To Inspire Generations

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t tell stories. Whether I was writing poetry at school, or creating stories for my brothers, or those first fledgling ones that I imagined whilst being read to. One of my first memories is correcting my mother when she added different words as she read. Yes, I was an editor from a very young age. I loved stories that much.

I love going to readings and events, to be read to again as we once were and to be inspired by writers – whether they be all time greats or début. One of my favourite bookshops, Toppings of Ely, has put on some great events this summer – including the Neil Gaiman event for The Ocean at the End of the Lane last Tuesday.

In relative terms, I’m a newbie to the following of writers who are inspired by Neil Gaiman’s work. When dating my wife, she presented me with a copy of Neverwhere because she knew I loved stories and she knew seeing London in this completely new way would spark my imagination. Now, no matter our distinctly different reading tastes, we always have a shared love of his work. His short story collection Smoke and Mirrors inspired me during my B.A. with writing that pushed boundaries and broke the rules in a very mastered way.

So it was no surprise when we saw that there would be reading relatively close to us, we jumped at the chance. The two of us and a friend, who has as much love for Gaiman’s work, met at 6pm in Ely thinking arriving early would ensure us a good place. We were in a good place. 382-384 in a queue of around 1000!

As expected, the reading was wonderful. Gaiman has a brilliant reading voice, which he confessed is a mixture of learnt and natural – a description that sums him up completely. I have continued reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane with the Hempstock’s Surrey accent firmly set in my mind, which I love.

Everyone who waited for their signing did so with pleasure, and we were all thankful that Neil would stay until everyone had their book signed. I’m not sure what time it finished, but given our position in the queue and that we spoke to him at around 11pm I can’t imagine that it ended any earlier than 1am. We watched the bats flying overhead through Ely Cathedral, talked about all his other works, and had conversations with complete strangers about cult films (there aren’t many places you can have a serious conversation about The Princess Bride. Believe me. I’ve tried).

Neil Gaiman signedI was always going to be pleased about getting my copy signed – we spoke about the bats, and then he drew one for me.

 

 

 

 

 

But nothing compared to getting a copy of Chu’s Day signed. We hope to have a child in the future, and we would always encourage them to read Gaiman’s work but how cool will it be to read them their first signed edition! And with such an important inscription.

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This weekend, we’ll be back in Ely and I’ve got another picture book for signing. This baby is going to be well read – Margaret Atwood’s Up in the Tree is next!

Room for a little one? Always at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School

There is always room for a little (or non-specific sized) one in this family; it is a family, a professional networking family of writers that I have been involved with since 2006.

Swanwick

The school has just celebrated its 65th year and it is still going strong despite rising economic problems. Delegates catch the bug known as “Swanwick magic” which may sound cheesey but is unavoidable. This magic is made by group meals where you discuss the day’s experiences, a wide range of courses and workshops that ensure any fledgling or experienced writer has the opportunity to develop their skill set, and inspirational speakers covering topics from the journey to screen (Deborah Moggoch & James Moran this year) to creating young adult fantasy fiction (Curtis Jobling did this perfectly after he stopped wowing us with his drawings and animations).

But the real magic is in the people. There are very few boundaries between writers – be that in experience, age or background. For a week you are simply a writer and that is the most freeing opportunity of all. I spend a lot of time with other writers at literary events etc and although there is a level of honesty about our work and lives, this does need to be built up over time if and when we see those friendly faces. Swanwick on the other hand is an intense week of relationship building. Swanwick is full of authenticity. Networking is done casually but with your annual return there are those that you want to see again and again. When there are 200-300 delegates you are bound to find someone or many on your wave length.

As a course leader and 1:1 mentor, there is a certain level of professionalism that I hope I adhere to. However, that did not stop me from letting my hair down at the last night disco or staying up until 2am talking with agents and writers alike. In fact I think this year, an early night was considered to be around 1am, and yes, I was up and at breakfast by 8.30am. Perhaps adrenaline is another part of the Swanwick magic! It’s also worth mentioning that even with all the teaching/mentoring I was involved with, I also started my next novel (2999 words on the procrastination free day) and worked out that I also want to screenwrite (more on that soon).

You will leave Swanwick with a notebook full of ideas, and iPad (or any other device…!) that won’t stop pinging with follows and friend requests, and friends that you cannot imagine your writing, or otherwise, life without. If you’d like to find out more about Swanwick, take a look at the website, follow them on Twitter, or like them on Facebook. The next Swanwick Writers’ Summer School will run between the 9th and 15th August 2014.

Baring all to conquer writing fears

photo (2)I’m a procrastinator. To extraordinary lengths. Creating this blog was an exercise in procrastination at the point where my first novel was being difficult. And then of course my writing freed up and my writing almost became the procrastination against having to work out what I wanted this blog to be. But this month I have hit a conundrum. I’m stuck with my writing, and I’m stuck with the blog… I should probably explain some more.

 

My fear for my current writing project is managing to give the characters and ideas justice in words. That my words will be enough. I’m at the beginning of my second novel, and worries about it are causing me to worry more about that than write. But when I’m honest with myself I know these worries are just excuses. I know I’m scared of the ideas/topic/themes I’m crossing into, because they are BIG. They involve dealing with human pain in a way I haven’t conquered in my writing before, and possibly that I haven’t dealt with in myself yet. Yes, I could choose an easier subject; but the thing is I actually can’t. The characters are there, mumbling but very much present and they need to be written.

But when I came to writing the blog, I found my fears lurking here as well and they are similar to the novel. I want to be able to provide a service whilst be professional, but also to be me and be honest. And that’s the fear – can I be both? Can I write a blog about fear and yet be professional about my own fears that are so personal? Well, I’ve done it now, and I can only hope it works.

I dealt with my fears about writing this and continuing the novel by doing what I do best – procrastinating. By researching fear and writing with it as a procrastination to doing the actual writing, I’ve found that I am not alone. I knew this before but now I really understand it. I may debate for many moons on whether all of that was worth sharing, but the research I definitely think it has it’s place for most writers.

You are not alone. This is something we all forget and yet it can take the simplest and hardest thing of reaching out to others to find this out. The hive mind of Twitter was the answer for me. I asked my followers (most of whom are writers or connected to writing/publishing): what do you fear about your career/writing? I fully expected to hear nothing, I wondered if I’d be brave or honest enough to answer the question myself. With time (once the Murray match was over) and a couple of tweets, some brave writers stepped forward with their fears and presented them to me. There were a wide range of fears; finding out that someone else had got their first, wasting people’s time, of the balance between writing and work, of the loss of the career. The most common single fear and overriding “theme” was failure, throughout the whole process of being a writer: of being able to write, of having their book in a bookshop, to get readers. Even failure to cope with failure.

These were the fears of excellent writers and I am grateful they took the time to explain how they deal with their fears. Their fears drive them to keep writing, to work harder on what they produce. When the fear gets too much they know to take time to step away and gain perspective, even if that means leaving a project until the fear has moved away or onto something else. They learn their lessons and hope they remember them for the next time. To just keep going.

If you’re scared of reaching out, there is always a video. In my research, I found that, like most topics, if you can’t broach the subject with another person then someone else will have filled in the blanks via google. I certainly don’t think it is the same as connecting with another human, far from it, but it can certainly add to the not alone feeling. I’d recommend the following sources if you do want to get some more thoughts on dealing with fear and writing with it:

I hope this helps you on facing your own writing fear. Sometimes it will be an uphill battle but it’s always worth the fight. Personally, I’m using Neil Gaiman’s words in my plight.

“This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until its done. It’s that easy, and that hard.”

― Neil Gaiman

A day for Flash

Today is a day of moments: the moment you can run between the car and house without getting soaked; the storms that rage are highlighted by flashes of blue sky. Can you tell the pathetic fallacy is getting to me as much as the rain? Today is National Flash Fiction Day and the weather is allowing me to indulgence in a couple of wonderful collections that we ought to all share.

Scraps_cover_frontpdfFirst up, Scraps, the second official anthology for National Flash Fiction Day. I talked about  Jawbreakers last year and if you haven’t got it yet then buy it now as even if it wasn’t in a free promotion until Monday 24th it would be very much worth the money. Anyway, back to Scraps. The collection features stories from Jenny Adamthwaite, Jenn Ashworth, Oliver Barton, Alan Beard, Natalie Bowers, Cathy Bryant, Joanna Campbell, Nuala Ní Chonchúir, James Coates, Claire Collison, Chris Connolly, L.A. Craig, Judy Darley, Ariel Dawn, Vanessa Gebbie, Kylie Grant, David Gullen, David Hartley, Kevlin Henney, Tania Hershman, Sarah Hilary, H Anthony Hildebrand, Eva Holland, Holly Howitt, Thaddeus Howze, Anouska Huggins, Claire Ibarra, Paul Kavanagh, RM Kealy, John Keating, Calum Kerr, Clare Kirwan, Mark Kockelbergh, Emma J. Lannie, Cathy Lennon, Beverly C. Lucey, Amy Mackelden, R A Martens, Ana Martinez, Thomas McColl, Stephen McGeagh, Danielle McLaughlin, Siobhán McNamara, Freya Morris, Andrea Mullaney, Clay Norman, John Paul O’Neill, Sonya Oldwin, Jim O’Loughlin, Amanda Oosthuizen, Jonathan Pinnock, Dan Powell, Amanda Quinn, Eabha Rose, Sam Russell, Shelley Day Sclater, Emma Shaw, Ian Shine, Diane Simmons, Tim Stevenson, Becky Tipper, Stella Turner, Tracey Upchurch, Bart Van Goethem, Alison Wells and Brendan Way…wow sorry, I ran out of breath too.

This collection has entertained, challenged and developed me in one afternoon. I no doubt will go back to it again and again as I do with Jawbreakers, but the stories that have captured me this afternoon are Finding Trainspotting by Clare Kirwan, Bright New Morning by Joanna Campbell, Feed a Fever by Freya Morris, Planets by Vanessa Gebbie, and The Short Tree Has its Hand Up by Tania Hershman. In fact I could probably go on about every single one of the stories but do us both a favour – buy the book and comment below, I’d much rather chat about it! As ever, these collections allow readers to explore new writing and new writers and I can’t wait to find out what else is available from these authors.

David+Gaffney+More+Sawn+OffNext is More Sawn Off Tales by David Gaffney. Following on with the tradition of secondary collections of flash fiction to prove their importance, this collection sequels Sawn Off Tales (2010). David’s works stretches storytelling and twists language within the tiniest of forms – even the titles could be, and have been, described as miniature works of art (Thanks Emma Jane Unsworth for that review!). It’s a collection that leaves you feeling slightly unsettled as though you have seen more than you ever thought you would, even though the sights were within a blink of an eye. If that’s not enough to make you run to the nearest bookseller, Salt sums Gaffney up as an “expert miniaturist with the ability to stuff an elephant inside a flea without the insect noticing…”. I think that should do it.

keepcalmAnd lastly, a website which everyone should get well acquainted with: Flash Flood. The site is literally being flooded today with flash fiction selected from entries that were submitted in the last week or so. It’s a fantastic place to find new writers whether debut in general or just missing from your shelves. So take a look a look around, wallow in moments or in the case of Paul McVeigh’s Safe – sit open mouthed in wonderful horror.