Thursday, 31 July 2014

Rewriting to Rebranding - Guest Post by Jan Edwards

Rewrites must be top in my list of ‘Mind-boggling Things You Take On.’ I mean, editing is one thing but total re-writes can cause you some serious brain-blitz. Some years ago I won an award at the Winchester Writers’ Conference for ‘Best Slim Volume’ with a series of linked short stories. That is to say, I sent in one story and the synopsis for another nine. 

The prize was to have the collection published (in a very limited 30 copies print run!) and it seemed like a fabulous prize. Winning was certainly a major boost to my self-esteem ... until I got home and realised I had a deadline of less than a month to write the other nine stories based around the handwritten book of wine recipes handed down to me from my Grandmother.

Each story in Sussex Tales included a recipe as well as notes on the medicinal value and folklore attached to the main ingredients. It was a good premise that should have resulted in a great book – and yes, I completed the stories in time ... but oh my then editing levels! They were ... scratchy ... to say the least. ‘More haste, less speed’ as the Grandmother who inspired the book would have told me.

Sussex Tales are fun stories, and I have always wished I could have been given more time to get them properly polished, and I fully intended to do so. But time passed and other projects took priority until this year when I decided that it was time Sussex Tales emerged from the back of the wardrobe and became a fully fledged book. Rebranded for an audience of greater than one (or three if you count my husband Peter and best pal Debbie). Thirty copies, twenty of which are still sitting in a box at the back of the wardrobe, barely counts as published
Sussex Tales needed to be re-written and re-packaged for readers’ eyes, as opposed to merely mine. 

I edit all the time. Not just my own work but also the anthologies that I co-edit with Jenny Barber for both The Alchemy Press and Fox Spirit Press, so in theory it should have been a doddle. It wasn’t. Revitalising that sorely rushed project turned out to be a lot harder than I anticipated.

In the fifteen years since writing the originals, my style has changed almost beyond recognition, and my research skills have been honed to a level where all of the things that I originally fudged, relying solely on memory for the sake of that short deadline, had to be, researched, re-imagined, and rewritten. Each story had to be set upon and systematically murdered page by page, sentence by sentence. 

The slim volume of 40,000 words has grown closer to 60,000, now with a full glossary of Sussex dialect words and phrases as well as more succinct research notes into the plants and other goods. Finally it is completed and about to be issued by the Penkhull Press.

The editing and rewriting was hard graft, but a worthwhile effort. I can’t wait to see it in its full glory, and I hope other people will love the new and improved Sussex Tales as much as I loved writing them.

The morals of this tale are two-fold. [1] never rush your editing – it matters more than I can tell you, and [2] never discard anything you have written because one day it will rise up and be beautiful.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

To kill, or not to kill, that is the question! Guest post by Katie Salidas

At the end of Pandora’s Box (Book three in the Immortalis series) I left readers with a question, “Is Lysander truly dead, or can he be saved?” 

No, I’m not going to reveal his fate now, you’ll just have to read Soulstone to find out. 

I know, I’m such a meanie.

But, it brings up a great topic. Killing off characters.

As an author, my characters are somewhat like my children. Each one has a backstory, a current story, and a potential future. I’ve taken a lot of time developing them. I’ve created them from scratch and watched them virtually grow. So, with that in mind you’d think it would be abhorrent to me to end their fictional existence. I mean, what mother would ever want to harm their child, right? 

In some cases, yes. There are some characters that would break my heart to destroy. On the other hand, there are some characters who need to die. Boy do I sound mean now. Stick with me though and you’ll see what I mean.

Some characters have to die. It’s the circle of life. (insert the Elton John song from the Lion King). Every fictional character has a lifespan. They have a purpose in a story and sometimes their death serves that purpose. 

In Pandora’s Box, for example, I had to kill off a character I loved. I felt very sad when the moment came to end her existence, and I am not afraid to admit that I shed a tear for the loss of her fictional life. She was one of my favorite secondary characters. 

Hers was a necessary death. It created a chain reaction of events. Without her death, her mate would not have developed the reckless attitude that allowed him to challenge the werewolf pack leader and earn his respect. Without that earned respect, the wolf pack would never have helped the vampire clan with the Pandora’s Box. This is of course a simple explanation of the events in Pandora’s Box, but you see just like with real life, every action has a reaction and all things are connected. It’s the butterfly effect. You know, that theory that if a butterfly flaps his wings somewhere in the world, it causes a ripple effect that eventually links to a hurricane on the other side of the world. I believe it is also known as chaos theory. But, I’m getting off track. The point is, sad as it can be, some character deaths have to happen.

So, some deaths are necessary. But, there are also “fun” deaths. Now I sound like a psycho. LoL. And to that I’ll say, all writers are a little bit crazy. Sometimes it’s therapeutic and even fun to kill off a character, especially an evil one that “has it coming.” There is a certain satisfaction for me as a writer when I kill off a bad guy, and I’ll bet other authors out there can attest to this too. I know many of my readers are expecting some baddies to die in my new Chronicles series. And yes, I will tell you this, Revolution will have lots of karmic retribution. Muahahahaha!

The “bad guy” deaths. Those are the deaths you expect to see in a book. The bad guy should have an untimely end. And there is an unwritten rule that says the death of the bad guy needs to match up with the level of evil that “bad guy” has committed. That’s what makes the death really satisfying. You want them to pay for their crimes. And making them pay is fun. It’s vindication for not only the author but the reader too. As much as I have fun killing off bad guys in the most deserving way possible, readers too tell me they love it when the bad guy “gets it!” 

So, writing character deaths is a natural part of the fictional circle of life, and sometimes a really fun part of being an author. 

And yes, if you read to the end of Soulstone you’ll find out Lysander’s fate. Until then, you’ll just have to wonder…

About Katie...

Katie Salidas, author of the Immortalis series (Urban Fantasy), Consummate Therapy series (Erotica), and the recently released Chronicles of the Uprising (Dystopian) is a Jill of all Trades. She’s a Super Woman endowed with special powers and abilities, beyond those of other mortals. Katie can get the munchkins off to gymnastics, cheerleading, Girl Scouts, and swim lessons; put hot food on the table, assist with homework, baths, and bedtime… And, she still finds the time to keep the hubby happy (nudge nudge wink wink). She can do all of this and still have time to write. 

And if you can believe all of those lies, there is some beautiful swamp land in Florida for sale…

Katie Salidas resides in Las Vegas, Nevada. Mother to three, Wife to one, and slave to the craft of writing, she does try to do it all, often causing sleep deprivation and many nights passed out at the computer. Writing is her passion, and she hopes that her passion will bring you hours of entertainment.







Amazon UK:

Barnes & Noble:


All Romance Ebooks:

Books in the Immortalis Series:

Becoming a vampire is easy. Living with the condition... that's the hard part. Join Alyssa as she stumbles through the world of the "Unnatural."

Book 1: Immortalis Carpe Noctem - Newbie vampire Alyssa never asked for this life, but now it's all she has. Rescued from death by Lysander, the aloof and sexy leader of the Peregrinus vampire clan, she's barely cut her teeth before she becomes a target. Kallisto, an ancient and vindictive vampire queen - and Lysander's old mate - wants nothing less than final death for her former lover and his new toy. She's not above letting the Acta Sanctorum, and its greatest vampire hunter, Santino, know exactly where the clan can be found.With no time to mourn her old life, Alyssa's survival depends on her new family. She will have to stand alongside Lysander and fight against two enemies who will stop at nothing to destroy them.

Book 2: Hunters & Prey - Rule number one: humans and vampires don't co-exist. One is the hunter and one is the prey. Simple, right? Not for newly-turned vampire Alyssa. A surprise confrontation with Santino Vitale, the Acta Sanctorum's most fearsome hunter, sends her fleeing back to the world she once knew, and Fallon, the human friend she's missed more than anything. Now she has some explaining to do. However, that will have to wait. With the Acta Sanctorum hot on their heels, staying alive is more important than educating a human on the finer points of bloodlust.

Book 3: Pandora's Box - After a few months as a vampire, Alyssa thought she'd learned all she needed to know about the supernatural world. But her confidence is shattered by the delivery of a mysterious package - a Pandora's Box. Seemingly innocuous, the box is in reality an ancient prison, generated by a magic more powerful than anyone in her clan has ever known. But what manner of evil could need such force to contain it?

Book 4: Soulstone - It's a desperate time for rookie vampire Alyssa, and her sanity is hanging by a slender thread. Her clan is still reeling from the monumental battle with Aniketos; a battle that claimed the body of Lysander, her sire and lover, and trapped his spirit in a mysterious crystal. A Soulstone. Unfortunately, no amount of magic has been able to release Lysander's spirit, and the stone is starting to fade. Weeks of effort have proved futile. Her clan, the Peregrinus, have all but given up hope. Only Alyssa still believes her lover can be released.

Book 5: Moonlight- Good girls don't wear fur, or fight over men, and they certainly don't run around naked, howling at the moon. But then, no-one ever called Fallon a good girl. As a human unofficially mated to an Alpha werewolf, Fallon is being pressured to "become"...or be gone. Her mate Aiden, the interim leader of the Olde Town Pack, is in a position that demands he either choose a wolf mate...or leave the pack forever. No matter how hot the sex with Fallon is, he can't ignore centuries of tradition. Become a wolf or not. If only the choice were that simple. Fallon's options are further clouded by the overt presence of other females desperate to be the Alpha's mate. And when these bitches get serious, it's not just claws that come out. If Fallon wants to keep her man and take the title she'll have to exert a little dominance of her own.

Book 6: Dark Salvation - A gathering storm of violence is on the horizon. Whispered threats of the Acta Sanctorum's return have the supernatural world abuzz. Only recently aware of the other world hidden behind our own, Kitara Vanders has barely scratched the surface of what being supernatural truly means. A special woman in her own right, she possesses unique telepathic abilities, gifts that have recently come under the scrutiny of the Acta Sanctorum, a fanatical organization whose mission is to cleanse the world of anything supernatural. Targeted, and marked for death, Kitara's only hope lies with the lethally seductive Nicholas

Books In the Chronicles:

Dissension - The great cataclysm wiped almost all life from the face of planet Earth, but tiny pockets of survivors crawled from the ashes, with only one thought: survival, at any cost. But not all survivors were human.In the dark, militant society that has risen in the aftermath, vampires, once thought to be mythical, have been assimilated and enslaved. Used for blood sport their lives are allowed to continue only for the entertainment of the masses. Reviled as savages, they are destined to serve out their immortal lives in the arena, as gladiators. And there is no greater gladiator than Mira: undefeated, uncompromising...and seemingly unbreakable. When an escape attempt leads Mira into the path of Lucian Stavros, the city’s Regent, her destiny is changed forever.

Complication - Narrowly escaping death at the hands of the Magistrate, Mira travels west, toward the coast. With three weakened human fugitives accompanying her, she searches for the mythical land of Sanctuary.After encountering a pack of wolf shifters, headed by the charismatic—and brazen—Stryker, Mira learns that Sanctuary is real after all. Caldera Grove: home of the Otherkin. For Mira— a vampire— Caldera Grove is a land of peace; an escape from the relentless persecution of the humans who once enslaved her, and an end to the daily struggle and bloodshed of being a gladiator.For the humans accompanying her, Caldera Grove means death. Humans, greedy and untrustworthy creatures, are destroyed before they can penetrate its borders. What she finds within Caldera Grove presents her with an unenviable decision between her own desires for freedom and peace, or honor and the human companions who risked it all for her.

Revolution - Peace is an illusion. Blood, violence, and death follow Mira like shadows. Battle lines have been drawn between human and Otherkin and bloody war is on the horizon: one that will end in either a shift in the world’s balance of power...or ultimate destruction. With their strength, powers and a rage known only by the oppressed, the Otherkin are evenly matched against the superior numbers of the human army. To tip the balance in their favor, the Otherkin need more soldiers; and their only options are the Gladiators of New Haven city. Mira is sent across enemy lines to recruit any able-bodied vampires to her cause. But what she discovers along the way will blur the lines between friends and enemies. Seeds of doubt weaken Mira’s allegiance and she finds herself torn between the old masters who used her as entertainment, and the new ones who consider her as nothing more than a weapon. As the war draws near, Mira will have to decide what she is truly fighting for.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Mind Your Own Business! - Valerie Laws Helps Us Out - Again.

           On the 29th, we try to post a 'How To' blog - but it's hot, and all the electrics are off sunning themselves.

          So, since many of us are gearing up to the dreaded tax-filing ordeal, here's 'another chance to see' this How-To post from Valerie.

Why writers don't see themselves as businesses? No bird-feeding or kite-flying.

Following on from Catherine Czerkawska’s excellent post the other day, asking why creative writing courses don’t prepare would-be writers for the business side of writing and promoting, I’m going to come out now right here in front of you all.

I am a business.

There, I’ve said it. Many of you are already businesses, but perhaps you don’t know it yet. Perhaps you are in denial. You don’t want to photocopy your bum at office parties or wear boring suits or behave like Mr Banks in 'Mary Poppins'. Or as a writer, you work mostly alone, and think of yourself as an individual, a maverick, a wild card, a free spirit, and anyway your office parties would be embarrassingly sparse.
Not that businesslike, really.
But think about it, if you get royalties (sometimes, and often not much, but still...) from book sales, fees for performances or talks or play commissions or other writery things. If this is the case, you may be a business, and there are benefits out there in the form of paying less tax (yay!) and having less bother (woohoo!) which you might as well have, whether you’re struggling to afford a new ink cartridge or deciding on which model Audi to buy.

Yes, despite my unbusinesslike demeanour, I’m self-employed which makes me a business called ‘Valerie Laws’, and I’m also a ‘sole trader’ which sounds more romantic and a bit piratey. I’m sure you’d like to be that (paging Julia Jones!)
Wouldn't mind photocopying HIS bum..

How can you tell if you are self-employed? First of all, you say you are. You don’t have to get a t-shirt printed or owt. Then you become ‘self-assessed’ for your taxes (even if you are also employed a bit as well by someone else) and hopefully you pay some NI contributions at the fairly low rate of the self-employed. The self-assessed bit is important as it’s how you prove you’re a business to tax people and Amazon. It cuts no ice with them that you want to be alone like Greta Garbo, a creative soul in a garret forgetting to buy cornflakes. You can do all that in your spare time.
I said you DON'T need a t-shirt!
Why is it worth dipping your tootsies in the vile river of commerce?  Now for another confession. For years, I was a complete fool. An idiot. Yes, me, with my first class maths degree. I filled in my own tax return, shaking in my shoes, terrified of making a mistake, so stressed out that I just declared my income as a writer, made a cup of tea, and collapsed sobbing in front of the TV. I ignored the bit about business expenses as I just couldn’t cope with that as well.

As a result, for years when I was, surprisingly, making a living as a writer, I paid far more tax than I should have, from a not very big income. You see? Stupid. I’d heard you could claim things like heating your study and the like, but it all seemed a bit scary and complicated. Then I found an accountant, through a writer friend.There are some who specialise in writers and artists, and know what we are entitled to claim as business expenses, some of which may surprise you. You can do your own tax return without one, having learned all about the exact details of how much of each category you can claim for, but it may be worth paying (perhaps about £350 per year) for an accountant to do it.

If you are a professional writer (‘sole trader’ remember) you can claim as business expenses all or part of such things as: phone/internet/mobile bills, equipment like anything computerish or paper or stamps or ink cartridges... but there’s much more. If you are a writer, a lot of your life is research for writing, and you can claim all or part of that. All the books you buy in whatever form.

'Not now, I'm working.'
Tickets to theatre, literary events, films; petrol/mileage/capital costs of car/tyres etc to all of those events; travel to work-related trips away from home too(performances, festivals, signings, meetings with other writers/publishers/agents/potential payers for your services, research for novel/play; including hotel bills, all food and drink and cups of tea, taxis, railfares...)

If you appear in public (signings, readings, talks) you can claim for clothes, shoes, accessories, hair do’s; subscriptions to charities or writing-related bodies; costs of producing your books (editors, books you buy from publishers to sell at your events...): all this and more can be totted up by the accountant and the total is subtracted from your income, effectively ignored for tax purposes.
It might save you thousands a year. You need to be strictly honest of course and to have proof, in the form of receipts and tickets, so start collecting them now (all of them!). Start listing your trips and mileages, or just get them from your calendar/diary.

That’s just a brief glimpse of the world of business expenses, the honest kind, not duck-houses and moats and second homes down the road from first homes, we’re not MPs! Some of you will already be doing this, and wondering if such innocents really exist, making voluntary presents to the Revenue. But I was one such. And I believe many other writers are too, from what happened when we Brits faced our tax situation in the US. If your books sell on, yes even a few of them, the IRS over there will grab 30% of your earnings before that cheque with ‘Wells Fargo’ incredibly printed on it (cowboys and sole trader pirates! How cool are we!) plops through your door. 


Very nice people really.
They go on doing this until you have proved you are actually paying tax over here, and would rather give it to UK Revenue bods, especially as it would be a lot less, because we are actually exempt from paying tax in the US once we’ve proved who and where we are. When I began the Byzantine process of proving this to the IRS, we had to do it all ourselves, now Amazon are helping with some of it, as you will know, as we had to declare our tax position in October. Forms had to be filled in, definitions had to be learned, categories decided.

In order to do all this you need a special number. This number could be gained in two ways, one (ITIN) as an ‘individual’ and one (EIN) as a ‘business’. The first one involved not only filling in forms but actually travelling to American embassies and all kinds of bother. The second could be done in half an hour and a nice chat on the phone with a lovely lady at the IRS. Yet even I, knowing I’m a sole trader, nearly chose the ‘individual’ route, so powerful is our self image as writers. Doh! Quite a few people did it the hard way though, and on facebook some very successful best-selling writers were lamenting about having to do that until I broke the news that they are in fact businesses. There’s a very helpful blog post for doing all this which may still be useful to some of you. So it’s not all briefcases and pinstripe trousers and gold fob watches. Being a business can be a Good Thing. And you still have plenty of time to languish, create, write, mess about on facebook, and forget to buy cornflakes to your heart’s content. And to go fly a kite. 

Visit my website to see my books (crime fiction, comedy fiction, poetry,several on Kindle), plays, installations, etc at 
Follow me on Twitter @ValerieLaws 

Monday, 28 July 2014

It Was a Dark and Stormy night... by Enid Richemont

Weather, drama and emotions seem to go together, so whichever unfortunate would-be author who first wrote these infamous words did have some idea of what he/she was doing. Rain and tears seem to go together. I remember seeing a film in which a disastrous marriage played a major part, where the camera focussed, during the wedding scene, not on the bridal couple, but on the raindrops 'weeping' down the stained glass windows of the church.

For the last few days, we've had heat and humidity in London, but only one dramatic storm. It's felt like being around someone who bears me a grudge, but won't come out and say so. The sky is sullen, and there are distant rumbles of thunder, but nothing happens. Later, there might be a storm when we can really sort things out - scream, yell and hit each other - oh the relief! But in the meantime, there's this grey, silent, endless, hot, debilitating SULK. And while I often cringe at  forecasts that anthropomorphise the weather - fronts 'trying' to edge their way further south etc. etc. - I do it myself, and I think most writers do.

A couple of weeks ago, I submitted my first screenplay to the BBC. It's a screen adaptation of my first published novel, THE TIME TREE (Walker Books), and writing it was an enormous challenge. Writing for the screen or for the theatre is so very different from straightforwardly writing a novel, and where the admonition 'Show, not tell' really comes into its own. You can't get inside character's heads in a screenplay - it has to be shown via dialogue, physical movement, and setting. You have to visualise your plot like you never did before! The story is a time-slip one, focussing on the relationship between a profoundly deaf Elizabethan ten year old, and a couple of contemporary girls facing the transition between Primary school and Secondary (or whatever terms you use to describe that). Please wish it luck - it was a much-loved book, and stayed in print for ages.

I went to the National Portrait Gallery not long ago, because I never miss the annual BP Award exhibition - I love it. This time I bought, not the catalogue (as always, I wanted the real paintings, not reproductions), but a delightful book by Andrew Marr - A Short Book about Drawing. I simply couldn't resist it. I draw so infrequently these days, and should do it more often. Just before I lost my beloved David, he came in one day bearing one of his many presents to me - a small sketchbook, AND I HAVE NEVER USED IT! I write better than I draw, so in spite of my Fine Arts background, I stopped doing it. But really, it's not about 'better than' - it's about another way of being, and Andrew Marr expresses this so wonderfully. This is the last drawing I made of David, VERY badly photographed - sorry. In it, he looks sad, but he wasn't - he was reading (you have to do something to occupy your mind if you're being drawn.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Stepping into The Spotlight - Andrew Crofts

“So, when are you going to write your own memoir?” people ask whenever I tell stories from my many, many years of ghostwriting.

“Never,” I have always assured them. “I can’t because of all the confidentiality agreements I have signed, all the relationships of trust I have built up with clients over the years.”

Well, now I have done it. Not every story can be told, of course, but for those that can, names have been changed, stories and locations mixed and matched, permissions sought and surprisingly readily given. In the days when I started ghosting, around thirty years ago, secrecy was everything. No one ever admitted they used ghostwriters, no ghostwriters were ever credited or talked about in polite publishing circles. That seems to have changed and most people now get the fact that books need to be written by professionals, edited by professionals and published by professionals.

So on August 14th, “Confessions of a Ghostwriter” will be coming out from Friday Project, an imprint within HarperCollins which started life finding material for books from blogs and other electronic media, (one or two of the stories have appeared before on this website). The cover sports a cartoon of me looking extremely bookish, (my family tell me it is a good likeness), and I must now ready myself to stand by my own words and my own stories after hiding behind more famous and more commercial names for most of my career. It’s exciting, but a little scary.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Have E-books Breathed New Life Into Anthologies? by R.A. Barnes

Warning: this blog post contains diabolical and excruciating similes - like a man who grows long black moustaches and greases them into twirls to make himself look more evil, whereas they just make him look like a lion tamer.
          Ah, anthologies. The Frankenstein of the book world. Someone’s torso, a leg, an arm, all stitched together and with a bolt through the neck from the editor. Oh, don’t forget the head, and other parts.
          My first anthology foray was a piece in our writing college collection Original Sins. That title was original in the way a fat man in a bright orange shirt is individual at a party attended by lots of other people in bright orange shirts, except the other people are all slim.
          I’m not a short story writer, I’m a novelist, and my contribution was a cheat in that it was the first chapter from my (at the time unpublished) psychological thriller The Baptist. The wisdom of this choice became apparent when I read out my opening pages at the book launch in the exquisite St Kieran’s College, Kilkenny, to a heaving crowd of friends, family, colleagues and associates. My lasting memory, just before my father hurled me across the bathroom and into the tiled wall, was that Ray’s superior penis had grown embarrassingly large in his death throes. Hushed silence like the noise birds don't make during a total eclipse of the sun and I moved on to introduce the next author who had written a poem about a pigeon, or was it a dove?

          We were twenty-two authors, the Original Sinners. Each piece was perfect in context but the result was something of a Frankenstein. My part was the ugliest, the sneakiest, the creepiest like a bearded man in a meeting who lecherously eyes up all the female attendees before remembering that he's wearing his new varifocals and not his sunglasses.
          We flocked to that anthology like Catholics to a confessional. That’s actually not a bad simile and I apologise – not to Catholics as technically I am one, albeit with a small c these days, but for not keeping the simile standards down - like a butcher who promises mechanically extracted meat sausages and they turn out to be 100% beef sausages. We have such devious butchers in Kilkenny. It’s the country air.
          The objective of Original Sins was to teach us about the publishing process – the refining, crying, arguing over block alignment or hyphenation like twenty-two ants in Hackney arguing over who is going to carry the leaf back to the nest just before a size twelve Hindu policeman’s shoe accidentally crushes them into rebirth as new recruits for the London Met. And other joys of the publication process. What it did deliver in spades was validation. We all became published authors overnight. Well, it took about a year. The book became available on Amazon (currently unavailable) and, although it was hardly ever sold via Amazon, garnered a perceptive review on the UK site for posterity - The book was fine, and delivered quickly and efficiently. I only bought it because my cousin had written one of the stories. They were not really good stories but that is not Amazon's fault.
           A print run of one thousand copies of Original Sins was hawked around South East Ireland, mostly by Jane who seems to have never recovered, and we split the profits among those of the twenty-two who held out their hands. I reinvested mine in the focussed development of novel ideas, which are best fuelled by alcohol – like a car that runs on an alternative fuel and does 0 to 100 mph in two seconds on pure poitín when the inventor forgot that environmental friendliness and fuel conservation were his goals and not alternative uses for moonshine. Original Sins is now ultimately unavailable like a super model who men won’t ask out, not because she’s aloof and too good for them all, but because she’s an android with no private parts. Actually, I do have ten copies of Original Sins lurking darkly on my bookshelf.
          The bright light of that anthology waxed and waned in the sunny South East of Ireland and I figured Robert Aloysius Barnes you are done with masquerading as a short story writer. I had been exposed – like a fake sign language translator at the funeral of a Nobel Peace Prize winning world leader, except less publicly. Then MarbleCity (my publisher) invited me to contribute a guest piece to their 2013 KnifeEdge Anthology. I was one of twenty-three authors this time, one of them a Booker Prize nominee, the majority of them winners in an online story competition. I was like a black sheep bathed in flour in a herd of white sheep, praying for no rain to fall, moving with the herd and trying not to rub off on any other sheep.
           With Knife Edge the publisher made a proper go of it, making the publication available as an e-book on different channels as well as paperback. I murmured about the release on social media – like a hard-of-hearing person who lip-reads others but talks with a hand in front of their own mouth to level the playing field.

          Knife Edge sold well around the world and continues to sell, giving exposure for all of the participating authors. My piece in the Knife Edge Anthology was Vendetta, a chapter that had been edited out of my picaresque novel Peril. As a result at least one reader went on to read and review my other books - I first read an unrelated short story by Ruby Barnes. It had promise, but didn’t seem quite finished. It left me hanging, wishing for just a bit more. Well, both Peril and its sequel, Getting Out of Dodge, give a bit more and then some. I felt I had learned a lesson – like someone who has put their hand into the fire when someone else has told them to put their hand into the fire, and has concluded they shouldn’t have done what they themselves in the first place thought was a bad idea. I should have put a proper short story in Knife Edge.
         Was R.A. Barnes’s anthology odyssey over with Knife Edge? Far from it. The esteemed Authors Electric convened to produce a cookbook of recipes, both real and metaphorical, and as a recent entrant to the group I was invited to get out my apron and spatula. Twenty authors contributed to CookingThe Books, beaten into shape by the wooden spoon of Debbie Bennett et al. The result was a vast banquet of culinary delights – like a smorgasbord that causes taste orgasms for diners who turn up in latex outfits because they think it’s one of those restaurants like the Blinde Kuh where everyone eats in the dark and no one can see you, but it’s not.
          My recipe for Cooking The Books was Preserving The Victim in Alcohol. Bringing together my recurrent themes of fratricide, private parts, home-grown herbs, chickens and booze, I described our family favourite Chicken Saltimbocca in the voice of my serial killer John Baptist. Cover your dissecting table with a double layer of cranial membrane. Totally appetising – like a guest who continually quotes Hannibal Lecter when you’ve served them your best rack of lamb dinner. I haven’t had a lot of feedback on my recipe apart from the appreciative slurpings of my offspring, although that may be to do with the sherry in the sauce.
          Cooking The Books hadn’t even gone off simmer when MarbleCity announced their upcoming 2014 anthology Edge of Passion, again with guest pieces and competition winners, nineteen authors in total. As I twirled my locks trying to work out how to get out of this predicament, Marble pressed ahead with another short story collection Twelve Curious Deaths in France from their new signing, Emmy nominee John Goldsmith, and the literary standard of John’s stories left me feeling inadequate – like a boy who has long fantasised about a sexual encounter with his friend’s mother and finally gets her in the right place only to find that he hasn’t yet grown a single hair under his arms and his motorbike engine won’t start when he turns the key.

          My contribution to Edge of Passion? Yet another cheat to fit the crime / mystery / romantic suspense brief. I took a little known but personal favourite chapter from The Baptist and worked it up into The Heirloom. A jolly little suicide pact by a couple of octogenarians. I felt like a person who deliberately mishears the lyrics of pop songs and regurgitates them to suit the moment. I’m a fake. I’m a weirdo. What the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here – Radio Fred.
          Inspired by this trail of anthology destruction, portrayed by me as evidence of my literary success, the Original Sins authors have decided to go for obscure validation once more and will hit the road with a new collection, this time to be e-published. No escape for yours truly, I have to contribute and this time, finally, I have written a new piece. I know they are all going to be cheery and happy smiling people holding hands stories, so mine is a funereal ditty wherein John Baptist doesn’t outlive his brother but delivers a reverse eulogy from his open casket – like a predictable vampire who is really a comedian vampire because, when all his vampire-doubting relatives come to his monthly fake funeral, he likes to lie in the coffin then jump up and say boo.
          Now, there are rumours abroad that the Electric Authors are planning another foray into the anthology outback. But they are just rumours. Which isn’t the same as gossip – like an apple isn’t a pear, even though they are both fruit.
          So, back to the title of this post from which I had wandered like a man sent upstairs to get his wife a scarf and coming back down with no trousers on. Has e-publishing breathed new life into the Frankenstein concept of the anthology? Like an Amazonian warrior giving mouth-to-mouth to a hideous monster made of salvaged body parts even though some of the vital ones are missing? Have low production costs, digital technology and social media made story collections more accessible? Like a shopper who suddenly discovers healthy eating and says look, there are chick-peas, alfalfa sprouts and mung beans available in my local store when, in fact, there have always been chick-peas, alfalfa sprouts and mung beans in their local store, well at least for the last few years. Does the modern e-book reader have the memory span of a goldfish and prefer short things? Like how a very short man will look at a very tall man on a bicycle and laugh at how ridiculously high the tall man has set the saddle so that it looks like a monocycle, except it has two wheels? I say yes, if you sit on that metaphorical saddle and your knees touch the ground then either your bike is too small, your legs are abnormally long or it’s not yours and you’ve stolen it from a child. Anthologies are great for quick reading opportunities on mobile devices. Bikes are not for giants.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Page the Consultant! - Or, A Guinea-Pig's Tale - by Susan Price

  RLF Consultant Fellows

The  Royal Literary Fund Register of Consultant Fellows


        Here we are, then. 

          This is the reason I've been pleading that I'm too busy, for the past year. I've been an RLF guinea-pig on their latest project, the Register of Consultant Fellows, the aim of which
Dr Trevor Day
was to turn twenty writers into people capable of 'operating with appropriate training and to high standards of professional and ethical practice, to facilitate writing-related activities with groups of students or staff.' This is a quote from Trevor Day, the highly qualified educator and writer (and marine-biologist who swims with sharks) who devised and led the training-course.  (Trevor has modestly asked me to add that the course wouldn't have been the same without the 'considerable input' of  Marina Benjamin and Tina Pepler who 'helped design it and steered it in new directions.')

          I think the Consultant's Register is part of the wide change taking place in publishing, and to the position of writers in the industry. The Society of Authors is concerned about the drastic fall in writers' earnings. This is, after all, the reason why many of us began to self-publish. (This blog about writers' earnings is interesting too.)

          My own income - which had never been all that enormous, because if being rich is your ambition,you don't become a writer - went off a cliff as soon as the recession hit in 2008. It was the Royal Literary Fund, fondly known as 'The RLF,' which kept me afloat for three very enjoyable years as a Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellow at De Montfort University. My contract required me to be on campus two days a week, and give all the help I could to students studying any subject, at any level, to improve their writing.

          I soon became aware that there were many bright, lively students, interested in their subject and knowledgeable about it, who nevertheless couldn't write a grammatical English sentence, couldn't construct an argument or an essay, couldn't write in the 'academic voice,' and couldn't punctuate or spell. It never occurred to many to redraft or edit. They hadn't a clue how to reduce their 5000 words to 2,500. They were stymied by writers' block.

          RLF Central received reports like this from all over the country, from every university where they had a Writing Fellow. In response they came up with the Consultancy Training Scheme, and the Consultant Register. The idea is not only to provide help for the students, but also to provide another income stream for the writers who gain accreditation as consultants.

          All of us RLF guinea-pigs had been RLF Writing Fellows, so we thought we knew what to expect. (There are, by the way, many photos of guinea-pigs wearing mortar-boards and even specs, on the internet, but none of them copyright-free. I thought you'd like to
know that. Make do with one of my favourite LOL cats instead.)
             I think I can speak for most of my fellow guinea-pigs when I say, we thought we knew, roughly, what we were in for - and blimey, were we wrong. The course was between three and five times harder than anything we'd braced ourselves for. We were punch-drunk before the end of the first 3-day training weekend.

          Quite rightly, the RLF intend their consultants to be able to pass muster in the world of Higher Education, so they didn't mess about. We were taken through Educational Theory, ways to approach universities, how to structure workshops, how to devise 'interactive exercises' and why they're necessary. We got tips on how the lay-out of a room influences learning, and how to build a relationship with the students. 'It starts outside the room, where they're waiting to come in,' said Max. 'Introduce yourself. Find out their names - and you've started a relationship, started to build a bond.' There was a lot more, over the 6 days of training, but my space here is short.

          We were provided with mentors to wail to and, being writers themselves, they were unfailingly supportive, helpful and
My lovely mentor, Katie Grant
understanding. I was lucky enough to be appointed to Katie Grant, author of the brilliant 'Sedition' and also of this fascinating piece in The Guardian. As a mentor, she was not only kindly and unfailingly soothing, but consistently offered truly constructive advice that steered me in the right direction. I'm not sure that I would have got through without her.
          At each step of the training, we had to do nerve-wracking 'presentations' to other trainees, or to real, live students bribed into taking part by the RLF. (But all the students reported that they'd enjoyed the experience for itself and would volunteer again.) After the workshops, we were given feedback, by mentors, other trainees, and students. We were told what our strengths were, and our weaknesses.

          At the end of this 'core training' came the 'work-experience.' We had to persuade some seat of learning to host us for a workshop, or workshops, which had to add up to at least three hours, and we had to devise and deliver a workshop, with 'learning activities'. The RLF paid us a fee for this, plus expenses, and also dispatched a mentor to observe our workshop and report on it. (A hardened Head of
Max Adams
Science of my acquaintance winced in sympathy and paled behind his beard when I told him this.) The RLF observation was made a little less painful, though, by the fact that the observer was another writer, and someone we knew. In my case it was, for my first workshop, the ex-archaelogist and historian, Max Adams, author of 'The King of The North.'

           For my second workshop, (I did one of 2 hours, and one of an hour) it was the Big Cheese himself, Trevor Day, who did the observing. So I felt I was thoroughly observed.

          We also had to hand out feedback forms to the students taking part, and get feedback from the 'client,' and all this feedback had to be forwarded to the RLF.

          After this, we had to complete a 2000 word 'reflective' account of how we'd designed the workshop, our thoughts on the experience, and how our thinking had changed. With at least 6 academic references.

          We had to pass on all these sections - the in-training presentations, the observed workshops, the reflective account, before we could gain accreditation. And I passed. There were times I was certain I wasn't going to, but I finally did.

          So what do I, and the other RLF Consultants, offer?

          There are many different approaches. Some consultants, such as Trevor himself, aim their workshops at academic staff and post-graduates, with the aim of helping them to improve their communication with the general public or potential employers.

          Others, like me, are more interested in sixth-formers and undergraduates. I want them to have a clear idea of what 'academic writing' is - what 'active' and 'passive' voice are, and how to use them. I want to arm them with some idea of how to structure an essay, and how to redraft one. This is one reason why I was assigned to Katie Grant, because she has been working like this with schools in Scotland for a while now. Much of the material I adapted in my work-experience work-shop came from Katie's 'Bridge' project. (I was also helped, with advice and material, by Authors Electric's own, our very own, Bill Kirton. Thanks, Bill!)
Author Electric Bill Kirton

          Another approach, and one I'd very much like to take part in next year, if I can, is the 'Immersive Essay-Writing' course. This was developed by Babs Horton and Tina Peplar, and has been a hit wherever it's been done. It involves two weekends, and one-to-one sessions during the week between.

          On the first of two successive Saturdays, a group of students come together with two consultants, bringing an essay they actually need to write. They are taken through exercises which get them started on their essay. At the end of the day, they are sent  away to write it.

          During the week, they can meet up with the consultants, for one-to-one advice and help. On the second Saturday, they come together as a group again, and there is a review of their work and more exercises. The aim is for them to lose their fear of essays, and to provide them with some of the skills they need to tackle any future essay or writing project that comes along.

          Here's my entry -
          I used what the RLF taught me about workshops to devise a three-hour session on 'how to build a scary story,' using the powerful (and very scary) 'Mr. Fox' story as a model. I feel it could be adapted to teach a better understanding of the structure underlying any story - or essay, for that matter. I had originally
intended to use it for school children and students, but Trevor suggested that school teachers might find it equally useful, to better their own understanding of creative writing.

          At the moment, Trevor Day is working with the RLF on improving their Consultancy Training, based on feedback from us guinea-pigs.

          Anyone wishing to learn more about the consultancy service can either contact a consultant individually - their contact details are on the site - or, for a more general question, fill in the form on the site's 'contact' page.