Monday, 31 March 2014

Photography for Writers

So last Friday was publication day for Photography for Writers. What did I do to celebrate? Well, I went out with my camera, of course! I love the fact that having a camera slows you down. (Mine is quite heavy.) But my point is, when you have a camera with you, your ‘eye’ is looking around assessing the shot. It’s this process that slows you down. So you ‘see’ more, which is good for writers.

For example, I climbed the tower of St Laurence’s Church in Ludlow. It’s 135 feet high and the church stands on top of the hill around which Ludlow grew, so it’s a fantastic vantage point. But when I climbed it the weather was quite misty. Distance was not my reward for the exertion of climbing so many steps! It did offer a fantastic viewpoint, and I managed to get several shots of Ludlow from above. 

But as I moved around the tower exploring the view I noticed the almshouses below. The plaque above the main entrance was obvious from this height, yet only minutes earlier I’d walked along the lane, right past the almshouses and hadn’t seen the plaque from the ground. The act of slowing down and appreciating the view had revealed this to me. Now there’s a topic for further research … almshouses … there must be several article ideas there.

And whilst I was wandering around the old canon, parked outside the entrance to Ludlow castle, trying to find its best side, I suddenly spotted the plaque declaring from where it had been obtained. Quite topical at the moment, don’t you think? Who’d have thought Ludlow had a connection to the Crimea. A topical hook for an article, perhaps?

In Lower Broad Street, the properties do not have front gardens, but that hasn’t stopped them from adding some brightness to their frontages … now there’s an idea for an article.

And then I discovered the plaque commemorating the restoration of the Horseshoe Weir, in the River Teme, which was financed through public subscription, as well as lottery money. I wonder how much was raised by public subscription, and who donated? Who felt concerned enough to hand over their cash to see this wonderfully-shaped weir restored. Is that another article idea?

And then there are Ludlow’s fine buildings - over 500 if them in the town are listed (I mean in the preservation sense, rather than the physical sense - although many of them do physically lean in several directions). It made me wonder what the responsibilities of a listed-property owner are. I know several builders hate listed status, because of the bureaucracy, but what’s like to live in such a building and care for one? How difficult is it to get insurance? And so all these other article ideas flowed …

So, you see, having a camera can be good for writers, even if you don’t take any photos (although I would urge you to press the shutter button at some point!). It makes you slow down and look … and when you do that, the ideas will come. Of course, if you want to take some photos then do - and my book will help you make the most of them with your writing. (Come on - you were expecting a plug at some point, weren’t you?

Good luck!

Monday, 24 March 2014

Differently Similar

I’m writing this in a Travelodge room on the M6. (I know how to live the high life!) Actually, I’ve always found the rooms comfortable (and good value when booked in advance), and because they are a national company you know what to expect from your room wherever you stay. The decor is the same, the equipment is the same and the booking in and out is the same.

However, adjacent rooms are built back-to-back (presumably it’s to keep the plumbing for the ensuites together) so, go into one room and the bed will be against the right hand wall, but go into the adjacent room and the bed will be against the left hand wall - so the room layout mirrors the other.

So, despite all of this similarity there is a difference. Looked at from a different angle you may see things in a different light, or get a different perspective. Even the view from two adjacent rooms can be different, even if the windows face the same direction.

It’s something to consider with our writing. Looking at things from a different perspective, or angle, can reveal things we’d never noticed before. I once wrote a walking route description for a magazine, and generally, I like my circular walks to operate in an anti-clockwise direction. A few years later, another magazine wanted a similar route, and because a few years had passed since I’d first walked it I tackled the route again to check for changes on the ground (a frequent problem for outdoor writers - while fields can become housing estates in a matter of weeks). However, I also decided to walk the route in a clockwise direction, and as a result experienced an entirely different walk despite using exactly the same paths and route. 

It’s a useful technique if you are stuck for ideas. Take something you’ve already written - and even sold - and look at it from a different perspective. Tell the story/piece from a slightly different angle. Choose another character and write the story from their viewpoint. Instead of an article focussing on the town’s Victorian heritage, why not scrutinise it’s Edwardian heritage? There are lots of pieces about the First World War and the men who went off to fight. So what was it like for the children left behind? Or the men deemed too old or unfit to fight? What was their war like? Same war … different perspective.

The topic may seem familiar to you, but from a different perspective it can take on a whole new interest.

Good luck! 

Monday, 17 March 2014

The Long Game

I have a success to report to you this week. I’ve sold a short story to Woman’s Weekly magazine. This is the first time Woman’s Weekly has bought a story from me, despite me giving them plenty of opportunities to do so since 2005 ;-) At the moment, I don’t know whether it will be published in their weekly issue, or their fiction special.

It struck me that the story of this story reflects several of my comments on previous posts here. Last week, I commented about writing what you enjoy, especially when writing fiction. This was such a story. It began life as a piece of homework for a writers’ group I go to. It wasn’t written with a particular market in mind, to begin with, but as a piece of fun. However, after some good constructive feedback from the group I edited it for Woman’s Weekly. I had to tone things down a bit, and increase the word count. 

This was also one of those pieces that I needed to chase up. Woman’s Weekly are normally very good in responding to fiction submissions within twelve weeks, yet on this occasion my database flagged up that I had not had a response for over 17 weeks. Time to chase up.

If I’m honest, my gut reaction was that this would be a rejection, and indeed, that’s what many friends and fellow writers on Facebook suggested. But at least by chasing up and confirming the rejection I would be able to adapt my piece and send it off to a new market.

So I was astonished when I received an email apologising for the delay in replying, and accepting the story. Result!

Which reaffirms one of my many other postings here - persistence pays off. However, I also think there’s another lesson to be learned here: don’t prejudge the editor’s decision. Nothing is rejected until the editor says so!

I’m off to write another short story for Woman’s Weekly now. I just hope my next acceptance is a little quicker coming than nine years!

Good luck.

Monday, 10 March 2014

The Business of Writing

The April issue of Writing Magazine is just hitting the shops now and contains the first article in a series the editor has commissioned me to write, about the business of writing. Many people, myself included, begin writing as a hobby: something to do at the end of a busy working day at the office to help us unwind.

However, even though it may be a hobby, if you’re looking to submit your work, whether it be to a competition or other paying market, you should remember that you are competing with the professionals, so you should take a professional attitude to your writing. This means dealing with it in a business-like way. I did read somewhere online that you shouldn’t call yourself a professional photographer unless you earned more than 50% of your income from your photography, but I disagree with that. In my opinion, professionalism is an attitude of mind, not a figure on a bank balance.

My first article looks at tax, because we’re approaching that time when the new tax year starts. If you’ve been successful and sold some of your writing, then you do need to tell the tax man so you can pay tax on this income. I know nobody likes paying tax, but it’s better to pay what you owe as soon as it becomes due than find yourself owing lots and being liable to a fine. And, actually, I like to think that paying tax on your writing earnings is a sign of success - it proves that people have paid for your words. For those who think professionalism is about money, well, if you’ve paid tax on your earnings from your words then you can’t get any more professional than that, can you?

Over the coming months this Business of Writing series will look at other aspects of writing, such as keeping track of records, contacts and interviews, understanding the rights we have available in our works, and how to remain productive.

When people dream about being a writer I’m sure the business side of things doesn’t play a big role in that dream. (Does anybody dream about admin?) But a business-like attitude can help you to maximise your writing opportunities. And opportunities are the stepping stones to further success.

Good luck!

Monday, 3 March 2014

Who Are You Writing This For?

“The first person you should think of pleasing, in writing a book, is yourself.” So says Patricia Highsmith in her book Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction. I think this is true when writing fiction. Indeed, I have just completed the first draft of a novel, which now stands at over 135,000 words. I have some editing to do!

In some respects, I think this is one of the biggest differences between writing fiction and non-fiction. When I write non-fiction I am writing for the market. I think about the reader. Who are they? What do they know? What life stage are they at? What do I have to say that will interest them? As non-fiction writers we need to know all of this in order to tailor our non-fiction to them. A travel article about Newquay in Cornwall might discuss the clubs, bars and entertainment if you’re writing for a young readership (potentially the young stag/hen party readers), but may focus on the zoo and the pirate adventure centre for a young family readership, or perhaps the golf, spas and gardens open to the public for a more mature readership. That’s because the magazines have a clear readership they’re trying to target advertisers with. This doesn’t mean that stag and hen parties don’t want spas, or to play golf, or that mature readers are not interested in clubs and bars! (I know many mature readers who’d be interested in clubs and bars!) But my point is, a magazine has a clear idea of who their readers are, and if I’m writing something for them, that’s who I write for.

When writing fiction, things are a little different. Admittedly, there are some fiction magazines that still have their clear readership and style. A Fiction Feast story will not interest the editor of The People’s Friend, or vice versa. But when it comes to writing longer pieces of fiction, such as novels, things begin to get a little more complicated. 

I was watching the Meet The Author interview on the BBC News Channel, where Nick Higham chatted to JoJo Moyles. In it, he commented that many of her books were labelled as women’s fiction, but she hated that term. Indeed, she commented on the fact that since the advent of ebooks, where people can’t see what you are reading, the number of letters she receives from men has rocketed. Her attitude then is, if she writes ‘women’s fiction’ why are so many men reading her?

Indeed, Patricia Highsmith comments several times in Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction, that she never understood why her novels were categorised as ‘suspense novels’. Whilst having genres may help readers choose their next book, Highsmith’s comments reveal that she never set out to write a suspense novel, she set out to tell a story.

And many literary agents are often quoted as saying don’t write what you think the market wants, because this year’s bestseller was written at least two years ago, so by the time your book comes to print, the fashion will have changed.

I do think Highsmith is right when it comes to writing long fiction. Don’t write for a specific market, write for yourself. My first novel was (supposed to be) a suspense/crime novel, but it didn’t work, because I wrote it for a specific market. I wrote it for a market - I didn’t write it for me. It was hard work, but more importantly, I didn’t enjoy it. And that shows in the writing. Whereas the novel I’ve just finished writing I’ve written for me. And I enjoyed writing it. It was still hard work, but it was fun too. Whether anyone else will like it, is yet to be seen.

So, next time you sit down to write something, just ask yourself who you’re writing it for. And remember, it is okay to write something for yourself from time to time, too!

Good luck. 

PS - I can recommend Patricia Highsmith’s book, Plotting And Writing Suspense Fiction. It’s a personal account of how she did it - not a prescriptive recipe for how it should be done. Remember she was writing in a time before computers, so there are lots of comments about typewriters and carbon copies, but it’s interesting to know how and why she wrote what she did and how she overcame the difficulties and problems she had.