Friday, 31 May 2013

Of Pathya Vats and Pigs: Bob Newman

Poetry isn’t like fiction, even in the world of snail publishing (if that’s the phrase I’m looking for). It’s a form of writing that in recent times has flourished mainly in small magazines, whose editors dream, usually in vain, of finding a few subscribers who don’t want their own poems published - for poetry is a commodity for which supply massively exceeds demand. New poetry in book form is published mainly by a small number of specialist publishers, such as Bloodaxe, Carcanet and Enitharmon, with one or two general publishers continuing to do their bit, notably Faber.
          Few poets can have any realistic hope of being published by any of the big boys. Some years ago when I still had delusions I checked them out, and found that one - it may have been Bloodaxe - had announced that they would definitely not be taking on any new poets for at least three years. The others were little more encouraging. The number of living poets whose names are known to the public is tiny. Fifteen years ago an Arts Council study found that only four per cent of the total sales of the best-selling thousand poetry books were of contemporary poetry. Faber were responsible for 90 per cent of the sales, and Seamus Heaney for 67 per cent of those. Ted Hughes probably accounted for most of the rest.
          Whereas publishers tend to feel that they are publishing too much poetry - because the public aren’t buying it - poetry readers (most of whom are also poetry writers) are inclined to believe, I think, that there is more good new poetry around than there has ever been. And these days most of it tries to make its mark on the world in electronic form. A lot of poetry magazines have mutated into websites or “e-zines”, many new websites have sprung up, and then, of course, there is e-publishing.
          I didn’t set out to be a poet, and am still faintly embarrassed and amused by the idea that I might be one. (Friends feel the same way about me.) Back in the nineties, the company I worked for gave every employee a voucher for adult education. I wanted to spend mine on a course on music theory, but that was in the wrong borough, so I enrolled for creative writing instead. Teacher got me to write some poetry, then claimed to see some merit in it. I really liked a book called How to be well-versed in poetry, which dealt with verse forms - recipes for them, and entertaining examples. When it went out of print, I decided I would produce an internet substitute for it, and was born. It now covers 70 or 80 forms, with all the examples written by me, from the abhanga to the zejel, via well-known forms like the sonnet and villanelle and exotica such as the pathya vat from Cambodia and the magnificently-named cro cumaisc etir casbairdni ocus lethrannaigecht. The site has done pretty well, in an unspectacular, financially unrewarding, sort of way. It gets 200 to 300 visitors per day. Last week one of them was in East Timor, and I have one regular visitor from the Northern Mariana Islands, and another in the Vatican. I think the site is quite widely used as an educational resource. Several teachers and colleges have even asked permission to use it, which is nice. My favourite piece of fan-mail came from a contemplative nun in the USA, who said volecentral brought her some blessed relief from her daily round of hymn-writing. 
          When I realised that Kindle self-publishing ought to be cheap and easy, and perhaps bring in a few bob, I produced a selection from the website (with as much new content as I could muster), brazenly entitled it Fifty Shades of Verse, and submitted it to Amazon for publication.
          But there was a problem. “Based on recent high risk publishing activity, we may need up to 7 business days to review your submission,” they said, and then took longer. A bit of research on discussion boards revealed that this wording meant they were worried about the amount of the book’s content that was freely available on the web already. This is a legitimate cause for concern, I suppose, but it’s going to be a problem for a lot of people self-publishing collections of their own poetry. For paper publication, prior publication of individual poems in paper magazines is a good thing, since it shows that an editor somewhere has decided they were worth the ink. But with e-publication, prior appearance on the web actually reduces the justification for including a poem in an e-book.
          They relented eventually, and Fifty Shades is out there. I plan a sequel, Fifty More Shades of Verse, once I’ve dealt with another twenty or so, probably including a Russian thing called the chastushka, which is giving me a disproportionate amount of trouble. But I’ve learned my lesson, and no more forms are going onto the website until after they’ve been safely published in Kindle.
          I’ve also produced Old Possum’s Book of Practical Pigs,
Old Possum's Practical Pigs by Bob Newman
again exploiting the lack of copyright on titles. This is a book of light verse none of which had been published anywhere before, apart from some epigrams in the (paper) magazine Philosophy Now. This made it much easier to get published, and correspondingly harder to get anybody to buy - though there was a brief, glorious, period when it was outselling a competing book about cats, by some chap called Eliot.
          I’ve had a royalties payment from Amazon now, so I am a professional poet within the meaning of the act, and can therefore hold up my head in the company of the Electric Authors. But I won’t be giving up the day job yet.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Our Top Writing Tips - Joint Post

          As we have 29 writers ready to hand, we thought we'd ask them to pass on their most valuable writing tips...

Dennis Hamley - visit website

Authors Electric Dennis Hamley
Tip one:
An 80,000 word first draft means a 60,000 final draft. Draft, redraft ad re-redraft until there’s nothing left corpulent or flatulent in your prose: only lean sparseness in which every word matters.

Tip two:
A good way to approach that blessed state is to read your work aloud. Your written words will become alive and three-dimensional. You’ll home in on every tautology, repetition and indulgence (see below). Sometimes you’ll find, very embarrassingly, that what you were so proud of on paper is almost physically impossible to say.

Tip three:
If there’s something you’re really proud of, look at it especially carefully. It may deserve your pride - but equally it may be an indulgence, so don’t be afraid to lop it off. If it’s that good, you’ll find the right place for it one day. If it isn’t, you won’t.


Bill Kirton - visit website
Authors Electric Bill Kirton

          When people are faced with a writing task – a novel, a dissertation, a report – there’s often a feeling that it’s beyond them, too complicated, has to cover too much ground or venture into unfamiliar territories.
          The first thing to do then is stop thinking of it as a single thing, a mountain you have to climb. Whatever it is, it’s not just one forbidding task, it’s lots of little doable ones. Novels, plays, stories, job applications – they’re complete, integrated entities when they’re finished but they’re built with the bricks and mortar of words, sentences, paragraphs. So instead of being frozen with fear at the enormity of what’s expected of you, break it down into manageable elements. Set up a separate file for each one, close your mind to the destination and all the detours you may have to make and simply deal with the contents of that file.
          So rather than writing a 90,000 word novel, you’re writing a 1500 word chunk of prose, then another one, and so on. You’ll find that, once you get started, rather than frozen into immobility by the awesome nature of the goal, you’ll start enjoying the route towards it.

Debbie Bennet - visit website
Authors Electric Debbie Bennett

          Change the font size or type. When the words move around on the page, the typos you missed before will leap out at you as you can see the words that are actually there rather than the ones you thought you wrote.

          Read aloud – you’ll hear the lack of punctuation or the commas that are in the wrong place! And the bits that make you wince and think “did I really write that?” The bonus is that you get to hear the good bits too!

          Have faith in yourself. When you spend lots of time associating with other writers you forget that most people aren’t – and will be very impressed when they find out that you are. Most people don’t care whether you are traditionally published or self-published as they just want to read a good story.

          Don’t follow the herd. Write what you want how you want. Rules may be made to be broken, but you have to know what they are before you can smash them up.

So that's out top writing tips. Do you have any you'd like to share? 

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Ghosts of Old Wales and inspiration from Myths and Legends - by Hywela Lyn

'Writers Block' strikes us all at times.  As a fantasy and Science Fiction writer, I often find reading old myths and legends will get the creative juices flowing again, and wake up the muse.  Reworking old legends to a modern setting is a good way to start, and I usually find a story will evolve in my mind which is completely different to the original idea that sparked it  and, while going off in a totally different direction, provides the 'starting point' and sometimes even a character, to build on.

My native Wales is a land full of myths and legends, with  its fair share of ghosts, and is a rich source of ideas.  Usually, it is the beautiful landscape itself, and the many pools, waterfalls and mountains that provide the settings for these stories, rather than old houses or castles.

Here are just a few tales of hauntings from various parts of the Principality. (Apologies in advance for some of the 'hard to pronounce Welsh names!)

the Short Bridge, Llanidloes

A lady who could not rest in her grave because of her misdeeds haunted the locals until they could stand it no more.  Somehow they enticed her to shrink and enter into a bottle, after appearing in a good many hideous forms; but when she got into the bottle, it was corked down securely, and the bottle was cast into the pool underneath the Short bridge at Llanidloes, and there the lady was to remain until the ivy that grow up the buttresses should overgrow the sides of the bridge, and reach the parapet.  In the year 1848, the old bridge was blown up, and a new one built instead of it.


A small river runs close to the secluded village of Llandegla, and in this mountain stream under a huge stone lies a wicked ghost. This is how he came to be there:

It  not is not known why Ffrith Farm was troubled by a ghost, but when the servants were busily engaged in cheese making the Spirit would suddenly throw earth or sand into the milk, and thus spoil the curds. The dairy was also visited by the ghost, and there he played havoc with the milk and dishes. He sent the pans, one after the other, around the room, and dashed them to pieces. The terrible doings of the ghost was a topic of general conversation in those parts.

The farmer offered a reward of five pounds to anyone who would lay the Spirit. One Sunday afternoon,  an aged priest visited the farm yard, and in the presence of a crowd of spectators exorcised the ghost, but without effect.

Llandegla  Bridge
The farmer then sent for Griffiths, an Independent minister at Llanarmon, who enticed the ghost to the barn. The ghost changed its appearance to the form of a lion, but  could not touch Griffiths, because he stood in the centre of a circle, over which the lion could not pass. Griffiths tricked the ghost  into appearing in a less formidable shape, and it changed into a mastiff, but Griffiths demanded that it change to something smaller. At last, the ghost appeared as a fly, which was captured by Griffiths and secured in his tobacco box,  This box he buried under a large stone in the river, just below the bridge, near the Llandegla Mills, and there the spirit is forced to remain until a certain tree, which grows by the bridge, reaches the height of the parapet. When this happens, the spirit shall have power to regain his liberty.  To prevent this tree from growing, the school children, even to this day, nip the upper branches to limit its upward growth.


Pont y Glyn
There is a picturesque glen between Corwen and Cerrig-y-Drudion, down which rushes a mountain stream, and over this stream is a bridge, called Pont-y-Glyn.  On the left hand side, a few yards from the bridge, on the Corwen side, is a yawning chasm, through which the river bounds.  Here people who have travelled by night affirm that they have seen ghosts—the ghosts of those who have been murdered in this secluded glen. A man who was a servant at Garth Meilio, said that one night, when he was returning home late from Corwen, he saw before him, seated on a heap of stones, a female dressed in Welsh costume.  He wished her good night, but she returned him no answer.  She, got up and grew to gigantic proportions as she continued down the road which she filled, so great were her increased dimensions. Other spirits are said to have made their homes in the hills not far from Pont-y-Glyn.


Now for one which doesn't concern a bridge! An exciseman, overtaken by night, went to a house called Ty Felin, (Yellow House) in the parish of Llanynys, and asked for lodgings.  Unfortunately the house was a very small one, containing only two bedrooms, and one of these was haunted; consequently no one dared sleep in it.  After a while, however, the stranger induced the master to allow him to sleep in this haunted room. He had not been there long before a ghost entered the room in the shape of a travelling Jew and walked around the room.  The exciseman tried to catch him and gave chase, but he lost sight of the Jew in the yard.  He had scarcely entered the room, a second time, when he again saw the ghost.  He chased him once more and lost sight of him in the same place.  The third time he followed the ghost, he made a mark on the yard where the ghost vanished and went to rest, and was not disturbed again.

The next day, the exciseman got up early and went away, but, before long, he returned to Ty Felin accompanied by a policeman, whom he requested to dig in the place where his mark was.  This was done and underneath a superficial covering, a deep well was discovered, and in it a corpse.

Under interrogation, the tenant of the house confessed that a travelling Jew, selling jewelry and such items, once lodged with him, and that he had murdered him and cast his body in the well.


There is a pool hidden from the road among a copse on the top of Flint Mountain, in Flint North Wales. The pool is so small that travellers would not give it a second glance. But this was not always so. In days gone by Flint Mountain was a bare and desolate place and the pool was known as Pwll-y-Wrach, the Hags' Pool or the Witches' Pool, the place where the ellyllon (as the Welsh call goblins) would congregate, and thus a place where humans would stay well clear of, especially after dark.

In 1852 John Roberts a farm labourer paid an unexpected visit to Pwll-y-Wrach. It was a cold winter's morning and John was setting out to work when he found a youth blocking his path. With a harmless gesture he made to pass the youth but all of a sudden a force propelled him through the air. He landed face down above Pwll-y-Wrach, and the force held him there despite John's best efforts to free himself. He struggled for what seemed a lifetime, but in fact was just a few short minutes, until at the sound of a cock crow he was released. The ellyll, still disguised as a youth, stood astride him and warned. " When the cuckoo sings it's first note on Flint Mountain I shall come again to fetch you".

John got to his feet and stumbled back home, shaken but otherwise unhurt.

The following May John Roberts died. He had been repairing a wall at Pen-y-glyn on Flint Mountain when it collapsed and crushed him. A lady who witnessed the accident said a cuckoo came to land on a nearby tree just as it happened. When the body of John Roberts was being returned to his home the cuckoo followed, singing from tree to tree all the way to the front door.


In Welsh mythology and folklore, Cŵn Annwn  "hounds of Annwn") were the spectral hounds of Annwn, the otherworld of Welsh myth. They were associated with a form of the Wild Hunt, presided over by Gwynn ap Nudd. Christians came to dub these mythical creatures as "The Hounds of Hell" or "Dogs of Hell" and theorised they were therefore owned by Satan. However, the Annwn of medieval Welsh tradition is an otherworldly paradise and not a hell, or abode of dead souls.

They were associated with migrating geese, supposedly because their honking in the night is reminiscent of barking dogs

The Cŵn Annwn also came to be regarded as the escorts of souls on their journey to the Otherworld.
The hounds are sometimes accompanied by a fearsome hag called Mallt-y-Nos, "Matilda of the Night". An alternative name in Welsh folklore is Cŵn Mamau ("Hounds of the Mothers").

Cadair Idris
Hunting grounds for the Cŵn Annwn are said to include the mountain of  Cadair Idris, where it is believed "the howling of these huge dogs foretold death to anyone who heard them.The locals claim that the mountain is haunted, and that anyone who spends the night on top of Cadair Idris will wake up either a madman or a poet. Different legends surround the mountain and one of the earliest claims that the giant Idris lived there. Three large stones rest at the foot of the mountain, and legend says that Idris got angry once and kicked them, sending them rolling down the mountainside.  

Other Welsh legends state, however, that  King Arthur made his kingdom there, hence the name Cadair Idris: or the Seat of Idris. Being Welsh, of course I  myself subscribe to this theory!  Merlin was supposedly born in Carmarthen, and his connection with the area forms the background for my novella 'Dancing With Fate', which also features not only the Ellylldan, or fire goblins, but a Greek Muse! (I hope I've aroused your curiosity as to how she fits into my take on Welsh folklore, and that  you've enjoyed some of the myths and legends of my beloved homeland.)

You can find out more about Lyn and her books on her  WEBSITE
She also blogs at her own BLOG, and THE AUTHOR ROAST AND TOAST

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Death, final and absolute - Enid Richemont

          During the morning of March 14th, David - my partner and husband of a very long time - was putting the final touches to our ebook version of The Magic Skateboard

          Before the end of that afternoon, he would be dead. Death had nosed at us, with its unpleasant breath, on a number of occasions before. There was the time we'd driven back from a long weekend in Cornwall when David had forgotten to bring his blood pressure pills, so when we came home late at night, he took some, along with a small whisky. We ended up in Casualty.

David raising a glass

          There were ominous happenings at the Bronze exhibition at the Royal Academy in October last year, when he complained of feeling unwell (the lighting at the exhibition seemed to disturb both of us, but David especially). Then, in one of the rooms, a man suddenly collapsed, and couldn't be revived. Neither of us could recall that exhibition without the image of the man falling.
          In November, David had a mini-stroke - a TIA. He was fast-tracked into UCLH, and survived. I even blogged about the experience. He was going to be fine.
          Then, on that afternoon in March, we between us made some small, but erroneous, decisions which would prove fatal. We were visiting a late friend's exhibition, mainly to please his widow, and, instead of driving, we decided to use public transport, then walk. We misjudged the distance and the steepness of the hill, and as we entered the exhibition, David suddenly fell. He'd died of a heart attack.
          Nothing had prepared me for the physical brutality of the attempted resuscitation, or for the shock and subsequent numbness of my reactions to his death. It's May, and I'm still numb. Friends have recommended books. I've been reading Joan Didion's 'A YEAR OF MAGICAL LIVING'. Her writing, as always, is wonderful, but I could find nothing magical about her year of extreme distress and loss. Books on the subject of grieving abound. They tell me nothing I don't already know. Poetry helps, as poetry always does. Emily Dickinson's 'Because I could not stop for Death/ He kindly stopped for me' seems to say something, and also anything by Yeats. I even find myself researching mediums, so great has been my need to communicate with him. Our affair began with a conversation at a party, and went on from there - conversations which ended for ever in early Spring 2013.
          My first picture book comes out later this year. This has been a new departure for me, and we were planning to celebrate. Thanks to David, I became an Electric Author, with eleven of my out of print children's books re-published as ebooks. We were working towards indie-publishing a number of unpublished children's and Y/A texts, and at least one adult novel. David had a professional IT background, and was meticulous in his work. I can't imagine doing this for myself.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Storytelling in Kingston - Andrew Crofts

“Kingston Connections” is a three year project about storytelling. It is a joint venture between Kingston University, The Rose Theatre, Creative Youth and the local council.
The reason I bring this up is that in amongst their extensive programme of talks, debates, projects and performances, I am appearing on a panel for a discussion entitled “Becoming Your Own Publisher”, which might well be of interest to readers of this site.
My role on the panel is to talk about where ghostwriters can fit into the whole process. I was recruited for the project by the redoubtable Dr. Alison Baverstock, who not only runs an extremely well respected MA course on publishing at Kingston University but is also a prolific writer on matters pertaining to publishing and is the author of “The Naked Author”, by far the best book so far on self-publishing, (although ironically published in the traditional manner by Bloomsbury).
The talk is happening on Monday 24th June at 5.30 p.m. in the Culture Café of the Rose Theatre and entry is free should anyone be interested.
The programme is available online here:

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Crazy Days: Editing and Inspiration - by Rosalie Warren

First of all, my apologies that this post will be short and somewhat hurried, although I will try not to destroy my proofreading credentials by leaving it full of mistakes.

My excuse for the rush is that I am currently working flat out to produce an e-book and a paperback for a client. No, I am not an expert in self-publishing - far from it. This particular client hired me several months ago to do editing work for him on a religious treatise he has been compiling for the past few years. The editing work has been somewhat challenging. There were rather a lot of files, including three versions of a full length book and a big pile of shorter pieces. From all these, I was asked to produce a condensed version that would distil the essence of the work, serve as an introduction to the rest (which will go on the website) and, of course, 'flow nicely'. Now I like a challenge and I'm not complaining, but the workload has proved even greater than I expected (thankfully I am being paid by the hour).

To cut a long story short, as indeed I was asked to do - the editing task is now almost complete. My client is very pleased with what I've done, which is a huge relief.

But he has now asked me to help him produce a website, an e-version and a paperback, asap. He knows I am no expert in any of these things, but has asked me to find other people who are. I've found a good website designer and that seems to be under control. The e-book I think I can do, knowing I've done this twice before. The paperback, thanks to the suggestions of a number of very helpful Electric Authors over the last few days (thank you, everyone!) is beginning to seem manageable, too.

My client has very good reasons for being in a hurry - sad ones which I won't go into here. But what has affected me deeply about this project is his sense of commitment to getting it exactly right. He is not an academic, just an ordinary guy. I am not particularly religious and don't share all his beliefs. But that is not relevant to the editing, of course. What's important is that I deeply respect his conscientious approach towards making this book as perfect as he can.

As someone who, as far as I know, still has a good few years left to work on my own books, I feel deeply honoured to have been involved in this project, and re-inspired to work my hardest to be true to my 'sources', too. Not spiritual ones in my case... but that sense of doing your utmost to get a novel "right" (to be true to your characters, perhaps?) is not so very different, or does not feel that way to me.

I had better get back to the editing... and everything else. 

Please wish me luck or whatever it is I need to make a good job of this!


My Editing and Proofreading website (alter ego Sheila Glasbey)
Follow me on Twitter @Ros_Warren