Friday, 29 October 2010

National Novel Writing Month

Bore Da! A very enjoyable and productive week's work here in Wales. I'm going to miss this place and my makeshift writing nook in the loft, with its Heath Robinson upturned drawer desk.

I can't believe it's nearly November – which by the way, just happens to be National Novel Writing Month. I won't be joining the fun myself, but for anyone struggling to get going on a story, or finding it difficult to sustain the long haul of writing a novel – the NaNoWriMo project might be worth a look.

Participants sign up and begin writing on November 1st, and the aim is to complete a 50,000 word novel by midnight November 30th. Don’t panic, this is a first draft only – not a carefully edited and crafted manuscript ready for publication. Described as a "fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing", the point of NaNoWriMo, is to support you in getting those 50,000 words down. It’s amazing how good it feels once the story is out of your head and onto paper. Even if a lot of what you’ve written is rubbish – and most first drafts are, but without them, you’d never get to the finely crafted final manuscript.

Writing can be a lonely business. Most writers find themselves typing away in solitude, often late at night or early in the morning (especially those of us with day jobs!) By signing up to NaNoWriMo, you won’t feel quite so alone, knowing that all around the world, other participants are going through the same joys and sorrows of producing the Great Frantic Novel.

Visit the NaNoWriMo website for further details and to sign-up. Good luck and happy writing!

Friday, 22 October 2010


This has to be the best name for a book festival ever! Which means if you're anywhere near Chester next week, you have to check it out. There's a whole host of events running all through half-term week, including author appearances from Steve HartleyHarriet GoodwinJon Mayhew and Sarwat Chadda among others. Full details here. For those in the south, there is a great day of book related workshops at the Crystal Palace Children's Book Festival tomorrow (Oct 23rd). Then on Friday 29th, The Chainsaw Gang will be rampaging to the Norwich Forum to discuss horror and young adult fiction. Just sorry I won't be able to make it. I'll be heading off to the Welsh mountains to work on some edits and continue my search for the ultimate Bara Brith. Have fun. 

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Finding the motivation

A writer friend of mine, about to embark on another re-write of his current manuscript, posed the following question to a group of fellow authors: What techniques do you use to motivate yourselves when you're rewriting the same book for the umpteenth time? How do you summon up the enthusiasm to do a great job rather than just churning out the words? It’s a good question.

Most published authors go through many revisions before a manuscript is ready. Each time, the book gets better – the story clearer and stronger. It’s a myth that great writers get it right first time. When asked why he re-wrote the ending to A Farewell to Arms thirty-nine times, Ernest Hemingway replied that he was simply “Getting the words right.”

But it can be hard, if you’re revisiting a scene for the third, fourth or even the thirty-ninth time, to stay fresh and do a great job, rather than just churning out the words. If I find myself in this position then the first thing I have to do is ignore the impulse to just get it done and out of the way. To do this, I tell myself that the scene I’m revising is actually a new idea – a short story perhaps – and try to conjure that tingle of excitement of something fresh waiting to be told. Not easy, but I've found a few tricks that help. 

First I try to forget what I’ve done before and see if there’s a way I can tell the story from a different angle. I need to find a way to entertain me while I write, because a leaden hand produces dead words. Maybe I can set the scene in a different location, somewhere more unusual, funnier, scarier. Is there anything else that could happen to add a bit of life and colour? A cameo character or background action that will add an dash of the exotic, an element of danger, or humour. If two characters need to have a conversation in order to move the action along, can this conversation occur in a different way? Via mobile phones with intermittent reception perhaps, or scribbled notes passed under the glance of an adversary, or written in the steam on a window, or even shouted through a toilet door? 

The key is to find something that will re-awaken my interest, my excitement in the scene, so I can't wait to tell it. Usually all I need is something to get me started. Once the words begin to flow, the story takes over and if I’m lucky, the magic happens. 

Failing that, a bribery/reward system works a treat. A large pot of tea and one shortbread finger (substitute your own guilty pleasure here) for every 500 words works for me.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Doing it for the kids

A great article by Ellen Renner on the importance of getting out there and meeting readers … 
The one thing that children's writers need is readers. And so it seems logical to me that promoting children's love of reading should be one of our primary concerns. If not for altruistic reasons, then purely out of self interest. Because no one should take it for granted that readers will always be out there.
Read the full article here.

A couple of other links that may be of interest:
The Guardian is putting together a new website dedicated to young readers and is asking for suggestions of what readers would like to see on the site.
Fans of Neil Gaiman's award winning The Graveyard Book might be interested to know that you can watch videos of the author reading the entire book on his website.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Illustrated Voices

An historic day, watching the Chilean miners being brought to the surface one by one, like something from an episode of Thunderbirds – amazing stuff.

On a more mundane, but personally gratifying level – I found out earlier that the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) are holding a competition to illustrate  the stories featured in the 2010 Undiscovered Voices anthology. Hopefully a couple of artists will choose Fifteen Days without a Head – it would be fascinating to see someone else's interpretation of the story.

The artwork will be displayed and judged at this year's SCBWI Conference and the deadline for submissions is November 6th, with a place on the Illustrator Masterclass as the prize. Full details here. I'll post some of the illustrations next month, if I can get the artist's permission. In the meantime, my gang here have had a go.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Municipal Darwinism strikes Norfolk!

On a recent trip to the east coast I found this – an entire city on wheels! Not quite a traction city of Mortal Engines proportions I admit, but it did remind me of the great quartet of books by Philip Reeve. For a glimpse into the original notes that sparked the birth of a new world, check out Philip Reeve's blog. There's also a good interview with the man himself on Thirst for Fiction. (Thanks to Jabberworks for the nod.) More photos of the strange and beautiful to follow … I expect.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Rockoholic's Anonymous

I had a good day at the Bath Children's Literature Festival last week. A very useful Write Team workshop with Helen Cross on authors working in schools. I also managed to catch CJ Skuse reading from her second novel Rockoholic. It's the story of a girl who accidentally kidnaps her favourite rock-star. The short excerpt she read was brilliant – a great idea, sharply written and very funny. It's out in March and I can't wait to get a copy. 
As for stumbling back through my own rock history – my search for the Hub Club proved fruitless. Maybe it was for the best. They say you should never go back.