Monday, 29 August 2016

Building A Story

A few months ago a neighbour knocked on my door and asked me to join her in her bedroom. Now, I know what you’re all thinking, you dirty-minded lot, but you’re wrong. She was quite fraught, because the builder who was working on her property had demanded £800 cash from her the day before, and expected to collect it that morning. Suffice to say that her husband wasn’t impressed, so he’d phoned the police and spoken to trading standards to find out what to do. Which is where I came in … apparently. When you think about it, it makes sense. Who else would you call on to deal with eight burly builders demanding money? You can imagine my relief when I learned that the husband would be outside liaising with the builders while I was with his wife in their bedroom … listening in to what was said as an independent witness. 

Of course, while I was recording what was being said on my phone, just in case things got nasty, my mind was busy creating a short story. How would someone who hated dealing with tradesmen get rid of an obnoxious builder if her husband was away? And, ideally, could she do it in a way that led to the builder getting his comeuppance? 

It was at this point that my neighbour’s kitchen timer went off, and she clasped both hands to her face. “My dough is ready!” 

I wondered what she was going on about. At first I thought she was referring to the £800 cash the builders wanted. But no. She was proving her bread dough on a low heat in the oven and now it was ready for baking. Dough … bread … money … annoying builders … ah! My story was coming together.

Thankfully, the builders in question understood they’d gone too far and left the premises. One mention of the police and trading standards soon had them packing up their tools. My recording was not needed in a court of law. But it wasn’t a wasted morning. I got a short story out of it. 

Ideas are everywhere, if you know where to look.

Good luck. 

Monday, 15 August 2016

Olympic Efforts

You might not feel like an Olympian, as you sit at your desk writing away, but we do share some similarities with our more energetic athletic compatriots. (Admittedly, as far as it goes with me, those similarities do not include the athletic body shape.)

The athletes are all focussed on a specific goal. They’re in training, every day, to become better at their craft and to improve their skills. They use psychology to help them focus and picture their dreams. (I loved the Jack Laugher and Chris Mears tactic of having a blank photo frame above the fireplace in preparation for the photo of them receiving their gold medals - flipping well worked, didn’t it?) They’re competing against others. Some sports have to go through several heats in order to reach their goal. When they win gold they are the happiest people on the planet. But when they lose it’s as though the last four years have been a waste of time. (They haven’t, but that’s what some say it feels like.)

We writers go through something similar. Many of us have a specific goal in mind we’re aiming for: a published short story, article, or even a book. If we can write every day, no matter how few those words may be, we’ll become better at our craft. We know that psychology can help us achieve our dreams (picturing our novels on the shelves at bookshops, or our articles in a magazine on the newsagents’ shelf). We’re competing against other writers: there’s only so many slots in a magazine in each issue, so many new authors agents will take on, so many books a publisher will publish in a year. And sometimes those successes have to be fought for one at a time. The first heat a novelist has to win is to finish the novel. The next few heats is to get it edited. The penultimate heat might be securing an agent. And then the final heat is to secure a publisher. 

And when publication happens, it’s the best feeling in the world. And yet rejection … well. We all know what rejection feels like. But then, that is what makes Gold so special.

So next time you think of yourself as ‘just’ a writer, think again. You have a lot more in common with Olympic athletes than you might think. 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to refuel my body with the energy it needs to keep me in this tip-top athletic condition: tea, and chocolate hob nobs. ;-)

Good luck. 

Monday, 8 August 2016

Creative Hoarding

Are you a creative hoarder?

At this year’s Writers’ Holiday, in Fishguard, novelist Marina Oliver gave an interesting talk about why writers shouldn’t throw anything away. She explained how she’s developed ideas for certain markets, only for them to disappear, for one reason or another, leaving her with a piece of writing she’d created but nowhere to place it. But then, several years later, often when she least expected it, an opportunity arose and she was able to dust it down, rejig it slightly, and sell her work.

On one occasions Marina was encouraged to write a 50,000-word novel for Mills & Boon, but the editor didn’t like one of her characters and the setting, and instead asked her to write something else (which was published). So Marina put the original book away. A few years later she heard that another publisher was looking for 70,000-word regency novels. Marina rummaged through her hoarded material and came across her old 50,000-word Mills and Boon manuscript. She changed the setting and period, added another sub-plot, and within months had a 70,000-word manuscript to offer. Much better to adapt something she’d already written than start again from scratch. It was published, and the publisher asked for more, which Marina went on to write. (She’s written over 60 novels.)

It reminded me of the time when I wrote a proposal for a non-fiction book about self-catering holidays. I submitted it to several publishers over the years, but couldn’t sell the idea. So it went onto the back burner. A few years later, I was looking through a self-catering agency brochure and noticed they’d used the same 3000-word introduction for the previous five years. I wondered if they fancied having it updated, so I got in touch. (Nothing ventured, nothing gained!). And what do you know - they said yes! So I dig out my original book proposal - tweaked the opening chapter, and bingo! A sale.

You never know when something you’ve created might come in useful. Plans don’t always pan out, so never throw away anything you create. Hoard everything you write. And I mean EVERYTHING.

Good luck.