other words: I GOT A PUBLISHING DEAL!!!!!

Congrats to Andy from the team at WWJ!

To be more precise, I signed a two-book contract with Canelo Digital Publishing (, for Breaking the Lore and the currently-in-progress sequel. I think the word I’m looking for (still) is “gobsmacked”. Breaking the Lore will be available in Spring 2019 and book 2 will follow in the Summer. 
You might remember from previous posts that I’ve talked about the need for a pseudonym, since ‘Andy Smith’ is not exactly a memorable name. Consequently, both books (and maybe more?) will come out under the name of ‘Andy Redsmith.’ (A redsmith is someone who works with copper, and I’m a Smith working with A copper – geddit?) You can find Andy Redsmith on Facebook, AndyRedsmith (no space) on Twitter and “his” website On all of them there’s a photo of me, but they’re not bad apart from that.
So what does all this mean in regards to what I’m writing here? Two things.

First: I’ve spoken in previous posts about how I thought my submission was OK, provided it got to people who were interested in the sort of thing I was writing, but I thought I’d missed my chance with all of them. Turns out I hadn’t. Perseverance paid off. So everyone: don’t give up. Keep going.

Second: the three replies who showed an interest all came before I’d had chance to rewrite my cover letter and synopsis, i.e. before I had chance to include the suggestions from the WWJ Clinic. The advice from the Clinic was very good and would doubtless have given me a better shot if I had to carry on submitting, but I didn’t need to use it. That, basically, is luck. BUT make sure your submission is as good as possible, so that when your lucky break comes around you are in the best possible position to make use of it.

If the WWJ folks will let me, I’ll keep posting things on here to keep you updated on release dates etc. The long road to publication has turned out to be a long and hard road, and we haven’t reached the end yet. But I’m on the way. I hope I’ll see you there!


Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Creative Kicks - Week 10: With a Little Help from our Friends

“My job is to make you see and that is all.” - Joseph Conrad  

For the last three summers, we at Triskele Books and Words with JAM have run a Creative Writing Course to stretch the imagination.
We asked our friends and allies to contribute, who responded magnificently. Thank you to every single kind person who donated their ideas to help other writers. And a special thank you to JD Lewis, for permission to use her beautiful images.

Here are just a few examples of the contributions which most exercised ourselves and our readers.

Rebecca Lang, Stoking the Creative Fires

Take a blank piece of paper and divide it into four quarters by drawing two intersecting lines. In the first quarter, write a location for your story and draw it (it could be a map of a place, a house, a tree, a planet – be creative!).

In the second quarter, imagine your main character and sketch something representative (it could be a person or maybe an animal).

In the third quarter, illustrate an action – it could be someone doing something (perhaps exciting) like driving a fast car or running, or an event taking place.

In the fourth quarter, think of your ending or resolution and draw it as best you can.

Remember, it doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, these are just markers for your story.

Roz Morris, Character and Story Development

Describe the same scene from two characters’ viewpoints; one happy, one angry. To help you enter the two different experiences, the happy character will think in shades of blue or white – imagery, descriptions of feelings, figures of speech and objects they notice. The angry character will use phrases, images and observations that involve the colour red. Use this mental colour palette to create two distinct experiences. 

Jessica Bell, Polish Your Prose

Be dynamic. Use strong verbs and fewer adjectives:

Weak example:
The darkness of the thick grey low-hanging clouds made the massive decorative rocks in our backyard look like animated gravestone-giants.

Strong example:
The thick clouds hung low and shadowed our backyard. The decorative rocks doubled in size and morphed into gravestone-giants. 

Bret Lott, On Detail

Themes can be rooted in detail. Work with a partner. Each takes two minutes to write down a list of what’s on your bedside table.

Now swap and use your partner’s list as the basis for the beginning of a short story. The objects belong to your narrator’s spouse. It’s either the day after the spouse’s funeral, or the day before s/he is going to ask the spouse for a divorce.

Jo Furniss, The Essence of Character

Exercise : Most people don’t know what they need in life—we’re too distracted by our desires—and your character is no different. Someone else can probably see into their heart more clearly than they see it themselves.

So… what does your character need?

Your character walks into a café / pub / restaurant to meet someone they know well, a friend or family member. There is also a waitress/ barman / cleaner. Write a 360° description of the scene from three POVs; how the friend sees the character, how the stranger sees the character, and how the character sees the scene.

Jason Donald, Filtering

What is filtering? It’s words or phrases tacked onto the start of sentence that show the world as it is filtered through the main character’s eyes. Meaning, the character is placed between the reader and the action in the story.

Janet felt a sinking feeling as she ran through the diner and out the front doors. She wondered if Jake would really just get up and leave her. She saw him throw the suitcase into the car and slam the door. He seemed cold as his gaze met hers. He pointed a finger, dropping his thumb like a gun. Now she knew he would take the money and disappear, leaving her to take the heat. She decided to beg and ran across the parking lot, sinking to her knees on the cold cement. The car's tires spun, and she felt the gravel spitting at her as she saw the convertible careen onto the road.

Do you see how the highlighted words come before the action? This forces the reader to step back and watch the character, rather than the action. It moves the reader away from the events on the page. An extra step has been inserted between the reader and the story. A filter.

Here is the same piece of writing after filtering is removed:

Janet's stomach sank as she ran through the diner and out the front doors. Would he really just get up and leave? Jake threw the suitcase into the car and slammed the door. He turned. Her gaze met his, and his eyes narrowed. He pointed a finger, dropping his thumb like a gun. A cold chill enveloped her; he would take the money and disappear, leaving her to take the heat. She ran across the parking lot, sinking to her knees on the cold cement. The car's tires spun, spitting gravel at her as the convertible careened onto the road.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Creative Kicks - Week 9 - Using Narrative Twists and Turns

By Chris Curran
Images by JD Lewis

Surprise! Surprise!

The Oxford English Dictionary describes a plot twist as an unexpected development in a book, film, television programme. Collins defines it as a decisive change of direction, aim, meaning or character. In a novel, play etc. an unexpected event, revelation etc.

Plot twists are often associated with crime fiction and any list of books featuring great plot twists will probably include the likes of Gone Girl, Before I Go To Sleep, Shutter Island, Rebecca and at least one Agatha Christie.

These lists invariably mention books that introduce a huge surprise, often at the climax of the story, which overturns everything the reader has believed so far. But while such twists can be incredibly powerful – think of We Need to Talk About Kevin and Fight Club – they are not the only game in town.

Plotting a book involves building a narrative; showing readers what happens in a particular scenario and finding ways to keep them wondering what’s going to happen next. Twists and turns are a vital element in retaining that involvement. I’m not talking now about the kind of mega-twists that have readers gasping: that is amazing, but about unexpected developments and revelations which, as well as helping to make the book lively and give it that crucial page-turning factor, can help reveal its true meaning, highlight its themes and illuminate what has gone before.

Coleridge regarded the plot of Fielding’s Tom Jones, as perfectly planned and it is chockfull of twists and turns. And one of the reasons Pride and Prejudice is Jane Austen’s most popular novel (apart from the allure of Darcy) has to be because it contains so many surprises and reversals.

So how can we use twists and turns most effectively in our writing?

Above all by ensuring they are believable in the context of this particular story world and its characters. By the time we learn Maxim De Winter hated rather than loved Rebecca, as the narrator believes, we know she aroused great passions, ridiculed men, probably had a lover and that Maxim can’t bear to talk about her. In Pride and Prejudice Darcy’s apparently unfair and snobbish rejection of Wickham makes perfect sense when we, and Lizzie, learn what Wickham has done, not only to Lydia, but to Darcy’s own sister.

It’s vital not to make readers feel cheated by a twist. There’s nothing more annoying or unsatisfactory than a shock event that comes out of nowhere: a deus ex machina. This is where a big twist can fail spectacularly as readers are left shaking their heads in disbelief. If you’ve firmly established a character, especially a narrator, as a model of honesty it isn’t fair to reveal they are actually a liar unless you have dropped sufficient hints that these impressions may be false. And if a murderer is to use an unusual method of killing or disposing of a body it’s important to set up in advance the fact that they have the expertise or the wherewithal required.

This is where foreshadowing comes in. Planting subtle clues that hint at the twist ensures that readers won’t shake their heads and think: where on earth did that come from? instead of the response you want which is: ah, I see now, but why didn’t I see it before?
Foreshadowing can take many forms. Passing references to an object, a pet, a minor character or event can come to be recognised as hugely significant indications of a future twist. Or you can be more direct with a prologue or flash forward. Daphne Du Maurier uses foreshadowing in the most direct way in the famous opening lines of Rebecca. She does the same kind of thing at the start of My Cousin Rachel with, ‘They used to hang men at Four Turnings in the old days. Not any more though.’

Confound expectations. If you’ve set up a situation where readers are likely to assume certain outcomes: boy meets girl, for instance, or police officer arrives at the scene of a murder, the twist can come when these characters behave in surprising ways that overturn the conventions. In Dickens’ Great Expectations a rich woman takes an interest in the young hero. When he is left enough money to become a gentleman the identity of his benefactor seems obvious. But Dickens fools us, while at the same time ensuring we have all the clues to work out the truth.

Twists can come at any point in the narrative. And they can be very effective midway through a story not least because we’re not primed to expect them at this point. Gillian Flynn knocks us off balance so well in Gone Girl partly because of when her big reveal occurs. As does Hitchcock in the movie, Psycho. An early twist can also lead on to multiple convolutions and has the added advantage that it allows the story to continue and reveal the twist’s consequences.

Misdirect readers. While foreshadowing helps the writer to play fair with readers it’s important to keep them from guessing the twist too soon. Unreliable narrators or misleading POV characters can help with misdirection. Agatha Christie is famous for her untruthful narrators in books like The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Endless Night. Henry James makes brilliant use of an unreliable narrator in Turn of the Screw. Unreliable POV characters are not necessarily liars, or amnesiacs like Christine in Before I Go To Sleep. They may have been deceived themselves or misread a situation. They could be very young, naïve or blinded by love or prejudice. If you use several narrators, as Wilkie Collins does in The Woman in White and The Moonstone, you have the opportunity to show a variety of possible truths.

Be flexible even if you like to start with a carefully planned plot and a detailed outline. As the story comes to life situations or characters may suggest twists or surprising developments that can add depth to the narrative or offer a better way to reach the resolution. At this point you may need to go back and add in some foreshadowing or misdirection.


Add a twist to the Cinderella story. Confound expectations by having the prince fall for one of the ugly sisters either temporarily or permanently. How many possible scenarios does this suggest? How will you alter the characters or events to make it believable?

Experiment with the twist occurring at different points in the story. How does it change the narrative if it happens early on, in the middle or close to the end?

Now add another twist. The sister rejects the prince. Why? What happens next? How are the other characters affected?

And how would the story change if instead of the omniscient story-teller you turned one of the characters into your narrator? A narrator who could of course be unreliable.

Try something similar with other fairy stories.

Chris Curran is the author of Mindsight, Her Turn To Cry, and Her Deadly Secret, all published by Harper Collins Killer Reads. Chris was born in London but now lives in St Leonards-on-Sea near Hastings, on the south coast of England, in a house groaning with books. She left school at sixteen to work in the local library – her dream job then and now – and spent an idyllic few months reading her way around the shelves. Reluctantly returning to full-time education she gained her degree from Sussex University. Since then she has worked as an actress, script writer, copy editor and teacher, all the time looking forward to the day when she would see her own books gracing those library shelves.
Facebook author page

Or follow me on twitter @Christi_Curran

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Igniting Writing

by Alex Baker, Igniting Writing

The stereotypical image of a writer is someone solitary, secluding themselves in the corner of a café as they type away at a laptop and fuel themselves with endless cups of coffee. But with many writers first getting into storytelling in their teen years, how do they develop their writing voice in solitude? Alex Baker, founder and group leader of teen creative writing group Igniting Writing, gives his thoughts on how it’s important to give teens the support to share their ideas with other aspiring writers and what sort of writing activities will keep them engaged…

Picture the scene: you’re a teenager, sitting alone at your computer at an ungodly hour of night, and you’ve just finished your first ever piece of creative writing that wasn’t for homework. Maybe it’s a poem, or a short story, but it’s yours. You feel like a cross between William Shakespeare, J.K. Rowling and Charles Dickens. Objectively what you’ve written is probably terrible, with dodgy clichés and dubious grammar (when is a semi-colon supposed to be used, anyway?), but for that brief moment of triumph you want to share it with everyone.

And then that moment fades and the self-doubt kicks in. There’s no way you can even consider sharing this with your friends or family! What if they don’t like it and think it’s naff? Or what if they’re not interested and react to your work with an indifferent shrug? 

If the above scenario sounds remotely familiar to you, you’re not alone. The success of websites like Wattpad and Archive of Our Own in the teen demographic show that young writers out there want a platform to display and develop their storytelling skills, but sadly many schools only give creative writing a token glance on the curriculum and whilst most towns and cities have creative writing clubs, almost all of these are for adults. Other than the internet, which has its own pitfalls, what options are there for teens to explore their writing skills together?

Enter Igniting Writing, Wokingham Library’s creative writing club exclusively for 11-18 year olds. The group meets regularly on Saturday mornings, 10:30am-12:00pm, and gives teens the opportunity to write together, sharing their story ideas and building friendships with other young aspiring writers in a fun, relaxed group setting. It’s completely free to attend and open to any teens that want to join, whether they’ve got prior writing experience or are complete novices.

Explaining his writing origins, Alex said: “I started writing stories at around 16 years old. It was mostly really bad fanfiction – it’s probably still lurking in a folder somewhere on my computer! – which I kept hidden. None of my friends at the time were interested in writing stories and it would have been beyond embarrassing to share with my family. It only changed when I started university and discovered their Creative Writing Society. I decided to give it a try and it was the best decision I ever made – it showed me the benefits of writing as part of a group, particularly for young writers that are just starting out, and the group atmosphere helped boost my confidence, so much so that in my last year at university I became co-president of the Society.”

After graduating, Alex wanted to keep that same creative writing group spirit alive, but was initially disappointed. “I’d hoped to find a group that would reach out to that 16 year old me, who didn’t have anyone to share his fanfiction with and was doing it purely for fun. But the more I looked, the more I saw that there was nothing in Berkshire for teens. Even nationally there are very few clubs for teen writers, compared to the masses for adults.”

And so, with support from Wokingham Library, Alex decided to create his own group. Elaborating on his leadership, Alex outlined the three main considerations he bears in mind when planning an Igniting Writing session. “First, I focus on a different writing topic each week. One week we’ll cover building settings, the next sci-fi stories, the next creating an antagonist and so on. Making each session self-contained means there’s something for everyone and helps new members integrate into the group easily. It’s also good to show the group members genres they’ve never experienced before – very few teens will have tried something like travel writing for example, so one session on the topic acts as a nice introduction.

“Secondly, the session needs to be interactive. Beginning with a group discussion helps; if I were leading a session all about superhero stories, I’d start by asking the group what superpower they would pick if they could have one. That always generates a positive buzz as they debate which powers would be most useful, and helps get their brains active for the writing tasks. Additionally, we also host ‘guest speaker’ sessions, where local authors, poets, literary agents and other people experienced in the world of writing come and share their knowledge and advice. It’s a chance for the teens to ask questions and hear from the pros.

“Lastly, for the writing activities I aim to get the teens thinking outside the box. Random prompts from a hat help to give the group members some direction, but simultaneously the freedom to explore it in their own way. For example, recently we led a horror-themed session and I wrote a whole load of fake B-movie titles and put them into a hat. The teens each drew one out at random and had to write a story to go with the title, which would be something ridiculous like ‘The Revenge of the Zombie Penguins’! The random selection gets the teens thinking on their feet and if the prompts are fun it can really get them energised to write.”

Igniting Writing has attracted over 100 teens and been invited into over a dozen schools across Berkshire to lead creative writing taster sessions to pupils. You can find the group online here:
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Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Creative Kicks - Week 8 - Beat the Block with Anne Stormont

By Anne Stormont
Images by JD Lewis

Can't get started or stalling when you do?

Whether experienced or novice, most writers suffer from the dreaded writers' block at some time.

And it's not really surprising it happens. Writing is hard work. It's a craft as well as an art and it has to be learned, practised and improved.

Writing takes time and effort. The only way to learn it is by doing it. And the only way to practise is by doing it. And the only way to improve is by doing it. Yes, it's great when the creative juices flow, but most of the time it's a case of turning up and persevering. 

The block can be brought on by author fatigue, or by lack of commitment. But it can also be caused by lack of experience, by lack of confidence, or by lack of inspiration.

Its major symptom is procrastination which in turn leads to frustration, and in the most serious cases self-loathing and despair – where that voice inside tells you that you were a fool to ever think you could write – and you are tempted to give up completely.

Beating the block

But please, if you're affected by writers' block, don't give up. There is hope. It is possible to recover and become both creative and productive once more.

And because it can be due to different reasons it follows there are different remedies. So let's take them one by one:

Author fatigue – first of all congratulations for having got started and persisted up to this point. You've most likely been writing intensively – a do-not-disturb notice issued to friends and family – and every possible moment has been spent at your desk. You may well have been enthused, full of ideas and completely committed to your project. But then the well runs dry. Suddenly – or gradually – enthusiasm wanes, focus is lost and ideas dry up. It's time for a complete break, time to replenish.

So, get out of your writing space and re-engage with the world. The natural world is a particularly effective remedy. Going for a walk, run or cycle outdoors really does blow the claggy cobwebs away. And as you focus on the physical, your mind can go off on its own to process, refresh and reboot.

Social distractions are good too. A meal, a drink, and a catch up with the important people in your life also give the creative department of your brain some much-needed downtime. It seems as if switching your focus lets your mind declutter and work on things in the background – including your latest writing project – with no active input from you.

And don't forget to spoil yourself a bit too – take a nap or a nice long bath – or even READ, yes, lose yourself in a good book. It's amazing how after some time away you'll find renewed enthusiasm for the work-in-progress.

Lack of commitment – your writing can sometimes stall because the project you're working on doesn't excite you or seems pointless. In which case walk away. But it may be that even although you're enjoying the piece you're working on, you're still finding it hard to do, or to justify the time spent on it. This is where deadlines come in handy. Competitions are a great way of imposing a deadline on your project and will also ensure you give your writing your best shot. Or, if you share the intended date for the publication/circulation/reading of your story, article, poetry collection – or whatever – with your readers, that will also help you focus your efforts.

Lack of experience – the only remedy here is: get some experience. Yes, you need to be brave. Starting something new can often be scary. But like all journeys, learning to write begins with small steps. You won't have a bestseller overnight – indeed most of us who write will never have a bestseller. But that's okay because you'll have so much fun just writing for the sake of it. So begin small and build from there. Write a short story or an article or a poem. Then do some more. Maybe seek out a local writers group or club you can join where you can share your work and get some support. Consider take a writing class or course, online or in the real world. You could even consider a residential course and experience the joy of such an intense and fully immersive experience. But whatever you decide, do seek out constructive feedback, take criticism on the chin (but not as a personal insult) and aim to improve. 

Lack of confidence – this can be related to lack of experience but it affects established writers too. It can be related to disappointing feedback, a scathing review or the above affliction of author fatigue. But sometimes there is no obvious external cause. Sometimes it's that wee demon inside that likes to taunt us, tell us we're useless, asks us who we're trying to kid.

If you doubt yourself because of some negative criticism of your writing, take a bit of time to get over the hurt and then go back and interrogate the remarks made. More often than not there will be a grain (or more) of truth in that criticism and, also more often than not, you'll see a way to improve as a result. Equally, if you decide that no, the criticism is unjustified then put it aside and move on. Don't let one person's opinion stop you doing something you love.

And don't let the wee demon stop you either. Put it back in its box and turn the key. Then get back to doing the thing that gives you so much pleasure and excitement. Because there's nothing like the exhilaration of being in the zone, of seeing where the story – your story – is going to take you. And if one other person – besides you – also gets pleasure from reading it then it's doubly worthwhile.

And finally – Lack of inspiration – you want to write but you've no idea what to write. This is where writing exercises come in handy. So let me leave you with a few:

· Take the first sentence of chapter six in the last novel you read and write a 500, 1000 (or more) word story with it as your starting point.

· Get a photo of a person in e.g. a magazine advert (not someone famous or who you know) and write about them – their dilemma, or their life story, their job, their crime, their secret...

· As for the prompt above but use a picture of a place.

· Write about the first house you lived in, or the first film you saw, the first book you read – say what it meant to you and why.

· Choose something from the natural world – e.g. a starling, a river, an oak tree, or an object – e.g.paperweight, teddy, photo. Or choose an action – e.g. swimming, climbing, driving. Or choose an emotion – e.g. anger, sorrow, joy. And let that choice be your starting point for a short story, novel, poem or opinion piece.

So what are you waiting for? Go on kick the block aside and get writing!

Anne writes contemporary women's fiction. She has published two novels so far Change of Life and Displacement and her third novel Settlement  – a sequel to Displacement – will be out at the end of August.

Anne's novels have been described as thoughtful, grown-up fiction where the main characters are older but no wiser and feature characters who face challenges that involve love, loss and some of life's biggest questions.

Anne is a Scot, living in the land of her birth. She's a retired teacher and when she's not writing, she's a compulsive crossworder, yoga practitioner, avid reader, keen walker and gardener. She also loves spending time with friends and family – especially her two grandchildren.

Anne has travelled all over the world and her visits to the Middle East in particular have inspired her most recent writing.

She can be a bit of a subversive old bat, but she tries to maintain a kind heart.

Twitter: @writeanne

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Creative Kicks – Week 7 – Creating Literary Devices with Jerome Griffin

By Jerome Griffin
Images by JD Lewis

Breaking the mould is the holy grail of writing. Finding expression like nobody before. Standing apart from the crowd.

 It’s possible, certainly, but not probable. Chances are, if you think you’re a unique voice, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Somebody somewhere has done it before.

Like the magic rule of three.
You say something, explain it, and then qualify it.
Just like the examples above.

So maybe you should set your sights lower. Aim for something more achievable. Less ambitious.
Like world peace. Or an end to global poverty. A cure for death.

People have become used to the rule of three. Now if you stop at two it feels unfinished.

On another note, more than three appears clumsy. Like the writer is struggling for clarity. To find the right words. Labouring the point. Going on and on and on.

Like that really.

As I say, it’s the magic number. The rule. The law.
But the rule of three must have started somewhere. Somewhen. Sometime.
And then it grew into the norm. This literary device. This catchy conjuror.

Thankfully there’s always someone out there hell bent on destroying the norm and poking a finger in the eye of comfortable predictability and nothing will stop them from finding their grail, so they toil and they toil and then they toil some more in search of inspiration with perspiration to break this new mould that society has cradled to its bosom so vigorously that it’s in danger of suffocating the creative spark that fuelled the imaginative inferno in the first place, and of course, they’re too late because society’s yearning for its warmth has already snuffed the fragile flame and what was once a creative beacon lighting the path of the future has been rendered a spent torch sucked dry by the very ones who sought to breathe eternal life into its core and suckle on its power, which means that nothing is new or unique or original anymore, but society thirsts for new and original and unique, and is wandering in a desert wilderness that tortures and torments even the strongest minds until they lose their ever more tentative grip on reality, and in tandem with their desert wanderings, their minds wander a metaphorical barren wilderness until they spew unchecked, unfettered, uncensored, unadulterated, raw beauty onto the world and now there is no editing because to edit would be to tarnish and destroy the creative seed that has been sown in this raging, ranting, rambling cacophony of literary noise: a noise of beauty, of fury, of power, of essence, of being crackling with electric energy, thrumming with pulsing rhythm, soaring with eagle grace, shining brighter than a galaxy of stars, soothing the soul in the warmth of its embrace and penetrating the heart easier than a baby’s smile.

And so the stream of consciousness is born. And it’s new and unique and original once more.

Until it’s tired and old and not new. Not unique. Not original. Just same same, not different.

So the quest begins for another new voice. Another new sound. Another holy grail.

And the quest will continue forever, because as soon as something new is found, it’s not new anymore.

Yep, from the nerve-shredding cliffhanger to the sinister smoking gun, from unfathomable hyperbole to terse understatement, and from harmonious juxtaposition to conflicting oxymora, we all love a well developed literary device. And writers love nothing more than creating their own. So, here’s a couple of tips on how to do so.

1. Turn things upside down. Instead of using a cliché that everybody knows change it around. For example, in Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk took an everyday expression and simply changed the delivery. Everyone is familiar with the term “to sleep like a baby”. In the story the protagonist suffers from insomnia until he attends a support group, at which point he proclaims: “Babies don’t sleep this well!” Its effect delivers instant impact and the reader sits up and takes notice, whereas they might have glossed over the tired old original cliché.

So, your exercise here is to take old proverbs, sayings and clichés and change their format. Some examples as follows:

• If this is all fair in war, I’d hate to see what happens in love.
• This has gone way beyond tough and the tough have yet to get going.
• All the flies are on him.

For a bit of variety, throw in a little opposite:

• If at first you don’t succeed, maybe failure is your thing.
• What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…said nobody ever with a bad back
• He leapt into inaction.

2. Keep to what you know. It’s a well known fact, by those who know it well*, that writers write from experience. There’s nothing clumsier than an author stumbling blindfolded into alien territory. Staying in your comfort zone is the best way to explore outside your comfort zone. As an exercise, write down some every day terminology used in your other/previous careers and play around with them.

For example, in My Better Half the protagonist works in advertising and employs a tool used by market researchers as follows: “If this product were a car, what kind of car would it be?” He brings this into his thoughts at different times throughout the story and varies the delivery.

For example:
 • If my company were a disease, what disease would it be?
• If I were a Shakespearean character I would be Hamlet.

So, let’s take a quick look at other jobs:

• Shop assistant – Management don’t care. To them I’m not a human, just a barcode.
• Shop manager – The customer is always right, especially when they’re wrong.
• Accountant – That’s a moral victory on the credit side of life’s ledger.
• Bartender – Everything he says is BS – Barfly Stupidity. 

Well structured literary devices add so much to a writer’s style and set them apart from the crowd. And all you have to do is look at things from another perspective. Go on, that diem won’t carpe itself!

*Thank you, Robert Rankin, for that wonderful example of the now legendary running gag literary device.

Jerome Griffin is the author of two novels – The Flight of the Earls, an historical fiction set in Ireland over 400 years ago; and My Better Half, a contemporary story set in London.

In 2014 Jerome launched Short e Publishing, which produces short contemporary fiction. Jerome has since gone on to publish two Short e stories: Divorcing Mum and 33rd County. There are many more in the pipeline from Jerome, as well as a number of other authors, under the Short e Publishing banner.
Jerome lives in London with his wife, Elaine.