I Wouldn’t Start From There…

…or have told the story that way, or chosen that viewpoint, or said that…

We’ve all heard criticism that irritates or down right hurts us from time to time. And it’s always hard to take because even if you find yourself agreeing, it irks that you didn’t see it for yourself. Often it makes you feel like you’ve lost ‘face’ and have to defend yourself: in my writing circle from time to time I hear dark mutterings along the lines of ‘of course it’s just a rough draft’ implying that they would have picked that up themselves in the very next revision. This is wrong thinking by the way because it’s almost impossible to see your own mistakes; you already know what the piece is supposed to be saying, so you tend only to see what you think you’ve written rather than what you’ve actually written. So it’s best just to accept it and don’t be embarrassed.

At a recent writers’ conference workshop I attended, led by a published and talented author, we were all invited to read a short extract of our work for comment. In each case the course leader gave constructive and helpful feedback and delivered it in a most positive and considerate way. I found myself in complete agreement with nearly all of what she said. However, when one woman received this kindly meant feedback, she jumped up and yelled, ‘I get this kind of criticism everywhere I go. You people just don’t understand what my novel is about!’ Then she stormed out of the workshop.

Later, I found myself next to her in the coffee queue where she was continuing to protest loudly at her treatment. I couldn’t help feeling sorry for this woman. She obviously wanted to write and be read but if, as she said, she was receiving the same criticism everywhere, she clearly wasn’t taking it on board. I could have tried explaining this but I have a feeling she would just have started ranting at me too.

But if she carries on ignoring this constructive feedback, I fear she may never realise her ambition to sell her work (I was going to say see her work in print but self-publishing is so easy now that this is no longer the case). Such a shame. There is no doubt in my mind that some of my published short stories in national magazines like Best and Bella, would never have made it into print if I hadn’t listened to, and acted upon, excellent feedback from my trusted inner circle of first readers and my colleagues in various writing groups.

So if you’re lucky enough to find people who are sufficiently interested to give you genuine feedback then LISTEN and, even if it hurts, thank them politely, go away somewhere that you can quietly lick your wounds, allow some time and then evaluate what you’ve been told. After all, you will always have the final say and if you don’t agree well you’re in charge and you can just ditch the advice you don’t like!

UK Writers’ Circles

Cardiff Writers’ Circle

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A day of Creative Writing workshops with the CRAG Writers.

CRAG WritersSaturday April 13th, 2013
The Drill Hall, Chepstow

A day of Creative Writing workshops with the CRAG Writers £10 a day ticket (£12 on the door)

Four local writer / tutors present workshops for those who’d like to try writing and those interested in taking their writing to the next level.

Your ticket covers choice of workshops morning and afternoon, coffee, tea, squash and biscuits. Bring a packed lunch or walk into Chepstow Town Centre for lunch where there are plenty of cafes and sandwich shops.

Other Features of the Day:
• A quickie writing competition, with prizes for the best entries.
• Book Stall, including novels for £3 and new books by the tutors. (Cash and cheques only.)
• Optional sessions to discuss your pre-submitted work (additional cost).

Tickets from: http://chepstowwritingday2013.eventbrite.co.uk/

The Tutors: Robert Darke, Meg Kingston, Susan Hooper, P.D.Williams

All four of the writers are qualified tutors, with experience of teaching English and/or Creative Writing. They will present a selection of lively, participative workshops on various aspects of writing stories and novels. Participants can choose between a session aimed at new writers and one for those who have some writing experience.

What we’re not

• The Workshops will focus on prose writing, not poetry, plays or factual material.
• All participants must be at least 16 years of age. Under-18s must be accompanied by a paying adult.

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Inspiration – Where do you find yours?

Signs
Writers often get asked where they get their inspiration from. The answer, in my case, is from the world around me. For example, I spotted these signs on the railings as I left the supermarket and it made me chuckle – there must be a story in it somewhere! Maybe it would go like this…

Someone eats too many portions of the ‘award winning’ fish and chips and gains weight. They try dieting and eventually turn to a hypnotherapist for help. Failing to lose as much weight as quickly as they’d like their partner starts to bitch and complain and they decide to go to marriage guidance and counselling but they suspect their partner might be ‘straying’ and so they decide to hire a private detective.

OK – you get the picture so I’ll leave you to take it from there – good luck!

If you’d like to share where you take your inspiration from then please feel free to comment below.

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Stranger Than Fiction

This blog has been triggered by two unrelated items that talk about coincidence, or are they unrelated? Maybe something spooky is going on that drew me to two articles on coincidence in one week?

The first of these occurred in a late-night repeat on BBC4 of a documentary called Tails You Win: The Science of Chance in which Professor David Spiegelhalter explains that although strange to our human mind, which is forever seeking logical explanations for things, coincidence is statistically more likely to occur than we might think, with some types of coincidence relatively common.

The second article I found in fiction editor Beth Hill’s blog where she is pretty scathing about writers resorting to coincidence, suggesting it’s a sure sign of poor plotting and can quickly lead to a reader’s suspension of disbelief.

(See links below)

Coincidences certainly do linger in the mind and demand explanation and this eery but true story happened on Christmas Day 1987 and it still disturbs me when I recall it!

In the summer of 1987, my family returned to a holiday cottage we had found the year before on the coastal path in West Wales. It is in a beautiful and remote setting and was large enough to comfortably sleep 10 of us. It fulfilled all our needs for the foreseeable future and we planned many more annual stays there. I took a photograph of the cottage in all it’s glory with the beach in the foreground and the Preselli Hills in the background and was so pleased with it that I ordered two framed, poster-sized, prints, one for myself and one for my in-laws. Now, because I own the negatives, I can be fairly confident that only two of these framed photos exist, one hanging on the wall in my home in Andover and the other over 150 miles away on my in-laws wall in Swansea, which makes them pretty exclusive.

At precisely the same moment, 3:00pm on Christmas Day 1987, both these identical photographs fell off the wall and crashed to the floor. Nobody was near them when they fell, there were no earthquakes in Britain that day and no other pictures fell in either household. Then, to add even more mystery, in the first post delivery after Christmas, my father-in-law opened a letter from the owner saying that the family were banned from the cottage because of the state in which we left it. I was one of the last to leave the cottage and can say hand-on-heart that the place was in immaculate condition when we left, we’d even hoovered the carpets! Could a poltergeist have visited after we left and trashed the place? Was that same troubled spirit responsible for our crashing photographs six months later? Can they work their mischief simultaneously while being hundreds of miles apart?

SPOOKI don’t know the answers and confess I am baffled to this day. It certainly made me wonder about the supernatural, even though I tend not to believe all that stuff. But what other explanation can there be? What are the odds of the only two existing copies of a photo falling off the wall in houses separated by well over a hundred miles on the same day, let alone at the same moment in time?

If you have an explanation, or you’ve had a similar freaky experience to share, I’d love to hear from you so please comment on this blog. Professor David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge, would also like you to share any strange coincidences on a website where he collects coincidences: there’s a link below.

Links
Here is Professor David Speigelhalter’s blog: http://understandinguncertainty.org
and his website for reporting coincidences: http://cambridgecoincidences.org

And here is Beth Hill’s blog: http://theeditorsblog.net/2012/01/20/coincidence-destroys-the-suspension-of-disbelief/

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Walking to Work

Musselwick-strollers

 

One of my 2013 New Year’s resolutions is to walk to work every day. This may
sound a bit odd because, now I’m a full-time writer, I mostly work from home.
However, I find that just moving from one room to another doesn’t really work
for me after being used to a lifetime of commuting. I miss that distance and the
thinking time it gives me. So, from now on, I have resolved to take a walk to
work every morning, whatever the weather, before starting my writing
day.

I’ve stuck at it for three days now, which is pretty good for a New
Year’s resolution (close to a new record for me!). I’m enjoying varying the
route each day and can make it as long or short as I like; it gives me exercise
and time to think and dream up new plots for stories; I also get to hear the
birds singing in the trees. Down side is everyday so far I’ve ended up in a
coffee shop where I take a break to sit and plan my day. This means I often
don’t arrive at my desk until 11:00 AM – but then there’s no one there to tell
me off for being late – that’s one of the best perks of being my own
boss!

Happy New Year

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The Next Big Thing

I’ve been asked to be the next link in a chain of authors answering the same set of questions on their blogs and author pages. Last week was Meg Kingston’s turn and her blog can be seen here: http://megkingston.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/my-next-big-thing_2.html Meg has written many short stories as well a non-fiction book called The Monster and the Rainbow about her experiences with disability, which should be read by all for its wonderful insights. Meg has recently completed a crowd-funded Steampunk novel, Chrystal Heart is to be released on 13/03/13.

So, it’s my turn in the hot seat:

What is the working title of your book?
White Van Man – although, as book titles seem to be getting longer and quirkier, it did cross my mind to call it: The Curious Incident of the 50 shades of White Van That Drove into The Twilight Zone

Where did the idea come from for the book?
Same place as a lot of my best ideas – in the bath. Also (shameful admission) I was a white van driver for a brief period in a long and varied career and my driving skills still live up to people’s low expectations!

What genre does your book fall under?
Crime.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I wrote the first 50,000 words in November 2011 because I’d decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) but it took until February 2012 to complete the first draft. Since then I have rewritten and edited it four times during the last twelve months. It is currently with a professional editor now for a final polish.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
This is a tough question as I feel comparing my work to other novelists would be presumptuous of me. It’s easier for me to say what it isn’t: it’s not a police procedural, or a serial killer novel, or a whodunit. I’ve simply taken an ordinary guy who’s led a fairly sheltered life and dropped him into a criminal world where the life-skills he has acquired up to that moment are of little use to him. I believe the writers who do this type of story well are Robert Goddard, Peter May, Chris Ewan and Dick Francis and if anyone were to mention me in the same sentence as these fine authors I would be cock-a-hoop!

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I’ve wanted to be a writer since The Beatles released ‘Paperback Writer’ as it sounded like an easy job (how wrong was I?). I began writing stories in school exercise books and wish I’d kept them now. Early favourites that inspired me were Treasure Island and Kidnapped by R L Stevenson and the Biggles series by Captain W E Johns.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
As well as trying to extricate himself from gangsters, my lead character, Martin Blake, is also coping with redundancy, his wife’s infidelity, a teenage daughter, building a new business and, hardly surprising, some stress-related health problems. He could be the guy next door and I think he is someone to whom people will find it easy to relate. To follow the novel’s progress towards publication you can occasionally check my website at: www.robertdarke.com, or keep following this blog, or like my FaceBook page at www.facebook.com/RobertDarkeWriter

And we’re done, time to pass this blog-baton onto…
…anyone who wants to take this on and be The Next Big Thing!

Just let me know and I’ll update this blog with a link to you.

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Professional Editing

Today I printed off the first hard copy of my novel. It’s funny how you spot things in a hard copy that you don’t see on the screen. Even as it was printing out, I spotted the odd typo and spelling mistake that had somehow slipped through all my previous edits.

Once I’ve completed yet another edit on this hard copy, I plan to send the book to a professional editor to give it a final polish. It’s not cheap to use a professional editor and a few of my writing friends, who are considering self-publishing, wonder why I’m doing it so I’ll try and answer that here:
Every book published by mainstream publishers has been through a separate editing process performed by somebody other than the author: I don’t know of any author who feels that their book was not improved by the process – you only have to read the acknowledgements at the end of most novels to see evidence of this.

The simple truth is that I’ve invested a huge amount of my own time in this project and I want my work to be as good as it can possibly be to enable readers to get the maximum pleasure from it. I don’t regard this as an expense but as an investment in quality.

Even so, it is scary handing over something that I’ve been working on for a little over 12 months to someone else to criticise. I want them to like it but I’m paying them to pick holes in it. A speaker at the York Festival of Writing said that giving somebody honest feedback on their work is a bit like telling a mother that her newborn is ugly! So it’s fair to say I’m nervous about what they might tell me …

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